Monday, November 23, 2015

Will Walker Walk, Updated

From Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan:
I discussed this back in September when speculation about Walker's future emerged. Let me just reiterate this from two months ago:
So does a four-year contract for a 30 year old second baseman who's good, but obviously not quite Robinson Cano, make a lot of sense, regardless of money? No, it probably doesn't. And the conviction behind that "probably" increases if the contract sucks up so much payroll money that it prevents the team from affording younger or better players. 
As I said back then, I'm not completely sold on the alternative to Walker, which, at this point, appears to be Josh Harrison taking over the keystone full time. But I'm even less sold on a lot of money for guy whose best years are likely behind him.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Awards Rewind - The Pirates Perspective

I nailed them: predicted the winners of the Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP correctly. This isn't to say that I'm smart; you may have noticed that my prediction that the Blue Jays would defeat the Dodgers in the World Series didn't quite come true. Rather, it's a reflection of how predictable the awards voting has become. And, I might add, how good it's become--I wouldn't have picked all the same winners as the BBWAA electorate, but I don't have a problem with any of the selections. So, well done, all you electors who will never read this and could care less what I think of your selections.

Incidentally, if you want to read an outstanding discussion of one voter's decision process, read this by FanGraphs' Dave Cameron explaining his National League Cy Young Award vote. 

Pirates were shut out of the awards (unless you count Starling Marte's Gold Glove) but had contenders in every category. They didn't really have a chance, though:

  • Jung Ho Kang's season came to an abrupt end on September 17 when a takeout slide by the Cubs' Chris Coghlan tore Kang's knee ligaments and broke his leg. Even before then, he probably wasn't going to beat the Cubs' Kris Bryant for Rookie of the Year. Kang's slash line was .287/.355/.461. Bryant finished at .275/.369/.488 and led all rookies in homers, RBI, and runs scored.
  • Clint Hurdle, who was fourth in the voting, has now managed a team with 20 straight losing seasons since its last postseason appearance to three straight postseasons (albeit via the wild card). The Pirates' 98 wins in 2015 ties the 1908, 1979, and 1991 clubs for the third most in franchise history. But Joe Maddon guided the Cubs to nearly as many wins, 97, and the team's 24-win improvement over 2014 was the greatest in the majors, topping the Rangers' 21-game move.
  • Gerrit Cole emerged as the Pirates' staff ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. But he really wasn't in the same class (2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) as the triumvirate of the Cubs' Jake Arrieta and the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw (combined 1.85 ERA, 0.86 WHIP), who were 1-2-3 in the voting. Cole was fourth.
  • Here is the argument for Andrew McCutchen as National League MVP (he finished fifth): He was the best player on a team that made the postseason. Here is the argument for the Nationals' Bryce Harper, the unanimous winner: He was the best player in the National League.
The next vote up is the Hall of Fame. The rhetoric about that will be, as always, over the top. If I could vote, I'd pick the full allotment of ten candidates. Alphabetically:
A couple quick notes here: Yes, I know that Bonds and Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. Given that I don't have Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro on my my list, I don't ignore drug use. It's just that it's fairly clear to me when in their careers they started to use them, and it's abundantly clear to me that they were Hall of Fame-worthy prior to their use. And I don't think using drugs should automatically disqualify someone; way too many players used them to make that call. Your mileage may vary on this point, of course. As for some of the others...Martinez was an absolutely devastating hitter, and if he's not a Hall of Famer because he was a designated hitter, neither is David Ortiz, and that seems silly. I think Trammell is an easy call and it's a shame that his double play partner, Lou Whitaker, is no longer eligible to be voted in. Mussina and Schilling are much easier calls for me than for the electorate, which gave them 25% and 37% of the vote, respectively, last year (the requirement for induction is 75%). Lastly, of course, there's Tim Raines...

Monday, November 16, 2015

The 2015 Awards

Stop me if you've heard me say this before: This blog is called On The Field of Play because the focus is on the game of baseball, not the off-field stuff. When they intersect--last week's qualifying offers, for example--I'll comment. But I don't drive myself crazy with the Hall of Fame vote and players' unfortunate wandering into politics, because they don't affect the game on the field. Ditto awards votes. But the awards are supposed to have at least some relevance to the game on the field, so I'll fly over them quickly, as I did with the Gold Glove awards.

Rookie of the Year. The National League winner will be the Cubs' Kris Bryant, who led all rookies in homers, runs, RBI, doubles, and on base percentage (350+ plate appearances). He's a no-brainer. The American League race is between two shortstops: 
Carlos Correa 21 HOU 99432 387 52 108 22 1 22 68 14 4 40 78 .279 .345 .512 .857 132
Francisco Lindor 22 CLE 99 438 390 50 122 22 4 12 51 12 2 27 69 .313 .353 .482 .835 122
Generated 11/16/2015.

Lindor's the better fielder of the two, so I'd give him the nod. But Correa will win, given his gaudier home run and RBI figures and the fact that he was, one could pretty convincingly argue, the best position player on a team that surprisingly made it to the postseason.

Manager of the Year. They really should call this "manager of the most unexpectedly good team of the year," because that's how it'll go this year, and often does the same. I think an argument could be made for the Cardinals' Mike Matheny, who had to overcome a deluge of injuries in guiding St. Louis to the best record in the majors, or the Royals' Ned Yost, whose team had the best record in the American League after being picked by many to finish below .500. But it will come down to Minnesota's Paul Molitor, Texas's Jeff Banister, and Houston's A.J. Hinch in the American League and Chicago's Joe Maddon and New York's Terry Collins in the National, as each team was unexpectedly good. I think Banister and Maddon will win.

Cy Young Award. Houston's Dallas Keuchel led the American League in wins (20), WHIP (1.02), innings (232), and park-adjusted ERA; was second in ERA (2.48), hits per nine innings (7.2), and home runs per nine innings (0.7); and was fifth in strikeouts (216) and strikeout/walk ratio (4.2). He'll win easily, with David Price, who played for Detroit and Toronto, finishing second. The National League, by contrast, is a three-way horse race:

Jake Arrieta Chi 22 6 1.77 33 229.0 150 52 45 10 48 236 222 0.865 5.9 0.4 1.9 9.3 4.92
Zack Greinke LA 19 3 1.66 32 222.2 148 43 41 14 40 200 225 0.844 6.0 0.6 1.6 8.1 5.00
Clayton Kershaw LA 16 7 2.13 33 232.2 163 62 55 15 42 301 175 0.881 6.3 0.6 1.6 11.6 7.17
Provided by
Generated 11/16/2015.

You could make a pretty good argument for any of them. I'd go with Kershaw because of his workload and his strikeouts. Arrieta will win, because of his won-lost record (helped by the Cubs scoring 4.0 run per 27 outs when he was in the game, 22nd most in the league, compared to 3.6 for both Greinke and Kershaw), but that's OK. They were all dominant.

Most Valuable Player. Another runaway in one league, tossup in the other. The runaway is Washington's Bryce Harper, who led the National League in on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs, home runs, and home run frequency; was second in batting average, walks, and total bases; fifth in doubles and RBI; and ninth in hits. In the American League, it's between two players:

Josh Donaldson Tor 158 711 620 122 184 41 2 41 123 4 0 73 133 .297 .371 .568 .939 155
Mike Trout LA 159 682 575 104 172 32 6 41 90 11 7 92 158 .299 .402 .590 .991 176
Provided by
Generated 11/16/2015.

That's four full seasons in the majors, four seasons finishing first or second in the MVP vote for Trout. I'd pick him to win this year, too: The close comparison between the two players statistically melts away when you consider that Donaldson played in a much better hitter's park and a much better lineup, affording him more opportunities to score and drive in runs. That being said, Donaldson's team went to the postseason and Trout's didn't, and that's probably enough to make Trout the runner-up.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reality Check: The Gold Glove Awards

On November 5, I received my 2016 edition of The Bill James Handbook. I write a lot about the Handbook every winter. It's a fun book. I'll find myself looking through it all the way until the 2017 edition's delivered next November. It contains career records for every player who appeared in a major league game in 2015 as well as all sorts of features on pitching, managing, fielding, hitting, and baserunning. Want to know who went from first to third on singles the most times in 2015? (The Rangers' Elvis Andrus, 20 times.) Wondered which reliever was called on the most frequently to save a game with the tying run on base? (Cleveland's Cody Allen, nine times, more than twice as many as anyone else, and he converted seven of them.) Which manager used the most pinch runners? (The Angels's Mike Sciocia, by far, with 62.) You can order it here or at your preferred book retailer. I really like it.

The first thing I do every year when I get the Bill James Handbook is check out the Fielding Bible Awards. These are fielding awards voted by a panel of twelve baseball experts. You've heard of several of them, probably: Bill James, ESPN analyst Doug Glanville, MLB Network host Brian Kenney, sportswriter Peter Gammons. The voters receive data from John Dewan's Baseball Info Solutions, which compiles and distributes baseball statistics to teams and consumers, to help them make their decisions. The two key differences between the Fielding Bible Awards and the Gold Glove Awards is that the former are voted by baseball experts who use statistics, while the latter are voted by managers and coaches. I like to compare how the more empirical vote does compared to the more intuitive one. The stats vs. scouts storyline is a false dichotomy, and the Gold Glove voting includes a statistical component, but I always look to see how the Gold Glove winners do in the Fielding Bible voting to get a read on how the much the two views of the game are diverging. The other key difference is that there is one Fielding Bible Award per position, while the Gold Gloves are awarded to a player in each league. Here's the rundown:

FIRST BASE: Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt won the Fielding Bible Award. The Gold Gloves went to Goldschmidt in the NL and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer in the American League. Hosmer finished in eighth in the Fielding Bible vote, but he trailed only one American League first baseman, the Yankees' Mark Teixeira, who was sixth in the Fielding Bible vote, so there isn't much disagreement.

SECOND BASE: Detroit's Ian Kinsler won the Fielding Bible Award. The American League Gold Glove went to Houston's Jose Altuve, who finished 14th in the Fielding Bible vote overall, seventh in the American League. Miami's Dee Gordon won the National League Gold Glove and was second to Kinsler in the Fielding Bible voting.

THIRD BASE: Colorado's Nolan Arenado won the Fielding Bible award, edging out Texas's Adrian Beltre. They won the National and American League Gold Gloves, respectively, so there was no disagreement. 

SHORTSTOP: Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons was a unanimous Fielding Bible Award winner for the third year in a row, but the National League Gold Glove was San Francisco's Brandon Crawford, who was second in the Fielding Bible voting. Kansas City's Alcides Escobar won the American League Gold Glove, but he was ninth overall and fourth in the American League Fielding Bible voting, which was led by Cleveland rookie Francisco Lindor.

LEFT FIELD: Pittsburgh's Starling Marte won the Fielding Bible Award and the National League Gold Glove. Kansas City's Alex Gordon was second in the Fielding Bible voting followed by the Yoenis Cespedes, who played for Detroit and the Mets and won the American League Gold Glove.

CENTER FIELD: Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier was a unanimous Fielding Bible Award winner and the American League Gold Glove. Arizona's A.J. Pollock took the National League Gold Glove, and he was the top National Leaguer in the Fielding Bible vote as well. 

RIGHT FIELD: St. Louis's Jason Heyward was a unanimous Fielding Bible winner and he took the National League Gold Glove too. Los Angeles's Kole Calhoun won the American League Gold Glove and was the top-rated in his league in the Fielding Bible voting too. 

CATCHER: San Francisco's Buster Posey won the Fielding Bible Award but he was edged out by St. Louis's Yadier Molina for the National League Gold Glove. The American League Gold Glove went to Kansas City's Salvador Perez, who was fourth in the Fieding Bible voting, behind Posey, Molina, and Toronto's Russell Martin. So each Gold Glove went to league's second-rated catcher in the Fielding Bible vote.

PITCHER: I've always been skeptical of fielding awards for pitchers because the sample sizes are so small. The Fielding Bible Award went to Houston's Dallas Keuchel, who also won the Gold Glove. The National League Gold Glove went to the Dodgers' Zack Greinke, who was second in the Fielding Bible vote. 

So that wasn't all that controversial, was it? Of the eighteen Gold Gloves, eleven went to the player who finished first in his league in the Fielding Bible vote, and five went to the player finishing second. The only differences larger than that were the American League Gold Gloves for second base (Altuve was seventh in the league in the Fielding Bible vote) and shortstop (Escobar was fourth). 

It wasn't always this way. What this is saying is that the empirical view and the intuitive view are getting closer together. I'll leave it to you to figure out who's influencing whom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Qualifying Offers, 2015

I'm going to update my post on this topic from last year. It explains this topic, which comes up every year at this time.

So, what's a Qualifying Offer? It's a one-year contract offer teams can make to their players who have filed for free agency. This year, a qualifying offer is $15.8 million for the 2016 season.

Why would teams offer that much money for one year? Two reasons. First, the best free agents are worth at least that much. Second, and more importantly, if the player rejects the qualifying offer, the team offering it gets compensation, and the team signing the player gets a penalty.

What's the compensation? If a team offers a player a qualifying offer and the player rejects it, the team gets an extra draft pick between the first round and second rounds of the amateur draft in June. The extra picks (called "sandwich picks") are allocated in reverse order of standing during the prior season.

What's the penalty? A team signing a player who rejects a qualifying offer forfeits its first draft choice in the June amateur draft. One exception: The first ten picks in the draft are "protected" and don't get forfeited. The teams with the worst ten records last season--the Phillies, Reds, Braves, A's, Rockies, Brewers, Marlins, Padres, Tigers and Mariners--won't lose their first round draft choice if they sign a player who received a qualifying offer. Instead, they'll give up their second-highest round draft pick instead. If a team signs more than one player who received a qualifying offer, it'll give up its next-highest draft pick. 

How onerous is that penalty? It depends on the player. The Nationals didn't think about the penalty when they signed Max Scherzer, arguably the best player in last year's free agent class. Losing a draft pick won't stop a team from pursuing a big star like Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke or Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward. At the lower end of players receiving qualifying offers, though, relinquishing a draft pick can result in teams being unwilling to sign a player. After the 2013 season, former Mariners DH Kendrys Morales and former Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew received and rejected qualifying offers and couldn't find anyone to take them. Drew eventually re-signed with the Red Sox in May (there are not penalties or compensation when a free agent re-signs with his original team), and Morales signed with the Twins on June 8 (after the amateur draft, so there was no penalty). Both those players were pretty obviously screwed out of money by the draft pick penalty.

Why is there a penalty? In part it's because baseball wants to compensate teams that lose star players to free agency. But let's be clear: The sandwich pick that the teams receive for losing a player to whom they made a qualifying offer is their compensation. The loss of a draft pick only hurts the signing team. It doesn't help the team losing the player. By penalizing the signing team, it hurts the player, because it reduces his value. It ultimately serves to reduce free agent compensation.

How did they come up with the $15.8 million figure? It's the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in baseball. It gets recalculated every year. Last year it was $15.3 million, the year before $14.1 million.

Are there problems with the system? CJ Nitkowski wrote a nice piece describing them last year. The most glaring are how they screw players at the bottom of the spectrum. There's also a huge loophole: Players who are traded during the last year of their contract aren't subject to qualifying offers or compensation. They include Blue Jays pitcher David Price, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto and infielder-outfielder Ben Zobrist, Giants pitcher Mike Leake, and Astros pitcher Scott Kazmir. The two top pitchers in this year's free agent class are Price and Greinke. By virtue of being traded last year from Detroit to Toronto, the team signing Price avoids a draft pick penalty that the team signing Greinke will have to pay.

How often do players accept qualifying offers? It hasn't happened yet. Every player who's received a qualifying offer has rejected it since the system was implemented in 2012. That could change this year, as there were a record 20 players who received qualifying offers compared to twelve last year and thirteen the year before. It would appear that Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy, who was 9-15 with a 4.28 ERA last year and 29-38 with a 4.25 ERA over the past three years, is a candidate to accept a qualifying offer. However, a lot of analysts expect nobody to accept a qualifying offer, given players' preference for multi-year contracts rather than a one-year deal, even for $15.8 million.

Who's received qualifying offers? The twenty players are, by team:

When do the players have to let the team know? The players who received qualifying offers were notified last Friday and they have a week to respond. So by the end of business on Friday, November 13, they have to make a decision.

What happens if they reject the offer? They become free agents, able to sign with any team (subject to the compensation for their former team and penalty for their signing team) described above.

Are the parties happy with the system? Players understandably don't like any system that reduces their value, and attaching a penalty to signing a player reduces their value. Owners like getting compensated for losing players. So that's the impasse, and the qualifying offer system is the latest attempt to bridge it. I expect the qualifying offer system to be modified the next time the players and owners negotiate their collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA runs through December 1, 2016.

Monday, November 2, 2015

'Tis Better to Have Played and Lost

Once the New York Yankees were eliminated in the American League wild card game, it was clear that the theme of this postseason was going to be one of redemption. Of the eight teams in the Division Series (other than the St. Louis Cardinals), the Toronto Blue Jays were the team that had most recently won the World Series, and that was back in 1993. Last night, the Kansas City Royals ended their 30-year World Series drought by extending the New York Mets' streak of not winning the Series to 29 years.

Even so, the reaction from a number of teams is legitimately, "cry me a river." Here are a list of the teams that have gone the longest without a World Championship:


  • Chicago Cubs: Last won in 1908. Last appeared in 1945. You may have heard about this.
  • Cleveland Indians: Last won in 1948. Last appeared in 1997.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Last won in 1979. Last appeared in 1979.
  • Baltimore Orioles: Last won in 1983. Last appeared in 1983.
  • Detroit Tigers: Last won in 1984. Last appeared in 2012.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Last won in 1988. Last appeared in 1988.
  • Oakland Athletics: Last won in 1989. Last appeared in 1990.
  • Cincinnati Reds: Last won in 1990. Last appeared in 1990.
  • Minnesota Twins: Last won in 1991. Last appeared in 1991.
  • Atlanta Braves: Last won in 1995. Last appeared in 1999.
  • Chicago White Sox: Last won in 2005. Last appeared in 2005.
  • Philadelphia Phillies: Last won in 2008. Last appeared in 2009.
  • New York Yankees: Last won in 2009. Last appeared in 2009.
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Last won in 2011. Last appeared in 2013.
  • Boston Red Sox: Last won in 2013. Last appeared in 2013.
  • San Francisco Giants: Last won in 2014. Last appeared in 2014.
  • Texas Rangers: Never won (franchise established in 1961 as the Washington Senators). Last appeared in 2011.
  • Houston Astros: Never won (franchise established in 1962). Last appeared in 2005.
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Never won (franchise established in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots). Last appeared in 1982.
  • San Diego Padres: Never won (franchise established in 1969). Last appeared in 1988.
  • Washington Nationals: Never won (franchise established in 1969 as the Montreal Expos). Never appeared.
  • Seattle Mariners: Never won (franchise established in 1977). Never appeared.
  • New York Mets: Last won in 1986 (franchise established in 1962). Last appeared in 2015.
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Last won in 1993 (franchise established in 1977). Last appeared in 1993.
  • Colorado Rockies: Never won (franchise established in 1993). Last appeared in 2007.
  • Tampa Bay Rays: Never won (franchise established in 1998). Last appeared in 2008.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Last won in 2001 (franchise established in 1998). Last appeared in 2001.
  • Los Angeles Angels: Last won in 2002 (franchise established in 1961). Last appeared in 2002.
  • Miami Marlins: Last won in 2003 (franchise established in 1993). Last appeared in 2003.
  • Kansas City Royals: Last won in 2015 (franchise established in 1969). Last appeared in 2015.
So yeah, it's a bummer being a Mets fan today. But 11 of the 30 teams in the majors have been waiting longer for a World Series championship team, including three (the Cubs, Indians, and Senators/Rangers) who've been waiting longer than the Mets have existed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Going For The Hat Trick

My latest Banished to the Pen article is here. In it, I talk about fastballs. If you've been watching the postseason at all, you know that the Mets have pitchers who throw the ball really, really hard. If you've been paying a lot of attention, you may have read that the Royals were arguably the most successful team in the majors this season at hitting the fastest pitches. As I point out, both those are true. However:

  1. The Royals were very successful at hitting pitches thrown 95+ mph, but less so with really, really fast pitches, based on work by's Mike Petriello.
  2. The Royals pitching staff throws very hard as well, and the Mets hitters struggled against very fast pitches.
I conclude that while people may be overestimating the ability of the Royals to hit the pitches the Mets are likely to throw at them, they may also be underestimating the problems Mets hitters may have with Royals pitchers.

On that note, I'd like to point out my record for predicting this year's postseason series. Let's ignore the wild card games, because they were just one game each. (I got the Cubs right and the Astros wrong). Among the four Division Series games, I was 3-0 (correctly predicting Cubs over Cardinals, Royals over Astros, and Blue Jays over Rangers) if you exclude the Mets (whom I thought would fall to the Dodgers). In the Championship Series, I was 0-1 (play along with me here - I thought the Blue Jays would beat the Royals) if you exclude the Mets (whom I thought would lose to the Cubs). In other words, I was 3-1 if you exclude the Mets. That's not bad! But I got the Mets wrong twice, making me as good as a coin flip at 3-3. 

The point is, I'm going to try to keep the streak going. I'm going to pick the Royals in the World Series. I think their hitters will have more success against the Mets pitchers than people may think, and I think their pitchers will have more success against the Mets hitters than people may think. Specifically, as I pointed out in the article linked above, the Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball at hitting very fast fastballs, which the Royals throw a lot. Further, the Mets' hitters' tendency to hit fly balls (fifth most frequently in the majors) plays into the Royals' pitchers' tendency to yield fly balls third most frequently in the majors). Fly ball/ground ball tendencies are similar to rightly/lefty match-ups: Hitters tend to do better against the opposite type of pitchers. So the fly ball-hitting Mets should do better against a ground ball-yielding team (like, e.g, the Dodgers, who were second in the majors at yielding ground balls) than against the fly ball-yielding Royals, and the fly-ball yielding Royals should do better against the fly ball-hitting Mets than against a ground ball-hitting team (like, e.g., the Pirates, who were sixth in the majors at hitting ground calls). (Neither the Mets pitchers nor the Royals hitters had a pronounced fly ball/ground ball tendency, so there isn't a notable match-up when the Mets are pitching.)

That being said, my choice of Kansas City probably means that New York will win. You're welcome, Mets fans.