Yikes, it’s been awhile since I checked in here. First off, I’m told that Baseball Prospectus 2010 left the warehouse on Monday and should be making its way to Amazon or your local brick and mortar retailer of choice. More on the efforts to promote the new book in an upcoming post.
As for the writing, since we last spoke…
• I identified the positions where teams got the worst production in the majors last year (offense and defense taken together), the so-called “Vortices of Suck. Much like my previous piece on the Replacement Level Killers (the dead spots in the lineup which helped prevent teams from reaching the postseason), I also identified what teams had done over the winter to shore up these problems. Here’s what I had to say about the Royals’ shortstop situation:
Shortstop: Yuniesky Betancourt (.220 EqA, -1.4 WARP), Willie Bloomquist (.241 EqA, 0.6 WARP), and Mike Aviles (.154 EqA, -0.6 WARP), Royals
Royals general manager Dayton Moore has produced his share of headscratchers and howlers, turning the team into a laughingstock even in the eyes of its most ardent supporters. But no move generated—or deserved—quite as much ridicule as the team’s mid-July acquisition of Betancourt, who at the time was already vying for this list in Seattle via a .220 EqA, -8 FRAA and -0.9 WARP in just 62 games. To be fair, the Royals did actually enter the year with a better plan at short; Aviles had hit .325/.354/.480 in two-thirds of a season as a rookie in 2008, good enough to place fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Alas, he struggled at the start of the year due to forearm soreness, and was found to need Tommy John surgery, which he underwent around the All-Star break, just before Betancourt hit town. In the interim, the team had tried Bloomquist, Luis Hernandez (11-for-51) and Tony Peña Jr. (5-for-50 before giving up the hitting business in favor of pitching). At the very least, Betancourt’s daily availability allowed manager Trey Hillman to devote time to not solving a variety of other problems.
Remedy (?): The Royals will actually pay Betancourt to return to work in 2010—in fact they’re obligated to pay him $8 million over the next three years (including his 2012 buyout). The rehabbing Aviles is hoping to be ready for spring training, but how he’ll fit back into the lineup once he proves his health is unclear; as unglovely as he is, incumbent second baseman Alberto Callaspo did hit a tidy .300/.356/.457 last year. One thing is for certain: whatever typically cockeyed solution the Royals come up with, it won’t cost them the pennant.
• I wrote about the potential landing spots for Johnny Damon in the wake of the Randy Winn signing, which finally closed the door on just about every last shred of hope that he might return to the Yankees. Here are two of the six options I identified:
Mariners: Between the free agent signing of Chone Figgins and the trades for Bradley and Cliff Lee, the Mariners have probably done more to improve their 2010 chances than any team. Last year’s left field situation was a veritable Vortex of Suck, with Wladimir Balentien, Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders et al hitting a combined .219/.276/.333, the worst showing at any outfield position in the majors in terms of REqA (Raw Equivalent Average). Bradley figures to see the bulk of his time at DH, since as Joe Sheehan famously remarked, “Bradley can only do any two of these three things at once: hit, play the field, stay healthy.” PECOTA is quite optimistic about a rebound: .277/.393/.463/.295 EqA. It’s less so about the idea of handing left field over to the 23-year-old Saunders, the team’s second-best prospect, projecting a .249/.320/395/.247 EqA line. Damon would obviously represent a significant upgrade, and while there’s been relatively little noise about this possibility, GM Jack Zduriencik is one of the sharper tools in the shed.
Giants: Elsewhere in that shed, Brian Sabean continues to pound screws into bricks with a garden rake. Given an offense that finished last in the majors with a .244 EqA, Sabean has thrown about $35 million in 2010-2011 commitments at DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Bengie Molina, and Juan Uribe, none of whom are strong steps in the direction of boosting that. Huff and Molina were below .260 last year, Uribe’s at .242 for his career, and both DeRosa and Sanchez are coming off injuries that led to unproductive post-trade stints; the latter isn’t even likely to be available for opening day given recent shoulder surgery. Projected for a .267/.346/.428/.269 EqA performance, DeRosa’s production appears to be light for a corner outfielder. He’d make far more sense at second or third base, with a concomitant shift of Pablo Sandoval to first base to do away with Huff’s similarly subpar production (.274/.340/.436/.268 EqA) and dodgy defense Sabean ruled out Damon last month, and while it happened at the same media session in which he dismissed a return engagement from Molina, it’s clear that Damon is just too fancy for the GM’s taste.
• I examined the competitive ecology of the game’s six divisions using a few tools developed by my Baseball Prospectus colleagues:
Having gotten the lay of the land in terms of wins and losses, we turn our attention to money. Factoring payrolls into the equation, specifically end-of-year payrolls, which include salaries, signing bonuses, earned incentive bonuses, buyouts of unexercised options, deferred cash, and more (BP alumnus Maury Brown’s got the details here), here’s how the divisions ranked in 2009 according to Marginal Payroll dollars per Marginal Win, which is computed according to the formula (club payroll – (28 x major league minimum)) / ((winning percentage – .300) x 162):Division Avg Payroll WPCT MP/MW
NL West $85,634,258 .519 $2,102,663
AL West $90,797,019 .531 $2,128,263
NL Central $93,843,462 .482 $2,795,709
NL East $97,489,694 .488 $2,838,477
AL East $119,028,142 .520 $3,028,880
AL Central $95,379,003 .470 $3,048,658
The two Wests, which had the lowest average payrolls of any division, were very close in terms of MP/MW, and got considerably more bang for their buck than the rest of the divisions. What may be the most surprising is the AL Central’s relative inefficiency. While the Orioles ($4.4 million) spent more per marginal win than any AL club, the Royals ($4.3 million) and Indians ($4.0 million) both spent more than the Yankees ($3.8 million, not even high enough to crack the top five), while the Tigers ($3.4 million) and White Sox ($3.1 million) both spent more than the Red Sox ($2.8 million).
Turning to the three-year picture, we see that aside from the AL East, there isn’t much that’s separating the teams by this measure:
Division Avg Payroll WPCT MP/MW
NL West $85,968,141 .500 $2,311,548
AL West $94,038,461 .511 $2,436,833
NL East $87,713,776 .493 $2,461,417
AL Central $89,639,497 .490 $2,555,610
NL Central $90,966,392 .490 $2,600,034
AL East $119,257,244 .520 $3,034,541
The two West divisions remain the most efficient ones, and while the AL East is by far the most expensive on a per-win basis, the two Centrals are getting very little for their money.
• Spinning that off because of positive reception, I began a series on each division, discussing the nuances of each team’s competitive ecology. First up is the NL East; here’s what I had to say about the Mets:
Following final-day eliminations from contention in 2007 and 2008 with a nightmarish campaign in which they seemed to invent new ways to lose games, players and credibility on a weekly basis, the Mets have become the game’s biggest punchline. As doubts about their finances, medical staff and decision-making processes have sprung up, the team with the NL’s highest average payroll over the past three years hasn’t been able to reap the benefits of a single playoff appearance. Indeed, their 0.54 PER’ [Payroll Efficiency Rating, the ratio between their Estimated Marginal Revenue (derived from win totals and market size) to Expected Marginal Revenue (derived from payroll)] in 2009 is the league’s lowest single-year mark of the timespan, and their three-year mark is the league’s second lowest.
Of course, that’s hardly a surprising outcome given the fact that the Mets lost 1,451 days and $52.2 million worth of salary to the disabled list in 2009 (both MLB highs), as a variety of disasters befell seven of the team’s 10 highest-paid players. All salaries in millions of dollars:Rk Player '09 Sal Fut. Sal DL Days
1 Carlos Beltran $20.1 $40.1 78
2 Johan Santana $20.0 $93.0 42*
3 Carlos Delgado $12.0 - 144*
4 Oliver Perez $12.0 $24.0 104
5 Billy Wagner $10.5 - 137
9 Jose Reyes $6.1 $9.9 134*
10 J.J. Putz $6.0 - 119*
*Ended season on disabled list
Those top five players qualify as Auction Market salaries, which helps explain why the Mets declined so sharply from their 2007-2008 WARP levels in that category, falling from fourth to sixth to ninth in the majors from 2007 to 2009. They’ve got the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of payroll tied up in four of those players (for nine player-seasons) going forward, and their 2011 payroll commitments are already over $108 million, so they’ll have to pray for strong rebounds. They’ll also have to hope that marquee free agent signing Jason Bay, whose four-year, $66 million deal ranks as the winter’s third-largest, holds up as well given the concerns about his knee which apparently cooled the Red Sox’s interest in retaining him.
Even more unsettling is the fact that the Mets fell from 14th to 18th to 28th in terms of WARP from Non-Market salaries over the three-year period. Again, injuries were part of the story, as players like Angel Pagan (3.7 WARP), John Maine (0.4 WARP) and Fernando Martinez (-0.7 WARP) all spent at least 80 days on the DL, too. On the other hand, the regular lineup presence of soph Daniel Murphy (0.6 WARP while splitting his time between the two positions where the offensive bar is the highest, first base and left field) didn’t help matters either.
Of course, last year marked the Mets’ debut in Citi Field, an attractive, intimate replacement for their Shea Stadium dive, but one with 27 percent less seating capacity, which will likely produce a drag on revenues even given higher ticket prices. If there’s any good news to be found, it’s that the farm system is on the rise thanks to the team’s international scouting efforts, and that the 2010 season couldn’t possibly bring more bad news for the franchise than the past year did. At least until Omar Minaya’s impending firing opens up a whole new can of tabloid whoop-ass.
So now you’re more or less caught up. Back later with some excerpts from today’s BP chat.