Friday, December 9, 2011

Matt Moore: The Pre-Arb Contract Extension and Brett Lawrie

Every team in baseball should do this. Today, the Tampa Bay Rays announced they had locked up Matt Moore through at least 2016 at $14M, with three club options tacked on the end.

Why do players sign these types of deals? Sure, they get the pleasure of a guaranteed multi-million dollar deal, but they also forgo the chance to earn hundreds of millions of dollars as soon as their six years are up. Moore is a pitcher, which increases his chance of injury of failure to make adjustments, either fate of which many top pitching prospects have fallen to in recent years, notably Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Homer Bailey, and to a point, Edwin Jackson.

It's one thing to follow what Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and recently Matt Kemp have done, and another altogether to sign a player with a next-to-nothing amount of Major League service.

Deals of this kind operation under the assumption that if the player doesn't perform anywhere near expectations, the team will be saddled with a dead-weight contract. But, what kind of standards does Moore have to play to to live up to his salary? The answer: very low ones. Using my number of $2.4M per WAR (as Moore did not sign the contract before a full market), Moore will have to produce 5.8 wins. He could easily do that in 2012-2013 combined, if the Rays plan on giving him a starting gig right away.
I suppose the player's willingness to sign this type of contract depends on the individual player, but the Toronto Blue Jays need to sign Brett Lawrie to a similar contract, and soon. Sure, they probably won't have any problem retaining him if they wait a few years and using the Ryan Braun template, but this is about the reward of saving a ton of money at a disproportionate risk.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Word About Building an Effective Bullpen

Jonny Venters used his fastball-slider
combo to one baseball's best reliever seasons.
How did the Braves build such a dominant 'pen?
As detailed in BTTN's previous post, market value figures (~$4.5-5M/WAR) shouldn't be used to evaluate a player's value to his team in money, as while the going rate for free agents, a large amount of player's aren't playing under a Free Agent contract, and thus all players should simply be valued by the approximate $2.4M per WAR figure derived.

Relievers, I've realized, make the value system even more complicated. Teams suggest that they don't impulsively act by advanced metrics, and have strong decision-making ability within their front offices - yet we continue to see free agent relievers get paid based on the WAR-values they accumulate. So far this offseason, we've seen Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon get contracts that guarantee themselves $77M in the coming years, with others such as K-Rod, figuring to get similar astronomical amounts.

Yes, certain relievers, after inputting the 'Leverage Index' values into their WAR's (which determine the amount of leverage the relievers pitched in, and therefore can make a more accurate determination to their win-values), seem to be even 2-3 win-players. Craig Kimbrel's historically dominant season, even with his stumbles at the end of September, which can be strictly blamed on overuse, is valued by Fangraphs at 3.2 WAR. And yes, he was certainly worth 3.2 more wins than a scrub reliever available for the minimum (Wil Ledezma?).

But the thing is,finding dominant relievers can be much, much cheaper to do than to spend the big cash, and certainly much more easy than finding studs at any position. Two teams in recent years, have not only built up great bullpens, but have also solved the secrets of baseball's most misunderstood identity - by the media, fans, and even the players themselves.

First, the Atlanta Braves of course had a historically strong bullpen in 2011, one highlighted by perhaps the most dominant trio in Major League history - Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty. Of course, none of these relievers (or any others on the Braves) are making any money at all, and that's due to their organizational philosophy towards the bullpen. The Braves have drafted (and signed in Latin America) various starters in recent years pitchers that may have potential to start, yet have strong pedigrees if forced to relieve. High-upside arms with fallback options. In short, your bullpen should truly be filled with young players that have failed as starters. Venters and O'Flaherty both started their minor league careers as starters, but the Braves pulled the plug on both experiments as they struggled. 

This is a fact that has seemed a simple truism yet hasn't been utilized with any consistency as the closer role becomes more and more prolific as we enter deeper into the information age. Teams want to spend money on closers, figuring that, the position deserves the attention to detail that fans feel it deserves.

Many teams shy away from these types of players, preferring to stay away from youngsters they believe don't have a high chance of remaining as starters, yet these are many of the same teams that spend oodles of cash in Free Agency on relievers. It just doesn't add up. The Detroit Tigers have historically been one of these teams, signing both Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit to high-priced deals in recent offseason, and may have learnt their lesson as a no-name grabbed off the scrap heap, Al Alburquerque (sic) had one of the American League's best relief seasons to no expectations whatsoever.

These no-name arms with relief upside are all over the place, with the Tampa Bay Rays having mastered the art of finding them. By signing Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz, and others, the Rays overcame great adversity after losing many of their 2010 bullpen cogs to other teams. 

Even drafting pure relievers is a fairly cost-efficient strategy. Drew Storen of the Nationals and Chris Sale of the White Sox have proven that they can be extremely effective relievers to a fraction of the cost of Free Agent options. Sure, drafting a guy like Storen costs a draft pick, but he's likely to pitch just as effectively as Jonathan Papelbon over the next half-decade, and to markedly less than his counterpart.

That teams will pay tens of millions of dollars without considering the eventual source of these relievers is incredible. Simply by understanding how the full system works can save a team tens of millions a year on their bullpen, and even improve the effectiveness of their 'pen.

Please leave a comment!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Should Value Be Measured Monetarily?

Slapping dollar values on a particular player's performance is generally done by multiplying his WAR for the season by about $5M, the current market value teams pay for a single win above replacement.

Yet, an overwhelming amount of Major Leaguers are not operating on contracts obtained through Free Agency. Using the aforementioned methodology certainly has its uses: Without getting into salary inflation, and his decline into the latter years of a long-term deal, Prince Fielder can be expected to be a 5-win player for 2012 and therefore worth $25M.

Just as WAR can't be used in all situations (Even statheads will admit that MVP races shouldn't be entirely defined by WAR, neither should Hall of Fame balloting), and of course, WAR is far from perfect (defensive metrics need a ton of work in general, and are very poor in small samples), neither should this way to calculate a dollar value to a player.

My point is that, the Major Leagues spent $2,786,161,291 on 2011 Opening Day salaries, and used that money to generate a total of 1163.6 WAR (Fangraphs version), or $2,394,432.19 per single win above replacement. I believe this number should be referenced when describing a player's value to a team in dollars, while Free Agent contracts should be evaluated based on the market figure of $5M.

Jose Bautista was therefore worth $19,873,787.18 in 2011, in his last year of arbitration eligibility. This is roughly half of Fangraphs' calculated value of $37.4M, yet represents the true value Bautista would have had to any team.

If you think evaluating players based on this principle is a fair point (or otherwise), please leave a comment!