Recalling Mike Pelfrey’s contract on this, the day of John Jaso’s retirement

The Davy Jones of Major League Baseball, John Jaso, says he plans to retire from the sport and live on his sailboat. As the Deadspin writeup notes, Jaso earned roughly $16.6 million in his nine-year career, during which he spent time with the Pirates, Rays, Mariners, and A’s. Not bad for a catcher-turned-first-baseman/corner-outfielder who amassed 6.1 career WARP.

Of course, it’s also roughly the same amount of money– $16 million– the Detroit Tigers agreed to pay Mike Pelfrey for two seasons of work. Pelfrey now has twelve MLB seasons under his belt and -2.5 career WARP to show for it. His -2.2 WARP in 2016, the first year under his contract with the Tigers, represented the worst season of his career after his rookie year. (Pelfrey rebounded to -0.1 WARP this year for the White Sox, who picked up just $540,000 of the $8 million remaining on his contract when they signed him the first week of the season.)

These are the facts, and, viewed together, they don’t reflect particularly well– though certainly in varying degrees of not-well– on anyone involved with the possible exception of the White Sox, who paid essentially the league-minimum salary for 120 innings of slightly below-replacement level starting and relief pitching. Jaso’s probably holding off on his official retirement announcement until he has an opportunity to meet with Al Avila.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

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Saving Detroit: Keystone Light

Ian Kinsler’s 2017 isn’t going that well, particularly at the plate, where the Detroit Tigers second baseman is having, by a wide margin, the worst season of his career. To quickly look at two measures of offensive production, he’s running an 87 wRC+ (100 is league average, and he’s never finished a season below 100) and a .237 TAv (.260 is league average, and he’s only once finished a season below .260 (.256 in 2014)). (Without digging too deep, low power and BABIP numbers may be immediate culprits and evidence of aging.)

As the Tigers look to the future, one of their most pressing decisions will involve how they part ways with Kinsler, who has been a solid performer and veteran leader since he joined the team in 2014. This week, a few additional details have emerged about Kinsler’s contract that may affect both his future trade value and how the Tigers deploy him in the meantime.

Right now, 2017 is the last guaranteed season of Kinsler’s contract. If the season ended today, the Tigers would have the option to keep Kinsler for one more year, in which they would owe him $10 million, or pay him a $5 million buyout and part ways. That “if” comes with a significant caveat, however: should Kinsler make 600 plate appearances this season, the 2018 option would vest, guaranteeing his 2018 contract year. And, if he wins a gold glove award this year, that guaranteed 2018 year would be at an $11 million salary.

The Tigers likely aren’t too worried about either of these two things, because a) they almost certainly would exercise their option to keep Kinsler for 2018 and b) $11 million probably is a fair (leaning team-friendly) price for Kinsler on a one-year contract that shouldn’t adversely affect his trade value.

Still, I’m interested to watch how the Tigers manage him down the stretch. Unless they move him to designated hitter for the remainder of the season, they probably can’t alter his chances of winning a gold glove (he currently leads all second basemen in UZR), but they can ration his plate appearances.

When news of these additional contract details broke on Wednesday, Kinsler had made 522 plate appearances and Detroit had twenty-four games remaining. If he played in every remaining game, he would need to average 3.25 plate appearances per game to hit 600 PA, a reasonable task for a seemingly healthy leadoff hitter. He made four plate appearances that night before being pulled for Andrew Romine on the losing side of a 13-2 game. Assuming he plays in each of the remaining games, Kinsler now needs to average just 3.22 PA/G to make it to 600.

This almost certainly is much ado about nothing, but it’s something to watch as this season winds down that isn’t the scoreboard (or the win-loss columns).

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Previously
An updated look at 2018 (and a quick check on 2006) – 9/1
It’s Over
– 9/1
Upton There – 8/31

A bad time for a bad season – 8/29
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
 – 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
 – 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Saving Detroit: An updated look at 2018 (and a quick check on 2006)

Al Avila was busy yesterday. First, he traded Justin Upton to the Angels. Then, reportedly with seconds to go before the midnight waiver/postseason trade deadline, he traded Justin Verlander to the Astros. Through yesterday, Upton and Verlander were the 2017 team’s most valuable players according to bWAR. The Verlander Era– the 2006-2016 run of competitiveness– officially is over, and there can be no doubt that the Detroit Tigers are in full teardown mode. With that in mind, here‘s an updated look at the team’s 2018 financial situation:

tigers2018financials as of 9-1-17

With Verlander and Upton out, the top of that ledger is significantly lighter, and that trend is likely to continue into the offseason, when the team will trade Ian Kinsler and decline to exercise their option on Anibal Sanchez. They’ll still owe Verlander $8 million next year under the terms of the trade with Houston, and there will be raises due to a number of their arbitration-eligible players (Nicholas Castellanos likely being first among that cohort, followed by Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene, and perhaps Alex Wilson), but Detroit’s front office should be feeling much lighter on its feet. As I’ve mentioned again recently, there also should be a revenue bump from a new TV deal next year.

As Motown turns its increasingly lonely baseball eyes toward the future, where it will be incumbent upon Avila and his team to convert these more liquid resources into a new competitive core, let’s take another moment to look back at the really great era of Tigers baseball that began with Verlander’s first full MLB season in 2006. Here‘s the forty-man roster from that team, which represented the American League in the World Series that year (ages and positions shown for 2006 season):

tigers2018financials as of 9-1-17

Of this group, one is in the hall of fame (Ivan Rodriguez), and at least two are working in baseball broadcasting (Craig Monroe, FSD; Sean Casey, MLB Network). Only Verlander, Curtis Granderson (Dodgers), Fernando Rodney (Diamondbacks), Andrew Miller (Indians), and Jason Grilli (Blue Jays) still play in the majors, and Verlander was, by far, the last of the 2006 crew to leave Detroit.

You can read plenty about the prospect returns the Tigers received from yesterday’s trades elsewhere on the web.  Here‘s an initial snapshot to get you started.

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Previously
It’s Over – 9/1
Upton There – 8/31

A bad time for a bad season – 8/29
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
 – 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
 – 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related

ALDLAND’s full Justin Verlander archive
ALDLAND’s full Justin Upton archive

Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp

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Last night, I provided my instant reaction to the trade that sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for three modest infield prospects. In that post, I considered what many are calling a “very light” return for the slugging outfielder in the context of another star-for-prospects trade made just days ago between the two Chicago teams involving starting pitcher Jose Quintana and suggested that a lesser return for Martinez was appropriate in light of his contract status (expiring), age, injury history, and inconsistent defense. I further suggested that, with multiple transactions still to be made over the next two weeks, it is too early for a referendum on Detroit’s general manager, Al Avila.

Avila is a first-year GM, but he worked alongside previous Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for many years and is an experienced and well-regarded talent evaluator, so the job isn’t exactly new to him. Yet, in some Tigers fan circles right now, Avila is being pilloried as an unqualified, incapable rookie, while Dombrowski has never been remembered more fondly.

As I wrote last night, even if this trade becomes a blemish on Avila’s resume (the more thorough analyses of the prospects involved in the trade out this morning paint a more detailed picture but don’t really contradict the experts’ immediate reactions), it’s much too soon to declare him unfit for his current position. In addition to the Quintana trade discussed last night, though, there is another trade we can look to as a rough comparison between Avila and Dombrowski: the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes trade.

With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approach, on July 31, 2015 Dombrowski traded Cespedes to the New York Mets for two pitching prospects: Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer. That trade, along with two previous ones that sent David Price to Toronto (for lefty pitching prospects Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt) and Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh (for JaCoby Jones), surprised some Tigers fans, who were not necessarily soothed when Dombrowski described what looked to some like a sudden selloff as a mere “rebooting.” Not insignificantly, these trades immediately cost Dombrowski his job.

In isolation, the Cespedes trade– from Detroit’s standpoint– looks fairly similar to yesterday’s Martinez trade. Both players were on expiring contracts and thus guaranteed only to be rentals for the receiving teams (and an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract actually made it less likely that the Mets would be able to sign him as a free agent, though Cespedes waived that provision and did remain in Queens). In the first half of 2015 (the split most readily available to me as a rough approximation of a snapshot at the trade deadline), Cespedes had a 121 wRC+ (45th among qualified hitters) and contributed 3.3 fWAR in 366 plate appearances. In the first half of 2017, Martinez posted a 156 wRC+ (would have been eighth among qualified hitters had he played enough to qualify) and contributed 1.4 fWAR in 215 plate appearances.

Cespedes memorably caught fire at the plate upon moving to New York, but he had been a lesser hitter than Martinez was over the same stretch– both in terms of a direct comparison and relative to his in-season peers– in 2017. Without a more detailed and complex analysis of the different trade markets in the different seasons, it’s difficult to say more about the two players’ relative value in this space.

The return for Cespedes– Cessa and Fulmer– was more lauded both at the time and now, in retrospect, than the return for Martinez. Fulmer immediately was highlighted as a significant prospect, and he turned in a full-season performance the following season that earned him rookie-of-the-year honors and some Cy Young votes, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. (Cessa never played for the Tigers, who shipped him to the Yankees that offseason as part of a package that returned Justin Wilson, the team’s current closer and valuable trade chip.)

We don’t have two years of hindsight from which to assess the future development of Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King, but, from my review of the assessments of these players by experienced prospect writers, it’s hard to see a Fulmer-caliber player among them. It remains too early to render significant judgments about Avila’s capabilities as a front-office leader, and Lugo, Alcantara, and King may have been the best available return for Martinez on the current market. To the extent Dombrowski’s 2015 Cespedes trade is an adequate comp for Avila’s 2017 Martinez trade, though, it’s not one that– in isolation– reflects especially well on Avila.   Continue reading

Saving Detroit: Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila

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Shortly before tonight’s game against the Royals in Kansas City, the Detroit Tigers traded right fielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for three infield prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King.

As he has in every season since he joined the Tigers and reconstructed his swing, Martinez has been among the best hitters in baseball in 2017. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he would be the fifth best hitter in baseball by wRC+ (162) to this point in the current season. He doesn’t yet have enough plate appearances to qualify, though, because he again missed time due to injury this year, and his defensive contributions continue to oscillate between positive and negative. He’s also a rental, with free agency and a significant payday headed his direction this offseason.

That last part is the reason the Tigers had to trade Martinez this month. In the combined absence of an ability to resign him on the open market and of a currently competitive team, they had to cash out whatever value they could now. Still, most Detroit fans are reacting to this trade with extreme disappointment, and national observers are calling the Tigers’ return for Martinez “very light.”

Yes, Martinez likely is going to crush left-handed pitching in the NL West and see his power numbers soar even higher in the thin desert air, but he’s still a rental with an inky injury report. Tigers fans understandably came to love Martinez, but their apparent hopes that his always inevitable trade would return a prospect haul the likes of which the White Sox just secured from their crosstown rival in exchange for Jose Quintana are not reasonable. Since 2014, Martinez has been worth 9.2 WARP and Quintana has been worth 12.7 WARP. (Simply for context, Miguel Cabrera contributed 14.5 WARP over that period.) The new Cubs pitcher also is over a year younger than Martinez and has team-friendly years remaining on his contract. It makes sense that trading Quintana would net the White Sox a package including one of the sport’s overall top prospects. Ten weeks of Martinez simply pales in comparison.

The Tigers’ trade has generated plenty of criticism of the team’s first-year general manager, Al Avila. I am not a prospect scout, but, from the perspective of the team’s fan base, I think much of this criticism is, at a minimum, premature. Avila has many years of experience as an assistant general manager under Dave Dombrowski and is well-regarded as a talent evaluator. He is entitled to the same benefit of the doubt fans accorded Dombrowski, whose transactions were regarded with assumed confidence and assessed together, rather than individually.

Still, it is difficult not to at least be a little bit disappointed right now, when the clear weight of the initial assessments of this trade do not cast Detroit’s position in a favorable light.

For Detroit, the 2006-2016 run is over and the proverbial window is closed. The next two weeks are of critical importance to this team’s future. Maybe they stumbled out of the gate with tonight’s trade, but there are more moves to be made. Keep an eye on Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and even Justin Verlander. Painful as it feels, this, for better and worse, is how a new age of Detroit baseball begins.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Michael Fulmer has righted the ship – 6/27
Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?
Man vs. Machine

Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

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He’s only twenty-five years old, but Mike Trout is the best player in baseball today and one of the best ever. There’s only one of him, though, and he’s under contract with the Angels through 2020, which means that your team can’t have him anytime soon, and, unless your team is the Yankees or Dodgers, it probably can’t afford him once he hits free agency either. If you don’t and won’t ever have Trout himself, your only option is to make like the post-Jordan NBA and find the next Trout. Everybody wants to be like Mike.

The Detroit Tigers, for example, really could use a guy like Trout. They haven’t done much this offseason, and they’re in need of a center fielder. Of course, they had a decent center fielder in 2016 in Cameron Maybin, but the team “traded” him to the Angels as soon as the season was over and, surprise, the Angels didn’t send Trout, who also plays center, to the Tigers in return.

While the hole in the middle of the outfield currently remains unaddressed (the team’s very recent acquisition of Mikie Mahtook notwithstanding), another anticipated outfield move that Detroit has not yet made is trading right fielder J.D. Martinez, who will be a free agent after this coming season. Martinez has been very good since the Tigers acquired him from Houston, and, assuming he returns to form following his elbow injury last season, he will earn a payday next offseason beyond what the Tigers likely will want to offer.

Before Martinez inevitably departs the Motor City, it’s worth taking another look at what exactly the Tigers have in their young right fielder, and, bold as it may seem, asking whether he’s the next Trout.

On one hand, the answer obviously is no. Martinez, in his best season, was, by whichever WAR metric you prefer, about half as valuable as Trout was in his best. There also is the matter of age: while we’d expect The Next Trout to be younger than Trout, J.D. is four years older than Mike.

On the other hand, anyone who’s followed Martinez’s career knows that he was reborn as a hitter after he left Houston for Detroit, creating a bit of deception in his developmental track (I’m sure he doesn’t spend much time thinking about those first three MLB seasons), even if the aging clock ticks on.

Imagining, for purposes of this strained and fabricated narrative, that this “young” Martinez was coming up behind the more experienced Trout, we might also notice that the two outfielders have similar batting profiles.

This afternoon, Baseball Savant creator Darren Wilman tweeted a link to a chart comparing hitters according to their batted ball exit velocity and slugging percentage:

scatter

Right there next to each other at the top of the curve are Trout and Martinez. (Click below to see more precise indications of their positions.)

Everyone knows Trout and Martinez are power-hitting outfielders, but I still was surprised to see how close Martinez was to Trout on this graph. Martinez’s overall value suffers because he plays an easier position than Trout, and, although his defense showed marked improvement in 2015 (before the improvements evaporated in his broken-elbow season last year), plays it less well than Trout plays his. Still, if I’m Martinez’s agent, a chart showing that my client hits– in terms of exit velocity and extra bases– just like Trout is going to be on page one of the Boras Binder I’m distributing this offseason. And if I’m Tigers GM Al Avila, I’ll make sure every potential trade partner this summer catches a glimpse of it too.

Sure, some still want Detroit to make another all-in push in 2017, but the proverbial contention window is hanging as heavy and tenuously in its frame as it ever has for this crew, and it’s tough to imagine a world in which they can retain Martinez. In five years, after seeing him mash in pinstripes or Dodger blue, Tigers fans may look back and see Martinez’s delayed, Trout-esque offensive prime as one of the largest costs of their now-overleveraged roster.

Michael Fulmer and the changing face of the Detroit Tigers

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We learned Monday that Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is the 2016 American League rookie of the year. While not a unanimous selection like his National League counterpart, Corey Seager, he still claimed the award in convincing fashion:

royfulmer

Fulmer is the fifth Tiger to win the award, joining teammate Justin Verlander, Lou Whitaker, Mark Fidrych, and Harvey Kuenn. The connection between Verlander, who won his rookie of the year exactly ten years ago and is a contender for his second Cy Young award this year, and Fulmer seems to be a neat and real mentorship relationship. Here’s a snapshot statistical comparison of Verlander and Fulmer in their rookie-of-the-year seasons:

royfulmerverlander

It certainly is exciting to consider the possibility that the Tigers have found in Fulmer another Verlander, even if Fulmer’s numbers– comparatively superior to Verlander’s ROY season across the selected metrics– have some worried about his ability to repeat his rookie-year successes. (This concern boils down to the relatively large gap between Fulmer’s ERA and his FIP. It seems worth noting that Verlander had an even larger gap in 2006.) It doesn’t mean a lot, but the similarities make for a fun comparison.

Fulmer’s accolades serve as a reminder that the next generation of this Tigers team already has arrived, at least in part, and that, with business-side changes afoot, the veteran generation could be gone before we know it.   Continue reading

Offseason starts with a bang for the Detroit Tigers

maybin-gone

When the Detroit Tigers’ season ended in Atlanta last month, the message from general manager Al Avila was both clear and clearly different than it had been a season ago, when Avila took over the job from his boss, Dave Dombrowski. Then, speaking as the mouthpiece of the team’s owner, Mike Ilitch, he said that “the foot is on the pedal, hard,” and the team continued to make the kind of win-now moves that largely have defined them for the past decade. Now, though, Avila’s taking his foot off the gas and ushering in a period of austerity that’s likely to be painful. It definitely will be different.

The changes began immediately. Yesterday was the first day of the MLB offseason, and Avila wasted no time in making two of his biggest decisions on current player options. First, he “traded” center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Angels for a low-grade relief pitching prospect in a move that essentially amounts to the Tigers declining to exercise Maybin’s option.

Shortly thereafter, the team announced that it would pick up the $6 million option on closer Francisco Rodriguez. (Had they declined K-Rod’s option, they would’ve owed him a $2 million buyout.)

If, as he has said, his new mission is “making this team leaner, younger, more efficient,” I’m not certain this was the way to do it. Given the money, his track record, and his strong performance last season, I like the decision to retain Rodriguez, even considering the general year-to-year unreliability of reliever performance.

The Maybin decision is more confusing, though. By fWAR, Maybin was the Tigers’ most valuable outfielder last year, and he only played in ninety-four games. (He also was their second-best baserunner.) He missed action due to injury, but not really the kind of injury that should make teams worry. He mostly just kept getting beaned on the hands. That’s just bad luck. He’s only twenty-nine. Over the past two seasons with Atlanta and then Detroit, he finally seemed to be approaching the potential he demonstrated eleven years ago that caused the Tigers to spend the tenth overall draft pick on him in 2005. (He also was the team leader in the Instagram handle category.)

Now he’s gone again, leaving behind holes in center field and the top of the batting order. Jeff Sullivan, writing up this transaction largely from the Angels’ perspective, points a finger to JaCoby Jones as the likely replacement Avila is targeting. Jones showed memorable flashes as a late-season call-up this year, but, like many prospects, he’s still young and raw and inconsistent. The other obvious fill-in is Tyler Collins, who has the relative advantage of being a left-handed hitter but the disadvantage of being at an age and experience level where “raw” is not a baseball adjective that incorporates an element of hope.

All of this happened on offseason day number one. There will be more activity involving the Tigers this offseason, and, typically, it is wise to wait to render final judgment on a particular decision until it can be viewed within the full constellation of the team’s moves. Under austerity, though, there should be little hope for or expectation of near-term improvement through an infusion of external resources; doing better must mean doing better with what you already have. There isn’t going to be a Justin Upton trade this year (which, while we’re at it, probably will be the last year J.D. Martinez wears a Detroit uniform). What stings about the Maybin trade– besides the obvious departure of talent and the intangibles of a fun guy who seemed to be having a lot of fun himself– is that it is a move that will make the team worse in 2017, and the Tigers haven’t made too many moves like that in a good while.

Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox

With the 2016 MLB season roughly one-third complete, this series has touched on possible changes the Detroit Tigers might make at the catcher and shortstop positions and now turns to the starting pitching rotation.

To begin with the good news about the Detroit Tigers’ pitching, we almost have to begin with the bad news, which is that the presumptive lock for an above-slot number three starter, Anibal Sanchez, was so bad through his first eleven starts that he’s been demoted to the bullpen. Another potential starter, Shane Greene, has continued to be unable to prove he can hold down a starter role, and still-semi-prospect Daniel Norris has battled injury and efficiency problems that, so far, have kept him in Toledo and out of a rotation spot in Detroit. Thankfully, Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander have, for the most part, been very solid in the first two spots, and rookies Michael Fulmer and, to a lesser extent, Matt Boyd, have arrived this year as big-league-ready starters.

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A weakness common to all Tigers starters this year has been an inability to pitch late into games, but the arrival of Fulmer in particular has allowed the team to bolster an already-improved bullpen with extra tweener (i.e., not quite starter material yet/anymore) arms like Sanchez and Greene, with Boyd, who has been a bit homer-prone of late, a possibility to join them in the near future. Brad Ausmus and Al Avila have done a good job of rotating these arms through a suddenly thick bullpen, making frequent use of Toledo options where available, to the point that many Tigers fans are experiencing a creeping and unfamiliar sensation of actual comfort with their team’s pitching staff. These are strange days indeed.

If they want to return to the familiar, however, they need not look too hard, because every fifth game or so begins with Mike Pelfrey on the mound.   Continue reading

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent St. Patrick’s Day with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:   Continue reading