Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

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Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current offseason issues in the sport.

On the hot stove‘s slow burn:

An underappreciated element of the utter sameness that permeates baseball today is the number of executives who came through the commissioner’s office at Major League Baseball either as an intern or early in their careers. Jobs there aren’t just pipelines to teams. They are breeding grounds for the proliferation of commissioner Rob Manfred’s doctrine, honed during two decades as the sport’s chief labor negotiator.

How does it work? Consider the case of Tommy Hunter, the relief pitcher, who late last winter was holding out for a major league contract. On the same day, according to two sources, at least two teams called Hunter offering the exact same deal – an occurrence that in the past might have screamed of collusion. In this case, the sources said, it was likelier a reflection of how teams value players so similarly.

It’s not just the algorithms with minuscule differences that spit out the same numbers. It’s a recognition of how to manipulate the new collective-bargaining agreement. “Clubs are maneuvering to take advantage of the significant salary depressors in the CBA,” one agent said. An example: One large-revenue team telling agents that his team is wary of getting anywhere close to the luxury-tax threshold, lest it be penalized for exceeding it.

“Of course that’s what we’re saying,” the GM said. “We’d be stupid not to.”

On Julio Teheran and what happens when player-value metrics tell different stories:

At Baseball-Reference, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017. He allowed heaps more runs than he had in 2016. It’s more complicated than that — a ton of work has gone into the calibration — but at a basic level this is what we’re talking about. By bWAR, based on runs allowed adjusted for things like ballpark and the quality of his defense, Teheran was worth 1.6 wins in 2017, close to league average.
. . .
At FanGraphs, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017, worse even than he was at Baseball-Reference. His strikeout rate went down, his walk rate went up, and he allowed way more home runs. It’s more complicated than that, but at a basic level it’s not much more complicated than that. By fWAR, which is based on a stat (FIP) calculated with those three factors alone, Teheran was worth 1.1 wins. He pitched considerably worse than a league-average starter.
. . .
But now it gets complicated, because at Baseball Prospectus Teheran’s WARP was 3.8, identical to his 3.8 WARP in 2016. He ranked 24th in baseball, ahead of Alex Wood, James Paxton and Robbie Ray. We’ve found a story that says Teheran was actually good.
. . .
Which takes us to a third level of storytelling, observing not just what happened or what should have happened but what should have should have happened.

In WARP’s telling, Teheran walked more batters than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have walked fewer than he did. He allowed far more home runs than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have allowed fewer. Specifically, given his pitch types and pitch locations, he should have beat batters who actually beat him.
. . .
There are those who complain there are multiple WAR models telling us different things about players. Stats are supposed to resolve uncertainty, we figure, not exacerbate it. But these are complicated questions. The worst thing a stat could do it mislead us about how simple baseball is, or about how much we know. It’s not simple. We don’t know all that much.

On the weekend’s big throwback trade between the Dodgers and Braves:

With five players involved, [Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, and Charlie Culberson,] this is a big trade for two teams to make. But then, if we’re going to be realistic, this isn’t about the players at all. This is a swap of money, or, more accurately, this is a swap of debt. There is short-term debt, and there is shorter-term debt.
. . .
Gonzalez is already a free agent. The Braves designated him for assignment so fast that it was part of the initial press release. Kemp is unlikely to play a game for the Dodgers, since they’re already looking to flip him, if not drop him outright. Kazmir didn’t pitch in the majors this past season. McCarthy did, but he threw just 92.2 innings. Culberson batted all of 15 times before making the playoff roster because Corey Seager was hurt. All of these players combined for a 2017 WAR of +0.7. It was all thanks to McCarthy, and his 16 adequate starts.
. . .
[H]ere’s how this works. Gonzalez’s 2018 salary belongs to the Braves now. Then his contract is up. The same is true for McCarthy, and the same is true for Kazmir. Culberson does come with some years of team control. The Dodgers are also sending the Braves $4.5 million. And Kemp’s 2018 salary now belongs to the Dodgers. So does Kemp’s 2019 salary. In each year, he’s due $21.5 million.
. . .
[T]his exchange is more or less cash-neutral. That is, neither the Braves nor the Dodgers are taking on the greater obligation. But the Dodgers are spreading it over the next two years, reducing their 2018 payroll figure. The Braves will face the greater short-term burden, and then, come 2019, there will be sweet, sweet freedom. The Braves ditch a future obligation, giving them more financial flexibility a year from now. The Dodgers assume a future obligation, but they, too, will get more financial flexibility a year from now, and beyond, because they likely won’t have to pay the most severe competitive-balance taxes. All they’re worried about is getting the overage penalties to reset. . . . Next offseason, Bryce Harper, for example, is expected to be a free agent. Manny Machado is expected to be a free agent. All sorts of good players are expected to be free agents, and, significantly, Clayton Kershaw could opt out. The Dodgers are presumably planning to spend big, so resetting the overage penalties now could and should eventually save them eight figures. All it requires is one year of dipping down.

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Previously
Baseball Notes: Baseball’s growth spurt, visualized
Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray
Baseball Notes: Save Tonight
Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup
Baseball Notes: The In-Game Half Lives of Professional Pitchers
Baseball Notes: Rule Interpretation Unintentionally Shifts Power to Outfielders?
Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
Baseball Notes: The Crux of the Statistical Biscuit
Baseball Notes: Looking Out for Number One
Baseball Notes: Preview

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The arc of the ALDLAND universe is long, but it bends toward this weekend

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If there are two things I’ve written about with consistency at this weblog they are 1) the Detroit Tigers and 2) the Atlanta Braves’ foolhardy abandonment of their downtown home at Turner Field. Beginning tonight, and for the next two days thereafter, these two ALDLANDic worlds will collide when the Tigers face the Braves in the final three games ever to be played at the aforementioned Turner Field. More than anything, I am grateful that we will be able to attend each of these games, live and in person. These are critical games for the 2016 Tigers, teetering as they are on the edge of postseason qualification, and they are historic games for the City of Atlanta. I have little more to add at this juncture other than that I am very excited.   Continue reading

Upton Abbey – S2E1 – April Showers

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As planned, ALDLAND conducted a show of force during the Braves’ home-opening week, making our presence felt during game three of each series, which were played against the Mets and Nationals.

mets-braves 4-10-14

Although Atlanta lost that game and the series to the Mets that Thursday night, the game was a sign of things to come for the Braves. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Season Two Preview

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Upton Abbey is our Atlanta Braves series, now in its second season. B.J. and Justin Upton are off to rough starts, but overall, the state of Upton Abbey is strong. Tune in all season long right here on ALDLAND.

The Braves are opening at home this week with series against division foes New York and Washington. They started the season on the road in Milwaukee and Washington, going 4-2 on that trip, dropping just one game in each city.

Atlanta’s young, ascendant starting pitchers were the story heading into the season. That talent vanished with still-shocking swiftness, duplicate round-two Tommy John surgeries, and other injuries clearing out the bulk of the rotation. Still, the remaining starters, led by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, have looked pretty good so far. Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game, so that’s something that will help reassure a young, trembling group of starters. Reliever Luis Avilan’s hamstring injury, suffered this week, is cause for concern, but you’re getting the theme pretty clearly at this point.

The main non-injury offseason personnel event was the departure of free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees. While the still-raw Evan Gattis (and the wily Gerald Laird) may be able to replace some of McCann’s hitting, we should pause here to note the likely dropoff when it comes to the glove. From 2008-13, McCann was the best catcher in baseball in terms of pitch framing; Laird and fellow Braves backup catcher Ryan Doumit were among the ten worst over that period.

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ALDLAND will be at Turner Field for two games this week. Tonight, Commodawg and AD will catch the rubber match in this opening series with the Mets. On Sunday, Physguy comes to town to join AD for the third game of the Nationals series. Stay tuned here and on twitter for the freshest insights and hottest updates.

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Related
Preseason BP Nuggets
A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
From Barves to Burbs: What’s Happening to Baseball in Atlanta?

Upton Abbey: Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?

upton abbey bannerYesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Dan Uggla, Braves second baseman, would be placed on the disabled list in order for him to undergo Lasik eye surgery:

In the midst of the worst season of his career, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla will have Lasik eye surgery that will keep him out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks.

Uggla was placed on the 15-day disabled list and Tyler Pastornicky was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and will start Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies at Turner Field.

Uggla will have surgery in two or three days, and the Braves think he’ll be able to recover quickly, play in a few minor league games and return to the active roster in 15 days or shortly thereafter.

“It was a mutual decision,” said Uggla, who ranks second among Braves with 21 home runs and leads the team with 62 walks, but has the lowest average (.186) among major league qualifiers and most strikeouts (146) in the National League. “Obviously I don’t want to go on the DL whatsoever, but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s best for the team right now.

“I’ve been struggling pretty bad and battling with the contacts and grinding with those things day in and day out. I think the best thing to do is just go ahead and do it now.”

The full story is available here. Uggla can be a lightning rod for criticism, and the fact that his home runs and walks are up at the same time he has baseball’s worst batting average (supplanting teammate B.J. Upton) and is leading the National League in strikeouts sounds to me like a very Uggla season. With the team continuing to be beset by seemingly critical injuries (and succeeding in spite of that), the question is whether Lasik– which sounds a bit dog-ate-my-homework-esque– can help Uggla.

The idea here is that Uggla’s having trouble hitting the ball because he’s having trouble seeing the ball, and that having corrective eye surgery would improve his ability to see, and therefore hit, the ball. That AJC story includes an apparent testimonial from Uggla’s teammate, catcher Brian McCann, who battled vision problems and is having a great season at the plate this year.

But a 2005 study found “no statistically significant or practically significant difference . . . between the presurgery and postsurgery means on either on-base percentage, batting average, slugging percentage, or on-base plus slugging of any major league baseball players.”

Fangraphs’ Chad Young thinks there’s good reason to believe that study is flawed, however. His article raises three primary issues with the study: 1) it fails to account for player age; 2) it does not place player output in historical context; and 3) it utilizes rigid, narrow sample windows.

Young attempted to crunch the numbers himself in a way that addressed the flaws he saw in the study’s methodology, leading to a number of conclusions, including: a) offensive contribution increased significantly in the year following surgery, and b) players in Uggla’s age range saw an increase in offensive contribution, while older players saw a decrease, something Young attributes to age independent of eye surgery. In other words, “when we account for age and league context, the picture gets quite a bit rosier. Maybe the way I am looking at the data suggests I need the surgery more than Uggla does, but I am not ruling out the possibility that we will see noticeable gains once Uggla can see.”

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Uggla may be having trouble seeing the game right now, but we certainly did not, as our last trip to Turner Field found us in what may be the best seats I’ve ever had for a baseball game.

rockies braves august 2013I have yet to see the Braves lose in Atlanta this season (a streak that will be put to the test again tonight), and this particular game was the most emphatic victory yet. Continue reading