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Jose Bautista, really? Him?

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Last month, when word started to leak out that the Jays had managed to move Vernon Wells to Anaheim, I leapt in the air, fist pumping madly, as though I’d thrown the final pitch in a no-hitter.  Then, a week or two later, ESPN’s Keith Law released his organization prospect rankings and placed the Jays fourth.  That fourth place finish is all on Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos.  When he took over, tasked with the onerous responsibility of trading the best pitcher in baseball, AA inherited a system that was ranked in the bottom third of baseball (KLaw has said that prior to the Halladay trade, he would have ranked the Jays last in 2010).  In his first few months, AA moved Doc for a package that seems as though it will start paying meaningful dividends this season.  He also significantly boosted the Jays scouting operations, and made small signings (John Buck, Miguel Olivo) that paid off with extra picks in this year’s draft.  In short, what I’m saying is that AA was making me weak in the knees and I was thinking about moving to Toronto and holding up one of those signs that read “Marry Me.”

The Jays were a solid team on the field last year, which is nice, but with each of his moves, Anthopoulos has clearly had an eye and a half on the greater prize of building a sustainable organization capable of making a Rays-like ascension to the top of the AL East.  His moves have been nuanced, they’ve been thoguhtful, and they’ve had a clear purpose.  Culminating with the exceptional Wells trade, AA has yet to take a wrong step…

… Until this week that is.  I admit that it’s a tricky situation, Jose Bautista did smack 54 home runs last year.  And yes, he did finish fourth in the MVP voting and Fangraphs did estimate his value last year at 27 million, but before last year he had never had an OBP above .350.  He’d never had a slugging percentage above .420.  He’d never posted a WAR of 2.0.  He’s also 30 years old, so it’s not exactly like he’s a kid just breaking out.

Sure, much has been made about the change he made to his swing, but was the change really a 65 million dollar change?  Because right now, that’s what it amounts to.  Bautista was a fringe player, destined to bounce around once his arbitration years expired.  Instead on Thursday he put his John Hancock on the dotted line of a 13 million per year deal.  On its face, this just seems to be another contract that two years from now the Jays are going to be trying to offload on the White Sox or Angels.  It has Alex Rios written all over it and the initial blow back from pundits has not been kind.

Of course, it’s possible, that given AA’s track record, I’m wrong.  And no less than Dave Cameron is sitting counsel for Alex arguing his case,

While Bautista hit .260/.378/.617 last year, he did it while posting a .233 batting average on balls in play, the third worst mark in the Major Leagues. Now, BABIP for hitters is not like BABIP for pitchers, where the outside factors swamp the player’s ability to control whether his balls in play go for hits or not, and as an extreme fly ball hitter, we’d expect Bautista to post a lower than average BABIP. But even accounting for the fact that most of his hard hit balls went over the wall – and thus were not deemed to be “in play” – a .233 BABIP still seems really low.

Could Bautista have been unlucky last year?

Looking through history, the evidence is pretty clear that Bautista should be expected to take a big step back in home runs next year, but there’s also some evidence that improvement in his non-HR results could serve to cancel out some of the coming regression.

There’s of course more.  Cameron compares Jose to other players, some of them hopeful (Gary Sheffield), some of them not (Andruw Jones), but the point is that Cameron is arguing that despite an inevitable power outage, Bautista should more than justify this deal, even if it isn’t the way we all expect him to do so.  I hope so.  I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong and I hope that in five years I look back on my reaction to Bautista’s signing and say, “damn, I was wrong AA knocked that one out of the park.”

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NBA Preview Part 2 – The Setting Sun…

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

If the offseason was decidedly good for the Heat, it was decidedly bad for some other NBA franchises. Portland Trailblazers went insane and fired GM Kevin Pritchard, they then spent 32.5 million on Wesley Matthews; New Jersey cleared 79 billion in cap space to sign Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro; and the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers lost a couple guys who may or may not have had something to do with their recent success (and in the case of Toronto I use the term success very loosely), but from this completely biased outpost, the absolute worst offseason occurred in Arizona where Robert Sarver again showed himself to be one of the five worst owners in the NBA.

It cannot be overstated how bad of an offseason the Suns had. Since making all the right decisions in the summer of 2004, it boggles my mind how many moves the Suns have fumbled or outright botched. Every time they seem to take a step forward, they follow that up with three jumps back. Last year Steve Kerr finally settled into his role as GM, making some astute moves, and putting a team together that made a surprising run to the Western Conference playoffs. How did Robert Sarver reward him? Well, who knows. Kerr resigned and while he wont publicly say a bad word about Sarver, I think we can be fairly sure that something drove him out the door.

Without Kerr, the Suns allowed Amare Stoudemire to leave for the Knicks. That’s a hard decision. Given Amare’s problems staying healthy and his indifference to all things defensive, I can see the fear over giving him a 100 million deal. On the other hand, when you let Amare walk and replace him with 34 million on Josh Childress, 30 million of Channing Frye, 17 million of Hakim Warrick, and 44 million of Hedo Turkoglu, well that’s just obnoxious. It sort of reminds me of the team selling the draft rights to Rajon Rondo so that they could free up 20 million for Marcus Banks.

I don’t know, I just wish the Suns would trade Nash to San Antonio so that I could start cheering for a team that wasn’t so penny wise-pound foolish. As it stands, what’s the best possible outlook for this squad? Can they duplicate last year’s 54 win team when the their only big men are Frye, Warrick, and Robin Lopez? I’m a fan of Lopez and obviously Frye has his uses, but that’s hardly the front line of a championship WNBA team, let alone a championship NBA team.

On top of that, the Suns have four guys filling the small forward spot:

Grant Hill
Turkoglu
Jared Dudley
Josh Childress

I know that they will probably play small a bunch, with Hill or Turk at the four, but really? Really? Couldn’t you have spent part of the 108 million you spent on Turk, Childress and Frye on a big man? I don’t know, maybe a guy who could average 23 points a game, play the pick and roll perfectly with Nash, and wear a funny face mask? You know, someone like your power forward from last year?

The Suns’ guard rotation remains solid, with Nash and Richardson backed up by Goran Dragic and presumably Hill and Childress will get some burn in the backcourt, but the Suns lack that one player who can get them a basket or a foul in any situation. Further, for all the shooters that they have, who is opening up the floor for them? Who’s attracting double teams? The Suns have valuable pieces, but they are poorly put together and for all the good rotation players, they are lacking that number one scoring option. Last season’s excitement seems a distant memory, lost in haze of bad contracts, and this seems like a squad that will struggle to reach the playoffs. Sigh…

More Phillies, More Howard, More Hyperbole…

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, it was a pretty big contract, so I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised to see some BIG responses. Still, it’s created such a hornets nest of comments, that I had to revisit Howard’s massive extension.

Matthew Carruth from the always spectacular FanGraphs acknowledged the humor involved:

When the news first broke and the details started to emerge, I was tempted to fill this entire article with just me laughing. My co-writers convinced me that while an appropriate response, that was not quite informative enough so I have relented and will actually map out the value of Ryan Howard’s new extension. I’m laughing pretty hard, though, in case you wanted to picture it.

Can’t argue with him there, it was pretty funny, I mean not so much Modern Family (blatant, lough out loud) funny, more Office (incomprehensible and awkward) funny, but still… more from Carruth:

Howard will need six seasons that were better than his 2009 season, except over his 32-37 years. I’m not sure I would lay even money on him achieving even half of that. This contract is both incredibly risky and unnecessary since Howard was already signed through 2011. Say hello to baseball’s newest worst contract.

I don’t know about the worst contract in baseball (cough-vernonwells-cough), but Howard sure will have to work hard to justify his 25 million a year. On the other hand, if you listen to some of the comments from Philly fans, this is a veritable bargain. To whit, somebody dubbed the Truth wrote (parenthesis comments are mine):

The contract may be huge but Howard deserves it. Really? (I’d love to know why, please elaborate?) Howard is the best run producer in baseball. (No, he’s not, that would be Albert Pujols) He has at least 40 HR and 135 RBI the last 4 seasons. (Yes, but only one of those is relevant…) Howard is the fastest player to reach both the 100 and 200 home run milestones in Major League Baseball history… For a player entering his 6th MLB season he has already accomplished a significant amount (yes, but for a player entering his 6th MLB season he’s also already surprisingly old).

NL Rookie of the Year (2005) – Irrelevant
2× All-Star (2006, 2009) – Irrelevant
Silver Slugger (2006) – Nice accomplishment, but four years old.
NL MVP (2006) – R’iiiiight…
NL Hank Aaron Award (2006) – Well, he did hit a lot of home runs, and they are shiny…
Home Run Derby winner (2006) – Yup, definitely worth 25 million…
Led NL in home runs (2006, 2008) – True.
Led NL in RBI (2006, 2008, 2009) – Wait for it… Irrelevant!
World Series Champion (2008) – So was Matt Stairs, is he getting a 25 million a year deal?
2009 National League Championship Series MVP – What?!?

Well, I can’t really say that I was convinced. Fortunately, on the side of reason is the good old King of Snark:

Howard ranked 28th among MLB hitters in WAR in 2009, 63rd in 2008, and 38th in 2007. Even if we just look at his bat, ignoring position and defense for the moment, he ranked 18th in MLB in 2009. The Phillies just handed him the second-highest average annual salary in the game, but he’s not the second-best position player in the game, or the fifth best, or even in the top 20. He’s not even the best player on his own team — that would be second baseman Chase Utley.

I can only imagine that Keith’s going to hear about that top 20 comment… but he’s fearless, so he continues:

This signing says to me that the Phillies are still stuck in the old model of player compensation, in which counting stats, especially home runs and RBIs, earn players the biggest paychecks, and knowledge of player aging patterns was largely absent from the industry.

A rebutal from the audience? Yes, how about you, Mr. dalegrey:

I guess this why you work for ESPN and not the Phillies or any other team anymore.

Nice, attacking his career choice, always a good sign that you have reason on your side. How about something from SI’s Jon Heyman (via twitter):

folks keep tweeting howard’s an overpay. but hes averaged 49.5 HRs/143 RBIs last 4 yrs. MVP finishes those 4: 1, 5, 2, 3

Yup, there are all those fancy MVP finishes, but what do they tell us? Maybe it’s just me, but I think they tell us that Howard is exceptionally good at compiling a gaudy numbers in two counting stats. Fortunately for him, those counting stats happen to be the ones that writers who like to denigrate stats use. That those same writers also happen to vote on MVP awards says more about the state of baseball writing than Howard’s MVP finishes.

Well, I could really continue here all day, but the wife wants dinner and what my baby wants… So, I leave you with perhaps the most salient point of all, courtesy of ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Here’s a simple barometer of whether or not this was a good deal for the Phillies: If Philadelphia were to put Howard on the trade market today, with almost seven years and $164 million remaining on his deal, how many offers would it get?

The answer, in all likelihood: zero.

Less than 24 hours into his contract, Howard — a star in his prime — is already considered by many in the industry to be overpriced.

Yup, the Phils really hit that one out of the park. High fives and scotches all around for Ruben and Friends…

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