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10:10 PM — The deal does not include a no-trade clause, which I think is also a plus for the Marlins.
10:03 PM – According to a tweet from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Marlins have signed Jose Reyes to a six-year deal worth $106MM.
We’ve been aware of the heavy Reyes interest from the Marlins since the season ended, but no one could have predicted the two sides agreeing to a deal. Easily one of the more coveted free agents on the market, Reyes now joins an infield consisting of a couple of the National League’s best players. The deal is pending a physical, which, we all could assume the Marlins will tackle carefully.
Should everything go as expected, the Marlins will have already signed a huge name (their apparent wish when the off-season started) and a semi-big name in Heath Bell. We don’t know the contractual breakdown as of yet, but it’s basically eighteen-or-so million dollars annually heading to the pocket of Jose Reyes.
On last Friday’s Baseball Today podcast, ESPN’s Keith Law discussed free agent possibilities for the Miami Marlins, including Pujols, Fielder, and Reyes. Law doesn’t understand why the Marlins would sign Pujols or Fielder, given their surplus of first basemen (Sanchez and Morrison). However, he believes signing Reyes would “change the complexion of their lineup and infield defense” (he thinks Hanley Ramirez could be a plus defender at third base and that Reyes, when healthy, is a plus defender at shortstop, defensive metrics notwithstanding) and “change the balance of power in the division,” noting that there aren’t many signings where one player makes such a difference in the standings.
Then, Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan chimed in with his own opinions surrounding the same crop of free agents. Sheehan’s main concern with signing Pujols is his age – an eight-year deal, for example, would take Pujols through his age 39 season. Given what we know about corner infielders as they age, namely that their offensive production declines and eventually falls off a cliff, his concern is legitimate. Ultimately, Sheehan would prefer Fielder to Pujols, given that the same eight-year deal would take Fielder through his age 34 season.
As Sheehan noted, the crux of the matter is whether Albert Pujols is one of a handful of players in history who won’t decline (very much or at all) into his mid and late-30s. If Pujols doesn’t experience the decline in offensive production that most corner infielders undergo, then an eight-year deal is justified.
Law explained that we really don’t know what that player looks like except in retrospect. In other words, who the heck knows whether Pujols will decline normally or become an aberration?
Sheehan compared Pujols and Fielder to Teixeira, saying that “Fielder is Teixeira without the glove” and “Pujols is Teixeira except older.” It’s a comparison I hadn’t thought about, but one that makes sense. Below is a comparison between the three players from the beginning of their careers until they hit free agency and in the year immediately preceding free agency.
Law had some interesting things to say about Reyes, namely, that he thinks Reyes, had he been healthier in and before 2011, might have been the best free agent in this market, to which Sheehan responded by referring to the fact that Reyes hasn’t played a full season over the last three years.
They also talked about Buerhle. Law likes Buerhle in this market because, even with an 86 mph fastball, “you know exactly what you’re getting” with the lefty – a solid innings-eater. However, Sheehan made a great point about the 32-year-old: he doesn’t have much room to decline, whether in terms of velocity or strikeout/walk/groundball rate. “What happens when Buerhle starts throwing 84 mph?” A move to the NL would help neutralize any decline in Buerhle’s performance, but Sheehan makes a fair point.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the Don Cooper effect. Cooper, the White Sox’s pitching coach, is regarded as one of the best in the game. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com talked about Cooper on Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, noting that Buerhle may not be the same pitcher without Cooper’s guidance.
As an aside, Cameron, in a recent piece for FanGraphs.com, highlighted the eerily similar production of John Danks and Edwin Jackson. Their strikeout, walk, and groundball rates are nearly identical over the last three seasons, yet Danks is perceived as much more valuable. It was a terrific perception vs. reality piece on the two pitchers.
Now, at the outset of this offseason, the Marlins announced that they had big plans for 2012. They’re committed to winning next year and have already made offers to several free agents, including Pujols, Reyes, and Buerhle. However, as I’ve written before and as Larry Beinfest recently noted, the biggest boost for this team may occur via healthy seasons from Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. Signing Reyes is a defensible move because it addresses a long-term need at a premium position, but other than him, it seems the rest of the free agent crop is too risky.
Sheehan believes that the correct play this offseason is to avoid a big signing, noting that “money not spent during the offseason doesn’t disappear – it can be used later.” It’s an interesting argument that (maybe except for Reyes) I probably agree with.
Two years ago, the Marlins best player was without a doubt Hanley Ramirez. He was coming off back-to-back fantastic seasons, and was runner-up in the National League MVP voting. Not to mention, at only 25 years old, he was only beginning to enter his prime. Hanley’s performance certainly made it easy for fans and media alike to acclaim him as the face of the franchise, as they should have. Back then, Mike Stanton was but a 19-year old playing in double-A ball. Now, however, the picture is not so clear, and there is no easy answer to the question of whom, of the two players, was, and will be, the better player.
After posting two 7+ Wins Above Replacement seasons, expectations were high for Ramirez coming into 2010. As we all know, things have spiraled downward. Some causes for the dip in production, such as injuries, have been the result of bad luck. Others have criticized him for not hustling on the field, as well as the apparent lack of leadership he has displayed (or, rather, has not displayed). I’m sure the majority of fans have heard this told far too many times, so I won’t reiterate the topic further.
Stanton, on the other hand, burst onto the scene last June as one of the youngest players in the game. He has since responded by hitting 56 Homeruns, and posting 7.3 Wins Above Replacement in just under 1000 plate appearances.
Hanley’s career numbers obviously trump Stanton’s (as Ramirez will be entering his 7th full season to Mike’s third), but the statistics from their first two seasons are comparable. Using these numbers, over at Marlin Maniac, Ehsan Kassim makes his case supporting Hanley Ramirez. While I have the utmost respect for Kassim, unfortunately I can’t agree with his method of reasoning in this case. In his post, the author cites statistics from both players first two years in the MLB.
Here are the numbers he uses in defense of that statement
|First Two Seasons:||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA||WAR|
While Ramirez holds an edge in those numbers, I think it would be rash to go as far as Kassim does, when he says
“Hanley’s first two seasons completely blow Stanton’s first two seasons out of the water. There is really no comparison between the two.”
Firstly, the statistics are not as pro-Ramirez as they may seem. The three win difference at the right end of the column can be almost entirely explained by the 400+ more At-Bat’s Hanley had in the two years. If Stanton’s WAR is extended to 1406 AB’s (as many as Ramirez), his WAR would be identical to Hanley’s, at 10.3. The OBP and wOBA both are comparable, Stanton leads in Slugging, and Ramirez has the edge in Batting Average. Still, nothing here that would justify calling Hanley’s first two seasons that much better than Stanton. Honestly, a case could be made that Stanton actually played better during his first two years, especially if one is looking for a player with power.
Secondly, and more importantly, is the difference between the ages of the two when they played their first two years. After a brief call-up in the September of 2005, Ramirez played his first two full seasons during 2006 and 2007. During his first season Hanley was 22 years old. In contrast, Stanton played his first year in the Big Leagues at age 20. Here is where Stanton separates himself from Ramirez. Essentially, he produced at the same level Hanley did in his first two seasons, but Stanton did it while he was two years younger.
In essence, Kassim compared Hanley’s performance from ages 22-23 to Stanton’s production at ages 20-21. The two years of extra development and more experience would be another advantage that Hanley had, but Stanton did not. In this situation, Stanton is certainly going to be at a significant disadvantage, and it would be more prudent to withhold judgment of “who had the better first two seasons” until after Stanton’s 23rd birthday, where a comparison can be made while looking at performances compiled at similar ages.
Along with comparisons through each player’s first two seasons, fans have been divided over whom will be the team’s better player going forward. To which, we simply don’t know. Will Hanley ever be healthy again? Will Stanton continue to develop as a player, or has he already reached his peak? With as many questions and variables as there are surrounding the two players, we won’t be able to make conclusion regarding “who will be the better player” until at least after 2012 is well underway.
Due to technical problems, this article wasn’t published under the author’s name who wrote it, Carlo Salcedo. However, every word written in this article is his. -Dave Gershman
Buster Olney recently reported that the Marlins could make a run at James Shields.
“Heard this: Among the possibilities the Marlins are considering is a serious run at James Shields — and they have some natural matchup on a trade, because they could dangle Logan Morrison as part of any package for the right hander.”
“Big Game” or “Complete Game” James (depending on what you prefer) posted a career year in 2011 with a 2.82 ERA in 249-plus innings pitched, including a MLB-high 11 complete games, four of which were shutouts. He also posted career-highs in K/9, BABIP, strand rate, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and WAR. Needless to say, Shields pitched like an ace in 2011. He’s got significant trade value this offseason, which the Rays are likely to exploit, as they did with Matt Garza last offseason.
Garza had more trade value than Shields last offseason mainly because of a 1.27 difference in their 2010 ERAs, despite Shields posting a better FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and WAR. Garza is almost two years younger than Shields, though the gap between their respective values was a function of perception and ERA more than anything else.
It’s easy to forget the concern surrounding Shields after his struggles in 2010, when he accumulated a 5.18 ERA over 203-plus innings. However, given his bad luck in BABIP and the 4.24 FIP/3.55 xFIP/3.57 SIERA that suggested he pitched much better than his 5.18 ERA, the Rays astutely trusted that Shields’ numbers would regress in 2011, and it paid off.
In fact, the main differences between 2010 and 2011 for Shields were an 83-point swing in BABIP (.341 in 2010 and .258 in 2011), a significantly better strand rate (68.4 percent compared to 79.6 percent), and an improved ground ball rate (41.3 percent versus 46.2 percent). His trade value has been restored and the Rays will likely trade him given that he is becoming more expensive. He has club options for $7 million in 2012, $9 million in ‘13, and $12 million in ’14.
One reason why Shields’ numbers improved in 2011 compared to 2010: according to Fangraphs, he threw his fastball 46.1 percent of the time in 2010 compared to 36.4 percent of the time in 2011; he threw his curveball 13.5 percent of the time in 2010 compared to 21 percent of the time in 2011. Admittedly, these numbers aren’t the most reliable, but the differences are significant.
Going forward, Shields has a career .299 BABIP, 72.7 percent strand rate, and 43.8 percent ground ball rate, so his overall numbers may become somewhat worse compared to 2011. Though, a switch to the NL would definitely benefit him.
A Few Good Reads
Jeff Passan on why baseball shouldn’t care about TV ratings:
“Look, baseball’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis the NFL remains among its weirdest – and weakest – foci.”
“MLB’s embrace of new media a decade ago leaves it as far and away the industry leader in the sorts of technologies needed to sell its game. Content is king. Baseball produces the most content.”
MLBTR’s Matt Swartz on the statistics that matter in determining pitchers’ arbitration salaries:
“The statistics that matter to [arbitration] panels remain IP, W, and ERA for starting pitchers, and IP, ERA, saves and holds for relief pitchers.”
“Playing time is crucial for pitchers’ arbitration salaries, just as it was for hitters. Accumulating innings gets you a big raise, even with a mediocre season.”
“Our model predicts that for each four wins a pitcher gets, he will receive about a 10% larger raise, even with all of his other statistics unchanged.”
“Relievers get paid by role. An elite closer with a history of saves gets paid far more than a set-up man, who gets paid far more than a middle reliever, even with similar performances. Andrew Bailey is slotted for $3.5MM this winter, but turn his 24 saves into 24 holds and he’d only get $2.1MM with the same elite ERA of 2.07, even with his 51 career saves prior to 2011 still on his record. Take all those saves and holds away, and he’d get under $1.0M with 174 career IP of a 2.07 ERA. Tyler Clippard had 38 holds this year for the Nationals, which boosts him up to a $1.7MM salary estimate. Take away 33 of those 38 holds to make him a middle reliever, and he only projects to get $1.3MM.”
Here, Swartz looks at the statistics that matter for hitters.
Finally, Mike Fast’s study on hitters’ hot and cold zones, which was spurned by a discussion with Brandon McCarthy.
“The pitcher-batter confrontation lies at the heart of baseball; learning about it is one of my favorite pursuits.”
Fast notes that Emilio Bonifacio is one of the worst batters, in terms of TAv, on pitches up-and-in.
Photo by Bill Kostroun – AP
There’s been mixed news about whether the Indians will exercise Grady Sizemore’s $9 million club option for the 2012 season ($500,000 buyout). MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian wrote that it’s “highly unlikely” that Cleveland will pick up the option “given Sizemore’s injury woes the past three seasons.” Yet, more recently, Bastian stated that the organization plans to take its time in making the decision. Cleveland has until three days after the conclusion of the World Series to decide.*
*Here, Buster Olney outlined the pros and cons (from the Indians’ standpoint) of exercising the option.
That being said, if the Indians choose to part ways with Sizemore, he will become a free agent. Given that the Marlins may have a need for an impact, left-handed bat and a center fielder, should they pursue the former All-Star if he’s available?
Sizemore will no doubt draw interest from numerous teams because of the upside he brings. From 2006-2008, he batted .279/.380/.499 with 85 home runs and 93 steals while playing a solid center field. Over those three seasons, he led MLB outfielders in WAR.
Then, injuries happened. In early-2009, he battled a sore elbow and hit the disabled list and, in early-September, was shut down for surgery on his elbow and abdomen. He finished with a .248/.343/.445 line that year. Sizemore’s 2010 season lasted only 33 games as he battled knee issues and eventually endured microfracture surgery in early-June. He finished at .211/.271/.289 in 140 plate appearances. This year, Sizemore battled a right knee injury and sports hernia that allowed him only 257 plate appearances in 61 games, in which he batted .237/.304/.466.
Though several teams will pursue the former Expos’ farmhand (should Cleveland decline the option), he likely will not require more than a one or two-year deal. In fact, I’m more inclined to believe Sizemore will command a one-year deal in an attempt to re-establish his market value and once again hit free agency in 2013. A short-term deal for next year would present a win-win situation for both Sizemore and whichever team he signs with, as Sizemore attempts to re-establish his value and there is no long-term risk for the club.
For the Marlins, it would be a high risk, high reward move. Besides Sizemore’s injury history, it’s clear he is no longer an elite center fielder. In fact, UZR pegged him at 4.6, 1, and 5.8 runs below average over the last three seasons, respectively. Also, Sizemore has maintained a fairly clear platoon split throughout his career that has been more distinct over the last few seasons: .308 career wOBA versus LHPs, .381 versus RHPs. However, he’s been able to overcome this split when healthy and, at 29, it’s possible that he is still at the tail-end of his prime.
It’s already been mentioned here that the Marlins will have money to spend this offseason and bringing in a left-handed bat would help balance a lineup that was 11th in the NL in runs scored (a bounce-back season from Hanley Ramirez should also help). Yet, the Marlins may not need a center fielder if they decide to promote prospect Matt Dominguez to third base and play Emilio Bonifacio in center field. In this case, the Marlins would have only two left-handed batters in the lineup: Bonifacio and Logan Morrison.
Chris Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, is another internal, left-handed option in center field, though he’s been battling a sore knee and could instead begin 2012 in the minor leagues. He’s also arbitration-eligible and could be non-tendered.
Other free agent center fielders of interest include: Carlos Beltran (35), Coco Crisp (32), and David DeJesus (32).
Over the last several weeks, it’s become more apparent that 2012 will be a huge year for the Marlins. Along with opening a new stadium, hiring Ozzie Guillen, and rebranding the franchise with a new logo, the team plans on operating with its highest ever payroll. Recently, Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post wrote that the Marlins’ 2012 payroll could approach $100 million, a figure the franchise has never been close to seeing. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently predicted that the Marlins’ 2012 payroll, should the roster sustain minimal turnover, will be around $65 million, in effect giving the team $35 million to spend. That figure makes the Marlins a contender for any big name free agent on the market, including Albert Pujols (2012 age: 32), Prince Fielder (28), and C.J. Wilson (28).
Three days ago, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro confirmed that the Marlins will make “a run at one impact position player” and that the team’s interest in Pujols is “very much real.” He added that “a more realistic free-agent lefty starter (as opposed to Wilson) is Mark Buehrle (33)” and that with the uncertainty surrounding Juan Carlos Oviedo’s future, reliever Ryan Madson (31) “is a name to keep an eye on in free agency.”
The numerous reports confirming the Marlins’ plan to make a splash in 2012 bring excitement. But is the signing of a big name free agent truly necessary to transform the team into a contender?
Back in April, the SweetSpot blog’s very own Christina Kahrl was the only ESPN expert to pick the Marlins as a 2011 playoff team. While Florida finished 72-90 and in last place in the NL East (18 games out of the Wild Card), Kahrl’s selection seemed, for a portion of the season, like the smartest anybody had made. Take a look at the Marlins’ position in the standings through the first four months or so.
Florida was competitive for the first two months or so, but then dropped off with a 5-23 record in June. What went wrong? Part of the problem was the lack of production from their two best players. Ace Josh Johnson pitched in his final game on May 16 – he hit the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on May 17. The 6’7”, 250-pound righty was having a terrific year (3-1, 1.64 ERA) and is the type of pitcher who can end a team losing streak, no matter the opponent, thanks to overpowering stuff and solid control. It’s hard to believe the Marlins would have gone into such a tailspin had Johnson been available.
Through May, Hanley Ramirez was hitting .210/.306/.309 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with four homers, yet Florida was still atop the Wild Card standings. On May 29 against the Dodgers, Ramirez left the game in the first inning because of lower back and left hip issues. He missed two weeks and returned on June 14. From that point until August 2, Ramirez hit .280/.365/.459, then returned to the disabled list because of a sprained left shoulder. He missed the rest of the season as he underwent shoulder surgery in September.
Obviously, there were other components that factored into the team’s sudden failure and there will be numerous elements in determining the 2012 Marlins’ fate, but Johnson and Ramirez are two dynamic talents who can adversely affect outcomes. While adding a hitter like Pujols or Fielder will make this team much more dangerous, its fate depends on the health and productivity of its two young studs. Johnson has thrown at least 180 innings only twice in seven seasons, though is dominant when healthy. With Ramirez, there’s no reason to think he won’t fully recover from shoulder surgery and be ready by Opening Day 2012.
If you’re like me, then you dislike very few things about postseason baseball. One series, and often one game, is all that stands between teams advancing and going home. Each at-bat, pitch, and managerial decision reflects this state of heightened tension. Yet, with every postseason comes one thing that bothers me, perhaps more than anything else about the playoffs. Watching the playoffs is fun, but having to listen to Fox’s broadcasting team isn’t.* Every postseason, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver “analyze” the games using baseball clichés and traditional baseball wisdom, forcing many fans to mute their televisions and watch in silence – easily a better alternative.
*By the way, next season I plan on listening to and reviewing as many broadcasting teams as possible, in terms of how they analyze the game and how entertaining they are to watch and listen to. Also, to read about McCarverisms, go here.
Before this year’s ALCS, it was announced that McCarver would be unable to call games one and two after undergoing a heart-related procedure, but would be ready to return for game three. In the meantime, Fox hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona to broadcast alongside Buck for the first two games.
Francona, who shockingly resigned as the Red Sox’s skipper following his team’s historic collapse, had no previous broadcasting experience and thus was a surprising choice. Still, fans were eager to have the rare pleasure of hearing a former manager with such recent success behind the microphone during the playoffs. At the very least, Francona would be an upgrade over McCarver, and hopefully would make the playoffs more enjoyable to watch.
I watched the first game and, for the most part, “Tito” analyzed the game well and occasionally gave us information we wouldn’t otherwise have known, especially relating to tendencies exhibited by some of the batters and pitchers. He was never too critical of any player or manager, yet was opinionated in terms of strategy and managerial decisions. He was even funny at times.
Overall, the reception towards Francona as a broadcaster among writers, bloggers, and fans was positive. Even the great Joe Posnanski gave positive reviews. Yet, at times, even Tito fell susceptible to baseball clichés and speaking in platitudes.
Personally, I didn’t find this cross-section of Tito’s comments particularly annoying mainly because they were prefaced and followed by insightful analysis. In other words, he spoke in clichés only a handful of times. I, like many watchers, gave him a pass.
However, some writers, bloggers, and fans became quite annoyed with Francona’s commentary based on these few occasions when he probably could have been more articulate, to the point at which they quickly grew tired of him and were overly critical. This reaction towards Francona’s commentary was largely unfounded, and it has to do not just with Francona, but with the current broadcasting paradigm in general.
A particular comment by Francona that drew the ire of many fans and bloggers occurred when he was talking about Mike Napoli’s defense (I don’t remember which inning it was). He said: “When you hit 30 homers, your defense gets a lot better.” Admittedly, this was a somewhat sarcastic comment that didn’t pass as great analysis. However, he said this immediately after Buck spent several seconds raving about how Napoli’s defense had improved since joining the Rangers. After Napoli blocked a pitch in the dirt, Buck took advantage of the situation by explaining that Napoli’s limited playing time with the Angels was, in part, due to him being a bad defensive catcher and, since joining the Rangers, his defense had improved significantly.
Is Mike Napoli actually a better defensive catcher now than when he was with the Angels? Does Terry Francona believe Napoli is better? It’s difficult to say for sure, but both of these questions, especially the former, demand more time than the few seconds Francona was given to respond (before the next few pitches or batter). Had Francona been given ample opportunity to discuss Napoli’s catching ability, he may have disagreed with Buck and provided reasons as to why, but the situation demanded that Francona basically support the narrative that Buck had advanced.
In short, Francona’s response was dictated more by the demands of broadcasting than by his true beliefs. This is common in today’s broadcasting, as the current paradigm sacrifices substantive player analysis for quick commentary based on each play. Had, for example, Francona been in the booth with, say, Joe Maddon, instead of Buck, the broadcast would have happened very differently and perhaps they would have explained Napoli’s defense in more detail (or, perhaps, Napoli’s defense would have never been a topic because he probably isn’t a great defender).
The notion that broadcasting doesn’t allow for real analysis may be obvious, but is worth reiterating. In this case, and in many others, Francona and other broadcasters shouldn’t be heavily criticized for being inaccurate or inarticulate in terms of analysis. Creating narratives such as “Napoli has become a better defender since joining the Rangers” is a necessary shortcut that is regularly taken by many broadcasters in order to keep up with the pace of the action and fulfill the demands of the current broadcasting system. Attacking Francona in that situation isn’t necessarily in indictment of his analytic ability. This doesn’t mean that all clichéd commentary should be dismissed – but it should be noted that Francona provided much more useful than useless information throughout the game.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on John Buck, and his season to date. The post focused mainly on his offensive output this past year, but I also included a paragraph regarding the 31-year old’s defense. I wrote that Buck is defensively “a bit below-league average.” As it turns out, I may have been too kind in that assessment.
Coincidentally, the day after my post went online, Mike Fast published his excellent article concerning catchers defense. For those who haven’t already read it, I highly recommend checking it out. In the article, Fast quantified the long mysterious and sought after effects of catchers ability to “frame” pitches. His findings? Framing can make a significant difference in whether a pitch is called a strike or a ball. His work cited Dan Turkenkopf’s finding “that switching the call from a ball to a strike on a close pitch was worth about 0.13 runs on average.” As a result, over the course of a season, a catcher who is very good at framing can add an extra 20 runs to his team. On the flip side, lesser backstops can cost their teams as many as 20 runs.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, Buck does not fare well in this metric of measuring catchers defense. According to Fast’s data, Buck is actually one of the most unskilled catchers. In 2011, his framing (or lack thereof) cost the Marlins 11 runs. Over the past 5 years, he is tied for 8th worst of all catchers playing regularly. Granted, these numbers are slightly skewed because of 2010, where he recorded an atrocious –17 runs. The point remains, however, that Buck is actually costing the Marlins in this area, rather than helping.
Combine these numbers with Buck’s -3 Defensive runs saved from Fangraphs (which does not incorporate framing pitchers), and a defensive I called “a bit below average” now is looking “very below average.”
As we look ahead to next season, it’s hard to see Buck’s defense improving significantly as he enters his 30′s, and his 9th season at catcher. Unfortunately, arm strength as well as speed is only going to decrease as Buck gets older. Not to mention, the toll of playing 120+ games behind the plate every year can only speed up the inevitable and irreversible process of aging.
Framing pitches, on the other hand, is something that could presumably be learned, no matter the age. It may take considerable time and effort, but Buck certainly could improve his defense in this respect. From a managerial standpoint, I would prefer to have a catcher who is not very skilled at framing pitches, rather than a catcher with a weak arm, simply because you could improve your framing skills much easier. Whether or not we see an improvement from Buck next year remains to be seen.
Earlier, SCWS did a fantastic job of pointing out some of the main reasons behind bringing in Ozzie Guillen as the Marlins’ next manager. Basically, the Marlins need to generate interest as they move their location and into a new stadium. Except for signing a big name free agent*, bringing in Guillen, albeit at a questionable cost (below is an image of Keith Law’s recent chat), is one of the best ways to garner attention, especially from non-die hard Marlins fans. It is a smart business decision at the very least, as long as the Marlins can stay competitive.
*By the way, Doc Gooden thinks Pujols has a shot at signing with the Marlins. Check out this Tweet: http://twitter.com/#!/DocGooden16/status/118729588821073920. I’m now sure how credible Doc’s tweet is, but what better way to go “all-in” than to sign the last decade’s best player?
Dave pointed out that managers do not have a huge impact on team performance. However, they make decisions and exhibit tendencies that, over the course of an entire season, can affect a team’s overall record in a significant way. Just ask Braves fans. Fredi Gonzalez made a number of questionable managerial decisions throughout the season, including his refusal to limit the workloads of relievers Craig Kimbrel and “Everyday” Jonny Venters. Ultimately, his decisions were a significant reason as to the Braves’ historic collapse.
So, aside from business reasons, what else does Ozzie bring as the Marlins’ new manager?
To start off, Ozzie uses the IBB at an above average rate. Take a look at the table below, which shows how often he has used the IBB compared to the AL average.
Ozzie has used the IBB more frequently in recent years, which isn’t necessarily a positive quality of a manager. The IBB is traditionally believed to create an advantage for the defense by intentionally walking a batter to face a seemingly inferior batter. While this does create an advantage for the pitcher, the extra base runner in most situations increases the run expectancy of that inning. In a majority of cases, the tradeoff benefits the offense more than the defense.
Secondly, Ozzie’s White Sox always were among the league leaders in sacrifice bunts attempted. Below is a table which shows how often Ozzie used the sacrifice bunt compared to league average.
The sacrifice bunt is another tactic that is traditionally believed to increase the run expectancy for a given inning. In general, the opposite is true. The benefit gained from advancing a runner is negated by the out that is created by the batter. Again, run expectancy decreases.
It’s unclear why Ozzie has used the sacrifice bunt at an extreme rate the last two seasons, compared to in previous years when he hardly used the tactic. For one, there isn’t a significant difference in how his offenses from those seasons performed. In 2011, the White Sox scored 4.04 runs per game, 4th worst in the AL. In 2010, they were above average in that category at 4.64 runs per game. In 2009, they were 3rd worst in the AL at 4.47. In 2008, they were a top-5 AL offense at 4.98 runs per game. Whatever the reason, Guillen needs to stop using the sac bunt so liberally.
Thirdly, over the last several years, Ozzie used pinch hitters at about an average rate compared to the rest of the AL. Pinch hitters can be valuable assets, especially late in games and especially when there is a significant platoon advantage at stake. I haven’t seen enough White Sox games over the last few years to definitively say whether Ozzie has used pinch hitters effectively, so this is an attribute that will have to be judged more next season.
In terms of pitching, a manager’s performance can be judged by bullpen usage. Over the last three years, Ozzie has been among the best in the AL in not using relievers on zero days of rest. This is generally a positive characteristic, as it saves relievers from overuse. This also depends on how many good relievers are at a manager’s disposal. Too few options can force a manager into using the same relievers too often. In 2011, Ozzie had a solid bullpen that provided 6.2 Wins Above Replacement (according to Fangraphs), good for 4th in baseball. Guillen used lefties Chris Sale and Matt Thornton, and righties Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain most often in high leverage situations. He definitely had more than just a couple of options, yet when Sale and Thornton struggled mightily early in the season, he showed confidence in them by continuing to use them, albeit in lower leverage situations. Eventually, they returned to their 7th and 8th inning roles, though not exclusively. Ozzie’s confidence in his bullpen is certainly a positive quality. He continued to let Sale and Thornton pitch knowing that eventually (because of their unique talent levels) they would perform well, which they did.
Finally, let’s look at Ozzie’s control of the running game. Since 2008, Ozzie’s teams have been consistently below the AL average in stolen base percentage. While the breakeven point in terms of the value of a stolen base varies based on the situation, typically, it is around 70-75 percent. That means that if a player is successfully stealing bases at a rate lower than 70-75 percent, the player is costing his team runs over the long run. In 2011, the White Sox were dead last in the AL in stolen base percentage at 60 percent. The league average was 72 percent. Much of this has to do with Juan Pierre’s sudden collapse as a base stealer. In 2010, he stole bases successfully 79 percent of the time. In 2011, that figure was 61 percent.
Stolen base percentage also hinges on roster construction. An elite base stealer may have the “green light” in most situations to steal a base at his own discretion. In this case, a manager has little control over stolen base percentage because the decisions are not coming from the dugout. If the 2012 Marlins roster remains relatively similar to that of the 2011 Marlins, the major base stealers will be Emilio Bonifacio (40/51, 78 percent) and Hanley Ramirez (20/30, 67 percent). Ramirez sustained several injuries in 2011, so his percentage should improve (76 percent in 2010). Chris Coghlan (7/13, 54 percent in 2011; 10/13, 77 percent in 2010) and Bryan Peterson (7/8, 88 percent) should only be opportunistic in their attempts. However, it is worth noting that in Peterson’s four seasons before 2011 when he stole successfully at an 88 percent clip, he went a combined 58-of-90, which is only a 64 percent success rate. He should steal bases at a lower rate in 2012.
Obviously, these are only a few of the aspects that a manager can influence throughout the course of a season. Some of the manager’s value is unquantifiable and cannot be judged accurately by outsiders. However, of what is quantifiable, Ozzie has shown to be a good bullpen manager, though he needs to use the IBB and sac bunt a bit less. It will be interesting to see if his tactical tendencies change as he switches to the National League.
In a deal that was announced without much coverage Tuesday, the Marlins agreed to a two-year deal with second-baseman Omar Infante. While most of the baseball stratosphere was dedicated only to the developments of the Ozzie Guillen saga that took place the same day, it’s Infante that I am more excited to see don a Miami Marlins jersey next season.
As SCWS pointed out earlier this week, a manager’s value to a team and his impact on their performances on the field is most likely very little. As much as he dislikes it, Guillen is worth only one win over the course of a 162-game season, if not less. What Guillen will provide, granted, is many headline-ready quotes and the occasional rant. The latter I am already looking forward to. As you most likely already know, Ozzie agreed to a 4-year deal worth $10 million, signing the contract late Tuesday night. Also included is a minor league pitcher from the White Sox who has yet to be announced. To complete the trade, the Marlins are sending prospect Ozzie Martinez to Chicago.
With much less fanfare, Infante agreed to terms for $8 million over the next two seasons. After being traded over from the Braves before the season, Infante was assigned the difficult task of replacing fan favorite Dan Uggla. While he hasn’t made anyone forget Uggla’s exceptional 2010 season for the Marlins (4.9 fWAR), he was slightly more valuable compared to Uggla this season (2.6 vs. 2.5 fWAR).
Going forward, Marlins fans should expect very similar numbers offensively from Infante. He doesn’t hit for power or walk at a high rate, but he does hit for average, and he did so this year without the luck of an astronomical BABIP. This season, he also has decreased his K%, making him less reliant on a high BABIP. The 29-year Venezuelan old is still far-off from seeing a serious decline due to age, and I’m personally hoping he will be productive well into his mid-30′s.
The signing of Infante is key for the Marlins, and his value going forward should help keep the Marlins competitive in the powerful NL East, but if the team decides to rebuild, he could be a valuable trade chip at the deadline. Either way, Infante’s signing of the dotted line should be making the headlines in Miami, instead of this “Ozzie” guy.