Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Thoughts

It's not that I've had nothing to say in a while, unfortunately when you have two children under 3 years old, real work that gets in the way, get a really bad cold and be the best man in a wedding that gets moved up to this weekend, you tend to ignore blog writting.

So today will be nothing differen't as I just put to paper some random thoughts about the Blue Jays and Baseball:

1. Do you ever get the feeling that Rogers willingness to spend money on the Blue Jays is completely related to fans coming back? For instance on the surface when I read Paul Beeston quotes such as "We raise our revenues, we raise our expenses at the same time and our salaries. ... We should be a city that can have $140 million, $150 million in the way of salaries. We could support that, and that's the direction that we're headed." at first I think 'Wooohooo, the Jays are going to increase their payroll to $150 million!' Then I start reading between the lines and believe what he is really suggesting is that that because Boston is a similar market size to Toronto, if not a smaller market, the Jays should get similar fan support and when that happens they will spend accordingly with Boston?  What if it doesn't happen???

2. After the initial three Blue Jays spring training games it's obvious that they will have the worst offense in baseball! Wait a minute, I forgot for a second that spring training results mean nothing, in fact they may mean less than nothing. Anyone else remember thinking future hitting superstars from spring trainings past like Mike McCoy, Jason Lane, Buck Coats, Miguel Negron, etc.? In reality what we should really hope for in Spring Training is a healthy team.

3. So the fourth and fifth spot in the Blue Jays rotation is apparently down to Jessie Litsch, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes. Maybe it would be best to start the season with Litsch and Rzepczyinski in the rotation and delay Drabek's arbitration years? Nah, I want to see Drabek now!

4. In spite of the fact that the million trade deadline hockey shows are a complete joke, I wish they had something like this in Canada for the baseball trade deadline.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Toronto Blue Jays Outfield

The other signing the Blue Jays made this week was a minor league deal for outfielder Scott Podsednik. Although this is a minor league deal I suspect that there is a wink wink nudge nudge assurance from Alex Anthopoulos that Podsednik will make the team and the only reason he was signed to a minor league deal was so that the Jays didn't have to remove someone from their 40 man roster prior to spring training. Towards the end of spring training it's a lot easier to release players like Scott Richmond and Jo-Jo Reyes to make room for Podsednik, but why do it now if you don't have to. Once Podsednik is added to the 40 man roster he will make $1 million for this season.

Now, in addition to Podsednik the main outfield competition to make the 2011 Blue Jays opening day roster includes Travis Snider, Rajai Davis, Juan Rivera and Corey Patterson (see Table 1).  Sorry Darin Mastroianni, it looks like you will have to wait a little longer.

Table 1
Rajai Davis291435256614928355250112678.284.320.377.697
Juan Rivera31124416531052001552223358.252.312.409.721
Scott Podsednik*3495390461218654430122957.310.353.400.753
Corey Patterson*309030843831618322142075.269.315.406.721
Travis Snider*228229836762001432632179.255.304.463.767
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/19/2011.

Corey Patterson is coming off somewhat of a Renaissance season as he had a combined .552 OPS over the course of 2008 and 2009.  However his 2010 success is a bit of a mirage as his BABIP was .332, an unsustainable average.  Therefore, Patterson is most likely the odd man out leaving Davis, Rivera, Snider and Podsednik as the most likely outfielders to open the season on the major league roster.

Who among these four will be the back up?  Or is there a natural platoon among these players?  Well to start, let's hope that Travis Snider is pencilled in every day in the line-up and look at the remaining three players.  Podsednik and Davis are very similar type players with speed, little power, an OBP that is dependent on a high average, and one is right handed and the other is left handed.  A natural platoon right? I don't think so, since Podsednik's days of playing CF are pretty much over, the Jays aren't paying Davis $3 million a year for potentially 3 seasons to start 1/3 of the games, and Podsednik's .723 OPS against right handed starters last season isn't much different than Rajai Davis' .720 OPS against right handed starting pitchers over the last two seasons.

This leaves Juan Rivera and Scott Podsednik fighting for the last outfield spot.  My preference would be to see Juan Rivera get the majority of playing time and hope he can rebound from a down season and put up similar production to his 2009 season, then bring back a coveted draft pick when he leaves as a free agent at the end of the year.  Unfortunately I think the most likely scenario will result in Podsednik starting against all right handed pitching, and Rivera starting against left handed pitching, virtually killing the value of both players.  With Rivera being a career 70 OPS points better against left handed starting pitching, I think this type of strategy makes a lot of sense if your a team competing for a division title.  However since I think that it is highly unlikely the Blue Jays are in this category, the better strategy is to develop your young players and/or build the value of your potentially tradeable assets, unfortunately neither of which will happen in left field for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Risk of Signing Jose Bautista Now

It appears that the Blue Jays have postponed the date for Jose Bautista's arbitration hearing in hopes that they can agree to terms on a long-term contract.  Signing Jose Bautista now could reduce the annual amount of money the Blue Jays would have to pay him as opposed to waiting until he becomes a free agent after this season, however it also brings a great amount of risk in that you are signing him long-term based on one seasons results.  The alternative is to wait and see how he does this season and then try to re-sign him if he has another productive year. The risk with this option is that as a free agent every other team in baseball would also have an equal chance at signing him, which can often lead to one team overpaying for his services as was the case with Jayson Werth this off-season. 

Considering the two options it seems more realistic that if the Blue Jays really do want to keep Bautista around, they should probably sign him now.  So what about this risk that comes with signing a player long term after one season of 50 home runs?  Well, I'm not sure if you noticed but hitting 50 or more home runs in a single season is actually quite rare and only 25 other players in the history of the game have ever done it. 

So let's take a look at those other 25 other players, see what age they first hit 50 home runs and how they performed the following seasons:

Following Seasons
Age they first hit 50 or more HR's
Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
Barry Bonds*
Mark McGwire*
Sammy Sosa
Roger Maris
Babe Ruth*
Jimmie Foxx*
Hank Greenberg*
Ryan Howard*
Luis Gonzalez*
Alex Rodriguez
Ken Griffey
Hack Wilson*
Ralph Kiner*
Mickey Mantle*
David Ortiz*
George Foster
Willie Mays
Jim Thome*
Cecil Fielder
Andruw Jones
Johnny Mize
Brady Anderson
Albert Belle
Prince Fielder
Greg Vaughn
Jose Bautista
* denotes 100 walk season

I know that this is a really small sample size, and the steroid era has probably skewed the results, however looking at the above there are a few numbers that jump off the page for me:
    The average age (28.3) of all players who hit 50 home runs for the first time is almost bang on with Jose Bautista's age of 29 last season when he hit 54 home runs.
    • Only 3 of the 25 players, or 12% followed up their initial 50 home run season with less than 30 home runs
    The average number of home runs in the season after hitting 50 home runs for the first time is 41.7
    • The average number of total home runs hit in the following five seasons is 162, or an average of 32 per season
    • Almost 50% of the players who hit 50 home runs for the first time, also had 100 or more walks that year, and those for that didn't most of them came very close to 100 walks in that season or had a following season of 100 or more walks

    • Only 5 or 25% of the players followed up their success with another season of 50 or more home runs in the following year

So what does all of this mean?  Really probably not a lot, however it looks like Jose Bautista probably won't have another season of 50 plus home runs, but it appears likely will hit at least 30 next year and knowing that, it is probably a good idea to lock him up now at a cheaper rate.  Additionally, it appears likely that an ideal long term contract would be for three years, after which Bautista's production probably won't match his salary, but if it takes a five year contract to sign him now, it's probably still worth it.  Finally, the risk of Bautista falling flat on his face next year really isn't as much as most people think it is, in fact, there is probably more risk in getting value for the money if you sign him after this season.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Forecasting the Blue Jays 2011 Wins-Loss Record

The other day I made an on the fly prediction that the Blue Jays would have a losing record. This prediction was based on nothing more than a feeling I had given my expectations of production for the returning players and others replacing the players they lost. There was actually no statistical analysis done to support this hypothesis as it was just a judgement call on my part, mainly due to the lack of time I had to put into the predictions. Therefore, to be fair I spent some time today to forecast the actual number of Blue Jays wins for 2011 season using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) princple.

For those that aren't familiar with WAR it is very worthwhile reading up on and the Fangraphs Library is a great place to start. The short version is that WAR is the number of wins a player was/is worth over the expected value of a replacement level player, and a team full of replacement level players will win approximately 48 games.

The first step in forecasting the number of wins for the 2011 Blue Jays season using WAR is to start with what we know, which is the Blue Jays won 85 games in 2010, and the following Table 1 identifies a breakdown of the  2010 team WAR values:

Table 1

Position PlayerWAR
John Buck2.9
1BLyle Overbay1.5
2BAaron Hill1.1
3BEdwin Encarnacion1.8
SSYunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez3.6
RFJose Bautista6.9
CFVernon Wells4
LFTravis Snider/Fred Lewis2.4
DHAdam Lind-0.3
Starter 1Shaun Marcum3.5
Starter 2Ricky Romero4
Starter 3Brandon Morrow3.7
Starter 4Brett Cecil2.5
Starter 5Rzep/Eveland/Litsch0.6
Replacement Level Wins48
Total 2010 WAR Wins90.4

So we know that according to WAR the 2010 Blue Jays should have won approximately 90 games, but in actuality they only won 85.  Well since this isn't an exact science let us say for forecasting purposes that when projecting 2011 WAR values, anything above a total of 90 will result in proportionately more than 85 wins, and anything less than 90 will result in proportionately less than 85 wins.

Now when projecting the WAR values for 2011 Blue Jays I made the following assumptions:
     1. The regular starting line-up for the 2011 Blue Jays will be as identified in Table 2 below
     2. J. P. Arencibia will have a similar WAR to that of Matt Wieters rookie season (I know this isn't an exact science but when estimating rookie values your guess is as good as mine)
     3. For Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera I am using their average WAR value over their past two major league seasons
     4. For Jose Bautista, I have proportionately reduced his value from a 52 home run hitter, to that of a 40 home run hitter (my 2011 prediction).
     5. For Travis Snider, I extrapolated his 2010 production value over 162 games
     6. For Edwin Encarnacion I have maintained his 2010 WAR value as I figured with values over the last five years of 1.7, 1.4, 1.9, 0.2, and 1.8, another season of 1.8 probably wouldn't be that far off.
     7. The Blue Jays bench, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and the 5th starter spot would also maintain their WAR values
     8.  Kyle Drabek's WAR projection is based on the averages of Brett Cecil's season last year (2.5) and Ricky Romero's rookie year (2.8)
     9. Brandon Morrow would have a slight increase in WAR, based purely on about 20 more innings pitched.
     10. The bullpens (which includes all other pitchers not included in the starting five) improvement for 2011 is based on the difference between the total value of Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg leaving (2.0) and the addition of Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch (2.2)

After plugging all of these assumptions into my spreadsheet, the resulting out comes for the WAR values of the 2011 Blue Jays are presented in the following Table 2:

Table 2

Position PlayerWAR
J. P. Arencibia1.5
1BAdam Lind1.6
2BAaron Hill2.5
3BJose Bautista5.1
SSYunel Escobar3.25
RFTravis Snider3
CFRajai Davis2.25
LFJuan Rivera1.9
DHEdwin Encarnacion1.8
Starter 1Ricky Romero4
Starter 2Brandon Morrow4
Starter 3Brett Cecil2.5
Starter 4Kyle Drabek2.65
Starter 5Rzep/Litsch/Other0.6
Replacement Level Wins48
Total 2011 WAR Wins89.05

So there you have it, the 2011 Blue Jays will have a total WAR value of 89, which if you compare it against the 2010 value it represents approximately one less win.  Therefore based on my assumptions:

The 2011 Blue Jays Will Win 84 Games

Of course, feel free to put in any alternate values that you chose to come up with your own predictions and feel free to identify them in the comments section below.  As for my earlier prediction that the Blue Jays will have a losing record, well, eyeballing the above estimates I think the Arencibia, Romero and Escobar forecasts combined are about 4 WAR points too high, which would bring the Jays 2011 record forecast down to 80-82, which is where I was originally thinking before the statistical analysis.