MLBTR Originals Rumors

Brian Cashman On Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius

The Yankees addressed two major needs earlier today when they completed a three-team deal to land shortstop Didi Gregorius and later signed reliever Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36MM deal.  Since the Miller deal came to light, some have wondered whether he will displace free agent David Robertson as the team’s closer.  In a conference call earlier today, GM Brian Cashman left the door open for Robertson but also made it clear that he’ll be addressing other needs as well.

We’ll wait and see.  We’re still evaluating all opportunities in this market place,” Cashman said.  “We need to address the left side of the infield, the starting rotation, finding a fourth outfielder…we’ll evaluate every opportunity that comes our way and with all the moving pieces that we have going on, we have to take a serious interest in all of those things and I can’t predict how that will go.

If one thing is for certain in Cashman’s mind, it’s that there is plenty more work to be done this winter.  He told reporters that he is in “acquisition mode” this offseason as the Yankees look to take care of their multiple needs.  Still, he won’t prioritize one area over another as intends to pounce on whatever opportunities and strong fits come his way.

Of course, he trimmed down the checklist a good amount today with the acquisitions of Miller and Gregorius.  As Cashman explained, his pursuit of the young shortstop has been going on for some time.

He’s a young athletic shortstop and his defense is very good.  He’s struggled against left-handed pitching and we believe he hits right-handed pitching well, so I think at the very least, we open up 2015 with him in a platoon with Brendan Ryan until he separates himself.  So, the high end projection is that we think there’s more in the tank there as he continues to develop. We think he’s an exciting talent, but honestly he’s not a finished product.

He’s someone we targeted not just this winter, but in past seasons, both with the old regime and the new regime.  I had to go through another club to get my hands on him.  We believe we’re in a better place than we were before we had him,” Cashman explained.

Even though Cashman was happy to finally get his man, it was difficult for him to part with right-hander Shane Greene in order to make it happen.  In the end, Cashman felt that Greene established himself as a promising talent after last season, but that was the price he had to pay in order to get an up-and-coming player at a premium position.

While today’s acquisitions will be counted on for big performances in 2014, Cashman knows that it’ll be even more crucial for the Bombers to get strong play out of their veterans coming back from injury.  Alex Rodriguez‘s name was mentioned alongside the likes of Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann, but he was noticeably left out when Cashman noted that he has one possibility to play third base (Martin Prado) on the roster.  When asked to expand, Cashman explained that he’s only hoping for, not banking on, A-Rod to be a factor at third base.

I think it’s every color on the rainbow.  The extreme hope is that you can get the middle of the lineup bat to play third whenever you want, if not all the time.  The worst case scenario is that he’s no longer a third baseman and doesn’t have that bat and you’re looking other places,” said the GM.

Ultimately, Prado could wind up being slotted in at second or third base and Cashman sounded like someone who was equally open to either possibility.   Figuring out a solution for one of those two positions will be amongst the Bombers’ top priorities going forward, but the crazy nature of the baseball offseason means that Cashman will have to be equal parts proactive and reactive in filling the team’s holes.  Whether the Yankees put more resources into the infield or, say, fortifying the starting rotation will hinge on what opportunities present themselves in the coming weeks.

I will gravitate faster to whatever presents itself as the most interesting option.  I will have to act accordingly because there are many teams with the same needs as us,” Cashman said.


Arbitration Breakdown: Mark Melancon

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Mark Melancon has mostly bounced back and forth between closing and set-up roles over the last few years, but after starting 2014 as a set-up man, he finally put together a 30-save season. Since Melancon also had 14 holds accumulated early in the season, he became a rare player who had both solid set-up numbers and solid closing numbers in the same season. Saves and holds are highly dependent on factors outside of a pitcher’s control — mainly when he gets used — but they both factor into arbitration prices. Melancon also was great at performing well independent of context. With a 1.90 ERA in 71 innings, his run prevention skill adds to his arbitration case this winter, too.

Mark  Melancon

One of my goals for the arbitration model that I always strive for is to mimic real life to the extent possible. However, since the model is an algorithm, it cannot mimic the process perfectly, and I think the model really overstated Melancon this year. The model itself projected a $5MM raise from $2.6MM to $7.6MM, but the application of “The Kimbrel Rule,” which states that a player cannot beat the previous record for his role and service class by more than $1MM, keeps Melancon at a $4.275MM raise (topping Francisco Rodriguez’s $3.275MM raise in 2007 as an Arb 2 reliever), which would put him at $6.875MM. Even still, it is hard to make the case that Melancon will actually be earning that much next season.

The reason that the model is so bullish on Melancon is because he has impressive numbers in three different important categories: ERA, saves, and holds. The model knows that relievers who excel in a couple of these categories earn much more than those who only thrive in one, and it has inferred that Melancon’s success should translate to a record-breaking number. He is getting credit for being a full-time closer—because many solid closers do not get enough opportunities to rack up 33 saves in the first place—and for being a semi-regular set-up man with 14 holds. Many set-up men who share the role do not even top 14 holds in a season. On top of that, his 1.90 ERA puts him in elite status.

Of course, despite my belief that the model exaggerated Melancon’s likely salary, it was difficult to find many comparables. I tried to look for anyone in recent history who had at least 25 saves and at least 10 holds in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The only such pitcher that existed was Tyler Clippard, who had 32 holds and 13 saves two years ago, but Clippard had a 3.71 ERA, almost double that of Melancon. It seems likely that Melancon has a strong enough case to crush Clippard’s $2.35MM raise. Clippard also did not have the same history of saves that is often important in arbitration cases. He had only one career save before his 2012 season, but Melancon had already accumulated 47 saves before 2014.

I tried to look for pitchers who had just 20 saves and five holds, and only one extra pitcher emerged. Juan Carlos Oviedo had 30 saves and 5 holds four years ago, but he also had a pedestrian 3.46 ERA. His $1.65MM raise is very unlikely to look appropriate for Melancon. Going back further than five years added a couple more hybrids to the bunch—Brad Lidge in 2007 and Kevin Gregg in 2008. They got raises under $2MM as well, and neither had an amazing ERA or even had 10 holds. Looking for hybrid closer/set-up man types was not producing guys who had great seasons. Instead, it was finding guys with talent but who allowed a few too many runs.

That led me to abandon the holds criteria altogether. If we start with the idea that Melancon is a closer, and then give him a little bump for his set-up numbers, we may get somewhere more quickly. How many closers had 30 saves and ERAs under 2.00 like Melancon over the last few years? A very stale case, Francisco Rodriguez’s $3.275MM raise in 2007, arose as a possibility. He had 47 saves along with 1.73 ERA. Although that case is typically too old to be considered, it could serve as a clue. If Melancon’s 14 holds had all been saves, his case would look very similar. However, with eight years of salary inflation on top of that, Melancon could be in a position to get a more notable raise.

Jonathan Papelbon got a $3.1MM raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility in 2010 with a 1.85 ERA and 38 saves. Of course, he had 113 career saves going into his platform year, so he may have a slight advantage over Melacon’s 47. Joel Hanrahan in 2012 got a $2.7MM raise after a 1.83 ERA season in which he accumulated 40 saves. That could also serve as a solid comparable for Melancon, but without the set-up credentials. Hanrahan only had 20 pre-platform saves. No one else even managed a 2.50 ERA, so the other historical raises for second-year arbitration eligible relievers are less applicable. However, it is worth noting that several guys did get raises over $2.5MM.

Putting all of this together, Melancon’s case does seem genuinely unique. Hanrahan’s $2.7MM and Papelbon’s $3.1MM both look like reasonable comparables, with a few more saves and far fewer holds. I could see Melancon being able to successfully argue past K-Rod’s $3.275MM raise from eight years ago, but that could be challenging because of the 47 saves that K-Rod had in his platform season. On the other hand, an argument of Papelbon/Hanrahan’s raises near $3MM, plus a set-up man bonus of $500K or so, could put Melancon past K-Rod. My best guess is that Melancon gets a raise of about $3-3.5MM, good for a $5.6-6.1MM salary in 2015. That is nowhere near where the model puts him, but it seems more realistic in light of the relevant comparables that could be drawn upon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Arbitration Breakdown: Jeff Samardzija

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Jeff Samardzija enters his third year of arbitration eligibility this winter following an excellent season in which he struggled to get run support. Samardzija threw a total of 219 2/3 innings with a 2.99 ERA and 202 strikeouts, but the Cubs and Athletics each failed to score runs behind him, and he finished with a 7-13 record (and remember that for all the problems with the Win statistic, it’s still a notable component of arbitration valuation).

MLB: New York Mets at Oakland Athletics

It is rare that a player has a sub-3.00 ERA in over 200 innings yet fails to win more than seven games. However, that type of odd case is what my arbitration model is designed to handle. By putting the right weight on the right statistics, the model strives to match players like Samardzija up with the comparable players that are likely to come up in a potential arbitration hearing. The model has projected a $3.85MM raise for Samardzija in 2015 to take him from a $5.35MM salary up to a $9.2MM salary.

Trying to find actual comparables for Samardzija was tricky. There were no Arb 3 starters with an ERA under 3.50 who had single-digit wins at all in the last eight years, at least among those with 180 innings pitched. There were also no pitchers under a 3.30 ERA with under 13 wins either with that number of innings either. No one with an ERA under 3.50 with less than 13 wins had more than 210 innings. However, three pitchers were close to these criteria.

David Price got a $3.89MM raise last year with a 10-8 record and a 3.33 ERA in 186 2/3 innings. Homer Bailey had an 11-12 record with a 3.49 ERA in 209 innings last year too, which got him a $3.65MM raise. A couple years earlier, Matt Garza had a 10-10 record with a 3.32 ERA in 198 innings, which got him a $3.55MM raise. Each of these three guys had more wins than Samardzija’s seven, but they also had fewer innings and higher ERAs. Samardzija also passed 200 strikeouts, something that none of those three did (though Bailey had 199 and Garza had 197). With the extra innings and lower ERA, it seems likely that Samardzija could pass this group. One potential roadblock is that Price’s track record and the fact that he was over .500.

In cases like these, it can be helpful to try to establish a floor and a ceiling player. In other words, players that are likely worse than/better than the player in question, whose salaries are close enough together that you can find a solid range for the player.

One reasonable floor for Samardzija could be Brandon McCarthy from 2012. He had just a 9-9 record with a 3.32 ERA in 170 2/3 innings and struck out only 123 batters. Although he did have two more wins that Samardzija, it’s unlikely that a 9-9 record bests a 7-13 record by enough to offset the 49 extra innings and 79 extra strikeouts. McCarthy got a $3.28MM raise that year.

A potential ceiling for Samardzija could be a pitcher with a sub-3 ERA with a similar number of innings, but double digit wins. However, finding such players was tricky. Max Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 214.1 innings last year, which is obviously better. It did net him an $8.8MM raise. Carlos Zambrano way back in 2007 got a $5.9MM raise after a 16-7 season with a 3.41 ERA in 214 innings. But his case was obviously better than Samardzija’s, so he does not look like a useful comparable.

Justin Masterson’s case last year could be appropriate to establish a ceiling, but he falls short of Samardzija’s case in a few ways. He had a 14-10 record with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings, and he struck out 195 batters. Masterson got a $4.07MM raise. Doubling up Samardzija’s win total is probably enough to offset to extra innings and lower ERA after Samardzija, but he doesn’t quite work like a typical ceiling.

Using McCarthy and Masterson as a floor and a ceiling leaves a pretty wide window between a $3.2MM and $4.07MM raise for Samardzija to fit in. All three of the aforementioned comparables (Price, Bailey, Garza) fell in that window. In the end, there’s a strong case for Samardzija to get a raise somewhere in the $3.55MM to $3.89MM raise range from those three players, and the $3.85MM that the model projected fits in there as well. It’s possible that Samardzija’s record hurts him enough that he ends up with a good deal less, or that his ERA and innings place him above this group, but a safe midpoint is probably the model’s projection.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Non-Tender Candidate: Alejandro De Aza

Halfway through the 2014 season, longtime White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza looked like a probable non-tender after hitting .243/.309/.354 and getting eaten alive by left-handed pitching in a lackluster age-30 season in Chicago. De Aza made $4.25MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and there was little indication he would be worth a raise on that heading into 2015 and his likely decline phase.

USATSI_8067168_154513410_lowresA late-August trade to Baltimore and a well timed hot streak might have earned De Aza another season in the arbitration system, however. He hit .293/.341/.537 in 89 plate appearances with the Orioles, bringing hit 2014 total to a more respectable .252/.314/.386, then kept hitting in the postseason. De Aza is also a slightly above average defender in an outfield corner and can play center field, so he has defensive value to fall back on. MLBTR projects he’ll make $5.9MM through the arbitration process this offseason, and for the right team, he’s probably worth it.

The only question is whether the Orioles are the right team. The O’s are trying to re-sign a fellow left-handed outfielder in Nick Markakis, as well as DH/OF Nelson Cruz. They’ve also reportedly discussed Matt Kemp with the Dodgers, and they’re in on Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera. How much worse De Aza is than someone like Markakis or Hunter could actually be debated, but any combination of Markakis, Cruz, Kemp, Hunter and Cabrera would make De Aza less useful to the Orioles.

On top of that, Baltimore faces a crunch of arbitration-eligible players, many of whom either are coming off very good seasons or have high salaries already. The Orioles’ 11 arbitration-eligibles (De Aza, Matt Wieters, Steve Pearce, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Chris Davis, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ryan Flaherty and Zach Britton) are projected to make a combined $56.9MM, and the Orioles could decide De Aza is a luxury they can do without, particularly if they splurge on, say, Markakis and Cruz, or at least feel it’s likely they’ll re-sign. They already have a lefty backup outfielder in David Lough who had a similar season to De Aza with the bat and will make near the league minimum in 2015, so heading into the season with De Aza on their roster only makes sense for the Orioles if they have a starting spot available for him.

The good news for De Aza (assuming he wants to be tendered — he might actually get slightly more than one year and $5.9MM on the open market) is that there’s little time before Tuesday night’s tender deadline for the Orioles to settle their outfield picture. If the O’s do strike out on Markakis, Cruz, Kemp or anyone else they might pursue, De Aza should have significant value for them. If they do tender him and then acquire more players who might make him superfluous, they would probably still be able to trade him, even though they wouldn’t be likely to get much back. The best guess here, then, is that the Orioles tender De Aza, and that’s reportedly the direction they’re leaning anyway. The Praver/Shapiro client probably ought to plan on heading into the season with Baltimore.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days scattered amongst the Thanksgiving leftovers, Black Friday shopping bags, and Cyber Monday ads:


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Non-Tender Candidate: Gordon Beckham

The Angels acquired infielder Gordon Beckham from the White Sox last August. Now the club has to decide if he will be tendered a contract. According to MLBTR’s Matt Swartz, he’s projected to earn $5MM in his final spin through arbitration. Coming off arguably the worst season of his career, the expense might outweigh the benefits.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles AngelsAny discussion of Beckham inevitably digresses to 2009, when the then 22-year-old posted 2.5 WAR in two-thirds of a season. In parts of five seasons since his breakout, he’s managed just 2.8 total WAR over 2,528 plate appearances. Last year, he struggled to a .226/.271/.348 line and -0.2 WAR, although he was much better with the Angels (.286/.328/.429) during a brief 61 plate appearance audition.

Beckham, now 28, is best viewed as a utility fielder. While the Angels did use him a few times at shortstop, he’s most successful at second and third base. He’s maintained strong contact rates throughout his career, but he’s never managed to produce much power after his rookie season. It’s worth noting that Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field – where Beckham spent most of his career – is among the best offensive environments in baseball. In other words, the move to Los Angeles shouldn’t help his power.

Beckham’s performance in 2014 makes a trade unlikely. His $5MM projected salary is only affordable to a large market club in desperate need of middle infield depth. Incidentally, the Angels are perhaps the only team to fit that description. Howie Kendrick and David Freese have an intimate familiarity with the disabled list, which makes a player like Beckham a useful handcuff.

His presence on the roster, along with that of Grant Green, may give the Angels more confidence shopping Kendrick and Freese, both of whom have appeared in trade rumors. They’re free agents after 2015. Confidence should not be confused with reliance. While it’s possible Los Angeles could enter the season with Beckham, it’s unlikely they would plan to use him as a starter. The club is poised to contend in 2015, and Beckham’s bat would present a considerable hole in the lineup. If Kendrick or Freese are dealt, I expect the club to target infielders like Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew, or Jed Lowrie.

Other infielders who offer similar versatility include Emilio Bonifacio, Kelly Johnson, Ed Lucas, and Alberto Callaspo. Since they should all cost less than Beckham’s $5MM projection, the most likely outcome appears to be a non-tender situation. The going rate for 0.0 to 1.0 WAR middle infielders appears to be between $500K and $3MM. The Angels do need a player like Beckham, so he could be re-signed at a lesser rate. His relative youth assures that some club will hand him a bench role.


Free Agent Faceoff: Max Scherzer vs. Jon Lester

A look at this year’s market for free agent starting pitching reveals a group that is deep in quality options and also features a pair of prime-aged top-of-the-rotation arms in Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. This duo, represented by Scott Boras and ACES, respectively, is commonly believed to be the cream of the free agent crop, but which will be the better buy?

Few pitchers have been as dominant as Scherzer over the past two seasons. In that time, he’s pitched to a 3.02 ERA with 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 36.5 percent ground-ball rate in 434 2/3 innings. His K/9 rate trails only Yu Darvish among qualified starters, and he grades out well according to ERA estimators FIP (2.79 — sixth) and SIERA (2.94 — eighth). In that two-year stretch, Scherzer leads qualified starters in ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K/9 and opponent batting average (.216), to name a few categories. He’s entering his age-30 season on the heels of a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of top five finishes in the Cy Young voting — including his first Cy Young win in 2013. The 6’3″, 220-pound right-hander has cemented himselves among the game’s elite arms and is looking for a sizable payday, as evidenced by his rejection of a six-year, $144MM contract extension in Spring Training.

Lester is no slouch, however, as he ranks second to Scherzer in ERA (3.10) and FIP (3.19) among qualified free agent starters in that time. His SIERA mark, though a ways behind at 3.49, is still third-best over the past two seasons (Brandon McCarthy sits between them). Beyond that, Lester has been more of a workhorse in his career; he has reached the 200-inning mark in six of the past seven seasons, falling shy only in 2011 when he tossed 191 2/3 frames. Lester certainly keeps the ball on the ground more often than Scherzer, with a career ground-ball rate just under 47 percent and sitting at 43.7 percent over the past two seasons. Lester is also coming off the best platform season of any free agent starter, having pitched to a brilliant 2.46 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate. He’s spent almost all of his career in the hitter-friendly AL East, whereas Scherzer has spent more time in a more favorable pitching environment (Detroit’s Comerica Park). Lester is a year older than Scherzer, however, and he’s thrown about 300 more innings in his big league career. He’s rumored to already have an offer upwards of $120MM from the Red Sox, and another possibly as large as $135MM from the Cubs, so the price tag figures to be substantial here as well.

In our free agent profiles, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted a seven-year contract for Scherzer while I personally went with six years for Lester, but it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see a team guarantee Lester that seventh season. The above paragraphs are a mere snapshot of each pitcher, while the linked profiles offer a more in-depth look at the pair of aces. You can read over those to brush up on each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses before making a vote below if you wish, but let’s get to the question at the root of this post.


Arbitration Breakdown: Todd Frazier

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Todd Frazier enters his first year of arbitration this winter coming off a career year. In 660 PA, Frazier hit .273, stole 20 bases, smashed 29 home runs and collected 80 RBIs. The Reds’ third baseman has some solid pre-platform year numbers as well, having already accumulated 44 home runs and 155 RBIs before 2014, as well as 10 steals and a .249 average in 1186 PA. Several players have entered arbitration with similar numbers in recent years, but Frazier has somewhat of a leg up on many of them. As a result, my arbitration model projects him to get $4.6MM this winter. While I think that is more likely to be high than low, I do not think he is likely to miss this mark by much.

One promising comparable for Frazier could be Jason Heyward in 2013. He earned $3.65MM after 650 PA with 27 home runs and 21 stolen bases, along with 82 RBI and a .269 average. Basically, his platform season is a dead ringer for Frazier’s but Frazier’s pre-platform power numbers are better, as Heyward hit 32 homers (12 less than Frazier) and 114 RBIs (41 less than Frazier). Both had similar averages in their pre-platform years (Heyward hit .255), and Heyward stole 20 bases to Frazier’s ten. Frazier also had amassed 1186 pre-platform PA, to Heyward’s 1077.  Since Heyward is so similar to Frazier in his platform year, yet Frazier clearly has him beat in his pre-platform years, it seems likely that Frazier will beat Heyward’s $3.65MM mark.  The fact that salaries have grown over the last couple years also factors into Frazier’s higher projected salary.

CAA Sports, Frazier’s agency, could try to argue for Dan Uggla on the high side. Uggla earned $5.35MM in his first year of arbitration, although that was six years ago and thus less likely to be used as a comparable. Furthermore, Uggla was a second baseman, and Frazier is more apt to be compared to outfielders or other corner infielders. This being said, Uggla’s case is somewhat similar — he had 32 home runs and 92 RBI in 2008, so his power numbers bested Frazier’s 29 and 80 in his platform year, and he also had better numbers in his pre-platform years (58 HR and 178 RBI) than Frazier (44 HR and 155 RBI). Frazier had a slightly better platform-year average (.273 versus .260) though his .249 average over his pre-platform years was lower than Uggla’s .263 mark. Overall, Uggla’s $5.35MM number seems like the absolute ceiling of what Frazier can expect to earn.

A couple other players between Heyward’s $3.65MM and Uggla’s $5.35MM are possible comparables for Frazier as well. Pedro Alvarez agreed to a $4.25MM deal last year after having better power numbers, but a lower average and fewer steals than Frazier both in his platform and pre-platform years. Alvarez had 36 HR and 100 RBI in his platform year and 50 HR and 168 RBI in his pre-platform years.  Alvarez’s averages, however, in his platform (.233) and pre-platform years (.237) fall short of Frazier’s .273 and .249, and he only had two steals both in his platform and pre-platform years, falling well short of Frazier’s 20 and 10 steals in each respective period. Overall, depending on how power gets treated relative to average and steals, Alvarez could be seen as a superior or inferior case to Frazier.

Another possibility is comparing Frazier to Mark Trumbo, who earned $4.8MM last season. Trumbo had a .234 average, but 34 HR and 100 RBI with five stolen bases in his platform year, and he hit .259 with 61 home runs and 184 RBIs with 13 stolen bases in his pre-platform years. Trumbo has better numbers across the board in his pre-platform years, but his platform year again asks the question of whether power or batting average and stolen bases are more important. Given all the factors that could eliminate Uggla — 2B vs. 3B, 2008 vs. 2014, etc. — from being a comparable to Frazier, Trumbo’s $4.8MM will in all likelihood be seen as the true ceiling for what Frazier can earn in arbitration.

My best guess is that Alvarez is seen as the most appropriate comparable for Frazier. Alvarez has something of the edge in power numbers while Frazier has the edge in the batting average/stolen base numbers, though there isn’t really a huge gap in any of the categories. Frazier could potentially earn a slight increase representing inflation over Alvarez if they are seen as similar, however. While the model projection of $4.6 is probably too high, I think the Reds third baseman will get relatively close to that number.


Scherzer, Lester, Shields And Career Pitch Counts

Agent Scott Boras has the prize of free agency in Max Scherzer, and Boras has taken to touting his client’s “pitching odometer.”  Boras explained to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, “[Scherzer] really has the [arm] of a 25 or 26 year old. This is like signing a 25 or 26-year-old pitcher.”

Perhaps reflecting what is found in Scherzer’s binder, Heyman cited the following stats:

“Did you know Scherzer, 30, has thrown 20,954 pitches, to 26,321 for Jon Lester and 29,461 for James Shields, the other top two free-agent pitchers in a top-heavy market containing three aces?”

Scherzer has thrown 8,507 fewer pitches than Shields and 5,367 fewer than Jon Lester. This difference may seem relevant, but in the end it will not matter. Instead, the focus should be on the trio’s birth date.

Context For Number Of Pitches Thrown

When looking at the total number of pitches, the zeros get in the way. For each game started, an ace will throw about 100 pitches. Most aces will start 30+ times a season, so each healthy ace-level pitcher can expect to throw at least 3,000 pitches in a season. The number could grow even higher with longer starts, more regular season starts and postseason games. Just using 3,000 pitches for a season and looking at each pitcher’s age, Boras’ difference can be explained by prorating the pitches thrown back to their age-29 season (Scherzer’s age at the end of last season).

Pitches prorated back to age-29 season
Scherzer: 20,954
Lester: 23,321
Shields: 17,461

The number of pitches thrown really just comes down to age. Scherzer’s arm had less mileage on it than Lester’s arm at the same age, but more than Shields. The difference of 8,500 pitches may seem like a ton, but for pitchers four years apart in age, the number is completely reasonable.

Pitches Thrown And Likelihood Of Next-Season DL Stint

Now, is there a magic number of pitches when a pitcher’s arm just quits being healthy? Is 25,000 pitches the point? 30,000? My study finds that no magic number exists. Actually, the opposite is true.

I looked at the career pitches thrown by pitchers from 2001 to 2012, then put the pitchers into 3,000-pitch groups and to find their chances of a DL stint next season. Here are the DL percentages for pitchers as they put more mileage on their arms.  (Note: 39% of all established pitchers will go on the DL at some point the next season.  (n) refers to the number of pitcher-seasons in the sample.)

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-8999 (674): 36%, 24
9000-11999 (470): 39%, 26
12000-14999 (324): 40%, 29
15000-17999 (225): 45%, 33
18000-20999 (179): 37%, 29
21000-23999 (111): 42%, 26
24000-26999 (99): 39%, 24
27000-29999 (88): 39%, 27
30000-32999 (71): 45%, 38
33000-35999 (47): 34%, 27
36000-38999 (28): 50%, 21
39000-41999 (26): 38%, 27
> 42000(79): 37%, 23

There are some increases and decreases, but generally the DL rate hovers around the expected 39%.

Here are the numbers grouped into 9,000-pitch blocks.

# of pitches (n): DL rate, average # of DL days per pitcher
6000-14999 (1468): 38%, 26
15000-23999 (515): 42%, 30
24000-32999 (258): 41%, 29
33000-41999 (101): 40%, 25
>42000 (79): 37%, 23

It may not seem intuitive that pitchers will have a smaller DL chance as they throw more, but they do. At 24,000 pitches, a pitcher has been productive and healthy enough to be in the league around eight seasons.  Besides just the number of DL stints, the time spent on the disabled list is just as important. The pitchers could go on the DL and stay there because of a major injury. If high-pitch pitchers were staying on the DL longer, the average number of days would be seen going up.  Instead, they decline.

Pitches Thrown And Expected Future Innings Pitched

The three pitchers in question — Scherzer, Lester, and Shields — are each looking for a multi-year deal. How many innings can teams expect out of these pitchers in the future? Looking at the pitches a pitcher has thrown in his MLB career from 2001 to 2009, here are the innings thrown in the next five seasons.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-8999: (468): 302
9000-11999: (364): 324
12000-14999: (249): 354
15000-17999: (176): 398
18000-20999: (129): 426
21000-23999 (86): 427
24000-26999 (81): 446
27000-29999 (68): 372
30000-32999 (45): 430
33000-35999 (32): 381
36000-38999 (17): 557
39000-41999 (18): 508
> 42000 (68): 476

And now the same data grouped into a few large groups.

Pitches (n): IP
6000-14999 (1081): 322
14000-23999 (391): 414
24000-32999 (194): 416
33000-41999 (67): 460
> 42000 (68): 750

Just because a pitcher has a ton of mileage on his arm doesn’t mean he is about to break down. He could continue to throw for years to come. The more pitches a pitcher has thrown, the better the chances he continues to throw. The three pitchers in question have passed the threshold of being healthy and good.

2015 DL Chances For Scherzer, Lester, Shields

Every pitcher (including these three) will eventually break down, we just don’t know when. An injury risk can be assigned to every pitcher. I have used a DL chance formula to determine the chance a pitcher will end up on the DL with accurate results. Using the formula, here their DL chances for 2015.

Name: Scherzer, Lester, Shields
Age: 29, 30, 33
GS (’12 to ’14): 98, 98, 101
DL Stints (’12 to ’14): 0, 0, 0
DL Chance: 34%, 35%, 38%

These three pitchers each have health (no recent DL stints) and a history of being able to make about 33 starts per season on their side. The only difference among them is age, which makes Scherzer the least likely to end up on the DL.

Boras continues to mention Scherzer’s pitching odometer as an advantage over Lester and Shields. However, the number of pitches thrown is not indicative of future injury. A high number shows the pitcher can hold up to the grind of being able to successfully throw for full seasons. The main issue between the three pitchers is age. Scherzer is four years younger than Shields. Scherzer’s body may still be able to hold up a bit better than the other pair, but they are still some of the healthiest pitchers in the league. The debate about the trio’s durability should begin and end with age.


Free Agent Profile: Torii Hunter

At 39 years of age, Torii Hunter is no longer the player he once was. But his reliable bat and clubhouse presence are sure to lead to plenty of interest.

Pros/Strengths

As he has throughout his career, Hunter hit in 2014. His 111 OPS+ (.286/.319/.446) marked the ninth consecutive season in which he has been at least 10% above league average in overall batting production (per that metric). Since becoming a regular in 2001, Hunter has only once (barely) dropped below the mean.

MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles-Workouts

Neither is there any particular reason to think that a cliff is nearing. Hunter’s walk rate has been down sharply in the last two seasons — around 4% after posting numbers that were as much as twice that rate in the not-so-distant past — but he has also driven down his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.2%. And the contact is still good: Hunter posted a personal second-best 21.3% line drive rate last year and put the ball on the ground right at his career average. Bat speed and reflexes do not appear to be a problem; pitchers threw Hunter fastballs 57.6% of the time last year, the lowest percentage of his career.

That remarkable consistency is equaled by Hunter’s durability. Since the start of the 2007 campaign, Hunter has seen just one DL stint (for five weeks owing to a groin strain back in 2009). He has had his share of rest in recent years, averaging 142 games played over the last three seasons, but has made at least 584 trips to the plate in each of those.

It might reasonably be expected that teams will look beyond the numbers in determining their interest level in Hunter. He has 18 MLB seasons under his belt, and is widely characterized as a desirable clubhouse leader.

Cons/Negatives

Defensively, Hunter had already regressed from a solid center fielder to a solid right fielder. But over the last two years, defensive metrics have soured considerably on his work in right. Defensive Runs Saved, which judged Hunter a +15 contributor in 2012, has moving to -10 and then -18 since. Ultimate Zone Rating noted a less pronounced fade in 2013, but concurred with DRS on Hunter’s overall value last year. The issue, per UZR’s assessment, is clear: while Hunter’s arm and error propensity are approximately average, his range has disappeared.

At the plate, one could quibble and note that Hunter’s output last year was at the bottom range of his career range. While it would be a stretch to say that portends a precipitous decline – after all, he was still produced within the bounds of his career norms and did so on a career-average BABIP – that fact does, perhaps, dampen the notion that he might return to his 2012 levels (.313/.365/.451, albeit on a .389 BABIP).

Likewise, Hunter’s counting stats are down from his peak. He is no longer a threat to steal twenty bags or to hit 25-30 home runs. On the other hand, the loss of speed is not surprising, and Hunter still grades out well on the bases. And as for power, Hunter’s decline has tracked a more general league trend, and he still put up a .160+ ISO over each of the last two years and has never hit less than 16 long balls in a full season.

Personal

Hunter was born and raised in Arkansas, going straight from Pine Bluff to the Minnesota Twins after he was chosen in the first round of the 1993 draft. He is one of only two players from the first round of that draft still active in the majors, the other being first overall pick Alex Rodriguez.

Hunter makes his offseason home in the Dallas-Forth Worth area with his wife, Katrina. As he told MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the Hunters are already empty-nesters. Several of his sons excel at sports as well, enrolling in colleges on football scholarships, and Hunter says that he enjoys traveling to watch them in action.

Market

While the Tigers are not interested in a reunion at this point, recent reports suggest that as many as ten teams have already shown interest in the Reynolds Sports Management client, including the Royals, Cubs, Giants, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Mariners.

Then, of course, there are the Twins, Hunter’s former club. The veteran says he has had several conversations with Minnesota GM Terry Ryan. He has also indicated that he wants a regular role on a legitimate contender, and it would be difficult to cast the Twins in that light. Either way, having already earned over $160MM during his outstanding career, he seems unlikely to view the highest bid as a trump to personal preference.

The corner outfield market contains several players in the same general market niche as Hunter, though each obviously has their benefits and drawbacks. With Michael Cuddyer going to the Mets, teams looking for veteran production down the lines can also look to Alex Rios and Michael Morse.

It bears noting that Hunter has almost exclusively played right field since he moved off of center. He has spent a mere 119 1/3 frames patrolling left, all before he became a fixture in the Twins’ lineup. With his range being the major question, and his arm still playing at the big league level, it seems likely that he will be targeted primarily by clubs having (or willing to make) an opening on that side. As the list of teams with apparent interest would indicate, Hunter’s most obvious fit is with an American League club that plans to utilize some manner of platoon situation for its designated hitter slot, as he could benefit from a reduced defensive load as he enters his age-39 season.

Expected Contract

Hunter should have several appealing situations to ponder. To some extent, of course, the breadth of interest relates to the fact that he figures to be available on a short-term deal at a palatable rate. For teams looking to lock in a decent level of production at the plate for the short term, while keeping future payroll flexibility, Hunter makes for a highly appealing option.

Multiple years are certainly within reach if Hunter is interested, though he may not be – and may see somewhat reduced interest and lower-AAV offers if he does pursue that route. Cuddyer’s two-year, $21MM deal sets the market at the corner, and carries an even higher implied valuation since it required the Mets to sacrifice the 15th overall pick in the upcoming draft. (Applying a 3x multiplier to the slot value of that pick last year results in a rough $7.5MM valuation of New York’s added cost. As discussed by Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, however, other means of estimation might put the value in the $10MM to $15MM range.)

Ultimately, assuming Hunter picks amongst the clubs pushing the top of his market, I think he will land a deal in the range of two years and $22MM. If he ultimately falls shy of that mark, it could well be because he prefers a one-year deal or takes a discount for one reason or another.