10 Bargains in the Playoffs

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10 Bargains in the Playoffs

Posted on 04 October 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Cha-ching!

Spending big money on player contracts comes with no guarantee of success or even an assurance that the money will be well spent.  In some cases going big pays off (see “Yankees”), and for some teams the “less is more approach” pays off just as well (see “Athletics”).  Regardless of how much a team spends or how it distributes the spending, every team that makes the playoffs has at least 1 player turning in a big money performance for a fraction of the cost.  So, here I pay tribute to those who overproduce despite being underpaid.  Here are 10 of the “Biggest Bangs for Your Buck” players.

New York Yankees – $209,792,900 total payroll commitments.  For a lot of teams a $10M deal for a single season represents a huge chunk, but the Yankees do not fall into the category of “a lot of teams”.  The team certainly must appreciate the production from big money guys like C.C. Sabathia, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano, but they fall well short of Hiroki Kuroda in the “biggest bang for your buck” (BBFYB) category.  Kuroda has given the team a 3.34 ERA over 32 starts which works out to $2M per 1 WAR.  In Bronx Bomber terminology, Kuroda gives them a Sabathia season at less than half the cost of Sabathia.

Detroit Tigers – $133,475,000.  It might be difficult to stand out with Justin Verlander on the roster, but Austin Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb this season.  Giving a team a .298/.376/.476/.852 line with 16 HR, 65 RBI, a 130 OPS+, and outstanding defense at the same time will do that for a guy.  A 5.2 WAR season for just $500K?  Definitely.

Texas Rangers – $120,836,000.  Tempted to think of David Murphy or Alexi Ogando for this one?  Sure, but the unsung hero for the Rangers has been Craig Gentry.  Gentry’s career year at age 30 this season certainly has helped keep the team in contention.  His line of .302/.379/.479/.858 with 15 HR and 59 RBI comes with an extremely reasonable price tag of $484.3K.

Baltimore Orioles – $84,102,333.  Matt Wieters deserves this recognition both for his performance and his handling of the pitching staff.  Consider it a small miracle that the Orioles have a staff ERA of 3.89 in baseball’s most competitive division.  Producing 3.2 WAR for $500K would be sufficient to win the BBFYB award, though.

Oakland A’s – $52,873,000.  You might think it difficult to pick out a BBFYB winner on a team full of underpaid talent.  Josh Reddick makes the decision quite easy, though.  4.5 WAR for $485K makes it a no-brainer, and I’m all about not using more brain power than necessary.

San Francisco Giants – $131,355,298.  Buster Posey definitely belongs in the MVP conversation, but he already owns the BBFYB title for the Giants.  He leads the NL with 7.2 WAR for a measly $615K.  Too bad for the Giants he reaches arbitration eligibility after this season, because that salary number should increase an awful lot.  With a substantial raise, Posey will likely lose that BBFYB title, but that is a good problem to have.

St Louis Cardinals – $111,858,500.  Up until a few weeks ago, the reigning World Series MVP, David Freese, had the Biggest Bang for your Buck title sewn up.  Then Pete Kozma happened.  Kozma has given the Cardinals 1.1 WAR in just 25 games (79 PAs).  Considering that he makes the minimum and wasn’t expected to contribute at a Major League level this season, he edges out Freese just slightly.

Atlanta Braves – $93,529,667.  The Braves have at least 3 legitimate candidates in this race.  Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel are worthy, but Kris Medlen has just been unreal.  Going 10-1 merits attention in just about any situation, but doing so over the 2nd half of the season when some teams fall of the pace is like a jolt of adrenaline.  From his 1.57 ERA to his 4.2 WAR, Medlen has proven himself to be worth far more than the $490K he’s getting paid.

Cincinnati Reds – $87,826,167.  Flip and coin between Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart.  You really can’t go wrong with either one.  Frazier provides the Reds with pretty good corner infield bat.  Cozart gives them a decent bat but a plus defender at shortstop.  Cozart gets the BBFYB nod for being a better all-around player, but both are really good deals at $480K a year.

Most of the aforementioned players get enough media attention that casual fans have probably at least heard of them, but I thought it worth pointing out just how much they produced without breaking the bank.

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The Evolution Will Be Televised

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The Evolution Will Be Televised

Posted on 28 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Radio device..thing

The image of a person sitting on the back porch listening to a radio broadcast of a baseball game on a late summer evening remains as untainted now as it was 30 years ago.  The play-by-play announcer’s voice rising to match the crescendo of the game action and crowd noise just has a certain nostalgic feel to it.  It’s pure Americana.  Maybe the AM/FM device itself has changed in shape and function over the years, but the product delivered by that particular vehicle has not.  The remnants of radio’s old guard still working games has helped ease the transition into the information era.

You can now watch 4+ games simultaneously while receiving score updates via text/email, and catch highlights on your mobile device of choice.  You still cannot replicate the quiet, solitary effect of creating the game’s images in your mind as a broadcast team gives you all that is needed to do so via a simple radio.  That represents no intentional slight against television and/or the laptop/Macbook/mobile device you use to enhance your game experience.  The sheer volume of information now delivered to the end user via a televised broadcast makes for a wonderfully welcome addition to the experience….sometimes.

The only real fault I find with having so much information at your disposal is that television broadcasters provide marginal returns in terms of value added.  In the days of television before PitchFX data, pitch tracking, and statistics updated to the minute, the broadcasters were the distributors of such data.  They could easily disseminate pages upon pages worth of batting splits, average by position, and pitch count information to be eagerly consumed by the multitude of mushrooms that were otherwise kept in the dark.

Times they are a changing.  In the time it takes for a pitcher to finish his warmup tosses, I can obtain the previous history of the first 3 hitters in the inning against the man on the mound.  This information can then be tweeted to hundreds of others watching the game, and some of them can in turn pass along the information to even more people.  This data accessibility and the nature of social media make for a challenging environment in which networks must thrive.  Either find a way to evolve with the content streams and disparate sources, or find themselves rendered solely a visual aid to the radio broadcast.

Anyone with a good wifi connection can turn the tv on mute and listen to the “local” radio broadcast from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  If they choose to do so at home, they can freely move from couch to loveseat to recliner and from patio to deck to media room.  I often bring up the game on MLBtv and listen to the radio broadcast while I’m connected to my iPhone 15 feet away using a bluetooth headset.  In that way I become the all-powerful consumer of game feeds and information.

What have the television networks done to bring me back to face the high-definition tv in the living room?

Very little.  The occasional glimpse of the graphical interpretation of the strike zone and perceived location of each pitch holds my attention for a few seconds at a time.  The incessant blathering by a former player (or 2) in matching polos or suits does little in terms of adding a unique perspective.  All their stories from their playing days have long since been told, repackaged, told again, and finally told in highlights.  Professional analysis of situational baseball scenarios need not be thrown against the wall yet again to see what still sticks.

The fan of today is better informed and more savvy than the fan of 30 years ago.  It’s time networks embrace this truth and work harder to stay ahead of the curve.  With all the real estate that modern televisions provide and with the addition of a 2nd piece of real estate on another screen, networks have all the reasons in the world to claim space.  Why not have a win probability graph accompanied by the odds of scoring once, twice, or even three times in a given inning?  Where are the hitter’s spray charts and heat maps?  Why not show velocity data for each pitch type thrown?

Someone will identify and opportunity and take hold of both the television screen and the 2nd one as well.  When that happens, all networks will have to evolve to meet the demands placed on them by fans.  At that time the evolution will certainly be televised, DVR’d, and live streamed.  Even then, radio will still have a place on that back deck as the deer stroll through the field on that late summer evening.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Working on 20th Year of Futility

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Pittsburgh Pirates Working on 20th Year of Futility

Posted on 25 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

WC Standings (from ESPN)

The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with a record above .500 Barry Bonds was skinny, George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States, and Miley Cyrus had not yet been spawned.  Jim Leyland was the manager, and the team had reached the NLCS 3 consecutive times without winning a trip to the World Series.  From 1990-92 the Pirates went 289-197 during the regular season and had all the makings of a perennial contender.  Then Barry Bonds hit free agency and ended up taking his toys to play in the San Francisco sandbox.

Since that time, the Pirates have posted 19 straight losing seasons, and they are in danger of making it an even 20.  Unfortunately for the Pirates (and their fans), this year was really supposed to be different from the previous 19.  The team made a serious effort to at least make this season a turning point for the franchise.  Just over 1 month ago, the Pirates looked really, really good.  The team stood 67-54, and it was not a smoke-and-mirrors act, either.  The team had a run differential of +21, and they were in serious contention for a wild card spot.

Then the bottom fell out….or the wheels fell off….or they found themselves stuck in a certain creek without means of propulsion.  Regardless of how it happened or how one chooses to describe the precipitous fall – it happened.  In spite of an opening day payroll of $52M (team’s largest since 2003), the Pirates simply could not handle prosperity.  The team went from 13 games above .500 to 2 games below that mark.  It took an 8-23 stretch, but they managed it.  Now the Pirates need to finish at least 6-4 to avoid the 20th consecutive season with a losing record.

They may need some assistance to reach that record.  The team has 4 games against the Mets starting today in NYC.  After that, the Pirates host the Reds and then the Braves for consecutive  3-game sets to finish the season.  Given that the team does not have a winning record against any of the 3 aforementioned opponents, 6-4 might be a tall order.  As a longtime fan of the Cardinals, I must admit to having some bias where the Pirates are concerned.  Old rivalries fade away slowly.  As a baseball fan, I’m quietly rooting for them to go 7-3 to secure a winning record for the first time in 2 decades.

Despite having what appears to be a significant talent deficit on paper, the Pirates always seem to play really well against the Cardinals and happen to own a 8-7 season series victory this year.  That earns them a certain measure of respect.  Playing hard to be a “spoiler” near the end of the season also warrants some respect.  Finally, the ability to persevere through almost 20 years of futility should give each hardcore fan some kind of “I watched 19 really bad seasons of baseball in Pittsburgh and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” badge on Foursquare.

Instead, the Pittsburgh faithful may be stuck with yet another losing season and exclusion from the MLB postseason yet again.  If nothing else, at least they can look forward to next year when the payroll projection may push the Pirates over the $70M mark.  Of course, the fans have already learned that spending more money does not come with a guarantee of team success.  On the other hand, it usually doesn’t hurt, either.

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Yunel Escobar es Ignorante

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Yunel Escobar es Ignorante

Posted on 20 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Douche….Canoe….Captain

Honestly, some Spanish words just sound better than their English counterparts.  While “ignorante” flows off the tongue like the most beautifully heinous Latin invective imaginable, calling Yunel Escobar an “ignorant, homophobic jackass” also has a certain guttural quaintness as well.  Since science yet denies us the ability to truly read another person’s thoughts, we cannot fully know what has gone through Escobar’s mind.  Perhaps more important is what was not going through Escobar’s cranial space each and every time he chose to use an eye black sticker decorated by a homophobic slur.  That leaves us with the tried and true method of simply damning him for his actions based only on the data presented.

Escobar knew exactly what the words meant.  He turned himself into a small, mobile billboard for hate every time he took the field using the stickers.  He failed mightily in protesting his innocence by invoking the “I have gay friends” defense.  By that same logic, I can approve random acts of hate against dumb people, because I know a lot of dumb people.  Life does not in fact work that way.  He basically rattled off a slightly askew version of the “I’m sorry if my actions offended anyone” mantra that so many professional athletes use when they obviously offended more than just a few.  Based on his pathetic attempt at an apology, he still does not fully understand the ramifications of his actions.

Does he really believe that the Latin community as a whole accepts the use of derogatory slang that spews forth hate at gay people?  Apparently, he does.  Mind you, calling someone a “faggot” does not equate to the counter-intuitive custom of slurping out of a bowl while eating to show approval that you find prevalent in some Asian cultures.  This is not the same as the popular yet juvenile act of bestowing a terrible nickname on a good friend in college that may stick with the person for life (ie Spanky or Douche Canoe Captain).  Homophobia might have a reasonable shot at simultaneously being both the most ridiculous and unacceptable form of prejudice in existence.

Racism continues to diminish in many places as an unsustainable prejudice simply due to the prevalence of integrated relationships that produce mixed-race children.  Actually, the relative purity of any single person on the planet merits serious discussion as DNA mapping shows increasingly that genetic markers indicate racial “influence” well beyond what your family tree may show.  Sexism may be alive and well, but it certainly has come a long way in 50 years.  The various talking points for gender gap discussions remain valid in a general sense, but the specifics are changing with each passing year.  I personally reject the notion that gender equality means that a man and a woman with similar educational backgrounds, skill sets, industry experience, professional networks, and tenure should be compensated equally.  What if the woman does a better job or a more efficient one than her male counterpart?  Should we simply stop at expecting her to be equally compensated?  No.  That’s not what “gender equality” should mean.  It should be about equal treatment.

The same should be said for gays and lesbians with a singular difference.  Homophobia makes even less sense in the grand scheme of things.  Hate based on something as arbitrary as skin color or sex seems plain dumb.  Hate based on something not easily observed seems absolutely preposterous.  From 50 feet away, I can usually differentiate between a male and a female of our species.  From that same distance, I can usually pick out an Asian from a non-Asian.  Beyond that, I cannot with much certainty say much else about the person at all.  Perhaps the last possible thing I could identify about a person from that distance is sexual orientation.  I have a better chance of guessing their dog’s name than I do of establishing anything about sexual preference.

Mind you, all people have the right to hate and in turn like whatever they see fit.  At the same time, I also have the right, nay the privilege to point at them and laugh.  I mock them in all ways possible, and no specific person, group, or society can hide from my mocking.  I make jokes at the expense of athletes, celebrities, gays, non-gays, lesbians, non-lesbians, skinny people, overweight people, people who tan too much, people who watch Honey Boo Boo, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, black people, white people, mixed people, people with moles, people with birds, dog people, cat people, Asians, my family members, your family members, and your next door neighbor’s college roommate’s cousin who once appeared on Family Feud in a pair of coveralls.  The difference between Escobar and me is that I make fun of many of these people without necessarily knowing which of the aforementioned categories they fit into.

Does that make me a better person?  Certainly not.  I probably shouldn’t mock anybody, but I do.  It’s a character defect.   You can call me an idiot for behaving the way I do, but you would be hard-pressed to call me a racist, sexist, or homophobic jerk store and back it up with any evidence.  Just the same, Escobar can content himself with moving forward in life under the pretense that it’s okay for him to quietly dislike gay people.  As long as those thoughts do not somehow result in an unkind act, I see no reason to linger on the issue.  He probably could use some kind of counseling or educational process, but he can easily go through life wallowing in his own ignorance.  The only thing that has really changed is that everybody knows just how ignorant he is.  Maybe he would have been better off being thought a fool than wearing the offensive eye black and removing all doubt.

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Salvador Perez-Molina

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Salvador Perez-Molina

Posted on 18 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Molina and….Molina?

Go ahead and call me a “birther” if you will, but I demand to see Salvador Perez‘s birth certificate.  Just pull back the facade of falsified documentation, and give it to me straight.  He’s a Molina.  I’m certain of this.  Allegedly, Perez was born in Venezuela, but Venezuela sits just a short popfly away from Puerto Rico on the global scale of things.  There must be someone out there who can help me prove that the Royals somehow found the “lost” Molina brother.  Granted, the family resemblance may not be striking, but half-brother would not be far-fetched.

How else can you explain the way Perez plays the game?

He has exactly 100 games of Major League Baseball experience under his belt, yet he shows many signs of baseball maturity befitting a man 10 years his elder.  For the love of all things Molina, the man just turned 22 at the beginning of this season.  In 2012 alone, Perez-Molina has accounted for 2.4 WAR which basically guarantees a solid return on the 5 yr / $7M investment the Royals made in him.  That’s the baseball equivalent of buying Apple at a discount to original opening price and selling right after an iPhone/iPad announcement.  Once you recoup that initial outlay, everything else basically represents pure gravy (minus capital gains taxes in the event you sell early).  Perez-Molina is Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all in one.

About that 2.4 WAR – it does not just come from competent work at the plate.  Given just 64 games (259 PAs), Perez-Molina boasts a line of .310/.336/.510/.846 with 11 HR and 36 RBI.  That helps explain the 2.0 oWAR.  His total DRS (defensive runs saved) stands at 7 which ties him for 2nd among all MLB catchers with Ryan Hanigan.  The difference between the 2 of them is that Hanigan has played 787.0 innings at catcher.  PM just reached 553.0 innings played.  The guy leading both of them?  Yadier Molina, of course.  Molina has a DRS total of 17.  Of course, Molina has built that number over the course of 1045.2 innings played.

PM does not simply save runs by blocking the plate or throwing out his share of would-be base stealers.  Nope.  He guns down would-be thieves at a rate of 44% against a league average of just 25%.  Not to be outdone, his older brother (or half-brother) throws out 46% of all potential base stealers (league avg of 27%).  So, if you happen to be keeping score at home, the summary goes….

  • Yadier Molina.320/.376/.502/.878, 139 OPS+, 27 doubles, 19 HR, 67 RBI in 125 games
  • Sal Perez-Molina – .310/.336/.510/.846, 128 OPS+, 16 doubles, 11 HR, 36 RBI in 64 games

Now, it might be a logical stretch to simply extrapolate Perez’s numbers to compare apples to apples, but that Perez-Molina guy still has a long way to go.  Molina’s 6.3 WAR (4.5 oWAR and 2.5 dWAR) places him among the top 5 most productive players in the NL (based on WAR).  He did not get to that point overnight, and he certainly was not a .300 hitter at age 22.

The more Perez produces over the next year or so, the more the long term signing appears to be a bargain for the Royals.  After all, Molina made $3.3M in his 5th year.  Perez is signed for $2.0M for his 5th year, and those numbers are not inflation adjusted.  However, the real kicker for the Perez deal gives the Royals team options that total $14.75M for Perez’s age 27-29 season.  Compare that to the $26.3M the Cardinals pay Molina for his 7th, 8th, and 9th seasons.

None of this gives me the confidence to project Sal Perez as the next Yadier Molina or Ivan Rodriguez, but he has gotten off to a great start.  Better yet, his work this year has already provided some justification for the move the Royals made to lock him down long term.  For a team that operates on a relatively small budget, the possibility of having an elite catcher for a relatively low price means an awful lot.  Maybe others will recognize Sal Perez-Molina for what he has already accomplished at the most demanding position in baseball.

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