Free Agent Hitters in ’08

October 14, 2007

Alright, so we looked at the Free Agent pitching and didn’t see too much to get excited about. Time for the position players. Before we get going let’s think about where we definitely shouldn’t be pursing free agents. Young and Johnson can handle 1B, Zimmerman can handle 3B. The middle infield could use help. Guzman, Belliard and Lopez aren’t healthy or overly productive. For middle infielders, they hit ok (Guzman hit great once – in 2007, so maybe we’ll get that), and other than Guzman they field poorly. At catcher they have serious D with Schneider, and young potential with Flores. That wouldn’t eliminate them if they were looking for someone, but it shouldn’t be their #1 priority. The outfield is where they have some serious issues. Even if Church and Kearns performed below their abilities last season, and Wily Mo is a .900 OPS guy, are they really set there? No, because as we addressed a few weeks ago, their biggest hole in their roster isn’t a position, it’s a category – power. They have none. The OF is where this is probably the easiest to patch, and the furthest from where the rest of the league is. So if they are looking to sign someone, the OF should be the place. But of course they shouldn’t pass up on something elsewhere. And again, we’re gonna assume that they are looking to long term signings.

Torii Hunter may seem appealing. He can still play CF, although he’s lost a step he’s still better than most. And he’s got some power, he’s a 25 HR guy. But he has never posted a career OBP higher than .340. Listen, I know this isn’t organizational philosophy to have a high-OBP. But you can’t define your team as one that does NOT get on base alot. I mean, I guess you can, but it’s idiotic. The team with the 2nd worst OBP in the NL in ’07 does not need to sign a semi-power hitting CF whose fielding isn’t what it used to be (but still beats most) is going to be 32 next season, and doesn’t get on base enough. Hunter is an exciting player, but he’s not a solution for this team.

Andruw Jones is one guy that is going to expect lots of money for a long time this offseason. But does he deserve it? Well, clearly his .222 average was an aberration this year, he didn’t just completely fall off the map. His HRs are there, and he is a career .263/.342/.497 hitter. This is great and the Nats should take it, except that he isn’t likely to do that for much longer. He is going to be 31 next season, and has CLEARLY lost a step in the OF. He may keep winning gold gloves, but that is based on reputation. Last season people were arguing that he wasn’t the same in CF that he used to be, this season even the anti-stats guys concede it. He is bigger and slower than ever, but this hasn’t translated to more power. He may be on the back end of a great career, a long term deal seems like a trap on the back end. If he could be signed for 3 years, he’d be great, but that isn’t likely.

Aaron Rowand is a very good fielder, and had a career year this past season. At 30 he appears to be about 5 years younger than Andruw. When I first looked, Rowand was the most interesting to me. He can field, and he hit alot last year. But if there’s one thing I know about free agents it’s this: be wary of guys coming off of career years. This season he had all kind of career highs, but of course he was playing in the hitter’s paradise of Philadelphia. 27 HRs is more likely a peak than a portent of things to come. Other than his 2 great seasons, he has 4 seasons where his OBP is more around the .325. Even last season, the one where he broke his nose, he would have had to hit incredibly well in the last 2 months to get anywhere near 25 HRs.

Even though I love his nickname, Matt Stairs (“The Professional Hitter”) is probably not the solution for this team. He’ll be 40, he no longer has the kind of power he used to, but the fact that he deserves mention is a testament to how good he is, and probably highlights how underrated he is. He hit .289/.368/.549 this season with the Blue Jays, and could probably be expected to hit closer to his career splits of .267/.359/.488 going out. But his age is just too much of a factor, he probably wouldn’t be able to play full time, and the Nats shouldn’t be going around signing 40 year old outfielders.

Isn’t there anyone who will be undervalued this season? Well, what about Mike Cameron? He’ll be 35 years old, but unlike most guys, he hasn’t lost much in the field. Sure, he may not be the best fielder out there anymore, but he is still better than the vast majority of CFs out there. His season of .242/.328/.431 wasn’t terribly impressive. He’s always been a power/speed guy who strikes out alot, and that hasn’t changed. What has is where he has played. He hit .254/.341/.449 away from home, which is decent. He can still probably be expected to hit 25 HRs and despite lots of Ks, still have a higher OBP than most of the rest of this team.

Geoff Jenkins has spent his entire career in Milwaukee, and I’m guessing they figure out a way to keep him there. He’d be an effective part of a platoon, because he’s a lefty who can mash righties, but he’s pretty worthless against lefties. If used that way, he’d actually be a good addition to any team that needs power from its outfield. But nobody actually likes to platoon anymore, whether it’s the need to carry 35 pitchers or have the same starting lineup every day. He is career .288/.358/.525 against righties and even last season he was .262/.326/.482. I won’t embarrass him by listing his stats against lefties, but let’s just say he shouldn’t be hitting there. He is a power source, and I wouldn’t be against signing him if he’s used properly.

Brady Clark is nothing more than a role player.

Adam Dunn is probably getting love letters from Bowden as we speak. The Reds might not want to pay him $13 m, and maybe they shouldn’t. If they Nats have a chance to, maybe they should. He is only going to be 28 next season, so even a 5 year deal doesn’t leave you with an old man. He is the classic 3 outcome guy – strikeout, walk or HR. His last 3 seasons he’s hit 40 HRs in a hitters park, but his home/road splits are almost even in that department. The last 2 seasons, his OPS splits were pretty even, with a slight advantage at home. In a neutral park, he’s still going to hit. His fielding is bad, though, and he does strike out alot. People have called Wily Mo “Dunn Light” and it’s not a bad comparison. But Wily Mo doesn’t walk, despite striking out alot. So the question may be who is better to have in LF, Wily Mo or Dunn? Well, Dunn is the better hitter, and that is what the Nats need. If you look at his numbers, Dunn compares closely with Ryan Howard. Howard gets a few more hits, but their OBP is about the same. Go ahead, check their numbers. I’ll be here. Anyway, Dunn seems to be one of the best free agents on the market, and he does fit in with what the Nats need.

Barry Bonds is an interesting case. He will probably play short term and will most likely STILL be one of the top players in the game. His OPS of 1.045 would have ranked him first in the NL and third in the AL (behind ARod and Large Father) if he had the required number of at bats. And there is the big problem with him. Besides being the most hated player in baseball, he also is one of the least ambulatory. He just can’t play LF for a full season anymore, although his 28 HRs in 458 PAs (that’s about 2/3 of a season) would still be better than anyone else on the team. But this isn’t what a young team needs. And as for the “Glavine” role of teaching the young guys a thing or two, unless he can teach them how to see the ball the way he does, all those affects would assume to be negative.

Moving on from the OF, to look at the middle infield we find there isn’t much help out there. Kaz Matsui has made a name for himself that doesn’t involve cursing and a thick Queens accent with the Rockies this season. He has been a spark at the top of the lineup, but he has little power. And he definitely benefits from Coors field. His ’07 home vs. away splits of .330/.381/.482 vs .249/.303/.333 shows that unless the Nats can figure out a way to play their home games in Denver, he isn’t a worthwhile addition.

Tad Iguchi is a free agent as well. But his isn’t any better than Ronnie Belliard, signing him wouldn’t really be much of an improvement.

Omar Vizquel is available. He’s still an amazing fielder, even at 40 years old. But his bat was non-existent this season. Never a power hitter, he slugged a ridiculous .316 this season. There are enough gloves in the minor league system that could slug .316 that this signing would be ridiculous. Now as a fielding coach, I’m all for it, but not as a player.

There is one potential middle infielder that I am positive, absolutely 100% sure would be a solid addition to the roster, but Alex Rodriguez is most likely out of the question. But if he could play SS (and he can) for the Nats, he’s worth anything. You want to talk about bringing people out to the games? Wow, he’d be something. And against NL pitching? The perennial MVP candidate would be incredible. He certainly isn’t the type of player who should experience a precipitous decline in the next few years, despite his age. He’s just that much better than everyone. So you have to have him when he’s 38, only hitting .275 and breaking the all-time HR record. Seems worthwhile to me. But, he aint coming here, and we aint signing him. I just wanted to say something positive about one guy. If he loses his mind and falls in love with cherry blossoms or traffic circles or free museums and wants to come here, the Nats should do what they can to accommodate. I have a feeling he’ll be with the Yankees again next year, but you never know.

Verdict

The outfield class is thick with talent, but nothing that really warrants long-term contracts. Regretful contracts are what seems to be available. Long-term deals for Hunter and Jones seem to be destined to be bad. Jones, if he can mash 35 HRs a year for the next 3 years, is very intriguing, but he’s not likely to go short term. Cameron is interesting, but if they want a CF who can hit like that, strike out less and steal a less, they already have Ryan Church.

But if they do pick up a OF hitter, they have 3 guys they could trade in Church, Kearns and Pena. None are going to carry this team, but all will have trade value. Both Ryan Church and Wily Modesto have contracts ending in 2008. They would seem to be guys you can send to a contender for some sort of value. So maybe picking up a guy like Adam Dunn will be worth the money.

All the talk this year was that the free agent class would be unimpressive. As much as I want Bowden to pull the trigger on SOMEONE, there just isn’t much out there to go for. This team needs more power somewhere. But this may just be a bad year to do it. Just like we can’t will Kearns and Church to hit 30 HRs each, we can’t create young power hitters on the free agent market. Dunn is the best option out there, but I am not convinced that they need to run out and pursue him. Now, Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, should be receiving hs DC visitors guide in the mail any day now, courtesy of The Nationals Review and The Washington DC Convention and Tourism Company. Seriously though, if you’re not convinced Dunn is worth it, maybe the best thing to do is wait a season, and save all that money to go after Mark Teixiera.


Free Agent Pitchers in ’08

October 8, 2007

Everyone else is talking about playoffs. Yes, they’re super exciting, but the Nats need to start thinking about their best way to get there in future ASAP. If the plan goes as planned, the Nats are supposed to spend some money this offseason to build a winning team in 2008. Spend more money the following year to build a playoff team in 2009 which would lead to a legitimate championship contender in 2010. But who’s going to be available? Well let’s start with the pitchers. Remember here, we’re talking about (with 2 exceptions at the end for reasons of age) signing pitchers for a few years. This class is thin, many guys will be looking for 3-5 year contracts and getting it. For that, with a rebuilding team like the Nats, they better be looking for a cornerstone of the franchise type pitcher. Technically, we won’t know the full list until after the World Series, but there shouldn’t really be names that are surprising when that day comes.

Here is a relatively complete list of starting pitchers under 40 available at the end of this season:
Jeremy Affeldt, Tony Armas, Pedro Astacio, Kris Benson, Paul Byrd, Shawn Chacon, Bruce Chen, Matt Clement, Bartolo Colon, Scott Elarton, Shawn Estes, Josh Fogg, Casey Fossum, Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Brian Lawrence, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez, Joe Mays, Wade Miller, Eric Milton, Brian Moehler, Tomo Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Chan Ho Park, Odalis Perez, Sidney Ponson, Mark Redman, Glendan Rusch, Aaron Sele, Carlos Silva, John Thomson, Brett Tomko, Steve Trachsel, John Wasdin, Jeff Weaver, Kip Wells, Paul Wilson, Randy Wolf, Jamey Wright, Jared Wright, and Victor Zambrano.

Of course I may be missing one or two guys, but for the most part, I think it’s there. Not alot of exciting names, huh? Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buerhle, probably the top 2 guys on my list in April, are now off the list. So let’s go through some of the more desirable guys on the list:

Carlos Silva has had some success with the Twinkies. And he’s young, only 29 next season. His K/BB ratio is about 2.3/1 for his career, mostly due to the fact that he doesn’t walk anyone. He doesn’t miss bats, gives up ALOT of hits, and has a career ERA of 4.31. Since he pitches in the AL, he could be an under-4.00 guy in the NL. He is a decent player, and he’ll probably do well this offseason. But he is predictably decent, there’s little outstanding about him, so signing him longterm seems a stretch. He might fit in with a team that is one #3 pitcher away from contending, but not the Nats.

Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse is going to command some cash this offseason too. Boras has been quoted talking about his “durability” and “experience” and his age of 28, which is what you have to do when there is nothing better to say. Averages 191 IP a year. Other than that his K/BB ratio is 2/1, his career ERA is 4.82 and… and that’s all I got. Waste of a spot on this team, maybe a good back end guy somewhere else.

Roger Clemens will be available, but in my opinion he isn’t coming back. And if he is, it aint with the Nationals. Not that they should be pursuing him. What’s he, like 45? I could hit him. Oh, he actually is 45.

Livan - Not happening.

Bartolo Colon is free after an injury-prone 2 seasons since winning the Cy Young. He has had success in the past, of course, and a healthy Colon could give a team 15-20 wins as well as regular movements. But his weight problems continue, injuries are of course an issue, and he’ll be 35 years old next year. Colon could be a real mess for this team. Ok, I’ll stop, I promise.

Freddy Garcia may have been an interesting prospect if I wrote this at the beginning of the year. Not spectacular, but a successful workhorse, he’s averaged 220 IPs over his career, and lead the league in that category once. He’s been top 10 in Ks 4 times, IPs 4 times, games started 6 times, wins 3 times and ERA 3 times. His career ERA is a tolerable 4.07 and he has a career record of 117-76. Then got hurt, and underwent surgery. He likely won’t be back until after the All-Star break in 2008. At 32, he still has some useful years, and may be a bit more desirable than other pitchers on this list, especially since his injury may necessitate a short-term deal.

Randy Wolf‘s talent is appealing (not overwhelming), but he hasn’t pitched more than half a season since 2003, that isn’t what you sign for long-term.

Kip Wells has now sucked for 4 straight seasons, although last year he spent most of the time on the DL, which is also sucky, but at least you can’t give up HRs when you’re on the DL. Anyway, he’s only been good for 2 seasons, and it’s making me believe that perhaps those years were the flukes, not the other way around. He is a 5th or 6th starter for a team trying to pull together a staff to make a run not a piece to build with.

Jason Jennings was supposed to kick some serious Astro in Houston, coming off a year where he had an ERA of 3.78 in Colorado. Instead he gave up 19 HRs in 99 IP with a 6.45 ERA, and got hurt and had surgery. He could be a decent one year acquisition because he’ll probably go that route, hoping to score a long-term deal in 2009. But for the Nats, what’s the point in paying a guy several million to be mediocre for 1 season when they have plenty of guys who can do that already? Same thing for Matt Clement, while we’re at it.

Kris Benson is available, and he’s nothing special either. He can’t even be called an innings eater because of his history of injury, when healthy he can pitch decently enough – a career ERA of 4.34. But it’s more of the same story with this free agent class. Lots of potentially decent guys coming off injury, but the potential isn’t enough to take the risk for a long term deal. And the Nats don’t really need to get anyone for a 1 or 2 year deal. Unless…

Then again, there is another reason to sign a free agent: to make the fans excited. There are 2 free agent pitchers that may be able to both excite fans and bring some intangibles, but they are the opposite of those young, building-the-future type of guys.

Curt Schilling is one guy that is going to be available, and there’s a good chance that the big money BoSox won’t be pursuing him. His attitude is a plus and a minus. As a fan, I don’t want to hear him talk… ever. He never shuts up, brews controversy with the media, and that may not be what a young team should learn. But as a fan, I’d love him to inspire some of the other players. When he won the world series in 2004, he was considered one of the emotional leaders of his team. How many pitchers can claim that? He may want multiple years though, and the scariest part about Schilling is that he’s a power pitcher who has been hurt alot lately and his strikeouts per inning have been declining. He’s still a good pitcher, but if he wants 2 or 3 years, what’s gonna be left in 2010? Probably a financial drag that is stuck in the pitching staff because of his salary, not his ability.

Another possibility is Tom Glavine. In fact, it’s more than a possibility, it’s an actual rumor on ESPN. He actually turned down his player option for 2008 with the Mets. The bad news is that Glavine didn’t pitch very well this past season, so who knows what he has left. The good is that he’d probably only go for a 1 year deal. Alot of the talk is that he isn’t ready to retire after that terrible final start, and wants to redeem himself. And in terms of a guy who could really teach this young pitching staff a thing or two, well there isn’t much better of a choice than a 300 game winner. He could be one of those people that adds what we like to call “intangibles” to the team. I’m not gonna dive into his stats, he was always great with the Braves, his first and last year with the Mets were bad, while his 3 in the middle were very good. He could reasonably be expected to pitch 200 innings and win a dozen games.

Verdict:

With the young pitching staff the relative strength of this organization, and the lack of talent in the crop of free agents – don’t waste your money. But don’t sit on your haunches either. This is a perfect opportunity to sign an older player who can impart wisdom and inspire with his ability and tenacity. As much as I go on and on about stats on this site, I do believe there is more to baseball than the numbers. This young guys pitching for this team could get years worth of value out of having one of these elder statesmen for one year. I’m gonna say if they sign anyone, it should be Glavine over Schilling since he will probably be ok with 1 year. But either one, for a 1 year deal, could be a boon to this pitching staff.

Next we’ll talk hitting…


Congrats Dmitri!

October 3, 2007

Dmitri Young won the comeback player of the year award for the NL this season. Congrats to Dmitri, he definitely deserved it, as his comeback stretched well beyond his accomplishments on the baseball field.

Dmitri wins

In terms of what this means for his future, well a quick check of the past winners of this award shows that it may not be promising. I did a quick check of the OPS of the award winners, and compared their OPS during the year they won the award, and the year after they won it. In other words, was the comeback longer lasting than one season? I considered an OPS change from the first year to the second of less then .025 to be “the same.” Of the 51 previous winners who were hitters, a remarkable 37 of them had a worse OPS (by more than .025) the year after the award, 8 stayed within .025 in each direction, and 4 improved by more than .025. There are many possible reasons for this – you gotta have a great season to win the award (MVP players usually have their best seasons when they win their award, too), it has to be preceeded by a bad season (maybe you’re streaky, not a comeback guy), the average age of the award winner are 32, which is usually about the time players decline, etc. It points to the fact that this is probably the best we’ll see from Dmitri.

EXCEPT…

Here’s the good news: While only players 4 actually improved the season after they won the award, 3 of them were coming back from injuries – Bo Jackson (who won the award after his football-career-ending hop injury), Tony Conigliaro (who won the award after being beaned in the eye), and Mike Lieberthal (who won the award after tearing all 3 major ligaments of his right knee). Of the 8 players who basically stayed the same, 4 of them – Jason Giambi, Kevin Elster, Jose Canseco (remember, in the same season he let the ball bounce of his head, he hurt his arm pitching), and Dave Winfield – also were coming off of significant time missed due to injury. Young was coming back from missing significant time as well, including time in rehab, and was affected negatively by his divorce. He is refreshed in ways similar to these players. Of the guys who won the award, and didn’t do as well or better the next season, less than half, about 40% were coming back from injury. One interesting case was Boog Powell, who won the award twice in his career, and lost over .200 OPS the following season both times!

What does this mean? I’m not sure it gives too much predictive power. It does show that historically, players who did as well or better the following season were more likely to have been coming back from injury than those who didn’t. My money is on him having a slightly worse season, but something plenty good, more along the lines of his typical career numbers – in other words, he probably won’t hit .320 again, but slugging .490 isn’t a stretch.


The team stats – ’07 vs ’06

October 1, 2007

It’s over, and as much as you’d like to say that finishing 7-9 is no fun, it’s hard to say this season has been disappointing. Here are a look at some of the stats from last year compared to this year.

Stats 06-07

So there you have it. The offense went from bad to worse, and the pitching went from worst to below average. So the good things first – the pitching. It actually improved quite a bit, in terms of the most important stats, which are runs and ERA. But the number of strikeouts got worse and the team dropped to last. It shows that the pitching did improve, and it’s possible that the reduction in strikeouts could be due to different TYPES of pitching, or pitcher that are worse at pitching, but got luckier as their hits went right at fielders. Also, while it is worth noting that RFK helps keeps the pitchers numbers down, it is also worth noting that the team played in RFK in 2006 as well. So it is an improvement.

Now, on to the hitting. Now, keeping in mind the team did get rid of the majority of their position players before starting the season, the hitting was absolutely atrocious. They are the worst power team in the NL, possibly a tad better than the Giants. They dropped NINE spots in OBP, which you want to blame on Nick Johnson’s injury, except for the fact that his Meat Hook replacement was at .378 (sure it’s not Nick Johnson, but it is still very good). Looking down the list, you can see that they got worse in every single hitting category. They don’t hit enough, don’t walk enough, and don’t have enough power. The improvement in their record certainly owes nothing to the hitters, and have to be extremely grateful to the pitching for the improvement when they probably deserved to be much worse.

The most important number on that list is in that first row – the fact that this team improved in wins is truly remarkable. As my friend mentioned, it’s hard to believe they did this while losing a 40-40 guy, and not replacing him.

Other insanities include:

  • Having the ace of the staff (Patterson) injured all season
  • The best starter on the team this season (Hill) only was healthy enough for 16 starts and hadn’t pitched 50 innings before 2007.
  • The pitcher with the most starts (Chico) had never played above AA.
  • 5 pitchers that made starts in 2006 made starts this in 2007 (Chico, Patterson, Hill, Traber and Bergmann), which may not seem remarkable, except for the fact that they only combined for 28 starts last season. Of that group, Patterson only made 7 starts this year and Traber only had 2.
  • The players who saw the most time at 1B (Johnson), 2B (Vidro), SS (Clayton), LF (Soriano), CF (Byrd), and RF (Guillen) in 2006 didn’t play a single inning with the team in 2007, with Nick Johnson being the only one left on the roster. That’s right only Zimmerman and Schneider remain from the guys who had the most playing time last year.

This team has gone through a major overhaul, reduced payroll significantly, gotten much younger and managed to win more games. Whether or not you think they have the talent to contend some day on their current roster, they have taken a huge step towards rebuilding.

Also, lost in all these stats is the job of Manny Acta. Acta, with the holdout from last season Randy St. Claire, were a big part of this team’s success. It gives you a good feeling that if they got a few more pieces, they could put together a decent club. So what pieces are out there? We’ll get into that next week…


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