The trade that never was.

July 31, 2007

Humber for Cordero – missed opportunity or dodged bullet?

In June 2003, Chad Cordero became the surprise first round pick of the Montreal Expos, a franchise led by none other than Omar Minaya. Despite a 1.62 ERA and 56:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio for one of the nation’s best teams, Cordero was ranked only the 86th best prospect in his class by Baseball America. Whether because of great scouting or simply a belief that the franchise was in its final season, the Expos selected Cordero and promoted him to the major league roster less than three months later. Since then, Cordero has used his low 90s fastball combined with a plus slider and changeup to attack hitters and amass 112 career saves, posting a 2.62 ERA in the process.

The back of Cordero’s baseball card is impressive to be sure. No one doubts his past performance, but what of the future? After all, the ability to distinguish past performance from future performance could serve as a job description for the position of general manager. That’s why Steve Phillips works for ESPN, not a major league franchise. So far in 2007, Cordero is striking out only 6.5 batters per nine innings, by far the lowest total of his career. His walk rate (now at 3.5 per nine) is also way up from the previous two seasons. I would suggest that these two problems are related. Cordero’s stuff is good, but not so good that it can generate lots of strikeouts without being commanded effectively. A disproportionate amount of Cordero’s walks came in April and May so this problem may have already been rectified. His stuff is still there and it’s unlikely he’s already beginning to decline at age 25.

A bigger problem arises in Cordero’s peripheral stats. Here’s a look at what I’ll now just refer to as “batted ball DIPS” (acronym for defense independent pitching statistic) versus ERA for Cordero.

Year

BBDIPS

ERA

2004

4.52

2.94

2005

3.74

1.82

2006

4.08

3.19

2007

4.39

2.65

Now, there’s something to be said for a pitcher who can beat this stat consistently and I believe in a reliever’s ability to do it more so than a starter’s. But it’s disturbing nonetheless. However, given that he would have been moving to Shea (it’s no RFK, but still very forgiving to flyball pitchers) and to a good defensive team, I do not believe Cordero would have been badly exposed had this trade gone down.

I think Mets fans know enough about Phil Humber that I don’t have to go into his whole biography. Low 90s fastball, great curve, injury risk, etc. I will say that if the Mets moved Humber into the major league bullpen tomorrow, he might perform as well as Cordero. Is it probable? No. But certainly possible. Now that the deadline has come and gone without the addition of bullpen help, this is something the team should explore.

All in all, I would have liked the Mets to make this trade. The main reason why is that Cordero is only in his 4th year of service, meaning that he will not be a free agent until after the 2009 season. Not only would this have guaranteed the Mets many innings of quality relief pitching, but at any time in the next two years, the team could trade Cordero and get a return that might even be as good as what they gave up to get him in the first place.

But hey, that’s just my take. There’s a lot of room for debate here.

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Taking on the Trade Deadline: 7/24 – 7/27

July 28, 2007

Iguchi to the Phillies
Philadelphia receives: Tadahito Iguchi
Chicago (A) receives: Michael Dubee

With Chase Utley out 4-6 weeks, the Phillies had to make a move. Iguchi’s down year is mostly the product of an awful May. The Phillies get a league average second baseman here and only owe him about $1.2 million. Philadelphia also gets some of the worst production in the majors out of the third base position and it would not be surprising to see Iguchi get time there once Utley returns. Iguchi will leave as a free agent in the winter, netting Philly at least one compensatory draft pick.

Michael Dubee is a right-handed reliever who currently sports a 3.88 ERA in the South Atlantic League. Dubee is striking out a batter per inning, but the other numbers do not bode well for the 21-year old’s chances of making the majors, let alone being good.

Winner: Philadelphia

Lofton Returns to Cleveland
Cleveland receives: Kenny Lofton
Texas receives: Max Ramirez

At some point, age is going to catch up with Kenny Lofton. But we’re not there yet. He’ll be solid for Cleveland, although his value is obviously diminished with Grady Sizemore entrenched in center. The problem I see is that Cleveland now has Kenny Lofton, David Dellucci, Trot Nixon, Jason Michaels, Franklin Gutierrez, Ben Francisco, and Shin-Soo Choo all competing for time flanking Sizemore. The left-handed hitters there have been disappointing, hence the acquisition of Lofton, but they have the potential to turn it around and I’m not sure this trade makes Cleveland that much better.

The player Cleveland is giving up is Max Ramirez, a 22-year old catcher who owns a career .901 OPS. Ramirez has not only been good, he’s been consistent. At every level, he’s hit for average, power, and on-base percentage. His defense is suspect, but he has a fighting chance at staying behind the plate. Ramirez works deep counts, leading to a good amount of strikeouts, but not so many that it’s concerning. This kid is going to hit in the major leagues.

Winner: Texas

Padres deal Linebrink
San Diego receives: Will Inman, Joe Thatcher, and Steve Garrison
Milwaukee receives: Scott Linebrink

Scott Linebrink has been perhaps the most underrated relief pitcher in baseball since 2003. However, there are disturbing signs that is about to end. His strikeout rate, which had been declining slightly since 2004, has fallen off a cliff this year down to 5.0 per nine innings. With this trade, Linebrink will depart the pitcher’s paradise in San Diego that has helped to mask just how HR prone he is for the last several seasons. Anything can happen over two months for a reliever and with warning signs like this, it’s not hard to imagine Linebrink pitching ineffectively then departing as a free agent in the offseason, leaving the Brewers with nothing but a draft pick to show for this trade.

The player that undoubtedly convinced the Padres to part with Linebrink is 20-year old righty Will Inman. Inman has been among the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues for the last two seasons, racking up huge strikeout numbers. His stuff is not overwhelming, though. Inman challenges hitters with an 89-92 mph fastball and commands an average breaking pitch. This has led some to compare him with former Met farmhand Yusmeiro Petit. He won’t be anyone’s ace, but Inman should enjoy a nice career in Petco.

The other two pitchers are not major prospects, but both have a chance at a major league career. Thatcher drops down and uses a repertoire much like that of Pedro Feliciano to get lefties out. Garrison is a 20-year old lefty having a good season in the Florida State League. His stuff is underwhelming, but soft-tossing lefties have had their share of success in the majors.

Winner: San Diego


Mets Outfield Depth

June 8, 2007

by JPSchmack

The recent offensive woes of the Mets obviously coincides with the loss of Moises Alou and Shawn Green in the outfield, and the inability to bring up Lastings Milledge and Ben Johnson (briefly) due to injury. These injuries have forced the Mets to recall Carlos Gomez before the Mets wanted to, and then recall Johnson, only to see Endy Chavez go down with an injury. To add hurt to injury, Carlos Beltran is known to be playing through a health situation that needs attention, but due to the short-handed OF, he’s played through it.

Much has been made, in hindsight, of Omar Minaya’s decision to bring in the 41-year old and oft-injured Alou to the Mets outfield that featured the 34-year old Shawn Green. Here is the Mets Major League and Triple-A outfield depth and statistics, entering June 8th’s game at Detroit:

2007 Outfield

I’m entertained by the hindsight assessment that Omar was somehow misguided in assembling his outfield (i.e. “signing an old outfield”), when Omar also brought in Ambres and Johnson this offseason, and had young prospects like Milledge and Gomez in the system.Aside from Newhan the Mets have 11 OFs with an average of .282 or better in either MLB or AAA.

I think Omar has done a tremendous job of giving us organizational depth in the outfield.

Chalking the Mets offensive struggles up to Omar not being prepared, or signing an old outfield that is injury prone is completely unfair. No one can adaquately prepare for FOUR simultaneous OF injuries to your top seven outfielders

To illustrate this point, this the 2004 outfield depth Omar took over:
2004 MLB Outfield

* – released or traded before Omar’s arrival

Players with these statistics would be competing for our fourth OF spot on a healthy 2007 Mets team.

2004 AAA Outfield

Victor Diaz would be the only guy even considered for a ROSTER SPOT on our 2007 Zephyrs team.

The only logical conclusion from the lack of OF production for the Mets in the last three weeks is simply the bad luck and bad timing of injuries.


ABB Mets Shadow Draft

June 7, 2007

42. Matt Harvey, rhp, Fitch HS, Groton, Conn.
47. Nevin Griffith, rhp, Middleton HS, Tampa.
77. Kentrail Davis, of, Theodore (Ala.) HS.
93. Cole St. Clair, lhp, Rice University
99. Neftali Soto, 3b, Colegio Marista HS, Manati, P.R.
123. Stephen Clyne, rhp, Clemson University
153. Chris Carpenter, rhp, Kent State
183. Taylor Cole, rhp, Bishop Gorman HS

Showed my love of high ceiling, expensive players here. The Mets went in the opposite direction.


What are our draft picks worth?

June 1, 2007

In recent years, the Mets’ winter spending has left them devoid of early round draft picks come June. Not this year. A relatively quiet offseason has resulted in six picks in the first 3 rounds and the ability to restore much-needed depth to the farm system. I decided to take a look at just what we can expect to come out of the upcoming draft.

Methodology
This study uses the results of the MLB amateur draft from 1988 through 1996. Any more recent than that and some players would begin to have less than the six years of service so I cut it off there.

Due to rule changes over the years, I couldn’t simply look at the first 3 rounds of the draft. The 123rd pick would be in the 5th round most years. It’s in the 3rd round this year. I also could not simply look at a specific pick as the resulting sample size would be too small. So I decided on an eleven pick range. For that 123rd pick, players selected with the 118th-128th picks were looked at. Over nine years, this results in a pool of 99 draftees for each selection.

The findings will use the WARP stat provided by Baseball Prospectus. While this stat includes a defensive measurement which I consider questionable, it one of only two all-encompassing statistics that I know of (Win Shares is the other). It’s also a rather abstract value so I’ll give examples of what exactly a 10.0 WARP player is.

All WARP values are from the point where a player debuts up until he achieves six years of service time and would be eligible for free agency. The Blue Jays drafted David Weathers, but it didn’t help them much when he became a useful reliever later in his career. By that time, he was on his sixth major league team. What a player does after his sixth year of service won’t be considered here.

Results
First, based on the historical data, here are simply the chances that a player selected with a given pick has of reaching the majors.

Pick #

42

47

77

93

99

123

% who reach ML

41.4%

43.4%

40.4%

34.3%

32.3%

31.3%

From this, we can conclude that most likely two, maybe three, of the players the Mets select with these six picks will ever play in the major leagues. Any more than that would be extraordinary.

(There’s also a small chance of producing a mediocre NFL quarterback. The Cubs selected Quincy Carter in 1996.)

We can also look at the average WARP of all players selected with each pick as well as the average for just those who played in the majors.

Pick #

42

47

77

93

99

123

Avg WARP

2.6

2.7

2.2

1.5

1.4

1.9

Majors only

6.2

6.2

5.4

4.5

4.3

6.0

About what’s expected with the exception of the 123rd pick. Maybe teams tend to draft higher upside players there. Or maybe it’s a fluke. Regardless, this doesn’t tell us much except the value of our picks relative to one another. Might be useful in other sports, but there’s no trading of draft picks here.

Let’s try this.

That graph is confusing and the blog distorts my attempts to post a bigger image so here’s a table showing the same thing.

 

42

47

77

93

97

123

99th

40.9

40.9

35.3

33.3

28.9

32.1

95th

17.6

17.6

14.2

11.5

8.4

12.0

90th

11.0

11.0

4.6

6.5

2.6

7.8

85th

4.7

4.4

3.0

1.6

1.5

4.2

80th

2.0

1.4

1.8

0.4

0.3

1.2

75th

0.5

0.6

0.5

0.1

0.0

0.2

Those values are again the WARP totals for the first six years of service time. Let me try to give some meaning to the numbers.

Albert Pujols totaled 65 WARP over his first six seasons. The chances of the Mets getting a player like that with the 42nd pick are, predictably, less than one percent. Mark DeRosa compiled 10.4 WARP from 1998 to 2006, when he became a free agent. The Mets would have about a ten percent chance at producing a player like that with the 42nd pick, but closer to a five percent chance with the 93rd pick. That’s how you read the chart.

Unfortunately, for any given pick, it is the case that the Mets don’t even have a good chance of landing a player of the caliber of Mark DeRosa. That’s the MLB draft for you. So while we’ll be hearing exciting things a week from now, just remember to temper expectations.

As promised, here are more examples to help make these more than meaningless figures.

Barry Zito (2000-2005): 41.2
Carlos Beltran (1998-2004): 37.2
C.C. Sabathia (2001-2006): 36.0
Richie Sexson (1997-2004): 32.2
Jimmy Rollins (2000-2006): 30.8
Orlando Cabrera (1997-2004): 29.6
Adam Kennedy (1999-2005): 26.4
Juan Pierre (2000-2006): 25.4
Damian Miller (1997-2003): 22.1
Tomo Ohka (1999-2006): 21.5
Gary Matthews Jr. (1999-2006): 16.9
J.C. Romero (1999-2006): 13.4
Aaron Fultz (2000-2006): 11.5
Chris Woodward (1999-2006): 7.7


What a Comeback

May 19, 2007

Wow. That’s all I can say. The Mets score 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to take the game and 4-game series from the Cubs. I’m going to take a look at the game using FranGraphs’ Win Probability Added charts. You may be familiar with Win Probability Added(also known as Win Expectancy) from AnybodyButBengie’s posts from last year. For those unfamiliar with WPA, a basic explanation can be found here.

The basic idea:

An average team, at any point in a game, has a certain likelihood of winning the game. For instance, if you’re leading by two runs in the ninth inning, your chances of winning the game are much greater than if you’re leading by three runs in the first inning. With each change in the score, inning, number of outs, base situation or even pitch, there is a change in the average team’s probability of winning the game.

Here’s the WPA Chart from the game, courtesy of FanGraphs
WPA Chart
(Click here for the larger version of the same chart)

So how big was the comeback? Based on the history of baseball, very big. The Cubs had an almost 98% chance of winning this game before Ryan Dempster entered in the 9th inning. Who played the biggest role in the wild 9th inning? Obviously, Delgado’s game-winning single just past the glove of Theriot was the most important(+.457 WPA), but other’s at-bats before him came close.

Let’s look at the play-by-play of the historic inning.

The inning started pretty innocently, with David Newhan singling off Ryan Dempster.(+.023 WPA)

Ramon Castro then came up, flying out to right(-.023 WPA).

Carlos Gomez then singled to center, advancing Newhan to third(+.030 WPA).

After Gomez stole third on defensive indifference(+.013 WPA), Carlos Beltran then walked(+.048 WPA), leading to the most important at-bats of the inning.

Endy Chavez came up with the bases loaded and drew a walk(+.098 WPA) to the dismay of Lou Piniella, making the score 5-2 in favor of the Cubs.

Showing some faith in his bench, Willie decided to keep Ruben Gotay in the game. His move paid off, as Gotay lined a single to left(+.129 WPA), scoring Gomez and making the score 5-3.

After Lou brought in Scott Eyre, Willie countered with David Wright, who has historically hit lefties very well(Ask Horacio Ramirez). The move again paid off, as David Wright singled to center(+.205 WPA), scoring Beltran and making the score 5-4. In terms of WPA, this was the 2nd most important at-bat of the inning behind Delgado’s.

While Win Probability Added certainly isn’t perfect, I think it’s a fun way to look at games, especially ones with a wild ending such as this one. Fangraphs.com provides a live scoreboard with updated WPA throughout the games.


Hey, I’m Still Here!

May 18, 2007

During the offseason, shortly after the rumors that he might be traded for Joe Blanton, I began a piece on Lastings Milledge. The purpose was to remind myself and others that he is not simply a trading chip, that there is a reason he was so highly regarded just months earlier. Then Milledge went on to hit .367 in the spring, earning himself a spot on the Mets 25-man roster. Surely there was no need for such an article anymore. It would simply be highlighting the obvious.

 

Yet here we are in mid-May and Lastings Milledge has played all of 4 major league innings in 2007. Having sat on the bench through Shawn Green’s hot streak in April before being sent down to New Orleans, Milledge missed his opportunity to play when he went down with a strained ligament in his foot. Now Mets fans have Carlos Gomez to become excited about. Well, I’m here to remind the world (okay, the six people who read this blog) that although Lastings may not be able to outrun speeding bullets like Gomez and may not have been hitting 400-foot blasts since he was in kindergarten like Fernando Martinez, he’s still pretty damn good.

 

In 2003, Baseball America ranked Milledge the 7th best player in a very solid draft class. They touted, among other things, his incredible bat speed while also cautioning that he “showed holes against breaking pitches and an inability to adjust against top pitchers.” Entering 2006, Milledge had lived up to his scouting report by putting up a 313/.385/.485 batting line. However, he also had nearly 3 times as many strikeouts as walks in his career. Milledge himself identified plate discipline as an aspect of his game that had to be improved.

 

And so, making a conscious effort to be more selective, Milledge walked about once every 7 ABs for Norfolk in 2006 compared to once every 12.8 ABs in his previous minor league seasons. Having answered his critics, why did Milledge’s stock not skyrocket? For one, there was his major league stint. While fine for a rookie making his debut, Milledge did not enjoy the success of a David Wright or Jose Reyes. He also lost his rookie eligibility, dropping him into the prospect oblivion that has previously been occupied by the likes of B.J. Upton and Brandon Phillips. The second reason is that Milledge detractors now had a new point to harp on: Where was Lastings’ power?

 

On the surface, this seemed a legitimate concern. Power is generally regarded as the last tool to develop, but even taking that into consideration, a .440 slugging percentage at AAA is paltry. What the naysayers weren’t noting was Milledge’s home ballpark.

 

During his time in the International League, Lastings hit .293/.391/.560 in all ballparks except his own. At home, it was a different story as he hit a meager .261/.385/.325. All of his home runs (7) and all of his triples (4) came on the road. A statistical fluke? Doesn’t look like it. Check out the following chart, which is the Isolated Power at home versus on the road for all Norfolk players with over 150 ABs in 2006.

 

 

Only two players (Tagg Bozied and Edgardo Alfonzo if you’re curious) managed to hit for more power at home. An extreme difference from the rest of the league; non-Norfolk batters had a .015 higher ISO at their home parks.

 

Where does this leave Milledge?

 

He was hurt by his home park obviously, but determining just how good he was would require a lot of time, park adjustments, league adjustments, etc. Fortunately, Baseball Prospectus has done all that work with their EqA statistic. Milledge’s was .299 in AAA (league average is .260).

 

How did he do compared to other elite hitting prospects at upper levels?

 

Had he qualified, this performance should have easily made Milledge a top 10 prospect once again. He would have had a strong case for the top 5. Yet Milledge, unlike his counterparts at the top of prospect lists, remains available to any team willing to part with a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.

 

The point is, as a truly elite prospect, Milledge is a unique commodity on the trade market. The Mets need to get elite value if they trade him, no matter how many rap albums he releases from the clubhouse. Think about what Kansas City could get for Alex Gordon or Tampa Bay for Delmon Young. If the Mets get less than that for Milledge, they’re getting ripped off. The hype machine has moved on, but Lastings Milledge remains one of the best young players in baseball.