Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Obligatory Cole Hamels Contract Analysis

In what could probably best be described as “throwing good money after bad,” the Phillies followed up the mega-contracts of Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and even Jonathan Papelbon with a 6-year, $144 million deal for the current ace of their pitching staff, Cole Hamels.  Now, I’m no Wharton grad, so I’m not going to get into the economics of the $24 million per year the Phils will be shelling out on top of the $20+ million each for Halladay, Lee, and Howard.  I’m more interested in whether or not, given the state of the pitching market, Hamels has been or will be worth the investment the Phillies made in him. 

            Let’s go to the stats first.  Here are Hamels’ ranks among MLB starters since 2007 (his first season over 140 IP), and since 2010 (his first year with the cutter in his pitch repertoire):

1159.2 (10th)
604.1 (15th)
555.1 (15th)
3.29 (19th)
3.57 (23rd)
2.98 (9th)
1076 (6th)
541 (11th)
535 (7th)
76 (7th)
39 (22nd)
37 (14th)
22.9 (12th)
11.8 (16th)
11.1 (14th)

            The first thing that should jump out of this table is the dramatic improvement in ERA in the past three years, which by the end of this season will be accompanied by improvements in each of the other four categories shown.  At the very least, these statistics indicate that Hamels is one of the 15 best pitchers in the game, but that’s hardly a case for a contract that has the second-highest total value of any starting pitcher contract ever. 
            However, one key thing to look at here is the market context that was at play.  According to FanGraphs, one Win Above Replacement has been worth about $4.5 million over the past few years.  By this metric, eleven starting pitchers “earned” at least $24 million in 2011, the per-season amount of Hamels’ contract.  Can Hamels be at least that good for the next six years, after being just outside that range for the past six?  Age notwithstanding, it seems plausible.
            How does this deal look compared to recent big-time contracts?  Here are the three-year totals (including the year that they signed the deal) for a few other pitchers who received big contracts in the past few years, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver, and Matt Cain:

Sabathia ’06-08
Lee ’08-10
Weaver ’09-11
Cain ’10-12
686.2 (4th)
667.1 (5th)
671 (8th)
579.2 (6th)
3.03 (2nd)
2.98 (8th)
3.03 (10th)
2.95 (8th)
632 (2nd)
536 (16th)
605 (11th)
484 (18th)
48 (4th)
48 (6th)
47 (5th)
35 (20th)
20.2 (1st)
20.9 (2nd)
15.3 (12th)
11.5 (12th)
7 yr, $23M/yr
5 yr, $24M/yr
5 yr, $17M/yr
5 yr, $22.5M/yr

            It’s clear that Sabathia was at worst the fourth best pitcher in the league prior to signing his megadeal, and while the length of the contract is suspect for a pitcher of his girth / age, he warranted the record investment.  Lee was clearly better than Hamels during the stretch prior to his contract, but there is no chance that he lives up to the worth of the contract considering that it started when he was 32.  Both Weaver and Cain provide closer comparisons to Hamels, although both players’ contracts look significantly more team-friendly considering the yearly salary of Weaver and the youth of Cain.  Based on reports around the league, it seems like Hamels would have received even more in the open market, despite the fact that the contract he ended up signing appears bloated already.  A more reasonable contract would probably have been in the realm of Cain’s $112.5 million deal over 5 years.

            So what are the chances that Hamels actually lives up to this contract?  I’m not seeing it.  By sabermetric standards, if Hamels copied his past six seasons, he’d produce about 24 WAR, which fewer than 30 pitchers have accomplished in their age 29-34 seasons since 1970.  At $4.5 million per WAR, that’s good for $108 million over 6 years (which is right in the ballpark of what Weaver’s contract would look like with an extra year on it).  That’s solid, but almost $40 million short of what he’s being paid.  He would have to garner 32 total WAR to earn the value of his contract, which would represent a 1.3 WAR increase per year over his career average.  To clarify, that’s the difference between Weaver / Cain and Justin Verlander over the past six years, or the difference between Cain’s 220-inning, 2.88 ERA 2011 season and Zack Greinke’s 172-inning, 3.83 ERA 2011 season.

            While I certainly agree that it was the right thing for the Phillies to do to lock up Cole Hamels, I don’t think that his performance will live up to his price.  Having said that, at least Ruben Amaro Jr. didn’t make as crippling a contract decision as he did with the 5-year, $120+ million contracts for 32-year olds Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The All-Patrick-Star Team

Yes, I watched Spongebob.  Get over it.

Not sure if you heard, but there’s this thing called the MLB All Star game being played tonight, with all most of the best players in the league taking the field to play for home-field advantage in a World Series that most of them will not sniff.  But that’s not what I’m here for.

Did anyone else hear that two San Francisco Giant Brandons (Crawford and Belt) were second in fan voting at their positions behind Rafael Furcal and Joey Votto, respectively?  They’re on pace to combine for 205 hits, 9 home runs, 72 runs, 96 RBI, 210 strikeouts, and a .246 batting average.  By comparison, Pirates infielder Neil Walker hit 12 homers, scored 76 runs, and knocked in 83 RBI while hitting .273 last year.  But that’s not what I’m here for.

No, I’m here on a much nobler expedition: to bring to the masses the collection of the worst players money can buy, the slow pink starfish of the undersea major leagues.  Position-by-position, I’ll show you who the bottom-feeders are that should be excited to get any sort of recognition, especially from the likes of this studly scribe.

Let’s get to it.

Catcher: Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners

.245 / .281 / .376 BA/OBP/SLG, 8 HR, 24 R, 28 RBI, 0 SB, -0.2 WAR

Montero was the big prize for the M’s in their trade with the Yankees that sent now-out-for-the-season Michael Pineda to the Bronx, and he has been, well, pretty disappointing.  Known as much more of a slugger than a fielder, which is good because he plays little catcher, but if you’re playing DH you probably should have better stats than Brian Bogusevic.

First Baseman: Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners

.203 / .265 / .332 BA/OBP/SLG, 11 HR, 27 R, 34 RBI, 1 SB, -0.8 WAR

OK, hopefully I’ll stop ragging on the hapless Mariners’ offense, but Smoak was another big acquisition in a trade with a big-market team, sending Cliff Lee to the Rangers for Smoak and other prospects.  He has fared even worse than Montero with the exception of his home run count, and so it appears that where there’s Smoak, there’s not necessarily fire.

Second Baseman: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

.199 / .314 / .343 BA/OBP/SLG, 8 HR, 34 R, 29 RBI, 6 SB, 0.0 WAR

Now this was a guy that people actually held in high regard, after averaging 25 homers and 95 runs scored in the last two years.  While he’s been able to walk a bunch to keep his on-base-percentage up, his batting average is abysmal, and he’s been just as bad in the field, earning the worst defensive rating among qualifying second basemen (per FanGraphs).

Third Baseman: Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies

.266 / .311 / .342 BA/OBP/SLG, 2 HR, 27 R, 18 RBI, 0 SB, 0.3 WAR

Oops.  Polanco has never walked much or hit for any power, but he always had a high enough batting average to keep his value.  Now he’s hitting just above league average, and without any power or walks, he’s just a limp bat.  Not only that, but his age is causing his defense to decline along with the Phillies’ hopes of making the playoffs.  Not that it’s even remotely his fault.

Shortstop: Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers

.229 / .280 / .282 BA/OBP/SLG, 1 HR, 36 R, 17 RBI, 30 SB, -0.8 WAR

Basically Polanco minus 50 pounds and plus 50 steals, Dee Gordon was a fantasy favorite of one Jon Patrice, mostly because of his absurdly imbalanced skillset.  Turns out that he just has that one tool, speed, and there’s only so much help you can give a team when your on-base-percentage is 40 points below an all-time-low league average.

Left Fielder: Delmon Young, Detroit Tigers

.271 / .298 / .418 BA/OBP/SLG, 10 HR, 27 R, 37 RBI, 0 SB, -0.4 WAR

By far the best player we’ve seen thus far, but you have to consider the position.  Think Braun, Hamilton, Holliday, Trumbo, and even Prado and Melky Cabrera.  Young was a former first overall pick who also is a former thrower-of-a-bat-at-an-umpire, so this is really just part of the program for his up-and-down career.

Center Fielder: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

.212 / .287 / .309 BA/OBP/SLG, 4 HR, 41 R, 24 RBI, 16 SB, 0.2 WAR

So I’m getting the impression that sabermetrics doesn’t much care for players who steal a bunch of bases.  Another Jon Patrice selection, Call Me Maybin has only lived up to his athleticism and hype for part of last season, and now is struggling both at the plate and in the field.  I guess it can get kind of tough playing center in the vast expanse that is Petco Park.

Right Fielder: Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers

.243 / .277 / .365 BA/OBP/SLG, 8 HR, 35 R, 31 RBI, 3 SB, -1.3 WAR

For one of the most feared offenses in the league, the Tigers sure have some duds.  Dragged down more by his defense than anything (FanGraphs has him as second-worst to only Lucas Duda of the Mets), Boesch was supposed to be a spark near the top of a daunting lineup.  Center fielder Austin Jackson has picked up his end of the bargain, but Boesch has been starkly average at best.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

3-10, 6.42 ERA, 97 IP, 104 K, 50 BB, 1.1 WAR

OK, a lot of pitchers had fewer Wins Above Replacement than Big Time Timmy Jim, but let’s be real here, the guy had an ERA below 2.75 in three of the last four years while striking out 200 in all of those four.  Now he’s got the worst ERA in the league among pitchers with enough innings.  Yes, he’s still striking out enough guys to make people think this isn’t a permanent issue, but it needs to be acknowledged.

Honorable Mention: Josh Outman, Colorado Rockies

No stats, he’s just a dude with the name Outman who has a flat 9.00 ERA.

Relief Pitcher: Heath Bell, Miami Marlins

2-5, 6.75 ERA, 19 SV, 35 IP, 32 K, 20 BB, 0.0 WAR

Again, not the worst reliever in the league per WAR, but the worst ERA in the league for a guy who signed a nice big contract to lock down the ninth inning for an up-and-coming team.  Bell was already declining, but this is just silly.  He had a 2.75 ERA or lower four of the last five years before this, albeit with not quite so dominating stuff as Lincecum.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Phillies Week in Review, June 27 - July 3

To save my sanity as well as to provide a more compelling set of information through larger sample sizes, I’m going to move this piece to bi-weekly.  I mean, how often do I really need to remind myself that my hometown team is in its worst position in a decade?  Well, let’s trudge through this.

Team Performance

Record: 0-6 (36-46 overall)
Streak: L6
Division: Lost 4 games, 12 GB
Avg Opponents' Record*: 41-39
* Weighted average of current records of opponents during the week

The wheels are coming off the wagon.  The Phillies scored a paltry 3 runs per game during this losing streak (scoring 2 or fewer in each of the last 4), while allowing just under 7 runs per game.  People thought that the return of Chase Utley would jumpstart the team’s morale and offense, but the opposite has occurred, with the team winless since his return.  Ryan Howard is coming up through the minor league ranks in his rehab stint, but let’s be real here, it’s not the offense that’s the big problem with this team.  We’ll revisit that later.

Most Outstanding Hitters

Hunter Pence-- 26 PA, .417 AVG, .462 OBP, .833 SLG, 3 HR, 4 R, 6 RBI, 0 SB

Pence hasn’t been very good in the field this year, but his offensive numbers are just fine.  He hit over 40 percent line drives this week, resulting in a silly high .438 Batting Average on Balls in Play.  He still doesn’t have the patience at the plate that Ruben Amaro wanted in the offseason, but he’s playing his game and that’s probably enough for the Phils for the time being.

Chase Utley-- 18 PA, .294 AVG, .333 OBP, .471 SLG, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 0 SB

OK, he wasn’t any great shakes in his first week back, but consider that his average is 70 points higher than Freddy Galvis and his slugging percentage is 40 points better than anyone else who has played 2B for the Phillies this year.  He didn’t really do much in terms of run production (just a solo home run and one extra run scored), but his presence balances out the lineup more and we should see some impact going forward.

Placido Polanco-- 21 PA, .111 AVG, .238 OBP, .111 SLG, 0 HR, 0 R, 1 RBI, 0 SB

Yes, his on-base percentage was markedly better than his average due to him doubling his season walk rate this week, but getting just two hits in the week is pitiful.  Polly has never had much power, so we don’t expect much in the slugging department, but he needs to hit on or around .300 in order to have any value because of the on-base and slugging deficiencies.  That being said, God knows what the team does at third after this season.

Most Outstanding Pitchers

Michael Schwimer—3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 4 K, 0 BB

It really is saying something that this guy is tied for the lead among Phils pitchers in Wins Above Replacement this week.  He experienced some batted-ball misfortune, allowing almost two baserunners per inning, but striking out more than a batter per inning while bearing down enough to not allow a run makes him the star of the week.  Sigh.

Cliff Lee—4.2 IP, 11.57 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, 3 K, 2 BB

Perhaps the team’s Least Valuable Player in the past few weeks when you consider expectations, Lee continued to struggle against the Pirates, allowing a bunch of runs and hits to a team that, while it’s been hot lately, was the worst offense in the league for the first month or so of the season.  Fans might be able to take solace in the fact that his BABIP allowed was extraordinarily high (.476) and he didn’t allow a home run, which is the usual cause for his struggles.

Chad Qualls—1.0 IP, 27.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP, 0 K, 1 BB

Yes, he only pitched one inning, but allowing four baserunners and three runs in that one inning, causing in your release from the team, makes it one bad trip.  The ‘ole reliable’ for years for the Astros was anything but this season for the Phillies, posting a 4.54 ERA (which was actually much better than his FIP, indicating that there was room for doing even worse) while allowing a home run every five innings.  Peace out, Chadwick.