Well the first round of the playoffs ended in about 4 hours, or so it seems. Now we’re here in a holding pattern for a few days waiting for baseball to return. No, the AzFL is not a substitute for Chip Caray, Joe Buck, and playoff baseball. Good thing you now have the second installment of THT Live’s weekly roundtable to hold you over until the Dodgers and Phillies resume things on the diamond tomorrow evening. This week’s participants include Evan Brunell, Nick Steiner, Adam Guttridge, and myself, Dan Novick. And away we go…
Question #1: Better shot at contending in 2010; Seattle or Texas?
Adam Guttridge: Texas has a core of young position players who aren’t leaving anytime soon—Cruz, Kinsler, Hamilton, Andrus. They have an incredible wave of unproven SP talent—Feliz, Holland, Harrison, Hunter, among others. Yes, Michael Young and Scott Feldman performed way over their heads this year, and were a large part of the team’s success. But still, the bulk of the roster is on the right side of 30, and scary talented (even if raw).
The mortal sin is that they’ll be paying a combined $31m to Michael Young and Kevin Millwood next year. Yup…. $31m. Despite that, they should have ~$10m to play with this offseason after arb raises if payroll remains constant (a big if, with the Hicks situation). If they can add enough cheap SP depth to support the inherent risk of the Holland’s and Hunter’s, competing for a weak 2010 AL West is by no means out of reach (the Angels have A LOT of work to do this offseason).
The M’s, on the other hand, should not be tempted to abandon rebuilding efforts. They’re probably the more typically constructed contender right now, with stalwarts like Ichiro and King Felix leading the way, and a somewhat patchwork job of vets elsewhere. However, they have nowhere near the internal strength of Texas, and tens of millions of complete deadloss on the roster (Silva, Johjima, others).
The Jack Wilson trade was nuts to me, especially since Jack Zduriencik’s first off-season was such a thing of beauty. It didn’t address the team’s needs, and added either a useless, expensive 6 month rental or another highly questionable 8-figure contract for ’10.
And the sad thing is, without major FA upgrades, they’re likely to look a lot more like the ’08 M’s in 2010.
Evan Brunell: Texas. Seattle has a great base set up and should make some noise, but Texas really proved themselves as a playoff caliber team. With a full season of Nefali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Chris Davis, I can’t see how this team isn’t better. The club frees up some cash as well with the departure of Hank Blalock and (likely) Marlon Byrd, allowing them to address more pressing facets of the club.
Dan Novick: I think they’ll both contend to some extent, depending on your definition of “contend,” though I like the Rangers more. As is, the Rangers are far superior, but I think the Mariners will do some work this off-season to improve. The M’s need to pick up some hitting and replace Adrian Beltre before they can be considered serious playoff hopefuls in my mind. Also, expect some regression in their overall pitching. Felix Hernandez is very good, but you can’t expect a 2.49 ERA every year. Bedard will either be gone or less effective than he was this past season because of the shoulder, and the 20 great starts Washburn put up for the M’s is now gone. They had a lot of guys put up good numbers in ~10 starts. They have to either hope they can do that again, or find a starter or two to fill out the rotation.
The Rangers, as everyone knows, have a lot of young talent. They can stay put with what they have and improve next season, the Mariners can’t afford to do the same.
Nick Steiner:I’ve been following the Mariners a lot this year, and they are a loveable team and all; however, I don’t think they have much hopes of contending next year. While they played pretty well this year record wise, they only plaed like a .460 W% team according to Beyond the Boxscores end of the seaosn power rankings (look for the cW% column).
Much of their success this year can be attributable to good timing, which is most likely not sustainable. They will be losing Adrian Beltre and Erick Bedard to free agency, in all likelihood, and can expect some significant regression from Felix, Franklin and Aardsmaa. Felix is awesome, but, come on, he’s most likely not going to post a 7 WAR season again, most likely because of the injury risk. I think Bill Hall and Ian Snell will end up having good years, but neither is a star and they would have to get a lot more than that to contend in the now tough AL West.
The Rangers, on the other hand, look like a very dangerous team going into next year. According to those same power rankings linked above, they played like a .516 win team last year. Then, consider that there starting rotation will feature a couple of the best young strikeout arms in the game, Holland and Feliz, both who will likely be pitching the entire season, along with 2-4 other above average pitchers in Hunter, and Feldman and possibly McCarthy and Millwood. They also have an above average bullpen, with a very good closer in Frank Francisco. Their defense will likely remain above average, and they can expect a lot of offensive improvement from guys like Chris Davis, Teagarden/Saltalamacchia, Kinsler and Hamilton. In my opinion, the Rangers are a far better team than the Mariners next year.
Question #2: What are your initial reactions to the TBS PitchTrax display?
Evan Brunell: A lot of people have said they disliked it. I love it. For one, it’s in a great location: it’s not distracting at all. For two, it allows me a better look at where a ball really ended up. I have long disliked how baseball cameras set up to be slightly to the right of the pitcher. It doesn’t afford me a good look at the location and movement of a pitcher. In the rare times cameras would go dead-red, I immensely enjoyed the resulting information presented to me. Due to being slightly right, it skews where the ball actually ends up, from the viewpoint of the viewer. The PitchTrax display helps confirm to me where it actually ended it up.
Dan Novick: I like it. While it has drawn my attention to the accuracy of the umpires more than I’m used to, I see that as partially a good thing. If the umpires are receiving valid criticism, as they have been throughout the playoffs so far, that only means they’ll be doing a better job as time goes on. I’m looking forward to dead-center field cameras in the ALCS and World Series more than anything, though.
Nick Steiner: I thought it was useful to have on the screen while watching the games, but it was also very misleading. For example, in the Cardinals-Dodgers series, Matt Holliday struck out looking on three pitches in a row that all appeared to be well out of the Pitch Track strike zone. However, the horizontal coordinates of those pitches, according to Pitch f/x were -0.951 feet, -0.956 feet, -0.917 feet respectively. According to Pitch f/x data for 2009, pitches in that range that were also in the vertical strike zone were called strikes 49% of the time to right handers, in a sample of over 2500 pitches. Although for Dana DeMutch, the home plate umpire that night, they were only called strikes 25% of the time (small sample though, only 36 pitches).
The “accepted” strike zone, meaning the one that is actually called, generally is between -1 and 1 feet from the center of the plate and gives 3-4 inches of leeway to the umpires. The one that Pitch Track showed up there looked to be right about the “official” strike zone, which is rarely called. So, the fan in me liked it because it let me blame the umpire when Matt Holliday STRUCK OUT LOOKING WITH THE BASES LOADED and basically doomed the Cardinals in the series; however, the analyst in me didn’t like it very much as it lead to much undeserved scorn for the umpires.
Question #3:Should the Red Sox trade Papelbon?
Adam Guttridge: For what, exactly? He’s arguably the most valuable RP in the game, and TB will be right back on their tail in 2010. The money saved on Pap’s arbitration is not going to buy you more wins elsewhere on the roster—he’s at a discount via arb, free agents are not.
Evan Brunell: Papelbon is still a good pitcher two has two more years before free agency. Putting aside for the moment Papelbon’s penchant to pop off and his refusal to sign a long-term contract and instead maximize his earnings year to year (two things that don’t make him a favorite in the Red Sox front office), Papelbon is still an elite closer despite his historic blowup in the postseason. His main problem is an overreliance on his fastball: Papelbon completely abandoned his splitter and slider in favor of the fastball, believing himself untouchable.
Consider him touched. Many expect him to start incorporating a second pitch now that he’s realized players are able to key in and catch up on his fastball.
The second reason is there is no clear player the Sox can dangle Papelbon for. I’ve been looking around for a young, elite bat Boston could trade Papelbon for — who is actually available or could be had. I’ve only come up with Adrian Gonzalez, and San Diego wouldn’t be interested in Papelbon. If Boston does plan to cut ties with Papelbon eventually, next year seems like a better time: Daniel Bard will be prepared to take over closing duties while the trade market may avail itself of a better list of names.
Dan Novick: No. He’s one of the best closers in the game, and isn’t being paid much at all. The Red Sox may have a deep bullpen to deal from if they need to, but nobody to me stands out as someone who can fill Papelbon’s shoes in the 9th inning. If the right deal comes around, sure. But I wouldn’t go around shopping him.
Nick Steiner: Ordinarily, I would say yes. Closers are generally overrated in terms of their impact on the game and Pablebon is set for a hefty raise next year; however, in this instance, I would have to consider it a little more closely. Over the past 4 years, Pablebon has done this:
2006: 68.1, 3.2, 5.32
2007: 58.1, 2.2, 3.79
2008: 69.1, 3.0, 1.86
2009: 68.0, 1.9, 5.13
Those are obviously incredible numbers. According to WAR, which may even undervalue closers, Paps has been worth an average of 11 million during that span. He had a somewhat down year in 09, although still very good, but he’ll turn 29 next year and I see no reason why would shouldn’t expect him to pitch more like 06-08.
It all depends on who’s being offered obviously. If they could get a guy like Ryan Ludwick, who would be a very nice and cheap replacement for Jason Bay, then it would be wise to trade him. If they could only get a Juan Rivera type player, then I don’t think it would be.
Question #4:How much do you think Milton Bradley‘s “intangibles” will factor into what happens to him this off-season?
Adam Guttridge: Frankly, I think the more perplexing evaluation at this point is the tangibles. For the last 3 seasons, he’s averaged about 105 games a year. For two of them, he’s been amongst the best hitters in baseball, and then this year, he’s entirely sub-par. That’s what changes the equation; you know what you’re getting with Bradley attitude-wise… if he’s the ’07-’08 version, he’s so valuable even in just 100 games that it’s hard to imagine his indiscretions aren’t ‘worth it.’ The key to a Bradley evaluation is how you choose to view his ’09 performance on the field.
Evan Brunell: A team will acquire him and give him a job. His statistics have always been there, and when he’s playing every day in an environment he likes, he’s happy. He was rather tame in Texas. However, his “intangibles” will greatly hurt his trade value — although that hurts only the Cubs, not Bradley himself. The Cubs will have to make a terrible deal to ship him out, while Bradley can only benefit. Hey — he’s getting his money either way and he’ll play either way.
Dan Novick: Right now his intangibles seem to be everyone’s main concern. Despite a down 2009, he’s still a damn good hitter. The Cubs are rumored to be talking about dumping him just to get rid of his salary. No team would do the same with a guy of Milton Bradley’s talent if he didn’t have some kind of chemistry-related issue.
Nick Steiner: Based on the comments from Bradley earlier this year, and Jim Hendry’s overreaction in suspending him, it doesn’t seem very likely that Bradley will be a Cub next year. It’s a shame, because he actually played most of the year for the first time in awhile, and was very productive in the second half. If the Cubs management had worked a little harder to try and keep the media off of Bradley, he might not have said what he said and they might have had a good player for the next couple of years. Instead, Bradley insulted his teammates and the fans, and Hendry burned all bridges (and Bradley’s trade value) by suspending him.
Anyway, now Hendry has to find a way to get some value back for Bradley. Given both the health and personal risks that come with Bradley, in addition to his rather large contract, he already had very little trade value. Now that teams know that the Cubs have to get rid of him, it’s basically nothing.
Bradley may be a decent pick up for some teams that don’t have a lot to bargain with or want a salary dump. The Rays have been linked to him in an exchange for Pat Burrell, although that doesn’t appear to be a win for either side. As to the original question, I’m not really sure how much teams value intangibles. Sky Andrecheck of Baseball Analysts recently had an article on the subject:
And he estimated that the maximum teams will value chemistry is a little less than -2 wins over a full season. If Bradley is truly that bad, than he has almost no value to other teams and the Cubs will probably end up releasing him. If team chemistry is BS, and one player’s attitude has no effect on his teammates performance, than he may be a good pickup.