Chase Headley Is More Valuable Than…

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Chase Headley is an affordable and versatile switch hitter. He can run, has some power and plays good defense whether it’s at third base or the outfield. He can probably play first base relatively well. He’s not a free agent until after the 2014 season so any team that has him will have him for the foreseeable future at a very reasonable price.

He’s a nice player. He’s a pretty good player.

But this posting on MLB Trade Rumors implies, based on Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), that he’s something more than a pretty good player. It says specifically that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball.

This exemplifies a problem with WAR. It gives information that may or may not be accurate, relevant or in the proper context.

Does value equal worth?

In other words, it may be accurate that Headley is that good in this framework, but is it true? Is it fair?

Based on fWAR, yes Headley was the 13th “most valuable” player in baseball. (He’s dropped since the posting.)

But salary aside, would you rather have Headley instead of some of the players currently behind him in the list? Headley instead of Carlos Beltran? Instead of Brett Lawrie? Mark Trumbo? Jose Bautista? Joe Mauer?

Headley might hit for more power if he was in a friendlier home park, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph from what he is—10-12 homers a year—into Asdrubal Cabrera and have a wondrous jump in power to 25 homers.

Looking at other Padres’ players who’ve gone on to play in fairer parks—Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mike Cameron—their power numbers have been the same or worse.

When in PetCo Park, the pitchers are aware of how difficult it is to hit a home run; that Headley hits a lot of balls up the middle which make it harder for him to hit home runs. They’re more likely to feed him pitches they wouldn’t if he were playing in a smaller park.

The dimensions of the park are static; the pitching strategy is variable.

Not unlike the oft-repeated and woefully inaccurate lament that if X player wasn’t caught stealing prior to Y player’s home run they would’ve had 2 runs rather than 1, it’s not taking into account that the entire pitching sequence would’ve been different and might’ve yielded an entirely different result.

It’s indicative of a lack of in-the-trenches knowledge to take fWAR—or any stat for that matter—at face value. Similar to those who said they’d stay away from Yu Darvish or Aroldis Chapman because of prior failures with Japanese and Cuban free agents; or the concept that because a tall catcher like Mauer has never made it as a star player then he’s not going to be a star player; or the Moneyball farce that college pitchers are a better option than high school pitchers, it’s a false “proof” based on floating principles that remove experience and baseball sense from the decisionmaking process.

Stats are important but not the final word. If you take seriously the idea that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball and judge him on that, quite bluntly, you don’t know anything about baseball and need to learn before putting your opinion out there as final. And if you knowingly twist the facts, that makes it worse because instead of full disclosure—statistical and otherwise—in spite of the possibility of them watering down your argument, you’re spiritually altering them to “prove” a nonexistent point. That’s not honesty. It’s agenda-driven and self-interested at the expense of the truth.

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MLB Waiver Deals 8.23.2011

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects

Rockies claim Wandy Rodriguez.

It was something of a surprise that the Rockies claimed Rodriguez with his contract and their payroll constraints.

There are several factors surrounding Rodriguez that make his movement simultaneously iffy and possible.

The Rockies argument to the Astros will be that they’re giving them payroll relief to adhere to pending new owner Jim Crane’s payroll reduction demands and therefore shouldn’t be asked to give up anything significant for Rodriguez. The Astros can turn around and point out that Rodriguez is a good, durable pitcher who’s worth the money he’s getting.

I like Rodriguez a lot and always have, but if I’m the Astros, I consider the big picture and desire to start fresh with a lower payroll and let Rodriguez go for whatever the Rockies are willing to give…within reason. A couple of good-moderate prospects with upside or some attribute like a power fastball or speed on the bases would do it for me.

I think a deal is somehow going to get done. The Astros need to clear that payroll will supersede any reluctance to take limited return for Rodriguez.

Blue Jays trade Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson.

This is a worthwhile trade for both clubs.

Hill is signed through 2014 with team options in 2012 ($8 million), 2013 ($8 million), and 2014 ($10 million). He’s been offensively inept for two years running after a breakout 2009; he’s a good fielding second baseman.

McDonald is a useful utility glove who doesn’t hit; he’s versatile defensively and a feisty player.

I’m not the biggest Kelly Johnson fan. He was good with the Braves to start his career, had injury problems and slumped and they non-tendered him; the Diamondbacks picked him up and he was very good in 2010; this season, he’s hit for pop with poor on base/batting average production. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays doing this if they didn’t intend to try and keep him.

I’ll guess Johnson will be offered arbitration by the Blue Jays and accept it to try and increase his value for another shot at free agency after 2012. This benefits the Blue Jays because they have their eye on a playoff run next season—and they’re going to make a serious one.

If I were the Diamondbacks, I would be extremely concerned about Hill’s precipitous decline at the plate; but he’s signed for a similar amount of money that they’d wind up paying Johnson if he were offered arbitration and accepted it; you’re not going to get a talent like Hill for a pending free agent like Johnson when he’s hitting.

It makes sense in all aspects.

Rockies acquire Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Didn’t the Rockies do this before the season when they got the same player as Kouzmanoff in Jose Lopez?

It didn’t work then; given Kouzmanoff’s consistent disappointment, I don’t see this working any better than Lopez did.

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Brewers Get K-Rod—And They’re Not Done

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

At least they’d better not be done.

With their current issues, the bullpen was probably the last place the Brewers needed to upgrade for a legitimate run at a championship. First was defense; then there was a lefty specialist to deal with the Phillies; then there was bullpen help.

Considering the money and personal conduct problems from last season surrounding Francisco Rodriguez, it’s a bit of a surprise the Brewers chose to get him first.

Perhaps they were concerned that someone—specifically the Cardinals—were going to go after K-Rod and wanted to preclude that from happening while simultaneously bolstering what’s been a moderate strength.

There are two ways to go in making deals to improve: enhance a strength or fix a weakness.

The Brewers bullpen has been serviceable with John Axford closing and will be better with K-Rod either setting up for Axford or taking over as the closer. (It isn’t clear as to what they’re doing, but I’ll guess that, for now, Axford will hold onto his job.)

Was this a smart move for the Brewers?

Well, it was aggressive. K-Rod is mostly reliable in the regular season and while he’d like to have the contract kicker worth $17.5 million come into effect by finishing 55 games this year, he’ll get a good contract somewhere if he does enter free agency this winter. The Mets have sent some money along with K-Rod and are receiving two players to be named later.

As a closer, K-Rod was never a lockdown arm in the playoffs. He was notoriously unreliable for the Angels, always seeming to fail at the hands of the Red Sox. He’s not a guarantee to be a help to the Brewers setting up/closing now or in the post-season. He’s wild and is prone to the home run ball. His strikeout numbers are still solid though not as massive as they were earlier in his career. He’s a different pitcher relying on control of his fastball, a great curve and good changeup more than he did when he was young.

He will help the Brewers now.

It’s not hard to figure out what the Brewers have to do next.

Their infield defense is awful. Looking at Axford’s numbers in comparison to a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth—who’s functioning with a fast and rangy infield with the Rays—and the difference is shocking. Axford’s BAbip (batting average on balls in play) for ground balls is .273; Farnsworth’s is .153.

This is no coincidence nor is it a stat taken out of context to prove a point. It’s a problem.

With the addition of K-Rod and the great starting pitching, they must-must-must improve the defense by finding a slick-fielding shortstop to replace Yuniesky Betancourt. That means J.J. Hardy, Jason Bartlett, Brendan Ryan or Jack Wilson—someone who can catch the ball. They won’t hit much worse than Betancourt has and they’d improve the defense markedly.

Casey McGehee hasn’t hit either and his defense at third base is mediocre. The Brewers could go after a historically solid defender who has some pop like Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Athletics or Casey Blake of the Dodgers.

To accompany the “go for it” mentality that GM Doug Melvin is exhibiting and contingent on getting a shortstop, they could do something drastic like trade for an outfielder and move Ryan Braun back to third base for the rest of the season. Braun wasn’t a good defensive third baseman, but he won’t be much worse than what they have now and they’d augment the offense with a Carlos Beltran or Kosuke Fukudome.

When discussing the Brewers trading deadline needs two days ago, I said they had to try and win this year. Prince Fielder is leaving as a free agent and their window of opportunity is short. Trading for K-Rod is reflective of that—Melvin knows what the Brewers are and he’s going for it in 2011.

But if they want to truly go all-in, they can’t stop at K-Rod.

And they won’t.

I’ll post about how this affects the Mets later today.

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Swift And Deadly 6.7.2011

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

The MLB Draft and destruction of legendary tales.

I…I’m almost unable to speak; to fathom; to understand.

The new Mets front office was supposed to be immersed in Moneyball, objective analysis, and all the faith-based tenets.

I’m shaken to the core.

The Mets drafted…HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS; and worse, they drafted a…HIGH SCHOOL PITCHER!

Selecting high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo and high school pitcher Michael Fulmer directly contradicts that which he who appeared from the heavens to teach us the proper way to run a baseball team.

Wasn’t it Michael Lewis who wrote in the sacrosanct text of Moneyball that drafting a high school pitcher was “delightfully mad”; that it “defied reason”?

What happened?

Are they not “card-counting”? Was it a ruse?

I…I can’t believe in anything anymore. My faith has been shattered.

Leave me be. Please. I…need some time to myself.

Speaking of Moneyball, Billy Beane and “genius”…

In all seriousness, I wasn’t as sold on the Athletics before the season as others were.

Much like in 2009, there was a benefit of the doubt aspect to assessing the Athletics. Intentional or not, there is an underlying expectation of Beane figuring it out, somehow.

I had them at 84-78 and a few games out of the top spot in the AL West.

My book with said predictions is still available by the way. Click on the links in the left column.

I did provide warnings as to the fleeting nature of young pitching. Dallas Braden is already out with Tommy John surgery and Brett Anderson might need the procedure.

There’s no one to blame for that, but it’s symptomatic and proves my point that there’s no “genius”. There never was.

The A’s have lost 7 straight, demoted Kevin Kouzmanoff and manager Bob Geren doesn’t appear long for his job.

I can write the pending press conference statement for the eventual Geren firing if the “genius” likes.

“This is no reflection on Bob.”

“Everyone in the organization is at fault and the main culprit is me.”

“We feel we’ve underperformed and something needed to change.”

“We’re better than this.”

“I’m taking full responsibility for this club’s problems.”

Blah, blah, blah.

I can’t wait for the Moneyball movie; although I don’t know if 74-88 will be a selling point for the “genius” of Billy Beane.

Lenny’s new accommodations kinda fit.

Lenny Dykstra wanted to be a billionaire; he talked and spent as if he was.

People believed him until they were caught in the middle of his schemes, scams, tricks and lies.

Now he’s in jail on a whole slew of different charges from those he was arrested for last month—NY Times Story.

I doubt we’ll see Dykstra at any Mets/Phillies reunions unless it’s to hit people up for his legal defense fund.

It’s just as well.

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Marginalizing Transitions

Management, Players, Spring Training

Concerns about the Phillies age and offense are becoming more pronounced with the continued injury woes of Chase Utley. Utley’s knee tendinitis has not improved with rest and a cortisone shot; according to this ESPN story, surgery might be the next step.

After Jayson Werth‘s free agent departure and the failure to acquire a veteran replacement to play right field, Domonic Brown was going to get a long look as the regular right fielder; the combination of the club continually looking for short-term, veteran replacements made it appear that they weren’t prepared to go forward with Brown and no safety net; now Brown is out for 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.

Losing Utley for a significant amount of time would be another detriment to the Phillies offense.

People are concerned; doomsayers are referencing the advanced age of the team’s core as a basis to call their expected dominance into question.

The mistake that’s being made is believing that the same offense that pounded pitchers into submission and won the World Series in 2008 and the NL pennant in 2009 would be necessary to win in 2011.

It’s not.

While those Phillies teams were built based on outscoring their opposition, the 2010-2011 versions were transitioning to reliance on superior starting pitching. The additions (all within the past 15 months) of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee have taken the focus off of how many runs the Phillies score and transformed into how few they’re going to allow.

If there were an injury to one of the top four starting pitchers, then there would be reason to worry; but as long as the pitchers are healthy, the Phillies aren’t going to need to score as many runs as they did in 2008-2009 when their starting rotation consisted of Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick.

Lee was acquired in 2009 and fronted the rotation, was traded and now returns as a free agent. With the above starting pitching—aside from Lee and Hamels—you’d better score a lot.

Now? Not so much.

Of course it’s nice to have the combination of a supercharged offense to go with a great starting rotation, but it’s not as if they’re going to come apart without the scoring machine running on all cylinders.

If Jimmy Rollins has a good comeback year and they get any offense at all from right field, they can withstand an Utley absence; not because they have a suitable replacement, but that their starting pitching is so dominant.

As far as Utley goes, there’s been discussion as to whom would replace him at second base if he was out for a significant period. What I would do is think in a different manner. Instead of finding a second baseman, I’d shift Placido Polanco to second and see if the Royals were interested in trading former third baseman and now left fielder Alex Gordon; perhaps the Athletics would talk about Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Gordon wasn’t a terrible defensive third baseman and he needs to get out of Kansas City; Kouzmanoff doesn’t get on base, but has some pop and is a very good fielder.

It’s easier to find a third baseman than to find a second baseman and neither of those players are going to complain about being usurped once Utley returns; both are cheap and would function as a bench player once the regular lineup is back in place.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe and it should be available on Amazon and other fine retailers shortly.

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