The 40-Man Roster Decisions

The deadline to add minor league players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the rule 5 draft is midnight, tonight.

Every player who signs at 19 years old or older, has three drafts worth of protection. Guys who signed below 19 have four years of protection. Thus, college draftees from 2010 and high school and international signees from 2009 and earlier can be drafted this year.

Remember, in the Major League phase of the draft, the drafting team must hold the newly acquired player on their active 25-man major league roster all year (or DL) to keep that guy.

The Mets currently have 36 players on their 40-man roster.

Adding players is not costless. Rather, the cost is a 40-man roster spot. The Mets need their players on the 40-man big league roster providing big league value, if not now, in the very near future.  Also, if a player is added to the 40-man roster, and is sent to the minors, he begins using one of his three option years. Basically, it only makes sense to add players who can realistically help a big league team in the next two years, or possess something else extremely valuable.

If I were doing it, here are the decisions I would make.

The Additions
RHP Jacob deGrom
What he is: Lean righthander who can touch 96 with his sinker. He’s struggled to improve his slider, so the Mets worked to teach him a curveball this year.
Why he’s eligible: drafted out of Stetson in 2010, he lost the 2011 season to Tommy John surgery.
His role: Likely middle reliever who comes in and airs it out in short bursts, because hey, 94-96 with sink is hard to hit. If he improves his breaking ball dramatically, he could remain a starter.

RHP Jeff Walters
What he is: Sinker/slider righthander who set a Binghamton Mets record for saves in 2013. Saves are a stupid stat, and worthless moving forward, but he’s shown that he can be an effective reliever at AA with a fastball from 92-94 and a slider.
Why he’s eligible: The Mets drafted him in the seventh round in 2010 out of the University of Georgia.
His role: Middle reliever. He should start 2014 in AAA with Las Vegas and will likely be up in the big leagues by July.

LHP Steven Matz
What he is: The best left-handed pitching prospect in the New York Mets system. Matz was very effective for Savannah in 2013 putting up a 2.62 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 38 walks in 106.1 innings. He struck out 28% of opposing batters and walked 8.9%. He was up to 97 mph with his fastball, and regularly 92-95 with his heat. There just are not enough left-handed pitchers with this kind of velocity to leave Matz unprotected.

I thought at the time, his changeup flashed as a plus Major League pitch with arm speed and sink.

As I wrote in September, “there was a time early in the year when Matz and Savannah Pitching Coach Frank Viola were trying to make this breaking ball a slider, but by the second half of the South Atlantic League season, they had abandoned that effort to focus on his curveball, which was his primary breaking ball in high school and early professional career. The pitch indeed shows promise with, when it’s right, good depth and late movement. It can get sweepy and he has trouble locating it for a strike. However, there are fewer spinners than when he was trying to work on his slider. If memory serves, he did not throw a single strike with his curveball in his final start of the playoffs in the Gnats’ clinching win in Game Four of the SAL playoffs.”
Why he’s eligible: drafted in the second round in 2009 out of Ward Melville HS as an 18-year old. Tommy John surgery in 2010, and then complications from that surgery kept him off the field in 2010 and 2011.
His role: Well, he will be in the St. Lucie rotation in 2014.
Longterm, if he can learn to throw his curveball for strikes, and improve his own fastball command, he will be an above average MLB starter. Matz had a reverse platoon split in 2013, so, given his current arsenal, I am not at all convinced that he will move well to the bullpen as a left-handed specialist.
vs. RHH: .214/.291/.289, 29% K, 8% BB – 328 PA
vs. LHH: .261/.340/.352, 25% K, 11% BB – 100 PA

Left-handed relief specialists usually are fastball/breaking ball.
Further: Matz should start 2014 in advanced-A St. Lucie. As long as he’s good there, he will end 2014 in AA Binghamton. That gives him a chance to make the big leagues in 2015.

On the Outside Looking In
In order of consideration for a 40-man addition.
LHP Adam Kolarek - fastball/curveball guy who works mostly 90-92. He was effective in AA in 2013, putting up a 1.71 ERA and a 63/22 K/BB. Across AA and a few AAA innings, he held left-handed batters to a .214/.287/.250 line with a 23/8 K/BB ratio for a 24% strikeout rate and a 8.5% walk rate. Righties hit him for a little more power, going .209/.293/.356 against him with a 41/17 K/BB ratio 22% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate.  His straight fastball sneaks up on lefties.
OF Cory Vaughn – Platoon outfielder coming off a .250/.320/.375 line in 22 games in the Arizona Fall League. I wonder if the two-year $12 million contract David Murphy has signed would make the Mets think twice about exposing Vaughn, who has hit lefties well (.296/.401/.528 total 2011-2013) in each of his stops in the minor leagues in the last three years.
OF Darrell Ceciliani - The 23-year-old hit .268/.322/.380 in 112 games for AA Binghamton in 2013. He put up a .718 OPS vs. RHP and a .653 OPS vs. LHP this year. He’s a defensive-minded fourth outfielder who could play center or left. It’s hard to see a Major League team putting him on their 40-man roster for 2014 to play center against RHP only.
LHP Darin Gorski - Gorski was lights out (1.83 ERA, 67 K/22 BB/46 H) in 78.2 innings in AA, after getting bombed for 17 runs in 13.2 innings in AAA to start the year. His fastball lost velocity this year, and was back down to mid-upper 80s. His best pitch is his changeup, but he is hurt by a lack of separation from his fastball.
INF Reese Havens
- the second of three Mets’ picks in the first round of the 2008 draft, at 22 overall, Havens hit .237/.312/.330 in 38 games with Las Vegas as a 26-year-old in 2013. Injuries have killed his potential for a meaningful Major League career.

Trackman on the Mets in the AFL

Baseball America has Trackman data up from the Arizona Fall League. It’s like pitch fx on steroids. There’s some fun stuff in here.

A few Mets farmhands appeared on leaderboards.

Small sample size warnings abound.

Fastball Velocity
Jeurys Familia – #8 (96 mph).
Topped out at 98.2. Man, what he could do with a little bit of command.

Fastball Spin Rate
Hansel Robles – #12 (2,465 avg RPM).
More spin means less sink or a straighter fastball with more “rise” and thus, in theory, strikeouts and flyouts. Per pitch fx, Robles sat at 90.66 mph. Pitching up in the zone with such a heater seems like a dangerous versus Major League hitters. There were few swings and misses. Batters swung and missed at two of Robles’ 59 fastballs in the AFL, a whif rate of 3.39%.

Slider Spin Rate
Chasen Bradford – #11 (2,683 rpm)
MLB average, per BA is “around 2,400 rpms.” So, translated, Bradford’s slider has an above average MLB spin rate and velocity at 85 mph. Bradford throws his slider a lot. By pitchfx tracking, he used the pitch 43% of the time in the AFL. Among all MLB relievers who threw 30 or more innings last year, only 10 guys threw sliders that much. Bradford had a 33% whiff rate (6/18) on his slider in the AFL, which is pretty good. If Bradford makes it, he would do so largely as a slider specialist. And for a short reliever, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the Rays built their bullpens on one-pitch wonders.

Whoa, Nellie. Really? The Mets Want Nelson Cruz?

Nelson_CruzYesterday, I wrote that Curtis Granderson was not worthy a four-year contract and that the Mets should stay away.

Now comes word, or rumor, that the Mets are interested in former Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz. According to Kristie Ackert in the Daily News, “the Mets are going hard after (and may be the early leader for) Nelson Cruz.” Jon Heyman at CBSSports also thinks the Mets are “in on” Cruz. However, Adam Rubin at ESPNNY wrote that “a team insider severely downplayed to ESPNNewYork.com the likelihood of signing either [Nelson or Cruz].”

As with a lengthy contract for Granderson, a three-year deal for Cruz would be a similar mistake. At ESPN, Jim Bowden predicted that Cruz would earn a three year contract for $48 million, for an average annual value of $16 million. The crowd-sourced project at Fangraphs saw him as signing for 3 years/$31.8 million or $10.6 annually.

Here are the most relevant facts:
1. Cruz is 33 years old. Most 33 year old baseball players decline rapidly.
2. He is not special. His baseball reference WAR the last three years: 1.3, 0.4, 2.0. He has one season above 2.3 in his career, his age 28 season in 2010 with Texas (4.3). Fangraphs WAR from the last three years: 1.3, 1.1, 1.5.
3. In his career away from Texas, he has hit .242/.299/.435 in 1590 PA. No, this is not a small sample.
4. Since turning 30, he has hit .263/.319/.489 in 392 games over three years in 129 games a year.
5. As the recipient of a qualifying offer, he will cost the Mets a second round pick.

Less relevant to me, but germane to many: he was suspended 50 games in 2013 for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic. Mets fans should recognize that players with PED suspensions can come back and hit (ahem: Marlon Byrd).

There is already a literature about the dangers of signing Cruz including Dave Schoenfeld at ESPN, and Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and USS Mariner.

We played this game yesterday with Curtis Granderson, but lets take a look at Cruz’s top 10 most similar hitters and how they have aged in their age 33 seasons and beyond. Again, the WAR listed is bWAR and accounts for all of the value these players provided in their year XX seasons and every one after. Again, I have eliminated players whose careers ended in 1970 and earlier.

bWAR 33+bWAR35+
Henry Rodriguez-0.70
Brad Hawpe-0.3NA
Josh Willingham3.6NA
Jayson Werth5.5NA
Phil Nevin1.6-0.4
Cody RossNANA
Ryan Ludwick0.9NA
Glenallen Hill3.4-0.1
Total14-0.5
Average2-0.17

Uhhhhhh. [runs away screaming]

 

Starting in their age 33 seasons, these eight players totaled 14 WAR, an average of two per player. However, to be fair to Cruz, five of these guys, Hawpe, Willingham, Werth, Ross and Ludwick have not completed their age-35 seasons, the potential third year of Cruz’s deal. On the other hand, they have not aged well.

However, in their recently completed age-34 seasons, they accumulated the following bWAR:
Hawpe: -0.3
Willingham: 0.3
Werth: 4.8
Ludwick: -0.9

Cody Ross was worth 2.5 wins in Arizona in his age 32 season.

Jayson Werth’s 2013 was better than any single one of Nelson Cruz’s seasons. Werth has three seasons – 2009, 2010, 2013 – that are as good as Cruz’s best in 2010, which itself was an aberration in Cruz’s career. There is no reason to think that Cruz will magically get dramatically better in his age 33 and 34 seasons, like to peak Werth level.

If the price of a win on the free agent market is really $7 million, signing Cruz for two years at $10-12 million per year for a total of $20-24 could give a team  some short-term right-handed power assuming he can average 1.5-1.7 wins the next two years. Anything else is just throwing good money after bad for the decline years of a player who is not that good to begin with.

Do the Mets need outfield help? Oh, yes. Do they need Nelson Cruz at anything longer than a two year commitment? Oh, no.

See, the secret to contention is not actually signing corner outfielders in their mid-30s to lengthy deals. Shhhhhh…..

Curtis Granderson for Four Years? Bad Idea

The hot rumor action on Tuesday connected the Mets to free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson. Oh, the Mets were “serious” about liking him and planned to set up a meeting with his agent. And while I was writing this, apparently a team insider “downplayed” the Mets’ interest in Granderson. Granderson’s agent was so encouraged by the early-winter flirting that he is now asking for a four-year deal. That’s a problem. The Mets should not sign Curtis Granderson to a four-year deal. No team should.

A four-year contract would lock up Granderson’s age 33, 34, 35 and 36 seasons.

In 2013, his age-32 season, coming off back-to-back 40+ homer seasons with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, he hit .229/.317/.407 in 61 games. His season started late – in May after he fractured his forearm in Spring Training. Then, after playing just eight games in May, a broken left pinkie kept him out until August. For what it’s worth, he had a strong August – .278/.394/.444 with six doubles and three homeruns and a 27/18 K/BB ratio in 27 games. Then in September, he stopped walking, hitting .177/.233/.375 with a 36/7 K/BB. His whiff percentage spiked in September and his strike zone discipline cratered.

Beginning of the end, or small sample size?

The Comps
Baseball reference lists Granderson’s top comparables, and for the Mets, or any team interested in signing the Grandyman, it should be a scary list.
Here are Baseball Reference’s top 10 most similar players to Curtis Granderson through his age-32 season:
1. Ron Gant
2. Bob Allison
3. J.D. Drew
4. Roy Sievers
5. Jose Cruz
6. Jason Bay
7. Wally Post
8. Jesse Barfield
9. Bobby Thomson
10. Kirk Gibson

The historical names are fun, but lets drop anyone who’s career ended in 1970 and earlier because it was a different game 40+ years ago. That eliminates Allison, Sievers, Post and Thomson and leaves us with six players.

Using Baseball Reference’s amazing career calculator the following gives the career bWAR totals for this group beginning in their age xx season.

bWAR 33+bWAR 34+bWAR 35+bWAR 36+
Gant7.75.93.91.7
Drew6.62.2-0.80
Cruz0.5-0.500
Bay-0.70.5NANA
Barfield0000
Gibson6.84.43.73.5
Total20.912.56.85.2
Avg3.4832.0831.3601.04

Beginning at age 33, this group totaled 21 bWAR for the duration of their career, an average of 3.5 (I’m rounding here because decimals on WAR give a false sense of accuracy).  By age 36, three of the six were out of baseball, and it’ll likely be four out of six when Jason Bay decides to walk away to watch his kids ski and hang out with and listen to Pearl Jam. (Note: if my retirement includes watching my kids ski, skiing with my kids, or hanging out with Pearl Jam, I’d be one really happy dude.)

Gant, who hung on until age 38, is perhaps a best case for Granderson. After finishing fifth in the MVP balloting in 1993 with Atlanta, he missed the entire 1994 season, his age-29 year, after breaking his leg in an ATV accident. He bounced around after that, putting together strong seasons at 30 and 31 with Cincinnati and then St. Louis. Like Granderson, Gant had a down year at age 32 (83 OPS+) his lowest since his age 25 year. From age 33 on, he posted OPS+s of 114, 97, 106, 95, 125 while playing for six different teams. Gant, like Granderson started his career as a centerfielder, but after playing the position at -27 runs in total zone, in 1991, the Braves wisely moved him to left as his primary position (and all pre-Andrew Jones, who did not debut until 1996). From age 33 forward, Gant’s seasonal bWAR peacked at 2.1 at age 34, never to exceed two again.

J.D Drew is a great cautionary tale. He posted a strong, and perhaps underappreciated 2009 season with Boston when he was 33, hitting .279/.392/.522 for a 134 OPS+ and a 4.3 bWAR in 139 games. He was solid, but clearly declining a year later at 34 (.255/.341./452 – 109 OPS+ – 3.1 in 137 games) but was done at age 35 when he hit .222/.315/.302 – 68 OPS+- -0.9 WAR in 81 games. He was out of baseball at age 36.

Decline and injury came in a hurry for Gibson after his MVP performance and post-season heroics in 1988 – his age 31 season. He played 100 games just twice more after that point in 1991 with Kansas City and 1993 with Detroit. Gibson was basically a league average hitting from 1989 – 1993 (his age 32-36 seasons) combining for a 105 OPS+ and 85 games a season. He then bounced back to have, a for me, inexplicable age-37 year with Detroit in 1994 when he hit .276/.358/.548 for a 130 OPS+ and a 2.3 WAR, his first above two since 1988.

The Granderson Offensive Decline
So, has Curtis Granderson shown any indication that he can buck the rapid decline his most similar hitters experienced from their age 33 seasons forward? In a word, no.

These are Granderson’s base rates in his secondary statistical categories from his age-27 season onward. What do you notice? His big homerun years with the Yankees were driven by a spike in HR/FB. Is there any reason to think that will spike again as he ages? No.

BB%K%ISOHR/FBHR
20077.720.9.25010.923
200811.317.6.21312.322
200910.119.9.20412.630
20101022.22114.524
201112.324.5.29020.541
20121128.5.26024.243
20131128.2.17811.37

Now, about that rising strikeout rate. Lets take a look at his swing rates and contact rates from the last four years (remember 2010 and 2011 were his Yankees peak and 2013 was abbreviated). O-swing percentage is just the percentage of pitches outside the zone a batter swings at. O-Contact percentage is the number of pitches outside the zone which a batter swings at that he connects on. Z Contact is the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone at which a batter swings that he connects with.

                   O-Swing%             O-Contact%              Z-Contact %
2010           25.6                        60.1                                   89.9
2011            25.7                        60.8                                   88.1
2012           29.5                        58.9                                   81.0
2013           31.3                        54.5                                    80.0

In the last two years, Granderson has chased more pitches outside the zone and made contact with fewer. Can the Mets teach him to lay off pitches out of the zone again? Maybe.

Moreover, and more damning, when he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone in the last two years, his contact percentage on such pitches has plummeted.

Defense?
The advanced defensive metrics have split a little on Granderson in his last four years with the Yankees, but all agree that among his last full seasons, 2011 was poor and 2012 was worse.

UZR is all over the place on Granderson’s defense in center, giving him UZR/150 the last four years of 9.0, -5.3, -18.5, 21.4 (small sample size on ’13). He was negative his last two years in Detroit in 08 and 09.

Total Zone is more charitable on the whole for his Yankee years: -1, -4, -12, 5. BIS Defensive Runs Saved from average tell a similar story: 12, -6, -10, 3 (’13, coming all three outfield positions).

The ranges on 2012 suggest Granderson cost the Yankees at least full win by playing center.

 

Conclusion
Since the start of 2011, Granderson has been a below average defender in center and getting worse.  Granderson’s declining defensive abilities should push him to a corner over the life of a four-year contract.

At the plate, he is chasing more pitches outside the strike zone and connecting on fewer. He is connecting on fewer inside the zone. As a result, his strikeout rate has spiked.

His big homerun seasons in Yankee pinstripes were the result of a HR/FB spike that has disappeared in last year, and was well out of line with his career norms.

Players most similar to Granderson were at best league average players from age 33 forward, and most fell well short of that mark and were in fact out of baseball by their age 36 seasons, the last covered by a potential four-year contract.

Granderson turned down the Yankees’ qualifying offer of $14.1 million dollars. In previous years, free agent wins cost in the range of $5 million per win. Granderson would need to be a three-win player moving forward every year to reach that mark at $15 million annually. I suspect that there will be inflation in this market, but I also suspect based on Granderson’s own performance and his most similar players that his decline will be steep and in fact, has already begun.

Two-year commitment? Ok. Four? Run away.

What the Hell is A Silver Slugger? Or Can’t Anyone Here Use Fangraphs?

The Silver Slugger is awarded to a single player per position, determined to be the most valuable offensively, in both the American and National Leagues as determined by Major League Baseball’s coaches and managers.

When it comes to thirdbase in the National League in 2013, the League’s managers and coaches picked extremely poorly in selecting Pedro Alvarez. In his age-26 season, Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 in 152 games for the playoff-bound Pirates. He led the National League in two categories: homeruns (36) and strikeouts (186).

On a plate appearances basis, he was a mid-pack thirdbaseman offensively. By wOBA, Alvarez (.330) was seventh in the NL behind David Wright (.391), Aramis Ramirez (.366), Chris Johnson (.354), Ryan Zimmerman (.353), Juan Uribe (.334), and Pablo Sandoval (.331). wRC+ tells the identical story, slotting Alvarez seventh among Nation League hot-corner handlers.

Stepping back from advanced statistics, Alvarez was 17th in on-base percentage and second in slugging behind David Wright.

Wright played only 112 games and thus, did not reach 20 home runs or qualify for the NL batting title. He still was more valuable at the plate not just on a rate basis, but in terms of aggregate production than Alvarez. By Batting runs above average, Wright crushed Alvarez 29.7 to 9.9. That’s worth two wins on the field.

Alvarez was one of only two National League thirdbasemen to hit over 20 homeruns joined by only Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a strong overall season, hitting .275/.344/.465 in 147 games for the disappointing Nationals, who like Wright’s Mets missed the playoffs. Both Chris Johnson and Juan Uribe had nice seasons for the playoff-bound Braves and Dodgers, but neither has a real clear claim to being the best-hitting third baseman in the National League.

It’s not a stretch to say that hitting home runs was the only productive thing that Alvarez did in a better than average manner in 2013. Well, that and whiff, as he struck out in 30% of his plate appearances.

And somehow, National League managers decided that Alvarez’s ability to hit homeruns made him the best hitter in the league at the position. That’s wrong.

Video: Mets Minor League Report Darrell Ceciliani

In his age 23 season, the injury-prone Ceciliani missed a week with a hamstring strain in August, but still played in a career-high 113 games for AA Binghamton where he hit .268/.322/.380 with 17 doubles, six triples and six homers, and a 6.3% walk rate and a 22.8% strikeout rate. He was also 31-of-38 (82%) stealing bases. The left-handed hitter split his time between centerfield (58 games) and left (48 games).

He hit .243/.304/.350 in 103 AB vs. lefties in 2013 and .276/.328/.390 in 315 against righties.

He does not profile offensively in an outfield corner at all. His only hope of starting everyday is in centerfield. Even there, he would struggle to put up a .300 on-base percentage in the big leagues as pitchers will exploit his aggressive approach. On the other hand, he runs well, and offers the ability to play center or left, but does not have the arm for right.

Ceciliani is most likely to stick as a fourth/fifth outfielder who can add speed/defense in LF off the bench and picks up some spot starts for a MLB team against right-handed pitching. He is Rule 5 eligible for the first time this winter (if you’re curious, the full list is available here) and I do not expect the Mets to add him to the 40-man roster this winter.

Mailbag: Make or Break Year for Gavin Cecchini?

mailbag_art

John asks:

Is Gavin Cecchini on the verge of a make or break year as a prospect? He had a solid average in a pitcher friendly NY Penn League, but his power numbers are really lacking.  A lot of reports I read are down on him, and was just wondering your take Toby.  Thanks.

Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:

No, 2014 is not a make or break year for Cecchini, who will make his full-season debut in 2014. Barring a Spring Training injury, he will be playing shortstop for Savannah as a 20-years-old on Opening Day, Thursday, April 3, 2014. He will be young for the South Atlantic League. Again, he will be 20 years old in 2014.

Yeah, Cecchini does not hit for much power, that’s not what his game is about.

Instead, his game is about playing a well-rounded shortstop. He’s at best an average runner, but he has lithe actions quick feet around the bag. His hands work well. He has enough arm to play short. So, while he’s not going to blow anyone away running from home to third like, say Jose Reyes, the Mets expect him to play short, and do so well.

As Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul DePodesta told me in March, “I think he’s going to be a solid average defender at shortstop. I don’t think we have any question that he’s going to stay at the position… We think he’s going to a very steady defender. It’s probably not going to be Omar Vizquel, it’s not going to be flash, but he’s going to be a very solid defender.”

For the sake of argument, lets say that Cecchini does become average to a little better at short, say zero through plus five runs above average defensively. Last year, by UZR, the list of guys in this profile, who played at least 700 games at short (half a season), included Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Drew, Brandon Crawford, Pedro Florimon, Jhonny Peralta, Brendan Ryan and Jean Segura. (Note: Segura’s UZR/150 of -1.1 was the only one here who was negative, but it’s close enough to average that I think he can be safely included in this group and he was above average by Total Zone, DRS and +/-.)  This selection of eight guys comprises seven starting shortstops – a quarter of Major League Baseball, and Ryan, who played mostly for the Mariners in 2013.

Here is this octet of players ranked by fWAR:
Desmond (5)
Peralta (3.6)
Drew (3.4)
Segura (3.4)
Andrus (2.8)
Crawford (2.2)
Florimon (1.3)
Ryan (-0.6)

And what do we have here? A wide range of value from replacement level through qualifying offer-level (Drew) and beyond. Even while playing averagish defense at short, there is a line at which teams will stop running a player who is hapless with bat out onto the field. Ryan, who hit .192/.24/.265 in 87 games with the Mariners is living proof. Moving up the chart, Florimon was above replacement level, barely, thanks to a .221/.281/.330 line for the Twins. Ok, that’s not really useful to a winning baseball team.

Instead, it’s Crawford (.248/.311/.363) and Andrus (.271/.328/.331) who establish the bottom bound of useful when combining averagish to slightly above average defense at short with enough offense to get above 2 WAR. For what it’s worth, Crawford hit nine homeruns and Andrus stole 42 bases.

Cecchini’s glove should be an important part of his overall value, but the hitting matters too, always.


In 2013, Cecchini hit .273/.319/.314 with a 6.6% walk rate and a 14.2% strikeout rate in the New York Penn League as a 19-year-old. At the plate, I like the way Cecchini’s hands work, but he’ll need to become stronger in the coming years. I thought he was too pre-loaded in 2012, and was starting to use his lower half better in 2013. And yes, power will always be the weakest of his traditional tools.

On our eight-player list of average to slightly above defensive shortstops, there’s only one other guy who was drafted out of high school: Ian Desmond. He played in Savannah as a 19-year-old for the Washington Nationals and hit an imposing .247/.291/.334 with 13 walks, 60 strikeouts and 16 extra-base hits. For some reason, the Nationals promoted him to advanced-A to finish the season, and had him begin his age-20 season in double-A. It’s all worked out in the end, but his path through the system was certainly faster than Cecchini’s will be despite unimpressive statistical markers. Desmond, of course is 2-3 inches taller than Cecchini and stronger.

Peralta played in the South Atlantic League at age 18 in 2000 and hit .241/.352/.309 for Columbus.

There’s nothing make or break about Cecchini’s 2014, as long as he shows the tools to play short. His glove will give him a chance to get to the big leagues, and it’s his bat that will determine what time of value he provides when he gets there. Wishy-washy? Sure, but that’s the thing about a guy who has not played a day in a full-season league.


For our Mets Minor League Report on Cecchini, click here.

Thoughts About Some Cory Vaughn Swings

I wanted to point out the video above for Cory Vaughn’s swings. In particular, take a look at the swings from the angle just outside the cage.
Watch the end of Vaughn’s swings. He cuts his hands off. It’s very apparent from the 0:58 mark through 1:18 or so. It appears to me as though he’s stopping his hands early. In doing so, rather than accelerating through the ball which will give him more power to drive the thing, he’s decelerating early, and sapping power.
Maybe he’s just working on something in batting practice and this is some kind of bat control drill, but it sure looks odd to me.

He appears to do it in one of his swings captured in this Minor League Report from the 2013 season with Binghamton.

Vaughn popped 10 homers in 71 games in Binghamton in 2013. Were he to have played a full season, that’s about 16-18 hoemrs. Maybe he’s big and strong enough that he doesn’t need a full extension in his swing, and he’s working on other priorities. On the other hand, I think this answers a question that has nagged me (well, a little bit): can Vaughn, who is big, and strong and as John Mayo says in the embedded video “looks the part” hit for more power in games? Yup, let those hands go! Full extension and follow-through will tap into his natural strength.

World Series, Free Bases, Errors, and Saying No

Was Craig Breslow’s decision to throw to third in the seventh inning of last night’s World Series game correct?

He says yes. His manager is not so sure.

Breslow, as quoted by Evan Drellich at MassLive.com, “I looked up and I saw that I definitely had a play there. I didn’t make a good throw. That’s not a throw I make too much, but it’s one I need to make there.”

Manager John Farrell: “I’m sure Craig would like to have that ball back and hold it with a chance to shut down the inning right there…”

I think they are both right.

 

Lets set the scene. In the seventh inning of game two, Craig Breslow relieved John Lackey. His first, and more important mistake was walking the first batter he faced – Daniel Descalso – by wOBA, the weakest hitter in the Cardinals lineup. The next batter, Matt Carpenter lifted a fly ball to shallow left field that tied the game. Jonny Gomes’ throw home was late and off line. Breslow picked the ball up and threw to third, thinking he could nab John Jay there. He airmailed the throw. That was mistake number two.

This is the diamond the moment before Breslow released the baseball.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 11.25.51 AM

 

I estimate that the speedy Jay, who is already sprinting full bore, is about 30 feet from third base in that frame. In just over a second, Jay will be sliding into third base. IF Breslow were to release the ball at that instant, he has about a second to get the ball to third base. Remember  he needs to give Bogaerts time to apply the tag. I estimate that Breslow is 100 feet from third base. If he had a full second to get the ball there, he merely has to throw the ball at 68 miles an hour. He can do that. But he doesn’t have a full second. Because Bogaerts needs time to catch and apply a tage. If he has three quarters of a second, he would have to throw the ball at 91 miles an hour to nail Jay. His four-seam fastball  averages 91 miles an hour. He can do that. That’s off a mound, with a windup. If Breslow was doing the math, which he wasn’t, if he had anything less than three quarters of a second from the instant of release to Bogaerts’ glove, he should not have thrown the ball.

And yet, it makes perfect sense for Breslow to think he had a play on Jay at third base.

Here is the diamond as Breslow was scooping up the ball after it left catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s glove.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 11.34.14 AM

Jay is barely 20 feet from second. This picture perfectly captures the reason Breslow thought he could throw Jay out at third. Go back to his quote, “I looked up and saw I definitely had a play there.. ” This is the part of the play he got right. However, the issue for Breslow is what happened in the intervening frames. He’s no infielder. He was too slow in getting from picking the ball to his release. While he was grabbing the ball off the grass, gathering himself to throw, and hopping, Jay was still running. Take a look for example, at how far Breslow hopped. He fielded the ball outside the dirt circle around home plate. He threw from comfortably inside it. That’s maybe a six-foot hop. While Breslow was airborn, Jay was running. While Breslow was winding up to throw, Jay was running. Perhaps Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Bogaerts or a well-practiced infielder could and would have thrown Jay out at third.

What happened? This.

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 11.27.27 AM

Lets subtract eight feet of height from Breslow’s throw. What if it was shin-high and Bogaerts just had to catch the ball and slap a tag on the sliding runner? It looks from that shot as though it would have been late.

By the time Breslow released the ball, it was too late. This is the part Farrell got right.

Baseball players do not reach the big leagues by thinking in general that they will not make a play. Rather the reverse is the case. Guys reach the big leagues, by thinking that they can make the play. They work and practice to execute, and they are right – they do make the play – more often than anyone else on the planet, that’s what makes them big leaguers. But in this case, Breslow was doing something unfamiliar, throwing to third at maximum velocity under time pressure, that he rarely ever does.

So, in a sense, one of the hardest things for professional athletes to do, and the thing they do not train to do, is, in the most pressure-packed moment that their sport offers, think “no, I cannot make that play.” Coaches preach endlessly in the minors, “make the right play.”

In fact, I would argue, the key moment, and even better example of this, came earlier in the sequence.

Imagine what would have happened, if instead of throwing home, Jonny Gomes had thrown to the cutoff man. Sure, the tying run would have scored from second. But Jay would never have started towards third. And the Cards and Sox would have had a tie game with runners at first and second. Maybe in this alternate universe, Carlos Beltran still would have singled off of Breslow to drive home a run as he did in real life. In this case, that would have put the Cardinals ahead 3-2 instead of 4-2. Or Jay didn’t score on the single. Or perhaps, Breslow retired Beltran to keep the game tied.

Gomes has thrown out two runners at home plate in 2013, a career-high. He’s nailed seven runners at home in eight big league seasons, under one per year. Just once in his career, in 2009 with Cincinnati, has he thrown out a runner at home plate on a sacrifice fly.  For his career, Gomes is one  run above average with his arm.

And So
Sometimes the best decision is not to make the throw and cede the lead. Neither Gomes nor Breslow was thinking about the probability that he would succeed on his individual throw (and necessary catch, and tag). Neither was evaluating the reward of a successful throw versus the cost of an unsuccessful event. Neither was thinking about the much greater possibility of something going wrong. But maybe they should have.

Sometimes, the road to immortality (in a baseball sense) is for a player to best recognize his own limitations and learn to say no. Or just be Carlos Beltran and hit .339/.448/.714 (!) over 10 series in a post-season career.

Oh, We’re Still Talking About Errors

e6I was watching the international feed of the World Series last night, with Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe. In the second inning I believe, after Pete Kozma dropped Shane Victorino’s ground ball, Thorne and Sutcliffe grew exasperated with the Cardinals’ defense, which was not good.

And then Thorne said, (I’m paraphrasing, because I did not have my recorder going): “What’s surprising is that the Cardinals were very good defensively in the regular season, they were tied for the National League lead with fewest errors – 75.”

This is true, but silly. First, and most importantly, cumulative errors are a bad way to measure team defense. Second, the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, both of whom committed 75 errors in 2013 both committed the fourth-most errors in the game overall: the Yankees (69), Rays (59) and Orioles (54) all committed fewer. So even by Thorne’s own preferred metric, the Cardinals were not close to the best in baseball at avoiding errors.

A much more accurate measure of team defense is Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency, which simply measures the frequency at which a team’s defense turns batted balls into outs in which St. Louis was 21st in baseball at .703. Boston was 17th at .706. Going a step further, adjusting for context, Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, rates the Cardinals even worse, at -0.94, 26th in baseball. Boston is 24th.

Other advanced metrics tell a similar story. By team wide UZR, the Cardinals at -42.9 were 27th in baseball.  The Sox were 10th.

By Defensive Runs Saved per 1,200 innings, the Cardinals were 26th (-3). The Sox were 15th.

The outlier is Total Zone, where per 1,200 innings, the Cardinals were league average (0 – 16th in baseball). The Sox were 12th.

The metrics disagree about Kozma specifically. By UZR/150, he was 24th among MLB SS at +8. By Total Zone, he was fourth-best in baseball at 11 runs above average. BIS‘ +/- puts him fifth among MLB SS.

The part that bothers me is that Thorne’s line gets the story all wrong. The Cardinals were, by most full accounting systems, a poor defensive team, at best league average according to total zone. They mostly caught the balls they could reach, but their teamwide range was not strong. Thus, they committed relatively few errors while not being a strong defensive outfit. The Cardinals has strengths – they had one of the top offenses in the national league, an ace in Adam Wainwright, a young pitcher throwing like an ace in Michael Wacha, a bullpen that throws really really hard – but defense was just not one of them.

According to Thorne, it was. And that’s wrong and misleading to our future baseball-loving friends around the globe.