July 27, 2016

Domestic violence and the forgiveness of athletes

by Daniel Conmy

This is a topic that does not get talked about often enough in sports circles. There's probably a rationalization by fans to not talk about domestic violence, but it needs to be in the forefront of conversation. Why? Because we are much more than just fans of a game that has a ball thrown around or hit out of a park. We, as consumer of sport, are much more than our fandom and the players are much more than entertainers.

I cannot stress enough that I have never been in a situation where domestic violence has directly affected me. These opinions are my own and they do not represent any one else's view. I do not have all the information on all the incidents I have or will preface, but what I will look into is the reaction from fans and teams. With that said, let's talk about the issues with athletes and domestic violence.

Aroldis Chapman, was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight shots in her general vicinity. Later, no criminal charges were filed. Chapman was suspended by Major League Baseball for 30 games for this incident. From the baseball side of things, Chapman's value was lowered given the suspension, but this is much more than a case of value being lower.

Chapman threw a scoreless, hitless inning for the Chicago Cubs in his first appearance for his new team. Everyone was standing and cheering as they saw the radar light up with numbers above 100. It was a spectacle for baseball fans. No one else consistently throws over 100 mph. Kids were locked in, the crowd reacted with a collective gasp when he hit over 100 on the radar gun. They cheered and the Cubs won the game after the 1-2-3 inning. The fans, who haven't seen a World Series since 1908, went into applause because their team won another game, putting them closer to a playoff spot. In the middle of that was a man who was recently accused of domestic violence.

While I've thought about this at length in discussions with friends, it was never something I thought I could speak on with fervor, but discussion, of any kind, is what is going to make this change. What sparked this internal, and now external, discussion of this topic was highlighted with a tweet by Katie Nolan:

The response is not necessary to look into. What is important is what Nolan states. We look past domestic violence disputes. The amount of times I have seen people calling these females horrific names, stating that this is a "money grab" is atrocious. And we, as a society, have the audacity to put these figures back into the public eye without even bringing it up. Recently, more sports writers are tackling the issues of domestic violence, which is a long awaited step that needed to happen since the start of sports journalism. That's all well and good, but Chapman was suspended for 30 games and then he gets to be back on top of his world. That is not fair or correct. Some can make an argument where the legal system did its diligence and found that nothing happened. You can agree with that sentiment or you can look at the power dynamics in these cases.

It is well known that having a good lawyer or lawyers can get you a better deal or acquitted of any wrongdoing. They are powerful people because of their money and if they get in trouble, they have the financial capability to wiggle around any true punishment. What Chapman did was wrong there's no doubt, but some can argue that it never passed the "alleged" phase, so let's look at a more concrete case of domestic violence.

Jose Reyes, once member of the Colorado Rockies, was arrested in the offseason when Reyes had a physical altercation with his wife. Reyes was suspended until May 31, the equivalent of 52 games. The Rockies made a wise decision and designated him for assignment, although they are on the hook for his $40 million left on his contract. It was a tough pill to swallow, but Colorado was an upstanding organization in this aspect of not tolerating that behavior from its players. The issue? Reyes signed with the big league team he came up with, the New York Mets. Over time, Reyes was back into playing shape and up in the big leagues. This man received a standing ovation. Yes, the fans of the Metropolitans applauded a man who beat his wife in the offseason came back in a time where they "needed" a shortstop like him. That's not to say other fans were upset and booed him, but the fact is this man is playing baseball again with no repercussions other than a slightly damaged public image. 

I hear often that these players "did their time" or they "deserve a second chance," but you can make the argument they do not deserve another chance. Depending on the severity of the violence, the accused can serve no jail time or up to four years of jail time. While I am not proposing that Chapman and Reyes deserved jail time, forfeiting of salary for the allotted amount of games suspended seems weak. 

Unfortunately, as a society, we are not as strict on athletes as we should be. There is a superiority complex that we instill. These athletes are larger than life. Some, like members of the Baylor football team, get help from those higher up to cover up some behavior that could get members of their team jailed for a long time. This is a culture issue in the United States. We do not properly teach these people, who are obviously very talented in some aspect, how to respect another human being. We create monsters that do not think that they can be touched because of their fame and money. It runs rampant on college campuses and most most members of these institutions look the other way because the person being accused might be making that school millions upon millions of dollars. We must be better. We cannot stand for letting those people get off for crimes that severely damage another physically or emotionally or both.

Major League Baseball did what they could, giving Reyes the largest suspension possible given the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Player's Association. The fact is, these organizations are a business and they see the valuable asset that performs on the field, but sometimes do not think about the off field issues. What can be done by Major League Baseball organizations is a collective effort to not sign these players. The issue in the present day is your competitor might not have the same morals as you, and they not get a small PR hit, but the benefit of an all-star closer by overlooking the domestic violence incident. Major League Baseball is ahead of the National Football League with their handling of domestic violence, but it is not enough.

Athletes are sometimes immune to the consequences of the dreadful acts they commit. Some get cheered for the rest of their life. The domestic violence gets wiped to the side, the rape accusation gets silenced because an institution pays off the accuser. People point that it is a money grab, but you or I can never project on these victims. It is not our place to say what a victim is feeling or thinking. Be respectful of those in that situation and think before you start cheering for someone with a cloudy past just because they are on your favorite team.

Please, let's change and uphold everyone to a higher standard. 

July 25, 2016

Cubs acquire Chapman, future is still bright

by Daniel Conmy

Chicago saw a World Series victory in 2005, but that was on the South Side. This time around, the Cubs are going all in for the World Series. Tonight, the Chicago Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman in a blockbuster deal close to the deadline. Sure, the price was steep, but the Cubs are in a precarious position.

As everyone knows, the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Some call it the curse of the Bill Goat. Others still blame Bartman for something that wasn't his fault. Nevertheless, the Cubs know sadness and they might be on the verge of ending that sadness with the fantastic team Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer put together.

The Cubs are trading off future value since Gleyber Torres is the marquee prospect in the trade, but the Cubs time to win is now. Torres, is playing high-A ball in the Carolina League and the major league club has a wealth of infield ability. Along with Torres, the Cubs departed with Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, and a fourth player to be named later. Chicago's one weakness could lie within the middle relief, but they shifted that thinking after acquiring Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners for Dan Vogelbach. To add to the bullpen depth, they have two shutdown closers with Hector Rondon and Chapman.

There's always been concern with the value from a midseason rental, but this move is not for the rest of the season. Given that the Cubs are likely going to keep pace to make it into the playoffs, this is for the playoffs where you can deploy your best relievers with more frequency, The extra days off for travel benefit the elite bullpens, just look at the Royals bullpen last year. The game is becoming an affair between bullpens and it's a wise decision to build up the best one for the playoffs. For example, Chapman threw 4.3 percent of the innings for the Cincinnati Reds in the 2013 season. That would be a foolish investment for the Cubs if he is only throwing that often in the postseason. Given Joe Maddon's forward thinking approach, that probably won't appear as an issue in the postseason.

Beyond Chapman's innings, this is a unique situation for a baseball team. If the Cubs won a World Series in the last few years, many would be calling this trade an overpay, and it still likely is. We have to throw all of that out the window when it comes to the Cubs. They are in a position to end the worst drought in all of American major sports. Taking a chance on one of the best, if not the best, reliever in the game is a no-brainer. Also, this one move does not damage the long term health of the major league roster.

Their farm system is a little weaker after the trade, but prospects have recently been overrated to an extreme. Everyone is looking for the next Mike Trout, but that likely won't exist for a while. To add to that, Chicago has a young, cheap, and controllable core. Yes, Jake Arrieta is up for arbitration starting next year and Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist all signed healthy offseason contracts, not to mention Jason Heyward. The point being is, Kris Bryant is a young superstar that is filled with other young talent up the middle of the field. No, I did not forget about the all-star at first base in Anthony Rizzo. This is not an overpay for a longshot chance to make the playoffs and blow it up after this year. The Cubs have staying power for the next couple of years and management decided that most important value to receive is present value.

To add on, the price of relievers has gone up astronomically in the past seasons and it start with Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles this offseason. Make no mistake, the price is steep, but the team to unload prospects is the Cubs.

People will always argue whether or not something is an overpayment,  but if the Cubs win the World Series, no one can argue with the trading of future value.

July 23, 2016

We are watching vintage Votto

by Daniel Conmy

Joey Votto is my favorite player. There's no way I can be impartial with that fact. I rave every day and night when he walks. Many roll their eyes when I say this, but the walk is something so fascinating to me. The value that it can add to the slash line is immense. Walks can only help you in the game of baseball and very few have mastered it like Joey Votto has. What makes Votto so special, though? It's his ability to control the strikezone and force pitchers to make his pitch. Last week, Corinne Landrey wrote at FanGraphs about Joey Votto and the effect of a bad April. Here, we will look at Votto's month to month differences and commentary from other media members.

Before we get into the more stark analysis, Votto is a character in the game of baseball. Some might remember this:

I apologize for the poor .gif quality, but this is Votto facing off against Derek Lowe. Votto through this whole at-bat did not move his feet. This was an incredible plate appearance, which, of course, ended in a walk. Lowe being the usual fast worker was perplexed by Votto's tactics, but later on in the full video, you can visibly see Lowe take his time on the mound. 

We cannot forget the other side of Votto that can be a little angry:

Votto did have a very good argument stemming from a bad strike call. Nonetheless, we have a fun Joey Votto and an angry Joey Votto above us. Some can question what that means, but no one can question Votto's unique ability in the game of baseball. The Cincinnati Reds first basemen can hit homeruns, choke up throughout whole at-bats, and seemingly create a walk out of thin air.

Votto is also a human who had some tough bouts with depression. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com covered this story in 2009:
"The 25-year-old Votto revealed publicly that he was battling depression, anxiety attacks and issues that finally came to the surface several months after the sudden death of his 52-year-old father, Joseph, in August."
Death is something as humans we all have to deal with, but dealing with it on a very public stage is something that cannot be easy. Teammates are relying on you and you simply cannot be your best for those that are counting on you.

Votto obviously stuck around the game and is crushing it in this very season and it might be because of his idol, Ted Williams. Joe Posnaski of Sportsworld caught up with Votto in more recent years to talk about his hitting approach. In a previous interview with Reds reporter, Hal McCoy, Votto was very excited to have Ted Williams brought up:
"Only then McCoy mentioned how Votto’s hitting approach reminded him of Ted Williams, and Votto’s face lit up. He reached into his bag and pulled out a dog-eared copy of Williams’ classic, “The Science of Hitting.” He carried the book with him wherever he went and memorized entire sections. Votto said that when he was growing up, he had a Ted Williams poster on his wall."
Now that's a fandom. Votto studied one of the best hitters in the game of baseball. He worshiped the Red Sox star and now he's turned himself into a star in Cincinanti, but some fans of the Reds do not appreciate the patient approach. Votto does not let those followers phase him:
"Votto has analyzed the numbers as thoroughly as any hitter in the game, focusing much of his attention on Weighted Runs Created. He has endured injuries and depression and boos and criticism of the very way he plays the game. Through it all, he has continued to work obsessively hard and hit his own way."
It's time to stop romanticizing Votto, but I think you get the point. Votto is a human, with human emotions, that is possibly the best student of hitting we've ever seen. The fascination he has about the game of baseball has rubbed off on plenty of people, including the author of this piece.

Given the long intro, lets now look at how Votto is currently running a 136 wRC+, including yesterday's performance.

In the month of April, Votto was bad. The type of bad where media members write you off and believe you are in your decline phase bad. Votto was running a 66 wRC+ in the month of April and was only walking in 12.2 percent of plate appearances (well below his average, but above league average) and striking out more often than his usual career 19 percent. Then, like most people that have a bad month of April, Votto got better.

In the month of May, Votto was already better than league average with a 113 wRC+. This is only in the month of May, so the sample size is small, but we saw remarkable improvement from the month of April. There was an issue with Votto in April. He was striking out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. To counteract that, Votto hit the ball out of the park nine times. This might please some of those who despise his patient approach, but Votto was still running a .200/.333/.484 slash line for the month of May.

In June, we already reached vintage Votto. Votto ran a 171 wRC+ due to his 20.7 percent walk rate. Yes, Votto did damage with his bat and not looking at pitches throughout the month, but Votto, with his ability to foul off close to every pitch was finally paying off in his season.

In the smallest sample size, July 1 to July 20, Votto posted a 207 wRC+. You guessed it, more walks and the occasional power that seeps into his game, but that is not his strength.

That brings us to July 22. On that day, Votto went 1-3 with a home run and two walks. The home run made it to the highlight reels, but what sticks out in my mind is his two walks.

His first walk of the night is a classic case where a pitcher not wanting any part of Votto:

Four pitches, low and away, to a dangerous hitter. It should be noted that Zac Curtis, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, walked Jay Bruce after this, too. Curtis was probably hoping for Votto to chase one of those pitches and get a swinging strike to expand Votto's zone. This walk is probably not the expertise of Votto, but it is a walk nonetheless. And I hate to break it to the reader, but Votto was then intentionally walked in his next plate appearance. 

One of the more impressive things that Votto does is the amount of pitches he sees per plate appearance.

Last night, Votto hit a home run on the second pitch he saw. He then worked an eight pitch line out and a seven pitch flyout. That's 17 pitches in three at bats, which averages out to 5.67 per plate appearance. In 2015, Votto was third best in pitches per plate appearance

What I am getting to is that Votto is one of the more difficult outs in the game. Yes, he will strikeout once every five times he goes up to bat, but it is a grueling process most of the time. Votto has some incredible ability to frustrate opposing pitchers, opposing fans, and even Reds fans. This student of the game is finally back on top of his game and  he continues to keep his amazing approach that he obtained from Teddy Ballgame.

July 19, 2016

Jarrod Dyson did it

by Daniel Conmy

That's right. Jarrod Dyson, outfielder for the Kansas City Royals hit a home run. Not just any home run though. This one was of the four RBI category. Yes, we are talking about the grand slam or, if Papa Johns had it their way, the Papa Slam®. The incessant advertising seen on MLB Network is not the prime focus. Instead we will focus the improbable, and almost impossible stroke from Dyson. 

Before we break down the grand slam in all of its glory, let's look at the Dyson. Dyson is one of very few players that was drafted in the 50th round and made it to the big leagues. In fact, he is the only player other than Travis Tartamella to play in the big leagues from the 50th round of the 2006 draft. Tartamella only played in three games, so it's somewhat a wash to note he made it to the big leagues. What I am saying is that no one really comes out of the later rounds, except for Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft among very few others. We are talking about people that do not have long storied careers, but Dyson has made it and continues to stick around in his seventh season. What's his trick? Well, Dyson is incredibly fast and was used as a fourth outfielder for most of his years in the Major Leagues. This year, Dyson has been employed in the outfield more often playing in 63 games. And yesterday we witnessed this:

Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is five foot 10 inch 165 lbs Jarrod Dyson hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning in a one-run game. Yes, even your wildest fantasies cannot predict such an outcome, just look at Salvador Perez. Perez cannot contain his excitement in full catcher gear. I don't blame him given the sheer improbability of this hit. This is something he will be telling his kids about. 

Per Statcast, Dyson hit that ball 100 mph at a launch angle of 30 degrees and it traveled a distance of 384 ft. The best launch angles to hit a home run are 25-30 degrees. The crazy thing? This is Dyson's seventh home run of his whole career. In 1388 plate appearances (PA), Dyson has muscled up seven times. That's roughly a home run every 198 PA. To give you some perspective, Barry Bonds hit a home run every 16.5 times he stepped up to the plate. 

This also was in a game where Corey Kluber shut the Royals down for seven innings. Then the Royals jumped on the bullpen for a seven run eighth inning that was capped off by this rare launch off the bat from Dyson. While predicting baseball is becoming more precise, it is always enjoyable to see something unpredictable happen. I think we all look forward to Dyson stepping up to the plate 198 PA from now to give us another home run.

July 15, 2016

Houston pulls the ball

by Daniel Conmy

A couple days ago, I looked into Colby Rasmus, the league's most extreme hitter. Rasmus is a member of the Houston Astros and they are a fascinating team. The Astros have stormed back into the AL West race and stormed into a playoff push for the second half. They were picked by many projection systems as the winners of the AL West and they possibly can do that after a very sluggish start to their season. So, what has led to their success? It's likely scoring more runs than the other teams more often than not, but that's not the type of analysis we are going to do today. Instead, we are just going to look at how much they pull the ball.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, is a very interesting park given they have a high wall in left field that is very close to the field, giving right-handed hitters who pull the ball a short porch. Balls go to die given that Tal's hill is a very long way from home plate. With that in mind, let's look at how much players pull the ball.

Name Pull% Cent% Oppo%
Colby Rasmus 55.1% 26.7% 18.2%
Evan Gattis 50.6% 32.4% 17.1%
Marwin Gonzalez 48.5% 30.0% 21.5%
Luis Valbuena 48.4% 27.7% 23.9%
Carlos Gomez 47.0% 29.3% 23.8%
Jose Altuve 43.9% 36.1% 19.9%
Jake Marisnick 42.7% 30.3% 27.0%
Tyler White 41.8% 35.3% 23.0%
George Springer 41.3% 37.5% 21.2%
Carlos Correa 38.5% 33.2% 28.3%
Jason Castro 38.3% 37.4% 24.4%

These are batters on Houston with at least 100 plate appearances on the year. What we see is a lot of high pull rates. This is usually the norm when it comes to batters. It is easier to pull the ball, but the Astros lead the next team by 1.7 percent. As a team, the Astros pull the ball 44.7 percent of the time when they make contact in the field of play. That's great and all, but does this strategy work? You can argue any strategy works if you perfect it. Within this case and the case with the major leagues, pulling the ball is beneficial when those balls are in the the air. If they are in the air, then there is a chance that the ball goes over the fence. This is where the Astros struggle a little too much. Houston hits the ball in the air 34.4 percent of the time which is 13th best in the MLB. In the last 30 days, the Astros have pulled the ball 47.8 percent of the time, but even less in the air than the 2016 average.

This is not to propose that if they continue to pull the ball even more, they will have more success. This is more a note about the aspects of their field and the players they've decided to scout and bring to their team. Also of note, not all of these hitters are right-handed and, therefore, do not get the same advantages of a short porch on pulled balls. Dustin Pedroia has made a living peppering balls off the Green Monster and Wade Boggs did before him (albeit Boggs was a Hall of Fame player and a left-hander) it would be foolish if the Astros did not take advantage of their home field. After all, they play 81 games a season there.

Dombrowski punts future value for necessary asset

by Daniel Conmy

Drew Pomeranz was traded for minor leaguer Anderson Espinoza in a one-for-one deal between the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox. This deal essentially kicks off trade season, although Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, made two smaller deals prior to this huge deal.

If this same trade happened before this year, then members of the Red Sox fanbase would be calling for Dombrowski's head, but Pomeranz is a new pitcher. He added a new pitch that essentially puts him back into the starter category. Pomeranz has flourished as a starter this year given his new arsenal, but is he worth a top 20 prospect?

This is not a question that will get answered shortly because Espinoza is an 18-year old pitcher that was pitching for the Greenville Drive in A ball. This is a simple supply and demand function if we want to look at this economically.

The Red Sox were in dire need, and quite possibly still are in dire need, of starting pitching, The market is very thin this year when it comes to quality starting pitching on the trade block. Dave Cameron even recommended that Boston attempts to acquire Jonathan Lucroy to play in that offense where he would obviously flourish. The need was there for an offensive catcher given that the Red Sox catchers have been anemic up to this point. Anyway, since the market was not large, you have to give up more future value then you would like because the demand is high and the supply is sparse.

Another interesting facet to this deal is Pomeranz is very cheap and controllable, thus giving A.J. Preller, San Diego Padres General Manager, more power within the discussion. This is not a rental player for half a season, this is a player that will be a part of the Red Sox until he becomes a free agent in 2019. That is beneficial for the Red Sox, but also a risk.

So, Boston may not exactly be punting all future value because we have no idea what Espinoza will turn into, but Pomeranz has question marks even with his new repertoire. Pomeranz has already thrown more innings this year than he has in his past season in the Major Leagues. Dombrowski clearly is making a decision based on his ability to stay healthy, as well as his repertoire.

As I write this I start to nod my head more and more about this deal. There is too much risk, right? Pomeranz can easily get hurt and break down? Is Dombrowski putting too much faith in just half a season of data? That last question is something we can dive into a little bit in a hypothetical sense.

Let's say I am supposed to take the trash out to the curb every Sunday night, but I forget seven out of nine times. The next time I remember, my roommates are impressed that I remembered to do this chore. I tell them that I will remember from now on because my memory has increased and, therefore, I can remember more things, like taking out the trash. My roommates scoff at this idea and do not believe this change. Why do they not believe me? Well it's probably because they have seen the awful track record laid before them. One Sunday of remembering isn't going to change that.

Dave Dombrowski is believing in that one Sunday and the change in memory. The example could always be better, but Dombrowski sees the benefit of half a season of new data. I definitely say new because Pomeranz did not have a cutter, which he is throwing now. The scouting report is thrown out and Pomeranz is mowing hitters down.

This is not the first Dombrowski trade that has seen valuable minor leaguers traded for a very good major leaguer. In that case, Dombrowski, then General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, traded for Miguel Cabrera. This is not the same type of  magnitude obviously, but Cameron Maybin did not pan out in that trade and Andrew Miller reinvented himself into one of the best bullpen arms who might get traded this trade season. With that said, the Tigers 'won' that trade.

Dave Dombrowski continues to show a willingness to do whatever it takes to stay competitive. While some analytics members of the baseball community might be critical of this decision, Dombrowski is betting on a half-season of great baseball and he could reap the benefits. Espinoza could never pan out into a good pitcher, we just do not know. It is not wise to pin someone as a 'winner' or 'loser' until seven years or so down the road. While we can speculate about the trade, we cannot make any conclusive decisions. The Red Sox are in win-now mode while A.J. Preller and the Padres can take their time to develop their players given their roster.

July 14, 2016

Colby Rasmus is extreme

by Daniel Conmy

When I think extreme, I think of those people jumping off of mountains in those flying suit things.
(Courtesy of Industry Tap)
Yup, that's it. That is something that many people would label as an intense activity. Will I ever do it? Probably not because I don't have a desire to go very fast and possibly die by not properly flying this confusing invention of mankind. What I would do if I had the chance is be an extreme hitter in the Major Leagues.

Unfortunately for some, I will not be indulging into the extraordinary aspect of wing suit flight. For others, that's probably a good thing because I have no formal understanding of these suits. Instead, we will be talking about a Houston Astros outfielder and his extreme tendencies on the baseball field.

I'm sure you could have figured out the individual that this article is written about by simply reading the title line. Colby Rasmus is our subject and he does something more than any other baseball player this year. That is pulling the ball. 

Rasmus pulls the ball 55.1 percent of the time he makes contact on a ball in play. That is an absurd amount of pulled balls. So, lets see his spray chart.

Obviously a big thank you to the FanGraphs spray chart. Rasmus pulls the ball a lot and he makes a lot of outs on the ground and this is a huge problem given his past ability to put the ball in the air. Let's look at this years spray chart compared to what he has done in his past seasons.

Season LD% GB% FB%
2009 19.6% 34.7% 45.7%
2010 19.4% 32.0% 48.6%
2011 16.5% 35.8% 47.7%
2012 20.1% 37.6% 42.2%
2013 22.0% 33.0% 45.0%
2014 23.3% 34.2% 42.5%
2015 20.0% 28.4% 51.6%
2016 24.4% 36.7% 38.9%

From the data, we see a considerable increase in groundballs from last year to this year. The grounball percentage is actually quite close to his averages in the six years prior, but Rasmus was able to pull the ball in the air last year more than he has ever done. Since that was the case, Rasmus hit 25 home runs, a career high, and was worth a modest 2.5 WAR given his ability to launch the ball into the seats and play good defense. This year, we are seeing Rasmus' worst season in terms of putting the ball in the air, 

While Rasmus is not a liability and is a very short investment given that he accepted the qualifying offer, there is always the reason to want more. It might be that 2015 was more of an anomaly and not something that can be replicated. 

The Houston Astros have a positive asset in Rasmus who is pulling the ball more than ever, but he is doing it on the ground at the highest rate in his career. If Rasmus can put some air under the ball again, like in 2015, he can set himself up for a modest payday on the open market next year.

July 13, 2016

The Replacement Teams

by Daniel Conmy

Last night, the American League (AL) All-Stars defeated the National League (NL) All-Stars, 4-2. The American League representative will receive home-field advantage in the World Series happening in October. That's all well and good, but let's get to the real game: The Replacement Game.

The Replacement Game is comprised of 32 players that have accumulated negative WAR values halfway through the season. There is only one participant that does not have a negative value to their team and we will get to him shortly, but first, a primer.

These two teams, National League and American League, are comprised of at least one member from each organization, like the All-Star game that takes place every summer. There will always be snubs, so feel free to discuss my mistakes and make a point to add your own players. I used the FanGraphs player leaderboard to field two of the worst teams that we could possibly see this season. Some members were past All-Stars, but now they are a part of a truly woeful group. Each representative will have a fun fact (or not so fun for some) about their uninspiring play of the first half. 

Before we get to the names, I must note that this is all for fun. These players are professional athletes and, therefore, have much more talent on a baseball field than yours truly. This is a fun exercise to see who has truly been pitiful for half a season. Some might continue that trend in the second half and some might be able to turn it around. Now, let's look at the American League batters.

American League Batters

Name Team Position wRC+ WAR
Chris Coghlan Oakland Athletics 3B 29 -1.5
Yan Gomes Cleveland Indians C 31 -0.5
Ryan Goins Toronto Blue Jays 2B 32 -0.6
Jake Marisnick Houston Astros OF 36 -0.8
Mark Teixeira New York Yankees 1B 57 -1.2
Alcides Escobar Kansas City Royals SS 60 -0.5
Prince Fielder Texas Rangers DH 65 -1.6
Avisail Garcia Chicago White Sox OF 70 -0.6
Justin Upton Detroit Tigers OF 75 -0.6

Chris Coghlan, former NL rookie of the year, already is an interesting name because he is now on the Chicago Cubs. I am going to stick with him on the Athletics because that is where most of his negative value comes from. This season is quite a shock because Coghlan posted a combined 5.7 WAR in the past two seasons. This season, Coghlan has walked a little less, but his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to 28.6 percent from 18.7 percent in 2015. 

Yan Gomes is one of very few members of the MLB to come from Brazil. Unfortunately for this Brazilian star, the success did not come after signing a six-year/$23 million deal to stay with the Cleveland Indians. Gomes was a fantastic pitch framer in 2014, but even that part of his game has deteriorated over the last two seasons. 

Ryan Goins is a perfect defensive replacement, but he joins this illustrious lineup as a regular. Goins has increased his fly ball percentage, which usually means more success, but he's punted his line drives for the added air under the ball. It certainly doesn't help that his average fly ball only travels 196 feet, which is below the league average of 213 feet.

Jake Marisnick has a wonderful arm and is part of a Houston Astros outfield that throws the ball historically hard. Sadly, that's the only thing that is going well for the outfielder. Marisnick is hitting more fly balls which usually leads to more home runs, but only 2.7 percent of his fly balls have made it over the fence this year. Marisnick is a potential candidate for a better second half if he gets the playing time on the playoff hopeful Astros.

Mark Teixeria is broken. That certainly isn't his fault given his amazing career as a wonderful defender at first base and one of the best switch hitters in baseball history. This next statement is truly the first fun fact of this whole thing. Teixeria is the fifth switch hitter in history to hit at least 400 home runs. That is a truly incredible accolade when you realize who comprises that group.

Alcides Escobar swings at the first pitch often. We are talking an obscene amount of times. Despite his historic playoff run last year, this shortstop only holds values with his glove. Escobar was a part of the package that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Prince Fielder is certainly the largest man on this list and he comes in sporting diminished numbers. We are talking about a player that once hit 50 home runs, but with his unfortunate neck injuries he has not returned to form that we so often saw on the Brewers.

Avisail Garcia was constantly referred to as the "mini-Miguel Cabrera" earlier in his career. What similarities they may have in their swings, it absolutely ends there. Garcia hits more than half of the balls on the ground. For a power hitter, he certainly needs to reverse this trend this year if he wants to be a productive member of a fading Chicago White Sox.

Justin Upton signed a six-year/$132.8 million in the offseason and is easily the worst performer on this list given his contract. In what world would Melvin Upton Jr. be the better of the brothers? I certainly didn't believe that would be the case, but here we are. Justin Upton is striking out at the highest rate of his career and is making soft contact more often than in years past.

That ends the Replacement Game batters for the AL. Now, let's move onto the pitchers for this team.

American League Pitchers

Name Team ERA FIP xFIP
Chris Young Kansas City Royals 6.79 7.98 5.19
Steve Geltz Tampa Bay Rays 6.75 9.03 5.55
Clay Bucholz Boston Red Sox 5.91 6.05 5.54
Kevin Jepsen Minnesota Twins 6.16 5.88 5.33
Darren O'Day Baltimore Orioles 3.15 5.43 3.86
Joel Peralta Seattle Mariners 5.40 5.58 4.20
Jered Weaver Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5.27 5.61 5.62

Chris Young is a special player because of his height and the spin rate on his fastball. He does not overpower hitters with a fastball in the high 90's, rather he enjoys pitching in the mid 80's high in the zone. While in past years we saw success that bewildered many, we are finally seeing him come back down to earth. 26 percent of the fly balls that Young gives up leave the park. That is just incredible given that he is a fly ball pitcher. 2006 was the only year that Young gave up more home runs with 28, but he already has given up 26 (!) home runs this year.

Steve Geltz is certainly a relief pitcher and that's the most of my knowledge about him. The unfortunate part about these teams is you will find the occasional reliever you've never heard of and I think we are at that point. Geltz was optioned to Durham, the Rays AAA affiliate on June 24. Geltz is small in stature at 5'10" and was signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Matt Shoemaker, member of the Angels, also signed an amateur free agent deal and he has gone on to become one of the more intriguing pitchers with his extreme use of his splitter

Clay Bucholz has been given plenty of opportunities in a disappointing Red Sox starting rotation. Bucholz holds a 5.91 K/9 and a 4.13 BB/9. You would love to see the K/9 right around nine and the BB/9 statistic under two, but if he had those numbers, he would have no place on the replacement team being sculpted before your very eyes. 

Kevin Jepsen was released right before the All-Star break and he epitomizes what it's like for most relievers. A couple good years, a bad year here and there, then released. Jepsen was victim to a .350 BABIP this year, which is .039 points from his average of .311. 

Darren O'Day is the person I had to pick from the Orioles. Realistically, Baltimore was the hardest team to pick a player from given their lack of awfulness. Joey Rickard could be chosen after cooling down from a torrid start. Alas, O'Day was chosen as tribute from a highly competitive Orioles club. The ERA isn't awful, but FIP, which focuses on what the pitcher can control does not like the submarine pitcher. This is a case where O'Day constantly outperforms his peripherals given his distinct pitcher style. Nonetheless, O'Day is worth -0.2 WAR to the Orioles. Not bad for a first-place team.

Joel Peralta, like Chris Coghlan, is now a member of the Chicago Cubs. In this exercise, he is representing the Pacific Northwest and the Seattle Mariners. At 40 years old, Peralta is the oldest member of the Replacement Team.

Jered Weaver threw a Maddux this year. A Maddux is a complete game shutout where the pitcher throws less than 100 pitches. This is incredible given the fact that Jered Weaver literally has a lower velocity on his fastball than some players have on their curveball. Weaver is certainly one of the most ridiculous pitchers of the year and yet he is still pitching innings, albeit on a team that is wasting the best years of Mike Trout's career.

Whew, that's done with. What a ride looking at some of the worst players in the American League. Shall we do it again for the National League? Let's.

National League Batters

Name Team Position wRC+ WAR
Jordan Pacheco Cincinnati Reds 3B -9 -0.6
A.J. Pierzynski Atlanta Braves C 22 -1.2
Carl Crawford Los Angeles Dodgers OF 25 -0.8
Erick Aybar Atlanta Braves 2B 37 -1.6
Ryan Howard Philadelphia Phillies DH 43 -1.6
Ramon Flores Milwaukee Brewers OF 50 -0.7
Alexei Ramirez San Diego Padres SS 59 -1.9
Chris Johnson Miami Marlins 1B 59 -0.6
Gerardo Parra Colorado Rockies OF 62 -0.6
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Nationals 1B 78 -0.5

I must confess that this list was more difficult than the American League list because of the lack of parity in the National League. By many metrics that you sort by, you usually see the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies at the bottom. Many more members of those teams could be on this team, but we had to cut most of them out because of the restraints for this hypothetical team. Onto the members of this team.

Jordan Pacheco is a baseball player for the Reds that are located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pacheco has only appeared in 31 games this year, but has managed a negative value at the plate. That's certainly newsworthy. Pacheco is the third-worst batter with at least 50 plate appearances, ahead of Erik Kratz and Johnny Cueto.

A.J. Pierzynski is a journeyman catcher that will likely be calling it quits after this abysmal campaign. That's not to say he did not have success in his long career starting in 1998. Pierzynski is a World Series champion and that's more than I can say about my baseball career. A third place medal would have been a success for me, but I digress.

Carl Crawford is always a player I feel bad for. I know he's made more money than I will ever see in my life, but you have to feel for a guy that possibly can get injured by just getting out of bed for the day. Crawford was a superstar in 2010 where he posted a 7.7 WAR, which I'm sure he longs for everyday as he rides the pine on the most expensive team in baseball.

Erick Aybar is the second Atlanta player on this list. I tried to keep it to one per team, but Atlanta is just that bad this year. Just two years ago, Aybar put up a 4.3 WAR. Now, with moot defensive value and negative offensive ability, the Braves can deploy him as the "veteran" on a dumpster fire that will be moved to Cobb County next year.

Ryan Howard should be released. I know this is getting harsher and harsher as this moves on, but Howard had his run. A player who hit 58 home runs in his first full season absolutely has value, but once those home runs dip under 30, then the value dwindles until the immobile first basemen is being platooned. Howard always had strikeout issues and his player profile is certainly getting washed out of the game quickly.

Ramon Flores is 24 years old playing in his first full season of the big leagues. Sometimes we expect negative value from a player who is getting a chance for experience. The Brewers brought in David Stearns in the offseason as their General Manager and enacted a rebuilding of the team. When that is the case, younger players get a chance to perform and seize a spot moving forward. For Flores, that spot is slipping away from him in his future.

Alexei Ramirez has played in way too many games this year. Appearing in all but one of the Padres 89 games, Ramirez accrued the most negative WAR on the team. In past years, Ramirez was an asset defensively, but given his age, shortstop is certainly not for him anymore. 

Chris Johnson is that one-hit wonder band. You always think back to other songs (seasons) and really remember why they were a one-hit wonder. In this case, it was 165 hits in 2013 that was the wonder. Johnson strikes out 30 percent of the time and only walks five percent of the time, which is not a good combination when you do not hit over 30 home runs.

Gerardo Parra has walked four times in 249 plate appearances. If I never swung the bat in 249 plate appearances, I guarantee that I would get more than four walks. You have to try to not walk and Parra has almost perfected this ability, which is one I do not recommend. 

Ryan Zimmerman was in the news after being awful after Bryce Harper was walked. Not much has changed in the scope of his whole season, which has seen him be 22 percent worse than the average hitter this year. Zimmerman was a part of a travelball team that consisted of himself, Melvin Upton Jr., Justin Upton, and David Wright. Quite the lineup to work against.

National League Pitchers

Name Team ERA FIP xFIP
Josh Osich San Francisco Giants 4.15 5.91 4.51
Adam Warren Chicago Cubs 5.79 5.93 5.26
Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals 5.40 4.18 3.94
Shelby Miller Arizona Diamondbacks 7.14 5.69 5.19
Logan Verrett New York Mets 4.34 5.44 5.07
Jon Niese Pittsburgh Pirates 5.13 5.49 4.39

Home stretch. I may get nasty when it comes to Shelby Miller, but if you've gotten this far then I must applaud you reading this questionable list from an author that is just trying to have some fun. Anyway, let us finish up with the National League pitching staff.

Josh Osich is the unfortunate member from a very good San Francisco Giants team. Osich, a left-handed specialist, is not a very good member from the previously mentioned good team. With this only being his second year in the big leagues, we are seeing the volatility of relievers. Osich was very good last year, posting an ERA- of 61. With decreased control, Osich has become a member that is a  LOOGY. We can confirm that's the case because Osich has 43 appearances and has only pitched 26 innings.

Adam Warren was very good as a reliever on the New York Yankees. Now, Warren is giving up more fly balls which has led to seven home runs in 32.2 innings pitched. The Cubs haven't been great this past month, but they have very little to worry about as Warren will likely regress to the mean. To argue against the previous point, relievers are random and Warren could very easily be past his prime. I am very indecisive.

Trevor Rosenthal is fascinating. He is the only member that is not worth negative WAR on this list. He comes in with a perfect zero in the WAR category. What else is fascinating with Rosenthal is his ability to walk batters and strike batters out. Rosenthal strikes out 28.4 percent of the batters he faces, but he walks 15.5 percent of the batters he faces. Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, recently took away the closer role from the flamethrower. I fear for Rosenthal given his absurd walk rate. It only reminds me of once dominant reliever, Daniel Bard, who could never make it back from his battle with walks. 

Shelby Miller is not worth Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair. This is not Miller's fault. This is the work of the Arizona Diamondback General Manager, Dave Stewart. Once a great pitcher of the Oakland Athletics, Stewart continues to make a mockery of the General Manager position. Selling off assets that could arguably help you win now for an 'ace' is mind-boggling. And what did Stewart receive? Stewart received a laughably bad pitcher in Shelby Miller who is trying to right the ship to an atrocious first half of the season. The ERA is worse than the FIP, so you can argue that he will regress, but the FIP is still above five. One of the untapped aspects of baseball is the psychological side and Miller is possibly feeling the affects of what we call pressure. The Diamondbacks literally sold the farm for a bonafide ace and, instead, they received a pitcher who was never considered a bonafide ace.

Logan Verrett is a spot starter for the New York Mets. He certainly isn't the worst pitcher on this list and he has a role that no one envies. Verrett's hard contact rate has gone up by 8.9 percent from 2015. Along with that stat, Verrett has missed less bats. When you adds those together, you get a higher ERA and FIP. Verrett is a long reliever and he's making the league minimum on a fun, young Mets team that has a chance to make the playoffs. Not a bad experience to tell your kids.

Jon Niese was a good fifth starter option for four or five years, but those years are over. There is some unlucky aspects to Niese's game, like his home run rate. Niese is giving up a home run on 22.7 percent of fly balls, which is far above his average of 12.1 percent in his career. 

That wraps a rather long experiment looking at the worst baseball players in the game in the first half. Would you like to watch this game if it did take place? Would this game be offensive? Defensive? Would we see more balls drop because of the poor defense at premier positions? These are all wonderful questions that I will not explore at this time, but thank you for you patience on a rather dreadful subject, the Replacement Teams.