Friday, November 25, 2005

Put A Sock In It
By Ben Valentine

For a holiday week, it seems as though baseball was pretty active. Maybe everyone wanted to get their dealing in before they had their turkey. Of course the Marlins appeared to be in the giving mood, a week before the Christmas season officially started. Yesterday they and the Red Sox finalized the Josh Beckett deal, in which the Sox receive the talented but injury prone righty along with Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota for prospects Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia. Needless to say this is a pretty big deal for the Red Sox and just another sign the Marlins are intent on challenging the Royals for baseball’s worst team in 2006.

The trade itself is not a slam dunk however, as many people have been saying. It’s the classic case of potential talent vs. actual production. Beckett has always had a great arm and is always on the verge of a “break out” season. But he’s also never gone 200 innings. If it’s not his recurrent blister problems, it’s some other minor injury that sidelines him for two or three starts (Last year, it was shoulder tendonitis). Make no mistake, he’s still light years more productive than David Wells, Matt Clement and probably even Curt Schilling at this point; but it’s hard to pencil him in as a sure thing.

But did the Red Sox give up a lot here? Ramirez and Sanchez are both considered to be top of the line the prospects. What do the numbers say?

Ramirez: 2004: High A: 239 AB, .310/.364/.389/753, 1 Hr, 8 Dbls, 12 SB, 7 CS

AA: 129 AB, .310/.360/.512/872, 5 Hrs, 7 Dbls, 12 SB, 3 CS

2005: AA: 465 AB, .271/.335/.385/720, 6 Hrs, 21 Dbls, 26 SB, 13 CS

Ramirez has received a lot of hype this season and was mentioned in a number of rumors at the trade deadline. The Sox seemed reluctant to part with him then, but might have been more willing to after his disappointing AA season. Still at just 21, he’s got upside, though I certainly wouldn’t call his 720 OPS a sure thing. Just as a quick comparison, look at another speed/ no power SS, Jose Reyes for the Mets at the same levels, both in 2002 when Reyes was 19:

High A: 288 AB, .288/.353/.462/815 6 Hr, 10 Dbls, 31 SB, 10 CS

AA: 275 AB, .287/.331/.425/756, 2 Hr, 16 Dbls, 27 SB, 11 CS

Reyes was a year younger than Ramirez and posted better numbers overall. He even hit for more power, outside of Ramirez’s little surge after his promotion from AA. And while Reyes is a competent major leaguer at this point, there are certainly legitimate questions as to whether he will be able to develop beyond that. How can one expect Ramirez to be better in 2006? The Marlins would be foolish to start Ramirez at short for them next year. It’s doubtful he could be anything offensively for them. Thus when you add it up, the Red Sox parting with Ramirez is not a huge deal. So what about Sanchez?

AA: 57.1 IP, 3-5, 3.45 ERA, 64 K, 16 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 9.89 K/9, 4.00 K/BB

That was after posting a 10.87 K/9 in the Carolina league earlier in the year while also pitching to a .98 WHIP. At just 21, he looks like the real deal, though of course he still hasn’t completed a full season of AA. He could be on the fast track to the majors, and potentially could have helped the Red Sox rotation in 2006. Meanwhile, neither Delgado or Garcia hasn’t pitched above the South Atlantic League, so it’s anyone’s guess what they could be in the future.

As for Beckett; the righty is still just 25. Technically, he should continue to improve. Last year he threw the most innings of his career, 178.2, and started the most games, 29. Over the last three years both of those numbers have increased, suggesting his injury problems might be becoming a thing of the past. But of course with injuries one never knows.

Mike Lowell I don’t consider to be much of a factor here. He was terrible last season and at the age of 31, doesn’t figure to return to his 30 home run days. Could he hit 20 at Fenway? I suppose; but with his contract, I’d figure the Sox could find someone who could out produce him for less. Wait, don’t they already have Kevin Youkilis? As for Mota, relievers are an inconsistent mess. By the way, this is why Paul DePodesta had no qualms trading him Dodger fans. Mota could be good, he could be terrible, he could be injured. That’s a middle reliever for you. If they were consistent, they’d be closers.

Overall, the Red Sox on the surface gave up a lot of value here. My first take on the trade was that they gave up too much. But outside of Sanchez, there is not a player in this deal who I particularly think too highly of. Perhaps the Red Sox could have gotten more if they had packaged Sanchez and Ramirez elsewhere, but at this point it is neither here nor there. Beckett’s injury problems aside, if the trade basically comes down to Sanchez for Beckett, it’s one the Red Sox had to make.

However, there is one issue I would say the Red Sox mishandled. They apparently did not bring Beckett in for a physical and according to a Boston Globe story, threatened to call of the deal if the Marlins didn’t include Mota. One might say it was shrewd negotiating. I’d say if you’re giving up two of your top prospects, and two of baseball’s best, you better bring the kid in for a physical. What happens if his shoulder tendonitis turns into something more? If the price of a physical was not receiving Mota, then don’t waste your time with a middle reliever. Beckett’s health is far more important.

But that’s just my two cents. That and slightly used baseball cap might just get you your very own Florida Marlin. I hear they make great holiday gifts. But hurry! They’re going faster than the X-Box 360.

15 Comments:

Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben, the most important issue with Beckett, other than the durability, is his home/away split:

2.47/4.31 in 2005

3.14/3.83 for his career

That's a 3.83 away split in National League ballparks. Put him in the American League, with half of his starts coming at Fenway, and I'm thinking his ERA will wind up in the 4.00-4.30 range. Factor in the durability issues and the Lowell contract, and, though I won't pretend to forget the 2003 postseason, this move is hardly devestating from the Yankees' perspective. Here's hoping George doesn't overreact.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Devastating. Don't mind me.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Good points with the road and away splits. His WHIP was higher on the road (1.32 vs. 1.04), because he allowed more hits. Opponents batted .205 against him in Florida and .261 against him on the road. That has something to do with the ball park, but could also have to do with luck and defense. I don't have the stats in front of me, but the Marlins were supposedly a pretty bad defensive team last year. However, his K/9 (8.70 vs. 8.00)and K/BB (2.84 vs. 2.89)basically remained constant road and away. When you look at that, you have to figure at least some of those extra hits were bad luck.

Factor in Beckett is still just 25. As I said, his best years production wise should be still ahead of him. So, if he stays healthy, I don't see why, with his peripherals, a high 3.00's ERA isn't possible. That's a big if, I know. However, I would still take Beckett for 170 innings in 2006 over anyone on the Red Sox and Yankee starting staffs. That in itself should get the Yankees worried.

6:35 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

If Lowell plays 3B, Youkilis will play 1B, but it could well be the other way around. I think a solid move would be to let Lowell, Youk, and Nomar (signed to a one year deal) battle it out for the corner infield jobs with the odd man out (probably Lowell) taking the "bat off the bench" and "plays when Papi sits against Unit/Johan" role.

7:49 PM  
Blogger dolphinfan said...

I’m a Beckett fan but the thing that has to be a concern is the blister he gets on his finger during the season. Usually when that occurs it becomes recurring and it will cause him to miss starts.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

You're right. The Red Sox gave up a lot. However, Beckett wasn't going to come in cheap and now with Mota, the Red Sox strengthen up their pitching. Lowell's 31 so he may step up next year and provide something to Boston. All and all... a good deal for both sides.

2:03 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Dave,

Lowell is the classic case of a player's numbers being eye-openingly correlative with the stricter limitations on steroids. I really believe he'll be an eighteen million dollar waste of space, unless he pulls a Giambi and, uhh, "does it the natural way." Yeah.

Also, the only way the Sox possibly look at Nomar is if a Manny deal is completed; even then, I think they'd rather spend money on outfielders. They still have that all-important void at center field. I suppose Nomar is a distant possibility, but I think he'll wind up in Los Angeles.

They're crazy if Youkilis doesn't get 350 AB's this year.

Ben,

I'll take a full season of Johnson or Schilling next year over Beckett. Of course, it's impossible to determine when age will really set in for these guys (Johnson finished the season having finally put it all together, so I can't attribute a mildly disappointing year to age alone). Obviously, I'd rather have Beckett on the team for the long-term ramifications.

Then again, I also think you're dead-wrong in your assessment of Wang, who I think could be just effective as Beckett (and to finish off the comparison, he's got his own serious injury problems!) in the future.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Dolphinfan,

I certainly agree that it ought to be a concern, but you can also take the opposite approach, arguing that Beckett's arm hasn't been overworked at a young age.

The best example of this is Al Leiter, who struggled with blisters so much that the Yankees just gave up on him. He couldn't overcome his difficulties with them until Age 27, but perhaps this led to his inordinately long career, saving him valuable innings.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan- Judging by what the pitchers did last year and their age coming into this year, Beckett would still be my choice. I don't think you can rely on Schilling or Johnson for 200 innings anymore.

Wang as effective as Beckett? In what realtity? I repeat, Wang's 2005 numbers:

8-5, 4.02 ERA, 116.1 IP, 1.25 WHIP, 3.64 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 1.46 K/BB, .70 Hr/9

Beckett's 2005 numbers: 15-8, 179.2 IP, 1.18 WHIP, 8.36 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, 2.86 K/BB, .70 Hr/9

Beckett threw more innings, struck out nearly five batters more per nine, and had a much better K/BB ratio. He's also a year younger than Wang and threw more innings last year, despite the injuries. Not to mention Wang in the minors has never had a year that compared to Beckett what Beckett has done in the majors!

A 3.64 K/9 isn't a formula for success, especially when you're walking 2.40 batters a game. Wang will be lucky to post an ERA around 5.00 this year. The guy is terrible. His 2005 season was much like Aaron Small, incredibly lucky.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Hoo-boy, you took my bait and came out swinging. Beautiful. This is what it's all about. Perhaps we should dedicate separate columns to this issue, about which you're sure to be fiery, but for now, let's leave it here.

First of all, let's set the record straight. Wang and Beckett were almost equally effective last season, in every aspect that matters. Beckett's ERA+ was 119. Wang's ERA+ was 111. Advantage Beckett, but not by much. What's more, this was Wang's rookie season.

Beckett threw more innings, but we can attribute the majority of this difference to the fact that Wang spent his first month in the minors. Beckett was more valuable last year, but that doesn't change my main thesis, which is that Wang was by no means a fluke.

Peripherals are always important, but we're not getting the full picture by looking at Wang's baserunners, walks, and strikeouts. The most important statistic you've overlooked is that Wang had the fourth highest GB/FB ratio last season, which in general leads to fewer runs allowed. What's more, Wang posted these impressive numbers with a below-average infield defense behind him.

I've seen Wang pitch, and I've seen Small pitch. Small will get torched and will be lucky if his ERA is below 5.50 next season. Wang is the real thing. Look at Kevin Brown, who throws almost the exact same stuff. In his first full season, he had 107 K's and 70 BB's. His WHIP was almost identical to Wang's, as well. You would have said the exact same thing about Brown, who threw the exact same stuff as Wang throws, and you would have been dead wrong. From watching the kid for a full season, I'm telling you that going on his K/BB and K/9 alone is the wrong approach. He's the real thing.

Hopefully, though, only the middle of his career resembles that of Kevin Brown, and not the latter portion...

8:23 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

First Bryan, a high GB/FB doesn't necessarily lead to fewer runs allowed. It does if you've got a good infield defense (the Yankees is decent at best) and strike guys out (which Wang doesn't). Secondly Bryan, you're deceiving yourself (and our readers) with a few of your statements. First, while this may have been Wang's first year, he's actually older than Beckett. He's already 25, which means we shouldn't expect a significant improvement over his performance this year. Also, when you compared his rookie season to Kevin Brown's you didn't mention that Wang was 25 and Brown was 19. That might make a bit of a difference.

While I agree that Small is an almost guaranteed bust next year, I see little reason to believe Wang will be more than a back-of-the-rotation guy. I know you're a Yankee fan, and I know you're happy to see a guy in the rotation who's on the good side of 30 years old, but come on Koch...

9:50 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Zach,

I have no idea as to what you're talking about. Kevin Brown was 24 in his rookie season. That's pretty close to 25, and pretty far from 19. I hope our readers aren't feeling too deceived on that one-year gap in age.

As for development, Ben writes in this same thread that Beckett, also 25, has his best years ahead of him. Most of the releveant analysts seem to think that pitchers reach their peak at some point between ages 27 and 31. Factor in that Wang has thrown only ~600 innings in the last six years, and I expect plenty of development. By the way, Brown didn't reach his peak until 31.

Also, to restate:

Kevin Brown, Age 24: 119 ERA+, 1.49 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP

Wang, Age 25: 111 ERA+, 1.47 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP

I'd say that those seasons are remarkably similar. The strikeouts came later on for Brown. I expect they will for Wang, as well. I don't expect him to reach anything like Brown's peak, but I think he will be a very reliable starter for years to come.

Finally, on the GB/FB issue, I've been searching for resources and as of yet haven't found anything conclusive in either direction. I will say that the top 10 GB/FB ratios in the major leagues last year, outside of Wang, resulted in the following ERA+ statistics (75 IP minimum):

Brandon Webb 124
Felix Hernandez 162
Derek Lowe 113
Jake Westbrook 91
Tim Hudson 125
Mark Mulder 117
Kirk Sarloos 108
Roy Halladay 184
DJ Karrasco 90
AJ Burnett 117

Considerably above average, on the whole. It's only a correlation, and an incomplete one, at that, but it certainly doesn't hurt my case. Still, more research is required to resolve this issue.

Finally, I have plenty of criticism for the Yankees. Refuting the argument by pointing to my fanship is the cheap way out.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

First off Bryan, I apologize. I saw that Brown made his MLB debut in 1986 (when he was 21, not sure why I thought 19) but barely played until he was 24. I suppose I should have looked closer. And as for attacking your fandom, don't take it personally. I routinely overestimate players on my team, as do most of us.

But the problem with your argument is that you're picking the one guy (Brown) who defied the odds and overcame a very mediocre start to his career to become truly dominant (at least for a few years). Does that mean Wang won't manage that? Of course not, but when you look at his Similarity Scores, it's not a pretty list.

#1 Oyster Burns (992)
#2 Andy Replogle (990)
#3 Ben Harris (989)
#4 John McCarty (988)
#5 Billy Gumbert (988)
#6 Edgar McNabb (987)
#7 Tom Carroll (986)
#8 Tex Covington (984)
#9 Bob Gilks (984)
#10 Emil Frisk (984)

Part of that might be because Wang still has a small sample size in the big leagues. I won't go through all his minor league stats, but the truth is, he had good but not great numbers in AA/AAA. What does that mean? Not everything, but the fact remains that he's much, much, much, much, much more likely to be a mediocre MLB pitcher than a Kevin Brown-type.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan, those guys you list for the most part all have much better peripherals than Wang. I'm only listing the K/9 here, with their 2005 first and career second:

Webb- 6.76 (7.40)
Lowe- 5.92(5.89)
Westbrook- 5.08(4.85)
Hudson- 5.39 (6.37)
Mulder- 4.87 (5.80)
Halladay- 6.86 (6.53)
Burnett- 8.53 (7.94)

Those guys are the veterans, who have more than one year worth of starts to look at. All posted better K/9 than Wang by at least one batter per nine, and the bottom guy on that list, Mark Mulder, I think very poorly of. In their careers only Jake Westbrook posted a K/9 below 4.00 for a season, in his rookie year when it was 3.92. In other words, Wang might have posted similar GB/FB ratios, but he still relied on his defense more than anyone else. That involves luck. With the Yankees below average defense, odds are his ERA will rise substantially next season.

Now for the guys who have had basically one year worth of starts. First, the real deal:

Hernandez- 8.22

And the pretenders:

Carrasco- 3.85
Sarloos- 2.99

I didn't even want to insult Felix Hernandez by putting him with those other two. If you want to compare Wang to DJ Carrasco and Kirk "I walk more people than I strike out" Saarloos, then go right ahead. But that just lends to my argument Wang will be a fifth starter at best next year.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben,

By no means did I mean to compare Wang to any of those pitchers. I was only looking for some sort of evidence from which we could determine the value of a pitcher with a higher GB/FB tendency. I'm still searching all the usual websites for analysis on the issue, as obviously the list I posted proves very little.

Brown was a bit of an exception, obviously, but the reason I think his case is so relevant, aside from the statistical similarities, is that the two guys have the exact same repetoire. They have the same motion, the same pitch selection, just about the same velocity. Baseball Reference is only going on raw numbers, as far as I can tell.

Again, I don't think Wang will ever pitch as well as Kevin Brown did in his prime. However, I don't expect his ERA to balloon over 4.50 next season.

Random question, does anyone know if the ERA+ statistic factors in level of competition?

7:04 AM  

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