Joe Kelly vs. Carlos Martinez

Leading up to Spring Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, there was plenty of articles written about the incredible Starting Pitching depth the Cardinals. They had 7 legitimate options for the rotation, and it wasn’t a stretch to say 8. While there was always going to be competition in the rotation, Jaime Garcia’s injury opens up a much more focused competition for the Cardinals’ 5th rotation spot. The four locks for the rotation are Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. While another pitcher could join the discussion, the battle for the final spot is essentially between Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez. There really is no clear favorite, as Kelly is the incumbent, but Martinez carries much greater upside. The pitcher that fails to capture the 5th slot in the rotation will likely serve as a late-inning reliever for the Cardinals, which may influence the Cardinals’ decision.

Based off Joe Kelly’s impressive performance last season it would be easy to assume he is the favorite to be the 5th starter; however, his advanced metrics do not support his traditional statistics. While Kelly pitched to a 10-5 record with a 2.69 ERA, he had a FIP of 4.01 and an unsustainable 82.4 Left on Base % (LOB%). Joe Kelly also possesses a power sinker in the mid-90s, a plus change-up and solid-average curveball. Despite this power repertoire, Kelly has never struck out many batters, as he has a career K/9 of just 6.00. This is not overly concerning, but does leave Kelly vulnerable to high variability in performance, since he is so heavily dependent upon his defense. I have, to this point, only pointed out Kelly’s weaknesses in order tamper expectations, but in reality, Kelly is a very talented starter. Kelly is a very strong groundball pitcher (career 51.4%), which has helped him limit his Hr/9 (career .78). To this point in his career, Kelly has done a great job of limiting runs, which is all that is really important. In 2013, Kelly allowed just 3.05 runs per 9 innings. The Cardinals certainly know the concerns with Kelly, but they are also aware of his upside. While Kelly is likely to serve as a late-inning option for the Cardinals if he is not named their 5th starter, he has not been as effective as a reliever. In an admittedly small sample of just 37 innings in 2013, Kelly carried a 3.65 ERA and an opponent’s slash line of .284/.342/.435 as a reliever.

Now looking at Carlos Martinez, it is clear that Martinez is the Starter with much more upside, as he can consistently reach triple digits and strike out nearly 9 batters per 9 innings. In a tiny sample of 28 1/3 innings at the Big League level last year, Martinez pitched to a 5.08 ERA, but a much better 3.08 FIP. Most of those innings came in relief, as he made just one start in the Majors, but he was still very impressive. While Martinez’s ERA was high, he was hurt by a high BABIP of .345 and a low LOB% of just 64.9%. Despite carrying substantial upside, Martinez has never thrown more than 108 IP in a professional season, which raises concerns about his ability to handle a starter’s workload for a full season. Also, unlike Kelly, Martinez is likely to thrive in a late-inning relief role, as he carried a 2.33 FIP in 23 2/3 IP as a reliever. If the two pitchers have similar evaluations at the end of Spring Training, then I believe Martinez will be relegated to the bullpen where he can thrive and further develop as an MLB pitcher.

While it may seem that Kelly is the front-runner to be the Cardinals’ 5th starter, it is clear that each starter has plenty of positives and negatives. Kelly’s negative traits largely revolve around regression to the mean in many areas, such as LOB% and ERA. Whereas Martinez’s positives are very similar to his negatives, as there are many questions about how well he will do as a starter full-time. It is always nice to dream on a player’s potential and stuff, he must also prove he can be effective in his role and Martinez has not yet done that. This will be a fun competition to watch in Spring Training. I believe Kelly will come out of Spring Training as the Cardinals’ 5th starter because he has proven he can perform as a starter, but also because he is not as strong a fit for the bullpen. If Martinez is not named the 5th starter, he can still be a lights out reliever, whereas, Kelly may not be as effective in such a role.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 5 Organizations

This is a list of the top 5 organizations in baseball. The teams and order were determined by the organization’s overall success and how economically they got there.

1) St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are easily the best organization in baseball. They are a model of consistency, as they have made 10 playoff appearances since 2000, including four World Series appearances and two World Series Championships. The Cardinals have been able to have such prolonged success due to their ability to develop their own talent. They have never been constrained by a large contract eating up too much of their salary, and even let Albert Pujols walk rather than commit too much money to one player. 2013 was an excellent example of this club’s ability to develop its own talent, especially pitchers. In 2013, the Redbirds turned to 12 rookie pitchers, who threw a combined 553 2/3 innings with a 3.17 ERA. The organization’s commitment to build through the draft, rather than Free Agency, has contributed to its sustained success and ranking as the top organization in baseball.

2) Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have appeared in the Postseason 7 times since 2000. More importantly, they have reached the World Series three times in that span, culminating in three World Series Championships. While the Red Sox have quite a financial advantage over other organizations, the Red Sox have still built up their core through the draft. They have developed their own stars, like Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox Farm System is still stocked with talent, including Xander Bogaerts, Henry Owens and Allen Webster. Like the Cardinals, the Red Sox are often able to fill holes with internal candidates, such as Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over for Jacoby Ellsbury. While the Red Sox have had their share of bad contracts, especially Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 Million deal, they are able to survive such poor decisions. In the case of Crawford, the Red Sox pulled off a miracle trade to the Dodgers to dump his salary and still acquire talent in return. As long as the Red Sox continue to focus on developing their own talent, they will hold their position as one of the top organizations in baseball.

3) Tampa Bay Rays

Ever since Stuart Sternberg took over as owner of the Rays in 2006, they have been one of the best-run organizations in baseball. Operating with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, the Rays quickly turned it around under new ownership, as they reach the playoffs and World Series for the first time in the organization’s history in 2008. Since 2008, the Rays have had 5 seasons of at least 90 wins in 6 total seasons. Their success, despite being located in one of the smallest markets of any MLB team, can be attributed to their shrewd personnel decisions and reliance on young Major Leaguers under team control. The Rays have not drafted particularly well, since 2007 when they landed David Price and Matt Moore. Despite little success in recent drafts, the Rays have acquired young, controllable talent by trading veteran players, who were nearing Free Agency. The two best examples of this strategy are when the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs and landed Chris Archer, among others, and when the Rays traded James Shields for Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. Their ability to remain competitive, despite being located in one of the smallest markets in baseball, earns them the designation as one of the top organizations in baseball.

 4) San Francisco Giants

The Giants are not exactly a model of consistency, as they’ve only made the Postseason 5 times since 2000, but they have reached the World Series three times in that span, including two Championships since 2010. The Giants have not made the Postseason in consecutive seasons since 2002-2003. However, despite their inconsistencies, the Giants should certainly be commended for their success in the amateur draft. Through the draft, they have built a strong core of talent, including Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner. They have also had a lot of success by acquiring many failed prospects, such as Ryan Vogelsong, Joaquin Arias and Angel Pagan. In order to remain among the top organizations in baseball, the Giants must continue to be successful through the draft and avoid bad contracts like the one they gave to Barry Zito.

5) Oakland Athletics

The A’s are best known as the first team to fully embrace advanced metrics, but also as an organization that has not had much success once it reaches the Postseason. Since 2000, the A’s have reached the Postseason seven times; yet have only reached the ALCS just once. After a five-year period between 2007-2011, in which the A’s never reached the Postseason, the A’s have now reached the playoffs for two straight seasons. Much of their recent success has been due to some incredibly savvy trades. This is exemplified by the fact that the Athletics initially acquired 23 of all 44 players that appeared in a game for them last season via trade. The Athletics have never had an advantage financially, as they have always been located among the bottom 3rd of teams in payroll and player in one of the smallest markets in baseball. This fact has forced the Athletics to search for cheap talent through the waiver wire. Also, like the Rays, they have had to trade more expensive players nearing Free Agency in order to supplant their roster with younger and cheaper talent. With one of the best Front Offices in baseball, the A’s seem poised for sustained success

Anthony Cacchione

Off-Season Grades

The off-season is certainly still going on, especially with names such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales still available on the open market. However, teams have now reported to Spring Training for Pitchers and Catchers, so it is time to hand out off-season grades. 

AL East

Baltimore Orioles – D

The Orioles have not addressed major areas of concern, especially the Starting Rotation and Bullpen. They have also failed to extend key players, such as Chris Davis and Matt Wieters. They have been involved in many rumors, but have yet to make any significant additions.

Boston Red Sox – B

They did not need to upgrade in many areas, but they still lost two key players – Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They have signed A.J. Pierzynski to serve as their starting Catcher and Edward Mujica as their primary Set-up man. They are still betting big on Jackie Bradley Jr. to be their Centerfielder.

New York Yankees – B+

In order to have any chance of contending in 2014, the Yankees needed an off-season like this. They signed Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Brian Roberts and Masahiro Tanaka. They still have holes in the infield, and they have also not done anything to combat their aging roster.

Tampa Bay Rays – B+

Their best decision of the off-season was not trading ace David Price. They also addressed the few needs they had going into the off-season by trading for Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell and signing Grant Balfour.

Toronto Blue Jays – C+

The Blue Jays seem to be waiting for the top Free Agents’ prices to drop. They still need to improve their Starting Rotation, but their lineup and bullpen are still very strong.

 

AL Central

Chicago White Sox – A

The White Sox committed to a full rebuild this offseason. They acquired 22-year-old Matt Davidson and 25-year-old Adam Eaton. The White Sox will not be a competitive team in 2014, but they needed an off-season like this to begin their rebuild.

Cleveland Indians – B-

The Indians gave a reasonable two-year deal to a bounce-back candidate David Murphy to play Rightfield. They also chose to replace non-tender Chris Perez with another bounce-back candidate John Axford to serve as their closer. Even if these two acquisitions succeed, the Indians still have too much uncertainty in their rotation.

Detroit Tigers – C+

The big moves by the Tigers this offseason weakened their 2014 roster, but have given them a better chance at retaining Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera. The Fielder deal for Kinsler made sense, as they needed a 2nd baseman and it cleared payroll. However, trading Doug Fister for a utility infielder, 5th starter and low-level pitching prospect did not make sense even to clear payroll.

Kansas City Royals – B-

The Royals made two good moves in trading for Nori Aoki and signing Omar Infante. However, giving Jason Vargas  a 4-year contract is puzzling especially when he is not much better than Bruce Chen, who they just signed for 1-year. Even with Vargas, the Royals have serious questions in their rotation.

Minnesota Twins – B

The Twins made two surprising moves by signing two Starting Pitchers to multi-year deals, despite being in the midst of a serious rebuild. The Twins are unlikely to be competitive this season, but by improving their rotation, the Twins could be ready by 2015.

 

AL West

Houston Astros – B

The Astros’ biggest move was to trade for Centerfielder Dexter Fowler. They also spent $30 million to land Scott Feldman to anchor their rotation for the next three years. The Astros are just waiting for their elite Farm System to graduate to the Big Leagues.

Los Angeles Angels – B+

They pulled off two key trades to improve two substantial areas of need. They may have overpaid for David Freese, but he is an upgrade at 3rd base. They made out very well in the three-team trade that saw them trade Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks for Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago to contribute in their rotation.

Oakland Athletics – B+

The A’s have had a very busy offseason, as they have pulled off 4 significant trades, including a surprising trade for Jim Johnson to serve as their closer. They did not have any glaring needs heading into the offseason, but still made several important moves that serve to add plenty of depth to their roster. They traded from an area of depth to acquire Luke Gregerson to improve their bullpen. They also landed Jim Johnson for failed prospect, Jemile Weeks.

Seattle Mariners – B

The Mariners certainly made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract. However, the Mariners have not adequately strengthened their roster this offseason. Signing Corey Hart and trading for Logan Morrison seemed redundant and a risky bet, as both are injury prone and lack versatility. They also strengthened their bullpen by signing Fernando Rodney to a 2-year deal.

Texas Rangers – B+

The Rangers acquired Prince Fielder to take over at 1st base and cleared a starting spot for Jurickson Profar at the same time. They also signed Shin-Soo Choo to a 7-year, $130 million dollar contract. One area of concern is in the rotation where they have constantly dealt with injuries, the latest victim was Derek Holland, who was slated at their #2 starter.

 

NL East

Atlanta Braves – B-

The Braves lost a few key players, such as Brian McCann, Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson. They have been relatively quiet this off-season, minus the extensions they signed with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. The Braves won 96 games in 2013 and are relying heavily on improvements from their young core, something that did not work out too well for the Nationals in 2013.

Miami Marlins – B

The Marlins biggest move this off-season was signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but other than that the Marlins have not made any significant acquisitions. Their focus has been on bringing in veteran players that can improve their clubhouse, which explains their signings of Rafael Furcal and Garret Jones.

New York Mets – B+

The Mets have had a very busy off-season, seemingly setting them up to contend in 2015, when Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery. They strengthened their rotation with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. Bartolo Colon should also improve their rotation.

Philadelphia Phillies – B-

The Phillies’ roster continues to get older and they have done little to combat this. Signing 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to a 2-year deal and 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz to a 3-year deal did not help them get younger. They should be somewhat competitive this year, but are unlikely to reach the postseason. They have at least chosen to commit to trying to win this season by signing A.J. Burnett.

Washington Nationals – A

Unlike last off-season, the Nationals tried to improve their roster, rather than standing pat. They were the team to pull off the biggest steal of the off-season when they acquired Doug Fister from the Tigers. They improved their rotation and bullpen, but had little other needs that needed to be addressed.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs – C+

The Cubs had a very quiet off-season, except for the Tanaka rumors. In the midst of a rebuild, the Cubs had little additions they could make, especially since they sold off many of their trade chips during the season.

Cincinnati Reds – C

The Reds have had a very quiet off-season, which would have been fine if they didn’t lose as many key contributors. They lost Bronson Arroyo to Free Agency, but believe they have the internal options to replace him. Their biggest loss was Shin-Soo Choo, who provided a .423 OBP in 2013. They plan to turn to Billy Hamilton to fill the void in Centerfield; however, Hamilton had just a .308 OBP in Triple-A.

Milwaukee Brewers – B

The Brewers took a wise course in waiting out the Free Agent market and then were able to land Matt Garza at a reasonable rate without sacrificing a draft pick. They also picked up LHP Will Smith by trading Nori Aoki, which also served to open an Outfield position for Khris Davis, who impressed them in a short stint last season.

Pittsburgh Pirates – C+

Like many teams in the NL Central, the Pirates have had a very quiet offseason. They signed Edison Volquez and hope he will be this year’s Francisco Liriano. Their biggest mistake of the off-season was not offering A.J. Burnett a Qualifying Offer, as they will not receive a draft pick now that he has signed with the Phillies.  They may still acquire someone, but thus far they have not addressed a glaring need at first base.

St. Louis Cardinals – A

The Cardinals addressed their holes swiftly this off-season, beginning with their trade of David Freese for Peter Bourjos. The most significant move was when they signed Jhonny Peralta to a 4-year, $52 Million deal, just two days later. Shortstop has long been an area of concern for the Cardinals. Finally, they signed Mark Ellis as insurance if Kolten Wong struggles.

 

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks – B

The Diamondbacks addressed a major area of weakness – power- by acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels, but did give up Tyler Skaggs. They also traded 3rd base prospect Matt Davidson for Addison Reed to serve as their closer. Finally, they signed Bronson Arroyo to a 2-year deal worth $23.5 Million.

Colorado Rockies – B+

The Rockies had a very eventful off-season to say the least. They pulled off 4 significant trades: acquiring Jordan Lyles, Brandon Barnes, Brett Anderson, Franklin Morales and Drew Stubbs and trading Dexter Fowler, Drew Pomeranz, Jonathon Herrera and Josh Outman. The Rockies also landed Justin Morneau and Boone Logan via Free Agency.

Los Angeles Dodgers – A

They have the most expensive bullpen in baseball, but it is likely to be worth it, as they signed Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and J.P Howell to substantial deals this off-season. Their best move of the off-season was extending Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers also brought in Paul Maholm in a low risk deal to provide insurance to their rotation if Josh Beckett is not healthy.

San Diego Padres – B+

The Padres seem to be attempting to contend this season, as they brought in Josh Johnson on a 1-year low-risk deal. They also landed Joaguin Benoit to a 2-year, $15.5 Million deal. Prior to doling out $15.5 Million to Benoit, the Padres traded Luke Gregerson, who has completed three straight seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA, for Seth Smith, who fits best as part of a platoon.

San Francisco Giants – B

The Giants kicked off their off-season early, when they re-signed Tim Lincecum to a 2-year, $40.5 Million on October 25th. They continued to strengthen their rotation by signing Tim Hudson and then improving their Left Field situation by signing Michael Morse.

Anthony Cacchione

Ervin Santana vs. Ubaldo Jimenez

While Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez certainly have their similarities, they each have different risks and benefits associated with them. They have often been connected throughout the offseason, as they have similar price tags and each is connected to draft pick compensation. They have also been linked this offseason because each is coming off an impressive season following a very bad season, and overall inconsistencies in their careers. However, the two pitchers are not incredibly similar, as one profiles more as a durable innings eater and the other carries more upside.

The 31-year-old Ervin Santana provides many more innings than Ubaldo Jimenez, as he has eclipsed the 200-inning plateau three times in the past four seasons. Santana, however, has often outperformed his peripherals, especially this past season. In 2013, Santana posted his career-best 3.24 ERA, but his FIP was 3.93, which suggests some regression in 2014. Even looking back at the past 5 seasons, Santana has had a FIP under 4.00 just once. It may seem as if he has the ability to outperform his peripherals consistently, but during that same span his ERA surpassed 5.00 during two seasons most recently in 2012. As I mentioned above, Santana’s best quality is his ability to go deep into starts consistently throughout the season. Santana is also a tremendous strike-thrower, as he walked just 2.18 batters per 9 innings, which is an improvement upon his still impressive 2.81 BB/9 for his career. Santana is also an effective groundball generator, as his groundball rate has been above 43% for the past three seasons. The real knock on Santana has been his inconsistencies throughout his career, with 3 seasons of an ERA above 5.00 and just 4 seasons of an ERA under 3.00 during his 9-year career. While Santana’s ERA was the best of his career, in 2013, his other metrics were not much better than his career norms, which suggests he hasn’t necessarily figured anything out.

The 30-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez, unlike Santana, has a reputation for struggling to go deep into games. He has not thrown 200 innings in a season since 2010 and has only done it twice in his 8-year career. His struggles to last deep into games are likely related to his high K/9 and very high BB/9. Both strikeouts and walks drive a pitcher’s pitch count up and he has never had a BB/9 lower than 3.50. As I stated above, Jimenez carries more upside with him, as his career K/9 is a full strikeout per 9 higher than Santana, but Jimenez’s peripherals are also better than his ERA. Jimenez has a career 3.78 FIP, compared to his 3.92 ERA. During his time with the Rockies, Jimenez was an outstanding groundball pitcher, but since moving to the Indians, his GB% has slipped to 38.4% in 2012 and 43.9% in 2013. Despite pitching in hitter-friendly Coors Field for the majority of his career, Jimenez’s Hr/9 has been better than Santana’s in every season of his career. Compared to Santana, who has had a FIP under 4.00 just once in the past five seasons, Jimenez has had a FIP under 4.00 four of the last five seasons. Jimenez’s only truly bad season, in terms of FIP, was 2012 when his FIP ballooned to 5.06 and his ERA climbed to 5.40. While being able to go deep into starts is pivotal in being a reliable and consistent starter, Jimenez certainly carries the highest upside and actually most consistent performance between the two starters. Jimenez has also proven that he can pitch in a high run scoring environment, such as Coors Field. Santana, however, has pitched the majority of his career in a pitcher friendly park at Angels Stadium of Anaheim for every season except one.

Looking into the numbers, it is clear that Ervin Santana is the best bet of the two starters to reach 200 innings. It is also evident that Ubaldo Jimenez has the greatest potential to provide above average production inning per inning. Neither starter is an ace or likely to become one and each comes with legitimate questions. However, in terms of which starter is better, it really depends on what a team is looking for. If they want a starter that can provide 200+ innings season after season, then Santana is by far the better option. If the team is seeking a starter that can consistently provide an ERA around or below 3.50, then Jimenez is the better option. Since each starter has a similar price tag, it is really a question of which type of starter the team is looking for. Personally, I prefer Jimenez to Santana because he has provided more consistent numbers across the board and has only had one truly bad season.

Anthony Cacchione