Is Matt Holliday’s run of Consistency Over?

Ever since Matt Holliday came into the league in 2004, he has been a model of consistency. His WAR increased after each of his first two seasons before peaking at 7.2 WAR in his fourth MLB season. Since reaching 7.2 WAR, Holliday has yet to fall below 4.5 WAR. While Holliday has yet to experience any significant declines in production, he has seen a few areas of his game begin to decline, especially in his power production. For a 34-year-old player, this is not incredibly surprising, but as a power hitter, it is a little concerning. With Holliday heading into his age-34 season, it is important to question whether he is still the model of consistency that he has been since reaching the MLB. For the 2014 campaign, the ZiPS Projection System sees Holliday declining a career high 1.4 wins all the way down to 3.1 WAR. This is still a very respectable total, but it is a quick drop for such a steady performer and could indicate further drops in production.

As I mentioned above, Holliday’s power production has been on a steady decline. His SLG% has declined for 3 straight seasons and settled in at .490 in 2013, which is his lowest SLG% since his rookie campaign in 2004. Holliday’s Isolated Power has dipped each of the past two seasons and even reached a career low of .190 in 2013. Both these numbers are very impressive, especially since they are at or near his career lows; however, they still represent an alarming trend with his power production. As would be expected with a lower SLG% and ISO, Holliday’s HR/FB% has declined for two straight seasons falling to 15%. While Holliday has never been considered a plus fielder, his UZR/150 has declined each of the last 3 seasons all the way down to -7.0. With all these statistics declining, Holliday’s WAR has dropped each of the past three seasons.

While Holliday has seen some dip in his power production, many other areas of his game have improved or stayed relatively constant. Also, despite his SLG and ISO declining, Holliday has still topped 20 homers in each of the past 8 seasons. He has also had a very healthy BB% since 2008, as it has remained above 10% each season and reached 11.5% in 2013, just under his career high of 11.9%. Even more impressive than his steady walk rate is that he lowered his K% to 14.3% in 2013, which was just above his career best K% of 13.8%. Altogether, Holliday was able to set a career best BB/K ratio of .80 in 2013. In recent years Holliday has maintained both a high Batting Average and a high On-Base Percentage. Holliday has remained such a strong contributor at the plate, despite his worsening power, in large part because his OBP has remained extremely high. OBP is something that usually ages very well, which is encouraging for Holliday because so much of his offensive value hinges on his ability to reach base. In each of the last 7 seasons, Holliday’s wRC+ has been over 140 and was even 148 in 2013. For reference, 100 wRC+ is considered average, so 140 is excellent. There is no doubt that Holliday has remained an outstanding hitter over the past few years, but the real question is whether he will see a significant drop in production as he enters his age-34 season.

While his overall production has remained impressive, it is important to look at his contact rates and balls in play data in order to determine if this production is likely to continue. Throughout his career, Holliday has had an incredibly high Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), with his career BABIP at .343. However, his BABIP dropped to a career low of .322 in 2013. Despite his BABIP falling from the previous season, he was still able to increase his batting average, which suggests he can continue to hit for a strong average even if his BABIP falls a little more. While his SLG and BABIP were down last year, Holliday actually increased his LD% above his career average, but also saw his Infield Flyball% (IFFB%) spike to 13.6%. Another encouraging sign with his LD% increasing was the fact that he also increased his Contact% to 81%, which marked a career high. His high contact rate no doubt helped him cut his K%, which will be important moving forward.

As Holliday continues to age into his mid-30’s, it will be interesting if he can remain the model of consistency that he has been for his entire career. It is clear that Holliday cannot sustain his current level of success for the remainder of his career, but little evidence suggests that 2014 will be the first year he experiences a significant drop in production. His lessening power is not a major concern to his overall game as long as he is able to maintain his high OBP skills and low K%. Turning back to the ZiPS projection of a 3.1 WAR, I do not see Holliday’s production taking that big of a hit, as their projection also calls for a .029 drop in OBP, which seems unlikely given his consistency in being able to get on base and the fact that OBP tends to age well. I expect Holliday to continue his slow decline, but I still see him posting a WAR above 4.0 and an OBP north of .375, especially if he can maintain a BB% in the double digits.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 5 General Managers

1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays
Friedman’s true position with the Rays is Vice President of Baseball Operations, but Friedman performs all the tasks of a General Manager. Since assuming the role in 2005, Friedman has transformed the Rays from the worst organization in baseball to consistent contenders in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He has also done this with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball because the Rays play in a small market with one of the worst stadiums in the Majors. Since Friedman took over in 2005, the Rays have averaged a meager $48 Million and peaked at approximately $72 Million. This has not stopped Andrew Friedman from building a contender year in and year out as the Rays have topped 90 wins in 5 of the last six seasons. Friedman has been able to maintain a low payroll, while fielding a quality team by strengthening the farm system through trades and making savvy business decisions (e.g. Extending his young stars). In his time with the Rays, Friedman has taken the Rays to the postseason four times including one World Series. His first, and possibly best, move was hiring Joe Maddon as the Rays’ manager. This may seem insignificant, but Maddon’s unconventional style fit very well with the Front Office’s approach, as he has embraced sabermetrics and helped change the culture of the previous management. Friedman’s top move related to players was drafting and extending Evan Longoria. The Rays took Evan Longoria in the first round of the 2006 season and then in 2008, just six games into his Major League career, Longoria signed a 6-year $17.5 million extension that has since led to another extension of 6-years, $100 Million. Friedman has also been able to continually replenish the Rays’ farm system by trading his top Major Leaguers, who are nearing free agency. Such trades have netted the Rays Wil Myers and Chris Archer, among others. Both Archer and Myers competed for the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, with Myers eventually taking the award home.

2. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics
Maybe the most well-known GM in the game following the movie Moneyball, Beane has certainly earned his spot on this list by sustaining success with a small market team for 16 years. Beane revolutionized the game of baseball by implementing sabermetrics and finding attributes that other teams undervalue. The Athletics have made the playoffs six times under Beane, but have not reached the World Series since 1990. While he has not experienced great success in the Postseason, Beane has been at the helm for 10 winning seasons among his 16 as GM, including two 100+ win seasons. He is best known for being able to make smart trades and key free agent signings at low prices. The greatest example of this is in 2006 when Beane signed Frank Thomas for a mere $500,000 plus incentives and Thomas rewarded him with 39 hrs, 114 RBI and a .381 OBP. This signing propelled the A’s into the postseason eventually reaching the ALCS. Many of Beane’s top trades came prior to the 2012 season when Beane traded away two of his top, young starting pitchers – Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez – and his young closer – Andrew Bailey. After failing to reach the Playoffs for 5 seasons, many people viewed these trades as Beane giving up on the 2012 season and committing to a rebuild. However, the returns that Beane received in these deals carried the A’s to become champions of the AL West. In return for his young pitchers, Beane received starting pitcher, Jarrod Parker; reliever, Ryan Cook; starting pitcher, Tommy Milone; catcher, Derek Norris; and Right Fielder, Josh Reddick. All of whom made great contributions to the team’s success last season and are all under 29 years old, which means they are likely in the midst of their primes. Heading into this season, Beane has utilized his surplus resources to improve the team’s bullpen, trading for Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson.

3. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals
While John Mozeliak has the shortest tenure of any GM on this list, as he took over in 2007, he has had some of the most success of anyone on this list. When Mozeliak assumed the role of GM, the Cardinals had the worst Farm System in baseball. Since then, Mozeliak has turned the Cardinals farm system into one of the most productive in baseball. As 23 players Mozeliak drafted appeared in the Majors last season. Although much of this success is due to former Scouting Director, Jeff Luhnow, Mozeliak was still very influential for many of the drafts. The Cardinals have made the playoffs four times under Mozeliak including a World Series Championship in 2011 and WS appearance in 2013. Mozeliak’s first big move was trading an aging star in Jim Edmonds for David Freese. At the time this trade seemed insignificant, but Freese has developed into a tremendous third baseman and was the World Series MVP in 2011. Before Freese became too expensive, Mozeliak traded him to the Angels. In 2009, making a play for the postseason, he traded top prospect Brett Wallace among other minor leaguers to the Athletics for Matt Holliday, who was approaching Free Agency. The Cardinals went on the make the postseason and then Mozeliak signed Holliday to a 7-year extension. Through the first 4 seasons of his extension, Holliday has been very successful, averaging over 5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Mozeliak may have made his best move when he traded Colby Rasmus and others to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson. This trade propelled the Cardinals to the postseason and eventually to their 11th World Series Championship in team history. While only Marc Rzepczynski remained with the team beyond 2011, the Cardinals received supplemental draft picks for Jackson and Dotel signing elsewhere. Mozeliak has been very conservative on the Free Agent market, only signing four players not already on the Cardinals’ roster to multi-year deals. However, Mozeliak did sign Lance Berkman to a one-year deal when many others thought he was done and Berkman helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Following their 2011 championship season, Mozeliak made the bold decision to not pay superstar Albert Pujols, who went on to sign a 10-year, $240 Million with the Los Angeles Angels. This choice set a precedent of allowing a team’s superstar to sign elsewhere. The Rangers’ GM, Jon Daniels, followed this precedent following the 2012 season, when he refused to match the Angels’ offer to Josh Hamilton. Following a return to the World Series, Mozeliak swiftly addressed his team’s needs this offseason by trading for Peter Bourjos and signing Jhonny Peralta within two days of each other. Mozeliak’s greatest attribute has been his ability to build through a young core of homegrown players, while making filling out the remainder of the roster with quality outside additions.

4) Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers
By the time Dombrowski took over as the General Manager of the Tigers in 2002, he had already served as the GM of two other organizations. Dombrowski began his General Managerial career with a four-year stint with the Montreal Expos. After enjoying moderate success for the Expos, Dombrowski was recruited to serve as the GM of the newly formed Florida Marlins. In his fifth season as the GM of the Marlins, they won the World Series over the Cleveland Indians, which marked the pinnacle of his tenure with the Marlins. In 2002, Dombrowski then joined the Detroit Tigers as their President and CEO, but after just six games, Dombrowski fired the incumbent GM and assumed his familiar role as GM. After seeing the Tigers through a difficult rebuilding process, the Tigers reached the World Series in 2006 and have had 6 winning seasons among their last 8 seasons. The Tigers have reached the Postseason 4 times under his guidance, including two World Series appearances. Dombrowski has built a powerhouse with the Tigers, with 3 straight 1st place finishes in the AL Central. Dombroswki’s greatest trade, and one of the largest steals in recent history, happened in 2005, when he traded Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller, and Cameron Maybin, among others to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. While Willis never amounted to much for the Tigers, Cabrera has slashed .329/.407/.588 in his first 6 seasons with the Tigers. Cabrera has also won a Triple Crown and 2 straight MVP awards. Dombrowski has also done an incredible job of building the Tigers’ rotation. Of the Tigers’ 5 starters in 2013, Dombrowski acquired 3 of them via trade and the 2 remaining starters with 1st round picks in the Amateur Draft. Those two picks were Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers in the game, and Rick Porcello, who began his MLB career at just 20 years of age. Dombrowski traded for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner, Max Scherzer, in 2009. Along with Scherzer, he also landed Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth in exchange for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. Dombrowski also acquired Anibal Sanchez near the 2012 Trade Deadline from the Marlins in exchange for top prospect Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn. One of his best trades was acquiring Doug Fister from the Mariners along with David Pauley in exchange for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush among others. While Dombrowski traded Fister to the Nationals this offseason, he still received incredible value from this trade. Dombrowski’s success as a General Manager has been marked by his consistent ability to pull off savvy trades.

5. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers
When Jon Daniels took over as GM of the Rangers in 2005, he became the youngest GM in baseball history at the age of 28. The Rangers have made the postseason three of the past four seasons under Jon Daniels including two World Series appearances. Jon Daniels is most known for his aggressiveness on the trade market, where he has had his most success. Jon Daniels’s biggest move was trading superstar Mark Teixeira to the Braves for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. Every player from the trade has appeared in the Major Leagues with the Rangers except for Beau Jones. Andrus, Harrison and Neftali Feliz are all still with the Rangers and a huge part of the Rangers’ young core of players. That same year, 2007, Daniels traded top pitching prospect Edison Volquez and Daniel Ray Herrera to the Reds for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton had just posted a strong rookie campaign, following his return from drug abuse. Hamilton went on to become the face of the franchise until he signed with the Angels this past offseason. Daniels’s biggest free agent signing was Adrian Beltre, who has put together three outstanding seasons for the Rangers. Following the Rangers’ failure to reach the Postseason in 2013, Daniels was very aggressive this offseason. In order to improve the Rangers’ offensive production, he traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and then proceeded to sign Shin-Soo Choo to a 7-year, $130 Million deal.

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

Do Closers Need to Throw Hard?

I recently wrote about teams no longer paying a premium to land closers with 9th inning experience, instead choosing to spend less and acquire very good relievers with little 9th inning experience. It seems teams have moved away from the conventional thinking that a closer must have experience or a special mentality in order to succeed as a closer. This made me wonder whether the view that a closer must have to throw hard was still alive. It is important to note that throwing harder certainly gives the pitcher an advantage, but it is also very possible to succeed without being among the hardest throwers. In order to look at this, I looked at all Relief Pitchers with at least 10 saves from 2010-2013 and separated them into two groups based on their average fastball velocity (aFV), based on P/Fx. The aFV for the entire group of 93 pitchers was 93.0. I chose 93 as the divider between High Velocity (HVelo) closers and Low Velocity (LVelo) closers.

Looking at the breakdown of the two groups, the HVelo group included 53 relief pitchers and the LVelo group included 40 relief pitchers. The difference of 13 pitchers between the groups should not affect the results too much, as the sample is big enough to negate this discrepancy. However, the difference does say something about closers during this period, as there were many more hard-throwing closers than low velocity closers. Looking into the numbers between these two groups for this 4-year period, it is clear that the HVelo pitchers were more effective. They averaged 15 more saves over that period and outperformed the LVelo pitchers in every statistic, except BB/9 and BABIP. LVelo pitchers walking less batters per 9 innings is not surprising, as they usually have better command in order to compensate for less strikeouts. HVelo closers were also better at fulfilling their role, as they had a 81.7% conversion rate, while LVelo closers converted just 77.5% of their opportunities. If you look at this four-year window it is clear that the harder throwing closers have been more successful and there have also been many more hard-throwers used in the 9th inning than LVelo relievers.

However, if we take a look at just the final year of this four-year period, we see something different. Looking only at 2013 and relief pitchers that had at least 10 saves, I broke the pitchers into two groups using the same criteria as before: HVelo is all pitchers with aFV higher than 93 mph and LVelo is all pitchers with aFV below 93 mph. This is the same cutoff as for the four-year period because the mean is relatively unchanged, at 92.8. Unlike from 2010-2013, these two groups were essentially even: of the 37 qualified pitchers, 19 were in the HVelo group and 18 were in the LVelo group. This alone shows that teams are more comfortable using effective relievers in the 9th inning, even if they do not light up the radar gun. Just using more LVelo pitchers does not actually prove they are as effective or better than HVelo relievers, but it does show teams may be moving away from the conventional belief that closers must throw hard. When I looked at the numbers of these two groups, I saw evidence that the LVelo group was certainly as effective, if not more effective, than the HVelo group. The HVelo group saved just one game more on average; however, their save percentage was 87, compared to the 88.7% of the LVelo group. Just as before, the LVelo outperformed the HVelo group in BB/9 and BABIP, but they also had a better average ERA than the HVelo group. While the HVelo pitchers had a much higher K/9 (10.7 vs. 8.4) and a better HR/9, the LVelo group did a better job at preventing runs and also a slightly better job at converting their save opportunities.

Certainly, looking at just one season is not a very large sample, but I believe last season was the beginning of a trend. The role of the closer has evolved quite a bit in recent years and many long-held beliefs are being dispelled. I believe teams have realized that a pitcher does not have to be the hardest thrower in the bullpen, instead he just needs to be the most effective. In 2013, both teams that reached the World Series turned to closers without previous experience and who were both among the LVelo group. The Cardinals chose to give Edward Mujica the closer’s role, instead of turning to young flamethrower, Trevor Rosenthal. Mujica turned in a fantastic season with 37 saves and a 2.78 ERA. The Red Sox also entrusted their 9th inning duties to a member of the LVelo group, Koji Uehara. Uehara took over as closer after both of the Red Sox’s other options suffered season-ending injuries, but Uehara still totaled 21 saves and a 1.09 ERA. Both these closers overcame common beliefs that closers need experience in the 9th inning to succeed and must also throw hard.

* I would have liked to look at a larger sample than 2010-2013, but I did not feel comfortable using Pitchf/x data older than 2010. Since its inception in 2006, Pitchf/x has vastly improved and become much more accurate.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 10 Team Needs

Spring Training is less than a month away, but there are still plenty of moves left to be made. As is often the case in early January, most teams have addressed their most significant needs on their roster. However, some teams still have glaring holes in their roster. Some teams will address these needs before Spring Training; others will begin the season without doing much more to improve their roster. These are the 10 most glaring needs of contenders for the remainder of the offseason.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher
The Diamondbacks have made plenty of moves this offseason to improve their bullpen, but they are still lacking in the rotation. They have an above-average rotation overall, but lack a true ace and have multiple pitchers with serious injury concerns, especially Brandon McCarthy. They have been in talks for David Price and Jeff Samardzija and are looking to go all out to sign Masahiro Tanaka. They have the Farm System to acquire an ace via trade, but it is unclear if they are willing to give up some of their top prospects.

Atlanta Braves – 2nd Baseman
Dan Uggla slashed just .179/.309/.362 for the Braves last season. He still has a large sum of money left on his contract and it is unlikely that the Braves will be able to find a trade partner to take him. Either way, they will need a new 2nd Baseman, as their other internal options are not very impressive. They will have to make the addition through a trade, as the Free Agent market is very weak on productive 2nd basemen.

Baltimore Orioles – Starting Pitcher
The Orioles have had a very quiet offseason thus far, which has drawn lots of criticism from fans. After voiding their deal with Grant Balfour, they still have a need at Closer. However, that is a much easier hole to plug from within than the hole in their rotation. Their rotation was tied for the worst FIP in baseball last season, which suggests their ERA will take a substantial step back this season. If they do not bring in another starter, it is still unclear who their 5th starter will be. Plenty of options remain on the open market. The best fit seems to be Bronson Arroyo, as he is not linked to draft pick compensation and will not cost as much as Matt Garza.

Cincinnati Reds – Centerfielder
The Reds seem prepared to enter the season with Billy Hamilton as their starting Centerfielder; however, it is unclear how productive he will be in the MLB. After transitioning from Shortstop, it is doubtful that he will be a strong defender at an up-the-middle position. Not only will the Reds employ Hamilton in Centerfield, but they are also likely to use him as their leadoff hitter. Hamilton slashed just .256/.308/.343 in Triple-A last season, which is likely to get worse as he is challenged at the MLB level.

New York Mets – Shortstop
The Mets continue to wait for Ruben Tejeda to develop into the great Shortstop they expected he would become. However, Tejeda is now 24 years old and still has not come close to those expectations. In 2013, he slashed just .202/.259/.260. The Mets have been connected to Stephen Drew, but are reportedly unwilling to go beyond 2 years for him. Drew is still the best fit for the Mets, as they do not have many in-house options.

New York Yankees – Starting Pitcher
The Yankees have brought in 7 position players so far in Free Agency, but just 2 pitchers, including Hiroki Kuroda, who was in their rotation last season. They have likely been waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to be posted, and now that he has been posted, they will likely be all-in to sign him. If the Yankees are unable to land Tanaka, they are likely to turn to Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

Oakland Athletics – 2nd Baseman
The Athletics have plenty of depth throughout their team, especially in the infield. With Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto on the roster, the A’s have plenty of options to play 2nd, but no really strong answer. All three of these players are best for being part-time players because none are particularly strong offensively. The Free Agent market is weak on offensive 2nd basemen, so the A’s would need to make a trade to improve this hole.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1st Baseman
The Pirates are unlikely to sign a big-time player to fill this hole, but there are still plenty of options. They have been involved in the trade market, but thus far have been unwilling to meet any team’s asking price. The best fit for the Pirates is Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, both of the Mets. They are both left-handed, which makes them ideal candidates to platoon with Gaby Sanchez, who is the Pirates internal candidate for the 1st base job.

Seattle Mariners – Starting Pitcher
Many people within the industry feel that the Mariners will go all-in for Tanaka. They have a great 1-2 punch at the top, but little else in the rotation. They spent $240 Million on Robinson Cano, but still need more improvements to be real contenders in 2014. If they fail to sign Tanaka, then the best fit is likely one of the top remaining Free Agent starters. However, the Mariners also have the Farm System to pull off a big trade.

Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitcher
The Blue Jays have had a quiet offseason, but they have few holes other than in the rotation. They have one of the best lineups in the MLB and a strong bullpen, but the rotation projects to be a huge weakness. They battled injuries throughout the rotation last season, which is unlikely to change with similar personnel. They do not seem like a good fit for Tanaka, however, because they do not like to give out long contracts for pitchers. Their best fit is Bronson Arroyo, who is incredibly durable and will sign for a shorter deal than other Free Agents.

Flaws In the MLB Arbitration Process

For those that are not familiar with arbitration, a player is eligible for arbitration if he has more than 3, but less than 6 years of service time or is considered “Super Two” eligible. According to the MLB CBA, “Super Two” eligibility kicks in if the player “has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season” and “he ranks in the top twenty-two percent in total service” of players who fit the service requirements for “Super 2” eligibility. Arbitration sends the player and team to arbitrators who decide the value of the player’s contract for the next season. Both the team and player submit a figure for the arbitrators to consider and the arbitrators must choose one of these contracts.

MLB Arbitration has long been considered a great compromise for players and teams. Arbitration provides players an opportunity to earn a raise upon their salary of the previous year, but also keeps their salary below its Free Agent value. While arbitration is a fantastic system that gives the player more leverage than he has in the first three years in the Majors, it has flaws that must be resolved in order to keep up with the changes occurring in baseball. As the player and team lobby for their respective contract, each side is limited to using traditional statistics to make their case. This is in large part due to the fact that the arbitrators are not a “baseball people”, so they are unlikely to understand advanced metrics. The other reason sabermetrics are rarely used is that many of the hearings are based on precedence and comparisons to other players’ salaries awarded through arbitration, which were decided based on traditional statistics.

We have seen the effects of this multiple times during the current offseason. The first instance was when the Baltimore Orioles traded Closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for Jemile Weeks. It doesn’t seem right for a pitcher with a 2.72 ERA and 101 saves over the past two seasons to only bring a weak-hitting, poor-defensive 2nd basemen back in a trade. However, this is what happened because the Orioles did not think Jim Johnson was worth the projected $10.8 Million salary through arbitration. Apparently neither did many teams if the Orioles could only get Jemile Weeks in return. It is unclear what Jim Johnson would receive on the open market, but it would likely exceed the one year deal he will receive via arbitration; however, it would also likely fall short of $11 Million annually. As I wrote earlier this week, we may have seen the end of big-money closers, in terms of long contracts with high Average Annual Value. The reason Johnson’s value may not be as high as the arbitrators may believe is that, while he has saved 101 games in two years, he had just a 84.7% success rate in save opportunities this past season. Another concern is his FIP, which has increased each of the past three seasons, but that is a statistic that will not be referenced in his case.

The second instance of arbitration leading a player to be dealt was the White Sox trade of Addison Reed for Matt Davidson. Unlike the above trade, this one does bring back a strong return, as the White Sox received a strong 3b prospect with 6 years of team control left. However, another reason the White Sox chose to trade Addison Reed was concern over Reed’s cost in arbitration, due to already having 69 saves in two years as the White Sox closer.  Despite his high number of saves, Reed has a 4.17 career ERA and only an 85% conversion rate, which is rather pedestrian. Reed will likely be overvalued when he goes to arbitration because of his high number of saves, but he has had an even higher number of opportunities.

While both of these examples involve closers and the player being seemingly overvalued through arbitration, arbitration can also undervalue some players. High OBP players with little power are often undervalued through arbitration, as arbitration tends to pay more for HRs, RBI and other counting statistics. The players that are likely undervalued the most are defensive-minded players, as traditional statistics are terrible at determining a player’s defensive value. Traditional fielding statistics, such as errors and Fielding Percentage, often penalize players with the most range, as they can get to more balls and are more likely to commit an error on these more difficult plays. The subjectivity of errors has led to new metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which reward players for their range. Unfortunately, these new and much more accurate metrics are not used in arbitration cases because the arbitrators are unlikely to understand them. A case can easily be made that even these new metrics are not completely reliable in one season’s worth of data, but over the course of three seasons, these metrics are accurate and are certainly an improvement upon the old metrics.

Among the many issues with arbitration is that it has not kept pace with the game of baseball. This is best exemplified in that arbitration insists on paying players for past performance, rather than considering his future contributions. As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote, “The days of paying for past performance are over…. Past performance matters to the extent that it informs us about what a player will do going forward”. As Cameron rightfully points out, teams are beginning to pay less for past performance and more for what the player’s future value will be. Teams have done this by implementing more advanced metrics in order to determine whether the player is trending upward or downward. This emphasis on paying for future performance and not past production is demonstrated by the increase in contract extensions for players prior to Free Agency. These extensions often cover the prime years of a player’s career and end just as his play should theoretically decline.

The arbitration process in baseball has provided players with proper leverage while still giving teams the ability to retain the rights of its players for 6 years. While the system is an overall success, it has failed to keep up with the advances in baseball analytics. The arbitrators used for the hearings are not considered “baseball people” and for this reason teams and players cannot use advanced metrics in their argument for the player’s next contract. There is clearly a reason the MLB uses arbitrators that are not “baseball people”, as they are looking for an unbiased third party. However, it is still possible to begin integrating advanced metrics into arbitration hearings by using arbitrators that are knowledgeable on these sabermetric statistics. It will not be easy to accomplish, but it is something that must be done before arbitration falls further behind the curve and must be supplanted with a new system altogether.

Anthony Cacchione

Have We Seen the End of Big-Money Closers?

Free Agent spending is at an all-time high in Major League Baseball, as MLB teams are likely to surpass $2 Billion in spending this offseason, which would eclipse the previous high of $1.75 Billion in 2006. Despite this exorbitant amount of spending, the price for experienced closers is quickly declining. Charlie Wilmoth of MLB Trade Rumors wrote about this shift in the closer’s market when he wrote about the lesser deals that closers have received this year when compared to last offseason. While two closers from 2012 signed for 3 years last offseason, none have done so this offseason. While two big closers remain on the open market, it is unlikely that either closer will receive 3 years.

In the 2011-2012 offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jonathon Papelbon to a 4-year, $50 Million deal. This signing was immediately criticized and has not fared well through the first two years, as the Phillies are already trying to trade him. Papelbon was the first closer to sign a 4-year contract since 2007 and will likely be the last one to sign such a long deal. But why has the price for closers diminished so much? The main reason is that teams have realized that many good relievers can succeed as the closer. You do not need special grooming or experience to take the ball in the ninth inning. Teams have now signed cheaper relievers and placed them in the closers role and in most cases they have succeeded. Recent examples of inexpensive free-agent closers include Kyle Farnsworth (2011), Jason Grilli (2013), Fernando Rodney (2012-2013), Koji Uehara (2013), and Jose Veras (2013), among others.

Another factor in the diminishing value of closers is the increasing rate with which teams are producing hard-throwing relievers. These young pitchers fit the mold of a prototypical closer, as they throw hard and often have a dominant breaking-ball to turn to for strikeouts. The best quality of these pitchers is that they are under team control at a low price for their first six years in the Majors. More and more teams are turning to inexperienced pitchers to be their closers and often with impressive results. The Braves have baseball’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel and pay him near the MLB minimum. Other young, inexpensive closers include Trevor Rosenthal, Rex Brothers, Addison Reed, Greg Holland, Danny Farquhar, Steve Cishek, Kenley Jansen, and Jim Henderson. All 9 of those pitchers were pre-arbitration last year and the closer of their respective team at the end of the season.

Another issue with guaranteeing more than two years to a high-priced reliever, or any reliever for that matter, is the high rate of injury and failure among these pitchers. According to research by Stan Conte, director of medical research for the Los Angeles Dodgers, 34% of relievers will go on the disabled list during a particular season. Jason Motte, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson, Heath Bell, Brian Wilson, John Axford and Jose Valverde are all among closers who have either suffered a major injury or experienced a significant decrease in performance recently. This is not necessarily new information. Teams are now choosing to invest in less expensive pitchers, who are easier to replace if they experience a decrease in performance or become injured.

Despite the growing revenue in the game, closing pitchers are seeing their contracts diminish in years and money. Teams have realized that it is not necessary to pay extra for an experienced closer, as a pitcher’s ability is more important. As teams continue to develop more hard-throwing relievers, free agent closers will increasingly be paid more like regular relievers than closers.

Anthony Cacchione