Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Should The Tigers Extend Miguel Cabrera?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Several days ago, in these pages, I discussed the the merits of a contract extension for Max Scherzer. When push came to shove, I advised against such a deal based on how rare it is for a pitcher to produce past age 33. The Tigers have a collection of decisions coming over the next couple of seasons, but the other big one concerns the future of Miguel Cabrera. Should the Tigers look to lock him up long term?

Let’s settle some particulars right off the bat. Cabrera is under control for the next two seasons at $22 million per season which covers his age 31 and age 32 season. Cabrera is an elite bat who rarely misses time, but offers very little value (and often negative value) on the bases or in the field. If he walked away from baseball today, he’d be a borderline Hall of Famer. The only knock would be longevity, so as long as he hangs around and is reasonably productive for another couple of years, you’re looking at one of the better players in the game’s history. Certainly one of the better hitters.

But Cabrera’s coming contract isn’t about who he was, it’s about who we think he’s going to be. Let’s approach this from two angles. We have to consider what Cabrera will ask for and what the Tigers should pay. The big question will be the length of the deal, which is a little hard to gauge this far out from free agency. Let’s assume that adding an extra six years onto the current deal will be a satisfying length. That would take Cabrera through age 38. Let’s also assume that Cabrera won’t take a pay cut. So at the very least, this extension will run 6 years, $132 million. But that’s a floor, not any sort of likely number. We have a sense that the price of a win is about $6-$7 million on the free agent market and that two years from now it will at least be as high as it is now. If we work from there, we can imagine Cabrera putting up something like 23 wins over six seasons if we’re aging him in a standard fashion. At that rate, we’re talking about $140 million to $161 million in terms of value. The bottom end is only $23M per season and the top end is closer to $27M. Let’s call it $28 million a season for 6 years. $170 million.

That’s less than Felix, Verlander, Pujols, A-Rod, and Cano – but that makes some sense. Pitcher contracts aren’t really comparable and he’ll be older than the pitchers at the time of the deal. The Pujols deal is a pretty good place to start. Pujols was 32 entering his 10/$240M deal. And Pujols had about 83 fWAR at the time. Cabrera will have something like 66 fWAR. Cabrera is great, but Cabrera isn’t Pujols. Cabrera will get a higher AAV at $28 million, but for fewer years because teams recognize that those really long deals are kind of silly. And remember, we’re talking about an extension. So the total value is 8 years and $214 million. Cano just got 10/240 as a free agent, while younger, and while being a far superior defender. Pujols got the same as a free agent, while the same age, and while being better in the preceding seasons. That makes some sense to me.

So 6/170 seems like a decent place to start. Maybe money keeps flowing and things accelerate. Maybe it’s 6/180. That would make him the highest paid player per season in baseball. I wouldn’t think he’ll continue to be a top five player that far into the future, but he’s right around that group at the moment, so we’re in the ballpark.

So, should the Tigers pay up? Let’s work backwards. A $180 million deal assumes something like 26 to 30 wins above replacement from 2016-2021 or ages 33-38. Let’s be generous and call it 25 wins, factoring in some inflation and various other nonsense. Can Cabrera be worth 25 wins over those six seasons? We’re pretty confident he’ll provide surplus value in 2014-2015, and that his first extension will be an excellent deal when all is said and done, but is it worth making a longer commitment to centerpiece of the Tigers current offense?

25 wins over six years assumes an average of about 4.2 per season. Let’s look at this a few different ways. First, how common is it for a position player to earn 25 WAR from ages 33-38? It’s happened 27 times in MLB history, which you can peruse here. But let’s get a little more specific. Let’s try since 1969. Nine names.

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Mike Schmidt
  3. Edgar Martinez
  4. Pete Rose
  5. Ozzie Smith
  6. Chipper Jones
  7. Rafael Palmeiro
  8. Frank Robinson
  9. Mark McGwire

That’s a nice list, for sure, but Ozzie Smith’s value is all defense, so that’s a silly comp. Let’s be generous and call it 8 guys out of 209 to have 2000 PA since 1969 between ages 33-38. That total number is going to be a little off based on guys who are still inside the age window, but you get the idea. The odds of getting 2000 plate appearances is low. Then the odds of being great is lower still.

An important factor is Cabrera’s defensive value and how long before he can move to DH – but that isn’t really true. The difference in the positional adjustment is only five runs from 1B to DH, which means that unless Cabrera ends up being a very good defender at first, it’s probably not a huge difference. Let’s call it two years of 1B and four at DH. Let’s call him a league average defender at first, which is probably generous more than it’s underselling. We’re talking about something like -120 runs between position and defense. Let’s assume he keeps playing 140+ games or so and is an average baserunner (which is surely won’t be). That’s +60 runs before we get to offense. He needs to get to about 235 total for us to get to 25 wins. That’s 175 offensive runs over six years. That’s about 30 a year. That’s doable, but not easy.

If he averages about 650 PA, that means he’ll need to average roughly the 2013 equivalent of a .374 wOBA adjusted for changes in the future run environment. At his peak, that has been no problem. But in his mid-thirties, it’s up in the air.

Let’s try one more quick thing before getting to the point. Let’s try players since 1969 ages 28-30 with at least 1000 PA and let’s find some comparable players to Miguel Cabrera. He ranks 11th on that list in terms of fWAR. Of the top 30 on that list, let’s find those players with -20 runs or worse of positional and fielding value during the same period. It’s a short list. Cabrera, Giambi, and Helton. It’s rare for a player to be this good at ages 28-30 without much defensive value. In theory, we’d expect elite bat only players to fall harder because they can’t make up the value elsewhere. For what it’s worth, neither Giambi or Helton were worth even 10 WAR from 33-38.

It’s hard to find a good comparison for Cabrera in history. You can find his bat and you can find his glove, but you can’t find the whole package as one. If we think he ages well enough, he can earn a 6/180 deal, but you don’t love what history suggests about the odds. You’re betting on Cabrera being a bit of an outlier, which isn’t a terrible bet given his history to date, but that circles us back to the point I’ve made several times on Twitter and will leave you with here.

I can envision a world in which Cabrera is a fair value at 6 years and $180 million. It’s not a ridiculous idea. But I’m waiting to offer an extension for a simple reason. He’s not going to get better. 2013 was his peak. I’m confident about that, and that’s without worrying about his recent injuries and his body type. He’s never going to get better, only worse. I don’t think it’s going to happen super fast, but you can’t fight father time (legally!). A standard aging curve sets him up for 6/180 or so being a fine deal, but I’m going to bet he ages just a little bit worse. I’m going to wait and see if you can get him for cheaper in a year or two. Maybe in two years he’s still a superstar and you have no problem paying the extra few million because you waited. That’s the cost of doing business. But maybe Cabrera is just a run of the mill all-star at that point and you can save yourself several million. Or maybe you won’t want him at all. I think the risk of signing him now outweighs the discount you get from locking him up early.

Put it this way, I’m not in a rush. If Cabrera maintains his value over the next two seasons, you live with the consequences. If he doesn’t, you pocket the difference. I’m willing to make that bet when you already know that you have two more seasons of Cabrera at an excellent value. There’s no reason to roll the dice until you need to. Don’t panic and extend him, wait and see if you still want to when the hour is actually near. I can see a world in which extending him makes sense, but I’m also willing to wait before making the final decision.

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How Much Can The Tigers Offer Tanaka?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

News broke late Tuesday that Masahiro Tanaka is coming to major league baseball from the NPB via the new posting system. The way it works is very complicated, but easy enough to explain. Teams have to bid on the right to negotiate with him and the maximum bid is $20 million that will be paid to his NPB team if he decides to come to the states. Basically, every team will bid $20 million because there’s really no harm in it at all. If they bid $20 million and they only offer him the league minimum, he’ll sign somewhere else and there’s absolutely no cost to any team who doesn’t sign him.

Since this is a Tigers site, let’s explore the extent to which the team can offer Tanaka a contract beyond the $20 million fee. It’s unlikely that the Tigers can outbid the Yankees and Dodgers, but let’s just think about it quickly.

The Tigers payroll before arbitration and league minimum guys is about $120 million for 2014 and my rough estimation puts the final number at about $150 million if they don’t make any other significant moves. That leaves them almost no flexibility with this season’s payroll, but there is no reason to think they couldn’t backload a deal with Tanaka. Presumably he won’t care about when he gets paid.

If you factor in the post-2014 Scherzer savings in conjunction with Hunter and Martinez coming off the books, and then you take away the raise to Verlander and additional arbitration dollars, the Tigers can probably find $18 to $20 million in 2015 if they fill the rest of the holes cheaply. After 2015, they have Porcello, Cabrera, Nathan, Davis, Avila, etc coming off the books, so there are all kinds of options and could easily pay him whatever he wants in terms of payroll availability. Reports suggest he’ll get around 6 years, $120 million, but that’s an imprecise estimate. The Tigers could make that work, if they load it 5/15/25/25/25/25, but it would definitely affect their ability to lock up other players, so it’s a very clear trade-off.

I honestly don’t have a clear idea if he’s worth it. He’s been very successful in Japan – 1300+ innings, 2.30 ERA, 4.5 to 1 K/BB ratio, but that doesn’t always translate cleanly. Darvish has been great, Dice-K wasn’t. It’s hard to compare a guy against that competition when we’ve seen very few of his league-mates come over. That said, he just turned 25. Great players don’t reach free agency that young very often. If you’re going to give a guy a big deal, it should be for his late 20s and not his early 30s. I’d rather sign Tanaka long term than Scherzer, but I’m not sure that it’s a direct trade off. And I’d rather pay Fister than Tanaka, but that ship has sailed.

It’s very unlikely that the Tigers will sign Tanaka given the competition, but it’s worth thinking about given that the Tigers will at least be placing a bid. After that, who knows? A potential #2 starter hitting the market at 25 isn’t something you can ignore.

Should The Tigers Extend Max Scherzer?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

With all of the big changes happening to the Tigers roster lately, it’s clearly a time to look forward in Detroit. The Tigers dumped Fister and Fielder and haven’t replaced them with shiny new upgrades, so in theory, it looks like the Tigers are loading up to sign extensions with some of their core pieces. Miguel Cabrera is due a new deal after 2015, along with several others, but Max Scherzer is the immediate concern, as he will become a free agent after the 2014 season. The question now is if the Tigers should look to lock him up.

I’ll start by saying that Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who almost never signs extensions, and especially doesn’t do it this close to free agency. This post isn’t really trying to determine if the Tigers will lock him up, it’s more a question if they should. Scherzer will hit the market entering his age 30 season and should enter as the best pitcher on the market as long as Kershaw signs a massive extension in LA. Should they sign a big deal with Max when he hits the market?

Season GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2009 30 170.1 9.19 3.33 1.06 4.12 3.87 3.82 3.0
2010 31 195.2 8.46 3.22 0.92 3.50 3.71 3.68 3.8
2011 33 195 8.03 2.58 1.34 4.43 4.14 3.70 2.6
2012 32 187.2 11.08 2.88 1.10 3.74 3.27 3.23 4.6
2013 32 214.1 10.08 2.35 0.76 2.90 2.74 3.16 6.4

Here are his numbers in five seasons as a full time starter, four of which came with the Tigers. He’ll likely have another good season to his name in 2014 and should enter the free agent market as one of the best pitchers in the game. He’s been durable, but not a workhorse and is trending in the right direction across the board. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP are down. He’s been worth more WAR in each of the last two seasons.

I’ve written extensively about Scherzer’s improved mechanics and new curveball that have allowed him to make the leap from solid starter into superstar. I’ve also written about how much I enjoy cheering for the heterochromatic and cerebral ace. Scherzer is great, you heard it here first.

The question remains, how much will it cost to keep him and should the Tigers pony up the dough?

Let’s assume he regresses a little bit to the mean and enters free agency after a solid 5 win season. He’ll have three or four great years and two or three solid ones to his name. He’ll be 30, looking for a 6 or 7 year deal. Zack Greinke got 6 years and $147 million. Greinke signed that deal entering his age 29 season and they aren’t perfect comparisons, but Greinke’s peak and Scherzer’s higher floor make the comparison useful. Cliff Lee was older, but with a higher peak and lower floor than Scherzer when he signed for 5/$120M entering the 2011 season.

With new money flowing into the game, it’s not hard to see basic inflation helping push Schezer’s deal upward. Anibal Sanchez got 5/$80M with a less impressive resume. Let’s call it six years for Scherzer’s deal, just because 7 year deals for pitchers are rare, and usually come as extensions rather than on the open market.

It seems like a $20 million AAV is the floor. At his cheapest, Max is looking like 6/$120, but he’ll be on the market, mostly on his own. Teams will have lots of cash and will be desperate for pitching. Something like 6/$150 seems more realistic, maybe even low depending on how things develop.

More than Greinke, because the market is better. Less than Verlander, Felix, and likely Kershaw, because he isn’t on a Hall of Fame track. That’s a whole lot of cash to spend on one player, especially when you have something like $40+ million tied up in Verlander and Sanchez for the next several seasons.

The Tigers can afford to pay Max from a business sense. They have the resources to run a $130+ million payroll, but the question is really if the Tigers could spend that money more effectively. You’d expect something like 20 wins from Scherzer over his age 30-35 seasons based on the basic aging models, and so somewhere between 15 and 25 is a safe bet. For 15 wins, you’re paying $10 million per win. For 25, you’re paying $6 million per win. One of those is an excellent wager, one is a bad one. The Tigers can spend $150 million more effectively if Scherzer is going to age poorly. The gamble we’re talking about is better on Max Scherzer to hold onto his value into his mid thirties.

I’m not sure that’s a gamble I want to make. Let’s look back over the last ten seasons. Here are the best ten qualifying starters at age 33, age 34, and age 35 during that time span.

Age 33

Rank Season Name IP WAR
1 2010 Roy Halladay 250.2 6.1
2 2005 Pedro Martinez 217 5.8
3 2005 Andy Pettitte 222.1 5.4
4 2012 Cliff Lee 211 4.9
5 2005 Esteban Loaiza 217 4.3
6 2006 Derek Lowe 218 4.1
7 2006 Jason Schmidt 213.1 3.9
8 2009 Ted Lilly 177 3.7
9 2009 Carl Pavano 199.1 3.7
10 2005 Jose Contreras 204.2 3.4

Age 34

Rank Season Name IP WAR
1 2011 Roy Halladay 233.2 8.1
2 2009 Chris Carpenter 192.2 5.2
3 2013 Cliff Lee 222.2 5.1
4 2006 Jose Contreras 196 4.2
5 2004 Jon Lieber 176.2 3.7
6 2005 Paul Byrd 204.1 3.6
7 2011 Javier Vazquez 192.2 3.2
8 2013 John Lackey 189.1 3.2
9 2006 Andy Pettitte 214.1 2.9
10 2010 Carl Pavano 221 2.9

 

Age 35

Rank Season Name IP WAR
1 2008 Derek Lowe 211 4.5
2 2007 Andy Pettitte 215.1 4.3
3 2010 Hiroki Kuroda 196.1 4.1
4 2010 Chris Carpenter 235 3.3
5 2011 Tim Hudson 215 3.3
6 2012 Ryan Dempster 173 3.1
7 2004 Mike Mussina 164.2 3.1
8 2012 A.J. Burnett 202.1 3
9 2010 Livan Hernandez 211.2 2.9
10 2005 Jon Lieber 218.1 2.8

The reality is that pitchers aged 33-35 have just six seasons of 5.0+ WAR or better over the last ten seasons. In order for Scherzer to hit the top end of our projection, he’s going to need at least two of them. That seems like a tall order. There have been 16 seasons of 4.0+ WAR in that time span. Scherzer would probably need three of them. That too, seems like a tall order for anyone, much less a player who has only recently controlled his wild mechanics.

I have faith that Scherzer can remain effective into his 30s, but I’m just not sure he’s going to be an ace for more than another year or two. What’s even more frightening about this data is that there were 36 qualifying seasons at age 33, 30 at age 34, and 2o at age 35. Staying on the mound gets harder and harder as you get older. In order to be worth a huge contract like this, Scherzer needs to remain great and remain healthy. I’m not sure that’s a bet I want to make. He’ll have surplus value in the early years, but I don’t think he’ll have that much surplus. It’s hard to imagine he ever has a better season than the one we just saw. he’s more of a 4-5 win pitcher than a 7-8 win pitcher like Verlander or Kershaw.

I love Scherzer and would be sad to see him go, but I think the right move is to go for it with Max in 2014 and then let him walk away. The Tigers have Verlander and Sanchez locked up. I think they should extend Porcello – who is both very good, and significantly younger (25 this season). Smyly is has four years left of control. Robbie Ray, presumably, should be ready to contribute at the back end in 2015. Scherzer is a great pitcher, but I don’t think he’ll be good enough for long enough for a huge deal to make sense. That money could be put to better use elsewhere on the team. Heck, they should have extended Fister for 60% of the price.

I supported the Tigers going all in for 2014. They’ve made some weird moves this offseason, but they’re still capable of winning the division and have a team capable of winning in October. They should make one last run with Scherzer and then they should let him walk. It’s been a fun ride, but you can’t let your heart get in the way of the right decision.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Calculator

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

One of the missions of New English D is to make sabermetrics more easily digestible. To that end, we have an extensive Stat Primer series that explains a lot of important concepts and stats. One of the most controversial, but important stats out there is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). I wrote about WAR over a year ago here, so feel free to read that as a primer for what WAR is trying to measure. I also apologize if it’s not perfectly written, as it was one of the first pieces I put out there and was still working to develop some expert internet-writing skills.

Calculate FIP, xFIP, and wOBA too!

That said, people often complain that WAR is really too complicated and it doesn’t make sense to them. Well, I’m going to give you the tools to calculate WAR right here and right now. I will make two quick points.

  1. This is an approximation of the FanGraphs version of WAR for position players, not pitchers.
  2. This is not perfect, mostly in the sense that it does not account for park factors. If your fake player plays in a hitter friendly park, this number will be too high. If they play in a pitcher friendly park, it will be too low. Not a huge amount, but some. This calculator isn’t perfect because in order for it to be perfect, I would have to ask you to input way more information and I would have to learn how to be a much better coder.
  3. This doesn’t account for league, which makes a small difference and it doesn’t break down by number of games played at different positions if your player plays more than one.

Here is how it works. Fill in the data from Cell B2 to Cell B11 with the basic statistics of your player. In Cell B17, type the number that corresponds with their position in the “H” column. In Cell B18, type the number of runs above or below average you player is on defense. A perfectly average defender at the position in question will be zero. Remember these are run values and generally range from -10 to +10. Do the same thing with baserunning runs in Cell B19. If you want more information on any of these numbers, visit our Stat Primer page for details.

If you’ve done everything correctly, you should have a WAR value in B20. Remember, this doesn’t adjust for park or league, so it won’t be perfect, but it should give you a pretty nice idea if you’re just looking to play around with some numbers. Essentially, this is a “what if WAR machine.”

Right now, these numbers reflect the 2013 regular season. Feel free to play around with the numbers in the blue box if you wish to calculate based on different seasons. All of the numbers can be found on this FG page with the exception of Lg R and Lg PA, which are simply the total number of runs and plate appearances in the league that season.

Enjoy and feel free to post if you catch any mistakes. This one was much harder to write than FIP, xFIP, and wOBA.

The Best Tigers Moments of 2013 – #18

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

For the next several weeks we’ll be rolling out our list of the best The Moment’s of 2013. The list is the product of winnowing down 173 moments from April to October into the best twenty. They vary in their importance but all captivated us in an important way. A few are silly, a few are excellent plays, and a few will travel down in Tigers lore. I hope you enjoy it.

#18 – Cabrera homers three times on Sunday Night Baseball in Texas

The game itself was actually pretty crazy considering all the run scoring as Fister and Holland were less than stellar after a couple of nights in which Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander struggled mightily. The nature of the game was interesting, but the moment(s) was/were clear. Cabrera had four hits (three HR) and a walk in five trips to the plate. Each was impressive, and it was one of those nights in which Cabrera just looked like he belonged in another league. The middle homerun was especially impressive considering that Holland actually ducks when Cabrera makes contact because the ball was actually hit on a very flat trajectory. Jeff Sullivan wrote about it as one of the more interesting homeruns of the year at the time.

Here is the GIF Sullivan made over at FanGraphs to show the duck more clearly:

Cabrerahomerfull.gif.opt_

Here, also, is Sullivan plotting the elevation angle and apex (peak height) of the homerun compared to all other homeruns through May 19th. Even when we look at the entire season, no non-inside the park homerun had a lower elevation angle and only fifteen have lower vertical peaks.

anglechartcabrera

Miguel Cabrera is on this list quite a few times – already appearing at #19, and slotting in three more times before we’re all said and done.

How Was The Game? (May 19, 2013)

chart (4)

Is The Tigers Roster Set?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

When Dave Dombrowski spoke with the media today, he made comments that suggested Joba Chamberlain will be the final significant acquisition the team makes this offseason. While Dave shouldn’t be trusted to always tell us the truth, it certainly does appear as if the vast majority of the roster is set.

Let’s take a quick peak at the 2014 Tigers:

Starters

C: Avila

1B: Cabrera

2B: Kinsler

SS: Iglesias

3B: Castellanos

LF: Dirks

CF: Jackson

RF: Hunter

DH: Martinez

Bench

Davis, Lombardozzi, Holaday, Kelly

Rotation

Verlander

Scherzer

Sanchez

Porcello

Smyly

Bullpen

Nathan

Krol

Rondon

Chamberlain

Alburquerque

Coke/Crosby/#2 Lefty

Long-man (Putkonen, etc)

So there are really only three possible ways the roster changes. The first would be grabbing a big time FA outfielder and shuffling the roles of Dirks and Davis. They could presumably also find another bench player and cut ties with Don Kelly, but that isn’t a significant change to the overall group.

The second change would be to add additional bullpen pieces. The Tigers could absolutely improve upon their bullpen and that would include signing a high quality lefty or righty and bumping anyone down a spot or two. This is reasonably likely, but the potential impact is small.

The third option is a ground-shaking trade. This isn’t to say that the Tigers intend to do this, but the only way to improve the position player group right now is to displace a solid starter in a trade. Only Choo remains on the free agent market as any kind of serious upgrade over what the Tigers have, so if you’re really going to improve, you’re going to have to make a big trade. Options here are limited as well. That’s the curse of being a good team, it’s really hard to get better. Not only do you have to find an available player on the market, but they have to be significantly better than the guy you have in there already. The Tigers can’t just go out and trade for a great centerfielder because teams don’t want to trade the really good ones and Jackson is already a 3-ish win player. The intersection of the Venn Diagram of “available” and “better than the current Tiger” is very small and very pricey.

So, it sort of looks like the Tigers are done. Maybe there will be some moves at the margins, but it’s hard to see a path to  serious upgrade, and that’s disappointing. The 2014 roster as currently constructed is a lesser team than the one they put on the field in 2013. This looked like the perfect year to push all of their chips into the center of the table and go for it before it was time to break up the band. Instead, the Tigers are trying to to rebuild and go for it all at the same time. And it’s not working. They traded Fielder to free up money for other moves, but it turns out those moves are going to be extensions for Scherzer and/or Cabrera who will be past their primes for most of those deals. When they dealt Fister, not only did they get a weak return, they turned around and spent his salary on a relief pitcher who is 39. Nathan is still plenty good, but why would you spend money on an aging reliever if you’re also thinking about the future. Nathan only helps you in the short run, but if you care about the short run, Fister was more valuable to you than Nathan and the return you got for Fister.

My reading of the situation is that the Tigers are bumping up against an in-house spending limit and that Dombrowski was told to keep the 2014 payroll at a certain level. That doesn’t really explain his actions, but it explains why he didn’t spend more. The new coaching staff gave me high hopes, but I think the realistic expectation at this point is that the Tigers are heading into a shadow rebuild. They’re still the best team in the Central, but their ability to compete with the rest of the league is in jeopardy.

They’ll still be fun to watch, but it’s disappointing when you consider what they could have been.

Tigers Sign Joba Chamberlain

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Summing up the proper reaction to today’s Joba Chamberlain signing is best done with body language – a shrug. Chamberlain is coming to Detroit on a one year, $2.5 million deal with some additional incentives built in. In baseball, $2.5 million is nothing, so it’s hard to get worked up about adding Chamberlain to the bullpen. It’s not a big contract and if it doesn’t work out, no harm done.

But that doesn’t mean you should expect much from Joba. You remember his name because he burst onto the scene as a dynamite reliever for the Yankees, but that was a long, long time ago. In 2007-2010, he bounced between the rotation and the pen. He did solid work out there, and was reasonably good in 2011 in limited innings. In 2012, he didn’t pitch much and was worse. In 2013, he pitched more, and was a lot worse.

Year ERA G GS IP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2007 0.38 19 0 24.0 4.5 0.4 2.3 12.8
2008 2.60 42 12 100.1 7.8 0.4 3.5 10.6
2009 4.75 32 31 157.1 9.6 1.2 4.3 7.6
2010 4.40 73 0 71.2 8.9 0.8 2.8 9.7
2011 2.83 27 0 28.2 7.2 0.9 2.2 7.5
2012 4.35 22 0 20.2 11.3 1.3 2.6 9.6
2013 4.93 45 0 42.0 10.1 1.7 5.6 8.1
7 Yrs 3.85 260 43 444.2 8.8 1.0 3.7 9.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2013.

He has command issues and the strikeouts aren’t what they were way back in his heyday. He’s been more hittable and didn’t induce as many swings in 2013 as he had in the past. He has a nice fastball and slider, but he really struggles to command them. Maybe he can get it together, but you absolutely shouldn’t count on him being a key piece of the pen. This isn’t an elite setup arm – it’s a guy who might be able to fill that role, but is probably more of a middle reliever type. Definitely the third best righty, maybe the fourth best – and there are durability concerns.

For $2.5 million, that’s fine, but you’re running out of space to make a significant upgrade to your roster. Nathan replaces Benoit for an upgrade, but a more expensive one. Krol is a downgrade from Smyly. Rondon is Rondon. Coke and Crosby will look for the #2 lefty spot. Add in Joba and you’re at five relievers. Alburquerque, if healthy, makes six, and he was on the roster last year. If you carry a long man, you’ve filled the staff. Maybe you can find a better #2 lefty, but even that doesn’t give you much of a chance to make a difference. The Tigers bullpen will probably be about the same as last year in terms of quality – it just got more expensive in the process.

I was very pleased with the Fielder deal to free up money for other moves. Then they traded Fister to free up more money. With all that new cash, they signed a Nathan, Davis, and Joba. Those are all fine pieces, but the team is worse than they were in 2013. The short term cash went to waste. Maybe the offseason isn’t over, but the Tigers look to be retooling for the future while trying to tread water in the present. Signing an expensive closer while building for the future is perplexing, but that seems to be the plan. Maybe it isn’t and maybe there’s still another deal coming. But time is running out.

Getting To Know Robbie Ray, Trade Centerpiece

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last Monday, the Tigers traded one of the best fifteen or so pitchers in the league for three players from the Washington Nationals. Doug Fister was under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable affordable rate, something like 2 years and $18 million depending on exactly where they would have settled to avoid arbitration. For comparison, Scott Kazmir just got 2/$22M. Fister, on the market this year, would have gotten somewhere between $60 and $80 million. This is all by way of saying that Doug Fister was a valuable trade chip. Great pitchers who are cheap, not really freely available.

But many (all) of us were underwhelmed with the return. I found just a couple of people who thought the Tigers got a good value, but most of those people were just willing to trust Dave Dombrowski because he’s been good at making trades in the past and they figured he’d worked some magic. To be honest, it was pretty much just Lynn Henning and one person on Twitter.

One player they got back was Steve Lombardozzi, who is a tremendously well-liked utility player. I’ve heard splendid things about Lombardozzi as a dude, but Lombardozzi is a utility player. I love utility players, but you don’t trade star pitchers for Don Kelly when you already have a Don Kelly. (Although, the prospect of two Don Kellys…?)

Ian Krol is a solid lefty reliever who has a solid fastball and a nice hook. He’s capable of pitching in the middle innings and might succeed in a setup role. Nice player, nothing special. And remember, by trading Fister, the Tigers move Smyly into the rotation and lose a lefty reliever. Gain a lefty, lose a lefty.

So this trade comes down to Robbie Ray. Lombardozzi and Krol are fine players, but they’re nowhere close to Fister’s equal in terms of value. Ray is the centerpiece. He was on all the Nationals’ top prospect list, but no one seemed enthralled with him. He was a prospect, but not a PROSPECT.

But a funny thing has been happening over the last week or so. Pretty much all I’m hearing is how much Dombrowski loves Ray. I’m actually guessing he used that exact word, because everyone has been saying “love.” Dave loves Ray.

Which is interesting, because while Ray is a nice player, he’s doesn’t get rave reviews elsewhere. I’ll say upfront, I still don’t think the Tigers got good value in this deal. Ray might be a nice prospect, but the Tigers could have gotten more if they wanted to trade Fister according to multiple reports coming out of front offices. Additionally, why on Earth would you trade Fister to spend that money on Joe Nathan? It doesn’t add up. Unless Dombrowski loves Ray in a way that no one else can understand. He sees something. I’m not sure I agree, but I went looking for it.

THE NUMBERS

Season Team G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2010 Nationals (A-) 1 0 1 18.00 0.00 0.00 0.000 0.00 -0.80
2011 Nationals (A) 20 20 89 9.61 3.84 0.30 0.300 3.13 3.19
2012 Nationals (A+) 22 21 105.2 7.32 4.17 1.19 0.332 6.56 5.00
2013 Nationals (A+) 16 16 84 10.71 4.39 0.96 0.273 3.11 3.82
2013 Nationals (AA) 11 11 58 9.31 3.26 0.62 0.317 3.72 3.42

Ray found his strikeout groove again in 2013 after backing off in 2012, but the walks have been high at every stop. The run prevention looks nice outside of 2012 and the FIP does as well. A perfectly fine stat line, but nothing spectacular. He’s listed at 6’2″, 170 and throws from the left side. 2014 will be his age 22 season. He’s moving nicely through the minors and will likely start the year in AAA.

The numbers make him look like a pitcher with some upside, who needs a lot of work. When you see big strikeout numbers like that, you dream, but the walks speak to a control problem. So let’s keep going.

THE SCOUTING REPORT

Scouts say Ray has live arm from the left side, but his secondary stuff lags behind his fastball. There is some reason to think his breaking ball will develop into a solid pitch, as it’s currently ahead of the changeup, but both offerings need work. His command looks like it will stay below average, but might be average or a touch above if everything goes perfectly. The motion has some effort, but doesn’t seem to be too worrisome. Certainly nothing like Chris Sale!

His callup window looks to be between late 2014 and mid 2015, but that will also now depend on the new organization. The Tigers tend to move pitchers quickly, but they also have less room on the big league staff than the Nats did. All in all, the impression is that Ray has a shot to be a solid #3 starter, but that a good #4 is a bit more realistic.

A nice player, but nothing remarkable. It’s easy to see how Dombrowski might like him – because Dombrowski loves pitchers who throw hard, but there’s some real doubt about his command and his breaking stuff, and even the people who are high on him don’t think he’s going to be a frontline arm.

The Tigers traded away Fister to get Ray, plus a couple of pieces. Given that we know other executives wanted to get in on the Fister trade and were told no, there’s a clear signal that Dombrowski wanted Robbie Ray badly. He had a specific target and went out and got him. The die has already been cast, so at this point, it’s all about waiting to see if he was right.

I have my doubts given that Fister was already better than anyone thinks Ray will be, but maybe the Tigers have a way to fix Ray’s command and secondary stuff that no one else has. Maybe they think they can make him into a star. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

H/T to Nathaniel Stoltz for gathering comments from scouts.

Tigers Sign Rajai Davis

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

News broke late Monday that the Tigers and Rajai Davis were close to a deal and the news was confirmed Tuesday morning on what appears to be a 2 year, $10 million pact. Davis is very good player to have on your roster at that price. At $5 million per season, you’re asking for, at most, a win above replacement per year and Davis can offer that if utilized correctly.

Davis’ big carrying tool is his speed. He’s one of the best baserunners in the league:

Season G PA SB BsR
2006 20 17 1 -1.3
2007 75 219 22 1.9
2008 113 226 29 4.5
2009 125 432 41 8.2
2010 143 561 50 6.6
2011 95 338 34 4.6
2012 142 487 46 6.9
2013 108 360 45 10.2

You can see that in only limited playing time over his career he’s routinely stealing more than 30 a season and is adding between 0.5 and 1.0 wins with his overall baserunning game. He’s a career 87 wRC+ hitter, but he gets on base enough for his speed to play. There is very little power, but value is value. The Tigers could use some element of speed on their roster.

Davis hits lefties well and can’t touch righties, so a platoon with Dirks seems likely. Davis should be able to handle himself against left-handers this year and should add plenty of value on the bases in order to earn his $5 million salary. In that sense, this is a good move. Davis is a useful player on a good deal.

But the issue is the opportunity cost of signing Davis. At this point, the Tigers have essentially filled all 13 of their position player slots, all five of their starting rotation slots, and have just a couple of bullpen spots left up in the air. That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the Tigers are wrapping up the offseason with a downgraded roster. Davis isn’t a bad addition, but adding Davis prevents them from adding someone like Choo who would make them better. It seemingly decreases the odds of a trade as well.

The Tigers downgraded their rotation from Fister to Smyly, and we should also expect a little regression from Sanchez and Scherzer. They swapped Infante to Kinsler (pretty even), Peralta for Iglesias (slight downgrade), and Fielder for Castellanos (downgrade). In the bullpen, they’ve traded Smyly and Benoit for Nathan and Krol (downgrade). The other spots are up in the air, but even if you think I’m being harsh, the team certainly didn’t get better. It’s fine to rework the roster, but now they’re out of places to upgrade. And Dirks hardly needs a platoon partner, either (99 wRC+ vs LHP, 104 wRC+ vs RHP career).

In a vacuum, this move is a good one. Davis is a nice player who will bring you $5 million or better in value, but putting him on the roster blocks a move down the road that could bring more value to the team. The Tigers are at a place in which paying $20 million for 3 wins is probably a better baseball move than paying $5 million for one win. It’s not the value play, but if the Tigers are going to push their chips in and go for it, you need to be in with everything.

People keep waiting for the big move on the horizon in which the Tigers add a star outfielder. I don’t think that move is coming. Dave Dombrowski will leave Orlando with Rajai Davis and a little work to do in the bullpen – and that’s probably going to be it. The Tigers offseason plan has been a strange mix of smart and foolish. Somehow, signing Davis is both.

Casey Crosby Is Moving To The Bullpen

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In a move that was a long time coming, news broke Monday that Tigers LHP Casey Crosby will be given a chance to compete for a bullpen spot in 2014. Crosby will work to be one of the Tigers two lefties with Phil Coke and Ian Krol, and will hopefully try to approximate the excellent production offered by Drew Smyly in 2013.

It isn’t fair to put those expectations on Crosby, but he’s a hard throwing lefty who struggles with command. That screams bullpen arm. I’ve been looking for it for a while, and the time has finally come. He brings a fastball that touches 94-95, but sits a little lower. That said, it’ll play up in the bullpen. His breaking ball isn’t bad but the absence of a third pitch and command issues have prevented him from sticking.

High strikeouts, but high walks. Durability issues. That’s Crosby. There isn’t really a lot else to say, other than that Crosby was a top prospect because of his potential, but that potential wasn’t realized. You know, there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.

He’s entering his age 25 season and has just 12.1 MLB innings. A move to the bullpen should help. Here’s his delivery at a few key points. Screams reliever to me.

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