Baseball Jeremiad

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A Curiously Intelligent Baseball blog

Phillies Extend Howard; Sabermatricians Go Ballistic

Craig Calcaterra tees off:

But he’s also — at best — the third most valuable player on the Phillies, and reasonable arguments can be made that he’s not even that high. He’s big and he’s slow and despite that extra work he’s put in, it’s more likely than not that he’s going to age poorly.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of Ryan Howard’s most comparable players through age 29 — his age for the 2009 season — according to Baseball-Reference.com: Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, David Ortiz, Tony Clark, Mark McGwire, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff and Norm Cash.  The only two guys on that list who didn’t fall off a cliff before age 36 are McCovey and McGriff, and they were a heck of lot skinnier than even Ryan Howard v.2.0 is. The rest of those names should constitute nightmare fuel for Phillies fans.

Rob Neyer unloads too:

Ryan Howard’s new contract is a testament the enduring power of the Are-Bee-Eye. It’s also a testament to old-school ignorance: ignorance of aging patterns, ignorance of position scarcity, ignorance of opportunity costs … hey, take your pick. The Phillies have done a lot of things right over the last few years. But this is a big bowl of wrong.

And Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs:

Even if you think baseball’s salary per win goes up to $4.25 million this coming offseason and rises at a 5% clip every winter through 2017, Howard will need to produce an average of 4.75 wins from 2012 through 2017 just in order to justify his salary. If you factor in that Howard gets (even more) long-term security from this deal, then that average production levels goes up to 5.3 wins.

In other words, Howard will need six seasons that were better than his 2009 season, except over his 32-37 years. I’m not sure I would lay even money on him achieving even half of that. This contract is both incredibly risky and unnecessary since Howard was already signed through 2011. Say hello to baseball’s newest worst contract.

And Duk at Yahoo! Sports:

Part of it may be an overreaction to the Phillies making a mistake by not buying out a few of Howard’s post-arbitration years at a cheaper rate, but playing the waiting game would have:

1) Given Amaro time to see if Howard’s skills decline over the next two years or suffer a big injury that would limit or cut his production in a similar way

2) Allowed the Phillies more time to weigh and address other upcoming needs, like re-signing Jayson Werth(notes) this offseason or strengthening a bullpen that could use retooling.

And:

If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year.”
ESPN’s Keith Law on the Ryan Howard extension.

Then again, Tyler Kepner of the “Bats” Blog doesn’t think it’s a bad idea:

Howard, 30, is an elite power hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies, with at least 45 home runs in each of the last four seasons. But he has transformed himself from a one-dimensional slugger into an asset in the field and on the bases, too. It helped earn him a five-year, $125 million extension on Monday from a team that had once been uncertain about how long to keep him.

But, even Crashburn Alley is very hesitant:

Most Phillies fans will love the extension, as it keeps a fan favorite in town for a long time. Stat-savvy fans immediately dislike the deal. Most Phillies fans will come to loathe the deal in several years when the Phillies are hamstrung by Howard’s relatively large salary and declining production.

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

This will be a fun ride for two, maybe even three more years, but it will quickly become tumultuous.

And if you’re into charts and graphs, check this out (courtesy of Crashburn Alley):

Ouch.

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Cleaning Up the Reader

Fernando Nieve has appeared in 12 games for the Mets this year.  With due acknowledgement of the small sample size, that puts him on pace to appear in 108 games.  For those of you keeping track at home, that’s a lot of games.  As soon as I can get myself logged into the Baseball-reference.com Play Index, I need to check Nieve’s seemingly historic pace against other relievers.

As a Mets’ fan, I’m thrilled to see Nelson Figueroa back in the big leagues.  I’m notably less thrilled to see him pitching effectively for the Phillies.

Bill Baer over at Crashburn Alley isn’t panicking about Cole Hamels’ continued troubles.  Upon reviewing a chart of his pitch selection, Baer prescribes a remedy for Hamels:

His fastball and curve use has increased and his change-up use has decreased in each start. In other words, between his first and most recent start, Hamels has decreased the use of his best pitch by over 26% in favor of lesser quality pitches. While he has utilized his cutter in his last three starts, he is doing so at the expense of his change-up and that is not a winning strategy.

Still, Hamels has been unlucky. His 5.11 ERA is much higher than his retrodicted 3.13 SIERA. While he has been more BABIP lucky (.275), his HR/FB% (30.4%) is about three times higher than it should be. Meanwhile, his strikeout and walk rates are great at 9.5 and 2.2 respectively — a better than four-to-one ratio.

If Cole wants to get back on the winning track, he doesn’t need to change much — he just needs to ride out yet another wave of bad luck, be a little more precise with his location, and to stop using his other pitches at the expense of his change-up. That’s really it. Based on events proven to be within a pitcher’s control — strikeouts, walks, and GB/FB rates — he has pitched very well. With a few minor tweaks, he can put himself in a better position where he won’t be resting his fate on rolls of the dice.

MLB Trade Rumors has a list of the highest paid play on each MLB team.  Can you guess who’s the highest paid player on your favorite squad?

 Nick Johnson’s back hurts and he has missed the last two games.  In other words, the sun rose this morning.

Fan Graphs has fun with small sample sizes.  For example:

  • More Houston woes… the club has walked a total of 18 times. The next fewest walks for a team is 37 by the Royals. The team with the most walks is the… Twins (?!) with 79.
  • There are three hitters in the Majors that have walked as much or more than the entire Astros team (David Wright, Daric Barton, and Nick Johnson). Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger account for 12 of the team’s walks (six apiece). Feliz hasn’t walked in 56 plate appearances, Tommy Manzella has a goose egg in 40, and Hunter Pence has one in 57. Seriously, that’s pathetic. As for the Twins, Justin Morneau (15), Denard Span (13), Jason Kubel (10), and Joe Mauer (10) are all in double-digits. Span figures to benefit from the increased focus with on-base percentage given that it should provide him with more stolen base opportunities.

    And in a nod to loyal reader, FM, “Cookie” threw a heckuva game last night.

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    It Just Isn’t Easy

    I had a boss in high school when I worked at a law firm.  When things went wrong she said had two “go-to” lines:

    • The system has failed; and
    • It just isn’t easy.

    Well, if you’re a Pirates fan right now, both could apply. 

    RJ Anderson of FanGraphs checked out the Pirates rotation through the first weeks of the season.  Looking at these numbers lead me to believe that the Pirates might need to invest in a second or even a third bullpen catcher.

    It seems like The Bullpen Gospels might be a winner.

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    Baseball Musings

    • Adam Dunn could become only second player ever to have higher number of strikeouts than BA (currently 157 K and .163). First was M Reynolds. 5 years ago
    • At least the New York Times remembers the Expos... http://fb.me/BhzEslEO 6 years ago
    • MLB Network on Sabathia: "CC is one of the few pitchers in the league who is his own batting eye." 6 years ago
    • Sabathia vs. Halladay tonight: noted hitting hurler Sabathia is hitting .500 against Cy Young winners (okay, he's 1 for 2 against Johan) 6 years ago
    • RT @jaysonst: Now that Stephen Strasburg has pulled into town, the most important era in Nationals history has officially begun. http:// ... 6 years ago

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