Young Guns: Danny Salazar

CL1-Danny-Salazar

*This is the first of a series profiling young pitchers who debuted in 2013. 

If you asked me at the beginning of last season which Indians pitching prospect would most likely contribute to the major league team, I would have answered unflinchingly: Trevor Bauer. Instead, Bauer– the prize of the Indians’ 2012 offseason– took a number of large steps backward, and when the Indians phoned AAA Columbus for rotation help last summer, it was Danny Salazar, not Bauer, who answered the call. Like lightning from the dim sky, Salazar emerged to deliver fifty-two glorious innings of ball. As a vote of confidence, Salazar was chosen to start the Indians lone playoff game v. Tampa Bay on October 2nd.

The stats speak for themselves:

IP W L K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% FB% ERA FIP xFIP
52 2 3 11.25 2.6 1.21 0.298 34.40% 39.80% 3.12 3.16 2.75

The 2.75 xFip and 11.25 k/9 were the best of any rookie starter who threw fifty or more innings. His misanthropic blend of high-octane heat and pornographic splitter made Major Leaguers look like Peanut Leaguers. Like another diminutive right-hander on the Young Guns list (Sonny Gray), he is unique in that he never appeared on a top 100 list, which leads us to this question: where the hell did this guy come from?

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Young Guns

fistful-of-dollars2013 was an excellent year for young starting pitchers. A number of young studs entered the fold mid-season and dramatically shifted the fates of real and fantasy clubs alike. They come in varying shapes & sizes, and demonstrate unique strengths, weaknesses, higher & lower ceilings and floors. Here is a short breakdown of pitchers who got their first taste of Major League coffee in 2013 and deserve our attention:

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% SwStr% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Sonny Gray Athletics 64 9.42 2.81 0.56 0.276 52.90% 9.50% 8.30% 2.67 2.7 2.92
Michael Wacha Cardinals 64.2 9.05 2.64 0.7 0.275 44.30% 11.30% 7.40% 2.78 2.92 3.36
Tony Cingrani Reds 104.2 10.32 3.7 1.2 0.241 34.30% 9.90% 12.60% 2.92 3.78 3.49
Danny Salazar Indians 52 11.25 2.6 1.21 0.298 34.40% 14.60% 13.70% 3.12 3.16 2.75
Alex Wood Braves 77.2 8.92 3.13 0.35 0.333 49.10% 9.20% 5.10% 3.13 2.65 3.18
Chris Archer Rays 128.2 7.06 2.66 1.05 0.253 46.80% 9.00% 11.70% 3.22 4.07 3.91
Gerrit Cole Pirates 117.1 7.67 2.15 0.54 0.308 49.10% 9.20% 8.10% 3.22 2.91 3.14
Zack Wheeler Mets 100 7.56 4.14 0.9 0.279 43.20% 8.80% 10.20% 3.42 4.17 4.21
Martin Perez Rangers 124.1 6.08 2.68 1.09 0.292 48.10% 9.80% 12.00% 3.62 4.23 4.04

In the weeks and months ahead I will be delving into pitch(f/x) data, game tape, statistics and scouting reports. I will profile each of these youngsters, outlining their arsenals, strengths, weaknesses and outlook for 2014 and beyond.

Stay tuned.

-@WordSmithSilva

 

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Marching With the Army

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Turns out, Yu Darvish is really good. *legendary GIF from reddit*

Last Tuesday I participated in my first fantasy mock draft of 2014. It was “Opening Day” for Howard Bender’s Mock Draft Army. The idea of the Army is this: bring industry experts together with their readers to talk ball, strategy and life. If you’re into fantasy baseball, I recommend checking out Mr. Bender’s twitter page and personal website for updates. Seriously, it’s a truly kick-ass experience.

The inaugural draft was a 12-team snake, 5 x 5 roto, with 23-man rosters, no bench. The crew was elite, as was the banter. We talked young pitching, Ubaldo Jimenez,  and…  the weather. By draft’s end, the Human_Beans– that’s me– looked like a solid bunch to begin a season with. Shortly thereafter I began work on a spreadsheet to catalogue the results, anxious to find who Steamer–the projection system– would crown King of the Draft (results can be found here ).

Much to my chagrin, I placed near the bottom of the standings. Not surprisingly, Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs “won”, by a not-so-small margin (he used Steamer as a guide). I’ve spent last few days poring over the results, extrapolating meaning, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

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What’s the Difference? A Note on Tom Glavine’s HOF Election

 

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsJust the other day, my Eephus co-writer Paul Moses and I had a long overdue discussion about the BBWAA and Hall of Fame. To be perfectly honest, I have mostly checked out of the conversation surrounding  steroid era players and the unprecedented logjam of talent on current HOF ballots. However, when the news broke last week that Tom Glavine would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, alongside Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas– two slam-dunk candidates– my interest was piqued. I remembered Glavine being good, but not first-ballot Hall of Fame good. I plugged in Glavine’s career statistics to Baseball Reference’s Play Index to find an active comp. To my surprise and delight, I found a spitting image:

BABIP

BB%

K%

GB%

LOB%

HR/FB

FIP

xFIP

ERA-

FIP-

0.280

8.10%

14.00%

45.30%

73.90%

9.30%

3.95

4.59

86

94

0.291

5.50%

13.80%

45.50%

72.60%

9.90%

4.14

4.21

86

93

Without coloring in the details (ERA, IP, WINS), these two players look identical. The biggest difference between Player 1 and Player 2 is career BB%; Player 1′s rate is considerably higher. If one of these players is a First Ballot Hall of Famer, the other must at least be in the conversation, right? Wrong.

Player 1 is… Tom Glavine.

Player 2 is… Mark Buehrle.

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SWAP MEET: Sox & D’backs rd. 2

 

Hahn Solo strikes again! For the second week in a row, Rick Hahn (White Sox GM) has bolstered his roster’s core by trading with GM bedfellow Kevin Towers (AZ D’Backs), turning a young, cost-controlled pitcher into a young, cost-controlled position player. Last week it was LHP Hector Santiago for CF Adam Eaton. This week it’s Relief Pitcher (Closer) Addison Reed for 3B prospect Matt DavidsonThis could be defined as a need based trade, although, in my mind, it’s a actual-need versus perceived-need trade.

It is a wild understatement to suggest the White Sox have a hole at 3B. It would be more accurate to call it a hemorrhaging flesh wound. Last year the Sox signed sojourner free agent (& contact guru) Jeff Keppinger to a 3yr/ $12M deal to fill the gap. Per Fangraphs, Keppinger was worth -1.5 fWAR in 2013, making him the 3rd worst regular player in baseball <min 450 PA> . He took BRONZE behind teammate Paul KonerkoSILVER: -1.8 fWAR and Adeinny Hechavarria‘s GOLD: -1.9 fWAR (congratulations, boys). In fact, Keppinger was something of a minor celebrity in baseball circles last year because he managed to have a lower On-Base-Percentage than Batting Average until May 16th, when he dramatically drew his first walk of the season (a walk off walk, no joke). Fortunately, Keppinger was not the only player to play 3B for Chicago in 2013 <his 117 games were split between 1B (20), 2B (45), DH (10), and 3B (41)>. The primary occupant was Conor Gillapsie, who was worth 0.7 fWAR in 113 games at third. Gillaspie was 15% below league average on offense, hitting .245/.305/.390 with 13 HR, while playing slightly below average defense (-1 Defensive Runs Saved). All said, the White Sox needed a 3B more than Walter White needed $$ for chemo.

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SWAP MEET: SNAKES, SOX, AND ANGELS

 

A fun trade happened today.

The Angels sent 1B/OF Mark Trumbo <autocorrect likes Mark Turbo> to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-way trade that netted them pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs and Screwballin’ Hector Santiago <from the Chicago White Sox>. The White Sox, in what was essentially a 1 for 1, received Type-A Dirtbag <in the grittiest of senses> Adam Eaton.

D’BACKS

In spite of acquiring the marquee name of the trade, the Diamondbacks appear to leave with the egg on their face; the White Sox and Angels are profiteers. In fantasy baseball, the adage for trades goes “ALWAYS get the best player.” Real baseball, slightly <okay, very> different from fantasy baseball, abides by a different set of rules. Trumbo might be** the deal’s best player, but he is also the most expensive (Set to make $6M in his first year of arbitration) and the closest to free agency (2017). Yes, the power is prodigious (scouts grade it out as 70+ on the 20-80 scale). And while it may not win them more games, watching Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo in an arms race to 40 dingers at Chase Field next year will be immeasurably fun <”viewing fun” not factored into projected WAR>.

D’Backs GM Kevin Towers makes his case for Trumbo acquisition:

Towers’ argument rests on the assumption that there is an impending dearth of right-handed power hitters on the trade and free agent markets. Presumably, he also thinks it easier to draft and develop an Adam Eaton than a Mark Trumbo. To the bomb shelter we go!

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Hot Stove: A’s Shaking the Bushes

The Oakland Athletics have been active over the last few days, to put it mildly. In the past 48 hours, they have executed 3 trades and a free agent signing, and don’t appear to be done shopping. Rumors swirl about Brett Anderson’s potential suitors- the M’s are interested, the Yankees enamored, the Blue Jays “infatuated.” He will likely be aggressively dangled by Billy Beane at next week’s winter meetings. Anyways, here is a summary of the week’s cooking in Oakland- no pun intended:

Step 1. Sign Scott Kazmir

The A’s first order of business was signing Scott Kazmir to a 2 yr/$22 MM contract. As Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs noted, the A’s have made a habit of signing talented players who are perceived as broken or damaged (see Coco Crisp & Jed Lowrie) at below market prices. Kazmir is no different.

Kazmir began his career with a bang. He racked up 12.6 fWAR in his first 3 full seasons (TB Rays-2005:2007) in the big leagues, making 2 All Star appearances over that span. In 2008, Kazmir’s effectiveness began to wane, the culprit poor mechanics and health issues (probably inter-related, but chicken or egg?). His fall into obscurity was well publicized, and after being cut by the Angels in 2011, Kazmir was seen as nothing more than a cautionary tale of yet another young flame thrower who burns white hot, only to find himself in stellar death.

Enter Cleveland. Last offseason the Indians signed Kazmir to a minor league contract with an invite to major league camp. Kazmir pitched well enough in spring training to earn himself a rotation spot, not surrendering a run until his final outing of the spring. He managed to stay relatively healthy and was an above average starter in 2013, posting 2.6 fWAR in 158 IP (4.04 ERA, 9.23 K/9, 2.93 BB/9). While his traditional numbers looked average, the A’s appear to be buying on the dazzling peripheral stats Kazmir posted this summer. While the 4.04 ERA leaves room for want, his 3.36 xFIP (20th best in the MLB) suggests that Kazmir was a bit unlucky, specifically in terms of the amount of HR’s and Hits he gave up. Kazmir’s average fastball velocity was 92.3 MPH in 2013, his best since 2007. Also check out this velocity map. Not only did Kazmir regain his peak velocity, but it steadily improved as the season progressed. Considering another Jekyll & Hyde act Ricky Nolasco (who is two years older than Kazmir) commanded a 4 year deal worth $49 MM, the short-term investment in Kazmir seems awfully shrewd. The run environment in Oakland and some positive statistical regression should bolster the resurgent Kazmir. Don’t be surprised if Kazmir posts a 3 to 4 win season in 14′.

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Hot Stove: Yes They McCann!

Injuries to an aging core and a mandate to slash payroll made 2013 a disappointing year for the championship-or-bust New York Yankees. They rostered a team-record 56 players and finished with an 85-77 record, which was a far better record than the active roster deserved. They missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1995. Rumblings from the team’s management suggest they intend to solve this problem the good ol’ fashioned Yankee Way: by throwing piles of money at top free agents.

MLB.com

Enter Brian McCann. The Yankees made the first big splash of the hot stove season by signing the best catcher on the market to a 5 year/$85 million contract with an option that could take it up to 6 years/$100 million. Per Fangraphs, McCann has accumulated the 3rd-most WAR [Wins Above Replacement] among catchers since 2008 and should be a perfect fit in New York for several reasons.

First, the Yankees got virtually nothing out of the catcher position after letting Russell Martin leave last winter. The combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, J. R. Murphy, and Austin Romine combined to produce less than one win [4th-worst among AL teams], most of which was produced by an unsustainable Cervelli hot streak that was cut short by a PED suspension. McCann was good for 2.7 WAR last year despite missing the beginning of the season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He also rates as an above average pitch framer, which adds value not accounted for in his WAR calculation.

Second, Yankee Stadium is tailor-made for a left-handed pull hitter like McCann. As illustrated below, the [in]famous short right field porch should add 5-10 home runs to the 20 per season he hit in Atlanta. You don’t need fancy metrics to know that turning singles, doubles and flyouts into home runs makes a player more valuable [Curtis Granderson says hello].

Photos from Jonah Keri/Grantland.com

McCann will be 30 next season, and it’s fair to ask whether or not he can play catcher for all 5 years he is under contract. Fortunately, there seems to be an elegant solution to this problem assuming he can keep producing at the plate into his mid 30s. Current first baseman Mark Teixeira is only under contract for three more seasons; and the Yankees have highly-rated catching prospect Gary Sanchez waiting in the wings after being promoted to AA last season. If everything goes to plan, McCann can slide to first base for his age-33 season to make room for Sanchez.

This is likely just the beginning of the Yankees’ winter shopping spree. They are rumored to be leading suitors for other top free agents such as Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. While McCann alone won’t be enough to vault them into the playoffs in 2014, signing him was probably the best start the team could reasonably hope for.

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Hot Stove: Here’s Jhonny

One of the early stories of the offseason was the Cardinals’ search to fill the (k)o(z)mic sized gap between second and third on the left side of their infield. According to fangraphs, starting SS Pete Kozma was worth just 0.1 WAR this past season, slashing an abominable .217/.275/.273, the worst of any regular player. While the defensive metrics [specifically UZR & DRS] suggest that Kozma was a league average defender (or better), the eye test beckons incredulity:

Pete Kozma Highlight Reel

Ryan Howard beating out a single

waino_utley

Oopsie Daisies, one step is just too far

Rumors began to swirl after the World Series: would it be a mega-deal for Tulowitzki? An overpay J.J. Hardy? A sneaky buy-low on a guy like Erik Aybar? When the dust settled last week, it wasn’t a trade minor or major, but a free agent signing, Jhonny Peralta: 4 years/$53 Million.

My initial reaction was this: why would the Cards commit 4 years and $13.25 million/year to a player with an erratic history on the wrong side of 30? Let us not even mention the fact that 2 of Peralta’s best offensive seasons have come in the last 3 years. And in one of those he was popped for roids!!

Upon further review… however… I’ve concluded Cards GM John Mozeliak is more genius than madman. Peralta is a good buy for multiple reasons:

  1. Draft Pick Compensation: A wrinkle in the current collective bargaining agreement is that any player who does not receive a qualifying offer from their team of origin does not require the sacrificing of a draft pick. The Cardinals, known for their scouting and development, have put an emphasis on the draft, employing their picks with amazing virtuosity. Michael Wacha is an obvious example. Drafted 19th overall in 2012 [a compensation pick for the loss of Albert Pujols to free agency-Thank YOU Angels... ZOINK], his meteoric rise to the pros in just one year is symbolic of the Card’s remarkable draft prescience. In fact, their entire roster is chock full of homegrown talent including: 2013 MVP candidate Matt Carpenter (13th rd, 2009 draft), 1B’s Matt Adams (23rd rd, 2009) and Allen Craig (8th rd, 2006), Yadier Molina (4th rd, 2000), Trevor Rosenthal (21st rd, 2009) et al. If the Cardinals had signed a free agent last offseason, Wacha would be elsewhere; a potential #2 starter under team control for the foreseeable future. Quite a valuable commodity.
  2. $$ MGMT: The club has excelled money-wise in recent years. With only $75 million committed to their current roster (a championship one at that), and only one hole to fill, overpaying for a couple years of an above-average-but-not-great shortstop until they find a replacement isn’t the worst idea in the world. If Peralta ends up a 3 win SS for the life of the contract, the Cardinals make out like bandits. This contract has upside.
  3.  Contract Structure: Unlike some of the other behemoths signed over the past couple off-seasons (I’m looking at you, Angels <head tilt>), the Peralta deal is sagely front-loaded. It looks like this: 2014-$15.5 mill, 2015-$15 mill, 2016- 12.5$ mill, 2017- $10 mill. Having the payout as a gradient from high to low is an advantage for the team, because even if Peralta moves off short (like many think he will), a league average third baseman at $10-12 mill/yr isn’t an immovable object.  It’s also worth noting that 2015-17 will be the years many of STL’s young studs will first be arbitration eligible.

The bottom line is this: the signing makes the Cardinals significantly better in 2014 and 2015, and doing so didn’t require leveraging a modicum of their future. This is an easy win for the Red Birds in my book…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture…?

Choo Alert

That doesn’t look like A.J. Pollock to me…

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