Tagged: MLB

How should Chris Davis be valued?

Answer: Not sure.

I’m trying to figure out this BABIP (batting average on balls in play) puzzle. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who notched a BABIP south of .324 just once in his career before last year (.275 in 2010), saw said statistic drop by almost 100 points in 2014. It’s easy to point to the defensive shift as a cause — when defenses shift on you 83 percent of the time, you almost have to — but I’m reluctant to buy in on this just yet.

Unfortunately, there is not much, if any that I know of, publicly-available defensive shift data. Prior to the 2014 season, Jeff Zimmerman published 2013 data courtesy of The 2014 Bill James Almanac. A haphazard calculation yields a 2013 “shift BABIP” about 18 points, or about 6 percent, lower than the MLB aggregate BABIP of .297. During the 2014 season, an ESPN feature projected defensive shifts to reach an all-time high, and by quite a margin, too. In light of this, one could hypothesize that more overall shifts would cause a lower aggregate BABIP. However, MLB’s aggregate BABIP in 2014 was .298.

None of this really tells us a whole lot. The shift BABIP would be awesome if it could be broken down by location of the ball in play — accordingly, I would strictly focus on a pull-side shift BABIP — but, alas, it does not. FanGraphs also breaks down a hitter’s spray chart numerically — you can view Davis’ pull-side splits here —  but it does not indicate how many times defenses shifted against him when he pulled the ball. Until this gap in the data can be both a) plugged and b) made publicly available, the answers we seek regarding the true effectiveness of the shift may evade us.

No matter, because I still want to try to figure some things out. Let’s talk a little bit of theory. Like a hitter’s BABIP, I think his shift BABIP is also likely to be volatile. No matter where you place your fielders, you cannot predict where a batter will hit the ball. If you study the spray charts and play the probabilities just right, you’ll surely turn a few more would-be hits into outs. But just like regular BABIP, there will still be an element of luck involved.

Thus, when I look at this table, reproduced from Mike Podhorzer’s FanGraphs post

Season At-Bats Balls in Play Shift Count % Shifted Shift BABIP No Shift BABIP
2012 515 346 110 31.8% 0.364 0.323
2013 584 385 199 51.7% 0.302 0.431
2014 450 277 230 83.0% 0.230 0.353

… I see all sorts of luck. I think the mistake is made when one relates shift percentage with shift BABIP. I expect more shifts to correlate with greater effectiveness — results that would be reflected in the hitter’s depressed batting average. But more shifts does not equate to greater effectiveness on a per-play basis, which is essentially what shift BABIP measures. In short: given that a player’s batted ball profile is identical year to year, his shift BABIP should have some semblance of consistency. We know that BABIP is pretty volatile, but there is a small element of consistency to it (for example, Edwin Encarnacion‘s BABIP is perennially stuck in the mid-.200s while Mike Trout‘s is typically buoyed in the upper-.300s). Thus, I would expect shift BABIP to exhibit at least a little bit of consistency, and for that consistency to produce consistently lower marks than that of the regular BABIP.

Speaking of batted ball profiles, Davis’ pull-side profile was consistent between 2013 and 2014:

Season LD% GB% FB%
2012 21.9% 60.9% 17.2%
2013 30.4% 48.5% 21.0%
2014 29.9% 52.1% 18.1%

Yet Davis’ pull-side BABIP dropped from .338 to .185. The decrease makes sense intuitively, but he saw the fewest shifts in 2012 and actually had a worse pull-side BABIP than he did in 2013. I don’t have to run a regression to show there’s no correlation to be found there (albeit in a minuscule sample size). Now, his increasing tendency to pull the ball (43.3% in 2012, 46.2% in 2013, 50.9% in 2014): that is something that should correlate well with shift BABIP. Because the shift BABIP doesn’t differentiate among ball placement, where the player hits the ball ought to affect his shift BABIP, especially if he predominantly pulls the ball. Thus, an increase in balls in play to the pull side should correlate with a decrease in shift BABIP. Despite all this, Davis recorded his highest shift BABIP during the year he pulled the ball with the least amount of authority.

Now, forgive me, but I have to try to make something of all of this. Let’s take the 6-percent decrease in aggregate BABIP when accounting for shifts (from earlier), and let’s say that teams shift on Davis 100 percent of the time. (It’s not unfathomable, given defenses shifted against him five times out of six, and it appears — it appears — to have succeeded with flying colors.) Given an identical batted ball profile from year to year, maybe I could expect his BABIP, which sat at .335 and .336 the two years prior to 2014, to fall to around .315 permanently. Even if his “true” BABIP benchmark is closer to .300, then maybe his overall shift BABIP is in the .280 ballpark. As he hits more and more balls to his pull side, his shift BABIP will decrease, as will his batting average. That I can fathom.

But I cannot bring myself to accept that a 10-percent increase in pull-side balls-in-play from 2013 to 2014 correlates with a 24-percent decrease in shift BABIP. I don’t think the latter can reasonably be larger than the former without a significant luck element involved. Then again, the 7-percent increase in pull-side balls from 2012 to 2013 resulted in a 17-percent decrease in shift BABIP produces an almost identical ratio (24/10 = 2.4, 17/7 = 2.429), so maybe there’s something I’m missing. But allow me to speak hypothetically: Let’s say Davis puts 100 balls in play, consisting of 50 to his pull side and 50 everywhere else. This silly 2.4-to-1 ratio demonstrates that one more ball hit to the pull side — that is, now he hits 51 balls to the pull side and 49 everywhere else — means not only is that one extra pulled ball an automatic out but also almost one-and-a-half more balls not to the pull side become outs. It’s simply incomprehensible, and I maintain that a percentage increase in balls hit to the pull side would correlate with at most a percentage decrease in shift BABIP.

Wrapping things up: I think it goes without saying that Davis got unlucky in the BABIP department in 2014 — it’s more a matter of determining how unlucky and why. I think his shift BABIPs betray Davis; I think he got especially lucky against the shift in 2012 and especially unlucky in 2014. In general, more shifts should suppress a hitter’s batting average but not his shift BABIP, and it’s Davis’ shift and pull-side BABIPs that absolutely tanked in 2014. Considering he still managed to hit a home run in 5 percent of his plate appearances, I a full 600 from Davis to yield at least 30 bombs, and I think that’s a modest projection. Couple that with a batting average rebound — which I fully expect at this point, strikeout rate disclaimers withstanding — and the down-and-out Davis could be a nice draft day bargain.

V-Mart, Abreu could join elite 30/.330 club

This morning, ESPN’s David Schoenfield mentioned that the Detroit Tigers’ Victor Martinez is baseball’s best hitter, leading all of Major League Baseball in wOBA (weighted on-base average) and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), which measures a player’s offensive contributions after controlling for park effects. It’s a shame he won’t earn many American League MVP votes — I wouldn’t be surprised if teammate and former MVP Miguel Cabrera blindly earned more — simply because he contributes little to no defensive value.

Still, V-Mart is batting .337 with 30 home runs, setting him up to be part of an elite club. It’s not a popular one, mostly because it doesn’t have a flashy name or fancy title, but it is still very much meaningful: The 30-HR, .330-BA Club.

There have been only 62 such seasons in the past 50 years. There are repeat offenders, however, so the club actually consists of only 37  hitters dating back to 1964.

And the names in this club are not nobodies. Cabrera. Albert Pujols. Todd Helton. Frank Thomas. Vladimir Guerrero. Chipper Jones. The list goes on. It’s a group of men that consists of seven Rookies of the Year and three Hall of Famers (and more to come) and has collected 31 MVP awards and 244 All-Star nods. The inclusion of Martinez and perhaps Chicago White Sox first baseman and Cuban rookie sensation Jose Abreu, who currently sits at 33 homers and a .317 average, would add another six All-Star berths and possibly another Rookie of the Year.

This is nothing more than a cool historical footnote. It doesn’t really feel like we are witnessing history because fans have witnessed 39 such seasons of 30/.330 since 2000, and Martinez’s teammate Cabrera has achieved the feat each of the past three years on his own. Still, when we discuss seasons of truly amazing hitting — commending not only a player’s power but also his incredible plate discipline and coverage — Martinez’ (and Abreu’s) names should be included in the conversation. And maybe it’s just me, but given Martinez’ age and career trajectory, his inclusion on the list will certainly be surprising — and impressive.

The comprehensive list (1964-2013), with number of times each player achieved 30/.330, is listed below.

5 times
Albert Pujols

4 times
Barry Bonds
Manny Ramirez
Todd Helton

3 times
Frank Thomas
Larry Walker
Miguel Cabrera
Mike Piazza
Vladimir Guerrero

2 times
Gary Sheffield
Jason Giambi

1 time
Adrian Beltre
Albert Belle
Alex Rodriguez
Billy Williams
Bret Boone
Carlos Delgado
Carlos Gonzalez
Chipper Jones
Dante Bichette
Dave Parker
David Ortiz
Derrek Lee
Don Mattingly
Ellis Burks
Fred Lynn
George Brett
Ivan Rodriguez
Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Kent
Josh Hamilton
Lance Berkman
Matt Holliday
Mo Vaughn
Moises Alou
Ryan Braun
Tim Salmon (Salmon is the only player on the list without an All-Star Game appearance. He achieved the feat in 1995, hitting .330 with 34 HR and a 1.024 OPS. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1993 alongside Piazza.)

Pitchers due for strikeout regression using PITCHf/x data

If FanGraphs were a home, or a hotel, or even a tent, I’d live there. I would swim in its oceans of data, lounge in its pools of metrics.

It houses a slew of PITCHf/x data — the numbers collected by the systems installed in all MLB ballparks that measure the frequency, velocity and movement of every pitch by every pitcher. It’s pretty astounding, but it’s also difficult for the untrainted eye to make something of the numbers aside from tracking the declining velocities of CC Sabathia‘s and Yovani Gallardo‘s fastballs.

I used linear regression to see how a pitcher’s contact, swinging strike and other measurable rates affect his strikeout percentage, and how that translates to strikeouts per inning (K/9). Ultimately, the model spits out a formula to generate an expected K/9 for a pitcher. I pulled data from FanGraphs comprised of all qualified pitchers from the last four years (2010 through 2013).

The idea is this: A pitcher who can miss more bats will strike out more batters. FanGraphs’ “Contact %” statistic illustrates this, where a lower contact rate is better. Similarly, a pitcher who can generate more swinging strikes (“SwStr %”) is more likely to strike out batters.

Using this theory coupled with the aforementioned data, I “corrected” the K/9 rates of all 2013 pitchers who notched at least 100 innings. Instead of detailing the full results, here are the largest differentials between expected and actual K/9 rates. (I will list only pitchers I deem fantasy relevant.)

Largest positive differential: Name — expected K/9 – actual K/9) = +/- change

  1. Martin Perez — 7.77 – 6.08 = +1.69
  2. Jarrod Parker — 7.74 – 6.12) = +1.62
  3. Dan Straily — 8.63 – 7.33 = +1.30
  4. Jered Weaver — 8.09 – 6.82 = +1.27
  5. Hiroki Kuroda — 7.93 – 6.71 = +1.22
  6. Kris Medlen — 8.38 –  7.17 = +1.21
  7. Francisco Liriano — 10.31 – 9.11 = +1.20
  8. Ervin Santana — 8.06 – 6.87 = +1.19
  9. Ricky Nolasco — 8.47 – 7.45 = +1.02
  10. Tim Hudson — 7.42 (6.51) | +0.91

Largest negative differential:

  1. Tony Cingrani — 8.15 – 10.32 = -2.17
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez — 7.68 – 9.56 = -1.88
  3. Cliff Lee — 7.11 – 8.97 = -1.86
  4. Jose Fernandez — 8.15 – 9.75 = -1.60
  5. Shelby Miller — 7.20 – 8.78 = -1.58
  6. Scott Kazmir — 7.71 – 9.23 = -1.52
  7. Yu Darvish — 10.41 – 11.89 = -1.48
  8. Lance Lynn — 7.58 – 8.84 = -1.26
  9. Justin Masterson — 7.84 (9.09) | -1.25
  10. Chris Tillman — 6.60 (7.81) | -1.21

There’s a lot to digest here, so I’ll break it down. It appears Perez was the unluckiest pitcher last year, of the ones who qualified for the study, notching almost 1.7 fewer strikeouts per nine innings than he would be expected to, given the rate of whiffs he induced. Conversely, rookie sensation Cingrani notched almost 2.2 more strikeouts per nine innings than expected.

There is a caveat. I was not able to account for facets of pitching such as a pitcher’s ability to hide the ball well, or his tendency to draw strikes-looking. With that said, a majority of the so-called lucky ones are pitchers who, in 2013, experienced a breakout (Cingrani, Fernandez, Miller, Darvish, Masterson, Tillman) or a renaissance (Jimenez, Kazmir, Masterson — woah, all Cleveland pitchers). Is it possible these pitchers can all repeat their performances — especially the ones who have disappointed us for years? Perhaps not.

(Update, Jan. 24: Cliff Lee’s mark of -1.86 is, amazingly, not unusual for him. Over the last four years, the average difference between his expected and actual K/9 rates is … drum roll … -1.88. Insane!)

Darvish and Liriano were in a league of their own in terms of inducing swings and misses, notching almost 30 percent each. (Anibal Sanchez was third-best with 27 percent. The average is about 21 percent.) However, Darvish recorded 2.78 more K/9 than Liriano. Is there any rhyme or reason to that? Darvish is, without much argument, the better pitcher — but is he that much better? I don’t think so. Darvish was expected to notch 10.41 K/9 given his contact rate. Any idea what his 2012 K/9 rate was? Incredibly: 10.40 K/9.

More big names produced equally interesting results. King Felix Hernandez recorded a career-best 9.51 K/9, but he was expected to produce something closer to 8.57 K/9. His rate the previous three years? 8.52 K/9.

Dan Haren didn’t produce much in the way of ERA in 2013, but he did see a much-needed spike in his strikeout rate, jumping above 8 K/9 for the first time since 2010. His expected 7.07 K/9 says otherwise, though, and it fits perfectly with how his K/9 rate was trending: 7.25 K/9 in 2011, 7.23 K/9 in 2012.

I think my models tend to exaggerate the more extreme results (most of which are noted in the lists above) because they could not account for intangibles in a player’s natural talent. However, they could prove to be excellent indicators of who’s due for regression.

Only time will tell. Maybe Jose Fernandez isn’t the elite pitcher we already think he is — not yet, at least.

————

Notes: The data almost replicates a normal distribution, with 98 of the 145 observations (67.6 percent) falling within one standard deviation (1.09 K/9) of the mean value (7.19 K/9), and 140 of 145 (96.6 percent) falling within two standard deviations. The median value is 7.27 K/9, indicating the distribution is very slightly skewed left.

Angels sign Mulder what are you serious

Surprisingly, the Angels actually upgraded their rotation by signing pitcher Mark Mulder. Huzzah!

I gotta say, a couple of trades have disappointed me strictly because I have fewer sleepers to tout. New veteran presences will likely cut into the playing time of Atlanta pitcher Alex Wood and St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong, both sophomores and ranked prospects, and that makes me sad, yo.

Braves sign SP Gavin Floyd
I would cry buckets if I was traded from the White Sox to the Braves. Floyd may flirt with fantasy relevance, but I think the bigger impact befalls Wood’s status as a starter. Unless the Braves wanted to waste their time squeezing Floyd into the bullpen, Wood will probably return to a late-inning role until further notice — bummer news for prospect fans and anyone who saw serious flashes of talent during his short stint as a starter last year. I think the Braves’ depth chart still has Wood listed as the No. 5 starter, but I expect change soon.

Floyd’s preseason rank: Not draftworthy
Wood’s preseason rank: Late-round bench-stash at best

Cardinals sign 2B Mark Ellis
Wong’s plate discipline and speed made him a very enticing low-tier middle infielder with upside, but not anymore. He should platoon with Ellis as Matt Carpenter assumes third base duties. Bummer, man. Given Ellis’ relative competence, I doubt Wong will ever win the job outright, either, barring injury.

Ellis’ preseason rank: Irrelevant
Wong’s preseason rank: Irrelevant… for now

Yankees sign 2B Brian Roberts
This is mainly here for comic relief.

Roberts’ preseason rank: No. 2 DL slot

Speaking of second basemen, when are the Mariners going to trade Nick Franklin?
Seriously, they could get a decent return for him, given he’s under team control for a while. MAKE MOVES, PEOPLE!

The role of luck in fantasy baseball

I apologize for being that guy that ruins that ooey gooey feeling you get when think about the fantasy league you won last year. As much as you want to think you are a fantasy master — perhaps even a fantasy god — you should acknowledge that you probably benefited from a good deal of luck. Sure, for your sake, I will admit you made a great pick with Max Scherzer in the fifth round. But did you, in all your mastery, predict he would win 21 games?

Don’t say yes. You didn’t. And frankly, you would be crazy to say he’ll do it again.

I focus primarily on pitching in this blog, and let it be known that pitchers are not exempt from luck in the realm of fantasy baseball. If you’re playing in a standard rotisserie league, you probably have a wins category. In a points league, you likely award points for wins.

Wins. Arguably the most arbitrary statistic in baseball. Let’s not have that discussion, though, and instead simply accept the win as it is. The win has the most drastic uncontrollable effect on a fantasy pitcher’s value. (ERA and WHIP experiences similar statistical fluctuations, but at least they aren’t arbitrary.)

I had an idea, but before I proceed, let me interject: if you’re drafting for wins, you’re doing it wrong. But, as I said, you can’t ignore wins.

But let’s say you did, and drafted strictly on talent, or “stuff” (which, here, factors in a pitcher’s durability). How would the top 30 pitchers change? Here’s my “stuff” list, which you can compare with the base projections:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Adam Wainwright
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Max Scherzer
  5. Cliff Lee
  6. Yu Darvish
  7. Chris Sale
  8. Cole Hamels
  9. Jose Fernandez
  10. Madison Bumgarner
  11. Stephen Strasburg
  12. David Price
  13. Justin Verlander
  14. Alex Cobb
  15. Homer Bailey
  16. Mat Latos
  17. Gerrit Cole
  18. Michael Wacha
  19. Anibal Sanchez
  20. James Shields
  21. Danny Salazar
  22. Marco Estrada
  23. A.J. Burnett
  24. Corey Kluber
  25. Brandon Beachy
  26. Zack Greinke
  27. Matt Cain
  28. Sonny Gray
  29. Hisashi Iwakuma
  30. Gio Gonzalez

Here are the five players with the biggest positive change and a breakdown of each:

  1. Brandon Beachy, up 23 spots
    His injury history has weakened his wins column projection. Consequently, the number of innings Beachy is expected to throw is significantly less than a full season. But if he managed to stay healthy for the full year (say, 200 innings)? He’s a top-1o pick based on pure stuff. If you draft with the philosophy that you can always find a viable replacement on waivers, Beachy could be your big sleeper.
  2. Marco Estrada, up 22 spots
    Estrada’s diminished expected wins is more a function of his terrible team than ability. Estrada has underperformed the past two years, Ricky Nolasco style, but if he can pull it together, he’s a top-30 pitcher based on “stuff.” And hey, maybe he can luck into some extra wins. However, if he can’t pull it together — Ricky Nolasco style — he’ll be relegated to fringe starter.
  3. Danny Salazar, up 9 spots
    Salazar has immense potential. His injury history led the Indians to cap his per-game pitch count last year, and that has been factored into his projection. But if he’s a full-time, 200-inning starter? He’s a top-25 starter with top-15 upside. Again, this is in terms of “stuff”. But is Ivan Nova better than Felix Hernandez because he can magically win more games? Of course not. Among a slew of young studs, including Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and so on, Salazar is a diamond in the rough.
  4. A.J. Burnett, up 8 spots
    His projection is already plenty good. But you saw how many games he won in 2013. Anything can happen.
  5. Corey Kluber, up 8 spots
    Most people were probably scratching their heads when they saw Kluber’s name listed above. Frankly, I’m in love with him, and it’s because he’s a stud with a great K/BB ratio. I understand why someone may be inclined to dismiss it as an aberration, but his swinging strike and contact rates are truly excellent. Even if they regress, he should be a draft-day target.

Here are the three starting pitchers with the biggest negative change.

  1. Anibal Sanchez, down 10 spots
    He’s great, but he also plays for a great team. Call it Max Scherzer syndrome. He carries as big a risk as any other player to pitch great but only win five or six games, as do the next two players.
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma, down 6 spots
  3. Zack Greinke, down 4 spots

Let me be clear that although I created a hypothetical scenario where wins didn’t exist, I don’t advocate for blindly drafting based on “stuff.” It’s important to acknowledge that certain players have a much better chance to win than others. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox could win 17 games just as easily as he could win seven. It’s about playing the odds — and unless a pitcher truly pitches terribly, don’t blame the so-called experts for your bad luck. He probably put his money where his mouth is, too, and is suffering along with you.

Here is a more comprehensive list of pitchers ranked by “stuff,” if that’s the way you sculpt your strategy:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Adam Wainwright
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Max Scherzer
  5. Cliff Lee
  6. Yu Darvish
  7. Chris Sale
  8. Cole Hamels
  9. Jose Fernandez
  10. Madison Bumgarner
  11. Stephen Strasburg
  12. David Price
  13. Justin Verlander
  14. Alex Cobb
  15. Homer Bailey
  16. Mat Latos
  17. Gerrit Cole
  18. Michael Wacha
  19. Anibal Sanchez
  20. James Shields
  21. Danny Salazar
  22. Marco Estrada
  23. A.J. Burnett
  24. Corey Kluber
  25. Brandon Beachy
  26. Zack Greinke
  27. Matt Cain
  28. Sonny Gray
  29. Hisashi Iwakuma
  30. Gio Gonzalez
  31. Doug Fister
  32. Jordan Zimmermann
  33. Alex Wood
  34. Kris Medlen
  35. Jeff Samardzija
  36. Mike Minor
  37. Jake Peavy
  38. Kevin Gausman
  39. Tyson Ross
  40. Patrick Corbin
  41. Lance Lynn
  42. Francisco Liriano
  43. Andrew Cashner
  44. Ricky Nolasco
  45. CC Sabathia
  46. Hiroki Kuroda
  47. Tim Lincecum
  48. Tim Hudson
  49. Jered Weaver
  50. Shelby Miller
  51. Clay Buchholz
  52. Tony Cingrani
  53. Matt Garza
  54. John Lackey
  55. Ubaldo Jimenez
  56. Justin Masterson
  57. Julio Teheran
  58. R.A. Dickey
  59. A.J. Griffin
  60. Hyun-Jin Ryu
  61. Dan Haren
  62. Johnny Cueto
  63. C.J. Wilson
  64. Ian Kennedy
  65. Chris Archer
  66. Kyle Lohse
  67. Scott Kazmir
  68. Carlos Martinez
  69. Jon Lester
  70. Ervin Santana
  71. Jose Quintana
  72. Derek Holland
  73. Garrett Richards
  74. Dan Straily
  75. Tyler Skaggs

Choo, Ibanez, Johnson, Balfour, NOT Balfour… and more

I am so far behind, guys. I’m sorry. Really. But hey! Happy holidays! Spend it with the people you love, and if you can’t, be sure to think about them, for they are probably thinking about you, too.

Anyway, yeah, I’m way behind. I’m going to list a handful moves that have been made, in case you were not aware of them, and I will elaborate on the ones that are most intriguing.

Angels sign OF Raul Ibanez
I mean, they needed someone to fill the role of Old Left Fielder once Vernon Wells left. This deal isn’t that bad, though, because the Angels signed the aging outfielder to a one-year contract rather than for two or three years. He won’t hit 29 home runs again, but the power isn’t a fluke, either considering he has surpassed 30 home runs twice since his age-33 season. I expect something more like 19 home runs, but I think he has mid-20s upside as well, as long as he can stay healthy. Ibanez seems like he’s got some Duracell in him, though. He’s the Energizer Bunny.

Preseason rank: Low-tier or backup OF

Astros sign SP Scott Feldman
Feldman is even more irrelevant in fantasy than he used to be.

Twins re-sign SP Mike Pelfrey

Athletics sign RP Jim Johnson
Orioles sign RP Grant Balfour… but fails his physical
This was an interesting pair of moves, considering each player was signed independently of the other for roughly the same price. Balfour is the better pitcher, though, as evidenced by Johnson’s volatile percentage of converted saves. (Balfour, however, does walk a batter too many for my taste.) It was recently announced, though, that Balfour failed his physical and was thus not signed by the Orioles. I don’t know much more about it, but I’m guessing it has to do with his age, considering I heard little (if nothing) about any ailments Balfour experienced in 2013. I have a feeling this will turn into a Mike Napoli type of situation, where a team will get him for a bargain and cash in. In the meantime, he’s teamless. But I wouldn’t let the size of his next contract influence my ranking of him.

Johnson’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP
Balfour’s preseason rank: Mid-tier RP

Athletics receive SP Drew Pomeranz and RP Chris Jensen, Rockies receive SP Brett Anderson
Say goodbye to any chance of Anderson living up to his potential ever again. Meanwhile, Pomeranz just went from lost-cause prospect to fringe starter-slash-fantasy sleeper. Pomeranz put up great numbers in the minors because being banished to the pitchers’ hell that is Coors Field and has always had good stuff: 10.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9. See that? Pomeranz used to be great at limiting home runs. And the high walk rate is negligible with a strikeout rate like his minor league rate. Pomeranz has underwhelmed since getting the call in 2011, though, let alone being humiliated last year in 16 starts. I won’t be surprised if he garners little credence in preseason ranks for 2014. But if the Athletics give him a legitimate shot at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, things could get interesting. I’m not saying he’s worth drafting, because he doesn’t look anything like the pitcher he once was in the minors. But a change of scenery, especially away from Colorado, could be exactly what Pomeranz needs

Pomeranz’s reseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter
Anderson’s preseason rank: Barely a top-100 starter

In other news…

Merry Christmas!

Irrelevant Marlins making a splash

A cringeworthy article title, dare I say so myself.

The Miami Marlins are making all sorts of moves this offseason, although none of them look like they’ll turn the club into a respectable one, nor do I think its front office hopes they will. Signing shortstop Rafael Furcal and outfielder Garrett Jones to short-term contracts basically confirms they’re there to fill spots on the cheap, and essentially relegates both of them to fantasy irrelevancy. Signing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the Marlins’ signal caller is interesting in a way I’m having trouble articulating other than just simply saying the word “interesting.” He’s young, he came off of a good year, and I figured another suitor would try to win him over. There. Lastly, they traded outfielders with the Cubs: Justin Ruggiano for Brian Bogusevic. I honestly don’t understand that one at all.

BUT! I’m guessing Ruggiano will go largely undrafted because of his pretty awful 2013. However, he is getting shipped to a better team, even if only a marginally better one, and he’s a legitimate 20-homer, 20-steal threat if he earns a starting role. He won’t hit .220 again, but he also won’t hit much better than .250, either. Still, he’s worth a late-round pick as long as Jorge Soler has not yet reared his talented head in the majors. Otherwise, Ruggiano will likely be benched in favor of Soler, Nate Schierholtz and Junior Lake.

Speaking of nautical things, I’ve intentionally overlooked the biggest offseason signing thus far.

SEA signs 2B Robinson Cano

… for a ridiculous sum of money the Mariners will almost certainly regret. I already expressed my disdain for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury‘s long-term contract. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cano simply mailed it in now that he got the contract he wanted (almost). However, the Mariners figure to be pretty decent, if not somewhat of a threat next year (not to be confused with a legitimate playoff threat, however). I’ll get to that in a bit. Meanwhile, people will probably try to tell you Cano’s production will drop off next year. Don’t listen to them; you probably listened to them when they told you outfielder Hunter Pence would be stifled in AT&T Park. The Yankees had one of their worst teams in a very long time, yet Cano still mashed for more than 100 RBI. He didn’t crack 100 runs for the first time in five years (he barely reached 80), and that could be a lingering side effect of moving to an arguably less productive team that is less capable of driving him in. But home runs and RBI can fluctuate pretty wildly from year to year, as there is still an element of luck involved with both, and I wouldn’t immediately dismiss Cano as a top-3 player at his position. If anything, I would seize the opportunity to get a premium positional power hitter at any type of discount.

Winner: Cano, even though he didn’t get $300 million
Preseason rank: Top-2 second baseman

SEA signs OF Corey Hart
The dude has been dealing with knee woes for the past year and a half, yet he still crushed 30 homers in 2012 at age 30. He’s entering his age 32 year, and after opting for surgery on both his knees, I understand, again, why one may dismiss a player like Hart. But he has averaged 24 home runs the past six years, and that includes time missed from injury. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that there is inherent injury risk here, but there could be a lot of hidden value here.

Winner: Both
Preseason rank: Top-50 outfielder — full rankings pending

Meanwhile, this is how the Mariners starting lineup appears to shape up:

C Mike Zunino
1B Jesus Montero (or Justin Smoak)
2B Cano
SS Brad Miller (assuming Nick Franklin gets traded now that Cano is here)
3B Kyle Seager
LF Dustin Ackley
CF [Logan Morrison — pending]
RF Hart

SP Felix Hernandez
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP Taijuan Walker
SP Danny Hultzen or James Paxton or Erasmo Ramirez

Their rotation boasts young talent reminiscent of the current Atlanta Braves rotation. Meanwhile, the infield looks awesome, assuming Montero can display the hitting prowess for which scouts hyped him. Clearly, Ackley is not a permanent solution in the outfield, and the Mariners need a legitimate center fielder with Franklin Gutierrez headed out. Point is, their team doesn’t look that bad. In fact, they could be a nice underdog pick early in the season in the realm of sports betting.