Sunday, November 30, 2014

Long-Term Plan for the Rockies

This plan is basically about not winning much next year and setting the team up for 2016-2020.
This plan acknowledges that the team has a lot of strengths and a lot of holes and we probably aren’t likely to fix things just by doing nothing or by hoping for health.
This plan acknowledges that there is a wave of MiLB talent set up to arrive around 2016 & 2017.
This plan is centered on signing Jason Heyward.

Jason Heyward will be a free agent at the end of 2015. Jason Heyward will also be one of the youngest free agents we’ve seen in a long time (and possibly for a while given the trend of extensions for young players). He won’t be cheap to sign at all and we (or any team) will have to spend a lot of money to get Heyward. His expected annual salary will start somewhere around 20 mill give or take some based on the exact contract structure. This would pay Heyward like he’s a 4-win player per year, which he basically is.

Why does Jason Heyward make sense for us? Well there are a few reasons:
  1. He bats left handed and Coors favors lefties.
  2. He is elite defensively in RF and in a home park like Coors where more balls are put into play, we’d likely benefit more from his defense than any other team.
  3. He is extremely young. He’ll turn 26 after the All-star break next year.
  4. He’s so good defensively in RF that he could also play CF for teams. I wouldn’t sign him expecting him to be a CF but that flexibility could come in handy.
  5. He’s not necessarily a power hitter but he’s shown flashes of it and is young enough where he could add some power.
  6. He does something not many of our players do: get on base. He could be excellent batting leadoff or second for us.
  7. Adding him allows us to trade CarGo and basically swapping Heyward for CarGo gives us another LHB outfielder who is younger and will still be in his prime when Dahl/Tapia arrive.
Risks with Heyward:
  1.  He’s been inconsistent. He can pretty much be guaranteed to play awesome defense but his hitting has been between average to fringe-elite. Any team signing him is dreaming on his upside but may come away with a player who despite justifying his salary appears somewhat disappointing.
  2.  He’s not entirely injury-free. He’s had his share of injuries but still seems like a strong bet to play 140 games a year. He’s averaged 136 games a season for his career.
      The first part of the plan involves signing Jason Heyward to a contract that probably looks completely ridiculous at the outset. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs suggests that contracts for Heyward will start at something like 10 years and 200 million. Cameron mentions this isn’t crazy compared to what Stanton got or what Cano got one year ago. A contract like that is justifiable based on Heyward’s performance and especially his age. 

I don’t care about the specific years or dollar amount of the contract. I’d give Heyward whatever he wants overall: 10 years, 200 million, 11 years 240, whatever. It doesn’t matter because any deal I’m signing Heyward to allows him to opt-out after 4 years. Essentially, what makes Heyward such an appealing signing is the almost guaranteed lack of long-term risk. A deal that involves an opt-out after 4 seasons means Heyward will play for us from 2016-2020 and more importantly he’ll be 26-27 during the first season and 29-30 for the last season. I’d even add a second player opt-out after the 6th year to protect him from the risk of him having an injury-riddled year in his opt-out year and then still allowing him to hit the FA market at 32. Ultimately, whatever the final terms of the contract are, I’d realistically pencil him in to be making 20-24 million a year for 4 years and to then leave.

The Rest of The Plan:

Signing Heyward after 2015 gives us one year to have CarGo rebuild his value on the field. This also makes CarGo that much closer to free agency. Teams looking to acquire CarGo may like acquiring him for fewer years because for a guy with his injury history, a strong rebound in performance + less long-term risk for any acquiring team may merge into a nice return package for CarGo. So if he does stay healthy, trade CarGo for a pitcher. Any strong pitcher/pitching prospect with a strong fastball and a slider as their out-pitch should be the return we’re looking for. Trading CarGo also basically means adding Heyward is an even swap salary-wise and Heyward + a strong pitcher/pitching prospect > CarGo.

Over the next few years then a few things can and would need to happen such as trading Wilin, Blackmon, and Morneau at certain points for relievers, a catcher, a 2b, etc. Dickerson would start taking reps at 1b to create flexibility. Giving Dickerson that flexibility means a few things over this 2016-2020 timeline:
  1. It means we’re not relying entirely on both Dahl and Tapia working out. Only one of them can work out and we’d still have an extremely strong outfield.
  2. If both of them work out then Dickerson can play 1b.
  3. Dickerson’s flexibility means that we can keep our eyes open during this window to add either an OF or a 1b. This creates a nice alternative to being dead-set on hoping a strong 1b comes around or banking on both Dahl AND Tapia not only reaching the bigs sooner rather than later but also being positive contributors sooner rather than later.
    1.  If you think about it, Tapia probably wouldn’t reach the majors until somewhere in 2017 and if he needs a year or so to adjust won’t really be a positive contributor until 2019. It’s also possible he needs more than a year to adjust and wouldn't be a factor at all during this period. The same holds true for Dahl though my guess is that one of them (with Dahl being the more likely one) does work out during this timespan.
So in 2017...
Our outfield would be:
Dickerson or someone else | Dahl | Heyward

Our infield would be:
Arenado | Tulo | 2b or DJ | Dickerson or someone else

Our rotation would be (in no particular order):
Matzek | Gray | the return from trading CarGo | and then a number of other options:
  1. Lyles will be in his last year of arbitration
  2. Tyler Anderson and/or Kyle Freeland will be either in the MLB or close.
  3. Tyler Chatwood will be in his last year of arbitration
  4.  Eddie Butler will also be eligible though I’ve saved him for last because so far, he seems like a guy that I personally would give the CJ Wilson/Lance Lynn treatment. He would pitch out of the bullpen for a year or two, adjust to the majors, limit his innings and see how his health is. If he still seems fragile then he’s probably destined for the bullpen, but if not he could still step in and be dynamite.
The bullpen can’t really be speculated upon this far out and I wouldn’t expect anyone we currently have in the bullpen to be around in 2017 given reliever volatility and turnover. Nevertheless, the following facts/guesses can still provide some info:
  1. Both Ottavino and Brothers would be in their last year of arb (and would be cheaper since neither of them are projected to close games in 2015 at all).
  2. Someone like Kahnle would still be making the league minimum.
  3. Trades of guys like Blackmon, Wilin, and Morneau could net another 1-2 arms.
  4. Whichever starters don’t make the rotation early could be bullpen arms.
  5. Possibly someone like Daniel Winkler, who has never really looked like a real SP option for Coors/the Rockies may be back from TJ, effective, and a legit bullpen option.
  6. There would be 2 seasons for us to find scrap-heap guys or rule V guys that can contribute like Ottavino and Kahnle, respectively.
Basically the plan then works as follows:
  1. Sign Heyward
  2. Trade CarGo for a legit SP
  3. Give ourselves about 2 years of development for prospects
    1. There’s been zero mention of Trevor Story, Ryan McMahon, Kevin Padlo, Tom Murphy, etc. because all of these prospects simultaneously look like guys who have bright MLB futures ahead of them or no chance of really being an impact player. It’s entirely possible that Story can be our 2b of the future or that McMahon can play 1b for us… or not. I’m not comfortable guaranteeing a MLB spot for any of our prospects other than Dahl and Gray. It would enter too much risk into this exercise to start building plans around our non-Dahl/-Gray prospects.
  4. Give ourselves about 2 years to build our rotation and bullpen and find a strong defensive catcher.
Lastly, this plan appears financially workable. It’s mostly built around having Heyward and Tulo be the only really expensive players signed to a contract. Beyond them there will be a ton of guys either pre-arbitration or in their early years of arbitration. By trading CarGo and Morneau as well as having JDLR leave via free agency or trade, there should be some flexibility to sign guys apart from Heyward throughout this window. This slack money could obviously be used for whatever - signing free agents or signing Arenado/Dickerson to extensions or acquiring players in trades.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Colorado Voting, Non-Voters, and Why This Still Matters

As I warned you all in my introductory post, while this blog is going to be mostly baseball-centric, and mostly Rockies-baseball-centric, there are also gonna be posts like this, which are about literature, music, theater, or perhaps in this case, the political process. No, this is not going to be a post where I tell you how Mark Udall is the champion of light while Cory Gardner eats babies or that Bob Beauprez has Colorado soil in his veins while John Hickenlooper drinks the oil of the wealthy alongside a microbrew called "Frackin Framboise". Not going there at all. You vote for who you're going to vote for for the reasons you're going to vote for them. That is your right as a taxpaying American citizen. Or maybe you aren't going to vote at all, which is also your right as a taxpaying American citizen.

What I will encourage you to do is to set aside your cynicism, non-voters, and actually take a look at your ballot.

I've seen a couple of people already post the George Carlin clip about not voting, because "fuck 'em". I get that as well, the US House of Congress is super corrupt and all in the pockets of big greedy corporations and they don't have term limits and and and.

If you're not familiar with the clip, here it is:


Frankly, I find that approach completely lazy, and in part because I've held that viewpoint myself. Everything is corrupt, why try? Because I can legally smoke marijuana now, that's why. Not because of the pot itself, but something I voted on that didn't have much to do (at least at this point) with the hypercorrupt Washington fatcats and now it's directly affecting my life. That's how this stuff is supposed to look, but we've been blinded by the notion that Washington elections are the most important thing OR that Washington elections are just voting for the same douchebags over and over so why even bother.

Do I think if I vote for Udall or Gardner it's REALLY going to make a major difference in the USA's future? Of course I don't. I get what George is saying, but the non-voters citing corruption and fatalist outcomes and all that seem to be focusing on 3 particular races in this election, US Senate, US Representatives, and Colorado Governor/Lt. Governor. But are you aware that on this ballot there are also:

  • Colorado Attorney General
  • Colorado Secretary of State
  • Colorado Treasurer
There are also 6 incumbent Colorado Senators not running for reelection (4 Republican, 2 Democrat) and 17 Colorado Representatives not running for reelection (11 Republican, 6 Democrat). Combine that with the gubernatorial election, and we're looking at the current Democrat Trifecta (Governor and their party controlling both the House and Senate) being broken up. I won't delve into the potential ramifications here, but you can read a smidge about it here or here.

Ca├▒on City, Palisade, Palmer Lake, Paonia, and Ramah all have Recreational Marijuana Leagalization measures/referendums on the ballot, while Manitou Springs, Lakewood, Red Cliff, and amusingly enough, Palmer Lake all have Recreational Marijuana BANS on their ballots.

Loveland is voting on a 2-year Fracking Suspension.

There are, oh my god, so many retention elections for Judges on the ballot, and while that may seem daunting to see an entire column on the flip side of the ballot of only Judges (from both Appelate and Trial courts), these men and women are just so incredibly important. No, they're not glamorous or fun to vote for, as we don't get to rally around them like we do other elected officials and we don't really see smear campaigns against them and such, but they're important. Maybe you're like me and haven't gotten into the kind of trouble in life thus far that really requires you to appear before a judge. 

That being said, these are the people who make a lot of the decisions regarding the legality of issues we face in our day-to-day lives. The Colorado Blue Book that every registered voter should have received gives you a nice breakdown of each judge, their backgrounds and education, their surveyed approval ratings from attorneys and non-attorneys involved in the judicial system, feedback on their performance, and recommendations from the Legislative Council Staff. It's REALLY not that hard, and it's all written in language the legal layman can understand. I mean hell, I understood it.

Finally, if this hasn't persuaded you enough, there are 4 Statewide ballot initiatives that are looking to pass, some more controversial than the others. Let's very quickly run through all 4 of them in no order whatsoever with a VERY brief description of the initiative.

Proposition 104. Prop 104 requires open School Board meetings regarding collective bargaining negotiations. If you're a sports fan, CBA means a lot, and if you have kids in public schools, maybe this will pique your interest.

Proposition 105. Prop 105 requires labeling on food products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs. Super hot button. Or not. I don't know where you buy your groceries.

Amendment 68. This is the one about allowing casino gaming at horse tracks, but there's a LOT more going on than just some slots while you watch the ponies, mostly in terms of where the money is going. If you haven't voted yet, please PLEASE read into this one more than just the catchy headline of "MONEY FOR KIDS AND SCHOOL AND SHIT".

And finally, what I personally consider to be bar far and long the most important issue on this ballot:

Amendment 67. To put this as succinctly as possible, this is a Personhood Amendment that recognizes unborn children as persons in the Colorado Criminal Code and Colorado Wrongful Death Act. I won't say anything more about this because I don't want to have that conversation online, but this is a pretty important Amendment with a LOT of HEAVY ramifications in either outcome.

And if those weren't enough to get you at least a LITTLE interested, scroll down a bit on this page to see what DIDN'T make the ballot.

If this hasn't all changed your mind on at least voting on like 1 or 2 things (because you can always abstain from voting for the big jerk asshole politicians and their corruption and consumption of the souls of the innocent), at least have a look at the sample ballot. Just take a look and see what's going on. Maybe you'll see one thing, one judge, one measure that you find yourself having a strong opinion towards and you go fill out one little line on the ballot and call it good.

In conclusion, Voting is important. Uneducated voting is a problem for sure, but don't let the notion that everyone is awful and corrupt dissuade you from being a part of the voting populace that directly decides what takes place in your neck of the woods. Above, I encouraged the non-voter to at least LOOK at the ballot, but I'd like to add to that encouragement. If Washington politics have completely soured you to the democratic process and you can't see the point of voting for one puppet over another, then reframe this election: look at your ballot not so much as a citizen of the United States of America, but look at your ballot as a citizen of the State of Colorado. There is a lot going on in our awesome state, and a lot of this could affect how you live your day-to-day life.


footnotes:
1. I lifted everything informational in this post from Ballotpedia in an attempt to lay all the issues out clearly.
2. All the accusations of drinking blood and corruptly eating children up above are intended to be hyperbolic. Sure, I think some US Senators consume infants, but that's not really my rally cry.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Trade Target Guaranteed to Solve the Rockies’ Problems



A Trade Target Guaranteed to Solve the Rockies’ Problems1

Hello. Here’s a brief list of things: Our pitching was poor this past year. Altitude is the hardest place to pitch. Free agent pitchers generally don’t like signing with the Rockies. Pitchers are fragile. Awesome. 

The team’s hands are tied regarding pitching more than any other club. This had led to what I’m calling ‘pitching themes’ over the years such as Hampton/Neagle, a staff of sinkerballers, a staff of groundballers, emphasizing pitching in the bottom half of the zone, etc. However, one key way to improve the pitching is to improve the defense and for the Rockies, their weakest area of defense has been catcher defense. A strong defensive catcher may be the best and easiest way to improve our pitching staff and it won’t come with the cost associated with luring Free Agents, the time/luck of developing pitchers, and is immune to the fragility of UCLs, rotator cuffs, labrums etc. So what can be done?

Let’s recap the situation:

Wilin Rosario
Strengths: Being lovable, hitting baseballs better than most catchers, maybe still has a lot of power, cool nickname, that one time he made a pretty sweet play when playing 3b2.

Weaknesses: Defensive improvements have come alongside some defensive declines (look at that stolen base %) leaving him more or less where he started – rather poor, maybe doesn’t have a lot of power anymore, not loveable enough, nicknames involving the word ‘baby’ have a much shorter half-life than nicknames involving the phrase ‘fully mature’.

In other words, catcher represents a roster problem. There are reasons to be optimistic about Rosario however – players have down years all the time and an 86 wRC+ as a catcher’s worst year is pretty damn good. He has continued to improve defensively, will only be 26 next season, and is just beginning arbitration. The issues are 1. He is still not likely to be an asset defensively, and 2. There is perhaps a bit of fool’s gold involved here when you consider that his two ‘great’ offensive seasons produced a combined total of 6.3 offensive runs of value. Michael McKenry gave the team 7 offensive runs of value this season alone in just 192 plate appearances.

Regarding replacement options for Rosario a few things need to be made clear:
  • McKenry had a career year and is not necessarily impressive defensively either (he’s not an especially good pitch framer and he is terrible at throwing out runners).
  • Our internal options are rather messy as there is no one who is both close to the majors and well-regarded defensively.


Essentially, staying in-house to improve our catching should not be expected to result in appreciable gains. 

The Free Agent market for catchers consists of the following options:
  1. Russell Martin
  2. Geovany Soto
  3. Andrew Martin (no relation)
  4. Freeing up two roster spots by having no catchers and just throwing everything at the umpire’s chest protector.
This takes us to possible trade candidates if they really wish to improve (assuming Russell Martin is unable to be lured to CO – which would have problems of its own, namely $ and his age). When looking at trade candidates, there is one option who (to me at least) stands out more than any other option:

Hank Conger
Hank Conger was drafted 25th overall in the 2006 draft by the Los Anaheim Angels of Los Anaheim – the team for whom he currently plays. 

Strengths: Will be 27 next season, is a switch hitter (and Coors Field favors lefties more than righties), he’s entering his first year of arbitration, was a league average bat in 2013, and is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.

Weaknesses: Has not been a league average bat in any other season other than 2013, posted an 82 wRC+ this past season, currently plays for a team that is not the Rockies, unclear if he’s available and what his cost is if he is.

Essentially, Hank Conger is in the discussion for best defensive catchers, is cheap, and has been used only as a backup catcher his entire career thus has endured less wear-and-tear. It is currently unclear if he’s available and the Angels only have Chris Iannetta signed through next year creating a opening at C in the near future. The Angels may use Conger as a backup one more year and then switch to him full time. I suppose the good news however is that the Angels have been weird about catchers in the past (Mathis/Napoli) and also never used Conger full-time prior to Iannetta being around nor in 2011 when Iannetta only played 79 games. This suggests (to me at least) that the Angels are not as high as they could or should be on Hank Conger.

Regarding their numbers, here is a comparison between Rosario and Conger:

Career Offensively:

Avg
OBP
Slg
BB%
K%
ISO
wOBA
wRC+
Rosario
.274
.308
.435
4.8
21.9
.209
.340
98
Conger
.224
.294
.355
8.1
21.4
.129
.288
84

The way I interpret this is that Conger, while clearly a downgrade from Rosario is not such a tremendous downgrade. If we were okay with Torrealba (or DJ Lemahieu at 2b is perhaps another good analogue), we can live with what Conger is expected to provide offensively.

Defensively: (the first table is career, the second table considers only 2013 and 2014)

CS%
PBs per 1000 innings
Rosario
27.98
16.45
Conger
22.37
1.71





Statcorner
(minimum 2000 pitches)
Baseball Prospectus
Strikes per Game
Rank
RAAx
Rank
Chances
Extra Strikes
Rank
Runs added by County
Rank
Rosario
2013
-1.52
56 of 62
-20.3
61 of 62
7960
-97
111 of 116
-13.4
111 of 116
2014
-0.95
44 of 58
-11.8
51 of 58
7367
1.5
48 of 100
-4.8
85 of 100





Per 9k Chances
-56.08

-10.69

Conger
2013
2.12
2 of 62
18.1
5 of 62
5038
127.3
3 of 116
14.1
6 of 113
2014
2.21
1 of 58
21.3
4 of 58
5815
152
4 of 100
20.2
3 of 100





Per 9k Chances
231.61

28.44

X RAA refers to runs above average. A quick-and-dirty explanation here is that when considering the average run-value of a strike or a ball, RAA is a figure that presents a catcher’s framing contribution relative to a league-average catching value.
Y Runs added by count. This can be interpreted similarly to RAA except that the excellent staff at BPro consider the count of the framed pitches. In other words, if you’ve ever thought a ball in a 3-1 count is worse than a ball in an 0-1 count, you’re right and BPro considers that.


There’s a lot to digest here and for brevity, I won’t go through all of it but take some time and look at those numbers. Take extra time to look at Conger’s numbers because they’re extra sexy and because you deserve it. 

For Wilin, what we see is that he has a quite respectable caught-stealing percentage, allows a lot of passed balls, and is a much-improved-but-still-middling-to-poor framer.

Regarding Conger, we see that he has a sort of unremarkable-but-not-terrible caught-stealing percentage, can be expected to allow 1 or 2 passed balls a season, and is perhaps the best pitch-framer in baseball. Especially impressive in Conger’s numbers is that for both RAA and Runs added by Count, where Conger has ranked anywhere from 3rd through 6th, these values are affected by playing time. The players ahead of him are either full-time catchers like Lucroy and Zunino, or Jose Molina. If Conger had been the starting catcher instead of the backup, it’s quite possible he’d be #1 in all of these (and would be #1 in some of these). 

In summation, Hank Conger represents a catcher who has the following attributes:
  1. Elite defensive catcher.
  2. Chance to be a league average bat (and possibly more if you’re the type to believe that playing only sporadically prevents a player from getting into an offensive rhythm and depresses their offensive output).
  3. Is in the middle of his prime years age-wise.
  4. Is fairly cheap financially.
  5. Would likely have a price-tag in a trade that we can meet without being crippled.
Conger isn’t the only person around to attempt to acquire, but he may be the only one that is young, cheap, competent offensively, and offers the greatest potential to improve our pitching staff. If we’re interested in doing something different at catcher next season, then we should go after Conger as hard as possible.

1Not a guarantee.
2Probably more of an indictment given that he’s a catcher