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October 25, 2012

In A Pickle

Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning

by Jason Wojciechowski

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Here you have an article which goes into some aspects of the surreal and, hopefully, inevitable. The year is over. There is no more year. It's all a figment of some maniac imagination.

Unpaid actors of the mystery

Here are the top five 2012 minimum-salary (more or less) players by WARP.

  1. Mike Trout, 9.1 WARP, 83 days of service time before 2012: One of the most annoying things that hipsters do to each other is play the "have you heard?" game.

    Thing 1: "Did you hear the new Crammed Cowlick album?"
    Thing 2: "Yeah, it was aight, I don't know. It wasn't anywhere near as good as Bamboo Shapeshifter's new joint. Did you hear that one?"
    Thing 1: "I saw them at that bar that has shows in the back room, you know? On Cavanaugh? The Jam Cakes opened for them. You copped their album, right?"
    Thing 2: "Uh, not ye--"
    Thing 1: /fistpumps

    So anyway, I don't want to go on and on about how cool I am that I can tell you things about this unheralded, unknown, underground kid Mike Trout while you're frantically Googling to keep up. Just make sure you know his name before 2013 starts, mmmkay?

  2. Jason Heyward, 5.4 WARP, two years of service time before 2012: Remember that sophomore slump, where Heyward lost over 70 points of on-base percentage and 60 points of slugging and got put in the doghouse in favor of "hitters" like Jose Constanza? Well, that turned around in an awful hurry, as Heyward was the ninth-best player in all of baseball. Now, it's entirely possible that FRAA is too high on him (+14.6), but if we strip that out and sort by VORP instead, Heyward still finished 32nd among position players. As a 22-year-old.

  3. Austin Jackson, 5.4 WARP, two years of service time before 2012: Jackson had a good rookie year, if slightly less impressive than Heyward's, and he also fell off in his second season, if less crateriffically than Heyward did, and he also came back to be a top-notch player in 2012, and that's where the "if"'s stop. Jackson had a weirdly poor year stealing bases, but he flashed some plate discipline as well as above-average power (though some of the game "power" is in the form of triples) to go with good defense at a key position. If the Tigers want to pay three or four players $300 million, they have to get good value out of the tyros as well, and that's exactly what they did with Jackson.

  4. Giancarlo Stanton, 5.2 WARP, one year, 118 days of service time before 2012: Stanton slugged .608 at 22 in what appears to be a neutral park while playing good defense in right field. Look again at the first number of his slugging percentage and the second number of his age and tell me, just please tell me that the Marlins aren't going to waste his career.

  5. Andrew McCutchen, 4.9 WARP, 2 years, 123 days of service time before 2012: McCutchen actually signed a long-term extension before the season, but it called for a $500,000 salary in 2012, so he fits. Batting .327 boosted his overall stat line, and we might not expect this to happen again, but he's still a really good all-around player. Pittsburgh fans deserve one non-disappointment on the squad.

Boy, we've got quite a stable of young outfielders to watch these days, don't we?

Stephen Strasburg would have made the list by service time, but the Best Drafted Pitcher Ever signed a big-league deal and thus made $3 million this year. Bryce Harper is just off the list by WARP and also has a big-league deal. The Nationals, geez.

The mad director knows that freedom will not make you free

Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen were, in a sense, dubious bets as managers of their respective teams. Valentine took the helm of a Red Sox team that imploded in 2011, leaving behind a wake of recrimination and chicken bones. Theoretically, a steadying presence, a guy who could charm the media, soothe the agitated emotions of his players, and navigate the waters of a difficult front-office culture would be the man for the job. Bobby Valentine is, uh, not steady. It's entirely possible that nobody could have managed Boston's particular situation and that poor Bobby V was just as much in the wrong place at the wrong time as Peeta when Katniss knocked the nest of tracker jack—what? Look, my point is just that you can't pin the season on Bobby, but he didn't help matters, either.

And Ozzie! Ozzie is a manager who prides himself on running his mouth, who, in fact, makes it a conscious strategy of media-management and player-protection. Saying any old thing that comes to mind was bad enough toward the end of days in Chicago, when Kenny Williams finally tired of his act, but in Miami? Where even mild-mannered managers like Joe Girardi are mauled and maimed without a moment's thought? This was a tough-enough row to hoe before Guillen decided to mention Fidel Castro's name in a preseason interview without spitting on the ground and flashing the sign of the horns to ward off the evil eye of Communism. You might be able to get away with saying mildly positive things in the general direction of Castro if you take the Marlins to the playoffs, but if you finish fifth? Doesn't fly.

Now Valentine and Guillen have their freedom.

Poisoned players of a grisly game

Every year, some number of ballplayers are forced to miss the entire year with an injury. Here we memorialize a handful of young men whose teams made the playoffs without them and we look forward to what they might do in 2013.

  • Victor Martinez: MVP MVP MVP Miguel Cabrera made third base his home well enough to leave the Tigers exactly where they hope to be for next year: able to slide Martinez right back into the designated hitter slot he vacated in a tragic weight-room accident over the winter. Martinez has put up a sub-.285 TAv just once since he turned 25. Even if he'd played this year, it would seem like a bad bet to ask for a repeat of 2011 at the age of 34, but given that Detroit designated hitters batted .257/.291/.395 in 2012, an improvement from the spot might be expected.

  • Michael Pineda: The Yankees traded superstud hitter Jesus Montero to Seattle to get the extremely large and hard-throwing Pineda, only to see him not toss a single pitch in pinstripes. Labrum surgery has been a death sentence before, and the Yankees are already not planning on having Pineda ready until June, though there's some speculation that maybe the reasons for that slightly delayed return date aren't purely physical. Pineda was tough to pin down even before the injury (is he a legitimate BABIP suppressor, or did park, defense, and luck create his .258 mark? How well will his fly-ball ways translate to Yankee Stadium? Does he have a changeup?), and this time around, it might not even be worth trying. (PECOTA will anyway, but PECOTA is stubborn like that.)

  • Tsuyoshi Wada: The Japanese left-hander did actually wear an Orioles uniform in a major-league stadium but he made zero regular-season appearances and had Tommy John surgery in May. For 2013? See Pineda in re: the difficulties of projection.

  • Ryan Madson: This is just a weird situation all the way around. Madson was inches away from a four-year deal for $44 million before the whole thing fell apart and the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon instead. Left without a Ruben Amaro to victimize, Madson had to settle for a one-year pact with a mutual option in Cincinnati. And then he had Tommy John surgery. So now there's the $11 million option, though you can imagine both sides feeling pretty good about that despite the theory that mutual options will very rarely be exercised. Putting aside that closers without the rather catchy name of Aroldis Chapman or Mariano Rivera shouldn't be paid these sums of money, Madson's the oxymoronic consistent(ly good) relief pitcher, so an FRA in the 2.8 range doesn't strike me as an unreasonable expectation. (A wild PECOTA emerges! And stabs Jason to death for ridiculous projections!)

  • Scott Sizemore: I thought about Dallas Braden and Joey Devine in this space, but for the sake of position/pitcher balance, I went with the A's erstwhile third baseman who will be competing for the 2013 second base job. As you know, Sizemore was a second baseman with the Tigers, one of the offense-first variety, so while a position switch after a knee injury appears strange at first blush, second blush reveals that it's probably not that big a deal. A much bigger deal is whether Sizemore will have the mobility to keep himself safe on the pivot—second base isn't known as the most comfortable, secure position on the diamond, after all.

Find the flags, so you can wave goodbye

I was going to use this space to discuss potential retirees on the division-winning teams, but the only player who seemed to fit the bill was Andy Pettitte, and who the hell even knows with that guy anyway.

Let's move on.

But just before the end even treason might be worth a try

Please find in this section a brief list of players who could, theoretically at least, move from one side of a baseball rivalry to the other this offseason.

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka could be returning to Japan, but wouldn't it be more fun to see him give pitching in New York a shot? Not fun for him, necessarily, or fun for anyone with any shred of empathy, but fun nonetheless for a few of you us ... for me. Fun for me. The Yankees could use a fifth starter.

  • Nick Swisher is a free agent after four years in New York. He wants to cash in, but he's 32 and is an above-average player, not a big star. If the Red Sox could get him for the right price, couldn't he and his hair thrive in the blue collar New England atmosphere, freed from the shackles of Yankeedom, permitted to let his hair down both literally and figuratively, able to swing for the fences and play balls-out baseball without worrying about the tabloids and the call-in shows and the bleacher denizens? No, none of that actually matters, but I just wanted to see what it felt like to write that kind of thing here at BP.

  • Marco Scutaro isn't a Giant on purpose (he signed with the Red Sox and was traded twice to wind up in San Francisco), but he could still move (back) to the semi-rival A's this winter if Stephen Drew were to walk and Oakland were to find itself short of viable shortstop candidates. Given that the next-best option might be Ronny Cedeno, this is a frighteningly real possibility.

  • Cedeno himself could move from the Mets to a backup infielder's job with the Phillies. I'm envisioning the Phillies declining Placido Polanco's 2013 option on the grounds that, whatever defensive abilities he has left (and they might be quite substantial), he's old and hasn't hit in years. This allows them to install Kevin Frandsen at third base, where he will surely repeat his .338/.383/.451 line from 2012. In turn, the backup infielder spot is opened for Ronny Cedeno to betray Mets fans and don the ... what color is that? Is it just red? Is there a type of red it is? Don the Philadelphia red, I guess.

  • Hunter Pence, solid player though he is, or at least once was, may find himself non-tendered this offseason, given that he avoided arbitration with the Phillies for a shade over $10 million in 2012. This leaves a corner outfield spot open in San Francisco, raising the possibility of Shane Victorino defecting north from the Dodgers. Victorino isn't young anymore, but he also hasn't posted a season under two WARP since he was 25. I'm liking this possibility a lot. Don't you want to see The Flyin' Hawaiian having to deal with the crazy angles in right field? I do. Join me.

You only are what you believe

Let's close with five excellent 2012 seasons from players who didn't have many believers on draft day (while noting that this is discriminatory against kids who didn't grow up in the United States or Puerto Rico. The problem is that even if you figure in bonus amounts, it's hard to judge "belief" the same way you (frequently) can with draft rounds):

  • Adam LaRoche, 3.6 WARP, 29th round, 2000: LaRoche did this once before, back in 2006 with Atlanta. It might be too much to ask the lanky lefty with surprising pop to go for it one more time in 2018.

    Best player from LaRoche's draft round: Ian Kinsler, taken the pick before LaRoche, though he did not sign that year.

  • A.J. Ellis, 3.0 WARP, 18th round, 2003: Ellis went to Austin Peay, where I think they have a basketball team that tends to jump out at you on the March Madness bracket. He also played 133 games this year after racking up 87 in his entire career prior to the season. The lowest OBP Ellis has ever posted in a professional stint consisting of more than 10 plate appearances is .356 at High-A in 2005. The lowest, I said.

    Best player from Ellis's draft round: Ryan Roberts, taken by the Blue Jays out of Texas.

  • Kyle Lohse, 1.9 WARP, 29th round, 1996: Prior to 2011, Lohse had posted a sub-four ERA just one time. In 2011, Lohse finished at 3.39. Prior to 2012, Lohse had posted a sub-three ERA just none times. In 2012, Lohse finished at 2.86. He walked closer to one-and-a-half batters per nine than two, didn't give up hits, and led the league in "winning" percentage. All this from a guy who is 33 and has been an everyday pitcher for 12 years—he's started 30 or more games eight times, but yeah, sure, Kyle, wait 'til the eighth time to actually be really really good at it.

    Best player from Lohse's draft round: Lohse. Boring.

    Next player taken after Lohse with a better career than Lohse has had: Arguably Freddy Sanchez, 30th round. If not him, then Travis Hafner, 31st round.

  • Josh Reddick, 2.6 WARP, 17th round, 2006: Based on the hype Reddick got this year, you'd think he finished with better than a .305 on-base percentage, but he didn't. His plate discipline waxed and waned, which of course affected how well he was able to actualize his not-insubstantial power. You can't hit bombs if you're swinging at sliders a foot outside, after all. Reddick's the first guy on this list who might have had a breakthrough year rather than a career one. (Though perhaps that's not fair to A.J. Ellis.)

    Best player from Reddick's draft round: David Robertson. Or maybe Reddick, but to avoid the boringness (boringosity, boringinity) of Lohse's situation, we'll say it's Robertson.

  • Ryan Cook, 1.1 WARP, 27th round, 2008: That WARP figure seems out of place, but our WARP doesn't give credit for "leverage" to the pitcher, so it's really hard for relievers to rack up value given the low number of innings they pitch. Cook's 80 whiffs in 73 1/3 innings helped lead him to a 3.00 FRA, though inconsistent command (to be nice about it—there are times when Cook has no idea where the baseball will end up) leaves open the question of whether he can repeat this performance.

    Best player from Cook's draft round: Cook for now, but Anthony Rendon and Sonny Gray were drafted back-to-back a couple of picks before Cook was, and, after not-signing, ended up being the sixth and 18th overall picks in 2011, respectively. The odds are good that one of the two, at least, passes Cook, though Rendon has had trouble staying on the field and Gray might be a reliever himself in the long term.

I believe the year is over. It's over.

Thanks for playing along. Here:

Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Bryce Harper,  Mike Trout,  Stephen Strasburg

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