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October 23, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Le Freak, C'est Chic

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Named Bryan Price manager. [10/22]

Some two-plus weeks after firing Dusty Baker, the Reds have named his replacement. Price is a familiar face, having spent the last four seasons as Cincinnati's pitching coach, and his promotion suggests upper management pardoned him from causing the club's perceived lifelessness.

A top prerequisite for managerial candidates is understanding clubhouse dynamics. Though he pitched for parts of five seasons in the minors, Price never reached the majors as a player. However, he has served as a pitching coach for the past 13 seasons with the Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Reds. The 51-year-old is known for his communication skills—including his fluency in Spanish—and a 2005 article by Eric Liu illustrates some of his psychological tricks (hat tip to Mike Ferrin):

Just then, Bryan abruptly asked me to throw a change-up. I did, and to my surprise, I nailed it. It was the same change-up, same grip and delivery, as before. But the context was different. Now I was thinking of the change-up as an antidote to my wayward fastball. And now I was able to reel off three, then four, then five perfect change-ups, down and over the plate with perfectly deceptive presentation.

It struck me only later what Bryan Price had done. He'd used the fastball interlude as a distraction and had gotten me back onto my original objective—throwing a good change. Like any good teacher, Bryan is a master of misdirection: working on a fastball to improve a change-up, using dry work without a ball to sharpen performance with a ball, and talking about how to keep a quiet head when, in fact, we were talking about how to keep a quiet mind.

Of course there are differences in coaching an out-of-place journalist and a professional athlete, but Price's reputation suggests he's equipped to do both.

Because Price is replacing Baker, the spotlight will be on his in-game tactics. As tempting as it is to treat managers as finished products, there's reason to give Price some time when it comes to fine-tuning his strategical decisions; after all, he has the emotional intelligence and background to profile as a promising managerial prospect. Too often we rush to judge managers using sample sizes we'd deem too small for player evaluation; managers are people, too, and it stands to reason they can mature and develop like any other human.

That Price inherits a talented roster, which led the NL in third-order winning percentage, helps and puts him in position to join Bud Black and John Farrell as a rare breed of successful managers who developed as pitching coaches. Even if takes Price some time to find his voice as the headman, the Reds should be okay—at least the players won't be tuning him out.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 2B-R Alexander Guerrero to a four-year deal worth $28 million that could reach $32 million. [10/21]

Another week, another Cuban signing, another round of usability concerns.

Guerrero, like Jose Abreu before him, is a polarizing 26-year-old refugee. Everyone agrees his actions are too stiff for shortstop and that he's headed for second base; otherwise, his prospects are a matter of perspective. There's a video in which Guerrero takes fielding and batting practice and, in the process, shows off his questioned hitting mechanics. An uppercut swing and the full body coil spark understandable concern about his ability to hit velocity and adjust to breaking pitches. Guerrero has power in his bat but if it'll play is the question; as one scout told Ben Badler, "I don’t see there being enough hitting ability to make that raw power that usable."

Despite the negativity, the Dodgers feel comfortable enough with the package to pay Guerrero $28 million. To Los Angeles' credit, they've hit on Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu in recent seasons, even with the industry offering contrasting evaluations of those players. Granted, that doesn't make the Dodgers infallible; it just means they should receive some benefit of the doubt for the time being.

So when will we see Guerrero? While the contract terms make 2014 a potential developmental year—namely, he cannot be optioned to the minors after next season without his consent—they also eliminate the benefit of keeping him down for too long, as he's eligible for free agency in four years. The next big decision for the Dodgers then is whether they'll exercise Mark Ellis' $5.75 club option or, instead, pay him a $1 million buyout. In theory, the Dodgers could keep Ellis around, send Guerrero down, then make the switch (or a trade) if and when they feel Guerrero is ready for the majors.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Re-signed RHP Tim Lincecum to a two-year deal worth $35 million. [10/22]

By all accounts, the Giants intended to extend a qualifying offer to Lincecum, the value of which is now at $14.1 million. With that established, it's easy to see what happened here: The two sides used that figure as an anchoring point, doubled it (for two years), and then added a few million on top. Should the Giants have wanted Lincecum for one year at $14.1 million—and would the former Cy Young winner had topped this deal on the open market? Both questions merit asking.

What's going to make or break this deal is if Lincecum can improve his performance with runners on base. The table below shows that his numbers have worsened more with runners on than with the bases empty, and there seem to be at least two plausible explanations for this: 1) He doesn't hold runners well, which is true, and 2) he has worse command from the stretch:

Season

Bases Empty

Men On

2010

.246/.316/.357

.236/.301/.373

2011

.248/.326/.382

.184/.270/.290

2012

.248/.319/.421

.269/.370/.434

2013

.239/.308/.401

.260/.340/.372

Lincecum still misses bats with his low-90s fastball, changeup, and pair of breaking balls, and he continues to throw a decent number of strikes. If the Giants and Lincecum can work to improve his performance with men on—and let's face it, if these were easy fixes they would've been in place already—then it's not hard to envision him returning to effectiveness. Otherwise, it's tough to see how his ERA will ever reflect the quality of his peripherals.

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

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