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March 29, 2013
These Questions Three: The Bottom of the Barrel
In the week leading up to Opening Day, we're asking and answering three questions about each team in a five-part series ordered by descending Playoff Pct from the Playoff Odds Report. Today, we continue with a look at the group of six teams with the worst odds of winning at least a Wild Card. As a reminder, you can find links to our preview podcasts for each team here.
Playoff Pct: 12.4%
PECOTA Team Projections
Team WARP: 28.4
Team TAv: .260
Runs Scored: 720
Runs Allowed: 774
Team FRAA: 6.9
1. With all this young talent, how are the Royals still so friggin’ bad?
I do think that Moustakas and Hosmer still have major upside. I feel like Hosmer, at least, can bounce back and be more than a two-win guy. Plus Lorenzo Cain is like REALLY
2. What the Francouer?
IM: I should be recused from discussions involving Jeff Francoeur, because I just love that guy. Love his arm, love his personality. The guy overtips clubbies in every city and gives money to folks in the bleachers to buy beer. I simply can’t root against a guy who conducts himself like that. Baseball—nay, the world—needs more people like Frenchy.
IM: Of course there is the matter of him being pretty awful at baseball. Last year he delivered -2.6 WARP, which was the worst in baseball—and that’s the fourth season in whch he’s performed below replacement value. (He’s amassed a total of 5.3 WARP in six other seasons.) His on-base last year was .287, so he made an out in more than 71 percent of his plate appearances. That’s awful, and even a bionic rocket launcher arm can’t make up for that.
Not that he couldn’t throw someone out in Phoenix, if he needed to. He’s just that good a human being.
3. What does Alex Gordon need to do to get some lovin'?
IM: He may never reach what we thought was his ceiling, but at this point his floor is awfully high. The long-awaited breakthrough finally came in 2011, and he put up excellent numbers again last year. BP’s projections for him in 2013 seem a little conservative at 3.5 WARP, but that’s actually better than what we’ve projected for aforementioned superhuman freak Adam Jones (3.3 WARP). I almost wonder if Gordon would be a good change-of-scenery candidate. Playing every day with the expectations of an entire franchise—or even a geographic region—on your shoulders has to be exhausting.
Playoff Pct: 5.0%
1. Why does BP hate the Orioles?
IM: I’m not sure I can add anything to that postmortem. I will note, however, that our colleague Zachary Levine has noted that the O’s are 5-2 in one-run games this spring. So clearly they’ve figured this thing out, and this is totally sustainable.
2. Don’t they have Manny Machado and Adam Jones? Those dudes are awesome!
IM: Well, I guess that depends on your definition of awesome. PECOTA has Machado logging just 1.1 WARP and a TAv of .245. He posted a sub-.300 OBP in 2012, and he’s predicted to do the same this season. So unless he somehow hits 30 bombs or miraculously starts taking walks (last season he walked just nine times in 202 PA), he’s not going to be the savior. Adam Jones, on the other hand...
IM: I’ll always love Adam Jones because of the anti-animal abuse work he’s done. That, and the fact that he’s a superhuman freak of a baseball player. But he and Jason Hammel can take them only so far.
IM: That’s a great point. This is where the elusive “makeup” might come into play. We know he’s got the physical tools, but how quickly can he put it all together?
3. Could the Orioles be... this year's Orioles?
IM: Again, you’ve addressed all the salient points, and I’m not sure what else I can add. I will say that this is definitely the PECOTA prediction I’ve gotten the most questions about—mostly from Oriole-fan-friends who are convinced last year’s Orioles were “for real.” Well yeah, of course they were for real, and they were also incredibly lucky. That takes nothing away from what they did, and I give Buck Showalter a ton of credit for being able to wring out every drop of talent from that lineup. It’s just not very likely that they’ll be able to do it again this year. I’ll still be rooting for them, of course, because I love an underdog.
Playoff Pct: 1.4%
1. Are people sleeping on the Rockies? They have some amazing young talent, and I don’t mean just CarGo and Tulo. They have guys like Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado and Dexter Fowler when he’s not being terrible.
IM: He plays for an awful team in a small, weird market, so I’m not surprised that he’s not a household name—yet. But man, he can flat-out play. (Well, except for defense.) And I feel the same way about Arenado. He had a rough year last year, but I saw him in spring training last year, and he just destroyed everything that came his way and played above-average defense at third. Perhaps this is a classic small-sample-size error on my part, but I saw a kid who could be a future star.
IM: I bet there are draft-eligible college pitchers who wake up in a cold sweat thinking about being drafted by Colorado. /shudder
2. Is Dexter Fowler great or terrible? I can’t decide.
IM: This guy is so frustrating to watch. He’s so toolsy, athletic, talented, fast... and yet he rarely seems to be able to put it all together. All that potential, and such mixed results.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen hitting mechanics as inconsistent as his at the big-league level. Even in the same at-bat, from pitch to pitch, his stance and swing can be completely different. Sometimes there’s a pronounced leg lift, and sometimes there’s not. Can’t someone in the Rockies org fix this?
3. Josh Rutledge. Discuss.
IM: These kinds of storylines are fascinating to me. There were no calls to Free Josh Rutledge on twitter, but Tulo gets hurt and Rutledge, who had been putting up solid numbers at Double-A, comes up and establishes himself as a legit big leaguer. Kid was just in the right place at the right time—and happens to be really good at baseball. PECOTA is predicting 1.6 WARP for him this year, his age-24 season. He’s probably not a perennial All-Star in waiting, but neither is he bad for a homegrown option who will make be making the minimum for the next half-decade.
Playoff Pct: 1.4%
1. Could the Marlins actually finish with a worse record the Astros?
IM: PECOTA has Miami losing only 93 games, while the Astros are slated to lose 107, so it seems unlikely. But as I said earlier, if everything breaks right for the Astros and everything goes wrong for Florida, they could swap projections. And the idea of the Marlins doing a complete China Syndrome-style meltdown just seems soooo possible.
IM: I can see the Marlins adopting that as their 2013 slogan: “We’ve got Stanton and no discernible plan!” I assume they do have a plan, though, even if we can’t discern it. From the outside, though, it looks a lot like the underpants gnomes business model: 1. Slash payroll. 2. ? 3. Profit!
2. How low can attendance go? Is there any way to repair the PR nightmare?
IM: So I just looked up the attendance numbers for last year and was kind of surprised to see the Marlins in 18th place with 2.2 million tickets sold. That’s not great, but it’s a lot higher than I thought it would be. I suppose most of that is explained by the new ballpark, though, and I’d guess there were a lot of season ticket packages purchased by corporations. I know that every time I watched a game that was being held in Miami, the place looked like a freaking ghost town. And that was with an exciting, dynamic bunch of players on the field. This season is going to be a bloodbath.
IM: I wonder if Jeffrey Loria gives a single hoot about the PR aspect. I mean, he probably does, because he’s a savvy person, but he’s shown in the past that he’s perfectly comfortable being a pariah. Also, I have zero confidence that he’ll do “the right thing” by the fans and the community, so at this point I expect him to take the heel turn whenever the opportunity presents itself.
3. Other than Giancarlo Stanton, is Mike Redmond suddenly the most interesting storyline coming out of Miami?
IM: I’m actually watching the Marlins on AtBat right now, and Stanton has gone yard twice off of Dan Haren. He’s really, really good. I also didn’t know Redmond went undrafted and signed with Florida as a free agent. I learned something today!
IM: I guess I’d have to go with Steve Cishek as my second-least-terrible Marlin. I’m a sucker for a sidearmer, and Cishek was incredibly effective when he was promoted to closer in 2012. I also kinda fell in love with him on The Franchise. He just seems like a smart, lovable goof.
IM: My brain refuses to process that, sorry.
Playoff Pct: 0.9%
1. Will the real Vance Worley please stand up?
IM: Worley came over to Minnesota in the Ben Revere deal and instantly became the Twins’ ace. In two full-ish seasons with the Phillies, he posted a Fair Run Average right around 4. PECOTA doesn’t predict FRA, but it has predicted his 2013 ERA to jump to just over 5 from his career average of around 3.5. Why does PECOTA hate Vance Worley? Is it the glasses?
IM: We’re predicting a jump of about 50 innings in 2013, but that alone can’t account for the predicted decline, can it? Ultimately I guess it doesn’t much matter; the Twins won’t compete this year, and Worley gives Minnesota a cheap SP option for a few years.
2. What’s next for Joe Mauer?
Mauer, of course, is making $23 million a year until 2018, which will go a long way toward paying college tuition bills for those kids. And he’s a .400 OBP guy who will hit 10 HR and 30 doubles a year, which is a fantastic hitter to have around. But he’s quickly transitioning from a catcher to a first baseman/DH. To give you an idea of what that means for his value, consider his 2008 season, in which he was exclusively a catcher and logged more than 130 games started behind the dish. He hit .328/.413/.451 with 35 doubles/triples and nine home runs in 633 PA. In 2012, he hit .319/.416/.446 with 35 doubles/triples and 10 home runs in 641 PA, but did so while spending 20 percent of his field time at first and logging 42 starts at DH (compared to five in 2008). It’s roughly the same season numbers-wise, but the positional adjustment dropped his value from 6.9 WARP in 2008 to 3.5 WARP in 2012.
I’d love to have Joe Mauer on my team, but there’s a calculus that has to happen here. As he transitions further away from being a catcher, even if he maintains that level of performance, it’s not worth as much. A rebuilding team in a “small market” (which all teams outside of New York seem to call themselves) might be able to justify a salary like that for a seven-win player. But for a 3-4 win player? Is there not a team out there that has gobs of money, a bunch of over-hyped prospects, and a giant hole either behind the plate or at first base, where Mauer might fit in nicely?
IM: Six more years (I’m including 2013 here) at $23M per is a lot of millions of dollars. If we use $5M per free-agent marginal win as a shorthand, Mauer will have to deliver 27 wins above replacement in order to “earn” his contract. He’ll be 35 when his Twins deal expires, and an old 35 at that. And he really can’t help the Twins right now. They’re going to be dreadful this year, and maybe for most of the rest of Mauer’s tenure with them, so why not move him, recoup some money, and restock the farm? That would be the “right” thing to do. Of course, this is easy for me to say, as I’m a faceless baseball writer on the Internet. I don’t have to deal with things like fan backlash or repercussions in the clubhouse and elsewhere in the organization. But as painful as it would be to cut ties with Mauer, the Twins need to consider it for the long-term health of the franchise.
3. Was Josh Willingham a flash in the pan, or did he suddenly figure it all out (at age 33)?
IM: Willingham’s career trajectory has been fascinating. The narrative has definitely been “he figured it out at 33,” but looking at his career numbers shows steady improvement when most ballplayers begin to decline. If you removed his outlier-ish 2006 campaign, then his True Average has ticked up every single year. I have no idea how or why he’s done it, but he’s become a much better hitter into his mid-30s.
IM: That’s fascinating—I didn’t know any of that stuff about swing rates. I just looked at his True Average and it’s basically a straight line headed in the right direction. Now, will he put up 4.5 WARP in 2013? Not bloody likely. But he’ll almost certainly be an above-average player for a Twins team that needs all the help they can get.
Playoff Pct: 0.7%
1. Will the Astros be historically bad, or just “regular” really bad?
Russell A. Carleton: Does losing 100 games count as “historically” bad? I grew up in Cleveland in the mid 80s and early 90s, when losing 100 games was just something that happened once in a while. Yeah, this team probably has 100 losses in them. We are, after all, talking about a team that has the remains of Carlos Pena hitting third. I suppose that some of these guys do have some room for upside, but even if everything works out great, they maybe hold the line at 90 losses? Maybe?
Ian Miller: Agree. I don’t think this team has 120 losses in them, and they could potentially win 70 if everything breaks right. Of course, that presupposes that Houston’s goal is to win as many games as possible. Obviously that’s the goal of the team on the field, but the front office may have other plans. If someone were to emerge as a star this year, what’s to keep Luhnow and Co. from shipping that guy to a contender for more high-upside young players who could help the Astros down the road?
IM: Totally fair to ask that, because it’s entirely possible that they could actually underachieve, and that would be painful to watch. Of course that goes directly against the narrative that all those bloggers have perpetrated, but that’s just what bloggers do. Damn bloggers.
2. Will Jose Altuve end the season as a Houston Astro?
IM: Houston has shown that it’s 100 percent committed to rebuilding, so I could see the organization moving any player if they believe the return makes them better in the long run. And that includes the diminutive face of the franchise. If they were to move Altuve, though, they’ve got Delino Deshields, Jr. nearly ready to step into Altuve’s wee shoes at second base.
3. Which Astro whose name is not “Jose Altuve” puts up a good enough season that he’s actually considered someone whom the team might want to carry going forward?
IM: Chris Carter has always been, and will always be my guy. I just love his power and his eye. If he could somehow cut down on his Ks—he probably can’t be any more discerning at the plate than he already is, so that means he’s going to have to swing more often, and at better pitches. And I love him in Minute Maid—he’s going to hit a ton of balls into those Crawford Boxes.
Then again, you’ve got the left-handed-hitting Jonathan Singleton in the wings, so maybe Carter becomes expendable? They’re almost mirror images of each other. I don’t know.
Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @pizzacutter4