R.J. goes back over his free agent rankings to see what teams knew that he didn't.
Before the winter Ben Lindbergh asked me to create a list of the top-50 free agents. Today let's revisit that list with an eye toward improvement.
In dissecting the list we have to begin with the two unemployed players that were ranked: Kyle Lohse (ninth) and Jose Valverde (43rd). Two missteps on the list's part, or unfortunate victims of the marketplace? How about one apiece. Lohse has not signed because of the draft-pick compensation requirement rather than his talent (he's fine as a middle-of-the-rotation starter). Were I redoing the list, Lohse would remain at nine. The same is not true of Valverde. He would lose his spot to a more-deserving player. Perhaps Lance Berkman, who went unranked because of the trepidation surrounding his future.
If an expansion team with a Yankees budget wanted to build a team out of this year's free agents, what would it look like?
You can’t build a team around free agents, say the people who don’t think you can build a team around free agents. To them, the only way to build a team is through the draft, waiver claims and occasional trades. To paraphrase the great movie Waterboy (which is such a great movie that you can watch it for free on YouTube), “Free agents are the devil!” Well, maybe so if you’re living in the real world, but this is Baseball Prospectus where we can do anything we want provided it fits on a spreadsheet and won’t wake our parents upstairs.
Another thing some people like to say is that baseball teams aren’t just names on paper. They’re real people. Well, not here they aren’t, mister! Here players are one-dimensional entities devoid of emotion and everything else that won’t show up on our computer machines. In that spirit, I’m not only going to build a baseball team exclusively out of free agents, but I’m going to do it only on (virtual) paper. Eat that, straw men I just created!
The names baseball will be obsessing over for the next three months.
With free agency beginning at just after midnight Eastern early Saturday, it’s time to look at this year’s class. Along with Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and others, we put together a list of the top 50 free agents available this winter. Some analysis and predictions are also included. You can quibble with the rankings (especially after a certain point) and many of the predictions, but this is meant to serve as a primer for the free-agent period.
1. Zack Greinke (Angels): Greinke may not consistently perform like an ace but he is a durable no. 2 starter with a deep arsenal, and an understanding of how to use it. After trading three top prospects at the deadline for Greinke and then having his club miss the postseason, Jerry Dipoto is in an unenviable position. Dipoto cannot recoup draft picks, which provides further incentive to re-sign Greinke. It seems Dipoto is heading down that path if recent payroll shearing is any indication.
Drops in fastball velocity usually lead to spikes in ERA, but a handful of pitchers have made slower fastballs work for them this year.
There’s more to being a major-league pitcher than throwing hard. Plenty of pitchers have had successful careers without making the mitt pop. On the whole, though, throwing hard helps. All else being equal, the harder a pitcher can throw, the more effective his offerings are, and the easier it is for him to get away with mistakes. It’s no coincidence that the team with the hardest-throwing staff this season, the Nationals, also boasts the big leagues’ best ERA.
In a 2010 study, PITCHf/x analyst Mike Fast found that starting pitchers from 2002-2009 allowed, on average, 0.28 fewer runs per nine innings for every mile per hour of velocity gained. Relievers, who tend to rely more heavily on their heaters, shaved 0.45 runs for every extra tick.
Though recent trends might indicate otherwise, aged pitchers rarely return to form after year-long layoffs.
Sure, it came against an Angels lineup whose centerpiece, Albert Pujols, has yet to get untracked, but it was difficult not to be impressed with Bartolo Colon's eight shutout innings last Wednesday. For one thing, it marked the 38-year-old Oakland righty's second consecutive scoreless start; he had tossed seven scoreless against the Mariners on April 13. For another, he reeled off a streak of 38 consecutive strikes, running from the second pitch of the fifth inning through the seventh pitch of the eighth inning, a span that included balls in play; he allowed only a single and a double during that time. Pitch-by-pitch records only go back to 1988, so there's no definitive account of whether Colon set a record, but via the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, the next-highest known total was 30 in a row by Tim Wakefield in 1998.
What veteran players biding their time in Triple-A might help a big-league club in 2012?
Imagine that you are Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and that among the little-known details of your character (aside from an obsession with time and a badly rotting tooth) is your quiet but intense lifelong love of the Chicago White Sox.
Well, first, welcome back to civilization, Chuck Noland. Enjoy all the crab legs, and sorry you missed out on Helen Hunt—it’s a game of inches, my friend. Second, you’re probably planning to make a beeline for your favorite baseball publication. Presumably, that is Baseball Prospectus, but then again, you’ve been marooned for a couple of years and may have sustained severe damage to your judgment, which now makes decisions based on survivalist instinct rather than careful consumer reasoning. Some help, in case you haven’t picked up your annual: an admittedly informal and incomplete survey of BP writers suggests that the White Sox are destined to finish somewhere around fourth place in the American League Central, with one of my colleagues asking if he could slot them sixth. Chuck, there are only five teams in the American League Central.