A number of pitchers traded at the deadline hope to follow in CC Sabathia's 2008 footsteps by turning around their seasons with their new teams.
CHICAGO—The Cleveland Indians team flight had just touched down after completing its journey from Minnesota when word began to spread around the cabin.
CC Sabathia, the Indians' star pitcher and free-agent-to-be, had just been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. With the plane still on the tarmac, Sabathia began saying his goodbyes to his teammates and his manager, still stunned at a reality that would eventually set in. He had gone from an also-ran with the Indians to a playoff contender with the Brewers, a change of scenery that he later called “refreshing.”
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The offensive-dependent Brewers and defensive-dependent Mariners are on the verge of becoming baseball's Light Brigades.
When I was younger, I used to play a board game called “Circus Maximus” which simulated chariot racing. At the start of the game you would have four points to assign to four categories: team speed, team endurance, chariot size, and driver skill, all of which would help your chariot in different ways at different times of the race. Any combination could win, depending on how the race unfolded, but the game required you to choose up front the factors at which your team would excel. The challenge was to follow your strengths and avoid race situations that exposed your weaknesses.
A number of young hurlers are making strong comebacks in 2010.
Last week in this space, I took a look at hitters who had already exceeded their 2009 VORP in the early stages of 2010 and tried to determine whether those players were likely to build on their exceptional starts. This week, I’ll be doing the same for pitchers. I’ve selected the five starters and five relievers who have achieved the greatest VORP bouncebacks so far this year, compared to last year’s VORP tally or, for players that put up negative VORP performances last year, a replacement-level zero VORP. To make the starter list, a pitcher must have thrown at least 90 innings last season, while the cutoff for relievers is 40 innings. Those performance benchmarks are designed to ensure the players selected pitched significantly, if poorly, last season, and are off to a good start, rather than off to a mediocre start that’s much better than their disastrous 2009 numbers.
The players most likely in 2009 to suck away some little bit of hope for their respective teams.
Recently, I examined last season's Replacement-Level Killers, affixing the title that Jay Jaffecoined to a group of bungling batsmen, floundering fielders, and helpless hurlers whose poor play torpedoed their teams' chances of reaching the playoffs in 2008. Last year's lowlights deserved a look, but with three weeks of baseball under our belts in 2009, we've already begun to turn our attentions to what certain players haven't done for us lately (sometimes a touch too eagerly). As promised, I've come up with a list of candidates for the 2009 Replacement-Level Killers squad, predicated not on what we've seen so far in limited action, but on what we're likely to see in the months ahead.
Over the course of a lengthy season, avoiding replacement-level production often hinges more heavily on timely, effective responses to poor performance and injury than on selecting the best candidates from an available pool of Opening Day starters. In many instances, an appearance on the list represents not so much a criticism of the player in question, as an indictment of the managers (both general and otherwise) who put him in a position to fail despite his known limitations (although in certain cases, such as those of J.R. Towles or John McDonald last season, the extent of the collapse likely could not have been foreseen). However, in general, teams act rationally by awarding the bulk of the opportunities to the most capable players on hand, which not only makes their occasional failures to do so more frustrating, but renders forecasting the identity of the Killers difficult.
The men from the 2008 season who did the dirty deed and left their team's aspirations in history's ditch.
Each Opening Day marks the arrival of the proverbial "next year" invoked by the prior season's foiled fans, a long-awaited grace period infused with hope and promise. The season of clean slates, fresh starts, and slight fluctuations in our Playoff Odds Report might seem a strange time to summon the specter of last year's failures, but baseball's statistical record specializes in hawking hard truths—teams that allot playing time while mired in the throes of irrational exuberance frequently find their October aspirations cleaved by Santayana's old saw.
In the midst of each of the last two seasons, Jay Jaffe compiled an "all-star team of ignominy," which he dubbed the Replacement-Level Killers. Jay originally developed the concept for a chapter in It Ain't Over, and then applied it on a smaller scale to both the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. He also intended to update last year's mid-season list after the dust had settled, but never found the time. That's where this article comes in.
Checking in on the players who are sabotaging contenders, while there's still time for something to be done.
The concept of replacement level is fundamental to how we measure performance here at Baseball Prospectus. While the reality of the distribution of freely available talent is often a bit more complex, the idea remains a useful one.
A month in, the best moundsmen from each full-season minor league circuit.
After handing out the April hardware for hitters, let's finally get to the pitchers. Stats guru Clay Davenport was good enough update our minor league statistic pages with a counting stat, now giving us RAR, but in lieu of that at the time, our speedy intern Jeff Gambino was able to generate some quick and dirty numbers using a quick and dirty formula that our old friend Keith Wooler gave me a while back. For lack of a better term, I call it pseudo-VORP, or P-VORP, and the formula is IP/9*(5.50-ERA).
These guys just slay their employers' ambitions, but it's not too late for teams to change gears.
In a pennant race, every edge matters. The late-season heroics of one individual may turn a close race into a tale of success writ large, but it's the failures writ small, the weak links on a team, that commonly create that close race in the first place. All too often, for reasons rooted in issues beyond a player's statistics, managers and GMs fail to make the moves that could help their teams, allowing subpar production to fester until it kills a club's postseason hopes. Nowhere is the value of the replacement level laid more bare than when the difference between playing into October and going home is simply a willingness to try something else.