The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

 

The Daily Double

Given that I woke up Monday morning with a fever of 100.8, I've gotten a lot done over the past 36 hours, including a pair of articles that went up on Baseball Prospectus today, with the second mirrored at SI.com. One piece is on the Hall of Fame voting, the other on the first big move of the Winter Meetings, the Mets' signing of Francisco Rodriguez. Since the second one is the freebie and the moneymaker, we'll start there:
In the first big move of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Mets on Tuesday reached agreement with free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez on a three-year, $37 million deal.

The signing addresses the most glaring weakness of a club that came up short of the playoffs on the final day of the season for the second year in a row. It brings the former Angels hurler, who broke Bobby Thigpen's 18-year-old single-season saves record this past year with an eye-popping 62, to the Big Apple on a shorter and much less expensive deal than he had previously sought. This is a very good deal for Mets GM Omar Minaya.

As a unit, the Mets ranked 15th in the National League and 24th in the majors in Reliever Expected Wins Added, by far the lowest ranking of any playoff contender. With 4.9 WXRL, their total would have ranked among the 10 worst of any postseason team since 1988, a year chosen to represent the dawn of the one-inning closer era. By contrast, the two pennant winners, the Rays and Phillies, led their leagues with 15.4 and 15.2 WXRL, respectively. Rodriguez's AL West-winning Angels were fourth at 13.3. None of the eight teams that made the postseason was ranked lower than 16th (Boston) this year. Having a good bullpen isn't a requirement for a playoff team, but it certainly helps.

...As for the price tag on Rodriguez, three years and $37 million sounds quite reasonable given that he turned down a three-year, $33 million deal from the Angels in the spring and entered the offseason reportedly seeking a gargantuan five-year, $75 million deal. Obviously, the current economic climate, the slow free agent market, and the relative plethora of available closer options appear to have suppressed Rodriguez's asking price.

The contract appears to be slightly below market in terms of the current big-dollar closer deals. It comes in well below the three-year, $45 million contract Rivera signed last winter in terms of its average annual value. It's on par with the three-year, $37.5 million extension Brad Lidge signed with the Phillies in July, though Lidge's deal includes a $12.5 million club option and $1.5 million buyout for the fourth year, whereas no option or other embellishment has been reported for Rodriguez's deal. It's also a shorter commitment than the four-year, $47 million extension Joe Nathan got from the Twins back in the spring and the four-year, $46 million deal pact the much less established Francisco Cordero received from the Reds last winter, to say nothing of the five-year, $47 million deal B.J. Ryan signed with the Blue Jays three years ago. As the Ryan and Wagner deals remind, it's entirely possible for a reliever to lose a year to Tommy John surgery at a cost of $10 million or more. That can wreck a team's budget in a hurry.

The short deal works both ways. It minimizes the Mets' exposure to injury risk, something that any critic of Rodriguez's violent mechanics might be relieved to see, though it's worth noting that the pitcher's springtime ankle injury led to some tweaks in his delivery that cost him a little velocity but lowered the stress on his arm, which should help him in the long run. The deal also gets the going-on-27-year-old closer back to the market sooner rather than later, with the chance at another big payday before his 30th birthday, likely in a more hospitable economic climate.
It makes a nice follow-up to the SI.com piece I did on the Mets' bullpen collapse during the season's final week, and a great gift for the disgruntled Mets fan in your life.

Next is a quick look at the Veterans Committee voting for the Hall of Fame, the results of which were announced on Monday:
The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2008 Veterans Committee voting results, and for the first time since 2001, the VC—which has changed constitutions several times since then —e lected a new member to the Hall. Alas, that player was not longtime Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who has long been touted in this space and elsewhere. Instead, it was Joe Gordon getting the call, the second baseman for the Yankees (1938-1943, 1946) and Indians (1947-1950).

As you may have noticed, I did not run my usual JAWS-related breakdown to preview the ballot. This had less to do with the well-deserved ennui with which I greeted this year's VC voting process after three straight oh-fers, and more to do with the timing of a development that in the long term will be very exciting for BP and its readers, but in the short term runs the risk of being extremely disorienting: we're raising the bar.

Behind the scenes at BP, Clay Davenport has been hard at work revising the Wins Above Replacement Player system, our player valuation metric that covers the entirety of baseball history. Namely, he's incorporating two major changes; first, he's raising the replacement-level floor significantly beyond that of the bottom-of-the-barrel 1899 Cleveland Spiders or a current Double-A player to conform to a more modern definition of the major league replacement level, and second, he's adding a play-by-play based fielding component for the years where it is available.

Alas, the tail end of this research and development is taking place during the chaotic and often stressful period known around these parts as "book season," where our authors and editors are slaving away on player comments for our 2009 annual. The vanguard of Clay's fielding changes are geared towards the book, and as such, the fielding side of things for the years outside of its purview is not yet ready for prime time.

This leads to an awkward situation when it comes to my 2009 Hall of Fame balloting analysis, since JAWS is based on WARP. I am eager enough to see what the new replacement level means to my system's evaluation of the candidates, but the data I am using is not yet on the DT player cards available on our site, making it impossible for readers to play along at home, and furthermore, it's still using an older version of the fielding system that will soon be replaced for the years in which we have enough play-by-play data. As such, I'm going to acknowledge out front that we're on the bleeding edge as we briefly examine the VC ballot.
That's a lot of inside baseball for those of you who read this space but aren't BP subscribers, but to those who are, it's an exciting development. As for the new system, it suggests that Joe Torre, 19th century shortstop Bill Dahlen, and pitchers Wes Ferrell and Bucky Walters are worthy enshrinement. In previous JAWS articles covering the VC, I had Torre as good enough, and my spreadsheets told me Dahlen was getting a raw deal by not being nominated. Ferrell fell short on my previous analysis; I'd never evaluated Walters' case but it too fell short. In any event, it won't be until 2013 when the pre-World War II players come up again, and 2010 for the postwar players. By that time, the WARP changes will presumably be old hat.

I'll be rolling out a few more JAWS articles over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've got Dayquil and pitcher capsules to keep me occupied.

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