Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Look at Jeff Kobernus

The Red Sox selected Jeff Kobernus from the Washington Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft, then immediately traded him to the Tigers for Justin Henry.  Not a very highly touted prospect, John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked him 19th among Washington Nationals prospects before the 2012 season, Kobernus is expected to contribute at the major league level, if not as a starter then as a bench player.  The Tigers are now without Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly, so Kobernus could potentially take one of their roles, but he has to remain on the 25-man roster all year or risk losing him. 

Kobernus has been pretty consistent on AVG and OBP, while showing a little boost of power in 2011, though below average overall:

2010 (A) - .279/.316/.346, 5.0% BB%, 16.9% K%
2011 (A+) - .282/.313/.387, 4.0%, BB%, 16.7% K%
2012 (AA) - .282/.325/.333, 5.2% BB%, 15.6% K%

Kobernus has below average walk rates, which have resulted in below average on-base percentages.  This could prevent him from being a top of the order hitter, which is what he was projected to be when he was drafted.  Another issue seems to be durability, as he has only surpassed 500 PA once, in 2011 and might already be labeled as injury-prone.

As a right-handed bat, he hits much better against left-handed pitching.  2011-2012 totals:

Vs. LHP - .313/.357/.429, 6.7% BB%, 11.6% K%
Vs. RHP - .269/.298/.338, 3.5% BB%, 18.5% K%

The Tigers are actively looking for a right-handed OF to platoon with Andy Dirks in LF, although they probably want someone with more power and experience than Kobernus.  If these numbers translate to the ML level, then Kobernus might be a pretty good platoon player, getting most of his playing time against left-handed pitching.

Kobernus’ best asset is his speed.  He has stolen 120 bases in only 290 games, including 53 in 2011 and 42 in 2012.    It’s a shame that he doesn’t have a better walk rate, as he could be seen as a future lead-off hitter instead of a fringe starter/bench player.  His great speed could mean that Quintin Berry wouldn’t have a role as they would be similar players with similar roles.

As far as defense, Kobernus is seen as an above average defensive second baseman, having above average range and a good arm.  Save for 4 games at SS, he has always been a second baseman, which could hurt him from being a ML player if he can’t hit well enough to be a starter.  The Tigers seem to think he can play the OF, which could give him Ryan Rabun-like versatility as far as defense is concerned, but much better.

The Tigers are definitely focusing on speed and defense as his hitting isn’t going to wow anyone.  If Kobernus can play above average defense in the OF as he can at 2B, he’ll likely stay on the roster all year and could carve out a nice career as a bench player.  Quintin Berry provided a bit of a spark last year with his speed and the Tigers are probably banking on Kobernus to do the same in 2013 (regardless of how Berry projects in the future, it was exciting to see his speed, at least for the first month).  With Omar Infante’s contract running out at the end of the year, Kobernus could be in competition for the starting 2B job in 2014 if he impresses enough in 2013.

Tiger fans should be excited, if only for the possibility of great defense and speed off the bench.  He might not have the impact of a Dan Uggla, but the Nationals could regret losing him in a few years.  Unless, of course, the injuries become a problem, a legitimate concern.  The Tigers are expected to contend in 2013, so it might seem strange to take a chance on a player that hasn't played above AA.  But considering the role he'll be in and the players he's replacing, it's a risk worth taking.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Can Rick Porcello Regain His Slider?

The Tigers have resigned Anibal Sanchez.  Whether or not you agree that it was a good deal or an over-payment, it does leave the Tigers with six starting pitchers and only five rotation spots.  There are several solutions to this, one being to send Drew Smyly down either in the minors or in the bullpen or even send Rick Porcello to the bullpen for depth.  But the popular opinion around the internet has Rick Porcello being traded and he’s even drawing interest from other clubs.

Porcello didn’t have a terrible year, at least not as bad as his ERA would lead you to believe (4.59 ERA).  His strikeout rate has increased for the 3rd straight year (5.46 K/9) as well as his ground ball rate (53.2%).  This resulted in a respectable 3.91 FIP and 3.89 xFIP, the lowest totals of his career.  The reason for the high ERA can be attributed to the poor infield defense and his league leading .344 BABIP suggests just that.  However, there was something else that went wrong with Porcello, and that was his slider.  In fact, it was so bad that FanGraphs suggested that he stop throwing that pitch altogether.

So how bad was it?  According to Pitch f/x, hitters teed off of Porcello’s slider with a batting line of .394/.405/.615 last year in 109 AB.  But just one year prior, hitters only hit .227/.268/.313 off of Porcello’s slider in 150 AB and it could be argued that that was his best pitch that year.  So what made it really good in 2011 and very bad in 2012, ignoring small samples for a moment?  One theory is the velocity of that he threw it at.  In 2011, he threw his slider at 75.1-88.5 MPH (averaging 83.2 MPH).  In 2012, he threw it harder at 78.5-90 MPH (averaging 85.1 MPH), an increase of about 2 MPH on average.  The extra velocity flattened the pitch out and made it more hittable. 

If Porcello is unable to regain his slider, he’s basically a fastball/sinker and changeup pitcher and he might be better used out of the bullpen without a third pitch.  But if he is able to get his 2011 slider back (or develop a different 3rd pitch altogether*) along with his other improvements, he’s primed to have a breakout year next year, especially if he’s traded to a team with better infield defense.  

*Like maybe focusing on his curveball more often?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sanchez was a good signing

While perusing some of the message boards in the aftermath of the Anibal Sanchez signing, I was confounded by the grumbling about “how we overspent”, or “there goes Verlander and Cabrera”. I doubt the team will lose either of those players because of this signing. I realize that payroll seems to be entering unprecedented territory, but what seems to be the most overlooked truth of this entire situation, is that baseball revenues are also entering unprecedented territory. The sum of television revenues are on the verge of pretty much doubling from approximately $77M to the $150M range. The team is projected to have a payroll in the mid $150Ms right now with Sanchez, the team ran for several years in the $130M range on the old TV revenue schedule, I don’t see how bumping payroll $20M is this week’s sign of the apocalypse.
While I do believe there are CERTAIN budgetary constraints in place, I don’t see this move as the move that will cost us Verlander or Cabrera. This move is going to cost us Max Scherzer after the 2014 season. Scherzer is a Scott Boras client and is going to test the market. We just purchased a pretty good pitcher for 5 years on the low end of what is likely to be the beginning of a very strong inflationary cycle in player contract values. If Sanchez got this amount in 2012, just imagine what Scherzer will get after 2014. While I understand that after the 2014 season Verlander is scheduled to be a free agent also, I expect that we will probably begin contract extension talks with Justin right about now. Zach Grienke has set the bar, Justin Verlander now knows what he can expect to ask for, and the Tigers now know what about they would be expected to pay. Just like with Sanchez, DD and the crew have long stated the desire to keep JV a Tiger for life, while Scherzer as a Boras client is much less likely to take that track at a time JV has stated his desire to remain with the club. Two years prior to contract expiration is traditionally about the timeframe where organizations that WANT to keep their players longer term will begin contract extension talks. It seems to me now that most of the “big moves” that involve external free agents are out of the way, it is time to turn our attention to internal contract issues, and that is exactly what I think the organization is going to do.
I do believe the first element of fallout from this signing is that Rick Porcello is likely to be traded. DD almost ALWAYS holds his cards close to the vest and RARELY states what his trade intentions are. With Porcello, DD has pretty much said he could be had in “the right trade”, which is more than DD usually gives up to the public. If I am to translate DD speak from that remark, it pretty much says to me Porcello is a goner. Porcello, I think if traded to a team with decent infield defense, could be a pretty effective pitcher, especially in the National League, which is where I suspect he will be traded to. Boesch too is likely a goner for the same reason. Andrew Oliver has already been traded in what I guess DD assesses was “the right deal”. With Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Phil Coke and Brennan Boesch all in their arbitration years, and with Al Alburquerque and Andy Dirks knocking on the door, Anibal Sanchez provides one roster spot with cost certainty over the next 5 years. This also allows for the Tigers to reduce the uncertainty of arbitration by giving the Tigers room to part ways with a few of these players. As stated above, I believe this winter, those players will be Rick Porcello and Brennan Boesch, with the team taking another year on the remaining players.
All things put together, if the organization can develop another starting pitcher this year (are you listening Casey Crosby?), I wouldn’t’ be surprised to see the team trade Scherzer next winter when he might be at “maximum trade value”, especially considering Scherzer is the one more likely to leave via free agency in my opinion. This Anibal Sanchez signing gives the organization much greater flexibility to work its way through the big arbitration classes over the next few years, and MAY cost us Porcello and eventually Scherzer, but I like our chances this year and maybe next with a rotation of JV, Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez and Smyly much better than a rotation of JV, Scherzer, Fister, Porcello and Smyly, and that’s the bottom line here. This was a great signing, and in a few years, this will look like a bargain.
Now, if we can just get one more big bat.  I'd like it much if we could put together a package centered around Porcello and Castellanos, along with others not named Garcia or Rondon to get Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins.  That would be the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts on Performance Enhancers and the Hall of Fame

Next month baseball writers will be voting on players for the Hall of Fame.  Over the last couple of years, the ballots have gotten pretty big mainly due to the fact that they’ve refused to elect anyone with any link to performance enhancing drugs.  Unlike Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who are permanently banned due to gambling and the Black Sox Scandal and therefore ineligible for the Hall of Fame, players need to be caught 3 times using performance enhancers to get a lifetime banned and put on the ineligible list.  Therefore, players caught 1-2 times are still eligible for enshrinement, even though the voters are hesitant to let them in.  However, their actions aren’t completely unjustifiable; rule 5 taken directly from the Baseball Hall of Fame website states:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

Voters are simply implementing the integrity clause to keep out otherwise statistically deserving players. 

There are several factors that can lead voters to change their minds.  This website shows that steroids don’t really give players a competitive advantage.  A common conspiracy theory is that MLB juiced the ball during the 1990s to increase the offense to get fans interested in baseball again after the 1994 strike and that commissioner Bud Selig not only turned a blind eye toward steroid users but actually encouraged them.   Keeping the players out of the Hall of Fame could be viewed as unfair if this is true, especially considering the vagueness of the steroid policies and the fact there was no formal testing until 2005.

A common misconception is that steroids have not been banned until 2005, but that’s not entirely true.  Steroids have been banned in MLB since 1991 when then Commissioner Fay Vincent issued a memo stating, “The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs ... including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription."  If players were made aware of the banning and ignored it, then maybe keeping them out of the Hall of Fame is the right thing to do.

Personally, I have to side with the voters in keeping them out.  The Steroid Era is a black eye in baseball and rewarding the players by putting them in the Hall of Fame seems to just ignore that.  Some people like to compare this time to the 60s and 70s when it was a well-known fact that players were taking amphetamines and maybe in time voters will view it as such and elect them in.  But we’re in a time with the internet and technology that can tell us a lot more information than the 60s and 70s, although the media might be making a bigger deal out of this then it actually is, which adds to the negative impact of this time. 

It is however a Hall of “Fame” not a Hall of “Stats” or a Hall of Merit .  These players should be held to a higher standard other than just having just the stats.  Why have the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” clause in the voting rules, if voters are just going to ignore it?  Why ban steroids during the 90s if there’s no punishment or drug testing?

 Notable players linked to PEDs on the 2013 ballot:

           ·         Barry Bonds – During the BALCO investigation, admitted to using a clear substance
and cream
but thought they were nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and rubbing balm.       
           ·         Mark McGwire – Admitted to using steroids in 2010 during the 1998 season when he broke the HR record. 
           ·         Rafael Palmiero – Was Banned in 2005 for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy.  
           ·         Roger Clemens – Named in the Mitchell Report.   
           ·         Sammy SosaLawyers claimed that he had a positive drug test during the 2003 season.  

Therefore, my hypothetical ballot for the 2013 Hall of Fame is:
            1.    Jeff Bagwell
            2.    Mike Piazza
            3.    Edgar Martinez
            4.    Alan Trammell
            5.    Curt Schilling
            6.    Craig Biggio
            7.    Larry Walker
            8.    Tim Raines

Voters can vote up to 10 players.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tigers Don’t Need Rafael Soriano

A few weeks ago, Dave Dombrowski said that the Tigers weren’t interested in Rafael Soriano to be the Tigers closer, praising prospect Bruce Rondon.  Recently, there have been reports that super-agent Scott Boras slyly bypassed Dombrowski and went straight to owner Mike Ilitch about the possibility of signing Soriano.  This isn’t the first time that Scott Boras has done this.  Just last year, the Tigers at first weren’t interested in signing Prince Fielder, until all of a sudden Ilitch approved a raise in payroll to make room for Fielder.  Boras seems to be doing the same thing this year with Soriano as the Tigers seem to be a perfect fit.  The Tigers have a need for a closer after Jose Valverde left via Free Agency, Ilitch is willing to spend money and the Tigers are in a “win now” mode, falling just short of a World Series title in 2012. 

The real question is, how much of an impact will Rafael Soriano really make?  He had a really good year for the Yankees last year, taking over for Mariano Rivera as their closer and pitching 62 2/3 innings, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.18 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 3.32 FIP, 3.75 xFIP.  Last month, Collin made a post on the Tigers bullpen construction for next year and the potential is there to be really good.

2013 Bullpen Options:

Al Alburquerque – Only pitched 13 1/3 innings in 2012, but over his 2-year career, he has 56 2/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 5.88 BB/9, 2.11 FIP, 2.82 xFIP.  However, he’s an injury concern.

Brayan Villarreal – He did awful in 2011 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 IP, but had a decent year in 2012: 54 2/3 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.87 K/9, 4.61 BB/9, 2.98 FIP, 3.96 xFIP.

Bruce Rondon – 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 in 3 levels for the Tigers’ minor leagues in 2012.  Lack of experience is a concern.

Octavio Dotel – 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.62 K/9, 1.86 BB/9, 2.30 FIP, 3.22 xFIP.  Has closing experience, saving 22 games as recently as 2010. 

Joaquin Benoit – 71 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.65 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 4.26 FIP, 3.29 xFIP in 2012.

Phil Coke – 54 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.47 FIP, 3.65 xFIP in 2012.

Those are 6 of the 7 spots that will be filled.  Other pitchers that could see some time with the Tigers next year are Duane Below (3.92 ERA in 43 2/3 IP in 2012), Darin Downs (3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 IP in 2012), Luis Marte (2.82 ERA in 22 1/3 IP in 2012), Adam Wilk (2.77 ERA in 24 starts in AAA in 2012), Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver and Luke Putkonen.  Some are better options than others and as the old saying goes, you can’t have enough pitching.

The Tigers do lack some experience and depth but there is more than one solution to this problem.  Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are both coming off of Tommy John Surgery and will likely only command a 1-year deal to reestablish their value.  Both might be out until May, so that will give the Tigers some time to see if one of their internal options are capable of closer duties.  If the Tigers are still struggling in the 9th, then they’ll have someone waiting with closing experience.

This approach would be similar to the Tigers second base problem of last year.  There was a glaring hole at 2B and instead of addressing it, the Tigers chose to go with Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge.  Neither one worked out and the Tigers had to make a trade for Omar Infante.  If the Tigers still have a need for a closer mid-season, then they could still get one at the trading deadline. 

This isn’t a money situation; Ilitch has the money and is willing to spend it.  This is how much impact Soriano will have on the Tigers.  And the answer is likely not much.  Several studies have been done on the impact of closers, one done by David Smith at Retrosheet took 73 years of data and found that teams won after having the lead after 8 innings 95% of the time, no matter who was pitching the 9th inning.  The Tigers have 4 relievers with closer potential in Alburquerque, Dotel, Rondon and Villarreal, so the likelihood that they already have pitcher capable of closing next year is very high.

We all saw firsthand how a reliable closer can turn bad when Jose Valverde fell apart in the playoffs.  Rafael Soriano is looking for a 3-year deal.  If he suffers from any struggles, it’ll be hard to replace him after all the money they committed to him, as opposed to someone internally (say Rondon wins the closer's job out of Spring Training.  If he struggles, replacing him with Al Alburquerque wouldn't be a problem).  Also, an unlikely closer emerged in Phil Coke when he took over closing duties in one of the highest pressured situations, the playoffs against the Yankees.  After the year that Coke had during the regular season, no one would’ve thought that he would be able to close games, let alone in the playoffs.  All the left-handers in the Yankees lineup helped, though, as Coke is much better against lefties than righties, which could also prove that the best way to handle the 9th inning is by situations instead of having one designated closer.

It’s not that Soriano would be a bad signing.  In fact, he’d probably be a really good closer for the Tigers.  However, it’s likely the Tigers already have a really good closer and therefore adding Soriano wouldn’t have a huge impact to the Tigers.  

Update: I must've missed it, the Angels have signed Ryan Madson.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tigers TV revenue and payroll sustainability

In this edition of Eye on the Tigers, I want to take a look at the projected revenue increase the Tigers are reported to be in line for.

The Tigers are projected to get a hefty increase in TV revenue that can sustain this increase in  payroll and also be used to extend some of their superstars for a long time. But how much is it set to increase, and when? To answer that, let’s take an in depth look at what we are dealing with.

From the figures listed in the above article, the Tigers currently bring in about $64 million in TV revenue. $40 million from FOX Sports Detroit, and $24 million from a shared deal from TBS, FOX, and ESPN for all of MLB. With the new shared deal, they will gain about $26 million in 2014, pushing TV revenue up to about $90 million.

In addition to that, it been reported that the Tigers can renegotiate their current deal with FSD at the halfway point of the contract, which would be this year as it was signed in 2008 for 10 years. The Tigers currently make $40 million per year from this deal but it is speculated that they could see that figure double based on the size of other recently negotiated contractsIt should be noted though that FSD has refuted the Forbes article about the Tigers being able to renegotiate as inaccurate.

So, how much payroll could the Tigers sustain?

Well according to Forbes (from Crain):
"The Tigers had $8.2 million in operating income last season on revenue of $217 million, estimated this year. That was after three straight seasons of operating losses."

That means the Tigers cost $208.8 million last year to operate.

In 2011 the Tigers payroll was approximately $110,935,181.

I have a feeling I may be overestimating by a million or so as I filled in the salary amounts for players whose totals weren't listed with the following method. $200k for call-ups, regardless of actual time up in Detroit, and half of the 2011 salary listed on Baseball-Reference for players acquired through trade.

Moving on though...if the cost to operate the Tigers in 2011 was $208.8 million and they had about $111 million in payroll to players, that means it cost $97.8 million in overhead to pay for the stadium operation, travel, workers salaries, coaches, taxes, ect...

Now lets break down the revenue. The Tigers made $217 in revenue. If they were getting $64 million in TV deals, that means they made $153 million on tickets, concessions, merchandise, and selling ads in the stadium. With 2,642,045 fans through the gates in 2011, they made roughly $57.91 per head (Mr Illitch thanks you very much).

Now to begin the 2012 and beyond calculations.

To keep things simple, we'll assume they make the $57.91 per head in 2012 and to 2014 (though they probably will make more as ticket prices and other prices go up over the next year or so). They sold 3,028,033 tickets last year, so that gives them an approximate income of $175,352,444 in tickets and concessions and merchandise. Combine that with the $64 million they get in TV revenue, the Tigers likely made more than $239.35 million in 2012.

2012 payroll was a little over $138 million, so combining that with the $97.8 million in overhead, that means the Tigers cost to operate in 2012 was roughly $235.8 million.

$235.8 million to operate.

$239.35 million in revenue.

They made at least $3.55 million, and likely several million more when you count in the profits from the playoffs.

I will revisit this in March when Forbes comes out with their estimates on the value of the Tigers based on the 2012 calendar year.

Now how about 2013...

Their payroll currently stands at $143 million. That would give them a total cost to operate of $240 million this year. That is probably very close to the amount they made last year in revenue.

Knowing that there is a large margin for error, I'm going to say that what their payroll is right now is probably the maximum sustainable level for their current TV and operating deals (i.e they operate with minimal gain/loss).

So, what about the new TV deals?

In 2014, they will gain $26.5 million from the shared TV deals. Most of that will (hopefully) go towards extending Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander as well as extending some other key Tigers like Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister. They will have some room to work beyond that after Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez come off the books ($25 million total)

Anything beyond that will have to come from and increase with FSD. If they renegotiate this year and get a modest $25 million, they could have a sustainable 2014 payroll of $194 million (assuming the increases in ticket prices at least match the increases in operating costs, and they stay around 3 million fans per year).

They will be just over the luxury tax threshold in 2014, which would have to be factored in if they exceed it.

So there you go. The Tigers should be operating close to break even next year, and depending on if they negotiate a new deal with FSD, they could easily make Verlander and Cabrera Tigers for life and still push payroll even higher.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thoughts on Ryan Raburn and the 40-Man Roster

Last Tuesday, the Tigers released utility man Ryan Raburn, officially making him a free agent.  They also added relievers Bruce Rondon and Melvin Mercedes and shortstop Dixon Machado to the 40-man roster and outrighted reliever Tyler Stohr before the deadline.  The deadline is to protect players for the Rule 5 Draft.  Players have to be protected if they were:

          1.    Signed at age 19 or older and have been with the organization for 4 years or
          2.    Signed at age 18 or younger and have been with the organization for 5 years.

Raburn batted .256/.311/.430/.740 with 54 HR and a 96 OPS+ in parts of 7 years with the Tigers.  He had his best years in 2009-2011 when he batted .274/.329/.473/.802 with 45 HR and a 113 OPS+, prompting the Tigers to make him the starting second baseman to start the 2012 season.  He has always hit well against left-handers, hitting .282/.355/.547/.902 against southpaws in those 3 years, suggesting that he’d at least make a great platoon player.  And for reasons unexplained by the SABR community, he has always hit well in the 2nd half of the year, hitting .320/.374/.552/.925 after the all-star break in those 3 years. 

Unfortunately, those numbers did not transfer in 2012 as he only hit .171/.226/.254/.480 with only 1 HR and a 30 OPS+.  He did just as bad against lefties (.165/.224/.253) as righties (.175/.228/.254/.482).  He was eventually sent to AAA right before his 5 years of ML service time came, so he couldn’t refuse the assignment. Then finished the year on the disabled list, so he couldn’t demonstrate if he could duplicate his 2nd half magic.  His poor defense added to his misery of a season; his -1.5 fWAR and -2.0 rWAR were among the worst in all of baseball.  MLB Trade Rumors projected Raburn would get $2.1 million in arbitration for 2013, which would’ve been too much money for the kind of year he had, so releasing him was the obvious choice.  He’ll be 32 years old next year, so he might have his best years behind him, but could be serviceable if he could get back to hitting left-handed pitching.  He’s a prime change of scenery candidate if I ever saw one.

Bruce Rondon is the big name added to the roster.  Baseball America has him ranked 3rd on the Tigers’ top 10 prospect list for 2013.  Rondon pitched at 3 levels for the Tigers, ending in AAA with an overall line of 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.094 WHIP, 30.1% K rate and 11.9% BB rate, good enough to earn Tigers’ minor league pitcher of the year.  Rondon is expected to make the team out of Spring Training and be in the mix to be the closer, but lack of major league experience is worrisome.  Personally, I’d like to see Al Alburquerque get the first shot at closing next year.

Melvin Mercedes spent most of 2012 in A-ball, pitching 64 1/3 IP, 2.80 ERA, 1.197 WHIP, 16.5% K rate and 8.8% BB rate.  He also pitched 1 inning in Lakeland, giving up 1 hit and 1 BB with no ER.  Motor City Bengals did a great scouting report for this guy, but it’s a year old.  He’s definitely one to watch.  According to Minor League Central, he had a great 54.4% GB rate in 2012; if he can carry that to the majors, he can have success.  But I expect the Tigers to proceed with caution after having Tommy John Surgery by starting him in Lakeland with a possible call-up to AA half-way through the year. 

Dixon Machado played all of 2012 in Lakeland, hitting a pathetic .195/.283/.252/.534.  His real asset is his defense.  Baseball America rates him as the best defensive infielder and best infield arm in the Tigers’ system.  If he doesn’t learn to hit better, he could be another Cale Iorg-type of a player – all glove and no bat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2013 Payroll: What it is and what it could be.

Now that the off-season is underway, I would like to take a look at some payroll scenarios for the Tigers in 2013.

Based on projected salary values and arbitration projections from Baseball Reference and MLBTraderumors, here is how the Tigers 2013 roster looks as it stands right now, if they go with these 25 guys out of spring training.

Player2013 Salary
Prince Fielder$23,000,000
Miguel Cabrera$21,000,000
Justin Verlander$20,000,000
Victor Martinez$13,000,000
Torii Hunter$13,000,000
Jhonny Peralta$6,000,000
Joaquin Benoit$5,500,000
Omar Infante$4,000,000
Octavio Dotel$3,500,000
Ramon Santiago$2,100,000
Max Scherzer$7,500,000
Rick Porcello$4,700,000
Phil Coke$1,700,000
Alex Avila$2,500,000
Doug Fister$3,800,000
Brennan Boesch$2,100,000
Austin Jackson$3,100,000
Al Alburquerque$510,000
Daniel Schlereth$510,000
Andy Dirks$485,000
Brayan Villarreal$485,000
Drew Smyly$485,000
Quintin Berry$485,000
Bruce Rondon$480,000
Bryan Holaday$480,000

Brandon Inge$500,000* option buyout

Arb Costs - Total$29,320,000
Arb Costs - 1$11,500,000
Arb Costs - 2$13,900,000
Arb Costs - 3


Diff from 2012($6,920,000) increase

Again, this is how it would look, if we make no further moves.

Now lets have some fun...

By some recent projections of TV contract increases, it has been suggested the Tigers could sustain a payroll of around $160M. So we'll keep that as our upper limit

Say the Tigers sign Anibal Sanchez. I think the likely result would be that Rick Porcello gets traded, instead of Smyly going to the bullpen or back to Toledo.

By recent rumors, Sanchez is asking for 6 yrs/$ 90M. So, at $15M per season, minus Porcello's expected arbitration salary, total payroll would increase by $10.2M to $155M.

That leaves $5M to make more moves to bring in a LF to platoon with Dirks. But WAIT, there's MORE!

Say they do bring in a RH outfielder, who gets the axe from the projected roster I outlined? My guess, its Boesch. He still carries some trade value and is set to make $2.1M So if they dump him, the payroll space increases to $7.1M. That's enough for a substantial upgrade in the OF, or a RH platoon LF and maybe even another bullpen arm.

Or... Stephen Drew. According to recent rumors, the Diamondbacks have interest in Jhonny Peralta, and the Tigers have interest in Stephen Drew. Dombrowski said they would not move Peralta unless they could upgrade at SS. The Tigers might see Drew as such an upgrade. So, Drew at $10M (3yrs/ $30M) minus Peralta ($6M) leaves the total payroll at $159M.

Just some interesting possibilities that could happen in the next few months.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Defense Will Be Hunter’s Biggest Contribution to the Tigers

Torii Hunter signed a 2 year/$26 million contract with the Tigers to be their everyday RF.  Hunter hit .313/.365/.451/.817 in 2012 and fans are glad to finally see someone fill the void of the #2 slot in the batting order as well as in RF.  The Tigers actually did quite well out of the 2nd spot in the lineup last year with a .710 OPS, good for 6th in the AL with mainly Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry getting the majority of the playing time.  But the Tigers' RF production only gave a .641 OPS which was dead last in the AL.  Hunter is poised to be upgrade at both spots. However, there are some concerns with Hunter that show he may be declining as a hitter.

Hunter had an unsustainable .389 BABIP last year, the biggest red flag.  The highest mark that he gave before that over a significant sample size was .336 in 2009 and his career mark is at .307.  It’s reasonable to predict that his BABIP will fall and so will his true batting average, to probably around the .260-.270 range.  Then there’s the walk rate, which was at 6.5% in 2012.  The three years before that was 9.6%, 9.4% and 9.3%.  A 3% drop-off is huge.  If Hunter cannot get his walk rate back up while his batting average falls, then his OBP doesn’t look so good anymore (and not #2-hole material).  Hunter also struck out at a rate higher than he ever did last year, 22.8%.  Finally, there’s the power issue.  Most players lose some power when they get older, so this one doesn’t come as a shock.  His .139 ISO was the lowest since his first couple of years with the Twins and he failed to hit 20 HR for only the 2nd time in the last 12 years (the only other time was an injury shortened 2005 season).
There are some factors that show that Hunter has changed his approach.  His LD% was the highest of his career in 2012 at 22.6%, but only a little increase from his 21% rate in 2011.  His GB% went above 50% for the first time at 52% and his FB% went lower than 30% for the first time at 25.4%.  It looks like he traded some of his fly balls for ground balls.  Ground balls result in a higher average than fly balls and a high line drive rate also increases a batting average, so it looks like he was trying to trade in some power for more contact.  However, his contact rate actually fell from 77.2% in 2011 to 74.9% in 2012.  Put it all together and this doesn’t account for the 92-point increase of BABIP from the previous year. So it’s reasonable to say that Hunter benefited from a little (or maybe a lot) of luck and his offensive production is likely to take a dive in 2013 but should still be an improvement over Brennan Boesch (who hit .240/.286/.372/.659 in 2012) .  Bill James is projecting a line of .271/.336/.428/.764 with 19 HR, an 8.1% BB rate and 21.4% K rate for Hunter in 2013, although his predictions tend to be on the optimistic side.  Bill James projections are the only ones out at the moment.

Fortunately for the Tigers, offense isn’t the only thing Hunter will provide as defensive stats show that he’s still an elite fielder.  DRS shows that he saved 15 runs and UZR shows 10.4 runs saved compared to -17 DRS (last in the AL) and -17 UZR (13th in the AL) from Tigers’ RF in 2012.  Brennan Boesch contributed the majority of those numbers with a -8 DRS and -12 UZR.  With Hunter that’s an increase of around 27 to 32 runs saved.  That a huge swing in performance and will prove to have the biggest impact on the Tigers from having Hunter on the team.

Torii Hunter provided 5.3 fWAR last year.  With a decline in offensive production, it's more reasonable to predict about 2.5-3.0 WAR in 2013.  Tigers' RF combined for a -2.0 fWAR in 2012 with Brennan Boesch, -1.3, providing the most negative value at that position.  That will be an increase of about 4 wins which will be well worth the contract, even if Hunter is forced to bat lower in the lineup.