15 December 2007

A Chilling Comparison

Newly Signed Dodger Hiroki Kuroda

2007 Central League ERA ranking: 9
ERA: 3.56
Innings: 179.7
Strikeouts: 123
Walks: 42
Homeruns: 20

Mystery Japanese Pitcher

2007 Central League ERA ranking: 12
ERA: 4.19
Innings: 166.7
Strikeouts: 163
Walks: 49
Homeruns: 21

When I first heard Kuroda’s ERA, I thought it sounded a little high for a Japanese League. Then I looked at the stats and saw that he was ninth in his league in ERA last year, which sounds pretty good. But then I realized that ninth isn’t all that good when there are only 6 teams in the league.

People are claiming that his home stadium in Hiroshima is a hitter’s park, so that might be an encouraging sign. I haven’t found any numbers to back up this claim yet, though. The short dimensions down the lines are often cited, but there’s more to park factors than short outfield porches. Still, maybe ninth is really pretty good given his home park. He was the best Hiroshima Carp pitcher by ERA last year, for what that might be worth.

So it was while pondering how good Kuroda might really be that I saw something a little further down the ERA leader list that chilled my blood!

The mystery man in 12th place on the ERA list strikes out a lot more batters than Kuroda, though he did have a worse ERA ( obviously ). He also had worse HR and walk rates. Maybe we could say that Kuroda is better than the mystery pitcher, but he’s not heaps better.

If that mystery pitcher was also coming to the major leagues, would we expect Kuroda to be much better than him? Especially given the mystery pitcher’s higher strikeout rate, we might expect them to be pretty close in performance.

Unfortunately, the mystery pitcher has pitched in the major leagues before. His name is Kaz Ishii. You know, the frustrating and by the end mediocre Dodger starter who ended up being traded for famed slow-poke catcher and occasional-first-base-man Jason Phillips? What the Pierre were the Dodgers thinking in signing to a three year deal averaging at least 12 million a year a pitcher perhaps only marginally better than Kaz Ishii?

Okay, time for a self-sedation. Ishii is older by Kuroda --- by two years. Ish --- sedative not working! Okay, how about this --- if Kuroda replicated Ishii’s ERA’s from his three years with the Dodgers, we’d get an ERA of 4.27 in 2008, 3.86 in 2009, and 4.71 in 2010. That’s worth 12 million or more a year, right? Right? Ugh, sedative still not working.

In truth no one knows how Kuroda will do. It's really hard to say how a pitcher coming over from Japan will do. I guess one could argue for paying 12 million for a 4 ERA pitcher, if it keeps a 5 ERA pitcher from making starts. We’ll see if Kuroda can even manage an ERA of 4, though. Ishii’s big weakness were all the walks he gave up, but they didn’t really sink him until year three. Kuroda’s weakness is going to be his low strikeout rate, most likely. We’ll see how long it takes for that to sink him.

I have to say, though, I don't hate this signing. That's because I'm an irrationally optimistic Dodger fan. When they happen I always think the free agent signings will work out, somehow. Except for Juan Pierre's signing, of course. I hated that one from the beginning. Even optimists have their limits.

06 December 2007

Pierre Loses His Cover

Something happened! The Dodgers did something! Ken Rosenthal and the others ( such as Buster Olney ) who criticized the Dodgers for having a bad offseason by doing nothing get their wish! Another ex-Brave is signed to a lucrative short term contract!

Andruw Jones, the boy from Curacao ( as Vinny likes to call him ) has signed with the Dodgers for 36 million dollars spread out over two years. Sheesh, I feel so out of the loop. I've only just now heard about this signing, even though the news of it apparently broke last night. My source in the Dodger front office didn't come through!

Jones is the center fielder. That's not in question. And Pierre is the presumptive left fielder. But I don't buy it. Pierre is not going to be the regular Dodger left fielder for long. This is next year, and everything has changed.

If the Dodgers keep Ethier and Kemp, then it's a sure thing that Pierre will fall into the fourth outfielder spot. Pierre is no longer the fresh signing who's got to be played. He is no longer the only center fielder available --- in fact he'll likely never play center field for the Dodgers again, outside of a Jones injury or Jones day off. As a newly signed center fielder Pierre had an almost mystical claim on being in the lineup: the Dodgers brought him in to be their speedy center fielder, and come groundout or pop up or pathetic bunt that's where he was going to play. But now, he's a known bust who's competing for a corner outfield spot. His power and on-base deficiencies will suddenly seem more obvious. His outfield speed ( such as it is ) will seem less relevant. Oh sure, he does start the season in a starting role. I don't deny that. But this year Pierre will have to compete for his playing time, and in a legitimate competition he has no chance. Being the center fielder was Pierre's trump card in keeping his starting job, and now he's lost it.

His competitors for a corner outfield spot, Ethier and Kemp, aren't rookies anymore. They have power numbers and batting averages and OPS's to point to at the big league level. They're better, and I think Torre and Colletti know this. I also don't deny that Pierre may get a boost in this competition from being the older player, the proven veteran winner, but that's not going to be enough. The Dodgers may be a little backward when it comes to giving their young players a chance, but when a veteran starter isn't getting it done eventually that starter will be pulled, even if it isn't as fast or as complete as most of us would like. Nomar and Gonzo did lose playing time as the season went on last year.

Now, Colletti may trade either Kemp or Ethier for starting pitching. ( I refuse to believe he'd part with either one for Rolen or some other inferior-to-LaRoche third baseman. ) Then it becomes harder --- Pierre becomes more able to hold on to his corner outfield spot, because where is the competition? But I know that one thing
GM Ned likes is his depth. If he trades one of Kemp or Ethier, he'll go out and get a Terrmel Sledge type guy to be a fourth outfielder. And Delwyn Young should also be lurking in the outfield mix. Though it will take longer, Pierre would also lose playing time to whoever the Dodgers had as their fourth and fifth outfielders at the start of the year. It really doesn't matter who else the Dodgers have. Pierre's days of playing every day are done, for the simple reason that he is now the worst corner outfielder in all of baseball, by such a margin that even Pierre apologists will have to see it. There's nowhere for him to hide now that Jones has taken over center field.

04 December 2007

Tigers Trade 6.2 Million Dollars for Cabrera

So the big news of the day is that the Tigers have traded top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin along with 4 lesser prospects for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. How fortunate for the Tigers that they had Miller and Maybin around to make the trade, huh?

The Tigers bought their fortune, more or less. Andrew Miller was drafted 6th overall in the 2006 draft. He got a signing bonus of 3.85 million to go with another 3 million plus in guaranteed money. The players drafted directly ahead and behind him got signing bonuses of 2 million ( Brandon Morrow ) and 2.3 million ( Clayton Kershaw ). By paying an extra 1.5 million or so the Tigers were able to lock up a premier talent. Cameron Maybin was drafted 10th overall in 2005, and after a lengthy holdout he signed for slightly above "slot money" with a signing bonus of 2.65 million dollars. In comparison, Wade Townsend, drafted eighth in 2005, got a signing bonus of 1.5 million. ( The ninth pick that year, Pelfry, was also signed above slot value. ) By paying an extra 1 million the Tigers locked up Maybin. By a very simple analysis, this extra 2.5 million spent in 2005 and 2006 has paid off with Miguel Cabrera in 2008.

Now, the Tigers are losing 4 pitching prospects in this deal. That hurts their overall pitching depth, no question. But they still have Rick Porcello, drafted 27th overall last year and given a signing bonus of 3.85 million to sign, well over slot money that far down in the first round. By paying over slot for him, they put themselves in a position to trade away four pitching prospects and still have some depth.

The Tigers may well have been better off if they had drafted Kershaw instead of Miller in 2006, of course. He would have been cheaper and may have even have been more slightly more valued by the Marlins thatn Miller. But you'll come out ahead over the long haul by drafting premium talent that drops because of signability concerns and then paying over slot to get that talent on board. If the Tigers had just taken players at each spot in the draft that they knew they could sign at the MLB approved amount for that slot, they might not have had enough young talent to get Cabrera.

I don't know which team wins this trade. I'm bad at figuring out that sort of thing. But viewed one way the Tigers basically got Cabrera for an outlay of 6.2 million dollars back in 2005 and 2006. It's not as if losing either Maybin or Miller creates any true holes in the 2008 Tigers. ( Maybe losing them creates holes in the 2010 Tigers, though. ) Anyway, about 6 million for Cabrera is a steal for the Tigers, isn't it?

I wish the Dodgers were willing to consistently go over slot in the way the Tigers are. Nothing beats smart drafting, of course. You need to give the bonuses to the right players. But I wonder, who might Kyle Blair have been traded for down the road? What might an investment of 1 million in 2007 have garnered the Dodgers in future years?