Blake Beavan and the Honest ERA

November 12, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

I know: you want to hear about Josh Hamilton and/or Nick Swisher, and how seriously the M’s are pursuing them. You’d like to know about the M’s 2013 payroll. Instead, I’m going to talk about Blake Beavan and unearned runs. I understand if you’ve already navigated your way out of here, and a part of me is legitimately sorry, but the majority of me knows that 1) it’s November and 2) I’m not at the GM meetings, so 3) let’s talk about Blake Beavan!

It’s one of the very first lessons anyone interested in sabermetrics learns: ERA is pretty misleading. Over a very large sample, it might be useful, and it might illuminate some aspect of a pitcher that advanced metrics don’t pick up, but any smaller (say, 3-5 years) sample is hopelessly biased. ERA is a measure of run prevention that mixes the contribution of the pitcher, the defense, and the official scorer. It doesn’t comport with what actually happened on the field (which is, ironically, one of the criticisms often hurled at advances metrics). It doesn’t isolate the pitcher’s contributions from his defense, and perhaps most questionably, the official scorer can wield tremendous influence based on how many balls in play he calls errors versus hits. Not surprisingly, other measures, including FIP and plain-old RA, predict following-year ERA much better than ERA itself does. At the extremes, a pitcher having a bad year can put up a very solid ERA thanks to the official scorer and bad timing.

CJ Wilson’s given up 16 unearned runs in each of the past two seasons; while he’s been good, he hasn’t been nearly as good as his ERA. Meanwhile, Jered Weaver’s given up only 6 unearned runs in those two seasons combined. If we can’t kill ERA outright, we can at least grudgingly admire those ERAs that refuse to hide dozens of runs from view. “Yes, sure, I gave up three HRs in that inning, but none of it counts because of a decision someone else made about a play someone else made. It’s got nothing to do with me!” This brings us to Blake Beavan, who didn’t allow an unearned run in his first 39 MLB starts, and who came awfully close to making it through 2012 without allowing any. That would’ve given him about 250 career innings-pitched without allowing an unearned run, which is pretty remarkable, even in the current, mostly error-free era of baseball. Beavan was in his 2nd to last start of 2012 when he loaded the bases with two outs against the A’s. The M’s summoned Oliver Perez, who threw a pitch that got past John Jaso and gave Oakland a run. Blake Beavan still hasn’t been on the field for an unearned run, which is something.*

This got me to wondering how common it is to pitch for 150 innings and allow one or fewer unearned runs. As it turns out, it’s not terribly uncommon, but it’s rarer for someone as, well, mediocre as Beavan. Since 2007, 22 pitchers** have gone at least 150IP with at most 1 unearned run. The last player to have a full season without one was Francico Liriano of Minnesota in 2010, but as with many of the pitchers on this list, he didn’t have to work out of too many jams – only three batters reached on errors against him that year. Couple that with his well above-average strikeout rate and few total runs allowed and it’s perhaps not a huge shock. But how does that help explain Blake Beavan or Dana Eveland?

Pitcher Season Runs Earned Runs ROE
Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 100 100 4
Greg Maddux 2007 92 91 7
Edwin Jackson 2008 91 90 5
Dana Eveland 2008 82 81 4
Scott Baker 2008 66 66 2
Chris Carpenter 2009 49 48 1
Joe Blanton 2009 89 88 6
JA Happ 2009 55 54 3
Yovani Gallardo 2009 78 77 5
Scott Feldman 2009 87 86 3
Roy Oswalt 2009 83 83 6
Johan Santana 2010 67 66 3
Joel Pineiro 2010 66 65 5
Philip Hughed 2010 83 82 1
Jeff Niemann 2010 86 85 6
Francisco Liriano 2010 77 77 3
Wade Davis 2010 77 76 3
Cole Hamels 2011 68 67 9
Chris Sale 2012 66 65 3
Blake Beavan 2012 76 75 2
Jarrod Parker 2012 71 70 4
Jason Vargas 2012 94 93 4

That’s a somewhat interesting table, or at least it’s interesting to me in mid-November. There’s a mix of very good (Hamels, Sale, Liriano, Santana) and not so good (Beavan, Blanton, Eveland). No one makes the list twice, though that’s partially due to the fact that I only went back to 2007. In fact, the last Mariner to pitch a full year without giving up an unearned run is Joel Pineiro, who managed the feat back in 2005, when he pitched a lot like Blake Beavan. Pineiro’s somewhat remarkable in that he’s not only done this twice, but he’s done so as two completely different pitchers – the flyballing, HR-prone, generally bad 2005 Pineiro and the Dave-Duncanized sinkerballer who wasn’t half bad in 2010. Being a great pitcher will clearly help you avoid unearned runs (as you can K your way out of jams), but it’s not the only way to do it. The other way is to simply not give up many errors, and that’s why so many of these guys are fly-ballers. Phil Hughes is even more fly-ball prone than Beavan, and Scott Baker slots in between. Blanton/Gallardo/Happ aren’t quite in that category, but they’re not ground-ball guys. It’s not a perfect correlation though, as Pineiro attests. Eveland was neutral-to-GB in 2008, and Liriano’s 2010 was his one big GB% year.

A good defense clearly plays a role as well, as reducing BABIP-against is going to reduce total runs. That’s why it’s not a shock to see two 2012 M’s teammates on the list (and two 2010 Rays teammates as well). In addition, it helps that these guys, in general, haven’t pitched all that much. Only one of these players, Daisuke Matsuzaka, pitched more than 200IP. Not only was Dice-K the IP champion of this list, he’s the one starting pitcher I’ve found (in recent years, at least) who started his career with a longer string of unearned run-less games was Dice-K, who went 268 IP, or 43 games, before his first unearned run. That run came against the Mariners, when Jose Vidro reached on an error, pushing Ichiro to 3B (Ichiro then scored on a ground out).

I still think the end of Beavan’s string is the strangest, what with the run scoring not on an error but a passed ball (which is about as perfect a summation of the M’s defense as you could find), but Chris Sale’s is bizarre too. Sale transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation this year, but as teams are wont to do, White Sox management wasn’t fully committed to the change. Thus, in early May, they brought Sale in with two men on and no outs in the 8th of a tie game against Cleveland. The husk of Johnny Damon reached base on an error and came around to score on a single. Perhaps sensing that bouncing Sale around wasn’t helping anyone, the Sox had Sale start five days later. He made no further appearances out of the pen.

*Ok, no, it’s not.

** That I’ve found through unscientific means. If you know of others, post ’em in comments. Any other 200IP starters that you can find? I thought of the 1970s Orioles, but not even Jim Palmer managed it. In general, there were more unearned runs the further back you go in baseball history, culminating in the 19th century when apparently everyone was terrible at fielding. Jim Devlin gave up 201 unearned runs in one year (1876). There are times I’m baffled that baseball became popular.

A Very Quick Thought On Josh Hamilton

November 7, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 53 Comments 

The GM Meetings are going on down in California right now, and while these aren’t the hotbed of rumors that the Winter Meetings are — those happen in Nashville at the beginning of December — there’s still a collection of media and baseball executives in one geographic area. And that breeds conversation, and those conversations often end up spilling over to Twitter and MLBTradeRumors. Today’s rumor – the Mariners are going to be in on Josh Hamilton.

First, it was Jon Heyman linking the Mariners and Orioles as favorites for Hamilton’s services with a column this afternoon. Then, Bob Nightengale of the USA Today jumps in with the same story a few hours later, citing “several GMs” as his sources.

Other GMs predicting things doesn’t mean its going to happen. Being anointed a co-favorite to sign a player on November 7th doesn’t mean anything, especially since that guy isn’t likely to sign any time soon. Remember when people were saying the Mariners were the favorites for Prince Fielder last winter? Remember how that simply wasn’t true?

So, take these reports with the requisite grains of salt. Jon Heyman and Bob Nightengale are not reporting that the Mariners are close to a deal with Josh Hamilton, or that they’ve even made him an offer. They’re reporting what people in other organizations told them what they expect to happen. It’s interesting, but it’s speculative at best. Informed speculation perhaps, but still speculation.

That said, the Mariners interest in Hamilton does pass the smell test. The Mariners are talking up a big game about spending money this winter, with Jack Zduriencik noting that he believes payroll will go up, and Ryan Divish reporting the other day that payroll could be “higher than $91 million”, which would be a substantial increase over last year’s total. Even after re-signing Iwakuma and Perez, the M’s are in the $62 million range, which leaves plenty of money to go after a guy like Hamilton and still fill out the roster. Given that the usual spenders don’t seem overly interested in Hamilton, he’s probably going to have to woo a non-traditional bidder if he wants to land a huge contract, and the Mariners obviously need an outfielder who can hit.

So, there’s logic to it from both sides, and it probably works financially, depending on what else the team wants to do this winter. Of course, Jack can’t just concern himself with whether the price works for 2013, especially if the report that Hamilton is seeking 7/175 is accurate. At that price, he’s just not worth the investment anymore, even though they could fit $25 million into the 2013 payroll. I’m pretty sure the Mariners aren’t going to be interested at 7/175. But, if its 5/110 or 6/130, that’s probably the kind of deal where Jack starts to think about Hamilton as a legitimate option.

And at that kind of price, I’d probably be in favor of the deal. I’m fully aware of the risks that come along with Hamilton, both in terms of health, substance abuse, plate discipline, park factors, aging, and personality, but I think that these kinds of players can often be forced into taking too large of discounts for these risk factors. Last year, for instance, Jose Reyes signed for 6/106 despite being an in-his-prime middle infielder coming off a +6 win season, all because he had a history of leg problems and everyone was scared about his durability. As I wrote at the time of that deal, you can price that kind of risk into a contract and have it turn out to be a worthwhile value even if you assume that the risky guy is going to get hurt or miss time for one reason or another. Value is a balance of risk and reward, and you can’t just say that a player is “too risky” without also calculating the reward when he is in the line-up.

And, of course, Hamilton is a pretty fantastic hitter, even with a maddening approach at the plate. He’s basically Miguel Olivo or Delmon Young in terms of plate discipline, and his inability to adapt his approach is one of the reasons the Rangers are willing to let him walk this winter. But, unlike Olivo or Young, Hamilton is naturally gifted enough to make that approach work, as he can hit a borderline strike a long way. Hamilton isn’t a model for other hitters to follow, but at the same time, we shouldn’t look at his aggressive hackiness and decide that makes him worthless.

Hamilton comes with a lot red flags, and those red flags are almost certainly going to drive his price down from the 7/175 he might be looking for. I don’t think he’s going to get anywhere close to that. I think he might end up in the low-100s for five guaranteed years with some vesting options and incentives added on, which basically pays him like a four win player. And, warts and all, that’s what Hamilton was last year.

If the rumors intensify, I’ll go more in depth on Hamilton’s fit for the organization. But, as a starting spot, I’ll just point out that I’m provisionally on board, assuming that it doesn’t take a contract anywhere near what Prince Fielder got last winter. If they can keep the contract to five guaranteed years (or less) and transfer some of the risk back to Hamilton by making him hit playing time clauses to trigger money at the back end of the deal, then Hamilton could end up being a good value, even with all the risks that are attached.

I’d probably still rather have a guy like Nick Swisher, who is going to come a lot cheaper and is probably capable of providing similar production once playing time is accounted for, but Hamilton’s an interesting option as well. And, who knows, maybe the Mariners are crazy enough to add both. If they’re really planning on pushing payroll back over $90 million, that’d be a fun way to do it.

’12 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 5, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 26 Comments 

So, I suppose it’s time for me to roll the boulder away from the mouth of my cave, stumble out into the world, bleary and unshaven, and do what I otherwise do proficiently, haggard appearance aside. I’ll tell you all about the probable 40-man additions (due Nov. 20th) and spend some time in idle speculation covering more material than is actually meaningful to cover because I’m abnormal in that way. I probably have some kind of brain thing. This year, what we’re looking at is ’08 high school draftees/early international signings and ’09 college draftees, which means that this marks the first year that we’ve been taking into account the Zduriencik era. You might be thinking all kinds of things about how long we’ve been in this particular rebuilding process, but you’re wrong! Baseball takes up so much time.

This round, the Mariners’ likely additions are more pitching-oriented than hitting-oriented, to the dismay of those of us now who really had no idea what things would have looked like four years ago. Actually, we haven’t have hitting for a while. Whatever. Next year is going to be something of a crunch. Why, we’ll be looking to add guys such as Stefen Romero, Leon Landry, Logan Bawcom, Forrest Snow, Tyler Burgoon, and Jordan Shipers, along with a whole slew of international prospects. Won’t that be fun to write about? It might be. We’re not there yet.

This time I’ve started to group things based around what I think will happen as opposed to just lumping all the names together. I’m making things more efficient! For you, not me. This is still ridiculous overall as an exercise.
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M’s Re-Sign Oliver Perez

November 3, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

The M’s announced today that they’ve re-signed Oliver Perez for the 2013 season, and Jon Heyman reports that he’s getting $1.5 million in salary with $600,000 in incentive bonuses. Given that his velocity spiked with the move to the bullpen and that he was actually pretty good for the team last year, this is a nice little pickup. Relievers who throw 94 from the left side aren’t growing on trees, and the M’s basically got him for little more than the league minimum.

With Perez coming back, the bullpen is officially overcrowded, which means someone is going away before spring training. The late inning roles are likely to go to Wilhelmsen, Furbush, Capps, and Luetge, with Pryor, Perez, and either Shawn Kelley or Josh Kinney working in middle relief. Given that Kelley and Kinney are both arbitration eligible but that Kelley is probably in line for a bigger raise and has more trade value, my guess is that Shawn Kelley is the odd man out, and the team will flip him as part of a minor trade for a bench player or a non-roster prospect.

The bullpen should once again be the strength of the team. With Perez back in the fold, they’ll have three pretty decent left-handed bullpen arms, and then three guys who throw serious heat from the right side. Not a bad group to play the match-ups with.

M’s Re-Sign Iwakuma

November 2, 2012 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

As expected, the Mariners have re-signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a two year deal with an option for a third year. Financial details aren’t out yet, but it’s not going to be a ton of money. He wanted to stay, he knew Safeco helped him out last year, and the free agent market isn’t super kind to starters with a history of shoulder problems who gave up a lot of homers while pitching in a homer suppressing park. Expect somewhere between $6-$8 million per year.

That knocks one rotation spot off the list, and leaves the team with just one starting spot left behind Felix, Iwakuma, Vargas, and Ramirez. I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in another starter to replace Millwood/Beavan, but don’t expect it to be a big ticket guy. Most of the spending this winter — after this move, anyway — is going to be on the offense.

Update: Jon Heyman has the financials – $14 million guaranteed, with annual salaries of $6.5 million in 2013/2014, then a 2015 option for $7 million with a $1 million buyout. So it’s either 2/14 or 3/20. Basically, right in line with what we expected.

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