Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baseball Reference Can't Add

There is a curious problem on the Baseball Reference site with the total earned runs for the Minnesota Twins. While the total earned runs of the team is 724, the sum of the individual earned runs for the individual pitchers is 726.

While the team totals at the bottom of columns on Baseball Reference appear as if they are based on the data in the table, it looks like at least some of them are sourced differently. The major league baseball site agrees with Baseball Reference on the team total of 724, so apparently the Baseball Reference individual pitcher stats are off. But its also apparent that their team summaries are not necessarily based on the individual player data.

If you use this data regularly, as I do, you might want to be careful.

Update: As the posts below note, baseball rules allow assignment of an earned run to a reliever while making it unearned for the team. So the "team totals" are accurate, they just aren't totals of the numbers in the columns above them.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Understanding that Draft Pool

Acccording to Baseball America the Twins will have more to spend than any other team in next year's draft. Under the new collective bargaining agreement each team is assigned a budget to sign its choices in the first 10 rounds. The budget is adjusted for each team based on how many choices they have and where they pick. The Twins have the second choice in each round and three compensation choices for losing Kubel and Cuddyer. That gives them a total budget of $12,368,200. According to the story, last year they spent $5,902,300 on their bonuses to their choices in the first ten rounds.

While the Baseball America story focuses on the aggregate budget, that aggregate number is determined by adding up the bonuses for each slot. In the past, major league baseball has suggested a bonus level for each position in the top of the draft. But teams were free to sign players for whatever they chose. Some teams went way over this "slot" bonus for players they thought were worth more.

I believe the Twins did that two years ago with Kyle Gibson. Gibson has dropped in the draft because of an injury. By the time they signed him, the Twins were satisfied the injury wasn't an issue and they were willing to pay as if he had been drafted higher.

The new budget process sets stiff penalties for exceeding the aggregate budget. These include both monetary penalties and loss of high draft choices. Its unlikely many teams will decide to take the penalties.

Another aspect of the budget is that if a team fails to sign a player in a particular slot, they lose that part of their budget. So in order to stay under budget while paying a player over the slotted amount, you need to sign some other player for less than slot by the same amount. For instance, the Twins could draft a player who will agree to take less than slot with their first round choice and then use the money saved to pay extra for players taken as supplemental picks. Or vice versa. They could take players in later rounds they expect to be cheap to sign and use that money to sign players they took earlier.

Budget strategy decisions are something new for everyone and it will be interesting to see how they play out with different teams. My predictions: Terry Ryan and the Twins mostly will stick close to the slot bonuses and Billy Beane will try to show he's smarter than anyone else by trying to game the system.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, watch the 11th round when the budget disappears. There may be some pretty good players available in the 11th round who dropped because of signability issues. With the budget off, teams will be free to offer them as much money as they want.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Twins Top 100 Prospects

As I mentioned elsewhere the top 100 lists often miss players. But Jim Crickett over at Knuckle Balls points out that almost every star player shows up on the top 100 lists at some point. While that is true, there are a lot of players who appear one year and then disappear when they don't live up to the early hype. Its not unusual for those players to break out later. So instead of looking at the top 100 list for this year, I thought it would be useful to see who has been listed over the last ten years. Here is the list of players in the Twins system who were on Baseball America's Top 100 list during the last decade:

Miguel Sano (2012,2011,2010)
Aaron Hicks (2012,2011, 2010)
Kyle Gibson (2011,2010)
Joe Benson (2011)
Ben Revere (2009)
Wilson Ramos (2009)
Nick Blackburn (2008)
Carlos Gomez (2008)
Delios Guerra (2008)
Matt Garza (2007)
Glen Perkins (2007, 2006)
Kevin Slowey (2007)
Chris Parmelee (2007)
Francisco Liriano (2006)
Jason Kubel (2006,2005)
Matt Moses (2006,2004)
Anthony Swarzak (2006)
Joe Mauer (2005,2004,2003,2002)
JD Durbin (2005,2004)
Jesse Crain (2005,2004)
Justin Morneau (2004,2003,2002)
Michael Cuddyer(2003,2002,2001,2000,1999)
Michael Restovich(2003,2002,2000,1999)
Adam Johnson (2002,2001)
Luis Rivas(2001,2000,1999,1998,1997)

I didn't list players who only appeared on the list before 2001.

The players currently on the major league roster include Mauer, Morneau, Perkins, Swarzak, Blackburn and Revere.

The players still in the Twins minor league system include: Parmelee, Guerra, Benson, Gibson, Hicks and Sano.

Players not on that list include Denard Span, Scott Baker, Brain Duensing, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe.

There are an obvious group of clunkers: Johnson, Restovich, Durbin and Moses. Rivas and Gomez were disappointments, given the expectations. The final jury is still out on Ramos, Revere, Swarzak and Perkins. Blackburn, Slowey and Liriano have been up and down in the rotation. Crain, Garza, Cuddyer and Kubel have been solid major league contributors. Mauer and Morneau are obviously superstars.

So the 25 players on the lists have produced 4 wash outs, 2 disappointments, 4 uncertain, 3 semi-reliable starters, 4 major league regulars and 2 superstars. And there are 6 players still in the minor league system.

Of course during that time a lot of players who have come and gone who were never "top 100 prospects" but have contributed to the Twins success. In fact, the Twins success as an organization that "builds from within" may have less to do with those top 100 lists, than their ability to develop those other guys and find productive roles for them in the big leagues.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Evaluating Minor League Systems

There is a certain theatrical suspension of disbelief in all prospect evaluations. Guys who are on everyone's "can't miss" list, miss. Occasionally players no one notices in the low minors suddenly blossom as they move up the ladder, but nowhere near as often. In short, every evaluation of a team's prospects is inevitably way off mark and almost always on the optimistic side.

What that means for rankings of team's minor league systems is that even the difference between ranking first and last may not hold up when you look back on the careers of the players in the systems. Most systems will have less than 10 players in them at any one time who will make significant future contributions at the major league levels. By significant, I mean players who are regular starters or play a major role in the bullpen. So just a couple of players doing better or worse than expected can switch the rankings of two teams around.

For an example, lets look at the players who have significant major league experience and were prospects in the Twins minor league system ten years ago, after the 2011 season:

Matt LeCroy
Grant Balfour
Juan Rincon

New Britain:
Michael Cuddyer
Justin Morneau
Lew Ford

Fort Myers:
Luis Rodriguez

Quad Cities:
Rob Bowen
Terry Tiffee

Joe Mauer

Gulf Coast:
Jason Kubel
Jose Morales

Ranking them on their major league contributions these six have had significant major league roles:

Joe Mauer
Justin Morneau
Michael Cuddyer
Jason Kubel
Juan Rincon
Grant Balfour

For contrast, here is Baseball America's top ten for that year:

1) Joe Mauer
2) Justin Morneau
3) Michael Cuddyer
4) Michael Restovich
5) Adam Johnson
6) Brad Thomas
7) Juan Rincon
8) Rob Bowen
9) Matt Kinney
10)Sandy Tejada

So, as people try to evaluate how the strength of the Twins minor league system, take any conclusions with a grain of salt. We all hope guys like Sano and Hick will become great players like Mauer and Morneau. But its just as likely some guy we haven't heard of will turn into Jason Kubel.

The Draft's 11th Round

One of the interesting changes in the new player agreement is the limit on compensation for draft choices. This places a limit on what each team can spend on their draft picks in the first 10 rounds. Exceed that limit and there are fairly stiff penalties. Stiff enough that very few, if any, teams are going to exceed them and the Twins will certainly not be one of them.

The amount a team can spend depends on their position in the draft and includes consideration of compensation picks. So the Twins should have a relatively generous budget. At least compared to other teams. The budget, however, is allocated by draft spot. If they fail to sign a player their budget is reduced accordingly. In other words they can't not sign a choice and use the money elsewhere. They can however pay someone less than budgeted for their draft spot and spend that money elsewhere. So the Twins could pick some guys who are easy to sign with their compensation picks. They could then use the money to sign their top choice or sign players they take later who dropped because of signability issues. Of course the players' agents are going to figure out what slot money is and it may be tough to get a player to take less than the budget for their draft position.

Because of the budget constraints, players who want over slot money are unlikely to be taken later in the first 10 rounds. But the budget limit disappears after the 10th round. That means that starting with the 11th round there may be some very good players available who in the past would have been taken earlier and paid over slot to sign. With the second choice, the Twins will get to choose from the best of those players. Depending on their own budget decisions, they could pick up a pretty good player that normally would have gone a lot higher.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

How Fans Confuse Trade Value

One of the favorite trades for Twins fans to complain about was the deal that sent Johan Santana to the the New York Mets for a handful of prospects. The question is how could trading a Cy Young award winner have such a paltry return. The answer is in understanding that the value traded is only partly related to the value of the player on the field.

In the case of Santana the Twins got Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Delios Guerra in return for Santana. Mulvey was effectively traded for Jon Rauch, Gomez was traded for JJ Hardy and Humber left as a free agent after clearing waivers. Rauch left in turn as a free agent and Hardy was traded, along with Brendan Harris, for two pitchers. Brett Jacobsen, who is still in the Twins system, and Jim Hoey who left after he was claimed on waivers this winter. So the Twins have Guerra and Jacobsen, plus the past contributions of Gomez, Rauch and Hardy, to show for Santana.

That doesn't seem like much. But what did the Mets get in return? They got one very good season from Johan Santana in 2008, but didn't make the playoffs. After 2008, Santana was going to be a free agent and the Mets also got the exclusive right to negotiate a new long term contract with him which they did prior to the 2008 season. That contract is looking less and less like it will pan out as Santana has struggled with injuries.

The Twins, of course, only gave up Santana after failing to agree on a long term contract. The alternative was to keep Santana for one season and then take whatever draft choices they got as compensation. This would have included a sandwich pick and either a low first round or high second round choice.

It would appear that keeping Santana for a year would have got the Twins to the playoffs in 2008. Although, we don't know what the impact of keeping Santana and his big contract would have been on other player decisions. Of the players the Twins got, Rauch was a significant contributor to division championships in 2009 and 2010. Gomez contributed to the 2009 championship and Hardy to the 2010. What Guerra and/or Jacobsen will contribute in the future is an open question.

For the Twins, you can argue the value of this trade either way. They have Guerra and Jacobsen, but gave up the two draft choices. They have the 2009 and 2010 division championships, but may have given up the 2008 championship.

From the Mets perspective it was Santana's contract, not the trade, that looks like a mistake. So far none of the prospects they gave up have turned into stars. But Santana was not enough in 2008 and who knows what they might have gotten in return for those same prospects if they had traded them themselves.

So the Twins traded a Cy Young award winner and got no true stars in return. That was a disappointment from the expectations raised when the trade was made. But they really only gave up one season of a player who was getting extremely expensive. On the Mets side, they were getting a Cy Young quality pitcher, but again only for one season. Keeping him required a costly investment.

On both sides, it was expectations, not the trade that created the disappointment. Even though only one season was on the table, fans on both sides had expectations that went way beyond that. That is not untypical of trades.

Another example is the JD Hardy trade by the Twins last year. For the Twins, the trade was a salary dump that also got Brendan Harris off the books. But Hardy was free agent after last season. Like the Mets with Santana, Baltimore only got one year in return for a couple prospects. They signed Hardy to a long term contract, but like Santana's contract, that was a separate decision. We will have to wait to see how that plays out, but in any case the Twins have Jacobsen.

MLB Twins Updates