Apr 18

Bartolo! Pitches, Hits, Wins

Prior to Friday’s game against the Marlins, the Mets ERA of 2.79 was good for fourth in the NL with a FIP of 3.52, sitting just behind Washington and Atlanta for seventh. Their WHIP of 1.057 was second behind only St. Louis, and as a team, the Mets were striking out 8.5 batters per nine (fourth) and walking only 2.1 per nine (second). The Nats used a similar strategy last year while possessing the best starting rotation in baseball: strike out a bunch, walk only a few, and let the wins pile up.

It helps when you have talent. That makes it easier.

Through the first ten games, Dillon Gee is the only starter to allow more than three earned runs in any of their starts (allowed five and four in his first two starts respectively) while only Gee (both starts) and Jon Niese in his first start have failed to complete six innings. Throw strikes. Get outs. Last six. If it were only that simple, everyone would do it, but the Mets starters have made it look easier than it is. In fact, Mets starters are pounding the strike zone with regularity so far. Prior to Friday, every starter except Niese has thrown around 67-70% of their pitches for strikes. Batters are making solid contact, certainly. The starters had already allowed nine home runs, fourth highest in all of baseball, but the bullpen had only seen 27 2/3 innings, which was 24th (or seventh lowest) in the Majors.

Bartolo Colon (3-0) on Friday essentially followed the same script. He threw strikes (66 of his 91 pitches went for strikes, or 72.5%), allowed one home run to Giancarlo Stanton in the first, and lasted seven innings. He did his typical Bartolo thing by working the corners, throwing plenty of first pitch strikes, and kept Marlins batters off balance through a mix of fastballs and sinkers with an occasional change. Colon even drove in his second run of the season, plating Eric Campbell in the fifth on a sacrifice fly to tie the game 1-1. It took Colon nearly ten years to drive in a run (prior to last Sunday, Colon’s last RBI was on June 10, 2005), yet it took only one more start to drive in another.

At the time I thought Terry Collins should have hit for Colon. The Mets were down 1-0, had managed just one hit off of David Phelps and that came from Wilmer Flores in the inning, and the Marlins were readying Brad Hand to face Curtis Granderson. Bring Kirk Nieuwenhuis in to hit. Score a few runs here. Up until that point, Colon had thrown 61 pitches in five innings. It’s only the eleventh game of the year. I think I was overreacting a bit. This wasn’t exactly Game 7 of the NLCS here. There are still some days left on the calendar. I’m glad Collins managed the situation and allowed Colon to hit and didn’t listen to his inner me. You know, the little voice of stupid that believes every in-game situation is everything. Colon drove in the run, and the Mets took the lead in the sixth with a pair of runs.

So, anyway, the Mets won their sixth in a row for the first time since April of 2011. Also, newly called-up Danny Muno made his Major League debut in the seventh, pinch hitting for Colon, and lined an infield single off of Marlins reliever Sam Dyson’s right hip. It was a good at-bat. Muno worked the count 3-0 then made solid contact (no pun intended) off a 94 mph 3-1 fastball. Another roster move that worked out okay.

According to Michael Baron over at Just Mets, the following are also true:

  • The Mets have won six straight games for the first time since April 21-27, 2011. It’s currently the longest winning streak in the Major Leagues.
  • The Mets are five games over .500 for the first time since July 13, 2012 when they were 46-41.
  • The Mets have won seven straight games at home, dating back to September 27, 2014. It’s the third longest winning streak they’ve had at Citi Field.
  • The Mets have won the first five home games of the season for the first time since 2005, they also did that in 2006, and tomorrow they’ll aim to tie their mark from 1985 with six straight home wins.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Mets had four comeback wins in four straight games was June 20-24, 1999.
  • Their 8-3 start is tied for the second-best start in club history – they did it in 1988, 1986, 1985 and 1972. They went 9-2 to start the 2006 season.

What Baron didn’t put there was that Stanton has now hit a homerun against the Mets in five straight games, making him the third player to do so. According to the SNY crew, the other two are Hank Aaron and Ryan Howard.

Apr 17

Lucas Duda’s Big Night

Moments before Giancarlo Stanton hit his first homerun of the season, I idly thought about how far he was off the plate. After a weird, stream-of-consciousness Stephen Dedalus’ like sequence, I eventually thought that attacking the outside corner would work with him but if you miss by even a little . . . bad things happen. Naturally, since we should always be punished for thinking things through, Stanton crushed a Dillon Gee meatball over the right-centerfield fence, becoming the Marlins all-time leading home run hitter.

Oddly enough, I was also really happy how Michael Cuddyer played Christian Yelich’s single down the left field line, keeping him from second with some solid defense. Yelich promptly stole second.

Gee responded well after the Stanton homer, striking out the next three. It felt as though a continuation from Saturday when Gee allowed five runs to the Braves on five hits, four of them for extra bases. That was a rough way for Gee’s season to start, and the very next inning that he pitches didn’t begin any better. It was going to be one of those nights. Not Thursday, however. Gee cruised through the second and third, then allowed Martin Prado’s first home run of the season in the fourth. Well, throwing a breaking ball that drops middle in tends to end in bad things, and this time it made the score 3-0.

Gee’s night ended in the sixth, after getting two outs then allowing a hit sandwiched between a pair of walks to Stanton and Michael Morse. No worries there. Always walk Stanton. Morse is a big fella with a dangerous swing when he’s dialed in. Ask Pat Neshek how dangerous Morse can be when he sees a pitch he likes. Anyway, 5 2/3 innings where Gee allowed five hits and two walks while striking out seven. Not bad. He got a few calls, notably Stanton’s strikeout in the fourth on a pitch that looked off the plate an inch or so. That’s fine. Eric Cooper had a pretty generous strike zone all night, so that wasn’t the most egregious expansion of the zone that happened last night.

Most impressive was how the Mets continued to battle back. I guess they call that resiliency. Down three, Wilmer Flores tattoos a very straight Jarred Cosart fastball to tie the game. Down 4-3, Lucas Duda immediately doubles and scores on a Cuddyer single to tie the game. The Mets then manufacture a run as Cuddyer takes second on Marcell Ozuna’s throw home to try and get Duda (wasn’t happening even with a good throw), goes to third on a Daniel Murphy ground out, and scores on an Eric Campbell sac fly.

Oh, wait, the Marlins tie it at five? That’s okay. The Mets immediately score two more on a Duda two out single, which was followed by a Cuddyer dribbler down the line. What could have been one of those nights turned into one of those nights where you’re happy you stayed up instead of turning to HGTV for the wife.

According to mlb.com, Travis d’Arnaud said, “We never give up. We believe that we have a chance to win every single game. Even if we’re down, we still think we can win the game. It shows that we’re fighting and we believe in ourselves.” So, yeah, I’ll buy into that. It’s early yet, but it’s difficult not to sense a little of that Baltimore Orioles “Next Man Up” magic that happens under the Buck Showalter watch.

Duda continued his extra base hit reign of terror, hitting his fifth and sixth doubles on the year. It was the third straight game with multiple extra base hits, and according to the SNY crew that makes Duda the fifth Met to do so. The others were Frank Thomas (’62), Lenny Dykstra (’87), Rico Brogna (’94), and Carlos Beltran (’06). Duda also drove in his eighth run, tying him with d’Arnaud for the team lead.

The Mets and Marlins play three more in this series, and if I can implore Bartolo Colon to do one thing, it’s this: low and very outside to Stanton.

Apr 16

Mets: Mighty Men of the East

One of my favorite things about the beginning of the baseball season is how early successes and failures always seem way more important than they really are. For instance, after six starts last April, the Athletics Jesse Chavez sat third in the AL in ERA, batters were hitting.199/.242/.298 against him, and he was striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings or about two more batters than his career average. Chavez had a fine season overall, but that 1.0 fWAR he accumulated through April essentially made up the entirety of the 1.3 for the entire year. If you’re wondering, his 3.45 ERA at season’s end was the lowest of his Major League career so that was certainly nice.

Also, I love reading the overreaction, stay-the-course articles. Everyone panic. No one panic. It’s still early. Don’t want to fall too far behind. Small sample size. Man, if Player X could just continue to hit .528/.595/1.111 and draw walks at nearly double his career rate—no, see, those offseason meditation sessions really are paying off—then this team could make some noise. It’s only April, but who says this isn’t our year?

The uncertainty makes it fun. Also, we’re fresh off watching the zaniness of March Madness, so it takes a little time to settle into reasonable fan mode. By May a bad Stephen Strasburg start will essentially end with a shrug of the shoulders instead of twenty articles about why he’s broken and can’t be fixed.

That being said, and with all the early season caveats aside, I’m excited to see the Mets sweep the Phillies and claim a tie for first place in the East. It feels good to sit atop this lofty perch for a day or so. Last night’s game seemed like it could have gone ugly many times. Jon Niese didn’t look anything close to dominant, allowing nine hits over 6 1/3 innings with a pair of walks added in for fun (after the third inning, the Phillies had at least two runners on base in every inning until Alex Torres pitched a clean ninth), but he got the outs when he needed to, Chase Utley gifted Niese with a bunt in the fifth and a strikeout in the seventh (allowing me to close the forgiveness gap for the homerun against Matt Harvey Tuesday), and there was that whole Andres Blanco grounding into a double-play in the sixth where Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy nearly collided at the bag because Tejada had decided that one error in the inning wasn’t enough so why not hospitalize the starting second baseman too.

It’s still early. There’s work left to do.

Anyway, maybe we’re a mere nine games in, but the Mets sit in first, and it’s the latest in the season the team has been atop (tied or otherwise) the division since sharing a tie on June 3, 2012. That’s 1047 days. So there you go. No, the Nationals defense won’t continue to destroy their starting pitchers’ will to live, the wins will pile up, and we’ll forget about the no man’s land of misplayed fly balls that somehow exists between Michael Taylor and Bryce Harper. Lucas Duda won’t continue to hit .353 and likely won’t remain on pace to reach 126 RBI, breaking David Wright’s and Mike Piazza’s shared team record for RBIs in season of 124. Whatever. Small sample sizes are stupid, and I’ll enjoy the ides of April because so far everything has sort of gone to script.

Despite the fact that I worry every time a ball is hit anywhere other than third or center and I complain openly about how the team has focused on pitching and defense without the ability to play defense, I still find that I enjoy watching them. They’re likable. For every Wilmer Flores misadventure at short, there’s a moment where Kirk Nieuwenhuis nearly wrecks his knees to catch a ball down the line.

For every Juan Lagares popup to center, there’s a Duda drive down the line that somehow finds its way past the shift as he jogs in safely for a double. Matt Harvey has provided three or four “oh, damn” moments with each start, and by season’s end he’ll hit 110 on the radar.

So revel in the moment, I say. If Curtis Granderson wants to justify his $16M salary by walking twice a game and slapping singles to left, go for it. I don’t even care that he’s hit five home runs for the team since last August, a span of 61 games. His 10 walks lead the Majors, and that stolen base of his accounts for 20% of the Mets team total so far. I’ll even argue that Jerry Blevins looks more intimidating in Mets road gray than he ever did as a Nat. I must be drunk off of the early season Kool Aid.

I believe.

Maybe it’s only April, but that hasn’t stopped Bartolo Colon from enjoying the moment so far.

Apr 11

Friday Nats Lights and Gio

Gio GonzalezEverything you could possibly love about Gio Gonzalez (0-1) was on display Friday night. He cruised through six innings against the Phillies, walking two and allowing five hits via an efficient 69 pitches. He mixed up his pitches, starting the Philadelphia hitters off with a variety of pitches: fourseamers, sinkers, a few curves, and a couple of changeups (all according to BrooksBaseball.net). He looked every bit like the 21 game winner from 2012. You know, the guy who finished third in the Cy Young ballot behind my man R.A. Dickey and the man they’ll rename the award after Clayton Kershaw.

Earlier this year, ESPN announced their top left-handed starters and listed Gio eighth. I sort of chuckled at the time. No. That can’t be right. Gio can be good (he can be great) when things are clicking, but when things go bad you sort of have no idea what’s going to happen. Six walks in three innings? That’s possible. Three straight walks followed by him striking out the side? Yep. There’s a good chance. I figured if Gio is listed eighth, then we should bemoan the demise of the quality left-handers.

Friday night, Gio allowed leadoff hits in half of his first six innings, but after singling to start the game Ben Revere was picked off first and Chase Utley grounded into a double play to wipe out a Freddy Galvis leadoff single (3-for-3 on the night, by the way, and hitting .385/.429/.462 in the season’s early going). The only real trouble Gio go into was in the fifth when Andres Blanco started the inning off with a double, but Jerome Williams struck out and Revere then lined into a double play.

See? Easy.

Then the seventh inning started, and there was everything that drives you batty about the enigmatic lefty. After Jeff Francoeur1 flew out to left, the professional hitter that is Grady Sizemore worked a walk, and I started to worry. A little. There was one pitch where Gio missed wildly, low and outside, when you could see that maybe things weren’t right. He still threw strikes. He could have easily finished off Sizemore then Cameron Rupp (who also worked a walk) with a few breaks. The walk to Rupp, then Gio hit Blanco with a fastball up and his night was over.

It was a tough loss for Gonzalez. The first six innings were great. The seventh could have gone either way, but unfortunately for the Nats it went the way so many of Gonzalez’s innings often go: in some random, unpredictable direction.

Thoughts on Friday’s game:

I guess this is how it’s going to go for the Nats, offensively that is, until Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth return to provide a little pop to the lineup. Michael Taylor, who has a little Ron Gant in that swing of his, provided the team’s only run with a homer to start the game. When he fills out and puts on a little more muscle look out. He’ll slug 20+ plus home runs easily. He hit 23 in the minors last year. Anyway, through four games the team has scored just seven runs. Score just enough. Eke out a few wins.

Watch out for Saturday. Cole Hamels is on the mound, and he likes to give lessons in humility and rookie greetings and whatever. After the Nats hit both Blanco and Revere on Friday night, you wonder if Hamels will make a point early on Saturday afternoon. It’s not like he and Harper are buddies.
photo credit: Gio Gonzalez via photopin (license)

  1. He’s only 31. What? Doesn’t it seem like a Francoeur has been in the Majors forever? Maybe it’s just me.

Apr 10

Mets Finally Win One

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey (33) pitching – obviously not taken in D.C. yesterday.

I doubt that come October the Washington Nationals are going to worry all that much about opening the year 1-2 against the New York Mets. It won’t matter. The Nats will proudly sport a shiny record of 100-59 or something equally obscene, sitting 10+ games ahead of the second place Mets all the while secretly terrified of the wild card leading Cubs to begin a division series in Nationals Park. The nights are crisp and the leaves are burnt orange. We’ll all be discussing why Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to start game 4.

It will matter to the Mets.

When the calendar turns and the Mets and Nats play one last series at Citi Field, the Mets will be competing for the second wild card while the Nats will be lining up their postseason rotation. Can the Mets make it to the postseason for the first time since 2006? Will the Nats finally win a series?

There are different questions with different expectations, but it all started in April when the Mets finally won a series against the Nats.

Last year the Nats kicked off their regular season of whoop ass by sweeping the Mets in New York by a combined score of 22-10. The Mets went 4-15 against the NL’s best, not winning their second game against Washington until August 5th. Or, you know, five months into a six-month long season.

So, this series matters. It matters because unless the Mets enjoy being the South to Washington’s Sherman, they needed to prove to themselves that things were different. Things are different. This year is different. No one believes there’s a team that can match up with the Nats over the regular season, much less the Mets, but don’t stand around and let the Nats and their wealth of pitching riches bludgeon you winless.

Realistically, being 2-1 doesn’t guarantee anything. Last year only one of the AL teams that made it to the postseason had a winning record after three games (Detroit at 3-0) while the Angels started 0-3. In 2013 the White Sox started 2-1 before settling into an eventual record of 63-99 while both Colorado and the Mets started 2-1 and both finished 74-88. I get it. It’s a long, long season.1 It wasn’t as though the Mets dominated this three-game set either. The Mets recorded just four earned runs in 18 innings against the trio of Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg, but April isn’t exactly a time of offense in Nationals Park either. The ball doesn’t carry in the cold early spring afternoons, so bloopers and Ian Desmond errors are how you have to win.

Much will be made that the Nationals were without the top three hitters in last season’s lineup as Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, and Jayson Werth are all recovering from injuries. Michael Taylor acquitted himself just fine playing center for the injured Span, and the addition of Rendon and Werth wouldn’t have helped solve the too right heavy lineup that will trouble the team all year and saw manager Matt Williams start 30-year old rookie Clint Robinson in left on Thursday just to provide a little bit of balance. Span certainly would have, and the addition of Rendon (a perennial MVP candidate) would have helped just by his awesomeness and allowing Dan Uggla to spend his time spitting sunflower seeds rather than swinging through pitches. Werth can still work the count and hit a dozen home runs or so. His defense is always an adventure, but he would have improved upon that combined 0-8 with three strikeouts the Nats received from their starting leftfielders in the series.

I don’t think in this series, in that weather, the trio’s inclusion would have changed the outcome all that much. There’s no critical analysis to follow that statement. It’s just a random thought. A fleeting, effervescent thing.

After much had been made of Bartolo Colon being honored with an Opening Day start (a decision I felt was the wrong one) he matched the high-priced Scherzer strikeout for strikeout and allowed a lowly three hits in six strong innings. Jacob deGrom followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with six solid innings. It was a relief too for those of us who’d read all winter long that regression was in order due to his high line drive rates. I wasn’t worried. deGrom against Zimmermann was a pretty spectacular match up even if neither pitcher was particularly sharp.

Then, yesterday, Matt Harvey returned with 91 pitches, touching 97 with his fastball and striking out 9. He struck out Bryce Harper three times with chest high heaters that were untouchable even to the violent swing of a kid that absolutely destroys misplaced fastballs. He mixed in a wicked curve, starting out Taylor with the hook in each of three at-bats against Harvey, while mixing in some sliders and his change. He left a few over that plate, but mostly he was every bit as fantastic as Mets’ fans had hoped he would be.

After Harvey’s first spring training start I enthusiastically stated he would win the Cy Young, and I refuse to back away from that statement after yesterday’s start. He won’t get the innings to compete with Clayton Kershaw or Johnny Cueto or the Nats rotation, but I see no reason to recant my drunken boast now.

Three games in the Mets travel to Atlanta to face a Braves team that is 3-0 after sweeping the Marlins. This is what you call an object lesson in not giving too much credence to early beginnings as Atlanta will compete with Philadelphia for the bottom of the East. Like Jack Kerouac said, “the bottom of the world is gold and the world is upside down.” That’s early season baseball for you.
photo credit: Franchise of the Future: Matt Harvey via photopin (license)

  1. I like to think of those first three games as the series that introduced the offensive dynamic duo of Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Mets’ fans. They were great in that series, but more importantly they were traded off to Pittsburgh for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for essentially $700K (Byrd signing) and as a throw in when the Mets traded R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud. I love typing that. Yeah, that was a pretty good deal I guess.

Mar 13

Mets & Nats Make Me Sad

Yesterday the Mets and Nationals played a largely forgettable game in a string of largely forgettable spring training games that was interesting because Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer both hit home runs (both firsts on the year and likely the only time the two of them go yard in the same game this year) and was the first time I noticed that Michael Taylor is starting to fill out and should ease Nats’ fans worries about Denard Span’s abdominal surgery and the lingering issues likely to follow.

Anyway, during the game, I noticed a few things that made me sad. Let’s explore sadness together through pictures.

Nationals Rotation

No Tanner Roark?  What a bummer.

That sure is an impressive rotation isn’t it? I doubt if there’s another rotation in baseball that can match the Nationals one through five. Say you’re the Mets, and your season of promise and hope begins with the unenviable task of facing Scherzer, Strasburg, and Zimmermann. Are the Mets looking forward to any of those guys? How excited is Matt Harvey going to be to face Scherzer in the season opener? I’m fairly certain he tops 100 more than a few times in that game.

Span and Jayson Werth might be happy to sit out the first series.

None of this makes me sad, though. Whose picture is missing? Sure, Tanner Roark gets a line at the bottom, showing his W-L record and his ERA. I’m an unabashed Roark fan, and sometimes I think that God truly is just for delivering Roark out of the pitching hell that is Arlington right now, but it makes me sad that anything other than a few spot starts and some relief appearances, we won’t see Roark’s beard and filthy changeup very often this year. Unless Mike Rizzo trades one of his starters, Roark won’t see meaningful action as a starter until he’s six months shy of his 30th birthday.

Sigh.

Oh, and speaking of Harvey:

Matt HarveyExpectations are high even in spring.

This makes me sad only because I’m dumb enough to believe that any hits at all for Harvey are sort of a letdown. Even in spring.

Danny Espinosa made me sad a lot last year. Mostly with his bat. If you watched him regularly, you’d understand. Espinosa switched up his batting stance last year to which I dubbed the pseudo-Carl Everett, which made me think of both Land of the Lost and the The Land Before Time. I loved both as a kid, so thank you for that Danny and Carl Everett. Other than that, I was filled with sadness watching him swing through pitches.

Danny Espinosa No MustacheClean shaven, Danny?

This picture makes me sad for another reason. You have to see the before image, taken from a game played on Monday, to understand.

Danny Espinosa With MustacheNow we’re talking style.

His mustache was the one reason I wanted to see more of Espinosa. That mustache was the closest I’ve seen a ballplayer come to looking like Clu Haywood from Major League. Haywood, played by former ballplayer Pete Vuckovich sported a pretty sweet mustache in his playing days too. I hope Espinosa comes to his senses and lets the season-defining facial statement come back before Matt Williams and Rizzo begin roster cuts.

 

Mar 08

Spend a Little, Win Big

In my grad school class reading this morning I came across fun project management metrics such as cost variance and cost performance index, which are used to determine how much has been spent compared to the expected cost. Of course, as I was reading this, my mind wandered over to baseball (probably due to me watching yesterday’s Braves and Mets game on MLB Network—go Jacob deGrom and 2014 first round pick Michael Conforto!) and what teams actually spent based on what the expected cost would be. I’ll tackle that in a later post I hope, but in my subsequent research on cost per win, I came across this gem of a table from Gammons Daily that broke down what a team actually paid per win:

Rank Team Salary Wins Cost/Win
1 Marlins $41,836,900 77 $543,336
2 Astros $44,985,800 70 $642,654
3 Athletics $77,220,900 88 $877,510
4 Pirates $77,845,999 88 $884,614
5 Indians $82,500,800 85 $970,598
6 Royals $90,481,500 89 $1,016,646
7 Cubs $74,546,356 73 $1,021,183
8 Mariners $89,539,642 87 $1,029,191
9 Rays $82,035,490 77 $1,065,396
10 Mets $84,281,011 79 $1,066,848
11 Orioles $105,084,121 96 $1,094,626
12 Padres $89,881,695 77 $1,167,295
13 Cardinals $108,020,360 90 $1,200,226
14 Twins $84,912,500 70 $1,213,036
15 White Sox $89,551,982 73 $1,226,739
16 Braves $97,855,673 79 $1,238,679
17 Brewers $102,724,338 82 $1,252,736
18 Angels $128,046,500 98 $1,306,597
19 Nationals $134,366,735 96 $1,399,653
20 Reds $112,378,771 76 $1,478,668
21 Rockies $99,579,071 66 $1,508,774
22 Blue Jays $129,427,700 83 $1,559,370
23 Giants $148,239,158 88 $1,684,536
24 Diamondbacks $111,798,833 64 $1,746,857
25 Tigers $163,078,526 90 $1,811,984
26 Rangers $132,491,596 67 $1,977,487
27 Red Sox $154,380,395 71 $2,174,372
28 Phillies $179,521,056 73 $2,459,193
29 Yankees $208,830,659 84 $2,486,079
30 Dodgers $241,128,402 94 $2,565,196

2014 MLB – Cost Per Win

It’s a straightforward concept. The site took each respective team’s Opening Day payroll figure and divided it by how many wins each team had. Voila! The Dodgers spent the most per win and the Marlins, misers that they are, were building their potential 2015 sleeper team with a paltry $543,336 dollars per.

That wasn’t good enough for me, though. This sort of table while rooted entirely in reality rewarded teams for being cheap. All of the top 10 teams in terms of lowest Opening Day payroll were within the top 14 in relation to cost per win. Only the Minnesota Twins were outside the top 10 as the Kansas City Royals with the 13th lowest payroll had the sixth lowest cost per win. The flip side was also the case. The Phillies, Yankees, and Dodgers all had the top three highest payrolls and had the three highest costs per win. It makes sense. It’s simple and logical. If you spend lots of money, regardless of how many wins your team actually ends up with, the cost per win will be high.

No. I’m wondering if the figures are too low.

It’s all well and good that the Marlins started 2014 with a payroll nearing $42M and earned 77 wins. It could have been lower. The Marlins theoretically could have opened the season with an entire 25-man roster filled with minimum earners (league minimum was $500,000 in 2014) that would have cost them $12.5M. Maybe it surprises some that Jeffrey Loria didn’t do this1 but the Marlins exceeded a rock bottom roster salary by nearly $30M dollars. Spendthrifts!

Anyway, a team filled with replacement level players, the kind that would cost a team the league minimum, would eke out a 48-114 record according to Baseball-Reference, so in reality the Marlins paid an extra $30M for 29 more wins. Certainly, unless Sam Hinkie takes over a Major League team, no GM would ever completely ship off all viable talent and fill those roster spots with questionable, replacement-level talent. Forget that the Houston Astros had a payroll of $24M in 2013 and won just 51 games. Okay, so the Astros actually tried to do this very thing, but beyond their epic stink job, it’s extremely difficult to cut costs that much and not alienate an entire fan base into throwing the collective finger.

After subtracting the minimum wage team of replacement level players from the 2014 Opening Day payroll and then subtracting the minimum wins from the actual wins, I came up with a new table of costs per win.

Rank Prior Rank Team Salary Over Minimum Wins Over Replacement Cost/Win
1 1 Marlins $41,836,900 29 $1,011,617
2 2 Astros $44,985,800 22 $1,476,627
3 3 Athletics $77,220,900 40 $1,618,023
4 4 Pirates $77,845,999 40 $1,633,650
5 5 Indians $82,500,800 37 $1,891,914
6 6 Royals $90,481,500 41 $1,901,988
7 11 Orioles $105,084,121 48 $1,928,836
8 8 Mariners $89,539,642 39 $1,975,375
9 13 Cardinals $108,020,360 42 $2,274,294
10 18 Angels $128,046,500 50 $2,310,930
11 10 Mets $84,281,011 31 $2,315,516
12 9 Rays $82,035,490 29 $2,397,776
13 7 Cubs $74,546,356 25 $2,481,854
14 19 Nationals $134,366,735 48 $2,538,890
15 17 Brewers $102,724,338 34 $2,653,657
16 12 Padres $89,881,695 29 $2,668,334
17 16 Braves $97,855,673 31 $2,753,409
18 15 White Sox $89,551,982 25 $3,082,079
19 14 Twins $84,912,500 22 $3,291,477
20 22 Blue Jays $129,427,700 35 $3,340,791
21 23 Giants $148,239,158 40 $3,393,479
22 20 Reds $112,378,771 28 $3,567,099
23 25 Tigers $163,078,526 42 $3,585,203
24 21 Rockies $99,579,071 18 $4,837,726
25 30 Dodgers $241,128,402 46 $4,970,183
26 29 Yankees $208,830,659 36 $5,453,629
27 27 Red Sox $154,380,395 23 $6,168,713
28 24 Diamondbacks $111,798,833 16 $6,206,177
29 26 Rangers $132,491,596 19 $6,315,347
30 28 Phillies $179,521,056 25 $6,680,842

2014 MLB – Adjusted Cost Per Win

The top six haven’t changed any. The Marlins and Astros still spent way under what the average was. According to Gammons Daily, the average cost per win was $1,389,003 in 2014 and by the adjusted cost it was $3,224,181. It’s interesting to see that three teams with budgets north of $100M are now in the top 10 where before it took 17 teams total to find three teams with over $100M in 2014 Opening Day payrolls. Also, by the standards of the snake-bitten Texas Rangers, the Dodgers $5M per win was reasonable.2

This doesn’t actually answer things such as cost variance and cost performance index, but I found it interesting nevertheless.

Image credit: Economics book page image by Mark Wainwright.

  1. It does surprise me a little.
  2. Speaking of snake-bitten, good golly will this club catch a break? Yu Darvish possibly needing TJ surgery is like a sucker punch to everyone who loves watching baseball but especially awful considering how besieged last year’s Rangers pitching staff was with injuries. Get healthy Yu.

Mar 07

Hello Spring! Welcome Back Matt Harvey!

This is Matt Harvey pitching. This is a welcome sight.

This is Matt Harvey pitching. This is a welcome sight.

While I like to think of the offseason as a chance for players and bloggers to work on their respective games, the return of actual games is always welcome. I enjoy researching and writing about win-loss records in close games, Mets team salary breakdowns, and salary increases by position over the years, but watching real games with rosters vaguely resembling the finished product is the bee’s knees.

Welcome back baseball!

Personally, this week is hopefully the last time this winter that I’ll need to use the snow blower1, so thank you dad for the gift that keeps on giving and hello spring, which means sunshine, colorful baseball uniforms, lots of announcers showing split screens of snow covered New York City and the verdant Tradition Field grass.

Oh. And Matt Harvey’s return.

Maybe it’s because of spring and a winter of Justified marathons and steel gray winter skies, but I’m fairly convinced after Harvey’s two perfect, meaningless innings on Friday that he’s running away with the Cy Young. Forget every other starter in the Major Leagues. Forget my winter of comparing Max Scherzer to David Cone and believing that Jordan Zimmermann might just be the most unexciting but invaluable ace in the NL because I’m all in on the most dominating year for a Mets starter since Dwight Gooden won the NL Triple Crown in 1985 and made hitters his personal punka walas. It’s that time of year. I’m a believer. After touching 99 easily with an impressive curve, Harvey retired six batters on 25 pitches, making it an impressive and efficient three strikeout performance.

Of course, it’s only spring.

A lineup consisting of Jordan Lennerton and Bryan Holaday isn’t exactly staring down Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in September, but it was enough for me. We spent 2014 hearing how the Mets would be a contender in 2015. Just wait until Harvey returns and the kids take shape. The Mets are a real sleeper.

We saw part of that on Friday as Harvey and Noah Syndergaard pitched back-to-back with Jacob deGrom throwing today. Zack Wheeler. Steven Matz. Rafael Montero. This team is loaded with young pitching we were told, and if we could sit through another rebuilding year, once Harvey returns and settles in . . . watch out. So forgive me if two meaningless spring training innings made me pray for Sandy Alderson to call up Harvey’s agent Scott Boras and offer him a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate for a decade or more of Harvey’s services. In spring, after 560 days and counting of waiting for some optimism, two innings against the Detroit Tigers might as well have been a perfect game against the 1927 Yankees.

Is David Wright‘s shoulder okay? Will Michael Cuddyer play the entire season? I’ll worry about that stuff as the season progresses. For right now, it’s sunshine and perfect innings. I’m convinced more than ever I’m making it to Nationals Park April 6.

Matt Harvey photo credit: Matt Harvey via photopin (license)

  1. Technically, I didn’t need to use it this week either, but it would have been a shame to waste the opportunity. This morning it was 3 degrees and now it’s 45. This is old man speak for WTH.

Feb 17

Position Players: a Little More Average

Matt Wieters (32) swings the bat, probably hitting the ball in the process.

Matt Wieters (32) swings the bat, probably hitting the ball in the process.

Author’s note: I began this journey attempting to determine approximately how much a team should spend on starting pitching relative to the overall team budget. The first two posts are here and here with an additional article here. I have as of yet been able to find any kind of answer, and honestly, I’m probably further away from a legitimate answer than when I first started. Oh, and there’s also the little matter of being way off with my numbers yesterday, which was so egregious that I had to update the post because I’m too dumb to perform basic math. But, I keep trying.

As my daughter sings, quoting Daniel Tiger, “Keep trying, you’ll get better. Try. Try. Try.”

In a previous post I discussed how the average salary for a starting pitcher has grown by nearly 454.35% since 1985, outpacing what the average Major League team has spent for total salary in the same given timeframe (363.7%). After adjusting salary figures to 2015 dollars using the Consumer Price Index, starting pitchers have jumped from an average of around $1.1M in 1985 to nearly $6M in 2013.

In relation to other positions, is that atypical? I didn’t have an answer in the previous post, but I have one now.

Methodology

I gathered my data using Sean Lahman’s database in R, which includes salary figures up to and including 2013. There is a newer version for Access and in csv with 2014, but since I’ve been using 2013 as my cutoff point in earlier posts, I’m sticking with it. Adding an additional year didn’t seem all that important.

For this post I gathered all the players who had played a position in the field from 1985 to 2013, separated them into position groups, and performed some dplyr, mean magic. For those players listed with multiple positions in the field, Ben Zobrist for example, I used the position where they appeared the most.

That’s it.

Play the Field

Before gathering the data and running the numbers, I assumed that catchers were likely to be poorly compensated compared to the other position groups. I was biased. Like NFL running backs, nobody in his or her right mind would pay a position that takes such a physical beating big bucks except for the rare Buster Posey or Yadier Molina. These are transcendent talents, MVP types, who deserve big bucks.

Nobody pays Jose Lobaton $3M as insurance for Wilson Ramos’ inevitable injury. GMs might do that with starting pitchers—smart teams like the Yankees take a flyer on Scott Baker for $1.5M or Gavin Floyd for $4M—but Neal Huntington isn’t sitting in his PNC Park office devising ways to overpay Francisco Cervelli.

I underestimated just how poorly catchers have fared.

Since 1985, catchers (the guys that are poetically referred to as “field generals” and represent well as real-life managers) have seen the average salary increase from $1.03M to $2.7M in 2013, or right around what starting pitchers averaged in 1998. First basemen haven’t averaged less than $2.8M since 1996. Catchers overall average salary has increased by 165.48% in the last 30-years. The cumulative rate of inflation has increased 120% in the same time period. For a highly skilled job that only a few people on the planet are capable of doing at such a level, outpacing inflation by 33% isn’t exactly making little kids give up their dream of being investment bankers for shin guards and a mitt. It’s a thankless job behind the dish.

Out on Spotrac there are only five catchers with an average annual salary above $10M. Compare that to second base (six), shortstop (seven), third base (seven), or first base (a whopping 14 with eight players averaging more than $20M a year). Catchers have to feel like second class citizens when the infielders dine together, and while they’re not exactly forced to carb load at buffets or feast at McDonald’s to make ends meet, images of a hobbled Jake Taylor from Major League in a Mexico hotel still come to mind.

Even second basemen, a group I thought would follow closely behind catchers, saw their average increase by 239.1% since ’85. They were third lowest with center fielders (neither Mike Trout’s extension had been negotiated yet nor Jacoby Ellsbury’s deal with the Yankees had been signed) being second lowest.

Well, here, in tabular format is the increase in average salary over the years across all positions, presented in 1000s:

Year C 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF OF
1985 1028.15 1296.47 1000.17 913.94 1036.36 1054.62 1074.98 1051.24 1058.75
1986 751.56 1132.31 812.59 790.86 1095.68 974.54 927.39 1082.48 995.16
1987 841.57 1238.46 805.71 720.41 881.45 974.81 864.01 991.68 949.06
1988 737.02 1190.78 792.94 868.18 976.21 964.34 851.00 1236.86 1013.14
1989 761.59 1340.19 778.17 934.18 874.11 1044.81 1188.23 1017.69 1074.95
1990 702.39 1451.87 1055.44 919.10 770.14 1100.40 1058.42 1120.80 1093.78
1991 943.82 2305.63 1323.72 1492.67 1205.21 1809.95 1759.62 1984.08 1853.74
1992 1174.10 2857.89 1683.42 1257.02 1415.05 2060.09 1921.20 2238.63 2095.36
1993 1090.12 2062.14 1468.68 1460.51 1669.39 1556.17 1857.96 1900.73 1762.65
1994 1133.72 2219.48 1465.21 1519.08 1763.64 1745.65 2078.83 1994.49 1919.48
1995 1027.43 2673.50 1257.13 1761.61 1577.06 1706.44 1769.38 1888.81 1790.90
1996 1114.58 2775.78 1409.47 1852.43 1512.56 1874.23 1924.78 2144.24 1980.93
1997 1396.93 3968.70 1837.51 1752.79 1971.74 2092.04 2033.59 2223.42 2124.60
1998 1247.41 3368.30 1810.55 1526.04 2010.20 2149.51 2565.53 1967.56 2209.02
1999 1529.94 3074.27 2318.23 1744.69 2154.05 2445.37 2113.07 3042.51 2536.76
2000 2107.40 4690.18 3050.42 2517.91 2368.18 2783.98 2612.51 4245.62 3211.35
2001 2109.25 4528.74 3054.90 3495.07 2509.80 3818.40 3020.20 4006.72 3610.47
2002 2503.09 5267.33 2018.84 4023.06 3446.74 4169.60 2917.23 4712.38 3954.39
2003 2605.07 5049.74 2055.66 4321.11 3189.12 4438.54 3382.56 5326.22 4403.79
2004 2228.22 4983.67 2051.49 2876.17 3432.22 3712.69 3522.98 4419.46 3897.82
2005 2521.38 4410.33 2269.13 2997.25 4049.87 3647.19 4007.00 4708.53 4120.56
2006 2660.64 4275.45 2399.61 3441.42 4712.17 3917.14 3480.35 4552.58 3963.89
2007 2511.26 5217.77 2407.17 4002.36 4398.48 4667.68 4185.91 3296.03 4042.52
2008 2494.25 5985.38 2631.44 3838.70 4829.44 4420.94 2754.63 4758.37 3988.74
2009 2428.54 5867.76 2640.78 3481.00 5025.94 4669.66 3238.05 4582.75 4178.14
2010 2170.81 6499.72 3607.18 3355.17 4357.31 3784.13 3961.51 4004.26 3902.70
2011 2177.06 6207.74 3235.61 2883.77 4575.96 4607.30 3069.23 4969.16 4281.58
2012 2359.67 5224.50 3322.54 2867.97 4154.01 4243.03 2914.37 4981.50 4028.01
2013 2729.52 5728.06 3618.97 3774.48 4575.73 4282.33 3645.41 5459.32 4411.58

Average Positional Player Salary in MLB Since 1985

If you needed further evidence that there was collusion in baseball in the mid-80s, the table above certainly offers a bit of insight. The average salary for position players decreased by 13.1% from 1985 to 1987. Only third basemen and right fielders saw an increase in average salary in 1986 (even starters saw the average salary drop 7.16%).

Speaking of right fielders, they were the only position group to outpace the average team spending increase, coming in just below the standard set by the starting pitchers. Right fielders increased by 419%. Some of those big money right fielders back in ’86-87 had names like Dave Winfield, Dale Murphy, and Jesse Barfield. In 2015 dollars, each of those gentlemen earned at or just above $4M dollars. Compared to the top earners of today, namely Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Kemp, that’s not all that overwhelming, but Winfield, Murphy, and Barfield were earning roughly 276% more than the average. Kemp is earning 266% more than the average right fielder so it’s comparable (still obscene).

Of course I’m discussing outrageous amounts of money. I haven’t yet looked into relievers, though if I guessed I’d imagine their salaries might be in the same ballpark (percentage-wise) as third and first basemen (314% or thereabouts).
Matt Wieters photo credit: Matt Wieters via photopin (license)

Feb 16

Pitchers & Teams: Starting with Average

Cliff Lee was one of the highest paid starting pitchers in 2013. In 1985, the owners probably would have paid him bupkis.

Cliff Lee was one of the highest paid starting pitchers in 2013. In 1985, the owners probably would have paid him bupkis.

I haven’t abandoned the idea of attempting to identify what teams should spend on starting pitching. Or if it’s even possible. Or if there’s any reason to question the whys and hows of Major League teams in regards to overall spending and maybe I should just wait for spring training and be distracted with actual baseball. If you’re interested, the first two posts are here and here (with a quasi-related article here).

Why so much time between posts? Grad school. Also, I’m trying to account (ba-da-bum) for a sizable gap in knowledge needed to discuss this issue and my current level of knowing—or, in another word, studying.

Price of Pitching

I began reading Pay Dirt by Quirk and Fort, which discusses a great many things about the business of professional sports (it’s in the book’s title and everything– Pay Dirt: the Business of Professional Team Sports) but one section in particular discusses the average salary of MLB players and why they make so much. I won’t go into all the details, but I was curious how the rise in average salaries across positions matched up against the increase in overall team salaries over the years. Was there a position that benefited more than all the others? What position was neglected? In essence, is there some hidden value?

Since I’m currently working on starting pitchers and had that data handy, I thought I’d look here first.

Adjusting dollar figures to their 2015 equivalents, using the consumer price index1, I noticed that starting pitchers have fared well compared to overall team spending. Since 1985, starting pitchers have seen their average salary increase by 454.35%, from slightly over $1M to slightly under $6M in 2013. In comparison, average team spending has increased by 363.7%. In 1985, the average team spent $22.17M to the $102.8M spent in 2013.

If you like visuals (of course you do), here are a few line graphs to illustrate the findings:

AvgStartingPitcher Average Salary for Starting Pitchers Since 1985

AvgTeamSpendingAverage Team Spending Since 1985

There’s a legitimate argument to be made to exclude data earlier than 1990-91. In 1987 the owners were found guilty of collusion, conspiring to suppress the cost of free agents, so any associated money for players is sketchy at best. It would likely take 3-4 years after the decision for the numbers to shake out, and you absolutely see a huge jump in both team spending and the average starting pitcher salary in 1991 (62.8% and 32.5% respectively). There’s another sizable jump in 1992 as well with team spending jumping up 27.6% from the year prior and starting pitchers averaging 23.6% more.

I keep the information because I’ve introduced it in earlier posts. If we understand it’s there, we can at least deal with it.

Since I’m discussing the percentages, here’s a line graph with both starting pitchers and team spending:

SalTeamYearly Salary % for Starters and Teams

From 1994-95, there’s a 12.4% drop in average salary for starters, which I found odd considering that in 1994 Jimmy Key was the max earner in my data, making $5.35M ($8.55M in modern day dollars) while in 1995 David Cone made $8M ($12.4M) in the last of a four-year deal he’d signed with the Royals in 1992. He started that season with the Royals, was traded to the Blue Jays in April, then traded in late July to the Yankees. 1995 is largely the reason we think of Cone as being a hired gun.

In terms of actual dollars, the drop from 1994 to ’95 was about three-hundred thousand dollars in current dollars. That’s a sharp decline, but perhaps it’s related more to my data and the players listed. Perhaps someone was hurt. 1995 was the rookie years for Hideo Nomo, Andy Pettite, Steve Sparks, and Ismael Valdez. Heck, 1995 was the season the Mets debuted Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen, raising my hopes to unreasonable levels that once Paul Wilson arrived they’d be unstoppable.

Lesson learned: don’t believe the hype.

Public Enemy. Because.

Anyway, salaries jumped back to 1994ian levels by ’97 and have typically increased every year since. In comparison, average team spending has been much steadier over the years. There were large spikes in 1997, 1999, and 2001, but average spending has increased by around 2-3% every year since ’01.

It is interesting, however, to see how starting pitchers are used less and less but make more and more (showing at least in one way that teams see the importance of starters). In 1985 (with four-man rotations no less) starters averaged 140 2/3 innings pitched (with the median coming in at 148 1/3) while in 2013 that number had dropped to 113 2/3 (116.5 median). That’s not a bad life is it? Make 454.6% more while pitching nearly 24% fewer innings.

Innings isn’t the only difference. Complete games have dropped from an average of 3.5 in ’85 to 0.5 in ’13 and games started from 21.5 to 18.7. Bah. I’m not here to talk about the good old days or try to argue something else entirely.

Just an observation.

My curiosity has gotten the better of me, and in posts to come I’ll look at the other positions and see how they compare. I have forgotten my original question, and I’m not refusing to give an answer.

I just need to figure out how to answer it with some certainty.

Cliff Lee photo credit: San Francisco Giants 1, Philadelphia Phillies (San Francisco, California – Wednesday April 18, 2012) via photopin (license)

  1. I’m sure there’s a better way and my methodology is flawed. Alas. I’m not a finance expert, so if there’s a better method I’m open to hearing, learning, and applying it.

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