April Notes

The first calendar month of the baseball season is coming to a close. Here are some notes and thoughts from the month. All of them are not the most relevant, but they’re worth keeping an eye out for and/or considering.

Our year to date standings are also included at the end.

  • Ian Desmond and Qualifying Offers

The free agency of Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, and Howie Kendrick were viewed as plights. The plight of these men was often attributed to the qualifying offer system. This always seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to me; an easy-out.

The qualifying offer system allows players the opportunity to trade guaranteed long-term money for a fair sum of short-term money. Some players can be caught in an unfortunate situation, but usually their agents are to blame, not the draft pick compensation tied to the player via the qualifying offer system.

Howie Kendrick would have been much better off accepting his qualifying offer of over $15 million for 2016. That would have been better than the $20 million he received guaranteed over 2016 and 2017. Kendrick wasn’t a victim of the system though. His contract is a product of the market. Teams seeking second basemen had options that provided similar value to Kendrick at a better price.

The Mets were able to sacrifice excess pitching for Neil Walker; the Nationals chose to sign Daniel Murphy at a more reasonable price, and the Cubs were able to land Ben Zobrist. All of these players were known to be on the market when Kendrick declined his qualifying offer. It was rumored that the qualifying offer scared the Diamondbacks off of Kendrick, but only because they had already sacrificed their pick to sign Zack Greinke and gave up a bounty of prospects for Shelby Miller. In that case, the qualifying offer system served its purpose of competitive balance. The idea is not to have teams throwing around their excess cash to hoard the players on the free agent market.

A similar analysis and conclusion would apply to Dexter Fowler. Fowler turned down a (rumored) offer of a guaranteed $36 million from the Orioles. Instead he chose to accept a guaranteed $13 million for one year with the Cubs ($8 million salary and $5 million buyout). Maybe Fowler thought he would earn more on the open market. It was his right to think so. It doesn’t mean it was not foolish in light of the over-crowded class of free agent outfielders, supplemented by trade candidates such as Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and Marcell Ozuna.

Finally, no case is more falsely cited as an example of the qualifying offer system’s pitfalls than Ian Desmond. Desmond’s contract prospects were talked about in the context of an offer he turned down the previous year (rumored to be 7 years for $107 million). He then made the second misguided decision of turning down his qualifying offer. Somehow the $8 million deal he accepted from the Rangers was looked at as an affront to Desmond. In reality, it reflects the market value of a free agent shortstop with deteriorating glove skills and coming off an offensive season that appeared to more of the beginning of a decline than an aberration in a bright career. Desmond has never had great on-base skills. Mainly, he was viewed as a shortstop with above average pop. However, that skill is not as valuable in a league that has more homeruns available to it than it has had in previous years and the rest of the skills aren’t worth buying into for any exorbitant price. If Desmond got the kind of contract he turned down the year before, or even a lesser version of that contract, it would have been panned as an over-payment. Instead, his lack of a market is highlighted as a signal of a flawed system.

Any argument about Ian Desmond is a red herring. The amount of money he received is viewed as an issue with the group of teams as a collective, whereas a large contract given to him would have been viewed as an issue with the individual team that offered it. Going into play on April 26th Desmond has a slash line of .191/.286/.309.

  • Poor Mike Trout, and the Poor Team He Plays For

I wrote an article about the Angels in the off-season. Unfortunately for everyone who is not a fan of the other four AL West teams, the article correctly predicted the Angels complete lack of action in the off-season.

This is likely to leave the Angels and Trout out of the playoffs again, and it will likely cost Trout another MVP award. Trout lost the MVP to Josh Donaldson last year because voters were enamored with the Blue Jays record and Donaldson’s RBI totals. Not to take anything away from Donaldson, but once again Trout was the best player in the American League.

Trout’s RBI total this year will probably be considered a disappointment again. The Angels’ batters who have hit second in the lineup, in front of Trout, are hitting .205 with a .487 OPS. The situation is so bad that Andrelton Simmons is hitting second during games. The best player in baseball is taking the field with a glorified minor league team, at least in terms of batting ability.

Source: Baseball Reference

At this point, every RBI driven in by Trout that is not from a homerun is more like a minor miracle. It would have been nice if Trout could step to the plate after Daniel Murphy, like Bryce Harper, or even if the Angels just hit him at the top of the order to get him more plate appearances over the course of the year.

Instead, Trout has managed to raise his walk rate (15.1%), showing more will to escape a terrible situation than Brie Larson in The Room. Who is better: Mike Trout or Bryce Harper? I don’t know; the Angels will not let us know.

  • The Diamondbacks in Good Shape, Considering They’re In Bad Shape

It seemed so right that A.J. Pollock would fracture his elbow on the eve of the regular season. It should have ended the Diamondbacks hope of completing a playoff run, but one month in, the Pollock-less D-Backs have more than treaded water.

Their schedule has included home series against the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals and seven games on the road against the Dodgers and Giants. Our projection system had the Diamondbacks pegged as a .500 team and they have been that. However, the schedule will get easier and they will likely get Pollock back at some point (although much later in the season). Also, Zack Greinke (6.16 ERA, 4.25 FIP) and Shelby Miller (8.69 ERA, 7.73 FIP) have been really bad. That won’t last for long, at least not this bad for this long.

  • Madison Bumgarner’s Hips

Madison Bumgarner’s hips don’t lie. I watched a couple of innings of the game he pitched against the Diamondbacks, opposing Zack Greinke. Bumgarner had a pretty good performance and was on for the most part.

I never noticed how much Bumgarner’s delivery relies on the torque of his hips. While Bumgarner does not tip pitches, his ability to hit his pitch location appears to rely on him getting the correct hip torque. He will likely miss the spot low if he torques his hips back too far and when the hips don’t torque enough the ball will usually fly high and away. If the hips torque just right, as they often do, the ball will find the catcher’s mitt.

This was the first time I noticed this and I don’t watch Bumgarner pitch religiously, but check it out next time he pitches. Maybe I’m just seeing things or maybe hitters have something to keep an eye out for when facing Bumgarner.

  • The Astros Aren’t Good Enough To Overcome This

The Astros were probably overrated going into the year, but they are still the most talented team in the AL West. However, something just seemed wrong with this team the moment I heard Ken Giles would be a setup man. There is nothing to back this up other than a gut feeling and some personal anger after signing him for a healthy sum of money in my fantasy league.

It might seem early to stick a fork in them, and that would be rash, but you shouldn’t expect to see the Astros back in the playoffs this year. As our projections show, the AL West is a tightly packed division in terms of projected win distribution among teams. The fact that the Astros went 7–15 through their first 22 games isn’t the sole reason I’m pessimistic about them overcoming their start. It’s coupling that 7–15 record with a -28 run differential. That run differential means they should probably be around (a little worse than) .500, so they are already a few wins below where they should be. Couple those missing wins with the fact they were supposed to be a .500 team to begin with, and you have a bad recipe for re-claiming a playoff berth. It’s a little early to start looking at what a team’s record should be based on run differential, but why not try to knock one team out of the crowded AL playoff race?

  • The Year To Date Simply Bases Standings

Below are the standings re-configured how they should be based upon our methodology for projecting wins and losses. The first 9 rows, beginning with “Team”, are actual stats. The “x” stats are expected runs scored and expected runs against based upon the team’s actual wOBA, FIP, and Def so far this year. The xWins and xLosses represent the team’s Pythagorean Record based upon the xRuns Scored and xRuns Against.

The team stats compiled are based on games played through April 27th.

The stats say the Mets have been the best team in baseball thus far. Reality says the Cubs are the best team in baseball. There is little to quibble with if you are advocate for the cause of either club. The Cubs are playing as expected and the Mets are playing better than expected. However, it does not look unsustainable for the Mets. Michael Conforto is an elite hitter; the kind of prospect you once drooled over before Mike Trout and Bryce Harper came along. It’s unlikely that Neil Walker keeps hitting like he is Bryce Harper, but the lineup looks incredibly deep and Sandy Alderson’s gamble on depth is paying off even more than he likely thought it would. The pitching is (somehow) better than advertised, but before you think they will take a step back, keep in mind, Matt Harvey has looked terrible and Jacob DeGrom has only made two starts.

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