Posts tagged Blue Jays

Transactions, We Have Transactions!

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

So…for once all the noise about the Blue Jays making a move was true. Jon Heyman first reported the signing and a Blue Jays press release later confirmed that the Blue Jays had signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract worth $9 million dollars with a option for a fourth year at $3 million. As was pointed out by the masses, that contract marks the largest free agent contract that has been handed out since Alex Anthopoulos took over the general manager job in 2009. It’s also two times as big as the contract that was previously the largest, which was a 1 year $4.5 million contract handed out to Francisco Cordero last offseason.

Perhaps more surprisingly the Maicer Izturis contract marks just the second guaranteed multiyear free agent contract handed out by Anthopoulos. The only other one? A 2 year $3 million contract that the Blue Jays gave to the John Macdonald in 2009.

A lot has been made of these various milestones and perhaps for good reason, as Shi Davidi speculated in his article on the Izturis signing, this signing may be a prelude of things to come. As we heard earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays reportedly have money to spend as they plan on increasing the payroll for 2013 and perhaps this is an indication of just that. As I stated in the free agency preview, the difference between this year and last, other than this preliminary signing, is that AA has been much more forthright in his statements regarding the payroll and now in his actions as well.

With that said, the specifics of the Izturis deal itself are fairly intriguing. The deal pays Maicer Izturis $3 million a year in each of the three guaranteed seasons as well as in the option year. For a player whom is often labelled as a utility player that may seem like a fair amount of money to guarantee, but for what he provides it looks to be a fair and justified contract.

Maicer Izturis is coming off a 3 year $10 million contract with the Angels and if you look at Maicer Izturis’ WAR over the last three years of his previous contract you will see that he has produced a total of 4.1 WAR. Using the rough $5 million per win above replacement value calculation, the Angels got approximately $10.5 million of value over the course of Maicer Izturis’ contract. While both Izturis’ previous contract as well this current one did not and do not provide a base for a clear abundance of potential value they pay him for what he is, which is a great utility infielder…or perhaps even a starting second baseman?

As Anthopoulos noted in the conversation he had with reporters after the Izturis signing, Izturis as the starting second baseman would be a fine solution to the hole that is currently at the position. Solely on a fWAR level in 2012, Maicer Izturis was worth as much as former second baseman Kelly Johnson while being paid $1.2 million less. Furthermore this came in part as a result of Izturis’ 391 plate appearances as opposed to Johnson’s 581. As well, Izturis’ 2012 season isn’t necessarily the best measure of his true talent level being that it was his worst season since 2005 despite no major change in approach or sabrmetric results besides a few odd batted ball stats as a result of an absurdly high infield fly ball rate, which doesn’t necessarily hold predictive value.

Another point that Anthopoulos noted was the idea that he would keep his options open, as he often does, and if the Blue Jays do in fact find another second baseman worthy of a starting job then pencilling in Izturis as utility player extraordinaire at the price they’re paying for him isn’t half bad either.

In the grand scheme of things the Izturis contract is a deal that is buying out the ages 32, 33, and 34 seasons of a player who is a career utility player, but a good one at that. Maicer Izturis is 1-2 WAR player, with the potential for a bit more; he can play multiple positions and he appears to be flexible in doing so. The fact that the Jays went to 3 years with Izturis could be a criticism, but it really isn’t a hinderance in the overall picture. For once, the Blue Jays seemed to have gotten exactly who they wanted, which hasn’t exactly been a frequent occurrence for the Jays on the free agent market in recent years.

Free Agency Preview: Payroll, Pitching, and Prioritization

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Today, Saturday November 3rd, marks the beginning of the MLB Free Agency period. After a long, disappointing season that saw the Blue Jays create more questions than they answered, free agency and the allure of the limitless potential of the offseason has become the focus among the Blue Jays media and blogosphere. As it was one year prior the words Blue Jays and rumour have almost become synonymous and the transactions haven’t even started yet.

The difference is this year unlike last, there seems to be a definite desire for an increase in payroll. As Shi Davidi noted earlier this week Alex Anthopoulos is definitely ready and willing to increase payroll, even stating that, “[the Jays] will be able to look at players we wouldn’t have been as serious about or wouldn’t have fit.” In his article, Davidi speculated that this increase could reach the heights of the $95 million range, which as he notes would leave roughly $15 million in spending money for the 2013 offseason.

After a season which saw 3/5 of the projected rotation spend significant time on the disabled list and the other 2/5 regress past imaginable levels of performance, it’s no surprise that Anthopoulos has made the starting rotation a priority with this newfound increase in payroll. Those in the media as well as the blogosphere have speculated on such options as Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, and recently declared free agent Dan Haren. Of that list, all of the options seem feasible, save for Greinke, which leaves four pitchers to pine for and analyze until most (hopefully not all) sign with teams other than the Blue Jays, but that’s the pain and fortune of being a Blue Jays fan.

Edwin Jackson
The first of the four pitchers is ex-Blue Jay Edwin Jackson, who MLBTR predicted to be the only one of their Top 50 free agents to land in Toronto. On the surface the thrill of signing a pitcher with Jackson’s unpredictability and general lack of impressiveness seems almost non-existent, because he isn’t exactly the type of pitcher who you would expect to be the missing piece in the quest for a playoff spot. He’s coming off a good year, results wise, but the figures that he’s reportedly looking for aren’t exactly appealing

However Edwin Jackson is exactly the type of pitcher many of us are often describe. He’s an average MLB starter who fits fine into the middle of a rotation and he hasn’t pitched less than 180 innings since his first full season as a starter. Moreover once you realize that in the worst year of Jackson’s career, save for his Devil Rays days, he still posted an fWAR better than any Blue Jays pitcher this year, he seems like a much more appealing option. Even if he’ll never be what he was once projected to become, he is a more than satisfactory option for the middle of a rotation it only depends on whether or not he can get the contract he wants this time around.

Brandon McCarthy
The second of the four pitchers is everyone’s favourite Twitter follow, Brandon McCarthy. As a player with perhaps the largest social media following of any in the MLB, McCarthy’s name gets brought up in reference to a plethora of topics, but especially in comparison to the potential signing of other free agent starting pitchers. Toronto is no different, the online baseball community here has become just as enthralled with McCarthy as any other major league fanbase. Be that it may this mindset has gotten in the way of analysis of McCarthy as a pitcher and a free agent option for the Jays.

Brandon McCarthy is a pitcher who has had four 60-Day DL stints and four 15-Day DL stints in his seven season career. He’s also a pitcher who is coming off a skull fracture and a brain injury that some say he’s lucky to come out of functioning to the extent that he is. With regards to McCarthy as a person, what happened to him is terrible and shouldn’t be wished upon anyone, but with regards to McCarthy as a pitcher, signing him may not be the smartest baseball move when he hasn’t pitched since the incident. He’s an alluring figure because he has the potential to be great as we saw in 2011, but there’s no way of knowing how he will pitch once he gets back on the mound or how long he will stay on the mound for before sustaining another injury.

Anibal Sanchez
The third of the four pitchers, Anibal Sanchez, could easily end up being the best overall signing. Over his career Sanchez has been an afterthought in discussion, be that because he can be unpredictable or because he was on the same team as Josh Johnson for a majority of his career. Even this offseason, where Sanchez could be the second place prize to whomever doesn’t get or can’t afford Zack Greinke. This is despite the fact that over the last three years Sanchez is 16th in all of baseball in fWAR, above noted pitchers like Josh Johnson, James Shields, and Yovani Gallardo, yet he still doesn’t get the attention he deserves.

Also over those three years Anibal Sanchez’s walk rate has consecutively fallen as has his flyball rate, while he has increased his groundball rate and maintained a relatively consistent strikeout rate. All of those facts are positive trends towards Sanchez’s free agent case, but once again the problem lies in the pay. In FanGraph’s contract crowd sourcing they found a 4 year $52 million contract to be most likely and other estimates have been similar. While an average annual value of $13 million doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for surplus value, it’s a bargain in comparison to the deals given to C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle last winter.

Dan Haren
The last of the four pitchers, Haren may perhaps be the most interesting of the bunch. Following the apparent fallout of a deal that would have sent him to the Cubs in exchange for Carlos Marmol the Angels declined their $15.5 million option and instead opted to pay the $3.5 million buyout. Within the confines of that deal there has been an abundance of speculation as to why the deal fell through. Some speculate that it was the medicals, other the money, but either way it stems from Haren’s inability to perform to the level he did in the past.

The often cited reasoning behind Haren’s ineptitude during the 2012 season has been his drop in velocity, but as Michael Barr rather excellent noted in a recent FanGraphs article there’s quite a bit more to it. Barr referenced Haren’s declining velocity, but also his declining swinging strike rate, Zone% as well as his increasing Contact%. While Haren’s numbers in September are encouraging and a case could be made for signing him, the inherent risk of signing a player coming off a down season and an injury could outweigh the potential that Haren offers. Ultimately, like many free agent deals, it will come down to years that Haren is offered. If there is a team out there willing to give Haren a four (or even five?) year contract then there’s no point in trying to beat that. On the other hand if Haren is looking to re-establish some value on a one year deal then give him all you can and hope for the best.

On the whole, the Blue Jays appear to willing to go after one of these bigger name free agents, but with a budget that still looks limited to a certain extent due diligence will be key in the decision to sign any free agent pitcher, or position player for that matter. As it stands the Blue Jays don’t have a whole lot of room for error if they plan on running an efficient payroll with the hopes of a playoff berth. Perhaps unfortunately, as @cantpredictball has taught us, this game we love is inherently erratic, but the key is to squeeze out every bit of added probability for success possible. The Jays can be successful in that manner, but we must wait and see.

A Guide to Steve Delabar and The Steve Delabar Story

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Image Courtesy of james_in_to via Flickr

When the Blue Jays traded Eric Thames for relief pitcher Steve Delabar midseason I had little to no knowledge of who he was or what he could do. To me Delabar seemed like any other relief pitcher, but as time wore on I found him to be quite a tantalizing and fascinating player. He is 6 foot 5 and 220 lbs, he’s a relief pitcher, and the inside of his elbow looks like this. The reinforcement of Delabar’s elbow as seen in the picture was the result of multiple elbow injuries from Delabar’s 6 year minor league career that included stints in loA and hiA as well as Independent ball.

Following his last stint with the Brockton Sox of the Can-Am League Delabar called it quits and moved on to pursue other things in life. As Geoff Baker wrote for the Seattle Times back in September Delabar went on to substitute teach and coach at the high school his wife taught at in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. All was well, until one day a friend of Delabar’s who owned an indoor pitching facility brought in a new throwing program that was intended to be used to prevent injuries to the throwing arm, but instead it produced higher throwing velocities in it’s participants. Delabar was among the greatest beneficiaries of this program, according to their site he experienced a 10 MPH increase in velocity.

Shortly thereafter Delabar was scouted by the Mariners, which eventually resulted in him being signed to a minor league contract midway through the 2011 season. In April of that year Delabar was out of baseball and living in Kentucky. In June of that year Delabar was pitching for the High Desert Mavericks in the HiA California League. In September of that year Delabar was striking out major league hitters with 95 MPH fastballs…okay the Royals, but still.

For a pitcher who had a career 4.27 ERA in the minors prior to 2011 that was quite a remarkable turnaround, but that alone is not what makes Delabar so interesting. Beyond his story Delabar has displayed some remarkable skills and has proved to be quite the effective reliever.

The three pitches in Delabar’s repertoire include a mid 90s fastball, a high 80s splitter, and a slider that he throws against right handers every once in a while. He rarely pitches backwards and he’s generally consistent in his approach that sees him set up with the fastball and finish with the splitter.

The incredible thing about Delabar is the location he’s shown with the splitter; he’s able to throw the it down and away with ease to both sides of the plate. A prime example came when Delabar was sent in to pitch the 10th inning against the White Sox and struck out 4 batters, the most strikeouts by any pitcher in a single extra inning. Greg Wisniewski of Infield Fly had a great post breaking down the four at bat sequence in it’s entirety. In order Delabar struck out Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, and Alejandro De Aza all strikeouts coming on the splitter.

In terms of overall results in 66.0 innings in 2012 Delabar had 92 K’s, good for a 32.8 K%, which ranked him 6th among relievers with at least 60 IP. Of those 92 strikeouts, 56 came on Delabar’s splitter a number that ranked second in the league. Aside from his K’s, Delabar has also proven to be a relatively effective reliever through other facets of his game. He’s strikes out tons, he doesn’t walk too many, and he keeps the ball on the ground at an efficient rate.

Generally a reliever who does those three things well is one you’d consider for a full time late innings role, however like others of his kind Delabar has demonstrated vulnerability in both his home run rate and his platoon splits. Delabar, interestingly enough has exhibited reverse platoon splits in his short time in the majors mainly due to a huge jump in his fly ball rate versus right handers.

If you take a look at the chart on the right (via Baseball Prospectus) it shows Delabar’s career fastball frequency vs. right handed hitters in each section of the strike zone. As you may notice it appears that Delabar has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone quite a bit more versus right handers, which could be a contributing factor to the increase in home runs and fly ball rate vs. righties.

Of course another factor in the equation is the rate at which Delabar’s fly balls turn into home runs, which as it stands now vs. right handers it’s a lofty 27.5%. One would expect that rate to normalize, meaning there would be a significantly less amount of home runs.

If in any fashion Delabar can find a way to limit his home runs versus right handers it could make him a much more valuable commodity going forward. A commodity that could perhaps pitch in a full time late innings relief role and to think it only cost ole’ Eric “let’s swing at everything” Thames.

Of course we are dealing with small sample sizes throughout all of this data, but it brings an intriguing possibility to the future of Delabar’s career. Even if he doesn’t progress further than where he is now, Delabar is still a valuable reverse LOOGY with raw stuff that is as exciting as any. It’s a theme that is common among many of the Blue Jays’ relievers, they have the stuff and hopefully the stats will come.

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