Posts tagged Ricky Romero

The Season That Was: 2012 Edition

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The Blue Jays 2012 Season in a Nutshell

So thats it…the season is done, the playoffs have already started, but once again without the Jays. 2012 marks the 19th straight season without a Blue Jays playoff berth and their .451 winning percentage is the worst it has been since 2004. Instead of a Blue Jays playoff berth the baseball world is enthralled with the season of the Dustin Parkes dubbed Baltimore #YOLOrioles who have not only secured a playoff spot, but are marching their way right on to the World Series, or at least so it seems. That’s because this year among other things the Orioles found the ever so coveted luck dragon, they found some way to win despite the limitations of what would seem like a relatively crappy team. Quite a few people have tried to quantify what exactly we saw this season, but it seems like the best answer is still shit happens.

In Toronto, the narrative has been similar as fans watched this season and saw a bevy of players go down with injuries, while simultaneously ruining any hope of a Blue Jays playoff berth, shit happens. The list of injuries is a long one and includes such key players as Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Jose Bautista among others.

If you take a quick glance at that list you’d probably assume it to be the reasoning behind the Blue Jays’ mediocrity and 99 times out of 100 you’d probably be right, but in this case it doesn’t tell the entire story. On top of being one of the most injured teams in baseball the Blue Jays experienced some worse than expected performances from a majority of their starting lineup.

This is the list of Blue Jays’ hitters who outperformed their wOBA as projected by ZiPs, one of the most trusted projection systems available: Edwin Encarnacion, Rajai Davis, and David Cooper.

As you can see that list includes one, maybe two everyday players. Not only is that slightly depressing, but it’s a major factor behind the Blue Jays’ lack of a playoff berth.

Beyond the obvious demoralization of a terrible season there was one other sad point this year and that’s how inquisitive it has left us. Coming in to the year, 2012 was supposed to be a year that answered questions, but it seems like it has left us with more questions than it answered.

Sure there was the breakout seasons from Encarnacion and Morrow, and sure Bautista reaffirmed himself as one of the leagues best hitters, and sure maybe even the bullpen looks pretty damn good going forward, but what’s one to make of the rest of the team?

Yunel stepped back this year both on a hitting level and a likability level for most of the fan base, this coming after one of the better years in his career. Lawrie was praised as a super prospect after his unpredictably amazing finish to the 2011 season with the Blue Jays, but this year he hasn’t progressed to the level that was expected and has instead shown the ere of his injury ridden ways. Last, but…well maybe least, Colby Rasmus wasn’t all he was cracked up to be, if you take out his promising production from the month of June he ends up with a 69 wRC+, which would rank 2nd last among qualified hitters. While the last of those statistics is rather arbitrarily conceived, it still goes to show the general ineptitude that Rasmus showed during the majority of the 2012 season.

As for pitchers, Ricky Romero wasn’t exactly the staff ace that some expected him to be…in fact he wasn’t even the slightly above league average pitcher that I expected him to be. Instead he posted the 3rd worst qualified ERA in Blue Jays history and the 5th worst qualified FIP all to go along with his now record 13 straight losses for whatever that’s worth (Hint for the latter half, not much). Then there’s Henderson Alvarez, who despite posting a similar ERA and higher FIP than Romero as well as the lowest K% among starters in the MLB, probably isn’t getting enough flack. Sure he’s 22 years old and has fire coming out of his arm, but he still halved his K% and doubled his BB% from 2011, not a great trend.

Not to mention that the above list of players doesn’t include the lost seasons of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison due to Tommy John Surgery.

With all that said it doesn’t really leave the Jays with much certainty for 2013, which was basically what was said going in to 2012.

Beyond the supposed mainstays in the lineup and rotation there is a glut of players like Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, David Cooper, and Hechavarria who showed some promise, but don’t really have an affirmed spot for 2013. This probably isn’t exactly what Alex Anthopoulos imagined his roster would look like for what is going to be his 4th full season as Blue Jays General Manager, which makes the 2013 offseason particularly interesting.

Anthopoulos has already said that he’s likely going to increase payroll, but to what level is unknown. As well whereas after 2011 AA was the Silent Assassin, the Amazing Alex Anthopoulos, and the Jedi among other endearing names, this year he has undergone more criticism from the both regular and hardcore fans alike. If he doesn’t do anything big in the offseason and fails to win in the regular season it would be reasonable to assume that his job could be on the line.

Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of Anthopoulos’ processes but a situation has been created in which he has a lot of players who haven’t panned out as expected and if the ownership doesn’t have absolute confidence in Anthopoulos whose to say that he won’t be gone come 2014 or even sooner. If that is the case then there is the potential that AA rushes the process and while it isn’t a likely occurrence it could be a defining factor for the Jays going forward. Only time will tell.

Photo Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Side Note: Posts on the blog were pretty sparse towards the end of the season as I was quietly enjoying some of the performances from Morrow, Gose, Sierra, and Hechavarria, but as we move into the off season you can expect more posts including a few in depth breakdowns with what went for some of the players mentioned in this post.

Projecting Performance: Starting Rotation

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Projecting Performance will be a series outlining each position of the Blue Jays roster with my thoughts on who should play the position and how well I expect them to perform for the 2012 season. Up first is the Starting Rotation, with the Infield and Outfield coming in subsequent weeks.

In 2011 the Blue Jays starting rotation definitely wasn’t a strong point. It saw twelve different pitchers start a game and 20 starts given to Jo-Jo Reyes (Yes, that Jo-Jo Reyes). Those 20 starts ranking third most among Blue Jays pitchers (Ugh). Going forward things look much brighter. As it looks to be shaping up so far, rather than having innings whisked away by giving starts to Brad Mills and Luis Perez, the Jays look to be transferring those starts to higher upside arms in Dustin McGowan and Henderson Alvarez. Beyond that the Jays have quite a few players in the minors that could be pushing for starts in 2012 including Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire, and maybe even Chad Jenkins. Without further ado the player breakdowns.

Ricky Romero
Between 2009 and 2011 each year the Jays had a new Opening Day starter. In 2009 it was Roy Halladay, in 2010 it was Shaun Marcum and in 2011 it was undoubtedly Ricky Romero. With that said it looks like for the first time in three years there will be a similar face starting come Opening Day and that would be Ricky Romero.

Each of the last three years Romero has been consistently improving, culminating in a 2011 season that saw him pitch to 2.92 ERA, but only a 2.9 fWAR. Though it was encouraging that Romero pitched deeper in to games and ultimately got to 225 IP, there was a couple other factors that diminished his perceived performance.

For starters it is true, Romero did have a 2.92 ERA in 2011, but numbers like his 4.20 FIP or 3.80 xFIP or 3.78 SIERA suggest that things may be different in 2012. The likely reasoning behind this being that for one Romero’s home run rate jumped back up to a 1.04 HR/9, which is significantly higher than the 0.64 number that he posted in 2010. As well, though Romero’s .242 BABIP may suggest otherwise, Romero actually seemed lucky in 2011. The reason being that in 2011 Romero’s LOB% was much higher than his career average at 79.2% and his LD% was much lower at 14.2%.

The Verdict:
Ricky Romero did have a fantastic year in 2011 in terms of ERA, but not so fine in terms of his peripheral stats. Despite the possibly luck driven 2011 I actually expect Ricky’s peripherals to be better in 2012, but it looks like the ERA will come back down to earth.

WAR Prediction: 3.0

Brandon Morrow
In 2011 Brandon Morrow was Brandon Morrow. He struck out a ton of batters, he walked a ton of batters, and he produced a xFIP and SIERA that was much lower than his ERA. Numbers like his 3.53 xFIP suggest his ERA should be much lower, but he has yet to have produced to that level. It isn’t a question of the stuff either, Brandon Morrow has some of the better stuff in the league, it just hasn’t translated to enough big league production.

Steve Slowinski of FanGraphs suggested that Morrow may need to add another pitch to become more effective. Could that pitch be the cutter that Morrow added late last season? Its quite possibly could, because the cutter is known as a ground ball inducing pitch, which in the past has been precisely Morrow’s problem.

After he added it late last season, the first couple of games whilst using it didn’t turn out so well, but in the last three Morrow finished strong. Not that this means too much because it is far too small a sample to really make anything of it. With that said it will surely be interesting to see how Morrow does with a developing cutter in 2012.

The Verdict:
Morrow is always cited as a breakout candidate and this may finally be his year. He is developing that third pitch and he’s going in to his third full year as a starter. His peripheral stats don’t look to get too much better in 2012, but it seems like this is the year his ERA may actualize.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Brett Cecil
Cecil seems to me to be one of the most peculiar players at this year’s Spring Training. At the start of Spring Training, most people (including myself) seemed to think that Brett Cecil had the No. 3 starter spot locked down. Now upon further investigation I’m having second thoughts.

Yes, Brett Cecil did have a 2.6 fWAR season in 2010, but since then he has been lack luster to say the least. He dropped 1 MPH off his fastball last year, and in his first Spring Training start he was reported to have topped out at 88 MPH and averaging around 87 MPH.

For most guys losing that much in velocity is detrimental and to a guy like Cecil is could be career ending, that is assuming its permanent, which it’s likely not. Nonetheless the drop in fastball velocity is discouraging for both us fans and maybe even for Farrell too as Stoeten inferences at Drunk Jays Fans.

What’s most discouraging about Cecil is the fact that there was nothing really in 2011 that makes me think he should improve in 2012. Rather than returning to 2010 form, in 2011 Cecil seemed to regress back to his 2009 season, which as short as that 2009 season was it was not very good.

The Verdict:
Unless Brett Cecil gains back some fastball velocity, improves on his offspeed pitches, or becomes Bruce Chen 2.0, it seems doubtful that he’ll get back to a level where he could be a No. 3 starter. Initially I and what seems like many others thought Cecil would simply return with some new found form after the whole weight loss story, but after some number crunching it showed that supposedly Cecil was pretty lucky in 2011 and still wasn’t very good. That is never a good combination.

WAR Prediction: 0.5

Henderson Alvarez
There’s not too much to say about Henderson Alvarez from a statistical standpoint. He started 2011 in HiA Dunedin and astonishingly climbed all the way to the big leagues before the September roster expansion. Once in the big leagues he seemed to perform much better than anyone had expected, but one does have to be aware of the relatively small sample size.

Going forward it is likely that Alvarez’s insane 5.00 K/BB ratio comes back down to earth because he doesn’t strike out enough guys for that to be sustainable. However it doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to perform. In fact Kevin Goldstein said that, “Henderson Alvarez’s ceiling is close to what Ricky Romero is today.”

This is obviously quite encouraging for Alvarez’s case because after a pretty terrible 2010 season Alvarez was forced to repeat HiA Dunedin and his prospect status seemed to have been permanently tarnished.

The Verdict:
There isn’t nearly enough statistical evidence on Henderson Alvarez to do any real analysis. With that said considering what Kevin Goldstein said to be true, it isn’t unreasonable to expect  at least No. 4 starter like production with the potential for much more, not only in 2012, but beyond.

WAR Prediction: 2.1

Dustin McGowan
Dustin is the miracle pitcher, the man who no one thought would ever return. All the odds were against him, but he battled through it and started his first MLB game in 3 years on September 6th. The narrative is with him, but now McGowan will once again have to face adversity. This adversity being the question of whether he’ll actually be able to pitch. He didn’t do to well in terms of stats at the end of 2011, but then again it was less than 25 innings.

The reports out of spring seem strong so far. After McGowan’s first start today. Gregor Chisholm reported that he reached 96 MPH and was averaging around 93, which would be about where he was velocity wise, back in 2008. Mike Wilner also pointed out that, “[McGowan's] fastball had good life and the slider had great bite.”

All of this is great in theory, but McGowan still has yet to consistently produce at the major league level since coming back from injury. He seems to have the same stuff, and on the FAN 590′s JaysTalk Wilner noted that he felt “just like the other pitchers” in the sense that he wasn’t be held back at all. As well he’ll surely be given plenty of chances as he is essentially the Jo-Jo Reyes of 2012 being a starting pitcher who is out of options, which almost makes him a shoe in for a rotation spot. Just hopefully he doesn’t take on Reyes’ performance level as well.

The Verdict:
I’m not really sure what to expect out of Dustin McGowan in 2012. He seems to be relatively similar in terms of stuff as he was in 2008. The only problem is he has yet to show that he can sustain that stuff over the course of a full game or over the course of the season. That right there could really be his Kryptonite this season, but it could also not matter at all. The only way to see what McGowan truly is will be innings and time and that won’t come until the regular season.

WAR Prediction: 1.5 (Only because of a possible innings limit)

Kyle Drabek
Last, but certainly not least is the former top prospect Kyle Drabek. In a lot of ways Drabek is like Henderson Alvarez, but also different at the same time. They are similar in the fact that both have under 90 innings of MLB pitching experience and both have a possible No. 2 starter ceiling, but are polar opposites in terms of their production in their first taste of the big leagues. As stated before Alvarez was fantastic last year and well Drabek kind of wasn’t.

However both have the same relative pitching ceiling, which why I thought both should have a chance to prove themselves in 2012. Obviously Alvarez has the edge having performed well in his big league time, but Drabek hasn’t been terrible in Spring Training either and at this point I’d rather see him in the rotation that Cecil.

The reason being that at this point Cecil’s ceiling appears to be a No. 3 starter at best and at this point he may not even reach it. Where as this year Drabek could be a serviceable No. 5 with upside for so much more.

The Verdict:
Unfortunately like Alvarez, with Drabek there isn’t enough statistical evidence to do any real analysis. Instead we have to turn to the scouting reports, which are unsurprising high on Kyle Drabek. He still has the talent, he still has the stuff, he just needs the command, which I don’t expect to come this year. Though with some repetition and major league innings it could very well be Drabek’s year come 2013. In my opinion he just needs to be given a chance.

WAR Prediction: 0.8 (Only because I don’t think he will get the chance)

Look for Part 2 of Projecting Performance, which will be on the Blue Jays Outfield, the post will likely come out sometime later this week. 

An In-Depth Look at Extending Brandon Morrow

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Photo Courtesy of Mirosport.net

With the Blue Jays offseason in a bit of a slump and the Darren Oliver signing being the most exciting thing at the moment, I found myself having to write about something different. Rather than speculating on Garza rumours or a possible (I use that term loosely) Prince Fielder signing, I have come to the realization that other than the occasional non-consequential signing the Jays likely won’t do much in terms of roster changes this offseason. Instead they will likely stick to their plan of building from within and then keeping the talent in the organization. Up to this point the latter half of the plan has only needed to be addressed to a small extent, but now with young talented players like Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and the centre of this writing piece Brandon Morrow all possibly needing extensions, Alex Anthopoulos definitely has his work cut out for him.

Morrow as most of you probably know was traded to the Blue Jays from the Mariners in December 2009 for right handed reliever Brandon League. Seattle had drafted Morrow in the 2006 draft with presumably the intention of making him their closer. At the time this seemed fine as Morrow had the velocity and plus pitch that you traditionally look for in a closer, but as time went on the Seattle front office and coaching staff created some kinks in Morrow’s development. These kinks being that towards the end of the 2008 season, the Mariners decided that they would begin to move Morrow to the starting rotation and out of a relief role, utilizing the ole Earl Weaver strategy.

Long story short Morrow’s stints as a starter didn’t turn out as expected and it resulted in the Mariners demotion of him to AAA as well as the multiple changes between roles in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Due to this Morrow began to become a “change of scenary” for Seattle in the sense that he didn’t need to be traded, but would likely have trouble succeeding in Seattle organization through the development process they had created. Ultimately all of this hoopla turned out well, for the Jays at least, as it led to the trade that landed them Morrow in 2009. Reports initially coming from the Blue Jays organization subsequent to the trade suggested that they intended on using Morrow exclusively in the starting rotation, giving Morrow a clean slate to work on.

Now what does all this mean and why is it at all important to a possible contract extension. Well if you simply look at Brandon Morrow’s service time and age you would see that he is heading in to his second year of arbitration and is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. But if you take into account the time that Morrow spent with the Mariners and how he was never really used as a full time starter there, then Morrow is in some sense of the word a third year player.

In terms of the actual contract extension this means that rather than the negotiations acting as if Morrow is a guy with 4 years of service time, Anthopoulos could make the argument that Morrow is really just a third year player coming off his sophmore season. I’m sure Morrow’s agent would have something to say about that, but it would be a good argument for Anthopoulos to make. If that is the route that Anthopoulos takes I’m sure guys like Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Ricky Romero, and Jaime Garcia would come up in terms of comparable contracts, all of which signed for around 5 years and $30 million.

Now obviously it is quite unreasonable to expect Morrow to take that type of contract when MLBTR already projects him to make $4.2 million in arbitration this year. Instead I’m sure Morrow’s agent will come back comparing Brandon Morrow to the recently extended John Danks and rightfully so. Danks signed an extension for 5 years and $65 million with the Chicago White Sox this offseason. Had he not signed the extension, Danks would have been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season one year before Brandon Morrow.

The Danks comp likely to be brought up would be interesting as Danks and Morrow are very similar but different at the same time. They are similar in the sense that both players are in their fifth year in the MLB and close to free agency, but due to time spent in the minors Morrow has one less year of service time and 3 less years of full time starting experience. Other than that one similarity they are pretty different in their execution, but both have been good starters over the last three years. Danks has the higher fWAR in the last three seasons, due in large part to a higher innings count. He also holds a lead in the traditional stats like ERA and Wins, which often increase arbitration and sometimes free agency earnings. Though on the other side Morrow holds a firm lead in his K% as well as the more sabrmetric and predictive stats such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. (Customized FanGraphs stats table here)

What this all boils down to is that in the end Morrow will likely get a lot less guaranteed money than John Danks, but also significantly more than Ricky Romero. Danks’ contract is worth about $65 million and Romero’s is worth $30.1 million, it seems like such a simple-minded way to do it, but if you take the average of those two contracts it is about $47.5 million over 5 years. If there is to be a $47.5 million dollar extension proposed, I’m thinking it will probably work out something like this…

If you look at the layout of the proposed contract, depending on how good they think Brandon Morrow really is, the contract seems to work out for both sides. Morrow gets some added financial security and the Blue Jays get 3 years of Brandon Morrow’s free agency at a reasonable price with a chance at quite a bit of upside. Using the current assumption of approximately $5 million = 1 WAR we can figure that for Morrow to be worth the contract extension he only needs to produce 1.9 WAR per year. If we use FanGraphs version of WAR we see that over his past two years as a starter Brandon Morrow has averaged 3.5 WAR per season, far and above the value he would need to provide in order to fulfill the proposed contract extension.

Even if we use the less optimistic Baseball Reference version of WAR we can see that over the past two years Morrow has averaged 1.5 WAR. Then using Sky Kalkman’s WAR Spreadsheet, we can figure out how much Morrow has to improve to fulfill his contract. As expressed in the first table over the course of his contract Morrow has to be worth an average of 1.9 WAR per year. In the past two years Morrow hasn’t been at that mark, but if you take his average ERA from the past two years and then assume a steady innings increase you get a total of 11.0 WAR, which is still 1.5 WAR in surplus value. Even if you assume that he misses some time to injury, Morrow would still have to miss roughly 140 innings over the course of the contract, which isn’t unprecedented, just to be worth the 0.1 WAR less than the value of the contract.

Finally if you at all believe that Brandon Morrow will reach his “potential” that predictive stats such as his 3.51 xFIP or 3.31 SIERA over the past two years indicate, then that is all just added value. If you believe that over the course of his contract that Morrow will match his xFIP (top half of the table below) with the same innings counts as in the above table then he will be worth approximately 24.8 WAR, which is 15.3 wins of added value. Then if you are a real dreamer and believe that Morrow can match his SIERA (bottom half of the table below) he will be worth about 27.6 WAR, which is 18.1 wins in surplus value.

Of course almost all of this is speculative research and depends quite a bit on Morrow accepting a contract similar to the 5 year $47.5 million dollar contract proposed earlier, but the contract at least in my opinion seems pretty fair and through this has a very good chance of providing surplus value. Though as I stated there is always the chance that Morrow would turn down that contract as he has been known to follow some sabrmetric stats or as he calls them “nerd” stats. He may feel like he has more potential to outperform this contract, but financial security is always nice too, especially for a pitcher. Then there is also the off chance that the Blue Jays organization feels like he isn’t even worth the proposed amount. Whatever it is we as fans can only hope that at some point Brandon Morrow reaches his “potential” and doesn’t just become one of those players with the great peripheral stats, who never lives up to them.

The Anthopoulos regime has been good with extensions thus far after handing them out to players such as Jose Bautista, Ricky Romero, and Yunel Escobar, we can only hope that the Jays front office continues the trend going forward. With Brandon Morrow and whatever other young cost controllable player the Blue Jays acquire.

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