Posts tagged Travis d'Arnaud

Evaluating the R.A. Dickey Trade

Photo Courtesy of Cristine Maybourne via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Cristine Maybourne via Flickr

As Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star wrote on Monday, the Blue Jays reached an extension with R.A. Dickey that is reportedly worth $25 million for 2 years with a team option for $12 million in 2016. The extension was the final piece of the puzzle and it completed the Jays/Mets trade that was reportedly agreed upon in principle days before. In total the Blue Jays traded away Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, and Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mike Nickeas.

Prior to the trade, d’Arnaud and Syndergaard were the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the Blue Jays farm system. In return the Jays are getting R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, but a pitcher without a long track record of elite success. FanGraphs defines elite or ‘All Star level’ as a player with between 4 and 5 wins above replacement in a single season. Solely using fWAR, Dickey would qualify for just one all star level season in his career (2012), but if you look to RA9-Wins as Dave Cameron exclaimed yesterday, it opines that Dickey has had 2 seasons worth 4+ wins above replacement (2010, 2012) coming to a total of 14.8 wins over the last three years. Only six other pitchers in baseball have had higher fWAR totals in that same time period.

The reason for the difference in value is that RA9-Wins uses runs allowed as opposed to FIP for the calculation of WAR. In the calculation of WAR, FIP is adjusted to a normalized BABIP, but runs allowed keeps the BABIP as is. This means that in calculating Dickey’s WAR, the FIP version severely undervalues him because Dickey consistently produces lower BABIPs than what would otherwise be expected.

As Dave Cameron described

You shouldn’t just use RA9-wins for any pitcher who outperforms his FIP, as often times, that’s simply the product of good teammates or some good luck, but you should also know that FIP doesn’t work for every pitcher…Knuckleball pitchers induce weak contact that leads to consistently lower than average rates of hits on balls in play

While this may be a better way of valuing R.A. Dickey, this comparison in a way represents the sense of unknown that we still have with knuckleball pitchers. Perhaps with Dickey, the unknown is even further amplified as last season he did things that only a few knuckleball pitchers ever have and at velocities that no knuckleballers have ever reached.

With all that in mind, going forward R.A. Dickey is an interesting projection case. In his most recent article ($) Dan Szymborski showed off the ZiPS projections for the newest Jay, which valued Dickey as a 4 WAR pitcher in 2013 and a 10.6 WAR pitcher over the next three years.

Is that enough to push the Blue Jays over the top in 2013? Maybe…?

As it stands ZiPS projects the Blue Jays to win 93 games in 2013, which also projects to be the top win total in the American League East.

Even then giving up the two top prospects in any farm system, yet alone one that previously ranked among the top in the league, for a pitcher who still has questions about his value doesn’t always end too favourably. In the aftermath of the trade some have pointed to the fact that the Jays are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot and every additional win is worth more. While that may be true, I’m not a big fan of using it as justification for a single trade because it assumes that there is no other way to achieve additional wins. In this case I find it hard to believe that R.A. Dickey was the only option and that giving up two elite prospects was all that could be done to improve the team. Perhaps I’m wrong…perhaps certain free agents didn’t want to sign in Toronto, perhaps Dickey was the only trade option, perhaps the Jays have maxed out their budget. There is a lot of variables in the trade that as outsiders, we aren’t privy to.

With that said, regardless of my opinion on the trade, R.A. Dickey is one of the most exciting pitchers to watch in the MLB, he makes the team better in 2013, and he’s an all around great person. I’m overjoyed (as any fan should be) to have Dickey on the Jays, but still apprehensive about what the cost ended up being. Nonetheless, Dickey the best.

Projecting Performance: Infield


Projecting Performance is 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. The Starting Rotation and Outfield pieces are already posted.

Going in to 2011 the Blue Jays infield had more questions than Encarnacion has errors at third base. Would Lind and Hill return to 2009 form? Would Yunel Escobar build on a strong finish to the 2010 season? Would Arencibia improve on his abysmal call up performance? Would Encarnacion be able to play third base? Over the course of the season we found answers to those questions and things worked themselves out as they usually do. This year there may be even more questions with a couple of higher upside players in Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie added to the infield later in the year. However rather than questions on if players could be feasible, this year we seem to be asking how much better could they get.

Adam Lind
At this point I have lost all hope in Adam Lind. Some still seem to think that he could return to 2009 form many citing his .508 wOBA in the 2 months after he returned from injury. For one thing that was in a 123 PA sample and for another producing that well is great, but not when the other four months he produced a sub .300 wOBA to go along with his sub .300 OBP. As well when you consider that during Lind’s stretch of extreme relevance he was facing 7% less lefties than the rest of the season you could see why he had a bit of a boost.

The problem I then have with the people who talk about Lind’s two monster months are that they are also generally the same people that say Lind performed poorly late in the year because of his injury. What it really seems like is some people just can’t let go of Lind’s rather impressive 3.7 fWAR season in 2009 and who could blame them. Adam Lind was a great player, but there is a large emphasis on the ‘was’ there. As time goes on that great 2009 season more and more becomes the very definition of a ‘career year’.

Of course I outlined this before, but in short in 2009 Lind simply saw the ball better. This isn’t simply a factor of being hot though, in 2009 Lind had an O-Swing% almost 10% better than any other year of his career. He was seeing the ball better, but for whatever reason that really hasn’t translated in to any other year of Lind’s career and at this point I doubt it ever will.

The Verdict:
Lind isn’t a great player, but he’s not the worst first baseman in the league (He’s close).  Despite the putrid results in 2011, I’d expect some improvement in 2012. He may not be one of the best hitters in baseball for a month again, but I’d guess that the production evens outs a little and he becomes at the very least an above average hitter in 2012. Unfortunately being a slightly above average hitter at first base simply won’t cut it and the Jays could seriously find themselves pining for Votto come November. In the end of it all, it couldn’t get any worse, could it?

WAR Prediction: 1.2

Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson didn’t have a great 2011, but I’m definitely less worried about him than some of the others. Sure he did hit almost as terribly as Hill has the past couple years, but he’s only one year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season. As well unlike Lind who did have a good season, Kelly has had a couple other respectable season with 2.7 fWAR in 2008 and 3.6 fWAR in 2007.

Furthermore it wasn’t as if Kelly was Jeff Mathis with the stick last season. Despite hitting .222 last year Kelly Johnson still had a OBP higher than Adam Lind as well as a 2.2 fWAR. Meaning that even if he produced exactly the same as he did last year he would still be more than two times better than former second baseman Aaron Hill was.

The bonus on top of that if one would expect him to perform better. The course of his career has been a plethora of up and down seasons. He was bad last year so one would expect him to be better this year. Well that and he has shown that he has the skills to be a very good player.

The Verdict:
KJ wasn’t great in 2011, but he was better than Aaron Hill and was more than just a serviceable second baseman. Beyond that he has history of success including his 5.9 fWAR season from 2010. Because of this one would expect a bounce back year from Kelly, maybe not to the tune of his 2010 season, but he could surely outperform what he did last year as well as what he did in 2008 and 2009.

WAR Prediction: 3.5

Yunel Escobar
Last year Yunel was the very proof that Anthopoulos’ plan can work. He was unwanted in Atlanta because of supposed personal issues with Bobby Cox, but that didn’t bother AA. He saw the potential and it payed off last year. Going forward Yunel would appear to continue to put out similar production. Prior to his iffy 2010 he was more than just a serviceable shortstop. Two other times he had an fWAR above 3.5 and in 2009 he had a better season than he did in 2011.

That right there is what sets Yunel apart from some of Toronto’s other high potential players. Unlike the Sniders and Rasmusi (Yes that is the plural of Rasmus) of this world Yunel has a history of well sustained success. It wouldn’t be crazy at all to assume at least another 4.0 WAR season out of Yunel with the possibility for more. He is aging and will be getting closer to the back end of his prime this year at age 29, but the tools he has generally aren’t the ones that are conducive to the immediate effects of aging.

For example Yunel isn’t much of a speedster, but rather a high hit tool, high walk kind of guy. That should do well to keep his offensive numbers up for longer than the average shortstop’s prime. As well on the defensive side of things, a lot of Yunel’s defensive value is gained from his throwing arm rather than his raw defensive techniques.

Although the fact that his arm is less conducive to aging could matter quite a bit less come 2013. At that time Cuban defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria could be pushing to make the big league roster, that is assuming he can hit and that assumption is no small load. If called up Adeiny could be the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues, but if his minor league numbers are any indication he could have a sub Adam Dunn batting average. In the end I’m going to bet the hitting will be his kryptonite and the reason why Yunel won’t have to worry about anyone taking shortstop from him, for this year at least.

The Verdict
Outside of the first half of the 2010 season, Yunel Escobar has consistently been an above average to well above average shortstop and I don’t expect much to change going forward. He’s still going to hit for a high average, with some power, and some speed. He is most certainly not the prototypical shortstop, but his defense is slightly above average and he gets the job done. In the end thats all that really matters.

WAR Prediction: 4.0

Brett Lawrie
To Blue Jays fans, Brett Lawrie is more than just a player, he is an icon, a Canadian god, and the man who could take their team to the playoffs. From the excitement around him it would seem as if he is some sort of Tebow North, except he is definitely not as kosher as his equivalent to the south. Besides that Lawrie is good, but assuredly not as good as he was last season.

If Lawrie were to somehow become a Canadian god it may be possible that he would put up a 9.5 WAR season, which is his 2.7 fWAR season in 2011 prorated over 600 plate appearances, unfortunately for us he is not. However he is still very, very good. Keith Law ranked him at No. 10 on his Top 50 Players Under Age 25 list and John Sickels had him at No. 2 on his Favourite Players, 25 and Under list. In his write up Sickels said, “The only thing I’m concerned about here is a possible tendency towards nagging injuries,” but also praised Lawrie’s all around game.

Lawrie can run, he can throw, he can hit, he can hit for power, and as Sickels notes, “[he has] a glove that is underrated at the minimum.” Lawrie has the tools, the question is just going to be whether he can turn those tools into fruition and then be able to stay on the field to sustain that production.

We saw what he can do in 171 plate appearances, but that is a still an eerily small sample size and nothing that should have fans realistically projecting him as an MVP candidate. ZiPS was pretty high on him, projecting a .275 average, 27 homers, 24 SBs, and a 119 OPS+. Beyond that they in the comps section his No. 1 comp was Chipper Jones and No. 2 was Adrian Beltre, which is definitely not too shabby in the projection category. As for me I think Lawrie is great, but he is really difficult to project. He could be on the Ryan Braun path or he could fall flat on his face. He did well according to both the numbers and scouts, which is encouraging, but it could take some time for him to reach superstar status.

WAR Prediction: 4.2

J.P. Arencibia 
J.P. is a lot of things, the holder of the franchise record for most home runs by a catcher in a rookie season, the creator of the Tim Kurkjian impersonations trend, a lady killer among female Blue Jays fans, and the not so proud owner .282 OBP. He was fine in 2011, he was a bad hitter, a bad defender, and he had some pop and there was nothing wrong with that the Jays had no other options. On the other hand going forward things could be much different. 

Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Travis d’Arnaud is inching ever so closely to the majors and being that he is playing in the hitter friendly PCL, he could be looking for a call up very soon. Once up it could be very hard to send him down, he is a better hitter than J.P, he has better defensive skills, and he could even hit more home runs. Granted J.P. has the major league experience, but Travis is a force to be reckoned with and will surely let make the Jays the owners of a nice problem to have.

The Verdict:.P. Arencibia isn’t a terrible player, but he isn’t as good as his 87 RBIs make him out to be. He could easily improve both his home run totals and OBP in 2012, but with his current skill set it is unlikely he ever becomes a star. However the Blue jays are still only paying Arencibia the league minimum salary to be a full time starting catcher, which isn’t a half bad deal. JP is what he is and I don’t see his skill set improving a whole lot, but that’s not to say that he can’t be a solid starting catcher.

WAR Prediction: 1.8

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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The Anthopoulos Method


Today‘s Keith Law released his Top 100 Prospects List (Insider Req’d) as well as his Top 10 by organization. The Top 100 included five Jays minor leaguers with one even ranking in the Top 10, but that isn’t really what this post is about. Instead may I point you to the farm system rankings (Insider Req’d) that Law posted on on Wednesday . In his post Law praised the Jays aggressiveness in the draft and international free agency and eventually ranked them at #3.

This ranking got me thinking because throughout the Ricciardi era the Blue Jays were never really considered to have a “good” farm system by any means. In fact the year before present GM Alex Anthopoulos took over J.P. Ricciardi had led the Jays to the #18 spot on Law’s 2009 farm system rankings and at #19 on Baseball America’s version. In the few years since the overhaul AA has managed to bolt the Jays from middle of the pack to a top end with potential for more. Specifically Law states in his write up “They are the organization most likely to be No. 1 on this list next winter.”

In 2009 when Alex Anthopoulos took over as General Manager as the Blue Jays he had a bit of a head start for the farm system and that would be Roy Halladay. At the time Halladay did boast the 9th highest fWAR in baseball, but Anthopoulos was still limited in his destinations. For one thing Roy Halladay wanted to go a contender and for another in order to obtain maximum value Anthopoulos had to be trading with a team that was assured an extension with Halladay. These two filters and the fact that AA likely didn’t want to trade the ace within the division really limited the destination to Philidelphia.

Despite all odds against him Anthopoulos impressively managed to get in return three prospects ranked in Baseball America’s 2010 Top 100 with Kyle Drabek at #25, Michael Taylor at #29, and Travis d’Arnaud at #81. Of course later that year Taylor was swapped for Brett Wallace and at the trade deadline in 2010 Wallace was swapped for current Blue Jays prospect Anthony Gose.

The development of the prospects since the trade has had its highs and its lows. Drabek may have had a poor showing in the big leagues last year, but he still has the talent to be a solid starter. To go along with him are d’Arnaud who ranked in the top 10 on Law’s 2012 list and and whom he said could “… turn out to be real impact player acquired by Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade” and Gose whom ranked just out of Law’s Top 50. If Drabek regains form and d’Arnaud and and Gose develop as expected this trade could look eerily similar to the one that got the Braves Mark Teixeira. In that trade the Texas Rangers obtained three current Rangers in Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Matt Harrison, as well as now Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Beyond the Roy Halladay trade Anthopoulos had to create a new direction for the club. He overhauled the entire draft and international free agency strategy that had been left by Ricciardi and for good reason. During Ricciardi’s tenure 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds were college players and only two [Edit: players drafted in the first round] in the eight years were from high school. One of those two players, Travis Snider, one of only two Blue Jays players to make the Top 10 in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects during Ricciardi’s tenure.

Since then Anthopoulos has changed it such that over 75% of the players drafted in the first five rounds have been high school players essentially reversing the trend. This means that rather than the safe college picks of the past the Jays are pushing for high end talent. Much of this change was due to an increase in emphasis on draft spending as evidenced by the roughly $3.7 million that the Jays spent in Ricciardi’s last year and the average of $11.3 million that they have spent in the two years since.

To go along with the trade talent infusion and the higher draft spending the Blue Jays spent a load on international talent. During Ricciardi’s the Jays had a presence in Latin America, but were not spending to the extent the Jays have in the past two years. In 2010 the Blue Jays spent $2.8 million on Venezuelan right hander Adonys Cardona and in 2011 they spent $3.00 million on Roberto Osuna two of the higher profile international signings in the past two years. As well in 2010 the Jays spent $10 million over four years for Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

The emphasis on Latin American talent has surely developed a brand of sorts in the Latin American market. With the new CBA in place and it capping the amount that can be spent on players in International free agency it was important for the Jays to develop themselves in the market as a team that a player wants to be on. That means that in the future when two teams are offering same or similar bonuses the Jays may have established themselves a slight advantage.

On the whole with Anthopoulos the Blue Jays plan has obviously been to obtain high upside talent. You as a fan can consider this a good thing or a bad thing, but first realize this. Last year there were 46 players whose fWAR 5.0 or higher in the MLB, 67% of them were with the team that developed them. Of those 46 players another 20% were with a team that traded for them. That means a total of 87% of the top end players in the MLB were either developed as a prospect or acquired in trade through prospects.

In contrast, last season there were 244 players whom had a fWAR between 1.0 and 2.0. Those “role players” are the kind of players that are more often obtained through lesser draft and international free agent spending. They are also the same kind of players who can most often be bought on the free agent market for less than $10 million dollars.

That means to all of the fans criticizing Anthopoulos for his method should maybe step back just a little. Despite what you may believe Alex Anthopoulos is a smart man and he knows what he is doing. He has developed a system that may be hindered by the new CBA, but the farm system that he has spent millions of dollars on and the system that he has created will continue to pay dividends.

Because as was stated before the Jays farm system ranked at #3 on Keith Law’s farm system rankings, with him also saying that “they are the organization most likely to be No. 1 on this list next winter.” The reason? Behind this top end level of talent the Blue Jays have lies more players in the lower minors like Cardona and Osuna who in a couple of years could be in the same position that d’Arnaud and Hutchison are.

If you still aren’t convinced consider this, a similar high upside system was employed by the Rangers in years past and well look at where they are now. Just some food for thought.

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