Beckett, Pedro comparisons don’t quite match up

Let’s hop in the Way-Back Machine and journey back to November 17, 1997. On that day, the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano and a player to be named later for the Montreal Expos stud right-hander, 26-year-old Pedro Martinez.
Fast forward now just over eight years later to November 24, 2005. On that day, the Red Sox acquired Marlins right-hander 25-year-old Josh Beckett (and Mike Lowell and a washed-up Guillermo Mota) for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and two other guys whose names you probably won’t need to know.
The timing and circumstances were eerie. Martinez became possibly the most dominant pitching in Red Sox history. Now the Red Sox are asking Josh Beckett to be the pitcher they saw in the 2003 playoffs and save their pitching staff. These are tall orders for a 25-year-old with 10 career trips to the disabled list.
I, like Dayn Perry of, am skeptical of Beckett. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and a streak of injuries. His home-road splits show that he’s enjoyed pitching in the National League’s most hitter-friendly park, and his future success against the DH-rich AL in Fenway Park is a matter that will be determined purely on the field next season and not among the stats of his career.
There is, however, something Beckett’s stats can unlock for us. Over-eager Red Sox fans have begun to compare Beckett to Pedro, and this is a comparison that just doesn’t hold up the way I see it.
When Pedro arrived in Boston, he clearly was already a dominant pitcher. He was coming off a Cy Young caliber season in which he struck out 305 in 241.1 innings. while posting an ERA of 1.90. (He would go on to top those strike out numbers two years later, fanning 8 more in 28 fewer innings. Talk about dominance.) Beckett has come close to this type of dominance in 40 postseason innings in 2003, and that’s it. Here’s how the two stack up pre-Boston using ERA+, the ratio of the league’s ERA to that of the pitcher in question:

Pedro Martinez 912.1 9.57 3.17 3.00 135
Josh Beckett 609.0 8.97 2.72 3.46 117

From this chart, it’s clear that Pedro had the edge. At the time, he was considered very durable, and had the strike of 1994 not shorted the 1994 and 1995 seasons, he would have racked up nearly 1000 innings before joining Boston. Pitching in what many consider to be the high years of the Steroid Era, Pedro has an exceptional 135 ERA+ (which is a non-park adjusted number due to my calculations) and an ERA over a run better than league average aggregated over the years prior to his joining the Red Sox. While Beckett’s park-adjusted ERA of 117 is nothing to write home about, Pedro towers above him.
(A quick note: I had to calculate Pedro’s ERA+ and the NL ERA from 1992-1997 by hand. Beckett’s was done for me by Baseball-Reference. Hence, non-adjusted vs. adjusted. The difference is minuscule for the sake of this study.)
In the end, this just goes to show that Pedro before his dominant years in 1999 and 2000 was already an amazing pitcher. This is not a slight on Josh Beckett and his ability. Could Josh Beckett turn into another version of a Pedro-type pitcher? Sure he could. But first, he has to overcome the injury bug that has bitten him throughout his time on the Marlins.
If I were in charge of the Red Sox, I would have made this move in a minute just like the four-headed GM monster in Fenway did. But this should serve as a warning for Red Sox fans expecting too much from Beckett. I have seen Pedro Martinez pitch, and you, sir, are no Pedro Martinez. Yet.


Marlins trades show one way to evaluate Minor Leaguers

In completing two blockbuster trades this week, the Marlins netted themselves four young arms in exchange for two of their marquee players. To the fans sitting at home, these trades reek of desperation. The Fish, World Series champions just two seasons ago, traded proven fan-favorites for a bunch of guys who played in places like Wilmington, Delaware, and Norfolk, Virginia, two towns hardly known for their baseball.
For those of us who don’t scout Minor League teams for a living, these names heading down Miami’s way don’t lend much hope. Sure, Hanley Ramirez’s name may have made it into the baseball collective and Ani Sanchez or Yusmeiro Petit may ring a few bells. But they don’t carry the gravitas of a Carlos Delgado or Josh Beckett. How then can fans at home who simply have Baseball America’s prospect reports and stats from The Baseball Cube on hand evaluate these players?
One of the challenges facing the numbers-based community has long been projecting Minor League prospects to the Majors and beyond. Fans don’t have access to scouting reports detailing control, poise, build, and all of the other ways in which scouts have long evaluated young players. We do, however, thanks to the Internet have access to stats that can help us see how these young players may fare, and these stats aren’t even obscure.
For Minor Leaguers, two of the best indicators of future success are control and power. Is a young pitcher missing bats while hitting the strike zone? Luckily, strike out rates and walk rates can go a long while toward answering that question.
Let’s look at how the Marlins’ new young guns have done in these two categories throughout their careers.

Age K/9 IP BB/9 IP
Yusmeiro Petit (AAA) 21 11.16 1.95
Anibal Sanchez (AA) 21 10.98 2.92
Jesus Delgado (A) 21 7.14 4.42
Harvey Garcia (A) 21 9.06 3.88

From this table, it seems as though the Marlins got two legitimately great prospects (Petit and Sanchez), one fringe prospect (Delgado), and one borderline prospect (Garcia). For Garcia, his career progression shows promise. His K rate at Greenville was nearly 11 per 9 innings in 2005 and he cut his walk rut down to 3.63 per 9 innings.
What then makes these metrics good or half-decent indicators of future success? Most notably, they are defense-neutral. We’re not relying on the sketchy fielding of Minor League players to prop up or put down a prospect’s ERA. Second, these numbers suggest that a pitcher can control the strike zone. As a pitcher progresses through the Minors, hitters get better. If these pitchers can continue to rack in strike outs while avoiding walks, this shows that a pitcher can effectively throw strikes. While Petit struggled in 14 AAA innings this year, he still managed a strike out an inning. Numbers like those suggest that the 9.20 ERA he suffered through at the end of the season will go down.
How do these numbers then project to the Majors? That has long been an issue. In a piece from 1998, David Luciani looked at how Minor League performance at the AAA level projects to the Major League level. Notably, he found that a pitcher’s Major League strike outs were 75 percent of his AAA levels and walks were around 125 percent. These numbers however don’t tell us much about guys pitching at A or AA.
In the end, Minor League numbers can only tell so much. They don’t always project well to the Majors, and sabermetricians are stilling trying to find ways to figure out Major League success from Minor League success. This is just another example of where scouting needs to mix with statistics. It pays to see how fast a pitcher throws. He pays to see his command with runners on base, his make up and stuff. We, sitting at home with just numbers, can only understand so much.
But what we do understand shows us that the Marlins, in addition to a first baseman, outfielder, and short stop prospects, may have netted themselves two potential big league starters and two guys who may just fill out Minor League rosters.

A Few Days Off

I just wanted to let everyone know that with Thanksgiving fast coming down the pike, I’m going to take a few days off. For now, contemplate the Carlos Delgado and Jim Thome trades.
Delgado goes to the Mets for Yusmeiro Petit and Mike Jacobs. Thome goes to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand and some yet-to-be-named prospects. As the White Sox want to resign Paul Konerko, this will probably leave Frank Thomas as Chicago’s odd man out.
Feel free to discuss, if you want. I’ll offer my thoughts on this moves in a few days. And have a great Turkey day!

Open Thread: Josh Beckett lands in Fenway after all

I want to try something new. Instead of my analysis of the Josh Beckett trade, I want to start an open thread on the move. I know a lot of you read this blog, and a lot of you always seem to have interesting and insightful things to say about what we write here. So let’s hear from you. Leave your comments and start some dialogue.
Here’s the trade in a nutshell: Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell go from Florida to Boston. Prospects Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, and another pitching prospect go from Boston to Florida.
I think this trade is very ambiguous. Beckett has shown good stuff and threw 442 pitches over 95 miles per hour last year (or nearly 16 percent of all his pitches). He utterly dominated the Cubs and Yankees in 2003. But he’s had blister problems for years. An oblique muscle strain sidelined him in 2005.
For years, he has pitched in an extreme pitcher’s park in the National League. He’ll be moving to the hitter-friendly confines of the American League and will now have to face the AL’s Designated Hitters instead of the NL’s pitchers. His success in Boston is no sure thing but neither is his failure.
Lowell, long one of the league’s better hitting third baseman, had an awful year last year and, as a right-handed power hitter, stands to benefit from Fenway. He could be the steal of this deal.
Sanchez is supposedly 21 with a live arm. He’s averaged about 10 strike outs per 9 innings in the minors to go along with just 9.24 baserunners per 9 innings (or 1 an inning). He’s probably the Red Sox’s number 3 prospect. Ramirez, also 21, had a down year at AA but remains one of Boston’s top 5 prospects.
So what do you think? Is this a good deal for Boston? Will they enjoy dominance from Beckett or disappointment? Let’s hear it.

Beckett trade rumors warm the Stove

The Florida Marlins are doing all they can to add fire to the Hot Stove. Reports out of Miami have the Marlins on the verge of completing a trade involving fireballer Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell.
These reports, however, are hazy as to the final landing places of these two fish. One story has Beckett and Lowell heading west to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Hank Blalock and a pitching prospect. The other rumor has the two Marlins heading north to Boston with the Marlins landing Hanley Ramirez and either Jon Lester or Anibel Sanchez in return.
The bigger rumor right now appears to be the one that has Beckett heading to Texas. If this were to be the case, it’s hard to see how this trade works out for either team.
First, the Marlins play in one of the best pitcher’s parks in the Major Leagues. According to Baseball Reference, Pro Player had a pitching rating of 95, clearly favoring pitchers. Meanwhile, Ameriquest Field in Arlington had a pitcher rating of 103, favoring hitters.
Beckett’s home/road splits for 2005 (and beyond) show a pitcher who has clearly benefited from a friendly home park and World Series exposure. In 2005, Beckett threw 91 innings at home and 88.2 innings on the road. At home, he gave up just 64 hits and 5 home runs while pitching to an ERA of 2.47. On the road, he gave up 89 hits and 9 home runs while hurling a 4.31 ERA. For his career, his home ERA is 3.15 while his road ERA at 3.83 is nearly 0.70 runs higher. His biggest struggles have come in Wrigley Field and at Chase Park (formerly the BOB in Arizona), two stadiums similar to Ameriquest.
Meanwhile, the other key part to this trade ó Hank Blalock ó has exhibited similar trends. Playing in hitter-friendly Arlington, Blalock hit .297/.361/.534 with 20 home runs in 313 at bats. On the road, he hit .231/.276/.335 with 5 home runs in 334 at bats. Like Beckett, Blalock’s career lines reflect similar trends. At home, he is a .310/.379/.548 hitter while on the road, he is a .238/.296/.396 hitter.
Last season, Mike Lowell, the Marlins’ third baseman, was awful. He hit just .236/.298/.360, and the Marlins are looking around to unload his contract. However, if history is any indication, if they ship Beckett and Lowell to the Rangers for Blalock and a pitching prospect, the Marlins will be out a top-line starter and will be trading Lowell for a younger version of his 2005 self.
Meanwhile, the Rangers will ship their 25-year-old third baseman out of town and get a 32-year-old third baseman making more money and facing his career decline. They’ll also land a fragile power pitcher who isn’t particularly good at keeping the ball down and is long used to throwing in a pitcher’s park.
While this may make sense economically for both teams, from an on-field standpoint, it’s hard to see the Rangers or the Marlins benefiting too much from this deal. The Red Sox, on the other hand, would be a good fit, but I didn’t include them here because I don’t see them giving up two prized prospects in this deal. If that scenario becomes more likely, I’ll revisit the Sox side of things.
But my final verdict is that this trade is a wash for both teams and neither team will get the players for which they thought they were trading.

The Slow Decline of Tom Gordon

Tom Gordon, the erstwhile Yankees set-up man and inspiration for a Stephen King book, wants to cash in on his Bronx success. As a free agent this off-season, he has his eye on a closing job somewhere. Gordon also wants a three-year contract, but I wouldnít give it to him if I were running a Major League team.
For two years, Tom Gordon has been a key cog in the Yankeesí shaky bullpen. He has appeared in 159 games while throwing 170.1 innings. He has allowed just 115 hits and 25 earned runs while walking 52 and striking out 165. For what itís worth, in the past two years, Gordon is 14-8 with 6 saves, 13 blown save opportunities, and 69 holds.
Except for those blown save numbers, Gordon seems to be an ideal candidate for a big payday. Heís shined, except for in the playoffs, on baseballís biggest stage, and heís often been viewed as a savior behind Mariano Rivera in a bullpen that went through 21 pitchers this season.
But for all of these gaudy numbers, a closer examination of Gordon’s recent trends reveal a picture of an old pitcher who will inevitably be overpaid by a team looking for a good bullpen solution.
Notably, Gordon is no spring chicken. In fact, tomorrow, November 18th, is his 38th birthday. Unless named Roger Clemens, pitchers at that age are not getting better, and Gordon is no exception.
For the last three years, Gordon has been among the best set-up men in the game, but aggregate numbers lie. For three years, all of Gordonís peripherals have trended downward, and that slide is not going to stop with his new contract. Letís take a look at those numbers.

2003 .301 11.07 3.77
2004 .237 9.64 2.28
2005 .272 7.70 3.20

From those numbers, a few points emerge. First, Tom Gordon did an exceptional job in 2004 of keeping runners off base. While his strike out rate fell from 2003 to 2004, he cut his walk rate substantially. So the more-than-one strike out per inning helped greatly. Opponents hit .180 off of him, and as the batting average against Gordon on balls in play (or BABIP) was .243, the strike outs were a key to his success.
In 2005, Gordon had another great year. While opponents were better at getting on base against the righty, he still limited opponents to a .272 OBP. He also held opponents to a .203 batting average, but the gap between Gordon’s BA and BABIP is closing. This year, Gordon’s BABIP was .238. The cause? His strike out rate declined precipitously. He went from 11.07 K/9 IP in 2003 to 9.64 K/9 IP in 2004 to an eight-season low of 7.70 K/9 IP.
Outside of the fact that Gordon blew 13 saves in two years on the Yankees and had a save rate of just 31.6 percent, this declining strike out rate should raise red flags for anyone evaluating Gordon.
If Tom Gordon is not striking out as many batters, that means the batters are hitting the ball. If they are hitting the ball, that batting average against Gordon and BABIP will go up. At 38, Gordon isn’t going to find a few more miles per hour on his fastball or anymore bite on his curve.
Pitchers like Gordon don’t often make it to age 38, and when they do, they decline precipitously. I wouldn’t pay Tom Gordon to pitch for me at age 40 without seeing what he does first at ages and 39. And with a steeply declining strike out rate, I wouldn’t want Gordon to be my last option out of the bullpen for the amount of money he wants.
The Yanks have offered Gordon a two-year deal, and I would guess it’s for a little more than the $3.5 million a year he has earned the last two seasons. If I were a fan of a team eying Gordon for that closer role, I would hope he takes the Yankees’ offer and remains Mariano’s set-up man for the next two years of his decline.

The AL MVP: Keep on Debatin’ in the Free World

From the newspaper to the Internet, from ESPN to MSNBC to numerous pages hosted by Blogspot, the A-Rod/Ortiz AL MVP debate just won’t stop.
Some people have shown A-Rod to be more deserving of the MVP. He out-homered and out-fielded DH-extraordinaire David Ortiz. Others have, using convoluted metrics, done everything to show why Ortiz was more valuable to the Red Sox than Alex Rodriguez was to the Yankees.
One of the more popular, and pointless, arguments floating around the baseball world was the one espoused by Mike Celizic on MSNBC. Calling the vote an “injustice,” Celizic manages this gem:

But the numbers that count more than any other are production from the seventh inning on games when his team is either a run down, a run ahead or tied. Thatís clutch time, when games are won or lost, when a teamís best hitters are standing in against the other guyís best reliever, when the pressure is ratcheted up to nearly intolerable levels.
Ortiz had 78 at-bats in clutch time and he emerged with a .346 average, 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. A-Rod had 75 at-bats in clutch time, and he hit .293 with four dingers and 12 RBIs.
Thatís nearly three times the homers and RBIs when Ortizís team most needed them. Thereís not a player on the Red Sox who wonít tell you that without Big Papi, they donít make the playoffs. No one in Boston will argue that anyone else on the team or in the league was more valuable…
But if you asked Yankees fans who the teamís MVP is, I donít think A-Rod would win the vote. Rivera would probably win for the very good reason that no one was more critical in the Yankeesí winning the division than Mo. Jason Giambi might even finish higher than A-Rod, because, as good as A-Rod was, Giambiís hitting from June through the end of the year was the real difference-maker in the Yankeesí run. Derek Jeter, the most feared clutch hitter in the Yankees lineup, would also take votes away from A-Rod.

Celizic’s argument is absurd on so many levels. Yet, this has been repeated on countless blogs on numerous discussion threads arguing the award. First, why do those close and late numbers count more than any other? It’s just as important to score runs in the first inning as it is in the seventh inning. If you’re winning, you’re winning. The runs count the same.
Next, Celizic gets into some good old fashioned Derek Jeter worshipping. Let’s look at what he’s saying about the close and late situations and throw that out the window. As much as I think Derek Jeter is the current heart and soul of a team growing increasingly soulless, Derek was not clutch this year. If Ortiz wins the MVP award for being great in close and late situations, it’s borderline ridiculous that Celizic would then argue that Jeter deserves the MVP on the Yankees over A-Rod. In those same close and late situations, the Yankee Captain hit a pedestrian .267/.353/.400 with 3 home runs and just 11 RBI in 90 at bats. With runners in scoring position this year, Jeter hit .261/.386/.355 with 2 home runs and 51 RBIs in 138. Now, I love the way Jeter plays, but let’s not get carried away here. He didn’t really come through that often in the clutch this year. It happens. But it’s absurd to say Jeter would take away votes from A-Rod because of his clutch hitting when it didn’t happen this year. If close and late were the only indicator of an MVP candidate, as Celizic seems to suggest, well, cross Derek off that list.
Meanwhile, with everyone so fascinated by this close and late scenario, I took a look at another scenario. This time, I compared A-Rod to Ortiz when playing against the American League’s other .500 ballclubs. I looked at how A-Rod did against the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Indians, the Twins, the Angels, and the A’s. I looked at how Ortiz did against the Yankees, the White Sox, the Indians, the Twins, the Angels, and the A’s. I then calculated runs created using the 2002 version of runs created. Here’s how the two compared.

A-Rod Ortiz
AB 213 214
Hits 71 59
HR 20 13
RBI 47 48
BB 26 38
K 42 48
AVG .333 .276
OBP .418 .385
SLG .648 .533
RC 68.31 47.73

So what we see emerging here is a different picture of clutch hitting. While Ortiz may succeed in “late and close” games (which, by the way, does not distinguish between games when the Red Sox were ahead by one run in late innings or behind, an important distinction), Alex Rodriguez seems to excel against the better teams. He had a higher on-base percentage by over 30 points, a higher slugging by over 110 points, and he helped create more runs.
So does that mean that Alex Rodriguez was definitely the MVP? People arguing for David Ortiz say that his close and late hitting is a good enough reason to award him the trophy. I, however, say no, this doesn’t prove anything.
All my thought experiment shows is that if you take the right numbers you get a situation where one of these players emerges clearly superior to the other. A-Rod here steps it up a notch against better teams. Ortiz seems to excel with the game on the line. Does one player’s winning the trophy over the other constitute an “injustice,” as Celizic said? No. Of course note.
This year, the MVP race was exceeding close. Both players deserved it, and only one could win it. While people can argue who is the better MVP candidate until they are blue in the face, the truth is that both of David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez was very valuable to their teams. Beyond that, it’s simply up to the voters, however flawed a process that may be.