Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Why this year's bullpen (re)acquisitions are different.

Today the Jays signed former Reds closer Francisco Cordero to a one year deal.  There are those who are cynical about the deal and overall are comparing this years bullpen to last years.  This years acquisitions have very subtle differences, and ones that show either a changed philosophy from AA (stocking draft picks to contending) or that AA has just improved his judgement.  Either way, its a good deal.  Lets look at the key acquisitions from this and last year.

2011: Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco
2012: Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver

Lets look at the biggest 2011 bust Jon Rauch's 3 years prior to signing.

Jon Rauch

2008 - Washington/Arizona
2009 - Washington/Minnesota
2010 - Minnesota

Looking at the teams he played for, you see Washington and Minnesota where he pitched 176 out of 199 1/3 innings over the 3 seasons. Washington and Minnesota are both pitchers parks, posting Park Factors of 98 overall for Minnesota (65 for Homeruns) and 99 overall for Washington (96 for Homeruns). 

NOTE: 100 rating means an average major league park with no difference for pitchers/hitters.

2008 - 4.14/3.96/3.71
2009 - 3.60/3.88/4.57
2010 - 3.12/2.94/3.98

As you can see, in 2008 he posted his worst season due to his trade to hitter friendly Arizona. Prior to moving to Arizona his ERA/FIP/xFIP was 2.98/3.09/3.44.  Which shows us alot more consistancy in the data for those 3 seasons.

Rauch has never been a ground ball pitcher and has always had extreme flyball tendencies (2008 - 45.9%, 2009 - 43.6% and 2010 - 44.3%).  Despite these high flyball rates, he managed to keep his HR/FB quite low in Washington and Minnesota (2008 WAS - 8.1%, 2009 - 6.3%, 2010 - 3.7%). 

NOTE: Average HR/FB is usually around 10% (9.7% in 2011)

As all Jays fans know, Rauch was plagued by the longball last season posting HR/FB rate of 12.9% well above his rates in 2008-2010.

Rauch was never a fit in the Rogers Center for this main fact (Rogers Center has a 135 Homerun Park Factor) . 

While Dotel and Francisco had their struggles at times, overall they pitched quite well and both had plenty of experience in pitchers parks (Dotel has had every park as a home park pretty much and Francisco was used to playing in Arlington).

If we look at the 2012 acquisitions we can see a huge pattern forming.  Anthopolous is targeting pitchers who are proven (Santos maybe not quite "proven" yet) performers in hitter friendly ballparks.

Cordero has posted great seasons in Cincy consistantly.  His ever improving GB rate is proof that he's learned to pitch in these situation and thrive, trading strikeouts for soft contact. 

Darren Oliver has played in many places, but definitely knows how to pitch in small parks as he posted incredible seasons in Texas. Another ground ball pitcher Oliver had a weird season last year, but his career track record shows he's a ground ball pitcher who enduces a tonne of pop ups.

Jason Frasor knows the Rogers Center, I don't think I need to explain that one.  The Jays all time leader in appearances.

And lastly, Sergio Santos.  Santos played in a great hitters park in Chicago. While he had a ridiculous 2010 in terms of HR/FB, it came back to earth in 2011 and he showed that he can be dominant in a hitters park. His HR/FB being in line with league averages, and even a bit higher bodes well for his move to Toronto where in 2010 both parks posted identical HR Park Factors of 135.

To say that these bullpen moves are of a different breed from last year would be an understatement.  Something has changed with AA's targeting of relief pitchers, and by god, his moves look even greater when you really get down to the nitty gritty of the advanced numbers.  Here is to a greatly improved bullpen in 2012!

The great mentor Omar Vizquel

Its about 7 o'clock on a Monday night, you're sitting at home watching a movie.  Being as tech savy and dependent as you are, you calmly grab your smart phone and check your twitter feed.  Then BAM!

Your twitter feed has exploded with "Omar Vizquel WHAT THE?" tweets.  Bewildered you flip to your MLBTradeRumors app trying to make sense of this. Could it be another elaborate hoax upon Jays fans for attention (ala Gavin Floyd rumors).  You scroll down the Blue Jays feed and see there in the timeline "Blue Jays sign Omar Vizquel", and its confirmed by Jerry Cransnick.

Your mind is spinning trying to make sense of why the age conscious contract extension mastermind Alex Anthopolous would make this kind of move.

To put it vaguely, its for veteran presence.  The Blue Jays are one of the youngest MLB teams out there. There are other options, yes, but none of them are Omar Vizquel the person or Omar Vizquel the aura.

Lets look at it this way.  Omar Vizquel has been around MLB since 1989.  A year before Brett Lawrie born, and only a few months before Henderson Alvarez.

While Omar Vizquel has declined in the field, and will never play as a shortstop again likely (13 time gold glover at SS).  He can be a mentor.  Given that he is on a minor league deal and only can really play 3rd and 2nd anymore and not at a very high level the move could be perplexing, but all you have to do is look at Vizquel's past to figure out the Blue Jays future.

1999: Omar Vizquel takes a young shortstop named John Joeseph McDonald under his wing. For the next 6 seasons Vizquel would take this young shortstop who was full of all the character and grace Vizquel possessed and drive to be the best he could be and helped mold him into the defender and person we now affectionately refer to as Johnny Mac.

2009: Having passed through San Francisco and his defensive abilities clearly starting to wear down, Vizquel headed down to the Texas Rangers where he backed up the very young and very talented shortstop who is one of the best defenders at his position in Elvis Andrus.

2010: Having spent just one season in Texas, Vizquel went north and ended up being signed by Alex Anthopolous' favourite trade partner, Mr. Kenny Williams.  A young position player had been miscast as a 2nd basemen for a couple of seasons, not able to move to his true position of shortstop because of Orlando Cabrera.  Alexei Ramirez had one season at shortstop under his belt when Vizquel came to town, but with Vizquel came the mentorship that had helped John MacDonald and Elvis Andrus before Ramirez, and Ramirez blossomed.  Winning the "Fielding Bibles" Gold Glove equivalent at shortstop and became known as arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball.

While we can't predict the future, the odds are good that any time spent with Vizquel will do nothing but good for Adeiny Hechavarria and even Yunel Escobar.  The Blue Jays are lucky to have Omar in the organization and the best of luck to him.  I know I'll be hoping to see him in the Jays dugout.

Breaking down Morrow's struggles with runners on base.

 With Brandon Morrow's press conference coming up in just about half an hour to announce a brand new 3 year 20 million dollar extension that will buy out his last 2 arbitration years and his first year of free agency. its become a hot topic about Brandon Morrow's productivity and what his productivity should be considering his peripheral numbers.

Chris Cwik over at fangraphs posted a tremendous article on Brandon Morrow and his struggles with runners on base. Click Here

In his article he points out how Brandon Morrow's walk and strikeout rates remain fairly constant with and without runners on base.  Yet Morrow gives up more flyballs when runners are on base, which should lead to a lower BABIP, but has actually in fact raised his BABIP by nearly 8%!

I am willing to offer up a solution the the unlucky/poor performance debate.

I watched all of Brandon Morrow's starts last season. he tends to give up alot more hard contact with men on base. The ground balls are sharp, the flyballs are deep to the wall and everything results in hard contact. He also falls behind more often with runners on base and he’ll follow up those outside pitches with ones right down the middle because of his being down 3-1 and such in the count. His stuff is just so good that sometimes he gets away with pitching in the heart of the plate resulting in K’s.

At this point, Brandon Morrow is still equal parts thrower and pitcher, and he'll need to keep improving to be worth his deal.  More likely than not though, Morrow for a potential 4 years and 30 million or 3 years at 21 million will be a steal.