Hitters, IceBat, OffSeason, Salaries

MLB Free Agency Modeled-Out

Hey folks. Sorry to keep you all at bay these past couple of weeks. IceBat was…sick.

Another final report I wrote was based on MLB Free Agent contracts, and how or if we can model their outcomes based on prior years’ performance. The contract terms I used as response variables were contract length (in years) and average salary per season. I also focused on hitters and how metrics like Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Home Runs, or even advanced ones like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) can help us see what the market is favoring and at what price. The reason to use different sources of metrics is to see what MLB Executives are listening to: traditional statistics or those advanced ones used by the Sabermetric community? Using models like this can also have some predictive powers.

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Pitching, Salaries

Is Iwakuma Iwa-crazy?

About two weeks ago, the Oakland Athletics won negotiating rights (through a $19 million bid) with Hisashi Iwakuma, who has played in the Japan Pacific League his entire career. Afterwards, GM Billy Beane made a couple of moves to suggest the A’s were at least 75% sure they would sign Iwakuma. Unfortunately, talks have stalled between the two sides. There are numerous reports suggesting Iwakuma wants Barry Zito (and we all know how well that went for the Giants) money or that the A’s are unwilling to negotiate beyond a $3-4 million average salary base. Either way, one of the sides has been castrated by the media as the demon.

But who’s right here? Is there enough past history of Japanese pitchers coming to the American market to justify a $15+ million average salary? Or can the A’s justify giving Iwakuma the same salary he received in Japan because of the high cost of the negotiating bid? I’ve listed some recent Japanese pitchers who made the move to the big leagues, and some meaningful figures.

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Graphs, IceBat, Pitching

Pitch F/X

Ever wonder the exact location, movement, speed, rotation, spin angle of a pitch? With Pitch F/X, every ball thrown in the majors is calculated to a science. It’s pretty awesome but even after spending hours looking at the data, it can be a bit confusing as to what the variables mean and how they are meaningful. I’ll try to explain most of the variables to the best of my abilities. I’ll be using F/X data from Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9, 2010 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Playoffs

Postseason Play

It’s October already. Which means one thing: MLB playoffs! A lot of people like to predict who’s going to win, but that’s kinda boring to me (especially since a lot of the time, the commentators are completely wrong). What I am willing to discuss is what I think are the most important aspects of a team in order to get to the World Series. What makes the postseason so much different from the regular season? The most important difference is that the sample size (the amount of games played) shrinks from 162 to about less than 20 games. Obviously, that’s how it works in all playoff games, but it seems more important for baseball. Here it goes:

  • This point is somewhat taken from ‘Moneyball’. I’ve already expressed my opinion on pitcher’s volatility, but in the playoffs it seems like their variability in performance is utterly important to a team’s success. In all of baseball, the pitcher has the most control of a game. The Yankees might have the best offense this year on paper, but can they really match up against the best pitcher, on one of his good nights? I don’t think so. If a team is going to control the make up of a playoff series, they need their pitchers to either be in control (and are super super good), or are just on a really hot streak. So teams tend to have one or two for sure pitchers, with pitchers who could make or break a team’s chances. Luck’s on one team than the other perhaps? Back in the day, the A’s had three for sures, yet they couldn’t even get out of the first round (sigh). Shows how 2/3 won’t do, you need that coveted third win!!
  • Smallball is the strategy. The Angels did it a couple years back, so did the White Sox. What I mean about smallball is recognizing there will be no ‘big inning’; one run through advancing runners (no matter the cost) is more important than having to wish for a lucky home run. It’s evident you won’t get too many blowouts in the playoffs, there’s just too much on the line. Thus, smallball is used lots of time to sacrifice an out or two to advance a runner and bring him in via Sac Fly or something. This is an offense taking control of its own fate; once you get a single or double off a really good pitcher, it isn’t too hard to hit a sac fly off him. A pitcher isn’t going to give up much, thus an offense needs to make that hit meaningful. Out of 51 World Series games played in the past decade, only 14 have ended with a team winning by 4 or more.
  • What kills me is when people talk about a team’s offense being their focal point, and how it will carry them through the playoffs. For one thing, the sample size of the playoffs is so small, anything can happen! An offense can be just as good as they have been, or players can hit a cold streak. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez would know. They’re on the best offense this season, yet they have yet to prove themselves in the small sample sizes of the past three or four post seasons they’ve been in. You can also see how this is true since we often see a very random, usually a role player of a team be the one to win the series MVP award. In recent memory: Mike Lowell (2007 WS), David Eckstein (2006 WS), or Placido Polanco (2006 ALCS). So, don’t et your hopes up this season if you’re a Yankee fan and expecting their offense to get them through the playoffs, despite a mediocre pitching staff behind CC Sabathia. It. Just. might. Not. Happen.

There are two teams in the playoffs this year that seem to fit the mold I’ve just talked about. The Phillies have a solid pitching staff with 2.5 for sures (Hamels, Martinez and Happ each count as half for sures) with 2.5 other ‘if they get lucky streaks’ pitchers. Their offense has been solid all season, but if they don’t hit well, Charilie Manuel is always looking to win one run difference games. Boston also has solid pitching with Beckett and Lester being the essence of for sures. Their issue is they haven’t been very successful against two of the other AL playoff teams: the Yankees and Angels. That’s why I think the AL is a bit iffy in calling the winner, it’s all up for grabs since it seems each team has a huge gaping hole. The NL, the Phillies just look like the best of the best, with the Cards giving them a good run for their money. The Dodgers? Sorry…I don’t believe in teams who drag their feet to the playoffs.

So who’s gonna win? I’ll ask IceBat next time I see him…

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Hitters

Low Cost, High Ceiling

In my previous post, I talked about a secondaries market created in the baseball world when many trades are made that swaps players multiple times. There’s not much to lose for the team receiving the damaged goods, but a large ceiling is there that can be obtained (obviously it doesn’t happen often). Here are my top choices for up and coming players who have been deemed as useless by other organizations.

Lastings Milledge


Lastings (cool name, right? Too bad he didn’t LAST with two teams. get it? get it?) was drafted pretty high in 2003 by the New York Mets. I first heard about him through Athletics blogs saying how Billy Beane really wanted this kid, almost trading an established pitcher named Joe Blanton for the young outfielder. Considered a five tool player (meaning he could hit for average, home runs, steal bases, essentially be a versatile player), Milledge didn’t start a full season in the minors until 2004. Through his 2 full years in the minors, he proved he was capable of hitting, yet his attitude and immaturity slowed him a bit. Finally in 2006 he was given a chance by the Mets, making his debut in late May. He was seldomly used through his two years as a Met before he was traded to the Nationals.

The trade was mainly due to his attitude and persona that forced the organization’s hand. The Nationals thought they could tame him, but after only a year of service traded him once again to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both the Mets and Nats felt his negative attitude out-weighted his talent. They were right to trade him. The fit just wasn’t right, and those two organizations didn’t have the patience to wait out and see whether he got past his issues.

Critics have to remember he is still 24 years old. Like many risky investments, Lastings is your typical J-curve player, where your returns will not be realized until (or if) the negative image and immaturity grows out of him. That’s why the Pirates can win since they weren’t really negatively affected by his performances with his past clubs. Instead they can gain so much if he is able to grow into a respectable player. And who knows, it might take him another team to try him on before he will realize that his talent is being wasted when he gets in trouble.

Jayson Werth


You can already see the high returns the Phillies are getting from this once prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays. He was traded to the LA Dodgers where he was mainly used as a fourth outfielder. Injuries caused him to miss most of 2006, and during the off season, signed a frugal contract with the Phillies. He’s started to find his groove as his numbers show improvement, even at the age of 31. Can he keep it up?

There’s another guy I really like as a once highly touted prospect, but some still consider him that, which is why I left him off this list. Carlos Gonzalez was traded from Arizona to Oakland and is now hitting primetime in Colorado. Like Lastings, he was known through his minor league career to show excellent discipline which gave him a pretty high walk to strikeout ratio. He hasn’t been able to produce the same patience in the majors, but if anything, plate discipline comes with maturity, which is something that Gonzalez and Milledge should develop. Many organizations give up on prospects even at their tender age of 22, 23. It’s a short fuze to have, but it makes sense for other organizations to give a shot to these players, and hopefully reap the benefits.

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IceBat

More about me, IceBat’s owner.

Greetings. If you’re at this site, either you’re my friend and know me personally, know me but don’t talk to me much and want to keep tabs on me, stalk me on some social network or love baseball.

I’m IceBat’s owner. Let me introduce you to IceBat’s layer. Oops…lair. The point of his lair is to talk about baseball, baseball behind the scenes, and most curiously interesting how baseball is interconnected, and can be metaphorically used, with the business world. I’m not exactly sure how this will go, and how often I will be posting, but it’s worth a shot right? Anyways, hope you enjoy!

More about myself you ask? Okay.

1) I am an Oakland Athletics fan.

…that’s about it. Despite the low returns on investments over the past few years, the A’s front office have time and time again taken many known risks in trading known stars for up and coming prospects. In their attempts to keep young and fresh with a depleting source of salary money from the Wolff family, Billy Beane continues to keep things interesting for Athletics fans. It’s been a depressing two (or three) years, but like many investments in start ups and other J-curve return equities, we must look toward the future, right? Even though there are many hurdles before that bright future can be attained.

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