Jack Wilson: Top 17 defensive plays of 2009

Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson - raisethejollyroger.com

I just stumbled upon this top ten list of Scott Rolen defensive plays at The Blue Jay Hunter. I immediately decided to make one for Jack Wilson. I spend much of my time pointing out that the former Pirates that Neal Huntington has traded were mostly overrated by Pirate fans. I think that often overshadows just how much I enjoyed watching these guys play. Probably the biggest treat of the past decade of Pirate baseball has been watching Jack Wilson play shortstop.

I started out looking to make a top ten list of all plays available on MLB.com, but there were just too many to choose from. I ended up with Jack’s 2009 top 17 defensive plays in a Pirate uniform. Enjoy.

17. 4/12/2009 – Triple play.

16. 5/14/2009 – This is the type of play that will never make a Web Gems segment. Jack simply does everything right to turn an Albert Pujols chopper into a double play.

15. 4/21/2009 – Just a simple diving stop to take a hit away from Dan Uggla. Ho hum.

14. 7/27/2009 – Diving stop deep in the hole and a strong throw from his knees.

13. 7/19/2009 – Jack has a real knack for finding the ball. Here he reacts quickly to a deflected comebacker to get an out.

12. 7/4/2009 – Jack slides to his right, backhands and fires to first in one motion. Very quick release.

11. 7/20/2009 – Just another 6-3 in shallow left field.

10. 6/6/2009 – See number 11.

9. 6/8/2009 – Another great play on a deflected comebacker.

8. 7/6/2009 – Jack runs down a flare in shallow center.

7. 5/29/2009 – Jack’s range makes this play look simple.

6. 5/16/2009 – Diving stop in shallow center.

5. 5/18/2009 – Another great play deep in the hole.

4. 7/7/2009 – Jack takes a hit away from Miguel Tejada.

3. 5/31/2009 – A sure single becomes a double play.

2. 4/12/2009 – We will miss seeing Jack and Freddy doing this.

1. 7/11/2009 – It’s a shame that this game is remembered for the Matt Capps ninth inning meltdown, because this ridiculous play by Jack should have been the story. After making a great play to run down the pop-up, he immediately looks for more and doubles up Jimmy Rollins. This is the reason Jack has been the Pirates’ shortstop for so many years.

BONUS: 5/27/2006 – Jack’s great play in the Pirates’ 18-inning victory over Houston.

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The NL Central

Dejan Kovacevic took a look at NL Central payrolls this morning. This is something that I have been contemplating a bit recently. If you look around the division, there are some encouraging signs for Pirate fans.

    The Cubs owe Alfonso Soriano $18 million per year through 2014. Last year, Soriano hit .241/.303/.423 while playing a lousy left field, a performance that left him well below replacement level. They can probably afford this contract albatross, but it surely does not help.
    Matt Holliday is unlikely to fall off as abruptly as it seems Soriano has, but he just signed a pretty large contract for a team that generally boasts a payroll that is only a bit above average. With Albert Pujols eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, I would be wary of committing a large amount of money to a 30-year-old corner outfielder.

None of these concerns will necessarily doom the respective team. But as a Pirate fan, they certainly bring a smile to my face.

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2010 defensive projections

Steve Sommer of Play a Hard Nine posted 2010 defensive projections in November, so let’s look at how the Pirates stack up. Steve combined UZR numbers and the results from Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Report to come up with his projections. Check out his post for details on the methodology.

In an attempt to give the projections a more visual appearance, I created a knock-off version of Justin Bopp’s TargetView graphs. Above average defenders are in green while below average defenders are in red. Each ring represents one run away from average. For example, Lastings Milledge is projected to be a +5 defender, so he is represented by five green rings. Ronny Cedeno, a -3 defender, is represented by three red rings. My photoshopping skills are very limited, so things look a bit choppy. You can probably tell that the rings are not drawn to scale.

Steve did not have a projection for Jeff Clement, so I used his CHONE defensive projection.

2010 defensive projections

Image courtesy of Bing.com

1B Jeff Clement -2
2B Akinori Iwamura 1
SS Ronny Cedeno -3
3B Andy LaRoche 3
LF Lastings Milledge 5
CF Andrew McCutchen 1
RF Garrett Jones -4

I won’t go into a very detailed analysis, but the one thing that I wanted to touch on is Pedro Alvarez’s future position. The general expectation is that Alvarez will play third upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, with Andy LaRoche potentially moving to second base to make room. I would much rather see Alvarez plugged in at first base instead. Playing Alvarez at third weakens that position, and moving LaRoche to second would weaken another spot. On the other hand, Alvarez would be an upgrade over Clement at first and that would keep LaRoche’s above average glove at third and Akinori Iwamura on the field at second. That extra defensive value outweighs the minor offensive advantage that Clement is likely to hold over LaRoche or Iwamura.

I will finish with an encouraging thought. If we plug Alvarez in at first and Jose Tabata into right, there will likely be quite a bit of green on this picture in one year.

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Charlie Morton’s ground ball rate

Dan Budreika took a look at Charlie Morton on RotoGraphs today. The portion that stuck out to me was this paragraph regarding Morton’s ground ball tendencies.

Morton’s strong ground ball rates have translated to the big leagues as well. During his rough go round in Atlanta he still had a 50% ground ball rate and last year in Pittsburgh it sat at 49%. It appears that he’s got the ability to have an above-average ground ball rate and possesses an average to slightly above-average ceiling on controlling his pitches within the strike zone in the big leagues.

I don’t think I had noticed that Morton has put up some solid ground ball rates in his career. A 50% rate would generally place a pitcher somewhere at the back end of the top 15 starters in baseball. That is an encouraging sign.

Combining good strikeout numbers and high ground ball rates is generally the mark of a top pitcher. Morton seems to have figured out how to keep the ball on the ground. However, while his stuff is nasty at times, he has posted pretty poor strikeout rates in the big leagues so far. Increasing those strikeout numbers will likely be the difference between him being a mid-rotation starter or possibly becoming something more.

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What would it take to lock up Andrew McCutchen?

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen

I was reading an article on Evan Longoria’s contract (and similar contracts) at DRaysBay yesterday, which got me thinking about Andrew McCutchen. I think most people would agree that McCutchen will be a star (or at least a well above average player). He possesses elite tools, a performance record to back it up, and an encouraging approach to the game. McCutchen has hinted that he would prefer to go year-to-year with his contract, as opposed to locking himself up in a long-term deal. Neal Huntington has said that the team has the same approach to the situation at this point. However, putting that aside for now, let’s look at how much it should take to sign him to a long-term extension.

The Pirates control McCutchen’s rights through 2015, which will be his age 28 season. The team will want to buy out some free agent years with any long-term deal, so let’s go with an eight-year deal. That would take him through his six years of team control and two years of free agency. McCutchen was about a 3.5-win player last season in 493 plate appearances. CHONE sees him producing similar value in 2010, with a slight drop-off in offense and additional playing time. He is still years away from his prime, so it is fair to estimate that he will be worth an average of 4 wins per season over the next eight years.

First, let’s see what he should expect to earn on a year-by-year basis. I am estimating the value of one win at $4 million. That number has been as high as $4.5 million in recent years, but I believe it has been closer to $3 million or $3.5 million this offseason. Without knowing exactly how the economic climate will fluctuate in the next eight years, $4 million seemed like an appropriate number. For 2010-2012, McCutchen would earn close to the league minimum. He would be eligible for arbitration in 2013-2015. Using a 0.4/0.6/0.8 arbitration schedule, he would expect to earn $6.4 million in 2013, $9.6 million in 2014 and $12.8 million in 2015. If we total those numbers, McCutchen should expect to receive about $30 million over the next six years. He would become a free agent after the 2015 season. Depending on the economic climate at that time, he should receive somewhere in the vicinity of $16 million per year on the open market.

But what if McCutchen isn’t a 4-win player over those years? What if, whether it be due to injury or simple regression, he is only worth an average of 2 wins per season? That would likely earn him about $15 million through his arbitration years and only about $8 million per year when he hits free agency. Of course, his career could just as easily take off to superstardom levels. If he averages 6 wins per season, he would earn about $45 million through 2015 and about $24 million per season upon reaching free agency.

Just to clarify a little further, here are a couple of approximate example seasons for McCutchen:

2 WAR – 600 PA, .260/.330/.400, average defense
4 WAR – 600 PA, .280/.355/.480, +5 defense
6 WAR – 600 PA, .290/.365/.525, +10 defense

The right contract is one that will work for both parties. I think a six-year deal worth $27 million, plus two option years at $15 million per season would do the trick. McCutchen would be assured of a contract that sets him up for life, regardless of whether he regresses or deals with injury issues down the road. He also reaches free agency after his age 30 season, meaning he will still be young enough to land a substantial long-term deal in free agency. In return, he gives the Pirates a slight discount and delays his free agency for a couple years.

Both McCutchen and the Pirates have indicated that they will not rush into a long-term deal. That’s probably the most sensible approach for each. But every game that McCutchen plays makes him a little more expensive down the road. I think it would be wise for the Pirates to take an aggressive approach and lock up one of their brightest rising stars.

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Do not overlook internal options

Pirate fans have mostly supported adding a second-rate free agent to team with Garrett Jones in covering the right field/first base spots. Even Frank Coonelly got in on the fun, with Rick Ankiel’s name coming up specifically. It seems like a harmless idea, seeing as the Pirates do not have many inspiring options for those positions. However, contrary to popular belief, adding a marginal player through free agency would do anywhere from very little to nothing to help the team win.

Here is a list made up mostly of available, middling, corner-type free agents that the Pirates have some realistic shot at signing. I have included their 2010 CHONE projections, available at FanGraphs.

2010 CHONE Projections
Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Defense WAR
Rick Ankiel 473 0.242 0.298 0.436 0.318 -3 1.1
Russell Branyan 337 0.243 0.335 0.497 0.359 0 1.2
Carlos Delgado 482 0.247 0.322 0.449 0.337 0 1.1
Jason Giambi 410 0.218 0.354 0.416 0.344 -4 0.7
Vladimir Guerrero 501 0.291 0.337 0.489 0.357 DH 1.6
Adam LaRoche 588 0.259 0.330 0.459 0.343 -3 1.2
Brandon Moss 471 0.267 0.335 0.426 0.332 0 1.1
Xavier Nady 454 0.271 0.326 0.448 0.337 -6 0.7
John Raynor 443 0.259 0.330 0.374 0.316 3 0.7
Jim Thome 487 0.233 0.351 0.442 0.351 DH 1.2

Brandon Moss - Matt Bandi, PLC

As you can see, I included Brandon Moss and John Raynor on the list. Anyone else having a hard time distinguishing their projected numbers from the others?

The Pirates already have an overflowing bench. I cannot see why we should add another player to the mix, particularly one that is projected to perform no better than Moss and only marginally better than Raynor. Both Moss and Raynor are 26 years old, cheap and possess some sort of upside. None of these options can say the same. But if the Pirates sign any of these players, Moss and/or Raynor will be out the door. It just does not make sense to me.

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Pirates project to win 76 games in 2010

About a week ago, I wrote that the next winning Pirates team was beginning to take shape. At the time, I was simply looking at rough individual position player projections (based on a 600 plate appearance season) and noting that two of the three biggest holes could easily be filled by our two top prospects (Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata). However, when I looked at those WAR numbers a little closer, I realized that they added up to somewhere around 81 wins. So I decided to take a more detailed look at the current roster to see how many wins we should expect to see in 2010. As I mentioned, my previous WAR numbers were based on 600 plate appearances. Thus, these new projections will generally be less optimistic.

First, a bit about my methodology. I used CHONE’s projections for on-base and slugging percentage. I also based expected plate appearances and innings pitched on CHONE, adjusting them a bit to make everything fit. For defense, I started with each player’s career UZR/150 at his expected position. I adjusted for anyone with a small sample, based on my own expectations. For instance, I bumped Lastings Milledge from his career left field UZR/150 of +10.4 down to +5. I used +5 for Andrew McCutchen, as I expect him to outperform his career mark of -1. And so on. Of course, there is also a positional adjustment included. I estimated base running value, using numbers from Baseball Prospectus as a guide. I tried to keep these numbers pretty close to average for the most part. For pitchers, I put CHONE’s projections into the formula (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP +3.2 to find a projected FIP. I did not use CHONE’s projected ERA, because we are already accounting for defense in the position player projections. Finally, I plugged all of this info into Sky Kalkman’s WAR spreadsheet.

Here are the position player projections. (Full spreadsheet located here)

PA OBP SLG WAR
Ryan Doumit 371 0.321 0.441 1.4
Jeff Clement 450 0.342 0.460 0.9
Akinori Iwamura 513 0.365 0.393 2.1
Ronny Cedeno 373 0.303 0.389 0.3
Andy LaRoche 498 0.343 0.408 2.0
Lastings Milledge 455 0.345 0.423 1.2
Andrew McCutchen 551 0.365 0.445 3.6
Garrett Jones 540 0.324 0.476 1.1
John Raynor 379 0.330 0.374 0.6
Delwyn Young 340 0.320 0.402 0.4
Pedro Alvarez 329 0.299 0.395 -0.1
Bobby Crosby 322 0.315 0.367 0.6
Jason Jaramillo 275 0.324 0.372 0.8
Brandon Moss 260 0.335 0.426 0.7
Jose Tabata 195 0.324 0.368 0.1
Eric Kratz 49 0.294 0.399 0.1

Right off the bat, we see that CHONE has Ryan Doumit producing another disappointing season. His past injury issues are apparent in the low number of plate appearances, and his projected OBP is below average. Nevertheless, with a decent backup in Jason Jaramillo, the Pirates should be able to receive average-ish production from the catching position. Jeff Clement projects as a decent bat, but nothing all that special for a poor defensive first baseman. As I’ve written before, his suspect glove, solid power and limited platoon split make him a good candidate for a bench spot in the future. Akinori Iwamura should produce at about his career level and the shortstop position will be a hole all season. No surprises there, although it wouldn’t surprise me if Ronny Cedeno outplays his projection a bit. I think Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge might show a tad more pop than their projections indicate, which would bump each up to slightly above average. CHONE sees Andrew McCutchen’s slugging numbers regressing somewhat, which is perfectly understandable given his lack of power in the minors. McCutchen’s impressive rookie season set some pretty high expectations, and I would be thrilled if he simply matched last season’s production. That being said, the sky’s the limit for him if he continues to drive the ball the way he did in 2009. CHONE expects Garrett Jones’ numbers to drop across the board, which I think is entirely reasonable. Jones also strikes me as a good bench guy down the road, or potentially the left-handed portion of a platoon.

The projections for the remaining position players are not very surprising, outside of Pedro Alvarez. CHONE has Alvarez producing replacement level offense, which seems extremely pessimistic to me. His projection is well below his Minor League Equivalency from Altoona in 2009 (.254/.329/.427), indicating regression as opposed to development. Even with his strikeout issues, I find that hard to believe.

Here are the pitchers. There is nothing too unexpected. The rotation is full of mid-rotation type starters, and Neal Huntington still has some work to do in the bullpen.

IP FIP WAR
Paul Maholm 191 4.06 2.9
Zach Duke 173 4.37 2.0
Ross Ohlendorf 156 4.66 1.3
Charilie Morton 155 4.14 2.2
Daniel McCutchen 130 4.66 1.1
Brad Lincoln 95 4.59 0.8
Kevin Hart 40 4.11 0.6
Kevin Hart 67 4.11 0.3
Joel Hanrahan 63 3.90 0.6
Steven Jackson 63 4.41 0.0
Evan Meek 57 4.18 0.4
Jeff Karstens 50 4.89 -0.1
Anthony Claggett 50 4.90 -0.1
Javier Lopez 48 4.35 0.1
Vinnie Chulk 38 4.49 0.0
Daniel McCutchen 32 4.66 0.0
Tyler Yates 10 4.29 0.0
Donald Veal 10 5.37 -0.1
Jose Ascanio 17 3.70 0.1

Add everything up and the Pirates’ expected 2010 win total is 76.3, including a 21% chance of winning at least 81 games. Those numbers could be improved by adding to the bullpen prior to Opening Day. For those convinced that a 100-loss season is on the horizon, there is a 98% chance that the Pirates will win 63 or more games. For the cockeyed optimist, the team has just a 1.3% chance of winning at least 90 games and possibly contending for the postseason.

Here is a graph showing the team’s probability of winning at least X amount of games.

Prob of >= X wins

These expectations are extremely preliminary. I will revise the spreadsheet sometime in spring training, when the composition of the team is clearer.

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