Hunter Pence

Some more Pence-ive thoughts

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So, a few people disagreed with my take on the Hunter Pence trade.  And that’s pretty understandable.  When you’re a contender and you have a chance to get an All-Star caliber player for A-ball prospects, sometimes you just have to pull the trigger.

My opinion is that the Phillies should have been able to get more if they were parting with Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart in the same deal.  Those are two of the top 50 prospects in the game.  I think it’s a better return than what the Padres got for Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox.  It’s far, far better than what the Phillies got when they traded Cliff Lee to the Mariners a year and a half ago, and it’s probably more than what they gave up for Roy Halladay.  Even the best players don’t generally net the kind of return Pence just did.

Of course, there is a big difference here, in that Pence is under control for 2 1/3 years, whereas most of these kinds of trades take place with a year or less left before free agency.

The Astros, though, were never able to sign Pence to a long-term deal through his arbitration years as so many other teams have done with their building blocks.  Not only that, but Pence was a super-two arbitration player after 2009, meaning he’s getting four chances to build his salary in arbitration, rather than the usual three.

Had Pence debuted a month later in 2007, he wouldn’t have been arbitration eligible for the first time until this year.  Under those circumstances, I think he would have made something like $5 million, $8 million and $11 million in his three arbitration years.

Instead, Pence made $3.5 million in 2010 and he’s earning $6.9 million this year after winning his arbitration case against the Astros (Houston actually offered him $5.15 million).  Now he’s in a position to earn $10 million next year and $13 million-$14 million in 2012.

And Pence needs to take a step forward if he’s going to be any sort of a bargain at $23 million the next two years.  Yeah, he’s a two-time All-Star, but his OPS has hovered right around .800 in each of his four full seasons.  He strikes out 2 1/2 times for every time he walks, and his career OBP is .339.  He hit exactly 25 homers each year from 2008-10, but he’s going to fall short of that mark this year.

It’s not my intention to slam Pence.  I still think he has the ability to take his game up a notch.  In my opinion, he hasn’t been deserving of either of his All-Star appearances, but that’s not to say he won’t be worthy of future bids.  Phillies fans should enjoy watching him — he’s about as awkward as a good player can be — and if he gets hot at the right time, then he’s certainly capable of making a difference come October.

But there’s a lot of downside here.  The Phillies are up to a $170 million payroll now, and they just shed their two best prospects without getting a superstar in return.  With the farm system drying up, it could be extremely expensive for the Phillies to field a contender in 2013 and beyond.

Plus, the Phillies may well be replacing the wrong corner outfielder with the trade.  Raul Ibanez’s bat has been pretty good since a horrible April, but he’s still a big liability defensively.  Domonic Brown has also looked pretty shaky with the glove, but he does offer quite a bit more athleticism than Ibanez and his bat only figures to get better.

At least the Phillies did keep Brown out of the trade talks.  Next year’s Brown-Shane Victorino-Pence outfield should rank as the best in the NL East.  And shedding Ibanez’s $11.5 million salary will make Pence’s easier to swallow.

So, the 2011 Phillies are a better team now than they were 24 hours ago.  But I think they were good enough 24 hours ago to win the pennant.  My feeling is that they simply didn’t get better enough to justify the loss of the prospects.  Other opinions may vary.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.

Corey Seager tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Yesterday it was the top farm systems, today it’s the top-100 prospects from ESPN’s Keith Law.

As Law notes, there’s a HUGE amount of turnover on the list from last year, given how many top prospects were promoted to the bigs in 2015. Kris Bryant seems like a grizzled old veteran now. Carlos Correa too. Eleven of the top 20 from last year’s list have graduated into the bigs. Are we sure it’s only been a year?

So, obviously, there’s a new number one. It’s Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ infielder. Not that everything has changed. Byron Buxton is still number two. This will obviously be his last year on the list. If you want to see and read about the other 98, go check out Keith’s excellent work.

And yes, like yesterday’s farm system rankings, it’s Insider subscription only. There were comments about how much you all hate that and I am sure there will be many more of them today. I get that. No one likes to pay for content. I was somewhat amused, however, by comments that said things like “hey, maybe if we don’t click it, they’ll have to give it to us for free!” Maybe! Or, more likely, the content simply will cease to exist!

It’s good stuff, folks. There aren’t many paid sites I say that about.

Ozzie Guillen to manage again. In Venezuela

Ozzie Guillen Getty
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With Dusty Baker getting back into action with the Nationals and with there being at least some moderate sense that, maybe, inexperienced dudes might not be the best choice to manage big league clubs, I sorta hoped that someone would give Ozzie Guillen another look. Nah. Not happening.

Not that I’m shocked or anything. I can imagine that, under the best of circumstances, a guy like Guillen is hard to have around. He tends to find controversy pretty easily and, unlike some other old hands, Guillen never claimed to be any kind of master tactician. He famously said that he was bored during games until the sixth or seventh inning when he had to start thinking about pitching changes. Refreshing honesty, yes, but maybe not the sort of dude you bring on to, say, be a bench coach or to mentor your younger coaches or to show your hand-picked manager the ropes. Nope, it seemed like Guillen was destined to stay in broadcasting with ESPN Deportes or someone and that his days in uniform were over.

But they’re not over! Guillen was hired yesterday to manage the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan Winter League next offseason. It’s not the bigs, but it is is first on-field gig since he was canned by the Marlins in 2012.

 

Guillen managed the White Sox from 2004-11 and was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2005, when Chicago won the World Series. He may be a bit of a throwback now, but he knows what he’s doing. While I can’t really say that a major league team would be wise to hire the guy — I get it, I really do — a selfish part of me really wants him back in the bigs. He was fun.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.