Why trading for A.J. Burnett is a bad idea

The Pirates are rumored to be looking to add starting pitching as the trade deadline, and a potential trade target that Pirate fans seem to be clamoring for is Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and ex-Pirate A.J. Burnett. Such talk is sure to come up this weekend, with Burnett slated to return to PNC Park on Sunday to pitch against Jeff Locke. Despite fan wishes, there aren’t a lot of reasons for the Pirates, or really any team, to want to add Burnett.

STATS

From a sheer numbers standpoint, Burnett hasn’t been the same pitcher in 2014 that he’s been throughout his career, or even the same pitcher he was in 2013 with the Pirates.

Burnett’s career line (including this season)

387 GS, 2464 IP, 21.6% K, 9.5% BB, .291 BABIP, 71.6% LOB, 50.3% GB, 3.98 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, 38.2 WAR

Burnett in 2013, his last season in Pittsburgh

30 GS, 191 IP, 26.1% K, 8.4% BB, .305 BABIP, 71.8% LOB, 56.5% GB, 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, 4.0 WAR

Here’s Burnett’s line so far in 2014

17 GS, 111 IP, 17.9 K%, 9.9 BB%, .284 BABIP, 70.6% LOB, 48.6% GB, 3.89 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, 0.7 WAR

And here are his projected stats for the rest of the season, curtesy of ZIPS and Steamer

ZIPS: 15 GS, 90 IP, no K%/BB%*, .316 BABIP, 71.6% LOB, no GB%, 4.09 ERA, 3.94 FIP, no xFIP, 0.6 WAR

Steamer: 14 GS, 85 IP, no K%/BB%*, .297 BABIP, 69.3% LOB, no GB%, 3.97 ERA, 3.63 FIP, no xFIP, 0.9 WAR

*both projection systems don’t have K% or BB%, but using their posted K/9 and BB/9, it’s easy to see that they both think Burnett will strike more batters per game out than he has thus far and walk less per game than he has.

Understanding that that’s a lot of numbers to throw out in a very small amount of space, here’s a simple breakdown: Burnett, solely from a simple examination of his numbers so far, is striking out less hitters than both his career average and his last season as a Pirate. He’s walking almost the same percentage of batters though. His strand rate is right in line with his career numbers too. Where the numbers start to look bad is when you get to Burnett’s FIP this season. Ballooning from 2.92 to 4.10, it’s partly due to Burnett allowing more fly balls, some of which are turning into home runs (9 so far). He’s also hitting more batters than past seasons. The biggest problem, though, is his strikeout rate dropping 8% from 26.1% to 17.9%. That’s what’s causing the jump in his FIP, and even though both projection systems are expecting him to strike out more per 9 innings, there are some reasons to doubt that that will happen. Not only that though, both projection systems also expect Burnett’s ERA to spike, and even if that spike isn’t large, the Pirates would still be paying for a decline in performance, not the player Burnett has been in the past or even earlier this season. You could say that returning to Pittsburgh where defensive shifts, even if Burnett doesn’t like them, are more prevalent than Philadelphia would benefit Burnett, and probably it would, but he’s getting less ground balls this year anyway. A lot of that is probably small sample size noise, but it’s possible Burnett is aging into a pitcher more prone to giving up fly balls, and that’s a bad sign for any team looking to acquire him.

PITCHES AND HEALTH

Burnett’s pitching with a hernia, and he’s elected to forgo surgery for the time being so he can continue pitching. The recovery time on that surgery is 6-8 weeks, so Burnett could easily have it done in the offseason and be ready for 2015, but the more important thing is how the hernia is impacting him in 2014. It’s clearly affecting him to some degree, as the article liked above mentions that his control suffered in at least one start. It’s probable that the hernia is a factor in his decrease in strikeouts. It’s also probably a factor in his diminished velocity.

As pitchers age, it isn’t uncommon for their velocity to tick down a few miles per hour. That usually diminishes their effectiveness to an extent. A.J. Burnett is 37. He’s seen his velocity decrease almost annually since 2007, where his fastball averaged 97 MPH. In his time with the Pirates it averaged 93.34 MPH. This season his fastball is averaging 92.47 MPH. Likewise his curveball’s down from 84 to 83 MPH, and his changeup is down from 88 to 87 MPH. That’s a significant drop in a small amount of time. Likely it’s some combination of age and his injury that’s led to the velocity decrease. As a result, he’s missing fewer bats than he used to, and that’s the reason for the drop in strikeouts. 

CONTRACT

Burnett’s contract is perhaps the most prohibitive part of acquiring him. Any team looking to acquire him isn’t just picking up a 37 year old injured pitcher, they’re picking up that pitcher’s 38 year old season too. Burnett’s contract is oddly structured, seemingly designed to give him control over his fate for next season. He’s making 7.5 million in salary this season, with a 1 million dollar signing bonus. That signing bonus is an interesting part of Burnett’s deal. As part of it, Burnett gets 2.75 million dollars in the offseason this year, and another 3.75 million dollars on June 30th next season. That’s another 6.5 million to add to Burnett’s salary next season (if the Phillies don’t agree to pay that in any deal). The next season part of Burnett’s deal is a little complicated as well, with both the Phillies (or the acquiring team) and Burnett holding a mutual option on Burnett’s 2015 season, at a price of 15 million, with a 1 million dollar buyout. But Burnett also holds a player option for 7.5 million that he can exercise if the team declines their part of the mutual option. That player option goes up depending on the number of games started, up to a maximum of 12.75 million with 32 games started (interestingly, the exact number ZIPS predicts Burnett will get). That means that, assuming Burnett doesn’t retire at the end of the season (and why would he, when he has so much money coming his way in 2015), the acquiring team is going to be on the hook for at least Burnett’s signing bonus (6.5 million) and his player option, which is probably going to end up between 11.75 and 12.75 million. So that’s a total of 18.25 or 19.25 million the acquiring team is going to have to pay for next season, not counting paying Burnett’s contract for the rest of this season and assuming the acquiring team declines their half of the mutual option. He also has a .75 million dollar bonus for 30 games started, and he’s on pace to get to that milestone this season. 

SUMMATION

If the Pirates weren’t willing to extend Burnett a qualifying offer after last season, why would they be willing to commit to paying the remainder of Burnett’s contract this season (probably around 3.75 million) and his salary for next season, probably a little less than 20 million, to Burnett now? You can say that the Phillies would obviously eat money to make the deal happen, and that’s fine, but are they going to eat enough to justify a team acquiring an injured pitcher with declining velocity and effectiveness? How much would they have to eat to justify the deal? There are a number of other options, if the Pirates want to add starting pitching, there a number of cheaper, less complicated options the team can pursue. 

The MLB Draft and surprise selections

The Pirates made fans angry last night by selecting Arizona H.S. shortstop Cole Tucker at pick 24 in the first round. This immediately set off a firestorm on twitter as people assumed the Pirates had no idea what they were doing, or that they were simply behaving cheaply (always a popular narrative when it comes to the Pirates). I used to listen to a podcast called “Up and In” with Kevin Goldstein (then working for Baseball Prospectus, now the Director of Pro Scouting for the Houston Astros) and Jason Parks (currently heading up the prospect team at BP), and in some episode right after a draft, they were discussing a few of the surprise picks. The point was made that any team picking a player in the first round knows what they’re doing. They’ve scouted any player they’re picking more than any publication, like MLB.com or Baseball America, has. Obviously, that’s not to marginalize the role that these publications do in disseminating quality information to the public, because they do a tremendous job. It’s just to qualify that teams do not have to align their own draft board with what is projected, and I’m positive they don’t.

In the case of Cole Tucker, I’m sure the Pirates liked what they saw. They might have even liked him as a first rounder, but I’m sure they won’t pay him like one (or rather, he won’t get the full bonus allotted to his slot). Since the new CBA completely screwed kids getting drafted by establishing a bonus pool that teams have to attempt to stay under, the draft has become less about selecting the most talented player and more about how teams can attempt to maximize their talent acquisition while staying under the bonus pool. This means that a lot of college seniors get selected in the middle of the top 10 rounds, seniors who likely would not be selected until much later, but are now being used to sign team and cap friendly bonuses. Sometimes, those being used to acquire savings are not seniors, but simply players being selected in advance of where they would potentially next be picked. The Astros did that to great effectiveness when they picked Carlos Correa a few years ago, and used the savings on a number of players in the later rounds. The Pirates did a similar thing before the current system, when they picked Tony Sanchez 4th overall and signed a number of tall, projectable high school pitchers. They’re probably doing something similar now. In all likelihood, the Pirates already had a below slot deal in place with Tucker, and will be spreading around the bonus money to a number of other picks.

The point, really, is just to say that the Pirates have a plan. They aren’t acting irrationally. They’re executing what I feel safe in assuming is a strategy that they worked out prior to the start of the draft. To pretend they’re being cheap is foolish, because I would anticipate that they use all, or at least almost all of the bonus money allotted to them as they have in previous drafts. Also, it’s a little quizzical to me that people are ripping the Pirates selection of Tucker before he even steps on a professional field. It’s one thing to, as an expert, say “I dislike this pick because I’ve seen Cole Tucker play, or talked to scouts who’ve seen him play, and he’s going to outgrow shortstop and the bat won’t play at 2nd or 3rd.” But it’s another to, as a fan whose never seen the player, claim they made a mistake. They might have, but the hours and days following the draft don’t tell us that. The years afterward do.

However, the Pirates selected Conor Joe in the supplemental round, and I dislike that pick. He has two first names, and cannot be trusted. We must be cautious.

Building a great fake baseball team on a budget

Today, a friend of mine texted me an image from MLB Cut 4 which read: “You’ve got $33. Go! Pick 10 players, 1 manager” and the proceeded to list virtually every major (or minor) baseball movie character with prices ranging from $1-$5. Obviously, if you pick a player, you deduct that from your remaining funds. I watch baseball movies a lot, and I proceeded to put way too much thought into my selections. Here’s what I came up with, and my attempts to justify choices that are completely meaningless. For the record, there are a lot of spoilers below, almost entirely for movies that came out more than 10 years ago. So proceed at your own peril.

Starting Pitcher:

$5-Steve Nebraska, The Scout

$4-Bingo Long, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars

$3-Nuke Laloosh, Bull Durham

$2-Kit Keller, A League of Their Own

$1-Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year

I picked Laloosh here. As much as I love the idea of having Rowengartner, especially for a dollar, he’s the Cub’s closer in Rookie of the Year. I’m not sure his arm could hold up to the increased workload (because, you know, he’s 13 and only has his velocity through a freak accident). Plus, he doesn’t have anything but the heat. He does flash a change up and a floater pitch by the end of the film though, so there’s room for projection. I didn’t pick Kit because she’s terrible. She gets hit around for the whole movie. Maybe she could eat some innings, but in a thing like this I have to pick ceiling, which is why I went with Laloosh. He’s got a great fastball, and he’s working on the rest. I’m betting he’ll figure it out in the majors and turn into a quality pitcher. Not as good as either Bingo Long or Steve Nebraska, but good (for the record, I have seen The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, and it didn’t suck as much as I thought it would). Nebraska, as much as I love the stuff, I’d have some makeup concerns. He’s a head-case. I can’t have my only starting pitcher refuse to pitch game 1 of the World Series. This leaves me with $30.

Pitcher

$5-Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Major League

$4-Kenny Powers, Eastbound and Down

$3-Jim Bowers, Little Big League

$2-Ryan Dunne, Summer Catch

$1-Sam “Mayday” Malone, Cheers

This one hurts. I’m looking for impact talent in a number of other positions so I have to save money somewhere. That means picking Sam Malone, who’s probably going to be drunk in the bullpen, but he seems like a nice enough guy and it’s just three outs in the 9th. I have enough faith that I’ll eek out some value before his inevitable groin injury to pick him here. Plus it could be worse. I could have picked any of the other people listed here. Ryan Dunne? Seriously? Guy couldn’t get batters out in the Cape Cod League. Sure he makes to bullpen for the Phillies at the end of the movie, but he immediately gives up a grand slam to Ken Griffey Jr. I’m betting they sent him down after that and he never saw the majors again. So much for being left handed. Jim Bowers is alright. I’d have preferred “Blackout” Gatling, if we’re talking about LBL relievers. Once he fixed his curveball it was all good for him. Bowers was crafty smart though. Lots of pitchability there. Not very intimidating though, unless he managed to confuse the hitter with the classic “Cowboy enters town” riddle. As for Kenny Powers, I’m not letting him anywhere near my baseball club. Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughan is the reverse Rowengartner of this list. He’s actually a starter in Major League. As much as the stuff plays up in the finale with the Yankees, I wouldn’t want to spend $5 on a closer, even one as good as Vaughn would be in the role. $29 remaining.

Catcher:

$5-Leon Carter, Bingo Long

$4-Dottie Hinson, A League of Their Own

$3-Jake Taylor, Major League

$2-Crash Davis, Bull Durham

$1-Bruce Pearson, Bang the Drum Slowly

Man I wanted Dottie Hinson. She’s the total package of baseball tools at the catcher position. She hits for average and power, she fields her position well and has an above average arm. She can’t really run but what catcher can? Leon Carter’s a good player in that film, but Hinson’s great in hers. She quits on the team in the Series because her husband comes home suddenly. Not exactly the attitude you want in a team leader, but c’mon, the guy fought a war. And it was Bill Pullman! Who can resist Bill Pullman? Anyway, the budget stopped me from picking her. Jake Taylor has awful knees in Major League. He can hit a little, but he has trouble with defense and he’s at the end of the road. He’ll be managing in a year. I picked Davis because he’s already worked with Laloosh in the minors, and he knows the kid. He can help mentor him even more in the majors. Plus, this way Laloosh can’t play guitar on roadtrips, which was a significant drawback to picking him. Sneaky power from Davis too, because he’s the all time minor league home run leader. He’ll always have some swing and miss in his game, especially when he can’t get females out of his head, but he’ll hit enough to maintain a low batting average. $27 remaining

First Base

$5-Stan Ross, Mr. 3000

$4-Clu Haywood, Major League

$3-Jack Elliot, Mr. Baseball

$2-Lou Collins, Little Big League

$1-Who, Abbot & Costello

Another instance of attempting to save money by picking a cheaper, but assuredly worse player. Collins, played by the fantastic Timothy Busfield, is probably 5 foot 7. He’s the shortest first baseman in history, but all he does is hit. Probably not for power, but likely for a high average. He’ll get on base enough to justify hitting him near the top of the lineup, even if he doesn’t run or throw well enough to play anywhere but first. The small strike zone should help him walk more. I don’t know anything about Who except that he plays first base, and I barely trust Costello when he says that. I think he might have made that whole lineup up. Can’t pick that guy. As much as I’d love to pick Jack Elliot (Tom Selleck), I’d only be picking him for the mustache, and that’s not fair to Selleck, and it’s not fair to me because he shaves it in that movie. Plus, he’s playing in Japan. When in doubt, pick the guy playing in the Majors. Clu Haywood should be in jail. Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) has maybe the ugliest swing in the history of baseball. I don’t just mean when he intentionally has an ugly swing. I mean when he’s supposed to be hitting well, it’s an ugly swing. He may have 2999 hits, but they were probably all weak ground balls, because there’s no way he could drive the ball swinging like that. $25 left.

2nd Base:

$5-Marla Hootch, ALOTO

$4-Dennis Ryan, Take Me Out to The Ball Game

$3-Mickey Scales, Little Big League

$2-Mickey Dominguez, Summer Catch

$1-Tony Micelli, Who’s the Boss?

There’s really only one choice here, and she’s worth every dollar. Hootch (not the crazy one) is a switch hitting offensive juggernaut who’ll crush anything thrown at her. Plus, my fictional league doesn’t judge you for your looks (Jeff Karstens is still a free agent, right? He can come play for us anytime), and we play a lot of night games anyway. Dennis Ryan is played by Frank Sinatra. He’s too cool for my team. Mickey Scales can’t hit much, but his 11 year old manager says he has great speed and power to the gaps, so he’s got that going for him. I can’t remember a single scene from “Summer Catch” where Mickey Dominguez actually plays baseball. I think he just complains about his house mother the whole time. Anyway, it’s the Cape Cod League, so he’s got a long way to go before he’s taken seriously as a ballplayer. $20 left.

3rd Base:

$5-Roger Dorn, Major League

$4-Ray Mitchell, Angels in the Outfield

$3-Doris Murphy, ALOTO

$2-Ed, Ed

$1-Alan McClennan (Yeah, Yeah), The Sandlot

This position is weak. Roger Dorn might have been good at one point, but we only see him when he’s the laughingstock of the entire league. Guy can’t even field a ground ball. He’s not built like a prototypical power hitter at the corner, so it’s safe to assume he’s virtually useless. And he’s the $5 dollar option. I’ve seen Angels in the Outfield maybe a dozen times, and I remember nothing about any of the individual players. I do remember that the whole team sucked until angels came down from heaven and helped them play better. Does Ray Mitchell have an in with those angels? Or will he go back to sucking as soon as he’s on a new team? Either way, I’m not spending $4 dollars on a guy who needs divine intervention to make plays. Ed is terrible. It’s the Air Bud of baseball movies, but it makes Air Bud look like Citizen Cane. Also, I’m not cleaning up after the chimpanzee. No chimps. Adding Yeah, Yeah to a baseball team is a great way to give them a common enemy. That kid’s annoying. Doris Murphy is ok. She’s the most meh option on my team, but I’m fine with it against all these other choices. $17 remaining

Shortstop:

$5-Joe Hardy, Damn Yankees

$4-Eddie O’Brien, TMOTTBG

$3-Pat Corning, LBL

$2-Jesse Stone, Jesse Stone Stories

$1-Kofi Evans, Hard Ball

I haven’t seen Damn Yankees in a while, but I’m pretty sure someone sells their soul to the devil in it for their team to win the pennant. That’s probably Joe Hardy. If so, I don’t want him on my team. That’s a level of dedication that I commend, but I don’t want his soul on my conscience. Also, I don’t want the Devil poking around the clubhouse. If I had picked that guy from Angels in the Outfield it might make for an interesting season though. Pat Corning is just a guy in LBL. He’s pretty meh. I don’t know who Kofi Evans is. Maybe I should have picked him, because he’s cheap. I have no idea who Jesse Stone is. Absolutely none. Never heard of the show before. I’m hesitant to give such an important position to someone I don’t know, but hey, I’m running low on money and I’ll try to make up for it later. He can’t suck that much, right? Can he? Should I google him? I’m going to google him. 

Oh man it’s Tom Selleck. That’s a clutch choice. I only looked at the picture. I don’t need to see anything else. $15.

Outfield (Pick 3):

$5-Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, The Sandlot

$5-Roy Hobbes, The Natural

$5-Edward Cullen, Twilight

$4-Ben Williams, AITO

$4-Willie “Mays” Hayes, Major League

$4-”T” Rex Pannebaker, Mr. 3000

$3-Pedro Cerrano, Major League

$3-Charlie Snow, The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars

$3-Bobby Rayburn, The Fan

$2-Bump Bailey, The Natural

$2-Esquire Joe Calloway, BLTAS

$2-Juan Primo, The Fan

$1-Scotty Smalls, The Sandlot

$1-Kelly Leak, Bad News Bears

$1-Michael “Squints” Palledorous, The Sandlot

There’s too many people here to go through them individually (as if you’re still reading after I did that for the other positions), but I can rule out a bunch of these guys easily because they’re terrible. Smalls is awful, that’s a big point of the movie, that he loves baseball but sucks. “Squints” somehow ends up with Wendy Peffercorn so he’s out because the 10 year old in me is jealous. Kelly’s out because of makeup concerns. “Bump” Bailey’s dead. The rest of the cheaper guys are pretty “meh” to me. I saved up my money so that this outfield would be tremendous, so here it is: Benny the Jet is a 5-tool legend. How can you not want him on the team? Immediately, upon starting to make this team, I had $5 set aside for Benny. He’s the only $5 dollar guy I ended up picking, because one gets shot, and I don’t think his body can hold up with the bullet still inside it, and the other is a moody vampire who’ll probably spend the whole time glittering and annoying everyone with his constant complaining. I’d rather have “Yeah Yeah” than Cullen. Plus, they’re vampires, why are they using aluminum bats? They clearly don’t need the help. It’s just stupid. I had to pick Pannebaker too, because he’s the movie version of Andrew McCutchen on the Pirates when they sucked. He’s great, everyone knows he’s great, but the rest of the team sucks. Obviously, Cutch wasn’t as arrogant or annoying as Pannebaker, but I think the comp’s pretty fair. Lastly, Pedro Cerrano, swinging through curveballs all day. I don’t get why anyone throws him fastballs ever, but they seem to throw enough to let the power play, so I’ll give Cerrano a corner spot and let him hit home runs and sell All-State in his spare time. $3 left.

Manager:

$5-Billy Haywood, LBL

$4-Ben Van Buren, Damn Yankees

$3-Jimmy Dugan, ALOTO

$2-Conor O’Neil, Hard Ball

$1-Morris Buttermaker, Bad News Bears

Last, and probably least important, is the manager. He’s really just there to keep the peace and not make incredibly stupid decisions during the game. With those as my only two qualifiers, I can immediately rule out Buttermaker. He’s an instigator. Plus, I don’t want him running my team if he can barely handle a Little League team. If I had the money, I’d be picking Billy Haywood here. He’s got a future in baseball. Despite being 12 years old, he displays a fairly good approach toward his players, and his tactical knowledge is beyond reproach. Besides, with him in charge, people will still becoming to games when the team is terrible, just to watch the little kid managing professional baseball. This isn’t the AL though, so it might be a little tougher for the kid. It’s a shame I didn’t have 2 more dollars. Instead, I have to settle for Jimmy Dugan. He can handle the team well enough (poorly, probably, but better than Buttermaker, so I’ll take it). He has carrots of wisdom he can pass along to the younger players though, and he’ll do well enough managing a big league team. It’s always been his goal of course. $0 remaining.

Summation:

This team should be good. I’d throw it up against any other fictional team made up of players who were seemingly arbitrarily rated on a value scale from $1-$5. Power, speed, defense; my fictional team has some of those things. They just need to come together as a unit of fictional people to really solidify their place at the top of the fictional standings and make a run for the fictional championship. 

Josh Harrison’s early “success”

The Pirates have a void in right field that will soon be filled by Gregory Polanco.* The plan at the beginning of the season was to rely on some combination of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata to hold down the position until Polanco was “ready” (in reality, just long enough to ensure that Polanco doesn’t have a 4th arbitration year). So how did the Pirates end up with Josh Harrison, a utility infielder who reminds me of Mighty Mouse (we’re actually the same height) in right field? Succinctly put, Snider and Tabata performed poorly, and are still performing poorly when they sporadically play. Here are their stats so far this season:

Snider 2014: 108 PA, 3 HR, 11.1% BB, 22.2% K, .211/.299/.326, .116 ISO, .285 wOBA, 80 wRC+, .250 BABIP, -0.2 fWAR

Tabata 2014: 114 PA, 0 HR, 2.6% BB, 16.7% K, .269/.301/.324, .056 ISO, .280 wOBA, 76 wRC+, .326 BABIP, -0.3 fWAR

It’s still early in the season and statistics clearly haven’t stabilized yet, but based on track record it’s not likely either of these players develops into even a second division regular. Here are their career numbers:

Snider: 1455 PA, 40 HR, 8.2% BB, 26.3% K, .239/.303/.393, .154 ISO, .305 wOBA, 87 wRC+, .304 BABIP, 0.8 fWAR

Tabata: 1652 PA, 17 HR, 7.4% BB, 14.5% K, .274/.336/.380, .107 ISO, .319 wOBA, 101 wRC+, .316 BABIP, 2.9 fWAR

For whatever reason (in Snider’s case part BABIP), both players are playing below their career norms right now. Tabata’s not getting on base enough to balance out his lack of power, Snider’s not hitting for enough power to balance out his inability to get on base. That Clint Hurdle likes to bat Snider first because he thinks he gets on base is perplexing, to say the least. But for sure, neither player has performed well enough for the organization to not consider other alternatives. For the moment that alternative is Josh Harrison. Perhaps calling him a utility infielder isn’t fair, because even before this season he had logged 145.2 innings in the outfield, but if you look at Harrison, he doesn’t look like an outfielder. He’s 5 foot 8, 200 pounds listed, and he doesn’t exude the power hitting corner outfielder prototype. His bat hasn’t played like a corner outfielder either, putting up the following stat line over his Major League career:

Harrison: 642 PA, 9 HR, 3.0% BB, 12.8% K, .254/.287/.382, .128 ISO, .292 wOBA, 83 wRC+, .280 BABIP, 1.8 WAR

Harrison’s a high contact, low on base, low power guy. He can play third base a little and won’t really embarrass himself anywhere in the field, but he’s not someone you can plug into a position and expect his glove to make up for his bat, which is below average. Since he came to the majors, Harrison has swung at 38% of pitches outside the strike zone (league average is around 30%). He makes contact on pitches outside the zone at an above average rate as well. That O-Swing% almost definitely hurts Harrison’s ability to get on base via the walk, and limits his value. It might also limit his ability to drive pitches for extra-bases, not that there’s a lot of power potential in a player Harrison’s size. Surprisingly, in the small sample that is Harrison’s 2014 season he’s put up some interesting numbers:

Harrison 2014: 67 PA, 2 HR, 6.0% BB, 16.4% K, .286/.328/.504, .222 ISO, .362 wOBA, 132 wRC+, .320 BABIP, 0.6 WAR

It’s these numbers that have catapulted Harrison from the bench into the starting right field spot, and it isn’t hard to see why. He’s outperforming his career norms nearly across the board, and outperforming the other two competitors for the spot. However, it’s 67 plate appearances. That’s nothing. If Harrison’s still doing this at 200 plate appearances, then maybe he’s turned into something more than the utility infielder who’s an acceptable bench player. It isn’t likely that he’ll get enough plate appearances to try and convince anyone he can be more than what he is though. Gregory Polanco’s waiting to take his spot in the lineup.

 

*If you write the name Gregory Polanco in a post, it guarantees at least ten or twelve views. People just love seeing that name.

**Also, as I wrote this, in the bottom of the 5th inning against the Washington Nationals, Harrison has gone 1/2 with a walk and a run scored. Clearly he’s the best.

Sliding Headfirst

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the dangers of a player sliding headfirst rather than feet-first. When sliding headfirst, a player exposes his hands and fingers potential injury, either from the opposing player’s cleats or the base itself. There’s a simple solution to this problem though, one that would allow players to slide headfirst and not worry (as much) about the danger. For a while now, Starling Marte and some other players have been wearing what looks like an oven mitt on his right hand as protection against injury. If everyone did this, it could at least provide data on the effectiveness of the device in preventing injury. It’s logical to think that at the very least, a mitten would keep the player’s fingers from being jammed against the base, but it’s unclear if it could prevent damage from cleats stepping on a players hand. And though it would look stupid, it would be better if players wore the device on both hands (assuming there’s not loss of speed), even though it would look really stupid at first. Just something to keep an eye on.

Pirates trade for Ike Davis, improve by achieving mediocrity

Just before game time last night, the Pirates agreed to trade Zack Thornton and a player to be named later to the Mets for Ike Davis. Thornton, a AAA reliever, went through the rule 5 draft unprotected last year and didn’t crack Baseball America’s top 30 Pirates prospects. As for the PTBNL, Jon Heyman tweeted that it was a “significant” player, and that it was “expected to be a 2013 pirates draftee. Hearing that’s the key piece.” That’s a little disturbing, but it doesn’t signal Austin Meadows or Reese McGuire is going to New York. That would be a pretty obvious bad move by the Pirates. If it is a 2013 draftee, it’s probably not as significant a draftee as Mets fans would hope. What seems more likely is that the player hasn’t been agreed to yet, and the Mets are now mulling over a list of prospects the two teams have agreed upon. It’s possible a few players on that list were drafted in 2013, but until the official announcement, there’s not a real reason to suspect that the “key” player, is actually that key. Davis had limited his trade value with poor performances in 2 of the last 3 years, so while the mets were reportedly asking for a lot for him, the actual return wasn’t expected to be anything of note.

As for Ike Davis himself, he’s an improvement on Travis Ishikawa. Ishikawa, of course, was the non-roster invitee in Spring Training who beat out Andrew Lambo for the starting first base job. Ishikawa was supposed to platoon with Gaby Sanchez, but that quickly fell apart and Ishikawa hasn’t started the last few games against righties. That means that not only is Davis replacing Ishikawa, he’s replacing Sanchez in the lineup against righties. So how might Ike Davis perform in a platoon at first base? Against right handed pitching, Davis has hit a career .256/.357/.471 with .358 wOBA and a 128 wRC+. Granted, Davis is coming off a down year in which he hit .222/.356/.371 with a .324 wOBA and 108 wRC+ against right handed pitching. That’s not very good, but there’s a good chance Davis won’t repeat those numbers. He’ll likely settle in somewhere between those numbers and be an at least somewhat valuable, league average platoon partner to Gaby Sanchez at first base. 

There’s no real reason to dislike this trade, assuming the player to be named later isn’t actually a highly ranked prospect. The Pirates have upgraded from Travis Ishikawa, a replacement level platoon bat who really shouldn’t be in the majors, to Ike Davis, who likely isn’t anything more than a platoon option at this point but who could maybe turn into something more. The Pirates seemingly didn’t give up anything of value in return, although that’s not set in stone. It should be noted that the Pirates are taking on a little more than 3 million in salary with this deal. 

Keeping Chris Stewart as backup over Tony Sanchez

Chris Stewart is coming off knee surgery and has some durability questions. He can’t hit for average, get on base at a high rate, or hit for power. He can do one thing very well, and that is frame pitches. It’s almost universally agreed that Stewart can frame well, and that his framing is valuable to a team. How valuable is debatable, but the Pirates obviously believed in him enough to trade for him this offseason and pay him 1 million dollars (not a lot) to back up Russell Martin this season. That obviously changed with Stewart’s knee injury, and a number of fans are calling for Tony Sanchez to remain with the team after his hot start to the season. That shouldn’t happen, regardless of how well Sanchez is doing, for a number of reasons.

First, Russell Martin is a free agent after this season. He’s almost assuredly gone. Someone’s going to have to replace him, and the team appears to think that player will be Tony Sanchez, serving as a stopgap to the eventual promotion of Reese McGuire (or a free agent, or another catching prospect). Having Sanchez play every day would give him more in game at bats to work on his hitting. Perhaps even more importantly, it would give Sanchez more time to figure out his defense, which was once vaunted but lately has been viewed as a problem for the catcher.

Second, Tony Sanchez won’t accumulate service time while he’s in AAA. Although Sanchez wouldn’t be arbitration eligible following this season, that’s money the Pirates could be saving down the line to spend on another position of need. 

Lastly, it’s not as though Stewart is so terrible. He’s actually quite interesting, depending on how you weight his pitch framing. Don’t buy into Sanchez’s stats through one week of baseball. It’s possible he’s going to develop into an average major league starter, but that’s probably his ceiling. It would be a mistake to weaken the depth of the organization by trading or waiving Stewart just because Sanchez might be marginally better in the immediate. Stewart still has years of arbitration left, and can serve as a cost efficient backup to Sanchez after Martin leaves. If the Pirates keep Sanchez on the Major League roster, they’re taking a shortsighted view, attempting to maximize their chances this season. If they go with Stewart, they’re planning for the future.

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