Mailbag: Scott Kazmir

(Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Tucker, Tom, and Kevin write, paraphrased: Is there any chance the Yanks try and acquire Scott Kazmir?

The idea of acquiring Scott Kazmir is nothing new. Mike and I talked about Kazmir at length on the radio show this month. But, since many of you don’t listen to the RAB Radio Show (we won’t hold it against you), it might be time to present this on the main page. After all, we received these three emails between the times when I went to bed last night and I woke up this morning, so it’s a decently hot issue.

The Angels made a splash this weekend when they traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells and his contract. The Angels will receive just $5 million in salary relief from the Blue Jays, meaning their payroll became bloated pretty quickly. It already stands at almost $130 million, and that’s without Jered Weaver’s arbitration figure. Might the Angels, then, want to offset some of the salary they took on by trading one of their more outrageous contracts?

Per the extension he signed with the Rays in 2008, Kazmir is slated to earn $12 million this year, with a $13.5 million club option for 2012. Any club would decline that option and pay the $2.5 million buyout, so to trade for Kazmir would be to take on $14.5 million for one season. The Yankees might make a business out of taking on bad contracts, but I don’t think even they would pay Kazmir nearly $15 million for one season. If the Angels were to trade him, then, they’d have to pick up a part of the tab.

In some ways, Kazmir has progressed similarly to Johan Santana, though he wasn’t nearly as good at his peak, and his been much worse trough his decline. His peak came in 2007, when he struck out 10.41 per nine and had a 3.48 ERA against a 3.45 FIP and 3.79 xFIP. It all lined up. He wasn’t a groundball machine, but kept his rate over 40 percent. This helped him limit home runs, which helped him a lot, because he doesn’t have a pristine walk rate. But then in 2008 his strikeout rate dipped, his walk and home run rates spiked, and his ground ball rate dropped all the way to 30 percent. His ERA still looked nice, 3.49, but his FIP and xFIP figures both jumped over 4.00. His FIP was the most troubling, at 4.37.

Since then his peripherals have caught up to him. He began the 2009 season in horrific fashion, a 7.69 ERA and just 45.2 IP in nine starts. A thigh strain landed him on the DL. While he was better upon his return, he still wasn’t very good: a 4.68 ERA in his next 11 starts, though he pitched nearly six innings per start, nearly an inning more than he had pitched in his first nine starts. The Rays then cut their losses and traded him to the Angels, where he performed quite a bit better in his final six starts. But even then, his strikeout totals were low.

Last year, for the third straight season, Kazmir finished with around 150 IP (he hit it on the head last year). Yet it was even worse than 2009. His strikeout rate dropped to 5.58 per nine, his walk rate jumped to 4.74 per nine, and he allowed 1.5 homers per nine. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP were all closer to 6.00 than 5.00. There wasn’t a saving grace period, either, as there was in 2009. Kazmir was terrible or injured wire-to-wire. To the injuries, he hit the DL twice, missing a total of 42 days with shoulder issues. After his return his ERA was a bit better, 4.37, but he struck out just 33 in 57.2 innings while walking 30.

For parts of four seasons Kazmir worked through the AL East with aplomb. He had shiny strikeout rates, low ERAs, and decent innings totals. But by 2008 he was showing signs of decline, and in the past two seasons they’ve come to pass. He’ll always be an attractive name because of his past success, but that recalls a pitcher who, by nearly every indication, no longer exists. Sure, as a flier — a mid-level prospect for Kazmir and salary relief — he might be worth a sniff. But after taking on Vernon Wells’s contract, I fail to see why the Angels would pay Kazmir to pitch elsewhere. They’re better off keeping him and seeing if he can help them. It’s not as though they’re going to get anything useful in return.

So far today we’ve hit on two scrap-heap trade candidates. At 1:30 Mike will wrap it up.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Mailbag: Johan Santana

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

Darl asks: Any chance Johan Santana goes on the trading block? 31 year old with some injury trouble making $20MM. Mets likely will get blasted in NL East. New management will want to rebuild. He is under contact through 2014.

I think you answered your own question. A 31-year-old with injury trouble making $20M a year is ALWAYS on the trade block. The problem is that no one is going to bite. Remember, Santana is currently rehabbing from major shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until midseason. And it’s not just the shoulder either. His 2009 season came to an end in August because he had elbow surgery, so that’s two arm operations in as many years. In fact, Johan has not finished even one of his three seasons with the Mets healthy. In ’08 it was his knee.

We were adamantly against trading for Johan three years ago, and that’s when he was healthy and on the top of the game. Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been dealing with some serious injury issues, we’re even more against it, regardless of his availability and the cost. The injury concerns are very real, and are even more troubling since the last two involve his prized left arm.

Not only would the Yankees have to worry about injury-related decline, but at age 31 (32 in March), age-related decline becomes an issue as well. A case could be made that a healthy Johan Santana won’t be worth his contract for the next four years, especially since his peripheral stats have been declining since before he won his second Cy Young Award…

The injuries are just the most obvious of the red flags. Johan’s fastball velocity has been declining while his changeup velo remains unchanged, so it’s not much of a surprise that the latter’s effectiveness has slipped in recent years. There’s not the same kind of separation on the pitch anymore. His swinging strike rate has been falling for about four years now, and he’s gone from a guy that gets 40%+ ground balls to the mid-30’s. Naturally, his homerun rate has shot up despite the move to the easier league.

Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees definitely need pitching and there’s nothing wrong with taking fliers on injury rehab starters, but there’s a limit. It’s okay to go after those guys on cheap one-year deals when they’re free agents, but absorbing four years and $80-something million of a contract and giving up talent for that kind of guy is a backwards move, regardless of how talented the pitcher is. Johan is drawing ever closer to the cliff, and no one should want the Yankees to be on the hook for his contract whenever he decides to tumble off.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen, but I figured it was worth addressing since quite a few people ask each week. Santana was a devastating pitcher at his peak, a high-strikeout lefty that walked next to no one, but he’s no fewer than two seasons removed from that peak. He’s more name than production and reliability now, and that’s exactly the opposite of what the Yankees need.

Open Thread: AFC Title Game

Santonio's ready to face the team that traded him for a fifth rounder. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Following last week’s thrilling win over the Patriots, the Jets march into Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. They’ve already beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this postseason, and if they complete the trifecta against Ben Roethlisberger tonight, well then mark your calendars for Gang Green’s Super Bowl date. This game start at 6:30pm ET, hence the slightly early open thread, and can be seen on CBS. Enjoy the game, everyone.

“Brett Favre’s f@%d it up for everybody.”

It’s natural to want to compare athletes. In a world where success means being the absolute best – just look at the things we’ve forgiven professional athletes for – you really can’t avoid it. When a professional athlete begins to stand out, be it for their numbers or personality, they become easy targets for comparison. How many closers have been compared to Mariano Rivera? How many prospects might grow up to be Babe Ruth or Albert Pujols?

But there is no “next Mariano Rivera.” It’s not Jonathan Papelbon. It’s not Carlos Marmol. It’s not Jenrry Meija. Some comparisons just don’t work. Maybe it’s a matter of statistics. Maybe it’s a matter of personality. Maybe it’s both. No one is “the next Mariano Rivera,” because no one has dominated some of the toughest batters in baseball with one pitch for 15 (fifteen!) years. It might also have something to do with the fact that you could probably be crushed to death by Rivera’s postseason records.  But the whole Mariano Rivera comparison fails especially badly in the case of Jonathan Papelbon, who is not only not as good at closing and lacks Rivera’s longevity, but is also a total brat.

Another common, terrible comparison which seems to have reared its absolutely hideous head as of late: Andy Pettitte is not Brett Favre. Andy Pettitte is nothing like Brett Favre. Their positions in their respective sports are totally different. Their public personalities are totally different. The way they go about trying to decide if they’re going to retire is totally different. Can we please stop insulting Andy Pettitte by suggesting he is even remotely like Brett Favre?

Admittedly, I’m totally biased on the matter. I grew up in the 90’s, near New York, and Andy Pettitte was a huge part of my childhood. I watched him grow into the pitcher he is today while figuring out who I wanted to be. I cheered for his successes and winced at his losses. I nearly cried when he went to Houston and rejoiced when he returned. Meanwhile, I honestly do not care about Brett Favre. I’m the last thing from a football fan. I watched a grand total of two football games this season, both in the postseason. I had to ask someone what Mark Sanchez’s first name was.

Yes, I know Brian Cashman recently referenced Favre in regards to Pettitte. But it sounded like to me he didn’t want Pettitte to be like Favre, not he actually thought Pettitte was acting like Favre.

Let’s start with the sport and background: from my understanding of football, teams are built around the quarterback. You basically have to figure out what you’re doing with your quarterback before you can make any other moves. The type of quarterback decides what kind of passing game you’re going to play, what kind of running game you’re going to play, and what kind of offensive linemen you need. He’s the leader of the team.

Fourth starters are significantly less important. Even third starters aren’t as big as quarterbacks. Heck, baseball is a very compartmentalized sport: not even your Opening Day starter changes most of your team! Let’s face it, Andy Pettitte isn’t the ace of the Yankees rotation even if he does return. His decision affects absolutely no part of the Yankees lineup besides the starting rotation and where Sergio Mitre starts, maybe if we go after another pitcher or not. It’s not as if Pettitte’s return changes the plan for outfield or helps out in the catching/DH jumble. Cashman has been forging ahead regardless of Pettitte’s decision, and that’s just what he should do. Meanwhile, Favre basically holds up the whole team while he sits on his hands.

Secondly, has anyone noticed that Andy Pettitte has, at no point in time, actually said that he is going to retire? Sure we get that he’s 75% leaning towards retirement, or that he’s not showing up for Spring Training, but the fact of the matter is this: Pettitte hasn’t come out and said he’s retiring. He might retire, yes. He’s considering it. He has a family he wants to spend time with, and he’s admitted he’s not exactly a baseball spring chicken. On the other side, he’s keeping in shape. But I think everything that has been said about Pettitte’s retirement ignores the fact we honestly do not know if he’s going to retire. There is no ‘Yes, I’m retiring.’ It’s not like Pettitte said after this year (or ’09, or ’08), that he’s retiring. He certainly did not hold a press conference to announce his retirement following a tearful post-game interview like Favre did in 2008.

Also, comparing these two totally different athletes does more than talk about their different retirement strategies. One of these players sent pictures of his, uh, nether regions to a reporter and, if you believe what you read on the internet, harassed plenty of other women too, all while being married. He’s a guy who’s been addicted to both Vicodin and alcohol at different points in time. The other one of these guys publicly admitted to and apologized for messing up even in the heat of the steroid drama.

Let’s say tomorrow Andy has a tearful press conference in which he says he’s going to retire and hang up the pinstripes. We all have a good cry about it, but we move on. Then, Pettitte decides he’s actually going to pitch this year, and he ends up starting for the Tigers. Shortly after, we discover Pettitte said some lewd things to Kim Jones and had some lovely ladies over at his house. Then this comparison is a legitimate one. Until then, it’s totally wrong. Andy Pettitte is Brett Favre and Jonathan Papelbon is Mariano Rivera.

I’m going to guess that most of the people reading this blog are probably Yankee fans. Why would you insult someone as wonderful as Andy Pettitte by comparing him to Brett Favre? Come on. Really?

*Quote in the title is from Billy Wagner, who appears to actually be retiring when he said he’s retiring.

Quantifying a Player’s GRIT Capacity

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Yesterday, we looked at the origin and definition of GRIT capacity, one of the newest baseball metrics available to those who want a full composite of the courage and tenacity of a player without having to resort to anecdotal descriptions like “gutsy” or “spunky.” No longer will fans be bound by the words of baseball announcers who may tab a player as “gritty” for affecting a scowl or waving a towel when we know full well it’s the guy who can taste the onset of a four-game win streak by licking a blade of outfield grass who’s the real GRIT hero.

Now that we’ve established what GRIT capacity is, we can quantify it by first isolating and then totaling its four primary components: Guts, Resolve, Instinct, and Toughness.

We’ll start with guts, GRIT’s most integral component. To decipher it, we first select the player’s offensive stats that are most associated with a presumptive likelihood of engaging in a bar brawl: hit-by-pitches, seasons played as a member of the Boston Red Sox, and public displays of false bravado. Each of these components factors into the guts subset and receives its real numeric value.

To exemplify this, let’s take Player X’s 2008 season.

Having played four full seasons for Boston, in 2008, Player X was hit by four pitches. Also, despite a reputation for insufferable petulance, he engaged in only one public display of false bravado. Knowing this, all that’s left to do here is to find the sum total of all of these elements, which gives Player X the above-average guts component score of nine. In other words, here’s a player we can envision willfully taking a 95 MPH heater to the ribs, and then three hours later, shattering a bottle of Schlitz against a biker’s jaw after losing 2 out of 3 in beer pong.

Next up, we have resolve, the GRIT component that measures a player’s drive and stamina. This time, we’ll combine a new set of criteria that establishes a player’s ability to endure abject pain and misery: total games played (during the 2008 season), plus total years spent toiling in the minor leagues prior to his big league call-up, plus additional years beyond one’s free agency date spent playing for the Pirates (if applicable). We then divide this sum by the sum of the universal indicators of physical and emotional frailty: disabled list stints and in-season lollygags, each of which receives a numeric value of 2.

Looking at Player X, we see someone who breezed through the minors in three seasons and played in 157 games in 2008 while accruing zero DL stints. However, for a player with an otherwise growing list of impressive GRIT peripherals, he also accumulated a staggering eleven lollygags. In fact, one such misstep cost his team a pivotal late-season game against the rival Tampa Bay Rays in which he inexplicably stood motionless as he leered at his own flexed right bicep while a slow grounder trickled past for the game-winning hit. Along with not sprinting to first base after a walk, removing oneself from a game after tweaking an abductor, or draping a heated water bottle over one’s lap in the dugout during a night playoff game at Comiskey Park, few things decimate a player’s GRIT faster than adoring or fondling one’s arm, ab, or calf muscles during crucial moments of a game. There’s no doubt these on-field lapses proved costly to Player X’s 2008 resolve quotient and overall GRIT capacity. But for now, it’s enough to know that he finished the season with a resolve component quotient of 14.5.

Instinct is the GRIT component that measures what’s frequently dubbed by veteran analysts as a player’s “feel for the game” or “Baseball I.Q.” As such, it accounts for four elements that are attributed to players with keen mental awareness and a higher understanding of the game: sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, stolen bases, and the third – but often overlooked – indicator, which is intuition (sometimes referred to as “horse sense”), which receives a numeric value of 10. Valued for their focus, versatility, and wild-eyed awareness, players with a strong instinct component can compensate for a shortage of talent with uncanny powers of perception. Brett Gardner, for example, who was second only to Scott Podsednik in leftfielder GRIT capacity in 2010, has been known to literally taste the rotation on a breaking pitch as it approaches the plate. By placing his hand on the infield prior to a game, veteran shortstop David Eckstein can predict within 98 percent accuracy the total number of bounces groundballs will take during the entire ensuing game. And Twins shortstop Nick Punto can smell a baby crying in the upper-deck bleachers (which, he claims, carries the scent of lemon Now and Laters).

Player X initially shines in this department with seven sacrifice bunts, nine sac flies, and twenty stolen bases. But does he possess the critical third indicator of intuition? Sadly, it turns out, he does not. Despite flashing a knowing smirk that seems to indicate a superior knowledge of his surroundings, when our Player X was asked about whether or not he believed himself to have keen powers of perception, he stared confounded at the interviewer and then responded with, “Your face is a keen power of perception – ha! Nah, you’re face is cool – just messin’ with ya! Whatever, ya know?”

As a result, Player X receives a surprisingly mediocre instinct component score of 36, well below the league leaders from 2008.

Lastly, we have toughness. Players who exhibit this characteristic have an abnormally high threshold for both receiving and inflicting pain and anguish. Think of the kid back in P.E. class who got off on pegging terrified freshmen in the face with dodgeballs, only to prove he wasn’t above it all by inexplicably slamming his own forehead into his locker before Physics class amidst his own blood-curdling pleasure cackles. Thus players with a high toughness component don’t merely endure pain; they marinate in it. They dive into the stands on balls looped into the upper loge section or barrel into home plate with their team up by eleven. And they lobby their managers for them not to have to wear a batting helmet, even though they’ve been mandatory since 1971.

For players with unusually high toughness ratings, catching a boring sinker in the elbow fills them not with anger, fear, or even defiance, but mild disappointment – like the feeling one gets when a delicious meal or great movie has come to an end. When they get plunked, the look on their face doesn’t say, “Damn, man…Damn!” or “You don’t know me!” but rather, “It’s over? And so soon?” Coaches, managers, and reporters remind us that these aren’t sado masochistic sociopaths; they’re warriors who should be looked upon as everything that’s right with the game.

Assessing Player X’s toughness component will take almost no time at all, since there’s only one true element to measure: Hair. This may seem inane and painfully superficial at first, but when one considers baseball history’s litany of hard-nosed players, these designations prove remarkably accurate. The graphs below reflect hairstyle translation scores.

Still unconvinced? Ty Cobb had a flat-top, as did Billy Martin. Pete Rose and Johnny Bench were both proud owners of impeccable bowl cuts. Phillies tough-guy backstop Darren “Dutch” Daulton wore a classic Mullet. And as for his entire 1993 hardscrabble pennant-winning Phillies team? Every last player on the 24-man roster be-mulleted.

Our Player X scores a solid 12 points here with his traditional #2 metal razor buzz cut, which closes out his toughness component and preps him for his final GRIT score. Because we’ve already made all the preliminary calculations, we’ll determine this by doing some fairly simple arithmetic:

Guts (+9) + Resolve (14.5) + Instinct (36 ) + Toughness (12) = 71.5

And there you have it. Player X’s 2008 GRIT capacity was 71.5, which put him among the elite at his position for the 2008 season, as illustrated by the chart below:

Whether or not GRIT translates to “good” is still open for debate, although judging from the table above, there seems to at least be a strong correlation. As the answer to this question begins to emerge, at the very least we no longer have to acknowledge a player’s grit based on what Hawk Harrelson thinks is “heady,” whom Rick Sutcliffe believes has “that look,” or what Joe Magrane is talking about when says “spunk factor.”