26 February 2010

Interview with agent Joshua Kusnick

In the past few weeks we have interviewed Jon Paley (one of the creative minds behind the baseball documentary Pelotero) and a local blog that focuses on amateur talent emerging from Cuba. Today, we are talking with Joshua Kusnick an agent who represents three players in the Baltimore Orioles organization: Jonathan Tucker, Vito Frabizio, and Joshua Bell. His approach is considered somewhat non-traditional in comparison to other agents. He is quite accessible. Kusnick runs a blog and even appears on message boards drumming up questions from fans. It is a style that appears to resonate well with many of the younger professional athletes including Bobby Cassevah, David Herndon, Zack Kroenke, Trayvon Robinson, Kenley Jansen, Michael Brantley, Darren Ford, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Periard and Phillippe Valiquette. Kusnick has also just signed on to write a column for Baseball Prospectus, which is quite exciting.

Tigers Prospect Scott Drucker and Joshua Kusnick at the Moves Magazine Super Bowl Party.

Camden Depot, among other blogs, often overlooks the contribution made by sports agents and their effect on the game. In response to that common oversight, we invited Joshua Kusnick here today to discuss the path he took in becoming an agent for baseball players, discuss Frabizio and Bell, and his beliefs in how an agent should represent his clients.

Entire interview after the jump.

Camden Depot: I have read that your start in scouting was rather unique in comparison to other agents. Could you introduce the reader to your background and how you think that helps you secure and well represent your clients?

Joshua Kusnick: My career in sports started when I was around 10 years old. I had the opportunity to be the batboy for the Orioles during spring training a couple of times when I was a kid so that was really my first exposure being around a big league club house. During my teenage years, actually when I was 14 years old, I began getting autographs of minor league baseball players. Most of the games I attended were in West Palm Beach watching Florida State League baseball, so I had the good fortune of watching guys like Vlad Guerrero, Brad Fullmer, Roy Halladay, Matt Morris, Freddy Garcia, Ramon Castro etc….

During one of these games, I believe it was my last year of getting autographs so that had to be the year 2000, I was sitting next to a scout who basically changed my life forever. We chatted the entire game, he gave me his card and over the course of several months we developed a pretty good friendship. He told me if I ever wanted a job in scouting to let him know so in time that’s exactly what I did. Back before everything was readily available on the internet I crunched all the draft figures for this scout every year in addition to doing some very low level unofficial bird dog work. After a couple of years of part time work I decided to start my company with my father and the rest is history.

I feel one of the advantages I have in this field is my ability to independently evaluate talent. Some agents rely on scouts and some even hire scouts to find players for them because they lack the ability to determine a player’s ultimate value. I am beyond fortunate that I don’t have to rely on anyone other than myself to scout players. The fact that I can scout does not mean I don’t talk to other people in the game to get their input on certain players and it doesn’t mean that I’m right far more than I’m wrong but what it does do for me is provide a slight edge on some of the competition. When you represent a player you have to know what you’re selling. You have to know your product better than anyone else because you’re making a long term commitment that will cost you ample time and money, so you better be damn sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and lucky for me, I usually do.

CD: Vito Frabizio is a client of yours who has also taken a unique route to the professional ranks. We here at Camden Depot first took note of Frabizio in Perfect Game's 2008 World Showcase. How did you come to represent him and how would you describe his current talent and his progression as a ball player since you can to represent him?

JK: I met Vito through a mutual friend during the 2008 off season. Vito was working out at my old high school American Heritage in plantation Florida, a school where I represented two players who were drafted that year (JC Sulbaran and Adrian Nieto). Vito is like a brother to me and we clicked instantly. Our personalities are quite similar and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences in life so getting hired wasn’t terribly difficult fortunately. Vito has added some weight to his frame since we signed him which has made a world of difference on the field. His ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes has improved in addition to adding velocity to his fastball since we’ve represented him. Vito is a very special young man and the sky is the limit when it comes to his potential. It’s all going to come down to his attitude and his health.

CD: Your client, Josh Bell, has always been on the periphery of scouting lists, but really established himself as a prime prospect this past year by making great progress in his defense at third and his development from the left side of the plate. Keith Law mentioned that Bell has a promising career in front of him, but is still a work in progress. It was also mentioned that the Orioles have a better development program than the Dodgers, which took me by surprise. From your perspective, what new opportunities or benefits opened up for Bell when he was traded to the Orioles?

JK: I think very highly of both organizations with respect to player development. We have several Dodgers prospects in our company (Trayvon Robinson, Kenley Jansen, Justin Sellers) as well as several Orioles prospects (Josh Bell, Jonathan Tucker, and Vito Frabizio). I feel that all these kids have been given every chance to succeed in their respective organizations. The Dodgers always viewed Josh as a very special prospect and I know it was difficult for guys like [Assistant General Manager (Player Development)] De Jon Watson and [Assistant General Manager (Amateur/International)] Logan White to give up Josh in the Sherrill trade last season. I think Josh had a great chance to make an impact with the Dodgers over time but it seems he’s on the fast track to some extent now that he is with the Orioles. Baltimore seems to have a clear plan in place for Josh and I think this trade was the best thing to happen to Josh since signing his first contract out of high school.

CD: Another question about development . . . to what extent do you think an agent should encourage his client to disagree with his organization? For instance, in the Orioles system there have been alleged instances where a player's individual trainer/coach has provided contradictory instruction in comparison to the team's instructors. Do you think an agent should encourage third party instruction or evaluation? How do you handle such a situation as I imagine the organization likes to act with as few people in the decision making process as possible?

JK: My responsibility always is to the player. Obviously it is mutually beneficial for the player, the agent and the team to all be on the same page because ultimately all three parties are working towards the same goal but at the end of the day I will always side with my client. I think an agent should always work towards the best interests of his clients no matter what. I also think a player should always do what he feels is in his best interests regarding his career. An agent is the player’s voice to his organization and that comes with a great deal of responsibility. Do players and the teams see eye to eye on every issue? No, but that’s what an agent is there for, to bridge the gap and hopefully come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

CD: A week or so ago on your personal blog you commented on the Tiger Woods apology press release. I thought it to be a very interesting and informative look behind the scenes in what an agent does for the player and how each partner in this relationship is dependent on the other for success. I was hoping that you could elaborate on how you, as an agent, are involved with a player and his family beyond the contracts and interviews with the press?

JK: I literally am on call 24 hours a day for all of my players regardless of what I am doing. The long term goals of my career are directly dependent on my clients and how they perform on and off the field. Personally, I try to get as involved as I can with a player and his family. I get to know players wives, girlfriends, mothers and fathers. I’ve been in fantasy baseball leagues with some clients and their families, I go to dinner with many clients’ parents, I stay in touch with the players wives, girlfriends and families as much as they allow me to. Every relationship is up to the player. Some guys prefer to keep it business only and other players appreciate how involved I am willing to get in their lives and careers. I’ve had several players live with me and I take great pride in being as hands on as I am with respect to my clients lives off the field.

CD: I would like to thank Joshua Kusnick for taking time to discuss his practice and some of the players he represents.

25 February 2010

Two More Top 100 List: Project Prospect and Baseball America

Project prospects list can be found here. They are very, very tough on pitchers. I think too tough. A method like this seems too aware of Wang's work and ignores the effect of free agency on the worth of prospects.

Where do the Orioles fall?

7. Brian Matusz (2nd best pitcher)
16. Josh Bell (2nd best 3B)
46. Brandon Snyder (6th best 1B)
51. Zach Britton (13th best pitcher)
58. Jake Arrieta (16th best pitcher)

Baseball America's List?
5. Brian Matusz
37. Josh Bell
63. Zach Britton
99. Jake Arrieta
Jim Callis also mentioned that Brandon Snyder would be in the 101-105 range.

24 February 2010

Article Retro: Brian Roberts Extension

Sometimes a past article we wrote deserves another look back.

This time it is the Brian Roberts Contract extension, which we commented on last year on February 21st. We were non-plussed, to say the least. Recently, we have learned that Roberts has a herniated disc. Not too good. The signing flew in the face of a rather strong historical trend of second basemen precipitously decreasing in worth in their early 30s. Hopefully, Roberts can right the ship.

What I put forth last year was that Roberts should be worth his contract for the next 3 years given the market rate for a win. I estimated a value of 4.5MM and that seems like an overestimate by 10%. Additionally, his defense decreased at a greater rate than I imagined . . . though to be fair one year of UZR is just not enough of a sample size. That said, if he continues to perform the way I predicted . . . he should be worth his contract for 2 more seasons with the market adjustment. If not, he may be worth it for one season or less.

After the jump the article in full.

Projecting the Next Five Years with Brian Roberts

February 21, 2009
by Jon Shepherd

This past week, the Orioles signed Brian Roberts to a 4 year, 40MM extension. Add this on to the current contract which pays him 8MM for 2009. I think it would be unfair to think of this as a 5 year, 48MM dollar deal as I would regard this year as a sunk cost that we would have been unable to relinquish given the current trade market. This post will focus on projecting Roberts' performance over the life of the extension and trying to determine whether this was a good deal to make.


Predicting Offensive Performance
The offensive projections for Brian Roberts were taken from the CHONE projections. I believe that this is an optimistic system to use given Roberts age and position. CHONE is quite useful for short-term projections, but is not really geared to predict long-term performance. PECOTA may be slightly better determining long term performance as it makes predictions based on similarity scores. I will be using the CHONE numbers though as they are publicly available and allow for a bit more transparency in this exercise. Performance is converted into LW runs and related to replacement level value after accounting for projected playing time. For second basemen, replacement level was considered 62 runs while average production was considered as 85 runs.

Predicting Defensive Performance
Last year, Roberts was rated as below average at 2B by UZR/150. We actually rated him slightly above average. We think over the course of the next 5 years, he will probably miss about 5-8 plays more with each following season. That might seem aggressive, but that follows the path of typical players at this position. With this in mind, it was simply assumed that he will give up an extra 4 runs each season. This makes him a slightly below average fielder this year (-5 FRAA) and a poor one in 2013 (-21 FRAA). It should also be acknowledged that in this work average fielding ability is considered on par with replacement fielding ability. There are arguments for and against this approach, but we feel it is a pretty accurate description of what is truly available at the replacement level.

Predicting the Value of a Win
Offensive and defensive production expressed as runs above replacement value were than added. The total runs value was then divided by 10 to determine WARP, which was then multiplied by assumed market value. It is generally accepted that a win over replacement production is worth about 4.5MM. There is growing sentiment that the economic crisis may put that in doubt, but I think a correction will occur and it will remain at about that level. That being so, I have attached the 4.5MM value to 2009 and increased the value by 10% each year. In 2013, the value of a win is projected to reach 6.6MM.


In the table below, I have listed Roberts' offensive production over the four years of the extension as well as his total production.

What you will notice is that over the course of the four year extension, he rates above average for two of those seasons and below average for two of those seasons. His lowest mark with regard to replacement value is being worth 0.9 WARP in 2013. Overall, he produces 7.7 WARP over the course of the extension. This could also be expressed as 0.5 wins above average. This potentially becomes problematic as the second half of his contract has his as -0.9 wins above average. Particularly in his final season, it may serve the team best if Roberts is on the bench.

The following table shows Roberts' actual contract against his projected worth over the course of the extension.

The projected value of his performance is worth 42.5MM with 63% of that worth coming in the first two seasons. Overall, the Orioles pay below the predicted going rate of cost per win. Although in the final two seasons they pay above.


The contract is fair, but may not be in sync with the Orioles development plan. Roberts' career path is not in line with the young arms in AA and AAA that this team is relying on to make it competitive. If the team is viable in the playoff race in 2013, it will most likely see Roberts losing time to L.J. Hoes or another second baseman. At this point, we assume that the Orioles should be able to stow away a moderately poor contract this year. In the end, the open question is whether or not the 40MM spent here could have been better applied on future free agents, international talent, or the draft?

Personally, I would not have extended such a deal, but it is understandable why Andy MacPhail chose to do so. Actually, a reason why I would offer Roberts an extension is if I was not planning to depend heavily on the young arms for plus performance. He is probably the best option we can obtain to bat lead off and he is a fine player for the next few years. If this is the plan, then I would expect major acquisitions in the next off-season cycle. The holes the Orioles will need to fill are most likely 1B, 3B, DH, and a top tier starting pitcher.

Although I doubt Ty Wigginton will actually produce well for the Orioles, he is an option at first base (his defense at third is incredibly bad). Next year's market is awfully thin at first and he is projected to hit 268/338/466. Though, he probably should be protected against excellent right handed pitchers. This might mean that this would be a good role for Luke Scott to platoon part time at first. A more expensive option would be to extend Aubrey Huff's contract. He most likely will not repeat last season's amazing performance, so he might be an option. Outside the organization, they could sign Nick Johnson and have him face all right handers and Wigginton play against lefties and backup other positions. It may be a situation where we look to find a left handed platoon player at first. Again, Luke Scott might be that guy.

As mentioned earlier, third base should not be left for Wigginton. They could resign Melvin Mora to a one year deal, but I think that would not be ideal. His defense is dipping to below average, he has trouble charging the ball, and he is at an age where batting performance could evaporate and be left way below average. In fact, the two seasons prior to last year were not good and it will be unlikely that he will play a solid third in 2010. The FA market will offer Troy Glaus and Adrian Beltre. Glaus projects as a fine hitter and a decent glove at third base. His age (33) and his previous back issues make him a dicey acquisition. I view Adrian Beltre as a better choice. He is 2 years younger than Glaus and will probably offer a level of play that is not commensurate with his actual performance. Many underestimate Beltre's glove and SafeCo's effect on his offensive performance. He will never be an offensive star, but, if he continues to provide a win to a win and a half with the glove, he is easily worth a four or five year deal at 13MM. He is someone the Orioles should target.

DH is another position with in house options. Those include Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Luis Montanez, Ty Wigginton, and Nolan Reimold. Outside the organization, the list includes Jason Bay, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui. If they do not expect Huff to play 1B for them, then they should probably play the market. This past year saw player value plunge for DH type outfielders. With the market so limited to AL only teams and with many teams already filled at the DH slot, it may make sense to roll the dice and see what is out there. At worst, the in house options should perform at a high enough level to provide average production.

Finally, a starting pitcher would have to be acquired. I think it is doubtful that the inevitable parade though the middle and lower rotation this year will produce much in terms of dependable pitching. In reality, we will probably have Guthrie (a solid middle order pitcher on a competitive team) and two lower order guys emerging from this season. Next year, we can probably slot one of the young guys (i.e., Matusz) at the five slot. This leaves us with a front line pitcher. Next year's market may potentially carry John Lackey, Eric Bedard, and Rich Harden. Signing one of these guys will make the team far more competitive.

A potential lineup would look like this:

2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
1B Aubrey Huff
C Matt Wieters
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Luke Scott/Ty Wigginton
LF Felix Pie
SS Cesar Izturis

to go along with a top tier starter and a collection of third and fourth pitchers. This team rates in a highly competitive division as a 91 win team. Adding Beltre and a pitcher like Harden or Lackey is all that is needed in this scenario. If ways can be found to upgrade other positions, it should make the team more capable of reaching that level. I guess we will know a year from now.

23 February 2010

hGH Test Claimed Successful; Rugby Player Banned

A rugby player was found to have hGH in his system and will now serve a two year ban from the sport. Here is a quote from the article:

Both the United Kingdom Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) trumpeted the positive HGH test of British professional rugby player Terry Newton as "proof positive" that the drug can be detected in blood tests. Newton, who was tested in November, did not contest the result and yesterday was banned from the sport for two years by UKAD. Newton's rugby club, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, also canceled his contract. Newton is believed to be the first case of a professional athlete testing positive for HGH using a blood sample.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/2010/02/23/2010-02-23_hgh_positive_in_rugby_puts_mlb_on_deck.html#ixzz0gO14EjBK

What does this mean for baseball players?

They should immediately demand that they be tested for it. After all, there is no evidence, despite years and millions spent, that any hGH treatment (alone or in conjunction) improves athletic performance.

Making Baseball an Olympic Sport

As you all probably know baseball is not an Olympic sport. It was removed for several reasons:

1. The best players were not involved as they were in professional leagues.
2. Baseball prowess is basically limited to the Northwestern Quadrisphere (is that a word?) and the Pacific Rim.

Baseball though is no different than other sports in the Winter Games. Hockey is ruled by only a few countries. Same is true about curling, biathlon, and even figure skating to a degree. Baseball is just as diverse country-wise as these other games . . . so I think Baseball should be welcomed as a Winter Olympic sport for these reasons:

1. No competition from the Major professional leagues, so the best players will be available.
2. Most winter destinations have domed stadiums available for use or modification that could house a baseball facility. For instance, Vancouver has the BC Place Stadium which was designed as a multi-use stadium to attract a MLB club.
3. It will help diversify the Winter Olympics and bring more countries to the plate, which is good for the sports and good for the IOC making money.

I digress.

Projected Season Wins: Vegas vs Diamond Mind Projections . . . Part I

Each year we get bombarded with projections, predictions, and betting lines about season win totals. Such an endeavor is often foolhardy because injuries and depth charts are exceptionally difficult to estimate. Nonetheless, we try year in and year out. I think it is useful in that it gives us the chance to temper our expectations each year. The problem often is though that we utilize the projections/predictions at the beginning of the year and then promptly forget them and never assess how well they fit the actual result. Also, one thing I want to make clear . . . I know nothing about betting. I just grabbed the over/under. In no way am I suggesting that the Vegas line is the only line or that any differences in accuracy between the systems results in you making any money. None of that is my concern. I am more focused on the Vegas line as being representative of a generic mob of people model.

One thing to recognize is the usage of the terms prediction and projection. A projection in this exercise is an estimation of what would happen given a set of assumptions. When you read about games won using the PECOTA, CHONE, or CAIRO projections . . . it is not a prediction. No one is saying that the Orioles will win 79 games. They are saying they are projected to win 79 games. A prediction is an estimate of the actual outcome, a foretelling of a future event or series of events. Does that make sense? Projections are often used within the framework of a prediction, but they really are not synonymous. Anyway, I digress.

I will be using the current Vegas over/under for season wins as a sort of crowd model, while using a composite of ZiPS, CHONE, CAIRO, MARCEL, and PECOTA from the Replacement Level Yankees Blog to represent an projection-based model. First, I will present the current Vegas projections and the current model projections (only CAIRO, so far). After the jump, a few graphs and analysis discussing how 2006-2009 performed for each model.

In parentheses are the current projected wins based on CAIRO (this will be adjusted when all projection systems are incorporated)

AL East
YANKEES 95.5 (99)
RED SOX 94.5 (95)
RAYS 90 (95)
ORIOLES 76 (71)
BLUE JAYS 72.5 (70)

AL Central
TWINS 84.5 (82)
WHITE SOX 82.5 (87)
TIGERS 78.5 (72)
INDIANS 75.5 (77)
ROYALS 72 (70)

AL West
ANGELS 85 (80)
RANGERS 83.5 (82)
MARINERS 82.5 (80)
A'S 79 (78)

NL East
PHILLIES 92.5 (90)
BRAVES 85.5 (85)
MARLINS 81 (72)
METS 81 (80)
NATIONALS 70.5 (71)

NL Central
CARDINALS 87.5 (91)
CUBS 83.5 (86)
BREWERS 80.5 (81)
REDS 79.5 (84)
ASTROS 73.5 (66)
PIRATES 69 (73)

NL West
DODGERS 85.5 (91)
ROCKIES 84 (83)
GIANTS 82.5 (77)
PADRES 72.5 (78)

The first graph shows the predictive ability of both the Vegas and Projection systems for every data point generated from 2006 to 2009. As you can see the R2 for either the Vegas (0.28) or Projection (0.30) systems are pretty much equivalent. In a raw sense, they predict equally well. As most projection systems can predict about 75% of performance, it is understandable that quantitative systems and qualitative systems would be pretty similar.

The next graphic is a table of the standard deviation of the difference between the Vegas/Projection systems against the actual value. It varied from around 6 to 11 during these three years with the Projection system being narrowly more accurate for three of the four year, but not significantly so. A rough estimate is that 95% of all teams will fall within two standard deviations of the mean. So, using the composite standard deviation, a team with 79 wins would range between 64 and 94 wins. That is the realm of possibility. Since 2001, only the 2007 Yankees were able to get the Wild Card with as few as 94 wins. A 79 win team effectively is out of the post season based on these numbers although there is a 1 in 40 chance for a team to defy those odds and win more than 94 games. The only example of this would be the Vegas prediction for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Another way to evaluate this data in order to evaluate the potential for teams to outproduce their expected wins is to see when systems incorrectly project wins by a large amount. The second graph shows all data points that are greater than one standard deviation off the actual value. As one would expect, there is a line where predicted and actual values cannot exceed. In other words, if your team is predicted to win 90 games then it is very difficult to win more than one standard deviation above that. In fact, the highest prediction on this graph that ever resulted in a somewhat significant underestimation was it has ever happened was 89 wins. Once you hit that level, there really is not much room to break out. It is exceptionally difficult to win more than 97 games. The opposite end is not as much of a hard line as team predicted to win as few as 68 games still underperformed. This may be a result of a dispersal of assets at the trade deadline or an influx of substandard talent that is permitted to play more often in September.

Part II will go a bit more into the data looking at situation where the Vegas and Projection system disagree and whether this disagreement isolates one system as being more accurate than the other.

22 February 2010

An Interview with Cubano, author of the Cuban Ball Players blog

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to interview Cubano. He was also kind enough to provide a Spanish translation.

Cubano is the author of an essential blog if you wish to be aware and up-to-date on Cuban Baseball. It is called Cuban Ball Players. I have found it to be quite useful in understanding talent on the island. I'll let Cubano speak for himself:

Camden Depot: Could you introduce your site for us? (What is it that you do, information found at the site, your background, any personal experience with baseball in Cuba)

Cubano: I maintain a blog about Cuban baseball players and Cuban baseball in general. I post news, stats, videos and commentary on Cuban players participating in the different world leagues as well as the Cuban League and international tournaments. I was born in Cuba and I am a baseball aficionado. I hold a degree from Maryland. For all of you Terps fans out there, Go Terps!

Click on the link to read the rest of the interview.

CD: Adeiny Hechevarria has been garnering interest lately as he waits for the OK to sign his first professional contract. What are your thoughts on him and how would you compare him to Jose Iglesias?

C: I really like Hechevarria. He has good hands and great range. I have posted a couple of clips in my site featuring his range. I am glad he is receiving the attention he deserves. It is hard to project a player, but I think Hechevarria will be a MLB player one day. Hechevarria was the starting SS for one of the Cuban junior teams and Iglesias was the starting 2B. Hechevarria played for the Santiago de Cuba Wasps in Cuba.

As for the comparison among them, Iglesias is a very smart individual and he likes to be flashy and gather attention toward him. He reminds me of three time Gold Glove winner Rey Ordonez who played for the Mets in that respect. Hechevarria is a faster runner and probably will hit for more power that Iglesias thought Iglesias would probably hit for a higher average. He is a few months older that Iglesias too. I think both players are capable of winning a gold glove. Both have good arms too.

CD: Who should people be focusing on next as a premier talent still in Cuba? Can you provide some information on that particular prospect?

C: I asked my friend DViera who also has a column in my blog about young Cuban players to help me out. We agreed on most of the players except the SS position. I like Ciego de Ávila SS Yorbis Borroto for his defense. I think he has more range than Las Tunas Alexander Guerrero though Guerrero’s bat is hard to ignore. I also like OF Kenen Bailly from Guantánamo.

These Players will be this age this year (2010) regardless if at this time have turned a year older or not. The one in red are premium talent.

Catcher: Yosvany Alarcon (LTU) 25 years old
1st Baseman: José Dariel Abreu (CFG) 22 years old

José Dariel Abreu homered against Puerto Rican José Santiago during the 2009 BWC in Europe
Source: Tele Rebelde TV

2nd Baseman: Hector Olivera (STC) 25 years old
3rd Baseman: Yuliesky Gourriel (SSP) 25 years old

Sancti Spíritus Roosters Yuliesky Gourriel homered against Habana Cowboys Jonder Martínez.
Source: Tele Rebelde TV

Short Stop: Alexander Guerrero (LTU) 24 years old
Outfielders: Alfredo Despaigne (GRM) 24 years old

Granma Stallions Alfredo Despaigne homered against USA in the final game of the 2009 BWC in Europe.
Source: Tele Rebelde TV

Leonis Martin (VCL) 22 years old
Henry Urrutia (LTU) 23 years old
Yoennis Cespedes (GRM) 25 years old
Ramón Lunar (VCL) 23 years old
DH: Lerys Aguilera (HOL) 25 Years old

Pitchers: Vladimir Garcia (CAV) 22 years old
Dalier Hinojosa (GTM) 23 years old
Odrisamer Despaigne (IND) 22 years old
Onelkis Garcia (GTM) (L) 21 years old
Freddy Asiel Alvarez (VCL) 22 years old
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (LHB) 24 years old
Yadier Pedroso (LHB) 25 years old
Ismel Jimenez (SSP) 24 years old
Miguel Lahera (LHB) 24 years old
Noelvis Entenza (CFG) 25 years old

CD: Based on your knowledge, how is baseball different in Cuba in terms of player development as opposed to the Dominican Republic (i.e. trainers and academies) or in the US or Puerto Rico (i.e. high school, travel leagues, showcases)? Is it privatized? Does the government provide any funding?

C: In Cuba, everything is run by the government. There are schools called EIDES and ESPAS where athletes are trained and also attend classes. Every province has one EIDE and one ESPA. EIDE is from 7 through 9 grades and an ESPA is from 10 through 12 grades. They play against each other in a yearly basis. There are also tournaments yearly in every province called Serie Provincial. It would be something like Baltimore playing Annapolis and Rockville playing Cumberland and so forth. Many times the top players take part in these leagues something I found ridiculous and unnecessary because injures can happen and players could use some rest.

The Serie Nacional is the Cuban top league. Every province (14 totals) is represented including the Municipality Isla de la Juventud which is the other island south of the main island. Havana city (Ciudad Habana) has two teams, but one team Metropolitanos functions literally like a minor league team for the main team Industriales. There are 16 teams total.

CD: What are your personal thoughts on the Orioles facing the Cuban national team a decade or so ago and Peter Angelo’s' potential interest in taking his team back to Cuba for another exhibition?

C: I am in favor of MLB teams going to Cuba. It is good for the Cuban players because they are in the same field as MLB players. This is one reason I like the WBC because Cuban players can measure themselves against MLB players. So far they have fared well despite all defections. Cuban players are isolated from the world. It is true they travel to international tournaments but often they are confined to the hotels. When a Cuban hitter singled and reached first base and Albert Pujols greets him and he tells him ‘Gourriel, you are good enough to play in MLB’. This will only resonates in Gourriel’s ears and maybe he will come. It is a personal decision for the player to leave or not, but it is the right thing to do if you think about your family’s future. How can not you leave when you can stop worrying about putting food in the table for your kids especially if you are a top player?

What I am concerned about these games is any Gentlemen’s Agreement to somehow prevent or block Cuban players pursuing their dream in MLB. I ask your readers to do a search online and look for ex Orioles General Manager Syd Thrift statements with respect to signing Cuban players and make your own conclusions after the first Orioles-Team Cuba games.

The same agreements exist between MLB and the Japanese League. Japanese players should be able to play whenever they wish. This type of conduct is so un-American and as an American citizen myself I repudiate this behavior. I know the Orioles have signed several Cubans after they have been in the states for many years like Danys Baez, Alberto Castillo and Michel Hernández, but they have shown little effort to sign any recent newcomer from Cuba.

En Español

1. ¿Puede usted introducir su página a nuestros lectores?

Yo administro un blog acerca de de los jugadores cubanos en las diversas ligas de béisbol incluyendo la Serie Nacional. En nuestra página seguimos el rendimiento y las carreras de los jugadores cubanos.

2. Adeiny Hechevarria ha generado mucho interés últimamente. ¿Cuál es su opinión acerca de Hechevarria?

Yo creo que Hechevarria va a dar mucho de qué hablar en Grandes Ligas. Este muchacho que jugó par a las Avispas de Santiago de Cuba posee una defensa magnífica con un desplazamiento increíble. Tiene un brazo excelente y es muy veloz. Necesita mejorar su bateo pero yo pienso que puede batear entre 10-15 jonrones y batear 280 en GL.

Ambos jugadores son muy buenos a la defensa. Hechevarria es un poco más veloz y tiene más fuerza al bate. Iglesias quizás bate para un promedio mayor que Hechevarria. Ambos poseen un brazo muy bueno.

3. ¿Cuáles son los mejores jugadores en Cuba en estos momentos?

Bueno actualmente en Cuba hay varios prospectos muy buenos y jóvenes. En el bateo tenemos a al jardinero Alfredo Despaigne quien no impresiona por su físico pero es un tremendo bateador. Despaigne posee el record de HR para una serie con 32. Tenemos también al 3B Yuliesky Gourriel quien es un jugador muy completo. La revelación en esta temporada ha sido el 1B José Dariel Abreu quien ha bateado muchísimo. También te puedo nombrar al 2B Héctor Olivera que es una máquina de batear dobles. En el pitcheo están Vladimir García, Dalier Hinojosa, Onelquis García and Odrisamer Despaigne entre otros.

Catcher: Yosvany Alarcon (LTU) 25 years old

1rs Baseman: José Dariel Abreu (CFG) 22 years old

2nd Baseman: Hector Olivera (STC) 25 years old

3rd Baseman: Yuliesky Gourriel (SSP) 25 years old

Short Stop: Alexander Guerrero (LTU) 24 years old

Jardineros: Alfredo Despaigne (GRM) 24 years old

Leonis Martin (VCL) 22 years old

Henry Urrutia (LTU) 23 years old

Yoennis Cespedes (GRM) 25 years old

Ramón Lunar (VCL) 23 years old

DH: Lerys Aguilera (HOL) 25 Years old

Pitchers: Vladimir Garcia (CAV) 22 years old

Dalier Hinojosa (GTM) 23 years old

Odrisamer Despaigne (IND) 22 years old

Onelkis Garcia (GTM) (L) 21 years old

Freddy Asiel Alvarez (VCL) 22 years old

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (LHB) 24 years old

Yadier Pedroso (LHB) 25 years old

Ismel Jimenez (SSP) 24 years old

Miguel Lahera (LHB) 24 years old

Noelvis Entenza (CFG) 25 years old

4. ¿Cómo difiere la formación de peloteros en Cuba con respecto a otros países como Dominicana, Puerto Rico o Venezuela?

Bueno en Cuba hay diferentes categorías. Existen escuelas llamadas EIDEs y ESPAs donde los atletas reciben educación en una sesión y en la otra practican deportes. La EIDE es para deportistas del 7 al 9 grado y la ESPA es para deportes entre el 10 y el 12 grado.

Existen un torneo juveniles de 15-16 años y 17-18 años.

El torneo principal es la Serie Nacional.

5. ¿Cuál es tu opinión acerca del enfrentamiento de los Orioles contra Cuba hace una década y la nueva posibilidad de otro enfrentamiento?

Bueno yo siempre he apoyado estos enfrentamientos porque demuestra que los jugadores cubanos pueden jugar de tú a tú contra la elite del béisbol en el mundo. Además, los jugadores cubanos tienen la oportunidad de hablar con un Alberto Pujols o Miguel Cabrera que seguro les dicen que tienen la calidad para jugar en GL.

En lo que no estoy de acuerdo es en que se firmen o se lleguen a acuerdo verbales entre M LB y el gobierno cubano para discriminar a los jugadores cubanos que escapan de la isla. El ex Gerente general de los Orioles Syd Thrift hizo algunas declaraciones después del primer enfrentamiento entre ambos equipos que dejaron muchas dudas en cuanto a los Orioles y sus políticas con respecto a jugadores cubanos exiliados. Si alguien desea más información puede hacer una búsqueda en la Internet acerca de este tema y se darán cuenta de este engorroso tema. Últimamente, los Orioles han firmado a varios exiliados como Danys Báez, Alberto Castillo y Michel Hernández pero han mostrado poco interés con jugadores recién llegados.

Estos acuerdos entre ligas existen también entre MLB y la Liga Japonesa. Pienso que es algo repudiable.

20 February 2010

Bad Idea Jeans: Orioles Hat

(HT PDog at Orioles Hangout)

Over at Lids.com they seem to pride themselves by having a wide array of hats in many different styles. One that caught attention recently was one of their Twins '47 Walker Caps. This cap "features an embroidered logo on the front, along with a year on the back that signify significant moments in that teams history."

Here it is:

The Orioles 1988 season is noted on the back of the hat. The significant moment is losing 21 games.

Who buys that?

18 February 2010

Hey Hey Kids, It's Matt Hobgood

Steve Melewski put out a couple posts yesterday that were focused on an interview with Matt Hobgood. As mentioned here and elsewhere earlier, Hobgood spent the winter at API getting in shape and working on nutrition. He mentioned that he is becoming more comfortable throwing a changeup, but it certainly sounds like a work in progress. That is to be expected. Early reports last year from Baseball America suggested that his repertoire flashed plus potential, but it is becoming more apparent that they misspoke or that they were focusing on his fastball and curveball. It makes sense as most high school pitchers are facing a level of competition where two excellent pitches can result in dominance. The biggest knock on Hobgood was that it did not appear that he had all that high of a potential and that his body and mechanics were so that there did not appear to be much more velocity he could add to his pitches.

What people have focused on though was this comment:

"About a week into API, I went with a company that delivers your food and was on an 1800-calorie per day plan. I did that plan for about a month."

Hobgood said he reduced his body fat from 22 to 17 percent, a nice reduction for about three months of work. Hobgood is 6'4", 245 pounds and he'll likely play at a similar weight this year.

"I didn't get to where they wanted me weight wise. I lost about 17 pounds of body fat and gained nine pounds of muscle. That's 26 pounds total if I had taken off that muscle.

I guess first off, I am very much confused by that last passage. Based on his statements it sounds like he was at 253 lbs and 22% body fat (56lbs of fat) and is now at 245 lbs and 17% body fat (42lbs of fat). I'm not sure you can just add and subtract fat and muscle like he did . . . but that really does not matter. What is noted is that at the end of last season Matt Hobgood was 22% body fat. That is news to me. Last summer, in response to fans concerns about Hobgood's conditioning, Orioles Hangout founder Tony Pente said that he was told that Hobgood's percent body fat was under ten percent. It was a suspicious statement as one could see from pictures that Hobgood was nowhere near showing off a six-pack, but I think most translated that to be slight hyperbole and that the true value was about 15% or so. It is also noted that he was able to slim down to 17%, which is a major drop. Or it sounds like a major drop.

Needless to say, Hobgood was not a popular pick by many. Although the Orioles say differently, it appears he was a signability pick that enabled Joe Jordan to go overslot for guys like Cameron Coffey and Micheal Ohlman as opposed to spending a couple million more on a talent that higher consensus appeal (i.e. Ryan Wheeler, Tyler Matzek). Hobgood then showed up to Bluefield out of shape, pitched relatively poorly, and spent time working on a changeup than showing off what he does best. Now, the current revelation fuels people's concern about his conditioning although the article appears fairly positive about his condition. Hobgood does appear to be taking nutrition and working out seriously. His one month on the 1800 calorie a day diet maybe taught him how to change his meals.

So what do all of these percentages mean? What is considered normal for an average person or an average baseball player?

Find out after the jump.

To remind you, Hobgood was at 22% at the beginning of the offseason and was able to reduce that to 17%. Here are the recommendations by the The American Council on Exercise for males:

Basal Fat: 2-4%
Athletes: 6-13%
Fitness: 14-17%
Acceptable: 18-26%
Overweight: 27-35%
Obese: >36%

Based on these values, Hobgood was in the mid-range for acceptable and slimmed down to the upper limit of fitness. Here is another scale, the United States Army has a program where "unfit" soldiers are required to change their lifestyle and diet if they are measured as having a fat percentage that is greater than what is permitted. It is age based and again these are the numbers for males:

Ages 17-20: 20%
Ages 21-27: 22%
Ages 28-39: 24%
Ages >39: 26%

If Hobgood had enlisted, he would have had to have undergone personal counseling to change his habits. He no longer qualifies at those levels anymore. The US Army would consider him fit. The Marine Corps is a bit more stringent and requires for Hobgood's age group to be below 18% and to never exceed 22%.

So all of this is interesting, but what about baseball players? Baseball players and their fitness is different than the average person or today's war fighter. The best I could find was Coleman and Lansky's 1992 paper Assessing Running Speed and Body Composition in Professional Baseball Players. This document present that average percent body fat with respect to different positions around the diamond. One would expect that fitness levels have improved since 1992, so these numbers may be different 18 years later. The averages are as follows:

Catchers: 9.7%
Infielders: 9.3%
Outfielders: 8.4%
Pitchers: 10.4%

Now, this looks incredibly dated to me. Baseball players back then were incredibly lean, so I hit the University Library and found Hoffman et al's 2009 paper: Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Here are the averages separated by level:

Rookie: 12.0 +/- 3.5 %
A Ball: 12.4 +/- 3.6 %
AA Ball: 12.8 +/- 2.9 %
AAA Ball: 13.7 +/- 3.4 %
MLB Ball: 13.8 +/- 3.0 % (which is similar to Coleman's 1998 study on a smaller population of MLB players which found 12.5 +/- 5.5 %)

What is interesting about these two papers is this. We can assume that the distribution of body fat amongst positions is the same as it was. Using this approach, we can modify % body fat by position and league. By doing this, we acknowledge that putting one percent body fat for all infielders and another for all outfielders is problematic as there are significant differences in body type and leanness between these positions. For use as an average and being interested in pitchers though, we think this is a fine approach. The limit of this approach then is obviously useful for pitchers and catchers . . . no other positions. So, the coefficient for use here would be 1.09 for pitchers. This would make the percent body fat chart look like this assuming the same standard deviation:

Rookie: 13.1 +/- 3.5 %
A Ball: 13.5 +/- 3.6 %
AA Ball: 14.0 +/- 2.9 %
AAA Ball: 14.9 +/- 3.4 %
MLB Ball: 15.0 +/- 3.0 %

So what does this all mean?

Hobgood probably should be identified as a Rookie level pitcher even though he will most likely be in A Ball this year. Rookie level is the most conservative estimate here, so this is what we will use. This gives us the following table assuming normal distribution.

2.2 % (-2 standard deviations) of Rookie level pitchers below 6.1% body fat
15.8 % (-1 sd) below 9.6% body fat
50 % below 13.1% body fat
84.1% below 16.6% body fat
97.7% below 19.7% body fat
99.8% below 23.2% body fat

Hobgood's weight appears to have been somewhat deviant based on what you would expect. It still is. If you count him as an A ball pitcher, about 84% of pitchers at his level have lower body fat. Count in his age, which is about a year or two younger than the others . . . and it looks a little worse for him. At 22% he would have been in the 99th percentile, which is great for the SATs . . . not so great for this metric.

That being said, he could be a player who has been largely ignorant of proper heath and fitness approaches. The Orioles and Hobgood both have it in their best interests to change his past behavior and this past offseason bodes well for him. He currently is not in a good position, but he is certainly much better off than he was. Conditioning is probably still a concern for him, but it is an issue that he is improving quite rapidly.

12 February 2010

Pelotero: An interview with one of the film's creators about baseball in the Dominican Republic

To be aware of new posts and often just general baseball comments, follow us on twitter @CamdenDepot.

I made Jon Paley's acquaintance over a year ago as he and his colleagues work on a documentary about amateur baseball talent in the Dominican Republic came to my attention. I found their work very impressive in terms of film aesthetics, but also in the subject matter. Although most baseball fans are aware of the major flow of talent coming in from the Dominican Republic, few actually know anything much about it. The whole industry is quite interesting and works in a way that is very different from what domestic talent experiences. Jon was kind to great us an interview with him, which is printed in its entirety after the jump.

Below is an excerpt from a rough cut of his film. Be sure to visit their site Pelotero: the Movie to see more videos, pictures, and lots of information. One very exciting part of their work is that they were able to cover Miguel Jean as he went through the process of undergoing age related issues and finally earning his first pro contract with the Minnesota Twins.

Click on the following link to read the full interview with Jon Paley.

Camden Depot: Could you introduce the film and describe how you have been able to acquire access to these prospects and any difficulties you have faced?

Jon Paley: Our film, titled Pelotero, tells the story of four Dominican ballplayers, ages 16-19, working day in and day out trying to get signed by an MLB team. We provide a complete look into their lives; at home, with their trainers, at MLB academies where they hold tryouts...everything. We bridge these intertwined stories with a look into how the system works to help give context to the characters and the odds that they face.

We spent 8 months down there which is a big reason why we were granted such amazing access. Scores of reporters and journalists make brief visits to the DR following scandals or hyped players but they never set up shop and try to learn what the motivations and consequences are behind the scenes. By showing up every day to the same fields and hanging around during practice, we gained the trust of trainers, and scouts.

Getting access to MLB teams academies could be a little trickier. Some teams were very receptive and gave us full access. Others were a little wary of having a camera crew hanging around.

We produced Pelotero independently under our company Guagua Productions, by myself, Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Casey Beck. We are all young, hungry, aspiring filmmakers who were looking for a story to tell and found that and more in the world of Dominican Baseball.

CD: How one becomes a buscon and the process of identifying and training players. What relationship does a buscon have with the estbalished academies, and what role does a buscon play in promoting his trainees?

JP: Quick clarification—the term ‘buscon’ has become something of a derogatory term implying corruption, lying and cheating. The majority of trainers in the Dominican Republic prefer the term 'entrenador' or trainer.

There is no barrier to entry to become a trainer in the Dominican Republic. The are thousands of trainers across the country ranging in seriousness and experience. Some begin grooming their sons or nephews in the streets and will hand that player off when they begin to show some promise, while others have neatly manicured complexes with state of the art facilities. Many of the thriving programs are run by ex-players who know how to teach kids, and who surround themselves with talented specialized coaches. Trainers will begin scouting players as young as 12, and enrolling them in their program. Trainers find players in two main ways. First, they maintain a close network with other coaches of little leagues for younger ages who will alert them to any special talents. Secondly, once a trainer is established within a community family members will bring their eligible players to try out. Spots in the better programs are highly desired and often competitive.

Every MLB team has a network of area scouts which travel the country scouting players. These scouts visit several programs a day looking for the best talent. If they like a player they will have the trainer bring that player to the academy for a tryout. The more experienced trainers have signed many players in the past and have close relationships with area scouts and academy directors. The better these relationships the easier time they will have getting attention for their players.

CD: What is the daily routine for an academy ball player as opposed to the daily routine for a prospect with a buscon? Are there differences in resources, amenities, equipment, etc.?

JP: The MLB academies are a huge step up for almost all players in the DR. They are equipped with perfectly maintained fields, experienced coaches, dormitories, nutritional food, and all the amenities one needs to stay focused on playing baseball. Very few independent trainers' programs can match this.

In the majority of programs, kids live at home with their families who may struggle to put food on the table. They will come to their field in the morning and do drills for 4 or 5 hours that focus on fundamentals: hitting, fielding, running, etc. In the afternoon they will continue with more drills or occasionally play an organized game against another program. Some of the better trainers' provide dormitories for the kids as well as food and equipment. Scouts are looking more and more for players with game experience and there is a growing trend for better trainers to emphasize playing games.

Within the academy the schedule is not too different. Players wake up early, practice for several hours, come in for lunch and to lift weights. In the afternoon they will continue with drills or a simulated game. In the summer there is a short season that pits academy teams against each other.

The main differences are the level of professionalism in the academies and the focus. In general the academies teach kids to play baseball while the trainers programs teach kids to excel at tryout skills (batting practice, 60 yard dash, fielding grounders).

CD: Do certain organizations have a reputation for being more friendly/accomodating/inviting for young Latin American players? Are there certain organizations that are viewed more positively than others? Negatively?

JP: Different teams in the DR have different ways of doing things. Some have nicer academies with better coaches, and others are seriously underfunded. One of the biggest disparities between academies is their focus and helping their players assimilate when they get to the States. Every academy is required to have an english program that teaches kids the language, and about American culture. These classes help players acclimatize when they get to the states and help them perform better on the field. Some teams do a far better job of this than others. The Rays for example have a complex system set up where they continue to have classes for Latin American players all the way through the Minors. In some other academies, the teachers barely speak english.

CD: Are families compensated in any way as a result of the academy/buscon/player relationship (monetary, employment opportunities, etc.)?

JP: When a player signs a contract with a team, the trainer will usually take between 30-35%. While this seems extraordinarily high Dominican trainers have far greater responsibilities than anything a coach in the States has. They often pay to house and feed the player for up to 5 years. They pay for the fields to practice on and the equipment to play with. They have a staff of specialized coaches. The expenses are indeed great, and for every player that signs the trainer is fronting the cost for 20 that don't. If the trainer brings in an American agent, a phenomenon becoming more and more common, the agent may take another 5-10%.

The remaining money goes to the the players family. The first thing nearly every player does is buy his mother a house. Its both a gift of gratitude, and a right of passage. For many players this may be their only payoff, so saving the money is crucial. Many trainers and teams provide financial advisers who will help their players families manage the money once they sign.

CD: What are your future plans for this film and beyond?

JP: We are still putting the finishing touches on Pelotero. We are currently fundraising to finish a re-edit of the movie. We will then being the lengthy process of submitting to film festivals and seeking distribution.

We also have plans to continue following several of the players form Pelotero. Miguel Angel Sano (now Miguel Jean) signed with the Minnesotta Twins for $3.15 Million, the second highest bonus ever paid to a Dominican prospect. We have been given access by the Twins to the academy and spring training facilities and will begin following Miguel's story again very soon. We hope to be able to follow him and our other characters all they way to the Majors.

If this is something that anyone out there is interested in seeing, please help make it happen and make a tax deductible donation to the project through our website: Peloterothemovie.com.

CD: I would like to thank Jon Paley for spending the time answering a few of our questions. This is a great project and I greatly anticipate watching this documentary. Be sure to check out the Pelotero site. There are more videos, pictures (those included in this post are from their site), and loads of information to digest. Very exciting.

11 February 2010

How did 2008 DNSers Fare in the 2009 Draft?

In the first ten rounds of the 2008 draft, these players were drafted, did not sign, and reentered into the 2009 draft:

Aaron Crow 1:9
Tanner Scheppers 2:48
Scott Bittle 2:75
Chris Dominguez 5:167
Billy Morrison 9:282
Kyle Thebeau 9:285
Chris Herrmann 10:296
Trevor Holder 10:298
Kevin Castner 10:303
William Wilson 10:311
Nathan Newman 10:312

Of these eleven draftees, four went on to receive greater signing bonuses, one wound up with the about the same, three wound up with significantly less, and two were not drafted at all. As a population, supposed income (assumed as slot if actual team offered value is not found) was 5.74MM in 2008 while resultant sum of the signing bonuses in 2009 was 5.52MM. Although, these differences do not appear greatly different, less than half were helped by not signing.

After the jump, a more detailed list of who gained and who lost.

Draftees who benefited from not signing:
Chris Dominguez 165k -> 411k
Chris Herrmann 75k -> 135k
Trevor Holder 75k -> 200k
William Wilson 70k -> 408k

Draftee who lost from not signing:
Aaron Crow 3.5MM -> 3MM
Scott Bittle 550k -> 75k
Kevin Caster 65k -> ~10k
Nathan Newman 65k -> ~10k

Players not drafted the following year:
Billy Morrison
Kyle Thebeau

Just from this list, it appears that players who benefit most from not signing are players from rounds 8-10 or so. Players in a situation like Aaron Crow's have very little incentive in delaying the signing.

08 February 2010

2009 Draft Did-Not-Sign Players

Every draft there are a handful of players in the first ten rounds who are drafted and do not sign. In the past, a draft and follow strategy would allow teams to sign draftees up until the night before the draft. This was how the Orioles were able to secure Adam Loewen when they countered his desire for more money with a slot on the 40 man roster, which would hurry him to the majors. Nowadays, draft and follow no longer works with rule changes with compensatory picks being issued instead for did not signs for the first three rounds.

This year those will go to:
Tampa (picks 31 and 79 for not signing LeVon Washington, who will be eligible this year, and Kenny Diekroger, who will be eligible in 2012)
Toronto (picks 39, 69, and 112 for not signing James Paxton, eligible this year, Jake Eliopoulus, who is also eligible, and Jake Barrett, who is not)
Chicago White Sox (pick 113 for not signing Bryan Morgado, who is eligible)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (pick 114 for not signing Josh Spence, who is eligbile)

After the jump, we will list players who did not sign last year and are eligible this year along with rankings from PNR Scouting.

2009 Draft (top ten rounds) DNS Eligible for 2010 Draft:

Levon Washington rank:12
Drafted 30th overall in the first round, Washington turned down a 1.1MM deal from the Rays, which was just around slot. It may work out for Washington as he is in line to double his signing bonus. As a high school player, he most likely has not delayed his development by attending a JuCo for a year. This is important as it means that any potential free agency is unlikely to be delayed (as opposed to DNSer Aaron Crow who not only received 500k less from the Royals than from the Nationals . . . but also will probably have his free agency delayed a year because of the hold out.

James Paxton rank: 25
Paxton was one of the non-signs of the Blue Jays 2009 draft failure. He turned down a 1MM contract and is not embroiled in a legal fiasco with the NCAA in an attempt to pitch for Kentucky in 2010. The ranking suggests that he would see a raise in his signing bonus of 250k, but the bet he is making is that his senior season will be good enough to elevate his worth into the from half of the first round.

Jake Eliopoulus rank: 115
PNR Scouting is not favorable on Eliopoulus who went 68th overall (2nd round) to the Blue Jays last year. I was unable to find any reports on the negotiations between the Jays and Eliopoulus. If that ranking changes matches a change in draft slot, then he would be looking at a decrease from 520k to 225k.

Bryan Morgado rank: 29
White Sox selected Morgado in the third round with the 102nd overall pick. I cannot find any information on the negotiations, but the going rate at 102 is 330k whereas a 29th selection would be roughly 1MM. If he can stay around the backend of the first round or better, not signing will have been a solid move.

Josh Spence rank: 78
Spence was chosen by the Angels last year in the third round with the 110th pick. The going rate for a 110th pick was 320k while a 78th pick would see about 450k. It probably makes sense for someone at this level to try to raise the price.

Damien Magnifico rank: 215
Magnifico was drafted in the fifth round last year (164th overall). Signing bonuses were going for about 150k at that point. Again, I have no knowledge of the numbers they were discussing. Magnifico decided to go to college and will be eligible again. A signing bonus around 215th overall would be around 125k. For a pitcher, it seems any drop would result in a minimal loss of the bonus. The hope for him is to perform well enough to see him move up to the second or third round.

Ryan Woolley rank: 163
According to PNR's preseason ranking, Woolley is right about where he left off as he was drafted only 15 selections behind the ranking. He has another season of college ball if he chooses to punt again. Usually that does not work out well . . . this is probably the last year he will have any significant leverage.

Devin Harris rank: 173
Early in the process last year the Orioles figured out that Harris would be unsignable given their level of interest. He went in the 8th, 236th overall which correlates to about a 125k signing bonus. The goal is for him to break out and, with PNR's ranking, it shows that a breakout is not assumed. Harris will be earning it as is true with most draftees.

San Dyson rank: 43
All indications are that Dyson is healthy and ready to pitch. He was selected in the 10th round last year, but was not offered anything in line with what he could earn by going back. Right now he is pegged as a compensatory round selection if healthy, but he he starts showing more consistency he could peak in the mid teens to late twenties.

05 February 2010

International Draft Addendum: Free Agent Compensation Part II

This is the final part of a series looking at a potential international draft and free agent compensation.

Aspects that work well?
1. Subdivision of positions.
It makes sense to value players by subgroups.
2. Taking into account the value of a player for his current team.
At bats and innings pitched connotes a players worth to his own team.

Why is the current system not very accurate?
1. Poor statistics are used.
The numbers used are either of dubious use (fielding percentage, chances) or are rather useless (RBIs, winning percentage).
2. Undervaluing/overvaluing certain positions.
A major issue often encountered are free agents who flounder around due to unrealistic compensation statuses attached to them. For instance, Jose Valverde is struggling to find a decent market for his services because he is a type A reliever, but no team is willing to offer both the cash and loss of their first unprotected pick for him. The same thing happened to Orlando Hudson, Adam Dunn, and Juan Cruz last year.
3. Potential over-compensatory approach for players on disabled list.
There really is little reason why a player like Erik Bedard would qualify for compensation even though he has only seen 164 IP over the past two years. Being able to stay healthy should be a consideration as it affects a player's future cost.

But what is the major failing of the system?
Value lost is not value gained. Losing a top free agent results in getting two players who are, at best, 4 years away from the free agent signing to making a difference on the big league club. This is the most glaring issue with the current approach. The other failings need to be corrected, but making the adjustment closer to real time is a better solution.

After the jump, a better way to identify type A and B classifications and a more fair way to compensate.

How to better classify free agent classes:
Use a condensed statistic like WAR. This system would use all of the attributes from the current one and place them in a more defensible construct. It also incorporates health as a attribute as opposed to assuming a players health is a constant. For defense, the system should use a three year weighted average to determine UZR for fielders. Assume all catchers are average defensively until a dependable measurement technique is devised to measure that.

What is a more fair way to compensate teams?
Get rid of the draft pick compensation scheme. It makes no sense. I think the best way to do it is to issue a signing tax on any type A or type B free agent on the team that signs the player. A type A player contract would be taxed 20% and a type B player contract would be taxed 10%. The tax would be paid from the signing team to the one who lost the player. That team has the option of beginning the program that year or waiting until the following off season to begin. This tax money must be spent on a free agent and must be at least on a 1:1 dollar shared ratio. Any unspent money is forfeited back to the player on which the tax was issued.

For instance:
Lets say Mark Teixeira signed an 8 year deal for about 180MM. That is a yearly average of 22.5MM. Assuming that yearly sum is what the Yankees are willing to offer him, under the new scenario he would be paid 18MM with 4.5MM being sent to the Angels. This would happen in years n to n+2 or n+1 to n+3. The Angels would have that 4.5MM allotment to spend on 9MM or more for a single free agent. If they only spend 8MM on a free agent assigned to this allotment, they can only receive 4MM in compensation and 0.5MM goes to Teixeira.

Why would this be good for teams?
Compensation for a type A players generates on average about 5.6MM in value. In order for a team to get similar compensation a player would need to sign a 3/27MM contract. That is about what an average baseball player would sign for if 1 WAR is worth about 3.5 to 4MM. That seems about right. The better the player, the higher the compensation. The value of that compensation is also more immediate and more dependable than draft picks would be.

Why would it be good for players?
It would probably push for players demanding long term contracts as well as forcing teams to spend money on MLBPA free agents. Money cannot disappear from the market if a team wishes to get compensated. It also encourages the teams to sign a player for 3 years so they can fully really that compensation. Likewise, a team/player is only taxed for three seasons and it is based on his lifetime contract, so it is not a great burden.

04 February 2010

Draft Top 20: Mayo on James

Jonathan Mayo put out his first MLB draft top 20 prospects. Below are the rankings along with where Nick James at PNR Scouting puts them in parentheses.

1. (3) Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU
2. (7) Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Ole Miss
3. (2) James Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS, TX
4. (1) Bryce Harper, C, College of Southern Nevada
5. (13) Dylan Covey, RHP, Maranatha HS, CA.
6. (11) Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast University
7. (10) Jesse Hahn, RHP, Virginia Tech
8. (8) Zack Cox, 3B, Arkansas
9. (30) Manny Machado, SS, Miami Brito HS, FL
10. (21) Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Cook County HS, GA
11. (25) James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky
12. (6) Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech
13. (4) A.J. Cole, RHP, Oviedo HS, FL
14. (22) Kevin Gausman, RHP, Grandview HS, CO
15. (20) Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas
16. (12) LeVon Washington, 2B, Chipola JC, FL
17. (60) Micah Gibbs, C, LSU
18. (15) Stetson Allie, RHP, Olmstead Falls HS, OH
19. (9) Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton
20. (18) Yordy Cabrera, SS, Lakeland HS, FL

Mayo might be crossing the line that has been established by conventional wisdom placing Bryce Harper at number 1. We saw something similar with Kevin Goldstein suggesting that Harper would not go number 1 (though not outright saying he is not the best prospect). Stotle (Nick) ranks it differently. True, much time remains between now and the draft, so things could change. The rest of the list appears similar enough until we reach the 9th slot.

It will be interesting to see how these rankings change over the course of the year.

02 February 2010

Keith Law on the Fan Tonight

Keith Law appeared on the Fan with Jeremy Conn's Playmakers tonight to talk about prospects on the Orioles.

On Matt Wieters:
Law said he was not surprised that Wieters needed time to adjust. Few players come out and perform when they hit the big leagues . . . there are few Ryan Brauns. He thinks he will be a star by 2012 and 2013 when the Orioles will be ready to compete in the AL East.

Thoughts on the Orioles not signing a big name this offseason:
Law said he has been a supporter of Andy MacPhail devoting money to the minors leagues and developmental system. You won't win by trying to outspend the Yankees and Red Sox. The GM needed patience for the system to replenish itself and prepare them to having waves of talent rising up every year. In a year or two guys like Wieters, Jones, Reimold, and Matusz will be performing at a high level. A year or two after that another wave of talent will arrive in the form of guys like Britton and Joseph. Then another wave will come with guys like Hobgood, Coffey, and others.

On Brian Matusz:
Matusz is a player who was not going to develop in the minors. He secondary pitches are very good and overmatched HiA and AA batters. Add that to an above average fastball and it was clear that he would need to develop in the majors. The only aspect of his game that needs work is fastball command. When he solidifies that he will profile as a no. 2 starter or even as an unconvential no. 1 starter. He has a David Cone style approach where he uses his secondary pitches against both right handers and left handers to set them up on his fastball.

On Zach Britton:
Law is high on Zach Britton. He is a traditional sinker/slider pitcher with a good slider and a plus sinker. He uses these quite well to miss bats and induce groundballs. He should be able to be a top of the rotation pitcher. The high grade (no. 25) in this year's rankings is in large part due to his improving changeup which makes him more of a threat to batters on both sides of the plate. Law then talked about how he talked to three scouts who each said he was one of the best if not the best pitcher they watched all season. They gave very high praise including one who joked with Law not to place him too high on the list because he is trying to talk his GM in trading for him. Law mentioned that that won't happen as the Orioles are high on him as well. It may take about a year and half more development, but if Britton cuts down on his walks and improves the changeup he could be very special.

On Josh Bell:
Bell needs some developmental time. He has one of the best left handed swings in the minors, but his right handed approach needs a lot of work. His defense is a work in progress. His feet and athleticism are there, so Law thinks he can make it. He views the Dodgers system as one where players do not get a high level of instruction and that the Orioles do a better job of that. He thinks Bell is good enough that it would have been foolish for the Orioles to lock themselves in place with a 3 to 4 year deal at the corners and block Bell.

On Brandon Snyder:
The big question is if Snyder will have enough power. His swing is very nice, but it has never produced any power. His defense is solid at first, too. The power needs to show up if the Orioles are going to slot him in at first. If he does start hitting home runs he will clearly be an everyday player.

Jake Arrieta
Law sees him as a fourth starter, but mentions that the O's brass think higher of him than that. He has improved his control, which was the big knock on him. The consensus from scouts is that he is a 4th starter and that is not a bad thing as there are several pitchers in the pipeline that will challenge him for a slot in the rotation.

On Chris Tillman:
He looks light a number 2 pitcher, but has more development to go. The Orioles were somewhat forced to promote him before he was ready and will need to do that development in the majors. His curve has good depth on his curve and he has a good body. His command needs improvement. Very high potential.

Law thinks Bergesen is a bottom of the rotation type of pitcher. He does not miss enough bats, but he does work down in the zone so that minimizes the damage of batted balls. His main role on the team will wind up being someone who can hold a rotation position warm on the cheap until another arm pushes him out of the way. He could be a 5th or possibly a 4th starter on a good team.

01 February 2010

Connecticut would do good for a bad team.

This past week NESN's own Peter Gammons stated that there have been some (probably minimal) discussions about relocating the Tampa Bay Rays to either New Jersey or Connecticut. The idea is spurned by the fact that the Rays have been around for about two decades and have been recently successful, yet they have proven to be a tough draw. They were 11th in the AL with a draw of 1.875 million people. Their average ticket price was $18.35 and their premium seats were averaged at $59.82 last year. In comparison to the Orioles, the average ticket price is cheaper ($23.42), but the premium price is more expensive ($42.86). The final price index shows going to either the Orioles or Rays games to be rather similar in cost.

Again, the problem is that the best the Rays can do when they are coming off a World Series is the best the Orioles can do after more than a decade straight of losing records. That is pretty much the definition of a poor market. Moving to an area with more cash flow would be ideal. The is where New Jersey and Connecticut come up first. They have money and they have well established markets to set up in. Problem is though that they will be in the Red Sox and Yankee markets in Connecticut or in the Yankee/Mets/Phillies market in Northern Jersey. It would seems that the people in these markets who would follow a team probably already have sworn allegiance to a club. Furthermore, the Yanks and BoSox have been incredibly successful, so even the band wagon fans are appeased at this point. The money generated by a new club will probably be more about siphoning money already in the market as opposed to generating a new, money laden fanbase.

The big negatives:
1. Yanks, BoSox, Mets, and Phillies may need to be given a monetary incentive for letting another team in their markets. It would probably be cost prohibitive for any owner to meet these prices and set up shop in a new locale and it might not be something the MLB office wants to handle.
2. Little new revenue. MLB probably won't get richer because the money in these markets is probably already spoken for.
3. Stadium and infrastructure construction. No MLB ready existing facilities are available in the region, so new facilities and infrastructure related to those would need to be built. We are probably talking somewhere between 700-1000 MM. Neither state would be willing to help out.

So, knowing all of that . . . it is unlikely that the Rays will move in either of these locations. It will probably take a building/tax boom as well as the Rays outright tanking and watching their awful attendance halving before a move would be considered.

That would not make this a fun column though, so after the jump . . . what may be the most cost effective way to get either of these places to work. Be weary, this is kind of long and rather rambling.

The first assumption is that the Rays would be able to get tax cuts to equalize Tampa and their new home. This might be a faulty assumption. The second assumption to be made is that there will be little to no money available for stadium construction. In light of this, it will be necessary to use existing stadium that would be modified slightly to fit baseball uses. Stadium size will also be an issue because the team would rely greatly on Red Sox and Yankee travel to boost income. This will help on a couple fronts as it would prevent the need to immediately invest a great deal of capital into construction and it would allow the team to saunter around and find a suitable place to build a stadium several years down the line.

So, what level of support would make the Rays break even?

As mentioned earlier, the Rays pulled in about 1.875MM fans last year. Each person paid roughly $41.35 based on the fan cost index (FCI). In comparison, Yankees fans FCI was $102.75 and the Red Sox FCI was $81.61. As this is an Orioles blog, I'll note that the average cost for an Oriole fan is $40.92. So you can see why Camden Yards is full of BoSox and Yankee fans, particularly on weekends. You can get much closer to the action and break about even if you carpool and get a room with a person or two next to the stadium. The way a Connecticut team would work would be by bankrolling on these two fan bases. As this region only has a population of 3.5MM, it probably makes sense to use more than one stadium. Smaller stadiums for non-BoSox/Yanks games and temporarily convert a football stadium for BoSox and Yank games.

So, if the FCI for premium games was set at $70 with the non-premium games at $40, what would be needed for the teams to break even?

Assuming, at $70 you are able to pull in 50,000 for Yankee games and 40,000 for Red Sox games then, in those 18 games, the Rays will have earned 73% of their current annual revenue. Although incredibly unlikely, if the premium games were sellouts at 57,000, that would account for 92% of the current income. An average of 61,250 would generate the same revenue that the Rays currently enjoy. Under the 45,000 average assumption, the rest of the home games can depend on a relatively small fan base for the remaining money (20.8MM).

Stadiums to use for non-premium games:

New Britain Stadium in New Britain , Ct
capacity 8,200
14 years old

The Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct
capacity 5,500
12 years old

McCoy Stadium at Pawtucket, RI
capacity 11,800
64 years old

Sixty three non premium games will be played each year. A non premium game is defined as a game played against someone not named the Yankees or Red Sox. Each stadium here would serve as a home field for 21 games. The specific series for each stadium would be decided before the season and adjusted for what the team desires. For instance, the season may be split into three sections with each stadium serving as the home field for two months.

Perhaps the nicest stadium of those three will also be the most difficult to include. The Ballpark at Harbor Yard has a capacity of 5,500. Each game has to make 330k to break even with the Rays mark assuming the Yanks and BoSox can average 45,000 for each game. That would make a FCI of $60.60, which would be a very expensive ticket. Based on the current design of the ballpark about 1,000 temporary seats could be erected for games. That would bring the cost down to $51.28, which is still rather expensive. More serious construction could probably maximize the stadium at 7,500, which would drop the per game FCI to $44.44. That would need to include a solution to add 500-1000 seats to the outfield corners and maybe left field. This is the weakest one of the three, but may be a good idea as it would reach another location to generate interest in the team.

The other two stadiums would suit the team fine (which may mean ignoring Harbor Park and just settling in on New Britain and Pawtucket). In New Britain, existing infrastructure allows for an FCI of $40.65 to break even. Temporary stands could raise the capacity to roughly 10,000 which would drop the FCI to $33.33. In Pawtucket, existing infrastructure allows for an FCI of $28.25. If only New Britain and Pawtucket were used with a $40 FCI, then with 80% and 70% fill of their respective stadium (8,250 tickets sold per game) would break even with the Rays current system. If they would be able to sell out their home schedule in those stadiums, they could make another 7.5MM. That is a 10% increase over their current draw based on the FCI.

Premium Games:

Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT
97 years old

The east end of the stadium would have to be closed off as those seats would be too far away from the action. Some replacements could be placed out into the right field. A reasonable estimation would be that the stadium would be able to fit about 57,000 fans. If need the far end of the stadium could be opened up to allow for another 10,000 fans to congregate in the stands and field. In addition to this, a see through fence would need to be erected in left field to make the short distance playable. Otherwise, you will have a 215 ft porch. It would quickly recess back to about 370-380 is left center, so the wall would only be needed for a short distance. An example would be the Los Angeles Coliseum when the Dodgers first moved out west. Another potential fix would be to put home plate at one end and have two extremely short porches that quickly move back. Essentially the porches would be about 195-200ft, while the alleys could be as deep as 430 feet. In this scenario the high walls would be present for about 25-30 ft. It would also make it easier to seat the fans close to the infield. It is not an ideal situation, but it has been done before. The hope would be that Red Sox and Yankee fans would be interested in coming to a road game within driving distance of home with a ticket price that is less than what it would cost in their respective stadiums.

1. Minimal cost in temporary seating and field adjustments.
2. Current infrastructure is already designed to meet attendance levels.
3. Greater region to draw fans. It may be easier to get one person to buy season tickets in New Britain and someone else to buy the other other season tickets in Pawtucket as opposed to one person buy a full season slate in New Britain.
4. Provides greater scarcity of a product in some locations. Fewer games means that the games take on more importance as an entertainment good.
5. If it is a complete fiasco, nothing large and expensive has been built to keep the team staked down to an area.
6. Greater cost efficiency in running a game as larger venues could be sought for larger crowds and vice versa.

1. Entire plan is based on the assumption that Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee fans would be willing to travel 1.5hr to New Haven to spend 30-40% less while potentially getting better seats than they would have gotten at home.
2. Few box seats.
3. Modifying a football stadium for baseball is somewhat difficult as one or both foul lines will provide for a short porch.
4. Local populace is not very large.
5. Local populace is largely divided amongst Yankees and Red Sox fans with the rest mainly consisting of Mets fans. Baseball is awash in this environment and there are probably very few fans who have no affiliation.
6. Fans are willing to watch MLB in minor league parks where the FCI is probably twice what it costs to watch a minor league game in the same park.
7. That the facilities could be upgraded well enough to provide proper clubhouse amenities for the players.

How would it make sense?

I think there would have to be an increase of about 20%. By using Pawtucket and New Britain, you could probably average about 8000 tickets sold per night. If their FCI was $40 and the premium games were $70, the premium games would need to have an average attendance of 57,000. That does not look very good. If both Pawtucket and New Britain could sustain sell outs every night, then an average premium attendance would be 53,000 to meet the 20% increase goal. I think the 20% goal would be far easier to make if the team was not good at all.

In 2005, the Rays had a season draw of 1.14 million tickets. According to the FCIs, that would be an income of 47MM, 30MM less than they are receiving right now. To get the 20% rise under such a scenario, if the non premium games averaged 8000 tickets, then 29,000 would be needed for the premium games. If the non-premium games were sold old, about 26,500 would be needed to the premium games. In terms of FCIs, with a draw of 1.14 million tickets, if the premium games had an attendance level of 38,000 . . . they would break even. In 18 home games, they would break even with what they could do in Tampa. All else would be increased profit. That should be pretty simple. I think it is pretty easy to say that if the Rays don't move and have a period of about ten years where they have difficulty to compete, their attendance will fall and a place like Connecticut and Rhode Island would look nice.

What about New Jersey?
I think it is more difficult here. First, it would be either going into the AL and depending primarily on Yankees fans to arrive as opposed to Yankee and BoSox fans. They could also try to draw on the Phillies and Mets fans. Also, there are no large minor league stadiums here. They are all in the 5,000 to 7,000 range. Assuming you could fit about 40,000 Yankee fans up in Giants Stadium. If you could get average 37,000 for Yankees and Red Sox games at Giants Stadium, to hit the 20% mark the FCI would have to be $22.68 in those non-premium games for those stadiums. The problem is that if the team is more successful and capable of selling more tickets in Tampa, an FCI of about $110 would be required for non-premium games . . . so you can see that this arrangement is even more limited than what Connecticut and Rhode Island could offer.

If you try to draw on the Mets and Phillies, you probably have to reduce the FCI to about $55. In this scenario, you can reach a 20% increase over what the Rays would make with a 1.14 million attendance mark if you can pull in an average of 35,000 fans in the Mets/Phillies games while hitting 7000 in the non-premium games with an FCI of $45.35. The assumption of Yankee fans being more present and willing to travel to watch a game in addition to the slightly higher draw of a BoSox game and you have a higher attendance rate and higher FCI. New Jersey is probably a better place to have a bad team, but not a better one to have a good team without a larger capacity stadium being built.

So in conclusion, the Rays would do just as well in Connecticut by drawing an average of 45,000 fans for premium games and 8,000 for non-premium games. Under 2005 attendance levels in Tampa, just 18 games of 37,000 attendance for the BoSox and Yanks games would have accounted for all of the revenue Tampa generated that season in 81 home games. An NL team would have very little draw in this region and should not be considered. If the team was placed in New Jersey, a 1.8 million ticket presence in Tampa could not be reciprocated in Jersey with the existing infrastructure. On the lower end of the spectrum, a team could probably get by in the NL, but would probably have a much easier time of it in the AL.