M's Talking to Lawrence

Brian LawrenceThe Mariners, in the never-ending quest to try to piece together a starting rotation this year, have fixed their eyes on one more free agent arm, Brian Lawrence. He last pitched with the Nationals in 2005 because he blew out his arm in spring training last year and missed the entire season. The Padres, Rockies, and Pirates are also believed to be interested in this pitcher as well.


I really hope the Mariners are able to sign this guy. Though Lawrence suffered a major arm injury last year he has no history of injuries beforehand, leading me to believe it was a fluke injury, albeit a bad one. Even if his arm never fully recovers it is not as big of a deal for him because he does not rely on velocity heavily. He has never thrown remarkably hard.

Finally, the biggest reason I want the Mariners to sign him is because he was a good pitcher for several years before the injury. In 2005, the year before the injury, Lawrence went 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA, which looks horrible. However, he just had bad luck. Other numbers like his WHIP and home run rate did not spike considerably yet somehow his ERA went up almost a full run. Even using only Lawrence’s 2005 numbers he rated a 3.5. To give an idea of how good that is, Gil Meche rated a 3.7 last year. So, it is conceivable that Brian Lawrence could fully replace Gil Meche, or even be an upgrade.

However, to be fair, I decided to factor in injuries for Lawrence. For argument’s sake I projected him playing only half a season, which I think is rather harsh. Even with Lawrence projected to only play half a season his rating is a 4.3, still making him a better option than Cha-Seung Baek (4.5) or Jake Woods (4.6).

There is no denying Brian Lawrence is a bit of a risky signing thanks to the injury. However, he is only 30 years old and has no prior injury history and, on top of that, he will be a productive starter even if he never fully recovers. With his 4.3 rating he is worth about $3.75 million a year on my scale, so if I were the Mariners I would fully be willing to give him a major league contract. Furthermore, I think no team’s offer on the table to Lawrence even approaches the $3.75 million that I believe is his value on the market. I have not been overly pleased with the Mariners offseason, but signing Brian Lawrence would certainly make me smile.

LaRoche Finally Dealt


Adam LaRocheIt has long been speculated that Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche would be dealt to the Pirates and they finally shipped him there, along with minor league outfielder Jamie Romak, for closer Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge. LaRoche will be the starting first baseman for the Pirates and is expected to bat fourth between Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay, while Gonzalez will be the Braves new closer.

So, who got the better end of the deal?

Let’s start with the Pirates. They expect LaRoche to come in and be the impact power bat they were looking for all off-season. While LaRoche does have good power, he is not as great as some make him out to be. Last year he was a 3.0 on my scale and for his career he is a 3.5. So, unless LaRoche takes another big step forward this year (and personally I think he will slide a little) he is a solid, every-day player. He will upgrade the Pirates offense, but calling him an impact bat might be a stretch. However, the upgrade comes at a price because it does weaken the Pirates bullpen. Mike Gonzalez rated a 5.2 on my scale, which makes him a good reliever. In his place the Pirates intend to use Salomon Torres, who is only a 6.6. That’s a fairly noticeable downgrade, so noticeable it might neutralize the added offense that LaRoche brings, even though according to my point scale LaRoche is more valuable than Gonzalez.

As for the Braves, they now have a formidable duo at the back end of their bullpen with Mike Gonzalez (5.2) and Rafael Soriano (4.6). They replace Danys Baez (6.0) and Ken Ray (7.6). So, Atlanta’s bullpen is clearly better. However, the belief is that the Braves will ask Scott Thorman to replace LaRoche. Thorman spent the majority of last year in AAA and, after adjusting his minor league numbers last year, he rates as a 4.6 in the major leagues. He is a very noticeable downgrade from LaRoche.

At the major league level neither team seemed to get much better or worse. Instead, they both solved a problem by creating another. This is rather remarkable for the Pirates because LaRoche is a significantly higher-ranked player than Gonzalez based on my rankings, yet despite that the team wasn't improved. So, the true winner of this deal (if there ever is one) will be decided by the prospects swapped.

Brent Lillibridge, the player the Braves acquired, played in both low-A and high-A ball last year and his stats combined yield an un-adjusted ranking of 1.4. Jamie Romak, whom the Pirates acquired, played only in low A last year and his un-adjusted ranking is a 3.3. Though Romak is two years younger and could develop, Lillibridge is the better prospect because he has done significantly better at a higher level, and he also has a longer track record of success.

In the end, though the Braves gave up more talent in the deal, they did a better job of improving their team in this trade than the Pirates. Because of that, I give Atlanta the slight edge in this deal.

Quantitative Baseball


a baseballFinally, my baseball post! I’ve been mulling this one in my head for quite some time, trying to figure out the best way to tackle it. I’m tired of thinking about the right way to go about it because it is rather broad.

Over Christmas I set out to find a way through statistics to rate starting pitchers on a one to five scale, with one being an ace and five being a number five starter. I toyed with stats for about a week and devised a formula that appeared to be very effective. Then, I took the formula and tweaked it again, this time figuring out how to incorporate relief pitchers on the same scale. An average relief pitcher rates around a six on the scale, which does make sense since most relievers are still pitchers who were not good enough to make the starting rotation. However, elite relievers do score as high as many quality starters.

With a pitching formula having been devised, I set out to make a formula for position players to accompany it. This was tricky because, while I obviously used completely different statistics, I wanted the results to correlate with the one to five scale I had already established with the pitchers. This took a little bit of time.

However, once I was satisfied with both formulas, I took the next step – trying to figure out a player’s dollar value on the open market. To do this I used 2007 contract figures for hundreds of players that have signed free agent deals (in other words I did not consider arbitration-eligible players or players too inexperienced to even be arbitration eligible).

So, to quickly recap, I came up with two formulas over Christmas break, one for pitchers and one for hitters, but they are supposed to produce results that can be directly compared (this means a hitter valued at 2.5 is just as good as a pitcher valued at 2.5). Then, with these formulas, I project the player’s value on the open market. If you want to know the exact formulas, e-mail me and I’ll be glad to share them with you. However, they are going to look like a mess if I stick them in this post and experience has taught me that most people gloss over the formulas and go straight to the results.

Though my study is rather empirical, the formulas I have come up with show lots of promise as being an effective tool to evaluate players. According to them the best hitter in baseball is Albert Pujols (-0.1 rating) and the best pitcher is Johan Santana (0.5). Only seven pitchers rated as aces in 2006 (1.5 or lower on the scale, since anything below 1.5 would round down to 1). They were Santana, Brandon Webb, Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt. Most people would agree all of these pitchers are among baseball’s finest.

As far as money goes, one of the more interesting cases is Barry Bonds. He will earn $16 million this year (if his contract is ever finalized) and, based solely on his numbers last year and including injuries his rating is 1.0 – and his value on the open market based on my formula is $16.75 million.

Looking at the Mariners, Ichiro was their best offensive player (2.4) with Raul Ibanez a fairly close second (2.9). For those on the “Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre are overpaid” bandwagon, the formula backs that up. Sexson should make around $5.2 million and Beltre about $5 million. They will make $14 million and $11.5 million next year, respectively.

Like I said, if you want to know more about the formulas, e-mail me. I plan to use them with virtually all of my baseball analysis. Though I derived them empirically the results are promising.