To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turning Japanese (Part 2)

The latest Japanese baseball player to be posted is Kei Igawa, a left-handed 27 year-old pitcher from the Hanshin Tigers.

Perhaps influenced by the bidding on Matsuzaka, the Yankees won the posting with a bid of $26 million, significantly more than the next highest bidder, the Mets, who are rumored to have bid $15 million. While the Mets bid is just a rumor, I find it likely, as early speculation had the posting fee around that level, and the Padres supposedly put out a bid of "more than $10 million."

My guess is that the Yankees took a look at the free agent money being thrown around and the Matsuzaka bid and figured that they should dial their bid up. Let's suppose Igawa gets 4 years, 28 million, which puts the Yankees expenditure at a total of $13 million a year over those 4 years. I don't know if that contract is going to be what Igawa will get, but I find it reasonable.

Obviously, the figure isn't exact, as the posting fee is not counted against payroll figures and is therefore not subject to luxury tax considerations, especially under the new CBA. This could actually save the Yankees some money; if they signed Barry Zito to a contract worth $14 million annually, that entire number would be counted into the payroll. With the luxury tax thresholds rising over the next few years, signing Igawa could be one of the first moves the Yankees will make to actually drop under, or at least minimize, their luxury tax payments.

This is why the posting process actually is a bigger boon and a more lucrative process than we think for teams with high payrolls and deep pocketbooks. In addition to having more money to throw around, the Yankees or the Red Sox (if the Red Sox were over threshold) would much rather pay a posting fee and a salary than an equivalent or slightly higher salary to an American free agent.

Just to give an example - if Yankees are over the luxury tax threshold:

Igawa: 26 million posting fee to Hanshin, plus 4 year deal worth 28 million (just an assumption).

For luxury tax purposes, $7 million a year, plus 40% luxury tax penalty equals 10.8 million.

If the Yankees stay over the threshold each year of the contract, which is unlikely given the new thresholds put into place in the new CBA, the total expenditure on Igawa will be $69.2 million

Suppan: Let's say the Yankees sign a league average Jeff Suppan to a 4 year deal worth $10 million a year. It looks high, but I would direct your attention to the contracts given to out a number of middle relievers (Danys Baez: 3 years, 19 million), and outfielders (Juan Pierre, Gary Matthew Jr.).

Quick Update - Adam Eaton, a pitcher who is barely average, if that, who has never pitched more than 200 innings in a season (close a couple of times), just got 24.5 million dollars over 3 years to go to the Phillies, where his high home run and fly ball rates will be just as manifest as they were in Texas. This convinces me as much as any other signing that someone like Suppan will likely get 10 million a year or more.

In any case, in our example with Jeff Suppan, the Yankees will pay

$10 million a year to Suppan, plus $4 million a year in luxury tax.

Total expenditure in 4 years: $56 million.

The difference, about $13 million, or a touch more than $3 million a year, isn't so much when you consider marketing and sales increases (even if profits are split, the Yankees would still make money on Igawa they wouldn't on Suppan), and the fact that Igawa is 4 years younger. Jeff Suppan might have more major league experience, but I would argue that Igawa has more upside.

Also, if the numbers are accurate, the Yankees might have figured that if they could break even on a posting fee of $13 million, they could afford bidding higher just to ensure they would get Igawa. Of course, money used in posting is money immediately spent (I assume the contract will be signed and that the posting fee isn't paid out over several years), so that should factor into calcuations. For example, the Yankees won't have that $26 million to invest elsewhere, whereas with a domestic free agent signing, they're paying out luxury taxes and salaries from year to year.

That said, the difference in luxury taxes may still make the posting fee worth it.

What kind of player is Igawa though? His page contains the best set of statistics I can find on him, and the numbers are a bit shaky.

While his strikeout rates can be excellent, he has also been inconsistent. 2005 in particular is a red flag - 23 HR allowed in 173 IP, along with 199 hits allowed (well over one per inning), and an above desirable walk rate (60 BB in 173 IP) all stand out. A 1.50 WHIP isn't very pretty in any league, and apparently his ERA was the worst among his team's starters.

That said, his 2006 was excellent, as his walk rate dropped and he allowed significantly fewer baserunners. Is this the Kei Igawa the Yankees should expect though?

Sturgeon General has a set of projections up that has Igawa being about league average. And I think that if the Yankees get a league average season out of him, it may be worth it.

Consider that a league average free-agent pitcher (like Jeff Suppan) in today's market is likely going to command anywhere from 7 to 10 million a year, possibly more if I'm underestimating the market this year. And that Barry Zito, who will likely cost 14-16 million a year, and more for the Yankees due to the luxury tax, has posted two straight years of 116 ERA+ (with horrendous walk rates, I might add).

In that case, the posting fee of 26 million and a 4 year deal worth 28 million might not look so bad for the Yankees. They've shown that they need starting pitching, what with Randy Johnson's inconsistency and Carl Pavano's absence. Signing Igawa will start them in 2007 with a rotation of

Mussina, Wang, Johnson, Igawa, Pavano, with Darrell Rasner and Philip Hughes as potential fill-ins.

The Yankees may have been able to save money by using Hughes, since you always save money by using cost-controlled players, but with the shakiness of Johnson and Pavano, it's probably for the best for them to hedge their bets and find more starters, which for the Yankees means dipping into their wallets and diving into the free agent market. And it might even save them money in the long run.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cover Songs

Since it's getting close to 5 AM, I guess I'm not getting any sleep tonight. So here's a list of songs that you had absolutely no clue were covers. The vast majority of these have become so famous that most people attribute them as originals to the artists who made them popular.

“Respect” - by Otis Redding, covered by Aretha Franklin

Might as well start the list with a bang. I've gotten into Otis Redding lately, although I do admit that part of my interest is because he managed to be so influential before he died at only 26.

Consider new direction "Sitting by the Dock of the Bay," seemed to indicate, and that he was about to start collaborations with Bob Dylan. What might have happened if he hadn't died so early?

I was stunned to find out that this was a cover, considering the empowering message that Aretha Franklin charged it with really made it seem like her own. It doesn't cheapen her version, but it's surprising nonetheless.

“Hard to Handle” - by Otis Redding, covered by The Black Crowes

This was also surprising, and made me lose a lot of respect for Chris Robinson, because "Hard to Handle" is one of the few truly good Black Crowes songs. Or should I say, it was one of the few good Black Crowes songs.

“Me and Bobby McGee” - by Kris Kristofferson, covered by Janis Joplin (and everyone else in the world, but most famously by Janis Joplin)

This is the same Kris Kristofferson most kids today know as Whistler from the "Blade" movies. I knew he was a singer first, but I didn't know "Me and Bobby McGee" was his until very recently.

“I Fought the Law” - by The Crickets, covered by The Clash

Most know the song best as a Clash anthem. But apparently it was a Crickets song (post Buddy Holly)

“Take Me To The River” - by Al Green, covered by The Talking Heads

I knew it was by Al Green, but the Talking Heads version is so good that I only associate the song with David Byrne's voice.

“Hound Dog” - by Big Mama Thornton (and Johnny Otis?), covered by Elvis Presley

“Blue Suede Shoes” - by Carl Perkins, covered by Elvis Presley

It's quite interesting to see that some of Elvis's greatest hits were covers, although I do enjoy his original stuff ("Can't Help Falling in Love" being a personal favorite - I'm sappy like that, so sue me).

“Mony Mony” - by Tommy James, covered by Billy Idol

“White Wedding” - by The Deathstars, covered by Billy Idol

Two of the three songs that made Idol famous were covers. "Rebel Yell" is still catchy though.

“Hallelujah” - by Leonard Cohen, covered by Rufus Wainwright, also covered by Jeff Buckley

Wainwright's version is famous for being in "Shrek," but I've always been partial to the Jeff Buckley version.

“Istanbul (Constantinople)” - by The Four Lads, covered by They Might Be Giants

This I had no clue about until tonight. This completely changes my perception of They Might Be Giants.

“Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson, covered by Pearl Jam

I detest this song.

“Crossroads” by Robert Johnson, covered by Cream

“Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, covered by UB40

UB40's most famous songs have been their covers, namely this one and the aforementioned Elvis song "Can't Help Falling in Love."

“Cocaine” by JJ Cale, covered by Eric Clapton

“After Midnight” by JJ Cale, covered by Eric Clapton

I'm not sure if Cale recorded either of these songs before Clapton did. So they may not really qualify to be on this list.

“Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones, covered by Soft Cell

“Turn Turn Turn” by Pete Seeger (from the Bible), covered by The Byrds

Of course, The Byrds also famously covered "Tambourine Man," but this song is associated with The Byrds exclusively now. At least that was my impression.

“Twist and Shout” by The Isley Brothers, covered by The Beatles

“Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince, covered by Sinead O’Connor

To think that Sinead O'Connor might never have hit it in the international market if Prince hadn't written this song and then challenged her to a one-on-one game of basketball and discussed the song over pancakes afterwards.

“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, covered by The Foo Fighters

“You Really Got Me” by The Kinks, covered by Van Halen

I think the Kinks were already popular when they recorded this, but Van Halen really put it on the map. "Van Halen I" still sits up there with GNR's "Appretite for Destruction" as two albums that were so great that nothing either band could do afterwards could come close.

“All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, covered by Jimi Hendrix

I think everyone knows this is a Dylan song, but you never hear the Dylan version on the radio.

“Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen, covered by Manfred Mann

Same with this one, in that I've never heard the Springsteen original on the radio.

I was never sure about the lyrics to this song, at least the Manfred Mann version, whether it was "revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night" or "revved up like a douche, another runner in the night," but neither makes sense to me, so it doesn't really matter. How does one rev up a douche, anyway? And what are the consequences after you rev it up?

Apparently, it's "revved up like a deuce" though. That still sounds vaguely scatological to me.

“There She Goes” by The La’s (Lee Mavers), covered by Sixpence None The Richer

Kind of a lame way to end it, but I was surprised this song was a cover.

In any case, this was for some reason the focus of my energy tonight, and I'm still interested in finding out about other songs that are really covers. Let me know of any I left any off this list.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Turning Japanese

Bear with me, this post takes a while to develop.

The biggest story in baseball over the next few weeks will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 26 year old Seibu Lions ace has been posted by his team, meaning Major League teams get to bid somewhere between 20 and 30 million dollars just to go into exclusive contract negotiations with Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras.

What should we expect of Matsuzaka though? People are already projecting what Matsuzaka might do in the majors or at least his major league equivalent stats, and the projections range from stats for a Cy Young caliber pitcher to a solid #2 starter.

Considering the bidding for Oakland ace Barry Zito might reach the salaries that Matsuzaka will expect (counting the posting fees), most major league teams would likely be happy with any of the results in that range.

Let's take a closer look at the projections though.

Over at Matsuzaka Watch, probably the best resource for both Matsuzaka news and information (the videos of his pitching are especially comprehensive), Mike Plugh uses Jim Albright's conversion system to get the following statistical line:

2005 28 2.74 215 185 16 63 200
2006 25 2.52 187 156 21 39 181

At Stugeon General's Report, a personal projection guesses

200 180 45 25 3.40

At Replacement Level Yankees, a different conversion system gives us this line:

3.67 26 22 186 173 37 49 188 8.4 2.4 9.1 1.1

I'm not particularly wedded to any of these projections. The high home run rate stands out in the Replacement Level Yankees analysis. Mike Plugh's projection shows an excellent BB/IP rate and a stellar ERA.

Since I'm not an expert in Japanese baseball, I can't really pick out which one of these might approximate his future the best. However, I do wonder how much these projections accurately mimic how an actual manager might use Matsuzaka.

As a Seibu Lion this past year, Matsuzaka started 25 games, throwing 13 complete games and logging 186 innings. This works out to 7.44 innings thrown a start. In comparison, Twins workhorse Johan Santana averaged 6.88 innings per start this year, a significantly lower number. The majority of major leaguers don't average over 7.

In fact, the only people that I can think of who have averaged as many innings per start recently are Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling as Diamondbacks, Livan Hernandez and Mark Buerhle (both before this year). The Bill James Handbook for the 2005 season only has 2 starts in which pitchers threw more than 140 pitches, and both were by Livan Hernandez.

The problem I have is not with the projections themselves, persay. Hideo Nomo had a similar workload switch when he came over from Japan. He went from throwing 15 complete games a year to throwing 4 his first year as a major leaguer, and he was great as a rookie.

We all hear about pitchers and routines. Teams use different strategies in working their pitchers on off days and counting pitches during starts. And while 100 pitches is an arbitrary cut off point, many managers and pitching coaches seem to be sensitive about letting their pitchers work beyond that number.

It has been well documented that Matsuzaka works with high pitch counts. Averaging 138 pitches in 2005 and 144 pitches in 2006 places Matsuzaka significantly above the point at which most managers will keep their pitchers in the game. A Cubs fan would be apopletic at that point during a Mark Prior start, to use an extreme example.

NOTE: These numbers are pitches per 9 innings, and NOT pitches per start, as Yahoo! and The Sporting News indicates.

So how should a manager use Matsuzaka? How long should he stay in games? And should the manager keep Matsuzaka longer in the game than he would another pitcher?

My instinct, given his pitch counts, would be to work him longer than an average pitcher. He's not going to be throwing harder here, so keeping him on a longer pitch count (provided he is pitching well enough to go deep into games) might be the best way to maintain his routine.

Matsuzaka should fare better than Hideo Nomo in the long run in my opinion. Nomo was wild even in the Japanese Leagues, where he had Nolan Ryan-like walk rates and strikeout rates. His wildness continued over here. In contrast, Matsuzaka's walk totals have declined in recent years, and reached phenomenally low levels in 2005 and 2006 (around or under 2 BB/9 IP).

Which brings me (FINALLY) to my big question. How is Matsuzaka reaching 140 and 150 pitches per nine when his walk rate is that good? He doesn't allow that many hits per inning either. Matsuzaka's WHIP was 0.925 this past year, meaning on average, he allows 0.925 men on base an inning. 138 pitches each 9 innings works out to 15.33 pitches per inning. But if he's throwing an average of 15.33 pitches in an inning, and he's only facing an average of 3.925 hitters, that means each hitter will see 3.905 pitches per at bat.

To contextualize that, most MLB players are considered patient if they can average 4 pitches seen per plate appearance. The most patient players, ones like Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, will average about 4.4 pitches per plate appearance. And those are rare.

The most economical pitchers throw fewer than 3.5 pitches per batter(Greg Maddux is especially good at this).

So if I'm not mistaken, Matsuzaka is throwing many more pitches than conventional wisdom says he should be. I don't know if this is an artifact of the way baseball is played in Japan, or if players are just superbly talented in working at bats to full counts over there.

I don't know how that will translate over here, if in fact it is something unique to Matsuzaka (and not the Japanese game). This means that if his WHIP rises, which it will, he's going to be throwing a lot of pitches and reaching high pitch counts quickly. Which may confuse his manager even more if Matsuzaka is in fact able to pitch well by throwing a lot of pitches. And furthermore, is this something his new pitching coach is going to want to work on?

EDIT: Orginally, I had the calculation using 138 pitches per start, which would be extraordinarily high. This is not the case. 138 pitches per 9 is correct. Still, this is a high number of pitches being thrown to each batter.

EDIT 2: Looking at it, 15 pitches per inning may be high, but considering Matsuzaka was a high strikeout pitcher in Japan, it makes sense. I assume high strikeout pitchers generally have high pitch counts (I think I've read this and it makes sense). But 15 per inning still seems a touch high to me for someone who issues so few walks and faces so few batters.

Today, Matsuzaka threw 108 pitches in 7 innings. Which isn't incredibly efficient. And yet he only gave up 6 hits and a walk, for a 1.00 WHIP. It's barely any sample, but maybe he just works deep into counts?