MLB to Implement Use of Robotic Fans for Post-Season

In an attempt to integrate more technology into the game, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced on Tuesday the use of robotic fans starting in the 2012 postseason.

“We can no longer deny that technology in the world around us has changed and we can use it to enhance the game, even in a traditional sport like baseball,” said Selig, who had just woken up from his mid-morning nap, “It is clear that there is no use in resisting the use of robots any longer.”

Selig, who has received criticism in his tenure over failures to address the Steroid Era, the Black Sox Scandal, and letting that All-Star Game end in a tie, said the use of robotic fans would usher in a new era that would put MLB at the forefront of technology in sports.

“Some people thought using computers to track the strike zone would be enough, but after consulting with the On-field Play Committee we came to the conclusion that it would be a better option to eliminate the problem at its root: with the fan,” said Selig.

Details are still sketchy on how the plan will be implemented, but no teams are permitted to sell any playoff tickets to entities possessing souls. The line of robots for each team is being rush-manufactured in Japan, with the first shipments expecting to arrive in America just before the post-season in early October.

In addition to the robots, it is expected that higher-end appliances will favor the Yankees and the Red Sox while lower-end brand products—such as those made by Wal-Mart’s Great Value—will take the place of Royals and Mariners fans.

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More Bang for the Bucs

As a general manager, especially for small-market teams, the best way to succeed is to find underrated players and sign them for less than they are worth. That is the concept Billy Beane has used with the Oakland Athletics, having some of the most cost-effective teams in the MLB since he became general manager. In fact, they may have been the most cost-effective teams, such as the 2006 Athletics who had the fifth best record in baseball despite ranking 24th in payroll.

The Pirates opened the season with the league’s lowest payroll, at $51.93 million, but have the fifth best record in Major League Baseball.

Part of the reason for the Pirates being very cost-effective this season is due to the players who are making the league minimum – Neil Walker, Michael McKenry, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Jared Hughes, and Drew Sutton, just to name a few. Neal Huntington does not have a good track record with bringing in MLB talent via free agency and trades. Last season was a prime example of that, as Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz were jettisoned out of Pittsburgh as soon as replacements were found, but this season was likely to be different. Huntington brought in Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas, and Erik Bedard as free agents, as well as Casey McGehee and A.J. Burnett from trades with Milwaukee and the Yankees.

To measure the cost-effectiveness of each player on the Pirates roster, I first collected the salaries from Cot’s Contracts and prorated them to 92 games. After that, I compiled the DOLLAR statistic, based on WAR, and then subtracted the difference between the two.

What are these stats?

WAR is an acronym for “wins above replacement.” A player with a 0.0 WAR is a replacement player, or a waiver claim like Mario Mendoza or John Bowker. The league average is around 2.0 for starters and below 1.0 for bench players and relief pitchers. A superstar will have a WAR in the neighborhood of 5-6 and an MVP-caliber player will have a 6+ WAR.

The DOLLAR statistic measures how much money a player is worth based on WAR. The salary a player will make is about $4.5 million a season for one WAR, so someone with 10 WAR will be worth $45 million.

What are the results?

Not surprisingly, the most cost effective-player on the Pirates is Andrew McCutchen. He has made $280,000 this season, but with his .372/.427/.642 slash line along with 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases, he would be worth $24.4 million in the free agent market if the season ended today. The least cost-effective player is Clint Barmes, who has been paid $2.84 million to date. Barmes is hardly hitting above the Mendoza line, at .207, so it does not come at a surprise he is worth “negative” dollars at -$4.04  million, meaning it would be hard for him to find a team to sign with in a fair free agent market, even for the minimum salary.

Neil Walker, who has been in McCutchen’s shadow all season, would be worth $13.8 million in free agency, or $13.57 million more than the $230,000 he has made this season.

The least cost effective group of players on the team has been the players who have already made $2 million or more.

A.J. Burnett has been the best acquisition Neal Huntington has brought in during his tenure as general manager. Surprisingly, despite making $5 million per annum, he has also been the most cost effective player Huntington has acquired. Barmes, as noted earlier, has not been worth his salt this season, being worth -$4 million less than what he is being paid. Erik Bedard is still riding his spectacular beginning of the season to be worth about $2 million more than his $2.25 million salary to date.

There is also a pretty nice group of players who are making more than $1 million but less than $2,000,000.

Kevin Correia is the only player in that range who would fetch less on the free agent market than he is worth. Jeff Karstens has played very well since returning from the disabled list, and a team would sign him as a free agent for $3.45 million more than the $1.76 million he has made to date. The trade for Casey McGehee was a good move considering his offensive and defensive output, leading to his cost effective season. However, one player who is making just above league minimum is worth more than the $1-2 million range combined.

Andrew McCutchen is just an incredible human being and does not need any explanation. James McDonald, who is “top three in Cy Young voting”-worthy this season, could be signed for $9.5 million more on a free agent market than he has been paid so far this year, as is the case with Pedro Alvarez, who has nearly identical numbers. A nice surprise this season has been the performance of catcher Michael McKenry, who was acquired during the revolving door of catchers last season. The difference between his DOLLAR stat and his actual salary is a cool four and a half million dollars. Even Jordy Mercer who has seemingly not played since his call-up has a positive differential.

If the Bucs want to continue their success, they will need to extend those of the core without long-term deals (Walker, McDonald, Alvarez) and hope to find some underrated free agents who will sign for less than they are worth.

Cruz Placed on DL, Meek Recalled

The Pittsburgh Pirates have placed pitcher Juan Cruz on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and pitcher Evan Meek has been recalled from class AAA to take his roster spot.

Cruz has pitched in 37 games for the Bucs this season, throwing a 2.61 ERA through 31 innings. He has a 9.3 K/9 and a 4.9 walk rate. Meek was demoted to the Indians after a lackluster 7.39 ERA over ten relief appearances.

Alvarez Pushing Forward

In Pedro Alvarez’s sophomore season, the then-24 year old third baseman suffered from the “sophomore slump.”  Starting in 62 games, Alvarez hit just .191 with a .272 on-base average while slugging .289, earning him a demotion to AAA Indianapolis after a rehab stint ended in mid-June. His 2012 campaign has been a completely different story. He’s played in 82 of the team’s 91 games, improving to a .296 on-base average and a slugging percentage of .474. Although he’s only played in eight more games this year, he’s almost already quintupled his home run total, hitting 19 in 2012 as opposed to four one year ago. However, Alvarez’s season success hasn’t been since the season started.

Up until the Pirates’ three-game set against the Cleveland Indians from June 15th to the 17th, Alvarez was putting up numbers comparable to his miserable 2011 season. When a player who was drafted second overall is hitting .192 with a .633 OPS through 54 games played, it was hard for fans — and management — not to think “okay, this kid is probably a bust.” In the first game of the series, it was same old, same old as Pedro went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk. In the final two games, however, Alvarez crushed the Indians pitchers, collecting four hits in eight at-bats, hitting four home runs and driving in nine. Since the Cleveland series started, he has hit a .292 batting average and a 1.085 OPS with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.

A visual representation of Pedro Alvarez’s OPS makes his advancements look even better. As you can see, his OPS climbs significantly around 55-57 games.

But Pedro hasn’t been consistent throughout the entire season. His recent success could be as a result of the rest of the team, most notably Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, having newfound success. Although he is only hitting .205 in the month, Alvarez tore up big league pitchers in June, batting .262 with a .354 on-base average with a slugging percentage of .571 in 24 games. Here are Pedro’s monthly splits.

Another thing noticed by Pirates fans this season is how he plays better in daylight than he does at night, unlike most Major League players. The “average” MLB batter will hit a .247 batting average and a .703 OPS during an afternoon start, whereas he would hit .257 with an OPS of .726 during an evening or nighttime game. Alvarez, on the other hand, has a daytime OPS of 1.133, over .500 points higher than his night OPS (.595). He’s hit .292/.369/.764 with 12 home runs and driving in 29 in 27 games with an afternoon start, as opposed to his .189 average and .260 on-base percentage while slugging just .335 at night.

A theory for this is that he sees the ball better with natural lighting than with artificial. However, Pedro strikes out more during the daytime, having a 36% strikeout rate in the afternoon and a 35.1% K% at night, but he does walk more as well, with an 11.7% BB% during the day and an 8.3% walk rate at night.

Alvarez is having a “Willie Stargell” season, where he will hit a huge amount of home runs but strike out a huge number of times. In 1971, when Pops led the league in home runs (48), came second in RBIs (125), had a 185 OPS+, and came second in MVP voting to Joe Torre (in which was a huge mistake by the BBWAA), he also led the league in Ks, striking out 154 times in 511 at-bats. Alvarez is on pace to hit 35 home runs but strike out 182 times in the same number of at-bats as Pops.

His offense is not the only aspect of his game which he has improved on. In his rookie season, Alvarez has an absolutely terrible defender, shown by his -8.6 UZR/150, which was eighth worst in the MLB among third basemen with at least 500 innings at the position. 2012, on the other hand, has been a huge improvement. He ranks seventh among qualified third basemen in UZR/150 with 5.5.

If the 25-year old 6’3″ third baseman can continue his progress, he’ll be something really special in a few years.

No Clue

This game cannot be explained, but I am going to try my best to do so. The most important things happened in the ninth inning: Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run home run off of Rex Brothers after a 53-minute rain delay on the first pitch.

Clint Hurdle brought in Jason Grilli, who has been the team’s best reliever this season, to hold the game for the ninth inning. Wilin Rosario led off the inning by singling to left, and then Josh Rutledge failed miserably in an attempt to bunt him over. Jason Giambi pinch hit for Rex Brothers and hit a double to  deep right-center field, moving Rosario to third, though he likely could have scored. Dexter Fowler hit a fly ball to center, allowing Rosario to tag up and score from third base.

 

Want to Join Manny Sanguillen’s Barbecue?

As I pointed out in my post welcoming readers to the “new” Sangy’s BBQ, avid readers and writers who want to write for the blog should keep their eyes out over the next few days for an opportunity to join Manny Sanguillen’s Barbecue. Well, here we are a week later, and this is your opportunity.

If you want to write for Manny Sanguillen’s Barbecue, you should send me an e-mail (sangysbbq at gmail dot com) with the subject line reading “Writing application.” The body of the e-mail should contain the following information:

Name (first name only is acceptable)

A little bit about yourself

Why you won’t disappear after a month
and
A writing sample

All I’m looking for is one or two people who can write game and minor league recaps, as well as someone who writes with good grammar. Most importantly, I’m hoping that the person/people whom I choose will not write one or two posts and decide they don’t like it.

Any questions? Feel free to send them in an e-mail.

Prospect Lookout

The MLB is now at the halfway point of the season, which means it’s a great time to look back on the performance of the top ten prospects in the Pirates’ farm system.
Last year’s first overall pick Gerrit Cole was excelling in the Florida State League, where he had a 2.69 ERA through 67 innings spread over 13 starts, which earned him a promotion to the Pirates’ AA affiliate, the Altoona Curve. Among the reasons he was sent to Altoona was his high strikeout rate, striking out 9.27 batters per nine innings pitched, and his 2.82 BB/9, which is below league average. In Altoona, Cole has played very well. Although his ERA is 4.63, it is not a good indicator of his performance through three starts. He has a 10.3 K/9, as well as a 0.77 BB/9, although that is likely unsustainable, and a 1.49 FIP. Cole has been unlucky, as batters have a .410 BABIP against him. While his peripherals look good, Cole has only pitched 11.2 innings, so take his performance with a grain of salt. Cole has shown his toughness by taking a line drive to the face and finishing the inning before being taken out of the game due to swelling.

The number two prospect for the Pirates, Jameson Taillon, has shown flashes of brilliance in high-A ball so far, despite having a lackluster performance. Taillon hasn’t been able to strike out the sheer number of batters he did last season in West Virginia, striking out approximately two fewer batters per nine innings. He has an ERA of 4.05, but his FIP number of 3.38 shows that his defense hasn’t helped him out and his ERA should fall. He’s stranded 66.6% of baserunners he’s allowed this season, so look for his ERA to fall when he strands more runners. A positive for Taillon is that he hasn’t allowed as many home runs as he did in low-A last season, dropping from 0.87 homers per nine innings to 0.62 HR/9. The second half performance for Taillon should be better than his first, so hopefully the Pirates will promote him to AA by 2013.
Outfielder Josh Bell hasn’t shown the power surge he was expected to have when the Pirates drafted him with the first pick in the second round in the 2011 Draft. Bell has been up to the plate 66 times for the West Virginia Power this year, and he has hit one home run. How about that for the “best power hitter” in the Pirates system? He hasn’t exactly been hitting well otherwise, hitting .274/.288/.403 despite an incredibly high .381 BABIP. The 6’4” outfielder has also struggled with his vision at the plate, walking in just three percent of his plate appearances while striking out in 31.8% of his at bats. While 2012 looks like a disappointment so far, Bell has only played 15 games, so like Cole in AA, his statistics are flawed due to a small sample size.
Ranked number four in the Pirates’ farm, Starling Marte may be called up to the Major Leagues by next week, Dejan Kovacevic reports. Marte is only one year removed from an insane season at AA Altoona, hitting .332 with an on-base average of .370 and slugging .500. While Marte hasn’t put up the same numbers in Indianapolis for the Pirates’ AAA affiliate, he has still performed very well, hitting for an OBA of .349 while slugging .487. Marte walked in just 3.8% of his plate appearances in 2011, but he has rebounded in AAA by having a 6.4% BB%. With his increased walk rate, however, comes an increased strikeout rate. Last season was likely an anomaly in terms of strikeouts for Marte, as he had a strikeout rate of 17.5%, down from 23.3% in high-A ball. His strikeout rate increased by over three percent, from 17.5% to 20.8%; this is encouraging still, because Marte was able to lower his MiLB average K%. Marte has contributed 10.9 runs to the Indianapolis Indians with his offensive skill. He has been tried out at right field with the Indians recently, probably preparing him for a call-up to the Majors.
Luis Heredia is 17 years old and is playing against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Not only that, but he is playing well against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Ignore the small sample size of 19 innings pitched over four starts and just absorb these numbers. Heredia has allowed two earned runs this season, giving him an ERA of 0.95. He has struck out 6.63 batters per nine innings he has pitched while walking only 1.42. All of this with a relatively average .293 BABIP. Assuming he can keep up with his 2.20 FIP for the rest of the Spikes season and continue to develop, Heredia is well worth the $2.6 million the Pirates signed him for out of Mexico in 2010.
Kyle McPherson, the number six prospect for the Pirates, was looking for a repeat season in his first full season of AA. In his 2011 campaign, McPherson had a 3.02 ERA and an 8.26 K/9 through 16 starts after being promoted from high-A Bradenton. Much like Jameson Taillon, McPherson has a high ERA despite good peripherals. He hasn’t struck out as many people as he has done throughout his professional career thus far, but his 6.35 K/9 is still respectable, especially when combined with his 1.59 BB/9. As is the case with Luis Heredia and Josh Bell, McPherson hasn’t started nearly enough games to get a good look at him, throwing just 22.2 innings, but if he can keep it up, he’ll be a good fifth starter in the future.
Tony Sanchez was picked fourth overall in the 2009 MLB Draft and has been an off-and-on player since signing with the Bucs in August of that year. Double-A in 2011 was a disappointment for Sanchez, as he hit just .241/.340/.318 with defense that wasn’t what the Pirates expected out of him in 2009. However, with a little more time and another broken jaw, Sanchez rebounded and earned himself a promotion to AAA after having an OBA of .370 and slugging .390. In 25 games with Indy, Sanchez hasn’t been up to much good, having an OBP of just .293. An encouraging sign, however, is his .385 slugging average, so it’s not like he’s slapping singles down the first base line. If he can progress, the Pirates might cll up Sanchez some time next season or even in September of ’12.
The top switch hitter in the Bucs minor league system is Robbie Grossman. Grossman, who dominated with the Bradenton Marauders last year by hitting .293/.418/.450, earned himself a promotion to the AA Altoona Curve, where he’s hitting for a .369 OBA, as well as a .408 slugging average. Baseball America writes that Grossman has the best plate discipline in the system, and it shows with his 14.6% walk rate while striking out in 18.7% of his at-bats. An increase in power is always welcome, and Grossman has done that by hitting seven home runs through 82 games this season, compared to 14 in Bradenton through 134 games last season. Grossman hasn’t showed the good baserunning skills he showcased last season, where he stole 24 bases in 34 attempts; this season, he has stolen nine bases, but has been thrown out nine times. All in all, Robbie Grossman will probably have to spend the rest of this season in AA before being called up to Indianapolis.
Stetson Allie was converted to a batter mid-season after struggling in his two thirds of an inning, walking eight batters and allowing four earned runs, not to mention his three wild pitches. Allie started his transformation with the GCL Pirates in Bradenton, where he hit for a .316 OBA while slugging .359 through 18 games. He also walked at a similar rate to Robbie Grossman, walking in 14.5% of his plate appearances, but he struck out in 30.3% of his at-bats. The two runs he hit with the Pirates is two more home runs than Tony Sanchez hit in Altoona. Allie is a longshot now, but there are some glimmers of hope for him finding success in the Bigs.
If there is one player who should take Kevin Correia’s spot in the rotation, it’s 24-year old Jeff Locke. Locke was briefly with the Pirates in 2011, struggling mightily with a 6.48 ERA in four starts. In 17 starts for the Indianapolis Indians this season, Locke is 7-5 with a 2.95 ERA. He’s striking out 7.78 batters per nine innings and walking 2.24. Perhaps Locke is getting lucky, as he’s stranded 79% of baserunners he’s allowed, which contributes to a 3.40 FIP
While Alen Hanson wasn’t listed on the Baseball America top ten list coming into the season, he’s turning some heads in West Virginia. In 85 games, the 19-year old shortstop is hitting .329/.391/.587 along with 15 home runs. He has a nine percent walk rate but he’s struck out in 19% of his plate appearances. His .422 wOBA and 77 wRC (based on wOBA) are good for a 154 wRC+ (which is basically an OPS+ version of wRC). He’s been very lucky, having a .382 BABIP, so look for his numbers to regress back to what mere mortals can put up.