Feb 25

The shaky bet on Chris Capuano


It’s nice to add a weapon to your decision-making, but there’s always the question of how you use it.

The signing of Chris Capuano (shown above pitching a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts against the Braves last August) has been framed as evidence of the Dodgers placing more faith in sabermetrics, according to this article by Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.

… The Dodgers signed Capuano to a two-year, $10 million free agent deal after newly hired front-office number-cruncher Alex Tamin determined that the lefty fly-ball pitcher was a double fit in the club’s tight payroll and spacious ballpark. …

… Doubters will say his effectiveness tailed off after the second time through the lineup and only 14 of his 31 outings were quality starts. The Dodgers will counter that improvement in his strikeout stats mirror the improvement that led to his finest season of 2005.

His career stats in NL ballparks isn’t pretty: 4-9 with a 12.93 ERA and 11 homers in 86 1/3 innings. Last year it improved to 1-2, 2.89 and one homer in 18 2/3 innings. (Note: I think something went wrong with the stats in this paragraph.)

“My feeling is that the last couple years, you can notice the metrics are a lot like ’05 and ’06 when I had my best years,” Capuano said. “What that told me confirmed what I was feeling, I feel as strong or better as when I was 25. …

The problem I see with this analysis is that you need look no further than Ted Lilly to see its limitations. Lilly, also a lefty fly-ball pitcher, has continued to give up prodigious numbers of home runs in a Dodger uniform – 41 in 269 1/3 innings, even if he did allow none in his final six starts in 2011.

Lilly’s adjusted ERA with Chicago was 122 in 3 1/2 seasons and 115 before he was traded to the Dodgers in mid-2010. With the Dodgers, it has been 98, including 94 last year. Lilly is 36 now, and unlike with Hiroki Kuroda, you can basically say the aging process is showing and that Dodger Stadium isn’t capable of stopping it.

Capuano is 33, which, coincidentally, is the age Lilly was when he unexpectedly had by far the best season of his career in adjusted ERA, 144. But unless you believe that 33 is a magic age, this may not work out well.

Yes, Capuano has been recovering from surgery and struck out 168 in 186 innings for the Mets last year – that does seem significant. But his adjusted ERA was 82, and in his entire career it has never been higher than 113. When he’s not striking out guys, he’s getting hit – hard. And it was only getting worse in 2011: In the second half of the season, he struck out 81 in 83 1/3 innings … with 14 homers allowed and a 5.08 ERA.

And what’s supposed to happen on the road, where Capuano pitches half his games, where he had a 5.42 ERA and allowed 17 homers in 84 2/3 innings? That’s a homer inside of every five innings.

At $10 million guaranteed over two years, do the stats really show that the Dodgers have gotten a good deal?

Sure, Capuano should pitch better in Dodger Stadium than elsewhere – but he needs to pitch better, because – guess what – the guy in the other uniform is going to pitch better, too. And that’s against a Dodger offense that, shall we say, could be challenged.

That’s what I’m afraid the Dodgers haven’t taken into account. Dodger fans will certainly hope for the best, and as a No. 5 starter expectations should be kept in check anyway, but if he’s still deserving of a spot in the starting rotation by July, that might be a surprise.

Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

Ned Colletti said Tuesday that it’s “unrealistic” that the Dodgers will sign Prince Fielder. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Amid reports such as this from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that Matt Kemp’s soon-to-be-official eight-year contract will pay him just over $10 million next season, it would appear that the Dodgers are in for one more spring of budget tightening as the ownership transition takes place. The contract for new second baseman Mark Ellis pays $2.5 million in 2012 and $5.25 million in 2013, plus incentives, Jackson reports.

The Dodgers’ main mystery right now is starting pitching, considering that the back end of their rotation is made up of Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland and there’s no guarantee yet that Hiroki Kuroda will return.

  • Though as a Dodger fan you might find it moot, David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com explores how much the Kemp deal will affect Fielder’s next contract.
  • New stats-oriented director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin influenced the Ellis signing, general manager Ned Colletti told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Ellis signing gets a mixed review from Chad Moriyama.

    … For the money, Ellis should be a passable option considering the alternatives were not exactly appealing, nor were there strong internal candidates. However, while Ellis should be better going forward than he was in 2011, he still figures to be below the league average threshold, making him a fringy or mediocre starter. Additionally, there’s the real risk that he goes through a collapse in skill before the contract is up. So while the finances might pan out okay, this has to rate as an average deal at best.

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Nov 09

A Tamin-y haul for the Dodger front office

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com looks at Ned Colletti’s intriguing new front-office hire: director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin:

“People view me as old-school, focused on scouting,” said Colletti. “But I’ve always used statistical analysis; we’ll use more of it now. That doesn’t mean every decision we make will now be based on statistical analysis. You’re still at the mercy of the market. So this doesn’t mean everybody we bring in will have a .400 on-base percentage or an .800 [on-base plus slugging percentage]. Sometimes, it’s just about who’s out there.”

One guy out there was Tamin. The attorney spent 14 years at the law firm Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, where he assisted on baseball arbitration cases with Mark Rosenthal, the primary hired gun for several Major League teams until his death from cancer in 2010.

Tamin, meanwhile, had been on his own for two years when Colletti called shortly after the departure of vice president and assistant GM Kim Ng, who had managed the Dodgers’ arbitration process for a decade before leaving in April for the Commissioner’s Office. Colletti said Tamin hit his radar during the Joe Beimel arbitration case, which the Dodgers won in 2007.

“Alex was always the quiet second guy with Mark Rosenthal in the hearing. Then he gave a rebuttal and I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’” said Colletti. “It was so powerful and thorough. When Kim left, it was even more important to make sure we kept Alex on. He was thinking about working for a club. As the year went on we stayed in touch, and near the end of the season we struck a deal.” …

… “I don’t belong to SABR — I’m not a statistician,” Tamin said of the Society for American Baseball Research. “I’ve read Bill James and I come at it with a larger perspective. As a kid, I tried to play as far as my talent allowed. I was a devotee of the Strat-O-Matic game, an early follower of STATS Inc. The Baseball-Reference.com website was like finding the Holy Grail, and I watched it blossom. It’s pretty phenomenal.” …

Sep 29

Dodgers hire new contracts and arbitration expert

Entering their first offseason in years without former vice president and assistant general manager Kim Ng to rely upon, the Dodgers have named Alex Tamin director of baseball contracts, research and operations.

Tamin, who has spent more than 15 years in MLB player salary arbitration cases and contract negotiations, will be Colletti’s point person in those areas. He has also had a commercial litigation practice.

“After working for the Dodgers from the outside for the past decade and knowing their history as one of the most storied franchises in baseball, I am looking forward to the opportunity to contribute to the Dodgers’ continued success,” Tamin said in a statement.

With Ng, the Dodgers had a nearly impeccable record in avoiding arbitration hearings and winning them when they did occur. As contract negotiations with Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and more are set to resume, Tamin’s position is one of potentially keen importance.