Now & Later: Which MLB teams feature the most top talent?

andrew mccutchen batting

If you followed MLB Network’s annual “Top 10: Right Now” features this year, you’ll know the Pirates ranked very well. With “The Shredder,” they again objectively named the best major league players at each position. Subjectively, I can say some of the rankings were questionable (Pirates included). But they’re still fun to think about, and there’s not much else going on in the final days before spring training.

MLB.com also recently finished up their top 10 position-by-position lists for the minor league side of things. If you recall their top 100 we wrote a little bit about, the Bucs are doing well in the farm system as well.

So why not compare all of the lists and see which organizations are loaded with the most talent? The positions are a little different (MLB uses all three outfield positions and starter/reliever; MiLB has just outfield and right-handed pitchers/left-handed pitchers), but we’ll go with it.

The method: if a team has the #1 player at a position, they get 10 points; #2 player gets 9 points; #3 gets 8; and so on. We’ll keep it simple for now — everything on the same scale, even though the best at one position may not be as valuable as the best at another position.

Here are the results…

Continue reading “Now & Later: Which MLB teams feature the most top talent?”

NL Central Breakdown of MLB’s Top 100 Prospects

pirates prospect rankings

Yesterday, we took a look around the NL Central — specifically, how each team plans on divvying up their money in 2015. Today, we’ll go to the amateur level, as MLB.com released their preseason top 100 prospect rankings on Friday night.

As you can see above, the Pirates placed seven prospects on the list:

12. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
31. Jameson Taillon, RHP
34. Josh Bell, 1B/OF
46. Austin Meadows, OF
64. Reese McGuire, C
74. Nick Kingham, RHP
92. Alen Hanson, SS/2B

That was the most for any team, followed by the Twins and Cubs at six prospects apiece. The heralded Chicago system features two of the game’s top five, making it look a little stronger than Pittsburgh’s. On the other end of the spectrum, the Brewers and Cardinals each only had one player on the list.

Here’s the NL Central breakdown:

nl central prospects

And here are the Central’s best prospects, in order, according to MLB.com:

Rank Player Team Position Overall
2 Kris Bryant Cubs 3B 70
5 Addison Russell Cubs SS 65
12 Tyler Glasnow Pirates RHP 60
22 Jorge Soler Cubs OF 60
24 Robert Stephenson Reds RHP 60
26 Jesse Winker Reds OF 60
31 Jameson Taillon Pirates RHP 60
34 Josh Bell Pirates 1B/OF 55
46 Austin Meadows Pirates OF 55
47 C.J. Edwards Cubs RHP 55
49 Kyle Schwarber Cubs C/OF 55
57 Albert Almora Cubs OF 55
64 Reese McGuire Pirates C 55
74 Nick Kingham Pirates RHP 55
88 Orlando Arcia Brewers SS 55
90 Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 55
92 Alen Hanson Pirates SS/2B 55

The “Overall” column is the projected future value of each player, based on the 20-80 scouting scale. For reference: 55 is an above average hitter/mid-rotation starter; 60 is a “plus” hitter or #2/3 starting pitcher; 65 (Addison Russell) is an All-Star-caliber hitter; 70 (Kris Bryant) is a top 5 hitter in all of baseball. [Note: all of Kiley McDaniel’s scouting work at FanGraphs is recommended reading.]

I’d be interested in seeing how this group of prospects compares to other divisions around the league (possible project for another day). With the 13 prospects between Pittsburgh and Chicago, plus two top-30 guys in Cincy, I’d imagine the NLC features one of the best all-around prospect talent pools. The division is competitive as it is now, and shaping up to remain that way later.

The Cubs have a bright future ahead, but it’s promising to see the Pirates held in high regard as well — they’re built to contend now and later. A great core already calls Pittsburgh home, and though it’s a long shot that all these guys pan out, there is certainly more help on the way.

When discussing the Bucs on MLB Network last night, Jonathan Mayo mentioned that a potential rotation of Gerrit Cole – Jameson Taillon – Tyler Glasnow might not be too far off. That’s fun to think about. Greg Amsinger followed up with, “Buy stock in the Pittsburgh Pirates while you can.”

Glasnow’s fastball rates as a 75 on the scouting scale, which looks to be the best in the Top 100 behind Lucas Giolito‘s perfect 80. Despite missing last season to Tommy John surgery, Taillon is still held in high regard and his fastball/curve/change remain rated as above average (it’ll be interesting to see if anything changes upon his return). Josh Bell’s hit and power tools are both marked as “plus” tools right now, with his move to first base as the only question mark. Meadows’ stock could soar if he stays on the field this year; Keith Law had him ranked 2nd on his Pirates’ list this week. MLB has his scouting grades at 60 for hit/run/field, 55 for power, but just 40 for arm — sounds a bit like the Pirates’ current center fielder.

Speaking of Cutch, check out this MLB.com video — Top Prospect to MVP:

Go Bucs

How NL Central teams are allocating resources in 2015

Using Roster Resource‘s projected 25-man rosters and Baseball-Reference‘s estimated salaries, here’s a quick look at how the NL Central teams will be spending their money in 2015…

nl central payroll allocation

A few notes:

– These amounts only consist of the projected 25-man rosters. So, for example, Jose Tabata‘s $4 million is not accounted for since he isn’t expected to make the big club.

– While he is likely to start on the disabled list, I did make an exception for Charlie Morton, so the Pirates’ rotation reflects his $8 million instead of league minimum pay for his likely replacement (Jeff Locke).

– Speaking of league minimum, it’s $507,500 this season, to be exact.

– For players whose arbitration cases are not yet settled, their salaries are from MLB Trade Rumors’ projection. While they won’t be 100% accurate, they shouldn’t be off by too much and won’t have a major impact on this.

– Projected rosters & salaries are as of late Thursday night (1/29) — already includes Neal Cottsdeal with the Brewers.

Anyway, here’s the projected total dollar amounts for each club…

Continue reading “How NL Central teams are allocating resources in 2015″

MLB’s Most Strategic Managers

The impact of a Major League manager has been a bit of a topic this winter, as Joe Maddon bolted to Chicago for five years and 25 million of the Cubs’ dollars. As everyone knows, the Cubbies have been dreadful recently and are still looking for their first World Series title since 1908. Maddon can certainly change the culture over there, but how will it translate onto the field?

SportsCenter recently ran with this ridiculous graphic…

joe maddon 16 wins

…saying they think he’ll contribute 16 more wins to the Chicago Cubs (“Cubs being Cubs” — funny as it is — isn’t too profound, either).

For players, we have wins above replacement. Jon Lester was worth 6.1 WAR in 2014, and projects to be worth 3-4 in 2015, so you can see where ESPN sees a 5+ win improvement over whichever replacement level pitcher he knocked out of their rotation. But for managers? It’s much tougher to quantify.

Tony LaRussa had a pretty solid quote on this kind of idea back in August:

“Our attitude as a coaching staff was, we were involved 162 games. And we felt that somewhere along the way — whether it was moving an outfielder or moving an infielder, the hitting coach tweaking hitters — we felt our job was putting people in a position to win… But I don’t know how you put a measure on that in number of games.”

So maybe we can’t quantify a manager’s win value just yet. But what about from a strategy standpoint? “…we felt our job was putting people in a position to win…”

There’s a managerial section of the 2015 Bill James Handbook, featuring a number of statistics for each manager, ranging from lineups and substitutions to pitcher usage and other tactics. How can we see which manager employed the most of these strategies in 2014?

joe maddon cubs

Keep in mind, there are a ton of caveats to a manager’s “strategy.” Each team faces entirely different situations. Perhaps a team’s lineup is changing so frequently due to injuries, or the platoon advantage can’t be controlled so well because of roster construction, or whatever. This is all part of what makes quantifying a manager difficult.

But let’s see what we can do. Here are the categories we’ll use, all thanks to the Bill James Handbook: 1) lineups used, 2) percentage of players who had platoon advantage at start of game, 3) pinch-hitters used, 4) pinch-runners used, 5) defensive substitutions, 6) relievers used, 7) stolen base attempts, 8) sacrifice bunt attempts, 9) runners moving with the pitch, 10) pitchouts ordered, and 11) intentional walks ordered.

I decided to calculate z-scores for each category, which measure how many standard deviations a value is above/below the mean. This gives us an idea of how many moves of each type a manager made compared to the guys in the opposing dugouts, as defined by the criteria above.

To make it more accurate, I split up managers by league. Pitchers hitting in the National League makes a big difference, especially when it comes to pinch-hitting and bunting:

Average pinch-hitters used in AL: 111
Average pinch-hitters used in NL: 258

Average sac bunt attempts in AL: 39
Average sac bunt attempts in AL: 76

For example, the overall MLB average for pinch-hitters was 184, which was only topped by the Blue Jays and A’s in the AL. All NL teams were well over the 184 mark. By z-score methodology, that would’ve made the National Leaguers look way more PH-savvy when it’s really a fault of the rulebook. So we must compare each to their peers within their respective leagues.

Anyway, I then summed each category’s z-score for a final “strategy score,” to find which managers utilized the most and least tactics compared to their peers. I thought about weighting categories differently — say, tinkering with the lineup probably has a different impact on the game than a single pitchout — but decided to keep them all equal for now.

Without further ado, here are the results…

American League: Most Strategic Managers in 2014
1. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners (8.48)
2. Mike Scioscia, Angels (6.45)
3. Terry Francona, Indians (5.07)
4. John Gibbons, Blue Jays (3.70)
5. Robin Ventura, White Sox (1.47)

American League: Least Strategic Managers in 2014
11. Joe Maddon, Rays (-1.50)
12. Buck Showalter, Orioles (-4.79)
13. Ron Washington, Rangers (-5.27)
14. John Farrell, Red Sox (-5.92)
15. Bo Porter, Astros (-7.00)

Lloyd! The former Pirate manager finishes in first, having used an above-average amount of different lineups, platoon advantages, pinch-runners, stolen base attempts, and pitchouts, just to name a few. McClendon filled out a lineup card with 69% platoon advantages, fifth-best in the American League and a sound improvement from his days in Pittsburgh. He also called for more pitchouts than any other AL skipper (30), a category he used to dominate on the Pirates’ bench as well (led the NL with 67 in ’02 and 73 in ’03). Stealing first base wasn’t part of his arsenal this year, though.

You’re probably wondering about Maddon. I figured to see him at the top; not near the bottom. But he didn’t stick out in many categories, especially not like he has in the past. Looking at his previous numbers, Maddon typically uses many different lineups (led AL in 2012 and 2013), pinch-hitters (led six years in a row from 2008 to 2013), and stolen base attempts (led four times between ’08 and ’12). It was a down year for the Rays, and maybe a down year for Joe, too. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in a National League setting.

And perhaps we get a glimpse here of why Bo Porter was fired in Houston. He clearly didn’t do a lot behind the bench, and there were rumblings that Jeff Luhnow — one of baseball’s most forward-thinking general managers — engaged in “excessive second-guessing of (Porter’s) in-game management.” Hmm…

Anyway, how about the NL?

National League: Most Strategic Managers in 2014
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates (9.02)
2. Bud Black, Padres (5.49)
3. Don Mattingly, Dodgers (2.33)
4. Bruce Bochy, Giants (1.45)
5. Walt Weiss, Rockies (0.56)

National League: Least Strategic Managers in 2014
11. Terry Collins, Mets (-1.51)
12. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves (-1.88)
13. Ron Roenicke, Brewers (-2.34)
14. Matt Williams, Nationals (-5.92)
15. Mike Redmond, Marlins (-6.55)

Woah, Clint! Hurdle runs away with this one. He employed the most pinch-hitters and put the most runners in motion (can recall a number of successful hit-and-run’s this year), while also ordering the most pitchouts and intentional walks. That’s the second year in a row Hurdle has used more pinch-hitters than anyone in the National League, further emphasizing the need of a strong bench. The Pirates are well on their way with Travis Snider, Corey Hart, and Sean Rodriguez, and could look even better if they lock up Jung-Ho Kang.

You’ll notice Matt Williams at #14. The first-year Nats manager was criticized for a few issues this year, especially his bullpen usage in the playoffs. He might not have known what he was doing, but won the NL Manager of the Year award anyway — there wasn’t a great storyline this year, the teams that were supposed to be good were good (STL and LAD), and an already talented team gave a rookie manager a league-leading 96 wins, so there’s your nod.

What we’ve done here is simply a look at the amount of in-game moves a manger made to try to presumably help his team win from a strategic standpoint. Keep in mind — this isn’t measuring a manager’s effectiveness. (That’s the next step, and hopefully something we can work on soon.) Not all stolen base attempts work, not all bunts are smart, etc. Hurdle thought it was a good idea to put 43 men on base via the intentional walk, but the Bill James Handbook declared 17 of those “Not Good” decisions (meaning the Pirates were unable to get a double play on the next batter, or get out of the inning without allowing any additional runs).

There’s basically no correlation between a manager’s overall “strategy score” that we calculated above and his team’s winning percentage — well, it’s a weak one but it is positive with an r-squared value of 0.1009 …

mlb managers strategy

There were managers like Williams, Buck Showalter, and Brad Ausmus, who perhaps didn’t need to call for much in-game move-making and still reaped the benefit of a good winning percentage. Actually, if you remove those three from the equation, there is a much better correlation — r-squared of 0.33.

It is notable that there weren’t any high-strategy managers with a low winning percentage (see the area below Bud Black). That’s pretty much the only section of the graph that’s untouched, and what makes it stronger when you remove Williams/Showalter/Ausmus.

On the flip side, some of the lowest strategy managers produced very low winning percentages (Washington, Porter, Farrell, etc.)

This is quite preliminary, but maybe it’s a good first step. It might not be entirely possible to quantify a manager’s “on-field” contributions, but hopefully we can get closer to a better understanding sometime in the near future.

***Once again, all data courtesy of the 2015 Bill James Handbook. Highly recommend it.***

Go Bucs

Series Preview: Pirates vs. Cubs

Pirates vs Cubs

Pittsburgh Pirates (77-69)

vs.

Chicago Cubs (64-82)

Friday, September 12th – 7:05 pm
Saturday, September 13th – 7:05 pm
Sunday, September 14th – 1:35 pm

PNC Park – Pittsburgh, PA

BUY TICKETS

Follow us on Twitter @ForbesToFederal.

The Bucs return to the Burgh after a winning roadtrip, having won six of their last seven games. They have a 1.5 game lead on the second Wild Card spot and sit 2.5 games behind the Cardinals for first place. The last homestand of 2014 is a big one with nine important games. They’ll start with the Cubs, a team they swept last weekend in Chicago. Just keep winning. Let’s pack PNC…

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Probable Pitchers

Friday – Gerrit Cole vs. Tsuyoshi Wada

Saturday – Jeff Locke vs. Felix Doubront

Sunday – Edinson Volquez vs. Jacob Turner

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News, Notes, Storylines

– The Buccos’ playoff odds are looking good at the moment…

nl

– Nine home games remain. Thus far: 44-28 at PNC in 2014.

– The Cubs have lost six in a row.

– Potentially a big break for the Bucs: rookie stud Jorge Soler will miss this weekend’s series for the birth of his child.

– Other relevant series to keep an eye on this weekend: Atlanta @ Texas, Cincinnati @ Milwaukee, Colorado @ St. Louis, Dodgers @ Giants.

– PNC promotions this weekend: free shirt on Friday; Lynyrd Skynyrd concert on Saturday; G. Cole Fathead on Sunday. And a pennant race all three days.

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Opponent Blogs

Bleed Cubbie Blue | Cubbies Crib | The Cub Reporter

What they’re saying:

[quote_simple]”As for the Pirates, they went from trailing the Brewers and Atlanta Braves by 1½ games for the second Wild Card spot to leading the Brewers by 1½ and the Braves by two. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast.”” – BCB[/quote_simple]

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Player to Watch

Starling Marte. He’s been one of baseball’s best hitters over the last month, absolutely mashing the ball since his return from the disabled list: .362/.430/.598 with 17 extra-base hits in 35 games. Unfortunately, Marte was plunked by yet another pitch on Thursday night (a league-leading 17th, tied with Matt Holliday), forcing him to leave the game early. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s good to go this weekend… gotta keep that bat in the lineup.

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Prediction Time

The Pirates are on a roll; they need these wins. They’re back at PNC, and three sellout crowds will be behind them. The Cubs are without Soler, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro. Don’t predict this often… but it’s time for a sweep.

Go Bucs