Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chacon and on and on

Finally, some news about the Bombers! The Yanks settle before arbitration with Shawn Chacon for $3.6 million for the 2006 season. That number is the clear mid-point between the Yanks' Arb offer of $3.1 million, and the player's $4.135 figure (I wonder what the extra $35,000 was for?).

The feeling is that Chacon was playing over his head when he reached the Yanks last season, and went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA. That's mainly because his opponent's batting average on balls in play--that is, how opposing batters did against Chacon when they weren't striking out or hitting homers--was a meager .240 while Chacon was in pinstripes. To put that in context, the best pitcher in the AL last season, Johan Santana, allowed a .265 BABIP, and the National League Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter, allowed a .285 BABIP.

It's likely that Chacon, who's a flyball pitcher and who doesn't strike out many guys, will see his batting average on balls in play against him rise next season, and his performance will suffer as a result. Take a look at Chacon's hot-off-the-presses PECOTA card: Nate Silver's projection system predicts a 5.04 ERA for Shawn next season. That's brutal. Chacon's collapse rate, that is, the chance that his translated ERA will increase by 25% or more, is 45%. Now, you might think that doesn't sound so bad--he has more than a 50% chance not to collapse--but that rate is more than twice Chacon's "improvement rate" of 21%.

In short, PECOTA thinks that Chacon will be worth $2.75 million this season, nearly a million dollars less than the Yanks will pay him for 2006. Except in durability, PECOTA doesn't consider Chacon much of an improvement over Jaret Wright (projected 5-5, 5.14 ERA in 91 innings), Chacon's likely competition for a rotation spot. And if you think PECOTA's harsh on Chacon, you should see how it brutalizes Aaron Small (5-5, 5.47 ERA in 90 innings).

There are many times when my analytical mind conflicts with my Yankee fan heart. I want PECOTA to be wrong about Chacon and Small (not so much Wright, but we've gone over this before). Both of them are good stories, seem to be nice guys, and were entertaining enough to watch pitch last season.

But logically, two flyball pitchers who strike out less than five men per nine innings each aren't likely to set the American League on fire, even with the Yanks getting improved outfield defense from Johnny Damon. Analytically, you have to look at a guy like Small, a 34 year-old who's scuffled around the minors since the George HW Bush administration and who has a career 4.93 ERA (at AAA!) and you have to see a player who had a fluke season last year. It's nice to see Aaron Small cash in on that gorgeous 10-0 season (Small settled his arb case with the Yanks for $1.2 million late last month), but I also hope he saves as much as he can, and doesn't live too extravagantly in '06--since he can't really count on paydays like this every season.

Like most people involved with BP, I'm very proud of PECOTA, and I think it's the best thing going in the extremely challenging area of performance prediction. The changes that have been made to the PECOTA cards this year--there's more information than ever, there--make it worth the price of a subscription all on its own. Some of the new features, like MORP--the statistical gizmo that predicts the monetary value of a player's expected performance--are just incredibly cool.

But in the case of Chacon and Small (and, incidentally, Chien Ming Wang...but that's a whole other story) I really, really, hope that PECOTA's dead wrong. Every year, the system will be wrong about some players, and sometimes extremely wrong--here's hoping the Yanks' pitchers manage to buck the odds, for the better.


Speaking of my work at BP, I dropped a joint on the Yankees and the WBC, for Notebook on Friday. The obligatory taste:

Despite all this carnage, the Bronx Bombers will probably be well-represented with high-profile players in the WBC. Johnny Damon seems determined to play, as does Derek Jeter. Rodriguez is also committed--unless he changes his mind again, that is. Wang, Miguel Cairo, Ron Villone and Bernie Williams could all still wind up on their countries’ 30 man rosters.

That the Yankees’ ballclub is resisting the World Baseball Classic is no surprise. The Yankees were the only team to vote against the WBC’s creation, and they have consistently resisted allowing players from their organization to play in the Olympics or other international competitions. However, the fact that so many individual players have decided to step out and announce their decision to snub the WBC--rather than declining more quietly--indicates that maybe George Steinbrenner isn’t alone in his lack of enthusiasm for international tournaments.

By the way, today's Daily News reports that of the Yankees potentially playing in the WBC, Ron Villone is unlikely to play for Team Italy, while Miguel Cairo would be tickled pink to be on Venezuela's roster.


This is the best news I've read in a long time. The only thing that could've made it better was if Rickey Henderson were coming to coach the Yankees, rather than the Mets. Not only do I think that Rickey has a great deal to offer a ballclub from a coaching standpoint (I think it's no coincidence that the only useful season Roger Cedeno had in his career, he was Rickey's teammate) but he's also one of the great quotables in the bigs, on the level of Yogi Berra.

It honestly wouldn't make much sense for Rickey to coach the Yanks, who have few young players and no young speedsters on the roster. The future Hall of Famer has his work cut out for him with Jose Reyes, a player who's greasy fast but has shown considerable resistance to coaching (remember when the Mets hired a personal trainer to teach him to avoid his perennial hamstring pulls?). While Reyes's base stealing may not need much help--he led the NL in steals last season, swiping bases at an 80% clip--if Rickey can somehow get Reyes to respect the strike zone, the Mets shortstop (career .303 OBP) could become, in the words of Burgess Meredith in Rocky II "a very dangerous person."


OK. Who thought this was a good idea? Isn't it hard enough being a Catholic already without Michael Jackson getting involved.

"Gee, Michael, you and the Church have so much in common..."


In better music news, last night I caught the Barry Harris Trio at the Village Vanguard with La Chiquita, and one of our friends, Dave. Best jazz show I've ever attended, made the more so by the playful manner in which the band veterans--drummer Leroy Williams is probably the youngest, and he's in his late 60's--interacted with each other and with the crowd that came in for the 11 o'clock set. Harris, one of the big Bebop pianists out of Detroit, played with his back to the audience for the most part--which meant he must have been making faces because he was constantly cracking up bassist Earl May. The trio were often talking to each other, conversationally and just below the music, in a way that suggested that the audience was just some friends who'd stumbled into a studio session.

After the first time the Vanguard staff tried raising the house lights on him, Harris really cut loose, doing a soft little scat, in which he was joined a woman in the first row who must have been a friend of his, and then turning around on his piano bench to encourage the whole crowd to sing along. It was beautiful, and intimate, and everything that's good about jazz in New York.

If you can get down to the Vanguard (that is, if there isn't too much snow) Dr. Harris is playing there tonight and tomorrow night. I can't recommend the performance highly enough.

No comments: