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Entries in Miami Marlins (11)

Monday
Dec052011

Reyes Gets Six Years, $106M from Fish

SEC wrangling about stadium financing and long history of cobbling together a club on a couch coin budget aside, the Miami Marlins proved they were serious about significantly boosting payroll by signing shortstop Jose Reyes to a six-year, $106 million deal with an option for 2017 that could increase the total financial commitment to $120 million.

To be sure, signing Reyes through at least age 34 is fraught with risk. He has suffered from chronic hamstring problems dating back to his early twenties, including DL stints for the issue in 2004, 2009 and 2011. The 28-year-old has played 295 games out of a possible 486 over the past three seasons, or about 61 percent.

But it's also true that Reyes is a true franchise player when he's on the field. The switch-hitter has a .306 average, a .352 OBP and a .452 slugging percentage since '09, with a .355 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) bested only by Troy Tulowitzki (.396) and Hanley Ramirez (.374) among shortstops. Reyes' bat has been about 16 percent better than those of his shortstop peers (.306 wOBA), making him immensely valuable even though advanced defensive metrics suggest he's not covering as much ground in the field as he once did.

Reyes likely won't maintain his career-best .386 wOBA in 2011, which was largely the result of a 40 point boost in batting average on balls in play (.353 BABIP last year, .314 career). But he did improve his already-stellar contact ability, cutting his strikeout rate to seven percent from 10.7 percent in 2009-2010. The reason? Better plate coverage against "soft" stuff -- curveballs, sliders and changeups. That was especially the case on breaking and off-speed pitches thrown inside:

Reyes' contact rate vs. "Soft" stuff, 2009-2010

Reyes' contact rate vs. "Soft" stuff, 2011Reyes swung and missed  25.5 percent of the time against soft stuff from 2009-2010, but just 17.3 percent in 2011. On soft stuff thrown inside, his miss percentage dropped to 21 percent from 30 percent. With fewer whiffs, his wOBA versus soft stuff improved to .308 from .245 (the MLB average is .273).

Given Reyes' history of leg injuries and time missed, it would be quixotic to think he is going to be a 140-150 game-a-year shortstop as he soon exits his twenties. But, as Fangraphs' Dave Cameron points out, Reyes' contract basically values him as a star-level player who will appear in 110-120 games per year. Plus, research by Tom Tango indicates that speed players like Reyes tend to age better than the general baseball population.

Cameron estimated that, adjusting for inflation, Reyes would need to post around 19 Wins Above Replacement over the next six years to make good on his contract. How likely is that? To get a rough idea of how Reyes could age, I turned to Baseball-Reference's Similarity Scores. Here are his most statistically similar players through age 28, as well as their performance from age 29-34. Rollins and Furcal haven't reached 34 yet, so I substituted projections from The Hardball Times' Oliver forecasting system:

Sources: Baseball-Reference, The Hardball Times

*= Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright's projection system at THT

These six middle infielders averaged 4.1 WAR at age 29, 2.6 WAR at age 30, 2.5 WAR at age 31, and 4.2 WAR at age 32. With the Oliver projections for Rollins and Furcal included, they average 1.7 WAR at age 33 and 0.7 WAR at age 34. So overall, that's an average of 16 WAR during ages 29 to 34, with star-level performances from Trammell and Sandberg, average to above-average work from Rollins and Furcal, and something less than that from Templeton and Fernandez. There's plenty of variance here, but history suggests 15-20 WAR during the life of Reyes' contract is reasonable.

Reyes' signing also means that Hanley Ramirez must find a new position. Few shortstops have rated as poorly as Ramirez -- he's been about seven runs worse per 150 games than an average player at the position over the past three seasons, per UZR -- but he could fare better at third base. The Fans rate his arm as strong, if not exactly accurate, and Fielding Bible Plus/Minus Data indicates that most of his defensive woes come on balls hit to his right. That would likely make Matt Dominguez's standout glove and questionable bat trade bait.

Obviously, no $100+ million contract comes without significant risk. Reyes could go bust in South Beach, betrayed by his aching hamstrings or forced to move down the defensive spectrum. But Miami seems to have at least in part accounted for Reyes' dubious health history in this deal, and other comparable Expansion-Era middle infielders have produced at a level necessary from age 29-34 to make Reyes' pact look like a market-value deal with some upside.

Friday
Dec022011

Bell Takes His Talents to South Beach

The Miami Marlins have a brand-spankin' new stadium, a bleep-prone manager and unis that are straight out of BASEketball. The team long associated with penny-pinching has been connected to every big-ticket free agent from Pujols to Reyes to Wilson, and now the Fish have bagged their first All-Star by signing Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million deal that reportedly has a $9 million vesting option for 2015. The move all but guarantees that the Marlins non-tender The Closer Formerly Known as Leo Nunez, Juan Oviedo.

While Miami apparently has plenty of cash to spend, Bell's name value may well exceed his talent level at this point. Bell, of course, has benefitted from pitching his home games in a venue with slightly less generous dimensions than Yellowstone. Simply put, mistakes that lead to runs in other parks die innocuously in Petco's vast outfield. Petco has a multi-year park factor of 93, according to Baseball-Reference, and Bell has a career .263 batting average on balls in play at home compared to a .300 BABIP on the road.

B-R's Play Index Tool has a feature that allows you to estimate a pitcher's ERA in other major league parks, as well as a neutral park (100 park factor). Here's how Bell's actual ERAs over the past three seasons compare to his estimated ERAs in a neutral pitching environment:

2009: 2.71 actual ERA, 3.32 ERA in neutral park

2010: 1.93 actual ERA, 2.32 ERA in neutral park

2011: 2.44 actual ERA, 2.85 ERA in neutral park

In a neutral park, Bell's ERA would have been between four-tenths and six-tenths of a run higher. We don't know how Miami's new stadium will play, but there's little chance it's as cozy and forgiving as Petco.

Aside from park factors, there's also the issue of Bell's significant dip in strikeouts last season. The beefy righty whiffed 28.4 percent of the batters he faced in 2009 and 30 percent in 2010, but just 19.9 percent in 2011. That was well below the 23.4 percent average for relievers this past year. Bell walked a few less hitters (8.2 BB%, compared to 9.8% in 2010 and 8.6% in 2009), but not enough to offset the decline in Ks.

There are two main reasons for Bell's lower-octane 2011. He introduced a sinker with a few more inches of tail and less vertical break than his four-seamer. The sinker, thrown about 15 percent of the time, got fewer swings and misses than his four-seamer (15.6 percent, compared to 19.2 percent for the four-seamer). And it didn't really compensate by getting lots of ground balls, either, with a 48 GB% well under the 58-59% average for relievers.

Bell's curveball got considerably fewer whiffs, too. Batters missed the low-80s breaker 28.9% in 2009 and 43.4% in 2010, but only 26.2% in 2011 (30-31% average for relievers). Opponents rarely made contact when Bell spotted his curve at the knees in '09 and '10, and they swung through some higher curves as well...

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Bell's curveball, 2009-2010

But they connected much more often on low breaking stuff in 2011, and just about never missed higher curveballs...

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Bell's curveball, 2011

Bell is a big name, and he's got three consecutive seasons of 40+ saves under his belt. But he's also 34 years old, coming off a season with a troublingly low K rate and, while I don't have a copy of the contract, I'm pretty sure there's no stipulation that allows him to take Petco with him. The Hardball Times' Oliver projects Bell to be worth around 4 Wins Above Replacement over the next three years, meaning Miami would be paying $6.5 million to $7 million per win. And that's not including the vesting option, which would likely make the math worse by paying a premium to a 37-year-old Bell.

Considering that the Marlins could have gotten something like 80-90% of Bell's production with a lesser commitment in dollars and years by signing someone like Frank Francisco or Octavio Dotel, this doesn't look like a smart allocation of the club's expanded resources. Bell gets fancy cars, a big bank account, celebrity friends, maybe even a Playmate of the Year, but Miami won't get that many more W's because of this signing.

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