Pedro Baez Wasn't So Bad After All

ALSO: TREVOR BAUER IS NOT WORTH BLOATED CONTRACT

IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.

Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

There’s no video of the 1965 Sandy Koufax perfect game because it was not televised . .

Out-of-work closers Trevor Rosenthal, Shane Greene, and Sergio Romo need to find deals soon with spring training starting Feb. 17 . . .

Aging third baseman Justin Turner will turn up somewhere – probably Los Angeles, Atlanta, or even at CitiField in a Mets reunion – but fellow free agents Todd Frazier, Travis Shaw, and Brad Miller could be toast . . .

The $2.8 million purchase price for the entire Yankees team on Jan. 25, 1945, was actually less than half of the average player salary ($4.4 million) today.


Leading Off

In Defense of Pedro Baez

By Peter Morley-Souter

On January 13th, Pedro Baez signed a 2-year contract with the Houston Astros for $12.5MM. 

As a Dodgers fan, I was a little bummed out. Here we have a Dodgers lifer going to a dreaded rival. But it seemed like there were mixed feelings from Dodger fans. The discourse seemed to me to be… well… not quite “good riddance”, but a certain level of ambivalence let's say.

Which led me to think…

Was this a good signing by the Astros? And should Dodger fans be sad that Baez is gone?

So before we even begin I’d like to clarify: Pedro Baez doesn’t need me defending him. He’s a multi-million dollar a year earning athlete, coming off a championship win for his team. With that said, I do think it’s worth discussing reliever perception, and broaching a broader topic: How does one evaluate how good a reliever is?

I’m also not going to talk about his infamously slow pitching, as plenty has been written on that subject already…

What I’m going to focus on is the 2020 reliever free-agent batch and how Baez compares.

It was a fairly hot market for relievers, with nine relief pitchers signing for over $5M AAV, so let's concentrate on those guys:

The year 2020 was a weird one (understatement?!) so let's do two years of core pitching stats of this class of 2020 FA Relievers:

Just purely looking at these stats, Baez seems pretty good. The sniff test for a good reliever seems to be < 3 ERA range. But looks can be deceiving...

Relievers are a different beast than starters: They play fewer innings, and there are different expectations in terms of what they need to do when they make that bullpen jog. 

For example, ERA sometimes can give an inaccurate reflection of relief performance. Sure, you want it to be low, but ERA for relievers only counts the runs scored by batters that the reliever has faced: any inherited pitchers that score are tagged to the pitcher that allowed them to get on base originally. So, a relief pitcher could be brought in with the bases loaded, allowing a bases-clearing single, then strike the next 3 batters out and walk away with 0 ERA, whilst the poor starter gets tagged with those 3 runs.

So, whilst it’s obviously not the reliever's “fault” that someone got on base originally, there’s an expectation that they shouldn’t allow them to score. 
So what stats can we use to measure that?

Reliever Stats

Generally, there are two go-to stats when it comes to relievers in measuring this leverage: WPA and RE24. Both are good stats for relievers, but I’ll start with RE24 for now.

So what is it? RE24 is Run-expectancy-based-on-the-24-base-out-states.

I’ll let Fangraph’s explanation take over here:

> A run expectancy matrix presents the expected number of runs scored between a given point and the end of an inning based on the overall run environment, the number of outs, and the placement of the base-runners. For example, in the RE matrix below (run environment set at 4.15 runs per game), the expected number of runs given a runner on first and no outs is 0.831 runs. 

The reliever career leader in RE24 is (unsurprisingly) Mariano Rivera, with a career total of 354.949, and the best RE24 for a reliever in a single season is John Hiller in 1973 with 53.669.

So how are Baez’s seasons according to RE24?

* Originally 1.423 but I scaled it to a theoretical full season (1.423 * (163 / 60))

Pretty good really! With Fangraph’s definition of a great reliever RE24 being above 10, and average at zero, he’s never been below average and has actually had several great seasons.

As a fan, I particularly remember Baez’s 2019 season being really good. One game that stood out was a game against the Pirates in April.   

After Caleb Ferguson had allowed 3 consecutive base runners (Walk, Single, Walk) loading the bases, Baez entered the game with 3 on and no outs...

Flyout. Popfly. Struck-out swinging. 3 inherited runners, zero base hits, zero runs scored.

The Dodgers kept the lead and won 3-1, and Baez had achieved the highest RE24 possible in an inning: 2.3.

2020 FA Reliever Class by RE24

Ok, so let's take another look at that reliever class from 2020, and focus much more on RE24 than things like ERA.

I also added a ranking of their RE24 score from the entire batch of qualified 2018-2020 relievers (50 IP minimum), so you can see Liam Hendriks was the 3rd best reliever by RE24 since 2018, so it’s not surprising he ended up with the biggest contract. 

But interestingly, Baez was number 16th in RE24, whereas someone like Trevor May was 33rd. 

Ok, so, Baez is actually pretty good as a reliever, it’s not just the ERA. So let's do a thought experiment: Who’s got the best RE24 by AAV?

By this slightly janky looking number, Baez is now 2nd in terms of AAV value per RE24 score for the past two years.

So why are some people so down on Baez? 

Breaking the bubble

So, if we’re going to praise Baez for his RE24, we have to be balanced and cover his weaknesses. 

One of the problems with RE24 is that it isn’t weighted to how important the scoring index is in that situation. Allowing runs is bad, but allowing runs in a blowout is less important. 

So how do we measure how important a reliever’s performance was? There we can use WPA. WPA is unique in that unlike a lot of other stats, it’s not context-neutral: WPA measures how important a certain event was in a game and scores it accordingly to the batter or pitcher. A reliever allowing a run in a game when they’re up by 10-0? Not a big deal. When it’s a 0-0 game? A really big deal!

So if we rate these pitchers by WPA 2018-2020, then we start to see the difference:

Part of this is reflected in how Baez is used: he’s generally not brought in for high-leverage situations where you can make a big change to WPA. And this can be seen in his aLI (Average leverage index):

Ultimately, Baez doesn’t get the call in high-leverage situations, but it’s a chicken and egg situation: he doesn’t perform well in those situations, so he generally doesn’t get called in for those.

But that’s okay! Not everyone can be an elite reliever that you can call in every time when the chips are down. In fact, most teams would be happy enough with just a pretty good reliever who can eat some innings and allow a bunch of runs.

In fact, going back to the original question, is Baez a good signing for the Astros? Well, lets look at some facts: 

  • The Astros bullpen in 2020 was worth -12.76 RE24 and -4.02 WPA

  • The Astros bullpen payroll only comes to about $8.4m (with almost all of that coming from Ryan Pressly)

  • The AL West is wide-open for a divisional win: The Rangers and Mariners rebuilding, A’s lost several of their star relievers and the Angels still lack pitching depth. 

In short: Yes - A veteran relief pitcher who will definitely make your bullpen better and likely pitch 60+ innings for only $5m a year is a no-brainer. 

In conclusion, I will definitely miss “La Mula.” But ultimately, he was a great player for the team, he won his ring, and now he deserves to get paid.

I wish him all the best… 

Except if the Dodgers meet the Astros in the World Series again somehow...

Peter Souter is a Dodgers fan based in the UK. He's currently working on self-publishing a book on the most dramatic Game 7's in World Series history. You can find him on Twitter @PeterSouter.


Cleaning Up

Neither Trevor Bauer Nor Anyone Else Is Worth $40 Million A Year

By Dan Schlossberg

Look what Marvin Miller has wrought: a pitcher with two good seasons on his resume suddenly commanding a salary of $40 million a year.

Marvin isn’t around to see it but the long-time executive director of the Players Association would only gloat at what he brought to baseball when he foisted free agency and salary arbitration on the unwitting owners way back in the mid-’70s.

Challenged meekly by blustering Bowie Kuhn, Miller turned the association into a union more powerful than the auto workers, steel workers, sanitation people could conceive.

Behind his glowering visage, Miller and protégé Donald Fehr were directly responsible for strikes, lockouts, and labor wars likely to provoke another work stoppage after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires this December.

It could be a long one, since the aggrieved owners could finally stiffen their spines enough to insist on a real salary cap. All the other sports have one but baseball owners have been afraid of their own shadow ever since the players hired Miller way back when.

Sure, there’s a luxury tax now but that didn’t stop the filthy-rich Los Angeles Dodgers from vaulting over the $210 million plateau when they signed Trevor Bauer last week.

The defending National League Cy Young Award winner got a three-year deal potentially worth $102 million – on top of the contract the same club doled out to Mookie Betts less than a year ago. The outfielder got a 12-year, $365 million extension last February after the Dodgers acquired him from the Boston Red Sox.

My beef with Bauer is that he’s won more than a dozen games in a season exactly once in his nine-year career. He’d had losing records three times and has an inflated career earned run average of 3.90 – even after leading the world with a 1.73 mark last year.

As recently as 2014, the controversial right-handed pitcher had a contract of $1.1 million with the Cleveland Indians. Within three years, it doubled, then doubled again. But $40 million – with a promise of a $5 million raise unless he chooses to opt out and find a bigger sugar daddy?

Even Mike Trout, a three-time MVP, doesn’t make that much, though Trout is still the only player endowed with an overall contract worth $400 million.

A pitcher – even Bauer – works every five days. The rest of the time, he can Tweet out more Qanon conspiracy theories or delve into Instagram, Facebook, or other social media diversions.

The main problem is not that this 30-year-old Southern California native will get rich quick but that his new team has now raised the salary bar for everybody else.

That is exactly what Marvin Miller was hoping would happen – and exactly why he has no place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Miller may have helped the players, whose salaries went up tenfold because there were no limits on the salary spiral he triggered, but he definitely hurt the game.

That’s why he went 0-for-7 in previous votes of the Cooperstown Veterans Committee.

Thanks to Miller, how much will the Dodgers now have to charge for parking, tickets, peanuts, and even the famed Dodger Dogs? Souvenir hats, jerseys, and yearbooks will also skyrocket beyond the means of ordinary fans.

Arbitration has also been an albatross. Ji-Man Choi, who hit .230 with three home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays, had some nerve even taking his team to arbitration – and must have been as surprised as we are that he actually won his case.

In the arbitration process, both sides submit a bid and a three-person panel hears arguments and decides between the club and the player. There’s no negotiation, no compromise, and clubs always lose because their only chance at winning is to give an offer higher than the player’s previous salary.

Choi, overpaid at $850,000 last season, was offered a million-dollar raise to $1.85 million. But noooooooooooo. He countered with $2.45 million – tripling his salary for no apparent reason.

Charlie Finley, who should have Miller’s spot in the Hall of Fame, correctly called out the craziness of arbitration before it started but now the owners can’t get rid of it.

They’re going to make that a priority when they negotiate the next Basic Agreement.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, national baseball writer for forbes.com, and contributor to Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. He is also the author of more than three-dozen baseball books. Write him at ballauthor@gmail.com.


Timeless Trivia

Believe it or not: on Feb. 4, 1861, the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia beat Charter Oak, 36-27, in a baseball game played on Brooklyn’s frozen Litchfield Pond, with players wearing ice skates . . .

Colorado shortstop Trevor Story, due $18.5 million this season on a contract that’s about to expire, is virtually certain to be traded before July 31 . . .

Nolan Arenado brings eight Gold Gloves and five All-Star selections to St. Louis from the Mile-High City . . .

Slow winter much? On Groundhog Day, 148 free agents remained unsigned.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

Leave a comment