To Trade or Not to Trade Russell Martin?

I proposed recently that if the Pirates are 6 games behind in the Wild Card Race at the end of this month, they should attempt to trade imminent free agent Russell Martin – since they very likely would be out of playoff contention at that point. Some agreed. Some vehemently disagreed. So, I decided to take a deeper look.

I asked myself, “If the Pirates were six games out on August 31, how many games would they have to win in September in order to reach the playoffs?”

There can be no absolute answer to that question because it depends not only on how well the Pirates play, but also upon how well the teams ahead of them play. But we can make some assumptions.

First, if the Pirates are six games back on August 31, we can assume that they would certainly have to play very well in September. Second, we know that the teams who are holding playoff spots on August 31 would need to have a record of at least 6 games worse than the Pirates.

The Pirates play 26 games in September. If they go 16-10 in those games, they will have done very well in the last month of the season. 16-10 is a .615 winning percentage and a 100-win full season pace. But that might not get it done. The team holding the second wild card at the end of August – let’s assume it is the Braves – would need to go 10-16 in September just for the Pirates to forge a tie that would result in a one-game playoff to determine which team goes to the one game wild card playoff.

The odds may be fair that the Pirates can go 16-10 in September, but what would the odds be of the Braves simultaneously going 10-16, a .385 winning percentage and a 62-win full season pace? I’d say slim.

And the Pirates odds would be dimmed further by the likelihood that if they are 6 games behind in the race on August 31, the Giants and Marlins would probably also be ahead of them. If those teams are two games out of the race at the end of this month, they would both have to go no better than12-14, while the Pirates go 16-10 and the Braves go 10-16, just to end up in a four team tie for the second wild card.

It’s looking very much like the Pirates should try to trade Russell Martin at the end of the month – if they are 6 games behind in the race for the second wild card spot. But there is more . . .

Since the inception of the Wild Card playoff in 1995, there have been 42 wild card teams. Only two of them have ever been more than 5 games out of the wild card race on August 31. On that date in 2011, the Rays were 7.5 games out of the A.L. wild card and the Cardinals were 8.5 games out of the wild card. They both miraculously overcame that deficit and won the wild card spot.

2 teams in 19 years of the Wild Card Playoff have ever overcome a deficit of more than 5 games on August 31 to win the Wild Card. Those indicate very long odds of that happening again. But the odds get even more distant.

Of those 42 teams that have secured a wild card spot in the playoffs in the last 19 years, only 9 of them were not in possession of a playoff spot at the end of August. And 5 of the remaining teams who reached the wild card were very close on August 31. The 2002 Giants were 1 game behind. The 2003 Red Sox were 1.5 games back. 1995 Yankees – 2 games. 2001 Cardinals – 2 games. 2004 Astros 3 games.

If the Pirates are more than 5 games out of the wild card race at the end of August, they should trade Russell Martin – because getting to the playoffs at that point, with or without Martin, would just about require a miracle.

And consider the upside to trading Martin. He has a 3.5 WAR; the same number Marlon Byrd had when the Pirates traded for him at the end of last August. If the Pirates could get the same kind of return for Martin that they gave up for Byrd (Dilson Herrera, who now has a .945 OPS at AA, and Vic Black, who now has a 1.95 ERA with the Mets), they should race with ebullience to make the deal.




The Value of a Closer

Consider this: A reliever with a 4.50 ERA (yes, a stat I don’t like, but . . ) gives up one earned run every two innings. That means that bad ERA reliever would save, on average, 50% of the games he enters in the 9th inning with a one run lead. If he enters with a two-run lead, he would save 75% of those games – on average. If he came in with a three-run lead, he would save – on average – 83.3% of his chances.
You may be thinking”That doesn’t sound so good.”
But we’re talking about a reliever with an ERA that is 0.93 runs above the league average of 3.57 for relievers. So, with the above numbers in mind . . . also consider this:

There have been 997 saves in MLB this year and 443 blown saves. That’s a 69% conversion rate – and most of those don’t come from a 4.50 ERA reliever like I posted above. They come from closers and set-up men.

Again, that’s a 69% conversion rate from mostly closers and set-up men. Now, get this: Take the above – on average – save percentages of the 4.50 ERA reliever. If he came in one-third of the time with a one-run lead (50%), one-third with a two-run lead (75%), and one-third of the time with a three-run lead (83.3%), what would his total save conversion rate be? Add 50 + 75 + 83.3 and you get 208.3. Now, divide 208.3 by 3 and what do you get? 69.4%. Take a look back at the first sentence of this paragraph.
That’s right. The actual conversion rate for set-up men and closers is the same as the projected – on average – save percentage for a reliever with a 4.50 ERA.

The moral of the story: Don’t pay for closers.

Jerry Seinfeld on Baseball

“I’ve been doing this joke lately, because I turned 60 this year, and people around that age make a bucket list. I made a bucket list, turned the “b” to an “f” and was done with it. If you want to kite surf down the Amazon, go ahead. I’m going to crack open a beer and watch a ballgame. When I think of retirement, all I would think of is going to a baseball game every day.”     — Jerry Seinfeld

How Pirates Can Beat Padre Starter Tyson Ross

To have the best chance of beating today’s Padre starting pitcher, Tyson Ross, the Pirates should load the lineup with left-handed hitters and order them to be patient.

Ross has been very good this year, as evidenced by his 2.97 xFIP, but there is a hole in his game. He has an awful 10.3% walk rate against left-handed hitters. And the Pirates have a bunch of lefties who take a lot of walks from right-handers like Ross.

I would go with this line-up (BB rates vs. RHP in parentheses):

1. Polanco RF (11.1%)

2. Davis 1B  (14.8%)

3. Walker 2B (7%)

4. Snider LF (10.1%)

5. Alvarez 3B (11.3%)

6. Marte CF

7. Stewart C

8. Martinez SS  (8.3%)

Prediction: Russell Martin Will Return – to L.A.

I am convinced that the possibility of the Pirates signing Russell Martin is a thoroughly lost cause and that he will be playing the next three or seasons with the Quarter-Billion Dollar Dodgers.

The Dodgers current catchers are A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera. Ellis has a .569 OPS. Butera’s OPS is .551. And the Dodgers can pay Martin whatever amount he may ask and not care if they end up losing out on the deal. They can just spend more on somebody else later.

Based on his WAR over the past three years, it would not be unreasonable for a team to pay Martin $20 million per season. However, I suspect that his age and the prospect of catchers being injured will “limit” his contract to about 3 years and $45 – $50 million. But the Dodgers will go higher, if necessary.

Martin is 31 years-old. Catcher Brian McCann was 29 last off-season, when he signed his 5 year deal with the Yankees for $17 million. But McCann had a cumulative WAR of 8.2 over the previous three seasons. Martin already has a WAR of 9.3 from 2012 through today.

The Not-So-Pitiful Pirate Offense

The Pirate organization – including the front office – must be doing pretty well, if we have reached the point where the team’s current offense (3rd in the N.L. in runs scored) is frequently an object of derision.

There was a time in the not too distant past when the Pirate organization fielded an offense with these players.

Starting 1B:  .717 OPS;  6 HR;  466 plate appearances.

Starting 2B:  .544 OPS;  0 HR;  507 PA

Starting C:  .677 OPS;  2 HR;  343 PA

Starting 3B:  .643 OPS;  14 HR;  522 PA

Right-Fielder:  .696 OPS;  0 HR;  225 PA

4th Outfielder:  .650 OPS; 1 HR;  211 PA

5th Outfielder:  .636 OPS;  4 HR;  173 PA

Back-up 3B/1B:  .479 OPS;  0 HR;  137 PA

Those 8 players combined for 2,584 Plate Appearances – 44% of the total number of PAs taken by the team’s position players – and they had a cumulative batting line of .238/.299/.334 — .632 OPS. But, somehow, the 1992 Pirates won the National League Eastern Division.