In this week’s edition of WTR, I point you toward excellent writing about team identities, the complexities of battery-mates, and trade analysis involving Troy Tulowitkzi.
At The Hardball Times, Diane Firstman analyzes the Kansas City Royals as the quintessential “anti-three true outcomes” team. For the uninitiated, the three true outcomes are walks, strikeouts and home runs—or, the three batting results that aren’t subject to the capriciousness of a ball in the field of play. Firstman shows that the 2014 Royals are the least proficient in earning walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Not only that, but she demonstrates that this is a long-term trend for the team dating back to the 1970s. Underlying the article is the suggestion that, consciously or not, the Royals have internalized an anti-three true outcome ethos as the team’s identity. “This is just their modus operandi,” Firstman contends, “the park dimensions don’t matter. The personnel doesn’t matter.” The rub, of course, is that it’s not necessarily desirable to be an anti-three true outcome team. The Royals aren’t exactly models of success. The article reminded me a bit of a piece Matthew Gross wrote at Purple Row a few weeks ago, where he addressed the Rockies consistently below average road hitting numbers (I wrote a response to this article in these pages). The long-term trends are clear, but the prickly question remains: why do trends that should be dependent on personnel persist over time?
Every Sunday at FanGraphs, David Laurila offers a “Sunday Notes” column that consists of a series of four or five stories based on Laurila’s interviews with players. The best part of the weekly column is that it’s not star-driven. Ninety-nine percent of the stories come from baseball’s 99 percent—role players, minor and major league journeymen, and banal veterans. The stories dig deep. Laurila leverages individual stories as lenses through which to access and understand larger issues. One account from last Sunday’s column stood out. First, 33 year old catcher John Baker eloquently describes his role as a catcher and the function of the battery in general. He likens the role of the catcher to an editor—someone who manages the necessary short-sightedness of the pitcher. “The way you win a baseball game is to win every single pitch, once,” Baker notes. Perhaps most revealing in the Baker interview is the significance of the catcher for every single game, inning, and pitch. There’s much more insightful anecdotes and stories in this and all editions of Laurila’s “Sunday Notes.” Consider this an endorsement to read it every Sunday.
Mike Petriello was on a roll this week at FanGraphs. First, he wrote what I thought was one of the very best analyses of the big Oakland A’s trade with the Chicago Cubs. He breaks down the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the risks and rewards, from both ends. Most notably, he emphasizes that this and all other trades shouldn’t be analyzed zero sum transactions. In the case of the A’s trade with the Cubs, they both look like winners because each team received value that fits the state of the organization right now. The second excellent piece he wrote sits a bit uncomfortably with Rockies fans. Petriello makes the case that now is the time for the Rockies to trade Troy Tulowitzki. I’ve been fiercely resistant to any discussion of trading Tulo. While he has a large contract, it’s still a very team friendly, even if he might be overpaid in 2019 and 2020. By the end of his career, he may be counted among the best shortstops in the history of baseball. Petriello’s argument, however, is the most level-headed and convincing argument in favor of trading Tulo. Tulo isn’t old, but as he approaches 30 his production is more likely to decline than even stay consistent. Couple aging with a history of injuries, and the possibility of his production staying elite over the next five years is questionable. Finally, Tulowitzki’s value is so high right now that the value of return has the chance to be tremendous.
And just as the most persuasive argument in favor of trading Tulowitzki appeared, so did the most compelling argument against trading him. The latter comes from SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee. Brisbee offers several reasons why the Rockies would be foolish to move Tulo, but it boils down to two things: first, history shows that it’s unlikely to work out for the Rockies in the long run; and second, his contract and injury concerns aren’t as significant as Petriello suggests. To substantiate his first point, Brisbee recalls Tulowitzki’s most oft-cited comparison, Cal Ripken Jr. The article is littered with the names of once shiny prospects who might have pried Ripken away from the Orioles in the early 1990s, and all of them would have led to regret and self-loathing in Baltimore. However, if the Rockies chose to trade Tulo, they would be wise to target players who have already cut their teeth in the big-leagues. Mike Zunino would be a better target than Jorge Alfaro, for example. Regarding Brisbee’s second point, he is correct that there is a difference between “bad breaks and bad bodies.” But it’s unclear which Troy has, or if he has both. His legs and all attached muscles, in particular, threaten to become chronic issues. Ultimately, I think Brisbee makes the more convincing case; however, I think that we have to seriously consider the voices that favor of trading Troy Tulowitzki. The last thing the Rockies organization needs are more shibboleths of petrification.