The Rivalry: John Lackey and A.J. Burnett

15 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425


Lackey signed a 5 year $82.5 million deal with Boston this past off-season

It’s one of the oldest rivalries in sports–the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. There are many defining aspects of it. The sale of Babe Ruth, the 2004 ALCS, the championship counts, and the well-known disdain for each other are some common examples. But December 16, 2009 is a more subtle date.

On this date, the Red Sox signed former Angels pitcher John Lackey. What does this have to do with the Yankees? Well, one year and four days before that–December 12, 2008–the Yankees had signed former Marlin and Blue Jay A.J. Burnett. What makes them even more similar is the contracts; both were given a total of $82.5 million over five years, despite the fact that both were 31 at the time.

Of course, the pitchers are not exactly the same. A.J. Burnett is more of the prototypical power arm. He sports the higher K/9 rate (8.2 to Lackey’s 7.1), but also the higher BB/9 rate (3.8 to 2.7 for Lackey). But the career ERA and WHIP numbers are rather similar, with Lackey–the more consistent, durable horse–leading the ERA by just 0.10 (3.89 to 3.99) and the WHIP by 0.001 (1.320 to 1.321). So, with such similar circumstances, there are going to be those, such as myself, who will wonder who won this deal. Why? Because it’s Yanks-Sawx, guys, and every facet of this rivalry is examined with extreme detail. We can evaluate the two using four categories: contract breakdown, production before their new deal, production with their new contract, and future expectations.

Contract Breakdown: As we have said, both pitchers sport 5-year, $85 million deals. But there are some differences, Burnett has a contract with a flat, no bonus deal of $16.5 million per season. Lackey, on the other hand, was given both a $3.5 million signing bonus and a first-year salary of $18 million. This allows his other four years to be just $15.25 million annually, meaning his older seasons are less expensive than those of his Yankees counterpart.

ADVANTAGE: John Lackey/Boston

Pre-Contract Performance: This might be the toughest part to call. Before their respective new deals, both pitchers posted identical 3.81 ERAs. Burnett sported a lower 1.28 WHIP, to Lackey’s 1.31, along with an 8.4/9 that trumped the 7.2 of Lackey. Lackey’s strengths came in the terms of durability and free passes. He managed to top Burnett is both BB/9 (2.6 to 3.7), as well as K/BB ratio (2.72 to 2.25). From 1999-2008, Burnett managed to make 211 starts over 215 appearances, totaling 1,376 1/3 innings. Conversely, Lackey had his numbers from 2002-2009 total 233 starts over 234 appearances, with a 1,501 innings. That led to an average of 188 IP for Lackey and 138 IP for Burnett, though that was skewed by the fact that Burnett’s first season spanned only seven outings, while Lackey was given eighteen starts when he started out. Omitting that short 1999, Burnett still falls well short of Lackey’s 188 innings with just 148 of his own. While the ERAs are identical and Burnett managed a slightly lower WHIP, the durability of Lackey resulted in an ERA+ of 116 for the former Angel, while Burnett’s frailty led to a lower 111 ERA+.

ADVANTAGE: John Lackey/Boston


Burnett has underperformed in 2010

Post-Contract Performance: Burnett and Lackey both managed to have below-average 2010s, posting ERA+ numbers of 81 and 99, respectively. Normally, this would make Lackey the clear-cut winner, but Burnett also had 2009 with his new team, where he posted a 114 ERA+. When added in, that gives Burnett a 96 ERA+ over the two seasons. Still, that doesn’t quite reach Lackey. What Burnett did that Lackey has yet to do, is be an integral part of a title run. Burnett’s entire body of work was less than ideal in the 2009 postseason (5 starts, 1-1, 5.27 ERA), he did help shut down the Phillies and Pedro Martinez in Game 2 of the World Series. He allowed just one run over seven innings, striking out nine, which left Mariano Rivera to close out the last two innings of that matchup.  His Game 5 start was considerably worse (2 innings, 6 earned runs), but that was mostly and all-offense night (even then-Phillies ace Cliff Lee allowed 5 earned over four innings). So, while Lackey has the slight regular-season record over him, what Burnett did something much bigger when he helped win that Game 2 start over an all-time great pitcher.

ADVANTAGE: A.J. Burnett/New York

Future Expectations: No one is psychic (sorry, Ms. Cleo), but 2010 can give us a rather useful way to view the future from these aging pitchers, and it’s not all that pretty. Neither pitcher had a strong 2010, but the end of the year performances were very different. Lackey had his best statistical month, posting and ERA of 3.46 and a WHIP of just 1.03. At that point in time, Burnett was imploding. He managed to go from the Yankees #2 to off of the ALDS roster by putting up a horrific 5.60 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Burnett has since been added to the ALCS roster for New York and slated to start Game 4 against Texas’ Tommy Hunter, but the damage has been done.

ADVANTAGE: John Lackey/Boston

As a whole, John Lackey has clearly shown that he is the better choice. His long-term outlook is better in almost every manner, when compared to A.J. Burnett. His durability, future price, and 2010 results suggest that he is a better investment going forward. Of course, if Burnett can turn his awful regular season into a successful, redemptive postseason and help the Yankees to a repeat, the discussion could be brought back up. For now, though, it seems Boston has made a much better decision with Lackey.





2011 Chicago Cubs: First Base

10 09 2010

Two articles in, and I haven’t even discussed the team I’m here to represent, the Chicago Cubs! If I can’t do that, why am I even here?

So, let’s get down to business. The Cubs sent Derrek Lee off to Atlanta a few weeks back, gaining a return of a few pitching prospects that some minors expert can analyze.

Derrek Lee was traded to the Braves at the July trade deadline for Robinson Lopez and two other prospects.

What I want to focus on is how this will affect the Cubs for next season.

As of now, Cubs fans have been getting a steady diet of Xavier Nady at first, with a dash of Micah Hoffpauir on occasion. We’ll ignore the five games Captain Quad A has manned first and focus on Nady to start. Nady’s defense definitely hasn’t been great. He has posted a -0.8 UZR, not terrible, but bad considering he is replacing the +2.1 UZR Lee was posting this year (along with a career +7.3).

Nady has never been much of a defender (his career UZR at his primary position of RF is a -12.7). As a hitter, getting the regular playing time at first has helped him a bit. He’s hit .289, but his lack of pop (.141 ISO at first) makes putting him on a team as an everyday 1B is a mistake. Without a serviceable option in the minors, the Cubs are going to have to look outward into the free agent pool this winter, in the hopes of finding a new (or old?) 1B.

Rather than spend ten pages going through all of the mediocre free agents (Lyle Overbay, Mark Katosay, Troy Glaus) or covering the bases with every trade option (Yonder Alonso, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, etc.), let’s stick to the big boys: Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena. The Cubs have a lot of money coming off of the books from Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly, so those funds need to go somewhere. The question is: where do they go?

First up, we’ll tackle the former Cub Derrek Lee. While he has always been a fan favorite and an outstanding defender (see the aforementioned UZR totals), it would be tough to see him back. His numbers were way down after a strong 2009, and he vetoed a trade to the Angels once. It makes me wonder if Cubs management basically a) begged him to leave to get some return on their investment, or b) told him to get lost because they were letting him walk either way. The defense and clubhouse presence would be nice, but the team needs some offense, and I cannot help but wonder if the man exited on less than ideal terms (and he probably wants to play for a sure-fire contender at his age).

Lance Berkman has an option for next year. At $15 million, it is a very pricey chunk of change for a man who has put up a 97 OPS+ as a Yankee and has been in steady decline for a couple of years now. Instead, look for him to get bought out by the Yankees (and watch the $13 million saved go towards Jeter’s salary). Defensively, he could be the piece the Cubs need to replace Derrek Lee. His UZR this year is a +3.8, even higher than Derrek’s +2.1. Still, he is a less than reliable hitter now, and I have heard nothing to indicate that the Cubs are looking at him. Personally, I think going after a guy that plays solid defense and can hit around .280 with an OPS over .800 would be splendid, but–as I said before–there are no signs pointing to this match.

Then we have the cream of the infield crop, Adam Dunn. Dunn has always been known as a masher with a glove of stone, and he still is, but his defense is less like that of a black hole this year, raising his UZR from a -14.3 to a -1.9. His hitting is still fantastic, though. His SLG is up a bit, but his OBP is way down (due to a drop in walks from 116 to 67 thus far), leading to a 13-point drop in OPS. The problem in signing Dunn is the money. Even a deep-pocketed team with a lot of free money like the Cubs would struggle with taking his deal on.

Although Adam Dunn would be the Cubs' #1 choice, his asking price is too steep for their taste.

His demands will likely sit in the 3+ years and $15 million+ range, and the Cubs are already trying to fix the messes of Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome. To pile on, they will still be stuck with Alfonso Soriano’s ugly mistake until 2014, so taking an aging hitting machine is a risk, even one as consistently powerful as Dunn.

This leads us to my personal preference, Carlos Pena. That’s right, folks, I prefer the 33-tear old first baseman with a sub-.200 average. Why? Several reasons. First off, the walks. He may sport a saddening .203 average, buy his on-base percentage is still a useful .330, crazy for a guy to manage that, huh? His power is another bonus as well. Fans and critics have begged for a power bat from the lefty side for years (Dunn could work, but the money hurts).

Although Pena sports a mediocre .203 batting average, his power numbers and and strong BB% could help the Cubs in 2011.

He should be good for about 30-35 home runs for a few more years, and that would help to break up the monotony of Byrd, Ramirez, and Soriano.

Of course, the man is far from flawless. His average is a mess. Even his career average is a weak .242. His defense has been suspect for a couple of years now, and one does not typically have a spiritual awakening with the glove at age 33. The final reasoning I prefer Pena to the other options is probably the most important: the commitment.

I expect Carlos Pena to take the Adrian Beltre route next year. He will look for a reasonably priced deal for 2011, and will in turn try to restore some value to his stock before looking for one last multi-year deal before 2012. His price tag should sit in the $5-8 million range, and that is more than reasonable for a power bat at a position the Cubs desperately need production. Grabbing Pena would allow them to look for a prospect to groom for a year or two (maybe the Red Sox would send them Lars Anderson?), while not costing them the entirety of their offseason budget.

This way, the Cubs can look to fill the other holes they have this offseason: the back-end of their rotation and the bullpen.





Delgado’s comeback attempt: Finished? I think so.

4 09 2010

Posted by MagicSox

August 7th, 2010.  Nearly four weeks ago, the Red Sox signed Carlos Delgado to a minor league contract.  A team rocked by injuries harder than any in the past decade, our MVP-caliber first baseman was out for the year, and our starter was (and sadly still is) Mike Lowell.  Being an optimistic fan, I looked at the best-case scenario: we have the 30th-ranking home-run hitter of all time (who jacked 30+ for 11 out of 13 seasons between 1996 and 2008),  someone who hasn’t posted an OPS below .700 since 1995, and who hit .298 with 38 longballs in his last full season (2008).  His career WAR also averages out to around 3.0, which definitely helps a club in a playoff race.  I purposely ignored his subpar UZR, but a true offensive threat is needed when you have guys like Bill Hall being relied on for big contributions.

Of course, there were the injury concerns.  He’s 38, which in baseball years is around when you start to become increasingly brittle.  Hell, he only had 94 ABs last year.  It was anyone’s guess as to how he’d hold up in the majors.  But I was greatly looking forward to

Carlos Delgado's comeback attempt to the "Big Show" has not gone as planned for the Red Sox.

The Sox signed him on a minor league deal, where he’d report to AAA Pawtucket.  Local attendance was boosted tremendously: former all-star, coming to McCoy Stadium and hitting cleanup for the PawSox.  Count myself as one of the people who punched a ticket to see him.  Turns out, it was a waste of money.  I didn’t see any bombs, or timely hits, or even any hits for that matter.  A couple of strikeouts and a couple of groundouts are not what I expect from a two-time all-star.  However, the biggest waste of money was the cash that the Red Sox set aside for his contract. In only five games for Pawtucket, he went 3-13 while going down on strikes a whopping 46.2% of the time, not to mention a dismal .231 slugging percentage.

Instead of looking like a seasoned big-league veteran, he looked like a recent call-up from AA still wet behind the ears.  What pisses me off is that the Red Sox apparently didn’t see anything wrong in his workout.  If he was this rusty, why was he even signed?  If anything, he took valuable field experience from a prospect (Lars Anderson) who could realistically see some big league time in 2011.

Delgado was placed on the disabled list on August 21st, just two weeks after joining the team, due to hip soreness.  He hasn’t played since, and with the minor league season nearly over, I think that the Red Sox have seen enough of him.  While a good idea in principle, Delgado’s body cannot withstand playing everyday in the majors again without injury, and his skill seems to have eroded.  With that said, hopefully we can have Youkilis back at first by opening day and forget about Delgado.