2013 A.L. Roster Battles
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including an interview with Baseball Prospectus's Jason Martinez

In November, Baseball Prospectus hired the talented and knowledgeable work-fiend behind MLB Depth Charts – Jason Martinez - to take on the Minor League Updates of Kevin Goldstein and provide some of his own unique ways of looking at team building – which is just what we Scoresheet players love to gobble up. Jason’s MLB Depth Charts are the most thorough and well organized Depth Charts I have seen on the internet. With all that quality work, it was most kind of Jason to take the time to answer a long list of question I had for him.

During my Scoresheet draft preparations, I noticed quite a few players who, upon a quick statistical glance, would appear much more qualified to make their teams than ones who Jason – and, I’m sure many other depth chart writers – have annotated as the most likely to make The Show in April. So, I asked Jason about the most blatant examples. His reasons are all sound, but in a few cases I have added a comment.

A.L. East

SSW: Why would the Yankees carry Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz when they can be far more productive platooning with Hafner by usingRonnier Mustelier?

JM: Mustelier is unproven. Big difference between hitting in the upper minors and the majors. And we have no idea how he'd do in a role where he only plays a couple times per week, if that. I think he has a shot but it's more likely they go with a proven veteran, especially on the Opening Day roster.

SSW: I agree with all of the above, except I wonder if the differences between the upper minors and the majors are that large. My interpretation of the Bill James school of sabermatics is that they do not think so. The Yankees have traditionally favoured veterans over rookies, but the Yankees have not been acting like the usual Steinbrenner era Yankees of late.

For example: would the old win-at-any-cost Yankees go with a 30 year old back-up Chris Stewart as their starting catcher? I didn’t even ask about Andrew Romine or Gary Sanchez, because at this point, I don’t think they are better.Francesco Cervelli is probably a marginally better hitter, but as Ben Lindergh points out in thisBaseball Prospectus article on A.L. position battles, which links to this Wall Street Journal article, Stewart is a master pitch framer. It is evident from the way, for example, Tampa Bay is employing Jose Molina, some teams are buying heavily into this new catching metric (although, I’m sure it is a skill that has long been considered to some degree).

SSW: Even if Yankees' David Aardsma regains 100% form from TJ surgery, I'm not sure he's better than Mark Montgomery.

JM:  Montgomery will be in NY at some point in 2013. I can see him in NY by June 1st. Aardsma will get every chance to prove he's back to his old form. He was a very good closer a few years ago.

SSW: Is Brandon Guyer's shoulder preventing him from hitting as well as Shelley Duncan, while giving the Rays a more useful outfielder?

JM: Not certain but it's a good guess that they'll give him regular at-bats in Triple-A to start the season considering he missed most of 2012. Shelley Duncan will be a good addition against LHP's and he's proven that he can produce in a bench role. Guyer is still young. He'll get his chance eventually.

SSWThese points about Aardsma and Duncan make perfect sense.


SSWMauro Gomez has been a monster at International League home plates for years – and as far as can be demonstrated in a quarter season, he can handle American League pitchers, too. I guess he’s blocked by David Ortiz, but wouldn’t Gomez be a better fit for Boston’s bench thanLyle Overbay? What if Boston needs two subs in their infield? At least, Gomez can fill in at third. Napoli had a reverse platoon split last year, so I don’t see Overbay’s left-handedness as any plus. I’m guessing Overbay is better defensively at first-base than Gomez, but he’s 35 years old. I can’t believe he is so much better defensively that it makes up for a likely 100 points in OPS. 

JM:  Definitely more of a defense thing, and to a lesser extent, having a left-handed complement. Guys like Gomez who have been in the minors so long are there still for a reason. I don't know too much about him but I always keep that in mind.

SSW: Good point, but Gomez looks like a better DH than who most teams employ. He deserves a shot.


SSW: Except that he is from Connecticut, is there anything to like about Rajai Davis over the Blue JaysRyan Langerhans? Is that because they want a right-hander to platoon with Adam Lind?

JM: Speed! Defense! Right-handed bat to give Rasmus a break in CF. And he's on the 40-man roster with a guaranteed $2.5M contract. Langerhans is a non-roster player.

SSWScoresheet gives Langerhans a better defensive rating than Davis, but I do concede Davis makes a better 4th outfielder, although, Emilio Bonafacio is available to back-up centerfield. Langerhans might be a better option than Anthony Gose in case of a Bautista injury or a Cabrera suspension. If Rasmus gets hurt, then they’d have to go with Gose.


SSW: Playing the 41 year old Henry Blanco over the Jays’ 26 year old Josh Thole seems dubious.

JM: The Jays have already said Thole will likely start in AAA and the backup job is Blanco's to lose.

SSW: What they say and what they do can be different. Alex Anthopoulos seems much more fan friendly than his predecessor here in Toronto, but sometimes GMs say things to help put the players in the best possible frame of mind to help them prepare for the season. I’m not sure exactly how this edict helps with that, but managing expectations is one of the most important things any manager can do.


A.L. Central

SSWDrew Smyly is better than Rick Porcellogiven the Tigers' infield, but I understand Porcello is young and full of potential. But where are the strikeouts?

JM: Don't know if Porcello is full of potential. He was major league ready early in his career but it seems that he is what he is. A pretty good back-of-the-rotation starter. And an overpaid one, which is why they want to trade him to open up the spot for Smyly. If not, it's hard to keep a guy making $5M+ in the minors.

SSW: Wow. This answer surprised me. The orthodoxy I’ve heard from BP writers is that Porcello is due to break out into an outstanding starter. Early in the season last year, Porcello had some stretches where it looked like he was breaking out, but he slipped back to unreliable as usual.

SSW: It is weird that Detroit would carry two left-handed hitting back-up outfielders (Brennan Boesch & Quintin Berry) while their weakest starting outfielder also bats lefty: Andy Dirks. I agree with you, however, that the only way Detroit would carry Avisail Garcia would be if he was the starter – and I’m not convinced he has passed Dirks, yet. So, I’m waiting for a trade or a waiver pick-up – or else it might make more sense if they carry a shortstop glove wizard (Cale Iorg?) as the 25th man. I know he can’t hit, but I assume he can bunt and he can be a late inning defensive sub.

JM:  Yeah, I think they're gonna shop Boesch in the spring and if anything, Berry could be expendable. Don't see a lot of AB's for him in 2013.

SSW: After Jason wrote me that, I read a report that Boesch has adjusted his swing and expects to have his 2011 power return. Dirks had an enviable rate stat line last year, but Leyland just doesn’t seem to give him much love. Boesch is 28 this April. In 2011, he had a .283/.341/.458 with a .315 BABiP (which is .298 over this 3 year career so far). Dirks just turned 27 this January. He was .322/.370/.487 for Detroit last year, but only .216/.293/.405 the middle third of the season when he was playing for Toledo. His BABiPs reflect that difference: .365 in Detroit, .222 in Toledo. In 2011, it was the opposite: .325/.368/.522 for the Mudhens (.355 BABiP) and .251/.296/.406 for the Tigers (.273 BABiP).


SSW: Can't the Royals make room for Louis Coleman? I know they're stacked with excellent right-handed relievers, but some teams manage fine with only one lefty. They don't need Everett Teaford that badly, do they?

JM:  I like having someone like Teaford, who has started before, in the bullpen as the long reliever. I think Coleman has a shot but this is a really good problem to have for KC. Very good bullpen depth. And I'm projecting Hochevar in the 'pen right now, but he or Chen could get moved, which would put Coleman back in there.

SSW: Unless the Indians are trying to lose, I don’t see why they would keep pitching David Huff when they have Scott Barnes more than ready to take his place.

JM:  Huff is out of options. Probably the lone reason right now.


SSW: Isn’t Kyle Gibson recovered enough now to take a Minnesota rotation spot away from the likes of Kevin Correia?

JM:  Correia has a guaranteed 2-yr contract. They brought him in to be in the rotation. Once Gibson is ready, maybe early in the season, he should have a spot but it won't be in Correia's place.


SSW: As a Scoresheet player, I tend to neglect the contractual influences. Teams are getting smarter sabermetrically. I pay a bit of attention to salary as an indication of what a player’s team thinks of him. As far as the options stuff, I wonder how much each team worries about it. You would think that players struggling to make the final spot on a roster are close to expendable. I concede, though, it is a factor.

SSW:  Mike Tonkin is clearly better than most of the Twins' projected relievers. Anthony Slamamight be a little better than some of them.

JM: For some reason, the Twins never gave Slama much of a chance, even when he was dominating. And he's a non-roster player. I like Tonkin as a guy who can reach the big leagues in 2013. But he's never pitched above Double-A. Not impossible but it would be a huge jump to go from Hi-A to the majors.
SSW: Yeah, OK, I probably way overstated Tonkin’s readiness. Relievers sometimes do make that jump with only a few innings in AA or AAA – which is essentially what Jason is saying because relievers only pitch a few innings in one season.

SSW:  I have Josmil Pinto better than the Twins’ Drew Butera. I can see, perhaps, Pinto, isn’t ready yet as a catcher.

JM: I've heard good things on Pinto so I'm sure he'll compete for the job. He only has 12 games of experience above Hi-A so it would be a big jump.

SSW: Yeah, same thing. Actually, catchers are far less apt to make the jump from single A, so Twins fans will have to be more patient before this upgrade to back-up catcher occurs. I wonder if Joe Mauer will catch until he retires.


A.L. West

SSW:  One more thing, Jason (for now): I noticed you have Scott Sizemore at secondbase and Jed Lowrie at thirdbase. I heard somewhere they were going to try Lowrie at second; and don’t forget theAthletics immediately moved Sizemore to third when they acquired him from Detroit – which is where he stayed. It’s not like they had strong options at either position. On the other hand, playing Lowrie at thirdbase probably has a better chance of keeping him healthy. Plus, a fully healthy Sizemore is likely to hit a little bit better than Josh Donaldson. What sold you on that variation?

JM The A's have already said Sizemore will be moving back to 2B. It's a tough projection in this format because they plan on moving Lowrie around. But it just confuses people to put Lowrie on the bench so I had to have him at either 2B or 3B. 

SSW:  Yes, and apparently Jemile Weeks and even Grant Green are getting a shot to be the starting second-baseman.


SSW:  What convinced you the Rangers thinkMartin Perez is rotation ready, while they have a nice alternative in Justin Grimm?

JM As far as I know, he's the strong favorite going in although a few other guys could get a look. To be honest, I'm surprised they haven't brought in another starter. 

SSW:  I suppose scouting reports and team intentions are more valuable than reading stats when discussing young pitchers. For what it’s worth PECOTA, Steamer, and Oliver average projected ERA for Grimm is 4.86. There is no Bill James projection for him. The other three average out to 5.41 for Perez. I see Jason’s latter point.


SSW:  Nick Maronde: could be the Angels no. 3 starter - ahead of VargasBlanton, and Hanson.

JM No chance. He'll get a look in the bullpen, but is likely headed back to the Double-A rotation to continue developing. He only had 32.1 innings there in 2012 so he could use some more experience in the upper minors.

SSW:  All right, I am a little embarrassed about this one. Between the high strikeouts, low walks, the September call-up, and that he is unanimously the Angels’ no. 2 prospect, I leapt to conclusions.


SSW:  I would think the Mariners would be better off with Eric Thames . . . instead of old-and-in-the-way Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay.

JM:  Thames wasn't very good last year. Ibaņez proved he still has something left in the tank and he got a guaranteed contract so he's a lock. Bay's salary is only $1M so if he looks as bad as he did in 2012, he could be cut.

SSW:  All true, but still: now that FanGraphs has added Oliver and Steamer to Bill James among their array of projections, and PECOTA has been released, let’s see how these projections average in OBA and Slugging: Thames: .311/.421; Ibaņez: .304/.387; Bay: .328/.389. Multiply the OB difference by 1.7 and subtract it from the Slugging difference and you see that Thames edges out Bay as the best projected hitter of these three (ignoring platoon and health factors). He is certainly the better fielder.


SSW: The one thing we can safely predict is that there will be surprises.

John Carter