Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Capps Punchline

“#Twins GM Bill Smith said it’s “not at all” a question if they’ll tender Matt Capps a contract and bring him back, meaning they will. #Nats”
- tweeted by Nationals beat reporter Adam Kilgore

It’s 139 characters; 120 of which make me want to put my hand in a blender, followed by 19 that make me laugh out loud. Let’s hear the punchline again:

“meaning they will.”

Ha! Get it? The clarification is needed, because the first 80% of the tweet ISN’T clear. That which Bill Smith says is “not at all” a question could be interpreted just the opposite. In fact, it SHOULD be interpreted just the opposite. There is NO WAY on gawd’s green earth the Twins should be offering Matt Capps arbitration. It should be obvious to anyone who studies the issue for a single hour what a tremendous waste of limited resources that is. Offering arbitration to Capps calls into question the sanity of the entire front office.

So let’s study this:

1. Capps is a good reliever.
Know why I’m making this point #1? Because I don’t hate Capps. I like Capps. So please, I’m begging you, don’t put a comment below that says “You just hate Matt Capps.” He’s been durable, he’s been closing for 3.5 years so far, and he was fifth in the majors this year in saves.

2. Capps is going to make $7-8M if the Twins offer him arbitration.
And for all of those reasons above, Capps is going to make a lot of money in arbitration. In fact, he might make more than $8M, depending on how aggressive his agent wants to be. But if he plays it safe and asks for $7.2M or so, there is no way he loses that arbitration case. Let’s explain why.

The value of a player in arbitration is determined by looking at comparable players, and the two main factors for determining a comparable player are:
1) Performance – How the player has compared statistically to other similar players over the last two years.
2) Tenure – This one might surprise you, but it’s a big deal, too. Capps, who has 5 years of service time, won’t be compared to Mariano Rivera (14 years of service time) or Oakland’s Andrew Bailey (1 year). He’ll be compared to players who have similar service time.

It turns out that last offseason, there were two closers with five years of service who Capps might be compared to, but neither of whom has anywhere near the 69 saves that Capps had the last two years.
  1. The first is Chad Qualls, who isn’t a great comp in any way other than service time. For instance, when he signed that deal, he had only closed for one year (he had 33 saves in 2009). He got $4.5M to melt down for the Diamondbacks this year.
  2. The second is Huston Street, who had been closing for a few years, and had 53 saves over the two previous years. He signed a 3-year deal that paid him about $7.2-$7.5M per year. He looks like the closest comp to Capps.
Unfortunately, for the Twins, the news gets worse from there. Because there were a lot of other signings last January of players between four and six years of service time that reinforce that $7M number – or even worse. They’re all reasonable for an arbitrator to look at when deciding how much Capps should be paid in his sixth year. Here they are with their service time and how many saves they had over the two previous years.
  • Jonathon Broxton (4 years, 50 saves) – signed a 2-year deal that will pay him $7M in his sixth year.
  • Bobby Jenks (4 years, 59 saves) – agreed to make $7.5M in his fifth year.
  • Jonathon Papelbon (4 years, 79 saves) – agreed to made $9.35M in his fifth year.
  • Heath Bell (4 years, 42 saves) – only made $4.5M, but that was in his fifth year and he had only closed for one year.
  • Kevin Gregg (6 years, 52 saves) – agreed as a free agent to $2.75M deal.
  • Jose Valverde (6 years, 69 saves) – agreed as a free agent to $7M per year for two years from Tigers – and also cost them a first round draft pick.
The Twins can hope that the arbitrator thinks Capps is closer to Gregg and Qualls than to Street, Valverde, Broxton, Jenks and Papelbon, but I wouldn’t count on it.

3. There are at least eight - check that, seven - better free agent relievers available for less money than Capps.
It’s down to seven because one signed yesterday. The Tigers inked Joaquin Benoit to three-year deal for $5.5M per year. He’s the first significant free agent middle reliever signed, and it looks like they overpaid to get him. He’ll probably serve as a setup man this year and a closer after Valverde’s contract ends. Let’s look at Capps and Benoit’s stats and you tell me which one is better:

Player A: 73 IP, 2.47 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 7.27 K/9IP
Player B: 60.3 IP, 1.34 ERA, .680 WHIP, 11.1 K/9IP

Player B is better at striking players out, limiting hits, limiting walks, and not giving up runs. He’s also going to be two million dollars cheaper next year, because that’s Benoit. Capps on the other hand pitched a few more innings – and tallied 42 saves.

Not every reliever can be a closer – I get that. But did anything about Capps’ performance last year make you think “Ooh, he has ice in his veins?” Capps is a good reliever, but there are a lot of great relievers who are free agents this year, and Benoit is going to be one of the most expensive.

In short, if the Twins offer $7.5M to Capps, they are choosing him over two relievers, both of whom are better than him. In a year in which almost the entire bullpen is filing for free agency, that’s close to unforgivable.

4. Trading away Wilson Ramos should not have any bearing on this decision.
The fact that the Twins gave up catching prospect Wilson Ramos for Capps should have nothing to do with this decision. The fact that the Twins justified trading Ramos for Capps because Capps was arbitration-eligible should have nothing to do with this decision. Ramos is gone. He no longer matters to this team. If that’s part of the decision-making process, someone needs to remind the front office to look forward, not back. If that’s part of the decision-making process, someone needs to ask if the front office is more focused on making the team better or covering their collective ass.

Instead, the question is whether the Twins are better off spending $7.5M on Capps or on other players. After a little study, I’ll agree with Smith that it is “not at all” a question.

I just disagree with the punchline.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Make The Bad Thoughts Go Away...

...or just kill me.

(Looks like I have a topic for Thursday.)