Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Mystery of Mijares

The Giants were awarded Jose Mijares, handy and productive LOOGY, formerly of the KC Royals (Schulman).  Hank posited that this was related to a move to a closer by committee situation, and he was spot on, as the Giants reported that with Santiago Casilla's blister problem affecting his performance previously, they need to use him more sparingly, in order not to cause the blister to return, so they are going to start using Jeremy Affeldt more often in the closer role.

The curious part of this transaction is that the Royals just handed him over to the Giants, no prospects asked for, and further, none of the teams ahead of the Giants (first all of AL, then NL teams with worse records, which is most of the NL) laid any claim on him first.  So the question is:  what's wrong with Mijares that none of these 20 teams didn't lay claim on him?


ogc Thoughts

I don't have time to go through each team one by one, but to me, this was just a perfect storm situation.  First off, KC was going to go cheap on LOOGY's and Mijares is projected to make $2M next year, in his second arbitration, so they were already planning on not offering him arbitration in the off-season.  Why not just put him through waivers now and give him to the team that makes a waiver claim, saving them maybe $300K?

However, KC was very active before the deadline trying to trade Mijares, and any team interested in Mijares already had their conversation with KC regarding how much it would take and told KC, "Thanks, but no thanks."  As a result, some of the teams that might have wanted Mijares (especially had they known that KC was offering him basically for free, as $300K is pocket change for most teams not in KC), decided not to make a waiver claim, thinking that if there was a trade possibility before the deadline it would have been done already, so this soon afterward, nobody will be upping their offer for Mijares and KC will be ready to deal once every team turns down the waiver claim.

Clearly, nobody who had a chance before the Giants to make a claim thought 1) that any team would make a waiver claim and 2) that KC would give him up for no prospects.  Else, one would think that some team, particularly LA or AZ, would have made a claim.  Presumably, the Giants and Royals had some conversations on trading for Mijares before the deadline and the Royals, upon learning that it was the Giants who won the waiver claim, could have decided that they would rather have $300K than any prospects that the Giants might give them.  Or maybe decided that, regardless of the claiming team, they were going to accept the waiver claim and give up the player to save the money.

In addition, Mijares had some question marks that probably scared off a few teams:  he's only 6' tall but weighs 230 officially, but some suspect more.  Also, while he's having a great season this year, last season was pretty bad, where he walked a lot while not striking out that many.  He's never struck out so many K/9 before either, so there must be worry that he won't be able to continue this going forward, particularly since he recently had a bad stretch of relief appearances (12.27 ERA in last 7 appearances).

Also, it might just really be the team, not the player.   Some teams are happy with their bullpen and don't want to mess up the chemistry already there.  I heard on KNBR that a pitcher went directly to Bochy right after this was announced and asked if he was losing his job (player was not identified).  Losing a friend could cause some tensions.  Other teams are happy with their LOOGY's that they got, and don't want to add another one.  Many teams have just the two and are happy with that.  Of course, other teams are just playing out the string and don't feel the need to trade prospects for a LOOGY with a questionable recent past or body issues.

Affeldt the Closer Too

So apparently that brought the Giants into position to get another cheap grab off the waiver wire.  I have to think that they didn't expect this to happen, but was happy with the outcome.  They had already decided that to save Casilla for at least part-time closing duties, they had to go with a closer by committee situation, and by picking up Mijares, who has been pretty good against left-handed hitters in his career, that would free Affeldt for closer duties.  I assume they were ready to up what they were willing to offer before, assuming they had talked already.

This, of course, also meant that the Giants didn't think that Runzler was ready and/or able to handle those duties for them right now.  He's in AAA right now.  So they made the waiver claim on Jose.

Closers Are Not Dime A Dozen

This, I believe, makes clear why the Giants decided to keep Affeldt, in spite of his $5M team option, rather than let him go and hope to retain him via free agency.  And I've been saying that it did make sense since the signings of Lopez and Affeldt happened in the off-season, particularly at MCC, where I was told off.  Clearly, the Giants were very unoptimistic about Wilson's physical problems healing with rest during the off-season and smartly kept Affeldt around, just in case they needed him to be a closer for them.

People still think that a team can just pick up some cheap relievers and cobble together a bullpen and closer, but we should have learned from the aftermath of losing Robb Nen that replacing the closer and building a bullpen on the cheap is not an easy or likely successful task.  Keeping Affeldt is in line with what I've been saying I like about Sabean's strategy the past few years, of risk mitigation by having players ready to step up when the guy we were relying on (or expecting to perform) failed for whatever reason, whether injury or lack of performance.  That was money well spent, much like buying insurance, which many Giants fans just did not see during the off-season, but now becoming clearer.

Plus, what people don't remember is that when Affeldt was signed by the Giants, some of the experts noted that Affeldt, while not a closer, had abilities that you want to see as a closer.  Someone at Fangraphs called him closer-worthy performer for a set-up guy price.  And his great pitching, for the most part, for us, showed us that possibility, I believe.

Oddly enough, even though Affeldt has done well this season up to now, people still couldn't see why he was kept, again telling me off about how the Giants should have picked up some cheap castoff somewhere in free agency.  They just don't understand the necessity of having players you know and feel that you can rely on, to do important roles, like closer.  They still seem to believe in Beane's dictum that closer's are dime a dozen and that anybody can be a closer.  But again, as we sadly learned (but some did not absorb), not anybody can be a closer, that is why the Giants ended up going from closer to closer after Nen retired, until they developed Wilson.  And, in any case, there are not always good choices out there in free agency.

Now and Later

I think that this move is also a bit of Now and Later.  Now, it frees Bochy to save Affeldt for closing duties.  Plus, now he can use Lopez earlier in the game when there is a more highly leveraged situation, knowing that he had Mijares and Affeldt still available later (remember, Casilla will still be closing many games).

Furthermore, later, the Giants are looking to add on both Melky Cabrera and Hunter Pence to the long-term payroll this off-season.  Even with big contracts coming off - Rowand, Huff, Franchez, Pagan - there will be guys getting raises (like Bumgarner and Sandoval) and presumably the Giants will be trying to sign Posey to a long-term deal as well.  Which will make it problematic to retain Affeldt's $5M contract going forward.  In comes Mijares, likely to cost the Giants around $2M next season, assuming he passes this audition and the Giants decide to keep him.

Closer by Committee - Been There, Done That

Some people think that closer by committee can't work, but Giants fans with a longer view of team history will recall our grand closer by committee (only it wasn't called that back then) situation where we had Gary Lavelle as our lefty closer and Randy Moffitt (brother of Billy Jean King) as our righty closer.   They were a great tandem for us, so it is not an impossible situation.

Plus, this takes away the awkward situation that happens when the manager brings in another pitcher for the closer.  This allows Bochy to bring in Affledt when Casilla is struggling, and vice-versa, Casilla when Affeldt is struggling.  And if both are, he could bring in whoever is left, Hensley has experience closing, Romo would be the closer if not for his delicate elbow (due to slider abuse),  and Kontos has been so good that some fans wouldn't mind him being the closer.

Furthermore, it gives Bochy the chance to see how different players perform in the situation.  If Affeldt shines in his new role, the Giants could decide to sign him up to be our new closer going forward, and shift the money from Wilson to Affeldt.   Kontos, with a good showing, would move into more of a set-up role permanently, or could put himself in the driver's seat to taking over, if Casilla continues to falter as the righty closer, as he has performed very well for us as a reliever this season.

This was a good move by the Giants, made all the better by the Royals just handing him over for nothing.  I like Affeldt taking over the lefty closer role, and love how it frees Bochy up to use whoever he feels got it right now.  Mijares seems like a good addition, he has had prior success, and any ups and downs he has had I would attribute both to reliever small sampling and youthful mistakes that a vet is unlikely to repeat.  And he could be a good addition for future seasons as well.

5 comments:

  1. Forgot to also mention that Mijares is only 27 YO, though he will turn 28 around the time of the World Series and that we have him under control for another two seasons.

    He is under control for the 2013 and 2014 season (28 and 29 YO seasons) before turning free agent for the 2015 season. And if the Giants like him, they probably can sign him to a lower cost contract after next season to cover 2014-2016 or more, depending on how good he turns out to be.

    He has a 2.07 K/BB ratio for his career (good pitchers are above 2.0, generally) but if you exclude his poor 2011 season, he has a 2.67 K/BB ratio for his career.

    And looking at his splits, it appears that the problem with his 2011 season is two-fold. Most of all, he faced as much RH batters as he ever faced, basically as much as he had in 2009. On top of that, RH batters hit him really hard in 2011, well, actually, the main difference is that he actually didn't get hit worse, he just walked about 2-3 times more batters than he had during his career.

    So he really should not be facing many RH batters, but his poor 2011 appears to be an aberation, in that he walked a lot more RH batters than usual, heck, LH batters too, just a bad season overall for command, plus he also struck out less RH batters, as well as walking more, a double whammy.

    And the Giants appear more willing to keep their LOOGY's against LH batters. Lopez last season had roughly the same PA against both RH and LH batters. Mijares had a lot more RH PA than LH in his usage pattern for 2011, which also contributed to his poor season, so being on the Giants should help his overall stats. His good seasons have been marked by him being used more relatively against LH batters, than RH batters.

    And whatever issues he had last season against batters, he seems to have figured out, as his K/BB ratio is very good this season (closer level, Shandler said that closers should have K/BB of at least 2.4 and he is above that).

    Good addition to the bullpen period, plus good for the long term, plus great in that it frees Affeldt to join the closer rotation more often.

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    1. The one thing I would point out is that this had nothing to do with the Royals saving $300 K this year. The actual savings would be more along the lines of $150 K, as they are replacing his $900K with a ML Min $450K salary for one third of the season. As cheap as the Royals are, not even they make roster moves to save $150K.

      What prompted the Royals to jettison Mijares is that he was appreantly in the middle of a club house spat that was serious enough for them to fire Ned Yost's hand picked 1B coach and DFA Y. Betancourt. The Mijares announcement came about 24 hours after the first two so I would imagine Dayton Moore was trying to work out a deal with Sabean during that time and when it fell through, Moore decided he needed to be gone and just let the deal go through.

      I think you hit the nail on the head as to why 20 plus teams did not claim him. Nice pick up for the Giants, I will be very suprised if he does not contribute to your playoff run.

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    2. Thank you for your comment, that does make a lot more sense. And thanks for pointing out that the savings is not even that much. I agree, no team is that cheap.

      Yeah, I agree that it is a nice pickup, you probably didn't see, but my new post covers the closer by committee situation for the Giants now that they have Mijares. He enables that to happen the way the Giants are handling this: nobody in the press noted this, but this enables the Giants to continue using Romo, Affeldt, and Lopez the same way they have been using them for two years now, except that instead of bringing them in the 7th/8th inning, they are now slotted to do the exact same work in the 8th/9th inning. Mijares makes this happen by being the effective LOOGY coming in the 6th and 7th inning, and locking down the left-handed hitters in those key innings. And Bochy said that Mijares will face more than just lefties, he will pitch full innings.

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  2. What is interesting about Affeldt is that he is a very streaky pitcher. When he has his control, and his curveball is breaking sharply and over the plate, he has real closer stuff. He has that sinking fastball that makes guys hit into DP's when needed. But when he loses command, sometimes for weeks at a time, he walks guys, makes pitches too fat, and it just gets hard to watch. He has been in a good groove for quite a while now. Let us just hope that he can stay in that groove for the rest of the year. But lefties, not named Bumgarner, can be very erratic and hard to predict. If he doesn't slip at home on a slab of bacon in the newt few weeks and break an elbow or kneecap, he may help the giants get to the promised land.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, he has been streaky, but the key this season is that when he hurt his leg earlier this season when his huge son jumped in his arms, he had to wear a brace to help him pitch and not reinjure himself, and he found that it helped him keep his mechanics right. I would hope that he continues to wear that brace and to pitch with it, since it makes him effective more consistently.

      Delete

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