We are a fantasy baseball league whose draft is scheduled for April 23. That's a little late, even for us. But given the spate of players going on the DL...

Monday, January 31, 2005

Friday, January 28, 2005

BP on Tigers and Royals

Detroit Tigers
Fun With Park Factors: After five years, it's time to check in on how Comerica Park is shaping up as a run environment.
Year Hitting/Pitching
2000 97/97
2001 99/99
2002 93/94
2003 95/95
2004 96/97
100=neutral. Higher numbers favor offense, lower defense.
The Tigers moved the left-center field fence in from 395 to 370 feet after the 2002 season, cutting down on the enormous power alley that Juan Gonzalez complained about during his time with Detroit in 2000. Whether or not Comerica's spacious outfield would have really driven away free-agent hitters is unknown, though Gonzalez's public whining probably did plant some doubts in numbers-conscious sluggers. The Tigers appear to have gotten lucky--they moved the fence in, eliminating any talk that their park was too extreme, but that move has not seriously affected Comerica playing as a good pitchers' park. Detroit needs to recognize this fact and ensure they have the appropriate speed in the outfield to capitalize on Comerica's tendency to depress home runs (0.871 in 2004) and inflate triples (1.844, the highest factor for three-base hits of any park).
Out of the Frying Pan: There were a lot of reasons to believe Jeremy Bonderman was being set up for failure by the Detroit Tigers. He was drafted in the first round out of high school (by the Athletics, of all teams, before being traded to Detroit), a serious risk factor in the development of young pitchers. He spent just one season in A ball before breaking camp with the Tigers in 2003. He endured a brutal first major-league season with Detroit, losing 19 games for a Tigers team that dropped a franchise-record 119. Because of all that, it's easy to forget that Bonderman is still just 22 years old, and to overlook the real strides he has made in his performance:
Year GS IP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 ERA
2003 28 162 10.7 3.2 6.0 5.56
2004 32 184 8.2 3.6 8.2 4.89
Like many young pitchers, Bonderman needs to cut down on his walk rate to take the next step. He has shown an ability able to improve at the major-league level, though, and he appears ready to assume the mantle of staff ace. Fears that he has been overworked so early in his career seem unfounded. Despite the high total of innings he has racked up, manager Alan Trammell has kept him from having a single start above 121 pitches in his young career, and Bonderman has had a low stress rating in both of his first two years. Bonderman only got stronger down the stretch in 2004, as he had a 3.70 ERA and .211 batting average allowed after the All-Star break.
That Bonderman has largely overcome the hurdle doesn't excuse the Tigers' handling of their young ace. As pointed out in Baseball Prospectus 2004, Detroit's decision to rush him to The Show will prove costly in the long-term, as Bonderman has now racked up two years of major-league service time, and will hit free agency that much sooner. Clearly, having Bonderman as an "indentured servant" during his peak years instead of his developmental phase would have been better for Detroit. The Tigers are a team that can't afford to shell out huge dollars to keep all of its homegrown talent, and so don't have the luxury to make such a mistake.
Fifth with a Bullet: One wouldn't expect the fifth slot in the Tigers rotation to generate much intrigue. However, this year's back-end starter, Wilfredo Ledezma, has perhaps as much promise as any member of the pitching staff. Ledezma was a Rule 5 pick by the Tigers two years ago, nabbed from the Red Sox organization. He understandably struggled in 2003 after jumping from the South Atlantic League (A) to the majors, posting a 5.79 ERA in 84 innings for the Tigers, mostly out of the bullpen. Last season, Ledezma was able to head back to Double-A for much-needed seasoning, and he had a fine half-year in his age-23 season at hitter-friendly Erie, striking out 98 and walking just 24 in 111 2/3 innings.
Ledezma was recalled to Detroit on July 11, and pitched well enough for the Tigers (4.39 ERA, 29 K, 18 BB in 53 1/3 IP) to generate excitement about his future with the team. If Ledezma can build on the improvement he made last season, he could quickly team with Bonderman to provide a young, electric one-two punch at the top of the Detroit rotation.
Kansas City Royals
More Fun With Park Factors: In 1995, Kauffman Stadium underwent a renovation that saw the fences in the alleys moved in from 385 to 375 feet, the fence in center moved from 410 to 400 feet, and the fence height reduced from 12 to nine feet. Ever since then, Kauffman had played as an extremely healthy hitters' park. From 1995-2003, Kauffman averaged a park factor of 106 for batters and pitchers, a trend that grew from 2001-2003, when the park factor jumped to 113 for batters and 112 for pitchers. Kauffman's numbers over that three year span were frighteningly offensive-by contrast, Coors Field only played as a 112/111 during 2003.
Sensing that the rate of offense was getting out of hand, the Royals decided to move the fences back to their original positions of 385 feet in the alleys and 410 in center before the 2004 season. In doing so, they bucked the recent trend of moving fences in to exaggerate offense in the hopes of drawing more fans, a tactic taken most recently by the Tigers and White Sox. The results of the Royals' move were drastic-the park factor fell to 95 for batters and 96 for pitchers last season. Kauffman depressed runs at a rate of 0.910, rating it as the seventh best pitcher's park in baseball. It also had a park factor of 0.706 for home runs, ranking it as the second hardest stadium on homers behind Petco Park.
In the modern age of offense, the Royals decision to return to traditional stadium dimensions is an encouraging sign of sanity and foresight. In general, only two things increase attendance: winning and hosting quality opponents. Moving Kauffman's fences back won't hurt the Royals at the gate, and if it helps to move the organization more towards a commitment to developing quality young arms to benefit from the new dimensions, it could prove to be a major plus.
Calvinist Theology: One of the most interesting developments of last season was the play of Calvin Pickering, the much traveled, and monstrous (6'5, 278 lbs.), first basemen/DH. Pickering is something of an enigma; after having collected just 81 professional ABs from 2002-2003, Pickering caught on with Kansas City in '04 and absolutely destroyed the Pacific Coast League while at Omaha. In 299 at-bats, Pickering put up a Bondsian .712 slugging percentage by hitting 35 home runs, and then continued his barrage in Kansas City, hitting .246/.338/.500 with seven homers in 122 ABs. PECOTA thinks Pickering, who will still be just 28 in 2005, is for real. Here's his 2005 projection:
AB HR AVG OBP SLG VORP
337 24 .272 .400 .543 36.6
PECOTA tabs Pickering as the 2005 Royals' offensive MVP. It's doubtful that he will get enough at bats to claim that honor, however. Chronically injured Mike Sweeney, signed to a huge deal, is lodged in the DH slot, and the team is way too high on Ken Harvey at first base. Sweeney, an inferior defender, has been making things difficult for Royals' management recently, demanding that he play first base regularly or be dealt. The situation could be a blessing in disguise for Kansas City, however, for the team would be better off trading Sweeney for a few prospects and playing Pickering everyday at DH.
That would also solve the problem of finding an expendable member of Kansas City management to break the news to Pickering that he is still without a starting job. Our suggestion? Humor Calvin by offering him exclusive first dibs to all 2005 post-game spreads.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

BP on Angels

Anaheim Angels
Against the Grain: As Joe Sheehan noted last week, there is often a disproportionate difference in salary between comparable players eligible for free agency and those eligible only for arbitration. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim however, are becoming a bit of a maverick and free agency seems no different.
Paul Byrd was signed as a free agent to a one-year, $5 million deal back in December, while arbitration eligible Jarrod Washburn reached an one-year accord worth $6.5 million. The two make for an interesting comparison in that their three-year translated averages are similar:
Byrd K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9
2001 3.94 1.93 2.04 0.89 9.45
2002 4.48 1.15 3.91 1.11 7.18
2004 5.29 1.17 4.53 1.17 8.66
AVG 4.56 1.34 3.42 1.08 8.08
Washburn K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9
2002 5.65 2.32 2.44 0.82 8.11
2003 4.81 2.25 2.14 1.22 7.60
2004 4.67 2.11 2.21 1.00 8.48
AVG 5.08 2.24 2.27 1.02 8.03
While neither pitcher has a great line, Byrd has made a strong case for being the better of the two over the past three years in which he has pitched. As his strikeout and walk rates have improved. Byrd's HR rate has increased, but Angel Stadium played better for home runs than did Turner Field in 2004, so there is reason to believe that will change. Meanwhile, it seems the Angels are still paying for Washburn's 2002 season. The left-hander has dropped almost a whole strikeout per nine innings in the last three years and though his walks have also decreased, it is not enough to make up for a drop in his K/BB ratio, where Byrd is clearly superior. Still, PECOTA rates them about the same, with a 17.7 VORP forecast for Byrd versus 18.1 for Washburn.
PECOTA also shows Byrd as having a wider range of possible performances, an implicit acknowledgement of his missed time over the past two years. Keep in mind that Byrd didn't miss a start after returning from Tommy John surgery, and the track record has been good for Tommy John survivors of late. Byrd's metrics indicate he has a good chance to beat his PECOTA projection.
Oh Kendry! The Angels signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales to a six-year contract in early December. Scouting Director Eddie Bane has been on record saying that Morales is ready for prime time. Unfortunately, the Angels have nowhere to put him. The Angels have committed to Dallas McPherson at third base and Darin Erstad just won a Gold Glove at first base. Casey Kotchman seems to have the inside track at designated hitter. The outfield is just as crowded with Garret Anderson, Steve Finley and Vladimir Guerrero, to say nothing of Juan Rivera and Jeff DaVanon.
So where does this leave the Angels? It probably gives them a good excuse to send Morales to the minors. As an article in Baseball Prospectus 2005 will cover, Cuban baseball seems comparable to the Carolina League, so this does not seem unreasonable. However, based on the track record of disappointing Cuban hitters, there's a significant risk that Morales' six-year contract will become an albatross.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Words of Wisdom

Remember, there are no losers, only people whose best just isn't good enough - T.Bogg


Monday, January 17, 2005

BP on Rays, Jays

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
New Life for Faded Prospects?: It wasn't that long ago that Josh Phelps graced our cover. (The 2003 edition of Baseball Prospectus, in case you're wondering.) He had mashed his way into our hearts, but the league caught up with him. Similarly, Brandon Larson seemed to have a world of hope a couple years ago with the Cincinnati Reds.
Of all teams, curiously the Devil Rays have made a couple of low-risk signings that may pay off in spades. In addition, they may have the right manager to turn them around. For all his faults, Lou Piniella has done the most good with hitters, especially power hitters who haven't quite hit their stride. Chris Sabo, Bret Boone, Mike Pagliarulo, Paul Sorrento and Jay Buhner all seemed to have been positively influenced by Piniella.
Let's look at Larson first. He's continued to mash in Triple-A (OPSes of 1060, 1001 and 871) the last three seasons. PECOTA likes him, but that hasn't yet translated into results in the majors. The risk is that Larson gets labeled a Quadruple-A player and follows the Russ Branyan career path, or worse. Some of his woes may be explained away by nagging injuries; at this point, Larson's window of opportunity is closing. Let's look at his PECOTA projected numbers versus actuals since 2003:
Year G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2003 PECOTA 248 62 13 1 12 19 68 2 2 .251 .310 .456 766 14.6
2003 ActCIN 32 89 9 1 0 1 13 31 2 2 .101 .212 .146 358 -11.9
2004 PECOTA 265 68 15 1 14 25 67 3 1 .257 .325 .474 799 16.5
2004 ActCIN 40 118 25 6 0 3 14 35 1 0 .212 .304 .339 643 -1.1
2005 PECOTA 262 68 13 1 15 25 78 2 0 .258 .326 .481 807 11.6
Larson has been a huge underachiever to date, and as such is a solid low-risk proposition by the Devil Rays. If he doesn't work, he can be cast aside without losing much. If he does work out, they've found a nice power hitter for little investment. He's not likely to be with the Devil Rays the next time (if ever?) they win anything, but he could certainly make for some nice swag at the trading deadline.
Now, on to Phelps. Poster boy in 2003, only to be moved in 2004 for a potentially useful career minor leaguer in Eric Crozier. Crozier's PECOTA projection is for a VORP of 14.7 in 236 at bats in 2005.
Year G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2003 PECOTA 393 100 23 1 25 42 120 2 2 .255 .334 .508 842 30.6
2003 ActTOR 119 396 106 18 1 20 39 115 1 2 .268 .358 .470 828 23.7
2004 PECOTA 395 107 23 1 24 43 105 2 1 .272 .355 .520 875 27.4
2004 ActTOR 79 295 70 13 2 12 18 73 0 0 .237 .296 .417 713 2.3
2004 ActCLE 24 76 23 6 0 5 4 20 0 0 .303 .338 .579 917 7.5
2005 PECOTA 401 107 23 1 22 36 108 0 1 .267 .339 .495 834 26.3
It wouldn't be surprising to see Piniella and a change of scenery help Phelps turn it around and decimate that projection. Once again, the Devil Rays are in a position to take chances. Either one of these two may pay huge dividends.
Top 50 Prospects: Like the Braves, the Devil Rays have one of the candidates fror best prospect in the game.
Delmon Young. He didn't put up Bondsian numbers. He's still got a ways to go to get to the majors. That's the downside.
He was 18. There wasn't much he didn't do well. Hit for average, hit for power, drew some walks and stole some bases. Young has "hitter" written all over him, and he's likely to get better. What did he do last year, and what does PECOTA expect? Let's look:
Year Lvl G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2004 A- 131 513 164 26 5 25 53 120 21 6 .320 .386 .536 922
2005 PECOTA 408 106 20 4 12 33 105 8 3 .259 .321 .417 738 10.9
Young may still be a long way from the majors, but a 19-year-old who looks like he could hold his own in the major leagues is special. Ask Ivan Rodriguez. Or Alex Rodriguez. Or the Devil Rays' own B.J. Upton. We still don't know what he'll become as a hitter; for now, there isn't much in the way of limits.
Jonny Gomes. PECOTA wonderboy? Wily Mo Pena was both the subject of ridicule and, eventually, astonishment when PECOTA pegged him for a big year in 2004. Gomes might be this year's version? To be fair, Gomes doesn't have the age advantage of Pena, and he's not highly regarded by scouts for his tools. He's 24 (won't turn 25 until next November), so it's not like he's young enough to have the upside of Young or Upton.
What Gomes has, however, is the ability to hit. Although he's perhaps a little old for a prospect, anyone who's slugged .526 through their minor-league career has merit. Below are his career numbers along with his 2005 PECOTA projection.
Year TM LG Ag Lvl AVG G AB H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO OBP SLG OPS
2001 PRI App 20 Roo .291 62 206 60 11 2 16 15 4 33 73 .389 .597 986
2002 BAK CAL 21 A .276 133 446 123 24 9 30 15 3 91 173 .431 .572 1003
2003 ORL SOU 22 AA .249 120 442 110 28 3 17 23 2 53 148 .348 .441 789
2004 DUR INT 23 AAA .256 114 390 100 27 1 26 8 5 51 136 .368 .531 899
2005 TB AL 24 MLB .265 272 72 15 2 14 5 2 34 88 .366 .491 857
With Rocco Baldelli out with a torn ACL, Gomes should get some playing time. That doesn't mean he will. The latest word is that Joey Gathright is going to get time in Baldelli's absence. Putting things in perspective, Gathright's projection of -4.5 VORP is the worst among the Devil Rays, below such luminaries as Brook Fordyce and Rey Sanchez. As fast as Gathright may be, as the old cliché goes, you can't steal first base. Gathright's PECOTA projection:
Year Lvl AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2005 PECOTA 338 85 12 3 1 23 67 23 7 .252 .311 .310 621 -4.5
If the choice is between Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes, it's not a tough one.
Toronto Blue Jays
Anti-Moneyball? Just when you had J.P. Ricciardi pegged as a Billy Beane disciple, he throws a wrench in the works. Come to think of it, Beane's done that himself this offseason, so perhaps J.P.'s following suit. The similarity ends there, though. Beane realized he needed to retool and decisively made moves to try to inject fresh blood into the A's, all while leaving them options for the future. Ricciardi's latest moves seem like something intended to plug holes in the dam until better options are available.
In the past month, the Jays have gone out and gotten Corey Koskie, Shea Hillenbrand, Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Koch. Koch comes back to the Jays in a low-risk, low-cost deal; if he finds himself again, he could certainly be nice bait for a mid-season deal. Schoeneweis is a bit more confusing, as he's had one semi-useful campaign in relief.
Let's look at the recent position player acquisitions within the context of dollars per anticipated win (salary divided by projected Wins Above Replacement, in millions).
Player AB(est) WARP VORP(est) 2005 Salary $MM/Win
Koskie 417 2.8 29.9 3,500,000* $1.25
Hillenbrand 492 1.2 13.0 4,000,000** $3.33
Crozier 236 New 14.7 300,000 $0.20
.. and a couple others for comparison:
Player AB(est) WARP VORP(est) 2005 Salary $MM/Win
Eric Hinske 450 3.0 13.9 3,000,000 $1.00
Aubrey Huff 534 2.4 40.0 4,500,000 $1.88
* includes pro-rated signing bonus
** high-end estimate at arbitration; 2004
WARP numbers are projected from 2004 PECOTA projection
It's hard to justify the Hillenbrand acquisition, although there are some mitigating factors. He didn't cost a lot in terms of talent--C pitching prospect Adam Peterson--and the Jays seemed to have some money to spend this season. He's not a financial albatross, and can be traded or cut loose fairly readily. There wasn't much left on the market in the way of right-handed power or first basemen. If he puts up good raw numbers, he could be flipped for something useful when a desperate team comes calling mid-season.
The Koskie signing looks like a good value proposition, at least in comparison to the players above. Unfortunately, he's going to be blocking Aaron Hill by the end of this year, and at 32, it's not likely that he'll be revisiting his 2000-03 peak. Expect Koskie to take over third base while Hinske moves across the diamond to first base, with a plethora of options having Hillenbrand and Crozier around. They're certainly covered at third base if anyone gets hurt, having just about cornered the mid-market third basemen.
Top 50 Prospects: The Jays have a deep farm system, but lack the top-tier guy the Devil Rays and Braves each have.
Guillermo Quiroz. 2004 was a tough year for Quiroz. He had all the luster and sheen of a top catching prospect, and a nagging hand injury derailed his season. There's still plenty of opportunity, but he'll wind up moving downward in our prospect list until he can establish that he's healthy and the lost season hasn't derailed his development. His 2004 numbers along with his PECOTA projection:
Year Lvl G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2004 AAA 76 255 58 19 1 8 28 54 0 0 .227 .309 .404 713
2004 TOR 17 52 11 2 0 0 2 8 1 0 .212 .250 .263 513
2005 PECOTA 291 74 16 1 12 26 68 0 1 .254 .326 .441 767 13.9
Quiroz still projects quite well, albeit in limited playing time. His catching skills are still well regarded; if he continues to build on those and his peripheral batting skills, he won't have to hit for a high average to be valuable. If he does, it'll be gravy. Expect Quiroz to be middle to back of the pack in our Top 50 Prospects list. If he returns healthy and continues to develop, he'll be far more valuable than that.
Russ Adams. Adams is a more difficult story. He looks like he'll be a useful player for a few years, with little or no star potential. The Jays can plug him in, have an affordable shortstop (or second baseman) for a few years, then shift to a utility or backup role. He did have a nice cup of coffee in 2004, but he'll have to keep that up much longer to convince us this is a real change and not sample size variation.
Year Lvl G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS VORP
2004 AAA 122 483 139 37 3 5 45 62 6 2 .288 .351 .408 759
2004 TOR 22 72 22 2 1 4 5 5 1 0 .306 .359 .526 887
2005 PECOTA 303 81 17 3 6 30 40 4 2 .268 .338 .396 734 14.1
Adams is likely to have a few productive years, then become a utility player or part-timer. Look for him to get an honorable mention in our Top 50 Prospects list.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

BP on White Sox, A's

Baseball Prospectus
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Chicago White Sox
Activity v. Progress: What had been a rather quiet offseason for the White Sox suddenly turned busy in the last month as GM Kenny Williams signed several players and made one big trade. The new cast, in order of appearance:
Dustin Hermanson, late the closer of the San Francisco Giants, was signed to a two-year, $5.5MM deal, ostensibly to be the eighth-inning man. Hermanson enjoyed moderate success bouncing between the Giants’ pen and rotation for the last year and a half, posting translated ERAs much closer to his more respectable seasons in Montreal than his more recent efforts in Boston and St. Louis. While his ability to step into the rotation in case of injury is a nice bonus, that kind of versatility would have to come with some major perks to justify his contract. Plucking quality pitchers on the cheap to pitch in set-up roles is a skill not yet mastered in a lot of front offices. Considering the short length of Hermanson's contract and its relative size, signing him is not a bad move.
Oakland’s own Lemony Snicket, Jermaine Dye, was signed to a two-year, $10.15M contract to replace the departed (and not offered arbitration) Magglio Ordonez. Dye will be cheaper than Ordonez, but he won’t provide nearly the same offensive punch that Ordonez did until his lost 2004. He hasn’t approached his impressive performances of 1999-2001 since shattering his shin in the 2001 postseason, and has battled through several injuries in the years since then. If the Sox can keep him healthy, he has a chance to post respectable numbers; at an offensive position like right field, however, that would make him league-average at best.
Four days after signing Dye, the Sox shipped one of their best remaining hitters, Carlos Lee, to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino and, eventually, prospect Travis Hinton. Perhaps Williams has switched allegiances from Oakland to the Brewers. After calling the White Sox’s third-leading runs scored total in 2004 "deceiving," the Sox declared themselves to be on the speed'n'defense track with this move, hoping to duplicate the success of the Rockies teams that implemented the same plan a few years ago.
There’s just one problem: unless Vizcaino is the best fielding pitcher in history, this trade only solves half that equation. Podsednik’s 2003 success at the plate was out of line with his previous performance record and he regressed badly from it in 2004. How he managed to steal 70 bases with a .313 OBP is beyond us, but that impressive total no doubt masked his below-average offense and defense. If the Sox were strapped for cash or got some decent prospects in return, moving Lee could be defensible. That’s not the case here.
After shipping Lee out of town, the Sox re-signed Juan Uribe to a three-year, $9.75MM deal, rewarding him for an impressive 2004 in which he became one of the first hitters to benefit from leaving Colorado. With the shortstop not eligible for free agency for a few more seasons, the White Sox would have been better off giving Uribe one more year to prove that 2004 wasn’t a fluke, but the faults in a deal of this size are minimal.
Having been unable to lure Randy Johnson to the South Side, just before Christmas the Sox settled for Orlando Hernandez on a two-year, $8MM contract. A suspect 35 years old, Hernandez has been effective when he's been available, and the length and cost of his contract fits in with the lower tier of starting pitchers this off-season. If El Duque can manage 150-175 innings of reasonable pitching in 2005, the deal will be a bargain. If he breaks down, the Sox haven’t lost much.
To complete the puzzle, and still seeking to emulate the Twins, the Sox picked up discarded catcher A.J. Pierzynski for one year and $2.25MM. Pierzynski struggled last year in San Francisco, both with the bat and with his teammates, but Ben Davis is not the answer at catcher for the Sox. Taking a shot on Pierzynski isn’t a bad idea, especially on a small contract like this one.
Oakland Athletics
Deal With It: The A’s did their Christmas shopping early this year, swapping out Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in a pair of mid-December trades, moves that have been analyzed more intensely than most bills in Congress. The deal that may have fallen through the cracks, coming just a day before the Hudson deal, was the swap of Justin Lehr and Nelson Cruz for Milwaukee second baseman Keith Ginter. In retrospect, the deal cleared the way for the Hudson trade that brought in Dan Meyer, Juan Cruz and Charles Thomas: Cruz neatly replaces Lehr in the pen while Thomas becomes the default option for a fourth outfielder.
The shakeup leaves as many questions as answers, the first of which is who will be playing second base when the season starts. While Mark Ellis looked to be in line for a return to the job he forfeited last year because of a bum shoulder, Ginter’s arrival signals a lack of faith on the A’s part that Ellis can perform well enough to hold down the regular job. Ellis’ 2003 was distinctly different than 2002 and previous seasons. His batting line (.248/.313/.371) regressed from his established levels from his minor-league career and rookie season, while his defense showed distinct improvement in his second year since moving over from shortstop. He looked in line for an offensive rebound in 2004, but with the year lost to injury, questions about his ability to hit are compounded by questions about health and how the injury will affect his play both in the box and on the field.
On the other hand, while Ginter has never been a superstar with the glove, totaling -13 FRAA over 2003-2004, his impressive power last year--19 home runs, .479 SLG--makes him a significant upgrade over Ellis with the bat. With extreme groundballers Mulder and Hudson now absent from the rotation, Ellis’ defense suddenly becomes less of an argument for playing him. If the A’s keep both players on the roster, they could conceivably be used in a bit of an offense/defense platoon with Ellis playing behind the more groundball-inclined pitchers (Rich Harden) while Ginter sees time when Barry Zito and other flyballers are on the mound. Realistically, the difference between the two is slight, leaving the job to go to the player who looks better in spring training.
The other big lineup question created by the trades is in the outfield. Until Thomas was acquired, the A’s appeared set with an Eric Byrnes/Mark Kotsay/Nick Swisher outfield. With Thomas aboard, rumors have begun that Byrnes--likely due a healthy raise in arbitration--is headed out of town to either Arizona or the New York Mets. Having shipped out two of their highest paid players, the A’s still have a good deal of room between their committed capital and their publicly stated payroll of $61.5MM. An extra $700,000 or so to Byrnes isn’t going to break the A’s bank and the difference between Byrnes and Thomas as an everyday player is significant.
Thomas has shown the A’s favorite skill, drawing walks, in spades in the low minors, but until he hit Double-A Greenville with Atlanta in late 2003, he had shown a complete absence of the ability to hit. Before his late season surge in 2003, Thomas had amassed a career .254 batting average in over 1000 ABs in the low minors. That’s a healthy sample size against a low quality of competition, justifying many of the concerns about a then 24-year-old in Single-A. Suddenly, however, Thomas started raking, hitting .343 in Double- and Triple-A before performing well (.288/.368/.445) in just over 200 ABs in Atlanta. With that improved BA, though, came a loss in his plate discipline; Thomas drew just 12 unintentional walks in more than 250 plate appearances with the Braves last season.
Like Thomas, Byrnes had one of his best years in 2004, hitting .283/.347/.467 in full-time action in left field. Despite his speed, his defense is still just average, but Thomas’ isn’t significantly better. With only the shell of Bobby Kielty left on the A’s outfield bench, shipping Byrnes out of town would leave the A’s significantly short-handed if injury strikes or rookie Swisher struggles. The small expense to keep Byrnes is both within the A’s budget and worth it for the risk it deters as well as the likely performance difference between Byrnes and Thomas.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

BP on Rangers

Texas Rangers
Take It Easy: As we creep up on five weeks to go until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, the question has to be asked: What the hell is going on with the Texas Rangers? In an offseason marked mostly by inaction and continuing rumors about Alfonso Soriano, the Rangers have been very quiet on the free-agent market.
Player POS Former Team Date Signed Contract
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Brocail, Doug RP TEX 11/11/04 One-year contract, $1 million
Alexander, Manny 2B TEX 11/19/04 Minor league contract
German, Esteban 2B OAK 11/19/04 Minor league contract
Standridge, Jason RP TB 11/19/04 Minor league contract
Wasdin, John RP TEX 11/19/04 Minor league contract
Machado, Robert C BAL 11/30/04 Minor league contract
Alomar, Sandy C CWS 12/08/04 One-year contract, $550,000
Hidalgo, Richard OF NYM 12/10/04 One-year contract, $5 million
Colbrunn, Greg 1B ARI 12/17/04 Minor league contract
Dellucci, David OF TEX 12/20/04 Two-year contract, $1.8 million
Zimmerman, Jeff RP TEX 12/21/04 Minor league contract
As far as they've gone, the Rangers have done well. Signing Richard Hidalgo for $5 million could be the steal of the offseason. In fact, in terms of the production expected by PECOTA for the money, Hidalgo's contract is the best value of the offseason (look for much, much more about this from Nate Silver in the near future). We've talked about the lack of production from the Rangers' outfield nearly every time we've looked at them, so you're probably sick of hearing about it; Hildago is a step in the right direction.
And as we noted in our discussion of the Beltran deal, keeping contracts short and cheap is a good strategy, as it gives a team flexibility. The Rangers have only signed up for five player-years and $8.3 million this offseason, which means that they've done a good job giving themselves options for the future.
But all the payroll flexibility in the world is meaningless if you don't use it to your advantage. It's the flip side of sitting out the bidding on huge free agent--you might find yourself with money in the bank and with no players worth spending it on.
The main rumor swirling around the Texas landscape is the Rangers making a run at Carlos Delgado, and perhaps trading Soriano to keep their budget in line. But Texas already has a slugging first baseman, one who just happened to lead the AL in VORP at the position last year. Here's the top three:
PLAYER TEAM POS PA AVG OBP SLG VORP
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Mark Teixeira TEX 1b 625 0.281 0.370 0.560 52.6
Paul Konerko CHA 1b 643 0.277 0.359 0.535 48.1
Carlos Delgado TOR 1b 551 0.269 0.372 0.535 41.4
Admittedly, this was a down year for Delgado, who had posted 60+ VORPs each of the previous three seasons. But he'll also turn 33 during the 2005 season, and it's hard to imagine that we haven't seen the best baseball of his career already.
Delgado is reportedly looking for $15 million or more a year, which should inspire every GM in the game to snicker. Given those demands, and Teixeira's emergence, it's hard to understand why the Rangers are even mentioned in connection with Delgado, except that they're like a shopper on the day after Christmas who got a big fat check from Grandma and can't wait to spend it.
We know it's hard to pass up signing a big free agent if you've got the cash. But if the Rangers pull the trigger on Delgado, it will blow away all of the good work that gave them the flexibility to make the move in the first place.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Who's on First

Who's on First?
By Blez on Wed Jan 5th, 2005
Scott Hatteberg. Erubiel Durazo. Dan Johnson. Nick Swisher. Jack Cust.
They are all in the mix for two positions. First base and designated hitter. Swisher and Cust both play the outfield for those of you scoring at home. But many have Swisher pegged as a first baseman in the not-too-distant future and Cust is an average outfielder at best.
But in all likelihood, in 2005, it will come down to Durazo, Johnson and Hatteberg for those two positions. The problem is, they all hit left-handed, so it doesn't make any sense to platoon unless Swisher is in the mix because he is a switch hitter.
Durazo is slotted for the DH position, and he's earned it with his performance over the past year. He was probably the most consistent Athletic offensively outside of Mark Kotsay.
It comes down to Hatteberg and Johnson. This is where it gets interesting because DJ is ready for the show. I live in Sacramento and saw the kid a bunch last year. He's a quality at-bat every time. His stats are there. He performs at every level.
Hatteberg was a key offensive contributor during the first few months of the season but tailed off considerably down the stretch. The normally reliable .390 or so OBP Hatteberg posted a dreadful T-Long like .292 in September in 2004. Many speculated that he was fatigued from playing so many games earlier in the year. Regardless, he was a part of the general malaise that set in with the green and gold down the stretch.
If the A's are truly trying to retool and build a young base for success, Hatteberg becomes the expendable one. He's got the biggest contract and the lowest upside.
On the other hand, Johnson suffered from vertigo late in the year last season and missed a chance to get a few ABs in September when the Mad Hatter was struggling so badly. Who knows whether DJ will come back 100 percent?
In March, this will be one of the more interesting developments with the green and gold. Will Hatteberg and his contract be moved? Will DJ be healthy?
Where's Graham Koonce when you need him? (just kidding)

BP on Indians and Mariners

Baseball Prospectus
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Cleveland Indians
"The Negotiators": A lot of movies and television shows have focused on a profession that probably didn't exist a few decades ago: the professional crisis negotiator. This is the person who tries to talk jumpers off of ledges when ordinary street cops would probably say something like, "If you're gonna jump, can't you do it on the other side of the building outside of my beat so I don't gotta do a lot of paperwork?" These people are expert in convincing others not to do rash, silly things that might have long-term negative consequences.
We at BP are hereby announcing our services as Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators. Here's how it works: whenever your team is on the verge of doing something with the resources you help contribute with your ticket/merchandise/concession/parking purchases, place a call to us and we will fly in one of our Professional Baseball Crisis Negotiators who will then try to talk the club out of whatever folly they're about to perpetrate. We might do this face-to-face, by appointment. More than likely, though, we'll have to do it from behind a bullhorn, outside the team's offices.
Had we come up with this idea earlier in the offseason, we would have already made a few trips to Arizona, Washington and New York. Right now, though, the call needs to come in from Cleveland where the Indians are on the verge of signing Kevin Millwood to a one-year deal for $7,000,000.
Here's what we would shout through the bullhorn to Indians general manager, Mark Shapiro:
"Mark, you're smarter than this. You are. You know you are. Believe in yourself. You've got the length of service right, Mark. One year. Good job on that part. But think of it this way: if Millwood were worth seven mil a year, wouldn't he be getting more years from some other team? See? That's your tip-off, Mark! He and Scott Boras will settle for one year. Two million, tops. That's how much it should cost to look in that particular box and see if there are any surprises left. Trust yourself, Mark! We're here to help. Let's talk this thing out...what? What do you mean, "what am I doing?" I'm having a conversation with Indians GM, Mark Shapiro--what does it look like I'm doing? Hey, you don't have to cuff me..." And so on.
In the context of the 2004-05 free-agent shenanigans, is Millwood's deal really all that out of line? In a world where Russ Ortiz gets 4/$33MM, perhaps not, but a question mark is a question mark whether it's signed for one year or four. Is a pitcher who has one truly outstanding season in seven tries worth the risk at that kind of money? As we said above, the length of the contract shows the Indians are hedging their bets. Maybe they think they can afford to chuck $7 million on a look-see. A much smarter look-see is the Red Sox signing of Wade Miller for the same length of time but at a fraction of the price.
Miller and Millwood were fairly comparable in 2002-03 (combined VORP of 67.4 for Millwood and 60.7 for Miller). Both ran into arm trouble last year and missed a considerable number of starts. When they did pitch, though, Miller was superior, boasting a VORP of 21.8 to Millwood's 9.3. Both have comparable strikeout rates (within a quarter-K per nine). Miller is two years younger.
Millwood, of course, has more "experience." Now, if they were in the first few years in the bigs and playing at the major-league minimum, then experience would count because it's codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way in the unprotected, free-wheeling, every-man-for-himself world of free agency, though. If the Indians want to reward Millwood for having pitched in the big leagues longer than Miller or because he ripped it up real good back in 1999, then give him an additional 500 EBFB (extra big fun bucks). To our way of thinking, the Red Sox established what the market value is for moderately successful starting pitchers coming off injuries is when they signed Miller to one year at $1.5 mil. Because of that, anything beyond $2 million for Millwood is excessive on the Indians' part.
Seattle Mariners
Poking Around: As we've mentioned before, there is a great deal of pride regarding these Prospectus Triple Plays. Those of us who write them come to strongly identify with the triumvirate we are assigned. In this house, we make no bones about it: we are rooting hard for a Cleveland/Washington or Seattle/Washington World Series.
Just when our hopes start to rise that maybe we'll be sitting in the BP luxury box at RFK Stadium watching the Mariners and Nationals duke it out in late October, Seattle goes and signs Pokey Reese to be their starting shortstop.
Given that Seattle had three big question marks in the infield, it's nice that they added one player whose performance can be counted on. This much we know about Reese: he's going to field well and he's not going to get on base often or hit for any power. We also know that there's a good chance he will miss a significant amount of time to an injury of some sort. He had three of them last year and missed most of 2003, too. (One thing we don't know about Reese is how often he'll attempt to steal. In his favor, he is an exceptional thief with an 84% career success rate.) Reese has not qualified for a batting title since 2000, so it's interesting that he is getting the nod as the team's starter. If it works out for him, it makes for a nice career transition. He went to the Red Sox last year knowing there was a chance he would be a backup and he got a ring out of the deal. Now he can resume his starting career. Would that all our careers rebounded that well from adversity.
The Other Guys: Surrounding the predictable Reese in the infield, the Mariners have these questions:
Can Richie Sexson get back to where he once belonged? Will Safeco crush him like a speeding train?
Bret Boone: off-year or big signpost on the way to U.S. Highway 86?
Adrian Beltre: 2004: one-year spike or booster rocket that got him out of sub-orbital flight of first stage of career? (Please say you noticed the transportation-themed allusions in these three comments!)
Now that Seattle has tied up the GNP of Sweden at first and third base, is it possible they could find a taker for Scott Spiezio? Last year's free-agent signatory has now been made redundant at not one but two of his favored positions. Furthermore, does Seattle have a need for Spiezio and Willie Bloomquist? The latter has, at least, played shortstop, a skill that will come in handy if and when Reese can't answer the bell.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

BP on Baltimore

Baseball Prospectus
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Baltimore Orioles
Much Ado: The Baltimore-DC metro area has picked up a lot of players this off-season, but they have something in common that will vex Orioles fans: they're all Washington Nationals. (Then again, Orioles fans are probably not the least bit upset that they didn't land big prizes like Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman for the small sum of $23,000,000. By doing nothing, Orioles VP of baseball ops Jim Beattie has already established himself as the smarter of the two Jims running clubs in the region.)
Given the absurd market that developed for most free agents this winter, the Orioles might win in the end for having sat this one out. Sure, they probably threw some cash at a few of these guys, but to their credit never panicked and said, "We must land this guy." Carl Pavano, one likely target, signed with the Yankees for four years and a hair under ten million per; while the Yankees made a more attractive target than Baltimore, it's likely that the O's could have had Pavano if they had gone to five years or $45 million. Some teams in the Orioles' position might have.
The only signing to make some noise in the Inner Harbor was the two-year pickup of Steve Kline. The lefty reliever market was set when Rheal Cormier, a lesser talent, signed with the Phillies for two years, $5.25 million. Kline's good enough, but he's not going to vault the team into the playoffs. These sorts of pickups are like eating at Applebee's: serviceable, good portion size and you needed to eat something, but you come away feeling like fast food would have been a better value.
Second Act: We should qualify all of the above by saying that the Orioles aren't out of the woods yet when it comes to avoiding desperation. They seem hot in pursuit of Carlos Delgado, another player with a big STAY AWAY sign around his neck. Mind you, that's no knock on Delgado, who hits consistently and for power. Rather, it's a testament to the realities of this off-season: Troy Glaus, four years, $45 million; Richie Sexson, four years, $50 million.
Delgado's agent got some laughs when he said that his client would not take a cut from his last contract, which paid him $17 million annually, and which the Blue Jays would gladly have shed almost the minute it was signed. But if Glaus ($11 million) and Sexson ($12.8 million), who are worse bets, can fetch what they have, who's to say the agent won't be right?
Baltimore has done a good job so far of walking away when the price goes too high. If the bidding for Delgado goes the way of most of this winter's studs, it will take restraint to prove that those wise decisions have been intentional.

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