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...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

BP on Twins

Minnesota Twins
Signed, Sealed Santana: The Twins averted arbitration with Johan Santana, signing their ace southpaw to a four-year, $39.75 million deal, the richest in team history. Of course, that designation isn't saying much, as this is a franchise that under Clark and Calvin Griffith threw nickels around as if they were manhole covers. They're currently in the hands of the miserly Montgomery Burns Carl Pohlad, who's 89 years old and worth $2.2 billion, according to Forbes, making him the 247th richest man in the world. Pohlad didn't get rich paying exorbitant salaries to those old Federal League bandits and he's not about to start now, so that rapscallion Santana could forget about his nice, round $40 million dollar deal. Smithers, unleash the hounds...
Santana, who turns 26 in March, will reportedly earn $5.5 million this season, $9 million in 2006, $12 million in 2007 and $13.25 million in 2008. All told, it's not a bad deal compared to the other four-year pacts inked with various pitchers this winter:
Career ---2004--- ---2005---
Age $Mil ERA ERA VORP ERA VORP
Lowe 32 36 3.88 5.42 -11.5 4.01 17.6
Martinez 33 53 2.71 3.90 51.2 2.93 53.3
Ortiz 30 33 4.00 4.13 33.1 5.02 12.1
Pavano 29 ~40 4.21 3.00 62.4 4.64 21.3
Santana 26 ~40 3.47 2.57 88.8 3.11 63.6
Those last two columns are via our 2005 PECOTA projections. Santana is the third most-expensive of the bunch over the life of his four-year deal (Carl Pavano edges him by a mere by $200,000; the new Yankee hurler's contract is actually for $39,950,000, apparently just to annoy people who make neat little fixed-width charts for the Web), but he's also the youngest by a good three years, and projects to have the highest VORP of the bunch in 2005 (Pedro Martinez can thank pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium for the rosiest ERA projection).
The reason the Santana deal looks so good for the Twins is that unlike the other four pitchers, he was still two years away from free agency. But given that the pitcher was seeking $6.8 million in arbitration this year (with the Twins offering $5 million), this is quite a bargain for the Twins on the front end. More importantly, the franchise's most valuable commodity is a happy camper, safely tucked away until the next presidential election.
Will Whoever Stole Terry Ryan's Pants Please Return Them? As with the Santana case, the Twins avoided going to arbitration with Carlos Silva by settling beforehand. This solid mid-rotation workhorse, who put up a 4.21 ERA in 203 innings, good for a 40.5 VORP, was seeking $2.225 million, while the Twins were offering $1.65 million. The two sides agreed to a two-year, $5.05 million deal which includes a club option in the third year that can escalate from $4 million up to $5.75 million based on the number of innings Silva pitches. The deal also has some minor incentive clauses triggered by those innings. In other words, the more of a workhorse he is over the next two years, the bigger his payday. Fair enough.
But the Twins were unable to avoid arbitration with a third starter, Kyle Lohse, and the results of the case illustrate why teams are so wary of the process. Lohse went 9-13 with a whopping 5.34 ERA in 194 innings pitched, which translated into a measly VORP of 6.3. Among pitchers who threw 162 innings or more (qualifying for the ERA title, as if...), only six were worse. In other words, Lohse stunk on ice like few pitchers in the game last year.
Lohse made $395,000 last year and was seeking a $2.4 million salary for 2005, while the Twins were offering $2.15 million. So with a quarter million dollars standing between them and Lohse's lousy campaign on the books for last year, you'd figure the Twins would be able to make an easy case and save themselves a bit of money to buy Joe Mauer that pony that he's been pining for ever since the subject was broached last month.
They lost the case.
It's tempting to wonder whether they showed up with the Silva dossier and lost on a technicality, or whether some insurance salesman wandered into the wrong hotel conference room while GM Terry Ryan was stuck in traffic and simply decided to wing it. "Hell, I like baseball, I can do this," thinks the insurance salesman, straightening his bowtie as he imagines those poor saps still stuck in that boring seminar on proper cold-calling techniques that he ditched "to go get some [cough, cough] cough drops." After Lohse's agent spends five minutes arguing that his client and Johan Santana have the same number of chromosomes and thus share similar pitching abilities, the Twins are $250,000 lighter and Carl Pohlad is unleashing the hounds on a school full of unsuspecting kindergartners waving Homer Hankies. Not pretty.
And also not bloody likely, since the arbitration process is rather circumscribed. If you've ever wanted to know what goes on in that room when team and player square off, what criteria are admissible and what aren't Tom Gorman's piece on arbitration is a must-read.
San Francisco Giants
Brian's Song: Earler this month, the Giants extended the contract of GM Brian Sabean through 2006. Since Sabean took the helm in 1997, the team has won three NL West division titles, a wild card and a pennant. They trail only the Yankees and the Braves in victories over that time:
Tm Tot W AVG
NYY 795 99.4
ATL 791 98.9
SFG 738 92.3
BOS 717 89.6
HOU 711 88.9
OAK 709 88.6
STL 706 88.3
SEA 701 87.6
LAN 690 86.3
CLE 675 84.4
Recall that before Sabean joined the Giants as their assistant GM back in December 1992, he was the Yankees' Vice President of Scouting and Player Development. As Andrew Baharlias wrote nearly a year ago, Sabean stands as one of the few Yankee Baseball Operations executives of any significance to elude the Defensive Employee Retention Program, George Steinbrenner's attempt to corner the market on baseball brains.
Sabean has taken a rather unorthodox tack during his tenure with the Giants, particularly recently. The past two winters have seen him jump the gun to sign free agents before the December 7 arbritration offer date, thereby causing the team to surrender its first-round pick in the June amateur draft for the likes of Michael Tucker and Omar Vizquel. Furthermore, the Giants appear to have quite a thing for such bluehaired free-agents as Vizquel (38 this coming season), Moises Alou (38) and Mike Matheny (34, which in catcher-years is like great-grandma old), and he was quick to pick up the team's options on Marquis Grissom (38) and J.T. Snow (37).
Meanwhile, the team appears to have more or less given up producing major league-ready hitters from within. Last year the Giants gave Pedro Feliz more than 500 plate appearances, scary enough given his .305 OBP. Remarkably, that's the first time since 1997 (Bill Mueller) that they made a regular out of an entirely homegrown player, one they had either drafted or signed as an amateur free agent. Even if we lower the bar to 300 plate appearances and work backwards chronologically, it takes nearly two full decades to field a theoretical "starting eight" of homegrown players:
Pos Player Year
C Kirt Manwaring 1992
1B Pedro Feliz 2004
2B Robby Thompson 1986
SS Royce Clayton 1992
3B Bill Mueller 1997
LF Mike Aldrete 1988
CF Marvin Benard 1996
RF Armando Rios 2001
A few caveats: left field has been occupied for the past decade by a guy who's only one of the best hitters ever, and the likelihood of anybody coming up with a rookie to beat him out is somewhere between zero and Neifi's VORP. Mike Aldrete got more than 300 PA while spending time at all three outfield positions in '87 and became the regular left fielder in '88. Feliz was a rare multiposition regular last season, playing only 70 games at first, another 37 at third, and 20 at shortstop. All told, only three of these players became regulars during Sabean's first eight years as GM, and one, Armando Rios, was shipped out to Pittsburgh mere weeks after he'd crossed that threshold.
The story with regards to pitchers is a bit happier. Starters Jerome Williams, Noah Lowry, Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, Ryan Jensen, Russ Ortiz and Joe Nathan are all homegrown products who broke in on Sabean's watch. While none of them is Jason Schmidt (shhhh, don't tell the Diamondbacks) and the last four on that list have moved on, Lowry (3.82 ERA and 17.9 VORP in 92 innings last year) and Williams (4.24 ERA and 13.8 VORP in 129.1 IP) figure to slot in this year's rotation directly behind Schmidt. Foppert (5.03 ERA and 1.2 VORP in 111 innings in 2003), who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, will bid for a spot as well, with a bullpen role more likely. Meanwhile, other Giants draftees who got cups of coffee last year may see time in the bullpen as well: David Aardsma (the team's first pick in 2003 and the man who supplanted Hank Aaron as the all-time alphabetical frontrunner), Brad Hennessey (their 2001 first pick) and Kevin Correia.
Robbbbed: Former Giants closer Robb Nen announced his retirement last week. Nen had missed the past two seasons with a smorgasbord of shoulder woes that included tears to both his labrum and his rotator cuff, three surgeries, several false starts and plenty of Under the Knife mentions. According to the San Jose Mercury News, in 2002 Nen decided to pitch through a partial rotator cuff tear that the Giant training staff informed him was career-threatening, and he's not looking back in anger: "I wouldn't have changed it. If we were 20 games out, that would have changed it, but not when you're trying to get to the playoffs and get to the World Series."
Nen ranks 13th on the all-time saves list and put up some triple-digit radar readings and sub-2.00 ERAs over the course of his career. Nen's final major league appearance was a blown save that cost the Giants their first World Championship since 1954, but he got a raw deal on that one. Summoned to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning of Game Six, he inherited a mess from Tim Worrell: nobody out, with pinch-runner Chone Figgins on third base and Garret Anderson on second thanks to a Barry Bonds bobble. That's an expectation of 1.9722 runs. He promptly surrendered a two-run double to Troy Glaus, the first hitter he faced, allowing the (Wherever They Were Claiming to Be From in 2002) Angels to take the lead and subsequently tie the series, forcing Game Seven. They trailed that one from the third inning onward, so Nen never got a shot at redemption. Tough break.
--Jay Jaffe

Friday, February 11, 2005

BP on Rays and Jays

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Lamar Giveth, and Lamar Taketh Away: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...wait, this is the Devil Rays, not the Sharks.
After teasing us with a glint of promise and bringing in Josh Phelps and Brandon Larson, two players with significant upside--the Devil Rays seemed determined to spite us for our kind words. Rather than signing Joe Randa, a mediocrity who would have played well enough at third base to ensure B.J. Upton an opportunity at shortstop, they signed the badder Alex Gonzalez.
Gonzalez's value has been largely based on his defense the last few years--he's basically your low batting average shortstop who doesn't draw a walk yet can hit with a little pop. Now it looks like the pop is fizzling.
Age YR TEAM G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG VORP
29 2002 CHI-N 142 513 127 27 5 18 46 136 5 3 .248 .312 .425 22.6
30 2003 CHI-N 152 536 122 37 0 20 47 123 3 3 .228 .295 .409 13.9
31 2004 CHI-N 37 129 28 10 0 3 4 26 1 1 .217 .241 .364 -2.9
31 2004 MON-N 35 133 32 7 0 4 8 32 1 1 .241 .289 .383 1.5
31 2004 SD-N 11 23 4 1 1 0 2 6 0 0 .174 .240 .304 -1.0
That's an anti-Bondsian line of .223/.263/.368 during the 2004 campaign. Gonzalez never really developed since breaking in with the Blue Jays in 1994, and now he looks like he's on the slippery slope downwards. To put it another way, last year Gonzalez hit roughly the way a typical hitter did against Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. He's gone from a VORP of 22.6 to 13.9 to -2.4 the last three seasons; that's downright scary. So how is he going to add value at third base?
To add insult to injury, Will Carroll has Gonzalez flagged with a red light in his Team Health Report on the Devil Rays.
Basically, the Devil Rays have three reasonable options at shortstop. Gonzalez is clearly the worst of the three, and age may be hitting him hard. He could be insurance for Julio Lugo if B.J. Upton starts the year at Triple-A Durham, but is it really that important if you're the Devil Rays?
Their best option is to see if Upton is ready in spring training; his bat is already there, but if necessary they can farm him out to work on his fielding. Either way, at that point Lugo has to play. When Upton settles into the shortstop job, Lugo becomes a valuable player in trade. Gonzalez need not fit in the equation.
One Way to Avoid Wood-Chipping Young Arms: Lou Piniella can have a positive effect on hitters, especially those with power potential who haven't hit their peak. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for young pitchers. So what's one way to solve the problem? Sign "proven veterans."
In the past month, Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle have signed with the Devil Rays, and Casey Fossum has been acquired in trade. Normally, that would be underwhelming, but when the rest of the rotation is Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, Dewon Brazelton, Doug Waechter and Rob Bell, you need help. Let's look at what PECOTA expects in 2005:
Player G IP H HR BB SO ERA VORP
Fossum 25 125.1 130 17 48 106 4.72 13.6
Neagle 16 80.2 85 12 27 51 4.72 11.7
Nomo 22 103.2 105 17 48 72 4.86 12.7
Kazmir 19 98.0 85 13 53 85 4.51 15.5
Hendrickson 26 142.2 170 20 40 74 5.22 10.7
Brazelton 21 114.1 127 17 49 72 5.48 7.1
Waechter 21 74.1 78 14 37 46 5.84 2.6
Bell 20 98.0 108 14 34 56 5.01 9.8
Including Fossum and the incumbent five, that projects to a total VORP of 59.3. That's not a pretty pitching staff, and it's one badly in need of an ace. Kazmir is the best chance for that, but the most important thing for him at this point is surviving the injury nexus. His making it through 2005 healthy is more important than his mowing down the league. Putting things in perspective, in 1997, the Braves' rotation averaged better than the combined VORP projection for the 2005 Devil Rays. Each Braves starter was more effective individually than what we anticipate from the entire Devil Rays' staff.
Perhaps there is good reason to take flyers on Nomo and Neagle, after all--even if they're only short-term stopgaps.
Toronto Blue Jays
Reshaping the Infield: 2004 was not kind to the Blue Jays in general. One specific problem they had was an infield that was ineffective, whether it was due to injury, poor play or some combination thereof. Last year's totals, with Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Chris Gomez, Chris Woodward and Eric Hinske:
Player Pos Age AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG VORP
Delgado 1B 32 458 123 26 0 32 69 115 0 1 .269 .372 .535 41.4
Hudson 2B 26 489 132 32 7 12 51 98 7 3 .270 .341 .438 27.4
Gomez SS 33 341 96 11 1 3 28 41 3 2 .282 .337 .346 7.2
Woodward SS 28 213 50 13 4 1 14 46 1 2 .235 .283 .347 -2.6
Hinske 3B 26 570 140 23 3 15 54 109 12 8 .246 .313 .375 -2.2
The left side of the infield was brutal for the Jays last year. If only they had more players who could have "off" years like Delgado, the Jays would be just fine. Josh Phelps was the only player with more than 30 starts at DH, and he dragged his anchor to a .237/.296/.417 line with the Jays, good for a 2.3 VORP.
Let's take a look at this year's PECOTA projections, broken down similarly to the above 2004 list. In 2005, expect to see Eric Hinske, Hudson, Russ Adams, Aaron Hill and Corey Koskie. (Hill will start the season playing shortstop at Triple-A Syracuse, but may be in line for a position switch to third base or second base.) Shea Hillenbrand and Eric Crozier provide flexibility and may see DH time in place of Phelps and others:
Player Pos Age AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG VORP
Hinske 1B 27 450 117 26 2 17 52 94 9 4 .259 .338 .442 13.9
Hudson 2B 27 428 116 23 3 11 41 78 6 3 .271 .337 .416 17.6
Adams SS 24 303 81 17 3 6 30 40 4 2 .268 .338 .396 14.1
Hill SS 23 267 71 14 1 5 26 39 1 1 .266 .340 .387 12.9
Koskie 3B 32 417 116 25 2 19 57 103 9 4 .278 .373 .487 29.9
Hillenbrand 3B 29 492 140 31 3 15 28 60 2 0 .284 .331 .452 13.0
Crozier 1B 26 236 63 13 1 11 30 65 3 1 .268 .355 .470 14.7
One positive in the Jays' lost season is that they get to replace largely ineffective DH time (soaked up mostly by Phelps last season) with one of their surplus hitters. Of course, when you lose Carlos Delgado--even in an off year--that's hard to replace any way you look at it.
There's upside and downside to the above lineup. The upside is more consistency and reliability. That's the downside, as well, unfortunately. There's not a championship-caliber player like Delgado on the list, and none are likely to have a monster .300/.420/.600 season in them like Delgado might (keep in mind Delgado could have that kind of season in Florida, and you wouldn't know it once the park effect hits him).
What does this mean? Mediocrity. The Jays aren't likely to be as bad as last year, but they're also not going to challenge the Yankees or Red Sox. Third or perhaps fourth place in the AL East seems all too likely in 2005. They've got spare parts to fill gaps, but the real value of those players may be in trade if one of them heats up. All of the above can't be played at the same time, so for now all they provide is potential and flexibility.
--David Kirsch

Thursday, February 10, 2005

BP on Rangers

Texas Rangers
Picking Pedro: The Rangers have languished for years with an ineffective starting pitching staff, although it has often looked worse than it is due to the park factors in Arlington. Texas fans have pined for a starter to set things right, and the team has delivered, with such contracts as the disaster lavished upon Chan Ho Park and the seemingly-endless number of stints that Kenny Rogers has spent with the club.
But this year. This year is different. This year the Rangers have brought on a pitcher who will strike fear into the hearts of opposing hitters--Pedro Astacio.
When we last left Mr. Astacio, he was busy racking up a 10.38 ERA in 8 2/3 innings for the eventual World Champs in Boston last last season. That was his comeback from a June 2003 shoulder surgery.
PECOTA isn't optimistic, foretelling a 5.34 ERA and a 6.7 VORP for the 35-year-old Astacio. Even the most optmistic Rangers fan would have to be disapointed if this is the big move of the offseason--Pedro hasn't thrown 200 innings in a season since 1999, and even in his last full season, with the Mets in 2002, his 12-11 record was only good for an underwhelming 9.2 VORP, or just a shade under one win over replacement.
Of course, every inning that Astacio manages to throw is one fewer thrown by Park, so there is an upside.
No Way, Jose: This past Sunday, the New York Daily News published what it said were details from Jose Canseco's upcoming book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. Given the current media climate around the issue of steroids, reaction was typically muted. Canseco, a man who might seem to be a little short on credibility, even forced the President of the United States to issue a denial, stating that, contrary to Canseco's claim, he wasn't aware of any steroid use during his tenure as the owner of the Rangers.
According to the Daily News, Canseco also claims in the book to have introduced the Rangers to steroids when he arrived in Texas in 1992, including his then-teammates Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez. Is there any evidence in their performance?
Palmeiro:
AGE YEAR BA OBP SLG
26 1991 .322 .389 .532
27 1992 .268 .352 .434
28 1993 .295 .371 .554
29 1994 .319 .392 .550
Rodriguez:
AGE YEAR BA OBP SLG
19 1991 .264 .276 .354
20 1992 .260 .300 .360
21 1993 .273 .315 .412
22 1994 .298 .360 .488
Gonzalez:
AGE YEAR BA OBP SLG
21 1991 .264 .321 .479
22 1992 .260 .304 .529
23 1993 .310 .368 .632
24 1994 .275 .330 .472
Eyeballing those numbers, there's nothing that stands out and screams, "He started juicing!" The only year that seems like a quantum leap is Juan Gone in 1993, but there is a steady build to that peak before the dropoff in 1994.
All three players have denied the reported allegations. We're into Will Carroll territory here, but it seems prudent to reinforce a couple of points. First, players are innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, for good or ill, steroids weren't against the rules of Major League Baseball during Canseco's career. And perhaps most importantly, there isn't any study out there that proves that steroids help players produce more offensively. That doesn't mean that steroids don't help; that means that we don't know that they do. We try to trade in data around here and not conjecture, and we're hoping that people who read Canseco's book will do the same.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

JUICING THE BALL GAME



I'm well aware that this premise has been beaten to death by everything from Mad magazine to Letterman's Top Ten List, but the fact is that the so-called National Pastime continues to threaten to become the National Naptime. Major league baseball has become a kind of Nytol with box scores. That's one of the reasons for the emergence and spread of Fantasy Leagues: to create some contrived reason for us to take interest in a game that increasingly fails to hold our attention on its own merits. With that in mind, it is, once again, time to offer up some innovations that will get fans, and even non-fans, really watching the games again.

--After each home run, all the players on the batter's team, including the batter, must do tequila shots--the hefty two-ouncers.
--If a pitched ball hits the batter, before proceeding to first base the batter gets one free throw of the ball, from a distance of fifty feet, back at the pitcher.
--Any woman who successfully streaks topless completely across the outfield wins a season ticket.
--Replace the tedious seventh inning stretch with a public burning of George Steinbrenner in effigy.
--Instead of uniform numbers, put the players' salaries on the back of the uniforms, to aid the fans in assessing, and loudly commenting on, various players' actual value.
--One in every hundred game balls, inserted at random and unmarked, is chemically rigged to explode upon impact.
--If any pitcher blows a lead of five or more runs, the game will be halted while the pitcher is taken to a "hot seat" near the dugout and subjected to a massive electric shock.
--All outfielders will be required to play their position on Segway transporters.
--During the "dead time" while relievers take warmup pitches, liven things up with Alarmingly Obese Umpire Wind Sprints.
--Four words: Randy Johnson on crack.

Any further suggestions will be most welcome.

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