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...

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

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