Saturday, November 13, 2004
ESPN.com's list of the top 50 free agents leaves much to be desired, which I'm certain comes as no surprise. A few nuggets I picked out:
- Magglio Ordonez and Richie Sexson are ranked #7 and #10. J.D. Drew is ranked #11. Drew has the best career rate stats, is the youngest, is the best defender (and plays a more important defensive position than Sexson, which also happens to have a great deal fewer quality players on the market), and is not coming off a major injury. I know he missed a lot of games while with the Cardinals, but given the injury histories, ages, and builds of Ordonez and Sexson I'd say the odds favor Drew playing more over the next three years than the other two.
- Armando Benitez is #14. Ten spots ahead of Brad Radke. Let me think about this one for a second. Benitez pitched 69.2 innings with a remarkable 1.29 ERA, good for 25 runs saved above average. His K/9 and BB/9 ratios of 8.0 and 2.7 are good, but not spectacular. How was his ERA so low? First, he gave up only 6 home runs, well below his career 1.00 HR/9. He only gave up 6 in 73 IP last year, so it's possible that this reduction is somewhat permanent, though I wouldn't bet on it since through 2002 he had consistently given up home runs at a clip above league average.
The second reason Benitez' ERA was so low is that his defense converted 82.7% of all balls in play against Benitez into outs. Among National League pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched, Benitez was first and Tim Harikkala was second with 77.3%, while league average was 69.5%. Consider that Benitez was only slightly below league average in percentage of balls in play that were line drives-- 17% for Benitez, 18.2% for the NL, and that number seems especially out of whack. Benitez was an extreme fly ball pitcher and he did induce a lot of pop-ups-- according to the Hardball Times annual, 7% of the batters he faced hit infield flies-- which means that, some of that high defensive efficiency is explainable. But overall, it's folly to expect any pitcher's DER to stay anywhere near where Benitez' was.
(On a sidenote, it's pretty clear to me now why the A's made the confusing decision to pick up Tim Harikkala on waivers in October. His LD% of 11.2 is astounding, and he issues walks infrequently enough that in a pitching environment like Oakland with Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, and Mark Kotsay fielding behind him he could be pretty successful.)
Meanwhile, Radke contributed 32 RSAA in 2004. Radke's DER was only slightly above average, and his outstanding 5.5 K:BB ratio is a good indicator that his performance is sustainable. Radke has pitched over 210 innings in each season since his rookie year except his injury-riddled 2002. While it's unlikely he'll be third in the league in VORP again, there's a solid shot he'll be one of the 15 or so most valuable pitchers in baseball over the next few years. Throw in that Benitez and Radke are the same age-- they were born a week apart from each other in 1972-- and that Benitez' contract will likely be inflated by his 47 saves and Radke's will likely be deflated by his 11-8 record, and I'd argue that Radke is a top 10 free agent and Benitez might not be top 40.
- Troy Percival is ranked #16, as he apparently "still has the ability to be a dominant closer." That could be true, but who would sign Troy Percival whose been in major decline each of the past two seasons ahead of Matt Clement and Brad Radke? Maybe I need to do some more research on 35-year-old closers, but if Troy Percival pitches 70 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA next year, I'll write a tribute to him five times as big as the Archi Cianfrocco piece and therefore twice as long as the Beltre analysis (note to newcomers to the Fourth Outfielder: the Beltre essay remains my most infamous piece, so you should check it out if you're interested in the Beltre situation-- and by the way, I never played minor league ball).
- Moises Alou and Russ Ortiz to the Dodgers? Does this mean ESPN.com thinks DePodesta will be fired in the next week and replaced with John Kruk?
- Tony Womack to the Cubs. Well, if they signed Neifi...
- #40 Tony Batista "Quietly put on a great offensive season." Maybe it was so quiet because of his .272 OBP? Or because a .455 SLG is only thirty points above league average?