Friday, December 31, 2004

Double Plays: A Dodgers Resolution

Blogger ate the post I wrote this afternoon, so I threw this together and let's hope it shows up on the site eventually. I looked at all players with 5 or more "double play opportunities" using Baseball Prospectus' data and compiled each player's double play rate (double plays hit into divided by double play opportunities). I used the full season for all players who switched teams. League average is about .127.

Likely 2005 Dodgers:
Werth .026
Drew .068
Ross .070
Valentin .078
Izturis .098
Choi .118
Bradley .128
Ledee .146
Saenz .167
Grabowski .172
Kent .182

Drew's rate was outstanding, but it couldn't catch Werth, who was best among players with 50 or more double play opportunities. Every likely Dodger starter, if Shawn Green is indeed on his way out the door, is either average or better except Jeff Kent.

2004 Dodgers-no-more:
Hernandez .085
Cora .092
Roberts .100
Finley .118
Encarnacion .124
Green .164
Beltre .165
Mayne .200
Lo Duca .200

Green-Beltre-Lo Duca, which I suppose we could call the team's offensive nucleus from 2003-2004, was a relative double play machine.

Of course, avoiding double plays isn't a skill per se; it's dependent on a lot of other factors. A player's speed factors into how many double plays they hit into, obviously, but the rate at which the player makes contact as well as the type of contact the player makes is an even greater factor. The type of players who ground into the fewest double plays tend to be in that ever-heroic category, Three True Outcomes (if you're unfamiliar with the concept, check here, here, or here; take a moment to connect the mental dots if you don't get how TTO reduces double play rates). Thus, the accumulation of Three True Outcomes Disciples and the expulsion of contactophiles Beltre and Lo Duca, a trend that the coming of DePodesta should have foretold, should yield a decrease in twin-killings.

Jeff Kent is clearly the one Dodger who, in some sense, does not belong, as he's only an acolyte of one true outcome (home runs) and routinely leaves the runner on first out to dry. If it weren't for his undervalued defense and apparent distaste for Barry Bonds, he wouldn't fit in with this bunch at all.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Realignment

Nothing says late December like a fluff piece. My fluff of choice: realignment, in this case realigning major league baseball by team name. What would baseball look like in 2004 with this sort of realignment? Here's the standings I've arranged, using third-order (competition-adjusted) wins from Baseball Prospectus:

NL
Animal Division
Cubs, 93-68
Orioles, 85-76
Tigers, 80-82
Marlins, 80-81
Blues Jays, 71-89
Diamondbacks, 61-100

Career Division
Rangers, 83-79
Brewers, 77-84
Mariners, 75-87
Pirates, 72-89
Royals, 60-102

Geograph Division
Yankees, 91-70
Astros, 87-94
Indians, 78-82
Metropolitans, 76-86
Rockies, 70-91

AL
Virtue Divison
Cardinals, 98-63
Braves, 88-73
Angels, 87-74
Padres, 83-79
Devil Rays, 73-88

Sportswear Division
Red Sox, 103-58
Athletics, 90-71
White Sox, 79-83
Reds, 67-94

Abstraction Division
Dodgers, 86-75
Giants, 86-75
Twins, 84-76
Phillies, 83-78
Expos/Nationals, 69-93

Since the team with more third order wins won six of the seven postseason series (the Astros beat the Braves despite finishing 1.1 games behind in third order wins), let's use them to predict the postseason:

Cubs over Astros
Yankees over Rangers
Red Sox over Dodgers
Cardinals over A's

Cubs over Yankees
Red Sox over Cardinals

Red Sox over Cubs

Nothing could derail the Red Sox march to glory, but the realignment would have aided the Cubbies in breaking their "curse." Other benefactors include the Rangers and A's, while the Braves, the Angels, and the Twins are the most harmed. The Dodgers and Giants went down to the very end over a division title once again, with the Dodgers coming out a half game ahead. The Virtue and Sportswear Divisions are stacked, while the Abstraction Division had a down-year due to the flop of the heavily-favored Phillies. And why do so many small market franchises name their teams after careers?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tumbleweed

I haven't been online since my last post, and I'm catching up today. Not much news, however, and nothing to write about. I might do a few more 2005 player profiles this week, but I'm also busy with several projects, some baseball-related and some otherwise. One could consider Eric Milton not signing with the Dodgers a nice Christmas present, but I can't say I ever thought it would happen, either.

Friday, December 24, 2004

To Critique

Since when is the job of a baseaball writer to criticize a General Manager's job?

In the short life of this blog, I can only recall criticizing a few GM moves: the Jose Mesa contract, the Troy Percival contract, Jim Bowden's money giveaway, and Jim Hendry's failure to accumulate players who will reach base. I've also been puzzled by the amount of money given to some (Omar Vizquel and Jose Valentin come to mind) and pondered openly whether the investment was wise.

Yesterday I wrote, in response to the claim that "Paul DePodesta can't close deals" that he, in fact, has. In the comments, I was told this was a stupid thing to say because those moves were questionable. Wow, insightful. I mean, giving $70 million to Adrian Beltre or trading for a 41-year-old pitcher wouldn't be questionable, right?

When I started this blog, it was because I have a tendency to conduct research to analyze things that happen in baseball, especially with the Dodgers. That analysis and explication is what I enjoy. On the other hand, when a team either makes a move that is curious or fails to make a move that would have helped, I know there are plenty of other people around to jump all over it. All I'd like to do is provide an interpretation of what happens.

If a team signs a player whose skills are overrated, I'd like to talk about why. When a team likes a move, I like to show what effect it will have on a team. Things like roster and lineup construction can, more or less, be done in a vacuum. Things like trades and free agent signings, however, require the alignment of multiple actors. The current chic criticism of Paul DePodesta is he may know how to evaluate talent but he doesn't know how to execute. Well, something tells me that the combination of those two skills eludes almost everyone, so I have no business pretending that I can say what a GM should do when I don't know the limitations and context in which that GM acts.

My job isn't to show I'm smarter than any General Manager, even though that seems to be the expectation of a lot of people. If you want your blogger to tell you what GM's should do, there are more than enough places to find that, and I won't mind if you don't come back around here.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Reasons to Expect a Full Season From J.D. Drew (Reasons, Not Answers)

From The State:

Drew has battled injuries throughout his big league career that began with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998. He hadn't played in more than 135 games in a season before last year.

A turning point came in October 2002 when he had surgery to remove the diseased portion of his right patella tendon.

"It was nasty," he said of his knee. "It affected me for two years, it limited my game."

It hampered his swing and contributed to other physical problems because he was compensating. Drew appeared in a career-low 100 games in 2003, hitting .289 with 15 homers and 42 RBIs.

St. Louis traded him to Atlanta last December.

"I had the opportunity last offseason to strengthen my leg," he said. "I went into last year not knowing how it would react. It reacted great. Every day it got stronger and stronger."

And that showed on the field.

"I'm looking forward to another healthy year," Drew said. "The thing I learned last year is the more you're on the field, the more consistent you can become."

...

Drew said he's been at the gym five days a week since Thanksgiving preparing for next season and will continue that kind of preparation until shortly before the start of spring training.

"Oh, man, it's great," he said. "I can do my leg workouts like I want to. I know how to maintain it now. I feel so much better. The benefit I have now is the experience, knowing how to handle it."


From Will Carroll (subscription required):

Drew, as I've noted in the past, would do better in center by avoiding the dangers of handling sharp turns in the corners, but one trainer pointed out to me that a park with ample foul territory would have roughly the same effect if he stayed in right.

From Ken Gurnick:

"Not to start a controversy," Drew told a Thursday press conference to announce his five-year contract, "but I'd like to start in center field. Playing behind Jim Edmonds [in St. Louis] and Andruw Jones [in Atlanta], there was no opportunity. You tip your cap and carry their Gold Gloves home for them. If the opportunity presents itself, I'd like to give it a shot."

General manager Paul DePodesta, clearly enjoying the moment in an otherwise rocky offseason, seemed fine with moving Bradley to right field to allow his new centerpiece to play center field.

"I don't anticipate it being a problem," DePodesta said. "I talked to Milton earlier in the winter about the possibility of him playing one of the corners if we made certain moves. He didn't really care. He said he'd fit in anywhere if we felt it would make the team better. We'll let it play itself out. We're in a great spot whoever ends up in the corner. Milton was unbelievable moving when we got [Steve] Finley, but he could end up in center field, too."

...

He said when his knee hurt, slamming on the brakes in the corner bothered it the most. He said he could play right or center, but in left field, "I'm a lost cause. It feels so odd to me."

J.D. Drew Walks

Two paraphrased statements:

Statement A: 5 years, $55 million for injury-prone J.D. Drew? DePodesta has lost his mind.

Statement B: How could DePodesta only offer Beltre $10 million per? That's crazy for a young player in his prime who is MVP-caliber.

There's a lot of people who have more or less made both of the above arguments. I just don't see how that's possible.

J.D. Drew has major injury issues. He's missed a lot of games in his career due to injury. Last year that didn't happen, and his in-season trend was positive (8 of the 17 games he missed were before May7, and most of the rest were in late September when the Braves were resting their players).

Adrian Beltre has major effectiveness concerns. He's been unproductive a lot in his career. Last year that didn't happen, and his in-season trend was positive (his only non-outstanding month was in May).

Why does Drew's history of losing time to injury make him a terrible risk while Beltre's history of not being very good is easy to overlook? Why is one a corner which can be neatly turned in the span of a season while the other isn't?

If Drew misses a lot of time to injury while Beltre continues to play as he did in 2004, then Beltre is obviously the better deal. But if Drew stays healthy while Beltre reverts to his 2001-2003 self, then Drew is obviously the better deal. But if Drew and Beltre both repeat their 2004's Beltre only has a slight edge and if Drew continues his injury problems while Beltre regresses then Drew has a slight edge.

Consider this: despite missing a lot of time to injuries, Drew produced more runs above replacement than Beltre in each season from 2001-2003. Moreover, if you're going to take your chances on a risky player, it's a lot better to do it in the outfield where decent fill-ins are more readily available than in the infield.

I won't try to speculate on what Drew's injury chances are. Will Carroll indicated there was reason for optimism, and he gave a yellow-light to both Drew and Beltre. However, Beltre's still a player who doesn't walk much and whose success in 2004 came mainly from converting strikeouts into home runs. As I've written extensively before, there aren't really any seasons that compare to Beltre's 2004, and the only one that looks pretty close - Rico Petrocelli's in 1969 - proved to be a fluke. In the end, I like Beltre's chances going forward, but he's still a large risk. Drew, on the other hand, has seen his offensive segments stay pretty consistent over the years with the two changes being that in 2002 he struck out a lot and in 2004 he drew a ridiculous amount of unintentional walks. Everything I've learned about baseball leads me to believe that the odds of a player repeating a sudden spike in walks are much higher than the odds of a player repeating a sudden spike in home runs.

The point is, two players with shaky performance records were signed to expensive long-term deals, and there's no reason to assume that the success of each in 2004 only alters the prognosis for one of them.

A lot of people are criticizing DePodesta for not coming through with big deals. That's just bitter rationalizing combined with selective sampling. Jeff Kent and and J.D. Drew and the Penny/Choi trade don't count, but Adrian Beltre and the two unfulfilled Diamondbacks trades do? I really don't get why DePodesta should be tarred and feathered for not offering more than he was willing to offer. I don't think DePodesta has done a perfect job as a general manager, but I can't point to anyone else who has either. And if Peter Gammons' account is correct, I think anyone castigating DePodesta for pulling out of this trade is either a jerk or clueless.

I don't like being characterized as a "DePodesta apologist." Simply stated, I think baseball analysis is both easier and insightful when you empathize with the actors involved rather than blindly criticizing them. If you take the time to figure out why a decision was made, you can then evaluate both the goals the decision sought to address as well as how effective the decision should be in accomplishing those goals. I'm not trying to apologize for DePodesta. I'm trying to cut through the veil of opaque quotations, planted rumors, and entrenched reputations that the media provides us in order to look at the purpose of the moves that baseball teams make and how effective those moves are. How successful I am in doing this is subject to a number of limitations, but I'd like to think that examination of evidence is a much better way to go about this than reacting based on one's gut.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More quick notes, since my internet access for the next week is very limited:
I should be able to get more up over the next few days, but in case I don't let me say I hope everyone enjoys whatever December rituals they partake in.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Quick Arbitration Notes

Don't have much time, real quick:
Happy solstice.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A Clarification On Vazquez

I guess when I've written about Javier Vazquez I've started with an unconscious and inaccurate assumption that my audience reads Yankee blogs frequently, as I do (not because I like the Yankees, but because so many of the best baseball bloggers are Yankee fans). If you've read as much about the Yankees as I have in the past year, you would probably recognize my "poor intruction" quip as a reference to Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. I won't pretend to have the final word on Stottlemyre's merits, but I think that he has enough of a record of recent failure and Vazquez had enough of a record of success that his second half in 2004 is more likely, to me, to be an anomaly than a change in true performance level.

If you're interested, check out what Larry Mahnken wrote here. Jay Jaffe, maybe my favorite blogger, wrote about it here and here (with Cliff Corcoran nodding along), talked about Stottlemyre in relation to Vazquez here, and made a funny quip about it here. Also, Pat Jordan discussed Vazquez in an interview with Alex Belth, and if he what he says is accurate (I frankly don't know) than Vazquez looks like a solid bet for major improvement.

And while we're on the topic of Yankee blogs, check out what Fabian had to say about Navarro and Duncan at Replacement-Level Yankees Weblog today.

I have two finals Monday and have to get out of Dodge shortly thereafter, so I might not have time to write anything until Tuesday or so. I'll see what I can do, especially with Icaros' generosity in the comments.

Brad Penny In The Higher League

I tried to resist, but to the anonymous poster who talked about Brad Penny having pitched in the higher league, here were his numbers in the 2003 postseason:

22 IP, 5.73 ERA, 9 BB, 13 K, 3 HR

I don't think that means Penny is some sort of postseason failure, because I don't believe that very small sizes of data and selectively-sampled subjective observation can determine a player's worth in important circumstances. I'm willing to believe all sorts of theories about ballplayers, but in analysis and decisionmaking I'll side with Rick Peterson's adage: "In God we trust. All others must have data."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

An Articulation of the Big Trade

How we conceive of a trade involving numerous components largely depends on how we articulate it. If this trade is "our top reliever, starter, and hitter, plus another starter, for one starter and two scrubs," it obviously doesn't look very good. Let me articulate it in a way that makes sense to me.

Transaction #1: Dodgers trade Brad Penny for Javier Vazquez and $4.5 million.

This part doesn't look bad. Penny is the bigger injury concern, for one. Vazquez has a longer track record, and he's been a much better pitcher - his numbers from 2000-2003 are much better than Penny's from 2001-2004, and his best season was much better than Penny's. Penny is coming off of a better season and is two years younger. However, there's reason to believe that Vazquez simply suffered from a lack of good instruction in the scond half, and that this would be corrected with Los Angeles. This draws the Jeff Weaver comparison, with the caveat that Vazquez' potential is much higher than Weaver's. Vazquez is a fly ball power pitcher, and if the Dodgers do indeed sign J.D. Drew they would have excellent defenders in all three outfield positions, whereas the Yankees had pretty terrible outfield defense last season. That combined with the league differences mean that if Vazquez repeats his pre all-star break performance from last season his ERA should be under 3.00. Additionally, Penny's career high in innings pitched was 205 in 2001, and he's only had one other season with more than 143 IP; Vazquez threw 217.2 or more innings in each season from 2000 to 2003, and was on pace to continue that streak before his disastrous second half in 2004.

From a money standpoint, this isn't a victory, with Penny likely to earn about $6 million this season. If Penny is good in 2005, then the D'Backs will get two seasons of Penny for about $13-15 million while the Dodgers get three seasons of Vazquez for $34.5 million minus the $4.5 million, so the average annual value is only $2-3 million or so higher and the Dodgers get an extra year.

Transaction #2: The Dodgers trade Yhency Brazoban and Brandon Weeden for Mike Koplove and Dioner Navarro.

In terms of the two relievers, as I wrote yesterday there's not a very big difference and the Dodgers might even come out ahead. They do give up the chance of Brazoban's much higher peak, but that's easily swamped by the difference between the two semi-failed 20-year old prospects. Weeden hasn't been able to keep his walk rate low enough to project well, and he spent his age 20 season in low-A. Navarro spent his age-20 season in AA and AAA, and while he didn't hit the ball very hard last season he still has good plate discipline (a K:BB ratio of only 1.3 last season despite being very young for his competition) and could easily regain the line drive ability of his 2003 season. Given that Navarro plays a premium defensive position, this is a major victory from a prospect standpoint.

The Dodgers lose out on six years of Brazoban for three years of Koplove, and Koplove will probably earn $3-5 million over the next three seasons in arbitration. Given that relievers are easier to replace than any other position, the Navarro grab makes this a solid win in my book.

Transaction #3: The Dodgers trade Shawn Green and $2.5 million for Eric Duncan.

A salary dump for a very good prospect. The Dodgers lose a year of Green and gain $13.5 million. However, that's probably more than enough to obtain J.D. Drew, who will almost certainly be more productive per plate appearance, and is far and away the better defender. Drew's injury history makes this a more even proposition, but the fact that the Dodgers also get Drew on hand for several years under this scenario makes it a likely win, even before considering Eric Duncan. Duncan, as I said yesterday, was #18 among all hitting prospects in 2004 according to the future DT's. He draws a good amount of walks, and his doubles power at age 19 suggests his home run power will soon develop. He has to work on his strike-outs, but he's not really behind the curve in that department. Overall, this looks like a win.

Transaction #4: The Dodgers release Kaz Ishii, paying off the rest of his contract.

Here's where the Dodgers take the biggest hit. Unable to unload the disappointing lefty - whose pitch count splits and platoon splits buth suggest he'd be pretty useless as a lefty out of the bullpen and who is not sustantially different from replacement level as a starter - the Dodgers eat his contract to make room on the 25-man roster. Certainly not a win, but not a big loss either.

Overall, if Drew really is next to come, the Dodgers upgrade rigth field and a spot in the rotation talent-wise while trading the injury concern from the rotation to right field. They unload a pitcher who's pretty useless. They don't appreciably downgrade the bullpen in the short term and acquire two very good prospects. The moves increase their 2005 payroll by a factor of (Drew's salary - $8-10 million), depending on how much Koplove and Penny make in arbitration. For 2006 and 2007, they increase the payroll by $21.8 million plus Drew's salary minus the amount they'd end up paying Penny in arbitration for 2006, and in exchange they get two seasons each of Vazquez and Drew instead of one season of Penny.

Then again, the potential Drew signing could be completely mucked, so who knows?

I know I perhaps look like a major Paul DePodesta apologist, somehow desperately seeking to justify his actions. I'm not. The simple fact is that my analytic paradigm is probably similar to his and within that paradigm he seems to be making pretty good decisions, and expecting the ideal is unrealistic.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Apocalypse Nears!

Let's play the match game:

Actual 2004 Stats
Reliever A: 144 ERA+, 4.71 FIP, .168 LD%
Reliever B: 167 ERA+, 3.59 FIP, .195 LD%
Reliever C: 110 ERA+, 4.30 FIP, .162 LD%

2005 ZiPS Projections
Reliever A: 132 ERA+, 3.50 FIP
Reliever B: 116 ERA+, 3.51 FIP
Reliever C: 109 ERA+, 3.76 FIP

And while I'm at it, let me throw in a couple more:
Reliever D: 160 ERA+, 3.47 FIP
Reliever E: 140 ERA+, 3.29 FIP

And keep in mind, when looking at those FIP's, that Relievers A, C, D, and E all pitch in parks that heavily increase offense in general and home runs in particular while Reliever B pitched in a park that in 2004 substantially reduced the number of walks issued (and all of the ZiPS projections are based on them remaining in those ballparks).

None of them is head and shoulders above the others.

Reliever B is prodigal son Yhency Brazoban in 2004. Relievers A and C are former prodigal sons Damaso Marte and Mike Koplove, respectively. Reliever D is Koplove's career prior to 2004 and Reliever E is Marte's career prior to 2004; Koplove is 28 and Marte turns 30 in February.

It's possible that Brazoban will soon become a dominant major league pitcher. But he also walked 4 batters per 9 innings in AA this season. He should be a productive reliever for years to come, but so should Koplove and Marte. Moreover, Koplove and Marte are both coming off of seasons where they underperformed expectations, and they both had dominant seasons in 2003. Even though there's reason to believe that the true performance level of each is higher than what they did in 2004, both are apparently not thought of highly by their current team. Meanwhile, because of the circumstances surrounding Brazoban's call-up, as well as some luck and outstanding fielding behind him, he's being hailed as the next sliced bread.

Now, I don't know about you, but I think the notion of buying low and selling high has some currency. There is a lot of frustration being expressed by Dodgers fans right now that the team is making moves for the future at the expense of the present, but the sentiment toward trading Brazoban is overwhelmingly negative. These sentiments are difficult to reconcile in the face of objective analysis; Brazoban's value relative to the others lies mainly in his upside, not in his immediate impact. Brazoban looks, to me, like an overvalued commodity while Marte and Koplove look like undervalued commodities.

Again, I'm not saying that the proposed trades are all roses. But the simple truth remains that one must trade talent in order to receive talent, and it's very unlikely that Paul DePodesta is acquiescing to trades without studying their ramifications. The very fact that the proposed trades appear, at first glance, to be to the detriment of the Dodgers is, to me, evidence of their intelligence (evidence, not proof). If a trade looks one-sided, it is probably because the common sense understandings of the value of the different players involved are inaccurate in light of the actual data.

This cuts both ways, of course: if you realize that a player's perceived value outstrips the player's actual value, you may begin to undervalue the player. That's certainly something to consider, and it is a criticism which has merit in light of the Lo Duca trade. That being said, if your gut reaction is that something looks bad, that doesn't mean it is bad and it might indicate it's actually very good. In any event, it certainly doesn't mean that you should toss your hands up in disbelief, refuse to even look up the relevant data, cancel season tickets, and take your ball and go home.

And one more thing: anybody who calls Dioner Navarro and Eric Duncan "a couple of minor-leaguers" or says they're "overhyped Yankees prospects" looks pretty silly in my book. C'mon, folks, these aren't kids who are inflated by the Yankee hype machine and impressionable scouts filing overexcited reports, this is a catcher who hit .341/.388/.471 in AA at 19 years old and a third baseman who placed 18th among minor league hitters according to the Future DT's. If anything, I would argue that, by virtue of being in the Yankees system and all the attendant baggage that brings, they are more likely to be undervalued. This is especially true of Navarro, who's already being treated as if he were a failed prospect by virtue of one disappointing season playing against much older competition - he was 20 last season and split it between AA and AAA. Navarro might not have very good sceondary skills offensively, but neither did Paul Lo Duca and y'all liked him just fine.

Payroll

The Consumer Price Index was released on Friday. I haven't seen this reported anywhere, so I thought I'd point it out here. The CBA says the major league minimum for 2005 is $300,000*((CPI-W Nov 02)/(CPI-W Nov 04)), rounded to the nearest $500. For minor league service time for players on the 40 man roster, the minimum is $50,000*((CPI-W Nov 02)/(CPI-W Nov 04)), again rounded to the nearest 100. The Nov. '02 CPI-W was 177.4, and the Nov. '04 CPI-W was 186.8. This means the new minimums, so far as I can tell, are $316,00 (major leagues) and $52,600 (minor leagues for 40-man roster players).

In light of this and the Valentin signing, I've updated my payroll data. An average of $320,000 for players not yet arbitration eligible seems right. I haven't seen any salary data for Alvarez, so he's not included, and obviously things will change soon with the arbitration deadline and trade rumors pending. The Dodgers now have eight players under contract, pending Valentin's physical, for $55.23 million. They also have eight arbitration eligible players on the 40-man roster, whose price I've estimated at $21.9 million total, although it should be noted that the likelihood of all of those players returning is in the neighborhood of zero. With Dreifort likely to be disabled on the 60-day DL, an accurate payroll baseline would include 25 slots, 12 on the 25-man roster (to account for likely DL time) and 13 on the 40-man, and we should probably add in a month of salary for eight September call-ups. Using $320,000 for the average minimum Major League contract and $53,000 for the minor league contracts, that sets the baseline at $82.1 million. Frankly, I have no idea whether the $100 million benchmark is supposed to include salaries for minor-leaguers on the 40-man and September call-up salaries, although I'll note that if I were running a team I would probably do that. If we want to use the more conservative estimate of opening-day 25-man roster payroll, the baseline is $80.3 million, although I should note again that the salary for the arbitration-eligible players was all guessing on my part and it's unlikely they'll all return.

(note: the above was edited 12/18 at 10:30 pm when I discovered the cost of living adjustment for major leaguers was rounded to the nearest $500, not $100 as I'd stated previously.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

2005 Dodgers: Jose Valentin

Wow, another guy I forgot to mention, mainly because he's a shortstop. At $3.5 million, I do think this deal might have been more expensive than the market for him, but not by a wide margin.

I think I've seen two or three stathead-types point out this offseason that Valentin's batting average dropped low enough last season that he ceased being an underrated commodity. The thing is, though, that Valentin absolutely cannot hit southpaws and the White Sox started him against them frequently, to the tune of .191/.262/.404. Against northpaws, he hit .226/.298/.503. Obviously, that's inflated somewhat since Mobile Phone Villa in Chicago is the easiest place in baseball to hit a home run; I project that to .213/.282/.449 in 2004 LA, which certainly doesn't look very good. However, that's a .239 GPA, and league average for 2004 LA is .243. However, Valentin had a batting average on balls in play of .234 against RHP, which even with his tendencies is not likely to stay so low; .250 might be more reasonable based on his line drive rate in 2004. Looking at his overall numbers, everything has stayed very much the same year to year except his batting average on balls in play, which has declined steadily every year. Dodger Stadium likely won't help that, unless the remodeling makes a big difference. Whether that decline should be expected to continue and to what extent is an interesting question. Given all that, I'd say Valentin should be just under average offensively (because he still will have to take the occasional PA against LHP), which with his outstanding defense makes him 8-14 runs above average over 130 games.

Another thing I discovered about Valentin truly astounded me. Check this out:

2000: .323/.420/.541 w/ runners in scoring position, .257/.309/.476 otherwise
2001: .302/.411/.593 RISP, .247/.309/.476 otherwise
2002: .351/.416/.670 RISP, .224/.280/.432 otherwise
2003: .229/.306/.466 RISP, .239/.310/.462 otherwise
2004: .248/.347/.571 w/ RISP; .206/.261/.443 otherwise

It appears Valentin has a significant and undervalued skill. With a runner on second, he just takes over. I don't know what the explanation for it is, but something tells me DePodesta may have known about this. Wow. I might look into this more deeply using linear weights in the future, but suffice it to say this might make his offense above average overall.

Like the Kent deal, this signing is smart in that it gives the Dodgers a lot of flexibility. Consider the infielders on the Dodgers' 40-man roster that are major-league ready:

Jeff Kent
Hee Seop Choi
Jose Valentin
Cesar Izturis
Alex Cora
Antonio Perez
Olmedo Saenz
Joe Thurston, kind of

By UZR, Valentin was the best defensive shortstop in baseball last season and the best from 2000-2003. So the Dodgers have a lot of room to maneuver. I know a Cesar Izturis trade would result in beer and tacos being vomited over LA Times sports sections all over Southern California, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea.

Now, wherever Valentin plays he'll need a platoon partner, and I suspect that would be Antonio Perez, although Olmedo Saenz can still play third base, kind of. Despite what I said about Izturis, this is more likely a signal that Cora won't remain with the club because of his handedness, whether as a non-tender or in a trade. I would think the Dodgers could get something for Cora in a trade - the Cardinals still have exactly zero middle infield pieces.

All in all, this is a good deal. Obviously, he's not Adrian Beltre. But he's not bad either, and even if DePodesta paid him more than he could have gotten away with it's still good value.

Trash Talk

From Rob McMillin in the comments:
Tom, I'm scraping my jaw off the floor after reading your alternatives when I ponder that you actually consider them alternatives. Stats-based analysis is what you do best. Please show me how any of the scrubs you would plug in at third -- or anywhere else on the field -- are going to replace Beltre's 2004 production. This was an offensively dismissive piece for those of us who realize that Beltre's 89.1 VORP won't be easy to replace. Yes, my reaction to Beltre's departure has been very emotional, but before you decide that it's just not important, you'd better have a realistic plan that doesn't involve the team descending into mediocrity.


Rob, here's the thing. I gave a list of alternatives which would be a) cheap and b) around average. The key is that they are both. Yes, an expensive Tony Batista signing would be apocalyptic. But it's not going to happen.

I don't like using the term Moneyball, but I think you can boil its thesis down to this: a team has a finite amount of resources, and the key to winning is to maximize the productivity created by those resources. If a team reduces the amount of resources it spends to win, that decreases winning. If it decreases the efficiency with which it uses those resources, that decreases winning.

So far, the Dodgers have done neither of those things. In fact, DePodesta said yesterday that the payroll would be $100 million and it would be ridiculous to think otherwise.

If the Dodgers bring back all of their arbitration eligible non-free agents they will have at least $20-25 million left to spend. Even if the free agent market is totally dry - and it isn't - there are still teams looking to free up payroll in a number of ways.

Yes, it's still possible - some might even argue it's likely, though I wouldn't - that DePodesta will mess up and not find any useful way to allocate those resources. If that happens, I'll be angry. But that simply has not happened yet.

Jeff Kent will not replace the 2004 productivity of Adrian Beltre, but he will replace a good deal of it. Kent was good for a 55.2 VORP last season. Throw in Beltre's minor edge in defensive value and that's a four win swing. Heck, let's add in an extra win for the difference between Jose Hernandez and Antonio Perez. Where are we going to get those wins from?

Well, Hideo Nomo ain't coming back, and his vorp was negative 23.2. But I guess that's balanced out by no Paul Lo Duca. But odds are that whatever the Dodgers do at catcher will be, even if by a slim margin, above replacement level, so that gives us back 15 runs. But we're still missing four wins.

Four wins. $20 million. That is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a difficult task.

The thing is, and I wrote this before, teams do not need slugging third basemen to compete. They need a sum total of talent. Just because Brian Myrow or Kevin Youkilis or Alex Cora is not your idea of a great third baseman does not mean that the team becomes worse when they're used to replace Adrian Beltre because the team can (and will) make other improvements.

Hell, maybe they won't. Maybe DePodesta will screw it all up and reveal that Ayn Rand put him up to it just to dash the hopes of countless Dodgers fans. When that happens, be angry.

When one player leaves, don't be angry. Be analytical. Don't look at the team's public statements and try to parse them so as to come up with the worst interpretation possible; that doesn't help anyone. Don't compare rumored deals to prison rape. If the team ends up winning 60 games and Frank McCourt comes up behind Vin Scully and whacks him over the head with a chair while Vince McMahon emerges from the visitor's dugout with an evil grin, you might look like a genius, but so will every other beer and tacos couch potato and hack columnist. If the team wins 100 games, you'll be competing for Jon Edwards' title.

If, absent unforseeable, catastrophic injury, the Dodgers don't win 89 games - their Pythagorean total last season - this season and fail to make the playoffs, I will shut down this blog, move to Southern California, and scrub Rob McMillin's bathroom floor for a month. When that's done, I'll determine how many beatings to distribute among Paul DePodesta and Frank McCourt for sealing my fate. I'm a very, very, non-violent person, but for you, Rob, this I will do.

In Which I Remember Another Option

10. Sign Placido Polanco. Polanco has played third base before, including parts of last season, and the guy is an excellent defender everywhere in the infield. I'm not certain that he'd be willing to sign somewhere where he'd have to be a third baseman, and he would cost a first round draft pick. However, the market for him looks pretty bare right now outside of St. Louis, so he might come at a reasonable price. Realistically, he wouldn't be a huge upgrade over Alex Cora, and his offense is concentrated in batting average. Nonetheless, he's worth considering.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

I've only read a single Bill Plaschke column in my life, but here's what I predict from him tomorrow:

So this is what we get.

A computer whiz knocks on the door with a bunch of fancy numbers, trades away the team's heart and soul all-star catcher for an unproven pitcher, lets the best player in baseball leave the team in free agency, and then trades the pitcher and the team's best remaining hitter for someone who was booed out of New York and a couple of minor leaguers.

Anyone wanna fix this guy's computer?

It's not all bad; we've still got a washed-up second baseman, convict centerfielder, and a whiff-o-matic first baseman.

Hey, who can complain?

Here's the deal. Adrian Beltre has spent most of the past five years as my favorite player in baseball. It was great that he finally had a breakthrough year.

But Beltre didn't say goodbye to me, and Paul DePodesta didn't take him away from me. Both of them calculated their interests, and the result was Beltre playing for a different team. It made Peter White happy, so why should I complain?

It's easy to come up with silly explanations for why things ended up the way they did. It's easy to use anecdotal evidence to call this a firesale or something silly like that. Frankly, I don't care. I'd rather assess the situation and look forward.

If a baseball team makes a bad decision, I enjoy gathering evidence to make the argument that they've made a bad decision. If they make a good decision, I enjoy gathering evidence to make the argument that they've made a good decision. The thing is, the Dodgers didn't make much of a decision. Beltre chose one of two offers. The Dodgers offered a good deal, the Mariners offered something marginally better, and Beltre took it.

You might say DePodesta made a bad move in that he didn't have a backup plan. That's ridiculous. Earlier today, I looked at evidence to discuss different alternatives. They all look like decent backup plans to me. The thing is, a baseball team doesn't need to have a slugging third baseman. It doesn't need to have an all-star catcher. It doesn't need to have a flamethrowing set-up man. It needs to win, and there are a ton of different ways to put together a winning team.

Beltre was worth around 11-13 wins last year. That's a big loss. Brazoban was worth about two and a half wins, Lo Duca and Mota three and a half each. Finley was worth two and a half and Green was worth about four. Ouch.

But Hee Seop Choi should be worth four or five wins, Javy Vazquez should be worth five to seven, and Jeff Kent should be worth six or seven. And odds are good that the combination of Tom Wilson, Mike Rose, and Dave Ross can make up most of Lo Duca's production. Plus, the Dodgers won't give any innings to Hideo Nomo.

I can pretend J.D. Drew's in the bag, and that that makes up the remainder. But why? Here's why I love baseball: because there's so much data, and all of it can be analyzed, and it's a blast to analyze it well. Saying DePodesta is trying to remake the team in his own image, Frank McCourt is trying to raze the Stadium, or Jamie McCourt is really one of the Crab People, dwelling underground and plotting to take over the earth, seems like such a waste of time to me. Why analyze what we have no significant data on when we have so much data?

What I'm saying is that, try as we might, we don't know what the Dodgers' plans - and contingency plans - are, and I see little reason in trying to evaluate their decisions in light of them unless there's substantial evidence that the decisions they've made have left them without a reasonable course of action. There isn't. Just because the average beer and tacos baseball fan isn't familiar with Brian Myrow or Kevin Youkilis doesn't mean that they're not somewhat viable alternatives.

Here's something Bill James had to say on the subject, courtesy of Rich Lederer:
I’ve never said, never thought, that it was better to be an outsider than it was to be an insider, that my view of the game was better than anyone else’s. It’s different; better in some ways, worse in some ways. What I have said is, since we are outsiders, since the players are going to put up walls to keep us out here, let us use our position as outsiders to what advantage we can. Let us back off from the trees, look at the forest as a whole, and see what we can learn from that. Let us stop prentending to be insiders if we’re not. Let us fly over the forest, you and I, and look down; let us measure every tract of land and map out all the groves, and draw in every path that connects each living thing. Let us drive around the edges and photograph each and every tree from a variety of angles and with a variety of lenses; and insiders will be amazed at what we can help them to see.
This is not the time to analyze the motives of anyone involved. This is the time to do what, in my heart, I think fans should do: analyze the situation and think of what they would do, and analyze what has been done in the context of the best reasonable course of action. It's not okay to criticize the team that doesn't score because they didn't bunt the runner over in the eighth because it didn't result in runs being scored; to criticize a decision, you look at what can be expected and make an argument about what would be most beneficial in that context. If you think DePodesta and the Dodgers should have offered 6 years, $80 million, don't say "Now, we'll have to sign Darren Oliver and Joe Randa and win 65 games." Account for the extra expense and what it would mean to the team. Give a detailed account of the available players, both in the Dodgers organization and outside of it. Make your argument on analysis, not speculation. That's what a fan does, in my book anyway.

Billy Beane has famously argued, and I'm paraphrasing here, that the first third of the season is to see what you've got, the second third is to get what you need, and the final third is to win. The Dodgers entered this offseason with, by almost all accounts, one of the top farm systems in baseball. Now they've added two of the top eighty picks in next years draft and two of the top eighty prospects in baseball, if the trade reports are indeed accurate. That doesn't ensure that the Dodgers can get what they need to make the playoffs in any given year or to win the World Series in any given year. But it does mean they're in a pretty good position to do so.

The first entry in this blog was, in part, about my emotional attachment to the baseball player Adrian Beltre. When, sometime in the future-- maybe months from now, maybe years from now, maybe decades from now-- I make my last entry, it will no doubt be about the emotion of baseball. Emotion is there, and it's important. Baseball is a wonderful thing to be in love with, but it will love you so much more when you give it your love too. Baseball players, managers, and executives will break your heart, but as long as you love baseball enough the wounds will heal.

In Case You Were Wondering

Using the same methods I used in the Free Agent pitchers review, with the caveat that I didn't adjust for home run park factors because I'm missing the 02-03 data for the Expos:

Javier Vazquez
2004: 4.36, 198 IP
Weighted 3-Year: 3.601 217 IP

Special Non-Stottlemyre Bonus Round:
2003: 2.99, 230.2 IP
Weighted 3-year ('01-'03): 3.06, 228.2 IP

Keep in mind, this is based on his batted ball types in 2004, not for his career, and is based on the Dodgers' outstanding 2004 defensive efficiency ratio.

Vazquez has, in his career, registered a lot of strikeouts. His strikeouts dipped to near average in both 2002 and 2004 and peaked in 2003. He maintains a low walk rate, but that worsened a somewhat in '04 as well. Despite the offense-favorable environment he played in with Montreal, he kept his home run rate below average until coming to the Yankees, at which point he gave up a ton of them.

Bye Bye, Belly

Looks like, though I was right about several important things, I was wrong in the end. Would you believe I blame it on the Blue Jays going after Koskie?

In any event, this leaves the Dodgers with several options. Here are the broad strokes I see:

1. Jeff Kent can move to third. Sure, he can. However, both Baseball Prospectus and UZR gave him very high marks last season at second, while UZR had Cora below average. Given Kent's age, I'd say that edge comes more from experience, not athleticism. That means I'd like the second option better.

2. Alex Cora/Antonio Perez platoon at third. They have the athletic skills to do it, and with all of spring training should be able to do it. Alternately, Perez can still be dealt and Olmedo Saenz can be the platoon caddy, leaving Hee Seop Choi to start against LHP. I don't think Mike Edwards belongs in this discussion. Another alternative would be to sign minor league free agent Luis Garcia (or someone like him) to be Choi's platoon buddy.

3. Brian Myrow/right-handed platoon caddy. Should be above average offensively, below average with the glove, and plays for the minimum.

4. Joe Randa. Ol' Joe can work the leather and be within spitting distance of average with the bat. His defense makes him average or better, so he could be better than Myrow, but in any event would be more costly.

5. Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox have no use for Cora/Izturis with Renteria signed, so my earlier conditional speculation is gone. Still, Youkilis' base on balls skills should make him above average, and his glove is around average, and he shouldn't cost all that much with the Sox already having re-upped Bill Mueller.

6. Sign Carlos Delgado. I don't know what he's asking, but at least Seattle's not bidding anymore, and there is the Shawn Green connection. With Delgado on board, Choi could be flipped for something good. I don't much care for this option, but I can conceive of circumstances where it makes sense.

7. Brian Myrow at first base, Choi used to get Youkilis (or his equivalent) and something else good. Again, not a stellar option, but I can see its utility.

8. Keith Ginter. Yesterday I suggested Alex Cora might be dealt to be Ginter's platoon partner; today I'm suggesting they may be swapped for each other. Ginter's glove inspires the phrase "no great shakes" like no other, but the damage is minimized at third base (and he might improve there if he plays the whole season there). A Cora/Ellis or Cora/Scutaro platoon would probably be more productive for the A's than Ginter, so this one makes some sense. Myrow could spell Ginter against northpaws.

9. Sign J.D. Drew or, heck, Carlos Beltran. Not likely, but the premise would involve spinning one of the current outfielders for something. Can't envision any such scenarios at the moment, but maybe it will come to me later.

Obviously, I wouldn't be too pleased if Beltre's absence isn't coupled with a major upgrade in the rotation.

By the way, put me down for Beltre hitting .310/.365/.590 in Seattle next season.

Rating the Remaining Free Agent Starters

Here's my methodology. I looked at the remaining free agent starting pitchers according to ESPN.com. I removed Carl Pavano, who has already decided on the Yankees, and Roger Clemens, who has accepted arbitration. I removed Pedro Astacio, Omar Daal, and Andy Ashby, who haven't pitched enough recently for their stats to provide meaningful insight. I removed Shawn Estes, Jamey Wright (whose 123 ERA+ occurred despite the 11th worst FIP in the league and 17th worst LD%, 60 innings minimum), Steve Sparks, Todd Ritchie, Todd Van Poppel, Darren Oliver, and Terry Mulholland because I can't conceive of them being viable options. I removed Hideo Nomo because there's pretty much no way to predict his performance (or at least, to predict a performance with some degree of confidence that would involve him not being horrific) at this point.

Next, I compiled the career data for each player. I also took each player's batted ball types from the Hardball Times for 2004. Unfortunately, this data is not available to the public outside of THT's 2004 stats, so I couldn't use pre-2004 data; I just pretended that the 2004 numbers would be close enough to stand in for every other year. Using these statistics, I computed ERA's for each pitcher with the formulas in JC Bradbury's study of balls in play. I also ran park adjustments for home runs based on the 2004 ballpark factors for HR, normalized for Dodger Stadium. This is, I know, not quite ideal, but it should be close enough. I also decided to normalize the stats for the National League and a .711 defensive efficieny ratio, which is what the Dodgers had last season (the best in baseball; all of these ERA's will look low because of that). For each player, I ran several ERA's, but the two I'll use here are one based purely on 2004 data and one based on a 5-4-3 distribution of 2004, 2003, and 2002 (what I'll call "Weighted 3-Year"). These are not projections; rather, they are interpretations of past data.

Before I start, it should be noted that every one of these players is past their nominal prime (age 27) and each one has pretty much declined over the past three years except for some of the oldest ones.

1. Matt Clement
2004: 3.41, 181 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.26, 194 IP
Will Carroll gives him the yellow light, as he's been subjected to the Dusty Baker philosophy on pitcher usage the past two seasons and his arm bore the results in 2004. Nonetheless, everybody else on this list is a health hazard of equal or greater magnitude. Clement's best year was in 2002, and he declined somewhat in 2003 and stayed at that level in 2004. But he's still quite good, striking out a lot of batters, not allowing many home runs (at least, that is, when the Friendly Confines are taken into account), and maintaining a high but reasonable walk rate. Doesn't give up many line drives.

I've seen concern over his home/road and day/night ERA splits. I spent entirely too much time running the data to see if that concern was legitimate. While his ERA splits are completely ridiculous in that regard, his peripherals are not. I compared all Cubs pitching data for just about every pitching rate stat for day/night and home/away over each of the past three years with Clement's, and while his stats showed schizophrenic sample size hiccups in each individual year, his stats for the whole 2002-2004 only partially bear out the bizarre split benefit hypothesis. I'll use fielding independent pitching, a rate stat combining HR, K, and BB, to demonstrate. His FIP was 101% of the average for home Cubs and 91% for night Cubs, showing a relative reverse split, so there's no reason for concern there. His day/night split, on the other hand, was significant, 88% in the day and and 108% at night. His K and BB rates were both slimly better during the day, and his home run rate is substantially lower during the day even though the rest of the Cubs tended to give up slightly more home runs in the day. An interesting thing to note, and something any team that signs him should take into consideration. Ultimately, though, this is a pretty minor concern, since the preponderance of day games with Chicago was already built into his home/away splits and he fared better on the road, rate-stat wise.

2. Kevin Millwood
2004: 3.47, 141 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.27, 187 IP
Carroll gives Millwood the red light, but I'm not quite as skeptical. He had elbow tendinitis in 2004, but he was fine in 2002 and 2003. His performance really hasn't declined all that much, and I would think he'd be available for a one year deal in the three or four million range, which I'd consider a pretty good deal. He still gets a lot of K's and is very stingy with home runs; his walks increased last season, but not by a whole lot and it was balanced out by an increase in strike outs. He gives up more line drives than is normal, but the margin isn't huge. I think he's worth the risk, at least relative to these other clowns.

3. Odalis Perez
2004: 3.75, 196.1 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.57, 199.2 IP
A favorite "underrated" player who's actually pretty overrated. Excellent walk rate, lousy strikeout rate, lousy home run rate. He had one brilliant season in 2002; all the evidence points to that being an outlier. The longballs came back in 2003, and in 2004 they stayed. He reduced his walks in 2004, but at the expense of his strike outs. He doesn't give up many line drives, but he doesn't have magic BABIP powers either. Carroll gave him a red light, too.

4. Orlando Hernandez
2004: 3.57, 84.2 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.53, 107.2 IP
El Duque could do a lot of different things. He's a decent choice, provided he's actually cheap (who knows) and can log some innings (who knows). His peripherals are all over the board, with good seasons achieved through various means in 1998, 2002, and 2004 sandwiching a steady decline from '99-'01.

5. Derek Lowe
2004: 4.26, 182.2 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.95, 198.2 IP
Groundball extraordinaire who had bad luck last season but isn't all that good to start with. His 2002 was pretty good, but he's probably turned the corner on it. Good control, few strikeouts, very few home runs.

6. Aaron Sele
2004: 4.29, 132 IP
Weighted 3-year: 4.34, 135.2 IP
He doesn't have much of anything left in the tank, but none of the guys below him ever had much in the tank to start with. He can't strike folks out any more, and his walk and HR rates are precisely average. Batters aren't getting many line drives against him, so he's not total scrap heap material. Nonetheless, I'd bet on D.J. Houlton doing better than him, perhaps by a lot.

7. Esteban Loaiza
2004: 4.69, 183 IP
Weighted 3-year: 3.53, 189.2 IP
Had an amazing season in 2003. His home run rate was ridiculously low for U.S. Cellular Field, he had an outstanding walk rate, and his K rate was well above average, the only time in his career his K rate reached average. His 2004, on the other hand, saw his walk rate approach average, his home run rate sink well below average, and his K rate revert to his old balls in play self. There's no reason to expect anything close to 2003 again.

8. Eric Milton
2004: 4.86, 201 IP
Weighted 3-year: 4.36, 132 IP
He's got wins, so he'll probably have dollars. He shouldn't, though.

9. Jose Lima
2004: 4.89, 170.1 IP
Weighted 3-year: 4.59, 112.2 IP
At least, unlike Billy Beane, this guy's @!#% works in the playoffs. Reports indicate he won a raffle at a magic store, getting himself a lifetime supply of smoke and mirrors. I think he used up the whole supply last season.

10. Ismael Valdez
2004: 5.74, 170 IP
Weighted 3-year: 4.81, 158.1 IP
Even Lima's raffle prize couldn't save him now.

An uninspiring group. Clement and Millwood in tandem, though, would be pretty solid.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Evaluating Edgar

I've mainly switched this blog to Dodgers analysis, but today's Renteria signing had me wondering: was Renteria's 2004 the result of bad luck or decline?

The answer: decline.

Renteria did have some degree of bad luck in 2004. He's an excellent line drive hitter, and his .220 LD% would indicate that his .317 batting average on balls in play was about the low end of what should be expected. However, even if he'd accomplished his career high .348 BABIP from 2003, he'd hit .314/.348/.428; good, but not $40m, 4 years good.

Renteria simply saw a marked decline in every area of offensive performance. I looked at the five year period from 2000 to 2004, and 2004 was Renteria's worst year for BB/PA and HR/PA and his second worst year for K/PA. Conversely, 2003 was his best year for K/PA and trailed only 2000 for top marks in BB/PA and HR/PA. Additionally, his 2003 featured a career high in doubles/triples per plate appearance, while his 2004 returned to roughly his career average.

Put differently, in 2000 Renteria drew walks and hit home runs at a solid clip with a decent strike out rate. In 2001, the home run rate came down, the strike outs increased a tad, and the walks disappeared. In 2002, the walks regained a little bit, the K rate improved by a lot, and he added some doubles power. In 2003, the home runs, walks, K's, and doubles all improved substantially. In 2004, the plate discipline disappeared and some of the home runs came with it.

Defensively, Renteria is worth maybe a win above average, if UZR is to be believed. Offensively, he's either average (2004), outstanding (2003), or somewhere in between. Based on the shape of the data, I'd say odds are that he improves a little bit over 2004 but not by much; 25-35 runs above replacement looks about right to me. All told, Renteria's worth about five, perhaps six, wins above replacement. $10 million per looks kinda steep to me.

Keith Ginter On the Move!!!

I must be some kind of geek, nerd, or what have you, because when I saw the Keith Ginter trade I thought it was a blockbuster. The A's traded Justin Lehr and Nelson Cruz for Ginter. Lehr is a decent reliever but not something the A's needed. Cruz is an outfielder who struggled in the minors for years but had a breakout season in 2004 at age 24, and could be a late bloomer. Ginter is a poor fielding, solid hitting infielder who has played mainly second base and third base.

There are two ways to read this trade for the A's. The first is that they've solved their whole at second base by picking up a player who can provide above-average offense and substantially below average defense. As an everyday second baseman, his bat is worth about 1-1.5 wins above the average offensive player and his glove should be worth about two wins below average, making him slightly below average overall; not bad for the league minimum.

The second way to read the trade is that Ginter, whose defense doesn't at all match the A's apparent 2004 philosophy (good defense, not a lot of strikeouts from the pitching staff), provides offense that is good enough for him to be an excellent right-handed platoon caddy, even with his poor fielding. That's something the A's obviously could use, as they have more lefties than the entire nation of Elbonia. At the same time, however, one wonders if this could signal an impending trade for a left-handed second baseman. Someone, perhaps, who does what the A's typically look for in a player, namely reaching base and playing good defense.

Being even more speculative, perhaps our southpaw glove man with on-base skills would be someone who could be relinquished by his current team fairly easily, perhaps if they have a young second baseman waiting in the wings or have recently acquired a second baseman. And heck, it would certainly help if that second baseman was relatively cheap and property of a GM that Billy Beane liked to deal with.

Processing...

Results: CORA, ALEX, 2B-L, LOS ANGELES

But what do the A's have that the Dodgers would want? If memory serves me, there were some rumors about a trade between the two franchises over the weekend, but I just can't recall the name of the young gentleman Oakland was reportedly offering. One wonders if Mr. DePodesta could acquire said gentleman for Mr. Cora and a pitching prospect of some sort. One wonders.

Trading For Victory

Every stathead has a few bizarre player fetishes. Here's my biggest one.

Using JC Romero's formula for ERA based on K/9, HR/9, BB/9, and batted ball type data, I ran two names using their 2004 data and the Dodgers' 2004 Defensive Efficiency Ratio of .711:

Player A: 3.75 ERA
Player B: 3.78 ERA

That small difference in ERA should be made up for by the fact that Player A's average opponent hit .256/.325/.407 and Player B's average opponent hit .259/.327/.417. Player A is 9 months younger than Player B.

Player A will probably make $7 million or more next season. Player B will make just over the league minimum.

Player A you know. His name is Odalis Perez. Player B is named Victor Santos, and he's property of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Santos was signed by Detroit out of the Dominican Republic in 1995. He improved solidly in his first several years of pro ball, and at age 22 he was impressive at double-A and looked like a solid prospect. Unfortunately, injury struck, and his 2000 season was wasted. I'd tell you what kind of injury struck, but I haven't found that info anywhere. In 2001, he began the season with the Tigers pitching long relief, and he did well, although his high walk rate was an ominous sign. In May, he was made a starter but didn't fare well. He was sent back to the pen and then down to AAA, where he made six unimpressive starts. The Tigers, so far as I can tell, decided he'd be better off as a reliever and called him back up. He finished the year with a 3.30 ERA in 76.1 innings.

In spring training, 2002, the Tigers flipped Santos to Colorado for Jose Paniagua. The Rockies decided to give Santos some time in Triple-A, which unfortunately meant going to Colorado Springs. Santos racked up a lot of K's in Colorado Springs and didn't surrender many walks, but fly ball pitchers simply don't fare well in that environment, and his 5.72 ERA showed it. The Rockies called him up after the Dennis Reyes trade (see the Konerko entry for more on that gem) and gave him some time out of the bullpen and two starts. Santos couldn't maintain his control, though, putting up a 7.6 BB/9, the major factor in his 10.38 ERA. When the season ended, Santos was released.

Santos ended up with the Rangers' organization in 2003. He played for most of the year in AAA Oklahoma, putting up a 3.41 ERA. He was called up in June and made four spot starts but was hammered pretty badly, posting an ugly 7.01 ERA. In December, he signed with the Brewers.

The Brewers started Santos in AAA Indianapolis and called him up to pitch out of the bullpen. In May, he was added to the rotation. Through July 31, he was doing great, with a 3.66 ERA and excellent peripherals. After that, though, his numbers started to look ugly. Upon closer examination, however, his late season swoon makes more sense. He did have one very bad start against the Mets in early August, but then faced Atlanta, Chicago, and then Philadelphia twice, three contending teams with good offenses, and had a 6.05 ERA in 22.1 IP. However, in those four starts he only gave up 12 BB and 3 HR while K'ing 20, certainly not excellent but not as bad as it looks. In his next start, he shut down the Pirates but developed a blister on his middle finger that cracked his nail, making it difficult for him to throw. He skipped his next start and then was awful in three of his last four starts, although he did dispense with the Cardinals in one of those starts. I think it's fair to argue that this final month, which came when he'd had a finger injury and occurred in the first season since 1999 that he'd pitched 150 innings in a season, is not a fair indicator of his true performance level.

Part of Santos' success was almost certainly Mike Maddux, who's pretty much universally regarded as an excellent pitching coach. Moreover, Santos doesn't have a history of pitching many innings in one season. I don't think either of those factors are strong enough to make me think Santos won't be capable of putting together a strong season in 2005.

The Brewers have several candidates for slots 3-5 in their rotation behind Ben Sheets and Doug Davis. Chris Capuano, Wes Obermuller, Ben Hendrickson, Jorge de la Rosa, and the newly-acquired Jose Capellan are all younger than Santos, and the Brewers, so far as I can tell, are pretty high on them all. The Brewers are in need of bullpen help after trading away Dan Kolb and Luis Vizcaino.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have an elite closer in Eric Gagne, a promising set-up man in Yhency Brazoban, and will probably re-sign Wilson Alvarez, who has been excellent out of the bullpen. They've also got Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara, and Elmer Dessens and will see if they can get D.J. Houlton to stick on the roster. Even if Houlton doesn't stick, that's still six relievers, assuming neither Dessens or Alvarez are moved to the rotation.

So why not a Carrara and cash for Santos trade? I'm totally ridiculous, as you can tell, but darn it, I like this idea, and I'd love to see the Dodgers investigate it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More Pierzysnki

In my last Pierzynski post, I said I wasn't sure he'd be worth trading for. I had assumed at the time that the Giants would put him on the block; I wasn't expecting them to waive him. Now that he's on waivers, the equation is different.

Before: does (Pierzynski) + (Rose/Wilson) -$4,200,000 -$320,000 = 2(Rose/Ross/Wilson) - 2($320,000) - (Carrara) ?

Now: does (Pierzynski) + (Rose/Ross/Wilson) -$4,200,000 -$320,000 = 2(Rose/Ross/Wilson) - 2($320,000) ?

To be honest, I don't know exactly why I suggested Giovanni Carrara as an example of someone who could be traded; I really couldn't think of who the Dodgers could offer that fits SF's paradigm.

How to answer this? Well, I used Tangotiger's formula for linear weights rate runs created, which should be a good approximation of value. I have ZiPS data for Mike Rose, Dave Ross, and Tom Wilson, but I don't have it for Pierzynski. So to compile A.J.'s numbers, I took his 2005 stats, converted his two triples into doubles, converted one of his HBP into an out, took away one home run, and made his batting average on balls in play equal .300. Some would call that arbitrary; I'd prefer the term ad hoc adjustment.

Using these numbers, per 650 plate appearances, Pierzynski is good for 76.6 runs, Wilson 73.6, Rose 73.3, and Ross 66.3. A combo of Pierzynski and Wilson would thus fare best offensively, and they'd be platooned. That would mean about 225 PA for Wilson and 450 for Pierzynski, with Wilson's numbers improving since he'd face mostly southpaws. Wilson actually has a very big platoon split, so I adjusted his numbers up to 85 RC/650 PA. Their combined total, then, is 82.5 runs over 675 plate appearances. Pierzynski's defense is pretty average, and Wilson's is fairly poor, so that duo would be about 5 runs below average, so we'll credit them with 77.5 runs.

Mike Rose is a switch-hitter, so a Rose/Wilson platoon could also optimize Wilson's production. However, I don't know what Rose's left/right splits are, so I'll be conservative and use Wilson's overall numbers. With the same 225/450 split, they'd provide 76.2 runs over 675 PA. I don't have any substantial data on Rose's defense; I've heard it's not bad, so let's pencil him in for -5 runs, bringing this duo's total to 66 runs.

Ross' defense isn't good enough to make up the gap vis-a-vis that duo, so I didn't run the data for him.

Based on this, it looks like Pierzynski's marginal value relative to what the Dodgers have on hand is about one and a half wins. Not bad, but given the likely size of his contract in arbitration, probably not worth it. Three million for an extra win is a poor investment. Now, there are other intangibles involved: Tracy might not entrust the job to Mike Rose and/or Tom Wilson, fans might not appreciate Rose/Wilson, and so forth. However, Pierzynski isn't exactly an Intangibles All-Star, either, so I don't think that's grounds for a decision. Moreover, ZiPS is certainly not the end-all, be-all of future performance, so you can take this analysis with a pinch of pepper. That being said, I think ZiPS' projections for Rose and Wilson are pretty reasonable, and the margin of reasonable error is not large enough to make Pierzynski a prudent investment.

I think, all told, that Pierzynski is likely undervalued. However, the Dodgers have done a good job of amassing talent that is even more undervalued already, and the extra money for Pierzynski would be better off helping out the pitching staff.

2005 Dodgers: Chin-Feng Chen

With Ricky Ledee signed as the Dodgers' fourth outfielder, there's a good shot they'll have a right-handed bat on the bench who can play the outfield. The obvious in-house candidates, all of whom are on the 40-man roster, are Jason Repko, Cody Ross, and Chin-Feng Chen. Chen has the inside track for two reasons. First, he had the best offensive season of the trio in 2004. Second, the other two are young enough that they'd likely improve more from another season in AAA than a season as a role player in the bigs.

Chen has gained a degree of notoriety over the years. A highly touted prospect signed out of Taiwan, Chen dominated the high-A California League at age 21 in 1999. Promoted to AA in 2000, though, he struggled mightily. More accurately, he made the transition well in every facet of his game except hitting home runs: he'd hit 31 in '99 and only 6 in 2000. He was demoted to high-A to start 2001, and fared pretty poorly. But midway through 2001 the Dodgers decided, in spite of his rough and power-devoid showing with Vero Beach, to promote him back to AA. This time he dominated, putting up outstanding numbers; the power, walks, and line drives were all out in full force.

2002 saw Chen in Vegas, where he hit a disappointing .284/.352/.503. Obviously, that line can only be disappointing when one is hitting in the PCL and has high expectations, but it seemed an indication that Chen may have topped out. That notion was strengthened in 2003, when he showed only marginal improvement, hitting .281/.360/.530. At the age of 26 in 2004 and repeating the PCL for the third time, Chen's power again made slight improvement as he hit .289/.359/.584, but that improvement certainly was not enough to put him on the fast track.

At this point Chen is likely a failed prospect. One could still conceive of him having a Calvin Pickering-type breakout, but there's no reason to expect it. Nonetheless, a team could do a lot worse than having Chen on the bench. He's no great shakes with a glove, but he ain't Manny Ramirez or anything. Offensively, if he's used exclusively as a lefty-mashing pinch-hitter or spot starter when Olmedo Saenz has the hiccups, he should be above average in terms of raw production, putting up an EqA in the .265-.275 range. In fact, let's play a little game:

Line A: .232/.305/.398
Line B: .240/.316/.448
Line C: .250/.329/.466

Line B is Chen's 2005 ZiPS projection. Line C is that same projection adjusted to resemble what he'd do if two thirds of his plate appearances were against left-handed pitchers. Line A? Shawn Green against left-handed pitching in 2004. Green could still possibly be the Shawn Green of yore who was pretty good at hitting lefties, but if his splits from the shoulder-injury era continue then a platoon would likely be wise. This isn't simply small sample size wizardry, either; Green had 203 PA against lefties last year. And considering that Shawn Green was the worst defensive right fielder in baseball for the 2000-2003 period according to UZR, the defensive drop-off would probably be negligible or even reversed. Now, whether Jim Tracy would tolerate platooning Green and whether Green would tolerate being relegated to pinch-hitter for 35 games is itself a different story. But from an analytical standpoint, I think I endorse a Green/Chen platoon, at least until such time as Green demonstrates he's playing as he did during his peak or Chen demonstrates he's already peaked.

Picture of the Month

Detective Minaya Still Searching For Clues On How To Build A Winning Team

2005 Dodgers: Kelly Wunsch

The Dodgers signed Kelly Wunsch to a minor-league contract on Monday. Wunsch was a big-time prospect way back in the day, going in the first round in 1993. He was slow to make progress in the White Sox system, and in 1999 he was converted to a reliever. He finally cracked the major league roster in 2000 as a lefty out of the pen. He had solid years in 2000, 2002, and 2003, but in 2004 his inflamed teres minor muscle kept him on the DL at the start of the season. He was relegated to Triple-A, and didn't see much playing time, in part because of the shoulder.

Wunsch's injury history in concert with his marginal value is certainly enough to keep him from being worth guaranteed money, but he's the kind of guy who could do well enough to deserve a spot on the roster as the situational lefty. He K's batters from both sides of the plate at a strong clip, but his walks keep him from being outstanding. He's also pretty stingy with the long ball. He's better against lefties, but he hasn't been a slouch against the northpaws either. If he's well, he could provide 30-40 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA. If he's not, he'll probably just hang out in Vegas most of the season, perhaps seeing action in September when the rosters expand.

Wunsch's signing solidifies the likelihood in my mind that Scott Stewart gets non-tendered. Stewart's performance record isn't bad, and his peripherals last season weren't as bad as the ERA would indicate-- he just gave up too many gopher balls in his limited playing time. Still, I'd be surprised to see him back since he'll make at least $700K.

Another effect: Wunsch is a side-armer, and it would be just delightful if he and Steve Schmoll were a side-winding left/right duo out of the bullpen.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Departed Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft

Major League

Marcos Carvajal: High-ceiling pick. Dominated low-A Columbus with good stuff; his K rate was exceptional and he only allowed 2 home runs in 72 IP. Has control problems, though, with a lot of walks and wild pitches. This pick was a gamble by the Rockies by proxy of the Brewers; with the Rockies' needing to use a lot of pitchers per game, it's doubtful he'll stick on the active roster. That being said, with his stuff he could really pick it up and be a solid or eventually dominant reliever.

Matt Merricks: Acquired in the Tom Martin salary dump, Merricks is a lefty starter who does everything pretty well but doesn't excel in any particular area. He was pretty good with high-A Myrtle Beach in 2004, but his shrunken K rate in his brief stay with Vero Beach wasn't very encouraging to the Dodgers. He's probably a better bet to stay with the Rockies than Carvajal, but he doesn't look to have a very high ceiling.

Shane Victorino: Plucked in the Rule 5 draft for the second time, Victorino has an okay shot at sticking around with the Phillies if, as expected, they dump Marlon Byrd. If he hits like he did in Jacksonville, he's ready to be a major league backup, and could eventually develop into an average major league outfielder. If he hits like he did at Las Vegas, he'll be offered back to the Dodgers. I don't think this is much of a loss for the Dodgers; they protected three better fourth/fifth outfielder candidates in Henri Stanley, Chin-Feng Chen, and Jason Repko, and Repko offers has more long-term value than Victorino. The Dodgers don't have that much organizational depth in the outfield, but Victorino's loss isn't really impactful.

AAA

Arturo Lopez: His K numbers improved repeating low-A in 2004, and that's the most he really has going for him. Could eventually develop into a useful LOOGY; probably won't.

Brennan King: Third baseman drafted in the 2nd round back in 1999 who spent the last three years in Jacksonville. Finally flashed a little bit of power in 2004, but at the expense of plate discipline. I don't think he's likely to ever make the majors, and he'll never be a starter.

Alejandro de Aza: He's got good plate discipline. Aside from that and decent speed, not much, although his youth and a left-handed bat could propel him to eventually being a role-player. Hit .255/.346/.352 at Columbus.

Brett Wayne: Shortstop from St. Mary's College who didn't hit in the GCL in 2002 or the SAL in 2003. Converted to a reliever in 2004 and fared well in Columbus, but he'll be 25 next season. Doesn't have a high enough ceiling to be of any concern to LA.

AA

Jared Price: 7th round pick in 2000. A catcher with decent power and walks who strikes out way too much for those skills to be worthwhile. Hit .241/.303/.418 in 192 PA with Columbus at age 22 in 2004; that's his best season yet.

Steve Langone: Boston College grad soon to be 26 had an excellent season with Jacksonville. I'm somewhat surprised the Dodgers didn't protect him, not at all surprised the Red Sox grabbed him. Has never been a priority in the Dodgers system despite producing excellently throughout his professional career. He certainly fits better with the Boston organization than with LA. Wouldn't expect him to be more than an eventual September call-up, but it wouldn't really surprise me if he could toss some league average innings in the bigs eventually. I have no idea what the scouts think about this guy.

2005 Dodgers: D.J. Houlton

Check it out:

Houlton: 4.96 ERA, 158 IP, 137 K, 58 BB, 28 HR
Ishii: 5.33 ERA, 152 IP, 121 K, 102 BB, 19 HR

Those are the 2005 projections for D.J. Houlton and Kaz Ishii from Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system.

Houlton was drafted at the age of 20 out of Fullerton in the 11th round of the 2001 draft by the Astros. He made 13 starts in the Appalachian League that year and was absolutely dominating, with a 71 K and only 7 BB. He was solid in High-A in 2002, with a K:BB ratio of 4.6 and a 3.14 ERA. In 2003, he was good with AA Round Rock before being called up to AAA New Orleans, where he struggled, especially in giving up the long ball. In 2004, the Astros for whatever reason decided to keep him down in AA, where he pitched 159 innings over 28 starts with a 2.94 ERA, 159 K, 47 BB, and 14 HR.

According to John Sickels, Houlton isn't a scout's pitcher, succeeding with a decent fastball and a lot of junk. His results in K:BB can't be argued with, and it looks like going forward the key question for him is whether he can prevent home runs.

He's only pitched 60 innings above AA, and those weren't very successful. However, that happened in 2003, and at age 25 he could be an effective swingman for the Dodgers, probably not quite league average but probably more valuable than Ishii. If it turns out he's not, the Dodgers are only out $50,000.

Sorry I don't have that much to say about Houlton. Wouldn't it be great if Sabean could be convinced to deal Ishii for Pierzynski, straight up?

A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski has been cannon fodder for the BABIP Army. Balls in play were kind to him in Minnesota and openly hostile in San Francisco. Pierzysnki's LD% was .192 in 2004, which means that a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .300-.310 should be about right. Here are his actual numbers from his four full seasons:

2001: .289/.322/.441, .325 BABIP
2002: .300/.334/.439, .338 BABIP
2003: .312/.360/.464, .335 BABIP
2004: .272/.319/.410, .270 BABIP

What happens if we normalize those numbers for a .300 BABIP?

2001: .267/.301/.420
2002: .268/.303/.407
2003: .281/.330/.433
2004: .301/.345/.439

Based on K/BB/HBP/HR, 2004 was Pierzynski's best season. It's not as simple as all that, of course, since it wouldn't surprise me if a player reducing his strike-out rate tends to reduce his BABIP. However, it's entirely unreasonable to expect his BABIP to reside below .300 with his line drive rate above average as it was in 2004 without major external factors. But .300/.345/.439 is, in the eyes of this analyst, a good baseline for Pierzynski's offense over the next two years.

I tried to find data that would explain the BABIP decline. Obviously, the change in league and strength of competition from AL Central to NL West should account for some changem but not of that magnitude. I looked at home/road splits and found no real trend, other than that his road BABIP in 2004 was a ridiculous .254 (his home BABIP was still too low). All signs point to this being largely just a fluke.

With Pierzynski only turning 28 in a few weeks and with the Giants picking up Matheny, Pierzynski looks like a minor steal. He'll likely make about $4 million in arbitration. Is that good value? His defense is between average and good, and his offense should be above average, especially in the context of catchers (and since he's left-handed, the offense of his backup would also see improvement). Using the Net Win Shares Value calculator and a few performance estimates, he comes cleanly out above average.

But if you're like me, you probably have no idea what the Dodgers could give San Francisco to get Pierzynski. Giovanni Carrara and Willy Aybar? Cash? To reiterate, I have no idea. He'd be better than whatever permutation of Mike Rose, Brent Mayne, Tom Wilson, and Dave Ross the Dodgers use, but I don't know how likely it is that the difference in marginal value would overwhelm the expense.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Totally Arbitrary Rumor-Fueled Speculation And Some Payroll Numbers

This mention (BP subscription required) of walk-God Kevin Youkilis along with endless Beltre to Seattle rumors got me thinking: if Boston's negotiations with Edgar Renteria don't work out and LA's negotiations with Adrian Beltre don't work out, will we see Alex Cora for Kevin Youkilis? Would that in turn mean the stathead fantasy of twin Youkilis/Myrow and Choi/Saenz platoons at the corners for the Dodgers, perhaps with a Mike Rose/Tom Wilson platoon at catcher? The Dodgers would rock out with their walks out.

Anyway, I just wanted to visit the Dodgers' payroll data. Seven Dodgers are under contract: Dessens, Dreifort, Green, Ishii, Kent, Ledee, and Weaver. Their contracts total $51.73 million for 2005 (caveat: that's assuming Kent has an even 8.5/8.5 breakdown, something I haven't seen confirmed). In 2006, $10 million is owed between Ledee and Kent, and the Dodgers would either owe $1.3m to Dessens or pay a $250K buyout and have $3.3/1.1 (2006) and $4.0/1.1 (2007) options on Ishii, meaning the Dodgers are on the hook for a guaranteed $12.2 million.

Eight arbitration-eligible players are on the Dodgers roster: Bradley, Carrara, Cora, Gagne, Izturis, Penny, Saenz, and Scott Stewart. This isn't my area of expertise, but I made the following estimates for each:

Bradley: $2.5 million
Carrara: $1.2 million
Cora: $2.3 million
Gagne: $7 million
Izturis: $2.5 million
Penny: $4.5 million
Saenz: $1.0 million
Stewart: $900 thousand
Total: $21.9 million

Be sure to hold those numbers against me at the First Annual "Things I Was Wrong About" conference. It wouldn't surprise me to see Saenz or Stewart non-tendered; I'd say there's a pretty good chance that one of them will be.

If all the arb-eligible players are brought back, then my estimates make a $73.63 million total for 15 players. That means ten more roster spots will have to be filled, and with the likelihood of some folks being on the DL at any given time and to account for the money to be spent on September call-ups, we'll bump that up to 13. Those 13 will make about the $300,000 minimum for the season; I'll use $310,000 for the average since some will get a little over the minimum. That's 28 players, and there will still be another 12 players on the 40-man roster who, to my understanding, will cost $50,000 each. That brings the Dodgers' payroll baseline to $78.3 million. Every player making above the minimum who gets acquired or subtracted would then increase or decrease the payroll by their salary minus $310,000.

So if the Dodgers are going to have a payroll of $100 million and bring back everyone who is arbitration eligible, they'll be adding $21.7m in contracts above the minimum. If, for example, Beltre is re-signed and makes $13 million in 2005 and the Dodgers get Clement for $8 million in 2005, they'd have a $98.7 million payroll. If they deal Cora and non-tender Stewart on top of that, they could acquire someone with a $4.2 million price tag. Of course, the notion that $100 million is a drop-dead budget is fiction, and were that the case free agent contracts would probably be structured to pay more in later years with the Dreifort and Green contracts coming off the books.

Dodgers Acquire Hudson for Paul Konerko and PTBNL

Ten years ago, the Dodgers planted the seeds for a mass exodus. The 13th overall pick in the 1994 amateur draft was Paul Konerko, a right-handed first baseman from Chapparal High School.

On July 4, 1998, the Dodgers, 13 games off the lead in the NL West, sought bullpen help and turned to Cincinnati, which was getting a good year from Ohio native and 1996 free agent pickup Jeff Shaw. In exchange for Shaw, the Dodgers gave up the highly touted Konerko, who was blocked at first by Eric Karros, and a 21-year-old lefty named Dennis Reyes. Shaw gave the Dodgers what they wanted, registering a 2.12 ERA in 1998 and 2.78 in 1999 and registered 129 saves in his four-year stay. When Shaw left, the Dodgers had no relief ace but seven legitimate starters for the rotation, prompting talented prospect Eric Gagne's move to the bullpen. Karros, meanwhile, excelled in '98 after Konerko was traded and had a career year in 1999 before fading into mediocrity in the new milennium.

Reyes was an okay pitcher out of the bullpen for the Reds who could make an occasional spot start, but they weren't particularly enamored with him after three years on the job and he, along with the eminently gloved Pokey Reese, was sent to Colorado before the 2002 season for former Reds teammate and fellow lefty Gabe White and prospect Luke Hudson. Reese wasn't of much use: he'd earned a $3.2 million salary in 2001 and was therefore due to be overpaid in arbitration after putting up atrocious offensive numbers. The Rockies swapped the rights to Reese with Boston for the rights to Scott Hatteberg, who was also due to be overpaid by arbitors in spite of a bad 2001. Two days later, both players were non-tendered and ended up signing with the Pirates and A's, respectively. Luke Hudson was solid in triple-A in 2002 before being called up to the Reds, but injury cost him the 2003 season. In 2004, Hudson rebounded and was solid in nine starts with Cincinnati. Gabe White was solid in 2002 and 2003 before being dealt to the Yankees for cash.

Reyes wasn't done being dealt. At the July 31, 2002 trading deadline, the Rangers were all but eliminated and tried to make a deal for the future with the equally-dead Rockies. The Rangers picked up Reyes and former Rookie of the Year awardee Todd Hollandsworth and sent Gabe Kapler and Jason Romano to Colorado. Reyes was firebombed with home runs in Texas, and his ERA soared; he was non-tendered in the offseason. Hollandsworth also stunk it up in Texas and left via free agency. Not a good haul as far as deals for the future go. The Rockies didn't fare much better. Kapler didn't contribute much to the Rockies and was sold to the Red Sox in 2003 to be Trot Nixon's platoon caddy.

Jason Romano keeps the chain going, though. The Rockies flipped him to Los Angeles in the offseason for Luke Allen, who despite being named Luke is not a pitcher. Allen and Romano were both about as spare as parts can get, and each were value-less in limited major league time. Romano, however, had the good fortune of playing in the middle infield one day in spring training when a Devil Rays scout happened by. On the basis of Romano's excellent spring training numbers against late-inning AA competition, the Devil Rays thought he'd do a better job as a utility man than former uber-prospect Antonio Perez, and Perez was swapped for Romano. Days later, the Rays found out that Romano was not a middle infielder by trade and was, overall, fairly worthless. He was waived and picked up by the Reds (those cats can never have enough outfielders), where he contributed nothing and was injured. Perez had an unspectacular season with Las Vegas, but still translates as well above replacement level and could regain the promise he displayed in 2003. Now he's being mentioned as a key piece in the Tim Hudson deal.

Oh, and what about that fellow Konerko? He was blocked with Cincinnati by Sean Casey and used to fill the Reds' hole at centerfield left by Reggie Sanders departure after 1998. The Reds picked up the promising Mike Cameron from the White Sox. Konerko has spent the last six seasons being one of the better first basemen in baseball with Chicago.

Mike Cameron had a very good season with the Reds in 1999, but the Reds wanted to acquire a bona fide superstar. Ken Griffey came over from the Mariners in exchange for Cameron, mediocre starter Brett Tomko, quasi-prospect Jake Meyer, and some kid named Antonio Perez. Meyer didn't accomplish much, and he's been in more organizations than a high school kid seeking yearbook picture immortality. Cameron was an underrated player with the Mariners for four seasons before becoming a Met last season in free agency. Griffey has spent the last five seasons splitting time between being a good but no longer dominant player, being the target of trade rumors, and hanging out on the disabled list.

Tomko contributed two characteristically mediocre seasons to the Mariners before being jettisoned along with backup catcher Tom Lampkin and infielder Ramon Vazquez to San Diego in exchange for catcher Ben Davis, the decline phase version of formerly utile utility man Alex Arias, and the appropriately-named Wascar Serrano. Lampkin was a competent backup for the Padres in 2002 and then called it quits. Arias was released by the Padres before the season started. Vazquez was solid for the Padres in 2002 and 2003 before having a tough go at it in 2004, and is now part of a rumored deal that would bring Dave Roberts and Byung-Hyun Kim to San Diego for Vazquez and Jay Payton (who would take over the role of Coors-inflated but useful lefty masher/Trot Nixon caddy role from the aforementioned Gabe Kapler). Wascar Serrano stunk up Tacoma for a year and then stunk up the Northern League with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2003. To my knowledge, he's out of baseball.

Tomko was his normal mediocre self with the Padres in 2002 before the pitching-starved Cardinals came a-callin', parting with Luther Hackman and a PTBNL for Tomko's services. Hackman contributed to the Padres by eating 76.2 innings and vomiting 51 runs; he wasn't retained by San Diego and spent last season with Nashville and Buffalo. The PTBNL became Mike Wodnicki, a swingman who didn't play above A-ball until turning 24 in 2004, when he was released and signed back on with the Cardinals' organization. Tomko was mediocre with the Cardinals in 2003 before rebounding to mediocre with San Francisco after signing as a free agent in 2004.

Ben Davis, the other key player in the Tomko to San Diego deal, had two disappointing seasons with the Mariners before being sent to the White Sox along with Freddy Garcia for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed, and Michael Morse. Davis wasn't much help to the White Sox and Garcia's ERA fell as his long fly ball outs in Safeco became home runs in Mobile Phone Stadium. Olivo took over as the Mariners' token disappointing catcher. Morse was suspended in 2004 and was underwhelming in the Arizona Fall League, but nevertheless continues to draw misguided A-Rod comparisons. Reed's value, like Bob Dylan, is still largely Tangled Up in Batting Average, so his .397 average in his September call-up has Seattle fans hot and bothered about the new Mariner Messiah.

The final player in the Griffey trade was Antonio Perez. Perez spent 2001 and 2002 earning the title "failed prospect" before being traded to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn in the compensation deal for Lou Piniella. Piniella has gone on to inspire numerous Floridians while managing the uninspiring Devil Rays. Winn has managed to be equal parts overrated and underrated in his productive but not overwhelming stay with Seattle. Perez had a breakthrough season in 2003, but the Devil Rays didn't like him as much as Jason Romano, and you know the story from there.

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