Thursday, January 06, 2005

Free Agents With "Z" In Their Last Names For Whom the Differences Between U.S. Cellular Field And Dodger Stadium Would Be of Some Significance

So the Dodgers at some point entered negotiations with Esteban Loaiza, according to various non-credible sources and possibly some slightly credible sources.

In my December post about the remaining free agent pitchers, I had Loaiza ranked pretty low. As in, rated below Aaron Sele low. Well, that's kind of an exaggeration, since I "rated" them by an ERA projection based just on 2004 data, not value. So let's re-think Loaiza. There have been four Loazia's of late: the mediocre Loaiza we knew from his entire career, the 2003 Loaiza who was a legitimate Cy Young candidate, the slightly below average 2004 Loaiza with the White Sox, and the unmitigated disaster Loaiza with the Yankees.

Looking at quality of batters faced, the 2003 Loaiza certainly benefited from weak competition (remember the Tigers?), so his feats should be slightly tempered. Likewise, the Loaiza with the Yankees' average opponent was pretty handy with a bat, so that disaster can be tempered a bit (just a bit). There's also the NYY media factor and the Mel Stottlemyre factor involved with that one, so I'm not sure how to incorporate that performance into this analysis.

So for now let's just look at 2004 Chicago Loaiza and decide that bizarro 2003 and Yankees Loaiza's are hoaxes that balance each other out. He gave up his share of home runs, but part of that is certainly the homerriffic U.S. Cellular Field. Adjusting for that, his FIP is a friendlier 4.80, which is nicer and translates to 4.46 in the NL. Loaiza's about neutral in all of his batted ball type peripherals, with substantial year to year swings. To translate that for the doubles advantage of a renovated Dodger Stadium, we get 4.38 ERA wise, and the Dodgers defense should lower that down to the 3.98 area or 4.15 if Shawn Green is hanging out in the outfield for most of that time. Keep in mind, that's what his 2004 Chicago performance would look like translated into a Dodger Stadium 2005 context. That's not an assertion of what his performance will be at Dodger Stadium; it's just a translation.

Loaiza had a one year spike in K/PA in 2003, and that's gone. He also had a steady increase in BB/PA over the past four years even before he was traded to New York, so I don't think it's likely that he's set for an improvement in his peripherals.

He could be valuable, no doubt, but I really don't see him as a likely value at anything over, say, $2.5 million. I think that the difference between having Loaiza in the rotation and having D.J. Houlton as a fifth starter whose spot is skipped when there are days off is fewer than 10 runs over the course of the season.

Then again, what I don't know about each of these guys could fill books. It could turn out that the real Loaiza was what we saw in 2003 and he pitched poorly before and after that as part of some master plan to be in the Dodgers price range this offseason. Sometimes - just sometimes - I get a little over-TINSTAPP'ed, and extend that line of thinking to all pitchers: there is no such thing as a pitcher (though I prefer the more Magrittesque ceci n'est pas un pitcher).

Then again, I wouldn't bet on each of the Dodgers' starters remaining healthy in 2005, so getting Loaiza as injury insurance makes some sense. Or rather, keeping Houlton on the bullpen, getting Loaiza for under $2.5 million, and either returning Sanchez or Brazoban to the minors or dealing one of them to free up the roster spot would make some sense. But I'm not sure how much sense.

[EDIT: Since I didn't make this clear, I'll say that at this point I think it's wise for both Hanrahan and Jackson to pitch at least a half a season in AAA. With neither having had success above AA, I don't consider either one a substantial candidate for the rotation at this point, but obviously that could change. And yes, I know the same is true of Houlton, but as a Rule 5 pick there's an incentive to use him.]

***

An actual free agent with a Z-inclusive surname has apparently signed. He goes by the name Pierzynski, and his price tag was $2.25 million. Before, I looked at his numbers and said that the difference between him and Mike Rose wasn't worth $3.7 million. Is it worth $1.9 million? I don't think so. As you'll recall, Pierzynski walks less than Jared did before he started eating at Subway, and he doesn't hit many home runs. Obviously, he's not the type that benefits from Dodger Stadium. Looking at his past stats, I'd expect that with the Dodgers he'd probably have an ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average, or extra bases per at bat) around .120-.130; even if he rebounds his batting average up to .310 he'll be about .310/.345/.440, with .300/.335/.425 being a better baseline, IMO. That's an above average offensive season in Dodger Stadium, especially for a catcher.

However, while I think Pierzynski will rebound his raw numbers from last season, I don't think it will be by as much as I used to. While his improved strike-out rate looked promising, it appears to have translated into more fly balls and fewer line drives. He's becoming more aggressive, and it's a bad thing. I don't have the infield fly data, but I wouldn't be surprised if an increase there rather than just bad luck was responsible for his lower average. Even if those fly balls aren't in the infield, they're not gonna help much in Dodger Stadium. His line drive rate seems to have fallen from the .230-.240 rate in 2001-2002 to only .190. Now that I've broken it down by balls in play, his 2003 clearly benefited from luck more than his 2004 was hurt by it. His (Hits - Line Drives)/AB was .11 in 2001 and 2002, .14 in 2003, and .09 in 2005. Given that he's swinging away more and that his speed is likely declining, it looks like 2004's raw numbers might be what to expect. In Dodger Stadium, that's even worse, since he'd lose some of those doubles. Given that SBC actually increases singles, doubles, and triples, I crunched the numbers and came out with a luck-neutral .268/.311/.394 for a hitting environment (tough on doubles/triples, neutral on HR/hits) like what I expect Dodger Stadium to be post-renovation.

Furthermore, Pierzynski's hacktastic approach obviously doesn't conform to the Dodger's modus operandi of seeing more pitches in order to tire opposing pitchers. I've yet to study the claimed benefits, but if there is indeed a significant benefit Pierzynski isn't interested in it. He placed dead last among major league players qualified for the batting title in pitches per plate appearance. So he's got that going for him, which is bad.

Mike Rose, on the other hand, looks a lot like post-Subway Jared when it comes to walking, and even though his batting average will probably reside around .240-.250 his OBP should hit .330 or so. A .90-.100 or so ISO should be about right for Rose, so let's say a .245/.335/.340 line. Rose doesn't rake, but the difference between him and Pierzynski comes out to 10 runs if you use the .300/.335/.425 baseline projection for Pierzynski. If my more thorough analysis is closer to what to expect from AJP, Rose comes out a fraction of a run ahead.

Pierzynski is pretty average behind the plate. I don't know much about Rose's defense; if he's very bad, well, picking up Pierzynski may have been worth it. If not, Pierzynski seems like he would have been a waste of cash if you ask me.

That being said, the friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field will make Pierzynski look good enough that we can expect to hear some people whining that we should have gotten that guy with the fancier batting average and more RBI's who came cheap instead of this Rose fella. And they're entitled to holding that opinion, even if it's probably wrong.

Comments:
Just wanted to compliment you on your blog. It's certainly well written and chock full of relevant statistical analysis.

The other problem with Pierzynski is that after the first Bradley-Pierzynski confrontation only one of them will ever be the same again.
 
Another problem with AJP is that for some reason, Depo seems to REALLY value catcher defense. I don't know why that is, but it seems like he does.

Can't wait to hear your feelings on the Lowe deal, btw (I guess depo does read this blog...) It's getting ripped on Primer. I think he's a perfect fit, but I'm suffering from sticker shock.
 
You mentioned DJ Houlton on an earlier post, and I had the pleasure of following him these last few years, as a transplanted SoCal native to the great state of Texas... I can tell you that DJ has overachieved at each level in the minors, having made the all-star team at each level (save 1/2 season AAA). His AAA performance wasn't great (reasons reasons, excuses excuses), yet somehow this guy seems to get it done. At 25, this trade seems to be his shot at the show, and if history holds true, he'll make the team and get it done in whatever role they ask of him. Also, he's a good kid, and everyone in Texas who followed him really WANT him to make it - as do I. I hope he's training properly, and becomes the nicest surprise in 2005.
 
Very valuable piece
 
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