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May 24, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Quad-A Saves the Day?

by Ben Lindbergh

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed 3B Mark Teahen on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 12 (strained right oblique). [5/17]
Called up 3B Dallas McPherson from Charlotte Knights (Triple-A). [5/17]

McPherson is a minor-league masher of the most frustrating sort. In nine minor-league seasons and just over 3100 plate appearances, McPherson has hit 175 home runs, and his .293/.378/.575 cumulative minor-league line looks at first like it would play after a promotion. Yet after five cracks at the majors (albeit only two totaling more than 100 plate appearances), his big-league line rests at .245/.297/.454—the power might be real, but the ability to get on base has been a mirage. Even more alarmingly, McPherson is on the verge of turning 31, and his best days appear to be behind him.

Players like McPherson put writers of a sabermetric bent in a peculiar position. For years, Bill James and his spiritual descendants at BP and elsewhere have argued for the predictive power of minor-league performance, so based on his big numbers, one might think that we’d be beating the McPherson drum. However, our translations have never been kind to McPherson, because his statistics have been amassed in favorable hitter’s parks and leagues; according to this year’s Davenport Translations, McPherson’s .305/.366/.458 performance in the International League this season (in a rare spell outside the PCL) equates to a .239 TAv in the majors, which makes him rather difficult to recommend. (Of course, McPherson has been partially responsible for the harshness of his translations; the algorithms that spit out those unsightly numbers are based on how players who’ve made the same jump between levels have fared in the past, and McPherson’s major-league work hasn’t lent much credence to his PCL performance.)

Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, such as when we put non-prospect Mitch Einertson on our list of the top 50 prospects of early 2005 (tied with Dustin Pedroia) based on a hot half-season in the Appy League, we have to approach minor-league performance with the same caution and caveats that we apply to major-league stats, even if that means that in some cases we end up moving on to the next exhibit. As with any quad-A type, there’s always the chance that something would click for McPherson in an extended major-league sample, but it’s not likely that he’ll do much more than drive the occasional deep fly out of U.S. Cellular Field.

McPherson actually makes an interesting comp for Mark Trumbo, another corner infielder who’s getting a shot with the Angels at roughly the age that McPherson did after putting up similarly large numbers at the launching pad in Triple-A Salt Lake. Our translations have been equally unkind to Trumbo, who’s not taking to the promotion much better than McPherson did, considering the offensive demands of his position.

Before suffering his oblique strain, Teahen was hitting more or less like a player of his abilities would be expected to in a year thus far dominated by pitchers, which is to say not well. In recent seasons, he’s found out firsthand that positional stability often depends on a reliable bat: in 2005 and 2006, when Teahen was first a promising player and then a productive one, he played third base exclusively, but since his bat deserted him, he’s led a nomadic existence on the diamond, filling in wherever a warm body was needed. This season, he’s already spent time at five different positions (although none of them has been shortstop, the only one at which his offense might not sink a team). In retrospect, it’s fair to wonder whether the Royals’ decision to shift Teahen to the outfield after what had appeared to be a breakout season to make room for Alex Gordon interfered with Teahen’s development at the plate, but it’s hard to argue with their need to clear a spot for a more promising player, even if that player ended up being forced to make his own migration to the outfield within a few years.

So where does this leave the White Sox? The South Siders belatedly wised up to Teahen and started the season with Brent Morel at the hot corner, but Morel hasn’t hit either, which could explain why he looks so much like a sad Jay Gibbons in his PECOTA card picture (not that Gibbons has had any reason to smile like this). Unfortunately, they have no real alternatives at third—Omar Vizquel has already played 14 games at the position, but that’s not the kind of alternative we’re talking about. Morel looked like a viable solution heading into the season, and while he’s done everything possible to counteract that impression in his 101 plate appearances to date, the results will likely be less ugly from here.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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LHP Randy Flores assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Triple-A). [5/18]
Signed free agent LHP Randy Flores. [5/17]

Flores was drafted by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 1997 draft and remained in their system until he became the player to be named later in the Bombers’ 2001 trade for Randy Velarde, so this is a homecoming of sorts. Flores’ only positive attribute is that he throws with his left hand, but despite making only three career starts and otherwise entering games only in situations that favored southpaws, he’s sitting on a 98 ERA+, which suggests that it would take more than a platoon advantage to make him worth using on a regular basis.

Flores was off to a fine start at Triple-A Tucson in the Padres organization, but he opted out in hopes of landing a major-league job in the Bronx. With Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte still hurt and Kei Igawa still Kei Igawa, lefties are thin on the ground for the Yankees, so this isn’t a bad percentage play by Flores. If the combined situational powers of Boone Logan and Andy Sisco—his ineffective left-handed rivals in the organization—prevent him from getting any major-league innings, he can opt out again before the All-Star break and take his iffy left arm elsewhere. That the Yankees have been reduced to scraping the bottom of the LOOGY barrel after dumping big bucks on the trio of off-limits lefties above reflects poorly on their spending decisions, but they won’t hit rock bottom until they resort to signing Randy’s younger brother Ron, who washed out of baseball in 2009.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Activated 3B Melvin Mora from the bereavement leave list. [5/23]
Designated SS Josh Wilson for assignment. [5/23]
Placed 3B Melvin Mora on the bereavement leave list. [5/18]
Called up 3B Sean Burroughs from Reno Aces (Triple-A). [5/18]

The last time Burroughs sniffed the bigs, he was playing for a Devil Rays team that was still over a year away from changing its name and its losing ways. In other words, it’s been a while. The left-handed hitter fooled plenty of talent evaluators during his amateur days and ascent through the minors; not only was he drafted ninth overall in 1998 and named to Baseball America’s lists of the top 100 prospects in baseball in every season from 1999-2002, but he climbed the list each time he appeared on it, topping out at number four. Burroughs looked about as can’t-miss as they come even after he reached the majors, but like many can’t-miss prospects before him, it didn’t take long for him to cross over into “bust” territory.

Burroughs’ first full season with the Padres, a .286/.352/.402 campaign as a 22-year-old in 2003, wasn’t bad for a guy remembered as a complete bust, although that line would have looked more impressive in Petco than it did in the team’s final season at Qualcomm Park. Unfortunately, his long-awaited power never materialized (though he did manage to contract a number of injuries), and he was traded to Tampa in a bust-for-bust deal for Dewon Brazelton in 2005. He lasted less than a year in his second organization, and less than six months with his third, the Seattle Mariners, who released him after a short stint in Tacoma.

In his own words, Burroughs spent the next three years doing “nothing, really,” but his inactivity doesn’t appear to have hampered his game. Burroughs earned his promotion with a .386/.434/.571 line in Triple-A Reno, though the usual PCL caveats apply. It would be pretty to think that he grew into some of that projected power during his sabbatical and that the Snakes might have stumbled across the next Josh Hamilton, but Burroughs’ assault on opposing pitching isn’t likely to continue, and it’s tough to see where he fits into the Diamondbacks’ plans. It’s almost as likely that the current incarnation of Burroughs is an Arnaud du Tilh-style imposter who’s managed to fool his former fans and teammates than that the original Burroughs has returned with his talents developed.

Melvin Mora’s transfer to the bereavement list made room for Burroughs, but when Mora returned, Josh Wilson was the one to go, since Wilson was rendered even more expendable than usual by the return of Willie Bloomquist. That doesn’t mean that Burroughs' spot on the roster in secure, since starter Ryan Roberts has actually been the most productive batter on the team. Roberts has faded in May (.236/.377/.364) since a blistering April (.313/.413/.594), and he’s no younger than Burroughs, but a happy ending to this unforeseen comeback is still the less likely outcome.

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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OF Jason Botts assigned to Buffalo Bisons. [5/20]
Signed free agent 1B Jason Botts. [5/19]

Like McPherson, Botts knows a little something about minor-league stats getting lost in translation. The switch-hitter was a 46th-round pick in the 1999 draft, but he quickly upped expectations by putting up some big numbers in the low minors. In Baseball Prospectus 2005, we compared him favorably to Travis Hafner, but those kinds of comps didn’t last long; three years and three major-league flameouts with the Rangers later, we limited our praise to observing that he “could be huge in Japan one day.” As it turns out, we were wrong about even that: Botts got 183 plate appearances for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League in 2008 and 2009 and finished with six homers and 60 strikeouts. (His time as a gaijin did produce this incredible video and song, which made it entirely worth it—to me, at least.)

Botts’ .230/.325/.344 line in 326 plate appearances with Texas is a far cry from his career .291/.393/.480 minor-league record, and the 30-year-old was reduced to playing for the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League before the Mets snatched him up to replenish their depleted roster in Buffalo. Even with Daniel Murphy failing to hit as Ike Davis’ stand-in at first, Botts probably won’t get a call, but it’s somehow reassuring to know that he’s still out there waiting for one.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Placed 3B Mark DeRosa on the 15-day disabled list (Left wrist strain). [5/19]
Recalled Emmanuel Burriss from Fresno Grizzlies (Triple-A). [5/19]

No sooner than I’d noted in last week’s TA that DeRosa’s return had at least temporarily tightened the event horizon surrounding San Francisco’s black hole at third base did DeRosa’s balky wrist act up again, plunging the position back into the sort of state of nature that Thomas Hobbes warned about in Leviathan, his treatise on potential replacements for Pablo Sandoval. This time the wrist required little provocation, as DeRosa was seen to flinch in pain while standing almost motionless in the batter’s box*, as if beset by invisible assailants.

DeRosa was hardly anyone’s idea of an offensive asset at third base; he hasn’t hit since the first half of 2009, but Miguel Tejada has looked so bad on both sides of the ball that it’s easier to imagine DeRosa’s heart monitor showing something other than a flat line. Since DeRosa returned to the DL, Tejada has had sole possession of the hot corner, which doesn’t bode well for the Giants. The good news is that Sandoval is only two or three weeks away, which would bring him back on the short end of the recovery timetable he was originally quoted. The bad news is that until then, George Romero might be more qualified than Bruce Bochy to fill out the third-base portion of the lineup card. 

Current first baseman Aubrey Huff has played 360 games at third without embarrassing himself more than he has anywhere else, and with Brandon Belt raking for Triple-A Fresno since his demotion from San Francisco (.352/.483/.560 in 120 PA), shifting Huff to the hot corner and giving Belt a shot at redemption seems like an obvious short-term fix. The Giants have already shown that they won’t let service-time concerns prevent them from playing Belt, so the only question is where Huff would go once Sandoval returns, since he’s already shown that his glove isn’t suited to an outfield corner. If he keeps hitting more like he did for Detroit in 2009 than he did for the Giants last season, though, he might soon make that a moot point.

*Many Bothans died to bring you that link to the video of DeRosa’s injury. Viewing and sharing baseball highlights has been so frustrating for so long that it’s become almost passé to complain about MLB Advanced Media’s counterproductive policies when it comes to promoting their product on the internet, but permit me this one brief rant. Say you’re a hard-working baseball writer hoping to link to the video of DeRosa’s injury. If you manage to find the page with the story about DeRosa’s injury, you can watch the video, but you can’t link to it. You could try digging into highlights by player or by game, but now we’re talking about an investment of more than a few seconds, and you know how short attention spans are. If and when you find it, there’s no guarantee that the URL you’re looking at will reliably produce the same video you’re looking at, so rather than simply copying and pasting, you might want to email the link to yourself and then copy it, just to be sure. Meanwhile, you could have found most other things you wanted to see (and, many, many more that you never wanted to see) with a simple YouTube search.

There’s a great moment in the fourth-season double episode of The West Wing, “20 Hours in America,” where a group of White House staffers stranded by the Presidential motorcade and forced to make their way across middle America miss their flight because they’ve passed into a different time zone without realizing it. Incredulous, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford, exclaims, “Can we have a civilization?” while Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) takes out his frustration on a nearby guard rail with a tree branch. That’s how I feel when I try to watch baseball highlights on the internet. By the way, because it has nothing to do with baseball, you can watch that West Wing video here.


For further reading, check out R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis Blog entries since last week's installment of TA, as well as Jeff Euston's coverage of a wild week of moves for the Orioles:

Soriano to the DL, Gutierrez Back, and Galarraga Out (5/18)
Boston Nets Morales (5/19)
Oakland Swaps Six Pitchers (5/20)

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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