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July 22, 2011

Divide and Conquer, AL East

The Replacements

by Dustin Parkes

When I first heard the words “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” it was from my grandpa and he didn’t use the word “stuff.” I was at an age where any phrase involving offensive language seemed to me to be the height of hilarity. Fortunately for the purposes of understanding mildly obscene metaphors, my grandfather shared this sense of humor, much like he shared my sense of joy in driving my mother/his daughter crazy with immature behavior and bad language.

I don’t think I heard those words used again in combination until my first week of work after university. My boss was desperately attempting to solicit ideas from bureaucrats during a communications brainstorm session. He wanted to let his minions know that it was okay to offer up incomplete thoughts, partial ideas, and silly suggestions. Nothing that anyone could say would be wrong.

Unfortunately, the room full of government employees took his plea for creativity to mean that he believed everyone present to have little in the way of brains. While probably true, it wasn’t what he intended to express. The brainstorm session was not a success.

If baseball has an equivalent to a brainstorm session, it’s spring training, a time when ideas, strategies and players themselves are all thrown against the proverbial wall to see what will stick.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the replacement player. What available players, at little or no cost, end up lacking when it comes to contributing to their teams’ success, they more than make up for in helping to shape our system for measuring players’ value.

Every team—normally before the season begins, but sometimes during the year—will offer minor-league free-agent contracts to players in the hope that they can overachieve and do something that no one else thinks they can. In the parlance of this post, they hope that they will stick. Even in the almighty American League East, teams scrounge through the bargain bins of baseball in search of lost veterans who might find themselves again, forgotten prospects who might be remembered, and other diamonds in the rough.

Here is a list of each AL East team’s minor-league free-agent signees who have recently found themselves on their organization’s active roster.

Baltimore Orioles
Mark Hendrickson—After making almost 20 appearances for the Orioles’ Triple-A team in Norfolk, the tall, left-handed reliever was called up in July and appeared in three games, pitching a total of six innings and allowing three runs on six hits and two walks. FIP: 4.26. WARP: 0.1. Likened to: a reliable saltine cracker that’s okay to eat assuming you’re not relying on it for taste or to stave off hunger.

Mitch Atkins—After starting the season in High-A, the 25-year-old right-handed pitcher worked his way through the Orioles’ system, finally appearing for the big club at the beginning of July. He’s started three games for Baltimore, racking up 21 hits and three walks over 10 2/3 innings. FIP: 8.83. WARP: 0.0. Likened to: a hitting tee.

Chris Jakubauskas—A starter, a reliever, and a longman. No, this isn’t the beginning of an awful attempt at a baseball joke. It’s the many roles that Jakubauskas has filled as he does whatever it takes to stick with the Orioles. Starting six games and making appearances in relief in eight others, Jakubauskas has pitched a total of 44 2/3 innings, giving up 33 runs on 59 hits and 20 walks. FIP: 5.43. WARP: -0.1. Likened to: the guy in your office whose name you don’t know how to pronounce, and by now it would be too embarrassing to ask, so you just send him down to the minor leagues while hoping you never have to deal with him again.

Mark Worrell—Yet another member of Baltimore’s “sticky” right-handed relief corps, Worrell pitched in his first major-league game of the season on July 18, facing three batters, all of whom got on base and all of whom eventually scored. FIP: 1.93. WARP: -0.1. Likened to: the short preview of a movie you have very little interest in ever seeing based entirely on the preview that you watched.

Clay Rapada—This southpaw is back in Norfolk for the time being, but during his two-plus months with the Orioles, the 30-year-old hurler managed to allow eleven runs to score in only 12 1/3 innings. Of the 56 batters he faced, 20 got on base. FIP: 5.68. WARP: 0.0. Likened to: aged cheese that didn’t get better the older it got.

Total Replacement WARP: -0.1.

Boston Red Sox
Andrew Miller—The former Tigers prospect, turned Marlins prospect, turned Marlins disappointment was traded to the Red Sox last season for a player who was eventually designated for assignment. This offseason, Miller signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox, finally making his debut for the big club in late June. Over five starts, the lefty has given up 17 runs on 30 hits and 16 walks in just over 25 innings pitched. FIP: 5.38. WARP: -0.2. Likened to: a girl who “ain’t pretty, she just looks that way.”

Jarrod Saltalamacchia—Our first position player of the bunch, it’s almost hard to believe that the Red Sox starting catcher signed a minor-league deal, considering all of the money and prospects that the team has spent filling out the other positions on the roster. Nonetheless, Ol’ Salty has caught 58 games for the BoSox, ranking behind Carlos Santana but ahead of Matt Wieters in terms of True Average. TAv: .273. WARP: 1.0 Likened to: see Jakubauskas, Chris (but with talent).

Rich Hill—After starting the season in Triple-A Pawtucket, the southpaw was called up in early May and has delivered in a small-sample-size way for the Red Sox, pitching to 30 different batters without allowing a run on three hits and three walks. FIP: 1.43. WARP: 0.2. Likened to: Great Some Expectations.

Total Replacement WARP: 1.0

New York Yankees
Eric Chavez—Not rooting for this guy is akin to being an evil jerk. Before his most recent backslide, health’s prodigal son got on base in 41 percent of his 39 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be Eric Chavez without an injury, and that’s what befell him in early May. TAv: .303. WARP: 0.4. Likened to: Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable, if only he were a good guy.

Freddy Garcia—True Story: if Garcia starts 30 games this season, he could be looking at up to $3.6 million in additional performance bonuses. Just past the halfway point, the 34-year-old right-handed pitcher has already started 16 games, allowing only 131 of 411 batters he’s faced to get on base. FIP: 3.71. WARP: 1.2 Likened to: a winning lottery ticket that turns into a pumpkin if you don’t cash it in time.

Bartolo Colon—Just three years ago, Colon commanded $14 million for his services. This past offseason, he signed a minor-league free agent contract with the Yankees that at best would pay him $900,000. He’s earned every penny so far. FIP: 3.42. WARP: 1.3. Likened to: a bigger winning lottery ticket that turns into a bigger pumpkin if you don’t cash it in time.

Luis Ayala—The 33-year-old right-handed reliever has provided unspectacular yet steady bullpen assistance for most of the season, making a total of 27 appearances and collecting 28 1/3 innings of major-league pitching. FIP: 3.42. WARP: 0.1. Likened to: the mat in the doorway that never gets recognized by guests but always makes sure that they don’t track dirt into the house.

Gustavo Molina—You’ll excuse me if I don’t pass judgment on a player who has only made six plate appearances all summer for his big-league club. No, you won’t? Well, that’s just not very nice. TAv: .171. WARP: 0.0. Likened to: the youngest brother in your family who grew up with your mom and dad long after you had already moved out. I mean I guess technically he’s your brother, but…

Cory Wade—The Yankees nabbed this right-handed reliever after he tore up the minors with Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate. With no opportunity for promotion, he switched sides to New York, where he’s already racked up almost 14  innings in just over a month of service. FIP: 3.14. WARP: 0.1. Likened to: that pitcher whom you totally didn’t notice at all during the season, but now that he’s blown/won a playoff game, you’re going to remember him forever and let your impression be informed solely by that one outing.

Total Replacement WARP: 3.1

Tampa Bay Rays
Juan Cruz—Only Joel Peralta (barely above being considered a replacement player himself) and Kyle Farnsworth have accumulated more innings out of the Rays bullpen this year, and neither has more strikeouts per nine innings. Unfortunately, neither has allowed nearly as many walks per nine innings as the 32-year-old right-handed reliever, either. FIP: 3.66. WARP: 0.3. Likened to: Ricky Vaughn.

Casey Kotchman—As long as he’s facing right-handed pitching, he has proven himself to be one of the bigger offensive threats on Tampa Bay this season. That’s as much a compliment to Kotchman as it is an insult to the Rays’ complete and utter lack of offensive threats behind Ben Zobrist. TAv: .317. WARP: 1.7. Likened to: a Swiss army knife that only works as a bottle opener, but boy, does it open bottles with aplomb.

Felipe Lopez—After two stints in Tampa Bay this year and somewhere near 100 plate appearances, it seems obvious to most that Lopez’s better days are behind him. And by better, I of course mean “still able to compete at the major-league level.” Surprisingly, the dude is positively raking in Triple-A, but he just can’t seem to transfer that to the highest level any longer, despite two separate opportunities. TAv: .209. WARP: -0.3. Likened to: an old yo-yo that’s so broken down it’s not even worth bringing up to your finger to send back down again.

Total Replacement WARP: 1.7

Toronto Blue Jays
Corey Patterson—No batter in the Blue Jays lineup has hit from the number-two spot as often this season as this left-handed hitter. Corey Patterson. Batting second in the lineup. In 2011. After starting the year injured, Patterson came off the disabled list to provide some timely hits for the Blue Jays in the early going. Unfortunately, “timely” was the only type of hit he was getting, and eventually those turned into their cousins: the less timely. Still, he should finish the season with more plate appearances than he has in any year since 2007 and could even have a shot at signing his first non-minor-league contract since 2007 in the upcoming offseason. TAv: .242. WARP: 0.0. Likened to: the epitome of a replacement player.

Total Replacement WARP: 0.0

Conclusion
They’ve either got stickier walls in New York, or they were right in their belief all along: their stuff really does smell like roses. It almost seems wrong to give credit to the Yankees on this one, but the team with the highest payroll in baseball is also making the best scrap-heap pickups in its division.

Dustin Parkes is the editor of The Score’s baseball blog, Getting Blanked.

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