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July 25, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL East
Potential Post-Season Impact Players
Two teams in the NL East are currently in the thick of a division race, while the three other clubs are hovering close to a .500 record with little chance of making it to the playoffs; the Playoff Odds Report has the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves as very good bets to make the postseason while the New York Mets, Washington Nationals, and Florida Marlins each have less than a one percent chance to be playing in October. Still, all of these teams may yet have a player that could still have an impact on a playoff race, whether it is the NL East division race or a stretch run elsewhere. This week, let us take a look at one player on each team who could have a significant impact on his team’s (or another team's) chances at a playoff berth.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Oswalt, Starting Pitcher
Once the playoffs begin, however, Oswalt's play will make a difference. With the rotations shortened in the postseason, there is a chance Oswalt can throw three starts if the Phillies make it to the World Series. PECOTA projects that three Oswalt starts would be worth about 0.5 WARP, which may sound small but is far more important when considering that a team only has to win 12 games to win the World Series. In such a small sample, every half win counts.
Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla, Second Baseman
The biggest concern is the drop in Uggla’s walk rate. While his strikeouts are at a career-low 21.7 percent mark, his walk rate is down from its regular 10 to 12 percent to just 8.4 percent this season. This likely has a lot to do with his increase in swing rate.
Why is Uggla swinging more often than ever before? Maybe he is pressing because of his new long-term extension and the pressures that come along with it. Maybe he is hacking more in order to swing his way out of this extended slump. Or, maybe, this is a change more indicative of a different approach that may continue into the future. In any case, the Braves simply cannot have their fifth hitter underperforming so drastically. If Uggla continues to hit this poorly to go along with his subpar defense, he will have underperformed his current PECOTA rest-of-season projection by 0.8 WARP. While that may not dent the Braves' playoff aspirations, it would certainly give them pause heading into the postseason when runs will likely be at a premium—especially when the team might also end up throwing hapless bats like Alex Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, and Jordan Schafer out there on a regular basis. If there is one player among the struggling Braves that still has a chance to recover, it is Uggla; he is batting .220/.299/.478 with 11 home runs since the start of June, which is a positive sign.
New York Mets: Carlos Beltran, Right Fielder
What can Beltran bring to a contending team? It is important to note that Beltran is hitting at an unbelievable level given his history and age; at age 34, he is posting the second-best TAv of his career (.326), behind only his MVP-caliber 2006 season (.333). The lucky contender that acquires him is expecting to get a good bat, as PECOTA is projecting a .268/.361/.439 line and a .292 TAv going forward, but the team that gets him should not expect him to continue to hit at the top-notch pace that he is currently showing. Furthermore, they should know the type of defender they are getting; Beltran's various knee procedures over the past two seasons have ravaged his once-stellar defense, and now he has struggled to be even an average right fielder.
Of course, the team that does ultimately acquire Beltran is not looking for his glove and will happily suffer a short-term loss of defense in the hopes of a continued hot hitting streak (look no further than the St. Louis Cardinals and Lance Berkman for a similar example). The power he is currently displaying may not stick, but the rest of his peripherals line up nicely with his career marks, meaning this run is not as fluky as one might think would be the case for a guy who just missed the better part of the last two seasons. For a team like the Braves or Phillies—who are each getting little production from one of their outfield spots—a Beltran acquisition represents about a one-win gain for the rest of the season.
Washington Nationals: Tyler Clippard, Relief Pitcher
- He is a reliever who is actually good
Among the teams interested are the Braves, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees. Among teams with at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to the Playoff Odds Report), those teams rank first, tenth, third, and eighth in relief innings pitched, respectively. The Braves in particular are interested, in part to take some of the heat off of the overworked Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters. A word to the wise for teams in home run-heavy parks like Texas and New York, though: Clippard has allowed ground balls at a rate of only 27.7 percent and has allowed homers on 5.4 percent of contacted balls (2011 league average: 3.2 percent) for his career.
Florida Marlins: Leo Nunez, Relief Pitcher
The Phillies apparently inquired on Nunez as part of their plan to bolster their oft-injured (but still effective) bullpen. The Phillies were interested in relievers whom they would control for another season, with San Diego's Mike Adams being the most prized target. While Nunez is no Adams, he would fit the team control aspect of the Phillies' request, and his skill set would play well for the role he would fit into in Philadelphia. Most contenders are looking for relievers to fit set-up or seventh inning roles, and Nunez would be more than qualified for such a position. His capable changeup allows him to face lefties effectively, meaning he would not have to be held to a ROOGY-type role on his new team. His main problem has always been the home run, which would fit poorly in Philadelphia, but as he showed in 2010 (when he flashed a 54 percent ground ball rate), he can suppress home runs when he uses his changeup more often.