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December 23, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Gio Dealt to Washington

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed LHP John Danks to a five-year deal worth $65 million [12/21]

Kenny Williams, ya’ll. The most unpredictable general manager in the game strikes again. After uttering the term “rebuilding” earlier this offseason and trading his team’s closer, Williams decides against dealing the team’s most attractive starting pitcher and opted instead to give him a five-year extension at market value. The deal itself is fine. Danks is a good pitcher with adjusted-Fair Run Averages over the last four seasons of 117, 95, 108, and 108.

The rub is the circumstances around the deal. Rarely does a team on the offset of a rebuilding hand out $65 million. But what can Williams do to accelerate the process? Unless Alex Rios and Adam Dunn bounce back, Williams has two toxic contracts on his hands that do not expire until after the 2014 season. From there, the salaries involved with players like Paul Konerko (due $25 million over the next two seasons) and Jake Peavy (due at least $21 million over the next season, plus a $4 million buyout if they don’t pick up his $22 million club option) negate potential trades.

Williams already dealt Sergio Santos, perhaps his best asset, and that leaves him with few other pieces to cash in. He could trade Alexei Ramirez, Gavin Floyd, and whatever else teams are willing to grab, but for what gains? There are no quick fixes for what ails the White Sox. They need their veterans to rebound. Shy of that, Williams may as well ride it out and hold onto his better young players. —R.J. Anderson

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Jason Marquis to a one-year deal worth $3 million. [12/21]

Marquis and the Twins is such an obvious pairing that the only surprise is how long it took the two to come together. No team covets pitch-to-contact starting pitchers quite like the Twins. Unlike their reputation for being a defense-first team, this ethos seems persistent.

Should the Twins’ rotation include Marquis, Carl Pavano, and Nick Blackburn next season, then they will feature three of the pitchers least likely to get a swing-and-miss on any given pitch. Just take the table below, which features the Twins’ rotation options and their 2011 contact percentages. From there, creating a percentile involves comparing those contact percentages to all pitchers with 1,000 or more pitches in 2011. The higher the percentile, the less often a pitcher missed bats (and vice versa):

Pitcher

2011 Contact %

Percentile Rank

Nick Blackburn

88.6%

99th

Carl Pavano

85.1%

85th

Jason Marquis

84.8%

82nd

Brian Duensing

82.9%

69th

Scott Baker

79.7%

38th

Francisco Liriano

72.7%

4th

Do not confuse Marquis as a pitcher who pounds the zone. According to PITCHf/x data, Marquis threw pitches inside of the strike zone as often as Liriano last season. You would never know based on their walk rates (Liriano walked five batters per nine innings pitched, while Marquis walked a batter every third inning), and that is because sequencing and location comes into play. Marquis’s pitches outside of the zone are more likely to be offered at (and hit) than Liriano’s.

Marquis’s ability to lure batters into hit balls out of the zone leads to pleasant groundball rates. How that plays in front of a defensive unit that finished last in park-adjusted defensive efficiency is a legitimate concern. The Twins turned 2.41 percent fewer balls in play into outs than the average defense would have given their ballpark. The next worst defense (Colorado) turned 1.54 percent fewer balls in play into outs.

Will the defense improve? Terry Ryan did sign Jamey Carroll; then again, he also added Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham—two players not known for slick fieldwork. Emphasizing pitchers with strikeout ability would seemingly be a smart reaction to having a shoddy defense in place, but the Twins have added Matt Maloney and Marquis this offseason, bringing more of the same to Minnesota. —R.J. Anderson

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Brad Peacock, C-R Derek Norris, and LHP Tom Milone from the Nationals for LHP Gio Gonzalez. [12/21]

The A's took an interesting track in trading Gonzalez, and while the haul they received lacks that one elite prospect, they received a trio of four-star level players and a usable extra arm.

The player with the highest ceiling (and also the most risk) of the group is Cole, who turns 20 in January. After earning a $2 million signing bonus as a 2010 fourth-round pick out of a Florida high school, Cole showed why he deserved such a bonus this season. While his ERA was over 4.00 in his full-season debut, he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings with what was, at times, downright dominant stuff. His best pitch is a low-to-mid 90s fastball that touches 96-97 mph; beyond the velocity, he also commands the pitch exceedingly well, and his long, lanky frame provides plenty to dream on in terms of projection. His power breaking ball and changeup both flash as plus pitches but are highly inconsistent, and he will need to focus on them as he develops in the coming years. He'll likely begin 2012 at High-A Stockton and gives the A's the kind of young, high-ceiling arm the system has been lacking for some time.

Peacock lines up as the more big-league ready arm in the deal and one who should benefit from pitching in Oakland due to his heavy fly-ball tendencies. While his strikeout-to-walk ratios have always been impressive, it is the gradual increases in velocity that have turned Peacock into a prospect. Now sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings on a nightly basis, Peacock not only has plus velocity but well above-average command, although his fastball can be a bit straight. He does have a second pitch to attack hitters with in a mid-70s curveball that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch, and his changeup is solid but unspectacular. Because of his combination of stuff and command, his floor is higher than most pitching prospect, but his ceiling might be a mere number-three starter.

Norris is the biggest wild card and a prospect that has become increasingly difficult to evaluate. He has so much power and patience that he can have offensive value even when he hits .210, as he did for Double-A Harrisburg in 2011. When one gets beyond the batting average, a young catcher with a .367 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging is a valuable asset. More importantly, he's an excellent makeup player who has improved leaps and bounds behind the plate. Once seen by many scouts as a player who would need to move to first base down the road, Norris has developed into an average-or-better receiver who has sped up his throwing dramatically, to the point that he's now capable of shutting down the running game at times. Those that like him see him as a Mickey Tettleton type, only with actual catching ability.

Milone has been known throughout his minor league career as a pitcher with walk rates that would make Greg Maddux blush, but at the same time, he has little in the way of stuff, sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s but playing it up due to his location and his ability to add sinking or cutting action to the pitch. His best offering is a changeup that features far more movement than velocity separation, and his slider is merely adequate. There's no reason he can't be an extra arm either in the back of the rotation or the bullpen, but there's also no reason to expect anything more than that. —Kevin Goldstein

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics for RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Brad Peacock, C-R Derek Norris, and LHP Tom Milone. [12/21]
Signed UTL-R Mark DeRosa to a one-year deal. [12/21]

The Nationals’ hunt for another starting pitcher to complement Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman has reached its climax.

Ostensibly, Washington found Gonzalez desirable for the reasons you would think—his handedness, his strikeout rate, his earned run average, his durability, and his contract situation. After all, how often do controllable left-handed starters who can strike out nearly a batter per inning while tossing 200-plus innings a year and posting a 3.17 earned run average over the last two seasons become available? All of those factors combined to make Gonzalez something more than he is.

What Gonzalez is, in a statistical sense, is a better than average starting pitcher with some real and imagined warts. The most tangible of these blemishes is spotty control. Despite those impressive strikeout tallies, Gonzalez has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.94 and just one season—his most recent one—where he eclipsed the 1.95 mark. These struggles extend to his minor league days, when he posted a 2.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his Triple-A career.

Beyond that, much will be made about Gonzalez’s home/road ERA splits, as well as the quality of opponent faced. Yet, Gonzalez’s career component measures are slightly better away from Oakland. Further, he did not benefit from facing his own team’s lineup in the AL West. That left Gonzalez with an opponent True Average of .275 in 2011. For comparison’s sake, the highest opponent TAv on the Nationals’ staff (amongst pitchers with 50 or more innings) was .269, posted by Chien-Ming Wang. In addition, Washington and Oakland finished side-by-side in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, so Gonzalez will neither gain nor lose defensive favor.

With those myths busted, perhaps people can accept Gonzalez for what he is. Alas, more likely is that Gonzalez’s new fan base will dream on his potential, especially in light of the cost. You might hear them saying, “Lefties mature at a slower pace anyway, right?” If you catch a Nationals’ fan in a reverie involving Gonzalez improving his control, wake them gently. Reassure them that there is the possibility Gonzalez takes that next step and becomes a front of the rotation starter. Then, in a gentle tone, remind them that Gonzalez does not need to improve to be a useful piece of the puzzle. He should be okay, just so long as Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman are flanking him in the Nationals’ rotation.

DeRosa last brushed against prominence back in 2009. If you recall, the Cardinals acquired him before setting their sights on Matt Holiday. DeRosa joined the Giants after that season and has all but disappeared since because of injury, as a pair of wrist surgeries due to torn tendon sheaths has limited him to 201 plate appearances since 2010.

The results were ugly when DeRosa did step to the plate, with a .235/.313/.279 line. Still, the Nationals have signed DeRosa to a big league deal with plans to make him their super-utility player. DeRosa is a protean fielder, having played four or more positions in each season from 2001-2009. He’s most commonly played second and third base, although he has seen time in the corner outfield and at the other non-battery infield positions as well.

If DeRosa stays healthy, he fits on a roster that should have every-day players at third base, second base, and the two corner outfield positions. The Nationals will have Andres Blanco in camp, and he could open the season as their reserve shortstop, which would leave DeRosa with limited responsibilities—a good idea in light of his recent injury woes. —R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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