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June 24, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers

by Baseball Prospectus

Chicago White Sox

  • Wretched Performer: If you would have picked a White Sox rotation hound to top the lists of the most effective starter in baseball in March, the pick probably wouldn't have been the guy who's actually there--Esteban Loaiza, but rather facial hair artiste Mark Buehrle. Buehrle's been both bad and unlucky, but mostly just bad. His ERA's 4.90, but that includes four cold-weather, early-season outings against the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals.

    Buehrle's K rate has never been particularly good, and while some pitchers can continue to put up good ERAs without a big K rate, it's the exception, rather than the rule. We received a few cranky e-mails from Buehrle fans about forecasting a major ERA increase for him this season. Turns out, the e-mails probably should have come from people who thought we were being too optimistic. He's likely to get hot and run off a streak at some point, but Buehrle's not as good a pitcher as he looked during his first two years in the league, and if the White Sox are counting on him being a legitimate #1 starter, they're probably overestimating what they've got in hand.

  • Rumor Mill: OK, this might take a while...it's possible that the All-Star Game venue may extend the managing tenure of Jerry Manuel. Who wants to have a big event like the All-Star Game tarnished by a press conference announcing the new interim manager?

    The White Sox are too close to the top of the division (5 1/2 games as of Monday) to throw in the towel, or at least one would think had the towel not been thrown in fairly early years ago. Bartolo Colon is supposedly on the block, but the rumors sending him to Boston seem to be fanciful at this point, especially considering he's complaining of a "tight arm." More likely to move is Tom Gordon, who's apparently enjoying one of his rare healthy stretches. With injuries weakening bullpens in places like San Francisco, it's possible that Gordon could be moved for a prospect by the end of the month.

  • Upcoming Schedule: Any trade activity will probably have to wait at least a few days, while the White Sox get to take their swings at the soft underbelly of Minnesota's rotation--Reed, Mays, and Radke--before taking on the Cubs, then Minnesota again at home, before being served up 10 days of schedule tenderloin--Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. By the time the next White Sox PTP comes up, the 5 1/2-game gap in the standings could well have vanished. The Twins face Milwaukee between their tilts with the Sox, then host Texas and Anaheim before the all-star break. Unless Kansas City faces the Washington Generals and the East Nyack Women's Repertory Theatre in the interim, the schedule advantage over the short- and medium-term goes to Chicago, with Minnesota not far behind.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Balance of the Sierra Madre: Check out these offensive numbers from the St. Louis Cardinal lineup:
    
    Player	         PA	 BA	 OBP	 SLG	SB    CS
    Albert Pujols	 298	.384	.448	.720	0      1
    Edgar Renteria 308	.346	.394	.502	14     3
    Jim Edmonds	 264	.296	.396	.630	1      2
    J.D. Drew	 151	.324	.386	.597	2      1
    Scott Rolen	 285	.291	.399	.533	5      1
    
    

    That's some mighty concentrated offense. Pujols and Renteria are both legitimate MVP candidates, even in a league with Barry Bonds and his .309/.491/.657 line. Most of the role players have been either predictably or surprisingly bad, with the exception of Eduardo Perez. Tino Martinez continues to be the poster boy for not understanding the concept of replacement level, earning his $21 million over three years by playing at a level not too significantly below Billy McMillon. Or, if Billy's too risky, the Cardinals could have probably had Greg Colbrunn for about 20% of the cost, but all that buys is a higher OBP and SLG, so why bother?

  • In the Market: When 40% of your rotation's sporting an ERA in the Lima Zone, the rumors about potentially available starting pitchers tend to run a bit hot and heavy. Jason Simontacchi and Brett Tomko have combined for 27 starts and an ERA in excess of six. So what's the word? Well, for now, the word is that St. Louis is out there looking for a closer, rather than a starter, and the front office believes the rotation will work itself out. Of course, with Jason Isringhausen back from labrum surgery and throwing well, the Cardinals may stand more pat in the pen, and focus on finding a way to straighten out the back of the rotation. The Yankees would be willing to move Jeff Weaver, but the structure of a potential deal with the Cardinals is uncertain at best. Pitching's usually a seller's commodity as the trade deadline approaches, and the Cardinals don't have the currency to enter that market. With Chuck Finley deciding not to re-enter the game, that means speculation, unless the Cardinals are willing to take on a bunch of bad money. This time, it'd be involuntary.

  • Road Food: Usually, if someone's hitting .400+ at home, you'd expect it to be a Rockie--probably Larry Walker, Todd Helton. As of this writing, Albert Pujols is posting a .429/.477/.797 line in the land of Wash U, and he's not even the guy on the club getting the most benefit. Remember Brett Tomko, he of the ERA that would depress a Texas Ranger? At home, he's thrown 45.2 innings with a 3.15 ERA. Once he goes mobile, it's 46.1 innings of an 8.74 ERA. Perhaps that space on the charter can be used more productively. It's sort of like Dr. Maddux and Mr. Rusch.

Texas Rangers

  • Noteworthy Prospect: When assembling the player comments for our annual book, we haven't often written about players below Double-A, and we rarely write about guys taken in the amateur draft. Kameron Loe wasn't one of the exceptions in Baseball Prospectus 2003. But we're not the only ones who missed him. He's not in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook either, and MLB.com didn't have a scouting blurb for him. A total of 591 players were taken ahead of Loe, before the Rangers selected him in the 20th round out of Cal State Northridge. So he wasn't really a "prospect" going into the season, but there he is, with the Midwest League's second-best ERA. He'll be in the book next year.

    Loe wasn't on the NCAA leaderboards last summer. Teammate Bill Murphy was in the nation's top 10 for strikeouts, and the A's drafted him 17 rounds ahead of Loe. Northridge was ranked 18th in Baseball America's Top 25, giving seven players to the draft. As a junior, Loe had a 4.20 ERA and went 5-3 over 84 innings with 72 strikeouts, giving up 90 hits and 15 walks. The numbers don't have a hidden integer: the team's strength of schedule was only 54th in the nation.

    After the draft, Loe made 14 appearances in the Appy League, where his ratios stayed on course:

    
    Level            Year     G     GS     ERA     IP     H      BB     K  
    Short-season A   2002    14     11     4.47    58     64     17     55
    
    

    In the Midwest League he's had the breakthrough his strikeouts and control ratio suggested were possible. His rate of hits allowed came down, and his ERA followed suit.

    
    Level            Year    G     GS     ERA     IP     H     BB    K  
    Class A          2003    17     8     1.50    72     55    14    70
    
    

    His ERA isn't phony. He has allowed six unearned runs, but his runs allowed average is just 2.25. Even if all of those runs had been earned he would still tie Murphy for the seventh-best ERA in the league. Loe has been solid all year--in a five-game stretch from May 10 to May 26 he threw 25 innings and didn't allow a run. His only bad outing was his most recent one, when he gave up five hits and five runs in two innings. Even then, only two of the runs were earned.

    Take the luck factor out of his batting average allowed and he'd probably still be on the board. Loe has allowed only one home run this year, and that was all the way back on May 1. And while he threw five wild pitches in college last year and six more in the Appy League, he has allowed only one this year.

    There is a quirk hidden in the numbers, a product of Assistant General Manager, Scouting and Player Development Grady Fuson's split-start system. The Rangers have split Loe's time between the bullpen and the rotation. On June 20 he appeared in relief and it was the first time this year that he has come out of the bullpen in consecutive appearances. His first game was April 9, as a starter. On April 13 he relieved. And they alternated him every time after that, start-relief-start-relief-start-relief, all the way until last Friday. He has consistently gotten work every fourth or fifth day. There has been no significant difference in the quality of his work, even down to unearned runs--he has allowed three unearned runs out of the pen, and three as a starter. His innings have been close too, with 33.1 as a reliever and 38.2 as a starter. Six of his nine relief appearances have been for at least four innings, and he has gone six innings in only two of his starts. He has been so steady that it would be a surprise if he didn't right himself in his next appearance.

    Loe stands 6'8" and weighs 220 pounds. He played on a successful college team with several players good enough to make the pros. He'll be 22 in September. He has been the model of consistency, no matter how they have used him. The Rangers' faith in him will be indicated by whether they jump him to Double-A or make him prove it in the Cal League. There was nothing in his college profile that screamed "prospect," but there's nothing in his professional performance that says anything but.

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