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June 28, 2013
The Best Players We Snubbed This Spring
Two years ago, I wrote about the best players who didn’t make it into the Baseball Prospectus Annual the previous spring. They were pretty good players: Ryan Vogelsong, an out-of-nowhere Cy Young vote-getter; Bartolo Colon, a resurrected innings eater; and Al Alburquerque, a breakout relief ace who had been a minor-league free agent a few months earlier. Will this year’s Best Players We Missed be as good? Will they be better? Will they be less good? Will they be Bartolo Colon, Ryan Vogelsong, and Al Alburquerque again? There are questions on the floor, and we must now answer them.
What we would have said: Congratulations on purchasing the largest book ever published! As you can see, it is 46,810 pages, weighs 151 pounds, costs $700 to ship (unless you purchase through Amazon), can’t be opened more than twice without the spine breaking, and will be totally outdated by the time you reach the second chapter (page 1,560). But it does have a write-up of every player ever drafted, including Mike Roth, a ninth-round pick from last June who had a 4.91 ERA in the short-season Pioneer League. You are more likely to see Jose Canseco pitching for the Angels this year than Roth, but hey when the editor keeps sending freakin’ emails to “make sure we don’t leave anybody important out,” then there’s really only one passive-aggressive response possible.
What we’d say now: Roth was a more famous ninth-round pick than most ninth-round picks, thanks to his College World Series heroics with the University of South Carolina. He’s an 80-makeup/30-stuff guy who you’d never bet on but, simultaneously, feel queasy betting against. Rushed onto the big league squad because of early season injuries to the Angels’ staff—he wasn’t even on the 40-man before that—he got pounded for a 9 ERA. Or did he? In 14 innings, he’s got the 10th-best FIP in baseball (minimum 10 innings) and the 22nd-best FRA. The .457 BABIP and 42 percent strand rate explain that. Back in Double-A, he’s been starting, with terrible peripherals.
4. Donovan Hand, .48 WARP
What we would have said:
C: Rodney Lung
1B: George Army
2B: Mike Foote
3B: Miles Head
SS: Wesley Hair
OF: Mike Toothman
OF: Kevin Assman
SP: Leonard Liverman
RP: Donovan Hand
[Matter of fact, we probably did say that, realized how awful it was, and deleted it.]
What we’d say now: Hand made it to Double-A by the time he was 22, and for five years was a reliable arm in Double- and Triple-A for the Brewers. There’s not any particular trick he’s got that recommends him as a keeper; he doesn’t throw a ton of strikes, or get a ton of chases, or get a ton of whiffs, or throw any pitch particularly often. If there’s anything you can say it’s that he has a knack for getting swinging strikes in the zone, particularly on curveballs that he tends to throw up in the zone to right-handers. Yeah, curveballs high. A nifty trick, or a terrible note in a scouting report.
3. Matt Tuiasosopo, .55 WARP
What we would have written: The Seattle Mariners in 2011 finished ninth in the league in OPS from their first basemen; last in OPS from their third basemen; 11th at shortstop; 10th at left field; last at center field; last at right field; and last at DH. Those are all positions Tuiasosopo plays, has played, but didn’t play for the Mariners in 2011, as he spent the entire season in the minors, after which—during which, technically—he was released . If the Mariners—the MARINERS!—decided they didn’t want him in their lineup even once during his age-26 season, it’s hard to imagine another team (let alone a team with any sort of offense or shot at making the postseason) offering him squat.
What we’d say now: The Tigers signed him as a free agent, put him on the Opening Day roster, and have soaked up a .338/.466/.563 line out of him in part-time play. During his two years in the minors he went from being a healthy walker to an extreme walker. With the sixth-lowest O-Swing rate in baseball, he has already drawn 15 walks in 88 plate appearances, after drawing 13 in 210 career plate appearances before this year. He’s mostly a left fielder now, which would be a demerit on any roster but this one. Having seen short-term miracles Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks, and Quintin Berry expire, the Tigers are surely aware that Tuiasosopo is a
2. Ed Lucas, .56
What we would have written: Look, you can tell me he’s some perseverer, big heart, trier. But all I need to know about him is that he’s a Dartmouth Man. We all know what a Dartmouth Man is like. “Elitist, arrogant and chauvinistic” by conventional wisdom, according to Sara Kassir of The Dartmouth. “Hard drinking and generally disrespectful toward women, corporate and money-oriented," according to Dartmouth student Jayant Subrahmanyam. “White, preppy, athletic and fratty,” according to Dip Fasawe. Sterling Beard says the Dartmouth Man “does drugs, sexually assaults women,” a scurrilous bit of hyperbole but damning nonetheless! You can root for a Dartmouth Man if you like. Me, I’ll be over here actively rooting against him, a strategy that has thus far worked darned well for me over nine years of Ed Lucas’ going-nowhere career.
What we’d say now: Yeah, no, seriously, this is the sweetest story. Read every word of it. Lucas is a big dude whose primary achievement—almost certainly the reason that Baseball didn’t kick him out years ago—is being able to stick at shortstop, at least enough to do it in a pinch. That’s the difference between a pinch-hitter who can’t hit a ton—in nine minor-league seasons, he’s had an OPS over .800 just twice—and a genuine utility player. Hits in 14 of the 19 games he has started, and the second-highest WARP on the Marlins. It’s a long way to Kratzland, but the 31-year-old rookie has taken a few solid steps in that direction.
While the Marlins were gut-stabbing the last loyal fan they had all offseason, they were, of course, also adding players. Not players who matter a lot in the whole baseball story, but guys with families and dreams and more skill than anybody could in good conscience just walk away from. Your Chris Valaikas, your Joe Mahoneys, your Ed Lucases. Even if the Marlins are a joke, and remain a joke, and make you so mad with their joke-being, it’s worth remembering that they are, right now, giving a very small number of people the best years of their lives. The awfulest baseball team remains a moral good.
1. Jose Cisnero, .77 WARP
What we would have written: The first time we mentioned him on this site was in 2011: “Least consistent pitcher ever? 42 strikeouts in 24.1 innings, yet hasn't gotten out of the second inning in two of six starts and has a 6.66 ERA.” Second time was in 2012: “Dominican righty has big velocity but relief profile due to shallow arsenal; 28 Ks in 19.2 IP.” The Astros haven’t taken Kevin Goldstein up on the idea yet, as Cisnero finished the 2012 campaign in the same starting role he’s had since he came stateside. The strikeouts plummeted after a promotion to Triple-A and his walk rate, already high, predictably got higher. He’ll be just 24 so there’s still no urgency to move him to the bullpen, but there might be something to be gained by moving him there and letting his two-seamer really thrive.
What we’d say now: Cisnero came into a game on May 4 trailing 8-0. He was left in to mop up as many innings as possible, and it didn’t go well: six runs on his tab in 2 ⅔ innings. I usually hate this trick, and I should probably hate it now, but here goes: Take that outing off his sheet and he’s been ridiculous, allowing four runs (two earned) in 31 innings. Trick aside, it’s a very good line with under-control walks and about a K per inning, but we’re not talking about the next Craig Kimbrel or anything. Still, enough here to write about, at least.