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August 12, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • Great Game: Bill Mueller clubbed three home runs on July 29th versus the Texas Rangers. In doing so, he became one of the most unlikely players in recent history to accomplish the feat. Entering 2003, Mueller had 41 career home runs in 3048 plate appearances (AB+BB+HBP). His established career rate of 13.45 HR/1000 PA is the lowest for any three-homer-game batter with at least that many career PA since Fred Patek hit three on June 20th, 1980 with 36 prior homers in 5747 PA, a rate of 6.26 HR/1000 PA--the lowest for any player since at least 1974.

    Of course, Mueller had shown some power earlier this season. If we include the 10 HR in 363 PA he had before July 29th in his career totals, his established HR rate "skyrockets" to 14.95 HR/1000 PA. That's the lowest HR rate for a three-homer-game since Juan Beniquez hit three on June 12th, 1986 with 65 career HR in 4469 PA to that point (14.54 HR/1000 PA).

    In fact, going back to 1974, only seven batters have had worse career HR rates prior to their three-homer game than Mueller with as many as 1000 PA:

    
    GAMEDATE  BATTER            PREV_PA    PREV_HR  PER_1K
    --------- ----------------  -------    ------- -------
    20-JUN-80 Patek,Fred           5747         36    6.26
    20-AUG-74 Lopes,Davey          1110          9    8.11
    24-JUL-99 Nixon,Trot            281          3   10.68
    18-MAY-82 Herndon,Larry        2445         28   11.45
    29-APR-78 Rose,Pete           10742        143   13.31
    12-MAY-82 Molitor,Paul         2119         27   12.74
    26-MAY-90 Treadway,Jeff        1068         14   13.11
    11-APR-96 Wilson,Dan            887         12   13.53
    12-JUN-86 Beniquez,Juan        4469         65   14.54
    29-JUL-03 Mueller,Bill         3411         51   14.95 *
    14-JUL-79 Washington,Claudell  2670         40   14.98
    18-APR-94 Raines,Tim           8035        126   15.68
    22-JUN-80 Washington,Claudell  2957         47   15.89
    
    

    Also interesting to note is that Mueller's teammate Trot Nixon had one of the lowest career PA totals prior to his three-homer game of anyone in the last three decades:

    
    GAMEDATE  BATTER         PREV_PA    PREV_HR   RATIO
    --------- --------------- ------ ---------- -------
    04-SEP-97 Estalella,Bobby     23          2   86.96
    16-MAY-72 Monday,Rick         86          2   23.26
    10-MAY-96 Young,Ernie        187          3   16.04
    17-AUG-01 Ortiz,Jose         129          2   15.50
    18-JUN-75 Lynn,Fred          274         13   47.45
    24-JUL-99 Nixon,Trot         281          3   10.68
    
    

  • Great Game, Minor League Edition: Bronson Arroyo pitched a perfect game on August 10th, becoming just the fourth pitcher in International League history to do so, joining Tomo Ohka (2000), Dick Marlowe (1952), and Chet Carmichael (1910). Arroyo and Ohka both pitched for Pawtucket, Marlowe and Carmichael both for Buffalo, so those two clubs account for all four IL perfect games over a 120-year span. And in fact, Arroyo's game was *against* the Bisons, giving them a stake in three out of the four perfectos.

    While all four pitched in the majors, only Ohka has had a measure of success. Carmichael pitched just seven innings over two games for Cincinnati in 1909 (the year before his perfect game), without allowing a run. Marlowe pitched two full seasons in relief, and parts of four other seasons, compiling a 4.99 ERA in 243 career innings (ERA+ of 78). Ohka, with 28 career wins, has six more than the other three combined, and a better-than-average ERA.

    Which brings us to Arroyo. After spending parts of three seasons with the Pirates, bouncing in and out of the rotation, he signed with the Red Sox this off-season. He's never posted particularly impressive strikeout rates in the minors, and last year's 7.3 K/9 with Nashville was the first time he's topped seven K/9 for any substantial stretch since 1999. He's also put up mediocre K/BB rates, other than flashes of promise in the PCL in 2001-2002.

    Arroyo's seeming lack of promise is reflected in the trends PECOTA foresaw for him; his most comparable pitchers entering 2003 were littered with the likes of Carl Pavano, Amaury Telemaco, Jose Silva, and the immortal Bill Gogolewski.

    Then surprisingly, in 2003, Arroyo seems to have put things together. He's struck out 149 in 143.2 innings (9.3 K/9IP), with a 6.5 K/BB ratio. He's allowed only nine HR, has posted a 3.57 ERA, and leads the team in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts and wins.

    While he's still not likely to be a star, Arroyo is a good bet to be at least the second-most successful pitcher to throw a perfect game in the International League.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Direction: At the end of unsuccessful seasons, teams can elect to do one of a couple things to ensure fan interest: the team can call up players and fight for some milestone like a .500 season; they can call up youth and try to sell the future hope of the team; or they can make like the football teams that many MLB teams share their cities with and go with misdirection.

    The Reds will do a little bit of all three. The team has enough talent to challenge the .500 mark and dogfight with Pittsburgh for fourth in the NL Central. The Reds will showcase players like Aaron Harang, Ryan Wagner, and several less touted but equally important prospects sure to see the inside of Great American Ballpark in September. Finally, the shadow of Pete Rose will serve to distract the loyal fans of the Queen City as well as the nation from the problems that face the team.

    Since Jim Bowden and Bob Boone were "relieved of their duties" on July 28th, the team has completed what has been widely reported as a fire sale. While it is impossible to truly analyze the effects of any trade in just a matter of weeks, trades such as the Reds made, all based on prospects and cash, are even harder to get a short-term handle on. In 12 games since heads rolled, the Reds are 5-7. They have scored 39 runs while surrendering 42. Compared to the results prior to the firings and trades, this is roughly in line with previous levels.

    Most of the reduction in runs scored and allowed compared to previous levels can be accounted for by location--exactly half of the Reds' 12 games since the changes have been in Dodger Stadium or Pac Bell Park. More interesting facts are found in the analysis of the players lost to trade and the players that have stepped into new roles. While still dealing with small sample size issues of just 12 games, the loss most bemoaned--Aaron Boone--has been adequately replaced by the unsung slugger, Russ Branyan. Boone's MLVr of 0.060 is comparable to Branyan's 0.161 when defense and speed is considered, two areas where Boone clearly exceeds Branyan. Joe Valentine, in essence, replaces Scott Williamson, but it's hard to assess Valentine's performance at this point--Dave Miley has yet to put him into a game.

    In center field, replacing Jose Guillen's unexpected production with Reggie Taylor (or even Ken Griffey Jr.) was going to be a steep drop. While Griffey, when healthy, put up almost exactly half the MLVr of Guillen, Taylor's current level of play costs the Reds nearly half a run per game--or exactly the difference in runs scored and allowed since the changes. Things get worse in right, where Austin Kearns--lost to injury rather than trade--is replaced by Wily Mo Pena, another half-run-per-game drop.

    The pitching is where the improvement shows slightly. Newcomers John Bale, Harang, Josh Hall, Wagner, and a rejuvenated John Riedling all have positive Values Over Replacement Players (VORP), unlike all but one of the starters from the first half of the season. Even Jose Acevedo and Paul Wilson have responded to the changes with better starts, though it's tough to credit anything to the changes since Don Gullett remains in place and appears to have the ear of Dave Miley. Most of the bounty of the trades will come later--in 2004 and beyond--when Gullett gets talented players like Harang, Brandon Claussen, and Phil Dumatrait to work with rather than the parade of poop that he was often given. It's up to Carl Lindner to give the next Reds GM some of the cash brought in trade in order to acquire that one solid starter the team has lacked for most of the last decade.

San Diego Padres

  • A Bright and Shining Contract: on a team with Ryan Klesko, Mark Kotsay, Brian Lawrence, and Jake Peavy, you wouldn't think second baseman Mark Loretta would have much of a chance of sniffing the team's MVP award. But Loretta's been a fantastic find for the Padres this year, playing very productively for a reasonable price. He's hit .350 or better in June, July, and August to bring his season average up to .325--good for sixth in the league--and he's bringing some power and patience to the position as well. Loretta has played so well the Padres declined to trade him before the deadline, and the team just rewarded Loretta with a two-year extension.

    Should Loretta's performance this season be the surprise that it is? A look over his career numbers shows that it probably shouldn't be. Coming in to 2003, Loretta was at .293/.359/.390 lifetime, good for a .262 Equivalent Average. His production has suffered from a spate of injuries--he's already beaten his previous seasonal best of 107 games played since 2000 this year--and he was largely shoehorned into a utility player role with the Brewers and Astros. He's always been a good hitter for average, and his previous employers probably gave up on his ability to hold down a single position too soon.

    Then again, if the season ended today Loretta would have significantly outplayed his 90th percentile PECOTA projection. We've all heard players say they're more comfortable and effective when they know where they'll be playing every day, and that might have something to do with Loretta's season. Another thing to consider is that the Padres are playing him in exactly the right place--while Loretta can play anywhere on the diamond, he's not aggressive enough at the hot corner and doesn't have the range to be a plus shortstop. Second base is the perfect place for a player with Loretta's abilities.

    The financial details of Loretta's contract haven't been made public as this is written, but estimates of $2.5 to $3 million per season have been published, which sounds about right. The Padres just missed late-career lightning in a bottle at second base when they discarded Bret Boone the season before he went bananas with the Mariners, and the team started an astounding 11 different players at second base in 2001 and 2002; it's easy to see why the Padres were so enthusiastic about offering the extension.

  • Closing Time: the Dodgers' Eric Gagne is having another spectacular season, and his perfect 39-for-39 performance in the saves category is getting a lot of deserved attention. But don't forget about Rod Beck, who's at 16-for-16 after closing out Sunday's 2-0 win over the Reds.

    Beck's first save for the Padres came on the 70th game of the season, and assuming he gets a similar ratio of chances in the final 43 games as he did in his first 49 and performs as well as he has so far (a large assumption, to be sure), he'll just make it to 30 saves. When we said earlier this season that the Padres might consider trying to resign long-time closer Trevor Hoffman to a better deal than the huge option he's got for 2004, that's the kind of performance we thought might make this possible.

    This is all academic at this point, because if Hoffman's rehab goes well, he'll grab the closer spot from Beck as soon as he's back. But the Padres would be doing themselves--and their fans, even if those fans didn't realize it at first--a huge favor by doing what they need to do to ensure Hoffman's salary isn't so onerous that he keeps the team from making a move for Vlad Guerrero, Brian Giles, or a similar talent this offseason, and that'll be an easier move to make with an in-house replacement like Beck.

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