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September 23, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • We're No. 2: The Sox announced their presence in the AL East race with authority by taking the first two games of an early-August weekend series in the Bronx to pull within 1.5 games of the division leader. The Red Sox promptly gave back two full games in the next two days by forgetting their bats in the series finale and how to play defense in an opener against the Orioles, while the Yankees handled the Blue Jays. Since then, the Sox have gone 9-4, but the Bombers have surpassed that with a 11-3-1 (thank you, Isabel) stretch, all but securing a second-place finish for Boston once again.

  • Modern-Day Record Holder: With Pedro Martinez's 100th win as a member of the Red Sox on Sept. 16th--he actually has 101 now--he maintains his hold on the modern-day record for winning percentage for a pitcher with a single team (minimum 50 wins), 101-28 (.7829).
    
    Pitcher         Team            W       L       Winning %*
    Pedro Martinez  Red Sox         87      24      0.7838
    Jim McCormick   Cubs            51      15      0.7727
    Randy Johnson   Diamondbacks    81      27      0.7500
    Bill Hoffer     Orioles         78      28      0.7358
    Johnny Allen    Yankees         50      19      0.7246
    Curt Schilling  Diamondbacks    50      19      0.7246
    Ted Wilks       Cardinals       51      20      0.7183
    Spud Chandler   Yankees         109     43      0.7171
    David Wells     Yankees         53      21      0.7162
    Preacher Roe    Dodgers         93      37      0.7154
    * through 2002
    
    

    The all-time record belongs to Al Spalding, who went 205-53 (.7946) from 1871-1875 with the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association.

  • All-time Offense?: On Sept. 17, Todd Walker's ninth-inning double represented Boston's 608th extra-base hit of the season, eclipsing the major-league team mark set by the Seattle Mariners in 1996. That squad hit .287/.362/.484 and crossed the plate a league-leading 993 times (in only 161 games), but finished 85-76 and missed the playoffs.
    
    Team    Year    G   2B  3B   HR  XBH   BB   AVG   OBP   SLG    R
    Seattle 1996  161  343  19  245  607  670  .287  .362  .484  993
    Red Sox 2003* 156  363  39  228  631  605  .289  .359  .491  933
    * through Monday
    
    

    That puts the '03 Red Sox on pace for an extraordinary 655 XBH, but a relatively modest 969 runs, so unless they average more than 11 runs over the final six games, they will fall short of earlier-season projections for them to surpass the 1000-run milestone. However, the Red Sox will gladly forsake that nominal recognition in exchange for a playoff slot.

  • Disastrous Performance: On Saturday, the Red Sox entered the bottom of the seventh at Cleveland with a 4-1 lead. The Sox promptly gave up a seven spot and entered the top of the eighth trailing 8-4. The bullpen allowed five more Indians to cross the dish the following inning. Coupled with an earlier Mariners' win, the late-inning bullpen implosion was particularly painful as the Sox's Wild Card lead that they expected would remain at 2.5 games instead whittled down to only 1.5.

    Regardless, with only eight games remaining and a favorable schedule, BP's Postseason Odds still favored Boston's chances of reaching the post-season. They have since regained a game, thus sitting 2.5 games up with six games remaining, three each against the Orioles and D-Rays.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Goodbye's All We Got Left To Say: The cynics say the move is coming three years and several million dollars too late, but the Reds announced Monday that Barry Larkin has refused a one-year, $500,000 deal and will finish his career with a one-year stint with what his agent says will be a "solid contender." While few contenders seem to be in the market for an injury-prone shortstop years past his prime, he could take the Shawon Dunston role that Dusty Baker perennially keeps on his bench.

    Larkin was the last of the great shortstops before Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter remade the state-of-the-art. Over a period of time from 1980 to 2002 (endpoints selected to make sure that Larkin wasn't aided by anti-selection) and limited to shortstops with 2,500 plate appearances, Larkin ranks sixth in OPS (820), fifth in runs created per game (6.54), and second in stolen bases with 375 and an 83% success rate.

    While no one doubts Larkin has been a productive shortstop over his Reds career, the questions heard most as that career comes to an end are: Is he a candidate for Cooperstown, and just how bad was the contract that Carl Lindner and John Allen saddled the Reds with over the last three years?

    Looking strictly at the Reds, unless the money spent on Larkin was going to be used on pitching or a positional replacement, Larkin was the best available player. In 2001, despite injuries that limited him to under 200 AB, Larkin had a 6.9 VORP, compared to the -2.5 VORP his replacement, Pokey Reese, put up. In 2002, Larkin's full-season numbers were bad, but a 2.9 VORP compares favorably to that of Gookie Dawkins who stunk it up to the tune of -4.7 VORP. Even in 2003, Larkin's 8.4 VORP handily outperformed Felipe Lopez (-4.7) and Rainer Olmedo (-6.6). To be fair, the Cubs put out Ricky Gutierrez and Alex Gonzalez over the past three seasons in the same division and for similar money, and both drastically outperformed Larkin.

    As to the question of Cooperstown, Larkin is something of a victim of his era. Breaking in while Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken defined the shortstop position and leaving as A-Rod and Miguel Tejada power past his legacy, Larkin fails to meet the "best player at his position" test. He was a key component of a World Series-winning team and won the 1995 NL MVP, but he lacks the league-leading stats and other honors that typically catch voters' attention. If Alan Trammell, a very similar player, fails to be enshrined, it will be tough for Larkin's fans to make a stronger case for their man.

  • A Very Long Short List: As John Allen and Carl Lindner pare down the rumored list of 75 candidates to take over the reins of the Reds, certain names pop up and the shadow of the racially-based lawsuit filed by "Doc" Rodgers begins to color the search. While early favorite Frank Wren (Braves) looks like he would pass on the job, three external candidates are moving to the top of the list. Al Avila (Tigers) and Omar Minaya (Expos) would certainly look good when showing off a minority process to the public, and both are qualified candidates. Cubs superscout Gary Hughes, a former Reds employee, comes highly touted and on the heels of team success, making him perhaps the favorite. Internal candidates Brad Kullman and Leland Maddox remain strong contenders, especially considering the rumored lowball salaries that Allen is ready to offer.

San Diego Padres

  • Young Arms: it wasn't long ago that San Diego had some of the best pitching prospects in the minors. With Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy, and Adam Eaton establishing themselves in San Diego and Oliver Perez moving on to Pittsburgh, here's a look at what the Padres have left.

    • Ben Howard, RHP, 24 years old.

      
      2003 club     IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO   ERA
      San Diego   27.2   29  16  13   9  15   19  4.23
      Portland   130.2  118  69  66  17  49   68  4.55
      

      Remember last year, when Howard started the season off in Mobile in unhittable fashion and was called up to the bigs early in the season? Howard's lost some of his shine since then, ending 2002 with 45 mediocre innings in Portland, and he hasn't been lights-out for a sustained stretch in 2003. What Howard has done is firm up his control against superior competition; after giving up .507 BB/IP last year, he's down to .404 this year. Another improvement like that and Howard's back to being a serious prospect.

      Verdict: especially if the Padres do as everyone seems to think they will and sign Greg Maddux next year, there'll be some work for a swingman, and Howard's a good candidate for the slot.

    • Dennis Tankersley, RHP, 24 years old.

      
      2003 club     IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO   ERA
      San Diego    0.0    3   7   7   0   4    0   inf
      Portland   151.0  149  82  78  15  67  148  4.65
      

      You probably remember Tankersley's lone gruesome start for the Padres this year, where he literally couldn't get anyone out. The Tank was once as highly-regarded as Peavy by such prospect experts as Rany Jazayerli and John Sickels, and he's still got the wicked fastball-slider combo that made his opponents at Mobile throw their hands up in frustration. His reputation as an excitable, overly-emotional baseball player is now doing serious damage to his career.

      Verdict: you will not get fair value for a player with this profile, so the Padres will need to give him away or hold on to him. Keeping him at Portland and calling him up for an emergency start against the Dodgers or some other similarly inept offensive club is the prescription here.

    • Mike Bynum, LHP, 25 years old.

      
      2003 club     IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO   ERA
      San Diego   32.2   37  30  30  13  13   34  8.27
      Portland   125.1  130  76  67  11  60  106  4.81
      

      As bad as his major-league numbers look--and they look awful--it isn't time to give up on Bynum yet, either. The 13 bombs at the major-league level are obviously something of a fluke, and as a portsider he'll get (and merit) chances that his right-handed teammates won't. When the slider is snapping, Bynum's a tough pitcher to hit, and he's has stretches of great control--he was at a 3-1 K/BB ratio for the first couple of innings last night in shutting down the Dodgers. To be fair, we're talking about a pretty bad offense, and he ended up giving up three runs in five innings.

      Verdict: another member of the Beavers rotation in 2004. Like the previous two guys, regular work will be a critical component of any success Bynum will have for the Padres at the major-league level, and in case the Padres find themselves in a dealing mood around next year's trading deadline, their chits will look better without being thrown to the fire in the majors.

    The Padres have another option available to them that all three of these guys--especially Tankersley--have the profile to match. We've often intimated that cobbling a bullpen out of guys who aren't making millions shouldn't be as difficult as some teams make it out to be, and all three of these pitchers have done good enough work at Triple-A and are well-regarded enough by scouts and statistics alike that they'd probably be successful relievers. If the Padres somehow end up with a 2003-style cauldron of hopelessness in the Petco Park home bullpen in 2004, that's another option the team can explore.

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