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February 6, 2004

Prospectus Today

Bullet Point Friday

by Joe Sheehan

Linear thought process? Not on a Friday this deep into the winter. Man, do I need to see some video clips of pitchers, catchers and the back fields of sports complexes. I love college basketball, but it's a poor substitute for the real thing. It's like methadone with a shot clock.

  • Drew Henson, after a six-year baseball career, has elected to go back to football. He's walking away from $12 million owed to him over the next couple of years, although he's likely to make most of that up in a football contract.

    I take no pleasure in this. My objection to Henson's baseball career had more to do with the outsized expectations placed upon him by the scouting community and the Yankees. It was very clear that Henson, despite his size and strength, lacked the skills necessary to be a productive baseball player. He was pushed to Triple-A despite considerable evidence that he didn't belong there. His prospect status as a baseball player was almost entirely a function of his ability as a football player; had he not had that particular trait, he would have been just another guy.

    Credit Henson for how he managed his career. Two-sport athletes should always choose baseball first, because the skills required to play the game--to hit, specifically--atrophy quickly if they go unused. You can fail at baseball and go on to a career in football or basketball much more easily than you can take a few years away from baseball and come back to it.

    I'll root for Henson in the NFL. Other than the way he manipulated his way back to the Yankees from the Reds, I thought he handled his time in baseball well. He very much wanted to be a baseball player, and he didn't have an easy time of it. Not only did he fail to develop, but he was the target of hostility during his time in Columbus (that year at the University of Michigan didn't help) and had to endure criticism from people like me who thought he was unqualified to try. I stand by that criticism, but also by my respect for Henson's determination.

  • Is it OK that I get a little tingle whenever I see that Derek Jeter/Josh Beckett/Alex Rodriguez commercial? I can't put my finger on it, it just makes me feel good about baseball, and about the fact that pretty soon we'll be into spring training.

    In general, the "I live for this" series has been baseball's best ad campaign I can remember. Most of the best baseball advertising has come from its business partners, such as ESPN and Nike. It's really great to see baseball not only putting together good ads, but getting them into places where they can be seen by non-fans.

  • This is weird. I've been thinking fairly highly of the Mets based on the twin signings of Mike Cameron and Kazuo Matsui, largely because I thought the collective effect on the defense would be worth a lot of wins.

    The problem is that the Mets don't seem to have been that bad on defense last season, at least at the two positions those guys will play. The five players who played enough center field for the Mets to get rated in Clay Davenport's system all had positive fielding ratings, and collectively, were only nine runs worse than Cameron was:

    
    Player              CF Innings   Runs
    
    Jeff Duncan            366        +4
    Timo Perez             332        +3
    Tsuyoshi Shinjo        255        +2
    Jeromy Burnitz         156        +1
    Roger Cedeno           131        +2
    
    Total                 1240       +12
    
    Mike Cameron          1284       +21
    
    
    At shortstop, the four guys who did the bulk of the work also all scored positively in the Davenport system
    
    Player              SS Innings   Runs
    
    Jose Reyes             596        +6
    Rey Sanchez            344        +6
    Joe McEwing            242        +2
    Jorge Velandia         177        +1
    
    Total                 1359       +15
    
    
    Davenport projects Matsui to be worth -1 run in 143 defensive games in '04. That's conservative; most people consider him to be a good defensive shortstop. It's hard to project anyone to be worth 15 runs on defense, however.

    If you expect Jose Reyes to be a positive contributor at second base, you can find some improvement there. The four Mets who played the most innings there (Roberto Alomar, Joe McEwing, Marco Scutaro and Danny Garcia) combined for -7 runs. Still, the bump that I thought the Mets would get from their defense is going to be hard to realize. As good as Cameron and Matsui should be, they're not going to be able to improve this team by six or seven wins just with their defense. The Mets just weren't as bad as their reputation in '03.

  • BP intern Sean Passanisi called my attention to an article penned by A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta. I think it's a great read, and I would second Sean's recommendation that you check it out.

  • Towards the end of production on Baseball Prospectus 2004--which should be rolling off the presses soon--I'd asked Lee Sinins to generate some data for me. He did, but I wasn't able to get it into the book. Since I have the note, I figured I'd run it here.

    Best ERA vs. the league average, among pitchers with 100+ career IP:

    
    ERA                             DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
    1    Brendan Donnelly           2.69     1.82     4.50
    2    Mariano Rivera             2.22     2.49     4.72
    3    Scot Shields               1.96     2.55     4.51
    4    Pedro Martinez             1.87     2.58     4.46
    5    Billy Wagner               1.77     2.53     4.31
    6    Troy Percival              1.70     3.00     4.70
    7    Rafael Soriano             1.54     2.96     4.50
    8    Damaso Marte               1.52     2.97     4.49
    9    Bryan Harvey               1.51     2.49     4.00
    10   Trevor Hoffman             1.50     2.78     4.28
    
    
    I'll admit to a man-crush on Brendan Donnelly, who was pitching in the Atlantic League at the start of 1999 and is now 32 years old with the kind of career ERA you just don't see in the live-ball era. Even after elbow pain diminished his effectiveness in the second half, he struck out about a man an inning. Minor surgery cleared out some bone chips, and he's expected to be back in top form to start '04.

    Scot Shields gets a bit lost in the shuffle, but he's gotten his career off to a blistering start as well. His career ERA was down in Donnelly territory before he was moved into the rotation in August. Despite allowing a few more runs, his peripherals were nearly as good as a starting pitcher (55:13 K/BB ratio in 78 2/3 innings), and he finished the year with three straight quality starts. He'll probably find himself back in the pen in '04, however, as the Angels have six starters plus guys like Chris Bootcheck and Kevin Gregg hanging around.

    What's scary is that Shields is probably the #5 right-hander in the Angels' pen, behind Donnelly, Troy Percival (sixth on the list above), Francisco Rodriguez and Ben Weber. That's a ridiculous bullpen, a competitive advantage that not only means that the Angels will be tough when they have a lead, but they will have the ability to stay in games in which their starter gets knocked out early. Where most teams have a soft spot in the back of the pen--one the "take and rake" approach is designed to exploit--the Angels can bring out guys like Shields and Weber to keep games close.

    Every time I consider the Angels, I like them a little bit more. That bullpen is just one big reason why.

    By the way, Lee put that list together using his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, an addictive little toy that allows a journalism major like me to stop pestering smart people like Clay Davenport and Keith Woolner for lists like the one above. My thanks go to Lee for his time, and my apologies go to him for screwing up the link to his site last week.

Have a great weekend.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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