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March 12, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Few people noticed when it came time to vote last fall, but Indians left fielder Jody Gerut was among the most productive rookies in the American League in 2003. In fact, according to a recent article by David Lipman on ESPN.com:
    "...Gerut's OPS mark ranked 61st in baseball, placing him right between Carlos Lee and Rondell White, meaning that at age 25, he played last season as a solid major league regular. Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, lauded for his 106 RBI, finished 30 spots lower. Perhaps the general public's affinity for RBI and batting average (Matsui hit .287 to Gerut's .279) and the spotlight of playing in New York got Matsui 10 first-place Rookie of the Year votes to none for Gerut. He may have fallen short in the hardware department, but Jody Gerut clearly had a great season in 2003 should be a very significant presence in the middle of the Cleveland lineup."
    However, as Chris Kahrl did a fantastic job pointing out recently, OPS--as an end-all measure of offensive performance--is woefully inadequate, leaving just as much out of the picture as it includes. For one, it neglects the shape of the performance in question (i.e., is this guy a lead-footed masher who swings at everything; or is he a high-average waterbug who walks like there's no tomorrow, but can't get the ball out of the infield?). And for another, it ignores things like park-illusions and baserunning, which aren't trivial.

    That said, since we at Baseball Prospectus are kind of in the business of developing more useful ways to evaluate baseball statisitics, let's take a look how Gerut's translated performance--EqBA, EqOBP, EqSLG, etc.--compares to that of Godzilla. Is the difference between the two players as large as a simple OPS ranking suggests?

    
    Player		EqBA EqOBP EqSLG   EqA  MLVr  VORP
    Jody Gerut	.282  .341  .502  .280  .098  17.9
    Hideki Matsui	.292  .362  .443  .278  .083  22.5
       
    
    In a word, no, with a few, minor caveats. Gerut was more productive on a per-PA basis--as evidenced by his notably higher MLVr--but since Matsui received more playing time, he accumulated a higher VORP total. All in all, though, they were roughly the same player--as evidenced by the strikingly similar EqA figures--and not nearly as divergent as an OPS ranking might suggest.

  • Mr. Blue Sky: Unlike some of their American League counterparts, the Cleveland Indians have a relatively large portion of their roster currently devoted to individuals who've yet reach their prime. And yet, while this might not bode well for their success in the immediate future, it does mean that there's room for growth. Right? Let's take a look at position-players currently on the 40-man roster under the age of 28, and their respective Breakout, Improve, and Collapse rates, as handed down by the gods from Mt. PECOTA (OK, not really):
    
    Player		   Pos  Birthday   Break  Improve Collapse
    ----------------------------------------------------------
    41 Victor Martinez   C  12/23/78   14.5%    37.7%    33.8% 
    48 Travis Hafner    1B  06/03/77   16.9%    36.4%    28.2% 
    16 Jhonny Peralta   SS  05/28/82   37.3%    55.6%    30.0% *
     7 Brandon Phillips 2B  06/28/81   43.8%    71.4%    15.1% *
    24 Milton Bradley   CF  04/15/78    5.1%    31.1%    30.8%
    10 Coco Crisp    CF/LF  11/01/79   25.3%    46.0%    26.2% 
     6 Alex Escobar     RF  09/06/78   26.9%    58.1%    29.2% 
     9 Jody Gerut    RF/LF  09/18/77   15.1%    42.4%    27.9% 
    38 Ryan Ludwick  RF/LF  07/13/78   25.7%    50.5%    28.9% 
    65 Grady Sizemore   LF  08/02/82   14.1%    39.8%    29.9%
    
    * Definite example of the "Ugueto Effect"
    
    
    Surprisingly, only four of the 10 players listed are expected to improve upon their performance in 2003, and two of those (Peralta and Phillips) were below replacement-level in '03, meaning that it won't take much to get better. Is it possible that we've been overrating the Indians' rebuilding effort, or is this just another example of PECOTA hedging its bets?

    Barring sufficient evidence, we're going to have to go with the latter option. Victor Martinez is a year removed from being arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, and has absolutely demolished minor-league at every step along the way. He's ready. Travis Hafner will never hit for a high average, but his secondary skills are major-league ready (.231 ISO and .074 ISD in 2003), and he's already 27. Ludwick's been on the map for a while, and doesn't have the upside that Hafner or Martinez does, but hasn't ever received regular playing time, either. Grady Sizemore is younger than a few of BP's interns, but has a nicely rounded skill-set, and could be taking ABs from Coco Crisp as early as July.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • April Showers Bring October Tee Times: Spring Training is the time of year when almost every team and their fans are optimistic about the upcoming season. (If you believe Bud Selig--and how many of you loyal readers do?--that number drops roughly in half.) This optimism is typically fueled by the slanted local rags and what's the harm? Here at BP, though, we take a more objective look.

    Returning Regulars:

    • Shawn Green: The party line--his shoulder should be better and he should return to 2001-02 form. Perhaps, but with off-season surgery and a year of bad mechanics (compensation) to correct are his strength and swing expected to return fully just in a few Spring Training at-bats?

    • Paul LoDuca: With 20 extra pounds of muscle and a switch to left field, LoDuca's sure to maintain production throughout the year. Reasonable, but enough to overcome the value lost in switching from catcher to left field?

    • Adrian Beltre: This is the year he breaks out, the year he reaches his potential, etc. Where have we heard that before?

    • Darren Dreifort: OK, his only regularities are with the DL and a scalpel, but he's returning nonetheless. Dreifort's always been a talent, but some people are starting to wonder if "if healthy" is actually part of is legal name. His pay is guaranteed, so why not hope one of these years he'll actually be worth it? "Because hope can drive a man insane."

    Fresh Faces (where the real hope lies):

    • Jeff Weaver: A once intimidating, and more importantly effective, pitcher in Detroit, Weaver gets a fresh start coming home. Dodger Stadium can cure a lot of woes ala Comerca, but maybe just being 3,000 miles closer to his brother he'll improve simply by osmosis, or is that diffusion?

    • Juan Encarnacion: .270, 19 HR, 94 RBI and 19 steals and a World Champion to boot. Seen another way, though, does.263/.318/.447 sound like the answer?

    • Bubba Trammell: Trammell has his virtues at the plate and here's to him getting the chance to be appreciated for it, but his admission of depression last year is supposed to inspire? Back to actual performance, though, PECOTA doesn't project noticeably more from him that it does from Encarnacion.

    • Jose Lima: There's more Lima Time to be had. Unfortunately, Lima Time is a negative. If Tracy finds a way for him to pitch only in Dodger Stadium, PacBell, Shea and similar HR-supressing stadia, Lima has a chance to mitigate his well-known fetish to the point he actually adds value to the staff. Still his K/BB over the last two years falls short of 1.4. Geesh.

    • Edwin Jackson: With each advancing day of spring training, Jackson seems more likely to secure a starting spot on the Opening Day roster. Would fans be smart to expect domination this year? Probably not. But the hope of another solid starter for 2004 and the promise of more than that in years to come make for some rational exuberance.

  • Penny-wise and Pound-foolish: Team leaders (not that announcers, managers or front-offices don't also misidentify areas of true concern) Roberts, Green and LoDuca plan on having a team meeting to discuss (and thus prevent a repeat of) how the offensive problems last year caused clubhouse tension. Riiiiiiight. The tension was the problem. Why not instead try to fix:
    
    	     AVG  OBP  SLG
    1   Roberts .250 .331 .307
    2   LoDuca  .273 .335 .377
    5/6 Beltre  .240 .290 .424
    7   Cora    .249 .287 .338
    8   Izturis .251 .282 .315
    
    

  • Being a Player Doesn't Make You an Expert Evaluator: The quintessential example of this will always be Derek Bell's Operation Shutdown, as if that was any different than when he played, but less side-splitting, albeit equally poignant, examples are still in great supply. Such as,
    "No doubt about it-I will guarantee this offense will be a whole lot better than last year."
    -- Dave Roberts
    Taking a look at the previous Dodgers PTP, you will see there's a decent chance, short of an impact acquisition, that this year's offense will struggle to "achieve" last year's futility. You have to believe the chances only get worse when Izturis starts batting second.

  • At Least There's Something to Smile About Off the Field: With News Corp no longer in control, Dodger fans can at least look forward to welcoming back a certain Hall of Fame Pitcher.

Seattle Mariners

  • Race to the Bottom: Who will be the least productive Mariner position player to make the team's Opening Day 2004 roster? Please, no wagering on the contestants:

    All have gotten some press in Seattle as potential bench players, though how much of that is standard spring training media sausage-making is up for debate.

    Let's go to the Batcomputer...err, the PECOTA projections. And just for the heck of it, throw in fourth outfielder Quinton McCracken, because nothing spices up a recipe like a little pinch of Quinton. Here are their park-adjusted projected lines, along with what they'll be worth compared to a freely-available scrub that can do their job

    
    Scrub		 AVG	 OBP	 SLG	VORP
    --------------------------------------------
    Owens		.250	.297	.343	-5.5
    Santiago	.246	.318	.339	-0.5
    Ugueto		.234	.293	.327	-0.4
    Bloomquist	.247	.307	.324	-0.3
    McCracken	.258	.317	.370	-0.3
    
    
    Bocachica, unfortunately, doesn't get a projection. But in his four years with L.A. and Detroit, he managed to hit .216/.261/.369 in 333 ABs. He hit 242/.313/.432 in part-time duty for the Toledo Mud Hens last year. Yes, he played 95 games in Triple-A for baseball's most abjectly, absurdly awful franchise, and now he's competing for a bench spot on a team that's supposedly competing for the AL West title. That Toledo line translated out to a .228 major league EqA...which, coincidentally, is what Eric Owens is projected to hit this year. But without a projection, we must disqualify Hiram.

    So the winner is Eric Owens! And the loser is everyone in Seattle!

  • But wait, that's not all: X-rays of Edgar Martinez's stiff neck revealed a bone spur that's been limiting the slugger's ability to turn his neck. The team's previous plan to work around Edgar's usual short absences due to his balky hamstrings was to DH Quinten McCracken. Using advanced napkin mathematics (EQR), we can calculate that the team would give up at least a third of a run every game McCracken DHs instead of Martinez. A third of a run a game. That's pretty huge. Stay healthy, Edgar.

  • After discovering the money, they were immediately hired to hide it again: Consulting firm Deloitte and Touche--known around the Puget Sound for their work sending local AT&T Wireless jobs to India--pegged the Seattle Mariners as the fourth-richest sports franchise in the United States, taking in $208.3 million in revenue. The Red Sox had estimated revenues only $4 million higher than the Mariners, in third place. Boston is expected to carry a payroll of about $130 million heading into the 2004 season. The Mariners may start the season with about $86 million in actual payroll commitments. Deloitte said they based their figures on "financial statements or other reliable sources." The Mariners declined comment.

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