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March 30, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • McCarty in 2004: David McCarty's last-gasp bid to make the Opening Day roster continues. The 34-year-old tagged two home runs late last week, in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak. The fact that he's only drawn one walk this spring would be cause for more concern if he didn't now have six homers, one off teammate David Ortiz's major league lead.

    Two key injuries could help the McCarty campaign--one obvious (Trot Nixon), and one less so (Byung-Hyun Kim). It's no secret that McCarty's wielding a hot bat, but with Bronson Arroyo moving into the rotation, the Sox are also searching for another arm. Remember, McCarty's left one was used briefly this spring in a semi-aborted effort to become the next two-way player in the Brooks Kieschnick mold.

    Conventional wisdom regarding unconventional roster tactics says the two-way utilityman is best utilized in the National League. But there's no downside to versatility in either circuit, and the mix-and-match Red Sox, who have shown a willingness to platoon and pinch-hit aggressively, surely want to squeeze every last drop of value out of their 25th roster spot.

    Even if McCarty was only used for mop-up innings, so what? The Red Sox have more than their fair share. This table, which lists win-loss records by final run differential, shows that the 2003 Sox had:

    72 games decided by 4 or more runs, vs. league average 64.
    40 games decided by 6 or more runs, vs. league average 33.
    20 games decided by 8 or more runs, vs. league average 15.

    With almost a quarter of their games decided by six or more runs, and nearly an eighth by at least eight, it seems McCarty could add value simply by throwing strikes and allowing Terry Francona to rest his higher-quality bullpen arms. By hitting .383/.396/.809 this spring, McCarty's forcing the Sox to at least consider the possibility.

    Fun fact: McCarty was drafted third overall in 1991, ahead of teammate Manny Ramirez.

  • Special Effects: Two weeks ago, Dayn Perry pointed out a common misconception: Dodger Stadium, widely known to suppress run scoring, also curbs home runs. Not so fast, say the component park factors found in The Scouting Notebook. Dodger Stadium's three-year park factor for runs is 81, meaning that it dampens scoring by about 20%. But its park factor for home runs is 99, i.e., average. Dodger Stadium earns its pitcher-friendly reputation by stifling batting average, doubles, and especially triples--not homers. Perry's lesson for analysts: holistic park factors tell incomplete stories.

    In many ways, Boston is the converse of Los Angeles: L.A. has six months of summer; Boston has six months of winter. In L.A. it's hard to find a bad burrito; in Boston, it's impossible to find a good one. The most annoying guy in Los Angeles is Ben Affleck; the most annoying guy in Boston...oops.

    The ballparks also mirror one another. Fenway Park is well known, correctly, as a hitter's park. But it's not particularly friendly to home run hitters. Here are the numbers from The Scouting Notebook:

    
                     LA      BOS
    RUNS             81      102
    AVG              92      104    
    2B               82      116    
    3B               52       98
    HR               99       89
    LHB-HR           95       75
    RHB-HR          101      105
    
    

    Fenway faithful know the old park's spacious left-center field is the place where fly balls go to die. One corollary is that fly-ball pitchers, particularly right-handed ones, might find haven in Fenway, at least relative to other "hitter's" parks. How might Theo Epstein try to exploit this information? What type of pitchers might Theo Epstein try to woo--over Thanksgiving dinner, say? How about a right-handed, flyball-prone, stat-savvy Curt Schilling?

    Over the past three seasons, Schilling's slugging allowed is a paltry .376. Breaking that down into components--"cSLG"--we can see how much damage was attributable to singles, doubles, triples, and homers. Compared to all of Major League Baseball over the same time period, 2001-2003, we see this:

    
    MLB                                cSLG    % of Total
    Singles                 86,361    0.173        37%
    Doubles                 26,340    0.158        34% 
    Triples                  2,783    0.011         2%
    Homers                  15,724    0.126        27%
    Total                             0.469       100%
    
    Schilling (allowed)                cSLG    % of Total
    Singles                    408    0.159        42%
    Doubles                     98    0.076        20%
    Triples                     10    0.012         3%
    Homers                      83    0.129        34%
    Total                             0.376       100%
    
    

    Schilling's certainly not a home-run pitcher in the same way that Sammy Sosa is a home-run hitter. But of the limited damage done against the big right-hander, significantly more than league average is done by way of the long ball. The numbers seem to suggest that in 2004, Schilling's departure from the Bank One Ballpark launching pad (HR park factor: 118) could help him keep a handful of those balls in the yard.

    If so, look out. PECOTA pegs Schilling for a 3.50 ERA this season, with frightening upside. Got your eye on that 90th-percentile projection? So does Schilling.

Cincinnati Reds

  • On the Mound: The Cincinnati chapter in this year's book discussed the 2003 rotation at length. In summary: they were worse than the Brewers; marginally better than the Tigers and Rangers; and the 10th-worst team overall since 1969. What has been done to address this gaping hole?

    The 2004 rotation is shaping up as: Lidle, Paul Wilson, Jimmy Haynes, Acevedo and Harang. Let's take a quick look at each of them:

    • Cory Lidle: Unlike his 2002 and 2001 seasons, in 2003 Lidle failed to come on strong after the All-Star break. The good news is, PECOTA projects a significant rebound for 2004. The bad news consists of two parts: First, his top comp is last year's edition of Elmer Dessens, and second, that is the highest VORP of any of the projected starters.

    • Paul Wilson: Will Carroll red-lighted Wilson in the 2004 Team Health Report. His 2004 projection is also for fewer innings. This is somewhat offset by improvements in his HR and strikeout rates, but two of his top five comps are Todd Ritchie's 2003 season and Cal Eldred's 1999 season.

    • Jimmy Haynes: A similar story to Wilson above (red light from THR, Ritchie and Eldred as comps) but with a worse overall projection: 95 IP, 5.29 ERA, 1.20 K/BB ratio, -1.0 VORP.

    • Jose Acevedo: His peripherals look good (6.8 K/9 vs. 2.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9); his projected innings seem low. Barring another injury, he would appear to have far more upside than the first three. The most obviously relevant and recent comp in his top 10 is Frank Castillo's 1995 season with the Cubs.

    • Aaron Harang: PECOTA is guardedly optimistic for his first full year in the National League, with a projected VORP of 9.8 in 106 IP. Not a lot of upside, though, with a breakout rate of 13.9%.

    As a whole, this year's rotation seems likely to outperform last year's significantly. Given the injury red lights for Wilson and Haynes, it seems likely that Brandon Claussen will spend some time with the big club, and he actually has a higher VORP projection than Wilson, Haynes, Acevedo or Harang. If Brandon Larson can stick this time around, that Boone-for-Claussen trade may look better and better as the season goes on. Given that Boone's season ended before it began, Jon Lieber is opening 2004 on the DL, and the other performance and durability question marks in the rotation, surely the Yankees wish they had Claussen now.

Florida Marlins

  • This Time I Really, Really Mean It: Team President David Samson has announced that the self-imposed deadline that the team had established for locking up state financing for a new ballpark, originally set for March 15, has been extended. Though Governor Bush has pledged his support for the would-be field of dreams, the legislature is considerably more reluctant, so much so that there's concern that the financing bill won't even be introduced this session, much less secure approval.

    Samson's proclamation, of course, nicely illustrates the absurdity of the whole stadium financing dance. Building off the warm fuzzies generated by the team's World Series victory only takes one so far; there's real money on the line, and realpolitik involved in procuring it. The Marlins claim they need about $115 million in state financing in order to make the deal work. Though Florida isn't facing a budget crisis of Californiaesque proportions, that isn't chump change, especially when the state is contemplating having to leave about $400 million worth of health and human services programs out of their desired budget.

    Our solution? Rather than raising the roof in an attempt to drum up support for the project, the Marlins ought to lower the roof--or rather, get rid of it entirely. Let's take a look at the publicly available data on the cost of construction for the 10 ballparks to open since 1997 (all data taken from ballparks.com; we've excluded Turner Field because of the special considerations associated with it originally have been built as an Olympic facility, as well as Tropicana Field, which was built many years before the Devil Rays were a beating heart in Vince Naimoli's womb):

    
    OPEN AIR STADIUMS: 
    Citizens Bank Ballpark          $346.0M
    Comerica Park                   $300.0M
    Great American Ball Park        $297.0M
    PETCO Park                      $285.0M 
    (excludes land acquisition and infrastructure costs)
    SBC Park                        $255.0M
    PNC Park                        $237.0M
                    (excludes land acquisition costs)
    
    AVERAGE                         $286.7M
    
    RETRACTABLE ROOF STADIUMS:
    Safeco Field                    $517.6M
    Bank One Ballpark               $414.0M 
    Miller Park                     $400.0M
    Minute Maid Park                $250.0M
    
    AVERAGE                         $395.4M
    
    

    Surely, these figures need to be taken with all the usual disclaimers. The sample set is fairly small, some of these figures are subject to scrutiny, and there are many factors that have an influence on ballpark construction costs, apart from the presence or absence of a roof.

    But look at the difference in the two averages: approximately $110 million, or almost exactly the amount of the current budget shortfall. The Marlins are said to desire in the neighborhood of $400 million to build their stadium, consistent with the average price tag of the last three retractable roof facilities. If they were willing to go with an open-air facility instead, perhaps receiving a token contribution from the state in addition to their existing private and city financing, ground on the new facility would already have been broken.

    The Marlins are sure to claim that axing the retractable roof would be a deal breaker.

    [enter Jeffrey Loria's subconscious]
    These Prospectivus guys--they're all from California, where it's always 68 degrees and partly cloudy. They don't understand what it's like to play baseball in South Florida. A retractable roof is not so much a luxury as a necessity. I could really go for some nachos. Where's that Samson. Samson!!!.
    [exit Jeffrey Loria's subconscious]

    There's no doubt that the combination of frequent rain and humidity makes the Miami area a less-than-ideal climate in which to play ball. But baseball is played in lots of less-than-ideal climate. The Rangers drew well in Arlington until very recently in spite of the sweltering Texas heat; the Giants have no trouble luring people to SBC Park even with a brisk nighttime air temperature that can dip below 50 degrees. Fans are more than willing to pack an umbrella or some sunblock if the team on the field is competitive, and the relationship between team and city is sound.

    Retractable roofs, indeed, belong in something of the same category as cell phones: the world went on for many years perfectly well without them, and could continue on perfectly well if they were to disappear from the face of the earth. Invention is the mother of necessity. Spare the roof and spoil the Marlins.

New York Yankees

  • First Pitch: The Yankees took special care to make the trip to Japan for a two-game set with the Devil Rays as small a disruption as possible. They adjusted sleep patterns before breaking camp in Florida. They superhydrated the players on the flight over, asking each player to drink 16 ounces of water for every hour of the flight. The effects remain to be seen, but if the Yankees are jet-lagged upon their return, it's not for lack of effort.

  • On the Mend: The Yankees and Devil Rays both have some extra roster spots for the first series of the year, but some roster moves were necessary. Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez start the season on the DL. Hernandez is still recovering from shoulder surgery and the Yanks expect him to be ready in May. A similar time frame for Lieber is the result of the Yankees' caution. The groin injury won't hold him out that long, but altering his mechanics to compensate for the injury would put more pressure on his elbow. If Donovan Osborne looks like...well, Donovan Osborne, there could be some pressure to bring Lieber back earlier. Osborne started in an exhibition game Monday against the Hanshin Tigers and got pounded, giving up seven runs in just two innings.

    Travis Lee will start the season on the DL, meaning Tony Clark will be the backup/defensive 1B spotting Jason Giambi. Bernie Williams has not been placed on the DL in order to keep him available for the first series stateside. The Yanks will play a man short rather than disabling him. The expected push of Giambi to designated hitter didn't happen, however, with Torre opting to use Ruben Sierra at DH.

  • The Lineup Card: Joe Torre had a couple surprises when he announced the opening lineup. Beyond the DH slot, there was a bit of clubhouse acrimony when Kenny Lofton was told he'd be batting ninth rather than his preferred leadoff. Torre has indicated that he wants Lofton leading off, rather than Derek Jeter, but a slow spring of .174 with no steals forced Torre's hand.

    The rest of the lineup is no surprise. Jeter leads off, followed by Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield. Catcher Jorge Posada is in the six slot, with Sierra, 2B Enrique Wilson, and Lofton closing it out. Wilson's hold on the 2B job is said to be strong, but the Yankees have been rumored to be sending out feelers for trades. Peter Gammons reports that the Oakland A's are also looking for a keystoner, so the market could be interesting as Billy Beane and Brian Cashman go shopping.

  • Who's Hot: Bubba Crosby forced his way onto the big club with a great spring. He hit .385 with two homers, but this isn't a fluke. Crosby bashed the PCL last season with a 1000 OPS, and PECOTA projects him to be an average major leaguer. As a fourth outfielder, some pop and a good glove is all most teams look for.

    With Osborne looking shabby, Jorge De Paula may get the April 10th start, one of the few that a Yankee fifth starter will make in April. He'll work out of the bullpen until then, as will Osborne.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Only Gamble what You Can Afford to Lose: The Pirates had more runners thrown out on the basepaths than any team in the major leagues last year, but it could have been worse. According to Michael Wolverton's analysis of baserunning outs, four teams paid a higher price for their blunders than the Pirates did. And while the Pirates cost themselves a lot of runs in terms of scoring probabilities, they didn't actually do themselves much damage.

    Pittsburgh was 7-4 in the games it suffered a kill at home plate. Of the four games they lost, only one of them can reasonably be blamed on the out at home. Only one of the 12 outs came after the seventh inning, and since 11 of the 12 failed attempts to take home occurred at PNC Park, the Bucs look like they were willing to take chances so long as they still had plenty of at-bats in hand. The overall picture is that whatever "cost" the Pirates paid getting thrown out at home, their outs weren't rally killers and really didn't hurt much.

    
    Date  Runner     Outs    Cost    Score            Final
    8/11  A Nunez     0    1.3932    losing 6-4       lost 6-4
    8/30  C Wilson    1    1.0888    tied 0-0         lost 13-6
    8/29  J Kendall   1    1.0888    unknown          won 6-5
    8/16  C Wilson    1    1.0888    losing 1-0       lost 6-4
    7/8   K Lofton    1    1.0802    winning 1-0      won 8-7
    7/6   A Nunez     1    0.9073    winning 2-0      won 8-3
    6/29  C Rivera    2    0.7941    winning 9-0      won 9-0
    6/27  A Ramirez   2    0.7941    winning 5-1      won 5-3
    5/15  M Stairs    2    0.5996    winning 2-0      lost 6-2
    8/11  T Redman    2    0.5216    losing 2-0       lost 6-4
    7/18  J Reboulet  2    0.5216    winning 5-1      won 7-2
    5/21  J Kendall   2    0.5216    winning 5-0      won 5-2
    
    

    That August 11 game is the one we can blame on the outs at home. In the first inning with the Cardinals leading 2-0, Tike Redman got thrown out at home trying to tag from third with two outs. In the eighth inning the Cardinals were up 6-4 and the Pirates had runners on first and second with no outs. Redman singled and Abraham Nunez was thrown out at home running on the arm of Jim Edmonds, who threw out Redman in the first, with Pittsburgh's two best hitters coming up. The Pirates failed to score in the inning and lost 6-4.

  • You Can Even Use the Hooves: As we have noted a couple of times, the Pirates had the worst bullpen in the National League last year, and in previous PTPs we have looked at the bullpen fixes Littlefield brought into camp this spring and the prospects he could use if he wanted to go Weaver's way. A last option for the Pirates would have been to scour their own minor leagues for unheralded and unproven--and therefore cheap--talent. Here are a few players so unheralded they didn't even make our book this year:
    
                    Level       IP   H    BB   K    ERA     2004 ERA
    Jim Mann        Triple A    62   38   20   48   3.06    4.12
    Jeff Bennett    Triple A    23   26   12   12   6.56    4.64
                    Double A    60   45   23   62   2.72    ------
    Shawn Camp      Triple A    43   50   15   36   4.98    4.26
                    Double A    29   26   11   35   4.34    ------
    Mike Johnston   Double A    72   49   27   65   2.12    4.83
    Neal McDade     Double A    73   75   18   48   2.72    5.87
    Todd Ozias      Double A    61   47   17   52   1.62    4.27
    Rick Palma      Double A    69   70   24   61   3.67    4.42
    Brady Borner    Double A    25   24   10   19   3.96    4.53
                    High A      75   63   12   62   1.68    ------
    
    

    That's not bad for a bunch of nobodies, and their projected big-league ERAs would be on par with the projections for the guys McClendon will bring with him to Pittsburgh. The Pirates had no use for Jim Mann, who is with the Yankees now, or Shawn Camp, who hooked on with the Royals, and the Brewers took Jeff Bennett in the Rule 5 draft. But the Pirates had them and could have used them, and the point--to put a really fine tip on it--is that they could still use a number of their own minor leaguers to fill out the back end of their bullpen, rather than trying to catch the last emanations of heat from spent lightning.

San Diego Padres

  • News and Notes: Let's start off with a few bullet points, before getting to some analysis of this year's projected rotation.

    • Rod Beck left the team, citing personal reasons, and the Padres are likely to miss one of their best relievers from 2003, as he filled in admirably while Trevor Hoffman was out.

    • Rey Ordonez left the team, and the cause was originally cited as personal, but has now been framed as a professional. This is relatively good news for Padres fans, clearing the way for the Padres' #1 draft choice from 2002, Khalil Greene, to be the unquestioned starter at short.

    • Sean Burroughs has won the leadoff spot after doing well in spring training. This is, in part, a tangent to one of the most common stories about Burroughs: his power still hasn't shown up. He smacked 27 doubles last year, good enough for second on the team, but managed only seven homers.

    Last time, we saw that the lineup figures to sport 8 regulars who should add considerable value over a replacement squad, and probably a significant improvement over last year. While the lineup projects to add about 70 runs more than last year, the rotation still had some question marks. Here is how last year's rotation looked:

    
    Player           GS   IP      EqERA  EqH9   EqBB9  EqSO9  EqHR9  VORP
    Brian Lawrence   33   210.2   4.27   8.8    2.2    4.4    1.1    16.6
    Jake Peavy       32   194.2   4.35   8.1    3.4    6.4    1.5    19.6
    Adam Eaton       31   183     4.23   8.7    3.0    6.4    1.0    15.6
    Oliver Perez**   19   103.2   5.60   9.2    5.0    8.9    1.7    -5.8
    Kevin Jarvis     16   92      5.99   11.1   2.8    4.3    1.4   -13.1
    Others*          29   153                                       -45.5
    Top 5 Total      131  784.1                                      32.9
    Total w/ 6th Man 160  937.1                                     -12.6
    
    

    **Included are his stats from his days in San Diego *The list of others includes: Ben Howard (6), Clay Condrey (6), Mike Bynum (5), Carlton Loewer (5), Brian Tollberg (3), Roger Deago (2) and Randy Keisler (2). These are included as an aggregate total with their collective VORP because it is quite easy to consider these as a sixth contributor to the rotation, and aggregate their VORP accordingly. Missing are Joe Roa and Dennis Tankersley, who made one start each, but without a way to separate VORP in one start, they are omitted from the collective sixth man. Please note that the sixth man and the team as a whole don't have an aggregated form of the equivalent stats, since they aren't very easy to aggregate.

    So there you have it, the rotation last year cost the Padres about a win, in the form of 12 runs. Now, let's take a gander at this year's projected rotation:

    
    Player          GS  IP      EqERA  EqH9   EqBB9  EqSO9  EqHR9  VORP
    Jake Peavy      23  148.1   4.75   8.9    3.2    6.6    1.2    14.6
    Adam Eaton      21  183.0   4.23   8.7    3.0    6.4    1.0    15.6
    David Wells     27  174.2   4.03   9.7    1.7    4.3    0.8    29.5
    Brian Lawrence  28  174.2   4.50   9.5    2.4    5.0    0.9    20.1
    Ismael Valdes   20  119.0   5.15  10.2    2.4    4.1    1.2     7.8
    TOTAL           119 799.2                                      87.6
    
    

    For the stats, I used the 2004 PECOTA weighted-mean projections for each player. For comparison purposes, it seems logical to use the first five starters from 2003 compared to these five projected starters for 2004. We can see that the core of the rotation should see marked improvement, thanks to the addition of David Wells, the improvement of Brian Lawrence, and some relative consistency from Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton. This is probably a relatively generous projection for 2004, since an additional 40 or so starts will be needed from somewhere. Either way, the top five project to be about 50 runs better, good for another five wins.

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