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April 5, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics

by Baseball Prospectus

Houston Astros

  • Tilting to Starboard: The Astros made their final roster moves over the weekend. A quick perusal of the depth chart shows a bullpen with no lefties in it. How did this happen? Here's how: Carlos Hernandez was optioned to Triple-A, Jeriome Robertson...
    
    Akron  (AA)  .273/.317/.470 (194 PA)
    Kinston (A)  .278/.360/.498 (268 PA)
    
    
    ...and Mike Gallo was less than impressive in (eight innings during) spring training.

    (An aside: if the Astros really wanted a Cleveland outfielder, they could have asked for the since-run-out-of-town-on-a-rail Milton Bradley. Houston could certainly use a real center fielder instead of the remnants of Craig Biggio, franchise legend or no.

    This leaves Houston with a bullpen of Dan Miceli and Ricky Stone in short relief, knuckleballin' Jared Fernandez in long relief and spot starting, Brandon Duckworth to remind people that Billy Wagner now plays in Philadelphia, Brad Lidge to set up, and Octavio Dotel to close.

    Ricky Stone had himself a nice little season last year. So did Miceli, after he landed in Houston. But Duckworth and Fernandez in Houston, while Hernandez recovers from surgery and cools his heels in the Big Easy...

    
               Break. Improve Collapse  VORP  Wins
    Hernandez  11.9%  43.0%   24.8%     9.4   1.0
    Duckworth  16.3%  44.2%   28.2%     5.4   0.6 
    Fernandez  24.0%  48.6%   25.2%     2.1   0.2
    
    
    Potentially up there with "I like the way Geoff Blum covers the hot corner" (a choice that almost surely cost the Astros a ticket to the 2003 postseason).

    For those keeping score at home, that's four Astros first-place finishes next to the name Larry Dierker and (so far) none next to the name Jimy Williams. In fact, no Jimy Williams-managed club has ever won its division. (Cito Gaston did get there with the Blue Jays club he inherited from Williams in 1989, after the team started 12-24 and Williams was fired.) Sure, in Boston he had the excuse of sharing a division with a free-spending Evil Empire. But this latest "no southpaws" move may well leave Houston fans wondering if this is really the guy they need at the helm in a Roger Clemens- and Jeff Kent-powered, win now, season.

  • Keystone Kops: Yes, that's right, we said "win now" and "Jeff Kent" in the same sentence above. For in New Orleans lurks 2001 first round pick and 2003 Texas League All-Star Chris Burke. The Astros will be watching Burke's development carefully since Kent is old and expensive, and thus likely to be traded or have his contract bought out at the end of the season. However, Burke's translated line for last year was .260/.328/.343, not the stuff of which dreams are made, but certainly an upgrade over the likes of Jose Vizcaino or spring training survivor Eric Bruntlett.

  • Upcoming Schedule: Here are the Astros series for the month of April 2004: Giants, at Brewers, at Cardinals, Brewers, Cardinals, at Rockies, at Pirates. That's 12 games against the Brewers, Rockies, and Pirates, and nine games against the Giants and Cardinals. Looks like the Astros may get off to a nice start.

    Now let's take another look at that Jason Schmidt-free Giants series:

    Game 1 probable starters: Kirk Rueter and Roy Oswalt

    Game 2: Brett Tomko and Andy Pettitte

    Game 3: Dustin Hermanson and Roger Clemens

    ...and keep in mind that Robb Nen and Scott Eyre are also on the DL. The Astros may have a hot April indeed.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • ...as the Brewers return to Capuano: The Brewers solved their fifth starter dilemma by--so far--not picking one. As opening day approached, they flipped Wayne Franklin (slotted at No. 4 in our depth charts) and Leo Estrella for right-handers Carlos Villaneuva and Glenn Woolard.

    The good news in all of this is that Chris Capuano will likely get his chance to shine in the rotation. Capuano's a Tommy John survivor and doesn't throw real hard. That's the downside. PECOTA sees Capuano logging a 4.64 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP, 135 strikeouts and a 16.8 VORP--second to only Ben Sheets. (You can see for yourself with our team depth charts). Capuano logged a 3.34 ERA with less than a hit allowed per IP, a 2.5-to-1 K/BB ratio, and only nine HR in 143 IP in Tuscon of the PCL in 2003. If things break right, he has a nice upside. While he's not blue chip, fantasy players might be pleasantly rewarded for a late gamble on Capuano. The rotation concerns, highlighted recently in this space still exist but this is an improvement. Kudos to Doug Melvin for getting something for Franklin and Estrella, even if they'll take a while to make it if TINSTAAPP doesn't get them first. He did that while making room for Capuano, which makes it even more attractive. As an added bonus, this ought to provide flexibility by freeing some space on the 40 man roster.

  • "Spivey-Man, Spivey-Man, does whatever a Spivey can": Whether intentional or not, Junior Spivey's comments about being devastated after the trade to the Brewers was announced have not helped his image in Milwaukee. He's a useful player when healthy, which ought to mean more to the Yankees or Cardinals (or perhaps the Red Sox) than the Brewers. He's also NOT likely to repeat 2002, when he ran a .301/.389/.476 line to the tune of 47.3 VORP. The Brewers best hope is that he gets off to a fast start so they can flip him for solid value to the Yankees--or perhaps another contending team. It would be dangerous to fall in love with the idea that he's the player he was in 2002, especially since he's not 27 and doesn't have the BOB as a home park any more. PECOTA's mean pegs him at .256/.341/.428 and a VORP of 24.7, not quite in the same league as his 2002. Not remotely close.

    What he is: a useful player who will hold second base warm for Rickie Weeks. Even if Weeks moves further left in the defensive spectrum, the Brewers could do worse than to put Keith Ginter out there at a bargain price. The Brewers aren't contending any time soon, so they have many options with which to experiment. Hopefully, Doug Melvin can continue to be creative with a bargain payroll.

  • A Glint of Ginter: Speaking of Ginter, it was nice to see him get a shot and, following from that, some security with an inexpensive three-year deal for the Brewers. He's not going to set the world on fire, but he provides cost-certainty and should help the Brewers get to the point where the solid positional prospects mature. He's likely to become a local favorite in beertown, and hopefully will help take some of the sting out Richie Sexson being gone. Pecota pegs him for a .257/.354/.431 line with a 23.8 VORP--remarkably similar to Spivey. His presence makes it all the more logical to get future value for Spivey. Right now he's somewhat of a man without a position. He'd be useful in a utility role, but do you want to do that when you have worse options and you just gave the guy a three-year contract? While we need to acknowledge the concept of sunk costs, Ginter deserves to play somewhere.

    Keith's a great example of the type of freely available talent out there if you take intelligent risks. The Astros didn't want him, but then again Morgan Ensberg is probably going to have to find comprimising pictures of Jimy Williams to guarantee his playing time. Here's hoping more players like Ginter get their shot.

Oakland Athletics

  • Dislocation: A's fans were dealt a blow last week when Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis collided, an injury that resulted in the dislocation of Ellis' shoulder. Initial reports indicated that Ellis would be missing for six-to-eight weeks, but later releases, none of which have been confirmed by the A's, state that Ellis will miss the entire season with a torn labrum. (Another MRI is scheduled for this week.) As is typical of the Oakland organization, the cards are being held inside the vest, but assuming that Ellis is down for the season, the A's options are limited.

    In house, the Athletics have former starter Frank Menechino, perpetual prospect Esteban German, and Mets castoff Marco Scutaro. Here's how PECOTA sees the A's options:

    
    Player      AVG   OBP   SLG
    Menechino  .233  .344  .335
    German     .241  .323  .336
    Scutaro    .247  .323  .386
    
    

    GM Billy Beane has publicly stated that the job is Menechino's to lose, but the former A's regular is battling a calf injury that's likely to keep him out until at least May. Even if makes it back, Menechino is not the A's best option. Despite putting up a respectable .242/.373/.374 line while starting in 2001, Menechino has struggled since, both as the regular in Sacramento and as the A's backup last year. At 33, his best years are likely behind him.

    German has been Oakland's second baseman of the future ever since Jose Ortiz busted in 2001. Unfortunately for him, Ellis switched over from short and took over starting in 2002. German's fast--he's stolen at least 26 bases each of the last three seasons--but other than that, he really doesn't have much going for him. He's defense is consistently and distinctly below average, so he can't separate himself from the other candidates that way.

    Scutaro was picked up from the Mets in the offseason after putting up decent numbers in Norfolk for the past two seasons, including a nice 311/.406/.520 line last year. PECOTA likes his power numbers slightly more than German and Menechino, but other than that, he looks pretty much the same. He's never had a full time job in the majors and it's difficult to tell how he'd perform.

    The good news in all this is that, of all the Oakland regulars, Ellis had some of the smallest expectations placed on him. Ellis hit better in 2002 (.272/.361/.394) than in 2003 (.248/.316/.371) and his real ability is probably somewhere in the middle. PECOTA was only calling for a 254/.323/.374 line from Ellis and, though that looks a little low, it's definitely not irreplaceable. And while Ellis can routinely be seen gobbling up the plethora of grounders the A's staff pumps out, his defense comes out as slightly below average according to BP's metrics.

    Other options that have been publicly discussed are former Red Sox infielder Damian Jackson and current Brewer Junior Spivey. PECOTA, for some reason, likes Jackson for a 264/.328/.371 line despite the fact that his best performance came three years ago in San Diego where he hit .241/.318/.343. (Jackson hasn't exceeded any of those numbers in the majors since 2000 and, at 30 years of age, it's clear that PECOTA's expected offensive jump is due to little more than the fact that he had signed with the Rockies.) Jackson offers nothing more than what the A's currently have in stock and there is no reason to sign him.

    Spivey has been mentioned in rumors with A's pitcher Justin Duchscherer. Spivey certainly looks to have the most punch of the bunch with an expected .257/.343/.431 line from PECOTA. Spivey has put up distinctly average fielding numbers the past few years, but that makes him perfectly acceptable considering the other options. Spivey is still owed the final year of a two-year $2.7 million contract, so his salary shouldn't be an obstacle.

    If the asking price from Milwaukee is Duchscherer, the A's would be wise to accept. With pitching coming out of their ears and no place to play Duchscherer, the A's could afford the upgrade to Spivey. If Oakland decides that keeping Duchscherer is more important, Scutaro or German will not be as much of a downgrade from Ellis as it might initially appear. Hopefully, Ellis will be able to return in a few months, but if he can't, the A's have a healthy number of acceptable options from which to choose.

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