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May 12, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates

by Baseball Prospectus

Florida Marlins

  • The Roof is on Fire: According to reports published on Tuesday, the Miami-Dade County commissioners office has voted 8-3 in favor of the preliminary plan to build a 38,000 seat, retractable-roof ballpark next to the Orange Bowl for the defending champion Florida Marlins. Unfortunately for the Marlins, however, this vote fails to bring any more money to the stadium project, which is being forecasted to cost in the $370 million range--leaving the team roughly $40 million short of the cost of the stadium. At the moment, financing for the project looks a little something like this...
    
                    Millions
    Marlins             $157
    Miami-Dade County   $120
    City o' Miami       $ 28
    Parking Revenues    $ 20*
    ------------------------
    Total               $325
    Cost                $367*
    
    * Projected
    
    
    Of course, none of this would be a problem if the Marlins opted for a stadium, sans retractable roof. As we discussed in a micro-study back in March, while retractable-roof stadiums do have their benefits (most notably the ability for the in-house deejay to cue Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" every time water trickles down from the heavens) they're also, on average, more than $100 million more expensive than their open-air counterparts. Nevertheless, retractable-roof stadia have become all the rage in the 21st century, and for all intents and purposes, it appears that that element is absolutely vital to the Marlins' proposal, as determined by owner Jeffrey Loria & Company. Never mind that, despite all the old people and the humidity, south Florida is a fine place to play baseball, and that the weather would most likely accomodate a team without a retractable roof. The Roof is what the Fish want, and The Roof is most likely what the Fish will get in the end.

  • More Than Just a Productive Out: Perhaps it's time to eat some crow. After all, who would have thought, after all those years of riding him like a rented mule, that Juan Pierre would turn into something resembling a productive centerfield on a competitive ballclub? Certainly not us, and certainly not anyone who saw the man post adjusted OBPs of .305, .344, and .304 while taking half his at-bats at Coors Field. Nevertheless, Pierre has at least started 2004 as a true sparkplug for the Marlins--and the best hitter overall, according to VORP--and for that he deserves commendation.

    How has he done it, you ask? Through our sometimes estranged friend "batting average," of course. Pierre is currently fifth in the league in BA, at .359, but with just seven (or 15%) of hits travelling for extra bases--the fewest of any player in the top 10 in BA. Combine that 85% singles rate with some speed (10 stolen bases, three caught-stealing) and plenty o' contact (just six whiffs as of this writing) and you've got yourself a receipe for... well, lots of balls in play, which sometimes turns into a decent BA, particularly if you're quick getting down the line.

    Will it last? In the end we're guessing "no," at least not to this degree, while conceding he's probably the best candidate to go all Ichiro! on the league and Punch & Judy his way to stardom. A .376 BABIP is awfully high, after all, especially when we're talking mostly about balls hit on the ground. In fact, check out the similarities between Pierre's start so far and Ichiro's seminal year of '01, for which most fans remember him...

    
                 AVG  OBP  SLG  XBH%  SB%   G/F
    Ichiro!     .350 .381 .457   20%  80%  2.63
    Pierre      .359 .425 .435   15%  77%  2.29
    
    
    Sure, a few more walks here, and a little less power there, but the skeleton is at least in place. For now we'll acknowledge that Pierre's done at admirable job at making himself useful, but point to the fact that he's heavily reliant--even more so than his Japanese counterpart now residing in the Northwest--on the almighty single to maintain his value, which isn't always a safe bet (see: Suzuki, Ichiro 2004).

New York Yankees

  • Up The Middle: In contrast to what Derek Zumsteg might have found in a recent edition of "Breaking Balls" about championship-caliber teams, one of the most consistent points about the Yankees during their 1996-2001 run was that they were strong "up the middle." From Jorge Posada, the catcher who many thought had peaked in 1998 but has somehow managed to get better as time marches on, to Bernie Williams, who in many ways embodied the combination of class and superior performance of those late-'90s Yankees teams, to Derek Jeter, who, despite his defensive shortcomings, was among the two- or three-best hitters at his position in the league for each one of those years, to Chuck Knoblauch (remember him?), who was a pretty decent hitter for a couple of those years before the turn of the century--the 1, 4, 6, and 8 positions on your scorecard were always a strength for the Bombers of days gone by.

    Contrast that against the Bombers of today, of course, and you begin to see why this team--this $180 million team--is currently trailing a Red Sox squad that's been minus two All-Stars from their lineup since Opening Day. Check it out...

    
    NAME                TEAM LG POS  PA   AVG   OBP   SLG    MLVr  VORP
    Jorge Posada         NYA AL   c 112 0.304 0.420 0.674   0.518  17.3
    Bernie Williams      NYA AL  cf 118 0.194 0.297 0.262  -0.342  -4.0
    Derek Jeter          NYA AL  ss 143 0.186 0.252 0.264  -0.436  -5.4
    Enrique Wilson       NYA AL  2b  79 0.194 0.228 0.222  -0.538  -6.0
    
    
    Please do not adjust your computer monitor. We are in control of this transmission. Three--count 'em, three--Yankee regulars are currently below replacement level with the bats, to the tune of about -15 runs all told, with only Posada and his amazing anti-aging cream carrying his weight. The others? Complete and total dreck, to put it mildly--easily the worst combination of starters in baseball right now (remember, though: we're talking value, not ability, so please hold your nastygrams).

    Of course, in a bizarre, Yankee-apologist way, one could almost view this as a positive for the Bombers. After all, this is a team that's just half a game behind behind the BoSox, and has won three in a row. Hell, if the Pinstripes can hang with Theo & Co. with type of "production" coming from three, key positions, then imagine when Jeter, Bernie, and Enrique Wilson all starting hitting like they're supposed to! Right? Right?!

    Ah, but there's the rub--because the fact of the matter is, the difference between what you're currently getting from Wilson and what you could have reasonably expected at the beginning of the season (PECOTA said: .238/.287/.351, 1.3 VORP) is essentially nil, and the difference between what you're getting from Williams and what you could have reasonably expected at the beginning of the season (PECOTA said, optimistically: .284/.373/.438, 23.4 VORP) isn't mammoth. It's notable, to be sure--but not a huge gain, especially when one considers that a month-and-a-half has already been lost, and the chances of him meeting his Weighted Mean VORP projection have been severely diminished. Only Jeter, with a relatively conservative preseason projection of .292/.364/.433 (to the tune of roughly 35 runs of VORP) can reasonably be expected to leap forward, going forward. And even then, who's to say that all of that won't simply get cancelled out by the give-back Posada owes on his performace? (And believe you me, the man is not going to go all J.Lo on us and slug .675 for the entire season. At least we don't think...)

    That being said, all of this posturing assumes a one major idea: namely, that the players in question will be the same players eating at-bats at the trading deadline, and not some combination of Jose Vidro and Carlos Beltran instead. However, given the current state of the Yanks' farm system (Dioner Navarro was the only Yankee to make BP's Top 50 Prospects List, and it wasn't particularly close) it's tough figuring how the Yanks might snag both Vidro (who seems destined for Pinstripes, given his contract status, age, and position) and Beltran (who's equally needed, but will brandish a more intimidating price tag, as far as prospects are concerned). At this point, acquiring one of the two at the trading deadline seems significantly more realistic, with the pursuit of the player coming over the winter.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Eating Raul: To the surprise of virtually no one, Pirates outfielder and former Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi left the team on Tuesday, citing ambiguous "family problems." Mondesi's departure from the team comes on the heels of a number interviews he's given in recent weeks where he's discussed his desire to leave the team for the rest of the season. In these interviews, Mondesi's reasons for leaving the team have ranged from "wanting to spend more time with my kids" to "I just can't concentrate anymore" to somewhat vague references to financial predicament he's currently mired in, involving former Red Sox, Angels, and A's shortstop, and fellow native of the Dominican Republic Mario Guerrero. (According to reports, Guerrero was integral to Mondesi's development as a ballplayer during his teens, and now claims that he's owed more than half a million dollars in compensation from Mondesi's first contract. As a result, the Dominican government has frozen Mondesi's assests, and he's been playing the 2004 season virtually without pay.)

    From an on-field perspective, this can only help the Pirates, as it gives manager Lloyd McClendon one fewer reason not to play Craig Wilson and his .340 EqA regularly in the outfield every day, pleasing Wilson's numerous Fantasy owners to no end. Aside from that, however, there's just very little this does for the Pirates in the real world, as the difference between Wilson and Mondesi is roughly the difference between finishing last in the National League Central by eight games and last in the National League Central by five games. In the end, the impact is diminished because Tike Redman still belongs on a bench in Idaho or something, and Dave Littlefield can't decide whether he wants to compete now or later.

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