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May 13, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Baseball news in Boston these days is nothing but good. The sun is shining, the Sox are in first, Curt Schilling is the ad- and media-friendly "true ace" of the Red Sox, and Manny Ramirez is not only a "new guy," he's also a new U.S. citizen. (Note: Fly to Florida to say the pledge of allegiance, OK. Miss a game because you're sick, then have dinner at home with your best friend, not so OK.)

    Anyhow, with all this good news let's hold up our end of the fatalistic New England tradition for once. Here's where we're at, as of Wednesday afternoon:

    
                                  W   L    RS    RA
    Current Pace                  98  64   805   658
    BP preseason projection      105  57   921   668
    
    

    The Sox are 20-13, half a game up on the Yankees, and the pitching has been devastating--right in line with PECOTA, BP's disturbingly accurate projection system. The team has fallen off of 100-win pace because the hitting hasn't been there, but with Nomar and Trot both taking batting practice, a return to 2003 offensive form is on the horizon. So what's the problem? Hint: it's wearing pinstripes.

    For the past two weeks--while the Sox were getting swept by Texas, then splitting nine games with Cleveland and Kansas City--the Yankees have taken five of six from Oakland, swept KC, won a series in Seattle, then beaten up on Anaheim's vaunted bullpen in game one of their current series in New York. They've erased their five-game AL East deficit and, perhaps just as importantly, banked their season-series win against Oakland. (Texas is the ESPN flavor of the month, but PECOTA called the AL West in this order: Oakland (92-70), Seattle (85-77), Anaheim (84-78), and Texas (78-84). Expect the teams to trend back toward those projections as the season progresses, because there's a lot of baseball left.)

    Unfortunately for the Sox, there's a lot of baseball left against the likes of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Rich Harden...and God Forbid Joe Blanton. Between now and the All-Star break, the Sox will have to face Oakland at Fenway Park in two separate series. And after the break?

    BOS
    Oakland: Three games in the cavern at Oakland, done September 8.
    Anaheim: Three games at Fenway and four games at Anaheim, done September 5.
    Seattle: Six games at Safeco, done September 12.
    Texas: Three games at Fenway, done September 5.

    NYY
    Oakland: Three games in New York, done August 5.
    Anaheim: Three games in New York, done August 22.
    Seattle: Three games at Safeco, done August 15.
    Texas: Three games at Arlington, done August 12.

    Holding serve isn't enough for the Sox right now, because they're giving up points in strength of remaining schedule, a debt that will come due in September. And for the past two weeks, they haven't even been holding serve.

  • Year Three of the (Permanent) Yawkey Way Experiment: Here's a press release we received the other day: "RED SOX MOVIE Opens Strong against Olsen Twins' NEW YORK MINUTE." Can't make up that sort of thing, right? Another thing that's hard to make up: an authentic ballpark neighborhood, like Chicago's Waveland Avenue. But that won't stop the Red Sox from trying.

    Here's how it works: A couple hours before game time, Sox staff put up fences at both ends of Yawkey Way, a public street running along the third-base side of the old ballpark. Real Boston residents are thereby fenced out: BU student trying to get to school? Sorry, go around. Crusty old-timer walking from Kenmore to the Baseball Tavern to watch the game? Sorry, go around. Authentic Boston sausage vendor? Sorry, go someplace else.

    Inside the barriers, of course, the Sox grab more space for retail. And they've determined, apparently, that the best atmosphere for selling crap to tourists is that of a grotesque carnival: $14 beers, obnoxious guy in a Red Sox uniform on stilts--HEY, KIDS!!!--and the highlight, a white dude in a multi-color poncho, affecting a bogus Mexican accent, hawking "Tácos, burrítos, enchiládas!!!" in a city with almost no Mexican population and a near dearth of real Mexican food.

    Change is good. We dig the Monster Seats and we dig the right field roof BBQ. But we'd prefer the pushy vendors, the greasy streets--hell, even the rats, which reclaim Yawkey as soon as the ballpark shuts down--to the exclusive, Disneyfied version of Red Sox Yawkey Way. Hey, two out of three ain't bad.

  • Missed Opportunity: Johnny Damon has agreed to shave his beard in exchange for Gillette's $15,000 charity donation. Benefiting children's reading programs at the Boston Public Library is wonderful, but the execution here is short-sighted. Next time, open two charity accounts: one for people who want the shave, and one for people who want to keep the Captain Caveman look. Whichever account has the most donations by a specified date wins. Wouldn't players and execs from around the league bid on this?

Cincinnati Reds

  • Where There's Smoke There's...Mirrors: Hanging around, hhhckanging around...like Mike McDermott versus Teddy KGB. The Reds were supposed to hit a little this year, which two of them are--and their pitching was supposed to suck, which it has. Still, as of Wednesday afternoon they were lurking in third place, just four games back of Houston.

    They're a winning ballclub, at 17-15, but the Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which predicts winning percentage based on runs scored (157) and runs allowed (169), says they're playing like a losing ballclub--and that they should be 15-17. In other words, they've been more lucky than good; currently, the Reds are on pace to go 86-76 on the season while scoring 795 runs and allowing 856...a close-to-impossible feat. But for now, through nearly one-fifth of the season, they're right in the thick of things. And good things can happen.

  • The 99th Percentile: The Reds offense has been highly dependent on the performance of two players, both handily exceeding their 90th-percentile PECOTA projections, each accounting for more than one third of the Reds' value over replacement-level performance. Here are the Reds regulars and top fill-ins to date, ranked by VORP, which compares a player's performance to a replacement-level player at the same position:
    
                       POS   PA    OPS      VORP
    Adam Dunn          lf    133   1.195    21.4
    Sean Casey         1b    142   0.993    20.4
    Ken Griffey Jr.    cf    128   0.839     7.9
    Barry Larkin       ss    125   0.741     7.7
    Juan Castro        3b    62    0.703     1.5
    Ryan Freel         3b    100   0.692     1
    D'Angelo Jimenez   2b    148   0.649     0.5
    Wily Mo Pena       rf    45    0.608    -1.3
    Jason LaRue         c    66    0.621    -1.4
    Austin Kearns      rf    62    0.623    -1.8
    Javier Valentin     c    52    0.552    -2.8
    
    

    Thank you, Adam Dunn, for single-handedly rescuing BP fantasy teams everywhere, most of which feature a whole mess of Expos with projections BALCOed by specious park factors. Together, Dunn and Sean Casey have carried the offense. As of this writing, Casey had amassed the highest first baseman VORP in all of baseball.

    It's interesting to note that Casey's great-but-far-inferior-to-Dunn numbers currently give him a nearly identical VORP to Dunn, despite Casey playing at first base. You might think first is the most offensively-competitive position in all of baseball, but so far in 2004, you'd be wrong. Left fielders, like Dunn, have outhit first basemen:

    
    YEAR   POS    AVG    OBP    SLG
    ----   ---   ----   ----   ----
    2004    1B   .265   .351   .450
    2004    LF   .289   .374   .476
    
    

    Official word from Keith Woolner says that Barry Bonds and J.T. Snow are not creating the entire disparity themselves, but they're certainly helping.

  • The 1st Percentile: The offense was the good news; the pitching is the bad. The Reds are fifth-worst in the National League in runs allowed. Fortunately the badness, like the goodness in Dunn and Casey, is concentrated primarily in two players. One, Jimmy Haynes, has been summarily dumped and will never again be mentioned in a Reds PTP. Except for this, for anyone who didn't read yesterday's "Teams" report: Jimmy Haynes is the worst pitcher, by far, in the history of baseball to throw more than 1,000 innings. Farewell.

    The other disaster, unexpectedly, has been 21-year-old fireballer Ryan Wagner. Wagner is currently the worst reliever in all of baseball for 2004, rated by Adjusted Runs Prevented. Wagner's performance has been the definition of spotty; in 13 outings he has yet to give up one run. On April 19, vs. the Cubs, Wagner gave up five runs, all without recording a single out. He's also given up three runs once and two runs twice. But not one.

  • Comeback Kearns: A recent report from Will Carroll has outfielder Austin Kearns on the verge of making a miraculous comeback, again completing what has potential to easily be the best outfield in baseball. Unfortunately, Kearns was struggling mightily before a pitch fractured his ulna. It remains to be seen whether the rest will help him return to his amazing early-2003 form. Kearns, Griffey and Dunn played only 21 games together last year.

San Diego Padres

  • Wide Open West: At 19-14 through as of Wednesday afternoon, the Padres were solidly in second place--and the National League Wild Card lead--three games behind Los Angeles. The Dodgers have looked good, at 21-10, owners of a five-game winning streak. But they're not that good. Through 31 games the Dodgers are an incredible 10-0 in one-run games; perhaps that's a testament to Jim Tracy's managerial prowess, as well as Los Angeles' strong bullpen, defense, and small-ball skills. But it's also, almost certainly, a testament to luck.

    Consider the following table, which compares winning percentage in one-run games against winning percentage in all other games for the 2003 season:

    
    Team, 2003         1-run games    other games
    San Francisco        .700            .595
    Boston               .619            .575
    Chicago Cubs         .614            .517
    NY Yankees           .600            .630
    Cincinnati           .588            .351
    Florida              .566            .560
    Oakland              .556            .607
    Arizona              .545            .505
    Milwaukee            .533            .376
    Los Angeles          .531            .522
    Philadelphia         .526            .532
    Minnesota            .524            .567
    Seattle              .516            .588
    Detroit              .514            .192
    San Diego            .512            .355
    Baltimore            .488            .420
    Montreal             .478            .526
    Houston              .475            .557
    Pittsburgh           .471            .459
    Tampa Bay            .460            .357
    Texas                .459            .432
    Chicago Sox          .450            .557
    Kansas City          .450            .533
    Anaheim              .444            .484
    Colorado             .436            .463
    Atlanta              .405            .700
    Toronto              .378            .576
    Cleveland            .375            .434
    St. Louis            .359            .577
    NY Mets              .357            .429
    
    

    There's a correlation there, but only a small one. Better teams do tend to win more one-run games than they lose, on average, but there's a ton of variation around that mean. In 2004, the Dodgers are only 11-10 in non-one-run games, while the Padres are 12-11. It's going to be an exciting season in the NL West.

  • There's a Party Going On Right Here: The team is no slouch, but an informal report from San Diego attributes 90% of the city's Padres buzz to the new ballpark, and 10% to the team on the field. Residents of San Diego proper are especially excited. For less than $10, one can take the trolley to the stadium ($4.50 round trip) and purchase a "park pass" (five bucks) for standing-room access. That leaves a lot of money for beer purchases, and purchasing beer is exactly what Petco patrons have been doing. "The ballpark is a big party," reports one fan, "there just happens to be a game going on in the background."

    Part of the reason fans aren't paying much attention--yet--to the Pads is their lack of what is perceived as a "dinner-table name." David Wells might be a superstar at the dinner table, but doesn't quite qualify on the field. Meanwhile Brian Giles, who has stayed out of the spotlight in Pittsburgh and San Diego, remains one of the most underrated players in all of baseball.

  • Feeling his Ots: Quick: name the Padres reliever with a strikeout per inning, an ERA of 1.06, and .71 hits plus walks allowed per inning. Trevor Hoffman, right? Wrong. It's Japanese veteran (and MLB rookie) Akinori Otsuka--say it OAT-ska--and through 16 games spanning 17 innings, he has been incredibly nasty. Setting up Trevor Hoffman in place of the still-absent Rod Beck, Otsuka has surrendered just one double, one triple, and zero homers. He's also, during that time, accumulated three wins and a save...making him a rare middle reliever with fantasy value. Consider adding him to your Fantasy Team Photo while you still can.

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Prospectus Triple Play... (05/12)
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Prospectus Triple Play... (05/14)
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Premium Article Under The Knife: Retur... (05/13)

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