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June 17, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers

by Baseball Prospectus

Houston Astros

  • Waste Not, Want Not: We'll use an example from the Astros game against St. Louis on June 4, but any Houston fan could name a half-dozen others. Craig Biggio led off the game with a double to left field, bringing up shortstop Adam Everett.

    Nice start, right? On the way to a big inning, right? Wrong, if you're Jimy Williams, who's never met a pointless sacrifice bunt that didn't seem like a good strategic decision, especially with Everett at the plate. So far in 2004, Everett has 19 sacrifice bunts in 61 games, by far the most in the majors.

    So, as ever, Williams asked Everett to lay down a bunt. He couldn't get the bunt down, and the Astros eventually stranded Biggio at second base.

    In James Click's series on the sacrifice bunt, we learned that the threshold for a bunt in a runner on second, no out situation is .249/.305/.363--that is, if the batter's numbers are below that threshold, a bunt makes sense. Otherwise, the batter should hit away.

    Everett is currently at .282/.316/.370 this year, which means that a bunt with a runner on second and no one out is a bad play with Everett at the plate (although, not as bad a play as you might think). And keep in mind, that situation is the best situation for a sacrifice bunt when you're trying to maximize the number of runs you score; any other situation early in a game is an even worse time to lay one down.

    This is old news to most of you out there, but apparently Williams hasn't gotten the memo on this. In a lineup that features four players with a VORP in double digits, Williams' penchant for throwing away outs and runs early in games is especially baffling, and if Houston comes up short in the NL Central, he'll deserve a great deal of the blame.

  • Striking out Father Time: Fourteen pitchers have won 15 or more games in the major leagues at age 40 or older. Last year, Roger Clemens joined that group, with his 17-9 season for the Yankees.

    This year in Houston, Clemens is trying to join another exclusive list. He finally lost to the Chicago Cubs on Monday, dropping his record to 9-1, as his ERA climbed to 2.46. His VORP on the season is 22.1, which means he's already closing in on this list of pitchers who have posted VORPs of 30 or more in their 40s:

    
    PITCHER            YEAR   AGE   VORP
    ------------------------------------
    Alexander, Pete    1927    40   64.9
    Martinez, Dennis   1995    40   56
    Moyer, Jamie       2003    40   51.3
    Seaver, Tom        1985    40   50.8
    Spahn, Warren      1961    40   50.4
    Ryan, Nolan        1987    40   49.8
    Spahn, Warren      1962    41   49
    Quinn, Jack        1924    40   47.7
    Niekro, Phil       1979    40   46.2
    Quinn, Jack        1928    44   45.9
    Lyons, Ted         1942    41   44.7
    Young, Cy          1908    41   44.7
    Hough, Charlie     1988    40   42.4
    Ryan, Nolan        1989    42   40.1
    Quinn, Jack        1927    43   39.5
    Niekro, Phil       1984    45   39.5
    Ryan, Nolan        1991    44   38.8
    Alexander, Pete    1928    41   38.5
    Niggeling, Johnny  1944    40   38.1
    Wells, David       2003    40   36.1
    Jones, Sam         1933    40   35.8
    Spahn, Warren      1963    42   35.2
    Perry, Gaylord     1979    40   34.4
    Faber, Red         1929    40   33.4
    Jones, Doug        1997    40   31.2
    Young, Cy          1907    40   30.8
    Vance, Dazzy       1931    40   30.1
    
    

    This list is packed with names you might expect--Spahn, Ryan, Niekro, Young, Alexander. It's no surprise to see Pete Alexander's 1927 season, when he went 21-10, 2.52 for the St. Louis Cardinals, at the top of that list. Dennis Martinez's 1995 might come as a little more of a surprise.

    In 1995, Martinez posted a 12-5 record for the Cleveland Indians, and a 3.08 ERA (vs. a league ERA of 4.63). That performance helped the Tribe to a 100-44 record in the strike-shortened season before they eventually lost to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

    Jamie Moyer, Clemens' comrade-in-agelessness, took the third spot with his 21-7, 3.27 mark last year, a stunning season that was obscured by the Mariners' failure to catch the A's in the AL West. Clemens might not climb to the heights at the top of this list, but barring a collapse, he seems a cinch to take his place as one of the most effective old pitchers in the game's history, which is pretty good work for a guy who was given a Hummer H2 by the Yankees last fall in honor of his retirement.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Why Don't We Do it on the Road?: The ebb and flow of a season comes not just from a team's performance over time. It also comes from the vagaries of the team's schedule. A soft schedule or a lot of home games can lead to a hot streak, while a tough road schedule will often cause a little slide in the standings. But if you can play good baseball on the road against good teams, that's when you can really make a move in the standings.

    That's what the Cardinals did over the past month. After losing to Florida, 3-2, on May 16, St. Louis was in fourth place in the NL Central, two games out of first. The Cards were embarking on a stretch where they played 20 of 25 games on the road, including two visits to Wrigley Field to square off against the rival Cubs and a home-and-home against the Astros.

    They went 16-9 over that span, and now, after winning two games back at home against the Oakland A's, sit on top of the division, two games up on the Reds and the Cubs, with the surprising Brewers just 3.5 back, and the Astros 4.5 out of first.

    The Redbirds' road record now stands at 23-12 on the year, a .657 winning percentage. Only 24 teams since 1901 have won games on the road at a better clip, topped by the Chicago Cubs in 1906, who went an unfathomable 60-15 (.800) away from the West Side Grounds.

    Old-school baseball folks will tell you that pennants are won in September, not in May and June. But this year, the Cardinals and Cubs don't play after July 20, and St. Louis and Houston will only play six times after the All-Star Break. If the Cards are playing in October, they'll look back on this past month as the key to their season.

  • Carpenter's Tools: On August 13, 2002, Chris Carpenter of the Toronto Blue Jays gave up five runs to the Oakland Athletics and lost, 5-4. He didn't throw another pitch in the major leagues until this season.

    Will Carroll has been talking about the difficulty of coming back from labrum problems in Under the Knife, but Carpenter is another pitcher who has beaten the odds, at least so far in 2004. He's got a 7-2 record with a 3.97 ERA, and that's good for a 13.4 VORP.

    The good news, beyond his results, is that Carpenter has been throwing in the low- to mid-90s, in the same velocity range as before his labrum surgery. The bad news, if you're a Cardinal fan, is that we still don't have a lot of information on how pitchers recover from this sort of injury.

    Carpenter's injury was a tear in the labrum, and he is still pitching through some pain. One thing to keep an eye on is his endurance, and what sort of workload he can--forgive us--shoulder. If he can continue to be effective through and past the All Star Break, it will be a big boost to the Cardinals, and more than they could have realistically hoped for.

  • Higher Education: Maybe Michael Lewis should relocate to the banks of the Mississippi. In last week's amateur player draft, St. Louis used just four of their 47 picks on high school players; that was the most college-heavy draft of any team.

Texas Rangers

  • Forever Young: In BP 2004, we wrote this about Michael Young:
    In a year when Young's offensive production took a huge step forward, his fielding took a step backward, raising questions about his reputation in some circles as a world-beating second baseman. Young's offensive spike came almost entirely from an uptick in singles--his isolated power rose only slightly, and his walk rate actually dropped--so there's a good chance he'll give some of it back this year.

    Well, that's not quite what's happened. True, Young's not a world-beating second baseman any more. The Alex Rodriguez trade has turned him into a world-beating shortstop, at least to this point in the season. Right now, Young's outperforming his 90th-percentile PECOTA projection, and he's got the highest VORP of any shortstop in baseball (the second-best is Detroit's Carlos Guillen, but that's a story for another PTP).

    Why the jump? Young is showing a nice little bump in his isolated power, which has gone from .140 in 2003 to .184 so far this year. He's also showing more patience at the plate with a BB/PA ratio of .062 in 2004, up from .051 in 2003. There is still some cause for concern, as Young's OPS is 259 points higher in the offensive Nirvana that is the Ballpark in Arlington. But a big home/road split at a higher level of production is something that the Rangers are more than happy to live with.

    This past off-season was dominated with talk of American League shortstops, with the A-Rod deal, the discussion of whether Rodriguez or Derek Jeter would play short in the Bronx, Miguel Tejada's signing in Baltimore, and Nomar Garciaparra's dwindling long-term prospects in Boston.

    Young was briefly in the news this spring, when Texas gave him a four-year, $10 million contract, a deal that many thought was overly generous. But if he continues to perform at this level, Young could make that look like the bargain of the year.

  • Taking up Arms: Back on May 2, R.A. Dickey and the Texas Rangers beat Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox, 4-1. The victory ran Dickey's record to 4-1, and his ERA stood at 3.48.

    Then the bottom fell out. Dickey has since gone 0-5, with an 8.31 ERA.

    Currently, the Rangers are ninth in the American League in team ERA, at 4.60. That's a welcome change from the horrid 5.15 ERA that the Rangers staff posted in 2002, and miles better than the truly putrid 5.67 ERA Texas "achieved" in 2003. But as Dickey's recent troubles show, there's a little cause for concern. The Rangers' ERA has been creeping up slowly over the course of the season.

    We all know that the Rangers are going to score runs--they're tied with Boston and Detroit for fourth in the league in scoring. It's the large improvement in their pitching that has kept them in the conversation with Oakland and Anaheim thus far this season; if they want to stay there, the pitching will have to stabilize.

  • No Bull: The other half of the Rangers' pitching equation has been a pleasant surprise, as their bullpen stands fourth in all of baseball in Adjusted Runs Prevented. Only the SoCal Axis--the Dodgers, Padres and Angels pens--have been stingier.

    The real surprise is that the Rangers have done it without anyone you've ever heard of. Jeff Nelson is the biggest name in their pen, and he hasn't been dominating. On the other hand, Francisco Cordero has racked up a line of 7.4 ARP to go with his 2.08 ERA and 19 saves in 19 chances, while Carlos Almanzar is 5-0 with a 2.90 ERA and 5.4 ARP in 27 appearances as a setup man.

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Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Roa... (06/17)

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