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June 21, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Even Better Than The Real Thing?: At this writing, the Dodgers are in first place in the NL West, one game ahead of the surging Giants and three games ahead of the Padres. This is due more to their pitching (3rd in ERA, narrowly) than to their hitting (13th in runs scored), and in this way they superficially resemble the Padres more than the Giants...
    
                RS(rank)  RA(rank)
    Dodgers     13         3
    Padres      12         4
    Giants       4        12
    
    
    You might expect these rankings, given Chavez Ravine and Petco. But take a slightly different look at the hitting:
    
              OBP   SLG   OPS  TB   HR  RS
    Dodgers  .335  .427  .762  965  70  285
    Giants   .352  .414  .767  970  72  337
    Padres   .334  .385  .719  889  43  295
    
    
    That runs scored column is a little surprising now. In fact, the more you look into it, the more the Dodgers look like victims of circumstance. Their on-base percentage (7th) and slugging (6th) are league-average. Nor have they been generous with giving away outs...
    
                 Rank
    SH           10th
    GIDP          8th
    SB/CS ratio   6th (2.37)
    
    
    It looks like the Dodgers may have room for upside with their offense. That could end up making the difference in what is currently a close race.

  • Goin' To Kansas City, Kansas City, Here I Come: Having the sixth-best slugging in the National League still might not be good enough over the long haul, though. Perhaps the Dodgers should make a trade to boost the offense. One recent trade rumor has Mike Sweeney headed to the Dodgers. Sweeney has some thump, all right--he had a very nice run from 2000 through 2002--but at this point he may not be the same player. His plate appearances have steadily decreased over the last several years and his batting line so far this year is an unimpressive .258/.319/.432. This performance is dramatically out of line with his projections and career numbers. The Royals have been DHing Sweeney and playing Ken Harvey at first base in an attempt to preserve Sweeney but it doesn't appear to be working:
    
            AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
    April  .324 .373 .544 .917
    May    .243 .325 .417 .742
    June   .206 .242 .333 .576
    
    
    ...of course, right now Sweeney is pressed back into service at first since the Royals are thick in interleague play.

    Let's compare Sweeney to the current Dodgers players at first and in the outfield, sorting by VORP, and while we're at it, include Carlos Beltran, another Royal who might make an attractive trade target. (Statistics for Royals and Dodgers hitters are located conveniently closely in our VORP by team for position players report.)

    
                      PA    AVG   OBP   SLG   MLVr   VORP
    Carlos Beltran    291  .281  .371  .522   .148   24.8
    Dave Roberts      161  .289  .379  .430   .142   14.0
    Milton Bradley    262  .270  .359  .413   .065   12.1
    Shawn Green       273  .255  .344  .414   .035   10.6
    Mike Sweeney      258  .256  .318  .432  -.085    4.8
    Juan Encarnacion  255  .254  .298  .450   .001    4.6
    
    
    Another factor to consider, of course, is the contracts. Sweeney's current contract has him locked in for $12.5 million through 2007, if traded. Let's look at PECOTA Wins projections for Sweeney, Beltran, and current expensive Dodger 1B/OF Shawn Green, through 2007:
    
           Sweeney   Beltran   Green
    2004     2.9       3.5      4.0
    2005     2.2       3.0      3.1
    2006     1.6       2.8      2.3
    2007     1.3       2.6      2.1
    
    
    Sweeney just doesn't look like the guy this team needs.

    Beltran's agent, the notorious Scott Boras, has already announced his client's intention to pursue free agency after this season no matter what happens. Even so, it looks like the Dodgers would be well-served to call Allan Baird asking after Beltran, not Sweeney, and whispering names like "Koyie Hill" and "Joel Hanrahan" in his ear.

  • Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment To Sparkle-Motion: Milton Bradley so far this year (look at that third column):
    
             AVG   OBP   SLG
    April   .266  .348  .494
    May     .269  .346  .398
    June    .276  .391  .328
    
    
    Perhaps he strained something during his outburst earlier this month.

    Talking about slumping Dodgers, of course, one name comes first: Hideo Nomo. He started the year poorly and went on the DL in late May, but since returning has been even worse:

    
                IP     H/9    BB/9  K/9   ERA
    April/May   41.2   10.8   3.6   4.3   7.13
    June        15.1   10.0   5.3   5.3   8.48
    
    
    On his June 19 start, he held the Yankees to three walks and four hits in seven innings, so perhaps he can return to form. The Dodgers need this from him since in-house rotation options seem limited (other than rushing Edwin Jackson).

Minnesota Twins

  • Don't Look Down: From a quick look, the AL Central is once again in a two-team tussle between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox. The Twins, at 38-80, are 1.5 games ahead of the Sox, with the Indians surprisingly close at 4.5 games back, followed by the predictably sad-sack Tigers (seven games out) and Royals (11 games out). Right?

    Not so fast. Those Twins have scored 322 runs while allowing 326. The BP Current Adjusted Standings report suggests that the White Sox, with their gaudy +64 run differential, should be in first place, and that in fact the Twins are playing more like a fourth-place team. So what gives? The Twins have been successful in close games, for one thing.

    
                1 run   Ex.inn.
    Twins       13-8     7-3
    White Sox   13-7     4-4
    Indians     11-8     5-8
    Tigers      3-12     4-5
    
    
    It makes sense to take a look at the bullpen and see who's been getting the job done. Here are the primary relief pitchers used so far this season, sorted by ERA:
    
                R/L IP     H/9   BB/9   K/9   WHIP   ERA
    Nathan      R   32.2   6.1   4.4   11.0   1.16   1.38
    Rincon      R   36     5.5   5.0   11.5   1.17   2.00
    Roa         R   35.1   9.2   3.3    5.9   1.39   2.80
    Fultz       L   31.1   6.9   3.2    6.6   1.12   3.73
    Mulholland  L   30    12.0   3.3    5.4   1.70   5.10
    Romero      L   30     9.6   4.8    8.7   1.60   5.70
    
    
    We'll get to the Terry Mulholland situation a little later. Meanwhile, Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon are numbers 14 and 19 on the BP top relievers list, with 11.0 and 10.4 Adjusted Runs Prevented, respectively. (For what it's worth, in first place is former Twin Eddie Guardado. A shame he followed the money to Seattle, really, since at this point the Twins could use another good lefty. This might be ameliorated if J.C. Romero can work out his mechanics in Rochester and make it back to the big club.) Aaron Fultz and Joe Roa have also been quite useful; in the case of Roa perhaps more than Fultz, one does wonder when he willregress to the mean.

    One last note on the Minnesota bullpen: Johan Santana has been getting a raw deal.

  • That Fifth Starter Problem: Twins fans have a new answer for the exciting question "Helling or Greisinger?" The answer: Matt Guerrier. Chris Kahrl covered this nicely in a recent Transaction Analysis. We'll just say here that the Twins very possibly do miss Joe Mays.

    One unfortunate effect of The Greisinger Problem--whatever you thought of the way the team treated Rick Helling--is the continued use of Terry Mulholland in long relief. If this were Earl Weaver's team, that job would belong to Grant Balfour or Brad Thomas. Admittedly, neither one has set the world on fire in the limited opportunities given him to date. But let's look at two games from the recent series against Montreal to see the problem in action:

    • June 15: Johan Santana pitches eight strong innings and the Twins are up 8-2 heading into the ninth inning. Who to call on? Gardenhire goes to Balfour; after all, he's got an over-7.00 ERA at this point, so why not get him some work in a low pressure situation? The other pitcher that comes to mind, Mulholland, has had four days off from his last appearance (coincidentally, cleaning up after Greisinger's final start), but whatever.

    • June 17: Oops! New starter Guerrier is pulled after four innings and 77 pitches. Time for, that's right, a couple of innings of Terry Mulholland.

      Now, Balfour had just pitched two days before, and in fact when he does make it into this game in the 8th inning he is not terribly effective. But honestly, it was easy to predict Guerrier might not have a long game, and that a long reliever might be needed. Thus we can assume Gardenhire prefers Mulholland to Balfour in that role. If Balfour isn't the guy you want for multiple innings against Montreal--the worst hitting team in baseball--it makes you wonder what the team's long term plans for him really are.

  • Free Justin Morneau: Doug Mientkiewicz (2004 edition)...
    
            AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
    April  .305 .367 .415 .781
    May    .240 .298 .354 .652
    June   .176 .348 .255 .603
    
    
    Rank of Mientkiewicz...

    A.L. 1B by VORP (100 PA min.): 14th out of 17
    A.L. 1B by OPS (100 PA min): 14th out of 17

    Justin Morneau in Rochester (AAA): .317 /.387.633/1.020

San Francisco Giants

  • A Giant Reawakened?: The Giants are currently in second place in the NL West, one game behind the Dodgers and two games ahead of the Padres. Here's their record by month:

    April 10-14
    May 16-10
    June 11- 8

    What has changed since April? Well, the schedule has helped. The Giants' 10 game winning streak at the end of May featured series sweeps of Montreal, Arizona, and Colorado; June has brought another 3-1 series with Colorado and a three-game sweep of Toronto.

    Looking at our Adjusted Standings report, from their run differential and opponents faced, the Giants might not be expected to have a winning record.

  • Barry, Barry Good: Part of their success is almost certainly due to having superstar and major league VORP leader Barry Bonds. So far, this isn't the year Bonds's VORP equals the rest of the Giants lineup put together, although it is close:
    
                PA    OBP   SLG   MLVr   VORP  (minimum 50 PA)
    Bonds       241  .614  .793   .917   54.3
    Grissom     256  .340  .487   .137   15.8
    Tucker      235  .374  .470   .143   13.8
    Feliz       252  .306  .492   .062   11.9
    Pierzynski  214  .336  .414   .014    7.4
    Alfonzo     261  .341  .386  -.016    6.9
    Durham      129  .341  .416   .039    6.1
    Torrealba    83  .313  .443  -.017    3.1
    Cruz         99  .323  .379  -.066    2.9
    Mohr        125  .376  .347  -.032    1.4
    Minor        66  .409  .288  -.044    1.3
    Snow        146  .336  .328  -.117    0.8
    Hammonds    113  .336  .358  -.095    0.6
    Perez       254  .256  .294  -.327   -8.3
    TOTAL                               118.0
    
    
    Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is Michael Tucker, who is currently out-performing his 90th percentile PECOTA projection. Another pleasant surprise has been Deivi Cruz--batting .325/.378/.450 in 40 at bats in June--but with a lifetime OPS of .675 and no 700+ OPS season since 2000, it is unlikely he will keep up that pace.

  • OK, they Can Hit, But Can They Pitch?: Unlike their NL West rivals, the Giants are winning with a sub-par rotation:
    
              Rotation VORP
    Dodgers   71.0
    Padres    60.1
    Giants    32.1
    
    
    Much like the lineup, there's one player who clearly stands out: Jason Schmidt. Meanwhile, at the back end of the rotation, Brett Tomko and Kirk Rueter are not really getting the job done:
    
                      IP    H/9  BB/9  SO/9  HR/9  ERA   VORP
    Jason Schmidt     82.7   6.1  2.9  10.2  0.7   2.50  27.8
    Dustin Hermanson  62.3   9.7  2.6   6.4  1.2   4.48   7.8
    Jerome Williams   86.3   8.9  2.3   6.2  1.3   4.59   6.1
    Kirk Rueter       78.7  11.7  3.2   3.2  0.9   5.03  -0.8
    Brett Tomko       66    11.9  3.4   4.4  1.1   5.86  -9.9
    
    
    Tomko in particular really has pitched quite poorly this year. He has been on the DL recently with elbow trouble, but it's not clear that even healthy he will be much good for the Giants. This isn't usually a team mentioned in connection with the four-man rotation idea, but perhaps it should be.

  • Boo To The Bullpen: Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, the Giants' bullpen is the sixth-worst in baseball. In this, once again, they differ from the Dodgers and Padres:
    
              ARP    VORP
    Dodgers   29.2   57.3
    Padres    23.7   41.7
    Giants   -12.2   20.7
    
    
    Looking at the top 10 relievers from these teams, it is clear that the Giants just don't have the relief staff of their rivals, since the Giants' top two relievers are ninth and tenth on this list (and have the highest ERAs as well--although park factors may play some part here). This team really misses Robb Nen:
    
                    Team  ERA    ARP    VORP
    Guillermo Mota   LA   1.67   10.1   16.8
    Akinori Otsuka   SD   1.10   12.0   16.6
    Wilson Alvarez   LA   2.98    7.6   14.7*
    Scott Linebrink  SD   2.54   10.4   13.6
    Eric Gagne       LA   1.53   11.9   13.5
    Jay Witasick     SD   2.36    8.1    9.7
    Duaner Sanchez   LA   2.56    5.6    9.0
    Trevor Hoffman   SD   2.35    6.1    8.5
    Felix Rodriguez  SF   3.31    2.8    7.6
    Scott Eyre       SF   3.44    5.5    4.6
    
    * Alvarez VORP as both starter and reliever
    
    
    Meanwhile, the back end of the Giants bullpen features such players as no-name Wayne Franklin and the badly slumping Matt Herges.

    If the Giants are to have any hope of continuing success, Brian Sabean will have to address their shortcomings on the pitching staff. There's not much he can do from within the organization: known quantity Ryan Jensen doesn't seem like the answer. Nor do youngsters Noah Lowry or Kevin Correia. The Giants' best hope may be to pick up a Mariner (Freddy Garcia? Eddie Guardado?), although there will be stiff competition and it's not obvious what the Giants would be able to send back to Seattle, who, for example, already have an underperforming ex-Giant shortstop.

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The Week in Quotes: Ju... (06/21)

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