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July 19, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Dodge(r)ball: A Not-So-Underdog Story: The Dodgers are 13-2 so far in July. Nevertheless, they are in a heated race in the NL West. Their current record of 52-38 leaves them two-and-a-half games ahead of the Giants and three-and-a-half ahead of the Padres. The Dodgers have more prospects further along in development than their competitors, though, and with a key trade or two may be able to lock things up. Prospects currently at Triple-A Las Vegas who could be moved include:

    • Koyie Hill, catcher, batting .292/.349/.458;
    • Antonio Perez, shortstop/second baseman, batting .292/.387/.498;
    • Chin-Feng Chen, outfielder, batting .306/.372/.611.

    What the Dodgers need, of course, is starting pitching. "Starting pitching? But don't they have holes at three of the four corners?"

                      POS  AVG   OBP   SLG   MLVr   PMLVr  VORP
    Adrian Beltre     3b  .315  .357  .580   .347   .353   37.4
    Paul LoDuca       c   .308  .350  .452   .145   .205   21.2
    Alex Cora         2b  .293  .374  .423   .131   .191   16.9
    Milton Bradley    cf  .285  .381  .441   .158   .178   21.7
    Cesar Izturis     ss  .293  .328  .361  -.032   .042   14.7
    Shawn Green       1b  .262  .342  .417   .045   .021   15.0
    Juan Encarnacion  rf  .240  .292  .431  -.040  -.063    2.9
    Dave Roberts      lf  .258  .335  .362  -.043  -.076   10.6
    Why, yes, the Dodgers do indeed have power outages at first base, left field, and right field. But they do have some options in the outfield:
                      AVG   OBP   SLG   MLVr  PMLVr
    Jayson Werth     .306  .386  .611  .404  .387
    Jason Grabowski  .239  .315  .427  .005  .027
    ...and Jayson Werth is making a strong case that he should keep the starting job once Juan Encarnacion returns from the DL.

    That said, a moment of silence for Shawn Green's season would probably be respectful. Green has an ISO (slugging minus batting average) of .155 thus far, with an OBP of .342. That leaves him in the lower rungs of the National League for his position--we're talking Shea Hillenbrand/J.T. Snow territory here. This is a player in decline (all years as a Dodger), and surely the front office has taken note:

          AGE  AVG   OBP   SLG
    2000  27  .269  .367  .472
    2001  28  .297  .372  .598
    2002  29   285  .385  .558
    2003  30  .280  .355  .460
    2004  31  .262  .342  .417
    The Dodgers also could use a starting pitcher. Even if you assume Edwin Jackson can stick in the rotation (once he returns from the DL, that is), that still leaves Jose Lima in the rotation--since they are playing it safe with Wilson Alvarez. Both have been generous with the long ball, and Lima's basic performance metrics lag significantly behind rotation workhorses Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver (we'll save study of Kazuhisa Ishii's success despite low command for another time):
             GS   IP     H/9   BB/9  K/9   HR/9  ERA
    Weaver   19  118.7   9.4   3.0   6.8   0.6   4.25
    Ishii    18  107.3   7.5   5.2   4.2   0.5   3.94
    Perez    16  106.3   7.8   2.0   6.5   0.9   2.96
    Lima     11   83.3   9.3   2.3   4.8   1.5   4.32
    Alvarez   7   66.7   7.4   2.0   7.6   1.4   3.51

  • Anchorman: The Legend of Odalis Perez Team ace Odalis Perez was part of the Gary Sheffield trade with the Braves before the 2002 season, where the Dodgers received Perez, Brian Jordan, and Andy Brown (Brown is now in Cleveland after the Milton Bradley trade). Of course, Sheffield had a monster year last year, and his a borderline HOF candidate, but who won this trade overall?
    Odalis Perez VORP with Dodgers
    2002       45.2
    2003        9.3
    2004       31.3 (to date)
    Subtotal:  85.8
    Brian Jordan VORP with Dodgers
    2002       24.2
    2003       16.5
    Subtotal:  40.7
    Gary Sheffield VORP with Braves:
    2002       46.5
    2003       79.3
    Subtotal: 125.8
    Dodger Total: 126.5  (to date)
    Braves Total: 125.8

Minnesota Twins

  • Fire of Unknown Origin: At this writing, the Twins are in fourth place in the AL Central, victims of their anemic offense, six games behind the White Sox, 60 fewer runs scored than the second-place Tigers and 80 fewer than the third-place Indians. Nothing has changed for the Twins since last month's Triple Play...OK, you caught me: the runs scored are accurate, but the standings are courtesy of our Adjusted Standings report. The Twins are, in fact, only a half-game behind the White Sox, despite being swept at home by Chicago at the end of June and dropping three-of-four to the Tigers just before the All-Star break. How do they keep it up? It's certainly not thanks to the offense (AL only, minimum 100 AB) and in particular that infield:

    Player         Pos   PMLVr  Rank   VORP   Rank
    Mientkiewicz   1B   -.124    20     2.7    16
    Jones          RF   -.044    17     5.5    15
    Rivas          2B   -.032    12     6.5    12
    Guzman         SS   -.002    13     9.4    11
    Koskie         3B    .054    13    11.8    11
    LeCroy         DH    .066     8     7.4     8
    Hunter         CF    .070    13    12.3    12
    Ford           LF    .100     9    21.8     5
    Stewart        LF    .115     6    10.3    10
    Mauer          C     .371     4    13.2     7

    (PMLVr = Positional MLV rate = runs/game contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would hit, in a team of otherwise league-average hitters.)

    • Doug Mientkiewicz has been absolutely brutal this year, with an isolated slugging of .120--the only starting 1B with less power is Darin Erstad (.113 ISO). (Class act but ineffective John Olerud would also have made this list if not for Bill Bavasi's stumbling over BuckyBackers.com recently.) Mientkiewicz hasn't hit this poorly--.244/.332/.364--since 1999. This level of productivity is far below his PECOTA projection and he is currently on the DL; more on the Twins' 1B situation follows.

    • Luis Rivas is batting .265 and has on-base percentage of .288; now that's hacktastic! At least Rivas has a little bop in his bat, slugging .413, which is ahead of his mid-line PECOTA projection, and more than can be said for backup Nick Punto (.234/.329/.281). Before the season, the Twins were considering having former prospect and current utility man Mike Cuddyer spend some time at second. So far this year his bat hasn't made this seem necessary; Cuddyer has batted .241/.305/.398. Still, it's clear the Twins have a sucking sound at second.

    • Cristian Guzman...what to say...he's had one year (2001) where he showed any power, and that year looks more and more like an outlier:
             AGE   OBP   SLG
      1999   21   .267  .276
      2000   22   .299  .388
      2001   23   .337  .477
      2002   24   .292  .385
      2003   25   .311  .365
      2004   26   .307  .388

    • It's a little unfair to group Corey Koskie with the previous three since he was on the DL with a strained sternum earlier this year and has had right hamstring problems since then. Yes, his batting average (.247) and on-base percentage (.333) are significantly off his usual pace, but part of his low ranking is due to surprising productivity from players like Brandon Inge, Chone Figgins, and David Newhan.

    • Honorable Mention goes to Jacque Jones, batting .259/.312/.435 this year. This is in the neighborhood of his 25th percentile PECOTA forecast and looks more like his platoon numbers against left-handed pitching.

  • Dominance and Submission: A large part of the Twins' success is due to their bullpen, and in particular to the team's lone All-Star, closer Joe Nathan, who seems to have picked up where he left off last year, despite moving from a pitcher-friendly park to the Metrodome:
    Year  IP    H/9  BB/9  K/9  HR/9  K/BB  WHIP  ERA
    2003  79.0  5.8  3.8   9.5  0.8   2.51  1.06  2.96
    2004  39.7  5.9  3.9  10.7  0.5   2.76  1.06  1.13
    Nathan's the fifth-best reliever in the AL and the eighth-best overall according to our reliever report (using Adjusted Runs Prevented). His ARP of 15.8 is slightly higher than that of their other positive contributors (Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour, Aaron Fultz, Matt Guerrier, and J.C. Romero) added together:

    Rincon    10.6
    Balfour    2.7
    Fultz      1.4
    Guerrier   0.5
    Romero     0.3
    TOTAL     15.5
    Of course, no conversation about dominant Twins pitchers is complete without checking in on BP favorite Johan Santana...
    IP      H/9   BB/9  K/9   HR/9
    123.7   7.4   2.3   9.9   1.3
           ERA   GS IP    H   HR  BB  K
    June   2.39  5  37.2  21  5   6   46
    July   1.09  4  33    9   2   10  45
    Yes, he seems to have recovered from his slow start.

  • Transmaniacon M.C.: Doug Mientkiewicz's DL trip, due to soreness in his left wrist, led the Twins to bring Justin Morneau up to the big club from Triple-A Rochester. Morneau has done nothing but hit in the minor leagues. If he can maintain his 50th percentile projection of .255/.321/.440, it would represent a substantial power upgrade at first base.

San Francisco Giants

  • Bactrian, Not Dromedary: The Giants are carried by their two All-Stars: pitcher Jason Schmidt and ...er...one of their outfielders. We all know about Bonds--but how important is Schmidt to this team, really? Well, here's their rotation:
    Schmidt    40.9
    Hermanson  10.9
    Williams    4.7
    Rueter      1.4
    Tomko     - 1.7
    TOTAL      56.2
    Certainly among NL playoff contenders, the Giants are the most top-heavy. (Note that the entire Phillies rotation is struggling, of course.) It's a little sad to see that the NL team the Giants most resemble in this regard is probably the (soon to be Big Unit-free?) Diamondbacks:
    Johnson    35.0
    Webb        6.9
    Dessens     0.4
    Sparks    - 7.9
    Fossum    - 8.9
    Daigle    -10.1
    TOTAL      15.4
    We talked last month about how Brett Tomko and Kirk Rueter were both drags on this rotation; this continues to be true, and any talk of benching Dustin Hermanson in favor of these two must be considered lunacy:
               IP   H/9  BB/9 K/9  HR/9  ERA   June  July
    Rueter    110  11.0  3.1  3.0  0.9   4.99  4.50  5.40
    Tomko      94  10.7  3.2  4.3  0.8   4.98  4.76  4.61
    Hermanson  87   9.6  2.8  6.5  1.1   4.34  5.05  3.46
    Really the Giants could stand to replace both Rueter and Tomko. They have one possible home-grown solution in Noah Lowry, sent back down to Fresno earlier this month:
          ERA   GS  IP     H/9  BB/9 K/9  HR/9
    AAA   4.18  13  71.0   8.9  3.2  7.5  1.1
    SFG   3.47   1  20.2  11.3  3.5  7.0  0.9
    Unfortunately for the Giants, there are a lot of tight playoff races going on, so the trade possibilities for starting pitchers look a little bleak; bleak enough, for example, that Ron Villone will seriously be auditioned. In addition, after trading several players in order to rent Sidney Ponson last year, the farm system is depleted and the Giants don't have much to offer in return. Brian Sabean will have to be creative.

  • Barn Burning: Matt Herges gave up four runs in the ninth inning against Colorado on Sunday, including home runs to Jeromy Burnitz and Preston Wilson. This:

    • brought his season ERA to 5.86;
    • was his second blown save in July, bringing his season total to seven; and
    • was his second loss in July, bringing his season record to 4-4.

    It's past time for the Giants to remove Herges from the closer role. However, the Giants have the second-worst bullpen in the NL and really only Felix Rodriguez looks like a possible in-house replacement.

  • The Also-Rans: So are there any Giant hitters other than Barry Bonds worth thinking about? Well...perhaps a couple.
    NAME              MLVr   PMLVr  VORP
    Barry Bonds       .916   .871   75.6
    Ray Durham        .139   .200   16.7
    Mike Tucker       .109   .103   15.7
    A.J. Pierzynski   .083   .161   15.0
    Marquis Grissom   .072   .092   17.1

    • Ray Durham is fifth in PMLVr among regular second basemen in the NL:
                       PMLVr  VORP
      Marcus Giles    .298    14.4
      Mark Loretta    .294    37.8
      Todd Walker     .255    22.7
      Jeff Kent       .201    24.1
      Ray Durham      .200    16.7
      However, he is hitting a tepid .224/.333/.429 in July, against primarily Colorado and Arizona pitching.

    • A.J. Pierzynski is also fifth among NL catchers:
                        PMLVr  VORP
      Johnny Estrada   .315    27.0
      Charles Johnson  .234    17.8
      Michael Barrett  .215    19.3
      Paul LoDuca      .205    21.2
      A.J. Pierzynski  .161    15.0
      He has improved dramatically following a very cold .236/.267/.250 April.

    • Marquis Grissom is eighth among NL center fielders, following only Jim Edmonds, Jeromy Burnitz, Milton Bradley, Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Biggio (!), Steve Finley, and Andruw Jones in PMLVr...hm...no, that doesn't look noteworthy...

    • ...and Mike Tucker is tenth among right fielders, so we'll just stop there.

    Indeed, it's &1quot;Barry Bonds and some guys," appearing in a ballpark near you.

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