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September 17, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Gearing Up For The Postseason: As discussed in yesterday's Atlanta PTP and in Joe Sheehan's summary of the NL playoff picture, the Dodgers appear primed to win the NL West. Even after dropping three of four to the Padres, they have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Giants with 17 games left, six of those against San Francisco. They have a slight edge in games won against the Giants so far this year, have split with Colorado, and have a winning record against the Padres. Thus, it would appear the Dodgers own their own destiny. Here are some factors they will be considering as they go into the home stretch:

    Troubling health and effectiveness of the pitching staff.

    • Odalis Perez spent some time on the DL in July due to his left (throwing) shoulder and has continued to suffer from left shoulder tightness. (Will Carroll discussed Perez's shoulder woes earlier this week). He has been the Dodgers' most valuable pitcher this season, so having to put him on the shelf would be problematic. There would be a ripple effect through their pitching staff, exacerbated by the continuing saga of …

    • In-season acquisition Brad Penny. Penny has a strained right biceps and hasn't pitched since suffering his injury on August 8th. Concern about Penny's arm and durability are nothing new, so DePodesta must have known he was taking a chance when he traded for him. Of course part of the reason for the Penny trade was the season long train wreck that is …

    • Hideo Nomo:
      
                 ERA
      April      6.43
      May        8.56
      June       9.59
      September  6.32
      
      SEASON     7.73
      
      Nomo's first two starts after returning earlier this month seemed promising at first glance (12 IP, 9 H, 13 K, 7 BB, 3.75 ERA) until you see that both were against the less than awe-inspiring 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks. Against the St. Louis Cardinals he looked a little different (3.2 IP, 9 H, 6 ER).

    • Wilson Alvarez was ineffective in his August 22nd start against Atlanta, then injured his pitching elbow in his next start. On his return he pitched a couple of games in relief--remember, the Dodgers didn't want to use him as a starter this year--then pitched effectively in long relief after a poor Kazuhisa Ishii start against the Cardinals (a game the Dodgers ultimately won). Alvarez then got his rotation job back due to his "consistency", but his next start against the Padres, on Wednesday, was not so impressive (5 IP, 7 H, HR, 4 ER).

    • Jose Lima, meanwhile, is giving up nearly two home runs every nine innings and benefits greatly when spending time in a pitcher-friendly park:
      
            ERA    BAA   SLG
      Home  3.21  .251  .430
      Away  5.32  .285  .527
      
    For those keeping score at home, that leaves Jeff Weaver as the only starting pitcher without question marks at the moment. The Dodgers badly need Penny back and Perez healthy.

    Recent record against other contenders.

    From August 19-22 the Dodgers split a four-game series at home against the Braves. They were outscored 22-16, but this was primarily due to the Wilson Alvarez meltdown mentioned above.

    The Dodgers spent September 3-5 being swept by the Cardinals in St. Louis. In the first game, Lima gave up two home runs and Matt Morris pitched a two-hit shutout. In the second game Ishii was, ahem, "inconsistent" (he struggled against them six days later as well, leading to Alvarez getting the starting slot--draw your own conclusions). In the third game Jeff Weaver was "inconsistent," giving up a home run to…no, guess…John Mabry.

    The Dodgers had a second series against the Cardinals at home from September 10-12. The starters struggled in all three games of this series--stop us when you see a pattern--but the bullpen (with help from Steve Finley) pulled out wins in the first two games.

  • Addition By Subtraction:

    Checking on the positions most affected by this year's trades:

    
                        MLVr                       MLVr
    Juan Encarnacion  -0.091   Jayson Werth       0.189
    Dave Roberts      -0.067   Steve Finley       0.248
    Paul Lo Duca       0.107   B. Mayne/D. Ross  -0.376
    
    TOTAL             -0.051                      0.061
    
    One thing the Dodgers don't miss about Paul Lo Duca is his high rate of grounding into double plays this year: 24.3% of opportunities. It should be noted that division rival starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Giants is even worse at 26.5, actually the worst figure among regular starting players.

Minnesota Twins

  • A Swing And A Miss: On August 14, the Indians won the second game of a home series against the Twins, and the AL Central looked like this:
    
    Minnesota  63-53
    Cleveland  63-55
    Chicago    58-56
    
    No longer. Cleveland lost its next nine games, while the Twins won seven of their next nine, and the AL Central race effectively was over on September 1. The Twins now have a 13 1/2-game lead and will represent their division in the playoffs for the third year in a row. Their success is to a large extent fueled by their pitching; opponents are batting 231/.273/.315 against them in September. Starting pitchers Johan Santana (a Cy Young Award candidate) and Brad Radke have been particularly valuable:
    
              GS   IP   H  ER  HR  BB   K   WHIP   ERA
    Radke     3  22.0  17   2   0   1  13   0.82  0.82
    Santana   3  21.0   8   0   0   2  27   0.48  0.00
    
    They look pretty good. OK, they're at the top of the BP Support-Neutral Value Added report, too, with neighbors like the Red Sox top pitchers and the Big Unit:
    
    NAME                 IP   SNVA  SNLVA  SNVAR SNLVAR    FLAKE
    Johan Santana     209.0    4.8    4.9    7.7    7.1     .222
    Brad Radke        204.7    3.3    3.3    6.2    6.1     .263
    Pedro Martinez    199.7    2.9    2.7    5.6    5.9     .234
    Randy Johnson     223.7    3.2    3.3    6.1    5.6     .236
    Curt Schilling    204.0    3.1    3.1    5.8    5.5     .226
    
    Radke doesn't receive nearly the press that Santana does. Perhaps it's due to his strikeout rate, which is low for a star pitcher. But there he is, number seven overall on the VORP for pitchers report, just below fellow under-the-radar-guy Carl Pavano and just above the perhaps more renowned Jason Schmidt and Roger Clemens.

  • Calling Earl Battey: How much do the Twins miss rookie catcher/phenom Joe Mauer? His replacement behind the plate, Henry Blanco has the lowest VORP of any position player in baseball with a whopping -12.9. That's where a batting line of .196/.239/.343 gets you (and quelle regression to the mean--over-accomplishment in fact--after his .262/.357/.492 April).

    Meanwhile, Mauer slugged .570 in his 122 PA with the team. Sure, it's a small sample size, but he certainly exceeded all expectations for his performance, and those expectations were already high. Speaking of rookies with high slugging…

  • Addition By Subtraction, Part II:
    
                          PA   AVG   OBP   SLG    MLVr   VORP
    Doug Mientkiewicz    328  .246  .338  .363   -.126    1.9
    Justin Morneau       262  .262  .336  .541    .135   18.0
    
    And one more:

  • The Tale of Terry Tiffee: Once upon a time, there was a Rochester Red Wing named Terry Tiffee. This young, switch-hitting third baseman had a lot of success swinging his bat and making a ball go a long way. One day Terry got a call from a nice man coincidentally also named Terry. This was Terry Ryan, the general manager of the Minnesota Twins. "Hello, Terry," said Terry, "I've got some news. Our third baseman, Corey Koskie has sprained his left ankle, and we need you to fill in."

    "Gosh!" said Terry Tiffee. And, "I'll do my best," said Terry Tiffee.

    Terry Tiffee hit very well indeed with the Minnesota Twins, just like he had with the Rochester Red Wings; .289/.357/.526 in his first 42 plate appearances. Unfortunately, during a game on September 13, Terry Tiffee collided with a famous catcher named Ivan Rodriguez, who was very, very good at defending home plate. Terry Tiffee separated his shoulder on this play, and so, after his promising debut, no one knew just exactly when he would be able to join the team again, although they hoped it would be soon.

San Francisco Giants

  • I say, that Bonds fellow in left field shows some promise: There's little to be said about Barry Bonds that Dayn Perry and Derek Zumsteg and Joe Sheehan haven't already covered. But since this is the Giants Triple Play and Barry Bonds Week at BP, let's just cherry-pick a few stats:

    At-bats, August 2004: 70
    Home runs: 11
    Strikeouts: 7

    Average MLVr, Giants, 9/15/04: .199
    Removing Barry Bonds: .091

    Cardinals (with Rolen): .213
    Padres: .120
    Dodgers: .078

  • However, that Schmidt fellow on the mound seems rather weary: Jason Schmidt looked pretty dominant in four of his five starts in August, two of them against the Cardinals and Cubs. This is even more obvious when comparing him to the rest of the rotation:
    
                    GS    IP   K/BB  WHIP   ERA
    Jason Schmidt    5  34.2   4.70  1.24  2.86
    Noah Lowry       6  37.2   3.00  1.27  4.54
    Brad Hennessey   4  19.2   2.17  1.63  5.03
    Brett Tomko      6  37.0   1.62  1.35  4.86
    Kirk Rueter      5  28.0   0.63  1.43  5.46
    
    Entire staff               2.31  1.42  4.56
    
    However, here's Schmidt in September:
    10.2 IP, 13 H, 3 HR, 4 BB, BAA .310, OPS .915, ERA 10.13

    This may be a result of pitcher abuse finally catching up with him. The Giants have the highest Pitcher Abuse Points total in baseball, in part due to Schmidt with his 9752 average per game.

    
    Pitcher           Abuse Pts.
    Livan Hernandez    304835
    Jason Schmidt      273068
    Victor Zambrano    145825
    Carlos Zambrano    130250
    Russ Ortiz         110343
    Al Leiter          107743
    

    Schmidt also has the highest one-game pitch count this season of 144 (a game we discussed with alarm in the May Triple Play). It should be no surprise that Schmidt has faded down the stretch. With the rest of the rotation somewhat scrub-like in nature--see table above--losing Schmidt would have a significant effect on the Giants' chances in the playoffs, if they get there.

  • A Jolly Good Time Had By All On The Warning Track: The Giants' team OPS was 107 points higher than that of their opponents in August; the differential in September is 135 points. The offense is getting the job done, due in no small part to the gentleman discussed previously, but also to two perhaps less expected batsmen. First, Ray Durham, hitting .286/.423/.405 in September. Second, the alien inhabiting J.T. Snow's body:
    
    2004         AVG   OBP   SLG
    Pre-ASB     .261  .351  .400
    Post-ASB    .420  .527  .674
    
    2004         AVG   OBP   SLG
    July        .364  .456  .623
    August      .452  .545  .767
    September   .421  .522  .579
    
    Best months in 2003:
    
                 AVG   OBP   SLG
    April       .324  .419  .459  (74 AB)
    June        .306  .444  .500  (36 AB)
    
    Best months in 2002:
    
                 AVG   OBP   SLG
    July        .326  .448  .522  (46 AB)
    August      .254  .349  .394  (71 AB)
    
                 AVG   OBP   SLG
    Career avg: .267  .358  .432
    
    Best year:  .281  .387  .510 (1997)
    
  • Addition By Subtraction, Part III:
    
                  PA   OBP   SLG   MLVr  PMLVr   VORP
    Neifi Perez  353  .269  .295  -.313  -.233  -10.2
    Deivi Cruz   359  .318  .430   .009   .099   14.8
    

  • Felicity Shineth Upon Dustin the Designated Closer: Dustin Hermanson was a fully adequate starting pitcher for the Giants this year. He had a better than two to one strikeout-to-walk ratio, an opposing batting average of .267, a reasonable HR/9 ratio of 1.1, and an ERA of 4.59. However, Matt Herges' struggles (12.3 H/9, 5.09 ERA, fourth-worst reliever in the majors) led to Hermanson's move into the closer role. He has been quite successful in this role: 2.37 ERA, BR/9 of 1.11, and 13 saves in 20 appearances, versus one loss and two blown saves (one resulting in a win).

    Now to the question of whether this was the best use of San Francisco resources. Another possible candidate might have been Felix Rodriguez, but of course he was traded to the Phillies for Ricky Ledee

    Rodriguez w/Phi 19 IP, 2.84 ERA 6.2 VORP
    Ledee w/SF 52 PA, .087/.173/.109 -7.2 VORP

    So, yes, the bullpen--third-worst in adjusted runs prevented --needed help. But to trade from a position of weakness and receive a player below replacement level in return looks quite curious.

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