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July 9, 1999

Ask Rotoman

First-half surprises, Watson-for-Suzuki redux

by Peter Kreutzer

TWO+ QUESTIONS, ONE+ ANSWER

Dear Rotoman:

What's the deal with Andy Benes? Is he worth holding onto? Will he turn it around in the 2nd half? He's been a ratio and ERA killer.

Also what are the chances of Freddy Garcia on Pittsburgh playing more in the 2nd half?

"Close to the Edge"

Dear Rotoman:

At the beginning of the year, everything I read about Dustin Hermanson said he was ready for a great season, and that he was one of the top 10 starting pitchers in the NL. So I grabbed him.

Last week I released him after he compiled a 7+ ERA for me. My questions are, what is wrong with him, and can he turn it around?

"Hermanson Munster?"

Dear Edge:

Last week I showed that Albert Belle's reputation as a "second-half" player is really an illusion. Depending on what years of Belle's career you look at, he may appear to do better in the second half or he may not. In fact if you consider how few full seasons of any particular player's performance we have to look at, it is probably impossible to establish a statistically valid preference for either half of the season for any player.

The samples just aren't large enough, the patterns simply not defined enough.

But this week we come up against another first-half/second-half problem: What do you do with a rotten pitcher? Especially one about whom you were optimistic?

Well, Andy Benes' best month statistically the last five years, by far, has been September (and the first few days of October). Last year, after a dismal start, he put together a second half that redeemed what appeared to be an irredeemably bad season. Of course, his 0.47 ERA last September goes a long way toward explaining his apparent prediliction for fast finishes the past five years.

In fact, if you look at the five years preceding the 1998 season, the numbers tell us that Andy Benes is a better pitcher the first half of the year. So, a word to the wise, don't rely on splits.

As for Mr. Hermanson, I don't know if he will turn it around. I do know that in his last three starts he has 1) been good against the Braves, 2) pitched OK against the Braves, even if the results were mediocre (7 IP, 4 ER) and 3) threw six-plus shutout innings against the Mets (though he was forced to leave with cramps in his legs on a hot day).

What distinguishes these starts from the three miserable games that preceded them? Hs strikeouts were up and his walks were down. But clearly this is too small a sample to base a judgement on.

What I would judge as important, however, is that these are two very good pitchers. Throughout their careers they've been effective and pretty consistent. They have track records.

Benes might be all over the place, statwise, in any given season, but when all is said and done he can be counted on to have an above-average ERA. The wins, of course, take care of themselves. Or they don't.

Hermanson doesn't have as extensive a history, but then he's only been starting for a few years. A quick look at his years as a reliever, however, tell you that he hasn't been abused. And during his time in Montreal you can be sure he has relished the kid gloves of Felipe Alou's gentle touch. And he's been effective.

So, what's wrong?

Beats me. Chances are either of these guys could be struggling through some kind of aches or pains. Maybe a slight muscle pull in spring training slowed their progress. Maybe an unfortunate tug on a bit of cuticle has caused a finger to ache. The only thing we really know here is that we don't know, because whatever is ailing them isn't big enough to knock them out of games, yet.

Does this mean we should panic and chuck them?

I don't think so. In fact, I think the same advice that I gave for Albert Belle works here. If you have a top-notch player who is off to a bad start, and there is no clear-cut ailment slowing them down, your best action is to hang on and hope they get over it.

Why? Because if they get better they will be better than anybody you could possibly replace them with.

Might one feel foolish if Andy Benes ends up posting a 5.50 ERA for the entire season?

You bet. But if you try to trade Benes for someone else, you won't be able to get anyone with near the potential, or the track record, Benes has.

The trick is to look past the horror that you are confronting every time Benes gets knocked around these days. The trick is to see a guy who clearly has had some success in the past. The trick is to avoid selling low and, like a fool, buying high.

I should also point out that this advice pertains to all of them. All the guys who should've been better in the first half, who weren't hurt or going through a painful divorce, all the guys who have inexplicably stunk.

I'm talking fellows like Darin Erstad and Tom Glavine, Andy Pettitte (I hope) and Greg Maddux, Pat Hentgen (I hope) and.... Next week we'll take a look at the first half flops to focus on acquiring for the second half run.

Freddy Garcia is not one of these guys. He's always been a glorified Triple-A player, able to hit a blue streak occasionally, but perhaps I should leave it to his career stats thus far to tell that part of the story:

.219 AVG, 109 Ks in 365 AB. Oh, and he's a terrible fielder.

Pirates followers are waiting for Ed Sprague (who has been doing a good job at the plate) to pull something, anything (apart from an outside fastball) so they can get to Aramis Ramirez all the quicker. Freddy will never be a regular.

Regressingly,

Rotoman

SHOULD I?

Dear Rotoman:

I have Ed Sprague on my team, and he has been producing real well on the cheap. In the past he has turned around and had below-par second halves. I was wondering if I should keep Sprague and let him play out, or trade for someone who could produce better in the second half of the season. I am also lacking in hitters with good pop. Are there any sneak picks you can think of?

Thanks, Sleepless in Sprague-attle

Dear Sleepless:

Over the years the leading nom de roto for correspondents with Rotoman has been, perpetually, some play on the "Sleepless in _____" expression made popular by Nora Ephron, and her friends Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Your e-mail is stamped 6:57 p.m., which means unless you're writing from Europe or you're working a dreadful, perverse shift, you aren't really sleepless. Or, at least, not as sleepless as you'll be if you count on Ed Sprague having a second half equally as productive as his first half.

Because if you believe that good players who play bad in the first half rebound toward their usual productive selves in the second, you should also count on no-account bums like Ed Sprague regressing to their usually no-account productivity, more or less, as the season wanes.

Unless you can find some reason to believe that this time he's really changed. Sprague is hitting .315 right now, and is taking a base on balls three times for every four strikeouts. That's better than he's been in the past (.242 lifetime AVG, 272/664 BB/K). So maybe he's thinking a little more.

What he isn't doing is becoming one of the best players in the game. So, if you can find someone who thinks Sprague is nothing but upside, a deal isn't going to hurt you. On the other hand, while it wouldn't be surprising to see him endure a 3 for 61 slide somewhere in the second half, he's likely to remain the Pirates' regular third baseman from here on until the end of August, at least. Which makes him potentially more valuable than a lot of guys who either don't have a job, or might lose the one they've got.

Regressingly,

Rotoman

WATSON REDUX

Peter,

There is one other aspect to the Allen Watson/Mac Suzuki deal, although it is unimportant for fantasy purposes. Because of the trade and waiver of Suzuki, the Mariners will pay Watson's salary instead of the Mets (which they would have had to do had they released him). So, assuming that the Mets were ready to release Watson, Phillips just saved Watson's salary and got both the PTBNL and $100 (Suzuki's waiver price) in return.

Not a great baseball move, and not one likely to draw the attention of Cablevision or whomever owns the Mets next week, but a pretty good business decision which will probably pay for one extra day of Bobby Bo.

Kevin Greenberg

Dear Kevin:

Thanks for your note. You are, of course, right. And since you wrote there has been yet another wrinkle. The Mariners have released Watson.

Now, assuming that they had to expose Mac Suzuki to waivers it might have made sense for them to deal for a player, rather than to lose him for the waiver price.

But, what seems to have happened here is that the ever colorful Mr. W. Woodward seems to have traded Suzuki and the PTBNL for a guy he is obliged to pay a decent salary, even though he couldn't find a use for the guy on his team after only one week!

I'm going to guess that the quality of the PTBNL was to be based on whether the Mets could slip Suzuki through waivers (they couldn't, and Suzuki is now a Royal starting pitcher), and on the amount of time the Mariners kept Watson on their team.

Otherwise, the ever colorful Mr. Woodward has done nothing here but make himself look foolish. And that can't be, can it?

Rotoman

P.S. There's yet another new wrinkle. There were reports in the New York papers that the Mets were interested in re-signing Watson to a minor league contract, but instead the Yankees signed the pitcher that the pitching-poor Mariners couldn't find a use for. And then sent him to the minors. The question I have: If Watson could throw 40 innings for the Mets this season, why would the Mariners dump him after just a couple of outings for them? Don't they have scouts? What did they think they were getting?

Have a question for Rotoman? Contact him directly at rotoman@baseballprospectus.com.
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