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December 10, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Atlanta Braves

  • The Wright Stuff No Longer: What's going to become of the Braves rotation? Jaret Wright went for dollars rather than sense, signing with the New York Yankees for a pittance of $21 million over three years. Soon, we'll have another data point on Leo Mazzone's effectiveness. Here's betting that Wright gives back a lot of his gains.

    This leaves the Braves in a challenging situation. They're resigned to letting Russ Ortiz go, which in all likelihood is a good thing. That said, Mazzone can only work so much magic. They need decent arms.

    Let's look at last year's rotation, and what each of them meant to the Braves:

    
    Pitcher        IP      VORP
    
    Wright        186.1    40.3
    Thomson       198.1    34.0
    Ortiz         204.2    33.1
    Hampton       172.1    24.4
    Byrd          114.1    16.2
    
    Pitcher X     222.1    66.2
    
    All of them had a certain amount of usefulness to the Braves. There's not exactly a world-beater, front-of-the-rotation guy on that list, though, is there? As great as Leo Mazzone seems to be, it would probably behoove the Braves to not ask him to constantly pull rabbits out of his hat.

    Who's Pitcher X? We'll get to that in a minute.

  • Another Giles Goes Packing? Marcus Giles has been a fantastic story the last couple seasons. After a disappointing 2002 when he played through the sadness of losing a child, his 2003 showed a world of promise. 2002 seems to be the outlier, as Giles produced impressive numbers during his minor-league career.
    
    Year     PA    BA    OBP   SLG    VORP
    2001    273   .262  .337  .430    10.4
    2002    242   .230  .314  .399     7.1
    2003    635   .316  .384  .526    69.6
    2004    434   .311  .376  .443    35.9
    
    The Oakland A's are in need of a second baseman, after getting a combined 6.8 VORP from Marco Scutaro, Mark McLemore and Frank Menechino in 2004. Rumored discussions about a trade involving Giles and Tim Hudson have been rampant. "Pitcher X" is Hudson's average season from the past three years. While losing Giles would be painful, packaging him to Oakland would be a value-for-value trade that addresses the Braves' need to assemble a rotation from more than reclamation projects and journeymen.

  • Where's Chipper? The Braves effectively ended their relationship with J.D. Drew when they neglected to offer him arbitration. This was derided by many, but perhaps the Braves didn't want a surprise like they got when Greg Maddux accepted arbitration prior to the 2003 season. Drew seemed a perfect fit to return to the Braves, being close to home and having played his first full, healthy season and posting a 78.7 VORP.

    The logical fallout from this is that Chipper Jones moves back to the outfield and perhaps Andy Marte gets a shot at third base. That's all good, at least as far as we can tell.

    Why, you may ask? Jones' bat would obviously be valuable at third. That's not the problem. It's his glove, or lack thereof. Steven Goldman pulled together a list of the worst fielders on record, according to Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). Jones has the ignominious distinction of being in the top 10 on the all-time worst list with (at current count) -133 FRAA. He's worse than recent iron-glove recipient Dean Palmer. Ernie Lombardi? Covered. Even Dick Stuart, Dr. Strangeglove himself, ranks better than Jones.

    Given that the team has decided to move on from the days of Drew, it's sensible to hide Chipper back in the outfield and see what Marte can do.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • Cantu Can-Do? Jorge Cantu presents an interesting dilemma for the Devil Rays. While he doesn't have the tools pedigree of, say, Alfonso Soriano, he did an excellent job imitating him last season. Below are his 2004 numbers, including the Mexican winter league:
    
    Level    G  AB  R  H   2B 3B HR  BB SO SB CS DP  AVG  OBP  SLG
    AAA     95 368 57 111  33  1 22  16 64  3  0 11 .302 .335 .576
    Majors  50 173 25  80  20  1  2   9 44  0  0  5 .301 .341 .462
    Mexican 41 168 24  52   8  1  9  11 37  0  0  1 .310 .357 .530
    
    Cantu is just 22 (he turns 23 in January), and his bat has made rapid gains of late. Signed at 17, Cantu was one of the youngest players in Double-A in 2001 and 2002, and put up sub-.200 EqAs in both years. He's improved upon that with an EqA of .245 in a half-season at Triple-A in 2003 followed by a .262 there this year and a .270 in two months of major-league work.

    It's not certain that Cantu's improvement is for real. So what? This is the Devil Rays, what do they have to lose trying to find out? They're in a position where they can be patient. As a second baseman, Cantu might be an outfielder, but they're better served finding that out than going to the alternative.

    His Future DT pegs him at a .264/.317/.501 peak. If he can survive at second base and approach those numbers, he'll be one of the better players ever to come out of the Devil Rays' system, a reasonable bet to be the poor man's Soriano.

  • What's an "Orvella"? Quick--anyone have an idea who this is?
    
    Lvl       IP   H  HR  BB  SO   ERA    K/9   K/BB
    Low A    47.1  28  4   5  76  1.33  14.45   15.2
    High A   17.2  13  2   4  24  3.06  12.22    6.0
    Double-A  7.0   0  0   0  14  0.00  18.00  infinite
    Triple-A  1.2   1  1   1   2  5.40  10.78    2.0
    
    Totals   73.2  42  7  10 116  1.73  14.17   11.6
    
    If that's not a prospect, what is?

    Chad Orvella rocketed through the D-Rays' system last year. He was drafted out of North Carolina State in 2003, where he was primarily a shortstop. The Devil Rays changed that quickly, and he's taken to his new role like a fish to water. Orvella works off of a late-moving fastball that reportedly peaks in the mid- to high 90s (92 to 94 mph consistently). His out pitch, though, is a fantastic change-up. The Devil Rays promote aggressively, so while he may start the season in Triple-A Durham, if he keeps this up it won't be for long.

    The downside is that, for the time being, he's a reliever. As he hones his craft, one would hope he can become more consistent with his breaking ball. Nothing would be more exciting than watching him follow the Johan Santana career path through the bullpen to dominant starter.

  • When Is a Bad Signing a Good Signing? Recently, rumors have surfaced about Joe Randa signing with the Devil Rays to man the hot corner. On the surface, this sounds like a typical Devil Rays move, as Randa's upside is minimal and he's not going to be around for the next time...er, first time...they contend.

    The odd thing is, signing Randa would be a good move. It would keep the Rays from moving B.J. Upton to third base, and that can only be a good thing. So what if they throw a few million dollars at Randa for a couple years? His consistent mediocrity is just what's needed to give Upton the time to work on his game and see if shortstop is in his future. Let's just hope Lou Piniella isn't looking when he makes an error while working out the kinks.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Halladay's Heroes: Last year wasn't pretty for Roy Halladay. After two increasingly stellar seasons, last year was kind of like the fizzle going out of your Pop Rocks. What can we expect from him in 2005?

    Let's look at his last three seasons (since he settled into a regular role). In addition to more conventional statistics, we've listed pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), batting average allowed (AVG) and groundball-to-flyball ratio (G/F):

    
    Year   IP    H   HR  BB  SO   ERA  P/PA  K/9  K/BB  AVG   G/F  VORP
    2002  239.1 223  10  62 168  2.93  3.52  6.32 2.71 .244  2.75  66.1
    2003  266.0 253  26  32 204  3.25  3.39  6.90 6.38 .247  2.70  69.1
    2004  133.0 140  13  39  95  4.20  3.66  6.43 2.44 .272  2.27  26.1
    
    Halladay missed two months with right shoulder fatigue. It looks like, perhaps related to that, he lost some of the otherwordly command that marked his 2003 campaign. Note the reduction in K/BB and G/F ratios, and the spike in P/PA. He became more hittable and threw fewer ground balls, leading to a jump in his ERA.

    Curiously, PECOTA has always been pessimistic about Halladay. The one area where PECOTA seems to have hit the nail on the head is HR allowed, where it's been skeptical that he could keep his home-run rate at 2002 levels. So far, that's been the case.

    Halladay certainly hasn't forgotten how to pitch. The primary concern at this point would be his health, and all accounts so far are that his shoulder will be 100% come Opening Day. We can't expect every year to be like 2003, but he's got plenty of life left in him. Prediction: Doc Halladay will be back to his old ways this season as the rotation anchor. The Jays will need it.

  • Dude or Dud? It's all about expectations.

    Eric Hinske set a high bar for himself by winning the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year award. He continued to improve on the across-the-board performance he had shown in the minors, and seemed destined for stardom. How quickly things change.

    Since Hinske and Vernon Wells signed similar five-year deals just before the 2003 season, they've taken divergent paths. Wells has produced a cumulative 101.8 VORP in the past two seasons with stellar defense. Hinske, however, has limped to to a combined 21.9 VORP with lousy glovework. A wrist injury bothered him in 2003, although he still banged out 42 doubles in the midst of a difficult campaign. Last year seemed a logical time for a rebound. Sadly, he fell so far short he hit negative VORP territory. His three-year progression:

    
    Year   G   AB  R   H  2B 3B  HR RBI  BB  SO SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG
    2002  151 566 99 158  38  2  24  84  77 138 13  1 .279 .365 .481
    2003  124 449 74 109  45  3  12  63  59 104 12  2 .243 .329 .437
    2004  155 570 66 140  23  3  15  69  54 109 12  8 .246 .312 .375
    
    That's a disturbing downward trend across the board. It's possible Hinske's not adjusting to the league as it adjusts to him. His walk rate and isolated power remained fairly constant from 2002 to 2003, so a lot of his dropoff there could be explained by a drop in batting average. The most disturbing part of the above line is the significant power dropoff last season; perhaps Hinske was masking another injury. He seems to have an old player's skill set, and as such there's a concern that he'll age prematurely.

    The Jays reportedly have interest in Corey Koskie, who could push Hinske across the diamond to first base or perhaps to the trading block. While Koskie isn't all-world, he could be a strong value-signing if he comes at an affordable price. In comparison to Wells and Hinske, Koskie was good for a cumulative 73.3 VORP the past two seasons.

    Since the Jays will want another bat, given the departure of Carlos Delgado, this would be a reasonable signing if Koskie is healthy. The Twins have offered Koskie arbitration, which may lessen the Jays' desire to pursue him.

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