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January 4, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Much Ado: The Baltimore-DC metro area has picked up a lot of players this off-season, but they have something in common that will vex Orioles fans: they're all Washington Nationals. (Then again, Orioles fans are probably not the least bit upset that they didn't land big prizes like Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman for the small sum of $23,000,000. By doing nothing, Orioles VP of baseball ops Jim Beattie has already established himself as the smarter of the two Jims running clubs in the region.)

    Given the absurd market that developed for most free agents this winter, the Orioles might win in the end for having sat this one out. Sure, they probably threw some cash at a few of these guys, but to their credit never panicked and said, "We must land this guy." Carl Pavano, one likely target, signed with the Yankees for four years and a hair under ten million per; while the Yankees made a more attractive target than Baltimore, it's likely that the O's could have had Pavano if they had gone to five years or $45 million. Some teams in the Orioles' position might have.

    The only signing to make some noise in the Inner Harbor was the two-year pickup of Steve Kline. The lefty reliever market was set when Rheal Cormier, a lesser talent, signed with the Phillies for two years, $5.25 million. Kline's good enough, but he's not going to vault the team into the playoffs. These sorts of pickups are like eating at Applebee's: serviceable, good portion size and you needed to eat something, but you come away feeling like fast food would have been a better value.

  • Second Act: We should qualify all of the above by saying that the Orioles aren't out of the woods yet when it comes to avoiding desperation. They seem hot in pursuit of Carlos Delgado, another player with a big STAY AWAY sign around his neck. Mind you, that's no knock on Delgado, who hits consistently and for power. Rather, it's a testament to the realities of this off-season: Troy Glaus, four years, $45 million; Richie Sexson, four years, $50 million.

    Delgado's agent got some laughs when he said that his client would not take a cut from his last contract, which paid him $17 million annually, and which the Blue Jays would gladly have shed almost the minute it was signed. But if Glaus ($11 million) and Sexson ($12.8 million), who are worse bets, can fetch what they have, who's to say the agent won't be right?

    Baltimore has done a good job so far of walking away when the price goes too high. If the bidding for Delgado goes the way of most of this winter's studs, it will take restraint to prove that those wise decisions have been intentional.

Colorado Rockies

  • Mohr, Mohr, Mohr: This year's lucky winner in the Coors Field Career Boost-O-Matic: Dustan Mohr.

    Our candidate last time was David Dellucci, but Mohr will do. While moving to Colorado's thin air is something we'd recommend to a player on the rebound, it will work equally well for Mohr, who's coming off of a career year in all three facets of his tri-partite line:

    
    YEAR  TM    AVG   OBP   SLG
    2001  MIN  .235  .298  .275
    2002  MIN  .269  .325  .433
    2003  MIN  .250  .314  .399
    2004  SFG  .274  .394  .437
    
    
    Mohr's actually a very interesting player when you break down his splits, and a good object lesson in the principles of sample size and randomness.

    First, let's look at his home/road splits for the last three years (Mohr's playing time in 2001 was negligible). The Metrodome in Minnesota is known as a hitter's park, while SBC Park in San Francisco is considered a pitcher's park especially tough on right-handed hitters, but actually played as a hitter's park in 2004. You couldn't tell this from looking at Mohr's splits.

    
             HOME     ROAD
    YEAR   AB  OPS   AB  OPS
    2002  199 .630  184 .900
    2003  167 .694  181 .732
    2004  127 .937  136 .728
    
    You'd also expect Mohr, as right-handed hitters tend, to hit lefty pitchers better than he hits righties. The home/road question is only an issue for forecasting Mohr's future; the righty/lefty question has additional importance to the Rockies, who need a platoon partner for the left-handed Brad Hawpe. But Mohr mystifies there, too:

    
           VS LHP   VS RHP
    YEAR   AB  OPS   AB  OPS
    2002  133 .631  250 .827
    2003  117 .801  231 .668
    2004  115 .738  148 .899
    TOT.  365 .720  629 .789
    
    That platoon ratio of .92 is well shy of the 1.08 average ratio for a right-hander, but we would be hasty in concluding that Mohr has a "reverse split." 1,000 at-bats do not a career make (sample size), and he's fluctuated wildly in the past three seasons (randomness), meaning that he might easily do it again in 2005. Besides, research by the number-cruncher MGL suggests (though not without much controversy) that right-handed hitters don't actually have unique platoon ratios! That is to say: the standard 1.08 ratio is a better predictor of Mohr's 2005 ratio than his established .92.

    One thing sure is likely, though. If Mohr hits worse at Coors than on the road, that'd be one heck of a surprise.

  • Growing Pains: Here are the Rockies' projected starters in 2005.

    
    POS PLAYER     SUBSTANTIAL ML SEASONS
    C   J.D. Closser        0
    1B  Todd Helton         7
    2B  Aaron Miles         1
    SS  Clint Barmes        0
    3B  Garrett Atkins      0
    LF  Matt Holliday       1
    CF  Preston Wilson      6
    RF  Brad Hawpe          0
    SP  Jason Jennings      3
    SP  Joe Kennedy         4
    SP  Shawn Chacon        4
    SP  Jeff Francis        0
    SP  Jamey Wright        7
    CL  Aaron Taylor        0
    
    
    That's six players with no substantial major league experience whatsoever, and an additional two with only one year under their belts. Go ahead; we dare you to name a team whose opening day roster projects to have such inexperience.

    Most, if not all, of these young players will prove unimpressive; in fact, the only one of the bunch who seems to have superstar potential is Jeff Francis, and for a Colorado pitcher, nothing is certain. But they have the right idea: if you're not going to contend, see what your kids can do, and don't clog the roster with expensive mediocrity. If you must have mediocrity, get it on the cheap, a la Mohr. The Rocks may have arrived at this strategy by accident. Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson and Denny Neagle are eating so much money that further consumption is out of the question.

    We suspect, however, that further eating will rarely be out of the question for 6'8", 260 lb. Aaron "Big Country" Taylor. Here's hoping he turns out a little better than NBA oaf Bryant "Big Country" Reeves.

New York Mets

  • Ibid: See comment on Delgado in Orioles section.

  • KazMat Alert: For all of the bellyaching about Kazuo Matsui's New York debut, the Mets shouldn't feel so bad about starting him at shortstop. A sneak preview of PECOTA's forecasted VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) for major league shortstops in '05:

    
    PLAYER             VORP
    Miguel Tejada      50.6
    Derek Jeter        46.6
    Carlos Guillen     39.2
    Nomar Garciaparra  38.8
    Edgar Renteria     37.7
    Jimmy Rollins      34.9
    Bobby Crosby       32.5
    Khalil Greene      28.9
    Rafael Furcal      28.3
    B.J. Upton         28.1
    Kaz Matsui         25.9
    
    Here's three other notable off-season pickups:

    
    PLAYER            VORP
    Orlando Cabrera   18.5
    Omar Vizquel      15.5
    David Eckstein    15.3
    
    Matsui's contract averages just over seven million dollars annually, and has only two years to go. With the exception of Garciaparra, whose one-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs may be the bargain of the off-season, the players above him are either top-dollar free agents making eight figures (Tejada, Jeter, Renteria) or young players who have yet to hit free agency (Guillen, Rollins, Crosby, Greene, Furcal, Upton). Even one disappointing year later, Matsui's contract still holds up.

    You might argue that the contract was cheap, but unnecessary: the Mets had their own young player to plug in at short. Well...

    
    PLAYER          VORP
    Jose Reyes      12.7
    
    ...bad things happen to good people, and PECOTA sees that Reyes has yet to ward off the injury bug, not to mention concerns that he doesn't have the plate discipline to thrive in the big leagues. The Matsui signing isn't great, but it's not a failure, and the Mets have bigger problems.

  • Gangs of New York: And here's one, into which pattern the Matsui signing admittedly fits. For a few years the Mets have had a Mo Vaughn-sized inferiority complex about being the second-best team in their city. They often seem more focused on winning the hearts of New Yorkers than they do on winning the division.

    Here's what Omar Minaya had to say when the Mets signed Pedro Martinez:

    "That kid that we don't know about, that Pedro Martinez that you don't know about, I don't know about, okay, that might be in the marketplace down in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. That kid's father, or that kid, you know what he wants to be today? He wants to be a Met."

    There are two big questions we need to ask ourselves when we hear something like this:

    • Is it true?
    • If it's true, does it matter?

    Is it true? Pedro Martinez is far from the only Latin player in the game, even if he is one of the most prominent. On account of Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez, there are a lot of Latino boys that want to be Angels or Red Sox. And as for "that kid's father," it's a good bet that there are a lot of fathers who, on account of Roberto Clemente, raised their kids to be Pirates.

    If it's true, does it matter? A Mets uniform is nice; a new house is better, and it's likely that Latino boys, like everybody else, will go where the money is best. Unless Pedro Martinez is intending to shunt some of his paycheck down south, he won't affect that calculus a whole lot.

    So if it isn't true, why would the Mets say it? One reason could be that they don't believe it, and are trying to make a self-fulfilling prophecy: if they say that Dominican boys all want to be Mets, then by golly, Dominican boys will want to be Mets! The signing was made for baseball reasons, and the hype is merely another opportunity to be seized.

    Could be. But this organization's recent history makes us suspect otherwise. They seem to think that Pedro Martinez is worth $53 million over four years, while an uninteresting American player with exactly the same skills and track record might not be. This is a poor mode of thought, whether or not Martinez is worth the money.

    The Yankees are popular because they win. OK, because they win, and because they have a rich tradition...of winning. The Yankees win, and make a stir; the Mets see this, and don't realize that the stir is a byproduct.

    As Rob Neyer wrote in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups, "People will come to the ballpark for two things, and two things only: free stuff, and baseball. Winning baseball." If the Mets want to be kings of New York, they don't need to be louder than the Yankees; they need to be better.

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