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May 10, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates

by Derek Jacques

Florida Marlins

  • Foiled Again: BP's Neil deMause called it first: The Marlins' latest bid for a taxpayer-funded stadium died an ugly death at the hands of the Florida State Senate last week. It's not a huge surprise or even a huge shame, except to the extent that ownership visits to Las Vegas, Portland, San Juan, Mexico City, and Kuala Lumpur might distract from a terrific season by South Florida's ballclub.

    The Fish have finished atop the Prospectus Hit List twice in four tries this season, and they trail only Bobby Cox's deal with Mr. Applegate in the NL East. Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett have been baseball's new Big Three, now that Oakland has been forced to retire that title. Carlos Delgado and Miguel Cabrera have teamed to form one of the most potent 1-2 punches in the National League. Oft-maligned outfielder Juan Encarnacion has even chipped in, to the tune of a .301 EqA.

    EqA, for those of you scoring at home, is Equivalent Average, a stat that takes a player's total offensive contribution and turns it into a single number somewhat resembling batting average (so .200 is bad, and .300 is good).

    While it may be a bit much to expect Willis to maintain an ERA under 2, or Brian Moehler to keep pitching like Jamie Moyer, or Cabrera to keep his batting average above .370 over the course of the season, it is also unlikely that Mike Lowell will continue to put up a .208/.269/.344 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) for 2005, "good" for a .218 EqA.

  • Small Sample Size Warning, Part I: The Marlins' defense has performed at a high level: For a while they topped the defensive efficiency rate list dating back to 1972, which is as far back as some of our statistical reports go. Defensive efficiency rate (or "DER," for short) is a stat that simply measures a team's effectiveness in converting balls in play into outs. The Fish cooled off somewhat since then, but through Sunday their rate of performance was still good enough to rank among the top 15 teams over the past 32 years:
    Year Team   DER
    1981 DET   .742
    1972 BAL   .741
    1975 LAN   .740
    1972 OAK   .737
    1981 OAK   .736
    1990 OAK   .734
    1975 BAL   .733
    1972 CAL   .732
    1973 BAL   .732
    1976 NYA   .731
    1973 LAN   .731
    1991 CHA   .730
    1972 MIN   .730
    2005 FLO   .730
    1979 BAL   .729
    
    To tell the truth, this chart doesn't teach us much, at least this early in the year--all the small sample size warnings apply for now.

    Here's how Florida's defense breaks down, thus far:

    Position    Rate2   RAA2
    Catcher       95     -1
    First Base    77     -6
    Second Base  115      4
    Shortstop    114      4
    Third Base   100      0
    Left Field   101      0
    Center Field 108      2
    Right Field  116      4
    
    It's amazing that the Marlins have such a distinguished record on defense, given that Delgado has been such a butcher with the leather. Rate2 is a measure of a player's defensive contribution, with 100 being average--higher is better, lower is worse. Delgado's 77 Rate2 is awful, on a historic scale. RAA2, which stands for Runs Above Average, indicates that thus far, Delgado has cost the Marlins six runs with the glove.

    The standouts in the Florida defense have come up the middle, and in right field. Juan Encarnacion hasn't just been a revelation with the bat, his 117 Rate2 score is well above his established levels in nearly 900 games as an outfielder prior to 2005.

New York Yankees

  • Things Fall Apart, the Center Cannot Hold: You can spend a whole college semester trying to figure out what Yeats was writing about, but in this case it's simple: He was making predictions about the 2005 Yankees. Faced with a center fielder who can't hit, doesn't field, no longer runs, and can't throw (more so than usual, at least), the Yankees initiated emergency protocols. Center fielder Bernie Williams moved to the bench as the part-time DH, with second baseman Tony Womack shuttling from the keystone to left field, left fielder Hideki Matsui moving to center field, and Triple-A second baseman Robinson Cano coming on up to the Show.

    This move has been picked apart already, and other than noting that a small sample size of stats give Tony Womack more credit for his defense than he's received from the general public (see below), there is not much more to add here.

    However, if this is the way the Yankees' dynasty ends, it's appropriate that it all unravel around the man who started the Yankees on their ascent from the cellar, 14 years ago. When the epitaph of this Yankee era is written, it will read that in the mid-1990s the Yankees demonstrated the power of building a team with strong offense up the middle. Williams was the first piece of that puzzle.

    After taking this up-the-middle performance for granted over the past few off-seasons, last week's activity is a belated acknowledgment of the slow decay of the team's foundation. It is too little, too late, and now nobody knows where the Yankees go from here.

  • Small Sample Size Warning, Part Deux: That same sortable Defensive Efficiency Rate query shown earlier had some interesting consequences for the Bombers:

    Worst Defensive Efficiency, 1972-2005 (through Sunday):

    Year Team   DER
    2005 NYA   .651
    1999 TBA   .662
    1997 OAK   .663
    1999 COL   .663
    1994 COL   .664
    1996 BOS   .667
    1993 COL   .667
    1996 HOU   .668
    2000 TEX   .669
    1997 COL   .669
    2005 BOS   .670
    1998 TEX   .670
    1986 SEA   .670
    1999 TEX   .671
    1996 DET   .672
    
    That's the 2005 Yanks at the top of the list:--thus far they've been worst at turning balls in play into outs by a pretty respectable margin. The Yankees' poor defensive play comes off even worse when one considers that, unlike many of the teams on this list, they are not playing in an extreme hitter's park. The bottom 15 in DER features three Rockies teams and a couple of teams playing out of the Ballpark at Arlington.

    Taking a closer look at the Yankees' defenders:

    Position    Rate2   RAA2
    Catcher       86     -4
    First Base    80     -6
    Second Base  110      3
    Shortstop    102      1
    Third Base    93     -2
    Left Field   104      1
    Center Field  87     -4
    Right Field   97     -1
    
    This is a defense that makes you contemplate man's inhumanity to man. On the good side, the reigning AL Gold Glove winner at shortstop seems not to have reverted to his "past a diving Jeter" ways. While Womack gets a lot of flack for his failings, the defensive translations credit him for doing a fine job at second base: His 114 Rate2 is excellent and his 22 double plays turned and 88 assists still rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in the league--even though Womack has spent the past week playing left field.

  • From the Bulletin Board of George Steinbrenner: A little something that's going to get someone fired, eventually:
    Column A                      Column B
    Player    W-L  ERA  IP   K    Player    W-L  ERA  IP   K
    Lieber    5-1  2.57 49   22   Johnson   2-2  3.74 43.3 43
    Hernandez 4-1  2.92 37   24   Mussina   3-2  3.60 45   23
    Contreras 1-0  2.60 34.7 27   Pavano    2-2  4.17 41   21
    Loaiza    1-2  3.72 38.6 36   Brown     1-4  6.39 31   18
    Vazquez   4-2  4.70 49   44   Wright    2-2  9.15 19.7 13
    Halsey    2-1  3.46 41.7 26   Wang      0-1  4.85 13    3
    
    Column A indicates players the Yanks had last year who either washed out (Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, Esteban Loaiza) or weren't deemed worth keeping at market value (Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber). Although in this case Contreras and Loaiza are mutually exclusive (one became a Yankee at the expense of the other), both pitchers were riddles that the Yankees could not solve.

    Column B shows the pitchers who have started for the Yankees this season. Note that Wright is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, while the man he replaced, Jon Lieber, has more innings pitched with a lower ERA than any Yankee starter.

    The total price tag for Column A is $31.8 million. Column B weighs in at more than double that sum, $65.7 million. Try explaining small sample size to a grouchy George Steinbrenner, and prepare to watch the fur fly.

Pittsburgh Prates

  • Don't Ask Me Wi: It took a 16-run outburst on Mother's Day for the Pirates to finally break the 100 runs scored mark for the season, making them the last team in Major League Baseball to do so. As James Click has pointed out, it was extremely unlikely that the Pirates could continue their low-scoring ways, which until this past week had the Bucs struggling to average three runs per game.

    With apologies to Sesame Street, the Pirates' offensive struggles in 2005 have been brought to you by the letter "W", as in Jack Wilson, Craig Wilson, and Ty Wigginton. Combined, the three have hit an offense-murdering .214/.277/.302, far below the most pessimistic projections. This leaves us with a few questions.

  • Jack the Wack?: Jack Wilson, last year's surprise All-Star after an inspiring first three years of his career, has hit like Enrique Wilson in 2005 (.171/.214/.252). The question right now is, has Wilson turned back into a pumpkin, or is this just a slump?

    As an explanation, many point to Wilson's off-season emergency appendectomy as the cause of his early-season woes, noting that Wilson lost a lot of weight and conditioning time. Adrian Beltre had complications from an emergency appendectomy in 2003--it took him until August to regain his batting stroke. If this bad spell drags on that long, Freddy Sanchez could be seriously dipping into Wilson's playing time.

  • The Legend of Wiggyphus?: Ty Wigginton is hitting .194/.239/.284, and that's after a 3-3 performance in the aforementioned Mother's Day blowout. It shouldn't have been that big a surprise when Wigginton had a horrendous April, because he's never had two good consecutive months in his major league career, putting up a few stinkers along the way. Take a look:
    Year    Month    OPS    Year   Month    OPS
    2002    Aug.    .680    2004   April   .549
            Sep.   1.184           May     .923
    2003    April   .810           June    .702
            May     .691           July    .965
            June    .798           Aug.    .490
            July    .617           Sep.    .865
            Aug.    .728    2005   April   .361
            Sep.    .652
    
    For convenience's sake, months with less than 20 PA were eliminated. Statistically speaking, a pattern like this is probably just noise, a little randomness thrown in to make the universe interesting. If you're the kind superstitious sort, the writing was on the wall for Wigginton's April when he had the misfortune to hit well in Grapefruit League action (.299/.342/.612). Either way, it may be a while before Wigginton ever reclaims the everyday third baseman's job, if he's even able to swing it at all.

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers?: With a .307 EqA at the time he was put on the DL, Craig Wilson doesn't seem to belong with the other two. However, the shape of Wilson's offense to start this season, .296/.436/.395, is something out of the twilight zone, and not quite what was expected from the Bucs' slugger.

    The only explanation (aside from small sample size, that is) for Wilson's sudden loss of power and even more sudden gains in patience is that he has been possessed by the spirit of Ben Grieve, who was cut by the Pirates just as Wilson's power left the building. In this case, we can only hope that Wilson uses his time on the DL to re-discover his power, or at least find a decent exorcist.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

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