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May 27, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

by Paul Swydan

Cleveland Indians

  • W-X-R-L Spells Relief: Keeping the Cleveland Indians in the race this season has been some stellar bullpen work. The key to success for the bullpen has been its depth, as only one member, Jason Davis has a negative WXRL. Overall, the Indians bullpen is the fourth best in the majors:

    
    Rank   Team             WXRL
    1      San Diego        5.002
    2      LA of Anaheim    4.444
    3      Arizona          4.118
    4      Cleveland        3.717
    5      Chicago Sox      3.566
    ...
    9      Minnesota        2.655
    
    

    While Minnesota is generally regarded as having a stellar bullpen, it is Cleveland's bullpen that is at this point worth more than a full win more. The Indians bullpen attack is bolstered by Arthur Rhodes and Bob Wickman, who rank 17th and 19th in the majors respectively.

    Rhodes in particular has been a revelation. After clocking a WXRL of .389 last year and being castoff by the A's and Pirates in one off-season, Rhodes has come back with a vengeance. His WXRL stands at 1.184, and his VORP of 10.9 is higher than that of trade counterpart Matt Lawton's 5.9 VORP. Last year, the Indians only had Cliff Bartosh as a reliable lefty in the pen. Going into this year, Bartosh was gone, and Scott Sauerbeck and Rhodes were the lefties on the squad. Had Rhodes come out and performed as he did in 2004 that would have likely meant higher leverage innings for Sauerbeck, whose WXRL is second-lowest on the team at .077. Both Rhodes and Eric Wedge deserve credit for their work so far this season. While some Indians fans have taken Wedge to task for his managerial prowess and "adult-industry" mustache, Wedge should be commended for putting his bullpen in a position to succeed.

  • No-ffense: Victor Martinez is hitting .309...on my MVP Baseball 2004 Dynasty team. In real life, however, he is not anywhere close to .309, but rather at a dismal .195. Martinez. Aaron Boone has similarly not lived up to expectations. Both should certainly shoulder some blame for the team's poor offensive performance.

    
    Martinez     OPS   MLVr   VORP   EqA
    10% PECOTA  .733  -.075   12.0  .259
    Current     .542  -.324   -4.1  .192
    
    Boone        OPS   MLVr   VORP   EqA
    10% PECOTA  .629  -.255  -12.0  .221
    Current     .488  -.434  -10.7  .165
    
    

    Neither player is performing at even their 10th percentile PECOTA projection, and in terms of VORP, Boone is the worst player in baseball. However, there are subtle differences that prevent them from being lumped together.

    
    Boone      P/PA   BB/SO
    2005       3.32     .15
    Career     3.56     .42
    
    Martinez   P/PA   BB/SO
    2005       3.62     .65
    Career     3.66     .80
    
    

    Martinez has stayed equally patient as he has in past years, while Boone is showing a complete lack of discipline. Boone's 3.32 pitches per plate appearance represents a career low, as well as being one of the worst totals in baseball. In addition, there is another definite split in Martinez' game, which despite the small sample size is nonetheless encouraging:

    
    Martinez   PA    OPS
    Vs. LHP    42   .912
    Vs. RHP   113   .396
    
    

    All of this adds up to less concern for the 26-year-old catcher, and a lot of concern for the 32-year-old third baseman. However, the team as a whole must share the blame with Martinez and Boone. The Indians are just not an efficient team. Courtesy of James Click, the Indians are dead last in Offensive BABIP, at a paltry .264. In addition, the Indians are not playing efficient station-to-station baseball. The Indians run percentage (RS/(RS+LOB)) is a mere .367, good for 24th in the majors. The Indians do not get a lot of people on base and when they do they have trouble bringing them home, which adds up to a lot of lost opportunity.

Seattle Mariners

  • Efficiency Experts: One reason the Seattle Mariners have managed to stay afloat in the AL West is due to their prowess in the field. Currently the Mariners rank sixth in Defensive Efficiency, which measures a team's ability to convert balls put into play into outs. Defensive Efficiency has been a Mariner strength since they opened Safeco Field. In this spacious park, the Mariners have stuck to a strategy to find some good glove love, and this year has been no exception. Two notable differences from 2004 have been at shortstop and in the outfield:

    
    2004                        2005
    POS Player         Rate 2   Player          Rate 2
    SS  Rich Aurilia       96   Wilson Valdez      105
    LF  Raul Ibanez        99   Randy Winn         100
    CF  Randy Winn         99   Jeremy Reed        105
    
    

    While Wilson Valdez is unlikely to win a Silver Slugger anytime soon, he has proven adept with the glove. Likewise Jeremy Reed. By shuffling Randy Winn from center field to left field and slotting in Reed in center, the Mariners have thus far improved their outfield performance by seven runs versus 2004.

  • Luck be a Mariner: Thus far, the Mariners are treading water in the AL West. If they want to avoid falling too far behind, their starters will have to pitch better. The fact that the Mariners are the eighth luckiest pitching staff in the majors but still eight games under .500 does not bode well for the rest of the season:

    
    Team             W    L    GB    Luck
    LA of Anaheim   26   19     -     -.8
    Texas           25   20     1     3.4
    Seattle         18   26   7.5     3.6
    Oakland         17   27   8.5   -11.2
    
    

    Of particular note here is the stark contrast between Oakland and Seattle. Oakland's starters have pitched well enough to garner another eleven wins, which would leave them in the thick of the divisional race and leave the Mariners far behind. Something has to change, and as Will Carroll noted earlier this week, the M's are trying. At the very least the Mariners have to be commended for trying to make the best of their situation, but they could have avoided their plight altogether with a better off-season.

  • Hall Call?: Now that Bret Boone is in his age-36 year, not to mention the last year of his contract, it is about time for Mariners supporters (and Boone family supporters) to start making noise about Boone's inclusion in the Hall of Fame. So, is Bret Boone a Hall of Famer? Jay Jaffe's handy JAWS stat will be the judge. JAWS adds a player's career WARP3 score with his peak WARP3 score, which is defined as the player's five best consecutive seasons. The sum is divided by two. Boone's peak WARP3 period was 1999-2003, a period where he actually played for three different teams. Let's see how Boone stacks up:

    
    [(Career WARP3 + Peak WARP3) / 2]
    [(66.3         + 38.4)       / 2]
                         = 104.7 / 2 = 52.35
    
    

    Including new inductee Ryne Sandberg, the average Hall of Fame second-basemen had a JAWS score of 79.2. Given that Boone's WARP3 score dropped by over seven wins last season, it is not reasonable to assume he will continue to produce at a Hall of Fame level. As it stands today, the only Hall-of-Famer Boone outperforms is Johnny Evers. As such, Boone's current JAWS score of 52.35 simply does not merit consideration for the Hall of Fame. Assuming his peak score remains 38.4, Boone would need to almost double his WARP3 score to become an average HOF second baseman. While this certainly does not diminish his career, it is important to put things into context. Bret Boone will always be remembered as a good player, but it is unlikely that he will be remembered as a Hall of Famer.

Washington Nationals

  • Hanging Tough: In BP 2005 we had the following to say about the Washington Nationals:

    "This is a start without hope or promise. The first year of this franchise is already regarded as a write-off, a freebie."

    Someone forgot to tell the Nationals. At the end of April the team was 13-11, and their May record so far stands at 11-12, for a tidy mark of 24-23. This is a dramatic difference from 2004, when at this point in May they were a measly 15-30. Nor has it come the easy way. A quick glance at BP's Adjusted Standings shows that their third order record almost identical to their actual record. The Nationals have given themselves the rare opportunity to reach the playoffs in their first year in a new city. Far fetched? Possibly, but looking at the Playoff Odds Report, the Nationals still have better than a one in four chance at reaching the postseason. For a team that has already had to a fair amount of lineup shuffling due to injury, this is great news.

    Much of this is due to the fact that RFK Stadium has been closer to a Black Hole than a baseball park, playing like an extreme pitchers park in the early part of the season. RFK is only one of four parks this season to be under a park factor of 1.000 for all six offensive categories measured (R, HR, H, 2B, 3B, BB) along with Camden Yards, Safeco Field, and Minute Maid Park. To this point throughout baseball there has been a home run hit once every 34.62 at bats. At RFK, there has been a home run hit once every 83.75 at bats. Overall, Major Leaguers get hits once every 3.82 at bats, but only once every 4.27 at bats at RFK.

    This has added up to a 12-8 record at home this season for the Nats. When they return home from St. Louis on Memorial Day, the Nats will start their longest home stand of the season; 13 games vs. the Braves, Marlins, Athletics and Mariners. A successful home stand will keep the Nationals from falling too far behind the NL East frontrunners. The way the Black Hole has played thus far puts them in prime position to accomplish that goal.

  • They Call Him MISTER Johnson: Part of the reason the Nationals are doing so well is the performance of Nick Johnson. Johnson has been a revelation so far this season. His VORP of 19.2 ranks sixth among first-basemen, and his EqA of .333 ranks seventh overall in the NL. His current MLVr of .293 is more than three times higher than where PECOTA had him pegged.

    The reason is quite simple; Johnson is finally performing as expected, but with an added touch of slugging added to the equation. So far, his season is shaping up to look a lot like his 2003 season:

    
    Nick Johnson   AB    AVG    OBP    SLG   AB/HR   WARP1    EqA
    2003          324   .284   .422   .472    23.1     3.9   .310
    2005          167   .311   .422   .503    23.9     3.3   .333
    
    

    Assuming that Johnson can keep himself on the field and out of the training room, it looks as though Johnson is on track for that career year we were all hoping after his breakout in 2003.

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