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June 17, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Return of Return of the Transients

by Jim Baker

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In Tuesday's effort, I reviewed the National League Transient All-Star team that I had compiled in February--that is, the players with new teams via free agency or trade. Today, we'll take a bash at the American Leaguers.

Catcher: Jason Kendall, Oakland. When I put together the Transient All-Stars, I messed up and left Kendall off the list, ranking A.J. Pierzynski first instead. I corrected this oversight in the next column. I'd be looking a lot smarter if I had stuck by my mistake--at least for the time being. Pierzynski has a VORP of 9.8 while Kendall is part of the A's low-VORP morass (4.3) in which not a single offensive player is in double figures (although Bobby Crosby will get there right quick). I got a shot off at Kenny Williams last time out about the Scott Podsednik for Carlos Lee trade and caught a lot of mail heat for it. So, in fairness, I think Williams' signing of Pierzynski was a nice move.

First Baseman: Richie Sexson, Seattle. There was really no competition for this spot in the American League. In February I wrote of free agent first basemen Sexson and Carlos Delgado: "If you're over the age of 10, you've figured out by now that the universe is not an orderly place. If it were, Carlos Delgado would have been signed before Sexson, not weeks and weeks later." Delgado has a VORP more than double that of Sexson (36.2 to 16.5).

Second Baseman: Alex Cora, Cleveland. A position with slim pickings, Cora got the nod over Tony Womack of the Yankees. Both have spent more time at other positions than they have at second. Both have not been good but Cora has been less not good and for less money.

Third Baseman: Adrian Beltre, Seattle. Injured though he may be, Corey Koskie of the Blue Jays has been a notch above Beltre. Has playing in Safeco hurt the former Dodger? One could argue as much, except that he's been nearly as woeful on the road, too.

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria, Boston. Renteria was given the nod over Orlando Cabrera of the Angels and, to this point, it's too early to declare a first-year winner on their mutual long-term contract showdown. Both are validating the concerns of those who questioned the length and financial generosity of their contracts.

Left Fielder: Dave Berg, Boston. The choices here were slim and came down to Berg, Marty Cordova and Denny Hocking. I wrote in February that "we're arguing over three men who might have less than 50 combined games left in their big league careers." That statement has proven to be far too generous.

Center Fielder: Steve Finley, Los Angeles. He got the transient all-star gig ahead of Scott Podsednik who has since moved to leftfield. VORP-wise, there isn't a whole lot separating them right now. Podsednik does have the edge, though. My figuring was that Podsednik would continue his trend of up and down fluctuation and was, therefore, due to down-flux in 2005. Instead, both Finley (.260) and Podsednik (.274) are nearly exactly matching exactly their EqAs of 2004.

A number of you wrote in to point out that Podsednik is getting on base and leading the league in steals. True and true, although someone who relies on batting average to prop up their attack to the extent that he does is susceptible to bad luck and happenstance. Then there's the power situation. While nobody expects every manjack of a major leaguer to be a slugger, we do expect a certain amount of self-propelling from those at the highest levels. What Podsednik has done in this regard so far is very nearly historic. He has a shot at joining some pretty select company, that being players who have played nearly every day and not managed to smash a single triple or home run.

It's been a while since anybody pulled off this trick. Here are the only players to do this since 1948 with at least 400 plate appearances:

  • 1990: Al Newman
    The last man to pull off this nifty feat was never much for going beyond second base, to put it in adolescent sex terminology. In 2,409 career plate appearances, he hit seven triples and a single homer. His last triple came on August 8, 1989 and he played a full season's worth of games past in '91 and '92 without hitting another.

  • 1980: Frank Taveras
    Tavares is the king of this, as his outage came in a whopping 598 plate appearances. If Podsednik keeps playing though, he has ample time to top that figure. Taveras had nine triples the year before.

  • 1978: Billy North
    Like Taveras he was a former 70-steal man whose speed never got him past second in his outage year. Because of his awesome walk totals, he had an OBP 97 points higher than his slugging average in '78. Sound pretty high? It is. Here are the five-highest, minimum 400 plate appearances:

    
     Gap: Player, Year Team -- On Base Percentage/Slugging Average
    .100: Bud Harrelson, 1974 Mets -- .366/.266
    .097: North, 1978 A's/Dodgers -- .367/.270
    .086: Ron Theobald, 1972 Brewers -- .342/0.256
    .082: Walt Weiss, 1995 Rockies -- .403/.321
    .082: North, 1980 Giants -- .373/.292
    

  • 1978: Mark Belanger
    Belanger always worked close to the edge in this regard. He had a single triple in 1973 and never had more than nine homers and triples combined. He didn't hit many doubles, either.

  • 1972-74: Ron Hunt
    Hunt did this in each of last three seasons in the majors. That's over 1,500 trips to the plate without an extra-long hit.

  • 1973: Glenn Beckert
    Beckert came to the plate 410 times in '73. He walked 30 times and struck out just 15 and was hit by two pitches. So, that's 363 balls put in play, only 13 of which went for doubles. Consider then, the very small area in his struck balls ended up. Did a player outside of the Deadball Area ever use less of the field? Twenty-two other players from 1884 to 1948 did this. The most famous of them is probably Everett Scott, the man whose consecutive games played streak was broken by Lou Gehrig. Scott first did it in 1915, but missed making our list by one plate appearance. He did it again in 1919 in 540 trips. He hit 12 triples and four homers the next year. Another player worth mentioning is Jo-Jo Morrissey, his gig with Cincinnati in 1933 lasted 567 plate appearances without benefit of a three- or four-bagger. He almost went his entire 897-PA career without one, save for a triple in 1932.

Will Podsednik join this list?

No. Baker's Axiom clearly states that as soon as you notice something it stops. The man hit 12 home runs and seven triples last year. Something is bound to fall right for him and soon.

Right Fielder: Magglio Ordonez, Chicago. I wrote "Sosa could just as easily fill the bill here," which is exactly what has happened. Ordonez was a long-shot who failed to overcome his damaged-goods warning label. Meanwhile, Orioles fans are hoping that Sammy Sosa 2005 equals Roger Maris 1967--a former 60-homer guy who helps lead his new team to the top. Sosa's EqA is .294 while Maris managed .288 in '67 for the Cardinals.

Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson, New York. Here are the current American League top five among starting pitchers playing with new teams in 2005:


18.2: Matt Clement, Boston
17.7: Johnson
16.0: Kevin Millwood, Cleveland
12.1: Aaron Sele, Seattle
10.2: Paul Byrd, Los Angeles

Starting Pitcher: Matt Clement, Boston. In February, I discussed Clement's lack of run support from the Cubs and wrote of the Red Sox, "If they could find it in their hearts to give Clement a run or a run and a-half more per game, I'm sure he'd be much obliged." It's been more than a run. Actually, they've added over three runs to his Chicago support of 2003-04. The result? A predictably one-sided won-loss record in spite of an effort comparable with those of the last three seasons in Chicago.

Starting Pitcher: Carl Pavano, New York. While it appears there is some serious Northeast bias at work here with all the starters coming from either New York or Boston, remember that they were the most active purloiners of pitching talent over the winter. I speculated then about which trio of newbies would fare best: Johnson/Pavano/Jaret Wright or Clement/David Wells/Wade Miller. Clement and Johnson are fairly even, but Wells is smoking Pavano so far and Wright's brief but unfortunate run in April puts the Yank trio in a deep hole. Totaling their VORP, it's Boston 31, New York 10.3.

Starting Pitcher: David Wells, Boston.The numbers seem about the same as before: same number of hits per nine, same crazy low walk totals, same strikeout rate. They're just powering up a bit more off him; at least they were before the last two starts. Things are bound to stay fine as long as the Red Sox keep slathering him up with runs. At 42, he's still better than a lot of guys.

Starting Pitcher: Wade Miller, Boston. I wrote that Millwood could have also been a good choice for the five slot. Shoulda went with that one.

Keith Woolner and Tom Gorman contributed research to this column.

Related Content:  Scott Podsednik,  The Who

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