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June 17, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Friday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies just have to be a regular team to win. No, wait. They need sluggers. No, no, hang on. Athletes. They need athletic outfielders. No, pitching. Sinkerballers. Or, wait: kids. Yeah, how about playing rookies? We'll take a bunch of young players and they'll mature in Colorado. Starting this year. Or next year.

Sure, the Rockies remake themselves more often than the high-school kid who shows up each September with a different wardrobe, catchphrase and favorite band. But whether the current youth movement in Colorado represents a true change in organizational philosophy, a roster du jour, or a reactionary necessity--there are 13 rookies on the 25-man roster, but they have nine guys on the DL right now--isn't quite clear yet. Fortunately, they have a well-regarded collection of rookies, young players and prospects to build around, making it less likely that we can snicker at the newest New Direction. Here are a few brief notes on the kids:

  • Matt Holliday was a 2004 Rookie of the Year candidate who had noteworthy and oft-cited home/road splits last season. He isn't faring much better outside of Coors Field this year:
    
                 AB    AVG   OBP   SLG
    2005, Home  107   .355  .395  .570
    2004, Home  204   .338  .406  .603
    
    2005, Away   89   .213  .283  .281
    2004, Away  196   .240  .287  .367
    
    
    Has anyone ever looked closely at the Rockies farm system? Conventional wisdom states that players will play worse on the road than they do at home once they put on a Rockies uniform. But how do players developed within the Colorado system fare against players who cut their teeth elsewhere? In other words, the Coors Field hangover might actually refer to something that comes sooner in their histories: the residual effects of having missed a significant chunk of "true" development time due to the natural advantage that all hitters have when playing in an environment like Denver (or Colorado Springs).

    Investigating this fully requires more attention than can be given in this space, but as a rhetorical exercise, we certainly can think out loud about it. Since the Rockies organization is still fairly young, it might be too problematic to conduct such a study. But at a certain point, one has to wonder: how have they only developed one noteworthy hitter in the best hitting environments in the game? Perhaps that should be scrutinized a little more than it has been.

  • As soon as we theorize that Holliday might be symptomatic of a larger phenomenon, here comes Brad Hawpe to screw it up. Hawpe was, at one time, a first-base prospect. Since the Rockies have Todd Helton at first, Hawpe was "asked" to learn the outfield. Here's a challenge--see if you can spot Hawpe's season in Triple-A Colorado Springs among his career:
    
    Year     ISO
    2000    .234
    2001    .231
    2002    .235
    2003    .225
    2004    .327
    2004    .133
    2005    .157
    
    
    OK, it wasn't much of a challenge. Hawpe absolutely mashed the ball in 345 ABs during 2004. But Hawpe also has a rather curious home/road split this year:
    
    Home   .241/.308/.410
    Away   .329/.391/.500
    
    
    Hawpe has a sizeable difference in his "Coors platoon." But it isn't likely to be indicative of any inability to hit in Coors:
    
           G   AB  R  H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  TB  BB  SO
    Home  28   83  8 20   1   2   3   19  34   8  18
    Away  27   76  9 25   4   0   3   11  38   9  18
    
    
    With so few ABs in both instances, we're still dealing with big leaps when/if he goes 0-4 or 3-4. The performance on the road isn't meaningful, ultimately. It's possible that he's "pressing" at home, or trying to pull everything, or distracted by an attractive woman in the front row, but it's more likely that he's hit just three or four more balls squarely while on the road. We'll see what the line looks like in August.

  • Clint Barmes was hitting .323/.365/.507 in 244 PA before breaking his collarbone, and his .354 VORPr was by far the best among Rockies regulars. The Coors inflation of his counting stats was expected, but this was a bit surprising:
    
    
    Performance              AB    AVG   OBP   SLG    VORP
    PECOTA weighted mean     318  .272  .315  .424     5.6
    2005 actual              225  .329  .371  .516    20.1
    
    
    His prorated 2005 actual season has him post a 54.5 VORP, almost ten times the value of his weighted mean projection. One BP writer predicted him to be Rookie of the Year (with teammate Jeff Francis coming in second), and he was most likely on his way to that honor. He still leads all rookie position players in VORP. With the technically ineligible Joe Mauer his closest competition on that last, it doesn't look like Barmes will surrender his spot any time soon.

  • Cory Sullivan got off to a hot start, and served as a great early example of the successful NRI. He's been on a downward spiral since then, though:
    
    Month     AB     AVG/OBP/SLG
    April     27   .407/.467/.593
    May       53   .245/.268/.321
    June      28   .321/.321/.321
    
    
    He hasn't hit an extra-base hit since May 20th, a home run in Pittsburgh. Since that time, he's effectively been a singles-hitting outfielder, even in Coors Field. Considering that Coors turns pitchers into singles-hitting outfielders, this isn't a good sign for his future, grittiness and work ethic notwithstanding.

--John Erhardt

Texas Rangers: Ryan Drese, this year's opening day starter for the Texas Rangers, was designated for assignment last week and eventually claimed by the Washington Nationals. The attempt to slip Drese to the minors is unsurprising when you consider his stat line this year.


YEAR  GS   IP    ERA   RA    H/9   HR/9   SO/9   BB/9   BAA  BABIP
2005  13   69.2  6.46  6.72  12.4  0.7    2.6    3.1   .344  .345

Passing the ball every fifth day to a hurler with a 6.46 ERA was not an option for a team that sits only a couple games out of first place. Some of Drese's problems were due to bad luck (among the 160 MLB starters with at least five games started, Drese ranks ninth in worst BABIP). All the same, it's still hard to avoid getting tattooed when you're averaging just 2.58 strikeouts per nine. The Rangers signed Drese to a two-year, $1.825-million deal this past off-season, but did they have reason to expect all that much from him?


YEAR  GS   IP    ERA   RA    H/9   HR/9   SO/9   BB/9   BAA  BABIP
2002  26  137.1  6.55  6.82  11.5  1.0    6.7    4.1   .317  .368
2003   8   46.0  6.85  8.22  11.9  1.6    5.1    4.7   .314  .331
2004  33  207.2  4.20  4.51  10.1  0.7    4.2    2.5   .285  .309
2005  13   69.2  6.46  6.72  12.4  0.7    2.6    3.1   .334  .345

Which of those years is unlike the others? Obviously this year's strikeout rate is at an all-time low, but Drese's career is pretty unimpressive in every year but 2004. In fact, against his career numbers, that .345 BABIP from this year doesn't look all that abnormal. Actually, it's his 2004 career year rate of .309 (which is still above average) that looks like a lucky year.

In the Rangers' defense, $1.825 million is a rather small sum to pay for two years from a possible rotation mainstay. It's not chump change, but the alternatives were also undesirable: 1) dump your best pitcher from 2004 because you think the career year was a fluke, 2) try to secure a one-year contract and hope that he's good enough to earn the money but not so good that you get hosed in arbitration in 2006. In that context the deal makes sense, but when you consider the Rangers' rotation needs the deal becomes even more defensible.

Consider the Rangers' starters' raw stats:


Year  IP   ERA    H/9    HR/9   SO/9   BB/9   P/GS  WHIP
2001  926  6.00   11.1   1.38   5.88   3.58   96    1.63
2002  931  5.26   9.69   1.19   5.73   3.90   97    1.51
2003  832  6.24   10.6   1.59   5.77   3.72   88    1.59
2004  901  5.16   10.4   1.33   5.28   3.27   93    1.51

Drese's breakout year also coincided with the best year the Rangers' staff has had in ages.


Rangers' Starters
Year   ERA   Rank_in_AL*  #_of_Starters**    ERA_Qualifiers***
2002   5.26     12th          12             1 (Kenny Rogers)
2003   6.24     14th          16             1 (John Thompson)
2004   5.16      5th          17             2 (Rogers, Drese)

* Rank of ERA vs. other AL staffs
** # of starters used to get to 162 GS
*** # of starters who accumulated at least 162 IP

Not only was 2004 a breakout year for the Rangers in terms of ERA and the rank of the staff ERA vs. the rest of the AL, but it was also a record year for the team in terms of the number of starters they ran through. Because of injuries and ineffectiveness the Rangers were forced to rely on 17 (!!) starters to get through 162 games. This was just one year removed from the 2003 season in which they had to use 16 starters, and had only one player qualify for the ERA title. The Rangers have had trouble finding effective starters, but they'd had a harder time getting anyone to stay healthy and throw a decent game every fifth day.

In 2004 they found in Ryan Drese someone who pitched quite well and was also able to take his turn every time it came around (33 games started in 2004). In that context it is completely defensible for General Manager John Hart, and his lieutenant AGM Jon Daniels, to ignore the long history of ineffectiveness and sign Drese up for a moderate two-year deal.

For what it's worth, this year the Rangers have used just six starters, and that sixth was needed only after Drese was dismissed. It's too early to pop the champagne, but the Rangers are on pace to have their most consistent starting staff in years.

--Tom Gorman

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