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June 24, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Friday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

Oakland Athletics: We're not quite halfway through the year, but it seems reasonable to make another assessment of the Athletics' blockbuster trades this past off-season.


Braves          VORP       Athletics        VORP
------------------------------------------------
Tim Hudson      17.3       Juan Cruz       -13.3
                           Charles Thomas   -7.8
                           Dan Meyer     Minors*
----------------------------------------------
TOTALS          17.3                       -21.1

Ouch. Last year, Juan Cruz had a 2.75 ERA in 72 innings pitched, with a 70/30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This year, before being sent down to Triple-A, Cruz had an 8.49 ERA in 23 1/3 IP with a K/BB of 27/19. The strikeout rate is still solid, but the walks are out of control; Cruz was getting slapped around to the tune of 11.2 hits per nine and letting them out of the park at a rate of 1.5 homers per nine.

Charles Thomas' .109/.255/.109 line earned him a CalTrain ticket to Triple-A Sacramento, as well. That's not a typo: Thomas had an OPS of 364 in 55 plate appearances. Thomas is definitely a better hitter than that, but let's not forget that in five minor-league seasons and 2,121 plate appearances Thomas compiled a less than outstanding .267/.345/.387 line; those averages include his flukish 2004 in Triple-A Richmond where he put together a half-season of .358/.416/.535 ball. Thomas shouldn't be 364 OPS bad, but neither is he as good as the 813 OPS he put up in a half-season with Atlanta last year.


Pirates/Indians VORP       Athletics        VORP
------------------------------------------------
Mark Redman     28.7       Jason Kendall    -0.3
Arthur Rhodes   14.3
------------------------------------------------
TOTALS          43.0                        -0.3

OUCH! Jason Kendall has a career line of . 303/.384/.411, yet this year he is "hitting" just .255/.337/.295. Kendall has always been able to hit for average and at least a little bit of pop, but this year he's done neither. The complete lack of triples is at least partly due to McAfee Coliseum playing as a horrendous park for three-baggers (park factor of .652 since 2002). The batting average that's almost 50 points below his career level is inexplicable, though it does bear mentioning that Oakland as a team has the worst batting average in the AL (.251).

Mark Redman is pitching miles above his head. His 90th percentile PECOTA projection had him at a 3.57 ERA with 37.0 runs of VORP in 183 innings pitched. In just over half that playing time he's already accumulated almost 78% of the value. With only 4.84 K/9 in 2005, the thing keeping Redman afloat is his absurdly low .268 BABIP. Of the 58 NL pitchers with at least 70 IP, Redman is tied for seventh in lowest batting average on balls in play.

Arthur Rhodes has a low BABIP (.275), but he's also pitching really really well: 8.38 K/9, 1.24 BB/9, and most impressively, just 0.31 HR/9. Rhodes is looking more and more like the filthy set-up man he was from 2001-2002, which is exactly what Billy Beane thought he was getting when he signed the left-hander in 2004. Rhodes' year-by-year career record looks like another example of Voros McCracken's observation that even a full season of relief pitching is barely 1/4 to 1/3 the sample size of a full season of starting pitching; the results you see in such a small sample size can be incredibly misleading.


Cardinals       VORP       Athletics        VORP
------------------------------------------------
Mark Mulder      8.1       Dan Haren         9.6
                           Kiko Calero      -1.3
                           Daric Barton   Minors
------------------------------------------------
TOTALS           8.1                         8.3
Here's a fun experiment: Which pitcher would you prefer?


             RA   G    IP   H   R   ER   HR   BB   SO  SALARY
Pitcher A   4.57  14  90.7  93  46  43    9   27   51  6,550,000
Pitcher B   4.83  15  95.0  88  51  42    8   32   73    323,500

The A's didn't like what they saw from Mark Mulder last year and decided to cut bait and run. It looks like their instincts were dead on. Kiko Calero was shelled in early outings this season, but much of that might have been due to his elbow tendinitis. Since returning from the DL at the beginning of the month Calero has had a 3.00 ERA with five strikeouts and just one walk in six innings. Only time will tell whether that's a small-sample-size blip or whether Calero has put things back together after a painful injury.

Even while recovering from an emergency appendectomy and bone chips in the elbow, super-prospect Daric Barton has shown strong skills at High-A Stockton. Barton is hitting .300/.425/.433 and improving as he does on-the-job training at first base. The elbow problems that forced him out from behind the plate at the beginning of the season have abated to the point where the Ports moved him to catcher the other night for his first inning behind the dish since 2004. More good news: just yesterday it was announced that Barton will help represent the U.S. squad at the Futures Game on July 10.

For the A's, the net deficit from those trades currently stands at 81.5 runs of VORP, or just over eight wins, which would be more than enough to put them back in the AL West race at this point in the season. Admittedly the team got younger, cheaper, and obtained two sparkling prospects in Barton and Dan Meyer, but the impact of those three big trades on the 2005 season is looking more and more depressing as the year unfolds.

--Tom Gorman

Los Angeles Dodgers: Adrian Beltre's departure left a hole at third base, though it wasn't immediately clear what size hole it was: the 2004 hole that was size-.334/.388/.629, or the smaller, career-sized .274/.332/.463 one. While Beltre's breakout age-25 2004 may have been a sign of better things to come, he's doing his best so far this year (.253/.297/.372, .013 VORPr) to make the Dodgers' decision to let him walk look especially prudent.

The players that the Dodgers have used this season in his absence have been, collectively, better than Beltre. But how much of that sentence is praise, and how much a result of Beltre lowering the bar to replacement-level?


Player           PA    AVG/OBA/SLG    MLVr  VORPr  EqR*
Jose Valentin    88  .194//364/.358  -.046  .088   11
Olmedo Saenz    152  .313/.375/.560   .340  .435    5
Mike Edwards     80  .342/.375/.434   .201  .324    8
Antonio Perez   120  .340/.417/.425   .242  .390   13
Oscar Robles     40  .194/.275/.194  -.407 -.454   NA
N. Nakamura      41  .128/.171/.179  -.657 -.544   NA

* Runs created while that player was playing third base in the field

While a comparison like this isn't exactly apples to apples, it isn't apples to oranges, either (honestly, who compares fruit?). True, most of the players who have seen time at third base this season for L.A. have also spent a significant amount of time at other positions; that extra playing time is factored into the PAs above, which is why we're using VORPr (VORP/Game) and EqR.

But that's also the point. Third base has been the one area where the Dodgers have been able to deal with adversity successfully, and they've done so exclusively in-house, sometimes taking middle infielders (Perez, Robles) and putting them at the hot corner. Where injuries and ineffectiveness in the outfield have seen significant ABs given to Ja(y)sons Grabowski, Repko, and Werth, third base has actually remained moderately productive.

We should be careful, though--having a few mediocre options on hand is no real substitute for having one good one. But, to be fair, much of the third-base commotion has been reactionary, triggered when off-season acquisition Jose Valentin got injured. A mostly-platoon player against righties, he was hitting .194/.364/.358 before his May 4 knee injury sent him to the 60-day DL. His PECOTA weighted-mean forecast of .235/.312/.445 is good deal better than that, obviously, and so any improvement after he returns from the DL would be a welcome addition to a limping Dodger offense. The problem, though, is that he'll be limping himself, as his injury affected three knee ligaments; it's not clear what "full strength" will mean once he returns.

An occasional third baseman, Olmedo Saenz would ordinarily make a fine lefty-masher half of a platoon (with, say, Valentin). However, he's pretty brutal in the field. Granted his -3 FRAR and -5 FRAA are a bit skewed since he's seen the most time at first base (as his 17:5 EqR attests), but if he can't handle the easiest position on the field with aplomb, it's a pretty safe assumption that he won't move three steps rightward on the defensive spectrum gracefully. Consequently, he's been used primarily as a platoon-mate for first baseman Hee Seop Choi. Pesky laws of physics prevent players from platooning at two positions.

Promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas immediately after Valentin's injury, Mike Edwards has always been a favorite in some stathead communities, based largely on his .293/.385/.440 career line in the minors. Not even the most vocal apologist for cast-off A's farmhands can expect Edwards to continue hitting .342, though in a small sample, it's pretty careless to focus on one area of the batting line while ignoring others. His BB/K ratio is 4/5, both low numbers for someone who's gotten 80 plate appearances. His .434 SLG is aided by 2 triples, as his .066 ISO tells the story of a guy who has hit 80% singles. His minor league ISO was .140, including .153 in the high minors (he's seen 1134 ABs at Triple-A in his career), so what he's likely to give back in BA he can add in more legitimate SLG. His batting-average driven .375 OBP will probably come down, but don't let the four walks fool you: demonstrating control of the strike zone is about knowing which pitches to hit, not just taking walks. Why penalize him if, in a small sample, he's been hitting hittable pitches?

As placeholders go, you could do worse; he can play the outfield credibly, and you'd rather have him show up on your doorstep than perennial Plan D's Ryan Minor or Jason Smith...

...or even Norihiro Nakamura, for that matter. The Mets are probably pretty pleased they didn't end up with this guy when they tried to sign him in 2003, because the guy they have now isn't so bad.

Nakamura wasn't at all happy with his demotion to Las Vegas to start the 2005 season, and didn't make L.A. regret that decision when he hit .128/.171/.179 after being recalled on April 10.

He was designated for assignment on May 9 and sent to Las Vegas, where he's hit .272/.344/.537 in 147 ABs. As with Edwards, his .537 SLG alone doesn't tell the whole story, though, as he's hit 11 home runs against just five doubles. Call it the Tino Martinez Problem--the Yankee first baseman has hit .226/.326/.470, with 12 home runs and just five doubles. Of course, Martinez leads all AL first basemen in votes for the All-Star Game, so maybe the "all or nothing" strategy can pay dividends.

--John Erhardt

Related Content:  The Who,  Triple-A,  Year Of The Injury,  Sample Size

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