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June 29, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Wednesday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

Chicago White Sox: Some brief notes on a few White Sox infielders:
  • BPer Dayn Perry checks in with this tidbit:
    Paul Konerko is slugging .496 and is on pace for 42 homers. That would be the highest homer total ever for a player to slug less than .500. The current list:
    
    Player              Year   HR   SLG
    Cecil Fielder       1996   39  .484
    Mark McGwire        1990   39  .489
    Jeromy Burnitz      1998   38  .499
    Gorman Thomas       1980   38  .471
    Rafael Palmeiro     1997   38  .485
    
    

  • What a crazy world we live in:

    Womack, NYY--397,303
    Iguchi, CHW--293,817

    Those numbers represent the All-Star vote totals for Womack and Iguchi, through Tuesday.

    Tadahito Iguchi is hitting .287/.352/.430 in 271 PA with a VORP of 11.5 and an EqA of .278. Tony Womack, on the other hand, is hitting .233/.267/.257, with a VORP of -9.4 and an EqA of .212; only Cristian Guzman has been a worse everyday player than Womack by those measures.

    Iguchi's not an AL All-Star by any means (Brian Roberts is on track to claim that honor, deservedly), but one would hope that he'd at least fare better in the voting than Womack, who has also been moved to the outfield. Of course, no one's claiming that voters know what they're doing, or that they're even being serious--I voted for the entire Montreal Expos starting lineup last season--so Womack's vote total may just be the All-Star equivalent of a "Bronx Cheer."

    Just for comparison's sake, here's how Iguchi ($2.3 million salary in 2005) compares to fellow import Kazuo Matsui ($7 million in 2005):

    
    Player   GP     Batting Line    VORP     EqA    FRAR   FRAA
    Iguchi   63    .287/.352/.430   11.5    .278      10     -5
    Matsui   58    .234/.284/.321   -3.0    .218      11      0
    
    

    Yes, they're both Japanese, but that alone isn't reason for comparison. Matsui was the much more heralded arrival, even bumping Mets uberprospect Jose Reyes to a new position (though Reyes doesn't look so uber now).

    But take a look at those FRAR and FRAA lines. While the usual defensive caveats apply here, it seems odd that Matsui ranks higher than Iguchi in both categories, despite Chicago targeting their guy based on the strength of his three Japanese Gold Gloves. Matsui's had well-documented eyesight and leg troubles (for which he's mercifully been put on the DL), and despite those, he still ranks as a solid defensive player. Mets fans might disagree.

    Iguchi's weighted mean PECOTA forecast called for a fairly vanilla line of .277/.344/.408, with a VORP of 12.3 and an EqA of .265. Solid, but not spectacular. He's right in line with that forecast, albeit with a little more pop. But it's amazing how good an average line looks against one that makes Mets fans giddy with the thought of more Marlon Anderson, Miguel Cairo or Chris Woodward.

  • Joe Crede: Despite a recent vote of confidence from manager Ozzie Guillen, Joe Crede's career hasn't been exactly inspiring. Said the man with the .338 career SLG:

    "We think he's better than what he's shown," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "That's why the expectations are so high for him. He has the talent to be a superstar. This team is about pitching and defense and speed, and that's what this kid is about. If he can hit 20 home runs and drive in 70 runs, that's a pretty good year."

    Last season was disappointing for Crede, as he hit .239/.299/.418 with 21 HR, 69 RBI and a BB/K ratio of 34/81. By Guillen's standards defined above, that's a pretty good year, apparently (a 20 HR/70 RBI season would have been Guillen's best, by far).

    What's interesting is just how similar Crede's 2005 is to his 2004:

    
    Year     Batting Line   HR   RBI    R   BB   K    EqA
    2004   .239/.299/.418   21    69   67   34  81   .248
    2005   .239/.306/.417   10    31   30   15  36   .253
    2005*  .239/.306/.417   22    69   67   33  81
    
    * 2005 final line if performance continues at same pace
    
    
    That's about as close to a repeat performance as one can get. Supporters keep pointing to his 200 MLB ABs in 2002 as indicative of what he might turn into. He's 27 this season, and has logged 1,300 pretty mediocre ABs against 200 pretty good ones; if he's going to turn into something else, it's likely he would have done so by now.

    Crede's only serious internal threat is third-base prospect Josh Fields, who is doing a pretty convincing Joe Crede impersonation at AA Birmingham this season: .226/.299/.365 in 266 ABs with 9 HR and a BB/K ratio of 23/86. Fields has dropped off a bit from his 2004 Class-A performance at Winston-Salem, where he hit .256/.333/.445, but he's still young (he'll turn 23 in December), and if all you have to do is hit better than Joe Crede, the advantage is yours. Watch how Kenny Williams and Company handle Fields, particularly as Crede gets closer to arbitration.

--John Erhardt

Detroit Tigers: As we wrap up the first cycle of Prospectus Notebook, a painful admission. Some of us miss the opening tag lines we used to insert in our articles when this project was called Prospectus Triple Play.

So when discussing the Tigers sending Carlos Pena down to Triple-A at the end of May, we're struggling against cheesy Motown references like "I Second that Demotion."

Pena was 16th among BP's Top 40 Prospects in 2001 (Ryan Anderson? Ouch!), and the 2002 trade that winter which brought him to the A's organization was hailed as a stroke of genius, a proactive measure to replace Jason Giambi at first base. Pena was expected to stick with the big club out of spring training, but wound up splitting his six months as an Athletic between Oakland and Sacramento, and wound up underperforming both in the big leagues and in the hitter-friendly environs of the Pacific Coast League. Then in July 2002, Pena was traded to Detroit...and stagnated.

After Pena posted EqAs of .274 and .273 in his first season and a half as a Tiger, we wrote the following about Pena in BP 2004: "He's a better player than he showed last year, and his final numbers weren't that bad for his ballpark. Derrek Lee, who Pena compares favorably to in terms of power and defensive potential, suffered through similar struggles before he broke through."

Derrek Lee has been in the news a bit over the last few days. With all due respect to the initial comparison, Lee's struggles came during his age-22 (.259 EqA) and 23 (.200 EqA) seasons. Pena's struggles weren't as deep, but they came when Pena's "baseball age" was 24 and 25.

Still, Pena managed a torrid August (.308/.422/.582 with 6 HR) and strong September (.233/.369/.533, 8 HR) last season. But after those promising two months, he's fallen flat on his face in 2005. At the time of his demotion Pena was producing 5.5 fewer runs than would be expected of a replacement first baseman. In short, he's a HACKING MASS All-Star.

Pena would have to hit .282/.362/.545 in 350 or so PA over the season to meet an already-modest PECOTA forecast. That's not completely out of the range of his abilities (he hit .250/.362/.513 in the second half last season), it is, however, outside of any reasonable expectations that he'll get enough playing time to salvage even a mediocre season. The Tigers have other options at first base-they have, on occasion, handed Dmitri Young a first baseman's mitt, and discovered that it still fits him. Former Rule 5 pick Chris Shelton, who has performed to the tune of a .309 EqA for the last month, can also play the position.

Pena's hitting well in Toledo: .326/.444/.516 with 11 extra-base hits in 89 at-bats. But if Shelton and Young stay healthy and productive, it may not avail him at all. Instead of turning into the next Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena may find himself the next Roberto Petagine, permanently tattooed with the Quadruple-A tag. Petagine's batting .336/.445/.684 with 12 homers for Pawtucket-and he hasn't seen the majors since 1998.

Unlike Petagine, who only ever had 365 major league plate appearances with which to prove himself in the Show, no one will be able to say that Pena has been shortchanged as he turns the corner from prospect to journeyman. After all, Pena's had over 1,700 major league plate appearances with which to prove his worth.

--Derek Jacques

Seattle Mariners: You know you're having a rough season when...

A year has passed since the Freddy Garcia trade. White Sox GM Kenny Williams, in his annual scramble to fatten up the roster with proven veterans, assembled a tantalizing package of young talent. There was Miguel Olivo: young starting catcher, rifle arm, respectable bat. Jeremy Reed: big league-ready, pure and disciplined contact hitter, swift center fielder. There were throw-ins, too. Ben Davis had to be moved; after all, Olivo was on board, and Dan Wilson had been a Mariner so long, he once caught Rich Gossage and Bobby Thigpen. And Michael Morse, the hulking middle infielder who'd worn out his welcome with the Sox, was sent westward.

But baseball does funny things. This season, Mariner shortstops were downright insulting. Wilson Valdez put up a .489 OPS over 42 games before his reassignment and subsequent trade to the Padres. Willie Bloomquist, scrappy and popular as he may be, could still afford to take hitting pointers from Luis Ugueto. In just a few torrid weeks in the bigs (.395/.461/.513), Morse has squeezed a couple wins' worth of value above and beyond the anemic tag team of Valdez and Bloomquist. No longer is Morse the forgotten little brother of the blockbuster.

Chances are high, however, that Morse is merely a flash in the pan. PECOTA measured him last winter as a .242/.288/.392 hitter, and his Triple-A line of .253/.317/.407 (prior to his promotion) seems like a clear reflection of that. Between both leagues Morse has totaled .295/.350/.439, so much of his value is tied to his batting average. Since his call-up, an obscene 46% of the balls he's put in play have fallen for base hits (normal is around 30%), indicating a vast amount of luck. As the sample size issues peter out, the collapse will come.

On the other end, Olivo's disaster season has found no consolation in Tacoma. Sure, he's improved his OPS from .381 (the Show) to .633 (Triple-A), but that's like upgrading from a tricycle to Razor Scooter for highway driving. Since his disappearance, the Mariners have hosted a multigenerational troop of catchers with Pat Borders (age 42), Wiki Gonzalez (31), Rene Rivera (21), and Wilson (36).

Reed's full-season debut has been pedestrian. Thus far, he's checked in just a tick below his weighted mean for PECOTA, and his sound defense in center has realigned the outfield into a much more efficient weapon.

Adrian Beltre's struggles and Bret Boone's continued breakdown have both been detailed previously by BP authors, but the virtual absence of those two bats--which were entrusted to carry most of the Mariners' lumber--has had terrible effects.

The Mariners just arrived in the basement of the AL West. But take heart, M's fans: your team flashes some serious leather. They play in a spectacular ballpark. And it's not a lost season, at least as long as Felix Hernandez stays healthy.

--Dave Haller

Related Content:  The Who,  Carlos Pena,  Joe Crede,  Quadruple-A Player

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