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July 28, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Chicago White Sox: Much has been made of the Yankees' depth problems, and how once you get six or seven deep in their lineup, things start to thin out in a hurry. One could say the same about the White Sox who, despite having the fifth-fewest days lost to the DL, don't have a single position player with a VORP score higher than 20. The regulars have been far from dominant offensively, and the bench has had almost no role in their success. These are the part-timers they've relied on so far this year:

Player          PA    EqA   VORP
Pablo Ozuna    115   .243   0.0
Timo Perez     105   .225  -3.1
Willie Harris  104   .200  -3.8
Chris Widger    93   .269   5.3
Ross Gload      19  -.124  -2.5
Pedro Lopez      8   .193  -0.4
Jamie Burke      1    N/A  -0.3

That's it. Seven guys, and Burke has just the one PA. Had Ross Gload not been placed on the DL in late April, the list would likely be shorter than that. And Gload deserves a bit of discussion here, as the Sox have been pining for his return, reportedly waiting on his shoulder before making any roster moves. At least some of the positive discussion about him from the front-office is no doubt organizational loyalty, since he had a terrific 2004 with the Sox--he hit .321/.375/.479, with a 17.0 VORP and .282 EqA. Some of the front-office endorsement is perhaps media smoke, and some could be a very public (but half-sincere) "get well soon, we had a hell of a time replacing you" message. Because Gload is a pretty unremarkable player.

Let's turn to PECOTA for a second, which has tagged Gload with a similarity index of 59. Essentially, this means there's a long, storied history of Immovable Object first basemen with his skill set informing the following predictions:


Gload's 2005 forecasts

Breakout: 5.4%
Improve: 12.7%
Collapse: 56%
Attrition: 37.6%
We probably could have foreseen the relatively low Breakout and Improve scores, since 2004 was a bit out of line with his career-to-date numbers. What's surprising here is just how likely a decline was in PECOTA's eyes.

He's essentially a young-ish player with Old Player skills. Once that type of player starts to age and give some of his gains back, well, there's not a whole lot left to give back; skills don't get "more absent" once they're absent. Even with Gload's batting average-driven, age-28 breakout season still visible in the rear-view mirror, PECOTA pegged him for a more conservative weighted-mean line of .270/.318/.435 this year. Gload is a league average player with replacement-level tendencies, and at $335,000, that's not a terrible thing, particularly in a lineup where your best position player sub is Pablo Ozuna. But Gload is about as common a player as you can find: a left-side of the defensive spectrum righty-masher with no defensive or baserunning ability, with (unfortunately) more of a history than future. That the Sox are waiting around for a guy who's not likely to come close to his 2004 line again is curious, particularly when they have a player who looks a bit like Gload waiting in Double-A in Casey Rogowski.

The Sox' 40-man roster is a bit barren when it comes to position players. (They also have just 39 players on their 40-man roster, which is fairly common this time of year, and so a position player addition isn't out of the question.) Joe Borchard still occupies a spot, possibly related to his 2000 bonus of $5.3 million; it's understandable they're still holding out hope to get something from him. The only other internal outfield option--accessible with no roster reshuffling--is Rogowski; he has no defensive value, though that's not from lead-footedness, as he's stolen 81 bases in his minor league career.

The problem with Rogowski is that his minor league career consists of five straight years of A-ball. He reached Double-A Birmingham this season and has done well, hitting a batting average-driven .323/.395/.477 (sound familiar?). Since his career minor league BA prior to this was .269, it's a bit premature to label that "progress" (small sample-size caveats apply).

The insertion of Gload into the lineup was necessitated by Frank Thomas' return to the DL. Once he returns, it's not clear who the demotee will be. Manager Ozzie Guillen wants Gload around to give Paul Konerko some days off at first, as even a healthy Frank Thomas is no longer an option in the field. Still, we're talking about the 25th man on the roster here. Considering Gload offers no speed or defensive value on a team supposedly built around such things, it's awfully strange that they've been asking for him by name ever since his placement on the DL.

--John Erhardt

Detroit Tigers: As we approach this weekend's trade deadline, the Tigers are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Through Tuesday's games they sat in the thick of an eight-team race for the AL Wild Card, four games off the pace.

BP's Adjusted Standings show that the Tigers deserve a fate better than the one they've received. Though the NL East has received due credit for being a tough division, the AL Central has been just as tight. Entering Wednesday, the top four teams in the AL Central were grouped closer than the top four in the NL East, using BP's third-order losses, or L3 metric. The Tigers have kept hope alive thanks to a strong defense, an above-average bullpen, and Jeremy Bonderman, who's been one of the top 20 starting pitchers in the bigs so far this year. The Tigers are a poor team's version of the 2002 Angels.

The good news about the Tigers' 2005 offense is that it's been very balanced, if lacking in star power; it features nine players with a 10+ VORP. Only the Cincinnati Reds have more players with a 10+ VORP. That's created an environment where no one player is indispensable, a plus given the team's myriad injury problems. The bad news is that their attack could have been significantly better if the following two moves were made sooner:

5/31/05: Recalled 1B/C Chris Shelton from Triple-A Toledo and optioned 1B Carlos Pena to Triple-A Toledo.


Player          PA    VORP
Carlos Pena    150   -10.6
Chris Shelton  193    27.3

7/22/05: Recalled OF Curtis Granderson from Triple-A Toledo

Player              PA    VORP
Curtis Granderson   24     4.0
Nook Logan         291     3.9

While the Tigers do have a number of first-base, DH, and outfielder types, and can be forgiven for allowing their youngsters some extra seasoning in Toledo, Shelton and Granderson had achieved enough in the minors to warrant earlier call-ups. Where Pena was sucking the life out of the lineup, Shelton is already the team leader in VORP among hitters thanks to a .365/.409/.584 line, despite eight other Tigers having more plate appearances. Granderson replaced the good-glove, bad-bat Nook Logan and has replicated Logan's production in less than a week, smacking two triples and two homers. Accompanied by the return of a productive Magglio Ordonez, having Shelton and Granderson in the lineup full-time should lead to a more potent offense down the stretch.

One area where Logan did contribute was on the defensive side--he's saved 4 runs above average so far this year, per Clay Davenport's defensive statistics. The Tigers are still reaping those benefits, using Logan to rest Ordonez's balky knee in the late innings, which is the role that suits Logan best. Along with Logan, Granderson, and Shelton, the Tigers are also getting good defensive play from Brandon Inge, Ivan Rodriguez and Placido Polanco. That excellent play equates to the sixth best Defensive Efficiency in the majors, a far cry from their dismal 26th-place finish of a year ago.

Unfortunately the Tigers inexaplicably chose to send Granderson down before Wednesday's game. Hopefully it's a short stay at Toledo, an older outfielder gets traded and Granderson comes back up soon.

When the Tigers signed Troy Percival, it was specifically to improve their bullpen. The pen has indeed improved, but not because of Percival. He's been not only the worst reliever on the 2005 Tigers, but one of the worst non-Rockies relievers in all of baseball. On the flip side, Franklyn German has turned things around nicely this year:


Year     IP    WXRL   VORP
2005   36.7    .597   10.6
2004   14.7   -.301   -4.8
2003   44.7    .512   -9.3

German has improved by over a win this season according to both WXRL and VORP (10 runs of VORP is equivalent to about 1 win). While it was accurately pointed out in this year's Baseball Prospectus 2005 book that German did not have a lot of productive major leaguers among his PECOTA comparables, it should also be noted that his Similarity Index score was very low. Essentially, this means that BP's PECOTA projection system had a tougher time finding comparable players for German, and that his rebound to productivity may not yet be an anomaly. He is still just 25, and will be an interesting player to watch in the future.

Finally, let's look at Bonderman's rise to power:


Year      IP   BB/9   SO/9   HR/9   BABIP   VORP   RANK
2005   143.7   2.51   7.08   1.00    .280   29.3     21
2004   184.0   3.57   8.22   1.17    .286   26.4     76
2003   162.0   3.22   6.00   1.28    .324   -8.5    641

Bonderman has improved each season, to the point where he is now one of the best pitchers in baseball. Still only 22 years old, he's improved his command, reducing both his walk and home-run rates. In addition, his Batting Average allowed on Balls In Play (BABIP) is not one that would indicate that Bonderman has been lucky.

When it comes to the Tigers' playoff hopes, the team controls its own destiny. Thirty-two of Detroit's remaining 60 games will be played against five of their seven most likely Wild-Card competitors: Oakland, Minnesota, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Toronto. If the team's younger players can keep up their hot pace, the Tigers could make some noise come September.

--Paul Swydan

Related Content:  The Who,  Tigers,  Year Of The Injury

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