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August 3, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Wednesday Edition

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox rank 20th in Defensive Efficiency. Their best pitcher has been their set-up man, Mike Timlin. To date, they have played the fewest number of home games in baseball. And they seem to create more drama than Bobby Brown. So how are they still in first place? The difference is run differential. Using AEqR->AEqRA, the Sox are number one in terms of run differential:

Rnk   Team        AEqR   AEqRA   Diff
1     Boston       588     492     96
2     New York     577     498     79
7     Baltimore    542     497     45
13    Toronto      485     455     30
24    Tampa Bay    507     569    -62

This is all in spite of such a lousy pitching staff. As mentioned, Mike Timlin has been the best Red Sox pitcher, so obviously the Boston staff has been less than stellar. While it isn't great news that the pitching has been bad, there are a few reasons why it should get better. First, let's deal with what we know. The Sox have rid themselves of Alan Embree, who was doing nothing to help the cause. In his place we find Chad Bradford. The difference in performance between the two is about one win for the Olde Towne Team:

Player       IP   VORP
Bradford    5.0    1.2
Embree     37.7   -8.7
Diff               9.9

Small sample size issues aside, this should only help the bullpen's cause going forward. Then there are the promising debuts of Jon Papelbon and the other Manny, Manuel Delcarmen. While Embree's decline was not something that PECOTA forecasted, loyal PECOTAists have known that the Red Sox would get good stuff from the two rookies right away. Looking at some of the Opening Day members of the bullpen that have since traveled elsewhere, Sox fans have to wonder what could have been:

                PECOTA         ACTUAL
Player         IP   VORP     IP   VORP
Papelbon     85.3   13.5    5.3     .5
Delcarmen    86.0   10.4    1.3     .9

Neal         60.7    9.1      8   -3.8
Halama       82.3    8.4   43.7   -4.8
Mantei       32.3    5.5   26.3   -3.0

Though Papelbon was sent to Pawtucket to make room for Jose Cruz Jr., he will be back shortly, most likely in a bullpen role. The Sox bullpen was hurt significantly in the first two-thirds of the season by the underperformance of the three pitchers above. Now that the team has cleared out the bottom of their pitching staff, and added prospects with upside, better things should happen.

Then there is the less tangible side of the coin, and here we are talking about Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. What contributions will they make down the stretch? Looking at Will Carroll and Mike Groopman's excellent study on the cost of injuries, we can see how painful this season has been for this duo. The study shows that while the Sox rank only 22nd in "DL Days," or the number of player days on the DL, they rank 8th in "DL Salary," which is of course the prorated salary of those days. A quick scan of the Red Sox team transactions page shows that Schilling and Foulke are among the chief culprits here. Assuming that Schilling can slot back into the rotation when Foulke returns to the bullpen, then the Sox can count on an even better pitching staff as we push towards October. Of course, to believe that assessment you have to take Foulke at his word that his knee injury is what caused him to struggle. Given his track record, it's a leap of faith we're more than willing to make.

The Sox can mash, there is no doubt about that. With four players among the top 10 at their position in both VORP and PMLVr, there is little fear that the Sox will stop throwing up crooked numbers. Given the recent acquisitions and call-ups, the bullpen is starting to take shape. This is a familiar theme for the Red Sox. Last year, Curt Leskanic and Mike Myers were brought in mid-season. In 2003, Theo and Co. imported the two Scott's, Scott Williamson and Scott Sauerbeck, as well as Todd Jones. Bostonians looking for lightning to strike twice in 87 years hope that this year's mix of Bradford, Delcarmen, and Papelbon are the final ingredients in a winning recipe.

--Paul Swydan

Chicago Cubs: With all the juicy trade rumors circulating before Sunday's trade deadline, it almost feels inaccurate to talk about Matt Lawton as the best pickup of the day, but here we are. Lawton comes over after hitting .273/.383/.433 overall (.287 EqA, VORP of 23.4), and .292/.403/.470 against righties. He'll likely be the more often-used side of a platoon with rookie Matt Murton, who has enjoyed a nice little season for himself since being called up (.441/.524/.559 in 34 ABs).

The top part of the Cubs' lineup is vastly improved with Lawton in the mix. Where a month ago the batting order had Neifi Perez and Corey Patterson in the top two spots, now there's the finally freed Jerry Hairston and the more-often-than-not Matt Lawton who more than adequately replace two sub-.300 OBPs. Derrek Lee's quest for the triple crown hasn't been as big of a story the past few weeks--he still leads in BA (.360) and HR (32), and has dropped in the RBI race (83, 14 off the lead)--but having more hitters on base in front of him has the dual benefit of helping his own counting stats and the Cubs' playoff chances.

Turning to our sortable stats, we see that among players with more than 400 PA, Lee is leading the way with .2099 RBI/runner. Of the 87 players who qualify under those terms, Lee ranks just 61st in total runners. With Lee slowly coming back to earth from his ridiculous first half (he was "merely" hitting .303/.381/.667 in July), the Cubs are now poised to score runs despite any continued decline from their top run producer (and if he does keep up his pace, he should make up lost RBI ground in a hurry). It took almost two-thirds of the season, but this is finally a formidable lineup, 1-6. It's too late to win the Central (our Playoff Odds Report gives them a .9% chance), so their sights are now set on the Wild Card.

The Cubs were in a somewhat enviable position this past weekend, as they stood to upgrade their roster even without making a single deal. Kerry Wood, Scott Williamson, and Nomar Garciaparra are all set to make their returns to the lineup, as both Wood and Garciaparra are currently on rehab assignments.

Obviously, all three of these acquisitions come with asterisks. Wood reenters the pitching staff, but slides into the bullpen rather than the rotation. It's not clear how he'll take to that new role, or how his shoulder will handle any return to action at all, but a semi-healthy Wood should benefit the pitching staff regardless, as we'll see below.

Though his rehab from Tommy John version 2.0 has been impressively fast, Williamson still hasn't pitched a big league game since last October. As we know, control is the last thing that comes back in a successful rehab, and control is one thing the Cubs would love to have in their pen right now:


Pitcher         BB/9

Roberto Novoa   7.23
Michael Wuertz  5.89
Ryan Dempster   5.05
Will Ohman      4.50
Glendon Rusch   3.74
Sergio Mitre    3.23
Mike Remlinger  2.76

Most of these pitchers have correspondingly high K/9 numbers as well, so it's not like Novoa, Wuertz and Dempster are simply going 3-1 on everybody. But the Cubs already have a few high-BB, high-K pitchers on hand (including Todd Wellemeyer in Triple-A, who walked 5.11/9 and struck out 9.12/9 before his demotion in June, despite being ranked third in WXRL). Williamson has walked 5.04 per nine innings in his career (to go along with a 10.3 strikeouts per nine); he's not appreciably different than what's already on hand. Admittedly, the addition of Wood and/or Williamson will rid the pen of Roberto Novoa, who has been worth -.228 WXRL despite pitching in fairly high-leverage situations, as his 1.46 LEV score indicates. Getting him out of the pen should improve things regardless of which warm body gets plugged in.

Garciaparra is perhaps the greatest upgrade, as his presence means that Neifi Perez (how meaningful was his hot April again?) is banished to the bench more often than not. A gimpy Nomar is certainly an upgrade over a healthy Neifi, but attaching a numerical value to that is pretty much guesswork. Though his days of being an 11.3 WARP3 player are far, far behind him, he's a better bet to post a .260 EqA down the stretch than Neifi, Ronny Cedeno or Jose Macias. That qualifies as a pretty nifty trade deadline acquisition, even if no deal was actually made. He's 4-20 on his current rehab assignment and should return later this week (he finally played his first full nine inning game last night). Though with their next six games pitted against their closest NL Wild Card competitors, the four above additions could wind up coming too late for the Cubs.

--John Erhardt

San Francisco Giants: In a weak division with questionable competition, the best deal the Giants could find at the deadline was for an outfielder with dubious defensive skills in center and not enough of a bat for the corners. No, we're not referring to 2004's trade for Ricky Ledee, but this year's swap of catcher Yorvit Torrealba and pitcher Jesse Foppert to the Mariners for Randy Winn. Like Jay Jaffe said, and Chris Kahrl quoted, maybe Brian Sabean misunderstood his mandate to be "Winn now!" We think this unlikely, so perhaps there's some method to the madness.

If Torrealba and Foppert hadn't been traded, where would they have fit into the Giants' future? Torrealba saw himself as the Giants' starting catcher, and didn't much appreciate the A.J. Pierzynski pickup in 2004 and the Mike Matheny signing in 2005. For a long time we've argued that he was a better option than Matheny, but the Giants made their decision to go with the career .295 OBA, and that, in combination with Torrealba's constant demands for a trade, made the backup expendable. Torrealba was making $715,000 this year, and was heading for his second arbitration this coming off-season. If he was not going to start, it certainly makes sense to trade him off before his second arb award.

Foppert has had a shaky comeback from Tommy John surgery two years ago. He made his first Major League appearance almost exactly one year after his procedure, but since then he's been mediocre on the mound. Across three levels this year Foppert has a 4.86 RA/4.29 ERA in 63 IP with a K/BB ratio of 56/46. His velocity is still down (four-seam at 88-92 rather than the 94-98 he had two years ago, hard slider way down) and his mechanics are a mess (as his recent cascade injury to the neck demonstrated). All in all he is, at best, still on the long road to recovery, and at worst, another data point for TINSTAAPP.

So the talent going out isn't all that exciting, but is there really a need for Randy Winn in San Francisco? Marquis Grissom is done both literally (.212/.245/.285 in 147 plate appearances this year) and contractually (2005 was the last option year under his current deal). Michael Tucker is also done with his contract at the end of the year, and as excited as everyone in San Francisco is for a home-grown starter, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Jason Ellison is probably just going to be the 5th outfielder of the 2006 squad.


Jason Ellison OPS by Month
------------
April: 1.201
May  :  .733
June :  .660
July :  .569
For the second year in a row the Giants are batting near the top of the league against left-handed pitchers, and in the bottom half against righties, and in Winn they add a switch-hitting bat who can competently hit near the top of the lineup against RHPs (.290/.349/.429 vs. righties from 2002-2004). Winn isn't a great option defensively in center, and he's nothing to write home about offensively, but with Winn, Ellison, Barry Bonds, Moises Alou, and whomever they pick from Todd Linden, Pedro Feliz, Tony Torcato, or even minor league slugger Dan Ortmeier, the Giants have their outfield set for 2006.

The tricky question is how Winn's contract gets picked up next year. The team holds a $5,000,000 option for 2006, which, if it isn't picked up, leaves Winn with a $3,750,000 player option. $5,000,000 seems extravagant for Winn's skill set, but there was a lot of interest in him at the deadline, and its not impossible to believe he could swing a multiyear deal if he took his services to the free market.

It's not a blockbuster, but the Giants were 45-59 at press time. Getting Winn in center for 2006 lets the team focus almost exclusively on their pitching needs in the coming off-season.

--Tom Gorman

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