August 25, 2005
FLA, KC, MINFlorida Marlins: Looking at the VORP for Rookie Pitchers report, we can see that Zach Duke, Gustavo Chacin, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Blanton are making their mark in 2005. Among this good crop of rookies is one who came along just recently: Jason Vargas of the Florida Marlins.
Vargas was called up on July 14. This date was convenient for two reasons; one, it was the Southern League's All-Star break, and two, it afforded the Marlins the freedom of discarding Al Leiter. The big club is Vargas' fourth stop this season, a trek that has seen him streak from low A to the Majors, skipping only Triple-A Albuquerque on the way. Vargas, the 68th pick in the 2004 draft, became just the 6th member of his draft class to reach the majors, ascending after only Justin Verlander (pick #2), J.P. Howell (#31), Huston Street (#40), Jeff Fiorentino (#79), and Cla Meredith (#185). This is itself a major achievement. It was mentioned in the 2005 player comments for Taylor Tankersley that the Marlins have had success pushing players quickly through the minors. When Tankersley, whom the Fish drafted ahead of Vargas in '04, had to sit out the first two months of the season with shoulder tendonitis, the Marlins instead pushed Vargas, which was a bit surprising. Though he was rated highly by Baseball America, clocking in as Florida's 8th best prospect, BA's write up forecasted his ceiling for 2005 to be high Class A. And though BP ran a PECOTA forecast for him, he did not warrant a mention in the 2005 annual, joining Rob Tejeda as the only top 15 rookie pitchers who did not make the book.
Vargas made it to the majors on the strength of his strikeout rate, as he whiffed 118 batters in 107 1/3 minor-league IP for a K/9 of 9.90. This is a trend he has continued in Miami, fanning 33 in 37 IP. He has already surpassed his 75th percentile projection, became the first NL rookie to record a complete game in 2005, and both his manager and owner have taken a shine to him. However, there are two reasons to question whether Vargas can be an effective producer down the stretch. Vargas' BABIP stands at a very low .238, which is 42 points lower than Josh Beckett who has the next lowest BABIP among Marlins starters. Vargas is also carrying a very high walk rate around in his duffel bag. This was an issue for Vargas in the minors, but has been even worse since his promotion. Though his time in the majors has been brief and he could certainly develop better control, he has done nothing to disprove the theory that he is a bit wild. This has not cost him to date because of his aforementioned low BABIP, but as that evens out over time Vargas will have to make adjustments in order to remain a productive pitcher.
The Marlins are still right in the thick of the playoff race, but are looking more like a wild-card team at this point. They are in second place; at press time the Postseason Odds Report still listed the Braves as an overwhelming favorite to take the NL East title. In order to stave off the Phillies, Mets and Astros, the Marlins will have to hope they have some more of that Jason Vargas lightning left in their bottle.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals have had a bad month. Joe Sheehan wrote about how they were losing in his Prospectus Today column last week. James Click wrote about the statistical likelihood of a team putting together a losing streak of that magnitude. Here at Prospectus Notebook we like to look at the glass as half-full, or at least a little-full, or in the case of this squad perhaps we should just say that there is some water in the glass; there's a smidge, a dampness, a miniscule presence of H2O molecules. In that light let's focus on the few bright spots in the team's prospects.
Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana might as well have scribbled "we're not dead yet" on a yellow Post-It note and stuck it to Ozzie Guillen's forehead. It would have been faster, and the message couldn't have been any clearer.
Hoisted by Santana's golden left arm and Jacque Jones, the Twins pulled off a circus act against the White Sox Tuesday night and won their eighth game out of nine. Jones sacked a 1-2 curveball high and deep into the rightfield fašade, foiling Freddy Garcia's no-hitter with a brash flip-o'-the-bat. Jones' solo shot was the Twins' only hit and run--as BP Extra mentioned yesterday, this was just the sixth time since 1972 such a team has beaten its opponent.
Oddly, it was the team's third 1-0 game over their last 13 and it serves as a microcosm for their season. It's no secret the Twins draw their strength from a deep well of stellar pitching, but their frugality in run prevention has largely been wasted by an impotent lineup. Should the Twins nudge their way into the playoffs--through Tuesday, an 8.49 percent likelihood according to the Playoffs Odds Report--they're on pace to easily be the lowest-scoring American League team to reach October in the wild-card era, "beating" several of their own teams and a couple of Oakland's:
Lowest scoring American League playoff teams, 1995-present YEAR TEAM RUNS ---- ---- ---- 2005 MIN 714* 2003 OAK 768 2002 MIN 768 2004 MIN 780 2002 OAK 800 2003 MIN 801 * current paceThe 2002 Atlanta Braves, a 101-win team, reached the playoffs with 708 runs scored, but they still ranked 10th in the National League in scoring and their pitching was out of this world. Yes, it's assuming a lot to stack the Twins against playoff teams of yesteryear, but the point stands: an A.L. team like the 2005 Twins has not reached the playoffs since the wild-card's inception. It's an uphill battle, especially while the outfield is temporarily thinned out. Torii Hunter is done, Shannon Stewart is likely DL-bound, and Jones will miss Wednesday and Thursday due to a death in the family.
The Twins are a versatile team afield, but they don't have many viable options. Few teams do when their entire outfield is missing. While Jones is away, the Twins are forced to mix-n-match four starters out of Mike Ryan, Jason Bartlett, Terry Tiffee, Luis Rodriguez, Nick Punto, and Brent Abernathy--that's just unhealthy--and when Stewart returns, three will remain. But hey, anything can happen when you're only 2 1/3 games back in the wild-card standings.
The recently thwarted run at Alfonso Soriano might well have stemmed from a refusal to trade Francisco Liriano. The Newberg Report offered a rational perspective on what might have been a missed opportunity. Liriano, 21, has been throttling Triple-A hitters lately. He could certainly fetch the Twins a nice bounty, Soriano or otherwise, but he's the kind of player to build around. Liriano's already a big step ahead of Joe Mays (who cleared waivers, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark) so he's very valuable to the Twins this year, too, if they can use Mays or Kyle Lohse to acquire a decent bat.
The state of the Twins' pitching can't really be overstated. In June, Dayn Perry and Jim Baker detailed the historic scale of the staff's impeccable control. James Click reports the team's current mark of 2.10 walks per nine innings is the best since the Pirates 70 years ago. Not surprisingly, Santana and Brad Radke have been major players in this, but the X-factor is clearly Carlos Silva. If the season ended today, Silva's 0.43 BB/9 would be the finest walk ratio in the history of modern baseball:
Lowest walks per nine innings since 1900, minimum 162 innings NAME YEAR TEAM IP BB BB/9 ----------------- ---- ---- ----- -- ----- Carlos Silva 2005 MIN 167.2 8 .4294 Babe Adams 1920 PIT 263 18 .6160 Christy Mathewson 1913 NY1 306 21 .6176 Brett Saberhagen 1994 NYN 177.1 13 .6598Thanks to Tom Gorman for the number-crunching.