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September 2, 2005
BOS, LADBoston Red Sox: One of the funnier jokes to come out of Boston's 2004 World Series win featured MasterCard coming to collect the various things Red Sox fans promised they would give up in return for that World Series trophy. Whenever you have Dennis Leary staring down the barrel of an impromptu orchiectomy, you know you've got comedy gold.
However, after witnessing five months of false starts, rehab assignments, and generally below-replacement-level performance, Red Sox fans have to start wondering about what exactly Curt Schilling and Red Sox management were willing to sacrifice in return for those World Series rings. More than ten full months after former team physician Dr. Bill Morgan attempted an experimental suturing procedure to enable Schilling to pitch in the ALCS and World Series, Will Carroll reports that Schilling is still having problems pushing off his right ankle, and therefore generating velocity on his fastball.
The results have been ugly. Schilling has pitched just 53 major league innings in 2005, after finishing third in the AL with 226.7 IP in 2004, and while some of his peripherals have held up--his 9.51 K/9 is well above his career rate--a 6.96 ERA tells the tale of a lost season. Between the loss of Pedro Martinez, and the struggles of Schilling and closer Keith Foulke, the Boston pitching staff bears little resemblance to the unit which finished third in the AL in ERA in 2004. For the sake of contrast, let's look at both teams' top pitchers (and a few others for reference), by Value Over Replacement Player:
2005 2004 Name IP RA+ VORP Name IP RA+ VORP Mike Timlin 68.0 236 28.0 Curt Schilling 226.7 158 72.9 Matt Clement 158.0 112 24.9 Pedro Martinez 217.0 128 51.2 Tim Wakefield 179.7 103 21.0 Keith Foulke 83.0 221 35.9 David Wells 146.0 108 20.1 Bronson Arroyo 178.7 105 24.7 Bronson Arroyo 166.3 97 13.3 Mike Timlin 76.3 127 18.3 Curt Schilling 53.0 71 -6.6 Tim Wakefield 188.3 91 9.4 Keith Foulke 39.0 80 -1.8 Derek Lowe 182.7 77 -11.5Even keeping in mind that the Red Sox still have a month to add (or detract) from those numbers, the different shape of this year's pitching staff becomes apparent. Schilling and Martinez were the second and sixth best pitchers in the AL last year, by VORP. Foulke was the sixth-best reliever in the AL, less than four runs behind the leader, Tom Gordon. On this year's staff, only Mike Timlin cracks the top 30 in pitcher's VORP for the AL (he's 21st, but second among relievers, after Huston Street). The team's top four starters are all good--Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield and David Wells rank between 31st and 45th on the VORP rolls--and it's a deeper rotation than last year, but it lacks the dominance Schilling and Martinez brought to the table.
The composition of this year's staff recalls last year's Yankees pitching staff, where two relievers posted better VORPs than the team's collection of competent, but flawed, starters. Obviously, this is not a fatal flaw for a team with an 85% chance of making the playoffs, and which is on a pace to eclipse 900 runs scored for the third straight year. The additions of veterans Tony Graffanino (.282 EqA in 117 PA) and John Olerud (.283 EqA in 120 PA) have left the lineup without a single below-average bat.
But one of the operating assumptions of this team has been that things would really take off when Schilling finally gets healthy. Now, it might just be time to wonder if the Red Sox's medical staff could do another temporary patch job on Schilling's ankle to make him effective for this year's playoffs, or if maybe Curt Schilling paid too high a price for last year's championship.
Los Angeles Dodgers: It's been a miserable season for the Dodgers (61-72). Injuries have reduced the lineup to Jeff Kent and a mish-mash of mediocrity. So much has gone wrong--key players nicked up, clubhouse tiffs, mounting injuries, few reinforcements in Triple-A, sprains and strains, and fans grumpy over the success of another certain L.A. professional baseball club; did I mention injuries?--that this just doesn't seem possible:
The Dodgers are in second place, just five and a half games behind NL West-leading San Diego.
Jim Tracy has endured 21 DL stints from fourteen different big leaguers--and that's not even including Darren Dreifort, the team's fattest funnel who has singlehandedly siphoned 13.37% of L.A.'s payroll. BP's Mike Groopman reports that in the year's final tally for DL data, the Dodgers rank sixth in the Majors with 1,027 DL days and second behind the Giants with $28,871,027.78 in Dollars Lost to the DL. The chosen few include, in chronological order:
Player # Stints Total DL Days % of L.A. Payroll Wilson Alvarez 3 99 1.51 Darren Dreifort 1 154 13.37 Brad Penny 1 23 0.89 Eric Gagne 2 123 7.50 Jayson Werth 2 70 0.18 Antonio Perez 1 39 0.10 Elmer Dessens 1 57 0.56 Jose Valentin 1 89 2.37 Odalis Perez 2 68 2.33 Jason Grabowski 1 21 0.05 Paul Bako 1 99 0.49 Milton Bradley 2 64 1.22 Ricky Ledee 1 34 0.26 Cesar Izturis 2 26 0.43 JD Drew 1 61 4.37 TOTAL 22 1,027 35.63In fact, that's a pretty respectable baseball team the Dodgers have churned through the DL turnstile. Better, perhaps, than the one that took the field against Glendon Rusch and the Cubs on Wednesday:
LA Limping Leppers EqA/ERA LA Dodgers EqA/ERA ------------------ --- ---------------- --- C Bako .250 Phillips .240 1B Grabowski .178 Saenz .296 2B A. Perez .293 Kent .308 3B Valentin .239 Edwards .232 SS Izturis .223 Robles .246 LF Werth .263 Werth .263 CF Bradley .290 Repko .232 RF Drew .323 Cruz Jr. .297 UT Ledee .285 Aybar --- SP Penny 3.91 Lowe 3.91 SP O. Perez 4.73 (Penny) 3.91 SP Dessens 3.04 (Weaver) 4.22 SP Alvarez 5.27 (Houlton) 4.94 CL Gagne 2.70 Sanchez 3.48 RP Wunsch 4.56 Carrara 4.58 Mgr Dreifort --- Tracy ---Which makes it all the more remarkable that this team isn't yet out of the playoff chase. Sure, it would take a minor miracle to close the gap on San Diego, but the Padres aren't exactly playing like they want a piece of the Cardinals or Phillies in the first round.
Even if things do crumble for the Dodgers, which appears exactly 92.52356 percent likely as of Thursday morning, there are some good things happening. This is a team with four players named to Baseball Prospectus' pre-season Top 50 Prospects list--Joel Guzman (#7), Chad Billingsley (20), Willy Aybar (34) and Edwin Jackson (45), plus an Honorable Mention for Dioner Navarro. Guzman and Billingsley have been teammates this season in Double-A Jacksonville, neither posting MVP-caliber numbers but each continuing his steady climb through the minors. At ages 21 (Billingsley) and 20 (Guzman), they're already getting very close to Dodger Stadium. Aybar, Jackson, and Navarro have all split time between L.A. and the minors. Aybar has continued to develop, posting similar stats now for three straight years at three progressively advanced levels, which bodes well for his future.
Jackson's star, though, is fading quickly.
Year Level IP H HR BB SO ERA 2002 A+ 104.7 79 2 33 85 1.98 2003 AA 148.3 121 9 53 157 3.70 2003 MLB 22.0 17 2 11 19 2.45 2004 AAA 90.7 90 4 55 70 5.85 2004 MLB 24.7 31 7 11 16 7.29 2005 AA 62.0 52 7 18 44 3.48 2005 AAA 55.3 76 13 37 33 8.62 2005 MLB* 10.0 11 1 7 9 5.40 *through 08/31/05Navarro's taken his plate discipline--which was already pretty good--to a new standard (52 BB, 35 SO in 331 at bats between Las Vegas and L.A.) and is exploring the upside of his PECOTA projections.