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September 8, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

BAL, CIN

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles: Let's run down some notes on the Orioles:
  • The Orioles have a pitcher who entered this season at age 28 with a career line of:
    
        W-L      ERA     RA     G   GS   IP    H/9   HR/9   BB/9   SO/9
       22-20    4.44   4.90   163   68  501    8.5    1.6    3.8    7.8
    
    The hurler, Bruce Chen, pitched those 163 games with eight different major-league squads. The implication of such frequent movement from team to team is that something is wrong with Chen, but there's really nothing too terrible in that career line. The results (ERA/RA) are average, most probably due to the combination of an above average strikeout rate and a below-average HR rate.

    This year Chen appears to have taken a step up in the performance department, but the component stats aren't all that impressive.

    
        W-L      ERA     RA     G   GS   IP    H/9   HR/9   BB/9   SO/9
       11-9     3.73   4.05    29   27  169    8.5    1.4    2.8    5.9
    
    The strikeout rate is slipping, though Chen's control is improving at the same time that's he's seeing a slight downtick in his HR rate. His ERA improvement is at least partly attributed to his .265 BABIP. He's pitching to more contact (fewer walks and fewer strikeouts) but the hits are still coming at exactly his career average. Camden Yards plays as one of the easiest parks to play defense in (see research by James Click), and Chen's splits this year at least hint at that being a factor (Home ERA: 2.99, Opp. BA: .227; Away ERA: 4.47, Opp. BA: .271).

    It's hard to see Chen continuing to throw the 3.51 ERA ball he's been dealing since the All-Star break. He's a flyball pitcher (0.94 G/F in 2005, 0.73 career) in a park that has historically played as very friendly to home runs.

    On the other hand, the downside can't be much worse than his career line, in which case Chen is a league-average starter making just $550,000 this year. One concern, obviously, is what to do for next year. This off-season, Chen will be heading into what will probably be his last arbitration, and if he continues to rack up quality innings he'll be quite a bit more expensive than he's been this year.

    The lack of strong starting pitching in next year's free-agent class makes a Chen re-signing likely. With a press-time team ERA of 4.56 in 2005, a 4.70 mark in 2004 and a 4.76 in 2003, you know the Orioles are looking for anything that even stands a chance of becoming a good pitcher.

  • Sent Down to Rehab: The Orioles and Rafael Palmeiro have decided that Palmeiro should return home to Texas to rehabilitate his knee and ankle injuries. It's not surprising, though, that some have suggested this move might be related to the extremely negative reaction of fans to Palmeiro's recent positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Whether his problems are physical or emotional the fact remains, Palmeiro is slumping hard. Since his suspension, Palmeiro is hitting .077/.138/.115 in 28 plate appearances over seven games. In that period he's missed 17 games.

  • Sent Out to Pasture: SP Sidney Ponson was released last week, and it appears that the Orioles will seek to avoid paying the rest of his contract due to what they are calling a violation of the standard player contract. Each major-league contract contains a morals clause that reads, in part, that the player "pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship."

    Few if any analysts believe that the Orioles would actually win this claim if Ponson appeals it to an arbitrator. Teams have set the definition of "high standards of personal conduct" pretty high by holding on to deals with players accused of some pretty heinous behavior. On the other hand, the Orioles may be able to get themselves a slight break by pursuing this to the brink and then offering Ponson, say 85% of what he's owed for the rest of his deal.

    The Rockies and Denny Neagle took a break during their grievance hearing to come to a settlement of $16,000,000. For the Rockies, that seemed a lot better than paying him the $19,000,000 owed on his deal (which the arbitrators were almost certainly going to uphold), and for Neagle it seemed safer than risking a hearing in which he might walk away with nothing. Expect the Orioles to try to save themselves a million or two by pursuing this as far as they can. Worst-case scenario: they pay him what they were contractually obligated to pay him in the first place.

--Tom Gorman

Cincinnati Reds: To say that Ken Griffey Jr. is having a good season would be a gross understatement. Griffey has blown through his weighted-mean PECOTA forecast, as well as his 60th, 75th and 90th percentile projections. His 90th percentile projection had him clocking in at a VORP of 42.9 and a WARP of 6.0. Griffey entered Wednesday's action with a VORP of 63.4 and a WARP of 6.6. A lot of this is because PECOTA did not figure Griffey would stay healthy, and with good reason--Griffey had not compiled 500 at-bats in any of the four seasons preceding 2005. In fact, from 2001-2004 Griffey had just 1027 at-bats as he suffered a series of leg injuries. Will Carroll's Team Health Report back in March had Griffey listed as a red light, the least optimistic of Will's health rankings. Let's go back and look at his comment for Griffey:

"He's a known risk with a new twist. Griffey and teammate Jason Romano both had a new type of surgery to reconnect their torn hamstrings. Team doctor Tim Kremchek is very confident in the procedure, but admits it's new and they don't know exactly how things will go. With Griffey, baseball fans know how things usually go. We're all hoping this HoFer can have that one last healthy season."
It appears after watching Griffey play this year, that kudos are in order for the good doctor. Griffey has not only avoided the DL, but he has been on the field consistently; only Adam Dunn and Sean Casey have accrued more plate appearances for the Reds this season. This renewed health has helped him take his game to new heights for a player his age. Looking at players age 35 from 1972-present, who spent at least half the season in center field, we see that Griffey's 2005 campaign is the cream of the crop:

Name              Year   G in CF    VORP   VORPr   HR    ISO    OPS
Ken Griffey Jr.   2005       124   63.36    .490   35   .275    946
Brady Anderson    1999       128   63.16    .401   24   .195    880
Steve Finley      2000       146   52.28    .359   35   .263    903
Jim Edmonds       2005       120   47.08    .403   25   .264    925
Brett Butler      1992       155   44.55    .273    3   .081    789
Devon White       1998       141   33.90    .227   22   .178    788
Bernie Williams   2004        94   30.99    .208   22   .173    794
Amos Otis         1982       125   25.58    .206   11   .135    754
Fred Lynn         1987        98   18.98    .184   23   .235    807
Kenny Lofton      2002       135   18.73    .196   11   .152    761

Griffey is the tops in all five categories, which showcases cumulative as well as rate statistics. Looking further back than 1972, through the power of translated statistics, we can look at some past greats:

Name              Year   G in CF   HR     OPS
Willie Mays       1966       145   44     999
Joe Dimaggio      1950       137   45    1010
Ty Cobb           1922       133   27    1017
Tris Speaker      1923       150   48    1079

"Where's the Mick?" you ask? Mickey Mantle was not a center fielder in his age-35 season, as he had made the transition to first base. And while this list is not quite exhaustive, when you have to go back that far in time to make comparisons, it is more than fair to say that we are witnessing a historic run from The Kid. Again, using the 1972-present timetable, we also see that Griffey's 2005 campaign is the only one of 17 that ranks in the top 10 in VORP for a position player 35 or older.

Whether you use Clay Davenport's Objective Hall of Fame or Jay Jaffe's JAWS metric, Griffey has an airtight resume. Should any of this stop the Reds from trading him this off-season? Of course not. While it would be tempting to trade Austin Kearns and play Griffey, Dunn and Wily Mo Pena full-time, or perhaps dispose of Casey and move Dunn to first base, the bottom line is that trading Kearns or Casey would likely not bring the haul that would come with trading Griffey. This is not to endorse trading Griffey, but rather recommend that Cincy carefully evaluate what will be best for the Reds of 2008 and 2009 rather than the Reds of 2006, who do not look to have a rosy outlook barring some sort of dramatic off-season transformation. If the Reds believe that Griffey can start a run of Bonds-like excellence in his late 30s, that will make their decision more difficult.

--Paul Swydan

Related Content:  Ken Griffey Jr,  Ken Griffey Jr.,  Ken Griffey

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