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September 12, 2005

Prospectus Today

Fake Friday

by Joe Sheehan

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It's Monday, summer's coming to an end, it's actually almost sorta kinda looking like rain here…let's pretend it's Friday…

  • After taking two of three from the Red Sox over the weekend, the Yankees still have a decent chance to make the postseason--27.5% according to the latest Playoff Odds Report. Even if they do, that won't change how strange a year this has been. Consider the buzz that the return of Chien-Ming Wang, with 12 major-league starts and a 3.35 K/9, engendered last week, or the almost desperate excitement of Thursday night's crowd, rooting fervently for a comeback win over the Devil Rays.

    Old pitchers get injured and old players lose their defensive skill, so the excuses attached to this disappointing team don't ring very true. In fact, I would argue that the Yankees have been ridiculously lucky with their pitching staff. Wang has given them 13 starts that he'll be fortunate to match at any point over the rest of his career. Aaron Small picked up 16 2/3 major-league innings, allowing 16 runs, from 1999 through 2004. He's 7-0 with a 2.82 ERA despite highly unimpressive ratios (24/17 K/BB in 51 innings) Shawn Chacon, coming off a year with a 7.11 ERA, has gone 4-3, 3.72 as a Yankee, also with a mediocre K/BB of 35/25 in 55 2/3 innings. Al Leiter has a 4.94 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, and like the others, poor peripherals (39 K, 34 BB).

    The three combined: 15-7, 3.85 in 161 1/3 IP across 32 games, 25 starts, despite a composite 98 strikeouts and 76 walks. Allowing just 11 home runs in those innings has helped, especially since the three rank first, fifth and sixth from the bottom in G/F ratio among Yankees with at least 40 innings. They're giving up fly balls but not home runs or many other extra-base hits; that can't last. The Yankee have been fortunate to get 161 innings of above-average run prevention from these three, and if they make the playoffs, those innings will be a big reason why.

    By the way, the Yankees have used 28 pitchers this year. At this point, nothing would surprise me. I half-expect to look ahead to next week and see Wade Taylor and Kevin Mmahat listed as probables for the Orioles series.

  • They're not going to win the division, they're not going to win the wild card. What's left is hopefully learning some lessons about not being stubborn about your personnel. I don't care how fast or exciting he is, Jose Reyes has been more problem than solution at the top of the lineup. His .301 OBP is awful, and has helped to keep the Mets from scoring enough to win. Having Miguel Cairo and his .291 OBP in the #2 spot makes the situation even worse. The loss of Mike Cameron was going to hurt, but it didn't have to hurt this badly. The opprobrium of Mets fans and local media will likely fall on the higher-priced--and certainly disappointing--Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza, but there's virtually no way to maintain an offense when you top the lineup with two .300 OBPs.

    I'm predicting, right now, that the stories you read about the '05 White Sox will be regurgitated for the '06 Mets. They'll have a better offense next year just by boosting OBP in the top two lineup spots, be just as reliant on their power core for runs, and the improved results will be laid at the feet of "aggressiveness" and "little ball." The Sox added 30 points of OBP in the #1 and #2 spots, helping a highly dysfunctional lineup that remains an OBP nightmare score enough runs to support a vastly improved pitching staff, largely because the homers came with runners on base this year.

    OBP is Life. Life is OBP.

  • Dusty Baker continues to impress. He's finally found it in his heart to work Matt Murton into the lineup once in a while, but when he does, he bats him eighth. Murton is hitting .342/.424/.521, yet hits behind Neifi Perez on those rare occasions when he starts.

    What's truly hilarious is comparing Murton to Ronny Cedeno. Murton out-hit Cedeno coming into '05, destroyed what Cedeno did at Double-A, and even matched Cedeno's BA-driven fluke season at Triple-A in limited time at that level. He's also out-hit Cedeno in the majors. Matt Murton is, by any reasonable standard, a better hitter than Ronny Cedeno.

    And when they both start, Cedeno bats second, Murton bats eighth. Look, middle infielders bat second, mmmkay?

  • On the other hand, Baker has added another data point to the argument that any pitcher can be made into a closer. Ryan Dempster will reach 30 saves by the end of the season, the latest in a long line of mediocre pitchers to pick up the scarlet "C" and, likely, make million of dollars for it. His numbers in relief aren't terrible: 2.20 ERA in 49 innings, 40 strikeouts and 22 walks. By the standards of short relievers, those aren't exceptional, and Dempster has a critical flaw for a closer: lefties slap him around (.297/.417/.391 in 2005). This won't end well.

  • 87-55 is 87-55, and there's no way I can spin the White Sox except to say that I was wrong about their run prevention capabilities.

    With that said, the White Sox have benefited from an insanely easy schedule. Their dominance of the AL Central--40-14--has been noted, and included in there is a 24-6 mark against the Tigers and Royals. But don't ignore their interleague slate: 18 games, none of which came against a team currently above .500. They went 12-6 in those contests.

    It's quite possible the the 2005 White Sox are playing the weakest schedule in three-division history, and one of the weakest in the game's history. You have to consider that in evaluating what they've done this year.

  • Hey, is Ichiro Suzuki still some kind of baseball savant? Or is that only the case in years divisible by three?

  • John Olerud's emergence as a key member of the Red Sox is one of the year's better stories. What I don't understand is how one of the 1990s' most disciplined hitters has walked just nine times in more than 140 plate appearances. When you hit .320 with power it doesn't matter that much, but it's an odd thing to see next to Olerud's name.

  • Ivan Rodriguez is having a historic season. With just seven walks (five unintentional) and 461 at-bats, he's on pace to become just the 10th player to walk fewer than 10 times while picking up at least 500 ABs in the four-balls-for-a-walk era:
    
                                  YEAR       AB       BB
    1    Virgil Stallcup          1949      575        9
    2    George Stovall           1909      565        6
    3    Art Fletcher             1915      562        6
    4    Dave Orr                 1889      560        9
    5    Candy LaChance           1901      548        7
    6    John Reilly              1891      546        9
    7    Tito Fuentes             1966      541        9
    8    Jack McGeachey           1889      532        9
    9    Buck Weaver              1912      523        9
    
    (Stats courtesy Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia.)

    Even for a career hacker like Rodriguez, this is remarkable, especially since mildly improved plate discipline had been a hallmark of his last few seasons.

  • Every time I check a Royals' game and see that Chip Ambres is riding the bench in favor of Terrence Long or Matt Stairs or Darryl Motley, I laugh and laugh and laugh…

    You keep grinding out that win a week, Buddy. That's noble work you're doing.

  • Darin Erstad: .281/.336/.378. Casey Kotchman: .261/.337/.522. But really, where's the fun in clinching a week early, anyway?

  • I missed this, so maybe you did, too: Rafael Furcal, whose OBP was below .300 on July 1, is hitting .322/.399/.470 since the All-Star break and having his best defensive season to boot. He's a huge part of the Braves' jillionth division title, and about to become a very wealthy man. If Edgar Renteria got four years and $40 million coming off his .287/.327/.401 age-28 season, how does Furcal not start at four and $48 million hitting the market a a year younger and with higher everything, including a possible Gold Glove Award?

  • Javier Valentin is hitting .290/.374/.551. It's just another victory for those of us here at BP, who predicted great things for him after his .324/.401/.567 campaign at Fort Wayne in 1995. See, we really are smarter than everyone else. Just wait and see what Josh Phelps does in 2013.

  • There's that new Jodie Foster movie where her kid disappears during a flight. Any way we can check and see if Dan Wheeler was on that plane a year ago? Wheeler, picked up by the Astros to fill out the back of the bullpen late last summer, has turned into a star since the deal:
    
                                  IP    ERA   SO   BB   HR
    As everything else         173.0   5.15  142   63   27
    As Astro                    86.0   2.20   81   19    7
    
    The line above includes Wheeler's terrific work for the 'Stros in last year's postseason.

That's it for now…I'll save something for this Friday…

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Matt Murton

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