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September 16, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

DET, LAA, SD

by Baseball Prospectus

Detroit Tigers: As the Tigers stumble to the end of a season that should be considered neither a disappointment nor a success, the team's late-season struggles are beginning to take their toll. Losers of 16 of their last 22, and nearly two months removed from their last day at .500, the Tigers will end the year right around where reasonable predictions had them: 10 to 15 games below .500.

The team's recent poor play is causing tension, though. As Lynn Henning reports, rumors are spreading about who may not be back in 2006, most notably Ivan Rodriguez, who is said to be frustrated with the team's lack of success. Remember that Rodriguez left the reigning world champion Florida Marlins as a free agent to sign with the Tigers, who were then coming off a 43-119 season. The team's 29-game improvement last year and consolidation year in 2005 represent a reasonable path for an organization mired in failure since the tail end of the Lou Whitaker/Alan Trammell era. The Tigers might, if everything goes well, be able to contend for a playoff spot in 2006.

So let's make this clear: if Rodriguez wants to go, the Tigers should do everything in their power to help him leave. Hire movers, get him a relocation consultant, pay for his flights to various cities so he can negotiate terms and find housing. If necessary, tell him they plan to cut payroll and shoot for contention in 2008. Maybe they can get his neighbors to egg his house, or have the paperboy begin depositing the morning news in the pool.

Getting out from under the last two years of Rodriguez's contract would be a boon for the Tigers. Rodriguez is in decline, no surprise for a catcher who was worked very hard in his 20s, and who has caught a whopping 1,803 games in his career. Rodriguez turns 34 this offseason, and the track record of high-volume catchers past that age is terrible. Most catchers who carry that kind of workload are unable to play regularly behind the plate--or anywhere else--after 34; the ones who do generally perform at a reduced level.

Beyond the general trends, consider Rodriguez's recent performance. He has slipped from 7.6 Wins Above Replacement in '03 with the Marlins to 6.6 last year, and is at 5.0 this morning, on pace for his worst complete season since 1993. Much of Rodriguez's value is tied up in his batting average, which at .286 will likely be his lowest since that '93 campaign. He abandoned his mid-career discovery of the joys of ball four this year as well; with just eight walks, he's on pace to become just the tenth player since 1888 to walk fewer than 10 times in a full season of play. He's also in sight of the record for lowest OBP-BA over a full season (since 1889), according to Clay Davenport:


                      Gap    OBP    BA   Year
Ozzie Guillen        .010   .273  .263   1996
Ozzie Guillen        .011   .284  .273   1991
Candy LaChance       .011   .314  .303   1901
Lave Cross           .012   .304  .292   1903
Dave Orr             .013   .340  .327   1889
George Stovall       .013   .259  .246   1909
Don Kolloway         .013   .293  .280   1946
Hobe Ferris          .013   .254  .241   1907
Virgil Stallcup      .014   .268  .254   1949
Hy Myers             .014   .331  .317   1922
Rodriguez' OBP of .296 is just 10 points higher than his BA.

Rodriguez is a high-risk player who's showing signs of decline and his due to make $19 million over the next two seasons (includes a buyout of 2008). He is exactly the kind of player you want to trade: his perceived value is higher than his actual value.

The major stumbling block to a deal is the absence of a viable catcher in the system. Backup Vance Wilson isn't capable of assuming a regular role, no one thinks of Chris Shelton as a regular catcher, and there are no catchers in the system who could assume a role of any kind on the 2006 team. Even at that, however, offloading the risks and the cost associated with Rodriguez would be a net positive, and the sooner a deal is made, the sooner the Tigers can work on patching the hole created by his absence. They'll be a better team for it.

--Joe Sheehan

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

  • At press-time the Postseason Odds Report had Anaheim as a 58.7% to 41.3% favorite to take the American League West ahead of the Athletics, even though the A's have a higher first, second, and third-order winning percentage than Los Angeles of Anaheim. This curious finding is the result of two critical factors.

    First, although Clay Davenport's advanced win percentage statistics find the Athletics to be a strong team on paper, the Angels still hold a one-game lead in the actual standings. The Athletics have to win one more game than the Angels in the next 17 to catch them; two more to jump ahead. Neither of those feats is easy when there are so few games left.

    Second, the Angels have an easier schedule going forward.

    
    Angels Third-Order Remaining Strength of Schedule: .520
    
    Team        Games     Win3%
    ---------------------------
    Detroit       4        .491
    Texas         6        .543
    Tampa         3        .454
    Oakland       4        .564
    
    Athletics Third-Order Remaining Strength of Schedule: .529
    
    Team        Games     Win3%
    ---------------------------
    Boston        4        .562
    Minnesota     3        .517
    Texas         3        .543
    LA of ANA     4        .540
    Seattle       3        .469
    
    Win3%, of course, is third-order winning percentage, described more fully here. Not only do the A's have to catch the Angels, they have to do so against tougher opponents. Of course, all of this is irrelevant if either team pulls more than a split during their final four-game set this year. Put it on your calendar, folks: the AL West will likely be decided on September 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th in Oakland. See you on Dollar Dog Night the 28th?

  • How bad is Steve Finley and his .218/.251/.355 stat line this year (-5.6 VORP)? Of all Major Leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances Finley is the third-worst player in baseball. Cristian Guzman has him killed with a VORP of -17.6 and Corey Patterson has him by a nose at -8.2. Lower the threshold to 300 PAs, or even 200 and a couple more names slid in there--guys like Tony Womack, Jose Hernandez and Jamey Carroll. That is some severe suckitude.

    Think of it this way: according to BP's patented ESPN statistic Finley is 31st out of 845 MLB players in Exuded Stiff Points, Net (note that 16 of the top 30 are pitchers).

    Finley has actually been worse in the second half of the year (.511 OPS vs. .695) and the whole thing is even less cheerful when you consider his contract. Anaheim owes Finley $7,000,000 in 2006 and he has a $7,000,000 club option for 2007 (or a $1,000,000 buyout) that vests at 600 PAs in 2006. You can be pretty sure that the Angels won't be giving Finley the requisite number of plate appearances in 2006 after this year's debacle, but it's going to be pretty hard to find a way to shed that $7,000,000 for next year, too.

  • The Angels finished the season #1, #2, and #4 in Baseball America's Hotsheet and it is Prospect #2, Brandon Wood who interests us right now. Wood was mostly revered for his glove at shortstop when he was drafted #23 overall in 2003 but he's turned into quite the competent hitter.

    In 2004 he added a little bit of pop to his resume and in 2005 he tore the cover off the ball (to the tune of a California League MVP):

    
    Year  Lvl   AB    H   2B   3B   HR   RBI  SB  CS  BB   SO   AVG    OBP   SLG
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ----
    2004   A   478  120   30    5   11    64  21   5  46  117  .251  . 322  .404
    2005 HiA   536  172   51    4   43   115   7   3  48  128  .321  . 383  .672
    2005 AAA    19    6    2    1    0     1   0   0   0    6  .316  . 316  .526
    
    Wood led all of the minor leagues in home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases and in some of those categories he flat out dominated (Wood had 101 extra-base hits while the #2 hitter, Andy Green, had only 78; Wood had 360 total bases while the #2 hitter, Green again, had only 311). The strikeouts are obviously a serious concern but the domination of the Cal League is hard to deny.

    The scouting report on Wood is incredibly optimistic, and there are many who believe that he'll be a capable defender at shortstop in the majors. The only problems are named Orlando Cabrera and Eric Aybar. Aybar hit more than capably in Double-A this year (.303/.350/.445) and probably gets the promotion to Triple-A in 2006. If Wood keeps hitting the way he did this year he'll easy jump ahead of Aybar on the depth chart by mid-season (if he hasn't already done so). Cabrera, on the other hand, hasn't hit so capably (.258/.311/.363 in Anaheim) but he just began a four year/$32,000,000 contract. Anaheim will have some hard decisions to make at the end of next season.

--Tom Gorman

San Diego Padres: The Pads have the best catcher trio in the NL West this season:


Team   Player            PA    VORP    EqA
SDN    Ramon Hernandez  332    17.8   .261
SDN    Robert Fick      215    10.7   .279
SDN    Miguel Olivo     113    10.7   .293

ARI    Kelly Stinnett   123    10.7   .286
ARI    Koyie Hill        84    -0.8   .220
ARI    Chris Snyder     339    -5.8   .205

COL    Todd Greene      120     3.2   .240
COL    J.D. Closser     260     2.8   .235
COL    Danny Ardoin     201    -1.9   .221

LAN    Dioner Navarro   146     7.0   .272
LAN    Jason Phillips   419     2.5   .250
LAN    Paul Bako         47     1.2   .232

SFN    Mike Matheny     439    13.6   .245
SFN    Yamid Haad        23    -4.5   .183
SFN    Justin Knoedler    5     0.1   .252

With the very distinct possibility that Ramon Hernandez could be leaving this off-season, the Padres find themselves in a surprisingly enviable position. Of particular note are the early returns from the Miguel Olivo trade. Traded to the Pads just before the trading deadline, the well-traveled catcher is doing well in San Diego. Comparing his numbers to his stay in Seattle this year provides a little perspective, as he has eight more hits in 48 less at bats. Still, he has found a home in San Diego, and the Pads do not have to fear the reaper when Eric Goldschmidt comes calling this off-season. This is great news, because Hernandez stands to make a good amount of coin in what will be a weak free agent market for catchers. Add in that he recovered quickly from wrist surgery, is hitting well since his return (12-27), and will getting some free publicity as Fox will be replaying "The Bunt" ad nauseum this October.

With Hernandez back in the lineup the Pads have been able to slide Fick back over to first, giving the lineup more depth. Depth has been a big issue for the Padres this year, as they have been essentially riding Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary, otherwise known as Brian Giles and Jake Peavy, all season. With Peavy now ailing any added punch on offense will be extremely important.

With a 96% chance of winning the division, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Friars to miss the playoffs. All of the collapse talk has been overblown--neither the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, nor Giants have had even a 10% chance of making the playoffs during September. The Pads also don't have to worry about jockeying for position--they will be the number three seed heading into the NLDS. This means that their fate will be determined by the wild-card winner. Should Houston take the wild card, they will be headed to St. Louis, otherwise they will be headed to Atlanta to play the Braves. The good news for Pads fans is that the Pads have fared well versus both opponents--5-1 versus Atlanta and 4-3 versus St. Louis. In general, the Padres have fared well against the NL's finest, going 23-19 versus NL squad's at/over .500--but this includes an 0-6 mark versus Philly. If Peavy can keep it together, the Pads could head into October at full strength, now that Pedro Astacio has been activated, and they also have Adam Eaton, Khalil Greene, and Hernandez back in the lineup. A healthy squad of Friars could make things interesting this October, and possibly make up for a bittersweet regular season.

--Paul Swydan

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