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December 28, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Tigers, Yankees

by Baseball Prospectus

DETROIT TIGERS
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Old habits die hard. The 2005 Tigers bullpen ended up being deep everywhere they rolled, as VORP showed them to be the eighth most effective group in the majors. The success came from a mix of inexpensive arms and two pitchers with more expensive, but tradeable, contracts:


2005 Tigers Bullpen

Player            Age    Sal($Mil)     IP    VORP    ARP
Ugueth Urbina      31     $1.33*     27.1     8.6    7.0
Kyle Farnsworth    29     $1.32*     42.2    15.4   14.2
Jamie Walker       33      $.90      48.2     9.2    0.6
Chris Spurling     28      $.32      70.2    15.4   17.0
Fernando Rodney    28      $.32      44.0    14.3   12.4
Franklyn German    25      $.32      59.0    11.9    0.2
Craig Dingman      31      $.32      32.0     6.5    7.7
TOTAL                     $4.83     324.0    81.3   59.0

Troy Percival      35     $6.00      25.0     0.1   -3.8

* Pro-rated
Thousands of women crowding Filene's Basement at 6 a.m. on a Saturday don't get deals like what the above eight relievers gave Detroit last year. In fact, from a return-on-investment standpoint, the Tigers' most useless reliever in 2005 was "closer" Troy Percival, signed as a free agent to a two-year deal. Instead of continuing to rely on prospects and relievers that could be flipped for more Roman Colons, the Tigers went the opposite way, signing another expensive reliever who will have little trade value, even if he produces, due to his contract.

Todd Jones had a very good year in 2005. Jones ranked 5th overall in WXRL, 7th overall in ARP, had the 12th best reliever VORP, and compiled a Fair RA of 1.66. Much of Jones' success can be attributed to better control:


Jones' Control Stats

Year     IP    P/IP   BB/9
1999   66.3   18.23   4.75
2000   64.0   16.25   3.52
2001   68.0   17.73   3.88
2002   82.3   17.77   3.06
2003   68.2   18.14   4.09
2004   82.3   16.97   3.62
2005   73.0   14.16   1.73

99-05         16.98   3.48
There is good news here: Jones' P/IP and BB/9 stats have both dropped three years running, but looking at his 2005 season the word "outlier" comes to mind. Is the average Todd Jones season worth more than $5 million a year? This is without even mentioning the fact that Jones will be 38 next season.

Overall however, it points to a greater problem. When trying to put the importance of relief pitching in perspective, it is instructive to look at the VORP for Pitchers report. Despite Jones' excellent season, he was only the 78th most valuable pitcher by VORP. For the most part, relievers in the new millennium are not going to take the ball enough to make an impact that deserves such a long-term commitment, especially when many have great fluctuations in performance from year to year.

Two years ago, their division featured one above-average team (Minnesota) but now it features three, with Hit List champ Cleveland and newly minted World Series champion Chicago providing stiff competition both now and in the future. The Tigers have talented players in their system, and have shown deftness in trades (Placido Polanco, Colon, Carlos Guillen) and the ability to leverage the Rule 5 draft (most notably Chris Shelton), but their navigation of free-agent waters has not been as solid. Todd Jones may write entertaining columns for The Sporting News, but the possibility that los Tigres will have a tough $11.5 million next year to swallow in the form of Percival and Jones is very real, and very unnecessary.

--Paul Swydan

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Perhaps it's the fact that George Steinbrenner was born on the Fourth of July, but his Yankees certainly place a lot of importance on holidays. At the ballpark, Steinbrenner has always taken care to make holidays gala occasions with jet airplane flybys, special music and patriotic displays. Over the past decade or so, the holiday festivities have carried into the offseason, as each year the Yankees attempt to do a little something special during the holiday season (which we're arbitrarily declaring to be the two weeks before Christmas Eve). Going backward in time, we find:

2005
The Gift: Johnny Damon, CF
They Left a Price Tag on This One: Four years, $52 million
Naughty or Nice: Some years, what you receive for Christmas is something new and extravagant, the equivalent of an XBox 360. Some years, it's something commonplace and practical, like a nice pair of woolen socks. Rarely do you come across a present that combines both the spark of novelty and the adult virtue of practicality--such as a slinky new cell phone to replace the one you've dropped a thousand times. For a team whose incumbent center fielders posted EqAs of .242 (Bernie Williams) and .227 (Bubba Crosby) in 2005, and one long in need of outfield defense, Damon was close to a necessity. Add in the fun of ticking off the entire fan base of the Yankees' closest rivals, and Damon is clearly a toy that's both fun and educational. We have to hope that the Yanks got the extended warranty, here--last season's PECOTA projections featured a couple of players comparable to Damon who fell off the face of the earth in their early 30s, most notably Lloyd Moseby and Andy Van Slyke.

2004
The Gifts: Carl Pavano, SP and Tony Womack, PR
The Credit Card Charges: Four years, $39 million for Pavano; two years, $4 million for Womack
Naughty or Nice: Some years you expect a Red Rider BB gun under the tree, only to find a bizarre, home-made animal costume from your aunt. With these signings, plus the injury-delayed pickup of former Brave Jaret Wright (officially signed on December 28), the Yankees were amply warned that they'd poke their eyes out. Pavano, Womack and Wright combined for a VORP of -20 in 2005, meaning that the Yankees actually would have been two wins better on the season had they picked two starters and a second baseman out of an open tryout of Triple-A veterans.

2003
The Gifts: Javier Vazquez, SP; Gary Sheffield, RF; Tom Gordon, RP; Paul Quantrill, RP; Miguel Cairo, 2B
Do You Want a Gift Receipt? Approximately $53 million all told, plus youngsters Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate
Naughty or Nice: Mixed bag. Gordon may be the best value the Yankees have gotten from the free-agent market since Orlando Hernandez, Sheffield's bat has been predictably deadly, and Cairo was a nice little stocking stuffer. On the other hand, Quantrill had a hard time in pinstripes, while Vazquez--the featured acquisition--started the 2004 season nicely before devolving into an ugly footnote to the Yankees' historic ALCS defeat. Despite that fact, Vazquez retained some value, and the Yankees were able to take him back to the store and exchange him for Randy Johnson.

2002
The Gift: Hideki Matsui, LF
The Price Tag: Three years, $21 million
Naughty or Nice: Way nice. Just last month we showed you how Matsui had outperformed some of his comparably-priced cornermen over the life of the contract, so there's no need to rehash that here.

2001
The Gifts: Jason Giambi, 1B/DH, Rondell White, LF
The Price Tag: Six years, $120 million for Giambi, two years, $10 million for White.
Naughty or Nice: A little bit naughty. Giambi has been a Yankee for four seasons now. For two years of that time, from the 2003 All-Star break to the 2005 All-Star Break, Giambi hit 37 home runs--about half what you'd expect--while battling injuries both nagging and serious. Outside of that stretch, however, he's been a devastating hitter. Meanwhile, White had the worst season of his life in the Bronx, and was whisked out the door at the first opportunity.

2000
The Empty Stocking: Nothing under the tree this year, as the off-season's big deal, for righthander Mike Mussina, was completed just after Thanksgiving.

1999
The Gift: Prospects Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly.
The Pricetag: Hideki Irabu's 2000 salary? $4,125,000. No longer having to look at a "Fat, P---y Toad" around the locker room? Priceless.
Naughty or Nice: Neither, like a toy that's forgotten by mid-January. Neither Lilly nor Westbrook found their ultimate success in pinstripes, even though both have had good seasons with other teams.

1998
Delayed Gratification: Some people would regard 125 wins and a World Championship as sufficient reward. However, around Valentine's Day, the Yankees did flip David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd for Roger Clemens.

1997
The Gifts: Chili Davis, DH and Darren Holmes, RP
The Price Tag: About $13 million
Naughty or Nice: You remember those socks I mentioned earlier? Davis provided nice, steady performance (.273, .277 EqAs) as a DH and pinch-hitter in his two years in pinstripes, and was rewarded with two World Series rings. Holmes was more like a sock with a hole in it, with one injury-plagued season in pinstripes before being dumped on the Diamondbacks.

1996
The Gifts: David Wells, SP and Mike Stanton, RP
The Price Tag: $34 million or so
Naughty or Nice: Extremely nice. Over the three years of Stanton's contract, he contributed 8.19 wins, by WXRL. In his first pinstriped tour of duty, Wells contributed 11.5 wins, as measured by SNLVAR.

--Derek Jacques

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