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January 10, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

VORPing the Less Fortunate

by Jim Baker

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Are you the sort of person who concerns themselves with the less fortunate of the world? Does your heart bleed great buckets for the poor souls who occupy the lower rungs of the earth's societies? Are you given to charitable thoughts and hand-wringing over the plight of those in reduced circumstances? Do you look at a column of baseball statistics ordered by quality only to have your eyes travel immediately to the bottom out of a sense of compassion?

Then this is the column for you. Today we'll be examining the players who didn't fare so well in 2005 to see if Nate Silver's PECOTA has a bright rainbow on their horizons. Are there happy endings on the way, or more pain and suffering? And what of 2004's players of woe--what became of them in 2005? We'll look at that as well.

146 men qualified for the batting title in 2005 (502 plate appearances). These are the five with the lowest VORP:

0.3: David Bell, Philadelphia (617 plate appearances)
2.5: Mike Lowell, Florida (558)
3.8: Alexis Rios, Toronto (519)
4.2: Scott Hatteberg, Oakland (523)
4.7 Aaron Boone, Cleveland (565)

This is how their hopes and dreams look for 2006:

Lowell: 17.8
Rios: 10.8
Boone: 7.1
Bell: 0.8
Hatteberg: -0.4

Low VORP figures from third basemen, while not acceptable, are at least more tolerable than those from a designated hitter. A DH with a negative VORP projection is headed for the unemployment line, which is where we'll likely find Hatteberg in 2006.

Widening the net some, below are the players who came to the plate at least 300 times and wound up with the worst VORP at their respective positions.

Catcher
Chris Snyder, Arizona Diamondbacks
2005: -5.5
2006: 7.9

PECOTA pegged his playing time pretty well but he just didn't hit. He did it consistently though, and, as we all know, consistency is a virtue. His OPS by month: 623, 625, 630, 672, 330, 615. This year's projection is a step in the right direction, but he's 25 now so it's getting to be time to get it going. He walks a good amount, so a spike in batting average would, at the very least, create the illusion of a better year.

Last year's hopeful…was Chad Moeller. Coming off a -10.7 season in 2004, PECOTA saw him getting about four into the black. He did improve, but not by that much, finishing at -1.8. There was actually a time that some folks were crowing about how he was an integral part of the Lyle Overbay swindle with Arizona. His prognosis for 2006 is more of the same: -2.3.

First Base
Mike Lamb, Houston Astros 2005: 2.2
2006: 4.5

Everything fell off just enough to kill his season. He got 37 extra plate appearances over his nifty 2004 and didn't walk as much or hit for the same power. His batting average fell by 50 points, too, making for a very marginal year. Given the size of his plate appearance allotments the past two years (312 and 349), big variances are possible. In spite of PECOTA's grim foreboding, it is also entirely possible that he could bounce back and find the middle ground between 2004 and 2005. His 2005 prediction was 12.1 and there is no reason he couldn't get that high or higher in 2006.

Last year's hopeful…was Doug Mientkiewicz. PECOTA had him improving from zero to 12.7 in 2005. He mustered a 4.8 which is about twice what he's projected for this year. He's the Royals' hassle now.

Second Base
Ruben Gotay, Kansas City Royals
2005: -3.3
2006: 13.0

With the signing of Mark Grudzielanek, Gotay is not going to get the chance to play enough to meet the projection for him, although it is based on only 97 games at second base. The "win now" Royals just can't afford to let him develop at the big league level. He's just 23, so it's by no means over.

Last year's hopeful…was Rey Sanchez. According to the data at baseball-reference.com (some of it courtesy of the late Doug Pappas), Sanchez amassed $13.5 million in salary for his career. For a guy who didn't become a regular until he was 32, that's pretty impressive.

Third Base
Sean Burroughs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2005: -0.9
2006: 4.5

The Burroughs-for-Dewon Brazelton trade--where do you begin to talk about that one? Both can take umbrage at the news of it by shouting "I was traded for who?" There is a place in the world for third basemen with a little bit of power who can consistently post seasons like Burroughs did at the age of 22. Anything short of that, though, and it's going to be a short career.

Last year's hopeful…was Desi Relaford. The high-water mark was his prime age-27 season with the 2001 Mets. There has been shrinkage ever since. PECOTA had him improving from -10.8 to -3.9 last year. That's just about what he did, too, moving up to -3.3.

Shortstop
Cristian Guzman, Washington Nationals
2005: -9.6
2006: 0.7

Instead of becoming more powerful as he moves into his prime--as we have grown to expect of human ballplayers--he has become less so. Still, though, if his batting average returns to his career level of .260 he'll look like the Comeback Player of the Year.

Last year's hopeful…was Neifi Perez. You know it's been one of those careers when you post a .237 EqA and it's your third-highest ever. Laugh though we may, it worked for him as he got a two-year contract out of the deal by exceeding his projection by about 18 points. PECOTA has him getting back to replacement level in '06.

Left Field
Tony Womack, Cincinnati Reds
2005: -8.9
2006: -6.7

Womack is the dead horse of baseball analysis, so let's not belabor him too much. The Reds scored more runs than any team in the league last year, so Womack's stats could be in for a cosmetic boost courtesy of his new ballpark. The fewer trips to the plate he gets (PECOTA has him at 292), though, the better off the Reds will be.

Last year's hopeful…was Reed Johnson. In 2004, he had the third-lowest VORP (2.4) of any player with at least 502 plate appearances. Last year, he overshot his -0.2 PECOTA by logging a 9.6 in 439 plate appearances. This year, he's projecting to -1.2 with about 100 fewer at-bats. Corner outfielders can only dance around replacement level for so long before being asked to sit it out for good.

Center Field
Corey Patterson, Baltimore Orioles
2005: -10.6
2006: 14.2

The largest anticipated swing of any player on this list and rightfully so. Patterson is too talented to be that bad two seasons in a row. His 2005 projection of 26.2 seems like light years away at this point. He probably did enough in 2003-04 to buy himself any number of chances to prove he belongs, albeit now it will be with the Orioles.

Last year's hopeful…was Marlon Byrd. From fourth place in the Rookie of the Year voting of 2003--one place ahead of Miguel Cabrera, no less--to out of the bigs for good by age 30. It could happen to Byrd at this rate--and Patterson for that matter.

Right Field
Sammy Sosa, Baltimore Orioles
2005: -1.4
2006: 2.9

Sosa has returned to his roots. Unfortunately, "roots" means the 1990-91 seasons with the White Sox. PECOTA doesn't hold out much hope for a comeback or even a non-replaceable season.

Last year's hopeful…was Timo Perez. He projected to improve from -8.3 to +0.2 but actually got worse. This year he's looking at -4.1. Including 2003, that would make four consecutive negative outings. There is simply no reason to carry him on a big-league roster.

Designated Hitter
Scott Hatteberg (see above)

Last year's hopeful…was Josh Phelps. This was not how the script was supposed to play out. After the heights of 2002-03, he was not supposed to be lolling around the fringes of a team like the Devil Rays in his prime. PECOTA sees him at 4.1 given similar playing time to 2005.

Related Content:  The Who,  Comeback Player Of The Year

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