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January 11, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

White Sox, Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

  • Before 2005, Jon Garland was a durable starter who had posted three essentially league-average seasons from ages 22 to 24. His breakout 2005 season was enough to convince the White Sox to sign him to a three-year, $29 million contract this offseason. PECOTA needs more convincing, however, as his weighted-mean PECOTA projection for 2006 is 200.0 IP, 4.53 ERA, 25.3 VORP and a 12-11 record--essentially the same pitcher Garland was from 2002 through 2004. What would a return to his 2002-04 performance do to the value of Garland's contract to the White Sox? To get an idea, we can use the method that Nate Silver employed in re-evaluating the 2004 free agent class (refining the method that he first used before the 2005 season) and compare it with the value of a pre-2005 Garland.

    Silver's revised method starts with a weighted average of WARP3 over the past three seasons, and on the strength of that 2005 season, Garland projects under this simple method to 6.3 WARP3 in 2006. Under the age parameters, Garland would maintain that level for all three years of the contract, accumulating 18.9 WARP3. Garland posted WARP3 figures of 4.4, 5.3 and 4.9 in 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively, so if his performance--so improved in 2005 because of lower walk and homer rates--returned to the levels of those three years, the Sox would be getting about 15 WARP3 for their $29 million covering Garland's last arbitration year (in which he'll be paid $7 million) and his first two years of free agency (at $11 million per year).

    Discounting the second and third years of the contract at a 5% rate (again, following Silver's example) and subtracting out the minimum annual salary of $327,000 for each of the three years, the net present value of Garland's contract is $27,453,515. At the simple weighted projection that includes 2005, Garland's contract figures out to $1,420,396 per WARP3. If he reverts to his previous production, he will be paid $1,789,699 per win (measured by WARP3), a difference of $369,303 per win. Given Garland's age, good durability record and the length of the contract being limited to just three years, the foreseeable chance of overpaying by $369,303 per WARP3 seems a reasonable risk to take that Garland consolidates some of his gains from 2005. Moreover, in the 2004 free-agent class, teams paid an average of slightly more than $2 million per projected WARP3 for players signed to three-year deals (as Silver found), and there has been nothing this offseason to suggest that player salaries are retrenching.

  • Bryan Smith's recent article suggesting prospects who are good candidates for breakout seasons in 2006 brings to mind Sox outfield prospect Ryan Sweeney. Smith wrote that, for position players, he looks for "hitters with undeveloped power potential." An optimist would say that Sweeney has certainly left himself room for improvement--he has yet to have an isolated slugging percentage better than .100 in a full-season league. PECOTA, regarding Sweeney anyway, is not an optimist. His weighted-mean forecast for 2006 is .264/.308/.354 and, Nate Silver reports, "Moreover, it doesn't see any growth in his five-year forecast ... it just doesn't like him at all."

    Here's what Sweeney has going for him: He turns 21 in February. He played his high school baseball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so his development may have been slowed by the relatively short baseball season there. He held his own as a 20-year-old in the Southern League--.298/.357/.371--playing his home games in a pitchers' park that particularly dampens home runs. (Birmingham's Hoover Metropolitan Stadium had five-year weighted park factors of 953 in 2002, 976 in 2003 and 977 in 2004, as published in Baseball Prospectus 2005. For 2003 through 2005, the weighted park factor for home runs was 0.55 on a 0-1 scale, as calculated by Dan Szymborski, who writes the Transaction Oracle for Baseball Think Factory. The park did boost doubles somewhat, with a 1.08 park factor, according to Szymborski.)

    The White Sox remain high on Sweeney's chances in what has become a depleted pool of Sox outfield prospects now that Chris Young has been sent to Arizona in the Javier Vazquez deal, and that Brian Anderson will likely get promoted to the major league roster in 2006. The Sox may like Sweeney's physical projection, as he's 6'4" and 200 pounds, and his control of the strike zone has been solid. While he doesn't walk a ton, he's managed to put up an 84/131 BB/K ratio in a little over two minor league seasons, including playing in the High-A Carolina League at age 19 and Double-A Southern League at 20.

--Vince Galloro

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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It's been ages since we last covered the Giants, so excuse us for jumping right into bullet points.

  • December 1st: Signed RHP Tim Worrell to a two-year, $4,000,000 contract. At the time, this seemed goofy. The one thing this roster didn't need was another right-handed reliever. Consider how many decent righties the organization had under control for 2006: Armando Benitez, LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Accardo, Tyler Walker, Scott Munter, and maybe Kevin Correia or Merkin Valdez.

    On the other hand, Worrell at $2,000,000 a year is pretty reasonable. From 2000 through the end of 2004 he was one of the most consistently successful relievers in baseball. Winter 2005 has proven to be an incredibly expensive market for relievers and while Worrell was never going to be in Billy Wagner or B.J. Ryan territory with a huge multi-year deal, it does make sense to compare him to older relievers like Bob Wickman, Todd Jones, Tom Gordon, Hector Carrasco and Scott Eyre. All of those players pulled down contracts this off-season that were substantially more lucrative than San Francisco two-year commitment to Worrell.

    The counter-argument is easy. Worrell is 38 and he had an incredibly rocky time in Philadelphia at the beginning of the year (17 runs allowed in 17 innings). He was eventually put on the disabled list for self-confessed "personal psychological issues." Assuming the Giants did their due diligence and Worrell is over his problems, then the team seems to have signed a player they didn't especially need to a below-market deal. It's a value signing at a position they didn't need help. Except that it allowed them to do this...

  • December 6th: Acquired LHP Steve Kline for RHP LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins started the 2005 season with some publicly painful blown saves, and a case of ulnar neuritis made it impossible for him to get his season on track in San Francisco. In 2002 and 2003 he was one of the most dominating relievers in baseball, but the shine has certainly worn off a little, especially when you consider how much Hawkins is due in 2006 under his current contract.

    It's hard to see how Kline could be the better arm, though:

    
    
    Average annual stats over 2003-2005
    
    Category     Hawkins     Kline
    
    ------------------------------
    IP              71.9      58.3
    K/BFP          21.0%     13.8%
    UIBB/BFP        4.9%      8.6%
    K/BB             3.5       1.3
    HR/BFP          2.3%      2.6%
    ------------------------------
    
    K/BFP = % of batters faced by pitcher who struck out
    UIBB/BFP = % of batters faced by pitcher who walked
    HR/BFP = % of batters faced by pitcher who hit homeruns
    
    
    The only thing that Kline can do that Hawkins can't is pitch southpaw. So the Giants' argument for this trade seems to be that they may be giving up the better pitcher, but that they needed to get stronger from the left side and they already had too many hard-throwing righties. Reasonable enough except for four caveats.

    First, Kline had a complete implosion against lefties last year. Left-handed batters hit .317/.364/.515 against him, whereas righties only hit .209/.322/.372. One-year reliever splits are notoriously flukey, so let's look at his three-year numbers. Here Kline comes out reasonably well: .240/.313/.356 against lefties and .234/.324/.387 vs. righties. Maybe the Giants have reason to believe the one-year numbers aren't what can be expected from Kline next year? If he continues with his 2005 trend this trade is a big loser.

    Second, Hawkins has been excellent against hitters on both sides of the plate. Last year his lefty/righty splits were .228/.295/.366 vs. .297/.371/.466. Over the past three years the numbers are .221/.279/.380 vs. .261/.293/.373. Hawkins hasn't shown a weakness against LHBs and since he is clearly the better pitcher overall, why not keep him and leave him in against tough lefties?

    Third, the Giants already had two left-handed relievers under contract for 2006 in Jack Taschner and Jeff Fassero. Fassero is going to be 43 next year, but he managed 91 innings in 2005 well enough, and if all you want is a 40 inning LOOGY, is 43 really so risky? Last year lefties "hit" .194/.294/.204 against Fassero, and over the past three years they managed a .297/.355/.401 line (though 2004 was spent throwing in Colorado and Arizona, remember). If you think his age is too big a risk, or that he can't do what he did last year again, you've got a spring-chicken in the 27 year old, former 1st round draft pick, Jack Taschner.

    Fourth, for the privilege of the lesser pitcher the Giants had to throw in a load of cash to equalize the contracts (we can't track down the exact value but we understand it to be somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000). All of this makes us wonder why more teams don't appreciate that the lesser pitcher is still worse, even if he's left-handed. A right-handed reliever who has shown the ability to get lefties out is a useful commodity.

  • December 21st: Acquired OF Steve Finley from the Angels in exchange for 3B Edgardo Alfonzo. One BP writer privately summarized this trade as, "I'll trade you this pile of dog doodie for your pile of cat doodie." That's as good a place as any to start with this one.

    Finley was god-awful last year. .222/.271/.374 in 440 plate appearances for a VORP of -2.5. He'd had a number of years of excellent play before this, though. The last time Finley had an OPS under .767 in a full-season was 1998. Sometimes aging ball players just hit a wall (Finley was 40 last year), but there's always the possibility that Finley's collapse last year was due to his efforts to play through a shoulder strain. If that's true, and if he's healthy next year, he seems a reasonable, though expensive, fourth outfielder/pinch hitter.

    Alfonzo hasn't had any power to speak of since 2000 and his plus on-base percentage never came with him to San Francisco. That left the Giants with an aging infielder whose only real skill is that he could regularly put up a decent enough batting average. That's not nearly enough production from a starting infield corner. The Giants' braintrust, rightly or wrongly, believe they need more left-handed bats, and when the opportunity came to flip the rickety Alfonzo for a lefty who was productive in the not so distant past, they jumped on it. It's not a bad gamble, but one certainly hopes the team isn't depending on Finley to return to his 2003 form. That's extremely unlikely.

--Tom Gorman

Related Content:  The Who,  Jon Garland,  Giants Outfield

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