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February 9, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

White Sox, Athletics

by Baseball Prospectus

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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  • The White Sox avoided going to arbitration with any of their players for the fifth straight year when they recently agreed to a one-year, $2.675 million contract with third baseman Joe Crede. While his 2005 postseason success will linger in memory for years, Crede has not been the player that many Sox fans envisioned when they heard of the two minor-league most valuable player awards he won after being a fifth-round pick in 1996. Crede's two-month tryout to end the 2002 season remains his best stretch in the majors.

    In his three full seasons since then, Crede has disappointed as a low-average, little-patience hitter--he's averaged a walk about every 18 plate appearances in the majors--with some power to compensate. Crede has been slick but inconsistent with the leather in his three full seasons, posting 0, -9 and 10 FRAA from 2003 to 2005. Crede also suffered at times during 2005 with two herniated discs in his back. When you add in the fact that Crede's agent is Scott Boras and note the poor relationship between Boras and the Sox, it's easy to see why Crede was the last regular to sign and why the Sox went for a single year. PECOTA agrees that caution is in order, seeing Crede's age-27 season in 2005 as his peak.

    The most advanced successor to Crede in the Sox minor league system is Joshua Fields, who has walked a bit more in his 1-1/2 minor league seasons (about 11 PAs per walk), but has had trouble putting the ball in play, striking out once every 3.8 PAs. Like Joe Borchard before him, Fields is a Sox first-round pick who played quarterback in addition to baseball in college. If the Sox don't want to stay with Crede after 2006 but feel that Fields isn't ready--and if Crede wasn't ready five years ago, when the Sox effectively blocked him by signing Royce Clayton and forcing Jose Valentin to third, Fields would have to have a monster 2006 to look ready a year from now--they could opt for a platoon involving lefty-swinging Rob Mackowiak. Unlike Crede, Mackowiak signed a two-year deal to avoid arbitration after coming over from the Pirates for Damaso Marte. The Sox could also use their starting pitching depth to acquire a replacement, although the White Sox have said they will trade one of their starters only for young pitching talent in return.

    (As a side note, reliever Keith Foulke was the last White Sox player to go to an arbitration hearing, and he won his case and a $3.1 million salary, against the $2.2 million that the Sox offered, according to the Society for American Baseball Research's Business of Baseball website.)

  • Winning doesn't just feel good. It pays, too. The White Sox said recently that they have exceeded 20,000 season tickets sold for the first time in franchise history. To see the troubles the White Sox have had drawing fans to U.S. Cellular Field--made all the more obvious by the rapidly spinning turnstyles on the North Side of Chicago--compare Opening Day 2005 with the season's second game, both wins over the Cleveland Indians. The Sox sold out on Opening Day and played before nearly 39,000 paying fans, but two days later just 10,520 showed up on a Wednesday afternoon with a game-time temperature of 75 degrees.

    This announcement shows that the Sox were as successful as they hinted last fall at leveraging their playoff run and World Series victory into 2006 ticket sales. 2005 playoff tickets were available to fans who bought 2006 season tickets. The roughly $20 million payroll boost, from about $75 million in 2005, was another good sign of the success on the business side. The date for putting individual game tickets on sale was delayed by nearly a month, to Feb. 17, to allow the Sox' ticket office time to catch up with season-ticket orders. Just a week later, individual game tickets go on sale for the Cubs. For this season, at least, the Sox aren't likely to look poor in comparison.

--Vince Galloro

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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The Moneyball bone is one the media still loves to pick. While it is always fun to talk about what did not work, it is just as much fun to point out things that have worked. For Oakland, one of those things has been defense. During Billy Beane's tenure as General Manager ('98-'05) the A's have ranked 8th in Defensive Efficiency, a reasonably impressive number. However, if you break down that a bit you can see an even more impressive feat in the details:

Defensive Efficiency
<----1998-2005---->   <----1998-2000---->   <----2001-2005---->
Rnk  Tm   DefEff    Rnk    Tm   DefEff    Rnk    Tm   DefEff
1   LAN    .7044      1   CIN    .7107      1   SEA    .7112
2   SLN    .7009      2   NYN    .7020      2   OAK    .7072
3   PHI    .7005      3   NYA    .7017      3   LAN    .7070
4   SEA    .7002      4   LAN    .7000      4   SLN    .7066
5   ANA    .6999      5   BOS    .6987      5   CHA    .7044
6   SFN    .6990      6   ARI    .6980      6   PHI    .7042
7   ATL    .6988      ---                   7   ANA    .7026
8   OAK    .6984     21   OAK    .6837      8   SFN    .7012
After ranking in the bottom third of the league from 1998-2000, the A's have consistently been one of the best fielding teams in the league, ranking second from 2001-2005 overall, and 4th, 11th, 2nd, 7th, and 1st individually. That the A's have transformed their squad into a defensive powerhouse is likely one of the greater achievements of Moneyball, but since the work is done with proprietary metrics (they've done their own in-house defensive work), and since defense in general is still a noodle-scratcher, this is the sort of story that goes unnoticed.

One of the players who stepped up and helped make the A's 2005 defense a successful enterprise was Mark Ellis. Ellis flashed good leather in 2003 before missing all of 2004 with labrum surgery in his right shoulder. Back on the field in 2005, Ellis' +11 FRAA was among the best in baseball at his position and was an Oakland team-high. Recognizing this progress, the A's decided to forego the final years of arbitration with Ellis, signing him to a two year, $6 million deal with a club option of $5 million for 2008 ($250,000 buyout). Looking at his Marginal Value Over Replacement Player, a figure that represents what Ellis would be worth in the open market (and a new feature in our 2006 PECOTA cards), we can see that this contract should be a pretty good bargain for the A's:

Mark Ellis Financial Comparison
Year   Age     Contract          MORP      Savings
2006    29   $2,250,000    $7,500,000   $5,250,000
2007    30   $3,500,000    $6,925,000   $3,425,000
2008    31   $5,000,000*   $5,025,000   $   25,000

Total       $10,750,000   $19,450,000   $8,700,000
* Club Option
And even though Ellis was the A's best player by VORP in 2005, he still projects to have above average UPSIDE over the next five seasons. With the combination of Ellis, Bobby Crosby and Marco Scutaro, the A's should maintain a stellar defensive middle infield for the next few years.

--Paul Swydan

Related Content:  The Who,  Joe Crede

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