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February 17, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

The Transient All-Star Team: The Starting Pitchers

by Jim Baker

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Today we are continuing with the second annual compilation of the Transient All-Star Team, brought to you by Stealth Van Lines, "When you don't want to be seen moving out, call Stealth." On Tuesday we covered the position players. Today it will be the starting pitchers. Any starter who finds himself on a new team to begin the '06 season is eligible for inclusion on this select group, although I pretty much limited it to pitchers who made at least 20 starts in 2005. The selections are based on 2005 performance along with a heavy dose of their chances for success in 2006.

American League Starters

Javier Vazquez, Chicago White Sox. One hundred thirty-two pitchers started at least 20 games last year. Of those, 27 have relocated to new teams. Here are the average VORP projections for 2006 for those 27:

28.0: National League to American League
14.5: American to American
9.2: National to National
8.8: American to National

Former American Leaguers either under contract to National League teams or invited to their camps include Jose Lima (Mets), Sidney Ponson (Cardinals), Ryan Franklin (Phillies) and Pedro Astacio (Padres). What is this, some kind of Mariel Boat Lift? It would appear that the American League has off-loaded its underachievers on the National while keeping its better transient pitchers for itself and, to really stick it to Senior Circuit, siphoning some good pitchers off the top.

Vazquez made last year's National League Transient All-Star Team as the number-five starter after moving from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks. He has the highest projected VORP (41.9) of any pitcher who swapped clubs this offseason.

A.J. Burnett, Toronto Blue Jays. How bad is the arm drain from the NL to the AL? The five best projections from National to American are all better than the very best American to National. If Chub Feeney were still in charge this never would have been allowed to happen.

Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox. With the Red Sox and Jays scheduled to meet 19 times this year, there's a decent chance that former Marlin mates Beckett and Burnett will pitch head-to-head at some point. As if the similarity of their names doesn't cause enough confusion, consider that Beckett's PECOTA VORP for this year is 33.1, which is exactly what Burnett's VORP was in 2005.

Beckett and Burnett are gone from Florida; how long will it be before their former team follows them? With the Marlins openly looking for another place to live, what kind of attendance are they going to have this year? The local fans have got to be feeling jilted, so are the Marlins going to be drawing just those who have relocated from other places and haven't given up their loyalty to a given visiting team? In spite of their travails, they drew almost two million fans last year. Of course, that might sound like a lot compared to a lame-duck team like the 2004 Expos (well under one million) or the 1965 Milwaukee Braves (555,584 - last in the league), but they just missed having the lowest attendance in the league. It wasn't so long ago that two million tickets sold would have ranked a team in the upper half of the league. Now, it invites calls from the Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma.

Esteban Loaiza, Oakland A's. Getting back to the drain, a total of 197 points of VORP went into the AL from the NL among last year's most-active starters with only 70 going the other way. Don't be surprised when the American League wins most of the interleague matchups, the All-Star Game and the World Series as a result of this scandalous transfer of talent.

Loaiza's career has had more incarnations than Madonna's. This time around, it's the Bargain Free Agent Phase.

Kevin Millwood, Texas Rangers. Last year, I foolishly chose Wade Miller over Millwood for the fifth slot on the AL Transient staff. No such mistake this year! Jeff Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd and Kris Benson are all lurking just south of this fivesome, but Millwood had a better 2005 than all of them and projects to a better 2006. All four, however, would have made the National League squad had they moved to a team in that league. (I wouldn't argue too hard against having Weaver on the AL Transient All Stars. I couldn't figure out who to remove to make room for him, though.)

National League Starters

Brian Lawrence, Washington Nationals. There were few positive signs last year. He's striking out a batter less per game than he was when he first came up, and has entered the dangerous "less-than-one-K-per-two-innings" territory. His walk rate is back up to where it was when he was 25, too, although it's still acceptable. (His K/BB versus lefthanders was 31/36, against righthanders 26/73.) Still, though, he's not that far removed from his 2003-04 self and that was not a bad pitcher to have.

David Bush, Milwaukee Brewers. Bush had some problems with lefties in 2004 but improved a bit in that regard last year. Although they hit him for a bit more power, he walked a lot fewer of them. Last year it was one of every 17 while it was just one in 11 the previous year. This is in about 500 combined plate appearances, so we're not talking about a huge sample size here. He could sneak in as one of the niftier pick-ups of the current offseason.

Chris Young, San Diego Padres. How many times has this happened to you? You're one of the few bright spots on a rough-and-tumble pitching staff and you're rewarded for your efforts with a ticket out of town. It doesn't really count as punishment, though. Taking a pitcher out of Ameriquest and putting him in Petco is the baseball equivalent of Brer Rabbit getting chucked in the briar patch. Young is moving from an environment where 11 runs were averaged per game to one where the count averaged under eight. Just by showing up he's going to look better to the casual fan.

Orlando Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks. I get the impression that a lot of people think that it is "cute" to lie about one's age. When a player's true age is revealed, everyone just kind of winks at the transgression and rules "boys will be boys." We'll never know El Duque's real vintage, of course, but we do know this much: he didn't look very good last year. His Stuff score dropped from 25 to 7 and he posted the worst DERA http://www.baseballprospectus.com/glossary/index.php?mode=viewstat&stat=48 of his career. His move to the Diamondbacks is going to end his personal streak of having been in the playoffs in every season of his seven-year big-league career.

Dave Williams, Cincinnati Reds. Williams has been surrendering a little more than a home run every nine innings while toiling for Pittsburgh. A move to the Great American Home Run Hoedown means he could end up being one of the league leaders in that department should he get a full complement of starts. He won't challenge new teammate Eric Milton or anything like that, but he could crack the top five. Williams, just like some conspiracy buffs would have you believe about Kurt Cobain, got murdered at home: 16 of the 20 homers he gave up (against fewer batters) were in Pittsburgh. PNC was not kind to him in 2005 but will the Reds' digs be any better?

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