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April 14, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Red Sox, Devil Rays

by Baseball Prospectus

BOSTON RED SOX
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A lot can change in a week. The Red Sox went from having Coco Crisp in center and Trot Nixon in right to an outfield that now consists of some combination of Adam Stern, Wily Mo Pena, and Dustan Mohr, depending on the handedness of the opposing starter. Granted, two of those three have been starting outfielders for major league teams, and the other is nicknamed "The Canadian Babe Ruth," but Crisp and Nixon are the ideal combination, and outside of the World Baseball Classic, Stern has not shown himself to be more than a fourth outfielder, albeit a potentially talented one.

It still is not known exactly how long Crisp--recently signed to a three-year extension for $15.5 million carrying him through his arbitration eligible years--will be out of the Sox lineup, as estimates range anywhere from the minimum disabled list stint to a month. Will Carroll says that the injury should not cause Crisp any significant issues, and that the Red Sox are simply being conservative with their newly acquired center fielder.

Now that the oft-injured Nixon has also tweaked his groin, and knowing his history, as well as how groin injuries tend to heal, the Sox cannot necessarily depend on having him back in the lineup right away. What can the Red Sox expect in place of their Opening Day starters?

Player          AVG/OBP/SLG    EqA   Rate
-----------------------------------------
Trot Nixon    .284/.369/.482  .298    100
Coco Crisp    .302/.353/.460  .287    101
Wily Mo Pena  .282/.345/.558  .292     97
Dustan Mohr   .264/.343/.493  .261    102
Adam Stern    .267/.321/.389  .257    100
The drop off in production from Nixon to Pena is not all that severe according to PECOTA, although arguments could be made in regards to the defensive value, shown by Rate. For example, John Dewan's Fielding Bible shows Trot Nixon to be the top right fielder in the league in 2005 in Plus/Minus (second best overall from 2003-2005), while Pena is terrible according to David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (which is very similar to Dewan's system).

On the other hand, Mohr is considered a league average or better fielder in every defensive system checked, and can hold his own against lefthanders, posting a .260/.344/.468 line in 346 AB from 2003-2005. The strength of both players offensively is their ability to hit lefties, so unless one plays in center and one plays in right (as they did in the first game with both Nixon and Crisp absent from the lineup) Stern is going to see some playing time.

Adam Stern's PECOTA projection comes in below average for centerfield, posting a .257 EqA with league average defense. However, he has held his own so far with a .300/.333/.444 line, and his arm is considered to be one of the best in the Red Sox system. His 75th percentile projection is much more favorable, with a realistic line of .285/.341/.422. He has to stay on the roster until he has completed his time as a Rule 5 pick, so this is a chance for the Red Sox to see what Stern is capable of, at least against righties. If Stern is only capable of his weighted mean projection, and Crisp is out for 25 games or so, the Sox can expect to lose roughly three runs above average offensively and defensively; obviously, that is not that considerably significant number, although over the course of the season the gap would certainly grow to a point where the Sox might lose a great deal of value. If Stern can play at his 75th percentile level, the difference shrinks to just under two runs above average.

If you run the same exercise for Pena and Nixon, the difference is roughly one and a half runs difference in Nixon's favor; if Pena continues to struggle and hits around his 25th percentile projection (.245/.306/.458; .254 EqA), the difference is most likely over a full win, at almost nine runs above average. Of course, that is assuming that Nixon eventually makes a DL trip, which as of now, isn't the situation.

Overall, the Red Sox should not lose that much if Crisp is out for a month and the Stern/Mohr combination continues to do what it is meant to do. Nixon may be more problematic if Pena doesn't start to pick up his bat speed or look passable defensively, but he is not expected to miss anywhere near as much time as Crisp. The best thing that can come out of this situation is that Pena gets some of the playing time he desperately needs, considering his complete lack of minor league options, and the Red Sox may get to see if Adam Stern has improved at all from 2005's dreadful offensive display of .133/.188/.333.

Part of the issue with the 2005 Red Sox was that the bench was not particularly strong. When injuries to their outfielders occurred, Kevin Millar and Gabe Kapler had to make the majority of the starts in place of Trot Nixon and Adam Stern (initially a backup outfielder, but one who also broke down). At the end of the season, the bench and starting lineup was too battered for Johnny Damon to rest very often, and he suffered through various physical issues as the season wore down, bringing what was an otherwise fine season to a mediocre finish.

This is not the case with the 2006 squad; two starting outfielders go down with injuries early on, and the Red Sox simply shift Pena to right, put Stern to center, and call Dustan Mohr up from the minors to fill in at either position when necessary. When Hee Seop Choi returns from the disabled list and Dustin Pedroia's shoulder heals up, the infield will have the same sort of depth.

Oakland has received a great deal of press for its tremendous depth in the outfield, infield, and rotation, but the Red Sox seem to be doing much of the same back in the east, thanks to some late spring wheeling and dealing by General Manager Theo Epstein. Now, if the team could stop testing the limits of this depth for a few weeks, Red Sox Nation might be able to breathe a little easier.

--Marc Normandin

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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  • While they still have a long way to go before being confused with the 2005 Dodgers, the Devil Rays have started off the season with more than their fair share of injury trouble. Shortstop Julio Lugo is on the DL with an abdominal injury that he suffered on Opening Day, and nominal replacement Luis Ordaz joined him after suffering a left knee injury in the same game. Aubrey Huff sprained his own left knee in a collision with emergency shortstop Nick Green just a week later, forcing a move to the DL; early word is that he'll miss 4-6 weeks. Second baseman Jorge Cantu isn't quite hobbled enough to be placed on the DL, but he's still visibly uncomfortable after fouling a ball off his foot; he limped his way to double in last night's game, though still scored from second on a Jonny Gomes single. That's a big chunk of the infield all injured, with only first baseman Travis Lee spared so far. When asked if he thought Lee was next, Huff quipped, "He's so relaxed over there. I think he'll be fine." All told, seven Devil Rays are currently disabled, including still-rehabbing Rocco Baldelli, imported reliever Shinji Mori, and rotation regular Mark Hendrickson.

    As an aside, you can't help but feel bad for Luis Ordaz. He hasn't made it into a BP annual since 2001, hasn't been in the majors since 2002, is terrible at the plate, isn't appreciably different than dozens of infielders around the minors, and yet he still made a big league Opening Day roster. Then, after Lugo injures himself, opening up an opportunity for Ordaz to get a little MLB face time, he lasts precisely five innings before getting taken out of the equation, however small a variable he was. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be at least a little bummed by that.

    At any rate, since the Devil Rays aren't expected to compete this year, and since they won't start their youth movement until it's absolutely necessary, expect a lot of veteran short-term placeholders to fill in over the next few weeks. To begin with, Tomas Perez, recently released by Philadelphia, was signed to a one-year deal in Tampa to prevent Nick Green from ever having to play shortstop again. Sean Burroughs (himself placed on the DL March 30th) is the third base replacement for Huff, and both Russ Branyan and Ty Wigginton (who started last night's game) will likely see some more playing time.

    For all the roster movement that will take place, the only real impact all these injuries are likely to have is that both Aubrey Huff's and Julio Lugo's trade value take a hit. Few expect them to stick around until the end of this season (yes, that's been said about Huff since 2004), and they don't figure to be a part of the Rays' first real push into competitiveness when they finally promote B.J. Upton and Delmon Young this year or next. It's also possible that Branyan and/or Wigginton boost their trade value with solid performances over the next month. Branyan's no Scott Rolen at third (heck, he ain't even Scott Cooper), but a righty-masher who can passably handle the corners might be of moderate interest to contending clubs later on. Wigginton's already hit four home runs this year and can play a few positions; he won't keep that up--he's already a third of the way toward his PECOTA weighted-mean power output--but the Rays may be able to get an arm for him come mid-summer. (And before you snort, recall that if there's a trade market for Geoff Blum, anything's possible.)

  • Last night, while St. Petersburg's famous heckler screamed wholesome entertainment at Kevin Millar, there was an interesting piece of baseball trivia being played out. Through 7 2/3 innings, the Devil Rays had four runs on exactly four hits, all of them solo home runs off starter Bruce Chen (by Wigginton, Travis Lee, Tomas Perez (!), and Jonny Gomes). A two-out Jorge Cantu double ended the streak, but the Devil Rays would have become the first team since the 2004 Yankees to have a game in which they had all their hits (and runs) come off solo home runs.

    The Yanks did it against the Tigers on July 15, 2004, when five solo homers by Kenny Lofton, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Alex Rodriguez (who hit two) would make up the entire offensive attack against Jeremy Bonderman and Wil Ledezma.

    Chen was at 110 pitches when he was removed, but he and the Devil Rays could have joined this list had he not surrendered the Cantu double:

    PITCHER            YEAR    DATE   TEAM   OPP  IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO  HR
    
    Jeremy Bonderman   2004   7/15/04  DET   NYA   7   4  4   4   1   6   4
    Ramon Ortiz        2002   6/14/02  ANA   LAN   9   4  4   4   1   8   4
    Kevin Millwood     1999   8/03/99  ATL   PIT   7   4  4   4   0   6   4
    Terry Mulholland   1994   5/08/94  NYA   BOS   7   4  4   4   1   1   4
    
    In both Millwood's and Mulholland's cases, the bullpen allowed non-HR hits after the starter exited. Ortiz's start against the Dodgers was the last time a starter threw a complete game while surrendering an equal number of hits, runs, and home runs. In that game, Alex Cora, Eric Karros, and Shawn Green (twice) all homered as the Dodgers' only hits. It's obviously not predictive of anything, but the Devil Rays were just four outs away from putting up a pretty rare team batting line.

--John Erhardt

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