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May 17, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Brewers, Padres

by Baseball Prospectus


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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When the Mets came to Miller Park for a weekend series, they weren't the only team with rotation problems. Ben Sheets is on the DL for the second time this year, and despite a bit of good news, Tomo Ohka is still out for at least a month. Compounding the problem, Milwaukee's nominal #6 guy, Rick Helling, has pitched all of three innings this year, and he probably won't be back before June.

In the offseason, it looked like GM Doug Melvin had built a very flexible pitching staff with lots of starting depth. Suddenly, the depth is spent, the Brewers have already used 18 pitchers, and Triple-A Nashville's staff is gutted. Chris Capuano is the de facto ace, newcomer David Bush is the #3 guy, and Doug Davis is reminding Brewers fans why he's been on waivers twice in his career. With Helling on the shelf and Jared Fernandez's knuckleball floating into the bleachers a bit too often, Ned Yost has been forced to turn to minor leaguers Ben Hendrickson and Dana Eveland to stop the bleeding.

Hendrickson was a surprise callup during the last week of April; he's been an enigma since his first appearance in the big leagues in 2004. At Triple-A Indianapolis that year as a 23-year-old, he managed an eye-popping 2.02 ERA. It looked like it could be a breakthrough for the righty: his walks per nine rate was under 1.9, the first time in his professional career he'd kept it under three. That performance helped earn him a spot in the Milwaukee rotation midway through the season, but that decision wound up a disaster. Hendrickson was 1-8 for the Brewers, his ERA was never below six, and the evidence suggests he has yet to recover.

In 2005, he didn't win a spot in the Brewers rotation, and he struggled all year in Nashville. He wasn't a contender to make the big club this spring, but his April performance (.173 BAA, 0.99 WHIP) earned him another look. However, there's plenty of evidence--ten walks in 23+ innings and a BABIP of .211--that his resurgence was a mirage.

His performance for Milwaukee so far has supported the "mirage" theory. Despite a solid outing mopping up on May 2, he's struggled since. In his first start, on May 6, he walked four in five innings, and he issued three more free passes in fewer than three disastrous frames of his next start on May 11. Doug Melvin has said that he doesn't think Zach Jackson or Dennis Sarfate is ready for the show, so it would appear that Hendrickson will remain in the rotation until Sheets, Ohka, or Helling returns.

To replace Sheets, 22-year-old lefty Dana Eveland offers more hope. Despite pitching his way out of the running for the starting rotation in March, Eveland outperformed even Hendrickson's Triple-A numbers, all the more impressive because it was his first time at that level. Last year he joined the Milwaukee bullpen directly from an excellent first half as a starter in Double-A Huntsville.

In six starts at Nashville this year, Eveland struck out nearly a batter an inning and allowed less than a single baserunner per frame. His one outing so far for Milwaukee was a mixed bag: the first five innings would've been excellent if not for one bad pitch, a hanging slider to Carlos Beltran that landed well past the left field wall. His next start won't be any easier: Thursday afternoon he faces the Phillies and Cole Hamels.

There's plenty of reason to hope that Eveland's strong start can translate into enough Major League success to keep the Brewers afloat until the veterans recover. Hendrickson, though, would appear to be the best reason for Milwaukee to stick with an eight-man bullpen. With Ned Yost beginning to rely on Jose Capellan, Justin Lehr, and Jorge de la Rosa for multiple-inning outings, a more sound approach might be to skip Hendrickson altogether.

--Jeff Sackmann

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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During Monday night's Diamondbacks-Padres game, the Arizona broadcast offered the usual Insurance Company-sponsored trivia question (quack, quack) during the fourth inning. What it lacked in sophistication it more than made up for in its delivery:

"Name a Padre."

That was it. And let's just ignore the fact that that's not even a question, but a peremptory duck putting you on the spot.

It was eventually replaced with something far more worthy of the trivia label, but there was something charming and downright refreshing about "name a Padre." So as we check in on a Padre team that's been horribly neglected in these pages since February, we'll try and retain the simplicity of that first question.

Question: Name the Padres hitting VORP leader.

Answer: Dave Roberts, at 8.9. With a .285/.363/.408 start, Roberts is an unlikely offensive leader for a team, but he's putting his major offensive asset to use, as he's 14 for 15 on the basepaths, and has already notched six triples. In a singles-driven offense (ISO of just .079), his value isn't as affected by PETCO as that of some of his teammates.

The more obvious guess would be Brian Giles. Giles' team-high .297 EQA is a bit misleading, since his batting line is a punchless .276/.419/.358. With just three homers and six doubles, his VORP sits at four. It's not just a PETCO thing, either--he's slugging just .371 on the road.

Overall, the Padres have the third-lowest VORP leader in the major leagues. The only teams whose VORP leaders have totals lower than Roberts are the Royals and Cubs. It's worth pointing out here that the best offensive Cub to date (Derrek Lee, 7.7 VORP) hasn't even played a game since April 19th. It's also worth pointing out that the Padres recent winning streak featured seven games (all wins) against that same Cub "offense."

Question: So who's hitting .275/.365/.461, and why aren't they leading the team in VORP?

Answer: Sneaky duck, that's a trick question. This is the combined line of all Padres catchers this year. NL catchers as a whole are hitting .270/.335/.407 (.257 EQA), so the Padres are getting some above-average production from the men behind the plate.

It's interesting how they're getting it, though. Mike Piazza is actually bringing those numbers down, due to his .255/.336/.447 line. Even that figure has been raised thanks to his most recent two weeks, when he's hit .344/.432/.531. Prior to that, Piazza was hitting just .210/.286/.403 and looking done. PETCO suppresses offense, but not by that much.

San Diego's catching numbers are inflated largely because of a pair of Keith Osik-circa-1996 small-sample blips from the newly-acquired Josh Bard and the twice-discarded Rob Bowen. It's not clear what the job-sharing arrangement will be once Bowen is eligible to return from the DL (he was disabled on 5/12 with an injured thumb). However, Bochy has said he likes having three catchers for strategic reasons.

Question: With all that in mind about the offense, name the player that Kevin Towers was referring to when he said "he's probably the one guy who's exceeded our expectations."

Answer: Josh Barfield. Our own Derek Jacques had this to say about him once upon a time:

That "ding" you heard is the timer, saying that Jesse Barfield's boy is ready to come out of the oven and into The Show. After having good, if batting-average dependent and ballpark-enhanced performances for two out of his past three seasons, Barfield should be able to contribute at least at a league-average level this season.

That's fairly prescient so far. As a group, NL second basemen are hitting a combined .274/.342/.401, which isn't too far off Barfield's .283/.322/.406 line. He's been a bit adventuresome with the glove lately (including botching two double-play grounders and getting eaten up by a Shawn Green game-winning grounder the other night) but has been worth about a win so far this year (.8 WARP). This is more or less on pace for his PECOTA weighted-mean forecast (4.0 WARP).

BP's Kevin Goldstein wrote of Barfield in Baseball America's 2006 Prospect Handbook that using the whole field is "an approach he should take into every at-bat." Check out his PETCO Park Hit Chart from MLB.com:

Josh Barfield Hit Chart

This is obviously telling half the story since it doesn't include road stats, but it's always a great sign when you can find something even slightly tangible that shows progress.

Question: How many catchers named Josh who have four-letter surnames have had legitimate gripes with suspect umpiring wherein the batter strikes out on a ball debatably in the dirt and a throw to first is required in order to record the out, but neither Josh actually does so?

Answer: Two. Bard now joins former Angel Josh Paul in this highly exclusive club. It won't get much attention because it didn't occur in a World Series, nor did it get followed by a slew of insults aimed at replacement umpires.

Monday night, Eric Byrnes struck out on a pitch that was low to the ground. After a brief pause, Byrnes put his head down and ran to first. Bard looked back at home plate umpire Mark Carlson to see what the official ruling was, and Carlson raised his arm, making a fist. Good enough for Bard, who turned away and started in toward the dugout.

Except Carlson wasn't done, and the arm raised in a fist suddenly became two arms that were making the "safe" sign, indicating that the ball needed to be thrown to first to record the out. His teammates eventually signaled to Bard that the out had not yet been recorded, only first baseman Adrian Gonzalez wasn't covering the bag to receive a throw. Both Bard and Bruce Bochy had a great case, as replays clearly showed that Bard saw Carlson make a motion that could not have been confused with its opposite.

In the end, it was all for naught, as Byrnes was called out during the very next at-bat, as it was deemed Chad Tracy interfered with Bard during a steal attempt. A closer look revealed that Tracy did no such thing, and so one dubious call erased another dubious call.

--John Erhardt


Related Content:  The Who,  Josh Bard

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