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June 2, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

All-Star Voting and Rookie Factoids

by Jim Baker

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Brandon Webb ascendant

The following is not a paid endorsement.

When you think about it, $180 isn't a whole lot of money to pay for the MLB Extra Innings Package. If you break it down to a per-game basis, that's quite a bargain-not that you can watch every game in its entirety. Having it gives you the chance to hit targets of opportunity like Wednesday night's Brandon Webb vs. Pedro Martinez showdown. It's rare enough that two of the top-ten VORP pitchers lock horns, and rarer still when they actually perform as advertised, breezing through their respective lineups in literally short order. Martinez posted his highest Game Score of the season (80), and Webb his third-highest (73).

Webb has had only one bad start this year, his May 15 effort against San Diego in which he surrendered five runs in six innings. He has allowed nine or ten hits on four occasions, but has pitched around the trouble. In fact, of the top ten VORP pitchers, he has the highest BABIP:

BABIP: Pitcher (rank in VORP) .296: Webb (1st) .270: Bronson Arroyo (7th) .266: Tom Glavine (9th) .263: Roy Halladay (6th) .255: Justin Verlander (8th) .247: Mike Mussina (2nd) .243: Barry Zito (10th) .237: Jason Schmidt (4th) .211: Pedro Martinez (5th) .198: Jose Contreras (3rd)

This has been Webb's general BABIP neighborhood for the past three seasons. He was at .310 last year and .294 in 2004. In 2003, he came in at .269. None of these are extreme figures overall, but it's interesting to note the company he's keeping relative to their numbers in this category. Scott Kazmir (11th in VORP) is working with a high BAPIP (.332), as are the next two in line, Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt (.313 and .318 respectively). Nobody outside of Derek Lowe has a groundball-to-flyball ratio quite like Webb's. If a few more of those grounders found leather, his already impressive traditional stats would really have people taking notice.

Two things have really allowed him to move from a well-kept secret to someone people want to invite to dinner parties. The first is something over which he has no control, but that's always nice to have. For the first time in his career, Webb is getting decent run support:

2006: 6.12 runs per start
2005: 4.24
2004: 4.24
2003: 4.48

The second is the improvement he's made in his control. Walks-per-nine, hit batsmen and wild pitches have all been drastically reduced, not only from his unfortunate 2004 sophomore year, but even from last season's improvement over that year.

All-Star voting

MLB sent an email beseeching me to vote for the All-Star Game starters. For inspiration, they have included a listing of the early leaders. (I love how they make use of the old ward boss joke, "Vote early and often." They really mean it, though.) Let's see how the voice of the people is stacking up against 2006 performance so far based on VORP. Defensive strengths and shortcomings won't especially enter into this discussion.

Catcher

  • Jason Varitek, Boston, 2.2, ranked 16th. Varitek had the second-best VORP last season, so there's some carryover at play here. I've always favored taking the approach that you should choose based on what a player has done over the last season and a half. In that case, Joe Mauer would be an excellent choice, as he had the third-highest VORP for a catcher last year, and is currently number one in 2006. Victor Martinez outpoints Mr. 'tek considerably as well, while Jorge Posada is about even.
  • Paul Lo Duca, New York Mets, 8.5, 5th. The National League is in something of a catching vacuum right now, so it's a wide-open race that will probably go to the player whose team's fans are the most ambitious. The fact that Josh Bard has the second-highest VORP in the league in just 48 plate appearances pretty much sums up the situation. Using the 2005-06 combo method, Michael Barrett is the clear-cut choice, as he led last year and is ranked high in '06. Damian Miller, Mike Piazza, and Lo Duca are next in line, with this year's early leader, Brian McCann, not far behind.

First Base

  • David Ortiz, Boston, 14.2, 4th among designated hitters. Among actual first basemen, Jason Giambi has had the best 2005-06 run. Travis Hafner has actually had a higher VORP than Ortiz in the same period, 97.6 to 89.8. Given the events of the past 2 years though, this is a pretty understandable outpouring of support.
  • Albert Pujols, St. Louis, 40.0, 1st overall. Pujols has had four games this year so far in which he has had neither a hit nor a walk. If that's the kind of slacker you want on your All-Star team, then go right ahead and vote for him.

Second Base

  • Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, 5.3, 10th. I have faith that folks are going to step up here and start voting for Brian Roberts, last year's top guy and the 2006 leader in spite of having 50 fewer plate appearances than Cano.
  • Craig Biggio, Houston, 12.6, 6th. Another case of the top guy from both 2005 and 2006 not being the top vote getter. Biggio's VORP in 2005 was a little more than half of Chase Utley's, and that's about true again this year. Biggio is a Hall of Famer walking, though, so it's tough to overcome that. As long as Utley is named as the back-up.

Shortstop

  • Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 27.6, 1st. It's pretty much between Jeter and Miguel Tejada. Last year's other top finishers, Michael Young and Jhonny Peralta, haven't been keeping up this year.
  • David Eckstein, St. Louis, 16.0, 4th. Last year's top NL shortstop was Felipe Lopez, and he has the best combo score, but how many people outside of Cincinnati and your local fantasy league know who he is? Eckstein has name recognition and the support of the big redbird booster club. The other top guys from 2005, Jimmy Rollins and Rafael Furcal, have recused themselves with slow starts. Bill Hall's numbers are about equal to Eckstein's.

Third Base

  • Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, 18.7, 1st. First last year as well in a runaway. He's closer to the pack this year, though still an obvious choice.
  • Scott Rolen, St. Louis, 14.6, 5th. Miguel Cabrera has the second-best VORP in all the land, but has been having some problems with leather down at the hot corner. What chance does he stand? It would appear that Cardinals fans are taking an aggressive approach at the polls this year. In terms of fan base, your Florida Marlin is going to suffer greatly by comparison. Think of the Republican or Democratic Parties taking on, say, the Whigs, assuming there still is a Whig Party (ed. note: Nope, looks like it was contracted). Both David Wright and Morgan Ensberg have also been much more productive over the past season and a-half.

Outfield

  • Manny Ramirez, Boston, 21.1, 6th; Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels, 17.6, 8th; Johnny Damon, New York Yankees, 11.0; 13th. Among junior circuit outfielders, Ramirez and Guerrero have the highest--and nearly identical--VORP totals for this year and last. Next highest? It's this year's leader, Grady Sizemore. If Red Sox fans really want to get revenge on Damon (however misguided that might be), they would start a campaign to get Sizemore the third outfield spot and not expend any votes on Trot Nixon or Coco Crisp.
  • Carlos Beltran, New York Mets, 21.5, 3rd; Jim Edmonds, St. Louis, 4.2, 36th; Andruw Jones, Atlanta, 21.0, 4th. The most notable missing person on this list is Jason Bay. He has been, hands down, the most productive outfielder in baseball since the start of the 2005 season. This year, Beltran is behind Bay and the up-spiking Eric Byrnes. His two-year score suffers after last year's travails. Jones is a good choice given his two-year totals. The third-highest two-year score in the league belongs to Bobby Abreu, with Adam Dunn posting well too. With Edmonds' injury, it's a good bet that Bay will be in the starting lineup one way or the other. Just to be sure, though, it would be nice if he were voted in.

Dusty Baker: friend of youth

If this keeps up, Dusty Baker is going to end up replacing Captain Kangaroo as the favorite personality of the young. Listed below are the percentage of at bats and innings given over to rookies so far in 2006. We all knew the Marlins were on a youth kick. To actually see that almost two out of three at bats have been given over to newbies, though, is pretty startling. The Cubs rank third among position players and second among pitchers. Obviously, Baker's hand has been forced by injuries and, to be honest, a good percentage of the at bats have gone to Ronny Cedeno. (Note: our database does not always identify when a rookie passes his service time requirement. Suffice it to say then, that these lists, if nothing else, show time given to players with little major league experience.)

Team   PA   Rookie PA Pct.
FLO   1900   1200     .632
PIT   1971    334     .169
CHN   1844    295     .160
SDN   1974    277     .140
LAN   2027    282     .139
WAS   1989    274     .138
BAL   1959    234     .119
MIL   1965    227     .116
KCA   1816    204     .112
ANA   1928    200     .104
SEA   1984    204     .103
ARI   1953    169     .087
PHI   1951    159     .081
NYA   1951    127     .065
CHA   1962    127     .065
ATL   2000    104     .052
SFN   1952     84     .043
COL   1955     80     .041
TEX   1976     74     .037
SLN   1962     64     .033
NYN   2010     54     .027
DET   1926     48     .025
HOU   2041     38     .019
MIN   1900     32     .017
CIN   2004     30     .015
BOS   1963     22     .011
CLE   1980     19     .010
TOR   1936      6     .003

Team   IP   Rookie IP Pct.
FLO   431.2  170.1    .394
CHN   438.2  100.1    .229
DET   453.1  103.1    .228
HOU   469.2  100.1    .214
TEX   451.1   93.2    .208
LAN   455.1   91.2    .201
TOR   440.0   78.0    .177
MIL   448.2   63.2    .142
BAL   446.1   61.0    .137
WAS   461.1   63.0    .137
MIN   437.0   59.1    .136
ATL   454.2   57.2    .127
CLE   439.2   54.2    .124
CIN   453.2   54.2    .121
TBA   444.0   51.0    .115
KCA   420.0   47.1    .113
SDN   464.1   47.2    .103
SFN   452.1   44.1    .098
SLN   450.1   42.1    .094
CHA   445.0   41.1    .093
BOS   430.2   39.1    .091
SEA   471.1   41.2    .088
NYN   462.1   37.0    .080
PIT   454.0   24.2    .054
ARI   442.1   24.0    .054
COL   451.0   21.2    .048
PHI   449.2   11.1    .025
OAK   449.0   10.1    .023
ANA   452.0    9.0    .020
NYA   435.2    4.1    .010

Thanks to William Burke for contributing data research to this column.

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