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July 14, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Red Sox, Indians, Brewers

by Baseball Prospectus


BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

It's a little early to be sewing World Series 2006 patches onto the uniforms of the Boston Red Sox, but now that the American League has once again won the All-Star game, the Sox can breathe easy about having home field advantage if they happen to make it that far this postseason. The Red Sox have an entirely different look to their rotation on the road than they do at home, and it is not a positive thing.

Red Sox starters have been almost unstoppable at Fenway--with the exception of Matt Clement--and have looked very mortal in their road starts. Take a look at the home and road home runs allowed for all Sox starters with at least five starts:

Starter           Home HR/9   Road HR/9
Curt Schilling      0.18        2.07
Josh Beckett        0.78        3.09
Tim Wakefield       0.71        1.56
Matt Clement        1.03        1.15
Jon Lester          0.59        0.53
 
The home and road versions of Curt Schilling and Beckett have looked like completely different pitchers. Schilling has actually still been a useful pitcher on the road, with a 4.14 ERA and a K/BB of 5.58. Beckett, on the other hand, has a 6.33 road ERA to go along with weaker peripherals and an even higher home run rate. Schilling still isn't walking batters on the road, and it has allowed him to give up home runs without too much of an issue. Beckett has allowed 69 hits and 23 walks in 64 road innings to go along with 22 home runs allowed; he obviously has not had the same success.

In 2005, it was the opposite, as Sox pitchers allowed more home runs at home than on the road. As far as the offense goes, Fenway seems to have put a slight damper on home run production as well.

All Fenway Batters 2005      Sox at Fenway 2005      Sox on Road 2005
         2.36%                      2.88%                  3.68%
All Fenway Batters 2006      Sox at Fenway 2006      Sox on Road 2006
         2.78%                      2.99%                  4.29%
The above percentages are HR/AB through 88 games for the 2005 and 2006 versions of the Sox. They have hit 114 home runs as a team, but 76 of those dingers have come at other ballparks. That number is not actually as severe as it looks, since the Sox have played 49 road games and 37 home games, and a few more home runs at Fenway would level out the percentage somewhat. The offense has lived by way of the double at home, with 95 of them--7.48% of all at-bats--as opposed to 4.40% and 78 on the road. In case you are wondering, Beckett has given up 1.96 2B/9 at home, and 1.13 on the road, while Schilling's numbers are 2.20 and 1.49.

The offense seems entirely capable of surviving in any park, and it has seemingly carried the team to a 26-23 road record. Considering the 27-10 home record so far, and the gravity of the pitching situation--or lack of gravity you could say--on the road, the Red Sox should be very excited about the American League's home field advantage for the World Series. Of course, getting there to benefit from the scenario is an entirely different story.

--Marc Normandin

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Mark Shapiro recently spilled his guts in an excellent interview with Jim Ingraham of The Morning Journal. Published this week, their fascinating (and lengthy) conversation shed plenty of light on the 2006 campaign as well as Cleveland's future.

"There are a lot of divisions in baseball where we'd still be a good streak away from being within striking distance."

Very true. Stunningly, the Tribe hit the All-Star break with a record much closer to Kansas City's (8.5-game difference) than to second-place Chicago (16.5 games apart). Yet the Indians aren't planning to fold as the deadline nears, perhaps inspired by last season's exhilarating stretch drive. Cleveland went 38-16 over August and September of 2005, including a 17-2 run at one point, but no one can expect something like that to happen twice. Their lowest point in 2005 came on May 9, with a 12-18 record, when their chance of reaching the playoffs dipped to 5.7 percent. The most recent Playoffs Odds Report pegged them for 0.4 percent chance of playing this postseason.

Few dispute that the Indians are a better team than what they've shown. There is a lot of evidence, too: despite drooping to seven games below .500, they've outscored opponents by 45 runs. The Adjusted Standings Report identifies them as the sixth-best team in baseball. (And, incidentally, the sixth-best team in the American League.) These coulda, woulda, shoulda games, of course, change nothing: Cleveland is still 18.5 games out of first place.

At the end of the year we're going to look up and Peralta's going to have had a good offensive year, a disappointing defensive year, but nothing that he can't address and get better at.

Jhonny Peralta is a prime example of the gap that still exists in defensive metrics. He registers at a career Rate2 of 107, which means that compared to the league-average defensive shortstop, he saves seven runs for every 100 games played. John Dewan's The Fielding Bible rated Peralta's defense as significantly better than any other starting AL shortstop. The list goes on.

Shapiro leads an organization steeped in objective analysis. It's not likely he would label his shortstop's defense "disappointing," or suggest that Peralta's issues are fixable, if he didn't have solid evidence. Teams have access to technology that common fans (and sportswriters) don't, but at the same time, most anyone at BP would concede that defensive analysis is still in its primal stages. Subjective viewpoints are especially valuable when it comes to breaking down defense. In Peralta's case, there's a disparity between the numbers and the eyes.

We want to get Marte up here at some point. It's just that there are movable parts and pieces prior to that happening. I prefer it not just being September. But he's still a work in progress as well.

If by "moveable parts and pieces" Shapiro means Aaron Boone, his appendanges, mitt, bats and spikes...

Seriously though, Andy Marte just dominated the Triple-A Home Run Derby, and he's again hitting more or less like the Number One Prospect we all came to know and love. The question is now whether Cleveland can find a taker for Boone. If not, he'll either stick with the Tribe in a utility role or get released.

The Eduardo Perez trade, it may be hard to believe, but even if we were five games up in the standings we still would have had to consider making that deal. That's how much we liked the player we were getting, and the fact that it addressed a need we had.

That player they were getting is Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired from the Mariners for Eduardo Perez on June 30. (Christina Kahrl broke down the deal in detail.) The Tribe didn't have much in the way of upper-level middle infielders, so snagging Cabrera gives them a viable second baseman for the future, as soon as 2007 if he proves ready. Cabrera, 20, has been playing shortstop in Triple-A Buffalo, but he has extensive pro experience at second base as well. Recently promoted to Double-A Akron, Trevor Crowe has emerged this year as a top-shelf leadoff prospect. One of the biggest knocks against Crowe in the past had been a lack of plate discipline, but this year he's totaled 48 walks against 44 strikeouts in 226 at-bats. Some suspect the Tribe might consider shifting him from center field to second base in order to maximize his value as a hitter, and he doesn't have a great arm for the outfield.

The Cabrera trade casts additional doubt on the future of Ron Belliard in Cleveland. There are a handful of contenders who could use a player of his ilk before the deadline, but the Indians might ride him out for the rest of the season, especially if they go postal and win, say, 13 of their next 15.

Shapiro went on to explain the team's goals for the second half--to win, address weaknesses, and keep learning. Chances are good that the Indians will win, but clawing out of an 18.5-game hole in the standings--meanwhile cutting down three extremely talented teams--is next to impossible. The Tribe has a huge rookie class, laden with potential cornerstones (Jeremy Sowers, Marte), role players (Joe Inglett), and plenty more who fall somewhere in between (Fausto Carmona, Rafael Perez, Edward Mujica, Franklin Gutierrez, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Garko). If Cleveland doesn't win, at least this group will be given every opportunity to establish themselves and move onto the radar for 2007.

--Dave Haller

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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A quick glance at Clay Davenport's Adjusted Standings Report suggests there's something seriously wrong in Beertown. At 411 runs scored, the Brewers are in the middle of the pack. However, they're at the wrong end of the runs allowed rankings with 485, worst in the National League. Somehow, the Crew weathered that difference and stumbled into the All-Star Break only two games short of .500, but adjusted for schedule and run totals, their 44 wins turn into just over 40.

Most pre-season pundits figured the Brewers to repeat as a .500+ team in 2006; here at BP, Nate Silver weighed in with specific data, projecting Milwaukee for 84 wins. PECOTA figured those wins would come from 742 runs scored and 713 allowed, reasonable numbers after a 726/697 split in 2005. Indeed, Brewers batters are on pace to score 740 runs this year. The real trouble, of course, is on the flip side, where the pitching staff in on pace to allow nearly 900.

Any casual fan will tell you the reason for this: injuries to Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka. Ignoring for a moment the 10 starts they made between them before falling to injury, let's see just how much of an impact, in runs above replacement, PECOTA expected those two starters to make:

Name             W-M     W-M/90g      90%       90%/90g
-------------------------------------------------------
Ben Sheets      45.3      25.2        72.0       40.0
Tomo Ohka       15.3       8.5        40.0       22.2
Total           60.6      33.7        112.0      62.2
(W-M: PECOTA weighted mean VORP projection. 90%: PECOTA 90th percentile projection.)

The Brewers are currently 44-46, so let's look at the numbers per 90 games. If Sheets and Ohka performed as PECOTA expected, they'd have moved the runs-allowed total down to about 450. More respectable, but still 55 runs more than Nate's team projections suggested they'd be. Even in the best-case scenario, having those two starters around would have saved the Crew 62 more runs: that's about 420, still more than the team has scored.

While it's true that the Brewers would be a better team with Sheets and Ohka in the rotation, it's equally clear that their absence doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't even explain half of the gap between PECOTA's projections and the Brewers performance. However, if you lose two starters and a long man (Rick Helling) simultaneously, you'll find yourself craning your neck to spot something as mediocre as replacement level.

Helling, Carlos Villanueva, Zach Jackson, Dana Eveland, Ben Hendrickson, and Jorge De La Rosa have combined for 22 starts this year--all in place of Sheets and Ohka--and only Villaneuva is above replacement level. Between them, the six pitchers have a total SNLVAR of -1.0. That number, dreadful as it is, probably understates the negative impact of having those guys start for Milwaukee: it temporarily kept Eveland and De La Rosa (at least) out of the bullpen, opening up spots for still more sub-replacement level filler.

Even adjusting "replacement level" for the quality of performances given in their stead, Sheets and Ohka don't tell the whole story. The bullpen has been uneven at best, but the bigger culprit might be the defense. As a whole, the pitching staff's peripherals aren't worst-in-the-league bad: lots of strikeouts (2nd in baseball), middle of the pack in home runs, and too many walks (we're looking at you, Doug Davis). Thus, the Crew's poor defensive efficiency of .686, largely due to a Major League-leading 74 errors, looms large.

Despite the frustrations of the first half, therein lies hope. 31 of those errors were charged to Bill Hall or Rickie Weeks; after Weeks's much-publicized troubles for the first several weeks of the season, he has calmed down and is beginning to look like no more than a slightly inconsistent defender with plus range. After J.J. Hardy returns from injury, Hall will continue to play, but will see fewer chances; the steadier Hardy will see the bulk of the time at shortstop. The return of Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka will be rejoiced in Milwaukee, but a quietly improved defense may be an even greater benefit to this team.

--Jeff Sackmann


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