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July 19, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Orioles, Mets

by Baseball Prospectus


BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Let's play a game called "Guess the Orioles Pitcher." Here are three pitching lines from the 2006 season:

IP        ERA        K/9      BB/9     HR/9     K/BB
----------------------------------------------------
 63.1     5.97       5.4      3.8      1.28     1.41
 53.0     1.70       9.5      2.2      0.51     4.31
116.1     4.02       7.3      3.1      0.93     2.35

The first of these lines is particularly awful; the strikeout rate is not impressive and the walk rate is pretty lofty, especially considering that the pitcher is giving up more than a home run per nine innings. The second line is really a brilliant display of pitching; the home run rate is low, the K/BB rate is especially noteworthy, and the strikeout rate surpasses one per inning. The unsightly line of pitching is Erik Bedard from April 5 to June 1, while the second line is also Bedard, this time from June 6 to July 15. The third line is his overall season statistics, which are also somewhat notable, at least in comparison to what they looked like earlier on in 2006.

Bedard's early season problems were obvious: he wasn't fooling people, which explains the low K rate, the high walk rate, and the unpleasant number of balls leaving the park. It now looks as if Orioles' pitching coach Leo Mazzone has finally reached Bedard, considering his strikeout rate skyrocketed at the same time he cut down on both homeruns and walks. Opposing batters have put up a paltry .196/.259/.254 line against Bedard since that June 6 start; he's given up 37 hits over that time span of 53 innings, but only five of them have been for extra bases.

One shouldn't expect Bedard to keep up this Pedro-esque pace for the remainder of the season, but he certainly should be closer to this than to his first 63 innings. He's increased his groundballs on balls-in-play from 38.3% to 40.0% to 48.7% since 2004, and outside of the increase in dingers during his rough stretch, has not seen any negative changes to his batted-balls allowed. Bedard is certainly the jewel of this pitching staff, especially after seemingly figuring out how to fix his early season struggles.

Round two of Guess the Pitcher doesn't have the same happy ending as the Bedard portion:

IP        ERA      K/9      BB/9     HR/9    K/BB
--------------------------------------------------
161.1    4.52      8.8      4.9      0.8     1.80
 85.2    5.25      9.5      7.9      0.7     1.20
The first line is Daniel Cabrera's 2005 campaign, while the second is his 2006 season. His tendency to allow home runs remained steady, and due to an increase in strikeouts, the K/BB change was not as significant as one would expect when your walk rate jumps up three entire walks per nine innings pitched. Amazingly, Cabrera's ERA only jumped up around three-quarters of a run, but he has looked completely lost on the mound.

The utter lack of control is not the young flamethrower's only issue; after a significant 10 percent increase in his GB% in 2005, Cabrera has fallen below 2004 levels this year, down to 38.3% from 52.7%. He is actually inducing more infield flies than previously, up to 11.8%, but his line drives have also increased; that is not a positive when you're walking almost eight men per nine. Cabrera has been particularly lucky with inducing double plays so far this season, which has most likely contributed to the slighter-than-expected increase in ERA. Cabrera has 13 double plays behind him, as opposed to 10 all of last year in roughly 80 additional innings. Credit that to the glut of men on base, especially considering the severe and highly significant drop in induced groundballs.

Cabrera is currently pitching for the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx, where the Orioles hope he can recover some of the control he seems to have left at baggage claim during the World Baseball Classic. He certainly retains a great deal of potential, and his pitch speed and strikeout rates beg for another chance. It will be a happy day in Baltimore if and when Cabrera straightens out, especially if Bedard can continue his recent string of dominance.

--Marc Normandin

NEW YORK METS
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  • Since our last installment, the Mets have been less than the NL's cream, suffering their first losing streak of more than two games. They were swept handily at Boston, lost a series in the Bronx, salvaged three of four from those powerhouse Pirates, split four games with the middling Marlins, and before an 11-run inning against the offense-allergic Cubs, had been outscored 17-10 that series. All told, the Mets have gone 8-9 while being outscored 104-93.

    The Mets had been moving along really well until that point, and the season is long, so any team can go through these stretches. But is it just a June-July swoon, or a more considerable source of concern?

    After all the praise heaped on Jose Reyes recently, he started off this stretch doing exactly nothing, getting caught stealing the one time he reached base in 17 plate appearances, then earning seven stitches on his left pinky after getting spiked sliding head-first into first. He missed five starts, and in his absence, Willie Randolph has routinely placed both Jose Valentin and Chris Woodward at the top of the line-up.

    June NL Player of the Month and MVP Candidate David Wright dipped as well, going .250/.323/.482 during these 17 games. Carlos Beltran has had a tremendous year, but he also had a slow stretch, though he's still slugging: .208/.295/.509. Carlos Delgado has slid since starting off well (.167/.318/.306), and Xavier Nady (.225/.311/.350) continues to think the solution to swinging too much is to swing even more.

    As for the hurlers, Pedro Martinez hit the DL while Alay Soler and Orlando Hernandez both showed their true colors: pumpkin orange instead of Metropolitan blue. Tom Glavine's regressed, though that started even earlier in the year, and Steve Trachsel's been normal for him, but that's not praise. Chad Bradford and Aaron Heilman have both really struggled out of the pen.

    Still, after all this non-performance, the Mets maintain their double-digit division lead--more an indictment of the division than anything. Plus, there are some positive indicators.

    Despite a four-game black hole, Reyes still amassed a .325/.372/.425 line and in his absence, Valentin actually produced a nice .304/.360/.478 while leading off. Cliff Floyd has finally recovered to more reasonable levels, hitting .342/.457/.658 to bring his season line up to .256/.353/.447. A lot of the difference for him has been hitting'em where they ain't:

    Cliff Floyd by Month
    Month        BABIP
    ------------------
    April        .197
    May          .270
    June         .286
    July         .357
    

    Also, Wright and Beltran are much better bets to maintain their season levels than their recent mild slumps.

    Pedro's DL stint in the long-term is probably a blessing in disguise; at this point it's much more valuable to keep him 100% for the playoffs than it would be to push for any marginal regular season wins. Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez and Darren Oliver continue to perform surprisingly well, and there's excitement and promise in young'uns Mike Pelfrey and John Maine.

    All in all, the song remains the same. Despite some less than stellar play and the injuries, they've weathered a mild storm, maintained their commanding division lead and if handled wisely should be healthy and rested come October, poised to make a run.

  • In the last installment, we also mentioned that going after the veteran goodness of Paul Lo Duca (34 years old, $6.6 million in 2006) in the off-season was activity, but not necessarily progress, since Ramon Castro (30, $800,000) was probably a better and definitely cheaper solution. This week, let's focus on two other similar--and possibly worse--overcompensations. Here are the two first base options going into 2006.

                                    2006 VORP
    Player         Age      PECOTA       Actual        Salary
    Delgado        34        37.1         12.3        $13,500,000
    Mike Jacobs    25        24.6         17.6           $327,000
    

    Just looking at 2006, the Mets were basically looking at spending a marginal $13 million for an expected marginal win. Even if that win became the difference between the playoffs and October golf, that's still a gamble, since there's no guarantee that win would be the difference even if the NL East looked tight coming into the season. We can be generous and attribute all of the $7 million the Marlins sent along with Delgado just to his 2006 salary. That's still a marginal $6 million spent for that win, not good economics even for the big-market Mets.

    Second, even if the Mets were seriously concerned with Jacobs lefty/righty splits, which would have been another overreaction considering how little opportunity he's even had to hit lefties (5 ABs in 2005, 58 in 2006) and how few lefties the Mets are likely to face, it wouldn't take $6 million to find an adequate right-handed hitting partner. And considering they have one on the roster in 47-year-old Julio Franco (two-year contract, no less), they would have saved the entire amount and had three quarters of a young, talented, and cheap infield set for a number of years.

    Third, the Mets are still on the hook for Delgado's Age-35 and -36 seasons for $14.5 and $16 million respectively, plus a $16 million option ($4 million buyout) that could still vest. It should also be mentioned that top pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit joined Jacobs on his trip south.

    In a third, possibly desperate, act to address a perceived problem and satisfy teeth-gnashing fans and media, Omar Minaya scapegoated Braden Looper and brought in free agent Proven Closer Billy Wagner, this time spending a marginal $7 million (and forsaking draft picks #18 and #37) for what could be expected to be only one marginal win, but has actually been no difference.

                                 2006 VORP
    Player        Age     PECOTA      Actual        BS        Salary
    Wagner        34        17.3        12.4         4        $10,500,000
    Looper        31         5.0        11.4         1         $3,500,000
    

    Were the fans fed up with Looper? Fairly or unfairly, yes. Was he really the long-term answer late in the game? Probably not. But Wagner wasn't the only option, and the larger point remains. Add it up and in 2006 alone, for just these three veteran leaders and possibly the accompanying back-page ink, Minaya wasted $18 million, making the Mets older without an appreciable performance improvement on the field, while cheaper, viable options already existed within the organization. For the privilege of spending this much of Fred Wilpon's money to stand still, he also discarded a plethora of talent: Jacobs, Petit, solid young pitching prospect Gabriel Hernandez, a throw-in outfielder, and two draft picks.

    Even worse, if paying for their current performance at their current salaries weren't bad enough, he's locked into paying $6.25 million for one more year of Lo Duca, at least $34 million for two more years of Delgado, and $32.5 million for three more years of Wagner, all of whom are 34, and it should go without saying, all highly likely to decline, not improve.

    Thank you to Cot's Baseball Contracts and Kevin Goldstein for their contributions to this article.

--Jason Grady


Related Content:  Erik Bedard,  Pitching Lines,  Flamethrower

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