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March 18, 2007

Every Given Sunday

Projection Rejection

by John Perrotto

  • Baseball Prospectus 2007 is a bestseller, but it is safe to say it isn't being well received in the Chicago White Sox' clubhouse. PECOTA projects the Chicago White Sox to go 72-90 this season, quite a comedown for a franchise that won its first World Series title in 87 years two seasons ago, and won 90 games last year (although it failed to make the playoffs).

    "That's a good sign for us, because usually they're wrong about everything regarding our dealings," White Sox General Manager Ken Williams told the Chicago Tribune. "What can you do? We put the best team together we can, and we think we're going to end up somewhere in the mid-90s, although there are all kinds of variables off that. We have won a lot of games the last couple of years and we didn't do a whole lot different other than a couple of bullpen spots and the fifth starter."

    However, PECOTA sees a White Sox decline primarily because of their aging roster. A number of key players are 30 or older, including right-hander Jose Contreras (36), designated hitter Jim Thome (36), right fielder Jermaine Dye (33), second baseman Tadahito Iguchi (32), outfielder Darin Erstad (32), first baseman Paul Konerko (31), right-hander Javier Vazquez (30), catcher A.J. Pierzynski (30), and left fielder Scott Podsednik (30). PECOTA gives only two of those nine players a better than even chance of improving on their 2006 performance: Vazquez (71 percent) and Pierzynski (55 percent).

    However, Williams doesn't necessarily think that getting older is a bad thing. "Maybe we're a year better then," Williams said. "I've run out of ways to respond to all the daggers that have been thrown our way over the years. I asked someone the other day who over the years has continued to be embarrassed, 'Don't you get tired of being wrong or is it you figure one of these days you're going to be right?' (His answer?) 'The only way to respond starts April 1. Before that it's all talk.'"

    Perhaps that's so, but the performance of the four pitchers assured of spots in the White Sox' starting rotation this spring is cause for alarm, as Contreras, Vazquez, Mark Buehrle, and Jon Garland have combined for a 7.95 ERA. They have allowed 49 runs, 48 earned, in 52 1/3 innings, along with 85 hits, an average of 14.6 per nine innings. That's the continuation of a downward trend for the rotation: White Sox starters posted a 4.65 ERA the season after they logged a fine 3.75 mark in their 2005 championship season.

  • Barry Bonds is 22 home runs away from breaking Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755, but PECOTA projects Bonds to get that record in 2008, as it has him hitting only 12 home runs this season but rallying for 23 in '08, which would be his final season. Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, said recently that his client could play long enough to hit 1,000 home runs. However, Bonds dismissed that idea. "You believe a non-athlete?," Bonds said. "One thousand home runs, that's not realistic for anyone. Whatever I end up with, I'd be happy with."

    The Giants left fielder is eying other milestone with which he has been less frequently connected. First, Bonds would like to finish his career with 3,000 hits; he needs only 159 more. "That's a big number," Bonds told the San Francisco Chronicle. Bonds is also 70 RBI away from 2,000; only Aaron has 700 homers, 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs in his career. While PECOTA does not project hits for players, it does have Bonds getting to 2,000 RBI with projections of 38 this season and 75 in 2008.

  • On the subject of records, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Rickey Henderson setting baseball's single-season stolen base mark with 130 for the Oakland Athletics in 1982. That record seems safe for the foreseeable future as teams have learned that home runs are much more valuable than steals. The most steals in a season in this century is the 70 swiped by Podsednik for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004. There hasn't been a 100-steal season since Vince Coleman ran up totals of 110, 107, and 109 for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1985-87. Only four major-league teams stole as many as 130 bases last season: the Los Angeles Angels (148), New York Mets (146), New York Yankees (139) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (134).

    Henderson is in the Mets' spring training camp this spring as a special instructor, and believes shortstop Jose Reyes has a chance to break his record. Reyes has led the National League in steals each of the last two seasons with 60 in 2005 and 64 in 2006.

    "He's the most likely in my eyes," Henderson told the Newark Star-Ledger. "He loves the game. He looks like, when he's out on the field, he's having fun. There's no pressure on him. When you get a player that's having fun playing the game and having success, that's the kind of player that can break records. ... I give him all the chance. When you enjoy the game, you never know. I didn't think I'd ever break the record."

    Reyes, though, thinks Henderson is being unrealistic. "It makes me feel good to hear that, but 130 is tough," Reyes said. "No chance. I don't get 130 in two years." PECOTA agrees with Reyes; it projects Reyes to have 61, 61, 61, 59 and 52 steals over the next five seasons. Nothing to apologize for, but well short of Rickey or Vince Coleman territory.

  • Angels left fielder Garret Anderson has slipped from the ranks of elite players in recent years. From 1998-2003, he hit .299/.326/.500 while averaging 26 home runs, 106 RBI, and 158 games a season. From 2004-06, he hit .287/.324/.437 while averaging 16 homers, 85 RBI, and 132 games a season as he has been slowed by an arthritic condition in his upper back.

    Despite the chronic problem, the Angels believe Anderson could be primed for a comeback season in 2007 even though he is 34. "He is running as well as I've seen him in five years," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Orange County Register. "I think we're all very excited about where Garret is health-wise. Our goal right now is to keep him there. I think there are some things that we've talked to him about as far as where the breakdowns came the past couple years. Some came from when he had that internal arthritic condition. ... There's no way around that but we want to make sure that if there's things that he feels are setting him back then we'll stay away from those things. But he feels good, he's been doing the whole program, his legs feel great, he's in great shape and we're going to do everything we can to keep him there."

    PECOTA throws another wet blanket on this particular spring notion, or suggestion. It projects him to hit .275/.323/.441 with 14 homers and 67 RBI this season, while throwing up a caution flag by projecting an Attrition Rate of 19 percent.

  • The Arizona Diamondbacks have gone with a full-fledged youth movement among position players, but are excited about their having traded for veteran left-handers Doug Davis and Randy Johnson over the winter. That's on top of their having dealt for another veteran last August, righty workhorse Livan Hernandez. The Diamondbacks feel their starting rotation is now as durable as any in the game after adding that trio to a rotation anchored by right-hander Brandon Webb, last year's NL Cy Young Award winner.

    Hernandez (104), Davis (103), Johnson (102), and Webb (101) are four of only eight pitchers to make 101 or more starts the last three years. They also all rank among the top 15 in innings pitched during that span, with Hernandez first with 717 1/3, Johnson fifth with 676 1/3, Webb sixth with 672, and Davis 15th with 633 1/3.

    "I couldn't be more comfortable. These are four guys with a history of success and track records," Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price told the East Valley Tribune. "All have a good work ethic and all compete well. I think they are going to push each other. They all want to be in the ballgame after the sixth inning."

    While Webb is still a relative youngster at 27, Johnson is 43 and coming off back surgery, Hernandez is reportedly 32 and Davis is 31. PECOTA sees everyone but Johnson holding up for a full season, not surprising since the Big Unit may miss the first month while recovering from his surgery. Webb is projected to go 16-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 33 starts and 226 2/3 innings. Johnson is projected to go 8-5 with a 3.78 ERA in only 18 starts and 112 1/3 innings. Hernandez is projected to go 10-10 with a 5.06 ERA in 29 starts and 179 innings. Davis is projected to go 11-9 with a 4.50 ERA in 29 starts and 180 1/3 innings.

  • From the rumor mill: Washington first baseman Nick Johnson, originally expected to be back in May, now looks like he could miss the entire season. Johnson is still unable to even jog after breaking his right leg last September ... Boston is still looking for a closer, but talks with Washington about Chad Cordero aren't hot at the moment, and the Red Sox have only lukewarm interest in San Francisco's Armando Benitez. One possibility is San Diego set-up reliever Scott Linebrink ... Benitez's name keeps being connected with a possible trade to Florida, but the Marlins seem to have more interest in trading for Arizona's Jorge Julio to fill their closer role. The Giants are also considering hanging on to Benitez and using closer-in-waiting Brian Wilson as his set-up man ... San Diego is looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder, and among the trade possibilities are the Tigers' Marcus Thames and the Brewers' Kevin Mench; for whatever reason, the Giants' Jason Ellison also comes up in this context ... Texas is looking for an established backup catcher, and possibilities include the Mets' Sandy Alomar Jr. and San Diego's Todd Greene. The Rangers could be in position to deal a right-handed reliever such as Rick Bauer or Scott Feldman ... The White Sox would consider trading utilityman Rob Mackowiak, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season ... Veteran reliever Rudy Seanez will likely retire if he doesn't make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster ... Oakland is expected to sign closer Huston Street and first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher to multi-year contract extensions before the end of spring training.


    --
    John Perrotto is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and covers Major League Baseball for the Beaver County Times. You can reach John by clicking here.

    John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
    Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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