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July 31, 2007

Prospectus Hit and Run

Trade Deadline Edition

by Jay Jaffe

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The trading deadline is upon us, and if you've stumbled in here only because you've grown weary of reloading various web sites 20 consecutive times in a row in the hopes that your team snagged Eric Gagne for a Low-A catcher with the offensive upside of a dying elm tree, no worries. We've got a little deadline flavor to offer you here, too.

Pickle Me This

Yesterday's almost-consummated big trade between the Rangers and Braves-principally Mark Teixeira for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus-prompted BP intern Pete Quadrino to exhume the study I did a couple of years back regarding prospects traded by Atlanta GM John Schuerholz. While Jason Schmidt and Jermaine Dye remain the cautionary tales, they're the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to Schuerholz's track record. In my study, I found that only six out of the 80 traded prospects (arbitrarily defined as having not accumulated 502 plate appearances or 162 innings in the bigs) had thus far managed 10.0 WARP post-trade, a "career of consequence."

Revisiting those numbers two years later, Dye and Schmidt have distanced themselves from the pack, even though they've fallen on hard times in 2007. Meanwhile, Wes Helms and Jamie Walker have crossed the 10.0 WARP threshold, the latter as a rather wealthy man but nonetheless a situational reliever, bringing our running total to eight careers of consequence.

Of the players who had yet to appear in the majors at that time of the article, only Adam Wainwright and Jose Capellan have had any impact, with the latter already skirting oblivion before reaching 3.0 WARP. Even that's light years ahead of Dan Meyer, the highly-regarded pitching prospect the Braves sent to Oakland in the Tim Hudson deal around the same time that they shipped Capellan to Milwaukee. Now in his third year at pitcher-friendly Sacramento, the winner of the organization's "Two Steps Back" designation is a 26-year-old who's struggling to keep his walk rate below five per nine as he tries to regain his velocity following shoulder surgery. His PECOTA Stars and Scrubs chart is somewhere between two stock types that can be described as "Blood Red Sunset Over Lowlands" and "Mars is Landing on Your House."

Anyway, here's the post-trade top 10, using WARP3 figures except for 2007, where WARP1 figures are used because the season isn't yet complete:


Player, Pos         Team  WARP  Peak
Jermaine Dye, OF    CHA   51.8  10.4
Jason Schmidt, P    LAN   47.4   8.2
Turk Wendell, P     ---   22.0   4.9
Esteban Yan, P      ---   19.2   4.1
Tony Castillo, P    ---   15.2   4.6
Ray King, P         WAS   14.0   2.8
Jamie Walker, P     DET   11.7   2.7
Wes Helms, INF      PHI   10.0   3.3
Rob Bell, P         BAL    8.4   2.7
Chad Fox, P         ---    8.0   3.6

Turk Wendell and Tony Castillo remain retired, and Chad Fox has joined them. Esteban Yan signed with the Hanshin Tigers over the winter, while Rob Bell recently resurfaced in Baltimore, his first major-league action since 2005. Ray King is a shadow of the handy lefty who was once a Tony La Russa favorite; it's a pretty big shadow, at that. None of these guys will outdo the top two, and it's doubtful they can even top the Turk.

Looking at things a bit more optimistically, here are the active up-and-comers, whom we'll charitably augment by moving beyond the study's original horizon to include Zach Miner and Roman Colon (the two pitchers whose trade for Kyle Farnsworth triggered the study), Wilson Betemit (traded after accumulating 531 PA but probably belongs here anyway), and Andy Marte (whom Cleveland has left to his own devices down in Buffalo):


Player, Pos         Team  WARP  Peak
Wilson Betemit, INF LAN   6.2    2.3
Adam Wainwright, P  STL   5.9    3.2
Zach Miner, P       DET   2.9    1.9
Jose Capellan, P    DET   2.7    2.0
Micah Bowie, P      WAS   1.7    1.3
Roman Colon, P      DET   1.3    0.7
Andy Marte, 3B      CLE   1.0    1.4

Betemit and Wainwright look like reasonable bets to make the grade, but even if they do, that would make 10 careers of consequence out of a new total of 87 (the aforementioned plus Max Ramirez and a few others, but not the ones in the Texeira deal). As good a deal as the Teixeira one looks for the Rangers right now, those are steep odds to beat.

Who's On Third, Dodger Blue Edition

Betemit may well be sporting a new address by the time you read this, but that doesn't make the Dodgers' efforts to take his third base job away any more admirable. While the team understandably peeked at prospects Tony Abreu and Andy LaRoche during the early-season period when Betemit was struggling, the arrival and subsequent success of first baseman James Loney triggered the decision to shift Nomar Garciaparra across the diamond at his expense. Even with two homers in a three-game series versus the Mets two weekends ago, Garciaparra has just four dingers on the year, and his highest ISO in any month is a kitten-weak .120. Consider the overall stats for the these guys:


Player         AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA
Abreu         .288  .328  .415  .258
Betemit       .231  .359  .474  .286
Garciaparra   .285  .330  .360  .244
LaRoche       .211  .436  .263  .280

Though it's climbed over 100 points from where it was at the end of April, Betemit's low batting average is a function of problems making contact (49 K in 159 AB) and lousy luck on balls in play (.268 BABIP). But he's actually been an asset on offense, as evidenced by his .286 EqA. Meanwhile, though he's been hot since the All-Star break (.340/.393/.520), Garciaparra and his empty batting average have been on the balance a considerable drag on the offense, as his .244 EqA indicates. To be fair, his .411 batting average with runners in scoring position is the best in the National League (75 PA min), even if his 917 OPS in those situations ranks only 24th. Good timing-not to mention a two-year contract-is what has allowed him to keep his job in the face of his season-long struggles.

Run Support

For my money, one of the most woefully underreported stats in the baseball realm is pitcher run support. The simple Bill James stat-merely the average number of runs scored per game in starts by a given pitcher-dates back to the Baseball Abstract days, but it's more or less fallen by the wayside. It's not in our stat reports, though it's on a massive to-do list. ESPN makes a hash of the stat, tracking only the runs that are scored while a pitcher is in the game, and then projecting over nine innings, thus creating the useless run support for relievers category. The only place it can be found is among the fantastic game logs at Baseball-Reference.com, and even then it's projected over 27 outs and not in any team-by-team or sortable fashion.

That's a bummer, because Run Support is an easily understood stat that does a good job of getting through to an audience that still shows reluctance to discard pitcher won-loss records (we're not accusing you, just arming you for that barstool argument). Take Jeremy Bonderman (10-3, 4.33 ERA) and Matt Cain (3-12, 4.02), two very good pitchers whose ERAs don't come close to explaining their records. Bonderman's getting 6.2 runs per game from the Tiger offense, while Cain is struggling along at just over half of that, 3.2, and their records reflect that fact rather than some failure on the latter's part. That should be simple enough for even Joe Morgan to understand.

Courtesy of Bil Burke, who has pledged to make this query a quick one for me to call upon for future reference, here are the leaders through Saturday among those with at least 10 starts:


Pitcher            TEAM  GS    RS
Horacio Ramirez    SEA   11   7.00
Andrew Miller      DET   10   6.80
Chad Durbin        DET   14   6.57
Mike Maroth        DET   13   6.46
Cha Seung Baek     SEA   11   6.45
Cliff Lee          CLE   16   6.44
Bartolo Colon      ANA   16   6.31
Kei Igawa          NYA   11   6.27
Josh Beckett       BOS   19   6.26
Jeremy Bonderman   DET   19   6.21
Chien-Ming Wang    NYA   18   6.06
Claudio Vargas     MIL   18   6.00
Byung-Hyun Kim     FLO   12   6.00
Justin Verlander   DET   20   6.00
Jorge De La Rosa   KCA   21   5.90
C.C. Sabathia      CLE   22   5.82
Andy Pettitte      NYA   22   5.82
Aaron Harang       CIN   23   5.74
Roy Halladay       TOR   20   5.65
Brad Penny         LAN   21   5.62

There are some revealing things about this assortment. First, it features a few names-Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia, Brad Penny-that will likely pop up in Cy Young discussions because of their gaudy W-L totals rather than their relative abilities to prevent runs, not that they're awful at that, not by any stretch. As if to underscore that point, 2005 AL winner Bartolo Colon is right up there among the leaders; recall that he took home the award on the strength of a 21-8 record and 3.48 ERA, where the real winner should have been Johan Santana (16-7, 2.87 ERA). The missing ingredient was run support; Colon got 5.45 runs per game, while Santana got a full run less, 4.45. Such a difference may prove decisive in this year's NL Cy race, where Penny's closest competition, Jake Peavy, is exactly in the middle of the pack at 4.67 runs per game.

Along with those guys are those in the 2007 model of Colon's class, guys who keep getting the ball despite horrible performances, in part because their support prevented their Won-Loss records from tilting horribly out of balance. To a greater or lesser extent, Colon (6-6 with a 6.72 ERA, but now done for the year), Horacio Ramirez (6-3, 6.52), Cha Seung Baek (3-3, 5.74), Kei Igawa (2-3, 6.79), and Cliff Lee (5-8, 6.38) have remained in rotations not because of performance but because of their perceived abilities to keep their teams in the game.

Then there's the quintet of Tigers. Even with three of them buoyed by smaller sample sizes than most of the other pitchers above, their presence points to how consistent the team's MLB-leading run-scoring lineup has been. Or at least had been, prior to their recent 3-8 skid. The only Tiger hurler drawing the short end of the stick is Nate Robertson (exactly four runs per game in 18 starts), which is just shy of making the trailer list:


Pitcher            TEAM  GS    RS
Doug Davis         ARI   22   3.86
Jeff Weaver        SEA   15   3.80
Justin Germano     SDN   14   3.79
Josh Towers        TOR   13   3.77
Ian Snell          PIT   20   3.75
David Wells        SDN   20   3.70
Carlos Silva       MIN   21   3.67
Jake Westbrook     CLE   13   3.62
Paul Maholm        PIT   21   3.62
Kyle Lohse         CIN   21   3.57
Chris Capuano      MIL   19   3.53
Joe Kennedy        OAK   16   3.50
Jason Bergmann     WAS   14   3.50
Brett Tomko        LAN   11   3.36
Kip Wells          SLN   18   3.33
Jason Jennings     HOU   13   3.31
Matt Cain          SFN   21   3.19
Mike Bacsik        WAS   13   3.15
Rich Hill          CHN   20   3.00
Anthony Reyes      SLN   13   2.62

Here we get a reminder of the fickle and more or less random nature of run support. As bad as Jeff Weaver has been, or at least had been in his Master of Disaster guise, he's been backed by the same offense that has Ramirez and Baek flying high on the previous list. Likewise, the Indians' Jake Westbrook (1-6, 5.85 ERA) is here while his evil twin Cliff Lee is up top. Pairs like Cincy's Aaron Harang (10-3, 3.54 ERA) and Kyle Lohse (6-12, 4.58, and now a Phillie) and Milwaukee's Claudio Vargas (9-2, 4.30) and Chris Capuano (5-7, 4.70) underscore the point.

Furthermore, in this not-so-bright light, recent frustrations voiced by Josh Towers and Ian Snell make a bit more sense. You can certainly see how Anthony Reyes (1-10, 6.11) and Kip Wells (4-13, 5.72) had plenty of help from their so-called friends in arriving at their awful records. On the other hand, there's an alarming contrast in fates between two of the least-supported pitchers, the otherwise quite comparable Rich Hill and Matt Cain:


Victim  W  L  ERA   VORP  SNLVAR
Hill    6  6  3.59  26.9   3.1
Cain    3 12  4.02  22.6   3.2

Amazing, isn't it? We'll be keeping an eye on this stat in the weeks to come.

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

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