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October 9, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Me So Worthy, or Unworthy

by Jim Baker

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In a new, old tradition that dates all the way back to 2005, it's time to name two annual postseason All-Star teams. One involves those who will be getting a share of the playoff booty despite their contributions, and the other is the reverse of that: those who did almost everything in their power to guarantee their teams' success, only to be denied because of their lessers.

The All-in-Spite-of Team

The "AiSo" squad is comprised of the players whose teams made the playoffs in spite of them having seasons that were far less than stellar. Past members include some of your favorites, like Darin Erstad, Wandy Rodriguez, Rondell White, and Adam Everett.

Starting Pitcher (minimum 20 starts): Adam Eaton, Phillies (0.7 SNLVAR)
Eaton managed a 10-10 won-loss mark in spite of an 8-22 Quality Start-Non-Quality Start record thanks to the largesse of his chums. His Support-Neutral mark was the worst of any starter on a playoff team (100 IP minimum). His career DERA was nearly 5.00 entering the season, and this year's effort put it over the top.

Reliever: Will Ohman, Cubs, -0.727 WXRL
How much damage can a situational lefty do, really? He appeared in 56 games and logged only 36 1/3 innings. How much trouble can that cause? Another candidate might be his teammate Scott Eyre, who appeared in 55 games with similar results, albeit facing more batters. I was not tempted to put Eric Gagne here as he didn't crack 20 innings in his time with Boston.

Catcher: Jeff Mathis (.214 EqA, 0.8 WARP1) and Jose Molina (.175, 0.2), Angels
I went with a pairing here, as Mathis and Molina combined for a decent amount of unproductive plate appearances for the Angels with 326. Mike Napoli was the man with the stick out of the catching spot for the Angels, but was the one among them with a negative FRAA. Molina was much better in his 71 plate appearances with the Yankees. He would have had to have been, otherwise, he could have turned the trick of making the All-in-Spite-of Team on the merits of his work for two different playoff-bound clubs.

First Baseman: Andy Phillips, Yankees (.241 EqA, 0.1 WARP1)
Phillips almost made the team last year, but was beaten out by Sean Casey. Ideally, you'd like to name a guy with more than 207 plate appearances, but the starting first basemen from the other playoff teams were all in double figures in VORP, and Doug Mientkiewicz outplayed him in their limited showings. Phillips did have a .346 OBP and a .301 average while playing first, but that .386 SLG was nowhere close to what you want from the position.

Second Baseman: Josh Barfield, Indians (.204 EqA, -0.1 WARP1)
Barfield managed the neat trick of moving from Petco Park to Jacobs Field and hitting much worse. That's him you see not playing second base for the Tribe in the playoffs.

Third Baseman: Wes Helms (.228 EqA, -0.2 WARP1) and Abraham Nunez (.214, 0.7), Phillies
Helms' line while playing third was actually not that bad (.275/.323/.430), except that you've got to do better than that playing a corner position in a park like Citizens Bank. Including Greg Dobbs-who did his best hitting when not playing third and was actually the least productive of the three while at the hot corner (only .232/.293/.347 as a third baseman)-means that the Phillies' three third basemen hit a shortstop-ish .255/.321/.368.

Shortstop: Julio Lugo, Red Sox (.225 EqA, 0.1 WARP1)
In his chat the other day, Steven Goldman was discussing how he hates the "they have enough production to carry a corpse at position X" argument. Lugo isn't quite corpse-like, but he was about replacement level this year, and that certainly fits the description of an In-Spite-of player.

Left Fielder: David Dellucci, Indians (.231 EqA, 1.0 WARP1)
He only appeared in 51 games in left, a sign that we're hurting for candidates here. Scott Hairston's stint in Arizona was similarly unhelpful (.226/0.9), but he played pretty well while with the Padres later in the year, which means he probably should get the nod here, since he undercut the D'backs chances on both ends of the season.

Center Fielder: Felix Pie, Cubs (.212 EqA, 0.2 WARP1)
What seemed to be the obvious answer to the Cubs' outfield problems of 2006 turned out not to be, but they made the playoffs despite him.

Right Fielder: Carlos Quentin, Diamondbacks (.222 EqA, 0.4 WARP1)
His 2007 was a big step backwards for a player who many saw as a coming star. He fell off the bottom of his PECOTA projection, as shoulder and hamstring problems hampered him. Ideally, this was a temporary setback. His replacement, Justin Upton, was also below replacement level, but he's just 19, so we're going to give him a pass here.

Designated Hitter: Shea Hillenbrand, Angels (.196 EQA, -0.7 WARP1)
This might well be the end of Hillenbrand's big league career. When you don't have a position and aren't even matching what is already an average career EqA mark (.262), it's time to call the Long Island Ducks. When his Angels stint came to a close after 204 unproductive plate appearances, he landed with the Dodgers and put up remarkably similar numbers, nearly matching his .196 Angels EQA with a .199 effort across town.

The Don't-Blame-Me Team

These are the best players at each position whose teams did not qualify for the postseason. "Blame the leader" is a game often played in baseball, but not here. Instead, the leader is separated from the chaff and celebrated for his contributions.

Starting Pitcher (minimum 20 starts): Tim Hudson, Braves (7.9 SNLVAR)
There was quite a logjam in the second tier of VORP leaders among starters whose teams didn't make the playoffs, but Hudson had the best SNLVAR (and second-best in baseball) with his 7.9 mark rating over Brad Penny's 7.3, and even further ahead of Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, and John Smoltz.

Middle Reliever: Heath Bell, Padres (5.656 WXRL)
Not only did he pitch well, he pitched often. Of course, without the former, what team is going to ask for the latter? Bell led the majors in relief innings with 93 2/3. Let's check him for overload next year.

Closer: J.J. Putz, Mariners (7.419 WXRL)
Somehow, in the midst of an amazing season, his K/BB ratio actually got worse (82/13, down from 104/13). That's about the extent of the complaints, though. If only his mates had played half as well as he did; it's not a good sign when a team's closer very nearly has the highest WARP1 on the squad, as Putz barely lost out to Ichiro Suzuki, 8.9 to 8.8.

Catcher: Russell Martin, Dodgers (.292 EqA, 8.0 WARP1)
The team WARP1 leader held up his end of the bargain while the Dodgers were getting substandard offensive contributions from other places on the diamond traditionally counted on for more.

First Baseman: Albert Pujols, Cardinals (.333 EqA, 11.3 WARP1)
In the end, Pujols' season fits right into the rest of his career to date, at least in terms of overall value, since his defense continues to improve. Although 100 missing points of slugging average might seem like a tremendous decline, that's until you consider that Pujols' slugging at home from 2004 to 2006 was .599; this year, it was .487. However great he may be, he cannot reshape his new environment with his mind.

Second Baseman: Placido Polanco, Tigers (.302 EqA, 8.2 WARP1)
It was either Polanco or Brian Roberts of the Orioles, but Polanco's defense carried the day. Easily the best year of his career, Polanco became eligible for inclusion here when his team's starting pitching jumped their ERA up from 4.00 to 4.68, and the relievers' collective ERA went from 3.51 to 4.37. It is on the backs of others that men such as this are carried to the Don't Blame Me Team.

Third Baseman: David Wright, Mets (.329 EqA, 11.2 WARP1)
He hit .400/.460/.444 over the last 10 games of the season while the world was crashing down around him. Chipper Jones of the Braves is a strong runner-up, but played less, and cannot compare to Wright defensively.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (.315 EqA, 8.7 WARP1)
You can't have it both ways-if you are dismissing Matt Holliday's MVP candidacy because of his road stats, then you also have to look at this: .293/.352/.507 versus .319/.377/.546. The first is Jimmy Rollins away from CBP, and the second line is Hanley Ramirez away from Dolphin Stadium. Of course, this gets into that whole other MVP argument about the player having to come from a contender which, I am certain, is not codified.

Left Fielder: Barry Bonds, Giants (.353 EqA, 6.0 WARP1)
There's a movie where somebody yells emphatically, "I am the law!" I forget the name of it, but Bonds could recreate a similar scene with the Giants, only he'd be yelling, "I am the offense!" In spite of not appearing in 36 games, he had the second-highest WARP1 on the team, behind only pitcher Matt Cain. If that's not a sign of a troubled roster, then nothing is. Still, many writers seemed downright aroused to learn he was leaving the team. Go figure.

Center Fielder: Curtis Granderson, Tigers (.301 EqA, 9.9 WARP1)
If this guy could hit left-handers, they'd rename the stadium after him-provided he bought a bank and gave them money for the naming rights, of course. Lost in the 20-20-20-20-20-20-20-20 thing was the fact he only got caught stealing once and repeated his outstanding FRAR/FRAA from 2006.

Right Fielder: Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (.337 EqA, 9.2 WARP1)
That's three Tigers you can't blame it on. At some point, you have to blame somebody. As was mentioned in the Polanco comment above, we'll scapegoat the pitchers. The Tigers upped their run production from 822 to 887 while the staff was doling out an additional 122 runs.

Designated Hitter: Jim Thome, White Sox (.315 EqA, 5.2 WARP1)
Had Thome played 150 games instead of 130, there would have been no discerning his 2007 counting stats from those of his prime years in the 1990s. Jack Cust of the A's certainly deserves a mention here (.314 EqA/4.7 WARP1) as he was often the best bit in Oakland's offense, especially when Nick Swisher was having an off-day.

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