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December 7, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Topic Hopping

by Jim Baker

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I know what let's do! Let's go topic hopping!

All I can say is: Finally!

You probably know what I'm talking about here. Bowie Kuhn was elected to the Hall of Fame. Now I can sleep at night knowing he is safely ensconced where he so definitely and rightly belongs. So many evenings I would lie there in the dark, recounting his many accomplishments in my mind and asking over and over again: "When? When? When?"

When the great day finally came, a spontaneous party broke out here among my comrades in the Kuhnista camp. The corks on many jeroboams of champagne were popped and a great celebratory feast was consumed! Testimonials were given and songs of praise sung mightily. Our Kalashnikovs were fired skyward. Hallelujah, friends! A great man has been justly rewarded.

Don't Walk at Your Own Peril

You're a curious lot, otherwise you wouldn't be subscribing to this website. Sometimes you want to know things just to know them. You'll probably be able to relate, then, when I tell you that one day a couple of months ago, I wondered how many runs teams averaged when they drew a specific number of walks. It turned out like I assumed it would, but it was still nice to see it in print. What follows is data taken from the 2001 to 2007 seasons that shows the average number of runs scored arranged by the number of walks a team drew.

Walks Runs
  0  2.93
  1  3.42
  2  4.03
  3  4.65
  4  5.20
  5  5.69
  6  6.22
  7  6.80
  8  7.20
  9  7.93
 10  8.06
 11  8.15
 12  9.63

No surprises here. The National League team with the lowest walk total in this time period was the 2006 Cubs with 395, or 2.4 per game. They averaged 4.42 runs per game, or right about where they should be on this chart. Coincidence? Well, yes, it is. The National League team with the lowest run total in this time period was the 2003 Dodgers at 3.53 runs per game; they averaged 2.5 walks per game.

The lesson here is that if you never walk, you'll probably only win 20 games a year, depending on your ballpark. If you could assemble a team that walked seven times a game, you'd go 135-27, all other things being equal. That sounds simple enough.

You Think We've Got Problems?

Let's get this straight: barring a situation depicted in the upcoming film I Am Legend, nothing is going to kill baseball. Ever. As long as there is a United States of America, there is going to be Major League Baseball. How do we know this? Because it has already survived dozens of alleged "mortal" blows. You all know about the strikes and the wars and the Depression and the gambling scandal that didn't kill it. You're probably not too aware of what a complete mess the owners had made of things in the late 1890s.

I'm currently reading Norman Macht's wonderful book Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, in which he does an excellent job of conveying the disaster that the National League had become after eliminating and absorbing the competition in the early 1890s. Nothing modern owners can come up with could possibly match the idiocy of syndicate baseball (owners having a stake in two teams, leading them to treat one of them as a farm team). According to Macht, fans had grown to hate the National League and its chicanery, which is one of the reasons the American League was able to hit the ground running.

I highly recommend Macht's work. It works as social history while still being very much a baseball book. It also serves to remind us that in many ways, it was ever thus. Baseball was always a business and always will be and its ownership ranks have always been and always will be populated with some who aren't quite on the ball. There is little that hasn't happened before and nothing that won't happen again.

The Dodgers: Crazier Than You Think?

Why does the little girl with the dolly tucked under her arm long for the dolly in the window at the toy store? Because it's new, right? Or something. I don't know--I'm not a doll fan myself. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that new merchandise continues to hold way too much allure to some general managers out there.

Let's take the case of Ned Colletti and this week's signing of Andruw Jones. In this article at MLB.com, Colletti speaks about the options the signing gives him. Everyone wants to know what this will do to the strangely marginalized Matt Kemp, who hit .342/.373/.521 in limited duty last year and managed the highest VORP among Dodgers outfielders in spite of having just 311 plate appearances. A quick quiz: who do you think is going have a higher VORP over the next four years, Jones or Kemp? Let's look back at PECOTA pages for Jones, Kemp, Juan Pierre, and Andre Ethier.


       Kemp     Pierre    Jones     Ethier
Year Age VORP  Age VORP  Age VORP  Age VORP
2008  23 34.2   30  9.9   31 34.6   26 18.5
2009  24 36.0   31  7.9   32 30.2   27 17.2
2010  25 32.5   32  5.3   33 23.6   28 14.7
2011  26 32.1   33  1.9   34 18.0   29 12.3

High-priced imports (Pierre & Jones): 131.4
Cheap on-hand talent (Kemp & Ethier): 197.2

Yes, Jones is only under contract for two years, and Pierre is not under a Dodger contract for the end of this period, either, so let's look at it for the next two years instead:

High-priced imports: 82.6
Cheap on-hand talent: 105.7

We must remember that these projections were made after the 2006 season, so they don't take into account Jones' big slide in '07. Regardless, it does seem like a shame that Kemp could be the odd man out in L.A.'s outfield. If they can leverage him for a very productive pitcher then some good will have come from this, although I'd rather have the surety of Kemp's future than the possibilities of a stranger. Better still, perhaps they could find a taker for Pierre. (The old regime in Pittsburgh would have taken him.) If Colletti off-loads Pierre on somebody at this juncture--even paying down on his remaining salary--he will be lauded in this very space.

---

Thanks to William Burke for research.

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