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February 29, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

The 2008 Transient All-Star Team

by Jim Baker

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Americans are a transient lot. On average, we move 13 times in a lifetime (note: number exaggerated to enhance premise). Our ballplayers are no different; they are often found switching teams. Because of this, it became necessary for me to create the Transient All-Star Team back in 2005. In order to be eligible for this esteemed body, a player must simply be with a different franchise in 2008 than he was at the conclusion of the 2007 season. In the past, I named a player at each position for each league. This year, I'm doing something a little different: presenting the best candidates at each position, discussing their qualifications, and naming just one player overall. As we shall see, the word "best" is relative at some of the positions, while at others, the field is so crowded it is quite difficult to pick a top contender.

Catcher

The nominees are: Paul Lo Duca, Nationals; Brian Schneider, Mets; Jason Kendall, Brewers; and Mike Rabelo, Marlins.
The number 8.1, what is that? It's the combined WARP projection for these four catchers, courtesy of PECOTA. This is a tough call, really. Lo Duca is 36, fading, and might not keep the top spot in Washington. Schneider comes to the Mets in a trade that could achieve franchise infamy and has a lower projection than his backup, Ramon Castro. Kendall is 34 and is one of the few players in baseball whose OBP is higher than his slugging average, which would be great if he were slugging .400, but he hasn't done that since 2003. Rabelo is a 28-year-old with 52 big-league games to his credit.
And the winner is: Mike Rabelo of the Florida Marlins. For fun, let's go with the wild card. David Laurila makes an interesting case for the former Tiger: "I wouldn't underestimate the impact Mike Rabelo could have with the Marlins. He should get the bulk of work behind the plate in Florida, and switch-hitting catchers are seldom a bad thing. His familiarity with catching Andrew Miller, who is obviously a big part of the Marlins' future, is also a plus. Lo Duca is a bigger name, but Rabelo may be just as important to his new team."

First Base

The nominees are: Darin Erstad, Astros; Chris Shelton and Ben Broussard, Rangers.
As you will notice, this is a very thin position this year. Erstad will not be a starter, and Shelton is a non-roster invitee. Erstad might not even see that much playing time at first base, and considering Lance Berkman's drop-off against left-handed pitching, it would be nice if his backup swung from the right side. Given Broussard's career numbers against left-handers (.227/.290/.399), a first base platoon is probably in order in Texas, yet while Shelton has been better than that versus lefties in his brief career (.269/.363/.420), it's not magnificently better. Tony Clark could always manage to put up enough numbers in limited plate appearances to end up best here as well.
And the winner is: Ben Broussard of the Texas Rangers--because he is likely to get the most playing time.

Second Base

The nominees are: Tadahito Iguchi, Padres; Brendan Harris, Twins; and Kazuo Matsui, Astros.
Harris is the ultimate transient, changing teams and, to some extent, positions. In his favor is the fact that he's in the midst of his prime. Matsui fooled a lot of the people a lot of the time last year with his alleged resurgence in Colorado. He really only needed to fool one team, though, and the Astros stepped up for the jester gig. As bad as giving him a three-year deal looks before the fact, imagine how bad it's going to look by 2010. Contrast his signing with that of the reliable Mr. Iguchi by the Padres. Look at years (three to one), money ($16.5 million to $4 million) and their 2008 projections (20.9 VORP to 5.8), and it appears the Astros bought the wrong Japanese import at the wrong price.
And the winner is: Brendan Harris, Minnesota Twins.

Third Base

The nominees are: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Troy Glaus, Cardinals; Dallas McPherson, Marlins; Scott Rolen, Blue Jays; and Pedro Feliz, Phillies.
In keeping with my silly Academy Awards conceit, it would have been ideal to have five nominees at every position, but, as you saw at first base, that was not possible. This desire for a quintet led to the inclusion of Feliz and McPherson here, although it's an exercise in tokenism. Given enough at-bats in his new hitter-friendly ballpark, Feliz could easily park another 20 home runs and create the illusion that he was just what the Phillies needed. McPherson is, at least, the front-runner for the Marlins third base job; this would be the perfect time for him to stay healthy. Among the main threesome, Glaus hasn't had a season anywhere as good as what Cabrera has been doing recently since 2002, and hasn't been at Cabrera's level since 2000. It seems hard to believe after the tumult of '07, but Rolen played at a Hall of Fame level (9.9 WARP3) as recently as 2006.
And the winner is: Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers. He's the best position player to switch teams this year, and has a good shot at the mythical Transient MVP. Looking at every transient position player since 1901, Cabrera with 30.1 ranks 23rd in WARP3 accumulated in the three years leading up to the move. These are the top 10:


WARP3 Player           Year  New Team / Old Team
40.4: Barry Bonds      1993  Giants from Pirates
38.8: Alex Rodriguez   2004  Yankees from Rangers
38.4: Albert Belle     1997  White Sox from Indians
36.4: Ken Griffey Jr.  2000  Reds from Mariners
35.1: Alex Rodriguez   2001  Rangers from Mariners
34.5: Eddie Collins    1915  White Sox from Athletics
34.2: Rogers Hornsby   1927  Giants from Cardinals
32.8: Tris Speaker     1916  Indians from Red Sox
32.0: Jimmie Foxx      1936  Red Sox from Athletics
31.8: Rogers Hornsby   1929  Cubs from Braves

By dint of his sparkling personality and position as player-manager, Hornsby earned his way onto this list twice. Conspicuous by his absence is Babe Ruth, because he earned a lot of his credits as a pitcher. I also took the liberty of removing Rickey Henderson (1993, A's to Blue Jays) and Darrell Evans (1976, Braves to Giants), because their moves came at midseason, and we're concerning ourselves with off-season transients; if you're not as discriminating, they would be ranked ninth and tenth, respectively. This is the kind of company Cabrera is in these days. Here's hoping he can stay in shape and continue to be mentioned in the same context as these all-time greats.

Shortstop

The nominees are: Miguel Tejada, Astros; Adam Everett, Twins; David Eckstein, Blue Jays; Edgar Renteria, Tigers; Orlando Cabrera, White Sox; and Jason Bartlett, Rays.
Everett is the only transient nominee with a negative VORP projection; he's here because of his glove, obviously, and after missing nearly 100 games last year, he would have a better WARP projection (1.9) if not for that. Still, it doesn't nose him into the fours, which is where the Renteria, Cabrera, Bartlett, and Tejada projections reside. Tejada's trump card remains his offense, although Renteria out EqA'd him last year, .305 to .285.
And the winner is: Edgar Renteria of the Detroit Tigers. Tejada has gotten worse in each of the last three seasons. While there's no guarantee the downward trend will continue, there isn't much to like about the turn of his career of late, both on and off the field. His defense, once a strength, is now about on par with Renteria's. He would be the name choice, but we'll save the safe pick for a different position.

Left Field

The nominees are: Delmon Young, Twins; Luke Scott, Orioles; Carlos Quentin, White Sox; and Jacque Jones, Tigers.
Pending a Barry Bonds signing--which Joe Sheehan discussed in depth in his Sunday column--this is the field. I find this mildly amusing: all four candidates saw the majority of their playing time in other parts of the outfield last year, but are listed in left on their teams' pre-season depth charts. Here are their games played at the three outfield positions in 2007:


         LF   RF  CF
Scott     5  101   3
Young     0  133  29
Quentin   3   75   0
Jones     2   67  84

There's a similar situation among the Transient All-Star right field candidates:


                RF   LF  CF
Ryan Church      0   91  41
Milton Bradley   4   40  15
Jose Guillen   150    2   4
Brad Wilkerson  19   36   1
Geoff Jenkins    0  121   0

And the winner is: Delmon Young of the Minnesota Twins. At 22, Young is the youngest and also figures to play the most. He projects the best with a 4.7 WARP, with the others being in the twos.

Center Field

The nominees are: Torii Hunter, Angels; Andruw Jones, Dodgers; Mike Cameron, Brewers; Nick Swisher, White Sox; Aaron Rowand, Giants; Josh Hamilton, Rangers; Cameron Maybin, Marlins; and Lastings Milledge, Nationals.
This is the single most loaded transient position for 2008, and includes two of the bigger free agent names from the off-season dealings, in the persons of Hunter and Jones. It also includes two up-and-comers in Maybin and Milledge, solid guys Swisher and Rowand, the continuing comeback of Josh Hamilton from the brink of oblivion, and the officially chastised hop-popper, Cameron. The youngsters are included to acknowledge their arrival on the scene, but aren't serious candidates in this packed field. With so many viable candidates, my instinct is to go the safe route and choose Hunter, who is not switching positions (like Swisher), missing games due to suspension (like Cameron), looking unshapely (like Jones), or moving into a ballpark that could hurt his stats (like Rowand). Hamilton is in his dead prime (entering his age-27 season) and if there were ever a time for him to show what we've been missing all these years, this would be it.
And the winner is: Torii Hunter of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I will bash my own safe pick by adding that I wouldn't be surprised if he is outshone by Swisher, Jones, or Hamilton.

Right Field

The nominees are: Ryan Church, Mets; Milton Bradley, Rangers; Jose Guillen, Royals; Brad Wilkerson, Mariners; and Geoff Jenkins, Phillies.
If I had to bet, I would put my money on Guillen playing the most games of this group. That wouldn't make him my choice for the position, necessarily. He did have a .296 EqA in 2007, the second best of his career, though. People forget that Bradley can still spank (.345 EqA with the Padres after moving over from Oakland last year), but his fragility always makes him a dicey pick.
And the winner is: Ryan Church of the New York Mets. I would say it's between Church and Bradley, and the former's defense and latter's propensity for being injured (one batting title qualification in his career) tilts the competition in Church's favor.

Starting Pitcher

The nominees are: Johan Santana, Mets; Dan Haren, Diamondbacks; Dontrelle Willis, Tigers; and Erik Bedard, Mariners.
It's too bad for Haren that he switched leagues. With Santana out of the picture, he would have been on the shortlist of preseason American League Cy Young candidates. Bedard remains in the running, though, and has the third-highest VORP projection behind C.C. Sabathia of Cleveland and Josh Beckett of Boston in the league. Willis seems like the kind of guy who, with the right tutelage, could be a force again. As it is, he's the fourth starter in the Tigers rotation.
And the winner is: Johan Santana of the New York Mets--as if you didn't know. Not only does Santana rank as the best of this class, he is one of the better transient pitchers ever. How does Santana rank in quality displayed prior to moving all-time? Here is the top 10 list based on accumulated WARP3 from the three seasons leading up to a pitcher's move:


WARP3 Pitcher          Year  New Team / Old Team
41.9: Grover Alexander 1918  Cubs from Phillies
36.6: Roger Clemens    1999  Yankees from Blue Jays
33.4: Lefty Grove      1934  Red Sox from Athletics
30.9: Jim Bunning      1968  Pirates from Phillies
30.6: Kevin Brown      1999  Dodgers from Padres
30.1: Johan Santana    2008  Mets from Twins
28.8: Pedro Martinez   2005  Mets from Red Sox
28.3: Kevin Brown      1998  Padres from Marlins
27.6: Dizzy Dean       1938  Cubs from Cardinals
26.9: Curt Schilling   2004  Red Sox from Diamondbacks

Once again, Ruth is removed from this list because of his hybrid nature. A number of pitchers traded mid-season were also excluded, including Gaylord Perry (1975, Indians to Rangers), Bert Blyleven (1976, Twins to Rangers), Ned Garver (1952, Browns to Tigers), Wes Ferrell (1937, Red Sox to Senators), Dick Radatz (1966, Red Sox to Indians--Radatz was a reliever), and Howard Ehmke (1926, Red Sox to Athletics).

Relief Pitcher

The nominees are: Francisco Cordero, Reds; Jose Valverde, Astros; Eric Gagne, Brewers; and Brad Lidge, Phillies.
Will Carroll argues that Lidge's arrival allows the Phillies to move Brett Myers back into the rotation, and that should count in his favor. It's an interesting point, but it may be a bit tough to quantify at the end of the year when we look back to assess how the Transient All-Stars fared. Cordero and Valverde are tied for ninth overall in projected WXRL, and Gagne isn't too far behind them. Here's a fun non-coincidence: all four pitchers have Roberto Hernandez in their top four comp lists. Valverde's list also includes the aforementioned Dick Radatz, as well as Lee Smith. Lidge's includes Smith as well.
And the winner is: Jose Valverde, Houston Astros. In many ways, the quartet's projections are very similar. Valverde just seems a little bit better all the way across the board.

And there they are, the best of the uprooted class of '08. As has become custom, we'll check back after the season and see how these picks fared.

Thanks to Bil Burke, Will Carroll, David Laurila, and Jason Paré for their contributions to this column.

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