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June 13, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

The American League Rumsfeld Numbers

by Jim Baker

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About a year ago I concocted something that I call the Rumsfeld Number. It's named after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, because he once said that you go to the war with the army you have, not the one you necessarily want. Applying that axiom to baseball, the Rumsfeld Number is an accounting of the percentage of a team's plate appearances given over to players who are below replacement level in VORP. To date, I have not heard from Mr. Rumsfeld as to his feelings on being attached to this accounting; I am going to assume his silence stands for approval. Who knows, perhaps this will be his greatest legacy. Former Secretaries of Defense can be assigned to three basic categories: The Obscure, the Famous and the Infamous. After his first stint under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld probably would have fallen into the first category; unfortunately, history may place his second go-round in the third category. That is, unless the Rumsfeld Number really catches on and places him in the second camp. Only time will tell.

What follows are the American League clubs, with their Rumsfeld Numbers in parentheses.

Red Sox (0.5): Two players: Jeff Bailey and Joe Thurston. That's it, and they've got a total of 15 plate appearances between them. They're a combined 0-for-11 with three walks and a Hit by Pitch. Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp were the players who dragged the Sox Rumsfeld Number down into the median range last year at this time, but both of them are on the positive side of things so far in 2008, Lugo more so than Crisp. In fact, Crisp is the only player with any serious playing time who is in any immediate danger of going negative. Even if he did, though, Boston would still have the best Rumsfeld Number in the league.

Rangers (8.7): The player who made the greatest contribution to this number is already not just an ex-Ranger, but is entirely out of their organization, as Ben Broussard was released and has since moved on to the Yankees system. What this means is that the Rangers' Rumsfeld Number is under no direct pressure to get much larger. The second-biggest contributor is rookie German Duran, who made a start last night, but if he starts blasting a few like he did at Double-A Frisco last year, he'll climb out of the negatives soon enough.

Rays (13.3): Jason Bartlett is the main culprit here, accounting for 9.6 percent of his team's plate appearances while posting a -5.7 VORP. It seems so incongruous when a team is generating tons of home-grown talent that its least productive player was brought in from the outside. Bartlett has not had an extra base hit in a month and is currently sporting an Isolated Power of .028. That's downright Jacobian!

Angels (15.4): The most active Angel on the negative side is backup catcher Jeff Mathis. As I mentioned in last year's look at the Rumsfeld Numbers, having one of your catchers with a negative VORP is no great surprise, but Mathis is close enough to replacement level that he could get up and over with a run of a couple of good games, leaving the responsibility for the team's Rumsfeld Number in the hands of Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood, and Juan Rodriguez.

Tigers (16.5): Detroit had the best Rumsfeld Number last year at this time; last June, their sole contributor on the negative side was the much-missed Neifi Perez. By the end of the year, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge had gone negative, but Perez's percentage of playing time dropped off considerably because he only batted another 10 times or so after the accounting. As a result, the Tigers' 2007 final figure looked pretty much like its score at this point in 2008. The main contributor here is Ivan Rodriguez, who has made 212 plate appearances. There shouldn't be too much surprise that it's come to this for Pudge, although his power decline, which was previously gradual, has accelerated quite a bit in 2008. Jacque Jones, another player who contributed a chunk to the RN, has moved along to Miami, where he's also contributing to the Marlins' Rumsfeld Number by hitting .108/.227/.108 in 44 plate appearances.

White Sox (17.5): If you had said at the beginning of the year that Paul Konerko would be providing half of Chicago's Rumsfeld Number, chances are you would not have expected that they would also be in first place. With precious little contribution from their first baseman, though, the Sox are prospering. They will also shoot up this list when Konerko's performance gets more normal (for him). He's just barely under replacement value as it is, so taking him off the Rumsfeld role will make the team's number look a lot better. Juan Uribe is the other big "contributor" on the list. Just over the dividing line, Nick Swisher is close enough to be a concern, but one would expect him to improve as the season goes forward, rather than going in the other direction.

Blue Jays (19.4): Frank Thomas' ill-fated 72 plate appearances will become less of a drag on the team's RN as the season moves along, but Shannon Stewart and Brad Wilkerson have been twin drains in the outfield so far, although the Jays are 11-7 when they are both in the starting lineup together.

Indians (24.4): The Indians and Jays are closest to the league median of 21.9. The number was a few points higher last year at this time. I think the only assumption we can make from this is that the ballplayer of today is better than his predecessor of yesterday. Asdrubal "Wambsganss 2" Cabrera and Franklin Gutierrez have done the most damage here, but Andy Marte and Jason Michaels have chipped in, and even Josh Barfield managed to contribute in spite of having just six plate appearances.

Yankees (25.5): Robinson Cano is accountable for 40 percent of New York's Rumsfeld figure, and there isn't much that can be done about that, but the loss of Jorge Posada to injury has given Jose Molina more playing time than is optimal, feeding the number further. The rest of the contributors are the sorts found on every roster, although the Yankees have been having spare parts problems the last couple of years. Morgan Ensberg, Shelley Duncan, and Alberto Gonzalez have not made cases for anything more than limited exposure during their limited exposure.

Orioles (30.3): How volatile is this list? These numbers represent the stats through Wednesday night. Adam Jones just fell below replacement level, however, and because he's been getting about one Oriole plate appearance in 10, this would drop the Orioles to near the very bottom of the league in Rumsfeld. Of course, that means he's one good game away from hopping off the contributor's list as well. The biggest contributions here comes from Melvin Mora, with some strong support from Ramon Hernandez. Surprisingly, Jay Payton is not chipping in-yet. Unsurprisingly, Freddie Bynum is.

Royals (37.8): When your team leader (Jose Guillen) only has a VORP of 11.6, it's probably more important to be worrying about the top end than the bottom. Still, though, Kansas City has Tony Pena, Jr., perhaps the most overmatched big leaguer who has seen regular playing time this year. Joey Gathright being a Rumsfeld participant was predictable, and John Buck's presence on the list isn't too far-fetched, either. The biggest single component of the Royals' RN comes from Billy Butler (8.2 percent), but he's close enough to zero-point-zero that he can rise up. When that happens, combined with less face time for Pena and Gathright, we should see Kansas City's number get much lower.

Athletics (39.1): Is Emil Brown the most incongruous player of the Billy Beane Era in Oakland? He's the second-biggest contributor on the A's Rumsfeld list behind Daric Barton. With Barton, you can chalk the playing time up to finding out what a youngster can do. Similarly, Kurt Suzuki's struggles have provided almost a quarter of the A's score here. But Brown and his .324 career OBP? Or Rajai Davis, on the A's? That's Brown writ small. They're on the list as well, as is the disappointing start by Travis Buck. Jack Hannahan's increased playing time owing to the absence of Eric Chavez has not helped the cause, either. (Recalculating after last night would, like the Orioles, drop the A's considerably.)

Twins (40.8): Mike Lamb is currently sporting the second-worst VORP in all the land, so he's a major factor in the Twins' standing here. (Minnesota had similar problems with Rumsfeld last season, giving over far too many at bats to unproductive sorts in the early going.) Of course, with the Rumsfeld accounting, it's very black and white-either you're below the line, or above it. The largest contributors for the Twins have been Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. Given Jason Bartlett's contribution in Tampa Bay, the November 29, 2007 trade that had them swapping sides has had a big impact on the Rumsfeld Numbers of both teams. As could be expected, Adam Everett did what he could, too, before being felled by injury.

Mariners (41.0): I want to make something clear: the Rumsfeld Number is not supposed to be some snarky-ass thing that illustrates how stupid teams are. Instead, it's supposed to show how sometimes teams end up on the short end of circumstances, be it via injury or underachievement, and wind up fielding lineups that are a far cry from ideal. However, that is not to say that there aren't clubs who choose to give way too many turns to players who make them suffer for it. Richie Sexson is tearing off the biggest chunk of Seattle's Rumsfeld Number to date, which was foreseeable given his recent decline. But what of Kenji Johjima? He's got the worst VORP on the team-did anyone see that coming? While DHing Jose Vidro never sounded like a good idea, even the most skeptical observer wouldn't have expected it to be quite this bad. Every team (except the Red Sox to date) has a couple of guys like Miguel Cairo and Willie Bloomquist who are going to make small contributions to the collective Rumsfeld under even the best circumstances. Brad Wilkerson made a deposit as well before departing for Toronto where, as we have seen, he's on the Rumsfeld side of the payroll there as well.

Related Content:  The Who,  Time,  Year Of The Injury,  Year-to-date

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