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August 5, 2008

Transaction Analysis

NL Roundup

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Activated RHP Juan Cruz from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Jailen Peguero to Tucson (Triple-A). [8/1]

The Snake pen already got a significant boost by the addition of the Nationals' full-length anaconda, Jon Rauch, but getting Cruz back as well adds considerable additional value. Reviewing the most frequently-used performers, consider the results for the individual serpents in the snake pit this season:


Pitcher      G    IP     WXRL   ARP   LEV
J. Rauch†   55   54.2   2.556   9.6   1.76
T. Pena     52   52.0   1.474   2.7   1.21
B. Lyon     46   44.2   1.296   0.6   1.67
J. Cruz     37   31.2   1.032   6.6   0.89
C. Qualls   52   49.0   0.210  -2.3   1.45
D. Slaten*  36   27.2   0.205  -1.7   0.91
†: Rauch's combined WAS/ARI totals

What this information suggests is interesting enough. Rauch's Leverage score will drop if he isn't going to be employed in save situations, but he's clearly the class of the group. When he's been available, Cruz has been pitching really well late in games (almost always the seventh and eighth), but he's also not getting employed in critical situations or tight games, and now that he's back, what will change isn't going to be the how of his use, it'll be the when, as Bob Melvin's already said he'll use Cruz earlier in games.

It might make sense to not be quite so formulaic as Melvin's suggested, although as a former starter, Cruz may indeed be better suited for the long-relief role than the alternatives. However, a little bit of tactical fluidity and performance sensitivity would make some sense, since Qualls has clearly failed to rise to his responsibilities in more important situations; coming in with runners on more than half the time, but having problems with his first batter (.267/.353/.400) and with men aboard (.295/.349/.421). His struggles have nothing to do with pitching in Monster Bank Ballpark, as he's been much more effective at home (.207/.286/.322) than on the road (.284/.339/.422). He's also still contributing with the huge bass-ackwardsness that makes him the odd sort of asset, dominating lefties (.213/.276/.281) while giving up too many cookies to right-handers (.280/.348/.460).

Finally, I know I'm picking at a particular hobby horse, but take a look at Slaten's work. Before landing on the DL, Slaten was sort of the ultimate situational roster folly, a lefty specialist almost never being used in tight games, usually getting brought in against a lefty with nobody on base, and then not exactly blowing them out of the water (.222/.314/.378). When your pen's lefty is someone you don't use in key situations against top lefties and can automatically expect good results from, should you really be making the roster space for one?

To be fair, it's hard to get a clean read on what constitutes success and failure for a pitcher in the lefty situational role, especially when you're not one of the best. Consider Slaten's career performance against the individual hitters he's faced. The single hitter he's seen the most often has been Brian Giles, 11 times, in which Giles has reached base four times. Todd Helton's next; he's 2-for-8 off of Slaten. Slaten owns Brian Schneider (0-for-5), but he has a bad relationship with James Loney (a homer and two walks in six PA). He's gotten Prince Fielder out three of the four times they've hooked up-and given up a homer. Is that success, or failure?

Looking at that sort of information simply reminds me of Earl Weaver's unwillingness to write off a particular matchup until he'd seen it a certain number of times (around 20), but between the expanded number of teams on the schedule (and interleague play), it'll take years for a guy like Slaten to accumulate that many mano y mano showdowns with individual lefty hitters to create substantive statistics to inform his skipper. In the meantime, however much charting and video can help a pitcher going into a confrontation with a hitter, nothing beats direct experience. We're still dealing with as-yet meaningless atoms of information. and we're really left with broad-stroke assertions about a pitcher with more than a hundred games but fewer than 70 IP, like that Slaten is generally useful against lefties (.243/.313/.360). Beyond that, there's as much to be gained from scouting as there is to be from performance analysis.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Recalled LHP Chuck James from Richmond (Triple-A); designated C-R Corky Miller for assignment [8/1]
Designated LHP Royce Ring for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Vladimir Nunez from Richmond. [8/2]
Placed RHP Rafael Soriano on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation); purchased the contract of LHP Francisley Bueno from Richmond. [8/3]

It would be trite to just talk about lost opportunities in this space, because it seems to me that the Braves lost an opportunity with Ring. Soriano's latest meltdown just goes to show that he's just not a pen stalwart this season, but instead turned out to be a roster spot stocked with the melty man. Nunez is a survivor, and so too in his way is Bueno, a Cuban import who arrived in 2006. Bueno's a stocky swingman type, perhaps someone who might get paired off with Mike Hampton or an only-too-thumpable James to get the Braves through six innings in those starts; the Cuban relies on solid command of a fastball/slider/change mix where no one pitch shines, but he changes arm angles and his pitchability's such that it all plays up well enough.

No, instead I'm struck by the sense of loss I think we've all suffered as fans, because first losing Skip Caray in the booth was really the sort of thing that marked another decline in terms of what you'll end up hearing on your evening broadcasts, and then losing him forever marked a more general loss. I'm struck by what is, for me, a relevant coincidence, in that we also just lost Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and there was a time when you'd find me reading one of the monstrously big chunks of The Red Wheel while listening to the other, as the always-handy Braves broadcasts made up an important part of the background noise any baseball fan should keep one ear cocked to, whatever else they're up to. Skip's dry wit and reliable sense of balance (especially in his later years) made him an interesting contrast to his ebullient father as an announcer, the sort of thing that made him a treat over time, instead of a personality that filled the room. I can't really speak to how shabbily he was treated over the last several years by TBS, beyond "very," and certainly having him replaced by his much more chipmunkish, appropriately-monikered son seems a sign of the general decline and fall of the age of truly distinctive team voices. Skip Caray was an example of the kind of talent in a broadcast booth that we took for granted at the time, a mistake that seems all the more pointed as we risk winding up with a few too many know-nothing generalists who, by their purported virtues of inoffensiveness and unrepentant homerdom wind up being every bit as offensive as the original, equally forgettable Fillmore.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Activated RHP Kerry Wood from the 15-day DL; designated LHP Scott Eyre for assignment. [8/5]

This is what we in the trades trade call trading up. Or a very good thing; it's hard to keep the jargon straight at times. The more relevant concerns are the ripple effects-Woody in the ninth means that Carlos Marmol might get a day off now and again, while Eyre's availability might make for a waivers deal with some needy near-contender looking for lefty help in the pen.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Transferred UT-R Ryan Freel from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [7/31]
Activated UT-R Jerry Hairston Jr. from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Todd Coffey to Louisville (Triple-A). [8/1]

Hairston's return doesn't exactly help the Reds resolve their shortstop problem, any more than Jeff Keppinger's did-they may have guys who can stand at shortstop when they aren't batting, and you can call them shortstops, but that doesn't necessarily make them shortstops in anything more than name. Defensive metrics like Revised Zone Rating and Clay Davenport's Fielding Rate stats suggest that we can safely count them both among the worst fielders at the position, and to be fair, both would make much better second basemen. As is, Keppinger's terrible performance since his return from the DL in June (.210/.268/.268) creates a question over whether or not he was too-quickly anointed as something wonderful, when in fact he really may only be the new, less-powerful reincarnation of Chris Stynes. That's still a handy player, but playing him into the ground when he's not at 100 percent and when the Reds now have an equally ineffective shortstop to play at short might at least encourage them to rest, bench, or DL Keppinger.

Even so, it's important not to get too worked up over Hairston-as his road hitting (.257/.304/.352), he's still Jerry Hairston Jr., just a version of himself that had the benefit of getting hot in the Gap in 99 PA (.448/.495/.644). That's not a reflection of a changed level of ability, it's a nice run at the office, and it goes away with exposure to more playing time. With Keppinger active, he'll actually end up getting most of his at-bats as an outfielder, because the Reds are back in the unhappy space where Corey Patterson's playing in a post-Griffey outfield, and the game's mechanics really strongly suggest that you employ three; it's been the fashion of the day for a bit, you might say.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Designated LHP Valerio De Los Santos for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Steven Register from Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [8/4]

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Designated RHP Chad Paronto for assignment. [8/2]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Placed INF-R Nomar Garciaparra on the 15-day DL (knee), retroactive to 7/28. [8/1]

Mmm I will try hard to be a spark of power
I will, I'll never be your iron flower

-K's Choice

Well, that didn't take very long. Barely more than two weeks' worth of game action at shortstop over a month, and Nomar breaks down? Just like that, one of the stunted "contenders" in the NL West gives us the spectacle of having to turn to Angel Berroa in a playoff race, something as new to him experientially as it is for all of us conceptually. Happily, as most Dodger fans are perhaps painfully aware in their moment of acute need, Chin-Lung Hu's continued to swing a hot bat in Vegas, delivering at a .386/.426/.509 clip since coming back from the blurred vision that might go a long way towards explaining his initial poor play in the majors.

NEW YORK METS
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Placed UT-L Marlon Anderson on 15-day DL (strained hamstring); purchased the contract of UT-L Dan Murphy from New Orleans (Triple-A); signed INF-R Ramon Martinez to a minor league contract. [8/2]
Placed RHP John Maine on the 15-day DL (rotator cuff soreness); purchased the contract of RHP Eddie Kunz from Binghamton (Double-A). [8/3]

The Mets' increasingly weird situation in the outfield corners can only be improved by some open-mindedness, so the fact that they've called up Murphy, their ninth-best prospect before the season, isn't really bad news. Although he's spent much of the year playing third, he's not a great glove there, and it's not exactly a position where anyone in the organization has a future thanks to David Wright's entrenchment atop the depth chart, so he's also been playing some second, first, and outfield in Double-A. He also played a good amount of outfield in college at Jacksonville U., and given the team's desperate need in the corners, it's worth seeing how much he can help them in left. The question is whether or not the bat's playable, but after hitting .308/.374/.496 for Double-A Binghamton before a one-game stint in the Big Easy, that seems to have been answered, in that it suggests he's someone who can put up an EqA in the .270s, and potentially peaking somewhere close to .290. I'd still like to see them add a veteran for one corner while settling on getting by with Murphy and/or Fernando Tatis in the other, but in the interim, if nothing else it beats playing Marlon Anderson.

Kunz's promotion reads well enough as a bit of shoring up a Mets pen that's not exactly a bad unit, but in the same way that's the perpetual Aaron Heilman believer in me talking, between Billy Wagner's ailing arm and Duaner Sanchez's sharply-diminishing velocity, you can understand the increasing sense of desperation. Down in Binghamton, Kunz was inducing almost four times as many worm-killers as he was dealing death to flying things, generating 3.7 ground-ball outs to every fly, and also torching Double-A right-handed hitters by limiting them to .186/.282/.216. Although the sinker/slider mix has improved in its effectiveness against lefties from where he was in the AFL over the winter, he's still having command issues on some level, at least relative to his dominance of right-handers, as he's walked ten lefties in 86 PA (not counting two intentionally put on first-why do that in Double-A, when you need to see if the kid can get those guys out?)-while striking out only 11 of them. If he's going to escape a tag as the new-and-improved Joe Smith as a situational right-hander, he's going to have to improve on that.

So, that's got all the save-mongers worked up, but far more serious is their losing Maine at this time of year, although it should also be noted that they've effectively been without him for much of the past month, since he's only delivered one good start in the past month, and clearly he wasn't right out there. Initial speculation that he could be replaced by Jon Niese would give the Mets that much more of a prospect-y vibe coming down the stretch, but rumors that they'll grab Livan Hernandez probably please no one save Omar Minaya.

Postscript: No sooner did this get filed than Wagner finally did go onto the DL, and he'll be replaced on the roster by Ruddy Lugo. Now, you know and I know that a Ruddy Lugo isn't a wee beater with a rosy complexion, but for all the good it's going to do the Mets to have one, it may as well be.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Placed RHP Rudy Seanez on the 15-day DL (shoulder); recalled LHP Les Walrond from Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/1]

While it was probably only a matter of time before Traction Action finally lived up to his name, the pity of this is that this busts up that "Phillies leave their pen be" storyline that tickled the fancy of everybody who likes to see some things stay the same. However, if there's an element of culpability, it probably belongs to Charlie Manuel and not to Seanez's ever-present capacity to blow a gasket, because the decision to use the fragile right-hander in what was an unusually long (for him) 2 2/3 IP outing on July 12th a night after throwing a complete frame can only be politely referred to as a roll of the dice with the health of a notoriously fragile hurler. Since that decision, Seanez put 13 of 21 batters on base and allowed eight runs, a caution against playing rough with the more delicate toys, certainly.

In his place, the decision to bring up Walrond is interesting, if only because it gives the pen another lefty who's been shining in starting work. Where J.A. Happ's a prospect with promise, however, Walrond's the definitive journeyman, having bounced through five organizations in his career. After earning his release at Iowa early on, Walrond's been amazing as an IronPig rotation stalwart, allowing only 3.1 R/9 while striking out slightly more than eight and walking fewer than three per nine. Add in a recent streak of throwing 39 innings in his last five starts that encompassed two shutouts-one a 17-strikeout affair against Louisville-and you can't blame the Phillies from being a bit curious to see what's gotten into the guy. However, it gets stranger still when you consider that Happ hasn't pitched in the week since his call-up, but perhaps Walrond's (slender) major league experience and more likely employment in non-situational work makes carrying the pair of lefties in low-leverage doable. (This club still has J.C. Romero for southpaw set-up duties, after all.)

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned RHP Yoslan Herrera to Altoona (Double-A). [8/4]

Love not the trinkets left by leaders past,
Beaten oft, this pricy import-ed plum,
So from our sight we send our Cuban drum,
For we cannot forever finish last.

Beyond mere cattiness, there really isn't much to say, because 48 baserunners in 18 1/3 innings suggests that it was the Pirates' good fortune that the Cuban catapult's low-velocity offerings only led to 20 runs scored. You can hope against hope that Herrera's just a Jose Contreras-style adjustment away from being turned into an asset, but it's far more likely that all there is here is yet another Littlefield legacy turned liability. Happily, Tom Gorzelanny did just throw six pretty good innings at Indy (allowing six hits and three unearned runs) in his third straight decent start. The convenience of Thursday's offday means that a fifth starter won't be needed until Tuesday, and a replacement has already suggested himself. However, they could also bring up Ross Ohlendorf easily enough; Daniel McCutcheon might also be in the running, but the fact that he's not on the 40-man and the Pirates are at a full 40 would require some other move.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Placed SS-R Khalil Greene on the 15-day DL (broken hand), retroactive to 7/31; activated 2B-R Tadahito Iguchi from the 15-day DL; outrighted OF-R Chip Ambres to Portland (Triple-A). [8/1]

Just like that, Greene brings his best-forgotten season to a potential and ignominious conclusion, something a few too many people either on or watching the team might wish for themselves. That it was on something so stupid as a self-inflicted (albeit accidental) injury probably doesn't inspire jealousy so much as put thoughts into people's heads. In his place at short, I suppose there's something sort of ironic in Luis Rodriguez now getting a shot at regular playing time, in that I'd always argued he'd gotten jobbed with the Twins, and here he is, actually en-jobbed with the Padres. A better third baseman than he ever got credit for, it'll be interesting to see if he can handle everyday play at short, because if he can, it'll clearly lead to further opportunities given how many teams are playing without a shortstop. It's that kind of team, though, considering it's already given Scott Hairston and Edgar Gonzalez their big breaks and resurrected Jody Gerut (to play center, no less). In that context, Ambres has to be reasonably disappointed that he didn't get a shot, because nobody sets out in life with the goal of winding up on the Ernie Young career path.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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Optioned RHP Kelvin Jimenez to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled LHP Jaime Garcia from Memphis. [8/1]
Released RHP Matt Clement from Memphis. [8/2]

I like this quite a bit-given how tenuous the team's bid for contention is in the first place, they may as well skip on using filler guys like Randy Flores, and see if they might not strike a better balance by plugging in Garcia as the pen's second lefty, a mission that simultaneously boasts the benefit of limiting the young hurler's workload on the season. Giving the kid an extended shot at experience on the roster in meaningful games means more than letting him complete the season-ticket package in Memphis, and while situational work isn't in his wheelhouse, maybe this is a situation where Tony La Russa can remember that not every lefty in the pen comes out of the Rick Honeycutt mold.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Activated OF-S Elijah Dukes from the 15-day DL; released MI-S Felipe Lopez, C-R Paul Lo Duca, and C-S Johnny Estrada. [7/31]
Optioned RHP Garrett Mock to Columbus (Triple-A); recalled MI-S Emilio Bonifacio from Columbus; activated RHP Ryan Wagner from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Columbus. [8/1]

I suppose there's something sort of cool in the veterans who are departing almost feel gratified by their releases, in that if there was a pre-season bet that they might be worthwhile waiver-deal or deadline bargaining chips, those bets have been lost by the players' performances, and now Lopez, Lo Duca, and Estrada are all free to go help or handicap other teams' bids for October glory. But where there probably wasn't all that much opportunity with guys like Lo Duca and Estrada, it should be asked whether or not an opportunity to flip F-Lop was lost, because where failing to deal Alfonso Soriano in 2006 at least got them a pair of prospects come draft day in 2007 (LHP Josh Smoker and RHP Jordan Zimmermann, for those of you scoring at home), F-Lop's now as worthless to the Nats in that context as if he had never played for them-something perhaps now fondly wished by a few of the faithful. If this was a product of Jim Bowden's exaggerated expectations, as was rumored to be the case with the Soriano non-deal, this becomes something more than a matter of being a poor poker player, it becomes instead a question of whether or not re-calibrating a GM's valuation system is even possible, because a few too many ugly interactions with real-world market economics should be cause for alarm.

Having unloaded so much veteran dross, it's interesting to see who they're turning to. Kory Casto's getting his latest opportunity, as a first baseman this time around, and he's doing a decent job of reaching base since being inserted into the everyday lineup. While I doubt he'll ever have the power to really stick, as a four-corners reserve in the infield and outfield, he could still have his uses, and in an organization that has already invested $10.5 million in the delicate duo of Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson for initial options at first base, that's a reserve who could end up playing a lot more than a third-stringer's expected to. Behind the plate, the club's settling for Wil Nieves's catch-and-throw virtues as a backstop. Although he's already 30, he's mostly experienced getting walking papers, but as a backup backstop to Jesus Flores, he'll more than do. The truly interesting decision is plugging in Bonifacio. His initial hot hitting as a Nat aside-because it's a bit on the early side of early to get worked up over a guy who's never walked or hit for power-this should at least have the benefit of giving them a second baseman who helps the pitching staff in the field. That should help guys like John Lannan and Collin Balester, but I don't think having Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith behind Jason Bergmann would make any difference, given Bergmann's absolute dependence on fly-ball outs (and fences far enough out to keep lefty clouts in the park).


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

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