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August 11, 2008

Transaction Analysis

Dunn Deal and Post-Deadline Detritus

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Placed 2B-L Orlando Hudson on the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of OF-L Jeff Salazar from Tucson (Triple-A); transferred RHP Edgar Gonzalez from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/10]
Acquired LF/1B-L Adam Dunn and cash from the Reds for RHP Dallas Buck and two PTBNLs; transferred 2B-L Orlando Hudson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/11]

Desperate times call for creative measures, so hats off to Josh Byrnes and company for pulling off a huge deal that at first glance doesn't cost them much, and at a time when their need to do something could not be more transparent. Much depends on the quality of the PTBNLs, of course, but if you wanted a short list of places that Dunn might fancy as a free agent, you'd have to think Phoenix would be close to the top of the list. There's the added potential benefit of draft picks for offering him arbitration if he wants to leave, or the virtue of making a good initial impression to help him decide to stick around; again, you might initially think that there would be few better ballparks for him to play in. However, Corporate MegaCorp Park (West) might not be quite so lefty-friendly as you would expect. It's interesting that he's struggled to connect there on his career, hitting only .150/.261/.333 with three homers in 69 PA, but if you break down ballparks by how many non-grounders wind up in the seats, from 2006-08, the Snakes' home park ranks well behind the Gap in terms of Dunn-friendly environments:


Lefty HR/FB Percentages, 2006-08
Park    HR   Outs    %
CIN    283   1444  19.6
PHI    285   1505  18.9
MIL    203   1159  17.5
TEX    239   1436  16.6
TOR    188   1155  16.3
CHA    218   1395  15.6
NYA    273   1808  15.1
HOU    196   1323  14.8
CHN    169   1168  14.5
TBA    210   1470  14.3
NYN    216   1537  14.1
SLN    175   1261  13.9
FLO    155   1122  13.8
COL    177   1295  13.7
SEA    164   1243  13.2
ARI    217   1673  13.0
BAL    212   1641  12.9
PIT    143   1107  12.9
CLE    184   1454  12.7
OAK    179   1450  12.3
ATL    202   1685  12.0
DET    140   1203  11.6
BOS    180   1592  11.3
LAN    165   1467  11.2
KCA    158   1441  11.0
WAS    146   1361  10.7
MIN    175   1749  10.0
SDN    158   1661   9.5
ANA    143   1650   8.7
SFN    119   1504   7.9

As much as this is a function of personnel and unevenly-distributed matchups, this simply suggests that adding Dunn isn't quite the slam-dunk it might have appeared to be when we first heard about the deal. If Dunn's a product of his environment, he's been moved to one that's potentially less friendly than a simple review of Bill James Handbook data may lead you to believe.

Acquiring Dunn creates a follow-on problem-where does he play? Conor Jackson appears to be adapting to left well enough, having improved his fielding numbers considerably with greater time at the position after a rough initial start. Dunn's made improvements of his own, having moved up from execrable in left field to perhaps adequate, although in terms of Revised Zone Rating or Clay's Rate2, he's still worse than everyone else the Snakes have put out there with any regularity, and as Dan Fox's research in Baseball Prospectus 2008 reflected, Dunn's been one of the worst arms in the outfield in the recent past, rating down around Barry Bonds or the jelly-armed Shannon Stewart. Playoff spots may or may not be won or lost on such things, but it certainly doesn't help an argument to put Dunn in right field and leave Jackson alone.

So let's start by looking at the Snakes' options at the four corners, third base and first, left field and right, because there's some overlap, using their translated stats to level the playing field between Dunn and his new teammates, five regulars for four positions (I know, I'm not taking Tony Clark seriously-neither should you, or Arizona for that matter). I'm listing their current translated performance side by side with their pre-season PECOTA-projected performance:


Guy              AVG/ OBP/ SLG    EqA   Positions
Mark Reynolds   .243/.322/.500   .277   3B, OF?
Projected       .260/.334/.480   .273
Chad Tracy      .279/.323/.443   .261   1B, 3B? OF?
Projected       .273/.341/.480   .276
Justin Upton    .239/.351/.447   .270   RF
Projected       .261/.338/.449   .267
Conor Jackson   .304/.385/.507   .302   1B, LF
Projected       .286/.374/.470   .288
Adam Dunn       .241/.382/.588   .313   LF, 1B, RF?
Projected       .258/.384/.541   .307

Now, this is somewhat easy as long as Upton's on the DL, because there isn't a lot to suggest that Tracy could really handle stumping around an outfield corner. The Snakes haven't run him out there yet, and if his knee is still a concern, they probably won't. His ability to play third might also be in doubt in light of his playing all of 16 innings at the hot corner. If Tracy can't really play third or an outfield corner, much of this talk over what happens once Upton's back is pointless, because then the conversation really boils down to whether Dunn or Jackson should play first. Add in the fact that Tracy's not hitting close to where he was projected to, and how his health might have something to do with that, and the debate becomes less about who moves out of the lineup, but how to create a useful role to keep Tracy's nevertheless useful bat fresh. Spot work at first or third, almost always against right-handers, especially in relief of Reynolds (who's only hitting northpaws at a very Matt Williams-like, occasionally benchable .238/.305/.489 clip) should work on that score, but essentially, we're down to asking if Dunn or Jackson should play left or first, depending on your priorities. I'd probably be inclined to move Jackson back to first, if only because of his more extensive experience, and to make Dunn's transition to his new team as seamless as possible. I know, it's the path of least resistance, and it's the least "creative" solution, but it's basically sensible, and for all of the talk about positions and flexibility, I wouldn't be surprised at all if that's how it works out.

There's still the problem of how this is a question of improvement by degrees, because the difference between Dunn and Tracy isn't nearly as significant as the difference between Orlando Hudson and his potential replacements. The team's got a very real hole at second base now that Hudson's out for the year (again), and will miss the playoffs (again). Augie Ojeda's a decent defender, patient at the plate, and a solid executioner on the bunt, but that's about the limit of his virtues, and it's better experienced in small doses, not spread across seven weeks or more of full-time play. Mark Reynolds could play second base, but so could Chad Tracy or Tony Clark for as practicable as such a move might be; Reynolds wasn't good at it in the minors, and as amusing as such an e-max move might be for theorists willing to punt defense, it's a pretty improbable scenario. It would be easy to write off Chris Burke at this point, given how badly he's hitting (.190/.302/.234), but it's also worth noting that he's never really been given an extended series of starts to get on track, not that he's earned them; if there's still anything there, there would be no time like the present for it to show up. Beyond that, the Snakes don't have much to fall back on (where's Danny Richar or Emilio Bonifacio when you need them?), so don't be surprised if this is a situation that Byrnes is working on by taking a good look at who's putting in an appearance on waivers.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Activated 3B-S Chipper Jones from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Chuck James to Richmond (Triple-A). [8/8]

James' latest opportunity set the stage for his latest setback-three homers between two starts in 9 2/3 IP, and the indignity of getting hooked down only 3-0 when the pitcher's slot came up to lead off the top of the fifth in Telecommunications MonsterCorp Ballpark (West) against the woeful Giants. (Admittedly, that was pretty sharp of Bobby Cox as tactical gambits go, considering that this was going up against Tim Lincecum, and any shot at runs when you didn't have an ace to answer with makes sense.) Since Tom Glavine's supposed to make his return from the DL, the only added indignity to this demotion is that it reflects how James has fallen behind a treadless Mike Hampton and an unready prospect like Charlie Morton. As for getting their star slugger back, I don't want to say Jones wasn't missed, but Omar Infante slugged better than .500 during his absence, so Chipper's return instead creates the question of how to keep spotting Infante in the lineup to keep riding the hot hand. Since he can play six positions pretty well, that shouldn't be too much trouble.

CINCINNATI REDS
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Placed 1B-L Joey Votto on the bereavement list; purchased the contract of INF-R Adam Rosales from Louisville (Triple-A). [8/9]
Activated RHP Aaron Harang from the 15-day DL; optioned RHP Homer Bailey to Louisville; designated C-R David Ross for assignment. recalled C-R Ryan Hanigan from Louisville. [8/10]
Acquired RHP Dallas Buck and two PTBNLs from the Diamondbacks for LF-L Adam Dunn and cash. [8/11]

This seems to be about just making the man go away as much as anything else. Obviously a lot depends on the quality of the PTBNLs, because on the surface, this move wasn't cheap. The Reds are paying more than the freight, covering half of the cost of employing Dunn for the remainder of the season (or spending around $2 million to have him be a Snake), and Buck is already damaged goods and a pretty doubtful prospect. Ideally, the two are prospects on a list of options, many of whom wouldn't have made it through waivers, and perhaps some of whom are dependent upon Arizona's realizing the windfall of making it into the playoffs. For this to make sense, the prospect package has to be better than whatever the Reds would have gotten in terms of compensation picks for offering Dunn arbitration-despite all of the contentiousness in the dealings between player and team, that seemed to still be available as an off-season option-and right now, we simply don't know if that's the case.

Certainly Buck doesn't help resolve the question. The former Oregon State star only returned to the mound in June as he makes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. So far, the initial returns aren't great. Pitching in the Midwest League, he was getting by, generating ground-ball outs by pounding the low end of the zone, but with his advantage in experience, he ought to be able to handle kids in a Low-A league, recovery or no. His line-nine games, eight starts, 45 2/3 IP, 44 hits and 10 walks allowed, 20 strikeouts-effectively documents that he's been healthy enough to pitch, but also reflects that he's not flashing any overpowering offerings either. In one Cal League start, he went five, gave up three runs, and allowed five baserunners, in short more of the same. If he's the best player in the deal, this isn't one that will have made much difference to the Reds, beyond "saving" two million bucks, less whatever they lose in walkup sales at home because they're that much less interesting to watch in their turns at bat.

While dealing Dunn offers Reds fans the grim prospect of an outfield with an awful lot of awful beyond Jay Bruce-Jolbert Cabrera, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Corey Patterson-you can at least take some hope in some of the other moves. The recent call-ups represent something similar to the decisions to deal Griffey and Dunn, at least in terms of cleaning house or making some determinations on what to do with what they've got. Rosales and Hanigan aren't really prospects, but it's just as well that the organization is using the last two months to see if they're worth keeping around. Given that outfield, you can hope they make space for Chris Dickerson as well, since he's on the 40-man and hitting .287/.384/.479 for Louisville, and .300/.397/.527 vs. RHPs, which is pretty playable for a lefty batter who can play center, even if there weren't already an absence of worthwhile alternatives. He's already 26 years old, his future is now, and it beats reviewing all of the things that Hairston or Patterson can't do, something Dusty Baker's supposed to already be familiar with.

Hanigan was also already on the 40-man, not to mention creeping up on his 28th birthday without ever being really ready to stick in the majors earlier. As a result, you can forgive Jocketty for deciding to find a reason why he's been kept around, especially after coming to the reasonable conclusion that Ross's 2009 option was not going to be picked up. (There's still a passing opportunity to deal Ross, of course, and there are still contenders who need catching help.) Hanigan throws well, ranking second in the International League with 38 percent of opposing base thieves nabbed in the act on 106 attempts (that's 40 guys caught for you literalists). At the plate, he's something like the new Mike Redmond, a guy with good plate coverage and command of the strike zone, but very little power; he'll slug in Cincinnati merely by making contact, of course, but his value will fluctuate with his batting average (as Redmond's does). Between his age and his uses as a defender, Hanigan's a good bet to stick around, especially when the alternative's as punchless as Paul Bako.

Rosales is an interesting-enough utilityman, but the danger is that he might not be that different from Andy Phillips back in the day-a righty hitter with some sock who can sort of stand around at various infield positions, but who really might only be able to play first, at which point his moderate power is as much a position-relative liability as an asset. Happily, tools-wise Rosales does at least have a strong arm, and he's playable at second or third. He's a bit aggressive at the plate (reflected in 22 unintentional walks in 449 PA at Louisville), and unmanned by curveballs, but 45 extra-base hits in that time reflects a guy who has his uses if he can be a bench player who can handle three infield positions and perhaps also the outfield corners while providing some power in a park that rewards well-smote pitches.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Added RHP Livan Hernandez to the active roster; designated RHP Kip Wells for assignment; transferred 1B-L Todd Helton from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/10]

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Signed C-R Paul Lo Duca to a minor league contract. [8/8]

As insurance against the possibility that John Baker goes pumpkin on them before season's end, and in light of the fact that Matt Treanor's going to be dealing with hip trouble for the remainder of the season, picking up Lo Duca's sensible enough as a matter of acquiring depth for nothing more than a wee bit of cash. If you're wondering about Mike Rabelo, he's still out after fouling a ball off of an already-injured foot, and hasn't played since early August, and between Double- and Triple-A, Paul Hoover really was the best they had, and that's not nearly good enough to turn to. So, while you don't want to say Lo Duca's a life-saver, he was certainly worth adding to avoid a potential for Padre-level horrors behind the plate.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Placed LF-R Carlos Lee on the 15-day DL (fractured pinky); purchased the contract of OF-R Reggie Abercrombie from Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/9]

All the hand-wringing over how this is a sad thing for Lee because of his recent hot hitting and the Astros' near-relevance is all very polite and appropriate and conciliatory, but the man's amply compensated, and if you want four more years, Astros fans, you've already got them, because he's under contract through 2012. So in terms of his place in the Astros' firmament, he's as immovable as the North Star, and the real challenges are what to do in the meantime given a team already charged with a mission impossible-contending at all costs in 2008. In-house, it seems as if Darin Erstad is the Astros' answer to the now-legendary Ugandan space program, an affectation that's harmless enough when there's nothing at stake, but also something with little takeoff potential. Abercrombie's no more of an answer than Erstad ever could have been; between a permanent problem with right-handed pitching and an unhelpful, Cerrano-like issue with breaking pitches, he was only hitting .273/.297/.460 for Round Rock, and at 27, he isn't going to grow up to be somebody else-this is Reggie Abercrombie, a decent fielder with perhaps some uses in a fifth outfielder's role.

Which leaves Ed Wade with a question-how seriously does he take his own pitch that the Astros are in it to win it? A seven-week contract for Barry Bonds wouldn't be a major financial commitment, and when you're barrel-scraping this badly in terms of finding an outfield bat to replace Lee, he would be the perfect fit. Instead, the Astros seem inclined to retreat behind the ready excuse of Lee's injury to fold up their tent-you can pre-print the memos stating "we were in this thing until Carlos got hurt"- revealing their ambitions as either as wildly impractical as we expected, or merely a cynical fiction. I think we'd all welcome the Astros signing Bonds as a bit of wacky desperation, perhaps not enough to be a difference-maker, but enough to at least reflect the sincerity of their commitment. In a bit of bait-and-switch window dressing, there's talk of starting Ty Wigginton in left field, as if more Geoff Blum at third base will somehow confuse people as to where the problem is-"But Bonds can't play third!"-but that's a bit of spin that presumably not even they believe.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Activated RHP Brad Penny from the 15-day DL; designated RHP Brian Falkenborg for assignment. [8/8]

A Penny active and employed ends up being a multiply-saving gesture-it erases the Falkenborg menace from the roster, and deposits Jason Johnson into a role as a long reliever who can absorb innings when the Dodgers need to get Brad Penny or Clayton Kershaw out of games early. Johnson also affords the rest of the rotation the possibility of a days' extra rest should Joe Torre decide to try to line up his matchups of starting pitchers in certain series. Not against top offenses, mind you, but take this month's schedule, when the Dodgers first face the Nats in DC before closing out August facing the Snakes in Phoenix, or at the start of September when they face the Giants-who Johnson shut out for six innings in his first Dodgers start-and then the Snakes again. A lot also depends on the individual matchup; you want to run Johnson up against the Colin Balesters or the Barry Zitos of the world, not Tim Lincecum just because the opposing lineup's the Giants'. As for Penny's readiness for a return, his command seemed no better than before, and keep in mind he's really only a formerly famous guy in the rotation, and merely their fifth-best starter by virtue of near-replacement performance across more starts than those of similarly sketchy supporting starters like Johnson or Eric Stults. What puts Penny in place is pennies, but if the team's newfound command of the obvious has led to a sensible commitment to merit instead of money, there's hope yet that the Dodgers may finally be in the business of doing what they can on a management level to win a very winnable division. When Torre isn't investing his energy into playing Delilah to Manny's Samson; the man's old enough to have taken inspiration from Victor Mature movies, so maybe he'd be better off to remember how that particular story ended and leave well enough alone, however ironic it would be to wind up a philistine in LA.

NEW YORK METS
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Optioned RHP Rudy Lugo to New Orleans (Triple-A); recalled RHP Brian Stokes from New Orleans; transferred RHP Tony Armas from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/9]

As an emergency starter of sorts, Stokes wasn't a disaster despite blowing a 4-2 lead on Saturday in the sixth by allowing a two-run, two-out bomb to Mike Jacobs. Even so, he's likely a short-term visitor to the roster, what with John Maine on the mend and slotted back in the rotation this week, and with starting second baseman Luis Castillo about to come off of the DL as well. While reserve infielder Argenis Reyes seems in danger of losing his spot with these pending reactivations, Stokes also isn't safe. Between a consideration of a normal post-start rest period (he probably wouldn't be ready to help out in the pen until after Maine is activated on Wednesday) and the need to carry third catcher Robinson Cancel while Ramon Castro's hurting, the Mets can't really afford to have a dead spot on the roster, and even if they like what Stokes did, that's effectively what he is to them for four days after Saturday.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Optioned LHP J.A. Happ to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [8/8]

Meaning that Les Walrond's the notional third lefty in the pen, and nobody with a real future within the franchise got cut any slack on that kind of high-priority role. Suffice to say I still think adding Eyre will only inspire some of the same from Phillies fans.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Returned C-S Josh Bard to the 15-day DL (strained tricep), retroactive to 8/7; recalled C-S Luke Carlin from Portland (Triple-A). [8/9]

Production from Pads backstops has been ghastly all season, so this latest setback with Bard just seems like par for the course. Carlin and Nick Hundley really aren't happy fall-backs, but as epically bad as the Padres' production from the catcher slot has been, I guess I wanted to see how epic. I mean, sure, I've got memories of the '83 Mariners having nothing behind the plate (and how that naturally involved the player I saw as the catching equivalent of an emergency parachute back in the day, the immortal Orlando Mercado), and that the collusion scandal of '87 was pretty awful to the Red Sox, insofar as it involved way too much Marc Sullivan before Rich Gedman came back and played like you wished he'd never signed. As fun as it is to wonder and wander through history's pages, though, the search for a substantive answer naturally led to my asking Clay Davenport for help in determining who's had the worst backstop support in history, as measure by EqA and EqR.

Clay responded with entire-unit calculations based on single-season EqA value, not all-time value. That can involve some problems in comparisons across leagues because of the difference between having DHs (the non-Vidros, at least) in the lineup as opposed to pitchers (the non-Zambranos). However, as he states, "I did apply a correction for the DH, which is normally part of the league-quality adjustment; without it all AL teams since 1973 would be about seven points of EQA worse." With that, these are all the catching units that had a single-season EqA mark of less than .200 or less, and you guessed it, the '08 Padres are present (as are this year's Ausmus-afflicted Astros):


Year Team       PA UEqR EqR   EqA   Regular
1994 Twins     447  24   23  .177   Matt Walbeck
1967 Mets      583  23   32  .182   Jerry Grote
1987 Red Sox   585  34   34  .187   None
1993 Red Sox   561  33   33  .189   Tony Pena
1964 Astros    586  26   36  .190   Jerry Grote
1961 Reds      564  33   33  .191   None
1984 Angels    598  30   37  .192   Bob Boone
1989 Braves    599  30   36  .192   None
1994 Mariners  413  27   26  .192   Dan Wilson
1957 Red Sox   538  32   33  .193   Sammy White
1980 Angels    525  28   33  .193   None
1967 Twins     578  29   37  .195   None
1963 Mets      605  30   39  .197   None
2008 Padres    457  25   29  .197   None
1968 Phillies  587  25   39  .198   None
2003 Tigers    600  36   40  .198   Brandon Inge
1979 Astros    590  30   39  .199   Alan Ashby
1983 Mariners  554  33   37  .199   None
2008 Astros    435  28   28  .199   None

So, by these standards, the Padres have a way to go if they want to really burrow their way down to the bottom/top of the pile. As pleased as I am with myself for having remembered two of the teams-they involved equally horrific Strat cards-let's face it, I didn't remember the worst of the worst despite their being around during my lifetime (not the '67 Mets, I'm not quite that old), and I didn't even get the right Mariners team in terms of their worst-ever. The fact that the '94 Twins slipped my mind either represents how much we forget what was at stake in '94 before the work stoppage-when it came to craptastic feats, the AL West title chase wasn't the only unconsummated disaster that year-or that I was predisposed to cut them some sort of unthinking slack because that was Matt Walbeck's rookie season, and he was a prospect getting a clean shot. Walbeck never did really pan out, although as you might expect from him as a switch-hitting catch-and-throw guy, he had a career, which is more than you can say for his caddy, Derek Parks, the tenth overall pick of the 1986 draft, and sort of a pity selection for the backup role; his contributions in '93 were enough to keep Walbeck playing almost every day, and that represents the pinnacle of Parks' career. The 1967 Mets deserve that sort of free pass much more, as they were developing Jerry Grote during the high-mound era (note that he'd also gotten a shot with the '64 Astros), and that came with a few understandable bumps along the way. The '87 Red Sox had no relief from their horrors even after they finally got Gedman back; it took the arrival of John Marzano for the season's last two months for them to find someone even remotely useful. The '93 Red Sox were burdened with Tony Pena's last season as a regular, three years after his last near-adequate season, a horrifying after-effect of the mishandling of the Gedman situation, as the Sox had signed Pena to a long-term deal in 1990 to shut the door on that unhappy chapter, only to embark upon a new one.

All of that might demand a palate-cleanser, so by the same standards, how about the best catching units:


Year Team       PA UEqR  EqR   EqA   Regular
1997 Dodgers   705  143  149  .344   Mike Piazza
1996 Dodgers   709  140  145  .342   Mike Piazza
1992 Phillies  678  113  132  .329   Darren Daulton
1972 Red Sox   616  102  122  .328   Carlton Fisk
1972 Reds      661  112  134  .328   Johnny Bench
1961 Yankees   677  118  123  .320   Elston Howard
1966 Braves    625  107  117  .320   Joe Torre
1963 Yankees   664  113  124  .318   Elston Howard
1963 Giants    654  103  121  .318   Ed Bailey/Tom Haller
1965 Braves    600  102  111  .318   Joe Torre
1970 Giants    707  119  122  .318   Dick Dietz
2000 Mets      695  128  122  .318   Mike Piazza

Now that's a pretty interesting group. Beyond engendering an argument that Piazza may be the best-hitting catcher of all time, it puts Elston Howard's greatness in context, and it has me wondering about the career of Dick Dietz (and here I'd thought that if there was an underrated, offensively-useful Giants catcher, it was Bob Brenly). Clay reports that the top 2008 contender for all-time greatness is this year's Twins, who thanks to Joe Mauer's sharp strokes rank 42nd from 1957 to the present with a unit-wide .305 EqA.


Many thanks to William Burke, Clay Davenport, and Kevin Goldstein for assists from their areas of expertise.

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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