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February 4, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Outside Help, NL East

by Jay Jaffe

Last week, we broke the shrink-wrap on the 2009 PECOTA projections with the release of the long-awaited Weighted Means spreadsheet. Today I'll begin using those forecasts to gain an objective perspective on the winter's comings and goings on a team-by-team and division-by-division basis, starting with the NL East.

What follows is a quick-and-dirty look at each team's gains and losses as measured via the relevant players' weighted mean WARP projections for 2009. There are several things to bear in mind, starting with the fact that this year's projections, as well as all of the numbers in our forthcoming annual, are measured relative to a higher replacement level than that which is still being used on our site's player cards, a bump roughly equivalent to 2.0 WARP per year. Add to that PECOTA's inherent conservatism; it sees regression everywhere, particularly among players in their 30s and those who overachieved relative to their previously established career trends. Bearing those two points in mind, you can better grasp how 37-year-old Manny Ramirez, whose 2008 performance in Boston and LA is valued at 9.8 WARP on our player cards but only 7.8 WARP in Baseball Prospectus 2009, is forecast for just 4.3 WARP this year, assuming he deigns to sign a contract. A 4.3 WARP season is a big deal in the context of the new projections; out of the 1901 projections in the initial spreadsheet, only 44 hitters and 37 pitchers are forecast for at least 4.0 WARP.

This is only one piece of the puzzle, an attempt to answer the question of which teams' efforts to acquire outside help may lead to the largest gains relative to their division rivals. These figures do not include as rigorous an accounting for playing time as we use for our fantasy depth charts, nor do they take into account the projections of each team's holdovers or free-agent retentions, the gains (or losses) from which may dwarf what's shown here. Teams are listed in order of 2008 finish; for each hitter, WARP and EqA are listed, while for each pitcher, the figures are WARP and EqERA.

Philadelphia Phillies

IN: LF Raul Ibanez (1.6, .279), C Ronny Paulino (1.2, .239), SP Chan Ho Park (0.7, 4.66), RP Gary Majewski (0.5, 4.46)
OUT: LF Pat Burrell (2.1, .293), RP Tom Gordon (0.3, 4.53), RP Rudy Seanez (0.1, 5.14)
NET: +2.5 WARP

It's been a relatively quiet winter for the world champions, with new GM Ruben Amaro Jr. mainly focused on re-signing Jamie Moyer, locking up ace Cole Hamels via a three-year, $20.5 million deal, and re-signing arbitration-eligible principals like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Madson. Amaro's first big foray into the free-agent market doesn't look too impressive, as Ibanez forecasts to be worth half a win less than the departing Burrell, and that's before considering the fact that the Phils laid out roughly double the money for Rakin' Raul that the Rays did for Pat the Bat, and yet they're still stuck with a player who's five years older and every bit the defensive liability as was the man he replaced. Oh, and they get to keep him through his age-40 season; who would want to miss out on that? Around the margins, Amaro didn't do too badly. Paulino is a nice little backup catcher if he can recapture his 2006 form, though his arrival may spell doom for Chris Coste (0.5 WARP in a projection for half the playing time of Paulino). Park's ground ball-based renaissance, such as it is, makes for a decent fit with Phils' homer haven, whether at the back of the rotation or in middle relief.

New York Mets

IN: RP Francisco Rodriguez (5.7, 3.02), RP J.J. Putz (3.3, 2.89), SP Freddy Garcia (1.8, 4.48), RP Sean Green (1.4, 4.25), SP Tim Redding (1.2, 5.25), OF Jeremy Reed (0.9, .264), RP Conor Robertson (0.5, 5.51), IF Alex Cora (0.3, .235)
OUT: SP Pedro Martinez (1.9, 4.68), RP Joe Smith (1.8, 3.86), RP Aaron Heilman (1.3, 4.46), RP Luis Ayala (0.9, 4.62), OF Endy Chavez (0.8, .249), RP Scott Schoeneweis (0.7, 4.73), RP Jason Vargas (0.5, 4.98), IF Damion Easley (0.4, .256), OF Moises Alou (0.3, .286), IF Ramon Martinez (-0.5, .206)
NET: +7.0 WARP

Now that's a housecleaning. In free agent Rodriguez and trade acquisition Putz, Omar Minaya's major upgrades to the bullpen squarely address the near-miss 2008 squad's most agonizing shortcomings. The exile of last year's most high-profile arsonists (Heilman, Schoeneweis, Ayala) is further addition by subtraction, even if it leaves Mets fans needing someone new to boo. The rotation's loss of Pedro Martinez (forecast for 110 innings) costs the team some name recognition, but it also rids them of a tremendous distraction whose limited availability and lack of effectiveness took their toll on the team's playoff hopes as well. PECOTA sees Garcia (82 innings) and Redding (94 1/3 innings) as able to provide similar per-inning value as Pedro across 60 percent more innings, meaning fewer dips into the Nelson Figueroa/Brandon Knight pool. If they added one of the remaining corner outfield bats they'd assure themselves of the division's biggest gains, but Minaya is likely done spending.

Florida Marlins

IN: RP Leo Nunez (1.3, 3.94), RP Scott Proctor (0.9, 4.56), SP Dan Meyer (0.7, 5.57), 2B Emilio Bonifacio (0.7, .233), RP Jose Ceda (0.0 6.26)
OUT: OF Josh Willingham (2.5, .288), SP Scott Olsen (2.4, 4.79), RP Kevin Gregg (1.9, 4.26), RP Joe Nelson (1.5, 3.67), RP Mark Hendrickson (1.0 5.12), C Matt Treanor (0.9, .240), RP Arthur Rhodes (0.7, 4.18), 1B Mike Jacobs (0.5, .270), OF Luis Gonzalez (0.3, .263)
NET: -8.1 WARP

As usual, it's all about the Benjamins for the Marlins, or maybe just the Abrahams on those shiny copper pennies. Six of those players shed by the Fish were arbitration eligible, with Gregg, Jacobs, Olson, and Willingham all in line to make around $3 million apiece. Each member of that quartet will be replaced by internal options whose calculus plays no part here, though it's worth noting that PECOTA smiles upon Cameron Maybin (.275 EqA, 4.5 WARP), who will effectively replace Willingham in the reshuffled outfield, and it frowns upon Gaby Sanchez (.255 EqA, 1.3 WARP), who's among the candidates to take over at first for Jacobs. Additionally, this accounting doesn't reflect the future value of Ceda, who profiles as a dominant closer, nor does it consider the prospects acquired from the Nationals for Olsen and Willingham, second baseman Jake Smolinski and righty P.J. Dean. As ever, the Marlins are playing for tomorrow.

Atlanta Braves

IN: SP Javier Vazquez (5.3, 3.75), SP Derek Lowe (4.2, 4.00), RP Boone Logan (1.2, 4.18), C Dave Ross (0.9, .242), PH Greg Norton (0.2, .269), SP Kenshin Kawakami (no projection)
OUT: John Smoltz (1.8, 3.62), Mike Hampton (1.3, 4.88), RP Will Ohman (1.2, 4.01), RP Jorge Julio (0.8, 4.57), RP Julian Tavarez (0.8, 4.91)
NET: +5.9 WARP, not including Kawakami

Among the pitchers who changed teams this past winter, the Vazquez-Lowe tandem ranks behind only the Yankees' CC Sabathia/A.J. Burnett duo in terms of the combined WARP of their forecasts. If that seems surprising, consider that Vazquez has whiffed more than 200 hitters in each of the past two years, and that escaping the Cell should greatly help such a fly-ball-oriented hurler. As for Lowe, he's been a model of consistency over the last four years, ranking 11th in the majors in SNLVAR and 12th in ERA+ in that span. Though he doesn't miss many bats, he's the most consistent ground-ball machine this side of Brandon Webb, which helped him post the NL's seventh-lowest homer rate last year, which paired nicely with the league's third-lowest walk rate. The new duo forecasts for 373 2/3 innings in 2009, more than double that of the departing Smoltz/Hampton tandem, one of whom is likely to need an MRI by the end of this sentence. The addition of Kawakami, whose PECOTA wasn't done by the time the spreadsheet was released but whose translated numbers drew comparison to Jair Jurrjens' 2008 performance, only underscores the strength of this haul.

Washington Nationals

IN: OF Josh Willingham (2.5, .288), SP Scott Olsen (2.4, 4.79), SP Daniel Cabrera (2.1, 4.72), OF Corey Patterson (1.5 .251)
OUT: 2B Emilio Bonifacio (0.7 .233), RP Chad Cordero (1.3 3.89), SP Tim Redding (1.2, 5.25)
NET: +5.7 WARP

On the surface, that doesn't look like so terrible for the Nats, particularly if you look past Patterson's minor league deal, since this team needs warm-bodied but otherwise only semi-functional outfield options about as badly as David Wells needs a thong bikini. As outfield options go, Willingham can't help but be a massive improvement on the Vortex of Suck that was the Nationals' left-field situation, where Wee Willie Harris, Wily Mo Pena, and friends combined to "hit" .221/.303/.328. The upgrades to the rotation should at least be good for some inning-eating, with a heaping side plate of wistful memories of early promise unfulfilled. It's particularly worth noting how much less than the sum of his parts Cabrera is, though of some comfort to know that his presence in the nation's capital should allow desperate editors to drop the occasional Mr. T reference.

The Mets and Braves appear to be the division's biggest gainers in terms of help from outside, with the latter likely to overtake the former once Kawakami's projection is added to the ledger. While that may not be enough to help the Braves turn last year's 72-90 club into a legitimate contender, the Mets' activity relative to the Phillies' stasis could certainly make this division race as interesting as ever.

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

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