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Chicago White Sox

  • Don’t Let the Door Hit You: The White Sox have finally seen
    the
    light. The much maligned Billy Koch was dealt to the
    Marlins last week for Wilson Valdez who, for the purposes of the deal,
    may
    as well have been a bag of baseballs. Never an organization to stray
    too
    far from the mainstream, though, the Sox quickly announced that
    Shingo Takatsu has been named the new closer.

    After allowing three runs in his first three innings of work,
    Takatsu
    hasn’t allowed a run since. It’s interesting, though, that the White
    Sox
    didn’t choose to promote Damaso Marte who’s in his
    third
    year with the team and is again putting together a very good season.
    Especially with a player’s manager like Ozzie Guillen, service time
    seemed
    like it would be the main factor in determining Koch’s replacement.
    The
    only blemishes on Marte’s record are four blown saves, the last of
    which
    came over a month ago, and while he hasn’t been quite as good as
    Takatsu so far this season, he
    has the longer-term track record in Chicago of top performances.

    This is not to say that Takatsu doesn’t deserve the job. He’s the
    career
    saves leader in Japan, and his performance thus far more than validates
    his
    talent. However, the question remains what the White Sox will do when
    he
    finally slumps for a period. His role is not yet established, and if
    his
    slump comes sooner rather than later, the White Sox pen could be thrown
    into
    flux again.

    While the closer role may be the most overrated in
    baseball,
    having established patterns of use may not be. Knowing when to warm
    up, how
    much, and having set days off would certainly seem to increase the
    chances
    of most relievers performing their best and, should the Sox make
    another
    change or waver between Marte and Takatsu, the pen as a whole could
    suffer.

    As it is now, though, GM Kenny Williams deserves applause for finding
    the
    sucker in the room who decided to look too long at Koch’s save totals
    and,
    amazingly, agreed to pay his salary. By removing Koch and his -5.1
    ARP, the
    Sox bullpen immediately looks much better from top to bottom. Now
    if
    they could just figure out where to put Cliff Politte,
    things would be even better.

  • Incoming: The Sox seemed mainly in the market for pitching at
    this
    year’s draft, taking only three position players in their first 12
    picks. Despite that preference, they first tapped Oklahoma State
    third baseman Josh Fields. Fields hit .352/.465/.580, with 32 out of his
    88
    hits going for extra bases this year. He showed a marked improvement
    in
    plate discipline with a 45/47 K/BB ratio, after a mediocre
    46/24
    mark in 2003. Having already signed, Fields will likely move quickly
    to
    short-season ball to start his way up the Sox ladder.

    After Fields, the Sox selected Tyler Lumsden, a left-hander out of
    Clemson. With 88 Ks in 81.1 IP this year, Lumsden certainly has the
    stuff
    that we like here at BP, but he’s also prone to wildness, walking 37
    this
    year. He posted nearly the exact same line in 2003 with a 72/31 K/BB
    ratio
    in 86 IP.

    Immediately after Lumsden, the White Sox took high school
    pitcher
    Giovany Gonzalez. There’s little information available on Gonzalez
    other
    than the fact that he’s a moderately hard-throwing, left-handed high
    school
    pitcher. Those last three words should tell you all you need to know
    about his risk factor. With the pendulum swinging towards the safer
    bets of
    college pitchers lately, though, taking a flier in the supplemental
    round
    may be just the right kind of calculated risk that takes advantage of
    the
    market.

Oakland
Athletics

  • White Knuckles: No matter how you look at it, the A’s bullpen
    has
    been downright awful this year. They’re 24th in the league in ERA,
    sporting
    14 losses against only 13 saves. BP’s Reliever
    Statistics
    rank the Oakland firemen as the eighth-worst in the majors.
    Even worse, nearly every reliever posts a negative Adjusted Runs
    Prevented
    (ARP) which means that the A’s can’t even cut a few bad apples from the
    tree. Only Justin Duchscherer, at 6.8, has pitched
    anywhere close to respectably. The only other hurlers to post positive
    numbers are Chad Harville, who was released and signed
    by
    Houston, and the newly recalled Justin Lehr, who’s
    pitched
    one scoreless inning.

    This situation is not one to which A’s faithful are accustomed.
    Ranking
    sixth, 15th, and second the last three years, the sight of a
    reliever (other than a notable exception
    or two)
    hasn’t been cause for great concern in the East Bay. Now, it seems,
    starter’s pitch counts are watched with more dread than before, and the sight
    of any movement in the rickety excuse for a bench down the left-field line is
    enough to send people screaming for the exits.

    Looking at the core of the Oakland pen’s performance over the past few
    seasons (as measured by ARP) yields the following:

    
    Player          2003   2002   2001
    Arthur Rhodes    5.1   14.4   23.9
    Jim Mecir       -2.2    6.3    5.9
    Ricardo Rincon   6.6    9.5   15.8
    Chad Bradford   17.3    9.4    1.7
    Chris Hammond    9.9   26.2    DNP
    
    

    (Duchscherer, having been a starter until this season, has been
    excluded.) With the exception of Chad Bradford, this
    looks
    like a group stuck in a steep decline. Also with the exception of
    Bradford,
    this is a group of old players; Arthur Rhodes,
    Ricardo Rincon, and Jim Mecir are all
    34,
    while Chris Hammond is 38.

    All that said, this isn’t necessarily a call to blow up the pen and
    start
    over. Bradford has been one of the best in the league at stranding
    inherited runners for the past few seasons, and there’s little reason to
    think that this is more than a slight bump in the road. Hammond’s so
    far
    down the depth chart that there’s little value in trying to upgrade
    there.
    Duchscherer has been performing well and hopefully will be given more
    high-leverage innings.

    The rest of the pen may need some help, though. Here’s a look at the list of suspects:

    • After performing at a consistently high level in Seattle in 2001 and
      2002, Rhodes showed a slight decline in K/9 and a jump in BB/9 and H/9
      last
      year, none of which bode well for future performance. Before arriving
      in
      Seattle in 2000, Rhodes was an average reliever who showed consistent,
      excellent strikeout numbers, but was consistently undone by his
      wildness. In fact, his ERA could be tied almost exactly to his BB/9. How
      closely?
      The correlation is .771 (on a 0 to 1 scale, the higher the number, the
      better the correlation). So far this year, his BB/9 is 5.1,
      correlating to
      an ERA of 6.23. If he can get his walks down, he could come around,
      but
      until then, he doesn’t look like a good bet to reach his 2001-2002
      levels
      again. He still has a place in the A’s bullpen, but the contract the
      A’s gave him after Keith Foulke departed for Boston is looking worse
      and
      worse.

    • Rincon has been on a slide for the past three seasons, and he’s
      quickly
      becoming one of those fungible lefty relievers who always seem to find a
      job.
      There are other quality options freely available, and it may be time to
      wish
      Rincon the best of luck and send him on his way.

    • The A’s have publicly stated that Mecir, when healthy, is a quality
      reliever. There’s little argument against that, but the problem is
      that
      Mecir just isn’t healthy and hasn’t appeared so in quite some time.
      After
      spending significant time on the disabled list last season, Mecir has
      avoided it so far this year. But with the A’s refusal to leak medical
      information, it’s nearly impossible to get a qualified opinion on his
      state
      of health. He got off to a good start this season, but he’s been
      terrible
      lately and, with a player whose performance is tied so
      closely to
      his health, it seems likely there’s an injury in play. Even without
      the
      rumor and speculation, Mecir hasn’t shown that he can do the job, and
      the A’s
      would be best off moving him at this point, especially with fellow
      right-hander Duchscherer’s performance record.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Double Standard: Sunday night, the Phillies sent center fielder
    Marlon Byrd down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Manager
    Larry
    Bowa cited Byrd’s 45 strikeouts as the main reason that the club
    decided to
    move Byrd for the time being, but it’s pretty certain that his
    224/.297/.304 line wasn’t making much of a case to keep him either. It
    seems certain that Byrd will be back up with the club soon, but, on the
    surface, this seems to be a highly questionable decision, mostly
    because
    there isn’t a clear goal for Byrd while he’s in Triple-A other than to
    “get
    out of the slump.”

    Of course, one of the more famous slumps in recent memory was
    Pat
    Burrell
    ‘s lost 2003. Hitting just .209/.309/.404 for the
    season,
    Burrell suffered through one of the most unexpected slumps of last
    year, all
    while striking out 142 times. Of course, Burrell wasn’t sent down to
    the
    minors to tinker with his swing like Byrd was. Whether or not the
    Phillies are basing their decision to move Byrd on the fact that
    Burrell
    never really recovered in 2003 is unclear, but referencing the
    strikeouts as
    a justification for sending down their center fielder is just wrong.

    Strikeouts, as a game event, don’t cost a team significantly more
    runs
    than any other occurrence. They can, however, for certain types of players,
    be
    an omen that their skills are degrading. Given how much the other
    Philly
    batters strike out, we must assume that Bowa was leaning towards the
    latter
    line of reasoning when using the whiffs as the validation.

    The only
    problem
    here is that Byrd isn’t striking out terribly more than he always has.
    The
    last three years, Byrd has struck out in 17.0%, 17.1%, and 17.2% of plate appearances, the
    last
    two in the minors. This year it’s 19.0%. While that’s not an
    insignificant
    amount, it’s more than likely just a blip on the learning curve; it’s
    certainly no reason for demotion.

    His early going this year notwithstanding, Byrd is a competent major league player and, at 26, still has plenty of
    room
    for improvement. Philly faithful will have to hope that he sorts
    himself
    out quickly in Triple-A, because the longer the slump continues in the
    minors, the harder it will be for Byrd to earn his way back to a spot
    that
    is rightfully his. Taking playing time away from a young player with a
    track
    record of success in the middle of a pennant race is exactly the type
    of
    move that could be looked back on as justification for why the Phillies
    have
    yet to live up to their preseason hype.

    Bowa can at least make the best of the situation by platooning the capable Ricky Ledee with the also capable Jason Michaels. If Doug Glanville starts getting significant playing time, better hide the batteries from Phils Phans.

  • Gone Fishin’: With 20 games to go until the All-Star break,
    the
    Phillies have finally climbed back into a tie with the Marlins for the
    lead
    in the NL East. With seven games against the Expos as well as four and
    three against the Mets and Braves, respectively, the Phillies have an opportunity to turn the NL East into the two-team race that’s been hinted at
    lately. If they can run away and hide with Florida, they’ll have a
    good
    chance to take advantage of the 12 games against the Marlins in the
    second
    half to make the push for the division.

    Of course, all this assumes that the Phils can turn around a few
    slow
    starts, such as Kevin Millwood‘s and Byrd’s, and return to
    the
    favored status they enjoyed after a solid off-season, highlighted by the
    acquisition of closer Billy Wagner. For now, though,
    the
    Phillies should consider themselves uniquely lucky to find themselves
    as
    high in the standings as they are.

    While other teams like the Reds, Twins, and Giants
    have
    all exceeded their expected records by a greater amount, the Phillies
    have
    shown the greatest discrepancy between their first-order winning
    percentage
    (based on their actual runs scored and allowed) and their third-order
    percentage (based on their adjusted equivalent run differential).
    Simply
    put, while the Phillies don’t appear lucky based on the comparison
    between
    their record and run differential, they have been scoring more runs
    than
    they should given their individual statistics. However, lucky wins
    count
    just as much as deserved ones, and Philadelphia is as good a bet as any
    to
    take advantage in the next month or two.