Arizona Diamondbacks

  • What Went Right?: The Diamondbacks fought through injury to remain in contention until September. Two out-of-nowhere players, Matt Kata and Robbie Hammock combined for 14.8 Runs Above Replacement Player without having made the pages of Baseball Prospectus 2003. Brandon Webb broke out in a huge way, while being handled gently by Bob Brenley, and Alex Cintron showed more power than anybody expected from him, slugging 45 extra base hits in less than 500 PAs. Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez continued to outperform their PECOTA projections, hitting .287/.363/.500 and .304/.402/.532 respectively. Finally, the D’backs said goodbye to Mark Grace. He may be an announcer next year, or a coach, or maybe even governor of your state, but at least he won’t be making outs for the Diamondbacks next season.
  • What Went Wrong?: Nearly every team suffers injuries over the course of a season, and so managers and fans of failed contenders often blame the injury bug for their poor performances. "If only we hadn’t lost our long reliever and veteran lefty specialist, we’d be 10 games up…" But the D’backs had a legitimate claim to misfortune in 2003, as the foursome of Shea Hillenbrand, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Junior Spivey all missed time with injuries. The Diamondbacks managed to flip Byung-Hyun Kim off to Boston before he could flip them off, but all they got in return was a corner infielder who turns 70% of his plate appearances into outs. And the organization showed no patience with Lyle Overbay, whose .266 EqA wasn’t good enough to keep him in the big leagues for the entire year.
  • But His Poetry is Priceless: Despite wicked stuff, Miguel Batista has never been a dominating pitcher. With a good heater and some sweet-looking Under Armour, he’s the kind of pitcher that gets much attention from publications like fantasy baseball draft guides. But you probably don’t need Baseball Prospectus to tell you that a 33-year-old pitcher with a career strikeout rate of only 6 K/9 doesn’t exactly scream sleeper. Still, despite mediocre peripherals, he put up a superficially solid 2003, and Diamondbacks’ management faced a tough decision on his option last week.

    The Snakes had the option of bringing him back in 2004 for $5 million, or buying his contract out for $300,000. That 300 grand is a sunk cost, so from the point of view of Arizona management, the cost of keeping Batista around is $4.7 million. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the starting pitchers from last year’s free agent crop who were coming off 2002 seasons most similar to Batista’s 2003, and the yearly salary of the contracts they signed last year.

    Name	       SNPct     IP  SNWAR  Average Salary
    Paul Byrd       .590  228.3    4.2      $5,000,000
    Roger Clemens   .525  180.0    2.0     $10,100,000
    Andy Pettitte   .603  134.7    2.8     $11,500,000*
    Kenny Rogers    .592  210.7    4.0      $2,000,000
    Woody Williams  .700  103.3    3.0      $7,450,000
    Batista's 2003  .621  181.3    3.8           ?
    * team option

    Looking at these numbers, the Diamondbacks could have been tempted to pick up his option based on comparison alone. Batista looks like a bargain next to Paul Byrd at $5 million per, right? But the Snakes showed strong fiscal restraint and turned down their option. Shrewd moves like this are making the Diamondbacks look less and less like the same organization that threw $79 million at Jay Bell and Matt Williams a few years ago. Batista might very well make big bucks for another team, but the Diamondbacks were smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be the ones spending it. Could it be that the emergence of those out-of-nowhere youngsters in 2003 taught the D’backs that there is a younger, cheaper alternative to throwing money at wily vets?

Kansas City Royals

  • The Morning After: The heady days of a September pennant race in Kansas City are already receding into memory, leaving the Royals with their most difficult task yet: defying the Plexiglass Principle after their 21-game jump this season to show even more improvement in 2004.

    Complicating this task is the uncertainty regarding the future of Carlos Beltran, who will be a free agent after next season. With just one year of guaranteed performance left, Beltran is fetching much less attractive offers on the trade market than he did in the spring, when he was nearly moved for Hank Blalock and a second prospect. Allard Baird has already announced that he expects Beltran to be in the Royals’ lineup come Opening Day.

    Which is just as well, because any dreams the Royals may have of contention next year all involve Beltran playing centerfield. Beltran deserved some bottom-ballot MVP votes this season after hitting .307/.389/.522 while placing third in the league in steals. (With a 41-for-45 performance on the basepaths, Beltran improved his all-time-record career stolen base percentage to a positively scary 88.2%.) Next year marks his age 27 season, and given his durability, defense, and multi-faceted skills, he’s on the short list of players most likely to garner MVP honors in 2004.

    Even with Beltran in the fold, the Royals have to find a way to improve the rest of the roster without significantly altering the payroll. (The team is expected to raise its payroll by 2-3 million dollars next season, all of which will be swallowed up by Beltran’s arbitration-induced raise.) The opportunity to trim the payroll without hurting the final product is there: the Royals paid Raul Ibanez, Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Brent Mayne, and Jason Grimsley a combined $15 million this year. And let’s not even mention Albie Lopez.

    Of those six free agents, only the first two represent a difficult decision regarding whether the Royals should re-sign them or not. Ibanez is the most pleasant development of the Baird Administration; he was picked up on waivers just before his 29th birthday, having never mustered an OPS above 734 in his career; his OPS figures since read 848, 883, and 799.

    But Ibanez is 31 years old, his performance hasn’t been that good for a leftfielder, and he figures to ask for $4 million or more per season. Players of Ibanez’s caliber have been killed in the last two off-season markets, but given Ibanez’s consistency, clean-cut image, and RBI totals (193 the last two years), he figures to be overpaid by somebody.

    The Royals don’t have to be that team, because waiting in the wings is David DeJesus, one of the most underrated prospects in the minor leagues. DeJesus, who is Beltran’s heir apparent in centerfield after 2004, could easily break in as a leftfielder next season. He projects to be a .280/.370/.430 hitter in the majors, making up for Ibanez’s edge in power with better speed, defense, and plate discipline.

    Randa represents a more difficult challenge, because while The Joker turns 34 in December, he had his best year at the plate since 1999–and hit .344/.402/.500 after the All-Star Break. More pertinently, the Royals have no alternatives to replace him at the hot corner save Jarrod Patterson, who hits nearly as well as Randa and fields nearly as well as Dean Palmer. While the lack of an in-house alternative should spur the Royals to attempt to re-sign Randa, his age and replaceable talents should temper their enthusiasm.

    The team’s front office is showing an admirable amount of restraint, recently announcing that they do not intend to offer either player arbitration, forcing them to agree to terms by the December 7th deadline or take their chances on the open market. In doing so, the Royals are avoiding the pitfalls of the mentality that “what was so surprisingly successful this year will be just as unsurprisingly successful next year,” also known as Stoneman Syndrome.

  • Catch One If You Can:

    With money burning a hole in his pocket after letting so many high-priced free agents go, Baird would be well-advised to make an upgrade behind the plate his1 off-season priority. Royals’ catchers – Mayne and Mike DiFelice, 99% of the time – hit a mighty .246/.302/.355 this season. None of the four catchers the Royals have selected in the third round or earlier of the last three drafts is ready for the majors again, which means the Royals need to go outside the organization to heal this festering wound.

    The only quality free-agent catcher on the market, Ivan Rodriguez, officially eliminated any chance that he might end up in Kansas City with his heroics over the last two weeks. With no other options to turn to, the Royals should explore trade opportunities hither and yonder. Jason Kendall is almost assuredly going to San Diego, but it’s worth calling Dave Littlefield to make sure. Ramon Castro is still yearning to be free. Perhaps most realistically, the rapid emergence of Joe Mauer in Minnesota has made A.J. Pierzynski expendable.

    Pierzynski’s hack-tastic approach to hitting – his 24 walks this season were a career-high–fit in more with the Royals of yore than their new-school look, but he’s a career .301 hitter who has averaged 33 doubles the last three seasons, despite playing in just 127 games a year. His career-high 11 homers this year hints that a modest power-surge may be in the offing. Given his other choices, Baird would be well-advised to see if he can overcome Terry Ryan’s natural aversion to trading in-divison.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Hot Seat: Even when the Phillies were neck and neck with the Marlins for the wild card, we were questioning Larry Bowa’s future as their manager. In fact, it was a foregone conclusion that only a playoff appearance, if not a series win, could save him. Everybody thought that he should, or at least that he would, be fired. Everybody, it seemed, except the Phillies’ front office.

    Publicly, they have backed him to the hilt. When the media questioned him, management supported his every move; when Tyler Houston complained, they released him. But this makes sense; after all, unless you’re planning to fire him in-season, you might as well make his job easier by supporting him. It would have shaken up that team a lot more to fire Bowa than to release Houston. (Of course, some would say that’s exactly what the Phillies needed.) So on one hand, we can’t read too much into the Phillies’ support of Bowa.

    Well, OK, but… if he’s definitely out the door, why haven’t they canned him yet? No other currently employed manager is nearly as threatened as Bowa; the ones who were are already gone. The fact that the Phillies have held on to him this long can only be a good thing for Larry Bowa. Besides, the Phillies are not predisposed to impatience with any of their staff, particularly when it’s an organization man like Bowa.

    There’s a certain question that people are asking that makes us think they might just keep him for 2004: “Who else would you get?” If you ask us, almost anyone would be better than Bowa, a mediocre tactician at best (and usually worse) and a lousy team leader. Whatever intangibles a manager might be able to bring for a team, Bowa seems not to be able to provide. But the thrust behind the question is that no name would ring quite as right in many people’s ears as Bowa’s. We’re just so used to seeing him in Phillies red.

    2004 figures to be no less maddening for the Phillies, and will keep Bowa himself seeing red consistently.

  • Choose Wisely: The Phillies’ website poses this question: who was the team’s best pitcher, Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, or Vicente Padilla?

    Let’s look first at some more traditional statistics:

    		W-L	 IP  WHIP    ERA
    Millwood       14-12  222.0  1.25   4.01
    Wolf	       16-10  200.0  1.27   4.23
    Myers          14- 9  193.0  1.46   4.43
    Padilla        14-12  208.2  1.24   3.62

    Now, for perspective, we’ll look at some different metrics:

                SNPct   SNVA  SNWAR
    Millwood     .526    0.6    2.6
    Wolf	     .508    0.1    1.8
    Myers        .459   -0.9    0.7
    Padilla	     .518    0.4    2.2

    As you might have guessed from his ERA and WHIP, Brett Myers, despite having the fewest losses, is the worst of the four pitchers, and when all was said and done, the Support-Neutral system didn’t even think he was average (although he was still more than half a win better than a replacement-level pitcher). Myers had a great first half (3.66 ERA) but ran out of gas in the second (5.72). The future is bright, but it’s obvious that he was the worst of the four, something that both the Support-Neutral and the conventional metrics (except for W-L) agree on.

    Wolf was an All-Star, but he too petered out in the second half, perhaps from the workload, or perhaps from mechanical flaws, and Padilla’s huge finish (2.49 ERA in his last six starts) propelled him right past Wolf in both conventional and Support-Neutral statistics. In 2002, Padilla dropped off in the second half, but this year he got stronger as the season went on, which can only be a good sign.

    But while Padilla wins the conventional metrics race, Millwood beats him out in Support-Neutral by a hair. With apologies to Millwood’s no-hitter, we’ll give Padilla our vote; Millwood and Wolf got a ton of press but Padilla may have been the most consistent starter on the staff. He’ll probably stay unsung, too, unless the Phillies make the playoffs someday and Padilla gets a chance to showcase his killer sinker on national TV.

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