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Houston Astros

  • In The Bullpen: Last time around we covered the starting lineup and rotation. This time let’s take a look at the bullpen. As spring training begins, three or four spots in the Astros bullpen seem to be locked up. (We’ll go further out on a limb than the Chronicle and assume Ricky Stone has pitched his way onto the team based on his performance the last two years.)

    This table includes 2003 results for pitchers with 30 or more innings pitched, and 2004 top VORP projections.

    2003       IP     ERA    VORP     2004        IP     ERA    VORP
    Wagner     86.0   1.78   37.2     Dotel       80.7   2.77   24.5
    Dotel      87.0   2.48   31.4     Lidge       81.0   3.86   14.2
    Lidge      85.0   3.60   19.9     Saarloos    90.7   4.22   11.6
    Stone      83.0   3.69   18.7     Stone       66.7   4.04    9.7
    Miceli     30.0   2.10   12.3     Hernandez  106.0   4.60    9.4
    Gallo      30.0   3.00    9.5     Miceli      63.0   4.42    7.5
    Fernandez  38.3   3.99    8.3     Veres       40.3   3.64    7.3
    Munro      54.0   4.67    6.1     Duckworth   89.7   4.90    5.4
    Linebrink  31.7   4.26    6.0     Rosario     72.0   4.77    5.1
    Saarloos   49.3   4.93    2.2     Fernandez   71.7   5.12    2.1
    TOTAL                   151.6     TOTAL                     96.8

    Of course, projected innings and starts for 2004 may not reflect players’ actual usage. For example, perhaps Brandon Duckworth‘s ERA will be considerably lower if he spends more time in relief than as a starter. And, of course, for him to see those 15 projected starts, one of the Houston starters would have to go down… Hmm, but come to think of it, while we’re waiting for Will Carroll to color in this year’s dots for Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens, and Tim Redding, perhaps PECOTA is on to something there. Certainly the Astros will be in trouble if Kirk Saarloos gets to his projected 15 starts though.

    It will be interesting to see which southpaws stick with the club. One thing that might come into play is that Carlos Hernandez didn’t have a significant platoon split when he was with the club 2002 (before his surgery), whereas right handed batters teed off against Jeriome Robertson and Mike Gallo last year.

    One thing that stands out in the 2004 crowd is the long step down after Octavio Dotel. But, Astros fans, before you start to feel too bad about the Billy Wagner trade, take some comfort in the diagnostics stats on that Dotel player card. Let’s throw in Wagner for comparison.

    	  Breakout  Improve  Collapse  Attrition
    Dotel      40.7%    59.2%     13.4%       7.4%
    Wagner     24.5%    54.2%     18.4%      20.0%

    That breakout number for Dotel just jumps out at you, doesn’t it? This isn’t a Luis Ugueto situation–not with a reliever responsible for several wins a year, one we’ve called the best in the game. Feeling better yet? Now look at Dotel’s five-year forecast. It looks consistent through 2007, with a few question marks once we get to 2008. Meanwhile, Wagner may have a consistently lower projected ERA, but–the two year age gap surely makes a difference here – his attrition rates start looking mighty ugly in 2007.

  • And In The Booth: Larry Dierker fans take note: Now you will have a way to make it through hump day. Those who prefer trepanation to second-guessing, consider yourselves warned.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • The Brew Crew hasn’t had stability and longevity since the days of Molitor, Yount and, to a lesser extent the immortal Jim Gantner. Teddy Higuera and Dan Plesac were nice for a while, but they weren’t exactly storybook endings for the Brewers, were they? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel these days–and it’s up to the Brewers whether it means the Eurostar chunnel train crushing them head-on or breaking through to the bright light of success. Bernie Brewer’s likely to have a quiet year going down the beer slide, given that power source Richie “Did I talk to you about” Sexson has moved on to baseball’s retirement home, better known as the Diamondbacks.

  • Have Gun, Will Travel: Luis Martinez was involved in an unfortunate shooting in the Dominican Republic that helped gain him his walking papers. Despite a decent upside, the Brewers decided to sever ties with the young left-handed pitcher…who was promptly snapped up by the pitching hungry St. Louis Cardinals. We know Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have had success stories with rehabilitation projects; can they repeat their success, adding a new twist?
  • Heat of the Moment: It was refreshing to see Keith Ginter finally get a chance last year, a la Mark Bellhorn with the Cubs in 2002. Unfortunately, the Brewers got caught up in the excitement a little TOO much (like Gary Huckabay, given a chance to trade for Felix Hernandez) and handed him a three-year deal. Reports indicate that Carney Lansford was unavailable.

    That’s two, three-year contracts handed out to a brittle star (Geoff Jenkins) and an overachieving minor league vet who doesn’t have a position; as much as it’s nice he got a shot, it’s hard to see Ginter holding an OF spot for three years. Better days are ahead for the Brewers, but that doesn’t mean irrational exuberance is justified. Reading between the lines, one would have to guess Junior Spivey‘s days are numbered, given Ginter’s most valuable position (to the Brewers) is 2B. Even Ginter, at best, is a placeholder for Rickie Weeks, likely shifting to 3B at that point. This means, of course, that Wes Helms is a good candidate for trade bait or a position shift to 1B if Lyle Overbay doesn’t pick up some XBH power. Ladies and Gentleman, your musical positions 2004 Milwaukee Brewers!

  • We won’t say we WANT to lose, but… The ideal scenario for the Brew Crew would be to fall out of the race early and have the Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Angels, Phillies, Astros, Cubs and Cardinals playing one-upsmanship, tripping over one another to pick up puzzle pieces from the Brewers. They’d have a chance to get (near) maximum value for Spivey, Helms and the like, adding to an already promising farm system. They can flip a pitcher or two as well; this would be a good time for them to decide whether to trade Ben Sheets or re-up him as part of their long-term plan.

    Presuming the Brewers understand and leverage their situation, they could further stock an improved farm system this season. The 2005-2006 edition could see the arrival of J.J. Hardy at shortstop, Rickie Weeks at second base, Corey Hart at 3B (or OF?) and Prince Fielder at DB (Designated Buffet), er, make that first base.

  • Oh, Sheets!: Prodigal Ben took another small step forward last year–will this be the year that he learns to keep his HR count down, building on his other peripherals to lower his ERA? Or, will his arm explode in a Bartman-ballish kind of way? The promise is there. If he keeps his walks down and can even stick to solo HRs, he could move towards the Schilling and Vazquez class of pitcher even if he DOES continue to allow HRs at a Blylevenesque pace. Of course, he could just as easily hear those three words a pitcher dreads, “Dr. Jim Andrews.”
  • He goes both ways…Or does he?: Sadly, it looks like the Brooks Kieschnick experiment may not bear as much fruit as expected on both sides of the plate. He’s a useful 25th man to have on the roster, providing added flexibility as a mop-up man and a useful hitter. The Brewers seem inclined to keep him in a pitching role, when frankly his flexibility provides value; he seems to have been more valuable as a hitter of late anyways. Here’s hoping we get to see him pitch deep into extra inning games more than once, only to drive in the winning run himself.

Oakland Athletics

  • Behind the Messy Scorecards: With Spring Training finally underway, today’s PTP will take a closer look at some of the players invited to A’s camp in Tempe.

    Despite the sick numbers Justin Duchscherer put up last year in Sacramento, the best pitching prospect in the A’s system is Joe Blanton. Blanton mowed down A-ball hitters last year, to the tune of 144 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 133 innings. He’s been invited to Spring Training this year and got his feet wet with a 2-inning stint Saturday, striking out two and giving up a few cheap hits on a surge of groundballs. The A’s are beyond rich in pitching, but keeping a guy like Blanton in the minors won’t make much sense after 2004, so some tough decisions will have to be made. Of course, as far as problems go, having too much pitching talent is a good one.

    Graham Koonce is a career minor leaguer who doesn’t do anything except hit the ball real hard, to the tune of 34 home runs in Sacramento last season. If he was right handed, the A’s could have used him instead of spending the million on Eric Karros. Though he’ s sported an OBP starting with “4” for longer than beehive haircuts have been out of style, Koonce will turn 29 this season, making him far too old to be a prospect and dropping him off most major league radars. But he’s the kind of guy who could make for a nice platoon DH or 1B on a struggling club. Blocked by Scott Hatteberg, Erubiel Durazo, and Karros and being pushed from behind by Dan Johnson, Koonce doesn’t fit the A’s plans and Oakland should try to move him while his value is highest.

    Dan Johnson, the 24-year old first baseman for Midland, posted a healthy 290/.372/.504 line, complemented by 27 long shots. While he’s a little old for his level, he’s the best hope the A’s have for replacing what’s left of Hatteberg after his contract extension runs out in 2005. Watch him closely; another strong season and he could find himself in Oakland in the stretch run next year.

    Mike Edwards (.298/.390/.466) and Jason Grabowski (.292/.370/.468) appear nearly interchangeable, aside from the fact that they hit from opposite sides of the plate. Teamed up in the Sacramento corner outfield spots last year, Edwards is 27, six months older than Grabowski and, as you can see, they posted nearly identical statistical lines, though Grabowski has had a few more cups of coffee than Edwards. Neither one figures to make the A’s now crowded outfield this year, but on the right team, either one would post acceptable numbers.

    Nick Swisher split last season between Single-A Modesto and Double-A Midland and had a tough time dealing with the move. It’s understandable–the difference between California Mexican food and Tex-Mex is staggering–but Swisher needs a big year to stop looking so much like, well, Hatteberg. If there’s one thing the A’s don’t need, it’s more Scott Hattebergs.

    Mike Rouse will likely replace Bobby Crosby at short in Sacramento next season, but he hasn’t developed the power numbers that Crosby has shown thus far. Like Crosby, he’ll be 24 this season, making it unlikely he’ll unseat anybody except maybe Frank Menechino. Like most everyone else on this list, if he puts up decent numbers again, he could find himself shipped out of town since his path is likely blocked in Oakland for the time being.

    Esteban German looked like the A’s solution at second two years ago before Mark Ellis switched over from short. He’ll be 26 this year and has already spent three seasons at Sacramento, but, like everyone else on this list, doesn’t have a place to go on the A’s roster. German would be a more than adequate backup infielder, but with Menechino and Rouse already hanging around, Oakland could likely get a little more value for him if they shipped him elsewhere.

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