Chicago White Sox

  • Small-Ball Bugbear: “He told me to run, run, run,” said Willie Harris about the green light given him by Ozzie Guillen this year, consequences be damned. “He told me if I get thrown out, who cares? Be aggressive.”

    There has been a lot of talk–and fear–this spring about Guillen’s desire to turn his Gashouse Gorillas into a bunch of waterbugs, but that’s not the case. What he wants is a team that can score by putting pressure on the defense when the bats are cold.

    He expects Harris to be his catalyst, his own Juan Pierre. While Guillen might have said that aggressiveness is a good thing even if it gets Harris thrown out sometimes, the stolen base is a tactical weapon only if you can succeed on well more than two-thirds of your attempts. If you get thrown out as often as, say, Luis Castillo did last year, you have crossed the point of diminishing returns.

    If you can’t be successful at least 70% to 75% of the time, the play might not be worth your trouble, and the danger is even higher on a club that has as much power as the White Sox. With most of the lineup posing substantial extra-base threats, there’s less reason to press for the extra base. Better to just wait and see if your teammates can pick you up.

    In the minor leagues Harris ran often and was pretty good at it. Here are his numbers over the last four seasons:

    Year    Level           SBA per PA      Success 
    2000    Single-A         10.62          72%
    2001    Double-A          8.15          77%
    2002    Triple-A          8.54          70%
    2003    Triple-A          9.75          75%

    Over 1,644 minor league plate appearances (not including times hit by a pitch), Harris attempted a steal once every nine times up. That’s not quite as often as Juan Pierre but it’s busier than Ray Durham has ever been. In fact, it’s pretty close to how often Luis Aparicio ran.

    Harris’ overall minor league success rate of 73% is within the range of acceptable risk, especially since he had two seasons of being safe on three of every four attempts. He has played about a half season at the major league level, and while he didn’t run as often under Jerry Manuel as he did in the minors, when he did run he more than proved he was worthy of Guillen’s confidence. In 319 major league plate appearances Harris has been safe on 20 of 22 attempts, a 91% success rate.

    So what does this mean for 2004? PECOTA projects Harris to be a part-time player, with only 250 pate appearances. If that bears out and Harris runs at his customary pace, he’ll try for about 25 steals and be successful 19 times. Not bad but not exactly the catalyst of a cold offense.

    But it appears as though Harris has reclaimed his second base job after a slow start this spring. If he gets 500 plate appearances this year and runs like he did in the minors, he should have about 50 stolen base attempts, and if he runs as well as he has, he’ll finish the year with about 35 steals, which would have been good enough for fourth in the American League last year. He might lose some OBP, but if he Guillen cuts him loose he’ll still get his chances. The key will be how much above that 70% rate he can muster.

  • The Wrong Dead Horse: In the last White Sox PTP we wrote about Guillen’s bullpen management. Specifically, we criticized him for being reluctant to use Billy Koch in a non-save situation. What followed would have been a proper analysis, if only it had been based on something that actually happened. We went to press without running down the accuracy of the source we quoted, and as it turns out, we were wrong.

    According to follow-up reports, Guillen was not preserving Koch for a save situation. He was waiting to use him to start an inning, which is how Guillen plans to use Koch this season. What’s more, for spring training Guillen scheduled his relievers’ appearances at the beginning of each week, so the pitchers would know how long they’d be asked to go and in what order they would appear. We’ll have to wait a few weeks before passing judgment on his ability to manage a pen in games that count, but it only took until yesterday’s debacle against the Royals to show that, Damaso Marte aside, he may simply lack the horses needed for a good relief corps.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Might as Well Give Up Now: The Cardinals dropped their first game of the year to the Brewers 8-6 on Monday night, and while one game is hardly a basis for making broad conclusions, let’s use this space to go over some Opening Day observations.
    • George Bush, Astros Hater: The President of the United States, George W. Bush, threw out the first pitch for the Cardinals on Monday afternoon. Despite being from the state of Texas, Bush donned a Cardinals warm-up jacket for the event. Maybe he doesn’t think much of the Astros’ chances this season. Joe Sheehan disagrees, however.
    • Tony Womack, Second Base Savior: The recently acquired Womack had an impressive opening for the Cardinals, going 1-3, walking twice and stealing three bases in the leadoff spot. Womack has only walked more than 50 times in a season once–52 in 1999–but a patient Womack at the top of the order could be the best answer the Cardinals have available at second base. If Womack’s patience is an Opening Day fluke, then expect names like Marlon Anderson and Bo Hart to start appearing in the lineup.
    • Ray Lankford, He’s There: Patrolling left field and batting second for your St. Louis Cardinals, Ray Lankford. Sure he didn’t play last year, but right now Lankford is the man in left. That could quickly change though, with the Redbirds obtaining Roger Cedeno from the Mets. Cedeno is fast and switch-hits, but isn’t a particularly good fielder or hitter. In other words, he might be good enough to replace Lankford. The Mets are eating most of Cedeno’s $5 million contract, so even if he doesn’t work out the Cardinals didn’t lose anything more than Chris Widger and Wilson Delgado.
    • Matt Morris, They Need You: With a rotation that contains a lot of question marks–How will Chris Carpenter perform after shoulder surgery? Is Woody Williams completely healthy?–the Cardinals need Morris to be their unquestionable ace the entire season. That means staying healthy on top of pitching well for Morris, who seems to have more trouble with the former. Morris had some control problems on Monday, walking five batters, but there didn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him. One bad start certainly won’t sink the Cardinals, but making those five-walk lines a habit might.

Texas Rangers

  • All That You Can’t Leave Behind: The Texas Rangers head to the Bay Area to open the season against the A’s after concluding the spring festivities in Surprise without many surprises on the 25-man roster. The Rangers did manage to move Einar Diaz to Montreal, exchanging him, Justin Echols, and cash for Josh McKinley and Chris Young. Gerald Laird is the new starting catcher and should hit enough to be worth almost a win more than Diaz. The Rangers would have done well by simply cutting Diaz a check and sending him on his way. Instead, Texas saves some money and acquires some intriguing players at the cost of right-handed prospect Echols. McKinley is a 1998 first-round pick who demonstrated some power and patience last season and Young is a tall 25-year-old right-hander who is a ways away from the majors.

    Without further ado, the opening day roster for the 2004 Texas Rangers:

    Rotation         Bullpen             Hitters           Bench
    Kenny Rogers     Francisco Cordero   Gerald Laird      Herb Perry
    Chan Ho Park     Jeff Nelson         Mark Teixeira     Rod Barajas
    Colby Lewis      Jay Powell          Alfonso Soriano   Eric Young
    R.A. Dickey      Joaquin Benoit      Hank Blalock      David Dellucci
    Mickey Callaway  Carlos Almanzar     Mike Young        Ramon Nivar
                     Ron Mahay           Kevin Mench
                     Erasmo Ramirez      Laynce Nix
                     Jeff Zimmerman*     Brian Jordan*
                     Brian Shouse*       Brad Fullmer
    * Disabled List

    The health lights of Jeff Zimmerman and Brian Jordan burn like an unforgettable fire under a blood-red sky. True to form, both players start the season on the disabled list. Jordan will miss at least a few weeks and Zimmerman is out indefinitely, opening spots on the roster for Ramon Nivar and the rejuvenated Joaquin Benoit, who tossed six shutout innings after pitching out of the bullpen in Spring Training.

    Skipper Buck Showalter anticipates that the Rangers will need a fifth starter only a handful of times until the All-Star break. He will likely use Mickey Callaway predominantly out of the bullpen and feature him in the rotation when the schedule forces him to use a fifth starter. Ricardo Rodriguez is at the front of the line in Triple-A when the Rangers need an extra pitcher.

  • Summer Rain: The depth chart feature of the new fantasy product at Baseball Prospectus provides runs scored, runs allowed, and Pythagenport won-loss records projections for each team. The PECOTA forecasts place the Rangers at the bottom of the AL West:
                        Runs Scored   Runs Allowed   W-L Record 
    Oakland Athletics   794           684            92-70
    Seattle Mariners    797           758            85-77
    Anaheim Angels      756           732            84-78
    Texas Rangers       845           882            78-84

    While PECOTA does not account for the difficulty of opponents, Nate Silver does and finds that the Rangers’ strength of schedule depresses their projected record down a few wins to 75-87.

  • The Bends: The Texas Rangers launch their 2004 campaign against a number of formidable opponents. Texas plays six games against Oakland, seven against Anaheim, six against Seattle, three against Kansas City, and three against Boston. These teams have a weighted PECOTA projected win percentage of .536.

    The Rangers and their fans will focus on the pitching during the early part of the season, and rightly so. As noted in BP2K4: “Pitching ineptitude is the defining characteristic of Ranger teams of the past few seasons.” While a poor start over this 25-game stretch would not eliminate the Rangers from contention, the first month of the season should be telling of the team’s fortunes in 2004. If the Rangers can satisfactorily navigate these treacherous waters, the team can then enjoy 12 games against co-cellar dwellers Detroit and Tampa Bay.

    If the Texas staff is not throwing well by mid-May, the Rangers could fall fast. The team will face the impressive offenses of Kansas City, Chicago, and Toronto. If these teams start to wear down the Texas hurlers, New York will lay waste to whatever is left of the Rangers’ staff over six games at the end of May and beginning of June.

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