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Chicago White Sox

  • Like the Rock: The White Sox’s new baserunning coach, Tim Raines, has already
    declared his
    intentions to make a significant contribution to the south side’s
    effort this
    season:

    “We won’t beat a team with three-run homers, especially with Big
    Frank not in
    the lineup. We have to be that type of team that pitches well, plays
    good defense
    and manufactures runs.” (MLB.com)

    Last year, the White Sox stole 78 bases, good for ninth in the
    American League.
    Unfortunately, they were caught 51 times, a total surpassed only by the
    Cleveland
    Indians. Their 60% success rate was second worst in the league,
    trailing only the
    Royals, who somehow managed to come in at 58% despite half a season
    from the most
    efficient basestealer in the history of the game. Needless to say,
    there’s room
    for improvement.

    Just how bad was that performance last year? Looking at the expected
    runs matrix for 2004
    , with a runner on first and one out, teams
    scored an
    average of .5496 runs in the inning; with a runner on second, the
    number jumps to
    .7104; and with no one on base and two outs, it drops to .1135. We can
    quickly
    estimate the breakeven point for stolen bases by dividing the benefit
    of staying
    put by the benefit of running: (.5496 – .1135) / (.7104 – .1135) =
    73.1%.
    Other typical situations:

    Outs  Stolen Base  Breakeven
    0       Second       73.2%
    1       Second       73.1%
    2       Second       73.2%
    0       Third        74.8%
    1       Third        69.5%
    2       Third        92.7%
    

    Depending on the situation involved when the White Sox were stealing
    last year,
    they cost themselves somewhere on the order of 14 runs with their
    errant theft
    attempts. Even just bringing that back to zero would save
    the Sox around
    1.4 wins.

    The real question is: do they have the tools to do it? Here are the
    stolen base
    numbers from 2004 for the Sox’s top base stealers:

    Player          SB  CS  Perc
    Scott Podsednik 70  13  84.3%
    Aaron Rowand    17   5  77.3%
    Willie Harris   19   7  73.1%
    Juan Uribe       9  11  45.0%
    

    Steals can be overrated–particularly when they come with more CS
    than SB as in
    Juan Uribe‘s case–but Scott
    Podsednik
    ‘s 70
    steals last year were the real deal. With Podsednik on board and
    Aaron
    Rowand
    back, the White Sox look to be much better on the bases
    than they
    were last year without any real improvement elsewhere. Willie
    Harris
    doesn’t look to be seeing as much time on the basepaths
    as last
    year with a reduced role overall, but his stolen base rate is right
    around the
    breakeven point, so he could steal 100 or 0 and add virtually nothing.

    The real key is getting Uribe to stop running; his basestealing
    cost the Sox
    over five runs alone. Removing Uribe and keeping last year’s numbers,
    the Sox now
    look to be on pace to steal 111 with 29 failures, a 79.3% success rate.
    Those
    numbers would net the Sox about 7.5 runs over the course of the season,
    a
    turnaround of 22.5 runs or just over two wins. If Raines can properly
    coach the
    Sox in their basestealing adventures, there’s quite a bit of potential
    for some
    serious contributions to the offense.

Oakland Athletics

  • Playing in the Pen: Though the A’s may not have gotten quite as much as they could have
    for pitchers
    of the caliber of Mark Mulder and Tim
    Hudson
    in
    their trades this winter, they did acquire a pair of highly capable
    arms for the
    bullpen in Kiko Calero and Juan Cruz.
    While
    Dan Haren and Dan Meyer may take a
    little time to
    develop into front-line starting pitchers, the acquired relievers
    should
    immediately shore up a beleaguered pen.

    The situation just got a little more interesting. With Chad
    Bradford
    –a pitcher who strands more people than CBS–out
    until at least
    late June with back surgery, the A’s suddenly have one fewer competitor
    for their
    revamped bullpen. Let’s see how the contenders shake out:

    • Octavio Dotel: Despite some rumblings about Dotel
      possibly
      moving to the Cubs, he’s still the closer and that’s unlikely to change
      until Dotel
      can amass enough saves to blow his perceived value way out of line. He
      still
      strikes out more than 11 men per nine innings and there’s little reason
      to expect
      him to be anything less than stellar.

    • Ricardo Rincon: Rincon has slowly evolved from a
      lefty setup
      man to LOOGY. In 2003, Rincon notched 14 appearances in which he faced
      one or two
      batters and 50 in which he faced three or more. In 2004, 30 of his
      appearances saw
      two or fewer and 37 were three or more. Used correctly, he’s still an
      effective
      situational man, a fact that secures his job.

    • Justin Duchscherer: The requisite long man,
      Duchscherer logged
      nearly 100 innings of 3.27 ERA pitching last year in 53 appearances.
      Though Cruz
      has been a starter in the past, he hasn’t put up the inning totals that
      Duchscherer
      has since 2002, so Duchscherer will be back in the pen again.

    • Juan Cruz: Acquired in the Hudson deal, Cruz is the kind of
      fireballer
      the A’s have lacked in recent seasons. He’s not quite as adept with
      the whiff as
      Dotel, but he’s still averaged just over a strikeout an inning over the
      last two
      years. If you’re into nitpicking, Cruz does walk just a few too many
      batters, but
      that won’t cost him a job.

    • Kiko Calero: After seven years in the minors, it appeared
      that the best
      Calero had to offer were recommendations on places to eat in
      Wichita.
      Converted to a reliever by the Cardinals, Calero enjoyed two solid
      seasons with an
      increased strikeout rate and an improved walk rate, particularly in
      2004.

    • Huston Street: The most likely replacement for
      Bradford,
      Street has been well chronicled, both here
      and
      elsewhere. Counting college and the Arizona Fall League, Street was
      impressive in
      five levels in 2004, allowing 16 earned runs in just over 100 innings.
      One of the
      better examples of a recent trend of college relievers drafted very
      high, Street
      should take advantage of the opportunity and stick with the A’s most of
      the season.

    • Chris Mabeus: A bit of an organizational
      soldier,
      Mabeus was selected by the Rangers in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, but
      returned to the
      A’s after he didn’t make the team. He’s posted impressive K/BB ratios
      of 70/15 and
      88/14 in 62.0 and 73.2 innings the last two seasons. As pointed out in
      Baseball
      Prospectus 2005
      , the main thing Mabeus and his agent should point to is
      the fact
      that his performances have come against the high-level competition of
      the Texas and
      Pacific Coast leagues while Street and Jairo Garcia have been plying
      their trade
      against significantly weaker competition.

    • Tyler Johnson: The A’s Rule 5 selection from the
      Cardinals,
      Johnson has assumed the role of guitar-playing, surfing left-hander, a
      role already
      ably filled by Barry Zito. He’s also cut from the same slow fastball,
      comic-book
      curve mold. Johnson walks a few too many guys, but–quelle surprise!
      he strikes
      out a lot, too.

    • Jimmy Serrano: Like Mabeus, Serrano has spent some
      time in the
      minors–Oakland is his fourth organization–but Serrano switched from
      relieving
      to starting, registering a few starts in the debacle of Kansas City’s
      rotation last
      year. He’s on the shorter side, but he strikes people out, like
      pretty much
      everyone else the A’s have stockpiled. It will be tough for him to
      impress his way
      into the pen.

    • Jairo Garcia: The “stuff” answer to Street’s
      polished college
      resume, Garcia struggled as he reached the upper levels of the Oakland
      system last
      year. His fastball and slider are a combination to behold, but the A’s
      may see
      last year’s difficulties as reason enough to keep him in Sacramento
      until he learns
      to control them a little better.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Phinding Some Depth: The Phillies got their first bad news of the spring last week when
    third baseman
    David Bell went down with a back injury. Originally
    estimated to
    keep Bell out throughout spring training and for the first two weeks of
    the regular
    season, tests have shown no herniated disk and no stress fracture.
    Bell proclaims
    he’ll be back by Opening Day, but considering his limited time to get
    back into
    playing shape, it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll actually be manning the hot
    corner
    against the Nationals on April 4th. In the meantime, the Phillies look
    to have one
    more spot on the roster.

    The name that’s come up as the possible new addition so far is
    Shane
    Victorino
    , a Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers this past winter.
    This being his
    second Rule 5 selection–he was a Rule 5 pick by the Padres in 2002
    before being
    quickly returned to Los Angeles–Victorino should be used as a
    26th man. In his third go’round in Double-A Jacksonville last year,
    Victorino
    appeared to have finally figured things out, hitting .238/.375/.584
    before being
    called up to Triple-A Las Vegas. After a miserable .235/.278/.335
    stint, Victorino
    likely joined the Vegas tourist bureau and coined their current
    marketing phrase.
    Victorino is young, fast and a switch-hitter, a nifty combination for a
    player
    who’s shown virtually no power and just enough plate discipline to not
    get fired.

    Victorino’s presence raises questions about the Phillies’ plans for
    erstwhile
    centerfielder Marlon Byrd. The Phils have seemed
    content to use a
    Kenny Lofton/Jason Michaels platoon
    in center,
    leaving Byrd the odd man out in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Byrd, however,
    is trying to
    convince new manager Charlie Manuel and GM Ed Wade that he’s
    rediscovered his power
    stroke. With Bell’s spot possibly open, the Phillies may be
    considering throwing
    Byrd into the mix in center field.

    Byrd had a terrible 2004–there’s just no other way to put it–but
    he also has
    a long record of strong performances in the minors as well as his
    impressive rookie
    season in 2003. Most of his collapse in 2004 can be blamed on a
    surprising lack of
    singles. Byrd’s walk rate actually improved last year and his isolated
    power
    dropped just slightly. Looking at only the most recent season is the
    kind of
    myopia that befalls a many major-league teams and
    the Phillies
    would be well advised to take more into account when selecting their
    fifth
    outfielder.

    The other main consequence of Bell’s possible injury is that
    Placido
    Polanco
    will take over the regular third-base job in the
    meantime. Though
    the Phillies were hoping to gracefully allow Polanco to exit after last
    season, he
    found no offers in a surprisingly robust market for shortstops.
    Instead, he
    accepted arbitration, leaving the Phillies with one of the more
    expensive backup
    infielders in the game. Having him play regularly at third for a
    couple weeks
    could give the Phillies the kind of exposure they need to trade him at
    some point
    during the season. Polanco’s a solid player and the more plate
    appearances that happen
    to come his way, the higher his counting stats like runs, RBI and
    home runs will
    get. And the higher those go, the easier it will be for the Phillies
    to turn his
    unexpected cost into positive gain.

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