New York Yankees: With the Yankees on a losing skid, it is now open season for Yankee fans, New York media and mercurial team owners to start coveting the Next Big Thing. You will recall that the Yankees’ current (if titular) ace, Randy Johnson, was the Last Big Thing. Prior to that, Javier Vazquez was the flavor that the Bronx Boys savored. Vazquez’s failure on the big stage prompted the acquisition of Johnson, in a similar fashion to how the twin failures of Jose Contreras and Jeff Weaver prompted the acquisition of Vazquez and Pinstriped Dog House resident Kevin Brown.

By most reports, the Next Big Thing actually turns out to be an old Big Thing: current Houston Astro and future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens. The theory is that Clemens, fed up with the fact that his 1.67 ERA hasn’t earned him more than four wins, and that his ballclub is 21-34 and dead last in the NL Central, would demand a trade or else activate a super-secret handshake agreement that requires that the Astros trade the Rocket, not just to a contender, but to one which wears pinstripes and plays in the Bronx.

Asking if Clemens would help the Yankees is almost absurd–Clemens would help anyone right now. Looking at BP’s Value Over Replacement Pitcher report, the Rocket leads the pack with a performance that is 35.7 runs better than replacement level. For the sake of comparison, that total–compiled in roughly one-third of a season–is better than any Yankee starting pitcher managed all of last season. The only word of caution we can manage about Clemens is that his batting average on balls in play is terribly low (.216, good for fourth in the majors among pitchers with more than 50 innings); some part of his performance might be credited to the fact that he has been a little lucky.

On the other hand, how trading Clemens to the Yankees could benefit the Astros is a little more complicated. Here are a few reasons we’re unlikely to see Clemens in Yankee Stadium this season:

  1. What do you mean, “out of contention”? As noted above, the Astros aren’t doing so well in the standings, and should be ready to shed some players and salary in a rebuilding effort. Still, it’s worth noting that they aren’t as many games behind in the division as they were at the trading deadline last season, when everyone was wondering why they weren’t dealing away Clemens, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent. They stood pat in 2004 and things didn’t turn out so badly for them; they came within a hair’s breadth of the World Series.

    Not that it’s the same this year. Beltran and Kent are gone, a void that’s not being terribly well-filled by Willy Taveras (1.5 VORP in 201 PA) and Jason Lane (-.6 VORP in 169 PA). Still, last year’s comeback could have the front office believing in miracles. Okay, probably not.

  2. Not exactly bargain prices. A reader going by the handle of “mattymatty” brought to our attention that the price to acquire Clemens would be pretty steep, even by Yankee standards. The back-of-the-napkin estimate is that Clemens is owed roughly $12 million for the rest of the season, and reportedly there is a $3 million penalty tacked on to that if he is traded. If he goes to the Bronx Bombers, they’ll have the honor of paying 40 extra cents in luxury tax for each dollar of salary they add. So that’s roughly $21 million total cost for two-thirds of a season of work, if they made a deal today.

  3. Don’t you think you can do better than this? Last, but not least, we’d have to wonder what the Yankees could offer in trade for the right to shell out these big dollars. The team’s top prospect, Eric Duncan, has been stymied at Double-A Norwich this season, to the tune of a 648 OPS. That’s not the end of the world, but not exactly the kind of swag Tim Purpura would want to show for his team’s marquee attraction.

Even though Clemens may have sworn fealty to Yankee Stadium as his second home in baseball, the Rocket’s been known to be…flexible about such commitments. It is possible that should his name come up on the market, other contending teams with better prospects to offer could convince him to spend a few months in their town. Clemens might be tempted to revisit some old stomping grounds or, as Joe Sheehan suggested the other day, maybe another GM in Texas could finally make an impact mid-season deal.

Where would that leave the Yankees? Looking for the next Big Thing to covet. Anyone know when Dontrelle Willis hits free agency?

Derek Jacques

San Diego Padres: A quick lesson in reading stats to get a picture of a pitcher: Below you’ll find a simplified record of Padres fifth starter Tim Stauffer‘s career. What do the raw numbers tell us?

Tim Stauffer, RHP
Drafted #4 Overall, 2003
Year  Level  ERA    IP    H/9  HR/9  BB/9  SO/9
2002  NCAA   1.54  146.0  6.8  0.3   2.1    8.6
2003  NCAA   1.97  114.0  6.9  0.4   1.5   11.5
2004  A      1.78   35.1  7.1  0.0   2.3    7.6
2004  AA     2.63   51.1  9.8  0.5   2.3    5.8
2004  AAA    3.54   81.1  9.2  1.7   2.9    5.5
2005  AAA    2.33   38.2  7.9  0.2   1.9    7.3
2005  MLB    4.55   29.2  9.4  0.6   3.6    5.2

First, from the draft position and the college lines it’s pretty clear
that we’re looking at his school’s cce. Pretty much everything across
that 2002-3 lines looks beautiful, except perhaps the innings pitched
figures. We can’t tell from his college line whether he played in
post-season or summer league ball, but if that’s added to the 260 college innings in two years (in addition to exhibition games before the season) it looks a little frightening. Remember that even top college programs rarely play more than 60 games in a season, and starts are usually disproportionately distributed to the best pitchers. The lack of a 2003 professional debut gives us an additional clue that workload was a concern.

In Stauffer’s case there was actually an injury issue. During the contract negotiations following the draft, Stauffer and his agent admitted to Padres officials that an MRI had shown weakness in his throwing shoulder. Instead of netting something like the $2,750,000 that his slot that year should have earned, Stauffer ended up with
$750,000, nine months of rest, and reportedly, the esteem and
admiration of his new team for his honesty.

The professional stat lines in 2004 give us more of a picture of what
type of pitcher Stauffer is. The respectable–but by no means electric–strikeout rates, along with impressive walk rates and outstanding home-run rates
figures clearly peg our man as a control artist. He probably has a decent fastball, in fact, his fourth overall draft position almost certainly means his fastball is at least hits 90-91, but it’s unlikely with those strikeout rates that he’s throwing anything much harder than that. We can also expect that he has a strong and varied arsenal of secondary pitches, as a well-located fastball is simply not enough to succeed at the higher levels of the minor leagues.

Moving through three levels in one season is an extraordinarily fast
rise, even for an early draft pick coming out of a top-shelf college
program. It’s shouldn’t be a concern that some of his figures slipped a touch at Triple-A at the end of his first professional year; it’s hard to move through three different teams, with three different sets of opponents and ballparks, and not scuffle a little bit at times. For exactly that reason we argued in BP2005 that Stauffer
needed more time to consolidate his progress at Triple-A. The 2005 Triple-A line shows he did just that: given a rest and a chance to hit the league again Stauffer dropped his ERA more than a full run per nine, all while raising the strikeout rate and lowering the tater and walk rates.

The MLB slip is again probably nothing to be too concerned with. Even
the most impressive college prospects can be expected to see some
erosion upon their professional debuts. Everything in the MLB line indicates that at less than two years from draft day, and with a nine-month hiatus from pitching, you’ve got your hands on an above-average starting pitcher who could potentially become much much more than that.
The injuries to Tim Redding and Woody
gave Stauffer his shot, but someone in the rotation (Redding or Darrell May likely) is probably out of a job when their DL stint is done. The only caveat is that Stauffer’s starts have come against Cincinnati, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Seattle. Those teams rank 11th, 14th, 22nd, 21st and 28th in MLB in Adjusted Equivalent Runs Scored (AEQR), which measures how many runs a team should have scored based on their basic stat line, adjusted for quality of opponent pitching. For a full assessment of Tim Stauffer we’ll need to see how he throws against tougher hitters.

As happy as the Padres are with Stauffer, it’s not the starting pitching that led the Padres to their outstanding 22-6 May. In the past month the Padres led the league in batting average and OPS. The team is getting men on base and
knocking them home with an especially high batting average with runners
in scoring position (.276 for all of 2005, making them #2 in the NL).
All in all, it looks like the Padres’ explosive May was based
disproportionately on batting average and especially on batting average with runners on base, two notoriously variable measures of a team’s
offensive prowess. It’s extremely unlikely that the team is going to win 79% of their games going forward, but quite a few BP writers picked the team to win the division in our pre-season poll and with their current position in the division our Playoff Odds Report now pegs them as more of a lock to make the playoffs than any other team in baseball.

Tom Gorman

Boston Red Sox: Just as Arthur Dent struggled to adjust to the vast reaches of outer space, so too is Kevin Millar struggling to adjust to the 2005 season. Unfortunately for Millar, he does not have an omniscient guide to help him out of jams. Nor is Millar the only man alive, as Dent was; he isn’t even the only first basemen on the Red Sox. There are a plethora of possible replacements for Millar, such as Kevin Youkilis, John Olerud and even Roberto Petagine.

Millar has had a dismal first half. Of the 33 first basemen who have more than 100 plate appearances this season, Millar’s .257 EqA ranks just 26th. At the outset of the season Millar was not doing that badly. Though his power numbers were down, he reached base at a .394 clip during April. However, in May the power was not there, though now he was not reaching base as often, and striking out more.

Last week, Millar had to start making room in the lineup for the recently called up Olerud. However, when asked if Millar would be replaced altogether, manager Terry Francona was defiant, proclaiming that in Millar he trusts. One of the main reasons cited by Francona was the fact that Millar did so well in the second half last season as compared to his first half. Looking at Millar’s tenure in Boston, Francona is correct, but Millar is still seriously underperforming:

                   2005         2004         2003         Career
Split            AB    OPS    AB    OPS    AB    OPS     AB    OPS
Pre All-Star    188    718   282    762   309    872   1461    821
Post All-Star   ---    ---   226    975   235    752   1267    870

This is still a relatively small sample, and things can and will change. Entering the weekend, Millar’s OPS stood at a dismal 645, so in three games he saw his OPS jump 73 points. Despite the surge, Millar is still performing below both his 2004 and career first-half marks, and has had to defend himself to the Fenway Faithful. While Millar can be expected to improve in the second half, the difference between his first and second halves is not as dramatic as with a guy like Paul Lo Duca.

So what is the upside of sticking with him? A comparison of Millar versus Olerud and Youkilis proves insightful. Olerud and Youkilis have not played enough this season to make a useful comparison using 2005 statistics, so instead we will compare them by using their MLVr statistics from 2002-2005. As Petagine did not play in the Majors during that timespan, we will leave him out of the discussion. In this manner, we can forecast what would be more valuable: a platoon of Olerud and Youkilis, or playing Millar every day.

Player      MLVr     PA    GR   Exp. Contribution

Millar      .125   1907   106               13.25

Olerud      .101   1820    53                5.34
Youkilis    .025    298    53                1.34
Total        ---          106                6.69

                                Difference   6.57

GR represents the number of games remaining in 2005, and the expected contribution measures the number of runs each player can be expected to generate in that time frame. While this is quite a large difference, the gap in effectiveness widens if you take 2002 out of the equation:

Player      MLVr     PA    GR   Exp. Contribution

Millar      .082   1418   106                8.68

Olerud      .006   1152    53                0.33
Youkilis    .025    298    53                1.34
Total        ---          106                1.67

                                Difference   7.02

Though Millar’s performance takes a dip, Olerud’s falls through the floor and the gap widens by another half run. Though this comparison is instructive, it comes with some obvious caveats. First, these are not the only two options available, and second, Youkilis may amass a better performance record with more service time. However, the point here is that Millar is still the best internal option for the Red Sox, and Olerud and Youkilis in any combination are not. Despite Olerud’s brief resurgence in New York at the tail end of 2004, and his nice start in Boston (which coincidentally–or not–started in Yankee Stadium) he is not the player he used to be.

As for Petagine, his performance in Pawtucket is encouraging, but he is 34, hasn’t played in the majors since 1998, and if the Sox liked him as a bench player they likely would not have signed Olerud. The Sox are doing the right thing by riding it out with Millar, though if he does not build on this past weekend, the Sox could not be blamed for seeking outside options such as Lyle Overbay, Mike Sweeney or Todd Helton as the trade deadline approaches.

Paul Swydan

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