Cincinnati Reds: Aaron Harang was traded to the National League at the July trade deadline two years ago. Prior to that he’d only stepped up to the plate four times with Oakland–all four ended with strikeouts.
From the mound, Harang has grown into the Reds’ best pitcher, by no small margin; currently he’s floating around his 90th percentile PECOTA forecast. All his rate stats (H/9 innings, HR/9, BB/9, SO/9) have crept forward, and thus his ERA (3.96) has improved by over a run from his previous career mark.
The problem is, Harang’s rotten bat cancels out almost a quarter of the value he brings as a pitcher. From the mound, a 28.6 VORP, tops on the team. From the plate, a -6.3 VORP ranks last among all major league pitchers. In fact, with exactly one total base and zero walks in 58 plate appearances, Harang’s slump is historically hacktastic:
Lowest OPS by a pitcher in a season with 50+ AB (120 OPS or lower) since 1972:
YEAR NAME PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ----- -------------------- ---- ---- ------ ------ ------ ------ 2005 Aaron Harang 58 56 .018 .018 .018 .036 2004 Doug Davis 71 64 .016 .031 .016 .046 2003 Mark Redman 66 61 .016 .032 .016 .049 2003 Al Leiter 60 53 .019 .055 .019 .073 1988 Don Carman 71 63 .048 .048 .048 .095 1973 Ross Grimsley 86 79 .051 .051 .051 .101 1990 Oil Can Boyd 71 59 .051 .051 .051 .102 1983 Mike Torrez 74 65 .046 .061 .046 .107 1993 Charlie Hough 70 63 .032 .076 .032 .108 1984 Ed Whitson 68 61 .049 .065 .049 .114 1996 Mark Clark 81 69 .043 .056 .058 .114 1972 Bill Hands 66 57 .018 .097 .018 .114 2004 Brad Penny 52 51 .059 .059 .059 .118 2005 Chris Carpenter 67 56 .036 .083 .036 .119 1996 Bob Tewksbury 76 65 .031 .074 .046 .120
Analogies were recently removed from SAT tests, but let’s brush up on our logic skills anyway. Ready…set…go!
AARON HARANG : LETTING PITCHERS HIT ::
(a) BMX biking : passing a kidney stone
(b) Pat Buchanan : free speech
(c) getting eaten : being a cow
(d) Buicks : road rage
(e) oatmeal bath : chicken pox
While (b) is a tempting option, the correct answer is (c). In both (b) and (c), the former is an unfortunate side effect of the latter; however, Pat Buchanan’s banter is an unavoidable byproduct of the First Amendment, while a cow might be used for milk or domesticated by a vegetarian. Similarly, the National League style of play in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the ugly fallout of Aaron Harang swinging a bat is avoidable. Either trade him back to the American League, or jump in a time machine, dial Billy Beane‘s cell and tell Billy NO–that you’d rather listen to Jose Guillen flap his jaw for two years as your disgruntled fifth outfielder than ever, ever permitting Harang to pick up another piece of lumber.
Quickly moving to the “Baseball Trivia” portion of the SAT’s, which team has wrung the most offensive value from their catchers this year? If you guessed the Reds, you’re cheating because you’re reading about the Reds, but you win a dog biscuit for Schottzie anyway:
Combined VORP For Catchers, Top 10 Teams
Rank Team VORP ----- ------ ------- 1 CIN 44.4 2 BOS 39.1 3 CLE 29.2 4 MIN 29.2 5 CHC 28.7 6 NYN 26.6 7 FLO 24.8 8 SDN 22.9 9 WAS 22.0 10 BAL 21.8
Jason LaRue is approaching his 90th percentile PECOTA mark, thanks to increased plate patience and some luck–35 percent of the balls he puts in play are falling for hits. And recently the similarities between Javier Valentin and Jason Varitek are compelling: both are switch hitters, they’re hitting at about the same clip, and according to sources, Javier Valentin is actually Spanish for Jason Varitek. Valentin’s season is surprising in the Greg Myers–Bob Brenly–Alan Ashby sort of way.
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG VORP FRAR FRAA LaRue 308 260 71 20 0 10 30 76 .273 .374 .465 24.6 15 1 Valentin 166 142 41 9 0 10 22 25 .289 .384 .563 20.5 5 -2
Considering the dual firepower from behind the plate, Harang’s futility with the stick, and the overcrowding that perpetually benches either Wily Mo Pena or Austin Kearns, there may not be a team in the National League that would benefit from the designated hitter more than the Cincinnati Reds.
Milwaukee Brewers: The 2005 Brew Crew will finish out of the cellar in
the NL Central for the first time in four years, and at 58-62 through
Tuesday’s action, Milwaukee is on pace to collect 78 wins, 11 more than
last year and the highest team total since 1997. Let’s check in to see
how some of Doug Melvin’s moves as general manager have locked the
Brewers into a steady ascent towards their first winning season since 1992:
- The Podsednik for Lee Swap: The Brewers are scoring 4.48
runs per game this season, up from 3.94 last year. Much of that
improvement can be attributed to having turned Scott Podsednik,
whose offensive numbers in ’04 (.674 OPS, -0.106 MLVr)
should have had Bernie
Brewer heading for the bat rack, into Carlos Lee,
attitude hasn’t stopped him from hitting .265/.329/.510 in the
middle of the Milwaukee order. From a corner outfielder, that’s certainly
not a world beating line, but consider that Lee is at .309/.377/.590 in
139 AB with runners in scoring position. That fortuitous split has
helped Lee knock in 65 of his teammates (RBI-HR), most in the National
League, and post a 0.179 RBI/runner
rate, best on the Brewers and eighth highest in the senior circuit,
meaning Lee has helped the Milwaukee offense a good deal more than his
0.147 MLVr would indicate. Should the Brewers pick up his $8.5 million
option for 2006? The decision is not clear, although, for the record,
Lee’s prodigious 2005 RBI rate is not an isolated event–he put up 0.201
RBI/runner in 2003, and 0.195 in 1999, his rookie year. For his career,
El Caballo has driven in 0.175 per baserunner, a figure not far
under his 2005 mark.
From the press Podzilla and his 54 steals have gotten this season
(Sports Illustrated was the latest to weigh in),
you’d think he was the centerpiece of a juggernaut attack. That’s far
from the case–even gobs of heists can’t cancel out a -0.115 MLVr, and
with only 7.7 runs of VORP
in 433 plate appearances, Podsednik is a slump (or a groin
pull) away from replacement level at the plate. The only evidence that
his speed helps win games is in the outfield, where Podsednik has
racked up 10 fielding runs above average in left. However, given the
variability of defensive performance–Podsednik was below average in center
last year for Milwaukee, while Lee was 14 runs above average in left in
’04 before dipping to -8 so far this year–the trade was still a superb
one for the Brewers.
- Rescuing Davis: On July 10, 2003, the Blue Jays designated
Doug Davis for assignment after having claimed him off
waivers from the Rangers in April. Up to that point Davis had thrown
404 innings in the majors, mostly with Texas, compiling substandard rates
of 5.32 K/9 and 3.99 BB/9. After opting for free agency, Davis signed
with Milwaukee, beginning what can now be deemed a second career. From
mid-2003 to the present, Davis has struck out 7.39 per nine and walked
3.67 per nine in 422.3 innings, transforming from a quad-A drifter to an
asset in the rotation. Although Davis has regressed from 2004’s career
year, he has bumped his strikeout rate for the second straight season,
and leads Brewers starters (including Ben Sheets) with
Davis, who joined Milwaukee just as his peak years were beginning, was
surely aided by the move from facing the DH at Arlington (2002-04 park
factor of 1067) to the friendlier confines of Miller Park (997), but it
appears above all he simply learned how to pitch. Melvin made the find
even better by signing Davis to a below market value extension through
2006 last summer. Assuming he makes 33 starts in ’05, Davis will earn
$3.2 million next season, after making $2.35 this year. Paying less than a
million per win
over replacement player certainly aids Milwaukee’s drive to reach
the postseason for the first time since 1982.
- The Sexson Haul: The Brewers dealt slugger Richie
Sexson to Arizona before the 2004 season, a year before he
became a free agent, for Junior Spivey (who they flipped
to Washington this year for Tomo Ohka), Chris
Capuano, and Lyle Overbay, among others. Even
if Milwaukee decides not to pay Overbay in arbitration, it can trade him
or let him walk following two solid years which will have nicely
bridged the gap to the Prince Fielder era. Capuano, however,
looks to be the long-term keeper of the bunch. He leads all Milwaukee
pitchers with 30.1 VORP, and has dropped his ERA by over a run from
2004. Although that improvement is exaggerated–his strikeout rate is down
from last season, and he’s been hit lucky, holding batters to 200 points
less of OPS with runners on than with none on–Capuano has shown signs
he is regaining full command of his arsenal after 2002 Tommy John
surgery, cutting his home runs to 1.17 per nine from 1.83 last season. At
worst, Capuano is a steady league average performer who won’t be
arbitration eligible until after the ’06 season, and his minor league
numbers–0.56 HR/9, 8.41 K/9 in 453.7 innings–suggest he could be Sheets’ wing man
for the long term.
Seattle Mariners: Recently, we have been focused on the ascension of Felix Hernandez. So far, it’s good to be the King, but it’s not good to be any other Mariners pitcher. Looking at the VORP for Pitchers report, we see that the Mariners’ best pitcher, Jamie Moyer, ranked a lowly 70th entering Tuesday’s action. Only the Pirates, Royals, and Rockies had worse top ranking pitchers. To make matters worse, the A’s and Angels have 7 and 5 pitchers who rank ahead of Moyer, respectively. This might look a little different had the Mariners been able to utilize Eddie Guardado a bit more often. And therein lies the problem.
While pitching has been a problem for the 2005 M’s, it has not been catastrophic, and having Hernandez up with the big boys should help. The real failing has been the offense, which in terms of AEqR ranks a paltry 24th in the majors. The off-season activity signaled the front office’s faith in their two key acquisitions, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, to lead the offensive charge. How have these acquisitions worked out? Well, as Smooth Jimmy Apollo would say, “when you’re right 52 percent of the time, you’re wrong 48 percent of the time”. Beltre is simply not holding up his end of the bargain, which was foreseen by Emperor Joe Sheehan mere hours after Beltre became
Nintendo of America employee #5.
Beltre made contact a lot more often in 2004, and luckily for him those balls seemed to find the grass or the stands more than they found a glove. His K/PA rate was at its lowest, .132, in 2004. This year it’s back up to .164, and as a result, not only is Beltre’s batting average suffering but he also stands a good shot at topping his career high for strikeouts in one season (105).
Beltre’s speed has disappeared in 2005 as well. He has only two steals, fewer than the man with no knees, Preston Wilson. Now, this by itself isn’t troubling. For example, if Beltre has 37 homers like Andruw Jones instead of his current 15, no one would care that he only had two steals. And while steals do not paint the full picture, looking at Beltre’s Speed Scores we can see the decline is real:
Year(s) Speed Score 1998-2004 5.094 2005 4.204
Looking at the five factors the largest difference is in Beltre’s SpS1 score, which is based on stolen base %. There may be sample size issues there, but that is sort of an indictment in and of itself. Beltre has had 87 opportunities to swipe a bag this year, and has only run twice.
The silver lining lies in Beltre’s defense. Looking at the Mariner DT card team page, we can see that Beltre ranks second on the squad using either FRAR or FRAA. On the strength of this defense, Beltre does have a shot at being a 5 win player this year. But so what?
Calculating Beltre’s Marginal Revenue Product (MRP), we see that his current 3.4 WARP1 total equals $7.28 million in value, and if he does indeed finish as a five win player, the M’s still will not be getting the best bang for their buck. Beltre’s average annual value equals $12.8 million, and it is unlikely he will be worth that much in 2005. To make matters worse, it was generally perceived that the M’s got a bargain because they jumped on the Beltre bandwagon so quickly. When viewed in that light, Beltre’s contract makes him an even bigger albatross, or Moose to be more specific. With inexpensive options elsewhere on the diamond and a little creativity, things could be okay. Unfortunately for Emerald City inhabitants, okay probably will not be good enough; the deflector shields to a Mariners contender have remained quite operational, and a legion of the AL West’s best troops have awaited the Mariners throughout 2005.