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March 31, 2006

Transactions

Texas placed pitchers FRANK FRANCISCO, JOSH RUPE, and C.J. WILSON, and infielder MARSHALL MCDOUGALL on the 15-day Disabled List.

Adam Eaton and Gary Matthews will join them soon. Francisco is still recovering from last year’s Tommy John surgery.

Posted by Lucas at 11:19 PM

March 30, 2006

Trade

Texas traded pitcher JUAN DOMINGUEZ to Oakland for infielder FREDDIE BYNUM and pitcher JOHN RHEINECKER.

Texas trade infielder FREDDIE BYNUM to Chicago (NL) for pitcher JOHN KORONKA.

Depressing, even if Dominguez flops as an Athletic. He represents yet another homegrown arm that won’t blossom for Texas. I was skeptical that he would ever develop into more than a league-average pitcher, but guys like that currently have much greater marginal value for Texas than, say, Oakland. One more vanilla league-average starter could have delivered a division title to Texas in 2004. The possibility of Dominguez growing into his talent in Oakland is a waking nightmare. Somehow, in the space of three months, “the team with no pitching? traded Juan Dominguez and Chris Young, both of whom are under 27 and have better-than-league-average ERAs.

Texas immediately flipped Bynum for Koronka, who has eight years experience and 920 professional innings of which 905 have accrued in the minors. He also has a career minor-league RA of 5.17 and an ERA of 4.39. Texas drafted him as a Rule 5 pick from Cincinnati back in 2003 but surrendered him before the start of the season. Koronka spent most of the last two years in AAA; let’s compare him to Mystery Pitcher X:

AAA, 2004-2005
IP
RA
ERA
HR%
BB%
SO%
John Koronka
289
4.70
4.29
2.5%
9%
17%
Mystery Pitcher X
177
4.37
4.06
2.8%
6%
19%

Mystery Pitcher X allowed a few more homers but otherwise pitched marginally better than Koronka. Given these numbers and a rather unpalatable decision to make, you’d probably select Mr. X.

X is John Wasdin.

Koronka excelled in the Arizona Fall League as a reliever and, unlike Wasdin, impressed this spring, but Texas intends to return him to the rotation. Wasdin might do better. As mentioned by Newbergreport.com’s Mike Hindman, so might A.J. Murray. Dig around the Ranger farm system and find your own example.

Oakland selected Rheinecker as a supplemental first rounder in 2001. He doesn’t strike out many batters either but does have a minor-league ERA of 3.79 while pitching in several hitter-friendly leagues (California, Texas, Pacific Coast) and is more reluctant to allow walks and homers than Koronka. Still, he’s a pretty marginal prospect.

Posted by Lucas at 11:16 PM

March 29, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Brad Wilkerson's MRI came back negative, but like last year he may have to play through pain much of the season. Erase the "something special" potential I'd projected last week. Fellow outfielder Gary Matthews will start the season on the DL, and Laynce Nix will be the fourth outfielder. Neither has any value except in very large AL-only leagues. Texas released Erubiel Durazo and optioned Jason Botts, leaving Phil Nevin alone as the DH. I discuss him below.

Adam Eaton will start the season on the DL with a strained finger tendon. He had little value anyway. His absence makes R.A. Dickey the fourth starter, followed by... Juan Dominguez? A trade acquisition? Gaylord Perry? Just avoid Dickey and the fill-in fifth starter, whoever it is..

Last of the Predictions

Phil Nevin
.261/.324/.445, 52 runs, 16 homers, 67 RBI, 2 steals

Nevin could be the Comeback Player of the Year or the 2006 version of "Dead Bat Dick" Hidalgo. The above statistics are an ugly average of the two. He hit 26 homers with 105 RBI just two years ago, but he also collapsed prior to last year's midseason trade (.256/.301/.399). Nevin should start the season batting cleanup for Texas, about as choice a location as exists in fantasy baseball, so he has the opportunity to be the steal of the draft. Larger mixed-league owners could pick him in the last round, and he merits a late-middle round pick in most AL-only leagues. I don't expect greatest, but he’s worth a flyer.

Kevin Millwood
12 wins, 4.55 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 145 Ks, 195 innings

Like Kenny Rogers, Millwood has the mental toughness to succeed in the hot, windy climate of midsummer Arlington. Unfortunately, that by itself won't make him a top-tier fantasy pitcher, and my view of Millwood is on the pessimistic side. Last year's AL ERA champ is moving from a pitcher-friendly park to a decidedly pitcher-angry one. He also held opponents to a .195 average with runners in scoring position, a feat unlikely to reoccur. He won't have much value in ten-team mixed leagues.

Adam Eaton
10 wins, 4.90 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 130 Ks, 170 innings

Eaton left Wednesday's Spring Training game in the second inning with a strained tendon in his finger. A torn tendon sheath in the same finger limited him to only 128 innings last year. Healthy or no, Eaton has a career ERA of 4.34 in the best pitching environment in the National League. You don't need a computer or even an abacus to understand how his flyball tendencies should translate to the AL and Arlington. Assuming his injury is short-lived, his wins and strikeouts can help AL-only owners, and he is pitching for his next contract. Still, given his uncertain present situation, I'd just avoid him.

Vicente Padilla
9 wins, 5.05 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 100 Ks, 170 innings

Padilla pitched quite well for Philadelphia in 2002-2003, but injuries wrecked his most recent two years. Like Eaton (well, like just about anyone), Padilla's statistics don't translate well to Arlington. He's worth following in AL-only leagues case he shows evidence of recapturing his '02-'03 form.

Kameron Loe
10 wins, 4.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 95 Ks, 170 innings

In 2005, Loe was a more effective version of Ryan Drese, striking out few batters but inducing a million ground balls. He has a career minor-league strikeout rate of eight per nine innings, so perhaps he can improve on the 4.4 per nine he offered last year. Again, worth a late-round shot in AL-only leagues. Loe has never surpassed 163 innings in a season.

Fifth Starter

No. Just no.

Francisco Cordero
5 wins, 40 saves, 3.30 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 75 Ks, 66 innings.

Part of a large second tier of closers. Not an elite like Rivera or Lidge but a safer pick than Wickman or Jenks. Cordero is a low risk in terms of ability and potential for losing his job.

Posted by Lucas at 06:14 PM

March 27, 2006

Transaction

Texas has waived pitcher JOHN WASDIN.

Let’s review the $600,000 contract to which Texas signed Wasdin last November:

This contract recalls the $1 million bestowed upon Doug Brocail last year and the two years given to Herbert Perry after 2001; it’s really more a reward for a previous season’s unexpected adequacy.

This time, Texas didn’t even grant Wasdin the chance to disappoint. Wasdin pitched atrociously enough this spring (26 baserunners in 10.2 innings) to obliterate the misty water-colored memory of 2005’s satisfactory performance. Frankly, it was hard to envision him having a season-long, vital role for a ballclub that purports to contend for a division title.. On the other hand, he’s not the worst guy in the world to recall for a few innings in an emergency. Texas may resign him to a minor-league deal (he won’t be claimed).

Interestingly, Texas already had one open spot on the 40-nan roster.

Posted by Lucas at 11:40 PM

Transaction

Texas released designated hitter ERUBIEL DURAZO.

Durazo entered camp with a chance to claim a partial share of the DH role, but he didn’t hit and didn’t play much because of his presence on the WBC’s Mexican squad. By implication, Texas has granted Phil Nevin full-time DH status and in fact plan to bat him cleanup. Nevin himself hasn’t hit well this spring after an early homer barrage. If he can’t recapture his old glory, Mark Teixeira might surpass last year’s five intentional walks by the end of April.

Posted by Lucas at 11:39 PM

March 26, 2006

Weekday Photo


This explains my recent absence.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, March 25, 2006.

Posted by Lucas at 11:35 PM

March 20, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

Projections for Blalock, Kinsler, Wilkerson, Mench, Dellucci

HANK BLALOCK
277/.340/.485, 90 runs, 29 homers, 95 RBI, 3 steals

In 2005, Blalock endured a second-half slump, didn’t hit lefties and didn’t hit on the road. That’s nothing new. What is new is that he didn’t had the ferocious first-half that made his overall stats so valuable in previous years. He’s still just 25, and I expect a partial return to form in 2006. He should be a solid third baseman, if not an elite one. Texas might rest him occasionally, particularly against lefties, but he is impervious to injury and will amass at least 150 games. If you draft Blalock, put out trade feelers if he starts the season hot.

IAN KINSLER
.254/.305/.405, 65 runs, 13 homers, 60 RBI, 10 steals

Alfonso Soriano’s replacement has batted well enough in Spring Training to secure the second base job. He batted .274/.348/.464 in AAA last season. Kinsler might have a fantasy-worthy season, but he doesn’t merit selection in any of ESPN’s mixed leagues. Rookies almost never make capable fantasy players, and a slow start could cost him at-bats to Mark DeRosa or even a demotion to AAA. That’s not a risk worth taking. Even with the depressingly thin field of 2Bs in AL-only leagues, he justifies only a late-round pick.

BRAD WILKERSON
.254/.360/.465, 105 runs, 23 homers, 70 RBI, 10 steals

Though I base my projections on a self-designed spreadsheet that serves me well, I wonder if Wilkerson could really do something special this season. He won’t hit for average, even in Arlington, but the short right-field porch could prop his homer total well above the 23 I’ve projected. He probably will bat first, and the leadoff position for Texas is some prime real estate. He achieved 660 plate appearances last season despite a litany of minor injuries. Wilkerson doesn’t rank among the top 200 players drafted in ESPN’s mixed leagues, but he should, and his owners should be pleased with him by season’s end.

KEVIN MENCH
.285/.345/.505, 75 runs, 27 homers, 75 RBI, 3 steals

Mench has yet to provide the breakout season that would make him a fantasy star. He tantalizes with his power, but he always seems to be fighting through an injury or losing at-bats to guys like Gary Matthews. Last year, he batted a dire .185 with runners in scoring position. That’s actually good news for you, his potential owner, because your rivals will probably downgrade him on the basis of a fluky performance that is highly unlikely to reoccur. As with Wilkerson, I see more upside than downside in the stats projected above. Mench should be a solid if unspectacular mixed-league outfielder..

DAVID DELLUCCI
.246/.355/.465, 85 runs, 23 homers, 65 RBI, 5 steals

Last year, Dellucci rode a near-Bondsian walk rate and unexpected power to a career season at age 31. Much of his offensive value comes in walks, so he contributes less to a 5x5 fantasy team than in real life. Also, he tends to wear down and never starts against lefties, so he’s not worth drafting in all but the largest of mixed leagues. In AL-only leagues, Dellucci can be an especially valuable addition to an active owner who pays attention to Texas’s opposing pitchers.

Posted by Lucas at 11:54 PM

March 18, 2006

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #6-#10

Third in a series on Rangers who provided unexpected help with their bats for a season. Hitters 16-20 are here, 11-15 here.

10. Willie Montanez, first baseman, 1979

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 154 .319 .357 .528
645
139
802
137
Career (13 yrs) 6407 .275 .327 .402
19
8
24
101

Willie Montanez, baseball nomad. Montanez was part of the Curt Flood trade of 1970 and the four-team, eleven-player whirlwind in 1977. On six other occasions he switched teams during the season. Montanez belted thirty homers as a rookie in 1971 but never hit more than twenty afterward. Like Bill Stein (see #6 below), he plied his trade for numerous basement dwellers including the ’71-’73 Phillies, the ’76-’77 Braves, and the ’78 Mets.

On August 12, 1979, Texas acquired Montanez for minor-league pitcher Ed Lynch and backup 1B Mike Jorgenson. The Mets were 48-66, and perhaps all those years of losing had worn him down; he was batting a tired .234/.277/.317 as the everyday first baseman. After the trade, Montanez found himself at the fringe of a division race and playing meaningful baseball in mid-August. The Rangers had a record of 60-56, 5.5 games out of first.

Well… the Rangers immediately lost thirteen of fifteen to fall to 62-69. Montanez, however, batted .319/.357/.528, splitting time between first and DH, and played a large role in the Rangers winning 21 of their last 31 to finish above .500. Montanez didn’t get another chance with Texas, which sent him to the lowly Padres for Gaylord Perry.

9. Alan Bannister, second baseman, 1984

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 135 .295 .407 .384
20
2
9
119
Career (13 yrs) 3373 .270 .334 .355
430
19
288
90

Philadelphia chose Bannister with the #1 overall pick of the 1973 draft. As a shortstop with Arizona State, Bannister drove in an NCAA-record ninety runs in 1972. Philly had Dave Cash at second and Larry Bowa at short, so he spent most of his limited time there as an outfielder. The White Sox gave him the shortstop job in 1977 and he committed forty errors with a Fielding Rate of 80, meaning he surrendered twenty more runs per 100 games than an average shortstop. (By comparison, Alfonso Soriano had a rate of 84 in 2005.) Since his contact and on-base skills were only average and he didn’t hit for enough power in the Majors to play first or an outfield corner, he spent most of his career as a utility player, albeit an active one.

Texas acquired Bannister in May of 1984 for Mike Richardt. Unlike many of the players on this list who temporarily succeeded by swinging at everything, Bannister prospered by keeping the bat on his shoulder. He drew a walk every 6.4 plate appearance en route to a .407 OBP and stung lefties at a rate of .333/.432/.475. For the only time in his twelve-year career, he finished with an OPS+ above 100. Alas, he also played some of the worst second base ever, but this article is about hitting. Bannister spent one more season in Texas before retiring.

8. Bill Sudakis, utility guy, 1973

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 263 .255 .320 .494
32
15
43
131
Career (13 yrs) 1751 .234 .311 .393
177
59
214
101

Sudakis entered the Majors as a Dodger started at third regularly in 1969. LA converted him to catcher in 1970, and he split time behind the plate and at third while batting a dandy .264/.352/.461. In 1971 he caught almost exclusively, but a broken finger wrecked his season, and the Mets claimed him off waivers near the end of Spring Training in 1972. The Mets gave him only 56 plate appearances. Just 26 years old, his career rapidly approached nothingness.

The Rangers procured Sudakis in late March of 1973 for Bill McNulty. The Mets would squirrel their way into the World Series that year and the Rangers were terrible, but at least in Texas Sudakis had a role. He bounded among first, third, catcher, DH, and the outfield and smacked a career-best fifteen homers in limited action. Sudakis had a Rob Deer-like skill set; at the All Star break he had a line of .179/.248/.389. During the second half he batted a heroic .307/.370/.564 when the team routinely drew fewer than 3,000 fans. Texas sold his contract to the Yankees after the season.

7. Bob Brower, outfielder, 1987

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 349 .261 .338 .452
63
14
46
108
Career (13 yrs) 667 .242 .322 .376
104
17
60
90

I honestly don’t remember much about Bob Brower, but I don’t recall him being much of a prospect. He signed with Texas as an undrafted 22-year-old from Duke University. He never batted above .287 or slugged over .439 past A-ball. Except for a tablespoon of coffee at the end of the ’86 season, he spent the entirety of his Year 25 and Year 26 seasons in AAA. He did show enough potential that Texas granted him fourth-outfielder status for the ’87 season as a replacement for the older and more expensive Gary Ward.

Brower took advantage. He started 81 games and hit well overall including a line of .302/.392/.444 with runners in scoring position. He appeared to have established himself as a worthy fourth outfielder who could play regularly in center if needed.

It didn’t last. Brower started 1988 on the disabled list and lost everything but his plate discipline. He batted .224/.316/.274 in 115 fewer plate appearances, and Texas traded him to the Yankees for shortstop Bob Meacham, who never took the field for Texas. Brower didn’t hit any better in pinstripes, and New York optioned him to Columbus at the end of May. At age 29, Brower was done as a Major Leaguer.

6. Bill Stein, utility guy, 1981

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (10th) 126 .330 .360 .435
21
2
22
134
Career (14 yrs) 3067 .267 .313 .370
268
44
311
91

Bill Stein had a pretty grey career, though I doubt he’s complaining. He played for only one winning team in fourteen years, and from 1976-1985 his team finished last or next-to-last every season but one. He spent 1976 with a terrible White Sox squad and subbed at third base on that infamous August 8th afternoon when the team donned short pants. He then slogged through four years with the expansion Mariners. Finally, he spent five years with the Rangers including their worst four-year stretch in franchise history (’82-’85). His teams had a winning percentage of .432, equivalent to a record of 70-92 every year. Bleak.

Stein had a career line of .262/.311/.370 when he joined Texas in 1981. He didn’t draw many walks or hit for much power. Hitting singles was his primary talent. Defensively, he could play first, second and third (and elsewhere in an emergency), but Texas already had Pat Putnam, Bump Wills and Buddy Bell established at those positions. Stein wouldn’t play very often for Texas.

Logically, he responded by setting the American League record for consecutive pinch hits:

Apr 14: Singled for Mario Mendoza in the 7th.
May 9 (1): Doubled for Mendoza in the 9th, later scored.
May 9 (2): Singled for Mark Wagner in the 9th, later scored.
May 17: Singled for Mendoza in the 9th.
May 20: Singled for Wagner in the 9th.
May 23: Singled for Pat Putnam in the 9th, drove in Leon Roberts, later scored tying run.
May 25: Singled for Roberts in the 9th, drove in Buddy Bell for winning run.

Stein had a line of .540/.550/.641 after his record-setting performance: 21-for-39 with four doubles and a walk. He didn’t hit well after setting the record (.220/.270/.329) and couldn’t parlay his success into regular playing time. Still, the Rangers finished 57-48 for the only winning season in Stein’s career, and despite the strike, I’d bet he enjoyed himself.

Posted by Lucas at 06:33 PM

March 17, 2006

The Onion Is Funny

Todd Helton Disappointed To Be On Area Man's Fantasy-Baseball Team

DENVER—Shortly after being selected in the second round of a local online fantasy-baseball draft, Rockies All-Star first-baseman Todd Helton announced Monday that he would much rather play for "any of the other 11 teams in the league." "I've played for this guy in the past, and he has no idea how to manage his team, and often loses interest and stops competing after just a couple months," Helton said, referring to Mets 4 Life owner and Trenton-area pizza-delivery man Ryan Sheehy. "Last season, I got off to a bit of a slow start, and the guy benches me the rest of the year in favor of Doug Mientkiewicz. I lose enough as a member of the Rockies. I just wish I could play for a capable manager like [The Damon Connection's] Mike Broberg or [Smilin' Joe Randa's] Garrett Baldwin." Helton added that, if it were worth the effort to find a way to contact Sheehy, he would demand a trade.

Posted by Lucas at 12:33 AM

March 13, 2006

Transaction

Texas sent pitcher CLINT BRANNON to Chicago (NL) as the player-to-be-named in the trade for pitcher JON LEICESTER.

The Rangers drafted Brannon in the 34th round of the 2004 draft. He shredded the short-season Northwest League, then gave an okay performance in a level hop to the high-A hitter-friendly California League. Leicester for Brannon seems reasonable.

Posted by Lucas at 06:30 PM

March 10, 2006

2006 Colorado Rockies Preview

Originally appeared at The Batters Box:

Colorado may not be the worst team in the National League, but they may be the dullest. Florida’s incendiary brand of roster management at least has a macabre entertainment value. In contrast, the Rockies lethargically trudge toward utter pointlessness.

This team is bad. So, instead of prattling on about whether Cory Sullivan can “take it to the next level,” I’d like to discuss what Colorado can do, if anything, to win in the future. I also have a picture of two adorable cats.

You may remember them from last year:

How Bad Are The Rockies?

For much of the season, Colorado played much worse than their grim total of 67 wins would suggest. The Rockies lost 21 of their first 27 games. Only nine teams in MLB history have started worse. They batted .232/.299/.359 on the road and lost forty of their first fifty games away from Coors. On August 19th they had a record of 45-77, on pace to lose 103. Some respectable late-season play salvaged a tie with the inaugural squad of 1993 for the worst record in franchise history.

Colorado performed one task well: they held opponents to a reasonable 5.5 runs per game at Coors Field (an average team would allow about 5.9). Unfortunately, they only scored 5.6 runs per game at home. Outside of Denver, they managed 27 wins, awful and yet par for the course. The Rockies haven’t exceeded thirty road wins since 2000.

An Offensive Lineup

Player 		Pos 	Age 	Bat 	OBP 	OBP+ 	SLG 	SLG+
C Barmes 	SS 	27 	R 	.330 	93 	.434 	98
C Sullivan 	CF 	26 	L 	.343 	97 	.386 	87
T Helton 	1B 	32 	L 	.445 	126 	.534 	120 
M Holliday 	LF 	26 	R 	.361 	102 	.505 	114
G Atkins 	3B 	26 	R 	.347 	98 	.426 	96
B Hawpe 	RF 	27 	L 	.350 	99 	.403 	91
L Gonzalez 	2B 	27 	R 	.333 	94 	.421 	95
Y Torrealba 	C 	27 	R 	.297 	89 	.338 	80

Excluding strike-ruined 1994, the Rockies scored a franchise-worst 740 runs per game last season. An average-hitting team Denver would have scored about 835. Only two of the Colorado’s eight projected starters reached base or slugged better than a league-average level last year. All but Helton are either 26 or 27 years old, and a lingering back injury marred Helton’s 2005, so they do have room for improvement. Still, they project to have a below-average offense. At least half of the players listed above won’t be regulars within two years.

Given their current pitching, how many runs does Colorado need to score to compete for the postseason? Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggested as many as 1,250 in a chat session in February of 2005. He later amended his answer to 1,150, then said that “if the Rockies aren’t scoring a thousand runs, they can’t win.” He recommended a scorched-earth policy of roster construction consisting of a “ridiculous offense” and “treat[ing] their pitchers as fungible.”

Let’s try to answer the question with more precision. Colorado has allowed about 5% more runs than an average team (league and park-adjusted) during the past first years. Using last year’s league and park factor, that’s about 875 runs. Also assume the Rockies need ninety wins to have a respectable chance at the postseason. Plugging the numbers into the theorem developed by noted baseball fanatic Pythagoras reveals that the Rockies need to score about 980 runs to win ninety games, given 875 runs allowed. 980 runs is below what Sheehan recommended, but league-wide offense declined in 2005 and Coors Field no longer inflates offense as much as in years past. Ninety wins don’t guarantee October baseball, of course, but they do give fans a reason to show up. Attendance has declined 50% over the last seven years.

980 runs. Colorado plated 968 in 2000 and 961 in 1996, when the league and park favored offense much more heavily. Scoring 980 now is a much tougher task, but it’s not an outrageous or even unreasonable number.

What kind of batting line does Colorado need to score 980 runs? In predicting such things, I’ve developed a formula based on regressing a variety of offensive factors such as average, OBP, slugging, and even steals and caught-stealing, which play a small but statistically significant role. I don’t want to put you to sleep with too many numbers, so suffice it to say that the formula works well (email me if you’re interested). Colorado scored 740 runs last year, and my formula predicted 750.

If Colorado hits .280/.360/.490 and doesn’t act stupidly on the basepaths, they could score 984 runs, a smidgen more than they need to wins ninety games with their existing pitching. A .360 OBP would place them among the top 2% in NL history, and a .490 slugging percentage would surpass their own NL record of .483. Still, if any team has the potential to achieve this level of output, it’s Colorado.

Understand that I refer to Colorado’s offensive potential in the abstract sense. Certainly, the present collective won’t attain 980 runs. Colorado scored a meager 740 runs last season and is essentially relying on internal improvement to tally another 240. Good luck with that.

Incidentally, for 1,250 runs Colorado needs a line of about .310/.390/.550. That’s a team OPS+ of 134.

Pitchers and Perseverance

Rotation 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
J Francis 	L 	25 	5.68 	86 	3.1% 	8% 	14%
A Cook 		R 	27 	3.67 	133 	2.2% 	4% 	7%
J Jennings 	R 	27 	5.02 	97 	2.0% 	11% 	14%
B Kim 		R 	27 	4.86 	100 	2.5% 	11% 	17%
J Fogg 		R 	29 	5.05 	83 	3.6% 	6% 	11% 
Z Day 		R 	28 	6.85 	61 	2.6% 	14% 	10%
S Kim 		R 	28 	4.90 	93 	2.8% 	6% 	15%
Bullpen 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
B Fuentes 	L 	30 	2.91 	167 	1.9% 	11% 	28%
M DeJean 	R 	35 	3.19 	152 	0.0% 	8% 	23%
R King 		L 	32 	3.38 	132 	2.3% 	9% 	13%
D Cortes 	R 	32 	4.10 	119 	4.2% 	5% 	17%
S Dohmann 	R 	28 	6.10 	80 	4.2% 	13% 	24%
J Acevedo 	R 	28 	6.47 	75 	4.5% 	5% 	11%
K Yabu 		R 	37 	4.50 	99 	2.3% 	10% 	17%
J Mesa 		R 	40 	4.76 	88 	2.7% 	10% 	14%

Predicting the performance of Colorado pitchers assures failure. Rockie hurlers show a total lack of correlation in year-to-year performance, partly because the park invites high variance and partly because most of them haven’t been very good. A review of the ten Colorado pitchers who qualified for the ERA title with the best ERA+ and their follow-up performances:

Joe Kennedy, 2004: 162 IP, 3.66 ERA , 138 ERA+
Next Year: 7.04 ERA in 92 innings (67 ERA+), traded in July to Oakland for Eric Byrnes, Omar Quintanilla and cash.

Kevin Ritz, 1995: 173 IP, 4.21 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next year: 213 innings in 35 starts, ERA up to 5.28, 103 ERA+

Brian Bohanon, 2000: 177 IP, 4.68 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next Year: 97 innings, 7.14 ERA (73 ERA+), did not pitch in the Majors afterwards

Armando Reynoso, 1993: 189 IP, 4.00 ERA, 123 ERA+
Next year: only nine starts and 52 innings pitched, 4.82 ERA, 103 ERA+

Roger Bailey, 1997: 191 innings, 4.29 ERA, 121 ERA+
Next Year: Suffered multiple injuries in an auto wreck and never again pitched in the Majors.

Pedro Astacio, 1999: 232 IP, 5.04 ERA, 114 ERA+
Next Year: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+ (see below)

Pedro Astacio, 2000: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+
Next Year: 141 IP with Colorado, 5.49 ERA, 95 ERA+, traded to Houston in July for Scott Elarton.

John Thomson, 1997: 166 IP, 4.71 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: essentially identical line of 161 innings, 4.81 ERA, 106 ERA+

Armando Reynoso, 1996: 169 IP, 4.96 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: pitched poorly for the Mets, only sixteen starts

Jason Jennings, 2002: 185 IP, 4.52 ERA, 108 ERA+
Next Year: similar number of innings, 5.11 ERA, 93 ERA+

Next Year In Sum:
Qualified for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Qualified for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 3
Did not pitch: 1

This analysis is hardly scientific but does reveal the folly of predicting a repeat of a good performance from any Rockie pitcher. Six of the ten didn’t reach 162 innings the following year (though Thomson missed by the slightest of margins), and only four managed better than a 100 ERA+ regardless of innings pitched.

The thin air destroys everyone eventually, in body or spirit. No Colorado pitcher has five consecutive years of 100-plus innings. Jason Jennings will attempt to become the first this season. The Hall Of Fame will waive the five-year rule if he succeeds. Perhaps the Rockies should immediately trade any pitcher who has a good season.

Colorado does have some talent in its rotation. Young Jeff Francis survived his first full season without completely flaming out. Strangely, Coors Field did not stipulate his 5.68 ERA. At home, Francis had a reasonable 4.88 ERA with acceptable peripherals. Conversely, he allowed seventeen of his 26 homers on the road and his ERA ballooned to 6.40. Aaron Cook pitched well after missing nearly a year because of blood clots in his lungs that required removal of a rib. Cook doesn’t strike out anybody and walks too many, but he keeps doubles and homers to a minimum with a terrific grounder-inducing two-seamer. Byung-Hyun Kim revived his career in Colorado, posting a 4.37 ERA with acceptable peripherals as a starter. Jason Jennings may never recapture his Rookie-Of-The-Year performance of 2002, but he can eat innings with nearly a league-average ERA.

Likewise, the Rockie bullpen has an adequate front four in Brian Fuentes, Mike DeJean, David Cortes and Ray King. A suspect back end (Jose Mesa, Jose Acevedo, Keiichi Yabu, the batboy, your brother-in-law David) will cause problems. Interestingly, I would have expected Colorado to need many more pitchers than their competitors, but history indicates otherwise. From 2000-2005, the other fifteen NL teams had an average of 18.6 pitchers throw at least ten innings in any given season. Colorado used an average of twenty. That is higher, of course, but inferior pitching and late-season call-ups for meaningless games could be partial reasons in addition to the thin air.

Charles In Charge

Last February, Club CEO Charlie Monfort signed general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle through 2007. As repoted by MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, he credited them with “pulling the franchise out of a hole… more serious than being below .500.” The hole appeared when Colorado signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to $172.5 million in contracts but continued to lose on the field and in the stands. Per Monfort, “we lost well over $50 million on contracts that weren’t successful. When you’re losing money and your team is no good, that to me is a crisis… That’s been our loyalty to Dan because he did get us out of those contracts. Dan, I think, did a fantastic job there.”

To answer your question: the GM who signed Hampton and Neagle was Dan O’Dowd.

Monfort proclaimed that the Rockies could win the NL West. He also said the Rockies could win the Powerball lottery and a pony. If you’re going to wish, wish big.

Outlook

Despite all my snark, I believe the Rockies can contend for the NL West as early as 2007. If Ryan Shealy and Jeff Baker progress as hoped and the team signs a couple of big bats to replace the dross in the lineup, Colorado could make some noise. Management acumen will play a large role in this resuscitation, and, well, there you may have a problem.

As for this season? 67 wins again. No pony.

Posted by Lucas at 12:51 AM

March 09, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

The Easy Projections

1B MARK TEIXEIRA
.295/.375/.575, 110 runs, 45 homers, 135 RBI, 4 steals

Teixeira has rocketed from decent fantasy first baseman to top-ten pick in two short years. ESPN ranks him fourth overall and I don’t disagree. He’s 26 and batting third for a good offense in a very offense-friendly park. He might not miss a game if the Rangers are competitive. Teixeira doesn’t homer often versus lefties and struggles on the road, but these are minor quibbles. Don’t worry about a slow start; he has a career .240 average and .449 slugging percentage in April. His slugging never dips below .517 in any other month.

SS MICHAEL YOUNG
.305/.355/.485, 115 runs, 23 homers, 95 RBI, 8 steals

Not long ago, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra reigned supreme over the world of both real-life and fantasy shortstops. Today, only Jeter even plays short anymore and he ranks behind Miguel Tejada and Texas’s Michael Young. For five years he’s surpassed (my) expectations and now he hangs on the fringe of fantasy’s top twenty players. He can’t exceed last year’s line of .331-114-24-91-5, can he? This time, I think not. Nevertheless, a lower but 300+ average combined with similar stats in all other categories should keep owners happy. The gap between Young and Tejeda is not large, and Young might finish with a better overall line. Like Teixeira, Young plays darn near every game.

More projections coming soon.

The Paradox Of Spring Training
Fifty at-bats against scattershot pitching or ten innings against organizational fodder is a terrible way to earn or lose a job, but that’s how Spring Training works. Within this framework, the fantasy owner must discern between worthwhile and pointless information. Worthwhile are reports on player health and job status. Unless you’re a hyper-dedicated owner sophisticated enough to formulate Plan B and Plan C, you should avoid players with troublesome histories and downgrade those who develop potentially nagging injuries in Spring Traning (think wrists, obliques, hamstrings, groins). Competing owners will pick these players before you and pay the price.

Conversely, spring statistics don’t matter. Of course they matter to players and management. If Ian Kinsler doesn’t hit (he is), he could end up repeating in Oklahoma (he won’t). However, prospective owners shouldn’t draft him over Marcus Giles if he bats .550 with eight homers in Arizona. Better to dig up his age and last year’s AAA stats to learn his capabilities over a full season. In this case I’ll just tell you: as a 23-year-old he batted .274/.348/.464 with 23 homers and 19 steals.

Posted by Lucas at 02:20 AM

March 08, 2006

Learned at the World Baseball Classic

Stubby Clapp's wife is named Chastity.

Chastity Clapp.

Also, Gary Majewski's hair is a crime against humanity.

Posted by Lucas at 05:54 PM

March 03, 2006

Weekend Photo



Jack sleeps where Jack wants.

Posted by Lucas at 04:02 PM

March 02, 2006

2006 Houston Astros Preview

Houston Astros? Yes. I occasionally write for a Toronto-fixated website known as the Batters Box. We provide previews of every team, and Houston, Texas and Colorado are mine. What follows was originally published here.

Houston couldn’t best the White Sox in the World Series but had an equally amazing run. Can they do it again minus (for now) Roger Clemens?

2005

On May 24th the Astros sported a record of 15-30, dead last in the NL Central, while future AL champ Chicago was cruising along at 32-14. Yours truly was shaking his head for predicting they would squeak out 83 wins. Minus the injured Lance Berkman and the departed Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran, they had scored a paltry 2.6 runs per game on the road and 3.6 overall. I watched them on television occasionally. They looked hopeless.

Houston proceeded to win 42 of the next 59, vaulting into the lead for the Wild Card which they eventually captured with 89 wins. They played one of the most memorable games in baseball history, an 18-inning, 7-6 victory over Atlanta to clinch the NLDS. A win in a rematch against St. Louis placed Houston in the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence. They couldn’t manage a single victory against Chicago, but the shutout didn’t leave much bitterness. 2005 was a pinnacle for a well run organization with only one losing season since 1991.

How did Houston win? Pitching and defense. The Astros permitted a league-low 609 runs and also led in defensive efficiency. Offensively, only four teams had more difficulty scoring runs than Houston (after adjusting for park).

Offseason

As with 2004, Houston participated sparingly in the winter market. GM Tim Purpura signed outfielder Preston Wilson to an interesting contract and former Devil Ray Trever Miller. They represent a step up from last year’s one signing of 64-year-old John Franco. Houston aims to follow last year’s strategy of relying on who they already have. Their farm system wants for upper-level talent, and AAA Round Rock teemed with long-in-the-tooth quasi-prospects in 2005.

Will Roger Clemens return from semi-retirement again? His absence places a burden on unproven Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio. Sad to say, the primary issue with Jeff Bagwell is whether an insurance policy will pay his contract. If he does play, he isn’t expected to contribute much.

Astacio should replace Clemens, assuming the Rocket does retire, and Wilson will take over for Chris Burke in the outfield. Elsewhere, Houston will field 2005’s lineup.

Position Players

Player 		Pos     Age     Bat     OBP 	OBP+ 	 SLG 	SLG+
W Taveras CF 24 R .325 98 .341 82
C Biggio 2B 40 R .325 98 .468 112
M Ensberg 3B 30 R .388 117 .537 129
L Berkman 1B 30 S .411 123 .524 126
P Wilson LF 31 R .325 96 .467 112
J Lane RF 29 R .316 95 .499 120
A Everett SS 29 R .290 87 .364 87
B Ausmus C 37 R .351 105 .331 79

Center Fielder Willie Taveras presented a mixed body of work in his rookie season. He batted .291 and stole 34 bases, but that’s about all; he reached base at a substandard .322 pace (98 OBP+) for a leadoff hitter and eked out just twenty extra-base hits in a full season of work. Conversely, Taveras provided stellar defense in center. I doubt Garner will view him as an offensive liability as long as he can hit .280 with plenty of eye-candy bunt singles. Oddly, the greatest impact on his season could be the health of Jeff Bagwell, as shall be discussed.

Second Baseman Craig Biggio continued his bizarre aging pattern. The 39-year-old belted a career-best 26 homers alongside a career-worst 54 walks plus HBP. He even moved back to second after two years roaming the outfield and furnished passable defense. Biggio looked close to finished in 2002 and had faced questions about his status ever since. In 2006, he’s entrenched at second. He’ll collapse at some point, but as for this year I’d place my money on plain vanilla adequacy.

Morgan Ensberg rebounded from his depressing 2004 and gave Houston some badly needed production from the middle of the order. Houston needs him to avoid Saberhagen-like alternating of hot and cold seasons in order to return to the postseason.

Lance Berkman spent much of 2005 at first to ease the stress on his surgically enhanced knee. With Jeff Bagwell possibly out of the picture and the addition of Preston Wilson, Berkman could spend even more time in the infield. He can still defend an outfield corner, but Houston must do what is necessary to keep him in a lineup mostly lacking in plate discipline. Last year, he missed the first six weeks and suffered slight declines in his rate stats, but he still ranked among the NL leaders in OBP and OPS+.

Preston Wilson signed an odd contract to join the Astros: one year at $4 million with a three-year option at $8 million per. Wilson should represent a substantial upgrade over the 2005 version of Chris Burke, who faltered as a rookie (notwithstanding his NLDS Game 4 blast). Having said that, Wilson can’t play center well anymore and hits only slightly better than average for a corner outfielder. Further, he doesn’t provide an antidote for the low-average, low-OBP type Houston carries in surplus.

Right Fielder Jason Lane finally received a starting job at age 28 and performed respectably: .267/.318/.499. He enters 2006 unchallenged in right field, but if he starts the season in a slump and Berkman also plays in the outfield, he might lose at-bats to Taveras.

Adam Everett hasn’t progressed an inch as a hitter in three-plus years. Last year, he bottomed out at .248/.290/.364. Everett and Brad Ausmus partially answer the question of why the low-OBP Taveras leads off. Placing Taveras lower would force either him, Everett or Ausmus into the six-spot, an equally unpalatable option. Everett does defend his position exceptionally well, mitigating a healthy portion of his offensive infirmity.

I’ve badmouthed the hitting of Brad Ausmus in the past because the facts demand it, yet Ausmus didn’t hit all that terribly last year for a catcher. He revived his once considerable patience and drew a walk every nine plate appearances, enough to push his OBP to a nifty .351. He still doesn’t have any power and grounded into seventeen dips, but hey, .351! Alas, the forecast looks bleak for the 37-year-old with one halfway decent hitting performance in his last five years. Astro pitchers swear by his defense, and the stats back them up.

Bench

Houston will employ one of the two worst-hitting catchers on the planet to relieve Ausmus. Raul Chavez (career .215/.256/.292) at least offers defense to rival Ausmus. Humberto Quintero (career .221/.255/.309) is average behind the plate but does have acceptable AAA stats giving a glimmer of hope. Houston also signed former Bucs prospect J.R. House, who missed 2005 with rotator-cuff surgery. He won’t break camp with Houston and might need a move to first.

The Astros finally waived goodbye to Jose Vizcaino, difficult for an organization steeped in loyalty (and inertia). Eric Bruntlett could back up at short and practically everywhere else on the diamond. Bruntlett hasn’t hit much above A-ball; his advantages over Vizcaino consist of a smaller contract and a less dusty birth certificate. 26-year-old 2B/OF Chris Burke has shredded AAA pitching for two years but failed to impress in his first extended trial in the Majors. If he improves, he could usurp the everyday job at second in 2007, or sooner if Biggio falters. Mike Lamb’s OPS+ dropped from 121 to 83 last year. When on, he provides a badly needed lefty bat for a righty-heavy lineup. He serves as a warm body for any corner position.

Speaking of loyalty, Houston bestowed two years and $1.9 million on 37-year-old backup outfielder Orlando Palmeiro. Palmeiro had something of a career year in 2005, batting .284/.341/.431 including .288 as a pinch-hitter. He likely won’t repeat, but with Preston Wilson in the fold Palmeiro probably won’t approach last year’s 231 plate appearances. Too old to be a prospect, Luke Scott hit .286/.363/.603 for Round Rock but could only manage a line of .188/.270/.288 in Houston. Former Tiger Eric Munson signed with Houston in the hope of reviving his career.

On the whole, Houston has a mediocre bench. All have their talents, and Phil Garner doesn’t hesitate to use them. A rebound from Lamb would help immensely. Only Burke, or to be more precise, the player Burke might become, deserves more regular play.

Seventeen Million Dollar Question Mark

Much to the chagrin of owner Drayton McLane, Jeff Bagwell reported to camp. He’s currently spending most of his time in the batting cage. Bagwell won’t ever fully recover from his injured shoulder and has an uphill battle to play first regularly. If he does, he sets off a chain reaction that pushes Berkman to left, Wilson to center, and Taveras to the bench. This scenario unquestionably weakens the defense, and if Bagwell doesn’t hit well the offensive upgrade would be small.

Rotation

Player 		Arm     Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO% 
R Oswalt R 28 2.94 145 1.8% 5% 18%
A Pettitte L 34 2.39 178 1.9% 5% 20%
B Backe R 28 4.76 89 2.9% 10% 15%
W Rodriguez L 27 5.53 77 3.4% 9% 14%
E Astacio R 26 5.67 75 6.3% 7% 18%

Back in 2000, I witnessed two of Roy Oswalt’s starts as a member of the AA Round Rock Express. It reminded me of the Little League World Series, with Oswalt playing the role of the cheating 16-year-old throwing fireballs past helpless children. Relying mostly on a fastball and curve, he often makes grown men look equally helpless. The six-foot, 170-pound Oswalt entered the league with concerns about his long-term health, and he missed much of 2003.with a groin pull. Since then, he’s started 35 games each year. He can carry a team.

Andy Pettitte rebounded strongly from an injury-plagued 2004, pitching 222 innings with a career-best ERA+ of 174. He compounds that achievement by being a left-handed pitcher in a park that devours them. Pettitte should be good for another 200 innings with an ERA in the mid-threes.

Brandon Backe quietly moves up the ladder to #3, and here the ladder starts to wobble. Backe has pitched astoundingly well in the postseason but has yet to prove himself over the course of 162 games. Last year, his first as a full-timer, he missed several weeks with an oblique pull and also struggled with a sore elbow. He’s homer-prone and has an ERA of 4.62 as an Astro.

Wandy Rodriguez (given name: Wandy) survived a rugged inaugural season. He posted numerous six-inning, four-run starts that at least gave the Astros a chance to win. Houston went 12-10 when he took the mound. Rodriguez had good but not exceptional minor-league stats, and Houston needs him to progress to league-average status. Shaving his walks (3.7 per nine) will help.

Ezequiel Astacio is one year younger than Rodriguez and has a more impressive minor-league resume. He shuffled between Houston and Round Rock last season. Astacio offered a solid BB/K ratio of 2.6 but in 81 innings allowed an unsightly100 hits including 23 homers.

Should either Rodriguez or Astacio require more AAA seasoning, others who might receive a few starts include Fernando Nieve and Jason Hirsh, who dominated the Texas League last year. Houston also has former top prospect Carlos Hernandez, Taylor Buchholz, and Steve Sparks in camp.

Bullpen

Player		Arm     Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
B Lidge R 29 2.29 186 1.7% 8% 35%
D Wheeler R 28 2.21 192 2.4% 7% 24%
C Qualls R 27 3.28 130 2.1% 7% 18%
R Springer R 37 4.73 90 3.7% 9% 22%
M Gallo L 29 2.66 160 1.1% 11% 14%
T Miller L 33 4.06 106 1.9% 14% 17%

In 2006 Houston fans learn about Brad Lidge’s resiliency. Lidge supplied another wildly successful regular season, barely allowing one baserunner per inning and striking out 35% of the batters he faced. His slider makes hitters weep in despair. Ah, but that postseason. Making his fourth appearance in five days, Lidge allowed Albert Pujols’s titanic ninth-inning blast in Game 5 of the NLCS. (My wife and I were watching the game at home with the windows open and could hear people shouting at their televisions down the street.) In his next appearance, he allowed a ninth-inning, game-losing homer to Scott Podsednik. Three days later, he permitted the only run in the Series clincher. Lidge should be fine, but fans will keep a nervous eye on him for a while.

Setup Man Dan Wheeler’s undistinguished career blossomed immediately upon arrival in Houston late in 2004. Last year he provided a closer-worthy performance of one baserunner and one strikeout per inning. Fellow reliever Chad Qualls originally bristled at having to pitch in relief though the results indicate he’s suited there. Russ Springer unretired in 2004 to pitch in Houston. He strikes out hitters comparably to Qualls and Wheeler but also allows more baserunners and homers. Mike Gallo joined the club in July and posted a 2.66 ERA with some dubious peripherals. He doesn’t strike out enough hitters to cover his high walk rate. Trever Miller is a garden-variety reliever who spent two years in Tampa Bay.

Outlook

St. Louis weakened themselves by entrusting vital roles to Juan Encarnacion, Larry Bigbie, Junior Spivey and Braden Looper. Milwaukee has potential but hasn’t arrived yet. The Cubs did their usual flashy brand of water-treading in the offseason. Cincinnati could make some noise if their pitching improves from utter wretchedness to humdrum mediocrity. Pittsburgh… don’t make me write about Pittsburgh.

Houston could win the division outright after settling for the Wild Card the last two seasons. They’ll need two among Backe, Rodriguez and Astacio to pitch well, a similar bullpen performance, more age defiance from Biggio, and heroic, offense-carrying efforts from Berkman and Ensberg. Oh, and Roger Clemens would help. This outcome isn’t likely, but it’s also not a pipe dream.

The more likely scenario has St. Louis holding on for another year and the Wild Card emerging from a stratified NL East. Houston retained its excellent defense but doesn’t quite have the pitching depth or hitting to reach the postseason again. I’m ignoring another late-season resurgence at my peril and predicting a middle-of-the-pack finish with 83 Clemens-free wins.

Posted by Lucas at 06:24 PM