Friday, March 19, 2004

Josh Hamilton's been suspended for the full year.

How depressing...

Once again, it's a busy weekend, so bear with me; I'm not *really* undergoing a stealth process to change this into a hockey blog.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

So, we're going after Ellis Burks, again.

Now, as an FA signing, Burks can't be traded - without his approval - before June 15th.

Given that Burks made a conscious decision to sign with Boston over Seattle, based on hours of research (giving up more money in the process), what are the odds that he suddenly changes his mind and decides that being dealt to the Mariners is a good career move?
It has recently come to my attention that Justin Leone is hitting .000 this spring in 14 at bats.

It has also come to my attention that Luis Ugueto, Quinton McCracken, Hiram Bocachica, and Eric Owens have accounted for six of our ten ST home runs.

This proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that spring performance has an inverse relationship with any given player's Suckitude, and that the worse you do, the better you are.

Go, Justin!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

We must have a thing for terrible contracts.

In the short-term, the proposed deal would be beneficial, but a few years down the road and Kendall becomes a big problem.
Highly recommended Mariners preview.
Here's something I enjoyed:

According to his PECOTA card, Edgar Martinez is projected to be one run below average defensively as a DH.
Who said the Yankees don't have a left-handed starter?
For the last few days, I've been trying to find ways to contact Justin Leone. As his most vocal supporter (besides his family), I consider it only appropriate that we should interact somehow, at least once, maybe with a little "Q & A" thing that I can put up. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them, because neither the Mariners nor the Missions are getting back to me.
I am very aware of the Griffey rumors, but they aren't exactly fresh new ideas, and until/unless something happens, I don't much feel like discussing it (particularly when everyone else in the blogosphere already is).

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I urge each and every one of you to read Eric Weinrich's response to a legitimately stupid column.
I'm sitting here watching an Orioles preseason game. In the 7th inning, some "sideline" announcer did an interview with Miguel Tejada in the dugout. One of the questions that got asked was, "Do you think this is a team that can contend with New York and Boston?"

Why do people even bother asking this question?

What do you think the player is going to say?
DePodesta's already being creative.

Koonce, if you aren't familiar with him, is a 28 year old minor league first baseman who hasn't posted an OBP below .392 since 1996. Last year he had a .274 MjEqA, eight points better than LA's starting 1B last year (McGriff). If DePo manages to pull this one off, then we'll have the satisfaction of knowing that the Dodgers added a slower Raul Ibanez for $300k and a minor league arm.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Anaheim Angels 2004 Bullpen Preview

In 2003, the Angels had the best bullpen in the American League, and trailed only the Dodgers (with the fierce Mota/Gagne/Quantrill triumvirate) in the majors in bullpen ERA. Five of the six most important pitchers in last year’s bullpen return for 2004, as Anaheim looks to ride its strongest asset—relief pitchers—into the playoffs. Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, and Ben Weber put up a combined 2.45 ERA in 359.1 bullpen innings last year, or the approximate equivalent of 1.7 Mark Priors. Each of these pitchers will have a similarly important role in the upcoming year, and they look to repeat last year’s collective success. So how does the bullpen look, as compared to 2003? To what degree will Anaheim’s gathering of talented arms be able to approach last season’s performance? Read on.

Before we begin, I must make it clear that the following pitchers comprise the projected Anaheim bullpen. The top five are all guarantees, but the long relief/mop-up role could go to Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele, or Kevin Gregg, and if Scioscia elects to go with a seven-man relief corp, then Derrick Turnbow could sneak into the picture. Having poked around a few Angels-related sites, I’ve come to the conclusion that Anaheim will most likely go with a six-man bullpen, with Ramon Ortiz taking the long reliever role.

And so, let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

Ramon Ortiz

By the time this piece is published on my site, Ortiz could have already been traded. How’s that for job security? Anyway, I already touched on Ortiz here; he didn’t have his best stuff in 2003, his strikeout rate plummeted, and he lost effectiveness as a direct result. As a starter, he looked overextended, periodically losing zip on his fastball and missing with his slider. Fans looking for a return to 2002 form were both disappointed and surprised by Ortiz’ lousy 2003, but the fact of the matter is that the pitcher was extremely lucky on balls in play (BABIP) during the World Series year, and was unlikely to have the same stroke of good fortune for another full season.

There are a few indications that Ortiz would be suitable in a short-relief role; when his fastball and changeup are working, he’s vaguely reminiscent of the pre-shredded Trevor Hoffman, setting hitters up with a well-placed heater, then getting them to whiff on an offspeed pitch in the dirt. His likely role for 2004, however, would have him pitching more than an inning at a time, a task that could serve to grant overexposure to Ortiz’ inconsistent repertoire. He loses effectiveness around the 40-pitch threshold, so as long as Scioscia doesn’t leave Ortiz out there for four or five innings at a time (“He used to be a good starter, after all”) and limits him to about two innings per appearance, then the Angels should wind up with a perfectly functional “long” reliever.

Yet, being a functional reliever only goes so far. Who did Anaheim have in that role last year? Well, in short, nobody whose name you’ll want to remember. Scott Schoeneweis, Mickey Callaway, Gary Glover, and Greg Jones put up a combined 5.09 ERA out of the bullpen (although Schoeneweis was decent) with mediocre peripherals, while Kevin Gregg and Bart Miadich somehow managed to allow ten runs in 6.2 innings. The odds are very slim that Ramon Ortiz winds up this bad, so the Angels should be better off in the middle innings with Ramon Ortiz sopping up the playing time.

Ben Weber

Ben Weber is fun.

It doesn’t really seem right that Weber, with all of his intimidating herks and jerks, routinely puts up a K/9 hovering near 5.00. Perhaps the jerky wind-up is necessary for Weber to have success, that it throws off batters’ timing just enough to make them hit the top of the ball, instead of the core. Whatever the case may be, Weber has been one of those infrequent pitchers who succeeds with a subpar strikeout rate by limiting the other rate stats.


The key to Weber’s efficiency, as hinted at by the table, is his ability to keep the ball on the ground (hence the low HR totals). Weber’s career 2.77 GB/FB ratio is more than twice the league-average, and it helps him limit the amount of extra-base hits allowed. Given this fact, it’s clear that Weber depends on his infield defense more than any other pitcher on Anaheim’s roster; an injury to David Eckstein could have an immense effect on Weber’s ERA, while Kelvim Escobar might escape without a scratch. Weber is so reliant on his defense, in fact, that his defense-independent ERA’s from the last two years have been 3.77 and 3.88, respectively, a combined 242 points above his real ERA’s from those two seasons.

The good news? Nothing’s changed. Nothing, that is, except for Darin Erstad taking over for Scott Spiezio at first base, a move that scouts think will result in very little change in the overall infield defense. As long as Erstad, Kennedy, Eckstein, and Glaus remain healthy, Ben Weber should remain an effective reliever, putting up similar numbers to what he did in 2003.

Scot Shields

A funny thing happened the other day. As Scot Shields was pulling into his space at the ballpark, a security guard instructed him to leave, because that parking lot was reserved for “Players Only.” Shields stated his case, but when the guard retrieved Mike Scioscia and asked him about Shields, Scioscia didn’t recognize him, so Shields had to park across the street.

All right, so that never happened. But do you really think it’s that far-fetched? The Angels are a team desperate for rotation stability, and they spent $70m this past winter on two arms in the hopes that Colon and Escobar will be able to sop up innings. Still, Anaheim needs another sub-4 ERA guy in the middle of the rotation, because they currently intend to run Colon and Four Major Question Marks out there on any given day. Not a great gamble for a team to make when it’s competing with Oakland and Seattle. So why is that Scot Shields is getting thrown back into the bullpen after an effective 13 starts last year?

We’ll save that discussion for a rainy day. What’s important *right now* is Shields’ past and likely future performance in the bullpen. What follows is a table showing his most important numbers over his career:

Rate StatShields, 2001-2003

What’s scary is that his K/BB jumps all the way up to 3.80 as a starter. But anyway…Shields, like Weber, doesn’t put up the most impressive peripherals in the league, but he manages to keep the rare baserunner from advancing very far. Possibly the most impressive figure is Shields’ career .296 OBP against, a function of his ability to prevent hits. Also like Weber, Shields is a groundball pitcher (albeit to a lesser degree) who has benefited from a strong infield defense since he arrived in Anaheim. His .268 career BABIP is below league-average, but a lot of it is due to a strong team defense; besides, it doesn’t scream “FLUKE!!” quite as stridently as Ortiz’ .241 figure from 2002. Even last year, when that figure leapt to .289, Shields still managed a 2.85 ERA and strong peripherals.

Shields is going to be a 6th/7th inning guy, facing an assortment of right- and left-handed batters. He is better against righties (as you would expect), but lefties have a worse batting average overall; the real difference between the two is that lefties have three times the chance of hitting a home run off Shields than righties do. Regardless, Shields is a very good pitcher no matter who he’s facing, and the numbers show this. For 2004, Shields should continue to prevent hits and home runs while posting similar strikeout and walk numbers. His ERA will likely remain in the high-2’s/low-3’s, and it would be a shame if he isn’t starting by August.

He isn’t going to put up another 1.68 ERA out of the bullpen, though, so in the context of a *bullpen* preview, Shields will be a worse reliever this year than he was in 2003.

Brendan Donnelly

It’s like a never-ending supply of miniscule ERA’s in this bullpen. Unfortunately for AL West rivals Seattle and Oakland, Donnelly will not miss significant time with a broken nose that he suffered while shagging fly balls this spring (although Ramon Santiago, the proud owner of a 1-for-1 line against Donnelly over his career, must be cursing his poor fortune). A healthy Donnelly is an effective Donnelly, and an effective Donnelly does things like put up a 1.58 ERA in 74 high-leverage innings over a full season.

Indeed, it was a year for the ages, as hitters managed just two home runs against the righty for the second consecutive season. Along the lines of “similarly impressive statistics,” Donnelly also managed to surrender just 55 hits in those 74 innings while striking out more than one hitter per frame. At this point, I almost want to throw up my hands and surrender, because there are no statistical indications that Donnelly is about to implode; it’s not often that you run across a pitcher who could double his ERA and still remain one of the best relievers in the league.

So, as a fan of a divisional rival, is there reason for hope? Well, sure. First of all, Donnelly allowed seven earned runs in just 12.1 innings last August, which at least shows that he’s human. Or something. Oh, and there’s that whole Ramon Santiago thing, too. But realistically speaking, Donnelly has been crazy-good in both of his ML seasons, and he doesn’t show any ominous statistical trends. He’ll be 33 in July, and had very good fortune with runners on base last year (.424 OPS with runners on, as opposed to .722 with the bases clear), and is hittable when he falls behind in the count. He’s also a flyball pitcher who will be hurt somewhat by an incrementally worse outfield defense this year. Donnelly’s going to be worse in 2004 than he was in 2003; that much is certain, because there’s no way he could reasonably be expected to improve. He won’t be markedly worse, though, and should provide an aesthetically-pleasing low-2’s ERA in another 75 innings.

Francisco Rodriguez

Well, we’re almost there. Just when you thought things might get easier when Weber and Donnelly get old and retire, you come across their own barely-legal Latin equivalent. After exploding onto the scene in a wholly prohibited way in 2002, Rodriguez allowed other AL West fans to expel a sigh of relief early in his 2003 campaign before putting up a 2.25 ERA after the first of June. He collects strikeouts like it’s going out of style (9.94 K/9) and allowed a paltry .172/.260/.316 line to hitters over the full season.

But wait. This time, there is hope. K-Rod’s 2003 BABIP? .206. Anaheim’s team BABIP? .287. Yes, folks, there might actually be a member of this bullpen who doesn’t induce nightmares. That .206 figure is far more out of line than Ortiz’ fluky 2002 .241, and while it could be due to luck, small sample size, or some combination of the two, one thing is certain: it isn’t going to happen again.

Rodriguez put up a Component ERA of 2.38 last year (which, coincidentally, is 66 points below his actual ERA). However, if you adjust his numbers for the team average BABIP, then you arrive at a 3.67 figure, 63 points worse than his actual ERA and 129 points worse than his actual cERA. As Rodriguez’ numbers regress closer to the mean in 2004, his ERA is going to rise as well—although not to a level anywhere near what you’d like to see as a rival. While you can account for the natural improvement that comes along with ML experience, Rodriguez’ good fortune with balls in play last year is going to catch up with him sooner, rather than later, and he should wind up somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 ERA points worse for 2004.

Troy Percival

Like Bob Melvin, it seems as if Mike Scioscia has inadvertently stumbled upon a routine of using his best pitchers in high-leverage situations, while handing the ninth inning work to someone worse. Brendan Donnelly is the ace of the bullpen, but Percival brings the experience, intensity, and triple-digit heat that Old Tymers like to see in a closer. None of this is to say that Percival is a bad reliever, of course. When you strike out a batter an inning and put up a H/9 just over 6.00, then you have talent.

Troy’s a strange case. Take a look at this simple chart:


There appears to be little correlation between Percival’s ERA and his year-to-year fortune with preventing hits. His BA against over the last three years have been .187, .188, and .184, remarkably steady numbers. Yet, despite this stability, things are getting worse. Percival’s K/9 has dropped off by two and a half strikeouts since 2001, while his walks have increased by one and a half over the same time span. What’s more is that hitters are starting to get better wood on the ball, as well, as his SLG against has increased by more than 25% from his 2001 figure. In short, it doesn’t look good for Percival’s extended future, because none of the vital stats are showing a good trend.

So what about 2004, then? While his peripherals should continue the steady decline that they’ve shown over the last few years, Percival’s 2003 ERA was about 45 points higher than his cERA would suggest. A safe estimate would be that Percival will put up a similar ERA, while watching his rate stats gradually deteriorate. He’ll be ever-so-slightly worse in terms of runs allowed this year, and a worse pitcher *overall* than in 2003 by a wider margin.

So, if four relievers are expected to decline in 2004, compared to one who should provide a little improvement to the middle innings, you’d logically expect the bullpen as a whole to get worse, right? It isn’t that easy; Anaheim’s final bullpen numbers were skewed by the likes of Bart Miadich, Gary Glover, Mickey Callaway, Greg Jones, and a handful of others. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that the Angels will improve on their 2003 bullpen numbers, if they limit the amount of inefficient innings pitched by AAA call-ups in September. What you’ll probably see, though, is that the main cogs of the ‘pen will be worse, and that, all things being equal, the final numbers will probably mirror this result.

Oakland's bullpen preview can be found here. The Wheelhouse and Texas Rangers Blog will have previews up soon.

Other Anaheim previews:

Starting Rotation


This Week in Quotes is chock full of Dusty Baker gems. Give it a read; it's in the free section.

Jim Hendry comes off sounding like my high school baseball coach.

"I look at runs scored, runs knocked in, when the runs are knocked in, man on third, and one-out RBIs and two-out RBIs."

--Hendry, on what are the most important offensive statistics (Chicago Daily Herald)
My network's been up and down for a number of days, now. This really sucks.
Last weekend saw a collegiate athletics miracle of which I'm certain none of you are aware.

The Boston University Terriers hockey team, who needed an overtime goal against UNH in their last game to make the Hockey East tournament, stunned the Boston College Eagles, the top team in the conference and one of the best three teams in the nation, by winning two of three games at BC's place. After holding on for a 3-2 victory in the first game, BU was shut out on Friday, and things looked grim; BC, in each of the six previous meetings with BU this season (five of which they won), had completely dominated the Terriers, typically outshooting them by 25 or 30.

On Saturday, the Terriers won.


After the nation's leading scorer tied the game at 1 for BC, the Terriers pulled off three goals in a five-minute span to take a 4-1 lead.

And that was that.

The highlight of the weekend was Sean Fields, BU's much-maligned goaltender, celebrating the victory in front of BC's student section:

A wonderful, wonderful weekend, indeed. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming (to feature the Anaheim bullpen preview later this afternoon).