Crisp not the answer for Fenway’s centerfield

Taking a page from my co-writer’s handbook, let’s look at the Red Sox acquisition in a defensive light.
For those of you not clued in to the latest from the Hot Stove League, the Red Sox shipped away Andy Marte (?!), Kelly Shoppach, Guillermo Mota, money and a PTBNL to the Cleveland Indians for Josh Bard, David Riske, and Coco Crisp.
While trading Andy Marte may go down in the annals of Sox trade lore along the lines of the 1988 trade of Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker, Crisp is the real catch for the Sox. The 26-year-old switch hitter will assume the leadoff spot in the lineup and the hole in centerfield both left vacant by Johnny Damon’s defection.
I have my doubts about Crisp as a lead-off hitter. While still young and improving, his on-base percentage has stalled out at .345. Furthermore, what I like to call his ISOBP (Isolated On-Base Percentage, which crudely substracts BA from OBP), has been in the .045 to .047 range over the last two seasons. In other words, if Crisp hitters .280 instead of .300, his OBP may drop to as low as .325, and the Sox need a leadoff hitter getting on base more frequently than that.
His offense, however, is neither here nor there. Proponents will point to his increase in doubles from 2004 to 2005 while opponents may not that he hit just 1 more home run in 118 more plate apperances. Plus, no one knows how he’ll respond to the pressures of Fenway.
Rather, I want to look at this trade from a defensive perspective using Gassko’s Range stat. The Red Sox clearly picked up Crisp in order to stick him into Fenway’s vast centerfield. How will he fare there?
On first glance, it seems as though Crisp may be a good fit for Boston. After all, he was one of the stand-out fielders under Gassko’s system. As a left fielder, he came in at 34 fielding runs above average under the Range system. That’s absolutely stellar.
However – and this is a big however – left field is not center field. In 2005, Crisp spent most of his time in leftfield. In 2004, he spent most of his time in centerfield, and the numbers tell a different story. That season, he was among the worst fielders at his position, netting a -20. While Crisp placed even with four other players, only Bernie Williams was worse in centerfield in 2004. That’s sure to resonant poorly with Red Sox fans.
So now, heading into a 2006 season following Front Office turmoil and a huge roster shakeup, the Red Sox are going to be relying on poor fielding centerfielder to anchor their outfield defense. They are also relying on a hitter whose OBP is closely tied to his batting average. And all of this landed in Boston at the cost of Andy Marte, Baseball America’s Number 1 prospect in the Red Sox organization. I can’t help but think Theo and Co. could have done better.

Frank Thomas Signs With Oakland

The Athletics signed Frank Thomas to a one-year, $500,000 deal today, and proved once again why they are the best-managed organization in baseball. First of all, there’s no downside to this trade, literally zero. Worst case scenario is that Thomson gets injured, doesn’t play, and the A’s are out half-a-million dollars, which is chump change for a major league team.
My quick-and-dirty projection for Thomas is .258/.384/.537 over 365 plate appearances, which translates to about 30 runs above replacement, or $10 million worth of value! I didn’t regress to the mean or age adjust, so maybe a more appropriate projection would be something like 20 runs above replacement, but that’s still worth $7 million. And that’s with Thomas playing only about 85 games. If he somehow stays healthy all season, he might become the best signing Billy Beane has ever made.
Again, there ia absolutely no downside to this move. The A’s have nothing to lose, but they might pick up a few extra wins, and a division crown, in the process.

Benson trade won’t net much for O’s

The lost Orioles are at it again.
This time, the Team With No Plan has landed New York outcast Anna Benson and her husband pitcher Kris Benson in exchange for reliever Jorge Julio and prospect hurler Chris Maine. Unless new pitching coach Leo Mazzone can work some magic, this trade won’t bring much to Baltimore.
For the Mets last year, Benson seemed perfectly average but had exceedingly poor peripherals. He made 28 starts and threw to an ERA of 4.13. His ERA+, a park-adjusted number, was 101. You can’t get much more average than that. In 174.1 innings, he gave up 171 hits while walking 49 and striking out just 95. His 4.90 K/9 IP was the lowest of his career and his 1.94 K/BB rate is fairly awful. Additionally, Benson gave up 24 home runs last year.
All of these numbers raise red flags in my mind for one reason: Park Effects. Kris Benson, making 16 of 28 starts in a pitcher’s park, enjoyed the deadening effects of Shea Stadium. Let’s look at his splits: In those 16 starts, Benson threw to an ERA of 3.66 while giving up just 8 home runs in 98.1 innings. On the road, Benson threw to an ERA of 4.74 while surrendering an astounding 16 home runs in 76 innings.
According to the Bill James 2006 Handbook, Shea Stadium was a good place to pitch when it came to home runs. The park effect for home runs in Shea Stadium was 90. It was 10 percent harder to hit a home run in Shea Stadium than in the rest of the parks, on average, in the National League.
So what happens to Benson when he moves to Baltimore? Well, first off, he’s moving to a park with a home run factor of 102. That means it’s 2 percent easier to hit home runs in Baltimore than elsewhere in the American League. When you compare Camden Yards to Shea Stadium, however, the numbers are more drastic. There were 139 Shea home runs compared to 161 Camden long balls. That’s an increase of nearly 16 percent. Already, Benson’s average numbers and alarming home run rate are looking decidedly worse than average.
But there’s an X-Factor in this equation as well. While the Mets did have to play in the band box that is the Citizens Bank Ballpark, they also played numerous games in Atlanta, Washington, and Miami, weaker offensive teams in noted pitchers parks. Now, as a member of an American League East team, Benson will be in the toughest offensive division. He’ll have to face the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and yes, even the Devil Rays with a fairly good offense.
His road numbers last season projected to 32 home runs if he had pitched 200 innings. With a declining strike out rate and a new, pitching-challenged home, Benson may become the 2006 version of 2005’s Sidney Ponson. Unless Leo Mazzone can work some magic, Benson may be looking at 40 home runs and an ERA over 5.00.

Teixeira, Giles deals don’t match up

Let’s look at two players who avoided arbitration earlier this week: Rangers’ first baseman Mark Teixeira and Braves’ second baseman Marcus Giles.
These two days were announced within hours of each other. Giles signed a one-year $3.85 million deal with the Braves while MVP candidate Teixeira got a two-year $15.4 million deal from Texas. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto opined that Teixeira’s signing suggested that Marcus Giles is underpaid.
While he may not have matched Teixeira’s .301/.379/.575 43-homer season, Giles’ .291/.365/.461 line from the second base position is worth more than half of one year of Teixeira’s deal. Or at least that’s how the argument goes. Let’s look at some other numbers.
For this chart, I’m going to compare Teixeira and Giles across three sabermetric measurements. The first is Win Shares, a Jamesian stat that relates a player’s individual stats to the number of wins he contributed to the team. Three win shares is equal to one win.
The second is VORP or Value Over Replacement Player. VORP is defined thusly: “The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances.” A replacement player is the next available option; that means, either the first guy called up to the Majors from AAA or the option the waiver wire.
The third is WARP-3, a Baseball Prospectus stat, that looks at Wins Above Replacement Level. The rational is similar to that of VORP.

Win Shares VORP WARP-3
Marcus Giles 23 48.8 8.1
Mark Teixeira 33 73.1 10.5


What we see first is very little variation across the three statistics. Based on Win Shares, Giles contributed 7.6 wins while Teixeira contributed 11. Based on VORP, Teixeira’s value was approximately 1.5 times that of Giles’. Based on WARP-3, Giles was 8.1 wins better than replacement while Teixeira was just 2.4 wins better than Giles.
So what these numbers show is that David Pinto’s original feeling was correct. These salaries do not match up with the production offered by these two players. Either Teixeira is being overpaid or Giles is being underpaid.
It’s hard to say that Teixeira is underpaid simply because he will be 26 in April and has gotten steadily better each year. He ought to be a perennial contender for the MVP award and has a Gold Glove, for what that’s worth, as well. The Rangers’ doling out $7.7 million a year for his services seems more than reasonable.
Giles on the other hand is certainly underpaid. He’s one of the game’s top second baseman and, at 27, is entering his peak player years. He doesn’t enjoy the same home park benefits that Teixeira enjoys in Texas. Even so, his production is clearly not that inferior to Teixeira’s.
With two players near the top of their respective positions locked up to contracts on the same day, it’s interesting to compare them and wonder what happened. Here’s one solution: Maybe Scott Boras, Teixeira’s agent, is really that much better of an agent that Joe Bick, the man representing Giles. For all the hype and negative publicity surrounding Boras, he really just might be that much better at getting his clients the deals they deserve (and sometimes even the deals they don’t deserve).

Why Dale Murphy Shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame — A Short Post

I’ll write up a longer piece on the Hall of Fame induction this year (late, as always), but I wanted to provide my take on Murphy now, due to discussion on Baseball Musings. The consensus there seems to be that due to a great eight-year peak Murphy should get in — he was after all one of the best players in the 80s. Sandy Koufax is brought up as a similar player (high peak, short career), and I’ve actually seen the Murphy/Koufax argument made quite a few times online by bloggers with (presumably — I can’t actually see them) a straight face.
That argument is not there. Koufax, at his peak, was dominant. Batters literally feared him. His career was shortened by terrible over-use: The Dodgers pitched him until his arm fell off. Yet despite, that, he didn’t show any signs of deterioration, unlike some pitchers who have trouble going past the 7th inning in ONE game, rather than 30+, as Koufax did every year at his peak. Sandy Koufax was dominant, and that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame.
Murphy was very good — even great — at his peak, but he never put the fear of God into pitchers. He was not Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols. Murphy could be a Hall of Famer if he had a long career. But his peak alone simply isn’t enough to get him in.

The Tiger Way

Get real, Dave Dombrowski. $5.25 million for two years of Mike Maroth? Give me a break.
Mike Maroth, lest we forget, in 2003, became the first player in over 20 years to lose 20 games. By themselves, losses donít tell you too much about a pitcher because they are somewhat a function of the team behind the guy on the mound. But Marothís losses were well-earned.
In 2003, when the Tigers lost 119 games, Maroth made 33 starts. In 193.1 innings, he gave up 231 hits and 50 walks. He surrendered 34 home runs pitching in a pitcherís park. He managed just 4.05 K per 9 IP with a K/B ratio of 1.74. The icing on the cake though was his ERA+. He had a 5.73 ERA while the park-adjusted league average ERA was 4.30. His ERA+ was 75. His VORP was -0.3. He was worse than the guy waiting for this spot in AAA.
In 2004, he rebounded. He had an ERA+ of 104, better than league average. He improved in the strike out department while keeping his walks constant. He cut down on home runs while pitching in Comerica. Still, his numbers werenít great. He recorded 4.48 K/9 with a 1.83 K/BB ratio.
This past year, he fell. His ERA was significantly higher than the park-adjusted league average figure. He gave up 30 home runs for the second time in three years and gave up nearly 30 more hits than innings pitched. For his career, Maroth has an ERA+ of 90 (where 100 signifies league average and anything lower is worse than average). Heís given up 96 home runs in 748 innings, and opponents have a career line of .289/.336/.456 against him. Itís like batting practice!
So the Tigers decided to reward Maroth with a few million dollars per year because, hey, we have to spend them somehow. Maroth turns 29 this year and at best, heís a competitive teamís number 6 or 7 starter. I wouldnít even want to see him out of the bullpen. But the Tigers think heís worth $5.25 million over two years.
Teams in Detroitís situation keep claiming they canít compete against bigger market teams, but as long as they continue to waste money on worse-than-replacement-level players, they certainly wonít be maximizing their available resources.

My Hall of Fame Ballot at TheMirl.com

In a sepcial feature for Eric Mirlis’ site The Writers, I got to share my Hall of Fame ballot. Check out this special feature here.
In addition to many of your favorite MVN/All-Baseball writers, the balloting featured one writer – Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau – with an actual Hall of Fame vote and one former Major Leaguer – current Padres broadcaster Bob Scanlan.
As a preview, I voted for Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, and Jim Rice. To read my analysis of the ballot, click here.

What’s on second? Well, it shouldn’t be Soriano

During a slow week for baseball news, an item on Alfonso Soriano piqued my curiosity in ESPN’s Insider-only rumor mill. With Soriano voicing his displeasure at potentially moving to the outfield for the Washington Nationals in 2006, some teams, including the always-active Boston Red Sox, have called Jim Bowden searching for a deal.
The way I see it, however, any team inquiring after Soriano are blinded by his reputation as a power-hitting second baseman. But his recent track record would suggest that his presence would hardly help a team that needs him.
First, let’s look at fielding. Fielding has long been hard to quantify, and numerous writers across the Internet have tried to come up with better metrics for fielding. I’m going to call on Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average).
When it comes to fielding, Soriano is downright awful at second. In 2005, he managed a career-low -25 FRAA. You’re reading that right; it’s a negative number. For all of his talk about not wanting to move from second base, Alfonso Soriano isn’t even a good second baseman.
On the offensive side, the almost-30-year-old has a 162-game career average line of .280/.320/.500 with 33 home runs and 137 RBIs. He shows exceptional power but no on-base ability. He has never managed an OBP over .338, and his OBP has dropped to .308 since his 2003 season. Despite this infrequent appearances on the base paths, he still managed 21 BRAA or Batting Runs Above Average in 2005.
Some simple and statistically sloppy arithmetic shows a total 2005 RAA (runs above average) for Soriano of -4. While he had a WARP-3 (wins above replacement player adjusted for all-time) of 4.9, this simply shows he’s better than a replacement-level player. He’s not producing at the level of an average second baseman, and this would hurt any team that could land that so-called average second baseman.
So now enter the Nationals. Recently, I look at how Soriano will be negatively affected by the vast confines of RFK Stadium. After finishing second in home runs hit at home last season, he may hit just 10 home runs at home in 2006 if he remains a member of the Nationals. With a shortcoming of power, you can bet that Soriano will be swinging at even more pitches. And missing. His fielding will probably remain the same; his offense will decline. He’ll be worth less to the Nationals than he was as arguably a below-average player on the Rangers.
With that in mind, does it make sense for the Red Sox or any other team to attempt to acquire Alfonso Soriano at the cost of Major League pitching? Not at all. Bowden, a bold GM, is sure to ask for a top-line pitcher or pitching prospect for Soriano, and the second baseman, just one season away from free agency, isn’t worth it. He is after all below average in some regards.
In the end, I don’t blame Soriano for being unhappy with landing on the Nationals. In his contract season, his offense will decline and he’s being asked to switch positions from second base where his 38 home runs look great to left field where his .308 OBP looks awful. He’ll be 31 at the start of his new contract, and he knows he will probably have the chance to really cash in just once in his career. It would make sense for him to lobby for a trade. It just doesn’t make sense for any team to give up a lot to sign him.

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