Saturday, July 19, 2003

New outfielders in Hollywood

The Los Angeles Dodgers finally decided it was time to try and improve their anemic offense over the All-Star break. They signed outfielder Rickey Henderson and traded for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz.

LA's entire offense has been bad this season, but the outfield has been a mess, especially with Brian Jordan out for the season and Dave Roberts out since the first of this month. Shawn Green has been slumping all season and the rest of the outfield fillers have not been pretty.

Mike Kinkade can only hit lefties, Chad Hermansen has four hits in 23 at-bats (.174), Wilkin Ruan has a .258 OBP in 31 at-bats, Daryle Ward has a .411 OPS in 107 at-bats and Jason Romano, Larry Barnes and Bubba Crosby combined for seven hits in 51 at-bats (.137) while they were with the Dodgers.

So the offense obviously had to be addressed, and the outfield looked like the best place to address.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Henderson (now with his ninth team) can still help a team. Over the last three years, he's only hit .229 with almost no power (.331 SLG) in 978 at-bats, but he does have a .367 OBP in that time.

With Jordan out, Paul Lo Duca is the only Dodger with an OBP higher than that. Kinkade is the only other Dodger with an OBP higher than .333.

Henderson might have hit his 296th career home run last night, but that's not how he's going to help the Dodgers. He's going to help the Dodgers by getting on base, which is exactly where they need help. Only the Detroit Tigers (.293) have a worse team OBP than the Dodgers (.305).

Burnitz will just help the Dodgers by being a good hitter. His stock took a big hit because nobody paid attention to him when he was with the Brewers and he struggled in his first season with the Mets. He bounced back this year though, and he's been good (if inconsistent) since 1997 aside from last year. Here are his Avg/OBP/SLG/OPS and games played each year since 1997.

1997 - .281/.382/.553/.935, 153 G
1998 - .263/.339/.499/.838, 161 G
1999 - .270/.402/.561/.961, 130 G
2000 - .232/.356/.456/.812, 161 G
2001 - .251/.347/.504/.851, 154 G
2002 - .215/.311/.365/.676, 154 G
2003 - .274/.344/.581/.925, 65 G

Like I said, he's been very inconsistent, but last year was the only time he was bad. If he can do with the Dodgers the same thing he has been doing with the Mets this year, he will quickly become LA's best hitter.

So, the Dodgers offense should improve significantly over the rest of the season (especially if Green can get on one of his hot streaks and Adrian Beltre can keep hitting like he has been the last five games), but it may not be enough for Los Angeles to make the playoffs.

The Dodgers lost 15 of their final 20 games before the All-Star break, and they now trail two teams (San Francisco and Arizona) in the NL West and two teams (Philadelphia and Arizona) in the wild card race. They certainly still can make the playoffs, but by waiting so long to improve their offense they have left themselves with an uphill battle.

Minor trades

There have been a few somewhat minor trades recently that I just want to touch on. The first is the exchange of Adam Bernero for Ben Petrick by the Tigers and Rockies.

This trade is interesting to me for two reasons, the first of which is more important. That reason is that this means Petrick may finally get a chance to play in the major leagues on a regular basis.

Petrick was once a highly touted catching prospect who people thought would hit a ton, but might need to move out from behind the plate. Now, he's a 26-year-old catcher/outfielder who has only received 549 at-bats over five seasons in the major leagues. In that time, Petrick has hit .264/.349/.464 (.813) with 31 doubles, 23 home runs, 70 walks and 147 strikeouts.

Those would be very good numbers for a catcher, but for a sometimes catcher, sometimes outfielder playing in Colorado, it's nothing special. However, I still think he could hit well enough to be a starting corner outfielder if given the chance.

Coming into this season, he had hit .311/.397/.563 (.960) in 859 at-bats at Class AAA. This year, he only hit .259/.333/.500 (.833) in 80 games in AAA, but he may just have been losing hope that he'd ever be a major league regular.

I think this is a wonderful trade for the Tigers, because they can afford to plus Petrick in and see if he can really do anything. They're even willing to use him behind the plate a bit, which is smart considering how little talent they have in the catching department in their organization.

The other reason that this trade is interesting is because it takes a pitcher out of the hunt for 20 losses. Bernero had 12 losses, but will be used as a reliever, if anything in Colorado. So, it's unlikely that he'll even lose 15 games, nevermind 20.

The longer the season goes on, the more unlikely it seems that anybody will get tagged with a 20th loss this year, which should make Brian Kingman very happy.

The next trade I want to talk about is the one in which the Texas Rangers sent outfielder Ryan Ludwick to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Shane Spencer and pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez.

This looks like a nice trade for the Rangers to me. Everybody knows that Texas needs pitching and Rodriguez is a 25-year-old who showed great potential in the minors in 2000 (1.88 ERA, 12.14 K/9IP, 5.61 K/BB in 95.2 innings for Class A Great Falls) and 2001 (3.21 ERA, 8.98 K/9IP, 2.56 K/BB in 154.1 innings for Class A Vero Beach). Last year, he ptiched for four different teams and his stats were up-and-down and this year he's posted a 5.73 ERA in 81.2 innings for the Indians while struggling through injuries.

Rodriguez is not a perfect pitching prospect by any stretch of the imagination, but he's better than most of the guys the Rangers already have. They gave up Ludwick, who was hitting .154/.267/.192 (.459) in eight games with the Rangers this year and had hit .215/.288/.368 (.597) in 31 games in the majors.

Ludwick was hitting .303/.372/.558 (.930) in 81 games at Class AAA this year, and has a good defensive reputation in center field. He could certainly become a fine major leaguer, but the Rangers have plenty of good young position players and they need more promising young pitchers. Plus, Spencer is a nice player to have as a fourth outfielder.

This trade seems to me to make less sense for the Indians. True, they have a surplus of pitching prospects and Rodriguez probably isn't among the best of them, but they also have a surplus of outfielders. With Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Grady Sizemore, Alex Escobar, Ryan Church and Luke Scott already in the Cleveland organization as promising (or already good) outfielders, I'm not sure exactly where Ludwick fits in. And his acquisition certainly doesn't seem like a team using a position of surplus to help a position of scarcity.

The last minor trade I want to mention is San Francisco's acquisition of Matt Herges for Clay Hensley and a player to be named later. This is the kind of subtle move before the trading deadline that can really help a division-leading team maintain its lead.

Herges has a 2.74 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with 40 strikeouts and 20 walks in 46 innings this year. For his career, the 33-year-old has a 3.42 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with 259 strikeouts and 140 walks in 345 innings.

Herges certainly will not make up for the absence of Robb Nen, but his presence will take some of the pressure off Tim Worrell (2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 47.2 innings), Felix Rodriguez (3.48 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 41.1 innings), Scott Eyre (3.55 ERA, 1.37 WHIP in 38 innings) and Joe Nathan (3.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 51.2 innings).

Basically, his presence strengthens an already strong bullpen and the Giants lost players who are at least a couple years away from contributing in the majors. We don't know who the PTBNL is, but we do know about Hensley.

The Giants drafted Hensley in the eighth round last year, and he then posted a 2.53 ERA, 9.26 K/9IP and 3.36 K/BB in 81.2 innings at short-season Salem-Kaizer. He started this season by posting a 3.18 ERA, 9.79 K/9IP and 3.7 K/BB in 68 innings for Class A Hagerstown. He is currently with Class A San Jose, where he has a 5.83 ERA, 7.67 K/9IP and 2.78 K/BB in 29.1 innings.

In his first two stops, Hensley had great success by showing nice ERA's, excellent strikeout rates and good walk rates. Now, however, his ERA is way up and his strikeouts are down in his brief time in San Jose. Maybe it's just a little bit of an adjustment period, but Hensley will be 24 at the end of August and he hasn't reached Class AA yet. He may end up being a nice pitcher in the majors, but it's not really a likelihood and it's far enough down the road that it's worth unloading him to help this year's team out.

Of course, the identity of the PTBNL could change things, but I doubt it. Unless he's a great prospect, it's unlikely that he'll make this look like a foolish trade for San Francisco.

Phillips goes down

Most people probably didn't even notice, but Brandon Phillips was sent down to the minor leagues on July 14. Phillips, of course, was one of the three prospects acquired by the Indians in the trade that sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos.

The demotion was well-deserved, as Phillips was hitting .210/.242/.307 (.549). In 300 at-bats, he had just 63 hits, 20 extra-base hits (15 doubles, a triple and four homers) and 12 walks while striking out 56 times. He was bad against lefties (.499 OPS) and righties (.565), at home (.574) and on the road (.582), during the day (.582) and at night (.533). He was bad in April (.614) and May (.620) and terrible in June (.484) and July (.507).

The only time Phillips has been a good hitter this year is early in the count if he's not behind. In 106 at-bats with the count 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1, Phillips was hitting .330 (35 hits) with a .538 SLG (eight doubles, a triple and all four of his homers). That says a lot about why Phillips has struggled -- he has no strike zone judgement. If a pitcher gives him something early that he can hit, he will frequently be successful. Pitchers don't need to give him anything he can hit usually, as he will help them out on pitches outside the zone and get himself behind in the count. And once he gets two strikes on him, he's doomed (his OPS with two strikes is below .300).

It's entirely possible that Phillips just needed more time at Class AAA. He's only 22 years old, and he started last year at Class AA and only played 65 games in AAA. What's more, he bounced all over the place last year, playing for four different teams (Class AA Harrisburg with MTL, Class AAA Ottawa with MTL, Class AAA Buffalo with Cleveland and the Cleveland Indians themselves) because of the trade. He did hit .300/.347/.476 (.823) with those four teams, but most of that success came with Harrisburg (.886 OPS in 60 games).

Hopefully for Indians fans, the Indians haven't stunted the progress of their best middle infield prospect. If he can go down to Buffalo for the rest of the season, improve his plate discipline and show that he's ready to start in the majors next year, it would be just what Cleveland needs.

You might be wondering why I'm so interested in Phillips.

Well, everybody knows that the Indians are in full-fledged rebuilding mode. And most people know that the Indians have a very good farm system stacked with prospects. What not everybody might know, is that Cleveland's good, young players are not distributed optimally.

The Indians have a ton of young players in Class AA, Class AAA and the major leagues who should be able to help now or very soon at first base (Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner and Eric Crozier), outfield (Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Alex Escobar, Ryan Church, Luke Scott and Grady Sizemore) and pitcher (C.C. Sabathia, Danys Baez, Billy Traber, Jason Davis, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jake Westbrook, David Riske, Alex Herrera, Brian Tallet, Cliff Lee, Nick Bierbrodt, Chad Durbin, Jeremy Guthrie, Matt White, Jason Stanford and Kazuhito Tadano).

The problem areas would appear to be catcher, second base, shortstop and third base. Corey Smith is probably their best third base prospect and he's nothing special, but the Indians thought they were set at catcher with Victor Martinez and at shortstop (or second base) with Phillips.

Martinez was hitting .328/.395/.474 (.869) in 73 games at Buffalo, but is hitting just .229/.275/.271 (.545) in 13 games since being called up and there are questions about his ability to be a catcher in the major leagues. If Phillips is unable to put everything together in the majors and Martinez proves that he is unable to either hit and/or play behind the plate in the majors, then the Indians rebuilding effort will take a serious hit.

They do have some other prospects in the middle infield (Jhonny Peralta, Maicer Izturis, Angel Santos and Joe Inglett) and at catcher (Josh Bard and Vic Valencia), but none of them are anywhere near as highly regarded as Phillips and Martinez. Hopefully the Indians won't end up like the Twins, with a glut of talent at some positions and nothing at others.

Although, if they are in that position, they'll probably handle it better than the Twins have (more on that sometime this weekend).

Friday, July 18, 2003

Harden makes The Show

As most of you probably already know, Rich Harden has been called up by the Oakland Athletics. The last two years, the A's have been able to make great second-half runs because Billy Beane has traded for good hitters (among other things) before the trading deadline. This year, they may make a great second-half run by adding another excellent starting pitcher before the trading deadline (although I still expect Beane to make a trade or two).

Harden started this season at Class AA Midland, where he pitched 13 perfect innings with 17 strikeouts before being promoted to Class AAA Sacramento. At Sacramento, he has posted a 3.15 ERA with 91 strikeouts (9.24 K/9IP) and 35 walks (2.6 K/BB) in 88.2 innings.

In 2001, Harden had a 3.39 ERA with 100 strikeouts (12.11 K/9IP) and 38 walks (2.63 K/BB) in 74.1 innings at Class A Vancouver. Last year, he started the season with a 2.93 ERA and 85 strikeouts (11.31 K/9IP) and 24 walks (3.54 K/BB) in 67.2 innings at Class A Visalia and then he had a 2.95 ERA with 102 strikeouts (10.77 K/9IP) and 52 walks (1.96 K/BB) in 85.1 innings at Class AA Midland.

Several things are apparent from looking at all those numbers. First, he strikes out a lot of people. His strikeout rates have dropped every time he's moved up, but he's still striking out more than a batter per inning. Second, he's moved up quickly. He hasn't needed 100 innings at any level before moving up to the next level. Third, he's improved dramatically (although it was a small sample) when repeating a level the following year.

According to John Sickels, Harden features a 92-95 mph fastball with movement that he has hit spots with. He also has a changeup (thrown with the same delivery and release point as the fastball), a splitter (sharp, gets a lot of ground balls) and a slider (inconsistent, but improved).

I've been looking forward to Harden getting called up since the beginning of the season and I can't wait to see what he does Monday against the Royals. Will he take the AL by storm as Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb have done in the NL? Or will he struggle like Jesse Foppert? The playoff picture in the AL may be affected by the answer to that question.

Of course, Harden isn't merely appearing in the major leagues. He's taking somebody's spot in Oakland.

Aaron Harang and John Halama have been Oakland's fifth starters this season, combining for 16 starts. They've posted a 5.06 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 5.06 K/9IP and 1.63 K/BB in 78.1 innings.

Harden's promotion to the majors will allow Halama to stay in the bullpen, where he has a 3.22 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 22.1 innings, and will allow Harang to stay in Sacramento, where he can't damage Oakland's playoff hopes.

Actually, it may be better for the A's if Halama doesn't pitch much anymore either. His 4.12 ERA isn't bad, but his 38 strikeouts and 26 walks in 74.1 innings is terrible. Also, he's only allowed 34 earned runs, but he's allowed 50 runs total.

At any rate, even if Harden isn't immediately as good as everybody expects, he should be a good bit better than Harang and Halama. (How cool would it be if Harang and Halama were actually good and Oakland's rotation included Hudson, Harden, Harang and Halama? Everybody could call them the 4H club.)

So, keep an eye out for Monday's Oakland/Kansas City game. Not only is it a matchup of potential playoff teams, but it's also the first start in what could be a very successful career for Harden.

UUU to Florida

A lot has already been written about the trade that sent Ugueth Urtain Urbina to the Marlins for prospects Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Snare and Will Smith, and I agree with most of it.

Urbina has 26 saves this season, but he is not a great pitcher. He had a 4.19 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP before the trade. Last year with the Red Sox, Urbina had a 3.00 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 10.65 K/9IP. He's striking out almost as many this year (9.76 K/9IP), but has already walked 20 batters in 39.2 innings after walking just 20 batters in 60 innings last year.

The idea that Urbina is really good comes from the fact that he saved 40 games last year and 26 games this year, but that fact makes this trade even more confusing. The Marlins don't even want Urbina to be their closer. Braden Looper has 17 saves with a 2.28 ERA and 1.31 WHIP and he will continue to close out games for the Marlins.

I have no doubt that Urbina is a better pitcher than the last reliever on Florida's roster, but that difference is not worth what the Marlins gave up. First, let's take a look at what they gave up.

Adrian Gonzalez is a 21-year-old first baseman who was the first overall pick in 2000. He was hitting just .216/.286/.288 in 39 games for Class AAA Albuquerque before the trade (after hitting .307/.368/.409 in 36 games at Class AA Carolina), but he is generally regarded as an excellent hitting prospect. He hasn't shown much power this year, but he had 17 home runs and 30-plus doubles each of the last two years (17 homers and 37 doubles in 127 games for Class A Kane County in 2000 and 17 homers and 34 doubles in 138 games for Class AA Portland last year).

Ryan Snare is a 24-year-old pitcher who was picked by Cincinnati in the second round in 2000. In 2001, he had a 3.05 ERA with 118 strikeouts (9.23 K/9IP) and 37 walks (3.19 K/BB) in 115 innings for Class A Dayton. Last year, he had a 3.21 ERA with 137 strikeouts (8.62 K/9IP) and 40 walks (3.43 K/BB) in 143 innings at three levels. This year, he had a 3.67 ERA with 77 strikeouts (6.73 K/9IP) and 37 walks (2.08 K/BB) in 103 innings at Class AA Carolina. The drop in strikeouts is a big concern, especially since he had struck out 52 batters in 55 innings at Class AA Portland last year.

Will Smith is a 21-year-old outfielder who was picked by the Marlins in the sixth round in 2000. Last year, he hit .299/.336/.474 (.810) in 133 games at Class A Jupiter. This year, he was hitting .293/.346/.374 (.720) in 34 games for Class AA Carolina before the trade. He seems to have a good batting stroke, but he needs to draw more walks and needs to show that he can keep his power at higher levels.

I applaud Florida's decision to make a run for the playoffs and try to get their fan base excited (or try to create a fan base at all), but they just went about it the wrong way. The Marlins do have a chance to make the playoffs, but it's not a very good one. They are five games back in the wild card race and there are three teams ahead of them, two teams tied with them and two other teams close enough to finish ahead of them.

I'd say there chances of making the playoffs (with Urbina on the team) are smaller than the chances that all three of prospects they traded will contribute positively in the major leagues within the next three years. Since Urbina almost certainly won't be back in Florida next year, that's not a good tradeoff. If the Marlins were intent on mortgaging their future to make a run at the playoffs, they should have looked to improve their outfield.

The Marlins have four main outfielders, and none of them are really anything to write home about this season.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .224/.294/.487 (.781) so far in his brief major-league career. His six doubles, four home runs and eight walks in 76 at-bats are a good sign, but he's hurting the offense right now with that sub-.300 OBP. He's very young (20 years old) and very talented, but that doesn't mean he's ready to help Florida make the playoffs this year.

Todd Hollandsworth is hitting .260/.311/.443 (.754). He's pretty much just being used as a pinch hitter right now, which is exactly how he should be used. He's not good enough to play every day.

Juan Encarnacion is hitting .283/.324/.471 (.794) with 15 steals in 20 attempts (75-percent success rate). His power (12 homers, five triples and 21 doubles) is decent for an outfielder in that park, but he's only drawn 22 walks and his OBP is bad. He has a nice success rate on steals, but getting extra bases isn't his problem. Getting on base is, so taking himself off base five times probably isn't a good idea.

Juan Pierre has been Florida's only good outfielder, hitting .298/.358/.361 (.719) with 44 steals in 54 attempts (81.5 percent). He gets on base at a decent rate, but has no power so his steals are helpful. I sometimes like to refigure a player's OPS by taking caught stealings out of OBP and adding steals to SLG for a rough estimate of how their basestealing affects their offense. For Pierre, his OBP would drop to .335 and his SLG would rise to .473, for an .808 OPS. I know OBP is more important than SLG, but a 23-point drop in OBP is probably more than made up for by a 112-point increase in SLG and Pierre is probably a lot more useful than most statisticall-inclined people (like myself) give him credit for.

Still, if your best offensive outfielder is Juan Pierre, you should be much more concerned about your outfield than your bullpen. And if you're going to trade away your future to try and make the playoffs, you probably shouldn't hurt your chances of making the playoffs by playing one of your remaining potential future stars if he's not ready.

Note - I'm having problems with my internet connection today, which is why I'm just now getting this first post up. I'll try to work through it and make as many posts as I can, but I might not get to as much as I wanted to today.

I'm back

I got back from vacation yesterday, but then I had to work until about 1 a.m. and I slept in this morning. So, I'm only now officially back to blogging. I would like to thank everybody who stopped by while I was away. I continued to have a good number of hits while I was on vacation, and I'm sorry that there wasn't anything new here for you to read. I'll try and make up for that today.

Today, I'm going to catch up and take a look at a bunch of things that have happened recently (trades, injuries, promotions, demotions). I will not necessarily be talking about them in the order that they happened. I have all day off and I plan on making several posts as there are many things I need to catch up on, so keep checking back today.

Sunday, July 13, 2003


I'm off to Lake George until Thursday, so there won't be any posts until then. Heck, I don't think I'll even be able to check up on anything, as I'm pretty sure there's no internet connection there. Luckily, I'm just missing a home run derby without the best home run hitters and an All-Star game that doesn't have all the stars.

If you've come here looking for stuff to read, be sure to check out the fine blogs listed to the right. I'll probably make a post when I get back on Thursday, depending on how late I get back. Enjoy the All-Star break.