13 January 2004

Anything You Kendall, I Kendall Better

And you thought the A-Rod for Nomar trade was dragged out?

The Pirates and Padres have been having these on-again/off-again discussions about Jason Kendall since he was playing Tee-Ball, it seems. At least as far back as mid-summer, before the Brian Giles trade was completed (it was completed, wasn't it?), they were talking about making Jason Kendall a part of that trade. It didn't happen then, but it might now.

The theory goes like this:

Team A has overpaid, injury-prone, possibly underproductive* (*relative to his salary) player under contract for three more years making approximately, All the Money in the World, per season. But Team A wants to slash payroll by, let's say, All the Money in the World, per season. This is necessary because their brand spanking new, state-of-the-art, downtown stadium, Beautiful and Intimate though it is, only has about thirty seven seats in it, including those in which the players themselves must sit while not grounding into double plays, and therefore is not bringing in nearly enough revenue to justify paying All the Money in the World to one guy, even if he does have a knack for bouncing back from injuries that would leave lesser men broadcasting. Or playing first base.

So the logical thing to do is to find another team to take said player off their hands, which is easier said (or blogged) than done. First of all, you hafta find another team dumb brave enough to want to take on three years worth of All the Money in the World. This process can be aided if said team has its own shiny, new, beautifully intimate ballpark being constructed right now, in preparation for 2004. The alleged revenue stream from this new ballpark should help to offset the need for All the Money in the World, so long as it occurred to the architects to put more than thirty seven seats in the place. Let's hope it did.

Secondly, you need to convince said team, brave though they may be, that there's some reason they would want this guy. After all, you're trying to get rid of him, so there's gotta be something good enough about him that Team B would want him even though Team A doesn't. The two typical ways of going about this are

A) Player would be happier in new city and therefore play better.
2) Player is from new city and is therefore a bigger fan drawing card.

And of course, you'll probably have to eat some ridiculous contract that the other team wants to jettison just as badly, if not more.

I don't think that anyone is contending that Jason Kendall will play any better in San Diego than he did in Pittsburgh (though he would apparently like to be reunited with Brian Giles), so that's not it. The main thing is that the Padres do in fact have a new stadium opening this year and they, like everyone else, need someone back there to catch the balls their pitchers throw, at least the few that won't get smacked into left field or some nearby body of water.

The Padres have one of these already, in Ramon Hernandez, for whom they traded fewer than two months ago. Hernandez though, they may realize, is just coming off his age-27 season and easily the best offensive performance of his career, so his value is probably as high as it will ever be, especially since he's under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate. This gives him the value they need to package him in a deal with Jeff Cirillo, who used to not suck, but now he does, and sucky players making $7 million/year and playing a position for which you already have a young, reasonably productive and cheap solution are not, as they say in France, "good P.R." So Cirillo and his sub-Neifi .555 OPS have gotta go.

So the Padres get rid of one of the headaches for which they recently traded (Cirillo) and a decent-but-soon-to-be-overvalued catcher (Hernandez) and they get a somewhat better catcher, who's a little older but WAY overpaid, and hopefully some cash to help make up for that.

But how much better is the team? Sure, they got rid of Cirillo, who, like Greg Vaughn and Dr. Kevorkian, makes everyone around him just a little worse. Sure, they upgraded from Hernandez to Kendall, but what's that really worth?

Player, Team	RC	RC27	outs	WS	EQA	RARP

J. Lopez 107.6 9.11 319 27 .337 64.4
J. Posada 100 7.35 367 23.1 .318 58.4
J. Kendall 99.5 6.46 416 21.6 .286 40.8
I. Rodriguez 85.4 5.93 389 17.7 .293 41.6
M. Lieberthal 83 6.13 366 17.5 .292 39.4
J. Varitek 80.3 6.16 352 17 .293 37.5
A. Pierzynski 78.6 5.96 356 16.3 .285 33.5
R. Hernandez 71.2 5.15 373 13.4 .272 26.8
G. Myers 56.3 6.13 248 11.9 .293 23.8
P. Lo Duca 68.1 4.14 444 10.4 .257 18.1

These are the top ten catchers in MLB, 2003, ranked by offensive Win Shares (the short form).

The numbers also include their Runs Created (RC), Runs Created Per 27 Outs (RC27), Outs made, Win Shares (WS), Baseball Prospectus' EqA and Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP).

A Win Share, as you may recall, is worth roughly one-third of a win, so, for example, Javy Lopez's 27 WS in 2003 are conveniently worth about 9 wins, total. Ten runs in BB Prospectus' calculations are also worth approximately one win. The difference between Kendall and Hernandez is 8.2 Win Shares, fewer than three wins over the course of the season. However, that's not the whole story. Kendall also made almost 45 more outs, which is not insignificant. If you normalize for the same number of plate appearances that Kendall had (661, or 133 more than Ramon) the difference would be only 4.8 Win Shares, about a win and a half. If instead you use RARP, you get an actual difference of 14 runs, approximately a win and a half worth, and a normalized difference of only 7.2 runs, less than one win. So, it's fairly safe to say that with the same playing time, Kendall is worth something like one to two wins more than Hernandez, at these production rates.

However, it must be said that it's not likely that they will see the same playing time, because Kendall's increased number of plate appearances is due partly to his being a pretty decent baserunner for a catcher, not that he steals bases much anymore, but that he's fast enough that it rarely makes much sense to put in a pinch-runner for him late in a game. Hernandez, on the other hand, runs like Wade Boggs towing Cecil Fielder, and has a nasty reverse platoon split (hit .208 vs. lefties, .302 vs. righties in 2003) so he probably gets lifted for pinch runners/hitters all the time.

(Speaking of Wade Boggs, having a home-town boy doesn't really do much to draw fans. Tampa Bay tried this in 1998, and they managed to draw 2,506,293 more fans than they had in 1997, but considering that the team didn't actually play in '97, that's not saying much. They lost almost a million fans in '99, and have continued to watch attendance drop in every year since. It didn't work with Jose Canseco in '99 or Fred McGriff in 2000, or Lou Piniella in 2003, so somehow I don't think that Tino Martinez will help things next year, unless he and the rest of his teammates remember how to hit like Tino did in 1997. And (back to the point...) Kendall won't really help the Padres draw fans unless the team is good. That's the main thing that baseball fans will pay to see. That, and bloopers videos, but since the Tigers have pretty much cornered the market on bloopers, the Padres really hafta put a decent playing team on that shiny new field or nobody's going to give a slice of rat-tart where their catcher grew up, or how beautifully intimate the shiny, new stadium is, after the first year. So there.)

But the point is that Hernandez and Kendall are not so different in terms of production despite their differences in style and playing time, and I think that's clear. I don't see what's really in this for San Diego, other than getting rid of Jeff Cirillo.

Both players will likely suffer something of a drop-off in 2004. Kendall will because he's hitting 30 years old and much of his value is tied up in his .325 batting average, which can fluctuate easily. But he's always had great plate discipline, usually walking as much as or more often than he strikes out, so he shouldn't drop as far as Hernandez might. Even though he's younger, Hernandez's offense is based almost entirely on his decent power (21 homers)and mediocre batting average (.273). With only 33 walks in over 500 plate appearances, and already 27 years old, he's not likely to start taking more pitches at this age, and will be facing almost an entirely new set of pitchers and parks in the NL. He'll probably revert to something like the .250 with 15 homers he usually provides, which is still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but won't make the Pittsburgh fans forget What's-His-Name.

Oh, yeah: All the Money In The World.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: