19 February 2004


Scooter, eat your heart out.

Let’s talk about the Alex Rodriguez deal. Why not, right? Everyone else is.

Alex Rodriguez is now a Yankee, having been traded by the Rangers, with a huge pile of money, for 2B Alfonso Soriano and a PTBNL. I cannot, for my life, figure out why the Rangers would do this. Alex Rodriguez is the reigning AL MVP, probably the best player in the AL, and possibly the best shortstop in history, and the Rangers couldn’t wait to get rid of the guy? Why?

They have argued that his enormous contract (all together now: $252 million over ten years) was a millstone around the organization’s collective neck, preventing them from acquiring the pitching they needed to compete. This is ridiculous. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out a few days ago, the problem isn’t the $20-25 million they pay A-Rod each year to vie for the MVP award. The problem is the $12 million they pay Chan Ho Park to put up ERAs higher than, well, than almost anybody. The problem is the $3 million they’ll pay Jay Powell each of the next three years. The problem is manifold, and it is not named Alex.

The trouble is that perception often trumps reality. The fact that Alex is paid so much to play for a team that doesn’t win makes him (and agent Scott Boras, who negotiated the deal) out to be the bad guy, when really the guys who gave him the deal, and gave much more detrimental deals to lesser players, are to blame. Tom Hicks can’t, or won’t, fire himself, so he figures that if they can rid themselves of this contract, no matter how good he may be, it’s got to help them create fiscal flexibility in the future.

This year’s basically shot, since there wasn’t a ton of pitching talent available on the free agent market in the first place, and the last of it, Greg Maddux, just signed with the Cubs. I’m not sure who’ll become available at the trading deadline or after the season, but you’d have to think that the Rangers will be sellers rather than buyers in July, given their already terrible pitching and their tough competition in the AL West. So how does this help them?

Supposedly, in the “long run”, it allows them to sign the talent they need to compete, without one player taking up such a significant portion of the payroll. In reality, while they may have overpaid more than a little for A-Rod, having misinterpreted both the projected market and the existing competition for his services, he’s still worth it. Or at least he’s more worth his $25 million/year than Manny Ramirez is worth his $20M. And more than Jeter’s worth his $19M, etc. because there isn’t anybody else as good as A-Rod is.

Of course, the other “real problem” with A-Rod’s contract was that if he were to be signed now, he wouldn’t get anywhere near that kind of money or that length of commitment. Rumors out of ESPN’s Jayson Stark indicate that the Cardinals may be about to sign Albert Pujols to a 7-year, $100M, and that probably sounds about right. Amazingly, the Yankees worked it out so that this is about what they will pay him. Actually it’s more like $90 million over seven years, which seems like a bargain. That’s less than $13M/year, less (on average) than Vlad Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Delgado, Barry Bonds, Shawn Green, Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Mike Hampton, Todd Helton, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and maybe a few other guys, none of whom will do as much to help their teams win games over the next half a decade or so than Rodriguez will. He’ll still be the best player in the AL, but the Yankees have the advantage, if he’s good, of having their competition pay him to beat them. And if he’s bad, they have the advantage of pointing to the Rangers and saying, “Well, at least we’re not paying his whole contract!”

Usually the Yanks are on the other side of the dump, sending aging, overpaid players, with some cash, to other teams to free up space for someone better (and often more expensive.) In this case, the Yankees somehow managed to convince the Rangers not only to give up the best player in the AL to its wealthiest team, but also to help pay his contract, to the tune of about $67,000,000. You could maybe see doing something like that if A-Rod had prematurely aged and started to suck, but he’s still young and awesome, so I just don’t see how it makes any sense at all for the Rangers.

While the Yanks did have to give up a pretty significant and talented player (plus a PTBNL from a list of about five) to get him, what they lost is nowhere near the value of what they gained. Don’t get me wrong: Alfonso Soriano is great, one of the ten or 15 most valuable players in the game right now, but he’s no A-Rod. He’s got power and speed, hits for average and plays a key defensive position, but he’s no A-Rod. His defense is actually better than he gets credit for, and improving, but he’s no A-Rod. Poor strike zone judgment, leading to enormous amounts of strikeouts with few walks mean that, you guessed it: He’s no A-Rod.

In fact, the only real (or apparent) advantages he had over Rodriguez at the time of the deal were that he was cheaper (making $5.4 million this year, with one or two more years of arbitration before hitting the free agent market) and that he was younger, 26 to Rodriguez’s 29. Well, now it turns out that Soriano is actually 28 himself, having lied about his age, but only finally admitting it now. Lee Sinins reported this a few days ago, and says that the Rangers were aware of it during negotiations, which makes the fact that the deal actually happened all the more unfathomable.

Sinins’ stats (Runs Above Average) indicate that Rodriguez is a much better player than Soriano, and he is, but since they don’t play the same positions, it’s a little tough to compare them. Baseball Prospectus has Rodriguez making about 10-15 more runs than Soriano in each of the last two seasons, roughly one win’s worth, over the course of the season. However, since there are fewer shortstops than second basemen who can hit, A-Rod comes out about +80 runs above replacement level for shortstops, whereas Soriano’s only about +55 for 2Bs, a much greater disparity. If Rodriguez moves over to play 3B, then obviously his RAA and RARP numbers would drop a little, since 3B’s can usually hit better than shortstops. Similarly, if Soriano is moved over to SS (where he played throughout his minor league career, and where it makes the most sense for the Rangers to put him) his RAA/RARPs increase, actually making him more of an asset, assuming that he continues to hit as he has the last few seasons.

That’s the thing though: If he’s already 28 years old, it’s likely that he’s already hit a plateau, that he won’t get much better. Of course, you can more than live with .290/.340/.520 from a middle infielder, especially one who steals 30-40 bases with a high success rate. If that was his peak though, if he’s about to start sliding, then you’d be a fool to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract. Or at least you’d be a fool to sign him to the same, expensive, long-term contract you might have signed him to a couple of weeks ago. Soriano will continue to be a pretty darn good player, and will probably be even better if they don’t have him batting leadoff, since we all know that working the pitcher is not where his strengths lie. He just won’t likely be as good as a lot of people expected, and he might even be a lot worse than Lee Sinins expected.

On the other side of the trade, the Yankees got an All-Star, MVP-caliber shortstop, which, as you may have heard, was not something they needed. What they did need was a third baseman, and the current plan is for Rodriguez to shift over to 3B, with Jeter continuing at short. Since Jeter’s the Captain, I guess the prerogative to move is his.

Almost anyone with any sabermetric background, or whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Slim Lickstarver”, will tell you that Jeter is not a good defensive SS. In fact, if Baseball Prospectus’s defensive stats are to be believed, Jeter’s been between 19 and 24 runs worse than a replacement level SS each of the last four years, including –22 in only 119 games this season.

So why keep him there? Why let the lousy defender stay at the tougher position and move the better player to a different, easier position? Rob Neyer has pointed out that A-Rod really isn’t that great with the glove, though he is slightly above average. But his +5 fielding runs coupled with Jeter’s –20 means that the Yankees risk a deficit of about two wins over the course of the year, just due to their defense at shortstop, assuming that Jeter would otherwise be an average fielding third baseman.

Once again, though, we reach an assumption that may not be accurate. The main reason for Jeter’s defensive ineptitude is his lack of range, his inability to reach that ball hit up the middle, bouncing past him into center field. At 3B, you don’t need as much range as you do at SS, since there’s less ground to cover. But if Jeter’s got such lousy range because he has such a slow reaction time, then he might be an even worse defensive 3B than he is a SS. And perhaps having a decent defensive 3B in Alex will help to decrease the range Jeter needs at short, which could allow him to cheat a little toward the bag at second base, making the entire infield defense better. Not good, but better, anyway.

Somebody I read the other day indicated that he thought it fairly likely that Jeter will not spend the whole season at short, that A-Rod will take over there a few months into the season, once it becomes apparent that he’s still terrible there at that they now have a better option, about 40 feet to Jeter’s right. I doubt this.

I think that if Jeter is going to spend any significant time playing third base this season, the Yankees are going to have him getting ready to do so in February and March, not in July. There’s no way that the New York Yankees, the most storied and successful franchise in all of professional sports, in the midst of a pennant race with their hated rivals, the Boston 1918’s, er, RedSox, will take any chances that they don’t have to take. There’s no way they go out on a limb in June or July and put an unknown out there at third base on the off chance that Jeter will suck less at third than he does at short. They’d rather have one guy who’s good and one who’s consistently bad than one who’s good and another who’s erratically, unpredictably bad. Game implications aside: the politics, the hype, the second guessing and back-page, tabloid pressures would be too great to even think about taking such a chance.

There’s too much riding on this season, and it looks much better, if they don’t win in the playoffs, to have Joe Torre quoted as saying something like, “We did what we’ve always done, what we’ve done for years, and they just plain beat us.” Than to have to read him saying, “Well, we tried something different, on a lark. We took a gamble, and it didn’t work.” Such a gamble would probably cost Torre his job, and I just don’t see that happening. Torre didn’t get to be the longest tenured manager in the history of Steinbrenner’s Yankees by taking chances. He got there by going with what he knows, what already works, and if he wants to keep doing so, he won’t let chance come between him and his next contract any more than necessary.

Of course, now they need a secondbaseman, and to answer your question, Mom, no, Miguel Cairo isn’t any good. Not sure exactly what they’re gonna do about that, but I’m pretty sure that Cairo/Almonte/Whomever they have in AAA Columbus is not the answer.


A few plugs:

Al Bethke, over at the Milwaukee Brewers blog, Al's Ramblings, has got a couple of new posts you might like to ckeck out. One of them is an interview with Brewers AAA catcher (and book/blog writer) Chris Coste.

He's also got a roundtable discussion he posted last Wednesday (2/11). Interesting even if you're not a Brew Crew fan.

Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter/Transaction Guy, has revamped the All-Baseball.com website, and they've got quite a few different, interesting and excellent writers. Almost anything you could ask for, except me. And you've already got me.

Seth Stohs has a post comparing traditional to Sabermetric baseball stats, which is over at Seth Speaks.

On a more personal note, I have had the good fortune to be added to the list of another baseball website, the brandy-spankin-new BaseballOutsider.com. Four other columnists (maybe more...) and I contribute, as do other bloggers to whom Outsider links. I'm honored to be a part of their effort. Go check them out.

And lastly, but not leastly, I will be adding a few more advertisements for baseball tickets this weekend, when I return home from a business trip and have access to my own computer. If anyone else is interested in advertising on Boy of Summer, please drop me a line.

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16 February 2004

Second Time's the Charm

Sophomoric (adj.): Exhibiting great immaturity and lack of judgment.

Well, pitchers and catchers don't all report for almost another week, but while we're all sitting around waiting for the snow to melt, let's look forward to 2004. What might we expect from this year, and more specifically, what might we expect from the substantial crop of players who will continue into their second year in the majors? Who will crack under the pressure, and who might flourish with another year of seasoning? Who will succumb to the dreaded Sophomore Slump?

I took the data for all of the rookies in 2003 who say significant playing time, everyone with at least 250 plate appearances, about half a season's worth. These guys will no longer qualify as rookies (I think the cutoff is 150 plate appearances) in 2004, and many of them have a starting job with their major league team this coming year. There were 30 players, but I threw out Eric Munson, Rob Calloway, Matt Kata, Jhonny Peralta and Kevin Witt because frankly, I don't think anyone really cares all that much what they'll do in 2004, except maybe their moms. And it made for fewer players for me to examine.

Anyway, here they are, ranked in order of Plate Appearances/Walk, along with some other stats:

1 Overbay, Ari 254 1 0 8.26 .276 .365 .402 .767
2 K. Ginter, Mil 358 1 1 10.68 .257 .352 .427 .779
3 H. Matsui, NYY 623 2 2 10.89 .287 .353 .435 .788
4 Podsednik, Mil 558 43 10 10.96 .314 .379 .443 .822
5 Phillips, NYM 403 0 1 11.33 .298 .373 .442 .815
6 M. Byrd, Phi 495 11 1 12.25 .303 .366 .418 .784
7 Teixeira, Tex 529 1 2 13.02 .259 .331 .480 .811
8 Broussard, Cle 386 5 2 13.06 .249 .312 .443 .755
9 Wigginton, NYM 573 12 2 13.46 .255 .318 .396 .714
10 Cabrera, Fla 314 0 2 13.56 .268 .325 .468 .793
11 T. Hafner, Cle 291 2 1 14.23 .254 .327 .485 .812
12 J. Gerut, Cle 480 4 5 14.71 .279 .336 .494 .830
13 J. Bard, Cle 303 0 2 14.77 .244 .293 .373 .666
14 Everett, Hou 387 8 1 14.82 .256 .320 .380 .700
15 X. Nady, SD 371 6 2 16.46 .267 .321 .391 .712
16 Monroe, Det 425 4 2 16.74 .240 .287 .449 .736
17 M. Olivo, CWS 317 6 4 17.68 .237 .287 .360 .646
18 K. Harvey, KC 485 2 3 17.72 .266 .313 .408 .721
19 C. Crisp, Cle 414 15 9 19.00 .266 .302 .353 .655
20 A. Berroa, KC 567 21 5 20.55 .287 .338 .451 .789
21 R. Johnson, Tor 412 5 3 21.60 .294 .353 .427 .780
22 J. Reyes, NYM 274 13 3 22.08 .307 .334 .434 .769
23 R. Baldelli, TB 637 27 10 22.23 .289 .326 .416 .742
24 B. Hart, StL 296 3 1 25.67 .277 .317 .395 .713
25 Phillips, Cle 370 4 5 27.43 .208 .242 .311 .553

I know it's a long list, but stick with me.

Some of the interesting things to note here:

Young and inexperienced Brandon Phillips, who was slated to be the Indians' starting SS in Spring 2003, spent three and a half months sucking, and lost his job in mid-July. He was replaced by even younger, even less-experienced Jhonny Peralta, who, while better than Phillips, also stank very much bad. Phillips, as I understand it, is the future at SS for the Tribe, so he's listed despite the sub-Neifi .553 OPS.

And speaking of the Indians, did you know that they had no fewer than seven rookies get at least 250 plate appearances last year? Peralta, Phillips, Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Josh Bard, Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut, who came out of nowhere to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Also he has a blog. Cool. I wonder if all those at-bats by rookies (not to mention Alex Escobar, Victor Martinez, Angel Santos and Ryan Ludwick) is some kind of record? Amazingly, despite their relative lack of experience, they still finished 25 games ahead of the Tigers in the standings.

I could have chosen any of a number of ways to rank/list these guys, but I chose their walk rates because patience at the plate tends to be a better predictor of future performance than batting average or RBI, and on-base percentages can be artificially bolstered by an uncharacteristically high batting average. I also listed steals and caught stealing to show that some of these guys have skills that don't show through in the percentage numbers.

The highest profile rookie of 2003, Hideki Matsui, was not spectacular, but was one of the most patient of the rookies. Of course, a 27-year old who's been in a semi-major league for several years ought to be more patient than a lot of 22-year olds getting their first bitter taste of Major League Coffee. He didn't hit many homers, but 42 doubles helped him to a decent slugging percentage. At his age, I wouldn't look for him to take any huge strides in 2004, in either direction. He may improve a little, with a year of experience under his belt, but I understand that "Matsui" is a Japanese word for "grounder to second", so don't bet on him returning to the 50-homer seasons he had in Japan.

Jody Gerut actually had the highest OPS of any qualified rookie in 2003, but his walk rate (35 in 480 AB) was distinctly middle-of-the-pack, but his minor-league history shows that he used to be pretty patient. If he can regain some of the walks he used to get in the minors and keep his newly-discovered power (two big ifs), he'll be a pretty decent, non-Coors-inflated, Ellis Burks type of player, without so much batting average. Unfortunately, a torn rotator cuff may keep him either sidelined or inneffective for much of 2004.

Lyle Overbay, part of the trade that sent Richie Sexson to Arizona, will likely be the Brewers' starting first baseman. He's probably nothing spectacular, but he's patient and has a little power. Without Mark Grace there to compete for his job, he should get plenty of at-bats, and a .300/..390/.450 type of season isn't out of the question.

Milwaukee's two rookies, Scott Podsednik and Kieth Ginter, are not as bad as you might think, considering that they play for the Brewers. Podsednik probably should have won the NL RoY honors, hitting .314 and scoring 100 runs for a last-place team. His patience and speed should help him to remain an effective part of the Brewers (ahem) offense, but he's not young (28 on opening day) so don't expect any notable improvement. Look for his batting average to drop back into the ~.280 range, more in line with his minor league stats, and perhaps for him to lose some of those steals.

Ginter's got more power, but less patience, a lot less batting average and no speed at all. Still, a 2B with 15-homer pop is still kind of unusual, and he's not terribly impatient, but again, he'll be 28 in May, and is therefore likely already as good as he'll ever get. Think David Bell with 20 more walks and without the $3 million annual price-tag.

The Mets have three players on this list, Ty Wigginton, Jason Phillips and Jose Reyes. These are very different animals.

Wigginton should be a serviceable major league 3B. Baseball Prospectus projected him to hit .257/.319/.408, which rather nicely reflects the .255/.318/.392 line he did put up, albeit in twice as many at-bats as they expected, since the Mets never picked up a real option at third. He's not great at anything, but has a little patience, a little power, and a little speed, which, if I'm not mistaken, gets you a little over $4 million in annual salary once you hit free agency, right? Wigginton is as good an option as they have, is still cheap, and is young enough (25) to possibly improve in 2004. Don't bet on anything better than .275/.325/.425 though.

Phillips has always shown the ability to hit, with ~.280/.340/.450 kinds of numbers throughout his minor league career. Reportedly he's a decent defensive catcher as well, and his patience and ability to avoid the strikeout should help him to remain a solid (if unspectacular) hitter in 2004. Hopefully splitting time with Mike Piazza at catcher and First Base will help to prolong both of their careers.

Despite not being old enough to have a legal drink in 2003, Reyes hit .307 in almost 300 National League at-bats, having essentially been handed the job as the starting shortstop in July (why not, right?). But he sustained an ankle injury at the end of August that kept him out for the rest of the year. Everyone has raved about this guy's tools, and they're certainly there. He doesn't have much power, but is purportedly an excellent fielder, and has tremendous speed. Experience is helping that speed to translate into better success with stolen bases. (Despite 58 steals at AA and A in 2002, he was successful only about 70% of the time, but succeeded in 83% of his attempts at AAA and the majors in 2003.) Like a lot of 20-year old Dominican shortstops, he could stand to learn a little about plate discipline, but he seems to have all the tools and drive needed to get over that too. Look for him to suffer through a semi-slump in the early part of the season, but to make the necessary adjustments and continue to impress in 2004.

The Phillies' Marlon Byrd does a little of everything: a little speed (11 for 12 in steals), a little pop (39 extra base hits), pretty good patience (a walk every twelve plate appearances), batting average and solid defense. Rookies of the Year have been named after doing less than he did in 2003. Nothing's not to like, and as he matures, he should develop some more power. Perhaps a little drop in the batting average, but he should be a solid part of the Phillies' lineup in 2004.

Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner, both 1B/DH types who've proven all they can in the minors, both hit for mediocre averages with some power and not much patience, as you might expect from guys getting their first real shot in the majors. Both should regain some of the patience and batting average they showed in the minors. Hafner's younger and is already better than Broussard, so expect him to make the greater progress.

Speaking of the Indians, Josh Bard and Coco Crisp are the only ones I haven't yet discussed. Bard is probably good enough to keep hanging around the majors for a long time, but he's not anything special as catchers go. No power, decent bat control. Crisp has plenty of speed, but hasn't been successful enough as a base stealer to really help his teams (only successful 69% of the time since he reached the Carolina league at age 21.) He's still only 24, and could learn to be more effective with some patience at the plate and some wisdom on the basepaths, but is not likely to be the second coming of Kenny Lofton in 2004. More like Tom Goodwin or Doug Glanville.

Adam Everett, the one-time shortstop-of-the-future for the RedSox, can't really hit, as you can see. That it's taken him until the age of 26 to nail down a more or less full time job, and that he only managed to hit .256/.320/.380 in said stint, is an indication that you shouldn't expect much. He's got no power, and doesn't really hit for average, but will take an occasional walk, and is supposed to be a slick fielder. Omar Vizquel without the steals?

Xavier Nady should probably have done more than he did in 2003, but missed some time with injuries and platoons. He always hit in the minors and is still only 25, so don't be surprised if he does something like .290/.350/.450 in 2004.

Craig Monroe, second to Dmitri Young on the dismal Tigers' "offense" with 23 homers, would probably be a decent reserve 1B/3B on most teams. On this one, he's the starter, so he gets to rack up a few more counting stats. Probably still decent power numbers in '04, but don't expect him to ever hit much more than .275, and in that lineup, won't get many RBI opportunities or walk enough to score many runs.

Miguel Cabrera made a nice splash as an OF and 3B during the latter part of the season and especially during the playoffs. He hit OK and is versatile and flexible on defense, but at this point, with barely more than 300 major league at-bats to his name, who knows? He didn't display fantastic plate discipline, or great power, or very much average, but to do even what he did, at the tender age of 20, provides a harbinger of perhaps great things. Maybe not the next Albert Pujols, but great things.

Miguel Olivo. See Bard, Josh.

Ken Harvey is not likely to be much more than a part-time player, if he can't prove that his egregious platoon split was a fluke. The trouble with players who show a limitation like that early in their careers is that they usually don't get a chance to prove themselves later. If you do pick him up for your fantasy team, don't start him against righties. Don't worry though, righties only comprise like, 85% of the pitchers in the majors. Wait a minute...worry.

The guys who may really have trouble continuing their success, or staving off an early retirement, are the guys on the bottom of our list, the guys who walked less often than once every 20 plate appearances. Angel Berroa won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but he never hit much in the minors, and the numbers he did put up last year may have been artificially inflated by Kaufmann Stadium's recently aquired penchant for allowing runs to score. He's still a good defensive SS, by all accounts, which should help him keep his job, but it's highly possible that he'll never hit 17 homers or ~.290 again.

Reed Johnson hit at just about every level in the minors, with pretty good plate discipline, a little pop, and even some speed (42 steals in the Southern League two years ago). His only struggle came at his first taste of AAA, but ever before and since he's been rock-solid. He's a little old, but should be hitting his peak years now, so look for some moderate improvements across the board, maybe even a small power spike. A .300 average and 20 homers is not out of the question, if he can regain the plate discipline he showed at previous levels.

Rocco Baldelli, with more speed, more pop, and frankly, more talent than Johnson, having reached the majors and put up comparable numbers at an age of only 22. Sammy Sosa and Roberto Clemente put up similar numbers early in their careers, but then so did a lot of other guys you've never heard of. He's got the talent to make the necessary adjustments if he wants to, but he should really decide if he's gonna be a threat to swipe bases or not. His rate last year just made the break-even level for actually helping the team, and his minor league rates weren't even that good. Despite the plate discipline problems, he'll likely hit for a pretty decent average, numbers across the board slightly better than they were in 2003. But note that his lack of power, walks and success stealing bases make him overrated.

Bo Hart. See Baldelli, Rocco. Except for what I said about the speed. That and the stuff about improving next year.

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09 February 2004

Shouts and Plugs...

I am typically not that good at giving plugs to other sites. For one thing, I don't have enough time to go out and read all of even the most prominent baseball bloggers, especially the more long-winded ones. But even when they actually ask for a plug via email, I often... um...something, what was I saying?

Anyway, you get the point: Short Attention Span Theatre.

But today is different. No hard-hitting statistical analysis. No witty and entertaining writing. No arguing with Jayson Stark or Peter Gammons. No breaks for the bathroom.

Just commercials. Un-paid commercials. I apologize in advance.

So here goes:

The first shout goes out to Dan McLaughlin, whose Baseball Crank website is pretty darn good in general, even though he hates the Yankees. He's got an ongoing series on Win Shares, specifically regarding the levels that some prominent players have established for themselves over the last few years. He's analyzing each division in baseball individually, most recently the AL East. Go check him out.

Secondly, I've added a permanent link to BaseballOutsider.com, on the left, which may also be reproducing some of my stuff soon, but I guess we'll see. They're brandy-spankin-new, so they could certainly benefit from a few folks going to check them out.

Jay Jaffe maintains the Futility Infielder, and recently did a pretty extensive study of Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics. He does a good job of explainging the concept (Voros McCracken's idea) and then looking at who fared bes and worst in 2003. It's pretty full of spreadsheet data, without a whole lot of discussion, other than the explanations, so if you're not a big numbers geek like me, it might not be your thing. Just to warn you.

If you're an A's fan, and really, if you're not, you should be, there's been some interesting writing around some of the more mainstream baseball websites, who don't need me for publicity, but they're getting it anyway.

Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry says (sorry, premium subscribers only) that the Athletics won't be nearly as bad an offensive team as lots of people seem to think in 2004, despite the significant losses of Miggy Tejada and Rammy Hernandez. His points, essentially, are that Out-Makers Terrence Long and Chris Singleton are gone and that Jermaine Dye can't possibly be as horrendous as he was last year. He's probably right, but I'd still be worried, if I were the A's. Mostly because I'd have to get twenty five tax returns done in about a month, but also because of the offense thing.

Rob Neyer says that nobody should get too excited about newly-signed A's 1B Eric Karros' recent platoon splits against lefties, as it may just be an anomaly. I'm having a hard time with this one, since one of the things we do as baseball analysts is examine how players perform in certain situations, and against certain types of competition, so I'm going to look into this more.

I'll write to Rob and let you know what I discover. I may even do a series or column examining the issue of platoon splits. (For those of you who may be new to Boy of Summer, this means that I will most definitely NOT do a column on this issue. Just so you know.)

And last but not finally, John Perricone has got a whole new website design at Only Baseball Matters. Same great writing from the same great Giants fan, only with Space-Age Polymers! I mean colors. Pretty cool.

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03 February 2004

One Drew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Back in 1998, the Yankees took a gamble with their third-round draft pick, scooping up a two-sport, high school standout from Michigan named Drew Henson. Sports Illustrated did an article about Henson in August of that year, perhaps even the cover, if I recall correctly, hyping his talent and potential as only the Carrier of the Curse can. Naturally, today Henson's a failure as a baseball player.

The whole reason the Yankees were able to pick up such an apparently talented player at such a low position in the draft (immortal talents like Andy Van Hekken and Alex Santos were chosen ahead of him) was the question of his signability. Henson is from Michigan, and by the time of the MLB amatuer draft had already committed to play quarterback for the University of Michigan football team after graduation from high school, so nobody else figured they could convince him to give that up and sign with them to play baseball. The Yankees figured that they could afford to take a chance on Henson, given their tradition, and the presence of fellow Michigan alum Derek Jeter and, oh, let's say seventeen million other reasons. (Most draft picks who go #97 overall don't get 6-year guaranteed major league contracts that make them independently wealthy at the age of 18.)

Sports Illustrated's article explained at the time that Henson was not only a two-sport star, but a two-way star within the sport of baseball, serving as both the starting thirdbaseman for his high school team and its star pitcher. The Yankees chose to have him playing 3B full time, and while he did show some promise in his first few seasons, he was never impressive and failed to improve once he was moved up to AAA.

Years                      Avg   G    AB    R    H   2B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   SLG   OBP   OPS

1998-2000 (mostly A & AA) .275 159 600 92 165 34 23 88 54 187 .453 .335 .788
2001-2003 (mostly AAA) .235 342 1257 161 295 77 44 186 82 369 .410 .282 .692

The rates of Henson's "counting stats" (homers, RBI, etc.) stayed about the same, but he lost what little batting average he had, which cost him quite a lot in his on-base and slugging percentages. Clearly, if he's been in the minors for six years and is striking out 170 times and walking only 40 times a season, against the likes of Everett Stull and Mike Buddie, he's not going to be able to handle Jamie Moyer's "same-up" in the majors, not to mention Randy Johnson's slider or Barry Zito's curve.

Which is why he'll be working out for potential NFL suitors next week.

One thing that would have been interesting, I think, would have been to see if Henson could have gone back to pitching. Brooks Kieschnick got himself back into the majors solely on his ability to both hit and pitch, though admittedly he's great at neither. I'm sure that Henson has no desire to be a part time, "useful spare part" like Kieschnick, when he could be a star quarterback in the NFL instead. But what if he could go back to pitching and become good, that would make it worthwhile to stay in baseball, no?

It would take some work, which takes time, to see if he's even got the "stuff" anymore. He'd have to prove he can get minor leaguers out, and start from the bottom of the ladder again, working his way back up. I imagine that, ironically, trying to keep Ray Lewis from turning you into a permanent part of somebody's astroturf looks like a pretty attractive option right now.

Good luck to him. Maybe the Yankees can use his $12 million dollars to find a thirdbaseman who doesn't suck.

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