Sports Outside the Beltway

Hot Stove Update: Twelve Shopping Days ’til Christmas Edition

Baseball’s hot stove season keeps crackling along with a firesale beginning in Baltimore, a strange signing in San Francisco and the effective release of a phenomenal talent with an arm that was abused.

Dead Team, Dead Team Swapping

Let’s start with the Orioles.

Andy MacPhail is the new head honcho in Baltimore and his primary job is turning around a moribund franchise. It is about time. The Orioles recently woes have resulted in poor showings, fan protests and the dreadful overreach that typifies teams just beyond terrible, but nowhere near good.

Move number one in the now ongoing firesale:

Orioles Give Astros Give
  • SS Miguel Tejada
  • OF Luke Scott
  • P Matt Albers
  • P Troy Patton
  • P Dennis Sarfate
  • 3B Michael Costanzo

It’s an okay haul. Scott compares rather favorably with Trot Nixon at the same ages, giving the Orioles a competent outfielder, who will inexpensively complement and Nick Markakis. Costanzo may end up in the big leagues. He is on his third team this offseason, and is blocked by Melvin Mora. However if Mora is shopped, the Orioles could do worse than the 24 year old with good pop in his bat. Albers and Patton were the top pitchers in Houston’s farm system entering 2007. Neither pitched well with Houston, and both have iffy K rates. But both get groundballs and with a good infield defense have the potential to be respectable at the back of the rotation.

Houston meanwhile adds a slugging shortstop whose defense is declining and who, as an added bonus, has been linked to steroid allegations. For Baltimore, moving him prior to this afternoon’s release of the Mitchell report was an obvious priority. Even if not named, Tejada is tainted by association, possibly unfair.

Other Orioles likely to get moved before the end of this offseason: P Erik Bedard, 3B Melvin Mora, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Jay Payton, and Ramon Hernandez.

Currently, the Orioles need help at shortstop, centerfield and on the mound. Making more moves will yield more potential solutions, while opening more holes. This is the beginning of an about to be gutted franchise.

The Old and the Rested

The San Francisco Giants don’t seem too interested in younger talent. Their starting position players wheezed in with an average age of 36.25 last year. They will be around 34 years old on average next season, unless Giants GM Brian Sabean can find some geezer to play at either the hot or cool corner and thus spare fans the disgrace of having a 26 year old regular (Kevin Frandse) in the starting lineup.

To that mix, the Giants made a big splash yesterday inking centerfielder Aaron Rowand to a five year, $60 Million contract. Rowand will be thirty next year, which makes him the young whippersnapper of the Giant lineup. He also has the job of replacing Barry Bonds in the lineup. But Rowand is not a slugging outfielder like Bonds. Nor is he a prolific on base machine. Aaron Rowand is an outfielder who enjoyed an outstanding season in his walk year.

Let’s go to the numbers

Aaron Rowand ’07 612 .309 .374 .515 .348
Aaron Rowand car 2664 .286 .343 .462 .323

Not familiar with BABIP? Some folks aren’t. It is a very useful statistic to get a gauge on luck. The statistic measures Batting Average on Balls in Play. As a formula:

BABIP = Hits – Home Runs /At Bats – (Homeruns + Strikeouts)

Your league-wide BABIP is typically around .300. Rowand’s career is an exercise in better than average BABIP. It’s less than 10% over league average, but when he is closer to lerague average, as he was in 2005 with the ChiSox and 2006 with the Phillies, almost all of his offensive value vanishes.

Aaron Rowand ’05 578 .270 .329 .407 .318
Aaron Rowand ’06 405 .262 .321 .425 .297

See what I mean? Further, Rowand has always benefited from playing in Homerun helping Parks. Moving to San Francisco may cause his power surge to vanish, as well. But hey, it’s only five years and $12 Million per year. That’s nothing. Which unfortunately for Giants fans will describe what the Giants have for the better part of the next decade. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are nice young pitchers. Noah Lowry is a healthier version of better than league average Aaron Cook, and Barry Zito, is an overrated league average innings muncher. They will have the pitching, but they still will struggle to win seventy games likely for the next five or six years.

Prior Descent

Mark Prior will be 27 next season. He put up remarkable numbers as a 22 year old in 2003. His 18-6 record in 211.1 innings pitched was worthy of acclaim, and we now know a dead canary in a coal mine.

Indians Executive Keith Woolner in his previous line of work at Baseball Prospectus developed a metric for measuring the abuse a starting pitcher takes from being overpitched. This was an expansion of the original Pitcher Abuse Points system introduced by Rany Jazayerli in 1998. Keith’s expansion focused more on egregious abuse of pitchers, instead of the minor tweaking of a young arm by exceeding 100 pitches.

For perspective, Daisuke Matsuzaka led the majors in PAP^3 last season with 116,740 followed by Carlos Zambrano (114,011) and AJ Burnett (97,899).

Mark Prior’s PAP^3 scores
2002 89,046 Age 21 Including a 54,872 PAP^3 138 pitch outing
2003 230,844 Age 22  
2004 36,847 Age 23 Started the season on the DL and did not pitch until June.
2005 102,159 Age 24 with a 25 day stint on the DL mid season
2006 1,000 Age 25  

But PAP^3 is not the only measure of risk to a young arm. The rule of thirty is a way of measuring the damage done to a young arm year by year rather than start by start.

Beginning with his Age 19 season at USC Prior pitched the following innings.
2000 129
2001 138
2002 167.2
2003 211.1
2004 118.2
2005 172.2
2006 62.2

Prior’s buildup with the Cubs went from a reasonable 140 or so college innings to an equally reasonable 170 professional innings from one season to the next. At the young age of 21, that is a little excessive, but, it was also consistent with advancing by 30 innings or less from year to year. The Cubs exceeded that rule of thirty by 15 or so innings in 2003, the year where as a 22 year old, he took almost twice as much abuse as any pitcher in 2007 did. In 2003, however, he
was fourth on in the majors behind Javier Vasquez, teammate Kerry Wood and Livan Hernandez. Another Cub starter (Carlos Zambrano) checked in at 11 on that list. The manager of that team got a new job recently to manage the Cincinnati Reds. Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, consider yourselves warned!

I am of the mindset that pitcher abuse disproportionately impacts arms outside of the 26-34 age range. Keeping young arms on a strict pitch and inning count is an investment in the future, by giving a young arm time to develop properly. As pitcher’s age, they are less reliable because they push themselves to the extremes that their bodies no longer are capable of achieving. The job of a good manager is to recognize when his older pitchers need a month’s vacation and sending
them off to rest and keep their arm fresh for the stretch drive. This essentially is what the Red Sox did with Curt Schilling this past season.

In addition to maximizing the effectiveness of an older arm, it also creates an opportunity for game level mentoring of young arms, removed from the stretch drive. Would giving a younger pitcher with some upside a showcase against major league teams, again strictly monitoring his pitch and inning counts, both groom him for an eventual job and give him the exposure that could potentially lead to a trade for a spare part? Certainly. It also provides an opportunity for
reclamation projects to get a full speed test int he fires of major league competition.

Speaking of salvage jobs, all this is prologue for the question out there, how many clubs will be pursuing Prior? The answer is all fo them. Prior represents the wonderful confluence of high upside and minimal risk. It’s a long shot, on par with the reclamation project called Kerry Wood but with longer odds and more upside. But it is worth investigating, offering and developing a program to ensure the soundness of his arm and the realization of his tremendous potential.

Now the more fact based (will it work) question has no answer. Probably not is the most I will venture. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Related Stories:
Recent Stories:

Comments are Closed


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.