Archive for October, 2004

SIR: Andruw Jones

2004 BA/ OBP / SLG: .261 /.345 /.488

Once again, Braves fans expressed their disappointment with Andruw Jones this year. The Braves nation has been waiting for the break-out year from the kid who made a splash in the 1996 World Series as a 19 year-old. It’s not that Andruw is a bad player – putting up six .800 OPS seasons by the age of 27 to go along with solid defense in CF – but that the fans expect more. I think these expectations are a bit unfair. I, too, thought Andruw would have been putting up some better numbers by now. But this doesn’t mean he is not a good player with a decent opportunity to blossom into a Hall of Fame player. According to his similarity scores through age 27, the players most similar to AJ include Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. Oh yeah…but Rubin Sierra tops the list. This is why Jones is such an enigma. He seems so talented, which has us expecting more than the next Sierra. Could he be the next Sammy Sosa (late bloomer)? Absolutely. I think that at his worse AJ will put up at least one +1.000 OPS season in his career. At his best he’ll put up five of them and hit a few 40 HR seasons, because he is young enough and capable enough to do so.

But putting all of this speculation aside – after all I don’t see anything is his numbers that signals improvement or regression – Andruw is a damn good ballplayer. It’s time to quit complaining about him. On defense he covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and he carries one of the best guns around. The Jones to Furcal relay to home is deadly. He’s not as flamboyant as he once was, but he’s no slouch. Plus, he puts in over 150 games a year, for almost every inning. And he’d play every inning of every game if Bobby would let him. And then when you get to his hitting, he was third in OPS among NL center fielders behind Edmunds and Jer-o-my,-how-I-love-playing-at-Coors-Field Burnitz. Andruw-haters, you are going to have to live with the fact that the object of your disaffection is doing his job quite well.

But wait, what about that huge salary? Couldn’t we get more for less? Yes, but you’d have to invent a time machine first for that to be relevant. Jones is already under contract, and there’s nothing Schuerholz can do about that. Trading Jones would gain nothing since the Braves would have to take on someone else’s undesirable contract. The Braves have him, so you might as well enjoy him for the good ballplayer that he is.

But now back to the real question: can Andruw get better? I think so. One thing I liked from Andruw this year had nothing to do with his stats. In May and June he was slumping. And Cox and Pendleton were trying to get Andruw to “go the other way” to stop the problem. Andruw basically came out and said he’d do everything the coaches wanted in batting practice, but when it came to game-time he was going to do what he always did, pull the ball. And sure enough, he did and he broke out of it. To me, AJ is the opposite of a head case. He understands that sometimes when you don’t hit the ball well, there’s not much you can do to correct it. In fact, you’re just as likely to worsen the problem. Take each at-bat one at a time, and in the end your stats will be fine. He was the only one who wasn’t panicking about his slow start. In this sense, I think Jones has a huge advantage over most 28 year-olds. He’ll be in his 10th year, he knows not to panic. He’s heard all of the advice, and knows what to take and what to ignore. He still has some things to learn, and I think he will learn.

SIR: Johnny Estrada

2004 BA/ OBP / SLG: .314/ .378 / .450

Johnny Estrada and Kevin Millwood; a pitcher and catcher who will be forever linked without ever playing together. Just after the 2002 season, John Schuerholz did the unthinkable. He traded away a 27 year-old fireballing right hander, who had just posted a 3.24 ERA, for an underachieving Quadruple-A catcher. What was he thinking? While Estrada’s performance in 2004 makes it clear that this was a good trade, I first want to analyze the trade at the time the decision was made. Even assuming Estrada turned into mediocre catcher, I think this was a good deal for the Braves.

After the 2002 season, Millwood was heading to arbitration that would yield him a $10 million salary for 2003. That was a hefty price to pay for a player whom I believe to be overrated. In his five seasons with the Braves, Millwood had three league average seasons and two above average seasons. There was no doubt that he was a Major League caliber pitcher, but was he really worth $10 million? Schuerholz had just signed Paul Byrd to 2-year, $10 million deal. Though Byrd ended up spending much of his time with the Braves on the DL, his 2001-2002 stats were comparable to Millwood’s. The bottom line was that Millwood’s contract was an albatross. On top of this, the Braves appeared to need a new catcher. Javy Lopez looked finished, a defensive liability who was now hitting like a catcher. The Braves really didn’t have a near-term replacement in the minors, and a free agent catcher could be pricey. At his worst, Estrada had demonstrated in the minors that he could put up Javy Lopez numbers (circa 2001-2002) at the league minimum salary. And that’s how the deal was made.

Putting all of this aside, Estrada had a fantastic first full season with the Braves, continuing the great work he did in Richmond in 2003. Johnny got a lot of publicity early on for his clutch hitting “ability;” however, by the end of the year his batting average with runners in scoring position (.338) was about the same as his overall batting average (.314). You should like Estrada because he’s a good hitter, not because he is “clutch.” While I wish Johnny walked a little more, he gets on base at 40 points above the NL average. Now, everyone knows that Johnny can hit for average, but he also likes to get hit by pitches. He was hit 11 times in 2004, which puts him in the top-20 in the NL. This is not a fluke, either. In 2003, he was hit 12 times in Richmond and 3 times in only 39 PAs in Atlanta. I like a man who’s willing to take one for the team. His power is respectable, but he’s not a home run hitter. On defense, I think Johnny has gotten a bum rap. Judging catcher defense is hard. He had 8 passed balls in 1042 innings or .0077 per inning. That’s it. The league average was .0066. In terms of gauging his prevention of stolen bases, it’s hard to tell. Caught stealing percentage tells me very little, because 1) pitchers are partly responsible for stolen bases and 2) if a catcher is good base stealers will only go in golden opportunity situations. So it’s possible for a good-armed catcher to not have a very good CS%, which Johnny does not. What does this mean? Well, it is at least clear to me that Estrada’s offense makes up for what minor deficiencies he may have on defense. I don’t hear the pitchers complaining, and he is just a flat out likable player to watch.

What do I expect from Estrada next year? More of the same. While this season may seem fluky compared to his only other season in Philadelphia, his performance in Richmond seems to indicate improvement. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up some better numbers next year. While he is old for a player just entering the league, he will be just 29 next year. Plenty of players have peak seasons after they turn 28.

SIR: Adam LaRoche

BA/OBP/SLG: .278/.333 /.488

This year we got to see two Adam LaRoches.

Pre All-Star: .250/ .292/ .388
Post All-Star: .302/ .368/ .576

The first-half Adam couldn’t get on base 30% of the time with a slugging rate under .400. This is not what you want out of a first baseman. All signs pointed to a future with Chipper Jones at first and Andy Marte joining the team at third. But then something happened. LaRoche popped his collarbone on a play at the plate and Rochy was gone for a month. Overall, I don’t think he was missed during June. I thought he should spend some extra time in Richmond and start over in 2005. Boy, was I wrong. Adam came back with some fantastic numbers. What happened?

Had he fixed that hole in his swing? No, he never had a hole in his swing. In fact, he actually struck out at a greater rate in the second half than the first.

Pre All-Star: .20 (K/PA) / .21 (K/AB)
Post All-Star: .21 (K/AB) / .25 (K/AB)

His swing is a bit odd-looking, but so what? While it may seem to defy all the laws of physics, I have never noticed a problem with hitting the inside pitch.

What happened was that he acquired (or recovered) plate discipline.

Walk Rate / Iso-Power / HR per AB
Pre All-Star: .055/ .138 / 50.7
Post All-Star: .093/ .273 /17.2

In the second-half, Adam became more selective with his swing. He stopped swinging at all strikes and started waiting for his pitch. He stayed back off balls out of the zone and waited for pitches he could drive. This was the player we saw in Richmond in 2003 with an 11% walk rate. While his second-half power numbers are a little higher than his minor league comps, that is probably a result of his only hitting against right-handers.

So was this just an adjustment to the majors or random chance? What should we expect next year? I think his minor league stats indicate that the second half was not a fluke. While he might drop off his second-half numbers some next year, I think he has played well enough to keep Chipper at third. It’s also important to remember that if Adam becomes an everyday player, we can’t expect these platoon-aided numbers. But, I think he will be good enough to play everyday. Someone whom I know and trust has told me that Adam’s “injury” was actually not a discrete event. He played the entire first half hurt, and, like a good ball player should, he kept it out of the media. The collision gave him an opportunity to heal. And I think he proved that he has a place on the Braves next season, possibly everyday.

Braves Season in Review (SIR)

2004 is over for the Braves. Though I am disappointed with another post-season failure, I see no reason to dwell on it. The Astros were a good team, and the Braves lost. John Schuerholz put together a good team this year, and he should be commended. JD Drew, Eli Marrero, Jaret Wright, Johnny Estrada, and John Thomson were all great pick-ups. I think Bobby is a great manager, but I think JS deserves a big pat on the back, too. Not only did the Braves surpass many expectations this season, but I feel the Braves are primed for continued success.

I want to review the season as well as give my prospects for next year. And I want to do this player by player. Over the next few weeks I will post some comments on players. There is no particular order, just what is on my mind. This will help me kill the pain of the Braves off-season.

THT Net Win Shares Value Calculator

Studes at THT has put together a salary calculator based on Win Shares. It’s very nice. Check it out.

Ken Caminiti: 1963-2004

Ken Caminiti died on Sunday at the age of 41. This is a very sad event, as are all deaths, and I am troubled how the media is handling its reporting of the death. This is from the story on ESPN:

On the field, Ken Caminiti’s all-out style served him well. Off the field is where it got him in trouble.

The 1996 National League MVP, who later admitted using steroids during his major league career, died Sunday. He was 41.

Already the guy is presumed dead from steroids. It’s true, Ken Caminiti used steroids, but given the details we know about his life I suspect on the list of potential causes steroids is near the bottom. Now, I could be wrong (it has been known to happen), and none of the news stories are directly linking steroids to death. But, why is this the first thing I am reading about him in every story? His problems with cocaine (of the crack variety) and alcohol are as widely known as his use of steroids. Certainly, these are much more likely culprits. Caminiti, like many famous people, could not handle the weight of fame. It is a sad and too commonly occurring problem. If there is a lesson to be learned from Caminiti’s passing, it is not just that steroids are a bad idea (if this really is a lesson), but that fame often brings depression. And the cures for this depression offered by alcohol and cocaine are worse than the disease. To divert attention from the far more dangerous drugs in Caminiti’s life, plus his depression, is a bad thing. I hope that we remember this during the inevitable moment of silence before the Astros-Braves game tonight. RIP, Ken. Hopefully, your demons are no longer taunting you.

2004 Nobel Prize

Kydland and Prescott win the Nobel Prize this year. It’s a good choice. Tyler Cowen ha an excellent summation of the contributions of the two. I know Tyler likes their work, because he taught one of my macro theory classes in grad school. That’s the main reason I know if their work.