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Spreadsheet Baseball: Spring Follies

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This Week, Spreadsheet Baseball looks at five players who have upped their status using Spring Training Performances and their veteranness, both of which have virtually no bearing on how they will perform this year. It is a common mistake teams make, and this year is certainly not an exception.

Spring Training is a time of anticipation for the baseball fan, no question about it. It's a tease, a warm-up, set-up to get your baseball brain back in shape for the upcoming season. No matter what team you're a fan of, other than those of  the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals, you think your team has a shot right now. In fact, optimism abounds throughout all the MLB clubs; this is the time of year where hope springs eternal, and the line between wishcasting and tangible evidence blurs.
Helping to blur that line are spring-training statistics. ST stats are there, and I'll be damned if I can figure out why. It seems like in all but the most extreme cases, they should not used to evaluate the players, and yet every year teans make a laundry list of decisions based on ST numbers. Now, that's fine if you've compelling reasons to corroborate said numbers (like...Howard was the MVP last year, who cares if he's 0 for 3 today?), but several teams are already showing a distressing tendency towards making roster decisions that don't appear to be based on anything but wishcasting. Wishcasting that spring numbers actually mean something.
This may seem like a counter argument to what I usually stand for, but I assure the reader it is not; the main reason for this article is to show how some teams can get caught up in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately place, when instead they should be taking the statisical record and, in some cases, scouting reports into account. The sample size of ST is distressingly small compared to the rest of the career of the player, and while I would have a hell of a time trying to prove--without a doubt--that ST stats should be disregarded, below are some cases where they should be. Small sample size + possibly meaningless numbers against guys who could be flipping burgers in a couple weeks = questionable decisions based on these.

5. Russ Ortiz, Starting Pitcher, San Francisco Giants

Please please please tell me why anyone thinks the human example of pitching suckage that is Russ Ortiz still has anything in the tank. The Royals fans on this blog are very familiar with the argument that Dayton Moore signing Gil Meche is ridiculous, given the level of improvement Meche would have to make in order to be worth the money. Well, essentially the idea is that no one thinks Meche can drop a run to a 3.48 ERA and be an "ace."

A 5.43 ERA, which is what PECOTA projects The Russ to put up, would be a drop of two and a half runs off Ortiz's 2006 ERA. True, there's basically no money invested in him unless he sticks with the team, but he still won't provide enough value for the money. If Ortiz is replacement level this season, it'll be over a win-and-a-half improvement on last year's horrible performances with the Snakes and Birds. The Giants appear to not want to give a rotation job to Jamey Wright, their bad fifth starter of last year, but Wright--who still stinks, of course--was over two wins better than Ortiz. Wright was dropped from the rotation towards the end of the year.

This horrifying article documents the Giants heavy interest in sending Russ to the mound every five days. The horror, the horror, as Colonel Kurtz once said. The article cites Ortiz's 3.00 in twelve innings as a reason for his meteoric rise this ST. His ERA is better than Barry Zito's 4.85 mark, so I guess by this logic Russ Ortiz is better than the 126 million dollar man.

4. Ron Villone, Bullpen LOOGY, New York Yankees

Okay, first of all, LOOGYness is dumb. Year after year, some schlub who has the pitching talent that equates the acting talent of The Expressionless One gets a job because he throws with the wrong arm and smudges his handwriting. But seriously, a lot of very smart people have written countless words on the subject of why you do not need a lefty-handed pitcher in the bullpen, and I'm going to insult them all by summing it up in one sentence: if you have guys who retire both lefties and righties effectively, you do not necessarily need a left-handed pitcher.

Ron Villone, who has actually had a pretty nifty career for a guy without any control, is apparently about to break camp with the Yankees as a lefty out of the pen. Given Joe Torre's habit of using relievers, this will not end well, just as it did not last year. Torreumon's overuse of Villone contributed to his Era ballooning from an over-his-head 2.27 ERA to 5.16 at the end of the year.

First of all, there's nothing to indicate he'll use Villone better this year. Second of all, there's nothing that indicates that regression to the mean wasn't a huge factor in Villone's 8.35 second half ERA as well as Torre's bad usage patterns. Third of all, the right-handed hitters hit Villone at a .403 clip, which is just amazing.

Villone breaking camp with the big club probably leaves Brian Bruney and Chris Britton behind in the minors. Bruney is a flame-throwing guy with not much control, but he gasses guys at a rate (10.3 per nine adjusted last year) that it might not matter too much as long as he limits his home runs allowed to a reasonable rate (which he did las year). He's 24 to Villone's 37, and thus might have a run of good, cheap years in him as well.

Chris Britton is not as exciting and scouting reports don't like him much (he's fat), but he posted a 3.35 ERA last year as a reliever and has better control than Bruney or Villone.
Sadly, there's good chance that this means that Chris Britton is about to become tabbed as a "young pitcher" which means that Yanks will never again let him have more than a cup of coffee in the majors. Bruney will reemerge probably, as he was a reclamation project from Arizona. Sadly, there's good chance that this means that Chris Britton is about to become tabbed as a "young pitcher" which means that Yanks will never again let him have more than a cup of coffee in the majors. Bruney will reemerge probably, as he was a reclamation project from Arizona. Either way, both of these guys are being wasted by sending to AAA in favor of someone like Villone.

3. Sidney Ponson, Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

To be fair, this article is equal parts damning and encouraging of how the Twins will handle the situation. The damning is that the Twins appear to want to give Sir Sidney the last starting job in their rotation, despite two years in a row of unmitigated suckage following a 2004 where he ate innings and was not good. Ponson was awful for St. Louis last year and ohmygod horrendous in sixteen innings as a Yankee (single-handedly giving the Red Sox hope during the Second Boston Massacre [it was crushed, but still...]). At this point, it's time for him to either get the hell out of baseball or see if maybe possibly he could do well as a reliever.

The Twins decision is based on them being nervous about all of the young candidates for the starting rotation. Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson are not the veteran stopgaps they should have brought in; Ortiz is a fifth-starter at his best and Ponson is not a big league starter anymore. Kids, don't punch judges, don't eat so much that your gut weighs more than your team's shortstop , and don't be...knighted? Oh, okay, fine. Be knighted. Minnesota would be better served giving either Matt Garza or Glen Perkins, both decent prospects, the number five spot. Either one of them will outproduce Ponson.

The encouraging part of the article is that the Twins are apparently intent on keeping Ponson on a short leash, but another trend that inevitably develops every year are the games wasted at the beginning of the year due to the suckage of players who were brought in to fill roles that they had no business filling. This is not preventable, of course, as some guys perform worse than expected. However, when you sign Sidney Ponson to be your fifth starter, you ought to know what you're getting.

2. Slammin' Sammy So-So

Maybe I'm biased, and maybe I just have an allergic reaction to seeing yet another relic of the cheatin' era hogging the tired old spotlight, but there is just zero point to retreading Sammy Sosa. At best, the Rangers will get a low-OBP guy who hits enough home runs to look superficially valuable, but does very little to actually contribute to the team. Sosa wore out his welcome in Chicago, partly by cheating even more than people already expected that he had. This reeks of being just one big PR move to cover up the fact that, once again, the Rangers--who seemingly have been a team on the rise for the last three years without actually progressing--are not prepared to play with the big boys of the AL West.

Most likely, all Sosa will do is hit mediocrely, field indifferent if at all, annoy the hell of the clubhouse just like he did when he played a role in torpedoing the O's magic first-half success in 2005, and while doing this he'll take playing time away from guys with a possible future--Nelson Cruz--guys who stand a chance of making a relevant bounceback--Brad Wilkerson--or guys who actually believe in having good OBPs--Frank Catalanotto and Kenny Lofton--and the Rangers will once again be left wondering how their "powerful offense" only got them to a low-80s or high 70s win total.

I don't agree with some of the other Rangers' moves of the off-season, but the ideal line-up for them does not involve a washed-up ex-juicer whose bad attitude is hibernating until he gets pulled for a pinch-runner or something. Better Jason Botts. Better anyone younger. Give the roster spot to someone who actually has a future, because while the Rangers FO may not realize it, the Rangers are just not equipped to contend for the division this year. Seriously, Sosa's HRs in ST have pulled the wool over many people's eyes. I'll be rooting against him and Barry Bonds the entire season.

1. Darin Erstad, CF, #2 Hitter, College Football Player, Tough Man, High School Hockey Star, and All That Other Crap

Okay, the next time you hear that someone sabermeric-worshipping person has gone insane and jumped off a building--which will probably be the first--it's because of the insane crush that the MSSM has on this guy has pushed them over the edge. Turns out, Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams apparently harbor a similar crush on Darin Erstad. Gamer. Team leader. Inspiring. Gutty. Hitting .317 in spring training. These are synonyms with "Erstad." Did you here that he saved handicapped, blind orphans from a flash flood in New Mexico? Or that he is actually a secret service agent protecting us all from certain doom? Or the fact that, on a team full of players who contributed a hell of a lot more than himself in 2002, he was the team leader of a World Series winning team?

First of all, that team leader bullshit cropped up when his team won a world series. If Erstad is such a goddam inspiring gentlemen, where the fuck was he the year after the Angels won the world series? Or the year before? Could it be that the performance of other players determined the Angels' fate, as the contributions of the other 24 guys on the roster combined had that much more impact than the quiet, inspiring nature of a guy who once kicked a football? Nah...

Anyhow, focusing on the here and now, it appears that the White Sox are determined to make the same mistake that they did before when they gave supergamer Scotty Pods the leftfield job in 2004, as reports are that Erstad is going to win the spot in centerfield over the talented-but-flawed-but-still-possibly-worthwhile-and-definitely-more-worthwhile-then-some-fake-toug h-guy Brian Anderson. Yes, Anderson had issues hitting last year, but his success in the minors, including reasonable secondary skills (power and patience), as well as great defense make him a better bet to actually be a plus than Erstad. If Anderson can simply get his BA up in the .260-.270 range, which is not unrealistic given that his .224 BA was fluky low for him, he'll be an asset to the White Sox. Sadly, he looks poised towards becoming the next Jeremy Reed.

PECOTA projects Anderson to have a .263/.323/.442 line. I say this in a "what's the point" tone of voice, as The Punter already has a hold on the job.

When the White Sox, another team that thinks it's about to contend and has been surpassed by two or three teams in its own division, fall out of the race in August thanks to whoever isn't hurt out of the aging trio of Konerko, Thome, and Dye being the only above average offensive contributors and the pitching being outstripped by Minnesota and Detroit (at the least), they can look to centerfield with comfort, as they feel the warmth emanating from Erstad's gamerness. Too bad he'll be hitting his usual .268/.323/.377 with average D. Mmm...guts. Gotta love those guts he uses to scrape a 700 OPS...guts...grit...gamer...punter (NHZ has jumped off a building)...

Honorable mention: Angel Berroa, Joel Pineiro, Any Member of The Mariners Rotation

Hope you enjoy this week's article, comments, as always, are welcome/encouraged.