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(AL only) and why did we mis-rate them?

 

(O+S = On Base Average + Slugging Average)

 

Here is a rundown of all the position players who have largely exceeded or fallen short of ss-talk voter’s projections of the past two seasons. (Scoresheet-talk http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/scoresheet-talk/ is a Yahoo Sports Group for Internet users – a forum for the discussion of anything related to Scoresheet Baseball. Each winter, they conduct a poll to arrive at player rankings for the upcoming seasons. Most voters in the poll play in perpetual leagues, so if the player is clearly protect-able, the long view is generally considered. Mcscoresheet http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/mcscoresheet/ is another such Yahoo Group which allows a wider range of topics.) Providing a quick summary of each player’s recent history, I’ve tried to look for a reason for their surprising performance. For some I dug deeper for an answer than for others. I hope either the list as a whole or some of the specific observations are helpful.

 

I assume everyone is familiar with the concept of On Base Average plus Slugging Average (O+S or OPS as most people abbreviate it – and they mistakenly call it Percentages instead of Averages) makes a handy overall assessment of a player’s offensive output per plate appearance. It’s not perfect, but it is easy and accurate enough.

 

Hit Rate (Hits - HR) / (AB - HR - K) is a close approximation of the percentage of hits a batter gets per ball hit in play and not out of the park. The assumption is that this is a very stable statistic for every batter given enough At Bats. The trajectory of a batted ball, how fast the batter is coming out of the batter’s box to first base, and to a lesser degree, perhaps, how hard the ball is hit determines a batter’s expected hit rate. Some batters can control the direction a ball is hit more than others, but except for, perhaps, Wade Boggs, not very precisely. Anyway, the premise is that how near one hits a ball to a fielder (but is not a home run) is to a large degree luck. Determine a player’s expected hit rate, look at how much he has deviated from that hit rate and you can see how much of his surprising year was just a matter of luck. This is different from looking at how much a batter deviated from his expected O+S, which will more reflect the many changes in a batter’s skill sets. If a player changes how often he walks, strikes-out, hits a home run, or hits a double instead of a single, there is less reason to think that is just a matter of luck. Those are skills the batter has more control over and are part of O+S. A hit rate void of these is more apt to return to the player’s norm than O+S – and in my observations it does.

 

When projecting a player, many of us look specifically at each skill (home run hitting, hitting for average, walking, etc.) and multiplying those results by an age factor. I believe there is a fallacy in that methodology. Perhaps, the peak of a batter’s home run power comes at age 31, but that doesn’t mean most power hitters peak at that age. Someone can enlighten me otherwise, but I don’t think they do – at least, if we can take away their steroids. I believe power hitters – if they are slow runners and bad fielders as many of them are - peak earlier than speedy high average types – especially if speedy guys work out and stay in good shape. It’s those speedy guys who develop power and drive up those statistics showing power peaking at 31. In the end, you have to step back and look at the whole player rather than get too bogged down in often misleading mathematical projections. Perhaps, at some point a near perfect projection system will blow away a mixed mathematical/generalized assessment, but as far as I know, it would be too much effort for the reward. Just remember speedy guys eventually slow down and adapt to baseball with “old player skills”. When a player has old player skills to begin with, he will slow down even more as he ages to the point where he can no longer keep up with a Major League fastball.

 

Catcher:

All top tier AL veteran catchers were 33 this year (2005) and slipped noticeably downhill (Varitek the least). Add Kendall (only 31) to this bunch. They, also, each had significantly lower hit rates than the year before. Over-the-hill + bad luck = foolish looking contract.

 

Ivan Rodriguez – at 33 this year, SS-talk’s no. 1 catcher had by far his worse season since he was 21. When a catcher is this old and his hit rate has taken a sudden drop – as I-Rod’s has, it’s difficult to say how much of that is due to wear and tear and general aging – or just bad luck. I-Rod’s hit rate jumped up from two seasons at 34% to 38% in his first year with Detroit. Then it dropped to 31% for 2005. My guess is 2004’s hit rate was way off the curve and that 31 or 32% would be what to expect for 2006.

 

Jason Kendall – SS-talk was nearly unanimous about the top 7 catchers this year and Kendall was one of them. At 31 he had by far the worse year of his Major League career. Recently Kendall’s good seasons / bad seasons have simply coincided with his lucky seasons / unlucky seasons.

 

Bengie Molina - interestingly, at the same age (31) this year, 11th ranked low walk totaled Molina just had his best year – not so outstanding that he should be listed here – but is anyway as a comparison to Kendall. Molina has actually been incredibly consistent with his O+S being in proportion to his hit rate – just as Kendall only his variances haven’t been as large. Typical of a low walk guy, Molina hasn’t really progressed since establishing himself in the Majors, but he hasn’t regressed at all either.

 

Jorge Posada – at 33-34 seems to be genuinely wearing down. His hit rate has dropped slowly over the last four seasons. Posada’s O+S slipped to .782 this year from .881 last year and higher they year before. SS-talk had him ranked 3rd.

 

Javy Lopez – was voted 4th this year (2005) among Hall-of-Fame candidate catchers at 34. After a spectacular 1.055 season in Atlanta in 2003, followed by an .873 season in 2004, Lopez slipped to .780 and missed 53 games with a broken hand. In fact, Señior Lopez’s last four seasons have been an exaggeration of his hit rates. As his hit rate went from 26 to 33 to 34 to 30, his OBA + Sluggings have been .671, 1.065. 1.055, and .780.

 

Victor Martinez – did not demonstrate his minor league hitting prowess in his 2003 rookie season of 159 At bats at 24. SS-talk rated him 6th. In 2004, however, he was right back on track. After a slow start this year, he’s actually improved. This Martinez has those healthy walk numbers (especially in relation to his strikeouts) that career projectors like to see. However, he also has those old man attributes – a catcher with high walks and no speed that forecast not such a long career ahead.

 

Toby Hall – showed much promise when he broke into the Majors in ’01 at 25. His low walk rate, however, got even lower. His second year was a disappointment and he has remained exactly at that level every year since. Yet, in the spring of 2004, he was still the ss-talk 4th highest rated catcher – ahead of Mauer and Martinez!

 

Brandon Inge – rose rapidly through the Tiger’s farm system to an .837 O+S in Toledo at age 22. His first three seasons with the big club were disastrous getting sent down after a pitiful showing each time. SS-talk voters ignored him, but he blossomed in 2004 at 26-27 getting in 408 At bats at catcher, third base, and even centerfield (one of the oddest combinations of positions ever?). This year SS-talk voters were still luke warm to him (voted 10th at catcher), but he still managed to put in another fine season with over 600 at bats – this time purely at thirdbase. (The bad news is that he had an excellent first half and a terrible second half.) He might not lose his catcher rating, as there is talk that the Tigers will not resign I-Rod and move Inge back to catcher. That would likely be a huge mistake. The difference between the ’01-’03 Inge and the ’04-’05 Inge could be explained by his hit rates going from about 25% those first three years to suddenly 32% the last two. Realistically, a catcher should fall somewhere a little closer to that lower mark, but a typical infielder-outfielder’s hit rate falls closer to 32%. There are other indicators that Inge is running much better without having to crouch for the ball. His stolen bases are up and he has 16 triples in the last two years as compared to 11 in the other three years of combined – both Majors and Minors. Hence, I suspect Inge won’t hit, if he has to catch.

 

Miguel Olivo – I was fooled by this 26-27 year-old catcher. From 2001 to 2002 he improved from outstanding to excellent in AA Birmingham. His rookie season of 2003 was reasonably well done for a 24-25 year old rookie catcher making that jump. He showed reasonable improvement in power his sophomore year of 2004. His first half season this year (2005) was pitiful. Then suddenly he shined after getting traded to San Diego. Taken together his stats were a little worse than the year before. I should have worried more about his low walk rate.

 

Matt LeCroy – at 27 in 2003, his career spiked at 345 At bats and .832 O+S. SS-talk rated him 7th. The stat overlooked at 28 was his 230 lbs. (with a hand leaning on the shoulder of the person doing the weighing).

 

Damian Miller – had five solid seasons in a row with Arizona as a semi-regular. At 33 in 2003, Miller had a statistically off year with the Cubs. Was it the park change? Was it aging? Was it just a low hit rate? SS-talk voters ignored the latter possibility (which it was) and stayed away from him, but he came back with the Athletics for another solid season reaching a career high in At bats. He had an equally fine year this season in Milwaukee.

 

Rod Barajas – was this year’s veteran surprise at catcher.  At 28 in 2004 the Rangers gave Barajas a shot at starting catcher despite two and a half seasons as Arizona’s back-up catcher in which his O+S was around .600 – and despite a better hitting catcher competing for the job (Gerald Laird). SS-talk was unconvinced by Barajas’s resulting .729 season. He was voted 15th for 2005. Barajas continued to improve increasing his At bats to 410 and his O+S to .772. Low walk guys with average strikeouts and no speed aren’t suppose to improve this much at this age. It has nothing to do with his hit rates which have stayed at the low end (26%). He’s not light either.

 

Firstbase:

 

Travis Hafner – after finally reaching the majors shortly before his 26th birthday, Hafner proved himself worthy (.812). Although, that number was considerably below what he hit throughout the minors, SS-talk voters feared voting him any higher than 23rd among firstbasemen and the DHs listed as firstbasemen. That was 2004 and Hafner proceeded to hit .993. OK, so he’s good, but is he that good? SS-talk promoted Hafner to 4th in 2005. He surprised them again with an even better MVP type season at 1.003 pouring it on during September’s pennant drive. What separates Hafner from other slow rising slow afoot high walking sluggers such as Cust and Pickering? I wish I knew. Perhaps the tip-off is that he has, at least, a little defensive ability, whereas the others apparently have none. Perhaps, he was just lucky enough to be on a team that stuck with him.

 

Carlos Delgado – the top rated firstbaseman of 2004 at 31-32, proceeded to have his worse season since 1997 when he was 25. Easily his best season was in 2000 when he turned 28. His second best year was in 2003. He did about what was expected of him this year which was better than last year, but not as good as when he was ages 26-31. Two dynamics are happening here. 1) He is getting old and he had old player’s skills to start with – so he doesn’t have anywhere to adjust. 2) He had a high hit rate in 2003 and a poor one in 2004.

 

Jason Giambi – one and a half years older than Delgado with similar player skills, Giambi ss-talks ’04 no. 2 firstbaseman had a completely worthless year in 2004 – worse than useless, because I’m sure almost anyone who had him played him – clogging up their line-up with a  barely .700 O+S hitting 1b-dh. It was well suspected that Giambi was a steroids user and it is further suspected that his ill health in 2004 was a result of it. That’s why these naughty behaviors should be considered in your player evaluations. He’s had a remarkable comeback this year (after SS-talk nearly gave up on him (12th). Instead of a Popeye without his spinach, Giambi is playing as though he is the same player he was before 2004 – just a couple years deeper into his 30s (34).

 

Mark Teixeira –the 24 year-old was a little undervalued in 2004 coming off a normal looking .811 rookie season. He was ranked a distant third with an average ranking of 4.7. He merely proved to be the best young firstbaseman in the league (.930). Teixeira made that leap keeping the same hit rate. His progress in the Majors reflects how rapidly he blasted through the minors – about a quarter season in high A, then a quarter season in AA.

 

Frank Thomas – had a semi-comeback in 2003 at the age of 35. Ranked 4th, it looked as though he might come back full force in 2004, but his health would not allow it. This year still ranked a respectable 8th, at 37 he wasn’t much help at all. Lesson: big hefty guys are big risks – especially as they get older.

 

Ralph Palmeiro – in 1999 peaked at the surprisingly advanced age of 34. He continued to be an elite firstbaseman for a few more years, but has been going briskly downhill since 2003. A significant number of ss-talk voters expected a comeback in 2004. Instead the 39 year old got much worse. A few voters still expected a return to greatness even this year, but he slid even further towards retirement.

 

David Ortiz – at 29 this big man just keeps getting better. His breakthrough year came when the Red Sox gave him a full time job at 27. After that SS-talk over cautiously voted him only 7th among firstbasemen. Here’s another big slow high walking non-fielder who found an organization who put his assets in a fair portion with his deficits. The Twins DHed him, but gave more at bats to Mientkiewicz. (How satisfying it must have been in 2004, when Ortiz was the star of the Red Sox and Mientkie was acquired as a role player.) Ortiz did suffer a low hit rate in 2002 likely causing some of the Twins’ caution. Ortiz’s hit rate has been high the last two seasons, but that could be a Fenway effect. Still, he’s probably a good sell high candidate right now.

 

Erubial Durazo – only a year older than Ortiz, Durazo did not adapt as readily to his first year as a full timer with Oakland in 2003. He was back on track in 2004, yet it didn’t impress SS-talk voters who ranked him 9th in 2005 one notch lower than in 2004. The fragile 31 year-old Durazo was a washout this year with elbow tendonitis, so ss-talk voters were right to be leery.

 

Paul Konerko – at 27 in 2003, instead of having his expected career year, he had his worse season since he was a 22 year-old rookie. This warded off ss-talk voters to the point of voting him 11th. There are three reasons for Konerko’s improvement. 1) After hitting over 30 doubles for four years in a row, he hasn’t done so since – at 28 that gap power has turned into home run power with 40+ seasons these past two years. 2) His walk rates weren’t particularly impressive before, but they have improved dramatically in each of the past two seasons. 3) The old hit rate story, also, shows Konerko was extremely unlucky in 2003 (23%), while posting hit rates from 29-31% in all his other seasons.

 

Justin Morneau – although a disappointment in this his first full season with ss-talk voting him 6th in a list of firstbasemen including the DHs who play firstbase (which includes most of the best DHs). It is too soon to say the 23 year-old’s ranking was a mistake. There were clubhouse grumblings, but if Morneau can fully recover from his elbow problems, he should be back on course to excellence.

 

Chris Shelton – with nary a vote as a firstbaseman or prospect, 24-25 year old Shelton established himself as the Tigers firstbaseman with an .870 O+S after getting the call a third the way through the season. He had been pulverizing the International League those first two months. He had been hampered by injury in 2004, but had similar success with Pittsburgh’s lower minor league teams from 2001 through most of 2003. I’d be wary of his 34% hit rate, though, and his less than impressive walk rate. Furthermore, Jim Leyland might be less of a fan of this style of ballplayer than Trammell.

 

Kevin Millar – boosted by a 34% hit rate in 2002 and a 33% hit rate in 2004 ranked 13th among firstbasemen and firstbase playing DHs. So, in 2005 at age 34 Millar had a miserable 25% hit rate likely preventing us from drafting him until late in the 3rd phase or during the season. His 30% hit rate and .820 O+S of 2003 was his most realistic season. However in ’06, he will be three critical years older for a slow white guy without a glove.

 

Secondbase:

 

Bret Boone – is one of the most sudden late rising career boomers and rapidly descending crashers in my vast baseball memory bank. In 2001 and 2003 this Boone was an MVP type star. The year in-between (age 33) was still better than all his others. SS-talk didn’t expect too much of a drop off at 35, so in 2004 he was voted the number two secondbaseman. He dropped off to a season typical of the rest of the career. Disbelieving ss-talk voters kept Boone at no. 2 in 2005, although, his average rank was 3.5. There were no sure rising stars to compete for that ranking. Boone, however, was useless.

 

Mark Bellhorn – at 29 was the biggest surprise secondbaseman to ss-talk voters in 2004. He was ignored – voted 13th behind deadbeats (Rivas), and has-beens (Vina), never-weres (Hairston), and never-will-bes (Phillips). It shouldn’t have been such a surprise at all. Bellhorn actually had a much better year at 27 in 2002 amassing an .886 O+S. Then, SS-talk was so alert to Bellhorn after his impressive season (.817 O+S) and play-offs performance, he was voted the no. 3 secondbaseman. Good-bye. At 30 Bellhorn was released before the season was over! Bellhorn takes plenty of walks, but he’s a  strikeout machine. Furthermore, Bellhorn’s fabulous ‘04 was due more to a lucky hit rate (or a mastery of the Green Monster which he lost this year) than to a return to his 2002 hitting ability.

 

Brian Roberts – although ranked 5th in 2005, his tally wasn’t much higher than the 10th ranked secondbaseman. Roberts now 27 played far far beyond expectations – almost at MVP level until his elbow put him in line for a ligament transplant two weeks before the end of the season. Roberts acknowledges some trial contact lenses helps him see the moving ball better, but mostly just in day games. Since, becoming the Orioles’ regular secondbaseman in ’03, Roberts’ hit rate has gone up 2% each year. Can better vision improve your hit rate? Perhaps, testing the lenses, he inadvertently concentrated more.

 

Keith Ginter – this 10th ranked secondbaseman looked as though he could be the next Mark Bellhorn – a 29 year-old offensive secondbaseman (.811 O+S) who could put up some impact numbers if given a chance to play full time. The problem is a) he had to beat out Mark Ellis for a job to get that chance; and b) perform well when given that chance. With an injury to shortstop Bobby Crosby, he was given a chance early in the season and failed. His hit rate dropped to an unbelievably low 17%, but he hit fine after he was eventually demoted to the minors. Given good health and a fair chance, he should be able to come back just fine. Unfortunately, those are doubtful givens.

 

Mark Ellis – ranked sixth in 2004, but didn’t play due to an injury. With competition (Ginter) signed for his old job, Ellis was ranked 15th in 2005. Yet, he was brilliant (.860 O+S with excellent defense). OK, so his hit rate inflated his stats in ’05 as much as they deflated his stats in ’03 (when I had him, of course). Ellis turned 28 this June and has average walk totals.

 

Robinson Cano – no one, except, perhaps, one lone ss-talk voter foresaw the 22 year-old Cano developing this quickly into a solid Major Leaguer. He hit .778, his defense was surprisingly good, and he was still hot at the end of the season. There’s more on him in the prospect section.

 

Jorge Cantu – blossomed last year at 22. He spent most of that year at Durham, so ss-talk timidly ranked him 14th. He continued to hit .808 – this time in 150 Major League games, but was moved to thirdbase. Considering he’s so young and came along so suddenly, there’s not much very good data on him. However, I will note there was nothing to worry about his hit rate in ‘05: 30%.

 

Omar Infante – received almost no notice from ss-talk voters in 2004 after a disappointing rookie season. However, he was only 21. Last year, it looked as though he had suddenly become a solid secondbaseman (.766) on his way to a fine career. SS-talk was a little reluctant to join the bandwagon, voting him 8th. Even that proved to be optimistic, though, as Infante struggled (.621) to the point where he lost his job mid-season. Except in 2004, however, Infante has been hampered with low hit rates, but his control of the strike zone is getting worse.

 

Chone Figgins – perhaps, not quite protect-able, but quite a valuable guy to draft these last two seasons. He was ranked 17th in 2004, yet the 2B-3B-CF 26 year-old played 148 game and hit .769 (O+S). He nearly repeated those numbers in ’05 missing only 3 games all season.

 

Tony Womack – in terms of O+S, Womack had his best season in 2004 at age 34 (.734). Never mind that was a high hit rate inflated year. Enough ss-talk voters were encouraged by Womack’s late career highlight that he was ranked 12th. Apparently, Steinbrenner got stubborn in his negotiations to resign Miguel Cairo, and the Yankees defiantly signed Womack instead. The result (partially due to a very low hit rate) was a pathetic .556.

 

Jose Lopez – became a prospect darling with a stellar season in the high A California League as an 18 year-old. Two years later he was blowing away AAA and the Mariners called him up. He wasn’t good, but he wasn’t terrible in his first 207 At Bats – except that he knocked out his rookie status. However, he was only 20! So, SS-talk cautiously ranked him 13th as a shortstop. It probably would have been much higher if he were ranked as a secondbaseman. His Major League performance showed no significant improvement, so he was sent back to the minors where he was an even bigger disappointment. Lopez is a low walk guy. (see prospects)

 

Ruben Gotay – didn’t fool ss-talk voters as much as he made a fool of me. I had him 8th, but he stunk and unless you are rebuilding and lack better options, he’s not quite worth protecting. The difference between the promise he showed last year and the struggles this 22 year-old had in 2005 is completely attributable to how much luck he had with hits dropping. Well, perhaps, teams learned where to field him, too.

 

 

Thirdbase:

 

Melvin Mora – 32 in ’04 – spent about four seasons in AAA with various NL teams moving around from position to position finally breaking in the Majors at shortstop in 2000. In 2003, however, Mora played only 11 games there and 6 at second base. The rest were in the outfield. Although injuries gave him only a half of a season, his O+S shot up from .742 (or worse) to .921. SS-talk overlooked this spike and Mora garnered very few votes as a worthwhile outfielder in 2004. However, the Orioles converted him to thirdbase, and he continued his hitting spree at .981! In actuality, Mora made a significant improvement in 2002, but it was disguised by a very low hit rate. His career years in ’03 and ’04 were exaggerated by very high hit rates. His .822 season in ’05 is about right.

 

Adrian Beltre – in 2004 put up a 1.017 season in Dodger Stadium as a 25 year-old finally living up to the promise he should in his first three years as a Dodger at ages 19-21. SS-talk voters recognized him as one the four top star thirdbasemen to have in 2005 (along with ARod, Chavez, and Blalock). However, he didn’t resemble that star, instead he looked just like the Beltre of 2001-2003 (.716). Beltre had declining hit rates in those years going from 30 to 26. Then in his incredible peak year it jumped to 33%. This year (’05), indeed it was back down to 28. I’m not sure if that shines any more light on him.

 

Perhaps, thirdbasemen are as a whole are bad investments. To one degree or another, the top 10 ranked thirdbaseman of 2004 have been disappointing! Generally with all these thirdbasemen, the corresponding hit rates did not indicate an unusual amount of bad luck.

 

Eric Chavez – 26 in ’04 - played in only 125 games; dropped to .795 in ’05.

Hank Blalock – 23 in ’04 - but did not improve; dropped to .749 in ’05!

Troy Glaus – 27-28 in ’04 – crossed over and played just 58 games.

Bill Mueller – 33 in ’04 – played in 110 games; .810 the last two seasons.

Cory Koskie – 30-31 in ’04 – averaged 110 games both years; .735 in ’05.

Eric Hinske – 26-27 in ’04 – continued to slide to a pitiful .687 and awful D.

Joe Crede – 26 in ’04 - .715 and bad D, but returned to form in 2005.

Scott Spiezio – 31 in ’04 – hasn’t been worth drafting

Aaron Boone – 31 in ’04 – voters knew he’d be a write-off for ’04, but keeping him for 2005 wasn’t worth the protection slot (.675).

 

Casey Blake – 31 in ’04 was the bargain listed third-sacker of the year. Voters were skeptical the veteran minor leaguer could maintain even the mediocre (.723) success of 2003. (He was voted 12th for 2004.) Instead, he hit much better (.840), but that could have been due to an inflated hit rate. He was closer to his 2003 level in 2005 (.738). His move to the outfield makes his value for next year not worth protecting.

 

Shortstop:

 

Nomar Garciaparra – primo shortstop voted second to A-Rod in 2004 and continuously as far back as the polls go (2000)? Nomar was more injury prone early in his career than the other two stars of his prime (Jeter & A-Rod). In 1997 he began a string of relatively healthy seasons in which he went from a 23-24 year-old shortstop stud (.876) to superstar shortstop (1.033) improving steadily each year. In 2001 (then 27) his injuries allowed him to play only 21 games. He was never quite the superstar afterwards, but he still hit around .875 and played in a career high 156 games both seasons. Another injury in 2004 at 30 didn’t seem to hurt his hitting (.867), but his fielding range was way down and the Red Sox traded him in the middle of a pennant chase. He hit .819 the last two months of ’04 for the Cubs, then only .772 this year. His range still isn’t pre-2004 level and he has started to play thirdbase. It’s when players have consistent unremarkable hit rates that we see the beauty in them. Nomar was pretty consistent with his, so it illuminates the likelihood that his declines are for real.

 

Michael Young – quietly improved each year as a secondbaseman while playing almost every game. SS-talk voted him 3rd among secondbasemen in 2004, but he has since became a star – at shortstop – the much stronger position at the top of the list in the AL. In 2004, Young appeared to catch up with Nomar and Jeter, and now at 28 there is no doubt about it coming within 2 thousandths of 1.000 O+S. Well, maybe there is... Young’s hit rates have been very high for the last three years. Should we expect 35%  of his batted balls in play result in a hit as they have averaged for the last three seasons? He does have speed and gap power, so it might be so, but his hit rate was around at 30 and 31% his first two years.

 

A few years ago it seemed no on could touch the amazing three superstar shortstops of coinciding careers: Jeter, Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez. In 2002, the aging Jeter was passed by the suddenly stud-ly Tejada who made it a superstar foursome. Meanwhile, Nomar is no longer a star, and A-Rod is no longer a shortstop. Jeter is fighting off age. Young has emerged. Peralta (see below) is knocking on the door. Crosby is poised to bloom. Upton and Wood could come along soon. It’s a good thing they’re not stars, yet, I’ve run out of clichés.

 

Twenty years ago, there were three star shortstops in the AL. That lasted from when Ripken rocketed to stardom in ’83 until Yount switched to centerfield four years later. They almost won consecutive MVPs. Yount won in ’82, Ripken in ‘83, Trammell was well on his way to winning in 1984, when he injured himself for a chunk of the season. He did win the MVP in the World Series that year, however, and easily deserved the MVP in 1987. Meanwhile, Tony Fernandez and Ozzie Guillen emerged as solid young starting shortstops in 1985.

 

Jhonny Peralta – did nothing more than blow his rookie status in 2003. So, he spent almost all of 2004 in Buffalo – hitting well, but making 27 errors. SS-talk saw enough potential to rank him 12th. The Indians decided against resigning Vizquel to give Peralta a chance to be the Indians every day shortstop the next year – and he was – hitting .886 and fielding nicely as well. He turned 23 in May. If he keeps progressing, he will soon join the elites. Besides his such sudden rise to prominence, Peralta’s strikeouts and lack of speed are warning flags to some. Another is his sudden jump in hit rate. That jumped from 30% in ’03 to 40% in Buffalo last year and 35% in Cleveland in ’05. I believe players can improve their hit rates a little – especially when they’re young, but it’s not sustainable over a long period of time. That’s a theory in need of more investigation.

 

Angel Berroa – in 2003 he was a 23 year-old rookie sensation. The next winter he turned 26. I’m not sure if his 5th place shortstop ranking was polled before it was discovered he was two years older than he claimed. His O+S dropped 100 points in his sophomore season, and has leveled there for his third season. His hit rate was only a little higher his rookie season. On top of that, his range is getting smaller. It’s as though he’s really 36.

 

Carlos Guillen – was the Mariners’ shortstop for four seasons – and never raised his game above average. His O+S in 2003 was a career high .753, but he was only healthy enough to play in 109 games. Thus he was ranked 13th. The Tigers signed the 28 year-old and every other 3rd rate free agent they could (plus the first rate I-Rod), and by some miracle Guillen hits .921 in a career high 136 games. Naturally, in 2005 he is ranked 5th, but only manages to play 87 games. Further, Guillen has had a sudden rise in hit rate since joining the Tigers. Both stadiums are anti-hitter, so I can’t imagine Guillen will ever have another year like 2004 – even under Jim Leyland.

 

Rich Aurilia – in 2001 Aurilia had a career year extraordinaire at age 29 (a year older than when Guillen had his). All his other full seasons have been remarkably consistent in the low to mid .700s. Foolishly, SS-talk ranked him 6th dreaming of a return to 2001. Instead, at 32 he had his worse year since he was a rookie in ’96. Signed by the Reds this year for a minor league contract, Aurilia had his best season since 2001.

 

Juan Uribe – seems to have a career year once every three years. As a 21-22 year-old rookie in 2001, he was outstanding. His second year was a disaster, then did passably well in 2003. Uribe then 24 received only a couple of optimistic 10th place votes in 2004. He hit .833 and fielded brilliantly at both secondbase and shortstop. Even though he did most of that hitting the second half of the season, ss-talk voters only elevated him to 9th best shortstop – which turned out to be what he deserved, at least, for 2005. Uribe’s 2004 hit rate was average for him. His high was his rookie season in Colorado. His lows were this year (2005) and his last year in Colorado. Hence, I believe Uribe is more the player he was in 2004 than in 2005. On the other hand, he looks too hefty to be playing shortstop. I wonder if injuries will start to take their toll soon.

 

Julio Lugo – at age 28 was rated 12th in 2004, despite hitting a respectable .743 for a shortstop. There was never any concern with his glove. Playing a career high 157 games to the tune of .734 and a season of sterling defense got him rated 10th in 2005. All he did this year was play 158 games and bat .765. Lugo has been consistent all-around, except recently he’s managed to turn a fair portion of his strikeouts into hits.

 

Outfield:

 

While the American League has had a recent bloat of excellent shortstops, the number of excellent outfielders has dwindled to . . . Vladimir Guerrero. Manny Ramirez, of course, can still hit, but you wouldn’t want him in your outfield, if you could help it.

 

Magglio Ordoñez – what a bad signing the Tigers made. SS-talk voters weren’t much smarter, though, ranking him 10th among outfielders. In 2004 30 year-old Ordoñez then ranked fourth suffers a career threatening injury and his season is wiped out. The Tigers sign him to a long term contract for mega-bucks, and surprise, surprise he’s not the same perennial all-star he used to be. In fact, he’s outright plain: 80 games .795 O+S.

 

Aubrey Huff – at 27 when he should be peeking he started two consecutive years of getting worse. After his first full season in the Majors, Huff hit .922 and was voted the 5th best outfield property in the league. His O+S in 113 games the year before was .884. Then in 2004, Huff is moved from the outfield to thirdbase. His hitting drops to .853. His fielding wasn’t nearly the worse in the league, but he is moved back to the outfield to make way for a near retirement Alex Gonzalez (the former Cub and Blue Jay) – another inexplicable move no Scoresheet owner I know would make. Huff’s hitting dropped to .749. Yes, his hit rate was down, but it’s been sliding down for four years. I’m not sure if that’s a trend or a coincidence.

 

Carlos Beltran – with MVP type seasons for two years in a row, Beltran only 27 narrowly lost to Barry Bonds as the top outfielder in the NL. Over the previous four years Beltran’s OBA + Slugging has been .876, .847, .911, and .915. He was, also, one of the top centerfielders and base stealers in baseball. This year hampered by quadricep and shoulder injuries as well as a move to Shea Stadium, Queens, New York Beltran suffered a miserable year for himself: .744 and only 17 of 23 in steals after stealing 162 bases out of 177 attempts the previous five seasons. The basestealing problems might just be a matter of getting used to the pitchers in the league where teams need to be more on their guard against basestealers. However, the injuries and move were actually a huge derailing. With Beltran’s great season in ’04 and late season heroics, he actually had a mere 27% hit rate. With a normal hit rate, he might have won the MVP.

 

Vernon Wells – he’s young, he has a young player’s skills, he’s had an MVP type season in 2003 at age 24. He was the consensus no. 1 SS-talk outfielder for 2004, but he went back to being merely decent (.810, .783) these past two seasons. His hit rate was a little low in 2005, just as it was a little high in 2003. Trend or glitch? Fat or brawn?

 

Aaron Rowand – was the newest star centerfielder of 2004. He ranked 56th going into that season. With large expectations from a high .800s year at AAA Charlotte and the low .800s follow–up  as a 63 game rookie for the White Sox, Rowand disappointed with a .692 O+S in 2002. He was 24-25. His first full season in 2002 was a bit disappointing and he started the following year even worse. Rowand was sent back to the minors for 63 games. When he returned, he was excellent. However, his first month up earlier disguised his numbers. Only two voters ranked him at all in 2004. Then at age 26-27 he went on to blast .905 and deserve a gold glove.

 

Mark Kotsay 29 & Aaron Rowand 27-28 – two centerfielders in their prime had surprisingly good seasons last year, ranked 10th and 9th this year, then had surprisingly disappointing seasons this year. That’s not a redundancy. Sure enough, Kotsay had an unusually high hit rate in 2004 (34%), and an unusually low one this year (29%). Rowand also had a 34% hit rate last year after low ones in his first two seasons mostly in the majors. Last year was a reasonable 32%, however.

 

Bernie Williams – for about 8 years was one of the top outfielders in the American League. In 2002, at age 33 he went downhill a couple notches. Still playing well enough two years later that for 2005 in his 36th year of age, Williams was voted 21st. However, this year his skills dropped another couple notches to the point where he should no longer be a starter.

 

David Dellucci – until this year at age 31 hadn’t had a season of over 400 at bats since he was 24! Dellucci has thrived since coming to Texas in 2003. Naturally the career high .787 O+S last year in 331 At Bats wasn’t enough to earn him a ss-talk vote, but he’ll get some next year after hitting .880 in 435 At Bats. This improvement is not a hit rate mirage. Notice Dellucci’s walk rate has skyrocketed with his success. Which caused which, I don’t know.

 

Richard Hidalgo – had two spike seasons. First, was an incredible MVP caliber peak in 2000 at age 24-25 his third year in the Majors. Then came another excellent season in 2003. Hit rates would suggest his 2000 was his peak. 2003 was a lucky season, while 2004 was indeed unlucky. SS-talk ranked Hidalgo 15th in 2005, but at 29-30 he had the worse year of his career – completely worthless. It is hard to believe he isn’t, at least, five years older than he claims.

 

Dmitri Young – in ’03 at 29 had a spike year in both O+S (.909) and games played (155). That coincided with a high hit rate. These last two years he’s been right back at about his career averages (.806 and 115 games) with slightly lower than his usual hit rates.

 

Tim Salmon – after eight consecutive seasons of all-star caliber playing, Salmon’s nagging injuries finally caught up with him at age 34-35 in 2001. He came back and put in two more solid, but not outstanding years for which ss-talk ranked him 21st among outfielders at age 37. Unless they are amazingly sleek and strong, position players that old are walking time bombs. Salmon’s went off loudly then and his career is likely over.

 

Juan Gonzalez – had his last outstanding healthy season in 2001 at age 31 (.960 O+S). Injuries gave him only two half seasons over the next two years. 2002 was a disaster for the narrow ranged outfielder (.775), but, at least, he recovered his power in 2003 (.901). SS-talk felt comfortable enough with that to vote the 34 year-old 25th best outfielder for 2004. He played 33 games at .767 and only one game this year.

 

Steve Finley – in his late 30s was an age-defying healthy swell outfielder. Playing centerfield for Arizona, he kept his O+S over .863 and his game total over 147. At 39, though, he may have slipped slightly to .823, but he played every game. With 30 year-old Darren Erstad’s body no longer able to stand the rigors of playing centerfield, the Angels wanted Finley. They got him – and his ensuing .644 O+S. His hits rates have dropped dramatically the last three years, but that could be normal for a 40 year-old.

 

Garret Anderson – had slowly improved to be a consistent outstanding outfielder.  For 2004 at age 31 (to turn 32 mid-season) Anderson was voted the 9th best. He’s been nowhere near that good since – probably time to give his job to someone better.

 

Gary Sizemore – with nothing to complain about, Sizemore had his skeptics as a prospect. He blew his rookie status in 2004 with a centerfielder’s respectable .739 O+S in his 43 games with the big boys. Still 22 until this past August, Sizemore was only voted 31st as a non-prospect. He posted .832 in 154 games almost leading the Indians to a wild card. Any SS team would love some of that and what will come. (see prospects)

 

Jonny Gomes – (see prospects)

 

Kevin Mench – was shuttled back and forth from Oklahoma to Texas for two seasons for which he was ranked 40th going into his 26th year of age. Finally, he stayed up to play 125 games and socked .874 for the Rangers.

 

Trot Nixon – has been voted in the top 13 the last two seasons, but injuries and, perhaps, age have kept him from being that good. He’s 31 now.

 

Shannon Stewart – a solid lead-off batter for 7 seasons consistently had a .370 On-Base and 444 Slugging. At 30 and ranked 16th Stewart missed significant time due to injury. This year ranked one notch lower, he has begun to show his age (31) even more at the plate and in wear and tear from injuries (shoulder in ’05). With his hit rate dropping a couple percentage points, his OBA was .323 and his Slugging .388.

 

Lew Ford – was not even ranked in 2004 despite a .977 O+S in 34 Major League games (only .807 at Rochester, but .916 at New Britain the year before). He played 154 games in Minnesota to the tune of .827. This earned him a ranking of 18 for this year in which he turned 29 in August. His bat sang .715 this summer, while his hit rate was down a couple of points, too.

 

Jay Gibbons – established himself as an everyday outfielder sustaining his approximate .790 O+S in 2003. For 2004 at age 27, he ranked 15th. At what should have been his peak was a huge trough (.682 is very bad for a corner outfielder). His rank dropped to 48th in 2005, but Gibbons came back to hit .833. Yet, there are no significant differences in hit rates. It would appear Gibbons played with injuries (bad back?) in ’04.

 

Prospects: (pitchers next month.)

 

Sometimes, it takes a few years for a prospect selection to reveal whether it was a bad investment or a steal. I’ll reserve judgment on many prospects who have been disappointing, but shouldn’t be given up on, yet, or prospects who have improved well beyond expectations, but are not in the Majors, yet. However, some prospects we drafted with excited anticipation have fizzed to the point where you wouldn’t bother keeping them with only 35 picks. Surprises here were prospects in the Bs or lower who had an immediate impact in the Majors or established themselves up there well ahead of schedule. Disappointments listed were A or A- candidates who never had an impact and probably never will.

 

Robinson Cano – long arguments ensued in mcscoresheet over the actual future value of this Rookie of the Year candidate and play-off series star. Cano made huge improvements in his power and walk rates in 2004 at the AA level, but his defense was suspect – and his consistency was questioned. He struggled a little in Columbus. Typical of prospect forecasters only 15% of ss-talk voters rated Cano among their top 20 prospects. Cano blew away the International League at the beginning of 2005, and the Yankees - in dire need of a decent secondbaseman - gave him a shot. This 22 year-old was terrific. His walks went back down to his previous level, but his hitting was at its best in his fourth month up. The low walk totals still have some mcss posters worried, but it was pointed out that his BB:SO has always been solid.

 

BJ Upton – the number 3 AL prospect of 2004. All he’s done, so far, is break his rookie eligibility. In his 159 at bats that year he neither batted well enough for DH, nor fielded well enough for shortstop. Yet, due to his age in 2005, he ranked 7th among all shortstops. However, noticeable improvement was not forthcoming. He has a good walk rate and good speed, but his strikeouts are a bit too high and his errors remained the league joke. Of course, having turned only 21 this August, he’s still young enough to develop into a star. Can you wait to see?

 

Jonny Gomes – only 10% of the ss-talk voters deemed Gomes worthy of top 20 prospect recognition for this 2005 season of his 24th year. He progressed one level a year at a time to .900 O+S in Durham last year (’04). Besides his slow progress, voters were troubled by his high strikeout rate and subdued scouting reports. As hard as he tried, Lou Piniella couldn’t keep Gomes out of the line-up this year and had a .906 B+A for the two-thirds of the season he was up. He was helped some by a high hit rate this year 36%, which was equally high during his time in Durham. The previous two years at AA and AAA, it was 34 and 33.With 16 SB and 6 triples, it’s possibly for real.

 

Grady Sizemore – rated a mere respectable 11th in 2004, this year as he’s turned only 23 in August, he’s establishing himself as the best young outfielder in the league. I’m not sure what those of us who had doubts were thinking – except that his numbers were very good, but not spectacular.

 

Jeremy Reed – by contrast, Reed, who was rated 8th in 2004, had an awesome season in 2003 split between high A and AA. Reed’s AA O+S was 1.065 compared to Sizemore’s .853. Reed is a little more than a year older (24). The big difference is that Reed had a monstrously high hit rate in ’03, especially at Birmingham. His hit rate has been somewhat on the low side ever since. Basically his strikeout rate soared when he was traded from the White Sox organization to Seattle’s. Otherwise, Reed is an argument against projecting prospects higher due to having good plate command. It is appearing to be that Kenny Williams does know something.

 

Alexis Rios & Gabe Gross – As Rios was on most voters’ list and Gross was on a few, both of these Toronto prospects had break out seasons at AA New Haven, but seemingly haven’t progressed much at all since. Time might have run out for Gross (25 now 26). Gross is another argument against this judging prospects by their BB:AB or BB:SO. Rios (still 23) is a couple years younger than Gross. His earlier stats may have been pumped by a high hit rate. Likewise, a modest improvement might be disguised by a low hit rate in 2005.

 

Guillermo Quiroz – yet another Blue Jay prospect inflated at 21 thanks to an out-of-the-world season at AA New Haven. His hit rate was 32% - high for a catcher. Afterwards for 1994, he was voted 15th best prospect and 12th best catcher by ss-talk. He came to spring training fat and had an injury riddled season at 22. Back down to a 26% hit rate the next year at AAA Syracuse, his hitting (.713) was a woeful disappointment. More injuries and disappointment continued in 2005. There is a ray of hope, however. In a limited number of at bats, Quiroz showed a little more power despite an even lower hit rate.

 

Aaron Hill – perked enough interest in only three of 40 ss-talk voters to get ranked in their top 20. In 2004 the Jays moved their AA franchise to somewhere in New Hampshire where Hill made a realistic progression after his rapid rise from college through a lower, then upper level A ball in 2003. At 23, Hill was called up to replace an injured Cory Koskie and adjust from shortstop to thirdbase. He made the adjustment and even hit like a thirdbaseman until a late season swoon brought his stats down to minimal status. It could have been the AL pitchers solving him, or it could have been exhaustion from a longer season than he’s ever played before. It may be premature to include him as a surprise, but for awhile he certainly seemed to be so. His fielding wasn’t stellar.

 

Jason Bartlett – had me fooled as a sleeping excellent prospect. I ignored some significant facts. 1) He was already 25. 2) He was just coming off a very lucky season. Without noteworthy speed or significant power, Bartlett posted a fabulously high hit rate in Rochester (38%) and a highly inflated O+S to go with it (.887 which included a .415 OBA that many of us think are key for making a strong adjustment to the Majors). Bartlett bombed in the Majors. No wonder: his hit rate with the home office was a mere 28%, while his AAA rate continued in the Twilight Zone at 39%.

 

Jose Lopez – (see secondbasemen) is a good example of the dangers prospect hoarding can have. Here’s a kid who took up a rookie slot on someone’s roster as he made his way through the minors. He was called up. He blew his rookie status. Now, he costs a full protection slot to keep. He was given another chance and proved to still not be ready. Some rebuilding manager in your league is probably still keen enough to protect him – and, perhaps, wisely so, but the total cost of protecting him might have already accumulated beyond his eventual worth.

 

Michael Aubrey – a first round pick of Cleveland’s generated a good deal of interest to prospect experts everywhere by his impressive professional debut in the Mid-West League (.960). He moved up the prospect list (14th) the next year (2005) after dominating pitcher friendly Carolina League (high A) at the pitchers’ park in Kinston. His 38 games at AA Akron were far less impressive, and didn’t show much progress in the new year until injuries resulting from his bad back finished his season after only 28 games. He’s only 23, so, of course, he could still develop, but I have some doubts. That back problem cropped up when he was in college and could be chronic. He is an old 23 – only two triples and four stolen bases so far in his pro career - and his hit rates in his impressive low level campaigns were astronomical. Caution: no doubt hit rates will be higher the lower in the minors, but I’m not an expert as to how much.

 

John Buck – would have had me fooled twice, if I followed prospects in the NL. He hit only .659 (O+S) in New Orleans (AAA). The Astros kept him there until they traded for Carlos Beltran in late June two weeks before Buck’s 24th birthday.

By then, he was the trade’s key man for the Royals as he was then hitting .875 for the Big Easy. He went straight to Kansas City and hit a passable .704 for a rookie catcher. Young solid starting position players are gold, right? I thought so. Buck went backwards to .676. Looking at his recent hit rates, I noticed Buck’s was highest his breakout season at New Orleans in early 2004. His lowest was during this year – although, the differences were not huge.

 

Conclusion:

The loudest lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes these last two years in order of importance have been to 1) pay more attention to their hit rates; 2) check the condition players arrive in for spring training; you want your players to be sleek and strong; some big waist guys can still swing the bat, but they are more injury prone; as they get older this becomes an exponential worry; pitchers can be chubby, though that’s in the next report; (Anyone know a good source for that information other than Rotoworld?) 3) Players of all ages can be disappointing or surprising, but clearly the chances of a position player being a disappointment are much greater if the player is in their 30s (and, of course, the opposite for players in their 20s). That’s obvious, but with improved training techniques and drug knowledge, many players in recent years were extending their prime well beyond what was previously conceived as normal. This trend seems to have been deflated just in the last year or two. 4) Walk rates should be a part of a player’s evaluation, but it’s a very wobbly science.

John Carter