Bill James projections, some potential targets, and rumors

One of the things Dave Littlefield was very poor about was amassing reasonable minor league free agents who had some potential regardless of age until 2007.

While it remains to be seen if Neal Huntington will be any better, it’s a given the Pirates have to keep their affiliates happy the best they can while, at the same time, have a few replacement level players around just in case.

When you consider the Pirates operate one affiliate per level, that means there are fewer positions open in the system. When better players like McCutchen and Walker hit one team at the same time, it’s not easy to sign minor league free agent talent at their positions because they know they are going to be riding the pine.

Many years ago there was a call by some fans for the Pirates to consider operating a second AAA franchise assuming they would start infusing talent. Of course, the talent never came so the need for an additional farm club never became a reality.  (Edit: an email this morning from a minor league franchise owner explained that MLB teams can only have one affiliate AAA down to low A).

Thinking about adding some depth to the farm, I scoured the minor league free agent list for talent to sign at Indy or Altoona based solely on basic statistics.

I don’t know the makeup of any of these players, nor have I seen many of them play one inning on defense or throw off the mound. That I’ll leave to Huntington’s amateur scouts.

Here’s a few mostly aging vets to consider:

Hitters

Randy Ruiz, 30 next year, and well known as the Viagra kid. Watch out Eldred. Seriously, despite the two-time drug test failures, this dude has what we need – the ability to put the ball over the fence. He put up monster numbers in the Eastern League but, unfortunately, he lacks Coonelly’s culture. When Huntington gets sick and tired of Doumit going on the DL next year as the 3rd/4th corner outfielder, I say give Ruiz 100 AB and see what he can do. That assumes we are rebuilding, of course.

Justin Leone, he’ll be 31, and he also put up monster numbers at Fresno last year and very good numbers at Portland the year before. He won’t dazzle anyone with his defense on the hot corner but like Ruiz, he can put the ball over the fence. Since Walker will be coming up, why not add Leone to Indy?

Scott Seabol, 33 next year, the McKeesport product not only hit for MLB average in Albuquerque but his park adjusted numbers for the year are sickening. He had a cup of coffee with the Cardinals in 2005 on the hot corner but some think he could challenge Bautista next year now that he’s healthy again despite his age.

Brooks Conrad, 28 next year. He seems to stay healthy, he’s put up solid numbers (park adjusted) the last two years in the PCL, he’s a small-frame whiff machine for a second baseman but still has produced in the five runs per nine range last two even with his falloff last year. Matt Kata type or Brooks Conrad off the bench? I like Conrad’s speed game, the fact he can hit left handed, and Huntington has to like his Pete Rose style of play.

Andy Tracy, 34 next year, played with the Indians in 2006 and then they turned around and dealt him before spring training to the Orioles where he underachieved. He ended up with Don Beaver’s Zephers in 2007 and put himself back on the map with a very solid year. Considering Steve Pearce will probably break the Pirates 25-man next year as LaRoche’s backup, and since De Caster is a free agent, Tracy would be a nice addition to Indy’s roster with his decent D.

Pitchers:

Jorge Vasquez, 26 in 2008, was with Altoona in 2006 and pitched very well and went on to Texas and repeated. He’s a smaller-frame two-pitch guy who has command problems at times but has always maintained a very healthy K/9. He’s filler but worth sending to Indy to see if he can find the plate better with a decent coach.

Scott Patterson, 29 in 2008, and a right-hand Oakdale product, is a very big man (6′ 7", 225) with very good command and high K/9. Patterson dominated the EL last year (0.94 xERA over 74 innings) and is currently pitching in Venezuela. It’s doubtful he’ll leave the Yankees system, but if he would he’d be a nice FA signing for Huntington.

Eddy Rodriguez, 26 in 2008, hit the DL (I don’t see why anywhere) early 2007 and never came back. If not elbow or shoulder issues, he would also be a nice pickup to add to Altoona or Indy considering the fabulous job he did for Ottawa in 2006 and his age.

Dan Giese, 31 in 2008, actually got a few innings in with the Giants last year and held his own. But what he accomplished in the California League in 2007 (1.96 xERA, 73 innings, 7/1 K/BB is the reason I think he’d be a decent guy to have around in Indy. This cat throws strikes, unlike many of the Pirate relievers.

Justin Pope, 28 in 2008, was the Cards #1 pick in 2001 and bombed. But he’s come back into the zone the last couple of years making me wonder if he just needs a bit more time to gain confidence with his stuff. He’s not going to fool anyone at the plate but he keeps the ball in the yard. Think Bayliss but with a significantly better change.

Erik Bedard would sure look good in Pittsburgh; same with Capuano, or Peavy, or even Scott Kazmir for that matter.

The Yankees are looking at Sanchez? Puh-lease. At best Sanchez is a +2.5 win guy who would probably fall to a +2 win guy in the AL East. Why would the Yankees even be interested? They aren’t.. let’s move on.

The Detroit Free Press is saying Dombrowski might target Pirate relievers. Ok, at least this makes sense since Dave Littlefield is said to be running around helping Dombrowski now.

The article talks about Matt Capps, probably thinking the Pirates signed a Mike Gonzalez wannabe in the draft last year with Daniel Moskos, but until Moskos proves he is as billed, don’t look for Capps to be dealt, if he ever is. Marte or Torres? A good possibility they will be dealt sometime soon – again, if we are rebuilding.

The 2008 Bill James Handbook is out and it contains a lot of very good stuff this year. Of interest to Pirates fans is the fact James rates the Pirates young core in Pittsburgh as being the 7th best talent in baseball.

As if to prove that, James projects the the following pitchers to make 120 starts in 2008 with an overall 4.15 ERA, a drop from 4.37 last year:

W L ERA IP H K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Gorzy 12 11 3.79 202 199 6.8 3.3 2.1 0.6
Snell 11 12 4.11 210 211 7.8 3.1 2.5 1.2
Morris 10 11 4.17 192 207 5.6 2.5 2.3 1.0
Maholm 8 11 4.58 175 193 5.9 3.2 1.9 0.9

Yep – you noticed it too? While the ERA has gone down, these four starters end up wih one less win than in 2007 for their hard work. Geezz..

Here’s Duke and Youman’s projection which includes some projected pen time:

W L ERA IP H K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Duke 6 8 4.71 128 155 4.8 2.5 1.9 0.8
Youman 3 4 4.44 71 79 5.5 3.7 1.5 0.6

So obviously James must think the Pirates offense is going to choke, as always:

AB R AVG OBP SLG BABIP RC BB% K%
McLouth 329 60 0.255 0.332 0.429 0.287 47 8.6% 19.5%
Nady 479 60 0.271 0.326 0.457 0.309 68 5.9% 21.5%
LaRoche 528 74 0.275 0.350 0.494 0.317 91 9.9% 23.5%
Morgan 193 31 0.301 0.357 0.373 0.350 26 7.7% 15.0%
Bautista 465 64 0.258 0.345 0.428 0.293 67 10.7% 19.8%
Sanchez 584 77 0.313 0.355 0.440 0.338 90 5.3% 10.3%
Bay 518 84 0.276 0.374 0.498 0.331 94 12.4% 26.6%
Wilson 449 52 0.287 0.342 0.416 0.323 63 7.2% 16.3%
Pearce 353 61 0.314 0.366 0.518 0.339 68 7.6% 13.9%
Duffy 319 48 0.282 0.340 0.386 0.331 42 6.7% 17.2%
Phelps 141 19 0.284 0.361 0.496 0.337 24 7.8% 25.5%
Paulino 449 52 0.287 0.342 0.416 0.323 63 7.2% 16.3%

For those wondering, James sees about 740 runs scored next year from these projections which includes three 90+ RC (runs created) guys. And no, you’re not reading Pearce’s projection wrong – second highest OPS to Bay. But I’m sorry, I just don’t see all the OBP James sees from these guys.

So another losing season with 86 losses if we hold this group, James seems to be saying. And if Huntington pulls a Dave Littlefield trick of dealing Bay thinking Pearce is going to fill the hole, add another 4 losses, be my guess.

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