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Show Me the Moneyball, Pt III
2004-12-22 21:47
by Mike Carminati

I have gotten a lot of flak about my comments regarding Danny Haren, and I wanted to expand on my previous comments. My assessment of him wasn't based on any scouting report and, I'll admit, was far from a scientific assessment. It was based on a combination of things. First, I am a NL fan (Phils, sadly enough—don't rub it in) and what I have seen of Haren in his two partial seasons at the major-league level didn't impress. It seemed that Tony LaRussa was trying to avoid using Haren in the postseason. And he wasn't that impressive when used (two hits to start the eighth in game 4 of the WS trailing 3-0, though Isringhausen rescued him; he did get the Manny Ramirez near DP in game one, the play in which Orlanda Cabrera tried to get upclose and personal with Tony Womack, but that was after giving up a first-batter/first-pitch single to let the Sox go up 6-2 and then after the Ramirez play, walked around Ortiz to reload the bases before getting Millar; he did, however, keep the Sox scoreless until the Cards tied it in the seventh; In the NLCS game 1, he came in and gave up a rope to Beltran on an inside fastball but did make Bagwell look silly swinging at heat—it did lead to a run that almost let the 'Stros back in it; In game 3 he gave up a homer to Beltran in the 8th trailing 3-2).

Haren has a nice fastball, but it seems that major-leaguers turn on it (like Beltran did twice in the NLCS). His strikeouts-per-nine and strikeouts-per-BB have not been as impressive as they should in his first two seasons. I don't think he's pitched well since Double-A Tennessee at the beginning of 2003. His ERA and WHIP were very high in Triple-A over the last two years—and as far as I can tell Memphis is not a particularly high-scoring park. He gave up more hits than IP both seasons. Yes, his strikeouts were impressive in Memphis this year (10.6 per 9 IP and a 4.60 K-to-BB ratio) but with 19 dingers and 136 hits in 128 innings. Also, that was his second year in Triple-A and he had just a 6.9 Ks-per-9IP and the closest he has come to 10.6 in six different levels in four years was 9.9 in his first pro season, 2001, in Peoria.

Could Haren blossom in a pitcher's park? Sure, power pitchers can start off their careers flukily. Perhaps his lack of use in St. Lou was due more to TLR/Duncan than his own abilities. LaRussa has eschewed young starters since his days on the South Side when he rode the likes of "Hedly" LaMarr Hoyt, Dick Doston, Britt Burns, Steve Trout, and Ross Baumgarten. It seemed like they always had fungible young starters around, but never put it all together as a team (1983 notwithstanding). Maybe that soured LaRussa against youngsters—I try not to plumb the depths of his genius (So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson DH'ing in the Series?): it makes my head hurt. But I am less than sold on Haren than most.

Anyway, Haren is the key to the trade from the credit end of the balance sheet for Beane, but clearly, the debit side, Mulder, is the main linchpin in the plan. Beane believes that Mulder is all but through—He has to. Some look at his falling strikeouts and say that it's a fait accompli, but I would point out that his strikeouts started to fall in 2003 (from 6.2 per nine innings to 6.0, and from 159 to 128, and he still was one of the better pitchers in the league (6th in VORP, 60.4, in the AL; tied for 11th in Pitching Win Shares).

Then he looked like the Cy Young leader through the first half of 2004. He was 12-2 with a 3.21 ERA, 6.31 Ks per 9 IP, 1.20 WHIP, 2.24 K-to-BB ratio, a .242 opponents' BA, 131 innings pitched (7.3 per start), and four complete games. The second half was a completely different story: 5-6, 6.13 ERA, 4.60 Ks per 9, 1.59 WHIP, 1.14 K-to-BB, .294 OBA, 94 IP (6.3 per start), and 1 CG. Also, his monthly ERAs kept going up and up: 3.00 in April and May, 2.74 in June, but then 5.11 in July, 5.14 in August, 8.10 in September and 18.00 in one October start. His last win was August 24: he was 0-4 in his last seven starts to finish 17-8, 4.43, which is quite a fall from 15-3, 3.50 ERA on August 3.

So what does it mean? Mulder says he's not hurt nor was he tired:

"I wasn't hurt at all, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me," Mulder said Monday. "Did I get tired? I don't know. This game will jump up and bite you at times."

I think he was probably tired after all the long starts in the first three months. Beane thinks it's more of a long-term thing apparently OR he doesn't want to invest money in him for two years (actually one plus an option) to find out OR Beane is tired of laboring under the Joe Morgan-promulgated misconception that he has benefited from having the Big Three develop under his reign. From BP's Joe Sheehan:

"I'm going to throw one other notion out there. One of the popular criticisms of Billy Beane in the wake of Moneyball was that the A's success had less to do with his decisionmaking and more to do with the emergence of three good young starting pitchers in a two-year span. Whatever your stance on this--I find the notion reactionary and content-free--Beane has, in the last week, divorced his team's identity from Hudson, Mulder and Zito. What the A's do on the field in the next two to three years will likely determine, for many people, whether he truly is a great general manager or just the guy who was standing there when some draft picks panned out."

So let's assume that Mulder is washed up, my other problem with the series of trades is that it leaves the A's with just one veteran, Barry Zito at the tender age of 26, in the rotation, and the one who had been pointed to for some time as the most suspect of the Three. The rest of the rotation would be, apparently, Rich Harden, Haren, Joe Blanton, and Dan Meyer. Juan Cruz will probably be a swing man, at the ready should reinforcements be needed. Zito has 153 career starts. The rest of the putative rotation has 63 (44 for Harden and 19 for Haren).

Since five-man rotations became de rigueur in the mid-Seventies, there have been just 63 rotations with number 2 to 5 having a collective experience of 75 or fewer starts at the beginning of the season (min. 15 starts in the season since 1975). That is, there are 63 times that a team has decided to hand on to one veteran and turn the rest of the staff over to men, who, collectively, have the equivalent of three or fewer seasons in a major-league rotation. It seems like a "Moneyball" move to look up a young rotation and let them develop together at near-league minimum prices. The only thing is that they don't always develop when they are set adrift together (look at the Royals rotations over the last few years).

Those teams have, on average, improved their winning percentage by 11 points (since 1975, 8 points for all such teams throughout baseball history), but most of them wer pretty poor the season before and some up-turn would be expected no matter who was pitching. The '04 A's, meanwhile, just missed the playoffs. If you limit it to just the teams (throughout baseball history) that had a .500 or better winning percentage, they declined by 58 points on average.

For a point of reference, here the teams since 1994 that qualify (and lost 7 points in their winning percentage on average):

YrTmLgExpWLPCTPrev Yr WPrev Yr LPCTDiff
2004Kansas City RoyalsAL6758104.3588379.512-.154
2004Baltimore OriolesAL607884.4817191.438.043
2003Kansas City RoyalsAL388379.51262100.383.130
2003Detroit TigersAL3543119.26555106.342-.076
2002Houston AstrosNL728478.5199369.574-.056
2002Toronto Blue JaysAL497884.4818082.494-.012
2001Houston AstrosNL649369.5747290.444.130
2001Pittsburgh PiratesNL3062100.3836993.426-.043
2000Kansas City RoyalsAL587785.4756497.398.078
2000Florida MarlinsNL487982.4916498.395.096
1998Montreal ExposNL286597.4017884.481-.080
1998Cincinnati RedsNL697785.4757686.469.006
1997Colorado RockiesNL328379.5128379.512.000
1997Oakland AthleticsAL466597.4017884.481-.080
1996Seattle MarinersAL108576.5287966.545-.017
1996Oakland AthleticsAL97884.4816777.465.016
1996Detroit TigersAL7053109.3276084.417-.090
1995Cincinnati RedsNL578559.5906648.579.011
1995Philadelphia PhilliesNL176975.4795461.470.010
1995Pittsburgh PiratesNL355886.4035361.465-.062
1994St. Louis CardinalsNL375361.4658775.537-.072
1994Texas RangersAL455262.4568676.531-.075
1994Pittsburgh PiratesNL665361.4657587.463.002
1994Colorado RockiesNL685364.4536795.414.039
1994Florida MarlinsNL245164.4436498.395.048
1994San Diego PadresNL464770.40261101.377.025

And not too many of them became staffs that their teams could ride to the postseason promised land. Only eight such teams have made the postseason: the 1994 Rangers, 1982 Braves, 1995 Reds, 2001 Astros, 1914 Braves, 1948 Indians, 1952 Dodgers, and 1964 Yankees. And only the '14 Braves and '48 Indians won the Series.

So I think the trade boils down to:

1) Mulder has to be either washed up or completely overpriced to justify it.
2) Haren, I believe, is over-rated and must turn into a viable front-end starter by, say, 2006 to justify the trade.
3) Calero and Barton are nice but will not be impact players next year.
4) The strategy of going with such a young rotation is suspect at best.

I may be wrong but it seems to me to be not the greatest bargain in the world. It seems that Beane was more interested in cutting payroll while putting his stamp on the team than in doing what was in their best interest, at least in '05. Maybe the moves if everything pans out will look great in five years, but that may not appease the A's fans next season.

Anyway, from a sabermetric point of view, I think the deals are suspect, either taken alone or strung together, and am disappointed that Beane has gotten a free ride on them. It seems that many feel the moves were suspect but just said, "Well, Beane knows something [insert Mulder injury reference/prospect analysis reference" or "He's setting something up" or "He is switching paradigms". I guess that's why they play 'em. But if Mulder looks like his normal self in '05, Billy's going to have a lot of 'splaining to do.

[By the way, since I did the research, here are the least experienced staffs starters numbers two through five all time:

YrTmLgExpWLPCTPrev Yr WPrev Yr LPCTDiff
1889Kansas City CowboysAA05582.4014389.326.076
1887Philadelphia AthleticsAA06469.4816372.467.015
1939St. Louis BrownsAL143111.2795597.362-.083
1922Chicago White SoxAL17777.5006292.403.097
1892St. Louis BrownsNL15694.3738652.623-.250
1884Cincinnati Red StockingsAA16841.6246137.622.001
1879Chicago White StockingsNL14633.5823030.500.082
1977Detroit TigersAL27488.4577487.460-.003
1966Chicago CubsNL259103.3647290.444-.080
1889Washington NationalsNL24183.3314886.358-.028
1883Pittsburgh AlleghenysAA23167.3163939.500-.184
1916Cleveland IndiansAL37777.5005795.375.125
1911Philadelphia PhilliesNL37973.5207875.510.010
1885Louisville ColonelsAA35359.4736840.630-.156
1936Philadelphia AthleticsAL553100.3465891.389-.043
1883Boston BeaneatersNL56335.6434539.536.107
1934Philadelphia AthleticsAL66882.4537972.523-.070
1957Chicago CubsNL76292.4036094.390.013
1887Baltimore OriolesAA77758.5704883.366.204
1885St. Louis BrownsAA77933.7056740.626.079
1992Philadelphia PhilliesNL87092.4327884.481-.049
1901New York GiantsNL85285.3806078.435-.055
1996Oakland AthleticsAL97884.4816777.465.016
1902St. Louis CardinalsNL95678.4187664.543-.125
1887Boston BeaneatersNL96160.5045661.479.025
1886Louisville ColonelsAA96670.4855359.473.012

Now, here are the least experienced since the mid-Seventies ostensibly when most teams went to five-man rotations:

YrTmLgExpWLPCTPrev Yr WPrev Yr LPCTDiff
1977Detroit TigersAL27488.4577487.460-.003
1992Philadelphia PhilliesNL87092.4327884.481-.049
1996Oakland AthleticsAL97884.4816777.465.016
1996Seattle MarinersAL108576.5287966.545-.017
1982Minnesota TwinsAL1460102.3704168.376-.006
1978Atlanta BravesNL146993.42661101.377.049
1981New York MetsNL154162.3986795.414-.016
1995Philadelphia PhilliesNL176975.4795461.470.010
1986Milwaukee BrewersAL187784.4787190.441.037
1993Cleveland IndiansAL227686.4697686.469.000
1994Florida MarlinsNL245164.4436498.395.048
1982San Francisco GiantsNL268775.5375655.505.033
1998Montreal ExposNL286597.4017884.481-.080
1984New York MetsNL299072.5566894.420.136
1977Houston AstrosNL298181.5008082.494.006

I guess that's about it.]

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