The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Mirror, Mirror

Aside from being busy, busy, busy with Baseball Prospectus 2009 work, I've done a couple of articles for BP that have been, or will be, mirrored over at

The first is on the AL MVP race, using BP's Wins Above Replacement Player metric to evaluate the cases of the top-ranked candidates. The BP version is here with a running comment thread, the SI version, which cuts many of the external links and was re-edited after the fact (not my preference, but it's their site) is here.

Dustin Pedroia wound up taking home the honor, and by the standards of the BBWAA electorate it was a fairly reasonable choice: though Cleveland hurler Cliff Lee (who won the Cy Young award last week) and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera both accumulated higher WARP totals and Toronto ace Roy Halladay (Cy runner up) matched Pedroia's, Boston's second baseman was the the most valuable (in WARP terms) player on a team that made the playoffs, with 9.8 WARP. Teammate Kevin Youkilis, who finished third, had higher OBP and SLG numbers, but even with the credit for sliding over to play third base during Mike Lowell's absence, Pedroia's strong fielding at second base elevated him above his teammate, who tallied 8.4 WARP, tenth in the league.

As a Yanks fan, I loathe both players, the latter with far more intensity. Every mannerism of his grates, from his painfully forced scowl to that ridiculous batting stance to that bushy beard, about which the less said, the better. But still, there's no thumb on the scale here; SI wanted a WARP-based piece, and the players ranked how they ranked, so it was my job to shape the arguments around that.

The real winner, however, is BP subscribers, who now have access to sortable WARP statistics, something I've been clamoring for since the moment I joined the group. It lacks a position filter, and the key pitching stat, PRAA, is only available via a separate set of sortables (PRAR is in the first set. Don't ask why), but it's a big improvement upon what was there: nothing. Exciting changes to WARP are on the way in time for this year's upcoming JAWS series, by the way, so don't get too wrapped up in these numbers.

Anyway, the other mirrored piece is a Hot Stove preview of the NL West, which is already on BP and should be up on SI later today (at which point the BP version will become free). Just like at a Passover seder, four questions are asked. Here's what I had to say about the Dodgers:
What Do They Need? Though the Dodgers won just 84 games, they showed in the postseason that they were a better team than that once their injured players had healed up. They begin the offseason with no fewer than 13 free agents, including three starting pitchers (Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Greg Maddux), three starting infielders (second baseman Jeff Kent, shortstop Rafael Furcal, third baseman Casey Blake), and left fielder Manny Ramirez, whose arrival from Boston at the non-waivers trade deadline catalyzed the offense and turned him into a mega-celebrity the likes of which hasn't been seen in Dodger blue in decades. Despite the number of free agents, at most two rotation slots and two infield slots need covering, and while they have the resources to fill some needs from within, an offense that ranked eighth in the league in Equivalent Average and 13th in slugging percentage — one that hasn't seen a hitter surpass 20 home runs since 2005 — could really use some muscle.

What Do They Have? They've got a lineup with five starters who will be 27 or younger in 2009, counting 23-year-old Blake DeWitt, a springtime surprise who began the year at third base amid a rash of injuries, and who was shifted to second once Kent was sidelined by knee surgery; where he'll play depends upon how the winter unfolds. They've also got a premier player development system offering multiple options for their infield (Chin-Lung Hu, Tony Abreu, and Ivan DeJesus Jr.) and their pitching staff (James McDonald, Scott Elbert), and, further down in the system, talent to deal if they're so inclined. Thanks to the handiwork of GM Ned Colletti, they also have two expensive, unproductive outfielders who want out of LA in Juan Pierre (owed $37.5 million through 2011) and Andruw Jones ($22 million for one year plus signing-bonus payments stretching into 2010), not that they'll find many takers.

What are they likely to do? They've already started playing hardball with Ramirez, withdrawing an initial offer of two guaranteed years and $45 million that wasn't going to get the job done anyway; headed towards his age-37 season and coming off a combined .332/.430/.601 line with 37 homers, he's seeking a six-year deal. If he's willing to go below four years, the sky's the limit on what the Dodgers might offer, and if he settles for four, they could bite the bullet and re-sign him. Beyond Manny, it's up in the air as to whom among their own free agents they'll pursue. Blake is a possibility, and Furcal may return if he's willing to re-up with a three-year deal, even though he was either absent or subpar for about half of his expiring contract; as the Cubs found out, the Dodgers are a different team when he's atop their lineup. More likely, they'll target a short-term deal for Orlando Cabrera. In the rotation, neither the injured Penny nor Lowe are likely to return, so the Dodgers will enter the high-stakes bidding for California native CC Sabathia — if the Yankees haven't already closed that deal — and they may pursue Randy Johnson, who just filed for free agency after reaching an impasse in negotiations with the Diamondbacks. Contrary to early off-season rumors, they're unlikely to deal Russell Martin or anyone else from their young nucleus to fill needs.

What Should They Do? The Dodgers likely can't afford both Sabathia and Ramirez, and given their current posture, they're not favorites to sign either. One alternative to the latter whose name has yet to surface is Adam Dunn, who's reached the 40-homer plateau for five straight years and just turned 29. Though he lacks Manny's charisma, even moving into the least hitter-friendly park of his career, he'd be an imposing middle-of-the-order presence, and he's hardly a major step down defensively. Beyond that, and assuming no Sabathia signing, a one-year deal with Johnson could make sense given his 2008 performance, and a fungible inning-eater to account for the youth of Clayton Kershaw (and possibly McDonald) is in order—perhaps someone like Randy Wolf or Jon Garland. As for the infield, between Hu, DeJesus, DeWitt, and Abreu, the Dodgers can probably cover two of their three infield vacancies, so they should focus on signing the best free agent they can for one position and letting the kids fight for the remaining spots.
Furcal appears to be on several teams' radars - the Giants, A's, Cubs and Braves may all be in on him, making a return to the Dodgers on a deal of less than four years highly unlikely. The Ramirez front has been quite since open season began on Friday, with house yenta Peter Gammons backing my suggestion that Manny and the offensively anemic (in both ways) Giants may find love. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have expressed some interest in Sabathia, who would fill the Manny-sized void left via Ramirez's likely departure. Between the Dodgers, Yankees and Brewers, I'd say there's a pretty good chance I'll be rooting for the big fella somewhere next year.

Back with an actual link to the SI version later. Update: it's here, with a sidebar offering handy links to the rest of the series.

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