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Reliever wins are.

Consider this: Jose Arredondo won 10 games last season in 61 innings. How rare is that? Well it’s the fewest amount of innings for any pitcher to win 10 games in baseball history. Only 103 pitchers have pitched in 100 or less innings and won 10 games, and only 15 since 2000. Here’s a look at those pitchers:

Arthur Rhodes: 10 (69.7 IP in 2002)
Luis Ayala: 10 (71 IP in 2003)
Aaron Small: 10 (76 IP in 2005)
Joe Nathan: 12 (79 IP in 2003)
Jesse Crain:12 (79.7 IP in 2005)
Juan Rincon: 11 (82 IP in 2004)
Paul Quantrill: 11 (83 IP in 2001)
Gabe White: 11 (83 IP in 2000)
Tony Fiore: 10 (91 IP in 2002)
Danny Graves: 10 (91.3 IP in 2000)
Scot Shields: 10 (91.7 IP in 2005)
Billy Koch: 11 (93.7 IP in 2002)
Shigetoshi Hasegawa: 10 (95.7 IP in 2000)
Oscar Villarreal: 10 (98 IP in 2003)

What’s up with all the Minnesota Twins on that list anyways? Here’s how they fared the next year:

Rhodes: 3 W 54 IP
Ayala: 6 W 90.3 IP
Small: 0 W 27.7 IP
Nathan: 1 W 72.3 IP
Crain: 4 W 76.7 IP
Rincon: 6 W 77 IP
Quantrill: 5 W 76.7 IP
White: 1 W 67.7 IP
Fiore: 1 W 36 IP
Graves: 6 W 80.3 IP
Shields: 7 W 87.7 IP
Koch: 5 W 53 IP
Hasegawa: 5 W 55.7 IP
Villarreal: 0 W 18 IP

The lesson here is to not rely on relievers for wins. Arredondo could present saves next season, but on draft day don’t be fooled by his shiny win totals, otherwise you might be in for a rude awakening.

Will Be-able?

Can you name the last 10 opening day centerfielders for the San Diego Padres? Most likely not, so I’ll provide them in list form:

2008 – Scott Hairston
2007 – Mike Cameron
2006 – Dave Roberts
2005 – Xavier Nady
2004 – Jay Payton
2003 – Mark Kotsay
2002 – Mark Kotsay
2001 – Mike Darr
2000 – Ruben Rivera
1999 – Ruben Rivera

That’s a lot of turnover in a short period of time, which is a large part why the Padres hope William Venable will be able to lock down center for the next few seasons. As you may have heard by now, Venable is the son of William “Max” Venable, a former Giant, Expo, Red, and Angel, and the man the rebuilding Padres will turn to beginning in 2009.

Venable is a former Ivy Leaguer who also played baseball and basketball at Princeton University. Venable’s minor league stats reflect his willingness, at times, to draw walks. In 2006, Venable’s BB% was 10.4, that number dropped to 6.9 in 2007, and rose in 2008 to 9.1 in Triple-A. In a touch over 120 major league plate appearances Venable’s BB% sat at a healthy 10.6%. A bit surprisingly Venable has also shown some power potential, posting ISOs of .163, .095, .172, and .127 over his past four stops.

Despite stealing 39 bases in 2006 and 2007, Venable has stolen only eight since. Meaning is value is going to be limited to runs scored, and here’s the bad news, Venable is going to be playing in one of the worst lineups in baseball next season. He’ll earn most of his value with his leather, and unless your league somehow implements UZR, you’re unlikely to find value with Venable.

Shields Up

When someone begins talking about the Rays rotation, most skip to Scott Kazmir or David Price or even Matt Garza, yet neither of those trio can claim the title of best Rays starter in 2008. Instead, that honor goes to James Shields. The-soon-to-be 27 year old right-hander completed his second consecutive 200-plus inning season and duplicated the tendencies that have made him one of the more successful pitchers in the American League East.

Shields 2007 and 2008 share a ton of similarities. In both seasons, Shields completed 215 innings and faced 874 and 877 batters respectively. Shields walked four more, and allowed four less homeruns, but the only thing that truly changed were his strikeouts, which dropped a full strikeout per nine. Shields pitch usage remained largely the same as well; using his fastball about 45% of the time, a cutter, a curve, and his change-up, one of the premiere breaking pitches in the league. Shields batted balls also remained the same, as you can see below, and his batting average on balls in play was yet again .292.

Moving forward there’s no reason to believe Shields can’t repeat for a third successful year, although perhaps not a clone of the prior two seasons.

Sabathia to the Yankees

Dave covered the signing of CC Sabathia on the front page, but what about CC’s fantasy value?

Wins: Sabathia went 6-8 with the Indians and 11-2 after the trade to Milwaukee. Sabathia’s early season woes have something to do with the mediocre Indians record (remember how he allowed 27 earned runs in his first 18 innings? Neither do most people) Sabathia did have a few tough losses though, two with Cleveland in which he allowed two runs or less, and one with Milwaukee. The 2008 Yankees offense scored less runs than the Indians, despite seemingly have more offensive talent, they did outscore the Brewers. In 2009, without Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, but with Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano regressing towards being good again, and a few probable free agent additions, the offense should maintain decent run support for Sabathia.

ERA: Don’t go out of the way to get your hands on Sabathia expecting a 2.70 ERA again. It’s rough to estimate, but Marcels has him at 3.22. That’s a pretty reliable projection, and we should expect a slight bump in moving back to the American League.

Innings: Same story as ERA, it’s likely that 2008 was the absolute peak for Sabathia’s workload unless the Yankees get a little too frivolous with their new toy. He’s still CC Sabathia, and he’s still going to get a few complete games, but again, don’t expect a complete game one-third of the time.

Strikeouts and Walks: Sabathia struck out a career high per nine. Sabathia’s strikeout percentage of total batters faced increased a smidge, from 24.3% with Cleveland to 24.8% with Milwaukee. It’s possible for a bit of regression here, Sabathia’s been up trending for three straight seasons. Here’s a graphical look at Sabathia’s strikeout rates:

WHIP: With walk rates covered, let’s look at hit rates. Sabathia’s had a pretty average BABIP the past few seasons. As a team, Yankees pitchers had a collective .323 BABIP against last season good for third highest in the league last season. The Brewers and Indians were quite a bit better, which is to be expected, given both of those teams likely have better defense, suggesting it’s probable to see Sabathia’s batting average against raise.

Conclusion: It’s possible that Sabathia becomes less valuable despite potentially earning more wins. Expect his ERA and WHIP to increase while his strikeout rate and innings load dip.

Don’t Be Silly, The A’s Don’t Steal Bases

That’s what Moneyball said, but in 2008 that doesn’t appear to be reality. While doing some precursory research on Rajai Davis I stumbled upon his 35 stolen base attempts. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but Davis reached base only 61 times in 2008. That works out to Rajai attempting a steal 57% of his time on base. That doesn’t tell us how many times Davis was used as a pinch runner nor how many of those steals were with Oakland, but a quick glance at his gamelogs does.

31 of his attempts came with the A’s and only 10 attempts as a pinch runner. I took away those 10 pinch running attempts, and yet Davis still attempted a steal 41% of the time he got himself on base. That’s a lot, in fact, that’s the second highest percentage in baseball for those in the top 100 of stolen bases. Fluke, right?

Well, not too far below Davis name sat Eric Patterson, who attempted steals in 26% of his times on base. Eight of Patterson’s 11 steal attempts came with the Athletics, and three as a pinch runner. Impressively Patterson wasn’t caught in his eight Oakland tries. Even a little further down the list was Matt Holliday (12%), putting three somewhat recent Athletics acquisitions in the top 60.

After looking merely at team attempts, the legendary conservative Athletics ranked 19th in stolen base attempts, higher than “more athletic” (no pun intended) teams like Cleveland, Texas, Florida, and even Arizona. It’s worth noting the Athletics boasted the second best success rate just behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Not only did they run about as much an average team, but they chose their spots to maximize success.

Come draft day, keep this in mind. Just because Holliday is an Athletic, doesn’t mean his baserunning value is going to waste.

Regarding James McDonald

The Dodgers are coming off a season in which they won their division and finished second in the National League. Yet, it’s possible they could lose two-fifths of their rotation, their starting left fielder, and non-tender their closer. Whether the Dodgers decide to invest money towards CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, or whomever else is up to be decided, but one thing that should be a given is the placement of James McDonald in the starting rotation.

Despite making a cameo in the Dodgers playoff run late last season, McDonald is still a relative unknown. A low-90’s fastball and mid-70’s breaking stuff doesn’t do much for the imagination, but McDonald has shown the ability to excel without any pitch that “grades out” and commands a strong minor league track record. Drafted as a pitcher, McDonald spent 2003 in rookie ball, throwing 49 innings and showing little concern for the opposing lineup’s collective confidence levels. In 2004, the Dodgers would shift McDonald to the outfield and give him a bat. He’d struggle in 125 at-bats, recording only three extra base hits, and having a 12:44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. That would’ve been excellent, if only he were still pitching.

Los Angeles would correct their error in 2006, and McDonald would return to dominating in 2007; breezing through High-A and Double-A with K/BB ratios over four and FIPs of 2.88 and 3.03. McDonald spent most of 2008 in Double-A, encountering a few hiccups; the most prevalent being a decreased strikeout ratio and increased walk ratio. A 22 innings stint in Las Vegas capped off McDonald’s minor league season, as he soon joined the major league club.

Since 2007, McDonald faced 1,047 batters in the minors. Of those, 281 struck out, or 27%. That’s pretty impressive for someone without “plus stuff”. The one downfall for McDonald could be his fly ball tendencies leading to potentially high homerun totals. McDonald didn’t show too many concerns about this in the minors, with HR/9 ratios usually clocking in just under one per, and pitching within the homerun suppressant Dodger Stadium should help, but the out-via-air patterns are worth noting.

Marcels isn’t much help with McDonald’s non-existent major league profile, but it’s easy to see McDonald lapping Brad Penny’s 2008, and being a bit of a sleeper in wins, strikeouts, and WHIP categories.

Wigginton’s Wacky 2008

Ty Wigginton was once the centerpiece of the trade that sent Kris Benson from Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Mets. The Pirates cut ties with Wigginton only a season and a half later, leaving Wigginton to take a non-roster invite with Tampa Bay. Wigginton would spend a season and a half in St. Petersburg before again packing his bags, this time heading to Houston for reliever Dan Wheeler. Wigginton’s rate stats picked up in the final 50 games of 2007, hitting .284/.342/.462, little did we know that was a sign of things to come.

Wigginton would continue slaughtering National League pitching in 2008, hitting .285/.350/.526 with 23 homeruns and a rather modest 58 runs batted in. Is Wigginton’s .876 legitimate, or was some luck to credit for his breakout? Well, as it turns out, a bit of both. Wigginton’s .296 batting average on balls in play is hardly outrageous, and even with consideration given to Wigginton’s 16.3 line drive percentage, a recent career low. Wigginton’s 23 homeruns seem fine as well; after all, he hit 22 in 2007 and 24 in 2006. Herein sits the snake in the bushes: Wigginton recorded only 386 at-bats in 2008, more than 160 less than he did in 2007, and 58 less than in 2006.

A small fracture in Wigginton’s left thumb cost him playing time from mid-April through early May. That means less balls in play, and since only 38.8% of Wigginton’s balls in play were of the “fly” variety, and 11.3% of those did not leave the infield, Wigginton’s 18.5% HR/FB is quite a bit more than you should expect heading forward, especially with Wigginton’s career total being 13.5%. Odds are, Wigginton will be closer to his career percentage than 2008.

Marcels anticipates some regression from the 31-year-old, with a projected line of .273/.333/.473 and 20 homeruns. That’s not too bad, with Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mike Lowell falling behind in projected OPS from the hot corner. Perhaps the only question remaining is whether Wigginton will remain in Houston, or jack 20 homeruns elsewhere come springtime.