January 26, 2003
Before I get to today's entry, I want to let everyone know that the voting for Baseball Primer's Primey Awards are done and this blog finished second in the "Best Internet Weblog" category.
Baseball Prospectus won in a landslide, but I am more than happy to finish 2nd to them.
On to the baseball...
This deal is a relatively inconsequential one.
The Dodgers have Fred McGriff at 1B and Brian Jordan and Shawn Green in the outfield corners, so Daryle Ward doesn't have much chance of starting in 2003.
However, just a couple of years ago, Ward was a pretty good prospect.
Check out his minor league numbers:
Year Level AB AVG OBP SLG AB/HR AB/2B AB/BB
1997 AA 422 .329 .398 .524 22.2 16.9 9.2
1998 AAA 463 .305 .361 .525 20.1 15.0 11.3
1999 AAA 241 .353 .416 .772 8.5 16.1 10.5
Those are some very good minor league numbers.
Strangely, Ward's plate discipline went down (albeit slightly) as he got more experience, which is the opposite of what usually happens.
As he got older, some of his doubles started becoming homers, with some of his singles becoming doubles.
Ward looked to be a .300+ hitter capable of 35+ homers, lots of doubles and a few walks.
The problem was, when he got to the minors, he was no longer able to hit for a great batting average and, since he never walked very much to begin with, his on-base % was usually pretty awful.
Year AB AVG OBP SLG AB/HR AB/2B AB/BB
1999 150 .273 .311 .473 18.8 25.0 16.7
2000 264 .258 .295 .538 13.2 26.4 17.6
2001 213 .263 .323 .460 23.7 14.2 11.2
2002 453 .276 .324 .424 37.8 14.6 13.7
Now, that is a strange career progression.
Ward broke into the Majors at 24.
Since then, his home run power has gradually disappeared, while his doubles power has increased.
Normally it is the exact opposite.
And, like I said, he has not been able to hit for the same type of average that he did in the minor leagues.
His career Major League average is .269.
A .269 hitter that doesn't walk at all is going to have a tough time being very valuable, unless he hits for some major power.
And it looked like Daryle Ward would hit for some major power and he even did for a little while.
But his power is regressing, to the point that he hit a homer every 40 at bats in 2002, which is not a very good number at all.
Daryle Ward was a very promising minor league prospect and his game was based on a high batting average and lots of power, both homers and doubles.
His one major blemish in the minors was that he never walked.
And, once he got to the Majors, his average plummetted and his home run power has gradually vanished and, with his plate discipline continuing to be crappy, he has become a very mediocre player, at best.
Unless he has been hiding an injury over the past couple of seasons, I am inclined to think that the sudden drop off in power is because of something wrong in his swing, a hitch or hole or something.
His average has maintained the same level throughout his ML career and his doubles power is actually rising, so I think it is simply some adjustment he made that has caused his home run power to dry up.
Ward is in some serious need of a good hitting coach.
He would be best served to learn a little plate discipline, which would help him be a more valuable player, regardless of whether or not his batting average ever approaches his minor league levels.
Another possibility for the drop in Ward's power is that pitchers and coaches around the NL have learned that they simply don't have to give him anything good to hit.
Why throw him good, hittable strikes when he'll swing at anything?
You certainly are not in any danger of walking him most of the time.
Daryle Ward can still be a valuable player, in an outfield corner, first base or at designated hitter.
But, he is a perfect example of what not having plate discipline can do to a hitter when some of their other skills start letting them down.
Ward needs to learn to take a few more walks and he needs to find a way to rediscover his home run power.
The Dodgers are hoping he can find both.
I don't think he'll ever be a great hitter, but he's got a good chance of getting back to his 1999/2000 levels.
As for the guy the Astros got for Ward, Ruddy Lugo...
I think he is an interesting prospect.
Combined, between A and AA last year, Lugo pitched 120 innings, primarily as a reliever.
He struck out 100 batters (7.5/9 IP) and walked 39 (2.9/9 IP).
Those are pretty good numbers for a young pitcher.
Lugo's got a chance to be a decent reliever some day, but I think the point of this deal for the Astros was to rid themselves of Ward and open up playing time for some other people in the outfield.
Getting a decent pitching prospect back was just gravy.
For the Dodgers, like I said, Ward doesn't have a place to play at the moment.
It wouldn't surprise me if he became their left fielder in 2004, replacing Brian Jordan, or their first baseman, replacing Fred McGriff.
Meanwhile in Astroville...
This is exactly the sort of situation that a General Manager dreads.
Craig Biggio is one of the best players ever to play for the Astros.
In his prime, he was among the best second basemen and leadoff hitters in the game.
However, he is getting up there in age and has had some injuries in the past couple years.
His overall performance, offensively and defensively, has been in a serious decline for a while now.
Check out the stats:
Year G AVG OBP SLG SB
1998 160 .325 .403 .503 50
1999 160 .294 .386 .457 28
2000 101 .268 .388 .393 12
2001 155 .292 .382 .455 7
2002 145 .253 .330 .404 16
Biggio's skills have gradually been vanishing, one by one.
His average was the first to go.
From 1994-1998, he hit .300+ in 4 out of 5 seasons.
Then his AVG dropped to .294 in 1999 and .268 in his injury filled 2000 season.
He bounced back to post a solid .292 in 2001, but his AVG fell all the way to .253 (his lowest since 1988) last season.
His speed on the bases is also pretty well gone.
From 1992-1998, Biggio stole 38, 15, 39, 33, 25, 47 and 50 bases.
His steals went from 50 in 1998 to 28 in 1999 to 12 in 2000 and then to 7 in 2001.
He actually had a nice year stealing bags in 2002, swiping 16/18, but 18 attempts is a very low number for him.
Finally, his plate discipline strangely vanished in 2002.
Biggio never walked a ton, but he was always good for 70-80 walks a year.
Last year he only walked 50 times, which was his lowest total since 1989.
A falling batting average and sudden disappearance of plate discipline is not a real good sign for a 37 year old player.
In addition to his struggles offensively, he has also declined quite a bit on defense.
Diamond-Mind ranks defensive players on a 5-point scale: Excellent - Very Good - Average - Fair - Poor.
Craig Biggio got a "Poor" rating at 2B in 2001 and a "Fair" in 2002.
He was once a very good defensive second baseman, but the drop in defense goes along with his drop in steals and speed.
Biggio's injury in 2000 was a knee problem and I think it has really sapped him of his quickness and laterness movement ever since.
That said, he won't be back at 2B anytime soon, as the Astros are planning to move him to the outfield, which is partly why they wanted to dump Daryle Ward.
I have seen suggestions that he could be a very good center fielder, but I just get buy it.
I think his main problem at 2B has been a lack of lateral movement and overall quickness.
And, those two things are just going to become even bigger problems in center field.
I do think he could become a very good defensive left fielder, but his bat would be among the worst in the league out there.
All of this is why Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker has a very tough decision to make.
Biggio is signed for 2003 and he'll play one of the Astros' 3 outfield spots and bat at the top of the order.
But, after this season, would you really want to be in the position of paying Biggio (presumably) a large amount of money for several more seasons?
His decline is just going to get worse, even if he can have a nice 2003 season.
But, if you don't offer him a new deal and you let him leave via free agency, you lose a lifetime Astro and one of the franchises biggest stars, which will no doubt anger the fans quite a bit.
If I were Gerry Hunsicker, I would bite the bullet and let Biggio play out his deal and leave after the season.
If he wants to sign a 1-year deal for a reasonable amount and come back to play in 2004, that's fine.
But I would never give out a multi-year deal to a player that is aging as poorly as Biggio is.
Obviously that's easier said than done, particularly since I am not the one that has to read Hunsicker's hate mail.
But, that's why GMs get the big bucks and the nice offices.
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