February 16, 2003
Kevin Millar joined the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, putting an end to a month long saga that appeared, at times, like it would never end.
For those of you who haven't been following the situation very closely, here is a basic recap:
Here's an excerpt:
I have to say, I flat out do not understand this at all, from anyone but the Dragons' point of view.
Kevin Millar is a very good hitter and could help a lot of teams, including the Red Sox, whom I read earlier were interested in acquiring him.
Like I said, this is just very confusing to me.
I don't understand why Millar would want to go to Japan at this point in his career, after struggling through years in various independent leagues and now finally starting to become an everyday player in the Major Leagues that teams are interested in.
I don't understand why the Marlins would sell him to Japan, instead of trading him to a Major League team for some prospects or something, or (gasp!) actually keeping him and batting him in the middle of their lineup.
It turned out the Red Sox were still interested in Millar.
In order for Florida to send him to Japan, Millar had to first clear Major League waivers.
This is normally just a formality - when a player is sold to Japan, the other teams abide by a "gentleman's agreement" and do not block the move by putting in a waiver claim,
This time however, Boston GM Theo Epstein put in a claim, blocked the move and started what would become a month-long "situation."
There were 3 key things that had to happen before Millar could join the Red Sox:
1) He had to "get out" of the $6.2 million dollar, 2-year contract he had negotiated with Chunichi.
2) Chunichi had to be compensated so that they would send him back to Florida (ie they would likely want an American player to take Millar's place)
3) Florida had to be compensated so that they would send him to Boston, after initially receiving $1.2 million to send him to Japan.
According to ESPN.com, Chunichi did not receive another American player in the deal.
I had heard reports earlier that Boston would send them Benny Agbayani or possibly some minor leaguer, but apparently that did not actually happen.
Instead, they reportedly received a payment "between $1.2 and $1.5 million dollars," presumably from the Marlins, whom they initially paid for Millar.
Then, the Marlins were given "between $1.35 and $1.5 million dollars" from the Red Sox and they shipped him to Boston.
I think that, basically, Chunichi got fed up with the whole mess after a while and were just happy to rid themselves of the problem and get their original investment back.
The Marlins don't care if he plays in Japan or Boston, since neither is going to affect their post-season chances at all, if such a thing even exists.
And the Red Sox were happy to pay a million bucks or so to get the rights to Millar, whom they obviously think will be an impact player for them.
I am still slightly confused as to why Boston and Florida couldn't work out a trade a month ago and bypass this whole situatiion.
It seems as though all Florida wanted for him in the first place was a million bucks or so, which I am sure the Red Sox could have given them 35 days ago, instead of now.
In any event, Millar is now a member of the Red Sox (would that make him a Red Sock?), which gives me an opportunity to take a look at their offense for the upcoming season.
But, instead of just looking at Boston's lineup, I thought it would be fun to look at their lineup in comparison to New York's lineup, since, after all, Boston is always competing with the Yankees.
Instead of simply showing each team's batting order for comparison, I thought it would be better to look at each team's entire roster of hitters.
The main reason for this is that I have no clue who is going to play 3B for Boston and the 1B/DH situation isn't that clear either. With New York, will Raul Mondesi, Rondell White or Juan Rivera man right field?
Plus, each team has a lot of good hitting on the bench, no matter how the starting lineups shake out, and the bench is important to an offense too.
Here we go...
Likely starters and 2002 EqA:
Manny Ramirez - .370
Jeremy Giambi - .322
Nomar Garciaparra - .304
Kevin Millar - .302
Johnny Damon - .292
Trot Nixon - .284
Shea Hillenband - .277
Todd Walker - .269
Jason Varitek - .257
Aside from Barry Bonds, there aren't many hitters in the world that can say they are better than Manny Ramirez. He hit .349/.450/.647 last year, which was good for a .370 EqA. He had a .336 EqA in 2001, a .364 EqA in 2000 and a .353 EqA in 1999. Ramirez is also currently working on a streak of 8 straight seasons with an EqA over .315.
The problem with Manny is, of course, that he is always missing a couple dozen games a year.
He played in 120 last year and 147, 118 and 142 the previous 3 years.
When he's in the lineup, he's most likely among the top 3-5 hitters in the world, but you can't count on him being healthy for 155-160 games, ever.
Manny can pretty much be counted on to post a .340-.370 EqA.
Nomar Garciaparra had a very good season last year, hitting .310/.352/.528. Those numbers are awesome for a shortstop and pretty much the same stats the AL MVP Miguel Tejada put up (.308/.354/.508). But, Nomar's season was considered a slight disappointment, which tells you something about how great he was in previous years.
Nomar's .304 EqA last year was his lowest since his rookie season, 1997 (he had a .281 EqA in 2001, but in only 83 at bats).
From 1998-2000, Nomar posted EqAs of .311, .337 and .341.
2002 was a comeback season for Nomar, since he missed almost the entire 2001 year with a wrist injury.
Because of that, I would expect him to boost his EqA by 10 or 15 points in 2003 and I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up at around .325 or so.
We might as well talk about the man of the hour, Kevin Millar.
As you can see by the above chart (it is a chart, right?), Millar had the 4th best EqA of any projected Red Sox starter last year.
That fact may surprise some of you, but it wasn't a fluke.
Prior to the .304 EqA last year, Millar had posted EqAs of .277, .289 and finally .312 in 2001.
He should be a good bet to post a .300 EqA in 2002.
Although, there is one major reason to not think that...
Here are Millar's home/road splits for the past 2 years:
Home = .333/.384/.558
Road = .275/.346/.454
Home = .355/.414/.667
Road = .271/.332/.443
Those are really odd stats, mostly because Millar's home park during that time was Pro Player Stadium, which is a definite pitcher's park and a horrible place for power hitters.
During that 2 year stretch, Millar had 459 at bats at home and 428 on the road.
He hit 24 homers and 41 doubles at home and 12 homers and 37 doubles on the road.
According to Diamond-Mind, Pro Player had a "Home Run Rating" of 85 for right handed hitters last year, meaning it decreased homers by righties by 15%.
I don't have the numbers from 2001 in front of me, but I am fairly certain they were similar.
Despite the park cutting down homers by righties (which is what Millar is) by 15%, Millar actually hit twice as many homers at home, in about the same amount of at bats.
Like I said, very strange.
Before I get too carried away with those "splits" I want to point out what he did in 1999 and 2000 too:
Home = .241/.325/.444
Road = .278/.403/.556
Home = .284/.365/.426
Road = .286/.359/.440
Now, those numbers make a little more sense to me.
But, I tend to want to go by the most recent numbers, which say that Millar was a much better hitter at home in the last 2 years, despite Pro Player being a not-so-great place for right handed power hitters.
In case you're wondering, Fenway, Millar's new home, had a homer rating of 96 last year, which is pretty much neutral.
Like I said, I expect him to post a .300 EqA, give or take a few points, but his 2001 and 2002 home/road splits are a possible sign of concern.
After a horrible 2001 season with Oakland, Johnny Damon bounced back in a big way, posting a .296 EqA. That number goes right in line with his 1999 and 2000 seasons with Kansas City, when he posted EqAs of .294 and .297.
I'd feel safe penciling Damon in for a .290-.300 EqA in 2003.
Trot Nixon posted a .284 EqA in 2002, which was very good.
But, it was almost 20 points lower than his 2001 EqA of .303.
I think Trot could very easily post another .300+ EqA this year, but the .284 does go right along with his 1999 and 2000 EqAs of .282 and .284.
I couldn't decide whether to put Shea Hillenbrand as the starter at 3B or Bill Mueller.
A few weeks ago, I would have bet the house on Hillenbrand not being on the Sox come opening day, but the further we get to actual spring training games, the more I start to wonder.
If he's on the team, I think he'll get most of the time at 3B, although the Sox didn't sign Mueller to a 2 year deal to sit on the bench.
Hillenbrand posted a .277 EqA last year after a .237 EqA in his rookie year.
I think somewhere in between is probably a good bet for his 2003 level, but with a player like Hillenbrand, who knows?
Todd Walker is Boston's new second baseman and he posted a .269 EqA in Cincinnati last season. That is not a great EqA, but I really think Walker is a perfect hitter for Fenway - or Fenway is a perfect park for a hitter like Walker. He isn't a power hitter as much as he is a doubles-hitter. I think he'll take advantage of that gigantic green thing out in left field and smack 50+ doubles in 2003 (he had 42 doubles last year).
I'm gonna say he'll get his EqA to about .275 in 2003, but that's me being conservative.
The Red Sox bench is going to be a strength in 2003 after being a major weakness most of last season.
David Ortiz had a .290 EqA with the Twins last year and, as a Twins fan, let me say that he posted that good EqA without really having a great season.
Ortiz is incredibly injury prone and incredibly talented, so it wouldn't surprise me if he hit for a .320 EqA in 2003 and it wouldn't surprise me if he broke some bone in April and missed half the year.
His EqAs the past 3 years have been .276, .273 and .290, so he's a very nice 1B/DH/Pinch-Hit bat to have off the bench.
Doug Mirabelli is another great bench threat.
He absolutely destroys lefties.
2002 = .364/.440/.750 (50 PAs)
2001 = .283/.367/.717 (60 PAs)
That is a very small sample size, but those are the kind of numbers that scream for a full-time platoon job.
And Mirabelli might just get that in 2003, as I've heard talks of him not only catching, but playing 1B a little against lefties too.
I will guarantee he gets more than 50 or 60 plate appearances against lefties in 2003.
Lou Merloni is a nice backup middle-infielder and also a very good hitter against lefties.
He hit .321/.406/.518 against them in 2002 and .303/.343/.606 against them in 2001.
I wouldn't be surprised if he and Todd Walker (who struggles a little against lefties) were in a platoon situation at second base by mid-season.
Likely starters and 2002 EqA:
Jason Giambi - .351
Bernie Williams - .324
Alfonso Soriano - .304
Jorge Posada - .300
Hideki Matsui - .300* (more on this in a moment)
Derek Jeter - .296
Robin Ventura - .295
Nick Johnson - .268
Raul Mondesi - .262
Jason Giambi has been one of the best hitters in baseball for the past 3-4 years.
His .351 EqA last year was 3rd in the American League and it was actually his lowest total since 1999, when he had a .332 EqA.
Giambi posted a .371 EqA in 2000 when he won the MVP and a .379 EqA in 2001 when he didn't win, but probably should have.
Giambi is on the wrong side of 30, so predicting an improvement is probably not a great idea, but he did struggle a little in his first month or so in New York, so maybe he'll do better in his second year there.
Either way, he's a .350+ EqA for sure.
Bernie Williams continued to be one of the most underappeciated stars of his era in 2002, posting a .324 EqA.
Bernie now has 8 straight .300+ EqA seasons.
He's declining on defense, but showing no signs of doing so on offense.
I'd expect another .320 EqA season in 2003.
Alfonso Soriano is the most difficult guy to get a handle on.
He had an extraordinary 2002 season, hitting 51 doubles and 39 homers in spite of walking only 23 times and striking out 157 times.
Soriano is on one of my Diamond-Mind teams, so I'm hoping he improves in 2003, but I just can't feel comfortable saying it's very likely.
He's definitely not a fluke though, so I wouldn't expect the EqA to drop too far.
Derek Jeter had his worst season since his 2nd year in the league and got ripped by his team's owner and yet still managed to be one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball.
I am not a Jeter fan and some would accuse me of being a Jeter-basher when I start talking about his defense, but I do admire his hitting ability.
That said, after a .337 EqA in 1999, he has declined from .314 in 2000 to .307 in 2001 and then .296 last year.
That's not a very encouraging pattern.
One theory I heard is that Jeter is a guy who hits a ton of balls to the opposite field and that when his bat speed starts to lessen a little, he will have a lot of problems.
I am not sure whether I buy that or not, but it is a theory.
He'll have an improved 2003 at the plate and get the EqA back over .300.
I know I already said this with Bernie Williams and it is probably hard to believe it could be the case with 2 players on the Yankees, but Jorge Posada is extremely underrated.
He broke out in 2000 with a .321 EqA and then had a .292 EqA in 2001 and a .300 EqA last season.
Those are great numbers for a catcher and, if not for Piazza and Pudge, he'd be considered a much better player.
Catchers over 30 tend not to improve, so I am gonna say Posada will stick in the .290 range.
Hideki Matsui is the wild card in all of this.
He posted phenomenal numbers in Japan and, if you trust the translations to the Major League level (which I do), he is easily a .300+ EqA hitter and likely more in the .320-.335 range.
There is some thought that a Japanese power hitter won't do as well as a player like Ichiro!, but then again, just a couple years ago there was a lot of talk that a Japanese hitter - period - couldn't do very well.
I say he'll put up an EqA around .300 and win the rookie-of-the-year award.
The Yankee bench is good, but not as stacked as the Boston group.
Depending on who ends up starting in right, 2 out of the group of 3 consisting of Mondesi, Juan Rivera and Rondell White will be on the bench and will be very good backup bats.
Chris Widger is a nice backup catcher, but Posada plays so much that it doesn't really matter.
Zeile is a decent backup corner infielder, but Torre has been talking about him playing a lot this season, which would be a mistake.
Okay, so let's try to do a real comparison...
Strictly by 2002 numbers (and using Rivera's MLE and putting Matsui at .300):
Boston EqAs: New York EqAs:
Those lineups look pretty darn similar.
At the top, each team has an elite, .350+ guy (Manny and Giambi) and another .320+ guy (Nomar and Bernie)
The Yankees have 5 guys that posted EqAs between .290-.305, while Boston "only" has 3.
And, at the bottom, each team has a couple of guys that'll probably be in the .260-.275 range.
I'd give the slight edge for the everyday lineup to New York, simply because they have the potential to have 8 or 9 .290+ EqA hitters, depending on how well Nick Johnson does (I think he'll be very good) and if Rivera plays RF and plays it well. I do think Ventura will decline quite a bit, but still. They've got, at minimum, 7 guys that are good bets to post .290+ EqAs.
Either way, these 2 lineups are, by far, the 2 best in the AL.
The Boston bench is much better.
They have 4 solid .260+ EqA hitters in Mueller, Jackson, Merloni and Mirabelli - with Merloni and Mirabelli available to crush lefties.
And they have David Ortiz too, who is the best hitter on either team's bench.
The Yankees have either Mondesi or Rivera and then Rondell White.
Other than that, it is just Zeile, Widger and Enrique Wilson, which isn't scaring anyone.
It would not surpise me if either of these teams scored 1,000 runs in 2003 and I'd be willing to bet they both top 900 pretty easily (New York scored 897 last year, Boston scored 859).
It will be a lot of fun watching these teams duke it out all season, assuming you aren't an Orioles or Devil Rays fan, in which case it isn't going to fun doing much of anything baseball related this season (or the next season, or the next season...).
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