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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Will Camden Yards be Sosa-ble?

Baseball Musings is tracking the rumoured trade of Sammy Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles. The entry over there, and its links, cover the details of the trade itself so I won't bother with that. Instead I'd like to take a look at Sammy's past few seasons, and try to figure out whether moving from Wrigley Field to Camden Yards will make any major difference in his production.

Sosa is 36 years old, an age at which most players are in decline. And Sammy seems to be no exception. I looked up his last nine seasons using The Baseball Cube's Stat Machine. I've excerpted the following stats from the last four of those seasons

Year G AB Total Bases 2B HR BB SO Avg SLG OBP
2001 160 577 425 34 64 116 153 .328 .737 .437
2002 150 556 330 19 49 103 144 .288 .594 .399
2003 137 517 286 22 40 62 143 .279 .553 .358
2004 126 478 247 21 35 56 133 .253 .517 .332

In all fairness, 2001 was the peak season of Sosa's career. But, as the numbers at The Baseball Cube show, the past three season's stats are also a significant drop from the numbers he'd put up from '98 to '00. So I'm convinced the decline seen above is real — a real steep slope down that looks like it might become a cliff. Sure, time missed due to injuries over the past couple of years has played a part in the diminished counting stats. But the rate stats have also dropped. And not just the AVG/SLG/OBP, there is more of the story hidden in less obvious ratios (seasons in same order)

1.36 16.97 9.02 3.77 1.32
1.68 29.26 11.35 3.86 1.40
1.81 23.50 12.93 3.62 2.31
1.94 22.76 13.66 3.59 2.38

Those numbers drive home to me the southward trend of Sosa's power and batting eye.

Now how about the switch from Wrigley Field to Camden Yards? Wrigley has played as a hitters' park five times in the last ten seasons, although the last time it did so before the 2004 season was in 1999. Oriole Park at Camden Yards on the other hand has played as a hitters' park exactly twice in ten years — in 2004 and 1995.

From that I think we can assume that only once in the past four years could Sosa's stats have been helped by his home park. But his stats for that season were still down from the previous year, so I suspect the decline is even steeper than it looks (I could be wrong about that; I haven't looked at how his numbers at Wrigley last season compare to what he hit on the road, or how many games he played at home).

I think we can also assume that last season was an anomalous year for hitters at Camden Yards, and that it is more likely to return to being a pitchers' park in 2005 than it is to favour hitters.

Given those two assumptions, combined with the cliff-edge that Sosa looks to be teetering on, I'd conclude that Camden Yards is not going to be very hospitable statistically for Sammy. Now even Sosa in decline is going to hit some home runs, but he won't get anywhere near his '98 - '01 numbers. I'll go out on a limb and say right now that 35 home runs represents the absolute uppermost limit of what we can expect him to hit this season, and I wouldn't be at all surprized if the number fell somewhere between 25 and 30.

I don't think the Orioles are getting a ballplayer who's worth $17 million in the baseball economy, not even a player who is worth $11 million (if the Cubs are really picking up $6 million for '05) in that economy. What they're getting, I'd guess, is a player who's worth about $5 million (come on, he's an old, slow outfielder with possible injury concerns). If the Orioles get Farnsworth, too, and he finally harnesses his ability, I don't think this deal will hurt them in 2005. But in 2006, even if it's possible renegotiate Sosa's contract to a more sensible sum (I can't see him accepting less than $11 million, if he'll even bend that far) than the $18 million his current contract says he'll get if he's traded away from the Cubs, the O's are going to be paying him at least twice what he'll be worth.


reverseflash said...

It seems to me that the O's would have been farther ahead by upping their offer to Delgado.

MackJohnny said...

Yep, they would've been. But then they would've been stuck with a power-hitting first baseman still very close to his prime, and two fairly young, speedy, league-average players best suited to play second base for reasonable salaries, one of whom they might have been able to use as part of package to trade for a starting pitcher.

This way, though, they get to get rid of one of those guys and his reasonable salary in return for Sammy and his suitcases. Baggage, man.