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May 16, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Swappin' Out: Travis Hafner's broken toe landed him on the 15-day DL, and Shapiro et al. called up Ben Broussard to take over the roster spot. Hafner's shown the occasional sign of breaking out of his persistent funk, but there's definitely an opportunity for Broussard (who wasn't hitting at triple-A Buffalo) to get hot and make a decision difficult for the front office when Hafner comes off the DL. But he'll have to get very hot.

  • In the Clubhouse: Milton Bradley's once again found a way to piss off management in his organization (that's versatility to do that in both the U.S. and Canada). Indian manager Eric Wedge pulled Bradley from the game on Wednesday, replacing him with Jody Gerut. In the past, Bradley hasn't really played well enough for clubs to tolerate ancillary hassles; he might be playing well enough now to get some leeway where in the past, he might be Buffalo-bound. "We didn't see eye-to-eye on something, and we talked about it", said manager Eric Wedge. Some stuff stays in the clubhouse. Coco Crisp has to be somewhat pleased, though, since he's tearing it up in Buffalo--.344/.444/.500. Perhaps Coco should look into hiring an agent provocateur or two. Where's Dan Miceli when you need him?

  • So Far, So Good: At the start of the season, C.C. Sabathia was considered one of the most risky pitchers in baseball. His K rate last year wasn't particularly strong, he had thrown 210 innings at the age of 21, and Eric Wedge had made some ominous proclamations about no longer needing to go easy on Sabathia's arm, since he was (a) a year older, and (b) the ace of the staff. Well, eight starts in, Wedge has actually been fairly protective of Sabathia. C.C.'s pitch counts for the year:
    
    Game		    Pitches
    ---------------------------
    BAL, 31 Mar		 93
    KCR, 05 Apr		107
    KCR, 12 Apr		 96
    BAL, 17 Apr		 98
    SEA, 22 Apr		 99
    OAK, 27 Apr		112
    TEX, 04 May		115
    TEX, 10 May		103
    
    
    That's fairly reasonable, and if Sabathia doesn't top 115 pitches for the year, Wedge will deserve credit for thinking strategically and looking out for his charge. The Cleveland bullpen's been steady but unspectacular, so it's not as if there hasn't been temptation to keep Sabathia in and keep Jose "Here's why we don't use ERA to evaluate relievers" Santiago off the mound.

  • Finance and Economics: The turnstiles haven't exactly been chugging at Jacobs Field. Most home games have drawn under 20,000 fans, in large part due to some very unpleasant weather. The home opener on April 7th was postponed, which is an automatic attendance hit, but check out these conditions for the games they've actually been able to play:
    
    April 8th:
    Weather: 34 degrees, overcast
    Wind: 17 mph, in from right
    
    April 9th:
    Weather: 35 degrees, cloudy
    Wind: 20 mph, in from right
    
    April 10th:
    Weather: 42 degrees, cloudy
    Wind: 17 mph, in from center
    
    
    Yeah, those are great conditions for the opening home series. That's nothing new in the northern parts of the country, but still, that's just plain bad luck. Once the weather gets more pleasant, the kids get out of school, and the Indian record recovers a little from the beatings they received on their recent AL West foray (2-9 against the West, 0-6 against Oakland and Seattle), attendance should pick up. Sitting through a ballgame in 34 degree weather with a 1 mph wind is reminiscent of sex with Anna Nicole Smith--it can be done, but it's certainly not the best use of your leisure time.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Wretched, Disastrous Performer: Five years ago, Adrian Beltre was one of the best prospects in the game; he could hit for average, he could hit for power, his defense was improving, and he knew how to take a pitch. And yet, while all of this was quite nice on its own, what set him apart from the rest of the pack was something completely seperate from his on-field performance--his age. Adrian Beltre wasn't just one of the best hitters in all of Double-A, he was one of the best hitters in all of Double-A at age 19.

    Greatness seemed inevitable for the third baseman, and many writers speculated that he would eventually develop into one of the best corner infielders of his generation. As we wrote in Baseball Prospectus 2000--a book which bore his likeness on the cover--"last year he was a 20-year-old putting up a .263 EqA with fair defense. That separates him from Scott Rolen and puts him on par with Andruw Jones and Alex Rodriguez as the most valuable properties in baseball." For a player like Adrian Beltre, it was only a matter of time before stardom came knocking at his door.

    So what happened?

    As some people have speculated, Beltre's lack of development can partially be traced back to an emergency appendectomy he endured at the beginning of the 2001 campaign which reportedly sapped an usual amount of his strength. Here are his numbers prior to the appendectomy:

    
    Year  Team    G   AB  2B  HR  BB   SO  SB  CS   AVG   OBP   SLG
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    1998   LAN   77  195   9   7  14   37   3   1  .215  .278  .369
    1999   LAN  152  538  27  15  61  105  18   7  .275  .352  .428
    2000   LAN  138  510  30  20  56   80  12   5  .290  .360  .475
    
    
    Not bad, especially when you consider that half these at-bats have come in Dodger Stadium, and all of them have been accumulated by someone not old enough to legally have a beer with dinner. The meaningful numbers trend upward across the board, with a reduction in his strikeout rate coming as an added plus in 2000.

    Here are his numbers after the appendectomy, though:

    
    Year  Team    G   AB  2B  HR  BB   SO  SB  CS   AVG   OBP   SLG
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    2001   LAN  126  475  22  13  28   82  13   4  .265  .310  .411
    2002   LAN  159  587  26  21  37   96   7   5  .257  .303  .426
    2003   LAN   39  136  10   4   6   23   0   1  .199  .241  .360
    
    
    Not so good.

    Now, while it might be foolish assume that the effects of the appendectomy have lingered for more than two years after the time of surgery, what else is there to explain the lack of development? An active nightlife? A poor work ethic? Nagging injuries? Random chance? It's hard to say; after all, this wasn't some flash-in-the-pan prospect: this was a player who was signed by the Dodgers at the age of 16, and mowed through minor-league pitching faster than Prince Fielder mows through a stack of Big Macs. Hitters like Beltre simply do not fall off the map without rhyme or reason.

    At the time of this writing, Beltre ranks ahead of only four other third baseman in the major leagues with regard to offensive production. His .602 OPS ranks second-to-last on a team that gives regular playing time to Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis. And PECOTA cites Aurelio Rodriguez--a light-hitting third baseman who played for the Angels and Tigers during the late-1960s and '70s--as his most historically comparable player.

    And yet, there is still reason to hope.

    After all, this player we've been talking about since BP '97 still has time firmly on his side. Twenty-four-year-old ballplayers--no matter how experienced--still have a lot of learning to do.

    Upcoming Schedule: Aside from a quick trip through the Rocky Mountains at the end of the month--a place that's tough to win at no matter how good the home team--the Los Angeles Dodgers have perhaps the softest schedule in all of baseball between now and June 15. Check it out.

    
    May  16, 17, 18 vs. Florida
    May  20, 21, 22 vs. Colorado
    May  23, 24, 25 vs. Milwaukee
    May  28, 29, 30  @  Colorado
    May  30, 31     vs. Milwaukee
    June 01         vs. Milwaukee
    June 03, 04, 05 vs. Kansas City
    June 06, 07, 08 vs. Chicago
    June 10, 11, 12 vs. Detroit
    June 13, 14, 15  @  Cleveland 
    
    
    At the time of this writing, that includes exactly one team playing better than .500 ball. Go Dodgers!

Seattle Mariners

  • Star Performer: Edgar Martinez is 40, and is having a historic season, the best ever by someone at his age. Edgar is hitting .336/.457/.609 this year, for a .373 EqA, second in all the majors only to Barry Bonds. And Edgar's doing it while trotting from base to base, afraid of tweaking his hamstring, breaking into a run only in critical game situations. Martinez has said he plans to retire after this season, but if he can perform at this level while gimpy, he may well reconsider. This becomes important because Martinez, who was royally screwed by the Mariners early in his career and wasn't a full-time player until he was 27, may well be one of the fifty best hitters in baseball history, still doesn't have the kind of career numbers that would ensure his election to the Hall of Fame, and may now have to rely on longevity and hope for a chance at post-season heroics that could build his case.

  • Noteworthy Prospect: Chris Snelling is back from ACL surgery and playing in AA San Antonio. In 10 games, he's hitting .302/.348/.465. It'll take some time to see if Snelling can get over the mental performance issues associated with having a knee explode on him, but the Mariners have time to let Snelling work out, since they're carrying three starting outfielders (hot-hitting Mike Cameron, Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Winn), two backup left-fielders (Mark Mclemore, Willie Bloomquist), and a pet rock (John Mabry).

  • Wretched Performance: Freddy Garcia turned his head and coughed up eight hits, two walks, seven runs, four earned, in six innings of work Wednesday, facing the batless Indians, who trot out the third-worst offense in the major leagues. This follows a disastrous rout at the hands of the Yankees (2.2 IP, 7H, 9ER, 2BB, 1K) a week before. The Mariners have some options to replace him, but are unlikely to find a taker for the troubled pitcher's $6.4 million salary this year, and are probably not going to sit such an expensive pitcher and one they proclaimed the team's No. 1 starter in the pre-season. Mariners fans may be crossing their fingers that Garcia is injured, somehow, as it may be their only way out. The Mariners may not need Garcia to actually be injured anyway--they have never been shy about using the DL to clear underperformers off the roster.

    Hot Streak: Jeff Cirillo's been the object of concern, in this space and elsewhere, as he's failed to show any kind of bat. for the first time since his acquisition there is hope he may turn his performance around. Halfway through May, he's hitting .389/.421/.500 which will make this his best monthly performance since he's joined the team even if he stinks it up for the next two weeks. Cirillo has a modified swing this year, eliminating many of the twitches he was using as timing devices, and he credits his improvement to the change and the time he's spent working with Mariner hitting coach Lamar Johnson. If Cirillo continues to hit while providing the team excellent defense, it will help the Mariners both with their offense, and with their defense, as continued good hitting will keep Mark McLemore off the hot corner, where he's a limited defender.

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