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May 21, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Collapse: Since the last Prospectus Triple Play, the Orioles have gone 3-10, including an embarrassing three-game sweep at home against the Tigers. The key player in that record has been the bullpen. Last we looked, the bullpen was one of the Orioles strengths:

    Oriole bullpen through games of 5/4:

                                        Per nine innings
               IP    H    R   BB  SO  R     H     BB    SO
    Groom      10    4    0   1   7   0.00  3.6   0.9   6.3
    Ryan       11    6    3   4   13  2.45  4.9   3.3   10.6
    Julio      12.1  6    4   9   14  2.92  4.4   6.6   10.2
    Hentgen    15.1  17   6   5   9   3.52  10.0  2.9   5.3
    Roberts    15.1  12   6   3   8   3.52  7.0   1.8   4.7
    Ligtenberg 14.2  18   6   4   10  3.67  11.0  2.4   6.1
    Bauer      19.1  15   12  5   13  5.59  7.0   2.3   6.1
    Total      98    78   37  31  74  3.40  7.2   2.8   6.8

    In this pen, Pat Hentgen was the long man, coming in when a starter was knocked out early; Rick Bauer was the mop-up guy, finishing out losing games; Jorge Julio's the closer; Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan, and Kerry Ligtenberg set him up; Willis Roberts fills in all over. In the interim, Hentgen was moved up to the rotation (taking the place of the injured Rodrigo Lopez), and Travis Driskill took his place as long man:

    Last two weeks (5/5 - 5/19):

                                          Per nine innings
               IP    H    R   BB   SO   R       H     BB   SO
    Groom      3     10   9   2    2    27.00   30.0  6.0  6.0
    Ryan       2     6    5   1    3    22.50   27.0  4.5  13.5
    Julio      5.1   9    5   3    4    8.44    15.2  5.1  6.8
    Driskill   11.2  10   7   4    7    5.40    7.7   3.1  5.4
    Roberts    5.1   8    7   3    2    11.81   13.5  5.1  3.4
    Ligtenberg 3.1   2    0   2    3    0.00    5.4   5.4  8.1
    Bauer      5.1   6    2   3    3    3.38    10.1  5.1  5.1
    Total      36   51   35   18   24   8.75    12.8  4.5  6.0

    Except for Bauer and Ligtenberg, they've been bombed. And Ligtenberg's role has been sharply reduced--after facing 5.5 batters per outing through May 5, he's only faced 2.8 per outing since. That's down in LOOGY territory.

  • Management: Part of the problem, potentially, was Mike Hargrove's absence. His mother became seriously ill in April, and Hargrove left the team for a week. Last week, she died, and Hargrove was away for another week. Sam Perlozzo ran the team in his absence, and the O's went 0-6. Fair or not in light of his personal tragedy, the papers have started to openly speculate about Grover's job security. He is in the last year of his contract and he has a career record of just 223-305 with the Orioles, a sub-70 pace for a season, and he just finished the easiest schedule in the majors to date at 19-24. Of course, most of the blame for those records should rightfully devolve onto the front office, which has assembled an incredibly poor lineup over the years. Still, with new co-GMs in place, they are liable to want their own man at the helm. If the manager they want is already in the Oriole system, it makes sense to fire Hargrove and give the guy some major league managerial experience this season; otherwise, it doesn't.

  • Called Up: The Orioles called up Carlos Mendez from Ottawa on Monday. He's 29 years old, and has been knocking around the Royal, Tiger, and Athletic farm systems for the last 12 years, the last six at Triple-A. Yet he's just now getting his first major league call-up. Originally a catcher, he's been playing first base for Ottawa, and oh how he's been hitting there, lighting up the league with a .384 batting average and a .345 EqA (which translates to about .298). He has never, ever, hit remotely this well in the minors:
                                    Trans 270/340/440
                            EQA     BA      OBA     SLG
    1998    Omaha           .208    .240    .276    .333
    1999    Omaha           .211    .240    .250    .396
    2000    Toledo          .242    .267    .287    .460
    2001    Toledo          .222    .231    .257    .429
    2002    Sacramento      .246    .291    .315    .430
    2003    Ottawa          .298    .355    .383    .517

    He's expected to back up first base and be the emergency catcher. Don't expect him to hit .350 in Baltimore.

Colorado Rockies

  • Power Outage: The Rockies need to lead the league in runs in order to compete in the NL West. As of this writing, they've scored several fewer runs than the Braves, who lead the NL. Considering the difference between the two teams' home parks, it's safe to say that the Rockies won't be making the playoffs unless they end the season with many more runs than the Braves.

    Colorado's main problem, somewhat surprisingly, has been power, or rather the team's lack of it. The Rockies have the second-highest batting average in the league, and lead the league in walks by a large margin--these aren't your grandfather's Bichette/Castilla Rockies--so the team is getting on base at a very healthy clip. But the Rockies haven't hit with anywhere near the amount of power one would expect. The Rockies are ninth in the league in home runs. They are sixth in the league in doubles. As a result of this outage, the team is fourth in the league in slugging average, 31 points behind the league-leading Braves.

    What, or who, is behind this lack of wattage? The biggest underperformer may be Larry Walker, who has been playing with an injured shoulder and received a cortisone shot last week which has kept him out of the Rockies' last few games. Though Walker has resisted blaming his injury for his problems at the plate, he's obviously been weakened at the plate. Unlike most of his teammates, he hasn't even be able to keep his batting average up, and his OPS is 200 points below his normal level.

    Todd Helton, the Rockies' other veteran star, has kept his average up but has gone without hitting a home run since April 25th. After failing to homer in last night's game, Helton set a new standard for the longest home run drought of his career. His power was also down substantially last season, reportedly as a result of physical ailments, but Helton claims his previously ailing back isn't responsible for his pop-gun hitting this year.

    The offense's savior so far has been Preston Wilson, who leads the team in virtually every offensive category except walks and on-base percentage. Wilson came over from the Marlins in a trade over the winter, and he has prospered so far this year. His career in Florida had more or less treaded water over the last four years, possibly because of a preoccupation with his high strikeout totals, but so far this year he has been spectacular, both in and out of Coors. It's a small sample size, of course, but an improved strikeout/walk ratio that has come along with the improved production is a positive sign that at least some of Wilson's improvement is real. And since no Rockie other than Wilson managed to homer between April 29th and May 17th, the Rockies need Wilson to continue to produce.

    The only other player to produce any real power for the Rockies has been Jay Payton. Payton is more or less the player he's always been, but he's gotten a big boost from Coors, where he's slugged .554 this season. One positive sign is that he has been slightly more patient at the plate than he's been in previous years. Other players who the Rockies expected to produce some power, though, have produced none. Charles Johnson and Jose Hernandez, who have hit hit for moderate power in recent years, have combined for a total of six Coors home runs and two road homers.

  • Schedule: The Rockies spend the next two weeks playing home and away games with San Francisco and Los Angeles, the two teams currently ahead of them in the NL West. If the Rockies continue to struggle offensively, they could end up buried too far beneath the pack to make any kind of run at the playoffs later in the season.

New York Mets

  • The Big Story: Mike Piazza's groin injury, first thought to sideline the All-Star catcher for six to eight weeks, may keep him out all season.

    The Mets might be better off if they can write off Piazza. With the prospect of a midsummer return, they'll be tempted to hang on until he gets back, convincing themselves that a wild-card run is imminent once he rejoins the lineup. This team, even with Piazza, isn't good enough to reach the postseason--or .500, for that matter--and if it takes losing its best player to kick-start the rebuild, it's a small price to pay in the big picture.

    Much will be made of the defensive improvement the Mets will enjoy with Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips sharing catching duties. Perhaps, but Piazza was in the midst of his best throwing season in years, gunning down 12 of 46 basestealers (26.1%, sixth in the NL). Maybe it's Tom Glavine, maybe it's Jae Seo, but whatever the reason, the fact is that Piazza's throwing--the core of all complaints about his defense--wasn't a detriment to the Mets this season.

  • Minor League Report: The Mets' hope for the future rests largely in the hands of five top prospects. How are they doing six weeks into the season?

    Aaron Heilman has continued to get hitters out at Triple-A Norfolk. He's 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts and 60 2/3 innings, having allowed 57 hits, 21 walks and 44 strikeouts. While that strikeout rate isn't impressive, he's keeping the ball down, with just four home runs allowed. Jae Seo's performance keeps him at Norfolk, but once a suitable home is found for Pedro Astacio or Steve Trachsel, Heilman will ascend to the major-league rotation.

    Jose Reyes hasn't taken as well to Triple-A. He's at .257/.328/.367 in 109 at-bats, with 11 walks and 17 strikeouts. Remember that he's the youngest player in Triple-A, playing solid defense at shortstop (four errors) and ripping it up on the bases--19 steals in 21 attempts. If the Mets allow him to have success before promoting him, he should step into a fine career in the majors.

    Down in the Florida State League, the Mets have two guys doing very good work. Catcher Justin Huber is hitting .281/.373/.430 with 12 walks and 19 strikeouts in 121 at-bats. For the FSL, that's very good, and remember that Huber is just 20 years old. Teammate David Wright has improved his glovework at third base (six errors) and is hitting .281/.371/.438 in 178 at-bats. Wright's secondary skills have been excellent for a third baseman: 13 doubles, five home runs, 26 walks and six stolen bases.

    Finally, 2002 first-round pick Scott Kazmir is pitching in the New York Penn League. In seven starts he's thrown just 20 2/3 innings, allowing 15 hits and 14 walks, striking out 29 and posting a 2.61 ERA. He's at least three seasons--and probably one surgery--away from the major leagues, and while he's often included with the other four in discussions of the Mets' system, he probably shouldn't be.

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