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May 30, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Noteworthy Prospect: Jason Bere's on the DL after coming off the DL, and it looks like he'll be there for a while. To cover, the Indians have called up LHP Brian Tallet from Triple-A Buffalo. Tallet's a big dude with a not particularly impressive fastball, complemented by a nice breaking pitch and changeup. We gave him a nice write-up, and John Sickels had him at No. 14 on his Top 50 pitchers list in the Baseball Prospects Book 2003. To date in Triple-A, he's pitched 59 innings, giving up 51 H, 7 HR, 26 BB, and 50 K. It's a credit to the Indians that they're willing to give him a shot, rather than carping endlessly about how he should throw harder, given how tall he is.

  • Promotion Under Fire: To patch the rotation, reports are that Billy Traber will take a regular turn in the rotation. Traber's two inches shorter than Tallet, and also has a fastball around 90 and off-speed/breaking stuff. Traber's been decent in the bullpen, second in effectiveness to David Riske, who went to Lindbergh High School, which--as we noted in Baseball Prospectus 2003--is one school over from Kentridge High School, a school many fine people attended, including David Schoenfield of ESPN, who currently edits ESPN.com's violent splinter faction, SportsNation ("The Meeting Place for America's Sports Fans"), and who used to edit the baseball section, where on the Indians team page you can read about Traber's promotion.

  • Wretched Performance: We knew going into this season that things might get ugly. The team was fielding stopgaps, planning to push young players up as needed through the season, and fans were going to have to squint real hard at the field to see the team that would be competing for division titles a couple years from now. But boy, has it been bad. They're 27th out of 30 in runs scored, they're 22nd of 30 in allowing runs, and at press time they were looking up at the .400 line that not that long ago defined baseball parity. What's worse, their 20-32 record hasn't come against good teams--looking at Clay Davenport's Adjusted Standings, they're 20-32 there, as well. They're lucky to be in the same division as the awful awful awful Tigers, who provide a useful distraction for management to point at: "Look, we're bad, but we're improving--how'd you like to watch those guys?"

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Whither Runs?: As Joe Sheehan pointed out in a recent Prospectus Today, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a serious aversion to runs. And we mean serious. No team in the National League has seen fewer men cross the plate this season than the Boys in Blue, and it's not particularly close.
    
    Fewest RS + RA
    --------------
    Dodgers	   365
    Expos	   440
    D'backs	   453
    Phillies   456
    Pirates	   452
    Cubs	   469
    Giants	   473
    Mets	   477
    Marlins	   479
    Astros	   491
    Cardinals  499
    Brewers	   510
    Padres	   512
    Braves	   555
    Rockies	   589
    Reds	   619
    
    
    All of this has occurred, of course, thanks to a pitching staff and a starting lineup that appear to be living in a Dead Ball Era time warp. The Dodgers' offense has been one of the least productive units in the National League this season--currently second-to-last in the NL in Equivalent Average, six points ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates--while both their bullpen and their rotation have been among the best. Led by the irresistible force that is Eric Gagne (26 IP, 46 K, 5 BB, 2.42 ERA), the Dodgers have miraculously been able to maintain a winning record despite scoring fewer runs than any team in the majors save the Tigers.

    At their current pace--a .566 winning percentage--the Dodgers would join the 1985 Kansas City Royals as the only team in recent history to win more than 90 games in a season while finishing in the bottom 10% of their league in runs scored.

  • Down on the Farm: While certainly not the major-league breeding ground it once was, the Dodgers' farm system currently houses a number of prospects who have--rightfully or not--received attention in the past. Here's a run-down of how they're doing:

    • Chin-Feng Chen: Ranked as our No. 17 prospect overall in Baseball Prospectus 2000, Chen has failed to develop into the power-hitting first baseman we thought would eventually put Eric Karros out of a job. Currently hitting .272/.342/.439 at Triple-A Las Vegas, Chen seems to have taken an even bigger step back from last season when he finished seventh on his own team in EqA.

    • Bubba Crosby: OK, so perhaps Crosby's a little old to be considered a prospect. Nevertheless, for all of the trouble the Dodgers have had this season with scoring runs, you'd think they'd make an exception and bring Crosby up. Hitting .401/.455/.710 against PCL opponents, Crosby would no doubt serve as a much needed boost to the Dodger lineup, especially when you consider that his .320 Minor League EqA outranks every single hitter currently employed by the Dodgers, including Paul Lo Duca (.294) Shawn Green (.280). [Ed Note: The Dodgers purchased Crosby's contract before Thursday afternoon's game against the Rockies.]

    • Joe Thurston: Hyped by many scouts last season as the best prospect in the Dodgers farm system, Thurston has hit a rough patch in 2003. Currently hitting .280/.342/.396 with 13 walks and 24 strikeouts in 220 plate appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas--an outstanding hitting environment--Thurston needs to keep improving his plate discipline if he aspires to be more than Mark Grudzielanek Lite. After all, the Dodgers already have one of those: his name is Alex Cora.

    • Tarrick Brock: One of the lone bright spots in the Dodger farm system above A-ball, Tarrick Brock (.297/.419/.542) has been a house on fire this season. The type of masher that makes BP members smile from ear to ear, Brock is unafraid to take a comfortable stroll down to first base, and has done so 32 times in fewer than 200 plate-appearances at Double-A Jacksonville. The only concern surrounding Brock at this point is his penchant for whiffs. Projected over 500 ABs, Brock is currently on pace for a Branyanesque 170 Ks--a definite red flag for a player his age.

Seattle Mariners

  • Freddy Watch: Freddy "Garcon" Garcia threw seven innings, allowing five hits (no HRs), walking two, and striking out three May 27th against the Royals in the Mariners 15-7 win. Lots of balls in play, at least a runner an inning, few strikeouts...it fits in nicely with his collection of serviceable-but-still-not-good starts to go with his bad-to-awful collection since July of last year. But he got the win (hard not to, when your team scores 15 runs). In the normal drive to attach a cause to an event, Freddy's recent stretch of less-awfulness has been attributed to having Mark Mclemore yell at him last week.

  • Keg Stands for Everyone...Not so Fast Willie: In that 15-7 stomping, everyone in the Mariners lineup got hits, the pinch-hitters got hits, and I'm pretty sure they sent the batboys out to bunt for infield singles late in the game. The team went 20-for-46 with 7 walks that night. Only two starters didn't get in on the action: Mike Cameron, who's having an awesome year, and Willie Bloomquist, who is not. Bloomquist is now hitting .174/.264/.239 this year in limited usage. We here at Prospectus took a lot of flack for writing bad things about Bloomquist. Take 2001's comment, for example:
    "Willie Bloomquist is a local kid who became the apple of Piniella's eye in spring training with his work ethic and feisty play. He does all the little things that coaches love but that don't have much bearing on the outcome of a game. Bloomquist is being fast-tracked, and it's possible that he could emerge with the keystone job this April, even though he's not ready to contribute offensively and may never be."
    Or ever 2002's comment:
    "You can't spell Bloomquist without 'bust.' Scouts like to talk about his makeup and how he does the things that don't show up in box scores...and they don't mean his failure to hit. His ability to do all the little things the team likes, from hustling to bunting, means he may well get a chance to hit a hollow .270 and stick with the M's for two or three painful years. But hey, he looks great in uniform, and his midriff? Stunning. You can't teach that."
    Damn, we're harsh.

  • Pineiro Watch: If there's anyone happy about the continuing struggles of Garcia, it's Joel Pineiro. Pineiro's struggled this year while fans have saved their boos for Garcia. Compared to his 2002 debutante season, Pineiro's walking more batters--nearly twice as many (on pace for 97 compared to 54 last year) while his other rates are all pretty much the same. What's more, here's a breakdown:
    
    Walks	# of starts
    2	4
    3	5
    6	1
    
    
    He's putting on two, three guys a game, every game. That's only 1-2 more than league average, but it's made a huge difference in his overall performance this year.

  • Wretched Performance: The Mariners signed the lefty specialist Giovanni Carrara to a one-year deal to provide low-cost balance to their right-handed bullpen...except Carrara's right-handed too. Carrara started well, allowing no runs in his first four outings, and since then has been bad. He's been the worst reliever by a long shot, with -5.1 Adjusted Runs Prevented according to Michael Wolverton's Reliever Evaluation Tools Report. Second place is erratic but frequently brilliant Jeff Nelson at -1.0. Of AL West division rivals, only Texas has a worse reliever (and they have two: Jay Powell, who appears on the 'bottom 10' leaderboard with his -9.2 and Estaban Yan--since traded to St. Louis--at -6.2). What's more baffling though is that if the Mariners are looking for long relievers or mop-up guys, they have a host of choices a short drive down I-5 at Triple-A Tacoma.

  • Job, But Not Production Sharing: Along with Carrara, the other strange contract this off-season was the $7 million, two-year deal given to old catcher Dan Wilson, who hit for a superficially impressive hollow average despite years of ineffectiveness. Wilson so far in 2003 has hit .267/.308/.366, while Ben Davis is hitting .266/.310/.544. Davis has also, without much comment, been Gil Meche's personal catcher, so if you believe in that sort of thing, bonus points to Davis.

    Davis has also had an interesting career, where he's been able to hit (and hit for power) or walk, but not at the same time:

    
    	 AVG	 OBP	 SLG
    1999	.244	.307	.361
    2000	.223	.297	.338
    2001	.239	.337	.357
    2002	.259	.313	.404
    2003	.266	.310	.505
    

    If Dan Wilson wasn't being paid $3.5 million this year and wasn't a pillar of the M's good reputation in the community, the M's might even consider promoting Pat Gillick's personal catcher, 40-year-old Pat Borders, who is hitting .347/.390/.611 catching half-time and playing (by all reports) great defense as well.

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