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June 13, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Lines in the Sand: Brandon Phillips went three-for-51 over a seemingless endless stretch. His plate appearances were marked by as much selectivity as Bob Crane at closing time, with Phillips lunging, flailing, and whiffing at pitches no nearer the strike zone than a Rick Ankiel knuckleball. Phillips is only 21 years of age, so it's not surprising he's not lighting up the sky in Cleveland yet, but perhaps it's time to give him a chance to light up the sky in Buffalo.

  • The Train: DL Stint? What DL Stint? Milton Bradley's back, and doing precisely what he was doing before hitting the DL--hitting. Bradley's development includes a quantum leap in plate discipline, evidenced by his 23 walks in 97 at-bats since returning to action in Anaheim on May 8th. And in the field? Bradley's raw range factor comes in at 6th in MLB, his zone rating at 7th.

  • Marsh Mellow Field: We've been rooting for Jody Gerut for a long time, in part because BPers kept drafting him as an eyeball sleeper in the minors in several Scoresheet leagues. He's working out well in RF for Cleveland, and he hasn't even shown his best feature yet--plate discipline. Gerut's been productive without drawing many walks--just 6 in 125 PA to date. Throughout the minors, Gerut's calling card has been his plate discipline:
    
    Year  Team  Lg    AB    2B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
    2000  CAR   SOU   362   32   3    76   54  .285 .411 .414
    2002  AKR   EAS   256   15   9    34   30  .281 .368 .461
    2002  BUF   INT   183   7    1    23   20  .322 .401 .399
    
    

    That's 133 BB against 801 AB. Soon enough, he'll start to grab a few free passes to 1B, and Cleveland may have picked up a nice little kicker to go with the Hafner/Phillips/Bradley/Martinez future.

  • The Mission: Develop the rotation. The Indians have done a great job of acquiring young, promising hitters and a portfolio of young arms. C.C. Sabathia has developed into one of the best starters in baseball, and Eric Wedge and company have kept his pitch count out of the Dusty Baker Zone, which means he should be able to pitch past July. The rest of the rotation's been less than spectacular, with Brian Anderson unable to pull off a Jamie Moyer impersonation, and the young, promising starters have been inconsistent at best. From the outside, it appears the plan is to let the starters go through some growing pains now, so everything will come together for a reasonable championship window starting in 2005. Not a bad plan, but the Indians need a slightly bigger basket of young starters to make it work. It would also help if Minnesota would quit spewing out talented youngsters.

  • Water Ceremony: The Indians' first round selection, Michael Aubrey from Tulane, may be the steal of the draft. Three years from now, when Texas is lamenting John Danks' injury, stagnation, college attendance, Eric Wedge will have the pleasant dilemma of having to find playing time for both Aubrey and Travis Hafner. Aubrey's durable, hits for average and power, and it was a miracle (or the continuing generosity of the Rangers) that he lasted all the way to Cleveland in the 11th slot. First Hafner for Einar Diaz, and now this.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • A Tale of Two Pitchers: Here's an exercise that Rob Neyer used to do a lot: Of the two pitchers listed, which one would you rather have going into the middle of June?
    
                    IP   HR/9   SO/9   BB/9   GB/FB
    Pitcher A    102.0   0.97   7.24   4.06    1.12
    Pitcher B     76.1   1.30   7.31   2.00    2.06
    
    
    All things considered, probably Pitcher B. Right? Though he gives up home runs more frequently than his counterpart, the slightly better K rate, significantly better walk rate, and the outstanding ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio makes him a distinctly more valuable commodity, going forward. Sure, he'll have to go feed his gopher now and then, but chances are that the bases will be empty when that finally happens.

    So why is it, then, that reality has rendered this result?

    
                    ERA
    Pitcher A      2.74
    Pitcher B      4.72
    
    
    In a word: luck. You see, while Pitcher A has been slightly less effective at controlling the fielding-independent categories--walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed--he's been significantly more effective at "controlling" the fielding-dependent category of hits allowed...which is to say, he's been lucky. Check it out:
    
                   H/9    AVG    BIPR
    Pitcher A     6.35   .198    .225
    Pitcher B     9.90   .276    .316
    
    
    For the record, a league-average pitcher will allow a BIPR (a.k.a. batting average allowed on balls in play) of about .290. Pitcher A, as I'm sure you've noticed, is 65 points below that level, while Pitcher B is roughly 25 points above that level. That, my friends, is a big, frickin' difference.

    What's most interesting about this breakdown, however, is the respective identities of Pitchers A and B. Pitcher A, you see, is none other than Hideo Nomo, currently fourth in the league in ERA and 10th in the league in WHIP, while Pitcher B is none other than Odalis Perez, currently 41st in the league in ERA and 26th in WHIP.

    The thing of it is, one year ago, Odalis Perez was in the same position that Nomo is right now: near the top of the league in ERA, despite good-but-not-great peripherals. As Joe Sheehan pointed out in July of last year, Perez received more than his share of defensive help in 2002, allowing a BIPR of just .228 going into the All-Star break, and .247 overall. Sure, Perez didn't walk a soul, but that can only take you so far; a much larger part of the equation was the absurdly low number of hits he allowed.

    This year, however, the world's been turned upside down. Perez has spent most of this season getting hammered eight ways from Sunday, allowing a significantly greater number of extra-base hits than he did a year ago. Sure, his walk rate is up a little bit (from 1.70 BB/9 to 2.00 BB/9), but it's still among the lowest in the NL. It's that league-high BIPR that's made the difference.

    That said, look for Perez to show some improvement in the second half of 2003. If there's one lesson we can learn from this little exercise, it's that a pitcher's luck can--and often will--change in a New York minute.

  • Upcoming Schedule: The next few weeks is a crucial time for the Dodgers if they wish to stay in contention. After a short series against the Indians this weekend, the Boys in Blue will see three games against division-leader San Francisco, followed by three games against Anaheim, followed by three more against San Francisco, followed by three more against (you guessed it!) Anaheim to round out the month.

    The Giants haven't exactly been blowing teams away since their scorching April. If the Dodger bats can supply enough runs over the next few weeks, there's no reason to think that Kevin Brown and his cronies can't be the division-leaders going into the All-Star break.

Seattle Mariners

  • Bizarre Roster Moves: Giovanni Carrara had a decent first month with the Mariners, but since then has gone from bad to worse. Looking at Michael Wolverton's Reliever Report we can see that Carrara is by far the worst reliever in the Mariners pen. After the team (weirdly) acquired lefty non-prospect Rule 5er Matt White, they were forced to make a decision on which pitcher to send down, with the obvious choice being fooling no-one Carrara and the younger Julio Mateo, who while inconsistent and a little too prone to giving up home runs, was still by far the superior option. So the Mariners optioned Mateo.

    Fortunately, the Mariners were immediately able to put Kazuhiro Sasaki on the DL with a suspicious injury and recall Mateo before he got too settled in down the I-5 corridor.

    Even more baffling is manager Bob Melvin's insistence on using Carrara in close situations. Tuesday, with a fresh bullpen and behind by one run, Carrara was called in to face the Expos. Carrara quickly allowed three runs to score, putting a winnable game out of reach. It's difficult to understand what role the Mariners see Carrara in, much less why, but as long as Melvin continues to write off any game in which the Mariners are behind late, even by one run, Carrara will see regular use.

  • BS, or Not: Jeff Cirillo's June so far has been even better than his comeback May, adding the long-lost power fans had been waiting for. For 7 games, anyway. Cirillo's splits this year:
    
                     AVG     OBP     SLG
    Home            .218    .256    .282
    Away            .279    .376    .384
    April           .171    .275    .243
    May             .306    .351    .389
    June            .318    .385    .455
    vs. Lefties     .297    .357    .391
    vs. Righties    .220    .301    .300
    
    
    Safeco kills Cirillo, as it does most right-handed hitters, but at the same time, he's been back to his old walk-drawing ways on the road, and especially lately, and as we frequently mention, plate discipline gets walks and pitches to drive, and hopefully (well, for Seattle fans) that's what's going to happen here.

    Cirillo hasn't hit this well, unadjusted or not, since leaving Coors Field, and it's the first stretch of sustained quality play since the Mariners traded for him before last season. In what would have seemed equally unlikely, Jewel has gone from coffee-shop guitar strumming crooner to wearing hot hot firefighter outfits while singing Shakira-esque songs and doing choreographed dance moves. This can't be coincidence. Will both continue to give the people what they want, or will they return to being a super-well-paid defensive specialist and a bad poetry writer, respectively?

  • Prospect Watch: Former super prospect Chris Snelling is back on the DL after experiencing tendonitis (or, as it's informally known, "it hurts and we don't really know why") where his new ACL was grafted on. A month of rehab is a little much, but Snelling's also been pretty depressed about the limits his below-strength knee have imposed on his play so far, so it's likely that this long rehab stint is as much to help get his confidence and easy-going-attitude back as it is for physical concerns.

  • Prospect Watch, part II: San Antonio pitcher Rett Johnson has been on fire (which means, if I remember my video games, that he has unlimited turbo for a while). On June 4th he threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout (walking three, hitting one), and at press time, he was 6-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 82 innings, with a 61-to-21 K/BB ratio, and the scouting reports are glowing. Rumor has it he'll be advanced to AAA Tacoma soon. If the Mariners let Freddy Garcia walk after this season, it'll be because they'll have a couple of excellent candidates to replace him on the cheap.

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