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June 13, 2003

Prospectus Today

Bullet the White Screen

by Joe Sheehan

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This is what happens when you eat too many of Sophia's sugar cookies...

  • The Mets ended the suspense yesterday afternoon by firing general manager Steve Phillips and replacing him, on an interim basis, with Jim Duquette. While Phillips had a big hand in assembling the Mets' 2000 National League champion, he had a bigger hand in pulling together the aging, expensive roster that has stumbled to a 103-121 record in the last two years, finishing in last place in 2002 and occupying the same spot in the NL East so far this season.

    From Baseball Prospectus 2002:

    "Whether the revamping of the Mets ends in a divisional title or not, there's little question that Phillips chose the right direction. ... Given the hand Phillips was dealt, it was worth it to try and squeeze one more run out of the Piazza Mets."
    I wrote that, and I stand by it. The Mets were in a awkward place after the 2001 season, and I give Phillips a lot of credit for going whole-hog in one direction--acquiring veterans to try and squeeze another year out of the team that went to the World Series in 2000. It's better to execute a mediocre plan fully than to meander aimlessly with no plan at all.

    It didn't work, so after the 2002 season, the writing was on the wall. The Mets had reached the point where they needed to rebuild, to take a year or two off and wait for the farm system to start burping up players. Phillips, unwilling or unable to launch the rebuilding process, again played for the short term, and again found his frantic efforts wanting.

    Often when front-office people are replaced, the focus is on their failings, the things they did or did not do that warranted their removal. I don't know that it's possible to pick apart Steve Phillips' performance and say that he got fired because he didn't do his job. I can criticize individual decisions, particularly the most recent set of free-agent signings, but it seems to me that Phillips, from the moment he took the job in 1997, executed his mandate to make the Mets a winning team in the present.

    The job changed, though, and Phillips went from being the right man for it to being the wrong one. He is not the person to direct a rebuilding project, and his win-now emphasis had begun to actively hurt a franchise that lacked the core talent to compete for a championship.

    Phillips didn't fail at his job. His job no longer exists. It's a subtle difference, but it's all the difference in this case.

  • Also yesterday, Matt Williams announced his retirement, a little over a week after being released by the Diamondbacks.

    It's a bit of a shame in that his career is ending with such a whimper. There are many teams who would be helped by a third baseman who can hit lefties while making the minimum. Williams was hitting .302/.396/.581 against southpaws this season, and regularly hits .300 with good power against them. He can play both infield corners passably, although he's no longer a top-notch glove man at third base.

    Just noodling here...the Yankees would be far better off with Williams than with Todd Zeile. The Twins could actually bat him cleanup against lefties. The A's have to be questioning whether Eric Chavez will ever hit lefties (.147/.188/.333 this year; .224/.272/.372 from 2000-2002); they need runs badly and would be well-served to employ Williams. The Expos could add him to their corner mix and be improved, as could the Reds.

    That's just the contenders. Heck, there are probably more teams that can use Williams than ones that can't.

    Williams' last contract was such a disaster, paying him $45 million for one good season (1999) and four lousy ones, that it has overshadowed his career up through 1999. Any evaluation of that career has to consider the significant loss he suffered in 1994. Before Big Mac and Sammy, there was Matt Williams, with 43 home runs in early August, positioned for a run at 60 and perhaps an MVP along with it. He wasn't the only player to lose a monster season to the strike, but he, along with David Cone, are the two who lost the most significant portion of their career to it, the last two months of what might have been the career-defining campaign.

    Williams was a great player for a number of years. He played in three World Series, he was on a championship team in 2001, and he won his share of awards. He's not a Hall of Famer--he's not even really someone who should last to a second ballot--but he's the kind of player who should be remembered as significant part of the game's history.

  • I'd really like to see the A's go on a tear. Oh, not because I'm with BP and we love the A's, but because if they do, we might get to see a beautiful thing: a Yankees/Red Sox divisional race that means everything. Did you know that the Yankees and Red Sox have exchanged first place back and forth every day this week? With neither team playing great baseball, it's more than possible that they could trade spots 20 or 30 times over the next three months. Throw in the possibility that the Blue Jays could hang around--they're just a game and a half out right now-and the AL East is shaping up to give us an amazing race.

    I'm trying not to get overly excited just yet, but there's also a four-team battle brewing in the NL Central that could very well come down to which GM does the best job between now and August 1.

    There's no getting this through to the people on Park Avenue, but the month that makes baseball great isn't October. It's September. Maybe this year, for the first time in a decade, we can be treated to a September that matters.

  • It's the Strat geek in me, but I'm always fascinated by relievers who put up great numbers. There are a bunch of them out there this year:
    
    Pitcher              Team     ERA    IP   H   BB   SO   HR    ARP*
    Brendan Donnelly      ANA    0.26  34.2  19   11   41    0   19.2
    John Smoltz           ATL    0.76  35.2  26    5   44    0   15.2
    Scot Shields**        ANA    0.97  37.0  28   12   32    2   12.1
    Shigetoshi Hasegawa   SEA    1.08  33.1  26    6   17    2   15.1
    Octavio Dotel         HOU    1.72  36.2  20   12   47    2   12.7
    Eric Gagne            LAD    1.85  34.0  13    6   59    1   10.6
    
    *Adjusted Runs Prevented
    **just his relief work (two starts)
    
    
    Eric Gagne's line should actually be even better than that, but he got stuck throwing an inning of mop-up relief in Coors and gave up two runs, including the only homer he's allowed all year. Even with that, he's allowing a 332 OPS. I think it's time for Rany Jazayerli to dust off his strikeouts-to-hits charts and let us know where Gagne ranks.

    And zero point two six! Are you kidding me? I know it's just 34 2/3 innings, or 10 weeks, but that's a freakish number.

    Without getting too off-topic...wait, I don't have a topic...I have to point out the single best thing about Mike Scioscia: he doesn't care who you are. Scioscia has shown himself to be completely and totally about performance, and the bullpens he's managed in Anaheim are a reflection of and tribute to that. Brendan Donnelly and Scot Shields are his reward.

  • Want to induce a headache? Find the Padres' All-Star. Some very deserving player is going to be left home to make room for Rondell White or Ryan Klesko.

    Actually, I support the one-player-per-team rule, especially now that the All-Star rosters are about the size of Nebraska's traveling squad.

I'm out of cookies, folks...have a great weekend!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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