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July 25, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • First-Half Top Performers: Milton Bradley, C.C. Sabathia, Jody Gerut, David Riske. In reality, the first half report for the Indians should really be written in the 2004 off-season, as Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and the rest of Indian front office is working on a longer time horizon, much to their credit. Milton Bradley has turned into the player once promised by some gaudy and memorable minor league numbers. He's looking like a younger and hopefully more durable Ellis Burks, and he'll be manning center at Jacobs Field for the forseeable future.

    Eric Wedge's ominous pronouncements about riding Sabathia's arm hard and putting it away wet have been mostly blown smoke--Carsten's thrown 120+ pitches in only 10.5% of his starts (a number we refer to as .25 Baker), and in both cases, it was exactly 120. Sabathia's K rate is hovering near the league average at about six per nine innings, but he's been effective and consistent. In the pen, David Riske's turned his much-revered stuff into much-revered performance, ranking in MLB's top 20 in Adjusted Runs Prevented for relievers. (If you don't regularly peruse Adjusted Runs Prevented for Relievers, you should definitely check it out.)

    Jody Gerut, once the plate discipline beacon of the Colorado system, has turned into a perfectly acceptable corner outfielder, even if he did leave most of his batting eye somewhere near Fort Collins. Gerut's shown a strong arm, moderate power, and looks like a perfect Earl Weaver player for the future--clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. He pounds righties (.293/.346/.593) and Velandias against lefties (.242/.306/.379), and used properly, he can be a part of the next contending Indians squad.

  • First-Half Performers Still Honing Their Craft at Medieval Times: Brandon Phillips and Travis Hafner. But they're young, they're cheap, and they're still promising.

    Phillips flailed desperately about like an unrecognized Ritchie Blackmore at a Renaissance Faire. He's been miserable at the plate, hitting .210 with few walks and less power. Mario Mendoza is shown the door, Phillips should be ready to step in and excel at either shortstop or second base--whichever is the greatest need.

    Hafner's already returned from his minor league stint after his injury, and although he's got a great track record in the minors, he's not particularly young anymore, and his window of opportunity isn't limitless. He's now 26, and there's no shortage of young 1Bs in the world who deserve a shot, so Hafner's future is on the line more than anyone else's in the second half. There are still a large number of people who think his similarities to Nick Johnson (and, by extension, Private Leonard Lawrence) are more than just facial, but it's time to put up numbers if he wants to have a secure future in the game. The next 60 days are the most important time in Hafner's career.

  • What I Really Want to Do is Direct: Charles Nagy has been named a Special Assistant to GM Mark Shapiro. Nagy will be part of the architecture and implementation team for the 2005 Indians, which is where everyone's attention should be focused in terms of the Indians. The second half of the season doesn't promise to be easy, but the Indians have a heck of a lot of things to accomplish in terms of evaluating people, so keep an eye on Nagy as a possible advance scout, and watch the club's contract management and transactions. Yes, they have a record that's only 15 games better than the Detroit Tigers, but the Indians are in a boat with power and a rudder, rather than being up a very famous creek without a paddle. Maybe Shapiro can toss them a sextant.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • First-Half Surprise: While the Dodgers' roster is technically littered with performances that have more than exceeded expectations--from Kevin Brown returning at full strength from Tommy John surgery to Hideo Nomo discovering the Fountain of Youth--our choice for First-Half Surprise goes to Guillermo Mota, with an honorable mention to the aliens who have assumed control of his body.

    Mota, as you may or may not know, has been perhaps the Dodgers most valuable reliever in 2003, posting an ERA of just 2.01 while holding opponents to a slugging percentage of just .323. Only Eric Gagne has been more effective at getting hitters out for the Dodgers this season, but the difference between the two players' performance is actually tempered by Mota's considerable lead in innings pitched, 62 to 47.

    With that being said, unlike the success of Gagne this season, Mota's fliration with an ERA in the low-2.00s comes comepletely out of the blue. So out of the blue, in fact, that he's exceeded even PECOTA's most wild fantasy--an ERA of 2.44 with a K rate in the sixes. Check it out:

    
    -----------------------------------------
    Percentile       IP   H  BB  SO  HR   ERA
    -----------------------------------------
    90             79.1  60  32  65   5  2.44
    75             73.0  60  30  58   6  3.07
    60             68.2  60  28  54   6  3.53
    50             67.0  59  28  52   6  3.72
    40             65.0  59  27  50   6  3.93
    25             58.2  57  25  44   7  4.61
    10             49.2  54  22  36   7  5.66
    -----------------------------------------
    Weighted Mean  64.0  58  27  49   6  3.81
    -----------------------------------------
    
    Through 7/24 - 62.2  54  14  58   3  2.01
    
    
    The best part about Mota's performance, however, is that it looks like it's for real. Despite spending half his innings in one of the more favorable pitchers' parks in all of baseball, Mota has actually been better on the road: limiting the opposition to just a .209 batting average against, while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly five-to-one. Our only concern is that Mota appears to have trouble with runners on base--as his OpBA jumps from .208 with no one on to .356 with runners in scoring position.

  • First-Half Disappointment: Despite coming off back-to-back seasons that would fit comfortably in Ken Griffey Jr.'s peak, Shawn Green has been a borderline disaster in 2003, posting an Equivalent Average of just .269 for a team that needs much more than that.

    But as Joe Sheehan pointed out recently, perhaps this sudden collapse in Green's performance shouldn't have come as a surprise after all. Check out Green's walk-rates over the last three seasons, with the IBBs removed:

    
    Year    AB/UIBB
    ---------------
    2000       7.53
    2001       9.98
    2002       8.20
    2003      11.57
    
    
    That's hack-tastic. Where at one time Green was among the more patient hitters in the league, today he is merely a shadow of that former self--opting instead to take the Miguel Tejada approach, and swing his way out of the slump.

    Now, don't get us wrong. An Equivalent Average of .269 isn't exactly a Pat Burrell-like crater into the depths of ineffectiveness. It's a league-average season from a player who's been somewhat overrated in the mind of the public since signing with Los Angeles in early 2000. But still, any way you slice it, it's a disappointment for a team that was expecting much, much more out it's most potent offensive threat.

Seattle Mariners

  • First-Half Surprise: Julio Mateo got off to a bad start as bullpen filler but has put up two great months of work and right now appears a steadier and better right-handed option than Jeff Nelson, who has struggled badly in so many outings this year that he's starting to approach Giovanni Carrara in our reliever rankings (and not in a good way). With the effectiveness of minor league closer Aaron Taylor and the team's deep injury problems, Mateo's improvement will provide the club with a dilemma unless Kazuhiro Sasaki gets jumped by another flight of stairs and has to go back on the DL.

  • First-Half Non-Surprise: Pat Gillick hasn't made a trade for a player that might contribute to the team's continued success or improve them for the playoffs.

  • First-Half Bust: Jeff Cirillo had a good month in there, but hard work and dedication have ensured that everyone's forgotten about it. His .210/.288/.278 is more appropriate for a defensive specialist instructed to bunt every at bat, not a third-baseman. At least he's drawing some walks, which is the only evidence the hitter he once was still resides in the same body. Playing at Safeco Field makes things even worse for the righty: he's a gut-wrenchingly bad .180/.231/.221 at home, and .238/.338/.333 on the road, where at least he's not an OBP sink. Things are so bad that he's losing playing time to Willie Bloomquist, who not only can't hit much better, but can't play defense at third as well. The only depth in this organization is in the training facility's swimming pool.

  • First-Half Bust, part II: The Mariners spent cash money and gave up a first round draft pick to sign Professional Hitter Greg Colbrunn, who didn't play much, and then injured his wrist, and may not get activated until teams go to expanded rosters in September.

  • Second-Half Questions: Which Freddy Garcia will show up? After a terrible year from mid-season 2002 almost to mid-season 2003, Freddy strung together some good outings... and now has started to bounce around again between effective and almost unwatchable. Will Gil Meche return to being effective and healthy, and if not, what will the team do? Might outstanding starting prospect Rafael Soriano step up to trade off rotation slots, or will the team finally send him back to the minors so he can get regular work? Will John Olerud hit if he comes back healthy? Can Carlos Guillen stay healthy?

  • Don't Call It a Comeback: He's been here for years. Mike Cameron is hitting .264/.355/.463 while playing his usual centerfield defense. He's still striking out all the time, despite continued attempts to cure what the team sees as a problem. As every year since joining the team, right-handed Cameron continues to play much worse at home (.216/.309/.412) compared to his scorching road success (.303/.392/.505). Some team's going to pick him up cheap on the free agent market next year and have a smug look on their faces all season long.

  • Let's All Hold Hands and Sing Campfire Songs: For all the positive-but-wishy-washy vibes coming from GM Pat Gillick ("I like our club, but you can't say you wouldn't want more," he told the Seattle Times, or "If we get healthy, we'll be all right" in an AP article) and manager Bob Melvin ("We talk about this all the time, but it has to be the right fit" in the Oregonian), the Mariners are now playing a collapsed minor star at short in Mark McLemore, John Mabry, who appears baffled while trying to remember how to cover first, and frequently field an offensive lineup that contains outs lined up for opposing pitchers like metal ducks at a county fair shooting gallery.

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