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August 7, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies

by Baseball Prospectus

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Snakes Offense Lacks Bite: Arizona fought through an injury apocalypse before coming to rest one game back of the Phillies in the NL Wild Card race at the All-Star break. Once they got their Shaq and Kobe back, Arizona was supposed to cruise to 90+ wins and a playoff birth. Instead, thanks to an offense that has provided only 2.7 runs per game in the second half, they went in the opposite direction and now sit at 59-54 after last night's second straight win over the Expos. After scoring more runs than any team in the National League last year, what has happened to Arizona's bats? Their offensive production at first base, second base, and right field has fallen off dramatically from last year:

    • Last year, the first base threesome of Mark Grace, Erubiel Durazo, and Greg Colbrunn was effective, combining for a solid .274/.372/.497. However, the liberation of Durazo along with the departure of Colbrunn to Seattle has left Arizona with the less-than-effective combination of Grace and Lyle Overbay, and their cumulative .249/.338/.373 line.

    • Nobody is coming close to matching Junior Spivey's .301/.389/.476 of 2002 at second base. Bob Brenly apparently doesn't believe Spivey is capable of playing at that level again, either. Brenly's given a large chunk of his playing time to Arizona's new Flavor of the Month, Matt Kata, after a recent slump sent Spivey down to .244/.317/.433.

    • Quinton McCracken picked his career back up right where he left it in 2001. After a surprising 2002 season (.309/.367/.458) McCracken is back to his old self (.233/.281/.282) this year, which has been very bad for the 2003 D'backs.

    It might be reasonable to think that Spivey could have an impact down the stretch, or that Overbay could step up and throw down a .290 EqA for the rest of the season. But the odds of McCracken ever again hitting .309/.367/.458 are slim. Joe Garagiola, Jr. knew this, so he went out and traded for Raul Mondesi, who fills a big hole with an adequate bat. Here are the season-to-date RARP for Mondesi and the right fielders he will be replacing:

    
    Player                  RARP
    Raul Mondesi            13.8
    David Dellucci           0.0
    Danny Bautista          -7.2
    Quinton McCracken       -8.6
    
    

    Getting Mondesi in the lineup, and more importantly getting Bautista and McCracken out of the lineup, should help the Arizona offense.

  • Big Unit Gone Limp?: Randy Johnson hasn't had a vintage Johnson-like performance all season, and hasn't been much better since returning from a knee injury in July. While he hasn't had any major setbacks since coming off the DL, Johnson hasn't had any dominating starts and is averaging fewer than one strikeout per inning in his return. What's more alarming to D'backs fans is Bob Brenly's reluctance to let Johnson go deep into games. Johnson, normally a PAP immortal, has seen his Pitcher Abuse Point total drop from 360,482 in 2002 to 217 in 2003. While babying his 39-year-old arm and 70-year-old knee may be the best thing for Johnson's health, the fact that Brenly has been so careful with his long-time ace is an indication that the D'backs are concerned about Johnson's health. Another injury to the Big Unit could mean the end of Arizona's already-fading playoff hopes.

Kansas City Royals

  • The Forecast Doesn't Call for Pain: Fans of BP have been writing with cautionary tales about the success of the Royals, and how they're doomed to at least let Mike Sweeney exercise his famous free agency clause. The Royals haven't exactly imploded; the offense is pretty much the same in the second half as in the first, and the pitching staff, while it hasn't been quite as good (about half a run per game worse), hasn't suddenly gone all Glendon Rusch.

    Kansas City doesn't necessarily need to play lights-out over the next two months in order to win the AL Central and earn the right to be summarily vivisected by one of the Fantastic Four. All they have to do is still be hanging around somewhere near the race on September 9th. What happens on September 9th? The final 20 games of the season, which break down as follows:

    
    Opponent               Home    Away
    Chicago White Sox       4       3
    Detroit Tigers          3       4
    Cleveland Indians       3       3
    
    

    The Royals, barring a complete collapse between now and Labor Day, will control their own destiny with 20 games in the final 20 days--seven against their most direct challenger, and 13 against clearly inferior teams. How clearly? Here's the runs scored, runs allowed, and winning percentage for those opponents, adjusted for park, league, and strength of opposition:

    
    Opponent               EqR     EqRA    EqWP
    Chicago White Sox       547     523     .521
    Detroit Tigers          411     584     .331
    Cleveland Indians       490     563     .431
    
    

    If you're not checking our Adjusted Standings Page on a regular basis, you probably should be. It's pretty cool.

  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: You can make a pretty solid case for Angel Berroa as the AL Rookie of the Year, particularly if you only count night games. With all due respect to Hideki Matsui and Rocco Baldelli's first five weeks, Berroa's been deserving of the award. Berroa's family tree apparently has roots somewhere in the forests of Eastern Europe, as he's most definitely nocturnal. Berroa's performance breakdown:
    
    Day:    .244/.315/.428
    Night:  .327/.366/.566
    
    

    That's 2002 vintage Miguel Tejada by night, and 2003 vintage Miguel Tejada during the day. Berroa's turned into an awfully good player who's been durable, and solid defensively, showing good range and instincts, even if he is leading the league with 19 errors. There's no way he'll actually get the award for RoY unless world attention is drawn to Kansas City, but right now, he's certainly as deserving as any other candidate. And speaking of the candidates, here's each one's OPS for the year, month by month:

  • Strong Persuader: Michael Tucker's been diagnosed with a broken leg (and not a bone bruise as hoped), and will be out of action for five-to-eight weeks. Tucker's been his normal self throughout the year--a tweener outfielder. He can play center but not particularly well enough to be there every day, and his bat isn't quite enough to help a club if he's stuck at a corner. The Royals will have to hope that Aaron Guiel stays eerily hot, and that Dee Brown takes advantage of his extremely tiny window of opportunity. If Mike Sweeney can get past his latest minor setback and get back to the KC lineup, the extra PAs available for Guiel and Brown will all but vanish.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • That's Enough For Now, Jose: Since he's sporting a 5.91 ERA, it's not so surprising that the Phillies bumped Jose Mesa from the closer's role. But it was a bit unexpected. Mesa's been terrible, but the whole team, from Ed Wade on down, has backed him completely. No worries, Phillies fans: This move isn't permanent, and you can look forward to some more heart-stopping ninth innings from Mesa soon.

    Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is working with Mesa to correct what he says is a flaw in Mesa's delivery. It's hard to see how Mesa's recent work has been any different from the rest of his 2003, but given the success of Rheal Cormier and Turk Wendell, Kerrigan deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    The biggest advantage of this move--and you can bet the Phillies know it--is that Mesa may not reach 55 games finished (he's at 40 now) to vest his $5.5 million option for 2004. Before he lost his job, he was on pace for 58. So the Phillies can kill two birds with one stone if time off will get Mesa on track. Whether or not they should give him back the closer's job this season is another matter, but that is academic, as it seems certain that they will.

    (Because he has one save this year, there have been rumblings that Carlos Silva could see some closing duty. It won't happen, and that's good for the Phils--astonishingly, Silva has managed to post a 4.74 ERA and still be the most overrated reliever in baseball.)

  • Standing Pat: As Joe Sheehan has pointed out, the trade deadline's big story was teams like the Phillies that did nothing. Philadelphia might have looked for a stopgap solution in left field, where Pat Burrell continues to struggle.

    As the season wears on and the Phillies cling to a playoff spot, it pays to look to September and beyond and ask what the Phillies will do about Burrell. The more each game matters, the costlier it will be to play him, in the hope that he produces again.

    Here are their other options, along with Burrell:

    
                      PA   AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA
    Pat Burrell      429  .196  .309  .383  .246
    Jason Michaels    89  .304  .382  .532  .310
    Ricky Ledee      222  .232  .327  .448  .269
    
    
    Michaels has been very good in a small sample size, and Ledee has been serviceable against right-handers. A Michaels/Ledee platoon would be more productive than Burrell. But it's not that simple. Pat Burrell will probably snap out of this at some point, and it might happen in 2003. So the Phillies have a difficult choice.

    As long as they keep leading the Wild Card chase, you'll see Burrell getting the lion's share of the playing time. There's no doubt that he's been horrible--he's below replacement level--but for all the talk about his lack of strike zone judgment, he's still taking a lot of walks. Michaels and Ledee will be riding the pine for now, and while this might cost the Phillies a game or two, if Burrell finds himself the gain will be enormous. The Phillies can only hope the reward will be worth the risk.

  • The Cure-All: Mesa needs extra work and so does Burrell. So speaking of killing two birds with one stone, here's the best idea we've heard yet: have Mesa pitch to Burrell before the game. Either Mesa will get his mojo back against the helpless Burrell, or Pat the Bat will find his way against Mesa's hanging curves. Mesa v. Burrell: now there's a thought to keep Ed Wade awake at night.

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