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August 8, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Neap: Grady Sizemore has usurped Victor Martinez's mantle as Impressive Indian of the Future. Sizemore's holding his own at Double-A Akron, hitting .305/.364/.474 with 63 Ks in 463 PA; very good numbers for a player during his age 20 season in the Eastern League. (Sizemore turned 21 last week.) Michael Aubrey's been dropped in at 1B in the Sally League, and is rapidly adjusting to his new surroundings. Look for one or both to get a cup of coffee next September and to compete for playing time in Cleveland in the Spring of 2005.

  • The Play's the Thing: Sure, there's a fair amount of distance between the Indians and Tigers, and where the Tigers have little if any hope of contending any time soon, the Indians look like a club with a plan and some very solid hopes for the future. But...the Indians are still a very bad team. Offensively, they've been impatient and impotent; one player on the team's drawn more than four walks since the All-Star Break, and given his very obvious opinion of Bruce Froemming, he may not draw more than four for the balance of the season. Since the break, the club's slugged under .400, scored fewer than four runs per game, and stumbled to a 5-14 record. Not to worry, though, Tiger boosters: your club's going to be hard to catch. Not only do the Olde English Boys have a 16-game "lead" for the coveted Connie Mack Trophy, they've actually been building a bigger cushion in the second half, with an impressive 4-15 marker. And, with no sign of Alex Sanchez moving any time soon, the Indians will have to enter the realm of the truly wretched to have a chance to catch the denizens of Comerica.

  • Har! Come For the Freak Show, Stay For the Food: Kudos go to the Cleveland front office and marketing department for doing what many teams say is impossible: getting people to come out to the freakin' ballpark. The Indians are further behind than Karl Childers at the Commonwealth Club, but they continue to spin the turnstiles. Not once in the second half of the season have the Indians failed to draw 20,000 fans. That may not sound like much, but when you consider that their home series have included a mid-week, two-game Ragnarok against the Detroit Tigers, that's saying something. The recent three-game set with Seattle (known in the Northwest as Freddy Garcia's ongoing "Frozen Ropes on Parade" tour), drew more than 66,000. Not too shabby for the mid-week, and more evidence that Indians' fans are more deserving of success than say, fans of the Yankees or A's. When the tide comes in, Jacobs will be full again, and not just with line shots after the release of a Brian Anderson pitch.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • There's No Place Like Home: Years ago, Gary Huckabay wrote a great article entitled "Knowing Our Limitations." In it he discussed some of the constraints that affect statistical analysis (both in and outside of baseball), and pointed out that many of the metrics we use to evaluate performance are reliant on a number of assumptions. While these assumptions might be founded--and ultimately correct--at the team level, they can often prove erroneous when applied to individuals.

    Take Park Factors, for example. On a large scale, we can say that the Dodgers' pitching staff is helped by their home park. We know this because we can measure the number of runs scored at Chavez Ravine, adjust for variables such as the unbalanced schedule, and determine how far above or below average it is at suppressing offensive performance. It's not a particularly difficult task, but it tells us something important, and gives us greater insight into the team's performance as a whole.

    But when applied to individuals, Park Factors can get a little sticky. Check out Hideo Nomo's numbers over the past two seasons:

    
    2003      IP   H  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP  BAA
    ---------------------------------------------
    Home    82.0  68  12  37  71  3.40  1.28 .230
    Away    83.0  49   4  34  65  1.95  1.00 .174
    
    
    2002      IP   H  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP  BAA
    ---------------------------------------------
    Home   108.2  96  16  54 103  3.89  1.38 .240
    Away   111.2  93  10  47  90  2.90  1.25 .232
    
    
    What's up with that? According to our calculations, Dodger Stadium suppresses run scoring by nearly 20%, yet Nomo has been a notably (and consistently) better on the road. Now, given that we're dealing with just two seasons worth of data here, it's possible that the Sample Size Goblin is simply rearing his ugly head (when he's not destroying the engine of your 747, that is). But it's also possible that Dodger Stadium is ill-constructed to fit Nomo's individual strengths and weaknesses. After all, Park Factors measure run scoring, but they don't measure the components that go into run scoring (i.e., errors, extra-base hits, etc.). And while most pitchers' parks are good at suppressing home runs, some have outfield dimensions that encourage doubles and triples down the lines. If you're a righty who throws in the mid-to-high 80s (like Nomo) who doesn't induce many ground balls (again, like Nomo), that could prove to be a serious problem for you.

    As Gary noted at the end of his article: "Our models are built on enough assumptions about baseball, data, and the world that we need to turn a skeptical eye on them at every opportunity, just like we do to conventional wisdom. What we don't know could fill a book. Perhaps even an annual one." Insightful words from an insightful man.

  • The Body: Not too many teams could acquire a .251/.344/.392 hitting third baseman and call it an upgrade, but the 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers are not too many teams. After all, this is a club that's running HACKING MASS MVP candidates out there at three--count 'em, three--different positions on a regular basis: second base, shortstop, and third base.

    Needless to say, though, adding Robin Ventura to the Dodger lineup is a positive at this point, especially for what they gave up. It won't make a difference in terms of deciding the NL West--the Giants already have that in the bag--but it could mean something with regard to the Wild Card race, where the Boys in Blue are just 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia. Check back at the end of the month.

  • Bring Out The Gimp!
    
    Gagne, Eric    RHP    Los Angeles   Age: 27
    
                                         Season
    Date   Opp.     IP  H  R ER HR BB SO    ERA
    -------------------------------------------
    Aug 07 CIN     1.0  0  0  0  0  0  3   1.61
    Aug 06 CIN     1.0  0  0  0  0  0  1   1.64
    Aug 05 CIN     1.0  0  0  0  0  0  2   1.67
    Aug 03 @ ATL   1.0  0  0  0  0  0  2   1.70
    Jul 31 @ PHI   1.0  0  0  0  0  0  2   1.73
    Jul 27 @ ARI   1.1  0  0  0  0  1  1   1.76
    Jul 25 @ ARI   1.0  1  0  0  0  0  1   1.81
    Jul 24 COL     1.0  0  0  0  0  1  3   1.85
    Jul 22 COL     1.0  0  0  0  0  0  1   1.89
    Jul 18 STL     1.0  1  0  0  0  0  2   1.93
    Jul 17 STL     0.1  0  0  0  0  0  0   1.97
    Jul 13 @ COL   1.0  0  0  0  0  0  0   1.99
    Jul 09 @ STL   1.1  0  0  0  0  1  2   2.03
    Jul 05 ARI     1.0  1  0  0  0  0  2   2.09
    Jul 04 ARI     1.0  1  0  0  0  0  1   2.14
    Jul 02 SDP     1.2  2  2  1  0  1  2   2.20
    -------------------------------------------
    16 Apps.      16.2  6  2  1  0  4 25    n/a
    
    

Seattle Mariners

  • Challenge Trade: After Jeff Nelson blasted team management in the press after their failure to make an impact mood before the deadline (like getting rid of their worst reliever, Jeff Nelson). He was then put on waivers, the Yankees claimed him as the Mariners claimed troubled reliever Armando Benitez from the Yankees, and a deal was quickly struck. Despite the team's possible punitive motivations for the trade, it's difficult to see any way--K rate, effectiveness against righties or lefties, or even age--in which Benitez isn't the superior option. The move also saves the team the PR hassle of having local boy Nelson a free agent at the end of the year. Since the team's had problems (Dan Wilson) in the past with this sort of thing, perhaps they're learning to avoid these situations before they do something they regret for years.

    This time, we really mean it: For Freddy Garcia, Thursday was the 14th crucial start of the season, deemed by local media figures as (again) a start that would determine if he would remain in the rotation or not, implying that (again) the team was fed up with him and this would be it, the absolute last time they would let him blow up, and if he didn't perform well, they were going to pull the charter plane over on the way to New York and he could just find his own way home. Freddy, facing the rebuilding Indians, went 6 1/3 innings, allowed six hits, two of them home runs, walked none, and struck out seven. Freddy is now projected to make his 15th crucial start of the season in about five days, against the much-higher-powered offense of the Yankees.

  • Put Me In, Coach: As Garcia continues to struggle, Rafael Soriano continues to make a strong case that he belongs in the rotation instead. After being overlooked while on the roster, Soriano had a stellar July, pitching 17 innings in 12 appearances, allowing only two runs...and striking out 20. If Soriano doesn't go into the rotation, he could be this year's Francisco Rodriguez, pitching dominating middle-inning relief and making a splash in the playoffs. The only difference would be that Soriano's better and would be on the playoff roster legally.

  • Hot Performer: Randy Winn has hit .280/.334/.403 so far this year, nothing special for a left fielder. In July though he went on a rampage, scorching the league to the tune of .343/.395/.562.

  • Prospect Watch: Critically acclaimed outfielder and Safeco Field favorite Chris Snelling was promoted to the Pacific Coast League, where the fireplug is playing right field and holding his own with the bat--.273/.340/.500--even while admitting that he feels like he's still getting back to his old form with a surgically repaired knee. If the team can't make a move for a quality outfield upgrade and Snelling continues to come back, it's possible Chris could be back in Safeco Field even before rosters expand.

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