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September 5, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • I Stand Here Cryin': Oh, the humanity. The Indians joined Baltimore, San Diego, and the White Sox as the only teams to lose a series to the Tigers this year, dropping the last three of four this week in Comerica. When Cleveland and Detroit took the field at Comerica, it was astonishing how many players from both sides had been either lost to injury. The lineups from the final game of the series:
    
    Cleveland     Pos.      Detroit       Pos.
    ------------------      ------------------
    Crisp           CF      Petrick         CF
    Lawton          DH      Morris          2B
    Gerut           LF      Higginson       RF
    Blake           3B      DYoung          DH
    Broussard       1B      Pena            1B
    Escobar         RF      Witt            LF
    Martinez         C      Halter          3B
    Santos          2B      Hinch            C
    Peralta         SS      Santiago        SS
    
    
    Pitchers everywhere were salivating.

    On the bright side, the Indians are going to end up with a number of good options for an outfield mix. Coco Crisp has been hitting line drives, and if he can regain some of the plate discipline he found in the minors, he could be a very solid leadoff guy, something along the lines of the player Marvin Benard might have been if everything broke his way.

  • The World is Laughin': C.C. Sabathia's been handled about as well as any young pitcher. A few weeks back, he hadn't exceeded 120 pitches in any outing this year, and he still hasn't. Eric Wedge's crew has been downright circumspect, unlike another manager one could name who has some strong feelings about skin pigmentation and heat dispersion. The Indians have been rewarded with remarkably consistent efforts from their young ace, instead of the late season tanking many feared based on Wedge's apocalyptic statements about pitcher usage before the season began.

    How consistent? Here's Sabathia's ERAs:

    
    August 2003:  3.64
    2003, total:  3.63
    
    
    And, not once this year has he been sent back out to the mound to start the 8th inning with a large lead and 117 pitches already under his belt.

  • Movin' On Up: Ross Atkins has been promoted to Director of Latin American Operations, and Lino Diaz will be his right hand guy. Mark Shapiro and the braintrust in Cleveland continue to profit from each transaction when it comes to players, and find good talent to fill front office positions. Expect the Indians to increase their expenditures in specific Latin American areas as well as Junior Colleges in the U.S.

  • Baby, You Can Drive My Car: Milton Bradley was cited for fleeing a ticket, topping off a year with a number of ups and downs. When healthy, Bradley's been tremendous, hitting .321/.401/.521 with 17 steals and very respectable defense in center field. Unfortunately, he's had a spate of injuries, including the current back problems that are likely to sideline him for the rest of the year. With Omar Vizquel also unlikely to return, the Indians will have plenty of PA to pass around among candidates for their 2005 push at the AL Central title. Heck, the way the division's looking, they could be the best team in the division by the end of 2004, provided Minnesota doesn't start sifting through their options a little better.

    And from all of us who have ever sped off from a traffic ticket, let us say--Good luck, Milton, and we hope your community service is more fun than ours was.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • You're Out of Your Element, Donnie!: In a recent edition of Prospectus Today, Joe Sheehan pointed out that with so many of the best starters in the NL this season suffering from a case of poor run-supportitis, the likelihood of a reliever winning the Cy Young is as high as it's been in years--most likely since 1998, when Trevor Hoffman received 13 first-place votes for the award, but finished second overall to Tom Glavine.

    The thing is, poor run support hasn't been the only culprit in depressing win totals for some of the NL's best starters. The disabled list, as Will Carroll will gladly remind you, has claimed more than its fair share of time from the 2003s of Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, Jason Schmidt, and Mark Prior--pitchers who would otherwise be serious contenders for the award in eyes of the voters. Thus, not only do some of the league's most dominant starters lose out in terms of perceived value (i.e., a reduced number of wins), they also lose out in terms of actual value (i.e., a reduced number of starts/innings).

    Which brings us to Eric Gagne. As you've probably seen on Baseball Tonight, Eric Gagne has been perhaps the most dominant closer in the game this season, striking out more than 15 men per nine innings and converting 47 consecutive save opportunities. One of the biggest reasons why the Dodgers are still the playoff hunt despite fielding one of the worst offensive units in recent history is their bullpen, and Gagne is the most dominant pitcher in that group.

    And it's not as if his efforts have gone unnoticed. With a number of prominent writers already publicly jumping on his bandwagon, it appears that Gagne will receive strong support in the Cy Young voting this year, especially if he breaks the single-season saves record of 57.

    But does that necessarily mean that Gagne belongs in a conversation discussing the NL's top hurlers? For many this is a philosophical debate, but for us statheads it's a bit more cut-and-dried.

    According to Keith Woolner's Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Gagne is just the 16th most valuable pitcher in the National League this season, and the third most valuable reliever behind teammate Guillermo Mota (10th overall) and the Astros' Billy Wagner (15th). Mota, you see, has pitched nearly 25% more innings this year than Gagne has, while Wagner's home park is one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball--the direct opposite of Chavez Ravine. Thus, even though Gagne has technically been more dominant than the other two relievers, Mota and Wagner's value has been slightly greater (39.5 VORP and 31.3 VORP, to 31.1 VORP).

    The only problem is, VORP does not account for things like defense and the fact that relievers' innings are often of a higher leverage than starters' innings. Thus, depending on how difficult you believe Gagne, Mota, and Wagner's innings to be this season, the gap between each one of them and Jason Schmidt, the NL's most valuable starter, is really much smaller than meets the eye--probably to the tune of 10 runs of VORP, or just one win above replacement.

    So what does all of this mean? Is it a mistake to include Gagne in the NL Cy Young discussion, given that he's not even the best reliever on his own team, according to some measures? Well, not necessarily. Gagne, after all, has some advantages in his performance.

    • He leads both Mota and Wagner in Adjusted Runs Prevented, however slightly.
    • His park-adjusted RAA (Runs Allowed Average) is the lowest of the three pitchers, at 1.52.
    • His hits allowed and OPS allowed figures are the among lowest in history for a pitcher with at least 70 innings--lapping both Mota and Wagner this season by a country mile.

    Needless to say, it's ambiguous whether or not Eric Gagne has been the best reliever in the National League this season, let alone the best pitcher. He's been as dominant as a human can be with a ball in his hand, but the fact of the matter is that he simply hasn't had the ball in his hand enough to make it clear whether his value exceeds that of a starter like Schmidt, Prior, or even Livan Hernandez. If the season ended today, he'd warrant a top-five spot, though where in the top five that'd be will have to wait until the end of the season.

Seattle Mariners

  • Oh my God, You Are So Annoying!: On August 28th, the A's beat the Orioles while the Mariners lost to the Devil Rays, dropping two games back in the AL West race. Since then, they have been unable to make up any ground on the A's in what has to be a supremely frustrating week:
    
    Date    Mariners  Athletics
    8/29    W         W
    8/30    W         W
    8/31    W         W
    9/2     W         W
    9/3     L         L
    9/4     L         L
    
    
    Hi, you don't know me, but I'll be dominating you tonight: The Mariners have the 6th-ranked offense in terms of EqA. Their last two losses, though, haven't come at the hands of Mike Mussina, or even Esteban Loaiza. The lines for these losses:
    
    Who             IP   H    R    BB   SO   HR   Pitches
    Doug Waechter   9    2    0    2    7    0    99
    Jorge Sosa      9    4    0    2    6    0    120
    
    
    For a team a that had reeled off four straight wins only to gain no ground on their divisional opponent, it must be doubly hard to see their opponents lose, only to be mastered by two unlikely candidates in complete-game shutouts, during which these two rising stars allowed only 10 baserunners while striking out 13 batters.

  • On The Downside: August was a bad month for the Mariners. They hit .271/.337/.373--only June, when interleague play meant pitchers hit and Edgar Martinez sat, was close to being this bad. The pitching continued to get roughed up again after a rough July.

  • Running the Beef: In the Texas League playoffs, Wichita Wranglers attempt to lasso the Frisco RoughRiders, who in turn will be attempting to mount the Wranglers bareback, all while the San Antonio Missions watch this hot southwest man-on-man action. They get a bye series for leading the Western Division in both halves. The team has left the Missions roster intact during September call-ups, preferring instead to let the boys have their fun romp.

    The Missions feature the bulk of the system's pitching talent. Check these three out:

    
    Dude              Age   ERA    IP     H    BB  SO   HR
    Travis Blackley    20   2.61   162.1  125  62  144  11
    Clint Nageotte     22   3.10   154    127  67  157  6
    Bobby Madritcsh    27   3.63   158.2  133  67  154  11
    
    
    One of these things is not like the other. Rett Johnson was in the rotation, too, before he got called up to Tacoma (and was subsequently shut down with shoulder problems).

    If you're in Texas and get the chance, rub yourself and your friends down with some suntan lotion or oil and check out some good baseball. There's a lot of talent on this Double-A team, plus Luis Ugueto.

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