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September 17, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

by Baseball Prospectus

Atlanta Braves

  • Baker's Dozen: As Gary Sheffield has lamented, the Braves don't have much at stake until the post-season begins, which makes it tough on their intrepid PTP columnist. We took a look forward last time around, projecting the Braves' post-season roster. This time, let's take a look back at the Braves' remarkable 13-year run of success.

    Skeptics are likely to cite the Braves' poor track record of play in the post-season as prima facie evidence that they aren't a Dynasty. We won't get into that argument here--metaphysical debates are best left for your neighborhood independent coffee shop--except to say that a team that must win three rounds of playoff games is at something of a disadvantage against a team that needs to win just one. Instead, let's look at a simpler but more profound metric--winning percentage over n consecutive seasons. These, for example, are the best single-season winning percentages since World War II.

    
    Frame   Team    Season  W-L       W%
    1 Yr.   Indians 1954    111-43  .721
            Ma's    2001    116-46  .716
            Yankees 1998    114-48  .704
    
    
    Many of you could recite that list by heart. The Braves' best effort--106-56 in 1998--ranks 14th, well down the list. The Scheurholz Braves haven't had any one signature season that stands out.

    Expanding the time frame further requires a couple of additional ground rules: overlapping sets of seasons don't count (otherwise the Yankees would dominate the lists even more than they already do), and we'll require that the first year of the streak was no earlier than 1946 (it was a little easier to put together a run back in the days of eight-team leagues and three-fingered pitchers). We'll also give the Braves' credit for a 100-62 record in 2003, consistent with their projection from the postseason odds report. These are the best two- and three- season streaks:

    
    Frame   Team    Seasons    W-L            W%
    2 Yrs.  Orioles 1969-1970  217-107      .670
            Indians 1954-1955  204-104      .662
            Yankees 1953-1954  202-103      .662
                                    
    3 Yrs.  Orioles 1969-1971  318-164      .660
            Yankees 1953-1955  298-161      .649
            Dodgers 1951-1953  298-166      .642
    
    
    Hooray for Earl Weaver! The 1969-1970 Orioles are rarely mentioned in barroom debates about the best teams in history, but they were dominant in every phase of the game: hitting, pitching, defense, and underwear spokesmodeling.

    Yankee Hegemony, however, begins to rear its ugly head once we expand the horizon further.

    
    Frame   Team    Seasons    W-L            W%
    4 Yrs.  Yankees 1953-1956  395-218      .644
            Dodgers 1952-1955  391-223      .637
            Yankees 1960-1963  406-233      .635
                                    
    5 Yrs.  Yankees 1950-1954  493-274      .643
            Dodgers 1951-1955  488-283      .633
            Yankees 1960-1964  505-296      .630
    
    
    The Dodgers and Yankees were the Lakers-Celtics of the late forties and early fifties, dominating their respective leagues, and meeting in the World Series six times in ten seasons. And George F. Will thinks we have a competitive imbalance problem today? Expand the time frame by another year, though, and guess who makes an appearance:
    
    Frame   Team    Seasons    W-L            W%
    6 Yrs.  Yankees 1949-1954  590-331      .641
            Dodgers 1951-1956  581-344      .628
            Braves  1993-1998  565-341      .624
                                    
    7 Yrs.  Yankees 1950-1956  686-389      .638
            Braves  1993-1999  668-400      .625
            Dodgers 1948-1955  674-405      .625
    
    
    While teams like the Big Red Machine and the 1960s Drinking Buddy Yankees are likely to be more fondly remembered by history, the Braves' run of success is no less impressive. The lists run in this same pattern, Yankees-Braves-Dodgers, almost all the way until the bitter end, so we'll skip ahead and look at the best 12- and 13- year stretches.
    
    Frame   Team    Seasons    W-L            W%
    12 Yrs. Yankees 1947-1958  1164-681     .631
            Braves  1992-2003  1150-726     .613
            Dodgers 1946-1957  1125-726     .608
                                    
    13 Yrs. Yankees 1949-1961  1258-749     .627
            Braves  1991-2003  1244-794     .610
            Orioles 1969-1981  1212-817     .597
    
    
    Thirteen years is an eternity in baseball, and requires a roster to be turned over two or three times or four times; the Braves have maintained success at each juncture. No team in the Free Agency era has put up a run anything like what the Braves' have, and no team is likely to any time soon.

  • Trivia Question: Three Braves are common to the 1991 and 2003 rosters. John Smoltz is one of them. Without using baseball-reference.com, name the other two.

Minnesota Twins

  • Turning Point: There's a tendency in sports journalism to play up the idea of the "turning point." Whether it's a home run by Kirk Gibson in Game One of the World Series, or an acrobatic play made by Derek Jeter in Game Three of the ALDS, sports writers far and wide just love those pivotal moments when the "momentum" switches, and the future suddenly seems predetermined--like the plot of so many Greek tragedies, or films directed by Sam Mendes. Of course, most of these "turning points" are really nothing of the sort; they're just moments in time that our brain has highlighted, post hoc, as a way of bringing order to an otherwise random string of events.

    With that being said, last night's win against the White Sox has all the makings of a Beat Writer Approved™ "turning point" for the Minnesota Twins.

    Despite facing Esteban Loaiza, the best pitcher in all of baseball according to both SNWAR and VORP, the Twins managed to grab four runs in the first three innings, beating the right-hander for the second time in six days. Unlike their victory a week ago, however, the Twins got to Loaiza this time by exhibiting their patience. The one-through-four hitters in the Minnesota lineup reached base a total of seven times on Tuesday--six of which coming courtesy of the base on balls. Here was Loaiza's box score line when all was said and done:

    
    Pitcher                  IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR   NP   B-S 
    Loaiza, Esteban         2.1   4   4   4   5   1   0   74 (36-38)
    
    
    Yes, you're reading that correctly--74 pitches to get seven outs. The normally stingy Loaiza (eighth in the AL with 2.0 BB/9) was all over the place on Tuesday, losing control of two wild pitches and throwing just 51% of his pitches for strikes (compared against an average of 66.4% for the season).

    However, none of this is to overlook the outstanding pitching performance turned in by Brad Radke on Tuesday. Radke allowed just one Chicago run in seven innings of work, his third consecutive start in which he's allowed two runs or fewer. In fact, despite fighting a case of the Bondermans in the first half of the season, Radke has actually turned it around as of late, posting an ERA of 3.50 in a dozen post-All-Star starts.

    (And none of this, of course, has anything to do with the unbalanced schedule...

    
    AL Cen.  W L  CG    IP   H   R  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP   BAA
    ------------------------------------------------------------
    vs. CWS  3 2   1  36.2  41  16   6   0  18  3.68  1.12  .279
    vs. CLE  1 1   0  20.1  22  10   2   1  11  4.43  1.13  .282
    vs. DET  1 0   0  14.0  11   5   1   2   6  3.21  0.93  .234
    vs. KC   0 1   1  15.0   9   4   2   1   8  2.40  0.67  .170
    ------------------------------------------------------------
    AL Cen.  5 4   2  86.0  83  35  11   4  43  3.66  1.01  .243
    
    
    Four walks in 86 innings against AL Central competition this year--are you kidding me?)

    Is this "turning point" for real, though? It might very well be. As we've discussed on a number of different occasions in 2003, the Twins have one of the softest schedules heading down the stretch of any team still in the playoff hunt, thus making their now one-and-a-half game lead over the White Sox seem all that much larger.

    Nevertheless, two games still remain in the series, and as history has taught us, anything can happen down the stretch. Thus, we'll reserve our predictions for now, and try to avoid the same traps that have claimed so many of our baseball writing brethren over the years.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • Welcome to the Bigs: Last week, the Devil Rays announced the signing of Delmon Young, the number one pick in the 2003 draft. He received the second largest contract for a high school player in history, falling behind only 1999 number one pick Josh Beckett in compensation. His five-year major league contract includes a $3.7 million signing bonus and guaranteed $2.1 million in salaries over the life of the contract. He could earn an additional $400,000 by spending more time on the major league roster, which brings the contract's total potential value to $6.2 million.

    Since Young signed a 2004 contract, the Devil Rays will not use an option on him this season. He will also qualify for the fourth-year option-which a team is granted if it uses all three options within four years of signing a player-meaning he won't have to make Tampa Bay's roster until the spring of 2008.

    Young is just the fifth high school player to ever receive a major league contract upon signing.

    
    Player           Year  Team  Drafted       Bonus      Contract 
    Todd Van Poppel  1990  OAK   14th overall  $0.5 mil   $0.7 mil
    Alex Rodriguez   1993  SEA   1st overall   $1.0 mil   $0.3 mil
    Josh Beckett     1999  FLA   1st overall   $3.6 mil   $3.4 mil
    David Espinosa   2000  CIN   23rd overall  None       $2.95 mil
    Delmon Young     2003  TBY   1st overall   $3.7 mil   $2.1 mil
    
    
    Thanks to Jim Callis of Baseball America for the research. While Alex Rodriguez stands out as a bargain of epic proportions, the risks are still clear. Van Poppel was rushed through the minors, logging just 37 innings in Class-A ball before facing advanced Double-A hitters at age 19. Espinosa was shipped to Detroit after two disappointing seasons for the Reds Class-A farm teams. Three years after being awarded his major league contract, he has not spent a day in Double-A, and has cleared waivers after being removed from the 40-man roster.

    Young has a stated goal of being in Tampa Bay in two years. While it is admirable to aim high, realistic expectations should also be encouraged. There is exactly one high school player--Rocco Baldelli--from the 2000 draft currently in the major leagues. The Devil Rays are the most aggressive team in baseball in terms of promoting teenage prospects, but even by their standards, it doesn't appear likely that Young will be wearing a Devil Rays uniform by 2006.

  • Outstanding Game: 22-year-old Doug Waechter just wrote the sequel to The Rookie. Born and raised in St. Petersberg and a local high school star, Waechter and his family attended the first game in Devil Rays history. Tampa selected him in the third round of the 1999 draft, and he was called up on August 25th. On September 3rd, the Devil Rays asked him to make his first major league start, at home, against the Seattle Mariners, whom we hear their manager has some history with. September 3rd also happens to be his mother's birthday. With over 200 family and friends in attendance, Waechter tossed one of the most impressive starts of his life. Using only 100 pitches, Waechter tossed a complete game, two-hit shutout, walking two and striking out seven. In a season where a rookie pitcher has a case for the NL Cy Young, another rookie made the all-star team, and pennant contenders on both coasts are leaning on their young prospects, Waechter's first start as a professional outshines them all:
    
    Pitcher          Opponent   IP  H   ER  BB  K   GS
    Doug Waechter    SEA        9   2   0   2   7   88
    Brandon Webb     NYM        7   3   0   1   10  80
    Rich Harden      KC         7   4   1   2   4   67
    Dontrelle Willis COL        6   7   3   2   7   51
    Dan Haren        SF         6   7   2   1   3   48
    Jerome Williams  PHI        4   5   5   5   3   30
    
    
    Waechter's game score of 88 is good enough to make it the eighth best start in the American League by any pitcher all season. It would seem that Mom had a rather happy birthday.

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