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September 26, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Montreal Expos

  • Handing out the Hardware: In this the final 2003 regular-season edition of Expos Triple Play, we felt it appropriate to recognize several outstanding Expo achievements in the field of...excellence. So grab a Fin du Monde--yes, you read that right, 9% alcohol by volume...Fin du Monde means "end of the world" in French, to give you an idea--and let's do this thing:

    • Back Story of the Year Winner - (tie) Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera. Vlad will end the year barely topping 110 games played, the bulk of his missed time coming courtesy of a nasty herniated disk in his back. Doctors were pessimistic about Guerrero's recovery for a while, fearing his narrow spinal canal would cause further and potentially chronic problems. Other factors looked worrisome as well--Vlad reported to Spring Training just under 240 pounds, and his violent swing would seem to portend further pain down the road. But Guerrero's full-speed-ahead approach to rehab--he'd often spend five to six hours a day working out until doctors would rein him in--allowed the Expos' franchise player to return and make an impact on the pennant race, launching multiple Ruthian homers down the stretch.

      Cabrera suffered through the same bulging disk problem that severely hindered his game last season. You couldn't tell by his on-field results though; Cabrera's on track to post career highs in multiple offensive categories. Perhaps more importantly for the Expos, he returned to his 2001 Gold Glove form, regaining the range that made Zach Day and other Expo groundballers immensely grateful. Credit a rigorous off-season of abdominal work and other conditioning. Cabrera still often feels pain off the field and will have to manage the injury for the foreseeable future. But on the field he was invaluable to the Expos' season.

    • The 'WTF?!' Award Winner - Livan Hernandez. Acquired for scraps just before Opening Day once word of half-brother Orlando Hernandez's shoulder injury became too obvious to ignore, Hernandez was available simply because the Giants wanted to dump him. Credit the Giants for winning the NL West without him. Credit GM Omar Minaya for finding an improbable ace for the Expos' 2003 staff. Already providing respectable innings for Montreal early on, Hernandez caught fire in June after a meeting with his minor league manager--and current Jays skipper--Carlos Tosca led to Livan dropping down to a 3/4 delivery. Hernandez at the same time improved his deceptiveness, making it tough for hitters to see the difference between say, his high-80s fastball and high-50s eephus pitch before it was too late. The team's 1a ace, Javier Vazquez, credited Hernandez with helping him master a new curveball to complement Vazquez's already solid fastball-change combo. Hernandez and Vazquez rank 8-9 in the majors in Value Over Replacement-level Player for pitchers with just the last weekend left to play.

    • The Joey Eischen v2002 Award Winner - Luis Ayala. Along with Hernandez, Ayala was Minaya's biggest coup of the year. Snagged through Rule V via the Independent Mexican League, Ayala emerged as the Expos' bullpen scrap heap steal of 2003, following Eischen in 2002 and Scott Stewart in 2001. Easily the Expos' best relief pitcher of the year with 12.9 Adjusted Runs Prevented, Ayala's short-arm delivery and nasty two-seam fastball had hitters off balance all season. With nominal closer Rocky Biddle running on fumes the last month of the season due to an increased workload and knee problems, Ayala helped paper over the team's decaying bullpen with continued solid work. He had help though, from...

    • The Fullerton Flash Award Winner - Chad Cordero. Though former Expos luminary and Cal State Fullerton grad Tim Wallach looked like he might retire the award after a long career in Montreal, Cordero has zoomed to the majors just a few weeks after college graduation to stake his claim. While tapping a college closer in the first round of this year's draft in lieu of say, a desperately needed young hitter rankled some prospect hounds, Minaya and friends saw an opportunity to add a pitcher who could make it all the way to the majors in time for the stretch run during a playoff race. That the Expos couldn't hold up in the Wild Card hunt isn't Cordero's fault. The 21-year-old righty has struck out 12 batters, walked three and yielded just four hits in 11 innings of big league work. Heady stuff--even if carved out of a small sample size--and a rare bit of exciting news for a 2004 Expos club that needs as many good tidings as it can get.

San Francisco Giants

  • Year in Review: The Giants find themselves in great shape heading into next week's division series. They'll start that series healthy, well-rested, and almost certainly facing their ideal opponent. We discussed in a PTP last month why the Marlins don't match up well with the Giants, and Joe Sheehan recently gave several other reasons to favor the Giants in that pairing.

    With the Giants now just marking time until the playoffs during this weekend's Dodger series, this is a good time to look back on the 2003 regular season with a few awards.

    • Team MVP: Barry Bonds. Yes, that's the kind of radical insightful analysis you can only get with BP. It's more interesting to try to name the second-most valuable position player on the club; the Bonds-led Giants are as close to a one-man team, or at least a one-man offense, as you'll find in a postseason qualifier in memory. For number two, we'll go with Jose Cruz Jr., who distinguished himself among a crowded field of unspectacular hitters with his spectacular arm. Cruz also has the distinction of being the most valuable number-eight hitter in the league, thanks to Felipe Alou's unusual lineup construction strategies.

    • Team Pitcher of the Year: Jason Schmidt. No surprise here, either. Schmidt will be on the BBWAA's short list of NL Cy Young candidates, along with Eric Gagne, Mark Prior, and Russ Ortiz. Whether he wins it will depend on the voters' current whims about starters vs. relievers and ERA vs. wins.

    • The "Where Did He Come From?" Award: Joe Nathan. Losing Robb Nen for the year could have spelled disaster for the Giants bullpen, but Nathan completed a comeback from a catastrophic shoulder injury of his own to emerge as the Giants' best reliever. Nathan had a rough time with inherited runners, especially early in the year, but he also got no help from his successors with the runners he turned over. Honorable mention goes to Kevin Correia, who was on nobody's radar screen at the beginning of the year, but who gave the injury-plagued Giants six fine starts during the stretch run.

    • Best Move: Signing Jeffrey Hammonds to a minor league deal at mid-season. It was a no-risk investment that's produced big returns, as the Brewer cast-off with local ties (he attended some Junior University in the South Bay) has provided top-notch offense and defense during the second half. Hammonds has the Giants' second-best EqA among hitters with more than two plate appearances. Granted, that says as much about the Giants lineup as it does about Hammonds. Honorable mention goes to grabbing Dustin Hermanson off the scrap heap a few days after Hammonds.

    • Worst Move: Trading Kurt Ainsworth, Ryan Hannaman, and Damian Moss for three months (if they're lucky) of Sidney Ponson. Yes, replacing Moss with Ponson in the rotation is an upgrade, but not nearly enough of an upgrade to justify the cost of two young pitchers the caliber of Ainsworth and Hannaman. Ponson hasn't been anything special before this season, he's not all that well-suited to Pac Bell Park, and he had no regular season value to the Giants anyway, as their lead in the division was practically insurmountable at the time of the trade. Honorable Mention goes to trading decent pitching prospect Greg Bruso for the superfluous Eric Young.

    • Minor League Player of the Year: Merkin Valdez. We've written about Valdez, who dominated Sally League hitters to the tune of a 2.25 ERA with 166 Ks and 49 BBs in 156 innings, several times before, so we won't repeat ourselves here. Honorable mention goes to David Aardsma, the Giants' first-round pick who had a successful pro debut in the California League, putting up a 1.96 ERA with 28 Ks in 18 1/3 innings as a closer.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • What's Ahead? We talked about position players last time; today, we'll cover the pitching staff. It isn't overstating things to say that pitching will make or break the Blue Jays in 2004; the offense is ranked third in the league by Equivalent Average and has plenty of firepower returning, so the Jays will go as far as their pitching takes them next season.

    Roy Halladay is the team's ace, he's ranked fourth in the league in SNWAR, and he's the favorite for the American League Cy Young Award. Halladay is entering his prime years, and despite his league-leading 257 innings, he hasn't racked up the Pitcher Abuse Points. J.P. Ricciardi will have to make Halladay happy financially, as he's coming off a one-year deal, and that'll be a pretty tall order. Expect a deal will be reached, giving the Jays a pretty good front of the rotation.

    
                 GS     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA   SNWAR
    As Starter   35  257.0  245  107   92   31  195  3.22     5.6
    

    Cory Lidle has been a big disappointment in Toronto, registering a -0.9 SNWAR in 2003 after solid campaigns with the A's in the previous two years. His failure to put up the huge second halves he did with Oakland in 2001 and 2002 was a serious blow to the Jays' surprising postseason hopes after the All-Star break. He'll be pitching elsewhere in 2004.

    
                 GS     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA   SNWAR
    As Starter   30  184.2  212  131  121   56  102  5.90    -0.9
    

    Kelvim Escobar had an intriguing season. We know; when does a guy with the filthy stuff that Escobar can deliver when he's on not have an intriguing season? After starting fires in the bullpen as Toronto's closer, Escobar has pitched quite well since moving to the rotation:

    
                 GS     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA   SNWAR
    As Starter   26  163.0  162   77   71   70  136  3.92     3.0
    

    Both Escobar's camp and the Blue Jays have been surprisingly positive about the prospect of re-signing with Toronto after the end of the season, so there's a good chance Escobar will be filling a rotation spot with the Jays in 2004.

    The Jays have sifted through a series of castoffs for their rotation in 2003, and one pitcher who looks like he'll be sticking around is former Oriole Josh Towers, who entered the rotation in August and has pitched well since then. Towers doesn't have the repertoire to be a world-beater, but he's young, he's got excellent control, and he'll be a cheap solution at the bottom of the rotation next year.

    
                 GS     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA   SNWAR
    As Starter    7   45.0   45   20   19    4   34  3.80     0.7
    

    Mark Hendrickson has started 30 games for the Blue Jays in 2003 and in the process he's shown everyone who has watched him that he's really, really tall. After a season when much else hasn't gone right for Hendrickson--the league is batting a Rafael Palmeiro-ish .317/.351/.505 against him--he'll be an easy re-sign should the Jays choose to do so. There are worse fifth starters in the majors.

    
                 GS     IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA   SNWAR
    As Starter   30  158.1  207  111   97   40   76  5.51    -0.6
    

    The Jays don't have a lot of help coming from the system; Jason Arnold tailed off badly after a hot start at Syracuse, and doesn't look like he'll be ready in 2004. If the Jays re-sign Escobar and bring Hendrickson back, a #2 starter from the free-agent market would give the team a solid, if shallow, rotation in 2004. Expect to see that happen, with a series of one-year flyers given to pitchers in hopes of capturing Esteban Loaiza-esque lightning in a bottle.

  • Star Performer: Give it to Carlos Delgado for his 4-for-4 with four home runs performance against the Devil Rays last night. Ricciardi noted after the game that "tonight might be the thing that just catapults him in front of everybody else" in the AL MVP race, and while it's still tough to make a case for him when you evaluate his performance versus his competitors, this kind of press late in the season certainly can't hurt.

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