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October 23, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Comings: The biggest news in Baltimore since the end of the season was the firing of Mike Hargrove and the search for a replacement. Technically, the Orioles did not need to fire Grover--his contract was going to expire at the end of October, anyway--but they did not want to repeat the experience of 2002, when their GM search lasted into the winter meetings. All of the candidates interviewed so far have strong Oriole ties, and none of them have ever managed in the majors:

    • Eddie Murray: The leading candidate, but no more certain at this point than Howard Dean's putative lead for the Democratic nomination. There is no question whatsoever that Murray knows the game, that he commands the respect of players, and that he would be welcomed by Oriole fans. There is the question, going back to his playing days, of whether or not he can handle the media. He's never been talkative (to say the least), and it's hard to believe the reporters would give him a very long leash if the Orioles continued to lose.

    • Rick Dempsey: Murray might be welcomed by Oriole fans, but it would not compare to the reception that Dempsey would get--Eddie is respected, but Dempsey is loved. Currently the team's first-base coach, the former catcher figures to be the best handler of a pitching staff among the candidates.

    • Sam Perlozzo: The only candidate who didn't learn the Oriole Way coming up through the minors, Sam's been an Oriole coach for eight years. He spent five years managing in the Met system during the '80s, won the league championship three times, and never had a losing season. He acted as manager last year when Hargrove left the team to deal with a family illness; his biggest drawback might be the perception that he's Hargrove's man.

    • Rich Dauer: The former Oriole second baseman is now a coach for the Brewers. He's probably the longest shot of the four, but if the GMs decide they want a red-ass type then he'd get the job.

  • Goings: November means one thing in baseball: setting up the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft in December. Eight players have already been cleared from the 40-man roster, none of whom can be considered high-profile. Sean Douglass, a pitcher with some promise, was claimed off waivers by the Twins. Infielder Carlos Mendez and outfielder Pedro Swann both cleared waivers and signed minor-league deals with Ottawa. Catcher Robert Machado, who hit like he never had before at Ottawa, cleared waivers and decided to test free agency. Four others--infielders Jose Leon and Felix Escalona, and pitchers Mark Paradis and Willis Roberts--have cleared waivers and haven't decided what to do yet. Roberts is the only one of the eight who's ever made a significant contribution to the club, but since he's recuperating from elbow surgery, he's unlikely to be claimed.

    The cutting won't stop there. Albert Belle and Scott Erickson can finally be removed, though since they were on the 60-day DL it won't affect the number of open slots. Deivi Cruz was only a place-holder at shortstop; he'll be non-tendered. Tony Batista should be gone; the only thing that might save him is that there is no other third baseman in the system anywhere near ready, unless they're convinced Melvin Mora can pull it off. B.J. Surhoff is a probable cut, and Damian Moss seems like a good candidate to be non-tendered as well.

Colorado Rockies

  • Colorado Springs Eternal: Last time, we acknowledged that Colorado is stuck in a bit of rut, not being quite bad enough to tear down and rebuild, but not being quite good enough to make a few small changes to get back into contention. Perhaps, however, Colorado really is closer to contention than we gave them credit for last time. Rather than simply looking at their wins and play acquisitions, let's take a look at some more detailed information that may show us just how close the Rockies really were to being in contention.

    Taking Bill James' "Pythagorean Theorem"--predicting wins and losses based on the squares of runs scored and runs allowed--we can see that the Rockies didn't do as well as expected. They scored 853 runs and allowed 892, a combination that yields an expected record of about 78-84, fully four wins better than they actually performed. Getting to 78 wins isn't going to make the playoffs, but at least it shows that perhaps the Rockies were more unlucky than bad this season.

    However, looking a little deeper into Clay Davenport's Adjusted Standings, we can see that the Rockies weren't lucky or unlucky--they were untalented. Based on Third-Order Record, an extension of James' formula using Equivalent Runs scored and allowed rather than actual runs scored and allowed, the Rockies actually come out as a 74-88 team. Colorado 's record was an extremely accurate reflection of their performance this season. There's no silver lining here.

    Next, let's take a look at that lineup. Were the Rockies simply bit by players that didn't quite reach their expected potential this season and are likely to rebound next year? Let's take a look at their PECOTA 50th percentile projection compared to their actual numbers. Obviously, we've removed guys like Jose Hernandez who thankfully exited stage left. Here are the numbers:

    
    Player            PECOTA EqA     Actual EqA
    Charles Johnson      .266           .252
    Todd Helton          .327           .345
    Ron Belliard         .231           .255
    Juan Uribe           .226           .237
    Chris Stynes         .247           .249
    Jay Payton           .251           .278
    Preston Wilson       .283           .279
    Larry Walker         .305           .300
    
    

    Looking at that, the majority of the Colorado lineup seemed to exceed their most likely expectations. Of course, this means that the front office got a little lucky, putting together a weaker lineup that happened to perform a little better than expected. Looking at the team EqA totals, the Rockies collective offense put up a nice, average .260 EqA. While the A's and Dodgers proved that it's possible to compete even with a distinctly terrible offense, you have to have some sick pitching to make it work. (That, however, is not something that the Rockies have, as they finished 23rd in Michael Wolverton's Support Neutral Win-Loss rankings.)

    With Larry Walker heading under the knife again, Todd Helton continuing to fight his back problems, and the rest of the lineup getting a little older, the Rockies can hardly expect their hitters to outperform their projections again. The Rockies hope for contention will have to rest with the young pitching staff maturing before the offensive keystones move too far beyond their prime. It's either that or hope that GM Dan O'Dowd has some more tricks up his sleeve to pump some life into the timber this off season.

New York Mets

  • The King Is Dead, Long Live The King: A source close to Expos GM Omar Minaya told the media this week that the Mets have finished their search for a general manager, and offered Minaya a job in their front office. Unfortunately for Minaya, that job is not the general manager's. This source (and the Mets, while they have said nothing, have denied nothing) says that the Mets will promote Jim Duquette, who for many years prior to Steve Phillips' firing was Phillips' top assistant.

    The choice of Duquette is not particularly surprising: there has been more of a media frenzy over the candidates that the Reds and Mariners have been considering than over the Mets' job. Houston's Gerry Hunsicker interviewed, but the Astros signed him to an extension. Duquette is well-liked, and both baseball insiders and fans hold him in high regard.

    But we wonder if there are some Mets fans out there who are saying, "If Phillips was so terrible, how come we're hiring a guy who worked with him for so many years?" The question makes sense. Most likely, the dynamic in the Mets front office was not adversarial (Phillips makes a series of stupid moves, while Jim Duquette wrings his hands and curses Phillips' name); we assume that Duquette helped Phillips make a lot of the moves that got Phillips fired. So why keep him?

    If Duquette did help Phillips make a lot of terrible moves, though, he also learned from his mistakes: when he took over as acting GM, he understood exactly what had to happened, and set out immediately breaking up the Mets. It's a little early to tell what the Mets will do this winter, but judging from the things he has said, Duquette understands how the Mets fell to the cellar. Time will tell whether Duquette was the man for the job. But in the meantime, New York fans can breathe a little easier: the Mets won't throw $40 million at this year's Tom Glavine. Now, Mike Cameron, on the other handů

  • A Long Shot?: The Mets promoted their GM from within, but they appear to be looking hard at the West Coast for their pitching coach. A's guru Rick Peterson lives near New York and would love, the papers say, to join his family there year-round. He seems to be on good terms with manager Art Howe, who skippered the A's until this year. In fact, the New York Post thinks this is a done deal and the two teams are just hammering out compensation; Peterson is under contract with Oakland for two more years.

    Some think that for the Mets to sign Peterson they'd have to be willing to take Terrence Long and his bloated contract off of Oakland's hands. While the Mets don't want to bring in new bad contracts to replace the ones they've been trying to deal, this sounds like something that they might do. Long won't be under contract forever, and the Mets very much covet Peterson.

    How much difference Peterson will make is up for debate. He's had great success in Oakland, but so has everyone else who works there. From what we can tell, though, Peterson seems like a pretty sharp guy.

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