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March 26, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Hobson's... well, Wedge's Choice: There are four candidates competing for the two rotation spots still open in Cleveland's rotation.

    • Jeff D'Amico. I've long argued that there should only be one player with a particular name in the majors at a time, and future identically named players should be forced to use nicknames. This D'Amico is Jeff Charles D'Amico, the 6'7" 28-year-old right hander. While his last outing was good, his spring training so far has been rough -- 5.25 ERA in 12 innings, but he has struck out seven and walked only two. PECOTA struggled to find comps and the ones it turned up are an eclectic and largely depressing bunch: one of the dueling Bobby Joneses, Mark Clark, Jose Mesa... James Baldwin?

    • Chad Durbin is 26, 6'2" and had his arm destroyed in 2001 by Tony Muser. After arm surgery that cost him his 2002 and much of 2003, he came back last year to post interesting lines again in the International League for the team. Durbin has the best spring training stats of any of the contenders being mentioned -- a 2.45 ERA, 3 BB, 9 K.

    • Jake Westbrook is 26 as well, 6'3" and has been bouncing between Cleveland's starting rotation and bullpen for years now, with little success before last year, when he put up a 4.33 ERA in 133 innings of work... but with an awful strikeout rate, which should make fans cringe. 4.58 ERA, 17.2 IP

    • Jason Stanford is the only lefty in this bunch, 27 and 6'2". His pitching lines in AAA have looked good. In Buffalo he put up a 2.77 ERA in 2002, 3.43 in 2003, with normal-looking peripheral stats like strikeout and walk rate, though he's been far too eager to give up the dinger to International League hitters. So far in spring training he's been toasted a bit, sporting a 5.25 ERA, 12 IP, 5 bb, 3 K.

    Here's what our forecasting system thinks of these guys. "High VORP" here is the best performance you could reasonably expect out of the player -- the great season they might have in one in ten years. This allows us some insight into what each choice's upside is, while we look at their normal expected return.

    
    Pitcher         ERA   EqBB9   EqSO9    VORP   High VORP
    D'Amico        4.88     2.0     5.9    14.2     32.1
    Durbin         4.98     3.1     6.5     5.7     27.1
    Stanford       4.77     3.0     5.6     5.3     27.5
    Westbrook      4.83     3.5     4.2     3.1     30.5
    

    Jason Bere hasn't been officially eliminated, either.

    If spring training stops today, I pick D'Amico, Durbin, and cross my fingers. Durbin in particular's a huge gamble: if he's really come back healthy, he could easily break out of the projections, but he also hasn't pitched much since he was pitching way, way too much. The Indians, however, may take additional factors into consideration: if Westbrook, who enjoys some faint name recognition as a former prospect of note, gets off to a hot start and can be flipped for shiny parts GM Mark Shapiro can use in their rebuilding efforts, that's good. But the Indians may get more aggressive about winning in the short term, which makes a safer choice like Stanford worth a look. That's what happens when 74 wins on September 1st looks like enough to be in the divisional catbird seat. Wasn't it Bill James that wrote that if a team has four candidates for the #5 rotation slot, they really have no candidates for the #5 rotation slot?

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Knowing Where You Stand: March Madness is in full swing and now that you're done picking your brackets and been KO'ed by that shocking Liberty U loss, it's time to make your picks for the 2004 MLB Season. For those of you holding off until the last minute, keep reading, because we've got the collective wisdom of PECOTA to give us the rundown in the NL West:

    
    Team             W-L     RS/RA
    San Diego      84-78	740/716
    Arizona        82-80	781/774
    San Francisco  82-80    767/759
    Los Angeles    76-86    673/717
    Colorado       73-89    808/896
    

    As Scooby might say, Ruh-Roh!

  • Who's on Second? One position not giving the Dodgers much offensive production is second base. Depending on how quickly he recovers from the broken forearm he suffered earlier this spring, Alex Cora is the projected starter; even if his arm is healthy, the Dodgers should probably get used to having a black hole at the keystone. With all due respect to Cora, he's little more than a slick-fielding utility man, and isn't a long term solution for the Dodgers unless it's Brian Sabean making the decision. The Dodgers do still have Joe Thurston, who's fallen from the Baseball Prospectus 2003's 39th best prospect to a guy struggling to make the club as a utility man. Come to think of it, that's probably about the right outcome for a former #39 prospect on the BP list, as opposed to #1s, who usually suffer horrific rotator cuff or wrist injuries. Thurston's closest comparable is Todd Walker, who hit a very respectable .299/.333/.428 for the Red Sox least season. The question's pretty clear: will the Dodgers be better served by giving Thurston 500 PAs and finding out if he can actually play, or should Paul DePodesta invest in antacids right now and start popping them at the beginning of each of Cora's at-bats? Don't count on DePo accepting either option for very long.

  • Prospect Update: Bad news for Dodger fans--LHP Greg Miller is the first injury casualty from BP's Top 50 Prospects list. Young pitchers face both performance and injury risk, and Dodger fans can only hope the results of this 'exploratory' surgery are encouraging and allow Miller to get back on the mound quickly, and somewhere close to his regular self.

    Chris Kahrl noted in the March 23rd edition of Transaction Analysis that Dodger first-base prospect James Loney was reassigned to their minor league camp. That's not surprising for a 20 year old; what was surprising was the extent to which Loney made the decision difficult. Granted, spring training statistics are about as informative as lint, but Loney managed to swat 6 extra-base-hits in only 27 at-bats for a gaudy .741 spring slugging percentage. For more details on Loney, check out David Cameron's View From Florida.

Seattle Mariners

  • Summary Trades Will Continue Until Morale Improves: Ben Davis appears to be the next Mariner on the chopping block as the team continues its long quest to recapture the attitude and clubhouse chemistry they saw in the 2001 team that won 116 games, hoping success there will translate to success on the field. Players who aren't perceived as contributing, be it because they're fragile (Carlos Guillen), not executing the offensive philosophy (Mike Cameron and his strikeouts), or who stink it up and whine (Jeff Cirillo) are disappeared. Davis has clashed with team manager Bob Melvin. Melvin is a former catcher of no great ability who has been openly critical of Davis, particularly Davis' pitch-calling and defense. If Davis is sent elsewhere and the team doesn't receive a backstop in return, catching duties would fall to Pat Borders, who will be 41 this season. What kind of a tradeoff would that be? Thanks to the wonder of Davenport Translations, we can compare their 2003 seasons, when Davis played in Seattle and Borders just down I-5 in Tacoma:

    
             EqBA   EqOBP   EqSLG    EqA
    Davis    .286    .344    .450   .263
    Borders  .288    .337    .502   .271
    

    Looks like a good move. But Borders' EqAs since 2001 run .195, .222, .271, and he hasn't hit this well for a decent stretch for a long, long time. PECOTA projects Davis for a .249 EqA next year, Borders for a .239. Still, Borders did an outstanding job handing troubled pitcher Freddy Garcia last year, which may tempt the team even further as they've committed to seeing if Garcia can regain his ace form for another season at substantial cost.

  • That's Speedy: Ichiro! is only heading into his fourth season with the Mariners, but the coolest guy in an M's uniform will be making his way onto some of the franchise's all-time leaderboards this year:

    • At Bats, knocking off Dave Valle and possibly Julio Cruz
    • Runs Scored, probably reaching seventh on the list behind longtime 2B and current ESPN analyst (and well-dressed man) Harold Reynolds
    • Total Bases

    He'll also move up a couple places on the hits list, where he's 10th today, and will pass Ken Griffey, Jr. to reach No. 2 on the triples list (unless the Kid comes back to town and legs a couple out). Few players in the franchise's history have made such an impact in both performance and popularity in such a short time as Ichiro!. He's even above Bruce Bochte among Mariners whose last name has six letters and end with a vowel.

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