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March 31, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Young (and Repaired) Guns: With Opening Day less than a week away, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli finally shook off the indecisiveness and filled out the rest of his rotation. The winners: young southpaws Matt Riley and Erik Bedard. The loser: 2002 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Rodrigo Lopez. Let's go to the numbers!
    
         2004 PECOTA Mean Projections
                EqH9   EqHR9    EqBB9    EqSO9   EqERA
    Riley       9.3     1.1      4.1      7.2     5.12
    Bedard      9.5     1.0      3.1      6.3     4.74
    Lopez       9.8     1.1      2.7      5.5     4.83
    
    

    All three look similar so far. But what about their upsides?

    
    2004 PECOTA 90th Percentile Projections         
              EqH9    EqHR9   EqBB9   EqSO9    EqERA
    Riley      8.1     0.6     3.3     7.8      3.25
    Bedard     8.3     0.6     2.8     6.9      3.28
    Lopez      9.0     0.8     2.4     5.7      3.58
    
    

    The advantages that Riley and Bedard have over Lopez are magnified by their higher PECOTA breakout and improvement rates. Bedard has recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery two years ago to put up spiffy numbers this spring. Riley is an even better story, overcoming Tommy John, questions regarding his maturity, and the death of close friend Steve Bechler to reestablish himself as a top prospect.

    Despite what Camden Yards hopefuls say, the revamped lineup alone won't push the Orioles toward contention in 2004, so one average, or even above-average year from Lopez isn't going to make or break the season. It makes much more sense to give the kids a shot and see what they can do. If they don't fare so well, no big deal. And if both of them go Dontrelle Willis on the league, and NY-Boston United gets hit with a barrage of injuries, and the 10 planets become aligned, maybe the O's will make things interesting. Until June, at least.

  • Bad Breaks: Poor Jack Cust. The guy gets traded for THE Chris Richard, and a damaged one no less, but at least he's finally in a DH league, right? Despite having an equivalent line of .284/.375/.581 in limited action with the Orioles, the only thing anyone remembers about Cust is the game against the Yankees where he fell twice before getting tagged out on an extraordinary journey to a vacant home plate--all as the tying run. This spring, Mazzilli gave Cust a chance to prove himself capable as an everyday DH, but the curse of small sample size and an untimely case of the sucks left him with a .149/.216/.298 line and the limited gig of left-handed bat off the bench.

    Still, despite making Ben Grieve look like an artist with the glove, Cust has some uses. For one, he's a better hitter than incumbent DH David Segui, who's at the tail end of a four-year, $28 million contract. Here's what PECOTA thinks of them (weighted mean projections):

    
            EqBA    EqOBP   EqSLG   EqMLVR
    Cust    .258    .374    .460     .063         
    Segui   .266    .351    .398    -.048
    
    

    With Segui's history of brittleness, and barring a monster year from B.J. Surhoff, Cust will probably get the playing time that he deserves. Having been criticized for being too selective at the plate, Cust needs to learn to swing at the pitches that he can hit for a double, instead of only waiting for the ones that he can drive 500 feet.

Colorado Rockies

  • It's Only Minor When It's Not Yours: Dan O'Dowd's stars and scrubs strategy only works if Larry Walker and Todd Helton stay healthy...and if Colorado suddenly falls into a deep, sea-level valley while not doing structural damage to Coors Field. Walker usually waits until the season starts to get injured, but there's no procrastination this season. All the puff stories about being in the 'best shape of his life' seem as accurate as those about Ken Griffey Jr. or Elijah Price. Walker's groin injury is best left to an Under The Knife column, but "minor" groin injuries are very subjective. You might think it minor, but you don't have heat, ice, and strangers poking around in your pants.

  • Omar Wants to Borrow the Humidor: It's OK if the gazillionaire teams like Boston and New York put up runs in bunches, challenging Planet Coors like so many luchadores and unfrozen cavemen. It's entirely another when some penny-pinching Francophones start tallying rallies. Colorado projects almost 80 runs scored under the projection for the Expos. Nate Silver was taken to a small Italian restaurant by a trio we know only as "Paulie," "Chrissy," and "Meadow." The trio came out with their heads swimming with differential equations, undocumented Excel functions, and mumbling about something that sounded like "attrition." We can't be sure, but PECOTA doesn't sit still for bullies.

    It is worth noting that both teams figure to give up more runs than they'll score, run inflation or not.

  • I'll Take Crappy Pitchers for $500, Alex: New Orleans sports anchor Eric Richey does a segment he calls "GBU"--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Cue the Morricone music, because that's the back end of the Rockies rotation. Chin-Hui Tsao may teach everyone to say...oh darn, can't type in the Hakka dialect on this thing...but suffice it to say that everyone should soon know that the name is pronounced "So." The Bad is Jeff Fassero: Useful as a mop-up reliever or mopping up the seeds from the floor of the dugout, he's about the last thing you want to see in your rotation. In Colorado, well, it's almost criminal. Did I say "about the last thing?" The last thing would be Shawn Estes sauntering to the Coors mound. Perhaps the new plan is to induce mass consumption of Coors products.

  • Perhaps We Can Distract Them with Shiny Objects!: Given another futile summer at altitude, the Rockies may look to the Milwaukee plan of jumping and pointing to the future, even if the future is years away and playing in Huntsville, Alabama. The Rockies system doesn't have too many shiny objects to distract fans, but players like Garrett Atkins, Jeff Baker, and Brad Hawpe could become valuable players. Unlike the Diamondbacks, the Rockies don't look ready to make a quick change from old and fading to young and interesting.

    I hear Janet Jackson might be available between innings.

New York Mets

  • Five Alive: According to MLB.com's Kevin Czerwinski, Aaron Heilman is probably off of the Mets' fifth starter merry-go-round. This is confusing, and not just because Heilman was the Mets' darling before last year's struggles. He's done nothing to hurt his chances this spring:
    
    SPRING STATISTICS
    Player          IP      H       BB      SO      ERA
    Aaron Heilman   19.3    18      5       22      3.26
    Grant Roberts   19.1    17      9       16      3.72
    Scott Erickson  12.0    13      5       6       3.75
    James Baldwin   12.0    8       1       7       0.75
    Tyler Yates     14.0    11      3       7       0.64
    
    

    All of the candidates pitched reasonably well, but Heilman did everything that could be asked of him: He kept men off the bases, showed good control, and great strikeout numbers (which he didn't do last spring). Teams often weigh spring stats heavily. If you don't, there's always PECOTA:

    
    2004 PECOTAs
    Player          IP      ERA     EqK/9     
    Aaron Heilman   109     4.75     6.0      
    Grant Roberts*  43.3    3.95     4.9    
    James Baldwin*  96      5.03     4.6    
    Scott Erickson  
    (no PECOTA)
    Tyler Yates     51      5.53     5.4
    *primarily in relief
    
    

    Heilman looks pretty good there, too. Why has this sometime top prospect slipped to fifth in this derby? Is it only because he has options left? If the Mets were willing to try him in the rotation last year, they should be willing to do the same this year.

    Yes, it's hard to bring James Baldwin into camp under the premise that he has a shot at a job, and not give it to him after he posts an 0.75 ERA and walks one guy in 12 innings. But this is James Baldwin, and the Mets have almost nothing to gain by putting him in the rotation. Yet if Heilman is already eliminated, then Baldwin has a shot.

    Scott Erickson didn't pitch poorly, but he wasn't consistent, and when you're wearing #89, you need to catch fire to get a job. Erickson is probably welcome in Norfolk, if he wants to go, but it's hard to see him giving the Mets anything more than a few starts, if that. Keep in mind that he hasn't been a useful major leaguer since 1999. The Giants are reportedly interested if the Mets let him go.

    Before they got Royce Ring, Tyler Yates was considered the closer of the future. There's nothing right now to suggest that he deserves that title, although he was more successful in the minors as a reliever in 2002 than a starter in 2003. Despite the impressive spring, Yates is likely to be sent down.

    Which leaves Grant Roberts, who appears to be in the lead. That's not so bad. Roberts is the only one of the other four who makes sense. He used to be a starter in the minors, but a mix of lack of progress and injury problems put him in the bullpen. He's been effective, posting a positive ARP in each of the last three seasons. He hasn't pitched more than 45 innings in any of them, and the question is whether he's finally able to hold up as a starter. If not, Heilman is waiting.

  • Two if by Land: Steve Trachsel, Jae Weong Seo and Al Leiter have showed fairly extreme fly-ball tendencies in the past, and the Mets' staff as a whole was second-to-last in the league in GB/FB ratio last year. That's one of the reasons they got Mike Cameron.

    But the Mets' front three starters were pretty good at getting ground ball outs when they needed them, too. Of the 422 pitchers who had at least 25 possible double plays last year, Tom Glavine, Trachsel and Leiter were #68, #84 and #125 in success rate. Out of those with 100 opportunities, only Cleveland and Atlanta had three starters as effective as the Mets' three. If Kazuo Matsui is as good a shortstop as we're told, the middle of the field is going to be a mighty forlorn place for opposing hitters, both on land and in the air.

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