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April 14, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • Careful What You Wish For: Two weeks ago, the argument was advanced in this space that David McCarty could bring value to the Red Sox roster as a two-way player even if he only pitched in blowout games, since the Red Sox tend to have so many of those.

    We were right...sort of. McCarty did make the roster, and his pitching debut came in the ninth inning of the Sox home opener last Friday, a 10-5 loss to the Blue Jays--a blowout, certainly. One problem: the game wasn't such a blowout when McCarty entered it.

    On the heels of a brutal 13-inning loss late Thursday night in Baltimore in which the Sox used six pitchers, the team's plane back to Boston was delayed by mechanical problems; they didn't arrive back to Fenway Park until 7:30 a.m. for the 3 p.m. opener. Sox starter Bronson Arroyo looked shaky but lasted six innings, and the Sox ended the seventh inning with a one-run lead. When Mike Timlin got roughed up in the eighth, Alan Embree ran into trouble in the ninth, and with the Sox down 8-5, one out, and a runner on first, McCarty got the call.

    Orlando Hudson promptly hit a comebacker, but McCarty didn't handle the potential double-play ball cleanly and had to go to first for the sure out. Then it got ugly: a walk to Chris Gomez, a comical wild pitch to the backstop, and a two-run double by Kevin Cash. Finally, McCarty got Reed Johnson on a groundout to short.

    Sox GM Theo Epstein, forced the next day to shore up his bullpen by purchasing the contract of Frank Castillo--at the expense of Brian Daubach--made it clear that McCarty is being used in emergency situations only.

  • 'D's Get Degrees: Steven Goldman saddled the Sox with a 'C' grade for their performance thus far in the 2004 season, good enough for second place in what, for all its preseason hype, has looked in the very early going like an underwhelming AL East. Goldman's comments centered on Boston's lackluster bullpen, specifically Bobby M. Jones, who has accounted for 25% of the team's walks allowed this season--an incredible eight free passes in only 3.1 innings pitched.

    Goldman might have knocked that 'C' down another couple notches if he'd heard Terry Francona's postgame comments after McCarty's trip to the mound Friday afternoon. Asked if the plan had been to stay with Timlin for both the eighth and ninth, Francona said, "If it was tied, yes. If we had a chance to win, save situation, we would have gone to Foulke."

    In the wake of last year's "bullpen by committee" debacle--entirely the result of bad personnel, not bad strategy, but totally misunderstood by both press and public--we've been hesitant to criticize Francona and everyone else in Boston for calling Keith Foulke the "closer." Call him whatever you want, as long as you use him correctly. For Sox fans hoping Francona, handpicked by the new Sox regime, would be on board with a progressive ace reliever strategy, the reference to a bogus statistical category is a bad preliminary sign. But the jury's still out. Foulke's been used in four games so far: once in the ninth with a three-run lead, once with four outs to go and a two-run lead, and twice in one-run or tie-game situations.

  • Around the Bellhorn: As noted by Chris Kahrl in a recent Transaction Analysis, a nice side effect of having a strong bench like Boston's is that an injury, such as the one to Nomar Garciaparra, might leave you with unexpected bonuses at other positions. Due to Pokey Reese filling in at short this month, the Sox have been treated to Mark Bellhorn full-time at second base. He hasn't been setting the world on fire, just quietly leading the major leagues in walks. Making outs in only 58% of his plate appearances, roughly the same as Manny Ramirez v.2003, Bellhorn's also one off the Sox team lead in runs scored.

  • Cincinnati Reds

    • Our Guys: As if a 5-2 start isn't enough to inspire irrational exuberance, Reds fans won't want to miss Joe Sheehan's piece last week where he listed a few names he really, really likes for 2004. Among them: both Jose Acevedo and third-base prospect Edwin Encarnacion, due in Cincinnati later this year, on whom Sheehan unloads the phrase "capable of having Scott Rolen's career." Yeah, he said it.

    • Star Performers: Cory Lidle, Paul Wilson, Jose Acevedo, Aaron Harang, Danny Graves, Todd Jones, Phil Norton, John Riedling, Brian Reith, Ryan Wagner.

      Perhaps the most surprising factor in the Reds' hot start has been their wonderful run of pitching. Pegged preseason to battle the Brewers for most runs allowed in the NL Central, the Reds have, instead, proceeded to open the season, through Monday, allowing the third-fewest runs in all of baseball. After Lidle and Adam Dunn combined to give the Cubs seven runs on Opening Day, the Reds haven't given up more than four--and that just once--in a game.

      
      Date            Starter      IP      Final Score      Game Duration
      Mon. 5          Lidle       5.0         4-7 (L)           2:50  
      Wed. 7          Wilson      7.0         3-1 (W)           2:10
      Thu. 8          Acevedo     6.0         5-3 (W)           2:43  
      Fri. 9          Harang      6.0         5-1 (W)           2:33  
      Sat. 10         Lidle       7.0         3-1 (W)           2:45  
      Sun. 11         Haynes      4.3         3-4 (L)           2:41  
      Mon. 12         Wilson      7.3         4-1 (W)           2:41 
      
      

      That's an average of more than six innings per start, 27 total runs scored against only 18 allowed, and a brisk average time of game of 2:37. If you're sitting a Reds fan, it doesn't get much more satisfying than that.

    • Disastrous Performer: Jimmy Haynes.

      OK, so maybe "disastrous" is too strong a word for 4 1/3 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, and 1 HR. But remember: Haynes is in the second year of a ridiculous two-year, $5 million deal. In Year One he provided 94.3 innings of 6.30 ERA ball. In Year Two, as we noted in BP 2004, the hope in giving Haynes a spot in the rotation is that the Reds can trade him and save some dough.

      There's no time better for looking good on paper than the beginning of a season, but Haynes' rough start removed most of the hope of that. Sure, he could get that 8.31 ERA down under four with five innings of shutout ball next time out. It's possible. It's far more likely, though, that the Reds will catch a whole lot of mediocrity or outright awfulness before Haynes' next good start pops up. PECOTA says his ERA will resolve itself somewhere in the middle sixes--unfortunately for Dan O'Brien, it's not likely to go low before it gets there. Brandon Claussen's stellar start to the season and continued poor performance by Haynes would test the Reds' ability to recognize and be willing to dump a sunk cost--never mind that the talented and major league-ready Claussen should have won the job over Haynes in the first place.

    San Diego Padres

    • Preseason Picks: The Padres were picked to win the N.L. West in Joe Sheehan's National League Preview, and six other BP writers agreed, making the Pads the consensus BP division favorite. Unfortunately, these predictions are based on Ryan Klesko getting 600-plus plate appearances--see the Padres' depth chart -- but thus far, despite starting every game, he's not on pace. Why, you ask?

    • Small Ball: With three official games in the books at Petco Park, San Diego's new oceanfront home is playing, as expected, as a pitcher's haven. Unwelcome weekend guest Barry Bonds failed in 13 plate appearances to add Petco to his list of ballpark home run victims, and only Marquis Grissom has managed to leave the new yard thus far.

      The Padres' big hitters were quick to complain, but Dave Magadan was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune saying something wiser than he knew: "It's something we don't have any control over, so why worry about it?"

      Too true, and there's a limit to the strength of ballpark effects, anyway. It's not as if Petco can turn a Klesko into, say, a Kerry Robinson. Only Bruce Bochy can do that--and that's exactly what he's doing.

      Through the first six games of the season, Klesko had started six games and finished exactly zero. An abridged game log follows, but here's the moral of the story: One reason--among many--that you don't want Kerry Robinson on your roster is that you feel compelled to use him.

      • Game one: Robinson pinch-runs for Klesko in the 5th inning with the Padres up 4-0 at Dodger Stadium. Robinson stays in left as a defensive replacement and ends up getting two at-bats. Padres win 8-2.

      • Game two: Terrence Long flies out for the pitcher, Linebrink, in the top of the seventh with the Pads up 4-2. Long stays in left field, bumping Klesko, and the backward double-switch moves the pitcher's spot UP three spots in the lineup. The Dodgers tie it, 4-4, in the bottom of the seventh on an Adrian Beltre homer that Long, calling himself a "defensive replacement" yet lacking, somehow, Go-Go-Gadget arms, can't keep in the yard. In the top of the eighth, Bochy pinch-runs Brian Lawrence for Nevin and the Padres fail to score. Ramon Vazquez, who ends up playing first base and hitting in the cleanup spot, strikes out looking against Eric Gagne in the top of the ninth. Dodgers score one to win in the bottom of the ninth, 5-4.

      • Game three: With the score tied 1-1, Nevin walks to lead off the top of the eighth and is promptly replaced by Robinson, who makes it to third but doesn't score. Robinson then kills another real bat by replacing Klesko in left, with Vazquez moving from short to first and Khalil Greene coming in at short. In the 10th, Jose Lima gets Robinson to ground out and strikes out Greene swinging. In the 11th, first-baseman Vazquez--we're going to keep saying that, "first-baseman Ramon Vazquez," until something changes--sacrifice bunts. Dodgers win the game, and the series, in the bottom of the 11th.

      • Game four: Padres up 1-0 in the home opener at Petco, Robinson comes in as a defensive replacement for Klesko in the top of the seventh. The game goes extras, and, good-news-meets-bad-news for Padres fans, Robinson comes around to score the celebratory winning run in the bottom of the 10th.

      • Game five: Robinson strikes out for Scott Linebrink in the bottom of the seventh, replaces Klesko in left--which again bumps up the pitcher's spot in the order--and doesn't bat again. Padres win 6-4.

      • Game six: Jay Payton pops to short for Jake Peavy in the seventh with the Padres up 3-0, and stays in center field, moving Terrence Long to left. The pitcher's spot again moves up in the order. After the Giants put up a five-spot in the eighth, and one more in the ninth, Vazquez ends up coming in to ground out for the pitcher's spot in the Pads' final turn. Padres lose 6-3.

      It's possible, though hard to believe, that there's a perfectly reasonable health explanation for Bochy's frantic maneuverings. Will Carroll gave Klesko a green light in his Padres Team Health Report, and hasn't mentioned him so far this season in Under The Knife. We'll grant that Bochy may want to take it easy with Klesko's surgically-repaired shoulder, especially in the early going. But doing so at the cost of repeatedly neutering his lineup is either a case of extreme overcaution, or of not realizing the punchlessness of players such as Robinson and Long. Either way, the Padres are going to drop a couple games because of this over the course of the year if the random early big-bat benchings continue, and a couple games could make all the difference in the watered-down, tightly-bunched NL West this season.

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