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April 16, 2004

Prospectus Today

Status Qua

by Joe Sheehan

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Constance Qua was my eighth-grade English teacher, and one of the things she drilled into my writing was TEC: thesis, evidence, conclusion. She even signed those letters in my yearbook. (Yeah, I got my teachers to sign. Can we be adults about this?)

Miss Qua, I'm afraid, would not be proud of today's column.

  • Garret Anderson wasn't the only BP bete noire to pick up some financial security. The Expos reached a contract agreement with Livan Hernandez that restructures his 2004 contract downward and pays him a total of $21 million through 2007.

    While I don't think the Anderson contract was a good one, I can at least see the rationale behind it, the organizational thought process. The Expos' commitment to Hernandez, an innings sponge coming off of his best season, makes much less sense to me. To justify it, you have to think that 2003 represented an Andersonesque leap in performance, and be comfortable with the idea that Hernandez's huge workload in his 20s isn't going to affect either his pitching or his availability over the next few years. I don't know that I can agree with either premise.

    Despite being the Pitcher Abuse Points poster boy throughout this career, Hernandez has remained healthy enough to make virtually all his starts since reaching the majors for good in 1997. He's established himself as a workhorse who, 2003 aside, provides league-average performance over 210 or more innings. That has value, but when you look at what pitchers of Hernandez's ilk got over the winter, it's hard to understand $7 million a season. Jeff Suppan, a pretty good comp for Hernandez, signed for two years and $6 million over the winter. Jason Johnson is a bit inferior to Hernandez, and got $7 million over two years. Steve Trachsel got his 2005 option picked up at $5 million and an option year--not guaranteed--tacked on at $7 million. In light of these signings, Hernandez was retained at a significant premium above his market value--assuming other teams don't think Livan's 2003 represented a new performance plateau.

    Moreover, this is the Expos, the team that let Vladimir Guerrero leave and traded Javier Vazquez and is likely to lose at least one, and perhaps both, of its excellent middle infielders after this season. Why spend this much extra money on an innings guy? I supported the Carl Everett signing at the time, but now I'm looking at the Expos' payroll for 2004 and 2005 and I'm seeing $14.5 million for Hernandez, Everett, Tony Batista and Orlando Cabrera in '04, and $11 million for Hernandez and Everett in '05, and wondering again why they couldn't have offered Guerrero, who signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Angels after not being offered arbitration. Would this be a better team with Guerrero instead of those players?

    PECOTA says "no," projecting the quartet to be worth 7.5 wins in 2004, Guerrero just 4.0. Giving the Expos a full year of Jamey Carroll at third base, some replacement-level shortstop and Seung Song in the rotation doesn't even things out, so it appears that Omar Minaya has marshaled his resources in a way that gives his team the best chance to succeed, at least in '04.

    While the Guerrero argument is a dead end, this nevertheless seems like a buy-high contract that, at best, is going to be a wash for the Expos. At worst, it seems like it could hamstring their efforts to stay competitive under the game's most apathetic ownership group.

    The team's best chance of making some good out of it would be to take some of the couple million dollars saved this season from the restructuring and go shopping for talent upgrades. Even that plan is a longshot to work, though, given the injuries already suffered by Everett and Nick Johnson, mixed with the team's question marks to begin with, make the Expos a long shot for a playoff run.

  • I held my tongue in 1998 and 2001, but I don't think I want to do so any longer. I've had it with people getting tons of media attention for catching--or recovering--a particular baseball with historic significance. Hey, guys...you didn't actually DO anything. You're a pimple on the ass of history, a leech glomming value from the accomplishments of others.

    I understand the free-market argument here, and I know that this is going to sound a bit hypocritical coming from someone who has advocated that people, notably athletes, are worth what they can get. Why shouldn't the little guy get his share of the pie if fate shines on him? I don't have a good retort for that, other than I think rewards should accrue to the people who actually achieve things, rather than random people around them.

    Where I really start to get offended is when the media begins to make the ball retriever a story. That person isn't newsworthy in any way, shape or form. Their "accomplishment" is standing at the intersection of luck and available time, and having someone with actual talent do something in their general vicinity. That's not worth anyone's time.

    Let the leeches be leeches, and stop covering them as if they'd actually done something.

  • Yes, I think Barry Bonds will end his career with at least 756 home runs, clambering over that milestone maybe a bit later than it looks like he will right now. I'll take June 20, 2006 in the pool.

    This is going to be a highly personal matter for Bonds, who speaks of both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron with a reverence you don't see from modern baseball players. Bonds' appreciation for the accomplishments of the game's great players is one of his most endearing traits, and it flies in the face of the current trend of players not even knowing the game's history. It's the kind of the thing that should make a player stand out from his peers, and cause the media to praise him.

    Well, if they weren't so busy making him out to be an steroid-fueled jackass, anyway.

    Bonds might well quit before he surpasses Aaron, especially if he should end up on a championship team before then. I honestly think that achievement means much more to him than the home-run title, and the lack of a ring is the biggest reason that he hasn't yet retired. The only thing standing between him and the all-time home-run crown is his desire for it, and speculating on that is a fool's errand.

  • So Petco Park has ridiculously deep power alleys and air that you can't drive a Trident missile through. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a pitcher's park; in fact, games in the park are averaging 10.6 runs so far, well above the major league average.

    The power alleys that make home runs hard to come by also create vast amounts of green space in the outfield. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Petco Park ended up as a hitter's park in spite of being a terrible place for home runs. There's just too much outfield ground to cover, which, in addition to the lack of foul territory, is going to drive batting averages and OBPs very high. Some would-be home runs will become outs, while others will become doubles and triples.

    Fun with numbers:

    
    RPG, first six games
    
    Coors Field                  14.3
    Great American Ballpark      13.0
    Enron Field                  11.0
    Petco Park                   10.6
    Miller Park                   9.2
    
    

  • Yesterday, as part of Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, ESPN Classic broadcast Game Seven of the 1952 World Series. It was a lot of fun to watch, even though the quality of the video was pretty lousy.

    I mention the game because of something that happened during it. With the Yankees up 2-1 in the top of the fifth, pitcher Allie Reynolds came to the plate with one out and a runner on first. He swung and missed the first pitch, fouled off a sacrifice on the third, and grounded to second base, advancing the runner, on the fourth.

    If Casey Stengel can let his pitcher swing away in that situation, why can't current MLB maangers be so enlightened? Reynolds wasn't an especially good hitter (.153/.200/.176 in '52, .163/.223/.198 for his career) and as a right-handed batter, could have been expected to be a double-play threat. Nevertheless, Stengel refused to just give up an out, instead assuming the risk of a double play to get the possible benefit of a Reynolds hit.

    One argument against the DH is that allowing pitchers to bat adds strategy to the game, as the pitcher is more likely to do something other than swing away. I've often said--and this argument emanates from Bill James--that this mistakes tactics and movement with strategy. In today's NL, there is no strategy in this situation; 95% of the pitchers batting in any double-play situation will be asked to bunt the runner over, even in the situation described above. The strategy argument would have a lot more validity if managers today took a lesson from Stengel and assumed more risk.

    This is just one example of how managing a baseball team has devolved into finding the least controversial option, rather than the best way to win a baseball game. Closers, La Russian relief tactics, reflexive use of one-run strategies, lineup construction...there's painfully little originality in today's game, and it's because the people who make decisions are much more concerned with--channeling Aaron Sorkin here--keeping their job rather than doing their job.

    I don't know who the Casey Stengels of the 21st century will be, but I sure hope they get here soon.

Back Monday, folks...enjoy the weekend!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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