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April 21, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • When You're Smiling: The Dodgers went to San Francisco over the weekend and swept the Giants in a three-game series. This leaves L.A. at the top of the NL West with a 9-3 record (conveniently, three wins ahead of the Giants), although our adjusted standings suggest they are playing closer to .500 ball.

    The unusual thing about the weekend series was how the Dodgers won it--with their bats. They outscored the Giants 18 to 12 over the three games. For our SportsCenter viewers out there, that's an average score of 6-4 per game. Six runs a game! Clearly these aren't your Fox-owned, no-account, 2003 Dodgers who scored more like 3.5 runs/game. The Giants pitchers aren't that bad; through 13 games they had a team ERA of 4.51. Thus we are forced to conclude that the Dodgers are indeed having some success hitting the ball...

  • I Concentrate On You: ...so let's look at the starters, sorted by OPS. (Not that OPS is everything, but for this exercise it will suffice.)
     
                        BA    OBP    SLG     OPS
    Paul LoDuca       .500   .531   .591   1.122
    Adrian Beltre     .354   .360   .667   1.027
    Shawn Green       .310   .408   .524    .932
    Milton Bradley    .250   .345   .458    .804
    Juan Encarnacion  .234   .280   .426    .706
    Dave Roberts      .237   .404   .237    .641
    Alex Cora         .182   .250   .333    .583
    Cesar Izturis     .271   .286   .292    .577  
    Not a lot of walks being drawn here. Perhaps this should be of no surprise; look all you want, you won't find their all-star hitting coach on any 1980s NL leader board for walks, and the Dodgers had the fewest in the NL for the last two years.

    However, perhaps the most interesting thing here is not the Dodgers' free-swinging nature, nor Paul LoDuca's presence at the top of the batting average leader board--for, as to this latter, all things must pass--but, rather, that gaudy OPS next to Adrian Beltre's name. This is 100 points of batting average and 200 points of slugging more than his career line of .263/.320/.430 and compares happily with his PECOTA 90th percentile forecast:

    
           EqBA  EqOBP  EqSLG  VORP
    90%    .292  .343   .528   46.5
    50%    .267  .318   .456   19.9
    
    
    Furthermore, in both 2002 and 2003, Beltre was a mediocre hitter before the ASB and a good one after. Perhaps this is the year he finally pulls it together (viz., BP2004: "For all intents and purposes, Adrian Beltre should be a star by now.") Hopes should be tempered--we are talking about fewer than 50 plate appearances, and he posted an 817 OPS in April 2002 only to choke in May and June. But if he can be consistently productive, it would make a substantial difference for the club.

  • Blue Moon: As long as we're curbing enthusiasm, let's talk about Jeff Weaver for a minute. Last time around, we looked at Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii and their forecasts for this year. But Weaver is having the slowest start:
    
                    IP    H  R  BB K  HR
    Apr 7  SDG      7.0   8  1  1  6  0
    Apr 13 @ SDG    3.2   8  6  1  3  0
    Apr 18 @ SFO    5.0  10  5  1  2  2
    
    
    He is now the happy owner of a 6.89 ERA and opponents are batting .371 against him. Ten hits by the Giants! No, let's try that again: Six hits by Giants hitters not named Barry Bonds! No, once more: Two hits by J.T. Snow! Did that last one get your attention? Yes, it's early in the season, but there's still some cause for concern.

Minnesota Twins

  • On The Mound: The Twins have jumped out to an 8-4 record, one game ahead of their Pythagorean projection and better than you might expect given their 5.20 team ERA. Fortunately, their bats have been lively--although that could have been expected, given their only opponents through April 25 are the Tigers, Indians, and Royals. But other than Brad Radke, who in three starts has 19 IP, 24 H... but 14 K, 2 BB, and a 3.32 ERA, the starters you had penciled in coming out of spring training have been disappointing:

    Johan Santana: BP favorite and owner of a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2003--has certainly not lived up to expectations so far. Some of his performance metrics have been improving (innings pitched, average against, strikeouts). However, he has given up a few home runs--three in his start against Kansas City on the 16th--and his ERA has suffered as a result:

    
    Date    IP   H  R  ER HR BB K   (cumulative) ERA    BAA   
    Apr 6   4.0  4  2  2  0  1  1                4.50  .286 
    Apr 11  5.0  5  3  3  1  1  3                5.00  .273    
    Apr 16  6.1  6  6  6  3  1  6                6.46  .254  
    
    
    Kyle Lohse's ERA is still recovering from the battering he got in his first start of the season (against juggernaut Cleveland). However, he has been slowly improving:
    
    Date    IP   H  R  ER HR BB K     ERA    BAA   
    Apr 7   4.0  9  5  5  1  3  4    11.25  .450 
    Apr 12  6.0  7  5  5  1  2  2     9.00  .348   
    Apr 17  6.0  6  4  4  2  4  5     7.88  .319  
    
    
    Maybe the Twins do need Rick Helling. Looking at his forecast: he does project to a sub-5.00 ERA despite a high homer rate, and right now that would look pretty good in this rotation.

  • Regarding Henry: The reason the Twins are at the top of their division is the lively bats. As a team the Twins are batting .304/.382/.503 despite injury to some key starters. Sustainable? (See: 2003, Arizona Diamondbacks) Perhaps not. The biggest overachiever has to be Henry Blanco. He spent the last two years posting EqMLVRs of -.407 and -.273 while backing up Javy Lopez in Atlanta. Now, after injuries to heralded rookie backstop Joe Mauer and so-called backup catcher Matt LeCroy pushed him into the starting job, Blanco has a .475 OBP and .750 SLG. (Thanks to Jason Johnson, Danny Patterson, and Jeff D'Amico for making these surreal numbers possible.) This compares rather favorably to his career batting line of .219/.295/.353. Either Blanco was meant to play in the American League all along or this is a nice 10-game run of empty portent.

    While we're talking about overachievers, Jose Offerman might seem like a bizarre choice for Twins DH given that:

    1. he was out of baseball last year;
    2. he hasn't slugged .400 since 1999;
    3. ... and of course, the Twins have a cornucopia of young hitters (Calling Justin Morneau...)

    Offerman got his job through the unfortunate chain of events detailed above (LeCroy, of course, was the expected primary DH this year). He has had a hot bat so far--.308/.400/.615--but it's hard to believe he will be still be there in a few weeks.

    Finally, there's Doug Mientkiewicz:

    
                    BA  OBP  SLG
    April 2004    .386 .460 .523
    90% forecast  .312 .406 .492
    2003          .300 .393 .450
    50%           .281 .372 .429
    Career        .279 .371 .415
    
    
    As you can see he is far ahead of projections and his current rate does not look sustainable. However even a return to his 2003 numbers would still put him firmly in the middle of the pack for AL 1Bs.

San Francisco Giants

    Man and Superman: Barry Bonds so far this season:

    
    G    AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS   HR
    14  .514  .673  1.730  2.403  9   
    
    
    That would be 13 games, but he pinch-hit in the April 14 game against the Brewers--and was promptly intentionally walked.

  • Brutal Series: The Giants were swept at home by the Dodgers over the weekend, giving the Dodgers a three-game lead in the standings. Joe Sheehan summarized Bonds's heroics nicely on Monday. What else can we learn from this series?

    • Game 1 (3-2, Dodgers): Well, it's probably unlikely that San Francisco will lose another game quite this way: three times, Dave Roberts got on base and then scored on a Milton Bradley groundout. In other news, Jason Schmidt made his first start of the season and put up a very respectable line: two runs scored on three hits in seven innings.

    • Game 2 (5-4, Dodgers): Neither of the starters (Kirk Rueter and Jose Lima) made it very deep into the game.
      
               IP   H  R  ER BB K  HR
      Rueter   5.2  8  3  3  1  2  1
      Lima     5.0  6  2  2  3  2  0
      
      
      Too bad the Giants didn't pull Rueter after five as well; they were leading 2-0 at that point, but the Dodgers scored three runs off him in the sixth (two on a Milton Bradley homer) and the Giants didn't lead again.

    • Game 3 (6-7, Dodgers): Brett Tomko got shellacked in the fifth inning: back-to-back-to-back home runs, as well as a double, and a single. Tomko also issued an intentional walk to Shawn Green, who was promptly driven home by Adrian Beltre on the first of the three homers.

  • Infield Slacking: The Giants have a 6-8 record after 13 games and their translated record closely resembles their actual record. Should they be scoring more runs? Pedro Feliz is hitting well right now in the place of Edgardo Alfonzo; A.J. Pierzynski has typically hit for a high average and should be expected to rebound. But what about Neifi Perez and J.T. Snow?

    Perez is actually out-hitting, if slightly under-slugging, his PECOTA projection and unfortunately appears to be playing to his talent level. (Think the Giants don't miss Rich Aurilia? He is batting .318 and slugging .405 for the Mariners.) The Giants don't have a lot of options for short: Cody Ransom projects at .219/.294/.368 - which is still 50 points of slugging higher than Neifi. Meanwhile, Deivi Cruz is hitting .240/.296/.240 for Fresno and would be a step down defensively from Perez. (While we're talking about the middle infield: Ray Durham was suffering from a strained quad during the Dodgers series which brought up the frightening sight of both of Ransom and Perez in the lineup--and Neifi leading off. One can only imagine the joy Felipe Alou must have felt at being able to write the name "Durham" on Sunday's lineup card.)

    As for Snow, in two of his last three seasons he slugged under .400. Unfortunately, PECOTA doesn't see much room for improvement--not until the 90th percentile forecast does he crack .400 slugging. His top comp by a large margin is Charlie Hayes 2001 season with the Astros--.293 OBP /.240 SLG in 50 AB--and those look very similar to Snow's numbers thus far.

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