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May 14, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

  • Cal, Jr., Jr.?: Miguel Tejada may be taking his role as the next great Oriole shortstop a bit too seriously. Tejada, who owns the majors' longest-running consecutive games streak (624 and counting), suffered a strained tibialis anterior in Tuesday's 15-0 drubbing by the White Sox, which doctors said was likely caused by dehydration. (That's a muscle running parallel to the shin for all of the laymen out there.) After treatment and rest, Tejada declared himself ready to go for Wednesday: "I will be in the lineup."

    Tejada's Ripken-esque bravery was helped by a stroke of Gehrig-esque luck, as Wednesday's game was rained out. At least skipper Lee Mazzilli said that he would pull Tejada if he had to, which is a far cry from Yanks GM Ed Barrow's move to keep Gehrig going: When the Iron Horse was too sick to get out of bed, Barrow conspired for the game to be called on account of rain. The sky was cloudy, but no rain ever fell.

    To be fair, Tejada said he's perfectly willing to end the streak if he has to. Two-thousand, six-hundred and thirty-two is a lot to shoot for, but we're not going to say it's unattainable. That is, after all, what they said about Gehrig's streak. Another Hall of Famer's wisdom might be most appropriate here. When Johnny Bench broke Yogi Berra's catcher home run record, Berra wired him that he always thought the record would stand...until it was broken.

  • In And Out: There must be something in the outfield grass in Camden Yards. Look how dramatically the Orioles' infield is outperforming their outfield:
    
            Name                    Pos     VORP
            Melvin Mora             3B      19.0
            Miguel Tejada           SS      15.3
            Javy Lopez              C       13.7
            Brian Roberts           2B      13.1
            Rafael Palmeiro         1B      12.5
    
            Larry Bigbie            LF       2.8
            Jay Gibbons             RF       1.4
            Luis Matos              CF      -5.0
    
    

    Brian Roberts is doing those things that make baseball traditionalists rave, hitting .300, being short, and stealing bases like mad (at this rate, he's on pace for 81). But he makes sabermetricians happy, too. That .300 average is complemented by a solid walk rate of around .1 per plate appearance, and those stolen bases aren't costing his team outs (15 for 17 at last count). If this doubles power that Roberts is showing is no fluke, he'll be quite an asset. Even the 2003 version had value; this new Roberts would be among the best second basemen in the league.

    Which would mean that the position battle with his ninth-best PECOTA comparable, Jerry Hairston, is over. O's fans should hope that Hairston finds a nice home in a place that isn't the team's starting DH position.

  • Farm Report: We told you we'd keep an eye on John Maine, but it's hard because he's moving through the minors so quickly. After five starts and 28 innings worth of dominance at Double-A-Bowie (2.25 ERA, 34/7 K/BB), Maine has been promoted, and is just one step away from the majors. He's dominated at every level--his worst ERA was 3.07 in High-A--and if he can handle Triple-A with the same ease, we'll see him in Baltimore this year. We're waiting for the almost inevitable bump in the road, but it hasn't happened yet.

  • Ho-Hum: The surprise is not that David Segui is having his knee scoped, but rather that he even made it into May without a trip to the operating table. The O's can't wait to get out from under his deal. This guy reminds us of Samuel L. Jackson's character in Unbreakable.

Colorado Rockies

  • Four Humble Horsemen: From a 'reach into the idea bag' standpoint, the Rockies' switch to a four-man rotation is one of the biggest news items this season. BP's Rany Jazayerli, who has researched the merits of the four-man rotation in the past, recently wrote about the bold move. He didn't focus so much on the question of whether this is something to be tried--because if you ask Rany, it certainly is--but whether the Rockies are the team to try it (Jonah Keri did the same recently).

    The Rockies are very fortunate in one respect: Their plan is impervious to criticism. Their rotation stinks (and its ineptitude is compounded by the run-scoring heaven that is Coors Field), and contains nothing of extraordinary value. So if the pitchers are terrible, nobody will blame it on the four-man, because they were lousy beforehand; and nobody will worry about anyone getting hurt, because it's no big loss if they do. (Imagine if the Red Sox tried to do this with Pedro!)

    Rany compliments the Rockies on combining their four-man experiment with strictly limited pitch counts of 85-90 per start. He doesn't think that's necessary in any other ballpark, but experience and research have shown the Rockies that the body recovers less well at altitude, and so the Rockies are being extra cautious to compensate.

    But even though the Rockies will get an extra bullpen arm, won't that pitch count tax their relievers too much? Let's see if we can figure out how many extra innings the Colorado pen will have to take on by looking at pitches per inning for the four starters:

    
                            2004    Career
            Joe Kennedy     15.3    16.1
            Shawn Estes     16.3    16.7
            Jason Jennings  17.7    16.6
            Scott Elarton   17.9    16.7
    
    

    It's not surprising that Jason Jennings and Scott Elarton have slightly higher pitches per inning this year so far, given how they've struggled (nor is Joe Kennedy's increased efficiency a surprise). We might expect newcomers to Coors--i.e. everyone but Jennings--to have to work a little harder, too. But even if we assume an average of 17 pitches an inning, we're looking at 5.29 innings per start on a 90-pitch count, down from 6.76 innings on a count of, say, 115. So for every turn of the rotation, they're asking for 4.41 more innings out of their bullpen, and they only have one more pitcher to add to the pen. No reliever averages more than an inning a day. Follow this closely, because most of the coverage of this story will focus on the starters, but Clint Hurdle's bullpen management--he'll need to move away from one-batter specialists toward multiple-inning appearances from his pen--will be just as interesting.

  • Another Rocky Mountain Revival: Good move, Jeromy Burnitz. If we were a declining major leaguer hoping for one more nice contract, we'd beg our agent to send us to Colorado. Burnitz is just one more data point in the argument. Here are his home/road splits so far this season:
    
                    AVG   OBP   SLG   XBH
            Home   .316  .394  .719   12
            Road   .200  .310  .400   4
    
    

    It gets harder and harder every year, but there's probably some team out there that will forget about Coors Field, then be sorely disappointed in 2005 and beyond. It makes you wonder why Dan O'Dowd doesn't try more aggressively to do what Dave Littlefield tried in Pittsburgh--sign veterans to one-year deals, then swap their gaudy stat lines at the deadline. The Rocks get prospects, the player gets his payday...everybody wins.

New York Mets

  • Retro Chic: Steven Goldman has already pointed out that James Baldwin has had 1,262 innings in which to confirm that he is, indeed, a pitcher with a 5.06 career ERA. Baldwin actually has a career 79-71 career record, which is lucky considering his ineffectiveness, and likely part of the reason that he found himself called up to the majors just recently to join the Mets' rotation.

    Much of The Baldwin Mystique (coming to theaters this fall) can be traced to the opening of the 2000 season, his most successful, in which he went 14-7 with a 4.65 ERA for the White Sox. Baldwin started the year by winning his first six starts; he was 6-0, 2.34 by May 9, and 10-1, 3.11 on June 16. From then on his ERA was 6.22, but since he had the best two and a half months of his life at the beginning of a season, he was in the headlines all year. We don't want to take anything away from that great run, but Baldwin just isn't a good pitcher.

    The old-school craze was supposed to stop at the uniforms. When you're rebuilding, you have the luxury of testing players, of turning unknown quantities into known ones. The Mets have nothing to gain by swapping Grant Roberts and Tyler Yates for Baldwin and Ricky Bottalico. They might save themselves a few runs this year (although with Baldwin, probably not), but runs this year don't matter. This may be a small blown opportunity, but it is a blown opportunity nonetheless.

  • So Far, So Good: We said that the odds were against Tom Glavine reversing his decline, but also that you should never bet against a Hall of Famer. The season is a quarter done, and so far Glavine has been excellent, both in the aggregate and, as we see from this game log, in each of his starts:
    
          Date  Opp.  IP  H  R  ER  HR  BB  SO
          4/6   ATL  6.0  4  2   2   1   2   2
          4/11  MON  7.0  5  1   0   0   1   1
          4/16  PIT  7.0  1  0   0   0   1   2
          4/21  MON  7.0  5  2   1   0   2   3
          4/27  LAD  6.0 10  3   3   0   1   3
          5/2   SDP  6.0  5  2   2   0   1   6
          5/7   MIL  6.0  6  4   4   2   3   4
          5/12  ARI  7.7  3  0   0   0   2   3
    
    

    Wednesday's duel with Randy Johnson was par for the course for Glavine: He took a first-inning homer by Kaz Matsui and made it stand up for the rest of the game. He's not walking guys, and he's not giving up many homers either.

    Glavine's dueling partner this week, the aforementioned Johnson, is another future Hall of Famer trying to come back from a disappointing season to continue enjoying rare success at an advanced age. Both are lefties, but vastly different pitchers. Look at that game log and you'll notice something: Unlike the Big Unit, Glavine just doesn't strike guys out. Right now he's at 4.10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which ranks him, at this writing, 101st out of 118 qualifiers in all of MLB.

    So what, you say? Who cares how you get 'em out? Well, strikeouts are a pretty good indicator of success to come, simply because, if you can't miss bats, sooner or later a lot of hits are going to start falling. And they might when Glavine has to face some better teams: Milwaukee (6th) and Arizona (8th) can score a bit, but L.A. (T-16th), Atlanta (22nd), San Diego (23rd), Pittsburgh (28th) and Montreal (dead last, and he faced them twice) range from mediocre to gosh darned anemic...and we won't even point out that Glavine's start against the Pads was in Petco Park, which has played like the anti-Coors so far. All of this means that Glavine could head south in a hurry.

    But we still aren't betting against a Hall of Famer, and the Mets must be happy that Glavine has found his touch. The Randy Johnson comparison is unfair, because Glavine has never been that kind of strikeout pitcher. It's only been eight starts, and if this streak happened in the middle of the season, nobody would notice. Still, it's a good sign for Mets fans. We don't think he can keep it up, but all Hall of Famers have beaten the odds at some point. Why not Glavine, too?

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