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July 12, 2004

Prospectus Today

Bullet Point Monday

by Joe Sheehan

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I've been trying to do a notes column since getting back from Boston...

  • Why the heck is the Futures Game scheduled for Sunday afternoon, when MLB games are still being played? I caught bits and pieces of yesterday's contest, held at 3 p.m. Central at Houston's Minute Maid Field, but was too distracted by the great finishes in Philadelphia and Boston to pay it too much mind. Having missed three innings, I was never able to get fully into the game.

    It's as if MLB wants to bury the Futures Game by putting it up against regular-season games. Speaking mostly for myself, I would much rather the game be, say, this afternoon, than have it be up against the last few games of the first half. Having the Futures Game on Monday creates a practical issue--how to have the Game, the All-Stars' batting practice, and the Home Run Derby in the same place on the same day while selling tickets to either one or two sessions--but that can be dealt with by either moving the Futures Game to a different location or truncating the day's BP sessions.

    The Home Run Derby is a turgid two hours that exists largely because no one seems to know how to stop getting corporate sponsorship for it. Making the Futures Game the centerpiece of All-Star Monday would make the day shine, while giving the players in it a proper stage for their skills.

  • Speaking of the Futures Game, the Twins' Justin Morneau played for the World team and went 0-for-4 as one of the few players to go the distance. Despite the best lobbying efforts of some, Morneau remains in Rochester, stuck behind an assortment of inferior hitters at the major-league level.

    I got some e-mails earlier this season in which it was suggested that Morneau's absence from Minneapolis was attributable to the player's desire to play for the Canadian Olympic team this August in Athens. I dismissed the notion; it would be completely unlike a major-league team to make itself worse in an effort to accommodate a player's Olympic wishes. With each passing day, though, I become less sure that Terry Ryan and the Twins aren't just being nice guys. Morneau is obviously ready to be at a platoon DH in the major leagues, while the Twins get by with Jose Offerman's ectoplasm (.217/.343/.358) in that role. The Twins have already seen the Olympics be a positive step in the development of their current first baseman (Doug Mientkiewicz was on the '00 team), and may be wishing a similar experience on their next one.

    It's a choice, really, between believing that this is an issue of incompetence or of compassion. Wouldn't we all like the benefit of the doubt on something like that?

  • Tigers' prospect--actually, just "Tiger," following Sunday's call-up--Wil Ledezma went an inning for the World team, taking the loss thanks to Shin-Soo Choo's Reimeresque work on B.J. Upton's fourth-inning fly ball. Ledezma is a year removed from spending all of '03 in the major leagues, having been a Rule 5 pick for the Tigers in December of '02. He threw 84 innings for the Bengals last year, which I'm pretty sure makes him the most experienced player to to ever play in the prospect showcase.

  • I wish I had more on the game, but as I say, I fell behind, and then drifted through the second half. Felix Hernandez excited a lot of BP staffers with his fastball, curve, and the ease with which he delivered both. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine my much more subdued reaction. John Danks drew praise for his working the ball inside, but I saw an awkward delivery and little idea of where the ball was going. If he gets to 2006 without a surgery, I'll be shocked. Edwin Encarnacion had two hits in two at-bats, hopefully hastening his arrival in Cincinnati.

  • I don't know whether it was the upcoming All-Star break or the cloning of Dayn Perry, but we saw a spate of closers being brought in very early this weekend. On consecutive days in Los Angeles, Jimy Williams used Brad Lidge to start the eighth inning and Jim Tracy used Eric Gagne to do the same, each with a small lead. (Each was successful, although Lidge barely so.) Keith Foulke started the eighth inning of a tie game yesterday for the Red Sox, while Armando Benitez and John Smoltz notched two-inning saves on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

    Williams' decision to use Lidge marked the second time in 10 days that he'd summoned his nominal closer to get six outs. For Tracy or Terry Francona--working under Paul DePodesta and Theo Epstein--to make a move like this doesn't raise eyebrows. Williams, whose bullpen management this season can best be described as "interesting," doing so reflects either desperation or inspiration. If he can funnel more high-leverage innings to Lidge in the second half, that could be a real competitive edge for the Astros. The same goes for all the teams that stretched out their best relievers over the weekend.

    Maybe, just maybe, reliever usage is evolving again.

  • It may not matter for the Astros. Since acquiring Carlos Beltran on June 24, Houston has gone 6-10, losing 5.5 games in the standings. They stand 44-44, a whopping 10.5 games behind the Cardinals and with three teams between them and the Redbirds. Beltran has been wonderful--.263/.358/.614--but no one else is hitting. The Astros are at .222/.302/.371 in July, getting virtually nothing from their starting infield or from Craig Biggio.

    The Astros have had trouble winning when they don't get a good start, and they've not gotten enough good starts--especially from the back of the rotation, currently missing Wade Miller--to cover for that.

    It's still likely that the Astros will make a run at the postseason, because the talent on hand is on par with the rest of the second-tier teams in a muddled wild-card race. That's just an awfully low standard for a team that was widely predicted to be a World Series contender.

  • When Phil Nevin was placed on the disabled list following minor knee surgery, the Padres had an opportunity to fix the outfield-defense issues that have plagued them this year. Ryan Klesko would be moved to first base, creating a spot in the outfield that seemed a good fit for prospect Freddy Guzman.

    Guzman, a 23-year-old center fielder, is hitting .289/.352/.352 for Triple-A Portland, with good defense and a superb 25 steals in 27 attempts. After starting the season on the DL at Double-A Mobile with a shoulder problem, Guzman has played virtually every day and showed the leadoff skills that the Padres haven't had in their lineup in a while.

    Instead of using Guzman to upgrade their defense--sliding Jay Payton to left field in the process--and perhaps get a look at what their 2005 team could be, the Pads recalled Xavier Nady. While Nady is a more direct replacement for Nevin's power bat--the right-handed hitter was pounding PCL pitchers for a .311/.371/.561 line--he's only a so-so corner outfielder, and has never had success hitting in the majors. He's not off to a good start this time around, hitting .231 with no walks and four extra-base hits in 26 at-bats.

    Promoting Nady was the safe decision. I think promoting Guzman was the right one, and I still think that the Padres should consider getting him to the majors in the last two months, even if it means reducing Klesko's role in the process. The outfield at Petco Park demands it.

  • Wow, it got quiet in Boston. Say, is Nomar Garciaparra--.514/.553/.829 in July, up to .327/.365/.523 for the season--still on the block?

  • Speaking of the Red Sox, Bronson Arroyo had his best start of the year on Friday, throwing eight shutout innings against the RoadRangers (a different team than the ball-pounding HomeRangers). It's no secret that I think Arroyo is a heck of a pitcher, and I'm enjoying his plunging ERA. (It's even a little better than it looks, as Arroyo has 3 1/3 mediocre relief innings cluttering his resume, largely the result of one ill-considered outing in the 10th inning of an April 15 game in Baltimore.) I think he's going to be one of the best pitchers in the AL down the stretch, giving the Sox 90 innings of 3.30 ERA ball.

    And to pile on...if the Red Sox replace Arroyo, rather than Derek Lowe, in the rotation in the event of adding a starter, they deserve to stay home in October.

  • I almost never link to the work of mainstream writers, but...Sheldon Ocker just discovered that teams will score more runs with a runner on second base than with the bases empty.

    Look, write the story that connects the Indians' improved offense to the leadership and character and work ethic of batting coach Eddie Murray. It's the kind of Sunday sports page fluff that keeps suburbia lingering over their waffles and bacon long enough for the coffee to grow cold. But don't do a ridiculous "study" that attempts to couch the Indians' success as a data point in some kind of doubles-are-better-than-homers argument. They're not.

    I don't write about the steely glint in an old ballplayer's eye. Sheldon Ocker shouldn't write about numbers.

    The Indians are third in walks and third in OBP in the AL. That's the story.

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

Related Content:  The Process,  Futures Game

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