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July 20, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

American League, (Belated) First-Half Edition

by Steven Goldman

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A.K.A., THE "YOU HAVE TO BE PIERCED TO WORK AT BORDERS" EDITION

The outpost of the Borders book store chain in my home town apparently has a dress code: you must be tattooed and pierced to work there, just as to write TEAMS you must be corpulent and profane. It can be intimidating; one is reluctant to ask for their cappuccino with skim milk when a purple-haired billboard with shining metallic tusks is taking your order.

Of late, it is their policy to ask, as you deliver yourself up to the compulsive young woman with the sharpened teeth and black lipstick at the register, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" Given the fact that no one there can alphabetize, this is such a ludicrous question that one can be struck dumb for hours. There are, however, a number of appropriate responses. TEAMS welcomes you to try any of these the next time you visit your local Borders:

  • If I didn't, will you be punished?
  • It's too personal for me to go into.
  • I won't answer that without my attorney present.
  • I have now.
  • Thank goodness, no. Had I found everything for which I was looking, there would be nothing left to look forward to and life would lose all meaning.

You don't have to be pierced to work in baseball, and you can't be pierced and work at the Yankees, but with many of this year's physically and intellectually crippled clubs, some kind of defensive ornamentation might help to cushion the blow struck by deserved opprobrium. As always, these grades represent the entertainment value, user satisfaction, and baseball intelligence brought to bear by each team, though this week's marks are representative of the first half as a whole.

AMERICAN CENTRAL LEAGUE

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

We got some middling pitching and a pretty good offense, albeit one that's going to last as long as your impression that Juan Uribe is really a good hitter after all. We've also got Minnesota's underwear, not that they've noticed, because if you've got Doug Mientkiewicz, who needs a G-string? Friends, no matter what Mr. Ryan says, second place chafes, as Mr. Kenny Williams can attest after two straight years of raw inner thighs. Gird your loins with Frank Thomas and his .334 EqA and you need never say, "Not tonight, Josephine, I left my epidermis at the office because I was afraid to let a DH be a DH, a first baseman be a first baseman, I keep trying to get blood from a stone, and no matter how many elephants I interview, none of them can do calculus." Even Sharon and Arafat agree that Garcia wasn't quite worth the freight, but credit the Sox with having a pulse. Late note: Thomas is gone, Carl Everett is here, which is kind of like replacing a dinosaur with a guy who doesn't believe in dinosaurs. Ironically, it's neither of them that faces extinction, but Joe Borchard. GRADE: A-

MINNESOTA TWINS

Complacency sucks, but not as badly as self-deception. There should be a T-shirt that combines those two defects: "I'm Deceived and I Don't Care." Tenth in slugging, 11th in on-base percentage, last in sympathy. As Mr. Micawber said in David Copperfield, "400 runs income, 400 runs expenditure, result: misery, or at the very best. .500," or to put it another way, the team EqA is .250, Johan Santana is leading the league in strikeouts, has an ERA of 3.78, seven wins against six losses, and four runs of support a game. Physician heal thyself. Late note: Justin Morneau has been called up to spell Doug Mientkiewicz during an injury and will solidly Wally Pipp him if given a chance. Now all he has to do is beat out Jose Offerman. Try saying that without laughing. GRADE: B-

CLEVELAND INDIANS

George Carlin once said, "The Indians were good fighters. Just because they started in Massachusetts and wound up defending Santa Monica doesn't mean they were bad." This summarizes the season that these Indians are having quite nicely. The sabermetric idea that "anyone" can close is justifiably mocked; most pitchers can, if only because in a race to get three outs before three runs score, even the worst pitcher is at a distinct advantage. Still, there are some pitchers who are psychologically unable to get the job done. The Indians have managed to collect all of them. GRADE: B

DETROIT TIGERS

Fourth in the AL in on-base percentage, fifth in slugging, they're almost there...just 10 pitchers away. GRADE: B

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Latest rumor: Juan Gonzalez for Darryl Motley, straight up. Motley, 44, claims he's better conditioned and better motivated, and no one will gainsay him...A once proud franchise, now with as great a raison d'etre as the Montreal Expos. Pack 'em up, move 'em out, accept that times change. Baseball could still be in Troy. GRADE: F

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

TEXAS RANGERS

Among their starters, only Mr. Benoit can strike out a batter, and he has an ERA higher than my waist size (take out the decimal). That's a reason for concern as in the regular season Scott Spezio will ground those soft-tosses to shortstop, but in the postseason, Alex Rodriguez will put them over the wall. Otherwise, the Rangers are highly entertaining, though they won't walk (thank you for the Alfredo Griffin parody, Rod Barajas), and they don't steal bases--they hit for average, and they hit for home runs, lots of home runs, the fun of which promises to be blunted by Joe Morgan, who will explain, with great seriousness, how the Rangers needed Buck Showalter to teach them how to play "winning baseball," while simultaneously decrying their inability to play National League style ball. That's if they make it. You still have plenty of time to buy, say, a good recording of Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier" so you can watch the games with the sound off and the stereo on. Docked a grade for Kenny Rogers, who is the active agent in the "the game will break your heart" formulation. Actually, the game won't. It's pitchers without intestinal fortitude that will. GRADE: B+

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Mark Kotsay's batting average by month: .256, .308, .340, .357. TEAMS lives in the moment, so when a player with a chronically bad back gets off to a start variously described as "sluggish," "languid," "languorous," "leaden," and "lethargic" (mostly around the TEAMS staff cafeteria, where shrimp scampi is our specialty), TEAMS screams for a clean new dream, in this case being a Swisher with a .923 OPS at Sacramento (80 walks/82 games). Heck, though we were wrong about Kotsay, it still sounds like a good idea-- better than our shrimp scampi, anyway, which comes with a complimentary chaser of Fleet enema and a mandatory indemnification agreement, though the correct place to replace the crangon vulgaris avec du beurre is no longer center field but left, where Eric Byrnes and Bobby Kielty have been their mercurial selves. This, though, is a minor cavil given how well this team, with its many injuries, has performed. P.S.: if the Yankees are willing to accept Miguel Cairo's Sandbergizidation as real, the A's, still trying to get a handle on the keystone, will gladly take first crack at whatever keystone cop is to be found on the market. GRADE: A

ANAHEIM ANGELS

"No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful," sang John Linnell of They Might Be Giants. "Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful." No doubt he was thinking of Gene Autry, Babe Ruth, and Ronald Reagan. The wonderful unpredictability of baseball means that you can sign a putative ace like Bartolo Colon and get, well, a jelly donut with a fastball. Thank Odin for Kelvim Escobar. Whoever thought anyone would ever say that? In this world, we all go out proprio motu, which is to say that you pick your own poison. Sometimes the pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, sometimes the chalice with the palace, and sometimes, not often, what you thought was poison turns out to be your salvation and your presumed salvation turns out to be poison. This accounts for the high rate of divorces among twentysomethings. GRADE: B+

SEATTLE MARINERS

Bucky Backers, Bucky Buckers, Bucky Stuffers, Bucky Barnes (Damn you, Baron Zemo!) or Buckminster Fuller, they all get their way as John Olerud goes the way of the Atari 2600. Also, Hal Jordan is finally replacing Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern, so all kinds of lost cause devotees are reaching fulfillment this week. This is not so much the beginning of a revolution but a farewell to the last golden era. In much the same way did the Yankees of 1990 call forth Oscar Azocar. To paraphrase the last words of Pancho Villa, "Don't let it end like this! Tell them I did something!" The fans will cheer in the short term, but to paraphrase Neil Gaiman's Shakespeare, they would also cheer if you broke wind loudly. The Bucky Jacobsen story is heartening, but not as much as perspicacious management. GRADE: F

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

NEW YORK YANKEES

Waiting on Randy Johnson like a teenager hoping his first crush will accept his invitation and go with him to that John Hughes' movie. Mine said no, but at 13 I hadn't yet learned that aggressive flirtatiousness on the part of the female of the species does not necessarily indicate actual interest. Once Karen said no, I figured that out. Seek and ye shall find; good things do not come to those who wait. The farm is dry, the cupboard is bare. Having something in reserve is part of good management. The team just reassigned its draft honcho, but this has been a problem for, oh, nearly 10 years. Someone should have noticed. Javier Vazquez, Orlando Hernandez, or Jose Contreras could spell first round exit or first round sweep. It's impossible to say which, and there won't be any in between. Alternatives would have been nice. The offense abides. GRADE: A

BOSTON RED SOX

There will be no Randy Johnson, so this highly variable organization will have to find a different savior. Meanwhile, Ramiro Mendoza (Everyone! To the cellar!) is back, while Kevin Youkilis heads back to the minors not having done anything at all to deserve being out of the lineup. Selecting Kevin Millar's absent power over Youkie's on-base percentage was an error. On the other hand, through 2003 there have been 282 seasons of slugging percentages over .600 in 350 or more plate appearances. Only 25 times have two players on the same team breached that barrier. With David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Boston may be the 26th. It may not be the postseason, but it's something to hold on to. GRADE: B

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

That they cut Fred McGriff and sent Damian Rolls down, finally, puts the cherry on top of a terrific first half. The Rays are getting younger all the time, finding out the kids are all right. GRADE: A

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

David Newhan. Karim Garcia. Lou Gehrig. Babe Ruth. This is the golden age...On the long walk towards winning, the Orioles have as much work to do now as they did at the start of the season. That's not progress. It's not even regress. It might be congress. GRADE: D

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

It's hard to kick a team that's bleeding as profusely as the Jays are. An entire managerial and administrative regime may collapse amidst the chaotic implosion of the entire roster. On the bright side, unlike if they were with the Yankees those that stay will probably get to keep their dental plans, while those that leave will get the option of continuing their coverage through COBRA. There are reasons to think the rebound will not be swift. Carlos Delgado will return in England's greatest hour of need. GRADE: F

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

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