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July 29, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

One Week at a Time, AL Edition

by Steven Goldman

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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Last week, Ramon Ortiz pitched 10.2 innings and struck out four batters. Aaron Sele pitched 10.1 innings and struck out one (while walking six). The wounded Washburn pitched 5.1 innings and struck out one. As sure as night follows day, the Angels were out-homered 12-8 and the team had a losing week. Welcome to the era of the lively ball. Now, some of this pitching-in-a-pinch, let-'em-hit-it stuff comes wrapped in good news, which is that jumbo-sized punching bags Ortiz and Bartolo Colon actually pitched quite well. Consider, though, the basic dysfunction of this uniquely composed offense: the Angels have a team of high-average contact hitters. This being the aforementioned lively ball era, some of them hit home runs, but the basic model here--and you'd love to know if collecting these was intentional because Mike Scioscia was the lowercase, 1980s, Dodger Stadium version of this hitter--is not the sabermetric Three True Outcomes ideal, but something more in the mold of Joe DiMaggio: don't walk, don't swing and miss, just put that pill in play. The only practical difference between Vladimir Guerrero and Joe DiMaggio is that Vlad doesn't sell coffee makers--yet. The problem is, not everyone can be Vlad Guerrero, and in some weeks not even Vlad is Vlad, but some lesser impaler. Thus, though the Angels hit .296 and opponents hit only .280, the opponents took many more walks, reached base just as often, and hit those extra home runs. Aside from an 11-1 blowout of the Rangers on July 22, the Angels were outscored 30-37. GRADE: D

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Hit 21 doubles on the week while allowing only eight; you'd think that they had three Tris Speakers in their outfield, or at the very least the old Brady Anderson/Steve Finley/Mike Devereaux configuration. Couldn't be further from the truth... Or a great big team ground ball fly ball ratio. They had a great week, going 5-3 and abusing the Royals and the Red Sox... In the trading frenzy that will begin shortly after you read this, the Orioles have to be sellers. Their two lefties are more valuable as enticements to trade than they ever will be in Baltimore. While it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to risk their World Series shares on Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan should command a high price. And perhaps Jerry Hairston will be someone's second base consolation prize, finally. With Junior Spivey's flop taking him off the market, there's not a whole lot more. GRADE: A

BOSTON RED SOX

They beat the injury-diminished Yankees two-out-of-three, but were only .500 on the week. This is a Carthaginian victory if ever there was one, the equivalent of some Confederate cavalry detachment routing six bluebelly skirmishers at Porky Hollow in Texas at the same time that Robert E. Lee was surrendering his entire army at Appomattox. We pause to take note of Kevin Millar's week of self-redemption: six games, .583/.615/1.333 including six home runs in 24 at-bats. In fact, the entire offense did well, batting .290/.360/.514 and scoring 52 runs. Yet, the Red Sox were still outscored on the week as everyone but Tim Wakefield saw more batters than the swing shift at the IHOP factory. At this writing the Crimson Hosiery are the AL Wild Card. They will soon yield that position to a team from the AL West, and will have the devil's own time getting it back. GRADE: C-

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Despite missing Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez, who got into three games before melting away, the Sox posted a .926 OPS and averaged just under seven runs a game. That wasn't the most impressive feat of the week, though. Sox pitching held opponents batters from Texas (at Texas!), Cleveland, and Detroit to a .291 on-base percentage. What was hit went for extra bases, so the run prevention aspect wasn't quite as successful, so at least the home runs were solo shots. This comment is written with the knowledge that the White Sox followed up their 5-2 week by getting swept by the Twins, but we'll deal with that next week. GRADE: B+

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Not far over .500, if at all by the time you read this, but suddenly looking like contenders in a division that's aimlessly drifting down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico--any day now the Detroit Tigers will be the New Orleans Beignets. Travis Hafner (.423/.467/1.077) and Victor Martinez (.379/.419/.517) make a heck of a one-two punch, and they are now joined by young Grady Sizemore, who will be the best Grady since Grady Little (not hard) and Whitman Mayo, the Grady from "Sanford & Son" (tall order). If he takes some plate appearances away from Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut, neither of whom have been the life of the party, so much the better... The bullpen is still the stuff of nightmares, with an ERA that can flirt with 6.00 if you put a couple of drinks in it. You hate to say that a team is one reliever away, because Lord knows we watched Steve Phillips and the Mets chase that chimera for enough years, but the Indians might legitimately claim that to be the case. GRADE: A

DETROIT TIGERS

Went only 2-5 but they were in six of the seven and were outscored by only three runs, 35-38... Their player of the week was incontrovertibly Marcus Thames (.438/.471/1.063). It seems doubtful that we'll be able to say that too often, just as it seems certain that he'll have many happy years as a platoon outfielder for the Mets. Similar travel possibilities apply to Carlos Pena, who has evolved into the new Rico Brogna. Don't believe? Brogna's career OBP/SLG was .320/.445. Pena's is .324/.447 (.260 EQA for Brogna, .268 for the new guy). The main difference is that Brogna did some hitting at ages 24 and 25 while Pena didn't. This would be the easiest position on the team to upgrade, perhaps with personnel already on hand, if the Tigers are willing to face the facts. GRADE: C

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Beat the Tigers 13-7 on July 22, lost six other games by the combined score of 45-17. It's probably going to take a change of ownership to revive the Royals, that or voodoo. Yet, despair not: Hope is on the way! Well, not really, but I heard John Edwards say it and it sounded kind of catchy. Better still: "I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found." --Thomas Wolfe. That's what we have left for the Royals, optimism. Optimism and $4.50 will get you a drink at Starbucks. GRADE: F

MINNESOTA TWINS

Just about doubled up the opposition, outscoring them 44-23; no wonder they went 6-1. This is not so much a reflection on the offense, which you wouldn't want to bring home to mother unless Mom had had a few, but pitching that that was truly unworldly. Terry Mulholland--Terry Mulholland!--pitched 12.2 innings and allowed just eight hits and three runs. As a staff the Twins allowed just five home runs in 63 innings, held the enemy to .228/.285/.328, and the only loss was in the bullpen. None of the three teams who got smothered were the 1927 Yankees on offense, but this was still an accomplishment. On the other side of the ball, Justin Morneau finally seems to be holding on to a job. It's about time, too. In the most recent Baseball America he has a couple of quotes that suggest he was getting bored of being Home Run Lord of the Sticks... If they hold on, the Twins are going to be one scary playoff opponent. GRADE: A+

NEW YORK YANKEES

The pitching done gone. We checked their beds and all we could find was some dark brown stains, smelled like root beer... One imagines that internal discussion on Felix Heredia resemble those old "Star Trek" episodes where Captain Kirk destroyed errant computers by convincing them that their logic was faulty. "To win the pennant, we must have a lefty reliever. Felix Heredia is a lefty reliever, therefore we must have Felix Heredia. Felix Heredia cannot pitch and may keep us from winning the pennant, but to win the pennant we must have a lefty reliever. Felix Heredia is a lefty reliever and therefore... error! ERROR! ERROR!" Harlan Ellison is going to adapt this into a new/old story, "I Have No Lefty and I Must Scream." ...In truth, the Yankees aren't hitting much either. This team could win 100 games and still fall out of the playoffs in the first round. The trade deadline will tell all; Randy Johnson will not solve all their problems. GRADE: C

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Pitched well, hit decently, had a losing week, dropping two games to the sunken Mariners... Rich Harden pitched 13.2 innings, struck out 12, allowed two earned runs. Anyone still talking about moving him to the bullpen? Patience pays, but then they know that. GRADE: C

SEATTLE MARINERS

There aren't many positives to point to in Mariners land this year, but with Ichiro doing his singles thing (we call it "singled thing" 'cause he's slugging only .410) there's some entertainment value in an M's game, at least in a dead ball kind of way. And while the dead ball game itself wasn't nearly as popular as the Ruthian home run game, today it's the slashing hitters that are novel and the sluggers who are commonplace, jejune, quotidian. Speaking of which, give the M's some extra credit on the Bucky Jacobsen promotion. In baseball, an experiment need not run more than a day or a week and if it's an abysmal failure and it still won't wreck your season. Certainly the Mariners have nothing to lose trying to catch lightening in a bottle. Every team in their position should take a chance on finding the new Ken Phelps or Kevin Maas. On second thought, scratch "in their position," leave "every team." GRADE: B

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Please, mommy, make it stop. Mr. Shouty-man is scaring me... Hit roughly like a team of Enrique Wilsons last week, pitched like a team of Woodrow Wilsons. Won't promote young B.J. Upton because of fears about his defense, but who said they needed to play defense? Who said they needed to play? GRADE: F

TEXAS RANGERS

Go figure baseball: The Rangers last week had an OPS of .692 and scored 28 runs. Opponents had an OPS of .912 and scored 47 runs. Rangers pitching was shelled harder than Ypres in 1914. They broke open like a piņata. The Rangers had a winning record on the week, going 4-3. How often will this happen again? Never. GRADE: D

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Scored just over three runs a game, still posted a winning record because the pitching, even with one farewell start from Pat Hentgen, posted a 2.86 ERA. Heroes included David Bush (no relation), who allowed just one run in 15.1 innings, Josh Towers, who allwed three runs in 14.1 innings, and Ted Lilly, who allowed no runs in 6.2 innings. This was how it was supposed to go. It's wonderful when a plan comes together. Now if they could only hit more than four home runs a week... GRADE: D

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Week In Quotes,  The Week In Quotes

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