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August 3, 2004

Prospectus Today

Worth Noting

by Joe Sheehan

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I've got some research stuff running in the background. There's nothing major, just a couple of things I'm working on with great people--and true sabermetricians--like Keith Woolner. I hope to have some things to report later this week.

For now, here are some post-frenzy notes:

  • With a 5-9 run, the Rangers have fallen out of first place, and now sit 1.5 games behind the A's in the AL West. It could be worse; an eighth-inning rally Friday night was the only thing separating them from being swept by the A's at home, and being 3.5 out this morning. With the back of the rotation resembling a casting call and the offense starting to sputter, leading the Wild Card race doesn't provide much consolation.

    The good news for them is that their upcoming schedule is a joke. They play just seven of their next 26 games against teams over .500, all of those at home, where they're 30-22. The A's and Angels have similarly light Augusts, though, so it's going to take .600 ball or better just to avoid losing ground.

    The Rangers have been a great story all season long. They have a great core of young players, and just enough overachievers to have pushed them further than thought possible. If the wheels come off a bit down the stretch, that shouldn't obscure the job they did in reviving baseball in Arlington. This team is going to make the playoffs a few times before the decade is over.

  • Has there been a season in recent memory in which the major award races were so clouded this deep into the season? All the AL awards are up in the air, with likely a major split between who gets stathead and major-media support. There just aren't any players having standout seasons, and the best pitchers and players in each league are in a group. I'm comfortable with Bobby Crosby as the Rookie of the Year right now, but there are guys who could catch him.

    In the NL, there's the annual "Barry Bonds is the best player, but will RBIs/team performance/boredom push the BBWAA in another direction?" issue. There are a whole bunch of candidates for Cy Young--six of the top seven starters in baseball, per SNWAR, are in the NL--who'll need to sort themselves out in the next eight weeks. While Jason Bay has gotten some separation, his media profile is lower than that of the NL's shortstops.

    My point? Be prepared for a lot of electrons, ink and air time to be spent on this stuff down the stretch. I'm going to try and stay out of it until late September, though, because when the races are this close, they can be decided by one hot week.

  • Speaking of Bonds, a 5-for-24 stretch, along with a mere two walks since last Monday, has dropped his OBP under .600 for the first time since April 16. Whether it's a recognition of how silly things got in the first half, or just a small-sample moment, Bonds' walk rate approached rationality in July:
    
    Month     PA    Walks   UIBB     BB/PA    UIBB/PA   IBB/PA
    April     92      39     21      .424      .228      .196
    May       77      29     11      .377      .143      .234
    June     116      46     23      .407      .198      .198
    July     105      33     12      .324      .114      .200
    
    
    Bonds was 0-for-4 with no walks on Sunday, the first day of August.

    Barry Bonds is a ridiculously great hitter coming off perhaps the greatest peak in baseball history. He's also no exception to the natural boundaries of performance. When not walking, Bonds hits .350 with a .750 slugging percentage, making him the best hitter in baseball, and still more likely to make an out than not, more likely to make an out than to pick up a base. There are appropriate times and places to avoid him, and those times appear to be, by consensus, once every five times he comes up. The rest of the time, though, teams appear to be coming around to the idea that it really does make sense to try and get him out rather than just give him a base and the Giants an extra chance to score.

    Bonds will still walk 200, maybe 220 times this season, and be intentionally walked more than 100 times. And that last column above is just insane.

  • The Twins didn't get Kris Benson because they wouldn't trade Jason Kubel. I almost understand this. Benson isn't all that great, although as Dayn Perry has pointed out, he'd have been a solid upgrade for the Twinkies. Kubel can hit, and while he won't be a center fielder, he should hit well enough to be an asset on a corner.

    Having held on to him, though, the Twins have no place to play him. Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart are signed to contracts that are immovable and which run through 2006. Jacque Jones is finally a free agent after '04, and can probably be let go. However, Lew Ford is having a great season, and will be hard to displace, especially given how cheap he'll be in '05.

    Terry Ryan has done this for years now. His player-development team keeps coughing up guys who can hit, and he keeps making sure that they never get a clean shot at doing so in the majors. Matt LeCroy has been hanging around since 2000 and still hasn't reached 1,000 plate appearances. Ford probably could have done this last year. Michael Cuddyer made his major league debut at 22, and at 25, still doesn't have a regular gig. Mike Restovich keeps coming up, smacking the ball--a career .289 EqA in parts of three seasons--and getting sent back down.

    There's building, and then there's building a champion, and they're different skills. Ryan hasn't shown that he can make the transition from one to the other, and despite the success the Twins have had in a weak division, it's hard not to see them as disappointing. They haven't aligned their talent properly, and because of that, they haven't gone as far as they might have with a well-timed trade or three.

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

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