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August 12, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • See How they Run: The Indians have the worst Defensive Efficiency Rating in baseball. This might seem like bad news, but for those keen on seeing men cross the plate the plate in some sort of cartoon-inspired conga line, Indians games are your ticket to joy. Why? Because coupled with that poor fielding efficiency is a very potent offense and mostly generous pitching staff. Cleveland leads the majors in runs scored and is third in runs allowed. The only place you're likely to see more runs is Coors Field. Combining runs scored and runs allowed, here are the teams doing the most to satisfy the offense-obsessed customer:
    
    Total runs per game:
    
    Rockies:  11.29
    Indians:  11.16
    Orioles:  10.55
    
    Is this a function of the Jake? No, it is not a function of the Jake. The total in Indians road games is actually a half-run higher.

  • Shuffle Off to Buffalo: Brandon Phillips has a .378 OBP at Triple-A Buffalo. This is light years ahead of what he did last year when he sank into a .247 OBP funk and was demoted. He's just 10 for 20 in steals, though. It will be interesting to see what the Indians choose to do with the man who--along with Milton Bradley--was supposed to be the centerpiece of their youth movement. That they could well win the division in 2005 without either of them is a nice illustration of the fluidity of baseball talent and the folly of teams making concrete plans. In fact, would it be premature to predict the Indians to win the American League Central next year?

    On a side note, Jason Tyner is Phillips' teammate in Buffalo and no, he still hasn't hit a home run. Sixty years ago, Tyner would have been a career Pacific Coast Leaguer who maybe got a handful of at bats in the bigs. 100 years ago he would have had a ten-year career as a starter/fourth outfielder. Now that Triple-A has returned to some extent as a place where a man can play into his early 30s without hope of a big-league career, he may have found his niche. There are far worse ways to earn money in this world.

  • Big Game Player: Who has had the greatest number of impressive box score lines in 2004? This is not an especially sabermetric way to look at things, but taking into account runs scored, total bases, RBI and walks, the answer to that question would have to be Travis Hafner. His five biggest games of 2004 outpoint everybody's, including such stalwarts as Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez and Scott Rolen. No, charting players like this is not going to win anybody an invitation to lecture at M.I.T., but what we're looking for here are the sexiest box score lines. We're looking at the individual games in which hitters accumulated the most "stuff" and in his five best, nobody has accumulated more than Travis "Big Game" Hafner. His five best are these, in order:

    1. July 20 at Anaheim: Three homers, six RBI and a single
    2. August 4 at Toronto: Two homers, six RBI, a double and a single
    3. July 19 at Anaheim: Two homers, five RBI, two walks and a single
    4. July 10 vs. Oakland: four-for-four, a double, a homer, four RBI and three runs scored
    5. April 5 at Minnesota: Two solo homers and a double

    Pujols probably rates second in this regard, based mostly on July 20 game in which he actually managed to accumulate more stuff than Hafner did that same day by hitting three homers, a double, a single and driving in five. The real story in big game play for 2004, however, might be Jason Bay of the Pirates. He probably ranks around third in the number of such big games (with July 2 and July 9 being the biggest) in spite of having played in less than two-thirds of his team's games.

Montreal Expos

  • Au Revoir, Pierre-Luc: We realize the Expos are leaving Montreal, but couldn't they have waited to trade away minor-league pitcher Pierre-Luc Marceau until after they left Quebec? Moreover, if they absolutely had to trade a player who sounds like he's right off the roster of the 1956-57 version of Les Habs, did it have to be for Jeriome Robertson? The Astros were smart enough to realize he was the luckiest man in the game last year, when he went 15-10 as a rookie, and off-loaded him on the Indians. All he proved in the Cleveland organization was how right the Astros were to get him out of the Houston organization. What do the Expos hope to gain from this? Would a team run like other teams have made this trade? Yes, obviously--the Indians did before the season.

    This isn't to say Marceau was ever going to pitch in Montreal, no matter how long they stayed there. He spent most of the first two years of his professional career in the New York-Penn League learning how not to be a starter. A switch to relief came in late 2002 without much success. This year finds him in Class A ball, not doing particularly well at the age of 23.

  • Livan Left Out: Two of the Support-Neutral stars of 2004 squared off at the Big O on Tuesday night. Livan Hernandez (sixth in MLB in Support Neutral Wins above Replacement) bested Randy Johnson (1st), 4-0. The two are now a combined 20-20. It will be interesting to see where Hernandez finishes in the Cy Young voting this year. This is the second year of the ultra phase of his previously mediocre career. Last season he had the fifth-highest Support-Neutral figure in the National League and got no support in the voting. We're guessing he'll be treated similarly this year. More good news for Hernandez is that, after a down year at the plate in 2003, he's hitting again. Of course, it's mostly batting average driving his productivity, but when you're talking about a pitcher, that's OK.

  • Small Sample Size Theatre: The early returns are in on the Great Shortstop Swap of 2004 and Orlando Cabrera has pretty much picked up where he left off after leaving Montreal. Nomar Garciaparra served noticed that there would be no changes in his approach as he swung at the first pitch he saw as a Cub, much as he did throughout his career with the Red Sox. To spoil the drama, it was a double play. Since then, he's played fairly well, as has Alex Gonzalez--or somewhat better than he did for the Cubs, at least. He's had 31 plate appearances as an Expo before drawing his first walk. He only had four in 135 plate appearances with the Cubs. What is strange about this is that, prior to 2004, he was good for a walk about once every 13 at bats.

    Here are the early return VORP figures for the three participants in the Great Shortstop Swap (not to be confused with a swap of great shortstops):

    
    Traded shortstop    Before Trade   After Trade
    ----------------------------------------------
    Nomar Garciaparra       15.9           3.4
    Orlando Cabrera         -2.4           0.0
    Alex Gonzalez           -2.9           3.3
    

Seattle Mariners

  • Doubling Up: The departure of Edgar Martinez from the scene will mark the passing of one of baseball's great all-time doublers.
    
    Active Doublers through Sunday, August 8
    
    18.  Rafael Palmeiro: 559
    20.  Barry Bonds: 554
    21.  Craig Biggio: 547
    36t. Edgar Martinez: 510
    40t. Roberto Alomar: 503
    
    Martinez is not going to get much higher on the list. Mark Grace is next at 511, then Joe Cronin at 515. It would probably be a stretch to project him to get to 522 or 523. That's where Ed Delahanty and Willie Mays hang out. Martinez is one of only 41 men to hit 500 doubles in his career. In that group, though, he has the third-fewest games played:
    Delahanty: 1835 games played/522 doubles
    Joe Medwick: 1984 games/540 doubles
    Martinez: 2013 games/510 doubles
    Cronin:  2124 games/515 doubles
    Harry Heilman: 2148 games/542 doubles
    

  • Boone to the Hall?: Among positional leaders in home runs, the lowest total comes at second base where Rogers Hornsby is the all-time leader. Jeff Kent still looks like a sure thing to break Rajah's record even though he has started slowing down of late.

    One would think that a second baseman with 200-plus career homers would have a pretty good shot at the Hall of Fame, but such is not the case. Only ten men have hit 200 home runs while playing second base, three of whom are active. Of the ten, Hornsby, Bobby Doerr and Joe Morgan are already in and Roberto Alomar is a lock. The Mariners' Bret Boone is now at 235, but that alone isn't going to get him much consideration for Cooperstown when his career ends--not that it should. Consider the problems Ryne Sandberg and Lou Whitaker have had getting acceptance from Hall voters.

  • Falling Fast: The 2004 Mariners are fast on the way to becoming the greatest crash-and-burn story in the history of the game. How so? Among the teams with the very best records ever, no team has as ever fallen faster and further than these Mariners since their great run of 2001. Of the ten teams since 1901 who played above .700 baseball, Seattle is only the third to play below .500 in any of the three seasons following their great year. At the rate they are going, they will be the first of the ten to play below .400.

    Here are the winning percentages of the elite ten in the three years following their Big Year:

           Big Year  PLUS 1  PLUS 2  PLUS 3
    06 CHN   0.763    0.704   0.643   0.680
    02 PIT   0.741    0.650   0.569   0.627
    09 PIT   0.724    0.562   0.616   0.523
    54 CLE   0.721    0.604   0.571   0.497
    01 SEA   0.716    0.574   0.574   0.375
    27 NYY   0.714    0.656   0.571   0.558
    98 NYY   0.704    0.605   0.540   0.594
    07 CHN   0.704    0.643   0.680   0.675
    31 PHA   0.704    0.610   0.523   0.453
    39 NYY   0.702    0.571   0.656   0.669
    
    The Mariners are headed for the worst aggregate record of the ten. Where did it all go? Not even Connie Mack's A's--parted out like a junkyard Lincoln by the Old Cheapskate--fell this far this fast. It was worth it though, wasn't it Mariners fans? Would you trade those heady days of 2001, when five days out of seven brought the thrill of victory, for something closer to respectability now?

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