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August 31, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

In Which A Myth is Shattered

by Steven Goldman

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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Welcome to a writer's world: alphabetically, the Diamondbacks lead off any National League survey, and it's a writer's job to hook you with a hot first paragraph. The problem is, the D'backs are dead in the water, less exciting than road kill. After careful consideration, editorial has declined TEAMS' request to place Atlanta at the top of the survey by listing the Diamondbacks under "Barizona." Still, we never give up trying, so before we get to a careful dissection of the Southwest Serpents, allow TEAMS to regale you with some erotically charged tales of the Baseball Prospectus Groupies!

[…Thinking.]

[...One hour later: still thinking.]

Okay, we're forced to admit that there aren't any Baseball Prospectus Groupies. There aren't any Diamondbacks, either. Thus we turn rapidly to the parturition department, where left-handed-hitting outfielder Josh Kroeger, has played 120 games at Double-A El Paso and Triple-A Tucson and has hit .326/.381/.577 (49 doubles, four triples, 18 home runs, 35 walks). Yeah, he's played in leagues where it's CAO (Colorado All Over), and as such, BP's translations see what he's done as a .246 major-league EQA. Well, we've got to cling to someone to resuscitate this spavined franchise, crippled by proprio motu free-agent acromegaly. GRADE: D

ATLANTA BRAVES

Spent the week on the west coast, took two of three from the Padres, then split four with the Dodgers. You would have to call that a successful road trip for an east-coast team, especially since they pitched quite badly and would have been outscored on the week but for a 10-1 victory in the final game of the period. Special notice must be given to Chipper Jones, who was more lost than Dr. Livingstone but has emerged from the jungle with a .344/.407/.708 August. There is no telling for sure if his overdue relocation to third base rekindled his spirit, but if so, you can call it one of the top ten managerial moves of the year (now taking nominees for the rest of that list). Parenthetically, BP metrics see Jones as one of the worst-fielding third baseman of all time:


YEAR      GAMES   RAR    RAA
1995        123     0    -14
1996        118    -7    -20
1997        152     1    -14
1998        159    11     -5
1999        157   -12    -27
2000        152     4    -10
2001        149    -9    -23
2004         61     6     -3
Apparently when Bob Dylan sang, "Something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?" he was referring to a ground ball down the third-base line. GRADE: B

CHICAGO CUBS

Among the many intriguing possibilities for the World Series is a Cubs/Athletics, all-pitching, 1929 World Series rematch. That was the Series in which Connie Mack neglected to give Lefty Grove a start and still whipped the Cubs 4-1. Imagine Ken Macha skipping Mark Mulder in the World Series. The fans would riot. In 1929 it was just another day in a very strange year. "The greatest pitcher in baseball isn't going to start in the World Series? Okay, that's messed up, but not as messed up as RCA opening at $345 and closing at $2." In 2004, as in 1929, the A's would win in a walk, keyword: walk… Largely doing it without Sammy Sosa, which for some reason suggests the old Aretha Franklin/Eurythmics song, "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." There's no obvious reason why, unless someone in the infield is sending out subliminal signals suggesting what has come to substitute for steroids in the post-testing era. GRADE: B+

CINCINNATI REDS

Hit just .219/.301/.403 but split on the week because the pitching staff did a very fine job, helped in part by spending half its time toying with the hapless, punchless Devilsnakes, or whatever they're called. Said staff, which ranks second to last in the league with a 5.17 ERA, allowed just three home runs and held opponents to just 22 earned runs in 51 innings. This week's Bucky Walters Award goes to Brandon Claussen, who pitched 11 1/3 innings and allowed just two runs. Actually, Walters got to pitch in some postseasons with the Reds, so he's an inappropriate standard-bearer for good performances on bad teams. Better change that to Mario Soto Award. Sorry for the way things worked out, Mario. GRADE: C+

COLORADO ROCKIES

The Rockies spent the entire week at home, in their home ballpark, of which you might have heard due to its propensity to turn mediocre hitters into the gods of ancient myth. See this picture? That's Vinny Castilla sitting at his locker. In their week at home, the Rockies hit just .263/.330/.395. Draw your own conclusions… Another positive managerial move: the downsizing of Charles Johnson/upsizing of J.D. Closser. The money's already spent, so there's nothing to lose except an icon of mediocrity. GRADE: D+

FLORIDA MARLINS

Still suffering from a power outage (slugged .408 on the week, were out-homered 9-4) that adding Juan Encarnacion, a "proven run producer," did nothing to address. His post-break numbers currently read .217/.291/.304. You could do better taking the team bus to Vegas and not showing up for the games. Hee Seop Choi has had a frigid stay in Los Angeles and he's still reaching base 32 percent of the time. Went 4-2 on the week based on the pitching staff and it's good fromage, but it's hard to be enthusiastic. GRADE: B

HOUSTON ASTROS

Outscored on the week, still went 4-2. That's what happens when you play the Phillies… Remove Roy Oswalt's one run allowed in 10 1/3 innings and Brandon Backe's seven shutout innings and you're left with three starters who allowed ten runs in 11 innings. Phil Garner remains optimistic, but he has to. As Tom Verducci said earlier this week, this is a guy who was hired because he lived in Houston and therefore could have been expected to be familiar with the team from TV. By that standard, I am in line to succeed Joe Torre… As with the Phillies, the Astros would make for a great post-mortem in this winter's Baseball Prospectus Crisis Management in Baseball symposium that I just dreamed up. I'll let you know when I've worked out the details. In the meantime, you can Paypal your non-refundable deposits to the e-mail address below. P.S. Jose Vizcaino went 10-for-20 on the week. Consult your spiritual advisor. GRADE: B

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Posted a .300 OBP on the week, although they had two big offensive stars in Adrian Beltre (12-for-25, four home runs), and Shawn Green (7-for-25, but five homers and a double). For anyone still grumpy about the Paul Lo Duca trade, Dodgers catchers went 1-for-22 with one run scored, one RBI and no extra-base hits. It's hard to measure this against what Plan A, Charles Johnson, would have done, as Johnson has recently reverted to an inert form much resembling a noble gas or a living sandstone formation. GRADE: C-

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

There was a time this year when the national chickens were a-cluck with tales of the Brewers reborn, redeemed, rebooted, regurgitated from the Selig family's clammy digestive tract. Those days are long gone now, lost in the rosy glow of springtime, when young men's thoughts turn lightly to blatant impossibilities like a Brewers renaissance. Hit .212/.274/.365 on the week, with all of the fun being supplied by Mssrs. Overbay and Branyan. The pitching staff remains solid, so this winter's project will be bolstering the offense...which they probably won't do, sticking with incumbents and waiting for their Double-A super-prospects to hit the big time, which in some cases they won't. This is the one team that would benefit from losing a few free agents. Unfortunately, they don't have any other than Dave Burba. GRADE: D-

MONTREAL EXPOS

Tony Batista's batting average for the week: .259.
Tony Batista's on-base percentage for the week: .259.
Tony Batista's on-base percentage for the week in an alternate universe in which you get a walk after two balls: .259.

That's the Expos: still last in OBP and loving it. Rickey Henderson is a flake, but a team like the Expos could do worse than to hire him as a player/coach. He could take the entire team aside once a day and teach them to bend over. In a nice way, that is. "Crouch like Rickey, everybody. Crouch like Rickey." GRADE: D

NEW YORK METS

It has been an odd season indeed when your intended double-play combination is Matsui to Reyes to Piazza and you finish with Delgado to McEwing to Zeile or Delgado to Keppinger to Brazell. No wonder Major League Baseball is considering moving the Expos to Norfolk--Norfolk has moved to New York. Injuries can't be helped, but they can be prevented, mostly by avoiding an over-commitment to the wizened and wobbly. As Casey Stengel said of an earlier New York National League team, "It was at the end of its age. You could just see it dropping off." In the case of Jose Reyes, the team actually went with youth and got punished anyway. A popular sport in New York lately--now that NL baseball is no longer a going concern--is to find historical analogues to Reyes, players who were hit by the chronic injury truck at an early age and rebounded to have a great career. The proper answer is "none," though Reyes possesses a silver lining; he's so young that if he finds the Fountain of Health he could still rebound. It's unlikely. GRADE: C

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Battered by Houston in three straight games, then recovered themselves with a visit to Milwaukee, baseball's spa for the incompetent and the inconsistent. Kept pace with the enemy, being outscored by just one run (40-39), and their .500 finish to the week is predicted therein. Anyone want to talk about clutch pitching, DIPS, or some other measure of pitching efficiency? Phillies pitchers threw 55 innings, allowed 56 hits and 17 walks, and struck out 42. They yielded just five home runs. None of these things augur a horrific week, yet 38 earned runs crossed the plate for a 6.22 ERA. It's like they were primed for failure. Perhaps, at last, this is evidence of the psychological damage a despised manager can do. Or maybe it's just Velveeta. GRADE: C-

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Got into eight games last week, just like real baseball teams used to do, and lost five of them (including four of five to the Mighty Cardinals). Not that there's anything wrong with that, because the Pirates, they will survive. That may be an exaggeration, but I just listened to the entire soundtrack to "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" for free at AOL Music and I'm feeling pretty hopped up about old-timey adventure stories, pulps, cliffhanger serials and pirates, though more the Errol Flynn kind than Lloyd McClendon's unruly bunch. I would also have you know that having just seen Jet Li's sword-swishing "Hero," any Errol Flynn swashbuckler, including some that he's not in, like Stewart Granger's "Scaramouche" and Ronald Colman's "The Prisoner of Zenda," is far superior to the drowsy inaction film currently playing in theatres. Heck, even the Pirates are better, and they don't do half with their bats what any of the above did with a rapier… New Pirates mantra for next season: "Make love, not (Daryle) Ward." …Terminally impatient; take away Craig Wilson and Jason Kendall and they wouldn't have many more walks than Barry Bonds has all by himself. GRADE: D

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Had a tough week of it hosting a couple of East Coast franchises, losing four of six to the Braves and Marlins. Still, there are some very good things happening in the town that my friends on the Aquaman beat have taken to calling "Sub Diego." Whereas the offense hit just .265/.334/.389 in the first half, they're a changed bunch in the second, bulking up to .286/.359/.447. Heroes of the Fall include Mark Loretta (.386/.448/.596), Khalil Greene (.297/.355/.507--numbers Derek Jeter would die for just now), and Phil Nevin (.355/.414/.551). Goats include Jay Payton, who has taken a season-long slump and run with it, batting .165/.242/.282 since the break. The current experiment with rookie Freddy Guzman seems likely to yield Gary Pettis at best, but Pettis was just good enough to get the 1986 Angels into the post-season. At this point, experimenting with Happy Felsch would be justified. All credit to a team that can see the obvious. GRADE: C-

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

"Just as the difficulty of duckpin bowling prevents a perfect game, so even the best hitters like Barry Bonds are limited in what they can achieve, and we must accept their accomplishments--dominance of their peers, fear struck into the hearts of mortal men--instead of focusing on their inability to knock down every pin." - Derek Zumsteg. Just to set the record straight, John McGraw, manager of an earlier iteration of this franchise, along with fellow Baltimore Oriole great Wilbert Robinson, was a father of duckpin bowling. Derek found this thought inside a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant that closed soon after, leaving behind no trace of its existence… Went 5-2, outscoring the opposition 48-34. Barry Bonds had another Ruthian week (soon we may be saying that Babe Ruth had some Bondsian seasons), batting .600/.714/1.450 and personally scoring 10 runs. Just another week at the office for God. In his spare time, the Lord blessed Deivi Cruz (.393), Edgardo Alfonzo (.400), and J.T. Snow (.470). Their bats were fruitful and hits multiplied… GRADE: A

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Went 6-2 in eight games, dropping one contest each to the Reds and Pirates. Both were one-run losses. With the long week, Star Commander LaRussa used six starters. Woody Williams allowed five runs in six innings for one of the two losses, though he did strike out 11. The rest of the starters combined to go 5-0, 3.00. Imagine that in a postseason series. The only problem is that the quality of offenses faced in The Post will be of better quality than those of Cinci and Pitt. Still, there's no knocking the quality of the performances. A team dripping in Hall of Famers from center field to the bench, it would be a privilege to see this club in the World Series. GRADE: A+

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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