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September 16, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

My Aunt's Thanksgiving Turkey Edition, American League

by Steven Goldman

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ANAHEIM ANGELS

Idling at the worst moment. With the Red Sox and Yankees on a collision course, the Angels needed to stay close so as to pick up the pieces. Instead they split six with the Blue Jays and the White Sox, two teams that have been cooked for so long they're dryer than my aunt's Thanksgiving turkey, which knowing my aunt is probably hitting the oven right about now. But for Aaron Sele the pitching staff did a good job--all the losses were close. It was the offense that slowed down a bit this week, with Darin Erstad showing what happens when he fails to hit .350. The cool thing about power hitters is that when they get on a little hot streak and hit .350 for a week, they can channel seven days of Barry Bonds even if they're not Barry Bonds. Then, when they go into a slump, they channel some Rob Deer, perhaps batting .220 but sending two or three home runs out of the park and taking some walks. That's still useful, even if it's not ideal. If you're Darin Erstad and you slump, you lack the peripherals to turn into anyone but Rey Ordonez. Even good managers have their blind spots; Erstad is Mike Scioscia's. On the good side of the manager's ledger, Chone Figgins, entirely a Scioscia invention, posted a 1.213 OPS. GRADE: C

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Compare Jorge Julio and B.J. Ryan on the season:


NAME      IP     H     BB     K     HR     BAA     ERA
Julio     60.2   50    33     59    10    .222     4.15
Ryan      76.2   54    33     108    4    .191     2.11

There is no reason that Ryan cannot throw his 80 innings in the eighth and ninth rather than in the sixth and seventh. Sure, he's hell on lefties, but he can be hell on them late and close too... Orioles pitchers walked 5.2 batters per nine innings last week, struck out 4.83. You don't see that very often, but then in many ways this staff as currently constituted is not of major league quality. On offense, if you could tabula rasa this club, just sweep it clean, you would only keep a few players: Melvin Mora, the two free agent signees Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada, perhaps Brian Roberts. All else is stagnation. Ah, for the good old days of Brady Anderson, Steve Finley, and Mike Devereaux! Well, maybe not Mike Devereaux. Don Buford? GRADE: D

BOSTON RED SOX

Over in the Pinstriped Bible, your host posited that the Red Sox would take two of three games at Oakland and split with Seattle, hedging that this assessment was probably overly generous to Seattle. Even this quavering forecast earned its author much in the way of thoughtful Internet ridicule. As it turned out, the Sox swept Oakland and split with Seattle. It just goes to show that predicting outcomes in any small snatch of games is difficult. This west coast road trip was supposed to beach the Red Sox and instead it came near to making their season. What the pundits missed was that Sox pitching travels. The staff was almost universally excellent, recording a 1.92 ERA on the week, allowing the offense to outscore the opposition 46-18. This was far from the offense's best week; they could have done twice as much.

Note that Orlando Cabrera batted .296/.333/.481 last week. This is (a) very good for a shortstop, (b) not as good as Nomar at his best, but (c) right now Nomar isn't even playing. Score one for Theo. Thanks to the existence of the wild card, the outcome of the AL East race will likely have no effect on Boston's entry into the post-season. Once they're there, only the weight of 1918 can stop them. When Paul Simon sang "the cross is in the ballpark" in 1990's "The Obvious Child," do you suppose he meant Fenway Park? He's a Yankees fan, but it just doesn't fit, especially if you take the imagery to be allegorical: cross = crucifix = crucible = test. The test is in the ballpark. Well it is, isn't it? GRADE: A

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

I avoid thinking about Joe Crede much the way I avoid thinking about the price of milk, the dwindling population of elephants in the wild, and that debauched night I spent with Will Carroll in Manhattan where the police found me on the front steps of FAO Schwartz drinking vodka from my own sneaker. Crede has what BP trademarkedly calls a VORP 0.6, which, let's face it, is not that far out of line for him. Much in the way that Tony La Russa won a division title with Mike Squires and Jerry Dybzinski by pretending they had something to contribute other than novelty--Squires being the rare southpaw to play third base, Dybzinski for his Scrabble-friendly surname--the Sox have been Land of Make-Believing Crede into a player for several years now, and they need to seek help immediately. If there are any psychiatrists in the house, a good dose of thorazine might clear up some of these delusions, not to mention allow Sox execs to sleep through the rest of the schedule... From the New York vantage point, the caveat emptor pitching line of the week belongs to Jose Contreras: Starts, two. Losses, two. 4.2/15/15/6/4. Don't do the math--it's an ERA of 28.93. GRADE: C-

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Talk about fixing the barn door after the horse has gone to Nevada to see the brothels. The Indians played five against the Mariners and the A's last week, compiling an aggregate pitching line of 46/33/14/19/42, ERA 2.74. These same guys threw gas on the fire while the Cuyahoga was burning, fiddled while the stadium was reduced to ashes. Now that it's all over, they're loosey-goosey, which reminds me of the police officer I used to talk to some years ago who told me about the time he arrested some twisted fellow for using the geese down at the local park in an unnatural way. The geese were OK, he said, except for the mournful, questioning way they honked. Ho-ONK? Ho-ONK? For years thereafter people who visited that park would report that the geese were always nervously looking over their shoulders. Despite getting a week of fine pitching, the Indians went only 3-2; one of the best offenses in baseball couldn't keep up. GRADE: B-

DETROIT TIGERS

Went 2-5 on the week, including a historic 26-5 thrashing at the hands of the Murderer's Row Royals. That's not even accurate. The Royals have more of a Misdemeanors Row. Still, it has been a very positive season for the Tigers, especially as Jeremy Bonderman seems to have turned a corner. He threw another eight shutout innings this week, keeping his second half ERA below 4.00. He ranks seventh in the American League in strikeouts, has walked just 3.7 per nine innings, which is not Zack Greinke, but isn't bad either. Spring '05 will be an exciting time as we watch to see if Bonderman emerges as the ace of this rehabilitating franchise. GRADE: C-

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

As XTC sang back in 1986, "Big day come and big day go, life goes on after the show." The fluke 26-run game aside--and by definition, a 26-run game is a fluke--the Royals were battered about the head and shoulders as usual. Hope they enjoyed the moment... Two of the biggest weeks turned in by Royals were by defrocked, over-hyped ex-prospects Angel Berroa and Dee Brown, but as that same XTC song says, "Statistics, they don't say a lot." Wait a minute. They don't? GRADE: C-

MINNESOTA TWINS

Went 5-1 against the Orioles and Tigers, which is exactly what you would expect. Walked nine batters all week long; Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Johan Santana combined to pitch 20 innings without giving out a single free pass. More troubling is that they didn't hit much, even against these questionable pitching staffs. When it comes to the playoffs, if the games are low-scoring, the Twins will win. If they have to go cannon to cannon with anyone, it's going to be a short October in the Twin Cities. GRADE: A-

NEW YORK YANKEES

Since it's the Yankees, let's play six degrees of Casey Stengel. First test: Casey Stengel to "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson. Casey Stengel went to high school with William Powell. William Powell co-starred with Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama," 1934. Gable headlined "Gone with the Wind" with Vivien Leigh. Leigh was married to Sir Laurence Olivier, who was in "War Requiem" with Sean Bean. Bean was "Boromir" in Jackson's trilogy. Second test, Casey Stengel to Paul Quantrill, who since the All-Star break, has a 6.48 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .347: Casey managed Ralph Houk, who managed Mel Stottlemyre, who is Quantrill's pitching coach... The Yanks batted .344/.416/.508 for the week, scoring 59 runs to 35 for the opposition, and the pitching, Javier Vazquez aside, was strong (they went the Twins one better, walking only eight), though not dominating. Since the Angels visited New York in August, the Yankees have played seven straight series against non-contenders, going 16-7. This seems, somehow, a disappointment. GRADE: A-

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

A bad week for the AL West leaders, who batted .201/.292/.357, while their pitchers knuckled under to the mighty Red Sox. Post-All-Star, Zito and Hudson have ERAs over 4.00, Mulder over 5.00. The A's have two series left with the Angels, two with the M's, one more against the Rangers. No matter what happens, the ending won't lack for drama. GRADE: C

SEATTLE MARINERS

Won but two games on the week, but they were against the Red Sox, so The Mariners did their duty and played spoilers. Ichiro hit .280/.308/.280, giving George Sisler hope, and the club as a whole batted .198/.245/.349. Now that's a slump... Post-All-Star break Jamie Moyer, 0-5, 6.48, has allowed 41 home runs on the season, which is the seventh-most allowed by a pitcher in any season. Just five more taters will tie Moyer with Bert Blyleven's 1987 for third all-time. Blyleven was a pretty good pitcher too, and he had some stuff left even after launching so many ships. With Moyer it seems less likely... A shout out to Judy Blume, who just won the National Book Award. This has nothing to do with the Mariners, but I have to say something positive in this space. Besides which, Seattle is a good town for free speech and Blume is one of the most banned authors of the day. GRADE (SEATTLE): D+ GRADE (BLUME): A+ GRADE (CENSORS): F-

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

The Devil Rays took only 11 walks in six games last week (Barry Bonds, hereafter known as BaBo, took nine in five), but...

What's the name of the rookie that led the whole team?
What's the name of that kid that makes all the girls scream?
Whose very appearance fulfills Chuck LaMar's dreams?
It's Upton! B.J. Upton!
Franchise savior...
B.J. Upton!

You can sing along with this and several other swinging tunes on Baseball Prospectus' forthcoming CD, BP Sings the Baseball Blues. Tracks include:

Joe Sheehan: There Used to Be a Ballpark
Jonah Keri: You've Gotta Have Heart
Derek Zumsteg: Talkin' Mariners Baseball
Chris Kahrl: Snoopy vs. the Red Baron
Dayn Perry: Shoeless Joe Jackson Stole My Wallet
Steven Goldman: That's Joe Torre

When the moon hits your eye Like a Jeter pop fly
That's Joe Torre...

When Bench hits the bench
So Girardi can ketch
That's Joe Torre...

Yeah, it was only three walks, but with this team, any excuse for a musical extravaganza (in the next AL TEAMS we'll have Scott Kazmir's great start against the Red Sox to talk about). GRADE: D

TEXAS RANGERS

Gone and done, with no indication that there's a last-minute charge left in 'em; if you weren't convinced before, losing three of four to this year's very forgettable White Sox enterprise underscores the end like John Hancock signing his bar tab... Batting just .246/.308/.428 in neutral parks, with just 10 more walks than BaBo has all by himself, this offense needs to add a serious OBP threat over the winter or it's never going to compete with the A's, to say nothing of the pitching. The Rangers took 27 walks last week, but this atypical performance was largely attributable to two also-ran opponents pitching around Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. The only thing that can save them now is a historic tailspin by the A's, something on the order of the 1964 Phillies. Sure, it could happen. GRADE: C-

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

When has a team quit? I would posit that a prime warning sign would be games that go by too quickly because the team has stopped taking pitches. The Blue Jays posted an OBP of .278 last week, taking 11 free passes, just one better than league laggards Seattle and Baltimore, the latter of which had the excuse of facing the Twins, whose pitchers have had targeting computers installed in their brains, and the Yankees, whose owner has banned walks. Best-looking bird was Carlos Delgado, whose August-September has included a home run every 10 at-bats. He's playing like a guy who wants a new contract--finally. 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

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