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September 30, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • "Ma! Mom! Ma! Mommy! Ma! Mooooommmmmm!!!!": Have you ever seen a kid try to get his or her parents' attention so they can watch the kid do something? They keep after their parents until they finally get their full attention and then, the kid goes to do the thing again and totally screws it up. "That's nice," the parents will say, returning to what they were doing before being so rudely interrupted.

    That pretty much sums up the Indians' 2004 season. They kept doing things to make us notice them and then, when they finally had everybody's attention, they plotzed. On August 14, they beat the Twins 7-1 and moved to eight games over .500, just one game behind Minnesota for the division lead. The Twins took them out the next day in extra innings, and they proceeded to lose their next eight games, including three more to the Twins. That was pretty much it.

    Now 79-80, they could still finish at or over .500 on the season, which is better than most people predicted for them. The failing has been a pitching staff that aids and abets hitters rather than putting them in their place. The Indians are in the top three of too many "allowed" categories for it to be healthy. They have the worst save percentage in the league and have given up the most stolen bases. Only the Red Sox are worse at catching thieves.

    The Indians are plenty good at scoring and should continue to be next year. If they are going to get to the next level, though, they need to carve at least 100 runs off this year's total of 845 and counting, the second-highest figure in the AL behind the Royals. If this sounds like a tall order, it can be done. This year, Texas, San Diego and St. Louis all made greater jumps than that over 2003's run prevention.

  • Falling off the Mound: Back at the All-Star break, it appeared the Indians had the makings of a solid three-man core for their starting rotation. At that time, nobody else in the American League had three starters with VORP numbers this good:

    C.C. Sabathia, 30.5
    Cliff Lee, 27.9
    Jake Westbrook 27.5

    Westbrook has doubled his VORP since then, and Sabathia added another ten runs to his. Reality fell on Cliff Lee's house in a big way, though. He had a quality start in his first outing after the Midsummer classic, albeit by the bare minimum: six innings pitched and three runs allowed. Since then, he's seen fire and he's seen rain/he's seen lonely times when he could not find a friend, etc. He's gone 2-7 with both victories being of the cheapest possible variety. He's had one more bare-minimum quality start and one other of six innings with two runs allowed. Most times, his runs allowed have exceeded the innings his manager allowed him. His VORP has fallen to 8.6.

    The best starting trio now belongs to the Minnesota Twins in the persons of Johan Santana (87.1), Brad Radke (59.3) and Carlos Silva (41.0). The A's are close on the bottom end but not on the top. The Yankees do not have anyone coming even close to matching the low man of the trio, but they do have something no other team has: five starting pitchers with VORPs of at least 20. High man is Orlando Hernandez with 30.8 in just 14 starts.

Montreal Expos

  • The End: Many of you are within an Amtrak ride of history. The very last Montreal Expos game is on Sunday at Shea Stadium versus the Met. We at BP strongly urge you to attend at least one of the games this weekend to say goodbye to a franchise that should be staying put if not for taking a couple of body blows, starting with the 1994 work stoppage and continuing with a rather questionable abandonment by ownership.

    Shea is a fitting place for the team to end its run, as that is where it began. On April 8, 1969, les Expos held off a late charge by the Mets to win 11-10. Rusty Staub batted third for Montreal that day and reached base five times. One would hope that he--a player who made his mark in both towns--is in attendance on Sunday. While you're at it, read Jonah Keri's requiem for his favorite team.

  • Looking Ahead: What kind of team will be delivered to Washington, D.C. in 2005? In terms of franchises that shift locales, a fairly typical one. Of the 12 previous teams that changed addresses, the 2004 Expos fall right in the middle as far as winning percentage the previous year. Starting with the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers (who moved to St. Louis and became the Browns) and ending with the 1971 Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers), the average record for a franchise in its last year at its old location is .417. The Expos, at .409, are right in that neighborhood.

    Does switching cities lead to immediate success, as switching stadiums often does? Not necessarily. The best record ever posted by a team in its last year in a city was 84-70 by the Brooklyn Dodgers. They fell off by 13 games the next year in Los Angeles. The '65 Milwaukee Braves were next at 86-70 and they fell by a game in Atlanta in '66. The 1952 Boston Braves (Milwaukee), 1901 Milwaukee Brewers (St. Louis), 1902 Baltimore Orioles (New York) and 1967 Kansas City Athletics (Oakland) all saw significant gains in their new surroundings.

  • {Home) Run, Don't Walk: Everybody talks about how Barry Bonds is going to have fewer strikeouts than home runs in 2004. So where's the love for the Expos' Tony Batista? He's doing something that nobody else will in 2004: he's the only player in the big leagues with 30 or more home runs who has fewer walks than homers (currently 32 to 26). This is the second time in his career that Batista has "accomplished" this. He also did it 2000 when he went 41 and 35.

    Here are the five most extreme home run-to-walk ratios for 30-plus homer men:

    
    Player              Year  HR  BB   RATIO
    Dante Bichette      1995  40  22    1.82
    Alfonso Soriano     2002  39  23    1.70
    Andres Galarraga    1994  31  19    1.63
    Andre Dawson        1987  49  32    1.53
    Bob Horner          1979  33  22    1.50
    
    In all, it's been done 49 times. The first man to do it was Al Simmons of the 1929 Athletics (34 and 31). Five players have done it three times each. You can probably guess who they are if you ponder on it for a moment: Dave Kingman, Juan Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Tony Armas and Vinny Castilla. 1987 and 2000 saw the most activity in this regard, with four players each pulling off the trick.

    The Rockies were especially fond of these sorts of players. In addition to Bichette's record-setting performance in 1995, they had five other occurrences between '94 and '98. One could speculate that the temptation of putting a ball in play in Mile High Stadium and Coors Field would drive anyone to get to hacking, but Castilla, Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga were just those sorts of fellows regardless of where they were playing.

Seattle Mariners

  • 255 and Counting: Did you realize that Ichiro Suzuki's .372 batting average in 2004 much more resembles that of the second-best hitter on the 1920 St. Louis Browns? Baby Doll Jacobsen hit .355 with 216 hits in the same year that George Sisler had his 257 safeties. Sisler was operating in an environment with more 200-hit men per capita than the world of 2004. Seven other 1920 players had 200 hits in a league with eight teams. Ichiro's world has six more teams and only three other 200-hit guys. Two of the 1920 guys--the Baby Doll and Jack Tobin--were Sisler's teammates.

    Ichiro could finish with the best slugging average of his North American career, but don't let that fool you: more than ever, it's built on a foundation of singles. His isolated power figures are .107, .104, .124 and, this year, .085. While he's easily winning the league singles title, he's tied for 65th in doubles with 24, tied for 16th in triples with five and tied for 107th in the league in home runs with eight.

    How, exactly, does one spread one's hits when one is getting the most ever in a season? Ichiro has done it like this:

    0: 27
    1: 51
    2: 45
    3: 23
    4: 6
    5: 4

    It also pays to play at every opportunity. He has taken one day off (July 10), made one mid-game replacement appearance (August 3) and left one game after only one at-bat (August 18). For the rest of the season, he has come to the plate at least four times except on one occasion. On June 15, he was batting out of the three-hole when Victor Santos and two Brewers relievers held the Mariners to two hits. This limited Ichiro to just three plate appearances.

  • Gar: It seems like Edgar Martinez used to hit as many doubles in a month as Ichiro has done all year. Martinez is in the midst of his final week as a big leaguer and he's on the verge of posting a sub-.400 slugging average for the first time since 1993. Martinez climbed to 35th on the all-time list for career doubles this year. He's sitting on 514 at the moment. Without even bothering to check, we're going to bet that he has the fewest career plate appearances of any man in the top 50 in career doubles.

    OK, we checked. We were close. Three men in the top 50 hit all their doubles in fewer chances than did Edgar:

    Joe Medwick: 8,142 (540 doubles, 22nd)
    Ed Delahanty: 8,389 (522 doubles, 32nd)
    Heinie Manush: 8,416 (491 doubles, 48th)

  • Things Change: In 2003, the Mariners pulled off the nifty trick of naming a starting rotation at the beginning of the season and then using those five men exclusively for the rest of the year. Such is anything but the case in 2004. This year, 11 men have been given the ball and, of those, only two--Ryan Franklin and Jamie Moyer--will even come close to the full complement of starts. This has resulted in a starting corps in which just three men--the departed Freddy Garcia, the surprising Bobby Madritsch and the injury-shelved Joel Pineiro--have managed to keep their ERAs as starters under 5.00.

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Premium Article Under The Knife: Heart... (09/30)
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Prospectus Triple Play... (09/23)
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Prospectus Triple Play... (10/06)
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Thanks for the Memorie... (09/30)

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