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November 5, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Futility: How do you quantify futility? One way is to express it in terms of years passed since last championship. With the Red Sox winning it all this year, the Indians just jumped to third place in that particular sweepstakes:

    96 years: Cubs
    85 years: White Sox
    56 years: Indians
    50 years: Giants
    44 years: Rangers

    It can also be expressed as a percentage of the number of years in operation since the team last won a championship. The Indians fare somewhat better here, dropping to 11th:

    100%: Rangers, Astros, Expos, Padres, Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, Devil Rays
    82%: White Sox
    74%: Cubs
    54%: Indians
    53%: Royals
    43%: Diamondbacks
    42%: Mets
    41%: Giants

    That means the Indians have spent the last 54% of their existence without winning it all. The team destined to climb this list the fastest is probably the Diamondbacks since they won their last championship so early in their existence.

    Do the Indians play in the most drought-stricken division? The American League Central makes a pretty good case. Combined, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and Minnesota haven't won a World Series in their last 193 years of operation. That's 38.6 per team on average with all of them in double figures and Minnesota (13) the only one under 20.

    Drought-central is the other league's Central Division, however, with the Cubs leading the way. Together, Chicago (96), Houston (43), Milwaukee (36), Pittsburgh (25), St. Louis (22) and Cincinnati (14) combine for 236 years, or an average of 39.3 per team.

    The least championship-starved division? No contest there: it's the American League East with an 8.6 average.

  • Viva Mexico!: One never knows when the end will come unless one is a dues-paying member of the Hemlock Society. For former Indian Bobby Avila, the end came very close to the World Series, keeping his passing at the age of 80 out of the headlines. Avila was the second Mexican position player of note after Mel Almada. His best year was 1954, when he finished third in the MVP voting to Yogi Berra and teammate Larry Doby and helped lead the club to 111 victories. Terry Pluto of the Akron Beacon-Journal reports that Avila later went on to own several clubs in the Mexican League and was also that loop's commissioner.

    It seems hard to believe given Mexico's love of baseball and its proximity to the States, but only eight men born in Mexico have ever qualified for a batting title. In addition to Almada (3) and Avila (7), there are these gentlemen:

    Vinny Castilla, 9
    Aurelio Rodriguez, 8
    Jorge Orta, 5
    Erubiel Durazo, 2
    Benji Gil, 1
    Hector Torres, 1

    Needless to say, Castilla holds the career record for just about every offensive counting stat among Mexican-born players. The three in which he does not lead shouldn't surprise those who have followed his career:

    Walks: Avila, 561 (Castilla is third with 371)
    Triples: Orta, 63 (Castilla is tied for fourth at 27 along with Avila)
    Stolen Bases: Orta, 79 (Castilla is fifth with 29, but he's been caught 41 times!)

Montreal Expos

  • The Hiring Process: Nobody asked us if we wanted to run the Expos! The BP College of Coaches would have gladly taken the job. After many folks turned down the post of general manager--left empty when Omar Minaya went to the Mets--a bunch of us were gathered around the water cooler here at the BP cyber offices, discussing how it would be an interesting experiment to take on the project en masse. Instead, Commissioner Bud Selig cast his eyes elsewhere, only to find that Bob Watson wasn't willing to give it a go. Then things got interesting. As Thom Loverro of the Washington Times wrote, "So the Washington franchise, in its infancy, is taking on an identity: Home of Dysfunctional General Managers. Dan Duquette and [Jim] Bowden - these were the candidates for the Washington job? Heck, why not Syd Thrift?"

    In the end, the job went to Bowden and we were never called. Although we probably could have been had cheaper, there apparently wasn't going to be enough parking for all of us.

  • Emerging: Who had the second-highest slugging average on the Expos after Brad Wilkerson's .498? That's right, Juan Rivera. Yes, he'll be 27 when next season starts, but he's now slugged .468 and .465 in 2003 and 2004 in about one full season's worth of plate appearances (611). Rivera should have a shot at getting that many PAs in 2005 alone.

  • Web Gems: Clay Davenport discusses the National League Gold Glove Awards and argues that Brian Schneider should have gotten the nod over Mike Matheny. What is more, he has found an interesting defensive thread in the career of Tony Batista. What Clay says on that count will probably surprise you.

Seattle Mariners

  • More Defense: Clay also discusses the two Goldfingers won by Mariners Bret Boone and Ichiro Suzuki. He has no problem with Ichiro's hardware, but takes exception to Boone winning for the fourth time. Boone himself was surprised he won the award but not for the reasons cited by Clay. "I think for years, it was basically an offensive award," he told Dave Andriesen of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But the past few years, I think people are really starting to take it seriously and really writing down who deserves it." Is Boone right, are voters finally overlooking offensive numbers? Even if he isn't, it's good to know that at least some players understand the philosophy behind many Gold Glove selections of the past.

    Was Boone especially thrilled with his performance in the field? No. He told Andriesen it wasn't even among his top three years with the glove. "Definitely not one of my best [seasons], but I've had tremendous, tremendous years where I didn't win the award."

    Boone is right: 2004 does not make his top three or even his top five. In fact, since becoming a regular in 1995, one could make the case it was his worst season. Was he hosed in the seasons in which he did best? Here are his four best years in terms of RAR (Runs Above Replacement) and RAA (Runs Above Average).

    1997 Reds: 38/17 - Lost to Craig Biggio of the Astros, who went 41/15
    1999 Braves: 38/13 - Lost to Pokey Reese of the Reds (45/22)
    1998 Red: 38/11 - Won
    2003 Mariners: 35/11 - Won

    In his two best defensive seasons, he was aced out by deserving players. In fact, of Biggio's four consecutive Gold Gloves, his 1997 version was, by far, the most deserved. Boone also won the American League award in 2002 in a season in which he went 31/7. Most of the competition that year played significantly fewer games at second than did Boone. Among the handful that did approach or match his playing time, Adam Kennedy of the Angels was the best, with a 33/14. Texas' Mike Young (29/6) and Tampa Bay's Brent Abernathy (25/7) were the only other real contenders.

    In conclusion, the Gold Glove voters don't owe Boone anything.

  • Good News: The Mariners remain the only team in baseball history--along with the Marlins, who haven't been around nearly as long--to have never gotten worse two years in a row. Because the Mariners won just 63 games in 2004, it shouldn't be too hard for them to keep that streak alive.

  • Rationalizing: Why did the Mariners tab Mike Hargrove to be their manager? Consider this: his last four years at the helm of a big-league club resulted in four straight sub-.500 finishes. Who had this same sequence on his resume? That's right: the manager of the World Champion Red Sox, Terry Francona. Astros manager Phil Garner--who came within one game of being Francona's opponent in the World Series--goes that even better. He didn't post a winning season in nine-plus consecutive years before joining the Astros. Call it the drought/rainbow model.

  • We're #9!: We're sure a lot of regular PTP readers wonder about PTP pride. Does it exist? You bet it does! There is a great rivalry among those who cover the ten PTP trios. For instance, the PTP triumvirate of Cleveland/Montreal/Seattle has plenty of pride and spirit! It was a tough year for this PTP threesome, but let's look at it this way: we're better off than the Arizona/Detroit/Kansas City group. Here are the final PTP standings for 2004. Won-Loss records are averages of the group's records:
    
                   W   L     PCT   GB
    Hou/StL/Tex   96   66   .593   --
    LA/Min/SF     92   70   .568    4
    Bos/Cin/SD    87   75   .537    9
    CWS/Oak/Phi   87   75   .537    9
    Fla/NYY//Pit  85   77   .525   11
    Ana/CHC/Mil   83   79   .512   13
    Atl/TB/Tor    76   86   .469   20
    Bal/Col/NYM   72   90   .444   24
    Cle/Mtl/Sea   70   92   .432   26
    Ari/Det/KC    60  102   .370   36
    

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