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February 4, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • On the Slate: Let's take a look at the Indians 2005 schedule and check for highlights:

    • April 4, Opening Day: at Chicago White Sox
      So, they're at it again. Just as it was on the American League's very first day of action, April 24, 1901, Cleveland is visiting Chicago to open the 2005 season. What has been settled in the intervening 104 years? Not a whole lot, really. At this juncture, the White Sox lead the Indians in the eternal standings by just 29 games. It stands to reason that all-time head-to-head standings would even out over time, unless where the Yankees are involved, so a 29-game bulge over a century of baseball is not all that surprising.

      In fact, among the four American League teams that are still in their original 1901 cities, four of the six eternal standings are extremely close:

      
      +28: Cleveland over Detroit
      +29: Chicago over Cleveland
      +30: Boston over Chicago
      +35: Detroit over Chicago
      +57: Boston over Detroit
      +74: Cleveland over Boston
      
      If you take these four teams and count only the games they've played against each other, the standings look like this:
      
      Cleveland  2903-2886  .5015
      Boston     2843-2830  .5011
      Detroit    2891-2885  .5005
      Chicago    2794-2830  .4968
      
      Still, the Indians would have to go 12-7 against the White Sox for six straight years to pull ahead of the White Sox. Of course, we understand that not one single ticket in the history of baseball has been sold on the premise that it had eternal head-to-head ramifications.

    • May 20-22: at Cincinnati
      Interleague play comes early to the Buckeye state and the novelty diminishes with every passing year. The Reds stand in for the Dodgers this year, as Cleveland plays every National League West team except Los Angeles. Not that the Indians have anything to complain about: The Reds have been a sub-.500 team in six of the eight seasons they've met Cleveland in the regular season and don't promise to be a whole lot better this year, either.

    • June 20-22: vs. Boston
      It's always fun when the defending World Champions come to town--especially one with a displaced fan base as large at the Red Sox's. This series comes after the patsy portion of the NL West blows through town: Colorado and Arizona.

    • August 2-4: vs. New York Yankees
      The Indians are a scant 468 miles door-to-door from the Yankees, but will only see them come to visit once this year. It's more important to play the Rockies and Diamondbacks, we suppose.

    • September 9-11: vs. Minnesota
      If the road to the American League Central title goes through Minnesota and if the Indians hang in there, then this--the last 2005 meeting between these two clubs--will have serious implications.

Seattle Mariners

  • On Staff: When a team up and hires a sabermetrician, it's going to cause a website such as this one to take notice. Mat Olkin, formerly of STATS, Inc. has been hired by the Mariners as a "player acquisition consultant." Olkin will report directly to general manager Bill Bavasi. More teams than ever before have at least one person on staff crunching numbers as either an adjunct to scouting reports or on equal footing with the observational approach long favored by those in charge.

    When Craig Wright was hired by the Rangers in 1980s to be their staff sabermetrician, the general feeling was that there would be soon more jobs like his throughout baseball. It's taken a lot longer than it should have, but, with the popularity of Moneyball, the success of the A's and Boston's hiring of Bill James (and their consequent World Championship soon thereafter), the tipping point may finally have come for this sort of front office staffing. It may well be that, in the very near future, the hiring of someone like Olkin will warrant barely a notice.

  • PECOTAed in Seattle: According to The Oregonian, Olkin consulted on the Adrian Beltre signing prior to his official hiring. It does not appear that such was the case with the Richie Sexson contract signed earlier in the winter. How does PECOTA like Sexson in 2005? It projects him at a rather pedestrian 23.6 VORP, with a .254/.347/.480 line. Clearly, Bavasi was hoping for something more than that after plunking down $50 million for a four-year piece of Sexson's life. Obviously, a more active 2005 than the PECOTA-based observation foresees (a little over 100 games) will do wonders for his counting stats. As for Beltre, PECOTA has his VORP dipping to 30.9, down from 89.1. If both forecasts prove accurate, the Mariners will be dealing some serious green wattage for two players who combine for a VORP of 55. Considering that the pair combined for 140 points of VORP in their last full seasons (Beltre in 2004 and Sexson in 2003), that would be something of a blow to Bavasi.

    Among returning Mariners, PECOTA sees Bret Boone holding his own, jumping from a VORP of 27.1 to 31.9--the best number on the team. Ichiro Suzuki comes significantly back to earth after a year when he got more hits in than a 1950s Texas primary school principal, dropping from 80.9 VORP down to about 30. Last year's free agent signings--Raul Ibanez and Scott Spiezio--combine for a VORP projection of 16.7. Bavasi's 2004-05 signings are bound to be projecting better than that a year from now.

    On the pitching side of things, the highest-ranked Seattle pitcher in terms of PECOTA-projected VORP is Joel Pineiro at 22.1. Only two teams have a high man with a lower projection: Tampa Bay's Chad Orvella, 19.8 and Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman at 18.3. So, even if Beltre turns out to be one of the better free agent moves of the offseason and Sexson can paint a picture that resembles himself pre-injury, the Mariners are still going to have trouble getting people out.

Washington Nationals

  • Rebirth: Now that the Expos have relocated to Washington, some firsts are inevitable in 2005, including the first regular season visit by a team designated as "Washington" (and no, turn-back-the-clock games do not count) to:

    ...the state of Florida (versus the Marlins, April 8)
    ...the state of Georgia (versus the Braves, April 11)
    ...the state of Arizona (versus the Diamondbacks, May 9)
    ...the nation of Canada (versus the Blue Jays, May 20)
    ...the state of Texas (versus the Rangers, June 17)
    ...the state of Colorado (versus the Rockies, August 12)

    In the course of their schedule, the Nationals will play a team that almost beat them to Washington (San Diego in 1974), a team that preceded them in Washington (Texas in 1971) and a team in a city that almost once accepted the transfer of a Washington team (Toronto in 1917). The only club missing from this cross-pollination is Minnesota, who absorbed the Washington franchise in 1961.

    Old, old National League city rivalries will be rekindled as well. The Phillies, Pirates, Reds, Cardinals and Cubs have not bucked up against a Washington team since 1899. Nor have the Dodgers, Braves and Giants, although they have long since relocated. The last New York-Washington National League contest was played on October 14, 1899 when the Senators beat the Giants 12-9 on the final day of the season and then went away. The other three teams active when last Washington was in the National League were the Cleveland Spiders, Louisville Colonels and Baltimore Orioles. All three had their commands terminated along with the Senators at the end of that campaign.

    Speaking of the Orioles, they are conspicuous by their absence from Washington's interleague schedule. Obviously, this is a result of the schedule being drawn up while the team was still located in Montreal. Hence, the Nationals have six games against Toronto, a holdover from the all-Canada tilts that have helped make interleague play the stunning success it has been.

    Is it too late to manufacture some sort of switch to get the Nationals at least one series against the team owned by the one man on the planet who fought the hardest to deny their very existence?

    The weekend of May 20-22 has the Orioles hosting the Phillies while the Nats visit Toronto. We'll ask this because we don't know: has the Philly-Baltimore rivalry become so heated that it must be preserved at any cost? Is there an embarkation line somewhere in Delaware that separates the followers of the Orioles and Phillies like some kind of symbolic Berlin Wall? If so, then let's do nothing to disturb this Hatfield-McCoy-magnitude feud.

    If not, then why not send the Phillies up to Toronto for the weekend and let the Nats go to Baltimore? Look, it's not like baseball schedules are sacred anymore--teams have been jerking them around ever since interleague came down our chimneys to bless our lives with joy. The second possible series would be from June 24 to 26 when the Blue Jays visit RFK Stadium. On those days, the Orioles are in Atlanta. Would a switch at this point be so terrible (other than the upgrade in quality of opponent for the Jays--not that those sorts of considerations have ever stopped anybody before from monkeying with the schedule).

--Jim Baker

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