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April 4, 2005

Prospectus Today

Opening Day Thoughts

by Joe Sheehan

8:50 a.m. PDT: One down, 2,429 to go.

I'm not ashamed to say that I've had some trouble sleeping these past few days. I'm just so excited about the new baseball season, excited in a way that is hard to explain to people who don't get the game, who don't love it, who don't have it in their blood. I was around many of those people, those...civilians...the last couple of days, celebrating milestones in the lives of two beautiful little girls, and it was hard to keep my excitement from spilling over.

If you're reading this, maybe you don't quite have the sleeplessness, but you certainly feel the tingle, right? There was a meaningful baseball game played last night. More are being played today, on the not-made-for-TV Opening Day of the '05 season. It's the first real day of a journey that, with rare exception, manages to surprise us each and every time we take it.

An hour from now, two pitchers at opposite ends of their careers will square off in Detroit, in a game that will have virtually no impact on the championship season. However, it will have so much impact on millions and millions of people who have waited for five months for the return of baseball. When Jeremy Bonderman pitches to David DeJesus, it will be more than just a confrontation between two young stars. It will be the first sign of spring, the last gasp of winter, and the first note in a six-month symphony.

Our game is back. Let's watch.

10:31 a.m. PDT: I love Bonderman. I've said this a number of times, but I think he's on the Ben Sheets path, where he's much improved in his third year--with perhaps his ERA lagging behind--and then explodes on the league in his fourth. He's a strikeout/groundball guy who has Kevin Brown potential. He reminds me a bit of Brad Radke, too.

The Tigers made a poor long-term decision by starting his clock back in 2003. However, they've done very well keeping him healthy, keeping his workload low at 20 and 21. He could use another year of reasonably careful handling, although his improved command will do more than anything to keep his pitch counts down.

Let's not forget that this is the guy the A's traded for Ted Lilly. I think it may be that Bonderman, not Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder, ends up as the best pitcher Beane dealt away.

10:49 a.m. PDT: It doesn't matter what the rationale is; if you have Tike Redman batting third for you on Opening Day, it's time to back up the truck and start over.

Tike Redman. That's just awful.

11:26 a.m. PDT: I'm a little surprised that Ned Yost is letting the Oliver Perez hitch go without a fight. I've seen Perez twice get to the top of his leg kick and then have a little second kick at the top before coming down. I don't think that constitutes a legal motion, even from the windup with no runners on base.

Hitch aside, Perez is a lot of fun to watch, all arms and legs on the mound, throwing in the high 90s most of the time. I still contend that his workload--not just in '04, but in winter ball the previous two years--combined with his inefficiency--is going to come a'cropper this year in the form of reduced performance and missed time.

Perez vs. Ben Sheets is the best Opening Day pitching matchup this season, which makes Brewers/Pirates the best OD game. Who knew?

11:31 a.m. PDT: Wow. Adam Dunn provides the year's first jaw-dropper by taking a Pedro Martinez fastball halfway to Cleveland.

There are ifs attached to almost every player in the Reds' top five. Their upside is something to behold, though. I'm comfortable with the idea that they'll get over .500 this year.

12:00 p.m. PDT: I think it's odd that the only game not available on satellite today is the third first-ever game for a Washington team. I know the reasons why--neither local network is part of the package--but it's a game I would have liked to have seen.

(The 17-year-old version of myself--the one who used to listen to WFAN overnight to hear Jody MacDonald read box scores line by line--thinks the 3[mumble]-year-old version is an ingrate.)

12:18 p.m. PDT: Interesting. After striking out--and looking bad in doing so--Tadahito Iguchi ran back to the dugout. Is that customary in Japan? I associate it with the kind of false, for-show hustle that's de rigeur in Little League or many college programs.

Mark Buehrle opened the year with a 1-2-3 inning. Among the flood of complaints in the wake of my AL Central preview was that I'd been far too dismissive of the left-hander. I remain unconvinced that he's more than an innings guy, although he's very good at that, leading MLB in innings pitched over the last four seasons.

Clay Davenport's Stuff statistic is a very good indicator of pitching ability, as it measures the things largely under a pitcher's control: walks, strikeouts and home runs. Zero is neutral, higher numbers are better. In his first three MLB seasons, Buehrle posted Stuff scores of 9, 7 and 4, unimpressive figures. (Just to pull a name, Ben Sheets was at 2, 15 and 14 over the same three seasons.) Last year, Buehrle jumped to 14, on the back of a higher--but still below average--strikeout rate and a big drop in walk rate. He set career highs in both categories.

If 2004 represented a new level of performance, Buehrle is better than a "mid-rotation innings guy." I don't see it. Moreover, he strikes me as the kind of pitcher--left-handed, polished, generally working at the outer edges of his ability--who's better in his 20s than in his 30s. (I need to look deeper into that concept.)

12:30 p.m. PDT: Will Carroll passes this along:

 

Am I jaded or does it just seem like there's better pitching this year than ever? We've got some great matchups like Sheets vs. Perez. I think the pendulum is swinging back to pitching after years of hitters having the advantage.

I agree with Will. These things are cyclical, and while they are affected by any number of outside factors, there's an ebb and flow to the game's talent distribution. Offense peaked in 1999-2000, and has since fallen back a bit.

The trend back towards 4.5 R/G would continue if teams would just push a bit more of their innings to the top half of their staffs, especially good relief pitchers, while dropping one pitching slot per team.

I've been corrected...Dunn's home run was headed for Lexington, Ky., not Cleveland.

12:43 p.m. PDT: George Bell and Karl Rhodes, meet Dmitri Young. Young just hit his third Opening Day home run.

Neither player ended up having a good season. Bell had a .304 OBP and .446 SLG in 1988, horrible for a corner outfielder even in that low-scoring season. Rhodes famously lost his job not long after the big day, eventually moving on to a wildly successful career in the Japanese League.

1:16 p.m. PDT: This is about how it's supposed to go for the Mets: Pedro Martinez whiffs 12 in six innings, and the top of the order goes 3-for-7 with a homer and three runs scored. David Wright didn't quite get all of a ball and still hit it off the wall in right-center field. This team can be very good.

Of the three outs the Mets made in the top of the seventh--when they scored three runs to take a 6-3 lead--two were self-inflicted, a no-out, runner-on-second sacrifice by Kazuo Matsui and an aborted steal attempt by Carlos Beltran. P.S. wrote in, "After the Mets half of the seventh, no team should ever play smallball again."

1:43 p.m. PDT: Mmmm...Boar's Head.

1:56 p.m. PDT: As the Mets and Reds went to the bottom of the ninth, I was thinking that maybe leaving Dae Koo in would be a good idea, what with Adam Dunn up second in the frame. Willie Randolph went to Braden Looper, his closer, who became the second Met pitcher to speculate on Dunn's ability to handle pitches below the belt and on the inner half of the plate, with predictable results.

And as I'm keying this in, Joe Randa pulls one out to left center. The Reds win, 7-6.

Here's the way I see it: Either platoon advantages are important and should be chased, or they're not and you should just use your best available pitcher. It shouldn't be "chase platoon advantages" through the eighth inning, and then "use the closer regardless of matchups" in the ninth. There's significant dissonance to the way bullpens are run these days, and while the Mets didn't necessarily lose because of it, that they did lose puts the problem into stark relief.

2:02 p.m. PDT: Terrific game in Chicago, where Mark Buehrle and Jake Westbrook threw strikes and worked quickly. The game ended in just over an hour and 50 minutes, with the Sox picking up a run in the seventh to win 1-0. Buehrle was the pitcher Sox fans expect him to be, rather than the one I see: eight innings, two hits, one walk, five strikeouts.

A day that began a bit slowly, with two blowouts, has really picked up some steam in the last few minutes.

2:45 p.m. PDT: Maybe it wasn't Larry Bowa. The Phillies seem determined to re-enact their bullpen disasters from the second half of '05. Rheal Cormier and Ryan Madson gave up four straight baserunners and Madson went to 3-0 on a fifth before inducing Terrmel Sledge to rap into a double play to end a seventh-inning rally with the Phils still up 7-4.

It's been a lot of fun...I may pop in again later, but this is likely the end of the diary. Hope you all enjoyed it.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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