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April 28, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

by Paul Swydan

Cleveland Indians

  • Anemic Anomalies?: Cleveland has lost games thus far by scores of 1-0, 4-3, 2-1, 5-4, 3-2, 6-4, and 6-5. Seven losses by a combined eight runs is the sort of stuff that keeps a manager up nights wondering what's going on. But as Joe Sheehan noted Monday, the Indians bullpen has pitched lights-out. So what's missing here? The offense. The Indians compiled the third-best EqA in the Majors last year, hitting at a .282 clip. That has not been the case this year, as Cleveland's EqA currently stands at .240.

    There are three main culprits to blame for the Indians' slow start on offense: Casey Blake, Aaron Boone, and Grady Sizemore. Those three, generally batting in the bottom half of the lineup, have compiled a mere .200 EqA, approximately 65 points below their collective career average. They will need to start picking up the top half of the Indians' lineup if they are to see consistent success this season.

  • And C.C. Makes Three: The Indians' front office has had a busy start to the season, giving multi-year contracts to three players: Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and C.C. Sabathia. But do good things really come in threes? While there are certainly caveats, there is a lot to like about these deals.

    Martinez is a big-time hitter at a position where offense is scarce. Hafner's age, position and body type are strikes against a long-term deal, but the dollars involved (three years, $7 million) make this a sensible deal. Sabathia's a tougher case at two years, $17.75 million, with a track that shows above-average but below-elite performance, and a smattering of injuries. Still, he doesn't turn 25 until July, and the Indians expect him to improve. Of course the crux of the argument for signing all three is this: The trio could have earned better money in arbitration.

Seattle Mariners

  • Moyer of That, Please: Jamie Moyer recently tied Randy Johnson for the most career wins by a Mariner. Moyer is likely soon to pass Johnson in career innings pitched for Seattle, and currently has the best winning percentage for a Mariners pitcher. Let's take a deeper look at these southpaws' careers as Mariners:
    
    Player     K/BF    BB/BF    HR/BF    H/BF      RA
    Moyer      .146     .059     .029    .234    4.19
    Johnson    .280     .114     .021    .183    3.83
    
    
    Despite Moyer's advantage in BB/BF, Johnson was clearly the superior Mariner. In addition, Johnson pitched in Mariners stadia with an combined average park factor of 101, compared to 97 for Moyer.

    So Moyer isn't as good as Randy Johnson, which places him in the same category as 99% of pitchers in the history of the game. The fact that Moyer is even mentioned in the same sentence as the Big Unit is testament enough to his time as a Mariner. Much more instructive is the method with which Moyer was acquired, in a 1996 deadline deal for outfielder Darren Bragg:

    
    Player    Pre-Trade WARP3    Post-Trade WARP3
    Moyer                28.9                57.4
    Bragg                 3.1                14.0
    
    

  • Left Side! Strong Side!: This Tuesday, Jamal Strong joined those other three wise men, Alex Sanchez, Jorge Piedra, and Agustin Montero as the fourth player at the major league level to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As we gain more positive test results, we can see general patterns emerging. All four players are entering their primes, in the 26- to 28-year-old age bracket. However, rather than prospering, all four are fighting for their major league futures. Sanchez seems to have found a home in Tampa Bay for now, but he will not supplant Carl Crawford or Aubrey Huff. Rocco Baldelli will be back soon, and Jonny Gomes and Joey Gathright provide stiff competition.

    Perhaps more interesting than the result itself however, was the reaction from the Mariners' brass. While the Devil Rays, Rockies, and Rangers expressed some combination of remorse, cooperation with the policy, or just did not comment in general, the Mariners were the first to publicly show their displeasure with the results. It will be interesting to see how teams react if more recognizable players get busted.

  • Shin-Soo Who?: Recently, the Mariners called up Shin-Soo Choo, and he made his major league debut, grounding out against Octavio Dotel in a pinch-hitting role. While it's encouraging to see Choo get a shot on the strength of his minor league track record, he'll likely struggle to find playing time. Ichiro Suzuki is of course one of the elite players in the game. Meanwhile Randy Winn and Jeremy Reed have shown good on-base ability, so they're both tough to bench. Look for some pinch-hit appearances, but few spot starts, barring injury.

Washington Nationals

  • They'll Be Here All Year!: A lot has gone right for the Nationals so far. At 11-10 overall, the Nats are staying right in the thick of things in both the NL East and the authoritative Prospectus Hit List, and they have a number of developments that have positively contributed to the first month in their new/old digs:

  • Uh-oh Ohka: One thing is certain: The Marlins love Tomokazu Ohka. Though Ohka pitched decently in his first two starts against the Fish, he not only lost both games but may now be injured. With those losses in hand, Ohka now sports a 1-10 career record vs. the Marlins, which, using a minimum threshold of 11 decisions, ties him for the second-worst winning percentage for a pitcher versus one opponent.

  • The More Things Change: Here's a gem from Cristian Guzman: "Each league has nine players. Everybody throws fastballs, breaking balls and sinkers. There is no difference between the two leagues." While it is certainly noble of Guzman to not make excuses for his poor start, he just doesn't have much of a case. A brief look at shortstops over the past five years:
    
    2000-2004   AVG    OBP    SLG    ISO
    AL SS      .274   .328   .420   .147
    NL SS      .262   .315   .385   .124
    
    
    Describing April, Guzman exclaimed, "It's just not my month." As they say, the man is not wrong. Guzman sports an untranslated career April line of .251/.287/.363. The bad news is that his April statistics are remarkably similar to his overall translated career line: .249/.286/.363.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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