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May 9, 2005

Prospectus Today

Around the AL

by Joe Sheehan

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Five weeks into the season is a good time to take off the blinders I've been wearing in an effort to not be influenced by a few hot or cold weeks. Let's take a stroll through the stats ($1, David) and see what's happening so far this year, AL today, NL tomorrow:

  • One of the things I'd look for in delineating between "fluke" and "development" is distribution of extra-base hits. For Brian Roberts--nine home runs, just seven doubles and triples combined--that information tells me that his early-season power surge is more the former. Look for him to end up with less than 20 bombs on the season, while seeing his other extra-base hit numbers rush far past that figure. I'm more impressed with the 19 walks; he's gotten a bit more patient every year, and is now a legitimate leadoff man.

  • The Orioles get so much offense from their up-the-middle spots that they've been able to suffer some terrible performances from their players on the other side of the defensive spectrum. At some point, though, they'll have to replace Rafael Palmeiro (.221/.299/.295) and/or Larry Bigbie (.263/.296/.342) with a real hitter. Watch the return of Frank Thomas in Chicago; he'll be shopped, and even The Medium Hurt would be a big boost for the Os.

  • Not to pound on this too much, but the differences between the Yankees and the Red Sox become apparent when things go wrong. The Sox have built up fantastic depth, particularly on the pitching side, which means they can suffer the loss of their nominal #1 and #4 starters and just keep on trucking. Jeremi Gonzalez, John Halama and Wade Miller have made four starts, each going at least five innings and allowing no more than three runs. Sure, that's a low standard, but it's enough when you have a deep bullpen and a good offense.

    I mean, Miller was signed for 1/15th what the Yankees guaranteed Jaret Wright, and is there any way that makes sense? In December, these decisions were bad. We're just seeing how bad in May.

  • The White Sox are now 24-7, and while their record in one-run games is 12-3, it bears mentioning that their record the rest of the time is now 12-4. They're the best defensive team in baseball, which is why they lead the AL in fewest runs allowed and a guy like Jon Garland is suddenly posting a 2.42 ERA. This advantage may be sustainable--they play two center fielders in the outfield, and every infielder is above average--and is the biggest reason to think the Twins do have a problem on their hands. Their inadequate lineup will catch up with them at some point, but they've bought time and distance with this start.

  • Pretty much every Indians hitter save Travis Hafner has been a disappointment. Aaron Boone deserves special mention, though: .124/.189/.268 with five walks and 24 strikeouts in 97 at-bats. Seems Indians fans don't care much about his homer off of Tim Wakefield, either.

  • As an aside to two L.A.-area rotoheads… Coco Crisp: .248/.299/.328, one homer, three steals. Whoever could have seen that coming?

  • Indians' bullpen update: 94 1/3 IP, 2.77 ERA, 74 SO, 30 BB. The high-leverage guys have been great aside from Bob Wickman, who has one of the highest saves/performance ratios in baseball.

  • Carlos Guillen: .387/.449/.566. MVP! MVP! MVP! (Hey, only a September injury kept him from being a legitimate candidate last year.)

  • There's a book in the Brandon Inge story. An inadequate player through age 26, he was good in 2004 and has been terrific (.304/.395/.482) in '05. He's got an argument to be an All-Star reserve at third base. Do the leaps forward by Guillen and Inge tell us anything about Tigers hitting coach Bruce Fields?

  • If you're Mike Sweeney, and you're playing on a team so bad that Chico would ask for his uniforms back, don't you have to go in and ask for a chance to help the Orioles, or the Yankees, or any of a dozen other teams in need of first-base or DH help?

  • Andy Sisco, by the way, has thrown 20 2/3 innings out of the bullpen already. I think there's a great contest here in guessing whether his ERA--currently 1.74--climbs over 5.00 before he gets placed on the disabled list. The guy has talent, but Tony Pena has decided he's Mike Marshall, and that never ends well.

  • I've mentioned this before, but I'll do so again. For all the praise it gets, the Angels' offense has a very simple key: it works when they hit .280, and it doesn't when they don't. They're at .243 this year, and all the productive outs and extra bases in the world aren't going to help when you have a .298 OBP. They're in first place thanks to some very good pitching and defense, and those things are only good because Darin Erstad (.256/.298/.376) is a leader.

  • Justin Morneau: .429/.448/.841. That's a really weird line thanks in part to just two walks in nearly 70 PAs. If you hit .429, no one cares about your walk rate.

    The really weird Twins' line belongs to Jacque Jones: .341/.451/.538 with 17 walks. Two years, ago, Jones drew 21 walks for the entire season. If it's real, it's an astounding, Ingesque turnaround that gives the Twins the third bat they desperately need.

  • Command Update: Twins' pitchers have struck out 172 men and walked just 40, for a 4.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio that would stil be far and away the best in baseball history. Johan Santana, on his way to another Cy Young Award, is at 59/5, while Brad Radke is at 31/1. Look for a lot of coverage later this year on Radke trying to have more wins than walks allowed.

  • Can anyone figure out Derek Jeter's career path? Sometimes it looks like he's going to have a big power spike, and then he goes back to singles. Sometimes it looks like he won't have great OBPs because he doesn't walk enough, then he picks up 22 free passes in five weeks. He's a Hall of Famer with just about any kind of career from here on out, but other than 1999, he's never been the hitter than his contemporaries have been.

  • Alex Rodriguez's raw line (.305/.359/.611, 11 homers) looks good, but there are underlying problems. He has just seven doubles and no triples to go with those jacks, and his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratios are at career highs. He bears watching.

  • The A's have fallen completely off the charts offensively. It's not just that they're not scoring (last in the AL with 108 runs). It's that no one is hitting--no one on the team has even an 800 OPS, or a .410 SLG, or a .370 OBP. You can build an offense in a number of different ways, but you have to have some elements. The A's have none: no power, no speed, no OBP. There's enough talent on hand for a league-average offense, but no better, not without adding at least one corner outfielder who can hit. Having to play both Eric Byrnes and Bobby Kielty against right-handers is crippling.

  • The lack of offense has wasted a strong start to the season by the A's bullpen. Three pitchers (Octavio Dotel, Keiichi Yabu and Justin Duchscherer) have ERAs below 2.00, and rookie Huston Street has 19 strikeouts and no home runs allowed in 16 innings.

  • I'm not sure why, but it feels like I've seen very little of the Mariners so far this season. They strike me, even with Ichiro Suzuki, as something of a bland, faceless team. That's not the look they were going for this winter with the signings of Adrian Beltre (.242/.275/.339) and Richie Sexson (.224/.330/.510). Their rotation has been a significant weakness (no starter has an ERA under 4.50), leaving a strong bullpen few opportunities to make a difference. This isn't a young, developing team, so the decline from here could be steep given the investments in older talent.

  • Shed no tears for Lou Piniella, because he's getting what he deserves and more. The Rays finally hand him Jonny Gomes. Gomes comes up, plays for about ten days, hits .304/.407/.609, AND THEN SITS FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK. Sorry, Lou; if you can't figure out that Gomes is exactly the guy you need to be the #2 power guy behind Aubrey Huff, then you're just not trying.

    Gomes and his team-leading OPS are likely to be demoted this week.

  • Can I still take credit for thinking David Dellucci (.288/.495/.589) should have been playing for the Diamondbacks all those years, and should have been platooning for the Yankees back in '03? No, it's probably not real. On the other hand, Luis Gonzalez was also a little bit better at 30, and a then monster at 31, so it does happen. Dellucci is 31 this year.

We'll tackle the NL tomorrow.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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