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May 10, 2005

Prospectus Today

Around the NL

by Joe Sheehan

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Fourteen percent more teams, at least 14 percent more fun…it's the National League!

  • I blasted the signing from here to kingdom come based on my doubts that he would play third base, but so far, the Diamondbacks' deal with Troy Glaus looks like a good one. He's been healthy enough to play the hot corner and he's picked up at the plate where he left off last spring, when he hit .296/.387/.694 before undergoing surgery on his right shoulder. His .271/.374/.610 is a continuation of that performance.

    A year ago, suggesting that Glaus would be a better free-agent signing than Adrian Beltre would have been silly. Even though they got the older player and the bigger health risk, I'm not sure that the D'backs didn't make a better deal than the Mariners did.

  • Brandon Lyon is once again the closer of the month, just as he was in 2003 with the Red Sox. This won't last, either. He has eight strikeouts, three walks and 18 hits allowed in 15 innings pitched. Short him and go get Brian Bruney and Jose Valverde.

  • One last D'backs note: Javier Vazquez has 44 strikeouts and eight walks allowed in 44 innings. His ERA is still high thanks to his Opening Day disaster, but he's looking more and more like the pitcher the Yankees signed to a four-year extension last year.

  • Brian Jordan: .255/.308/.336; Raul Mondesi: .202/.236/.356. Braves: 20-12. It's not like the rest of the hitters are raking, either. Johnny Estrada and Rafael Furcal also have sub-.300 OBPs. A very good defense has the Braves second only to the Marlins in runs allowed, and they've ridden the middle of the lineup, largely around Chipper Jones (.348/.640/.477), to 20 wins.

  • Since his own Opening Day nightmare, John Smoltz has allowed eight runs in five starts, throwing 39 2/3 innings. His bad back might cost him a start or two, but if it protects his elbow, that's not such a bad thing. I still don't think he can make 30 starts or pitch 175 innings.

  • Yesterday, I castigated Lou Piniella for not getting Jonny Gomes and his 1000 OPS into the lineup. Today's target is Dusty Baker. After Jason Dubois' .346/.393/.808 April, the left fielder has gotten five at-bats, just one start, in the first nine days of May. Todd Hollandsworth, meanwhile, keeps finding his way into the lineup on the strength of his .211/.283/.322 performance. You go, Teflon Manager.

  • Good to see Dave Miley finding ways to get Felipe Lopez and his upside into the lineup. I'd prefer to see it cost Rich Aurilia (.202/.232(!)/.362) rather than D'Angelo Jimenez (.217/.309/.265), but neither of the Opening Day starters have earned their keep.

    I'm less enamored of the way in which Ryan Freel steals time from Austin Kearns. Conceding that Freel is playing well and Kearns isn't, that's not the kind of decision that's going to help the Reds with the NL Central anytime soon. Kearns needs a change of venue as bad as any player in baseball.

  • DannyWatch: Graves: 13 2/3 IP, 10 BB, 3 K; Kolb: 13 IP, 12 BB, 7 K.

  • Todd Helton has 19 walks, which is just one less than any three of his teammates combined. The Rockies aren't 8-21 by accident; this may be the worst team they've fielded in their 13 seasons, lacking the power or the strong bullpen that have marked the better Rockies teams, and not doing enough of anything else to make up for it. Just two Rockies (Clint Barmes and Bradley Hawpe) are slugging above .500, which is just embarrassing for a team playing at altitude.

  • Rockies pitchers have struck out just three more men than they've walked. Shawn Chacon's 3.25 ERA is a total mirage: 21 walks and 15 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.

  • What to make of Jason Lane? He started the year like a house on fire, and had a .313/.349/.588 line just two weeks ago. He's gone 4-for-36 with a double, a homer and three walks since, dropping to .250/.296/.474. With Lance Berkman back and an assortment of guys fighting for playing time, Lane could once again find himself out of a job. He has to start hitting again if he's going to have any career.

  • I don't often recommend old pitchers, but if this Clemens guy is still available in your fantasy league, you should snap him up. He might be for real.

    All kidding aside, Clemens is having an amazing season. He's thrown exactly seven innings in every start, allowing no runs four times, and one, two and three runs once each. That's six in 49 innings, or a 1.10 ERA. He's lowered his ERA in every season since turning 40, and he's been the best pitcher in the National League since coming out of his brief retirement in the winter of '03-'04.

    There was a time when you could get a good debate going about who was better, Clemens or Greg Maddux. That time has passed. Now the question is how far up the all-time list will Clemens reside when he finally retires. The Clemens vs. Lefty Grove vs. Walter Johnson debate is going to be a fascinating one…unless Clemens pitches like this for another three years and leaves both of them behind, too.

  • Hee Seop Choi: .269/.360/.526. Doesn't he know he can't hit major-league pitching? Scouts said so.

  • Not to keep harping on the point, but Jose Reyes really isn't major-league-ready, I don't care how fast he runs. He's hitting .259/.285/.381 with a 25/4 K/BB. That's awful, and until the Mets make a concerted effort to let Reyes develop his plate discipline in Norfolk, they're going to risk taking a high-ceiling player and making him into Shawon Dunston. Plate discipline matters, especially for a top-of-the-order hitter, and hand-waving Reyes' lack of it away is just going to hurt the player and the team.

  • With Kazuo Matsui apparently a flop (.241/.291/.306), and a crowded outfield now that Mike Cameron is back, how long before the Mets become tempted to give Victor Diaz (.275/.414/.525) some time at his old position? Diaz isn't a second baseman by anyone's standards, but it's not like the Mets are getting great defense there right now, and he'd be a considerable offensive boost.

    They could just wait for Cliff Floyd to go on the DL, I guess.

  • The Pirates have quietly put together a decent little offense, one better for the dismissal of Benito Santiago and the reduced playing time of Tike Redman. It keeps them where they've been the past few years, well short of contention, but not quite the embarrassment that the true worst teams in baseball are.

    The problem is that this team can't win anything of note, and the Pirates aren't producing, signing or trading for players who can. Winning 82 games can't be the upside every single season, and as nice as it is when a guy like Rob Mackowiak turns into a player, it takes stars to win, seven- and eight-win players. The last guy like that the Pirates developed was Jason Kendall, and they grew to resent him before dealing him away.

  • Albert Pujols is becoming a truly amazing player. He's been consistent at a level that only a handful of players have reached for even a season, and has a reasonable chance to put up Hank Aaron's career. It may be Pujols, and not Alex Rodriguez, who breaks Aaron's records and becomes known as one of the ten greatest players in baseball history.

    Yes, it's a long way to that point from here, but when you look at Pujols' performance, as well as the small improvements he's made in nearly every season--such as becoming a good defensive first baseman--it's not hard to see him in that company.

  • Mark Mulder has looked very good in four of his last five starts, and is rapidly putting the lie to my concerns about his status. Then again, he pitched well for a lot longer last year before falling apart. Still, with a nearly 3-1 K/BB and just two homers allowed in 50 innings, Mulder is pitching like the Cy Young candidate the Cards traded for, and not the pitcher who helped the A's miss the postseason last year.

    What caught my eye is his efficiency. Mulder is getting by on just 13.3 pitches an inning, by far a career low and comparable to what Greg Maddux did at his peak.

  • I guess I was wrong about the Giants, too. They've been getting above-average OBPs from most of their regulars, production that I didn't think they would get in the absence of all those ABs with runners on base, courtesy Barry Bonds. J.T. Snow, Moises Alou and Omar Vizquel appear impervious to age-related declines, at least so far.

  • Nick Johnson: .333/.448/.532. Not that there are any teams that could use a dose of OBP, glovework at first base, and relative youth.

    The Nationals are a pretty interesting team in general, which I have to figure is once again a tribute to Frank Robinson. Omar Minaya got to go run an organization with a real commitment to winning. It'd be nice to see Robinson, who has done quite a job without much raw material, get a similar opportunity.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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