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July 20, 2005

Prospectus Today

Around the AL

by Joe Sheehan

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Once around the AL…

  • Rafael Palmeiro picked up his 3,000th career hit over the weekend, which is impressive, but more impressive is the midseason resurgence that makes him the fourth-best first baseman, by VORP, in the AL. It's become a weak pool, but that's still pretty good for a guy who was being written off two months ago.

    By the way, the idea that Palmeiro might not be a Hall of Famer is ridiculous, and those who espouse it can be dismissed rather easily. His peak wasn't as high as, say, Mark McGwire's? No matter, it was still exceptional, and extended for longer--from 1993 through 2002--than those of a great many Hall of Famers. There is no reasonable argument--"he doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer" isn't reasonable--for excluding Palmeiro.

  • The Orioles' bullpen continues to impress, as randoms like Chris Ray and James Baldwin make contributions to back up B.J. Ryan and Todd Williams. It's nearly August and they haven't fallen by the wayside. A.J. Burnett wouldn't hurt their chances, of course, but adding an outfielder who can hit might actually do just as much for them. They're carrying a lot of dead bats.

  • This isn't the '02-'04 Red Sox, who were so good offensively at so many spots that they didn't have to be very impressive at first base. They're not getting enough from shortstop and second base that they can wave off the lack of power from John Olerud and Kevin Millar. It's time to get Roberto Petagine--.315/.446/.624 at Pawtucket--his chance, idiots be damned.

  • One point I didn't make in yesterday's White Sox piece: their most likely first-round playoff opponent is one of the three AL East teams in the hunt. One-hundred-odd wins or no, would you really want to pick these Sox over the Yankees or Red Sox in a short series? It wouldn't actually mean anything--a best-of-five series is a poor test of relative strength--but it certainly sets up the possibility for this White Sox team to meet a similar fate as the 2000 version.

  • In this space, I really try not to address what other analysts or writers say. That's a losing game for the most part, and detracts from the real topic, baseball.

    With that said…John Kruk's recent comments that the players should have a greater say in who makes the All-Star team were just insane. His analysis of who was "snubbed" completely ignored the fact that the rosters are more or less set by stringent rules once you get past the fan and player selections, and that most of the guys he wanted on the team couldn't make it because of those rules.

    Moreover, it was the players who were responsible for most of the weakest picks, most notably in my eyes, Shea Hillenbrand rather than Travis Hafner. Hafner is now at .310/.416/.578, the fifth-best hitter in the AL, and yet the all-knowing players couldn't find a spot for him on the All-Star team.

    Kruk pretty much exemplifies the point I've made for years: the skill sets involved in playing baseball and analyzing baseball are divergent, so much so that players make lousy performance analysts. Their insertion into the All-Star process has been a net negative, and can end at any time with no loss to anyone involved.

  • The Tribe's David Riske leads all major leaguers (min: 30 IP) with a .159 batting average allowed on balls in play. That, my friends, is "hit lucky." Four other relievers round out the top five, while Tomokazu Ohka is the top starter at .212. Sell!

  • Chris Shelton: .347/.387/.576. Sometimes, the year you waste as a Rule 5 pick screws up your career. In this case, Shelton's skills appear to have come with him into 2005. Some better plate discipline wouldn't hurt.

    The Tigers, by the way, are just about a .500 team despite throwing $80 million into a hole this winter with the siginings of Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez has played fairly well since coming back, but he's been a tiny part of the Tigers' holding their gains from '04, and he's moving further from his peak every day.

    Why are they 45-47? Having six relievers with ERAs under 3.00 hasn't hurt.

  • Angel Berroa: .299 OBP, 68 K, 11 BB. This is a building block?

  • Even with a seven-game lead, it's hard to see the Angels as a runaway in the AL West. I love their pitching staff, especially with John Lackey taking that big step forward, but there's just no OBP. Adam Kennedy leads the team at .376, and he bats ninth most days. It's not hard to see the Angels scoring 98 runs in August and making this a race. You certainly can't expect Bill Stoneman to make a big move; that's not his m.o.

  • Can someone explain Justin Morneau to me? He's down to .251/.314/.448, and something like .220 with few walks and little power since April. Is it a physical thing, or has he developed a problem that goes deeper, perhaps related to the beaning he took? It doesn't seem likely--he hit very well in the immediate aftermath--but something is clearly not right.

  • Carlos Silva is quickly becoming one of my favorite pitchers, pretty much a next-generation Bob Tewksbury. He won't be a star, but you can make a lot of money throwing 220 innings and walking just 20 guys a year. He could win a Cy Young Award if the Twins ever found a real good defensive infield.

  • Jason Giambi: .279/.433/.473. Anyone else think he needs a vacation in Ohio? (That's not a taunt…I though the idea had merit when the Yankees were spotting him and playing Tino Martinez.) It's an Edgar Martinez line, which is to say that the OBP doesn't have as much value because it takes a triple to score Giambi from second, but it's still good enough to give him the sixth-best EqA in the AL.

  • A roll call of guys who could get a ring this season: Russ Johnson, Tony Womack, Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Scott Proctor, Jason Anderson, Wayne Franklin, Darrell May, Tim Redding.

    It's gotta be done…

    $207 million should really buy more than this.

  • In contrast to the Angels, the A's have seven regulars who sport .340 OBPs or higher. They lack the Angels' power potential and speed, however, just two reasons why 14 extra points of OBP has yielded seven fewer runs (in one fewer game).

    In April, I said that the A's would edge out the Angels for the AL West title. I'm sticking with that evaluation, although I think both teams will fall short of the win totals I predicted.

  • Ichiro Suzuki: .306/.349/.421. He's just another guy when he doesn't hit .350. The rest of his game (10 net steals, good defense and baserunning) helps, of course, but there's a big gap between Ichiro! and the very expensive slightly-above-average corner outfielder version, and it's all in his batting average.

    He's not the only problem the Mariners have. Adrian Beltre has been a disaster, .264/.305/.411, or approxmiately the player he was before his 2004 fluke season. Among Ichiro, Beltre and Richie Sexson, the Mariners have more than $30 million a year locked up in corner players who, combined, don't figure to return anywhere close to that figure. The organization will have to cough up a lot of cheap solutions--and keep them healthy, which has been the problem--to make up for that.

  • Carl Crawford: .284/.316/.443, 20 net steals. He's so close to being a superstar that it's not even funny, but unless and until he addresses his plate discipline (58/17 K/BB), he's going to be disappointing.

    I'd rather have the player with demonstrated talent and an identifiable weakness, but Crawford's just passed 2000 career plate appearances and he's not getting any better at working the strike zone. I still say tying him to Rickey Henderson for a year would be an acceptable approach, but failing that, why not move him down in the lineup and see if he can develop along the Garret Anderson track, instead. His steals, in the long run, will be less a factor in his value than his power will, and he could develop real 80 extra-base-hit power.

  • I can't wait to see what the Blue Jays do to their lineup when Corey Koskie comes off of the DL. Aaron Hill and Shea Hillenbrand are obviously going to play, which means that Russ Adams (.411 OBP in July, .267/.333/.444 since May 1), Orlando Hudson (best defensive second baseman in the AL) or Eric Hinske has to sit. Hinske has been a disappointment, but I'd still rather gamble on his upside--he's 28 next month--than on Koskie's age 32-34 years.

    That signing remains a boondoggle, and how the Jays extricate themselves from the roster crunch it needlessly creates will say a lot about their processes.

NL tomorrow…

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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