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April 4, 2006

Prospectus Today

Eight Things I Learned on Opening Day

by Joe Sheehan

With a nod to the talented Dave Studeman, here’s what I picked up on while watching a ridiculous amount of baseball on Monday…

 

 

  • We can all calm down about how the game is going to be a lot different in the fourth year of steroid testing and the first year of a ban on amphetamines. There were 34 homers hit yesterday in 13 games, and 142 runs scored. That doesn’t have a lot of statistical significance, but it is worth noting given the rush to declare the so-called “Steroid Era” over. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the higher offense of recent seasons is due to many factors, with bigger players just a small part of the uptick. The drop in offense last year was within the range of the year-to-year variation we’ve seen throughout the game’s history, and likely as not completely unrelated to the penalty-phase steroid testing.

     

  • With that said, there are some really terrific young pitchers out there. Two of the best games of the day happened in relative obscurity, as Oliver Perez dueled Doug Davis in Milwaukee and Roy Oswalt outlasted Dontrelle Willis in Houston. Jake Peavy shut down Barry Bonds and the Bondsaires, while Brandon Webb and Jason Jennings had a pitching duel at altitude.

    The drop in offense from the 2000 peak probably has more to do with a change in the talent pool, a small shift to a better crop of pitchers, than with any other factors. I think that peak may have been caused by the double expansion in the 1990s, the effect of which is finally washing out of the game.

     

  • David Wright is really good. I’m kicking myself for leaving the Mets’ third baseman, who homered yesterday, off of my list of NL MVP candidates, because he’ll likely be one of the five best players in the league. He’s not likely to ever have a monster number in any one category--he won’t hit 50 homers or bat .350 or something--but he’s going to rip off a long string of .300/.380/.550 seasons with defense that’s worth one to two wins a year.

     

  • I may have overrated the Diamondbacks. Granted, my premise was that they’d be better in the second half than they are now, but they lost Monday’s game in an inexcusable fashion, using Terry Mulholland to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning. The veteran lefty gave up hits to Clint Barmes and Todd Helton to tie the game, and the D’backs lost it in 11.

    Mulholland is a serviceable low-leverage mop-up man, but regardless of the handedness of the batters coming up, he has no business being used with a one-run lead in the eighth inning. He’s just not good enough, and one year of split data (he allowed a .202 batting average to lefties in 2005) doesn’t change that fact. That he’s the only southpaw on Bob Melvin’s staff is a good argument for not having a lefty at all, because if Mulholland is going to be a high-leverage guy, the D’backs are in a world of trouble.

    Melvin has to manage as if he doesn’t have a left-handed set-up man. Treating Mulholland like Neal Cotts is just going to make a bad situation worse.

     

  • Bobby Cox could have a very long year ahead of him. The weakness of the Braves’ bullpen was a known quantity, but yesterday’s game, in which the pen allowed five runs in five innings while turning a laugher into a nail-biting 11-10 win, really put it into sharp relief. The Braves have two guys from a lousy 2005 pen (ex-Diamondbacks Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal), a lefty who was released twice last year (Mike Remlinger and a closer who’s already coughed up the job once (Chris Reitsma). Cox could really use his miracle worker to find some 2006 version of Darren Holmes, but he’s relocated to the northeast.

     

  • Curt Schilling’s ankle might be back to normal. The Red Sox right-hander never looked right last year, posting an ERA of 5.69 and not appearing in the AL Division Series. Yesterday, he had his velocity and his splitter, and he didn’t seem to be favoring his famous right ankle, as he allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings.

    The one curious note was that Schilling went 117 pitches, a very high number for an Opening Day game in which his team held a comfortable lead from the fifth inning onward. One criticism of Schilling has been that he’s very difficult to take out of games, insisting on staying in to finish innings and even starts while racking up big pitch counts. His status as Red Sox icon and the shakiness of the team’s pen could bring this issue to the fore as the season wears on.

     

  • The Reds are going to give up runs. On a day when nominal ace Aaron Harang wasn’t at his best, the Reds allowed a whopping 16 runs to the Cubs, who aren’t exactly a juggernaut. The Reds’ shaky defense was a part of the problem, with Adam Dunn making a key error in the first and a misplay in the sixth, both big innings for the Cubs. Their no-name, not-much-more-talent, bullpen wasn’t a lot of help, allowing nine hits and four walks in four innings, while striking out just one.

    They didn’t feel the need to keep Ryan Wagner around, though, shipping him to Triple-A.

     

  • The Yankees are pretty good. Not an hour into the season, the Yankees had a 7-0 lead on the way to a 15-2 victory over their primary rival in the AL this year, the Oakland A’s. The back end of this roster remains unimpressive, but when you have front-line talent that’s as good as the Yankees’ lineup, top three starters and closer, it may not matter that the bench and bottom half of the pitching staff are pretty much a cry for help.
  • I wonder what I’ll learn today…

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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