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April 28, 2006

Prospectus Today

It's Friday, So It Must Be...

by Joe Sheehan

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Friday bullets return today…

  • This should be obvious, but the Giants are a pretty bad team without Barry Bonds. He's one of the only players they have who works deep counts and puts himself into good hitting situations. That brutal 9-7 loss to the Mets on Wednesday featured a devastating seventh-inning sequence in which the Giants tied the game on a Moises Alou single, setting up a first-and-second, one-out situation. Steve Finley and Lance Niekro then each grounded out on the first pitch they saw to end the threat. Just awful.

    Bonds, by the way, is now hitting .244/.537/.537, with a homer every 13.7 at-bats. He's doing this on about half a knee and one elbow. Since playing the first week of the season in British Open weather, he's at .276/.543/.655, or basically his 2003-04 performance plus a couple years' of aging.

    I recognize that some people aren't going to give him credit for anything he does-despite his never failing a drug test-but the fact that he's able to be a productive player with so many physical breakdowns is astounding. Even with negative defense and baserunning, he's a great player who pushes his team towards a championship at age 40.

  • Yesterday's non-story was that MLB has no plans to make a big deal about Bonds' 715th home run, whenever it should happen.

    Why are we talking about this? When did moving into second place on a career list become cause for a celebration, to stop the game and have a ceremony that says, "you, sir, are almost the best. Take a bow!" It would be strange if MLB did acknowledge the accomplishment, and a virtual slap in the face to Hank Aaron, the real record-holder.

    To some extent, this is a generational issue. There are many people still alive, many opinionmakers, for whom the number "714" has meaning, because that's the home-run record they grew up with. I can empathize, because "2130" and "61" still resonate with me in a way the the numbers of Cal Ripken Jr. and Bonds don't. But it's been 30-odd years since that number was the one atop the list, and there's no longer any reason to regard passing it as more than a marker on a longer road.

    Let's be honest, though: this is a story because it's Bonds. By responding to the silly queries, MLB gets a chance to further distance itself from Bonds, to set up another cycle of stories that include the words "investigation" and "suspicion" and "steroids." In turn, the media gets to write more stories that show Bonds in a bad light, creating headlines like, "MLB Won't Acknowledge Bonds' 715th; Bonds: 'No comment,' But Offers to Share Lunch of Sauteed Babies."

  • One last question: if people care so much about steroid use, why is Derrick Turnbow such a hero in Milwaukee? Like Bonds, Turnbow has never failed an MLB drug test, but unlike Bonds, he was suspended from a competition (2004 Olympic qualifying) for testing positive for a prohormone banned by by the World Anti-Doping Agency, one that was not illegal in the U.S. at the time.

    The situations aren't entirely parallel, but I again argue that if we, as a society and as baseball fans, think steroid use is so evil as to make Barry Bonds a pariah, then where is the opprobrium for the players who have tested positive? Why can Turnbow be a hero when he has a positive test in his background?

    For that matter, why does attendance continue to rise every year?

  • Jeff Francoeur isn't ready for the majors. His MLB strikeout-to-walk ratio is now 76/11, 76/8 if you toss out the intentional walks. There's never been a player in history able to hold a job with that kind of K/BB. The numbers are 18/0 in 2006, which is a big part of the reason why he's hitting .190/.207/.333.

    Francoeur has terrific tools, and the success he had in his first 100 at-bats may have actually hurt him developmentally, confirming for him that his approach at the plate was the correct one. It's not; he has to learn the component skills that go into what we describe as plate discipline: pitch recognition, patience, willingness to hit with one and two strikes. That second one seems to be Francoeur's big problem, but take that opinion with a considerable grain of salt.

    The Braves are in a bind because their best in-house option behind Francouer, Kelly Johnson, is injured and may not be able to play the field for some time. Johnson didn't set the world on fire last year, but he did post a .334 OBP in part-time play. A sprained right elbow has kept him on the sidelines, and it will be at least a month before he's ready to return. They could give Wilson Betemit some time in the outfield once Edgar Renteria returns, or try Matt Diaz as more than a pinch-hitter.

    Regardless of what Plan B looks like, Plan A needs to be scrapped. Francoeur isn't ready to be a major-league hitter, and he needs to spend some time in the minors working on his approach.

  • Kevin Goldstein does a great job of attacking this today, but I wanted to throw my two cents in. Delmon Young needs to be sat down for at least 60 days, because what he did was not only inexcusable, it was borderline criminal. Even if there was no injury to the umpire, there has to be a swift and stern punishment for the act of throwing a bat at one.

    Pete Rose got 30 days for bumping Dave Pallone. Failing a drug test gets you 50. This is worse than both of those, and should be handled accordingly.

  • Does anyone hit more impressive foul home runs than Carlos Lee? It seems like once a game he turns a bit too quickly on a ball and yanks it into the upper deck about 25 feet to the wrong side of the left-field foul pole.

  • The state of umpiring in the majors is awful. The early part of this season has seen the return of the random strike zone, where there's just no way of knowing what a pitch is going to be called until two or three seconds after it hits the mitt. I've seen games swing almost every day on terrible pitch calls; if you have MLB.tv--and if you don't, you should--check out, just to name two, the Yankee/Oriole game on April 21 (especially the last few hitters) and the A's/Angels game on April 23 (especially some of the high strikes). There's no in-game or even in-inning consistency. If it's frustrating for the viewers, it has to be doubly so for the players.

    There have also been a number of calls missed on the bases, just flat-out not seeing where a foot beats a tag or a tag gets made/missed. Now, it's possible that I'm just seeing the wrong mix of events, and that umpiring around the majors is good, but not in the games I've seen. It's possible; I think it's more likely that we're seeing another decline in the craft. Umpires like to hide behind the idea that replay makes them look bad, but replay is just a tool; missing the calls makes them look bad. As a group, umpires need to do a better job. Baseball deserves that.

    The one example I'll throw out here is from the Blue Jays/Yankees game of April 19, because I think it shows a deeper problem than just missing calls. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning of a scoreless game, Derek Jeter grounded a ball to Russ Adams at shortstop, who flipped to Aaron Hill covering second. Hill bobbled the ball while looking for the bag with his foot, then dropped it after touching the bag, all with his back to the infield.

    Second-base umpire Bruce Froemming called the runner out, which was the wrong call. The real problem, though, is that Froemming did so while making the sign for "he dropped the ball as he was making the transfer to throw it" which you'll see a lot on botched double plays. There were two outs. Exactly where did Froemming think Hill was going to throw the ball? Because Froemming wasn't paying attention, he made a call--and if you watch the video, you see he clearly makes the gesture--that was completely illogical based on the play at hand.

    That's the kind of the thing I mean when I talk about poor umpiring, and it has nothing to do with Questec or replays.

  • Dear NFL and its associated media: DRAFT ALREADY.

  • Veteran leadership: in Wednesday night's Devil Rays/Yankees game, Chien-Ming Wang started off eight consecutive batters with a ball across the second and third innings. With two on and two out in the third, Travis Lee stepped to the plate and grounded out on the first pitch.

    How do people get paid for things like this? I've probably seen something like that a dozen times already this year, where a hitter hacks at a pitch against a guy who's done nothing but fall behind in counts or walk people. It's bad baseball, and it deserves to be criticzed.

Day baseball in Wrigley today, Pedro vs. Smoltz tonight…enjoy the weekend, folks.

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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