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June 15, 2000

NL East Notebook

Big Mouth

by Dave Pease

Big Mouth

For most of the past decade, the Atlanta Braves have been about two things: winning, and winning quietly. The Braves made a postseason appearance an event as unremarkable as a Pedro Martinez shutout, a Felix Martinez rabbit punch or a security violation at Los Alamos; it's almost more interesting when it doesn't happen.

Through it all, the team has largely avoided the outsized personalities and clubhouse squabbles that many great teams are saddled with. Beyond the occasional Juan "Senor Smoke" Berenguer gunslinger move, or David Justice's tiffs with the Atlanta fans and Halle Berry, the Atlanta organization has acquired a reputation for being as businesslike as they are successful.

John Rocker took a chunk out of that reputation in the offseason, and he's made sure people don't forget about him with his recent blowup at the reporter who wrote the damaging Sports Illustrated article. Rocker is nothing more or less than an enormously talented left-handed pitcher who throws faster than he thinks. It's possible he's a legitimate immigrant-hating, gay-bashing kook, but people like that aren't nearly as common as those whose brain-to-mouth filters could use some refining.

What is most frustrating about the whole brouhaha is the polar opposites: those people who think Rocker should be booted out of baseball and into the wonderful world of stock brokerages, and those who believe that this young man has done something he should be given a standing ovation for.

Until the memory of the public relations gaffes has faded, John Rocker faces a challenge no matter where he pitches. In Richmond, two people were arrested for disorderly conduct due to their extensive heckling of Rocker. Journalists and fans hungry for a story will continue to give Rocker a very hard time. The sooner he can learn to keep his mouth shut, the better for all involved.

As good as Rocker can be, shortstop Rafael Furcal is much more important to this team's future. He's a good defensive player with great speed and on base skills, and the team has the rights to him for years. Furcal is sporting a .272 Equivalent Average through June 12, and as a 19-year-old, he's one of the best prospects in baseball.

But is he 19?

On the heels of Furcal's DUI arrest on Saturday morning comes a report courtesy of HBO's Real Sports that Furcal is 22, which clears him of the underage drinking charge but does a number on his expected career.

Here are Clay Davenport's translations for a 19-year-old Furcal as opposed to a 22-year-old version; pay close attention to the "Peak" column, which is the best EqA Furcal is projected to achieve in his career:

Rafael Furcal        Born 1981 Age 19
Year Team        BA  OBA   SA   EQA EQR  Val  Peak
1998 Danville  .216 .281 .261  .198  19   -9   280
1999 Macon___  .261 .326 .302  .233  34    1   314
1999 Myrtle_B  .255 .296 .319  .220  17   -2   310
       Minors  .245 .304 .293  .219  53  -10   303

Rafael Furcal        Born 1978 Age 22
Year Team        BA  OBA   SA   EQA EQR  Val  Peak
1998 Danville  .201 .262 .246  .182  15  -12   228
1999 Macon___  .252 .318 .293  .226  32   -1   259
1999 Myrtle_B  .255 .296 .319  .220  17   -2   256
       Minors  .236 .295 .284  .211  49  -15   248

DT's are age-adjusted, which explains the difference in the lines. To be sure, Furcal is playing better than we expected him to play thus far, but there's a tremendous difference in what you can expect from his career between the two ages.

How has all this drama affected the Braves? They're 41-23--that's the best record in baseball.

Notes

  • The Phillies have finally called up Pat Burrell. This has been a lost season for this franchise, but if they can get Burrell established at first base by season's end and banish Rico Brogna to any team willing to settle for him, they'll have something to look forward to.

  • Speaking of the Phils, one of my favorite weird stats of the season so far: light-hitting shortstop Desi Relaford is second on the team with an excellent .395 OBP. He's drawn 33 walks in 157 AB; that ties his career high, which he set in 494 at-bats in 1998. And while he's batting eighth most of the time, only five of those walks have been intentional. "It's a crazy world. Someone ought to sell tickets."

  • There are better rotations in the league, but Montreal's starters are doing an exceptional job this year. Both Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas Jr. are in the top 30 in Support-Neutral Win/Loss, and Carl Pavano isn't far behind. The average age of these three: 23. We'll have to see how Armas does his second time around the league, but this could be the beginning of a world-class rotation for the Expos.

Dave Pease can be reached at dpease@baseballprospectus.com.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

Related Content:  Rafael Furcal

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