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March 25, 1998
Breakouts and Flameouts in 1998
Our picks to bust out--or crash and burn
Here are some picks from various BP authors about who they think will crash and
burn, and who will break out this year...
The idea is a simple one: name the three players most likely to crash in 1998,
and the three most likely to have a breakthrough season.
The only guy I'm thinking about is Andres Galarraga.
What is the purpose of a Top Three list like this? To present an easy-to-digest
list for fans to argue over (and, of course, to help fantasy owners; there's no
use denying that). But what's the old saying, "give someone a fish and they'll
eat, but teach them how to fish and they'll waste thousands of hours wading in
cold water hoping for The Big One?" I think it's time we all learned how to
Fishing isn't that difficult, either. Have you ever wondered how a project like
the Prospectus, peopled with the proverbial motley crew of baseball fans, could
offer a relatively cohesive product to our readers? It's because, even though
we have geographical differences (I fish in Berkeley, for instance), and even
though we prefer different kinds of fish (I like Giant ones), we tend to agree
on certain fundamentals of fishing. Most of the fundamentals related to the
topic of crash/breakthrough seasons come under the heading of Context. The
better you're able to analyze context, the better you'll be at fishing. And
then you'll be able to create your own Top Three list.
Which brings us to Andres Galarraga. In this year's book, we wrote of El Gato
Grande, "if he gets a long-term contract at this point, the GM in charge should
be shot." (After Andres signed his three-year deal with Atlanta, we added
"Here's hoping John Schuerholz has a bullet-proof vest.") Why would we make
such a statement? Context. In particular, the park in which Galarraga has been
playing his home games the last few years, the park where he will play those
home games during 1998, and his birthdate.
In his five years with the Rockies, Galarraga has a home BA 69 points higher
than his road BA, an OBP 70 points higher at home, and an SLG 132 points higher
in Colorado. He has been a good slugger on the road (.281/.331/.510); I am not
suggesting otherwise. But a large portion of his reputation as a hitter comes
from his playing in Colorado, where offense is around 50% higher than the rest
of the league.
Turner Field, where Andres now resides, last year cut into home runs by
right-handed hitters by 12%. Its early yet to come to any conclusions about
Turner being a great pitcher's park, but it won't be Coors Field any way you
Perhaps we're being too rough on the Cat, because we're not really predicting a
crash here as much as a change of environment, and the superficial differences
that will mean to how people perceive him. But it should be evident that if
Andres Galarraga has the exact same season at the plate in 1998 as he had in
1997, his raw numbers are going to take an alarming drop.
He's 37 years old. Older than Wally Joyner. Older than Dave Magadan. Older than
Mark McGwire. Older than Will Clark. He's four years older than Rafael Palmeiro
and Hal Morris. What the heck, this Big Cat is three years older than the Dog
that got away, Fred McGriff. Andres Galarraga is about a decade past the normal
hitter's peak age. That, folks, is context.
Andres Galarraga is not a bad hitter. His production last season gives one hope
he still has some good hitting left in him. Nevertheless, he is at an age where
his production is very likely to decline, moving into a situation where those
Triple-Crown numbers we read in the papers everyday are going to be MUCH lower
than they have been for years. Everytime Atlanta fans see Andres wearing his
first baseman's glove, they'll be able to switch their gaze to leftfield, where
Ryan Klesko will be stumbling around like a bigger, clumsier Lonnie Smith.
Galarraga will lose 30 or 40 points off his average, lose a handful of homers,
and won't lead the league in RBI. The Braves will be a worse team for El Gato's
presence than they would have been if he hadn't been signed. And when the
season is over, the Braves will still have him under contract for two more
years. At the end of the contract, he'll be 40.
That sounds to me like the Top Candidate to Crash and Burn in 1998. And if you
think the above is elementary, if you think I'm picking an easy topic, if you
think everyone already understands about context and park effects and decline
due to age, then remember this: the Atlanta Braves, in the 1990s one of the
most successful franchises in major-league history, a team whose performance on
the field would appear to place their front office amongst the elite of the
game, those Atlanta Braves gave Andres Galarraga a three-year deal for $25
million. If the Atlanta Braves don't get the context, who does?
- Shawn Green, RF, Toronto Blue Jays
- Manny Ramirez, RF, Cleveland Indians
- Scott Sanders, RHP, Detroit Tigers
- Andres Galarraga, 1B, Atlanta Braves
- J.T. Snow, 1B, SF Giants
- Darryl Kile, RHP, Colorado Rockies
- Shawn Green, RF, Toronto Blue Jays. This year's Edgardo Alfonzo. He'll
build on last season, improving in all aspects as a hitter, and will make his
first All-Star Game appearance. His development helps make up just a wee bit
for Toronto's "devastating" offseason loss of Joe Carter.
- Bill Mueller, 3B, SF Giants. Shakes off a bad case of Charlie Hayes early
on and hits .300 with gap power and patience to go with his good defense and
baserunning. It won't be his fault the Giants get lit up like a Christmas tree
- Javier Lopez, C, Atlanta Braves. With Todd Hundley's health problems, Lopez
cements his place as the second-best catcher in the NL. He'll continue to
improve both defensively and offensively, and slugs over .550 to build on last
- Fernando Tatis, 3B, Texas Rangers. Doesn't get the job done. Hits slightly
better than Benji Gil; Texas wisely isn't satisfied with that and will be
looking for a replacement by June. A little power, but he just won't get on
- J.T. Snow, 1B, SF Giants. He'll still be better than could have been
expected following his Angels days, but he'll fall back to earth after a really
good 1997. Finally loses his full-time job, as he sits against lefties for the
immortal Charlie Hayes.
- Omar Vizquel, SS, Cleveland Indians. After some surprisingly strong
offensive campaigns, last year was an indicator that the spaghetti-bat
gloveman might be on his way back to the old pasta.
There are dozens of players out there who can be reasonably expected to make
huge jumps forward. Most of them, of course, are under the age of 27. But
telling you that Andruw Jones is likely to get better this year really won't
illuminate most of you. So my best bets take into account the prevailing winds
of public opinion swirling above them.
- Jason Kendall, C, Pittsburgh. Kendall is already the poster boy for minor
league translations; he has hit in the major leagues exactly as his minor
league numbers suggested he would. Last year, though, he took a subtle but
undeniable step forward across the board. While his average held steady, he
hit for more power, drew more walks, and stole more bases. The more you examine
his improvement, the better it looks - his doubles total jumped from 23 to 36,
and players who hit 35 doubles in their early 20s frequently start hitting 15
or 20 homers before too long. His walk total, when you take out intentional
passes, leaped from 24 to 47, and his HBP total went from 15 to an incredible
31. His defense and throwing arm also improved significantly. His combination
of doubles power and improving plate discipline, along with the fact that he
doesn't turn 24 until June, makes me think a power explosion is imminent.
Everyone knows he's a fine catcher; not everybody realizes he could hit 15-20
homers this year, and that he, not Charles Johnson, may be the best catcher in
the NL whenever Piazza decides to give up his crown.
- Steve Reed, RHP, SF Giants. His signing by the Giants will finally amend
their mistake in letting him go in the 1992 Expansion Draft, and has not drawn
the publicity it deserves. In the Rockies' 5-year history, Reed has been their
most consistent pitcher, by an obscenely wide margin. How difficult do you
think it is for a reliever to put an ERA below 4.50 for 5 straight years in
Colorado? This despite being a flyball pitcher who has given up 51 homers in
just 370 innings - 35 of them at home. In the fairly spacious surroundings out
at Candlestick Point, he could mow down hitters like a one-man McCormick
- Glendon Rusch, LHP, KC Royals. There's not much to like about the Royals
organization, but Rusch is an exception. He's likely to be underestimated
because his rookie season was superficially unimpressive: 6-9 with a 5.50 ERA.
But he had great control, his minor league credentials are excellent, and he
has never been overworked. He's been consistently healthy and his
strikeout-to-walk ratio is a harbinger of better things to come. I'm not
saying he's going to win 18 games, but if you're looking for a good $1 gamble,
you've found it. Of course, the Royals are making noises about putting Rusch
in the bullpen, which would be their dumbest move since...gee...last month?
Honorable Mention goes to Karim Garcia
, OF, Arizona, who is moving from the
worst hitter's park in the major leagues (Chavez Ravine) to possibly the
second-best. The high elevation and hot temperatures in Phoenix may make
Garcia think he's in Albuquerque all over again. His defense may not be so
hot, and he may not even be 22, but he could hit .280/.340/.550 this year
without even improving as a hitter.
- Livan Hernandez, RHP, Florida Marlins. Those of you who've bought the book
know what we think of Leyland's treatment of Livan's arm last October. All I
can say is, I hope Dr. Jobe has room on his schedule for sometime in May...
- Andres Galarraga, 1B, Atlanta Braves. What, you were expecting Mike
Lansing? As much flak as John Schuerholz has received for this deal, he hasn't
been flogged enough. Galarraga is reason alone that the Braves may not be the
prohibitive favorites in the NL East that everyone thinks they are. It's
certainly possible that Galarraga could hit .300 with 40 homers. It's also
possible that Elvis is still alive and resides in Nome, Alaska, but I wouldn't
pay $24.75 million to find out.
- Pat Hentgen, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays. He's a fine pitcher and has a durable
pitching motion, but let's face it: he's been overworked. Last year he faced
more batters (1085) than any other pitcher... and he faced even more hitters
(1100) in 1996. He's not young and he could well survive the abuse, but then,
that's what they were saying about Orel Hershiser eight years ago.
- Todd Walker, 2B, Minnesota Twins. There won't be much to be happy about in the
Land of Lakes, but at least Walker will finally break through as a good major
- Pick a Blue Jay: SS Alex Gonzalez or RF Shawn Green. Happily removed from
the alternately snoozy and surly days of Cito, both should blossom. I'd pick
Gonzalez as the one more likely to dramatically improve. I'm not talking Alex
Rodriguez-like stratospheric heights here, just dramatic improvement relative
to what he's done before.
- Jason Giambi, 1B, Oakland Athletics. We won't be seeing any more derisive
"Hits so sexy" stories, as Giambi benefits from a much stronger lineup than
last year's edition. Most of the difference will be a non-talent stat (RBI),
but I'd also expect a spike in his power numbers.
- One big category: ex-Rockies CF Quinton McCracken of Tampa Bay, 2B Eric
Young of the Dodgers, and 1B Andres Galarraga and SS Walt Weiss. McCracken
could flop with extreme prejudice, while Young should have the Dodgers
scratching their heads and wondering how they gave up two starting pitchers for
a decades' worth of mediocrity at second base.
- Bip Roberts, DH, Detroit Tigers. Less than a collapse as much as a "the emperor
has no clothes" situation. Bip has been living off the impression that he's an
effective practitioner of the little man's offensive game: getting on base and
running well. That hasn't been true in some time, and at this rate he's the
Dave Collins of the `90s. That the Tigers are counting on him to play everyday
is an ugly portent of disappointments to come.
- Sandy Alomar Jr., C, Cleveland Indians. His career year was astounding, impressive,
remarkable, and not going to happen again. Now that this is the morning after,
don't be surprised by the usual struggles, GIDPs, and playing through nagging
injuries that have been his stock in trade during his career.
Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see Dave's other articles.
You can contact Dave by clicking here
Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see Rany's other articles.
You can contact Rany by clicking here
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see Christina's other articles.
You can contact Christina by clicking here
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