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April 13, 2009

Prospectus Today

Curbed Enthusiasm

by Joe Sheehan

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Just a quick note... if you happen to run into spring, let her know that New York misses her and is very sorry for what it did, and is waiting patiently for her to come back.

I had a testy radio interview on Friday, and it's been gnawing at me all weekend. We were talking about various first-week story lines, and I kept coming back to my standard refrain: It's one week of baseball, and it doesn't tell us much, if anything. You make worse decisions by overreacting to four games than you do by minimizing them. The hosts pressed a bit, and expressed some frustration that I wouldn't move off of that point. While I'm sure it made for good radio, the segment left a bad taste in my mouth.

I know that my position isn't the most entertaining one in the world. I've been trying to find things to write about in April and May for most of a decade, so if anyone is aware of the challenges presented by that position, it's me. It would be very easy to fall into the trap and do a column today about how Cliff Lee is struggling to repeat last year's performance, killing the Indians' chance at the AL Central, and then do one tomorrow about how the Cardinals are a lot better than we thought, and then make Wednesday all about the Padres and their statement in the NL West.

Then on Thursday, I could fashion a noose and give myself sweet, sweet relief from my own idiocy.

Baseball is harder than that. Baseball is about six months, not six days. Two starts mean nothing. Losing five out of six games is meaningless-every team in baseball will do that at some point during the season. It doesn't mean more just because you started that stretch at 0-0. I can go through a full season's worth of 35 PA stretches and find a whole bunch that look like .304/.448/.870. Saying Brandon Inge has a 1300 OPS "for the season" is factually correct, but functionally irrelevant. Getting excited about a "hot start" puts far too much credence in the idea that past performance predicts future results. A guy's career doesn't tell me what his next week will be, and his last week doesn't tell me much about his next 25.

I know this makes me a killjoy. (I don't think it necessarily makes me a bad guest, but that's an eye-of-the-beholder issue.) Sometimes being right isn't all that much fun; as arrogant as it is to say this, I'm fairly familiar with the concept. Let's be clear, too, that this applies when the first week of the season confirms my biases. The Astros are a bad baseball team that probably has the worst bottom 20 roster spots in MLB; that they're 1-5 with the worst run differential in baseball doesn't tell us much more than we knew a week ago. Just because a small sample confirms your pre-season analysis doesn't make it any more valid.

This doesn't mean there's nothing to write about in the first week of the season. I think the management of bullpens around the game has been a source of hilarity, from the idiotic resource management we saw last week to the process by which some managers... some veteran managers... some veteran managers of NL Central teams... that are long-time rivals... assigned roles to their relievers and then ran away from those decisions based on two outings. I have no idea how managers do this; you spend first an offseason and then an exhibition season reaching a conclusion, and then you abandon that conclusion in less than a dozen batters faced.

Maybe Kevin Gregg should be the Cubs' ninth-inning guy. Maybe Carlos Marmol should be. To let Gregg's first two outings change your mind about the answer, however, isn't decision-making, it's panic. The same goes for Jason Motte in St. Louis, who didn't even get to blow a second save before being lifted for another reliever. To the first category of bullpen follies we can throw in Joe Girardi, who played righty-lefty games against something called Brayan Pena on his way to having Phil Coke face three straight righties with the game on the line yesterday. I assume Edwar Ramirez was trapped under something very heavy.

It's not about the answer, it's about the process, and the process by which these decisions were made stunk. That's a lot more interesting than the Red Sox being 2� games out.

Here are some other things on my mind after the first week of what is going to be a highly entertaining season:

  • Catchers' behavior on plays at the plate has to be reined in. In the third inning of yesterday's Rays/Orioles game, Chad Moeller set up in the right-hand batters' box, and while waiting for a late throw, flipped Gabe Gross over his left shoulder before the ball ever got there, then fielded the throw and chased down Gross. It was reminiscent of the Jason Varitek/Eric Byrnes play from the Division Series a few years back, when the Red Sox had cases of uncalled obstruction on consecutive plays.

    Look, I get that the de facto rule is that catchers can block the plate, but it's out of control. If you have the ball, fine, but you can't just block the plate on spec. Catchers, like Moeller yesterday, look like offensive linemen protecting a passer, knocking the baserunner wherever they please until the ball arrives. This behavior is obstruction, and in fact, it's often not all that close a call. Right after calling a consistent rule-book strike zone, this is the area of the game where umpires need to improve their performance the most.

  • It is likely that the Angels' season is going to be defined in terms of Nick Adenhart. Either they rallied together after the untimely death of their teammate, or they never overcame the emotional turmoil created by the events of April 10. As with most story lines, it will be defined after the fact.

    So let's note this before the next six months unfold. In the immediate aftermath of Adenhart's death, the Angels took two out of three from the best team in baseball, coming from behind and fighting off a couple of late rallies in the late innings of the third game. I don't know what these guys are going through as people, and they have my absolute sympathy as they deal with the loss of their friend, but from a baseball standpoint, they have reacted to the loss as well as could possibly be expected.

    I think it's important to stick a pin in this moment, so close to the tragedy, both to acknowledge the team's strong response and as a buffer against history being rewritten as the season rolls on.

  • The Padres have 13 pitchers on their roster, which is just ridiculous. How they got there, however, is just as crazy. Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Heath Bell, and Cla Meredith have been with the team for a while. Edwin Moreno is a 28-year-old reliever who has been in the pros since 2000, and in the organization since 2007, after a stint in the Mexican League.

    Of the other eight pitchers currently listed on the Padres' 25-man roster, none was in the organization last Thanksgiving, and six were acquired in the past four weeks. Read that again: half of the Padres' pitching staff was working for someone else a month ago. That's one reason, a big one, why I had them going 60-102 this season. It's one thing to dumpster-dive for talent. It's another to build a big chunk of your pitching staff with rejects from the Nationals (Shawn Hill), Giants (Kevin Correia, Luis Perdomo), and salvage cases from the Mexican League (Moreno, Walter Silva).

    I can't think of a parallel for this. There have been teams who put together some awfully unimpressive pitching staffs, but that usually involved promoting unready or unworthy talent from within. I can't remember a team importing seven guys in seven weeks, and honestly, it makes me wonder just how little talent the Padres have on hand that they can make spots available on the 40-man roster for the likes of Eulogio de la Cruz, Luke Gregerson, and Edward Mujica.

    It's a great front office, a beautiful ballpark, and a terrific city. All three will witness a massive rebuilding project over the next few years. There may be no team in baseball with more on the line in this June's draft than the Padres.

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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