Alan Trammell did a good job of mixing parts this year, but employed a few too many one-run strategies, more than this team needed. Over 100 years into the modern game and most managers haven't figured out what John McGraw knew in 1920, that the era of inside baseball is dead, no matter how poor your offense is. Other than in a sudden-death, ninth-inning situation, giving away outs just brings the end of the game closer. The average American Leaguer reached base 34% of the time last year, and grounded into a double-play in .022 of all at-bats. When you bunt, both percentages drop to close to zero. It's not a fair trade off.
Improved by seven games over 2003 and moved up from fourth to third, but it's a minor distinction when that means you finish 23 games out instead of 30. Still, just by playing through 2004 the Orioles generated potential for a vastly improved 2005. Time heals all wounds, including dumb contracts inherited from previous versions of the Peter Angelos Operating Software, the infamous corrupted version that wanted to sign players every winter. Not all-stars, not cost-effective high-OBP vets, just "players." Though Angelos 5.0 supposedly eliminated the flaw in the AI, it remained for the damage to be worked off like Sunday's buffet brunch. Marty Cordova, Omar Daal, Rafael Palmeiro (if his option is not picked up, and it shouldn't be), and, glory hallelujah, David Segui come off the books.
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It's not getting much attention, but Adam Dunn's unwilling quest to shatter Bobby Bonds' single-season record for batter strikeouts of 189 (1970) is going to be close enough that Dave Miley is going to have to think about whether he joins the wussy Jeff Torborgs and Al Pedriques of the world and actively interferes with pursuit of a milestone for no good reason. With 12 games to go, Dunn trails Bonds by 14. It will be tight, but four of the Reds' remaining games come against Cubs flamethrowers. Prior, Wood, do your stuff, lads! GRADE: C-
Played an old-school eight games and went 5-3, though it could have been a bigger week; Pittsburgh gave them more trouble than they should have. In the three losses in Steeltown, the offense couldn't get started, though most of the principles did well on the week. The restaurant scene in Pittsburgh is said to be lacking, that could bring a team down... In a reversal of the usual order of things, Brad Ausmus batted .368/.400/.421, but opponents were safe in five of six stolen base attempts. Happy new year, Brad! Life is (a) a bowl of cherries, (b) a beach, (c) none of the above, (d) a mixed bag at the best of times, (e) all of the above. GRADE: B-
If we were to try to formulate a theory of pitching martyrs, that is, pitchers having great seasons for bad teams, a reasonable first guess would be that all pitching martyrs are strikeout pitchers. One thinks of Walter Johnson, who might have won close to 500 games on better teams, Nolan Ryan, leading the league in strikeouts and ERA for the 1987 Astros but hardly ever winning, Steve Carlton on the 1972 Phillies.
Since it's the Yankees, let's play six degrees of Casey Stengel. First test: Casey Stengel to "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson. Casey Stengel went to high school with William Powell. William Powell co-starred with Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama," 1934. Gable headlined "Gone with the Wind" with Vivien Leigh. Leigh was married to Sir Laurence Olivier, who was in "War Requiem" with Sean Bean. Bean was "Boromir" in Jackson's trilogy.
Idling at the worst moment. With the Red Sox and Yankees on a collision course, the Angels needed to stay close so as to pick up the pieces. Instead they split six with the Blue Jays and the White Sox, two teams that have been cooked for so long they're dryer than my aunt's Thanksgiving turkey, which knowing my aunt is probably hitting the oven right about now. But for Aaron Sele the pitching staff did a good job--all the losses were close. It was the offense that slowed down a bit this week, with Darin Erstad showing what happens when he fails to hit .350. The cool thing about power hitters is that when they get on a little hot streak and hit .350 for a week, they can channel seven days of Barry Bonds even if they're not Barry Bonds. Then, when they go into a slump, they channel some Rob Deer, perhaps batting .220 but sending two or three home runs out of the park and taking some walks. That's still useful, even if it's not ideal. If you're Darin Erstad and you slump, you lack the peripherals to turn into anyone but Rey Ordonez. Even good managers have their blind spots; Erstad is Mike Scioscia's. On the good side of the manager's ledger, Chone Figgins, entirely a Scioscia invention, posted a 1.213 OPS. GRADE: C
The American League and a classic American songwriter. If it gets better than this, Steven Goldman doesn't want to know.
The song remains relevant: not only is 2004 is the 75th anniversary of the tune, but with the American League races winding down, there are many teams in this week's survey that find themselves unwilling prisoners of Carmichael's rockin' chair.
Steven Goldman, angry about being lied to, exposes the truth about Baseball Prospectus Groupies. He also takes some shots at the Diamondbacks, just because.
Welcome to a writer's world: alphabetically, the Diamondbacks lead off any National League survey, and it's a writer's job to hook you with a hot first paragraph. The problem is, the D'backs are dead in the water, less exciting than road kill. After careful consideration, editorial has declined TEAMS' request to place Atlanta at the top of the survey by listing the Diamondbacks under "Barizona." Still, we never give up trying, so before we get to a careful dissection of the Southwest Serpents, allow TEAMS to regale you with some erotically charged tales of the Baseball Prospectus Groupies!
The Angels and Red Sox had curve-wrecking weeks, balanced out by the latest collapse by the Orioles and a heartbreaking slump by the Indians. Professor Goldman explains his grades inside.
In a kind of breakthrough for the Angels--and defeat for those of us looking for easy hooks on which to hang our analysis--you can no longer complain about Darin Erstad. Sure, the average AL first baseman (which, from a New York vantage point, seems an entirely mythical creature) is batting .263/.344/.441 and Erstad is only hitting .319/.369/.436, but this is a distinction hardly worth quibbling over, especially since the man with a paucity of vowels in his surname has hit .351/.408/.503 since the All-Star break and played good defense.
Romping and stomping in the patented Bobby Cox second-half manner. This is no last ride of the Magnificent Seven, because there is no seven. Even the Magic Three (which, I will come right out and tell you, is an entirely relevant reference to Chinese castrati) have been scattered, with Greg Maddux hunting #300 and Tom Glavine burning in the circle of Hell reserved for fools and suicides. What there is, again, is a very successful pitching staff, now tied for the league lead in ERA. Last week the team ERA was 2.18. In seven games, they issued eight free passes and gave up just five home runs. The batters hit all of four home runs. J.D. Drew contributed almost nothing--it didn't matter. Where do they find these people? How do they "adjust" them? It's the Stepford Ballplayers, coming to a post-season near you. GRADE: A
Their .664 OPS would have been a pretty bad week for the 1906 Cubs, and it's even less impressive in 2004 when registered by players who have access to modern training methods, nutrition, and dentistry... Got a catching body and a pitching prospect for Steve Finley, which is just a step above getting nothing, at least as far as certainty goes. Then again, you probably shouldn't expect to acquire Babe Ruth for a center fielder who is pushing 40. GRADE: C-
The Angels, Twins, A's and Devil Rays all earned top marks for their work last week. Which team showed up on the other end of the curve? Hint: they're in the wild-card chase. Steven Goldman explains all this and much more about the week that was in the AL.
Went 5-2 on the week, going 3-1 against the Mariners as all good teams should…. Robb Quinlan, who batted .440 and slugged .800 on the week, represents yet another challenge for Mike Scioscia as he attempts to allot playing time down the stretch. As the club has coped with injuries, unexpected contributors have risen from the depths like a pod of slugging humpback whales. Astoundingly, the team's three big prospects--Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson and Jeff Mathis--cannot be found among their number, remaining, for the moment, mere porpoises. Instead, unheralded fringe types Quinlan and Jeff DaVanon have popped up to keep the team afloat at key moments. DaVanon got benched as soon as Darin Erstad came back to do his superficial throwback ballplayer act. Quinlan, too, will no doubt fall out of the lineup at the soonest opportunity. He's not likely to sustain this act beyond the next two minutes, but a good manager like Scioscia knows how to play the hot hand. On pitching, at the trading deadline Bartolo Colon arranged to have his soul traded into his body, which is like getting a Cy Young transplant. GRADE: A
Not far over .500, if at all by the time you read this, but suddenly looking like contenders in a division that's aimlessly drifting down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico--any day now the Detroit Tigers will be the New Orleans Beignets. Travis Hafner (.423/.467/1.077) and Victor Martinez (.379/.419/.517) make a heck of a one-two punch, and they are now joined by young Grady Sizemore, who will be the best Grady since Grady Little (not hard) and Whitman Mayo, the Grady from "Sanford & Son" (tall order). If he takes some plate appearances away from Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut, neither of whom have been the life of the party, so much the better... The bullpen is still the stuff of nightmares, with an ERA that can flirt with 6.00 if you put a couple of drinks in it. You hate to say that a team is one reliever away, because Lord knows we watched Steve Phillips and the Mets chase that chimera for enough years, but the Indians might legitimately claim that to be the case. GRADE: A
Last week, Ramon Ortiz pitched 10.2 innings and struck out four batters. Aaron Sele pitched 10.1 innings and struck out one (while walking six). The wounded Washburn pitched 5.1 innings and struck out one. As sure as night follows day, the Angels were out-homered 12-8 and the team had a losing week. Welcome to the era of the lively ball. Now, some of this pitching-in-a-pinch, let-'em-hit-it stuff comes wrapped in good news, which is that jumbo-sized punching bags Ortiz and Bartolo Colon actually pitched quite well. Consider, though, the basic dysfunction of this uniquely composed offense: the Angels have a team of high-average contact hitters. This being the aforementioned lively ball era, some of them hit home runs, but the basic model here--and you'd love to know if collecting these was intentional because Mike Scioscia was the lowercase, 1980s, Dodger Stadium version of this hitter--is not the sabermetric Three True Outcomes ideal, but something more in the mold of Joe DiMaggio: don't walk, don't swing and miss, just put that pill in play. The only practical difference between Vladimir Guerrero and Joe DiMaggio is that Vlad doesn't sell coffee makers--yet. The problem is, not everyone can be Vlad Guerrero, and in some weeks not even Vlad is Vlad, but some lesser impaler. Thus, though the Angels hit .296 and opponents hit only .280, the opponents took many more walks, reached base just as often, and hit those extra home runs. Aside from an 11-1 blowout of the Rangers on July 22, the Angels were outscored 30-37. GRADE: D