This team is in trouble. Why? You might notice a load of lights there in the pitching staff. Even the pitching-friendly confines of Safeco Field might not be enough to keep runs off the board if the M’s are forced to scramble all year for healthy arms. With swirling rumors about injuries, nightlife, and various other explanations, Freddy Garcia simply hasn’t performed the last two seasons. There’s a consistent track between his K rate and his velocity; as he fatigues, he loses effectiveness. Garcia needs to drastically increase his pitch efficiency to have the kind of year he desperately wants in his contract season.
The Braves may be handcuffing themselves by carrying Eddie Perez. The Twins could find a second-base solution in Michael Cuddyer. The Devil Rays have had a much tougher time developing pitchers than hitters. These and other news and notes in today’s Prospectus Triple Play.
The Royals have an intriguing second-base battle cooking in the minors. The Yankees aren’t rushing to promote farmhand pitchers. The Padres could be short a shortstop at Triple-A. These and other happenings in today’s Transaction Analysis.
The concept of “clutch” is one of the clearest dividing lines between traditional coverage of baseball and what you’ll find here at Baseball Prospectus. In the mainstream, performance in important situations is often attributed to some wealth or deficit of character that causes a particular outcome. Here, we’re more likely to recognize that when the best baseball players in the world go head-to-head, someone has to win and someone has to lose, and it doesn’t mean that one side has better people than the other.
Clutch performances exist, to be sure; you can’t watch a day of baseball without seeing a well-timed hit, a big defensive play or a key strikeout that pushes a team towards victory. The biggest moments in baseball history are almost all examples of players doing extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances. Those moments make the game great and the players responsible for them deserve credit, and even adulation, for their heroics.
What do these teams have in common this season: the Red Sox, Cubs, Reds, Expos, Yankees and Cardinals? They’re not all contenders, they’re not all pennant-race non-entities, they’re not all possessed of similar strengths and weaknesses, they’re not all of a the same economic strata, not all their mascots have feathers, fur or nylon stitching. So what could it be? The answer is that all of the aforementioned teams are poised to open the 2004 season without a lefty in their rotation. What’s more is that the Pirates, if they do indeed dispatch Oliver Perez to the minors to start the season, and the Blue Jays, if Ted Lilly’s wrist injury keeps him off the opening-day roster and he’s replaced by Vinny Chulk, will join their ranks.
I can’t really say whether this is a historical oddity, but my suspicion is that when more than a quarter of the league has not a single left-handed starter among them, something’s afoot. And, mind you, other than the Reds, these aren’t teams that have performed the industry equivalent of dumpster diving to assemble their pitching staffs. In fact, you’ll find among these sans-lefty squads the probable top three pitching staffs in all of baseball. Additionally, the Padres may become the first nominal contender since the ’94 Expos to go with an all right-handed bullpen for the bulk of the season. So is there any reason for this, ahem, southpaucity?
The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held. I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive right-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience. I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.