It’s been a fairly bustling off-season with more than its share of meaty trades and free-agent signings. The winter derring-do of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels have been sufficiently analyzed in other spaces and in this one, but some of the sage moves of the past few months have passed by seemingly unnoticed, with church-mouse quietness (you can only if hear it if you’re pure of heart and listen oh-so closely). So today, I’m going to look at a trio of front-office decisions that haven’t garnered much bandwidth, but nevertheless merit praise.
Enough debate. Let’s just go ahead and put Leo Mazzone in the Hall of Fame. Coaches of all sorts are criminally unrepresented in Cooperstown, so Mazzone’s decade of instruction in Atlanta is as good a start as any. While Mazzone may only be teaching what he learned from his coach, Johnny Sain, I don’t think Sain would mind. Each year, the question is asked how the Braves will overcome the loss of this pitcher or that pitcher. We look at a bunch of no-names and retreads in the bullpen and through his alchemical abilities, Mazzone and manager Bobby Cox end up in the playoffs again. This year, let’s not debate–Leo Mazzone is the best pitching coach inside the game, bar none.
What will Mazzone work with this year? Once again, he’s asked to overcome the loss of talent as Greg Maddux has moved on. Only John Smoltz is left from the core of the Braves dynasty. Instead of Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Smoltz terrorizing hitters, the Braves will send out Hampton, Ortiz, and…Jaret Wright?
Earlier this week, the merry BP Brigade was found shooting the baseball breeze in the bullpen at our secret HQ, the Prospectus Nexus. As our lovely girl Friday Esmé Chimère
(author of BP’s upcoming column for our female readers, “The Boys on the Basepaths”) tended the hibachi, weighty topics were bandied about like the tainted games of the 1919 World Series that suggested to Ring Lardner pretty bubbles marred by cancer spots.
One of the questions we briefly kicked around and the YOU-crew has gnawed like a bucket of Sammy Byrd’s legs ever since is that of where a manager makes his primary contribution to his team’s fortunes. Some would say that the manager’s main job is morale-building. Before agreeing, we should probably ask Larry Bowa what he thinks. It was easy to eliminate in-game tactics, because aside from the odd obsessional bunter (Don Baylor) or compulsive lefty-righty switcher (Tony LaRussa), these are largely rote decisions.
It has been suggested elsewhere that constructing the batting order was where the manager most exerts his influence. This is closer to the heart of the matter, a minor truth in search of a major one. It’s not what order the players bat in that defines the manager, but who is allowed to bat in the first place.
BP has been at the forefront of using statistics to help evaluate minor league players, but not every top prospect will be found among the leader boards. James Loney is a perfect example of someone BP ranked highly despite a superficially unimpressive performance during the 2003 season. At first glance, it is hard to get excited about the numbers he produced in Vero Beach last year. He hit .276, drawing only 43 walks and knocking 41 extra-base hits, leading to a pedestrian .338 on base-percentage and .400 slugging average for a .277 EqA that ranked seventh on his own club. As a first baseman, that isn’t the kind of production that usually makes people sit up and take notice. However, a deeper look inside the numbers reveals a more detailed story.
The Expos need to find a replacement for Tony Armas. The Giants’ rotation may be in trouble. The Blue Jays should expect improvement from Josh Phelps and Eric Hinske. These and other news and notes in today’s Prospectus Triple Play.