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My god, I love baseball…

  • I’ve been holding off on writing about the Giants’ lineup, because a lot
    can change in March, but right now, Felipe Alou seems determined to not
    get the most out of Barry Bonds, intending to bat him fourth behind two
    teammates who don’t have high OBPs.

    I’ve argued in the past that Bonds’ incredible skill at reaching base demands
    that he bat higher in the order, both to get him more plate appearances and to
    increase the caliber of the hitters batting behind him. My second choice would
    be to bat him third, conceding that the hassle of batting him second might not
    be worth the effort. Batting him fourth essentially swaps Bonds PAs for
    Rich Aurilia and Jose Cruz PAs, which is a bad idea.

    The central mistake here is rather than putting focus on the skills of the
    players themselves, the focus is placed in how one player’s skills might
    affect the performance of his teammates. The “protection” myth persists, and
    it motivates the decision to bat Cruz in front of Bonds so that “he’ll
    see more fastballs.”

    The way to maximize run scoring with Bonds in the lineup is to have
    runners on base in front of him–to increase the number of times teams feel
    obligated to throw him strikes–and hitters who are good at bringing runners
    around behind him, especially ones who aren’t prone to hitting into double
    plays. The Giants signed Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo in the
    off-season, which at the time looked like the perfect answer to the first
    problem. Jose Cruz, a flyball hitter with good speed and power, solves the
    second problem, and holdover Aurilia is a high-slugging, low-OBP player. By
    doing this:

    Durham 2B
    Grissom CF
    Cruz RF
    Bonds LF
    Alfonzo 3B
    

    Alou is getting everything backward but the leadoff spot, with high-SLG,
    low-OBP guys hitting in front of his best OBPs, who in turn hit in front of
    the bottom of the lineup. This:

    Durham
    Alfonzo
    Bonds
    Cruz
    Aurilia
    

    …or variations that flip the top two and the 4-5 slots, do a better job of
    sequencing the most likely events in a way that gets guys across home plate.

    Yes, I know, lineup effects are minimal. Well, I would argue that we’re at the
    outer bounds of what a simulation can tell us, and when you have a historical
    outlier in a lineup full of average to average-plus players, you have to look
    at the possibility that you’re leaving 3-5 wins on the table with suboptimal,
    or even poor, lineup construction.

    I’ve picked the Giants to win the NL West, but I’d feel a lot better about it
    if I didn’t see the potential for Bonds to walk 225 times and post a
    .340/.615/.625 line in just 400 at-bats.

    I should do a full column on this, but I want to wait until the season starts.
    For now, though, it seems that Alou is not leveraging the available talent to
    best advantage.

  • A side effect of Eric Milton‘s injury is that Adam Johnson
    could make the Twins in the same role that Johan Santana filled so effectively
    last season. With Santana moving into the rotation, the Twins will need a
    back-of-the-bullpen guy capable of throwing multiple innings. Breaking in
    Johnson, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2000, with 90 low-leverage innings would be a
    play right out of the Earl Weaver handbook, and provide the 23-year-old a
    chance to redeem himself following an off-year at Triple-A in 2002.

  • Last week, Dusty Baker praised Eric Karros for the amount of time
    he was spending working on his stroke in the batting cage. This week, he’s
    emphasizing how there’s too much expected of the young players in his charge,
    while at the same time saying he’ll stick with them if they start slowly.

    The mixed signals are a concern, especially given how Baker apportioned
    playing time and roster spots in San Francisco. The Cubs can’t waste too much
    playing time on Karros and Mark Grudzielanek and Tom Goodwin and
    Shawn Estes and still expect to win this year. Baker has to ride the
    young core, especially Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill, or the Cubs
    won’t score enough to win.

  • One of my favorite spring rituals is the Matt Mantei Watch. At a BP
    Pizza Feed last month, one of the attendees asked about the Diamondbacks
    closer situation, wondering whether Mantei would be the man this year. I
    couldn’t help but laugh, because I’d gotten the exact same question one year
    prior at the first Pizza Feed I ever attended.

    Since being acquired in midseason 1999 for three prospects–only one of whom,
    Brad Penny, has amounted to much–Mantei has thrown 108 innings in about
    three-and-a-half years, missing most of 2001 and 2002 following elbow surgery.
    He’s made nearly $9 million in that time, thanks to an ill-considered four-year
    deal
    .

    There’s all kinds of happy talk coming out of Tucson about how Mantei has his
    velocity back, and how he’s going to be the closer, especially with
    Byung-Hyun Kim gunning for the No. 5 slot in the rotation. I don’t buy it;
    Mantei hasn’t been both healthy and effective since I could run an
    eight-minute mile, and I’m skeptical that he’ll ever be both again. Right now,
    the biggest thing he has going for him is his contract, which pays him $6.75
    million this year and guarantees him multiple shots at a job. Without that
    deal, he would have been non-tendered years ago, and would probably be an NRI
    for the Brewers or Devil Rays this spring.

    Bob Brenly can go with Mantei as his closer, Kim–of whom he’s been critical–as
    his No. 5 starter, and Miguel Batista as his long man, or he can just
    stick everyone in the roles they had last year. I expect him to choose the
    road more traveled.

  • Ted Lilly threw three shutout innings yesterday, striking out six
    along the way. I’m so ridiculously high on him right now that it’s not even
    funny. With the A’s upgrading their outfield defense to turn his many fly
    balls into outs, and Rick Peterson working on his mechanics to improve his
    command, I can see Lilly having a big year, something like 15-17 wins with an
    ERA around 3.00.

  • Hope springs eternal. The following people are in spring-training camps,
    according to Baseball America: Bill Pulsipher, Nigel
    Wilson
    , Mel Rojas, Matt Walbeck, Pat Borders,
    Sherman Obando, Chris Tremie, Jon Nunnally, Quilvio
    Veras
    and Roberto Kelly.

  • Thursday evening, I’m going to be taking part in my first rotisserie
    auction since 1992. It’s the Rotowire staff league, which I’m in because I did
    some writing for their fantasy baseball magazine. Well, also because Jeff
    Erickson waxes me on the golf course, and this is the only way I can get my
    money back.

    I’ll do a full write-up of the event for Friday’s column, but if any readers
    have thoughts on the best way to handle the inaugural auction for an 18-team
    perpetual league with 17-man reserve roster, drop me a line. While I have the
    broad outline of a plan, I’m open to suggestions from fantasy veterans. (Not
    that kind of fantasy.)

  • I swear, I’m not going to start posting music recommendations on a regular
    basis…but I have to mention a birthday gift that arrived Monday: the box set
    from Prince’s “One Night Alone” tour. It’s a great listen, especially if, like
    me, you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the man live.