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
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
- 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
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
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.