- Swappin’ Out: Travis Hafner‘s broken toe landed him on the 15-day DL, and Shapiro et al. called up Ben Broussard to take over the roster spot. Hafner’s shown the occasional sign of breaking out of his persistent funk, but there’s definitely an opportunity for Broussard (who wasn’t hitting at triple-A Buffalo) to get hot and make a decision difficult for the front office when Hafner comes off the DL. But he’ll have to get very hot.
- In the Clubhouse: Milton Bradley‘s once again found a way to piss off management in his organization (that’s versatility to do that in both the U.S. and Canada). Indian manager Eric Wedge pulled Bradley from the game on Wednesday, replacing him with Jody Gerut. In the past, Bradley hasn’t really played well enough for clubs to tolerate ancillary hassles; he might be playing well enough now to get some leeway where in the past, he might be Buffalo-bound. “We didn’t see eye-to-eye on something, and we talked about it”, said manager Eric Wedge. Some stuff stays in the clubhouse. Coco Crisp has to be somewhat pleased, though, since he’s tearing it up in Buffalo–.344/.444/.500. Perhaps Coco should look into hiring an agent provocateur or two. Where’s Dan Miceli when you need him?
- So Far, So Good: At the start of the season, C.C. Sabathia was considered one of the most risky pitchers in baseball. His K rate last year wasn’t particularly strong, he had thrown 210 innings at the age of 21, and Eric Wedge had made some ominous proclamations about no longer needing to go easy on Sabathia’s arm, since he was (a) a year older, and (b) the ace of the staff. Well, eight starts in, Wedge has actually been fairly protective of Sabathia. C.C.’s pitch counts for the year:
Game Pitches --------------------------- BAL, 31 Mar 93 KCR, 05 Apr 107 KCR, 12 Apr 96 BAL, 17 Apr 98 SEA, 22 Apr 99 OAK, 27 Apr 112 TEX, 04 May 115 TEX, 10 May 103
That’s fairly reasonable, and if Sabathia doesn’t top 115 pitches for the year, Wedge will deserve credit for thinking strategically and looking out for his charge. The Cleveland bullpen’s been steady but unspectacular, so it’s not as if there hasn’t been temptation to keep Sabathia in and keep Jose “Here’s why we don’t use ERA to evaluate relievers” Santiago off the mound.
- Finance and Economics: The turnstiles haven’t exactly been chugging at Jacobs Field. Most home games have drawn under 20,000 fans, in large part due to some very unpleasant weather. The home opener on April 7th was postponed, which is an automatic attendance hit, but check out these conditions for the games they’ve actually been able to play:
April 8th: Weather: 34 degrees, overcast Wind: 17 mph, in from right April 9th: Weather: 35 degrees, cloudy Wind: 20 mph, in from right April 10th: Weather: 42 degrees, cloudy Wind: 17 mph, in from center
Yeah, those are great conditions for the opening home series. That’s nothing new in the northern parts of the country, but still, that’s just plain bad luck. Once the weather gets more pleasant, the kids get out of school, and the Indian record recovers a little from the beatings they received on their recent AL West foray (2-9 against the West, 0-6 against Oakland and Seattle), attendance should pick up. Sitting through a ballgame in 34 degree weather with a 1 mph wind is reminiscent of sex with Anna Nicole Smith–it can be done, but it’s certainly not the best use of your leisure time.
- Wretched, Disastrous Performer: Five years ago, Adrian Beltre was one of the best prospects in the game; he could hit for average, he could hit for power, his defense was improving, and he knew how to take a pitch. And yet, while all of this was quite nice on its own, what set him apart from the rest of the pack was something completely seperate from his on-field performance–his age. Adrian Beltre wasn’t just one of the best hitters in all of Double-A, he was one of the best hitters in all of Double-A at age 19.
Greatness seemed inevitable for the third baseman, and many writers speculated that he would eventually develop into one of the best corner infielders of his generation. As we wrote in Baseball Prospectus 2000–a book which bore his likeness on the cover–“last year he was a 20-year-old putting up a .263 EqA with fair defense. That separates him from Scott Rolen and puts him on par with Andruw Jones and Alex Rodriguez as the most valuable properties in baseball.” For a player like Adrian Beltre, it was only a matter of time before stardom came knocking at his door.
So what happened?
As some people have speculated, Beltre’s lack of development can partially be traced back to an emergency appendectomy he endured at the beginning of the 2001 campaign which reportedly sapped an usual amount of his strength. Here are his numbers prior to the appendectomy:
Year Team G AB 2B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG --------------------------------------------------------------- 1998 LAN 77 195 9 7 14 37 3 1 .215 .278 .369 1999 LAN 152 538 27 15 61 105 18 7 .275 .352 .428 2000 LAN 138 510 30 20 56 80 12 5 .290 .360 .475
Not bad, especially when you consider that half these at-bats have come in Dodger Stadium, and all of them have been accumulated by someone not old enough to legally have a beer with dinner. The meaningful numbers trend upward across the board, with a reduction in his strikeout rate coming as an added plus in 2000.
Here are his numbers after the appendectomy, though:
Year Team G AB 2B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG --------------------------------------------------------------- 2001 LAN 126 475 22 13 28 82 13 4 .265 .310 .411 2002 LAN 159 587 26 21 37 96 7 5 .257 .303 .426 2003 LAN 39 136 10 4 6 23 0 1 .199 .241 .360
Not so good.
Now, while it might be foolish assume that the effects of the appendectomy have lingered for more than two years after the time of surgery, what else is there to explain the lack of development? An active nightlife? A poor work ethic? Nagging injuries? Random chance? It’s hard to say; after all, this wasn’t some flash-in-the-pan prospect: this was a player who was signed by the Dodgers at the age of 16, and mowed through minor-league pitching faster than Prince Fielder mows through a stack of Big Macs. Hitters like Beltre simply do not fall off the map without rhyme or reason.
At the time of this writing, Beltre ranks ahead of only four other third baseman in the major leagues with regard to offensive production. His .602 OPS ranks second-to-last on a team that gives regular playing time to Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis. And PECOTA cites Aurelio Rodriguez–a light-hitting third baseman who played for the Angels and Tigers during the late-1960s and ’70s–as his most historically comparable player.
And yet, there is still reason to hope.
After all, this player we’ve been talking about since BP ’97 still has time firmly on his side. Twenty-four-year-old ballplayers–no matter how experienced–still have a lot of learning to do.
Upcoming Schedule: Aside from a quick trip through the Rocky Mountains at the end of the month–a place that’s tough to win at no matter how good the home team–the Los Angeles Dodgers have perhaps the softest schedule in all of baseball between now and June 15. Check it out.
May 16, 17, 18 vs. Florida May 20, 21, 22 vs. Colorado May 23, 24, 25 vs. Milwaukee May 28, 29, 30 @ Colorado May 30, 31 vs. Milwaukee June 01 vs. Milwaukee June 03, 04, 05 vs. Kansas City June 06, 07, 08 vs. Chicago June 10, 11, 12 vs. Detroit June 13, 14, 15 @ Cleveland
At the time of this writing, that includes exactly one team playing better than .500 ball. Go Dodgers!
- Star Performer: Edgar Martinez is 40, and is having a historic season, the best ever by someone at his age. Edgar is hitting .336/.457/.609 this year, for a .373 EqA, second in all the majors only to Barry Bonds. And Edgar’s doing it while trotting from base to base, afraid of tweaking his hamstring, breaking into a run only in critical game situations. Martinez has said he plans to retire after this season, but if he can perform at this level while gimpy, he may well reconsider. This becomes important because Martinez, who was royally screwed by the Mariners early in his career and wasn’t a full-time player until he was 27, may well be one of the fifty best hitters in baseball history, still doesn’t have the kind of career numbers that would ensure his election to the Hall of Fame, and may now have to rely on longevity and hope for a chance at post-season heroics that could build his case.
- Noteworthy Prospect: Chris Snelling is back from ACL surgery and playing in AA San Antonio. In 10 games, he’s hitting .302/.348/.465. It’ll take some time to see if Snelling can get over the mental performance issues associated with having a knee explode on him, but the Mariners have time to let Snelling work out, since they’re carrying three starting outfielders (hot-hitting Mike Cameron, Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Winn), two backup left-fielders (Mark Mclemore, Willie Bloomquist), and a pet rock (John Mabry).
- Wretched Performance: Freddy Garcia turned his head and coughed up eight hits, two walks, seven runs, four earned, in six innings of work Wednesday, facing the batless Indians, who trot out the third-worst offense in the major leagues. This follows a disastrous rout at the hands of the Yankees (2.2 IP, 7H, 9ER, 2BB, 1K) a week before. The Mariners have some options to replace him, but are unlikely to find a taker for the troubled pitcher’s $6.4 million salary this year, and are probably not going to sit such an expensive pitcher and one they proclaimed the team’s No. 1 starter in the pre-season. Mariners fans may be crossing their fingers that Garcia is injured, somehow, as it may be their only way out. The Mariners may not need Garcia to actually be injured anyway–they have never been shy about using the DL to clear underperformers off the roster.
Hot Streak: Jeff Cirillo‘s been the object of concern, in this space and elsewhere, as he’s failed to show any kind of bat. for the first time since his acquisition there is hope he may turn his performance around. Halfway through May, he’s hitting .389/.421/.500 which will make this his best monthly performance since he’s joined the team even if he stinks it up for the next two weeks. Cirillo has a modified swing this year, eliminating many of the twitches he was using as timing devices, and he credits his improvement to the change and the time he’s spent working with Mariner hitting coach Lamar Johnson. If Cirillo continues to hit while providing the team excellent defense, it will help the Mariners both with their offense, and with their defense, as continued good hitting will keep Mark McLemore off the hot corner, where he’s a limited defender.
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