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Houston Astros

  • Disastrous Performer: “Bad”
    Ausmus
    never has much chance of being even an
    average catcher offensively, but this is
    ridiculous
    . Ausmus recently pulled into the lead in the race for worst regular catcher in the majors (as rated by VORP), underpowering the likes of Michael
    Barrett
    and Brandon
    Inge
    . He isn’t even the best
    regular catcher in the Astros’ system; >John
    Buck
    has been posting Einaresque
    stats at Triple-A, and even the Round Rock tandem has fared
    better.

    Why do clubs put up with bats like these? Defense,
    natch. Inge is supposed to be a great defender,
    despite a mixed major-league
    track record
    , and anyway, the Tigers traded away their
    only other option
    . Barrett doesn’t have (or
    deserve)
    a glovely reputation, so Brian
    Schneider
    has grabbed at-bats and stated his case for the starter’s job.

    Which brings us to Ausmus. He’s always been a
    top-notch defender
    against the run
    , and this year’s 39% CS rate
    matches his career exactly. Like with any catcher with
    a good rep, he’s supposed to do wonders with the
    pitching staff. But does he?

    • Roy
      Oswalt
      : ERA up slightly, double the expected
      unearned runs push his RA half a run above his career
      mark.

    • Wade
      Miller
      : ERA about a run over his career mark
      even without his injury-shortened outing (two runs in
      1/3 inning).

    • Jeriome
      Robertson
      : Adjusted RA of 6.51 as a starter, a
      small improvement over last year, and well in line
      with his minor-league track record.

    • Tim
      Redding
      : Adjusted ERA of 3.84, a big
      improvement over his career at any level.

    Among the top four starters, that’s two disappointments,
    one doing about as expected, and a 25-year-old turning
    the corner. Overall, the rotation’s adjusted RA is 5.23–it was 4.43
    last year, 5.12
    the year before. For his ball-handling skills to
    offset his bat, the pitching staff’s ‘true’ ERA would
    have to be around 6, which can’t be the case.

    If Ausmus doesn’t help the pitchers, and he’s hitting
    even less than usual, what’s the point?

  • Draft: Houston lost their first-round pick to
    the Giants when Jeff
    Kent
    fell
    into their lap
    . While that’s worked out a lot
    better than wasting a pick on a guy like Mike
    Magnante
    , the club was still stuck without a first
    round pick. In the second round they took juco pitcher
    Jason Hirsh.

    The club’s next three picks were center fielders
    from a variety of levels. After watching several
    uninspiring defenders there over the last few years,
    you can understand their focus. However, it’s still
    unclear
    whether third-round pick Drew
    Stubbs
    will go pro, or report to the University of
    Texas.

  • Amazing game: On
    May 31st
    , after 15 scoreless innings which saw
    almost as many Cubbie whiffs (22) as combined
    baserunners (24), Kent booted a Corky
    Sosa
    grounder, allowing the winning run to
    score. But perhaps the most amazing part was when
    radio broadcasters named home plate umpire Bruce
    Dreckman player of the game. Uh, guys? Umpires are not
    players? Ah, never mind.

  • Schedule: Now that the Astros have assumed the
    division lead, they embark on a brutal interleague
    trip to New York and Boston. Usually a club calls up a
    bat like Jason
    Lane
    to take advantage of the DH spot, but
    don’t expect any roster moves. The DH should allow
    Jimy Williams to get Morgan
    Ensberg’s
    bat into the lineup while indulging
    in his fetish for Geoff
    Blum’s
    glove. (We’re still awaiting an
    explanation of how Blum’s glove could possibly
    offset an OPS advantage of more
    than a pitcher
    …no doubt the old school is
    involved.)

Milwaukee
Brewers

  • Marketing Madness: The Brewers have decided to
    play off the foul play of the team’s Royce
    Clayton
    s and offer fans the promise of
    guaranteed foul balls. For $36, the Brewers will
    guarantee fans leave Miller Park with either a foul
    ball or a ball used during a game. “One of the great
    thrills for a baseball fan is to leave the ballpark
    with a ball used during the game,” Jim Bathey,
    assistant vice president in charge of ticket sales,
    said recently. What, Keith
    Osik
    isn’t thrilling enough?

    The tickets, in the outfield boxes at field level,
    come with a voucher that can be redeemed for a
    game-used baseball. The promotion started Friday
    against the Red Sox and will run intermittently
    throughout the season. Despite the promotion and the
    team’s first interleague game of the year, against the
    star-studded Sox no less, the Brewers drew just 20,195
    fans, a modest increase over the team’s average
    attendance of 16,993 heading into Friday’s game.
    Attendance was down 25% through 29 home dates heading
    into Friday’s game.

  • Streaking: You can’t blame the team’s
    attendance woes on their recent play. The Brewers had
    won six of their last seven and seven of nine
    following Friday’s 9-3 win over Boston. Before heading home to play the Sox, Milwaukee had
    enjoyed one of its best road trips in years, taking
    two out of three in San Diego, two out of three in
    L.A., and going two for two against the Mets at Shea
    Stadium (rain washed out the start of the series). Of course that was before Kevin Millar struck for three homers in five at-bats Saturday and Sunday, netting the Sox two straight wins to take the series 2-1.

  • Hot Hot Heat: Richie Sexson has asserted himself as one of the best first basemen in baseball this season. A recent hot streak has helped cement his status among the elite. Sexson has hit safely in six straight games through Sunday; he cranked three homers and a double over a recent four-game stretch in L.A. and New York. After dropping from 45 to 29 homers from 2001 to 2002 (while jumping from 24 to 37 doubles), Sexson has seen more balls clear the fence again this year. Through Sunday Sexson stood tied for second in major league homers, tied with Carlos Delgado with 19, while trailing Adam Dunn by one–Sexson’s on pace for 50 bombs. He’s hiked his walk rate as well, with 37 through 61 games, on pace for a career-high 98. Sexson leads the NL in VORP for first basemen at 17.1, trailing only Delgado and Mike Sweeney in the big leagues.

  • Cold Draft: Most observers applauded the Brew Crew’s selection of Southern University 2B Rickie Weeks with the second pick in the draft. Weeks hit .483 with 17 homers and became the
    second player in Division I history to lead the nation
    in batting average for two straight seasons. He also stole 31 bases without being caught this season, 65 in 66 tries over his collegiate career. Weeks has been almost universally praised for his tools, a double-edged sword; he’ll need to ratchet up his plate discipline and improve his defense to make and excel in the majors. Still, Weeks was considered such a slam dunk that several prospect hounds rated him as the top player on their draft boards.

    Draftniks were far less impressed with the Brewers’ second-round pick, San Diego State OF Anthony Gwynn. A spray hitter known for speed and defense, Gwynn has shown little power while posting less-than-overwhelming walk rates. If you’re Tony Gwynn and can hit .330 every year in the majors, that formula can work. We’ll see if TGwynn’s son can do the same–whispers around draft day pegged Anthony Gwynn as a reach driven by name value. Granted, the Brewers drafted Cecil Fielder‘s son Prince Fielder in the first round last year. But Prince can mash, as he showed in high school and has continued to show this year–he’s posted a .325 Minor League EqA this season, among the leaders in the Midwest League. Though whispers of nepotism didn’t pop up in the Brewers’ later rounds, several of the club’s picks were seen as reaches given expected draft slots.

    This raises an interesting philosophical question: If Weeks becomes a star and no else pans out, how do you grade the Brewers’ 2003 draft? Readers?

Oakland Athletics

  • Draft Recap: The last few seasons, the Oakland
    Athletics have built their highly effective draft
    strategy the past few years on the theory that high
    school hurlers are as likely to reach their potential
    as Cecil “The Glacier” Fielder is to reach on a drag
    bunt. Judging from the 2003 MLB First-Year Player
    Draft completed last week, the rest of the league is
    beginning to follow Oakland’s lead with regards to
    high school players, especially pitchers. While
    prognosticating the fortunes of the players drafted
    last week is as dubious an idea as taping
    yourself as a Jedi
    on the school video camera,
    looking more closely at whom the A’s acquired confirms
    their stated draft strategies and provides insight as
    to some players who should be moving up through the
    Oakland system in the next year or two.

    • Brad Sullivan (RHP, Houston) posted a 1.82
      ERA and a 13-1 record. How did he slip to the A’s at
      #25? Because he posted that line in 2002. In 2003,
      he was 6-7 with a 2.71 ERA. For those paying attention though, he
      maintained his strong K/9 numbers (11.4) and kept his
      walks down. After a stellar performance for Team USA
      last summer, Sullivan was overshadowed by his Houston
      teammate Ryan Wagner (selected 14th by the Reds) who
      posted a ludicrous 16.7 K/9. Sullivan’s unfortunate
      W-L record is nothing but a run of bad luck at the
      perfect time for the A’s. Houston’s
      strong schedule
      and Sullivan’s large data sample
      size make him a safer bet than other pitchers
      available. Look for him to advance quickly through
      the A’s minor league system and further clog the
      Sacramento and Midland rotations with top-flight
      pitching prospects.

    • Brian Snyder (3B, Stetson) was among the
      Division I leaders with a .504 OBP and 45 walks. It’s
      no surprise that he posted extremely similar numbers
      (.508, 50) in 2002. Detractors point to Snyder’s lack
      of power, but though his home runs declined from 14 to
      10, his other extra-base hits increased from 17 to 25,
      a strong indicator of power to come in the future. The
      Blue Jays were reported to be very interested in
      Snyder before the draft, and it’s likely that the A’s
      could have taken him with a later pick if J.P.
      Ricciardi wasn’t flying the great ship SkyDome.

    • Omar Quintanilla (SS, Texas) is an
      intriguing pick because his offensive numbers stand
      out very distinctly from the rest of the top eight
      hitters the A’s drafted. Unfortunately, they don’t
      stand out in a good way. Quintanilla has registered a
      mere 28 free passes the last two seasons combined with
      OBPs of .379 and .408. He has shown slight power
      potential with 21 and 16 XBA, but he’ll have to
      improve these numbers significantly before he ascends
      the minor league ladder. Perhaps this was a budget
      pick, considering the $9 million it took to sign last year’s
      draft class, but the reasons for drafting Quintanilla
      at this point are unclear.

    • The A’s second round pick, Andre Ethier (CF,
      Arizona State) also bears watching. Ethier was
      actually drafted by the A’s out of Chandler-Gilbert CC
      two years ago on a flyer in the 37th round, but
      instead became a Sun Devil for two years. While his
      31 BB, .463 OBP, and 21 XBA in 2002 were impressive,
      his 51, .487, and 25 in 2003 were a significant
      improvement, especially when noting that those
      additional XBHs were HRs. Considering the quality of
      play in the Pac-10, Ethier’s numbers become even more
      impressive, and he could move up to high-A ball very
      quickly.

    Other players to keep an eye out for in a couple
    years: Vasili Spanos (3B, Indiana; .513 OBP)
    and Luke Appert (2B, Minnesota; 27
    2Bs) taken in the 11th and sixth rounds,
    respectively. In total, the A’s stuck by their now
    well-publicized draft strategy of taking college
    players; the A’s drafted but one high schooler on the
    first day of the draft with their 21st pick overall,
    though they did take a couple fliers on high school
    pitchers on Day 2. Though none of these picks have
    garnered the same publicity that players like
    Delmon Young and Rickie Weeks, they
    conform well to the A’s low-risk, low-cost draft
    strategy that is keeping the farm well stocked with
    replacements for departing free agents and fodder for
    Billy Beane’s trades.

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