- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Travis Hafner has finally come around and hit like we expected him to at the start of the season.
AVG OBP SLG Pre All-Star .221 .289 .423 Post All-Star .292 .364 .521
Unfortunately for the Indians, Milton Bradley‘s out until at least mid-September with a nasty back bruise. There may be some sort of Ohio statute that prohibits the Indians from fielding a lineup with more than one hitter that actually worries opposing teams. If Hafner gets hurt just before Bradley gets back from the DL, it’s probably a States’ Rights conflict of some sort.
- Trade Winds: Brian Anderson‘s one of the few names mentioned as a possible mover during August Movement Days (which sounds vaguely like either a sales drive at a car dealer or a nightmarish milieu encouraging colonic achievement in an assisted living facility.) Anderson will receive a bonus of over a half million dollars if he’s traded, but you have to wonder if potential trade partners have taken a careful look at his career, or, for that matter, just this year’s stat line:
IP H HR BB K ERA 148 162 21 32 72 3.71
I know what you’re thinking–that stat line doesn’t make any sense. How does a guy have a 3.71 ERA when he’s giving up hits and bombs at such an Ackerian rate? Maybe he’s incredible with runners on base? He’s better than with the bases empty, but not much. With the bases empty, hitters are pasting Anderson to the tune of .282/.325/.512, compared to .290/.316/.434 with runners on. That might account for some of the irregularity. But still–that’s an extremely low ERA for those peripherals. Is there any logical explanation?
Yep. Anderson’s allowed a tidy 27 unearned runs. Pedro Martinez has allowed 37 earned runs. Tim Hudson? Fifty-four, but in 196 innings. Anderson’s always been a pitcher that’s lived off luck, and any organization that picks him up should stock up on four-leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet, and locks of Christopher Dodd’s hair. Anderson’s RA for this year? Try 5.35. His VORP for the year? Ten. Where’s Jeff Bittiger when you need him?
- Picture of a Thousand Faces: Where’s Danys Baez? Baez spent the 2001 season in the bullpen, and was very effective, using his nasty stuff to post a 2.50 ERA, limited opposing hitters to 34 hits in 50 innings, and struck out more than a batter per inning. Baez, one of the Cuban imports, was moved to the rotation for the 2002 campaign, where he was good but not outstanding, throwing 165 innings with a 4.41 ERA. So the Indians moved him to the closer role for the 2003 season, because the Indians have so many quality starting pitchers that they had to find space for them to…no, that’s not it. For some reason, they moved him into the closer’s role, because someone has to pitch the ninth of games you’re winning, but not by more than three runs. Baez has pitched well but not exceptionally, blowing eight saves in 33 opportunities. Now he’s out of the closer role and the rotation, and will be in the bullpen as an innings guy. Next year? Don’t rule out Baez as a great sleeper candidate to take over the shortstop or bullpen catcher roles.
- A Jerry Bruckheimer Production: According to Mark Shapiro, Casey Blake will be the starting 3B for the Indians in 2004. “He’s the starting third baseman without a doubt. There are only nine (3Bs) in the major leagues who are performing better,” according to Shapiro. Unfortunately, that’s not precisely accurate.
Name Team(s) PA EQA EQR RAR RAP RARP ---------------------------------------------------------------- Lowell, Mike FLA 497 .314 87.1 47.1 31.6 46.4 Rolen, Scott STL 485 .316 83.2 45.6 31.0 44.9 Mueller, Bill BOS 436 .322 78.5 44.8 31.6 44.1 Blalock, Hank TEX 460 .305 74.5 37.7 23.4 37.0 Koskie, Corey MIN 424 .311 69.6 36.7 23.9 36.1 Chavez, Eric OAK 481 .292 73.5 33.2 17.5 32.4 Ensberg, Morgan HOU 32 .300 50.3 24.5 13.2 23.1 Glaus, Troy ANA 366 .285 52.4 21.7 9.3 20.8 Castilla, Vinny ATL 454 .268 57.6 18.2 2.8 17.4 Burroughs, Sean SDP 414 .271 51.4 17.3 3.2 16.1 Wigginton, Ty NYM 492 .263 59.0 16.6 0.0 15.7 Munson, Eric DET 349 .271 45.7 15.5 2.9 14.3 Hinske, Eric TOR 357 .266 44.1 13.6 1.7 13.0 Blake, Casey CLE 456 .262 55.4 15.4 -3.0 12.5 Helms, Wes MIL 393 .262 46.6 13.1 -0.4 12.1 Batista, Tony BAL 495 .252 56.3 11.6 -6.5 10.2 Ginter, Keith MIL 268 .273 33.9 11.8 0.6 9.5 Stynes, Chris COL 387 .256 42.1 10.0 -3.7 8.5 Ramirez, Aramis CHC/PIT 493 .257 56.2 13.6 -9.3 8.2 Alfonzo, Edgardo SFG 448 .250 47.5 8.9 -6.5 7.9 Martinez, Ramon CHC 228 .266 26.9 8.2 1.0 7.9 Randa, Joe KCR 395 .250 41.9 8.0 -5.4 7.2 Rolls, Damian TBY 271 .260 32.4 8.5 -3.2 6.3 Merloni, Lou SDP 152 .266 17.8 5.4 0.5 5.1 Perez, Tomas PHI 213 .262 24.8 6.9 -2.4 4.9 Crede, Joe CWS 437 .242 43.9 5.3 -9.8 4.5 Sandberg, Jared TBY 98 .268 12.4 3.9 0.3 3.6 Clark, Howie TOR 70 .287 9.5 4.0 1.1 3.3 Hammock, Robby ARI 119 .262 14.6 4.1 -0.8 3.3 Beltre, Adrian LAD 435 .238 43.3 3.7 -11.6 3.0 Counsell, Craig ARI 263 .242 25.1 3.0 -5.1 3.0 Williams, Matt ARI 152 .250 15.8 3.0 -2.2 2.6 Feliz, Pedro SFG 203 .251 23.8 4.7 -6.1 1.9 Bloomquist, Willie SEA 194 .246 19.8 3.0 -4.8 1.8 Truby, Chris TBY 48 .257 5.2 1.3 -0.3 1.2 Carroll, Jamey MON 224 .235 20.1 1.1 -6.8 0.4
Blake’s currently 14th by Runs Above Replacement Player, and his rate of production is largely indistinguishable from a number of players below him on the list, like Wes Helms, Keith Ginter, Ramon Martinez, Damian Rolls, Lou Merloni…you get the idea. Blake’s certainly established himself as a major league player, and he’s arguably earned the right to another year to see if he can take another step forward, but he’s not a championship caliber ballplayer. Then again, it’s not as if the Indians are bursting at the seams with potential replacements, and given playing time, Blake could blossom into a .280 EqA 3B. Just don’t try to tell us that he’s in the top ten 3B in MLB.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Guess Who’s Back? Shawn Green, that’s who. Since the All-Star break, Green has hit .342/.443/.496–a far cry from his early summer Michael Tucker impersonation that got him included in Joe Sheehan’s list of first half disappointments.
What’s interesting about Green’s turnaround, however, is that it appears to be for real. As Joe pointed out in his column, the deterioration in Green’s first half production corresponded eerily well with an inability to control the strike zone. Since the All-Star break, however, Green’s plate discipline seems to have returned:
2003 PA BB% SO% ----------------------------------- Pre All-Star 399 8% 19% Post All-Star 139 14% 13%
Could it be thanks to the firing of hitting coach Jack Clark? Perhaps. Green, after all, has hit remarkably well since August 3–the day of Clark’s firing. Causality is a tough thing to establish, however, so we’ll just dodge the question and say that it doesn’t matter why Green is suddenly taking more pitches, it only matters that he’s doing it. Remember, people: the strike zone is a weapon.
- Watch Out For That Cliff! It’s not uncommon for everyday players–especially those on the right end of the defensive spectrum–to see a decline in their production as the season wears on. One-hundred sixty-two games is a boatload, and spending half your time avoiding someone’s spikes on the double-play or wearing the tools of ignorance is not particularly easy or comfortable. Cal Ripken Jr. often saw a noticable decline in his production in the month of September. And who could forget Mike Piazza‘s limp to the finish line in 2000 after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the leading candidate for NL MVP in August?
With that being said, it is really that much of a surprise that Paul Lo Duca appears to be hitting the wall once again for the Boys in Blue? Since the All-Star break, Lo Duca has hit a dismal .230/.282/.311 with just five walks and 14 strikeouts. And it’s not like this is new territory for the catcher; here are his first- and second-half splits over the past three seasons:
2001-2003 AB 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG -------------------------------------------------------------- Pre All-Star 835 57 3 25 65 61 4 3 .323 .380 .488 Post All-Star 656 37 0 17 43 47 1 4 .257 .303 .392
That’s a 20% reduction in batting average and an 18% reduction in Isolated Slugging, for those of you scoring at home. In other words, during the first half the Dodgers get Ivan Rodriguez for roughly 400 ABs, and in the second half they get…Ramon Hernandez?
It’s a little late to be calling for this now, but the Los Angeles Dodgers need to seriously look into better managing Lo Duca’s time behind the plate. One day off per week during the first half would probably go a long way toward helping Lo Duca stay productive during the dog days of summer, and equally help the Dodgers’ chances of challenging for the Wild Card.
- That Is Just Wrong: Rafael Soriano can call Janet Jackson “Miss Jackson” because he’s nasty. Soriano has been so effective Bret Boone took a lawn chair out to second and napped during a tense eighth-inning relief appearance. The Safeco Field groundscrew asked manager Bob Melvin not to use Soriano on consecutive days, because the batters were wearing a path in the grass walking from the dugout and straight back. Soriano hasn’t walked a batter since July 12th, when Marlon Anderson worked one. In that time, he’s struck out 32 batters, which is a team record, or something. I don’t know, the stats guys never got back to me.
- Here Comes the Cavalry: battered by injuries, frequently with players “day-to-day” and thin on the bench to start with, no team should look forward to September call ups more than the Mariners. Unfortunately, most of the Mariners talent is on their AA affiliate, the San Antonio Missions, and the team’s decided that it’s more important for them to get playoff experience and seasoning than help the big club. As a result, the team doesn’t have many position players that’ll be useful, defensively or otherwise, and they’ve already got a deep and effective pen. Likely call-ups: OF-R Jamal Strong, a slap-hitting, walk-drawing speedster dedicated to making the most of his skill (unlike such walk-allergic jet-powered outfielders like Brian Hunter), C-R Pat Borders, and all the pitchers in Tacoma who are on the 40-man and not in Seattle, many who’ve already made walk-on appearances: Brian Sweeney, J.J. Putz, Aaron Looper… You name it. We may also get to see the triumphant return of 1B-L J.R. Phillips, one-time heir to Will Clark‘s legacy in San Francisco, if the Mariners want a specialist left-handed masher for the occasional pinch-hitting gig, and they’re willing to move someone on the 40-man roster to the 60-day DL. Like Chris Snelling.
- Ow, ow, ow: Outfield prospect Chris Snelling went down with a torn left meniscus in his knee and will have surgery. This follows an ACL replacement that cost him most of last year. Snelling’s talent is undeniable, but he’s dogged by injuries. This injury is particularly unfortunate as Snelling was finally getting comfortable hitting and running on his new knee. The team thinks he might be able to head to the Arizona Fall League, and if everything breaks right, he might still be able to steal into next year’s outfield.
- Mirror, Mirror, on the Schedule: Oakland is four games behind the Mariners at press time, and it seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll be able to catch up to win the AL West title. Here’s how the two teams’ remaining games stack up from Friday the 22nd onward as they come out of a series against Toronto (M’s) and Boston (A’s). See if you can spot the similarities.
Mariners Oakland 4 games @ Boston 4 games @ Toronto 3 games vs. Tampa Bay 3 games vs. Baltimore 3 games vs. Baltimore 3 games vs. Tampa Bay 3 games @ Tampa Bay 3 games @ Baltimore 3 games @ Baltimore 3 games @ Tampa Bay 3 games vs. Texas 4 games vs. Anaheim 3 games vs. Anaheim 3 games @ Texas 4 games @ Texas 3 games vs. Anaheim 3 Oakland-Seattle games @ Oakland 3 games @ Anaheim 3 games vs. Texas 3 Oakland-Seattle games @ Seattle
Coming down the stretch, these two teams don’t just face the same opponents, they face them in almost identical home/road series. With the Mariners enjoying a healthy lead over an A’s team that’s just suffered injuries to their rotation, the team may rest Gil Meche, who started hot and has been erratic and battled shoulder soreness since then, possibly giving some starts against the chum teams to Rafael Soriano.