Baltimore Orioles

  • Schedule: While the Orioles have been out of the playoff picture for weeks (if not months), they should receive plenty of coverage of on SportsCenter in September. The O’s are halfway through a brutal season-ending stretch, playing 34 of their final 43 games against Seattle (6), Oakland (6), New York (15), and Boston (7). They took no sides in the Seattle/Oakland fight. They were swept by both of them during their West Coast swing, scoring just 10 runs total during those six games, and then came back to take two of three from each of them in Camden Yards. In their own division, though, their play has definitely favored the Yankees. The Birds are just 4-8 against New York this year (including 2-6 over eight games in August); even after last night’s loss, they are 8-6 against the Sox, single-handedly producing a three-game Yankee advantage. They still have five more games with Boston (all but one in Fenway) and seven with the Yanks, putting much of the final outcome squarely in their hands.
  • Trade: Jeff Conine was traded to the Florida Marlins last week, basically to cover their loss of Mike Lowell. While rumors earlier in the year had swirled around a Conine-for-Derrek Lee deal, when the deal was finally done it involved two minor league pitchers, Danny Bautista and Donald Levinski. Both are right-handed starters who pitched for Jupiter in the Florida State League; high-A ball, comparable to the O’s Frederick affiliate, although Bautista earned a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Both came out of 2002 with shoulder injuries, and both appeared to be healthy this year. Levinski was the higher-rated prospect coming in to 2003, but had serious control problems; not only did he walk 70 batters in just 87 innings, he also hit 11 batters, let loose a league-leading 16 wild pitches, and usually reached his pitch count by the fifth inning. Other than that, his statistics were excellent. Bautista is more of a classic power pitcher, able to dial it up to 95 on occasion; he has his own problems with control, though, and a tendency to give up the long ball. Still, both are likely to be numbered among the Orioles’ top prospects (its not like there’s a lot of talent for them to beat out), which is an excellent return for an aging, average player.
  • Lineup: Mike Hargrove’s preferred lineup right now appears to look like this, along with their EQA’s since August 1:
    Player              EQA  Comment
    C  Brook Fordyce   .288  2nd-best EQA on team since Gil demoted
    1B Jay Gibbons     .251  Moves from RF to replace Conine
    2B Brian Roberts   .253  Hairston's turf toe keeps him off the field
    3B Tony Batista    .212  Season EQA down to .238
    SS Deivi Cruz      .179  Rule 5 Jose Morban gets time; hits even worse
    LF Melvin Mora     .252  Back from injury
    CF Luis Matos      .271  Incinerated on re-entry
    RF Larry Bigbie    .319  Hitting balls hard into the gaps right now

    DH: Everybody else. In the last 10 games, Hargrove has used 6 different players at DH, none on consecutive days: Jack Cust (who has virtually disappeared since his baserunning gaffe against the Yankeees), Jerry Hairston, B.J. Surhoff (.256 EQA since 8/1), Roberts, Matos, and Cruz (!). I still haven’t figured out how Hargrove came to the conclusion that Deivi Cruz was his best DH option for a day, except that the team was really, really short-handed the day before rosters expanded. Fittingly, they were shut out on five hits.

Colorado Rockies

  • Medical Phobia: There’s almost nothing not to like about Preston Wilson. He’s been putting up solid numbers all season (.287/.349/.541), he plays defense as well as could be expected in an outfield the size of Rhode Island, and while he doesn’t play for free, his $6.5 million salary doesn’t cripple the Rockies chances to pay well to other necessary positions.

    One of Wilson’s most endearing characteristics, however–his toughness and willingness to play through pain–has to be questioned at this point in the season. With the Rockies having dropped eight straight and fallen completely out of the playoff picture, manager Clint Hurdle and trainer Tom Probst need to duct tape Wilson to the bench until his various injuries heal. Wilson, who had reportedly never visited the trainer’s room before this weekend, finally took himself out of the Dodgers game on Sunday after the third inning, suffering with debilitating back spasms. Rockies management can’t rely on Wilson to make the appropriate decisions at this point in the season. While it may be difficult to get a player like Wilson to admit that he’s in pain, it’s the management’s responsibility to protect their investment by keeping their players healthy.

    Colorado needs to take a hint from the Mets and Cliff Floyd: think past the next three weeks and protect their newest star outfielder for next season.

  • Sell High: There has been quite a bit of talk around Denver lately about the off-season decisions regarding outfielder Jay Payton, who is eligible for arbitration and would likely receive a hefty pay raise over his current $1.85 million salary. Payton has put together a very solid season, posting a .310/.361/.520 line, slightly better than his .303/.351/.488 2002 season split between New York and Colorado. However, as is typical with Rockies batters, he shows a marked home/road split, hitting .336/.387/.566 at Coors and more pedestrian .284/.335/.473 while closer to sea level.

    Looking at some BP Statistics, we can see that Payton posts a 7.9 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). But how does that compare with other leftfielders? Not well. Not well at all. We can use a stat called PMLVr (Positional Marginal Lineup Value Rate) to see how a player ranks against other players at the same position. PMLVr tells us approximately how many runs a player will score above league average for his position per game. Payton pulls in with a -0.070: he is distinctly below average for a major league leftfielder.

    Obviously, having a below-average left fielder (especially an inexpensive one) doesn’t spell certain doom for a team, but Payton doesn’t appear to be a below-average leftfielder when looking at his raw statistics like batting average, RBI, and home runs. Payton is the new case study for average or below-average hitters whose numbers are inflated by the altitude at Coors. Payton will likely receive a substantial raise because he’s been strong in those traditional statistics this year, posting a .310 average, 78 RBI, and hitting 24 home runs. But the fact of the matter is that he’s 30 years old, he’s likely beginning the down slope of his career, and he’s had an overrated season.

    With likely payroll constraints for next year and so much salary already tied up in a few key players, there is absolutely no reason the Rockies should be considering keeping him on the roster with the likelihood that he will win in salary arbitration. Rockies management must realize that Jay Payton is exactly the kind of hitter that they need to use to improve the team: keep him around until he inflates his numbers and his market value; then trade him away for cheaper replacements who are just as good or better. Rinse and repeat. By moving players like Payton out of town, the Rockies leave themselves more money to spend elsewhere. Taking advantage of the effects Coors Field has on the market value of players is the Rockies’ surest and fastest way back to being competitive. Moving Jay Payton along is the first step.

New York Mets

  • What’s The Point?: The Mets are playing out the string. Yes, they have the chance to wreck the Cubs or the Marlins, but let’s be honest: with the exception of a few heated rivalries, ‘playing the spoiler’ isn’t enough to make people tune in. But Mets fans should be watching September games with interest, because they’re very important for the offseason and for 2004.

    Jim Duquette doesn’t even know if he’ll be the full-time GM after this year; he might not. He wouldn’t be a bad choice; in fact, by going after a big name (read: retread), the Mets might be doing the same wrong thing they’ve been doing with the team they’ve put on the field. But Duquette knows his job right now, which is to find out as much about 2004 as possible.

    Despite their rebuilding, the Mets will be heavy players in the free agent market, and they are going to bid on many of the prominent free agents. (It is their good fortune that, because of Jose Reyes, they will not be tempted to chase Miguel Tejada.) But if they are wise, they will look at what they have now and try to figure out what positions they can already stock with cheap talent.

  • Who’s For Real: Because of injuries and trades, the Mets have gotten to see a lot of their younger players. Some of them have performed well and some haven’t, but who’s to say if those performances were flukes?

    Exhibit A is Jason Phillips. So far he’s put up a .315/.391/.467 line, good for a .303 EqA. Only five other first baseman can say that. If Phillips were to play catcher, that line would be even better-only Mike Piazza, Javy Lopez, Jorge Posada and Ivan Rodriguez are as good. In 2003, Jason Phillips has been an excellent player.

    But what if it’s just a career year? Phillips’s .303 EqA completely obliterates even his 90th percentile PECOTA projection of .282. His best comps are Steve Nicosia and Fred Kendall. Is PECOTA wrong, or is Phillips way over his head?

    Chances are, the correct answer is a little bit of both. If the Mets do plan to start shifting Piazza to first base, they can consider themselves fortunate to have Phillips, who can play both first and catcher, and they would be foolish to dive into the free agent market for anything more than cheap insurance at either of those positions.

    Meanwhile, at the hot corner, Ty Wigginton has made a .263 EqA (league average: .262), which about matches his 60th percentile PECOTA line. That’s far more reasonable, and the Mets could do a lot worse than to start him in 2004. If they can find a better alternative for cheap (or a much better one at a high price) they might want to pounce, but it wouldn’t pay to bring in a mid-level third baseman. In Wigginton, they already have one.

  • Young Arms: The Mets have seen a few good pitching performances out of the bullpen. Grant Roberts (4.0 ARP), recently off the DL, should be around in 2004, and while he’ll never be the star some Mets fans thought he would, he should be an asset. Pedro Feliciano (1.2 ARP) has been solid in long relief and mop-up duty, and the Mets should try to get him some high-leverage innings (such as they are) this month to see how he performs. Dan Wheeler is overrated (3.83 ERA but a -1.4 ARP), but the sample size is small enough that they should give him a closer look, too.
  • One Old, Old Arm: John Franco has a 2.76 ERA and a 1.1 ARP. Forget Royce Ring; could we be looking at the Mets’ Closer of the Future right here?
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