WTNYSeptember 30, 2004
Stuck in the Middle
By Bryan Smith

While there are arguments over East Coast bias and West Coast bias all over the place, Id like to be known for Midwest bias. While the mid-90s were spent arguing over whether Tupac or Biggie represented their coast better, few recognized the rap industry spreading through cities such as St. Louis and Detroit. Maybe us Midwest baseball fans can do that, and let the Cubs (more bias) be our Eminem.

So, today is dedicated to the Midwestthe Midwest League that is. I dont want to call it a season recap, because under that circumstance Ill probably be guilted into doing season recaps for each league. Today is more of a look of what happened where I live this year, in places like Kane County or Burlington. And dont think were looking at the individual teams either, strictly the players underneath. This aint a prospect site for nothing.

Minor league fans know the name Brian Dopirak, because he was one of many home run sluggers making headlines in the farm leagues during 2004. There was Calvin Pickering, and Ryan Howard, Brandon Sing and Mitch Einerston. And there was Brian Dopirak, the best prospect of the bunch. Formerly a second-round choice out of Florida, the Cubs chose Dopirak for his raw power, hoping the rest of the package would develop in time.

Consider it developed. Not only did Dopirak turn raw power into real power this year, but he also hit a career-best (sample size!) .307 batting average. His 39 home runs were extremely close to the Midwest League record, which led to his MVP and Prospect of the Year trophies this September. But, Dopirak does not come without flaws. While Cubs brass should be recognized for their great work turning him into a contact hitter, the next job is lowering the strikeouts. Dopirak whiffed 123 times this season, almost once per game. To make matters worse, the first basemen only walked 48 times, another number that begs improvement.

Baseball America is convinced that Dopirak was far and away the best prospect of the Midwest League. While I would love this to be fact, Im not so sure that Dopirak is handily tops in the field. Why? I like OBP too much. And for young Daric Barton, on-base percentage just happens to be his specialty. A 2003 first-round choice out of high school, Barton has made the transition to full-season ball that few havea polished one. Despite starting the season injured, Barton bounced back to walk 69 times, good for a .445 OBP. And I still havent told you the best part? Hes a catcher.

Apparently though, according to BA, hes not a very good one. I dont have the first-hand experience to report on that, but apparently a position change may be in order. Luckily for Daric, he has the bat to with almost any position. He hits for contact (.313), power (.511 SLG), and as we established, can take a walk. Barton probably doesnt project to have a ceiling like some prospects, but hes as solid a bet as youll find in A-ball to make the bigs. Well, not including Delmon Young, of course.

Lets stay on the topic of polished, because the Midwest League had more of that. Over in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Angels saw an unheralded second basemen make a name for himself. Howie. While his physical attributes are apparently far from intimidating, Kendrick knows how to use a baseball bat. Howie showed that this season, hitting .367 in 313 AB, including forty extra-base hits. He neither walks nor strikes out much, but walks can be excused if the batting average stays that bloated. There arent high hopes for Kendrick to make the Majors as a game-changer, but hes got one fan right here.

For Eric Duncan, the worry is just making the Majors at all. He could deal with Aaron Boone as competition, but Alex Rodrigeuz? Not so much. Duncan, a former first round pick, has now established himself as the Yankees best prospect. His numbers, while not fantastic, sort of remind me of Andy Marte in his youth. Duncan has a solid ISO (.219), and walks a lot. But at the same time, we need to worry about average (.260), as well as strikeouts, which averaged more than once a game.

Yankees fans will plead for Duncan to make the Edgardo Alfonzo move to second base, but dont expect it. Duncan is probably the best trade bait the market will see this winter, and I doubt his jersey will contain pinstripes upon his Major League arrival. But unlike a lot of Yankees prospects, Duncan is worth trading for. But surprisingly, hes not even my favorite member of that team.

While Ill give my reader Fabian credit for introducing me to Melky Cabrera now, Ill probably take all the credit down the road. Ive compared Cabrera to Bernie Williams in the past, another switch-hitting Yankee outfielder that spent his minor league days posting ISOs right around .150. Williams struggled a bit in his first tour of the Eastern League, so I dont expect world-beating numbers from Melky next year, but I wont forget about him. Well see this winter how the Yankees deal with their outfield, but in my heart of hearts, I like to believe there will one day be a spot for Melky.

Melky was one of many prospects that started in the Midwest League, but quickly bolted for bigger and better things. The king behind this stigma was Tony Giarratano, a Tigers SS that left paltry Midwest League numbers for the FSL spot light. For some reason, Detroit promoted Tony to high-A, after the switch-hitter his .285/.383/.352 in the MWL. Giarratano went on to hit .376/.421/.505 in more than 200 FSL at-bats, cementing his spot on the prospect map.

But dont let those power numbers confuse you, Giarratano doesnt have much of that. In a combined 367 at-bats this season, Tony hit only 24 extra-base hits, and only six home runs. He did steal 25 bases, and showed above average patience in the lower level. The key for Giarratano will be to keep making solid contact, taking his walks, and stealing his bases. The SLG will probably never hit .500 again, though its probably safe to say the average wont smell .376 as well.

After 59 games of being Clinton, Iowas largest draw, it was time for the Rangers to promote Ian Kinsler. A teen-round pick from University of Missouri, Kinsler wasnt though of highly from the Big 12. But Kinsler put himself on the map in 2003, as .400 batting averages will do. Kinsler hit an astounding Reed-like .402/.465/.692 in the MWL, with 42 extra-base hits in 59 games. He also stole 16 bases, truly making him worthy of the 2004 Jeremy Reed award.
Even a challenge to AA wasnt enough to stop Kinslers hot streak. The shortstop hit .300/.380/.480 in Frisco, hitting another 31 XBH, for a total of 73. More than three times what Giarratano hit in 2004. He did make 34 errors, contradicting what his strength was at Missouri. And while John Sickels vowed to give Kinsler at least a B+ in his next book, I wont be as high on him. Kinsler should struggle handily next year, but still make the Majors and move Michael Young back to second. Or John Hart will join me on the skeptic bus and trade him, probably for some real starting pitching.

Thats all the time I have for today, as Ill probably share my other Midwest notes for another piece. Keep checking this site for new developments in coming days, which are of course coming slower than I anticipated.

WTNYSeptember 28, 2004
Twin Cities (c. 2005)
By Bryan Smith

In Mondays edition of Under the Knife, Will Carroll cited an article that Joe Mauer has been taking groundballs at third base. This comes as quite a shock to Mauer fans, who unanimously voiced Mauer as the best prospect in baseball six months ago. In no way has Joe proven these notions to be false, but instead been the victim of injury.

There is no question that the knees as a catchers most important body part. Joe Mauer has hurt that, and with that drastically affected his future. The Twins disagree with this, but Will Carroll tells me, That's near impossible. I dont think [the Twins] are lying I just think they're wrong. How wrong? I cant imagine him staying back there for more than a couple years. No way he gets to free agency as a catcher.

During the offseason, Terry Ryan showed his confidence in his former #1 overall pick, who had yet to take part in a Major league at-bat. Ryan traded established All-Star A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants, to make way for his stud prospect. This stud prospect was following a season in which he was named Baseball America Player of the Year, after hitting .339 between two levels. Mauers title went from the future to the present overnight.

Spring Training brought no changes to the plan, as Mauer hit .313 in 32 Spring Training at-bats. Mauers season began on April 5 against the Cleveland Indians, when he went 2/3, with two walks and two runs scored. Hell, he had two official Major League at-bats, and his name was half-way carved into the Rookie of the Year trophy. And then April 6, Mauer was lost to a mildly sprained knee, which would prevent him from playing again until June 3.

From June until July 15, Mauer would have 103 at-bats, where he would hit .291 with six home runs. Why italicized? We are talking about a guy who in the minors had hit nine homers in 1,030 at-bats. A 21-year-old catcher had gone from hitting a homer every 114 AB in the minors to every 17 AB in the Majors. There were reports of Aaron Gleeman drool sightings from Milwaukee.

July 15 was the last time we heard from Joe Mauer. His surgically repaired knee caused enough problems for Minnesota to hold him out all season long. How much would this decision hurt? Well, non-Mauer Minnesota catchers hit .212 this season...thats bad. Sure, Henry Blanco proved to be Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate, but I think its safe to say the Twins would have downgraded 10% in CS% for .355 points of OPS.

But this is all just a review, and this site aint called Wait Til Next Year for nothing. Whats next for the Minnesota Twins and their prized 21-year-old catcher? Well, what we know at this point is possibly not catching. It should come as no surprise that a .900+ OPS behind the plate is more available than the same numbers at the hot corner. Why is this true? Well, I urge you to read some Dayn Perry, who tells us that from 1972-present, catching is the least valuable hitting position, while third base is sixth on the spectrum.

At this point though, any Joe Mauer is a helluva lot better than no Joe Mauer. Finding a spot for Mauer in the lineup is most important, whatever that means from a team standpoint. And this explains third base. Well, that and the fact that Corey Koskie is a free agent at seasons close.

Twins fans were surely expecting their 2005 third basemen to be Terry Tiffee, a 26-year-old minor league veteran that put up a .307/.357/.522 line at AAA. Before injuring his shoulder on September 13, Tiffee had also expressed Major League brass, putting together a .282/.349/.513 line in 39 Major League at-bats. Cheap? Check. Effective? Check. Fan favorite/Paul Lo Duca-like? Check.

So, how do Terry Tiffee and Joe Mauer fit on this roster. Well, lets check platoon splits. Mauer had a 1.146 OPS vs. RH in 74AB in 2004, compared to a .475 OPS in 33 encounters with southpaws. Sample size, yes, but thats still one huge difference. Tiffee presents an even smaller sample size, but I should note he hit .167 vs. LH (though his OPS was .841). By studying just those numbers, I can tell you the Twins would probably like Tiffee and Mauer in the lineup with a right-hander on the mound.

But who the Hell can hit left-handers? The first to raise his hand surely would be Matt LeCroy, who hit .322 against them this year, and .302 from 2001-2003. LeCroy doesnt offer much in the way of positioning, but hes one good platoon DH/third catcher. Also impressive was Michael Cuddyer, the old top Twins prospect, who hit .292/.380/.450 against southpaws in 2004. Cuddyer can also play some second base, though I should note Luis Rivas even boasted a .800+ OPS against left-handers in 2004.

One way or the other, we know Corey Koskie will not be a Twin next year. Joining him should be Cristian Guzman, the long-time Twin mainstay at shortstop. Hell be replaced by Jason Bartlett, another prospect once acquired for Brian Buchanon. The former Padre hit .331/.415/.472 in AAA this year, also showing solid defense up the middle. Well, maybe Gleeman drool can be reconceived after all.

Will anyone else be joining Koskie and Guzman? I sure hope so. 2004 saw the emergence of Lew Ford, a 28-year-old minor league veteran stolen from the Boston Red Sox, who had a .845 OPS in 540 AB. Obviously Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart have long time deals, and their exit would present public relations issues for the Twins. That leaves Jacque Jones, and Jason Kubel, the next great Twins hitting prospect. Kubel hit .377 in AA before hitting .343 in AAA. And, oh yeah, those 66 extra-base hits.

That gives us Ford, Hunter, Stewart, Jones and Kubel. Even without Kubel, the Twins would have a problem. With him makes things damn near impossible. So to make things possible, THE TWINS MUST TRADE JACQUE JONES! Ive suggested this before, but this time its mandatory. Give Johan Santana money. Give Brad Radke money. Give Joe Nathan money. And trade Jacque Jones for yet another pitcher.

Lets get back to that lineup. I know that I want Mauer playing as much as possible, but Tiffee should be playing against right-handers. So, lets say that Mauer plays third against southpaws, with Tiffee there against RH. In those situations, Mauer can play catcher, with some help from Henry Blanco (Im sorry Twins fans). Also playing will be Morneau, Rivas, Bartlett, Ford, Hunter, Kubel and Shannon Stewart at DH.

And against southpaws? Well, Blanco can go behind the plate, with Mauer at third, an outfield of Stewart-Hunter-Ford, and Matt LeCroy at DH. Kubel gets the seat since hes a 22-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder, and Tiffee also gets a rest. Michael Cuddyer could play third if Mauer is feeling bad, or second if Luis Rivas needs a rest. Hows that sound?

I assume youre confused. So, heres a good breakdown. The Twins against RH:

C- Mauer (help from Blanco?)
1B- Morneau
2B- Rivas
SS- Bartlett
3B- Tiffee
LF- Ford
CF- Hunter
RF- Kubel
DH- Stewart
UT- Cuddyer

And now against southpaws:

C- Blanco
1B- Morneau
2B- Rivas
SS- Bartlett
3B- Mauer
LF- Stewart
CF- Hunter
RF- Ford
DH- LeCroy
UT- Cuddyer.

That gives us twelve hitters for Rod Gardenhires preliminary roster, with space for two more. Theyll need another capable SS (see Nick Punto), and one more capable outfielder (see Michael Restovich). Furthermore, this provides a roster only paying Hunter and Stewart significant money.

Just imagine the Twins with Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and another solid starter. Yes, thats Kenny Williams shaking in his boots. Or Mark Buerhle, I couldnt tell.

WTNYSeptember 23, 2004
WTNY Interview: Kevin Goldstein
By Bryan Smith

I was lucky enough to recently chat with Kevin Goldstein on-line, the man behind those Baseball America Prospect Reports you get in your e-mail everyday. Goldstein, a Chicago native, had much to say on top prospects, pitch counts, high school pitchers, and lots more. With this and my interview of Dave Cameron, we are getting the chance to look at two of the best minds behind prospect theory. Enjoy...

Wait Til Next Year: OK, let's start in your backyard, the Midwest League. Do you think Brian Dopirak was worthy of the Prospect of the Year award?

Kevin Goldstein: Absolutely, this is a guy who fell like 4-5 homers shorts of the league record, and he addressed the biggest concern in his game, the ability to hit for average

WTNY: But from a prospect standpoint, is he far ahead of Barton, Kinsler, Danks?

Goldstein: FAR ahead, no. But probably a bit ahead.

WTNY: As for Kinsler, I can't help but see him as the 2004 Jeremy Reed, destined to struggle in AAA. Is this guy for real, or should the Rangers not let Soriano go quite yet?

Goldstein: Is he for real? Maybe. I don't think we know yet. He's certainly far better than anybody expected, and I think that's for real. It's hard to have a fluke season THAT good. That said I'm still not convinced he's as good as this season was and scouts have concerns about his swing from the heels approach. I wouldn't go around saying the Rangers should get rid of an established star like Alfonso Soriano because they have this Kinsler guy.

WTNY: Going back to Daric Barton, who led the MWL is OBP, how does he fit in the catcher scene considering Mathis and Navarro's struggles, Quiroz's injury, and position concerns about Huber?

Goldstein: He can hit, no doubt about it -- but I still think the jury is out as to whether or not he can catch, which makes him difficult to compare to those guys. His bat is real, though.

WTNY: Will Mathis and Navarro bounce back from subpar seasons? I saw that Callis was bullish on Mathis' stock still.

Goldstein: I would be too on Mathis -- there is a very long list of catchers who have run out of gas in the heat of the Texas League and been just fine. Navarro, I'm not so hot on, I still think he's a pretty good prospect, but I'm not sure he'll ever be a power bat, and the body type is a concern.

WTNY: Did you see better Yankee prospects out of Battle Creek this year? Particularly Eric Duncan and Melky Cabrera?

Goldstein: I think Duncan is probably the top prospect in the Yankees system right now, and I have ad admitted mancrush on Cabrera -- I think he can hit .300 wherever he goes, but I'm not sure he's going to put up big peripheral numbers. I also like Tyler Clippard off that team.

WTNY: Yeah, I noticed earlier in the year that Cabrera had similar numbers to Bernie Williams at the same age. As for Duncan, he has to be the best prospect trade bait out there, including Ryan Howard.

Goldstein: he's certainly among them, but don't rule out a move to 1st, which will probably be open when Duncan is ready.

WTNY: Or they could just put Jeter at secondWhile us Midwest guys were forced to watch some OK prospects last year, the real treats came from the Sally League. Is Delmon Young the best prospect in baseball?

Goldstein: I think he's certainly in the team photo, but I don't think I'd put him at No. 1. I said it when he was drafted, I said he when I saw him in the AFL, and I still say it. He's Albert Belle.

WTNY: But you'd rather have Marte?

Goldstein: No, I'd rather have Delmon. And that's no insult to Marte

WTNY: So, who is front and center in your team photo?

Goldstein: I think the best prospect in baseball is Felix Hernandez

WTNY: I think he probably has the highest ceiling, but I really worry about his workload. To me, Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy are two of the largest injury concerns in the minors.

Goldstein: Felix threw 150 innings this year, so that really doesn't concern me. McCarthy did like 160+, which also doesn't concern me because he's so efficient, just 30 walks.

WTNY: If you were a scouting director, how would you handle minor league pitchers? Tandem system, pitch count, or old school style?

Goldstein: I'd do pitch count. I'm not a fan at all of the tandem system.

WTNY: Why is that?

Goldstein: I think it fails to put pitchers in enough pressure situations, and it fails to reward them for pitching very well and it limits their innings TOO much in my mind. I'm a big proponent of a manageable workload, but I feel we've become TOO paranoid about it and run screaming for the trees every time a guy goes over 100 pitches. It's not always a bad thing.

WTNY: Some people say the tandem system in the low minors would be a good way to wean minor league pitchers into a 4-man rotation, which could be implemented come AA. Do you see a possible return to the 4-man?

Goldstein: I don't know if we'll see a return to it, but I certainly support the suggestion. I believe one could do a 4.5 man very well.

WTNY: Going back to top prospects, readers of my site always argue on the validity of Dallas McPherson as a top prospect. In his first Major League game he got 3 hits, in his second he struck out 4 times. Is he a possible superstar, a Jeremy Burnitz, or a dud waiting to happen?

Goldstein: Well, that's Dallas McPherson right there -- a lot of hits, and a lot of strikeouts. Strikeouts are overrated. But to compare him to Burnitz is a little silly. Burnitz' career minor league average was .249, D-Mac's is .308, and his slugging percentage has gone up at every level. He's real.

WTNY: Is McPherson in a need of a position change to outfield?

Goldstein: Good question. The answer is maybe. I think he's an adequate 3B, and with Glaus becoming an FA, I think he's going to stay there for awhile unless he's really awful there. He has the arm for RF if necessary.

WTNY: If he was to move to outfield, would he be well ahead of Francoeur, Hermida and Pie?

Goldstein: Well, one difference is defense, Pie can play CF, and Francouer is fringy there but would be a better defensive player. I'd take Francouer over him just because Francouer's potential is enormous, but I'd have McPherson ahead of Hermida and Pie.

WTNY: Dave Cameron told me an interview he thinks Hermida will have a big breakout next year, including a power spike. Do you see this happening?

Goldstein: It could. He really wasn't healthy EVER this year, so it's hard to judge him. He's got juice in his bat, but I'm not sure what Dave means by a power spike. I think he's a 20-25 HR guy in the end, not a real masher.

WTNY: On the topic of breakouts, who would be the one prospect you circle to have a big year in 2005, but didn't make a lot of noise this year?

Goldstein: I'll take Rickie Weeks.

WTNY: It seemed that AA was a bad barrier for a lot of hitters, including Weeks. I think him and Fielder will be fine next year, though I'm not sure on James Loney or Barfield anymore.

Goldstein: Loney is a lot like Weeks in that he never really got going this year, but scouts still were NOT down on either of them. And, do you know who led the Southern League in RBIs this year? Josh Barfield.

WTNY: So, you're still high on him?

Goldstein: I still think he had a disappointing year, but I wouldn't give up on him.

WTNY: Back to Loney, with the acquisition of Choi, he's blocked all of a sudden. How do you think the working relationship between Paul DePodesta and Logan White will work out?

Goldstein: I think it's working out just fine, and will continue to. DePodesta is I'm sure well aware that he has one of the best scouting directors in baseball, and he's going to trust him as he should. It's not like DePodesta is going to cram some sort of Moneyball Dogma down people's throat like some would think.

WTNY: Balancing scouting and statistics will probably work out best anyway Baseball America is usually accused of being TOO on the scouting fence, how would you respond to that?

Goldstein: Well, I think if that's the perception, it's dead wrong. Speaking for myself (and I know the same is true with Jim Callis and John Manuel) -- we're very much statheads. We're in our 30s and grew up reading Baseball Abstracts and thinking they were brilliant. That said, we ALSO feel there is incredible value in scouting. These are not just a bunch of fat guys in hats chewing cigars. These are incredibly knowledgeable people about player development. There's value in both and we look at both.

WTNY: Do you think making the Prospect Report e-mail BEFORE joining the Baseball America staff helped you stay more of a stathead?

Goldstein: I always valued and understood statistics, but frankly, many of them turn me off.

WTNY: What statistics do you find to be most telling in a prospect?

Goldstein: In a hitting prospect, it's the usual stuff hit for average, hit for power, run, plate discipline. Pitchers, I just look at ip-h-bb-k -- but those numbers can be VERY deceiving for a pitcher, you still HAVE to know what his stuff is.

WTNY: Dayn Perry had a revealing study using current Major Leaguers, comparing stars to average players minor league numbers. He found that HR/9 had the best correlation of any stat for pitching. I also noticed this year that many of the successful 2004 rookies had great HR/9 ratios in 2003. Could there be something to HR/9?

Goldstein: I'd have to see the data more, and I know Dayn personally and think he's pretty damn smart. But I rely on Ks, BBs, and stuff.

WTNY: OK, kind of along the same line is the high school v. college player debate. Is there any reason for teams to avoid high schoolers, or do you like them because they have higher ceilings?

Goldstein: There's no logical reason to avoid high school players. PERIOD. And there's no logical reason for favoring them. I saw you just take the best player available, regardless of source.

WTNY: What about the Braves philosophy, to pretty much only pick high school players from the South?

Goldstein: I don't think that's they're philosophy per say, but there is almost a safeness to these picks, as these are the players their scouting dept is most familiar with -- it's certainly worked VERY well for them.

WTNY: I want to close on a trio of high school pitchers that have had memorable Septembers: Zack Greinke, Scott Kazmir, and Rick Ankiel. Who would you want on your club? Who would you least want?

Goldstein: Toughest question of the day. I'd take Kazmir of the trio -- I've always liked him more than anyone else and I still do. I'd take Greinke second purely on safeness. Ankiel is the huge wildcard. If he never won another game in the majors, I can't say I'd be shocked. If he won 150 games from here on out and made multiple all-star teams, I can't say I'd be shocked.

WTNY: Best baseball story of the year, I think.

Goldstein: It's certainly right up there -- I have no idea how one couldn't root for him.

WTNY: Agreed. Thanks again Kevin.

WTNYSeptember 21, 2004
Deep In The Heart of the Minors
By Bryan Smith

You dont need me to tell you the pedigree of Texan pitchers. From Nolan, to Rocket, to the Kerry Wood and Josh Beckett, weve heard the same story for years. Scott Kazmir is next on the carousel, already outdueling the likes of Pedro Martinez. But after Kazmir?

2003s draft had three high school Texan pitchers chosen in the first round, two of which played full-season ball this season. Unlike Hermida and Francoeur in Georgia, their high schools are more than three hours away from each other. But both programs are competitive, and one of the two reached the state finals. John Danks was more touted out of high school, the first high school pitcher chosen. Miller was still highly regarded, and was the third player the Indians drafted, chosen 31st overall.

It was a bit of surprise when the Rangers used their ninth overall choice on Danks, considering most assumed Texas assistant GM Grady Fuson was not interested in high school pitchers. Danks was compared to Kazmir often out of high school, a smaller southpaw that could light up radar guns. I havent heard any comparisons for Miller, who will probably start garnering comparisons with his recent sensational play. While their profiles arent as long as the likes of Nick Swisher or Jeff Francoeur, today I will look at whats in store for these two Texans.

After signing (Danks got $2.1, Miller $1.025), both pitchers got ten appearances by the end of the 2003 season. Teams seldom use heavily-ridden college arms late in the season, but high school pitchers are normally OK for such a stretch. Danks was on Fusons tandem-starter system, one that is thought to have prevented injuries to many of the Oakland As pitchers. Miller, while not on such a system, is with the Indians, who have a very good General Manager running things behind the scenes. While its always hard to ignore TINSTAPP, I really believe these two will stay healthy in the long run.

Danks spent his ten appearances split between the Arizona and Northwest leagues. Danks showed brilliance in the AZL, allowing just six hits and four walks in his first thirteen professional innings. His ERA was 0.69 during the stretch, that also included 22 strikeouts and 0 home runs. But, as often happens, Danks struggled after the promotion, with an ERA of 9.00 in the NWL. He still displayed good peripherals, allowing no homers and striking out thirteen in 12 innings. There was undoubtedly greatness around the corner, and Danks was an undisputed top 5 Rangers prospect.

As for Miller, he was sent straight to the Appalachian League, where he had some mediocre ten starts. While things werent so up and down as Danks, Miller had a 4.96 ERA in his 32.2 Appy innings. There were concerns after the right-hander struck out only 23, but good things were seen in his nine walks, two HR allowed and 30 hits. Remember that Danks ERA was still high at 4.68 for the year, though his peripherals definitely indicated a better prospect.

When a player reaches full-season ball for the first time, its all about put up or shut up. This same mentality comes in AA, but that article will be saved for another time. Both players were sent to low-A, though Danks pitched in the Midwest League, with Miller in the Sally League. Both players pitched fantastically out of the gate, and were considered early for the Baseball America Player of the Year award.

Danks debut was a little more notable, as the southpaw stormed through the Midwest League, en route to a promotion. He made eight starts there, though the tandem system also permitted six relief appearances. Overall, Danks pitched 49.2 innings, and allowed 12 ER for a sparkling 2.17 ERA. During that time he only allowed 38 hits, 14 walks, and four home runs. Furthermore, he struck out 64 batters, and showed enough stuff to be named on the Futures Game roster.

Danks was promoted to the Carolina League just before the game, though I was able to give this tiny scouting report from his performance in Houston:


I had high hopes for John Danks, a 19-year-old Rangers prospect, who would need 33 pitches to escape a bases loaded jam. Danks surely wasnt helped by three questionable plays by David Wright, who I had heard was a dependable fielder. After a rather unimpressive at-bat by Joel Guzman ended in a single, Wright made an error, and ten two plays later tagged out Guzman running to third rather than turning a 5-4-3 double play. Last years ninth overall selection, Danks pitched slower than some reports had him, throwing between 89-92, and showcasing a curveball he left up quite often. Its hard to blame the kid, hes only weeks away from the Midwest League, which hasnt exactly been a prospects paradise this year.

And then, still kicking in the Sally League was Adam Miller. I dont have month-by-month splits available (Ill get them), but its safe to say Miller cooled off in the middle, after a red-hot start to the season. He got hot again at the end, something well touch on later. But while in the Sally League, Miller pitched 91 innings in nineteen appearances. His ERA was a modest 3.36, and his K/9 rate jumped to 10.48. Also, he only allowed 78 hits and 28 walks, which is fantastic. Few people have the control of Miller, who has shown uncanny maturity for his age.

Next we have the promotions, which will clearly separate the two prospects. Danks was moved to the California League, where he faced considerable struggles. The 19-year-old was overmatched, posting an ERA of 5.24 in 55 innings. His H/9 was over 10.00, with his K/9 a career-low 7.85. He was still allowing a home run every 11 innings, which Ive said is a very good indicator. Danks has faced struggles before, and bounced back considerably the next season, so I wouldnt worry.

Cleveland didnt face the concerns Texas did, watching their teenager blossom upon a promotion to the Carolina League. In 8 appearances, Miller had a 2.08 ERA, the best of his career. He also saw career bests in H/9, WHIP and HR/9. He closed out the season amazingly, where including the playoffs, he allowed just 3 runs in his last 29.1 innings. His stats remind me some of Jeff Francis, a player I loved last season.

Unfortunately, I cant give all of you genuine scouting reports on the two. Millers ERA is now lower, though Danks has a better K/9 and HR/9. And after all, hes left-handed. But to me, there are few things more important than how you close the season, and Miller did so splendidly. I think hell bust out next year, possibly finishing the season pitching in the Major Leagues. Danks will take it slow, but eventually could be a force with the Texas Rangers. The problem with Kazmir always was his third pitch, an issue with Danks as well, I believe.

So, the verdict rules in favor of Miller. Both will me top 50, but expect Adam Miller to finish narrowly ahead of his Texas companion, southpaw John Danks.

Baseball BeatSeptember 19, 2004
Abstracts From The Abstracts
By Rich Lederer

Part Seven: 1983 Baseball Abstract

The 1983 edition of The Bill James Baseball Abstract is the seventh in a series dating back to 1977. On the heels of a successful commercial introduction in 1982, the price of the soft-covered book was raised a dollar to $6.95. The book was also expanded to a then-record 238 pages.

James dedicates the 1983 Abstract to "all of the early readers of the book, to all of the people who helped in one way or another to bring it along to where it was profitable in the ordinary sense." He lists 91 names, many of whom are famous (including Roger Angell, whose "Invaluable. . .Dazzling. . .Original" quote is front and center on the cover of the book).

The first half paragraph in the 12-paragraph Introduction reads as follows:

Hi. My name is Bill James, and I'm an eccentric. . .The reason that I am an eccentric is that I spend all of my time analyzing baseball games. Well, not all of my time--I have a wife to neglect--but most all of my time. I count all kinds of stuff that lots of people are sort of interested in, but nobody in his right mind would actually bother to count. I devise theories to explain how things in baseball are connected to one another.

The first part of the book is called Methods, and it is conveniently divided into two sections--Old Business and New Business--for the convenience of readers who may not wish to wade through material that has been previously presented. James limits the Old Business to six pages but still manages to cover tools that are used to analyze and evaluate hitters, pitchers, defense, careers, and teams as a whole.

Over the next three pages, New Business introduces 1) account-form box scores, 2) ballpark influences, 3) Cooperstown's trail, 4) late-inning records, 5) the law of competitive balance, 6) logs method, 7) percentage of offensive value, and 8) runs created with technical adjustments.

Many of you believe that I am fascinated with the ways that ballparks shape the statistics of those who play there. Actually, I am rather more inclined to wish that the whole subject would go away, or that there were some Preparation B that we could spray on them ("Shrinks Ballpark Effects Fast") so that we could go on to other subjects. But there isn't, and since there isn't the subject is too important to ignore. The ways in which the ballparks alter the game and therefore the statistics of the players who play there are so massive that it is impossible to perceive the abilities of the players accurately without constantly adjusting the lens.

So I have undertaken a kind of consciousness-raising drive on the subject of ballpark effects this year, with the goal of being able to say much less about it in the future.

. . .I suppose I should say that my own awareness on this subject is fairly recent. When I began the Abstract in 1977, I had been a hard-core baseball fan for many years. But I still thought of ballpark effects, as I suspect many of you do yet, as a marginal effect, the sort of thing that could make a .300 hitter into a .310 hitter and give a power hitter a break on a few longballs. But as I got down more deeply into the evaluation and analysis of player records, it became clear to me that in fact it was much more than that. . .

. . .The essential thing that I am trying to show this year is that this is not a theory or a hypothesis or abstract speculation. . .Twenty years ago, when a National League slugger said that he would hit ten more home runs a season if he played in Wrigley Field, if you disagreed with him it was just a matter of you?ve got your theory and I?ve got mine. Now it?s a matter of you've got your theory and I've got a stack of evidence this high to show that your theory is bunk.

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With the help of Pete Palmer, James shows the career home and road breakdowns for (in the order presented) Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, John Pesky, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and Babe Ruth.

Although Williams slugged 25 more home runs on the road (273 to 248) in 38 fewer games, he actually had 152 more hits and a higher batting average (.361 to .328) at Fenway. In 1951, Williams hit .403 at home and .232 on the road?the only time The Thumper hit under .300 in any of his home/road splits with at least 200 at bats.

The biggest difference in Williams' career splits was in the number of doubles (319 at home vs. 206 on the road). The greater than 50% increase is primarily a function of The Green Monster, further validated by the fact that Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn--the next two biggest lefthanded-hitting Red Sox stars to that point--had similar home and road splits in terms of doubles. Yaz, Lynn, and Doerr all hit over .300 at home and in the .260s on the road. Doerr, a right-handed hitter, slammed nearly twice as many homers at Fenway (145 to 78).

Greenberg's stats benefited from Tiger Stadium across the board. Adjusting for his 1947 season in Pittsburgh, Hank hit .343 in Detroit and .295 on the road while a Tiger. He also slugged 68 more HR at home while with Detroit in 27 fewer AB.

DiMaggio was actually victimized by playing his home games in Yankee Stadium. Joe D. hit .315 with 148 HR at home vs. .333 and 213 HR on the road. His splits were most pronounced from 1942 through the end of his career with the exception of his final season in 1951 when his numbers were fairly uniform. The Yankee Clipper only had six seasons in which he hit 10 or more HR at home whereas he had 11 such seasons on the road (including four with 20+).

On the other hand, the batting average and home run totals of the lefthanded-hitting Gehrig and Ruth were neither hurt nor helped by playing their home games in New York. The Iron Horse, however, lost a meaningful number of two-base hits playing in Yankee Stadium. Bill Dickey, another LHB from that era, slugged twice as many homers at home than on the road by taking advantage of the shorter porch in right field. Dickey, in fact, hit 44 HR at home in 1937 and 1938 vs. only 12 on the road.

Staying with the ballpark theme, James challenges a comment by Bill Buckner in the Chicago Cubs team commentary. Billy Buck had complained the previous summer that the Cubs didn't have a home field advantage because the conditions at Wrigley Field changed so much from day to day. It turns out that the Cubs actually sported a 29% improvement at home vs. on the road over the previous six years--the third highest in the National League. After performing this study (which showed that the overall won-lost percentage had been .550 at home and .450 on the road with nearly every team winning more than half its games at home and losing more than half on the road), James concluded that the home field advantage was greater than generally believed.

Although stating that the home field advantage decides one game in ten, James acknowledges "there is some evidence to suggest that the more unique or distinctive a park is, the greater the advantage." Notwithstanding a park's uniqueness, James says it is "an unavoidable fact that the teams which play in the best hitter's parks in baseball--Fenway, Wrigley, County Stadium in Atlanta, Tiger Stadium--win obviously fewer championships than their share, and that the group of teams which play in the pitcher's parks--Yankee, Memorial in Baltimore, Dodger Stadium are in the group--win more than their share." James believes "there is a connection," that it is "easier to build and maintain a starting rotation in a pitcher's park than it is in one that favors the hitter."

James studies the Mets--the team with the smallest differential between its home and road records--and concludes that the team's failure to emphasize power pitchers over control pitchers to take advantage of the poor visibility at Shea Stadium is the reason for not having a more pronounced home-park edge.

The Mets as a team have led the NL in pitchers' strikeouts six times. They have finished over .500 all six of those times. They have finished over .500 without leading the league in strikeouts only once in their history.

Although that strict record was broken a year later, the Mets led the N.L. in strikeouts in 1985 and 1988-1990, winning 87-100 games and finishing first or second each of those seasons. The Mets have not led the league in K's during the past 14 years and have only played .500 or better ball five times--all during a consecutive stretch from 1997-2001. Goodbye Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone. Hello Steve Trachsel, Tom Glavine, and Jae Weong Seo.

In the Houston Astros essay, James says the Astrodome is a "negative image" of Fenway, an "exactly opposite park in almost every way." James claims that the Astrodome (where "it takes three players to make a run") humbles hitters and controls egos, whereas Fenway inflates egos and causes teams to "pull apart over time." He believes the Astros need to "maintain a stable personnel" to win but thinks the Red Sox (where "the longer they stay together, the more stale and lifeless they become") are constantly in need of "fresh talent." And you thought the Nomar Garciaparra trade had to do with his contract status, ehh? (Only four of the nine combined position players and designated hitter are holdovers from the pre-James era and, if memory serves me correctly, Boston management tried valiantly to trade--give away?--Manny during the last off-season.)

Speaking of Fenway, James informs us that Craig Wright believes it is a "common misconception that you have to play longball in this park" when, in actuality, "it is a park in which a long-sequence offense can do very well."

In the Red Sox team commentary, James theorizes:

I believe in the Natural Selection of Strategies. If a team tries something and wins, other teams will follow; if a team tries something and loses, nobody else imitates it. If the imitating team tries it and goes into a slump, they'll stop; if they try it and get hot, they'll keep it up. Successful managers stay around while unsuccessful managers learn to sell insurance, and therefore the strategies of the successful managers stay around, too. By small degrees and over a painfully long period of time, the best strategies come into use and the worst die out, and all a sabermetrician can do is speed up the process a little.

Regarding the debate over four-man vs. five-man pitching rotations, James writes:

1) If I have a four-man pitching rotation and you are trying to persuade me to switch to a five-man rotation, what you are saying is that I should take eight starts away from my best starting pitcher, eight away from my second-best starting pitcher, eight away from my third-best starting pitcher, eight away from my fourth-best and give all 32 starts to my fifth-best starting pitcher.

2) Before I am going to do that, I want to see some real good evidence that I am going to get something back in exchange for it.

3) I have not seen any such evidence. Ergo

4) I wouldn't do it.

James' research on the subject uncovered two anomalies. The first is that "the National League has almost universally adopted the five-man pitching rotation, while the A.L. has not" despite the designated hitter rule in the latter. "I cannot explain that. It seems backward." The second anomaly is that "the organizations seem to have adopted a protectionist policy toward their players at a moment when they have just surrendered that which they are attempting to protect."

Ten years ago, it was one thing to say that we are using a five-man rotation to protect our pitchers' futures, because that future really belonged to you. You either used it or you traded it; either way it was yours, to do what you would with it. It's not that way any more. What sense would it make for the Toronto Blue Jays to cut Dave Stieb back to 240 innings to protect his future, when it seems to be agreed that his future includes free agency? None at all.

James predicts that "when baseball management grows up, the four-man rotation is going to make a comeback." Well, it's been 21 years since James made that statement. Aren't 21-year-olds considered grown ups?

In the San Francisco Giants section, James somewhat surprisingly admits, "I am, among sabermetricians, not an enthusiastic proponent of walks as an offensive weapon." However, he believes the public at large is either unaware that walks are either kept or are "just a sort of random result of being at bat when a pitcher is stricken with control trouble." James also says the public "tends to overestimate the value of a high batting average in producing runs, and to underestimate the value of power."

To put it in a few words, the relationship between a player's batting average and his total offensive value varies immensely from player to player; the two primary factors according to which it varies are the player?s isolated power and his walks.

James believes that "no manager has ever understood this better than Earl Weaver" and proceeds to show that the 1982 Giants (which included Joe Morgan, Reggie Smith, Darrell Evans, and Jack Clark) were "an Earl Weaver team" that not coincidentally was managed by Frank Robinson. James points out that the Giants had many characteristics of Weaver's teams, including the tendency to have poor starts and strong finishes; win more games than they should based on the number of runs scored and allowed; superior performance in double headers; low number of stolen base attempts combined with a high success rate; lack of success on artificial turf; strength in winning one-run games; and losing a close pennant race. The primary differences involved a difference in the depth of talent as well as ability to turn the double play well without making many errors.

In discussing the Baltimore Orioles, James breaks down the number of runs teams score in an inning to analyze the effectiveness of Weaver's "big inning" vs. Gene Mauch's "first run" strategies. James lays out Weaver's theory that "the probable loss on the third or fourth run in the inning is more important than the probable gain on the first." He labels sacrifice hits and caught stealing as "first-run outs," which is short for "outs invested by the manager in first-run strategies."

James determines that (1) the Orioles had the highest big-inning percentage in the league, (2) the big-inning teams averaged 85 wins and 765 runs scored; the others average 77 wins and 687 runs scored; (3) the big-inning teams invested an average of only 92 outs in first-run strategies while the other teams invested an average of 131.

In the next team section, James lists the Orioles and Tigers team hitting stats. Other than runs scored, stolen bases, and walks, the numbers are virtually identical. The Orioles (774 runs scored) drew 634 BB and had 49 SB, while the Tigers (729) had 470 and 93. James advises his readers to divide the difference in walks by four and "you've got the difference between the two offenses." The relative impact of walks and stolen bases may seem rather obvious today, but it was pretty eye-opening back then.

James continues discussing the impact of stolen bases on offenses when reviewing the Yankees:

Anything you do--anything at all, anything you can devise, if it has even a reasonable degree of intellectual integrity--will lead you to the same conclusion. Stolen bases, compared to any other type of offense, are trivial. They create virtually no runs on balance; they have very little to do with who wins and loses.

In commenting on his hometown Royals, James shares the data from 47 games in which he used a "hit-location" scoring system. He lists in order the 12 largest "holes" in the defense and admits being surprised "that more hits go up the middle than through the hole." James also gives Wright credit for tracking data with the Rangers. These innovative studies provide an early glimpse into zone ratings and other more sophisticated defensive metrics that have since been developed.

In a tribute to Wright, James says "the most interesting work that is being done in sabermetrics these days is not being done by me."

I have attributed the reappearance of the running game in recent years almost solely to declining home-run rates. Craig has convinced me that a much larger share of it is due to the simple physical fact that you can run faster on artificial turf than you can on grass. Well, I can't find the data, but take my word for it--stolen-base percentages are way up on artificial turf.

Me? I would argue that artificial turf and big ballparks entered and exited the baseball world at about the same time. As such, I think the rise and fall of the stolen base as well as the fall and rise of the home run were highly correlated with the existence (or lack thereof) of artificial turf and big ballparks.

On topic, James disputes the conventional wisdom that Whitey Herzog believes in speed, aggressive base running and line-drive hitting. "What absolute malarkey. Whitey believes in winning," pointing out that "intelligent men adapt to the situation that they are given, take what fate allows them and do what they have to do with it."

About 1976, which was the height of the stolen-base mania, I pondered on the question of why the stolen base had gone out of the game in the 1920s, and why it came back in the 1960s. I concluded that the biggest factor was the home-run rates; the more reachable the fences were, the more home runs there were, the fewer stolen bases there would be. About a week later Denny Matthews asked Whitey Herzog why he thought there were so many more stolen bases, and Whitey said, "Well, the biggest reason is the ballparks, Denny. They?re not building those bandbox ballparks like we played in in the '50s, so you've got to go out and get the runners around some other way."

. . .There are things that Herzog believes in a priori. He believes in building a team that is close-knit. He believes that you can't do anything unless you have players who want to win. He is never afraid to take a chance with an unproven player, if that player has ability and shows desire. He doesn't tell you those things flat out, but they come through plain enough. Those things he would carry with him no matter where he went. But the style of play? The shape of his ball club is the shape of his talent and the shape of his ballpark. Herzog is too smart to believe in building a ball club by trading, or building a ball club from free agency or building a ball club out of the farm system. He believes in building a ball club out of ballplayers. That's all.

Switching gears, James questions whether most ballgames are decided in the late innings or in the early innings and the relative importance of bullpens in the Milwaukee Brewers section.

I'm not saying the bullpen isn't important. It is; the question is whether it is especially important, more so than any other position. I hear people say all the time that somebody isn't going to win the pennant because they lack an outstanding reliever; I can't remember hearing anybody say that somebody isn't going to win because they lack an outstanding second baseman. I don't see any evidence to justify that distinction.

James stays on theme in the Minnesota Twins commentary and provides an interesting wrap-up:

The overrating of the late innings in contrast with the early, I think, is very much like the overrating of RBI and RBI men in comparison to the men who get rallies started. Early in the rally, late in the rally; early in the game, late in the game. People are always fascinated by "payoff" statistics, by wins and losses as opposed to ERA, by who caught the touchdown pass. Mazerkoski [sic] was the hero; who remembers Hal Smith? If the food is good you tip the waitress. Sabermetricians are an odd lot. We always want to know what the recipe was.

I believe a huge thank you is in order to Bill for providing many of us with the secret ingredients.

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[Part B: Originally published as a separate entry on September 26, 2004]

In the Player Ratings section, Bill James admits that he has yet to use the same rating system twice since its creation in the 1980 Baseball Abstract. The players are evaluated offensively based on runs created adjusted for the league average and park factor, expressed as a won-lost record and percentage by use of the Pythagorean method. The players are also rated on four defensive categories (which are different at each position) with adjustments for playing surface, ballpark and team factors, and, once again, expressed as a W-L record and %.

James repeats the calculations for the previous year and at the end of the explanations asks his readers to "please take my word for it." He adds the offensive and defensive won-lost marks together and determines the won-lost percentage. The players are then listed "according to the random chance that a .400 team would post their record in the same number of decisions" in order to adjust for the size of a player's contribution in relationship to a replacement-level player.

Pitchers are rated by the number of runs they saved as opposed to a replacement-level pitcher which James defines as "a pitcher allowing one run per game more than the league average," adjusted for the park in which he pitches.

In the section on catchers, James claims that Gary Carter had the best defensive won-lost percentage of any catcher in baseball and wonders whether Carter or Ozzie Smith saves more runs for their teams. He also points out that the Expos were 6-14 with Carter out of the lineup the past two years whereas the Tigers were 40-16 without Lance Parrish and sub-.500 by nine games with him during the same period. James mentions that there was "no tendency to have Fahey catch Jack Morris' games or anything like that." He says "we can prove that Parrish is an outstanding hitter, we can prove that he cuts off the running game, we can see how well he blocks the plate" but "we cannot prove that he is or is not an inept handler of pitchers."

James ranks Ted Simmons 14th and questions the importance of his 97 RBI "batting behind three players who had 616 hits and 155 walks." He sides with Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog for trading the popular catcher to the Brewers after refusing to change positions for the good of the team.

I don't know what you'd do, but I know what I would do. If I had to trade that man for five cents on the dollar, I'd trade him. You don't have to be in baseball to relate to that circumstance. Suppose that you are the new manager of an office, or a loading dock, or the new plant manager in a factory, and things aren't running worth a hoot, and people are bitching and moaning a lot intstead of working together, and you approach your highest-paid employee, who is also the most popular, visible man in the organization, and who is also a friend of your boss, and you tell him that you're going to assign him some different duties. And he tells you to stick it. What are you going to do?

De facto authority, that is the message. You either get rid of that son of a bitch, or you accept the fact that he is running the show and you are not. If Whitey Herzog didn't have the guts to run Ted Simmons out of St. Louis, he might as well have quit on the spot. Because if he didn't, from that moment he was not the man-a-ger of anything.

Enos Cabell, the 26th and last-ranked first baseman, draws James' most interesting comments:

When Enos Cabell was hot early in the year, you'd ask Sparky Anderson about him and Sparky would say "Enos Cabell is a we ballplayer. You don't hear Enos Cabell saying 'I did this' and 'I did that.'" I think that's what drives me nuts about Sparky Anderson, that he's so full of brown stuff that it just doesn't seem like he has any words left over for a basic, fundamental understanding of the game. I want to look at a player on the basis of what, specifically, he can and cannot do to help you win a baseball game, but Sparky's so full of "winners" and "discipline" and "we ballplayers" and self-consciously asinine theories about baseball that he seems to have no concept of how it is, mechanically, that baseball games are won and lost. I mean, I would never say that it was not important to have a team with a good attitude, but Christ, Sparky, there are millions of people in this country who have good attitudes, but there are only about 200 who can play a major-league brand of baseball, so which are you going to take? Sparky is so focused on all that attitude stuff that he looks at an Enos Cabell and he doesn't even see that the man can't play baseball. This we ballplayer, Sparky, can't play first, can't play third, can't hit, can't run and can't throw. So who cares what his attitude is?

When covering second basemen, James writes about players with colors as names in the Frank White comments as only Bill can do.

Did you ever notice that players named "White" are almost always black, and players named "Black" are usually white? Why is that? The last White major leaguer who was actually white was Mike White, who played for Houston in the early sixties. Since then we've had Bill White, Roy White, Frank White and Jerry White, all of whom were black; Mike White probably would have been black except that his father played in the majors in the thirties and they didn't allow you to be black then. The Royals also had a Black on their roster, Bud, who of course is white; in fact, the Royals had to set some sort of record by having four colored people on their team. White, Black, Blue and Brown. Scott Brown is not any browner than anybody else, Vida is definitely not blue, nor for that matter is Darryl Motley. I suppose that it is the nature of names, as with Peacekeeping Missiles and Security Police, to disguise the truth more often than they reveal it. Horace Speed stole only four bases in his career, Vic Power was a singles hitter, Bill Goodenough was not good enough, and Joe Blong did not belong for long.

Three of the four Whites playing today are white (Gabe, Matt, and Rick). Only Rondell White is black. There are no white or black Blacks. But there are three Greens (Andy, Nick, and Shawn), not to mention two Greenes (Khalil and Todd), as well as four Browns (Adrian, Dee, Jamie, and Kevin).

On the topic of names, James complains in "Somebody Named JOHNSON, Minnesota" in the designated hitter section:

What I want to know is just where the hell are all these Johnsons coming from? Is there a Johnson factory down there in the Sun Belt somewhere? In 1980 there were only four Johnsons playing in the majors--Cliff, John Henry, Lamar and Randy (John Henry is one Johnson), and Randy only batted 20 times. Last year we had at least five R. Johnsons alone--R. Johnson of Atlanta, R.R. Johnson and R.W. Johnson of Montreal, plus Randy Johnson of Minnesota (I think this is Randy I'm supposed to be writing about here) and Ron Johnson of Kansas City, with at least eleven total Johnsons around the majors. How are we supposed to keep track of all these people? Maybe we should start assigning them distinctive nicknames, Clicker and Turkey Shoot and stuff like that. Howard Johnson of Detroit, needless to say, is exempted from this requirement. And Drungo Larue Hazewood languishes in the minors. What a waste.

There are ten Johnsons who have played in 2004, including three R. Johnsons--the most famous obviously being the R. Johnson, as in Randy Johnson, the 6'10" lefthander who is vying for his sixth Cy Young Award and the fifth in the past six years.

James discusses the cost of stealing bases under Tom Herr, who was caught stealing second in the first inning of the opening game of the 1982 N.L. playoffs.

How many 2-run innings do you have to lose before the stolen base becomes a bad gamble? Damn few. People overestimate the value of the stolen-base gamble because they fail to make a reasonable accounting of the cost of a caught-stealing. It's an invisible loss; you don't really see the runs you don't get, whereas you do see it when it pays off. But I've noticed something about those big innings that win ball games. You hardly ever see anybody caught stealing in the middle of a three-run rally.

Sliding over to third basemen, James writes a noteworthy essay when evaluating Luis Salazar's defensive record.

I'll teach you a trick for trying to get a line on what kind of defensive players somebody out of the past was, somebody you didn't see play. If the player's position is at the right of the defensive spectrum, the less he played at some other position, the better defensive player he probably was.

James proceeds to give examples of modern-day shortstops such as Rick Burleson, Dave Concepcion, Mark Belanger, and Ozzie Smith--all of whom had played nearly every inning of their career at SS--as well as a few slick-fielding shortstops from the past (Luis Aparicio, Marty Marion, and George McBride).

On the left end of the spectrum, however, just the opposite rule applies; the great defensive first basemen like Vic Power and Wes Parker and George Scott were usually men who came from some other position and were continually shifted around to plug gaps. In the middle of the spectrum, as at third base, a good defensive player will have a few games when he is shifted rightward; a poor defensive player will have games when he is shifted leftward.

James mentions Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, and Buddy Bell as third basemen who played games at short and second but not at first. On the other hand, Bob Horner and Johnny Bench (who had become the Reds 3B by this time) were substituted for and moved to 1B or LF.

Sure, it's not a perfect generalization. But if I was evaluating a third baseman out of the past, and I could know one of two things, his fielding percentage or how many games he played at shortstop, I would a lot rather know how many games he played at short.

James labels John Lowenstein "the most effective hitter, per plate appearance or per out, in baseball in 1982. His .419 on-base percentage was 35 points higher than Robin Yount's and 20 points higher than Rickey Henderson's. His .602 slugging percentage was 34 points higher than Yount's. And those are the two most important offensive statistics." Yount was the MVP that year (with 27 of 28 first-place votes), leading the league in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, runs created, slugging average and OPS while earning a Gold Glove at SS for the pennant-winning team.

In the Rickey Henderson and Dwayne Murphy discussions, James goes to great lengths proving that the former's "selfish pursuit of the stolen-base record" hurt his team and "detracted" from the latter's hitting by taking pitches and causing him to hit from behind the count more than would otherwise be the case. Murphy, a six-time Gold Glover, could run, hit with power, and draw walks--all of which led to him being rated the number one CF in the A.L. despite having the misfortune of playing in a big ballpark that favored pitchers rather than hitters and in the shadow of Rickey for a franchise that routinely lost more games than it won.

James argues that Dwayne's namesake Dale didn't deserve to win the N.L. MVP in 1982. He points out that the Atlanta center fielder created fewer runs per out than any other MVP candidate except Lonnie Smith "without adjusting for the fact that Murphy played in the second-best hitter's park in the league, where the runs he creates are less valuable." James makes a case for Carter, asserting that he plays a key defensive position "better than anyone else in the league and on top of that hits better than Murphy."

How can you not vote for him for the MVP? If the Expos were to trade Carter to Atlanta in exchange for Murphy, which team would that help and which one would it hurt? It's obvious, isn't it?

As far as pitchers go, James reports that Pete Vuckovich "demolished all the old records for mediocrity by a Cy Young Award winner" (worst ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio, hits and baserunners per inning while pitching fewer innings and winning less often than any other starter to win the award over a full season). "I think it's just an incredibly bad selection. Dave Stieb pitched over 60 innings more than Vuckovich and pitched better."

James was hired by the Hendricks Brothers of Houston (Alan and Randy were early and loyal readers of the Baseball Abstracts) to work on Joaquin Andujar's salary arbitration three years ago, and he offers some insightful comments on the subject:

A lot of the public, I think, has the idea that arbitration hearings are sort of bullshit sessions in which the agent tried to convince the arbitrator that Joaquin Andujar is Steve Carlton's brother, and the club tries to convince him that he is Juan Berenguer's niece. It's not really like that. The first and foremost rule of an arbitration proceeding is that you never, ever, say anything which can be shown to be false.

The second rule of an arbitration case is that you don't start any arguments that you can't win. . .Stick to the facts. . .Tell the truth. It's the only chance you've got.

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In the final part of the book (The Game), James uses his Favorite Toy to estimate the chances of players getting 3,000 hits or 500 home runs as well as breaking Lou Brock's career stolen-base record.

Any time performance levels in a given category rise to where the record represents less than 18 seasons of outstanding performance, the record becomes soft; less than 15, very soft. Almost all records become visibly soft 10 to 15 years before they are broken; most records which become soft will be broken. That is what is remarkable about Pete Rose's run at Ty Cobb's hit record. He is trying to pick off a record that shows no signs of being ripe.

As everyone knows, Rose broke Cobb's record in 1985. Pete accumulated 387 hits after the 1983 Baseball Abstract was written when he was 42-45 years old, ending up with 4,256 hits to Ty's 4,189. Interestingly, Rose had 2,788 more plate appearances and 2,619 more at bats than Cobb and yet he produced only 67 more hits than the previous record holder. More hits, yes. But he used up a lot more outs to get there.

In The Law of Competitive Balance, James reiterates the Plexiglass Principle and renames it The Whirlpool Principle: "All teams are drawn forcefully toward the center. Most of the teams which had winning records in 1982 will decline in 1983; most of the teams which had losing records in 1982 will improve in 1983."

A check of this year's standings shows that only six of the 18 teams with winning records last year are likely to improve upon their record this year (with the Yankees on pace for roughly the same number of wins and losses), while nine of the 12 teams with losing records in 2003 are likely to improve their record this season (with the Brewers on pace to repeat its record from the year before). Something to remember, especially for those who may be interested in making over/under bets based on the number of team wins next year.

James asks, "Why does this happen?"

The Law of Competitive Balance: There develop over time separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two.

James reprints the What Does It Take? (Discerning the De Facto Standards of the Hall of Fame) article from the 1980 Abstract, which I reviewed in July. James also provides Team Age Analysis in Graph Form with bars representing the young talent, prime talent, past-prime, and old for each team; takes another crack at Account-Form Box Scores ("I can build a better box score, and I have. I can't force anybody to use it."); and offers an advanced version of runs created in Tinkering With The Runs Formula by reluctantly including HB, SH, SF, and GIDP.

(H + W + HB - CS) (TB + .65(SB + SH +SF))
AB + W + SH + SF + CS + HB + GIDP
One of the most interesting things about this adaptation of the formula is its treatment of the sacrifice hit. . .Several sabermetricians have concluded that the sacrifice bunt is not a very good play, that generally speaking you'll score more runs if you don't bunt much than you will if you do. . .My problems with the studies is that they miss a key point, which is that most managers already know that, and thus don't use the bunt to try to increase their offensive production, but rather to try to preserve it through a weak spot in the batting order. Almost all bunts are laid down by poor hitters--65% of all bunts in the NL last year were laid down by hitters hitting less than .250. This knowledge changes the equation. . .It seems obvious, but the people who have tried to refute the logic of a sac bunt too often haven't dealt with it. Managers don't bunt with the middle of their lineup.

Through a series of calculations, James tries to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of bunting and raises two questions:

1) What is the theoretical point at which a player should be asked to bunt, and

2) What is the empirical level at which players are asked to bunt.

James concludes this essay by stating: "The world needs more sabermetricians; I'm never going to get this all figured out by myself."

Next up: 1984 Baseball Abstract

[Reader comments and retorts regarding Part A at Baseball Primer.]

[Reader comments and retorts regarding Part B at Baseball Primer.]

WTNYSeptember 16, 2004
As Good As It Gets
By Bryan Smith

News Flash: One of the best baseball stories of the year has happened in the last week, and youve probably barely heard about it.

This isnt your fault, but instead the fault of major media and blogging columnists. For a subject like this to sneak past writers searching for stories is amazing, and shows how apt we are to forget the human element in baseball. One of the most recent Monday Night Footballs best stories was the return of Mark Fields, a Carolina Panthers linebacker who had been sidelined for Hodgkins Disease.

Rick Ankiel was sidelined, but for what no one knew. More like, for what no one could understand. No one could understand that a professional athlete could wake up forgetting how to throw. No one could understand that such a bright prospect had such a fast burn out. No one understood Rick Ankiel, and his name has faded into oblivion since the ugly 2001 playoffs. A tarnished life, seen through a few ghastly pitches.

I guess I shouldnt be surprised that media wasnt swarming in San Diego upon Rick Ankiels return, but I was. A 25-year-old with ace stuff returned, after one of the worst implosions in recent memory. But I didnt hear much, a faint whisper of a few observant bloggers. One of which was Rich Lederer, who wrote the following after Ankiels first appearance:


St. Louis Cardinals 4, San Diego Padres 2. Rick Ankiel made his first appearance since May 10, 2001. Believe me, you didnt have to be a Cardinals fan to get caught up in the moment. Ankiel gave up a bloop single on an 0-2 pitch to his first batter, then retired the side with a combination of 94-mph fastballs, sweeping curveballs, and a circle changeup. The lefthander benefited from a spectacular, do or die play on a bunt that Scott Rolen barehanded and threw to Albert Pujols for the first out of the inning.

Ankiel has made one appearance since September 7, an inning against the Dodgers on September 12. Through the advent of MLB TV, a fantastic feature, I was able to watch the southpaws second performance. And to make things even better, I watched it alongside Vin Scullys commentary. One of the seasons best stories, spoken by the games greatest announcer.

Ankiel was described by Scully as having self-destructed with the spotlight on him. He spoke of Tony La Russas high praise, saying the Cardinals liked Ankiel not just as a player, but as a man. This all came during Alex Coras at-bat, a two-pitch sequence in which Ankiel showed a 90 mph fastball and sick 71 mph curve resulting in a groundout to first. His curve looks similar to Barry Zitos in Oakland, slow and sweeping. He shows a lot of confidence in the pitch, and would throw it nine times in 18 pitches that day.

During a second, eight pitch at-bat to Antonio Perez, Scully told the story of Ankiels disastrous NLDS. He noted that Mike Matheny wasnt catching that day, and said for all we know, maybe [Ankiel] wouldnt have gone through that baptism of fire with Matheny behind the plate. Finally, Ankiel struck Perez out on another curve. The last batter he faced was Tom Wilson, who also worked the 25-year-old for eight pitches. He was retired after Hector Luna made a nice play on a ball scorched to the hot corner.

So, contrary to what ESPNs box score says, Ankiel had an impressive 1-2-3 inning. UPNs gun had Ankiel between 89-91 with his fastball, but watching him I was more apt to believe Richs reading of 94 mph. His control was fantastic, as Matheny never had to extend his arm for a pitch. With Matt Morris and Cris Carpenter as free agents-to-be, you have to think there will be a rotation spot waiting for Ankiel next year.

I loved Vin Scullys closing line on Ankiel, theres a lot of tragedy behind that name, behind that jersey. But out of tragedy comes triumph, and in this case, even a Cub fan can hope for that.

WTNY

The game also gave me a chance to watch Edwin Jackson, who was my top rated pitcher before the season. Jackson has had a rough year, first being beaten up in a hitters stadium, then serving time on the DL. But hes gotten 13.2 Major League innings in, posting a respectable 3.95 ERA. I watched the second inning of his last appearance, in which Jackson yielded the go-ahead run that would lead to his first loss of the season.

In the 12 pitch inning, Jackson threw nine fastballs, showing a drastic preference for the pitch. He was between 91-95 mph on what Ive described as a slow gun, so probably even 93-97. Despite walking one batter, Jackson showed solid control of the pitch, never missing by too much. He also showed a decent curve, with solid downward bite at 82-84 mph. It looks like he has the tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone, which is probably the reason for the three home runs allowed this season. But overall, I like him, while admitting the ranking may have been a little high.

I love MLB TV. I love flipping through the channels, checking out games, becoming that much more involved in the NL Wild Card race.

WTNY

But, my MLB TV watching was not done there. I also made a stop at a couple of Atlanta games, where their top two pitching prospects Jose Capellan and Dan Meyer made debuts. Capellan started the Sunday, September 12 game against the Expos, and saw a possible win blown by John Smoltz. In five innings, the 23-year-old allowed four hits and three walks, while striking out four. Like Scott Kazmir and Jeff Francis, Capellans primary problem was the sheer number of pitches, 111 in five innings.

Like in the Futures Game, Capellan began the game throwing primarily fastballs. Its a great pitch, 96-99 mph, but without anything else caused some problems. In the first inning, Capellan allowed two hits, two walks and a run, pitches out of a bases loaded, one out jam. This was because Jose started to mix in his curve, a low-80s pitch with sharp, downward bite. Its a good pitch, and sees problems when he leaves it up in the zone. He finished the game well, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced.

With thick thighs powering his fastball, Capellan is reminiscent of the Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez type pitcher. After watching the Futures Game, I speculated Capellan may be best out of the bullpen, but I think he could have a Colon-like career in starting. Bartolos career started as a 24-year-old in 1997, where he had a 5.65 ERA in 94 innings. Atlantas hoping that this seasons cup of coffee will bypass problems in 2005. Russ Ortiz, Jaret Wright and Paul Byrd are all free agents, and could conceivably be replaced by Horacio Ramirez, Capellan, and Dan Meyer.

Oh, what about Dan Meyer? Meyer made his debut Tuesday night, pitching the eighth inning in a 7-0 loss to the New York Mets. The 23-year-old southpaw had a solid season between AA and AAA, and will surely be a rotation candidate next season. Meyer had the advantage of facing Kris Benson, Gerald Williams, Jeff Keppinger and Cliff Floyd in his first big league stint, only surrendering a single to Keppinger. The MSG radar had him between 86-88, which is probably 1-2 mph off. He throws effortlessly, and showed what looked to be two breaking pitches and a change.

Good things are about to hit Atlanta, who have the advantage of their farm system opening up enough money to re-sign J.D. Drew. I think theyll retain both Drew and Jaret Wright, sending one of the three above away.

WTNY

So, thats where my TV watching ended. But, I want to report that Scott Kazmir out-dueled Pedro on Tuesday night, pitching six scoreless innings to drop the ERA to 4.09. Whats better, is the southpaw threw only 92 pitches in six innings, despite walking three and whiffing nine. Also on the same team, B.J. Upton played his fourth game at third base, where hes yet to make an error. An 0/3 night dropped his line to .286/.350/.438, which is of course fantastic for a 20-year-old.

In other prospect news, Jeff Francis won his second game in a row Saturday, both wins over the Padres. In those two starts, the 23-year-old has allowed two runs in 10.1 innings, though the ERA is still at 7.32. Gavin Floyds ERA sits at 2.65 after three starts, and the 21-year-old may be the most impressive of September call-ups. Minus Rick Ankiel, of course. Finally, if teams arent taking away something from the performances of Bucky Jacobsen, Terry Tiffee and Calvin Pickering, then theyll never learn. More on that for another time.

So, drop a line, tell me the most impressive youngster youve seen this year, or your opinion of Rick Ankiels future. And if you can, watch Jose Capellan tonight, and see if you agree with the Bartolo Colon comparison

Baseball BeatSeptember 15, 2004
Tuesday Night Fights Ballgames
By Rich Lederer

If you enjoy watching pitchers throw baseballs from the mound toward the plate rather than folding chairs from the bullpen into the stands, then Tuesday was your kind of night.

I felt privileged to watch two of the ten best pitchers in the history of baseball, one of the most underrated pitchers of the past 15 years, the favorite to win this year's American League Cy Young Award, and two of the most highly prized pitching arms in the game. All in one sitting. All via MLB Extra Innings.

Roger Clemens. Pedro Martinez. Mike Mussina. Johan Santana. Zack Greinke. Scott Kazmir. You might say some of the most dominant past, present, and future pitchers all before your eyes. Together, these pitchers threw 40 innings, allowing only 19 hits and five runs while walking 14 and striking out 48 batters.

Clemens, who is old enough to be Greinke's and Kazmir's father, hurled seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball against the best offensive team in the National League. Roger is an ageless wonder. Who would have thought a year ago that Clemens would even be pitching, much less 17-4 with a 3.12 ERA?

The Rocket has now won 327 games in his 21-year career and his W-L percentage (.666) is the second highest among pitchers with at least 300 wins. In fact, Roger is just one win shy of having twice as many victories as defeats. Only Lefty Grove (300-141) can make that claim.

Martinez, who just may be the best pitcher ever based on rate stats, struck out 10 Devil Rays in just six innings but was dealt only his sixth defeat of the year against 16 wins. Although Pedro's ERA is higher than what we have come to expect, he is having another outstanding season. How many baseball fans outside of Boston know that Martinez is in the top five in the league in wins, winning percentage (.727), strikeouts (213), ERA (3.43), WHIP (1.11), and BAA (.226)?

Mussina (11-9, 4.76) pitched his best game of the year, shutting out the Royals for eight innings on just three hits and one walk while striking out 11. Don't look now but Mike has pitched a total of 23 innings in his last three starts, allowing only 14 hits and three runs while walking one and striking out 25. While Kevin Brown sits out with a broken left hand and Javier Vazquez wonders what went wrong, Mussina is taking over as the ace of the staff as the Yankees ready themselves for the playoffs.

Santana pitched another nearly flawless game, allowing only two hits, one walk, and no runs over seven innings. That was his third consecutive outing without allowing a run. The only time Santana failed to give up two or fewer runs in 18 of his last 19 starts, he allowed--get this--three!

The 25-year-old southpaw is now 18-6 with a league-leading ERA of 2.76. Santana also ranks first in the league in strikeouts (240), WHIP (0.92), and BAA (.193). He is a shoo-in for the Cy Young Award and should receive serious consideration for the Most Valuable Player Award as well.

Greinke's numbers (6-3-2-2-2-6) weren't quite as impressive as the others, but seeing was believing. He is an artist in the mold of Greg Maddux. The youngster changes speeds, works both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down, and, most importantly, throws strikes. Zack has allowed only 1.6 BB/9 IP this year, a terrific rate for any pitcher--much less one who still isn't old enough to drink alcoholic beverages.

Kazmir had his way with Manny Ortez & Co. last night, shutting down the vaunted Red Sox lineup for six innings while striking out nine--including five in a row at one stretch. I guess no one told the rookie that lefthanders aren't supposed to pitch well at Fenway. Kazmir is now 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA. He has fanned 26 batters in just 22 innings while allowing only one home run.

While on the subject of great pitchers, YES broadcaster Ken Singleton told his listeners last night that Bob Gibson was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA in 1968 but excused him for a third of those losses because Sandy Koufax had beaten him three times, 1-0. Gosh, I knew Koufax was good, but I didn't know he was thaaaaaat good! I mean, shutting out the Cardinals three times two years after he retired? Boy, I have more respect for Koufax than ever before. Thanks, Kenny, for making my evening complete.

WTNYSeptember 15, 2004
Two You Know...
By Bryan Smith

On Monday, I grouped together a trio of young outfielders that were on similar courses. The three are probably right behind Delmon Young in outfield prospect rankings, likely with all three slotting in somewhere 2-5. Today, I want to look at a trio of second tier outfielders, from that Hermida/Francoeur 2002 draft.

Again, todays comparison features three similar players. Each are outfielders that started, but might not stay in centerfield. Two have been compared to Lenny Dykstra, and all tout fabulous discipline. Nick Swisher was the only outfielder chosen between Hermida and Francoeur, chosen from a college (Ohio State) better known for football than baseball. But, his talents drew praise from Michael Lewis in Moneyball:


Swisher is a rare point of agreement between Pauls computer and the internal compass of an old baseball guy. He has the raw athletic ability the scouts adore; but he also has the stats Billy and Paul have decided matter more than anything: hes proven he can hit, and hit with power; he drew more than his share of walks.

The second was Kenny Williams second choice in the 2002 draft, behind only the infamous Youve got to be f***ing kidding me choice of Royce Ring. Jeremy Reed was from a college (Long Beach State) better known for baseball than anything else. My 2003 Player of the Year has since switched organizations, and now plays for the Seattle Mariners.

And finally, we go on one more round to find the last. While the Horizon League isnt well known for prospects, but few dominate in the way Curtis Granderson did. His college, Univeristy of Illinois-Chicago, isnt really known for anything at all. But Granderson wasnt on the Horizon League level, so the Tigers made him the 15th outfielder chosen in the 2002 draft. Good move.

Today Ill compare and contrast the careers of Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Jeremy Reed, from their days in college to their recent September call-ups. None of the three will amass enough at-bats to graduate out of prospect status, so today will help define which will be ahead of the other in my next prospect rankings.

Part One: College Baseball

Unfortunately, the fabulous Baseball Cube (as well as the LBSU site) only carry Jeremy Reeds Junior 2002 season, so I dont have too much background info on him. I know that Reed spent his high school and college days in California, and would hit .336 in three seasons as a Dirtbag. He played on team USA in the summer of 2001, where he starred, leading the team with a .366 average.

Swisher, thanks to old Ohio State profile pages, comes with more biographical information. He is the son of Steve Swisher, a Major League catcher, and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He was three times named All-State in high school, and twice All-Conference as a running back/cornerback. At OSU, Swisher was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after hitting .299 with ten home runs. His Sophomore Season, the switch-hitter would slug 15 home runs and bat .322 en route to his first All-Big Ten selection. He walked 60 times in 57 games, likely explaining Beanes interest.

As Juniors, the two had fairly similar seasons. Swisher hit .348/.470/.620 in 54 games, reaching base in all but one game. The year garnered his second All-Big Ten selection, and contained his first large stint of playing time in centerfield. Over in California, Reed was putting together a season worthy of an All-Big West selection. In 60 games, Jeremy hit .339/.433/.512, walking more than he struck out. Both teams were moderately successful, losing in the College World Series regionals.

And now I want to touch on Granderson, of whom I have the least biographical information at all. I can tell you that in his Junior season at UIC, he hit .480/.559/.755, with more walks than strikeouts and 17 steals. He was top three in the Horizon League in every imaginable category, and won their batting race by .076 points. The flames emphatically won the Horizon crown, winning by nearly 100 percentage points.

As seen by large differences in their ISOs, Swisher and Granderson showed considerably more power than their Californian counterpart. But, there is an explanation for that. Thanks to Boyd Nation, we can track the schedule strength the two universities faced that year, which may answer some questions. Long Beach State, which finished the year 21st in the nation, is ranked by Boyd as having had the 6th hardest schedule in 2002. Ohio State? Scroll down, down, down, and youll find the Buckeyes at 165. Keep scrolling, and youll find UIC at 229. To give a better understanding, thats roughly the difference between facing San Diego State in every game, Tennessee Tech, or Florida A&M.

While Ill acknowledge that Nick Swisher was a better prospect coming out of college, the difference was less than 43 picks apart. Reeds numbers had the misfortune of being the byproduct of a hard schedule in a hard stadium. Granderson had to be thought of the least of the three, despite insane rate statistics.

Part Two: Meeting Professional Baseball

Because of rather quick negotiations, these three players were able to get in another 210 at-bats in 2002, as professional players. Chicago sent Reed to the South Atlantic League, while Beanes prized prospect split the year between short-season baseball, and the California League. Its interesting that Swisher was not sent to low-A, like Reed, since Oaklands affiliate is the organizations only Midwest stop. But, the As took no middle ground, and kept Nick away from his roots. Granderson wasnt thought to be advanced enough for full-season ball, so the Tigers let him play the whole season in the NYPL.

Prospect evaluators will always tell you that a college player is supposed to beat up the short-season leagues, so to take their numbers with a grain of salt. Swisher played in 12 games for the Vancouver Canadians, and his .250/.433/.455 line made us wonder if on the opposite side, if we should worry when a player isnt a huge force. But, an .888 OPS aint bad, and was convincing enough for As upper management to challenge the 21-year-old with a promotion to the California League.

Instead it was Granderson destroying short-season baseball, over in the New York-Pennsylvania League. For the Oneota Tigers, Granderson hit .344/.417/.495 in 212 at-bats. His batting average was good for second in the league, and the UIC product was voted MVP. More importantly, Granderson also won the NYPL Stedler Award, given to the best prospect in the league. Finally, he had hit the prospect map, yet still too quiet for anyone to hear.

Before skipping over low-A, lets track Mr. Reeds progress. Jeremy spent his entire 57 game season with the Kannapolis Intimidators, posting solid if not intimidating numbers. Showing more an aptitude for contact and doubles than his college counterpart, Reed hit .319/.377/.448 in his 210 at-bats. Furthermore, Reed stole 17 bases in 22 attempts, displaying intelligence that Dirtbags normally come with. Overall it was considered a solid season for the second round choice, definitely worthy of a 2003 promotion.

Back to Swisher, who last time we checked was on a flight from Vancouver to Visalia. The California League proved troublesome for the first round choice, who kept up with his low average trend, hitting .240 in 183 at-bats. His 26 walks boosted his on-base percentage to a respectable .340, and a decent ISO (.159) kept his slugging right around .400. That season Swisher struck out 59 times in 62 games (total), showing a trend of many Ks that has yet to leave. Contact was the problem.

So, was it too early to call Reed the better prospect? Yes, since Swisher had played much of his season in the more advanced league despite less numbers. And where does Granderson fit in? Still last, as college players in the NYPL have certain expectations. Scouting reports declaring the Buckeye superior still held strong, and Swishers promise was enough to rank him higher.

Part Three: Splitting Time

And then came 2003. Reeds year last season was well documented, and worthy of my player of the year award. Jeremy began the year in the Carolina League, and earned a mid-season promotion after a .333/.431/.477 line and extensive hitting streak. While AA often is a wall challenging players and separating the real from the ordinary, Reed was unfazed by the Southern League. In 66 games, Reed hit an astounding .409/.474/.581 and was Birminghams best player. For the season, Jeremy walked 70 times versus only 36 strikeouts, and stole 45 bases. Reed had arrived in a way we hadnt seen before, and captured the hearts of sabermetric followers everywhere.

But, the same group of people didnt forget about Nick Swisher, their lost love. Swisher began the season where he had ended in 2002, and showed fabulous improvements. He posted the best average (.296) and slugging (.550) of his career, as well as a gaudy .418 on-base percentage. He was promoted to AA, where he repeated his actions of 2002, falling apart. Swishers line was slightly worse than it had been as a first-time California League hitter in 2002. He struck out 76 times in 76 Texas League games, while posting the worst OBP (.324) of his career.

Granderson didnt have the gaudy numbers of Reed or high praise like Swisher, not even gaining enough attention to land that promotion. Instead, the Tigers left Curtis to spend the full season, his first, in the Florida State League. He produced well, hitting .286/.365/.458 in just under 500 at-bats. He stole ten bases and had fifty extra-base hits, prompting Baseball Prospectus (2004) to write this about him:


Granderson answered the doubts that come with playing at a small-time college program [University of Illinois-Chicago] by holding his own in the Florida State League in his first full pro season. Asked to be a stopgap in center field, he played so well that the Tigers now think he can reach the majors without moving to a corner. Hes the sort of low-ceiling, tools-indifferent player that helps win ballgames by hitting the snot out of the ball for a few years in the majors.

Obviously the 2003 season saw Reed leapfrog Swisher and establish himself as the best prospect of the three. Swisher was probably slighted more for his AA problems than he should have been, but still well ahead of Granderson. Curtis was a nice story and a small prospect, but little more.

Part Four: To Infiniti And Beyond

UICs golden boy changed things this season, making his voice heard. With a 20-game stretch in August where the Tiger hit .452-10-30 (thanks Kevin), Granderson emerged as one of the games better outfield prospects. He missed my midseason top 100, mostly because on July 6, he was hitting .269! The late season surge gave him a line of .303/.407/.515 with 14 steals. But remember that Erie is a hitters paradise, with annual park factors around 1050.

Moving from AA to the AAA ranks, we find Reed and Swisher. Obviously the White Sox found Reeds numbers worthy of a promotion, but were unimpressed with the results. In Charlotte, Reed hit .275/.357/.420 as the White Sox gradually lost confidence in him. That, mixed with Joe Borchard having a successful season, led to Reeds inclusion in a deal to the Seattle Mariners. In the PCL Reed was back up to his old tricks, hitting .305/.366/.455. He stole 25 bases on the season, and struck out just 56 times in 509 at-bats. While its hard to say he will suffer a freefall on prospect lists, lets just say Baseball Prospectus wont have him at #2 this time around.

And finally, we have Nick Swishers best season to date. Swisher established himself for a true MVP candidate, hitting .269/.406/.537 for Sacramento. His power realization is huge for his prospect status, and speaks well for his Rookie of 2005 chances. Furthermore, you have to give Nick some props for topping 100 walks, as the last time I remember that in the minors, it was from Jack Cust. Basically, Swishers 2004 numbers speak to me as what his peak in the Majors could be, or at least what Beane dreams for late at night.

So, how do we rank them now? Well, its hard to say. Reed was in front so far before the season, but to me has regressed to a .290/.360/.440 type of player. An .800 OPS is nothing to be ashamed of, but it isnt fantastic for a corner outfielder. Granderson on the other hand, might not have to move to the corners. Im afraid to fully buy into his numbers, because they were so juiced by a 20-25 game stretch in a large hitters park. Actually, a see Curtis as a poor mans, faster Nick Swisher. So, Ill pony up: Swisher, Reed, Granderson, but this time separated by a lot less than 64 picks.

I want to conclude today talking about the future of these three. All three were given cups of coffee, though Grandersons only currently includes an 0/4 night on Monday. Reed cant boast much more, amassing two hits in nine at-bats, though both coming within his last four appearances. Leading the plate appearances stat is Nick Swisher, playing right field for the injured Jermaine Dye. And the young player, like he has in the past, is struggling making contact at a promoted level. But .207/.378/.483 aint bad, and I suspect PECOTA will like his chances in 2005.

2005 will surely bring a job for Swisher, as Dyes days in Oakland are fading. Hell be one of the primary frontrunners for the ROY, a race that I suspect will have more juice than this years version. Nook Logan and Alex Sanchez are acting as blocks for Granderson, unless he moves to a corner. My guess is Sanchez will be dealt, Logan given the Opening Day job, with Granderson getting summoned from AAA around when Grady Sizemore was brought up. Reed will wait to see who Bill Bavasi signs before leasing an apartment, but it very well may be in Seattle.

We knew Swisher from Moneyball. We knew Reed from 2003. Heres Curtis Granderson, speeding in on their tails. Check back in 5 years, because then Im pretty sure youll know all three.

WTNYSeptember 13, 2004
Los Tres Enemigos
By Bryan Smith

Before beginning this article, I urge you to head over to Hardball Times, which is featuring a special guest columnist. Very special.

For some reason or another, I like to group players together. If two players go through the same levels, at the same ages, with the same position, I track their developments forever. It creates ease when comparing prospects, and makes identifying which is superior simple. In 2002, I had a chance to do that when three teenage outfield prospects had 147, 181 and 216 at-bats across five short-season leagues. All three, while raw, looked like they had immense potential.

But, let me say, two are more similar than the third. Two of them were born within 22 days of each other, in January of 1984. Both played high school baseball in Georgia, at high schools less than one hour from each other. Both were picked in the first round of the 2002 draft, to southern organizations, and signed bonuses within $90K of one another. Interestingly enough, while sporting near identical biographical resumes, the two have seldom played, competing in just a few low-A games.

And then there is the third. Born thirteen months after Jeff Francoeur and Jeremy Hermida, Felix Pie was signed straight out of the Dominican Republic. His story is an odd one, as the Cubs literally ran into his talent. While hosting a tryout near Pies hometown, Cubs scout Jose Serra asked the uninvited Pie to play. One thing led to another, and Pies career began only months before those of Francoeur and Hermida. And from then on, Ive always pieced the three together.

Today, I want to evaluate and compare the progress of these three. Starting with short-season ball, the three have almost always been in equal levels, excusing a three at-bat stint in AAA by Hermida (2003) and a late season promotion to AA for Francoeur this season. And now we look how the Braves, Marlins, and Cubs are building superstars

Step One (2002): Short-Season Baseball

As Ive already said, Felix Pies professional baseball career began first, starring in the Arizona League as a 17-year-old. In 55 games, the outfielder hit .321/.385/.569, with seventeen steals in 25 attempts. Much of his high slugging percentage came from his speed, as he hit thirteen triples and only four home runs. Over the course of 218 at-bats, the left-handed Pie walked 21 times and struck out on 47 occasions. At the end of the season, Chicago promoted Pie to the Northwest League, where Felix went 1/8 in two games.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hermida had begun his career in the Gulf Coast League. Things did not go well for the 18-year-old, as Hermida hit .224/.316/.321 in 134 at-bats. But, Hermida did show a bit of polish, stealing five bases (0 CS) with a 15/25 BB/K. Florida had enough confidence in their first pick to move him to the New York-Penn League, where Jeremy played in thirteen games. During that time, Hermida hit .319/.407/.404 in 47 at-bats. So overall, the 2002 season saw a line of .249/.340/.343 from that Junes 11th overall choice.

And finally, we have the 23rd overall choice, Mr. Francoeur. After starring for Parkview High School in their 5A state championship, the Braves decided to have their first rounder bypass the Gulf Coast League and move up to the Appalachian League. This proved to be the right decision, as the 18-year-old had a .327/.395/.585 line in 147 at-bats. Jeff also walked 15 times, had 34 strikeouts, and was 8/13 in stolen bases.

So, after 2002, it would have looked like we would rank the three Francoeur, then Pie, and finally Hermida. But before crowning those as the official rankings, I want to look at some park factors. My 2004 Baseball Prospectus doesnt have park factors, but says Francoeurs Danville Braves had a 2002 factor of 961, and Hermidas Jamestown Jammers had a factor of 1048. So, while it appeared Hermida salvaged his 2002 season with some good stats in the NYPL, he did get some help. The order of Francoeur, Pie, Hermida stands.

Step Two (2003): Low-A

Next, the three competitors tried their hands at full-season baseball. Francoeur and Hermida would finally face off in the South Atlantic League, while Pie played in the Midwest League. The latter two played in fairly neutral parks, but Francoeurs park factor was 956, drastically favoring pitchers. So, we should take that with a grain of salt.

All these teenagers would hit in the .280s in 2002, with Pie at .285, Hermida at .284, and the Atlanta outfielder trailing at .281. All were a threat on the bases, with Jeremy stealing 28/30, Jeff swiping 14/20, and Felix showing raw speed with 19/32. But the separation comes in the extra-base hits department, where Francoeurs 49 trounces the 35 and 34 that Pie and Hermida would put up.

Jeremy showed the most polish, with his defense, speed, and discipline (80BB). Pie was still extremely raw, as seen by both his 59% success rate on the bases and his low .388 slugging. Finally, Francoeur showed the most realization of power, though walked only 30 times in 524 at-bats. At that point, it was really a toss-up whether Hermida (.780 OPS) or Francoeur (.770 OPS) was the better prospect. A good evaluator would probably go with the Brave, since displaying power is more telling than polish. Youth would be last here, as Pie needed to mediocre .734 OPS would be ranked third.

Step Three (2004): High-A

Before this season, all three of these players were lucky enough to be relatively overshadowed by other prospects. Atlanta and Chicago both have extremely deep systems, which allowed Franceour and Pie to fly under the radar. Hermida opened the season as the Marlins best prospects, but only because Miguel Cabrera spent the final two months of 2003 in the Majors. So while lofty expectations often bog down big prospects, this group has avoided the hype that should guide them.

It would now be Pie and Hermidas turn to face off, and they would six times during the year. A strained hamstring forced Hermida to miss many games, and the injury should also be blamed for a decline of playing time in center and stolen bases. He stole only ten, but still showed polish by only being caught three times. Jeremy also showed more power promise than ever, hitting .297/.377/.441 in a slight pitchers park.

Speaking of pitchers park, Jeff Francoeur was forced to spend most of his season in one of the minors worst: Myrtle Beach. But it did little to slow down the 20-year-old, who hit .293/.346/.508 in the Carolina League. Like Hermida, the fellow Georgian spent a considerable portion of the season on the DL. But Jeffs injury was more freakish, as he was hit in the face with a ball while squaring up for a bunt. Shortly after returning, the Braves promoted their prized outfielder to AA. He proved not ready, hitting .197/.197/.342 in 76 at-bats. Thats right, ZERO walks in 76 at-bats.

Finally, we have Pie. Unlike the first two, the stadium Pie played in has been historically ranked as a slight hitters park. Pie played well, starting to turn his raw talent into something. Pies batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging all jumped. He stole 32 bases, but again was caught stealing a lot (18 times). Baseball America ranked him as the Florida State Leagues best defensive outfielder, signaling a possible future move for Corey Patterson. What also went up were Pies strikeouts, as he struck out 18 more times in 74 less at-bats.

How do you rank them now? Well, the three are closer than ever, though it still seems Francoeur is on top. Rather than a Francoeur vs. Hermida argument, this season should feature Hermida vs. Pie arguments. My edge would go to Hermida, who matched Pie in average, slugging, while topping him in on-base percentage. Dave Cameron predicted in a recent interview that Hermida would breakout next season, especially in the power department.

Step Four: Whats Next

For the first time, 2005 will be a time for Jeremy Hermida, Felix Pie and Jeff Francoeur to be in one league together. The Southern League has favored pitching dramatically of late, though the Georgia outfielders will be playing in historically neutral parks. I can almost guarantee that Pie and Francoeur will spend the entire 2005 season in AA, though the Marlins may be the most aggressive.

Juan Pierre and Sammy Sosa will be free agents after 2005, possibly opening spots for Hermida and Pie. I expect Hermida to either follow the David Wright or Jason Kubel timetables, depending on when Florida calls up the then 21-year-old. Pie will likely spend 2006 in AAA, with a possible mid-season promotion a la Alexis Rios. The Braves have an outfield spot waiting for Francoeur, though it wont be the centerfield spot hes always called home.

Barring injury, I dont question that these three players will all be in the National League by 2007. Each should be great, though Hermida needs more power, Pie more polish and Francoeur more discipline. But age tends to help all three of those attributes, so I expect them all to start sliding towards stardom. And who knows, maybe my grouping will be grouped in the 2010 NL All-Star team together?

Baseball BeatSeptember 12, 2004
Cardinal Knowledge of Second Base Lacking
By Rich Lederer

Second base was not kind to the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday night.

Edgar Renteria made a fabulous stop on a hard-hit grounder up the middle off the bat of Milton Bradley in the bottom of the seventh, but he was unable to get the ball out of his glove cleanly in time to force Shawn Green out at second. Had the play been made, Steve Finley would not have scored the tying run and the Cardinals would have escaped the inning, leading 4-3.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Jose Hernandez hit a groundball just to the right of Tony Womack, who flipped the ball to Renteria covering second and Edgar dropped the ball. It was ruled an E-Rent. Cesar Izturis later singled to center, scoring two runs and giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead.

(Eric Gagne pitched the ninth, retiring the Redbirds in order to pick up his 40th save of the season and becoming only the fifth reliever to record 40 or more saves in three consecutive seasons. Gagne now has 147 saves since becoming a closer in 2002--the most over a three-year span in the history of major league baseball.)

But the play that may have been most costly was a running error on the part of Larry Walker in the top of the eighth. With one out and a runner on third, Walker singled to right center to put the Cardinals up by one run. With Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds coming up next, the St. Louis fans were looking for the proverbial knockout punch.

What happened next not only cost the Cardinals the game but it should, in time, also cost Pujols a hit that he would otherwise have deserved.

In the box score on espn.com, Pujols is credited with two hits when, in fact, he only had one. Let's take a look at Albert's plate appearances one at a time:

  • In the top of the first inning, Pujols flied out to center. (0-for-1)
  • In the fourth inning, Albert struck out swinging. (0-for-2)
  • In the sixth, the Cardinal first baseman doubled to deep left, driving home Womack. (1-for-3)
  • In the eighth, Pujols whistled a line drive to right field. Walker went from first to third but failed to touch second base in the process. Izturis noticed Walker's mistake, called for the ball, and stepped on second. Walker was called out on appeal. The play becomes a force out and Pujols is charged with an at bat and no hit. (1-for-4)

    Although it may seem unfair to penalize Pujols for Walker's slip (so to speak), the proper scoring decision is clearly spelled out in the Official Rules.

    Official Rules: 10.00 The Official Scorer:

    10.06 A base hit shall not be scored in the following cases: (a) When a runner is forced out by a batted ball, or would have been forced out except for a fielding error; (b) When the batter apparently hits safely and a runner who is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner fails to touch the first base to which he is advancing and is called out on appeal. Charge the batter with a time at bat but no hit.

    Yet, in the play-by-play game log on espn.com, Pujols is credited with a single in his last plate appearance. "A Pujols singled to right, L Walker tagged out at second."

    As shown in the Official Rules, Pujols cannot be given a hit on that play. Rule 10.06 (b) is unambiguous. Charge the batter with a time at bat but no hit. It doesn't matter if the batter's name is Albert Pujols or Luis Pujols. It also doesn't matter if the hitter has a lifetime batting average of .333 or .193.

    Look, I'm not here to steal a hit from Pujols. Walker took care of that, not me. But, hey, a rule is a rule. Let's hope this is one Cardinal error from Saturday night that can still be corrected.

    (Editor's Note: After this article was posted, Major League Baseball correctly ruled that Pujols was charged with a time at bat but no hit on the play in question.)

  • Baseball BeatSeptember 11, 2004
    "Must Be in the Front Row"
    By Rich Lederer

    I went to the Toronto Blue Jays-Anaheim Angels game Thursday night. My older brother, daughter, her boyfriend, and I sat in the first row behind the Angels' dugout. The tickets were courtesy of a longtime friend of mine who had sent me an instant message earlier that day, asking if I had an interest in going to the game. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately got on the horn to round up my foursome.

    We left a few minutes later than I would have liked, ran into some minor traffic on the freeway, and walked into the stadium as the game was just getting underway. We hurried to our seats, just in time to catch Orlando Hudson, the second batter of the game, ground out to second baseman Adam Kennedy. As Keith Olberman used to say, "4-3 for those of you scoring at home. Or even if youre by yourself!"

    With two outs and nobody on, Vernon Wells reached first on an infield single, then Carlos Delgado drew a walk on a pitch that was "juuuust a bit outside" to steal a line from Bob Uecker in the movie "Major League." Alexis Rios, a string bean if there ever was one, struck out swinging against Jarrod Washburn to end the inning.

    Dallas McPherson, a candidate to be named Minor League Player of the Year, spent the evening on the top step of the dugout leaning on the railing next to fellow third basemen Troy Glaus and Shane Halter. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugerr, Unknown. Call me skeptical unless the 24-year-old, 230-pound McPherson cuts down on his strikeouts while maintaining or adding to his walks (57 BB/169 SO in 521 AB in "AA" and "AAA" action this year).

    Having never seen Ted Lilly pitch in person before, I was anxious to check out the Toronto southpaw. He has a casual delivery that makes you think he is doing nothing more than tossing batting practice. Lilly throws over the top and lands on a very stiff front leg without bending his back. The lefthander relies on throwing an assortment of pitches at varying speeds with pinpoint control. You might even say he throws slop.

    A junk baller, Lilly had several instances in which he threw slow, slower, and slowest. He topped out at 91 mph and threw as many pitches in the 60s as he did in the 90s. Lilly spent most of the evening working in the 70s and 80s, throwing more off-speed pitches than fastballs.

    Lilly's confrontation with Glaus in the bottom of the seventh was a microcosm of his outing, throwing consecutive pitches of 67, 78, 91, and 81--the first time I can recall ever witnessing four straight offerings to the same batter with different first-digit speeds.

    When Eric Hinske and Frank Menechino came up to bat in the top of the second, it got me thinking about J.P. Ricciardi and the Oakland connection. After Hinske went down swinging, I look up at the scoreboard to check out Menechino's batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.387), and slugging average (.468) because I had no idea how he was doing this year. Not too bad, I think to myself. My brother observes that Menechino has "a Ron Cey body," a thick, squatty torso that makes him look more like a fire hydrant than a baseball player.

    Garret Anderson, whose mug on the giant scoreboard in right field resembles the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, grounded out to first base to open the second inning. Given the higher than normal humidity in the air, I turned to my brother and said, "Unusual weather were having here, aint it?"

    Delgado tattooed a Washburn offering in the third that cleared the wall in right center with plenty of room to spare. Delgados homer, the 27th of the season and 331st of his career, gave the Blue Jays a 5-0 lead. The blast by the 32-year-old, soon to be free agent prompted a chorus of boos directed toward Washburn, a pitcher who has struggled since the team's championship season in 2002.

    By the way, can someone please explain to me the purpose of chalking the third-base coach's box? If I didn't know better, I'd swear that designated area must be the only place in foul territory where the coaches are not allowed to stand. Anaheim's Ron Roenicke and Toronto's Brian Butterfield didn't disappoint me, meandering everywhere other than inside the box. Upon further reflection, can a box really be three sided?

    Vladimir Guerrero took Lilly deep in the fourth inning, jumping all over a fastball that landed at least 15 rows up in the left-field seats between the foul pole and the bullpen. Vlad's helmet, with as much pine tar and gunk on it as a Kirk Gibson bat, is a sight to behold up close. An immediate fan favorite upon his arrival in Anaheim, Guerrero is putting up an MVP-type season (.330, 30, 107) despite gimpy knees that are reminiscent of a broken-down colt.

    In between frames, the scoreboard shows a video clip of former Angel Alex Johnson hitting a groundball to third and beating the throw to first to gain the necessary hit that enabled the enigmatic outfielder to nip Carl Yastrzemski for the 1970 American League batting title by .00037. Watching that highlight reminded me that Johnson was the fastest righthanded batter in the game during his heyday. Unfortunately, he rarely busted his butt on the base paths or in the field and his career was shorter and less productive than it would have been otherwise.

    In the fifth, Lilly set up Chone Figgins with 72 and 62-mph breaking balls before getting him to fly to center on an 89-mph fastball that must have looked like a Randy Johnson heater to the Angel third baseman. The Toronto lefty then left a pitch up and Adam Kennedy deposited it into the right-field stands with his patented, upper-cut swing. It was A.K.'s tenth home run of the season.

    At this point, Toronto manager John Gibbons could be seen stomping his feet in the dugout, bellowing, "Darn. Darn. Darn. Darn. Lilly." However, he let his starter work his way through the seventh inning and allowed him to retire the first batter--the lefthanded-hitting Darin Erstad--in the eighth before turning the game over to Jason Frasor and Justin Speier, who combined to shut down the Angels over the final 1 2/3 innings.

    The Angels have made guessing the attendance a late-inning, multiple-choice quiz for a number of years, and I am here to tell you that the correct answer is invariably the second highest total on the board. It's not necessarily letter A or B or C or D. You see, the folks in the press box are smarter than that. They like to mix it up a bit. However, it is never the two lowest totals as that would just be calling unwanted attention to what might be perceived as a disappointing crowd. Conversely, it is the rare exception when the right answer is the highest figure as that must be "too obvious".

    The announced attendance was 37,514. The Angels, on pace to shatter the franchise's all-time attendance record set last year, are averaging more than 41,000 fans per game in 2004--the third-highest total in the majors after the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Angels and Dodgers, in fact, are on the verge of setting a record this year for the most combined attendance in one market. Who said Los Angeles wasn't a baseball town?

    In the bottom of the ninth, the Angels had their sixth, seventh, and eighth hitters coming up. It was a matter of having the "wrong players in the wrong game at the wrong time" as they went down 1-2-3, giving the last-place Blue Jays its second consecutive one-run victory over the playoff-contending Angels.

    The only bad thing about sitting in the front row is when it's time to leave the stadium after the game ends. Despite having to "hurry up and wait" for all the other fans to file out first, we were able to walk to my car and exit the parking lot within ten minutes.

    We listened to the post-game radio show on our way home, intent on learning who had gone yard that evening and then enduring a few irate callers who were second-guessing Mike Scioscia's decisions not to start Jeff DaVanon (for whom may I ask?), pull Washburn earlier in the game (despite not giving up a hit after the third inning), or pinch run for Bengie Molina in the seventh (even though the slow-footed catcher scored the Angels' fourth and final run of the evening).

    Ahh, there's nothing like being a manager unless, of course, you can sit directly behind him.

    WTNYSeptember 10, 2004
    Changes?
    By Bryan Smith

    A colleague of mine has made a suggestion for my site, one that I am contemplating deeply. Fresh off being overwhelmed by a second round of team-by-team top tens, this friend suggested a change of focus here. Rather than attempt to give extremely broad views of the minors, it was suggested I narrow my focus. Have a top 40, 50, 60 prospects, and zero in on each of them.

    You see, its almost impossible to have a single, successful broad view of the minor leagues. Its likely Brad Dowdy, Dave Cameron or the guys at Future Sox could give you better top tens for their teams than I. Working with limited information, Im forced to rank prospects singularly on their statistics. Often times this results in very wrong choices for my top ten, which I want to avoid completely. With a more concise focus, this wouldnt be true. I would work on getting scouting reports, interviews and statistical breakdowns of each player.

    Now, this wouldnt end my broad interest, as Ill still look for sleepers, finding the next guys to break my list. I could even start paying better attention to college baseball, again with a narrow focus. Just think more of this kind of article, less of this.

    But Im not ready to make a decision without readership intervention. I want your opinion, your thoughts on why you read this site. What could make it better, what would interest you more? If you are reading this, please comment.

    Baseball BeatSeptember 08, 2004
    Rich's Weeknight Baseball BEAT
    By Rich Lederer

    Life is good. I'm home all alone Tuesday evening, sitting on the couch watching five baseball games on the west coast--all with postseason implications. I've got the remote control in one hand, pen and paper in the other. The only thing missing is my secretary to transcribe the following notes:

  • Boston Red Sox 7, Oakland A's 1. Johnny Damon hit the 15th lead-off home run of his career to open the Boston-Oakland game and the Red Sox never looked back. Bill Mueller, not known for his glovework at third base, chipped in with three superb defensive plays for the hottest team in the American League. Let's face it, the Red Sox are a bigger reason than Hurricane Frances as to why the Yankees were seeking a forfeit victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Monday.

    After defeating Oakland in the first round of the playoffs last year, Boston has taken seven out of eight games from the A's thus far this year.

    Question: Does Billy Beane's "shit" not work in the playoffs or not work against Boston?

  • Anaheim Angels 5, Toronto Blue Jays 2. The Angels are within 1 1/2 games of the A.L. West lead after beating the Blue Jays with a strong performance by Bartolo Colon. The Halos have now won four straight and 16 of their last 21.

    Colon yielded just one home run, a rinky dink fly ball off the bat of Gregg Zaun that landed in the first row of the seats just inside the foul pole down the right field line. Bartolo has now allowed 35 four baggers and is only three behind Manny Ramirez for the league lead. Oops, scratch that. Colon is a pitcher. Well, that's what the program said the last time I checked. Sheesh, it must be nice to be 14-11 with a 5.33 ERA. By comparison, Ben Sheets is 10-11 with a 2.93 ERA and a major league-leading 7.5:1 K/BB ratio.

    I guess Bartolo must be doing a helluva job of "pitching to the score." Or perhaps Colon is benefiting from an Angels offense that is producing 6.56 runs per game for him (ninth best in the majors) whereas Sheets is being held back by a Milwaukee offense that is backing him with just 3.33 runs per game (second lowest run support in baseball).

    Question: How would you like to be Arte Moreno, knowing you owe a pitcher who appears to be in the early stage of decline an average of $12.75 million for each of the next three years? Repeat after me. There is no such thing as a (31-year-old, 250-plus pound) pitching prospect--at least not one that is worth more than $50 million over four years.

  • Colorado Rockies 8, San Francisco Giants 7. The Giants get a ho-hum effort from Barry Bonds (2-for-3 with a HR and two BB) and slip a game in the race for the N.L. West title and the wild card spot. Jason Schmidt (15-7, 3.19) pitched well for six innings at Coors Field before tiring and giving up four runs in the seventh. The N.L. Cy Young Award is about as wide open as the A.L. MVP and Schmidt is right in the thick of things.

    Bonds' four bagger was his 40th of the campaign--the eighth time he has reached that mark, tying him with Hank Aaron for the N.L. record. Babe Ruth holds the major league record with 11. It was also Bonds' fifth consecutive year of slugging 40 or more homers--two seasons short of Ruth's record, which is being challenged by Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa this year. However, A-Rod (33 HR) and Sosa (29) both need to step up their current pace if they want to tie the Bambino.

    Bonds is now just two homers shy of 700 and two walks short of his major league record of 198 set in 2002. For a daily fix on this subject, be sure to track the Bonds watch on Lee Sinins' Around The Majors Reports, which are also published at The Hardball Times.

    Question: Will Bonds become the Hall of Fame's first unanimous selection or will some writer show his ignorance by snubbing the greatest player of at least the last half century?

  • Los Angeles Dodgers 8, Arizona Diamondbacks 2. Robin Ventura hit the 18th grand slam of his career to lead the Dodgers to a six-run victory over the helpless Diamondbacks. The pinch-hitting ace Ventura, now tied with Willie McCovey for third place on the all-time list of home runs with the bases loaded, trails only Lou Gehrig (23) and Eddie Murray (19) in the number of career grand salamis.

    In the meantime, the Diamondbacks slumped to 54 games under .500. The difference between the 2004 version of the D-Backs and 2003 is a lot more than just Curt Schilling. Arizona's offensive woes have been well chronicled, but the team's defensive ineptness has hurt starters such as Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb just as much.

    One of the pleasures of watching a Dodgers game in September in the heat of a pennant race is listening to Vin Scully simultaneously calling the action live while giving a play-by-play account of game(s) affecting the team's pennant hopes elsewhere around the league. Scully's best work may have come in 1959 when he was broadcasting Dodgers games while giving his listeners updates on the rival San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Braves happenings. As a kid, I listened to Dodgers '59 so often that Scully's words are indelibly etched in my mind. Happily, I was fortunate to pick up a mint copy of the LP over the internet earlier this year.

    "Big bouncer over the mound, over second base. Up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!"

    Question: Has there been a more important "Dodger" than the redhead from Fordham University?

  • St. Louis Cardinals 4, San Diego Padres 2. Rick Ankiel made his first appearance since May 10, 2001. Believe me, you didn't have to be a Cardinals fan to get caught up in the moment. Ankiel gave up a bloop single on an 0-2 pitch to his first batter, then retired the side with a combination of 94-mph fastballs, sweeping curveballs, and a circle changeup. The lefthander benefited from a spectacular, "do or die" play on a bunt that Scott Rolen barehanded and threw to Albert Pujols for the first out of the inning.

    The Cardinals have given up fewer runs than any team in baseball, yet most fans seem to think the team's success is strictly a function of its high-powered offense. I'll let you in on a little secret. The Cardinals pitching staff has also allowed the lowest combined on-base percentage and slugging average in the majors. The fewest runs and the lowest OPS. What's not to like?

    Chris Carpenter (14-5, 3.37 ERA), Jason Marquis (14-4, 3.44), Matt Morris (15-8, 4.40), Jeff Suppan (15-6, 3.97), and Woody Williams (10-7, 4.00) may not win the award for the most talented staff in baseball, but they just may be the best performing set of starting pitchers around. The fivesome has not only put up good numbers but it has been durable, starting all but three games this year.

    Jason Isringhausen, who is tied for the league lead in saves with 40 to go along with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, gives the Redbirds an elite closer. If Steve Kline can make it back for the playoffs, the Cardinals could have three southpaws in their bullpen to offset the club's all-righthanded rotation. Should St. Louis face San Francisco in the playoffs, let it be known that Ankiel has faced Barry Bonds three times during his career and struck him out every time. Talk about wild?

    You may or may not think the Cardinals have good pitchers, but they sure as hell have good pitching.

    Question: Are we going to have to endure the Hunt for Red October cliche every year that a team with such colors challenges for a spot in the World Series? Enough, OK?

  • WTNYSeptember 08, 2004
    System Rankings, ALC edition
    By Bryan Smith

    And finally, I have a computer. Its great to be on-line today, catching up on everything Ive missed in the last couple of weeks. So, Ill be back to a thrice-a-week schedule, starting today.

    Someone finally called me on my bluff. I did the AL West prospect rankings a few weeks back, and then proceeded to take a break. But dont worry, I havent forgotten about it. Today Ill get back on the horse, and profile the American League Central. The division isnt exactly chock-full-o-prospects, and none of the teams have fantastic depth.

    Ill lead off with the team-by-team breakdowns, and remember, it goes best system to worst. At the end,

    Minnesota Twins
    1. Jason Kubel
    2. J.D. Durbin
    3. Jesse Crain
    4. Scott Baker
    5. Francisco Liriano
    6. Jason Bartlett
    7. Glen Perkins
    8. Justin Jones
    9. Alex Romero
    10. Scott Tyler

    Terry Ryan doesnt use the sabermetric approach to drafting that some would love, but he gets it done. While sometimes picks like B.J. Garbe and Denard Span turn out terrible, no team has received more production from their system in recent years. With a limited budget, the Twins cant afford the system going dry.

    Dont worry. Not only do the Twins have a fantastic scouting department, but their own depth builds more depth. Joe Mauers quick ascent to the Majors allowed the trade of A.J. Pierzynski, netting not only Joe Nathan, but Francisco Liriano as well. Justin Morneau was behind the Doug Mientkiewicz trade, scoring the Twins the talented Justin Jones. Finally, the #6 prospect on this list was acquired for Brian Buchanon, just another outfielder in a then-loaded system.

    Jason Kubel will allow the Twins to pull that same move again. Expect the Twins to trade Jacque Jones this winter, allowing an outfield of Lew Ford, Torii Hunter, and Kubel, with Shannon Stewart at DH. Jason Bartlett allows the Twins to let Guzman walk, saving money for the inevitable re-signing of Brad Radke. And next year, J.D. Durbin will begin to fortify what was a weak rotation in 2004.

    Finally, let me point two things. First of all, Glen Perkins ranks up there with Thomas Diamond as having the best debuts after being chosen in the draft. The University of Minnesota alum was pushed to the Midwest League, where he sparkled in nine starts. The rest of the draft went well, with no one even touching Perkins territory. And lastly, let me introduce Alex Romero. A switch-hitting Venezuelan outfielder, Romero has more walks than strikeouts since signing in 2001. While power isnt his strong suit, his 2004 line in the Florida State League (.292/.387/.405) is very similar to Kubels at the same age (.298/.361/.400). My 2005 sleeper pick of the yearAlex Romero.

    Cleveland Indians
    1. Michael Aubrey
    2. Franklin Gutierrez
    3. Adam Miller
    4. Ryan Garko
    5. Andrew Brown
    6. Brad Snyder
    7. Fausto Carmona
    8. Ryan Goleski
    9. Jeremy Sowers
    10. Dan Cevette

    What was recently the games most powerful system is suffering a bit of a dry spell, though still showing signs of life. The 2001 draft, where Cleveland loaded up on pitchers Dan Denham, J.D. Martin, Jake Dittler, has gone terribly. Solid prospects like Carmona and Fernando Cabrera have fallen apart. But, the 2003 draft has come as a solace for 2001, with Shapiro drafting Aubrey, Snyder and Adam Miller. Hes made some solid trades, and is busily trying to fill the few holes left on his Major League roster.

    One of those will be Ryan Garko, who exploded on the prospect map this season. Garko is very similar to Matt LeCroy, a fringe catcher with fantastic power. I meant be tempted to say Josh Phelps, who the Indians just acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays. Garko will be ready for the 2006 season, but Aubrey and Hafner will be filling the 1B/DH roles. While he might slate in as a platoon player/back up catcher for awhile, a smart organization will pluck Garko out of this system very soon. Hes not Ryan Howard-type trade bait, but hes good.

    Chicago White Sox
    1. Brandon McCarthy
    2. Brian Anderson
    3. Chris Young
    4. Kris Honel
    5. Ryan Sweeney
    6. Josh Fields
    7. Orionny Lopez
    8. Francisco Hernandez
    9. Gio Gonzalez
    10. Antoin Gray

    When Ken Williams traded Jeremy Reed to acquire Freddy Garcia, I looked to the Sox system and saw nothing. Brian Anderson was putting together a nice season in the Carolina League, but Kris Honel was hurt and Ryan Sweeney had fallen on his face. What was once ranked Baseball Americas top system was decimated, possibly last in the Majors. And then the Brandon McCarthy show beganit hasnt stopped yet.

    I dont know what to make of McCarthy, whether he is the next Black Jack or simply a right-handed Joe Kennedy. Hell, he could be another Jon Rauch. The White Sox are sure trying to make him that, pitching him in excess of 170 innings this year. Plain and simple, that should be illegal. Tell him nice season, and to shut it down until the AFL, where he can get his extra 25 innings. But dont send him to AA, cmon. Didnt you learn something from Rauch, and now Honel?

    What I also dont understand is taking Orionny Lopez and Ryan Rodriguez, enjoying modest seasons in the Sally League, and promoting them to AAA. Hopefully someone could explain this to me, because I cant understand why anyone would challenge a 21-year-old this much. Doesnt the scouting director know anything in excess is bad?

    And like I did with the Twins, let me close with a comment on the draft, and then a sleeper. Gio Gonzalez, a southpaw from Florida, should also be chalked up for having a stellar debut. Josh Fields was decent in the Carolina League, but Gonzalez absolutely dominated short-season league, and should be ready for full-season ball next year. My sleeper? Francisco Hernandez. The 18-year-old, switch-hitting catcher, was promoted to the Sally League late after a .326/.372/.492 line in Bristol. Its too early to start calling anyone the next Victor Martinez, but just keep your eye on Hernandez.

    Kansas City Royals
    1. Justin Huber
    2. Denny Bautista
    3. Ruben Gotay
    4. Mark Teahen
    5. Donnie Murphy
    6. Billy Butler
    7. Chris Lubanski
    8. Mitch Maier
    9. Dusty Hughes
    10. Jason Kaanoi

    Riddle me this: how in the Hell could the Royals have received more for Jose Bautista and Jason Grimsley than Carlos Beltran? Easy answer: Jim Duquette and the puppets running Baltimore. While Mark Teahen is a nice prospect, his slow development rate pales in comparison to Justin Huber and Denny Bautista. They also have to love how strong Ruben Gotay has come on, earning himself a job for 2005.

    Down the list, I want to point on Donnie Murphy, who Baseball America recently likened to Marcus Giles. I always loved the Atlanta 2B, so for some reason this comparison rubbed me the wrong way. I asked myself, what was Marcus Giles doing as a 21-year-old? Answer: hitting .326 with 54 walks and a .513 slugging in the Carolina League. Murphy is also in the CL, but hitting .255/.325/.406. This isnt to say he isnt a prospect, just that hes no Giles.

    While Ive talked about impressive performances from Thomas Diamond, Glen Perkins or Gio Gonzalez, a hitter has yet to come up. UntilBilly Butler. Another Floridian, Butler was touted with big power out of high school, similar to Midwest League MVP Brian Dopirak. On the opposite side of the diamond, Butler dominated the Arizona League, hitting .373/.488/.596 in 260 at-bats. First Zack Greinke came from Florida, then Butler. I think the Royals might be parking their scouting department there. Hey, it worked for Atlanta only one state up.

    Detroit Tigers
    1. Curtis Granderson
    2. Tony Giarratano
    3. Ryan Raburn
    4. Kyle Sleeth
    5. Kenny Baugh
    6. Kody Kirkland
    7. Justin Verlander
    8. Preston Larrison
    9. David Espinosa
    10. Jay Sborz

    Last and least are the Detroit Tigers, whose horrendous depth forced me to place them here. While I like both Granderson and Giarratano, both locks for top 50 spots, nothing else is too fantastic. Raburn should be the 2006 second basemen, and Sleeth could break out at any point. Kenny Baugh has always been a favorite of mine, and I still think he could turn into something special. Kody Kirklands full-season debut wasnt beautiful, but a little more contact could go a long way.

    While I summarized #1-6 that quick, I want to talk about #8, David Espinosa. The 23rd overall pick in the 2000 draft, Espinosa was terrible for the Cincinnati Reds before being traded for Brian Moehler. Moved off shortstop, the switch-hitting centerfielder enjoyed a solid season in AA. While only batting .264, Espinosa had 80 walks, 20 steals, and matched his previous career home run total with 19. Oh yeah, and hes still 22. A little more contact, and the Tigers walked right into a blue-chip prospect.

    And thats it. But for fun, I decided to also piece together a top-ten prospect list from the AL Central. It reads:

    1. Jason Kubel- OF
    2. Curtis Granderson- OF
    3. Brandon McCarthy- SP
    4. Michael Aubrey- 1B
    5. Franklin Gutierrez- OF
    6. Justin Huber- C
    7. Tony Giarratano- SS
    8. J.D. Durbin- SP
    9. Adam Miller- SP
    10. Jesse Crain- RP

    And since I didnt give this treatment to the AL West, Im staunchly against media bias, heres their top 10:

    1. Felix Hernandez- SP
    2. Casey Kotchman- 1B
    3. Dallas McPherson- 3B
    4. Omar Quintanilla- SS
    5. Ian Kinsler- SS
    6. Travis Blackley- SP
    7. Ervin Santana- SP
    8. John Danks- SP
    9. Jeremy Reed- OF
    10. Jairo Garcia- RP

    Last in this system ranking process is a cumulative ranking of the two divisions I have done so far. If youll remember, I put the AL West in the order of: Anaheim, Seattle, Texas, and Oakland. And now, when put together:

    1. Anaheim
    2. Minnesota
    3. Seattle
    4. Texas
    5. Cleveland
    6. Oakland
    7. White Sox
    8. Kansas City
    9. Detroit

    Yikes for the AL Central. I should note this piece has been written 11 at-bats into Nick Swishers career, where his OPS is currently over 1.100. Oakland will surely be saving a spot for him in their 2005 outfield, who has a decent chance at leading that team in on-base percentage. But last time I checked, that doesnt win you any Rookie of the Year awards. But hey, Bobby Crosby has that average up to .252

    Speaking of debuts, I have a few to mention. Scott Kazmir made his third start, losing to the Detroit Tigers. In five innings, Kazmir allowed four hits, four runs, and walked six. While his seven strikeouts were impressive, Kazmirs strike/total pitches percentage must increase. It did for Jeff Francis, who held San Francisco scoreless for five and one-third innings for his first Major League victory. Gavin Floyd is 1/1 in that department, as he contributed to the current Mets losing streak with a September 3 victory over the Amazins. Floyd scattered four hits and one run in seven innings, and left viewers drooling with his curve. Finally, the aforementioned Jason Kubel will be on the Twins postseason roster, which looks like a good decision after he began his career 2/7 with a double.

    Im currently on the sixth page of my Word document, wondering why Im still typing. You probably are too. Ill stop now.

    Baseball BeatSeptember 05, 2004
    When 40 = 300
    By Rich Lederer

    Jim Edmonds became the 103rd member of the 300-HR club on Saturday night when he hit a two-run shot in the second inning off Kazuhisa Ishii to propel the St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The win gave the Redbirds a record of 91-44 (.674), a won-loss percentage better than any St. Louis team since the 1942-1944 dynasty that captured three N.L. crowns and two World Series titles.

    Edmonds' blast was his 40th of the season--giving the Cardinals their first pair of 40-HR men in franchise history--and his ninth in 10 games. JimmyEd only trails teammate Albert Pujols and Dodger third baseman Adrian Beltre (with 43 each) for the major league lead in home runs.

    In less than five full seasons with the Cardinals, Edmonds has now hit 179 dingers. He ranks ninth in the majors during this period and is the only non-corner outfielder or first baseman other than Alex Rodriguez in the top twelve.

    Notably, Edmonds is one of only five center fielders in the history of baseball to hit 40 HR in a single season more than once. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. (7 times), Willie Mays (6), Duke Snider (5), and Mickey Mantle (4) in a select group of power-hitting CF.

    There have been just ten other center fielders who have hit 40 home runs in a single season. Hack Wilson and Joe DiMaggio each hit 40 once and also had seasons in which they totaled 39 in a 154-game schedule (the equivalent of 40 over 162 games).

    The 34-year-old Edmonds ranks ninth all time among CF in career home runs.

    CENTER FIELDERS
    CAREER HOME RUNS

                                     HR     
    1    Willie Mays                 660   
    2    Mickey Mantle               536   
    3    Ken Griffey Jr.             501   
    4    Duke Snider                 407   
    5    Dale Murphy                 398   
    6    Joe DiMaggio                361   
    7    Ellis Burks                 352   
    8    Fred Lynn                   306   
    9    Jim Edmonds                 300

    Only Mays, Mantle, Griffey Jr., Snider, and DiMaggio accumulated at least 300 HR in seasons in which their primary position was CF. (Edmonds hit five four-baggers in 1994 as a corner outfielder for the Angels.) Murphy played a couple of seasons early in his career at 1B and two more at the end of his career in RF. Burks had his biggest HR output ever as a LF with the Colorado Rockies, and he also played three seasons as a RF and three others as a DH. Lynn hit 42 HR in seasons in which he played more games in RF or LF than CF.

    According to Bill James' The Favorite Toy, Edmonds has a better than 80% chance of hitting 400 HR and a nearly 20% shot at 500. This method gives Edmonds almost a three-in-four odds of surpassing Snider for fourth place on the career home run list for center fielders. Yes, that's right. Mays, Mantle, Griffey, and. . .Edmonds.

    Edmonds is on pace to hit .310 with 48 HR and 125 RBI in 2004. Among CF, only Hack Wilson, Mickey Mantle (twice), and Willie Mays have had individual seasons reaching those levels before.

    CENTER FIELDERS
    SINGLE SEASON
    BA >= .310, HR >= 48, RBI >= 125

                                  YEAR     AVG      HR       RBI    
    1    Hack Wilson              1930     .356     56       191   
    2    Mickey Mantle            1956     .353     52       130   
    3    Willie Mays              1955     .319     51       127   
    4    Mickey Mantle            1961     .317     54       128

    Before arguing that Edmonds has benefited from an era of high-powered offenses, consider that Wilson's campaign occurred during the most hitter-friendly year in baseball history and Mantle's numbers in 1961 were produced in the first year of an expansion that increased the number of teams in the A.L. by 25%.

    Loosen the criteria to .300/45/120 in case Edmonds falters a tad down the stretch, and the club also admits Hank Aaron (in 1962 when he played 83 games in CF and 71 in RF), DiMaggio, and Griffey. Welcome aboard!

    Edmonds has a .424 OBP, .678 SLG, and a 1.102 OPS through September 4. Believe it or not, his slugging average currently ranks fourth among CF in modern baseball history.

    CENTER FIELDERS
    SINGLE SEASON
    TOP TEN SLUGGING AVERAGE

                                  YEAR     SLG    
    1    Hack Wilson              1930     .723   
    2    Mickey Mantle            1956     .705   
    3    Mickey Mantle            1961     .687   
    4    Ken Griffey Jr.          1994     .674   
    5    Joe DiMaggio             1937     .673   
    6    Joe DiMaggio             1939     .671   
    7    Willie Mays              1954     .667   
    8    Mickey Mantle            1957     .665   
    9    Willie Mays              1955     .659
    10   Duke Snider              1954     .647

    Furthermore, if Edmonds maintains his on-base plus slugging average, his 2004 season would place sixth among CF from 1900-on.

    CENTER FIELDERS
    SINGLE SEASON
    TOP TEN OPS

                                  YEAR     OPS    
    1    Hack Wilson              1930    1.177   
    2    Mickey Mantle            1957    1.177   
    3    Mickey Mantle            1956    1.169   
    4    Mickey Mantle            1961    1.135   
    5    Joe DiMaggio             1939    1.119   
    6    Mickey Mantle            1962    1.091   
    7    Ty Cobb                  1911    1.088   
    8    Joe DiMaggio             1937    1.085   
    9    Joe DiMaggio             1941    1.083   
    10   Al Simmons               1927    1.081

    Last month, Brian Gunn and I co-authored an article on our man Jim Edmonds. The Most Under Over Underrated Player in Baseball was featured on Brian's Redbird Nation. We made a case for Edmonds ranking as one of the two best CF of his era and among the top dozen ever.

    The article, which was featured on The Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix website and by Eric Neel on his ESPN Page 2 column, caused many readers to question placing Edmonds in such hallowed company. Importantly, we never claimed that he was in the same class as Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Tris Speaker or even Ken Griffey Jr. or Duke Snider. However, I have yet to be convinced that there is a more deserving candidate than Edmonds as the eighth-best center fielder of all time (notwithstanding Billy Hamilton of 19th century fame or Oscar Charleston of the Negro Leagues).

    Heck, if Jimmy Edmonds played center field in New York, they would be writing songs about him. If the sweet-swinging lefty played his entire career in his home state of California, he would be a candidate to become Governor. I ask, what does the guy have to do to get some respect? Why is it that we hold today's players to loftier standards than those before them?

    Does anyone out there really believe that Richie Ashburn, Earl Averill, Max Carey, Earle Combs, Larry Doby, Kirby Puckett, Edd Roush, Lloyd Waner, and Hack Wilson--Hall of Famers all--were truly better than the man who is on track to produce his fourth consecutive season with an OPS+ of at least 150?

    As we noted in the article, using Wins Above Replacement Value (WARP) and Equivalent Average (EqA) as proxies for counting and rate stats, how many readers realize that there are only six CF who exceed Edmonds rankings in both categories?

    Jim Edmonds also ranks among the top ten CF in Runs Created Above Average, one of the best measures of offensive production. In addition, he is a six-time Gold Glove winner who stands a good chance of bagging his seventh this year. In other words, the guy can beat you in about as many ways as I can sing his praises.

    The only player standing between Edmonds and the Most Valuable Player Award this year is Barry Bonds, who is a virtual shoo-in to earn his seventh MVP this year. Barring a collapse, Edmonds, Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Beltre are the most likely players to finish in the top five behind Bonds for the N.L. MVP. Too bad Edmonds doesn't play in the A.L. or else he would be the odds-on favorite to win this coveted award.

    Whether Edmonds plays in the N.L. or the A.L., he is in an elite league when it comes to center fielders.

    Tables created via the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia.

    [Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYSeptember 02, 2004
    Rooks
    By Bryan Smith

    WTNY favorite Jeff Francis made his second start Tuesday night, and like Scott Kazmir, struggled badly. Unlike the Devil Ray, Francis never had a good first start, leaving his season ERA at 13.50. Both pitchers have been terribly inefficient since reaching the Majors, as Francis threw 97 pitches in only 4 1/3 innings. To make matters worse, only 52 pitches were strikes. This is not the pattern of success, and must change for Francis to succeed.

    Overall, the San Francisco Giants knocked Francis for seven hits, eight runs and four walks in his 4+ innings of work. Again, his strikeout numbers looked good, which convinces me speaks of future success. But both Marquis Grissom and Yorvit Torrealba hit home runs off Francis, totaling five for the season. Lets just say, this does not seem positive for a Rockie.

    The intense struggles that Kazmir and Francis endured made me realize that rookie pitchers are not doing well this season. Seattle has seen horrible performances from highly touted pitchers Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley, destroying perceptions of both. Im convinced that players so unanimously highly thought of wont all fail, and just will feature slower learning patters than most.

    So I went back to my preseason prospect rankings, and looked at all the pitchers that have debuted in the Majors this season. It totals nine, the four that Ive mentioned plus Edwin Jackson, Zack Greinke, John Van Benschoten, Merkin Valdez and Ryan Wagner. When combined, the totals are not impressive

    13-23 5.97 ERA 10.23 H/9 6.17 K/9 1.48 K/BB

    This 'player' would have the third worst ERA in the Majors, right ahead of Jose Acevedo and Shawn Estes. The peripherals are similar to Brett Myers, who has an ERA about a half run lower. 5.50 is about more where these players seem to stand, but disastrous performances by Blackley and Valdez skew the numbers. No matter what, they show that pitchers need to have a large learning curve when coming into the Majors.

    But what about the hitters? From my preseason top 50, ten hitters have played in the Majors...

    Bobby Crosby
    Alexis Rios
    Jason Bay
    Scott Hairston
    Justin Morneau
    David Wright
    Casey Kotchman
    Joe Mauer
    Grady Sizemore
    B.J. Upton

    This list doesn't include Khalil Greene, the Padres shortstop that missed my top 50 but will likely win the NL Rookie of the Year. If only Jason Bay hadn't missed time and had more exposure, I wouldn't be looking quite so bad. But when combining these ten seasons, I get...

    .272/.336/.468 in 2087 AB

    To put this into perspective, an .804 OPS would slot in between Alfonso Soriano and Torii Hunter for the 84th best total in baseball. Actually, these numbers are very similar to Hunter's, the Twins centerfielder currently making $8 million a season. While I would hope a group this highly touted would be better than that, an .804 OPS is considerably better than a 5.97 ERA.

    So, why are hitters adjusting that much better to Major League pitching?

    The most obvious reason is age. The ten hitters average age is 22.4, while the pitchers are at 21.7. Three of the nine pitchers can't consume alcohol, compared to only one hitter. And furthermore, three of the hitters main contributors had Major League experience (Crosby, Morneau, Bay), while only two pitchers even had cups of coffee. Bay and Morneau each had almost 100 at-bats, and the two alone supply almost half of the group's 82 home runs.

    Well, I got even more curious, wanting to know which rookie pitchers are succeeding. Turns out...not too many. Only five pitchers with five starts have ERAs under 4.95, one of which is Zack Greinke. The other four: Bobby Madritsch, Noah Lowry, Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard. So I went back to 2003, and looked if there was anything telling in their numbers that would help in projectability.

    First of all, this is a very interesting group. Madritsch is an Independent League pick-up in his late twenties, and Lowry is turning things around at an old age as well. Cabrera spent last season in the Sally League, and Bedard pitched only 19.1 innings. Their ERAs were all over, from 3.63 to 4.24 to 4.72. The H/9, K/9 and K/BB stats were all inconsistent. What wasn't? HR/9. Bobby Madritsch allowed 11 home runs in 158.2 innings, Lowry gave up 7 in 118.1, Cabrera allowed 6 in 125.1, and Bedard surrendered one in 19.1 innings pitched. And it's also fair to include Zack Greinke, who allowed ten in 140 innings of work.

    In the very least, this little exercise further verifies Dayn Perry's expirament that showed importance in HR/9. These five pitchers gave up a combined 35 home runs in 2003, despite pitching in more than 560 innings.

    When preparing for your fantasy draft next year, my advice to you is to check some minor league HR/9 numbers, you just might find a diamond in the rough.