Musings about, um... well, the Seattle Mariners as well as a love affair with this game baseball. By Peter J. White
Saturday, March 29, 2003
WELCOME TO THE FOLD, ER, BULLPEN
With the addition of Giovanni Carrara, that means the Battle for the Bullpen is now 4 pitchers and 1 open slot. My prediction is they go with Kenny Cloude. Julio Santana's the dark horse, and I imagine Price and Melvin like J.J. Putz and Rafael Soriano as starters and rather them get starters' innings in Tacoma then 3-4 innings a week setting up Nelson/Rhodes/Sasaki. Picking up Carrara also means Rhodes is the only lefty. None of the other 4 contenders are lefties either, but there was talk of picking one up before Opening Day. Presently I can't find Carrara's splits so I don't at the moment know how he handles righties vs. lefties.
For his career "Vanni" (how's that for an official Mariner nickname?) sports a 5.15 ERA with 196 K and 123 BB in 286 innings. All those rates are above the league average for his career. However, the 35-year-old has spent the last 2 summers in LA with Jim Tracy with numbers significantly better than his carrer would indicate. Last year in 90+ innings, he posted a 3.28 ERA with 56 K and 32 BB and a 12.01 WHIP. Add to that, 5 Runs Saved Against Average (a Lee Sinins metric). Now Jim Tracy over the last couple of years has proven a talent of coercing above average performance from below average players by playing to their situational strengths (Marquis Grissom, Dave Roberts). We have yet to see how Bob Melvin will handle a bullpen in major league games, so we'll see if Carrara will continue present performance or revert to the pitcher he was in Toronto, Cincinnati and Colorado. At the moment it looks like Vanni can hold down one of those revolving-door spots in the bullpen filled last year by Doug Creek, James Baldwin, Julio Mateo, Rafael Soriano, etc. So Giovanni, welcome to the Mariners.
|| Peter @ 3/29/2003
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Preseason Predictions: Part 5 – AL Central
It’s a sad state of affairs in the AL Central. In 2002, two teams lost 100 games, while the pennant winner posted a .500 winning percentage on the road and was only the 11th best team in baseball. In 2003, the division as a whole will fair no better. The addition of Bartolo Colon gives the edge to the Sox, and the Indians sink below KC as they enter Rebuilding Year #2. And the Tigers, oh my, let’s just get right on to the Tigers…
If Charlie Brown ever made it to the major leagues, he’d play for the Detroit Tigers. The one thing the Tampa Devil Rays have going for them is they can say at least they’re not Detroit. The Tigers finished easily the worst team in baseball in 2002 with the worst run differential. Their offense ranked last, scoring a grand total of 575 runs the entire season, fifty less the weakling Brewers. I think the Yankees scored that many runs just in May. You can’t point the finger at any one or two players for this; the whole lineup stunk, top to bottom. Like the Orioles, the only hitter that posted a +.800 OPS was a pitcher (Ryan Jackson, 1.262 with a double, a triple and a walk in 7 plate appearances). The highlights, if they may be called such, were Robert Fick .270/.331/.433 with 17 homers and Randall Simon .301/.320/.459 with 19 homers. They’re now with Atlanta and Pittsburgh, respectively. Shall the set the over/under for the Tigers’ runs in 2003 at 500? Ty Cobb has to be rolling in his grave.
On the mound, the pitching staff faired just a smidge better, surrendering 864 runs, good for 26th between Cleveland and Texas. Not too many happy things here, either. They traded their young ace, Jeff Weaver, to the Yankees at the deadline. Only two pitchers won even 8 games, Mark Redman and Steve Sparks, but they lost 15 and 16, respectively. Redman now wears a Marlins’ uniform and the knuckleballer Sparks’ name wasn’t called today when Alan Trammell named the starting rotation. It looks like all rookies for 2003, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it looks like I could have made this pitching staff with my deadly 60 mph fastball. It’s going to take years to turn this mess in Motown around. You wonder if it can get any worse and then have to shudder.
These are not your older brother’s Indians. The days of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and now Jim Thome are officially over. The Indians failed to win 85 games for the first time since the strike-shortened ’94 season, finishing ranked 22nd in run differential, pacing the Reds and Pirates. The offense scored 739 runs, 15th between the Astros and Royals. Chalk that up to Jim Thome who had a career year last year, .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs and 152 runs created. The MVP debate last year should have been A-Rod and Thome, as we’ll soon see the Indians scraping the basement without him. The good news is the Indians have some of the most exciting young talent in the American League. They’ve got Travis Hafner (acquired from Texas for Einar Diaz) to replace Thome at first, Brandon Phillips (from Montreal in the Colon deal last summer) winning the starting job at second. Catcher and minor league MVP Victor Martinez should see the big leagues by September if not mid-summer. Then there’s Grady Sizemore. These may not look like the Indians of the late 90s, but they do suspiciously resemble the Indians of the early 90s, green but on the cusp of superstardom.
Defensively, the Indians gave up 844 runs, 25th in baseball between the Blue Jays and Tigers. Barolo Colon won 10 games in the first half and was traded to Montreal. C.C. Sabathia suffered a sophomore jinx losing ground in nearly every pertinent category. Needless to say, Colon’s departure left a huge hole in the rotation, but like the offense, and unlike the Indians of yore, their minor league system is full of promising starters, some of which saw the light of Jacobs Field in 2002 and more that will in 2003. Cliff Lee is an example. This year should look a lot like the second half of last year, only without Thome. It won’t be pretty while the kids learn the ropes, but at least with the unbalanced schedule, they’ll see plenty of Detroit and Kansas City.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The Royals lost 100 runs, and to be honest, it’s not unreasonable to say they could repeat that. They finished the season 26th in run differential, between the Orioles and Padres. The bats scored 737 runs, 16th in baseball between the Indians and Expos. Mike Sweeney paced the team, establishing himself among the elite first baseman of the American League, posting career highs is batting average, on base percentage and slugging (.340/.417/.563). Likewise Carlos Beltran hit 29 home runs with 44 doubles, both career highs, while besting 100 RBIs for the third time in his short career. What happens to free agent Carlos Beltran this season becomes the fulcrum for not just the season but for the future of the franchise. Beltran is the next in a line that includes Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye of Royals stars jettisoned by the front office. Beltran and agent Scott Boras have already rejected the Royals’ long-term offer, so it’s only a matter of when and where and for how little value. Anyone remember Damon for Roberto Hernandez? Or how about Dye for Neifi Perez? So what’ll it be, Beltran to the Boras Rangers for Doug Glanville? To the Padres for Rondell White? I bet Billy Beane’s on the phone already.
Pitching wise, Kansas City allowed 891 runs, placing 28th, just squeezing past the Rockies but falling short of the Rangers. Paul Byrd surprised the world winning 17 games. He’s since signed with Atlanta. This year it’s up to Runelvys Hernandez and Jeremy Affeldt to anchor the rotation. But that’s not a bad thing. Either one or both could break out and surprise us all. It’s a very young pitching staff, so it could be ugly, but as mentioned with the Indians, fortunately they’ll see more than their fair share of Detroit and Cleveland. Until the Royals can figure out how to lockdown their young talent, they’re going nowhere and it’s difficult to say where rock bottom is.
Sure, I know they were everybody’s Cinderella darlings after the contraction hubaloo, but the Twins did not deserve the playoffs. Joining Anaheim, New York and Oakland last year should have been Boston. Seattle was a better team. The Twins finished with the 11th best run differential in baseball, in league with the Dodgers and Astros. The offense scored 768 runs, between Colorado and Houston, ranked 13th. Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones both broke out with career years and earned themselves contract extensions. But Doug Mientkiewicz, Christian Guzman and Corey Koskie all floundered at the plate. Bobby Kielty posted a team high .890 OPS but still can’t score a full-time job in right field. It seems as though the Twins have enough right field prospects to fill two outfields: Michael Cuddyer, Kielty, Mike Restovich. This will come in very handy come July, and the Twins are going to need it. Justin Morneau will soon be pushing Doug for the job at first base very soon. I have to admire how the Twins have been built completely through their own farm system. That’s a rarity.
On the mound was the miracle. Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Brad Radke, 3 of their 5 starters in spring training, spent considerable time on the disabled list. Still, the Twins only surrendered 712 runs, good for 12th in baseball between the Mets and Expos. It could have been a lot worse. Rick Reed led the team with 15 wins and injuries opened the door for Kyle Lohse, who posted 13 wins. But the revelation of the staff was Johann Santana, who posted an 11.38 SO/9, second only to Randy Johnson among pitchers with 100 innings. Think about that: Better than Pedro, better than Kerry Wood, better than Roger Clemens. I saw him pitch 4 innings against the Mariners in August and he struck out 9. It was phenomenal. He was slated to fill in for the again-injured Milton in the rotation, but has been bumped back to the bullpen with the recent signing of Kenny Rogers, whose ground ball tendency will thrive with the Twins superb infield defense. With the lefthander Santana in the bullpen, the Twins have arguably the best pen in baseball along with Tony Fiore, J.C. Romero and Eddie Guardado. Peter Gammons says the Twins could easily walk away with 100 runs feasting on the unbalanced schedule of Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. I’m skeptical. It’s possible, but they’ll fall to the White Sox. It’ll be down to the wire between Chicago and Minnesota. The AL Central may suck, but at least they have two evenly matched teams who should duke it out for the pennant until September 30.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Thanks to the good luck of the Twins and the bad luck in the Windy City, the Sox finished 13.5 games out of first. According to run differentials, they should have been only a 0.5 games in second. They finished the season ranked 13th between the Astros and Expos. The offense scored 856 runs, behind only the Yankees and Red Sox, for 3rd in all of baseball. Maggie Ordonez established himself as the new star of the White Sox, posting hitting numbers of .320/.381/.697 with 38 home runs. Paul Konerko posted a .949 OPS the first half but faded the second half. Frank Thomas posted a B season with an .834 OPS. With only one great season in the past four, it’s easy to throw him in the category of fast fading 1990s stars along with Juan Gonzalez and Junior Griffey, great players whose attitudes and injuries are gnawing on their Hall of Fame credentials. All signs point to a mammoth 2000-like comeback for Thomas, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Beyond this fat middle of the order, the Sox are going with rookies. Joe Crede at third, Miguel Olivo at catcher and D’Angelo Jimenez at second will all be worth watching.
On the mound, Sox pitchers allowed 798 runs, 21st in baseball, behind the Reds and ahead of the Padres. Mark Buerhle established himself as the ace with 19 wins, but beyond that, it wasn’t pretty. The Mariners teed off on Jon Rauch for 8 runs and 1 out on May 2. Bret Boone and Mike Cameron hit back-to-back home runs twice in the first inning of Rauch and Jim Parque, en route to a 10 run first inning. Cammy would hit 4 homers in the game. Yeah, that was a high point for Mariner fans in 2002, and definitely a game to forget in Chicago. Most painfully, in the winter the White Sox acquired Todd Ritchie from the Pirates for Kip Wells and Josh Fogg. Boy was that embarrassing, as Ritchie lost 15 games for the Sox while Wells and Fogg each one won 12 games for the Pirates. Ritchie will be pitching for the Brewers in 2003. So for the third consecutive winter, Chicago has gone shopping for a new top-of-the-rotation hurler. This year they turn to Bartolo Colon. He should be a massive upgrade from Ritchie and should take some of the pressure off of Buerhle. On paper those two are one of the best 1-2 punches in the AL east of Oakland and west of Boston. Colon’s sharp strikeout rate in the second half last year is alarming, so we’ll see what happens. We certainly hope he doesn’t become a disaster in the tradition of David Wells and Ritchie. In my opinion, the Sox are better than people think, while the Twins are worse. I say they are about dead even and should battle it out all season.
Here I was, all ready to see the Mariners open the season tomorrow morning bright and early in Tokyo. Alas, better judgment finally reigns in Bud Selig, but now the M’s opener is still a week away. One benefit is it gives me one more week to work on my AL West and Mariner previews. Stay tuned…