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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

N.L. East

The N.L. East through May 24th.





































New York






































Standings through May 19, 2003













































The times they are a-changin’


While it is more typical for the Atlanta Braves to be 30-14 at this point in the season, it isn’t panic time yet.


Standings through May 19, 2001












































The Braves’ personnel is different – they can’t wait for the pitching to kick in – they simply don’t have the same talent they did in 2001 on the hill.  Mike Hampton has posted back-to-back good outings, lowering his ERA from 7.41 to 5.64.  Still not great, but getting better. 


The injury bug has primarily missed the Braves for a decade, and this season seems to have the Braves constantly scrambling to fill slots.  Now Marcus Giles is out for six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone.  Giles is a fierce hitter and a good defender.  The Braves will be hurt on both sides of the ball.  With Rafael Furcal, Giles, Chipper Jones and JD Drew all missing time due to injury, the Braves have been forced to play a ton of rookies.  With Adam LaRoche (0.636 OPS) and Johnny Estrada (0.875) already in the lineup every day, the Braves have found DeWayne Wise (0.661) and Wilson Betemit (0.412) and Jesse Garcia (0.601) and Nick Green (1.004!) gobbling up plate appearances.  It doesn’t help that "veteran" Mark DeRosa is posting a 0.543 OPS.


JD Drew has been very productive.  He has been my pick for "break-out player of the year".  Andruw Jones has been streaky, but he is hitting the ball well, and has good walk rates. 


Jones has slipped considerably defensively:

Year   ZR
1998   0.922

1999   0.900

2000   0.883

2001   0.888

2002   0.876

2003   0.840

2004   0.766

Regardless of your faith in ZR, that’s a disturbing trend.  If Jones were actually old, rather than 27, this might be expected.  I expect this year’s ZR to increase as the sample size does, but it’s a pretty poor showing to date.


Horacio Ramirez has the second best ERA in the majors at 2.04.  And is 2-3.  That’s no fun.  He is another Brave starter that is an outstanding fielder.  The rest of the Braves rotation has been terrible – everyone well over 4.  Cox and Mazzone have cobbled together some truly awful relievers and are generating some good bullpen work.  This year it is Kevin "Groundball" Gryboski posting a 1 ERA.


With the injuries, the Braves have already called up most of their AAA team – so they have to hope for health from here on out.


The World Champion Florida Marlins have been solid.  The starting pitching has been 60% good, with Brad Penny leading the way (ERA 2.10).  The Fish have given 8 starts to Darren Oliver and he has gotten his brains beat in.  They may have to pull the plug on him sooner rather than later if they want to stay in the race.


They have gotten fantastic bullpen work from their closer, Armando Benitez.  Benitez has thrown 25.1 innings and has a 0.36 ERA, with 16 saves.


The Fish have excelled at the dish.


Juan Pierre is hitting way over his head.  Of course, he’s 26, so this could be his peak.  Hee Seop Choi is being given a chance to play every day and he has responded with lots of walks and lots of power.  Miguel Cabrera is showing everyone he is the real deal, and Mike Lowell is earning his pay.  One thing that should help the Marlins over the next few weeks is the absence of Wil Cordero.  Now if manager Jack McKeon could find someone to take Jeff Conine’s PAs, he’d be in good shape.


The guy the Marlins have tearing the cover off the ball in the minors, Joe Dillon, is also playing third base.  Dillon mashed the ball at Carolina (AA) and got promoted to Albuquerque, the Isotopes, and he’s still mashing the ball.  He is 29, so he’s not a prospect or anything, but he can probably hit.


The young players the Marlins have should keep them in the hunt – particularly if Juan Pierre can continue to play as well as he has been.


The Expos are not good.  Which is a shame because they have a handful of quality players: Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, Brian Schneider, Carl Everett.  The pitching staff is certainly fun – Livan Hernandez, Claudio Vargas, Zach Day, Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas (when he isn’t injured). 


Ron Calloway is having a season for the decade – 43 AB, .070/.089/.070. 


The best news for the Expos is a permanent home.  The Commissioner promises a site selection by "mid-July".  It sounds like a good way to distract fans from another tie All-Star Game. 


My brother is an Expos fan.  Maybe a new home will convince him to move to said town and become the crazy fan every team has.


The front-runner, today, is Dulles, Virginia.  They have a big airport, a bunch of hotels and a fancy shopping center.  The Washington Post reveals that the investment group is offering "more than a ballpark!"


Regardless of what the season holds for the Expos, a resolution to their drifting and the release from the MLB Owners as owners is going to be a big positive. 


The Phillies’ new park is being talked up as a big hitters’ park.  Let me help – sample size, kiddies.  There’s no practical way to tell how the park impacts hitting after 20 games.  No matter which way the park has been playing, the weather and opponents and just player slumps over 20 games means nothing can be defined about the park yet.  Of course, the park could be exhibiting its true characteristics right, now, but it may not. 


The Phillies are having injury problems.  Jim Thome and Billy Wagner are out for a while.  Of course, the good news is that Placido Polanco is also out, allowing Chase Utley to continue playing.  Utley has homered in three straight games. 


The Phillies success to date is largely due to the rebounding Pat Burrell.  After stinking up the universe in 2003, Burrell is back to being "Pat the Bat".  This week, the Phils get a two-game set with the Mets – who are Burrell’s favorite opponent.  Burrell is hitting .286/.391/.628 in 200+ PAs over the last three seasons.  Burrell is listd as questionable for the series, but with the way he bludgeons all the Met starters, he may drag himself to the park.


The Phillies’ rotation has been sketchy.  Randy Wolf has pitched well, but has had a bout of elbow tendinitis.  He expects to make his start after being bumped once.  The other starters are hovering around 4.00 ERAs.  Eric Milton, who was damaged goods, has gone 5-0, while posting the worst ERA of the Phils starters (4.47). 


The Phils have gotten a great performance from rookie Ryan Madson.  Madson has made 15 appearances and thus far has an ERA of 1.00.  He is 23, 6 foot 6 inches and a very bright spot in the Phillies system.  A season in long relief should be just the thing to groom him toward a successful career. 


The Philly fan’s hopes have started well.  Even with injuries to stars, the Phils have managed to be on top of the division at the first turn.  Pat Burrell has rebounded, and when he’s pitched, Billy Wagner has pitched well.  That’s a big relief after last season’s late-inning shenanigans.  Then again, you can see the 2001 standings at the top of this column…


The Mets could be more mediocre, but I’m not sure how.  They have lived with some fantastic starting pitching and a wretched offense.  Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Trachsel have been outstanding, posting a collective ERA near 2.5.  Glavine has returned to his old self, and a little more, nearly throwing the Mets first no-hitter.  Leiter pitched well until his last outing after which he went on the DL with shoulder problems.  Trachsel has been the same "Steady Eddie" since his minor league stint a few years back.


Unfortunately, the fourth and fifth slots haven’t been very kind.  Tyler Yates was given the fourth slot after a good Spring Training.  Rick Peterson is learning that he shouldn’t make personnel decisions based on 20 IP.  Yates hasn’t pitched well, and appears to have some issues with pitch selection.  He made a brief trip to the minors, but when Leiter was disabled, Yates came right back up.  The Mets don’t have a solution to the problem yet. 


Braden Looper has been very good, with a 0.76 ERA in 24 innings.  He isn’t getting many saves due to a lack of save opportunities, but he’s pitching very well.


One bit of comedic relief was the two starts by James Baldwin.  Baldwin got his head ripped off in two starts and was designated for assignment. 


Cliff Floyd got injured.  Yes, that’s news.  Mike Piazza is not good around first base – even for a team that had Mo Vaughn play there.  What’s next?  Am I going to tell you Mike Cameron strikes out a lot?  Oh, he does.  But he’s silky smooth in centerfield.


The Mets have had a few surprises.  Danny Garcia, the rookie replacement for Jose Reyes, has played well, both offensively (.750) and defensively.  The role players, Shane Spencer, Eric Valent, Karim Garcia, and Todd Zeile have filled in and played well.


Kazuo Matsui has been solid offensively.  He already has 16 doubles, 5 home runs (all leading off a game), and 21 walks.  He is destroying LHP.  Okay, the NL shortstops don’t hit very much, but Matsui is third in OPS (0.772), behind perennial league-leader Jack Wilson.  Matsui seems to be adjusting with the bat.


Matsui’s fielding is another story.  The propaganda was that he was a "gold glove shortstop".  Well, he’s not good on this side of the big pond.  He has limited range in either direction, and he likes to circle the ball.  His arm is average, or worse.  He already has nine errors, although some of those are due to throwing at an inept first baseman.


Oh, and he isn’t nearly as fast as Ichiro.


The Mets sit at .500.  The pitching has bounced back.  Jose Reyes’ hamstring is nearly healed.  Floyd and Piazza are hitting.  Jason Phillips has regained his stroke.  Are three starters enough?  Without something happening, the Mets are where they can hope to end up - .500.


Chris Dial Posted: May 26, 2004 at 01:29 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. The definitely immoral Eric Enders Posted: May 26, 2004 at 06:50 AM (#644966)
If Jones were actually old, rather than 27, this might be expected.

Andruw Jones is from a Caribbean island. If his last name wasn't "Jones" there would be people on this site swearing up and down that he's really 34.

Nice article, Chris.
   2. ChuckO Posted: May 26, 2004 at 10:22 AM (#644993)
There are a few comments I'd like to make about Andruw Jones. He's the kind of guy that likes to be in the line-up every night. He'll play through minor injuries without complaint. In spring training, Cox sat him out for a couple of games because he was having problems with patellar tendinitis. At that time, Cox revealed that Jones had played most of 2003 with the condition, so it's quite possible that this is a chronic condition for him.

On the other hand, Jones has never been one for conditioning. He's obviously carrying around a bit of a "spare tire" and I remember the Braves' announcers last year talking about how Gary Sheffield had been telling Jones that he needs to work harder on his fitness and conditioning.

I too would like to add that it's a nice article.
   3. Curt Schillings Bloody Red Sock Posted: May 26, 2004 at 01:20 PM (#645044)
"With the injuries, the Braves have already called up most of their AAA team – so they have to hope for health from here on out."

The very real problem with this is that most of these guys were lousy in Richmond and now they're all facing major-league pitching.

Laroche is a good hitter and will turn things around. Estrada is doing better than I expected, even after I saw him mash AAA pitching last year. Garcia, DeRosa and Betemit are useless. Maybe Atlanta can convert Ryan Langerhans from outfield to a middle infielder...
   4. Gavvy's Cravat Posted: May 26, 2004 at 02:43 PM (#645156)
Thanks for the article, Chris.

The question for the Phillies becomes what to do with Utley when Polanco gets back from the DL.
   5. Ephus Posted: May 26, 2004 at 02:47 PM (#645163)
The Mets' broadcasters report that Kaz Matsui is taking an hour of ground balls each day to learn how to backhand. They have stated that Matsui never fielded backhanded in Japan. I would have thought that this is something that the Mets should have picked up in scouting.
   6. Colin Posted: May 26, 2004 at 03:55 PM (#645293)
Good overview, Chris. I was just looking at the defensive numbers the other day (that was why I asked you if you had DPIs available), and that is a major problem for ATL this season. DeRosa's ZR is worse than that posted by Chipper before he went to LF. I suspect infield defense is dragging down Hampton's numbers (and the staff overall is strongly groundball this year). What I need to find is a good metric on 1B defense, because so far ZR, in its limited utility, sees 1B as a defensive problem.

Two points on injuries:
(1) Joe Simpson ragged on Andruw a little earlier in the season, but then came back humbly a few days later and talked about how Andruw has been playing through some minor injuries this season. I'm presuming, at this point, that means the knee is still problematic.

(2) Chipper Jones made some subtly disparaging comments about Drew taking himself out of the lineup for minor injuries, vs. how he himself plays through pain more. Well, chipper has been pretty since coming back from his injury, posting a 676 OPS via a line of 176/323/353. He's looking a little bettter of late, but maybe he should have gone from the Drew handbook.
   7. Rob Base Posted: May 26, 2004 at 04:57 PM (#645404)
"The Mets' broadcasters report that Kaz Matsui is taking an hour of ground balls each day to learn how to backhand. They have stated that Matsui never fielded backhanded in Japan. I would have thought that this is something that the Mets should have picked up in scouting. "

Whatever. He's better than Joe McEwing or that Delgado guy.
   8. NedFlandersFields Posted: May 26, 2004 at 05:29 PM (#645457)
The question for the Phillies becomes what to do with Utley when Polanco gets back from the DL.

John, I think the real question is what to do with Rollins when Polanco gets back from the DL.
   9. Gavvy's Cravat Posted: May 26, 2004 at 05:58 PM (#645518)
Ned, I assume you mean to move Polanco to short in place of Rollins. While Polanco would be an improvement at the plate, I think it would weaken the infield defense substantially. Polanco's RF at SS is 3.57 (vs lg avg of 4.30) in 121 games. Add that to coming back from an injury and a lot more groundballs could be making it through for base hits. As poor a hitter as Rollins has become, the Phillies really do not have a good replacement at short at the moment.
   10. greenback is on a break Posted: May 26, 2004 at 07:12 PM (#645664)
I thought the question is what to do with Bell, but he's actually hitting.

I'm not sure range factor for middle infielders on the 1998 and 1999 Cardinals will tell you a lot.
   11. ChuckO Posted: May 26, 2004 at 07:35 PM (#645708)
Colin, since Chipper Jones is the acknowledged clubhouse leader of the Braves and, given the low-key nature of the team, the fact that he publicly criticized Drew at all probably means that he is reflecting clubhouse sentiment. IRC, this criticism occurred right after Drew had held himself out of three straight games because he had a crick in his neck. I would guess that most players don't think this is the sort of injury that should keep you out of a game, and I would have to agree. If you have a crick in the neck, you come in early and let the trainer work on it with heat and massage. Note also that Drew held himself out. Medical personnel did not suggest benching him.
   12. Dodgerfan88 Posted: May 27, 2004 at 12:05 AM (#646172)
Andruw Jones also comes from a first world nation--the Dutch Antilles, where a baseball career isn't the only way to escape poverty. Whereas Dominican players...
   13. Joey B. is counting the days to Trea Turner Posted: May 27, 2004 at 01:28 AM (#646634)
The Expos had better hope that Nick Johnson comes back really soon, otherwise we're looking at one of the worst offensive baseball teams of all time. Good thing they have such a solid rotation or they'd be right about down there with the '03 Tigers.
   14. ChuckO Posted: May 27, 2004 at 04:13 AM (#647246)
Dodgerfan88, I don't know if your comment was meant to be sarcastic, but the fact is that Andruw Jones' father was a great amateur baseball player in the Antilles. In fact, IIRC, he may be considered the greatest Antilles amateur baseball player, so Andruw's situation was, in fact, nothing like the guys from the Dominican.
   15. Dodgerfan88 Posted: May 27, 2004 at 07:18 AM (#647300)
Chuck, if you had bothered to look up anything about the Dutch Antilles, you would realize that it is in fact, much wealthier than the Dominican Republic. Hence the fact that Jones is not precluded to becoming a ballplayer as the only means to success. The fact that his father was a ballplayer means he has genetic talent, it has nothing to do with being poor or not.
   16. Colin Posted: May 27, 2004 at 04:53 PM (#647574)
Colin, since Chipper Jones is the acknowledged clubhouse leader of the Braves and, given the low-key nature of the team, the fact that he publicly criticized Drew at all probably means that he is reflecting clubhouse sentiment

I'm not convinced that's true. To the extent that Chipper is a leader, it's mostly be default. The guy has a penchant for opening his mouth to complain about teammates but disappearing when it comes time for quotes on his own bad days. I have gotten the feeling his teammates get sick of him opening his mouth (as when he commented on the poor performance of the team while he was on the DL - criticizing your teammates in such a situation seems like bad form).
   17. Mike Emeigh Posted: May 27, 2004 at 07:36 PM (#647852)
Polanco's RF at SS is 3.57 (vs lg avg of 4.30) in 121 games.

Polanco's career RF at BBRef is calculated based on games played, because BBRef doesn't have innings for his entire career. Polanco had a *lot* of partial games at SS - in 2000, for example, he averaged just over 5 innings per game played at SS, and in 2001 he averaged about 7 innings per game played. For the years in which BBRef has innings played, Polanco's RF (on a per-9 inning basis) was generally *higher* than the league norm.

-- MWE
   18. Andruw's #1 Fan Posted: May 28, 2004 at 11:33 PM (#649657)
With regards to Andruw, if he does have patellar tendinitis, it's no wonder he's lost speed. I've fought with it the last few years and for anyone who doesn't know, it won't keep you from playing but it causes you favor knees, tighten muscles, and have an awkward gait when running. Andruw sure doesn't look as comfortable than he used to... Throw in his extra pudge and it looks like we're never going to see the truly special player Andruw could've been. It's a shame, he's been my favorite player since the first time I saw him.
   19. Sam M. Posted: May 29, 2004 at 03:56 PM (#650509)
Well, I'm sorry to say, the Mets' tenuous place in the NL East race has probably been lost the last two games. Two games, I know, isn't much, but it's easy to spot the turning point of a season in hindsight; I'm calling this one as it happens.

They had a 3-0 lead on the Phillies going into the 7th inning Wednesday, and the bullpen and defense blew it. Then, last night, Glavine pitched a gem, but they lost 2-1 to the Marlins because Shane Spencer and Mike Cameron couldn't deliver on a golden opportunity in the fourth inning.

Those two games were their chance to establish something, and they weren't good enough at the key moments. Not that they ever were really good enough, but those two games will be remembered as symbolic of why & how they weren't.

The 2004 Mets: b. April 6. d. May 28. RIP.
   20. A different Terry Posted: May 31, 2004 at 01:17 PM (#652155)
Chris, a fine overview; thanks. I'll just volley a few nits for your nit re: Citizens Bank Park. Since its planned dimensions were announced, it's been no mystery that this place would play like a bandbox. One visit to the leftfield seats and you realize that (as David Bell demonstrated in the first inning yesterday) you can hit a HR without the ball getting significanly higher than, say, 30 feet in the air. The Inquirer beat writer has taken to calling it Soars Field--I prefer "Coors Lite Field"--though the silver bullet the team really needs would work best if shot at, say, Dallas Green.

This area of the city is known as "Point Breeze"--at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers--and the prevailing SW summer winds and lower park profile have and will push the ball out to RF. Great for Thome, although I tend to think that Abreu's opposite field slices--doubles at the Vet--have been true beneficiaries.\

So--to your "sample size" I'll add: "history" and "background"--but also take a look at these dimensions. Scandalous, and sad--and not friendly at all to the most exciting hit in baseball, the triple.
   21. bibyil Posted: May 31, 2004 at 04:54 PM (#652214)
Sam M,
Couldn't agree with you more. Before this 12-game set against FLA and PHI, I was starting to believe, and I declared that if they could go at least 8-4 in those 12 games, I would officially believe.

I was way off.

These Mets are like last year's team, and the year before that, and before that. Not bad enough to be awful, not good enough to even hope to contend. Just rather boring, actually.
   22. CrosbyBird Posted: June 02, 2004 at 04:32 PM (#655149)
8-4? Wow, I wish I had a set of glasses with such a lovely tint. :)

This Met fan thought the Mets would win 4 to 6 of the games at most. I think I would agree with your last sentence, except that these Mets are substantially better. This isn't a sub-70 win team, it's a .500 team playing the 2 strongest teams in its division. Even now, they had a bad series against the Marlins, but they are 2-1 against the Phillies. Getting swept by last year's champions is not so shameful.

I think a move to .500 would be substantial improvement and something to be pleased about. We were all hoping that Reyes would have a full season or close to it under his belt, but there are positive things to take out of this season so far. Much more than we saw in 2002 and 2003.
   23. Lance Freezeland Posted: June 03, 2004 at 12:51 AM (#656032)
I have to agree with Eric. I keep hearing assertions that Albert Pujols is 27, not 23, but to date, there's no reason to believe that other than the fact that he hits like a 27 year old.

Jones' paunch gives us at least something to go on with regard to his age.

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