— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, April 25, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. East
The A.L. East through April 24th.
Do you remember those annual Baseball Handbooks edited or written by Zander Hollander, I believe? They?d be really small, maybe 6x4 or something, but like two inches thick and they?d have profiles on maybe 10-12 players per team along with the 40-man roster. The books I remember were out in the early 1980s but they could have been around longer, maybe he still writes it today.
What I always liked about them was the first page for each league, where they?d set it up like a horse race. They name it after the team they felt was going to win the pennant—for the Brewers and Dodgers, the races were the Beer Barrel Stakes and the Hollywood Handicap, respectively
Current AL East odds:
New York 1-6
I don?t think I?ve ever seen a team 1-6 to win their division this early in the year, that?s just amazing, especially when you consider there?s a team in their division that should win at least 90 games. The Yankees are 6-5 to win the pennant right now.
Anyway, this division?s name for 2003 should be the Bomber Stakes, because the Yankees offense is unstoppable. Unless something changes in a hurry, they are going to blow this division apart; not unlike Secretariat in the Belmont. Without Derek Jeter in the lineup, they are scoring 7.2 runs per game. They pummeled the Twins, going 7-0 vs. the defending AL Central champs, outscoring them 49-13. The Yankees followed that up with a 17-5 shellacking of the World Champion Angels the last two nights (this writing is before the Thursday late-night game).
This team is firing on all cylinders. If they play .550 the rest of the way, they?ll win 95 games. Their Pythagorean record is .824 right now, meaning they aren?t even getting all that lucky, they are just .7 wins ahead of that pace. They are 1-3 in 1-run games (the bullpen is the Achilles? heel right now). That?s right; they haven?t been beaten by more than 1 run yet this year. The starting pitchers are 16-0.
Is there anything negative, besides the bullpen? Well, the competition, save for the Twins and Angels has been weak. The Yankees are 3-2 against Tampa Bay, and 6-1 vs. Toronto. When not playing the Tigers or Yankees, the Twins are just 3-5. The big test comes April 29-May 15, when the Yankees play 15 games vs. Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. If they get through that stretch well, we can start comparing this team to the 1998 Yankees, because history will become their main competition.
Boston is lucky to be 14-9 and a game ahead of the White Sox for the wild card. They?re allowing 6.3 runs per game, and they haven?t played nearly as a good a schedule as the Yankees. Boston is 6-1 vs. Tampa, 4-3 vs. Toronto, 3-2 vs. Baltimore and 1-2 vs. Texas.
Pedro Martinez has been outstanding in 4 of his 5 outings; take away the one awful start against the Orioles, and he?s only allowed 3 runs (1 earned) in 29 innings. Unfortunately, the bullpen gave up 9 runs in those 4 starts, and Boston has lost 3 of the 5 games Pedro started.
The bullpen has been awful, a 5.64 ERA over 68 2/3 IP including 10 home runs allowed. The main culprits have been Ramiro Mendoza and his 11.81 ERA. I imagine he?ll come around, he?s just been incredibly unlucky (20 hits allowed in 10 2/3 IP); but he could be pitching hurt, his outings should be watched very closely in Beantown.
The back end of the rotation hasn?t been very good either. Tim Wakefield, Casey Fossum and John Burkett have a combined ERA of 5.28. They should pitch better than that as the season progresses, but if they don?t, it?s going to be a very frustrating year.
The offense has been very good for Grady Little. The Sox are scoring plenty (6.1 runs per game). Kevin Millar (.301/.378/.589) has been a great acquisition. Jason Varitek won?t continue to hit .283/.377/.517, but Nomar and Johnny Damon will post better OBPs than their current .310 and .323.
Boston is going to have a very good offense; and the pitching should get better. While they are lucky to be 14-9 right now (.484 Pythagorean record), they should still win 90 games this year, unless Burkett/Wakefield/Fossum continue to struggle.
The Orioles are off to a surprising 11-10 start. Is this ?for real?? How far have the Orioles sunk? We are wondering if playing a little over .500 is over their heads.
I think they are way over their heads. They?ve played 5 games with Boston (2-3), the rest of their games are against Cleveland (3-3), Tampa (4-3) and Chicago (2-1). Except for Chicago, those records are indicative of where they stand. They are probably about equal with Cleveland, and a little better than the Devil Rays. They may be a little better than I expected, but I don?t think this team is ready to make a run at .500. I see a 73-89 season at best.
The one interesting development has been Jerry Hairston?s sudden run of plate discipline. He?s walked 11 times in 74 at-bats (13%), last year he walked just 34 times in 426 AB (7.3%). If this increase is for real and Hairston can maintain a .270-280 average (.268 last year) the Orioles will have a viable leadoff man, their first since Delino DeShields three years ago.
In St. Petersburg there is finally a crack of light at the end of the tunnel. As Craig Burley suggested in his preview this team is starting to look a little like the 1981 Blue Jays. That team played just .349 baseball but they featured some key cogs of the team would move into contention in two years, and post the best record in the AL 4 years later. The 1981 Blue Jays featured Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby, Damaso Garcia, George Bell, Willie Upshaw, Jesse Barfield, Dave Stieb, and Jim Clancy.
Don?t get me wrong, the Devil Rays are once again on pace to lose over 100 games. But they?ve been playing some good teams tough. They are 2-3 against the Yankees; just 1-6 against Boston, but 3 of the losses were close games. Against the Orioles and Blue Jays they are 5-4. Their Pythagorean record is .359 currently, right in line with their W-L mark.
Rocco Baldelli, 21, is hitting .372, though his 23-2 K:BB ratio is alarming. Aubrey Huff 26, is an outstanding hitter that broke out last year and is following through this year with a solid early performance.
Carl Crawford has been terrible, hitting only .225, with just 1 walk for his 102 at-bats, and 20 strikeouts. I think he should be sent back to AAA as he?s just 21 years old and clearly not ready for The Show just yet.
The key for the Devil Rays this year will be to identify which of their young pitchers are the ones to lead them into contention. Victor Zambrano has been awful (22 BB, 11 K, 27.3 IP); Joe Kennedy has been okay, but hasn?t been striking people out, just 13 strikeouts in 32.3 innings. But, he?s only allowed 2 home runs and 7 walks, both excellent numbers. Nick Bierbrodt has been getting bombed, 32 hits in 14.3 innings. He could be an example DIPS? selective sampling. He?s not going to stick around to alter the numbers too much longer at that rate.
The bullpen has actually been decent, led by Lance Carter and Travis Harper. The Rays have seven relievers with ERAs between 3.60 and 4.30, pitching 6.3-15 innings each, talk about consistency. 22 year-old Seth McClung is headed into the rotation this weekend.
The early part of the season has been rough for the Blue Jays. The schedule was murder. They?ve played seven games with the Yankees (1-6), seven with Boston (3-4), six with Minnesota (3-3) and three with Tampa Bay (1-2). Their Pythagorean record is 10-13, so they?ve lost a couple of games to bad luck, already too.
I still think the Jays will finish over .500 this season, I really like their offense. Carlos Delgado is as good as anyone. They?ve been getting great production from the catching combo of Tom Wilson (.391/.575) and Greg Myers (.400/.474). Vernon Wells is off to a slow start and so are Josh Phelps, Chris Woodward, Orlando Hudson and Eric Hinske, yet the team is scoring over 5 runs a game.
The pitching/defense has been terrible. The Jays are allowing 5.8 runs per game. Roy Halladay has a 4.96 ERA, he?s given up 5 home runs already, he allowed just 10 all of last year. Jeff Tam has walked 11 in 10 2/3 innings. Tanyon Sturtze has walked 15 in 23 innings.
Swingman Pete Walker (3.22 ERA, 22 IP) and relievers Doug Linton and Rule 5 pickup Aquilino Lopez are having good years (although the former was sent to the minors). Lopez was a steal halfway through the first round of the Rule 5, a great example of readily available talent that was simply there for the taking.
Cory Lidle?s peripherals look great, 29 strikeouts and 5 walks, with 3 home runs allowed in 30 1/3 innings, but his ERA is 6.23, I imagine that will come down a few runs before the season is over. I think Wednesday?s loss (blowing a 3-0 lead to Tampa Bay) will be seen as the rock-bottom point for the Blue Jays, they?re now beginning the slow climb back to .500.