Saturday, March 13, 2004

Move along, nothing to see here. 

Yanks won a 2-1 snorer against the Astros tonight.

Starting line-up:

Darren Bragg - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Jason Giambi - 1B
Gary Sheffield - DH
Hideki Matsui - LF
Jorge Posada - C
Travis Lee - RF
Enrique Wilson - 2B

Looks like I was right about Torre batting Jorge fifth Tuesday and Thursday just to split up the lefties in Sheffield's absence. Grrrrr. Lofton sat today because of a tweaked hammy. Lee shifted to first later in the game.

Subs: Felix Escalona (SS), Miguel Cairo (3B), Mike Vento (RF), John Rodriguez (LF), John Flaherty (C), Homer Bush (2B).

In the few innings I caught in the YES Network's tape-delayed broadcast of the game, Jeter made an error on a ball hit directly at him that kicked up off the heal of his glove. Escalona made two great plays at short, one to start a double play on a tricky low hop while being screened by the runner, and one a classic deke at second on a pop to shallow center. On the latter, Escalona faked a DP ball, inducing a slide from Eric Bruntlett coming from first, who was then doubled up. Homer Bush also showed some good hands at second after getting caught stealing running for Enrique Wilson. Flaherty made his first appearance of the spring, having been out with a dislocated left thumb.

Gary Sheffield, making his return to the line-up, picked up an RBI single, and a walk in four plate appearances. I noticed that the way that Sheffield holds his bat, back elbow up and barrel pointed toward the pitcher, he rests the bat in the crook of the index finger of his top hand, meaning his damaged right thumb doesn't really come into play until the part of his swing when the bat crosses the heart of the plate, and even then only for an instant. An instant so small, in fact, that there's no time for him to react against the pain. This helps explain how the thumb injury failed to effect his hitting in the second half last season.

Derek Jeter went 2 for 2 with a walk. There were no extra base hits in the entire game and all three runs were scored in the first inning.

Jose Contreras looked better this time out, allowing just one run on two hits in three innings pitched while striking out an impressive six, using a split that really seemed to be dropping (from the highlights I saw, after the game Contreras said he didn't have a good feel for the pitch). Oh, he also walked three. Okay, not terrific. The four pitchers who followed El Titan de Bronze allowed no runs on four hits and two walks over six innings. Paul Quantrill pitched a perfect eighth. Tom Gordon got the save, allowing one hit and striking out one in the ninth. The big news is that Scott Proctor finally showed up, allowing just one hit and one walk in two innings while striking out five, including the side in the fifth. It will be interesting to see if he can build on that. Having taken a quick look at how the second base candidates have been hitting in my last post, I plan on taking a look at some of the other players competing for spots early next week. Oh, Sam Marsonek was the other Yankee pitcher this evening.

Best quote from the linked article above, Jorge Posada talking about Contreras's inconsistency on the mound:
"I'm still trying to figure out what it is. It's not concentration. Maybe it's focus."

Jon Lieber gets the start tomorrow against the Braves. Game time 1:05 on YES.

posted by Cliff at 1:02 AM

Friday, March 12, 2004

The First Cut Is The Deepest 

Minor league camp is now open and the Yankees have reassigned seven players who had been with the major league team: Eduardo Sierra and Sean Henn (A), Ferdin Tejada (AA), and John Mark-Sprowl, Jeff Deardorff, Omar Fuentes and David Shepard, we hardly knew ye.

In addition, the Yankees officially placed Steve Karsay on the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster for El Duque. Karsay, it is now reported, is not expected to pitch until at least June.

Meanwhile, Joe Torre has officially decided that Bernie Williams will not travel with the team Japan for the season opener. He has left open the possibility of Bernie joining the club on the road in Detroit on April 3 and expects that, at the latest, Bernie will rejoin the team for the home opener against the White Sox on April 8. There is a possibility that Bernie will be placed on the 15-day DL to allow Torre to bring a 25th man to Japan, but even so, it would be done retroactively to allow Bernie to play in the home opener. Bernie started swinging a bat yesterday, getting in 100 total swings off a tee and soft tosses, and should begin taking live batting practice this weekend.

Best quote from the linked article:

"I talked to Bernie and asked him if he wanted to play tonight," said manager Joe Torre. "He said, 'Yeah,' and I said, 'Well, you can't.'"

Meanwhile, the Yankees dropped another game last night, this one to the Tigers. It was on YES, but I missed it because I was busy hobnobbing with my fellow bloggers, friends and fans at Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible Pizza Feed. Surprisingly, very few of them look like they live in caves.

Here's last night's starting line-up:

Kenny Lofton - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Jason Giambi - 1B
Jorge Posada - C
Hideki Matsui - LF
Ruben Sierra - DH
Travis Lee - RF
Enrique Wilson - 2B

Yes! Jorge batting in front of Matsui for the second time in three days (they were on different split squad teams on Wednesday)! Could it be that Joe Torre has finally figured out that Jorge is a more valuable hitter? Or is it simply that with Sheffield out of the line-up he wants to split up lefties Giambi and Matsui with somebody. I fear it's the latter. What's worse, in part due to his sore shoulder and in part due to the natural ebb and flow of spring, Jorge has just a double in four at-bats hitting ahead of Matsui. It sounds meaningless, but I fear that St. Joe will notice those three outs (Jorge started the spring going 5 for 5 with two homers batting below Matsui) as evidence that Jorge can't hit in the middle of the lineup. Perhaps I'm over reacting (nahhhhh!).

Playing in right field, Travis Lee robbed Eric Munson of a home run. Enrique Wilson, meanwhile, went 3 for 3 with a double and a run scored. Much to my dismay, Enrique is the Yankees leading hitter this spring with a .529 average (9 for 17). Enrique is second only to Posada in slugging (.825) and total bases (14). A-Rod is the only other Yankee hitter to compare favorably to those two thus far this spring. Miguel Cairo is hitting .313 (5 for 16), all five of his hits have been singles. Homer Bush is hitting .182 (2 for 11) with a double. All three have one stolen base in one attempt.

Last night's subs included: Darren Bragg (CF), Miguel Cairo (SS), Mike Lamb (3B), Tony Clark (1B), Sal Fasano and Dioner Navarro (C), John Rodriguez (LF), Bubba Crosby and Mike Vento (RF), Homer Bush (2B). Lamb and Bush committed errors in the field.

Javier Vazquez, making his second start of the spring, was dominant, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out four in four innings pitched. Vazquez was only supposed to go three innings, but made it through four on fewer than his allotted number of pitches. Bret Prinz came in in the fifth, allowed three runs on four hits and took the loss. In three appearances Prinz has allowed five runs on six hits and a walk, striking out just one in three innings. Gabe White, recovering nicely from his dreadful showing on Tuesday, Jim Mann, Felix Heredia and Mariano Rivera held the Tigers scoreless on just one hit (off Heredia) while walking none in the game's final four frames. Mann and Rivera each struck out two men, White one, Heredia none.

On an unrelated note, those of you in NYC are advised to check out Chastity Cove, an improvised soap opera at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater. It's been running on Thursday nights at 9:30 for several months but has only two weeks left. I saw it last night and am still laughing. It's just $5, so be sure to catch it before it's gone!

posted by Cliff at 12:28 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Yanks Split Like a Cell, Beat Like A Drum 

The Yankees played the first of the three pairs of split-squad games on their spring schedule yesterday, losing both to the Blue Jays and Twins on the road.

Here are the defensive alignments (as there was no "starters game," I'm not sweating the split-squad batting orders) against the Blue Jays (the game Joe Torre managed):

1B: Travis Lee
2B: Homer Bush, Felix Escalona
SS: Miguel Cairo
3B: Andy Phillips
C: Joe Girardi, Omar Fuentes
RF: Bubba Crosby
CF: Kenny Lofton
LF: Tony Clark
DH: Jorge Posada

and the Twins:

1B: Jason Giambi, Jeff Deardorff
2B: Enrique Wilson, Erick Almonte
SS: Ferdin Tejada
3B: Mike Lamb
C: Sal Fasano, John-Mark Sprowl
RF: Mike Vento
CF: Darren Bragg
LF: Hideki Matsui, John Rodriguez
DH: Ruben Sierra

Bubba Crosby went 2 for 4 with a double and a triple and RBI and a run scored. Homer Bush went 2 for 3 with an RBI double, and a stolen base. Darren Bragg went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Both third basemen, Andy Phillips and Mike Lamb,went 2 for 4. Hideki Matsui hit his first homer of the spring, a 2-run shot. Enrique Wilson tripled and scored in three at-bats. Clark and Lee made errors in the Blue Jay game. Sprowl saw his first game action of the spring. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez did not play in either game (in case you missed that).

Kevin Brown had a mildly rocky start against the Jays (3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K). Alex Graman replaced him and did much worse (2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2BB, 1 K). Sean Henn and Sam Marsonek saw their first action combining to give up two unearned runs on no hits in three innings. Henn walked one and struckout three in two innings. Marsonek walked two and Ked one in the ninth.

Donovan Osbourne, who started against the Twins, looked good yet again allowing just one run on two hits and no walks in three innings while striking out two. Ramon Ramirez, who looked so good against the Blue Jays last weekend, got lit up in his three innings pitched, giving up four runs on four hits, including a two-run Jacque Jones homer, and two walks, striking out two. Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon combined to allow one baserunner (a hit off Gordon) while striking out one batter each in the final two innings.

The Yankees play the Tigers to night with Javier Vazquez facing Mike Maroth. Jon Leiber was scheduled to throw another BP session today and should start on Saturday against the Braves if everything goes well today.

posted by Cliff at 2:49 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

NL West Preview 

What follows is the first of my division previews. I'll be working "backwards" from the NL West to East and then the AL West to East. At the rate I'm going, I'm not convinced that I'm going to get all six divisions done before the Yankees open the season in Tokyo, but I'll do my best.

A quick note on these previews. There is no insider information here. What I'm doing is roster analysis. I'm taking a wild guess as to which players in camp with each team will make that team's 25-man roster and then offering my opinion of how those players can be best utilized by their club (thus the line-ups are "proposed," not "projected"). In the end, I try to estimate how each team will improve or decline as compaired to their 2003 Pythagorean Record.

Also, in the interest of getting them posted before Memorial Day, these previews are largely link-free. If you want a direct look at the stats for each player or team, please use the various links under "Reference" on the side bar. Teams are presented in order of their 2003 finish.

Now with that out of the way . . .

The BRB's 2004 NL West Preview

San Francisco Giants

2003 Record: 100-61 (.621), NL West Champs, lost ALDS to the Marlins 3-1
2003 Pythagorean Record: 93-67 (.581)

Manager: Felipe Alou
General Manager: Brian Sabean

Ballpark (2003 park factors): SBC Park (99/100)

Who’s replacing whom?

A.J. Pierzynski replaces Benito Santiago
Cody Ransom replaces Rich Aurilia on the roster, who is replaced by Neifi Perez at shortstop
Michael Tucker replaces Jose Cruz Jr.
Dustin Mohr replaces Andres Galarraga
Brett Tomko replaces Kurt Ainsworth and Sidney Ponson
Ryan Jensen, Dustin Hermanson or Kevin Correia replaces Damian Moss and Jesse Foppert
Robb Nen replaces Tim Worrell
A full season of Matt Herges replaces Joe Nathan

The BRB’s projected roster:

1B – J.T. Snow
2B – Ray Durham
SS – Neifi Perez
3B – Edgardo Alfonso
C – A.J. Pierzynski
RF – Michael Tucker
CF – Marquis Grissom
LF – Barry Bonds


R – Dustan Mohr (OF)
S – Jeffrey Hammonds (OF)
R – Pedro Feliz (3B)
R – Yorvit Torrealba (C)
R – Cody Ransom (IF)


R – Jason Schmidt
L – Kirk Rueter
R – Jerome Williams
R – Brett Tomko
R – Ryan Jensen, Kevin Correia or Dustin Hermanson


R – Robb Nen
R – Felix Rodriguez
L – Scott Eyre
R – Matt Herges
L – Chad Zerbe
R – Jim Brower
L – Jason Christiansen

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

S – Ray Durham (2B)
L – Michael Tucker (RF)
L – Barry Bonds (LF)
R – Edgardo Alfonso (3B)
L – A.J. Pierzynski (C)
L – J.T. Snow (1B)
R – Marquis Grissom (CF)
S – Neifi Perez (SS)

Marquis Grissom, who murdered lefties in 2003, lost more than 100 points of OBP when facing a right-handed pitcher, that’s why I have him batting eighth in this line-up. Against lefties, Tucker should sit and Grissom should bat second:

S – Ray Durham (2B)
R – Marquis Grissom (CF)
L – Barry Bonds (LF)
R – Edgardo Alfonso (3B)
L – A.J. Pierzynski (C)
L – J.T. Snow (1B)
R – Mohr or Hammonds (RF)
S – Neifi Perez (SS)

Alou should go with the hot hand between Mohr and Hammonds, both of whom are platoon players at best. Mohr is the better fielder and is five years younger than Hammonds. Hammonds switch-hits for show only and should be considered a right-handed batter.

As for the elephant in the room . . . okay, the other elephant in the room. Yes, Neifi Perez is going to start every day and Pedro Feliz is going to sit. One reason for this is that Feliz doesn’t play shortstop, neither of the Giants other infielders can move over to short, and backup shortstop Cody Ransom, who just turned 28, has a grand total of 36 major league games under his belt. What’s more, despite his 16 homers and 48 RBI in just 235 at-bats in 2003, Feliz’s OBP was just .278. That is, his OBP was actually lower than Neifi’s .285. Of course, Feliz’s power makes him a more valuable offensive player than Perez (it would be hard for him to be less valuable at the plate than Neifi), but not by a huge amount. Looking at GPA (which combines OBP and slugging while weighting OBP by an appropriate factor of 1.8) here are the numbers for each player in 2003:

Pedro Feliz: .228
Neifi Perez: .215

Yes, Feliz is more valuable than Perez, but he’d still be the worst offensive player in the Giant line-up by a good distance, and the conversation is moot since neither Feliz, Alfonzo, nor Durham plays shortstop.

By comparison, Rich Aurilia’s GPA in 2003 was .249. The gap between Aurilia and Perez is identical to that between the 2003 GPAs of departed Giants catcher Benito Santiago (.254) and his replacement A.J. Pierzynski (.278), which suggests that two of the three changes in the Giants starting line-up will offset one another.

That’s not to say that the Pierzynski trade wasn’t a good one. The 27-year-old Pierzynski is nearly twelve years younger than Santiago and should reach his peak in the upcoming seasons. His OPS+ has increased in each of his last five seasons. For a rapidly aging team (A.J. is the only projected Giants starter under 30), getting a young, offensively productive player at a key defensive position is huge. Pierzynski was the sixth or seventh most productive catcher in baseball last season by almost every measure and is significantly younger than every one of the men ahead of him on that list.

As for the third change in the Giants’ line-up, if executed properly, the platoon in right field should be able to come close to, but not equal, the production that the Giants received from Jose Cruz Jr. in 2003. Then again, Pac Bell (now SBC Park) had a neutral park factor last year, but an offensive park factor of just 91 in each of the previous three seasons. Should it return to its norm in 2004, Pierzynski and Mohr—who played in the fairly neutral Metrodome in 2003—and especially Michael Tucker—who played in the hitting-happy Kauffman Stadium—could all see a decline in their numbers as a result. What’s more, one must expect a slight decline in Barry Bonds’ numbers as he turns 40 this July.

Of course, a slight decline from a 231 OPS+ (the ninth highest single-season OPS+ ever) wouldn’t be enough to keep Bonds from once again being the most productive hitter in the majors. What’s more, a look at Edgardo Alfonzo’s numbers shows a Saberhagen-like see-saw pattern stretching back over the past four seasons. Fonzie’s yearly OPS+ since 2000: 150, 91, 130, 90. If the trend continues, the Giants should get a huge boost from Alfonzo, who, by the way, is Bonds’ protection in the line-up.

As for the pitching staff, the aces of the rotation and the bullpen, Jason Schmidt and Robb Nen, are both coming off surgery to their pitching arms (Schmidt’s elbow, Nen’s shoulder), which places some doubt around both of them. That said, Schmidt pitched with a partial tear in a tendon in his elbow for the better part of 2003 and had by far his best season in the majors, establishing himself as one of the National League’s elite starters. Although the Giants might bring him back slowly in April, a healthy Schmidt should strike fear in the hearts of NL batters. Nen, on the other hand, didn’t pitch at all last year. But rather than being an added bonus to last year’s bullpen, Nen will have to step up and fill the shoes of his 2003 stand-in and former set-up man Tim Worrell, who is now a Philadelphia Philly.

Brett Tomko has established himself as a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter over the past two seasons, but, despite pitching in similarly pitcher-friendly home parks, his homer totals and ERAs have been significantly higher than those of Ponson and Ainsworth, the two men, traded for eachother at the deadline in 2003, he is replacing. Damian Moss and Jesse Foppert, on the other hand, both walked more men than they struck out for the Giants in 2003, had ugly ERAs, and gave up homers in bunches. It’s unlikely that whomever wins the fifth spot in the rotation will do much worse.

In the bullpen, the Giants lost nearly 160 innings of a 2.90 ERA with high strikeout rates and decent walk rates when they traded Joe Nathan for Pierzynski and let Tim Worrell sign with Philadelphia. Assuming Robb Nen can make a complete comeback at age 34 (a big assumption) they’ll get half of those innings back at a equal or better rate of effectiveness. If Matt Herges, also 34, can repeat his 2003 performance, they’ll get another 40 or so of those innings back, equal to the time Herges spent in San Diego during the first two-thirds of last season. Those are two pretty big ifs.

All in all, Brian Sabean has done an admirable bit of damage control with this team. But, when it’s all totaled up, this team is not as good as the team that overachieved by seven games in 2003. Its weak offense is still overly dependent on Barry Bonds, who, like many of his thirty-something supporting cast, is yet another year older. What’s more, the offense that had been spread out between Aurilia and Santiago has now been concentrated in Pierzynski, creating a hole wherever Neifi Perez hits. The rotation is a question mark with Schmidt coming off elbow surgery, Rueter fighting a strikeout rate that has fallen in all but one year since 1997 and finally pushed his K total below his walk total last year, Jerome Williams pitching his first full season, Tomko unlikely to equal the production of his predecessors and the fifth spot completely up in the air. Lastly, the bullpen, though resilient, is thinner and extremely dependent on a strong comeback from Robb Nen.

Last year’s Giants won 100 games, but should have won just 93. This year, 88 sounds like a realistic total. The Giants haven’t finished worse than second in the West since 1996 and have won three division titles and one wild card in the last seven years. A lot of things will have to break right for them in 2004 for them to continue their dominance of the division.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2003 Record: 85-77 (.525)

2003 Pythagorean Record: 83-78 (.516)

Manager: Jim Tracy
General Manager: Paul DePodesta

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Dodger Stadium (93/94)

Who’s replacing whom?

Juan Encarnacion replaces Fred McGriff
Jeremy Giambi replaces Brian Jordan
Jose Hernandez replaces Ron Coomer
Bubba Trammell replaces Mike Kinkade, Daryle Ward and Rickey Henderson
Jeff Weaver replaces Kevin Brown
Rick White replaces Paul Quantrill

The BRB’s projected roster:

1B – Paul Lo Duca (R)
2B – Alex Cora (L)
SS – Jose Hernandez (R)
3B – Adrian Beltre (R)
C – Dave Ross (R)
RF – Shawn Green (L)
CF – Dave Roberts (L)
LF – Juan Encarnacion (R)


L – Robin Ventura (3B)
L – Jeremy Giambi (1B)
R – Bubba Trammell (OF)
R – Jolbert Cabrera (IF)
S – Cesar Izturis (IF)
S – Todd Hundley (C)


R – Hideo Nomo
L – Odalis Perez
L – Kazuhisa Ishii
R – Jeff Weaver
L – Wilson Alvarez


R – Eric Gagne
R – Guillermo Mota
L – Tom Martin
R – Paul Shuey
R – Rick White
L – Steve Coyler

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

L – Dave Roberts (CF)
R – Paul Lo Duca (1B)
L – Shawn Green (RF)
R – Dave Ross (C)
R – Juan Encarnacion (LF)
R – Jose Hernandez (SS)
R – Adrian Beltre (3B)
L – Alex Cora (2B)

There are a lot of questions about the Dodgers starting eight. First among them is: Will Shawn Green need to make a permanent move to first as a result of the torn labrum he played with last year and his offseason shoulder surgery? If so, Lo Duca will move behind the plate, Ross to the bench, and Jeremy Giambi should fill right field (or better yet left, with Encarnacion moving to right). If Ross is able to expand upon his stellar showing in 2003 (.293 GPA with 11 homers in 134 at-bats) he could be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. PECOTA predicts a .260 GPA for Ross in 2004, which, tellingly, would make him the Dodgers second most productive hitter behind Green. Giambi (career .277 GPA) should be able to make up for the loss of Ross’s production rather easily, but then Jeremy is coming off of a season all but lost to his own shoulder surgery and could be a defensive liability. That would bring Bubba Trammell, who had a lost season of his own in 2003, into the mix. Trammell/Giambi v. Ross is more of a break-even proposition. Add to that the fact that the soon-to-be 32-year-old Lo Duca has an established pattern of wearing down over a full season behind the plate, which reached an extreme in 2003, and a Green shift to first could cause more problems than it solves.

Assuming Green can handle the rigors of right field, Jim Tracy should give Jeremy Giambi a legitimate shot at the first base job. If he’s able to come all the way back (PECOTA puts him in line with his career numbers for 2004), Giambi will be a more valuable offensive player than Lo Duca. Throw in Lo Duca’s tendency to wear down, and he could be far more valuable picking up Giambi’s at-bats against lefties and spelling Ross behind the plate then starting every day. A Beltre/Ventura platoon at third is also tempting, but the splits don’t support it. On the other hand, Beltre hasn’t had an OBP over .310 since 2000, while Ventura hasn’t had one below .338 since 1990. Considering the 36-year-old Ventura’s Lo Duca-like tendency to crap out in the second half, having him share time with Beltre at third is a worthwhile consideration. But wait, that’s not all! What about a Cora/Cabrera platoon at second? Alex Cora broke his arm playing winter ball in January and may not break camp with the team. That gives Cabrera, who posted a .269 GPA in 347 at-bats last year (to Cora’s .214) a stage upon which to impress his manager. The curious bit here is that left-handed Cora’s bugaboo appears to be right-handed pitching. Righty Cabrera has a normal split, but it would actually serve the Dodgers best to use them in a reverse platoon, with Cabrera facing righties and Cora lefties, because Cora is that bad against righty pitching.

Got all that? So what we have above is actually the line-up against lefty pitching, which should see far less action than this:

The BRB’s proposed line-up against righties:

L – Dave Roberts (CF)
L – Jeremy Giambi (1B)
L – Shawn Green (RF)
R – Dave Ross (C)
L – Robin Ventura (3B)
R – Juan Encarnacion (LF)
R – Jose Hernandez (SS)
R – Jolbert Cabrera (2B)

Notice that I’ve moved Ventura (batting for Beltre) ahead of Encarnacion and Hernandez, who are OBP sinkholes, as per the Dodgers apparent requirement. I fully expect Tracy to bat Encarnacion, the Dodger’s “big offensive acquisition,” fourth until and unless Ross goes on a tear at some point this season, but find that inexcusable.

As for Jose Hernandez, he is the biggest question mark in this line-up. Although injury free last year, he was dreadful, despite the fact that he spent part of the season as a member of the Colorado Rockies, a team for which it would seem he was explicitly designed. However, the year before he put up a .280 GPA, which would put him right up there with Green in this line-up. Taking a closer look, 2002 was by far his best season. His career average is more in line with his 2001 season (.246 GPA). PECOTA predicts a mere .232 for Hernandez in 2004. But the most important piece of information about Hernandez is that even his awful 2003 season (.216) was no worse than equal to Cesar Izturis’s 2003 campaign (both had a horrendous OPS+ of 61), and better than what Izturis contributed in 2002. According to their Rate stats, Izturis is overrated defensively and Hernandez is at least his equal with the glove (the same can be said of Beltre and Ventura, by the way). Izturis may be a decade younger than Hernandez, but there’s nothing to indicate that he will ever be a useful everyday major leaguer, and no good reason not to give Hernandez his job on a team desperate for any offense they can get.

So where does all of this leave us? Replacing McGriff with Encarnacion takes 13 years off the age of your club, but is a break-even proposition in terms of production from last year to this. A healthy Jeremy Giambi is a more productive player than Brian Jordan. Of course, Giambi may have trouble working his way into the line-up. But then Jordan missed significant time in ’03 with injuries. Replacing Izturis with Hernandez can only help.

The Dodgers failed to improve their offense because the offseason sale of the team and lame-duck status of their now ex-general manager tied their hands. They still managed to make some minor improvements that could be helped by the astute deployment of resources by Jim Tracy. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Tracy to know if he’s got it in him to do what this team needs. And even if he does, the improvement will be modest at best. Remember, the Dodgers offense was not only the worst in the majors in 2003 (yes, worse than the Tigers), but was a nearly a half-run per game worse than the NL’s second-worst offense, that of the Mets. What I do know is that Tracy is under the watch of a new Beaneball-savvy GM and in the final year of his contract. Writing Izturis and Cora, not to mention Lo Duca and Beltran, into the lineup more times than is necessary could cost Tracy his job.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers ace starter and one of their trio of relief aces are both in Yankee pinstripes. Paul Quantrill, who is good for 80 excellent innings, has been replaced by Rick White, who’s good for 70 average-to-below-average ones. Kevin Brown, who along with Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior was one of the three best starters in the NL last year, is replaced by Jeff “Crybaby” Weaver. I actually expect good things from Weaver in L.A. He’s a groundball pitcher who was routinely let down by the Yankee defense last year. His DIPS (defense independent) ERA was 1.65 runs lower than his actual ERA in 2003, the fourth biggest difference in baseball (good reason to cry). Now he’s moving to an extreme pitchers park with a slow infield and good defense. He’s also a California native who should find peace back in his home state (that bit of malarkey is to offset the DIPS thing). That said, there’s virtually no chance of him making up for what the Dodgers lost in Brown.

I’m actually of the belief that the Dodgers starting pitching is very overrated. Kaz Ishii walks more than six men per nine innings. Hideo Nomo walks more than four. Weaver replaces Brown. Their fifth place starter is Wilson Alvarez, who at age 33 pitched better than he ever has in his career following a dreadful 2002 and not throwing a major league pitch in 2000 or 2001. What’s more, Alvarez’s amazing season consisted of just 12 starts. I’m very dubious about his ability to do it again over a full season. That leaves Odalis Perez, who made his stellar 2002 season, the only of his five in the bigs in which his ERA was above league average, look like a fluke in 2003. Even factoring injury-factory Darren Dreifort into the equation, Nomo is the only Dodger starter who can be reasonably expected to post an ERA that is meaningfully above league in 2004. Jeff Weaver being the second most likely.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, their park and their bullpen should help make up for that, but the pen is thinner than it was a year ago. What’s more, reclamation project Tom Martin and set-up sensation Guillermo Mota have to prove that their 2003 seasons were not flukes and rookie Steve Coyler has a total of 19.2 innings pitched in the majors.

Factor all of that in with their still-pathetic offense and the Dodgers will be lucky to win 80 games in 2004.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2003 Record: 84-78 (.519)

2003 Pythagorean Record: 84-77 (.522)

Manager: Bob Brenly
General Manager: Joe Garagiola Jr.

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Bank One Ballpark (111/109)

Who’s replacing whom?

Richie Sexson replaces Lyle Overbay and Mark Grace
Roberto Alomar replaces Junior Spivey
Greg Colbrunn replaces Craig Counsell
Brent Mayne replaces Rod Barajas and Chad Moeller
Felix Jose replaces David Dellucci and Raul Mondesi
Donnie Sadler replaces Tony Womack and Matt Williams
Casey Fossum replaces Miguel Batista
A healthy Randy Johnson replaces Curt Schilling
Shane Reynolds replaces an unhealthy Randy Johnson
Brandon Lyon replaces Mike Myers

The BRB’s projected roster:

1B – Richie Sexson
2B – Roberto Alomar
SS – Alex Cintron
3B – Shea Hillenbrand
C – Robby Hammock
RF – Danny Bautista
CF – Steve Finley
LF – Luis Gonzalez


R – Greg Colbrunn (1B)
S – Carlos Baerga (IF)
S – Matt Kata (IF)
L – Brent Mayne (C)
S – Felix Jose (OF)
R – Donnie Sadler (UT)


L – Randy Johnson
R – Brandon Webb
R – Elmer Dessens
L – Casey Fossum
R – Shane Reynolds or John Patterson


R – Matt Mantei
R – Oscar Villarreal
R – Joe Valverde
R – Mike Koplove
R – Brandon Lyon
L – Stephen Randolph or Shance Nance

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

L – Steve Finley (CF)
S – Alex Cintron (SS)
L – Luis Gonzalez (LF)
R – Richie Sexson (1B)
R – Shea Hillenbrand (3B)
R – Robby Hammock (C)
R – Danny Bautista (RF)
S – Roberto Alomar (2B)

Unlike the Giants or Dodgers, the Diamondbacks’ bench does not provide any intriguing platoon options and thus the above line-up should remain pretty much intact as long as their roster does the same. Of course, there is some potential for reordering in the 5-8 spots, or even a jump to the top by a rejuvenated Roberto Alomar (I fear that Brenly will start him off batting one or two . . . bad form), but the eight names on the line-up card should remain the same.

That said, there are two major changes here (first and second base) and two minor ones (catcher and right field). We’ll look at the minor ones first.

At catcher, Rookie Robby Hammock performed best out of the D’backs’ trio of late-20-something catchers in 2003. With the veteran presence of Brent Mayne backing him up the ‘Backs should see some improvement out of the catching position in ’04.

As for right field, despite a late-season boost from Raul Mondesi (118 OPS+ in 183 plate appearances), the ‘Backs got something significantly less than league average production out of that position in 2003 (Danny Bautista 80 OPS+ in 220 PA; David Dellucci, 77 OPS+ in 190 PA; Quinton McCracken, a dreadful 38 OPS+ in 226 PA—games played in right not broken out of these stats). If the soon-to-be 32-year-old Bautista can stay healthy and league average in 2004—which is what he was in 2000 and 2001 (in 2002 he missed most of the year due to a shoulder injury but posted a 118 OPS+ in 166 PA) and what PECOTA projects him to be in ’04—the D’backs could see a minor improvement in their production out of right field as well.

As for the two major changes, Roberto Alomar taking over for Junior Spivey is an interesting case. The 36-year-old Alomar is seven years Spivey’s senior and saw his production take a nose dive over the past two seasons following a near MVP performance in 2001. There are those who believe Alomar is simply washed up ahead of schedule. Others think that he became lazy and unfocused during the past two seasons and is due to turn things around in Arizona. PECOTA gives him a 47 percent chance of improving and predicts numbers that would at least wash with Spivey’s from 2003, which were below league average. Certainly, Robby will be an interesting one to watch, but one can’t really blame the Diamondbacks for making this move because Spivey helped them pick up . . .

Richie Sexson! Richie Sexson’s power numbers took a dip in 2002, but with that exception he’s been steadily improving as a hitter since 1999, increasing both is power and patience. In 2003, the 28-year-old Sexson posted a 136 OPS+ and a .308 GPA in Miller Park, which is very close to neutral despite it’s reputation as a hitter’s park (Sexson’s depressed power numbers in 2002 actually correspond very neatly to Miller Park’s 96 park factor that season). The BOB, on the other hand, is a real hitter’s haven. In 2003 the D’backs got a total of 13 Win Shares at first base from Lyle Overbay, Shea Hillenbrand and the corpse of Mark Grace (46 OPS+?!), who combined for 149 starts at the position. Sexson was worth 26 in Milwaukee all by himself. That means that, everything else being equal, the addition of Sexson is worth a good four wins to the Diamondbacks (3 Win Shares = 1 Win).

So is everything else equal? So far so good on the offensive side of things, the D’backs might have even made small improvements at catcher and in right field. What about the pitching?

Well, Curt Schilling is gone, but Randy Johnson is still here. Schilling missed some time in 2003 but was still dominating in 24 starts. Johnson, who was also bit by the injury bug, was far from his true self last year, posting a 4.26 ERA in 18 starts, good for his worst ERA+ since he walked 144 men as a Mariner in 1992. What this means is that if Johnson can regain his typical form, he’ll replace Schilling’s contribution and a much lesser pitcher can replace his contribution from last year. Which is to say that the Diamondback’s season more or less rests on Randy Johnson’s landing knee. The bad news is that Johnson turned 40 in December. The good news is that he’s Randy Johnson.

Elsewhere, the D’backs need 26-year-old New Jersey native Casey Fossum to fulfill some of his promise by filling the shoes of Miguel Batista. Fossum had shoulder surgery in the offseason and has durability issues. Doesn’t look good. The ‘Backs also have to hope that shoulda-been Rookie of the Year Brandon Webb can repeat or improve on his stellar 2003 campaign. As for who will replace those Randy Johnson innings, cast-off Shane Reynolds is the leading candidate. Baby ‘Backs John Patterson and Andrew Good, and knuckleballer Steve Sparks are his primary competition. All would need to improve in ’04 in order to replace Johnson’s contribution. That’s a lot of needing. A lot of things will have to go right for the Diamondbacks rotation not to counter some of the benefits of Richie Sexson.

Arizona’s bullpen was one of it’s primary assets in 2003. Baby ‘Backs Oscar Villarreal, Jose Valvarde and Mike Koplove all posted ERAs lower than restored closer Matt Mantei’s 2.62. The pressure will be on for them to repeat their performances. Otherwise, the only real change in the pen is the departure of lefty Mike Myers and the arrival of righty Brandon Lyon. Myers was well below league average in 2003, while the 24-year-old Lyon has was comfortably above for the second time in his three year major league career. Lefties Stephen Randolph, another returning baby ‘Back, and new arrival Shane Nance both pitched better than Myers in 2003. The combination of the three should mark an improvement over Myers that would allow for some recession toward average by one of the three righty baby ‘Backs. I have more confidence in the ability of the Arizona pen to repeat its performance than I do in the rotation, but things are still a bit iffy here.

If the Diamondbacks’ pitching holds up at least enough to break even with the minor improvement at catcher, the four extra wins provided by Sexson would put Arizona at 88 wins, exactly what I’ve predicted for the Giants. That sounds like a great race, but in the end, I don’t expect that everything to go quite so well for the D’Backs. Look for the ‘Backs to fall short of San Francisco by a couple of games.

Colorado Rockies

2003 Record: 74-88 (.457)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 77-84 (.478)

Manager: Clint Hurdle
General Manager: Dan O’Dowd

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Coors Field (112/111)

Who’s replacing whom?

Aaron Miles replaces Ron Belliard
Royce Clayton replaces Juan Uribe
Vinny Castilla replaces Chris Stynes
Jeromy Burnitz replaces Jay Payton
Todd Greene replaces Bobby Estalella
Clint Barmes replaces Jose Hernandez
Kit Pellow replaces Greg Norton
Damian Jackson, Denny Hocking or Benji Gil replaces Mark Bellhorn
Shawn Estes replaces Shawn Chacon in the rotation who replaces Jose Jimenez as closer
Joe Kennedy replaces Darren Oliver
Chin-hui Tsao replaces Aaron Cook and Scott Elarton
Turk Wendell replaces Justin Speier
Jeff Fassero replaces Todd Jones, Nelson Cruz and other assorted godawful relief outings

The BRB’s projected roster:

1B – Todd Helton
2B – Aaron Miles
SS – Royce Clayton
3B – Vinny Castilla
C – Charles Johnson
RF – Larry Walker
CF – Preston Wilson
LF – Jeromy Burnitz


R – Todd Greene (C)
L – Mark Sweeney (OF)
S – Rene Reyes (OF)
R – Clint Barmes (IF)
R – Kit Pellow (IF)
R/S – Damian Jackson, Denny Hocking or Benji Gil (IF)


R – Jason Jennings
L – Joe Kennedy
R – Denny Stark
L – Shawn Estes
R – Chin-hui Tsao


R – Shawn Chacon
L – Brian Fuentes
R – Steve Reed
L – Javier Lopez
R – Turk Wendell
L – Jeff Fassero

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

S – Aaron Miles
R – Charles Johnson
L – Todd Helton
L – Larry Walker
R – Preston Wilson
L – Jeromy Burnitz
R – Vinny Castilla
R – Royce Clayton

The real key here is what the Rockies get out of 37-year-old Larry Walker, who had surgery during the offseason to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and a torn ligament in his knee. Walker’s power dropped considerably in 2003 (he lost .126 points in slugging from 2002). He’s been working out all offseason and is reported to have arrived in camp with a new determination and a new respect for the work needed to combat the aging process, though that’s a pretty typical spring spin. If his power returns, the Rockies are automatically an improved ballclub. If not, they’ll likely repeat last season. If Walker’s power does not return he should bat second, if not lead-off.

Beyond the suspense over Walker, things are pretty unexciting here. The departed Uribe, new arrival Clayton, and rookie Barmes (using his PECOTA projection) are all a no-hit wash at short. Rookie Aaron Miles projects to be a return to league average at second from the dreadful production of Belliard. Assuming his awful 2002 campaign was a fluke, 36-year-old Castilla should be a similar improvement over Stynes at third, but don’t expect a return to his Coors Field-assisted late-‘90s glory. If Jeromy Burnitz benefits from being saved from pitchers parks, he should just about equal Jay Payton’s production in Colorado. If he’s lost for good, he’ll be a considerable step down (Burnitz’s former Milwaukee teammate Jose Hernandez is the precautionary tale here). The bench, which may include utility man Hocking in place of corner infielder Pellow, is pretty much a wash as well.

As for the pitching staff, Chacon should close better than Jimenez did last year, though neither Kennedy nor Estes will be able to sufficiently replace Chacon or even Darren Oliver in the rotation. Jason Jennings is pretty effective for a Rockies starter, but his stats are all trending in the wrong direction, as are Denny Starks, which were never as good as Jennings’ to begin with. Stark has not struck out more batters than he’s walked in either of his seasons as a starter in Colorado. Taiwanese rookie Chin-hui Tsao is highly regarded, but was less than impressive in eight starts in 2003 and is thus a huge wild card. In the pen I’m dubious about Turk Wendell’s ability to replacing Justin Speier, as Wendell’s ERA ballooned in the latter half of last season, and he’s shown a lack of durability coming off his 2002 elbow surgery. Elsewhere, it’s a case of bad pitching replacing bad pitching. For example, Jeff Fassaro’s got it easy as he’s replacing pitchers with ERAs above 7.00. I’d say things could get ugly here, but they already were.

If Walker bounces back and the pitching can at least repeat it’s league-worst performance from last year, the Rockies can win 80+. If one happens but not the other, which is far more likely, they’ll repeat their 2003 record. If neither happens, which is just as likely, the Broncos should get some amazing pre-season ratings.

San Diego Padres

2003 Record: 64-98 (.395)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 64-97 (.397)

Manager: Bruce Bochy
General Manager: Kevin Towers

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Petco Park (unknown)

Who’s replacing whom?

Ramon Hernandez replaces Gary Bennett
Khalil Greene replaces Lou Merloni on the roster and may replace Ramon Vazquez at shortstop
Jay Payton replaces Mark Kotsay
Terrence Long replaces Gary Matthews Jr.
Jeff Cirillo replaces Dave Hansen
Tom Wilson replaces Miguel Ojeda
David Wells replaces Oliver Perez
Ismael Valdez replaces Kevin Jarvis
Trevor Hoffman replaces Luther Hackman
Sterling Hitchcock replaces Mike Matthews
Antonio Osuna replaces Matt Herges and Brandon Villafuerte
Eddie Opressa replaces Jaret Wright

The BRB’s projected roster:

1B – Phil Nevin
2B – Mark Loretta
SS – Khalil Greene
3B – Sean Burroughs
C – Ramon Hernandez
RF – Brian Giles
CF – Jay Payton
LF – Ryan Klesko


R – Xavier Nady (OF)
R – Brian Buchanan (OF)
L – Terrence Long (OF)
L – Ramon Vazquez (IF)
R – Jeff Cirillo (IF)
R – Tom Wilson (C)


L – David Wells
R – Adam Eaton
R – Jake Peavy
R – Brian Lawrence
R – Ismael Valdez or Ben Howard


R – Trevor Hoffman
R – Rod Beck
R – Antonio Osuna
L – Sterling Hitchcock
L – Eddie Opressa
R – Jay Witasick, Scott Linebrink or Akinori Otsuka

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

R – Mark Loretta (2B)
L – Sean Burroughs (3B)
L – Brian Giles (RF)
L – Ryan Klesko (LF)
R – Phil Nevin (1B)
R – Jay Payton (CF)
R – Ramon Hernandez (C)
R – Khalil Greene (SS)

The Padres are by far the most interesting team in the National League West. A year after finishing dead last in the league and 36.5 games out of first in the West, they’ve become the popular sleeper pick. Indeed, I had planned to pick them as my NL West Champs, just to stir things up, before my thunder was stolen elsewhere.

On top of their new park and snazzy new uniforms, the Padres of 2004 will have a lot of added offense, none of which they acquired during the offseason. In fact, their biggest offseason acquisition actually took place in late August of last season. That’s when the acquired Brian Giles, one of the game’s top hitters. Giles played less than 30 games for the Padres last year, less than a fifth of his typical season total. This year they’ll have him for a full-season. Giles earned 25 win shares in 2003 despite missing a month due to injury. In 2002 he had a monster season and earned 32 win shares. Rondell White earned 11 win shares for the Padres in 2003. If we credit Giles with a modest 27 win shares in a typical season and take away the 6 he earned in a Padre uniform last year, he still edges White by a solid 10 win shares. That’s nearly the equivalent to the 12 additional win shares that Richie Sexson brings to the Diamondbacks, and is good for three wins with value to spare. And we’ve just started.

Phil Nevin played in just 59 games for the Pads last year because of a separated shoulder that kept him out of the first half of the season. However, he came back strong earned 9 win shares in those 59 games. Xavier Nady, who was his primary replacement in the line-up, earned a total of 7 win shares on the season, some of which came after Nevin’s return. Assuming Nevin can repeat his level of production over a full season he should be worth a good 20 win shares, subtract his 9 from last year and, say, 5 of Nady’s and you’ve got a net gain of 6 win shares, or two more wins.

Ryan Klesko had an off year in 2003 that was ended prematurely because of a bone growth in his shoulder, which was surgically repaired last fall. As a result he only racked up 13 win shares in 2003 where he had piled up 31 the year before. Let’s be conservative and say Klesko will bounce back to 25 win shares in 2004, and subtract his 13 plus a few for his replacement and a generous three for his replacements (which include the 2 we took away from Xavier Nady in the last paragraph) and we’re looking at a gain of nine win shares, or three wins.

So that’s eight additional wins from three players who were in a Padre uniform last August.

Among the new additions, Payton should replicate Kotsay’s production in center and rookie Khalil Greene should replace that of Ramon Vazquez at shortstop or be replaced by the man himself. The bench should break even despite the additions of offensive anti-matter Jeff Cirillo and Terrence Long. Meanwhile, the Padres stand to pick up yet another win or two from their upgrade at catcher. Ramon Hernandez had a break-out season in 2003, racking up 19 win shares. He was worth 12 win shares in 2002. Let’s credit him with 15 for 2004. He’s replacing a combo of Gary Bennett and Miguel Ojeda that was worth a grand total of 10 win shares. There are your two extra wins. We’ve got the Padres up ten wins from 2003 and haven’t even hit the pitching staff yet.

The Pads have two changes in their rotation, replacing Oliver Perez and Kevin Jarvis (combined 1 win share in 2003)—as well as some random awful outings by others—with David Wells and either Ismael Valdez or 25-year-old Ben Howard. Valdez, despite a terrible season in Texas last year managed to earn three win shares. I would expect some combination of him and Howard to earn at least that many in 2004. Wells, meanwhile, earned 15 and 14 win shares in 2002 and 2003 respectively. There are of course doubts about the soon-to-be 41-year-old’s ability to return coming off offseason back surgery, but following his last back operation at age 38 he pitched 206 innings going 19-7 for the Yankees with a ERA+ of 117. According to his infamous biography, Wells’ back feels best coming off surgery and slowly deteriorates from there. I expect another 15 win share season out of him. That’s a gain of some 18 win shares in the rotation, or six more wins. And that’s not even counting a potential break out season from 26-year-old Adam Eaton or soon-to-be 23-year-old Jake Peavy, which would only be slightly offset by the continued decline of Brian Lawrence.

But wait, there’s more! Remember Trevor Hoffman? The Padres relief ace, who was good for 8 win shares in 2002, pitched in just nine games last year due to shoulder surgery. The good news is those nine games came at the end of the season and saw Hoffman working at the top of his game. He’s replacing Luther Hackman’s lone win share and those nine games of his own, that’s good for at least two more wins. Elsewhere, the bullpen pretty much breaks even, although there’s the potential for the gain of another win with Antonio Osuna. Osuna was valuable in 2003, but occasionally injured and unfairly underused by Joe Torre (as is his way). With similar rate stats in 2002, Osuna earned 8 win shares for the White Sox. The men Osuna is replacing—Matt Herges, who had a great 2003 but was traded to the Giants during the season, and Brandon Villafuerte—combined to give the Padres 4 win shares in 2003.

The 2004 Padres will be playing in a brand new stadium and will feature one of the game’s best hitters, one of it’s most colorful and effective starting pitchers, two star players looking to improve on disappointing seasons, a returning institution in the bullpen, and a handful of home grown talent. On top of all of that, they can reasonably be expected to improve by 19 wins over last season. Nineteen wins!. That pushes them past .500 to 83 wins and places them hot on the heels of the Diamondbacks for second place in the West. Some variation from the two teams’ Pythagorean records and/or an under whelming performance by the Diamondback pitchers and the Padres could very easily pass three teams in the standings this year. What a great time to be a Padres fan!


While the Giants played way over their heads in the process of winning 100 games last year, the Padres were wrecked by injuries in 2003 and could be the most improved team of 2004. No one else in the division has made a significant improvement, and the Rockies will hit too much to be awful. As a result, the division should tighten up considerably. That said, it looks like the Giants will make their third straight trip to the postseason. Here’s an estimate of how I expect the NL West to look come October:

San Francisco Giants88-74.543-
Arizona Diamondbacks86-76.5312
San Diego Padres83-79.5125
Los Angeles Dodgers78-84.48110
Colorado Rockies76-86.46912

posted by Cliff at 1:51 PM

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


The Yanks took another beating today. This one from the Braves.

10 -14 - 0 Braves
6 - 10 - 0 Yankees

Okay, not quite as bad as yesterday, but check out Gabe White's line:

1 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1K, 3 HR

Ouch. Seven straight batters reached to begin the inning against White: Marcus Giles solo homer, Chipper Jones walk, lefty J.D. Drew 2-run homer, lefty Adam LaRoche and Julio Franco singles, lefty and strike-out machine Russell Branyan walk, Johnny Estrada grand slam. White then settled down allowing just one more hit before retiring the side.

In three previous innings pitched this spring, White allowed two runs (both earned) on two hits (one home run), no walks, a hit-by-pitch and 2 Ks. Fellow lefties Felix Heredia and Alex Graman haven't impressed either. Heredia: 4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 2 K. Graman: 2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, no walks, Ks or homers. Meanwhile, the last lefty in camp, reclamation project Donovan Osborne allowed just one hit and a hit-by-pitch in 2.1 IP, striking out two and walking none.

Heredia improved his record some today, pitching a perfect eighth with one strikeout. Jim Mann doubled Heredia's feat in the ninth. Mike Mussina, back from bereavement leave, started and gave up one run on a J.D. Drew RBI triple, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out three in two innings. Mariano Rivera gave up two hits and a walk while striking out one in two scoreless frames.

The one other Yankee pitcher was Scott Proctor who got roughed up once again, striking out four in two innings, but allowing two runs on four hits and a walk. Proctor's numbers on the spring are now 4.2 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 6 K.

The Yankee starting line-up was:

Bubba Crosby - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Jason Giambi - 1B
Jorge Posada - DH
Hideki Matsui - LF
Travis Lee - RF
Sal Fasano - C
Enrique Wilson - 2B

Hallelujah! Jorge bats ahead of Hideki! Of course, this is hardly a representative line-up, but we'll take what we can get. Jorge didn't play yesterday and DHed today because he's nursing a sore throwing shoulder, which according to Posada and Torre, is a regular spring training occurrence for the Yankee backstop. Jorgy went 1 for 3 today with a double. Backup backstop John Flaherty is recovering from a dislocated left thumb. He swung a bat today and could hit off a tee "shortly."

Shawn Bernard of The Greatest Game must be happy to see that Bubba Crosby not only got the start in center, but played the entire game. Bubba went 1 for 5 with a run scored. Travis Lee also played the entire game in right field. He went hitless in four at-bats with two Ks.

Subs included: Miguel Cairo (SS), Mike Lamb (3B), Tony Clark (1B), Andy Phillips (DH), Mike Vento (LF), Joe Girardi and Omar Fuentes (C), Homer Bush (2B).

Omar Fuentes, seeing his first action of the spring, struck out in his only at-bat.

Alex Rodriguez was the Yankees' hitting star today, smacking the first pitch he saw for a two-run homer. The man he drove in was Derek Jeter, that should be a familiar sight this season. Alex went 2 for 3 with 2 RBI and two runs scored today and is hitting .461 with a homer, a triple and five runs scored on the spring. He had some good things to say about his work with new hitting coach Don Mattingly after the game. A-Rod's homer and RBIs today were his first as a Yankee. Back in the field, however, A-Rod let a pop-up drop in the infield after calling for the ball.

In other news: Jon Lieber threw 33 pitches yesterday during a six-minute BP session. He'll throw BP again on Thursday and could start one of the games this weekend. Also, the Yankees/Red Sox game on Sunday, which was not only sold out, but saw fans obtaining tickets at drastically inflated prices via scalpers and E-Bay, got a higher rating on YES than competing NBA and NASCAR events on network TV in New York and was the top rated broadcast Sunday afternoon in Boston. An early spring training game with a pitching match-up of Contreras vs. Arroyo . . . what about the Yankees is bad for baseball exactly?

posted by Cliff at 6:37 PM

Thumbs Up for Gary 

Most . . . obvious . . . headline . . . ever.

But good news! Well, sort of. Gary Sheffield does have a torn ligament in his right thumb, but it won't require surgery and he will return to the lineup during spring training. Surgery remains an option, but will only become a reality if Sheffield is clearly unable to perform. After initially tearing the ligament last July 10, Sheff missed just one game and hit .327 with 17 homers and 62 RBI in his remaining 69 games.

This is a similar injury to the one Derek Jeter suffered in last year's ALCS. Jeter played through pain in the remainder of the postseason, hitting .346 in the World Series against the Marlins, and did not have surgery on the thumb this offseason. Jeter took "numbing medication" (sez ESPN) during the playoffs. The Tampa Time Bomb will not be take any pain-killing injections.

posted by Cliff at 11:59 AM

Word Gets Around 

I just wanted to welcome all of those who are visiting this blog from the Cincinnati Enquirer, which ran Peter Abraham's blogger story today (and actually provided active links!). My apologies to those who thought I wrote about the Reds. I do hope to do an NL Central preview within the next week, so please check back for that.

Speaking of which, my 2004 previews should start with the NL West some time this week.

posted by Cliff at 9:48 AM

Monday, March 08, 2004

Not so much 

The Yanks got it handed to 'em by a splitsquad Twins team today in Tampa:

13 - 15 - 1 Twins
2 - 11 - 2 Yanks

Yankee starting line-up:

Kenny Lofton - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Jason Giambi - 1B
Ruben Sierra - DH
Hideki Matsui - LF
Joe Girardi - C
Darren Bragg - RF
Enrique Wilson - 2B

So, Ruben Sierra can hit ahead of Matsui, but not Jorge? Whatever.

Subs: John Rodriguez (CF), Ferdin Tejada (SS), Mike Lamb (3B), Travis Lee (1B), Jeff Deardorff (DH), Tony Clark (LF), Steve Torrealba (C), Homer Bush (RF), Andy Phillips (2B).

Some interesting stuff there. Tony Clark in left. Homer Bush in right. Andy Phillips finishing a second straight game at second. Ferdin Tejada's ankle must be fine. And a first sighting of Steve Torrealba for all you Torrealbla brothers fans out there.

Torrealba, Wilson and Lee hit doubles. Enrique was the only Yankee with a multi hit game going 2-for-2 with a run scored (blast!).

Matsui and Tejada made errors.

Pitchers: Jorge DePaula, David Shepard, Bret Brinz, Eduardo Sierra, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon.

First action for Shepard and Sierra. Pitchers Sean Henn and Sam Marsonek and catchers Jon-Mark Sprowl and Omar Fuentes are now the only players in camp with the Yankees who have not seen action in any of the team's intersquad games.

Torre is doing a good job of giving Quantrill work, as he's one of those guys who has to pitch regularly to stay effective. In his third outing of the spring he pitched two perfect innings. Gordon pitched a Mariano-style ninth (perfect with 2 Ks). The rest of 'em got rocked, however. DePaula took his second loss giving up two runs on five hits (no walks) while striking out three in three innings. Prinz continued the bad streak for the Yankees AAA bullpen fireballers (Scott Proctor, we hardly knew ye) giving up two runs on two hits and a walk and no Ks in one frame. But it was Sierra and Shepard who got rocked the hardest. Sierra gave up five runs on three hits and two walks in a single inning. But then he also struck out two and only two of his runs were earned. Shepard, meanwhile, gave up four runs, three earned, on five hits (no Ks, no walks) in his lone inning of work.

The only Twin regulars in the game were Doug Mienkiewicz and Matt LeCroy. The Twins hitting stars were Terry Tiffee (4 for 5, 2 RBI, 4 runs), Michael Restovich (2 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 runs), Josh Bartlett (2 for 5, 2 RBI), Michael Ryan (1 for 3 with two walks and three runs scored), Rob Bowen (1 for 4, 3 RBI), Nick Punto (1 for 4, a walk, 1 RBI, 2 runs scored), and Lew Ford (2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 run scored). Amazingly, there were no home runs in the game.

Fittingly, the Twins' other split squad--featuring Shannon Stewart, Cory Koskie, Jacque Jones, Christian Guzman, Luis Rivas and big-ticket prospect (no offense to Restovich or Ford) Justin Morneau--lost to the Red Sox 9-4. Their big hitting star was DH Jose Offerman.

The Yankees face the Braves tomorrow and then go split squad themselves on Wednesday against the Twins and Blue Jays. The three games following that will be on YES: night games Thursday and Friday against the Tigers and Astros and a day game on Saturday against the Braves. I can't guarantee I'm going to catch any of those, but the best bet is Friday's.

In other news, the Peter Abraham's Journal News story about baseball bloggers featuring yours truly and an all-star cast of fellow New York-themed basebloggers has been picked up by USA Today (online version only). Cool.

posted by Cliff at 8:55 PM

Gary's Thumb 

Okay, did anyone see this happen? I watched all of Saturday's game and sure don't recall seeing Sheffield jam his thumb, but apparently he did and now he's out indefinitely and is seeing a hand expert today after an MRI yesterday.

Turns out the injury came on Orlando Hudson's triple, the ball Sheffield lost in the sun and slipped when retrieving. I guess he jammed the thumb on the ground when he slipped. Sheff didn't come out of the game right away, but looking at the box score, he did come out earlier than the other Yankee starters, and he didn't make the trip to Ft. Myers yesterday.

Sheffield is downplaying the injury, claiming its an aggravation of an injury suffered on a head-first slide into third last July, and that it's little more than a jammed finger. Still, the MRI and the hand expert are scary signs. Brian Cashman has said he's "officially worried." If Sheff needs surgery he will miss the first couple of months of the season. Hopefully it's closer to what Sheffield describes.

In a related story, Jim Thome should be able to return from his broken middle finger in about three weeks. That means he should break camp with the Phillies, which is good news for the Phillies, and baseball fans in general.

In other news, the Yankees have optioned Danny Borrell and Chien-Ming Wang to Columbus and Trenton respectively. Borrell, who missed the bulk of last season after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching shoulder, didn't see any action in the Yankees four games thus far this spring. Wang pitched to one batter yesterday, leaving the game with a sprained ankle and a cut on his knee after a collision at first on the resulting play.

Sheff update:


General manager Brian Cashman said that neither Sunday's MRI nor Monday's X-ray showed a break in the thumb, though he declined to say what the tests did show. When asked if it was ligament damage, Cashman told reporters, "You guys can do the process of elimination."

posted by Cliff at 3:09 PM

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Three In A Row 

Yanks beat the Red Sox today to win their third game in a row and go 3-1 on the spring. Like yesterday's game, today's was a sellout. Unlike yesterday's today's game was at the Red Sox complex in Ft. Myers and saw tickets, which had a maximum face price of $21, selling for $250 a pop on E-Bay.

Final line:

11 - 13 - 1 Yankees
7 - 13 - 0 Red Sox

Yankees starting line-up:

Kenny Lofton - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Gonzalez - 3B
Ruben Sierra - DH
Jorge Posada - C
Travis Lee - LF
Tony Clark - 1B
Miguel Cairo - 2B
Mike Vento - RF

Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui did not make the trip.

Subs included: Bubba Crosby (CF), Felix Escalona (SS), Erick Almonte (3B), Joe Girardi and Dioner Navarro (C), John Rodriguez (LF), Jeff Deardorff (1B), Andy Phillips (2B).

Sierra and Vento played the entire game. Enrique Wilson was the only position player who made the trip and did not play (much to my delight). Girardi got the call over John Flaherty because Flaherty has a minor thumb injury.

Jose Contreras started. Word from Mel Stottlemyre is that the slight tightness in Contreras's back was something he would have pitched through in the regular season and nothing to worry about. Without that as an excuse (and Contreras showed no indications that his back was stiff), Contreras was quite ineffective. Against a Boston line-up that was without Nomar Garciapparra (day-to-day Achilles injury), Trot Nixon, David Ortiz, or Johnny Damon, he allowed four runs on five hits in his two innings pitched.

After Gabe Kapler reached on a throwing error by Derek Jeter to lead off the game and stole second without a throw by Posada, Contreras' first inning went: RBI single, fielder's choice on a great play behind second by Miguel Cairo, single, strikeout of Mark Bellhorn on a great splitter, two-RBI double, deep fly-out to center. In the second inning he gave up a one-out home run to Pokey Reese of all people. His primary problem was leaving his pitches up in the zone where the Boston batters could get good wood on them. His secondary problem was keeping runners close. Kapler stole two bases of him in two innings, one uncontested, the other comfortably ahead of a high throw by Jorge.

Following Contreras on the mound were Mariano Rivera, Chien-Ming Wang, Gabe White, Jim Mann, Felix Heredia, and Scott Proctor.

It was good to see River in early where he could face some of the Boston starters. He struck out two in a perfect inning and earned the win. Wang pitched to just one batter, leaving the game with a sprained ankle and a cut on his knee after colliding with Kevin Millar at first on Millar's infield single. Mann gave up two runs on three hits and a walk, including a home run by Cesar Crespo, the second of the day by a Boston shortstop in Nomar's absence. Proctor showed off his blazing fastball, striking out two, but also allowed a run on two hits in his one inning of work. The one fielding out he recorded was also hit hard.

Another thing I noticed watching, not just today's game, but yesterday's as well, is that Kenny Lofton needs to work on hitting the ball on the ground. In his first two at-bats he hit two weak flies for outs. In his third he nearly beat out what looked like an easy groundout. It reminded me of Whitey Herzog's anecdote about a young Willie Wilson swinging for the fences that leads off his book You're Missing A Great Game:

I still don't understand what in the hell told him he had home-run pop in his bat . . . the fly balls he hit just gave the outfielders a long way to run before the catch . . . He might get his 12 homers, but the rest of the time he was going to make himself and out, kill our rallies, and put the Kansas City fans in a coma.

What Willie did have, though, was speed . . .With the wheels he had, if Willie'd just learn to . . . beat the ball into the ground, and take off running, he'd be on base more often than Babe Ruth ate hot dogs.

Note that not understanding this simple principle is one reason that Chuck Knoblauch is currently out of baseball.

Some interesting fielding notes today. Alex Rodriguez still looks very uncomfortable at third, but Travis Lee looked very comfortable in left, even making a nice shoe-top catch late in the game. Not much of an arm on Lee, but then there's not much of an arm on Lofton, Williams or Matsui either. Though I was reminded yesterday of how quickly Matsui gets the ball back into the infield.

One man who did look comfortable at third was Erick Almonte, who in addition to a few routine plays and showing off a strong arm, made a great diving stop of a ball scorched up the line, throwing the runner out on a bounce throw from his knees. Of course, Almonte also went 0-for-3 and forgot to pack his uniform. He had to borrow a jersey from one of the coaches. Another strong Almonte throw was beautifully scooped by Tony Clark, who also looked quite good defensively first base.

Miguel Cairo also impressed having finally gotten the start at second. His best play came in the first inning with a man on first on a ball hit well up the middle (it may have even hit the bag). Cairo gloved the ball on the run and flipped behind his back to Jeter to get the force at second. Cairo added three hits, an RBI, a stolen base and a run scored in four ABs. Cairo's first hit was the only Yankee safety recorded in three innings against Sox starter Bronson Arroyo (who was indeed named after the star of Death Wish). Hopefully he's now earned Joe Torre's attention in the competition for the starting job at second.

As for Jeter's error, it came on a bouncing ball up the middle. The high bounces gave Jeter time to field the ball behind the bag, but he still had to do it on the run and was unable to get his feet under him to make a solid throw to first. His throw was a good seven feet up the line (because a fully-extended Tony Clark couldn't save it).

Meanwhile, Pokey Reese should give Boston opponents fits this year. The man is a wizard out there.

On offense, the Yankees batted around in the fourth and sixth innings, handing Jason Shiell the loss and roughing up former Yank Ed Yarnall something good as well.

The big hitting star of the day was Tony Clark, who blasted home runs to right from both sides of the plate, racking up five RBI on those two swings, and adding in a right-handed single and a hit-by-pitch. Derek Jeter smacked a two-run dinger of his own and Ruben Sierra absolutely crushed one from the right side of the plate.

In other news: The Yankees have finally resigned El Duque. His contract is for one year with $500,000 guaranteed pending a Monday physical. Hernandez will likely not be ready to contribute to the major league team until May or June because of his continued rehablitation from rotater cuff surgery last May. Note that the linked ESPN article says that El Duque is "believed to be 38," despite the fact that his ESPN player page still has his official age of 34.

posted by Cliff at 6:47 PM

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