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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Saturday, March 06, 2004

From Baseball to Golf...

Espn.com is reporting that Ken Venturi will release a book next month in which he accuses Arnold Palmer of cheating in the 1958 Masters. This is not fresh news and the situation is well known and documented. The fact of the matter is that Ken Venturi, who finished third behind Palmer by the two strokes gained through creative use of the rules, is still experiencing sour grapes 45 years later. The fact of the matter is that Palmer managed to get away with it and the Masters officials that year bungled the situation. These things happen and unless NCAA basketball is running the show then nothing is going to be done about it years down the line. It is nice to see that Venturi has managed to find a way to try to profit from the bitterness that has so obviously plagued him since then. Ken, get over it.

...And Back to Baseball

Spring training has officially gotten underway and I was able to watch most of the first four games that ESPN televised. It's good to finally see some "real" baseball being played after a particularly intense offseason. The reason I say "real" is that it tends to be that way for the first 2-3 innings but degenerates into batter #78 vs. pitcher #83 later in the game. Neither will play in the majors this year and some will be lucky to see any action next season. Some information and questions can be drawn from these games thought because from a fantasy baseball perspective they are must-see TV.

Hideo Nomo was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers on Tuesday. They have no offense to speak of but their starters can always be of some value on a fantasy team. Nomo underwent off-season surgery and will be slowly worked back to full strength. His fastball topped out in the mid-80s and he was pounded for a bunch of runs but he looked "rusty" more than he looked like he was "recovering." I think he's a safe late pick, especially because he resides in pitcher heaven.

Sample size aside, I saw one at-bat of Nomar's and it looked like he plans on resuming from where he had left off in the playoffs last year.

On the flip-side, Derek Lowe looked great. Last spring he had a cancer scare that prevented him from arriving in camp in the type of shape that he wanted to be in and he attributed that to his poor performance out of the gate. This season he has no distractions and less pressure because of the introduction of Curt Schilling to the rotation. Added to that is the defensive upgrade at second base from Todd Walker to Pokey Reese. Lowe should have a much better season. I for one am predicting about 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50 range.

Odds and Ends

1. Honestly, I did not realize Sandy Koufax was still alive. I also knew that he had split his ties with the Dodgers last spring after the New York Post essentially accused him of being gay. The company that owned the New York Post also owned the Dodgers until the McCourt sale in January. All that aside, I don't understand why I though Koufax was dead at the same time that he was still in the news. Strange.

2. The Red Sox - Yankees game this Sunday is NOT a must-see event as Sean McAdam of Espn.com would suggest. The media would love for the game to mean something but it will not. I will be sure to avoid the news Sunday night when all they can talk about is which team made the "first strike." If the first strike is defeating a bunch of non-roster invitees then I can't wait to see how much press the "second strike" receives. Seriously now, what will the headline be Monday? "Outfielder #98 (NOBODY knows his name) for the Red Sox commits three errors en route to big inning and loss." Tide-turning.

3. Josh Beckett took a paycut after his World Series performance last season. I don't know the terms or the circumstances but it sounds like he got a raw deal.

4. Espn.com reports that, "New York Mets outfielders Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer were involved in a dispute with two local residents outside a restaurant near the team's spring training complex." Yes, this is the same Karim Garcia who beat a Boston bullpen worker senseless in last season's playoffs. Looks like somebody has a case of roid-rage.

5. While on the topic of steroids, I cannot avoid talking about Gene Orza. Does anyone else think that the MLBPA has grown far too strong? The MLBPA will likely come under fire from fans, the commissioner, and if this situation is heading where I think it might be then the federal government might have something to say. Gene Orza is supposed to be protecting the players and their rights but instead he is helping to bring negative press and is not addressing the concerns of "clean" baseball players. This could be fun to watch when it blows up in the MLBPA's face.


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Posted by Jon on Friday, March 05, 2004

Accusations on Steroids

We’ve all mentioned it before: we’re unwilling to feed the frenzy that has been the suspicions of steroid use in baseball. But with the latest BALCO accusations now the leading story across baseball, it's about time I elaborated on my thoughts about steroids.

While I contend that regular and random tests should be instituted with severe penalties for steroid use, there is no such policy currently in place. Without a testing system with more authority over the players, we are forced to continue to speculate as to who we as fans believe are taking performance-enhancing supplements and steroids. Although it’s all we can do, we must refrain from joining the witch hunt. As fans, we do not actually know whether players use steroids.

Players, too, do not necessarily know whether their teammates use steroids, although ex-Bonds teammate Andy Van Slyke (Andy makes headlines only weeks after he was mentioned in one of my latest posts at Talking Baseball. How’d I know it’d happen? I must be on steroids) tries to will it otherwise. Andy Van Slyke, who said in an interview with FOXSports.com’s Jim Ballou that “without equivocation [Barry Bonds has] taken them. I can say that with utmost certainty.” But he also adds that “I never saw him put it into his body,” and then says, “You decide. I think he did.” Van Slyke thinks Bonds used steroids. He does not know Bonds used steroids.

The circumstantial evidence against Bonds and other players appears damning, but no matter how much of it you pile on, it’s all circumstantial. As of yet, there is no hard proof that Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Benito Santiago, Marvin Bernard, or Randy Velarde – the men accused of receiving steroids by the San Francisco Chronicle – actually used them, or that they were requested. We only know that they were received. If we can’t yet prove that Bonds, who most of us believe took steroids, actually did, then how could we speculate about other players?

In the Van Slyke interview, Ballou asks whether Andy has noticed that “some players, some sluggers, look thinner this year in spring training.” Andy has. “There’s no doubt,” he says, estimating that almost four players per team were probably on steroids last season. To Van Slyke, all sluggers who come into camp under their 2003 spring weight were on steroids last season.

This physical evidence is merely more speculation and circumstantial evidence. In this atmosphere of intense speculation, almost anybody can be accused of using steroids. As a case study, let’s look at Mike Piazza.

In 1997, while on the Dodgers, Piazza had this to say about steroids, responding to rumors that he and other ballplayers were taking them:

"I think it's unnecessary in baseball. I mean, would you drug-test billiard players or chess players? You can take a .200 hitter and give him all of the drugs you can find, and would that make him a .300 hitter? No."
A tad defensive, Mr. Piazza? But whether he’s merely expressing what he believes to be the truth or whether he’s covering for the indiscretions of his fellow players, this quote means nothing. Piazza is merely stating an opinion. He believes steroid use does not enhance performance in baseball.

On Wednesday I read an article in the New York Times (yes, some of us do still read the print media) about Piazza and his new age health guru. Yes, folks, he’s off of the red meat diet. At his age (35), muscle mass isn’t his top priority. It’s all about flexibility, he claims. This regimen change reduced his weight, meaning that he has reported to Mets camp at a weight lower than he did in 2003.

So we have an aging slugger who denied the utility of steroids in baseball coming into camp below his 2003 Spring Training body weight. In this environment, these two facts would be enough to cause speculation and accusation against Piazza, when in fact there is no evidence against him of which to speak. It is possible that he could have used steroids, but it cannot be proven.

We have to be careful when analyzing the likelihood a player has used steroids. Although it is acknowledged by most fans that players use steroids in baseball, there is no legitimate evidence to support this claim.

So let’s calm down and wait to acquire some evidence before we continue to throw hay on the fire.

Doing some research, I came across a two-and-a-half year old San Francisco Gate article defending Bonds against the accusations of steroid use he faced back in 2001. An excerpt from the article, written by Tony Cooper, follows.

As far as Bonds goes, insinuations in the media that he is using steroids, or is in anyway a "bodybuilder," are absurd. Bonds merely looks like a man who keeps himself in condition -- he has his own fitness guru, for crying out loud.
After the BALCO scandal, this quote struck me as strangely still accurate. It looks as if Bonds’ fantastic physical conditioning was in fact a result of having his own “fitness guru.” But for crying out loud, this guru provided him with steroids! The dramatic irony is amusing.

Nonetheless, the baseball season is beginning, with or without a resolution to the issue of steroids in baseball. MLB drug-testing policy should be altered, and government investigations into BALCO will continue. Circumstantial evidence, though, is not enough to convict any ball player of using steroids, from Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield to Mike Piazza, or anybody else. Stop the witch-hunt. We should soon have the facts.


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Posted by Dave on Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Aberrant Middle Reliever



And you thought I'd be posting about steroids? Fat chance. They're all the ('roid) rage, but I'll lay off them for awhile. I want the smoke (read: subjectivity) to clear before I assert my thoughts. Plus, as is apt to happen whenever a big story hits the press, the authors of Talking Baseball tend to post their reactions when their "turn" comes. Since I expect Mike and/or Jon to discuss steroids in the near future, I'm going to discuss something completely from left field - or, at least, from the mound.

I wouldn't blame you if you missed it, but Damaso Marte signed a nice 3-year, 4.5 million dollar contract. On the surface, there's nothing remarkable about that. Damaso Marte is about to enter his arbitration years, and the ChiSox want to sign him to the more reasonable rate of 1.5/year instead of a potentially increased arbitrated rate. Hey, if I had a "Damaso" on my team, I'd make sure he'd live in relative comfort too. Especially if he was posting solid K/9s and ERAs the past two seasons. It seems he has a career of relative prosperity ahead of him. But for many who have seemingly similar stellar single-seasons, that prosperity is merely fleeting.

In 2002, three pitchers were having career years: J.C. Romero, Buddy Groom, and Chris Hammond. Actually, Romero and Hammond weren't having career years because they're relatively young - but they were experiencing a deluge of luck that occurs but once in a career. What am I talking about? Well, inspect each of those links. Like Kevin Millwood, these guys' reputations have benefitted as a result of one lucky season.

Look at these averages:

Romero:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......6.23......9.83
2002.......1.89......6.89
2003.......5.00......9.43

Groom:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......8.73......8.73
2002.......1.60......6.39
2003.......5.36......11.51

Hammond:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2002.......0.95......6.28
2003.......2.85......9.29

Hammond was so mediocre prior to that sub-1 ERA that he couldn't even hold down a job. Yeah, for those that weren't aware, Hammond now sports the spritely age of 38. Having the "incredible" years boasted by these three isn't very remarkable when you realize that most of their success was based in luck. Hammond even netted a nice contract with the Yankees due to his luck. It's amazing he still had a sub-3 ERA last year - his vastly improved control helped him accomplish that. Still, I question the Beane's decision to acquire Hammond. This guy was out of baseball for three years! Why all this discussion about the one-hit-wonder relievers? Because Rheal Cormier is nothing but one.

As readers of Talking Baseball may know, Rheal Cormier made some headlines last year due to his outstanding work (*cough*LUCK*cough*) as a reliever. No matter how he did it, Rheal produced the 2nd-best Adjusted Runs Prevented by all relievers. That's nothing to sneeze at - what Baseball Prospectus has done here is estimated how many runs each reliever prevented last season. Rheal ranks above some impressive company: Wagner, Foulke, Smoltz, but not Cy Gagne, he leads the field. What's most impressive was how Rheal did it:

Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......4.21......8.59
2002.......5.25......9.15
2003.......1.70......5.74

If that's not lucky, I don't know what is. To help understand how lucky Rheal was, I should add that Rheal never had a H/9 below 8.5 prior to 2003 - a span covering nine seasons.

The Phillies are expected to strongly contend for the NL crown and with their revamped bullpen, they just may. Both Wagner and Worrell seem like the real deal, and they will give Thome and Company the necessary finishers they lacked last year. But mark my words: Cormier won't assist in helping to finish those games. In fact, he'll be lucky to assist in any meaningful fashion at all.


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Posted by Ben K. on Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Breaking the Silence

On the eve of Spring Training, the steroid ball started rolling. February 16 marked the day when four men associated with the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) were charged with conspiring to distribute steroids, among many other charges.

Immediately, members of the media and sports fans all over the world saw the link to baseball. Barry Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson was one of the four men charged by the Federal Grand Jury that day. Of course, Bonds kept denying that he had every taken steroids, and he's been relatively silent throughout most of spring training. Silence, it seems, has dominated this issue.

We here at Talking Baseball have been silent on the issue despite pleas from our readers to tackle the steroid question. Dave and Jon in recent posts have both expressed their wishes not to join the witch hunt, as Dusty Baker so termed it. The Players' Association, up until a few days ago, was silent as well; in the name of union solidarity, none of the members of the union wanted to speak out against one of their own. Yet, last week, Turk Wendell spoke out, and a few days ago John Smoltz spoke out.

Now, it's our turn. After today's developments in the story, I find that I can't proclaim to be an aspiring baseball analysts while ignoring the steroid issue and all of the questions surrounding the potential use of this drug by baseball players, superstars and journeyman infielders alike. So what then makes today the day that we all break our awkward silence on an issue with so many questions? Here's what. According to reports in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Marvin Benard, Benito Santiago, and Randy Velarde have all allegedly received steroids from BALCO, and more specifically, from Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson.

As a die-hard baseball fan and one who, despite my Yankee biases, tries to be an objective observer for the sake of this blog, I can no longer keep my silence on the issue. It's time for the fans to speak out, and for Major League Baseball and the Players' Association to listen. It's time to save face in light of a potential disaster that could damage the reputation of the game forever.

MLB Reacts

Before I get into my own opinions, I want to take a look around to see a few reactions. On one hand, we have ESPN.com which has numerous articles on steroids and numerous opinions pieces on the ramifications of the Chronicle's naming names. On the other hand, we have MLB.com. Now, please click on that link. What do you see? Well, right now, Ken Griffey, Jr.'s face is there and so is the hot story that the first Yankees-Red Sox game of the season will be on FOX with the crack broadcasting team of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck (don't get me started on them). Where are the steroid scandal articles? Well, there's one here linked from the front page, and that's all.

I think the problem of this scandal has been in the reactions by Major League Baseball to the idea of steroids. It's important to remember that right now, none of these players have been accused of taking steroids; they are merely alleged to have received them from BALCO. In this country, we believe in innocent until proven guilty, and some of these guys are doing a good job of proving themselves guilty. To save face, it's time for MLB to begin a major campaign to initiate mandatory testing with severe consequences for those that test positive immediately. And when I say immediately, I mean before Opening Day in a few weeks.

Let's look at who's painting himself as guilty. First, there's Barry Bonds. In the article on ESPN.com about reactions to today's revelations, all Bonds is quoted as doing is refusing to talk to reporters. By maintaining his silence, Bonds throws a veil of guilt over himself. What he should really do is get tested, publicly tomorrow or admit that he took steroids and apologize. At least, this way, we can all begin to move on.

To make matters worse for Bonds, his former teammate Andy Van Slyke had this to say to the media:

"Unequivocally he's taken them. I can say that with utmost certainty. Now, I never saw him put it into his body, but look ... the physical evidence is there. People do not gain 35 pounds of muscle in their late 30s without a little bit of help.

"When I played with him, I weighed more than him and yet he was still a tremendous player. He still had good power, and he was an MVP. The physical facts are the physical facts, and when you're 36, 37 and 38 years old is not when you peak with your home run production."
Those are damning words from a former player, expressing the thoughts that many of the fans and many other players have about Bonds. And remember, this is not about race or his personality. Bonds is not being singled out here; look at another one of the accused stars, Jason Giambi.

Over the off season, Giambi apparently went on the knee surgery diet. More likely, he went on the BALCO diet. But remember, innocent until proven guilty. Giambi too is being very silent. He has used his knee surgery as an excuse a few times already, but his denials are not as vehement as those issued by Bonds' lawyer. He may have realized the inevitability of discovery or maybe he's off them and truly would test clean. Either way, I think his numbers and health this season will go a long way towards showing us the truth.

Finally, we get to Gary Sheffield. Of the three All Stars named in the articles, Sheffield is the one I believe most likely did not use steroids. In my mind, what cleared Sheffield to me was what Bobby Cox had to say about Gary. And keep in mind that Sheffield's never made himself a favorite of the management or media in his career.
"To me, Sheff never looked like a guy who was doing steroids. He looked the same as I always remembered him looking."
Cox hit upon the key point; Sheffield has always looked like Gary Sheffield. Unlike Jason Giambi, who in 1988 looked like a skinny dorky kid, and during his (high-use?) days in Oakland, looked like a jacked-up WWE wrestler, Sheffield's physical appearance hasn't changed. Bonds is the poster child for physical appearance. People's faces don't really change that dramatically between 28 and 40 like Bonds' face did. It's hard to believe that's just a matter of him putting on more weight naturally.

The Future of Steroids in Major League Baseball

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's dangerous to go around accusing these guys of steroid use when it's virtually impossible to prove. And that right now is the situation Major League Baseball is in. This BALCO stuff has gone on long enough that it's hard to believe the prominent guys named would test positive. In fact, I find it hard to believe that anyone in baseball would test positive. If they do, they deserve to be tossed out of the game at this point for their sheer stupidity.

Despite my claims, Bonds is still innocent; Giambi is innocent; Sheffield is innocent; and yes even Marvin Benard, and his career-high 16 home runs, is innocent. Right now, the guilty parties are Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association for not doing something before this started and for remaining silent for so long. When the issue arose in 2002, the MLBPA should have accepted a no-tolerance agreement. Remember, steroids are indeed illegal, and it's not really ok for someone to test positive for steroids ever. By not agreeing to a no-tolerance policy, the Players' Association comes across as hiding something. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. But are we ever really going to know at this point? (The answer is maybe, and I'll come back to that soon.)

Now, in 2004, the Players' Association is still handling this situation poorly. They have yet to make much of an announcement, and except for most likely exerting pressure on their members to stay silent, the union representatives have avoided the issue. Players such as Turk Wendell and John Smoltz should be applauded for their bold statements. It's time for the union to come forward as one in this scandal. If that means upsetting the Bonds' or Giambi's or Sosa's who may use performance-enhancing drugs, then so be it. As this off season and the A-Rod trade demonstrated, no union member is better than any other. The members of the MLBPA are all on equal footing, and they all right now should do what's best for baseball.

Bud Selig too is guilty for the way he has handled this recent crisis. On Monday, he broke his silence, but in the wrong way. Before the proverbial steroids hit the fan on Tuesday, Selig wrote a piece for MLB.com. (It's right here.) In fact, it's almost as though Selig knew that the Chronicle would be printing names a few hours after his piece went up. In it, he demonizes the Players' Association, making enemies with the group he now needs as friends to help save baseball. Let's take a look at what he writes:
"There is only one solution to this problem. Major League Baseball must adopt zero tolerance as a policy, and I am firmly committed to making that a reality. However, while I would like to eliminate steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing substances today, Major League Baseball must operate in conformance with our collective bargaining relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association and with federal law...

"At the major-league level, however, because our players are represented by a union, drug testing is a mandatory topic of collective bargaining. Unlike the International Olympic Committee, which is unencumbered by a labor union or any other second party when setting policy, Major League Baseball must negotiate its drug-testing regimen with the Players Association. During collective bargaining, progress on the issue of drug testing has been difficult."

While the rest of the piece praises MLB and the Players' Association, Selig clearly is trying to lay the blame for this disaster at the feet of the union. He should not do that at all. In order to combat this public relations catastrophe before it turns into a steamroller, the owners and the players must do something they are loathe to do: they have to put their differences aside and think about what's best for the game. It's time to stop worrying about money and collusion and high salaries; instead, it's time to develop a mandatory testing system with severe punishments, and this system should begin in April when the players take the field for the first time.

In order to safe face now, players also should stop denying their steroid use. If they didn't take them, then great, but the ones who did should come forward. And we all know that there those who did; the anonymous tests that aren't so anonymous after all it seems showed that they are out. If the players won't come forward, maybe the test results, which were subpoenaed a few weeks ago, should be released to the public. It would damage baseball's credibility in the short run, but it would force MLB and the MLBPA to take measures that would improve this credibility in the long run. Clearly, it's time to act.

Finally, I want to again stress that I only singled out the three superstars because they were named in the papers today as having received steroids from BALCO. Remember, none of them were alleged to have taken them; just to have received them. It's no crime to get something in the mail, think better of it, and throw them out. Maybe that's what happened; maybe it didn't. What I advocate though is that the players and owners work their hardest to find a solution to this problem before it goes much further.

(Note: The opinions in this piece are mine and mine alone. I'm not speaking for Mike, Jon, or Dave. If they have anything different to say or if they disagree, they will of course add to the debate over the next few days. Keep that in mind as you contemplate my argument. If you don't like it, criticize me and not them or the site. For those of you expecting by DH analysis, it will be here for my next post over the weekend. The conclusions and statistics are fairly surprising. But I won't reveal more now; you'll just have to check back.)


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Posted by Mike on Monday, March 01, 2004

June is Pedro Goes on the DL Month

Everybody knows that Pedro Martinez starts thinking about going on the disabled list at the end of May and usually winds up there sometime in June. Theo Epstein certainly knows this and that is why the Red Sox have recently shown some interest in Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Here are a few facts about Orlando:

1. He spent all of the 2003 season recovering from surgery.
2. He's a slightly better than average pitcher during the regular season but has excelled in the playoffs.
3. He was the ace for the Cuban national team before he defected before the 1998 season.
4. He is 38 years old in "Cuban" years. This means he is probably 40+ years old.

He is aging quickly and has injury concerns. That said, Hernandez is undeniably an excellent #6 starter/mop-up man. He also has an excellent playoff record:

.............W-L......ERA......WHIP......IP
ALDS.........3-1......1.98.....1.22......27.3
ALCS.........4-0......3.00.....1.29......42.0
WS...........3-1......2.28.....1.16......27.7
Career.......10-2.....2.51.....1.23......97.0

The playoff numbers are pretty to say the least. As a comparison, here are Pedro Martinez's and Curt Schilling's career playoff numbers:

.............W-L......ERA......WHIP......IP
Martinez.....2-3......3.61.....1.05......52.3
Schilling....11-11....1.66.....0.84......86.7

So why else do the Red Sox want El Duque? As it stands right now the Red Sox rotation should look like this:

1. Pedro Martinez
2. Curt Schilling
3. Derek Lowe
4. Tim Wakefield
5. Byung-Hyun Kim

Going into the season that is one of the best rotations in the majors. Should an injury occur, waiting in the wings are Bronson Arroyo and Ramiro Mendoza. Arroyo is a good young talent but he has only thrown 44.3 IP in the majors over the last two years. His endurance over multiple starts is questionable and I question straining his arm this early in his career. Arroyo's last four starts came in 2002 with the Pirates as he worked solely out of the bullpen with the Red Sox last season. Mendoza is returning from the pile of injuries that he sustained last season and really is only being given a chance by the Red Sox this year because he is already on the books for $3.6 million. If Hernandez is in fact signed then Mendoza is likely to be traded.

There is also the benefit in signing Hernandez of simultaneously keeping him away from the Yankees. Past Mussina and Vasquez the Yankees have a number of question marks. Brown is always an injury concern; Leiber, like Hernandez, missed all of 2003 while recovering from surgery; and Jose Contreras has phenomenal "stuff" but his health is still an issue. The Yankees are likely going to need a back-up starter not too far into the season.

For the right price the Red Sox will do well in locking up El Duque. He can provide depth to our pitching staff and in acquiring him will prevent the Yankees from strengthening theirs. This is ultimately all speculation though and knowing how these rumors turn out he likely will not end up with the Red Sox.

Canseco's Career Likely Over

ESPN.com is reporting that Jose Canseco's try-out with the Dodgers did not go well. Surprise. Apparently Canseco thought training at UCLA for "several" weeks would be enough to get into shape for the 2004 season. Considering that he spent most of the last couples years under house arrest you would think that he would have used some of that time for training. I guess he just spent all of that time doing steroids so he could lift things more easily like his china hutch and maybe his piano.


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Posted by Jon on Sunday, February 29, 2004

It’s Splitsville for Lee and Florida

The Cubs will have fine pitching for a while. Their rotation is stocked and their farm system is filled to the brim with pitching talent. But for long-term success, they’ll need some decent hitting. Securing Derrek Lee for the next three years is a significant step forward – and they signed him for less than he’s probably worth, according to some here at Talking Baseball, who have been drooling over his 2004 possibilities. The deal leaves the Lankiest Giant with an average annual salary of $7.5 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if you questioned my logic. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Derrek Lee before the 2003 postseason. But is he worth $7.5 million per year? The proof is in the pudding.

To begin, Derrek Lee has a fantastic glove at first. He racked up the most fielding Win Shares among first basemen. He was better in the field than Doug Mientkiewicz, and he was better in the field than Nick Johnson. He was even better than the hard-hatted John Olerud. And not just a little better, but much better with the glove. Comparing Win Shares per 1000 innings in the field, Lee ranked first among all regular Major League first basemen, leaps and bounds better than Johnson and Mientkiewicz (his only real competition comes from Lyle Overbay, who ranks higher in fewer than half as many innings in the field). Needless to say, Lee deserved every ounce of precious metal in his 2003 Gold Glove. In signing Lee, the Cubs have locked up the best fielding first baseman in baseball.

But the Cubs wouldn’t pay all that for his glove, whether it was made of leather, gold, velcro, or diamond. Lee’s combination of wizardry in the field and his presence at the plate make him a unique commodity. His 2003 line of .271/.379/.508 was impressive, ranking him tied for 20th in Win Shares among hitters in both leagues. But it must be remembered that Lee played half of his games at the cavernous Pro Player Stadium, which yielded the third fewest runs of any park last season. Pitchers in Pro Player recorded the fourth best ERA out of any park in 2003. In fact, Marlins pitchers benefited immensely from their time on the mound in Miami, accumulating a stellar ERA of 3.17 at home, but a 4.04 ERA elsewhere. So naturally, one would assume, Lee’s overall 2003 numbers are skewed downward. When you take a look at his home and away splits, the Cubs’ motives for spending $22.5 million shine through:

2003....AB....HR....AVG....OBP....SLG....OPS
Home...260....11....242....371....419....790
Road...279....20....297....388....591....979
Those are some distinct splits. Pro Player killed Lee in 2003, particularly his batting average and power. So a logical conclusion would be that Lee, packing his Gold Glove and heading to Chicago, will produce like he did in his away games in 2003. A full season removed from Florida could result in a fantastic season. A batting average close to .300, an OPS of around 1.000, and close to 40 home runs does not seem too far-fetched. But don’t make room for his #25 jersey in Cooperstown yet. Just as Lee’s home/road splits were dramatic last season, his splits were similarly dramatic in 2002 – only, some were in the opposite direction:

2002....AB....HR....AVG....OBP....SLG....OPS
Home...279.....9....297....414....502....916
Road...302.....18...245....344....487....831
Lee should be a strong power hitter in 2004, and around 40 home runs is not a far-fetched prediction. But there is cause for concern. Whereas in 2003, Lee was a better hitter on the road, just two seasons ago he hit better (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS) at home. The splits end up relatively meaningless. Combining his last three seasons, his splits are not as dramatic: .269/.379/.449 at home compared to .279/.357/.530 on the road. So ultimately, the home/road splits are rendered worthless, aside from his homerun production, which takes a noticeable hit in a large ballpark. But in the end, even his slugging percentage has been better at home than on the road, where he hasn’t been able to hit as many out of the park.

You can still expect almost 40 homers from Lee next season, which should boost his slugging percentage a bit, but don’t expect more than a .275 batting average and a .379 on-base percentage (right around his season totals of last season). Derrek should be a bit better than he has been over the last two years, but don’t expect a monstrous leap from Lee; his improvement probably will not be as dramatic as some have hoped. Nevertheless, combining a .380 OBP with a few more home runs should make for a very nice 2004 season for Lee. Add his glove, the tops among first basemen, and $7.5 million seems well-deserved. Todd Helton, be warned: Lee, entering his prime years, may be the next Gold Glove first baseman to hit 40 homeruns.

Cubs Planning for Future

But the Cubbies didn’t just sign Derrek Lee this weekend. Kerry Wood also received a three-year extension. Dave’s analysis of the new Kerry Wood deal is solid, but now I’d like to add just a few words about him and Derrek Lee, the lankiest first baseman starting in the majors.

I applaud the signing of Kerry Wood to a three-year $34.5 million contract. He is already one of the premier pitchers in baseball – a K-machine – and with a little better control, he would be a transcendent pitcher. I’d just like to add that Wood is one of the most overworked pitchers in the game. Last season he racked up the most Pitcher Abuse Points Per Game (AVGPAP) in baseball, resulting in Baseball Prospectus categorizing him as the most stressed pitcher in the game (tied). That’s treading pretty thin ice, considering that the 2002 leaders in AVGPAP were Randy Johnson and A. J. Burnett, both of whom went down with injuries in the following season. While there’s no real cause for concern, Dusty Baker would be wise to tone down Wood’s workload. Is anybody surprised that Wood recorded the most pitches of any starting performance last season? Please, no more 141 pitch outings, Mr. Wood! Save that arm.

A Dizzying Rotation

Any way you set it up, the Cubs rotation will be electrifying in 2004. The Major League Baseball Strike-Out Kings last season, Cubs pitchers were out of control. Fronted by Prior and Wood, their rotation didn’t give in, throwing Zambrano and Clement out after their two aces. With the addition of Maddux, the Cubs have added a venerable starter to fill out their rotation as loaded, one through five, and possibly the best in baseball. While signing Maddux was a questionable call, due to their inexpensive talent in the minors, he certainly will do a better job than Shawn Estes in 2003. A rotation of Wood, Prior, Maddux, Zambrano, and Clement should scare any team come October.

To reach October, the Cubs, like any team, will have to win as many games as possible. And while the Astros were not swayed to mess with their rotation after acquiring two high-priced free agent starters, the Cubs have dropped the ball. For some reason, Mark Prior, who went 18-6 with an ERA of 2.43, will not be their opening day starter. In fact, he won’t even pitch second in their rotation. Prior is currently slated to start game three of the season, after Maddux, who follows Opening Day starter, the aforementioned Kerry Wood.

I only have a minimal problem with starting Wood over Prior, but Maddux certainly does not deserve a spot in the rotation before the young and talented Prior, Chicago’s real ace. Prior’s 2003 ERA+ was 175, better than Wood’s (a solid 133), and miles away from Maddux (a pedestrian 105 last season).

Manager Dusty Baker made the move to give opposing hitters “a different look.” He added that “Prior can learn a lot from Maddux, I think.” Baker is correct. Prior probably can learn a lot from Maddux. But learning doesn’t occur based on rotation order. Prior could learn from Maddux if he started opening day and Maddux pitched third. Both of these sound like rhetorical excuses offered by Baker. In all likelihood, Baker hopes to avoid another Glavine-esque meltdown against his former team. Placing Maddux second in the rotation ensures that he will not face the Braves early in the season.

But a move like this, which could reduce Prior’s appearances by at least one game throughout the season (and probably more), while allowing Maddux, a slightly above-average pitcher at this point in his career, to fill in could cost the Cubs a game or two down the stretch. And if they don’t make the playoffs but only a game or two, Dusty Baker will have plenty of time to determine the Opening Day starter in 2005.


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