Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, April 22, 2004

The 11th Hour Approaches in Florida

In my last post, a week ago today, I wrote on the different fates of the Marlins and Expos. In that post, I wrote about the need the Florida Marlins have for a new stadium in downtown Miami. I urged the State of Florida to invest in the Marlins.

This week, the bad news came down from the Florida House of Representatives: the state won't support a $60-million state subsidy to help the Marlins fund the new stadium.

For the Marlins, this news could not have come at a worse time. Despite failing to the Atlanta Braves last weekend, the Marlins, at 10-4, still have the best record in the majors. More impressively, their pitchers have given up only 33 in those 14 games. Seven of those runs scored tonight, as the Marlins edged the Phillies 8-7 in 12 innings. Their team ERA clocks in at a tiny 2.11.

Furthermore, the Marlins' attendance has been way up at home this season. With 6 home games under their belts, the Marlins are averaging about 30,000 a game. Last year, during their World Series run, the Marlins finished 28th in the league with 16,000 fans a game and only 1.3 million overall. With an exciting team led by an electric pitching staff, South Floridians are showing an interest in their championship team.

So how does the state reward the Marlins' success? By cutting off any hopes of public funds for a new stadium. There was no state-wide vote, and no hope for the $60 million. Florida House speaker Johnnie Byrd said the tax money would be put to better use elsewhere. Granted, Florida needs all the help it can get. Its childcare and public education systems are in the pits, but I don't believe this extra $2 million a year for the next 30 years (that's how the Marlins wanted it) will go towards the improvements the state really needs. Rather, it will probably go towards construction plans in an effort to further accommodate the state's growing population without addressing the rampant social problems found in Florida. Proponents feel that a new stadium will help spur economic development in South Florida. This would mean more tax money for the state, but then the representatives might actually have to start putting this money to good use.

Now, then where does this leave the World Champion Florida Marlins? Unfortunately for the team and its fans, despite their best efforts at finding the positive light in this situation, I don't think the future is to bright for the team. And if that's truly the case, it would be a shame. The Marlins are the most exciting team out there, as I said. Unlike other teams, they look like they're having fun winning.

But to stay on topic, the Marlins need the new stadium. Despite a World Series championship, the Marlins ownership believes it lost around $20 million last year. The team estimated that around 300,000 fans were discouraged from coming to games by the unpredictable South Florida weather. At the current rate, according to David Samson, the team's vice president, the Marlins will be unable to operate in South Florida much past 2007 without a domed stadium. The economic losses would be too great for the team's ownership to bear.

In addition to these missing fans, the team is losing money in its currently stadium. Since Pro Player Stadium is owned by former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga, the team must lease the field from Huizenga who gets a cut of the game receipts and concession sales. With their own stadium, the Marlins would see a dramatic increase in revenue in every area from ticket sales to concession items to the ever-important luxury boxes. But it doesn't seem as though this new stadium is going to be a reality.

Samson is still optimistic. "I really believe we are close to a deal to keep the Marlins in South Florida," he said to ESPN's Darren Rovell. With 11 days left before the self-imposed deadline of May 1, Samson feels he can still get the necessary funding. After May 1, the team and their hired architects do not believe a new stadium can be ready by the important 2007 season.

If the Marlins don't get the new stadium, what will the future of baseball be in South Florida? According to those involved with the team, in all likelihood, there will be no future for a Major League team in South Florida. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, issued a clear threat to Florida a few weeks ago. He said, "We are committed to having baseball succeed in South Florida and we will do everything we can to get a stadium in here because this franchise cannot survive without a new ballpark. If they are unable to get a new stadium, the fact that three ownership groups have tried and have been unsuccessful despite putting good teams on the field -- including winning two World Championships -- might suggest that it's time to look elsewhere."

With the Expos on their hands, MLB has researched five markets that are in the running for Expos' eventual relocation. If the Marlins fail to secure a home in South Florida, it's not impossible to imagine them moving to a more supportive city. With a real ownership in place instead of the sham of the MLB-owned Expos, the Marlins would have no trouble finding a city ready and willing to take them in short order.

South Florida should be a market clamoring for a baseball team. Miami is a vibrant, growing city, and the area is surrounded by people with a rich baseball legacy. If the city loses the team, the state will have only itself to blame. And the area that could potentially land a team with such a bright future would gain a veritable goldmine in the baseball world.

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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Cust: A Must or a Bust?

Jack Cust. The name exudes thoughts of a power hitter chugging down the base paths. He has an All-American name, and he seems to be becoming familiar with All of America. Cust, recently designated for assignment by the Orioles to make room for fifth starter Eric Bedard, has most likely come to the end of the road in Baltimore. Soon, he’ll probably be joining another team – what will be his fourth team in the last four years. From Arizona to Colorado to Maryland to who-knows-where, Cust has barely had time to unpack his bags over the last few years.

What does “designated for assignment mean”? Brewerfan.net reports:

Being "Designated for Assignment" has been known as a "temporary purgatory" for baseball players. When a team wants to remove a player from the 25-man roster or the 40-man roster, they can designate that player for assignment. The team then has 10 days to try to trade that player or place him on waivers. The purpose of designated someone for assignment is to open up that person's roster spot.

So what caused Jack Cust to be banished to the nether regions of the baseball world? Let’s check his resume.

In 1999, two years after being drafted by the Diamondbacks, Baseball Prospectus reported that “Cust is learning left field on the fly and will probably never be better than adequate,” but that “when you hit like this, it doesn't really matter.” Five years later, their assessment holds true. Jack Cust is still a rock in the field – not a rock in the sense that he’s solid in the field, but that his mobility is no better than a rock's, which is not good for fielders. Shuffling around from Arizona to Colorado, Cust never got a real shot at playing in the Majors. Finally moving to the American League in 2003, it was thought that Cust would be more than a suitable fit as a DH, where he could receiver regular playing time and finally excel at the Major League level. It didn’t happen.

He did excel, but again he wasn’t given a chance. Last season, albeit in 73 at-bats, Cust hit .260/.357/.521 with four home runs (a homer every 18.25 at-bats). These numbers won’t sweep anybody off of his or her feet, but they are nothing to scoff at. If he had been given the opportunity to continue to produce at this level for at least 500 at-bats as a 24 year-old, he would have been up for rookie accolades. Instead he was offered the opportunity to wallow again in Triple-A. I think we all know what he can do there. In his time spent at Triple-A over the last two seasons with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (2002) and the Ottawa Lynx (2003), Cust has proven that he has nothing left to prove at that level:

2002 359 .265 .407 .524
2003 333 .285 .422 .426
Yeah, it doesn’t look like Cust will ever be able to hit for a decent average, but he has enjoyed a Triple-A on-base percentage of which only the few top prospects and performers in baseball can boast. Like Hee Sop Choi, this propensity for slugging the ball and reaching base, while not hitting for a high average, should have already earned him a full-time position. But while Choi is a new cornerstone in Florida’s infield, Cust is languishing in never-never land; never receiving playing time and currently without a home, his ability to succeed in the Major Leagues has not been adequately tested.

While Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA pegs Cust for a .241/.353/.425 campaign this season in 260 at-bats (which would be a great step forward for him), his potential for breakout is huge. They list a 40% chance that Cust enjoys a breakout year and a 65% chance that he improves this season. Those odds speak wonders for Cust, whose 75th percentile rates (.262/.367/.478, 16HR in only 300AB) would gladly be accepted by many a team in search of an extra bat.

Yes, like the typical slugger, he gets his fair share of strikeouts. But Cust’s high OBP can be credited to his history of extreme patience at the plate. In almost 2500 minor league at-bats over seven seasons or portions of seasons, Cust has accumulated 800 strikeouts but also 600 free passes.

So to whom does Cust compare as a hitter? Hmmmm…a slugger who bashed his way through the minors, strikes out a lot, yet gets on base at a good pace. I’ve got it! How about Adam Dunn? He became a regular in the majors at the age of 22 during the 2001 season. Through 2003, their minor league numbers run parallel to one another.
Minor League	AB	K/BB	AB/HR	AB/K

Dunn 1208 1.22 19.17 4.31
Cust 2442 1.33 19.54 3.05
So through the minors, Cust and Dunn have similar numbers. They both struck out (Cust more often), but their K/BB ratios and their AB/HR ratios were equally strong.

While Dunn exploded onto the scene in 2001 – with a AB/HR ratio of 11.61 and a .262/.371/.578 line – Cust has received fewer than 75 major league at-bats in any season of his Major League career. Much of this must be due to his butterfingers in the field, but the Orioles really can’t use that excuse. They call him up for August and September, he produces about as well as they can expect in limited action, and then they designate his bat for assignment before he can impact the 2004 squad. It is obvious that to give up on a guy with such potential with the bat, the Orioles have conceded the future for the near and now.

Which brings me to my next question: Do the Orioles really think they have a shot at the playoffs this season?

In my opinion, this team should be fortunate to win 85 games with that pitching staff. Once again, I’ll reiterate: the Birds did a great job of luring big-name free agents into Camden Yards over the winter, but their focus was overly weighted on hitting, with not enough pitching. Behind Ponson, the Orioles will hope to win with youth and inconsistency, which is never easy and rarely succeeds.

Thus, it astounds me that the Orioles, a team without a serious shot of making the playoffs this season, would have the audacity to give up on a 25 year old prospect with the tremendous minor league numbers a man like Cust has put up over the last seven seasons in the minors. I’m not saying he’ll be the next Adam Dunn, but he certainly has the potential to be an above-average designated hitter for a few years.

If only he had the fielding clout to order personally embroidered gloves, he’d instantly be adopted by the offensive-challenged Dodgers and the intelligent Paul Depodesta. But look for a different team – a team in the American League – to trade for Cust now that he’s available. If he doesn’t receive his Big Break in Los Angeles at the behest of Repo Depodesta, other organization will gladly give him the shot he deserves (more than 73 at-bats in the Majors) and it is likely that Mike and Jim’s cell phones have been ringing.

With only 140 Major League at-bats, Cust is far from a bust. The team that gives him a real shot may well be pleased with the results.

Note: Shortly after the publication of this article, Cust cleared waivers and thus will remain on the Orioles for the time being. Needless to say, this surprises me. But Baltimore doesn’t want him, and he is still a candidate to be traded as the season progresses.

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Posted by Dave on Monday, April 19, 2004

The Most Unlikely of Occurrences?

Every now and again, I see somemthing that really flabbergasts in a box score. It won't necessarily surprise me because of its greatness - I'll usually be confounded by its oddness. I'm not particularly astounded when McGrady does this because he's a very capable athlete. It's amazing that he scored 62 points, but it didn't take some extraordinary luck for him to accomplish this feat. I'm absolutely dumbfounded when Calvin Booth does this, however. Not only does he block ten shots - a truly remarkable feat - he does it in sixteen minutes! Not only does this take a particular amount of athletic prowess, but it takes a particular amount of luck. After awhile, it would seem the Cavs would be conditioned not to have big Calvin swat away their mortal "shots." These performances, like the one by Calvin Booth, really intrigue me.

Friday, the Dodgers defeated the Giants 3-2, and one of those freak feats caught my eye. Aaron Gleeman wrote at length about Bonds' at-bat vs. Eric Gagne - apparently it was quite a sight to see - but didn't cause my bewilderment. Odalis Perez pitching effectively away from Chavez Ravine?! Improbable, but not impossible. Look around, see if you can find it. Give up?

Milton Bradley did one of the most incredibly unique things I have ever seen. Besides a walk, in the three unproductive at-bats he had, he produced three RBIs. Surely he must have had a sac-fly, or a squeeze-bunt - no, I said he had three unproductive at-bats! Bradley finished the day 0-3 with 3 RBIs - all on groundouts! This is truly remarkable. I would chance that this has never happened before in major league baseball history (where's my contact at Elias Sports Bureau when I need it). Why is this so improbable? Let's count the ways:

1. Bradley came to the plate with a man on third three times. This is even more of a feat considering the atrocious Dodger offense rarely sees anyone on third.

2. When Bradley came to the plate, there had to be less than 2 outs.

3. Bradley needed to hit run-scoring groundouts. Not groundouts that were smashed, the kind that the infielders can't come home on. Not only that, he couldn't hit sac-flies, or even get any hits to score those runs.

4. The pitcher (Jason Schmidt), needed to be just effective enough to allow runners to third, while still creating the groundouts necessary to stop the rallies.

5. That runner on third each of the three times, Dave Roberts, is two spots in front of Bradley. To get to third, obviously, Roberts needs to get hit over, right? Wrong. Izturis had one hit in four PAs. That explains one of the three times. Another time, Izturis sacrificed and Roberts stole third - that's two. I had trouble explaining the last occurrence - that is, until I read the game log. What happened on that third time? Well, apparently, with Roberts on first, Izturis sacrificed to the catcher - and Roberts went to third! It doesn't get any weirder than that, folks.

You never know what you'll unearth in a Major League box-score. You could just find something more uncommon than hitting for the cycle or pitching a perfect game - you could find a Milton Miracle. An 0-3 with 3 RBIs.

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