I just want to address a couple of notes that have piqued my interest around the blogosphere in the past few days.
The Mariner Optimist has a note about the possible shift of Safeco Field from a pitcherâ€™s park to a hitterâ€™s park, or, at least a neutral park, based upon the second half surge in offense seen in the Northwest. While it is tempting to credit the new honeycomb-substance for improving the batterâ€™s eye and increasing offensive levels, it is far, far too early to make assumptions about this being a permanent change. Park Factors are often inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, simply due to sample size and varying factors (weather being a vital one), and breaking an already small sample size in half can lead to serious problems. To me, the fact that Safeco played as a hitterâ€™s park in the second half of 2003 is interesting, but we need a lot more evidence before we assume it will play that way in 2004. History shows that Safeco Field is a pitchers park, and the generally accepted reasons for this (heavy air, giant gaps in left center field, wind almost never blowing out) are unchanged. I have never believed the effects of the hitting backdrop was very significant, and I certainly donâ€™t see it as enough of a change to shift Safeco from being a predominantly pitcher-friendly park. It will be interesting to see how it plays in 2004, but at this point, the wisest assumption is to believe that it will again favor pitching.
Benny Looper was quoted last week as saying â€œJose Lopez could play in the majors right now.â€ Technically, this is true. Jose Lopez has a pulse, is under contract to the Mariners, and will presumably bring his cleats and glove with him to spring training. He is physically capable of playing in the major leagues in 2004. However, that is entirely different from being able to perform at even a serviceable level. Lopez is a nice prospect, though at this point, he is more potential than performance. He has some skills and, with a wise development plan, could be an answer on the infield for the Mariners in several years. In reality, he shouldnâ€™t see Seattle until late 2005 at the earliest. History is extremely unkind to players of Lopezâ€™s skill-set being pushed to the majors quickly, and Mike Caruso should be the lesson here. Let Lopez begin 2004 back in Double-A San Antonio, and if he shows he can hit, consider moving him up at the all-star break. There is simply no reason to rush him to the show, and the odds of him actually helping the Mariners win games this year are somewhere between slim and none.
In the same prospect vein, Iâ€™ve seen several bloggers appealing for Chris Snelling to win a job on the 25-man roster out of spring training. As much as I like Snelling, this would not only be a waste of development time that he badly needs, it is unlikely that Snelling would provide much value in the role. The knee surgeries have robbed him of the needed range to play center field, so heâ€™d be limited to backing up Ibanez and Ichiro in the corners. Unfortunately, all three swing the bat from the left side, so a platoon is impossible. Expecting Snelling to be able to produce enough offense to be a suitable replacement for either Ichiro or Ibanez on a regular basis is over-reaching, and both he and the Mariners are best served by letting him rack up at-bats in Tacoma, while the Mâ€™s give those at-bats to a veteran right-hander who can tee off on southpaws.
Finally, a cautionary note about a lot of the prospect lists weâ€™re going to see popping up on the web over the next few weeks. A lot of sites put out â€œTop X Prospectsâ€ lists, mostly by reading Baseball America, adding in their own personal biasâ€™, and rearranging to make it their own. Unfortunately, what it boils down to is a lot of uneducated guessing. While Iâ€™m a huge fan of statistical analysis, prospecting is a whole lot more than comparing performance and adding in an age/level adjustment. To accurately gauge a prospect, you really need to analyze his performance as well as his physical abilities, also factoring in the organizationâ€™s views on the player and their plan for his future. To do this well for more than a handful of players is essentially a full-time job. While meaning no disrespect to the hard-working folks out there trying to break into the prospect landscape, there are still only a few sources that should be taken with any true authority. Baseball America is obviously the cream of the crop in the field, and individuals such as John Sickels and Deric McKamey have proven to be quality talent evaluators as well. Baseball Prospectus provides the statistical look at prospects better than anyone else, though that can only get you so far. As far as national coverage goes, if it doesnâ€™t come from one of those four, you are best off taking it with a big grain of salt. Covering an organization in depth, like we do with the Future Forty or Jamey Newberg does for the Rangers at the excellent Newberg Report, is one thing, but covering all 30 is a monumental task that canâ€™t be done well by someone who is not being paid for their time.
It only took until February 5th, but we have the first official sign that baseball is almost here; newspapers filling space with quotes about a player being in the best shape of his life. 2004’s first target for this cliche’ is Eric Chavez, as Ken Macha gushes:
“Eric said he is in the best shape he’s been in his life,” Macha said of the third baseman, who is at 220 pounds after rigorous offseason workouts. “He said to me something like it’s time to fulfill the potential.”
Of course, unless you think Eric Chavez can’t hit lefties (.229/.278/.395 last three years) because he was out of shape, that career year probably isn’t coming. If I was an A’s fan looking for good news about Chavez, I’d hope for a quote along the lines of “I spent my entire offseason taking batting practice from Eddie Guardado. Not only can I now hit lefties, but Eddie’s arm is going to fall off from throwing me 300 pitches a day.”
Expect to see similar quotes about the Mariners as they trickle into camp for the next two weeks.
Willie Bloomquist spent the offseason in a gym adding muscle mass and now tips the scales at an impressive 143 pounds!
Wiki Gonzalez hired a personal trainer to prove that he isn’t the laziest player in baseball!
Quinton McCracken used his double major from Duke to invent a new natural supplement that gives him the strength of ten men!
Just remember, none of this means a thing. Being in shape is great, but if you’re last name is Bloomquist and you play for the Mariners, you still can’t hit major league pitching, regardless of how much body fat you have.