Rob Neyer

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Monday, January 6
 
Life in the 'L's'

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

I have some good news and some bad news.

You want the bad news first?

The bad news is that -- despite a note on the cover to the contrary -- the 2003 edition of the Baseball Register is missing much of the information that made the annual "STATS Major League Handbook" so indispensable to students of the game.

The good news is that the 2003 edition of the Baseball Register is already available, a couple of months earlier than in recent years. It's also good news that the Register includes, for the very first time, on-base percentage and slugging percentage for all hitters.

There are other enhancements. For hitters, caught-stealing data and the number of games played at each position in 2002 (though the outfield games aren't separated by position, even though there's plenty of space). For pitchers, career hitting stats, save opportunities, home runs allowed, and intentional walks issued.

It's a good book, it's already in the stores ... and yes, it's indispensable.

For example ...

  • Did you know that Astros outfielder Jason Lane led or co-led his league in RBI in each of his three full minor-league seasons? His numbers did fall off some last year in Triple-A, and while he's fairly old for a great prospect -- he turned 26 last month -- there's good reason to think that Lane will soon become a pretty productive hitter in the major leagues.

    If he gets a chance, that is. With Jeff Kent supposedly pushing Craig Biggio into the outfield, Lane has to fight Daryle Ward and Richard Hidalgo for playing time, and he'll be the decided underdog in that battle.

  • You know who could be a good pickup for the right team?

    Ray Lankford.

    Yes, he departed St. Louis in 2001 with a cloud hanging over his head. And yes, he played terribly for the Padres in 2002.

    But Lankford spent half of last season on the disabled list. Lankford's been a very good player for a long time, and his numbers were solid in 1999, 2000, and 2001. And so if Lankford is willing and able, I think he'd be an excellent million-dollar gamble.

  • Next time you run into Jim Bowden, ask him how he keeps finding young outfielders who put the fear of God into National League pitchers. First it was Adam Dunn, who slugged .556 in 55 games with Louisville in 2001. Then it was Austin Kearns, who zipped through the minors and posted a 907 OPS in 107 games with the big club last year. And next up is Brandon Larson, who's older than Dunn and Kearns but terrorized the International League over the course of 80 games.

    He didn't have any trouble hitting National League hurlers, either, but did spend six weeks on the DL. There's not really a spot available for him in 2003, unless an outfielder is traded or Aaron Boone moves from third base to second; the latter shift would allow Larson move back to third base, his regular position.

    Basically, Larson's in the same spot as Jason Lane. They both can hit, but they need a little help showing what they can do, and the sooner the better.

  • Can anybody tell me why Brian Lawrence isn't considered one of the best young pitchers in the National League? OK, so he's no spring chicken. But Lawrence's minor-league track record is close to impeccable, and in 325 major-league innings he's posted a 3.60 ERA with 233 strikeouts and 86 walks. It's not like we can predict a Cy Young Award or anything for Lawrence, but if he doesn't get hurt he's going to pitch in an All-Star Game one of these years.

  • The subject is Jose Lima. Please discuss amongst yourselves ...

    Finished? So did you come up with anybody like him?

                 W-L   ERA
    1995-1997    9-21  6.14
    1998-1999   37-18  3.64
    2000-2002   17-34  6.40
    

    As they say on Sesame Street, "Which of these is not like the other?"

    It's a strange business, where a man can go from winning to 21 games one season to being released by a last-place team three seasons later, still shy of his 30th birthday (granted, birthdays are a bit squishy these days).

  • If you're the Oakland Athletics, don't you have to be concerned with the following numbers?
          OPS   Salary
    2000  788   $200,000  
    2001  747   $240,000
    2002  688   $675,000
    

    The dollars go up ... and the numbers do down, which isn't exactly the way it's supposed to work, especially with young players -- in this case, Terrence Long. Worse, Long's salaries escalate over the next three seasons, with a total payout of $11.6 million from 2002 through 2005. He figures to rebound some in 2003, but not nearly enough to justify a spot in the lineup of a team that figures to contend for a postseason berth.

    Speaking of which, a number of you couldn't understand why the Athletics would have any interest in Chris Singleton, whose hitting stats make him look like the Anti-A.

    Well, to be honest with you ... I don't really understand why the A's would sign Singleton, either. Put him and Long in the lineup and you'd have two outfielders with sub-.300 OBP's in 2002. Even if you platoon them in center field (which won't happen, since both hit left-handed), you've still got one OBP-challenged guy in the lineup every day, which flies in the face of everything that Billy Beane likes to do.

    There must be a plan here, because there always is. But the plan is anything but obvious.

  • You want to know why I don't think John Schuerholz deserves any sympathy?

    Actually, there are a lot of reasons. But one of them is Javy Lopez. The Braves gave Lopez a $7 million option 2003 ... after a 2001 season in which he posted a 747 OPS. Today's game is all about payroll flexibility, and you just can't leave $7 million decisions with the hired help. Sure, he's still decent enough for a catcher ... but a $7 million catcher? It's possible that he's primed for a big comeback, but would you rather spend $7 million on a gimpy catcher, or let him go and spend that money on 70 percent of Kevin Millwood's contract instead?

    Well, we know what Schuerholz would do, because he did it.

  • Baseball fans delude themselves when talk turns to their favorite team, but does anybody, even in Boston, think that Derek Lowe can come close to repeating what he did in 2002?

    From 1999 through 2001, Lowe gave up 277 hits in 292 innings, which is a fine ratio. He also struck out 236 hitters over that span.

    In 2002, Lowe gave up 166 hits in 220 innings. While striking out only 127 hitters.

    So while Lowe's strikeout ratio went way down last season, so did his hits ratio. And folks, it just ain't supposed to happen that way. Sure, maybe Lowe discovered a new way of pitching, at least for him. But he simply can't maintain that hits ratio, so his ERA is going to go up by half a point and he'll probably win 15 or 16 games rather than 21.

  • You ever notice how consistent Mike Lowell's been?
          OPS
    2000  814
    2001  783
    2002  818
    

    That sub-800 OPS in 2001 doesn't really mean anything, of course; it's essentially identical to what he did the other two years, if you account for the vagaries of statistical fluctuation.

    It should be noted, though, that Lowell got off to a great start last season before suffering a bruised hip in early July, after which his performance suffered. He'll be 29 next season (a bit past his presumed prime), but one of these years Lowell's going to put up some impressive numbers.

    * * * * *
    You might be wondering why I chose to write about the players I wrote about today. The answer is that when I got the new Baseball Register, I opened the book to browse and landed on the letter L. If you have some time -- or opponents in a Rotisserie league -- to kill, I heartily recommend that you grab a Register and land on some letters of your own.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published next spring by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason.





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