Strange Views On Baseball Offseason
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 21, 2006

SOMETIMES I wonder if my colleagues are watching the same sports I’m watching.

For instance, The Sporting News did an analysis of baseball teams’ offseason moves, and there were some real mind-bogglers in there.

New Dodger general manager (and former Giants assistant) Ned Colletti was given four stars (out of a possible five) for his roster overhaul. In fact, though, the only really positive change for the Dodgers is the apparent good health of closer Eric Gagne.

Colletti’s best move was signing shortstop Rafael Furcal, though he overpaid. The magazine called the signing of the overrated Bill Mueller one of the five best moves of the spring. (More on Mueller later). But Colletti also got rid of a good outfielder in Milton Bradley, and he has nothing but injury-prone outfielders left. He signed Nomar Garciaparra, which might have been a good move two years ago but Garciaparra can no longer play short and is being asked to play first, which he’s never done before. The fall off in his offensive production makes him a bad fit at first.

And Colletti signed Brett Tomko, though he’d seen Tomko first hand with the Giants.

Frankly, when he was with the Giants, I could never figure what Colletti did, besides negotiate contracts, including the one for Edgardo Alfonzo which was a millstone around the Giants’ necks for three seasons. Yet, he was continually referred to as Brian Sabean’s “right hand man”, and one local columnist wrote recently, “Brian Sabean is really going to miss Ned Colletti this season.” I don't think so.

The magazine also gave the Yankees four stars, primarily for signing Johnny Damon, which took him away from the Red Sox. Damon will be an improvement over Bernie Williams, a once-great player who was clearly over the hill last season, but Damon is also on the downslope of his career; his defense declined significantly last season.

Damon also had the most disgusting statement of any player in the offseason (or, maybe, the last 10 years) when he said the Red Sox “disrespected” him because they only offered him $40 million for four years. The Yankees offered an additional $12 million for those four years. I don’t blame Damon for going for the money but $40 million doesn’t show respect? Give me a break.

The Red Sox actually had a much better offseason than the Yankees because their moves made them younger, stronger defensively and more rounded. They added a quality starter in Josh Beckett. And Coco Crisp will have a better year as their centerfielder than Damon. Bet on it.

There are always certain players who are media favorites. One of them is catcher Paul Lo Duca and, sure enough, the Mets’ signing of Lo Duca was labeled the best move of the offseason.

Lo Duca is a good player, a good defensive catcher and a decent hitter - .283 and .258 his last two seasons. For some reason, he’s been labeled a leader by the media, though he’s done nothing but lead his clubs, the Dodgers and the Marlins, to the end of the season. When the Dodgers traded Lo Duca two seasons ago, writers lamented that the team's chemistry would be ruined and that the Dodgers were, yes, losing their “leader.” Without Lo Duca, the Dodgers won 93 games and the NL Western Division title.

WRITERS ALSO resolutely ignore the park and lineup factors, though they have a great influence on a player’s statistics.

In the case of Crisp and Damon, for stance, Crisp played in a relatively neutral park in Cleveland and Damon played in what was the most hitter-friendly park in the major leagues before Coors Field was built. Yet, Crisp’s statistics were close enough to Damon’s which, combined with the fact that, at 27, he’s entering what should be his best years while Damon is leaving them, makes it easy to predict he’ll have the better year.

Damon is an interesting case study. In his fifth and sixth seasons with Kansas City, his original club, he blossomed into a star, hitting .307 and .327. Then, he came to the A’s and hit just .256. That’s not the first or last time that a hitter’s average has plummeted when he came to the A’s; see Jason Kendall last season. The Coliseum is a difficult park in which to hit for average, mainly because the huge foul areas mean hitters don’t get second chances. At Fenway or PacBell, balls that are barely in foul territory go into the stands. At the Coliseum, they’re caught.

In a Red Sox uniform, Damon’s average went up; his last two seasons were .304 and .316. He benefited from the park – and also from playing in a lineup that was chock full of hitters, from top to bottom.

Mueller also benefited from the same factors, especially the lineup, so strong that he batted eighth for a time in the 2003 season in which he won the league batting title.

Mueller started with the Giants, of course, and was known as a slick-fielding third baseman who hit for a decent average (.292, .294, .290 his first three full seasons) but little power. Pushed by the Giants to hit more home runs, he got up to 10 in his last season but his average fell to .268.

Traded to the Cubs after the 2000 season, Mueller had two injury-plagued years in which he did little, but with the Red Sox in 2003, he not only led the league in hitting but had easily his best power season, with 19 homers.

Fenway has always been known as a good park for righthanded power hitters because of the short left field distance, but it’s also a good park for lefthanded average hitters, like Billy Goodman, Pete Runnels and Wade Boggs, because they can slice the ball off the walls for doubles (Boggs’ favorite tactics) or hit into the huge open areas in right center. Mueller is a switch-hitter but at Fenway, he was mostly hitting lefthanded because opposing managers are always wary of starting lefthanded pitchers there.

Now, Mueller will be playing his home games in Dodger Stadium, he will be hitting in a much weaker batting order and he’ll be 35 this month. I’d be surprised if he surpasses .280, and he won’t hit for the power expected from third basemen.

ALL OF THIS is opinion, of course, but it’s backed by statistical information and proven factors. Nevertheless, many writers prefer to ignore these factors, just as they ignore the value of statistical evaluation, while falling back on the old, discredited shibboleths of the past.

But, hey, I’ll change my mind when Paul Lo Duca leads the Mets to the World Championship.



GIANTS BLOGS: A reader tells me the best Giants bloc is mccoveychronicles.com, and there’s also one on the Giants minor league prospects: giantsprospects.blogspot.com. I expect that will be a small one. . . And, if you’re looking for tickets for Giants and A’s games, check out the links in TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! at the bottom of this page.

LETTERS: I’ve updated this with comments about my Bonds column on Monday.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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