January 29, 2003


Before I get to today's entry, I need to call upon my readers to help me with something.

I am currently in 2 Diamond-Mind keeper leagues.

One league has 24 teams, the other has 20.

Both are currently in the off-season stage, but are in need of a couple of new owners before we can get going on the new season.

They are great leagues, with a lot of really cool guys.

Among the owners in the leagues:

Kent Williams (aka "Coach") from the Batter's Box.

Robert Dudek from Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box.

Joe Dimino from Baseball Primer.

Craig Burley from Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box.

As you can see, the leagues are jam packed with baseball writing celebrities!

Not to mention Yours Truly.

And I am sure I am forgetting some other guys too.

The leagues are very well run and a lot of fun, with good owners and strong competition.

You would be taking over existing teams, with full rosters of players.

If you are interested in joining one (or both) of the leagues, please drop me an email by clicking here.

I am sure that out of the hundreds of baseball nuts that visit this site everyday, we can find 3 or 4 that want to join a couple of really good Diamond-Mind leagues.

Back in 1997, I thought Jose Cruz Jr. was going to be a superstar.

Let me try to explain.

In 1997, I was 14 years old.

I had yet to start reading Rob Neyer or Baseball Prospectus and I am fairly sure that if you asked me what "OBP" was, I would have thought you were talking about a Naughty By Nature song.

All I knew was batting average, home runs and runs batted in.

I also loved Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners, like most young baseball fans did at the time.

The 1997 Mariners had a rookie left fielder by the name of Jose Cruz Jr.

He came up about 1/3 of the way through the season and began playing everyday alongside Griffey.

He was a much-hyped prospect and the son of a Jose Cruz, an All-Star outfielder in the 70s and 80s.

And, It seemed like every game he played, he'd hit like a man possessed.

After playing 49 games for Seattle, the Mariners decided they needed some help for their bullpen and they traded him to the Blue Jays for Mile Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.

At the time, every baseball source that I looked at thought it was an idiotic trade and I simply could not figure it out.

Cruz had hit 12 homers and 12 doubles in only 49 games and had driven in 34 runs.

I thought he was going to be something special.

Looking back on it now, I still don't understand why you would trade a 23 year old Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric, but the trade was far from the massively one-sided deal I imagined it would be.

Here is some of what I wrote about Jose Cruz Jr. back in December, when the Blue Jays declined to offer him arbitration:

Cruz's minor league numbers weren't all that great and they showed he would likely have a lot of trouble hitting for a decent average, which he definitely has.

The power has always been there, but when you're hitting .240 and not walking much it isn't that valuable.

Cruz is passable as a center fielder.

He has decent range and an adequate arm.

In either of the corner outfield spots, he is a very good defender.

At the plate, Cruz had a bit of a "breakout" year in 2001, but he came back to his normal performance level in 2002.

He is basically a .245/.325/.450 hitter.

He'll hit some homers, which look nice, but his overall value is pretty average for a center fielder and below average for a corner outfielder.

Cruz is a switch-hitter and, prior to this year, he has hit lefties and righties equally, so he isn't much of a platoon candidate.

Some team will probably give Cruz a multi-year contract worth quite a few million, but they'll be making a mistake. As J.P. Ricciardi figured out, Cruz isn't worth millions a year and there are plenty of guys that can do what he does for a lot less.

Turns out I severely overestimated the free agent market this off-season.

Not only did no team "give Cruz a multi-year contract for quite a few million," he struggled just to find a decent 1 year deal worth any kind of good scratch.

He had some talks with the Orioles, but really, who wants to play in Baltimore right now?

Instead, Cruz chose to sign with the Giants, for 1 year and $2.5 million dollars.

I think this is a very nice deal for the Giants.

Cruz is not great, but most of the remaining free agents are a whole lot worse and San Francisco was in desperate need of another outfielder.

If they hadn't signed Cruz, they might have been looking at Marquis Grissom getting 600 at bats (and making 400 outs) or maybe moving Ray Durham to the outfield, at which point they would be looking at Neifi Perez getting 600 at bats (and making 400 outs).

From what I've read, the plan is for Cruz to play right field, not center.

He'll be a good defender out there, draw some walks and pop some homers, which is exactly what San Fran needed.

One downside is that Cruz's batting average is never very good, so most of his offensive value comes from his home run power.

As a switch-hitter, he'll hit left handed for the majority of the year and Pac Bell is absolute death to any and all left handed power hitters that don't wear a big red "S" on their chest.

His "raw" power numbers will probably take a hit, but because I am no longer 14 years old and I know about such things, I will able to figure out that the reason is not Cruz playing any worse, it is simply an effect of the place he plays half his games.

One of my favorite things to do over the past few months has been to "project" San Francisco's lineup.

I've done it several times on this very website.

With Jeff Kent leaving and Durham, Alfonzo (and now Cruz) coming, along with the fact that they have Superman, it's always entertaining to try to figure out how Felipe Alou will fill out the lineup card.

Here's my latest guess:

2B     Ray Durham

3B Edgardo Alfonzo
LF Barry Bonds
RF Jose Cruz Jr.
SS Rich Aurilia
C Benito Santiago
1B J.T. Snow
CF Marquis Grissom / Marvin Benard

It might not look it at first glance, but that is a very good lineup.

Here are each player's EqAs from last year, along with MLB average at their position:

Durham = .296

AVG 2B = .259

Alfonzo = .307

AVG 3B = .264

Bonds = .457

AVG LF = .283

Cruz Jr. = .267

AVG RF = .283

Aurilia = .256

AVG SS = .256

Santiago = .271

AVG C = .246

Snow = .263

AVG 1B = .287

Grissom = .289

AVG CF = .270

For those of you without calculators handy...

1 position was as far above average as a human being can possibly be: Barry Bonds +.174 over the average LF.

4 positions were significantly above average: Durham +.037, Alfonzo +.043, Santiago +.025 and Grissom +.019.

1 position right at league average: Aurilia +/- .000.

2 positions significantly below average: Snow -.024 and Cruz Jr. -.016.

As much as I worship him, I do not expect Barry Bonds to hit .370 next year, so I would suspect he will not be +.174 over the average LF in 2003.

I also think Santiago is almost a sure thing to decline quite a bit and Grissom is a good bet to do the same.

Those declines should be somewhat off-set by what I think will be a bounce back year by Aurilia and an improvement by Snow, because he simply can't be any worse.

In 2003, I would predict the Giants will have 4 players significantly above average: Bonds, Durham, Alfonzo, Aurilia.

3 players hovering right around league average: Cruz Jr., Santiago and Grissom.

And 1 player way below average: J.T. Snow.

That is the formula for a very good offense, particularly when 1 of the 4 "above average" guys hits like Babe Ruth dreamed of.

What I just did is one way of looking at the offense.

Another way to do so is to look at what the Giants did in 2002 and see how that might be different in 2003.

Bonds, Snow, Santiago and Aurilia are the only guys that return from last season.

As I said, I expect Bonds to "decline" a little bit and Santiago a lot.

But, I also expect Snow and Aurilia to improve, which should off-set that.

As for the newcomers...

Durham replaces Jeff Kent at second base.

Kent was good for 123 "Equivalent Runs" last year, Durham clocked in at 97.

I would expect Durham to play at about the same level, which would mean a dropoff of about 25 runs.

At third base, Alfonzo replaces David Bell.

Bell created 80 EqR last year, while Alfonzo had 88, in slightly less playing time (he had some injuries).

If Alfonzo plays a full-season, he should be worth at least 20 runs over David Bell's performance last year.

In the outfield, Grissom and Cruz replace Reggie Sanders and the Lofton/Shinjo/Goodwin/Benard 4-headed monster.

Last year Sanders and the group of CFs combined for 180 EqR in 1449 plate appearances.

Shinjo, Goodwin and Benard all appeared some as left fielders and pinch hitters too, which is why the plate appearance totals are more than a "normal" center fielder/right fielder combo.

Meanwhile, Cruz Jr. and Grissom combined for 121 EqR in only 881 plate appearances.

Cruz missed some time with injuries and Grissom was a platoon player some of the time.

Add in some Marvin Benard and some Tony Torcato to fill in some of those remaining plate appearances and the Giants should definitely be able to equal or better the production of their 2-non Barry Bonds outfield positions from last year.

So, here's what we've got...

LF, SS, C and 1B are all the same players and I expect them to, as a group, produce similarly in 2003.

2B will probably be worth about 25 less runs offensively this season than it was in 2002.

3B will probably be worth about 20 runs more, at least.

And CF and LF should be about the same, total.

What we've really got here is a whole lot of new faces and a very similar offense as far as overall quality is concerned.

And, if the Giants can have a similar offense to last year's, it will be among the best in the league.

The Giants scored the 3rd most runs in the National League last year, but that stat is extremely misleading because of how tough Pac Bell Park is on hitters.

Their team EqA (which adjusts for everyone's home ballpark) was the best in all of baseball, at .283.

Assuming Bonds doesn't go McGwire on us this year, the Giants should once again have one of the top 2-3 offenses in the National League.

Pitching and defense?

Well, that's a subject for another time.

Don't worry though, as long as #25 is still hitting them into McCovey Cove, I'll be talking about the G-Men quite a bit.

Thanks for stopping by today and if you're interested in joining a really great Diamond-Mind keeper league, don't forget to drop me an email.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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