February 24, 2003

The Hot-Corner in Hot-lanta

I get about 2-3 emails a day from people, regarding their various fantasy baseball teams.

While I enjoy discussing their teams and questions via email, I thought it would be fun to also do so in an actual entry or two on this website.

So, what I'd like to do is to ask you guys (and girls!) to send me some questions about fantasy baseball.

I'm certainly not an expert in the field, but I've won some ESPN.com leagues, I've won some BaseballManager.com leagues and I made the playoffs in my first ever season playing Diamond-Mind.

If you've got a question about who the best closer is or whether you should trade Player X for Player Z (don't do it, Player X is due for a breakout year!) or how a certain player will perform in 2003, send me an email and you just might get your question posted here.

Make sure to give me any important details, such as what type of league it is (roto, Diamond-Mind, etc), how many teams there are, whether it is NL, AL or MLB, etc, etc, etc.

I'm not sure when I'll do the post, but it'll probably be sometime next week, assuming I receive enough questions (which I think I will). If I get enough response, maybe it'll be a weekly (or bi-weekly) column, which would be pretty cool.

Also, as always, if you've got any other baseball questions (or questions about other stuff, although I am far less "qualified" to answer non-baseball things!) or topics that you'd like to see me discuss, please let me know.

Okay, now for the actual baseball talk...

According to ESPN.com, there is a "battle" going on in the Atlanta camp for the starting third base job.

The candidates are Vinny Castilla and Mark DeRosa.

This story caught my eye, because Vinny Castilla was unbelievably bad last season and I think Mark DeRosa is a pretty good player.

I doubt Bobby Cox sees it quite the same way, so I wouldn't be surprised if Castilla got 500 at bats for the Braves in 2003.

Just how bad was he last year?

Well, he hit .232/.268/.348.

Think about that for a minute.

A .616 OPS from a starting, 500+ at bat third baseman on a playoff team!

Castila's situation with the Braves is a really strange one.

Back in 2000 he signed with the D-Rays as a free agent, after spending years hitting in Coors Field with the Rockies.

Castilla had been taking big advantage of the hitter's paradise that is Coors and he was actually pretty good there, slugging .475+ 6 years in a row.

As soon as he got to Tampa Bay, everything changed and he hit .221/.254/.308 in his first year there.

The Devil Rays were stuck with him and his big contract though, so he began the 2001 season with them and hit .215/.247/.344 in 24 games before they mercifully released him.

Castilla signed on with the Astros and actually finished the year hitting "okay" for them (.260/.308/.467).

So, at the end of the 2001 season, Castilla was a 34 year old hitter whose only good years came while playing in Colorado and who had had 1 and a half miserable seasons in Tampa Bay and a mediocre half season with Houston.

What happened?

Atlanta signed him to a 2 year deal worth $8 million dollars, of course!

I'm not sure what they were thinking or who they thought they were bidding against, but they felt the need to not only give him a lot of money, but to give it to him for 2 seasons.


Castilla was even worse than expected in Atlanta and was one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball.

This situation calls into question the idea of "sunk costs."

Basically, there comes a point in any business that it is simply better to just "cut bait" on something (or someone) no matter what it is costing you.

The theory in this situation being that the Braves are going to be paying Vinny Castilla $4.5 million dollars in 2003 no matter if he is playing for them or not, so really it comes down to whether or not you want him on the team.

Personally, I don't see much room for a 3B with that had a .616 OPS last year and .240/.280/.384 the past 3 years, Atlanta has apparently decided that not only will he be on the team to "earn" his money, he'll be in serious competition for the third baseman's job.

The guy he is "fighting" for the job, Mark DeRosa, is certainly not a great player and never will be.

In a perfect situation, he'd be a great utility infielder, getting 200-300 at bats while going from 2B to SS to 3B and maybe even to the OF, whenever an injury or something came up. That said, he is certainly a decent stopgap for a team at third base.

He hit .297/.339/.429 last year in 232 plate appearances and has a career hitting line of .288/.339/.403 in 442 PAs.

DeRosa also spent significant time in AAA in 2001 and hit .296/.351/.425 there, which is pretty similar to his ML numbers thus far.

He's not great, but he's definitely passable for a short term solution, which is exactly what the Braves need.

Atlanta has a very good prospect in Wilson Betemit who will likely take over 3B in the future, but for the next year or so, they just need someone to play there and not be completely worthless.

As it stands now, Vinny Castilla will most likely be starting at third base and devouring outs by the hundreds in 2003, but he is just one example of Atlanta's inability to fill holes in their lineup with non-horrendous offensive players over the years.

The Atlanta Braves have had an incredible run of winning over the last decade or so and their front office and on-the-field coaching staff certainly deserve a ton of credit.

However, one area that I feel they have been very poor at over the years has been their inability to find passable offensive players to fill out their lineup.

No team can have superstars at every spot in the lineup, but the difference between an average offense and a good one is often as simple as finding a couple of mediocre hitters to fill spots for a year or two.

Keith Lockart got 296 at bats last year, which is about 296 more than he deserved, and he hit .216/.282/.331, which is just awful.

But that's not the first time Lockhart has been a waste of hundreds of at bats for the Braves.

He played in a total of 658 games over 6 seasons in Atlanta and accumulated 1,423 ABs, hitting .248/.312/.359 in them.

There was only one season - 1997, his first with the Braves - that Lockhart wasn't a horrible hitter and that was in only 147 at bats, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

But wait, there are others...

In 2001, the Braves began the season with Rico Brogna as their starting first baseman, despite the fact that he hit .232/.278/.357 the year before. He hit .248/.297/.335 in 72 games for them and then retired from baseball.

Their other first basemen that year included a 38 year old Ken Caminiti, who hit .222/.306/.380, Wes Helms, who hit .222/.293/.435 and Dave Martinez, who hit .287/.347/.384.

Finally, at the end of the year, they brought in a 75 year old Julio Franco and he was their first first baseman that actually hit sort of like a first baseman should (.300/.376/.444).

First base is the easiest position to find someone that can hit well and yet the Braves trotted out a bunch of guys that hit like a bunch of backup shortstops (with appologies to any backup shortstops that may be reading this).

They were so impressed that Julio Franco actually hit a little bit that they managed to talk him out of retirement at the age of 92 and kept him as their first baseman in 2002, when he hit .284/.357/.382, which is really bad (although he did do very well against lefties).

Back in the old days (when it was Glavine, Smoltz and Avery, instead of Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux) the Braves featured the worst offensive middle-infield in baseball: Rafael Belliard and Mark Lemke.

Now, both players were good defensively and it isn't always an awful idea to sacrifice some offense for defense if you have a lot of other good offensive players.

However, Atlanta was also trotting Sid Bream out at 1B and had Otis ".314 career SLG%" Nixon in CF.

Back to Lemke and Belliard for a moment...

While Mark Lemke was a bad offensive player, he atleast had some skills at the plate and managed to get on base a decent clip occasionally, although he was usually one of the worst hitters in the league.

Lemke looked like Barry Bonds compared to his double-play partner though.

Rafael Belliard is truly one of the worst hitters in baseball history.

He was a very good shortstop, but my God was he awful at the plate!

Belliard played 8 years in Atlanta and managed to get 1,250 at bats.

He hit .223/.260/.265 in them, with 1 homer and 39 doubles.

Belliard wasn't even a good base stealer or anything, as he stole only 8 bags in 8 years and was caught 50% of the time.

Obviously this was the early 90s and shortstops weren't hitting like ARod, Nomar, Tejada and Jeter, but Rafael Belliard was in a class by himself.

By the way, Mark Lemke hit .248/.319/.327 in his 10 seasons with Atlanta, although no one probably noticed him chewing up outs because of Belliard's presence.

I mentioned that their first basemen during the early 90s was Sid Bream, who is best remebered for laboring around third base and scoring on Barry Bonds in the 1991 NLCS.

Bream's "wheels" were notoriously bad, but his hitting wasn't much better.

In his 3 seasons with the Braves, he slugged .423, .414 and .415 and had a .330 OBP.

As I said earlier, the Braves' success during the 90s and into the 2000s is incredible and I certainly don't want to take anything away from that.

That said, I wonder how many more playoff games they could have won and whether or not they could have another World Series championship or two if they had just found ways to fill their lineup with a few mediocre players, instead of complete offensive sinkholes.

Which brings us back to 2003 and Vinny Castilla versus Mark DeRosa.

As I see it, here is how the Atlanta lineup shapes up for 2003:

With an outfield as good as the Braves have (the Jones brothers and Gary Sheffield), it is very hard to have a bad offense, but somehow they managed to do it in 2002.

They picked up Robert Fick to play 1B in the off-season, which is a good thing I guess - although I think they could have found a better option at 1B (actually, the platoon of Matt and Julio Franco, if used correctly, is a very good one).

With the loss of Tom Glavine to free agency and Kevin Millwood to an idiotic trade, the Braves have "re-made" their rotation and, in my opinion, it is significantly worse than it has been in years.

Because of that, they are going to have to score some runs and playing Mark DeRosa at 3B over Vinny Castilla is a good way to start.

I've said it in a previous entry and I'll say it again: The Philadelphia Phillies will win the NL East Division in 2003.

I think it'll be close, but in the end the Phillies will win it, in no small part because of the Braves helping them immensely by sending them Kevin Millwood.

Atlanta has already helped Philly enough and they've also weakened themselves quite a bit, so letting Vinny Castilla make 400 outs at third base is overkill, unless they don't have any more room in Turner Field for pennants or something and they've just decided to cut back on the winning for a while.

Vinny Castilla had this to say about his 2002 season:

"I didn't hit the way I know I can hit, but we had a great year as a team," Castilla, 35, said. "Winning cures everything."

He is absolutely right about winning curing everyting, but at some point it also masks some problems, like having a 3B that can't hit.

The Braves have won in the past despite having some really horrendous offensive players in their lineup, but at some point it's going to catch up to them in a big way and with the pitching losses and the Phillies making some big moves, this definitely looks like the year.

Of course, I am pretty sure Atlanta fans have heard that a few times before.

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

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