March 24, 2003

Aaron's Baseball Blog 2003 Season Preview: AL East

Other Previews:

American League Central

American League West

National League East

National League Central

National League West

Last year's standings:

AL East           W      L    Win%      GB

New York 103 58 .640 ----
Boston 93 69 .574 10.5
Toronto 78 84 .481 25.5
Baltimore 67 95 .414 36.5
Tampa Bay 55 106 .342 48.0

This year's prediction:


93-69 (.574) | 2nd Place (10.5 GB)

859 Runs Scored (2nd) | 665 Runs Allowed (3rd)

Before all the Yankee fans get all upset that I have them in second place, let me point out the fact that I think the 2nd place team in the AL East will win the Wild Card this season, so it really doesn't matter what order they finish in. And, since the Red Sox haven't won the division since 1995, I figured I would make the gutsy pick and put them ahead of the Yankees. But fear not pinstripers, I expect both teams to thoroughly dominate baseball this year and each finish with 100+ wins.

My reason for liking the Red Sox so much is pretty simple. They had an excellent pitching staff last year and it should once again be very good. And they had the 2nd best offense in the AL last season and I think they have made several improvements to it during the off-season.

I actually devoted an entire column to breaking down the Boston offense back when they signed Kevin Millar in February:

Likely starters and 2002 EqA:

Manny Ramirez - .370

Jeremy Giambi - .322

Nomar Garciaparra - .304

Kevin Millar - .302

Johnny Damon - .292

Trot Nixon - .284

Shea Hillenband - .277

Todd Walker - .269

Jason Varitek - .257

Likely bench and 2002 EqA:

David Ortiz - .290

Bill Mueller - .270

Lou Merloni - .267

Doug Mirabelli - .260

Damian Jackson - .260

Some thoughts...

Aside from Barry Bonds, there aren't many hitters in the world that can say they are better than Manny Ramirez. He hit .349/.450/.647 last year, which was good for a .370 EqA. He had a .336 EqA in 2001, a .364 EqA in 2000 and a .353 EqA in 1999. Ramirez is also currently working on a streak of 8 straight seasons with an EqA over .315. The problem with Manny is, of course, that he is always missing a couple dozen games a year. He played in 120 last year and 147, 118 and 142 the previous 3 years. When he's in the lineup, he's most likely among the top 3-5 hitters in the world, but you can't count on him being healthy for 155-160 games, ever. Manny can pretty much be counted on to post a .340-.370 EqA.

Nomar Garciaparra had a very good season last year, hitting .310/.352/.528. Those numbers are awesome for a shortstop and pretty much the same stats the AL MVP Miguel Tejada put up (.308/.354/.508). But, Nomar's season was considered a slight disappointment, which tells you something about how great he was in previous years. Nomar's .304 EqA last year was his lowest since his rookie season, 1997 (he had a .281 EqA in 2001, but in only 83 at bats). From 1998-2000, Nomar posted EqAs of .311, .337 and .341. 2002 was a comeback season for Nomar, since he missed almost the entire 2001 year with a wrist injury. Because of that, I would expect him to boost his EqA by 10 or 15 points in 2003 and I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up at around .325 or so.

We might as well talk about the man of the hour, Kevin Millar. As you can see by the above chart (it is a chart, right?), Millar had the 4th best EqA of any projected Red Sox starter last year. That fact may surprise some of you, but it wasn't a fluke. Prior to the .304 EqA last year, Millar had posted EqAs of .277, .289 and finally .312 in 2001. He should be a good bet to post a .300 EqA in 2002.

Although, there is one major reason to not think that...

Here are Millar's home/road splits for the past 2 years:


Home = .333/.384/.558

Road = .275/.346/.454


Home = .355/.414/.667

Road = .271/.332/.443

Those are really odd stats, mostly because Millar's home park during that time was Pro Player Stadium, which is a definite pitcher's park and a horrible place for power hitters. During that 2 year stretch, Millar had 459 at bats at home and 428 on the road. He hit 24 homers and 41 doubles at home and 12 homers and 37 doubles on the road.

According to Diamond-Mind, Pro Player had a "Home Run Rating" of 85 for right handed hitters last year, meaning it decreased homers by righties by 15%. I don't have the numbers from 2001 in front of me, but I am fairly certain they were similar. Despite the park cutting down homers by righties (which is what Millar is) by 15%, Millar actually hit twice as many homers at home, in about the same amount of at bats. Like I said, very strange.

Before I get too carried away with those "splits" I want to point out what he did in 1999 and 2000 too:


Home = .241/.325/.444

Road = .278/.403/.556


Home = .284/.365/.426

Road = .286/.359/.440

Now, those numbers make a little more sense to me. But, I tend to want to go by the most recent numbers, which say that Millar was a much better hitter at home in the last 2 years, despite Pro Player being a not-so-great place for right handed power hitters. In case you're wondering, Fenway, Millar's new home, had a homer rating of 96 last year, which is pretty much neutral.

Like I said, I expect him to post a .300 EqA, give or take a few points, but his 2001 and 2002 home/road splits are a possible sign of concern.

After a horrible 2001 season with Oakland, Johnny Damon bounced back in a big way, posting a .296 EqA. That number goes right in line with his 1999 and 2000 seasons with Kansas City, when he posted EqAs of .294 and .297. I'd feel safe penciling Damon in for a .290-.300 EqA in 2003.

Trot Nixon posted a .284 EqA in 2002, which was very good. But, it was almost 20 points lower than his 2001 EqA of .303. I think Trot could very easily post another .300+ EqA this year, but the .284 does go right along with his 1999 and 2000 EqAs of .282 and .284.

I couldn't decide whether to put Shea Hillenbrand as the starter at 3B or Bill Mueller. A few weeks ago, I would have bet the house on Hillenbrand not being on the Sox come opening day, but the further we get to actual spring training games, the more I start to wonder. If he's on the team, I think he'll get most of the time at 3B, although the Sox didn't sign Mueller to a 2 year deal to sit on the bench. Hillenbrand posted a .277 EqA last year after a .237 EqA in his rookie year. I think somewhere in between is probably a good bet for his 2003 level, but with a player like Hillenbrand, who knows?

Todd Walker is Boston's new second baseman and he posted a .269 EqA in Cincinnati last season. That is not a great EqA, but I really think Walker is a perfect hitter for Fenway - or Fenway is a perfect park for a hitter like Walker. He isn't a power hitter as much as he is a doubles-hitter. I think he'll take advantage of that gigantic green thing out in left field and smack 50+ doubles in 2003 (he had 42 doubles last year). I'm gonna say he'll get his EqA to about .275 in 2003, but that's me being conservative.

The Red Sox bench is going to be a strength in 2003 after being a major weakness most of last season. David Ortiz had a .290 EqA with the Twins last year and, as a Twins fan, let me say that he posted that good EqA without really having a great season. Ortiz is incredibly injury prone and incredibly talented, so it wouldn't surprise me if he hit for a .320 EqA in 2003 and it wouldn't surprise me if he broke some bone in April and missed half the year. His EqAs the past 3 years have been .276, .273 and .290, so he's a very nice 1B/DH/Pinch-Hit bat to have off the bench.

Doug Mirabelli is another great bench threat. He absolutely destroys lefties.

vs lefties:

2002 = .364/.440/.750 (50 PAs)

2001 = .283/.367/.717 (60 PAs)

That is a very small sample size, but those are the kind of numbers that scream for a full-time platoon job. And Mirabelli might just get that in 2003, as I've heard talks of him not only catching, but playing 1B a little against lefties too. I will guarantee he gets more than 50 or 60 plate appearances against lefties in 2003.

Lou Merloni is a nice backup middle-infielder and also a very good hitter against lefties. He hit .321/.406/.518 against them in 2002 and .303/.343/.606 against them in 2001.

I wouldn't be surprised if he and Todd Walker (who struggles a little against lefties) were in a platoon situation at second base by mid-season.

Basically, I think the Red Sox have a tremdendous offense and I wouldn't be surprised if they topped 900 runs in 2002, possibly even coming close to 1,000. Speaking of which...


103-58 (.640) | 1st Place

897 Runs Scored (1st) | 697 Runs Allowed (4th)

The Yankees are an interesting team (then again, when aren't they an interesting team?) Their pitching is getting older and, in my opinion, weaker. Their defense has been mediocre for quite a while and is only getting worse. But, their offense seems to add a piece every single year and this year that piece is potentially an MVP-caliber corner outfielder. They may have the best everyday lineup that baseball has seen in quite a few years:

2B - Alfonso Soriano

SS - Derek Jeter

CF - Bernie Williams

1B - Jason Giambi

LF - Hideki Matsui

C - Jorge Posada

3B - Robin Ventura

RF - Raul Mondesi

DH - Nick Johnson/Bubba Trammell/Todd Zeile

Any of those first 6 guys (Soriano through Posada) could easily be the best player on a about half the other teams in the league. There is no question this team is going to score a lot of runs (they led the AL with 897 last year). The big question in my mind is whether or not they can score 1,000 runs - which is, in my opinion, the big milestone for a team.

The 1999 Cleveland Indians are the last team to do it. So if 1,000 runs were scored just a few seasons ago, why is it a big deal? Well, before the Indians did it in 1999, the last team to plate 1,000 runs were the 1950 Boston Red Sox!

Before I get to the 2003 Yankees, I want to take a look at the last two 1,000 run teams...

The 1999 Cleveland Indians were really an amazing team. Jim Thome hit .277/.426/.540 and he was probably the 3rd best offensive player on the team.

Manny Ramirez hit .333/.442/.663 with 44 homers and drove in 165 runs, the most since Hank Greenberg in 1937! How in the world did he drive in 165 runs? Well, first of all he hit the snot out of the ball all season long. Aside from that however, he had guys on base in front of him pretty much constantly. Check out the first 3 hitters in the lineup for the 1999 Indians:

Player             AVG     OBP     SLG    SB

Kenny Lofton .301 .405 .432 25
Omar Vizquel .333 .397 .436 42
Roberto Alomar .323 .422 .533 37

That really is incredible. All 3 guys hit over .300, got on base about 40% of the time and had a lot of speed.

In fact, pretty much everyone on the team got on base at huge clips. The first 6 spots in the lineup had the following OBPs: .405, .397, .422, .442, .426, .413. You show me a lineup where the first 6 guys all get on base 40% of the time and I'll show you a ton of runs.

Richie Sexson had an OBP of only .305, the lowest of any of their significant contributors, but he hit 31 homers and slugged .514!

Cleveland even got decent production out of their starting catcher, Einar Diaz, who hit .281/.328/.362 with 11 stolen bases. Their backup catcher was Sandy Alomar Jr. and he hit .307/.322/.533 in 137 ABs.

Along with Alomar, the bench had some other guys that had very good years. Wil Cordero hit .299/.364/.500, Alex Ramirez hit .299/.327/.474, Jacob Cruz hit .330/.368/.511.

Heck, even their pitchers hit well in 1999! Cleveland pitchers had a combined 21 at bats and hit .190/.261/.476 with a homer and 2 runs batted in.

The team on-base % was .372! They hit .289 with 209 homers, 309 doubles and 743 walks. They slugged .467.

Despite their incredible hitting, Cleveland also led the AL in stolen bases with 147!

Their pitching staff was very mediocre, but with that offense it didn't even matter.

Charles Nagy had a 4.95 ERA and won 17 games. Dave Burba won 15 with a 4.25 ERA. Jaret Wright had a 6.06 ERA and still went 8-10.

The 1950 Red Sox are an interesting team too. They scored 1,027 runs...and did so in only 154 games and without the designated hitter. That's almost 6.7 runs per ballgame and about 1,080/162.

The star of the 1950 BoSox was none other than Ted Williams. The amazing thing about them scoring so many runs is that they only got 89 games out of Williams. He hit .317/.452/.647, but only got 416 plate appearances. The rest of the lineup more than picked up the slack though.

Nine different players got over 250 at bats and every single one of them had an OBP over .360. 5 of them got on base over 40% of the time.

Billy Goodman subbed for The Splendid Splinter in left field and hit .354/.427/.455. First baseman Walt Droppo hit .322/.378/.583 and drove in 144 runs. Second baseman Bobby Doerr hit .294/.367/.519 and drove in 120 runs. Their shortstop (and this was when shortstops hit like shortstops), Vern Stephens, hit .295/.361/.511 and drove in 144 runs.

Like the 1999 Indians, a lot of their pitchers racked up some nice win totals despite less than stellar pitching. Chuck Stobbs went 12-7 despite a 5.10 ERA and Willard Nixon went 8-6 with a 6.04 ERA.

In fact, there were 10 pitchers on the 1950 Red Sox that pitched 20 or more innings and only one of them, Mel Parnell, had an ERA under 4.00 and his was 3.61.

In looking at the numbers, the 1999 Indians and 1950 Red Sox have a lot of similarities...

First and foremost, they got outstanding offensive contributions from almost everyone on the team. Second, they had several players (Dropo, Williams, Doerr, Stephens for the Red Sox and Ramirez, Thome, Alomar for the Indians) that had MVP-caliber seasons.

In 1950, the AL hit .271/.353/.402.

In 1999, the AL hit .275/.344/.439.

Pretty darn close, give or take 10 points of OBP and 30 points of SLG.

In 1950, the Red Sox hit .302/.382/.464 with 32 SBs.

In 1999, the Indians hit .289/.372/.467 with 147 SBs.

Can the Yankees score 1,000 runs? One big drawback for them is that the current offensive environment is quite a bit less offensive than it was in 1950 and 1999. The AL hit only .264/.327/.424 last year, which is 32 points of OPS less than in 1999. I would assume the 2003 offensive environment will be very similar to what it was last year, which hurts the Yankees chances, but doesn't take them completely out of the running.

I think the #1 thing that a 1,000 run team must do is get on base throughout the lineup. No matter how much power a team has, in order to score that many runs you need to avoid making outs and keep turning the lineup over (and over and over...). The 1950 BoSox and 1999 Indians each led the AL in OBP by fairly healthy margins.

Last year, the Yankees also led the AL in on-base % at .354. That isn't as impressive as the .382 OBP by the 1950 Red Sox or the .372 by the 1999 Indians, but the leagues they played in had collective OBPs that were 26 and 17 points higher than the 2002 AL.

The way I see it, there are 2 big keys for the Yankees chances of scoring 1,000 runs: 1) Derek Jeter and 2) Hideki Matsui.

Derek Jeter had his worst offensive season since 1997, his second year in the league. He hit under .300 for the first time since 1997, slugged under .480 for the first time since 1997 and had his lowest OBP since 1997.

At the same time, he was still one of the best hitting shortstops in all of baseball, finishing with an OPS+ of 113 and a RARP ("Runs Above Replacement Position") of 52.0, which ranked 4th in all of baseball - behind only Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. Derek Jeter was definitely an elite player last year and a big part of the reason why the Yankees scored almost 900 runs. However, for them to have a shot at 1,000, he needs to hit like he did a few years ago.

Will he? I doubt it. A lot of people saw his season last year as the latest season of a multi-year decline that has been taking place since his big year in 1999.

1999 = .349/.438/.552 (.989 OPS)

2000 = .339/.416/.481 (.896 OPS)

2001 = .311/.377/.480 (.858 OPS)

2002 = .297/.373/.421 (.794 OPS)

Now, it is obvious that his raw numbers are declining. He has dropped from a .989 OPS to a .794 OPS in just 4 years and he OPSs have gone down 93, 38 and 64 points.

However, beyond the raw numbers you see that the overall offensive level of the American League went down quite a bit from 2000 to its current level. By looking at a stat that adjusts individual performance by the context of the league it was accumulated in, we see this:

1998 = 126 OPS+

1999 = 161 OPS+

2000 = 123 OPS+

2001 = 125 OPS+

2002 = 113 OPS+

Which one of those is unlike the others? Well, it is definitely his 1999 season.

Basically, I think Derek Jeter is a 115-125 OPS+ hitter - which is pretty great - and that his 1999 season was simply his "career year." Instead of him being in a serious decline since then, I think he has simply played up to his normal level, which is lower than his career year, obviously. Add in some decreased league offense and it appears as though he is dropping 50 points of OPS every year, when he has really been essentially the same hitter for his entire career, except for that 1999 season.

I expect him to have a better season than he had in 2002, but I definitely don't think he is going to approach his 1999 performance. If he can hit about .310/.380/.480, like he did in 2001, he'll be worth quite a few more runs than last season.

Hideki Matsui is the wild card here, because we simply don't know how he will do. Baseball Prospectus 2003 projects him to hit .281/.407/.547 with 31 homers in 501 at bats. That seems about right to me.

In fact, back in December when Matsui signed with the Yankees, I wrote the following:

It wouldn't surprise me to see Matsui hit about .290 with 35 homers, 90 walks and solid corner outfield defense, which would make him one of the better outfielders in baseball.

New York's biggest offensive weakspots last season were left field and right field. Yankee LFs hit .238/.282/.366 last year. Even if Matsui hits only .270/.350/.450, which would be a huge dropoff from what I expect from him, that would be a massive improvement over what the Yankees had in LF last year.

New York scored 897 runs in 2002 and did so while getting almost zero contribution from left field. Hideki Matsui has a chance to be one of the better LFs in the AL this year and should be at least a 30-40 run improvement over the junk they had out there in 2002.

New York returns the same starters at C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B and CF. If I had to guess, I would say Soriano and Ventura decline; Bernie Williams, Posada and Giambi stay about the same and Jeter improves.

Right field was a bad spot in the lineup last year too, but they return the same RF, Raul Mondesi, that played almost the entire second half of the season there for the Yankees last year. Still, he should be able to improve slightly upon the .260/.331/.416 they got from their RFs last year (Mondesi hit only .232/.308/.432 last year, but he hit .252/.342/.453 in 2001 and .271/.329/.523 in 2000).

The potential DH platoon of Nick Johnson against righties and Bubba Trammell against lefties should also be able to put up some good numbers. When all is said and done, the Yankees return much of the same team that scored 900 runs last year and there chances of 1,000 are going to hinge on whether or not Jeter bounces back and exactly how great Hideki Matsui is in his first American season.


78-84 (.481) | 3rd Place (25.5 GB)

813 Runs Scored (7th) | 828 Runs Allowed (9th)

The Toronto Blue Jays have an outstanding young nucleus of players, a great front office and organization and, if they were in another division, perhaps the AL Central or even the NL Central, they would have a pretty good shot at winning it and might even be considered the favorites by some people. As it stands now, they will have to settle for their 5th straight year finishing in 3rd place, behind New York and Boston.

Toronto is right on the verge of making the leap from .500 team to legit contender.

This is what their lineup could look like, as soon as late-2003:

C - Kevin Cash (25 years old)

1B - Carlos Delgado (30)

2B - Orlando Hudson (25)

SS - Russ Adams (22)

3B - Eric Hinske (25)

LF - John-Ford Griffin (23)

CF - Vernon Wells (24)

RF - Jayson Werth (23)

DH - Josh Phelps (24)

That is a very promising group. Aside from Delgado, every player is 25 and under right now. There is power (Delgado, Phelps, Hinske, Wells, Werth), speed (Hudson, Adams, Wells) and even defense (Cash, Wells). Plus, it is an incredibly cheap lineup, as Wells and Hinske recently signed for about $3 mill a year and everyone else besides Delgado would be making the minimum still.

I would like to official jump on the "Toronto Blue Jays in 2004 and beyond" bandwagon and I hope you will all join me.

For this year, 82-88 wins seems like a good bet, although they could surprise some people and have a shot at 90+, depending on their pitching. After this year though, look out. If Toronto can find some top-level pitching to go along with Roy Halladay and Jason Arnold, the top 3 in the AL East is going to be very fun to watch for the rest of the decade.


67-95 (.414) | 4th Place (36.5 GB)

667 Runs Scored (13th) | 773 Runs Allowed (7th)

The Baltimore Orioles are the absolute worst type of team to be a fan of.

1) They have a long history of successful teams, which makes their current crapiness all the more painful.

2) They have absolutely no farm system to speak of, so fans can't even look forward to "next year" or even "next decade."

3) Their current team is filled with a bunch of old, over-paid, under-performing veterans, so you can't even root for young guys and think of them as an underdog type of team.

What can I say about them really? Not much, so I won't. They have no chance of finishing higher than 4th and will be in a dogfight with Tamoa Bay to stay out of the basement.

For Baltimore fans, check back in like 2015 - maybe Ripken's kid will be playing by then or something.


55-106 (.342) | 5th Place (48.0 GB)

673 Runs Scored (12th) | 918 Runs Allowed (14th)

In short, the Devil Rays have absolutely no chance of doing anything good this year. Lou Piniella can yell and scream all he wants (and believe me, he will) and they still won't win 75 games.

That said, there is one interesting aspect of the Devil Rays that is definitely worth tracking in 2003 (which I wrote about earlier):

Last year, Tampa Bay drew 456 walks, which ranked 12th in the AL. In the off-season, two of their big walkers, Steve Cox (60 walks) and Randy Winn (55) departed.

The Detroit Tigers drew 363 walks last season and I remembered hearing that 363 walks was the lowest total by a team in "X years," but I couldn't quite remember how many years or where I had heard it.

So, I enlisted the help of Craig Burley of Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box and he did the grunt work for me and found that Detroit's total of 363 walks as a team was the lowest total in a non-strike season since the 1967 Mets drew 362 walks.

That's pretty freaking amazing. But you wanna know something? I think the Tampa Bay Devil Rays just might draw fewer than 363 walks this season.

Let's take a look at the main players...

Their starting catcher will be Toby Hall. Hall is a pretty good hitter. He has a career AAA batting line of .328/.365/.533 in 163 games. And he's even done reasonably well so far in the Majors, hitting .270/.302/.402 in 2001 and 2002 combined.

Actually, he has a total of 138 games played in the Majors Leagues, which is a nice number for our purposes because I want to figure out how many he's likely to draw in a full-season's worth of playing time.

In 138 games, Hall has drawn 22 walks. So, let's say he's a little more mature now and a little more ready to be a Major League hitter and give him the benefit of the doubt of 25 walks in full-time (catcher) playing time, which is like 120 games or so.

The backup catcher is likely going to be Jorge Fabregas (seriously, don't laugh). Jorge drew 8 walks in 169 plate appearances last year and 3 walks in 157 PAs in 2001, so I'd say he's a good bet to walk about 5 times in approximately 150 PAs this year.

Okay, so we've got the catcher spot covered and we're giving them a total of 30 walks.

Now let's move to the infield...

Travis Lee is going to be their everyday first baseman. He walked 54 times in 153 games last year and 71 times in 157 games in 2001. I'd say Lee is a good bet to walk 65 times in 2003.

The second base job is between Brent Abernathy and Marlon Anderson right now. Abernathy walked 25 times in 117 games last year, while Anderson walked 42 times in 145 games. I am not sure who will get the everyday job, but either way we are looking at about 40 walks from second base.

Their shortstop is none other than Rey Ordonez. At first glance, Rey's walk totals simply look horrible. Upon further inspection, we find out that, because he was batting in front of the pitcher in the NL, he was walked intentionally 17 times in 2001 and 11 times last year, making his walk totals ridiculously awful.

I can assure you that if Rey Ordonez stays in AL he will not see 11 intentional walks for the rest of his career, even if he plays till he's like 167 years old. When you take the IBBs away, Ordonez had 13 walks in 144 games last year and 17 walks in 149 games in 2001. Let's say he's good for 20 walks in 2003.

The third base battle in Tampa Bay isn't quite won yet, but I have heard that Aubrey Huff will likely play there quite a bit. Huff was Tampa's best hitter last season, hitting .313/.364/.520 with 37 walks in 113 games. Huff walked only 23 times in 111 games the year before. Let's assume he continues to be their best hitter and pitchers become somewhat scared to pitch to him and he is able to draw 45 walks this year.

The loser of the 2B battle will be one of the backup infielders and the other will likely be Jared Sandberg. Sandberg drew 39 walks in 102 games last year. He actually walks quite a bit (and Ks even more), so I would say he could walk 30 times if he's given about 250 plate appearances between 1B, 3B and DH.

Speaking of DH, Greg Vaughn is still there for the D-Rays. Vaughn actually walks quite a bit too. He walked 41 times in only 297 plate appearances last year. Let's say he gets another 300 PAs in 2003 and walks 40 times.

In right field the D-Rays have Ben Grieve, who is quite the walker. In fact, if the D-Rays don't break the Tigers' record, he'll be to blame. Grieve walked 69 times in 136 games last year and 87 times in 2001. I think he's a good bet to walk about 75 times in 2003.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why this team is even being mentioned as a possibility for walking even less than the Tigers did in 2003. After all, they have Grieve and Vaughn and some other guys that walk a little bit.

Oh, but we haven't gotten to the good parts yet.

Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, two 21 year olds, will be manning center and left field in 2003. Crawford got significant time with Tampa Bay last year and walked 9 times in 278 plate appearances, which is really tough to do. Before coming to Tampa, Crawford played 85 games in AAA and walked 20 times. So, combined between AAA and the Majors he walked 29 times in 149 games.

As I mentioned in my prospects article from earlier this year, Rocco Baldelli spent time at three different levels on Tampa's organization last year and walked a total of 23 times in 117 games.

I don't think it is crazy to suggest that, if given every day playing time in 2003, Crawford and Baldelli could combine for 1,200 plate appearances and 40-50 walks. Let's be kind and give them 50.

The D-Rays' backup outfielders will probably be Damian Rolls (13 walks in 347 career Major League PAs) and Jason Conti (26 walks in 349 career PAs). Let's say these two guys combine for 300 PAs and mark them down for 20 walks.

Okay, so let's see what we've got here...

Toby Hall - 25

Jorge Fabregas - 5

Travis Lee - 65

Brent Abernathy - 25

Marlon Anderson - 15

Aubrey Huff - 45

Jared Sandberg - 30

Greg Vaughn - 40

Ben Grieve - 75

Rocco Baldelli - 25

Carl Crawford - 25

Damian Rolls - 5

Jason Conti - 15

That comes out to a total of 395 walks and that was with me giving most everyone the benefit of the doubt and going with the high end of estimates. Obviously this was a very "quick and dirty" calculation, but I really think the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a good chance of doing something that no team has done in over 35 years, which is draw fewer than 350 walks in a full, non-strike season. Hey, every team needs a goal, right?

The 1966 St. Louis Cardinals drew 345 walks, making the last team to have less than 350 in a year. Wanna know the most interesting thing about that? The Cardinals won the World Series the next year!

But wait, this gets even more interesting. That 1967 Mets team that is the last to draw fewer walks than the Tigers did last season? Well, they won the World Series two seasons later!

So, for those Tigers fans out there (and I assume there are still a few of you left), that is some good news for you to ponder while watching your team hack its way to another 90+ loss season. The last two teams to walk less than you did last year each won the World Series within the next two seasons!

All the more reason for the D-Rays to shoot for less than 363 walks this year. If they can do it, they'll get that World Series trophy by 2005!

Since I wrote that, the D-Rays released one of their biggest walkers, Greg Vaughn, and traded another guy with decent plate discipline, Jason Conti. I'll make sure to keep everyone updated throughout the season as the Devil Rays try to complete "Operation: Swing Away."

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

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