Tom Verducci's View

May 16, 2004

A STAFF IN DECLINE

In addition to losing shortstop Miguel Tejada to free agency, the
Athletics took other key--if less publicized--hits last winter
when they let pitching coach Rick Peterson take the same position
with the Mets and traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Padres
for outfielder Mark Kotsay. Without Peterson and Hernandez the
A's don't have superior pitching, and without superior pitching
they are a mediocre club.

"They are much more predictable in their [pitching] patterns,"
says one American League player. "They took away the guy who
developed the system and the top professor."

At week's end Oakland's ERA had climbed from 3.63 last year to
4.33 this season (the Mets' had dropped from 4.48 to 3.72), and
the staff was yielding home runs at a rate 23% greater than last
year's. Lefthander Barry Zito, who had never given up more than
two homers in a start before this season, served up four dingers
against the Yankees on April 29. A week later, also against the
Yankees, manager Ken Macha allowed 22-year-old righthander Rich
Harden to throw an eyebrow-raising 121 pitches.

The A's have been a strong second-half club. But with a
soft-tossing bullpen that can't get strikeouts, an unsteady
closer (Arthur Rhodes) and the brain drain created by the
departures of Peterson and Hernandez, Oakland will be
hard-pressed to get to the postseason for a fifth straight
season.

HIGH-FLYING ANGELS

Anaheim has established itself as the team to beat in the
American League West, a club capable of winning the division by
as many as 10 games. What about its so-so starting pitching?
Doesn't matter.

"They're exactly like the 1995 Indians," one AL scout says. "They
have a power bullpen that strikes people out, and they wear you
out with their offense." The Angels, led by rightfielder Vladimir
Guerrero, ranked third in the AL in runs (185) and were on pace
to score 937, which would shatter the team record of 866 in 1979.

DEBUNKING THE NEW-PARK MYTH

Every club that opens a new ballpark likes to cite the Jake
Effect, in which a team is bound to play better in a new home
with bigger crowds and more financial resources. In
strike-shortened 1994, their first year at Jacobs Field, the
Indians improved their winning percentage from .469 in '93 to
.584. The Padres (Petco Park) and the Phillies (Citizens Bank
Park), who opened new stadiums this spring, should know that such
improvement is no longer the rule.

Of the 12 teams that moved to a new stadium from 1991 through
2003 (not including Seattle, because in 1999 it opened Safeco
Field in July), six had a worse record in the first season in
their new home than they did the previous year, including four of
the past six. What's a new stadium worth in the standings? The 12
teams improved their winning percentage by .011--less than two
victories per team. Here are the biggest first-year winners and
losers in baseball's construction boom:

WINNERS LOSERS

TEAM, YEAR DIFF. TEAM, YEAR DIFF.

Orioles, 1992 +.135 Astros, 2000 -.155
Indians, 1994 +.115 Rangers, 1994 -.075
Rockies, 1995 +.082 Reds, 2003 -.055

THREE STRIKES

1. Word is circulating around the AL (again) that the Rangers may
be stealing pitchers' signs at The Ballpark in Arlington. Teams
apparently haven't noticed that The Ballpark is the AL version of
Coors Field: Everybody hits there.

2. While Carlos Silva (5-0) has helped keep Minnesota humming,
one AL scout predicts that the Twins will be even better in the
second half, especially with rookie catcher Joe Mauer (meniscus
tear) returning soon. "Their pitchers love throwing to him," the
scout says.

3. Coming to a park near you: the Bruce Chen tour. On May 3 the
Orioles obtained the 26-year-old lefthander, making it nine
organizations in four years for Chen.

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZAGARIS (ZITO) Zito COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN (GUERRERO) Guerrero COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES (CITIZENS BANK PARK) Citizens Bank Park

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)