Player Reviews: The Renewables (A Pixar Film Presented by Disney), Part 3

1B/DH Pronk – Age 27
2004 Salary: $316, 300
2004 EQA: .337 (1st in AL)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005)

Hafner failed to finish in the top 10 in the MVP voting, but that wasn’t much of a shock. Full-time DHs don’t usually fare well in MVP voting…well, except for David Ortiz. But that’s a topic for another time and place. Regardless, Hafner was the best hitter in the American League this season; he lead the league in OPS+ and EQA (scroll down a bit). So he didn’t hit 40 home runs. So what? Hafner was third in the league in OBP and fourth in SLG. Folks, that’s a damned good hitter. I may be jumping the gun a bit, but his career path looks eerily similar to Edgar Martinez, who also didn’t accumulate 400 at-bats in a season until he was 27. I’m not saying that Hafner will be the left-handed Edgar Martinez, but that’s who he reminds me of when looking at his overall game. Hafner’s best weapon is his stellar eye; he didn’t look like a quasi-rookie at the plate this season. Pronk is probably always going to be a liability in the field, but in the American League, that’s not a problem.

The biggest question regarding Hafner is not whether he can maintain this kind of production from year to year; like Victor Martinez, his minor-league numbers back up the kind of year he just had. I think injuries, and more specifically, the elbow, is going to be the biggest question mark with Pronk; he missed time in 2003 with a wrist injury, and his 2004 campaign ended early with a sore elbow.

LHSP Cliff Lee – Age 26
2004 Salary: $303,200
2004 VORP: 10.9
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005 or 2006)

Unlike Jason Davis, I’m still bullish on Lee despite the numbers. Lee is what some call a “three true outcomes” pitcher; which means lots of home runs, strikeouts, and walks. A lot of Lee’s problems came after the All-Star Break, when he seemed to lose his control…and the home runs started to pile up. His record does mask how bad he pitched, but I think there’s hope for Lee. His strikeout ratios haven’t dropped, and his stuff is still there. Lee did pitch almost 200 innings last season as the #2 pitcher in the rotation, but now that he’ll be slotted a little lower, he should have less of a workload, and with a full season under his belt, better stamina over the long summer. For the Indians to make the next step, run prevention has to get better, and Cliff Lee should have a lot to say about that.

C Victor Martinez – Age 25
2004 Salary: $304,500
2004 EQA: .285
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005 or 2006)

Ignore the RBIs Martinez had. Instead look at his extra-base hits, his walks, and his strikeouts. All were exemplary for a catcher, and a great sign for years to come. I’ll fully admit that Martinez is not a good defensive catcher; that may change over the course of his career, but still his defense is good enough to allow for him to stay behind the plate. Besides, when you have an offensive weapon at catcher, you don’t move him to a less strategic position on the diamond. Martinez the catcher will be a multiple-time All-Star; Martinez the first baseman will be average. That’s the difference between Martinez and Ben Broussard, and also the reason why the defensive spectrum matters.

What the Indians can do to maximize Martinez’ value is to rest him more often. Josh Bard will help matters some next year, as will Ryan Garko eventually. Catchers, no matter how physically fit they are, tend to wear down in July and August, and Martinez was no exception in 2004.

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