Mazzone and Walker

By Jason Wojciechowski on October 20, 2005 at 6:35 PM

So with the rumors flying that Leo Mazzone was going to join the Yankees, it comes as a surprise to me that he's going to the Orioles on a three-year deal. Not only does he leave the team with which he made his name and which he's helped build into one of the most impressive dynasties of (I'll say it) all time, but he joins a team that hasn't sniffed success since I was in high school. Perhaps strangest of all is that the Orioles brought him in to replace Ray Miller, who's a pretty darn good pitching coach himself. As I recall, the Orioles experienced an immediate turnaround on their pitching staff when Miller was hired mid-year last season. Mazzone brings impeccable credentials to Baltimore, but what's the marginal gain for Baltimore? Is it really worth the extra expense and what's likely to be some ill will on the part of Miller and, perhaps, some of the pitchers as well? This is, obviously, a story to follow for 2006.

As for Miller, I hope, if he wants to continue coaching, he gets a job somewhere. Maybe he'd like to come work with the A's. I'd be perfectly happy to see Curt Young go back to the being a minor-league coordinator type, with Miller working in the majors. (This assumes, of course, that Miller's philosophies mesh well with the A's system.)

On a sadder note, it looks like Larry Walker's called it quits. Walker was a fun one to keep track of. For a guy with such injury problems (he reached 150 games in a season just once) to play seventeen season is a testament to work ethic, dedication, love for the game, and, I think, a whole host of other things. People who think about the game in the way I do tend to discount these things, but they're nice to appreciate sometimes in guys like Walker who battle back time after time from setback after setback.

Walker's best season, unsurprisingly, was that season in which he broke 150 games. That was 1997, with the Rockies, when he was 30 years old. Walker posted a .720 slugging percentage that year along with a .366 batting average and .452 on-base percentage. Those are amazing numbers, even accounting for the Coors effect. Adding in a slightly above-average fielding performance, Walker was worth almost 11 wins to his team that year. That was Colorado's best year to date (tied with 1996), but they still managed just 83 wins. Why? Well, that'd likely be due to the fact that the next best players on the team were Vinny Castilla, with 6.7 WARP, and then the immortal Roger Bailey with 5.4 WARP as a pitcher.

Consider the Giants in 2000, who leveraged a similar Barry Bonds season (11.4 WARP) into 97 wins and a division crown. That team also had Jeff Kent, who tied with Bonds in WARP, and threw in Rich Aurilia, with 6 WARP, Ellis Burks with 7.2, Bobby Estalella with 5.4, Livan Hernandez with 6.3, and Robb Nen with 7. The team totaled 75 WARP, compared with just 57.4 for the Rockies.

Sure, having two superstar seasons helped the Giants, but the Giants won their division by 11 games. If Kent dropped back to "very good" territory (say 8 WARP), the Giants will win going away. The Rockies wasted a number of great post-30 seasons by Walker by not managing to surround him with any talent whatsoever.

Walker's not a Hall of Fame guy, but he was a really good player for a long time, and certainly the best Canadian (sorry Tip O'Neill) ever to play our game.