Spring Training Revisited
Over the weekend we will see the month change and April become a memory, giving us a good time to look back at the month that was. For me, I was curious to see how well the month either validated or disproved the many predictions I made before the season. Most of these predictions were upon my return from my week-long Arizona trip, in which I saw ten teams in five days. Below are a few of the quotes I printed when returning from Arizona, with a recap about how smart -- or how stupid -- those comments look now.
Barry Zito was a mess...His curve was a mix between rarely being implemented and seldom finding the strike zone. And his fastball is just not good enough to get by hitters without the threat of his trademark hook...which isn't good news for an A's team dependent on his regression to Cy Young form.
Well, in fact, Barry Zito is a mess. In five starts the southpaw has a 6.60 ERA, with a sparkling 0-4 record. Zito's best start, an eight-inning two run game occured on one of the many nights in which the A's offense stagnated, giving him his third loss. In each of his other four starts he has allowed four runs, including getting blasted for eight earned runs in 3.1 innings against the lowly Devil Rays. The problem for Zito has been both the walk (11) in 30 innings, and even more so, the long ball. Zito still is having problems getting his fastball by hitters, which of course does not allow that fantastic curve to be established. The A's are hanging in there without the man they pinned their rotation hopes on, and his turnaround could help the A's prove naysayers wrong.
On the other hand, Jamie Moyer looked fantastic...The A's looked thrown off by his style.
Moyer has been quite the opposite of Zito this year, and has thrown off many a hitter with that unique style. Moyer has a 2.53 ERA, and has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a game. That's the good news, but the bad news is that AL West teams have shown to know him a little better than other teams. In his five starts this year, two have come against AL West teams, and they have accounted for six of his nine earned runs this season. But in 20.2 innings against AL Central teams, Moyer has allowed just three runs. This would bode well if Moyer played for a team like the Tigers or White Sox, but he will face AL West teams in about ten starts this year. This includes his next start, against the A's, the team he baffled in Spring Training.
Awful day for Keith Ginter. Two strikeouts, and some terrible defense up the middle. Ginter is a swallowable infielder on a bad team but a bench player on a good one.
The bad play has continued. Not only did Ginter lose the battle for second base, but he has not gotten steady playing time since Bobby Crosby got injured. Ginter has hit just .161 this season, allowing Marco Scutaro to step in as an everyday middle infielder. Ginter's play has even spawned Blez wondering aloud whether he might get traded when the 2004 AL Rookie of te Year returns. To his credit Ginter has yet to make an error in eight games at second, currently sporting the best zone rating of his career. Expect his bat to get better and his glove to get worse, but I can't promise Ken Macha will gain any confidence in him. A trade might just be best for Ginter, though I'm not quite sure Beane can get talent close to what he gave.
Also impressing me was Miguel Olivo and Justin Leone. Olivo should have a good season, and Seattle fans will like that he does everything (even run) pretty solidly.
Not quite. Olivo is currently hitting .189/.232/.245 this season, though he still is getting three at-bats for each of Dan Wilson's one. Dave Cameron wrote a great post talking about what Olivo needs to do to turn it around, and some sign of that has happened the last couple games. In his last three, Olivo has four hits in 11 at-bats, with two doubles, two walks and just one strikeout.
"Watching him hurts my shoulder." That's what my Dad said of Huston Street's 5/8 delivery, though his pitches were impressive.
Well, that's the last time I'm trusting my Dad. I'm kidding, though in this short season Street has quickly become one of Macha's most trusted relievers. Fifteen strikeouts in 12.2 innings, with just a 2.84 ERA in ten games. Street won't have the wins or saves, the sexy pitching statistics, to win the AL Rookie of the Year, but it's going to be hard to find players more valuable to their teams. Street has had one bad game in ten, a tradeoff that Beane and Macha will be able to swallow over the course of the season. My one question will be Street's endurance, as he has never come close to breaching the 60-70 game mark before.
At the plate, Weeks looks like a smaller version of Gary Sheffield, with a very similar stance. He also has a batting eye like Gary...He's an exciting talent, and should be pushing Spivey off soon.
On face value, Weeks numbers in AAA do not look too awe inspiring: .264/.346/.542. The huge increase in power that Weeks has shown is a fantastic sign, and shows a bit of validity in the Sheffield comparison. Weeks season numbers have been on the rise, as Weeks has been red-hot lately. In his last five games, Weeks is 8/20, hitting two home runs, a triple and a double during that span of games. With Spivey's OPS sitting at just .652, we might be seeing Weeks sooner rather than later as I predicted.
I've drawn criticism for my dislike for J.J. Hardy in the past, and I'll admit that Royce Clayton comparisons might be too much. His swing proved to me that twenty home run seasons are probably too much, but he looks like he makes tons of contact, runs well and has a great arm. I underrated him.
Alright, this is a notion that I should have stuck with. Hardy is having a tough time adjusting to Major League pitching, as I guessed that he would. Seeing him in Spring Training and being impressed has given me the lesson that I can't let one game impress me enough to rid me of my gut reaction. Hardy is hitting just .140 through 16 games, where Clayton was at just .170 after the same point. Neither had an OPS above .450 at this point, so the comparison is looking a little more apt. I think Hardy could still be a serviceable shortstop with the Brewers, but I do still believe that the ceiling many outlets anoited him while he was in the minors was a bit too much.
One of my predictions for 2005: bad things for Lyle Overbay.
OK, this is one where my gut and eyes really agreed. And in both cases, I seem to have been a little bit wrong. Overbay currently has an OPS of .851, with a fantastic .420 OBP. While Prince Fielder slowly adjusts to AAA pitching in Nashville, it appears that Overbay is truly proving that Mark Grace comparisons aren't too crazy after all. This is great news for the Brewers because in one year's time they will likely attempt to move Lyle, and an .851 OPS will go a much farther way to getting a good package than what I would have predicted.
Expect the combination of age, leaving Leo Mazzone, and moving to Arizona to make the Russ Ortiz signing look about as good as the Bartolo Colon one did a year ago.
While I guess the Colon analogy still applies since Bartolo had a modest 4.07 ERA after April last year, I have been impressed with Russ this year. Part of his success equation, I think, was not switching leagues as Colon did. Ortiz, with a 3.60 ERA, has not been an ace to the Diamondbacks by any means, but he has been one of the club's most effective starters. No one is ever going to believe that Ortiz got the raw end of his contract, but if he keeps pitching like this, I think the Diamondbacks could live with it. But given his K/BB ratio, which given has always been pretty suspect, I'm not too confident that Ortiz won't turn into Colon like I suspected in March.
I was equally as low on Ryan Drese. Before watching him pitch, Drese would have been one of the first people I thought likely to regress in 2005. After watching him, I'm not so sure that he isn't Orel Hershiser's best success yet...Drese is succeeding as a starter, but if that falls apart down the road, a move to relief might be the best career move.
Another one of those examples of when I let one apperance change the entire feeling I had about the player entering the game. Like most everyone else, it was pretty obvious to me before going to Arizona that Ryan Drese's season last year was a little over the level that he should be suspected to pitch at. But watching Drese dominate the Diamondback lineup, including great hitters like Troy Glaus and Shawn Green, I started to second guess myself. Wrong I was. Drese currently has a 6.25 ERA, and is making the Rangers look like fools for expecting Drese to take one of the top two spots of that rotation. Unlike we noted about Spring Training and last season, Drese's problems have been the first three innings, as opposed to his endurance. I don't even have a guess on why this would be, but I know that the pitching-needing Rangers aren't going to have a lot of patience with Ryan.
Brandon Lyon came into the game for the seventh and eighth innings, and he looked fantastic. Seeing as though Jose Cruz Jr. and Shane Nance are the only things left from the Curt Schilling trade, it is likely important to management for Lyon to have a good year.
This is the prediction I am most pleased with. I nailed this one, especially considering that I picked Lyon up in time to get all ten of his saves in fantasy baseball, before dealing him in the last couple days. I think Lyon, like when he played in Boston, will be a little more susceptible to National League hitters when he faces them for the second and third time. His power sinker has worked well in April with an ERA under two, and the league-leading save total, but we can only guess how much longer that will last. A combination of hitters getting the book on Lyon, and a decrease in the Diamondback way of play will leave me shocked if Brandon gets 25 more saves this season.
Derrek Lee also looks like he will continue his streak of poor Aprils, as he struck out in two of his three at-bats.
We go from a genius prediction, to an idiotic one. Continue his streak of poor Aprils? Try .416/.489/.714 through April 25! Lee has been far and away the most dangerous Cubs hitter this season, accomplishing the feats I had expected of him a year ago. Whether he will regress into the consistent player he has been for seasons remains to be seen, but there is no question that Derrek has the hitting ability to keep a .298 ISO going. I'm going to guess that the .416 average goes down a bit by September, but given a little more production from the rest of the lineup, that will be a pill that Cub fans don't mind swallowing.
On the opposite end, Rich Harden looked great in this game. His curve was on, and the main reason for his six strikeouts. He needed only 75 pitches in five innings, even given his struggles in a five-hit third inning. His fastball is pretty hittable, but if he hits his spots to set up the breaking ball, he will succeed.
Harden has been succeeding, and while this is extremely premature, would be foolish to throw away when talking about AL Cy Young candidates. Harden has stepped up to be the ace of an A staff that was depending so heavily on Barry Zito, and Harden may end up being better than any of the Big Three. This guy has been a force in every start this year, currently sporting a 2.10 ERA, and has left us no reason to think that trend will end. His splitter is as good as any pitch in the Majors, maybe, and will look even better once Jason Kendall gets used to catching it. Harden is a unique talent that will make Bay Area fans forget the Hudson name, no matter what Timmy is doing in Atlanta.
Consider it true, as Everett looked as good in uniform as I have seen him in a long time. He also was very in tune at the plate, doubling twice and walking once before being removed after five innings. Given his good condition and U.S. Cellular Field, Everett might not be a bad gamble in the late innings of fantasy drafts this year.
Saying that Everett has been the gamebreaker that I thought he would be is an exaggeration, but Carl has definitely been valuable to the White Sox. Using Scott Podsednik is left field puts a considerable onus on Everett, who has been left with the sole responsiblity of protecting Paul Konerko in that lineup. When Frank Thomas gets back we can only hope that Everett does not lose playing time to the likes of Poddy and Jermaine Dye, but I have no doubt that he will. But again, I'm sure this will work out well for Ozzie Guillen, who cannot do anything wrong this season.
While Brett Myers has impressed me this season greatly, finally showing the ceiling we predicted years ago isn't too stupid, his performance pales in comparison to Jon Garland this year. I think that I, like a lot of people, had closed the book on Garland last year when he had another average-at-best year, the only type he had since becoming a South Sider. Garland's inconsistency has been a trademark over the years, and we can only hope he doesn't fall back into the player that will pitch a gem and then not make it to the fourth inning. There is no way he wins 20 games or has a sub-3.50 ERA this year, but any step in the right direction might make me open up that book again.