And So It Begins...
It's always easiest to pick on the team chosen last. In college sports the postseason is simply an unjust finale to a year, in all the NCAA sports across the board. Every playoff system leaves room for argument, and as we build up our disdain, we let it out on team #64, or the selection committee that backed them.
In baseball, those are one in the same. In the largest travesty of the 2006 College World Series tournament, Mississippi State University received a bid to play postseason ball. Their strongest argument, a red-hot start to the season, was topped by Old Dominion's better start. The argument that the SEC deserves more teams than most conference is negated by the exclusion of LSU, their first since 1989.
In the end, the only piece of evidence left that makes sense is that the chair of the selection committee doubles as the MSU athletic director. No joke.
Of course, this wasn't the selection committee's only mistake. There are plenty more - the pac-10 champion Oregon State University didn't receive a top 8 national seed, meaning they play Texas in the second round. But harping on injustices, however, is to ignore the fun tournament that starts this weekend and carries us to late June.
If anything, we can just use the committee's mistakes as reasons to cheer. Root for Oregon State, boo Mississippi State, but in the end, allow yourself to be enraptured. If you are heading into the weekend without a lot of background on the CWS, here's a quick and dirty look at the nation's 16 regionals, to be played this weekend.
Clemson RegionalParticipants (in order of seed): Clemson, Elon, Mississippi State, UNC Asheville
There was no question among the selection committee who the top teams were -- Clemson, Rice -- the only problem was finding a ranking. Clemson received the nod, and as a result, the definitively less experienced two seed in Elon. However, the Elon offense is nothing to take lightly - six regular spots have an average over .300, and the team is hitting .305/.410/.477 overall. While I like SoCon Freshman of the Year Steven Hensley, who might pitch the Phoenix past MSU, Clemson has an insane amount of depth. Look for the likes of Tyler Colvin, Andy D'Alessio and Josh Cribb to cruise the Tigers into round 2.
Arkansas RegionalParticipants: Oklahoma st, Arkansas, Oral Roberts, Princeton
This regional represents another postseason injustice: non-hosting one seeds. While the Cowboys deservedly received the top seed in this regional, the committee opted to play it in Fayetteville. This obviously works in Arkansas' favor, who will already have the dangerous Nick Schmidt (a surefire 2007 first rounder) ready to shut down the dangerous Oklahoma State bats. Oral Roberts walked through the Mid-Continent Conference, but don't depend on them for your upset. If you watch any of this regional, try the Schmidt-Corey Brown match-up, we'll be talking about both a lot in a year.
Kentucky RegionalParticipants: Kentucky, College of Charleston, Notre Dame, Ball State
Kentucky very well might be the Cinderella story of the season; the most unlikely of 40-win SEC teams. However, Coach of the Year John Cohen has an offensive bunch, led by Ryan Strieby and John Shelby the team slugged .530 on the year. However, the Fighting Irish just might have the arms to quiet the Wildcats. Jeff Manship is one of the draft's most underrated prospects, but if he gets the nod in an opening round clash against College of Charleston, we might be forced to see Jeff Samardzija get more airtime. I don't like the guy's pro prospects, but in college, his mid-90s fastball is a good bet to get the job done.
Pick: Notre Dame.
Georgia Tech RegionalParticipants: Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Stetson
OK, we have already found a better sophomore potential pitcher-batter match up: David Price vs. Matt Wieters. Price is the odds-on favorite to be the first collegiate player drafted in a year, and if scouts continue to prefer Wieters at catcher (he doubles as a closer), then Matt could be the first hitter taken. But, these players are just faces on a pair of star-studded teams. Price is backed by an offense that includes a fantastic pair of Freshman: Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty. Tech is a veteran-led team, expect Wes Hodges, Whit Robbins and Jeff Kindel to attack Price. The Commodores are truly a team built for 2007, and given Price's late season slide, the Yellow Jackets should cruise.
Pick: Georgia Tech.
Fullerton RegionalParticipants: Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, San Diego, St. Louis
Fullerton is simply a powerhouse, a well-built George Horton factory. This year's team is no exception, led by sophomore ace Wes Roemer - who walked just four batters all year...in 125.2 innings. CSUF does not make mistakes and has depth, a team built for the Super Regionals. I like San Diego to upset Fresno State for rights to lose to the Titans, as Fresno suspended their only significant offensive threat - Beau Mills - for the remainder of the season. San Diego has a good group of arms including Josh Butler and Brian Matusz, they might scare Fullerton, but they won't have the offense to beat them.
Pick: Cal State Fullerton.
Pepperdine RegionalParticipants: Pepperdine, UCLA, UC Irvine, Missouri
Underline it, circle it and star it; this is the best regional, hands down. Pepperdine was a surprise regional host, but as a result, drew the most difficult four seed. Missouri struggled all season with junior ace Max Scherzer hurt and outfielder Hunter Mense struggling. With Max back, this is a dangerous team. If the Waves could make it past the Tigers, they would face the winner of the John Savage match-up: his new club (UCLA) or his old one (UC Irvine). UCLA is a good team and should make it past Irvine, and I like Scherzer to pitch his way past the host; he's been too good the last two weeks. The deciding game should be UCLA's David Huff against Missouri's Nathan Culp, two of the 2006 draft's best southpaws. Huff is a favorite of mine, and the better pitcher, but I'll take the Tigers as my shocker.
North Carolina RegionalParticipants: North Carolina, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Maine
The Tar Heels were surely one of the last picks to host a regional, especially after not winning a game in the ACC Tournament. But for the first time in more than 20 years, Chapel Hill will be host, and it couldn't be a better group of arms to showcase. UNC will be so tough to beat with Daniel Bard, Andrew Miller, and Robert Woodard all rested and waiting. The team is prone to making mistakes, but I'm not convinced Winthrop is strong enough for the effort. If they pitch their stud freshman, Alex Wilson, against Wilmington, there will just not be enough in the tank to face UNC. If they try to wait with Wilson, they might not even make it past the Seahawks. Lots of pressure on North Carolina to come through, and I think they'll do it.
Pick: North Carolina.
Alabama RegionalParticipants: Alabama, Troy, Southern Miss, Jacksonville St.
Argue with me if you'd like, but this should not be a difficult weekend for Alabama. At all. I say this knowing full well about Mike Felix, the Troy junior two-way player that might be the most underrated player in the country. I also am well aware of Alabama's offensive problems, with a team OPS just north of .800. But this team can pitch, and they should pitch their way to the super regionals. Freshman Tommy Hunter should get the opener against Southern Miss, as 'Bama saves ace Wade Leblanc, and his 10-0 perfect record, to face Felix, who struck out 12 more batters in 20 less innings on the year.
Rice RegionalParticipants: Rice, Arizona St, Baylor, Prairie View
I tend to disagree with the committee; Rice is the best team in the country. After starting a bit slow, to use relatively, Rice has been on a tear for the last two months. They destroy anything they come across. That being true, this shouldn't be a hard weekend for the Owls. Arizona State has been in the postseason many times, and should come well coached, but this is another team so dependent upon young hitters. Freshman Brent Wallace, Ike Davis, and Preston Paramore are all key parts to that offense. When these players face senior right-hander Eddie Degerman, who despite a lackluster pro profile does deserve to be in the discussion for pitcher of the year, expect Degerman to come out on top.
Oklahoma RegionalParticipants: Oklahoma, Houston, Wichita State, TCU
Another very deep regional, and like my pick in the Pepperdine regional, I'm choosing the best arm: Brad Lincoln. The Cougars had quite the argument for hosting a regional themselves, and Lincoln is the reason why - no player in the country carries his team like Brad. But don't take that as a knock on Houston, they have the depth to compete with anyone thanks to a solid group of arms. Wichita State and TCU both seem to be a year away. Oklahoma is an intriguing pick, a veteran team led by senior Daniel McCutchen, but when he faces Lincoln, the Player of the Year will rise to the top.
Virginia RegionalParticipants: Virginia, South Carolina, Evansville, Lehigh
Pass. This is not the best of regionals, as Virginia doesn't strike me as a legit top seed. However, thanks to South Carolina's youth, there is no real direct threat to the Cavaliers. South Carolina is so talented; both Justin Smoak and Reese Havens turned down serious money to become Gamecocks, but neither should be leaned on against Sean Doolittle. The Virginia star beat out the likes of Andrew Miller, Matt Antonelli and Shane Robinson for ACC Player of the Year honors - the result of double-digit win and double totals. Look for Virginia to ride him to the second round.
Georgia RegionalParticipants: Georgia, Florida St, Jacksonville, Sacred Heart
Georgia struggled in the first half of the season on weekends, losing numerous weekend series before capturing their last 4, and five of their last 6. Their late season success can be credited to Brooks Brown, as well as hitters Joey Side and Josh Morris. All three are juniors on the way out, and are dying to show freshman like Gordon Beckham the way to get it done. Standing in their way is Florida State, who counter Beckham with a freshman shortstop of their own - Buster Posey. The series will likely come down to Bryan Henry against Brown, and with stud sophomore closer Josh Fields waiting in the wings, it's hard to pick against the Bulldogs.
Nebraska RegionalParticipants: Nebraska, Miami (FL), San Francisco, Manhattan
This should be a cakewalk for Nebraska, as this is really a down season for the Hurricanes. In fact, a first round loss to San Francisco would not be too surprising. The Cornhuskers have such a deep pitching staff that even Manhattan - who does have a 2007 top five rounder - will be getting a top-3 round caliber talent in Tony Watson. Once Joba Chamberlain takes the mound in Lincoln to advance Nebraska, it's over. Chamberlain's profile was built upon last year's CWs, expect more of the same in 2006.
Mississippi RegionalParticipants: Mississippi, Tulane, South Alabama, Bethune-Cookman
To me, the Tulane-South Alabama stands as one of the most intriguing first round match-ups. Tulane, in hopes of making a Super Regional, will likely hold off on ace sophomore Sean Morgan, hoping to throw him against Old Miss. South Alabama, on the other hand, will have all hands on deck in hopes of beating Tulane, including the nation's most prolific pitcher: P.J. Walters. Walters pitched well in the Cape last summer and has been successful for South Alabama all season - certainly an interesting mid rounds selection. If Walters really wants to make a name for himself, it would be by beating Tulane. I don't think he will, however, as I believe the Green Wave's bats will carry them past not only South Alabama, but Ole Miss as well.
Oregon State RegionalParticipants: Oregon State, Kansas, Hawaii, Wright State
For two years now the Beavers have been a really fun team to root for - college baseball's Mystery, Alaska. The team added even more in terms of likability after getting screwed by the selection committee. Put an adoring fan base together with Dallas Buck, Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson, all juniors, and you have a regional winner. Kansas is the Kentucky of the Big 12, even more apt after their recent Big 12 tournament win. But if Hawaii ace Steven Wright shuts them down this weekend and upsets the Jayhawks, don't be surprised. In the end, Oregon State, and it won't be particularly close.
Pick: Oregon State.
Texas RegionalParticipants: Texas, NC State, Stanford, Texas-Arlington
There isn't a bad team in this regional - there isn't a consistent one either. Texas was so beatable earlier in the year, coming out of the gates losing to San Diego handily. But the Longhorns have turned it around and enter the tournament ready for another big run, Drew Stubbs and Kyle McCulloch's last hurrah. Without Andrew Brackman, who wasn't even good this year, NC State doesn't have that shutdown pitcher, so the second round match could have a football final score - Texas, 14; NC State, 6.
First of all, let me again attempt to urge you all to watch college baseball when at all possible in the next three weeks. The game of aluminum is a fun one to watch, even if you have to wince through multi-error games. Real emotion will be on display every night, and some of this year and next year's best talents will be passing through television screens and ballparks across the country.
Finally, I know you guys want some "win-it-all" picks. I'll predict the specific Super Regional games next weekend, but let's cross our fingers that we get some dandies like Rice v. Houston, Oregon State v. Texas, UNC v. Alabama and Clemson v. Arkansas. Talk about dramatic baseball. Until then, here's my first guess at the CWS: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Fullerton, Alabama, Houston, Georgia, Nebraska, Texas.
At that point, the hottest team wins, so I'm going to make a surprise choice and pick Alabama to win it all, riding on the veteran arm of Wade Leblanc and Tommy Hunter's new arm. But in the final I think 'Bama plays Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers deserve as good of odds as anyone to win it this year.
Now go, my readers, and fill out those brackets!
Jered Weaver Rises to the Occasion in His MLB Debut
Jered Weaver made his much-anticipated major-league debut on Saturday night vs. the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed only five O's to reach base (one by error) while putting up nothing but O's on the scoreboard over seven innings as the Angels beat the Birds, 10-1.
The rookie faced 25 batters and allowed three hits and one walk while striking out five different Orioles, including three in a row in the second and third innings. He threw 97 pitches, 64 for strikes. Six outs were recorded on groundballs, seven on flyballs to the outfield, and two via infield popups.
Weaver benefited from a perfect throw by right fielder Vladimir Guerrero to double up Javy Lopez at home plate in the second inning for what would have been a sacrifice fly and the visiting team's first run of the game. Catcher Mike Napoli used his left leg to block the sliding Lopez from touching the plate while quickly administering the tag. Jered rose to the occasion by fanning Corey Patterson on a 94-mph fastball up in the zone, stranding Ramon Hernandez on third base--the last time a runner advanced beyond second while Weaver was on the hill.
Weaver extended his string of scoreless innings to 34 1/3, including 27 1/3 for the Salt Lake Bees. He is 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA over his last 13 appearances, covering three spring training starts vs. MLB teams, nine outings in Triple-A, and his big-league debut against the Orioles. During this period, Weaver has pitched 78 innings and allowed just 53 hits, 12 walks, and 13 runs, while striking out 82 batters.
The tall, lanky right-hander is in a groove that is reminiscent of his sophomore and junior seasons at Long Beach State. Jered was a two-time All-America and won eight national player of the year awards in 2004 when he went 15-1 with a 1.63 ERA against the fifth most difficult schedule in the country.
I had the privilege of attending Weaver's MLB debut as well as his first professional game last June when he pitched for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the High-A affiliate of the Angels. The first round selection (12th overall) two years ago needed just 23 starts in the minors before getting his shot in the bigs.
Not surprisingly, Scott Boras was in the dugout seats behind home plate, along with who appeared to be Jered's mother and father. I shook hands and spoke to Scott just outside the front gates as we walked into the stadium together. He not only remembered me from our encounter at the 2004 winter meetings at the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim but knows I've been a Weaver supporter for a few years.
Rob McMillin and I got to the ballpark early, ate dinner in the Diamond Club, and were seated in the first row just to the left of home plate in time to watch Weaver loosen up in the outfield before the game and return to the dugout after his bullpen session.
Weaver retired the Orioles in order in the first inning. He threw 14 pitches, including nine fastballs (ranging from 87-94 mph), four sliders (74-81), and an 83-mph changeup that fooled leadoff hitter Brian Roberts into tapping a lazy groundball to Adam Kennedy for the first out of the game. I was most impressed with a 94-mph heater that Weaver used to knock Miguel Tejada off the plate on a 1-and-2 count. Whether facing D-1 hitters, minor leaguers, or a former MVP who happens to be leading the league in total bases, Jered lets you know who is in charge when he is on the mound.
After working his way out of trouble in the second inning, Weaver struck out Luis Matos and Nick Markakis to begin the third. He walked Roberts on a 3-and-2 fastball, then fielded Melvin Mora's inexplicable bunt and threw him out at first base.
Weaver mowed down Tejada, Lopez, and Hernandez in the fourth. He got the Orioles' best hitter to ground out meekly to short by throwing his slowest pitch of the night, a 71-mph slider via a lower arm angle than anything he had shown to that point. Weaver struck out Hernandez on a feeble swing by unleashing a nasty, 92-mph sidearm fastball that ran up and in on the batter's hands. Ramon had just swung and missed on an 81-mph straight change for strike two. The O's catcher had beaten Weaver the first time up by raking a hanging slider down the left field line for a double.
Although Weaver mishandled a bunt by Patterson with one out in the fifth, he battled back from a 3-and-0 count on Matos and got him to foul out to first baseman Kendry Morales, who later supported his fellow rookie with an opposite-field home run off Adam Loewen. Weaver also retired Markakis on a flyball to deep left field, leaving the speedy Patterson on second after he had stolen the base on the first pitch to Matos.
Weaver allowed his third hit of the game with one out in the sixth on a Mora flyball that fell between what seemed to be two statues in Garret Anderson in left and Juan Rivera in center. After the home crowd booed in response to the indifferent outfield defense, Weaver got Tejada to fly out to Rivera in deep right-center field and Lopez to ground into a 6-4 force play to end the inning.
In his seventh and final inning, Weaver whiffed Jeff Conine on a 3-and-2 slider down in the zone, sandwiched by two medium-deep flyouts to center and left. He walked into the dugout and was greeted by his brother Jeff, as well as a chest bump and hug from John Lackey, and a big smile and a "way to go" nod from manager Mike Scioscia.
Weaver pitched an outstanding game. He knows how to pitch and put batters away. Jered attacked the Orioles all night and consistently pounded the strike zone. The youngster with the #56 on the back of his jersey had excellent command of his fastball, throwing it for strikes when he needed to and using it to back hitters off the dish a few times when ahead in the count. He mixed his pitches well and changed speeds on his four-seam fastball and slider.
The Orioles never figured out Weaver. After the game was over, the 39-year-old Conine said, "When you face a guy who hides the ball like he does, it takes a couple of at-bats to try to find his release point." Maybe. However, in Conine's case, he went 0-for-3 and struck out in his third plate appearance.
As I have mentioned before, Weaver's length, big turn, and ability to hide the ball makes his best 93- or 94-mph fastball look and feel like 96 to a hitter. Call him deceptive, if you will. But just don't call him a #3 or #4 pitcher or someone whose upside is nothing more than his brother Jeff's.
One game a season nor career makes. Weaver will not pitch a shutout every start. He won't win all the time either. The guy is human. He will get roughed up now and then, as all good pitchers do. But give the kid a chance. He has earned that right by virtue of his success in college, the minors, and now his big-league debut.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Jered Weaver has been called up to the Los Angeles Angels and will make his long-awaited major-league debut Saturday night against the Baltimore Orioles.
According to the Orange County Register, Weaver will take Kevin Gregg's spot in the rotation. Ervin Santana, who was scheduled to start tomorrow night, will move up a day and work on his normal four days of rest. Gregg returns to the bullpen and Esteban Yan apparently will be released.
"Little Weaver," as he is known by his big league teammates, has a 4-1 record in nine starts for the Salt Lake Bees and is leading the Pacific Coast League with a 2.05 ERA, 66 strikeouts, and a 0.91 WHIP in 57 innings. The Angels #1 draft pick (12th overall) in the 2004 draft hasn't allowed a run over his last 27 1/3 innings, ironically matching the Salt Lake record set by Gregg in 2003.
IP H R ER BB SO BF PIT ST BA G F 4/08 @ TUC 7 2 1 1 0 8 24 83 62 21 5 8 4/13 @ LV 5 9 4 4 0 6 23 91 63 28 1 7 4/19 vs TUC 6 5 0 0 2 6 25 102 64 38 3 8 4/24 @ POR 5 7 5 5 2 6 23 95 58 37 2 7 4/29 @ TAC 6 4 2 2 1 12 23 90 64 26 2 4 5/06 vs TAC 6 5 1 1 1 8 24 101 70 31 5 5 5/11 @ OMA 7 3 0 0 0 4 22 89 64 25 6 10 5/16 @ IA 6 4 0 0 2 8 24 96 62 34 3 7 5/22 vs NO 9 5 0 0 0 8 29 110 82 28 12 6 TOTALS 57 44 13 13 8 66 217 857 579 268 39 62
The Golden Spikes Award winner as the nation's top collegiate player two years ago is coming off his finest performance as a professional. As shown above, the tall right-hander tossed a five-hit, complete-game shutout with eight strikeouts and no walks last Monday vs. New Orleans. Three-quarters of his pitches went for strikes and two-thirds of his non-K outs were generated on the ground.
Weaver faced major league hitters (including the World Champion Chicago White Sox, the entire Oakland A's starting lineup sans Frank Thomas, and the Barry Bonds-led San Francisco Giants) in the Cactus League two months ago and went 1-0 with a 1.02 ERA in five appearances. He didn't allow a single run in his three starts.
IP H R ER BB SO 03/12 vs. CWS 4 2 0 0 2 2 - 03/17 vs. Oak 5 2 0 0 0 5 - 03/30 vs. SFG 5 2 0 0 1 4 W TOTALS 14 6 0 0 3 11 1-0
Mixing apples and oranges here but adding up Weaver's last 12 appearances finds him with a 5-1 record and a 1.65 ERA (with 71 IP, 50 H, 13 R, 13 ER, 11 BB, and 77 SO). Those numbers work out to a 6.34 H/9, 9.76 K/9, and a 7:1 K/BB ratio.
I will be at the ballpark tomorrow night to take in Weaver's MLB debut. Rob McMillin and I were planning on watching Weaver on Saturday night. But we thought the occasion was going to take us to Las Vegas to catch the Bees and the 51s (the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate). Oh well, rather than driving nearly 300 miles to Vegas, it looks like I will be making the 15-20 mile trek to Anaheim.
Man, I hate when that happens!
For more on the Angels (including a couple of quotes from yours truly), be sure to check out Jon Weisman's fine article over at SI.com.
For years, promises were heard and patience was preached. In time, Mike Illitch would be the type of owner that spends money. Over time, Dave Dombrowski would give the Detroit Tigers his patented Florida facelift.
For years, Tigers fans would have to watch the Indians build a dynasty, the Twins make something out of nothing, and the White Sox win a world championship. They were simply instructed to sit back and take it, their day of reckoning was promised to be right around the corner.
For now, these Detroit fans are starting to believe. Maybe Jim Leyland can still manage. Maybe Dambrowski can pull a rabbit from his hat twice. Maybe Illitch will eventually spend the necessary money. Their belief is seen by a recent upswing in attendance numbers - three straight 25,000 home games - that should only continue with three consecutive home series against the Indians, Yankees and Red Sox, respectively.
Personally, I do not believe. The White Sox are too good, too built to last. But this column is not about the south side, but about Motown, and the cautious optimism slowly protruding from it. While I'm far from convinced this is the season the Tigers snap their losing streak, I do see good things happening. Worth noting:
So, as you can see, the newfound Detroit optimism exists for a reason, even if it currently stands a bit overabundant. In a group of players like Granderson, Verlander, Zumaya and others, as well as a good front office, the pieces are slowly fitting into place. And with a bit more patience, Tigers fans are really going to have a team to stand behind.
Instant Replay and the 1985 World Series
Imagine it's the seventh game of the World Series with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. There's a runner on first base with the home team trailing by one run. The game is being played at Minute Maid Park in Houston with all its outfield nuances.
The Houston batter drives the ball toward the wall in deep left-center field. If it hits to the left of the line drawn on the outfield wall, it's a two-run home run, walk-off victory and World Championship for the Astros. If not, it's a possible tie game. The ball rockets off the wall near the line. To the umpire, it appears to hit right of the line, so the ball is ruled in play - a ruling that might become the biggest umpiring mistake in baseball history. The outfielder fields the ball quickly off the wall and fires it to the cut-off man. The relay throw comes to the catcher as the base runner heads home with the potential tying run. It's a close play, but the runner is clearly out for the final out of the game! In an instant, the visiting American League team has just won the World Series! Or did they?
Was it to the left or the right of the line? During the lengthy conference, TV replays in slow motion show that the ball did indeed land inches left of the line for what should have been ruled a home run! The Astros should be celebrating their championship! Now the crowd is screaming at the umps to reverse the call. The TV coverage shows it again, and again, and again from every possible angle with the same result. The crowd gets more and more hostile. Finally, the head umpire emerges from the huddle with clenched fist in the air, indicating the runner is out at home plate and the call stands. All hell breaks loose...
One can only imagine the bedlam this scenario could create. The outcome of the World Series would be completely decided by a blown call. Increasingly, it seems officiating is coming into question in major American sporting events. The Super Bowl saw a series of non-reviewable calls go the way of the Steelers that helped them win the NFL title. Likewise, the MLB playoffs and World Series saw a number of controversial calls, most notably the A.J. Pierzynski dash to first. Less controversial was a home run in Game 3 of the World Series, similar to the one described above, in which a ball scorched by Jason Lane actually hit to the right of the line but was ruled a home run for the Astros. Luckily for the umpires, the White Sox eventually won that game, and their blown call didn't affect the outcome. These situations always take me back to the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and the Royals, and the "safe" call at first by umpire Don Denkinger. It is arguably the most crucial blown call in the history of baseball. More than twenty years later, Cardinals fans still claim their team would have won the Series if Denkinger made the correct call. Royals fans claim it was destiny regardless of the blown call. Clearly it didn't affect the outcome 100% like the scenario above, but it was certainly significant. I recently set out to try and quantify the impact of the blown call. You might be surprised at my conclusion.
The probability of the Cardinals winning Game 6 following Denkinger's blown call (assuming a 50% chance of winning an extra inning game) is then: X0 + 0.5*X1 = .5750 + 0.5*.1833 = .6667. And the probability of the Royals winning Game 6 is therefore 1 - .6667 = .3333.
The probability of the Cardinals winning Game 6 if Denkinger had made the correct call is: Y0 + 0.5*Y1 = .8420 + 0.5*.0915 = .8878. So the probability of the Royals winning Game 6 is 1 - .8878 = .1122.
Denkinger's call therefore effectively tripled the Royals chances of winning the game from .11 to .33.
Of course, this is assuming Todd Worrell and the Cards' defense gave up runs at the league average for the 1985 season, and that the Royals scored runs at the league average. This was actually not the case. The Royals' offense was less than ordinary, scoring 4.24 runs per game versus the major league average of 4.33 runs per game - roughly 2% below average. Meanwhile, the Cards' defense was best in the majors in 1985 thanks to Gold Glove winners like Ozzie Smith, Andy Van Slyke, Willie McGee, Terry Pendleton and Joaquin Andujar. Combined with their exceptional pitching, the 1985 Cardinals allowed 3.53 runs per game, 2nd best in the majors and 18% better than the league average. Assuming a stingier Cardinals run prevention pattern against the Royals by 20%, the probability of a comeback in Game 6 following a correct call would be .0898 instead of .1122.
I would also contend that the blown call created doubt in the Cardinals minds and uplifted the Royals hopes, resulting in more advantageous odds for the Royals. This hopefulness combined with momentum and home field advantage for the Royals would result in greater than a 50% chance of winning an extra inning game, and a greater than 50% chance of winning Game 7. Let's say both odds are .60 instead of .50. And let's say that the blown call reduced the Cardinals to mere mortals, at the league average in preventing runs. These are reasonable assumptions considering the Cards unraveled in Game 6 after the blown call, and continued that trend in Game 7, losing by a score of 11-0. And since the objective is not merely to win Game 6, but to win the World Series, let's redo the analysis to see the total impact of the call. The chance of the Royals winning both Game 6 and Game 7 if the correct call were made is:
P(winning Game 6)*P(winning Game 7) = .0898*0.5 = .0449
In comparison, the probability of the Royals winning both Game 6 and Game 7 following the blown call is: (1 - (X0 + 0.6*X1))*0.6 = (1 - (.5750 + 0.6*.1833))*0.6 = .1890.
This revised analysis indicates that Don Denkinger's call made a significant difference in the outcome of the 1985 World Series, allowing the Royals to improve their chances more than 4-fold, from a mere 4% chance of winning it all to a more encouraging 19%. In reality, the call at first base opened the door from a crack to ajar, and to their credit, the Royals were able to take advantage of their good fortune. Regardless, the odds are 4 to 1 that the blown call changed the outcome of the World Series. If instant replay were used to make the correct call, the chances are greater than 80% that the Cardinals would have won the World Series instead of the Royals.
Ross Roley is a lifelong baseball fan, a baseball analysis hobbyist, and former Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Preliminary Bryan Board
For many of the college players that will hear their names called in the upcoming draft, this weekend is their last to shine. Many are already finished, and many more will see their stock stay volatile as they enter the collegiate postseason. With less than three weeks until the draft, uncertainty still surrounds the last weekend of the NCAA regular season.
Before the craziness of conference and NCAA tournaments creates a large stir in the draft rankings, I wanted to release my first big board of the spring. Before the season, I wrote a top 20 college prospects article for SI.com, but since then, so much has changed.
Please note that the upcoming rankings are in no way the order I think players will be drafted in this June, far from it. Instead, these rankings indicate my opinions based upon statistics and conversations with those inside the game. I chose to keep high school players out of the rankings because I cannot judge them as well, and will leave that to far smarter men.
So, if I was in charge of creating a draft board for a Major League organization, the top 25 of the college version would read like this...
1. Andrew Miller, LHP: North Carolina
2. Brad Lincoln, RHP: Houston
3. Evan Longoria, IF: Long Beach State
4. Max Scherzer, RHP: Missouri
5. Tim Lincecum, RHP: Washington
6. Luke Hochevar, RHP: Tennessee/Fort Worth Cats
7. Drew Stubbs, OF: Texas
8. Brandon Morrow, RHP: California
9. Joba Chamberlain, RHP: Nebraska
10. Daniel Bard, RHP: North Carolina
11. Matt Antonelli, IF: Wake Forest
12. Greg Reynolds, RHP: Stanford
13. Brett Sinkbeil, RHP: Missouri State
14. Dave Huff, LHP: UCLA
15. Ian Kennedy, RHP: USC
16. Matt LaPorta, 1B: Florida
17. Kyle McCulloch, RHP: Texas
18. Justin Masterson, RHP: San Diego State
19. Drew Carpenter, RHP: Long Beach State
20. Mark Melancon, RHP: Arizona
21. Wes Hodges, 3B: Georgia Tech
22. Jared Hughes, RHP: Long Beach State
23. Mark Hamilton, 1B: Tulane
24. Brooks Brown, RHP: Georgia
25. Wade Leblanc, LHP: Alabama
Final Honorable Mentions: Dallas Buck (RHP-OSU), Josh Butler (RHP-USD), Josh Rodriguez (SS-Rice), Chad Tracy (C-PEP), Steven Wright (RHP-HAW).
Disappointing Midwest Teenagers
Daunting. Professional baseball must be daunting to teenagers at first, given the degree of difference that their first full professional season entails. Away from home for the first time. Baseball everyday. For more than five months.
After falling in love with high school draft prospects, and paying large bonuses to deter them from college, Major League organizations ask a lot of their bonus babies. Furthermore, these players must deal with the stress of high pressure, as many are associated with high draft selections. Life is difficult, and oftentimes, baseball -- for the first time in their lives -- does not come easy.
Each year, a traditional article of mine is to identify a number of prospects that I believe will break out. In preparation for this list, I look for trends from past breakout prospects, and attempt to apply that to a new brand of prospects. Certain strikeout and walk rates, ISOs in a given stadium, a telling split. And as I've pointed out this year already, with the case of Reid Brignac, a less-than-stellar Midwest League debut.
In 2004, both Brandon Wood and Adam Jones played in the Midwest League during their first professional seasons, at the ages of 19. Neither played particularly well, both had OPS below .750, neither lived up to the first round status. It wasn't until the next season, when professional baseball became more routine, that results started to match their obvious talent. After missing out on the cases of Wood and Jones in 2004, Reid Brignac's 2005 sent out sirens to me that he was on the verge of a breakout. So far, that looks correct.
Each year there are examples of this, so I recently decided we need a better system of evaluating teenage Midwest League performance. For whatever reason, teenage struggles happen more often in the Midwest, likely because of more difficult stadiums, pitchers, and colder weather. We'll save a look at the South Atlantic League for another article.
The Baseball Cube, a fantastic resource for minor league research, has full data available since the 2002 season. In that timeframe, I went through every Midwest League team, and looked for players during their age 19 seasons, which mostly covered their first run through the MWL. I also looked for players with more than 100 at-bats at the level, to avoid sample size issues. Given those parameters, I found 45 player-seasons since 2002 from which to create a baseline.
Normally, a .725 OPS at any level would not raise eyebrows for a prospect, but for a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, it's average. However, when combing through the list of players, I noticed a group that was more prolific than the rest: first basemen. Five nineteen year olds played first base in the Midwest League since 2002 (Prince Fielder, Kila Kaaihue, Daric Barton, Casey Kotchman, Brad Nelson) and their combined batting lines is an astounding .289/.390/.480, and they make up for nearly a quarter of the home runs.
So, I went back through the study and corresponding Excel spreadsheet, and eliminated the five aforementioned players. First basemen are at the tail end of the defensive spectrum, and their ability to perform with the bat is paramount. How have the other 7 positions on the field fared in the MWL at 19?
Certainly, we can see the effect the first baseman had, as the average OPS drops to .705. Furthermore, there is an increase in the strikeout percentage (which went from 19.7% with all 45 to 20.0% without the 1B) and a decrease in walk percentage (9.3% down to 8.5%). Suddenly, the player with the .725 OPS is not even just average, but nearly 3% above it.
However, this was not quite enough. Given the fact that Wood, Jones and Brignac were all middle infielders, I wanted to further adjust by position. In fact, just last week, I mentioned Paul Kelly as an early potential 2007 breakout, seeing another teenage middle infielder hitting with sub par results. So, going back through the Excel spreadsheet, I eliminated all players that didn't play in the middle infield during their Midwest League stay. While we are left with a number of the original bad players, beyond Wood, Jones and Brignac lay other talents like Ruben Gotay, Ronny Cedeno, Erick Aybar, Josh Barfield and a few other good prospects.
A look at the average middle infield teenage Midwest League batting line, covering 24 players since 2002:
Another decrease. The average ISO is no down to .108, eighteen points lower than it was with the corner infielders, catchers and outfielders added on. Players are still striking out at about a 19-20% rate, but walks are down to about 7.8%, in relation to at-bats. Undoubtedly, players in this category should have even lower expectations than the rest of the group.
This season, I have counted 19 teenage players that currently reside on Midwest League rosters. At the end of the season, it's likely that many of those nineteen will not have impressive batting lines; many will look like early disappointments. However, this may not be true.
What I hope this article did is provide some context to teenage, Midwest League play. Even if MWL 2006 teenager Bryan Anderson finishes the season with a .270/.330/.400 line, we should consider it a small success. If Paul Kelly puts up that line, it will be an astounding forty-three points above the average for middle infielders at that age and level.
I hope this will be the first article in a series, as we also must tackle how our 45 test cases fared after exiting the MWL, how teenagers have done in the South Atlantic League, and how teenage pitchers have done in full season baseball. As I've said in the past, context is everything in minor league baseball, and there is much work left to be done in quantifying the importance of youth.
What a Weekend
I went to a high school baseball playoff game on Friday afternoon, a championship boxing match on Saturday night, and a major league game on Sunday. The judges' cards are in...baseball by a knockout. And the two games I saw weren't even close. In fact, they both had the identical scores of 7-0.
The title bout, on the other hand, was very close. After 12 rounds, Michael Buffer announced to the Staples Center crowd that defending WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera and challenger Rocky Juarez had fought to a draw. One judge had it 115-113 Barrera, another 115-113 Juarez, and the third scored it 114-114.
Or so we all thought. I woke up the next morning, opened up the sports page, and saw the following headline: "Upon further review: Barrera wins." The subtitle read: "Error in scoring is blamed for the original decision." My jaw just about dropped into my bowl of cereal. I gotta admit, that was a first for me. No, not going to a boxing match - I had gone once before. I mean, that was the first and only time I have ever left a sporting event after it ended only to find out that the outcome was different the following morning.
As it turns out, the scores on the judge's card with the 114-114 draw had been added wrong. The correct (as I raise both hands, hold up my index and middle fingers, and move them up and down to signify quotation marks) total was 115-114 in Barrera's favor, giving the champion a split decision victory over Juarez. (Not that it affected the outcome, but the 115-113 announced score in favor of Juarez actually was changed as well, to 115-114.)
Like baseball, I guess the tie goes to the runner. Barrera was backing up most of the fight as Juarez was clearly the aggressor. The former also fought dirty, hitting the latter behind the head and below the belt. In addition, he happened to conveniently lose his mouthpiece a couple of times during the fight, forcing the ref to call timeouts just long enough to allow him to catch his breath.
Although I would have given the decision to Juarez, I had resigned myself to the fact that the two fighters had battled to a draw when my son and I left the arena that evening. Little did we know at the time but Barrera ended up winning the match. It looks like a Barrera-Rocky II rematch is in the cards. But don't expect Apollo Creed to show up for this one.
I learned one thing from this episode. Boxing is NOT a sport. Call it what you want, but it ain't a sport. A sport has to have a definitive winner at the end of the contest. The team with the most points or runs wins. The golfer with the lowest score wins. The runner or swimmer with the fastest time wins. Those are what I call sports. Activities that are determined by judges are not sports.
If you want to make boxing a sport, don't allow decisions. Let them fight until one knocks out the other. Hey, I know that sounds a bit barbaric, but I don't want judges determining the outcome. If you have to write down scores in secret (as in a boxing match) or hold up a card with a 9.5 on it (like in a gymnastics meet), then it's not a sport. A competition? Yes. A sport? No.
And while I'm on this subject, boxers are NOT athletes. Or least not exceptional ones. I have a friend who believes boxers are the best athletes in the world. Uhh, no. They might be the best-conditioned athletes (if you want to call 'em that), but they are not better than baseball shortstops and center fielders, football quarterbacks, shooting guards in basketball, or hockey centers. You see, I believe the best athletes are those whose skills and talents transfer from one sport to the next.
A boxer is a boxer but, generally speaking, he is not someone who is adept at hitting or throwing a baseball, shooting hoops, throwing and catching a football, wristing a hockey puck into the net, or getting up and down on a golf hole. There is a reason why the high school pitcher and shortstop are two of the best players on the diamond. They just might be the quarterback or wide receiver on the gridiron or perhaps the leading scorers on the basketball team - well, at least in the so-called "old" days when kids were allowed to play more than one sport.
Maybe I'm just upset and taking it out on boxing and boxers here. I dunno. But I do know one thing: I'll take baseball over boxing, and baseball players over boxers any day of the week, including Saturday.
A public thank you to Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 fame and his wife Helen for renting a suite at Dodger Stadium on Sunday and inviting my wife and me to the game. Jon Weisman and Mat Gleason joined the McMillins, along with several other friends and family members. Jon was in Dodger blue and Mat in Angel red. Rob wore Dodger colors, too, under the "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." As for me, I brought along my Dodger and Angel hats and vowed to wear the one from the winning side. I put my Dodger hat on in the bottom of the first after the hometown team scored and didn't take it off until the game was over. (Update: Photo of Jon, Rob, Mat, and me.)
Oh, and I don't think I'll need to check this morning's paper to see who won the game.
Weekly Stats Leaders
The QUAD and K/100P leaders have been updated at the bottom of our sidebar. Albert Pujols maintained the lead in slugging average (.803), times on base (80), and total bases (114), but fell to second place in on-base percentage (.447, behind Barry Bonds' .479).
Pujols is actually leading MLB in those three departments, bettering the AL leaders in SLG (Jim Thome, .685), TOB (Derek Jeter, 82), and TB (Miguel Tejada, 103). Jason Giambi tops the junior circuit in OBP (.476). After giving way to Thome in SLG last week, Giambi dropped into a tie for third in TOB (79).
Thome and Travis Hafner are clearly having the best seasons offensively in the AL. Thome is first in SLG, fourth in OBP (.434), T3 in TOB (79), and T2 in TB (98). Hafner is third in OBP (.435) and SLG (.645), second in TOB (81), and T2 in TB (98). Both players are on teams in the AL Central, hit left-handed, and serve as DHs. Thome was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 amateur draft and hit .287/.414/.567 with 334 HR and more than 900 runs, RBI, and BB during a span that covered 1991-2002.
Speaking of leaders, how much money could you have won for picking Brad Ausmus to rank fourth in OBP at this juncture of the season? Believe it or not but the man with a lifetime OBP of .328 has been getting on base at a clip better than 43% of the time thus far in 2006. Ausmus is hitting a relatively hollow .336 but has walked more often than he has struck out (16 to 15).
Bill Hall is also exceeding expectations. His .635 slugging average tops everyone in the NL other than Pujols and Matt Holliday (.643). Had someone told you that two Colorado players whose last names start with the letter "H" were in the top 10 in the Quad categories, is there one person outside Holliday's and Brad Hawpe's families who would not have guessed Todd Helton would be one of them? Holliday is second in SLG and TB (108), while Hawpe is sixth in OBP (.422), fifth in SLG (.625), T10 in TOB (73), and T4 in TB (95). Pretty heady stuff.
With respect to surprises, how about Casey Blake and Alexis Rios ranking second in the AL in OBP (.440) and SLG (.664), respectively? I know there were a lot of skeptics who thought Blake was a weak link in Cleveland's offense and that Rios was better suited to be a fourth outfielder despite his tools.
On the pitching side, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana once again are leading their leagues in strikeouts per 100 pitches. Martinez has the best K/100P in the majors with a phenomenal 7.84, or 0.70 better than Santana's MLB-leading rate last year.
At the request of a reader, I am providing the entire rankings (from 1-99) for K/100P. Among qualified pitchers, the league average is 4.18 and the median is 4.07.
PLAYER TEAM K/100P Pedro Martinez NYM 7.84 Johan Santana Min 7.49 Chris Capuano Mil 6.45 Cory Lidle Phi 6.31 Jeremy Bonderman Det 6.30 Carlos Zambrano ChC 6.28 Aaron Harang Cin 6.02 Mike Mussina NYY 5.86 Dave Bush Mil 5.83 Scott Kazmir TB 5.81 John Smoltz Atl 5.63 Jake Peavy SD 5.35 Curt Schilling Bos 5.22 Chris Carpenter StL 5.12 Cliff Lee Cle 5.08 Tom Glavine NYM 5.06 John Lackey LAA 5.04 Chan Ho Park SD 5.00 Sean Marshall ChC 4.88 Brandon Webb Ari 4.85 Bronson Arroyo Cin 4.85 Vicente Padilla Tex 4.84 Kelvim Escobar LAA 4.84 Greg Maddux ChC 4.82 Javier Vazquez CWS 4.71 Scott Baker Min 4.70 Dan Haren Oak 4.70 Kevin Millwood Tex 4.68 Brett Myers Phi 4.67 Tim Hudson Atl 4.67 Ervin Santana LAA 4.66 Ted Lilly Tor 4.59 Brandon Claussen Cin 4.57 Chris Young SD 4.57 Andy Pettitte Hou 4.56 Brad Penny LA 4.54 Ian Snell Pit 4.53 Jon Lieber Phi 4.50 Josh Beckett Bos 4.48 Jason Schmidt SF 4.46 Miguel Batista Ari 4.44 Matt Clement Bos 4.34 Jeff Francis Col 4.31 Jason Jennings Col 4.28 Nate Robertson Det 4.26 Gil Meche Sea 4.23 Randy Johnson NYY 4.20 Roy Halladay Tor 4.10 John Thomson Atl 4.09 Tim Wakefield Bos 4.07 Barry Zito Oak 4.00 Clay Hensley SD 3.95 Roy Oswalt Hou 3.94 Tony Armas Was 3.92 Wandy Rodriguez Hou 3.91 Mark Mulder StL 3.85 Zach Duke Pit 3.83 Brett Tomko LA 3.81 Victor Santos Pit 3.81 Jamie Moyer Sea 3.80 Livan Hernandez Was 3.72 John Koronka Tex 3.71 Kenny Rogers Det 3.60 Rodrigo Lopez Bal 3.60 Justin Verlander Det 3.60 Erik Bedard Bal 3.53 Jamey Wright SF 3.52 Dontrelle Willis Fla 3.51 Brad Radke Min 3.50 Doug Davis Mil 3.47 Jeff Suppan StL 3.46 Jake Westbrook Cle 3.45 Jeff Weaver LAA 3.41 Freddy Garcia CWS 3.41 Steve Trachsel NYM 3.39 Jose Contreras CWS 3.32 Paul Maholm Pit 3.30 Josh Towers Tor 3.20 Derek Lowe LA 3.16 Kris Benson Bal 3.14 Josh Fogg Col 3.14 Joe Blanton Oak 3.13 Seth McClung TB 3.10 Aaron Cook Col 3.08 Paul Byrd Cle 3.04 Mike Maroth Det 2.98 Jon Garland CWS 2.97 Matt Morris SF 2.90 Jarrod Washburn Sea 2.83 Joel Pineiro Sea 2.78 Kameron Loe Tex 2.76 Mark Buehrle CWS 2.72 Chien-Ming Wang NYY 2.72 Scott Elarton KC 2.67 Jason Marquis StL 2.59 Jason Johnson Cle 2.48 Ramon Ortiz Was 2.09 Carlos Silva Min 1.92 Casey Fossum TB 1.87
The White Sox have four starters with below-average K/100P. Only Javier Vazquez sports a respectable rate. The team's strong pitching is more a testament to its outstanding defense as well an ability to keep the ball in the yard. It may also be a function of the fact that CWS starters are allowed to pitch deeper into games than any other staff. The Pale Hose are first in the Beane Count, ranking no worse than fifth in the league in walks and home runs, offensively and defensively.
The Next Batch
It seems the Twins are finally coming to their senses. After too long of letting Kyle Lohse provide bad results to their rotation, Minnesota decided to replace his rotation spot with Francisco Liriano. The future ace had dominated in the bullpen, but like Johan Santana so many years before, was waiting to wreak havoc as a starter.
The Twins slow decision to move to their youth is odd considering an organization that developed 21st century success through their 1990s developmental program. Suddenly an organization that had so aggressively used the likes of Torii Hunter and company was keeping Liriano in the rotation and Jason Barlett in AAA. And while Bartlett remains in Rochester, Liriano seems to be the first domino in the next Twins youth movement.
While confidence in their youth seems to have eroded in the last few years, the Twins ability to develop prospects has continued. Minnesota is one of the best drafting teams in the business, showing very little attention to whether a player attended college or not, whether he's a hitter or pitcher. The Twins take the best player on their draft board, and more often than not, the player succeeds.
For years, the top of Twin prospect lists was filled with fantastic talents, from Liriano to Joe Mauer. Suddenly, this season the minor leagues started with no dominant talent, but significant depth. Now past the quarter mark of the season, it seems apt time to look at how I would assess the current Twins farm system.
1. Matt Garza - RHP
With Francisco Liriano moving to the Major Leagues and exhausting his prospect status, the elite top Twins prospect spot was up for grabs at the beginning of the 2006 season. Not even two months into the season, another pitcher, 2005 first round pick Matt Garza, has taken hold. Garza, a product of Fresno State, entered the Twins system a unique blend of polish and projectablity.
Generally, former collegiate Friday Night pitchers are expected to cruise to AA, facing as few roadbumps as possible on their way. Garza excelled in this regard, making it through the Florida State League without a scratch. In 44.1 innings at Fort Myers, Garza allowed just 27 hits and 11 walks while striking out 53. His ERA was 1.42 upon promotion to the Eastern League.
Last night, Garza proved he belonged on top of the list. While it's hard to learn anything from a single start, Garza proved he belonged in AA in his debut: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 13 K. After allowing two of the first five batters he faced to reach base, Garza retired the next 19 hitters before a walk ended his afternoon. With problems in the Twins rotation currently being patched by Boof Bonser, some are hoping Garza makes a meteoric rise to the Majors. However, the Twins would be smartest -- and I don't doubt that they will -- to let Garza take his bumps and bruises in AA.
While Garza isn't on the same plane as Twins prospects of lore, he has a #2/3 ceiling, and should be in the Majors to stay by 2007.
2. Jason Kubel - OF/DH
Many hoped that Kubel's polished bat would start the season in the Minnesota lineup, providing aid to the Twins disastrous offensive problems. However, a lackluster spring coupled with a year away from baseball led to Jason's demotion. Since rejoining the Redwings, Kubel has been solid, if not the International League MVP candidate that many had hoped/predicted.
I am giving Kubel the benefit of the doubt by retaining his high prospect status, but he's a slump away from slipping a bit down the team rankings. I like that Jason is still making contact at a solid rate, and while not proving to be a HR hitter, twelve extra base hits in 106 at-bats is good. However, Kubel's sudden desertion of the base on balls is a concern, only 8 walks so far.
Kubel is a solid prospect at this point, but I don't think he is the middle of the order hitter that many had hoped. Look for Jason to continue hitting well in AAA, and upon promotion, succeeding in the Majors. But please, no more Edgar Martinez comparisons. He ain't that good.
3. Matt Moses - 3B
Few things must excite Twins fans more than the notion of a third base prospect, currently forced to sit through Tony Batista manning the position. And while many likely believe that Moses can't get to the Majors fast enough, the Twins patience with their former top pick should pay off. After back problems in 2004, Moses exploded onto the prospect scene last year, and thus far, has proven his breakout to not be a farce.
Problem is, Moses has also yet to turn on the gas this season. In each offensive category, an improvement could be made. Twenty-nine strikeouts in 131 ABs isn't great. Neither is 10 extra base hits during that time, even if five are home runs. Finally, a third baseman should be walking more than 10 times in 145 plate appearances.
With no real competition to speak of, it's safe to say that Moses is the Twins future at the hot corner. But unless Garza accelerates soon, it will be hard to project anything beyond the average 3B for his future.
4. Glen Perkins - LHP
Confusing early results so far. Perkins, a former first round choice from nearby University of Minnesota, Perkins pitched great last year through high-A before hitting a wall at AA. But good-stuff southpaws are a rare breed, and the Twins promised to use patience with Perkins. So far, Perkins second trial of the Eastern League has gone pretty well.
But, for some reason, things have not gone extraordinarily. Perkins is on a prospect-laden staff in AA, joined by the likes of Errol Simonitsch (2.51 ERA), Adam Harben (2.12) and Justin Jones (3.25). Perkins' 3.58 ERA is the worst of the group, odd because the southpaw also has the group's best peripheral numbers. I am a big fan of Perkins blend of control and stuff, and certainly his handedness helps things. But before becoming an elite prospect, Perkins has to get his ERA down, a feat possibly made easier by reduced HR/9 numbers.
5. Kevin Slowey - RHP
Another early season example of the college pitcher dominating A-ball competition, Kevin Slowey was Garza's running mate in Fort Myers. For some reason, when the Twins decided to move Garza to the Eastern League, Slowey stayed. Apparently, the right-hander's 63/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio was not good enough for the Twins.
Drafting Slowey from Winthrop, the Twins expected to get a polished pitcher. Never one to throw a hard fastball, Slowey has always depended on fantastic control and a better change up. By throwing the ball where he wants and changing speeds, Slowey has developed a formula for success. But the Twins have seen dominating performances turn to rust in the road between Fort Myers and New Britain before (see: Perkins), so approaching Slowey carefully is probably for the best.
At this point in the season, Slowey's numbers are simply out of this world. However, few types of pitchers demand AA results before proper evaluation like Slowey's kind, lacking any projectablity to speak of.
6. Anthony Swarzak - RHP
After watching a player in person, at his worst, the memory is difficult to forget. Last year, following his fantastic May, I saw the beginning of a June Swoon for Anthony Swarzak. Ever since, I stayed farther away from his bandwagon than most. This season, that mentality seems to be paying dividends. Swarzak has not been bad this season, striking out 40 in 39 innings. But, accusations of being both hittable (44 hits) and wild (20 walks) is not a good omen. I was concerned last year that Swarzak's high-80s fastball was not enough, and I will stick to that belief. Swarzak will always get noticed thanks to a great hook, but without a good, controlled fastball, Swarzak's curve will go to waste.
7. Alex Romero - OF
One of the missed breakout predictions I had from 2005, Romero is having an interesting season so far. First assigned to AAA, the Twins rushed to a demotion when Romero was hitting just .192 through eight games. The decision seemed a bit forced - Alex had a good BB/K ratio and seemed on the verge of turning things around - but promoting confidence at an easier level is defensible. Since being moved back to the Eastern League, Romero has done very well, hitting .277/.362/.458. For about three years now, Romero has continued to be good at everything, but great at nothing, the sign of a future fourth outfielder. With good speed, better patience, a fantastic ability to make contact and a left-handed bat, Romero is as good a bet as any to have a long Major League bench career. But until his defense improves or his power blossoms, a starting spot seems like a stretch for Romero.
8. Eduardo Morlan - RHP
Alright, now we're talking. Morlan, who turned 20 years old during Spring Training, is an exciting prospect. A former Cuban, the Twins grabbed Morlan in the third round of the 2004 draft, obsessed with the stuff he would bring to the system: mid-90s fastball, a very good breaking pitch, and a solid change. Morlan lacked control and profiled as a reliever, but given his stuff, worse things could be said. This season, the report is still the same. In the Midwest League, Morlan has surrendered just 13 hits in 25.1 innings, actually allowing more walks: 15. He strikes batters out at a great rate (34), and keeps the ball in the park. Right now, the Twins have jerked Morlan between the rotation and the bullpen, but given his success, expect an extended starter trial to undergo soon. Morlan's stuff is second just to Garza's on this list, as is his ceiling, but few players could flame out as easily.
9. Paul Kelly - SS
Now that Reid Brignac's breakout if becoming official, I'm really starting to believe that teenage Midwest League middle infielders should have reduced expectations. To just use recent examples, the aggregate Midwest League OPS of Adam Jones, Brignac and Brandon Wood -- all of whom played in the MWL at 19 as shortstops -- was .727. Kelly's, thus far, is sitting at .724. I am beginning to become high on Kelly, who has shown gap power (10 2Bs in 149 ABs) that could eventually provide home runs, patience (17 BBs) and a good enough ability to make contact. Kelly is likely going to have a modest season, mostly generating excitement through doubles and good defense. But on the horizon seems to be a breakout, unfortunately Paul's next stop is not the California League.
10. Denard Span - OF
If nothing else, I can respect a prospect with a back-up plan. While, without a doubt, Span would ideally like to become the next Twin leadoff hitter, there is another route he can take: fifth outfielder. Span, a fantastic defensive outfielder, also has the great contact skills associated with good top-of-the-order players. Unfortunately, Span doesn't walk a ton, and offers even less power. After homering in his first game, Span has just three extra-base hits since, all doubles, and looks to be a future bench player if things don't change soon. However, a bench career would be helped if Span became a better baserunner; he has been successful on just five of eight attempts so far, bringing his success ratio under 66%. A frustrating talent, to be sure.
And those that deserve mention outside the top ten, in no particular order...
The Twins system is loaded, so a breakdown of the top ten cannot even do it justice. Just outside the top ten were a pair of AA pitchers, Adam Harben and Justin Jones, both of which have control problems, both of which probably will need moves to the bullpen to make any real success happen ... Trevor Plouffe began the season hailed by many as a breakout candidate, but his hitting problems have continued. In addition to a complete lack of power at the plate, I think Plouffe is the rare example of a player too selective at the plate: 24 walks in about 150 plate appearances! ... In fact, Plouffe's double play partner, Alexi Casilla, might be the better prospect. Acquired in a trade for J.C. Romero, Casilla has good contact ability (21 K in 157 AB) and great speed up the middle. Likely a future bench player ... Kyle Waldrop has not pitched good enough in his second Midwest League go-around so far, still proving to be too hittable. I don't think the fastball will ever be good enough for sustained success ... Pat Neshek is the most interesting story in the farm system, a former 6th round pick (from Butler University) that entered the year with a career 2.22 minor league ERA. This season, in AAA, Neshek has struck out 49 batters in 27.2 innings. Other than a high HR rate, all signs seem to be go for Neshek's big league promotion ... Henry Sanchez was the rare example of a first round high school first baseman in 2005, but his early results have been very damning. After an early season power surge, Sanchez has allowed his OPS to drop to .660 while striking out in nearly 40% of his at-bats ... I'll close things out by mentioning two completely different pitchers: J.D. Durbin and Brian Duensing. Durbin, a prospect in the system for ages, has looked good in AAA so far except for a very high walk ratio. His move to relief needs to be made soon. Duensing is just in low-A, but he's far more polished than Durbin. Too early to get any good readings from Duensing's numbers, but he could enter legit prospect status if he replaced Kevin Slowey soon in the Fort Myers rotation.
Barry Bonds Homers
The words in the title have been spoken hundreds of times in the last twenty years by broadcasters and fans alike. Through Sunday, May 14, 2006, Bonds has hit 713 round-trippers, which places him third on the all-time homer list for the majors behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. In this article, we will examine some of the statistical breakouts of those 713 long balls and compare them to Ruth's 714. Many of the differences are simply a sign of how the game has changed in 80 years, with many new teams and a different treatment of starting pitchers among the changes. When Ruth played, there were 8 teams in each league so there were fewer pitchers to face during a season. Also, a starting pitcher was expected to work much further into the game than starters do now, so a batter might only face two hurlers in a contest. Now it is common to have three or four pitchers work in one inning.
Barry Bonds hit his first big league home run on June 4, 1986 off Craig McMurtry of the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The solo shot came in the fifth inning of a game in which the 21-year-old Bonds played center field for the Pirates a week after making his debut. McMurtry became the first of 419 different pitchers to surrender a four-bagger to Bonds; Babe Ruth hit his 714 homers off 216 hurlers, with 17 of the blasts off Rube Walberg. In fact, Ruth hit at least 10 home runs each off 13 different pitchers. Bonds has not hit more than eight homers off any one pitcher, although he has reached four pitchers for that total: Greg Maddux, Terry Mulholland, John Smoltz, and Curt Schilling.
Bonds, hitting in the first spot in the order for most of the 1986 season, smacked sixteen homers his rookie year. He reached 100 on July 12, 1990 against the San Diego Padres, with a blast off an Andy Benes pitch. In his career, Bonds has hit 82 home runs off Padres hurlers, more than any other team. In fact, the second highest total, 63 off the Expos/Nationals, is far behind that of the Pads. Ruth hit 123 four-baggers off Tigers pitchers and 108 off hurlers for the Philadelphia Athletics. The Babe hit home runs off all eight American League teams in his career and six homers off four different teams in the Senior Circuit in 1935. In contrast to Ruth, Bonds has homered off 27 different clubs during his National League career, including 11 American League teams. The three AL clubs which have not surrendered a four-bagger to Bonds are the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Early in his career with the Pirates, Bonds hit in the leadoff spot most of the time. During that time, he led off 20 games with a home run, which places him in the top 20 on the career list. His father Bobby hit 35 leadoff homers to place fourth on the career list and held the single-season record for 23 years. Barry has hit three inside-the-park home runs in his career, one in 1987 and two more in 1997. Ruth rounded the bases ten times on inside-the-park homers but never hit a leadoff home run.
Bonds hit his 200th career homer on July 8, 1993, his first season as a member of the San Francisco Giants. While with the Pirates, Bonds hit 176 home runs and the remainder have been as a Giant. Babe Ruth played for three clubs in his career, hitting 49 for the Red Sox, 659 for the Yankees and 6 for the Boston Braves. Bonds joined the 300 Homer Club in 1996 and reached 400 in 1998. On April 17, 2001, Bonds became the 17th member of the 500 Home Run Club with a two-run shot off Terry Adams of the Los Angeles Dodgers in San Francisco. It was the 7,501st at bat in his career, which places Bonds in the middle of the list for homer #500. Ruth had taken 5,801 at bats to become the first batter with 500 homers. Mark McGwire took the fewest at bats to reach the milestone (5,487).
On August 9, 2002, Bonds hit his 600th home run, becoming the fourth player in history to perform this feat. It was hit off Kip Wells of Bonds' old team, the Pirates, in a game played in San Francisco. Two years later, Bonds reached 700 homers on September 17, 2004 in another game played in San Francisco. Only three batters have hit 700 home runs. Ruth hit his in 1934 and Hank Aaron joined Ruth in 1973. Aaron holds the record for most home runs in the National League with 733 while Ruth's 708 leads the Junior Circuit.
Bonds has homered in 35 different ballparks in his career. His top total is the 140 hit at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, with 135 (through May 17) at AT&T Park (formerly Pac Bell Park). Ruth hit four-baggers in 12 different parks, with 259 at Yankee Stadium and 85 at the Polo Grounds, which was the Yankees' home prior to 1923. Bonds has hit 15% of all the four-baggers at Pac Bell. By comparison, in the first five years of Yankee Stadium (1923-27) the Babe hit 105 home runs, which is 19.8% of all homers hit at the stadium. This reflects the completely different game environment that existed in the early 1920s. Ruth outhomered all seven other American League clubs in 1920 when he swatted 54 homers. For a more recent comparison of ballparks, Larry Walker hit 12.8% of the homers hit in the first five years of play at Coors Field in Denver.
In his career, Bonds has homered off the following pairs of brothers:
He also homered off both pitchers named Greg Harris, who are not related. Ruth did not homer off any pairs of brothers in his career.
Babe Ruth hit multiple home runs in one game 72 times, while Barry Bonds has accomplished the feat 68 times. Ruth hit 16 grand slams and Bonds has 11. In four different seasons, Ruth hit at least 50 homers, with totals of 60, 59 and 54 (twice). Bonds set a new single-season record in 2001 when he clouted 73 homers but his next-highest season total is the 49 he hit in 2000.
On June 20, 1921, Babe Ruth hit his 127th career home run, thus passing Sam Thompson for second on the all-time list. Roger Connor and Thompson had been the top two batters on the homer list since August 28, 1896. The top five on 6/20/1921 were:
The total homers for those five batters, 632, is less than Ruth's career total. The Babe passed Connor on July 18, 1921 and gradually other batters climbed the career home run list. Hank Aaron passed Ruth for the top spot on April 8, 1974. The top five that day were:
Mark McGwire displaced Killebrew from the top five in 2001 and Barry Bonds passed McGwire and Robinson in 2002. Bonds passed Willie Mays on April 13, 2004. It seems inevitable that Bonds will pass Ruth in the near future, thus dropping the Babe out of the top two on the career list for the first time since June 20, 1921. Ruth has been in one of the top two positions for nearly 85 years but amassing a larger career total does not necessarily make a player a better home run hitter than Ruth. The Babe hit 33.6 home runs for every 500 plate appearances in his career, a number only topped by Mark McGwire, who hit 38.1 per 500 plate appearances. Bonds has a production rate of 30.4 per 500 plate appearances. Bonds has accomplished many things in his career but still lags behind the Babe as a home run hitter.
As April turned to May in 2006, it appeared that, for Bonds and the Giants, personal goals have overcome the concept of team. Bonds seems unable to play left field even moderately well due to his injuries and his hitting has been embarrassing. But, evidently as long as Bonds wants to play, the Giants management is going to allow it since he is drawing fans to the park - thus adding cash to the owner's wallet.
David Vincent, called the "Sultan of Swat Stats" by ESPN, is the recognized authority on the history of the home run. He is the author of Home Run: The Definitive History of Baseball's Ultimate Weapon, to be published in March 2007 by Potomac Books, Inc.
What They Have Done For Us Lately
Last week in this space, I took a different look at the nation's best college hitters: examining each by their Friday Night performance. Given this split information, we could quickly identify the players performing at the highest levels against their best competition. Suddenly, qualms about Matt Antonelli's performance against top programs were erased.
My goal entering this week was to unveil another collegiate stat, this time allowing us to look at pichers in a different way. However, today offers no new statistic, no rock turned over for the first time. However, in my game log pursuits, I did realize a quick-and-dirty system for evaluating one of the most important qualities for a top draft pick: momentum.
Ask Lance Broadway, who went from third round material to becoming a first round choice in a matter of weeks. Broadway has been good this season, validating the selection that many called a reach. However, each year it seems a pitcher rises in May up draft boards wih a good few weeks.
Today, we will be looking at how the top ten pitchers in the country have done in their last five appearances. Now this group has been, for the most part, considered first round talent from the get-go, today is merely to introduce the style. In the coming weeks, I will profile more pitchers as we try to identify this year's Broadway.
For their last five weeks, I have compiled each pitcher's counting stats, as well as two other factors. I will provide the average ISR for the opponents faced over that time period, as well as the average game score in the last five weeks. Game score is not perfect, but it's the best method in providing perspective with the dominance of an outing. Baseball's top ten pitchers...
Brad Lincoln obviously gets points for most impressive on this list, with the signficantly highest game score. However, during that time period, Lincoln faced three teams over Boyd Nation's top 100, striking out 34 batters in 23 innings against these teams. His start against Rice last week, a five-hitter with nine strikeouts, did affirm that Lincoln belongs in the top ten. In terms of dominance, Lincoln leads off the list.
I am, surprisingly, most impressed with Greg Reynolds of any pitcher on this list. I have been quoted as saying that Reynolds is the most overrated first round talent, but he is really coming around this season. His five starts have all been very difficult, but Reynolds has excelled, particularly in the last three: 27 IP, 3 ER, 17 H, 4 BB. I have criticized Reynolds for the lack of results, but they are now there, even though the strikeouts aren't. Reynolds blend of projectablity and results will get him in the first round, and while my intuition frowns on the pick, he is giving me less and less to point at.
Staying near the top of the list, Dave Huff deserves mention. I fell in love with Huff during the Cape Cod League last year, pegging him as a breakout candidate in his move to John Savage. It has happened, and Savage has proven the scouting world that Huff is an innings eater, going at least 8 innings in his last five starts, and at least nine in his last four. I'm worried that Huff is too hittable at times, that his lack of overall dominance will plague him at higher levels. But fantastic control and very good stuff (though not great) can go a long way for a southpaw.
Most of you probably cringed when you saw just how low the UNC duo ended up on the list. Especially when considering their low average ISR, even if Nation's system is West Coast friendly. Bard has been so inconsistent all season; his April 9 start against Miami really hurts his numbers here, though. In his last three appearances, Bard has allowed only 13 hits in 18.2 innings, allowing just three earned runs to cross the plate. Bard's series of poor performances will scare many, but his stuff and occasional dominance does yield a first round pick.
Miller hasn't been extremely dominant for a while, lacking one game score above 66. Miller's draft status is locked in, however, so these numbers only matter so much. After some midseason dip in his strikeout numbers, they are back in his last three starts, 21 in 20.2 innings. His control is also down in that period, and Andrew has really made a point of generating a ton of ground balls. No concerns about Miller, folks, he's right on pace.
This list also does a good job in showing the continuing fall of Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. I still like both players; many first round teams would be best off with their innings-eater arms. However, the lack of a ceiling really will scare some clubs off. Kennedy concerns me the most because his control has been really off - 10 walks in his last 24 innings. Without control, Kennedy isn't much. Chamberlain has had walk problems do, allowing at least two in his last five outings. However, Chamberlain's plus strikeout numbers in each outing, including against Texas, have provided credence to his draft status.
Planning for the End
Life without Barry Bonds equals futility. At least this has been the case so far, as Bonds' lone organizational exit has yielded thirteen straight losing seasons. Soon, Bonds will be leaving another team for which he has been a mainstay on, this time leaving baseball for good.
The San Francisco Giants have been, for years, a team built around Barry Bonds. The front office's strategy is simple and easily identifiable: win while you have Bonds at all costs. With this approach, Sabean has spent years making short-sighted trades, giving San Francisco a winning baseball team from 1997-2004. Suddenly, however, Sabean's tactics don't appear as genius.
As the cameras follow Bonds so intently this season, the Giants have been plagued with mediocrity, falling to last place in baseball's worst division. Injuries have started to hit many of the thirtysomethings that encompass the starting lineup. The Giants are simply a team trapped between two time periods -- the consistent winnings of the previous decade and the forthcoming retooling of the next.
Can life after Barry Bonds prove more successful than the Pittsburgh Pirates model? Surely, with better management and a sound blueprint, it is almost inevitable. With Bonds likely retiring after the 2007 season, the pressure is now on for Sabean and company to begin planning.
While the farm system will unquestionably be important in the rebuilding process, the Giants have a luxury the Bucs never had: money. Not only will Bonds' exit bring in excess of eight figures off the payroll, but the forthcoming exits of many veteran players will present Brian Sabean with a myriad of options.
Arbitration players notwithstanding, the Giants can see nearly $50 million coming off the books between now and 2008. Come 2008, the only contractually-bounded commitments are with two dependable starters (Matt Morris, Noah Lowry) and two fringe position players (Randy Winn, Mike Matheny). This means that in the next two seasons, Sabean has to find the new core of the Giants.
What spots can Sabean depend upon the San Francisco youth to fill? Offensively, not much. Graciously, we can assert that second base is accounted for, either by Kevin Frandsen or Marcus Sanders. I'm not particularly sold on either player, but given Frandsen's 2006 and Sanders' 2005, it isn't too much of a stretch to think either is the current long-term answer at second base.
The team is light on corner infield players, especially for those that don't believe in Pedro Feliz or Lance Niekro. At this point, it seems Feliz is no more than a bench player, and Niekro nothing more than some 2005 lightning in a bottle. While Travis Ishikawa could make some noise, I am not a believer. The Giants are simply light on infield youth; any depth is reserved for the outfield.
The Giants have few better long-term bets than Eddy Martinez-Esteve, slowly but definitively moving up the minor league ranks. Esteve has some defensive problems, without a doubt, but either at 1B or LF, he will be an everyday player by 2008. I believe the same to be true about Fred Lewis, who probably should be leading off by the bay in 2007. Lewis' full-time position might move Winn to the bench indefinitely, but Fred's minor league success demands a role.
San Francisco has numerous other long-term options in the outfield, most falling under the headings of 'adequate fourth outfield type' or 'too risky to project'. The latter group includes both Nate Schierholtz and Ben Copeland, both with high ceilings and high flame-out potential. And while I really like Dan Ortmeier and Brian Horwitz, neither profiles to be much more than a bench player. Guys like Ortmeier, Horwitz and Jason Ellison are all useful, just not on starting lineups or in the same organization.
So, where does that leave us offensively? I am confident predicting three spots will be filled by youth, with Matheny, Winn, Ellison and Feliz all as potential bench options. Needless to say, the group does not inspire a ton of hope.
The pitching staff offers more upside, however, despite Sabean's best efforts to trade every pitching prospect he can. While Sebean's belief in TINSTAPP has paid off on numerous occasions, Giants fans must wince every time they see Keith Foulke, Joe Nathan or Francisco Liriano near a pitcher's mound. Still, Sabean was unable to trade all San Fran's pitching youth, leaving some room for optimism.
As mentioned, both Matt Morris and Noah Lowry should be in the 2008 rotation, providing 400 innings and sub-average ERAs. The latter is a long-term bet for a rotation spot. And despite some extreme early season struggles, uber-prospect Matt Cain still profiles to be the Giants future ace. This only leaves two rotation spots for Sabean to fill.
One, you can bet, will come via the current farm system. Pat Misch has gained all the early season accolades, using a change-speeds approach to manage a 0.84 ERA in 43 current Eastern League innings. Misch's second run around Fresno, destined to come later in the year, should answer whether or not Misch is made for a rotation spot.
If not the late bloomer, than perhaps the Giants could fill a spot with one of two hard-throwers: Merkin Valdez or Jonathan Sanchez. Valdez has been a prospect for ages, but like Andy Marte across the country, has not yielded enough high-level dominance. Also, Valdez has been stuck in the bullpen in AAA, which seems to be the Giants plans for him. Sanchez is the question mark; the Giants have toyed with him in both the bullpen and rotation. In any role he's used, the hard-throwing southpaw has been great, allowing 13 hits (0 homers) while striking out 39 in 27 AA innings.
Alongside Valdez in the long-term relief plans seems to be Jeremy Accardo, a budding young set-up man that I am high on. The club also has some potential relief talent in the minors -- like LBSU's Brian Anderson -- and even some potential help in the Majors (Kevin Correia), but it seems that only Valdez and Accardo are dependable bets.
Surely, the Giants seem to be better built in their staff than the flipside for the long-term. Lowry, Cain, Sanchez, Valdez and Accardo are all good bets. Matt Morris, Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia, Craig Whitaker and Pat Misch could all be there. While undoubtedly not set in this area, we definitely know that Sabean should have his eyes on the lineup.
In conclusion, to be blunt, the Giants have a lot of work to do before Barry Bonds retires. Namely, this includes acquiring and developing numerous young position players and a few young pitchers. This can be done in a number of ways: with the millions that the Giants payroll will shed in the next two winters, through trades (Jason Schmidt, Steve Finley, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, etc), and through the draft.
While the Giants have been immune from the draft in recent years, choosing to forfeit their first round picks, such will not be the case in 2006. San Francisco will be picking twice in the first round, both in the tenth and 33rd draft spots. The Giants should undoubtedly choose the best player on their board, but in the case of a tie, look for the club to be leaning towards position players. With the tenth pick, both Matt LaPorta and Billy Rowell are potential choices, as well as a list of pitchers too long to mention.
No matter which direction the Giants go in June, the team must begin a new commitment -- towards youth. With each day on his knees, Barry Bonds' days become more numbered, and the onus shifts more and more towards the front office to turn the Giants into a winner.
Life without Barry Bonds will not be easy. But, with any foresight, San Francisco should be able to avoid the disastrous fate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mmm Mmm Good!
May, Monday, Miscellany. With apologies to Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (as well as to my Mom--Happy Mother's Day!), these are my 3M for the day. Pieced together by Scotch Tape, I hereby convert my Post-it Notes into today's column.
To show you how well Albert Pujols has performed during the first month-and-a-half, look no further than the bottom of our sidebar on the left. Pujols is leading the National League in on-base percentage, slugging average, times on base, and total bases. Should the reigning MVP keep this pace up, he will become only the 18th player in modern history to earn The Quad Award by leading his respective league in all four Quad categories. He would become the first player to achieve this rare distinction since Todd Helton in 2000 and only the third National Leaguer (Mike Schmidt being the other) since fellow Redbirds star Stan Musial captured such honors in 1943 and 1948.
Over in the American League, Jason Giambi sits atop the leaderboard in OBP and TOB. He relinquished bragging rights in SLG this week to Jim Thome, who is the early favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year and may be a good reason why Kenny Williams could earn the title of Executive of the Year.
I love pitchers who combine strikeouts with groundouts but Pedro and Johan are proof positive that flyball types can succeed, too. However, such pitchers need to be able to punch out batters or else the tendency to give up flyballs will come back to haunt them. To wit, Dave Williams has the third-worst K/100P (2.40) among qualifieds and the lowest G/F ratio (0.67). It should be no surprise that he has one of the worst ERAs (6.32). Paul Byrd also sports a low strikeout (2.69)/high flyball (0.88) combination that virtually guarantees trouble (6.52 ERA).
Let's say you want to look up a player's stats like...oh, Jered Weaver. You can get his AVG/OBP/SLG, BABIP, WHIP, BB/9, K/9, HR/9, and batted ball types vs. LHB and RHB, home, road, with 0-1-2 out, none on, men on, and RISP.
Speaking of Weaver's splits, you can see for yourself that he is handling left-handed batters just fine despite claims to the contrary. (The Brew Crew numbers don't include Weaver's last outing on 5/11 and his AVG/OBP/SLG stats are all materially lower than what is shown.) I have rarely, if ever, seen a pitcher who is held to a higher standard than all others as I have with Weaver. "Doesn't have good enough stuff" becomes "Gives up too many flyballs" becomes "Can't get LHB out." If it's not one thing, it's something else.
All I know is that the guy is 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA in Triple-A. He is also striking out batters at a rate of 10.71 K/9, 30.5% of batters faced, and 7.68 K100P.
IP H R ER BB SO BF PIT ST BA G F 4/08 @ TUC 7 2 1 1 0 8 24 83 62 21 5 8 4/13 @ LV 5 9 4 4 0 6 23 91 63 28 1 7 4/19 vs TUC 6 5 0 0 2 6 25 102 64 38 3 8 4/24 @ POR 5 7 5 5 2 6 23 95 58 37 2 7 4/29 @ TAC 6 4 2 2 1 12 23 90 64 26 2 4 5/06 vs TAC 6 5 1 1 1 8 24 101 70 31 5 5 5/11 @ OMA 7 3 0 0 0 4 22 89 64 25 6 10 TOTALS 42 35 13 13 6 50 164 651 435 206 24 49
Interestingly, like Martinez and Santana, Weaver is another example of a pitcher who can do just fine by giving up more flyballs than groundballs. Would I like to see Jered induce more grounders? Sure. But, as long as Weaver keeps his K rate up, he will succeed no matter where he pitches.
For more on Weaver, be sure to check out Eric Neel's human interest article on Jered and Jeff online (subscription required) or in the May 22 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
Cole Hamels. Sounds more like the name of a songwriter than a baseball pitcher. Nonetheless, the 22-year-old southpaw was composing his own music on Friday night as he held the Cincinnati Reds scoreless for five innings while striking out seven and allowing just one hit in his major league debut.
Thanks to MLB Extra Innings, I watched all 92 pitches. Hamels only threw 51 for strikes but was extremely effective, despite walking five batters (including the bases full in the second inning). The tall, lanky youngster (6-4, 195) with the impeccable minor league record (195.1-114-39-31-72-273 with a 1.43 ERA and 2 HR in 35 GS) is the real deal. He is as good as they come.
Hamels is not a power pitcher per se. Oh, he throws his fastball plenty hard, working mostly at 90-91 and topping out at 93. But he combines excellent stuff with great deception. In addition to his heater, Hamels throws a good curveball and a plus-plus change-up. The latter pitch is what makes Hamels so special.
Check out the grip on his change-up. You can see why they call it a circle change. The index finger and thumb form a circle on the side of the ball. The middle and ring fingers hold the ball in a similar fashion as a two-seam fastball with the pinky on the opposite side as the thumb and index finger. The pitch is thrown with the same arm motion as the fastball and is released with the pitcher driving his thumb toward the ground. The movement on the ball is similar to a screwball, diving down and away from RHB (in the case of a lefty like Hamels).
Hamels retired the Reds in order in the first inning. He got Ryan Freel to ground out to short, struck out Felipe Lopez swinging on a circle change, and punched out Ken Griffey Jr. looking on a breaking ball.
After walking the bases loaded in the second, Hamels reached back and K'd opposing pitcher Elizardo Ramirez on three fastballs to end the inning. He walked Griffey on four pitches in the third but got Freel, Lopez, and Austin Kearns to make easy outs before and after allowing Junior to reach base.
Ryan Howard staked Hamels to a two-run lead in the top of the fourth when he homered to the opposite field on a short, compact stroke. The first round (17th overall) draft pick in 2002 out of Rancho Bernando High School in San Diego stepped it up in the bottom half of the inning by striking out Brandon Phillips and Javier Valentin--the latter on a circle change--after issuing Edwin Encarnacion a free pass with one out.
Hamels whiffed Ramirez on three pitches again in the fifth and induced Freel to ground out for the third time. He threw the pesky lead-off hitter three straight change-ups, retiring him on a ball that was cued off the end of the bat to the first baseman. There are not many veterans--much less pitchers making their MLB debuts--who have the guts and confidence to throw a change back-to-back-to-back to the same hitter. Hamels then impressed me by throwing his biggest hook of the night for a called strike to Lopez. On a 3-and-1 count, Lopez hit a line drive double to right-center field that just eluded a diving Shane Victorino, who short hopped the ball and momentarily held his glove up in the hopes of selling the second base umpire that he caught it.
The hit was Cincy's first and only against Hamels as the man who wears the number 35 on his back saved his best for last by striking out Junior swinging on a curve down and away with outstanding tilt. His boyhood idol never put the ball in play against him, whiffing twice and walking once.
Although Hamels didn't get the win--Ryan Madson, the pitcher Cole replaced in the rotation, gave up home runs to two of the first three batters he faced to allow the Reds to tie the game--he pitched about as well as anyone could have hoped. Hamels held the top-scoring team in the NL without a run in a ballpark that is the second most unfriendly to pitchers in the majors.
Hamels flat out knows how to pitch. He mixed up his pitches and kept the ball down, even enticing more than one batter to bite at a few breaking balls and changes in the dirt. Hamels works quickly and has a smooth windup and delivery, especially for someone who looks like he is all arms and legs. The lefty brings his hands together above the head, kicks his right leg up with the knee perpendicular to his body, and then uses his height and arm length to deliver the ball on a downward plane.
The prized prospect's career is anything but on a downward plane. Health permitting, Hamels should be the favorite to take NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors and be among the top pitchers in the league in 2007 and beyond. That should be sweet music to the ears of all Phillies fans.
...where credit is due. The Major League season is now about 20% over, making the usual pretender/contender game a bit more valid. However, I don't want to rain on parades in Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston and Colorado, so we'll try to find optimism elsewhere.
In replacement for the usual Friday notes column, I decided to give credit to the top half (records-wise) of the MLB and write a paragraph detailing each farm system. It is in no way an attempt to be comprehensive, but merely a simple tool for word association. Among the minor league happenings that have drawn my eye recently...
Chicago White Sox - The idea to replace Brian Anderson with Ryan Sweeney in the outfield makes such little sense to me. Anderson has provided Rowand-ish defense so far, and offers pop that Sweeney doesn't: 72 extra-base hits in 1149 professional at-bats. Batting average isn't everything...Aaron Cunningham is the type of player that I might pick to break out next year. He's been sensational in the Sally League at the age of 20.
Cincinnati Reds - Homer Bailey is really starting to turn on the gas, literally proving he has "no hit" stuff. With enhanced control this season, minor league baseball might not have a better pitcher once the summer hits full swing... Paul Janish has played so well this season, but don't buy into his stock. It's the college-draftee's second time in the league, and the Florida State League will prove how weak his bat is. The glove should turn him into a nice minor league veteran, though.
New York Mets - A farm system of four players, only three of whom have serious ceilings. Milledge, Pelfrey and Fernando Martinez are all great prospects, but Alay Soler is probably the subplot of the season. Considered by many this past winter as a lost cause, Soler (with the help of Pelfrey) will make Victor Zambrano an afterthought. Let's just hope that Soler, Brian Bannister and Scott Kazmir are teaching the front office a lesson: older isn't always better.
St. Louis Cardinals - A farm system that I think is on the upswing, thanks to a good 2005 draft and a good number of picks in 2006. Colby Rasmus continues to bounce back from him slow start, but we can now add southpaws to the growing weaknesses list that already includes breaking pitches. Let's hope the list ends there ... Adam Wainwright has been great in the Majors so far, which really creates a lot of questions surrounding Anthony Reyes. With all the arguments we have for the most over and underrated prospect, one thing we should all agree on is that Reyes is the least appreciated prospect.
Boston Red Sox - He didn't make it to my recent article praising new prospects, but Mike Bowden would make a top 75 if I wrote it up today. Subtract one start from his numbers, and Bowden is an elite talent. Even his inconsistency has not plagued a great set of peripheral statistics. Bowden has surely bested Clay Buchholz so far ... Speaking of bad starts, Jon Lester is starting to return to his status as an elite pitching prospect. In his last four starts, spanning 18.1 innings, Lester has allowed just four earned runs. When are we going to accept he just always starts slow?
Detroit Tigers - This is a very hard system to get a feel for, with an odd blend of prospects. In terms of upside, the top two talents are definitely Cameron Maybin and Humberto Sanchez. The Tigers have dealt with bad pitching for so long, it's interesting that Jim Leyland has been handed a rotation of fireballers. Sanchez always seems to be too inconsistent as a starter, but even more so than Joel Zumaya, I think he could make a dynamite reliever. Trying Zumaya and Jordan Tata in the rotation, while filling their bullpen slots with Sanchez might be a good late-season experiment for the Tigers.
New York Yankees - So much for Eric Duncan's big turnaround as a prospect, huh? The first baseman is hitting .228/.295/.277 in a season when Jason Giambi has a .500+ on-base percentage. Duncan's strikeouts are down, which is nice, but where oh where are the power numbers? ... If you think the support Cole Hamels has gotten for his call-up has been extensive, think about Phil Hughes' upcoming promotion. No, it won't be too soon, but an August injury could bring a phenom to New York.
Houston Astros - Last year the Astros drew a lot of publicity for a draft which included Brian Bogusevic, Eli Iorg and Koby Clemens. It seems now as if the praise might have been premature. Clemens has been hurt for much of the season, but ineffective while playing. Eli Iorg's OPS is below .600, thanks to 3 walks for the season. Most of the hits are being credited to Bogusevic, who has allowed 25 in just 12.2 innings. I wouldn't want to be the person accountable for these misplayed millions.
Colorado Rockies - Everything is on the up and up for this organization. If the Kansas City Royals make the Tim Lincecum mistake, the Rockies will be handed a major piece to their puzzle. All the talk for the 2006 draft has focused around the lack of heavy talent at the top, but Andrew Miller is the type of player this organization needs. A boring two-seamer, a 95+ four-seamer and a fantastic slider seems to be a potential recipe for Coors success. Chris Nelson seems to be the exception to the rule of good first-round picks by the Rockies recently.
Toronto Blue Jays - Ricky Romero looked great in his minor league debut, and should be up to the Major Leagues in short order. Given Josh Towers' struggles in the early goings, it won't take much for some aggressive promoting. Romero in Toronto by season's end? Bet on it ... The early returns on the Blue Jays' early-round college outfield selections have been positive, especially with Ryan Patterson's recent 6-for-6, 3 HR day in Dunedin. Drafting in the middle rounds has been a successful venture for the Riccardi regime.
Philadelphia Phillies - The question now is: how will Gio Gonzalez react now that the pressure is placed on his left shoulder, with Cole Hamels graduating to the big leagues? Gonzalez is a pretty fantastic talent, and the Phillies will have the makings of a young, talented rotation by 2007. How the likes of Scott Mathieson and Zach Segovia fit in, at this point, is unknown ... Whither Bradley Harman? After garnering my prediction for a 2006 breakout, and performing well in the World Baseball Classic, Harman has been a non-entity in Clearwater. One of my biggest disappointments of the young season, to be sure.
Arizona Diamondbacks - Mike Rizzo is one of the most talented scouting directors in baseball, and I would never tell him how to do his job. But, I also have a plan for the Diamondbacks draft. Why not take relatively cheap players with the 11 and 34 selections, and then gamble with #55? Given that the club's low-A affiliate is in South Bend, Indiana, is there a better fit for Notre Dame WR/RHP Jeff Samardzija? Scouts love his potential in both sports; Mel Kiper has him 7th on his first 2007 draft board. With a creative contract and the ability to play in his college town, Samardzija could really test the baseball waters with this organization.
San Diego Padres - The hopes of the entire farm system lay on the bat of George Kottaras, currently managing a .292 ISO in Mobile, a very tough hitters' park. Kottaras also was surrounded by power red flags, but the consistent addition of that to his game is a benefit. However, how must the Padres front office be balancing such encouraging signs with his 34 strikeouts (in 96 at-bats)? Like the rest of the farm system, it really seems to be one step forward, two steps back ... Given the huge outfield in PETCO Park, you really have to wonder if Kevin Towers winces every time he sees Jered Weaver throw seven scoreless innings with more than a dozen flyball outs.
Texas Rangers - I did not like the trade for Freddy Guzman yesterday at all. Guzman's career should double that of a fifth outfielder's, with some outside ceiling to become a leadoff hitter. Conversely, John Hudgins has potential as a back-end pitcher a la John Maine, while Vince Sinisi has a bit of thunder in his bat. Neither player's loss in the Rule 5 Draft would have caused Jon Daniels to blink this past winter, but that hardly means he should begin pressing ... Another draft combination that I think is perfect: Luke Hochevar in Texas. A hard-throwing sinkerballer in a pitching-starved organization with a hitter-friendly ballpark? A good connection with Scott Boras? Only one pick in the top 85? Drafting Hochevar and offering $2.5 million is in the best interests of all parties involved.
Oakland Athletics - Last year Marcus McBeth was moved to the mound full-time, and spent his season split between the Rookie Leagues and the Kane County Cougars (low-A). While McBeth started the season off great in the Cal League, allowing just one hit in 8 appearances, his promotion to the Pacific Coast League was too extreme. The former outfielder is a great talent off the mound, but rushing him makes little sense. Bring him into the majors in 2008, as he is hitting his physical peak, and see a true Brooks Kieschnik success story ... Daric Barton, Kevin Mellilo, maybe Travis Buck. The future of this team is really about to hit the Majors for good, providing good fodder for Moneyball 2.
Our Favorite Obscurities
You can have the superstars. No, really, take them. They're all yours: all the smirking, soulless, multi-multi-millionaires, the self-aggrandizing sluggers whose heads were hopelessly swollen long before they ever became acquainted with the cream and the clear. Go ahead, cheer your lungs out in tribute. Just don't expect them to hear you.
All I ask is in return is that you give me their polar opposites. Let me root for the nobodies and the obscurities of the present and the past, the no-names and misfits, the Oddibes and Bombos, the who's-hes?, never-weres and maybe an occasional one-hit wonder or two. Give me the guys who savor the cheers and every inning of their careers, and I promise I'll be a satisfied baseball fan.
Now, I realize I'm probably overthrowing my fastball here, so to speak: I don't mean to hyperbolically claim that every superstar ballplayer is automatically a superjackass; if you don't like, say, Albert Pujols, you're likely either a miserable person, a Cubs fan, or both.
It's just that since I fell in love with baseball and the Red Sox growing up in Maine in the late '70s, I've found myself rooting the hardest for the playing whose names aren't in lights - and often aren't even on the lineup card. While my buddies pretended to be the usual Boston superheroes - Jim Ed Rice, Pudge Fisk, Freddie Lynn - in our neighborhood Wiffle Ball games, I usually imagined myself as the hustling hyper-hypo of a third baseman, Butch Hobson . . . at least until some mysterious new player arrived via Triple-A Pawtucket and piqued my interest.
I suspect I was among a select (and strange) few New England 8-year-olds who preferred pretending he was Sam Bowen to Dewey Evans. And I'm pretty sure I stood alone in being at least as interested to say hello to Chico Walker as I was to say goodbye to the icon he replaced in left field in the eighth inning of the Sox's final game of the 1983 season. Good luck in retirement, Yaz, and don't sweat it. If I do say so, this Chico cat looks set to hold down the fort in left field for the next 10 years.
What can I say? I was weird like that. Still am. But here's the thing: We all have them, nondescript ballplayers we admire for reasons inexplicable, or perhaps personal. (Hell, Barry Bonds insists his favorite player is David Eckstein. Other than himself, I presume.) Maybe your personal Obscure Hero did something memorable to win a game you attended. Or tossed you a baseball. Or had a goofily unforgettable name (Greg Legg!). Or offered you an autograph, a handshake, or some other small moment that, when you're 10 years old and awestruck, could not possibly be any larger.
Here, then, are mine. Consider this my way of paying homage to random dudes I've liked through the years, ballplayers who were forgotten, others who were barely heard from in the first place. All of them played in the majors, however temporarily. Many of them played in the mid-1980s for my beloved Maine Guides, an ill-fated, generally talent-free, and all-but-forgotten Triple-A farm team of the Cleveland Indians, an organization whose haplessness inspired the Reel Classic film "Major League." None of them will be getting into the Hall of Fame. You know, the one in Cooperstown. But they all hold a hallowed place in the halls of my mind.
Chico Walker: Oh, all right, so maybe he shouldn't have been the guy to replace Yaz during his final game - common sense and tradition say it should have been Jim Rice, the heir apparent who DH'd that day. But Walker turned out to be a versatile and valuable utility guy once he broke free of the Sox system; he rotted in Triple-A purgatory from 1980 to '84 while Boston management favored the likes of Steve Lyons and Ed Jurak. Wrote Bill James in his 1993 Player Ratings book:
"Switch hitter, plays all over the field like Tony Phillips, and is still an outstanding baserunner at 34. He'd have about 1,500 hits by now if he'd come up with the Red Sox about 1980, but they didn't think he could play."
I appreciate James's sentiment here, but as author Howard Bryant notes in "Shut Out: A History of Race and Baseball in Boston," there was likely a more sinister reason Walker never got a real shot with the Sox:
"To Peter Gammons, (Manager Ralph) Houk's generational tendencies were best illustrated through his relationship with a black utility player named Chico Walker. In the case of Walker, Gammons thought, there was always a white utility player who would play ahead of him. There was always a reason Walker never received a real opportunity to win a job. 'Chico Walker was a bright, intelligent player who could have had a much better career,' Gammons said. 'He had a lot to offer. But for some reason, and I think Houk was the reason, there was never a place for him in Boston.' "
Fortunately, Walker did eventually find his place in the big leagues, though it took far too much time. He got over 100 at-bats for the first time at age 28 with the Cubs in '86, and played 100 games for the first time at age 33 in '91. He batted .246 in 526 career games, all but 32 of which came after wasting his baseball youth with the Red Sox. It's too bad. They could have - and should have - used someone like him.
Junior Noboa: This is how bleepity-bleepin' inept the Indians were at supplying alleged prospects to My Beloved Guides: Noboa was rushed to the majors in '84 at age 19, his .254 batting average and one (1) homer in Double-A apparently too enticing for the big club to resist. After Noboa hit .364 that September, the buffoons in the Tribe front office took frequent and misguided pride in claiming they had the youngest player in the majors, assuming in their patented warped way that his young age and high batting average (in a freakin' 11-at-bat sample size, mind you) guaranteed him of future stardom. It worked out just as you'd imagine it might: he pinnacled as a dependable if ordinary .280-hitting second baseman in Triple-A. In parts of eight big league seasons, Noboa hit .239 with one (1) homer for six clubs. Oh, yeah, and the other 19-year-old in the majors that season? Some kid named Gooden for the Mets. Heard that worked out better.
Shooty Babitt: The subject of one of the all-time cruelest (or funniest) baseball quotes, depending on your sense of humor: "If he ever plays for me again," said A's manager Billy Martin late in the '81 season, "please, Shooty me." Martin, who apparently considered Babitt one notch above marshmallow salesmen on the evolutionary chain, kept his word. Babitt's big league career began and ended that season. But his unforgettable name lives on.
Butch Hobson: Clell Lavern Hobson Jr. Red Sox third baseman, 1976-80. Former Alabama quarterback. Bat-rack-endangering, elbow-bone-chip-adjusting, 30-homer-hitting, 44-error-making, Zimmer-abiding, chain-smoking certified lunatic. Naturally, he was my boyhood hero. I remember meeting Hobson for the first time in 1984, nervously waiting while he scribbled his name on my tattered baseball card. I remember thinking he looked so much older than I expected; little did I know that the prematurely grey hair truthfully suggested a hard-lived life. I also remember those timeless words of wisdom he offered upon parting: "Hey, kid, don't forget your pen." Ah, sweet memories.
Sam Horn: The less-talented prototype for Ryan Howard, a batting practice Hall of Famer, the patron saint of the message board (the Red Sox' fans internet gathering spot, www.sonsofsamhorn.com), and an all-around gem of a guy whose effervescent personality somehow failed to shine through on ill-fated gig as a Red Sox studio analyst. I know at least three baseball lifers - former big-leaguer Bob Tewksbury being the most notable - who swear that Horn hit the longest homer they ever saw. And the thing is, none of them are talking about the same shot. Howard, the Phillies' phearsome young slugger, seems poised to accomplish feats Horn can only daydream about - it helps to be able to hit a curveball, and the pitches with wrinkles forever fooled Big Sam. Still, just about every time the Phillies' budding behemoth went deep during his rookie-of-the-year push last summer, I'd catch myself flashing back to Horn's mighty debut with the Red Sox in '87, savoring the memories of his majestic, sky-scraping homers, and tripping back to those promise-filled days when certain superstardom was just a moonshot away.
Dwight Taylor: With just two at-bats in four games for the 1986 Kansas City Royals, Taylor would rank as an unknown even in my warped world - that is, if not for these two personal semi-claims to fame:
1) Spotting my 9-year-old sister staring at him, jaw agape, while he chatted up fans before a Guides game in '84, he playfully tugged her pigtail and teased, "What's the matter, dear? Haven't you ever seen such a handsome black man before?" She hadn't as far as I knew, which I dutifully informed Taylor. I'm pretty sure he's still laughing.
2) According to Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley, the Guides' beat writer for the Portland Press Herald back in the day, Taylor and his wife were the parents of five children by the time they were in their mid-20s, thus earning the nickname "Try Some Sleep At Night" Taylor from his teammates. I suppose that passes for G-rated clubhouse humor. (Update, courtesy of a Google expedition: Taylor, now 45, has 10 kids and four grandchildren. That's what you call a productive ballplayer.)
Ron Jones: Never heard of him? You would have, had fate not been so cruel . . . or had AstroTurf remained an unrealized stupid-ass idea. Jones was one of the premier prospects in baseball in the late '80s, a line-drive hitting lefty who drew comparisons to Tony Gwynn for his sweet swing and Pillsbury Doughboy physique. He batted .371 in Class-A ball in '86; by late summer in the '88 season, he was playing regularly and tearing it up for the Phillies, whacking 8 homers the final two months. But soon he tore something else up: the ligaments in his knee. The injury ended his season, but he rehabbed, returned to the Phillies in '89, and seemed on his way to fulfilling the great promise that had earned him coveted Donruss Rated Rookie status along with guys named Sheffield and Griffey. The return lasted two weeks. He tore his ACL in both knees when his leg got caught in a seam in the brutal Veterans Stadium turf while chasing a fly ball. He made it back to the Phillies briefly in '90 and '91, kicked around Triple-A for years as a DH, even sipped a few Coronas in the Mexican League, but that disastrous day in Philadelphia, for all intents and purposes, spelled the end of a promising career.
Rodney Craig: In "The Curse of Rocky Colavito," Terry Pluto's wonderfully wry history of the Cleveland Indians, Craig warrants one lonely mention, on page 231. Here it is:
The Indians brought up a player from the minors named Rodney Craig. He wore a batting helmet that was something like a size 9. The players called him Buckethead. He was also supposed to be a great pinch-hitter - he went 2-for-19.
Now, to me that seems like a rather cruel and simplistic legacy. He had a big melon. He sucked. End of story. Hell, I mean, even if it's the truth, doesn't a man's career deserve something else, a footnote, an anecdote, a tip of the ol' cap, something? I say it does. So we've done some digging and some reminiscing, and here's what can we tell you about Rodney Paul Craig:
Tom Newell: Two major-league games. One major-league inning. A career ERA of 36.00. And my personal "Moonlight" Graham. Tom Newell is without exception my favorite baseball player of all time. My cousins and I got his autograph so many times at Guides games (by then they were affiliated with the far more competent Phillies) that he knew us by sight, if not by name. "It's you guys again?" he'd say, then shake his head, smile and sign whatever we were waving at him that day. He looked like a ballplayer, tall, trim and tan. He acted like everyone's friend. I rooted desperately for Newell to make the major leagues, and he did, with the Phillies at the tail end of the '87 season.
I'll forever recall seeing him at The Ballpark the day in September he learned he'd be going to the majors. "So you got called up," I said. He looked up from signing his name. "Yep. Driving to Philly after the game. It's my dream come true," he said, his grin the honest confirmation. His dream came true only for a moment. The next spring, he blew out his rotator cuff. He bounced around the minors for a number of years, never quite regaining his health or his fastball. Newell never again wore a big-league uniform. Not too long ago, maybe a year or so, a reader of a whimsical magazine piece I had written about the Guides emailed me to say that he had recently run across Newell in Reno, Nevada, where he owned a restaurant and lived happily ever after.
The reader mentioned that Newell had signed a baseball for his grandson and could not have been nicer; the years had not changed him. He also added, in a postscript, that the quirk of Newell's restaurant was a telling one: It featured a baseball theme, including several indoor batting cages. Reading this, I smiled, thinking of Jim Bouton's classic line from Ball Four: "You spend your life gripping a baseball, and all the time it was the other way around." Tom Newell pitched one big league inning. He made The Show. While the moment was fleeting, the memory will stay with him forever. Ask me, there's nothing obscure about that.
Chad Finn is the founder of Touching All The Bases, a blog that takes an irreverent but passionate look at Boston sports. In real life, he is a sports copy editor at The Boston Globe. He lives in Wells, Maine, with his wife Jennifer, their two-year old daughter Leah, her David Ortiz jack-in-the-box that she shares with her daddy, and a baby to be born later.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
When managers leave Spring Training at the end of March, with a 25-man roster chosen, they intend to stick with it. For much of April, struggling players are given free passes; their team anticipates the player will come around in short order.
We are now beginning to enter the time of the year in which injuries and demotions start to pile on. Many minor league players saw a hot April up their prospect status, and are ready to thrive on a May opportunity. In the past few days, and in the coming few, there are six transactions that I want to highlight today. Which players will stick and which are merely Band-Aids?
We'll start things off with three players that have been called up to the Majors within the past three days...
Since August 1 of last season, Jose Contreras is the AL Cy Young: 14-1, 1.82 ERA, 2.77 K/BB. And while Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland came out of the April gates slow, Contreras established himself as the ace of the South Side. To many teams, his loss would be devastating. So why are White Sox fans simply shrugging off Conteras' sciatic nerve problems?
It isn't Brandon McCarthy. No, the young hurler labeled by many as the game's best sixth starter will remain in the bullpen while Contreras spends time on the DL. Instead, the White Sox brain trust chose to go with their seventh starter, 22 year old right-hander Charles Haeger.
Don't worry if the name doesn't ring any bells; before the season, Haeger was an afterthought in prospect circles. After a Spring Training that yielded a 10.45 ERA, his only notoriety came as a result of his knuckleball. Haeger will pitch against Ervin Santana and the LA Angels tonight, and thanks to six good starts, his current reputation is that of the minors' best knuckleballer.
In none of Haeger's six starts with the Charlotte Knights did he allow more than one run. Only once, in his last start, did he allow more hits than the number of innings he pitched. Conversely, Haeger will have to battle through control problems, having walked 20 batters in 40 AAA innings. And, as one might expect from a knuckeballer, the play of the catcher will be a focal point for Haeger's success. In his six starts this season, Haeger's catchers have allowed 14 passed balls, and Haeger has been credited with four wild pitches.
One can bet a healthy dose of walks, wild pitches and passed balls will not yield Contreras-esque success in Haeger's first Major League cup of coffee. If he does stymie the Angels, it will be because the knuckleballer provoked groundballs, few hard hits, and received help from behind the plate. Unfortunately for Haeger, trading for Doug Mirabelli is a luxury the White Sox cannot afford.
When the Yankees acquired Johnny Damon this winter, Bronx fans were convinced their days worrying about the outfield was over. Durability problems from Damon, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui were hardly anticipated. The days of Bubba Crosby and Bernie Williams' weak arm were thought to be behind them.
Unexpectedly, Gary Sheffield now is on the DL, out with problems in his wrist. Rather than turning to Crosby or Williams, the Yankees recalled Melky Cabrera, the prospect that gave the Yankees a very forgettable cup of coffee in 2005. Cabrera's reputation had previously been tarnished in New York, but with early positive results from Columbus, the Yanks knew they had no better options.
As is his strength, Cabrera has magnificently kept his strikeout numbers down in 2006, whiffing just 9 times in 122 at-bats before his call-up. His contact skills should be a plus at any level, keeping his average at an acceptable level. His patience is decent enough; concerns have always focused on his power, or lack thereof. However, with 12 extra-base hits in his 31 International League games, some are wondering whether Cabrera could be more than a fourth outfielder.
The answer: doubtfully. Cabrera is a fine fill-in at the bottom of a fantastic lineup, capable of putting the ball in play consistently. But without any real strength to speak of, it's unlikely his power could ever support a full-time spot in a corner outfield spot. In center, his mediocre defense -- which looked poor in his first 2006 MLB game -- would be exposed.
In basketball, Cabrera would be a 6-6 power forward, or a 5-11 shooting guard; in other words, he's your classic tweener. Expect the Yankees to bear his play for the next two weeks, but don't expect him to be featured in any future plans besides trades or a bench spot.
Things weren't supposed to be this hard for the Angels. After committing to building the farm system, the Angels entered this season with the most top-heavy, ready farm system in the Major Leagues. But things haven't gone to plan in Los Angeles. Jeff Mathis didn't hit at all, Casey Kotchman's mono hindered his ceiling with the bat.
Now, Mathis finds himself in Salt Lake, Kotchman on the DL. The Angels have tried calling up Mike Napoli to fill in at catcher, and the short, powerful player would homer in his first Major League at-bat. Howie Kendrick was called up to fill in at a variety of roles, including at the DH spot instead of Tim Salmon. Sporadic play has proven to be the one thing that could slow Howie's play.
With Kotchman on the DL, the Angels decided to recall Dallas McPherson, another former blue-chip prospect that stagnated when reaching the Major League level. After failing to make the Angels out of Spring Training, McPherson showed his true colors in the Pacific Coast League, slugging and striking out. In his 102 at-bats, McPherson hit 20 XBH, while whiffing 49 times. Yes, in just 33 at-bats in 26 games did McPherson not slug an extra-base hit or strike out.
Concerns about McPherson's contact skills have never been more prevalent, his batting average ceiling appears to be at about .260. But for a team struggling to find offense, like the Angels have in 2006, waiting around for McPherson to hit the ball hard could actually present a welcome change.
Call-ups To Be
On Sunday, Cole Hamels had the worst start of his AAA career: he allowed a run. However, it was just one run in 7 innings, while allowing 5 hits and one walk. Hamels' ten strikeouts brought his AAA total to 36, amassed in just 23 innings.
Few prospects have flown up lists this spring like Hamels, whose polish appears ready for the Major Leagues. His change up, some have posited, could be among the best at the Major League level. Remember, you might, that Delmon Young once called the pitch the nastiest he had faced as a teenager.
With nine straight wins, the Phillies have continued to urge they have no need to rush Hamels. But, what Pat Gillick must understand is, at this point, it's not rushing. Hamels is ready. Ryan Madson is ready for a move back to the bullpen. It's a match made in heaven, and despite the loaded National League rookie crop, it's a move that could produce the NL Rookie of the Year.
Without a doubt, you have heard about Kerry Wood's first rehab start: 12 strikeouts in 5 innings. While the Lansing Lugnuts don't quite provide the intimidation that the Cardinals or Astros might, it's a start for Kid K, having spent so much of the last couple years on the DL.
When Wood returns, the Cubs rotation should return to being the club's strength. Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux are both dependable, fantastic starters. Sean Marshall has provided lightning in a bottle, seemingly improving in each of his six starts. Wood will make for a very good foursome, and it will be only weeks before Angel Guzman or Rich Hill is replaced by Mark Prior.
No matter how good the rotation might look, it appears that the Cubs simply don't have the offense to compete in baseball's (current) toughest division. In the Cubs last 11 games, they are 1-11, sliding near the bottom of the NL Central barrel. During this streak, the Cubs have scored a measly 13 runs, never more than three in any contest.
Kerry Wood's coming back? Yawn. Wake me when Derrek Lee returns.
Speaking of oft-injured pitchers, Ben Sheets is returning to the DL, leaving the Milwaukee Brewers again without an ace. Finally, it appears like the Brewers may have a competent replacement.
As good as Hamels has been in his short AAA stint, the best southpaw at the level in 2006 may be Dana Eveland, the David Wells look-a-like Brewer prospect. Yesterday, Eveland saw his first loss of a season come in a game in which Eveland did not allow an earned run. He was credited with two unearned runs, which he tends to allow as his groundball-provoking nature puts pressure on the seven behind him.
Dana Eveland isn't found often on prospect lists, his ceiling nowhere near as high as some prospects. He doesn't strike batters out at a good enough rate, more of a groundball-control specialist than anything else. But in a rotation currently featuring Tomo Ohka and an underachieving Doug Davis, Eveland could quickly become one of the Brewers best weapons.
One of the questions I receive through e-mail most often is, something like, "Bryan, to what minor league level do you think college baseball best equates with?"
This is always a tough question to answer, currently impossible to quantify. The best we can do is to guess with our eyes. College baseball's best teams probably hover around high-A ball, while most regional qualifiers might be able to hold their own in the Midwest League (low-A). As we get towards the bottom, some aren't good enough to compete in the Rookie Leagues.
As college baseball fans know, a week for a big program usually consists of 1-2 midweek games and a 3-game weekend series. For most teams, the best pitcher on the team opens the weekend series, usually starting Friday nights. Friday nights are when teams should be at their best, with the best starter on the mound, and the best 8 behind him. Many Carolina League teams would want to avoid UNC on Friday nights.
Recently, I started to wonder how hitters perform on Friday nights. At the Major League level, we have splits for everything: month, LH vs. RH, spot in the order, with RISP, etc. I started to realize that for college hitters, in addition to monthly splits, we could add four more: individual numbers for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the rest of the week. Today, I present the first step towards achieving that goal.
Below, I have calculated how fifteen junior hitters -- considered by some to be the best 15 in the country -- have performed on the weekend series' opening night. If a series started on Thursday, I chose that night. But, nine times out of ten, it simply meant combing through Friday game logs. These numbers, ideally, should tell us how hitters do against some of their best competition.
However, as with many splits, multiple caveats apply. First, I want to stress that I'm not presenting how Evan Longoria did against the best 13 pitchers he's faced. Rather, we're computing how he did against the best pitchers from the 13 teams that Long Beach State has faced on the weekends. Without a doubt, the Saturday Texas starter (Kyle McCulloch) is better than the UC Irvine Friday pitcher. But on Fridays, UC Irvine should be at their best. Other caveats include that this stat screams sample-size, and that due to being done by hand, it might not be perfect. In the cases where it's not perfect, I can promise that it's close.
So, onto the numbers. Again, below is the performance of 15 highly projected Junior hitters on Friday nights, ranked by OPS:
The most noteworthy mitigating factor in regards to this split is schedule strength. The chart's OPS leader, Pittsburgh 2B Jim Negrych, is a prime example of this, facing a weak Big East schedule. The best pitchers that Negrych has faced on Friday nights this year are David Price -- a great LHP from Vanderbilt -- and Jeff Samardzija, the overrated Norte Dame WR/SP. On the other hand, Drew Stubbs has faced a very hard slate of pitchers, thanks to Texas' tough schedule. Stubbs' 2006 competition has included four pitchers (Butler, Reynolds, Hughes, Chamberlain) that will likely be drafted in the '06 first round. Generally the level of competition is fairly even across the board, but it's important to note that it could have an affect on the final totals.
A few other thoughts that the above table produces...
Rodriguez entered the year close on many draft boards to Evan Longoria, but his stock fell a bit when Longoria flew past him. However, Rodriguez is my pick for the best natural shortstop in the draft. His contact skills are fantastic; in the last five Fridays, he has not struck out. Josh isn't the most patient hitter, nor the best shortstop, but his talents with the bat outshine those weaknesses. I would draft him in the supplemental first round.
I believe LaPorta, like Greg Reynolds in the pitching department, will end up as one of the first round's biggest disappointments.
Again, the numbers which I presented today are nothing more than a sample-size split. But, in college baseball, where a weekend can drastically change a player's draft position, I think the numbers are important.
The Art of Pitching
"You only need two pitches. The one the hitter's looking for, and the one he's not."
--Warren Edward Spahn, the winningest pitcher in baseball since 1930 (with a 363-245 W-L record)
Don't look now but Tom Glavine is leading the National League with a 1.94 ERA. No, it's not 1991 or 1998, the two years when the southpaw took home Cy Young award honors. Glavine won 20 games both seasons and sported ERAs around 2.50.
Two innings short of 4,000 for his career, Glavine has been credited with 279 victories while fashioning a 3.43 ERA in a league environment consistently over 4.00. He has a couple of Cy Youngs in his trophy case and was the The Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year in a third season (2000). How is it possible that a finesse pitcher could have such a successful career?
Despite the love affair with power pitchers, Glavine and others have demonstrated that success at the highest level can be achieved by spotting the ball, changing speeds, and throwing strikes. In other words, the best pitchers aren't necessarily those who can throw a ball through a car wash without getting it wet.
Greg Maddux has forged a pretty good career doing many of the same things as his former Atlanta Braves teammate. The 40-year-old right-hander, winner of four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95), is a half-dozen victories shy of ranking sixth in wins since 1900 (behind Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Warren Spahn, and Roger Clemens). His lifetime ERA of 3.01 is more than one run better than the league average.
Like Glavine, Maddux is pitching like it was the early-1990s. He is tied for the league-lead in wins (5) and is fifth in ERA (2.35). Glavine and Maddux are veterans who know a thing or two about pitching. In contrast to many younger pitchers, they are not afraid to pitch inside. Aluminum bats at the amateur level allow good hitters to turn on inside pitches in a way that very few professionals can with wood bats. As such, young pitchers "learn" to keep the ball away, working the outer half of the plate much more often and confidently than the inside corner.
Glavine and Maddux also have a penchant for keeping the ball down, inducing more than their share of groundballs. Over the years, this pair has allowed about a third fewer home runs than the league average. Together, they have given up just four homers in 13 starts covering 84 2/3 innings in 2006.
Brandon Webb is another pitcher who profiles more like Maddux than not. His 2.05 ERA ranks second in the NL. No longer dependent on a heavy sinker in the mold of a Kevin Brown, Webb is getting batters out by changing speeds and locations while throwing significantly more strikes than at any point in his career (1.01 BB/9 vs. a single-season best of 2.32).
What's going on here? "Hitters today are better trained to hit a fastball than any time in baseball history," Rangers manager Buck Showalter recently told Peter Gammons. "They grow up hitting tennis balls shot out at them at 100 miles an hour. They hit off pitchers from 45 feet. . .Today, most of the hitters can hit any fastball."
Glavine and Maddux work in the mid-80s, while Webb's fastball sits at about 89-91. Look, all else being equal, I'll take the pitcher who can throw the hardest. I get as excited as the next guy when I see a pitcher register triple-digits on the radar gun. But pitching is about a lot more than just speed. In fact, hurlers who change speeds and keep batters guessing can be as successful as those who grade at or near the top of scouts' 20-80 ratings.
Part and parcel to this discussion is that aces and so-called #1s can come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Labeling a pitcher a #3 or #4 because he doesn't hit 95 on the speed gun is a lazy man's way of evaluating talent. Good pitching is good pitching, no matter how it is accomplished.
Who Was Really the 1979 NL MVP?
Only once in the history of the Most Valuable Player Award has there been a tie for the honor. In 1979, the Pirates' Willie "Pops" Stargell and the Cardinals' Keith Hernandez wound up with 216 points apiece in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting, so each was awarded a plaque.
For the third-place Cards, Hernandez led the National League in runs (116), doubles (48), and batting average (.344), ran a close second in hits and on-base percentage, and won his second Gold Glove Award at first base. Stargell, who had finished second in controversial balloting in both 1971 and 1973, was the clean-up hitter (32 homers) and inspirational leader of the "We Are Family," world champion Bucs. Hernandez was listed by all 24 voters, while Stargell was omitted entirely from four ballots; however, Pops got ten first-place votes as compared to just four for Hernandez. When it all shook out, they came out even.
However, it is quite possible that there wasn't really a tie after all.
In my 1988 Society for American Baseball Research book, Award Voting, I addressed and criticized the phenomena of split votes - writers dividing votes in half between two players in the voting for major awards. Between 1959 and 1984, there were split votes in 33 different MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year elections (possibly because of my book, they have since been outlawed). The biggest impact of a split vote may have been in the 1968 NL Rookie caucus, when one writer split his vote between Johnny Bench and Jerry Koosman, and Bench won by one point, 10 1/2 - 9 1/2.
The biggest farce may have been in the 1979 NL MVP race, where one voter split his fourth-place vote between pitching brothers Phil and Joe Niekro (evidently under the impression that they were identical twins), but was still permitted six more selections. Under the 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 system used for the MVP Award, a fourth-place vote is worth seven points - and, in this case, those seven were split between the Niekro brothers, giving them just 3 1/2 points apiece. In other words, that writer's fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-place nominees each received more points than his fourth-place co-selections!
Assuming the acceptability of the split vote, the ballot in question should have been adjusted so that the Niekros were tied for fourth/fifth, receiving 6 1/2 points each, with the remaining selections moved down a notch (thus losing one point) each. One thing that did not occur to me until recently was that this mess-up conceivably could have created the tie for first place between Stargell and Hernandez: if either player was listed lower than fourth on that writer's ballot, he should have received one point less, swinging the election to the other player.
Stargell received ten first-place votes, three seconds, four thirds, a fourth, and two sixths, being left off the other four ballots. So, there is a two-in-23 possibility that he was listed on the Niekro ballot lower than fourth place.
Hernandez got four first-place nominations, eight seconds, seven thirds, two fourths, and three fifths. So, there is a three-in-22 possibility that he was listed on the Niekro ballot lower than fourth place.
The way I figure it, the probability is 20% that either Stargell or Hernandez (but not both) was listed lower than fourth on that writer's ballot. If so, and if the votes were counted correctly, that would have broken the tie between the two.
I talked to Jack Lang, former Executive Secretary of the BBWAA, about this. He says that the MVP ballots are shredded a few years after the elections, so there is no way to retrieve the ballot in question. Off-hand, Lang doesn't think this ballot affected anyone's standing in the race.
So, while it apparently can't be proven one way or the other, there is a one-in-five chance that one of the co-winners of the 1979 NL MVP Award got a gift he didn't deserve.
Bill Deane has authored hundreds of baseball articles and six books, including Award Voting, winner of the 1989 SABR-Macmillan Award. He served as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library & Archive from 1986-94. He has since done consulting work for Topps Baseball Cards, Curtis Management Group, STATS, Inc., and Macmillan Publishing, and also served as Managing Editor of the most recent Total Baseball.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
April Stock Offerings
Oh, what a difference a month can make. And in the minor leagues, few months have a larger effect on perception than April. Just a year ago, we were wondering what exactly early season success stories like Billy Butler, Brandon Wood and Gio Gonzalez really meant. But, April can also have the opposite fact. While the first month did shed the light on a lot of prospects that would break out, we also saw big early season numbers from Hayden Penn, J.D. Martin and others who would not follow through.
Without question, I will at season's end denounce April statistics for numerous players, citing what they did from May 1 onward. Simply put, it's difficult to expect teenagers to come prepared for one of their first professional seasons. How you finish is always more important than how you start.
That said, we must give credit where credit is due. In past year's, I have revised my prospect rankings following April, an article I decided not to write this year. Instead, I wanted to look at a group of players that did not make it in my winter top 75 prospects, but likely would if I made the list today. Currently, there are nineteen players from my top 75 in the Major Leagues, so I have chosen nineteen early success stories that have boosted my impressions of the prospect.
Sample size caveats still apply in all of these cases, but pretty soon, we are going to have to accept breakouts from the below players to be real. Right now, I believe in the below nineteen players enough to call them top 75 prospects at this moment.
Nick Adenhart, 19, Los Angeles Angels (Low-A), SP
The poster boy of the Angels' newest draft strategy, Adenhart fell hard in the 2004 draft when it was discovered his elbow needed Tommy John surgery. Prepared to enroll in at the University of North Carolina, Adenhart was given a surprise when the Angels drafted him late with a high bonus proposal. After spending much of 2005 rehabbing his elbow, Adenhart gradually grew stronger as the short season went on. This year the power right-hander has come out strong, making the Angels gamble look good. I'm a bit worried how Adenhart's flyball tendencies will hold up when he is eventually promoted to Rancho Cucamonga, but he'll always have the ability to miss bats.
Ryan Braun, 22, Milwaukee Brewers (High-A), 3B
The first three weeks of the season Ryan Braun was hitting, but mostly for singles. While Braun had a high batting average, many wondered where the power had gone for the former Hurricane slugger. Sure enough, Braun caught fire at the end of the month, and has three home runs in the past 10 days. The best number thus far is the eight steals that Braun has grabbed, he's been a good baserunner since college. Braun's peripheral statistics have me a bit worried, but I think there is power in the fourth overall pick's future.
Reid Brignac, 20, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (High-A), SS
Many of the concerns that detracted from Brignac's resume in 2005 are being rectified this season. We have already seen Brignac become a more patient hitter at the plate, and he's also made better contact this season. While his numbers are, without question, boosted by the league, Brignac has been consistently getting on base. If anything, his only inconsistency has been power, as his slugging percentage has suffered a bit since an early season, three-HR game. My biggest worry is that Brignac now has 10 errors, with a posititon change likely in his future. At least he's proving to have the bat needed for the move down the defensive spectrum.
Jay Bruce, 19, Cincinnati Reds (Low-A), OF
The Midwest League is now home to four prep outfield choices from the 2005 first round, and no player in the group had a more consistent April than Bruce. A toolsy player that made a late run up draft boards, I had thought the learning curve would be slow on a player like Bruce. However, Jay has taken to A-ball quite well, showing sound -- if unspectacular -- statistics across the board. His power profiles better than any other trait and this point, and his extra-base hit numbers is the number to watch this season.
Wade Davis, 19, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Low-A), SP
At this point, Davis is taking the Anibal Sanchez breakout path, showing validity in dominant short-season numbers. After pitching so well in limited action last year, Davis became a prominent breakout candidate touted by both Baseball America and John Sickels. Kudos to them, as Davis has been as impressive as any minor league starter. Control is the only problem that Davis currently has, as his hellacious stuff has produced otherwise great peripheral statistics. A promotion to the Cal League would do Davis well at this point, as he must be shown that at some point, walks will come back to hurt you.
Brandon Erbe, 18, Baltimore Orioles (Low-A), SP
Control is hardly a problem for Erbe, who brought that strength to the table when he was drafted last June. Shortly after being drafted, however, his stuff improved and Erbe has taken off. In fact, I believe that if the draft was re-held today, Erbe would be the first prep pitcher off the board. Erbe rarely hurts himself on the mound, and right now, there hasn't been a minor league hitter that could touch him.
Matt Garza, 22, Minnesota Twins (High-A), SP
After a very lackluster start to his collegiate career, Garza blossomed as a junior, earning a first round selection with a good spring at Fresno State. Garza has been great in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League so far, with no real glitches to speak of. As Glen Perkins found out a year ago, the move from Fort Myers to New Britain is a big one, and it will be hard to judge Garza as a prospect until his promotion. Given a few more sensational starts, and the Twins will have no choice but to challenge Garza in the Eastern League.
Matt Kemp, 21, Los Angeles Dodgers (AA), OF
We wondered what role the hitter-friendly Vero Beach stadium had on Kemp's numbers, and if his poor Spring Training would continue into the season. Kemp has given strong answers to both questions this season, proving himself as a prospect. Kemp is just such an intriguing prospect right now, possessing every tool imaginable. He has shown great power so far this spring, to go with good baserunning, enough patience and his usual good defense. With all the Dodger talent in front of him, Kemp will likely stay in Jacksonville for some time.
Radhames Liz, 23, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), SP
When combining Liz' 2005 and current numbers, the Oriole right-hander has 176 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. He has allowed just 78 hits. While I'm not crazy about Liz' age relative to his competition, continued success speaks highly of his stuff. Like Garza, we are probably a few months from being about to properly evaluate Liz, but at this point, it's hard to criticize. Control is really the only number to complain about at this point.
Chuck Lofgren, 20, Cleveland Indians (High-A), SP
One of the final players to make this list, Lofgren is one that I really thought would take off in 2006. Extremely athletic with budding stuff, Lofgren has been solid this season, but his numbers are far less gaudy than other prospects. Chuck should be relatively consistent this whole season, and the Indians would be best to let him spend most of the season in the Carolina League. Lofgren has all the makings of a future stud, but we must remember that he is still relatively raw on the mound at this point.
Fernando Martinez, 17, New York Mets (Low-A), OF
My favorite story of April. Martinez entered the year an afterthought compared to the other young teenage prospects in the South Atlantic League, Elvis Andrus and Jose Tabata. Martinez obviously entered the year with a chip on his shoulder, and has since exploded onto the Met prospect scene. The young phenom has shown good patience, plus speed, and fantastic power potential at this point. The Mets will be very conservative with Martinez' handling, as they should. Once Mike Pelfrey hits the Majors, he's one of the Mets only real prospects.
Cameron Maybin, 19, Detroit Tigers (Low-A), CF
I was surprised last June when Maybin fell as far as he did, believing the North Carolina outfielder was worthy of a top five selection. And while Maybin's overall numbers look good this year, he has really proven to be quite raw in the earlygoing. Maybin's contact skills have proven to be entirely lacking, his average only high thanks to a .400+ BABIP. Furthermore, the majority of Maybin's power has been the result of four triples. His speed and power potential are still very intriguing, but Maybin must show a better propensity for contact as the year goes on.
Andrew McCutchen, 19, Pittsburgh Pirates (Low-A), CF
The Pirates had locked themselves into drafting McCutchen very early last season, falling in love with his future potential atop a lineup. The idea still must have the Pittsburgh brass salivating, as McCutchen has shown great bat control and plus patience in the early going. So far, I'm most surprised with McCutchen's lack of activity on the bases, only four attempts, and only two successful steals. While he is proving to be very adept at the plate, McCutchen's leadoff credentials would be aided if he proved to be a more dangerous threat on the bases.
Mike Pelfrey, 22, New York Mets (A+/AA), SP
It didn't take long for the Mets to realize that starting Pelfrey in the Florida State League had been too conservative. Like Cole Hamels, Pelfrey cut through the FSL with ease, transitioning to pro baseball without missing a step. Pelfrey's great control in April was a very good surprise, and really means that Pelfrey's ceiling is higher than any other pitcher on this list. At this point I expect Pelfrey to make his debut (with Alay Soler) in September, providing Mets fans with a lot of excitement for 2007.
Hunter Pence, 23, Houston Astros (AA), OF
At some point we need to just realize that certain contextual factors just aren't too important. Pence's age and his odd-looking swing have both been criticized in the past, but Pence continues to produce with fantastic results. Pence has done a bit of everything this year, but his power display in the Texas League should signal a lot to the Astros' brass. While both Jason Lane and Wily Taveras are likely locked into future spaces in the Astros outfield, Pence has shown the power necessary to make it in left field.
Colby Rasmus, 19, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A), CF
Again, because it bears repeating. In the first seven games of the season, Rasmus went 2-for-28 with zero extra base hits. We were worried he needed a demotion to short-season ball. But the results since then have been fantastic, including a .382 batting average and .632 slugging percentage. Colby could be showing better patience and contact skills, but everything else -- including baserunning -- has been sensational. Much better prospect than his numbers indicate at this point.
Nolan Reimold, 22, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), OF
Recent changes in the Orioles scouting department are sure paying off, huh? While Brandon Snyder is slowly progressing in low-A, the Orioles had other huge draft successes in Reimold and Erbe. With Nick Markakis graduated to the Majors, Reimold becomes the best outfielder in a system that includes Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino. Reimold can do a bit of everything, with great patience, power and speed. Like many players on this list, his largest flaw has been an overadundance of strikeouts. He'll finish the year in AA.
Troy Tulowitzki, 21, Colorado Rockies (AA), SS
It has been a very odd season for Tulo this year, I think. Overall, his numbers look great, Tulowitzki is hitting in an environment that very few of his draft-mates have even been assigned to. But when digging deeper, Tulowitzki's peripheral numbers look far worse than his .961 OPS. Besides the 18 strikeouts, Tulowitzki has drawn just 5 walks and hit only 2 non-2B extra-base hits. Now we know gap power turns to home run power in Coors Field, so it isn't too concerning. The Rockies should really begin giving Clint Barmes grounders at second base, because Tulowitzki is a matter of months, if that, away.
Justin Upton, 18, Arizona Diamondbacks (Low-A), CF
I absolutely couldn't stand to miss Upton's recent swing through the heartland of the Midwest League. Unfortunately, I chose to grab his game against Cedar Rapids on Monday, missing his first professional home run by 24 hours. Upton's 1-for-4 performance wasn't anything to write home about, his lone hit a good piece of hitting, an opposite field bloop single. Upton proved raw on the basepaths and in the field, but also showed enough speed to have sensational potential in both. Upton's body is so developed at this point, he really could hit the Majors before turning 20. Without a doubt, a top ten prospect at this point.
The Only Game in Town: Q&A With Fay Vincent
I had the pleasure of interviewing Fay Vincent, the former commissioner and author of the recently published The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved, about his book and the state of baseball. Vincent is a former entertainment and business executive who served as the commissioner of baseball from 1989 to 1992. He is also the author of The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine.
Rich: The Only Game in Town is part of The Baseball Oral History Project. How did you become involved with it?
Fay: The origins of this book begin with my listening to tapes of interviews Larry Ritter did in the '60s with old ballplayers who played in the early years of the 20th century. I was fascinated, and I realized nothing of comparable interest was being done with players of later decades. Moreover, the Baseball Hall of Fame had no organized oral history project. So I began with players from the '30s and '40s with unique stories to tell including my great friend Larry Doby, the first black in the American League who was then ill and whose story was about to be lost. Similarly Warren Spahn, Bob Feller, and Tommy Henrich were growing older and I was eager to capture their stories and did so in 4-hour video taped interviews. The idea is that 50 years from now fans will be able to go to Cooperstown and see these tapes of wonderful players talking about a period in baseball that would otherwise be forever lost.
Rich: I understand that you, Herb Allen, and George Cooney provided financial support. This project must have been a labor of love for you.
Fay: It was and is. I have done 40 of these video interviews and just did one with Carl Erskine of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. I will continue to do 4 or 5 new ones a year, perhaps more.
Rich: You were inspired by the audiotapes of Lawrence Ritter's book, The Glory of Their Times. I own and cherish those CDs. Do you have plans to introduce a video or audio version of The Only Game in Town?
Fay: No plans. But I hope the video tapes will be made available via The Hall or in some other commercial fashion. HBO and ESPN have shown no interest.
Rich: That's too bad. I know fans like myself would be very interested in watching and perhaps even owning the video tapes. Maybe a Ken Burns-type could make use of them for a documentary.
Fay: Perhaps and I have not given up - I hope to find someone who will work with these tapes. I think they are unique, precious, and extremely interesting.
Rich: The focus on Volume One is on the 1930s and 1940s. How many volumes do you anticipate unveiling?
Fay: All depends on the sales of this volume.
Rich: Gosh, I hope the sales of this book are such that the project can be continued. I know you have conducted dozens of interviews thus far. It would be a shame if they weren't made public.
Fay: I suspect they will be public in some fashion through the Hall of Fame. It would be absurd to have done them for fans only to find out fans are not able to see them. Perhaps The Hall will license someone to distribute the tapes.
Rich: You interviewed ten players for Volume One. Elden Auker, Dom DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Tommy Henrich, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Buck O'Neil, Johnny Pesky, and Warren Spahn. Quite a group. Five Hall of Famers and five others who were stars in their own right. How did you go about contacting and choosing these particular players?
Fay: I was interested in the oldest with focus on their historical significance - each of them is unique.
Rich: The interviews appear to have been transcribed as literally as possible. Little or no editing. If the player repeated himself, went off on a tangent, or spoke in incomplete sentences, you printed it.
Fay: Correct. Had we interviewed the President of Harvard the text would have been similar because none of us speaks as well as we believe we do. Perhaps I was wrong but I would be interested in readers' reaction.
Rich: I think it works. Sure, a few of them ramble a bit, but this format makes it feel as if the reader is sitting in the same room listening to these oldtimers tell their stories.
Fay: Thank you. It was a judgment call and I hope we were correct. But Ritter did much the same and his tapes were fascinating.
Rich: You asked everyone the same two questions: Who got you interested in baseball? Who gave you your first ball and glove?
Fay: Yes, and they would go off for a long spell that was fascinating. The common thread is that each was terrific at the game from the very beginning.
Rich: OK, it's my turn. Who got you interested in baseball? Who gave you your first ball and glove?
Fay: My father who was a fine college and semipro player. He was a very good hitter at Yale and led the college league in hitting in the '30s. He taught me to love the game. (See The Last Commissioner.)
Rich: The 1940s included the World War II years as well as integration of the major leagues. The former altered the world and the latter changed the game forever.
Fay: Correct, these 10 were part of the greatest generation. I liked each one of them and admire them greatly.
Rich: How would you compare and contrast the players of yesteryear with those of today?
Fay: Very similar. They all love the game, the old players lived in a different world with no union, no long term contract and a lot less money but the similarities are many.
Rich: Has the game of baseball changed for the better or worse over the years?
Fay: Fortunately is hasn't changed that much on the field. The mistakes like the DH are few and the game remains magical.
Rich: If you were still the Commissioner, how would baseball be different today?
Fay: Hard to tell. I doubt it would be very different though I hope I would have done something about the steroid issue earlier.
Rich: Do you think players were taking performance-enhancing drugs back then?
Fay: Not extensively but certainly to some extent. In those days cocaine was reasonably widely used but steroids were just beginning. I have no idea the extent of the use in 1992 when I left.
Rich: What one change would you like to see baseball make?
Fay: Eliminate the DH and stop shrinking the size of the playing field.
Rich: Will Pete Rose ever make the Hall of Fame?
Fay: I do not think so. He should not be admitted and for the time being I think the issue is dead.
Rich: If you had a vote, would you be "for" or "against" electing Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro to Cooperstown?
Fay: I would not vote for them at present and would wait to read the Mitchell report.
Rich: How about one of your featured players in The Only Game in Town - Buck O'Neil?
Fay: The Negro League Committee that I chaired without a vote made what I believe is a final decision on Buck. I hope The Hall of Fame will honor him in some other fashion for his remarkable conduct as an eminent senior citizen of baseball.
An excerpt of the opening chapter on Elden Auker is available for those interested in previewing The Only Game in Town. In addition to the players featured, the book includes multiple stories and photos of Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams. There are more than 50 photos in all, including most of the stars from MLB and the Negro Leagues in the '30s and '40s. I devoured the book from cover to cover and believe it is a good read and a valuable part of any baseball library.
From One Draft to the Next
Corner Houston Texans owner Bob McNair today, and I have a hunch that he would validate the beliefs of many college football fans: Reggie Bush is a special, the special, talent. From a strict football standpoint, most talent evaluators could (and would) tell you that Bush is far superior to Saturday's top pick, Mario Williams.
But as McNair can now attest, professional sports are not just about on-the-field ability. Sports are a blend of talent and money; the bottom line overrides all else.
In 2003, baseball scouts were divided on which Golden Spikes finalist was the draft's best talent - Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver. Both were thought to be fantastic prospects, but a red flag on each resume caused draft day drops. Scott Boras. Swerving away from the Boras route, San Diego Padre ownership ordered GM Kevin Towers to find a cheaper alternative with the top pick. Towers signed a pre-draft deal with high school SS Matt Bush.
We can only hope that the Houston Texans avoid the fate of the Padres, who endured a .555 OPS from their $3 million bonus baby in his first professional season. No matter how Williams fares, pundits will always point to (and criticize) the Texans decision to value the accounting department over their scouts.
Baseball's upcoming June draft offers no special prospect like Reggie Bush. You've already heard that this crop isn't quite up to par. A player Bush's caliber, generational, was taken first in 2005. Justin Upton, a player that succeeds in all aspects of the game, is similar to the 2005 Heisman Trophy Winner.
But while no player in the 2006 baseball crop compares to Bush, other examples can be found that are similar. After sitting through two days of NFL draft coverage, I came up with a dozen similar options between the two drafts. Powered by the hope that baseball's draft coverage starts to head in the direction of the pigskin...
From Big Time Success to Big Time Volatility
Wonderlic. Release. Motion. Reading defenses. All these flaws and more have been associated with Vince Young since he heroically led the Texas Longhorns to a Rose Bowl upset. Having nothing left to prove at the college level, Young will enter the NFL forced to reverse the beliefs of many that say his style can't succeed at the pro level. While so much has been criticized, the Titans did not reach by choosing Young, who packs a pretty fantastic punch given his athletic ability and deep ball skills. If his flaws can be corrected, he has All-Star potential.
In many ways, Tim Lincecum is more similar to Matt Leinart than Young. Like Leinart, Lincecum chose to return to college to prove people wrong. Like Leinart, he has done it, and may top the USC southpaw by winning Player of the Year. But Lincecum's similarities to Young are evident by the evaluations associated with the Huskie right-hander. Too short. Violent delivery. Overworked. No one doubts his fastball-curve combination -- much like no one questions Vince's ability to scramble -- but there is more to success than two good pitches.
Steady and Solid from the Leadership Position
Many people wonder what the Packers would have done if Mario Williams had slipped to the fifth pick. Could they pass up a freakish athlete like Williams for the player they had targeted all along, Hawk? The former Buckeye hardly offers the size, strength and speed of many of his first round counterparts, but makes up for it in results. He was truly the nation's best linebacker and the leader of the Ohio State defense. He is a sure player that works hard, one that will step into Green Bay right away, but doesn't have the spectacular ceiling that some top ten picks possess.
Just as the linebacking core is expected to lead the defense, Evan Longoria's pro position (shortstop) commands respect. After years at other infield positions, Longoria will move to short in the pros to maximize his output versus his peers. Widely considered the top position prospect in the draft, Longoria will likely never hit more than 20-25 home runs, or has little chance to win a batting title. But like fellow Dirtbag Troy Tulowitzki, Longoria will be able to get to AA quickly, and should produce in the minor leagues.
Sears Tower Ceiling with a High Basement
Davis is a big tight end with a huge body, good hands, and a 4.38 time in the 40. Morrow is a good-sized pitcher with a 99 mph fastball and devastating splitter. Davis has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler at the tight end position, Morrow is a third pitch away from being an innings-eating ace. If all else fails, Morrow will become a reliever -- and likely a good one -- while Davis should never be worse than a mid-level starter.
The two fit well, but if truth be told, Davis projects better in the NFL than Morrow does in the Majors. Davis has the total package, while Morrow might project to. He still doesn't have a third pitch, and his control is erratic at best. While Davis will be favored by many to win Rookie of the Year and help turn Alex Smith's career around, Morrow will have a lot of work to do to validate his selection.
What a Difference Two Months Can Make in Millions
Many are already claiming that the Buffalo Bills selection of Donte Whitner is the draft's biggest reach. Why not trade down and draft Whitner in a lower slot, where many projected him to go? Criticize all you'd like, but at the end of the day, no one helped their draft stock since the Rose Bowl more than Whitner, once considered a fringe first rounder. A good athlete from a big program, Whitner rose to the top of the safety class, depending upon what position you project Michael Huff to. He now will spend the next few years of his life trying to prove he warranted the selection.
Pitching has been hailed as the 2006 draft's strength for almost an entire year now. We always knew the college crop was loaded, but people also loved some of the talent that a few high school arms offered - Colten Williams or Jordan Walden. But while many of the high school arms have been just OK this spring, Clayton Kershaw has worked his way up draft boards, and could be the first prep pitcher selected. Scouts love the southpaw's size, his arsenal, his consistency. But once he is drafted in the first round come June, people will question whether Kershaw's spring warrants seven figures.
When Size Matters Most
Ray Lewis has been calling for Ngata's selection all spring, salivating at the possibility of having a big body in front of him for the first time since the Sam Adams / Tony Siragusa duo. Ngata will surely command double teams at times thanks to his giant, 338-pound frame. He can thank his weight for his high selection, just as Betances will be able to thank his height in June. Betances, a Brooklyn right-hander with plus velocity, is loved by scouts. They have all seen the three pitch arsenal before, but Betances stands out because of a 6-9 frame that offers room to fill out. You can bet that on draft day, some scouting director will be salivating just as Lewis did a month and a half before.
With Injury Come Doubts
Once nearly guaranteed of becoming a first round pick, a horrible spring led to LenDale White's drop to the middle of the second round. Character issues were raised, and questions about his hamstring and work ethic surfaced to lead to White's freefall down draft boards. Still, the Tennessee Titans were confident in their selection of White, holding the belief that at full strength, they found a bargain in the second. Dallas Buck was once named by Peter Gammons as a possible top pick, but decreased velocity and a strained shoulder ligament see his stock falling. Buck, like White, has produced on the field, but it likely won't be enough for him to salvage a good selection.
Bringing the Punch, On and Off
Receivers going across the middle of the field feared their lives in Tallahassee this past fall, just as Texas hitters currently are intimidated by Drabek. Sims is a sure tackler with great ability on the football field. Drabek has the pedigree and stuff to be seen by many as the top prep prospect in the draft. But in both cases, character issues come as red flags. Sims' stock wasn't effected by his character issues, which are like Drabek's, generally considered minor. Kyle will be considered as high as fourth overall, so for 45 more days, he'll have to continue to invoke fear in those that attempt to hit against him.
The Safe, Strong Route
Many Jets fans are wondering why their team passed on former Heisman winner Matt Leinart for an offensive lineman. And certainly, in June, the idea of drafting a college first baseman won't be universally loved. But in both instances, it's a safe pick. Ferguson will likely be starting in the first week of the season, his college career prepped him. It's likely that he will be the Jets best lineman. LaPorta will also rise quickly, as even a midseason injury has not hindered his fantastic power output. Pancake blocks aren't quite as sexy as the home run, but in both instances, power is the important factor in these prospects.
When You Thought He Couldn't Budge
After returning to USC, Leinart was favored to repeat as college football's Heisman Trophy winner. Many college baseball fans preferred Scherzer to Andrew Miller in January to win the Golden Spikes Award. While Leinart did little to hurt his stock during the year, Scherzer's injury plagued spring has allowed multiple collegiate pitchers to pass him. Leinart's criticized for his lack of mobility and strength, Scherzer for his third pitch and inconsistency. Leinart, once considered a lack for the top three, fell to tenth on draft day. And when I thought it impossible for Scherzer to slip out of the top two, it appears his spring coupled with his ties to Scott Boras could lead to a worse slip than Leinart.
Toss-Up, All-Star or Bust
People will never criticize Stubbs for not playing a hard enough schedule as a Texas Longhorn. Cutler has endured such criticism, apparently not earning enough wins for people in a subpar program. Stubbs has played through a national championship, and his flaws include contact issues that could forever plague his batting average. In both instances, the player's athletic ability will win out and warrant a high selection. Cutler is relatively mobile in the pocket with a fantastic arm, Stubbs plays better defense than most big league centerfielders. Both players could cause a lot of money to be flushed down the toilet, but in both instances, the potential is too good to pass up on.
Going Beyond Guns and Watches
No one ran a faster 40 at the combine than Chad Jackson. In the winter, Walden often threw the fastest pitch at a showcase. However, neither number can overshadow flaws. Jackson, considered by some the top WR in the draft, fell from the first round despite his speed-size combination. Walden, once considered a better bet than Kershaw or Drabek, could see control issues push him to the first round's back end. Scouts understand that track and velocity abilities don't always translate to success, and few players are hurt more by this principle than Jackson and Walden.
Making Coach Proud - A Team Effort
Not many football programs can watch three lineman drafted in the first round following a disappointing season. After spending a season hovering around .500, the Wolfpack had Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo all taken in the first round. North Carolina won't have the luck to have all three of their aces taken so high, but Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard are both first round talents. Miller, like Williams, offers a potential that validates a first overall selection. Bard and Lawson are both inconsistent, and both flash All-Star skills. McCargo is undoubtedly a better prospect than the likes of Robert Woodard or Jonathan Hovis, but at least the latter two can boast a successful collegiate career.