Confessions of a Baseball Analyst
Comment: I thought Cabrera was poised to build on his improvement last season and take it up another notch this year. Boy, was I wrong. Rather than get better, the big right-hander has actually regressed. The lesson here is simple: no matter how hard one throws, it's virtually impossible to succeed if you don't throw strikes.
Cabrera has basically been a mess all year long. Oh, he faked me out and pitched well during the World Baseball Classic. But I had already fallen for the guy long before that. You see, I saw what was then a 24-year-old flamethrower who was striking out about one batter per inning while getting almost twice as many groundballs as flyballs. He flat out dominated RHB and looked as if he was a changeup away from working his magic against LHB, too.
On top of all that, the arrival of Leo Mazzone as the Baltimore Orioles pitching coach gave me added confidence that Cabrera was likely to take the next step in his burgeoning career. Instead, the Dominican walked seven batters in 1 1/3 IP in his opening start, then came back five days later and gave up nine free passes in 5 IP. He allowed no more than two runs in six of his next eight starts but was still having trouble commanding the strike zone, walking 25 batters over a stretch of 20 innings.
For the year, Cabrera has given up an unacceptably high 7.9 BB/9 (vs. 4.9/9 in 2005). He leads the majors with 75 walks and 13 wild pitches. Although Daniel's K/9 rate was up by seven-tenths of a point this year, his K/100P was essentially flat with last season.
Did I mention that I drafted Cabrera in my fantasy pool four rounds before Francisco Liriano was taken by my cousin's team? Darn. I was actually hoping to nab Liriano but thought I could float him a bit more. Double darn!
Comment: I wasn't crazy about the Dodgers signing Garciaparra in the off-season. As a first baseman, I figured Nomar was no better than Shea Hillenbrand at this stage in his career. You know, a .290-.310 hitter with 18-20 HR. And that was assuming that he would stay healthy.
Garciaparra started the season on the DL and missed the first 16 games of the campaign. It looked like 2004-05 all over again (when he played in a combined total of 143 games). Little (so to speak) did I know that Nomar would come back and put up numbers reminiscent of 1999-2000. Second in the NL in AVG (.354), 5th in OBP (.421), 6th in SLG (.580), and 3rd in OPS (1.001).
I know we don't like to talk about such things, but Garciaparra has been nothing if not clutch for the Dodgers this year. The two-time batting champ is hitting .385/.468/.564 with runners in scoring position and .394/.475/.697 close and late. He is leading the team in RBI with 55. Nomar has walked (26) more often than he has struck out (17) and has stolen three bases without being caught. Garciaparra has also played a superb first base, making only one error while ranking in the top five at his position in the majors in range factor and zone rating.
I'm not going to doubt the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nomar. Well, at least not until the next organization signs him to what could easily be a 3 x $10+M contract this winter.
Comment: Hey, I picked the Tigers to finish fourth in the AL Central. Moreover, I was skeptical that the division could average 83 wins per team and said "No way the Tigers and Royals combine for 18 more victories."
Well, the five teams in the AL Central are on pace to average more than 86 wins, Kansas City is on track to match its 56 victories in 2005, and Detroit currently projects to win a whopping 110 games, or 39 (yes, THIRTY-NINE) more than last year. Yikes! I figured the Royals would wind up with about the same record but couldn't foresee the Tigers winning close to 90 games before the season began.
The bottom line is that Jim Leyland's Tigers have been absolutely Grand(erson) this year.
While on the subject of teams, I must also confess to picking the Cincinnati Reds to finish last in the NL Central. Yes, you read that correctly. I thought the Reds would end up with an even worse record than the (cough) Pittsburgh Pirates. Here is what I said in early March in response to a comment about the Reds being "a few years away":
Oh, the Reds can be turned around. But it won't happen overnight, and it won't be easy. It's gonna take time and patience. Unfortunately, most of the talent at the big-league level is at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum, the pitching staff could be the worst in baseball, and the minor-league system is bereft of talent.
Whew, it sure feels good to come clean. I mean, that was a heavy load to get off my chest. Now I can rest peacefully again. Sweet dreams!