Baseball BeatAugust 31, 2006
Players Who May Be On The Move
By Rich Lederer

At the risk of getting ahead of myself here as baseball enters the final month of regular-season play, I decided to take a sneak peek at the upcoming crop of free agents as well as those who will be subject to team and/or player options.

Interestingly, Maury Brown recently reported that "teams may no longer receive draft picks as compensation for free agents who leave as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement." If this is indeed the case, clubs such as the Nationals and Rangers could wind up with nothing to show for free agents Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee. Stay tuned.

The following table lists most of the starting position players and pitchers along with a number of the better-known relievers. It also includes a couple of injured stars (Eric Gagne and Kerry Wood) who most likely will be forced to sign incentive-laden contracts to catch the attention of their current or prospective employers. In all, I have gathered 84 names that run the gamut from fringe everyday players to All-Stars to future Hall of Famers.

FA=Free Agent
TO=Team Option
MO=Mutual Option
PO=Player Option
Moises Alou        SF    40   OF    FA*
Rich Aurilia       CIN   34   UT    MO
Rod Barajas        TEX   30   C     FA
Miguel Batista     ARI   35   SP    FA
Ronnie Belliard    STL   31   2B    FA
Craig Biggio       HOU   40   2B    FA
Barry Bonds        SFG   42   LF    FA
Aaron Boone        CLE   33   3B    MO
Mark Buehrle       CWS   27   SP    TO
Jeromy Burnitz     PIT   37   OF    MO
Mike Cameron       SD    33   CF    TO
Sean Casey         DET   32   1B    FA
Frank Catalanotto  TOR   32   UT    FA
Royce Clayton      CIN   36   SS    FA
Roger Clemens      HOU   44   SP    FA
Francisco Cordero  MIL   31   RP    TO
David Dellucci     PHI   32   OF    FA
Mark DeRosa        TEX   31   UT    FA
J.D. Drew          LAD   30   RF    PO
Ray Durham         SF    34   2B    FA
Jermaine Dye       CWS   32   RF    TO
Adam Eaton         TEX   28   SP    FA
Jim Edmonds        STL   36   CF    TO
Pedro Feliz        SF    31   3B    FA
Cliff Floyd        NYM   33   LF    FA
Eric Gagne         LAD   30   RP    TO
Nomar Garciaparra  LAD   33   1B    FA
Tom Glavine        NYM   40   SP    MO
Luis Gonzalez      ARI   38   LF    TO**
Alex Gonzalez      BOS   29   SS    FA
Eddie Guardado     CIN   35   RP    FA
Jose Guillen       WAS   30   OF    FA
Shea Hillenbrand   SF    31   1B    FA
Aubrey Huff        HOU   29   OF    FA
Torii Hunter       MIN   31   CF    TO
Adam Kennedy       LAA   30   2B    FA
Byung-Hyun Kim     COL   27   SP    TO
Carlos Lee         TEX   30   LF    FA
Cory Lidle         NYY   34   SP    FA
Mike Lieberthal    PHI   34   C     FA
Ted Lilly          TOR   30   SP    FA
Kenny Lofton       LAD   39   CF    FA
Mark Loretta       BOS   35   2B    FA
Julio Lugo         LAD   30   SS    FA
Greg Maddux        LAD   40   SP    FA
Jason Marquis      STL   28   SP    FA
Gary Matthews, Jr. TEX   32   CF    FA
Gil Meche          SEA   27   SP    FA
Bengie Molina      TOR   32   C     TO**
Jamie Moyer        PHI   43   SP    MO
Mark Mulder        STL   29   SP    FA
Mike Mussina       NYY   37   SP    TO
Trot Nixon         BOS   32   RF    FA
Tomo Ohka          MIL   30   SP    FA
Vicente Padilla    TEX   28   SP    FA
Jay Payton         OAK   33   OF    FA
Andy Pettitte      HOU   34   SP    FA
Mike Piazza        SD    37   C     MO
Juan Pierre        CHC   29   CF    FA
Brad Radke         MIN   33   SP    FA
Aramis Ramirez     CHC   28   3B    PO 
Joe Randa          PIT   36   3B    FA
Mark Redman        KC    32   SP    FA
Dave Roberts       SD    34   OF    FA
Jason Schmidt      SF    33   SP    FA
Gary Sheffield     NYY   37   OF    TO
John Smoltz        ATL   39   SP    TO
Alfonso Soriano    WAS   30   OF    FA
Shannon Stewart    MIN   32   LF    FA
Jeff Suppan        STL   31   SP    FA
Frank Thomas       OAK   38   DH    FA
Steve Trachsel     NYM   35   SP    FA
Jose Valentin      NYM   36   UT    FA
Tim Wakefield      BOS   40   SP    TO
Jeff Weaver        STL   30   SP    FA
David Wells        BOS   43   SP    FA
Bob Wickman        ATL   37   RP    FA
Bernie Williams    NYY   37   OF    FA
Woody Williams     SD    40   SP    FA
Craig Wilson       NYY   29   OF    FA
Preston Wilson     STL   32   OF    TO**
Kerry Wood         CHC   29   RP    MO
Gregg Zaun         TOR   35   C     FA
Barry Zito         OAK   28   SP    FA
 * changed to free agent from player option
** changed to team option from mutual option
Tom Glavine has a unique situation with the Mets. In a contract that was restructured in May, he agreed to reduce his 2006 salary to $7.5 million (with $5.25M deferred at 6% interest) while adding a 2007 player option at $5.5M (which increases by $1M each for 180, 190 and 200 IP in 2006) with a $3M buyout; or a $12M club option (increases by $2M with 180 IP in 2006) with a $3M buyout.

J.D. Drew and Aramis Ramirez have the right to void their contracts this fall. Drew signed a 5 x $11M deal with the Dodgers prior to the 2005 season. He has three years and $33M left. Ramirez signed an extension with the Cubs in April 2005 and has $11M coming his way in 2007 and $11.5M in 2008 with a $11M mutual option in 2009. The latter year is guaranteed if Ramirez plays 270 games during the previous two campaigns.

Of the two, it would seem as if Ramirez (.289/.353/.559 with 31 HR) is the more likely candidate to opt out of his current contract. Teams such as the Angels and Padres are in need of a power-hitting third baseman and the Halos will have some money to spend when the approximately $8M contracts of Darin Erstad, Steve Finley/Edgardo Alfonzo, and Jeff Weaver run off the books.

David Wells is rumored to be going to San Diego in a trade that could be imminent (in order to beat the deadline and make him eligible for post-season play). I don't understand how the Padres could part with Triple-A catcher George Kottaras, but we will just have to sit tight until a deal is announced before analyzing its pros and cons.

The St. Louis Cardinals have the option of re-signing Jim Edmonds for $10M next season or they can buy him out for $3M. Tony La Russa has said that Edmonds has to prove he is worth $10M when, in fact, the eight-time Gold Glove winner only needs to show that he is a $7M player. The buyout money is a sunk cost so the Cards will only be out of pocket an additional $7M if they choose to bring Edmonds back--something that is looking less and less likely in view of the post-concussion syndrome that has limited his playing time and effectiveness.

While on the subject of the Cardinals and injuries, Mark Mulder underwent an MRI on his ailing shoulder yesterday. He may not return this season. If so, the left-hander has probably pitched his last game for the Redbirds.

Mulder is just one of four starting pitchers for St. Louis eligible for free agency. Teammates Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Weaver are in the same boat. It will be interesting to see which pitcher(s) general manager Walt Jocketty pursues this winter.

Brad Radke, who has been pitching with a torn labrum this season, is unlikely to draw the type of attention he might otherwise. Look for the 12-year veteran to work out a less than optimal deal financially to return to the Twins for perhaps the final years of his career.

A discussion of free agents would not be complete without mentioning the players who are being advised by Scott Boras. Among those listed above, Boras is expected to represent Gagne, Greg Maddux, Weaver, Bernie Williams, and Barry Zito. Speaking of Zito, how much is he apt to get in the aftermath of Roy Oswalt's new five-year, $73 million deal? Prediction: the Yankees ink him to a five-year, $75M contract.

In the past, Boras has also negotiated deals for free-agents-to-be Bruce Chen, Jose Hernandez, Danny Kolb, Travis Lee, Chan Ho Park, Scott Schoeneweis, and Ron Villone. Yes, Ron Villone. You see, Boras doesn't just handle $50M clients only. He also does some pro bono work, too.

References: Unofficial Major League Baseball and Cot's Baseball Contracts. Both sources have a more complete list of potential free agents. They also include player agents and show major league service time in years and days. Unofficial Major League Baseball even has details of free agents in 2007, 2008, 2009, etc.

Baseball BeatAugust 30, 2006
Flipping Channels
By Rich Lederer

Courtesy of the MLB Extra Innings package, I was able to follow most of the games Tuesday night. I should have gone to Las Vegas instead as my right thumb was punching the right buttons at the right time. I saw a number of home runs live rather than as part of the nightly highlights on Baseball Tonight. You gotta have good timing (or luck) to catch everything I did in one evening.

Here was the lineup on my DirecTV system:

Ch. 734: Cubs at Pirates
Ch. 735: Phillies at Nationals
Ch. 736: Blue Jays at Indians
Ch. 737: Tigers at Yankees (rained out)
Ch. 738: Giants at Braves
Ch. 739: Marlins at Cardinals
Ch. 740: Devil Rays at White Sox
Ch. 741: Royals at Twins
Ch. 742: Brewers at Astros
Ch. 743: Mets at Rockies
Ch. 744: Reds at Dodgers
Ch. 745: Angels at Mariners
Ch. 746: Red Sox at A's

All of the day's games were carried by the Extra Innings package except the Orioles @ Rangers and the Padres @ Diamondbacks. The LAA-SEA game was blacked out or as the banner at the bottom of the screen proclaimed: "Program is not available in your area." Not a problem. I watched it on our local Channel 13 instead.

When I got home from the office, I clicked on 734 out of habit and proceeded to scroll through the channels to get a feel for what was on TV. Most of the east coast games were a few innings old when I got my first glimpses of action. Here is what I was able to catch Tuesday night.

  • Having recently discovered Marty McLeary, I was intrigued to find the 31-year-old pitcher making his first appearance of the season and the fourth of his career. He threw two innings in relief, giving up a hit, a walk, and a run while striking out two. McLeary looked OK, but I wouldn't rush out and add him to your fantasy roster anytime soon.

    In the meantime, Carlos Zambrano was pitching a lot better than he was fielding. The Cubs clogged up the bases by walking seven times and lost 7-6 to the Pirates in 11 innings.

  • With the Phillies leading the Nationals, 6-3, and runners on first and second and one out in the top of the sixth inning, I saw Chase Utley fly out to deep left center in what normally would be the type of at-bat that would pass without comment. However, I couldn't help but get a kick out of the subsequent conversation between the Nats' play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter and color analyst Tom Paciorek. They wondered aloud if the runners stayed put so as not to open up first base with Ryan Howard coming up in the belief that manager Frank Robinson would intentionally walk him. Well, I don't doubt that he would have been given a free pass with runners on second and third, but I disagree with the implied logic that it's better for the offense to have Howard up with runners on first and second than to take their chances with Dave Dellucci and the bases loaded.

    Paciorek pointed out that Willie Mays was famous for not taking an extra base in similar situations to "protect" Willie McCovey, even refusing to advance on wild pitches. Now that is laughable. If the Giants were better off with Mays on first and McCovey at the plate than with Mays on second and McCovey on first (after the ensuing IBB), then why wouldn't the defensive team just walk Big Mac in either situation? The point is that it is never a negative event for a base runner to take an extra base, no matter who is coming up next.

    As it turned out, Howard launched a three-run HR off the facing of the upper deck in straightaway center field. It was his 48th roundtripper of the year, tying him with a guy named Mike Schmidt for the single-season team record. True to form, Carpenter responded with the following beauty: "I wish those runners had tagged up." Not only did that comment expose the fact that he is a homer, but it suggests that the Nats were disadvantaged by runners failing to advance. I'll admit, this mentality is a pet peeve of mine and is probably worthy of a separate column.

  • I watched with interest C.C. Sabathia hitting 98 on the gun in the ninth inning of his league-leading fifth complete game, a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays. He struck out Vernon Wells to end the affair with a breaking ball that almost hit the dirt. Sabathia is 3-1 with an ERA of 1.69 and 43 SO vs. 7 BB in August.

    The Indians have now won 15 of their past 20 games. Nonetheless, Cleveland's actual winning percentage (.473) is well below its Pythagorean (.548). The Tribe has scored the third most runs in the majors and is a bullpen ace away from being a contending team next year.

  • I missed Chipper and Andruw Jones hitting back-to-back home runs against the Giants but caught a highlight clip of San Francisco announcer Duane Kuiper, in his all-red Cleveland uniform, slugging his one and only career dinger exactly 29 years ago. Yes, Joe Posnanski's favorite player growing up hit a grand total of one HR in 3,379 lifetime at-bats in the bigs.

  • Was able to sneak a few peeks of Marlins lefty Scott Olsen, who is third in the NL in K/100P (see league leaders at the bottom of the sidebar on the left), limiting the Cardinals to just three hits and one run over eight innings in a 9-1 romp that saw Mark Mulder's ERA zoom to 7.14 on the season. (Note to self: check how Dan Haren has performed for the A's. . .ahh, 12-10, 3.80 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.40 K/9. . .score one for Billy Beane.)

  • As luck would have it, I switched to the Devil Rays-White Sox game just in time to watch Delmon Young get the first hit of his MLB career, a line-drive HR over the left-field fence off Freddy Garcia. I have a feeling that Young will hit a few more HR than Kuiper over the course of his career.

  • Joe Mauer (.353/.431/.509) is having a terrific season, but the Minnesota catcher is hitting into more than his fair share of double plays. To wit, I saw the sweet-swinging LHB bounced into his 18th GIDP in the fourth inning. The Royals scored two runs in the fifth and went on to win 2-0 behind Mark Redman's complete-game shutout.

  • My knack for switching from one game to another at an opportune time was kept in tact when Craig Biggio hit the first pitch I saw in the Brewers-Astros NL Central League battle for his 17th HR of the season. The Houston second sacker was batting in the third hole for the first time this year. He was the seventh different player manager Phil Garner has put in that spot in the lineup. Biggio's jack was the 2,910th hit of his career, good for 34th all time. He should move into the top 20 by the end of the 2007 season.

  • Saw Chad Bradford scraping his knuckles on the mound in the Mets 10-5 victory over the host Rockies. I missed Carlos Beltran's 39th HR but was pleased nonetheless as I took the MVP candidate in the third round of our 15-team fantasy baseball draft before the season began. I'm pleased to report that I'm in first place as we head into the stretch run. Go Daniel Cabrera!

  • It's 11:35 p.m. and the Reds-Dodgers game is still going as I type this entry. Derek Lowe has just entered the game in a role that Vin Scully reminds listeners was how he spent the better part of his first five years in the majors. Just saw Edwin Encarnacion strike out for the third time of the evening. If he whiffs again, it will be his first of the morning. Each team has used seven pitchers and Lowe is about to hit for himself in the bottom of the 14th.

  • Oakland beat Boston 2-1 in a pitcher's duel between winner Kirk Saarloos and loser Josh Beckett. This is the one game I paid next to no attention to as I chose to concentrate more on the Angels game. Bad choice.

  • In a battle of the Jereds/Jarrods (or was it Jareds?) in Seattle, the rookie with a 9-1 record and 1.92 ERA going into the game was finally humbled. He gave up back-to-back home runs to Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Snelling to open the contest, then allowed consecutive doubles to Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez before getting his first out. Weaver gave up four solo HR (including two to Snelling) in 4 2/3 innings in what was easily his worst outing of the year.

    Like a lot of pitchers, Weaver likes to establish his fastball the first time through the lineup. He was facing Seattle for the third time in less than two months and the Mariners were sitting on his heater early in the count. Weaver was tagged with a loss that seemed pretty inconsequential in view of what took place in the top of the eighth inning. Mariner relief pitcher Rafael Soriano was hit squarely on the side of his head by a line drive off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero. He fell to the ground and was later strapped to a stretcher, removed from the field on a cart, and taken to a local hospital. Here's hoping Soriano is doing well and resting comfortably by the time you read this article.

  • WTNYAugust 29, 2006
    By Bryan Smith

    Dear loyal readers,

    Today, I'm sad to say, will be my last post as co-writer at Baseball Analysts.

    18 months ago - hard to believe, isn't it? - Rich and I moved from to this venue, in hopes of creating an eclectic site to provide daily, lengthy baseball analysis. It's been a fantastic year and a half, and our creation has had more success than either of us could have hoped for.

    Personally, today represents another left turn in my own winding Internet road, a journey spanning four years and multiple URLs. I deeply appreciate each reader who has stuck with me through it all, as you are the reasons I have had opportunities for publications I deeply admire and respect. Without you, I never would have had bylines at Baseball Prospectus, or Baseball America.

    Once upon a time, I had the energy to write five long posts a week, the time to throw myself into minor league baseball research constantly. When such a schedule became too daunting, I was lucky enough to find Rich, whose partnership allowed me to decrease my workload to three times a week. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I am no longer able to commit to such a schedule, and in fairness to Rich, I could not ask to remain on this site's masthead.

    So instead, Rich and I have decided it's best for me to turn my key in, and going forward, he will have full control of this site. I'll be making guest appearances, now and again, and will also be freelancing some work all around the Internet. After years of attempting to live by strict writing schedules, I have reached a point in which I must step back.

    I have not lost the itch to write or the itch to follow baseball, this I can assure you. I will remain knee-deep in minor league analysis, and will try to write as often as possible. I'll still be making a prospect list, and this January, I'll again attempt to find prospects that will break out next season. I have some plans for writing before then, and I don't doubt you'll be seeing my byline plenty going forward.

    As the cliche goes, it's not goodbye, it's see you later. For those looking to get in contact with me going forward, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at bsmithwtny AT I want to finish today thanking Rich Lederer, who has been a fantastic partner during our run and will undoubtedly continue to be a wonderful friend going forward.

    Take care, Bryan Smith.

    Baseball BeatAugust 28, 2006
    Monday Morning Musings
    By Rich Lederer

    I was fortunate to attend two of the Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Angels games last week plus yesterday's final game of the New York Yankees @ LAA series.

    Observations and comments:

  • Joe Saunders pitched 5 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run on Tuesday vs. the Red Sox, then gave up eight earned runs in 2 1/3 IP on Sunday vs. the Yankees. Same pitcher. Two different results. After winning his first four starts, Saunders is now 4-2 with an ERA of 4.78. He is a capable pitcher, but there is nothing special about him (other than the fact that he throws from the left side). His fastball touches 91-92. He has a decent changeup and a mediocre breaking ball. Like a lot of young pitchers, Saunders may be running out of gas late in the season. He's thrown 173 innings this year. His previous high? 170 in 2005.

  • Saw Dustin Pedroia make his MLB debut. Also witnessed his first big league hit. The ball was removed from play and tossed into the Red Sox dugout. I wonder if his teammates played an age-old trick on the rookie by scribbling on a duplicate ball and presenting it to him after the game as if it were the real deal?

    One can't help but notice Pedroia's smallish size. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, the 23-year-old infielder does himself no favors in the looks department with his baggy pants. Nevertheless, the guy can play. The 2003 Pacific-10 Player of the Year started one game at shortstop and the other at second base. He played well in the field and squared up the ball several times at the plate (although you might not know it by looking at his 2-for-18 results through Sunday). To his credit, Pedroia has always had more BB than SO every stop along the way going back to his freshman year at Arizona State. We're not looking at a superstar in the making but don't be surprised if he becomes a serviceable every day player.

  • Garret Anderson can no longer play left field. He misplayed two fly balls on Tuesday. He runs routes as poorly as Randy Moss but doesn't have his speed or athleticism to make up for his indifferent approach. Put me in charge and GA wouldn't be on the Angels would be limited to the role of DH, almost exclusively vs. RHP. Anderson is Exhibit One why teams should refrain from giving 32-year-olds top-dollar, four-year extensions for the sake of loyalty (which the Angels did in 2004). Exhibit Two? Jason Varitek.

  • Josh Beckett was throwing 94-95 mph all night on Thursday. Cheese at the knees. He also has a pretty good hammer curve but was relying mostly on his fastball that evening. His control was impeccable. Get this, Beckett missed the strike zone seven times through four innings. Now I realize this was against the "go up there and hack away" Angels but, goodness gracious, that is impressive against any team. My question to you is "How can this guy have an ERA over 5.00?"

  • Jered Weaver lost his first game of the year the same night Beckett manhandled the Angels. He allowed only four hits and one run in six innings of work. One of the hits was a high pop fly that fell between Orlando Cabrera and Chone Figgins in shallow center field. The 6-foot-7 right-hander struck out the side in the fifth and the first two batters in the sixth with a mix of fastballs (that reached as high as 93 on the gun), sliders, and changeups.

    Weaver asked to go back for the seventh inning but manager Mike Scioscia pulled his prized rookie after throwing 107 pitches. In the "old" days, I'm quite certain that Weaver would have been allowed to keep pitching based on how well he was performing. Jered made one bad pitch--a 1&2 fastball in David Ortiz's wheelhouse--and he paid dearly for it as Big Papi deposited that mistake deep into the right-field seats.

  • The Angels had a chance to tie the game and take Weaver off the hook in the bottom of the seventh inning when Doug Mirabelli made the defensive play of the series. With no outs, runners on second and third, and the Sox leading 2-0, Howie Kendrick laced a single to left field, scoring Garret Anderson for the Angels' first run. Third base coach Dino Ebel waved Juan Rivera home a split-second before Wily Mo Pena unleashed a strong, accurate throw to the plate. Mirabelli stood straight up as if there was no play, deking Rivera into believing that he would score easily. Doug then caught Pena's perfect strike and applied the tag on Rivera, who flopped toward the plate in vain in an attempt to stick his outstretched hand past the veteran catcher. Nice play by Pena and Mirabelli. Bad job on the parts of Ebel and Rivera. Didn't their high school coaches team them, as mine did, not to make the first out of an inning at home?

  • Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams each hit two home runs vs. the Angels on Sunday. Saunders gave up three of the four gopher balls. Both of Jeter's long balls ended up in the stands in right-center field. Seems as if Derek goes the opposite way as often as he pulls the ball when lifting it into the air.

    Williams looked like the vintage Bernie from 1996-2002. He collected four hits and knocked in six runs. The switch-hitter is putting up better numbers from the right side this year. Williams may be a liability in the field but is producing enough offensively to warrant another year in pinstripes.

  • Alex Rodriguez struck out TEN times in the three-game series. He went 1-for-15 with no RBI while stranding nine runners on base. A-Rod's looking more and more like Troy Glaus, a three true outcomes type of hitting third baseman. His slugging average now rests below .500. Rodriguez has slugged .500 or better every year since 1997, including north of .600 in five of the past six seasons. Twenty-five million just doesn't go as far these days as it once did.

  • Baseball BeatAugust 25, 2006
    Rushing a Prestigious Fraternity
    By Rich Lederer

    Frank Thomas slugged the 475th home run of his career on Wednesday night to tie Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 23rd place on the all-time list. Moreover, he is now just 25 HR shy of 500. Despite all the rhetoric about how easy it now is to club 500 homers, there are still only 20 players in the history of the game who have reached that milestone.

    The player known throughout the game as The Big Hurt not only is closing in on 500 HR but is also hitting over .300 for his career with a little room to spare. Entering Friday night's game at Texas, Thomas has 2,229 hits in 7,303 at-bats (.3052). If he maintains his current pace this year and goes something like 25-for-95 the rest of the way, he will head into next season with 2,254 hits in 7,398 at-bats (.3047).

    Barring a complete collapse, in order for Thomas to fall below the .300 mark for his career, he would have to hit under .220 with 450 or more AB. Although that's certainly within the realm of possibilities, it is unlikely for two reasons: (1) Thomas has never hit worse than .252 over a full season and (2) he probably wouldn't get that many AB if he was hitting so poorly.

    Should Thomas call it quits after the 2007 season, he seems like a decent bet to finish his career with at least 500 HR and a .300 or better batting average. If so, he would become just the seventh retired player to reach those magic numbers. (The operative word here is retired because Manny Ramirez, with 469 career dingers, is the odds-on favorite to beat Thomas to the 500 club next year. The Boston slugger also has a career batting average of .315. As a result, he stands an excellent chance of joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Mel Ott upon retirement in this exclusive fraternity.)

    HR >= 500
    AVG >= .300

                          HR      AVG    
    1 Hank Aaron         755     .305   
    2 Babe Ruth          714     .342   
    3 Willie Mays        660     .302   
    4 Jimmie Foxx        534     .325   
    5 Ted Williams       521     .344   
    6 Mel Ott            511     .304   

    Interestingly, Barry Bonds has dipped below the .300 lifetime mark this year to .298. It would be nearly impossible for Bonds to lift his average back up to the .300 level this late in his career. Nonetheless, the fraternity could gain new membership over time as Alex Rodriguez (455, .305) is a lock to hit 500 but a much longer shot to maintain a .300 batting average. At 37, Gary Sheffield (453, .298) is borderline on both fronts. Vladimir Guerrero (332, .324), who won't turn 30 until December [correction: he celebrated his 30th birthday on February 9, 2006], seems like a distinct possibility to join this exclusive club in due time. Albert Pujols (239, .332) has a ways to go but figures to learn the secret handshake as well.

    While it is far too early to speculate on youngsters such as Miguel Cabrera and David Wright, I think we can safely assume that veterans Jeff Bagwell (449, .297), Jason Giambi (349, .293), Ken Griffey Jr. (561, .291), Chipper Jones (350, .304), and Mike Piazza (415, .309)--as good as they have been--are likely to fall short in at least one of the two departments. In other words, there may be no more than a dozen players in the history of baseball ten years from now who have combined hitting 500 HR with a .300 lifetime batting average.

    Thomas, if and when he makes it, will clearly be at the low end in both areas. But, hey, that's OK when you are rubbing elbows with many of the best hitters ever. Granted, Frank's defensive shortcomings may prevent him from being thought of as an "inner circle" Hall of Famer but his offensive production is such that there should be no question as to his Cooperstown worthiness when it comes time to vote for him.

    Oh sure, Thomas benefited by playing in a higher-scoring environment than many of his brethren. And, by serving as a designated hitter, he was also able to extend his career beyond those who weren't afforded the same luxury. That said, there have been dozens and dozens of DHs during Big Frank's career who have not come close to putting up such prodigious numbers.

    In the category of what have you done for me lately, it's almost easy to forget just how great Thomas was in his first seven full seasons. From 1991-1997, Thomas hit .330/.452/.604 with an average of 36 HR, 34 2B, 171 H, 119 BB, 107 R, and 118 RBI. He scored and knocked in more than 100 runs every year. Thomas also walked over 100 times each season. The guy was an on-base machine. His lowest OBP during this stretch was .426. Looked at it a different way, he averaged getting on-base exactly two times per game.

    Thomas lost games in 1994 and 1995 owing to the strike. In fact, he was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons of all time--certainly by a RHB in the post-War era--when the work stoppage cut short the 1994 campaign on August 12. He was limited to 113 games that year and the 1995 season was revised to 144 games.

    From 1991-1997, Thomas finished in the top 10 of the Most Valuable Player voting every year, winning back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and 1994. Big Frank is the only player in MLB history to hit .300 with at least 100 BB, 100 R, 100 RBI, and 20 HR for seven consecutive seasons.

    Thomas struggled over the next two seasons but bounced back in 2000 when he hit .328 with a career-high 43 homers, 115 runs, and 143 runs batted in. The slugger finished second in the MVP voting that season. He was slowed by injuries in 2001, then returned and had a sub-par year in 2002, before rebounding once again in 2003 to hit 42 HR along with 100 BB and 105 RBI.

    After a couple more injury-riddled seasons, Thomas (.268/.390/.524 with 27 HR in only 347 AB) has risen from the scrap heap a third time and is one of the mainstays of the AL West-leading A's offense this year. Although the 38-year-old DH is definitely in the twilight of his career, fans and HOF voters alike should take note of just how great he was during the 1990s.

    With or without 500 HR and a .300 lifetime average, Thomas is one of the top two dozen most productive hitters in the history of the sport. Now that, in and of itself, is a pretty prestigious fraternity.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    * * * * *

    Update: Sports Illustrated ran a concurrent article on Frank Thomas. It is a good read.

    Designated HitterAugust 24, 2006
    Game Ball
    By Jacob Luft

    You hear it all the time: Baseball is about fathers and sons. No Game of the Week broadcast is complete without a couple of little boys eating ice cream in the stands, a doting father no doubt nearby. Rarely does a Hall of Fame induction speech end without thanking dad for throwing all that BP and coaching all those Little League teams.

    Hollywood buys into this line of thinking, too. Field of Dreams wasn't so much a baseball movie as it was about repairing a relationship between a father and son. (The filmmakers didn't even bother to make Shoeless Joe a left-handed hitter, so unconcerned they were about the facts.) Remember the closing scene of The Natural? It was Roy Hobbs playing catch with his son. Hobbs' career, dilatory as it was in any case, was ruined by that old bullet wound and he didn't even get to play in the Series, but everything is OK because now he's playing catch with his kid, a strapping young man who doesn't mind the fact that he had a deadbeat dad all these years.

    Meanwhile, as a father of one little girl and with another bambina on the way, I'm left to wonder: What about fathers and daughters? Has fate conspired to keep me from forging the same bond with my daughters that dads everywhere enjoy when they play catch with their sons, picturing the day he will be suiting up in Yankee pinstripes or Red Sox stirrups? Are we not entitled to our own little slice of baseball Americana?

    For myself and fathers like me, "Double-X" isn't just a nickname for Jimmie Foxx. It's a chromosomal pairing that means we won't be tying our offsprings' right hands behind their backs to force them to throw lefty, which for boys would ensure them of unending riches as they follow the path laid down by Jesse Orosco, the patron saint of LOOGYs. Diamonds of the lustrous variety are a girl's best friend, but baseball diamonds are for men only, even though only a precious few will ever don a major league uniform.

    So does this mean I should give up on transferring my baseball passion to my children? Should I stand idly by as their bedrooms fill up with Barbies and other such dress-up dolls?

    To Hell with that.

    I'm raising my girls as what they are -- the sons I never had. Some kids watch cartoons on Saturday mornings. Hannah, my 3-year-old, settles for Baseball Tonight reruns. She knows how to spot a home run, though I'm guessing it will take some time for her to appreciate the beauty of the RBI groundout -- let's hear it for the National League, baby! If she learns how to read before her classmates, it may have a lot to do with her endless hours of exposure to the ESPNews ticker. Her bedtime is 9 p.m., but there is a standing rule that she can stay up late as long as the time is spent watching baseball, or "game ball," as she calls it, with her daddy. When I come back from the road, I bring back a plush mascot of the home team of whatever stadium I was just visiting, and I never leave Cooperstown without finding a suitable piece of Rockford Peaches paraphernalia.

    Ballet classes are in order, yes, but so is T-ball and Little League. With any luck, she'll be the biggest tomboy this side of Tatum O'Neal (aka Amanda Whurlizer from Bad News Bears). She'll take the mound with her hair pulled up in a hat, hiding behind youthful androgyny to save the boys from the embarrassment of getting struck out by a girl.

    So far I think my strategy is working. Invariably I come home late from a ballgame and miss her bedtime, and when I do she grills me the next day about going to the game ball without her. (On a related note, she also got upset with her parents when, upon seeing our wedding album for the first time, she realized that she had not been invited to the ceremony, which took place four years before she was born.)

    Earlier this summer I decided it was time to take her to her first big league game, and we booked a weekend trip to Philly for the occasion. But as soon as we got to Citizens Bank Park for a Braves-Phillies tilt, a wicked thunderstorm pounded us for the better part of three hours. The rain dampened her clothes but not her enthusiasm for her first ballgame. She had the same wondrous stare that we all did upon first setting eyes on a big league field. Though the players were all safely ensconced in the clubhouse doubtlessly playing cards or dominoes, Hannah wouldn't take her eyes off what must have seemed to her as unending acres of perfectly green -- albeit soaked and partially tarped -- grass. (We don't get much of the green stuff living in Hoboken, N.J., across the river from New York City, after all.)

    We waited out the delay until the game was called. As we filed out of the stadium along with the remaining crowd, Hannah's disappointment was palpable. Among the three of us, she took the rainout the hardest. I wouldn't be surprised if she took it harder than most anybody in the stadium that day. For the first time I harbored hope that she really is interested in game ball beyond an excuse to stay up late or veg out on the couch with me. Maybe she sees it as an easy way to connect with her seamhead of a father, who would love nothing more than to make baseball a lifetime connection with the first of his beloved daughters.

    Jacob Luft is a baseball editor/writer for

    Baseball BeatAugust 23, 2006
    Screening for Pitching Prospects: A Recap
    By Rich Lederer

    Part One (Double-A and Triple-A)
    Part Two (Single-A)

    On Monday and Tuesday, I screened ten different minor leagues covering 120 teams and over 1,000 pitchers to develop a list of 48 pitchers (10 x 5 with two pitchers qualifying twice) with high K/9 and low HR/9 rates. I am in no way suggesting that these pitchers are the top four dozen prospects in baseball, but--after reviewing the names--I am confident that this approach was effective in separating the wheat from the chaff.

    Interestingly, there were 16 LHP and 32 RHP. There is also a good mixture between pitchers drafted out of high school and college. From a team perspective, the Milwaukee Brewers lead the way with five of the 48 pitchers. The Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, and Texas Rangers each have four, while the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Astros have three apiece. On the opposite end of the ledger, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners have no representation whatsoever.

    Homer Bailey and Yovani Gallardo were the only pitchers who made the lists for two different leagues. In their cases, it just so happened that they both pitched in the Florida State and Southern Leagues. There are other pitchers, most notably Matt Garza, who have succeeded at more than one level, but they may not have thrown the requisite 50 innings at each stop.

    Twelve pitchers have graduated to the major leagues or had the opportunity to perform at the highest level.

    PITCHER          TEAM  W L   ERA   G  GS    IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO 
    Jered Weaver      LAA  9 0  1.95  12  12  78.1   53  18  17   4  20  65 
    Chad Billingsley  LAD  4 3  3.19  13  13  73.1   65  30  26   7  49  52 
    Edinson Volquez   TEX  1 2  4.02   3   3  15.2   17   7   7   1   8   8
    Matt Albers       HOU  0 1  4.35   3   1  10.1   11   5   5   0   6   8
    Jamie Shields     TB   6 6  4.74  16  16  95.0  110  52  50  11  31  83 
    Mike Pelfrey      NYM  2 1  5.48   4   4  21.1   25  14  13   1  12  13
    Boof Bonser       MIN  2 4  5.51  10  10  50.2   59  34  31  12  16  42
    Carlos Marmol     CHC  5 6  5.65  15  13  71.2   64  47  45  12  55  52
    Rich Hill         CHC  3 6  6.44  10   9  50.1   52  39  36  11  29  38
    Dana Eveland      MIL  0 3  8.13   9   5  27.2   39  25  25   4  16  32
    Dustin McGowan    TOR  1 1  9.78  12   1  19.1   27  24  21   2  18  19 
    Matt Garza        MIN  0 2 11.74   2   2   7.2   13  10  10   2   4   7 

    Dana Eveland, Rich Hill, Dustin McGowan, and Edinson Volquez also had a cup of coffee in the majors last year. None of them have found their footing yet.

    Jered Weaver is, by far, the most advanced pitcher among those who have made it to the bigs. He also has the best numbers and would make an easy choice for A.L. Rookie of the Year in a more normal year. However, 2006 may end up being known for the number of quality first-year pitchers it produced (Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, and Weaver) in a manner similar to the 1983 NFL season when John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino all made their debuts.

    There are several pitchers not listed in our screens who I would prefer over those who may have made the grade. That said, I am going to stick my neck out and choose a Top Ten from the pool of 48 pitchers. The following list is based on a discounted present value of the future returns (like they do in the financial world) of each pitcher's career. The closer the expected returns, the higher the value.

        PITCHER          TEAM   COMMENTS
     1. Jered Weaver      LAA   He's in the big leagues now and producing in a big way.
     2. Chad Billingsley  LAD   Permanent fixture in the starting rotation for years to come.
     3. Homer Bailey      CIN   Might have the highest ceiling of 'em all.
     4. Philip Hughes     NYY   The total package.  Stuff and command.
     5. Matt Garza        MIN   From A to AA to AAA to the majors in one year.   
     6. Mike Pelfrey      NYM   Ultimate success will be a function of his secondary pitches.
     7. Yovani Gallardo   MIL   He has matched Bailey at both stops this year.
     8. Humberto Sanchez  DET   Can't leave him off the list but weight and elbow concern me. 
     9. Scott Elbert      LAD   Arguably the best LHP in the minors.
    10. Brandon Erbe      BAL   Lights up the radar guns.  Doesn't turn 19 until Xmas Day.

    In due time, pitchers such as Luke Hochevar, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Andrew Miller might have something to say about who belongs in the Top Ten. (I didn't include pitchers who haven't completed 50 innings of professional ball in my objective or subjective rankings.) Weaver and Chad Billingsley will lose their rookie status so most prospect lists this winter will probably include at least a couple of the above first-year pros in their Top Tens.

    Age. Stuff. Command. They all factor into prospect evaluations. But eventually it comes down to performance. In other words, when it's all said and done, you gotta deliver the goods. Potential is nice but actual performance rules once you get to the Show.

    Baseball BeatAugust 22, 2006
    Screening for Pitching Prospects - Part Two
    By Rich Lederer

    On the heels of yesterday's article, I continue my efforts to identify some of the top pitching prospects in the minors by screening the Class-A Leagues. In order to qualify, the pitchers, who are ranked by K/9, need to have thrown at least 50 innings with a HR/9 rate of less than 0.9 (or one home run per ten innings pitched).

    The stats have not been adjusted to normalize league and home ballpark context. I have also not attempted to combine MiLB totals for those pitchers who have appeared at more than one level.

    As noted in the comments section on Monday, these screens are not intended to identify "the top 5 pitching prospects" in each league. Importantly, I don't think you can do that without establishing a more comprehensive statistical formula, taking into consideration scouting reports, and paying attention to age relative to the level of competition. Instead, I am simply trying to uncover pitchers who have high K/9 and relatively low HR/9 rates. I am pleased with the results as the lists yesterday and today include several high-profile prospects as well as some lesser-known pitchers.


    California League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Jose Arredondo    RCQ/LAA  5-6  2.30  1.08  11.50
    Samuel Deduno     MOD/COL  5-7  4.13  1.38  10.76
    Franklin Morales  MOD/COL  8-9  3.81  1.41  10.51
    John Bannister    BAK/TEX  5-8  5.87  1.68  10.20
    Edwin Vera        BAK/TEX  0-8  5.65  1.79   9.81

    As good as Jose Arredondo was at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, he has been just as bad at Double-A Arkansas (2-2, 7.03 ERA, 1.73 WHIP). His hit and home run rates have skyrocketed at the higher level. The RHP out of the Dominican Republic has gone from unknown position player in 2004 to a project with a good arm in 2005 to a top-flight prospect in May 2006 to a head scratcher in August 2006. At 22, he is still young and has time to regroup. Arredondo may be one level ahead of Nick Adenhart, but the latter still ranks as the Angels #1 pitching prospect.

    A special nod goes to Jesse Ingram (BAK/TEX), a relief pitcher with a 6-0 record, a 2.43 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and an eye-opening 14.47 K/9 rate (95 Ks/22 BB in 59.1 IP). At 24, he was a bit old for "A" ball. However, Ingram has since been promoted to Double-A Frisco of the Texas League (3-0, 4.40 ERA with 4 SV in 14.1 IP).

    Carolina League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Radhames Liz      FRD/BAL  6-5  2.82  1.22  10.30
    Scott Lewis       KIN/CLE  3-2  1.59  0.97  10.06
    Troy Patton       SAL/HOU  7-7  2.93  1.27   9.08
    Garrett Olson     FRD/BAL  4-4  2.77  1.23   8.55
    Charles Lofgren   KIN/CLE 15-5  2.46  1.17   8.23

    The story of Radhames Liz isn't all that different from Arredondo's. The 23-year-old right-hander had his way at Single-A Frederick before getting knocked around at Double-A Bowie (2-1, 5.60 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). His season is somewhat reminiscent of last year when he dominated the NYPL (A-), then found his match in the South Atlantic League (A). Liz pitched for the World in the Futures Game in July, striking out one of the two batters he faced. He has a live arm but needs to command the strike zone better as evidenced by his BB/9 rates (44 BB/83 IP in "A" and 19/35.1 in "AA").

    Florida State League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Mark Rogers       BRE/MIL  1-2  5.07  1.70  12.17
    Yovani Gallarado  BRE/MIL  6-3  2.09  0.99  12.01
    Scott Elbert      VER/LAD  5-5  2.37  1.17  10.49
    Manuel Parra      BRE/MIL  1-3  2.96  1.45  10.13
    Homer Bailey      SAR/CIN  3-5  3.31  1.00  10.13

    Mark Rogers was a first-round draft pick (5th overall) in 2004 out of Mount Ararat HS (Orr's Island, ME). His MiL career numbers tell you everything you need to know: 200.1 IP, 139 BB, and 245 SO. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has electric stuff but lacks command and control. Rogers has had stretches of greatness (such as earlier this season when he allowed only five hits and eight walks while striking out 29 over 20 2/3 innings covering three starts). He went on the DL in July with tendinitis in his shoulder and has made three rehab appearances for the AZL Brewers (Rookie League). At 20, Rogers has a huge ceiling but still needs a few coats of polish in order to reach his potential.


    Midwest League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Alexander Smit    BEL/MIN  7-1  3.15  1.24  11.48
    Jacob McGee       SWM/TAM  7-9  3.07  1.28  11.21
    Mark McCormick     QC/STL  2-4  3.78  1.45  10.88
    Eduardo Morlan    BEL/MIN  5-5  2.52  1.12  10.68
    Donald Veal       PEO/CHC  5-3  2.69  1.15  10.57

    Since joining the rotation in late June, Alexander Smit is 5-0 with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 11 starts and 60 innings. The 6-foot-4 southpaw has allowed only 38 hits during this stretch and has struck out 77 batters against 26 walks. A native of the Netherlands, Smit had back-to-back starts earlier this month with 12 Ks in 6 IP and 11 Ks in 7 IP. He turns 21 in October and is just one of many outstanding pitching prospects in the Minnesota Twins organization.

    South Atlantic League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Brent Leach       COL/LAD  4-2  3.27  1.38  11.57
    Noe Rodriguez     KAN/CWS  0-6  3.48  1.40  10.81
    William Inman     WVA/MIL  9-1  1.38  0.90  10.78
    Brandon Erbe      DEL/BAL  5-9  3.53  1.18  10.62
    Clay Buchholz     GRE/BOS  9-4  2.62  1.04  10.22

    Brent Leach started 10 times at Columbus and was promoted to Vero Beach where he has pitched 27 games--all in relief. The 6-foot-5 lefty's combined numbers include 119 Ks and only 2 HR in 96 2/3 IP.

    Given that the focus here is on starting pitchers, I would be remiss in not highlighting Will Inman. The 6-foot RHP has not allowed a home run all season in 91 innings of work. The third-round draft pick in 2005 has punched out 109 batters while giving up only 22 free passes. Unlike a lot of MiL pitchers, Inman's run average (1.48) is almost identical to his earned run average (1.38). Oh yes, the kid doesn't turn 20 until February 2007.

    Baseball BeatAugust 21, 2006
    Screening for Pitching Prospects
    By Rich Lederer

    I screened all of the minor league statistics to determine the top five starting pitchers in each league, sorted by K/9 with 50 or more IP and a HR/9 rate of less than 0.9 (or one home run per ten innings pitched).

    The stats have not been adjusted to normalize league and home ballpark context. I have also not attempted to combine MiLB totals for those pitchers who have appeared at more than one level.


    Pacific Coast League

    PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Rich Hill         IOW/CHC  7-1  1.80  0.83  12.15
    Jered Weaver      SLC/LAA  6-1  2.10  0.95  10.87
    Chad Billingsley  LVG/LAD  6-3  3.95  1.26  10.00
    Dana Eveland      NAS/MIL  4-4  2.32  1.05   9.90
    Edinson Volquez   OKL/TEX  6-6  3.21  1.31   9.73

    Rich Hill's minor league stats look like Sandy Koufax's run from 1962-1966. But his career major league numbers (3-7, 7.68 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) tell a different story. He strung together a couple of excellent starts vs. Arizona and Pittsburgh earlier this month, then got lit up in Colorado in his next outing. After holding Houston scoreless in a two-inning relief appearance last week, Dusty Baker is giving the 6-foot-5 southpaw another chance to start tonight against Philadelphia. At the age of 26, he is neither too young to look the other way or too old to write off. A change of scenery--or a new manager--might be the best medicine for one of baseball's biggest enigmas.

    International League

    PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Marty McLeary    IND/PIT   2-4  2.88  1.25  10.02
    Jamie Shields    DUR/TAM   3-2  2.64  1.08   9.43
    Dustin McGowan   SYR/TOR   4-5  4.73  1.44   9.23
    Hyang-Nam Choi   BUF/CLE   8-5  2.50  1.22   8.81
    Boof Bonser      ROC/MIN   6-4  2.81  1.19   8.68

    Marty McLeary is not a prospect in the true sense of the word. First of all, he is 31 years old. Secondly, the 6-foot-5 right-hander has been around since 1998. Thirdly, he has thrown 99.5% of his professional innings in the minors. His MLB experience consists of 3 2/3 IP with San Diego in 2004. Correction, 3 2/3 awful IP. In other words, there is nothing in McLeary's background that would suggest he has what it takes to pitch at the big league level. At best, the journeyman is a "AAAA" pitcher, a veteran to keep around just in case the need arises to recall him if no other options exist.


    Eastern League

    PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9 
    Humberto Sanchez ERI/DET   5-3  1.76  1.03  10.87
    Matt Garza       NBR/MIN   6-2  2.51  0.94  10.72
    Philip Hughes    TRE/NYY   8-3  2.46  0.96  10.53
    Mike Pelfrey     BIN/NYM   4-2  2.71  1.30  10.48
    J.A. Happ        REA/PHI   6-2  2.47  1.21  10.30

    Humberto Sanchez was the starting pitcher for the World in the Futures Game last month. He retired the side in order while striking out two batters. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has major-league stuff but still lacks a bit of polish. However, at 23, Sanchez is still young enough to improve his command. Humberto's weight raises concerns longer term. His tender elbow raises concerns shorter term. He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo in June but hasn't pitched in nearly three weeks.

    Southern League

    PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Dan Smith        MIS/ATL   3-6  2.98  1.23  13.31
    Carlos Marmol    WTN/CHC   3-2  2.33  1.16  10.40
    Homer Bailey     CHA/CIN   5-0  1.26  1.09  10.26
    T.J. Nall        JAX/LAD   9-6  2.98  1.07  10.23
    Yovani Gallardo  HUN/MIL   4-2  1.44  0.99  10.00

    Dan Smith is a reliever-turned-starter who has been extremely effective in his new role this month. After striking out six in two scoreless innings of relief on July 28, the 6-foot-5 left-hander has thrown 21 2/3 frames over four starts while allowing just 13 hits, eight walks, and two earned runs (0.83 ERA). Smith has K'd 93 batters in 62 1/3 IP on the year (split between High-A and Double-A), giving up just three HR. An undrafted free agent, the soon-to-be 23-year-old was signed by the Braves in 2003 and has worked his way through the system almost exclusively in relief until getting a chance to start three weeks ago.

    Texas League

    PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
    Ubaldo Jimenez   TUL/COL   9-2  2.45  1.21  10.59
    Mitch Talbot     COR/HOU   6-4  3.39  1.36   9.59
    Juan Morillo     TUL/COL  10-8  4.70  1.54   8.35
    Paul Kometani    FRI/TEX   5-5  5.60  1.56   7.95
    Matt Albers      COR/HOU  10-2  2.17  1.23   7.37

    Ubaldo Jimenez pitched so well in Double-A early on that he was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has struggled at Colorado Springs (3-2, 6.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). To his credit, Jimenez has continued to keep the ball in the high-altitude park (5 HR in 59 1/3 IP) but his strikeout and walk numbers (1.36 K/BB ratio) have suffered. It's way too early to give up on the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic although he will need to exhibit better command before getting a shot at the big leagues.

    We'll take a similar look at the Class-A Leagues tomorrow (while skipping the short-season Class-A and rookie leagues). In the meantime, feel free to discuss any of the above pitchers as well as those who may not have made today's screens in the comments section below.

    Baseball BeatAugust 20, 2006
    Follow-Up to Foto Friday
    By Rich Lederer

    I put up a post on Friday along with a photo that illicited a number of comments from readers who were charged with the responsibility of naming the players, the year, and the location. I added the following comment: "If you can pinpoint the actual month and day, that would be herculean."

    Well, DXMachina, who played an important role in tracking down critical information on photos displayed at Humbug Journal, named the players (Hank Aaron and Jim Gilliam) and narrowed down the year in question to 1954-1958 in the first two comments. Shaun P. identified Milwaukee's spring training site in those years as Bradenton, Florida shortly thereafter. Spike then found a couple of fabulous photos of Bradenton showing the same "white house with the angled roof" that appears between Aaron's right elbow and body in the original photo. Moments later, Marc Ronan introduced a third photo of McKechnie Field in Bradenton along with a history of its spring training tenants.

    Justin followed up the numerous early comments a few hours later by suggesting that "March 13, 1958 looks promising. Dodgers vs. Braves in an exhibition game in Bradenton, Florida." He checked the archives of the Los Angeles Times and determined that this date was the only one in which the Dodgers and Braves played each other that spring. Justin also noted that "the article mentioned it was raining pretty hard the night before" and adds "the ground [in the photo] sort of looks wet, so I'll buy that."

    Very interesting indeed. As it turns out, my Dad wrote the following in his game story (which appeared in the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram on March 14, 1958):

    Bombed by Braves

    Rough Day for Podres

    (I, P-T Staff Writer)

    BRADENTON, Fla. - Johnny Podres didn't have his stuff Thursday. The Milwaukee Braves found his offers as soft as the rain-soaked turf in Braves Field and pounded out six runs in the first two innings en route to an 8-2 Grapefruit League victory over the Dodgers.

    A downpour that dumped 4.9 inches of rain on Bradenton Wednesday made some spots in the outfield as mushy as a bowl of grits. But a warm morning sun and some fast work by the ground crew made the field playable and the show went on as scheduled before 3,024 fans.

    Despite all the trials and tribulations, I don't believe there is enough evidence that we can conclude with 100% certainty that the March 13, 1958 date is correct. You see, the Dodgers and the Braves played one game in Bradenton the following spring. As such, it is possible that the photo was taken on March 23, 1959. The Dodgers won, 10-6. Gilliam, in fact, went 3-for-5 in that game whereas he didn't play in the 1958 match between the Dodgers and Braves. (According to the box score, Aaron went 0-for-1 with a RBI in the 1958 game but wasn't mentioned in Dad's article about the 1959 contest and no box score accompanies the write-up.)

    I can hear a reader or two bellowing, "How can it be 1959? The Dodgers' road jerseys had red numerals on the front." That is correct. The Dodgers added the numbers in 1959 but, as RevHalofan asked, "Any chance that the Red Uniform numbers on the Dodger jerseys were added at the commencement of the actual 1959 season and that the Spring Training uniforms were from the previous year?"

    The short answer is "yes." It was customary practice in those days for teams to wear the previous year's uniforms during spring training. In fact, there is a photo of my Dad talking to Ron Fairly wearing a 1958 road jersey that appeared in the newspaper on March 2, 1959. These uniforms were then handed down to the minor leaguers and used in subsequent seasons.

    If forced to pick one date or the other, I would choose March 13, 1958. Dad, unfortunately, only wrote the following on the cardboard frame of the slide (which the photo was reproduced from): "Hank Aaron - Jim Gilliam." No date or place.

    Great job everyone. Kudos for some great sleuthing. I hope you enjoyed this project as much as I did.

    * * * * *

    Here is a bonus special of Hank Aaron taking batting practice, circa 1958-1960. However, in this instance, Aaron is in his road grays and the background clearly indicates that the location is Holman Stadium in Vero Beach.

    Hank Aaron Batting Practice.jpg

    Check out Hammerin' Hank's batting form. This is great proof of Aaron hitting off his front foot--a style he made famous--with his back foot off the ground at impact.

    Note: All photos are copyrighted and intended solely for the private use of Baseball Analysts. Any reproduction, re-creation, download or use of the photos or content herein without the express written consent of Rich Lederer is prohibited.

    Baseball BeatAugust 18, 2006
    Foto Friday
    By Rich Lederer

    Three weeks ago, I posted A Mystery Solved, which included a photo of my older brother and me at Dodger Stadium. With the help of Retrosheet, I was able to identify the date (July 29, 1962) due to the information on the scoreboard in the background.

    Baseball Toaster's Ken Arneson was inspired by the above project to start a mystery photo contest on his Humbug Journal. Ken found a bunch of baseball photos in a barrel in a "Recycle Store" while on vacation and has used four of them thus far. Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter, Bob Timmermann of The Griddle, a reader by the name of DXMachina, and several others have regularly participated in researching each of the photos to determine the date, the players, and even the actual play. Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts even contributed mystery photo #5.

    The subjects in the photo below are well known and easily recognizable. Name the players, the year, and the location. If you can pinpoint the actual month and day, that would be herculean. Enjoy! (Photo credit goes to my Dad.)

    Designated HitterAugust 17, 2006
    Pete's Sake
    By Jamey Newberg

    Seven years ago, our family roster was a lot different. We had no kids yet. Grandma Flo was still around, as was Uncle Bernie. So was Pete.

    The Rangers were coming off two playoff seasons in three years, and were 10 weeks away from making it three of four. Pudge and Juando and Raffy and Aaron Sele were the heart of that 1999 team, Rusty and Mark McLemore and John Wetteland its soul.

    And now all seven of them are gone, each in a different place.

    Sort of.

    Not really.

    They're not really gone.

    Right now, that's how I feel about my father-in-law. He's gone. But not really.

    Pete passed away a couple weeks ago, following a courageous, challenging battle with cancer. He died peacefully, with his daughters at his side. He spent his final days with his children and his grandchildren, the equivalent for Pete, whose love of baseball was certainly strong enough to earn my admiration very early on, of a sellout crowd.

    I'd known Pete for 16 years. In that time, he redefined himself (though I knew him only one way) with the type of courage, character, and heart that his Astros showed last summer, when they defied the odds and reached the playoffs. Last fall brought the franchise's first World Series, and Pete's, too. Days after his first cancer surgery, he was in the ballpark, experiencing the Fall Classic at Minute Maid Park. I'm no Astros fan, but you would have never guessed that last October, judging by the number of playoff emails Pete and I traded, sometimes pitch-by-pitch.

    Before long, Craig Biggio will be gone, as will Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell.

    Sort of.

    But not really.

    Pete would have congratulated me on the Carlos Lee trade, less because he liked it for Texas than because it got Lee out of the NL Central. And he'd have brushed off the impact of Francisco Cordero joining the Brewers pen with a comment about how Lance and Aubrey will eat Coco up.

    There were the intermittent jabs about Jerry and Jimmy and the "Cowgirls," and an occasional discussion about Willie or Buffett or Clapton or Cash, or some new food preparation he was particularly proud of, but it usually came back to baseball. We had lots and lots of baseball talks. Not the surface, water-cooler kind, but philosophy and critique and debates that would have made you think we were talking politics or religion . . . which, to my way of thinking, we sorta were.

    Among the things that struck me most about Pete was not only the strength and character of his friends, formidable to be sure, but more so the strength and character of Pete's friendships. It's inspirational, and maybe the most important lesson he leaves behind, at least for me.

    I already miss Pete, but there's a level of comfort in knowing his discomfort has passed.

    And I take additional comfort in the fact, one that I'm completely certain of, that while this baseball analogy is clunky and forced, maybe even crass, I know a few people will understand, and maybe even appreciate it. Pete is one of them.

    It will be Pete's and my corny, awkward, clichéd baseball exchange to share. It's not the first, and I don't think it will be the last. He may be pushing a new crawfish recipe on Cash, or working the Times crossword with J.R. Richard, but whenever there's a big baseball moment, in Arlington or Houston, I know he's dropping everything, and getting ready to weigh in.

    Jamey Newberg, author of as well as seven annual Bound Editions of the Newberg Report, is a lawyer at the Dallas firm of Vial, Hamilton, Koch & Knox, maintaining a practice specializing in general civil litigation, school law, sports law, and insurance coverage. He earned his undergraduate degree, his law degree, and two "Thanks, but no thanks" pats on the back from Coach Gus after trying to walk onto the University of Texas baseball team in 1987 and 1989.

    WTNYAugust 15, 2006
    NL Rookie Countdown
    By Bryan Smith

    Major League Baseball should be amped up for a huge September, a month promising as much drama as any year in recent memory. The American League seems as deep as ever, with some heated battles for the AL Wild Card, and a less exciting race in the AL West. In the National League, all teams are all fighting for spots behind the Mets.

    In some ways, more intriguing than the races this September will be to see which rookie jumps forward with a big season's end. Perhaps the deepest rookie crop in history, there has been evidence of a Major League youth movement all over the Majors - from Miami to Los Angeles.

    With the year counting down, and September about to crown a champion, I wanted to give a primer of each league's Rookie of the Year race before anyone separates himself. We start today with the National League, and my countdown of the best NL rookies of 2006 ...

    10. Cole Hamels

    Where He Was Last Year: My #49 prospect entering the season, Hamels' injury-riddled 2005 saw questions begin to crop up about his health problems. Hamels hadn't stayed off the DL for a long period of time since high school, and even his own frustrations were beginning to show - an early season bar-fight accident angered the organization. Still, when on the mound, Hamels showed potential of what he had in his first minor league season. The makings of a big ceiling were there, but so was a lot of risk.

    How He Is This Year: Hamels began the season on time, and flew through the minor leagues when no stop posed a problem. Glorified on the internet, Hamels was not an instant success, but has performed admirably (4.50 ERA) in his rookie season. I love his peripheral numbers - which include 74 hits and 96 strikeouts in 84 innings - and Hamels has the ability to dominate that few players do at his age. He won't be winning any trophies this season, but Hamels is a good long-term bet to become an ace.

    9. Takashi Saito

    Where He Was Last Year: Not on American soil. Saito, 36, came over from Japan in the winter, when the top 1992 draft pick enjoyed a lackluster career. Saito had a big season in 2001, when he posted a 1.67 ERA, but the hinges appeared to come off after a bad 2004. Saito's signing took quite a bit of foresight from a scouting department emerging as baseball's best.

    Where He Is This Year: With Gagne hurt, Saito has been fantastic in the late-inning role. An unsung hero from the most recent Sunday night win, Saito looked fantastic in his one inning of relief. As would be no surprise for a Japanese pitcher, Saito is best when throwing his breaking ball for strikes in fastball counts. Saito has had a good year, but remember, voters have an anti-aging bias when it comes to "rookies."

    8. Scott Olsen

    Where He Was Last Year: Things may have looked bad a year ago, when Olsen posted his highest ERA ever - a 3.92 showing in AA, but such was not the case. As I pointed out when ranking Olsen as the game's #20 prospect, the southpaw's rise in ERA came with large improvements in both the walk and strikeout categories. A bit 2006 was in the cards.

    Where He Is This Year: Olsen hasn't been fantastic with the Marlins this season, but he's been consistently very good. The problem with Olsen, and many members of the Florida staff, will be finding a way to harness his great stuff and cut down on the walk total. While Olsen's home run mark is down again this season, he'll never turn the big corner until he learns to hit the ball where he wants.

    7. Russ Martin

    Where He Was Last Year: Not far removed from a conversion to behind the plate, Martin took to the position last year, following up on an awe-inspiring Spring Training. Martin ranked as my #37 prospect, and I said he had the "best plate discipline in the minor leagues." We knew then what we have now - Martin has all the makings of a very solid, very consistent Major League catcher.

    Where He Is This Year: The Dodgers were cautious with much of their youth in the early season, allowing each player to start hitting the ball consistent in the Pacific Coast League. Martin was one of the first call-ups, and his presence made the team forget about Dioner Navarro's 2005 cup of coffee. With a walk-off home run on the national stage Sunday, Martin appears to be entering the upmost echelon of baseball catchers, a tier where only a few players alive currently reside.

    6. Matt Cain

    Where He Was Last Year: Something must have been wrong with Cain last season, who showed up in camp out of shape, and spent the season in AAA. Armed with newfound control problems, Cain was posting dangerously high walk and flyball numbers. Still, his stuff was great and his strikeout rate was high, and Cain was among my top pitching prospects, ranked as the minors' #8 prospect.

    Where He Is This Year: Teams take baby steps with young bodies, and the reins are still on Cain this season. Manager Alou's grip doesn't promise to lighten until Cain can add a bit of consistency to his game. While he's flashed double-digit strikeout, no-hitter type stuff, the problem remains his HR-happy fastball, with which he must further harness control.

    5. Ryan Zimmerman

    where He Was Last Year: In lecture halls 16 months ago, if you can believe it. While Zimmerman's bat was considered no sure thing entering the draft, it caught on quickly, and Zimmerman began to fly through the minors. Zimmerman's defense was advertised very highly, and his package of successful indicators led me to a #12 ranking of the National on my rookie list.

    Where He Is This Year: The problem with Zimmerman's bat was always in the power department - he could make contact just fine. This season his downfall, when compared to the other rookies, will be his inability to smash enough home runs to keep with the slugging percentages of the worlds Prince Fielders and Dan Ugglas. Zimmerman is a remarkable story, and you have to wonder where he would go if the 2005 draft was done all over again.

    4. Dan Uggla

    where He Was Last Year: ... Crickets ... The answer to this question is one that nobody knows - he wasn't that important. But exposed to the Rule 5 draft, Uggla found a perfect suitor in the Marlins, desperately looking for a Luis Castillo replacement. Uggla has been that and more in the Miami middle infield, flashing power that even his biggest supporters weren't aware of.

    Where He Is This Year: While he's fallen off some since a ridiculous start to the season, Uggla still has the best numbers of any rookie middle infielder this season. Hanley Ramirez might have generated most of the early-season press -- OK, ok, well ... all of it -- but Ramirez' recent drop-off has opened the doors for Uggla to show his true colors. I would sell his stock high if I lived in Miami, but that could be a tall order depending on the market.

    3. Prince Fielder

    where He Was Last Year: Hitting, of course, but in the minor leagues. Since his MVP season in the Midwest League, Fielder was a threat in any league he attended. At each stop, including the PCL last season, Fielder showed power that was drawing 40-HR annually predictions. His play at first base was never lauded, but Fielder always seemed to get the better end on predictions than his father did. I was always a believer, and made him my #4 prospect.

    Where He Is This Year: Fielder has been fantastic this season, putting himself in sight of 30 HR by season's end. The Brewers were simply able to trade Carlos Lee at the deadline because of Fielder's resurgence. The Brewers infield defense hasn't been good this season, but as Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall continue to make improvements, so will Fielder. Not only is he the best front-to-back rookie in the NL, he's even more of a future star than we thought.

    2. Andre Ethier

    where He Was Last Year: Even since Ethier starred at Arizona State, he was the profile of a 4th outfielder. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, but none of them particularly well. Capable of hitting enough for a full-time spot, but not enough power for a spot in a corner. However, last year everything seemed to click, and Ethier exctied Logan White. The Milton Bradley-for-Ethier trade looked pretty bad 1-2 months in, but now the Dodgers have managed to flip the script.

    Where He Is This Year: Fantastic. Not yet eligible for the National League batting race, Ethier would now be in first place, a legitimate number. The Dodgers didn't seem to like Ethier as much as some of their homegrown options early in the season, but Ethier's wide-ranging skillset grew on the Dodgers. Now, after they found another way to acquire Maddux, the Dodgers seem committed to not move Ethier.

    1. Josh Johnson

    where He Was Last Year: Not ranked in my prospect list, and to be honest, Johnson wasn't particularly close. He had a good 2005 season, and some wondered if he had turned a corner, but I wasn't willing to jump on the bandwagon. Johnson's hit ratio was just too high to support a K/9 that never touched 9, and a walk ratio that was at 3.78 per nine in 2004. I didn't like Johnson.

    Where He Is This Year: I was wrong. Strikeouts aren't always the answer, as apparently, Johnson's minor league 7.30 mark was enough for the Major Leagues. If the season ended today, Johnson would lead the NL in ERA, making him a shoo-in for the National League Rookie of the Year. With that in mind, it's his award to lose, and if I was a gambling man, I'd say his most likely competitors are: Prince Fielder, Dan Uggla, Russ Martin. But before one of the hitters emerge from the scramble, Johnson will have to start pitching badly, an occurrence yet to happen in 25 games this season.

    And, of course, as I always urge: please use the comments to give me your own National League rookie list.

    Baseball BeatAugust 14, 2006
    The Weekend in Review
    By Rich Lederer

    By sweeping the Detroit Tigers this weekend, the Chicago White Sox have started a new dance in the AL Central. It's called the Tighten Up. Without any help from Archie Bell and the Drells, the Pale Hose have closed the gap to 5 1/2 games. The Sox and Tigers meet up for a four-game series in Detroit next week and three more in Chicago next month.

    The Tigers appear to have the scheduling advantage, with 25 of their remaining 45 games at home (including the final six). The White Sox will be on the road for 25 out of 46 games down the stretch (including the last half dozen).

    The Minnesota Twins can still make some noise in the division, with nine games against the White Sox (including six of the next 12 plus the final weekend of the season) and four vs. the Tigers. Passing both teams--especially without Francisco Liriano--will be difficult but not impossible. Outside of these 13 contests, the key for the Twins may be a ten-game road trip in September that takes them to Cleveland, Boston, and Baltimore.

    MIN and DET have the two best bullpens in the league. In the meantime, division rival CLE has gone from the best set of relievers in 2005 to arguably the worst in 2006. The Indians have the fewest saves in the majors (16) and all but one were recorded by Bob Wickman, who is no longer with the team.

    While on the subject of AL Central bullpens, how about rookie reliever Pat Neshek of the Twins? Here is his pitching line from 2006:

     G    IP   H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO  W L  Sv    K/9  K/BB  WHIP   ERA 
    13  19.2   6   2   2   2   3  29  1-0   0  13.27  9.67  0.46  0.92 

    Check out that strikeout-to-hit ratio. Neshek has whiffed nearly five batters for every hit allowed. At the risk of small sample sizes, let's review how he performed earlier this season in the minors when pitching for the Rochester Red Wings in the International League (AAA):

     G    IP   H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO  W L  Sv    K/9  K/BB  WHIP   ERA 
    33  60.0  41  13  13   7  14  87  6-2  14  13.05  6.21  0.92  1.95  

    Still not convinced? OK, here is Neshek's cumulative MiLB totals prior to this year:

      G    IP     H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO  W L   Sv    K/9  K/BB  WHIP   ERA 
    173  234.2  181  69  58  17  67  280 16-12  68  10.76  4.18  1.06  2.23

    To learn more about Pat, feel free to visit his personal website.

    * * * * *

    With six straight wins, the Cleveland Indians have the longest current undefeated streak in baseball. The Tribe is 53-64 despite scoring 60 more runs than allowed. The team's Pythagorean record is the inverse of its actual mark.

    Travis Hafner hit his sixth grand slam of the year on Sunday to tie Don Mattingly's single-season record set in 1987. Hafner now has 35 HR and 104 RBI on the campaign.

    Staked to an 11-0 lead in the top of the first, Jeremy Sowers went out and pitched six scoreless innings to win his fourth game of the year. The southpaw hurled back-to-back shutouts in late July and has allowed only five earned runs in his last 36 innings of work.

    Andy Marte went 0-for-3 and is now 4-for-36 (.111) on the season and 12-for-90 (.133) with no home runs for his career. He won't turn 23 until October so it is premature to write him off at this point. However, it's not too early to wonder if he will ever become the impact player so many have predicted the past few years.

    * * * * *

    The Big OC took a bite out of the Big Apple again. By capturing two of the first three games of the series, the Angels improved to 4-2 against the Yankees this year and 53-50 since 1996. The Halos are the only team to have a winning record over New York during the Joe Torre era.

    After three consecutive no decisions, Jered Weaver got back on track on Sunday. He beat the Yankees to go 8-0 on the season and 6-0 on the road. Jered struck out eight batters in six innings and recorded seven outs on the ground (including two double plays) and three in the air. The rookie right-hander K'd Alex Rodriguez twice and got him to hit into a DP to close out the sixth. After falling behind A-Rod 3-0 in the first, Weaver came back and whiffed him by mixing in an off-speed slider between two heaters.

    Weaver handled Johnny Damon with ease as well, striking him out on a running fastball in the first and a nasty fastball that had the action of a two-seamer in the fifth. If there was a negative, it was the fact that Jered threw too many pitches--taking the count to 3 & 2 on eight of the first 11 hitters. But he battled all game and made the big pitches when the situation called for it. The only mistake that cost him was a sidearm fastball that Craig Wilson deposited over the left-field fence in the fifth. It was the first and only time in the game Jered imitated his brother Jeff with that lower arm angle.

    Although Weaver hasn't thrown enough innings to be listed among the leaders, his 2.14 ERA is 0.05 better than Liriano's MLB-best mark. He also has a WHIP of less than 1.00 (0.97) and a BAA under .200 (.195).

    You can check out what Alex Belth, who watched from the press box, had to say about Weaver in his outstanding play-by-play recap of the game at Bronx Banter.

    * * * * *

    Much to the pleasure of Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, Greg Maddux has pitched in August like he did in April. His performance Sunday night was nothing less than vintage Maddux. He held the Giants scoreless for eight innings, throwing only 68 pitches (including 50 for strikes). Yes, the four-time Cy Young Award winner averaged just 8 1/2 pitches per inning. He allowed two hits and no walks while retiring the last 22 batters in a row.

    Maddux, unfortunately, didn't get the win as he left the ballgame after eight innings with the score 0-0. Opposing starter Jason Schmidt didn't pitch too poorly himself, shutting out the Dodgers for eight frames as well. Los Angeles has won all three of Maddux's starts and his pitching line as a Dodger now reads 20 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, and 9 SO. He has thrown only 221 pitches or just over 11 per inning.

    For more on Greg Maddux and the Dodgers, be sure to visit Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts on a regular basis.

    * * * * *

    Trivia Question: What was the name of Archie Bell's more famous brother?

    Baseball BeatAugust 12, 2006
    Who's Hot, Who's Not
    By Rich Lederer

    We're all too familiar with the players who start the season hot or cold. Chris Shelton, anyone? How hitters and pitchers perform in April is tantamount to swimming in a fishbowl. Everything they do is highly visible.

    By comparison, we sometimes fail to recognize the extent of how well or poorly a player is doing during one-month stretches in the middle of the season. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to check out the hottest and coldest hitters and pitchers since the All-Star break.

    Most teams have played about 26 games since Michael Young stroked a two-out, two-run triple in the ninth to lead the American League to a 3-2 victory over the National League in the All-Star bonanza. Using the MLB standard of 3.1 plate appearances per game, I chose 80 as the qualifier in determining Who's Hot and Who's Not.

    Here are the top ten hottest players, as ranked by OPS:

      PLAYER           TEAM AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB  AVG  OBP  SLG   OPS 
    1 Lance Berkman    Hou  65 17 24  4  0  7  19 18 .369 .512 .754 1.266 
    2 Ryan Howard      Phi  97 18 33  6  0 11  31 30 .340 .500 .742 1.242 
    3 Alfonso Soriano  Was  95 23 34  9  2  9  17 15 .358 .461 .779 1.240 
    4 Troy Glaus       Tor  85 22 30  4  0  8  26 20 .353 .477 .682 1.159 
    5 Aramis Ramirez   ChC  97 21 32  5  1 11  27 12 .330 .407 .742 1.149 
    6 Adam LaRoche     Atl  79 18 26  5  0 10  22  5 .329 .364 .772 1.136 
    7 Brian McCann     Atl  83 14 31  5  0  8  23  6 .373 .411 .723 1.134 
    8 Luke Scott       Hou  75 10 31  8  1  3  11  7 .413 .463 .667 1.130 
    9 David Ortiz      Bos 106 21 34  7  1 10  23 20 .321 .433 .689 1.122 
    10 Manny Ramirez   Bos 105 19 40  8  0  8  28 14 .381 .435 .686 1.121 

    Question: Is Lance Berkman the most underrated great player in the game today? The product of Rice University has a career batting average over .300 (.304), on-base percentage above .400 (.417), and a slugging average in excess of .500 (.565). He is younger than David Ortiz, yet has more hits (1070 to 1002) and walks (657 to 499) than Big Papi and almost the same number of home runs (211 to 218) in fewer AB (3516 to 3541).

    Ryan Howard is leading the NL in HR this season and is tied with Aramis Ramirez since the ASG. Howard is also sitting atop the majors in BB during the second half. Furthermore, the Phantastic Phillie is leading the league during this period in RBI and is tied for first in MLB with...drumroll, please...Mark DeRosa. Yes, the latter has 31 ribbies while hitting .336 and slugging .636 during the past month. We hear a lot about the versatility of guys like Chone Figgins and Ryan Freel but how about DeRosa? The 31-year-old utilityman has played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF for the Texas Rangers this year.

    While on the subject of relative unknowns, what's up with Luke Scott (.413/.463/.667)? The 28-year-old outfielder had a total of 80 AB going into this season with a batting average of .188 and no HR. Since becoming a regular on July 22, Scott has had two four-hit and seven two-hit games. He has also flexed his muscles by going yard three times in the past dozen contests.

    Here are the top ten coldest players:

      PLAYER           TEAM AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS 
    1 Jonny Gomes      TB   81  8  7  1  0  2   4 11 .086 .194 .173 .366 
    2 David Eckstein   StL 113 12 26  0  0  0   2  4 .230 .269 .230 .499 
    3 Ramon Hernandez  Bal  72  6 14  3  0  0   5  9 .194 .289 .236 .525 
    4 Joey Gathright   KC   74  9 15  1  2  0   6  7 .203 .282 .270 .553 
    5 Brad Ausmus      Hou  78  7 17  2  0  1  11  6 .218 .274 .282 .556 
    6 Cesar Izturis    ChC  82  5 17  5  0  1   7  7 .207 .286 .305 .591 
    7 Chone Figgins    LAA 103 11 25  4  0  0   6 12 .243 .322 .282 .603 
    8 Eric Chavez      Oak  78  9 16  4  0  1   4 12 .205 .311 .295 .606 
    9 Mike Lowell      Bos  88 11 18  6  0  2   9  7 .205 .265 .341 .606 
    10 Jorge Cantu     TB   97 10 20  2  1  3  14  9 .206 .274 .340 .614 

    Jonny Gomes has reminded fantasy owners what it was like to own high-tech stocks in 2001 and 2002. Last year's shining star has all but crashed and burned since the All-Star break. Jonny's troubles may simply be related to a strained rotator cuff ligament in his right shoulder (which could require off-season surgery), but it is interesting to note that his BB rate is higher this year than last and his HR and SO rates are essentially the same. Well, by definition, that means his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in 2006 (.249) is substantially below 2005 (.360). Luck or skill? You take your pick.

    Teammate Jorge Cantu has also tanked this year. His 2005 season (.286 with 28 HR and 117 RBI) is beginning to look like a fluke. OK, it was a fluke. Lesson: don't get too enamored with RBI and be wary of players who have a low BB rate coupled with a less than outstanding minor league record.

    David Eckstein has ZERO extra-base hits in the second half. Yes, his .230 batting and slugging averages are one and the same. But do not despair Cardinals fans, the X-Man has drawn four walks in 113 AB. As such, his OBP is a robust .269. Let's not forget, those gritty, hustling, over-achieving types are fun to watch but they still need to produce to be effective.

    Jason Tyner has one XBH this year. He is batting .294 with a slugging average of .303. Hard to believe in this day and age but Tyner has yet to hit a home run in 943 career at-bats. Given the fact that he doesn't walk too often (.047 BB/PA), the guy is pretty much worthless offensively.

    Catchers Ramon Hernandez and Brad Ausmus have hit the skids after strong starts. Hernandez and Ausmus were hitting .286 and .298, respectively, at the end of May with the former having slugged eight HR during the first two months.

    Shea Hillenbrand has not walked in 74 at-bats since the All-Star break. Prior to this year, Hillenbrand had averaged 555 AB and only 22 BB in his five big league seasons. The well-traveled 3B-turned-DH-and-1B can hit but he also makes lots of outs.

    * * * * *

    With respect to pitchers, I'm using one inning per game (or 26 IP) as the qualifier.

    Here are the ten hottest hurlers since the All-Star game, as determined by ERA:

      PLAYER             TEAM   IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO  W L   ERA 
    1 Joe Saunders       LAA  27.0  18  7   5  10  18  4 0  1.67 
    2 Roger Clemens      Hou  38.0  31  9   8   6  35  3 2  1.89
    3 Jeff Francis       Col  44.1  35 13  10  11  25  3 2  2.03  
    4 Ricky Nolasco      Fla  30.0  23  9   7   8  20  4 1  2.10 
    5 Chad Billingsley   LA   34.0  28  9   8  26  24  3 1  2.12 
    6 Felix Hernandez    Sea  32.2  24  8   8  16  24  2 1  2.20 
    7 Jeremy Sowers      Cle  37.0  34 11  10   4  15  2 1  2.43
    8 Chien-Ming Wang    NYY  35.0  30 10  10  10   7  4 0  2.57  
    9 Erik Bedard        Bal  33.1  28 11  10  10  31  2 2  2.70 
    10 Justin Verlander  Det  29.2  35 10   9   5  27  4 1  2.73 

    Joe Saunders has won his first four starts in 2006, never allowing more than two earned runs in any game while lasting seven innings three times and six innings in his most recent outing vs. the Yankees at The Stadium (as they say in New York). For those readers who may not be familiar with Saunders, he is Jeremy Sowers without the pinpoint control. The latter tossed back-to-back shutouts against the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners last month. With a strikeout rate of just 3.76 per 9 IP, Sowers will need to keep the ball down and in the ballpark if he is to succeed beyond this year.

    Speaking of youngsters, take a second look at the pitchers in the table above. All but Roger Clemens are in their early- to mid-20s. While not quite the same pitcher as the one we saw last year, Felix Hernandez, the baby of 'em all, is once again limiting opponents to about two runs per nine innings. His walk and strikeout rates aren't where you'd like them to be but King Felix should be just fine longer term.

    Chad Billingsley is getting better results than he deserves in the early going. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) this year is 5.65 vs. an actual ERA of 3.52. Billingsley has been living on the edge in the second half, walking 26 while striking out 24 in 34 innings of work. He has the stuff but needs to exhibit better command in order to become the pitcher prospect analysts have been forecasting now for a couple of years.

    Chien-Ming Wang is the talk of the Bronx but with only seven Ks in his last 35 innings, one can't help but wonder how the groundball pitcher will fare with an infield of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Jason Giambi behind him. I think what we've seen the past month is about as good as it's going to get. Don't get me wrong, Wang can still be an effective pitcher as long as he keeps the ball in the yard. However, I will be surprised if the sinkerballer ever becomes an elite pitcher.

    Despite getting knocked around by the White Sox on Friday night, Justin Verlander has been a stud all year long. Including his most recent outing, the fireballer is 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA since the ASG. It will be interesting to see how the rookie from Old Dominion, who missed his previous start with what was termed as a "fatigued shoulder," fares down the stretch.

    What can be said about Clemens that hasn't already been said? Not much. The guy is the best pitcher of his era for sure and maybe the best ever. Enjoy watching him while you can.

    Here are the ten coldest pitchers:

      PLAYER             TEAM   IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO  W L   ERA 
    1 Runelvys Hernandez KC   27.0  34 28  27  17  13  1 3  9.00 
    2 Mark Buehrle       CWS  28.0  36 28  27   8  13  0 4  8.68
    3 Jamie Moyer        Sea  26.1  40 24  23  10  14  1 2  7.86 
    4 Gil Meche          Sea  27.1  37 30  23  18  24  1 3  7.57 
    5 Jason Marquis      StL  33.1  50 28  25  11  15  1 4  6.75 
    6 Tim Hudson         Atl  33.0  44 26  24  13  22  3 2  6.55 
    7 Matt Morris        SF   32.1  38 24  23   8  15  1 3  6.40 
    8 Esteban Loaiza     Oak  31.0  47 25  22  11  23  2 2  6.39 
    9 Dave Bush          Mil  26.0  29 20  18   5  17  3 1  6.23 
    10 Mark Redman       KC   32.2  43 23  22  16  18  1 2  6.06 

    Kenny Rogers missed qualifying by a few innings but would have placed between Mark Buehrle and Jamie Moyer. Three peas in a pod. Mark Redman fits into that camp, too. He has never been as successful as the other three but perhaps he serves as a reminder for who Rogers, Buehrle, and Moyer could become if they don't get their mojo back. Given his age, Buehrle is probably the best bet to return to form. However, to be successful, he will need to increase his strikeout rate to a more acceptable level. Whiffing fewer than four per nine innings means the southpaw is not missing enough bats to post a more Buehrle-like sub-4.00 ERA.

    Jason Marquis, WHIP it good! Fifty hits in 33 1/3 IP? Yikes! The reality is that Marquis isn't as good as his 12-10 record or as bad as his 5.82 ERA. The latter has been negatively affected by two games in which he gave up a total of 25 earned runs in 10 innings. Without those outings, Marquis' ERA would be 4.63.

    How are those Matt Morris and Esteban Loaiza contracts looking right about now? The Bay Area's economy has been aided by the arrival of these two pitchers but the fortunes of the Giants and A's are none the better.

    Chris Young (24.0-29-19-19-14-14, 1-1, 7.13) is also struggling of late. However, watching the tall right-hander isn't quite as painful as taking in a Mark Prior (22.2-19-19-17-18-16, 1-2, 6.75) game. More walks than strikeouts. Think something might be wrong with him? It would be a shame if Prior ended up being the modern day's coulda, shoulda, woulda pitcher.

    Note: All stats are through games of Friday, August 11.

    Designated HitterAugust 11, 2006
    The Shifting Swings of A-Rod and Andruw: Part 2
    By Jeff Albert

    I started posting these comparisons of Major League hitters on my blog, and they usually show how a player's swing has changed or how player A might be better off if he could swing like player B, but with the opportunity to write a guest article here, I wanted to take a different approach. Coincidentally, after JC Bradbury of Sabernomics kindly posted a link of my Jeff Francoeur analysis, he (Bradbury) emailed me a question about Andruw Jones. It became clear that Jones' adjustment affected his swing in a way contrary to what can be seen in A-Rod's, so now we can not only look at the impact of an adjustment on one player, but we can see how a general concept applies in a specific way to completely different hitters.

    Analyzing Andruw

    What happened to Andruw Jones after 2004?

    This article went straight to the source to find out:

    Thus, Andruw began widening his stance in September last year. It was a stance that had provided him much success in the Minors and one that he abandoned early in his career..."When I got to the big leagues, I wish that thing wouldn't have gotten in my mind to change my stance."

    With the widening of his stance, this was the new look at the beginning of Jones' swing:

    The result was a significant increase in power output, most notably an increase of 22 home runs, that produced the 2005 NL Home Run leader:

    Before you start thinking that all players will have similar success if they just widen their stances, we have to take a look at cause and effect. We have a cause (changed stance) and a result (more HRs, fewer Ks) and now we'll try to identify the effect of the changed stance on the swing.

    Here is a look at Jones' full swing:

    The clip shows a 2004 swing on the left and 2005 swing on the right, synchronized to contact. Each swing from its corresponding year is the same swing shown from different angles - front and side. The pitch is similar speed, similar location and the result is the same - home run to right-center. (I want to make a small editorial note, in that the side shot from 2004 appeared choppy, as it was missing some frames. The view from the front matched up well, so I added duplicate frames in the 2004 side view to fill in for the missing frames to match up to the front view. Each duplicate frame on the 2004 side view is noted with an asterisk* and there are no duplicate frames in the sections of the clip that will be used below.)

    The segment of A-Rod's swing that I stated to be the most significant was his move into footplant and the same holds true for Jones:

    Due the different camera in a different stadium, I left the number measurements off of this one. If you do want to see them, click here, but after spending time explaining what to look for in A-Rod's swing, seeing a difference becomes clearer here.

    First thing I thought when I saw the difference in Jones' stance was that he would have less lateral movement forward (weight shift) since his feet are spread out so much more to begin with. This does not appear to be the case, however, when looking at this video. The overall forward movement of the hips shown in the full swing above is actually very similar, as it is in the segment of his movement into footplant. Spreading his stance did not necessarily cut down Jones' lateral movement, but what it did do is allow him to use his hips much more effectively. If Jones' wider stance did not have much impact on his actual movement forward, how does it help him use his hips better?

    We see in the side view that his weight and upper body are distributed more toward his front leg which will provide a more stable base (as described in part 1). The description of spinning hips in part 1 also asserted that good movement into the front leg will help keep the front hip from "pulling off" (remember the pen example?). Judging by the stripe on his pant leg in the front view, this is the case for Jones. I do not imagine that Jones hit 22 more HRs because he had became significantly stronger over the off season, but he did figure out a way to get more out of what he already had. Strength is relatively useless if it is not applied through an efficient swing.

    We now have an idea about the new position he was in that enabled him to hit with more power, but there has to be a reason why his position in 2005 is better than 2004. This is another area where the front view is helpful because it shows Jones with a little more flex in the knees and more loading in the area of his hips and upper legs. If you want to get a feel for it, stand straight up with your feet directly under you. You can stand there all day because your muscles are basically doing nothing. Now spread your feet out and squat slightly and there will be much more tension created by active muscles that are now working to support your stance. When you do a squat in the gym, this is why it is much more difficult to get up from the bottom of the squat than it is to just stand straight up with the bar across your shoulders. It's the difference between your muscles being eccentrically stretched/loaded as opposed to doing nothing.

    So if A-Rod's weight shift and Jones' stance are the major visible changes in their swings, how is that related? The answer is in the effect the change has on their swings - how the change enables (or disables) them to maximize their swing efficiency. With A-Rod's more upright stance, a leg kick allows him to first load the hips and the weight shift is an indicator that his hips are being loaded until it is time to unload the swing. For Jones, a wider stance is what gets the hips loaded. This is the general effect we're trying to identify that is caused by individually specific adjustments which result in a more productive hitter.

    Slowing things down with video and making different comparisons can be very useful. Then again, the information is only as good as what you are able to do with it. Go tell A-Rod he needs to shift his hips 6 more units forward like he did in '05 and please record his response because I would love to hear it. I did not play in the big leagues, but I played enough to know that a hitter does not want to hear all that analysis much less think about it. To quote Manny Ramirez, "the more you think, the slower your bat gets." A hitter wants to hear something insanely simple like "spread your stance a little more" and then he will think about all of the home runs that it will help him hit.

    A coach does not have to avoid showing this type of video and analysis to a player, but the player just has to understand what is going on. Which cause will create what effect to produce what result? Things like weight shift, leg kick and stance can be merely cosmetic in that they are all things that can change - more like a band-aid than a cure. A band-aid is useless if it does not help heal the wound. The real significance for A-Rod's and Jones' adjustments has much less to do with how far they are moving forward or how wide their stance is and much more to do with how those things allow them to initiate the swing. A-Rod and Jones can change their stance, stride, or anything else they want as long as they are prepared to launch their swings like they did in 2005. Once this is established, the right phrase or thought can bridge the gap between graphic details and actual on-field adjustments that produce major league results.

    Jeff Albert is owner and operator of, which is a site dedicated to baseball training and analysis. The focus is not only to identify potential areas of improvement for players, but also to simplify sometimes detailed and complex concepts so the player can do less of the thinking and more of the doing. Jeff draws from his own experience of pursuing a professional playing career, as well as working with players ranging from Little League to elite college softball to minor league levels.

    Designated HitterAugust 10, 2006
    The Shifting Swings of A-Rod and Andruw: Part 1
    By Jeff Albert

    It might be different in New York, but from here in Atlanta, it seems as though the media criticism of Alex Rodriguez has tapered off. Apparently, all is well now that the Yankees have returned to their rightful position at the top of the AL East. So with everything that was said about A-Rod's not being able to handle the pressure and intense scrutiny, he should be fine now that he's just left alone to play, right? Although the degree of denigration may have cooled down, it appears as though his bat has still yet to heat up.

    While I do not doubt the increased pressures and expectations that come with playing in New York, I can not help but think that maybe something rather than mental struggles is plaguing A-Rod. Every major leaguer faces pressure every day - fighting for their jobs, living up to giant contracts, and of course winning games. Toss in the fact that A-Rod is just one year removed from an MVP season and there you have a number of reasons why I am quite skeptical that he all of a sudden had a mental collapse.

    Since I had not heard much detail about any kind of physical changes relating to A-Rod's swing, I put together an initial analysis where I was able to measure and actually quantify some changes from just a year ago. What I intend to do here is provide an excerpt from that video analysis in order to simply and narrow in on what appears to be the culprit to A-Rod's "off" season. Then, in part 2, we will take a contrasting look at Andruw Jones to see how he made the opposite adjustment, which turned him into the National League's home run champ in 2005.

    Analyzing A-Rod

    When a player has a big leg kick, weight shift, or any kind of exaggerated motion, those things are usually more difficult to maintain and changes are more easily noticeable. What I first noticed about A-Rod while watching on TV was a more pronounced lean backward on his follow-through and what appeared to be less of a weight shift forward. I have been watching A-Rod's swing a lot since he was in Texas and I will first show this shot of him just to provide a frame of reference. This shot was from spring training in Texas and I believe resulted in a HR:

    This is the link to the full shot of A-Rod in '05 and '06 if you wish to compare, but for the purposes of this article, let's move on to the significance of what can be seen in the comparison of his swing from 2005 to 2006.

    The most challenging part of doing this analysis is drawing conclusions and tying in the observations from the video to what implications they might have for a player on the field. Here is what I believe to be the most significant segment in the clip of A-Rod:

    To quickly summarize the video clip: left side is from 2005, right side is 2006. Both swings result in HRs that are hit off of fastballs. Both shots come from Yankee Stadium and the angle is virtually identical. The numbers highlighted in black are provided by the coordinates (think X,Y axis from math class) in my video program and measure the center of his hips (I used the belt loop to the right of center as a reference point).

    After measuring at the beginning and ending position, the video shows that the center of A-Rod's hips has moved 6 less units in 2006. Why is this important?

    In a picture, this is why:

    The difference is the position they get to at footplant, which is most commonly the time when a player "launches" his swing (bat begins significant move to the ball). Formerly, A-Rod had been able to use his weight shift to establish his weight against his front leg, preparing him to produce a more efficient and consistent swing. The actual rotation of his hips remains relatively unchanged, but the reduction of his weight shift in 2006 has allowed more of a spinning or opening type of hip rotation that is enabled since he has not moved himself into his solidly planted front leg as seen in 2005. In simplest terms, A-Rod's former weight shift established a more solid base for the swing. In theory, what this should translate to is more power and consistently from his '05 swing.

    Follow along with a quick example to illustrate the difference in hip rotation: with a pen on a piece of paper, mark the position of the pen's tip and also the center of the pen. Now place your finger on the center of the pen and spin it around so your pen is moving around in a circle. Return it to the original position, but this time place your finger almost all the way toward the tip. When you hold the pen here and turn it, the back end of the pen should turn up close to being in line with the original marking you made for the tip of the pen. You didn't change the way you held the pen, only the point from which it was rotated around. This is similar to what is happening in this clip of A-Rod.

    Here is what it looks like in the swing:

    I used the red lines to mark the starting position of the front hip on each side and measured again just after contact when the position of the hips could be clearly seen again. In 2005, A-Rod's hips end up in line with the original position of his front hip, whereas there is a clear space between the original and ending position (yellow line) of A-Rod's hips in 2006...kind of like the pen example.

    Usually in my articles I try to provide some kind of instructional value and make generalized comments based on the specific video examples. In this case, the 'spinning' rotation of A-Rod in 2006 would generally be characterized by symptoms of pulled ground balls produced by a player who looks like he is "pulling off the ball." On the contrary, a player who swings like the '05 A-Rod would typically have more ability to hit the ball with more power to all fields because he is able to rotate aggressively without pulling off the ball.

    With that in mind, I looked for some kind of insight into what was actually happening on the field. I was noticing that just about all of the video I have of A-Rods HRs this year shows him pulling the ball, so I decided to look at his spray charts from the past few years. Of course there are many factors that contribute to a player's production on the field, but I found these more than interesting:

    What jumped off the page to me was the difference in the spray of home runs. I count 14 of 26 (54%) from dead center to right field in 2005 versus 3 of 11 (27%) in 2006. If you go back and look at '04 when he also "struggled," the same thing happens - opposite field HRs disappear.

    A-Rod's spray chart from 2005 is the only one since he has been a Yankee to resemble the absolute shotgun spray of HRs he had been blasting in Texas:

    Is it the stadium? Is it the media? A-Rod might be the only one who can answer those questions. Dealing with a changing environment may be tough enough as it is, but it only gets tougher when you're trying to do it with a less effective swing. I can not bring myself to believe that A-Rod all of a sudden can't hang in NY or deal with his surroundings, especially coming off his best offensive season. What is much easier to believe is that his swing has slipped a bit, but with a few adjustments, he can get back to being his usual MVP self.

    Jeff Albert is owner and operator of, which is a site dedicated to baseball training and analysis. The focus is not only to identify potential areas of improvement for players, but also to simplify sometimes detailed and complex concepts so the player can do less of the thinking and more of the doing. Jeff draws from his own experience of pursuing a professional playing career, as well as working with players ranging from Little League to elite college softball to minor league levels.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYAugust 10, 2006
    2006 Story From the Systems: Surprises
    By Bryan Smith

    Hard to believe, but the minor league baseball season is narrowing down. The season has been full of every weird twist and turn that we have each year on the farm.

    For the next five Fridays, we'll attempt to look back on this season and find context for it all. We start with the season's largest surprises, beginning with the clubs in the American League...

    Kansas City - Quite simply, demotions are bad news for any rebuilding process. This season, my surprise story has been a pair of Major Leaguers spending time in the minor leagues: Mark Teahen and Zack Greinke. Teahen, the prize acquisition in the Carlos Beltran trade, was sent down to Omaha in early May sporting a .195/.241/.351 line. After torching the Pacific Coast League in just 79 at-bats, Teahen has been one of the AL's best hitters in June. Greinke's story is far more strange and doesn't offer a happy ending. After leaving during Spring Training citing personal problems, the pride of Kansas City has spent much of the season in Wichita, pitching inconsistently in a league where he was once the best prospect.

    Tampa Bay - The easiest pick of the group, and the strangest story of the season: the Durham Bulls. Take your prized D-Rays prospect, and take your pick. Delmon Young? Forget the lack of power, Delmon missed 50 games for his infamous thrown bat. B.J. Upton? The good boy of the Durham clan had a DUI after the Bulls were shut out in a doubleheader against Buffalo. Elijah Dukes? Ejected and suspended multiple times, Dukes is now at home in Florida, contemplating giving up baseball. This, of course, came months after Dukes showed signs of being the best of the group. You can bet make-up has suddenly become an important aspect of the D-Rays scouting staff's requirements.

    Cleveland - Simply put, no system has had a jump in 2006 like the Indians, thanks to three equally surprising breakouts. While Andy Marte was brought in during the off season to be the future at the hot corner, Kevin Kouzmanoff has made things interesting. After nearly hitting .400 in the Eastern League, Kouzmanoff has continued to flourish since replacing Marte in the Buffalo lineup. Next spring's position battle promises to be one of the year's best. Brian Barton is the ultimate draft day faux pas story, and looking more and more like a legit prospect with each swing in AA. Finally, Chuck Lofgren went from the athletic southpaw with an intriguing upside to a polished pitching prospect worth the Indians delicate touch.

    Baltimore - Since Jeffrey Maier, it appears bad news is a staple of this organization. While things appear dismal on the Major League front, the farm system does appear to be making baby steps towards mediocrity. While both Radhames Liz and Brandon Erbe would make good choices for this column, it always seems that with a little good news comes bad news for the Orioles. Brandon Snyder looked great in his pro debut last summer, immediately validating his selection in the first round. The wheels came off quickly this year, and Snyder has yet to make a pit stop. In Low-A, injuries and ineffectiveness led to Snyder playing just 38 games before a demotion, where his season line reads .194/.237/.340. While the New York-Penn League should have offered a vast improvement, Snyder's struggles have not subsided, and the catcher sports a poor .606 OPS.

    Seattle - Chris Snelling spends much of the season on the DL? Old news. Aggressive promoting all through the system? A Bavasi staple. And while most of his pushed players have struggled at the higher levels, the Mariners are looking like geniuses for putting Mark Lowe in the bullpen. Once a middle-of-the-road starting prospect, Lowe has been the Mariners own K-Rod/Gagne story of the season, not allowing a run in his first 11 games. Seattle won't be able to tell the Lowe story in the playoffs, but his unsung season is a remarkable story.

    Texas - It wasn't long ago that the DVD trio was supposed to be the Rangers saving grace, the pitching that had been lacking in Arlington for a decade. Suddenly, things don't appear so easy. Thomas Diamond, once poised and filthy off the bump, has 68 walks in 107.2 innings at AA. John Danks has continued to be inconsistent as can be, allowing a few too many hits and runs to be an elite pitcher. Surprisingly, Edinson Volquez has been the best of the bunch, but he too comes with control problems: 72 in 120.2 innings. Considered three future anchors six months ago, it would no longer be too shocking if DVD represented half of the Rangers future bullpen.

    Los Angeles - Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, even Nick Adenhart, they aren't surprises. These names are tributes to the Angels scouting department, yes, but their 2006 successes come as a small surprise. The one player to turn the most heads, however, has been Jose Arredondo, just 2 years removed from donning a helmet and wood bat. Probably the Cal League's best pitcher before his promotion, Arredondo dominated in one of the minors most difficult environments for pitchers. Arrendondo has struggled in AA, and is raw enough to still have the PROJECT label across his forehead, but for the first time in awhile, the right-hander is beginning to look more like a pitcher than a thrower.

    Toronto - While the Blue Jays lack of development in the pitching category is a story of itself, Toronto's big surprise is Adam Lind, who has added something to a faceless system. While Toronto's risk-averse drafting has yielded little dividends in recent years (read: Russ Adams, Aaron Hill), Lind provides validation for the pure college hitter. After flashing polish and gap power in the Florida State League a year ago, Lind added strength in the winter, and now many of his long balls are clearing the fence. Lind is now the clear-cut top prospect in the organization, but no one else has advanced like he has in 2006.

    Oakland - Another organization often deemed risk-averse, the A's big story could be the poor full season debuts of their prep pitching trio. But the happier story, the more surprising story, has been Jason Windsor's catapult through the system. The former over-worked Titan CWS MVP has been gangbusters this season, offering enough control and a good enough fastball to get out players consistently in both AA and AAA. While his Major League debut wasn't so hot, Windsor's 11-0 record at AAA speaks for itself. We're a long way from Billy Beane complaining about his collegiate usage habits at this point.

    Boston - Opposite from Oakland, the Red Sox season's success story stems from their young pitching draftees. Normally a college-heavy organization, the Red Sox went out on a ledge drafting Clay Buchholz (JC boy) and Michael Bowden (HS right-hander) last season. However, neither player has missed a beat in the South Atlantic League this season, making up for the system's loss of the Jons, Papelbon and Lester. I maintain my preference for Bowden as the better prospect, but with near identical peripherals, it's hard to tell at this point. If not these two, recent draftee Bryce Cox makes for quite the story, as closing in Wilmington is a long way from the back end of Rice's bullpen.

    Minnesota - Doubt Mike Radcliffe, and this is what you get. While Matt Garza was not a sexy first round choice 14 months ago, the Fresno State ace would be a top ten pick if the draft were re-held today. With Francisco Liriano out indefinitely, Garza is in the Major Leagues, a long way from his original Fort Myers assignment. However, Garza proved able in each stop between Florida and Minnesota, even dominating in five AAA starts before his call-up. Garza is one of a huge group of pitching success stories for the Twins: Pat Neshek the other feel-good story of the season. Now we're all but waiting for Eduardo Morlan to become elite, seemingly the next Twin in the pecking order.

    Chicago - A no-doubter: Josh Fields. What looked like a stretch on draft day looked even worse last season, as Fields couldn't help drawing comparisons to Drew Henson with his long, contact-averse swing. However things clicked for Fields in the winter, and he's been one of the best hitters in the International League in 2006. Problem for Fields is that Joe Crede has been just as good in the Majors, making his .315/.389/.526 line look only moderately appealing. Most shocking, Fields has still not really sunk his teeth into a new position, as Scott Podsednik's seemingly-forthcoming exit would usually open a hole for a hitter of Fields' caliber.

    New York - Plain and simple, a 17-year-old in full season baseball is a unique sighting. One of three in the Sally League this season, Jose Tabata has looked like the best and most consistent in 2006. The Yankees newest elite prospect wasn't fantastic, but his near-.800 OPS has convinced many people that he's the future in the Yankee Stadium outfield. Still a long way from the Majors, things get ugly when one thinks about what the NYC hype machine could do to a great story like Tabata. So, for the hope of avoiding that, I nominate J.B. Cox as the season's success story.

    Detroit - Flame-throwing is now synonymous witht he Tigers, as Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander are a pair of the best stories from the Major League season. If we look to find a continuation of this in the minors, it's easy, as the arrival of both Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Miller have made minor league headlines this season. Sanchez' arrival is one of refinement, going from a projected reliever to a key September arm for Detroit in their Cinderella season. Miller will also be making a cup of coffee, as his Major League contract stipulates so. After landing Cameron Maybin in 2005, the Tigers landed a bigger heist on draft day 2006, finding consensus top prospect Andrew Miller in the six-hole.

    WTNYAugust 09, 2006
    Swings and MIsses
    By Bryan Smith

    October is the month of baseball memories, June the month of swoons, when the long season begins to take notice. July is the month of trading, March the month of spring. And January, in baseball, is the month of predictions.

    I haven't been able to write a mid-season review of my sleepers this season (perhaps my first prediction), so today we'll break down each player seven months removed from their praises. I definitely haven't achieved the success rate I had last year (which was probably an anomaly), but inevitably, a few have indeed proven to be worth a higher value than they were a year ago. The players:

  • Reid Brignac (TB/AA/SS): My best success, Brignac is now a highly-valued middle infield prospect. While the Cal League surely boosted his numbers, Brignac has good power and will hit at the next level. Raw defensively, he might not end up at short, but he is athletic enough to improve. I still like Brignac, and it looks like he's the Midwest League’s success story of the season.

  • Christian Garcia (NYY/R/RHP): The danger of projecting success for young pitchers is, of course, attrition. Garcia's oblique injury has tarnished his season, and since returning, he has not looked like the same pitcher. It's hard to know what to make from his current sample size, but he sure doesn't look like the pitcher we saw last season. Too bad, because he was my most confident selection.

  • Homer Bailey (CIN/AA/RHP): Bailey was already highly-regarded, but when I put him on my list, it meant I thought he would enter elite status this season (like Nick Markakis the season before). I was right in this regard, as the player I saw pitch in the Midwest League last season proved more consistent this year. Bailey is the poster-child for learned control, as since seeing a decrease in the walk column, he's become the game's best pitching prospect.

  • Adam Bostick (FLA/AA/LHP): The opposite of Bailey, Bostick is the poster-child for not being able to harness control. While Bostick continues to show good strikeout numbers thanks to an above-average breaking ball, his control numbers completely hold him back as a prospect. I still think a move to the bullpen could create a good reliever, but my confidence in his left arm is out the window.

  • Adam Lind (TOR/AAA/OF): Doubles in the Florida State League turn to home runs in the Eastern League. It seemed too easy a statement to hold up, but it did this season, as Lind proved he had middle-of-the-order power. His defensive profile, or lack thereof, will hold him back as a prospect, but Lind is one of the minors better pure hitters. If Carlos Lee became manageable in left field, Lind can do the same; he'll be ready by next summer.

  • Mark Trumbo (LAA/A-/1B): There is danger in projecting a breakout before you see a player in person. Trumbo is that type of player, as his lack of athleticism shocked me when I saw his big body manning first in Cedar Rapids this spring. Trumbo has big power that should blossom in the Cal League, but his slow bat and poor fielding ability don’t leave a lot of hope. Trojan fans, if it makes you feel better, I can't imagine someone that large being much of a pitching prospect.

  • Brad Harman (PHI/A+/SS): My largest point of confusion on the season. Harman looked to be a fantastic choice in the spring, when the shortstop led the WBC Australian team in hitting. However, his year in Clearwater has proven disastrous, and reports of Harman are very bad. I do think an exit from the league will benefit Harman, but Chase Utley-lite is no longer a valid projection. Ouch.

  • Chuck Lofgren (CLE/A+/LHP): I discovered Lofgren a bit late to put him in my BP article, but I did mention his name as a breakout guy before the season started. Lofgren showed a lot of potential last year, and with his athletic profile and good stuff, looked ready to blossom in 2006. He's done just that with Kinston this season, as he's currently tied for the minor league wins lead. Lofgren is no future ace, but he'll be very valuable in the middle of a rotation.

  • Garrett Mock (ARI/AA/RHP): It just doesn't make sense to me. How can a player that strikes out batters at such a high rate be so poor in the hit column? What seemed like a fluke last year has proven reality in the Southern League, as Mock is simply a hittable pitcher. I don't see a way around this, and while his strikeouts might get him a shot in the big leagues, his hit rates no longer bode well for future success. Perhaps a change in organization - he has since been traded to the Washington Nationals (and Mike Rizzo) - will be best for Mock.

  • WTNYAugust 08, 2006
    Summer Notebook
    By Bryan Smith

    Once upon a time, I kept score at every baseball game I went to, without fail. Need a memory? Look back into old scorecards of Albert Pujols as a Peoria Chief, or a Norberto Martin walk-off home run in Comiskey Park.

    Slowly, my habit started to die, and I stopped keeping score. Needing something to stay into the game, I've made sure to have a notebook nearby in every stadium I've been to in 2006. Glancing over the pages, I have a lot of thoughts that didn't turn into articles this summer, a lot of lists that are in danger of going unread. Today we'll remedy that problem, as I begin to empty out my 2006 notebook...

    After watching Team USA multiple times this summer, I posted a synopsis of my thoughts on Friday. The article breaks down the top 11 players on the team, but with my notes, I realized I should probably touch on the team's other players. Some quick thoughts on each:

  • Sean Doolittle (Virginia/So./1B): The ACC Player of the Year took the summer off pitching despite a great spring off the bump. His bat struggled a bit compared to last year (when he led the team in hitting), but Doolittle was still impressive. His defense at first base is almost Major League caliber, touted by Coach Tim Corbin as the best at the college level. He'll never hit more than 15-20 home runs in a season with wood, but he has impressive gap power and a good approach at the plate. At this point it's hard to tell where he’ll be drafted at (first or mound?), but either way, a high selection is a given.

  • Ross Detwiler (Missouri St./So./LHP): One of the roster's bigger surprises, Detwiler was the first of the original starters to move to the bullpen. A relief role is where he projects best, as scouts do like his 92-94 mph fastball that offers solid projection. However, Detwiler's a bit of a project at this point, with poor command and a raw breaking ball. He has high bust potential, but as a hard-throwing southpaw, a lot of teams will be interested in attempting to refine his stuff.

  • Brandon Crawford (UCLA/Fr./SS): Very close to making my top 11, Crawford might have been the team's most athletic player. A gifted shortstop, Crawford combined good range with an infield cannon. His bat is a question mark at this point, and he really struggled with a move to wood. He should be back on Team USA next summer, where he'll profile as 2008's Zack Cozart.

  • Cole St. Clair (Rice/So./LHP): A closer at Rice this spring, St. Clair's stock took the biggest bump in Omaha where he showed a lot of versatility. His ability to pitch multiple innings could lend a starting spot next spring, but his future is relief, where he seems (to me) similar to Gregg Olson.

  • Nick Hill (Army/Jr./LHP): Intangibles were a large part of Hill's selection to the team, but make no mistake, the kid can pitch. His fastball won't light up radar guns (84-88 mph), but he had as much pitchability as any non-Roemer on the pitching staff. I like Hill's breaking ball some, and while he faces an uphill battle as a pro pitching prospect, I wouldn't bet against him.

  • Darwin Barney (Oregon St./So./SS): Listed at short, Barney rarely got a chance to play up the middle with Cozart and Crawford on the roster. Instead, he showed versatility this summer, proving able in left field. If he can add 2B and 3B to his resume, Barney will be able to sell himself as a utility player in the Mackowiak/Freel sense, which I always thought he profiled best as. A true tweener.

  • Roger Kieschnick (Texas Tech/Fr./OF): Brook's cousin, Kieschnick seemed to come up with the big hit late in every game. While there is juice in both his bat and his arm, I did not like Kieschnick. The left-handed right fielder looked really bad against advanced pitching, swinging and missing often. There's a hint of great potential there, but Kieschnick's a long way from achieving it.

  • Tommy Hunter (Alabama/Fr./RHP): Quite simply, Hunter's stock has limited potential thanks to his bad body. While Hunter has good control of a low 90s fastball and a good slider, he's large in every area. If Tommy doesn't lose weight in the fall, he faces the risk of a serious drop in the draft as a eligible sophomore next year.

  • Preston Clark (Texas/Fr./C): Clark seems to be a good college player without a ton of potential as a pro prospect. However, his status as a solid receiving catcher should help him land a spot with an organization, and he could be a back-up catcher at the pro level. However, I just didn't see enough hitting ability to like him much.

  • Tim Federowicz (UNC/Fr./C): A surprise freshman season ended in big fashion, as Federowicz made the team to help Arencibia in the late innings. However, the catcher also found a lot of action on the mound, where he flashed a fastball that touched 90. A good defensive catcher, Federowicz has enough contact ability to be listed as a good '08 prospect.

    * * * * *

    After mentioning in last Friday's column that I attended the East Coast Showcase last week, I got a few e-mails asking me who I liked from the event. I won't go into too much detail, because I'm far from being able to properly read players from such limited exposure, but here's a few players to look out for that shined:

  • Matthew Harvey: A big right-hander from the Northeast, Harvey should have a huge senior season in 2007. In his first outing at the showcase, Harvey struck out the only six batters he faced, showing a fantastic low-to-mid 90s fastball and a big, slow curveball he could throw for strikes. A likely top 15 pick.

  • John Tolisano: Apparently, Tolisano has been around the block, competing on the showcase circuit for years. His comfort level was apparent, and Tolisano had a fantastic batting practice, hitting multiple home runs. I think he's a third baseman at the pro level, but his bat will be enough to handle the position switch.

  • Hunter Morris: An Alabama shortstop, Morris will also likely move positions, probably to left field. He showed the most power of any hitter I saw, hitting 4-5 home runs in batting practice. He's a mess defensively, but his bat is first round caliber.

  • Michael Main: The top-ranked prep player next year, I only saw Main hit and take outfield practice, I wasn't there to see him pitch. However, Main's outfield practice blew away everyone else, and he showed fantastic speed down the lines. With an 80 arm and good speed, it was easy to see why Main is valued as a future top-5 pick.

  • Drew Cumberland: I'll end with a sleeper, as Cumberland is hardly valued in the same breath as these other players. However, I thought the world of Cumberland, who showed soft hands and a big arm at short, where I think he'll stay at the next level. He also took a good batting practice, showing projectable power and a good offensive approach.

  • Baseball BeatAugust 07, 2006
    Shhh! Jered Weaver is Pretty Good
    By Rich Lederer

    Jered Weaver is the Rodney Dangerfield of pitching. He gets no respect. Well, some people have given him his due over the years. But, outside of the many awards Jered earned in college, he has never quite achieved the level of esteem that his amateur and professional record would otherwise suggest.

    For those who weren't paying attention or perhaps for those who have forgotten either willingly or unwillingly, let's take a look at Weaver's numbers the past four seasons.

                          IP    H   R   ER   BB   SO   W-L   ERA
    2003 LBSU (So.)    133.1   87  35   29   20  144  14-4  1.96
    2004 LBSU (Jr.)    144.0   81  31   26   21  213  15-1  1.63
    2005 RC (Cal-A)     33.0   25  18   14    7   49   4-1  3.82
    2005 ARK (Tex-AA)   43.0   43  22   19   19   46   3-3  3.98
    2006 SL (PCL-AAA)   77.0   63  19   18   10   93   6-1  2.10
    2006 LAA (MLB)      59.2   41  13   12   14   47   7-0  1.81

    Interestingly, Weaver's combined minor and major league totals this year include a 13-1 record and a 1.98 ERA. Kinda looks like 2003 and 2004 all over again.

    If you've been on the wrong side of Weaver thus far, don't feel too bad. Heck, even Bill Stoneman wasn't sure what he had. No doubt, the Angels general manager deserves credit for drafting the College Player of the Year in 2004. He gets a high five for signing Weaver, too. But, let's face it, Stoneman was willing to let Jered re-enter the draft if the prized prospect didn't accept the Angels' terms. The GM won the poker game here but let the record show that he was prepared to fold his cards had Weaver not folded first.

    Stoneman also showed a lack of confidence in Jered when he signed his brother prior to the start of spring training. The Angels already had a strong foursome in Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana. There is no reason why Stoneman needed to bring Jeff Weaver into camp when he had two rookie starters in Jered and Joe Saunders waiting in the wings, as well as newly signed free agent Hector Carrasco as a backup.

    I have said all along that I would rather give Jered eight or nine million dollars for five years than Jeff the same amount for one. Well, after signing Jered on the cheap, Stoneman turned around and wasted a bunch of money that could have been spent elsewhere on Jeff.

    The younger Weaver outpitched his brother and virtually everyone else during the spring, yet was sent down to Salt Lake when camp broke. While Jered was blowing down Triple-A hitters in April and May, Jeff was blowing up in the majors. Who knows how many of big brother's starts little brother could have won although I think it would be fair to say that the team would have fared better than 2-7 in those first nine outings had Jered been slotted into that spot in the rotation.

    Little Weav finally got the chance to show his stuff on May 27 vs. the Baltimore Orioles. Jered not only won that game but he went on to win his first four starts, never allowing more than five hits or two runs in any single contest. Despite a 4-0 record and 1.37 ERA, Weaver was sent back down to make room in the rotation for Colon, who was returning after spending nearly two months on the disabled list.

    Stoneman could have kept Jered in the mix by temporarily going to a six-man rotation or by sending Escobar to the bullpen where he excelled late last season or facing the facts and designating Jeff for assignment right then and there. After a poor start less than 48 hours after getting the bad news that he was being demoted, Jered bounced back and dominated two opponents, striking out 25 batters while allowing just eight hits and one walk in 15 innings. Meanwhile, Jeff got in three more starts, losing two and running his personal record to 3-10 on the season.

    The disparity between the two Weavers was such that Stoneman had no choice but to dump Jeff and recall Jered. The latter proceeded to win three straight, becoming the only pitcher in 25 years to earn victories in his first seven starts. Weaver failed to earn a decision the last two outings even though he gave the Angels a quality start on both occasions, including the Red Sox at Fenway Park and the Texas Rangers at home.

    Weaver is scheduled to start tomorrow night in Cleveland. It will be the second time that he has faced the Indians this year. Some naysayers believe Jered will get his comeuppance the second time through the league. But wait, Weaver has already faced the Kansas City Royals twice. He beat them on June 13 at home and once again on July 23 on the road. All told, the tall right-hander pitched 13 2/3 innings, giving up just eight hits and one earned run. Oh, I can hear the snickering now. "C'mon, Rich, that was Kansas City!" Well, the Royals had scored an average of 5.6 runs per game--a pace that would be good for second in the league for the season--for the month prior to facing Weaver the second time around.

    Look, if it's not one thing, it's something else. The doubters have been pointing out (supposed) weaknesses in Weaver's game for quite some time now. "He doesn't have great stuff...He's nothing more than a #3 or #4...He's a flyball pitcher...He can't get left-handed batters out...He's just like his brother." Yada, yada, yada.

    Let's address these issues one by one. As far as Weaver's stuff goes, it is plenty good. He throws a fastball that hits 92-93 on the gun, yet it gets on top of hitters quicker than that because of his big turn and length. His slider and changeup are also quality pitches that can be used at any point in the count.

    With respect to whether Weaver is a #3 or #4, I don't understand how one could reach such a conclusion. Not only is he better than that now, his upside is one of a top-of-the-rotation starter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he would be a #1 for about half the teams in the big leagues right now.

    There is no disputing the fact that Weaver is a flyball-type pitcher. But guess what? He has given up only two home runs thus far. I realize his HR rate is bound to go up from here, but I don't anticipate that it will be a problem as long as he can continue to strike out around seven batters per nine innings. I like groundball pitchers as much as the next guy, but there's more than one way to succeed at this level.

    Weaver's arm angle is such that he is not supposed to be able to get LHB out consistently--or so they say. Hmmm, let's take a look at the facts here:

                 BAA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    vs. LHB     .210 .238 .300 .538 
    vs. RHB     .175 .252 .263 .515 

    I don't know about you, but I can't see much difference between those two lines. Both look pretty darn solid to me. If the truth be told, there's not too much to choose from on any of Weaver's splits.

                 BAA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    Home        .213 .241 .307 .547 
    Away        .180 .248 .266 .515 
                 BAA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    None On     .203 .259 .301 .559 
    Runners On  .173 .225 .247 .472 
                 BAA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    Inning 1-3  .146 .230 .202 .432 
    Inning 4-6  .238 .270 .362 .632 
    Inning 7-9  .150 .190 .200 .390

    Finally, let's put to rest the notion that Weaver is no better than his brother. Yes, they share the same parents, the same initials, and the same color hair. But they're not siamese twins. Jered is taller. He is more of a power pitcher than Jeff. Their arm angles are not identical despite those who might beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Jered throws from the 3/4-to-7/8 slot whereas Jeff delivers from about 5/8-to-3/4.

    The Weavers are brothers. They make their living playing professional baseball. They are both right-handed pitchers. But these facts don't make them one and the same, so help me Hank and Tommie Aaron. Or Dick and Hank Allen. Or, for that matter, Tony and Billy Conigliaro, Rick and Paul Reuschel, and on and on.

    Now is Jered Weaver going to remain undefeated at the end of the year? No, not unless he gets injured before his next start and misses the rest of the season. Is he going to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA? No, not if you ask me. The guy is human. He will get knocked around just as all pitchers do. It hasn't really happened yet but just give it some time. In the meantime, can't we all agree that we are witnessing a pretty special pitcher?

    [Additional comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYAugust 04, 2006
    Baseball in All Forms
    By Bryan Smith

    "Baseball is timeless," the back of a shirt I once owned read.

    People would ask me why I was so into baseball, a game too slow to keep their interest. My responses, well-prepared, circled around the type of cheesy cliched lines that adorned popular t-shirts like mine. I jumped on response bandwagons.

    In truth, looking back at those times, I knew I loved baseball, but I could never properly explain why. Putting your reasons in words was always difficult. This summer, my baseball experiences have been as prolific and eclectic as ever, and it's all starting to make sense to me. I'm starting to develop my own real answer.

    Baseball isn't timeless. It isn't like math, a universal language the same in South Africa as it is in Australia, the same in downtown New York City as it is in rural Iowa. Baseball in these locales revolves around the same game, but I love it because it isn't.

    Last fall, I was lucky enough to find a ticket to the first game of the World Series. A lifelong Cubs fan, I didn't go thinking the outcome would matter to me. But in U.S. Cellular, the atmosphere captured me in seconds. I remember getting goose bumps during the national anthem, looking around and realizing that I was in the midst of the luckiest moment of my life.

    World Series baseball isn't the baseball they play in early August. More importantly, it isn't the same feeling from the stands. When Bobby Jenks entered Game 1, and particularly when he struck out Jeff Bagwell, I was hooked. I was as excited in that moment as I'd been when Mark Prior shut out the Braves in the playoffs a couple years earlier.

    After a long winter break from baseball, I returned to the game in the spring, making an annual sojourn with my father to Arizona. We don't trek to Phoenix for the sun or for the golf, but instead fill our schedule with baseball, filling it as much as possible.

    Spring Training baseball is a different beast as well. Managers throw strategy to the wind, more concerned with trying things to gauge their team. Superstars are trying to recapture their stroke, altering and tinkering until they find it. Others are playing in desperation, trying with everything they have to make a roster, make an extra 300k, make their pension. Boone Logan made the White Sox.

    Only a peripheral college baseball fan, in May I went to my first College World Series regional, watching my preseason championship pick North Carolina host Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington and Maine. I saw scouts drool over Andrew Miller and analyze Daniel Bard, and family cheer for their son/brother/etc like you'll never hear at a Major League park.

    As if I have to tell you, everything changes with an aluminum bat. I did see a 21-19 game, living up to the stereotype of the college game. But what I saw, what I loved about college baseball, was to see a game where mistakes are magnified. In a game where errors are much more commonplace than the Majors, college baseball almost always rewards the team that is well coached, plays good defense and pitches well. North Carolina, not so surprisingly, won with ease.

    This year, I've seen a dozen minor league games, going from town to town trying to catch a glimpse of the players I have/will rank. Colby Rasmus and Andrew McCutchen. The A's high school trio. Justin Upton and Delmon Young. And more.

    It's a surreal experience to go to a game ready to just watch one player. To see baseball with blinders on, watching a player as he runs the bases, watching the third baseman field it only with peripheral vision. Watching how a player reacts to a ball off the bat, not following the ball into a mitt. I struggle with this, but am improving, learning slowly how to properly scout a prospect.

    For five games in the summer, I watched the national Team USA, playing against Taiwan and Japan. I saw trick pitching from the Asian teams, I saw scrappy players that went with pitches like few Americans can. I saw Pedro Alvarez, a future first rounder, hit one of the longest home runs I've seen in person. I broke down David Price's weird delivery, and heard the buzz of scouts when Daniel Moskos first took the mound.

    This week, I spent two days at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, an event designed by those in the game to watch the best prep prospects on the Atlantic coast. I struggled through 105-degree heat to watch batting practice after batting practice, to see right fielders practice throws to third base, and catchers try to show off their pop times.

    Certainly, this experience was the most difficult of all, and it was this that made me realize why I love baseball. This wasn't a 3-strikes, 3-outs type game that we're taught, but a fraction of it. Scouts gained as much from watching a shortstop field grounders and throw to first than they did watch him play against competition. With bits and pieces, the smartest men in baseball could discern prospect from suspect.'

    What do I love about baseball? I love two things ...

    I love the desperation. A player in search of a ring, a fringe player trying to make the 25-man, a college player on the field for the last time, a prospect attempting to rise above his competiton, a player swinging and pitching for his country, a teenager trying to impress a scout. Baseball isn't the same in Game 1 as it is in a baseball showcase, but the desperation is.

    More than anything, I love the fragments of the national pastime. A Michael Main throw from right field. A Julio Borbon triple. Delmon Young's first home run of the season. Daniel Bard's beautiful, easy delivery. Boone Logan's unique, strange one. Bobby Jenks fastball, gliding past Jeff Bagwell's swing. Each moment different than every other, but as beautiful as the one before it.

    Designated HitterAugust 03, 2006
    Death, Taxes, and Major League Waivers
    By Keith Law

    MLB's rules are complex and convoluted, but they're not hard. I've heard various people in front offices referred to as "rules experts" or - my favorite "waivers experts." The rule on waivers (Rule 9) runs nine pages, a large part of which revolve around resolving the order of claims. We're not talking Finnegan's Wake here; anyone with the rules and perhaps a pen and paper can figure these out pretty quickly. The problem is that the rules aren't very public, and as a result, members of the media and the average fan are all at a disadvantage when it comes to some of the more esoteric rules or to baseball's inconsistent nomenclature.

    Here are a few rules that seem to cause a lot of confusion with my best efforts at explaining them.


    I'll never forget something I saw this spring on a message board I won't name, when Chris Snow of the Boston Globe (and now director of hockey operations for the Minnesota Wild) reported that Hee Seop Choi couldn't be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Because most fans weren't familiar with the rule in question, the immediate assumption was that Snow was wrong. And one poster in particular ripped Snow, saying it was just "sloppy reporting" and then saying how every beat writer should learn the transaction rules.

    Except, of course, Snow was right. How odd that the professional should know what he was talking about.

    There is a rule rarely invoked in baseball that creates a situation where a player who has options remaining still has to clear waivers to be sent on an optional assignment. If the assignment is to begin at least three full calendar years from the date of the player's first appearance on a 25-man roster, then the player can not be sent on an optional assignment without first clearing major league waivers. These waivers are revocable, and players usually clear those waivers without incident.

    There are three kinds of waivers in MLB:

    • Unconditional release waivers. These are self-explanatory. A player on release waivers can be claimed for $1, and the claiming team assumes the player's contract. The player does have the right to refuse this claim and become a free agent.
    • Outright or special waivers. The name changes depending on the time of year, but the effect is the same. These are the waivers you use to kick a player off of your 40-man roster. They're also the waivers to use when you wish to send a player who is out of options to the minors (thereby also removing him from your 40-man). These waivers are irrevocable, meaning that if you place a player on outright waivers and he is claimed, you can not pull the player back off waivers.
    • Major league waivers. These are the waivers in question during August. Between 4 pm on July 31st and the end of the season, players must clear major league waivers to be assigned to another major league club. These waivers are revocable, and they are also the waivers required for players in Choi's situation, who have options remaining but are more than three calendar years removed from their debuts on major league rosters. Although these waivers are revocable, if a player on major league waivers is claimed and the waiver request is revoked, a subsequent major league waiver request in the same waiver period will be irrevocable.

    So, as of the day that this article first appeared, any player who first appeared on a 25-man roster prior to August 3rd, 2003, must now clear major league waivers to be optioned to the minors.

    Service time

    Some bullet points on service time...

    • One year of major league service is defined as 172 days of service, but a major league season actually runs around 183 days. A player can only accrue 172 days of service during a season, but he doesn't have to be on a roster from wire to wire to get that many days. This means that a team that wishes to hold a player in the minors long enough to push his free agency date back by one season must wait at least eleven days (and probably about two weeks, just to be safe) before recalling him.
    • Days spent on optional assignments shorter than ten days don't count against your service time. If you're sent down on Friday and are recalled on Monday, you get Saturday and Sunday's days of service as well.
    • The cutoff for "super-two" status (referring to players with between two and three years of service who are eligible for salary arbitration) is not fixed; all players with at least 2 years and 0 days of service but no more than 2 years and 171 days (2.171) of service are ranked in descending order by total service time, and the top 16% are granted super-two status. The cutoff is usually somewhere between 2.130 and 2.135; to the best of my knowledge, it's never been below 2.120, so a player recalled after June 5th or so is in the clear.

    When an option isn't an option

    If a player is sent out on one or more optional assignments during the course of a season, but the total number of days spent on those assignments is fewer than twenty, then he's not charged with an option. So there.

    The fourth option

    Everyone knows that a player who is added to a 40-man roster for the first time may be sent out on optional assignment in up to three years, which are commonly referred to as "option years" or just "options." But once in a while, a player ends up receiving a fourth option year. Here's the text from the MLB rulebook:

    "Contracts of Major League players who, prior to commencement of the current season, have been credited with less than five seasons in professional baseball ... shall be eligible for a fourth optional assignment, without waivers, during that season. For purposes of this Rule 11(c), 90 days or more on the Active List during a championship season shall constitute a 'season of service.' ... [if] a player is placed on the disabled list after the player has been credited with 60 or more days of service in any particular season, the Disabled List time shall be counted to the player's credit."

    So what are we saying here?

    • A player who is currently entering his fourth or fifth pro season and already has been optioned in three separate years gets a fourth option. Delmon Young has been optioned in three years (2004, 2005, 2006) and he'll get a fourth option in 2007, which he's doing his best to earn.
    • A player who has missed one or more seasons to injury - meaning an entire season, or enough time to accrue fewer than 90 days on an active roster - may get a fourth option if, exclusive of those injury-shortened years, he has fewer than five full seasons in pro ball. A season in which he's on an active roster for 60 days or more and then gets hurt still counts as a full season, but a season in which he's hurt and then comes back and gets 60-89 days of service after the injury does not.
    • Seasons spent entirely in short-season leagues (the New-York Penn, Northwest, Pioneer, Appalachian, Gulf Coast, and Arizona Rookie Leagues, as well as the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues) don't count as seasons for the purposes of a fourth option.

    As you might imagine, more players are eligible for fourth options than you might have realized, but they often don't come to light because the players are low-profile or because they're kicked off of 40-man rosters before the fourth option comes into play.

    Prior outrights

    The first time a player is placed on outright/special waivers, he must accept the outright assignment if he clears. All subsequent times, however, he has the right to reject the outright assignment and become a free agent, or he may accept the outright assignment but become a free agent at the end of the season (unless he's back on a 40-man roster at that time).

    In addition, a player with at least three years of major league service may also reject an outright assignment at that moment or at the end of the season, regardless of whether he has a prior outright. Players receive these rights under Article XX of the Basic Agreement, and are sometimes referred to as Article XX free agents within the industry, although they're more often lumped in with minor league free agents in the press because the time of their free agency is similar.

    As you can see, MLB's roster rules aren't difficult, just complex. I think MLB could do a better job of explaining the rules to fans, since there's a huge appetite for information on rosters, waivers, and service time, but I hope this has at least cleared up a few of the more common quirks in the system.

    Keith Law is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc. Before joining ESPN, Law served as special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and was a writer for Baseball Prospectus. His writes for and for, and he has appeared on ESPNews' The Hot List and the Pulse, ESPN's Outside the Lines, and on ESPNRadio.

    Baseball BeatAugust 02, 2006
    This Song Has No Title
    By Rich Lederer

    It's difficult trying to be Captain Fantastic every article so I decided to enlist Elton John's help in breaking down the division races as the season enters the dog days of August. Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight and knighted in 1998, Sir Elton has sold over 250 million records and recorded over 50 Top 40 hits, making him one of the most successful musicians of all time.

    Without further ado or Bernie Taupin, I present the current standings and the former owner of the Watford Football Club's views on each of the 30 MLB teams.


    EAST           W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    New York      62 41 .602  Bernie and the Jetes
    Boston        63 42 .600  (David Ortiz) Saved My Life Tonight
    Toronto       57 49 .538  Grow Some Funk of Your Own
    Baltimore     49 59 .454  Better Off Dead
    Tampa Bay     44 63 .411  Whipping Boy
    CENTRAL        W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    Detroit       71 35 .670  Don't Go Breaking My Heart 
    Chicago       63 42 .600  You Can Make History
    Minnesota     61 44 .581  Midnight Creeper
    Cleveland     46 59 .438  (Gotta Get) A Meal Ticket
    Kansas City   37 69 .349  Nobody Wins
    WEST           W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    Oakland       56 51 .523  Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
    Los Angeles   55 51 .519  Roy Rogers (or Was it Gene Autry?)
    Texas         53 54 .495  Texas Love Song
    Seattle       52 54 .491  Take Me To The Pilot(s) 


    EAST           W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    New York      63 42 .600  Believe
    Philadelphia  50 55 .476  Philadelphia Freedom
    Florida       50 56 .472  Whenever You're Ready
    Atlanta       49 56 .467  Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
    Washington    48 59 .449  Funeral for a Friend
    CENTRAL        W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    St. Louis     58 47 .552  High Flying Bird(s)
    Cincinnati    55 51 .519  The Bitch is Back
    Milwaukee     51 56 .477  You're So Static
    Houston       50 56 .467  Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)
    Chicago       44 62 .415  Curtains
    Pittsburgh    40 67 .374  Nobody Wins
    WEST           W  L  PCT  What Elton John Has to Say
    San Diego     55 51 .524  Border Song
    Arizona       54 52 .509  Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
    Los Angeles   51 55 .481  Candle in the Wind
    Colorado      51 55 .481  Sacrifice
    San Francisco 51 56 .477  Have Mercy on the Criminal

    I saw Elton John in concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973. He had just released Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which includes my favorite John song of all time: Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting.

    The Oakland A's beat the New York Mets in the World Series that year. Could history repeat itself? We shall see. In the meantime, be sure to check out the The Captain and the Kid, which is scheduled to hit the record stores on September 12, 2006. No, it's not about Jason Varitek and Jon Papelbon. Instead, it's a sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. I know, One Day at a Time.