Draft Deadline Looms Large in August
Today is the 31st of July. Why is that important? It means there are only 15 more days left for Major League Baseball teams to lock up their 2007 amateur draft picks.
The deadline is new this year, so it will be interesting to see how teams - and agents - approach Aug. 15. I will also be curious to see if signing bonuses continue along the downward trend, or if teams cave at the last minute in an effort to lock up top amateur talent. Perhaps the most interesting storyline will be how super agent Scott Boras makes out with the new guidelines.
Last week I took a look at the five teams who had, in my humble opinion, the best drafts. Those teams included Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati and Washington. Over the next two weeks, I shall break down the remaining 25 teams - beginning with the American League - and take a look at who could be signed by the Aug. 15 deadline.
Currently, 13 of the 30 first round picks remain unsigned, including 10 prep players who could use college or junior college commitments as leverage. Only four supplemental first round picks have yet to sign on the dotted line.
Be sure to check back next week to see how the National League clubs are making out at signing their top draft picks.
Searching for Pitching Prospects
Like most scouts and prospect analysts, I like to find pitchers who can throw strikes, miss bats, and keep the ball on the ground or at least in the ballpark. In this regard, I screened minor league starters in AAA, AA, and A for the following criteria:
Among qualified pitchers, nine made the cut, ranging in talent from Boston's Clay Buchholz to Chris Jones. As I noted last year when I ran similar screens, the following list is not meant to identify the best pitching prospects in the minors. As I warned a year ago, "I don't think you can do that without...taking into consideration scouting reports and paying attention to age relative to the level of competition." If nothing else, it is a good starting point to do more research.
Last year, my screens uncovered a number of top-flight prospects, many of whom have graduated to the majors. I was a bit more generous last time around, taking the top five starters by K/9 in each league who also had low HR/9 whereas this year pitchers had to meet or exceed the rigid criteria shown above.
Name Team Level Lg Age K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 WHIP ERA Matt Garza MIN AAA IL 23 9.29 3.30 3.06 0.49 1.35 3.62 Clay Buchholz BOS AA EL 22 12.05 2.28 5.27 0.42 0.89 1.77 Alan Horne NYY AA EL 24 9.84 2.83 3.47 0.39 1.24 2.36 Gio Gonzalez CWS AA SL 21 11.08 3.36 3.30 0.70 1.17 3.04 Jacob McGee TB A+ FSL 20 11.08 3.12 3.55 0.66 1.11 3.12 Chris Cody MIL A+ FSL 23 9.07 1.48 6.13 0.10 0.93 1.77 Kyle Ginley TOR A MDW 20 9.73 2.98 3.27 0.79 1.51 4.86 F. de los Santos CWS A SAL 21 11.00 3.34 3.29 0.49 0.88 2.55 Chris Jones BOS A SAL 23 9.29 2.59 3.59 0.77 1.43 4.98
Matt Garza showed up last year and once again this year. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander was called up to the big leagues earlier this month and pitched his best game ever yesterday, allowing only one run while striking out 11 Indians over six innings. The 23-year-old out of Fresno State has a lot of upside and should be a permanent fixture in Minnesota's starting rotation for years to come.
Clay Buchholz, the hurler every GM asks for when talking trade with the Red Sox, just may be the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues. In an interview conducted by Patrick Sullivan and me in February, Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer told us that Buchholz had the best slider and changeup in the system. His fastball and curve are quality pitches as well. Baseball America reported that his heater, which sits in the low-90s, hit 95-97 in the playoffs last year. An outstanding athlete, the soon-to-be 23-year-old righthander may be faster than teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and possesses a top-notch pickoff move to first base. He is an untouchable.
Alan Horne is one of many excellent pitching prospects in the Yankees system. The Cleveland Indians drafted Horne in the first round in 2001, but the big righthander opted to go to college (Mississippi, then Chipola JC in Florida, and finally the University of Florida where he led the Gators to the 2005 College World Series). He underwent Tommy John surgery a few years ago and has regained his low-90s fastball and power curve. Horne hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last 10 outings. At 24, he's on track to pitch in New York before Yankee Stadium is torn down.
The 38th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Gio Gonzalez has struck out 534 batters in 457 minor league innings. Now in his second stint in the White Sox system, the 6-0, 190-pound LHP features a plus fastball and hammer curve that Baseball America calls his "go-to" pitch. His command has improved this year but is still short of where it needs to be. That said, I would be surprised if he doesn't receive a promotion to Triple-A before the season is out and is a good bet to find himself in Chicago's starting rotation sometime next year.
As with Garza and Buchholz, Jacob McGee was featured in last year's screen. McGee is perhaps the #1 pitching prospect in a Tampa Bay system that is loaded with future big league hurlers. In fact, a case could be made that he is one of the best lefthanders in the minors. Like Gonzalez, McGee possesses terrific stuff but needs to refine his control and command. His 6-3, 190-pound frame may give him a bit more projectability than Gonzalez. He doesn't turn 21 until a week from today and is still three levels away from reaching the majors. But so far, so good.
Keith Ginley is a bit of a sleeper. Toronto drafted him in the 17th round last year and signed him to a $155,000 bonus to keep the St. Petersburg (FL) JC righthander from attending Florida Southern. He started his professional career at Pulaski of the Appalachian League (Rookie) and struck out 42 batters in 27 innings. He received a late-season promotion to Auburn (NYP, Short Season) and allowed only 5 hits and 0 runs over 10 frames. Although his BAA, WHIP, and ERA won't turn any heads, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder is throwing strikes, missing bats, and doing a decent job at preventing the long ball. After a rough start to his 2007 season, Ginley has turned it up a notch in his past four starts, allowing only 4 ER and striking out 23 in 20.1 IP. Keep an eye on him.
Acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers from the Detroit Tigers on July 1, Chris Cody has put up some eye-popping numbers this year. Cody did his best work in Low-A as a 23-year-old so he's not nearly as good as what it might seem on the surface. The dimunitive southpaw (6-0, 180) is two weeks older than another smallish lefty by the name of Scott Kazmir. Discount Cody's stats for now but remember the name as he moves up the ladder to see if he has what it takes to get batters out in the upper minors.
The pitcher who should be climbing up prospect lists is Tyler Herron. The St. Louis Cardinals farmhand is striking out a batter per inning while walking just 1.59 per nine The righthander turns 21 next Sunday. Herron was drafted in the first round of the supplemental draft in 2005 and pitched two seasons at Johnson City of the Appalachian League (Rookie) before getting one start at State College of the New York Penn (Short Season A).
Ranked as the 18th best prospect in the STL system by Baseball America, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound RHP was assigned to Quad Cities of the Midwest League (Class A) where he dominated in relief in the early going this season (3-0, 1.75, .187 BAA with 0 HR in 25.2 IP). The sinkerballer was given another shot at starting, and he has performed admirably, chalking up a superb 6:1 K/BB ratio and HR/9 (0.44). He threw six scoreless innings on Sunday and has now walked only six batters in his last 10 outings. Throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park is a formula for success at any level.
Fautino de los Santos has given up 48 hits in 92.2 innings, equal to 4.66 H/9. The RHP out of the Dominican Republic was a South Atlantic League All-Star and pitched in the Futures Game earlier this month. In his last three outings, the 21-year-old has allowed only 4 H, 2 BB, and 0 ER while whiffing 15 over 12 IP. For more on de los Santos, be sure to read what Marc Hulet had to say three weeks ago when discussing Sleeper Prospects.
Chris Jones surprised me that he qualified for this screen. Drafted out of Indiana State in 2005, the 6-3, 205-pound RHP pitched mostly at Lowell (Short Season A) that summer, then was assigned to Greenville of the South Atlantic League (Class A) last year where he enjoyed moderate success. Jones is repeating Greenville this year. The worst prospect on this list, the 23-year-old is likely to end up in the bullpen as a long reliever if he ever makes it to Fenway, which is far from a given.
Although Clayton Kershaw didn't technically qualify, the lefthander is leading all minor league starters in K/9. The 2006 first-round draft pick is averaging 12.51 strikeouts per nine innings while pitching for the Dodgers Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. The downside is that he is also tops in the league in BB/9 (4.43). The 19-year-old has now struck out 181 batters in his first 128.1 MiLB IP while allowing only 3 HR. Kershaw is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball but is still four levels away from the big leagues.
Jeff Samardzija is another pitcher who didn't show up on my screen. In fact, the richest fifth-round draft choice in baseball history is last in K/9 among all qualifiers in the Florida State League. The former Notre Dame All-America wide receiver has struck out 3.44 batters per nine innings this year. Jeff Albert discussed Samardzija's contract and analyzed his pitching mechanics in January. Suffice it to say, The Shark, who gave up 22 H and 10 ER in his last two starts covering 10.2 IP, has a long ways to go before sniffing the majors. A BAA of .331 and an ERA of 5.06 in High-A won't get the job done.
Short Stops for a Change
Alex Belth, the multi-talented writer who founded Bronx Banter, authored a piece on the evolution of shortstops at SI.com. He refers to Patrick Sullivan's study on this subject and includes a couple of quotes from me as well as contributions from Steve Treder, Glenn Stout, Mike Carminati, and Bill James.
Cal Ripken Jr., who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, is prominently featured in Belth's article. The focus is on offense and Belth concludes, "The slugging shortstop is not likely to disappear anytime soon." Starting with Honus Wagner and ending with a number of current shortstops, Belth asks, "Is this the best crop of hitting shortstops in history?"
Interestingly, Belth, Treder, Stout, and Carminati have all served as Designated Hitters at Baseball Analysts (see links in the sidebar on the left). Even Sully got his start here with a guest column entitled "A WARPed Study of Yankee CF and Red Sox LF." We're only missing James although he's been known to show up on our site from time to time.
- Posted by Rich Lederer, 7/28/07 at 12:05 a.m. PST
Finally, let me just say that being an insider is fun. A LOT OF FUN. But it comes with the hardship of having your inbox just absolutely inundated during times like these. Since you are my readers and I love you all so very much, and because I am configured with a moral fiber few could possibly understand (the Twins trainer confirmed this for me), I feel obliged to reply to every email. Please be sure to read all of my writings over the last six months before you email me to make sure you are not asking something I have already covered.
Be back soon!
- Posted by Sully, 7/28/07, 9:55 AM EST
Wrong Way Players, Part 2 - 1951 to 2007
One of the better-known members of the bats right-handed, throws left-handed club made his major league debut in 1951. We'll have to trust the Baseball Encylopedia when it comes to this player's throwing arm, as he never tossed a baseball at the professional level.
Not an Article about Pitching at Altitude
This entry was supposed to be about how pitches moved and behaved at different altitudes. I briefly wrote about differences in pitch movement for a Weekend Blog in May and I was planning to revisit the topic when there were more stadiums supplying the data. After the All-Star break, several new stadiums went on-line with the pitch f/x system, including Chase Field in Arizona, the stadium with the second highest elevation in baseball, and I thought I was in business. I examined how pitches moved at Chase Field (or Turner Field, the third highest stadium in baseball) compared with how they moved at parks closes to sea level, such as Petco, Safeco or McAfee, but I found virtually no changes in how pitches moved at the different altitudes. This didn't seem right intuitively and it wasn't.
To make a long story short, I had forgotten to account for the distance traveled by the ball. MLB.com has varied the distance they begin tracking the pitch, called y0, and although it appears to have recently stabilized around 50 feet, it began the season at 55 feet and after June 4th varied from 40-55 feet depending on the game. Needless to say, where the pitch is initially picked up is going to make a huge difference on the distance it breaks and after going back and looking at my results again, I didn't have enough pitchers who had the same y0 value at both a high-altitude and low-altitude park. That pretty much shot the column idea, so this post turned into a catch-all, with some updates and cool graphs that I haven't had a chance to post yet.
Despite not writing about differences due to altitude, I wanted to share two conflicting results I got when looking at altitude differences. The first result is about Rich Hill. Curveballs are thought to be very adversely affected by the high altitude at Coors Field and while Hill hasn't made a start in Colorado, he did start at Turner Field in Atlanta, which is roughly 945 feet above sea-level. Comparing Hill's start in Atlanta to a start he made at sea level in San Diego, his curveball broke 12 inches down in San Diego, but only 8 inches down in Atlanta. All of his pitch types dropped roughly 3 inches more in San Diego compared to Atlanta. It makes sense that balls thrown in the higher altitude would tend to "hang" more and not break as much. However, a pair of starts by Noah Lowry makes it seem like this isn't the case. Lowry has made a start in both Coors Field and Petco Park, but all of his pitches had a bigger drop at Coors. This is the opposite of what is expected and I have no idea what could be causing it, other than possibly something technical. I'd still like to revisit this topic in the future, but it might end up being more complicated than just waiting for more data.
This is a pitch chart for Justin Verlander's start on 6/23 at Atlanta. The chart is remarkable for several reasons and I've been trying to come up with an excuse to use it for more than a month. One thing you need to know to appreciate the graph is that the initial tracking point for the pitches in the game was 40 feet from home, and his fastball is still averaging 95 MPH. Even when the initial point is 55 feet from home, which is where my most pitches were tracked from, very few pitchers are able to throw 95 MPH. Another cool feature on the graph is the mess of points around 75-85 MPH. Verlander's change-up and curveball both travel the almost exactly same speed, but they move in completely opposite directions. Not only does the hitter need to recognize a speed difference between Verlander's pitches, but he then has to react very quickly to hit the fastball or try to identify which off speed pitch is coming.
Not many pitchers have a graph this "clean", with no pitches thrown in a 10 MPH range. (81-91 MPH) Josh Beckett has a similarly "clean" graph, making me think that could be a trait of power pitchers who consistently throw their fastball hard, instead of occasionally taking something off of it. This graph is a very obvious example of Verlander's pitches, but even looking at other starts he has made in pitch f/x equipped stadiums, the "clean" pattern remains the same.
This chart is for Franklin Morales of the Colorado Rockies system. Morales is another young, hard throwing pitcher, this time a left-hander with a big curve. His curve has similar vertical movement compared with Rich Hill's curve, although Hill gets more horizontal movement away from LHH. There's a huge difference between pitching in an exhibition game against other minor leaguers and pitching in the majors and I'm not saying that Morales is going to be as good as Hill or Buchholz will be as good as Verlander, only that some of their pitches look similar right now. I don't know how movement on pitches translates from the minors to the majors, if there could be something like MLEs for movement, but wild speculation about prospects is always fun.
These graphs show the Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), broken up by batter/pitcher splits. I ran these in one of my first posts and had been updating them every couple of weeks since then. As a reminder, they are from the catcher's perspective, so the right hand side of the graph is inside for a LHH. For the most part, they've stayed pretty constant for the duration, but there are a couple of changes of note. In the RHH/RHP graph, the middle of the strike zone now has the highest BABIP, which wasn't the case the first time I showed the graphs. Another interesting note is the difference between the BABIP on high-inside and outside pitches. This is particularly noticeable for LHH against LHP, but all hitters have a higher BABIP on high-outside pitches compared with high-inside pitches. This connects with Perry Husband's invention of "Effective Velocity", a theory on hitting and pitching. He writes why certain pitches are tougher to hit than others, and if you click on his name and go to the bottom of that page, there is a graphic explaining it. He found that, everything else being equal, a fastball thrown high and inside looks 4 MPH faster than the same pitch thrown outside. The MPH difference isn't the only thing that goes into hitting a ball solidly, but it is interesting to think about. I'm not sure where he came up with the 4 MPH, but Husband's philosophy makes intuitive sense. In order to hit an inside pitch, the hitter needs to react quicker and meet the ball in front of the plate, leaving less reaction time, which serves the same purpose as an increase in MPH. It's interesting when two people arrive at similar conclusions using different processes.
Also, I haven't done this yet, but it would be interesting to see what these breakdowns look like using the strike-zone as it is actually called by umpires.
That's it for this entry. I promise that next time I have a good idea for an article, I'll make sure all the data are correct before I do the research and start writing.
Update: 11:20 AM- I fixed the BABIP charts that John mentions in his comment.
Business Trips, Bar Exams and Baseball
Johanna's Barbri books and 1-L notes are spread all over the couch and even though I leave for Chicago for a brief business trip first thing tomorrow morning, I managed to get a dinner heated up and on the table that my Mom prepared (God bless her). My wife sits for the bar exam tomorrow, and I am on a 7 o'clock flight in the morning. Things are hectic around here, but there's always time for baseball.
There are two teams of great concern in this household. My wife is a lifelong Cubs devotee, and I am a Boston Red Sox fan. Since we are MLB Extra Innings subscribers, both teams' Tuesday night contests made it into our television rotation. What follows are recaps of the Boston-Cleveland and Chicago-St.Louis games, with some peripheral thoughts mixed in.
With Daisuke Matsuzaka and C.C. Sabathia hooking up, this tilt figured to be fast-paced and low scoring. The game went just as you might have guessed. Matsuzaka threw seven scoreless, and Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon each worked a perfect inning to close out the contest.
In a losing effort, Sabathia and Rafael Betancourt combined to pitch every bit as well as Boston's hurlers did. Sabathia struck out seven in seven innings pitched, did not walk a batter and allowed just five singles. Betancourt completed the final two innings of the game, allowing just a double off the bat of Julio Lugo with one out in the eighth.
Two things stuck out. First, J.D. Drew was nothing short of an embarassment tonight. Second, baseball (like most other sports) is indeed a game of inches.
Drew has hit lefties at a .259/.361/.430 clip over the course of his career, considerably worse than his line against right handers but not so bad that you need to hold him out against the likes of Sabathia. Or so you would not have thought.
Sabathia owned him all night. After starting Drew off with two balls during his first plate appearance in the third, Sabathia threw ten consecutive strikes, three of which Drew managed to get a piece of (foul). Drew struck out three times in three PA's. It was as big a mismatch as I can remember watching, and something Terry Francona had best remember should these teams meet in October.
Youkilis scored, Dice-K remained in command, the bullpen hung on and Boston continued its recent resurgence. They have now won five consecutive games.
The Cubs and Cardinals constitute one of baseball's best rivalries, and with the surging Carlos Zambrano on the hill for the Chicago, this figured to be a fun one to watch.
I am not sure anyone has pitched better than Zambrano since June 1. During that time "Z" has yielded just over a baserunner per inning, while striking out about one batter per frame in the process. He has also been working deep into games. In other words, instead of pitching like, well, Kip Wells as he was for the first two months of the season, he has once again pitched like we all know he can.
Speaking of Wells, he took the hill for St. Louis tonight. Coming into the game sporting a 73 ERA+, Wells was in the midst of a brutal campaign but a very good month. In four July starts coming into the Cubs game, Wells had a 2.81 ERA. Even though the game figured to be very much in Chicago's favor, a closer look at Wells's recent work might have portended how the game played out.
To the extent that the game was a low-scoring affair, both starters were pretty good. Neither Zambrano nor Wells were at their best, but to their credit, both cruised at times and when they got into trouble, managed to work out of a couple of jams. The outcome of the game hinged largely on a Scott Rolen error, appropriate in that so much of St. Louis's mediocrity in 2007 is attributable to the simultaneous slip from three Cardinals position player mainstays: Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.
OPS+ 2007 Career Rolen 92 128 Edmonds 81 135 Pujols 163 170OK, so Albert is not too far off of his career clip but he is .100 slugging points off of his 2006 numbers and on this 0-5 night in which he made the last out of the game, his diminshed stature was palpable. In his final two at bats, with an opportunity to knot the game up or take the lead both times, Pujols made the final out of the inning twice (including the game-ender) and left four men on base. Rolen and Edmonds combined for one hit and two walks. With Chris Carpenter now on the shelf for the rest of the season, this has all been too much for the club to bear.
The Cubs rode the bat of one of baseball's steadiest commodities, Aramis Ramirez, to victory. He collected four hits, including the go-ahead single in the seventh (an RBI he collected thanks to the aforementioned Rolen error with 2 outs and nobody on). Since he joined the Cubs, Ramirez has more or less sat at .350/.550 for an OBP/SLG line and this year is no different.
The Cubs closed it out thanks to 2 and 2/3rds from their pen, and a couple slept soundly in Boston. Gotta love baseball. Those partial to the NFL and other baseball detractors lament the long season and near-daily play. Not baseball lovers, though. For those of us that cherish the game, the long season offers a nightly respite from our day-to-day affairs. Things have never been busier or more stressful for either of us, but you wouldn't have known that if you saw how intently we took in games 100 and 98 for the Sox and Cubs, respectively, tonight.
An Event for the Eternals
The Baseball Reliquary held The Shrine of the Eternals 2007 Induction Day on Sunday in Pasadena. Yogi Berra, Jim Brosnan, and Bill James (shown shaking hands with me after the ceremony in the photo below) comprised this year's class of inductees. Although Berra (charity commitment on the east coast) and Brosnan (recovering from a fall) were unable to attend the event, James made the cross-country flight from Boston to Los Angeles on Saturday and spent two nights in Pasadena before returning home on Monday.
Charlie Silvera, Berra's longtime backup catcher, drove down from San Francisco with his wife Rose to fill in one last time for his former teammate. Mr. & Mrs. Silvera joined Bill and me, as well as Terry Cannon, the Executive Director of the Baseball Reliquary, and two Reliquarians (Don Malcolm, who is known for producing the Big Bad Baseball Annual in the 1990s, and his friend Jay Walker) for dinner on Saturday evening. We met in the lobby of the hotel and walked a few blocks to Cameron's Seafood on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.
The restaurant had a circular table for seven ready when we arrived. I sat between Bill and Terry and talked to both throughout dinner but Charlie kept us all entertained with stories about his playing days, teammates, opponents, managers, umpires, and sportswriters. Silvera, who will turn 83 in October, was as sharp as the knife that we used to cut the sourdough bread. A member of six World Championship teams during his playing days, Charlie wore one of his Yankees rings on one hand and a 1997 Florida Marlins (as a scout) on the other. Rose was wearing a World Series ring as well.
A humble and respectful man, Charlie feels fortunate to have signed and played with the Yankees, even if it meant caddying for Berra all those years. Silvera said he was paid well and never lost sight of the World Series paychecks that nearly doubled his total compensation. Charlie told us that he played with nine Hall of Famers and roomed with six of them, including Mickey Mantle during the Oklahoma Kid's rookie season. He claims Mantle was faster than Willie Mays and guessed that the switch-hitter bunted for as many as 10 to 15 hits per season during his heyday in response to a question posed by James.
Now a part-time advance scout for the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco native and resident attends games at AT&T Park. Charlie said he doesn't pretend to tell the Cubs how to pitch to batters and instead focuses on managerial tendencies such as employing the hit and run, squeeze play, etc. James added that Boston has enjoyed success utilizing two advance scouts. As an example, the scout who tracked the Indians last weekend is now working with the players and coaching staff in the clubhouse prior to each game during its current series in Cleveland. In the meantime, the second scout is in Baltimore taking notes on Boston's next opponent — the Devil Rays — and will join the team in Tampa Bay when the Red Sox square off with their division rival this weekend.
While strolling back to the hotel, Bill and I talked about several subjects, including the club's losing record since the end of May (at least as of Saturday night), Curt Schilling's rehab start that day, Kason Gabbard's contributions, and a few minor leaguers such as Clay Buchholz ("great pickoff move"), Jed Lowrie ("athletic"), and Lars Anderson ("doing wonderfully for a 19-year-old"). After discussing logistics for Sunday, we parted company a few minutes before 9 p.m. (which, of course, was the equivalent of midnight for Bill).
I drove home to Long Beach and began putting the finishing touches on the speech that I would deliver to introduce James the following day. Sunday morning found me instant messaging with my colleague Patrick Sullivan while watching the final round of the British Open (we both found Paul Azinger's analysis "insufferable") and prepping for the speech that was fast approaching.
Arriving at the Pasadena Central Library shortly after 1 p.m., my wife Barbara and I met up with my brother Tom, our daughter Macy and her fiance Joel, and my good friend Brian Gunn, who most of you know as the brilliant writer of the now retired Redbird Nation. I also spent some time with Steve Henson, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and now the Senior Editor MLB for Yahoo! Sports, and Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed.
Cannon led the audience in a ceremonial bell ringing in honor of Hilda Chester, the Brooklyn Dodgers fan who was renowned for ringing her twin cowbells in the hopes of starting a rally. The National Anthem and Take Me Out to the Ballgame were performed on the ukulele by multi-instrumentalist Don Kirby. After the presentation of a couple of annual awards, the keynote address was delivered by Tomas Benitez, an artist, baseball fan, and advisor to the Baseball Reliquary on Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues.
Berra was introduced by Silvera (next to me in the adjoining photo), who regaled the audience — a full house of approximately 200 in auditorium-style seating — with stories about the catcher annointed by James as the "best ever" as well as tales and jokes about Casey Stengel and others. Toni Mollett (second from the left) is Stengel's niece. She read a letter from Yogi ("I would have been there but I'm somewhere else") and accepted his plaque. John Schulian (middle), a TV writer-producer and former Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist and Sports Illustrated contributor, was there on behalf of Brosnan. His acceptance speech was featured in the L.A. Times on Sunday.
After Berra and Brosnan were inducted in The Shrine of the Eternals, I was called up to the stage to introduce James. I grabbed my notes and one of my props (the 1977 Baseball Abstract) from the shelf of the podium and delivered the following speech.
Three years ago, almost to the day, I began to review all twelve of Bill James' Baseball Abstracts. The project forced me to re-read every book from cover to cover and, in doing so, I came away with a greater appreciation for James than ever before — and, trust me, I have been a big fan dating back more than a quarter of a century.
James spoke for approximately 15 minutes, covering the broad topic of change. Bill tried to deflect some of the credit that he has received over the years but admitted somewhat jokingly that he was more "arrogant" than "humble." James doesn't see himself as a "statistician," saying he doesn't produce any stats. "The players produce the stats," adding that baseball has been engaged in stats since the beginning. Speaking of which, James doesn't think 19th century baseball has much, if anything, to do with the modern game. He touched on steroids, racism, and other issues that have tainted the sport, suggesting that we should put the times in perspective, forgive and move on.
The man who hopefully one day will be enshrined in Cooperstown stuck around afterwards, speaking to attendees one-on-one, shaking hands, signing autographs, and conducting interviews with a few media outlets. He was generous with his time and the attention that he gave everyone.
It was a great weekend. In fact, thanks to Bill, it was one for the Eternals.
The 2007 Draft: Filling in the Gaps
Back in mid-June, or about a month ago, I took a look at the eight Major League teams that I felt helped themselves the most depth-wise during the June amateur baseball draft. Those teams were: Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati, Washington, San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta.
Most of those teams mentioned above were in dire need of a shot-in-the-arm for their minor league systems. Only Cincinnati, Arizona and Atlanta had systems ranked among the top 16 in baseball, according to a pre-season ranking by Baseball America.
One of the key ingredients to restocking the system, though, is to actually sign the top picks. Let's take a look at how the top five teams are doing at rounding up their picks and also take a quick peek to see how those signed players are adjusting to life in pro baseball.
1. Texas Rangers
Only pitchers Michael Main and Tommy Hunter have signed from the first and supplemental first rounds. Main, a two-way player in high school, was drafted as a pitcher but has made only one start so far this season in the rookie level Arizona League. However, he has received 30 at-bats as a designated hitter and has eight hits (.267/.324/.300), as well as three walks and six strikeouts. Main has also stolen three bases in four attempts.
Hunter, a draft-eligible sophomore out of Alabama, has not appeared in a minor league game as of yet. Third round pick Matt West was taken out of high school and has been tearing up the Arizona League to the tune of .333/.448/.417 in 17 games.
The Rangers have a long way to go before they can claim to have had a successful draft. With the talent they chose, it would be a shame to see them miss out of signing the likes of Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
With seven picks in the first, supplemental first and second rounds - Toronto took four high school players, two college juniors and one college senior. As always, the Blue Jays were one of the first clubs to sign up all of its key draft picks.
High schoolers Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson, John Tolisano, and Eric Eiland were all assigned to the Jays' new rookie club in the Gulf Coast League. Not surprisingly, all four have struggled to adapt to life in professional baseball.
Considered the most raw of the four players, Eiland has actually had the most success so far with a line of .253/.356/.333 in 23 games. He has also stolen 10 bases (second in the league) in 10 attempts. Hopefully the Jays will not stifle the young players' running games as they advanced through the majors, as the organization has in the past with other prospects.
Tolisano's batting average sits at .207 and he has struck out 24 times in 87 at-bats, but there are a number of positives in his statistics. The offensive-minded second baseman has five homers and has also walked 18 times, both of which rank third in the league.
Left-hander Brett Cecil is having a great start to his career in the short-season New York Penn League, after signing out of Maryland. Cecil has a 1.46 ERA in six games, including five starts. In 24.2 innings, he has allowed 22 hits, three walks and has 26 strikeouts. Cecil is also almost averaging three groundballs for every flyball.
The Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system should leap up Baseball America's rankings this coming off-season, even with the struggles by the high school draft picks.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Jarrod Parker, who has been likened to Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum, has yet to sign, though. Arizona's next pick, Wes Roemer, has also been tardy with signing his contract. He was selected 50th overall out of Cal State Fullerton.
The next four picks, three of whom were drafted out of college, have signed. The fourth player to sign was Reynaldo Navarro and he was drafted out of Puerto Rico. In the rookie Pioneer League, Navarro has appeared in 24 games and is hitting .238/.261/.274. The 17-year-old switch hitter is batting only .054 against left handers so far this season.
Catcher Ed Easley is batting .282/.356/.513 for short-season Yakima. Three of his 11 hits have been homers. Pitcher Sean Morgan has struggled for Yakima and has a 9.00 ERA in five relief appearances. In six innings of work, Morgan has allowed nine hits and seven walks, while striking out seven. Fellow college pitcher Barry Enright has yet to make an appearance for Yakima.
It is far too early to rate Arizona's returns as the club's highly-drafted college players have appeared in very few games so far. Regardless, the advanced pitchers taken at the top of the draft should help fill the pitching void in the system.
4. Cincinnati Reds
Catcher Devin Mesoraco was one of the hottest commodities on draft day and zoomed up draft boards. He was nabbed with the 15th pick and signed for $1.4 million. So far in the Gulf Coast League, Mesoraco is holding his own with a line of .260/.373/.280. Obviously, he will need to get stronger as he has only one extra base hit (a double). However, he has shown a good eye for a teenager and has walked seven times in 50 at-bats, while striking out only six times.
College shortstop Todd Frazier has two older brothers who have played pro baseball and he is considered the best of the three. Taken in the supplemental first round, Frazier is making a slow adjustment to pro ball and is batting .256/.275/.256 in nine games. He has yet to hit an extra base hit or take a walk.
Despite being perhaps the most raw of the first six picks, Neftali Soto has thrived in pro ball so far. In 22 Gulf Coast League games, Soto is hitting .345/.389/.529. He has 30 hits, including 10 extra base hits (and two homers). He has walked six times and struck out 14.
Kyle Lotzkar, a 17-year-old Canadian pitcher, has yet to make an appearance for the Gulf Coast League team. Missouri State right-hander Scott Carroll has also not appeared in a game.
5. Washington Nationals
According to General Manager Jim Bowden, the club was absolutely thrilled to have the option of selecting Missouri State hurler Ross Detwiler. They recently locked up the pitcher with a contract worth more than $2 million. In one rookie league appearance, Detwiler allowed two hits and no walks in two innings of work. He also struck out three batters.
Prep outfielder Michael Burgess had "Bowden" written all over him as a raw, but toolsy, prospect. The Nationals snapped him up and signed him to a $630,000 contract. Burgess has made the Nationals look good so far, as he is hitting .333/.418/.583 in 14 Gulf Coast League games. He has offset his 15 strikeouts, somewhat, with seven walks. Burgess has slugged two homers and two triples.
Prep shortstop Jason Smolinski was not ranked as highly by other teams, but the Nationals obviously saw something promising. So far, Smolinski has dominated the Gulf Coast League with a line of .337/.404/.427. He has 30 hits in 24 games, albeit with modest power (eight extra base hits, all doubles). In 89 at-bats, Smolinski has walked 10 times and struck out 19. He has six stolen bases in eight attempts.
You may not have heard of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, but the Nationals have and they drafted pitcher Jordan Zimmerman out of there during the second round. In five New York Penn League games, he has a 2.87 ERA. In 15.2 innings, Zimmerman has allowed only 10 hits and eight walks. He has struck out an impressive 25 batters.
Prep pitcher Josh Smoker was taken 31st overall, but has yet to sign a pro contract.
Regardless of what happens with contract negotiations, the final month of the minor league season should be a blast.
Wrong Way Players, Part 1 - 1883 to 1950
What is the worst thing a young non-pitcher can do? The answer is obvious: Bat right-handed and throw left-handed. Although that backwards combination is often the kiss of death for a budding baseball career, a small number of players have made it to the major league level despite that handicap.
The saga of habitually corrupt Hal Chase has been covered in countless articles, and the first baseman has been the main subject of a few books. While everyone acknowledges that Chase was a crooked as a Chicago alderman, there is disagreement over just how good a player he was.
Batting Average on Balls in Play: Leaders and Laggards (Part Two)
In Part One of this series on Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), we focused on the laggards. Today, we will take a close look at the leaders.
As I pointed out in the previous article, "there are many factors that affect BABIP, including batted ball types, ballparks, team defense, foot speed, and, yes, luck or randomness. As with any stat, sample size is also an important consideration here." Hitting for a high BABIP — especially over a long period — is more of a skill than not. That said, it is still enlightening to measure a player's BABIP, in conjunction with batted ball stats, vs. his career norms to determine the sustainability of one's AVG/OBP/SLG.
Interestingly, all ten leaders have career BABIP above the league-wide average (which tends to run at or near .300 most years).
Top Ten in BABIP Through 7/17/07
BABIP PLAYER TEAM 2007 CAREER Derrek Lee CHC .406 .326 Jorge Posada NYY .393 .320 Hunter Pence HOU .385 .385 Ichiro Suzuki SEA .383 .357 Dmitri Young WAS .382 .328 Matt Holliday COL .382 .352 Magglio Ordonez DET .380 .314 Willy Taveras COL .379 .348 Chase Utley PHI .373 .329 Reggie Willits LAA .371 .367
From a batted ball perspective, the only thing that is really different with Derrek Lee this season is his HR/FB%. At 8.1%, it's well under half of his average for the past five years (17.7%). Not surprisingly, Lee's ISO (.166) is lower than it's ever been for a season in which he has played at least 100 games. His AVG (.337) and OBP (.422) are almost identical to his
Lee dropped his appeal and began serving a five-game suspension Wednesday for his part in a fight with the Padres on June 16. How convenient. Lee fouled a ball off his left ankle Tuesday night and, in his words, will be "limping for a few days." Baseball needs to re-examine its policies with respect to appealing and serving suspensions to prevent players and teams from picking their spots. Now.
Jorge Posada turns 36 next month, yet is putting together one of his best seasons ever. His home run power is down a bit but he's swatting doubles like they are going out of style. Thanks to a career high BABIP, his .332 AVG is 45 points higher than his previous best. The switch-hitting catcher is doing his job from both sides of the plate.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP vs RHP as LHB .322 .407 .507 .914 .365 vs LHP as RHB .354 .418 .542 .960 .448
Although Posada's .448 BABIP from the right side is unsustainably high, he has always hit lefties better — be it AVG, OBP, SLG, or BABIP.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP vs RHP as LHB .263 .375 .464 .839 .302 vs LHP as RHB .301 .383 .502 .885 .348
Hunter Pence may be the front runner for the NL Rookie of the Year although I sense that Ryan Braun is going to blow by him, if he hasn't already. I'm also partial toward Troy Tulowitzki, who is leading the majors in clutch hitting and all shortstops in John Dewan's Plus/Minus fielding system. In any event, Pence is off to a great start (.334/.360/.578) despite owning the seventh-lowest walk rate (3.6%) in the majors.
Let's compare Pence's rookie season vs. Jeff Francoeur's inaugural campaign in 2005:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Pence 69 296 42 99 24 6 12 44 8 4 11 58 .334 .360 .578 141 Francoeur 70 257 41 77 20 1 14 45 3 2 11 58 .300 .336 .549 124
Pretty scary, huh? I mean, check out those BB and SO totals. It seems to me that Francoeur drew a lot more criticism for his lack of patience and failure to walk than Pence, yet the latter is actually drawing fewer bases on balls as a percentage of his plate appearances. As much as I like Pence (full disclosure: he's on my fantasy team), I'm highly skeptical of his success thus far. He's a good player but probably not on par with Francoeur. Sure, Pence plays the more difficult position (for now), but he's putting the above numbers up at the age of 24 whereas Francoeur was just 21 when he was a rookie. Oh, did I mention that both players are 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds?
I hesitate to mention Willy Taveras and Reggie Willits in the same sentence as Ichiro Suzuki, but there are some similarities in their styles. All three outfielders are among the fastest runners in the game and they hit a lot of balls on the ground. Ichiro is the poster child in this regard. Only a quarter of his balls in play are flies. Ground balls and line drives, coupled with being fleet of foot, mean lots of hits and a high BABIP and AVG. Don't ever think his average is flukish. Instead, recognize that it is a formula. And Ichiro does it better than anyone. Granted, the two-time batting champion is a singles hitter, but he has produced more than 200 hits every season and a .332 average over his MLB career.
Although Dmitri Young has been a pretty consistent hitter since his breakout season in 1998, very few baseball people saw him rebounding after putting up career lows in AVG, OBP, and SLG last year. Give Jim Bowden, the GM of the Washington Nationals, credit for giving Young one more chance. The 33-year-old first baseman has responded in kind, hitting .341/.389/.523 as a replacement for the injured Nick Johnson.
Matt Holliday has been hitting ever since he broke in as a rookie in 2004. He took his numbers up nicely in 2005 and 2006 and has leveled off a bit in 2007. However, it would be disingenuous to suggest that his production has not benefited by playing his home games at Coors Field.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP Home .362 .422 .642 1.064 .388 Away .268 .321 .439 .760 .310
The 27-year-old outfielder has been a superstar at home and nothing more than an ordinary hitter on the road. His walk and strikeout rates, as well as his batted ball stats, have been steady throughout his four-year career. Holliday is what he is and should continue to put up big numbers as long as he calls Colorado his home.
What can you say about Magglio Ordonez? The 33-year-old outfielder is having a career year and is a prime candidate to earn his first MVP award. Ordonez (.357/.435/.589) is leading the AL in AVG, OBP, and doubles. He is in the top five in SLG, OPS, OPS+, H, XBH, TOB, TB, R, and RBI. Maggs doubled and homered against Johan Santana yesterday while driving in all three runs in Detroit's 3-2 victory over Minnesota. Voters will be partial toward Ordonez if he keeps it up and the Tigers win the AL Central.
Speaking of MVPs, nobody is having a better season in the NL than Chase Utley (.338/.408/.589). He is unquestionably the premier second baseman in the game and his margin over the next best is arguably wider than the #1 and #2 at any other position. Utley hits like a first baseman or corner outfielder and is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman, ranking first in Dewan's Plus/Minus system at his position. The $85M contract he signed in January for seven years is looking smarter from the Phillies' perspective every day.
Who's Buyin', Who's Sellin'?
I want to start off by revisiting this piece from earlier in the season when I solicited some individual performance predictions for the halfway mark.
Commenter Richard nailed Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson (among others).
I will be doing a comparison of early season leaders and year-end standouts to demonstrate that a baseball season is indeed a marathon and not a race at the regular season's end. I will also be pointing out some more of our prescient readers.
Today's order of business is a look towards the trade deadline.
I came up with my own very unscientific and rough guide to help me rank the teams that ought to be buying and selling between now and the July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline. I tried to consider a way in which I could combine what a team's realistic chances of reaching the post-season were with their organizational depth and wherewithal to withstand a hit to the farm system.
If you are good and have a deep system, you buy. You have a shot to win and the strength from which to deal. If you have no chance to win and your farm system stinks, you sell. You need fresh young talent and you have no shot anyway. If you fall somewhere in between these two categories, you in all likelihood hold tight unless bowled over by an offer.
In order to come up with this system, I am leaning heavily on Baseball Prospectus. Specifically, I reference Clay Davenport's Postseason Odds Report and Kevin Goldstein's pre-season organizational farm system rankings. In combining each team's post-season odds ranking with their farm system one, I have come up with the following list. The lower the figure, the more sense it would seem to make for that team to be considering buying. The higher the figure, they should be considering all out firesale mode so as to try and stock up for the future. Without further ado...
LAD 8 LAA 8 MIL 11 BOS 12 NYM 14 NYY 16 COL 16 DET 17 CLE 20 ARI 23 ATL 24 MIN 25 SEA 27 CHC 30 TBD 31 CIN 34 SDP 37 TOR 38 FLA 38 KCR 38 OAK 39 BAL 39 SFG 39 PHI 41 TEX 45 STL 47 PIT 50 CHW 51 HOU 54 WAS 58
Below I will profile some of the more interesting situations. Teams about which I do not have anything thoughtful to say, I will skip over.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Their two biggest problems right now are their two most famous players. Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre are killing this team. Since internal solutions abound on the offensive side, there is no real need for them to go out and get another bat. Instead what they ought to be thinking about is adding a starting pitching arm. With Jason Schmidt's status in jeopardy and the fill-in combo of Mark Hendrickson and Hong-Chih Kuo proving catostrophic, it's time to look externally for help. Roy Oswalt, Jose Contreras or Dontrelle Willis are some of the names that could make some sense.
Los Angeles Angels
Like their Southern California brethren up the freeway in Los Angeles, the Angels could use another arm. Now that Halos' fans long, Orange County-wide Shea Hillenbrand nightmare is behind them, there really is not a glaring hole in the offense. But then, is Garret Anderson really the answer? I suppose an extra bat would be nice, but even nicer would be someone pitching better than Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon have been. Jermaine Dye could be a solid addition to the offense, while Mike Maroth and Steve Trachsel could be under-the-radar boons for teams looking to be a bit thrifty around the deadline.
With a strong lineup and a lights out bullpen to turn to, it's hard for me to say of the Brewers should really be looking to pick up another arm or not. Ben Sheets's injury hurts, but Yovani Gallardo slides in. Unfortunately this does little to solve the problems that Jeff Suppan and Chris Capuano constitute. Both have been in free-fall mode for about two months now. Perhaps a look at one of the lower cost options I mentioned above might be worthwhile. I wonder what the Red Sox would want for Kason Gabbard, who has looked tremendous of late and figures to lose his rotation spot anyway once Curt Schilling returns.
Boston Red Sox
A difference making starting pitcher would do the trick, but there is no sense in courting a lower cost option because of the depth Boston possesses in Gabbard, David Pauley,Clay Buchholz, etc. Mark Buehrle would have been a nice option, but that is obviously off the table. Oswalt or Willis might make some sense. As for their offensive problems, they will have to fix themselves. There are no better options that offer better chances of improvement for the Red Sox than Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew turning things around. Coco Crisp should be better too, and if not, Jacoby Ellsbury provides some nice insurance. A bullpen arm like Eric Gagne or Brad Lidge could help, but Boston's bullpen is hardly a weakness. They have the organizational depth to deal but may be best served by letting their own players sort out their problems.
New York Mets
Like the Red Sox, the Mets are imperfect but it is difficult to identify the right deal. Their hitting is very good and should only get better with improvement from Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. Their starting pitching is excellent. With Aaron Heilman struggling at times, however, perhaps a bullpen arm would make sense. I look for Omar Minaya to targer a reliever in the next couple weeks.
New York Yankees
With Phil Hughes set to re-join the rotation, the Yanks will get the best deadline pickup of anybody. In addition, they might want to consider upgrading their 1B situation. They have neglected the position all year long and their offense has suffered for it. Should Mark Teixeira and Hughes be in pinstripes come August 1, the Bombers immediately become one the very most formidable clubs in baseball. Will it be enough to overcome the hole they find themselves in?
If the Tigers get an outfielder and a reliever, they could cruise to a World Series. Craig Monroe kills them, and so does their bullpen. The Phillies seem to be the most sensible partner. I wonder what a package of either Pat Burrell or Aaron Rowand along with Ryan Madson would take. Whatever it is, the Tigers have it in their system.
I don't think the Tribe needs to do a whole lot. Like Boston, the most likely solutions to their problems will come simply from improvement. Josh Barfield has to get better, and some combination of their corner outfield talent will emerge as formidable. Like so many other teams, if they want to tinker, they might send a modest offering to another club for a relief arm. Other than that, I think Cleveland looks good to go.
Arizona is in such good shape for the future that it would be a shame to see them mortgage any of it for an unlikely run at 2007 glory. The temptation has to be there for them given that they find themselves just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Still, their pythagorean record suggests they are playing well over their heads. If I am Josh Byrnes, I hold tight, take my chances with the guys I have (a number of whom very well may pick it up in the second half) and at worst, gear up for one hell of a ride in 2008 and beyond.
The Braves are two games out of the playoffs at the moment but with Jarod Saltalamacchia graduated to the Bigs, their farm system does not have a ton to offer. Further, they figure to be a better club in the second half with Salty taking time from Scott Thorman and improvement coming from Andruw Jones. If they were so inclined, they could make a bargain play for a starter but there is no need for the Braves to make a big splash.
For what it's worth, I think you can slot Seattle, the Cubs and San Diego in with Atlanta as well. Sure, all could use a Big League addition or two to help spring their stretch runs but these teams are no slam dunk to make the post-season, and none of their farm systems boast the requisite depth to even net a pennant race changer.
I think you are going to see the A's involved in the trading market in a big way. Mike Piazza is a bat that a number of teams would covet, Dan Johnson is expendable with the emerging Daric Barton waiting in the wings and Chad Gaudin is a screaming "sell high" candidate with the spiffy ERA and 8-4 win-loss record and the mediocre peripherals. What's more, the A's system for the first time in a while is lacking imminent impact players.
Steve Trachsel would help a lot of teams and for those prospect-laden clubs who find themselves one decent starter short of championship contention like the Dodgers, Angels and Brewers, Trachsel could net a lot in return. Even though he is signed to a less than favorable deal, Chad Bradford is a guy the O's would be wise to dangle.
San Francisco Giants
Add Matt Morris to the list of under-the-radar starters that could be a real difference maker down the stretch. Far be it from Brian Sabean to deal a cagey veteran like Morris for some youth but even Sabes might see that you have to strike while the iron is hot. Morris could help any number of clubs in need of another starting pitcher.
It might feel like they are still contending but they really are not. In Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, they have their core. They are so close to being a contending team, too, that a savvy deal this season could make all the difference for 2008 and beyond. Rowand, Burrell, Madson and Jamie Moyer could all fetch worthwhile talent. How Pat Gillick plays this trade deadline will be critical to Philadelphia's future success.
The Rangers also have a great opportunity to set their future squads up. Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne are sure to net a lot in return, and Kevin Millwood could do the same if Texas is willing to eat some of his contract. Jon Daniels has had a rough start to his tenure in Arlington but he was awarded an extension through 2009. This deadline will go a long way in determining if he is there into the next decade.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are getting old and there is very little in their farm system to get excited about. Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter constitute a nice start, but from there they need to rebuild. Dangling Russ Springer, Mike Maroth and Jason Isringhausen might be some good first steps in restoring the Cardinals.
Chicago White Sox
Like the Rangers, the Pale Hose have some nice chips to try and set themselves up for more success in the coming years. Dye, Contreras, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras all will have appeal to teams looking to add a player to push them over the hump.
Brad Lidge. Roy Oswalt. Given their recent run of success, it would be hard to imagine the 'Stros without these two guys but who better to deal in order to yield the greatest return. Lidge should be a goner even with a modest offer on the table but another club would have to really wow me in order to part with Oswalt.
The worst team in baseball has the worst farm system in baseball. This makes things challenging, particularly as they get set to move into a new ballpark in 2008. Still, with Dmitri Young having an excellent year and Chad Cordero firing on all cylinders as usual, they have two chips to try and set themselves up. Young would make a nice addition as the Angels DH while teams far and wide should be lining up for Cordero. Let's see what Jim Bowden will do.
It would be great to here from readers on how they think their favorite teams should be approaching the deadline.
Top 10 of the 2003 Draft: Where Are They Now?
The 2003 amateur draft was responsible for bringing a great deal of talent into the professional ranks. Leading up to the draft, the biggest question was whether the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would take high school outfielder Delmon Young or college second baseman Rickie Weeks. Although Young has yet to truly breakout, all signs indicate they made the correct decision by taking the prep star and brother of MLB player Dmitri Young.
A day before the draft, Baseball America had this to say:
Tampa Bay's discussion on California high school outfielder Delmon Young and Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks continued well into Monday evening. Weeks gathered momentum when he performed well last Friday in an NCAA regional playoff game with Rays GM Chuck LaMar on hand, and his cause was helped further when Young turned down the club's $3.75 million offer. But Weeks also decided not to work out in Tampa on Monday, and that helped swing the decision back to Young. Florida outfielder Ryan Harvey, a product of nearby Dunedin High, is a long shot third choice.
The 2003 draft had a number of solid players from both the high school and college ranks. It wasn't as deep as the 2001 draft (few have been) but the top 10 was considered rather solid at the time.
Four years later (roughly the average time it takes a star prep player to navigate the minors), let's take a look and see how those first 10 players are doing. But first, a word of warning for those who believe players chosen in the first round of the MLB amateur draft should be "can't miss" super stars. They're not.
Young is currently in his first full season in the majors but he continues to be held back from stardom by two things: his lack of power and his impatience. The power will likely come, as he did hit 25 homers in his first full minor league season, but the patience is the biggest concern. This season in the majors, Young has walked only 15 times in 360 at-bats or four percent of the time. That is not going to get it done, regardless of who you are.
Along with his play at the plate, there have been some concerns raised about Young's behavior. He was suspended for 50 games after an "incident" with an umpire last season in Triple-A and he previously criticized the Rays' organization when he felt he was not being promoted aggressively enough.
We all know you don't have to be a nice person to be a star athlete, but maturity certainly does have its advantages. Once (if?) Young reaches that level, he should be a star because all the tools, that led him to be taken No.1 overall in the nation, are still there. But many thought he'd already be at that level, including himself.
Baseball America - No. 1 overall draft pick Delmon Young took a long time to join the Devil Rays, as negotiations dragged for more than three months until he signed a five-year major league contract Tuesday worth at least $5.8 million and as much as $6.2 million.
2. Milwaukee | Rickie Weeks | second base | Southern University | $3,600,000
Weeks made a strong push to be taken No. 1 overall in the last week leading up to the draft, but the Rays decided on Young at the last moment. Milwaukee happily jumped on Weeks, who was considered an advanced hitter with suspect defence. Fast-forward to 2007 and Weeks is still considered a better hitter than defender. However, his bat has proven to be less advanced than expected, with a career MLB line of .248/.331/.388. Those are not the types of numbers you would expect from the second overall pick out of college.
One has to look to Weeks' inability to stay healthy, especially his wrists, as the No. 1 reason for his struggles with consistency at the plate. At some point, though, Weeks has got to start producing. Although his offensive output is not indicative of his potential, his numbers are not what one would expect from the starter on a team bound for the playoffs.
3. Detroit | Kyle Sleeth | right hander | Wake Forest | $3,350,000
Why would I hesitate to take top-rated college pitchers in the first round of the amateur draft? Because they are often abused by college coaches who have no concern for the prospects' futures. Take Kyle Sleeth as a prime example of this opinion.
Where is Sleeth today, you ask? Detroit, heck, maybe even Triple-A? Nope, the 25-year-old is in Advanced A-ball with an 8.63 ERA in eight games. He is currently trying to get back into game shape after surgery that caused him to miss all of 2005 and most of 2006. The Tigers knew Sleeth had a "scary" deliver when they drafted him, and it came back to haunt.
4. San Diego | Tim Stauffer | right hander | U of Richmond | $750,000
Welcome exhibit two of our series on top college relievers with health concerns. Tim Stauffer literally cost himself millions of dollars when he shocked the Padres by confessing to a pre-existing injury prior to signing his multi-million dollar pro contract.
However, despite a shoulder injury, Stauffer has actually had more success than Sleeth. Stauffer has actually pitched in the majors, but you would certainly hope for a lot more than a 5.07 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 87 innings from the fourth overall pick. Having failed to secure a major league job after four years, Stauffer is currently in his fourth attempt to succeed at Triple-A and he has a 5.59 ERA in 83.2 innings. He has also allowed 110 hits, walked 23 and struck out only 60. Ouch. Now that hurts more than a bum shoulder.
5. Kansas City | Chris Lubanski | outfielder | Pennsylvania high school | $2,100,000
Despite an often barren system in recent years, the Royals had a tendency to take raw, but toolsy, high school players (Hello, Colt Griffin). Chris Lubanski is yet another one of those players chosen by the Royals but he may turn out to be the most successful one... but even that might be as a fourth outfielder.
Lubanski is currently stuck as a "tweener." He has good range in the outfield, but all his other fielding skills are fringe average, which relegates him to left field. The problem is, scouts are split on whether or not he will have enough bat to play everyday for a good team. Lubanski had one very solid offensive season (.301/.349/.554) but it was in one of the best hitter's parks in minor league baseball. This season, split between Double-A and Triple-A, he has 10 homers in 288 at-bats, along with a .274 average.
6. Chicago (NL) | Ryan Harvey | outfielder | Florida high school | $2,400,000
It was thought that Ryan Harvey had more raw power than any other player taken in the first round. Four years later, that power is still raw, as are all aspects of his game. Harvey has been a huge disappointment to this point and is becoming a long shot to even sniff the major leagues.
Although Harvey has yet to turn 23 yet, he has spent two years in Rookie Ball and three years in A-Ball. Injuries have caused his problems in 2007, after hitting 20 homers in each of the last two years (despite a .250-ish average), Harvey will be lucky to break 10 this season. In 25 games in 2007, Harvey is batting .208/.230/.354 with four homer. If he does manage to make the major leagues, his career could mimic that of Russell Branyan.
7. Baltimore | Nick Markakis | outfielder | Georgia junior college | $1,850,000
The Orioles shocked a good portion of baseball when they announced two-way player Nick Markakis as an outfielder, after they drafted him seventh overall.
Baseball America - A lefthander/outfielder, Markakis ranked right behind Adam Loewen among draft-and-follows from 2002. Drafted twice by the Reds, most recently in the 23rd round last year, Markakis turned down $1.5 million from the Reds before this draft. He agreed to a $1.85 million bonus from the Orioles—$450,000 less than MLB’s recommendation.
Maybe - just maybe - Baltimore actually got something right for a change, despite turning a blind eye to the lack of quality left-handed pitching in baseball. So far, Markakis has had the best major league career of any of the 2003 top 10 draft picks, with a career line of .290/.350/.450. That said, his career numbers do not scream superstar. Right now, he is looking like a solid major leaguer with modest power for a corner outfielder.
8. Pittsburgh | Paul Maholm | left hander | Mississippi State | $2,200,000
Paul Maholm shares some similarities with the Pirates' 2007 No. 1 draft pick Daniel Moskos. Both left-handers came out of a solid college program and both were advanced pitchers, albeit with modest upside for their draft positions.
Maholm, having a four year advantage on Moskos, has established himself as a solid, but unspectacular, big league pitcher. His 4.41 career major league ERA is good but not great and the same can be said about his 16-23 record (remember, he is playing for the Pirates).
Through 336 career big league innings, Maholm has allowed 359 hits, but he does have a solid 2-1 groundball-flyball ratio. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Maholm's could develop into the next Jamie Moyer.
9. Texas | John Danks | left hander | Texas high school | $2,100,000
John Danks was considered the top prep pitcher in the draft by many, including Baseball America.
Danks has passed Florida's Andrew Miller as the top high school lefthander in the draft and could be the first southpaw drafted, unless a team prefers a college player and opts for Mississippi State's Paul Maholm.
Four years later, Danks is currently in his first season at the major league level, although he is now wearing a Chicago White Sox jersey, after being traded for fellow hurler Brandon McCarthy. In 16 starts, Danks has a solid start to his career with 4.62 ERA in 89.2 innings. He has allowed 97 hits, walked 36 batters and struck out 68. At the age of 22, the left-hander may have the most promising upside of any player in the 2003 top 10, depending on how Young develops.
10. Colorado | Ian Stewart | third base | California high school | $1,950,000
It's taken long than expected, but Ian Stewart is starting to show some signs of life. After his first two minor league seasons in Caspar (.317/.401/.558) and Asheville (.319/.398/.594), Stewart looked to be on the fast track. However, his next two seasons were modest and some began to wonder just how potent Stewart's bat really was.
His numbers are intriguing in 2007, but must again be taken with a grain of salt, as he is playing in Colorado Springs, which is an excellent hitter's park. After hitting only .268 with 10 homers in 462 at-bats at Double-A in 2006, Stewart has rebounded to hit .299 with 11 homers in only 324 at-bats in 2007. On the plus side, he did have 41 doubles last season, which can be an indicator at the minor league level for dormant power.
Whether Stewart develops into a corner infielder or becomes a solid role player remains to be seen. But he is not likely to become the star that he was predicted to become after the 2004 season.
Overall, my predictions from the 2003 draft's top 10 list would be for one superstar, six solid regular Major League Baseball players and three busts. Is that acceptable? I'd certainly hope for more from my top 10 pick. There are a number of players, though, that show you don't have to be a top 10 pick to be a solid prospect of major league player.
The following players were all drafted outside the top 10 in 2003 and all 10 would likely be top 10 picks in hindsight: Lastings Milledge, Aaron Hill, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chad Billingsley, Adam Miller, Tom Gorzelanny, Jason Hirsh and Shaun Marcum.
Bill James will be inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals on Sunday, July 22, in Pasadena, California. James, Yogi Berra, and Jim Brosnan comprise the ninth class of electees in voting conducted by the membership of the Baseball Reliquary. All three honorees have made significant contributions to the language and literature of baseball.
According to Terry Cannon, Executive Director of the Baseball Reliquary, the Shrine of Eternals is "similar in concept to the National Baseball Hall of Fame" but "differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election."
Previous honorees have been Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William "Dummy" Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.
Cannon and James have asked me to introduce Bill at the event, a distinct honor unto itself and one that I gladly accepted. Following my introductory remarks, Bill will speak and be presented with his induction plaque.
Here is an excerpt from the press release:
An author, historian, and statistics analyst, Kansas native BILL JAMES has been one of the most influential figures in baseball since he turned his inquisitive sights on the game in the mid-1970s. Using his annual Baseball Abstracts to question conventional wisdom, he developed his own analytical tools (Runs Created, Win Shares, Pythagorean Winning Percentage, et al.) with which he tweaked the nose of the major league establishment and revolutionized the way fans, the media, and baseball insiders think about the game. The corn-fed clarity of his writing style, combined with an acerbic wit and careful presentation of data in the Abstracts and subsequent books, made James the most widely read and imitated apostle of sabermetrics, the search for objective knowledge about baseball (after SABR, the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research). James’ knowledge of the game also made him a valuable asset for players and agents, some of whom hired him to assist in arbitration battles with management. Since 2003, James has been employed by the Boston Red Sox as Senior Baseball Operations Advisor, giving him a chance to put some of his theories into practice. In addition, since 2006, James’ life and ideas have been chronicled in two books, The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, written by Scott Gray and published by Doubleday, and How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball, edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce and published by ACTA Sports.
As one who owns the entire run of Baseball Abstracts (including the self-published editions from 1977-1981) and all of his other books, I literally bought into James and have been eating up every word he has ever written for more than a quarter of a century. James has had a tremendous influence on the way that I—and most of you—think about, understand, and appreciate the game of baseball. If not for James, the inspiration for Baseball Analysts may never have existed. Without a platform, I would not have undertaken the Abstracts From The Abstracts series, which culminated in Breakfast with Bill James, a three-part interview that took place in December 2004 at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim.
For more on Bill James and his induction into the Shrine of the Eternals, be sure to read Paul Oberjuerge's outstanding article (which appeared in print on Sunday in the Los Angeles Newspaper Group) and interview.
If you live in or around the greater Los Angeles area, I would highly recommend attending Sunday's ceremony. It will be held at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, 285 East Walnut Street, Pasadena at 2:00 PM. Admission is open to the public and free of charge. For more information, please call (626) 791-7647 or visit the Baseball Reliquary website.
Feel free to drop me an email if you're planning on attending and perhaps we can make arrangements to meet in person before or after the event.
See this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune entitled, Suzuki's deal sets a higher bar for Hunter. Let's compare Suzuki and Hunter on a per 162 game average over the course of their respective MLB careers:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+ SB CS GIDP Ichiro .333 .379 .439 120 40 9 5 Hunter .271 .324 .470 104 17 8 17
In Hunter's defense, Ichiro will be 34 to start next season while Hunter will be 32. But if he thinks Ichiro serves as any sort of proxy for the money coming his way, he has no argument at all. Ichiro is worth boatloads of money in off-the-field revenue and is a far better player than Hunter to boot. I don't doubt that some GM will grossly overpay for Hunter, but when jockeying for negotiating leverage, Hunter should shoot a good bit lower than the great Ichiro.
- Sully, 7/14/07, 1:21 PM EDT
If Ichiro Suzuki is an $18 million per year player, what are Jones and Hunter worth? How about Cameron and Rowand? As Sully pointed out, Ichiro is a special situation because of his off-the-field endorsement value. I would also argue that he is the most apt to put fans in the seats. As such, we can't compare Suzuki to the others without accounting for these non-statistical factors. In any event, which teams do you see stepping up?
Here is how the large-market clubs stand now:
NYY Damon 4 years/$52M (2006-09) NYM Beltran 7 years/$119M (2005-11) BOS Crisp 3 years/$15.5M (2007-09)* CHC Pie 1 year/ (2007) CWS Erstad 1 year/$1M (2007)** LAD Pierre 5 years/$44M (2007-11) LAA Matthews 5 years/$50M (2007-11)
* $8M club option in 2010 ($0.5M buyout) ** $3.5M club option in 2008 ($0.25M buyout)
The Yankees, of course, could move Damon to left field. In theory, the Dodgers could do the same with Pierre. The Mets and Angels are committed to Carlos Beltran and Gary Matthews, respectively. Coco Crisp could become a fourth outfielder, if need be. When it comes to Boston, the question isn't really about Crisp as much as it is Jacoby Ellsbury. Will the Red Sox let Crisp and Ellsbury battle it out next spring or will they look outside the organization for their next CF, even if means blocking Ellsbury's path to the bigs? The Chicago Cubs will face the same thought process as it relates to Felix Pie.
The White Sox are the most likely team to be in the market for one of these free agent CF. To the extent that these free agents go elsewhere, the Braves, Twins, Padres, and Phillies will need to find suitable replacements. The latter could turn to Michael Bourn, a 24-year-old speedster who can run 'em down but is unlikely to be much of a threat at the plate.
Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto won't be in the market for a center fielder during the off-season. In theory, there are a number of potential suitors but, realistically speaking, there are only a handful of teams likely to dole out the big bucks for a Jones or Hunter type.
As for me, I see the Yankees stepping up and making a run at Jones or Hunter, especially if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract. Put me down for Jones signing with the NYY and Hunter going to the CWS. I can see Cameron returning to the Padres and Byrnes to the Diamondbacks (although as a LF). I don't have a particularly good feel for Rowand but will take a wild guess and say that Oakland or San Francisco ends up with him. Neither Bradley or Patterson will draw much interest and will wind up signing shorter-term deals in the hopes of testing the market once again.
- Rich Lederer, 7/14/07, 11:30 PM PST
Jake Peavy has been a fantastic success so far this season. Using a fastball that sits in the high 90's, a slider that breaks in on right-handed hitters and a changeup that breaks the opposite direction, Peavy has dominated the National League. A more accurate statement would be that he dominated the National League in May, allowing only three earned runs in 34.0 innings pitched, with opponents hitting just .164 against him. Even outside of May, Peavy has done very well this season, so what can the Pitch f/x system tell us about him and his pitches?
Here's a chart showing Peavy's start on May 27th vs. the Brewers. He threw all four of his pitches in this start and you can see the different breaks that they have. His fastball and slider both break toward a right-handed hitter, while his changeup moves away from righties. His curve is a standard curve from a right-handed pitcher and runs away from a right-handed hitter. There really isn't anything particularly special in this chart, and I put it in to get a feel for his pitches. In this article I'm going to examine when during a game Peavy throws his pitches, and specifically, does he pitch differently in high pressure situations or low pressure situations?
Before I could look at when Peavy throws his pitches I needed to classify them. As I was classifying the pitches it appeared that he had five pitches. However, when I looked at data from individual games, I could only find evidence for four pitches, the fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. I was pretty confident that he only threw those four pitches, but there was clearly another group in the season graph.
This wasn't a case of stadium variation, as all these games were in San Diego, and they were all prior to June 4th, which was when MLB.com began varying the "release point" distance. After another round of looking at the data from individual games, I found two problems. One was pitches that weren't classifiable. These pitches had similar movement to Peavy's fastball, but the velocity was much slower. I'm not sure what caused this, and I removed them from the data set, but it just serves as another reminder to be careful with these data. The second problem I ran into was that Peavy had some serious variation in how his pitches moved from start to start. This is pretty different from what I found in my last article, and I'm not sure what it means. There were some patterns where every pitch in certain starts varied the same amount, which would indicate a camera change, so the differences might just be another reminder to be careful. However, for the purposes of this article, variations between starts don't matter as long as each start is consistent with itself, which was the case for the starts I examined. I ended up using Peavy's starts from 4/30, 5/11, 5/16, 5/22, 5/27, 6/7 and 6/19. Here is a table showing the percentage of each pitch that Peavy throws overall.
Pitch Total Mix Fastball 417 0.61 Slider 159 0.23 Changeup 98 0.14 Curveball 11 0.02 Total 685 1.00
The chart is very basic, but one thing that stuck out to me was that Peavy throws his fastball 61% of the time, which initially seemed like a lot of fastballs. However, after comparing him to other hard throwing right-handers, such as Josh Beckett (61% fastballs) and Justin Verlander (65% fastballs), 61% seems about right. How often does Peavy rely on his fastball when the pressure is on though?
Once I had all Peavy's pitches classified I matched them to the Leverage Index that they were thrown in. I assigned the Leverage Index (LI) at the beginning of a plate appearance to any pitch thrown during that plate appearance, with steals and other runner advancements during the play being accounted for. I split up Peavy's pitches into those that he threw when the LI was greater than one and when it was less than or equal to one. One is defined as average LI, so I'm splitting Peavy's pitches into above average (high) pressure situations and below average (low) pressure situations. Here are Peavy's LI splits according to his pitches.
High Pitches Mix | Low Pitches Mix Fastball 133 0.56 | 284 0.64 Slider 76 0.32 | 83 0.19 Changeup 25 0.11 | 73 0.16 Curveball 4 0.02 | 7 0.02 Total 238 1.00 | 447 1.00
You can see from the table that when the pressure is mounting, Peavy relies less on his fastball and much more on his slider, throwing it 32% of the time in high pressure situations, compared with just 19% in low pressure situations. Nearly half of all sliders that Peavy threw in my sample have come in high pressure situations, while just one-third of all his fastballs came in high pressure situations. In every game that I examined, Peavy's ratio of fastballs to sliders was smaller in high pressure situations compared to low pressure situations, as he threw 3.4 fastballs for every slider in low pressure situations, but only 1.8 fastballs per slider in high pressure situations.
I was a little surprised that Peavy used his slider so much more in pressure situations. One reason for the difference could be that in low pressure situations, Peavy is more focused on getting quick outs and using more fastballs to do so. The fact that he used his slider more in pressure situations isn't surprising, but I was surprised by the magnitude of the shift. However, without someone similar to compare him to I wouldn't know if he really went to it more or if that was a pattern all pitchers shared. I used the other starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, Dan Haren, as my comparison. Haren relies on three pitches, a fastball, a slider and a split-fingered fastball, with a very occasional changeup and curveball mixed in. Here's a chart for Haren showing the same pressure situation splits.
High Pitches Mix | Low Pitches Mix Fastball 128 0.44 | 280 0.57 Slider 76 0.26 | 100 0.21 Splitter 82 0.28 | 92 0.19 Changeup 4 0.01 | 13 0.03 Curveball 0 0.00 | 2 0.00 Total 290 1.00 | 487 1.00
Whatever Peavy is doing with his slider in pressure situations, Haren is doing something very similar with his slider and splitter. Haren threw 28% splitters and 26% sliders in high pressure situations, compared with 19% and 21%, respectively, in low pressure situations. The ratio of Fastballs/Sliders and Fastballs/Splitters shows the same inverse relationship with pressure for Haren that it did with Peavy. One thing that really jumps out from these splits is the "out" pitch for each pitcher, not necessarily their best pitch, but the one they rely on to get outs. Looking at the basic chart, Peavy threw 61% fastballs, which makes it seem like that was his out pitch. However, he went hog-wild with his slider in pressure situations because that is his true out pitch. Haren relied on both his slider and splitter in pressure situations and used both of them for outs.
Both Peavy and Haren have different patterns that they follow when pitching in high and low pressure situations. Both pitchers use their off-speed pitches more in high pressure situations than in low pressure situations. This seems like it would be the norm in the Major Leagues, as pitchers would rely more on fastballs in low pressure situations, possibly to avoid walking batters and turning low pressure situations into high pressure one, and possibly to avoid showing their out pitches to batters. However, I can't know for certain whether Peavy or Haren throw a relatively high percentage of fastballs in low pressure situations because I don't have the Major League average for fastballs thrown in low pressure situations. That would need to be calculated before this type of analysis goes much further. With the MLB averages for the types of pitches thrown at different levels of pressure, game theory could be applied to the analysis, and statements like "Jake Peavy throws too many (or too few) fastballs in high pressure situations" would have real meaning.
Batting Average on Balls in Play: Leaders and Laggards (Part One)
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a relatively new stat that has shed some light on pitching and hitting performances. Without context, this metric can be dangerous in jumping to conclusions about a player's production. There are many factors that affect BABIP, including batted ball types, ballparks, team defense, foot speed, and, yes, luck or randomness. As with any stat, sample size is also an important consideration here.
In addition to BABIP, one can also view batting average on contact (BAC). The latter differs from the former in that it includes home runs. League-wide BABIP generally hovers around .300 while BAC is normally in the range of .320-.330. One of the many uses of BABIP and BAC is to determine how sustainable a player's batting average might be — and OBP and SLG (to the extent they are influenced by AVG). By studying BABIP and BAC, fantasy owners may get some insight as to when to buy low and sell high.
In today's article (the first of a two-part series), we'll take a look at the laggards and drill down deeper into the numbers to gain a better understanding as to the hows and whys for ten different players.
Bottom Ten in BABIP at the All-Star Break
BABIP PLAYER TEAM 2007 CAREER Richie Sexson SEA .210 .300 Julio Lugo BOS .215 .315 Jermaine Dye CWS .225 .301 Pedro Feliz SFG .230 .270 Pat Burrell PHI .239 .307 Andruw Jones ATL .241 .284 Ian Kinsler TEX .243 .285 Jason Kendall OAK .244 .317 Chris Young ARI .244 .249 A.J. Pierzynski CWS .250 .305
Except for Richie Sexson's injury-shortened season in 2004, he has never come close to hitting as low on balls in play as this season. His previous worst was in 1999 when he had a BABIP of .275. With a career-low strikeout rate, he's putting the ball in play more than ever and perhaps that is working against him to some extent. But, more than anything else, Sexson is a notoriously poor first-half performer.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP 1st Half .247 .328 .478 .806 .278 2nd Half .290 .372 .573 .945 .322
Sexson put up a .205/.299/.413 line before this year's All-Star break, remarkably similar to his first half last season when he hit .218/.288/.418. How did he fare in the second half in 2006? Try .322/.399/.613. Although I wouldn't want to bet on a repeat perfromance, I would be surprised if the righthanded slugger doesn't light it up over the balance of the campaign.
Julio Lugo's BABIP is 100 points below his career norm. That is a huge difference. Put another way, his BABIP in 2007 is 32% under his lifetime rate. Prior to this season, the Boston shortstop's all-time low was .313. How can that be? That's a good question because Lugo's BB rate is at its highest level ever and his SO rate is the second-lowest of his career. The main culprit appears to be an abnormally poor line drive percentage of 14.5% (the 12th worst in MLB) compared to his career rate of 19.4%.
What's troubling is that Lugo began his precipitous fall last year when he joined the Dodgers at the trading deadline. He hit .219/.278/.267 during the final two months in 2006 and .197/.270/.298 in the first three months in 2007. Are these rate stats the real Julio Lugo? Is he hiding an injury? Or is there something else going on?
Other than his injury-plagued year with the Oakland A's in 2003, Jermaine Dye has never been as unproductive as he has been this season. Over the course of his career, Dye has been pretty consistent from the first half (.269/.332/.478) to the second (.278/.340/.486). The 33-year-old outfielder needs more than a slight uptick to get his current rate stats (.214/.271/.402) back to respectability at year's end.
Of all the players on the list above, Pedro Feliz is the least surprising. He has never hit .300 on balls in play, partly because the 32-year-old is so slow but mostly owing to the fact that he doesn't hit enough line drives (17.0% for his career). His SO% is at a career low and his HR% is about the same as it has been since he became a full-time player in 2004. As a result, Feliz is putting the ball in play more than ever even though he has little to show for his efforts. Why? Well, more than one-fifth of his batted balls have been infield flies. Hitting pop-ups is about as productive as striking out. As a result, Feliz's low K rate is misleading.
Count me as someone who has no idea why Feliz gets as much playing time as he does. His single-season best OBP is .305 and he has never had an OPS of .800. Did I mention that he is a third baseman?
Pat Burrell is hard to figure. The #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft has walked as much as he has struck out this year and is on pace to posting a career high in BB and a career low in SO. However, his isolated power is hovering near his single-season lows in 2003-2004, primarily due to the fact that he is hitting more fly balls (third highest rate in MLB) but fewer HR/FB than ever (12.0% vs. 16.2% career norm). Burrell doesn't run or field well and will likely wind up on an AL team as a DH. He's not known as Pat the Bat for nothing.
In the midst of a nightmarish free agent season, Andruw Jones is putting up career lows in AVG (.211), OBP (.310), and SLG (.410). In the meantime, his SO% is as high as it's been since his 19-year-old rookie season in 1996 and his HR/FB (13.9%) is well below his career average (20.5%). At the age of 30, I don't think Jones is done. However, unless he returns to form, I wouldn't be rushing out and offering him a 5 x $15M+ type contract either.
Ian Kinsler's BABIP was .310 in his rookie season in 2006 with virtually the same LD% (20.6%) as 2007 (20.2%). Although the second baseman's .241 AVG is well off the pace last year (.286), his .334 OBP and .452 SLG are almost identical to the previous campaign (.347 and .454). As such, Kinsler has been as productive this year as last. Kinsler's problem is that he just isn't as good as his overall numbers suggest.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP Home .297 .366 .531 .897 .306 Away .242 .318 .378 .696 .255
Take Kinsler out of Texas and one would have a hard time justifying his presence in any starting lineup. However, he just turned 25 so it would be unwise to write him off prematurely. Kinsler has a few tools and could very well become a valuable player. In the meantime, be careful in not getting swept up in his unadjusted stats.
When a 33-year-old catcher records seven consecutive seasons of 143 or more games, it may be time to begin wondering how much fuel he has left in his tank. The man in question, Jason Kendall, has put up career lows in AVG (.227), OBP (.263), and SLG (.280). His .543 OPS is 123 points below his previous worst season and sits 227 points under his lifetime mark of .770.
Kendall's GB and LD rates are down and his FB rate is up. That's not a good thing for any hitter, much less one who rarely goes yard. Only 2% of his flyballs (2 out of 100) have turned into HR. His BABIP — and AVG by extension — will continue to suffer if he lifts the ball in the same manner as the first half.
As a rookie, Chris Young hasn't developed much of a track record for us to get a handle on his batted ball types. Suffice it to say, the Arizona center fielder is hitting too many FB (48.3%, 11th highest in MLB) and not enough LD (12.8%, 3rd lowest). His BB rate (5.0%) is less than desirable as well. Young is a tool box and his power and speed combination is a major plus. He just needs to make some adjustments at the plate in order to fulfill his potential.
A.J. Pierzynski is another former All-Star catcher who is struggling this year. He has put up career lows in AVG (.244), OBP (.287), and SLG (.376). Like Kendall, he is hitting fewer GB and LD and more FB than ever. Unlike Kendall, A.J. has deposited a reasonable number of those fly balls (8) into the seats. His BABIP took a turn for the worse when he left Minnesota and his lack of speed only adds to Pierzynksi's challenge of hitting for a high average.
I will take a close look at the leaders in BABIP in Part Two next Thursday.
All-Star Game Stream of Consciousness
Let's be honest. The All-Star Game is a tough take these days. A number of the participants don't belong, neither team plays all that hard (no matter how much Bud Selig wants it to count) and the event just comes off as forced.
But to spice up the experience for myself and hopefully some readers willing to refresh Baseball Analysts throughout the contest, I thought I would write about some of the players, teams and themes as they pop into my head. There will be some quick player analyses, some glimpses at who might or might not belong, which teams look formidable for the second half and I can't imagine there will not be some critique of Fox's coverage.
I will start by saying that AT&T Park is absolutely beautiful. I was at this game in 2003, Sidney Ponson's first start as a Giant. That might not seem all that cool but it was an electric night in the park because believe it or not, Ponson was pretty good that year and it was one of the more impactful deadline deals of that season. He pitched well, but took the loss and in a season during which he put up a .321/.529/.749 line, I saw Barry Bonds go one for three with a lousy single and a lousy walk. If I sound bitter, I am. The other time I went to go see Bonds while I was in college, he did not even start.
Anyway, AT&T Park is great and even if it has lost some of its luster, the All-Star Game is still the All-Star Game. So hang around if you are inclined, drop some of your own thoughts in the comments section and we'll enjoy the game.
Anyway, in case you didn't know, Mays was awesome. He hit .302/.384/.557 over the course of his career while playing a whale of a center field for most of those seasons. Also, Joe Buck just made a good point. He was the first African American player whose entire career unfolded in an integrated Major League Baseball. I dunno, I think it's a cool tidbit, something I had never considered and pretty damn significant.
Presented without comment: Eric Byrnes is miked up for Fox in a kayak floating around McCovey Cove with his pet bulldog.
Jake Peavy and Dan Haren were excellent choices to start this game. Both are deserving on their own merits and given that they both toil in their league's respective West divisions, it's a nice hat tip to West Coast baseball with the game in San Francisco and all. Peavy has tossed 119 innings of 184 ERA+ ball while Haren has thrown 129.3 innings and boasts a 187 ERA+.
Carlos Beltran had a 95 OPS+ in 2005 and now, at the age of 30, boasts a good-but-not-great 118 figure. Granted he had an excellent year in 2006 (153 OPS+) but it was easily his best year. Is it possible that Beltran just might not be that good?
Tim and Joe wondered why Jose Reyes attempted the steal with Barry Bonds up and no outs in the first (I went with "because he's really fast and is successful about 80% of the time"). Anyway, now that he has been knocked in on a two-out single by Ken Griffey Jr., Buck explains to us how the scenario that played out demonstrated "what Reyes does for the Mets."
Brad Penny is walking more batters and striking out fewer hitters than last year but boasts a 183 ERA+. His career figure is 108.
Meanwhile, after noting Martin has swiped 16 bases thus far in 2007, Joe asks Tim, a former catcher himself, what his career high was. "Thirteen," McCarver responds as sure as can be. Go ahead and look. His high was nine in 1966.
Psst. Joe. Ichiro re-signed.
There has been a lot of talk that David Ortiz is having a down year. He's not. He is hitting fewer home runs than he has in years past but thanks to his .434 on-base, he has been just about as productive an offensive contributor as the Sox could have hoped for.
Dane Cook. Sigh.
Another Lederer guy, Cole Hamels, takes the hill. He's got a killer change-up, which has allowed him to notch 124 strikeouts so far this season. At just 23 years old, the sky's the limit for this kid.
Speaking of limits, Magglio Ordonez is maxed out. A career .309 hitter, he is batting .367 this season. He has not slugged over .500 since 2003. He is slugging .604 in 2007. Like Penny, I would be selling high on Mags.
Buck, McCarver and Rosenthal on PED's. Kill me. Despite my hometown team's ace being on the hill, mark the bottom of the 4th inning of the 2007 All-Star Game as the least enjoyable frame of baseball I have ever watched.
OK, I took my fair share of Classics courses and have a decent understanding of the events that unfolded in the Battle of Thermopylae. And I get it that Chris Young and Derrek Lee are big guys who fought briefly one Saturday afternoon at Wrigley. Heck Young may have taken some Classics too - Princeton's got a helluva department. But what in God's name is Tim McCarver talking about when he calls the Young/Lee melee "The Battle of Thermop-A-Lee Two"? Were Leonidas and Xerxes big?
Ichiro just hit an inside-the-park home run. Did I mention this is an All-Star Game? How many of these things could there possibly have been? 2-1 AL midway through the game.
Chase Utley graduated a year ahead of my wife from Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He is now on a really short list of the game's best players. A second baseman, this season he is hitting an astounding .325/.401/.571.
Home run, Carl Crawford. He hit it off of Francisco Cordero. Carl is a really interesting player. On the one hand, he is supremely athletic and a great left fielder. On the other, he does not walk as much as you would like to see. But then he steals bases often and efficiently. And yet he plays left field, where guys with a line like Crawford's are a dime a dozen. I can't get a read on him.
Beltran triples off of Justin Verlander to that same nook in right field where Ichiro hit his inside the parker and Crawford cleared the wall. Griffey sacrifices him home on another sharply hit ball to right field. 3-2 AL.
Top of the 7th and we have a Freddy Sanchez sighting. Sanchez is hitting.296/.326/.383.
Time for bed.
Futures Game: Sleeper Prospects Wake Up
I have to admit that I am not a fan of All-Star games. Rarely do you see all deserving players make it to the Major League All-Star game, usually because fans vote in undeserving players. The All-Star game is also flawed because of the voting system that allows larger market teams to flood the ballot boxes due to larger crowds. I haven't even watched an All-Star game in 10 years.
The minor league Futures Game is a little different and technically not an All-Star game. Its goal is to showcase the stars of tomorrow. However, due to the set up of the game itself, you still don't get to see all the deserving players because of the way prospects are separated into teams consisting of U.S. players and World players.
For example, Blue Jays' outfielder Travis Snider is 10 times the prospect that Jays' minor league catcher Robinzon Diaz is, but Diaz is on the World roster, and Snider was left sitting at home. Why? Because the World squad lacked options for catching prospects and U.S. team had a glut of deserving outfielders.
I would also argue that none of the World infielders project to be more than solid regulars in the major leagues, with the possible exception of the Dodgers' Chin-Lung Hu. And should it really be the U.S. against the rest of the world? Why not at least make the U.S. team the North American squad and include the Canadian prospects?
Regardless of my issues with the game itself, it is still an exciting opportunity to highlight the stars of tomorrow.
Chances are good that you have heard of Elvis Andrus, Deolis Guerra, Clay Buchholz and Jay Bruce, so I am going to highlight five other players that you should become more familiar with as the minor league season heads into its second last month of the 2007 season.
For complete coverage of the Futures Game, which took place on Sunday with the World roster winning 7-2, please check out Baseball America.
RHP Fautino de los Santos | 6-1 210 | 2/86 | Chicago White Sox | A-Ball
OF Michael Saunders | 6-4 205 | 11/86 | Seattle Mariners | Advanced A-Ball
RHP Collin Balester | 6-5 190 | 6/86 | Washington Nationals | Double-A
2B Adrian Cardenas | 6-0 185 | 10/87 | Philadelphia Phillies | A-Ball
So, faithful readers, what players in your favorite organizations were left off of the Futures Game's rosters? Click the 'comment' button below and let us know why you think they are destined for future stardom.
First Half Observations
The first half is now behind us — even though, for most teams, it actually occurred a week ago. We can now sit back over the next few days, reflecting on the past, dreaming about the future while enjoying the All-Star Game festivities.
AL Roundup: Why Play the Second Half?
I hesitate to say that the American League races are set in stone, but the cement is drying pretty fast. Sure, the Cleveland Indians could overtake the Detroit Tigers and win the AL Central. But I will be surprised if the top four teams at the break — Indians, Tigers, Red Sox, and Angels (not in that order) — are not representing their league come October.
There may be a glimmer of hope in Seattle and Minnesota — as well as there should be — but I think the Mariners are not as good as their W-L record and the Twins will find it difficult overcoming either Cleveland or Detroit. I'm not ruling MIN out altogether, but it will take a huge second-half performance on the part of someone like Matt Garza coupled with a major injury or two in CLE and DET for the Twins to qualify for the playoffs.
NL Roundup: Is it Parity or Mediocrity?
Whereas the three division leaders in the AL are all playing .600 ball, the best record in the National League belongs to the San Diego Padres (49-38, .563). In fact, the three teams atop their divisions — Padres, Mets, and Brewers — are all barely staying above .550. Call it parity if you must, but the NL is a collective 115-137 against the AL in interleague games. Only three clubs in the so-called junior circuit — Orioles, Devil Rays, and White Sox — have losing records vs. the . . . ahem . . . senior circuit.
As a result of the mediocrity (being kind here), any team with a .500 record or better has a decent shot at making a run for the playoffs over the next three months. The Mets and Brewers are both talented clubs with several players either in the prime of their careers or experiencing breakout seasons. The NL West is still wide open and could once again send two teams to the post-season.
Biggest Negative Surprises Among Teams
The sub-.500 records of the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals caught me a bit off guard. Both teams rely too heavily on older players and neither had the pitching depth to overcome injuries to key starters. I realize that the Redbirds barely played .500 last season, and I had no illusions that STL was going to revert to winning 90 games again. At the same time, I didn't peg them to limp into the All-Star break at 40-45 (.471). With a less-than-stellar farm system, the Cardinals may be entering a downturn that could be reminiscent of 1988-1995 when the club failed to make the post-season while producing a cumulative record of 601-628 (.489).
The Yankees are running in place and need to decide if they want to be buyers or sellers as the trade deadline fast approaches. I know New York has the resources to take on more payroll but going for it now — at the inevitable expense of the future — makes no sense to me. The next few months will be interesting in the Bronx. Will they offer Alex Rodriguez an extension? If not, will A-Rod bolt for even greener pastures? Bobby Abreu is a goner. What about Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera? Can Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano be more than role players? Stay tuned. Fans may not recognize next year's players without a program.
This section wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Chicago White Sox. I picked the Pale Hose to finish fourth but the consensus had the 2005 World Champs competing with the Tigers, Indians, and Twins for the AL Central title or Wild Card spot. This seems like a team that is betwixt and between, perhaps trying to hang onto the past while generally making personnel changes on the margin that have little or no value longer term. As I see it, the road back is going to be tough because DET, CLE, and MIN are currently stronger at the major and minor league levels. Good luck, Kenny and Ozzie.
Biggest Positive Surprises Among Players
Consider yourself a soothsayer or a future GM if you had Carlos Pena posting an OPS over 1.000 with 20 HR in the first half. Call yourself Billy Beane if you predicted that Jack Cust would slug 15 HR. The 28-year-old minor league star had hit a total of FIVE home runs going into the 2007 season. Score one for the statheads.
Brandon Phillips turned his career around last year when the Reds gave him a chance to play everyday, but the 26-year-old second baseman has already matched his home run total from last year and is currently tied for seventh in the NL with 17. While J.J. Hardy (18 HR) surprised virtually everyone (including himself) with his power in April and May, the Milwaukee shortstop has only gone yard three times since May 25. However, his teammate Prince Fielder (first in the NL and second in MLB with 29 HR) has continued to light up pitchers and appears to be on his way to a Ryan Howard-type breakout season. His success is not as surprising as the suddeness of it all. As a 22-year-old, Fielder jacked 28 homers last year. I would have thought he might have put up a 35 or 40 HR campaign before jumping to what may turn out to be a 50 HR season.
A number of pitchers are worthy of honorable mention, including Chad Gaudin, Jeremy Guthrie, and Hideki Okajima in the AL and Ryan Franklin (Ryan Franklin???), John Maine, and Sergio Mitre in the NL. Speaking of Franklin, I don't understand why Walt Jocketty felt the need to give him a two-year extension last week. Given Franklin's age (34), track record, and strikeout rate (3.48 K/9 during the 1H), I would be as skeptical as ever of his ability to succeed beyond the current season.
Biggest Busts Among Players
Julio Lugo (.197/.270/.298) is another shortstop in the post-Nomah era who has failed to live up to expectations in Boston. Jermaine Dye (.214/.271/.402) has been a huge disappointment in the Windy City following his career year last season when he garnered serious support for AL MVP.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Bartolo Colon (6.44 ERA, 1.62 WHIP with 15 HR in 79.2 IP) and Kevin Millwood (6.16 ERA, 1.68 WHIP) have almost identical contracts and stats. Colon is throwing in the low- to mid-90s but is paying the price for leaving too many pitches over the middle of the plate. Like Colon, Millwood has spent time on the DL. Unlike the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner, the Texas righthander is working in a less pitcher-friendly ballpark. No matter the excuses, neither pitcher is coming close to earning their gigantic paychecks.
It's (way) too early to call Homer Bailey a bust, but his MLB debut has not gone as planned. The fireballer has posted a 6.99 ERA while allowing nearly two baserunners per inning and striking out only 4.76 batters per nine. Bailey, who was optioned to the minors on Sunday, will be back in the rotation in a week. The future star is a reminder that greatness rarely occurs immediately. Most young pitchers and hitters face adversity at the highest level and how they adjust is paramount to their future success.
Which teams and players surprised you the most?
Rodney Dangerfield's All-Stars
Since more than a few journeymen and subpar players have managed to parlay a good half season or being the least awful member of a terrible team into a spot on the All-Star roster (even the 1962 Mets and 2003 Tigers were represented), it can be hard to believe that some of baseball's better and more consistent performers never enjoyed that recognition.
When his defense, intensity and long record as a winner is considered, why wasn't Rick Dempsey ever chosen? A .233 lifetime average doesn't reveal Dempsey's full value to the Orioles in the 1970s and 1980s.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS 1993 515 93 146 35 1 31 95 82 135 .283 .387 .536 .923 1995 537 111 177 34 3 34 105 91 111 .330 .432 .594 1.026 1996 581 90 166 27 4 30 98 93 125 .286 .388 .501 .889 1997 582 95 172 28 1 33 129 95 142 .296 .401 .517 .918 2000 568 108 165 36 2 34 97 104 139 .290 .406 .540 .946There is always plenty of competition for the corner outfield slots, but how Salmon's all-around skills and stats were repeatedly ignored is a mystery. Conspiracy theories, anyone?
Even baseball addicts often assume that Kirk Gibson was an All-Star, but it never happened.
While the run production in his 1988 MVP season with Dodgers (25 HR, 76 RBI, .293) may have been mediocre by All-Star standards, Gibson's 31 steals in 35 attempts (.886) and a .381 on-base percentage were solid. There were two other seasons where Gibson merited serious consideration.
The Detroit-area native hit .282 with 27 HR, 91 RBI and 29 steals for his hometown Tigers in 1984 and followed that up with a 29/97/.287 campaign in 1985 which included 30 steals in 34 attempts (.882).
On a team that automatically sent Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and (beginning in 1972) Joe Morgan to the All-Star Game, it's easy to see why Bobby Tolan was ignored.
In 1969, Tolan came through 194 hits, 104 runs scored, a .305 average, 21 homers, 93 RBI and 26 steals in his first season in Cincinnati. He followed that up by hitting a career-best .316 with 34 doubles, 16 HR, 80 RBI and a league-leading 57 SB. After missing all of 1971 with an injury, Tolan came through with 82 RBI and 42 steals in 1972.
Pitchers: With seasons of 20-11, 16-6 and 19-13, what does a guy have to do to get some respect? Paul Splittorff might be asking that question, as those performances never got the Royals lefty (1970-84) an All-Star invitation. The control specialist finished with a 166-143 career record.
Left-handed, good control, not many strikeouts, small market - it sounds like Splittorff, but that description also applies to Mike Caldwell. Seasons of 14-5 (1974), 22-9 (1978), 16-6 (1979) and 17-13 (1982) didn't cost Caldwell any time off during the All-Star break.
Bob Forsch didn't blow hitters away, but the Cardinals righty was snubbed in 1975 (15-10, 2.86), 1977 (20-7) and 1982 (15-9). The former minor league third baseman hit .213 lifetime. With more than a third of his 190 career hits going for extra bases (45 doubles, eight triples, 12 home runs), Forsch didn't try to slap singles.
Seasons of 16, 17 and 18 wins from 1993 to 1997 weren't enough to push Alex Fernandez onto an All-Star roster. Honorable mention: John Denny, Storm Davis.
Deserved another chance: Tigers outfielder Gee Walker hit .335 with career-best 213 hits and 113 RBI in 1937, but he missed his only All-Star opportunity due to an injury. Walker's numbers in 1936 and from 1938 to 1940 were worthy of All-Star consideration, but he wasn't chosen.
While the annual All-Star Game is often described as a contest between baseball's best players, there are exceptions to that statement. Would you rather have former All-Stars Max West, Frank Zak or Mike Hegan on your team instead of Salmon, Gibson or Trosky?
Foto Friday #6
As in the first five contests, name the date, location, and subjects in the photo below. Good luck.
ANSWERS ADDED @ 9:00 p.m. PST
DATE: June 1, 1962.
LOCATION: Connie Mack Stadium. Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies.
SUBJECTS: (left to right) Larry Burright, Jim Gilliam (in front), John Roseboro, Danny Kaye (standing), Ron Perranoski, and Tommy Davis.
OCCASION: The Dodgers beat the Phillies in the first game of a doubleheader, the club's 12th consecutive victory. See my comment at 8:54 p.m. below for more details.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Carey.
Mid-Year Handicap: The American League
With every team in the Bigs now past the 81-game mark, it seems like a good time to take a look at how we got here, where we might be going and which teams look like the best shot to be playing meaningful October baseball. I am going to look at only those teams I view as having a chance at the post-season, point out what they have done well, where they could improve and what their prospects look like going forward.
Boston Red Sox
The others had their shot. Since May 31, Curt Schilling has been injured, the lineup has done nothing and the Sox have gone 16-15. Boston hit .264/.348/.413 in June, an abysmal line for a lineup containing the talent Boston's does. Slugging .413 for a month while playing home games in Fenway Park is not easy to do. Fortunately for them, they play in the league's worst division. The closest thing resembling a charge that any team could muster was the 17-13 stretch the New York Yankees have put together since the same date.
Boston will snap out. Come hell, high water, Jacoby Ellsbury or Alex Cora, they will get more out of center field and shortstop than they have thus far in 2007. Boston is 11th in the AL in center field OPS thus far, having posted a .256/.313/.373 line. Their shortstops (Julio Lugo, ahem) have been dead last (.201/.268/.303). In addition, Manny Ramirez (.285/.385/.467) and J.D. Drew (.261/.373/.402) have not yet hit like they can.
Boston's pitching has been superb, and they have received better production than they could have hoped for from Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell. Each of these components could regress in the second half, but the aforementioned improvement candidates figure to offset them. Further, Boston has the farm system to deal for an extra part or two come deadline time.
With an 11.5 game lead on the morning of July 5, I just don't see how anyone can catch these Red Sox. But then, my father probably felt the same way on July 5, 1978.
Last week I would have felt really good about including Minnesota on this list. I feel strongly that Detroit's offense is in for a major fall back to earth in the second half and I thought that given their bullpen struggles and crummy 3-5 starting pitching, they would be in for a mediocre second half. But I am starting to think that Andrew Miller, Kenny Rogers and the soon-to-return Joel Zumaya easily make up for the regression Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson are all likely to endure. Detroit is for real, and with Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman anchoring that starting rotation, they have a great chance at making another post-season run.
Minnesota is probably not going to catch Detroit, but there is hope for the Twins. Any offensive production from position players not named Morneau, Hunter, Cuddyer or Mauer would go a long way. As would some quality starting pitching from any one of its youngsters. Minnesota may have a run in them, but they will have to climb over two teams that I regard as clearly superior to them.
Cleveland's offense is fantastic and I think due some inprovement. Travis Hafner should improve in the second half, and the lefty half of the right field / left field platoon that was so brilliantly pieced together (or so I thought) has not lived up to its billing. David Dellucci has been terrible, and just as we in Boston suspected, Trot Nixon's power is zapped. Jason Michaels, Casey Blake and Franklin Gutierrez have all been solid, however. I also have to think they can get more out of Josh Barfield than the downright Lugo-esque .257/.283/.337 line he has achieved thus far.
On the pitching side, it's been C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and then little else for Cleveland. Paul Byrd has been serviceable, I guess, but the 4th and 5th slots in their rotation have been a black hole. Though he has improved a bit of late, Cliff Lee has had a rough go of it this year. Jake Westbrook and Jeremy Sowers have been a disaster. Improvement from any of these three combined with some of the hitting improvement that should come means Cleveland should be sitting pretty the rest of the year.
Los Angeles Angels
There just is not a whole lot to say about this one. The AL West should be the Angels in a landslide. Seattle doesn't hit it or pitch it all that well and have been lucky to win as many as they have. They will fall off. Meanwhile, it's hard to see how the Angels could fall off. Orlando Cabrera and Reggie Willits may regress, but Ervin Santana and a healthy Howie Kendrick should more than make up.
Oakland is omitted because there have been reports out there that they will be deadline sellers and it makes a lot of sense. They just don't have the horses to get it done this year and I think Billy Beane will recognize this.
Nothing is settled yet, but I would be shocked if the four teams that would qualify for post-season play today if the season ended, are not vying to represent the American League in the Fall Classic come October.
Anyone else see some darkhorses that I might be missing?
Weird Stats of 2007
Unusual baseball stats are one of my addictions. Mention Enzo Hernandez's 12 RBI in 549 at-bats in 1971, and I'm all ears. There's always Alfredo Griffin's four walks in 419 AB (.241 BA, .250 OBP) in 1984 when a quick fix is needed.
So what are some of baseball's oddest numbers as the season approaches the halfway point? Here are my picks.
Future Stud or Future Dud?
Four exciting, young outfielders broke out into the prospect spotlight in 2006: Fernando Martinez, Jose Tabata, Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen. The 2007 season has been another matter entirely, though. Each member of that foursome has disappointed to some degree and failed to capitalize on their rising stocks.
Before the 2007 minor league season began, McCutchen (13), Gonzalez (18), Martinez (22) and Tabata (27) were all ranked among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America. It is possible that all four, by the end of the season, will slip further down the chart while other prospects take their places among the elite.
But the question is: Just how far have these four players fallen? Are their seasons really as bad as some think, or is it just a matter of unreasonable expectations by impatient fans and media? I'm going to outline the players and give a few of my thoughts and then I would like to hear from as many members of the Baseball Analysts' community as possible; let us know which of these players, if any, are going to be superstars and why.
Andrew McCutchen | Pittsburgh Pirates
AVG OBA SLG AB HR SB BB% K% 2006 .291 .356 .446 453 14 22 8.5 20.1 .308 .372 .474 78 3 1 9.3 25.6 2007 .235 .296 .349 289 4 11 8.0 19.4
It has been a long time since the Pirates had a hitting prospect with the potential of McCutchen. As a result, Pirates fans are eager to see McCutchen take to the big stage, but it will happen a little slower than expected. After a hot start last season, McCutchen made the rare leap past Advanced A-Ball and acquitted himself well with a late-season promotion to Double-A, albeit in only 20 games.
This year, however, McCutchen has struggled to hit for average and his slugging percentage is down about .100 points. He has struggled this season against right-handed pitchers and is batting only .214/.278/.282 against them. McCutchen is also batting only .200 on the road. On the plus side, he is not striking out more frequently than he did last year and he has been walking just about as often.
Another encouraging sign is that McCutchen's average has risen with each month, from .189 in April to .230 in May to .266 in June. Baseball America lauded McCutchen's attitude, maturity and passion for the game in a pre-season scouting report, so chances are good that 2007 is simply a growing pain, and/or a byproduct of being rushed by an organization desperate for a home-grown superstar.
Truth be told, McCutchen should probably just be reaching Double-A right about now... And hopefully no damage has been done. I expect McCutchen to be close to a five-tool player, and have the potential to be a Curtis Granderson type of player.
Carlos Gonzalez | Arizona Diamondbacks
AVG OBA SLG AB HR SB BB% K% 2006 .300 .349 .563 403 21 15 6.9 25.8 .213 .294 .410 61 2 1 10.3 19.7 2007 .253 .283 .428 285 9 5 4.0 22.1
Gonzalez was voted as Baseball America's third best prospect coming in to 2007, right behind fellow outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young. Young is establishing himself in the majors, albeit with some growing pains of his own, and Upton has recently joined Gonzalez in Double-A, after having torn up Advanced A-Ball.
Not surprisingly, Gonzalez' performance has improved with the arrival of Upton. It is tough to get a really good read on D-Backs' hitting prospects because they play in some very good hitting parks. Gonzalez' breakout 2006 took place in Lancaster, which is one of the best hitting parks in minor league baseball and it has distorted many a stat line. Mobile is a fairly good hitting park too (Gonzalez is hitting .241/.272/.399 on the road), although it is not quite as prolific.
One of the biggest problems with Gonzalez' season - beyond the .135 drop in slugging percentage - is his reduced patience at the plate. His walks are down almost three percent, from 6.9 in Lancaster in 2006 to 4.0 this season. He is also in danger of being labeled a platoon player if he cannot improve upon his .165/.184/.239 line against left-handers.
Other knocks against him are his size (he is projected to be a below-average runner in a couple years), his propensity to swing for the long ball and his occasional lack of hustle, which led to a benching last season. His biggest value is his plus arm in right field. Based on his hitting environments, I believe the ceiling for Gonzalez' future has been set too high and he will top out around 25 home runs in his prime.
Fernando Martinez | New York Mets
AVG OBA SLG AB HR SB BB% K% 2006 .333 .382 .505 192 5 7 7.2 18.8 .193 .232 .387 119 5 1 4.8 20.2 2007 .271 .328 .377 236 4 3 7.8 21.6
At 18 years of age, you have to be really, really impressed that Martinez is holding his own in Double-A, even if some people feel he hasn't truly impressed. Personally, for me, there not a lot to dislike, although his walks are a little low and his strikeouts are a little high - especially for the modest power displayed in 2007.
But you have to keep going back to the age. You also have to look at the park factors for his home park in Binghamton and realize that it significantly retarded power numbers (0.54) between 2004-2006, according to Baseball Think Factory.
With a line against left-handers of .259/.306/.362, the left-handed batter has done OK in that regard. Martinez has only had one really good month this season and May .324/.387/.426) was sandwiched between two lackluster performances. Martinez, like McCutchen, may be suffering from a little bit of over-anxiousness by his parent club. He was promoted to Double-A in 2007 - due to a strong spring showing - despite hitting only .193/.254/.387 in 119 Advanced A-Ball games.
I like to look to Toronto Blue Jays' outfielder Alex Rios, who was recently named to his second straight All-Star game, as a perfect example of why there is no point in getting up-in-arms over young players' power numbers. Rios did not slug over .354 in his first three pro seasons (ages 18-20). He topped out in the minors at Double-A at age 22 with a .521 slugging percentage but then regressed to slug below .400 in his first two MLB seasons.
During Rios' first four MLB seasons, his homer totals were: 1 (in 426 at-bats), 10 (in 481), 17 (in 450) and 17 (in 328 at-bats so far this season). Rios is on pace to hit more than 30 homers in 2007, a far cry from 2004 and 2005 when fans were screaming for the Jays to trade him. Those same fans now call Rios untouchable.
If young prospects show the ability to hit for average with some semblance of patience and a good batting eye - be ecstatic, even if some scouts are less than enthralled with Martinez' season and expect him to be move out of centerfield. Reports say he has a willingness to hit to all fields and has solid strike-zone awareness for his age. Keep in mind this kid is also just learning to speak English and is adjusting to life in North America on the fly.
Jose Tabata | New York Yankees
AVG OBA SLG AB HR SB BB% K% 2006 .298 .358 .420 319 5 15 8.6 20.7 2007 .305 .368 .378 262 2 11 9.0 17.6
Tabata is the only player of the four who has yet to exit A-Ball and that is probably a good thing in the long run. He has only two homers on the season, but the 18-year-old prospect is hitting more than .300, while also lowering his strikeouts and raising (slightly) his walk percentage.
Tabata has hit both left- and right-handed pitchers well this season. Truth be told, he has been scorching lefties with a line of .347/.410/.453. He is also hitting equally well on the road and at home, in a league that is often considered a pitcher's league. Tabata has shown improvements each month, with his average going from .294 in April to .299 in May to .346 in June.
Another encouraging sign is that his strikeout totals have improved each month. He began the season by striking out 21 times in 85 at-bats. In May, he lowered his strikeouts to only 15 in 105 at-bats. Then in June, he kept it up with 11 strikeouts in 78 at-bats. A positive sign for his future career as a run producer, Tabata's batting average has risen significantly this season with men on base (.312), as well as with men in scoring position (.357).
Applying the Rios factor to Tabata, I see absolutely no reason for anyone to sour on his season, or his future career. The power should develop, and even is it doesn't, I see enough positive signs to believe he will be a productive major league baseball player, especially if he can keep in shape and stay motivated.
OK, you've heard my thoughts and now it's time time to express yours: Which one of these four outfielders will be the most productive MLB player? Do you smell a bust with any of these guys? Post a comment or e-mail me.
Meet the Analysts
Every once in a while, I like to thank our readers publicly and communicate what we have in store at Baseball Analysts. The site, whose origins go back to 2003, has been operating for 2 1/2 seasons. We have undergone some changes over the past year and now offer a full slate of writers/analysts.
I wrote a State of the Site on our second anniversary in February. Since then, we have added another analyst to our staff. Joe Sheehan, who is the pioneer in studying and presenting data supplied by MLB's GameDay, has filled a valuable niche in an area that arguably is on the cusp of combining scouting and performance analysis. Joe's articles should be must reads for the intermediate and advanced fan, as well as baseball insiders.
Our goal at Baseball Analysts is to examine the past, present, and future with a primary focus on college, minor league, and major league players and teams. We have a sabermetric bent but pride ourselves in being more than just a bunch of statheads. All of us played baseball and are both students and fans of the game.
The expanded Lineup Card now features six contributors. I have gotten into the routine of taking Mondays, Marc Hulet owns Tuesdays, Patrick Sullivan Wednesdays, our guest columnists generally handle Thursdays, while Joe Sheehan and Jeff Albert rotate on Fridays. Al Doyle is our roving writer and can be read on any given day of the week. We have added The Weekend Blog this year with the hope of providing coverage on Saturdays and Sundays as well.
We are always on the lookout for talented contributors, whether as part of our staff or guest columnists. In addition, Baseball Analysts has also grown to the point where we could use a technical services type staff member, preferably with an expertise using the Movable Type publishing platform and perhaps web design and/or site maintenance. A webmaster, if you will. For the right person, this position could also be an opportunity to write an occasional article and make posts on our weekend blog. Let me know if you are interested in joining our team at Baseball Analysts.
Our readership is growing and ranks among the most intelligent in the baseball world. All of us value your time as well as your loyalty and support. Let us know what it is you like or dislike about the site in the comments section below or via email to any or all of us, and we will do our best to emphasize (or de-emphasize as the case may be) these features.