The first month of the season is almost behind us. We know who has performed well: Chase Utley, Chipper Jones, Pat Burrell, Albert Pujols, Derrek Lee, Hanley Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Lance Berkman, Nate McLouth, and Manny Ramirez, to name ten hitters; plus Cliff Lee, Ben Sheets, Zack Greinke, Edinson Volquez, Tim Lincecum, and Brandon Webb, as among the half dozen best pitchers in the early going.
But which players have put up the worst numbers during April?
Jayson Nix: .111/.216/.133 with 1 XBH in 51 PA. Nix has gone 0-for-17 since his last hit on April 13. Although the rookie hit .256/.321/.399 over seven minor-league seasons, he repeated AA and AAA along the way to the majors. His numbers were not particularly impressive last year playing in a friendly ballpark (Colorado Springs) and league environment (PCL). There is more reason for skepticism than optimism here.
Tony Pena Jr.: .149/.171/.194 with 2 BB and 16 SO in 71 PA. Pena has never shown a proclivity for hitting. He put up a MiL line of .252/.282/.332 with 102 BB and 528 SO in 2698 plate appearances. He doesn't hit for average, doesn't hit for power, and doesn't walk. Unless Pena is the greatest fielding shortstop in the history of baseball, he simply can't play.
Cody Ross: .149/.160/.213 with 1 BB and 6 SO in 50 PA. Ross put up terrific numbers (.335/.411/.653) last year but did so in only 197 plate appearances. The 27-year-old outfielder has shown an ability to hit for some power in the past but has never hit for much of an average aside from his "breakout" last season. At best, Ross is a fourth or fifth outfielder, depending on whether he plays for a contending team or not.
Wily Mo Pena: .170/.220/.170 with 0 XBH, 3 BB and 15 SO in 50 PA. The Pena name isn't doing too well this season. I have never drunk the WMP Kool-Aid. Sure, Pena can hit for power, but he strikes out way too much for my tastes, especially given his anemic walk rate. His plate discipline and pitch recognition skills are lacking (swung and missed at 31% of strikes over the course of his career vs. a MLB average of 14%), and I would be surprised if he becomes much more than a platoon player.
Tom Gorzelanny: 1-3, 8.46 ERA with 22 BB and 13 SO in 22.1 IP. Gorzelanny has been drilled twice by the Cubs so it may be more team specific than anything else. However, the lefty's K/BB ratio is a bit alarming and should be watched closely over his next few starts.
Kenny Rogers: 1-3, 7.66 ERA with 15 BB and 9 SO in 24.2 IP. The 43-year-old may be at the end of the road unless Jim Leyland wants to convert him to a LOOGY. Righthanded batters are ripping him to the tune of .356/.443/.562. You can only get by so long on guile as opposed to stuff and command.
Jason Jennings: 0-4, 7.46 ERA with 17 BB, 12 SO, and 8 HR in 25.1 IP. The 29-year-old righthander has spent his career pitching in hitter-friendly ballparks (Colorado, Houston, and Texas) but has has gone from a league-average or better pitcher to replacement level or worse since the end of the 2006 season. At his current pace, Jennings will be hoping and praying that a team will sign him to a major-league contract next year.
Among the biggest names, Robinson Cano (.158/.216/.221), Alfonso Soriano (.175/.230/.298), Troy Tulowitzki (.157/.225/.245), Andruw Jones (.159/.266/.256), and Gary Sheffield (.159/.321/.254) are also feeling the summer heat earlier than normal.
I would like to finish with three off-the-field personnel:
J.P. Ricciardi: Signed Frank Thomas to a minimum guaranteed contract of $18 million ($9.12M signing bonus plus $1M salary in 2007 and $8M in 2008), then released him on 4/20/08 after The Big Hurt fulfilled just one year and three weeks of the two-year deal.
Ricciardi worked for but apparently didn't learn much from Billy Beane, who inked Thomas to favorable terms before and after J.P. To wit, Beane got a .270/.381/.545 (140 OPS+) season out of Thomas in 2006 for $3.2M ($500,000 salary plus $2.7M in roster, performance, and award bonuses), received a sandwich round draft pick in 2007 as compensation for losing him via free agency, and swooped in and signed the future Hall of Famer last Thursday for $390,000 (pro-rated share of the MLB minimum) for the remainder of 2008. Buy low, sell high, and buy low a second time. Now that is Moneyball!
Dave Littlefield: The former Pittsburgh GM really qualified as a July 2007 fool, but it bears repeating that Littlefield acquired Matt Morris right before the trading deadline last year and, in so doing, assumed the remaining portion of his contract in full.
Now that Morris has been released, we can tally up his performance (3-8, 7.02 ERA over 16 GS and 84.1 IP) vs. the cost (approximately $14M). Considering the money involved, that deal has to go down as one of the dumbest in baseball history – and not with the benefit of hindsight like so many transactions. This one was a disaster from the get go. It was universally panned and no one did a better job than our own Patrick Sullivan.
While Brian Sabean found a sucker for Matt Morris, he needs to look at himself in the mirror for agreeing to give Barry Zito a seven-year deal worth a minimum of $126 million. It was the largest-ever pitcher contract at signing. The former Cy Young Award winner posted an 11-13 win-loss record and 4.53 ERA with mediocre peripherals in 2007 and has gotten off to a 0-6, 7.53 ERA, 15 BB, 11 SO in 28.2 IP start to the 2008 season.
Let the countdown begin. Seven baseball months down, 35 to go! Or looked at it another way, the Giants have paid Zito about $12-13M thus far and still him more than $110 million.