World Class Talent: Where Does It Come From?
With the 2009 World Series well underway (split one game apiece between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies), let's take this opportunity to break down each club to see how, where, and when each club obtained its talent.
The Yankees organization has a long-standing reputation for "buying" its talent on the free agent market... but that really started about 15 years ago. Is that belief still true today? And how does the Philadelphia Phillies squad compare with the Bronx Bombers in terms of talent acquisition?
C.C. Sabathia, LHP
A.J. Burnett, RHP
Andy Pettitte, LHP
Alfredo Aceves, RHP
Brian Bruney, RHP
Joba Chamberlain, RHP
Phil Coke, LHP
Chad Gaudin, RHP
Phil Hughes, RHP
Damaso Marte, LHP
Mariano Rivera, RHP
David Robertson, RHP
Jorge Posada, C
Jerry Hairston Jr., IF/OF
Derek Jeter, SS
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Johnny Damon, OF
Brett Gardner, OF
Eric Hinske, OF/IF
Nick Swisher, OF/1B
Hideki Matsui, DH
Chan Ho Park
So let's do some comparisons between the two organizations and see how they both acquired the players on their World Series rosters:
Now let's see how well these clubs did signing their own amateur talent (amateur draft, international free agent) at each position:
Overall Original Talent
Interestingly, while New York is often attacked for buying its success, both clubs drafted the exact same amount of talent on their World Series teams. Each club also signed the exact same number of free agents and traded for the same number of players. The only difference was that New York signed an extra two international free agents, while Philadelphia worked the waiver wire and the Rule 5 draft.
I have to admit that I was surprised to see that the New York Yankees actually did a (slightly) better job of acquiring its own original talent than the Philadelphia Phillies.
When looking at roster construction, New York and Philadelphia are matched up extremely well in this World Series. Averaged out, the teams acquired 60% of their talent from other organizations. It just goes to show that clubs cannot focus solely on one area of talent acquisitions and that it is very difficult to build winning clubs through drafting alone. Both World Series clubs obtained their world-class talent through a variety of means, although (not surprisingly) the amateur draft, free agency, and trade market appear to have been the most success routes.
Winners and Losers on Draft Day 1
Well, there were a lot of good things and a few bad things from Draft Day 1, when looking at the prospect hauls that teams pulled in. Let's have a look at a few of them.
The Pirates' supplemental first round pick, Victor Black of Dallas Baptist, has a big fastball (up to 96 mph) but he's been good for only one season (2008-09) and he struggled as recently as last summer's Cape Cod League. It's a pretty risky pick with some safer picks still on the board. But I do agree that the club should have been looking for some advanced arms that could get to the Majors rather quickly.
Prep pitchers Brooks Pounders (2nd round) and Zack Dodson (4th round) will be tough signings as they are both committed to good schools: USC and Baylor. Dodson specifically has a seven-figure asking price but the Pirates organization made him its first pick on Day 2, so you have to hope that the club got a good read on his signability. Both pitchers will probably command above-slot deals to sign away from college so it's a head-scratcher when you consider the organization went cheap with its first-round pick.
Kyle Gibson was obviously a big gamble with the 22nd overall pick, but if he had been healthy he would have been a Top 5 selection. And his forearm stress fracture is not a long-term-injury concern. The club then took a college lefty (Matt Bashore) with a good fastball in the supplemental round a potential future closer (Billy Bullock) in the second round. Third-round pick Ben Tootle can hit the upper 90s with his fastball but his other pitches need a lot of work. Well, he's headed to the right organization to learn how to pitch.
OK, let's cheat a bit a talk a bit about Day 2, since I just mentioned it above...
So, what do you think? Are you happy with what your team did?
Looking Back at Day One of the Draft
Yesterday was a bit of a blur as the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft flew through the first three rounds. The first round of the draft was also aired on TV at the MLB Network, which was fun to watch even if we had to put up with MLB commissioner Bud Selig as the talking head announcing the picks.
There were some forgone conclusions (Stephen Strasburg first overall to the Nationals), as well as some surprises (like prep catcher Max Stassi slipping to Oakland on the second day in the fourth round or Baltimore going cheap at No. 5 with prep pitcher Matt Hobgood).
As you probably know (and can see below), Rich and I live blogged the first round of the draft and each player had a unique scouting report written by one of the many talented Baseball Analysts scribes. I'd also like to share with you some of the scouting reports for players who slide out of the first round and into the supplemental first round.
37th overall | Toronto Blue Jays
James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky
39th overall | Milwaukee Brewers
Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee
40th overall | Los Angeles Angels
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Santa Monica HS (CA)
44th overall | Texas Rangers
Tanner Scheppers, RHP, St. Paul Saints
47th overall | Milwaukee Brewers
Kyle Heckathorn, RHP, Kennesaw State
There were also some other players we thought would go a little sooner in the draft but they slid past the first and supplemental first rounds... including:
51st overall | Seattle Mariners
Rich Poythress, 1B, Georgia
54th overall | Baltimore Orioles
Mychal Givens, SS/RHP, Plant HS (FL)
55th overall | San Francisco Giants
Tommy Joseph, C, Horizon HS (AZ)
58th overall | Detroit Tigers
Andrew Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State University
65th overall | Los Angeles Dodgers
Garrett Gould, RHP, Maize HS (KN)
70th overall | Minnesota Twins
Billy Bullock, RHP, University of Florida
91st overall | Kansas City Royals
Wil Myers, C, Wesleyan Christian Academy, North Carolina
At the end of the first day of drafting (the conclusion of the third round), Baseball America - the leading draft experts - stated that a number of key draft prospects were still available in the coming day, beginning in round four. Here are the names that BA identified (The number represents the player's ranking amongst BA's Top 100 draft prospects list):
30. Max Stassi, c, Yuba City (Calif.) HS
Of those players, we here at Baseball Analysts wanted to share a few more scouting reports, as well as the team that drafted them on Day 2.
4th round | San Diego Padres
Keyvius Sampson, RHP, Forest HS, Florida
4th round | Oakland Athletics
Max Stassi, C, Yuba City (Calif.) HS
5th round | St. Louis Cardinals
Ryan Jackson, SS, University of Miami
2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Tanner Scheppers
In a draft that has very little debate over who is going first overall, there are still many interesting stories to be found. One of the most intriguing story lines revolves around pitchers Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow, two first-round talents from the 2008 MLB amateur draft that failed to come to terms with the clubs that selected them.
Scheppers, who suffered a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder before last year's draft, slid to the second round where he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crow, despite being selected ninth overall, could not agree on a contract with the Washington Nationals. Both pitchers chose not to return to their respective colleges for their senior seasons. Instead, they each headed off to play professional baseball in independent baseball leagues in hopes of improving their situations in the 2009 MLB amateur draft.
After making his second start of the year for the St. Paul Saints, of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, Scheppers was kind enough to speak with Baseball Analysts before taking to the field for a workout with The Saints. The night before his interview with us, Scheppers pitched four innings of two-hit ball. He did, though, struggle with his control. The right-handed starter walked five batters, although he also struck out six.
Fast-forwarding just over a week, Scheppers' statistics are still not matching the potential that he's shown. Despite some obvious signs of rust - which should be expected after such a lengthy layoff - the right-hander has wowed scouts and there is talk that on a pure talent level, he should go second overall. Some teams, though, will inevitably shy away from the Dana Hills High School alum because of the shoulder injury.
The Laguna Niguel, California native was born on January 17, 1987 to David (an accountant) and Ann (an interior designer) Scheppers. The younger Scheppers' hobbies include body-boarding and playing video games. He spent most of his prep career as a shortstop, but took to pitching in his senior year of high school. The Orioles drafted him as a pitcher in the 29th round of the 2005 draft, but he elected to play for Fresno State University.
In his freshman year, Scheppers appeared in just 12 games as a reliever and posted a 9.00 ERA. He eventually worked his way into the starting rotation in his sophomore year when he made 25 appearances and 15 starts. His ERA improved to 4.74 and he struck out 94 batters in 93 innings of work. Scheppers' game, though, really took off during his junior year before his shoulder problems, when he posted a 2.93 ERA and allowed just 54 hits in 70.2 innings of work. He walked 34 (4.3 BB/9) and struck out 109 (13.9 K/9).
Marc: So, how do you feel the game went last night?
Tanner: Ah, I've definitely had better days... that's for sure.
Marc: You did, though, allow just two hits over four innings, so that must be a positive.
Tanner: Yeah, there were definitely some positives. I mean, obviously when you have outings like that you learn a lot more than, say, if you go out there and do really well.
Marc: Can you put your finger on one thing that you learned last night?
Tanner: Yeah. Last night when things started to get a little out of control and things started hitting the fan, I really sped things up instead of going the opposite direction. I talked to Kerry Ligtenberg and sat down with him to just pick his brain and see what he had to say about the whole situation. He just said I was rushing things and falling forward a little bit. Those were all really good things to learn.
Marc: Have you had more than one opportunity to pick the brains of players like Ligtenberg and Mitch Wylie - guys that have played at a really high level?
Tanner: I actually room with Wylie so I can talk with him every day, which is really good. And Craig Brazell has taught me a lot about the hitter's aspect and what they're thinking up there and stuff.
Marc: And it must be nice not to have to face him. (Laughs)
Tanner: (Laughs) I'd love to face him. That'd be awesome.
Marc: What's the biggest difference between NCAA hitters and the professional hitters that you've been facing recently?
Tanner: So far what I seem to be noticing is that they're a lot more disciplined. They don't chase, really, anything. They have a lot better eyes. The wood-bat thing is a little bit different. You can pitch inside a little bit more. It takes some time to get used to that. Really, they're just more disciplined and developed hitters.
Marc: How else have you adjusted your game plan while pitching to batters now that they're using wood bats?
Tanner: Just pitching a lot more inside. I'm still learning. I've only had a few starts now and every start I'm learning something new. I'm starting to work in the changeup a lot more to keep the hitters off-balance a little bit.
Marc: How did it feel watching how your teammates were doing at Fresno State during the College World Series?
Tanner: It was good to watch; I was part of the team. We had a great run and I couldn't be more proud for them.
Marc: You made a lot of improvement between your sophomore and junior years at Fresno State. What do you attribute that improvement to? Was it just being able to pitch more and getting used to pitching full-time? I know you were recruited by Fresno as a shortstop out of high school.
Tanner: I think a lot of it had to do with repetition. I was getting out there consistently and feeling the game out. I was talking with my pitching coach and he really took me under his wing and helped me out there.
Marc: Do you ever miss playing everyday at shortstop?
Tanner: (Laughs) It's been so long... I love pitching.
Tanner: Oh, no. I was so young then. I didn't know anything about pitching. I only pitched like 30 innings my senior year. And that was all the pitching time I got. No real coaching at all. If I had signed, I would have been lost out there, I think. College was a good experience. I learned a lot from it.
Marc: Would you recommend, then, for kids - who are drafted out of high school - go and spend some time in college? Or do you think it depends on the kid and the situation?
Tanner: I think it definitely depends on the situation. I'm definitely more on the college side. You definitely don't often see high school players make it (to the Majors) in the first couple of years. To go straight to the big leagues is pretty rare for them. I think you gain a lot more experience by going to college and you get your education out of the way. You never know what can happen. An injury could end your career and then you don't really have any schooling. I have a back-up plan and I think it's a really good thing to have.
Marc: How's the shoulder doing?
Tanner: The shoulder's doing great.
Marc: Have you had any problems with it at all this year?
Tanner: Zero. All the hard work is paying off.
Marc: What sort of rehab did you do to get that shoulder back to where you're throwing like you were before getting hurt?
Tanner: I was at [the Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles]... and I worked out there for four months, strictly doing shoulder exercises to really build up the muscle around the [rotator] cuff. It was also about the arm, stretching it out. Ever since, it's been great.
Marc: Do you think the shoulder is stronger now than before the injury?
Tanner: Definitely. It's definitely stronger.
Marc: Did they pinpoint what caused the injury? Was it a pitching injury or was it from lifting weights or doing something else?
Tanner: Ah, no it was pitching. It was over-work. I've seen Dr. [Lewis] Yocum and he said it was normal wear-and-tear on an over-worked arm. I threw a lot of pitches and a lot of games.
Marc: Have you gained any other valuable experiences from spending time with the club in St. Paul, aside from the in-game pitching?
Tanner: Overall, I've just learned more about the game.
Marc: And does that come from just being at the ballpark everyday and being around professional ball players?
Tanner: Yeah, exactly - seeing a ball game everyday. Different stuff happens every game. You can see the different things that happen and how to handle it. With all the different situations you're always learning.
Marc: Obviously this time last year, injury aside, you were a really highly-regarded pitcher. You were expected to go very high in the draft and you still went in the second round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Are you a better pitcher now than you were then?
Tanner: Definitely. I'm still working off a little bit of the rust, and I'm kind of getting my feet underneath me, feeling the field out there with the crowd. I'm just feeling the baseball game, really. I was a little more in control last year when I was in my prime. But I'm starting to come under my feet and get back into it. I'm starting to feel how I was last year and with the control part, which is nice. Once I get there, everything should fall into place.
Marc: Do you find the game is going really quickly when you're out on the mound right now?
Tanner: No, just in that last inning yesterday. Things sped up more for me a little bit. Other than that, not really.
Marc: What's been the most frustrating or challenging part of the last year?
Tanner: I dunno. It's just been a long period. It was just long.
Marc: What about the rehab? Was that challenging?
Tanner: No. The rehab was the easy part. Doing the work is the easy part... It was people not being able to see me.
Marc: What was the most rewarding part of the last year for you? Has anything positive come out of the injury?
Tanner: You know, I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from the experience.
Marc: When you're on the mound, do you have a specific game plan, or approach when you're working? Do you try to pitch to contact or do you like to go for the strikeouts?
Tanner: I just try to fill up the strike zone. If they hit it, they hit it. If they don't then you just keep pounding the strike zone. That's what I just keep trying to tell myself.
Marc: Do you put much stock in statistics and in-depth analysis?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all.
Marc: Do you study a lot of scouting reports before your games?
Tanner: I just go over scouting reports on the hitters to see what tendencies they have and if they chase a lot of stuff or if they're a first-pitch hitter or do they hit the fastball... That sort of stuff. But I don't look at batting averages and that sort of stuff.
Marc: When you're facing a hitter for the first time, how do you attack them? Do you go away from their strengths or do you pitch to your strengths?
Tanner: I go with my strengths, because you want to be beat with your best stuff. You don't want to get beat by your second-best pitch. So definitely just attack it... If I get beat with my best, then I just tip my cap to them.
Marc: Then if you get beat with your best against a hitter, what approach do you take the second time that you face that same hitter?
Tanner: It's definitely a feel thing. You go with whatever approach feels right and what's going good for you that day. Every day is different. Some days the curveball is great. Some days it's just not doing that well.
Marc: You've mentioned the curveball. What other pitches do you throw?
Tanner: Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup.
Marc: And what do you feel is your best pitch?
Tanner: The fastball.
Marc: What has the heater been clocked at recently?
Tanner: Mid-to-high (90s) is what I've been clocked at. I've been 94-98 mph
Marc: Now, do you like to just go out and throw as hard as you can or do you try and take a little off to gain more command and control of the pitch?
Tanner: You know, I'm still learning. There are times when I think I'm over-throwing a bit and it causes me to be up in the zone. It's a feel thing and I am still learning a lot.
Marc: It's just two weeks before the 2009 MLB amateur draft. Can you give me a scouting report on Tanner Scheppers the pitcher? What is your biggest strength?
Tanner: I guess that I'm still young and I'm still learning. I have a pretty good fastball. The off-speed stuff is there... And I'm willing to get better, to work my ass off. (Laughs)
Marc: And if you were to highlight one thing that you need to work on to take your game to that next level, what would it be?
Tanner: Command. Command and consistency.
Marc: And what do you think can help you achieve improvements in those areas?
Tanner: Just more pitching.
Marc: Do you have any specific goals after signing. Do you think that far ahead or are you just taking things one day at a time?
Tanner: One day at a time, definitely... Pitch by pitch.
Marc: How close were you to signing with Pittsburgh last year?
Tanner: You know, I'm still confused by the situation. (Laughs) I don't really know exactly what happened there.
Marc: Did you think you were going to sign with them?
Tanner: Oh yeah, I thought I totally made it. But they told me it wasn't going to happen.
Marc: That must have been frustrating.
Tanner: It was definitely a big surprise.
Marc: So then what made you choose to go the independent league route, rather than return to Fresno State for your senior season?
Tanner: I'd rather not comment on that, if possible.
Marc: OK, not a problem.
Marc: So, the last mock draft I saw had you going fifth overall to the Orioles. Do you pay attention to that kind of lead-up to the draft, and the speculation?
Tanner: My teammates joke around about it and stuff but I really don't pay that much attention to it. You can't, really. I got caught up in it a little bit last year, you know, in the heat of everything. Being hurt and everything you realize that you just need to go and pitch and everything will sort itself out.
Marc: Are there specific teams showing more interest in you than others at this point, or are you getting interest from everybody?
Tanner: I think it's just in general.
Marc: Do you have a favorite team or a preference?
Tanner: Oh no, not at all. I'd be lucky to play for any one of them.
Marc: I take it, then, considering that you thought you'd signed last year, that you're looking forward to signing quickly and starting your career?
Tanner: I would love to sign as quickly as possible, get into the system and start off. Hopefully improve out there and just move up as quickly as I possibly can. I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure that happens.
Marc: Well, that's all my questions. I really do appreciate you taking the time, Tanner.
Tanner: Yeah, no problem.
Marc: And I wish you the best of luck for the season leading up to the draft.
Tanner: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Baseball Analysts would again like to thank Tanner Scheppers for speaking with us. As well, we'd like to thank the St. Paul Saints (and Sean Aronson) for accommodating the interview.
Credit to Keith Kountz for Fresno State photos of Scheppers in action.
Opening Day 3
I had the opportunity to catch most of the first game of the 2009 Major League Baseball season when the Atlanta Braves defeated the reigning champion Philadelphia Phillies by the score of 4-1. Phillies starter Brett Myers did not look comfortable on the mound and he allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk over six innings. The biggest issue with Myers appeared to be a lack of confidence in his fastball. The right-hander began to rely on his secondary pitches too much during the game. The fastballs came mostly early on in the at-bats. Myers favored his change-up as his out-pitch in the beginning, but switched to the curveball after giving up a home run to Atlanta catcher Brian McCann on the off-speed pitch.
It was only one game, but Jeff Francoeur looked much more comfortable at the plate. It also appeared like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders after he hit that home run; He can now hopefully put the demons to rest after a horrendous 2008 season. His home run, though, came on the first pitch he saw in 2009 so maybe he hasn't learned from his mistakes... or has he? Franceour then saw seven pitches in his second at-bat. That is actually more impressive than the home run.
I also have a couple quick thoughts from the Texas-Cleveland game, which ended in favor of the Rangers by the score of 9-1.
Opening Day 2
The Toronto Blue Jays, considered perhaps the weakest team in the American League East this season, stomped on the Detroit Tigers on Opening Night 2009, by the score of 12-5. While it might be exciting to have such a powerful start to the year, it really doesn't change anything; it's still going to be a rough year for the Jays. The club was just lucky to match up with another struggling team during the first series of the year.
Ace - and perhaps the most consistent starter in the American League - Roy Halladay was on the mound for the Jays last night and he was dominant. He did not allow a hit until Detroit center-fielder Curtis Granderson led off the fourth inning with a solo home run. Halladay did not allow another run until the wheels fell off in the seventh inning and the Toronto right-handed hurler allowed another four runs. The most frustrating part was that I asked myself at the beginning of the half inning why Toronto was sending Halladay out for the seventh inning with the club already ahead 9-1.
It was the first game of the year, but for whatever reason Toronto managers (and they've all been guilty) leave Halladay in games when things are well-in-hand. Now, he was at just about 75 pitches at the beginning of the inning, but why not keep him fresh early in the year - on the outside chance that you might need him to throw a lot of key innings in the second half of the season? As it was, he ended up throwing 99 pitches, he allowed five earned runs, and he lost his quality start, when in fact he dominated for six innings. The club also still ended up using four relievers (Jesse Carlson, Brandon League, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet) over the final two innings.
Other Thoughts on the Blue Jays:
Thoughts on the Tigers:
The move to the bullpen might just be what Nate Robertson needed. The displaced starter, who finished the 2008 season with a 6.35 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) was not happy about the move to the pen, but he made two left-handed hitters look foolish. Robertson, a southpaw, struck out both lefties that he faced and sent Overbay (who swung feebly at three pitches) back to the dugout shaking his head.
Opening Day 1
The good news, as a Jays fan, is that the club defeated the Detroit Tigers on Opening Night by the score of 12-5. The bad news was that it was the first time in my 32 years that I was ashamed to be a baseball fan. Last night's game in Toronto was delayed about 20 minutes when Detroit manager Jim Leyland pulled his players off the field when fans began throwing balls, paper and other items onto the field, which Leyland rightfully felt was putting his players in danger.
If the fans had not gotten themselves under control, a forfeit of the game could have occurred and the Jays - leading 12-5 at the time - would have been credited with the loss, according to the announcers Jamie Campbell and former MLB player Pat Tabler (KC, Cleveland, Toronto).
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I am not sure it was the Blue Jays fans that were throwing the items at the Detroit players. No. 1, a large number of Detroit fans had driven down to watch the game given the close proximity of the two cities and more than 48,000 tickets were sold. No. 2, why would fans of the winning team be throwing things when their club was leading by seven runs and also had runners on and were in the middle of threatening to score even more? That sounds more like a situation where the losing team's fans would be in an uproar. No. 3, Toronto fans have been lambasted in the media on more than one occasion by players on local teams who say Canadian fans are too quiet, too polite and need to be more vocal.
It really doesn't matter who it was; it may have been fans from both cities. It was inexcusable and embarrassing. What makes it even worse is that it happened during the first game of the 2009 season. I hope it was not a sign of things to come in Major League Baseball and professional sports, in general.
Seasons of Change, Part 2 (of 2)
As we saw last week in part one of Seasons of Change, MLB rosters can really evolve in 10 seasons. As fans, it's also fun to look back and remember some of the key moments - and players - that made 1999 so entertaining.
The Atlanta Braves | 103-59 (First)
The Braves club was a powerhouse 10 years ago, led by some excellent pitching, which included The Big Three of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. Those three pitchers, combined, earned more than $25 million. The club also relied on two young, promising starters named Kevin Millwood, 24, and Odalis Perez, 22. Millwood went on to have a pretty decent career (until he hit Texas), while Perez never did realize his full potential. Millwood was actually second on the team in wins in 1999 with 18 (Maddux had 19) and led with 205 strikeouts. Chipper Jones led the club with 45 home runs and his 110 RBI total was second to Brian Jordan's 115. Chipper received all but three first-place votes to win the NL MVP. Has any (active) player in the last 10 years fallen further than Andruw Jones talent-wise? He hit .275/.365/.483 with 26 home runs at the age of 22 - and his offense was not even the best part of his game.
Catcher Mike Piazza was the top salary earner for the Mets in 1999 at $7.1 million but he earned his paycheck by slugging 40 home runs and driving in 124 runs. Robin Ventura had his best season as a Met and hit 32 home runs with 120 RBI. He hit .301 in 1999 and never reached .250 again in his final five seasons. The third highest paid player on the club at $5.9 million was Bobby Bonilla, but he hit just .160/.277/.303 in 119 at-bats (60 games). The Mets' starting rotation was fairly old, with the top four pitchers aged 33 or higher, with No. 1 starter Orel Hershiser at 40. It's hard to believe the Mets won 97 games considering the top win total was 13 by both Hershiser and Al Leiter. The closer's role was shared by the Young n' Old combo of Armando Benitez, 26, (22 saves) and John Franco, 38, (19 saves).
This club is famous for taking one step forward and two steps back. After winning the World Series in 1997, the club jettisoned most of its talent. In 1999, only four players made more than $1 million, including Alex Fernandez who raked in $7 million and earned seven wins in 24 starts. Fernandez earn more money than the next 13 highest paid players on the roster. The team lead in wins was secured by Brian Meadows with 11 (He also lost 15 and had an ERA of 5.60). Antonio Alfonseca led the club with 21 saves. Rookies A.J. Burnett and Vladimir Nunez appeared to have bright futures, while sophomore Ryan Dempster was also being counted on for big things. Offensively, not one hitter was above the age of 30 when the season began. Luis Castillo played his first full season as a regular and stole 50 bases. Preston Wilson, 24, hit 26 home runs and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He also struck out 156 times, though. Mike Lowell also showed promise in his rookie season.
Paul Byrd and Curt Schilling led the Phillies in wins in 1999 with 15 a piece. Schilling was also tops with 152 strikeouts. Left-handed prospect Randy Wolf made his debut and posted a 5.55 era in 21 starts. Wayne Gomes led the club with 19 saves after veteran Jeff Brantley went down due to injury and appeared in just 10 games. The offense was led by catcher Mike Lieberthal, who hit 31 home runs and batted .300. Rico Brogna was first on the club in RBI with 102. Bobby Abreu, 25, had a breakout season that saw him hit 20 home runs, 11 triples, score 118 runs, steal 28 bases and walk 109 times. Oh, and he batted .335. Doug Glanville had 204 hits and also stole 34 bases.
The now Washington Nationals organization had just five players making $1 million or more, and Rondell White was the top earner at $3 million. He had a nice season with a line of .312/.359/.505. The offensive leader, though, was Vladimir Guerrero, 23, who was in his third season. He hit 42 home runs and drove in 131 runs. Catcher Chris Widger was third on the club with 14 home runs. The middle infield consisted of Jose Vidro, 24, and Orlando Cabrera, 24, both of whom were promising young players. Michael Barrett was a rookie in 1999 and split his time between catcher and third base. Dustin Hermanson, a converted reliever, and Javier Vazquez, 22, both led the team with nine wins. Ugueth Urbina was the saves leader with 41. Left-hander Steve Kline appeared in 82 games, while Anthony Telford pitched in 79, which should tell you a little bit about the starting pitchers. A 23-year-old southpaw named Ted Lilly made nine appearances. The club had a ridiculous amount of young talent in 1999... it's too bad the club could not afford to keep all the players together for any significant period of time.
The Cincinnati Reds | 96-67 (Second)
Only one player hit more than 25 home runs and topped 100 RBI (Greg Vaughn at 45 homers and 118 RBI), but 10 players hit more than 10 taters. Sean Casey was second on the club in dingers, during a rare power display, with 25. Pokey Reese hit .285/.330/.417 with 38 steals and looked like he would man second base for quite some time, but he never reached those numbers again. Pete Harnisch was the staff ace with a record of 16-10 and 198.1 innings pitched. His 120 strikeouts were second only to Brett Tomko's 132. The Reds appeared to have a dynamic, young one-two punch in the pen with Danny Graves, 25, who saved 27 games, and Scott Williamson, 23, who had 19. Injuries ruined both careers - although both had limited success. Williamson pitched well enough to take the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1999. Ironically, the club traded rookie B.J. Ryan to the Reds after just one MLB game. He arguably has had a better career than both Graves and Williamson.
Hideo Nomo led the club with 12 wins and 161 strikeouts. The only other pitcher to approach triple-digit strikeouts was Steve Woodard with 119. Veterans Jim Abbott and Cal Eldred both made 15 starts and had horrible seasons with ERAs over 6.90. Former first round pick Kyle Peterson, 23, looked promising in 17 games but appeared in just three more MLB games in his career. Bob Wickman saved 37 games. Jeromy Burnitz was the leader in home runs with 33. Australian catcher Dave Nilsson had a nice season with a line of .309/.400/.554 and 21 home runs. Geoff Jenkins played his first full season and had 43 doubles and 21 home runs.
The biggest earner in 1999 for the Pirates was Al Martin at $2.7 million, with Kevin Young second at $2.1 million. Martin hit .277/.337/.506 with 24 home runs and 24 steals. Young hit .298/.387/.522 with 26 homers and 106 RBI. Brian Giles was the offensive star, though, with a line of .315/.418/.614 to go with 39 home runs and 115 RBI. He earned just $1.1 million. Warren Morris, 25, had a solid rookie season at second base but was a one-year (maybe a two-year) wonder. The Pirates had a promising young pitching staff with the top four starters at or below the age of 27, including Todd Ritchie, Kris Benson, Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova. Mike Williams saved 23 games.
The year 1999 was not kind to the Cubs organization, which finished in last place in the Central Division. The only positive part of the season (at the time) was Sammy Sosa's race with Mark McGwire and his 63 home runs (as well as 141 RBI). Henry Rodriguez had a nice season with 26 home runs and a .301 batting average. Only one regular player was under the age of 30 - Jose Hernandez at shortstop. In the starting rotation, Jon Lieber led the way with just 10 wins. Steve Trachsel pitched 205 innings but managed a record of just 8-18. Terry Adams stepped into the closer's role and saved 13 games, after Rod Beck was ineffective despite saving 51 games in 1998. Rookie Kyle Farnsworth, 23, made 21 starts and looked loaded with potential thanks to a big fastball. Fifteen players made $1.1 million or more for the last-place Cubs.
Remember when the Astros had good pitching (beyond Roy Oswalt?). I certainly had forgotten. In 1999 Jose Lima and Mike Hampton, both 26, won 21 and 22 games, respectively. Shane Reynolds won 16 games and led the club with 197 strikeouts. Sophomore Scott Elarton looked like he would move into the rotation in 2000 and thrive. Billy Wagner saved 37 games with a 1.57 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. In the batter's box, Jeff Bagwell finished second in the MVP race after slugging 42 home runs, driving in 126 and adding 149 walks. Craig Biggio hit 56 doubles. Between the two players, they stole 58 bases. A rookie by the name of Lance Berkman appeared in 34 games.
Another Central League club had a disappointing season, but brought fans to the seats thanks to Mark McGwire's 65 home runs. Fernando Tatis, 24, hit 34 home runs in his second full season and drove in 107 runs. Rookie J.D. Drew began his career of disappointing people with a line of .242/.340/.424. League-average hurler Kent Bottenfield parlayed an uncharacteristic 18-9 season into a $4 million paycheck from the Angels in 2000 (and subsequently won just seven games). Once promising Jose Jimenez went 5-14 in his rookie season and never did reach his potential. Pitching phenom Rick Ankiel, who was 19 when the year began, debuted and had a 3.27 ERA in nine games (five starts). Ricky Bottalico saved 20 games.
The Colorado Rockies | 72-90 (Fifth)
Offense was the name of the game in 1999, obviously. Four players had 30 or more homers: Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and Larry Walker. Walker's line was insane at .379/.458/.710, but he finished 10th overall in MVP voting. Terry Shumpert hit .347/.413/.584 as a part-time utility player. Promising rookies Ben Petrick and Edgar Clemente failed to develop. Four pitchers made 30 starts or more, but only Pedro Astacio had an ERA below 6.00 (at 5.04). He also led the club with 210 strikeouts. Brian Bohanon was second on the club with 12 wins despite a 6.20 ERA. Dave Veres saved 31 games. Young starters John Thomson, Jamey Wright, and Mark Brownson failed to realize their potentials.
Barry Bonds was not involved in the great home run chase of 1999, in part because injuries limited him to just 102 games. Regardless, he still hit 34 home runs. Ellis Burks carried the offense in Bonds' absence and hit 31 home runs. Rich Aurilia (making less than $1 million), Jeff Kent, and J.T. Snow also all had 20 or more home runs. Catcher Brent Mayne was the only regular to hit more than .300 (at .301). Pitcher Russ Ortiz went 18-9 with 164 strikeouts and 125 walks. Not bad for a guy making $220,000, eh? Robb Nen saved 37 games. A former catcher Joe Nathan, 24, made a successful conversion to pitcher and started 14 games.
Trevor Hoffman saved 40 games for the Padres in 1999, but there wasn't much else to celebrate. Andy Ashby was tops in wins with 14. Sterling Hitchcock punched out 194 batters, which was his career high by an easy margin (36 Ks). Matt Clement, 24, had a promising rookie season and won 10 games with a 4.48 ERA in 31 starts. Outfielder Ruben Rivera inexplicably played 146 games despite hitting .195/.295/.406. Four regulars hit .248 or below. Reggie Sanders led the offense with 26 home runs. Phil Nevin drove in the most runs with just 85. Tony Gwynn hit .338/.381/.477 and was first in hits with 139. It was the last season he would play regularly and his third last overall. The club did have some speed, as four players stole 30+ bases. Shortstop Damian Jackson had 34 despite hitting just .224.
Kevin Brown started off his Dodgers career pretty well in 1999 with an 18-9 record and 221 strikeouts. Ismael Valdes was second amongst the starters with a 3.98 ERA but he won just nine games. Jeff Shaw saved 34 games. Rookie relievers Jamie Arnold and Onan Masaoka were worked pretty hard and failed to have much success ever again. A young Canadian starter named Eric Gagne, 23, made his debut and posted a 2.10 ERA in five starts. On offense, Raul Mondesi, Gary Sheffield, and Eric Karros each passed the 30 home runs mark. Twenty-year-old third baseman Adrian Beltre played his first full season and hit .275/.352/.428. He looked like a superstar in the making. Eric Young stole 51 bases.
In just its second season, the Arizona organization finished first in the NL West (but lost to the Mets in the NL Division Series). The club was offensive-minded to say the least. Two outfielders (who - eyebrows raised - improved significantly as they entered their 30s) Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley had great seasons. Gonzalez hit .336/.403/.549 with 206 hits and 111 RBI. Finley slammed 34 homers and drove in 103 runs. Jay Bell (another eyebrow raise) and Matt Williams (clearing of throat) both joined the 30 homer club. Williams led with 142 RBI and finished third in the MVP race. On the rubber, Randy Johnson was king with a 17-9 record and 364 whiffs. He edged Mike Hampton for the NL Cy Young award. Omar Daal came out of nowhere to go 16-9. Matt Mantei saved 22 games and Gregg Olson had 14. Byung-Hyun Kim made his debut at the age of 20 and struck out 31 in 27.1 innings.
Seasons of Change, Part 1 (of 2)
What a difference 10 years can make.
We are not far from the beginning of spring training - which also marks the beginning of the 2009 Major League Baseball season - and this can be hard to fathom for those of us in the snowy, cold northern states and Canada. The baseball landscape has changed a lot since the Philadelphia Phillies organization put the final touches on its championship season at the end of 2008. Some rosters have had significant changes (Chicago NL, New York AL), while other clubs look (unfortunately) the same (Toronto, Pittsburgh).
As we all know, the days of a player staying with the same team for his entire career are all but over. In Oakland, players are lucky to remain with the organization through their arbitration years. With spring training almost upon us, let's take a look back at how each American League club's rosters looked 10 years ago in 1999.
The Baltimore Orioles | 78-84 (Fourth)
The opening day starter for the Orioles in 1999 was none other than Mike Mussina, who announced his retirement this off-season. Outfielder Brady Anderson led off the first game of the season for the birds. Albert Belle made $11.9 million, which led the club, and was about $6 million more than the second most expensive player, Mussina. Both Belle and B.J. Surhoff drove in more than 100 runs. Cal Ripken Jr. batted .340 at the age of 38, but played in just 86 games. Mussina led the team with 18 wins, and that was followed by Scott Erickson's 15. Mike Timlin paced the bullpen with 27 saves. A rookie pitcher by the name of B.J. Ryan caught everyone's attention with 28 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. The club had some trouble developing hitting prospects, including Calvin Pickering, Ryan Minor, and Gene Kingsale.
Pedro Martinez was the face of the franchise in 1999 and was paid handsomely at $11.1 million, followed by... John Valentin (?!?!?) at $6.35 million. Martinez posted a 2.03 ERA that season and won 23 games. The only other pitcher with 10 or more wins was 35-year-old Bret Saberhagen, who went 10-6 in 22 games. He was out of baseball in 2000 after appearing in just three games that season. It was bullpen-by-committee for Boston with both Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe picking up 15 saves. Tom Gordon compiled 11 game-stoppers. The Red Sox' global search for pitching was underway as the club tried rookies Jin Ho Cho (South Korea), Juan Pena (Dominican Republic), and Tomokazu Ohka (Japan) with varying degrees of success. Left-fielder Troy O'Leary led the club with 28 home runs and his 103 RBI total was second to shortstop Nomar Garciaparra who, in his third full season, looked like a future Hall of Famer. He led the club with a .357 average.
Pat Hentgen was the highest paid Jay at $8.6 million, while Carlos Delgado was the highest paid hitter at $5.075 million. Hentgen won just 11 games with a 4.79 ERA, in what would be his final season in Toronto. The former Cy Young winner (1996) spent 10 seasons in Toronto over the course of his career. Delgado led the club with 44 home runs and drove in 134 runs at the age of 27. In mid-season, the club stole infielder Tony Batista, 25, from the Arizona Diamondbacks, in a trade for aging LOOGY Dan Plesac. Batista hit 26 home runs in 98 games for Toronto that season and then went on to slug 41 in 2000. Former No. 1 draft pick Shawn Green had a breakout season and hit 42 home runs with 123 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a .300+ average. He was traded to the Dodgers prior to the 2000 season for Raul Mondesi. A 20-year-old by the name of Vernon Wells got his first taste of the Major Leagues.
The Yankees had eight players making $5 million or more in 1999, with the highest paid player being outfielder Bernie Williams at $9.8 million, followed by pitcher David Cone at $9.5. Derek Jeter batted .349 and drove in 100+ runs for the only time in his career. Rookie Ricky Ledee was given an opportunity to seize an everyday role, but he failed to impress and was shipped off to Cleveland in 2000. Joe Girardi spent his final season in pinstripes as a player while backing up Jorge Posada behind the dish. Two young Dominican infielders - who were oozing with talent - made their MLB debuts in 1999: D'Angelo Jimenez, 21, and Alfonso Soriano, 23. Jimenez was considered by some to be a more promising prospect than Soriano. Mariano Rivera led the club with 45 saves (surprise, surprise), while both Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte had down years with ERAs of 4.60 and 4.70, respectively. They combined for just 28 wins (a low total for those two), but they still did better than every New Yorker's favorite player Hideki Irabu, who posted a 4.84 ERA.
The Devil Rays club has arguably come further than any other organization in 10 years. The 1999 season was just the second season in the brief history of the club. The organization received 34 home runs out of Jose Canseco and 32 bombs from Fred McGriff. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs played his final MLB season and finished the year with a .301 batting average and a .328 career average. Closer Roberto Hernandez led the club with a salary of $6.1 million (Why does an expansion team need a top-tiered closer?). He did earn his money, though, by saving 43 games. Wilson Alvarez led the club in wins with nine. Bobby Witt threw a team-leading 180.1 innings and managed a record of 7-15. Thirty-five-year-old rookie Jim Morris made headlines by appearing in his first Major League game.
The Chicago White Sox | 75-86 (Second)
Frank Thomas led the club with a $7 million salary in 1999. But he managed just 15 home runs in 135 games, the lowest total since his rookie season, when he appeared in just 60 games. It was also the first full season in which he did not drive in 100 or more runs (breaking the string at eight seasons). Paul Konerko took over first base at the age of 23 and hit .294/.352/.511. Mike Caruso played his second full season at shortstop at the age of 22, but fell off the map in 2003. Rookie Carlos Lee, 23, hit .293 and drove in 83 runs. The pitching imploded with four starting pitchers posting ERAs above 5.10, including James Baldwin, Jim Parque, Jamie Navarro, and John Snyder. Neither Snyder nor Parque, former promising prospects, realized their potential. Bob Howry led the club with 28 saves.
The Twins had just seven players who made $1 million or more, led by closer Rick Aguilera ($4.3 million), who saved just six games and appeared in 17 games due to injuries. Mike Trombley picked up the slack and saved 24 games, which was the only time he reached double-digits in saves in his career. Brad Radke led the club in wins (12) and losses (14), but was tied in the latter category by LaTroy Hawkins. The Twins trotted out a slick-fielding, 21-year-old rookie shortstop by the name of Cristian Guzman. He showed promise in the field but hit just .226/.267/.276. The club also featured a rookie in center-field named Torii Hunter. Ron Coomer led the club with 16 home runs, Marty Cordova had 70 RBI, and rookie third baseman Corey Koskie led the club with a .310 batting average.
The Tigers paid a lot of money to Willie Blair ($3.75 million, third on the team) to win three games and post a 6.85 ERA. Dave Mlicki led the club with 14 wins. Promising lefty Justin Thompson had the last mildly productive year of his career before injuries ruined it. Rookie Jeff Weaver, 22, looked like the Next Big Thing in Detroit. Todd Jones saved 32 games, while keeping the closer's role warm for the Other Next Big Thing Matt Anderson, 22. Offensively, Dean Palmer led the way with 38 home runs and 100 RBI. Tony Clark slugged 31 home runs but drove in just 99. Back from the Mexican Leagues where he spent two seasons, Luis Polonia, 35, had the best average at .324, and was in fact the only hitter to bat above .300 that season. Karim Garcia hit 14 home runs at the age of 23 and looked like he might finally make good on his massive potential. Or not.
The Royals had just five players making $1 million or more, led by pitcher Kevin Appier and infielder Jeff King, both of whom broke the $4 million mark. Jose Rosado, 24, looked like a future pitching star after allowing just 197 hits in 208 innings in 1999. He also posted a 3.85 ERA, but injuries destroyed his career, which ended in 2000. Jeff Suppan, 24, also provided 200+ innings in 1999. Promising pitching prospects Dan Reichert, Jim Pittsley, and Orber Moreno failed to develop. Long-time Royals closer Jeff Montgomery faced the end of his pitching career after saving just 12 games and posting an ERA of 6.84. Rookie Carlos Febles looked like a long-term solution at second base after a solid debut, but he failed to make adjustments and regressed. Former catcher Mike Sweeney made good on his conversion to first base and hit 22 home runs, drove in 102 runs and hit .322. Carlos Beltran, 22, won the Rookie of the Year award after hitting .293 with 22 home runs, stealing 27 bases and driving in 108. Jermaine Dye, playing full-time for the first time in his career, led the club with 27 home runs and 119 RBI.
The veteran powerhouse had 15 players that made $1 million or more in 1999. Offense was the name of the game in Cleveland in 1999, with three players slugging 30 or more home runs, including Manny Ramirez (44), Jim Thome (33), and Richie Sexson (31), in his first full season. Roberto Alomar and David Justice also had more than 20. Rookie Einer Diaz took over behind the plate for the aging Sandy Alomar Jr., who was injured. Bartolo Colon, 26, led the club in wins with 18 in just his second full season. Veteran Charles Nagy was next with 17, in what would be his last productive season at the age of 33. Former rookie phenom Jaret Wright, 23, imploded with an 8-10 record and ERA of 6.06. Mike Jackson led the club with 39 saves.
The Seattle Mariners | 79-83 (Third)
Ken Griffey Jr. was still "The One" in Seattle in 1999, but Alex Rodriguez was hot on his heels. Griffey hit 48 home runs with 134 RBI, but Rodriguez matched him in average (.285) and trailed him with 41 home runs and 111 RBI at the age of 23. It was, though, Griffey's swan song in Seattle, as he was moved to Cincinnati prior to the 2000 season. Other key offensive contributors included Edgar Martinez (.337 average), David Bell (21 homers), and Brian Hunter (44 stolen bases). On the mound, Freddy Garcia came in second in Rookie of the Year voting after winning 17 games, to lead the club. Gil Meche was another budding superstar with an 8-4 record in 16 games at the age of 20. Jamie Moyer, 36, and surely at the end of his career, was second in wins with 14. Jeff Fassero posted a hideous 7.38 ERA in 30 games (24 starts). Jose Mesa led the way in the 'pen with 33 saves.
Known as the Anaheim Angels, the club struggled mightily in 1999. The club was old - especially in the pitching department. The five starters that made 20 or more starts were 31 or older. Chuck Finley, 36, led the club with 12 wins, followed by reliever Mark Petkovsek with 10 and starter Omar Olivares with eight. Two young hurlers under the age of 25 got their feet wet: Jarrod Washburn made 10 starts and Brian Cooper made five. Troy Percival anchored the bullpen with 31 saves. Offensively, Mo Vaughn slugged 33 home runs and drove in 108. Tim Salmon was bitten by the injury bug and had his first unproductive season with just 17 home runs and 69 RBI. Troy Glaus provided hope for the future by slugging 29 home runs in his first full MLB season.
The A's were still bashing away in 1999 with five players slamming 21 home runs or more. Matt Stairs, back from Japan, led the way with 38 dingers, followed by scrap heap recovery John Jaha with 35. Jason Giambi also broke the 30 mark by three. Top prospect Eric Chavez spent his first full season in the Majors with modest results. Left-fielder Ben Grieve slammed 28 home runs and looked like another homegrown star-in-the-making. In the beginning, the Big Three began with the appearance of Tim Hudson, who went 11-2 in 21 games in his debut season at the age of 23. Veteran Gil Heredia led the club with 13 wins and 200 innings. Billy Taylor, 37, led the club with 26 saves. Rookie Chad Harville and Luis Vizcaino were seen as potential replacements.
The Texas Rangers club powered its way to an AL West title and bested the club's Pythagorean record by seven wins. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez won the AL MVP award after hitting 35 home runs, driving in 113 and batting .332. Rafael Palmeiro slugged 47 home runs and drove in 148. Juan Gonzalez had 39 home runs and drove in 128. Four regulars batted .300 or better. Mark McLemore and Rusty Greer each scored 100 runs or more. Superstar-in-waiting Ruben Mateo made his Major League debut and appeared in 32 games with a .238 average and five home runs. The pitching was not as pretty as the hitting, although Aaron Sele won 18 games despite a 4.79 ERA. Rick Helling won 13 games with a 4.84 ERA and Mike Morgan won 13 with a 6.24 ERA. Mark Clark made 13 starts despite an 8.60 ERA. John Wetteland, 32, led the club with 44 saves and no one thought that he would retire after just one more season. Jeff Zimmerman and Dan Kolb were expected to anchor the bullpen for years to come.
With spring training almost here, it also means that Fantasy Baseball season is heating up. If you're looking for some great advice throughout the season (as well as the pre-season), be sure to check out John Burnson's Heater Magazine, which provides weekly statistical analysis from some of the smartest minds from across the Internet. The magazine is introducing a new, weekly feature this spring called Radar Tracking, which helps track each team's moves and ever-changing rosters and player roles to help you prepare for the 2009 Fantasy Baseball season. Each team is being analyzed by writers and bloggers who regularly follow the clubs. Here is a sneak peek at some of the first week's Radar Tracking.
It's a Young Man's World, Part 2
The National League teams likely headed for the 2008 playoffs do not feature as many key young players on their rosters as their American League counterparts. That said, there are still a handful of young National League players who could impact the playoffs. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, I took a look at the American League.
The New York Mets are a veteran-heavy team thanks to a number of key free agent and trade acquisitions made in the last couple of seasons by general manager Omar Minaya. The young offensive superstars - David Wright and Jose Reyes - currently qualify as "veterans," at least in this instance.
Mike Pelfrey RHP
Only Johan Santana has given the Mets more innings or recorded more wins. Mike Pelfrey, whose secondary stuff is still lacking compared to his fastball, will be relied on heavily if the Mets make the playoffs, which is not a sure thing at this point. Of his fellow starters beyond Santana, John Maine has healthy issues, Oliver Perez is continually inconsistent, and Pedro Martinez is... not the Pedro of old. The Mets must be cautious with Pelfrey, though, as his numbers have slipped a bit in September - especially his control (11 walks in 25 innings, and just 10 strikeouts) which could suggest he's a little tired after recording a career high in innings pitched.
Joe Smith RHP
In just his second Major League season, Joe Smith is already an iron man, having appeared in 133 games for the Mets. In 79 games this season, he has thrown just 61.1 innings but wear-and-tear can also come from warming up on multiple occasions before coming in to a game. The Mets will want to watch him carefully, and also avoid the righty-lefty match-ups as left-handed batters are hitting .340/.456/.489 against Smith. He does a nice job of keeping the ball on the ground with a 62.1 GB%.
The Chicago Cubs, like the Mets, rely heavily on veteran players, with the exception of catcher Geovany Soto, who is very well on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year title.
Jeff Samardzija RHP
It's hard to know what to expect from Jeff Samardzija. His Major League numbers have been good, but not spectacular enough to guarantee the unproven rookie a spot on the post-season roster. He's limited hitters to a .232 average and has recorded 8.33 K/9. That said, Samardzija has walked five batters per nine innings and has throw just 58 percent of his pitches for strikes. I wouldn't count him out, though, from having an excellent post-season, as the former college football star has a true gamer mentality.
Geovany Soto C
Soto has had a great offensive season for a young backstop but the long year may be catching up to him (pun intended) as his numbers have dipped in September after a monster August. It will be interesting to see if the long season (He's started 130 games behind the dish) takes a toll on the catcher in the playoffs, whose conditioning has been questioned in previous seasons. His power (23 homers, .219 ISO) and run producing ability (86 RBI) will be invaluable for the Cubs this fall.
Micah Hoffpauir 1B/OF
It has to feel pretty good to finally make the Major Leagues after seven long Minor League seasons at the age of 28. It has to feel even better to have a major impact on a club's late-season playoff hopes and play well enough to earn post-season roster considerations. Micah Hoffpauir has made the most of his chances and is heading into the final weekend of the season hitting .387/.441/.613 with two homers (hit last night) and 13 runs scored in 30 games (62 at-bats). His left-handed bat could be quite valuable coming off the bench for the Cubbies.
As our theme continues... the Los Angels Dodgers also have a fairly veteran roster, with few spots open for players with less than two years of Major League experience. However, players like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, and James Loney did not miss the cutoff by much.
Blake DeWitt 3B
Nobody expected Blake DeWitt to play in the Majors in 2008 - at least not for any significant period of time. But due to injuries, he has appeared in 113 games for the Dodgers at both second base and third base, providing solid defence. DeWitt's power is seriously lacking for the hot corner (.116 ISO, .722 OPS) but he is back hitting for average after a terrible June and July. He won't be an impact player in the playoffs, but he'll be solid.
Clayton Kershaw LHP
Clayton Kershaw has been in the prospect spotlight ever since high school and made it to the Majors in his third pro season. The talent is obvious to everyone who sees him pitch, but there are still a few rough patches, which could get magnified in the playoffs. He has a walk rate of 4.30 BB/9 and has allowed more hits than innings pitched. On the plus side, the Dodgers organization has done a nice job of controlling his innings, which should help keep him fresh and healthy for the playoffs.
Cory Wade RHP
Who saw this coming? Cory Wade has been brilliant out of the bullpen for the Dodgers after finally settling in the bullpen after years of bouncing around in various roles. His 2.19 ERA looks nice, but the .199 average and 49 hits allowed in 70 innings is even more impressive. He also has a WHIP of 0.90. On the downside, Wade has a strikeout rate of just 6.43 and his BABIP is really low at .222, suggesting some luck has been involved with his numbers.
Kyle Kendrick RHP
Kyle Kendrick is definitely not one of the Phillies top starting pitcher options and he could find himself in the bullpen for the playoffs. This season, he has allowed 190 hits in just 151.2 innings. He has also struck out just 3.98 batters per nine innings. Kendrick has also allowed a line drive rate of 27.3 percent. He has been dismal as of late, having posted ERAs of 6.08 in August and 19.89 in September.
Others: Left-hander J.A. Happ could make the post-season roster due to his ability to throw multiple innings and because he could be thrown up against a difficult left-handed hitter.
The Brewers' late season fade has been well-documented, but the team still has a chance in the wild card race, and it will rely heavily on the two players listed below.
Manny Parra LHP
A former Minor League phenom, Manny Parra has battled back from serious injuries to realize his potential. The 25-year-old lefty allowed a lot of hits (180 in 164 innings) and walks (75, 4.12 BB/9) this season but has shown improvements despite fading late in the season. Parra has also fallen victim to a rather high BABIP at .336. If Parra can learn to limit his walks and improve on his secondary pitches (He has an above-average fastball), he could be a dangerous real weapon.
Ryan Braun OF
I'd say this guy is pretty good, wouldn't you? Along with having an outstanding bat, Ryan Braun has also made a successful transition from third base to the outfield. His average has slipped a bit from his breakout rookie season, to no one's surprise, but the rest of his offence has held pretty steady with two straight 30-plus homer seasons (and a .266 ISO in 2008). Braun has also been a major run producer for the club with 104 runs driven in.
Others: Mark Difelice and Mitch Stetter have both pitched well out of the bullpen for the Brewers, despite possessing average stuff and little hype. Difelice made it to the Majors this season for the first time in his 11th minor league season, and at the age of 31.
Hanging on by a thread, this veteran club has been aided in its late-season push for the playoffs by a couple of young outfielders.
Hunter Pence OF
Hunter Pence does a little bit of everything (except perhaps show patience at the plate, with a 6.4 BB%). He has hit 24 homers, driven in 80 runs, stolen 11 bases and plays good defence. If Pence is going to hit for more power, though, he needs to hit some more balls in the air (51.2 GB%). He also has a low line-drive rate at 14.2 percent. If Pence is going to keep the ball on the ground as much as he has, he should improve his base running (10 caught stealing in 21 attempts).
Michael Bourn OF
Michael Bourn is pretty one-dimensional as a player with a great set of wheels. He has hit just .225/.285/.295 in 454 at-bats (His ISO is a paltry 0.70), but with 41 stolen bases in 51 attempts. Bourn could benefit from walking a little more with a 7.5 BB% to help offset the poor batting average.
It's a Young Man's World , Part 1
The 2008 Major League Baseball playoffs are just around the corner and most of this year's participants are now known, with just a couple playoff races still to be decided. What we also know, is that rookies and other young players will be playing key roles on each and every team that appears in the 2008 playoffs.
During the 2008 playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays will go as far as the club's young pitching will take it. The club could feature as many as eight young pitchers on the staff with less than two years of Major League experience. Starter Matt Garza, obtained from the Minnesota Twins last winter for outfielder Delmon Young, will help anchor the starting staff, along with "veterans" James Shields and Scott Kazmir. Evan Longoria, also in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year title, will be making his first playoff appearance in his Major League debut season.
Matt Garza RHP
After spending parts of two seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Garza finally established himself in the Major Leagues. He has worked 179.1 innings this season and has allowed 166 hits and 57 walks. Garza has also fanned 125 batters and done a reasonably good job of keeping the ball in the park with a rate of 0.90 HR/9. Garza has been helped by a low BABIP of .279.
David Price LHP
David Price could be this year's Francisco Rodriguez (who had a major impact on the 2002 playoffs despite not making his MLB debut until mid-September of that year). After beginning the year in A-ball and zooming through the minors, Price has looked like he belongs in the Major Leagues. In three appearances, he has allowed eight hits and three walks in 11.1 innings of work, including Monday's start against Baltimore when he allowed one earned run in 5.1 innings of work. Of the balls put in play against Price, 58.8 percent have been on the ground.
Andy Sonnanstine RHP
Andy Sonnanstine may not have the pure stuff to rival Kazmir, Garza or Price, but he gets by on pure guile and command. He is also tied for the team lead in wins. In 187.2 innings this season, Sonnanstine has allowed 207 hits, but just 34 walks. He has the potential to provide some valuable innings for the club, as more than one historical playoff series has been decided on a long extra inning game.
Evan Longoria 3B
Longoria began the year in the minor leagues and will end it in the Major League playoffs. The rookie currently has a line of .276/.345/.534 with 25 homers and 82 RBI in 115 games. The right-handed batter has struggled to hit for average against southpaws this season with a line of .243/.328/.532. His lack of patience (9.5 BB%) may be exploited in the playoffs, especially considering the amount of nervous energy that will be flowing.
Boston is traditionally known as a veteran club, but the organization has received some outstanding performances from young players this year, and there is no reason to suspect that those contributions will end with the regular season.
Jon Lester LHP
Jon Lester has returned from a battle with cancer to solidify himself as a reliable Major League starter. The lefty has won 15 games in the regular season and allowed 200 hits and 65 walks in 204.1 innings of work. He has also struck out 148 batters. Lester has done a nice job of limiting walks (2.86 BB/9) and keeping the ball in the park (0.62 HR/9). His playoff experience in 2007 (1.93 ERA with six hits allowed in 9.1 innings) should benefit him in 2008.
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Dustin Pedroia has been good enough to earn MVP talk thanks to a ridiculous offensive season that has seen him record more than 200 hits, as well as 52 doubles and 17 homers. The well-rounded hitter has also walked 50 times, equaling his strikeout total. He has also stolen 19 bases. Pedroia, who played in the 2007 playoffs, struggled in the Division Series with a .154 batting average but picks things up with a .345 average in the League Championship Series and a .278 average in the World Series (as well as four RBI and a homer in four games).
Jacoby Ellsbury OF
Jacoby Ellsbury has had a bit of an inconsistent season with a slow June and July, but the speedy outfielder has hit .315/.351/.466 in September. His overall season numbers are OK at .274/.332/.381 in 533 at-bats. Ellsbury has also contributed solid defence, as well as 49 stolen bases - and speed can be a valuable tool in the playoffs. The left-handed batter has held his own against southpaws with a .281 average. Ellsbury makes up for his lack of power (.107 ISO) by keeping the ball on the ground (51.5 GB%).
Others: Jed Lowrie, 24, will offer flexibility at a number of positions for the Red Sox and has looked better at shortstop than many scouts thought he would. Justin Masterson will provide options of Boston has he can start in a pinch or pitch multiple innings out of the pen. The sinker ball specialist could also be called on in a key situation where a fly ball could mean certain doom.
The White Sox club will need key contributions from two young starters if it hopes to make it out of the Divisional Series. The club's home run leader, Carlos Quentin, is currently on the disabled list and no one is certain exactly when he'll be able to play again.
Gavin Floyd RHP
Gavin Floyd, a highly-regarded prospect who was drafted out of high school by the Phillies, finally had everything click in 2008. He has pitched in 194.2 innings this seasons, more than his previous four part MLB seasons combined. Chicago must hope that Floyd has something left in the tank after pitching more innings than he ever has before. A couple warning signs for Floyd include a high home runs ratio (1.39 HR/9) and a low BABIP at .257. As well, after posting ERAs in the 3.00s in the first four months, Floyd has posted ERAs of 4.29 in August and 5.20 in September.
John Danks LHP
The young lefty, like Floyd, has had a breakout season. John Danks, who was obtained two years ago from pitching-starved Texas, has pitched better against right-handed batters, than left-handers (.240/.370/.296 versus .272/.372/.328). Danks has done a nice job keeping the ball in the park with a HR/9 of 0.64. His innings total is also lower than Floyd's, which could help explain his late-season surge (2.42 ERA in September).
Carlos Quentin OF
It is safe to say Quentin has been a key cog in the White Sox offence this season after he slugged 36 homers, drove in 100 runs and posted a line of .288/.394/.571 in 130 games. Quentin went down with a broken wrist in early September but there is hope that he will be able to return for some or all of the playoffs.
The Angels had a playoff spot wrapped up in the American League before any other club, and the club did it by relying on a solid mix of veterans and young players.
Joe Saunders LHP
Joe Saunders is tied for the club lead with 16 wins in just his first full season. Saunders won't overpower anyone (He has just 94 strikeouts in 192 innings, 4.41 K/9) but he knows how to mix his pitches to keep batters off balance and he takes advantage of the defence behind him. After a bumpy August, where he posted an ERA of 6.93, Saunders has turned things around just in time for the post-season, which will be his first.
Jose Arredondo RHP
Jose Arredondo has done a nice job of helping to solidify the Angels bullpen this season, even if all the press goes to Francisco Rodriguez. The 1.54 ERA and nine wins are impressive, but he has also done a nice job of limiting home runs (0.31 HR/9 and a ground ball rate of 51.9%). Arredondo has held batters to a .196 average, thanks in part to a low BABIP at .254. Left-handed batters have a particularly tough time against the right-hander and are hitting just .155 against him.
Erick Aybar SS
Erick Aybar has done a nice job at shortstop for the Angels. He is not flashy with the bat, but his approach is solid and he has batted .276/.314/.382 with three homers and six stolen bases in 330 at-bats. The switch-hitter is equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He may be a little tired right now with both his average and slugging percentage taking a hit in August and September. Aybar could stand to be more patient at the plate as he has walked just 14 times (4.1%) this season.
Others: Both Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez have a chance of seeing playing time during the playoffs. Neither player has performed overly well with the bat, but both have been highly-thought-of prospects and the potential is there for one or both of them to get on a hot streak.
Currently outside looking in, the Minnesota Twins face a bit of an uphill battle to secure a playoff berth, but the club has the talent to do just that. And the young players will be counted on heavily should the club secure a spot in the fall series.
Nick Blackburn RHP
With just 11.2 innings of MLB experience under his belt prior to 2008, Nick Blackburn has led the young starting pitching staff with 182 innings. He hasn't overpowered anyone with 212 hits allowed and just 91 strikeouts (4.50 K/9), but Blackburn has been steady up until September. This month, Blackburn has looked tired and has allowed 26 hits in 19 innings of work, with a 7.58 ERA.
Francisco Liriano LHP
The promising southpaw is finally looking like the Francisco Liriano of old, post Tommy John surgery. After a horrible beginning to the year (11.32 ERA and three losses in three starts), Liriano has returned from a stint in the minors to post a 1.23 ERA with four wins in August and a 3.28 ERA with two wins in September to help lead the Twins' late-season charge for a post-season berth.
Carlos Gomez OF
Part of the reward from the Mets for star pitcher Johan Santana, Carlos Gomez has had a solid first full season in the Majors. His overall approach at the plate needs work (4.3 BB%, 24.5 K%), but he brings an energy to the club that can be absolutely magical in the playoffs. Gomez will keep pitchers on the edge of the rubber after stealing 32 bases in the regular season.
Others: Control artist Kevin Slowey, and left-hander Glen Perkins could also play big roles in the playoffs for the Twins. Perkins has experience in the bullpen and he could head back there if needed, despite making 25 starts this season. Alexi Casilla should see significant time at second base.
Up Next on Friday: The NL's young playoff hopefuls
A Quick Look at the Rookie Hitters
Yesterday I took a look at the top rookie pitchers in the American and National Leagues so far this season. Today is a perfect opportunity to view some of the young hitters who are terrorizing the pitchers in Major League Baseball. The National League certainly seems to have a slightly more impressive crop of offensive rookies this season, led by the Cubbies' backstop.
Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs
At the age of 25, it has taken Geovany Soto a little bit longer to establish himself in the majors, having been drafted out of Puerto Rico in 2001 (in the 11th round). As soon as he began to take the game - and his conditioning seriously - good things began to happen. Soto plays a premium position for a first-place club and he is an offensive force with 11 homers in 226 at-bats. He also has a nice line-drive rate at 22.5 percent. One downside to his game is that he has struck out at a rate of 26.5 percent.
Joey Votto is looking to join the Dodgers' Russell Martin as one of the most impressive, young Canadian players in the National League. He has played well enough this season to put veteran Scott Hatteberg out of a job in Cincinnati and he has shown good power with 11 homers and 14 doubles. Unfortunately, the converted catcher has struggled at first base and has committed eight errors in 63 games. Votto should be looking over his shoulder as teammate Jay Bruce could very well pass him in the Rookie of the Year race in the second half of the season.
Gregor Blanco has never gotten much love as a prospect but he has put up some solid numbers in the minors, as long as you remember he is not the type of player who is going to be a superstar. Blanco is an excellent example of a solid, supporting cast member. He gets on base, can run and has good range in the outfield. What he doesn't do well is hit for power and he has also struck out a little too much this season (23.6 percent).
By all rights, Blake DeWitt should probably be playing in Double-A right now. But you have to give the kid credit for seizing the opportunity after both of the Dodgers' third base options, Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche, went down with injuries at the beginning of the season. What appeared to be a huge weakness, turned into a massive organizational strength, and LaRoche has even been tried out at a different position in the minors. DeWitt has not hit for the power one would like from the hot corner and he has not walked much (nine percent). On the plus side, he has had a solid average and he has not struck out too much (17.4 percent).
Kosuke Fukudome offers Soto some rookie companionship on the Cubs and the duo goes a long way to explaining the team's 2008 resurgence. Like your typical Japanese player, Fukudome really is not a true (or deserving) rookie, having played eight seasons in the Japanese Central League. A power hitter in Japan, Fukudome has played more like Ichiro Suzuki this season with limited power (five homers) and a high average (.296). Fukudome is perhaps a bit overrated as he does not steal many bases or hit homers, so his value is tied to his ability to get on-base (which he has done very well so far this season).
David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers
A former first round draft pick of the Red Sox, David Murphy had a less-than-spectacular minor league career. He also came within three at-bats of expiring his rookie eligibility last season after hitting .343/.384/.552 in 46 games. Murphy has carried that momentum over to 2008 and has 10 homers and 48 RBI to go along with another solid average. On the negative side, his rates are not that impressive: 5.8 walk percentage and 18.8 strikeout percentage.
Evan Longoria, like Murphy, is a former first round draft pick but he made noise all the way through the minors and has found the majors to be a little more of a challenge. Everyone expects him to pick up his game in the second half of the year and improve upon his .249 batting average. His BABIP is only .298 so Longoria can expect that to improve and help things along.
Jacoby Ellsbury really made a name for himself in the 2007 playoffs and he has had a solid, albeit unspectacular, 2008 season. The most impressive part of Ellsbury's game this season has been his work on the base paths, as he has stolen 33 bases in 36 attempts which leads Major League Baseball. Ellsbury does not walk a ton (11.2 percent), but he also does not strike out much (13.5 percent).
Daric Barton, a former St. Louis Cardinals' catching prospect, raised the bar last season by hitting .347 in 18 games. He has struggled so far this season but his advanced approach should help him turn things around sooner rather than later. Barton will not hit for a ton of power, but he will improve upon the .338 slugging percentage. The 14.1 walk rate is pretty good, but he needs to tone down the strikeouts with his rate currently at 26.9 percent.
It is obvious (and had been for at least a year) that Ryan Sweeney needed a change in scenery. He received that change with a winter trade from the White Sox to the Athletics. Sweeney, 23, has not hit for a ton of power but he has played good defence and has gotten on base with an on-base percentage at .367. He has also shown good versatility by playing all three outfield positions. He likely will never hit for the power the White Sox expected after taking him in the second round out of high school.
A Quick Look at the Rookie Pitchers
Now that we are at the midway point in June, it is the perfect time to take a look at how the Rookie of the Year races are shaping up in both the American League and the National League. Today we'll take a gander at the pitchers and I'll come back on Wednesday with a look at the hitters.
2008: 84.0 IP | 86 H | 34 BB-62 SO | 118 ERA+
Jair Jurrjens has been solid for Atlanta this season, which has helped to ease the loss of veteran Tom Glavine to injury. Jurrjens has the most impressive won-loss record of the rookie hurlers in the National League at 7-3 (a fact that unfortunately is important to voters at the end of the season). His rates are OK at 6.48 K/9 and 3.77 BB/9 but they do not suggest superstar-in-the-making; instead they appear to be more in line with a No. 3 starter. Major League hitters are batting .266 against Jurrjens, who has similar numbers against both left-handed and right-handed batters.
2008: 76.0 IP | 78 H | 26 BB-46 SO | 123 ERA+
John Lannan has been effective in his brief career so far, which is a little surprising considering he was an 11th round draft pick in 2005 out of a small college. He also doesn't exactly have overwhelming stuff. Regardless, through 76 innings this season, Lannan's ERA stands at 3.43. His rates are OK, but not great at 5.45 K/9 and 3.08 BB/9. Batters are hitting .267 against him. The numbers suggest Lannan could be a pretty solid No. 4 starter but he is probably not going to be a future All-Star or even the Rookie of the Year... although stranger things have happened.
2008: 82.1 IP | 84 H | 27 BB-50 SO | 107 ERA+
It's hardly fair to compare a pitcher with 91 career wins and more than 1,500 innings pitched in Japan's top baseball league to 22- and 23-year-old true-blue rookies, but that's Major League Baseball for you. Despite his success and the press surrounding him, Hiroki Kuroda actually has similar rates to Lannan: 5.47 K/9, 2.95 BB/9 and he has allowed a .266 batting average against in 82.1 innings. Kuroda, 32, also has only three wins in his 14 starts. He has been good, but hardly dominating.
2008: 79.2 IP | 82 H | 31 BB-72 SO | 81 ERA+
Johnny Cueto caught the attention of the baseball world with a sizzling month of April but he has cooled considerably. Regardless, his future remains bright. Cueto needs to cut down on the hits allowed (82 in 79.2 innings) and walks (3.50 BB/9). He also needs to keep the ball in the park (18 homers) but he is pitching in a homer-happy stadium. His strikeout rate of 8.13 K/9 will earn him some votes in the Rookie of the Year balloting, but his ERA will hurt him (5.42).
2008: 31.0 IP | 25 H | 14 BB-33 SO | 154 ERA+
If Max Scherzer returns to the majors soon enough, he could still be in the running for Rookie of the Year in the National League at the end of the season. He was recently demoted to the minors to stretch out his arm for a role reversal from reliever and spot starter to full-time starter. Many scouts believe Scherzer is better-suited to relieving long-term, but he will have an opportunity to prove them wrong. He has had a nice start to his career with a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings, as well as a rate of 9.58 K/9 and only two homers allowed. Batters are hitting only .222 against him. He is walking more than four batters per nine innings, which obviously needs to improve.
2008: 79.2 IP | 68 H | 33 BB-62 SO | 107 ERA+
Greg Smith, an afterthought in the Danny Haren winter trade, was supposed to be an organizational soldier and at best a swing man in the bullpen in 2008. Instead, he has been a savior and one of the Athletics' most valuable players. He is third in innings pitched amongst Major League rookies, second in ERA and second in hits allowed per nine innings (minimum 50 innings). In 79.2 innings pitched, Smith has allowed 68 hits and has held batters to a .232 average. Like most rookies, he is allowing too many walks with a rate of 3.73 BB/9.
2008: 86.0 IP | 106 H | 15 BB-46 SO | 103 ERA+
Nick Blackburn, like Smith, has been an unexpected savior for his pitching staff, compensating for the ineffectiveness of Francisco Liriano. Blackburn is tops amongst rookie hurlers with 86 innings pitched but he has also allowed 106 hits. His control though (only 15 walks) helps to make up for that, and keeps his WHIP from getting out of hand. Like many of the rookie pitchers, Blackburn is not blowing anyone away and he has struck out fewer than five batters per nine innings.
2008: 42.1 IP | 49 H | 20 BB-43 SO | 79 ERA+
Despite making a name for himself last season with his heroics, including a no-hitter, Clay Buchholz has had an up-and-down year, complete with injuries and demotions. Regardless, the 22-year-old has some of the most impressive "stuff" amongst the rookies and a strong second half could help him significantly in the Rookie of the Year voting. Buchholz has the greatest chance of having an All-Star career out of all the American League hurlers but it remains to be seen how big of an impact he will have in his rookie season. He currently has a 5.53 ERA in 42.1 innings with more than one hit allowed per inning pitched.
2008: 65.1 IP | 40 H | 27 BB-44 SO | 127 ERA+
Claimed off the scrap heap from Texas (gee, could they use a pitcher or five?), Armando Galarraga has been a solid performer since being promoted from the minors. He has a 3.31 ERA and a 6-2 record on the season. He has pitched 65.1 innings so far and allowed just 40 hits. He has also posted rates of 6.06 K/9 and 3.72 BB/9. Do Ranger fans dare to dream about what a rotation would look like with Galarraga and Edinson Volquez in it?
2008: 57.1 IP | 53 H | 13 BB-28 SO | 150 ERA+
Aaron Laffey has been laughing at American League batters so far this season with a 4-3 record and 2.83 ERA. In 57.1 innings, he has allowed 53 hits and only 2.04 BB/9. Unfortunately, he has also struck out only 4.40 batters per nine innings. Cleveland fans can only hope he does not implode like Jeremy Sowers.
From the Field to the Dugout to the Front Office
On the heels of an off day, it's time to talk about news outside the world of the playoffs. Two days ago, Bill Stoneman stepped down as the Angels general manager. Stoneman, 63, had served as GM for eight years. Tony Reagins, formerly director of player development, was hired as the team's new GM.
The Angels advanced to the postseason four times under Stoneman. The organization won its only World Series championship in 2002, Stoneman's third year on the job. He signed Bartolo Colon in December 2003 and Vladimir Guerrero in January 2004. Guerrero won the AL MVP in his first season with the Halos. Colon won the league's Cy Young Award the following year.
Stoneman becomes the fourth successful GM to depart a high-profile job in recent weeks. Terry Ryan, 53; Walt Jocketty, 56; and John Schuerholz, 67, had previously announced their resignations. The GM position is becoming more and more a younger person's job. The number of 20- and 30-somethings with corner offices is not a coincidence. Look for this trend to accelerate into the future.
- Rich Lederer, 10/18, 7:45 AM PT
Lou Piniella was the last manager hired by Cincy with no ties to the organization. Every manager since has either come from the minors, the coaching staff or from a scouting/advisory role. Piniella, of course, led the Reds to a World Series championship in his first season at the helm in 1990. Let's hope fans don't expect a repeat performance from Baker this year – or anytime soon. Homer Bailey, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce may give Cincinnati optimism for the future, but there is no reason to think that Baker is going to be a difference maker.
- Rich Lederer, 10/18, 8:15 AM PT
The most similar pitches to Rivera’s cutter are the fastballs of Jared Burton and Juan Salas. I had never heard of Burton or Salas, but both guys throw a fastball that is relatively similar to Rivera’s cutter and both pitchers have reverse splits. Other pitchers with similar pitches to Rivera's cutter, such as Jason Isringhausen and Micah Owings, don’t show a reverse split, but they don’t throw their “reverse” pitch nearly as often as Rivera, Burton or Salas, which I think is key to having a reverse split.
I think the rest of my afternoon is spoken for with this toy (Jamie Moyer’s fastball is most similar to Cole Hamel’s changeup), so if there are any requests for similar pitches, I’d be happy to look at them.
After a couple rounds of corrections to my pitch-identifying algorithm, I’m pretty confident in the process, but there are definitely pitch types that it doesn’t identify very well, particularly splitters. Correctly identifying pitches is important for my analysis, so I’d love any suggestions/advice people have about which pitchers throw splitters.
- Joe P. Sheehan 10/18, 1:23 PM ET
Playoff Blog - 10/17/2007
After last night's defeat I am not sure I have a whole lot to muster. At this point all I can say is that Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo, and more specifically their .198/.228/.252 performance thus far in the post-season (136 PA's), have just about done me in.
Paul Byrd offered the blueprint for beating the Red Sox these days - just throw strikes. Boston's hitters are patient, and excellent when they get ahead in the count. It's a whole other story when they get behind. This is true of most hitters, but then most hitters are not as patient as Boston's. The difference for the Red Sox over and above most teams is not necessarily in hitting ability (save Ortiz and Manny) but rather approach. Take their ability to sit dead-red up in the count and Boston's hitters turn to...well...they hit like so many of them did last night.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/17, 8:32 AM EDT
Rockies Make it to the Show, Jake Westbrook Dazzles, the Red Sox Just Hit Into Another Double Play
We're going blog style today and although it seems wrong not to lead with the Colorado Rockies, this is fanboy season and I am hung up on this Boston-Cleveland series. Besides, considering his great work yesterday on Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, isn't Rich the guy to tackle the National League?
Anyway, the Red Sox outplayed Cleveland in every measure I can think of last night except for two, double plays grounded into and runs scored (not trivial items). Here is how the two teams performed last night:
AVG OBP SLG SO BB GIDP BOS .226 .294 .355 4 3 3 CLE .200 .273 .300 10 3 0
Adding to Boston's frustrating night was the atrocious home plate umpiring of Brian Gorman. While there were some notable missed calls that fell Boston's way, two critical erroneous strike calls were especially painful for the Red Sox. With one out and men on first and second in the visitors' half of the sixth, Manny Ramirez took what absolutely should have been ball 4 on a 3-0 pitch. This would have loaded the bases for Mike Lowell but instead, three pitches later, Ramirez scorched a two-hopper to Jhonny Peralta for an inning-ending double play.
The other came the following inning. Coco Crisp followed Jason Varitek's two-run home run by working a 3-1 count on Jake Westbrook (who was excellent by the way). The fifth pitch had to be 10 inches off the plate but was called a strike by Gorman. Crisp, as he is wont to do, capped the at-bat by striking out.
I am hoping for better umpiring, a steadier starting pitching performance from Tim Wakefield and much timelier hitting from a lineup that just kinda fell asleep for a night.
- Patrick Sullivan, 10/16, 8:21 AM EDT
Lofton slugged a two-run homer in the second inning to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead that was never surrendered. Did I mention that the veteran of 17 seasons failed to hit a single HR for the Indians in 52 games and 196 plate appearances during the regular season?
Dice-K hasn't been right for two months. To wit, here are his stats since August 15th:
IP H R ER BB SO HR W-L ERA 56 61 44 44 29 51 9 2-5 7.07
I don't know if Matsuzaka is tired or if teams have caught up with him, but he is certainly not performing at the level Boston hoped when the club paid $103 million to secure his services for the 2007-2012 seasons. Two months six years does not make but the early returns have not played out as expected.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 8:45 AM PT
-I lived in Denver for the summer of 2006 and attended a lot of Rockies games, so I was intrigued when they rolled off a bunch of wins in a row toward the end of September to sneak back into the Wild Card race. I thought it was just a good story, except that they kept winning, and everyone else kept losing, culminating with their win over the Padres in the one game playoff.
Other writers have written about the Rockies miraculous run, but I'm more interested in how much of this current run is due to luck vs. talent. Prior to their big winning streak to end the regular season, the Rockies were a .500 club with roughly a .500 pythagorean record. What happened to transform that team into the one that went 20-8 in September? Who knows, and if you're rooting for the Rockies, the better question might be, who cares?
-I think it would be somewhat ironic/comical if the Indians won the ALCS, then lost to the Rockies in the World Series, which would mean the Indians have lost to both 1993 expansion teams in the World Series.
-I haven't had a chance to really dig into it, but Beckett's start on Friday was amazing. His curve looked great and even though he was getting roughly his average movement on it according to Pitch f/x, he threw more curves than normal during the game. His curve looked especially good on television, so I was surprised that it only had "average" movement for his curve, but when he threw it in the strike zone, hitters didn't do much with it.
-Since 1999, JD Drew has never put a 3-0 pitch in play. He's 0-for-0 in in 154 plate appearances. The Red Sox as a team don't put many 3-0 pitches in play, but I thought it was interesting that Drew has kept his streak going for nine years.
- Joe P. Sheehan, 10/16, 1:40 PM ET
* The Rockies have won 10 in a row.
In addition to the above, let's not forget that the Rockies were in fourth place in the NL West on September 15, trailing Arizona by 6 1/2 games. Furthermore, let's not forget that the Rockies went into the bottom of the 13th inning down 8-6 to San Diego in the wild-card tiebreaker with Trevor Hoffman on the hill for the Padres.
In other words, Colorado barely made it into the postseason and now the club is the only one that is guaranteed of playing in the World Series. It will be interesting to see if the eight days of rest works for or against them. Arguments can be made on both sides of that one, especially when you factor in the fatigue, health, and rotation of the AL winner should that series go the distance.
While I'm happy for the fans, I can't help but wonder where everyone was a month ago when the Rockies beat the Marlins at home in front of 19,161 faithful in the first game of the current streak. The team didn't draw 30,000 to a game until September 21 and failed to sell 40,000 tickets until September 25. I guess you can call them October-weather fans.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 10:55 AM PT
The wild cards are 4-4 in the World Series. The Marlins won it twice in this fashion (1997 and 2003). The Angels beat another wild card (Giants) in 2002 and the Red Sox were the last to accomplish this feat in 2004.
- Rich Lederer, 10/16, 4:50 PM PT
ALCS: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians (first place, AL Central, #2 seed) vs. the Boston Red Sox (first place, AL East, #1 seed)
There's some history here. For the fourth time in the last thirteen seasons the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox square off in post-season play. This is the first time the two have played in the ALCS but not the first time the teams have played winner-take-all for the America League. In 1948, Boston peculiarly decided to hand the ball to Denny Galehouse for the first time that season in a one-game playoff after the clubs tied for the AL title. The Tribe won decidedly.
The ALCS pits arguably baseball's two best teams. The two tied for the AL's best record, and both clubs feature exceptional, balanced attacks that should make for great drama. When going right, Boston's offense functions better but Cleveland's top-heavy starting rotation might just make up for whatever edge Boston holds over a 162 game season. The importance of pitching depth matters less in the playoffs and Cleveland hopes to ride their two aces to a World Series slot.
Game 1: Friday, 10/12, 7:07 PM ET - CLE (Sabathia, 19-7, 3.21) @ BOS (Beckett, 20-7, 3.27)
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA Cleveland 96 66 .593 52-29 44-37 811 704 Boston 96 66 .593 51-30 45-36 867 657
The Red Sox won 5 of 7 contests against the Indians this season.
Hopping in the way-back (Wasdin) machine for a second, this series has a familiar feeling to it. The Red Sox and Indians met in the playoffs three times in the mid/late-'90s, with the Indians dominating in 1995, winning handily in 1998 before finally being defeated by Pedro Martinez (and the Red Sox) in 1999. I bring those series up not because of any similarity to the current one, but because I think it's pretty cool that Tim Wakefield, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Julian Tavarez were all involved in the '95 series too.
In 2007 the teams are built differently than in the 1990s. Instead of the amazing offense that was a fixture of their earlier playoff teams (the '95 Indians outscored the '07 Indians by 29 runs, despite playing 18 fewer games), Cleveland is led by two dominant starters, an above average bullpen and a good offense. The Indians' strength lies with their top pitchers, but C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona can't start every game and the two Rafaels (Betencourt and Perez) can't relieve every game, so eventually their lower tier pitchers will be called on, which could really hurt them. The Red Sox are also built around great pitching (they allowed the fewest runs in baseball), a great offense (they scored the fourth-most runs) and while they can't use Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon every game either, they have better depth after those top guys. Overall, the Red Sox are better at both scoring and preventing runs, so I think they're going to party like it's 1999.
It's tough, if not downright dumb, to bet against Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling in the postseason. Beckett and Schilling are a combined 12-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 168 innings over their careers during the playoffs. Moreover, they head into the ALCS in tip-top form. Beckett threw a complete-game shutout and Schilling tossed seven scoreless innings as Boston swept the Angels in the ALDS. Beckett's fastball and curve combo ranks among the best in the game, and Schilling's splitter was virtually unhittable in his last outing.
Sure, the Indians can counter with an intimidating 1-2 punch of their own in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Sabathia and Carmona were two of the top four starters in the AL this season, and the latter is coming off an absolutely dominating performance vs. the Yankees in the ALDS . The bottom line is that neither club can afford to lose the first two games of the series with their aces on the hill.
As difficult as it is to separate Boston's and Cleveland's starting pitching, the difference between the two closers is night and day. If Eric Wedge hands Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) the ball in the ninth when the Indians are ahead by three runs, I'm sure Cleveland will be OK. However, it might be a different story if the veteran is asked to preserve a one-run lead. The manager would be better served to use Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) in important situations. It's Betancourt – not Borowski – who has held Boston to four hits in 36 at-bats (.111/.179/.222), including 1-for-11 with five Ks vs. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. If you subtract Julio Lugo's contributions, the Red Sox are 1-for-32 against Betancourt. I'm sure Wedge knows that. I'm just not convinced he will make the best use of it.
With respect to managerial decisions, what we do know is that Terry Francona is going with Bobby Kielty over J.D. Drew in right field in tonight's opener. Kielty is 9-for-29 with 4 2B and 2 HR in his career vs. Sabathia, whereas Drew is 0-for-3 with 3 SO. Kudos to Tito. Manny is 12-for-21 with 3 2B and 4 HR vs. the 6-foot-7, 290-pound lefty. Francona is starting him, too. Pure genius.
Boston has superior hitting, pitching, and defense, as well as the home-field edge. The Indians will do well to extend the Red Sox to seven games.
Yes, Boston surrendered fewer runs and scored more than Cleveland but there is much more to that story than meets the eye. Cleveland's team 105 OPS+ is significantly weighed down by Josh Barfield's 58 OPS+ in 444 plate appearances. 21 year-old Venezuelan Asdrubal Cabrera now holds down the second base job for Cleveland and in his 186 PA's this season contributed a very solid .293/.354/.421 line. Further, Travis Hafner was just ok for much of the 2007 campaign but finished like his old self, hitting .316/.414/.551 for the month of September. He was solid in the LDS as well.
Players who will have no bearing whatsoever on the LCS outcome also make Cleveland's pitching look worse that it is for the purposes of analyzing their prospects for this series. Neither Jeremy Sowers nor Cliff Lee will see the light of day for the Tribe and it's a good thing for them. The two southpaws combined for a mere 70 ERA+ in 165 innings this season.
Still, Boston is a magnificently assembled team, which is not to say that they are not prone to lapses. But with devastating offensive and run-prevention games when firing on all cylinders (as they seem to be now), there just are not many holes anywhere on this club. Papi and Manny are locked in, while Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek and JD Drew make for a fantastic second tier of hitters after the big two. We won't discuss Coco and Lugo.
On the pitching side I have my concerns about Games 3 and 4 with Dice-K and Tim Wakefield taking the hill but then so too should Cleveland fans with Westbrook and Byrd. Boston pounds mediocre righties. As for my previous fears about Boston's bullpen, they have proven unfounded thus far in the post-season. Against Los Angeles in the LDS, Red Sox relievers yielded a mere two hits in just under seven innings of work.
This is a good match up but in the end Boston will prove too strong. They pound in Games Three and Four and chase one of Cleveland's Big Two early in one of their starts. Curt Schilling nails it down at Fenway in Game Six.
You won't want to miss Joe's Sabathia/Beckett preview below.
NLCS: Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies (wild card, NL West, #4 seed) vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks (first place, NL West, #1 seed)
Colorado vs. Arizona. Both teams hail from the NL West. Both teams are expansion franchises from the 1990s. Both teams hold spring training in Tucson. Both teams met to open the season and split their first 16 meetings before Colorado won the last two games of the season-ending series after Arizona secured the division. Both teams lost 76 games last year and tied for last place. Both teams won 90 games this year. Both teams are made up of homegrown talent. Both teams are chomping at the bit to represent the NL in the World Series.
Game 1: Thurs., 10/11, 8:37 PM ET - COL (Francis, 17-10, 4.22) @ ARI (Webb, 18-10, 3.01)
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA Arizona 90 72 .556 50-31 40-41 712 732 Colorado 90 73 .552 51-31 39-42 860 758
The Rockies won 10 of 18 meetings against the Diamondbacks this season.
Besides having Brendan Webb, the Diamondbacks are best known for the fact that they were outscored by opponents on the season and won their division. Despite playing in a field that inflates offense almost as much as the post-humidor Coors Field, they scored the third fewest runs in the NL, posted the worst batting average and OBP, and allowed the fifth fewest runs in the NL. Huh? The Diamondbacks rotation is led by Webb, but after him it's a collection of warm bodies, all of whom are pretty average pitchers.
The Rockies starting rotation is very similar, with the biggest difference coming at the top, where Webb is better than Jeff Francis. Offensively, the Rockies are far and away the better team. They scored more runs than Arizona, both at home and the road, and however you break it down, the Rockies have much better hitters than the Diamondbacks.
For the first all-NL West NLCS, I predict two things. First, that the record for most total feet above sea level in a playoff series will be shattered. Second, a Rockies win in 6 games. I think the Rockies' offense gives them a big advantage, although the Diamondbacks have been confounding people all year.
OK - let's get the obvious out of the way:
1) Colorado is on fire. Since September 15 they have lost just once (to Arizona and Brandon Webb interestingly enough). They hit .298/.373/.488 in September and had an un-Coors like 4.02 team ERA for the month. They steamrolled through the Phillies.
2) Arizona won the National League West this season with a negative run differential. This makes many statheads sad. Nonetheless here they are, hosting Game One of the NLCS at Chase Field.
So Colorado in a cakewalk, right? Not so fast. Arizona has actually been a very good team by virtue of run differential and any other metric that drills down further than wins and losses for some time now. In the month of September they were 15-11 and sported a comfortably positive run differential. A theretofore limp offense came around as Conor Jackson and Tony Clark were both sensational, and Mark Reynolds recaptured some of his early season magic. They hit .272/.354/.457 in September and pitched well to boot. They were the first team in the NL to clinch a playoff slot and once they were in, absolutely dominated the Cubs. It's ok to say it. The D-Backs are now a legitimately good ballclub.
I think it is going to be a fantastic series but ultimately the Rockies prevail thanks to more offensive star power and a deeper rotation (I really like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales). Colorado in 6.
The Rockies made me look stupid by sweeping the Phillies after I predicted a 3-2 Philadelphia win in the NLDS. The trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was one reason for picking the eventual loser, but the law of averages was the main factor in my wrong choice.
The contrarian streak in me says Arizona is going to win the series. Nine of ten ESPN experts picked the Rockies to win the series. Seven of them predict it will last no more than six games. Joe and Sully like Colorado in six as well. But something doesn't add up. Arizona is a -125 favorite tonight, yet Colorado is favored to win the series.
As Sully noted, the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies the last time the game mattered for both sides. Brandon Webb defeated Jeff Francis. But Webb is far from a lock against the Rockies. In five prior starts vs. his division rival, the reigning Cy Young Award winner was 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA. Brad Hawpe (9-for-15 with 3 HR and 11 RBI) owns him. Kaz Matsui (8-for-17 in 2007 and 11-for-26 lifetime) has hit the sinkerballing righthander, too.
With a minus-20 run differential, the D-Backs are the fifth division winner since 1969 to be outscored during the regular season. Bad news, right? Well, the others were the 1984 Royals, 1987 Twins, 1997 Giants, and the 2005 Padres. Of these teams, Arizona and Minnesota are the only two to advance past the first round . . . and the Twins won the World Series. That sounds like a blueprint for the Diamondbacks to me.
Whichever team wins tonight wins it all. The layoff and a loss will shatter Colorado's momentum. Besides, momentum is overrated when it comes to the postseason. The 1960 Yankees won their last 15 games but lost in the World Series to the Pirates. Webb and the home-field advantage will be the difference makers. Arizona in 7.
NLDS Preview: Will the Cubbies be snake-bitten again?
Hi, I'm Bryan Smith, the co-creator of this here site and now a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Not many of you have seen me write about the Majors too often, but after watching most of the Cubs’ season, I jumped at the opportunity to write this preview when Rich asked. While I won't live and die by this team like I did in 1998 and 2003, the latter of which left me irrationally upset, I'll feel as if I have something invested as long as the Cubs still have Kerry Wood. Ron Santo deserves this.
Hi, I’m Marc Hulet and I dabble in writing about the minor leagues for Baseball Analysts and I am also a newspaper editor in Ontario, Canada. Despite my northern location I have been a huge fan of the Diamondbacks since the team’s inception (although my favorite D-Back, Orlando Hudson, is on the disabled list). I even had the pleasure of spending two weeks at spring training in Arizona this past March and saw the Diamondbacks play, along with a handful of other teams. I can honestly say I love the state as much as the ball club, especially with another Canadian winter looming just around the corner. I am also honored to be sharing this preview with Bryan, who just happens to be one of my favorite writers. Now, on with the show…
Jason Kendall (.241/.298/.308, 3 HR, 41 RBI) has had an ironic mini-resurgence in his return to the Junior Circuit, as it took an exit from Moneyball Oakland to get him walking again. While Tim McCarver will have you believe Kendall's leadership and experience is a feather in the Cubs' cap, former broadcast partner Lou Piniella would be much better off playing Geovany Soto.
Bryan says: It's even or a slight Cubs advantage if Soto plays often, a slight edge for Arizona if it's all Kendall.
Derrek Lee (.317/.400/.512, 22 HR, 82 RBI) worried Cubs fans when he returned from last season's season-ending injury to hit just six home runs in the first half, but Lee clubbed 16 in the second half, including seven in September, to push this team to the playoffs. Lee is the team's best fielder, second-best hitter, and nicest guy. Dads, you want your daughters after men like Lee.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago, regardless of who is manning first for Arizona.
Bryan says: Lee is a better player than what you could produce by melding Clark and Jackson together.
Mark DeRosa (.294/.373/.422, 10 HR, 72 RBI) was the center of much criticism against Jim Hendry after his spend-happy winter, but DeRosa's value in 2007 far exceeded his $2.75 million salary. DeRosa is an old-school, double-switch loving manager's best friend, and you won't see Piniella hesitate to move DeRosa to right field or third base if needed. Minor worrisome trend: the DeRosa that slugged .520 in April has moved on, as he's been reduced to a far more middle infield-like .092 Isolated Power in the second half.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago with O-Dawg on the shelf.
Bryan says: Augie will got a lot of cheers in Wrigley, but he's just not DeRosa's, even second-half DeRosa's, caliber.
Aramis Ramirez (.312/.367/.552, 26 HR, 101 RBI), for my money, is the best pure hitter in Chicago since Frank Thomas, and one of the National League's most dangerous hitters. While Lee doesn't walk enough, his ability to make consistent hard contact is as good as anybody in the game. With the game on the line, Cubs fans want Ramirez at the plate.
Marc says: Edge to Chicago (Is there an echo in here?).
Bryan says: Reynolds isn't the hitter his numbers suggest, and Aramis might be better than his. Cubs.
Ryan Theriot (.266/.326/.346, 3 HR, 45 RBI, 28 SB) has oddly become the favorite player of manager Lou Piniella, which has allowed him to exceed his destiny as career utility infielder for an everyday shortstop job. While Theriot is powerless at the plate, his baserunning does make him the most likely member of the team to replicate a Dave Roberts in 2004 type stolen base. Is that a backhanded compliment?
Marc says: Slight edge to Arizona
Bryan says: I agree, largely because Drew has the *potential*, but it's closer to even than I would have ever imagined three years ago.
Alfonso Soriano (.295/.334/.550, 32 HR, 67 RBI, 19 SB), like the rest of the team really, recovered from a horrible April (.270/.308/.392) to validate his huge offseason contract. While like no other leadoff hitter in the Majors, Soriano is completely at home in the top spot, leading off multiple September games with a solo shot. Defensively he takes horrible reads on balls, but the Diamondbacks would be fools to underestimate his arm, as it's among the most accurate of any Major League outfielders.
Marc says: As much as I love Byrnes, I think Soriano has the edge here with his excellent finish to the season… but it’s close.
Bryan says: Despite Byrnes' big season, edge to the Cubs and their September MVP.
Jacque Jones (.282/.333/.395, 5 HR, 65 RBI) smiles a lot. There, I said something positive. Cubs fans took a dislike to Jones around his .176/.250/.275 June, calling for him to be traded in July, and not even forgiving him after an .818 OPS in the second half. In reality, Jones is a decent asset, a slightly above-average outfielder (prone to stupid mistakes) and a decent bat against right-handed pitching (while prone to looking stupid).
Marc says: Despite the low batting average and on-base percentage, Young takes it. He’s going to be a monster with a little more experience under his belt.
Bryan says: Arizona wins a category outright!
Cliff Floyd (.285/.372/.423, 9 HR, 45 RBI) will most likely get the most time in right field during this series, but like the catching position, the team would be better off using the younger player, in this case Matt Murton. While the two might still be a wash at the plate, Floyd is among the worst defensive outfielders in the playoffs, and a far better fit at his old home at first base. So, I suppose, this makes him the most likely Cub to jump up and down pouting if a fan steals a ball from his glove.
Bryan says: I would have never guessed the Cubs could have an edge in right field, but they do, albeit a slight one.
Off the bench:
Conor Jackson (.284/.368/.467, 15 HR, 60 RBI) is a great player to have on the bench, if Melvin does in fact favor the veteran Clark in the playoffs. Jackson has the ability to hit for average and even has a little pop (although it is below average for a first baseman).
Jeff Cirillo (.200/.273/.300, 0 HR, 6 RBI) did not have a great regular season but he is an experienced bench player who has come up with key hits in the past.
Carlos Quentin (.214/.298/.349, 5 HR, 31 RBI) has yet to show Arizona fans just how good he really is, thanks in part to a shoulder injury earlier in the season. If truly healthy, Quentin could be a force off the bench and he should be an above-average regular for years to come.
Geovany Soto (.404/.448/.692, 3 HR, 8 RBI) is no .404 hitter, nor even the hitter his Triple-A numbers (.349/.418/.648) would suggest. But he's got some pop and he can throw a runner out, so at this stage, he's five times the catcher Kendall is.
Mike Fontenot (.283/.339/.409, 3 HR, 29 RBI) seemed destined to be a footnote in history when he was tossed into Sammy Sosa's boot from the south side, but Theriot's old college teammate has made a career for himself. As a pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers, and DeRosa's double-switch partner, Fontenot has solid bench value.
Matt Murton (.283/.355/.422, 8 HR, 22 RBI) either needed more consistent playing time, or the kick-in-the-ass demotion to jump-start his season, as he was gangbusters after returning from Iowa in August, hitting .316/.381/.553 the rest of the way. My ridiculous prediction is a home run off Doug Davis in this series.
Craig Monroe (.220/.268/.371, 12 HR, 59 RBI) hasn't looked great since Jim Hendry traded for him, and he didn't look great in Detroit before that, but as a Jones platoon-mate, late inning defensive replacement, and all-or-nothing pinch hitter, I have seen why the Cubs made this move.
Marc says: Edge barely to Arizona on the strength of pinch-hitting experts Cirillo and Clark, as well as Chicago’s inexperience.
Bryan says: Completely even from where I'm sitting. I hope, as a Cubs fan, Bob Melvin has as much faith in Cirillo as Marc.
Doug Davis (13-12, 4.25) continues to plug away as one of baseball’s most underrated left-handed starters (wouldn’t Texas love to have him back?). He allows his fair share of baserunners (95 walks and 211 hits in 192.2 innings) but he always seems capable of wiggling out of jams. However, the lefty will face a Cubs’ lineup heavy with right-handed batters.
Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93) could prove to be one of the most valuable pitchers on the Diamondbacks’ staff this October. Why? He is the only starting pitcher with playoff experience. He has pitched in two World Series (Florida, 1997; San Francisco, 2002) and overall he has a 3.99 ERA and a 6-2 record in 10 postseason appearances, including eight starts. The one downside to Hernandez circa 2007 is that he has fringe stuff. I watched him pitch in spring training this year and thought he was done.
Micah Owings (8-8, 4.30) is currently scheduled to appear in Game 5 of the series, if necessary, according to MLB.com. The rookie hurler has looked absolutely dominant in a handful of starts this season. On the downside, he has also looked positively terrible in a number of starts this season, especially in June and July. Owings, though, has some added value. With a .333/.349/.683 line in MLB 60 at-bats and his reputation as a great two-way player in college, I would personally favor him as a pinch hitter over anyone else on Arizona’s bench late in the game, save perhaps for either Jackson or Clark.
Carlos Zambrano's (18-13, 3.95) fist-pumping is likely to be featured heavily on FOX's pregame over-dramatic montages, but he is the face for playing baseball with emotion. It took Michael Barrett's fists to provoke the Cubs ace to starting to pitch like one, and save a bad August, he's been great ever since. Zambrano will make his mistakes with command, but expect Rich's favorite, a lot of groundballs and strikeouts in Big Z's start(s).
Ted Lilly (15-8, 3.83) has, for years, been considered on the cusp of major success, and he found it with a return to the National League. The Cubs certainly overpaid for Lilly, but given the attendance numbers in Wrigley this season, I don't think anyone minds the few extra million it cost for the team's most consistent starter. Lilly hit a career high in strikeouts and a low in BB/9 in his finest season, and while he might give up a few home runs, expect a quality start when he takes the mound.
Rich Hill (11-8, 3.92) is similar to Lilly in a way, what with his gopherball tendencies and big, slow curveball. However, while Lilly used better command to post slightly better numbers, no one will deny Hill gets points for better stuff. Hill's inconsistency should be nerve-wracking to Cubs fans, but like the start that clinched the Cubs postseason berth, he's a threat to have no-hit stuff with every start.
Jason Marquis (12-9, 4.60) is the reason it's imperative for the Cubs to win a game in Phoenix. While the right-hander had a fantastic season after a disastrous 2006, his 5.36 second half ERA is most indicative of his talent level. On a good day Marquis stays down in the zone and gets his groundballs, letting the Cubs steady infield defense do the work. On bad days he hangs that slider, loses command and gives up a run per inning. The less the Cubs depend on Marquis' start, the better their chance to win the series.
Marc says: Edge Chicago, although I might give the edge to Arizona’s third and fourth starters. Zambrano and Webb are close to a wash and Lilly trumps Davis in a battle of the lefties.
Bryan says: I agree Chicago gets it, but just by a nose, because I'll be afraid in both Webb’s games as well as Owings' start.
Tony Pena (5-4, 3.27, 30 HLD), like his counterpart Carlos Marmol is new to the role of late-game reliever so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Brandon Lyon (6-4, 2.68, 35 HLD) has a little more experience in the high-pressure role so he could get the call in the playoffs, but Pena has better stuff and a wider margin for error. Pena was formerly known as Adriano Rosario, before his true identity and age (he was three years older) were discovered during a Major League Baseball investigation in 2004.
Ryan Dempster (2-7, 4.73, 28 SV) is, when pitching well, the Cubs fifth-best reliever. However, when healthy this season, no one else gets consideration in close games in the ninth inning. Dempster has neither knockout stuff nor pristine command, so like the days of Rod Beck in 1998, every save comes with a good dose of sweat -- and Dempster is neither as good or as entertaining as '98 Beck!
Carlos Marmol (5-1, 1.43, 16 HLD) is the star of the show. It looked for awhile like Marmol would never give up a run this season, and while he hung a few sliders along the way, he's been as valuable as anyone during this run. Marmol is a converted catcher that seems to sling the ball with everything he has, touching 96 mph and then dropping a nasty slider that he tends to command well. Cubs fans can only pray that in the highest leverage situations, it's Marmol (and not Bobby Howry, though he has been good) that gets the ball.
Marc says: Edge to Arizona on the strength of Valverde’s season and Dempster’s inconsistencies.
Bryan says: Arizona has both the edge in depth and closer, so they win this big category.
Bryan: The three most important people for this series are all on the Cubs, in my mind: Soriano, Lee and Ramirez. If Webb and company can minimize their damage, they will absolutely win the series, as the Cubs have little else offensively. However, all three are running into October on a hot streak, so I'm picking the Cubs. It may take all five games, but Zambrano on Game 5 fumes is an even better bet than the Cy Young runner-up Webb, in my mind. Like Marc, Chicago in five.
Tigers with Bite
The Detroit Tigers club is not a one-year wonder.
After 12 years of mediocrity and sub-.500 ball, one of baseball's oldest and proudest franchises is back on top. Despite a solid 95-67 record in 2006, there were still those who did not buy into the Tigers' success, especially with the likes of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox hanging around the American League Central.
I started my obsession with baseball in the midst of the Tigers' 11-year run of .500-plus baseball in the mid-to-late 1980s, so I vividly remember the last time the Tigers were good (and it was an embarrassment to admit you were an Atlanta Braves fan).
One of the last things my father told me before he passed away was to get to Detroit to see a game at old Tigers Stadium before it closed, because as he said, "It's the greatest place in the world to watch a baseball game." Unfortunately, I never made it... but one of these days I'm going to get to Comerica Park, where fellow scribe Al Doyle recently had the opportunity to visit.
Ah, Comerica Park. One of the reasons why the Tigers have gone from utter failures (43-119) to American League champs and improved every year since the fateful 2003 season is that the organization has done a better job of building the team around the stadium. When Comerica Park opened in 2000, the club was not built to succeed in its home park - it consisted of slow, one-dimensional sluggers. The team was on a modest upswing at the time of the opening, but the new, spacious park quickly put an end to that.
Old Tiger Stadium - especially the short porch in right field - was geared for the home run. But the outfield in Comerica Park - even more so before the fence was brought in in left-center - is where fly balls go to die. Don't get me wrong - the Tigers still have sluggers and more than one player who likes to swing for the fences - but they are much more balanced with the offence - as well as the entire club from top to bottom.
YEAR RECORD CHANGE 1998 | 65 - 97 (.401) | --- 1999 | 69 - 92 (.429) | plus 4 wins 2000 | 79 - 83 (.488) | plus 10 wins 2001 | 66 - 96 (.407) | minus 13 wins 2002 | 55-106 (.342) | minus 11 wins 2003 | 43-119 (.265) | minus 12 wins
The evolution of the Tigers:
Jeff Weaver was as good as it got in the starting rotation - and he threw more than 200 innings - but the motley crew behind him consisted of Hideo Nomo, Brian Moehler, Dave Mlicki, and Steve Sparks. Todd Jones (42 saves) and Matt Anderson were a pretty good one-two punch at the back of the bullpen.
When the fresh blood in your starting rotation includes Chris Holt, Jose Lima and Nate Cornejo, you should know you're in trouble. It also did not help that both Jones and Anderson regressed significantly.
For a team in a "pitcher's park" things just were not improving for the Tigers on the mound. Sparks, Weaver and Lima were still playing key roles and Mark Redman, Adam Bernero and Mike Maroth did not offer much upside or hope for the future. Journeyman Juan Acevado was brought in to act as a stopgap at the back of the bullpen after Jones and Anderson were jettisoned.
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2003 season for the Tigers. The organization committed highway robbery on the Oakland Athletics organization when it traded for 20-year-old phenom Jeremy Bonderman. He had a rough debut season, but it was clear to everyone who saw him pitch that he had a bright future. The usual collection of B-grade arms surrounded Bonderman in the rotation. Franklyn German, part of the Bonderman trade, fell flat on his face when the closer's role was gift-wrapped for him.
Bonderman showed signs of improvement but had a 4.89 ERA in 2004. Nate Robertson had a respectable season and showed that he had the potential to be a solid No. 4 starter. Slowly but surely, the rotation was taking shape. Ugueth Urbina was good, but not great, in the closer's role.
Injury-prone, but talented, outfielder Magglio Ordonez was the next player that Dombrowski was able to sign for a little extra moola and Tigers had a fairly decent nucleus of veteran players to work with. But the lineup still needed a spark plug and depth.
The best thing about 2005 pitching-wise was that Bonderman and Robertson continued to gain experience by taking the ball every fifth day. No one on the club saved more than nine games.
Catcher-turned-third baseman Brandon Inge had a career year in 2006, as did outfielders Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames, but it was the addition of Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson to the top of the order that helped to set the table for the run producers like Ordonez. The loss of Polanco to injury coincided with a late-season swoon by the club. Luckily, he was able to return for the playoffs.
Two very different pitchers made huge impacts on the rotation in 2006, sandwiched in between Bonderman and Robertson. Veteran Kenny Rogers proved to the amazement of most that he was not washed up. And top pitching prospect Justin Verlander showed he was not as raw as many thought, after being taken second overall in the 2004 draft. Both Rogers and Verlander won 17 games in 2006. Zach Miner performed adequately as the No. 5 man (which is pretty much all you can hope for in this day and age). Jones made a triumphant return to Detroit, saved 37 games (with smoke and mirrors) and proved to the baseball world that he, like Rogers, was not ready for retirment.
I guess the key philosophy in the resurgence of the Detroit Tigers is "Slow and steady wins the race." As we can see above, the Tigers did not improve over night - things really began to head in the right direction in 2004. Far too often, teams do a complete overhaul during the course of one off-season (the Rockies seem to do it every year) and it rarely works, because it takes time for players to become comfortable with each other and to learn teammates' strengths and weaknesses. The fact Dombrowski realized this, is just one more reason why he is one of the best general managers in the game today.
2007: The Hitters
1B - Sean Casey: With only one home run on the season, Casey is probably one of the weakest starting options at first base in the majors. But he still maintains a solid batting average and rarely strikes outs. That said, this is the one area on the club that needs upgrading but it will likely have to be done via a trade because the options on the farm are limited.
2B - Placido Polanco: He lacks power, but Polanco can handle the bat and does all the little things like the true professional that he is. Offensively, he is hitting more than .330 this season and has walked more than he has struck out. He uses the entire (spacious) field better than any other player on the team. Defensively, he offers a steady glove.
3B - Brandon Inge: Inge has regressed a bit this year, but he offers steady defence and some power. He also won't clog the bases.
SS - Carlos Guillen: He doesn't get as much press as other (over-hyped) shortstops in the game, but Guillen is the heart and sole of the club offensively and in the field. He has power, hits for average and plays steady defence. The only real question marks with Guillen are his health and how long he can remain at shortstop.
OF - Curtis Granderson: Granderson is the guy the Tigers front office was looking for when it was sifting through Cedeno, Sanchez and Nook Logan. Granderson strikes out too much but he has explosive speed and an always-improving bat. His power is really starting to develop (22 doubles, 12 triples, 9 homers this season) and he could soon develop a Carl Crawford-type of reputation. Granderson, like Polanco, is perfectly suited for the spacious outfield.
OF - Gary Sheffield: Sheffield was the Tigers' big off-season acquisition and they gave up three promising, young arms to bring him over from New York. He started off the season slowly, but has raised his average to .295, added 17 homers, and walked more than he has struck out.
OF - Magglio Ordonez: Ordonez is having an absolutely ridiculous season and anyone who criticized the seemingly inflated contract Dombrowski gave him as a free agent should bow down to the GM. Ordonez has a major league leading 34 doubles (two more than he hit all of last year), 12 homers and is second in the majors with 66 RBI. He has also walked more than he has struck out and he is leading the majors with a .377 average. Do you smell a MVP?
OF - Craig Monroe: Monroe is probably the weakest member of the starting nine. He doesn't walk enough, has a low batting average, strikes out too much and hasn't shown enough power this year. That said, this lineup can more than make up for one player having an off first half.
2007: The Pitchers
RHP - Justin Verlander: You'll have to look elsewhere for a sophomore slump. Almost all his numbers have improved this year - save perhaps for his walks per nine innings. Verlander has stepped up his game and been the No. 1 starter the Tigers needed. He leads the club in wins and innings pitched.
RHP - Jeremy Bonderman: Bonderman has yet to truly breakout and become the perennial CY Young candidate that everyone predicted for him. Even still, he is very, very good and a perfect No. 2 starter. If Rogers comes back at full strength and pitches like he did in 2006, Bonderman becomes the best No. 3 starter in the game.
LHP - Mike Maroth: Maroth has been bouncing around the Tigers' rotation for years, without ever seizing a permanent spot. Regardless, he has been invaluable to the club this year in terms of depth and could be a valuable chip and the trading deadline if Rogers is healthy. His stuff is probably better-suited for the National League.
RHP - Chad Durbin: The former Kansas City Royals' prospect finally found some consistency and has been better than anyone thought he would be. At this point, he doesn't really have much more upside than Maroth, but Durbin and his six wins in 14 starts (tied with Verlander for tops on the club) has helped to keep Detroit at the top of the AL Central.
LHP - Nate Robertson: The lefty has probably had the most disappointing season of any of the starters, not counting the injured Rogers. His ERA is above 5.00 and he has allowed 11.65 hits per nine innings, while striking out only 4.65 batters per nine innings.
Closer - Todd Jones: His season has been up-and-down. He has 17 saves in 21 opportunities, but his ERA is hovering near 6.00. He has allowed 35 hits in only 27.2 innings but he has only been taken out of the yard once all season. A late-season return to health by Joel Zumaya could give the bullpen a much-needed boost.
As mentioned above, the Tigers are now built to win in their home ball park. There are still holes on the club and areas that could be improved, but they are a much more well-rounded team than they were five or six years ago. They have steady defence up the middle, speed on the bases and in the field and some power from multi-dimensional hitters. The pitching, when healthy, is solid one-through-three and there is a proven, battle-tested closer in the bullpen. Zumaya, when healthy, offers hope for the future.
If the club can acquire another veteran starter by the trade deadline and a Scot Shields-type reliever, the club may be unstoppable in its quest to win the World Series this season. Even without significant upgrades, it has an outstanding shot at the title.