Archive for June 2009

100th Anniversary of Forbes Field’s Opening and More Recent Events

June 30, 2009

Here’s a terrific AP article about the opening of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field 100 years ago today.

Forbes Field had some of the deepest outfield fences in major league history, which made it a tremendously difficult place to hit homeruns, but a great place to hit for line drive hitters with alley power, like Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner and Arky Vaughn, who between them won seven batting titles and led the NL in triples six times.

Because of the huge outfield expanse, no no-hitter was ever pitched there in the 61 seasons it was the Pirates’ home (1909-1969), and it’s also no surprise that Owen Wilson, who set the single season record with 36 triples in 1912, was a Pirate that year.

In more recent Pirates’ news, they trade Eric Hinske to the Yankees today for two 23-year old prospects, pitcher Casey Erickson and OF Eric Fryer.  Neither has played above A+ baseball and both with 10th round draft picks.

I like Erickson better of the two, because he has 169 K’s and only 43 BB’s in 182 minor league innings pitched.  Fryer had a fine year in the Class A Sally League last year, but at age 22 that’s not particularly impressive.

It’s still a good trade for the Pirates, however.  A 31 year old role player like Hinske (he turns 32 on August 5) is a luxury a going-nowhere team like the 2009 Pirates don’t need.  Better to move him along and improve their minor league talent base.

The Pirates have been busy.  mlbtraderumors.com reports that the Pirates and the Nationals have agreed in principal to a trade of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett going to the Nats and Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan going to the Bucs.  These are two teams with not a lot to suggest they have any idea what they’re doing, but I like the Pirates’ end of this deal much more than the Nats.

Lastings Milledge is having a terrible, injury plagued season, but he’s only 24 this year, he had a fine year for the Nats last year, and he was the 12th player selected in the 2003 Draft.  When the Nats signed Adam Dunn this off-season, the best argument of the people who criticized the signing was that signing Dunn was a mistake if it meant that the Nats failed to continue developing Milledge and Elijah Dukes.

It turns out the critics were right.  In less than half a season’s time, the Nats have turned Milledge, who appeared to be a budding star, into Nyjer Morgan, a 28 year old back-up outfielder with a career major league OPS of .727.  Morgan runs well and will help the Nats right now with defense, but there’s no way in the world he’s worth a Lastings Milledge to a team that will almost certainly finish 2009 with the worst record in baseball.

I don’t see a lot of difference between Hanrahan and Burnett.  Burnett is pitching better this year, was once a first round draft pick (19th overall in 2000), and at age 26 is a year younger than Hanrahan.  However, Hanrahan has better stuff.  Burnett has 95 K’s and 77 BB’s in 160.2 major league innings, while Hanrahan has 171 K’s and 94 BB’s in 168 major league innings.  Even assuming that Burnett is a ground ball pitcher, and the fact that Hanrahan has been terrible this year, I’d rather have Hanrahan going forward.

It’s good to see the Pirates apparently doing something right for a change.  I read an article by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday in which Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that signing Ian Snell to an $8.6M mult-year deal before the 2008 season was probably a mistake.  Yes, Snell has been sent down to the minors (where he struck 17 batters in seven innings in his first start at AAA), but given his age two years ago (25) and Snell’s strong seasons in 2006 and 2007, it was a good move to make at the time, and the kind of move the Pirates should make in similar circumstances in the future.

Also, the $8.6M Snell was guaranteed over several years is really peanuts for a starting pitcher nowadays.  He’s still got a year and a half and $5.8M left on his contract, and if he can get himself straightened out at AAA, he might yet earn his salary as a Pirate.  It just seems like bad policy to be blasting your players before you can be absolutely sure that the signing was a mistake.  I mean, it’s not like the Pirates are paying Barry Zito money to Snell for a similar level of performance.

Perhaps the Giants can swing a trade for Snell in exchange for Randy Winn.  Both players have big salaries, and the Pirates were a god-send back in 2007 when they took all of Matt Morris’ remaining contract and gave the Giants a major league player (albeit a mediocre one) in Rajai Davis.

Pat Misch Sighting and Other Comments

June 30, 2009

When I wasn’t looking, the Mets called up former Giant Pat Misch, and he appeared in his fourth game for them tonight.  He gave up a run in one inning pitched, but it was his first earned run in 4.1 IP, good for a Mets’ ERA of 2.08.  After his pitching for the Giants, however, his season ERA still stands at a robust 5.87.

I have no ill will toward Misch.  He’s always been an over-achiever, who relies on pitching rather than stuff.  He’s definitely a guy who needs strong D behind him to succeed at this level.  Perhaps, he’s been getting that in NYC.

Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell also pitched for the Mets tonight, gave up a couple of runs, and his 2009 ERA now stands at 5.22.  Remember when the Nats offered the Mets Nick Johnson for Parnell even up back when Parnell’s ERA was below 2.00?  Granted, Johnson’s performance has dropped off since then also, but he’s still hitting .299 with a .408 OBP and an .829 OPS.  In short, it looks right now like the Mets made a mistake.

The Brewers have a young meathead in their system named Jeremy Jeffress, who just got hit with a 100 game suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse for the third time in four year minor league career.  My guess would be pot or cocaine or some combination of the two.

A pitcher, he was the 16th player selected in the 2006 draft, and his minor league numbers suggest he’s got great stuff.  He’s only 21, and he cost the Brewers $1.55M, so they won’t give up on him yet, but he’s gotten his brains beaten out in twelve starts at AA Huntsville, so he’s still a long way from the majors, even if he can get over his addiction problems.

You Got to Watch Out for Those Small Right-Handers

June 30, 2009

Tim Lincecum completely shut down the Cardinals today, throwing a 2-hit shutout in only 95 pitches, walking none and striking out eight.  One of the Cardinals’  two hits was a double by Pujols, the best hitter in the NL, if not baseball.

The thing that made Lincecum so tough tonight, I suspect, is that the Cardinals have seen very little of him.  This was only his third start of his career against the Redbirds and the first since April of last year.  With his unusual motion, his stuff and his ability to mix pitches, he’s got to be extremely tough on any team that hasn’t faced him in well over a year.

If you’re the Cardinals in these circumstances, your best hope is that Lincecum’s control isn’t sharp that night.  If he can locate his fastball and keep his change up down, there’s pretty much no hope.

Speaking of small right-handers, Roy Oswalt also pitched a two-hit complete game victory against the Padres in San Diego, which had to help Oswalt at least a little bit.  Nonetheless, Oswalt never fails to amaze me.  Every year for the last couple of years, I have expected that Oswalt’s arm is going to give out, given his small size and all the innings he’s pitched for the Astros, kind of like Tim Hudson last year.

After a rough first four months of the season last year, Oswalt was dominating in August and September; and after a slow start this year, his pitching in June has been better than either May or April.  Still, after being worked like a dog in 2004 and 2005 (a combined 478.2 IP), his innings pitched totals have fallen each of the last three full seasons, and his ERAs have risen.  He’s too good a pitcher to write off just yet, but the trend is certainly not good.

Sunday Night Musings

June 29, 2009

I’m back from a weekend trip to Feather Falls (Falls lovely, weather too hot).  Now that I’m back I see that the Indians traded Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for Chris Perez and a player to be named later.

Looks like a good move for both clubs.  The Cards get a player who can play four or five different positions and can hit.  The Indians, who were going nowhere, trade a 34-year old player for a young pitcher with talent who turns 24 next Wednesday.

Chris Perez looks like the real deal.  He was the 42nd player selected in the 2006 Draft, and after 64.1 big league innings, he has a 3.78 ERA with 71 K’s.  He has a minor league career ERA of 2.71 with 151 K’s in 113.1 IP.  The only real concern with Perez is his command.  Given his age and performance so far, it’s likely that in two or three years, he’ll be the Indians closer or top set-up man.

Seven year minor leaguer Ryan Sadowski got called up by the Giants and pitched six shutout innings against the Brewers in Milwaukie to get the win in his first major league appearance.  In all honesty, however, I’m not convinced that he’s got much of a major league future.  He’s 26 already (turns 27 in October), and his minor league numbers haven’t been particularly impressive.

Sadowski only got the call-up because Kevin Pucetas, who is two years younger and has been pitching better than Sadowski at Fresno, pitched in the last couple of days.  The Giants put Rich Aurillia on bereavement leave in connection with the death of Aurillia’s father, so I doubt that Sadowski will be around long enough to get more than one more appearance, if that.

I suspect that Sadowski’s success in today’s game was in large part due to the fact that no one at the major league level knows anything about him.  He allowed three walks and had only to two K’s, which does not suggest that he’s got great stuff.

The Yokohama Bay Stars of Japan’s Central League recently inquired about obtaining the right to negotiate with Sadowski, but were rebuffed by the Giants.  It would not surprise me at all if Sadowski ultimately has more success pitching in Japan than in the majors.  Japanese teams love 4-A players with at least some major league experience, and now Sadowski has that.

In the Blind Squirrel Finds Nut category I noticed that Matt Palmer improved to 7-1 today, and former Giant David Aardsma picked up his 16th save.  Palmer got the win despite allowing six earned runs in five innings pitched, and his ERA jumped to 5.16.  He’s a guy with a lot of heart, but not so much talent, and one has to think his luck could turn on him at any time.  However, the Angels are good team, and Palmer may yet squeeze 10-13 wins out of this season.

Aardsma has a lot more talent that Palmer, but I’m not really convinced that Aardsma has finally turned a corner in this career.  The problem is that, as well as he’s pitched this year, his control, which has always been his Achilles’ heal, still sucks.

Aardsma has a 1.49 ERA after tonight’s game, but he has allowed 22 BB’s in 36.1 IP.  His ERA is so low because he’s only allowed 20 hits and has struck out 46.  His walks per nine innings pitched rate is 5.5, almost equal to his career rate of 5.6 coming into this season.

Pitchers with Aardsma’s strikout stuff usually turn a corner when they develop control.  Aardsma hasn’t done that this season.  Instead, he’s given up far fewer hits and struck out even more hitters than he has in the past.  If his control hasn’t really improved, I’m doubtful he’ll be able to keep pitching the way he has so far this year, at least not with the consistency you want from a closer.

Hiroshima Carp Sign Andy Phillips

June 26, 2009

The Hiroshima Toyo Carp signed 32 year old minor leaguer Andy Phillips to a $400,000 contract today.  In the minors, Phillips’ time has been pretty evenly split between 1B, 2B and 3B.  In 557 major league at-bats, Phillips has hit .250 with a .678 OPS and 14 HR’s.

Phillips is the kind of veteran 4-A player Japanese teams like, but I don’t know that he has enough left to succeed in Japan.  In 217 AAA at-bats that this year, he’s hitting an even .300, but his OPS is only .782.  Given his age, his career is likely winding down.

When, Oh When Are the Giants Going to Call Up John Bowker?

June 26, 2009

After yesterday’s game, 25 year old John Bowker is hitting .354 with a 1.065 OPS in 240 AB’s at AAA Fresno.  His OPS is good for third in the Pacific Coast League behind 26 year old Jake Fox, who is now hitting .353 with a .918 OPS in 34 AB’s for the Cubs (in fairness, Fox had a ridiculous 1.336 OPS at Iowa) and 29 year old Hector Luna, who plays in Albuquerque, one of the best places to hit in the already hitter-friendly PCL.

Hello!  The Giants are desperate for hitting, and Bowker is killing the ball at AAA.  Bowker is a commodity the Giants don’t have a lot of: a minor position player still young enough to have a real major league career.

Meanwhile, after getting two hits last night, 37 year old Rich Aurilia is hitting .213 with a .535 OPS.  Aurilia plays 1B and 3B, and in a real pinch SS.  Bowker plays 1B and the corner outfield positions.

Pablo Sandoval has been much better defensively at 3B than anyone reasonably expected (I, for one, had visions of catcher Bob Brenly, who on September 14, 1986, made an astounding four errors in one inning in a failed attempt to play him at 3B, the only player to make four errors in one inning in the 20th Century; here’s the boxscore).  As a back-up, the Giants have Juan Uribe, a former SS (former SS’s usually have no problem performing at least adequately at the hot corner).

Yes, Aurilia’s a great guy, good to have in the club house, and he’s meant a lot to the Giants’ organization over the years. Yes, the Giants have too many outfielders already.  And GM Brian Sabean loves those over-the-hill veterans.  However, it’s getting to the point where even Sabean has to make a move.

Baseball is a meritocracy of sorts.  There are always guys at the margins who deserve to be in the majors who aren’t or who aren’t getting as much playing time as they deserve, but by and large the best players play, because winning consistently is the only guaranteed way to get cans in the seats, which is what pays everyone in the industry their bloated salaries.

The Giants have to make a move soon, like the next week or ten days.  At this point in their respective careers, Bowker has everything going for him, and Aurilia is just taking up roster space.  If the Giants really want to keep Aurilia around for his professionalism and sage advice, offer him a coaching position for the rest of 2009.  The Gints are almost certainly on the hook for the rest of Aurilia’s 2009 salary anyway.

P.S.   Opening a roster space at AAA Fresno by promoting Bowker and taking Aurilia off the 40-man roster would open up a spot for Buster Posey in Fresno without anyone else being demoted.

Cody Ransom Sighting and Other News

June 25, 2009

Cody “Babe” Ransom has come off the 60-day DL, and after a 14-game rehab assignment in which he hit .250 with two HR’s and eight RBI’s at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre, he will be rejoining the Yankees.  The Yankees have designated veteran infielder Angel Berroa for assignment to make space for Ransom on the roster.

Meanwhile, Rob Neyer thinks the Twins made a wise move sending Luis Ayala packing.  His thinking is that middle relievers of Ayala’s current performance level are generally fungible and not worth keeping around if they annoy the manager.  The title of Neyer’s post is Twins Jettison Knucklehead.  Neyer gets an entire article out of this premise, but I think I’ve pretty well summed it up in a paragraph.

Also, Cubs starting catcher Geovany Soto tested positive for marijuana at this year’s World Baseball Classic.  It will be interesting to see what punishment he gets for it.  Can he be suspended for fifty games under the MLB drug policy?

Here’s an article from Bill Lubinger of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Lubinger says that 58 drugs are listed in the categories of performance enhancing drugs, 30 drugs in the category of stimulants, and 7 drugs (including marijuana, cocaine and LSD) are considered “drugs of abuse”.  The fifty game first suspension only applies to performance enhancing drugs.

Here is the MLB drug policy itself from the Players’ Association website.  According to Section 8.F, it appears that Soto cannot be suspended for testing positive for pot so long as he participates in some assigned treatment program, and he cannot be fined more than $25,000.  Also, under the MLB drug policy, a player cannot be tested for a drug of abuse without reasonable suspicion (unlike PED’s or stimulants).

The Players’ Association may have an argument that Soto cannot be subject to any discipline unless he fails a test performed by MLB.  Presumably, however, a positive test in the WBC would give MLB “reasonable cause” to test Soto now for pot.  My guess is that MLB and Soto’s representatives will negotiate an agreement that fines Soto nothing or $5,000 or $10,000, at most, and requires him to participate in some sort of anti-drug education program, with possible future testing for marijuana for some limited time like one year.   Anything more than that, and the Players’ Association will file a grievance they will probably win.

Here’s yet another interesting story: after last night’s Angels-Rockies game in Anaheim, an off-duty police officer shot two young men, whom the officer alleges assaulted him as he and his family were returning to their car.  The officer was treated for a head wound at a hospital, which he claimed was incurred when one or both of the men he shot hit him with beer bottles.

It was the third incident of violence at a greater L.A. ballpark this year.  A man died after a fight on opening day at Angel Stadium, and another man was stabbed multiple times but lived at the Dodgers’ home opener.  I would make some snide remarks about the people who go to ballgames in L.A., but we’ve had our own murder or two at Current Corporate Name Park in San Francisco in the last few years.   Even at the ballpark, there’s no escaping the world we live in.