Archive for September 2009

Patience, Young Sandoval, Patience

September 30, 2009

As the regular season winds down, it’s clear that Pablo Sandoval is the best young hitter the Giants have had since Will Clark came up in 1986.  However, the thing that will really determine just how good Sandoval can become is whether he can learn to be a more patient hitter who swings mainly at strikes.

One good sign is that Sandoval has drawn 48 walks this year after 556 ABs.  While this is not an impressive walks total, it’s a huge improvement over what Sandoval has done previously in his professional career.  His best previous seasons in this regard are 2005, when he drew 21 walks in 294 ABs in the short-season, Class A- Northwest League, and last year when he drew 35 walks in 593 minor and major league ABs.

It remains to be seen whether this year’s improvement in his walks total is really a sign that he is learning to be more patient or selective at the plate, or whether it is just a one-year aberration.  However, given his age, he’s still young enough to improve dramatically in this regard over the next few years.

By way of comparison, when Vladimir Guerrero was roughly the same age in 1998 (actually, Vlad was six months older then than Pablo was this year) and was having his first big season, Guerrero walked only 42 times in 623.

Vlad has never been an incredibly patient hitter, but over time he improved to the point where he was patient enough to force pitchers to throw him strikes.  Vlad walked 84 times in 2002 (614 ABs) and 71 times in 2007 (574 ABs); and since 1999 he has walked between 50 and 63 times every other year, until this year when his walks total has dropped substantially (19 times in 372 ABs).

Sandoval, like Guerrero, is a tremendous bad-ball hitter.  Nevertheless, even a player with the raw hitting ability of a Pablo Sandoval or a Vladimir Guerrero needs to be at least as disciplined at the plate as Bad Vlad has been to become a superstar.  It’s hard for a player who is unable to draw even 50 walks in a season to be a consistently great hitter, because he’s going to see a lot fewer hitters’ pitches than a hitter who will take a walk if the pitcher won’t put the ball in the strikezone.

Twins Slip in and Sign Sano

September 30, 2009

The Twins ended up being the winners of the Miguel Angel Sano derby, signing the allegedly 16 year old Dominican shortstop for $3.15 million.  This is reported to be more money than the Twins gave the seventy international prospects they signed between 2006 and 2008 combined and appears to reflect the fact that the Twins expect to increase their revenue streams considerably as they move into a new ballpark in 2010.

I say “allegedly” as to Sano’s age, because there has been an on-going controversy regarding his age.  MLB spent months investigating whether the 6’3″ and 190 lb Sano was really the age he’s claiming and ultimately concluded that they couldn’t confirm his age one way or the other.  This led to a lot of teams that had big interest in Sano to lose interest in shelling out the money necessary to sign him.

Not the Twins, however.  They are desperate for middle infield help, and he was the best Latin prospect out there.  Of course, it will likely be at least four or five years before he’s ready to play in the majors.

Remember This Knucklehead?

September 29, 2009

Former Twin and Yankee Chuck Knoblauch was just charged with battering his common-law wife.  According to prosecutors, he was drinking heavily and taking Xanax on Friday night, when he lost his temper and hit her in the face and choked her during a fight over his car keys.

Nice guy.

I was a fan of Knoblauch as a player when he was having those big years as a Twin in the mid-1990’s, when he was just a tremendous offensive player for a middle infielder.  However, a friend of mine who is a big Twins fan told me that Knoblauch was a total pill, and that he was glad when Knoblauch left the Twins.

In 1998 and 1999 as a Yankee, it seemed like Knoblauch tried to reinvent himself as a power hitter, instead of the Pete-Rose-with-more-walks kind of hitter he had been in Minnesota.  His homerun totals went up a little and his batting average and on-base-percentages declined a lot.

Knoblauch ended up playing his way out of the majors at the tender age of 34, young for a player who had been as good as he was in his prime.  We later found out that he was one of the many steroid abusers of the period, and this may have had something to do with the direction his career took.  If nothing else, I suspect the ‘roids did not help him on the personality front.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if any former ballplayer were reported today to have abused his common-law wife in a drunken dispute over car keys, Knoblauch would have to be near the top of any long-time fan’s short list of likely suspects.

He’s innocent until proven guilty, of course.  However, it’s not something totally out of the blue either.

Wagner Mateo, the Near-Sighted Dominican

September 28, 2009

You may have heard that the Cardinals recently voided the $3.1 million contract they gave to 16 year old Dominican prospect Wagner Mateo, when they conducted a physical exam and discovered that his eye sight is terrible.  According to this article, Mateo’s vision is 20-200, which can be improved with lenses to 20-30.

Not good enough for the Cardinals.  Apparently, they had him examined by top eye doctors, who determined he would not be a good candidate for LASIC.  [For the record, I had LASIC on my eyes in 2002 at the age of roughly 34.  I had 20-40 vision in left eye and 8-400 vision in my right.  Now my eye site is about 20-20 in the left eye and 20-25 in the right eye.  It’s like a miracle.]

The Cardinals are taking some criticism for not having the physicals done before signing the contract, although I suspect that the contract is clear that passing a physical was part of the contract and that the Cardinals could void the deal if they found something they didn’t like.

It’s a tough break for Mateo ( and all his advisers who would have gotten a cut), but I can see the Cardinals’ side of it.  When you sign a 16 year old player, you are signing almost exclusively on the basis of physical abilities (arm strength, foot speed, bat speed).

The Cardinals have certainly watched Mateo play ball with his peer group, and I’m sure that Mateo can play.  However, for $3.1 million, a team is going to want the full physical package, and poor eyesight raises real questions about how far the prospect can go before he can’t see the ball well enough to continue hitting.

For what it’s worth, there is no one-to-one correspondence between ability to hit major league pitching and good eyesight.  Sure, Ted Williams had something like 20-10 vision, which allowed him to become a fighter pilot in both the Second World War and the Korean War, but as he himself said, it wasn’t so much his ability to see the ball as it was his ability to lay off pitches out of the strike zone that made him a great hitter.

One marginal Hall-of-Famer, the under-remembered Chick Hafey, had such poor vision that, despite wearing coke-bottle-thick, wire-rim spectacles, he reportedly still had trouble reading billboards from across the street.  Nevertheless, he led the National League with a .349 batting average in 1931 and finished his career with a .317 batting average in more than 4,600 career major league ABs.  Here’s a photo of Hafey from the Hall of Fame’s website, along with a blurb which mentions his “weak eyes.”

All considered, Hafey is one of the weakest members of the Hall of Fame.  However, there is no doubt whatsoever that he could hit.  If he could do it, then Mateo could do it.  I also wonder whether Mateo would be a better LASIC (or other modern corrective vision procedure) in his early 20’s when he has stopped growing.

Someone will sign Mateo to professional contract in the next year, but likely at far less than the $3.1 million the Cardinals were willing to give him before they found out about his vision.  I don’t feel too sorry for Mateo.  Losing this contract simply means he will actually have to earn his riches as a professional ballplayer through his play on the field.

Pat Misch Sighting

September 28, 2009

For those who didn’t notice, former Giant Pat Misch threw a complete game shutout for the Mets today beating the Marlins 4-0.  It was about as ugly a shutout as one can pitch.  Misch gave up eight hits and walked three while striking out only two.

Still, a shutout is a shutout, and I’m sure Misch is excited about it.  I suspect that this game will be the highlight of his major league career.

I’ve been a fan of Misch for some time, since the days when he put up good numbers for various Giants’ farm clubs but didn’t get much recognition for it, as other, more highly touted prospects were promoted ahead of him.  At the end of the day, however, he just isn’t a very good major league pitcher.

He’s 27 this year (turned 28 on August 18), the age at which players as a group peak, and he’s still a marginal major league pitcher, who needs great defense behind him to have any degree of success.  He has a 4.71 ERA this year after today’s shutout, but with 22 walks and 22 strikeouts in 57.1 IP, he’s not fooling anyone.

Still, every dog has his day, and today is Misch’s.  I wish him the best, but I’m not going to get my hopes up regarding his future success either.

Has anyone besides me notices what a fine year Rajai Davis is having in Oakland?  Giants fans will remember Davis as the player the Giants obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007 for Matt Morris.

This was really a great deal for the Giants because Morris had nothing left, and the Pirates not only agreed to assume all of the remaining $13 or so million left on Morris’s contract through 2008, but also through in a useful major league player (Davis) into the pot to boot.

The Pirates made the deal because they wanted a good-in-the-clubhouse veteran to anchor their young starting rotation.  This only really works, however, when the veteran is still a good starting pitcher in his own right.

Davis is no great player, but he makes a good back-up centerfielder and pinch runner (92 career steals in 118 attempts, a 78% success rate).  This year, though, he’s been a great player for the A’s.  He’s currently hitting .309 in 366 ABs with a .364 OBP and 40 steals in 51 attempts.  He’s been just about the only pleasant surprise for the A’s on offense this year, and FanGraphs rates his centerfield defense in the majors’ top five at the position.

Davis is 28 this year (turns 29 on October 19), and I suspect that his 2009 offensive numbers are a fluke.  However, given how well he runs, he has the opportunity, as does the Nationals’ similarly-skilled Nyjer Morgan, to have a Dave Roberts-type career, if his batting skills really have improved.  In fact, in both Davis’ and Morgan’s favor, they are both better defensive centerfielders (by a wide margin) than Roberts was.

He’s another player I’ll be rooting for in the future, if only because he was part of the deal where the Giants successfully dumped Matt Morris’ bloated, free-agent salary.

Twins Will Try to Resign Joe Mauer

September 25, 2009

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins will try to sign catcher Joe Mauer to a seven year, $120 million extension during this offseason.  This is obviously a no-brainer for the Twins: Mauer is the face of the Twins’ franchise, and he’s currently one of the best players in the game.  The Twins need to lock him up for the long-term now as they prepare to move into their new ballpark.

This is the ideal time to try to resign Mauer.  Aside from the good PR as they move into the new ballpark, the Twins made a few late-season trades this year, and remain in the pennant race, probably at least until they play the upcoming, huge four-game series in Detroit next week.  Right now, Mauer’s desire to remain in the Twin Cities is likely very high, since the Twins remain in contention and appear committed to winning.

Also, given Mauer’s injury history, he has a strong incentive to take less money now from the Twins, than he would get after 2010, if he plays as well next year as he did this year, since the money would be guaranteed now even if he gets hurt next year.

In short, all the spheres seem to be aligned for a Mauer contract extention to get done sooner rather than later.

On the subject of Mauer’s health, I think the Twins need to give serious consideration to trading Jason Kubel this offseason for a middle infielder or a starting pitcher.  Kubel is only 27 this year and is having a career year, hitting an even .300 with a .900 OPS.

The Twins also locked Kubel into a suddenly bargain-priced three-year deal during the last off-season, which pays him $4.1 million in 2010 with a $5.25 million team option for 2011.  That’s a great price for the production Kubel contributed this year.

This contract is probably a reason why the Twins will not trade Kubel.  However, it definitely adds to his trade value, particularly since he is primarily a DH, since there are always a glut of DH’s on the market every off-season (although not of DHs with a .900 OPS).

While trading Kubel would definitely hurt the Twins’ offense in 2010, the Twins really need to find a way to play Mauer fewer games at catcher while keeping his bat in the line-up.  The Twins now appear to have a second catcher in Jose Morales, who can play more regularly than Mike Redmond without hurting the team offensively.

While Morales only has 99 career major league at-bats to date, he has a career .319 batting average and a .375 OBP in 784 ABs at AAA Rochester.   Morales will be 27 in 2010, and he looks ready to be a major league catcher.

I noticed that Mike Redmond would like to come back for the Twins in 2010, but at this point in his career, he’s not even worth the $950,000 in salary he made this year.  He’ll turn 39 years old next May, and he hasn’t been an adequate major league catcher with the bat since 2007.  If the Twins need a third catcher and don’t have anyone better in their system, I could see them bringing him back, but at a pay cut from his current salary.

Should the Giants Resign Freddie Sanchez?

September 24, 2009

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News today claim that the Giants will likely try to sign 2Bman Freddie Sanchez to a multi-year contract this off-season.

I wish they wouldn’t, because I don’t think Sanchez can give the Giants enough of what they need on offense even if he performs close to his average over the last three seasons (2007-2009).  In fact, since Sanchez will be 32 next year, I expect that his performance will drop off substantially over the next two seasons.

The thinking on the part of the sportswriters seems to be that the Giants may resign Sanchez in order to give him a chance to justify the trade which cost the Giants Tim Alderson.  Making personnel decisions based on trying to justify past mistakes is not a good way to run a team.

Also, the Giants may be thinking that given his injuries this year and his failure to get enough plate appearances to vest his 2010 option for $8.1 million, they can sign him at a bargain price on a two or three year contract.  As I said above, given his age, I expect a sharp drop-off in Sanchez’s performance by 2011.

The player I’d like to see the Giants target at second is the Marlins’ Dan Uggla.  He’s only hitting .240 this year, but he’s hit 30 homeruns for the third season in a row, and his current .811 OPS is excellent for a middle infielder and well within his career norms.

Uggla will be 30 in 2010 and has two seasons left before he becomes a free agent.

More than anything else, what the Giants need is another hitter in their everyday lineup with pop.  Uggla has that in spades.  He’s also a right-handed hitter; it’s easier to hit with power from the right side at AT&T Park.

For what it’s worth, however, Fangraphs’ ultimate zone formulas rate Sanchez as a better defensive 2Bman than Uggla (I’m not certain that I’m sold on the accuracy of ultimate zone rating (UZR) or UZR/150, but that’s a subject for another post somewhere down the line.)

Of course, with Uggla, the question is what it would take in trade to get the Marlins to bite.  Many commentators expect that the Marlins will look to trade Uggla this off-season, because of his escalating salary and proximity to free agency.  With two years left before he becomes a free agent and being a proven but rapidly aging star, his trade value is probably at a peak this off-season, at least going forward.

There was also a locker room incident earlier this month between Uggla and Hanley Ramirez over Ramirez’s alleged nonchalant attitude and unwillingness to play hurt.  Since Ramirez is the franchise player, who also happens to be locked in by the Marlins to a very team-favorable long-term deal, this may mean the Marlins decide to move Uggla this off-season.

A deal I could live with would be Jonathan Sanchez, AAA 2Bman Matt Downs, and a young relief pitcher, like say, Osiris Matos, who had a good year at AAA and is only 24 years old, or Steve Edlefsen, who went rocketing through the Giants’ system this year and is also currently 24.  However, the Giants recently removed Matos from their 40-man roster to make room for one of their September call-ups, so they may loose him through the Rule 5 Draft.

More likely, the Marlins would ask for Sanchez,  AA 2Bman Brock Bond, who is two years younger than Downs and led the Eastern League this year in batting average (.333) and OBP (.429), and left-handed reliever Dan Runzler, who’s also 24 this year and has now pitched in 7 major league games without allowing a run.  That deal would be a lot harder to swallow.

It’s also assuming that the Giants would be willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez so soon after his no-hitter, now that he appears right on the verge of turning the corner and becoming a top National League starter.  Of course, you’d have to give up at least one player with Sanchez’s potential to get a player like Uggla.

In any case, the Giants should look to trade Matt Downs this off-season, when he still has some trade value.  He had a fine year at AAA this year, hitting an even .300 and posting an .834 OPS, strong for a middle infielder.  He’ll be 26 next Spring, so this would be the time to move him if the Giants can get anything in return.

As I see it, Downs is still behind Emmanuel Burriss, who will return from his injury-plagued 2009 season, but has substantial major league experience and is a year younger than Downs; Kevin Frandsen, who at age 27 has less trade value than Downs but more practical value to the Giants as a player who can also play shortstop in a back-up capacity; and, of course, whoever the Giants sign to be their starter at second.

In the long term, after his fantastic year at AA Connecticut at age 23, Brock Bond has to be the player to keep between him and Downs (assuming, of course, that their defensive is roughly equal).