Archive for April 2010

Thome and Killebrew

April 30, 2010

One thing the Twins must have had in mind when they signed Jim Thome this off-season is the marketing opportunity when Thome almost certainly ties and then passes Harmon Killebrew on the all-time career homerun list.

The Killer finished his illustrious career with 573 big flies, and Thome is now at 568 and off to a terrific 2010 start.

There may be a few Twins fans out there who will feel disgruntled about Thome knocking Killebrew down another notch on the all-time list, since Thome hit most of his homeruns for the rival Indians and White Sox.  I don’t see it that way at all.

Part of the lure of baseball for me and a lot of other fans is the long history of the game.  Thome catching and passing Killebrew really doesn’t diminish at all what Killebrew accomplished in his day.  Instead, and particularly if Thome ties and/or or passes Killebrew at home at Target Field, it gives the Twins and their fans a chance to celebrate not only Thome’s accomplishment, but also Killebrew and his accomplishments one more time.  It’s simply too good an opportunity to pass up.

Some years ago now, when Barry Bonds was breaking all the HR records as a Giant, the Giants had a day celebrating both Bonds and his godfather Wilie Mays.  They did a video and lights presentation showing a terrific montage of Bonds and Mays, mostly Bonds slugging balls out of the park and Mays making unbelievable catches in center field.

I hope the Twins do something similar with Thome and Killebrew.  Killebrew was one of those classic power hitters who hit his longest homeruns more than 500 feet.  At least one or two of those blasts must have been captured on film.

I can’t imagine Twins fans not enjoying a ten or fifteen minute montage of some of Harmon’s greatest moments as a Twin.  For example, Harmon hit a homerun off Don Drysdale in Game 4 of the 1965 World Series.  That has to be on film, and I doubt that Twins fans would be tired of seeing that moment again.

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Come Back, Dontrelle, Come Back

April 30, 2010

I was sad to see the Twins lose today, but awfully glad to see Dontrelle Willis pitched six shutout innings with six Ks.  It was his best effort since September 10, 2006 — shades of Francisco Liriano.

I’ve always been a big Dontrelle fan.  He’s from Oakland, in the NL he was a pitcher that could really hit, and like another Bay Area native C. C. Sabathia (he’s from Vallejo) you could always tell that Dontrelle loved playing the game.

Also, as someone who has suffered from depression, I’m rooting for Dontrelle to come back from it, although I still suspect his major league pitching problems had a lot more to do with throwing too many pitches at too young an age, rather than from an untreated mental illness.

In short, I would love to see Dontrelle thrill fans in Detroit the way he did fans in Miami a few years ago.

I also noticed that the Jay-Hey Kid hit his fifth homerun of the young season today.  Heyward is only hitting .239 after tonight’s game, but he still has a .365 on-base percentage due to 13 walks and hit-by-pitch in roughly 85 plate appearances.  Granted, that isn’t much of a sample size, but if you have a 20 year old kid with Heyward’s talent with that level of plate discipline already, the sky’s the limit on what he can become.

In fact, the biggest concern about Heyward at this point in terms of the long-term is the fact that he’s so big.  He’s listed at 6’4″ and 220 lbs by espn.com, but I suspect that the 240 lbs listed by si.c0m is probably more accurate.  That’s one big boy for age 20, and one has to wonder if that won’t catch up with him in future years.  Other than that, I can’t find much not to like.

Magglio Ordonez collected his 2,000th major league hit today.  His contract issues (whether the Tigers would keep him in the line-up and allow his enormous 2010 salary to vest) got all the attention last year when he wasn’t hiiting a lick half way through the season.  Still, although he never did find his power stroke last year, he finished the season with a .310 batting average and .376 on-base percentage, which are both awfully good.

Ordonez has played his career in an extreme hitters’ era, but his career .312 batting average through age 36 is still exceptional.  By way of comparison, Manny Ramirez, who is a no-doubt-about-it Hall-of-Famer even with the clubhouse drama and the PED use, has a career batting average of .314.  Manny’s clearly a better hitter than Magglio — for example, Manny has the slightly higher batting average despite being two years older — but the fact that Magglio is at least comparable to Manny in this regard says a lot about just how great a hitter Magglio has been.

More Management Stupidity and Other Thoughts

April 29, 2010

The news in L.A. is Dodgers GM Ned Colletti blasting Matt Kemp for his poor play in center field and on the base paths.  It doesn’t take a genius to know that Colletti’s comments were made out of frustration at the Dodgers’ slow 2010 start, but they are still stupid, stupid comments for a general manager to be making in the press.  Specifically, Colletti suggested that the two year $10.95 million contract Kemp signed before the season may have made Kemp complacent, and Colletti also made a statement about players who think they’re better than they are.

Here’s an article from the L.A. Times which states that Matt Kemp “has reverted back to his previous base-running problems.”  In other words, Kemp has never been a player who makes particularly good decisions on the base paths.  As for misplaying balls in center field, Kemp hasn’t been exclusively a centerfielder in his professional or major league careers.  Also, misplaying balls in the outfield usually isn’t a lack of effort so much as a lack of skill or ability.

Meanwhile, Joe Torre says that Kemp often beats him to the ballpark, so it’s not like Kemp isn’t working hard to improve his game.  Also meanwhile, Kemp has seven April homeruns and .942 OPS.  How many centerfielders hit like that?

As a Giants’ fan, I always love it when the Dodgers shoot themselves in the foot and underperform despite all their financial resources.  As a baseball fan, however, I’m always irritated when some pompous, jack-ass manager or GM pops off to the media when they ought to know better.

If Colletti really thinks Kemp isn’t putting in enough mental effort, he has every right to call Kemp up to his office and beat his backside.  However, making statements to the press that Kemp has gotten lazy because he just got his first big contract and that you-know-who thinks he’s better than he is, is just bush, bush stuff.  It’s even worse when you’re accusing a young black player of jaking it, when there’s clear evidence he isn’t.

The Giants just signed Angel Berroa to a minor league contract.  Yeesh!

Berroa has a .677 career OPS despite playing most of his major league career in Kansas City, one of the best places to hit in MLB, and that’s after putting up his best seasons before age 27.  Also, fangraphs doesn’t like his defense at short, so there isn’t much to commend him as a major league player.

Berroa’s 30 this year, and he hasn’t played badly at the AAA in limited playing time the last two seasons.  However, I’ll be surprised if he ever really helps a major league team again.

I saw a note on mlbtraderumors.com that John Smoltz is no longer throwing but still doesn’t consider himself retired.  Smoltz is fifteen months older than I am, and if he’s not throwing, he’s going to feel all of 43 years old the moment he starts throwing again.  At that age, if you have any real intent of returning to the game, you keep throwing to someone somewhere.

What is going on with Jake Peavy?  After today’s game, he has allowed 20 walks in only 28.2 innings pitched.  This represents 6.3 walks per nine innings pitched.  He hasn’t had a rate even half that high since 2003, his first full season as a major league starter at age 22.  He has 22 strikeouts so far this year, but one has to think something is not right with Peavy’s arm if he’s suddenly lost the ability to throw strikes.

Pujols’ Agent Must Be Paying Him and Other Notes

April 28, 2010

I read an amusing little piece of drivel today, in which Braves manager Bobby Cox was apparently quoted as saying that if Ryan Howard is worth $25 million per year, then Albert Pujols is worth $50 million a year, because Pujols is twice as good as any other player in baseball.

Bobby Cox has been around long enough that he’s entitled to pop off once in a while, but it’s still a silly statement.  If you were building a team, would you take Pujols over Tim Lincecum and Roy Halliday?  Would you take Pujols over Chase Utley and Joe Mauer?  Obviously not.

One player just doesn’t make that much of a difference.  For example, last year the Twins had a fine year, finishing the regular season with the 11th best record in baseball, which was just good to win the AL Central.  Meanwhile, the Twins had the league MVP in Joe Mauer, a former MVP in Justin Morneau and the best closer in baseball Joe Nathan (in a bad year for Nathan — he had a 2.10 ERA — he saved 47 games).  The Twins still only finished with the 11th best record in baseball.

Speaking of the Twins, Francisco Liriano pitched eight shutout innings to beat Justin Verlander and the Tigers 2-0 tonight.  Enjoy it while it lasts, Twins fans, enjoy it while it lasts.

If Liriano is pitching like he did in 2006, it almost certainly means that his nuclear slider is back.  If his nuclear slider is back, it’s almost certainly just a matter of time before he blows out his elbow tendon again.  Eventually, baseball surgeons will start installing friction-free titanium elbow joints when they perform Tommy John procedures so that pitchers won’t blow out the next elbow ligament as easily.

Stephen Strasburg threw five no-hit innings for the AA Harrisburg Senators today.  The Nationals are carefully watching his pitch count, as Strasburg only threw 64 pitches.  That’s almost embarrassingly low for his fourth start of the season while pitching a no-hitter.  One thing is for certain, however.  It’s not too soon to promote Strasburg to AAA.

I was glad to see that Johan Santana and the Mets beat the Dodgers tonight.  Aside from the Dodgers losing, which is always a good thing, I’m a fan of Santana. Santana was one of the best pitchers in baseball, if not the very best, up until his injury problems last year, and I’m glad to see him back pitching the way he can so far this season.

One thing that is going to hurt Santana when it comes to comparing him to the all-time greats (assuming he goes on to pitch into at least his late 30’s) is his inability to finish games, even when compared to his contemporaries.  Santana only has nine complete games in 238 career starts, which is low even by current standards.  Roy Halladay, who is the modern-day iron man, has 51 complete games in his career, and C.C. Sabathia has 30.

The inability to finish games has made itself felt in Santana’s wins total. With 124 careers wins at this point in his career (Santana is 31 this year), it is extremely unlikely that Santana will win 300 games, unless he pitches well past age 40.

Another player I was rooting for, Scott Atchison, just got sent down to the minors.  Atchison was a pitcher with great stuff who found his command too late for major league teams to show much interest.  He spent the previous two years in Japan, where he was terrific.  He signed with the Red Sox this year and had an ERA over 6.00 after seven appearances.

I’m not giving up on Scott just yet, however.  He was awfully good the last four seasons in AAA and Japan, and I think that even at age 34, he’s got some good pitching left.  How much, I don’t know, but I think he’ll at least earn his way back to the majors.

You often hear it said that a great closer is of more value to a good team than a bad one.  I don’t think I agree with that.  The really good teams win a lot of blow outs.  The bad teams, on the other hand, win a higher percentage of their victories by close scores.

This year’s Nationals may be a prime example.  They won tonight to improve to 11-10.  Washington’s closer Matt Capps picked up his ninth save of the young season.  Obviously, Capps could not save nine of eleven victories, unless at least nine of the Nats’ eleven victories were won by small margins.

If Capps keeps pitching the way he has so far, he might be the difference between the Nats finishing four games above .500 instead of four games below .500.  That may not seem like a lot (and it really isn’t).  However, everyone in Washington would be much happier with an 83-79 finish than a 79-83 finish.

Actually, on further consideration, I think 81-81 versus 77-85 is probably more likely.  However, the point remains the same.  The Nats and their fans will be much happier with the former than the latter.

In a final note, Todd Wellemeyer finally pitched the way he did in Spring Training, and the Giants beat the Phillies and Jamie Moyer tonight.  Slow-ball pitchers like Moyer traditionally give the Giants fits.  The Giants have traditionally been a fastball hitting team, who don’t deal well with control pitchers who change speeds and work the corners.

It remains to be seen whether the Giants’ success against Moyer tonight means that the Giants have improved against this type of pitcher or simply that Moyer is finally approaching the end of the line.  I tend to suspect the latter.

Ryan Howard Cashes In

April 27, 2010

It was announced today that the Phillies just extended 1Bman Ryan Howard for five years and $125 million.  The extension starts in 2012, the year Howard turns 32, which means that the Phillies are locking themselves in for five years at the highest salary at the age when a player Howard’s size is almost certainly going to decline.

On the one hand, I’m glad for Howard because he certainly has been a great player the last four years, and he was due for a break after having had to spend an extra season or so in the minors when the Phils had Jim Thome as their 1Bman.  This contract more than evens out any earlier unfairness.

For the Phillies, there is just no way that this is a wise gamble.  Even if Howard does not slow down as a hitter, he’s going to have more injuries once he’s 32 and up.  The entire weight of baseball history says that men his size don’t age well.

The Phillies would have been better served to wait until 2011 to make this contract offer.  In fact, if they had waited until after the 2011 season, once Howard actually hit the free agent market, it’s extremely doubtful that anyone would have topped a five year $125 million offer, given his age and a national economy that is likely to take another couple of years to really get rolling again.

How much the Phillies end up regretting this contract remains to be seen.  However, the odds are probably 9-to-1 that they’ll end up regretting it before it’s run its course.

What impact with this signing have on the likes of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez, all of whom will become free agents after the 2011 season, barring extensions?  It’s certainly going to help Pujols, but I’m less certain about Fielder or Gonzalez.

The big factor is how many rich teams are left to commit to high-priced 1Bmen.  Pujols almost certainly re-signs with the Cardinals for some record-setting number, unless the Cards start losing and discover that they really can’t afford to pay Pujols his current value after foolishly throwing all that extra money at Matt Holliday last off-season.

The Red Sox have David Ortiz’s contract coming off the books after this season (assuming they do not exercise a $12.5 million team option for 2011), so they could be players for Fielder or Gonzalez.  The Yankees and Angels are presumably out of the running, since they’ve got Mark Teixeira and Kendry Morales respectively.  The Yankees, given their resources, are always a possibility to sign another slugger, but carrying two $20+ million per season 1Bmen seems unlikely even for the Yankees.

The Mets just called up Ike Davis, so unless they give up on him fast (if that’s going to happen anywhere it’s New York), they don’t need a more expensive 1Bman for at least the next few seasons.

Derrek Lee’s and Paul Konerko’s contracts expire after this season so either of the Chicago teams might be interested.  However, if either has a good year this year, their current teams will likely resign them to shorter term, lower annual salary contracts than either Fielder or Gonzalez will command.

The Dodgers could certainly be in play if James Loney doesn’t finally have a break-out season and the McCourts work out their divorce issues.  The Braves also look like they need an upgrade at first.

That’s pretty much it for the big-market teams.  You have to figure that one or two of the rest will surprise everyone and make a run at Fielder or Gonzalez, but I doubt that it will be more than one or two in this economy.

If both Fielder and Gonzalez are available during the 2011-2012 off-season, my guess is that whoever of the two is more desired will get a substantially larger contract than the other, because there won’t be a lot of high-flying bidders after the first big sign.

Royals Release Juan Cruz

April 23, 2010

The Royals reportedly released Juan Cruz today.  It’s a move that I don’t really understand.  The Royals are on the hook for more than $3 million in salary to Cruz this year, and while he certainly hadn’t pitched particularly well so this year, with a 3.38 ERA and seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings pitched, he wasn’t terrible either.

The Royals also designated 26 year old RHP Luis Mendoza for assignment, and reportedly intend to promote starters Bruce Chen and Brad Thompson from AAA Omaha.

Switching Mendoza for Chen makes sense.  Mendoza had pitched terribly in KC and Chen looked great in three starts at Omaha.

Switching Juan Cruz for Brad Thompson doesn’t make any sense to me at all.  Thompson had a 5.40 ERA after three starts at Omaha with equally unimpressive ratios.

None of the Royals’ five starters is currently on the DL, and only Gil Meche has really pitched poorly, and that is only in two starts.

Cruz may not be great, but it’s hard to believe Brad Thompson is a better option for the Royals at this time of the season.  Cruz has been a disappointment since the Royals signed him to a two-year $6 million contract before the 2009 season, but this sure looks like a move where the Royals are seeing the hole and not the donut.

Prospects

April 23, 2010

The Rangers just optioned Chris Davis down to AAA and called up Justin Smoak.  Davis was hitting only .188 after 15 major league games, and Smoak had a 1.087 OPS after 14 games in the Pacific Coast League.

I still think the Rangers jumped the gun.  According to mlbtraderumors.com, if Smoak stays up in the majors for good, he’s almost certainly going to be a super-two, meaning he gets arbitration a year earlier.  Also, just in terms of development, I think the Rangers may be rushing Smoak and giving up on Davis too quickly.

Smoak played in 54 AAA games last year and had a feeble (at least for a 1Bman) .723 OPS.  He’s hitting well after 14 games this year, but it’s only 14 games.  And I still think they should have given Davis twenty starts before sending him down.

Meanwhile, the Indians inexplicably can’t seem to pull the trigger on calling up hot-shot catching prospect Carlos Santana.  Santana is 24 this year, and Keith Law recently rated him as the top prospect in baseball after only Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg.

In comparison to Smoak, Santana has a 1.178 OPS after 13 games in the International League, which is a much tougher league for hitters than Smoak’s Pacific Coast League.  Last year, Santana had a .943 OPS with a .413 on-base percentage at Akron in the AA Eastern League, another pitchers’ league.

Meanwhile, Indians’ receivers Lou Marson and Mike Redmond have been horrendous with the lumber, with neither hitting at the Mendoza Line or with OPS’ close to .500.  The Indians’ decision to sign Redmond, who turns 39 on May 5, and really hasn’t been a major league hitter since 2007, was a real head-scratcher for a team that everyone knew would be rebuilding in 2010.

It was an $850,000 mistake, which really isn’t that big in MLB.  The Indians should dump Redmond post-haste and go forward with Santana and Marson splitting the catching duties, hopefully for the next six seasons.

Here’s another good link I saw on mlbtraderumors.com this evening.  Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has this to say of super-prospect Bryce Harper’s make-up:

“It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. ‘He’s just a bad, bad guy,’ said one front-office official. ‘He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.'”

Ouch!  It doesn’t get much harsher than that.

The question is how many scouts Goldstein actually spoke to.  If it was at least four of the ones who’ve been following Harper closely (and you have to figure that at least one scout from each of the top four or five teams in terms of this year’s Draft Order has been watching him like a hawk), Goldstein is probably spot-on.

It wouldn’t surprise me much if it were true.  A guy who has been treated like a superstar in amateur baseball circles for years now, and who was the cover boy on Sports Illustrated at age 16, is probably going to have a swelled head.

In a final note that has nothing to do with prospects, but certainly deserves a mention in this blog, Ray Barton, the St. Paul illustrator who in 1961 designed the enduring Twins logo of two ballplayers shaking hands across the Mississippi River, has died of cancer at age 80.  Barton was paid all of $15 for his work all those years ago.

Unfortunately, Barton never got to attend a game at the Twins new Target Field but was reportedly pleased about his image of Minnie and Paul adorning a giant sign in the outfield at the new park.  Thanks for the memories, Ray!