Archive for July 2010

Seattle Mariners May Have Done Yankees Huge Favor

July 23, 2010

Yankees’ brass was pretty hanked off after they thought they had a deal for the Mariners’ Cliff Lee centered around 20 year catcher Jesus Montero but the M’s went ahead and sent Lee to Texas for a package centered around 1Bman Justin Smoak.  The Mariners may have done the Yankees an enormous favor.

In his last ten games, Montero is hitting .484 (15 for 31) at AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre with four doubles and four HRs.  Montero now has the 12th highest OPS (.821) in the International League.  There aren’t many 20 year old catchers you can say that about.

River Avenue Blues says the Yankees should consider calling up Montero right now to fill the hole the Yankees have at DH since the injury (who could have seen it coming?) to Nick Johnson.  They have a point: Montero is arguably ready for prime time.

One thing is certain, however.  There is absolutely no reason at this moment to think that Montero would not be a worthy successor to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.

Posada has one year after this one on his current contract, which is exactly about the amount of time (the 2011 season) for Montero to serve as the Yankees’ back-up catcher and learn at the master’s hand.

The Yankees absolutely need to develop at least a few of their stars in-house.  Even with all the money the Yankees have, it’s not unlimited, and they have an enormous amount of future salary commitments to players in their decline phase.

As fangraphs.com’s Dave Cameron notes, the Yankees have $174 million committed to Alex Rodriguez over the next seven years, and ARod’s having the worst season of his major league career (currently, an .827 OPS).  I think ARod has better years ahead of him than this one, but I don’t think he’ll have more than three such seasons in the next seven.

ARod turns 35 next Tuesday, and with Vitamin S out the game, we aren’t going to see any more Barry Bondses defying the immutable hand of time.

The Yankees have $115 million committed to C.C. Sabatha over the next five seasons, and $135 million committed to Mark Teixeira over the next six.  Both of them are now over age 30.

36 year old Derek Jeter is also likely to get a juicy extension, although his poor (for him) 2010 season is likely to save the Yankees a load of money.

The Yankees have to continue developing at least a few of their own stars, like Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, if they want to continue winning into the 2010’s.  Jesus Montero really looks like a player just too good to use as a trade chip solely to win in 2010.

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Questions About the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jose Tabata

July 22, 2010

In a comment to my recent article article about Josh Lueke, someone commented that the public at large has a short memory when it comes to ballplayers’ past transgressions.  I was reminded of that fact today when I read about how Pirates’ rookie Jose Tabata’s estranged wife pleaded guilty to kidnapping today.

Not too long after the Pirates obtained then minor leaguer Tabata from the Yankees as the centerpiece (for the Pirates) in the Xavier Nady trade, it was news that in early 2008, Tabata married a woman named Amalia Pereira, who was more than twice his age (she’s 23 years older), and that in early 2009 she had been charged with kidnapping.

I had completely forgotten about Mrs. Tabata and the kidnapping charges against her, until I noticed today’s news article.  The back-story is as follows: Amalia pretended to be an immigration official and threatened the mother of a two-month old baby that her family would be deported, that she (Amalia) wanted to help, but had to take the baby from them.

The parents were in fact undocumented immigrants, which has a lot to do with why they accepted such a crazy story and turned over the child.  However, within about six hours, with the assistance of a friend who spoke English, the parents reported the abduction to the police.

Meanwhile, Jose Tabata was reported by AP to have said that prior to the kidnapping his wife had lied to him that she was pregnant with his child.  Here’s the wikipedia article with links to the contemporaneous news articles: I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Now, on to the part that really has some relevance to major league baseball.  In reading the wikipedia article above, I noticed this link to a recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article in which Pirates’ management acknowledge all the rumors that Tabata may actually be in his mid-20’s and not age 21 as claimed.

This is actually very important news as far as the Pirates and Tabata’s future development are concerned.  If Tabata turns 22 on August 12th, he’s a hell of prospect, given his past minor performance, even if he isn’t much of a major league left-fielder today.  On the other hand, if Tabata turns 25 on August 12th, he isn’t much of a prospect at all.

Tabata hasn’t shown a lick of power in his professional career to date.  If he’s 21, that’s alright, because he may add power as he matures.

Also, his one proven ability as an offensive player is his ability to hit for average.  If he’s in his early 20’s, he will almost certainly be a future .300+ hitter in the major leagues.  If he’s closing in on 25, he isn’t going to get a whole lot better than he is now: at best a .290s hitter with no power and not a lot of walks.

In other words, if Tabata’s only 21 today, he has a good chance to be the next Matty Alou, who hit .330 or better four years in a row for the Pirates in the late 1960’s.  If he’s 24 today, he’s a lot more likely to be the next Lastings Milledge.

That’s perhaps not fair to Milledge, who was the 12th player selected in the 2003 Draft and had a fine year at age 23 for the Mets in 2008; Lastings, at age 25, still has time to develop into a star.  However, the point is obvious: at this moment in time Milledge doesn’t look like he’s going to be any better than a fourth outfielder at the major league level.

San Francisco Giants Get One Back

July 21, 2010

The umpires giveth, and the umpires taketh away.  After getting burned by a blown call against the Mets on Sunday, which cost them a ball game, the umpires gave the Giants one back last night in Los Angeles.

In the ninth inning with the Giants trailing 5-4, one out and the bases loaded against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, acting manager Don Mattingly (Joe Torre having been ejected along with Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw earlier in the game for hitting Aaron Rowand with a pitch — the third hit batter of the game) went out to discuss the situation with Broxton.

However, as Mattingly was walking back toward the dug-out and had just stepped off the pitcher’s mound, he stepped back onto the mound a second time, either to say one last thing or because someone called him back.  Giants manager Bruce Boche came out and argued that stepping off and back onto the mound constituted a “second trip to the mound” and thus Broxton had to come out of the game.

The umpires agreed, and the Dodgers had to pull Broxton and put in lefty George Sherrill, who’s been struggling mightily of late.  Sherrill’s struggles continued as the next hitter, Giants lead-off man Andres Torres, drove in the tying and winning runs with a double.

Frankly, it seems like kind of a silly rule.  It would probably make more sense to require the manager to cross the base-lines twice to constitute two separate visits.  However, I’m sure the rule exists so that managers can’t come back and give the pitcher any last words of advice after the umpire has come out and told the manager to get his behind back in the dugout.

It’s also gratifying to see Ol’ Boch, who sometimes doesn’t seem like the sharpest managerial tool in the shed, burn the hated Dodgers with handy knowledge of an obscure rule.

Of more concern to Giants’ fans is Tim Lincecum’s continued struggles in last night’s game.  He pitched poorly, allowing five earned runs in 4.2 innings of work, while walking three and striking out only two.

Lincecum’s velocity and command were again both issues.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Lincecum struggled to reach 90 mph on the radar gun with his fastball, and the command issues may have something to do with lack of arm strength or changes to Lincecum’s mechanics as he tries to regain his power.

I don’t know entirely what to make of it.  According to the San Jose Mercury News, in his last start against the Mets, in which he pitched a complete game shutout, Lincecum’s first three fastballs hit 95 mph, and in the late innings his fastball was sitting on 92-93 mph.  That’s exactly where Lincecum was last year when he won his second Cy Young Award.

However, other commentators have noted Lincecum’s loss of velocity in games he pitched earlier this year.  On the other hand, while Lincecum’s strikeout rate is down from last season, he still has more Ks than IP so far this season (138 Ks in 130.1 IP).

Because of his slight stature, everyone is waiting for Lincecum’s arm to fall off, particularly after throwing just over 450 innings in 2008 and 2009 combined.  Lincecum’s 2010 numbers are still too good for anyone to panic, but there have indeed been some worrying signs this year.

We’ll have to see if its just temporary arm fatigue or adjustments the National League has made to his pitching, or if serious cracks are developing in the Freak’s hearlded right arm.  Obviously, I’m hoping its the former and not the latter.

Texas Rangers’ Dustin Nippert Takes One off the Noggin

July 21, 2010

Rangers’ pitcher Dustin Nippert has been placed on the disabled list. He came out of Monday’s game after a line drive off the bat of the Tigers’ Austin Jackson hit him in the head.  To everyone’s relief, Nippert was not seriously injured, and the decision to place him on the DL is reported to be “just a precaution.”

However, it raises in my mind the issue of whether MLB could be doing more to protect pitchers from these incidents, which happen to at least a couple of major league pitchers every year and probably a lot more in the minors and amateur baseball.

Particularly, I am reminded of the Giants’ Joe Martinez, who finally broke out of the minors at age 26 and made the Giants out of Spring Training at the start of the 2009 season.  On April 9th, in only his second appearance of the season, Martinez took a line drive to the head off the bat of the Brewers Mike Cameron, which fractured his skull.

Martinez ended up missing half the season, and although he did come back and is currently pitching for the Giants, it devastated what was obviously his best opportunity to establish himself as a major league pitcher and have a significant major league career.

Later in the 2009 season, Giants’ prospect Ben Snyder took a line drive off his head in an Eastern League game.  He missed several weeks as a result.

Baseball history is littered with pitchers felled by line drives, most notably Herb Score back in 1957.

What bothers me about it is that the technology certainly exists to protect pitchers if they get beaned by line drives.  Although pitchers could not be expected to wear hard helmets like hitters do, I could envision something akin to a hunting cap with flaps that cover the ears and temple containing foam or something similar to protect against serious injury when a pitcher takes a line drive off his skull.

Of course, any such new cap would look decidedly unsexy and would probably be extremely uncomfortable in hot weather.

The question, I guess, is whether these types of injuries happen often enough to justify a new piece of equipment to protect pitchers’ heads.  I note that in the last twenty or thirty years hitters have begun to wear all kinds of body armor covering their elbows, shins and feet.

There are rules about which hitters can wear body armor (I believe a hitter has to have had a prior injury to the covered area necessitating a trip to the DL).  Needless to say, many players get hit on the elbow by pitched balls and many hitters foul balls off their feet and shins with significant injuries resulting.

As salaries get ever higher, both players and their teams have an increased incentive to adopt new technologies to protect players from preventable injuries.  However, with only a couple of major league pitchers getting drilled in the head each season, there doesn’t appear to be much call to do something to protect them.

Amazingly, no major league pitcher has ever been killed by a line drive.  The only major leaguer ever to be killed while playing the game was Cleveland Indians SS Ray Chapman, who died after being struck in the head by a rising fastball from New York Yankees side-armer Carl Mays.  (Catcher Doc Powers may have died as a result of crashing into a wall at Shibe Park on April 12, 1909, but the facts are uncertain.)  The fatal pitch was delivered at twilight, and Chapman may have had trouble picking the ball up out of Mays’ hand, because Chapman made no effort to get out of the way.

Chapman is mainly remembered today for being the only major leaguer ever to be killed by a pitched ball, but he probably would have had a Hall of Fame career had the incident not occurred.

Players did not wear batting helmets in those days, and batting helmets were not introduced until the early 1950’s.  The major change made in response to Chapman’s death was to require clean white baseballs be in play at all times.

MLB also banned the spitball after the 1920 season, grandfathering two pitcher from each major league team.  Carl Mays was a spit ball pitcher, but it was most likely a fastball that killed Chapman.

Prior to the Chapman beaning, only a few baseballs were used in each game, and as soon as a new white baseball came into the game, the team in the field would throw the ball around the infield.  Almost all the players in those days chewed tobacco or licorice, and they’d spit in their gloves so that they could dirty up the ball as soon a clean one came into the game, because they didn’t want the opposing team to have the opportunity to hit at a clean white baseball.

With only clean white baseballs in the game, batting statistics exploded in the 1920’s.

At least nine minor league players have been killed on the field of play since the 19th century.  You have to figure that at least one of those nine was a pitcher killed by a line drive through the box.

Knowing how human nature works, I suspect that nothing more will be done to protect pitchers until a line drive kills a major league pitcher during a game.  Frankly, I think it’s amazing it hasn’t happened already.

As players get progressively bigger and stronger (and they are much bigger and stronger as a group now than they were 50 years ago) and hit the ball harder as a result, it’s only a matter of time before a pitcher gets killed by a line drive.  It may take another fifty or sixty years, but I’m certain it will eventually happen if nothing more is done to protect pitchers.

Chicago White Sox Crave Nationals’ Adam Dunn

July 20, 2010

Several sources (Fox’s Ken Rosenthal and the Chicago Sun Times’ Joe Cowley) say the White Sox are working hard to pry Adam Dunn away from the Washington Nationals, but aren’t having much success due to the Nationals’ exorbitant asking price.  Reportedly, the Nats want Carlos Quentin or Gordon Beckham, both of whom the ChiSox are understandably reluctant to trade away.

However, the White Sox have apparently offered up just about anyone else in their farm system, including 1B/3B Dayan Viciedo and RHP Daniel Hudson.

If the Nats could get both Viciedo and Hudson straight up for Dunn, it’s a trade the Nationals should make.

We all know Dunn can hit a ton, but his defense is widely regarded as terrible.  Also, he’s now 30 years old, and give his size (he’s listed at 6’6″ and 285 lbs), he’s not a player I would expect to age well.

Dunn is expensive already, and after the season he’s having, it’s certain the Nationals will have to pony up far more to keep him than the $12 million the Nationals are paying him this year.  Meanwhile, the Nationals are going nowhere this season (they’re 14.5 back in the NL East and in last place), so it’s not like Dunn is doing a whole lot for the team right now.

Dunn is also redundant.  He and LF Josh Willingham are roughly the same age (Willingham is nine months older) and have almost identical skill sets.  Dunn is the better player, but that means Dunn will bring considerably more in trade. In addition, Willingham is cheaper (he’s only making $4.6 million this year and will make considerably less than Dunn next season, no matter what kind of a raise Willingham receives).

Viciedo and Hudson are Grade-A prospects.

Dayan Viciedo is 21 year old Cuban defector who looks extremely promising.  After 44 major league at-bats this year, he’s hitting .295 with a .773 OPS, after posting an .855 OPS in 238 ABs at AAA Charlotte).  He doesn’t walk enough, but he can clearly hit, and he has adapted very quickly in only his second season playing professionally in the U.S.

The biggest question with Viciedo is whether he’s really only 21 years old, since he’s already listed as 5’11” and 240 lbs, and it’s difficult to verify that Cuban defectors are as young as they claim to be.

23 year old Dan Hudson also looks extremely close.  He went 11-4 at AAA Charlotte this year with a 3.47 ERA and great ratios.  Hudson is 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA after two major league starts this month.

I like Viciedo as the center piece of a Adam Dunn trade better than Hudson, mainly because of the greater likelihood a pitcher has of getting hurt before he develops into a star.  If the White Sox won’t part with both Viciedo and Hudson, then a trade for Viciedo and two solid Grade-B prospects for Dunn would still make sense for the Nationals.

Even if the Nationals wildly overvalue Dunn, there is nothing stopping them from trying to bring him back to D.C. this coming off-season as a free agent after his current two-year contract has expired.  In the meantime, the Nationals could sure use the infusion of premium young talent they’d receive by trading Dunn to the White Sox right now.

Can’t-Miss Prospects Sometimes Do

July 20, 2010

Remember Wily Mo Pena?  The Padres just signed him to a minor league contract and assigned him to their AAA team in Portland.

Pena had been playing in the Independent A Atlantic League for the Bridgeport Blue Fish.  He was hitting .310 with a .851 OPS, which is solid but hardly spectacular for this level.

One suspects Pena got signed because he was once one of the top prospects in MLB, rather than for how well he was playing in the Atlantic League.  Pena was hardly the best hitter on the Blue Fish.

Steve Moss, who’s two years younger than Pena (Moss is 26, Pena 28) is leading the Atlantic League with a .351 batting average and has a .996 OPS.  In fairness to MLB, Moss never performed particularly well when he played for a major league organization.

To get back to the subject at hand, Pena looked like a can’t-miss future star when at age 22 he hit 26 home runs for the Reds in only 336 at bats during the 2004 season.  Pena continued to play pretty well through the 2007 season; however, he didn’t improve a lick over his 2004 performance.

Pena played horribly for the going-nowhere Nationals in 2008 and didn’t hit much at AAA Buffalo, the Mets’ top farm club, in 2009.   People got tired of waiting for him to develop and at 27 he was no longer a prospect.  As a result, he found himself hanging on by thread to his professional life, which is pretty much what playing in the Atlantic League amounts to.

Pena’s real problem was that he just wasn’t selective enough as a hitter to ever get any better than he was when he first hit the National League.  In 2004, he walked only 22 times and struck out 108 times; and he never really improved on those numbers.

When you have a guy who won’t force pitchers to throw him strikes, at some point the pitchers will simply stop throwing him strikes.

Oakland A’s Jack Cust Reinvents Himself

July 19, 2010

Since his call-up from AAA Sacramento in mid-May, A’s outfielder/DH Jack Cust has seemingly reinvented himself as a hitter.

For those of you who don’t follow the A’s closely, Cust was a 4-A thumper who Billy Beane obtained from the Padres back in 2007 for a box of cracker jack.  Cust immediately became a minor star for the A’s, hitting 26 HRs in fewer than 400 ABs and posting a .912 OPS as a 28 year old rookie.

However, since his huge 2007, Cust declined the next two seasons, with his OPS dropping to .851 in 2008 and .773 last season.  Cust had a poor Spring this year and found himself demoted to AAA Sacramento to start the 2010 season, an assignment which Cust accepted because it was the only way to ensure that he would continue to be paid his $2.65 million salary.

The A’s love guys who get on base, and I suspect they made clear to Cust when they sent him down it was something he had to improve on if he was going to remain in their organization.  Cust clearly took it to heart, because he looks like a completely different hitter since his return to Oakland.

Notwithstanding the fact that Cust has hit three HRs in his last four games, he’s currently hitting .287, by far the best of his career (his previous high in any season in which he had more than 100 ABs is .256 in 2007), and he’s hit only five jacks so far this year.

Previously, Cust was a hitter who looked to crush the ball every at-bat.  He was extremely selective about the pitches he swung at, drawing a lot of walks, but also striking out at a tremendous rate.  This year, he’s obviously trying to take something off his swing to deliver more base hits.

His 2010 HR rate per 100 ABs is the lowest of his career, and since he’s hitting fewer HRs (and also likely taking fewer pitches in the strike zone), Cust’s walks rate is also at a career low, although it’s not really much lower than last season when he wasn’t hitting.  In the meantime, his on-base percentage stands at .388, the highest of his career since 2007, when he posted a .408 OBP.

It’s unusual for player of Cust’s age (31) to change his approach so dramatically from one season to the next, so Cust’s new focus on hitting for average may be a fluke based on a small sample size (only 143 ABs so far this season).  Cust is a good hitter, however, and I do believe some of the change is conscious effort on Cust’s part.

Another factor, however, is that Cust is also being used almost exclusively as a platoon player for the first time in the last four seasons.  Only 15.4% of his at-bats this year have come against left-handed pitching, as opposed to 28.8% of his at-bats over the previous three seasons.

Needless to say, Cust has an extreme platoon advantage with a 141 point OPS difference (.866 to .725) when he bats against righties as opposed to lefties over his career.  In other words, Cust is a great hitter against righties, but is only a replacement-level player against lefties.

Given Cust’s lack of speed or defensive skills, it seems clear that 80%+ of his major league plate appearances going forward should be against right-handed pitchers.  Any less than that, and he isn’t likely to hit enough to help a team much.

Cust has a lot of value as a left-handed hitting platoon player, and his value in that regard would increase considerably if he could teach himself to play 1B, along with the corner outfield positions.