Archive for September 2010

Prince Fielder’s Consecutive Games Streak Ends at 327

September 14, 2010

Prince Fielder’s streak of 327 consecutive games played ended tonight due to reported flu-like symptoms. Given Fielder’s famed dimensions ( and list as 5’11” and 268 lbs), he’s not the first guy who’d pop into mind when hearing that a player had just ended a 327 consecutive games played streak.

One can be certain that the streak will become talking-point No. 1 when Scott Boras markets Fielder for his long-term free agent contract, especially in light of wide-spread concerns that a player of Fielder’s size will not age well after age 30.

Fielder is 26 this year, and I doubt that how many games he’s able to play in a row in his mid-20’s will have any predictive ability on his ability to play 140 or 150 games a season after age 30.

In apt comparison, perhaps, would be Frank Thomas (6’5″ 270 lbs).  In 1996, he had a 346 game hitting streak ended with a stress fracture in his left leg.  He still managed to play in 141 games that season and played in at least that many games through 1998, the year in which was 30 years old.

After passing age 30, he only managed to play 140 or more games in a season four times in ten seasons, even though he was used almost exclusively as a designated hitter during that period of his career.

The point, I guess, is that no matter how healthy a 250 lb plus player is in his mid-to-late 20’s, they have a hard time staying in the line-up once they pass age 30.

BTW Ryan Howard (6’4″ 255 lbs) is also 30 years old this season.  As such I expect he’ll begin to have recurring injury problems sometime in the next two or three seasons, in spite of the exceptional health he’s shown so far in his major league career.

Another Knucklehead

September 10, 2010

19 year old Frank Ratcliff, a middle infielder who had a fine freshman season at college baseball power Miami, recently got busted for selling 21 grams of marijuana to an undercover police officer for $220.

Acting on a tip, the undercover officer made the buy, and a later warrant search of Ratliff’s residence found 101 grams of pot and 19 vials of synthetic human growth hormone.

Because the sale and arrest were made on school property, Ratliff faces a minimum three year prison sentence.  He was officially charged with various felonies yesterday and has already been suspended from Miami’s baseball team.

While I personally believe marijuana should be legalized, or at least decriminalized, and a minimum three year sentence for selling less than an ounce of pot is outrageous, I still find myself profoundly irritated whenever I read a story about a young and apparently talented ballplayer who has done something this stupid and essentially thrown his career away.

In the 2010 season, Ratliff hit .276 with an .846 OPS.  His OPS is pretty terrific for a freshman middle infielder, and by the season’s end he had firmly established himself as the Hurricane’s starting 2Bman.

Now, I’ll admit that his numbers were almost certainly inflated by HGH and/or steroid use (is there any chance he wasn’t at least using HGH if the cops found 19 vials of it in his residence?)  Even so, I very much doubt he’s the only college player at a top program dabbling with HGH, which I understand is still harder to test for than steroids.

Ratliff’s sheer stupidity bothers me.  The odds are good he really didn’t need the money, because his fine freshman season virtually guarantees a full scholarship at Miami for the 2010/11 school year.

And who knows? He might well have developed in two year’s time into a player selected in the first five or six rounds of the 2012 Draft who would thus receive a six-figure signing bonus.  It was certainly a reasonable possibility after the 2010  freshman season he had.

Instead, he’s headed off to the can, because they have him dead to rights, likely for three years, less time off for good behavior.

Young ballplayers, would you rather be starting for your college baseball team or throwing your future away because you want to make a little extra money selling illegal substances?

The answer seems fairly obvious to me, but you still read about one or two of these knuckleheads every year.

San Francisco Giants 2010 Minor League Wrap-Up, Part 1: AAA Fresno Grizzlies’ Hitters

September 8, 2010

The 2010 minor league regular season is now over (pending the start of the Arizona Fall League season some weeks in the future), so it’s as good a time as any to tell you what the Giants’ minor league troops did this year.

The Fresno Grizzlies finished 75-69, good enough for second in the four team PCL Pacific South Division, four games back of the first place Sacramento River Cats, the A’s top farm club.

The Position Players

The Grizzlies’ top prospect going forward is 1Bman Brandon Belt.  After tearing up the A+ California League (.383 batting average, 1.121 OPS in 77 games) and the AA Eastern League (.337 BA and 1.036 in 46 games), Belt cooled off considerably in a 13-game cup of coffee at AAA Fresno to close out the 2010 season.

Even so, Belt continued to impress.  While he hit only .229 (11 for 48), he hit four doubles, four home runs and drew 13 walks, so he finished his AAA stint with an excellent .956 OPS.

Across the three levels, Belt hit .356 with a .455 on-base percentage, a 1.076 OPS and 76 extra base hits.  You really can’t ask for anything more from a 22 year old in his first professional season.

My feeling is that Belt and the Giants will be best served by having him play the first 60 games of the 2011 season at Fresno, but he doesn’t have to improve much at all on his 2010 performance to be a major league player.

After Belt, however, Giants’ prospects at AAA are slim pickings.

Jesus Guzman had a fine season, hitting .321 with an .886 OPS.  Unfortunately, Guzman turns 27 next June, and he didn’t improve at all from 2009, when he hit .321 with an .885 OPS.

Guzman might earn his way to the majors in 2011, but he’d probably be better served looking for a Japanese team to give him a shot, because I think he’ll never be quite good enough to be a major league player.

3Bman Ryan Rohlinger hit .311 with a .392 OBP and an .869 OPS in a season limited by injuries and a good stretch sitting on San Francisco’s bench at the major league level, but he turns 27 in October.  Eugenio Velez hit .302 with a .353 OBP and a .792 OPS, but he turns 29 next May.

You may be noticing a trend: the Grizzlies have a lot of decent players too old to amount to prospects.  Brett Pill, Ben Copeland, Tyler Graham and Joe Borchard all had commendable seasons, but none looks a player who will ever do anything significant at the major league level.

Players who might yet have major league careers are middle infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Brock Bond and catcher Steve Holm.

Burriss turns 26 next January.  He hit .282 with an adequate .334 OBP.  He could still have a career as a major league back-up middle infielder.

Brock Bond is a great example of what the Giants like and don’t like in their prospects.  The Giants like minor leaguers with tools, rather than minor leaguers who actually perform.

Bond has limited physical talents and probably doesn’t play a major league caliber second base.  However, he has one skill that is the single most important offensive skill: the ability to get on base.

After leading the Eastern League in on-base percentage in 2009, Bond got off to a great start and up through about the All Star Break, he was hitting right around .300 with a OBP over .400 at the AAA level.  He cooled after that, and his batting average fell to .285 and his OBP to .397.

Bond’s OBP was good enough for 8th best in the Pacific Coast League, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the Giants from demoting him to AA Richmond for the last two weeks of the minor league season.

There are a lot of things Brock probably can’t do, but the Giants don’t properly value what he can do.  In spite of the fact that Bond was the only Grizzly with enough plate appearances to appear among the top 20 PCL players in on-base percentage, he couldn’t keep his job.

One has to think that if a team that values on-base percentage (like the Oakland A’s) is paying attention, they could obtain Bond this off-season for a box of cracker jack.  Even if Bond can’t play major league D at second base, there has to be somewhere a player, who only turns 25 two days from now and who has posted a .429 OBP in the Eastern League in 2009 and a .397 OBP in the PCL in 2010, could play at the major league level and still contribute.

Steve Holm turns 31 in October and his .725 2010 OPS isn’t particularly impressive, but given his past major league experience, he could still surface as a major league back-up catcher again.

Former sandwich pick Jackson Williams had another brutal year with the bat (.204 batting average and .629 OPS, split between AA and AAA), but at age 24, he could still be a major league catcher if he can ever learn how to hit.

Washington Nationals’ Yuniesky Maya Loses First Major League Start

September 8, 2010

The New York Mets beat Yuniesky Maya and the Nationals tonight 4-1.  Ike Davis’ three-run homer was the big hit.  Dillon Gee, also making his first major league start was the winning pitcher. It was the first time both starters were making their major league debuts since the Tigers’ Rick Porcello and the Blue Jays’ Ricky Romero faced each other on April 9, 2009 and only the fifth such game since 1980.

As you may know, Yuniesky Maya is a now 29 year old pitcher who was a major star in Cuba before he defected in September 2009.  In the 2004-2005 season, he led the Cuban Serie Nacional with a 1.61 ERA.  After a down year in 2005/6, he finished second with a 1.40 ERA in 2006/7.

He had a great season in his last year in Cuba (2008/9) when he went 13-4 with a 2.22 ERA, good again for second best in the Serie Nacional, and notched 119 Ks and allowed only 113 hits in 146 IP.  His strikeout total was second only to Aroldis Chapman’s 130.  As you well know, Chapman has also gone on to bigger and more remunerative things.

Maya also has lots of past experience and success against top international competition.

The Nationals signed Maya to a four-year $8 million deal on July 31, 2010, which was really a three-year deal, when you consider that with two months of the 2010 season left, Maya is working to get back to where he was when he last pitched for Cuba at some time in 2009.

The Nats raced Maya through their minor league system, giving him only a total of five starts across three minor league levels (the rookie Gulf Coast League, the A+ Carolina League and the AAA International League).  He posted a 3.38 ERA with a line of 21.1 IP, 18 hits, one HR and 10 walks allowed and 18 Ks.

Maya pitched better in his two AAA starts than he did in the low minors, but he didn’t pitch enough at the three levels combined to say much more than he seems to know how to pitch but his control might be suspect.

The Nationals have reasonably decided, since they’re going nowhere this season and have lost their top pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg for a year, there’s no down-side to promoting Maya now and letting him learn the major league game sooner rather than later.

While the odds are good Maya will continue to get beat up this year in however many starts he has left before the season ends, the Nationals’ decision to give him $8 million was a calculated risk to take.  Maya really was good in the Cuban league as recently as eighteen months ago, and he’s not particularly old (he’ll be 29, 30 and 31 from 2011-2013).

Maya really needs to have only two seasons out of the next three in which he’s an adequate 4th starter for the signing to be a good one for the Nats.  If he develops into any thing better than a 4th starter, even if for only one year, the Nats will get well more than their money’s worth.

Colby Rasmus Not Long for St. Louis Cardinals? (and Other Notes)

September 7, 2010

Colby Rasmus may have a one-way ticket out of St. Louis this off-season, if the reports are true he’s unhappy with the Cardinals.  Rasmus has denied asking to be traded back in July, but Albert Pujols made a pointed comment this weekend that if Rasmus didn’t want to play for the Cardinals then he should be traded.

Tony LaRussa was also quoted as saying it’s up to management, not Rasmus or his teammates, to decide whether he remains in St. Louis.

One thing is for certain: the Cardinals shouldn’t have trouble finding willing trade partners.  Rasmus only just turned 24 on August 11, and, as I write this, he has an .848 OPS.  Not many center fielders hit like that at any age.

As for Rasmus’ center field defense, the only thing I can say for certain is fangraphs’ UZR ratings don’t tell you jack.  According to UZR, Rasmus was a great defensive center fielder in 2009 and a poor one in 2010.  It’s possible, but I doubt the accuracy of UZR more than I tend to think that Rasmus really declined so steeply in from 2009 to 2010.

If I were the Cardinals, I wouldn’t get rid of Rasmus unless it’s really clear that he’s unhappy and likely to be a future cancer.  He’s too promising to send away otherwise.

A 28 year old rookie from the Dominican named Adalberto Mendez won his first major league start tonight as the Marlins beat the Phillies tonight 7-1.  I love these kind of September stories.

I really don’t think Mendez is good enough to have much of a major league career.  He came into this season with an unimpressive 3.98 career minor league ERA (although he has better ratios), and this year he was no world beater, mostly at AAA New Orleans (3.98 ERA again).

However, Mendez was good enough tonight and beat the Phillies handily in a game the Phillies really needed to win.  Just because a pitcher has never appeared in the majors before doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t good enough to shut down one of MLB’s better offenses, at least for one night.

Mark Prior struck out two, allowed two hits and a walk but no runs in one inning of work in his first appearance in AAA ball since 2006.

If you haven’t heard, Prior spent a month pitching for the Orange County Flyers in the independent-A Golden Baseball League.  He made nine appearances there without allowing an earned run.  His line was 11 IP, five hits and five walks allowed and 22 Ks.  Obviously good enough for the Rangers to think Prior was worth another opportunity.

The Oklahoma City RedHawks made the Pacific Coast League play-offs, so one has to think that Prior will get a few more opportunities to pitch at the AAA level before the Rangers decide whether to promote him to the major league team before the end of September.

On the subject of AAA baseball, the Beavers have just finished their season and will apparently be leaving Portland, a Pacific Coast League town for most of the last 108 seasons going back to 1903.  The Beavers’ ballpark is being retrofitted to lure a Major League Soccer team to Portland.

Since the last round of expansion in 1998, Greater Portland been the largest American metropolitan area without a major league franchise.  Unfortunately, given the current dreadful state of the economy, it will probably be years before another round of major league expansion finally brings a team to Portland.

Washington Nationals’ Nyjer Morgan Draws Eight Game Suspension

September 3, 2010

MLB handed out suspensions today following Wednesday’s brawl between the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals.  Nyjer Morgan received eight games (in addition to the seven game suspension he has been appealing for hitting a fan in the head with a ball he threw into the stands on August 21); Chris Volstad received six games; Marlins’ pitcher Alex Sanabia received five games, Gaby Sanchez and Nationals’ pitcher Doug Slaten and 3B coach Pat Listach each received three games, and managers Jim Riggleman and Edwin Rodriguez received two and one game suspensions respectively.

Frankly, an eight game suspension for Morgan seems just about right.  He charged the mound, but only after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning and a second pitch was thrown behind his back in the sixth.  I don’t think MLB could reasonably suspend Morgan for either of the two big home plate collisions, mainly because they waited too long on the cheap shot Morgan took on Cardinals’ catcher Bryan Anderson last Saturday and the collision with Marlins’ catcher Hayes on Tuesday really wasn’t a play justifying discipline.

MLB does not have unlimited discretion in disciplining players, because the Players’ Association will file a grievance for any discipline that does not comply with prior precedents for similar conduct.  MLB could take into account Morgan’s previous suspension, but it’s also worth noting that MLB justified Morgan’s relatively long 8 eight game suspension (five or six games seems like a more typical suspension for charging the mound and setting off a brawl in these circumstances) by handing out significant suspensions to the other players, managers and coaches involved in the brawl.

One has to suspect that Morgan’s recent spate of bad conduct has a lot to do with the poor season he’s having and the fact that he must at some level realize his major league career is in serious jeopardy.  He turned 30 in July, which is getting old for a marginal major leaguer.

Also, after a fine 2009 campaign in which Morgan was a solid lead-off man (.369 on-base percentage, 42 steals with a 71% success rate and a .757 OPS) and was also one of the Senior Circuit’s best defensive outfielders, (according to fangraphs’ UZR ratings), Morgan has been terrible in 2010.  His .317 OBP doesn’t cut it, and his center field defense (according again to fangraphs) has been a shade below average.

Not surprising then Morgan is either frustrated or determined to be more aggressive to try to get better results as the season winds down.

Washington Nationals’ Nyjer Morgan and More Homeplate Collisions

September 2, 2010

Baserunner/catcher homeplate collisions are back in the news after Nyjer Morgan instigated two home plate collisions that ended up costing his team runs and generated controversy.

The first happened in last Saturday’s game between the Cardinals and the Nats.  Willie Harris hit a bases loaded double with Morgan on first base.  Morgan came flying around the bases, and St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson initially set up to block the plate.

However, the Cardinals’ 1Bman Albert Pujols cut off the throw from right field and held up on throwing to the plate where he seemingly had no play on Morgan.  When Pujols held the ball, Anderson stepped out of the base line toward first base.  Instead of simply scoring the run, Morgan stepped out of the base path into fair territory, threw an elbow into Anderson and in the process completely missed stepping on home plate.

Another National in the on-deck area grabbed Morgan and pushed him back so Morgan would return and touch home.  Morgan was called out on the basis of interference because another National touched him before the run had scored.

This was obviously a stupid, stupid play by Morgan, and one can easily see why even Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman criticized Morgan afterward.  You don’t give up a run so you can go out of your way (and the base path) to hit a fielder who doesn’t even have the ball.

In yesterday’s game between the Marlins and the Nationals, Morgan was involved in another collision, and again it cost the Nationals a run.  Morgan’s decision to hit Marlins’ rookie catcher Brett Hayes and try to knock the ball loose was a stupid play, because Morgan probably would have scored if he had slid into home plate.

In my mind, however, it was not a dirty play like Morgan’s elbow to Bryan Anderson on Saturday. The Marlins and Nats were tied 0-0 in the tenth inning when Morgan tried to score on an infield grounder.

It was going to be a close play at the plate.  Hayes caught the ball on the third base side of the plate, and (the slow motion replay shows) just had time to set himself before Morgan barreled into him.  Hayes injured his shoulder on the play, but he held onto the ball and made the out.

A base runner absolutely has the right in those circumstances to run into the catcher, who is standing in the base path, to try to knock the ball loose if the runner thinks it gives him the best chance to score.  The game was on the line, and the professional game is about winning first, second and last. Base runners are paid to score runs, pure and simple.

It is a split second decision, and in hindsight you can say that Morgan made the wrong decision in terms of scoring the run.  It’s also a shame Hayes was hurt on the play.  However, hard, clean plays like that are part of the game, unless you advocate changing the rules to provide that catchers can never be in the base paths even when they have the ball in ball in their hands.

I think catchers should be barred from setting up in the base path before they have received the throw from another fielder, not that catchers shouldn’t be able to move into the base path once the ball is actually in their hands.

Interestingly, no one on the Nationals had anything negative to say about Morgan’s collision with Hayes.

As I’m sure you know, there was a bench clearing brawl in today’s Marlins-Nationals game.  Chris Volstad threw one behind Morgan’s back, and Morgan charged the mound.

However, there was more to today’s brawl than the Marlins trying to get back solely because of the Morgan-Hayes collision.  Morgan had stolen a couple of bases in the game even though the Nationals were down by ten runs (I can kind of see why it’s considered bad form to steal bases when your team is up by ten, but I don’t think it makes any sense to consider it unsportsmanlike to steal bases when your team is losing big — if anything, the base stealer is doing the team with the big lead a favor, since the cost of getting caught stealing is much greater than the value of a stolen base when the stealer’s team is that far behind).

However, some ballplayers are offended by base-stealing anytime the game is a blowout one way or the other.

I’m also certain that the Marlins knew all about the Morgan-Anderson collision, which put the Morgan-Hayes collision in a different light.  A lot of baseball people watch Sports Center or go to, because they want to know what their competitors are doing.  It’s their livelihood, after all.

Finally, the brawl happened because Morgan decided to charge the mound even though he hadn’t actually been hit with the pitch.

The totality of the past week’s events don’t cast Morgan in a very favorable light, and I think you can be fairly certain that Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals won’t forget the Morgan-Anderson collision between now and the next time the Cardinals and Marlins play each other.  However, the Marlins have probably gotten Morgan out of their system, particularly after the big shot 1Bman Gaby Sanchez gave Morgan after Morgan threw a punch at Volstad during today’s brawl.

Minnesota Twins Send Seven Foot Dutchman to Angels

September 1, 2010

The Minnesota Twins are reported to have completed the recent trade for lefty reliever Brian Fuentes by sending 7’1″ Dutchman Loek Van Mil to the Anaheim Angels as the player to be named later.

Aside from his astounding height, Van Mil doesn’t look especially promising to me.  He currently has an ugly 6.37 ERA at AA New Britain in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, and he turns 26 years of age in two weeks.

Van Mil was as recently as last year highly regarded by Baseball America as a prospect, and his career minor league numbers suggest he has decent stuff: 3.59 ERA, 188 IP, 181 hits, twelve HRs and 104 walks allowed and 144 Ks.  For a guy who has never pitched above the AA level, however, his control looks poor.

In other words, the deal looks almost certainly like a dump of Fuentes’ remaining $1.89 million in salary, since the Angels are now convinced they aren’t going to catch the Rangers.  Fuentes has a $9 million option for 2011 which vests if he finishes 55 games this season.  With only 33 games finished so far and the Twins’ intent to use him as a set up man, it’s extremely unlikely Fuentes’ 2011 option will vest.

Getting back to Van Mil, tall pitchers tend to have trouble developing a consistent release point and that is reportedly one of his problems.

It may seem strange nowadays, with the recent success of Randy Johnson (6’10”), Jon Rauch (6’11”), Chris Young (6’10”) and Mark Hendrickson (6’9″), among others, but as late as about 1960, there was still a huge prejudice against pitchers who were more than about 6’4″ or 6’5″.  The thinking was that pitchers much taller than that just didn’t have the coordination or the ability to develop a consistent release point to be effective major league pitchers.

There were a few exceptions to this rule (Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, who stood 6’6″, comes to mind), but they were few and far between.

The thinking on tall pitchers appears to have changed as result of changes that occurred in the 1950’s and 60’s.  First, the formation of the NBA in the late 1940’s showed that tall men could be highly coordinated, and there were a few NBA players who did double duty as major league pitchers during the summer months.

Most notable of these was 6’8″ Gene Conley, who went 91-96 between 1952 and 1963, pitching for the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox.  He also helped win three NBA championships as a forward for the Boston Celtics in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Another big factor was when the major league strike zone was expanded in 1962, which favored big, hard-throwing pitchers because it is extremely difficult to catch up with high fastballs thrown at or just above a higher strike zone.  Don Drysdale (6’6″) came up in 1956 and was a star before the strike zone was expanded, but he had his best seasons starting in 1962.

Drysdale may still be the tallest pitcher in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but his status will obviously last only until Randy Johnson becomes eligible.

Other tall pitchers who blossomed after the strikezone expanded include Dick Radatz (6’6″), Bob Veale (6’6″) and Sudden Sam McDowell (6’5″).

Another tall fire-baller who contributed to ending the prejudice against tall pitchers was J.R. Richard (6’8″) who came up with the Astros in early 1970’s.