Archive for April 2012

A Tale of Two Minor Leaguers

April 28, 2012

The Washington Nationals are calling up Bryce Harper, and the Angels are calling up Mike Trout.  One move makes sense, the other one doesn’t.

I think it’s a stupid move for the Nats to bring up Harper right now.  He’s just starting to hit at AAA Syracuse after a slow start (.290 in last ten games), but he’s still hitting only .250 with a .708 OPS.

After failing to impress (except for that fact that he was an 18 year old playing AA ball) at Harrisburg in 37 games last year (.256 batting average, .724 OPS), Harper just doesn’t look ready to play regularly at the major league level.  He needs to be playing every day at a level where he can establish dominance before he moves up.  Otherwise, you risk ruining the great confidence he has.  Any of Mark Teahen, Tyler Moore or Corey Brown would have been better choices for brief call-up while the Nationals have a few guys on the disabled list.

The Nats are off to a great 14-5 start, and if Harper doesn’t get off to a great start himself, what do they plan to do?  They can’t afford to play him every day if he doesn’t hit, and if they keep him on the bench, they aren’t giving him the playing time he needs to develop into the player everyone expects him soon to be.

I was surprised to see that the Angels released Bobby Abreu this early in the season, especially with nearly all of his $9 million 2012 salary yet to be paid, but when I saw the Angels were going to call up Mike Trout, it suddenly made sense.  Trout is hitting .403 with a 1.091 OPS twenty games into the Pacific Coast League season, and there’s no reason to keep him down on the farm any longer. Unlike Harper, Trout has now earned the right to come up and start pursuing his major league career now.

The Angels, I’m certain, didn’t want to cut Abreu this soon, but Mike Trout forced their hand.  After the promise Trout showed in 40 major league games late last year, you can’t keep him waiting around while you wait around for a 38 year old veteran to regain his swing when the warm weather arrives.

Meanwhile, expect the teams that need another outfielder to start calling Abreu’s agent immediately.  With the Angels on the hook for all but the pro-rated major league minimum, he’s going to get at least two more chances to prove he’s got nothing left before his major league career is over.

Finally Some Good News from the Chicago Cubs

April 22, 2012

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Cubbies are off to another terrible start in 2012, going a next to league worst 4-11, with only the 4-12 Padres playing worse.  At least the Cubs accomplished something today by trading Marlon Byrd and all but $400,000 of his $6.5 million 2012 to the Boston Red Sox for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later.

Paying that much of Byrd’s salary is a big pill to swallow, but the Cubs had to be seriously thinking out simply releasing the 34 year old Byrd, as he was hitting only 3 for 43 with a .219 OPS over 13 games in the early season.  Getting something for him at all is huge.

And the Cubs did get something: Bowden looks like he’s got a great shot to be a valuable middle reliever over the next few years.  He’s only 25 this year and pitched well three years (2009-2011) in a row at AAA Pawtucket.  He became a full time reliever last year and recorded a 2.73 ERA with 16 saves and 61 Ks in 52.2 IP as against 18 walks at AAA. Bowden also pitched pretty well in 30 relief appearances for the Red Sox spread across 2010, 2011 and the beginning of this season.

The Cubs always need pitching, and the numbers above sound like a young pitcher who could actually be a contributing part of their future for the next three to six seasons.  In addition, the Cubs get a throw-in player to be named later.

This is clearly a desperation move by the Red Sox.  They have a win-now payroll, but they’re off to a terrible start, and their outfield has been decimated by injuries to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.

The BoSox are in need of outfielders, but giving up anything of value for a player they probably could have picked up for nothing except a pro-rated share of the league minimum in only a week or two after the Cubs released him, seems like a mistake.

Stray Thoughts

April 17, 2012

It looks like Tim Lincecum is going to take another loss tonight (you can’t give up five runs and expect to win against Roy Halladay), but I’m still not concerned.  Lincecum is striking people out, but he’s just given up too many hits.  If his stuff is still there, he’ll figure it out eventually.  It may just be the law of averages catching up with him.

The Tigers let Justin Verlander throw a complete game and 131 pitches in a game in which he lost the shutout in the first inning.  Seems like a lot of pitches to have your ace throw in mid-April on a 64 degree night in Kansas City (probably a lot colder by the last three innings).

Giants closer Brian Wilson is officially getting his elbow ligament replaced for the second time in his career.  Wilson blew out his elbow in college at LSU, which enabled the Giants to draft him in the 24th round in 2003.  His career is a miracle of modern surgical techniques.

Wilson is still young enough to come back from this surgery.  My guess is his major league career resumes in mid-2013, he isn’t quite the same as he was before this surgery, but he regains some of his former glory, and he hangs around until he blows out that elbow tendon for the third and final time.

One thing I haven’t seen enough on is why so many pitchers seem to blow out their elbow tendons today.  I always chalk it up to the heavy reliance on the slider in the modern game — curveballs are reputedly harder on the shoulder, sliders harder on the elbow — but I don’t really know.  I sure would appreciate a link to any analysis anyone has done linking risk factors for blown elbow tendons.

Speaking of blown elbow tendons, Steven Strasburg had another fine performance today.  It looks like he’s all the way back and then some, at least until he blows out his elbow tendon again.  My prediction is 2020 or 2021.

Hope Springs Eternal

April 10, 2012

The problem with posting your comments/opinions for the world to see is that sometimes you make a fool out of yourself trying to predict the future.  No sooner than you blast a player, and he has his best game in nearly a decade.

Today, Barry Zito threw his first shutout in nine years (!?!), and in Colorado of all places.  With the Yankees and Red Sox both starting with 0-3 records for the first time since 1966, you get the impression it’s going to be strange year — which is good — the game would get awfully boring if there weren’t a few crazy surprises every year.

I’m not going to admit that Zito has finally regained his old form after just one start, re-tooled delivery or not.  The fact that he hasn’t pitched a shutout in nine years speaks for itself.  Zito wasn’t exactly over-powering, striking out only four in his nine innings of work.  His control was exceptional today, and you can’t really expect that to last, given his 4.1 BB/9IP over his five year career as a Giant.

Frankly, if Zito pitches as well this year as he did in 2009 and 2010, I’d be reasonably satisfied.  One shutout to start the season at least gets him off to a good start toward that relatively modest goal.

One thing is for certain, though.  The Giants really, really wanted to win this game after losing three close games in Arizona.  It isn’t often nowadays a team lets a starter throw 114 pitches in his first start of season in early April.  With Zito, however, the Giants will try to get as much as they can, when they can.  If they get this kind of game out of him after five years, there isn’t much reason to think about tomorrow.

Some Things Never Change

April 8, 2012

I just read this article on reporting how Ozzie Guillen just told reporters he gets drunk in the hotel bar after every game win or lose.  He says he’s been doing it the last 25 to 28 years.

Nothing new about that, for Ozzie or anyone else in baseball.  Ballplayers and the men who manage and coach them have had more than their fair share of boozers for as long as the game has been paid professionally.

Traditionally, players are not allowed to drink in the hotel bar, because that is where the manager and the coaches drink.  Drunk players and drunk manager often results in fights, since at least a few players on every team are going be upset about their playing time (or something else) at any given time.  Just think Billy Martin, who famously fought with pitcher Dave Boswell in an alley outside the Lindell A.C. bar in Detroit in 1969 while Martin was managing the Minnesota Twins (Martin claims he popped Boswell after Boswell knocked out teammate Bobby Allison).  A decade later, Martin famously knocked out marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper in a Minneapolis hotel bar.

Ozzie says he drinks at the hotel bar, because it keeps him from getting into trouble elsewhere, which is probably true and, like I said, the reason why players generally aren’t allowed to drink in the hotel bar.  The upshot is that players have to drink somewhere else, usually places where there are more young women (one of the perks of being a professional athlete).

MLB has now banned and tests for use of amphetamines and other stimulants.  Since the 1950’s when diet pills containing amphetamines became widely available, greenies and alcohol have gone hand in hand.  As I said, ballplayers have always drunk a lot, and greenies were a great way to play at or near 100% after a heavy night of drinking.  The greenies also facilitate more drinking, because the only way to sleep after taking a greenie for a night game is by taking downers or drinking.

I suspect there is on the whole less drinking now than there once was in baseball.  The repercussions of getting pulled over for drinking and driving are much more serious than they were 30 or more years ago.  Plus, there’s so much more money in baseball and so much more information in society in general about the adverse health effects of drinking that more players are taking better care of themselves and consequently drinking less.

All that being said, there’s still a lot of drinking in baseball and there always will be.  With most games played at night now, most players don’t have to report to work until 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.  That leaves plenty of time to celebrate or commiserate after each night’s ballgame.

All Or Nothing

April 8, 2012

It will be interesting to see how the Oakland A’s Yoenis Cespedes’ season progresses.  After four games and 14 plate appearances, he is leading the major leagues with three HRs and seven Ks, and he has yet to draw a walk.

It doesn’t get much more all or nothing for a hitter than that.

Now that he’s established his big time power (and he certainly has big time power, with two of the dingers going the opposite way and two clearing 400 feet, the longest estimated at 462), you have to think that pitchers are quickly going to throw him a lot fewer strikes.  The seven K’s and the no walks so far does not suggest that Cespedes is going to make the necessary adjustment quickly.

Of course, you can’t read much into only four games.  Unfortunately, with Cespedes, a rookie who never played in the minor leagues, there is precious little other information with which to try to project his future performance.

In Spring Training, Cespedes hit .229 (8 for 35) with four walks, 12 strikeouts and five extra base hits.  The four walks is at least a promising sign, although the sample size is extremely small.  As for the other numbers, they match his four regular season games: tremendous power, tremendous strikeout rate and definitely a work in progress.

If Cespedes hits well enough to stay in the starting line-up all season for Oakland (I think there’s still a good chance he’ll get sent down to AAA Sacramento for spell after the major league pitchers stop throwing him strikes and he consequently stops hitting tape measure homeruns), my guess is that he’ll have a season that fits in with Mark Reynolds’ last two seasons, only with about half of Reynolds’ seasonal walk totals.

Given that the A’s aren’t expected to go anywhere this season (they’re already off to a 1-3 start, surprising no one), the odds are fairly good the A’s will keep him in the line up all year long even if he only hits .210, so long as he continues to hit for power.  The A’s signed Cespedes mainly with years two through four of his four year deal in mind.

Giants Do the Right Thing

April 5, 2012

Here’s a link to the Giants’ apparent opening day roster, at least according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea.

The Gints kept most of the guys who played well this Spring including Brandon Belt, Dan Otero, Hector Sanchez, Gregor Blanco and Brett Pill.  I’m not really sold on Pill — he doesn’t walk enough.  Gregor Blanco is no great hitter, but he gets on base (.358 career major league OPS in more than 800 plate appearances and .367 minor league career OPS in more than 4,000 plate appearances), and he runs well.  If his Spring Training isn’t a complete fluke, he could be the next Andres Torres.

Of course, the Giants cut Mike Fontenot, who actually played pretty well this Spring and deserved better, and they held on to Barry Zito, who was terrible, but you can’t have everything.  My understanding is that even though Fontenot played better this Spring, Ryan Theriot had more guaranteed money coming to him if they cut him (about $750,000 more than the Giants had to pay Fontenot, if my information is good), and the Giants wanted another right-handed bat on the bench.

As for Zito, it’s hard for the Giants to let go when they’re still on the hook for $46 million of his horrendous contract.  Besides, the Giants are currently short on starters with Ryan Vogelsong and Eric Surkamp starting the season on the DL.  Zito will be given every opportunity to prove that he has nothing less, and then some.

And mirabile dictu (miraculous to say), the Giants traded Chris Stewart and actually got something in return.  Admittedly, at age 27 this year RHP George Kontos is only marginally a prospect.  However, he really pitched well last year, posting a 2.62 ERA in 89.1 innings as a reliever and spot starter at AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre and a 3.00 ERA in seven late season relief appearances (6 IP) for the Bombers.

More impressively, in 95.1 total innings pitched last year, Kontos gave up only 76 hits and 29 walks, while striking out 97 batters.  That’s terrific.  The biggest knock on Kontos is that he also gave up 13 dingers in those 95.1 IP.

At least Kontos has the kind of arm where the Giants could potentially get some useful major league service out of him in the next year or two.  At the end of the day, Chris Stewart is a 30 year old catcher with a career major league OPS of .563 and a career minor league OPS of .689 — getting anything more than a box of crackerjack for a player who hits like that is gravy.

It’s also good to see the Giants valuing players like Gregor Blanco and George Kontos, who do things like get on base and put up great ratios.  The Giants generally aren’t known for signing money-ball players, instead preferring veterans and toolsy players over those who look better according to statistical analysis.  I hope its not just a coincidence.

Early Fall-Out from the Dodgers Sale

April 3, 2012

A few days ago when the Dodgers sale for $2.15 billion was announced, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle posted a blog entry to the effect that it was great news for Matt Cain and anyone else likely to be a free agent in the next couple of off-seasons. Schulman’s theory was that the Dodgers sale effectively raised the value of every major league team, and that new-found wealth, or at least perception of wealth, would be reflected in player contracts going forward.

It didn’t take long for Schulman to be proven right.  Matt Cain signed what was effectively a five year deal for a guaranteed $112.5 million with an option for a sixth year, which by all accounts will be easily reached if he is healthy in year five.  Cain will paid the same in 2012 as his current current under the new contract, so the five year extension essentially commences with the 2013 season.

Cain’s contract sets a record for right-handed starting pitchers, but suddenly looks remarkably reasonable in light of the reports out of Cincinnati that the Reds and Joey Votto have just reached a deal on a ten-year contract extension for $225 million.  The early, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Votto extension doesn’t kick in until after this current contract expires after the 2013 season, meaning that Votto will be a Red through 2023, the season in which he turns 40.

The thing that strikes me about Cain’s extension is that this is essentially the deal the Giants were hoping that Tim Lincecum would sign back in November.  What with Cain being closer to free agency than Lincecum, this extension certainly seems in the ballpark of what you would expect Cain to get.  Nonetheless, it’s probably a reasonable to speculate that the Giants upped their final offer that last $12 million or so once the news came down about the amount of the Dodgers sale.

The Votto signing seems not only excessive, but premature.  With two years left on his current contract, it seems to me that the Reds could have signed Votto to this deal a year from now, which would give them an extra year to gage Votto’s likely future performance.

At any rate, it’s hard to imagine this contract not being an albatross around the small market Reds’ neck for at least the last four years of the contract under the best of circumstances.  Guys his size (6’3″ and between 220-225 lbs at age 28) don’t tend to stay healthy enough to put up great seasons after age 35.

Again, I have to think the Dodgers sale is a factor.  The Reds were clearly influenced by the mega-contracts Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed this off-season, but even those contracts don’t in my mind justify a small market team giving this contract to Votto, which is absolutely market rate, two full seasons before he hits free agency.  The Reds have to be anticipating that next off-season’s contracts are going to put this year’s pay-outs to shame.

With the overall economy not showing signs of strong growth for the next couple of years, particularly with the likely continuing rise in energy prices (particularly if Israel and/or the U.S. bomb Iran) and the European Union back in recession, you have to think the Reds made this move based on what they anticipate to be the fall-out from the Dodgers’ sale on free agent contract prices.