Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Breakout Performances: Jay Bruce

We like our phenoms to be finished products, ready to contribute at the highest level as soon as they arrive on the scene. Tiger Woods won his first Masters as a professional. Fred Lynn won the MVP in his rookie season. Bobby Fischer was a grandmaster at 15. Everyone wants the next awesome thing, that shiny new toy that works like magic right out of the box. Sure, maybe that toy will be Steven Strasburg or Mark Prior and break after a few uses, but we all remember that immediate gratification of them showing up and, for a fleeting moment, being everything we hoped they would.

Sometimes though, that new toy has some assembly required. What's worse, the learning curve might be a little higher, requiring some patience. We wished for it to come, but when it arrived, we found it frustrating. More frustrating than a complete lemon - with a bust, you can just throw it to the side, disappointed, but accepting that it was just no good. Not like the assembly-required, hundreds of hours of practice toy. That will make you work, trying to get the most out of it. Some nights you'll just want to throw it to the floor, or maybe AAA, in frustration. In the end though, when that patience is rewarded, it's such a rewarding feeling.

So, I think you know where I'm going with this.

In 2008, Jay Bruce was the #1 prospect in baseball. In 2011, Jay Bruce leads the National League in HR, RBI and TB through the first two months. Reds' fans, consider yourselves rewarded.

A little background: In 2005, Bruce was the #12 overall pick in the MLB draft, and signed fairly quickly, spending the rest of that year and the next hitting reasonably well in the low minor. In 2007, he broke out, tearing through three levels at a .319/.375/.587 clip, landing in AAA Louisville, at the top of several prospect lists, and drawing favorable comparisons with Larry Walker, for what seemed like a flawless all-around game.

Bruce made his debut on May 27, 2008, and for his first 18 games hit a robust .382/.468/.632, much to the enjoyment of long-suffering Reds fans. Then, the Bruce slipped to .229/.282/.417 for the last 90 games, striking out 98 times in only 393 PA. His final line .254/.314/.453 was hardly an embarrassment for a 21 year old - the #1 pick in the 2008 draft, David Price, rightly considered a phenom, was 19 months older than Bruce - but he was clearly not the ready-out-of-the-box superstar that the Reds were hoping for.

In 2009, Bruce saw incremental improvements to his power, walk rates and strikeout rates, but a disturbing drop in batting average due to a .221 BABIP, leading to a .223/.303/.470 season line. Bruce also played in only 18 games after fracturing his wrist on July 11th.

2010 brought more improvement. Bruce's HR rate actually fell slightly, but his walk rate continued to rise, and that BABIP corrected itself in a big way to .339. Beyond this offensive improvements, Bruce emerged as the NL's premier defensive RF. Defensive metrics can be tricky, but Bruce led all RF in both UZR and Range Factor, and his strong arm allowed him to add 7 assists and keep numerous runners from taking an extra base. Still, even with that great defense, a .281/.353/.493 line, with 25 HR and top 10 finishes in zero categories was hardly conjuring images of Larry Walker.

Maybe it should have. Now three years removed from his "top prospect" status, Bruce felt like an established veteran, so it was easy to forget that he had just finished his age 23 season, sporting a career .257/.327/.474 line. At the same age, Walker had a .234/.320/.408 career line. Walker "broke out" in 1992 with a line that wasn't a whole lot better than Bruce's 2010.

So here we are, the end of May 2011, and Jay Bruce has a .294/.358/.578, with the biggest boost coming in his increased home run rate. After spending his first three years homering once every 20.7 PA, Bruce is doing so every 14.2 PA this year. He's walking at his career rate, and striking out less often, as well. These improvements have allowed him to excel despite his BABIP falling back to .312. That .312 is well within the expected range for someone with Bruce's line drive rate, so there's little reason to thing that his improvement isn't sustainable.

In Larry Walker's MVP season, he hit .366/.452/.720. It's probably unfair to expect that from Jay Bruce, just as it would be unfair to expect it from Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, or Bryce Harper. Bruce is already one of the most valuable players in the National League, and is locked up for the next 7 years at a very reasonable $63M. If he continues to produce at his 2011 levels, that will be a great value for the Reds. If there is more improvement to be had (and he still is less than two months past his 24th birthday), it will surpass Evan Longoria's as the most team-friendly longterm deal in all of baseball.

(Aside - I mentioned Justin Upton in the paragraph above. Upton is still only 23 and has a career line of .271/.351/.473. Anyone who thinks the Diamondbacks need to trade him to improve is a fool. This probably deserved a post of its own this offseason when rumors were swirling about his being dealt, and I may get to it yet. Upton is even a better example than Bruce about unreasonable expectations hindering our appreciation of young players).

Long-term, there are two paths Bruce can take toward becoming an elite, MVP-level star. The first is to reduce that strikeout rate to less than one every 5 PA, because when he hits the ball, he hits it hard. His line drive/fly ball rates make it hard to see him delivering a BABIP lower than .300, and .330 would hardly be out of the picture). Of course, there have been Hall of Fame level players who have struck out at high rates - Reggie Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome - but we're talking about guys with historically great power numbers. Which brings us to the second path - Bruce could get there, too - he's on pace for a 47 home run/348 total base season, and, not to belabor the point, he's only 24.

Whatever path Bruce takes, continue to enjoy the ride, Cincinnati fans. You've certainly been patient enough.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Minor League Marathon in Jupiter

Last night in at Roger Dean Stadium, the Jupiter Hammerheads outlasted the Clearwater Threshers for a 2-1 win in the 23rd inning.

According to the AP story, the paid attendance was 330, so I can't imagine too many people were there after midnight to see their Hammerheads walk off with the victory. Included among those not around to see the finish were Jupiter's manager Ron Hassey. Hassey, a long-time major leaguer, was ejected in the 14th inning along with 3B Chase Austin, for arguing balls and strikes. Jose Duarte replaced Austin at third.

Clearwater nearly broke the 1-1 tie in the 18th inning, when RF Ernesto Manzanillo threw Leandro Castro out at home when Castro was attempting to score from second base on a single by 1B Darin Ruf. Ruf would move over to the pitcher's mound in the 21st, where he dealt two scoreless innings.

In the 23rd, Jamie Ortiz led off with a single against Justin Friend, the Florida State League leader in saves. Miguel Fermin then sacrificed Ortiz over to second. Finally, at the 5 hour, 37 minute mark, Jose Duarte--the man who replaced ejected Chase Austin--singled home Jaime Ortiz.

The minorleaguebaseball.com complete recap is here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Red Sox Roster Reshuffle

The Red Sox have made quite a few roster moves in the last few hours.

1. Signed Kevin Millwood to a minor league contract.
This is probably the biggest news, but it will have the least immediate impact. Millwood opted out of his Yankees contract on May 1 when he hadn't yet made it to the majors, despite their lack of pitching. People are making a big deal about his ERA of 8.00 in Scranton, but it is the scouting report saying that he topped out at 86. Provided he passes his physical, Millwood will report to Pawtucket to get himself straightened out. Last year, Millwood had a 5.10 ERA for the Orioles, giving up 30 home runs in 190 IP. With both stuff and results lacking in recent years, Millwood is an emergency move - in place in case Tim Wakefield is washed up, Alfredo Aceves can't handle starting, and both Matsuzaka and Lackey are unable to return quickly. Expectations should be minimal.

2. Designated Hideki Okajima for asignment.
It's about over for Okie-Dokie. In an interview, Theo said he hopes Okajima can clear waivers if he's unable to trade him, but with Rich Hill having passed him as the available lefty out of the bullpen and Franklin Morales on his way from Colorado, there's no clear role for him. Since the start of last year, Okajima has a 4.47 ERA in 54.1 IP. With 39 strikeouts to 25 walks, indicators are that both his command and control have suffered. Okajima averaged 2.1 WAR out of the bullpen in his first three years with Boston. So, while this is probably the end of the line, fans should be happy with the role he played as the prominent setup man on three playoff teams.

3. Traded a player to be named later to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Franlin Morales.
Morales was a prospect at one point, but he just walks too many people. Before the 2008 season, he was rated the #8 prospect in the game by Baseball America, but he responded by walking twice as many hitters as he struck out in five starts since them. Moved to the bullpen, Morales has continued to walk the park, to the exasperation of Rockies' management. His ERA has improved this year, but he still had 8 walks in 14 innings.

Instead of going the Andrew Miller route, and sending Morales to the minors to get his confidence, control, mechanics and value back, Morales will go to the major league bullpen. While Rich Hill has shown ability to get both lefties and righties out (he got Jose Batista in a big moment on Monday), Morales will be used as a more specific Lefty-One-Out-Guy. It makes sense, as lefties have hit only .185/.291/.333 lifetime off Morales.

4. Activated Dan Wheeler from 15-day Disabled List. Optioned Michael Bowden to AAA Pawtucket.
Wheeler was signed in the offseason to stabilize the shaky bullpen. He responded by allowing home runs to 4 of the first 49 batters he saw. The league was hitting .375/.388/.688 when he was shut down for an injury to his calf. In the Rays bullpen from 2008 through 2010, Wheeler had a 3.24 ERA in 172.1 innings, albeit with 28 HR allowed, a reason why he never was able to stick in the closer role.

I'm not sure what to say about Bowden. A 2005 first round pick, he has pitched very well in the minors for stretches, but he seemingly has never gotten the confidence of management because of his middling stuff. They hoped that the deceptive arm action on his delivery would make him a quality reliever, and he's done nothing to prove that incorrect. Through 22.2 innings at Pawtucket, Bowden has a 1.59 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 4 walks and only one homer allowed. Even though he's been a prospect forever, Bowden is still only 24, so it's not like he's running out of opportunities, but it seems more and more like he'll need to go to another organization to get the chance he deserves.

5. Recalled IF/OF Drew Sutton from AAA Pawtucket. Optioned SS Jose Iglesias to Pawtucket.
This is a sensible move that gives the Red Sox more roster flexibility, and meanwhile gives Iglesias the chance to play every day. Sutton had a .304/.385/.522 line at Pawtucket while playing 3B, SS, 2B and LF. A .277/.381/.432 hitter in 800 AAA plate appearances, Sutton provides both some patience and pop to go with his flexibility. At 28 he is not considered a prospect, and he did not produce in limited opportunities with Cincinnati and Cleveland the last two years, but he brings enough to the table to be a serviceable 25th man.

Iglesias is still the long-term plan at SS, and the demotion does not have any bearing on that. He simply has not yet gotten to where he needs to be with the bat to be a full time contributor.

Sean Burroughs is Back in the Majors

Remember Sean Burroughs? I wouldn't say I'd forgotten about him, but I'll admit that I hadn't thought about him in years, when I read in spring training that the Arizona Diamondbacks had signed him to a minor league contract. He last appeared in a major league game on May 4, 2006 with the Rays, then spent the next year and a half in the minors with Tampa and Seattle, before falling out of affiliated baseball.

For anyone who needs a refresher, Burroughs was the can't miss prospect who did. The son of Jeff Burroughs, the 1974 MVP, Sean was first introduced to a national audience as the pudgy-faced star of the Long Beach team that won the 1993 Little League World Series, even appearing on the Dave Letterman show.

Burroughs continued to star throughout high school, and was drafted 9th overall by the San Diego Padres, who gave him an impressive bonus in order to convince him that he didn't need to go to USC. Burroughs' combination of ability to make solid contact and his good batting eye shot him to the top of prospect lists - #7 before 2000, #6 in 2001, and up to #4 in 2002. His power hadn't yet developed, but the power is always last to develop, and 3B who get on base at a .390 clip have a value anyway.

At 21, Burroughs broke camp with the Padres in '02, and struggled. Perhaps it was the pressure of expectations, or maybe the fact that he just wasn't quite ready, he had a .221/.261/.282 line through two months, and was sent back to AAA for seasoning. Where he continued to do what he had always done - hit lots of singles and walk a lot. After a September callup, Burroughs was fantastic, .377/.433/.410, leading to increased optimism going into 2003.

In 2003, Burroughs had his best season going .286/.352/.402 as a 22 year old. He hit only 7 home runs, but again, power is the last skill to develop, right? Burroughs was a big guy, 6'2", 200 pounds - he HAD to develop power. Things started going backwards, though. In 2004, perhaps wanting Burroughs to prove that he could hurt them, teams started pitching him more aggressively, and the result was .298/.348/.365, with only two home runs. His batting average had improved some, but he was seeing too many strikes to keep his walk total up. In '05, tried to lengthen his swing to generate more power. What it generated instead was more strikeouts, a .250/.318/.299 line, a demotion back to the minor leagues, and a complete loss of any confidence in his hitting mechanics.

After the 2005 season, hoping that a change of scenery might help him, the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays traded their own frustrating failed prospect Dewon Brazelton for Burroughs. He didn't hit in the majors there, and didn't hit in the minors either, being designated for assignment in late June. In 2007, he had a very short stint with the Mariners AAA affiliate before again being released, and he then fell out of organized baseball.

Until last fall. Burroughs contacted his agents, who had assumed he was retired, and told them he was interested in making a comeback, and to see if he could get a workout with anyone. His agents contacted Kevin Towers, the man who originally drafted Burroughs 12 years earlier, who now is the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Towers sent scout Tom Schmidt to conduct a workout for Burroughs. Sufficiently impressed, Towers signed him to a minor league contract. Burroughs reported to the Padres AAA affiliate in Reno, where he hit .386/.434/.571 in 77 plate appearances, before having his contract purchased on Wednesday.

Last night, Burroughs finally made it back. In the 6th inning, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson called on him to pinch hit. With two outs and men on first and third, Burroughs came to the plate for the first time in five years and 16 days. He hit a grounder up the middle that was fielded by Dan Uggla, and Burroughs was out 4-3--just about the most satisfying 4-3 groundout you'll ever see.

It is, of course, impossible to predict what kind of production Burroughs will produce - we don't even know how much chance he'll get to play. Still, after all those years away, his comeback should already be considered a success. Everything from here is just gravy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vin Mazzaro and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

How bad is bad? As in, possibly the worst game in the post World War II era.

Coming in to start the third inning with the Royals trailing the Indians 3-1, Mazzaro pitched a scoreless third inning. He then gave up TEN runs in the fourth inning. He gave up one more run in the fifth, when he was finally, mercifully taken out with one out and the bases loaded. All three inherited runners scored. The Indians went on to win 19-1. (Box score)

2.1 Innings Pitched. 14 earned runs allowed.
Using Baseball-Reference's Play Index tool, I was able to find all of the pitchers who have allowed 14 runs (none have allowed more) in the last 66 years.

On August 3, 1998, Mike Oquist of the Oakland A's allowed 14 runs in 5 innings. 13 of those runs came in the first three innings, so I guess you could say Oquist settled down.

On August 14, 1977, Bill Travers of the Milwaukee Brewers gave up 14 runs in 7.2 innings. It should be noted that this was in the second game of a doubleheader.

On June 28, 1947, Al Jurisich of the Phillies gave up 14 runs against the Giants in an 8 inning complete game, presumably because manager Ben Chapman wasn't aware he could use a relief pitcher. Jurisich, 25 years old and 15-16 in his career to that point, never won another major league game. Hopefully Mazzaro has a better fate.

EDIT: Looking at the game logs, it appears the Phillies had a doubleheader scheduled for the following day. So that at least gives some insight into what Chapman's thinking might have been.

Bill Smith's Disastrous Trading Record as Twins GM

The Minnesota Twins stink right now. Through 38 games, they are 12-26, the worst record in the majors, and frankly, they're lucky to even be there. Their Pythagorean record is a pathetic 10-28. They've scored 3.13 runs per game, fewest in the majors by 1/3 of a run, despite the fact that every National League team - even the bad ones- have to bat a pitcher. They countered that by allowing 5.5 runs per game the MOST in the majors. That's .13 more than the Houston Astros, and .99 more than the Orioles, who have allowed the next most. They have 18 home runs, the fewest in baseball. Their pitchers walk the most batters, but strike out the second fewest.

Injuries, particularly the one to Joe Mauer, have gotten a lot of attention, but this team is a lot more than a healthy Mauer and a resurgent Justin Morneau away from contention. This is a team that has gradually gotten older and less talented since Bill Smith took over for Terry Ryan in October 2007 until reaching the point they are right now.

In the fall of 2007, ace pitcher Johan Santana was a year away from free agency, and it was clear that the Twins were not going to be able to resign him. They were entertaining offers from every big market club. An offer from the Red Sox which included Jon Lester and Justin Masterson was turned down because it didn't include Jacoby Ellsbury. An offer from the Yankees that included Jose Tabata and Phil Hughes was turned down because it didn't include Ian Kennedy. Waiting out the Red Sox and Yankees and trying to play them against each other turned into a misplay, as both teams went other directions to prepare for the 2008 season, leaving the New York Mets offer the last on the table.

For Santana, a two time Cy Young Award pitcher and arguably the best pitcher alive in 2007 when the trade happened, Smith came away with this package from the Mets: Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber and Carlos Gomez. Despite his injury and his common inclusion among the Mets group of overpaid, underachieving veterans, Santana has a 14.4 WAR since the deal, while it's pretty clear the Twins did not get that kind of value in return.

How much value did they get? Well, Lets break down the pieces:

--Deolis Guerra is in his third year at Double A New Britain, and currently has a 9.85 ERA.

--Philip Humber had a -.2 WAR in 13 relief appearances before the Twins decided they had seen enough of him and let him go as a free agent after the 2009 season. In the early part of 2011, he has been the White Sox best starter.

--Kevin Mulvey's Twin career lasted 1.1 innings, where he gave up 4 runs (WAR of -.2), before he was traded to the Diamonbacks (as the player to be named later) for reliever Jon Rauch. Rauch actually pitched quite well in his year and a half with the Twins, registering a 2.82 ERA in 76 games, good for a 1.9 WAR.

--Carlos Gomez was the centerpiece of the deal, a speedy centerfield prospect. Gomez did not hit consistently in his two years with the Twins, finishing with a .248/.293/.352 line. His defense, while inconsistent, was good enough to give him an aggregate 3.0 WAR. This was enough for the Brewers to be convinced to trade headaches, sending Shortstop JJ. Hardy to the Twins. Hardy was serviceable in his year with the Twins, going .268/.320/.394, good for 1.3 WAR, while Gomez has still not figured out how to get on based consistently in Milwaukee (WAR of .7 since the trade). After one year, Hardy was sent along with Brendan Harris (acquired in the Matt Garza trade, see below), for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Hoey, in 10 appearances before being designated for assignment last week, had a .375/.432/.725 line against him, good for a -.7 WAR. Jacobson is in Double A, walking more batters than he is striking out. Meanwhile, Hardy has 5 extra base hits in only 40 AB for Baltimore (.9 WAR in very limited play), while current Twins starting SS Alexi Casilla has only 4 in 84 AB.

A few weeks earlier that same offseason, Smith traded Matt Garza, a young talented prospect with a reputation for being temperamental and hard to coach to the Rays along with shortstop Jason Bartlett in exchange for outfielder Delmon Young, a young, talented prospect with a reputation for being temperamental and hard to coach, along with utility infielder Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie.

The trade made sense on paper. The Twins had other young pitchers such as Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey, and had to assume they'd get at least one pitcher in any Santana deal, and needed outfield help. Meanwhile, the Rays had Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes and BJ Upton, and were tired of Young's attitude.

Let's break this one down as well:
--Matt Garza, in his 3 years in Tampa, went only 34-31, but had a strong 3.86 in the tough AL East, compiling a 9.5 WAR. Garza was traded this past offseason to the Cubs, for a variety of prospects, so he is still providing a return for the Rays. Jason Bartlett also spent three years as a Ray, going .288/.349/.403, good for a 6.6 WAR.
--Delmon Young has continued to be a work in progress. Still only 25 years old, Young has a .288/.324/.434 so far in his Twins career, though when combined with his poor defense has been good for only a 1.5 WAR. After what appeared to be a breakout year in 2010 (.298/.333/.493), Young has been hurt and ineffective in 2011. Young's problem continues to be his proclivity to swing and miss at curveballs low and away. Last year, having his best season, Young struck out 81 times and walked only 28.
--Harris and Pridie both provided minimal value in their time in Minnesota, totaling WARs of -.5 apiece. Harris was traded to Baltimore in the Hardy/Hoey trade, while Pridie signed with the New York Mets before the 2010 season.

So, if you have your scorecards out, the net of Smith's biggest trades brought them 6 WAR, while they gave up 30.9. Worst of all, the Twins have only one player on their major league roster to show for trading Johan Santana and Matt Garza. This, and not the Mauer/Morneau situation, is why the Twins stink right now. They've had value, and gotten nothing in return for it.

In the interest of fairness, there have been other, minor trades that Smith has made, some of which have gone their way.

--At the 2009 trading deadline, the Twins acquired Carl Pavano from the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Yohan Pino. Pino has since moved on the Blue Jays organization and has not yet pitched in the majors, while Pavano, despite a rough go in 2011 so far, has a 3.8 WAR in his time with the Twins, with a 4.24 ERA in 342 innings. It is fair to question the wisdom of giving Pavano anything more than a one year contract, particularly in light of his strikeout rates, but this trade ended up benefitting the Twins in 2009-2010. (Aggregate +3.9 WAR)

--In the 2009-10 offseason, Smith traded Boof Bonser to the Red Sox for Chris Province. Bonser had a -.2 WAR for the Red Sox, while Province has not pitched in the majors. More importantly, this trade made it impossible for Ron Gardenhire to continue his infuriating trend of continuing to use Bonser in high-profile situations, and then have to convince Bonser that it was "Boooooof" that Twins fans were chanting at him. (Aggregate WAR, somewhere between +.2 and infinity)

-When Jon Rauch was struggling last summer, Smith traded Wilson Ramon and journeyman minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for Matt Capps. Capps served effectively as closer last year, and has taken the role again in 2011 with the ineffectiveness of Joe Nathan. Ramos has meanwhile been very effective as the Washington catcher. So, while statistically you can say that the Twins are ahead in this deal, with Capps' 1.4 WAR outpacing that of Ramos' .9, the Twins production at catcher in 2011 has been far BELOW replacement level. If Mauer ends up needing to move off of catcher long-term, the Twins may regret this move. (Aggregate +.5, with a huge asterisk.)

--Also at the 2010 Trade Deadline, the Twins traded Dutch 7'1" minor league reliever Loek Van Mil for Brian Fuentes. Fuentes was effective in 9 appearances before getting hurt, and signed with the A's this offseason. (Aggregate WAR +.6 WAR, though without the awesomeness of having a ridiculously tall relief pitcher in their system).


So, in total, the Twins have traded 32.5 WAR in exchange for 11.8. More importantly the Twins have very little to show for these deals, getting no present production in exchange for Johan Santana, and inconsistent production in exchange for Matt Garza. Combined with Smith's ineffectiveness at compiling organizational depth, particularly at catcher and in the middle infield, it is likely that he's going to be on the hot seat in the coming months. In an organization that accentuates stability, any decision on Bill Smith will be heavily considered. And it's fair to call this unfair, if this does turn into his first losing season in four years running the club. However, if the Twins do fall out of contention, it will be important to see what kind of return Smith can get on some of his veteran talent.
Of course, it's not clear that Smith has any idea how to rebuild his baseball team. One of his most infamous quotes is discussed in brief here at the brilliant, defunct "Fire Joe Morgan" page.

Side note: Statistics, including WAR, are from baseball-reference.com. I know some don't care for B-R's WAR calculations. I find them to be quite accurate for pitchers, a little bit more inconsistent for position players, particularly because of the way they rate defense. For the case of this exercise though, fangraphs and everywhere else aren't going to have numbers that deviate much from the point here. Since the most valuable aspects of the trade are pitchers Garza and Santana, I went with B-R.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Prospect Debut: Julio Teheran

One day after Eric Hosmer debuted with the Royals, the Atlanta Braves have called up #5 prospect Julio Teheran (minor league numbers). The 20-year old will start tonight's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Unlike Hosmer, who the Royals hope will take a permanent place in their lineup, Teheran's appearance will be one-and-done. The Braves had a rainout on Tuesday, forcing them to play a double header on Wednesday. Not wanting to use Tommy Hanson or Tim Hudson on short rest this early in the season, the Braves will turn to Teheran for the spot start, and will return him to the minors after the game no matter the outcome.

Teheran has pitched excellently for Gwinnett, but as Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus points out here, it's really sort of by chance that Teheran is getting the nod, since today is his normal turn in the rotation. If the schedule had fallen differently, it is possible that Mike Minor or Rodrigo Lopez, both who have also pitched quite well, would have gotten the start.

I've not yet seen Teheran pitch, so I can only go off of the glowing scouting reports.

On a personal note, Teheran will be the first major leaguer to debut who is younger than my little brother. So this makes me feel sort of old.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Eric Hosmer Called Up

Baseball America's #8 Prospect, Eric Hosmer, was called up last night by the Royals, and is expected to debut today. The Royals expected to leave Hosmer in AAA to get at least 250 at bats, but made the call with him tearing up the PCL with a .439/.525/.582 after only 118 PA's.

The decision to pull the trigger on Hosmer was undoubtedly helped along by the failure of Kila Ka'aihue, batting .195/.295/.317 with only two home runs. Ka'aihue has put up excellent minor league umbers, but scouts were never really convinced. I'm hoping Ka'aihue gets another chance at some point, as it's not hard to envision him having a Kevin Millar type career. Millar was another patient yet unathletic 1B who put up excellent minor league numbers before getting a full time chance. That's the problem, though, with guys who are fringy in the tools department - they're simply not going to get the same number of chances as someone like Alex Gordon, so they need to seize the opportunity when they get it. Ka'aihue did not, so Shane Victorino's status as the best Hawaiian in baseball is safe.

Hosmer was the #3 pick in the 2008 draft out of high school. He struggles mightily in 2009, but after getting laser eye surgery, he was one of the best players in the minor leagues in 2010. While it might sound like rushing it to call a 21 year old who doesn't even have 350 plate appearances above single A up to the majors, Hosmer is a special talent, and the Royals are trying to keep pace with the Indians in the AL Central.

One statement of caution in regards to his 2011 outlook. Hosmer was batting .506 on balls in play in AAA. Of course, part of that is his being the best player on the field, but that's entirely unsustainable. Recalculating his BABIP to a still-excellent .354, Hosmer's stat line goes to .316/.424/.459. With that in mind, and factoring his 2010 stats as well, I'd expect something along the lines of .285/.365/.420 this year. As his power grows in the future, Hosmer's excellent approach, coupled with pitchers being less willing to give him anything to hit hard, will result in him walking 100+ times per year, and I see his long term upside as .300/.435/.570 type - certainly All-Star level production.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Running Commentary - Cinco de Mayo Live Blog

1:30: It's time for some Thursday afternoon baseball! The Angels and Red Sox played until about 2:30 in the morning, so we're back after about 11 hours of rest. We found out that the Red Sox have placed Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks on the disabled list with various maladies. Of course, it's not at all suspicious that the two pitchers who have been the worst performers on the team so fart this year are placed on the DL on a day where the Red Sox need bullpen reinforcements.

1:35: Looks like Dustin Pedroia is getting his first off day of the year. Pedroia has been slumping a bit recently - since April 17th he is 11 for 66 without an extra base hit, capped by a round 0 for 6 last night. This adds to why I believe that, despite rumors, Marco Scutaro will not be traded. The Red Sox love the flexibility of being able to give any of their infielders a day off, and, because of the flexibility of Lowrie and Youkilis, still field a very good lineup. Throw in Lowrie's injury history, and keeping Scutaro on the payroll seems very sensible.

1:40: Nice single by Howie Kendrick up the middle on a pretty good curveball low and away. After years of hearing about how Kendrick was a "future batting champion," he's off to a very good .296/.371/.520 start. The increase in his walk rate from barely over 3% for his career to 9% this year is playing a big part.

1:48: The Red Sox do a lot of things right, especially in regards to their statistical analysis. However, over they years, they seem to have insisted on a "fast guy bats leadoff" strategy. Ellsbury, Lugo, Crisp, even going back to Johnny Damon. JD Drew has the skills that any stathead would want in a leadoff man. He works deep counts, gets on base, and presents enough extra base power to be dangerous, but doesn't hit so many homers that you would feel that they're "wasted" with nobody on base. At age 27, Ellsbury has a .343 career OBP. This is the player he is - he's a useful player to have on your team, but it's not a good enough number for your leadoff hitter, and Ellsbury is to the point where it's time to stop talking about potential.

1:59: Mark Trumbo leads AL rookies with 5 homers, but that ratio of 2 walks to 25 HRs is going to make it tough for him to see good pitches. Trumbo went .301/.368/.577 at AAA Salt Lake last year, with 58 walks, so he does seem to have some selectivity. No reason to count him out because of a low early season OBP, but he needs to make an adjustment. He also has a really awesome birthday going for him.

2:10: The Sox 2005 draft produced a fascinating class. Originally, Craig Hansen was the hot prospect, and flamed out. Clay Buchholz pitched the no-hitter and Jacoby Ellsbury was the spark plug in late 2007. In 2008, Buchholz and Ellsbury struggled, and Lowrie came on strong in the second half. In '09, Ellsbury was very good, Lowrie got hurt, and Buchholz was inconsistent. In '10, Ellsbury got hurt early, Buchholz was excellent, and Lowrie had a very good last two months. So far in 2011, Lowrie's been great, while Buchholz and Ellsbury have battled inconsistency. My rambling, incoherent point? The've gotten good play out of all three, but never at the same time.

2:22: Should a guy with a career line of .295/.400/.486 over 16 years with close to 400 career SB get some Hall of Fame consideration? Sounds like it, but I'm not ready to make that case for Bobby Abreu, when we can't even get Tim Raines into the Hall.

2:40: Mark Trumbo with the walk, which is good. Then he got caught stealing, which is not good. When you're having trouble getting on base, getting thrown out when you DO get on base is a poor strategy.

2:46: Don't let the stutter he's developed fool you - Peter Gammons is as awesome as ever. How many other guys would give in game commentary featuring a statistical comparison of Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon, and then later a discussion of the future of the Angels outfield situation when Mike Trout arrives. Don't get me wrong, Jerry Remy is fantastic, and Dennis Eckersley is fun, but nobody gives the type of analysis that Gammons does. We Red Sox fans are spoiled.

2:48: Great example there of Ellsbury not being a good defensive CF. Mike Cameron gets to that ball, and the Red Sox are out of the inning. Instead, Ellsbury started back on a 140 foot pop up. His speed makes up for some of his terrible reads, but way too many of those flares into short center field turn into hits against the Red Sox.

2:51: Two singles later, and Ellsbury not getting to that ball really stand out. The commentary will be about Lackey, and he hasn't been sharp, but anyone who pitches to contact needs help behind him.

2:54: Atchison has started to warm up in the bullpen, but Francona may just need to leave Lackey in to take his lumps. Sometimes it's not your day, and there just aren't enough arms in the bullpen.

3:08: A two run homer from Trumbo runs Lackey from the game. After three straight very good starts, Lackey was not at all sharp today. The bullpen will need to get 15 outs. Not what the Sox were looking for after the 13 inning game last night.

3:15: This is turning into a little league game. The Red Sox should be a little bit embarrassed. How in the world is that a hit for Aybar? I can see crediting him with the RBI, but he hit a routine grounder to Gonzalez.

3:17: Rip to rightfield by Kendrick. Atchison may have to go the rest of this one, even if the Angels score another 15 runs.

3:23: Things go from bad to worse. Ortiz hits a fly ball off the monster... and Abreu throws him out at second base.

3:26: Let's check out the games around the league, shall we? David Price has a 4 hit, 10 strikeout game through 8 innings against Toronto, Rays are leading 3-0. Tigers just scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 7th to take a 5-2 lead against the Yankees. Homer Bailey had an effective season debut, while the Reds teed off on Brett Myers, Reds are leading 10-4.

3:30: Third double play the Red Sox have grounded into in 5 innings.

3:33: Callaspo with another double. Scott Atchison should be captain of the "guys who look older than they are" team. Otis Nixon and Brian Daubach are also lifetime members.

3:38: Update from Tampa. After 8 and two thirds, one unearned run in, and bases empty, Maddon takes Price out of the game to put in Kyle Farnsworth. Overmanaging much?

4:12: With a 11-0 lead, Rich Thompson should probably throw strikes. Walking two straight guys is not going to inspire the confidence of Mike Scioscia.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Francisco Liriano's no-hitter, Jason Kubel's winning hit.

As most of the people reading this probably know, Francisco Liriano pitched a no-hitter last night. A strange no-hitter, but a no-hitter nonetheless. Enough (probably too much) has been written about how Liriano wasn't all that outstanding last night, so I really don't think there's a whole lot I can offer. After all, we already knew that in order to pitch a no-hitter you have to be both lucky and good. Sometimes more lucky, sometimes more good. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has probably the best recap here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/appreciating-francisco-lirianos-no-hitter/

A subplot from last game that hasn't gotten nearly as much press (which is fair, of course) is that the Twins only won the game 1-0, with the offense provided by Jason Kubel. Kubel is the only guy who has hit consistently for them all season, and he hit a solo home run in the 4th inning, all of the offense the Twins would need.

The Twins have had a lot of things go wrong for them this season. Just about everything, really has been bad. Usually when a team has the worst record in the league, you look at the stats and find out that they've had some bad luck too - not the Twins, who have an expected record of 7-21. They're last in the AL in runs scored, but a lot, and have allowed the most runs, by a lot. They have four more homers than Jose Bautista, one more stolen base than Sam Fuld. They're on pace to score 507 runs this year. Given two weeks against Twins pitching, Ben Zobrist might drive in that many.

Kubel, however, has been a standout. He has a .350/.400/.530 line, giving him an OPS+ 60 points higher than Jim Thome, who is second on the team. For comparison's sake, in 2009 when we were talking about Pablo Sandoval not getting any help from the rest of the Giants, there were seven other batting title qualifiers on his team--five of them were within that modest 60 point difference. His slugging percentage is 155 points higher than #2, also Thome. Using Bill James' Runs Created formula, the Twins should have 88 runs scored (two runs more than they actually do), and Kubel has created 21 of them. As a team, the Twins have hit .229/.288/324. Twins who aren't Jason Kubel have hit .214/.275/.299. Only one regular in all of baseball in 2010 had an OPS lower than .570. It was Cesar Izturis, having the worst season of his career. Take a moment to think about that. The Twins, without Jason Kubel, are hitting like the the worst season of Cesar Izturis's career.

To have an entire team hitting at such a historically bad level, you have to have some bad luck. Indeed, Joe Mauer wasn't healthy in the few games he did play, Justin Morneau is recovering from a concussion, and Delmon Young's follow up to his supposed breakout season has been a disaster. This hasn't just been bad luck, though. The Twins went into the season with a middle infield of Alexi Casilla (.194/.253/.284) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.208/.269/.250 before getting hurt). Knowing that Mauer was an injury risk, they nevertheless went into the season with Drew Butera (.100/.151/140, not a misprint) as the backup. So, for all of the talk about the Twins injury problems, it's a poorly constructed team. Every team has injuries, not every team collapses from them.

In the long run, I expect Morneau to return to form and Young to stop being so terrible. Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer are probably better than they've played as well. Throw in eventually having a healthy Joe Mauer, and the Twins will easily blow away that 507 runs pace. They won't score enough to make up for their mediocre starting pitching, though. It may be early, but I'm comfortable making the call now - unless major roster changes are made, the Twins aren't going to win more than they lose, never mind make a playoff run. So let Twins fans have Liriano's no-hitter without spoiling the fun. There isn't going to be a whole lot else to cheer about this year.