Monday, July 09, 2012

Midseason thoughts

I published my First-half awards earlier today, but I wanted to throw around my other thoughts on the season so far, and what to expect in the second half. 

Other thoughts, related and unrelated:

-Remember pre-season 2011? Everyone picked the Red Sox to play the Phillies in the World Series? Well the Phillies ran into Chris Carpenter and Father Time, the Red Sox couldn't stay healthy, and now both are in last place. The Red Sox have an outside chance to sneak into the second wild card spot, but the Phillies are probably playing for next year. Their five-year playoff streak is, surprisingly, the longest current streak in baseball.   

-Albert Pujols:
    -Opening day through May 4: 27 games (0 team games missed), .194/.237/.269, zero home runs.
    -May 5: Given the day off
    -May 6 to present: 58 games (0 team games missed), .305/.378/.555, 14 home runs.
Moral of the story - Pujols is probably not the best hitter in baseball anymore, but he is certainly a long way from done. The Angels resurgence has corresponded perfectly with that of El Hombre, and I'm pretty sure you don't want your pitchers to be facing him with the game on the line in the playoffs, do you?

-Matt Moore, ranked on several prospect lists (Kevin Goldstein, Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis) ahead of both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, has an ERA+ of 83 for Tampa Bay. That doesn't mean he won't turn into a great pitcher, but didn't it seem funny that he was ranked ahead of someone in Harper who a) seemed like a historically great prospect, and b) is four years younger? Especially considering that hitters are easier to project than pitchers, it seems likely that Moore was placed first more to generate controversy than out of a considered belief that he would turn into a better player. 

-Player Development isn't always smooth, Exhibit A: Justin Upton is hitting "only" .273/.353/.401, to the frustration of Diamondbacks fans. If a 24-year old outfielder was called up from Triple-A, he'd get Rookie of the Year consideration in many years. Upton came up so young that it's easy to forget how young he still is.

-Player Development isn't always smooth, Exhibit B: Jason Heyward, 22, is hitting .272/.340/.497, his career best slugging percentage. His more aggressive approach is causing some consternation from some, though. He's walking in only 8.9% of plate appearances, while striking out in 22.6%. Compare that to his rookie season of 2010, with a 14.6% walk rate and 20.5% strikeout rate. The payoff, of course, is in extra home runs - he's hitting one every 21.0 at bats in 2012, from ever 28.9 in 2010. Some in the Braves organization thought Heyward was too passive in 2011, leading to his disappointing sophomore campaign. We'll see where this goes.

-Looking for good bets to have a big improvement in the second half? Jose Batista is your best choice. His .215 BABIP seems artificially low, considering he's leading the league in home runs and has a .270 career number. Even with the bad luck on balls in play, he's at .244/.360/.540 on the season. Giving him the extra 13 singles that would move that BABIP up to .270? .286/.394/.581, again putting him among the best hitters in the league. 

-Tim Lincecum. He's 3-10 with an MLB-worst 6.42 ERA. FIP and other advanced stats tell us he shouldn't be that bad, but really nobody should be this bad, much less somebody who was the best pitcher in the league three years ago. His walk rate has increased gradually since 2009 and now is at 4.7 per 9. Still, it's hard to imagine a pitcher who still strikes out nearly 10 batters per nine innings continuing to be this bad. Don't expect a return to his old form, but a return to respectability should be in order here.
-Example of why more wild card spots doesn't equal more excitement - Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and New York are all within a game of each other. Does having four of them, rather than three, make things more exciting? It seems to do the opposite to me. The more wild card teams you add, the worse the teams that are competing at the end of the regular season are. That's progress?

-Finally, the All-Star game gets a lot of flak these days. You know what? I'm going to watch all nine innings of it, and I'll enjoy every second of it. Sure, that doesn't mean it will be great baseball and it doesn't make the "This Year It Counts" gimmick any less infuriating (though it's no less random than the alternating system that was used through 2002). Best of all, the game will be in Kansas City. Twenty years ago, Royal Stadium (since renamed Kaufman Stadium) was the best of the cookie cutter circular stadiums, of which there were far too many. Now, cast against the new retro stadiums, its un-pretentiousness, its lack of manufactured nooks and crannies, makes it one of baseball's most unique. I'm looking forward to watching some home runs into the water fountain.

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