By Dalton Del Don
The crazy thing about the Braves now being in first place by 2.5 games is if anything, they are underperforming. Jair Jurrjens and Kenshin Kawakami have combined for zero wins, while Yunel Escobar, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera are all playing poorly. Troy Glaus has been a steal in fantasy leagues (he was robbed by Raul Ibanez on Wednesday of his fourth homer in as many games), on pace to finish with 122 RBI, but his .827 OPS isn’t exactly off the charts (although his .366 wOBA is strong). I have no idea what to make of Tim Hudson, as his awful 33:27 K:BB ratio over 70.1 innings certainly isn’t commensurate with his 2.30 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, although he’s obviously capable of pitching much better moving forward. And then there’s Jason Hewyard, who’s made me look foolish when I cautioned his April performance suggested a major correction was soon in store, as the 20-year-old somehow adjusted to major league pitching far better than vice versa. He finished April with 26 strikeouts over 75 at-bats; he’s posted an 11:19 K:BB ratio since then. It appears he may have a future as a baseball player.
Entering May 22, Billy Wagner had five saves. He’s recorded that many since then (including four over the past four games). Wagner has also posted a remarkable 14.08 K/9, but that’s a different story. Jonathan Broxton entered May 7 with one save (and a 1.86 ERA) – he then proceeded to rack up 12 saves over the next 20 games. Maybe this is obvious, but don’t ever view saves as a statistic that’s anything but random.
The chances of Adrian Gonzalez getting traded have gone from pretty likely to almost zero, as the Padres continue to surprise. Gonzalez hit a game-winning grand slam Wednesday, raising San Diego’s record to 32-21 on the year, and while it’s easy to call them a fluke, the Padres can no longer be ignored, especially since they play in such a weak division (and this is from someone who picked them to finish last in the NL West). First, the bad – they still can’t hit (team wOBA of .309 ranks fifth worst in MLB), and it’s unlikely to get much better (although healthy returns of Kyle Blanks and Scott Hairston give little hope). However, the team’s defense has been fantastic (19.2 UZR ranks second only to the Giants), and playing in Petco Park is a big advantage. Think about it – if you took all the over/under odds in baseball this year, Petco would come in with the lowest aggregated number by far, and since baseball has a lot of “luck” involved in single game outcomes, it figures a run here or there sure favors a team in a low scoring environment than a high one. Also, with the best pitcher’s park as well as a terrific defense backing them, Padres pitchers can attack the strike zone with confidence, and their bullpen should be fresher than a rotation that has to deal with Coors Field or Texas in the summer heat. And San Diego’s bullpen is very good on its own merit anyway (Luke Gregerson currently sports a 32:2 K:BB ratio and a 0.45 WHIP). Gun to head, I’d still pick the Rockies to win this division, but Gonzalez and Heath Bell no longer look likely to be traded playing for a surprising Padres team.
If walk-off losses were cool, consider the Diamondbacks Miles Davis.
I was never a big Gavin Floyd guy. He somehow posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.26 WHIP despite a 2.07 K:BB ratio and a 6.32 K/9 mark in 2008. He pitches in an extreme hitter’s park and in the AL, but then again, Floyd also posted a 71:18 K:BB ratio over 77.1 innings after the All-Star break last season, so I bought into the former top prospect at draft tables this year. And so far, it’s been a huge mistake. This guy is killing my teams. A 6.64 ERA and 1.66 WHIP through 11 starts is just brutal. Floyd is actually an interesting case: he’s been unlucky on balls in play (entered Wednesday with a .355 BABIP), but his HR/FB rate has been about league average, and his 49:23 K:BB ratio is hardly impressive. Looking even deeper, while his fastball velocity has slightly increased compared to last year, that pitch has actually been a huge problem throughout his career (-51.9 wFB), yet while his slider was highly effective last year (7.5 wSL), it’s been below average this season (-2.8 wSL) thanks to a significant loss in velocity (2.8 mph slower compared to last season). I’m usually patient with players, especially pitchers, but Floyd isn’t even all that established and frankly, maybe just isn’t all that good.
Nyjer Morgan may go 30/30 this year. And by that I mean 30 stolen bases and 30 caught stealings.
During our podcast Wednesday, Jeff Erickson asked me whom I’d rather have between Alex Rodriguez or Evan Longoria. Few were higher on Longoria than me entering this season – I took him fourth overall in one league and own him in three of my four redraft leagues. And while he’s no doubt been a better player so far (both in real life – .961 OPS vs. .866 – and in fantasy leagues – 10 steals vs. two), I still sided with ARod, thinking Longoria’s superior BA won’t last considering he’s struck out at a greater rate and the fact Rodriguez is still on pace for 125 RBI despite carrying his worst OPS since 1997. But after further evaluation, I might prefer Longo. While ARod hits in the better lineup, and Mark Teixeira is sure to improve, it’s not like Longoria has benefitted from an All-Star No. 3 hitter either, and here’s the crux – Rodriguez has posted a 1.206 OPS with RISP, while Longoria has recorded a .799 OPS during those situations (and yet he somehow has more RBI on the year). So while I fully expect ARod to hit better overall moving forward, and his home park is much more advantageous for hitters, Longoria is 10 years younger, so the best is yet to come, while Rodriguez has most likely already peaked, and if Longo continues to run at this pace (his career SB success rate is now 93%), he’ll easily be the more valuable fantasy commodity this year.
Maybe control prevents Chad Billingsley from being a top-25 fantasy starter over the rest of the season, but he’s also got the upside to be a top-15 type guy as well. During his last four starts, he’s posted a 28:4 K:BB ratio over 27.2 innings. The 11:0 K:BB outing last time out was impressive, but it came against the strikeout prone Diamondbacks, so I’m more impressed with his overall improvement in BB% (of course, a four start sample is obviously small). Still, this is a former top prospect with a strong K rate pitching in a good park and in the NL West, so he’s got some big upside. That said, his velocity readings so far in 2010 are eye-opening; his fastball is down more than five(!) mph compared to last year, sitting at a pedestrian 86.3 mph, and his cutter (89.2 to 82.3) and curveball (78.3 to 72.4) have both suffered even more drastic dips. I could see buying Billingsley right now, but that drop in velocity is pretty concerning and something to pay attention to moving forward.
Alex Gordon is currently batting .376/.515/.733 at Triple-A, and while it may not make sense from a Royals baseball standpoint, he’s actually loving the move to left field (at least according to his quotes). He’s pretty much dominating, also adding nine homers, a 24:24 K:BB ratio and four steals over 101 at-bats. Kaufmann Stadium is actually one of the tougher parks to hit homers for left-handers, but remember Gordon dealt with injuries last season, and while he may never live up to the hype, it’s far too early to give up on the 26-year-old. I’m personally stashing him even in 12-team mixed leagues (of course, bench spots will vary). Don’t give up on him just yet.
Most of the offseason stories (“best shape of my life!”) can be ignored, and a lot of times it’s easy to concentrate on when they don’t pan out (this also works with contract-year supposed motivation), but this type of intangible analysis matters in some instances, and I think Miguel Cabrera qualifies. Sure, one of the best prospects in major league baseball was bound to improve at some point, and there isn’t a better time for that to happen than age 27. Still, he quit drinking altogether during the offseason and rededicated himself to baseball – yes he was born with immense talent, but the fact he decided to try to fully realize it makes me happy as a baseball fan. Maybe the natural progression would have occurred had he continued his previous lifestyle (and believe me, I’m far from a teetotaler), but not all optimistic offseason stories should be ignored, and Cabrera has clearly decided to go ahead and try to live up to those early expectations. His current 1.078 OPS ranks second in all of baseball, and while no one can blame fantasy players for taking guys like Mark Teixeira or Ryan Howard over him this year, there will be no question he’ll be the more deserving draft pick in 2011.
Troy Tulowitzki’s mullet needs to go. That is all.
Last but not least, my opinion on the Armando Galarraga situation: First off, what do we make of the dramatic increase of perfect games this season? (As a Giants fan, I’d also like to point out Jonathan Sanchez essentially threw one last year too, with only an error standing in the way.) Only 18 perfect games had been thrown entering this season, and “essentially” three have been tossed over the first two months (I kind of agree with the argument that over a 106-year span those outings won’t necessarily be distributed equally. But still, three over two months is pretty compelling). When I heard he had a perfecto going into the eighth inning Wednesday, I switched to the game. And while I entered the ninth with lowered expectations (two perfect games already this year alone), the ridiculously awesome catch by Austin Jackson got me officially invested. And the final play (well, it should have been so) has been talked about so much I don’t want to beat a dead horse. So I’ll just say this – can’t think of a crazier response from a sports event in a long time. I mean, what story has evoked so much talk (and emotion) than this? Miguel Cabrera should have just covered first base, yet his effort still resulted in an out. It highlighted just how many things need to go right to get a perfect game even during an unprecedented era of them being completed. I’m not a Tigers fan, yet my first reaction to Jim Joyce’s horrible call was anger. Maybe even strong anger. But his later response– taking all responsibility and saying he didn’t blame any Detroit player for yelling in his face (and Galarraga was not one of those, meaning he’s a better man than me), even stating, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.” Love it. Don’t be surprised when Galarraga becomes more famous for this outing than if the last out had been called correctly, and odds are it will invoke new replay rules in major league baseball.