Jackie Robinson’s First Week as a Dodger – and other news…

Today, April 15th, is Jackie Robinson day to Major League Baseball, the anniversary of Jackie’s first game and a celebration of his role in integrating baseball such that peoples of all color and backgrounds could play in the majors.  I took a few minutes to look at the coverage of his first game in The Sporting News below.  First – a look at what is going on in the game for you fantasy baseball team owners…

Giants closer Brian Wilson may miss the rest of the season after an MRI showed structural damage to his right elbow, meaning a second Tommy John surgery could be in the works.  He had a similar procedure done while at LSU.  [SI]

The Red Sox juggled their roster one more time this weekend, bring up utility infielder Nate Spears and outfielder Jason Repko, returning Che-Hsuan Lin back to Pawtucket, and designating catcher Luis Exposito and pitcher Michael Bowden for assignment.

Hurry Back!

The Padres placed outfielder Kyle Blanks on the 15-Day DL with a strained left shoulder.

Tampa placed catcher Jose Loboton on the 15-Day DL with a sore throwing shoulder, and he was replaced on the roster by Chris Jimenez.  Meanwhile, outfielder Sam Fuld was moved from the 15-Day to the 60-Day DL.

Welcome Back!

Pirates starter Charlie Morton returns to action after having hip surgery.

Toronto pitcher Sergio Santos returns after being on a personal leave – he’s a father!

Ryan Vogelsong returns to the Giants rotation after a short 15-Day DL stint.

The Angels activated pitcher Jerome Williams from the DL, optioning pitcher Brad Mills back to AAA Salt Lake City.

Transactions:

San Diego optioned Reidier Gonzalez to AAA Tuscon.

Kansas City recalled pitcher Louis Coleman and sent outfielder Jarrod Dyson back to AAA Omaha.

Colorado optioned Jordan Pacheco back to AAA Colorado Springs, and recalled lefty Drew Pomeranz to add another pitcher to the mix.

Tampa optioned Dane De La Rosa to AAA Durham and recalled Alex Cobb.

Happy Birthday!

(1877) Ed Abbaticchio, old Pirates infielder
(1886) Leonard “King” Cole
(1910) Eddie Mayo
(1931) Ed Bailey
(1940) Woodie Fryman – one of my favorite pitchers from the 1970s
(1940) Willie Davis, a wonderful centerfielder for the Dodgers
(1945) Ted Sizemore
(1969) Jeromy Burnitz
(1978) Milton Bradley
(1982) Michael Aubrey
(1985) Aaron Laffey

Jackie Robinson’s First Week as a Dodger

“All doubt of Jackie Robinson’s status was removed at 3:15 p.m., April 10, when Branch Rickey announced the Brooklyn Dodgers today purchased the contract of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson from the Montreal Royals.”

In general, the front page article suggests that Robinson didn’t play as well at first base during spring training, so the team’s decision was more based on his play in 1946 when he hit .346 with 40 stolen bases as Montreal’s second baseman.  The article noted that Jackie could play any infield position, but second and short were taken, so first base was his best option; that or being a frequent pinch runner.

All of this came in the wake of Commissioner Albert Chandler’s suspension of Dodgers manager Leo Durocher for association with known gamblers.  Durocher had to sit out the 1947 season, so the decision as to how to use Jackie Robinson was left to interim manager Burt Shotton.  Durocher, to his credit, was in favor of bringing Robinson to the Dodgers.

By the way, the Dodgers had to spend spring training in Havana, Cuba because segregation laws in Florida and other states pushed Brooklyn out of the country.  The Dodgers paid $25 per player per day, an expensive amount of money to spend on spring training, and got in three spring training games against the Yankees in Venezuela.

Regarding Rickey, he believed that Montreal needed to have spring training with the Dodgers so that Robinson would have to play against his future teammates as much as possible, earning the respect of those players, and hopefully getting less resentment from other Brooklyn players when he joined the team.  “No man had greater faith in his abilities as a ball player.  We believe that it was Branch’s honest opinion that the Brooklyn players would come rushing to him and shout: ‘Let’s have that fellow.  He can win the pennant for us.'”

Gaven, Michael. “Jackie Robinson Gets Change With Flatbush Troupe.” The Sporting News, April 16, 1947, Page 1.

The next week, The Sporting News gave a full page to his debut game.

Robinson said he prayed the night before, but really is worried about finding a nice apartment for his wife, Rachel, and toddler son, Jackie, Jr., who was but five months old.

Arthur Daley in his Sports of the Times column said that the debut was “uneventful, even though he had the quite unenviable distinction of snuffing out a rally by hitting into a remarkable double play.”  A veteran Dodger was quoted in that article as saying, “Having Jacking on the team is still a little strange, just like anything else that’s new.  We just don’t know how to act with him.  But he’ll be accepted in time.  You can be sure of that.  Other sports have had negroes.  Why not baseball?  I’m for him if he can win games.  That’s the only test I ask.”

Robinson himself said, “I was comfortable on that field in my first game.  The Brooklyn players have been swell and they were encouraging all the way.  The Brooklyn crowd was certainly on my side but I don’t know how it will be in other parks.  The size of the crowd didn’t faze me and it never will.”

Jackie realized, however, he’d have to start hitting.  “I hit .349 in Montreal last year and I was pretty fast, but I already realized a difference,” said Robinson.  “The big league pitchers are smarter.  I realize that, although I haven’t seen but a few of them.  Take that fellow Sain of the Boston Braves.  He works on you.  He has good control.  I’m aware that I have to hit to make it this year – this is my greatest chance.  Will I hit?  I hope I’ll hit.  I believe I’ll hit, I’m sure I’ll hit.”

Morehouse, Ward. “Debut ‘Just Another Game’ to Jackie.” The Sporting News, April 23, 1947, Page 3.

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Cards Add DeRosa, Cleveland Fire Sale Starting in June?

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mark DeRosa from the Cleveland Indians for reliever Chris Perez and a player to be named later.  DeRosa will help fill some offensive holes on the Cards, for sure.  With an injured Troy Glaus, the Redbirds have tried Khalil Greene and Joe Thurston at third – which hasn’t worked out.  Thurston is hitting .230, while Greene is at .205.  DeRosa will likely spend most of his time there.  However, DeRosa can play four other positions, including corner outfield spots that have been manned by the disappointing Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.

Since the Cards have gotten solid starting pitching from four rotation spots and have three or four decent relief options, including converting Ryan Franklin from a failed starter (12 – 31 with Seattle in 2004 and 2005) to a stunning closer (18 for 19 in saves with an 0.93 ERA), Chris Perez – a future closer – was expendable.  This seems like a very good move for St. Louis.

For the Indians, it looks like stage one in what surely will be a sell-off.  Could Kerry Wood be for sale?  Perez has closer stuff – his major league numbers show 72Ks in 65.1 innings – though he could improve his control and hasn’t been consistent as a closer when given save opportunities.  At a minimum, he’s going to be an eighth inning option and could be groomed for closing in 2011 or sooner.

On the Crime Watch…

FoxSports is reporting that Dodgers relief pitcher Ronald Belisario was arrested on suspicion of a DUI.

J.C. Romero was apparently heckled for his steroids use, and so he allegedly grabbed and shoved a fan.  Robert Eaton was brushed off by other Phillies players when he asked for autographs, so he asked Romero to “get him some steroids.”  After a second steroid comment, Romero went after Eaton.  Sounds like two idiots hooking up for an intelligent conversation.  Anyway, Romero’s outburst does little to dissuade people that those on the juice have anger issues.

Is Ken Rosenthal a Journalist?  Or Just a Well-Paid Blogger?

Just a couple of weeks ago, the fine professional journalists of FoxSports went after a blogger for trying to disprove that Raul Ibanez’s hot start for Philadelphia was tied to PEDs.  In short, the blogger said he didn’t have enough data to suggest that it COULDN’T be PEDs, but didn’t say that Ibanez was using.  “Unprofessional!” the smart people on TV called him.

Now, Jeff Pearlman writes for Sports Illustrated that A-ROD’s poor performance now that he’s done using steroids suggests that he wasn’t all that good without them, that Manny may return to hitting like a middling 37 year old outfielder.

I’m not arguing about the premise, but merely asking the question that many people wonder about with the democratization of information provided by internet access.  Is the only difference between a real journalist and a pretend journalist merely who pays his salary?

Welcome Back!  Houston activated Geoff Blum from the DL, Eric Milton returned to the Dodgers.

Hurry Back!  Toronto optioned reliever Brad Mills to AAA Las Vegas.  He’ll be back soon enough.  Seattle’s Adrian Beltre heads to surgery to remove bone spurs from an achy left shoulder.  He’s expected to miss six weeks.

Let’s Ignore Sosa and Focus on Today; Bud Selig Would Be Proud

You can dig through the stories coming out in the wake of the New York Times reporting that Sammy Sosa failed a test for performance enhancing drugs six years ago.  Congress wants to investigate – ooooohhh…  Can’ t we resolve the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens stories first?  Jose Canseco wants to sue MLB for being ostracized for his contributions to the term “better living through chemistry” – he’s just looking for publicity.  I think he’s taught enough people a few too many things, don’t you? 

Let’s focus on today.

Toronto placed 20% of its pitching staff on the DL – Roy Halliday (groin strain), closer Scott Downs (toe strain), and starter Casey Janssen (shoulder pain) all get 15 days.  Brad Mills has already joined the team, and Toronto will announce other roster moves on Thursday.  Mills is a top prospect, a left-hander with a big strikeout pitch and a great minor league record (15 – 5, sub 2.00 ERA) since being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.  One look at his minor league numbers and you think that this guy is ready.

Toronto was as good as Tampa Bay last year (seriously!) – they just didn’t get the breaks that the Rays got and with that slow start couldn’t run down three teams in the AL East.  This year, I had them finishing slightly above .500, but if they keep losing pitchers at this rate, I don’t know how they’ll get to 81.  Halliday could be back soon, and you don’t want Downs to mess with his delivery over a toe injury – still Janssen’s injury (coming off of surgery) is a concern.  This is a tough stretch and a bad ten days will finish the Blue Jays as contenders.

Toronto isn’t alone.  Seattle placed Erik Bedard on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation.  Bedard hasn’t pitched in more than a week and likely needs ten more days of rest and rehab.  Like Toronto, Seattle was a front-runner in April but is fading from the race, and the loss of Bedard for longer than a month would end their chances of winning the division.

Pedro Martinez is looking for a team – and so far the Cubs and Rays have shown the most interest.  I don’t get either team’s interest – wouldn’t Texas or the Marlins be a better fit?  The Cubs have decent pitching and can’t get any offense going.  The Rays could use another arm, but I’m not sure they need another old arm.  Their luck with veterans this year has been problematic (both Percival and Isringhausen are considering retirements on the DL).

One other pitcher heads to the DL, but stop me if you heard this before…  Astro Mike Hampton heads to the DL with a strained groin – I hope it’s his own groin.  It’s the 12th DL stint of his career.

One trade to note…  The Padres acquired former Nationals prospect Mike O’Connor for a player to be named later..  O’Connor has had success in the minors but it hasn’t translated to success in the big leagues yet.  Maybe a change of scenery will help out.  If nothing else, that roster spot could go to a new draft selection (would Stephen Strasburg sign THAT quickly?).

Joey Votto gets a rehab assignment for Cincinnati.  Votto lost the last three weeks to dizziness caused by an inner ear infection and other stress related issues.  Hurry back!!!

2009 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays
2008: 86-76 (3rd AL East, 11 games back)

If the Tampa Bay Rays were the team of destiny, then the Blue Jays represent the team of destiny lost.  My pick to win the wild card, the Blue Jays played just as well as Tampa, but didn’t play as well as they should have – and probably could have.  Allowing just 610 runs, the Blue Jays had the best pitching/defense combination in the American League.  Their offense was below average – only three teams scored fewer runs – but because they outscored their opponents by 104 runs, you would have expected this team to win 93 or 94 games.  They didn’t.   They missed that mark by 7 or 8 games, enough to have projected them into the race on the last weekend of the season had they just done what was expected.

Looking Back on 2008

Every good team has a bad month.  Toronto had two – one in April, the other in June.  That made it seem like the Jays were out of it all season.  Losers of eight of nine as the month closed, the Jays fell to the bottom of the division and had a long climb to get back in the race.

Then, after a decent May – actually, let’s call it what it was – an awesome May, where Toronto climbed all the way back to 31 – 26, the Blue Jays hit a HUGE losing stretch.  Seven in a row and 15 losses in 19 games put the season out of its misery.  And, yet, the Jays played three and a half solid months from there to get back to ten games over .500.  They were just too far back with three really good teams ahead of them to make any headway.

Looking at team splits, the only thing that stands out is that they couldn’t hit left handed pitching.  Righthanded hitters fared just as well against righties as southpaws, and left handed hitters couldn’t hit lefties at all – a .299 OBA and a .313 slugging percentage.  That’s a good year for Mario Mendoza, perhaps, but not enough to win any ballgames.

Tell me about that offense

When you think about the big hitters of the AL East, do you think about anybody in Toronto?  Frank Thomas was supposed to help, but 60 ugly at bats and that idea went out the window (and finally to Oakland).  Vernon Wells hit well, but missed a third of the season with injuries.  Alex Rios fought through nagging injuries and his own early season slump (tied to his signing a big contract and pressing?), but was rather ordinary in 600+ plate appearances.  So, with the three best hitters looking rather pedestrian, the Jays were rarely going to blow away opponents.

Behind the plate, Rod Barajas was a below average contributor, producing 4.3 runs for every 27 outs.  He has a little power (11 homers in 349 at bats), but hitting .249 with just 17 walks, he’s not helping the team keep rallies alive.  This is his third straight year with comparable numbers (for three different teams), so the likelihood that he’s going to improve any is null.  Greg Zaun backed him up and was no better – walked more, but hits for less power, and his batting average didn’t clear .240.

Lyle Overbay doesn’t hit nearly as well as his AL East brethren.  His batting average fell to .271, with average power and some walks as he played through a hand injury.  He’s an above average hitter – but not for a first baseman.  He needs to get back to .300 with 20 homers, otherwise his bat in this lineup is a liability.  Aaron Hill missed four months with post-concussion symptoms following a collision with David Eckstein.  The two months he played weren’t his best months.  Replacement Joe Inglett actually played pretty well – some speed, plate discipline, and the speed helps in hitting doubles and triples, making it look like he has some power (he doesn’t, really).  The Jays tried David Eckstein at short, but he’s really not a good enough hitter (or fielder anymore), then tried John McDonald, who struggled at the plate and apparently it affected his fielding, and even tried Marco Scutaro there, who played well.  Between the three, you had no better than league average hitting, though.  At third, you had the regularly injured Scott Rolen, who batted like 80% of Scott Rolen – okay, but not a great hitter anymore.  Scutaro played enough around the horn to get 517 just average at bats.

Consider this – all three teams that finished ahead of the Blue Jays last year are better at EVERY infield position.  That’s a huge hole to fill when trying to win this division.

Moving to the outfield, Alex Rios was disappointing, maybe, but not a problem.  He cleared 40 doubles, hit 8 triples, stole 32 bases, and was a decent outfielder.  You wish he’d walk more, but he still put 100 runs on the scoreboard.  Vernon Wells was a productive hitter, but missed a third of the season with hamstring problems (which, by the way, already recurred in spring training).  The problem with losing Wells is that there were no backup outfielders who could help.  The best left fielder (hitting-wise) was probably Adam Lind, and he’s tolerable.  Brad Wilkerson was miserable, and former Jays outfielder Shannon Stewart was equally unproductive in 52 games.  Having two less productive bats  in the lineup (when Wells was out) didn’t help.

The DHs were awful, from Thomas, through Stairs (who was a league average hitter – which is weak for the spot), and Kevin Mench.

The team did hit better after John Gibbons was fired and Cito Gaston was made manager – but for the Jays to compete in 2009, they’ll need to get healthy seasons from Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells, and Scott Rolen – and at this point, only one of three is really likely.

Defensively:

Normally, the Jays have a number of quality fielders helping the staff.  The defense in 2009 was good – but not as good as it used to be.

Overbay remains one of the best fielding first basemen, period.  If you don’t believe it, check out the putout numbers for his pitchers; 144, where no other was over 106.  And, he still makes a lot of plays throwing out runners on the paths. Aaron Hill, normally at least a league average second sacker wasn’t in 2009.  Joe Inglett was league average, but no better.  Eckstein has lost a step (and his job), but John McDonald wasn’t very good last year, and Scott Rolen is less mobile than he used to be.  Only Marco Scutaro looked like (and played like) a healthy and valuable defender.  And he was good all over the infield.

In the outfield, Alex Rios is pretty good – he actually played very well in center while Wells was gone.  Wells has been below average for each of the last three years in center – perhaps he should be in left with Rios in center.  Lind, Wilkerson, and a host of others had scattered skill sets but basically helped make outs.

Behind the plate, Barajas and Zaun were as good as any tandem in the American League.  They win more than they lost, the team ERA (despite the defense) was great, they were mobile, made few mistakes, and held the running game in check.  Barajas caught 22 of the 64 people who tried to steal, one of the best in the AL.

Now Pitching…

The Tampa Bay Rays pitchers had decent ERAs and Hits/9 ratings in part because the defense behind them was so good that it likely saved everybody about 110 runs in 162 games.  The Jays had off-seasons from a few players but remained agile in the field.  And, with only 84 errors, the team rarely allowed unearned runs – which makes the pitching look a little stronger than it might be otherwise.

That being said, the Jays pitching is still great.  Roy Halliday was a machine, winning 20 games, leading the league in complete games, and saving his team 40 runs more than the average pitcher – over a league leading 246 innings.  The best pitcher in the AL, bar none.  Behind him was A.J. Burnett, who won 18 games and led the league in strikeouts.  Jesse Litsch and Shaun Marcum were given more prominent roles and combined to save the team 30 runs.  Only the fifth slot, where Dustin McGowan and David Purcey struggled, was there an off slot in the rotation.

And, the bullpen was equally strong.  B. J. Ryan returned from elbow surgery to save 32 games with a 2.95 ERA.  Brian Tallett was successful in middle relief, and Jesse Carlson had a fine ERA and seven wins in relief.  Carlson has good control and keeps the ball in the park, exactly what you want a seventh inning guy to do.  Scott Downs was solid as the set up man, and two others, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor were better than league average.  With four good rotation slots and a complete bullpen, the Jays were able to stop other lineups and stay competitive despite a lack of support from their own hitters.

Forecasting 2009:

Cito Gaston lost a couple of key contributors and will be relying on other players to stay healthy in 2009.  He needs a new #2 starter, and he could use three hitters to raise their gaimes.

McGowan was supposed to be the next rotation anchor, but hasn’t shown it yet.  If he or Purcey can’t make significant strides, I don’t see who is going to replace Burnett.   From a predictive standpoint, I don’t think Halliday stays 40 runs above average – maybe 25 after such a busy season.  Throw in a drop from the #2 slot, and that’s probably a 30 run decline from last year.  The bullpen had two or three guys pitching over their heads a bit – so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a ten run drop here, too.

Defensively, the team isn’t getting better.  Hill may be back but he wasn’t magic.  McDonald can’t hit well enough to play short – Scutaro may have to take his position.  Rolen isn’t going to get better.  Overbay is at his peak already.  The outfield would be better if Wells were moved to a corner spot (he might not pull as many hamstrings, too), but I don’t see that Gaston has many options here.  They will be relying on 20 year old Travis Snider, who has young legs but a build (5’ 11” and 245) that doesn’t suggest mobility.  Oddly, the defense gets better when Wells is not in center.  Michael Barrett will likely back up Barajas this year – on the whole the defense is probably a wash over last year but might fall back ten runs.

Offensively, there is room for improvement, but only because Hill could come back and Rios could step up, and Wells might play a full season, and because Kevin Millar or somebody should be a better DH than what has been there.  Overbay could be better.  Or – they could not.  If the pitching and defense slides 40 to 50 runs (and it will), will the offense be 60 runs better?  It should be better, but not that much better.  Kevin Millar may be the DH – but he’s not that much better than what was here last year.  I see the team scoring 25 runs more than last year – but no more than that.

That puts the runs scored/runs allowed at 740/670, which is still good enough to win 89 games.  My hunch, though, is that even with Gaston running the ship, I have no idea how it’s going to be that good.  The system says 89, but I say 83 or 84.  The rest of the division is strong, the Orioles could be stronger, and even though Litsch and Marcum were good last year, they don’t give me the same feeling as 34 starts of A.J. Burnett.

Down on the Farm…

The Toronto AAA club, for years in Syracuse, will be in Las Vegas for 2009.  Last year, Syracuse was devoid of prospects.  The best players were discarded prospects like Buck Coats (former Cub), and Russ Adams (former Blue Jay starting shortstop), and they aren’t good enough to replace who is already here.  If Coats or Adams could play short, they wouldn’t be logging time in the Syracuse outfield.  The best AAA pitcher was John Parrish, a 30 year old Baltimore castoff, who went 9 – 1.

Robert Ray and Brad Mills pitched well for AA New Hampshire, but will likely start the year at AAA.  Travis Snider made a AAA call and cup of coffee with Toronto after hitting 17 homers in 362 at bats as a 20 year old.  He’ll be a major leaguer for a long time – and a DH by 2013.  Scott Campbell, from Auckland, New Zealand, looks like a future second baseman and #2 hitter – he hits for a high average, walks some, but he’s not a burner.

Brian Dopirak continues to hit and hit for power, but can’t find his way past high A or AA.  He was the leading threat for the Dunedin Blue Jays.  He’s 25 now and has to move up quickly to have a career.  Kenny Rodriguez didn’t have the best record, but he had the best stuff at Dunedin.  The palindrome named Reidier Gonzalez went 12 – 4, but doesn’t strikeout enough guys to make it far in the big leagues.  Mark Rzepczynski could win Scrabble tournaments with a name like that – but it’s his stuff that will get him promoted to AA soon.  124 Ks in 121 innings, few hits and homers allowed, and good control helped Mark to a winning record for the Lansing Lugnuts.  A slew of 19 year olds got most of the at bats, but struggled to hit .250 on the season.