Phillies Join MLB Final Four; Rest of League News (Finally!)

After broomsticks cleared out the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Twins, the Phillies pulled out a stunning come from behind 9th inning victory to top the Rockies, 5 – 4, and win their best of five series in four games.  The Rockies had rallied for three runs off of Phillies starter Cliff Lee and a couple of relievers in the bottom of the  eighth, but the Phillies answered with three runs of their own, led by Ryan Howard’s two-out double and a flair off the bat of Jayson Werth to beat Rockies closer Huston Street.  Street had been awesome all season, so I hope he doesn’t suffer like Brad Lidge did after he blew a playoff series to St. Louis a few years back…

So who you got?  Yankees or Angels?  Dodgers or Phillies?  Games start Thursday…  I can’t wait.

Hot Stove Already Warming Up…

The Red Sox have tried to lock in Jason Bay to a contract, but Bay admitted that he’s going to test the market unless he gets a “wow” offer in the next two weeks.   At least two others have filed for free agency, pitchers David Davidson (is that redundant?) and Scott Proctor.  [MLB]

If the White Sox are really interested in Bobby Jenks, perhaps they should be less vocal in asking Jenks to lose weight. Jenks is starting to take it personally.  On the other hand, Jenks has become less effective each of the last two seasons – so maybe a treadmill or aerobics class might be a good thing.  [MLB]

Managerial Carousel…

Tony LaRussa isn’t sure what he wants to do in 2010, a season where his pitching coach became disgruntled (they traded Dave Duncan’s son away, for crying out loud), and the team was blasted out of the playoffs with little more than a whimper.  LaRussa, despite his obvious efforts to color his hair, is 65 now and his contract is up at the conclusion of the World Series.  The Cards would keep him, no doubt, but at least it gives some news people things to talk about.  [FoxSports]

The Houston Astros have at least ten people on the list of managerial candidates to replace Cecil Cooper.  Get out your 1980s and 1990s baseball cards…  Dave Clark, Tim Bogar, Randy Ready, Brad Mills, Bob Melvin, Al Pedrique…  Even Manny Acta is on the list (really?).  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back! Tim Wakefield heads to surgery to remove fragments from his back.  Hopefully the knuckleballer can come back for another go…  [MLB]

Is it Over? The Padres waived Cliff Floyd…  (San Diego also waived Shawn Hill and Cha Seung Baek.)  For what it’s worth, MLB referred to Floyd as a DH – but can a NL team really carry a DH?

Happy Birthday! Rube Waddell was born on Friday the 13th, 1876, in Bradford, PA.  For this life story, you’ll have to buy my book…  You know, Wild Bill Donovan’s career paralleled Rube’s career – they had many games against each other, including trips to the bowling alley.  How did I never know that Wild Bill was also born on the exact same day?

Others on the birthday list include:  Pickles Dilhoefer (1893), that Black Sox crook Swede Risberg (1894), Eddie Yost (1926), Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews (1931), Bob Bailey (1942), Randy Moffitt (1948), Dick Pole (1950), Frank LaCorte (1951),  George Frazier (1954), *that’s a lot of former Cubs relievers…, and future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (1967).  Wow – three Hall of Famers on the same day…

Heaven Welcomes… Larry Jansen, a Giants pitcher who won the 1951 playoff game more famous for Bobby Thomson’s homer, died at 89 on Saturday.  Jansen came on in relief of Sal Maglie and got the last two outs (both strikeouts) in the top of the ninth.  That year, Jansen won 23 games – the second time he had won at least 20.  As a rookie in 1947, Jansen went 21 – 5.  He had about a six year run as a top flight pitcher, but his arm left him during the 1952 season when he injured his back and a chiropractor encouraged him to wear a corset for support.  Only, he wasn’t supposed to wear it when he was pitching – and the arm trouble set in when he was compensating by overthrowing.  Jansen said that he was on the road and couldn’t see his own chiropractor and visited someone in New York that had been recommended to him.  His arm never came back, and eventually was released by the Giants in July, 1954.  He got a shot with the Reds in 1956, but he was never really the same.

Jansen actually had been drafted as an amateur in 1940 by the Red Sox but the Sox never signed him – so Jansen started his career with the San Francisco Seals.  The Seals sent him to Salt Lake City in the Pioneer League where he would win 20 games.  Returning to the Seals, he suffered through bouts of pneumonia and when called before the draft board during World War II, he was allowed to stay home and work on the farm and in other war jobs until the war ended.  Returning to play in the PCL, Jansen went 30 – 6 with a 1.57 ERA in 321 innings for the 1946 Seals, and the Giants gobbled him up for $25,000.  Jansen was a few months shy of his 27th birthday when he got his first start with the Giants in 1947.  Among the slices of trivia to which Jansen’s name is attached – he allowed a double to Joe DiMaggio in the Clipper’s final World Series at bat in 1951.  Jansen also pitched five innings of relief in the 1950 all star game, striking out a record tying six batters.

Jansen told a story of how he was closing out the second game of a doubleheader in the ninth inning against the Cardinals and it was getting dark.  He and Wes Westrum, the catcher, were stalling as much as possible – and Stan Musial was the batter.  With two strikes, Westrum strode to the mound and told Larry to act as if was pitching.  Westrum took the ball back behind the plate with him.  Jansen faked his windup and pretended to throw.  Then, Westrum popped the ball in his glove and showed the ball to the ump – who called Musial out on strikes.  Musial was livid – saying the pitch was high and outside…  I looked for this game on Retrosheet – if it happened, it happened on May 2, 1954.  However, Musial had grounded out for the first out of the inning.  The last batter of the game struck out – but it was Rip Repulski.

When Jansen’s career ended, he stayed active in MLB as a pitching coach for the Giants and Cubs, then settled into real estate in his native Oregon.  Jansen and his wife had 10 kids…

Notes:

Attiyeh, Mike. “Larry Jansen, A Forgotten Winner of ’51 Playoff Game,” Baseball Digest.  September 1998.  Pages 64 – 69.

Dexter, Charles. “Pitcher’s Pitcher Larry Jansen,” Baseball Digest, February 1951.  Pages 43 to 48.

McKee, James.  “Larry Jansen Dusts off a few Oldies,” Baseball Digest, June 1969.  Pages 45 – 46.

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Price is Right; Did Somebody Tell Whisler’s Mother?

David Price earns his first MLB win last night, with 11Ks in just shy of 6 innings work. Matt Wieters tripled for his first MLB hit. Good day for propsects yesterday…

I watched a little of the DET/BAL game yesterday and Joel Zumaya hit 101 on the gun according to pitchfx data from MLB. The TV monitor said 98. I’m glad it’s not me in the batter’s box.

I also watched the STL/SF game and realized that Barry Zito is the new Scott Sanderson, only left handed. He’s 1 – 6 this year, but he was left out there a little too long and he got no help with his batters unable to hit Chris Carpenter. If Zito were on the Cards, he’d probably win 20 games.

Man, I watched a lot of baseball yesterday – and yet was still productive (somewhat). Among the games I flipped by and watched was a DIV II college championship game between Emporia State (KS) and Lynn University (Boca Raton, FL). I didn’t watch much, but still thought it was cool. Andy – Wilson Kilmer and Dave Bingham both came through Emporia State…

Casualties yesterday? Boston outfielder Rocco Baldelli slid to catch a foul ball yesterday, but jammed his left knee into the wall. Baldelli is another guy who can’t catch a break, but is a pretty good ballplayer when healthy.

Cincy’s Joey Votto is now on the DL citing personal reasons. That can’t be good.

Indian Victor Martinez fouled a ball off his left knee and is day-to-day.

The Indians are not confident that Travis Hafner will be back soon. Apparently his shoulder began hurting again during his rehab stint – frustrating to Pronk as well as the Indians management. The Indians owe Hafner more than $50 million through 2012.

Speaking of injured Indians, Grady Sizemore has a sore left elbow, but has been the DH in recent games. If Pronk were to return and Sizemore still couldn’t throw, he’d be a DL candidate.

Speaking of rehab assignments going awry, Oliver Perez has patellar tendonitis and will likely miss more time. His mechanics are apparently more messed up than the economy.

Chad Tracy had his best day this year for Arizona – three hits and a homer, only to injure a leg running out his last hit. He’s on the DL…

Welcome back: Cliff Floyd is back with San Diego. Guess who was sent down? Drew Macias. Matt Joyce, an outfield prospect, is up with Tampa Bay again. This time, it might stick. He’s got power and patience and has gotten better each year. In a half season with Detroit last year, he did okay. He’s NOT Ryan Braun, but he’s pretty good. Brian Schneider returns to the Mets, which combined with the fine play of Omir Santos, is why Ramon Castro became expendable.

Matt Kata returns to Houston in place of the injured Kaz Matsui. You won’t notice the difference either, except that Kata can’t run like Kaz. He’ll be okay, but won’t make any of our rosters… Sergio Romo is back with the Giants.

Hurry back: Travis Buck, Oakland slugger, has a strained oblique.

On the mend: Elijah Dukes gets a rehab stint with Harrisburg.

Finally, Wes Whisler gets the call for the White Sox. He’s not much of a pitcher, but he can hit some. Should be in the NL as a 13th pitcher, pinch hitter type. Micah Owings with less skills…

NOTE: MLB Transaction Wire provided brief notes for posts here.

You’re Out of Order – The Whole Lineup is Out of Order!

Fun stuff first – the Houston Astros Michael Bourn batted first and second against the Brewers because Cecil Cooper changed his mind about whether Bourn or Kaz Matsui should bat first or second. The lineup card in the dugout said one thing, the one given to the home plate umpire said something else. So, after Bourn led off with a single, Brewers Manager Ken Macha pointed out the error of the Astros ways, the home plate umpire called Bourn out, and then made Bourn bat again. He made another out.

Scott Schoenweis left Florida to return to his Arizona home yesterday when he learned his wife died unexpectedly in their home. The D-Backs reliever is on the bereavement list, and Arizona players chalked the number 60 on hats and shoes in support.

Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury has fantastic range. Last night he caught 12 fly balls – about four times more than the normal day, and as many as any AL outfielder ever.

Welcome back: Cards Chris Carpenter, who beat the Cubs in his return from the DL last night. Kevin Youkilis returned last night and helped the Red Sox top the Jays. And, the first homer of the season for Big Papi! Now, he can relax. Might be time to go get him.

Andy was asking about stolen bases… Arizona’s Mark Reynolds (who?) had four last night against the Marlins.

ESPN reported that Jake Peavy might be heading to Chicago – but not the Cubs. The White Sox… Say it ain’t so!!!

Injury Updates:

Elijah Dukes hits the DL with a strained left hamstring. Say hello to outfielder Justin Maxwell, a 4th round draft pick in 2005 who has power and speed and a big hole in his swing. He will work a walk, but mostly because some pitchers fear him. He’s never hung around any one level very long, so it’s hard to get a reading, but he might have an impact. In 2010.

Oakland infielder Mark Ellis’s calf injury was worse than though – now on the 60 day DL, where teammate Eric Chavez and his shoulder and back reside.

Rick Ankiel is close to returning to the Cards. When Carpenter was recalled, the Cards sent outfielder Shane Robinson back to AAA Memphis.

Nate Robertson returns to the Tigers, costing Lucas French his spot on the roster.

Nick Massett goes to Cincy’s DL list with a left oblique strain.

Boston’s John Smoltz begins a rehab stint with Greenville. Cliff Floyd works his in Lake Elsinore for San Diego.

Comings and Goings:

I mentioned rookie Wilkin Ramirez the other day. The new Tiger homered last night.

Unhappy with Garrett Mock, the Nationals sent Mock to AAA and recalled Craig Stammen. No prospect. The Nats also designated Alex Cintron for assignment and recalled occasional prospect Jason Bergmann.

Craig Breslow got off to a slow start with the Twins, was designated for assignment, but got claimed by the A’s. This is the first time Breslow hadn’t pitched well in the majors, but his overall career has been pretty good. We’ll see if he can’t put it back together.

Doug Slaten will cover for Scot Schoenweis in Arizona; Anthony Swarzak gets Breslow’s spot in Minnesota. Swarzak fits the Twins’ mold – control pitcher, might get a few striekouts. He was pitching well in Rochester (AAA), so he earned a look. Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004 right out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida (about 20 minutes south of here).

Adenhart Dies in Accident; Macias Replaces Injured Floyd

Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was one of three people killed in a hit and run accident in the early hours of Thursday morning in Fullerton (CA). The car in which Adenhart was a passenger was hit by an allegedly drunk driver whose minivan ran a red light and smashed into the smaller Mitsubishi. After impact, the Mitsubishi smashed into a tree, while the driver of the minivan ran away from the scene on foot.

Adenhart was just 22, and had pitched six innings of shutout ball that evening. Last year, getting a quick callup in May, Adenhart was the youngest pitcher in the AL, and was named the top Angel prospect by Baseball America.

Drew Macias was the first player activated by Yahoo Sports after opening day… The San Diego Padres added Macias when Cliff Floyd was moved to the disabled list with a strained right shoulder (big surprise, huh?). The 26-year-old Macias is a pretty quick outfielder, but not necessarily a good base stealer. Since being drafted by San Diego in the 35th round out of Chaffey College, Macias has moved up through the minors one step at a time, getting a September cup of coffee each of the last two seasons. His primary skill appears to be his batting eye – he has hit about .280 most seasons in the minors with a good number of walks, but with little power. With three (reasonably) established players in the outfield (and a fourth outfielder in Scott Hairston), don’t expect Macias to see much playing time except as an occasional pinch hitter or pinch runner.

2009 Season Forecast: Tampa Rays

Tampa Bay Rays
2008: 97-65 (1st AL East, League Champions)
Runs Scored: 774
Runs Allowed: 671

What a ride!  A team that had never before approached .500 made a series of impressive moves, getting younger and more talented, adding a key veteran as necessary, and getting skilled guidance from a manager who looks like a science teacher and believes in winning.

At the outset, many people predicted that they would be improved.  A few people, including me, thought they would be above .500 and possibly competitive – and the Rays went further than that.  They held down the high powered offenses of the AL East, held off Boston not only for the division crown but also for a trip to the World Series, and look to be a team that might be among the best teams in the AL for the foreseeable future.

Looking Back on 2008

To anyone who really studied what the Rays did, you really have to start with the defense.  In 2007, there were a TON of holes.  You had two outfielders who couldn’t find their way to the ball in Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes.  You had weak play at second and short, especially Brendan Harris – who really is better than he played in 2007, but wasn’t very good that year.  The bullpen was atrocious and a few starters were not long term solutions but just warm bodies, which meant that there were too many people on base.  Batters would walk or the ball would find holes or even leave the park.  The 2007 Rays allowed more than 900 runs.

The trade of Harris and Young to Minnesota for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza immediately improved the team by 70 runs.  Bartlett is an amazing shortstop, acrobatic and sure.  Garza is a legitimate starter – an upgrade over Casey Fossum.  Getting Evan Longoria to the big leagues and moving Akinori Iwamura to second put a tremendous defender at the hot corner, and Iwamura was solid at second.  Not especially rangy, but good on the double play and not prone to errors.

What this did, of course, by strengthening the infield defense (Strengthen? It was air tight!) was give the Rays pitchers confidence that no matter where the ball was put in play, it was going to be turned into an out.  So, pitchers just needed to throw strikes.  If they did that, they would strike a few more people out and the fielders would turn batted balls into outs.  Stress free pitching.

When it was all over, the Rays pitchers were near the top of the league in strikeouts.  They cut the walks down – they allowed fewer free passes than the league average.  The high strikeout count meant fewer balls in play, but even there it didn’t matter because no team in the American League was even CLOSE to the efficiency of the Rays defense.  Nobody turned more balls in play into outs than Tampa.  And, those that got on base were removed by double plays at a well above league average rate.  Oh, and the catching was above average against the run, and with hardly anyone on base anyway, nobody allowed fewer stolen bases than Tampa.

Oh yeah.  The offense wasn’t horrible either.  About as good as the Yankees last year.

One other quick thing before we talk about the specifics – the pitching staff was remarkably healthy.  Scott Kazmir was out a little early in the year, but after that you had four guys make at least 30 starts and Kazmir had 27 starts.  Troy Percival injured his hamstring at the end of the season, but the rest of the staff was pretty stable.  And that didn’t hurt either.

Tell me about that offense

Looking up and down the lineup, what you see are no superstars, but no weak sisters either.  The average hitter can be expected to put about 4.7 runs per 27 outs on the scoreboard, no regular on the Rays was below that.

Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena serve as the power bookends.  Pena dropped a bit from 2007’s peak season numbers, but still hit 32 homers and knocked in 102.  He strikes out a lot (166 times), but he draws walks.  Longoria, for a rookie, hit like Mike Lowell in his early years – good power, RBIs, and a decent .272 batting average.  Had he played a full season of games, he would have cleared 30 – 100 himself.  In between, Iwamura and Bartlett weren’t huge run producers, but slapped the ball around enough to contribute.  Backup Willy Aybar had a decent season – mid range power, a few walks, and above league average production in 300-plus at bats.

In the outfield, B. J. Upton’s power numbers were down – he and Carl Crawford had similar power numbers – but both contributed offensively.  In Upton’s case, he’s still young and the Up(ton) side is scary high.  A collection of helpers played in right and the designated hitter role, all being productive when called upon.  Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, Ben Zobrist, Gabe Gross, and Eric Hinske all contributed – giving the Rays a variety of options for the daily scorecard.

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro just missed .300 by a couple of hits – and had a number of game changing hits.  His backup, Shawn Riggans, was one of only two players with at least 80 at bats who was a below average run producer (Johnny Gomes was the other).  However, neither was WAY below average – they just didn’t have big seasons in about 150 at bats.

Defensively:

I discussed the net results before – but here are the details.  Longoria had a positive range factor of 6.3 – meaning he made six plays more than the average third basemen for every 800 balls in play.  He also started 26 double plays while making only 12 errors, which means that he helped save his pitchers some 15 runs over the course of the season.  Iwamura was average in terms of range, but well above average in his double play ratio (109 DPs, only 7 errors), so he helped save another three or four runs.  Bartlett’s range is slightly better than Longoria’s (6.5); he was saving his team twelve runs.  Despite all three fielders making more plays than expected, Pena continued with his solid defensive play, making an above average number of plays after taking out the assists of his fielders.

Crawford and Upton were better than average fielders, each saving his team more than 10 runs with above average range.  Hinske was great in right, not so good in left, but the net was okay.  Gabe Gross came over and gave the team seven above average fielders behind the pitcher on a day-to-day basis.  Johnny Gomes and Hinske were the only regulars to show below average defensive numbers.  Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist were decent fielding options.

Dioner Navarro was a pretty good catcher, though slightly mistake prone and not necessarily very mobile.  Riggans is a solid number two, and even better than Navarro against the run.

Now Pitching…

Knowing how good the defense was, you have to look at the pitchers a bit differently.  Both James Shields and Scott Kazmir are good pitchers – but they are not GREAT pitchers.  They had a lot of help.  Matt Garza was actually slightly below average once you remove the help of his defenders, and both Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnestine were below average.

The average ERA in the AL last year was 4.34.  For Tampa Bay, the team finished at 3.82.  However, by my count, the team’s defense was 109 runs better than the average AL squad.  That means that, on the whole, the Rays pitching was actually slightly WORSE than average.

Pitcher Innings Runs Allowed Modified Runs Allowed RA/9 MRA/9
Scott Kazmir 152.33 61 73 3.60 4.31
James Shields 215 94 112 3.93 4.69
Matt Garza 184.67 83 99 4.05 4.82
Andy Sonnestine 193.33 105 125 4.89 5.82
Edwin Jackson 183.33 91 108 4.47 5.30

Looking at it this way, only the top two starters were better than league average (and Shields only barely), Garza was at league average (slightly below, actually), and Jackson and Sonnestine will be fighting for a job once David Price is moved into the rotation.

The bullpen had a couple of great performances from Grant Balfour and J.P Howell – but the rest were average to below average performances.  (Okay, Dan Wheeler was above average, too.)   The good news was that, with five guys logging more innings than any Rays staff before, the bullpen wasn’t usually exposed.  And, they got help from the defense behind them.  The weakest reliever in a key role was Troy Percival.  Balfour’s season, even after taking the defense into consideration, was truly remarkable.  Less than a hit allowed every HALF inning, 82 strikouts in 58.1 innings, only three homers allowed.  One of the greatest seasons by a middle reliever/set up man ever.  By the way, moving Price to the closer role in the playoffs was a necessity – the rest of the bullpen after Balfour and Howell weren’t all that good anyway.

Forecasting 2009:

Last year, the Rays scored 774 runs and allowed just 671.  So, to remain at 90+ wins, they have to keep things the same – outscore their opponents by 100 runs. 

The only real change on offense will be replacing Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes with Pat Burrell at the DH position.  Burrell is a consistent hitter and if he can stay involved in games (and not have to play the field), that could be worth 10 or 15 more runs.  The rest of the offense (and defense) is relatively unchanged.  While the players might be a little better, the only ones who have a chance to be REALLY improved are B. J. Upton and Evan Longoria.  Upton is coming off of shoulder surgery in November, so he might not be ready on opening day.   Longoria could step up, too, but his replacement (Willie Aybar) had a good season last year anyway – so it might only net to about five runs.  Longoria might have a sophomore slump for a short period of time and have to get his bearings.  If he doesn’t, though, he could have a Matt Williams type season.  Maybe a peak Troy Glaus season.  If so, that’s a ten to fifteen run increase.  Since so many bench players had solid seasons, it’s not unreasonable to think that one or two of them might not have a good run in 150 at bats – so that would negate that benefit.  I think the Rays MIGHT get to 800 runs, but more realistically, they’ll be not too far off from where they are now.

Defensively, the team will remain solid if everyone remains healthy and Pat Burrell isn’t asked to play the field.  If so, life is good and the pitchers will benefit.  If not – especially if the lost player is Bartlett or Iwamura, or even Upton, that means trouble – ten to fifteen runs of trouble.  The one real opportunity for immediate improvement is the addition of David Price to the rotation.  Price will certainly be an upgrade on Edwin Jackson or Andy Sonnestine, so that could make up for 20 runs of potential decline in other areas.  Howell, Wheeler, and Balfour were so good last year that they really can’t be expected to turn in the same seasons, and if Percival really is the closer, this could be a problem because the defense hid the fact that he really wasn’t all that good.  Jason Isringhausen got a non-roster invite to spring training, and I hope he isn’t pressed into closer duty.

Throw in the fact that the Rays were actually a little bit over their heads last year (the Blue Jays had essentially the same differential in runs scored and runs allowed, but finished with an unlucky 86 wins), and one wonders if the Rays might actually decline a little bit.  A slow start or small slump, and the team struggles with expectations – next thing you know it’s 85 – 77 and not 95 – 67.  My best guess is that the team will win 92 games and be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.  If Las Vegas odds makers have the Rays winning 92, though, I’m playing the under.

Down on the Farm…

Justin Ruggiano was the best outfielder and hitter at AAA Durham, hitting 11 homers with 20 steals – a good combination of speed and power – in just half a season.  However, he doesn’t walk much (22 in about 280 plate appearances).  Still, he’s as good as Gabe Gross, just as mobile in the field, though learning at the plate.  Mitch Talbot might get a shot as a starter or long reliever after going 13 – 9 for the Bulls, with good K/W data and few homers allowed.  Jeremy Cummings and Dale Thayer had good years, but are too old to be considered as prospects.

The best player at AA Montgomery (the Biscuits!) was David Price, and he’s not going to be heading back unless it’s a rehab assignment.  Chris Nowak might be a future third base prospect, but not in Tampa Bay.  Cesar Valdez led Visalia (A+) posting a 10 – 3 record with good control.  Jeremy Hellickson ripped through Vero Beach (A+), going 7 – 1 in 14 starts, with 83 Ks against only 5 walks (!) in nearly 77 innings.  He was quickly moved to Montgomery and held his own.  Hellickson will be on the major league team if he keeps at this rate – though probably not until 2010.