Batting Around; And Vlad is Back!

Chicks dig the long ball. Fans like offense. And on Memorial Day, everybody was happy.

Teams scoring a lot of runs? White Sox 17 – 3 over the Angels. The Manny-Free Dodgers put up 16 over Colorado. Detroit makes someone a winner in the 13 run pool by crushing KC, 13 – 1. New York, behind five A-Roid hits, wins 11 – 1 over Texas. Pittsburgh took advantage of bad seventh inning stretch singing by Mr. T to beat the Cubs 10 – 8. And, Cleveland hangs up seven in the ninth (for the first time since they were called the Blues and Nap Lajoie was playing second base) to beat Tampa Bay 11 – 10.

Jim Thome’s homer was #549, putting him one ahead of Michael Jack Schmidt.

Freddy Sanchez had six hits yesterday for Pittsburgh – the second player to do that in 2009 (Ian Kinsler).

The Padres have won 10 straight, the Cubs have lost eight straight. The Blue Jays dropped seven straight and slid into third place in the AL East. Houston lost #5 and suddenly is no longer on the fringe of the division race.

MLB is looking back at the 50th anniversary of Harvey Haddix throwing 12 perfect innings – but losing in the 13th inning to Milwaukee. And there’s a song about it!

White Sox Carlos Quentin’s painful season continues – he was pulled from yesterday’s game with an injured foot.

Pirate Matt Capps took a liner in the elbow and had the leave the game in the 9th inning. It was the first ball Geovany Soto had hit hard in weeks… Capps will have his battery of testing before determining when he can pitch again. It’s probably at least a few days, maybe a week. Sean Burnett got the save – but it’s unclear as to whether or not he’ll be the temporary closer while Capps heals.

Akinori Iwamura’s MRI revealed serious tears in knee ligiments, requiring surgery, which will end his season. After reading the story, the second question might be whether or not he actually comes back at all to Tampa. His contract is up, there’s a club option for 2010, and 1st round pick Reid Brignac may get the shot this year to be their second sacker of the future. Brignac hits for power and can run, he’s got a shortstop’s arm, but he could use a little patience at the plate. Otherwise, he’s not far off.

Astro Ivan Rodriguez is day to day with a sprained knee, but he says it’s not serious.

However, Mariner catcher Kenji Johjima’s left big toe is broken and he’ll be on the DL for the next couple of weeks. Johjima injured his toe in a home plate collision with Adam Kennedy.

Off to the DL? Brian Shouse, Tampa pitcher (elbow strain)

On the Mend? Luke Scott, Baltimore outfielder; Jesus Flores, Washington catcher; Logan Kensing, Washington reliever

Welcome Back! Vlad Guerrero, Angels DH/OF. Milwaukee called up Frank Catalanotto, likely to play second for Rickie Weeks. RJ Swindle gets swindled and is back in AAA. The Marlins will mess with Cristian Martinez’s head again – he’s back from AAA. Ricky Romero was recalled by Toronto.

See you soon? Reggie Willits, Angels outfielder, who can’t catch a break.

Is it over? Matt Belisle, Rockies pitcher, who might be looking for a new job soon. Say, insurance sales…

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Peavy Stays a Padre – Sox Crushed Twice in Loss to Twins, Too.

Was it that big a story? I guess so – but three of the top twenty baseball headlines featured Jake Peavy… Peavy, as you all know, rejected a trade that would have sent the Padre ace to the White Sox for four propsects, and a huge reduction in salary expenses, citing a desire to stay home and in the National League.

So, the White Sox went out and lost to the Twins 20 – 1.  Jose Morales, who caught the game, was sent back to AAA when it was over so the Twins could bring back Delmon Young.

Games to watch? Randy Johnson faces the Mariners in search of win #299. ESPN’s Steve Phillips say watch the long ball in the Phillies – Yankees series this weekend. Buster Olney says that the new Yankee Stadium is on pace for more than 300 (!) homers this year. (Olney’s blog is pretty complete, by the way. He relies on a big staff, I guess. I’m a staff of one.)

Joba Chamberlain’s knee checked out after being hit by a liner last night.  The Yankee starter left the game in the first inning… He may miss a start, but I don’t think he will.

Tony Gwynn, JR. scored the winning run for the Padres against the Giants last night. C’mon – that’s cool. Gwynn arrived in San Diego yesterday after being traded by the Brewers (actually, the Nashville Sounds) for outfielder Jody Gerut.

MLB.com is reporting that Alfonso Soriano may move to second base in the future, according to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. They need a shortstop with range and for Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto to start hitting, and this is what he comes up with?

Edinson Volquez hits the DL with a strained back, and Homer Bailey – a prospect for most of this decade – returns to the Reds. If it’s gonna happen for Homer, it’s got to happen now or he’ll be done as a prospect soon. And it’s not like he was smoking AAA, either. As for Volquez, it’s muscular and not structural, according to Dusty Baker.

Texas starter Vincente Padilla, expected to be an ace this year, hasn’t been healthy – he goes to the DL with a strained shoulder. Coming back from the DL is closer Frank Francisco.

Day-to-day? Jose Reyes (still) with what has been diagnosed as tendonitis in his calf. Chipper Jones has a foot injury (Bunions?). He’s hurt a lot these days. Bobby Abreu sprained a toe and will likely miss the weekend.

On the mend? John Smoltz threw three scoreless last night. Brandon Webb is healing, progressing slowly. Rick Ankiel might be close, but not close enough for a call up.

The Marlins are keeping the transaction fax machine busy. Alfredo Amezega is on the DL with a bruised knee. So, they brought up onetime starter Alejandro De Aza – for a couple of days. He’s back in AAA now. David Davidson was called up, and Andy Gonzalez sent back down. Then, they activated Cristian Martinez from AAA. Martinez gave up a game-winning homer in the eighth inning last night and was immediately dispatched back to AAA.

Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes went on the DL with a strained hamstring, so Tommy Hanson was bypassed for his roommate – Kris Medlen. Medlen was awesome in the minors and may be a long term prospect, but he was swatted around by Colorado yesterday. Medlin throws low 90s with a mean change up and a breaking ball that’s okay. The Braves also placed Omar Infante on the DL with a broken left hand.

Toronto’s Travis Snider will get time to get out of his funk in AAA, as will Brewer Hernan Iribarren. Welcome back to the majors, R.J. Swindle (still rooting for him). Another prospect deemed not ready? Bryan Augenstein. He’ll be back.

Frank Catalanotto signed a minor league deal with the Huntsville Stars. He can still play.

2009 Season Forecast: Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers
79 – 83 (2nd AL West – 21 Games Back)
Runs Scored: 901 (Tops in AL)
Runs Allowed: 967 (Worst in AL)

2008 Summary:

The most exciting team, and one that is just a few pitchers away from being an immediate contender in the AL West…  Got off to a slow April, but rebounded in May thanks to the Josh Hamilton show (and Ian Kinsler) to get back over .500.  The Rangers actually stayed there through June and July before their season was wrecked by an 11 – 18 August.

And, to be honest, the difference was pitching and defense.  By my reckoning, the pitching was about 83 runs worse than the average team, and the defense was another 67 runs worse than the average team (not counting catchers).  So, if you could get back 150 runs allowed, with this offense, you’re talking about winning 90 games.

Tell Me About That Offense:

No weak spots in the lineup – that’s for sure.

The outfield boasted Josh Hamilton, he of the Home Run Derby power, who played his first full season and blasted 32 homers good for 130 RBI.  Milton Bradley missed 25 percent of the season (what else is new), but put nearly 100 runs on the board, hitting .321 with a .441 OBP and a .563 slugging percentage.  He was so good, the Cubs overlooked everything else to sign him to a $30 million contract.  Rookie David Murphy was decent, too – some power, and a decent bat.  The fourth outfielder, Marlon Byrd, batted .298 with some walks, a little speed, and a little punch – a valuable performance.

In the infield, you had Ian Kinsler, with his 60 extrabase hits and 26 steals, batting .319 before losing last five weeks to an injury.  Michael Young gets credit for his 12 – 82 – .284 line, but to be honest, he doesn’t get on base that much and if he didn’t get to bat in the middle of the lineup, you wouldn’t really notice him.  He’s really just an average hitter.  Hank Blalock missed a lot of time, but hit when he played.  Ramon Vazquez played a lot and contributed with the bat.  Chris Davis hit for power though he struck out a lot – even short timers Joaquin Arias and future stud Nelson Cruz helped.  Cruz batted .330 with serious power in just 115 at bats.

Behind the plate, Gerald Laird and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were a decent hitting tandem.

And the Defense?

Not so good.

Ian Kinsler is a great second baseman, and maybe the first basemen were just told not to go to their right because Kinsler was a gold glove quality player.  He makes 15 plays per 800 balls in play more than the average second sacker, helping save 26 runs.  However, three of the five guys who  played at least 200 innings at first were LOUSY.  Chris Davis, Hank Blalock, and Frank Catalanotto combined to give back nearly 50 runs with their shoddy range.  Throw in five third basemen who all had below average range, and you had serious problems at the corners.  I know Michael Young got the gold glove at SS, but I think they were honoring him by having been a shortstop for a long time.  He’s not that good.  I have him as slightly below league average in terms of range, made up somehwat by good DP/Error numbers.  It would have been more appropriate to give the award to Jason Bartlett.  Besides, if Young was so good, why did he move to third so that the rookie Elvis Andrus could play there in 2009?

Moving to the outfield, not a single guy logged 1000 innings at a position – though Hamilton did combine for it if you add his innings in center and right.  Milton Bradley and Hamilton both played well in right field, but the large and ambling Hamilton played too many innings in center, costing his team nearly 16 runs out there.  The best centerfielder is Marlon Byrd.  David Murphy played okay in right, not quite as well in left – which makes me think that he should have played in right, moved Hamilton to Left, and let Byrd play center all year.  This alone would have saved the club about 40 runs defensively, if not more.  Brandon Boggs is a better outfielder, but not as good a hitter as the others.  Nelson Cruz wasn’t bad out there – so the future will be brighter if Hamilton gets an easier gig.

As a tandem, the catching of Laird and Saltalamacchia was the worst in the AL, being below average in team ERA, winning percentage, stolen base percentage allowed (only two teams allowed more stolen bases than Texas), fielding percentage, and mistakes per game.  Because they were young, they were mobile.  That’s it.

Now Pitching:

Having admitted that the pitchers had no help from three postions (both corner infield and centerfield), and inexperienced catching, the pitching was still awful.

Kevin Millwood gained weight and was hit around a lot.  Vincente Padilla was slightly better than league average – but neither were in ace territory.  The really good pitchers save their teams 20 or 30 runs over 200 innings.  Combined, Padilla and Millwood were one run better than the average pitcher in 58 starts.  Basically two #3 pitchers.  Scott Feldman logged 25 starts and hopefully will find room to improve, but he doesn’t strike anyone out (74 in more than 151 innings).  Kason Gabbard was tolerable, Matt Harrison looks like he might be okay, but also didn’t fan a lot of guys, and Luis Mendoza got 11 starts we wish never happened.  He allowed more than a run each inning – 31 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 63 innings.  He’s the anti-Cy Young award winner…  There were a few guys (Boof Bonser, for example) who had a worse total number, but threw far more innings than Mendoza.

The bullpen was shaky, too.  C.J. Wilson was so erratic (6.02 ERA) that he lost his job to Frank Francisco (good call).  Eddie Guardado, who has been pitching since the Mexican War, was one of only two good relief options.  Jamey Wright, Josh Rupe, Warner Madrigal, and Dustin Nippert were not.

Forecasting 2009:

Actually, the Rangers are probably on the brink of a division crown.  When you can bash the balls like these guys, all you need to do is add a few decent pitchers and reorganize the defense and make a signficant impact.

First – who’s not here.  No Milton Bradley.  He was amazing last year as a hitter, but Nelson Cruz could be just as good.  And we haven’t heard stories (yet) that Cruz has “issues”.  Gerald Laird is gone – the team will live with youngster Taylor Teagarden and Saltalamacchia.

Who is new?  Elvis Andrus, a rookie, will take over at short.  Supposedly, he’s the real deal.  Blalock will get a shot at DH, 1B, and backing up new third baseman, Michael Young.  Andruw Jones signed a league minimum deal – it will be nice he can contribute, but his days of being a superstar are over.

A full season of Kinsler might net 10 extra runs.  Young will produce as much as the third basemen did last year – and the bench is still solid.  I think the improvement of Murphy and addition of Cruz might make up for what happens when Josh Hamilton slips just a little since last year was so much above anything he had shown before.  Chris Davis can bash – I hope he and Blalock field better.

The change in offense, though, is probably negative.  I think that without Laird, without Blalock (as much), and using Andrus at short probably costs the team 50 runs on offense.  Instead of 900 runs, it will be more like 850.

The key is defensive in nature.  Andrus and Young on the left side could be worth 50 or 60 runs in defense.  Davis and Blalock being (a) more comfortable at first and (b) in Blalock’s case, a little healthier, could be 20 runs of improvement.  The outfield would be stable with the moves I suggested – which may or may not happen.  Still – 80 runs of improvement.

Then, you have the pitching.  Rumor has it that Kevin Millwood was challenged by Nolan Ryan to act like the ace he is being paid to be.  Vincente Padilla slowed down after a summer in Texas, maybe he could hang in there.  Brandon McCarthy will be better than Mendoza.  More Francsco and less Wilson will help finish games, and if Wilson puts it back together in the seventh or eighth innings, that’s another ten runs.  More Derek Holland or Matt Harrison might be good for a short term fix.  They really could use another reliever – the injured Joaquin Benoit isn’t coming soon, but if someone were to just have a season like his in 2006, that would help.  Still, I don’t see that though I do see an improvement.  It could be 50 runs better.

So, if the team scores 850 and allows 830, it could be 83 wins.  And, if the Angels crash to earth (as I am predicting), the Rangers would be among the first to bash their way to the forefront.  If they were to get one more ace starter, look out.

Down on the Farm:

Most of the arms who looked any good in AAA Oklahoma City got a shot, including Brandon McCarthy, Kameron Loe, and 21 year old Tommy Hunter (nice control, doesn’t blow people away).  Matt Harrison will be a regular going forward – he was 22 last year.  Players who can hit also have arrived – Nelson Cruz (37 – 99 – .342, and Chris Davis (10 – 31 – .222 in 31 games).  Cruz is the real deal, but Davis has a bit of a hole in his swing.

Elvis Andrus hit .296 for the Frisco Roughriders (AA) at 19.  Julio Borbon, an outfielder with some speed, hit .337, and catcher for 2010, Max Ramirez, hit .354 with serious power.  Chad Tracy is a first baseman with a bat, too.  The best pitcher in AA was probably Derek Holland, who got four starts and looked great.  He got rushed through A, A+ and into AA because he has the goods.  I just hope he isn’t rushed to the majors because he might get swatted around and mess with his confidence.  He can pitch, though.

At A+ Bakersfield, watch out for Kasey Kiker – who looks like he can pitch a little.  Tanner Roark looks like he can pitch some, too.  Roark has control and strikes people out – a good combination.

From what I can tell, the Rangers have some hitting options, and might have a few future arms.  The future is bright.