Dunn isn’t Done – Sets Homer Record

The last round of opening day games featured a couple of interesting games (Go Rays! Weaver deals for Halos, Cards pound Brewers) and another new record.  Adam Dunn – coming off of an absolutely miserable season – launched a homer on opening day.  It’s the eighth time he’s done that, tying Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Robinson for most homers on Opening Day in baseball history.

Okay – I admit that I watched a little of the Masters yesterday, but anyone who watched it must have felt that only Tiger Woods and the two guys he was playing with were the only ones even playing in the tournament.  That’s when I switched over to watch the Rays make that comeback and beat Mariano Rivera and the Yankees.  It seemed like the last day of the 2011 season all over again.

Visa Issues Halt Villalona

Giants Prospect Angel Villalona, a kid who has spent more time in the legal system than in the Giant’s system, was placed on the restricted list as Villalona hasn’t been able to resolve issues obtaining a work visa.

You may remember Villalona – he was a big kid signed at 16 out of the Dominican Republic who, in the off-season in 2009, got entangled in a bar fight that wound up with someone getting shot.  Villalona was jailed for two months before the family of the victim accepted a settlement and dropped the charges.  [MLB]

Aches and Pains…

The Cardinals placed pitcher Scott Linebrink on the 15-day DL with what was listed as “right shoulder capsulitis”.  To cover the roster spot, St. Louis recalled Victor Marte, a former KC Royals pitcher, who had a nice spring but hasn’t really shown to be a top prospect yet.

With Kyle Farnsworth‘s trip to the DL official, the Rays called up reliever Josh Lueke.  Lueke has a world of talent and a rap sheet that has made him expendable to the teams that have had him before (Texas, Seattle).  The Mariners used Lueke to get catcher John Jaso from Tampa.

Houston infielder Jed Lowrie sprained his thumb at the end of spring, leading to the recall of Brian Bixler.  Bixler has had MLB time before and I wouldn’t bet money that he’s on the roster in June.  He can play most infield positions though, he just hasn’t hit much.  I’ll have to check to see if he’s gotten a Topps baseball card yet…

Finally, the Mets recalled outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Andres Torres.  Nieuwenhuis has shown some power in the minors – hits a lot of doubles and a few homers – and some speed, too.  The Mets like his hustle.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, and remembrances include:

(1873) John McGraw, HOF Manager and great third baseman
(1874) John Ganzel
(1884) Jake Daubert
(1918) Bobby Doerr, Red Sox HOF Infielder
(1942) Tom Phoebus
(1979) Adrian Beltre

Tom Phoebus came up with the Orioles and threw shutouts in his first two major league starts.  Instead of spending a year in long relief (maybe this was what taught Earl Weaver this lesson), Phoebus was immediately put into the rotation where he was pretty good for two seasons, even tossing 240 innings in 1968.  However, something changed in 1969, his third season as a rotation anchor, and he lost his ability to strike people out.  His career degenerated pretty quickly after that.  I remember him having a brief stay in Chicago in 1972, right before his career ended.

I am reading the book 1921 – local SABR member Lyle Spatz is one of the authors – and it’s the story of the year the Yankees and Giants were on top of the baseball world, right on the heels of the Black Sox scandal.  The new world Yankees featured Babe Ruth, while the Giants were old school led by McGraw.  The book does a good job contrasting the two teams and showing how the future was going toward the Yankees.

After reading this, though, you find that McGraw is one of those angry gruff guys with a decent heart.  Hard to like – really hard sometimes, but easy to appreciate.

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2011 Season Forecast: Tampa Rays

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  96 – 66 (1st AL East)
2009:  84 – 78
2008:  97 – 65 (AL Champs)
2007:  66 – 96
2006:  61 – 101

Runs Scored: 802 (3rd, AL to NYY and BOS)
Runs Allowed: 649 (2nd, AL to OAK)

2010 Recap:

The Rays got off to a great start, winning 17 of 23 in April and extending their hot play into May where, on May 23rd, they went to sleep in first place with a 32 – 12 record.  An 11 – 14 stumble in June let the rest of the league back in the race, but once July started, the Rays went back to the front of the division, going 19 – 7, followed by a 17 – 12 August.  From there, the Rays seemed to run out of steam, but played .500 ball after September 1st as the Yankees collapsed to take the division crown.

In terms of mid-season transactions, the Rays mostly unloaded parts that weren’t working.  They released Pat Burrell and Hank Blalock, for example.  They did get Chad Qualls at the trading deadline, but he wasn’t much help down the stretch.

As a team, they hit homers and drew walks, but went through stretches where they couldn’t hit.  The Rays were on the wrong end of two no-hitters despite being one of only three teams to score 800 runs.  They have pitchers who throw strikes, a rather deep bullpen, and an AMAZING team defense.  These two items, as I have written before, make their staff look stronger than it really is.

Starters:

The rotation featured David Price, who had Cy Young worthy numbers in terms of wins (19), ERA (2.72), and strikeouts (188 in 208.2 innings).  Price was backed by Matt Garza (15 – 10, 3.91), James Shields (13 – 15, 5.18), Jeff Niemann (12 – 8, 4.39), and rookie Wade Davis (12 – 10, 4.07).  However, knowing that the Rays made few errors and turned 14 balls per 1000 into outs more than the average team AND they played in a park that helped the staff, you realize that many of those pitchers aren’t quite as good as advertised.  James Shields was more than 50 runs worse than the average pitcher because he puts a lot of balls into play, and he served up 34 homers.  Niemann was 19 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Matt Garza – the new Cub – was 14 runs worse than the average pitcher.  Wade Davis was also -11.

This isn’t new – I wrote about this a couple of years ago when the Rays made the series.  A good defense can make a bunch of pitchers who keep the ball in the park and don’t walk people look very good.

Looking ahead, Matt Garza moved to Chicago where he might get to serve up 50 homers.  At least he’s durable.  The rest of the rotation returns intact, joined by Jeremy Hellickson, who looked great in his 4 starts last summer.  Assuming Shields bounces back some (he can), Davis and Niemann show more growth (possible), and Hellickson remains tolerable over 160 innings, the rotation should be 30 runs better than last year.

Bullpen:

On the other hand, the bullpen was amazing in 2010.  Rafael Soriano saved 45 games, supported by Joaquin Benoit and his 1.34 ERA in 63 innings.  Dan Wheeler gave them 64 fair innings, Grant Balfour remained dependable, and even Randy Choate and Lance Cormier weren’t horrible.  Most of this staff is gone.  Right now, the closer looks to be Joel Peralta, the former Royal, Angel, and Rockies reliever who had his best season in 2010 with the Nationals last year – fanning 49 and walking just 9 (4 intentionally) in 49 innings.  In front of Peralta is journeyman fireballer, Kyle Farnsworth who has NEVER been as good as Benoit was last year.  Andy Sonnenstine, who has a very hittable fastball, is there, with a bunch of newcomers, including Ceasr Ramos and Adam Russell, who came from San Diego for Jason Bartlett.  Jake McGee, two years removed from Tommy John surgery, converted to the pen in 2010 and made it to the big leagues.  He’s a power lefty with a nice curveball.  Chris Archer is another hard thrower who might get time in the bullpen this year.  If the starters are going to improve by 30 runs, the bullpen cannot – and no matter what Manager Joe Maddon’s magic, this group will be 50 runs worse than in 2010.

Catching:

John Jaso earned his way ahead of Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach by catching well enough and getting on base at a .375 clip.  Teams ran on Jaso some, and the young Jaso has much to learn, but he helps out.  Kelly Shoppach struggled at the plate, but did hit 5 homers in 158 at bats.  Navarro is gone.

Infield:

A couple of years ago, the infield was a solid Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, and Carlos Pena.  Now, only Longoria – an MVP candidate – remains.   Longoria can hit and field with the best of them and even stole 15 bases in 20 tries.  Bartlett’s bat and glove has fallen off in recent years since he injured his ankle in 2009 and will be replaced by Reid Brignac, who is younger, just as good a hitter, and more mobile.  Sean Rodriguez got a chance to play the infield and hits for some power, can run the bases, and is solid in the field.  Mr. Everywhere, Ben Zobrist, backs them both up.  Carlos Pena is gone, to be replaced by either Dan Johnson (a patient power hitter who, like Pena, failed to hit .200 last year), and possibly Johnny Damon.  I think the offense will remain solid, though it could lose 20 runs at first base overall if Johnson can’t improve in 2011.

Outfield:

Carl Crawford had an MVP-type campaign in 2010, fielding as well as any left fielder, and generating nearly 130 runs of offense with the bat (average and some power) as well as his feet (47 steals).  He’s in Boston now, with Johnny Damon taking over.  Damon is okay, but not anywhere near what Crawford can provide – and he’s going to need time off.  Options include Matt Joyce or Sam Fuld.  In center, B.J. Upton is still frustratingly productive.  He is an above average offensive performer – quick bat, power, speed – but frustrating in that he strikes out a LOT, keeping his average under .240.  Defensively, he remains above average but, again, doesn’t seem to be as good as he could be.  In right, Ben Zobrist fell off from his 2009 season in terms of average and power, but still was productive because he plays solid defense and gets on base.  (I’d let Joyce play left all year and see if he can hit 30 homers knowing he’s a better fielder than Damon, too.  Damon can DH and back up three positions, even providing some production.)

DH:

Pat Burrell couldn’t cut it and Hank Blalock wasn’t the answer.  Willy Aybar fell off last year, though Matt Joyce might have been a decent answer if they let him do it.  Looking ahead, though, the Rays took a cheap flyer on the craziest great hitter of the last two decades, Manny Ramirez.  Say what you will about him, Manny can STILL hit.  He missed a lot of time last year, but when he left Los Angeles, he was hitting .311, with a .410 OBA, and a .510 SLG.  He didn’t hit as well with the White Sox, but he had a .420 OBP.  He won’t do that in Tampa, but he could certainly go 20 – 110 – .285, with walks and doubles.  Johnny Damon could platoon some with him, letting Matt Joyce play left field.

Down on the Farm:

Jeremy Hellickson we noted – the new fifth starter for the Rays – as he went 12 – 3 with 123Ks in 117.2 innings for AAA Durham.  Desmond Jennings, a potential Carl Crawford clone, fell off in terms of his batting average, but he still gets on base and he can FLY.

Jake McGee made it from Montgomery in AA through Durham before getting a cup of coffee with the Rays.  In AA, McGee fanned 100 in 88.1 innings, showed good command (getting better, anyway), and looked awesome in 11 AAA appearances (27Ks, 3 walks, one ER in 17.1 innings).  Alex Torres and Alexander Cobb were solid for Montgomery, winning records, good strikeout rates.  Cobb has better control, but both are young and will spend 2011 in Durham.

Former #1 pick Tim Beckham finished his season with A+ Charlotte and seems to have stalled, but having watched him in the minors, he sure is the one guy on the field you can’t help but notice.  He’s still only 21, so there is time for a step forward.  The best of Charlotte is the young staff, led by Matt Moore, who fanned 208 in 144.2 innings with his powerful fastball and curveball.  Joe Cruz showed solid command, going 13 – 6 – 2.85 in his 142 innings and will start 2011 in AA.  Then you have reliever Zach Quate, who fanned 90 in 72.1 innings, saving 25 games, with great control.

Forecasting 2011:

I don’t see how the Rays are going to repeat winning the AL East crown in 2011, but they won’t be bad and they should take a Wild Card spot.  The rotation may be slightly better, but the bullpen will be well off from last year.  The defense will be better at short (Brignac is better than Bartlett), but worse in left (Damon or Joyce instead of Crawford) and I’m not sure Johnson is better than an aging Carlos Pena at first.  The catching might improve a touch, and more Jaso is better than more Dioner Navarro offensively.  The Rays are better at DH.

I see the offense being good, but a touch worse – maybe 770 runs.  And the runs allowed number will likely go up by 30 runs to about 680.  That puts the Rays at 91 wins, which some will see as a surprise – but not me.

2010 – Top AL Catchers

Joe Mauer (MIN) – 99.3 runs created

Mauer wasn’t 100%, but he’s still amazing.  Defensively, he has few peers and offensively he’s a solid #3 hitter.  His power was off – just nine homers – and his batting average fell with the league, but he remained a threat to win the batting title.  Backup Drew Butera was solid, too – cutting down 43% of would be base stealers.  Of course, Butera hits like Sal Butera – which isn’t very good.

Victor Martinez (BOS) – 83.4 runs created

Martinez and Jason Varitek remained solid as a team behind the plate, being way below average against the run (80% success rate and 169 stolen bases allowed) and not necessarily being that mobile – though who really bunts against the Sox, anyway.  Martinez hit well here, batting .302 with 20 homers, and Varitek had surprisingly good power in limited plate appearances.  Martinez is gone now, leaving Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek as top options, which will hurt the Sox offensively in 2011.  Saltalamacchia has never hit that well – and Varitek isn’t going to hit .275 anytime soon.  Let’s hope that Salty has beaten his phobia of throwing back to the pitcher…

Mike Napoli (LAA) 73.1 runs created

Jeff Mathis is supposedly the stronger defensive catcher – but Napoli was actually better against the run and made slightly fewer mistakes.  Mathis is definitely a cleaner catcher – far more mobile, but not a world beater with the bat.  Bobby Wilson got 29 starts and wasn’t awful, didn’t impress me with either his mobility or arm, but he might be able to hit a little.  As a group, they were well below average and partly to blame for not winning the division in 2010.  Offensively, Mike Napoli has power and produces runs, and held down first base when Kendry Morales went down to that freak broken leg.  Mathis hit like Lou Marson (see below) in fewer at bats.  Will Hank Conger win the job in spring training?

John Buck (TOR) – 61.7 runs created

Now a Marlin, John Buck was dependable, decent against the run, didn’t make too many errors, and generally mobile.  The pitching was surprisingly good and Toronto had a winning record.  Defensively, for this position, it was a lot of positives.  Backup Jose Molina was awesome against the run (44% caught stealing), and Buck was pretty good.  Rookie J.P. Arencibia gets the nod for 2011, and he didn’t look so bad either.  By the way, Buck had his best offensive season, too – hitting .281 and slugging 20 homers.  His weakness?  He doesn’t walk at all.

Jorge Posada/Francisco Cervelli (NYY) – 57.9 runs created

Innings split nearly down the middle, Posada is aging (he doesn’t LOOK old, but he’s playing old), but Cervelli isn’t the answer either.  Neither can stop the run, though Cervelli is younger and, therefore, more mobile.  The pitching isn’t happy with the catching either.  As a hitter, Cervelli is learning, and marginally below average, but not awful; he also isn’t seen as the next Yogi Berra either.  Posada did what we would have expected to do – which is lose a little in his batting average, though he still gets on base and hits for some power.  Jesus Montero will have this job as soon as he is ready.

Kurt Suzuki (OAK) – 57.1 runs created

Suzuki remains a decent catcher, though he’s not very good against the run anymore.  Backup Landon Powell is better against the run, but needs to remove some of his mistakes – which will come with time.  As a duo, they weren’t very good – not very mobile, and slightly above average in terms of making mistakes.  Suzuki still hits a little, but it’s a little less and he’s now below average.  He’s still better than Landon Powell.

John Jaso (TB) – 54.2 runs created

Jaso is young and gets on base – much like his Florida Marlins counterpart, John Baker.  In fact, he got on base enough that Joe Maddon let him bat leadoff from time to time.  Dioner Navarro is the best catcher of this group, but his weight is problematic and he isn’t hitting.  Kelly Shoppach doesn’t look like he’ll be in the league very long and should start brushing up on his coaching skills instead.

A.J. Pierzynski (CHISOX) – 52.4 runs created

Pierzynski is starting to get old, but he’s a good kind of old – just good enough against the run, few mistakes, and keeping the pitching staff on point – though he has a good set of pitchers to work with.  His offense fell off to where his power slipped and his OBP is woeful (.301).  Backup Ramon Castro isn’t half bad, and the man can hit (.278/.504/.331).  He could easily be a DH if the Sox wanted, and I’d be tempted to let him play more.

Matt Wieters (BAL) – 51.4 runs created

The Orioles future is now with Matt Wieters assuming the starting role full time.  As a team, Oriole catching rates as slightly above average, with the young Wieters being mobile, and making few errors or passed balls.  The TEAM was below average in terms of the stolen base percentage, but Wieters wasn’t the problem, nabbing 24 of 77 runners.  Craig Tatum was horrible here, allowing 25 of 27 runners to reach the next base.  Offensively, Wieters didn’t amaze as we had been led to believe, but there were a few positives, including 11 homers in 446 at bats.  I think he’s going to be better.  Tatum had a nice batting average (.281), but he didn’t do much with those singles.

Jason Kendall (KC) – 43.6 runs created

You want to know why the Royals are never going to win?  Who was responsible for letting John Buck go to Toronto (where Toronto suddenly had the best overall catching in the league), and replacing him with the ancient, impotent, and immobile Jason Kendall?  Kendall can still throw a little, but the rest of his game is lacking.  Brayan Pena should have been given this job from the outset.  Pena is a better hitter, a better athlete, and has upside.

Alex Avila/Gerald Laird (DET) – 32.3 runs created

Laird is a really good catcher with solid skills, good with pitchers, good against the run, relatively mistake free.  Avila is nearly his equal and played 86 more innings.  Neither hit – but Avila was closer to league average than Laird, who seems to have lost his bat altogether – explaining why Avila got more time behind the plate.  If Avila can step up a bit – maybe .260 and slugging .400 – this would be a positive.  He’ll be a backup, though, as Victor Martinez will take on a load of catching in 2011.

Lou Marson (CLE) – 22.4 runs created

As a team, Indian catchers were average – but the young guys were good in terms of avoiding mistakes and making the throws.  The veteran backup, Mike Redmond, struggled against baserunners (see Craig Tatum, BAL, above).  I’ve always been a Marson fan, but if his bat doesn’t improve soon (.195 with no power), he’ll become the new Paul Bako.  You think the Indians miss Victor Martinez?

Matt Treanor/Bengie Molina (TEX) – 20.5 runs created

A few years ago, it looked like Texas had all the good young catchers.  Saltalamacchia is gone, Taylor Teagarden has been disappointing, Max Ramirez isn’t the answer yet, leaving veteran Matt Treanor as the best of the lot.  It was so bad, the Rangers imported Bengie Molina from the Giants down the stretch, and he wasn’t much better than Treanor – though he was more mobile.  Nobody hit here, so the addition of Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba will help immensely.

Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (SEA) – 14.9 runs created

Josh Bard got 300 innings, too – nobody had more than 515 innings at the position in 2010.  Moore wasn’t very good against the run and he isn’t very mobile.  If he has room to grow, that’s news to me.  Rob Johnson was good against the run and more mobile, but his health record looks like Medicare’s worst nightmare.  Bard can catch, but that’s about it.  As a team, among the worst catching in the league.  Only Bard hit above .200, and he hit .214.  Not good at all…

Hudson Says Race Keeps Dye, Sheffield From Getting Jobs

Orlando Hudson, speaking with Yahoo Sports, suggested that the reason sluggers Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield can’t get jobs is – well, he wouldn’t say specifically but he SUGGESTED that it was because they were black.  [Yahoo Sports]

Look – I’m not going to say that the country has tackled racism, but I thought that Gary Sheffield had already played for just about every team in baseball and had annoyed (or offended) most every owner in the country.  He’s in his 40s, hasn’t always stayed healthy, can’t really play the field anymore, but can still hit.  He was once linked to steroids in the BALCO scandal.

In Dye’s case, his fielding has become problematic and his second half last year was awful.  He, too, is past prime – having hit 36 – and a lot of teams are trying to keep their expenses down.  Johnny Damon thought he was worth $26 million over two years and wound up settling for about 20% of that over one season with Detroit.  The days of overpaid aging sluggers appears over.  It’s part age, it’s part teams focusing on defense AND offense, and for all we know it’s collusion.  The Union has suggested that already…

FoxSports writer Ken Rosenthal spends more time writing about it here.   Mine took fewer lines of copy, but I’m not getting paid for this…  [FoxSports]

Fun With Numbers…

Jorge Cantu has a hit and RBI in each of the Marlins’ first eight games – and twelve in a row going back to 2009.  George Kelly last did this in 1921 (according to Elias).  [ESPN]

The game needs to be sped up – and Bud Selig is on the case.  I’ve written about this before.  Get the batters to stay in the box and the pitchers to stay on the hill and keep throwing.  Faster games will also keep pitchers healthier – and if the average game time falls to 2:40, nobody is going to complain.  [SI]

Horrifying News…

Members of the Angels, including Jered Weaver and Matt Palmer, watched a man jump to his death from the pool deck of a Manhattan hotel yesterday.  [FoxSports]

Entertainment News…

Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz?  I’d rather date Kate Hudson.  [FoxSports]

Cuban Signings in Tampa, Toronto…

Tampa signs Leslie Anderson, a veteran outfield/first baseman, while Toronto inks Adeiny Hechavarria, a shortstop.  Both are former members of the Cuban national team – and while Anderson may be a MLB ready hitter, he’s 28.  Hechavarria is just 21 and got the bigger signing bonus.  [SI]

Rehab News…

Arizona ace Brandon Webb is playing catch – but isn’t close to returning.  [MLB]

Mariner ace Cliff Lee is making progress, making 60+ pitches in a bullpen session and may return as early as May 1.  [ESPN]

Carlos Delgado had a second surgery on his hip and hopes to get a chance to play in the late summer.  [MLB]

Ouch!

Brad Hawpe is day to day with a strained quad.  Hawpe left yesterday’s Rockies game with even less mobility than he usually has in right field…

Kelly Shoppach broke up C.C. Sabathia‘s no hitter the other day despite pain in his knee.  Now, the Tampa backup catcher heads to the DL.

Hurry Back!

Padres starter Chris Young heads to the 15-day DL with tightness in his right shoulder.  (Affects my fantasy team…)
Toronto infielder Aaron Hill is out 15 days with a tight right hamstring.
Orioles infielder Brian Roberts is out 15 days with a strained abdominal muscle.
Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero heads out for 15 days with a right knee strain.
Nationals first baseman Mike Morse heads out for 15 days with a left calf strain.
Mets reliever Sean Green heads to the DL for 15 days with a right intercostal muscle strain.
Dodgers backup catcher Brad Ausmus is on the DL for 15 days with a pinched nerve in his lower back.

The Royals sent former AL Rookie of the Year Mike Aviles to AAA Omaha.  Wow – the Royals can’t keep a rookie performer, can they?

Welcome back!

A.J. Ellis gets the call to cover for the Dodgers while Ausmus is out.
Jeremy Reed gets the call to cover the infield for Toronto while Hill is out.
John Jaso gets the call to back up Dioner Navarro in Tampa while Shoppach is out.

Gil Meche returns to the Royals after a short DL stint.

Happy Birthday!

1927 – Don Mueller
1935 – Marty Keough
1941 – Pete Rose
1947 – Joe Lahoud
1966 – David Justice, Greg Maddux
1966 – Greg Myers
1969 – Brad Ausmus (obviously, will not get hits on his birthday)
1970 – Steve Avery
1971 – Gregg Zaun
1976 – Kyle Farnsworth
1982 – Josh Whitesell
1984 – Christopher Leroux

I predicted four hits for Mark Teixeira on his birthday and he had three.  Of course, they are the only three hits he has this year…  He should be BENCHED!!! (Not really.)

The guy who apparently needs to be benched is David Ortiz.  Or does he?  Let me know your thoughts!