Celebrating Victories, Thumbs, and Catchers

Headlines:

Congratulations to Ron Gardenhire for winning his 1000th game as manager of the Minnesota Twins.  Only ten managers have done that with the same team. [FoxSports]

Not an MLB story, but interesting nonetheless.  Auburn pitcher Jay Wade was supposed to issue an intentional pass to Austin Anderson of Ole Miss.  He didn’t.  The video captures the rest of the story.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back!

Will Middlebrooks heads to the DL with a calf strain.  An MRI is forthcoming.  Meanwhile, Brock Holt gets some time with the parent team.  Holt came through the Pirates chain and has had two previous trips to the bigs (Pittsburgh and Boston), hitting .250 in 124 at bats.  He’s a contact hitter, some speed but not a ton, and not a lot of power.  That makes him, what, a poor man’s Bill Mueller? [MLB]

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira heads to the DL with a right hamstring pullAustin Romine will get his spot on the roster.  [SI]

Scott Hairston heads to the DL with a left oblique strain, which means that backup outfielder Tyler Moore returns to the Nationals.  [MLB]

Yasiel Puig injured his thumb sliding into first base on an infield single.  He stayed in the game – even forgot how many outs there were on a late game fly ball…  Anyway – he expects to get an xray soon. [MLB]

Speaking injured thumbs – Ryan Braun has been struggling with a thumb injury for nearly a full year now, and even the rest he got while sitting out last year for steroid usage didn’t help.  [ESPN]

National third baseman Ryan Zimmerman may have reinjured his shoulder on an awkward throw in Saturday’s game against the Braves.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!

Jon Niese returns to the Mets after his turn on the DL.

More Rehab…

Cole Hamels, Chris Stewart, Dane De La Rosa, Brian Wilson, Craig Gentry, Jake Arrieta, and J.A. Happ head off to minor league rehab assignments.

Baseball 365

Arrivals:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane – Hall of Fame catcher – probably the greatest one prior to the arrival of Yogi Berra.

(1908) Ernie Lombardi – one of the best hitting catchers, a two-time batting champ, and another member of the Hall of Fame.

(1937) Phil Regan – earned nickname, “The Vulture”, because he would swoop in as a reliever and take wins at the end of the ballgame.

(1943) Marty Pattin – I’ve probably written this before.  The first time that I bought my own pack of baseball cards was when I was probably six years old.  I took a quarter down to a corner store near where my grandparents lived on Sacramento in Chicago and bought a pack of Topps baseball cards.  There were no Cubs in that pack, and no other stars that caught my attention.  The one guy who stood out, to me, was Marty Pattin.

Pattin was born in the western suburbs of Chicago.  When his career – a good one – wound down, he would become the manager of the Kansas Jayhawks baseball team – but he left one year before I started broadcasting their games.  I believe he still lives in the Lawrence area, and I wonder if he ever heard my call.

Anyway – whenever I see his name, I think back to that first pack of cards.

(1951) Bert Blyleven – Hall of Fame pitcher and, like Jack Morris, the topic of enormous debate as to whether or not he was actually good enough to get the nod.  Chris Berman gave too many players nicknames in the 1980s and 1990s – but of the Bermanisms, Bert “Be Home” Blyleven was the best.

(1964) Kenny Williams – outfielder turned GM.

(1969) Bret Boone – another cheater, had some very big seasons in the 1990s.

(1971) Lou Merloni – my memory of Lou is that he was the guy who said that the Red Sox trainers used to give lessons in proper steroid taking…

Departures:

(1909) Doggie Miller

George Frederick Miller was born 15 August 1864 and with just a year of minor league ball was playing for Pittsburgh.  Miller was an agile catcher, a good hitter, and decent baserunner – which should have been enough to endear him to a generation of fans.  However, he had something uniquely special – and that was a remarkably loud voice.  So, when given the opportunity to coach the baselines, Miller would be heard all throughout the grounds – if not outside the grounds and a few blocks away.

His coaching voice was so loud it earned him the nicknames of Foghorn and Calliope.  The other nickname – Doggie – had to do with his rather unique batting stance.  A short, thin player – he propped himself even lower, and then he would kick forward with his front leg – almost like a dog taking a leak – before he would lean forward and slash at the ball.  Having been teased, Miller actually tried to hit without kicking his leg out, but it was ingrained into his routine.  He couldn’t hit without the kick.

Like many of the players of the 1880s and 1890s, he endured regular changes in the rules and equipment.  One change he didn’t necessarily take to was the chest protector.  A good enough player early in his career, Miller was often playing other positions to stay in the lineup – as his career wound down, he would eventually become the first player (and still only player) to play at least 20 games at every non-pitching position.

When his major league career ended in 1896, he wound up playing and managing in the minors,  Sadly, Miller contracted Bright’s Disease, however, and left this world before his 45th birthday.

(Summary thanks to my new favorite book – Major League Player Profiles – 1871 – 1900.)

Transactions:

(1975) The Astros purchased Joe Niekro from the Braves.

Events:

(1973) Ron Blomberg becomes the first designated hitter, drawing a walk off of Luis Tiant.  The second DH was Orlando Cepeda, who batted in the second inning of the same game.

2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.