Originally posted on High Heat Stats.
Back in 2010 the New York Yankees were in possession of a pair of talented minor league catchers by the names of Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Both players were considered top-100 prospects by Baseball America and both players appeared to be on their way to long, prosperous careers. Romine was considered the finer defender of the two, topping out at #86 in Baseball America’s rankings while Montero was thought to be a powerhouse offensive force, ranking among the top 5 minor league players in the game. While Yankee fans spoke well of Romine they positively salivated at the idea of putting Montero’s prodigious power behind the plate as visions of 35 homer seasons danced in their heads.
There was a catch however. Montero’s defense was considered to be so shaky by the Yankees brain trust that rumors of him becoming a full-time DH were already circulating before he could even advance past Double-A Trenton. Scouting reports pegged Montero’s glove work as shoddy and his throw times to 2nd base as well below Major League average.
Author’s note: This article was originally posted on High Heat Stats (link).
When the Los Angeles Angels announce over the winter that they had agreed to a deal with former Rangers’ slugger Josh Hamilton, the first thought that ran through my head was “Good God, pitchers aren’t going to stand a chance against this modern day murderer’s row.” Those thoughts didn’t change much throughout the spring and by the time April rolled around I, like so many others, felt that a lineup including the legendary Albert Pujols, the powerful Josh Hamilton, and the electric Mike Trout would be piling up runs like they were going out of style. After all, if they could rank among the 3 or 4 best scoring lineups in 2012 without Hamilton, just imagine how scary they would be with him plopped in the #4 hole.
But as we sit here on May 16th, nearly 40 games deep into the regular season, the Angels enter play with the 11th ranked scoring attack in the American League and one of the worst records in baseball. So what’s been the deal in L.A.? The Angels have done a solid job making contact at the plate (their 103 OPS+ is 6th best in baseball) and they’re starting to work the long ball, averaging just over 1 home run a game, so why are they stuck with one of the most mediocre looking attacks in the league? The answer, I believe, lies somewhere as simple as the base paths.
Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week, but I’ve been busy. Most importantly, I am now a writer for one of the best baseball resources on the internet, High Heat Stats (link). I still have every intention of posting original material here on my personal blog, but it may be a little less frequent. I’ve also been working with some great people in Springfield, MO to get an 18-and-up baseball league going and we had our first practice/scrimmage last week. So without further adu, here’s my 1st post for High Heat Stats.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria talked a big game just one offseason ago, acquiring big-name free agents like Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle while making a run at the biggest fish in the sea, Albert Pujols. While Loria’s attempts to lure Pujols to South Beach would ultimately prove unsuccessful, the message was sent nonetheless: these new Miami Marlins were finally willing to open the pocketbooks to win. But the wins never materialized and dysfunction quickly set in. The Marlins slummed their way to a dismal 69-93 record which was good for a 2nd consecutive last place finish in the NL East.
The Marlins, as they are notorious for doing, decided that this current roster wouldn’t get the job done. They opted to leverage nearly all their usable roster pieces into future assets, making multiple trades that left the big league roster in tatters. Out the door went Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and their combined 13 All-Star appearances, only to be replaced by a handful of minor league prospects plus some veteran placeholders. If the Marlins could only muster 69 wins with that group of players, it was worth wondering how low they could go with an even less talented group. Well, if the early returns are worth anything, these 2013 Miami Marlins may make a run at some truly terrible history.
For the better part of the past century the Chicago Cubs have been plagued by one mistake after another. After all, how else do you go 104 years without winning a championship? They’ve bumbled and stumbled their way through the better part of the last decade as well, thanks to a handful of poor management decisions like the time GM Jim Hendry thought it would be a good idea to center a team around the explosive talents of Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.
But things have gotten better over the past couple of seasons. Theo Epstein was hired away from the Red Sox to oversee the rebuilding of the roster. Many of the bloated, unproductive contracts have been cleared away and some bright young talents have stepped in to take their place. Most of the Cubbies current lineup is under the age of 30 and many of the minor league system is chocked full of talent waiting to make the leap to the big leagues. Best of all, the Cubs now have bargain basement discount playing 1st base for the next 7 years in Anthony Rizzo.
The single most surprising performance from any player through the first 30-40 games of the Major League season has to be that of Rays’ 1st baseman James Loney. For the better part of the past 5 seasons, the former Red Sox and Dodgers’ 1st baseman has been a punchline to a bad joke. Loney’s offensive production at 1st base was severely lacking for the position’s standard and his power numbers were meager for any player, no matter his position. After being traded to the Red Sox last year’s mega-deal, Loney’s offensive game bottomed out. He hit just 2 homers in 30 games as a member of Boston and his .230 batting average left plenty of seats empty throughout Fenway Park. Entering free agency, Loney’s stock was at rock bottom.
Luckily for Mr. Loney, that’s when Andrew Freidman and the Tampa Bay Rays came calling. You see, the Rays have a habit of turning one team’s trash into their own treasure. They’ve been doing it since Joe Maddon was handed the big job on the bench and thanks to the Rays extra emphasis on defense, the slick fielding Loney seemed like a good fit. There was also the fact that Tampa Bay was not only able to offer Loney a contract worth $2 million dollars, but they could promise the 1st baseman something that could turn out to be infinitely more valuable: playing time.
From this day forward I think we can all agree to never, under any circumstance, question what Brian Cashman is doing again. The Yankees general manager took a verbal beating from almost every sports writer this winter over the moves, or lack thereof, that he was making. Signing Travis Hafner? Nah, he’s too old and brittle. Kevin Youkilis? No way jose, he’s a one of those Red Sox, plus he can’t hit anymore. How about swapping for Vernon Wells? Ha, don’t make me laugh.
These lackluster acquisitions, plus numerous injuries to the roster, were supposed to finally sink a Yankee ship that appeared to be too battered from years of battles to stay afloat. Yes, Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia were still aboard, but they weren’t going to be able to make up for the loss of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson, among others. The hope was that the replacements would hold the fort until the cavalry made their way back. But that hasn’t been the case this season. Buoyed by an excellent pitching staff, a deep bullpen, and some surprise offensive breakouts from Cashman’s reserves, the Yankees have gotten off to a rousing 19-13 start that has defied even the biggest optimists expectations.
After spending the better part of the past decade lost in the baseball wilderness, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians have finally found a way out. The two ball clubs sit 2nd and 3rd respectively in the AL Central and they’ve both been playing well of late, posting identical 7-3 records in their past 10 games.
Kansas City has been getting it done on the mound thanks in large part to a rebuilt starting staff that currently ranks 5th in baseball in ERA. New additions like Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and James Shields have quickly made Royals fans forget the days when Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar were the best the franchise had to offer. A 17-11 start has only furthered the thought that the Royals might end their playoff drought, closing the door on a nightmare that began all the way back in 1986.
Cleveland is also enjoying a baseball renaissance of sorts, but they are getting the job done in a whole different way. The Indians have used their bats to rebound from last year’s 94-loss disaster, leading the American League with 40 homers already. Their own offseason acquisitions, which included the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, are hitting balls out of the park at such great frequency that fans in the outfield must be alert at all times. New manager Terry Francona has Cleveland playing loose, winning 7 of their last 8.
Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.
However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.
They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.
Just one April ago Philip Humber threw the game of his life against the Seattle Mariners, requiring just 96 poised pitches to complete a perfect game, the 19th in baseball history. Humber, then a member of the Chicago White Sox, was brilliant that day. His 2-seam fastball was darting all over the zone, dancing away from Mariners’ hitters as Humber racked up 9 total strikeouts.
Oh, what a difference a year can make. After taking the loss against the Yankees on Tuesday night, Humber became just the 2nd pitcher since 1900 to lose 6 games in the month of April and his ERA on the season now stands at an unsightly 7.58 on the season.
Ever since that perfect game Philip Humber has been unable to get even the easiest of hitters out. His ERA since that fateful April 21st game has been an almost unbelievable 7.52 in 131.2 innings, which far and away stands as the worst in the Major Leagues. Opposing batters have hit a ridiculous .309 off of Humber since last April 21st and those aren’t just cheap hits either. The right-hander has also given up 26 homers and 26 doubles, which basically factors out to one extra base hit every time a lineup turns over.
Let’s just pretend for one moment that the advent of the modern bullpen never happened. There’s no such thing as a LOOGY, Jerome Holtman never invented the save, and starting pitchers are handed the ball at the start of the game with the expectation that they will work a minimum of 7 innings. Now, I’m fairly sure the Player’s Association and a majority of the big league managers would riot if this kind of thing ever happened, but I know one place where everybody would be happy: the National League Central.
You see, apart from Pittsburgh, none of the NL Central teams have been able to cobble together a solid bullpen.The Cardinals struggles have been well-documented this year and for good reason. St. Louis currently has an ERA north of 6.00 out of the bullpen, which is good for dead last in baseball. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee haven’t been much better ranking 20th, 18th, and 15th respectively in ERA.
But when a starting pitcher is on the mound? Look out, because each of these ball clubs has put together a quality rotation and most of them are running at full power right now. But which one of these star-studded starting staffs is the best?