Yes, the 2010 Major League baseball season is only two weeks old, but it isn’t too early to share some observations about what has transpired between the foul lines up to this point.
There have been the usual surprisingly hot starts, and the annual April disappointments. But the real question is, which of these trends are for real, and which are merely April aberrations?
So let’s see if we can read the tea leaves of early April, and draw some reasonable conclusions.
Since the Yankees won the World Series last season, why not begin with them?
Well, my friends, whether you love them or hate them, this year’s Yankees, who already have a 9-3 record, appear play-off bound once again.
The quartet of Pettitte, Jeter, Posada and Rivera show no signs of slowing down. And don’t look now, but lead-off man Brett Gardner has seven stolen bases and a .333 batting average. Meanwhile, C.C. Sabathia again looks like he’ll finish in the top five in Cy Young voting by season’s end.
First baseman Mark Teixeira is off to his usual slow start, but he’ll end up posting his typical, highly productive numbers.
One Yankee, however, appears to be in for a long, miserable year at Yankee Stadium. Javier Vazquez has already been booed mercilessly this year at home, and unless he can quickly turn around his poor start, the Yankees may be forced to figure out a way to pitch him only on the road as early as Memorial Day.
I wrote about the possibility of this happening to Vazquez in “A Tale of Two Pitchers,” in my December 23, 2009 blog-post.
Across town, however, the Mets appear to be a team on which either the hitters will let the pitchers down, or the pitchers just won’t show up, on any particular night. At this point, it appears reasonable to suggest that the Mets might be closer to the Nationals in the standings come September than they will be to either the Marlins or the Braves.
The good news, perhaps, is that the Mike Jacobs fiasco has apparently ended in Queens. First base prospect Ike Davis is set to be called up to The Show as early as today.
On the other hand, Jason Bay, a player who I devoted an entire blog-post to, “Keeping the Wolves at Bay” (December 31, 2009), has been awful. Bay has yet to hit a homer, has two RBI, and is “hitting” .222. In Saturday night’s 20 inning win over the Cardinals, Bay went 0-7 with four strikeouts.
It won’t be long until Mets fans begin booing him mercilessly at Citi Field.
Here are several other random observations and conclusions I’ve drawn to date:
Matt Garza already needs to be considered the front-runner for the A.L. Cy Young award. He is 3-0 with a nearly invisible 0.75 ERA. Yes, he is for real, and yes, it wasn’t difficult to see this coming. Although he won only eight games last season, his peripheral numbers were excellent.
As I’ve said before, a pitcher’s win total is the last thing you should look at when trying to predict future success.
Meanwhile, over in Washington, Pudge Rodriguez is apparently not quite finished playing baseball. He is hitting .444 with a .639 slugging average, and his presence seems to be buoying the mostly young Nats, who are off to a respectable 6-6 start.
When Pudge retires, he should be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Vlad Guerrerro also isn’t quite done, enjoying something of a resurgence in Texas. As I write this, he is batting about .378. Truth be told, though, virtually all of his hits have been singles. Don’t expect much of his old power to return, and his base-running skills have long since eroded.
But is Vlad Guerrerro, perhaps, the most under-appreciated Super Star this sport has ever seen?
Yes, Baltimore (2-11) and Houston (3-9) really are this bad.
Which brings me to…
Carlos Lee. The man is toast. He has had a nice run over the past decade, but he is less than a shadow of his old self. In fact, he would have difficulty even casting a shadow in down-town Los Angeles these days.
Lee’s batting average is currently hovering around .100. If played in the A.L., a manager might use a pitcher to DH for his spot in the lineup.
Carlos Lee’s slugging average is the lowest I’ve ever seen, .104. Yes, it’s early in the year. But let’s face it, only a team as bad as Houston would continue to play him on a regular basis.
And speaking of finished, another slow start would seem to indicate that Big Papa himself, David Ortiz, is all but done in Boston. And don’t look for a second half surge like the one he displayed last season.
Don’t look now, but the Giants are a surprising 8-4. Pitching, of course, is the main reason why they are playing so well. All four front-line starters have contributed, with Barry Zito posting an early season 1.86 ERA, and Jonathon O. Sanchez showing excellent strikeout ability (17 K’s in 12 innings.)
The Dodgers young outfield duo of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are good, very good. Both are slugging in excess of .600.
The top five players in the A.L. are Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, and Shin-Soo Choo.
Baseball’s best kept secret is Shin-Soo Choo, the Cleveland Indian’s outfielder from South Korea. His current numbers: .350 batting average, .500 on-base average, .725 slugging percentage. Last season, he was a 20-20 man while sporting a .300 average, very good defense, and nice base-running skills.
Choo’s teammate, Grady Sizemore, garners far more publicity, but Choo is the more complete player.
Brian Matusz, the Orioles rookie pitcher, is poised to win the A.L. Rookie of the Year award. At 2-0, he has both of Baltimore’s wins, and his ERA is a respectable 4.34.
Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward is a man-child who will easily win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. His line so far: .302, .423, .581, and he already has 15 RBI’s.
His teammate, Martin Prado, is off to an unbelievable start, hitting .426 with an astounding .500 on base average. Even during the no-hitter that Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez tossed against the Braves on Saturday night, Prado managed to reach base twice on bases on balls.
Last year’s N.L. Rookie of the Year, Casey Mcgehee of the Brewers, appears not to have been a one-year wonder. He is currently batting .400 with a .778 slugging percentage.
File this under – What a Difference a Year Makes.
Last season, Jason Marquis finished with a 15-13 record and an ERA of 4.04 while pitching for the Rockies. This season, pitching for the Nationals, he is 0-3 with an ERA of 20.52.
Perhaps he should have stayed in that new-found pitcher’s paradise, Coor’s Field.
File this under – Give Credit Where Credit is Due.
I have been highly critical of Mets outfielder Jeff Francoer over the past year. He doesn’t walk nearly enough, and he swings at just about anything not thrown over to first base on a pick-off move. He has also been a lousy base-stealer.
Yet this season, lo and behold, “Frenchy,” as his admirer’s call him, is hitting .364 with an on-base average of .444 (suggesting new-found patience at the plate), and he threw out Cardinals base-runner Ryan Ludwick at the plate in tonight’s game.
Although I don’t expect these numbers to hold up over the course of the season, if he doubles his walk rate from a year ago, he’ll be a useful major league regular.
The Cubbies, meanwhile, are spinning their wheels already with a 5-7 record. Let’s face it. This is a very expensive, very mediocre team. By mid-season, if not earlier, the Cubs should begin the process of dismantling their roster piece by piece. This franchise desperately need an infusion of younger, cheaper players with upside.
How about the Red Sox, the team that I picked to win the 2010 World Series?
Well, a 4-8 start may very soon lead to much grumbling (if it hasn’t started already), that the BoSox off-season strategy of placing a new emphasis on pitching and defense seems to have backfired.
Yet the reality is that they have had a couple of key injuries (Ellsbury and Cameron), their starting pitching has been decent, and once V-Mart, Youkilis, Ellsbury and Pedroia all get hot as the year progresses, I still think their offense will be fine.
With one caveat: David Ortiz should be benched sooner than later.
Remember that last season, the Yankees began the year with a slew of injuries. But by about the second weak of May, they began to click on all cylinders and never looked back.
The Red Sox can still do the same this season, although the Tampa Bay Rays should be making both the Red Sox and the Yankees nervous this season.
The Rays have gotten off to a 9-3 start, and they are a young, talented club. If the Sox fall too far back early on, it will be much more difficult to catch two teams than it would be to catch only one.
Finally, congratulations to the Minnesota Twins on their beautiful new ball-park in downtown Minneapolis. Remember, this was a franchise that nearly became extinct a few years ago when baseball was considering contraction.
Now, however, watching the Twins begin the 2010 season with a 9-4 record, locking up catcher Joe Mauer to a long-term contract, and finally getting out of the Baggie Dome, the future of this franchise looks very bright indeed.
Underrated / Overrated: Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part 2