The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Ike Davis”

Eight Break-Out Players to Watch in 2013

If you play fantasy baseball, or even if you just like to read about which ball-players are likely to come through big in the upcoming baseball season, this is the time of year when most baseball fans begin to research the players and teams that interest them.

My goal, then, for this post is to alert you to eight players who aren’t necessarily household names, but who I believe will enjoy significantly productive seasons.  There are, of course, many other players that I could have chosen to write about, but these are the ones who’ve caught my attention thus far.

1)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Nationals – The forgotten man in a rotation that includes, Strasburg, Gonzalez and Haren, Zimmerman produced the fifth best ERA+ (134) in 195 innings last season.  He averaged over 3 1/2 K’s per walk, and is entering his age 27 season.  Likely to receive plenty of run support, while probably reaching the 200 inning pitched level for the first time in his career, Zimmerman could be primed for a very impressive season.  He won 12 games last year, but could win half a dozen more this time around.

English: Ike Davis

English: Ike Davis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Ike Davis:  Mets – Among all first basemen, Davis is one of the likeliest to be overlooked going into the 2013 season.  His low .227 batting average and equally poor .308 on-base percentage tarnish his otherwise impressive power numbers (32 homers and 90 RBI.)  But given his track record, Davis is likely to increase his batting average by around 25 points, and has stated that his goal is to draw a hundred walks.

Even if he draws around 80 walks, coupled with a .260 batting average, his natural power should allow him to at least match, and perhaps exceed, last season’s power numbers.  In an era where 35 homers once again represents a significant total, Davis, now just entering his age-26 season, will be a player that should not be ignored.

3)  Michael Morse:  Mariners –  After a big 2011 season, Morse played just 102 games last year for the Nationals, swatting 18 homers with 62 RBI.  He has since moved on to the Mariners, where under normal conditions, it is often wise to allow someone in his situation to fall completely off your radar screen.  But Morse, still in his power-prime years (he turns 31 later this month), slugged 31 homers, drove in 95 runs, and batted .303 just a couple of years ago.

Also, the Mariners have brought in the outfield fences this year, especially in the power-alley in left-center field (favorable to right-handed batters sluggers like Morse.)  Hitting in the middle of what could turn out to be the most productive Mariners’ offense in several years, Morse should provide a nice boost to any fantasy squad this season, even if he doesn’t quite reach a .300 batting average again.

4)  Brett Anderson:  A’s – Just a couple of years ago, Brett Anderson was considered the future of the A’s rotation.  Then he blew his arm out.  But the big 6’4″, 235 pound lefty out of Midland, TX looked good upon his late-season return to the A’s rotation last year.  In six starts, covering 35 innings, he struck out 25 batters while walking just seven, good for a 1.029 WHIP.  His ERA+ was a very impressive 156.

Then, in his one post-season start, he shutout the Tigers through six innings, fanning six, while surrendering just two hits and no walks for his first post-season win.  Anderson, still just 25-years old, is not only capable, but likely to recover the form that made him a huge prospect a few years ago.  Pitching for an A’s team that won their division last year, Anderson is likely to conclude the year as one of the top young starting pitchers in the A.L.

Peter Bourjos

Peter Bourjos (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

5)  Peter Bourjos:  Angels – A couple of years ago, the speedy Bourjos, in his first full season as an Angels’ outfielder, led the A.L. in triples, displayed reasonable power (12 homers) and posted an OPS+ of 116 while playing excellent defense.  Last year, the Angels played the remains of Bobby Abreu, along with Torii Hunter and eventually Mike Trout leaving Bourjos as the odd-man out.  As a result, Bourjos ended up scuffling through 192 uninspiring plate appearances.

He appears to have a starting gig again this season, and on a super-loaded Angel’s offense, he should be expected to score lots of runs, steal bases, and hit the occasional homer, regardless of where he hits in the lineup.  His glove alone should keep him in the field.  Entering his age-26 season, there is a lot of potential here now that his opportunity to play seems to be secure.

6)  Eric Hosmer:  Royals – There’s just no other way to say it, but first baseman Eric Hosmer sucked last season.  Suffering through a terrible sophomore slump, Hosmer batted just .232, 61 points lower than in his rookie season.  His power numbers suffered as well; he hit five fewer homers (14 total) in 12 more at bats.  But Hosmer, now just 23-years old, batted over .400 in his final one-hundred Triple-A at bats, and, though it’s a small sample size, he’s looked great this spring with eight hits — four for extra bases — and seven RBI in his first 20 at bats.  Hosmer should be one of the young Royals hitters that will impress people this season.  Also useful on the basepaths, Hosmer swiped 16 bags in 17 attempts last year.

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Jay Bruce:  Reds – After five seasons in the Majors, outfielder Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds seems to have settled in as a 30 homer, 90 RBI guy who will hit around .260 with 150 strikeouts.  A good player, but not a great one.

That could change this season.  Bruce, who will turn 26-years old in April, has increased his homer production for five straight seasons: 21, 22, 25, 32, 34.  Similarly, his doubles have also generally increased as well: 17, 15, 23, 27, 35.  Though his OPS+ held steady at 118 for the second consecutive year, he did set career highs in runs scored (89), RBI (99) and slugging percentage (.514.)

Now just fully entering his power prime, and with no significant injury history to speak of, the addition of high on-base player Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the Reds lineup will provide Bruce with the opportunity to become one of the top run-producers in the Majors this year.  A 40 homer, 120 RBI season with a hundred runs scored is not out of the question.

8)  Paul Goldschmidt:  Diamondbacks – The 25-year old Goldshmidt started slowly last season, but hit 18 homers over the last four months of the season, including five homers in a seven-game span.  The right-handed batting first-baseman actually led the Majors in line-drive rate last year.  If just a few of his 43 doubles turn into home runs this year, Goldschmidt could be on his way to 30+ homers, along with about a .280 batting average.

A fly-ball hitter (Goldschmidt led the league in Sac. Flies last year) who plays his home games in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league, is off to a fine start in spring training posting a .429 average to date.  Also, he’s not merely a slugger, but an athlete who stole 18 bases in 21 attempts last year.  Goldschmidt is one of this generation’s most promising young baseball talents.  He could become a right-handed swinging Jim Thome.

Others to follow closely:  Jason Kipnis of the Indians; Matt Harvey of the Mets, Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks, Brandon Morrow of Toronto (yes, him again), Matt Adams of the Cardinals, Salvador Perez of the Royals (there will be many All-Star Game appearances in his future), and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs.

Six months from now, I hope you are celebrating a championship season, and that at least one of the players on this list was a key contributor to your team’s success.

How the Mets Will Win 120 Games in 2013

As a Mets fan, it would be easy to succumb to the reality-based prognostications of the so-called “experts.”  Many of them believe the Mets will win somewhere between 70-79 games, finishing in the bottom half of the N.L. East.  Keep in mind that the Mets won 74 games last season, their fourth straight fourth-place finish in the N.L. East.  (The Mets haven’t finished in last place since waaaayyyy back in 2003.  So there’s that.)

Well, I say not so fast, guys.  After all, Spring Training is upon us, and hope (if not necessarily logic) springs eternal.  I am fully convinced that the Mets will lose no more than around a forty games this year.  Here’s how.

1)  Manager Terry Collins guided the Mets to 77 wins in 2011, three more than last season.  I’m sure he’s learned from his mistakes, so he should easily get those three wins back.  +3

2)  Johan Santana won just six games last year (including the Mets first no-hitter in history.)  His career 162-game average has been 15 wins per season.  After on off-season doing nothing but drinking V-8 Juice and firewalking, he should be back to his old winning ways.  Add nine more wins to the column.  +9

3)  Matt Harvey said in one of his first media appearances this spring that his goal is to win 20 games this year.  Matthew is 6’4″, 225 pounds, so who are you or I to argue with him?  Last year he won three of ten starts, but averaged over a strikeout an inning, and posted an ERA+ of 141.  So, obviously, he’s talented.

Davis and his new Hawaiian Bib

Just  another Yankee cry-baby

Also, the Mets have a history of grinding their young stud pitchers into the dust (see:  Wilson, Paul, and Pulsipher, Bill, among others.)  Therefore, don’t expect any namby pamby, New York Yankees “Joba Rules” for Harvey.  If he can get his shirt on, them By God, the boy should pitch.  He ain’t no droolin’ little baby.  Add 17 wins to last year’s three, and you have your 20-win season, Matt.  +17

4)  Ike Davis slugged an impressive 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last year, despite hitting a Dave Kingman-esque .223.  How did he manage to hit for such a low average?  Basically, he swung as hard as he could on every single pitch, sometimes finishing his swing even before the pitcher had decided what to throw.  No worries, for Ike Davis claims that his goal this year is to be much more selective at the plate.  He wants to draw as many as 100 walks (compared to last year’s total of 61.)  Davis’ WAR last year was an abysmal 0.7.

But we all know that WAR loves walks the way the N.R.A. loves hollow-point bullets.  Therefore, all those extra walks should result in a WAR of, say 5.0, which is Davis’ entire career total to date.  (That’s five wins above replacement, for those of you scoring at home.)  If we round up last year’s WAR to 1.0, this means Mr. Davis should expect to help the Mets win four extra games in 2013.  +4

English: Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones can’t hurt us anymore

5)  Chipper Jones has finally retired.  In a normal year, the Mets could expect to be defeated, not by the Atlanta Braves, but by Chipper Jones himself, at least three times per year.  Chipper should go into the Hall of Fame in five years wearing a New York Mets cap, because if you take his career production against the Mets away, he becomes just some guy named Larry.  +3

6)  Power of Positive Thinking should not be underrated.  Just this morning, for example, my car wouldn’t quite start.  It was an unusually cold morning here in Greenville, and she just didn’t want to turn over.  At first, I was angry.  Then I realized that with a little positive thinking, I could “will” her to start up.  So I waited until the count of three, then tried again.  Still nothing.

It was then I noticed the gas needle lying flat in the red zone.  Not a drop in the tank.  Granted, this sounds a lot like the Mets current outfield.  But then I remembered there might be a little gas left in the plastic canister I use to fill my lawnmower in the warmer months.  Sure enough, there was just enough in there to pour into my car’s gas tank to get her started.

Terry Collins

Terry Collins understands the power of positive thinking

Now, I know what you might be thinking.  “But Bill, we have no spare high-test outfielders we could just drop into our outfield.”  To which I would respond, “Why are you mixing gas cans with outfielders?  What does one have to do with the other?  I don’t get the analogy.”

The point being, you can’t underestimate the power of positive thinking, even if you can’t quite quantify it.  But I successfully drove the three miles to the neighborhood Spinx on just a whiff of gas.  If each mile represents just one Mets win, then that should conservatively mean an additional three wins for the Mets this year.  +3

7)  Inflation is currently increasing at an annual rate of about 2%.  You can’t defeat the laws of economics.  If inflation is 2%, then the Mets win total should increase by about that rate this year.  Two-percent of 74 wins (last year’s total) is 1.48.  If you round 1.48 to the nearest whole number, you end up with 1.00.  But we’ll round it up to 2.00 because we are optimists, and hyper-inflation could be just around the corner.  By next month, we might be pushing wheelbarrows full of hundred-dollar bills around just to buy our daily bagel and coffee.  So there’s two more wins right there.  +2

8)  Jason Bay is gone.  If you believe in addition by subtraction, as I do, then Bay’s bye-bye should be worth at least two additional wins this season, don’t you think?    +2

9)  In an embarrassing oversight on the Mets part, you may recall  last season outfielder Mike Baxter played 54 games in the outfield before the Mets coaching staff realized he wasn’t wearing a baseball glove.  The seven broken fingernails in three weeks puzzled the team trainer until late July, when finally Mr. Met, the team mascot, pantomimed catching the ball with his face.  Baxter, it turns out, never played baseball as a kid, and is only doing so now so his dad would “finally leave me alone about hanging around the house all the time.”  This year, the Mets broke down and purchased an actual baseball mitt for Baxter on eBay (ironically, a Jason Bay model), for just $13.99, autographed, with a C.O.A.    +1

10)  Over the 51 years of the history of the Mets, they have averaged 76 wins per season.  As they say, all things revert to the mean.  If you’re up a bit too much one year, or down a little more than usual the following year, chances are, the ship will right itself and return to the mean.  Today, my six-year old son broke only two things.  The day before, he broke six things.  Tomorrow, then, I fully expect him to break four things, because that would be him just reverting to the mean.  The Mets are more or less broken right now.  Last season, they won just 74 games.  The year before that they won 77 games.  The year before that, it was 79 wins, and the year before that, 70 wins.

So it seems reasonable to assume that, at a minimum, you can add two wins for simply reverting to the mean.  +2

Now, if you add up each of these carefully thought-out additional wins, I believe you will be forced to come to the same conclusion as I have, that the Mets can’t help but win 120 games this season.

Give or take several dozen wins.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Hitters

A few posts ago, I wrote about sleeper fantasy baseball pitchers you should keep in mind come Draft Day.  This post will focus on ten hitters that should also provide above average value relative to their expected Draft Day ranking.  I have listed them in no particular order.

1)  Ike Davis – First Baseman Ike Davis was enjoying a very productive first six weeks of the season for the Mets before a bone-bruise to his ankle shelved him for the year.  Six weeks are a small sample-size, but Davis was on his way to 28 homer, 100 RBI season with about a .290-.300 batting average when he went down.  While that pace may have been a bit more than he would have sustained over the course of an entire season, he was also hitting in a more pitcher-friendly park last year than he will be this year.

Considering that first basemen Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will probably be drafted a bit higher than Davis, you should be able to get better or equal stats at a cheaper price / lower round.

Matt Wieters

Image via Wikipedia

2)  Matt Wieters –  A few years back, Wieters made the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball’s next great catcher.  The conventional wisdom is that Wieters, the fifth overall pick by the Orioles in the 2007 draft, has been something of a bust.

The conventional wisdom is wrong.  Catchers often take a bit longer than other position players to fully develop their craft, and besides, Wieters, a big kid at 6’5″, 225 pounds, won’t turn 26-years old ’till May.  Last year, he won his first Gold Glove and made his first All-Star team.  He slugged 50 extra base hits, including 22 homers, 68 RBI, and 72 runs scored.

Fifteen of those homers came in the second half of last season, so it is not out of the question that Wieters  could approach 25-30 homers, 80-90 RBI, and a .275 batting average.  Other catchers will be drafted higher, but Wieters should provide better overall value.

3)  Dexter Fowler –  Fowler, a fleet-footed Rockies outfielder, will, like Matt Wieters, turn 26-years old this season.  And like Wieters, his track-record to this point has been a bit underwhelming.

But again, like Wieters, there is reason to believe that Fowler’s best days are ahead of him.  Although he still strikes out a bit too often (130 last year), he did set career highs in doubles (35), triples (15), runs scored (84), and OPS (.796).  It has been reported that Fowler has been working out with Matt Kemp this past off-season, and has gained some muscle.

With the decline in offensive production throughout the Majors, Fowler doesn’t have to improve a lot more to become a serious force among MLB outfielders.  And with Coors Field as his home park, you should bet on further improvement.

Desmond Jennings

Image via Wikipedia

4)  Desmond Jennings – Jennings, another young outfielder, has already made Rays fans forget about Carl Crawford.  In his first 63 games in the Majors, Jennings has already produced 64 hits, scored 44 runs, stolen 20 bases, and hit ten home runs.  Even with a slump in September, Jennings projects as a top 20-25 outfielder this year, with potentially a much higher ranking next year.  If you are in a keeper-league, Jennings is a must-own.

5)  Carlos Santana –  How much value does a catcher who hit just .239 last season have?  If that catcher is Carlos Santana, the answer is, quite a lot.

In his first full season last year, Santana drew 97 walks, slugged 27 homers, added 35 doubles and scored 84 runs.  Even with the low batting average, his OPS was a nice .808.  Look for significant improvement in that batting average as Santana vaults to the front ranks of the catcher position in this, his age-26 season.

You may never again have an opportunity to draft a .239-hitting catcher with this much obvious talent.

6)  Jose Tabata –  Things to like about Jose Tabata:  1) Because he plays for the Pirates, no one will even notice him.  2)  He is only 23-years old. 3) He has excellent speed and the ability to steal at least 30 bases this year.  4)  He hit .290 as a lead-off hitter last year.  5)  He could still develop moderate power.

Sometimes, players with Tabata’s skill-set just don’t quite pan out.  But sometimes, growth happens more quickly than people expect.  Use a late-round pick on this young player with upside while others waste their picks on old-timers on their way out like Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, or Vernon Wells.

7)  Michael Morse –  Morse is probably the best-hitting 1B / OF in the N.L. that few people outside of Washington, D.C. have ever heard of.  But Morse, already 30-years old, is one of those players who once given a chance, provides far more value than anyone expects.

Morse should, at the very least, with an improved Nationals team on the field, come close to equaling last years 31 homers, 95 RBI, .303 batting average.  He also posted an excellent OPS of .910.  Some fantasy owners in your league will be betting against Morse reaching that same level of production again this year.  Most magazines list Carl Crawford, for example, significantly higher than Morse going into 2012.  And that’s fine.  That’s how you land a very good player in a lower round while others draft a slightly better player (if they’re lucky) in a much higher round.

Brett Lawrie

Image via Wikipedia

8)  Brett Lawrie – Several fantasy baseball magazines already have Lawrie rated as the 10th-12th best overall third baseman in the Majors.  By this time next year, he will be rated in the top five at his position.  So don’t wait until next year to discover Lawrie.  Draft a top-five player at his position the year before everyone else realizes how good he is.  A 20-homer, 20-steal season with a .300 batting average and 90 runs scored is not out of the question for Lawrie in what will be his first full season.

Lawrie, still just 22-years old, will make many All-Star teams in years to come.

9)  Mike Trout – Many years ago, back in 1993, in my first season of fantasy league baseball, I drafted a rookie outfielder on the Angels named Tim Salmon.  Salmon went on to win A.L. Rookie of the Year honors, and the lesson I learned that year was never be afraid to gamble on solid young talent, if they are given the opportunity to play everyday.

The only caveat, then, I offer regarding Trout (an even more highly rated prospect now than Salmon was back then) is to keep in mind that as of this writing, the Angels outfield is a bit crowded.  If their manager is wise, however, he will put his best players on the field.  Trout is already better than either the remnants of Bobby Abreu or Vernon Wells.

If  20-year old Mike Trout gets to play everyday, he has the talent to hit 20+ homers, drive in some runs, and even steal some bases.  Watch the situation carefully in Spring Training, and draft accordingly.  Who knows, you may have the next Tim Salmon on your hands, and, unlike Salmon, Trout doesn’t even have the added burden of having to swim upstream.

10)  Lucas Duda – In about half a season’s worth of at bats last year, the Mets’ Lucas Duda hit 10 homers, 21 doubles, drove in 50 runs, hit at least .300 in each of the last three months, posted an impressive .370 on-base percentage, and slugged nearly .500.  Already 26-years old, he’s probably not a superstar in the making, but late bloomers are not unheard of, and Duda will benefit (as will all Mets) from the cozier dimensions at Citi Field in 2012.

Expecting a line of .290 / .365 / .490 with 20+ homers, 80-90 RBI, and 30-40 doubles over the course of a full season from a player who also qualifies at two positions (first base and outfield) makes Duda a nice later-round pick in your draft.

Baseball 2010: An Old-Timer’s Game

It has often been said that baseball is a young man’s game.

And truth be told, major league baseball is in a transition period now, with many of the game’s stars of the ’90’s and the early part of this century giving way to a whole new crop of young and talented players.

Over the past couple of years or so, we have witnessed the retirements (or the virtual retirements) of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, NOMAR!, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other former stars, such as Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez are clearly close to the end of the line.

In their place we have seen an enormous influx of exciting new players who are still just 27-years old or younger.  This group represents the vanguard of a new, (hopefully) post-steroids generation.  This list includes several young players who will some day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these names are already very familiar to you:  Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.

Even younger players such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Ike Davis are also on the way, or have arrived within the past year.

Yet there is a group of graying players for whom Father Time seems to have given a free pass, at least as of this writing.  These players, all at least 36-years old  (which is like 65, in baseball years), show no signs of slowing down.

Actually, in some cases, they did show signs of slowing down, but appear to have caught a second wind.  Several of them are either obvious future Hall of Famers, or should, at the very least, merit some consideration regarding their Hall worthiness.

So here they are:

1)  Jorge Posada: Through tonight’s game against Baltimore, Jorge has produced some impressive numbers.  He is hitting .316 with five homers and 12 RBI, while slugging over .600.  At age 38, he keeps himself in excellent shape, and the Yankees are committed to giving him extra rest throughout the season.  For these reasons, I believe Posada will continue to produce at a high level throughout this season.

Posada has played in parts of 15 seasons, and, aside from a few World Series rings, he has put up some nice numbers in his career.  He has hit 248 career homers, driven in 976 runs, hit 346 doubles, has a career batting average of just under .280, with a .380 on base average.

He is 7th all-time on the Yankees career doubles list, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.  He is also 8th on the Yankees career home run list, just three behind Graig Nettles for 7th place.

Posada also has five Silver Sluggers to his credit, has played in five All-Star games (with a sixth all but assured this year), and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.

A serious argument could be made that Posada just might belong in the Hall of Fame.

For now, he will have to remain content hitting the stitching off of baseballs.

2)  Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has not allowed an earned run so far this season.  He is a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities.  His WHIP is 0.57.  He is now 40 years old, pitching just like he did back when he was 30.  An obvious Hall-of-Famer, there really isn’t any reason to spend time rehashing his career numbers.  The only question is, will his greatness ever end?

3)  Andy Pettitte: (No, I didn’t intend this to be Yankee night, but here we are.)

Believe it or not, he is off to the best start of his 16-year career.  Through his first four starts, he is 3-0, with 22 strikeouts in 28 innings.  His ERA is 1.29, and his WHIP is 1.07.  Clearly, the soon-to-be 38 year old Pettitte isn’t just hanging around waiting for the playoffs to begin.

That’s when he really excels.

Pettitte now has a career record of 232-135, a .632 win-loss percentage.  He has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times.  And he has 18 career post-season victories.  At this point, his resume probably isn’t quite that of a Hall-of-Famer.  But if he continues to pitch this well for another 2-3 years, we’ll have to take another look.

4)  Jim Edmonds: Now playing for the Brewers, Edmonds was actually out of major league baseball last season.  But he earned his way onto the team this spring, and I’m sure the Brewers are happy he did.

So far this season, Edmonds (now approaching 40 years old), has hit better than .300, including a .340 batting average against right-handed pitching.  He has slugged almost .500, and he has scored 10 runs.  As part of a platoon, he gets most of the playing time, and he has made the most of it.

Edmonds would get my vote for the Hall of Fame as well.  His defense in center field alone would merit some consideration (eight Gold Gloves and several circus catches.)  But he also has 383 career home runs, 421 doubles, over 1200 runs scored, and nearly 1200 RBI’s.  Only a few center-fielders in history have combined his defensive prowess with his offensive statistics.

5)  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez: Although recently side-lined with a back problem, when Pudge has played this season, he has been excellent.  In 56 at bats for the Washington Nationals, he is hitting a mere .410 with 23 hits, including 7 doubles and 10 runs scored.

Not bad for a 38-year old catcher who happens to be a life-time .300 hitter with over 300 home runs, 13 Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Star game appearances.  A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, to be sure.

6)  Jamie Moyer: Pitching for the Phillies, the 47-year old (!) Moyer is off to a 2-1 start, with a respectable 1.278 WHIP.  He has fanned 11 in 18 innings.

Although Moyer now has 260 career wins, he is in the Tommy John-Jim Kaat class of pitchers.  That is to say, he has put together a fine career, but falls just short of belonging in The Hall.

7)  Ichiro Suzuki: Perhaps because of his physique and his unique style of play, it’s easy to forget that Ichiro, now at age 36, is not that young anymore.  But he is off to his usual start this season, hitting around .310 with six stolen bases and 13 runs scored.  Ichiro is in such great physical condition that, although he is slowing down a bit, he should remain a productive, above-average player for another couple of years.

Although I listed Ichiro as an overrated player in a prior blog-post, I still believe he will, and should be, elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

Each of these seven players not only continues to be highly productive, but they provide an invaluable link between the younger players, and all those who came before.  It’s how baseball’s greatness is continually perpetuated from one generation to the next.

If there are other worthy performers who you believe should be included on my list, please let me know.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

2010 Baseball Season: Observations and Analysis

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.

Next time:

Underrated / Overrated:  Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part 2

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