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Archive for January, 2009

imagesWith spring training a little over a month away, and pitchers reporting in two weeks, the regular season is just around the corner.  Those rusty shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, hammies, groins and legs will soon enough turn into a trip to the big leagues or another season down on the farm.  Each spring promising youngsters get a shot at making the big league in exhibition games, veterans earn their respect, and players on their last legs attempt to prove that they still have the right “stuff.”

What is often over looked by the gigantic free agent signings are prospects that have been developing and maturing in the minors.  The draft, team development of players, and the Rule 5 draft are ignored because of this “WIN right now at all cost” mentality (Think of the Yankees).  Interestingly, if you look at the Philadelphia Phillies roster five (C. Ruiz, R. Howard, C. Utley, J. Rollins, P. Burrell) of their eight position starters were drafted by Philadelphia, and four (C. Hamels, K. Kendricks, B. Myers, A. Eaton), of their six (they traded for Joe Blanton) starters were also drafted by the Phillies.

Howard, Utley, Rollins, Burrell, and Hamels were the core of that 2008 World Championship team.  That is building from within.  The [Devil] Rays, contrary to popular belief, were not as built from within (though trading their prospect helped them receive key parts [i.e. Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett]).  Only four of their starting eight was drafted by the Rays (E. Longoria, BJ Upton, C. Crawford, J. Gomes), and two of their five main starters (J. Shields and A. Sonnanstine) were drafted by the Rays.  Now this isn’t awful, but just not as many as the Phillies.
*Just for comparison sakes, the Yankees did have 8 players on their everyday roster that they drafted.

Though, the draft is not an exact science (only 16 of the 43 top pick in the draft have been all stars, two have never play a game in the big leagues, and only two have been Rookie of the Year), building a team through the draft is essential to having a winning team.  Trading picks away for the present only creates problems for the future.  Building from within has always proven to lead to great results.

The most interesting thing to notice about the two World Series teams is their mlb_vwt3_swpayroll ($43,820,598 [Rays] to $98,269,881 [Phillies]).  That is more than double.  Granted, the Phillies spent heavy in the off-season and trades, while the Rays decided that they would be a bit more frugal.  The huge signings by the Yankees may look like brilliant ideas today, but does not guarantee a playoff birth, let alone a winning record (the top three payrolls did not even make the playoffs).

Obviously, drafting doesn’t equate a title run, or a title.  Nevertheless, the Rays and Phillies made to WS without a $100 million cap, and the Brewers made the playoffs within that same category.  The free spending owners, and the high rolling sports agents may be rich, but as they say “A ring is more important than all the records in the world!”

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Omar Vizquel, the human vacuum has been signed by Texas displacing any possibility of Elvis Andrus having any fantasy value this year.  That is unless the “Hands of Silk” has a physical breakdown in his dinosaur years, which is likely.  However, the Rangers need a SS that will not punt the ball to the outfield grass 32 times like Mr. Andrus accomplished to do in 109 games; that is an error every 3 1/2 games.

This move obviously fills the time gap until Elvis matures into an everyday SS.  Moving Michael Young over to Third may have been a bit preemptive, though in the long run secures an opening for Andrus to fill in when need be.  I expect the Rangers to make the smart me (though that is not always the case) and start Elvis in the minors for at least the first two months of the season.  Elvis’ peripherals are not that amazing even considering his age.

To put his minor league totals in perspective with a major leaguer of equivalent age  in the minors we have to use Delmon Young (yes the Delmon Young who was suspended for 50 games).  Delmon Young’s slugging percentage was .880 (career minors, A,AA, and AAA) while Elvis Andrus’ slugging percentage is .707 (career minors, RK, A, and AA).  Delmon Young accomplished his numbers in 185 AB less, hit 44 more homers and stuckout less.  What Elvis strives at is stealing bases.  The only thing right now you can assume with Andrus is his stealing ability.  I would take Carlos Gomez before I would take Andrus, for sole fact that Gomez has an additional season of experience.  Buyers beware

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Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan has covered this maple bat controversy from the very beginning. Last May he wrote an article about the introduction, cause, and increase in the maple bat crazy. Barry Bonds initiated the maple frenzy when he juiced 73 homers over the outfield walls in his memorable, yet highly controversial 2001 season. Since that remarkable season for Mr. Bonds, over 50% of players are now using this soft wood (truly).334-spt_p0513_13c2bondsbatembeddedprod_affiliate113

For all you carpenters out there, this sounds elementary. However, for all of us that are lost around a hardware shop this should clear up a bit of the confusion. Each wood has a specific level of hardness (called Janka Hardness Scale), typically the harder the wood the more expensive the cost. Thus, no major league batter is going to use a wood that has potential to break and pay for an uncontrollable amount (there has been no specific wood denied until now). Generally, the players have used an ash bat. They break less causing their wallets to remain bulky from game checks. Ash has a 1320 Janka ranking, while maple has a 950 Janka ranking. There is a legit reason why there are more bats shattering with Mariano Rivera’s hard cutter and leaving batters with only a few fingers on the handle.

2443989902_c1e1db808b So why switch from ash to maple? Well, superstitions of course! Every player has their superstitions, whether that is wearing the same undershirt, sniff their bat (Carlos Gomez), adjust their batting gloves after every pitch (cough *Nomar *cough). Then again, Bonds did hit 73 home runs with maple. Mmmmm, maple syrup and pancakes. Sorry, my inner mind went irrational on me. Speaking of irrational, did I mention that superstitions are all irrational and non-scientifically proven?

The safety hazard that a shattering bat, which some players can swing up to 65 MPH, put bluntly is jeopardizing all players, fans, and coaches safety. A splintered bat barrel, or even the smaller shards, could potentially cause physical harm. It is surprising that a player has not been extremely injured by a bat. We have had coaches (Pittsburg), and fans (stray flying bats), but nothing like when the Columbus Blue Jackets (hockey) had a fan die.

This new rule enacted by Bud Selig should be praised, not scorned. Players should prevent injuries that can derail entire team’s seasons. As it is, unexpected fluke injuries devastate teams year in and year out. A ball that can be thrown 100 mph is dangerous and a bat being swung at such said pitch is just as dangerous. The MLB is saving itself of many lawsuits, and preventing the health of their players (something that cannot always be said; cough * NFL * cough).

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Each, and ever off-season a number of moves leave even Bill Bavasi scratching his head. large_yanks26Today is one of those days. Surprisingly, it was the Yankees, who have splashed and danced this winter into a hot fiesta. However, every party must include a foolish act by even the best behaved.

The Yankees continue their off-season frenzy by signing Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady each to one year deal today (1/21/2009). These signing make little sense unless they are planning to trade either Nick Swisher or Nady. Their outfield is loaded with Hideki Matsui (though a DH), Cabrera, Nady, Swisher (who will not play first because of the Teixeira signing), Johnny Damon, and Brett Gardner.

Matsui will clearly be a DH this year, leaving the other five outfields battling for playing time. Sure Spring Training tends of produce a few unwanted injuries, but there are still too many players for to few playing spot. The Yankee’s would benefit from a trade of Swisher or Nady because they would yield the most return. Instead of trading the future for the present, the Bronx Bombers would be wise to trade a part of the past for the future.

The wisest move to be made, though trades never look wise to begin with, (a la AJ Pierzynski (MN) to SF for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan) may be to trade Swisher, unless of course you enjoy paying a part-time player full-time wage. Though trading Nady might have more return because of his value right now.  It is amazing what a career year has for players. Maybe I am wrong!?! Maybe I underestimate the powers of Brian Cashman’s level of genius. Yet, questioning the Yankees moves more often than not looks better than their post-season record this past decade.

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Back with the ever so thrilling Scouting the Unknown (or STU as I like to call it).  However, because it is the off-season there will be a few more ‘larger’ names thrown into the mix.  It will be more Scouting the Unknown about lower tier/overrated players.  Sure, its a cop out, but you tell me 3-4 new players that no one is looking at this off season… who was? … Fair enough and you thought I was crazy? Silly you!

Onto the plan…:

Mat Gamel (BREWERS)– Gamel has proven at each step he has taken he’s ready.  2008 was a brilliant year for this young slugger hitting .329 96/19/96  (Ave R/HR/RBI) in a little over 500 AB.  Not to shabby for a 22 year old in Double-A.  He did play in 5 AAA games with very little success, maybe it was his bum elbow.  Over at ScoutingBook.com they say he is, “A polished pro hitter, Gamel has all-fields line drive swing with developing power.”  Due to his defense, which is suspect to say the least, he may not be even in the mix for a while,  that is unless they want to see if he can hit like Braun and dismiss all defensive liabilities he will provide!  I would expect to see him during a late May–early June call up.

*For a wonderful article on Matt LaPorta, Mat Gamel, and Chris Davis here is an excellent article. ps- Matt LaPorta hit .167 in winter ball…

Blake DeWitt (LAD)– Sure he started all season, but why?  He only hit .268/.344/.383(Ave/OBP/SLG) with 45/9/52.  To put that into perspective, Carlos Gomez hit .258/.296/.360 with 79/7/59 plus 33 steals.  Sure Gomez was at that top of the order- for about 6 weeks.  Nevertheless, DeWitt should be inline for a DeMotion.  Those numbers, especially at 3B is pitiful, no horrendous is more like it.  If he was a catcher I would put up with it, but 3B? Are you kidding me? Are you… wait never mind.  His minor league numbers say it best- .280/.333/.446 and 277/61/270 in over 1900 AB.  That doesn’t look any better.  You are now looking at maybe a .012 improvement in his average, and at a season total of 60/16/65.  Nothing to look at here.

Cliff Lee (CLE)– I am sure you are wondering why Cliff Lee made this list…(refer up about, oh say 4 inches) OVER… RATED…!!! *chirping in the outfield, crickets whittling on their violins*  Easily a career year, 1.5 ERA less than his average, and .2 WHIP less than his career average too.  Sure he has always had a great winning percentage, but his numbers have never shown that he could dominate like he did last year.  Even his best year in the minors (2003) didn’t translate into big league success.  At age 30 he is past his prime (even for pitchers), and I would avoid him like the plague.  Just remember the year Bartolo Colon had after his CY Young…? Yea me either (he hasn’t had a full season since (2005)).  Don’t ever draft a historically late round pick… Yeah, I know, I am bitter because he should not have been so good last year.  It was a fluke beyond all flukes.  Like the Falcons beating the Vikings in ’98!

Hopefully this will tide you over for the next few days.

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