Sunday, March 30, 2008

A look at the Tigers

CATCHER: Not often do you see a team with only 1 catcher on its roster, but that’s what the Tigers have. Pudge Rodriguez will carry the load until Vance Wilson’s return. I’ve also read Pudge could bat leadoff in Curtis Granderson’s absence. I’m not in favor of this move. Pudge’s OBP was .294 last year and it’s been a while since he posted a solid OBP (.383 in 2004, fueled by a .334 BA). Pudge’s line for 2007 was .281/.294/.420. Hopefully his solid spring continues into the real season. His OPS+ last year was a below average 85. Brandon Inge, when not filling in for Granderson, will be the backup catcher until Wilson comes back.

FIRST BASE: Word out of camp is that Carlos Guillen has made a seamless transition from shortstop to first base. Infield coach Rafael Belliard says in the Free Press that Guillen’s defense compares favorable with former Gold Glove winner Andres Galaragga. Guillen batted .296/.357/.502 last season and could have a bigger year in 2008. His OPS+ last year was 123. Guillen is an upgrade over Sean Casey, who was .296/.353/.393 (OPS+ 96). Marcus Thames will be the backup. Thames batted .242/.278/.498 (OPS+ 99) last season and provides power off the bench, whether at 1B or LF.

SECOND BASE: Placido Polanco played errorless ball while batting .341/.388/.458 (OPS+ 122). He scored 105 runs from the No. 2 spot in the order. He puts the ball in play a lot, but only batted into 9 DPs, probably thanks to Granderson’s speed in front of him. Ryan Raburn, another super sub like Inge, can backup, as can Ramon Santiago. Raburn was terrific in 2007, with a line of .304/.340/.507 (OPS+ 119). Santiago is a superior defensive player, but batted .284/.324/.388 (OPS+ 87).

SHORTSTOP: Edgar Renteria takes over for Guillen. Renteria batted .332/.390/.470 (OPS+ 125) and would be my choice to bat leadoff in Granderson’s absence. Renteria’s previous AL experience was a disaster. Hopefully, that was a fluke. Santiago backs up here too.

THIRD BASE: Miguel Cabrera takes over the spot he should hold for the better part of the next decade. Cabrera is supposed to be in the best shape of his career, at least recent career, and is getting approval for his defense, which was thought to be a potential liability. There’s no doubt what Cabrera can do with the bat, as his .320/.401/.565 (OPS+ 150) line attests. Historically, he compares to Hank Aaron at his age. Only question is whether adjusting to a new league will be a hindrance. Inge will be his backup. Stellar with the glove, Inge batted .236/.312/.376 (OPS+ 80) last year. He had a nice spring and it would be good to see him return to his 2004 form of .287/.340/.453 (OPS+ 109).

LEFT FIELD: Craig Monroe saw the bulk of the time last year before being dealt. He was awful, going .222/.264/.373 (OPS+ 65). Enter Jacque Jones, who should see the bulk of the action, with Thames. Jones was .285/.335/.400 (OPS+ 87) for the Cubs last season. His 2007 numbers are not unlike 2004 and 2005, so Jones is probably not going to light it up. But he’s still an upgrade. If he returns to the .285/.334/.499 (OPS+ 108) in 2006, he’s huge. Lifetime, he’s .294/.342/.483 vs. RHP and .233/.281/.355 vs. LHP, which might suggest a platoon.

CENTER FIELD: Curtis Granderson had a historic season in 2007 and played terrific defense. His line was .302/.361/.552 (OPS+ 136) and he seems poised to be a star for several years to come. Of course, he needs to improve against LHP after going .218/.277/.395 last season. Inge will start in center until Granderson is ready to return from a broken finger.

RIGHT FIELD: Magglio Ordonez became the Tigers’ first batting champ since Norm Cash in 1961. Ordonez’s complete line was .363/.434/.595 (OPS+ 167). It would be unlikely Ordonez can repeat that season, but anything close would be nice. Now healthy, it’s reasonable to expect Ordonez to produce an OPS+ between 125 and 140, such as his prime days with the White Sox. Inge, Raburn or Thames will back up.

DESIGNATED HITTER: After a slow start, Gary Sheffield was a terror until a bum shoulder ruined him. If he’s healthy he will improve on his .265/.378/.462 (OPS+ 120), which isn’t shabby to begin with.

STARTING PITCHING: This is a scary stat – Justin Verlander (125) was the only Tigers’ starter with an ERA+ better than 100 (not counting Kenny Rogers’ 103). The two players nearest to 100 are no longer on the team, Chad Durbin and Jair Jurrjens (both 97). Verlander appears to be establishing himself as an ace. Rogers might be able to eek out another solid season. Jeremy Bonderman was hampered by arm woes and struggled through the second half. Nate Robertson never found consistency. Newcomer Dontrelle Willis is beset by control trouble. This could spell trouble. Much of the talk about the Tigers’ pitching has focused on the bullpen, which is a concern as well, but Detroit is going to need at least two pitchers to step up behind Verlander to make a postseason run. The potential is there, but there’s no guarantee.

RELIEF PITCHING: Todd Jones is back as the closer, which means no lead is comfortable. But we’ve lived through this before. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya are on the sideline. But we’ve lived through this before. Lefty Bobby Seay was ridiculously good last season, holding left-handed hitters to a .201 BA and posting an ERA+ of 196. Tim Byrdak also had a good campaign, but was horrible this spring and got released. Zach Miner has proven to be a reliable middle man. Denny Bautista and Aquilino Lopez will need to continue their good springs and Yorman Bazardo could blossom. Aside from Jones, I feel the Leyland will be able to cobble together a workable bullpen with the arms available. I’m more confident in the pen, actually, than the starters at this point.

OUTLOOK: The pitching concerns might be offset by the offense. If the offense hits any slumps, though, it might spell big trouble unless the starters get it together. The Yankees led the AL with 968 runs last year while posting an OPS+ of 118. The Tigers OPS+ last season was 110 and they scored 887 runs. It would seem with Cabrera in the lineup, the squad should be able to get into the 950 range. The pitching, I suppose, should be no worse than last year, so any improvement in offense could be enough to push Detroit into the playoffs. If the pitching does improve, then the Tigers are a legit World Series team.

The 2008 Mets: Pitchers

The Mets' pitching was in the middle of the National League pack in 2007. They allowed 750 runs, 4.63 per game, good for seventh best in the league and a completely average ERA+ of 100. They got off to a much better start than that, posting a team ERA of 2.96 in April, but that number rose every single month, all they way to 5.14 in September. Things were even worse in the final seventeen games as opposing teams hit .281/.356/.446 against Met pitching, adding up to a a 5.80 team ERA over that stretch. Interestingly, August and September were by far the Mets' two best months for strikeouts, but they were also the worst months for walks, hits and extra base hits allowed.

The 2008 edition will feature some new faces that will help keep a few runs off the board. First of all there's Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. The 2007 Mets were one of the best teams in the league at turning balls in play into outs, doing so 70.7% of the time, good for fourth in the majors. This year the Mets have replaced two of their weaker fielders, Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca, with a couple of guys who, if not spectacular, are at least good defenders. Church in particular should help out a starting rotation made up of mostly fly ball pitchers.

Of course, more importantly, the Mets have a couple of pretty good starting pitchers who weren't on last year's Opening Day roster. Taking the hill in the season opener will be two-time Cy Young Award-winner, three-time AL strikeout leader, perennial 200-inning pitcher and 2007 Gold Glover Johan Santana. Last year his ERA jumped all the way to 3.33, good for seventh best in the league, largely due to his allowing a few more home runs than usual. Other than that, it was the same old Santana: lots of innings, lots of strikeouts, not a lot of hits or walks. He has as good a chance as anyone to be the best pitcher in the National League this year.

A more intriguing story is the return of Pedro Martinez. Last year he returned from rotator cuff surgery in September and looked tremendous in five starts, posting a 2.57 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 7 walks in 28 innings. The question about Pedro is not whether he can still get major league hitters out. He clearly can. While his fastball is not what it once was, his array of pitches and intelligent approach are more than a match for any lineup he might face. All that remains in doubt is whether he can stay healthy, which we can't know for sure until he does or doesn't. But with the way he made it through those five starts last year and Spring Training this year, I am quite optimistic. He won't give the Mets 200 innings, but I am hopeful that he can make it through the season without his arm falling off. And if the Mets make it to September with Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez still standing atop their rotation, I think they can make it pretty far into October.

Those two might be the ones who'll strike fear into the hearts of October opponents, but numbers three and four won't exactly let those opponents stop and catch their breath. Oliver Perez had the second best season of his young career in 2007 with a 3.56 ERA, 174 strikeouts and 79 walks in 177 innings, making it through a full season for the first time since his dominant 2004. There was still some of the inconsistency that's plagued him since his breakout year, but 2007 was a big step forward from his awful 2005 and 2006 campaigns. He's been so all over the place the last four year that it's hard to know what to expect next. Was last year him settling in as an above average, but not elite, starter? Or was it a step toward regaining his 2004 form? A lot of dollars are riding on the answers to those question as Perez will be eligible for free agency at the end of this year. I would love to see him return either way, but the Mets will have several spots to fill after this season and only money with which to fill them. If Perez winds up too expensive for the Mets to retain, hopefully it's because his time with the team ended in a blaze of glory.

One pitcher who isn't going anywhere is John Maine, who won't be eligible for free agency until 2011. 2007 was the first time Maine spent a full season in the majors and it was largely a successful year. He put up a 3.91 ERA with 180 strikeouts and 75 walks in 191 innings. Only Tom Glavine pitched more innings for the 2007 Mets and his ERA was half a run higher than Maine's. But Maine was as culpable as anyone for the team's late season woes as he seemed to run out of gas late in the year. His ERA in the months of August and September was 6.14 in 11 starts. Eight shutout innings in his last start saved it from being over 7.00. He actually struck out more batters in either of those months than he had in any previous month, but his rates of hits and home runs allowed also went up and a greater percentage of his base runners came around to score. Perhaps the experience of pitching nearly 200 innings last year will lead to Maine having more in the tank as this season wears on. If he can pitch for a full season like he did for the first four months of 2007, the Mets could have a third (or fourth) stud on their hands.

It's at this point that things get a little dicey. As of right now the Mets haven't announced whether Orlando Hernandez or Mike Pelfrey will begin the season as their fifth starter, but it's a safe bet that both will get some starts this year. El Duque was very good when healthy last year, with a 3.72 ERA, 128 strikeouts and 64 walks in 147.2 innings. Pelfrey was bad, but got a little better as the season went on. Hernandez can't be expected to stay healthy for the whole season and the recent tinkering with his windup makes him even more of a question mark than usual, but he could be very effective when healthy. Pelfrey's had an awful Spring and is yet to have sustained success at the major league level, but he did improve his strikeout rate in the second half last year. If El Duque is really healthy, he's probably the better option right now. A little more time at AAA couldn't hurt Pelfrey. But whichever way the Mets go, at least they've got two starters standing between Omar Minaya and the Chan Ho Parks and Jason Vargases of the world.

A few Met relievers had very good years in 2007, namely Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano. Unfortunately, the guys who ranked fourth and fifth in relief innings pitched were Guillermo Mota, who was uniformly awful, and Scott Schoeneweis, who turned every right-handed hitter into David Wright. Seriously, righties hitting against Schoeneweis had an OPS of .963, one point better than Wright's season mark. Joe Smith got off to a great start but then got smacked around pretty good. Jorge Sosa pitched well enough to be a decent fifth or sixth option out of the pen.

This year Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano, Schoeneweis and Sosa will be joined by the returning Duaner Sanchez, newcomer Matt Wise and probably one of Smith, Nelson Figueroa, Brian Stokes and Ricardo Rincon. The Mets should be able to cobble together a pretty good bullpen from that lot. As much as you can predict reliability from any reliever, Wagner, Heilman and Sosa will be what they have been. Feliciano should continue to be excellent, but if Willie Randolph ever fighures out that he can get both righties and lefties out while Schoeneweis should only ever pitch to lefties, they will both be more valuable for it. Wise should be a solid, if unspectacular, middle reliever. The biggest question is Sanchez. If he somehow regains his 2006 form, he will be a huge addition. But even if he does slightly less than that, he should be a valuable piece of the seventh and eighth inning puzzle. Overall, it looks like a solid collection of relievers, and the addition of Santana should lighten their workload a bit. But all we know for sure is that Willie Randolph will continue to use them in ways that beggar belief.

Of course not everything will go right for this pitching staff. Pedro, Perez and Maine won't all pitch two hundred innings while fulfilling every bit of their potential. But the Mets' starting rotation is such a talented group that they don't have to exceed expectations much to be one of the best staffs in the league. And if one or two guys does get a bit lucky or stay especially healthy, we could be watching something very special.

Overall, I think this is a very good team with a chance to be great. The offense is in the top third of the league and the pitching staff is even better. Johan Santana, David Wright and Carlos Beltran may the best in the league at their respective positions. Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez and John Maine may not have reached the upper limits of their abilities yet. This team could look quite different next year with Perez, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and Orlando Hernandez all headed toward free agency. But the 2008 version of the Mets has as good a chance as any National League team of playing in the the World Series.

Official prediction: 95 wins.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The 2008 Mets: Hitters

As you may have heard, the Mets' 2007 season did not end as well as they or their fans might have liked. It's hard to blame the team's offense for the historic collapse, though. In those fateful seventeen games when the Mets went from prohibitive pennant favorites to historical punchlines, the team scored 98 runs or 5.76 per game. They put a total of 804 runs on the board in 2007, 4.96 per game, good for fourth best in the National League. While the Mets' pitching has made most of the headlines this offseason, the bats should once again be among the league's best. Here's a look at the state of the offense, position-by-position.


Met backstops hit .267/.309/.410 last year, around average for the league, as a big year from Ramon Castro (.291/.333/.567 in 141 AB) somewhat made up for Paul Lo Duca's decision to stop using steroids (.266/.307/.373 in 429 AB). That story will have to repeat itself in 2008 if the Mets are going to get any offensive production out of this position as Brian Schneider and his anemic bat step into the starting role. There's been talk of Castro getting significantly more playing time this year, but I'll believe that Willie Randolph will deviate from traditional starter/backup roles when I see it. The fact that Castro may begin the season on the disabled list with a strained hamstring won't help any.

Schneider and Castro are both signed through 2009 when both of them will turn thirty-three. That gives the Mets about nineteen months to come up with some sort of long term plan for this position as they don't seem to have one yet. After carelessly losing Jesus Flores to the Nationals in last year's Rule 5 Draft, the best minor league catchers in the Mets' system include thirty-five year-old Raul Casanova and eighteen year-old Francisco Peña. Peña may someday catch for the Mets, but he may be old enough to drink by the time he figures out the whole "hitting" thing as he hit just .210/.263/.283 in A-ball last year.

First Base

The parts of this preview that point toward good times ahead will show up any paragraph now. In the meantime, let's talk about Carlos Delgado. Delgado fell off a cliff in 2007, hitting .258/.333/.448. He lost a full hundred points from his 2006 slugging percentage and was well below average for a National League first baseman. He did have a couple of very good months, posting OPSes over .900 in July and September. Perhaps offseason elbow and wrist surgery led him to get off to a slow start and we can expect him to bounce back somewhat now that he's relatively healthy. But the chances of him being an elite first baseman or one of the three best offensive players on this team are pretty slim.

After this season the Mets will have to decide whether to pick up Delgado's option for 2009 or pay him $4 million to go away. Barring a miraculous comeback, this should not be a difficult decision. Seeing as the Mets don't have any reinforcements on the way from the minors or even any decent options to back up Delgado this year, their future plans likely involve throwing lots of money at Mark Teixeira.

Second Base

Met second basemen hit .278/.348/.405 in 2007, about average for the NL. Unfortunately, the Mets decided to dump the best bat they had at the position to make room for Fernando Tatis on the roster. Ruben Gotay hit .295/.351/.421 in 190 at bats last year. Those numbers aren't eye-popping and he may not have even been likely to repeat them. But he could have been a solid bat off the bench with some power to complement Luis Castillo's "singles, singles and more singles" approach. Instead, they've chosen Tatis and his "versatility." He's so versatile that he spent two of the last four years doing something other than play professional baseball. Tatis will likely have the job of backing up Delgado at first base and making Carlos look like an offensive powerhouse by comparison.

Castillo is signed for four years and should keep putting up solid OBPs with no power and decent defense for at least a couple of years. Backing him up this year will be thirty-eight year-old Damion Easley and thirty-four year-old Marlon Anderson. Both could provide a decent bat off the bench with more power than Castillo if they stay healthy. Meanwhile, the twenty-five year-old Gotay will likely fit in just fine on the Atlanta Braves' bench.


Jose Reyes famously hit a slump at the worst possible time in 2007. But he still had a very productive year at .280/.354/.421 with 78 stolen bases and very good defense. He didn't hit with as much power as in 2006, but he continued to improve his walk rate. There's been a lot of talk in the offseason of Reyes toning down his fun-loving antics or trying to hit the ball on the ground more. When the season starts, I expect that all of that will be forgotten and Reyes will be what he is: one of the best players in the game who's still getting better. And he won't turn twenty-five until June.

Third Base

David Wright is the old man of the left side of the Mets' infield, having reached the big two-five back in December. He'll just have to settle for being the better player of the two. Last year's .325/.416/.546, 34 stolen base, Gold Glove campaign might have made him the first NL MVP in Met history if not for his teammates collapsing around him in late September. He did all he could, hitting .397/.451/.575 in those last seventeen games. He probably wasn't the best defensive third baseman in the league last year, but he has certainly improved a lot in his three and a half major league seasons. And with the bat he is beyond reproach and only getting better. The Mets may make one questionable decision after another at the margins of their roster, but as long as Wright and Reyes are sporting the orange and blue, this team will be worth watching.

Left Field

Moises Alou gave the Mets a terrific half of a season in 2007, hitting .341/.392/.524 in 87 games. He was one of the few standing alongside Wright, pounding out hits all through September including a twenty-four game hitting streak that started on August 31st. There's no reason this year should be any different. Unfortunately, the inevitable disabled list portion of the season will start with game one as Alou is out until late April or so due to hernia surgery. Backups Angel Pagan and Endy Chavez should provide good-to-great defense in his absence, but neither will come close to replacing his bat.

While it seems likely Alou will be able to hit as long as he's able to walk, he will turn forty-two this season. Six months ago the Mets had three promising young outfielders in their system who might fill the impending holes in left and right field. Now Fernando Martinez is the last man standing. While he may have the bat to be a major league left fielder before too long, expecting him to be ready by 2009 is overly optimistic. He's still only nineteen and didn't exactly tear up AA Binghamton last year. The Mets may be in the market for a stopgap after this season, though I wouldn't bet against the best option being Alou himself.

Center Field

Carlos Beltran didn't quite repeat his monster 2006, but he still had an excellent year, hitting .276/.353/.525 and winning his second, deserved Gold Glove. He was slowed at times by some minor injuries, which is becoming an annual tradition. But when he is completely healthy, he can be a dominant player and overall, there's no shame in playing second fiddle to David Wright. Beltran's $119 million contract runs through 2011 and right now, it doesn't seem like the Mets will regret a dollar of it.

Right Field

The trade that sent Lastings Milledge to the Nationals in exchange for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider didn't make the 2008 Mets any better and it did make them older. But that doesn't mean that a full year of Church in right field won't be an improvement over what the Mets got in 2007 when Willie Randolph repeatedly chose Shawn Green over Milledge. Met right fielders hit just .273/.326/.398, well below the NL average of .275/.344/.442. Meanwhile, Church, in his first full major league season, hit .272/.349/.464 in one of the best pitcher's parks in the game. He should also be a defensive improvement over Green's statuesque performance. Church won't be an All-Star and the fact that he played his first full major league season at 28 doesn't bode well for his career longevity. But in 2008, he will be an asset.

The Mets' offense isn't without its holes and there isn't much help on the way from the minors. But they've got three great players in the primes of their careers with some decent supporting players alongside them. This team isn't going to lead the league in runs scored, but they should again be solidly in the top four or five. That could be plenty, given the Mets' pitching staff, who I will be back to discuss shortly.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring fling

I don't usually put much stock in spring training stats unless a player is coming off an injury or there are other circumstances, such as in Dontrelle Willis' case because he was trying to reclaim his control.

So, in 16-2/3 innings, Willis walked 15 and gave up 25 hits. He plunked 2 batters and tossed 4 wild pitches. This isn't making me feel good about his spot in the rotation as the season gets under way. On the bright side, he only gave up 1 HR.

Here are some other numbers, good and bad.

Carlos Guillen: 5 HR and 12 RBI in 64 AB. If playing first base saves his legs and back, Guillen could be on his way to big numbers. I'm thinking OPS around .940.

Pudge Rodriguez: 8 HR in 56 AB. Offseason weights workout looks like it's paying off. With no solid backup until Vance Wilson's return, he will need his strength.

Placido Polanco: .415/.449/.677 in 65 AB. Should top 200 hits again as people worry about big boppers following him. And few will notice.

Marcus Thames: 4 HR and 10 RBI in 37 AB. Will he remain in Motown or be gone in exchange for an arm? In his last 162 games, he's got 34 HR and 97 RBI in 511 AB. If only he could raise that .239 BA and .292 OBP.

Gary Sheffield: .189 BA in 49 AB. Probably no big deal. Especially if that shoulder is healthy.

Nate Robertson: 1.26 ERA, 12 K/2 BB in 14-1/3 IP. Maybe this is the year Nate puts it all together. It seems more likely than a Willis turnaround.

Denny Bautista: 1.42 ERA, 12 K/3 BB in 12-2/3 IP. The new Zumaya.

Aquilino Lopez: 1.32 ERA, 15 K/3 BB in 13-1/3 IP. The new Rodney.

Kenny Rogers: 3.44 ERA in 18-1/3 IP. The Gambler's all in, probably for the final time.

Todd Jones: 10.24 ERA in 9-2/3 IP. Does this roller-coaster still go up, or is it all downhill from here?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cabrera up, Granderson down

The Tigers reportedly agreed to terms with Miguel Cabrera on an 8-year, $152-million contract extension. The deal includes the $11 million owed Cabrera for this year. Certainly, it's a lot of money, but this is a great outcome for Detroit because it locks up Cabrera until the age of 33. Perfect. After giving up Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as part of the trade with the Marlins to get Cabrera, the Tigs needed to get him signed long term.

On the down side, Curtis Granderson suffered a broken finger when hit by a pitch over the weekend. Adding insult to injury, the game was rained out moments later. Brandon Inge will remain a Tiger now, at least for the foreseeable future, as he is likely to see a lot of time in CF in Granderson's absence. Granderson is out until at least mid-April.

Another concern is the leadoff spot. Edgar Renteria batted No. 1 yesterday and seems the most likely (maybe only?) candidate to bat there when the season begins. Renteria had a .390 OBP last season with the Braves.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Money ball

The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, has a feature about Jeremy Bonderman and his first-inning woes. It's worth checking out, if for no other reasons than the illustration and the fact everyone is called "Mr." in the article. The Detroit Tigers Weblog takes the analysis further.

Skip speak

"Everybody's worried about the pitching; I'm not worried about the pitching," Tigers manager Jim Leyland is quoted on "It's either going to do it or it doesn't. That's what we got. There's no secrets. Nobody's going to parachute in here tonight that's going to be our savior. So the guys we've got [have] to do it, it's that simple. We'll make those choices. We're trying to weigh everything and make those choices. It will all take care of itself."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring!

Michigan's Kirsten Haglund, a.k.a. Miss America, will toss out the first ball for Detroit's Opening Day. She'll also sing the National Anthem and God Bless America.

It's good to be a Tigers fan.

Haglund, by the way, was 6-months old when pitcher Kenny Rogers made his MLB debut with the Texas Rangers in 1989.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wild about the whiff

The more I started reading about baseball stats, the more I’ve come to realize the value of strikeouts for pitchers. I guess I’m a slow learner, or liked to believe that those who relied on guts and guile were just as good. (And a few are, especially if they keep the ball on the ground more than 55% of the time.)

Yesterday, I took a simplistic look at the K. This is what I found, which sort of blew me away.

Last season, 23 of the top 24 pitchers in strikeouts had an ERA under 4.00. Only Boston’s Matsuzaka (4.40) failed to achieve that level. Of the 29 pitchers with at least 160 Ks, only Matsuzaka, Baltimore’s Daniel Cabrera (5.55) and Colorado’s Jeff Francis (4.22) topped 4.00.

In 2006, the trend wasn’t as strong, although 16 of the top 17 strikeout men had an ERA of 4.20 or lower. Only the ChiSox’s Javier Vasquez (4.84) was above it.

In 2005, Vasquez (this time in Arizona) again spoiled things. His 4.42 ERA was the only one among the top 25 strikeout pitchers to top 4.00.

In 2004, only Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman (4.89) and Toronto’s Ted Lilly (4.06) topped 4.00 among the top 21.

Guess what happened in 2003? This time 10 of the top 11 were under 3.41 ERA (only NYY’s Roger Clemens was above at 3.91). None of the top 24 had an ERA above 4.23, and 23 were 4.13 or lower.

In 2002, the top 9 were 3.66 or lower and 16 of the top 20 were under 4.00.

You get the picture. I know ERA isn’t the best measure of a pitcher, but those numbers were overwhelming. No wonder Dave Dombrowski stocks up on those power arms.

Pudge pop

As if the Tigers needed more power in the lineup, Pudge Rodriguez shows signs of renewed pop with 6 HR in 32 AB this spring. According to a story in the Free Press, Pudge worked with heavier weights during the offseason. His stats are .375/.412/1.000.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lucky 13

Sports Illustrated has put out a list of the top 20 young pitchers in MLB. You can view it here. Detroit's Justin Verlander is No. 1. Philly's Cole Hamels in No. 3. To renew the queasiness Mets fans feel every time Scott Kazmir's name is mentioned, he is No. 4.

The Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman is No. 13. There is no question Bonderman has the talent to be a top dog. There also is no question he can be a mutt at times too. I saw him toss 7 innings of 1-hit ball against the Phillies in 2004. He struck out 8. He looked like a stud.

His effort that day lowered his ERA to 5.63.

Brilliance such as that, or his great duel with Roy Halladay last April (9 IP, 6 H, 1 R) or ALCS effort against the Yankees in 2006 (8.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R) or 1-0 win in Minnesota last year (8 IP, 6 H, 7 K) fuel the excitement surrounding his abilities.

Here are some stats for unnamed pitchers since the start of the 2003 season (Bonderman's first year) with at least 600 IP:

Pitcher 1: 48-45, 4.83 ERA
Pitcher 2: 43-38, 4.95 ERA
Pitcher 3: 54-46, 4.65 ERA
Pitcher 4: 56-62, 4.78 ERA
Pitcher 5: 42-54, 4.53 ERA

Bonderman is among that group. I will tell you his ERA is the 18th worst among all pitchers to throw at least 600 IP since the start of 2003. Granted, Bonderman was very young when he started his career and the Tigers were very bad. And you can't base everything on ERA. And Bonderman pitched hurt the second half of last season.

Yet at some point you are what your numbers say you are. Bonderman's ERA+ by season is 77, 91, 93, 112, 91. Even his best season, in 2006, is hardly exceptional.

Reports out of spring training say Bonderman is pleased with his changeup, which is the pitch that will put him over the top. Let's hope so. I want Jeremy to succeed. Honest. I'm just baffled at the way the scribes continue to gush about him. I hope the 9-1, 3.48 ERA pre-All Star break Bonderman returns in 2008. Hope springs eternal.

Now, the pitcher meantioned above are, in order, Adam Eaton, Claudio Vargas, Jason Marquis, Bonderman, and Nate Robertson. For whatever it's worth.

Monday, March 10, 2008

There is crying in baseball

Thanks to Joe Girardi.

He also said he doesn't understand why teams have their pitchers throw hard against the Yankees, or use those "tricky bendy pitches" in spring training. It's not a good way to help the Yankees prepare for the season.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Mets and Bonds

In his March 7th post, Mets should consider Bonds, Buster Olney has made me question his sanity. Ok, so the numbers say it wouldn't be a terrible idea. But for once, I'd argue there's more to this than just stats. Signing Bonds continues the incentive for cheating.

If the Mets sign Barry Bonds, I will put my hat away until he has left. I will not root for the Mets or baseball at all. There are other steroid users that would probably have the same effect on me, but Bonds is the king. I know I am not alone. You can hold me to this.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Praise for Inge

The Free Press reports that Al Kaline says Brandon Inge could be one of the game's premier outfielders if given the chance. Lost in all the hubbub about where Inge will play this season (position and/or team) is the fact he's off to a nice start offensively this spring. It's hard to get excited about stats at this point, except this one might be a good sign: Inge has 6 BBs and 1 K so far. Last season, he had 0.31 BBs per every K.

Tigers-Mets trade partners?

The Free Press says the Mets might have legitimate interest in Tigers OF Marcus Thames. Whether the Tigers have genuine interesting in parting with Thames remains to be seen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Quick, someone wrap Pedro in bubblewrap

Things that happen in Spring Training tend to be pretty meaningless in the long run. Some no-name hitter getting hot for three weeks batting against other teams' minor league relievers isn't cause to run out and buy his jersey. Your team's ace getting knocked around while experimenting with a new pitch shouldn't lead you to sell your season tickets. Still, the first three weeks of baseball have gone pretty poorly for the Mets.

Six of the Mets' presumptive Opening Day starting nine have missed time due to injury and their theoretical second baseman and center fielder haven't set foot on the exhibition grass at all. Most of these injuries have been minor and will likely be forgotten by the time the team heads north. But for a squad as old as it is talented, it hasn't been an encouraging start. And the news has only gotten worse this week.

First there was the news that Orlando Hernandez has had to alter his windup, ditching his trademark high leg kick to alleviate pain in his right big toe. Right now he appears to be more than a few weeks away from being ready to start the season. It's no surprise that El Duque will miss some time this season and Plan B, Mike Pelfrey, has pitched well in his early starts. But this seems like the sort of problem that could linger and potentially derail Hernandez's whole season and beyond the unproven Pelfrey, the Mets don't have much of a backup plan for the fifth starter spot.

Then we learned today that Moises Alou will miss four to six weeks due to hernia surgery. Alou's injury is about as surprising as Duque's, but the Mets might be even more ill-prepared to replace the aged outfielder. His nominal backup is Endy Chavez who hasn't played an inning this spring. If he doesn't return, the task probably falls to Angel Pagan, who, awesome name and 12-for-28 spring aside, has a career .306 OBP. He's got enough speed and defensive ability to be a decent fifth outfielder, but starting him in left field for a few weeks would be less than ideal. Brady Clark would not be a whole lot better.

Then there's Carlos Delgado's bad hip. And Ryan Church's concussion. Maybe now is the time for Omar Minaya to stop putting off looking for some backups for his oldest and most fragile starters. At this point I'm just hoping Olmedo Saenz doesn't get the start at first base on March 31st.