Manny Ramirez. One of the greatest hitters to ever set foot in a batters box. Not just from the right side either. One of the greatest hitters, period! Combine all of the left handed hitters and right handed hitters together, and Manny comes out in the top tier, the upper echelon of all time sluggers. I have seen Manny do things in the batters box that I have not seen from anyone. I have seen him crush a slider over the right center field fence, with consistency. I have seen him hit the ball away better than anyone I have ever witnessed. When he was completely focused, and was determined to hit the ball to the opposite field, there was no better hitter in the game, outside of the only hitter that was better, the one that resided in San Francisco. Last season, when the Anaheim Angels came to town, Manny and David Ortiz together, put on a show that I had never come across in my time of watching baseball. A tear that the two players basically took upon themselves to win the series singlehandedly (there was plenty of other help, it just felt like that). Manny posted a line of .375/.615/.1.125. Ortiz added in his hand which went a little like this: .714/.846/1.571. And they both continued there dominance in the second round helping the Red Sox hammer two “Ace” pitchers, at least last season, in Fausto Carmona and CC Sabathia. Some say those two “Aces” tired out as the season stretched out, but Carmona had just dominated the Yankees in the previous series. I think it was more of what might have been the greatest 3-4 combo that any lineup has ever seen. I know it is easily the greatest that I have ever seen.
Manny added an offensive game that few have ever contributed to a ball club. Manny’s ”stick” has been 54% better than the average hitter over his career. And I would agree that he is a sure fire Hall of Famer, and still is. I will happily endorse his worth if anyone asks me. He is one of the greatest players of all time. The Los Angeles Dodgers just acquired a bat that may help them win the division, and they are getting a hitter who will be able to perform well come playoff time, if the opportunity does in fact present itself. But one player does not make a team, so the Dodgers look a little better than the Diamondbacks now, but it doesn’t propel them into the World Series, like some may think…
Which leads me to the Red Sox situation…The difference between Manny and Jason Bay down the stretch should not make too much of a difference. Manny is a better hitter and he has been doing it in a tougher league, and a tougher division than Bay has. But if the adjustment to a new league, and a new city isn’t too much for Bay, then the difference down the stretch shouldn’t be impossible to overcome, in terms of a postseason berth. The thing that worries me most, is the privilege that we had of watching the Ortiz and Manny combo. I don’t feel that Jason Bay could fill Manny’s shoes at the highest stage of the game, the playoffs. I am not saying that Bay won’t have success, because he may, but to do what Manny did last season is a lot to ask, for anyone. The rest of the Boston offense is good enough where they will still have one of the best in the game, but it isn’t quite as scary as it once was. And to rid of that distraction that was Manny Ramirez may loosen the clubhouse a little and help them get back on track. Jason Bay is a good player, who is cheaper, and a better defender. But he is not Manny Ramirez.. Although ultimately they get a fine player in return, who is more important looking forward toward the future. Because the Red Sox needed to get younger on offense eventually anyway.
And this…”Manny is misunderstood.” “Manny keeps the clubhouse loose.” “Manny never talks about his contract while working out in the Winter with teammates.”
…But right smack dab in the middle of a pennant race, he will not hesitate to speak his mind and disrupt what was as talented a team in Major League Baseball, seemingly tampering with a beautiful formula that won a championship in 2007.
“I love Boston fans.” Then Manny, hustle down the damn line when you hit a ground ball. ”Show” the fans that you love them. Nothing speaks louder than the actions that you show to us. And if you are saying garbage, spewing garbage, and showing us a product that is good, but has some garbage mixed in, then we notice that. Without the fans, Manny, you don’t get paid. It is as simple as that. The consumer is needed for the product to be bought. And the product we bought was starting to widdle away the fine exterior, into the hostile, self absorbed and shall I say “fake” interior that was “Manny being Manny.” If Manny Ramirez truly cared about the Boston fans then he would have helped them try and win a World Series title this season, while keeping his mouth shut. He would have let the Red Sox exercise their right as to whether or not they were going to pickup the option by the deadline. A ”right” that Manny Ramirez himself thought was ok in the offseason just before his first year in Boston, 2001. Apparently, Ramirez did not look ahead. Because had he done so, he wouldn’t have allowed a team option, let alone more than one of them.
Manny Ramirez one of the greatest hitters of all time. Manny Ramirez, someone I thought of as a fun loving guy, with a few flaws for many years, turned out to be a fraud. He wasn’t what we thought he was. And I am not just bitter because a future Hall of Famer walked out the door, I am bitter because he couldn’t shut his ******* mouth for two months, for the sake of the fans, and for the sake of his teammates. A player who wanted a four year contract more so than another World Series ring. We don’t see everything that goes on behind closed doors, but Manny presented us with enough to come to the conclusion that his next contract was more important than the fans that he said he “cared about.”
So the Red Sox did what they had to do. They parted ways with one of the greatest players of all time, while still giving themselves a chance to win a World Series by getting a return of Jason Bay. I am bitter because we lost a player that has been with the club for nearly eight years. I am bitter because the habit of seeing Manny’s name penciled in the fourth slot of the lineup card is now lost. And I am bitter because the chances of winning a World Series just became a little less likely. But I am not bitter that Manny wanted to leave, I am bitter that he couldn’t wait until after the year to try and solve this problem. That he couldn’t let the Red Sox do what he himself signed them off to do. And that he couldn’t let the ones who ultimately pay his contract, the fans, watch him for two more months while trying to obtain World Series ring number 3.
An absolute GEM of a pitchers duel last night. Two arms that light up the radar guns with great fastballs, while mixing in pretty darn good secondary stuff as well. Joba is going to be a legitimate front end starter, if he is not there already. And rather than leaving it somewhat broad at “front end starter” I would declare him to be a future ace. However, “Ace” isn’t exactly an easy status to earn, and it is difficult to come by for any pitcher, no matter the talent, at such a young age. But we already knew this, right? I listen to the scouts for this sort of thing, Keith Law in particular, and they have been saying all along that he will become a number one starter, or at least close to it. But Chamberlain is coming along quite nicely. And all those naysayers who believe that a set up man/reliever has as much value as a dominant starter, where are you now? Joba dominated for seven innings last night. Don’t expect seven innings of shutout ball each night, but it is just an indication of his worth, and what could take place on any given night.
As for Beckett, he was great too. There was trouble on the basepaths throughout the game, but other than a few hard hit singles up the middle, he controlled the Yankees bats nearly as well as a pitcher can. There was not a single extra base hit, and he let only one scamper to first base without nudging the ball into play. There were weakly hit balls that fell in. And as Remy noted, the cutter was the “cause” of three hits. But none of those three singles were hit well at all, one being Giambi’s slowly hit grounder opposite the shift. Beckett threw a GEM as well, Joba was just a little better.
Angels: OPS+ 91. ERA+ 109. Am I the only one who doesn’t think that the Angels are the best team in baseball? Just one day after they swept the Red Sox? The Angels have good pitching, and absolutely no one is doubting that. But their offense is pretty weak for the supposed “Best Team in Baseball.” If they end up making a deal for a serious bat, then my view of them will change. But right now they have a well below average offense. The OPS+ of 91 indicates that (That OPS+ comes in 12th in the AL), and the fact that they are tenth in the league in runs per game doesn’t help their cause any. Yes, they play small ball, kind of exciting in its own right. Yet small ball isn’t translating into runs being scored consistently. The fact that they are one of the best at manufacturing a run in a tight ball game helps, but I will take an offense built around the home run any day of the week if it is among the best in the league. With the pitching the Angels have they do not need a great offense, but it has to be better than this. Luckily for them, they play in a weak division and will be able to rest anyone with an ache or even a hiccup down the stretch.
Oakland A’s: OPS+ 93. ERA+ 112. The A’s were in the mix, but unloaded some of their key parts. And they did exactly what they should have done. I didn’t feel that Oakland had enough as they stood, though they have been proving me wrong all year, and their run differential disagrees with me. However, I was still confident that they would fade out of playoff contention. And any time a team has a fragile arm stay healthy, even for just a small amount of time, then get whatever you can for him. Rich Harden has great stuff, some of the best in the game. But they had to do it. Build for the next few seasons. If one were to ask another: Who is the best general manager in the game of baseball? Then it would be difficult to spout out anyone other than Billy Beane. Any answer in that situation is far from definite, as there are so many variables that go into a team’s success and/or failures. But tell me someone else and I will make a very, very strong case for why Beane is better. Simply put, he knows what he is doing.
…..By the way, whoever it was that suggested trading away Justin Duchscherer. Seems like a pretty good idea to me. Duchscherer, is having a very, very good year. But does anyone truly think that he is this good? If the right package comes along, then pull the trigger. But of course, I think Beane has probably already thought about this.
Texas Rangers: OPS+ 115. ERA+ 80. Milton Bradley, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton? Some good offensive players. Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Sidney Ponson, Jason Jennings? Some bad veteran pitchers that have taken the mound quite a bit, 53 starts to be exact. The Rangers current staff is terrible. Kason Gabbard, while still young, was projected by Keith Law to be nothing more than a fifth starter. And that is what he seems destined to become. I want him to succeed, it just does not look likely. However, I will always remember last season when I watched him pitch a complete game against the Royals while striking out what I believe was 10 batters. That was enjoyable. But they have some catching depth, and there are some teams that need catchers. And if they could could get a nice return on Milton Bradley, who is actually an everyday player this season, then it may be smart to get some young pitching in return for him.
Seattle Mariners: OPS+ 88. ERA+ 92. Well, I guess the stat guys were right about this team. See, if listened to, the sabermetricians have some valuable information to flood our minds with. The fact that the Mariners won 88 games or whatever last season, plus Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, gave us a reason to include them in the discussion for who wins the West. But I came to the realization that my prediction for them to win 86 games was plenty. After all, they weren’t all that good last season. And although that 1-2 punch is really talented, it just didn’t seem like enough. However, I was still very wrong and ended up giving this team way too much credit. We can make a very strong case that Kenji Johjima did not deserve all that money. But did anyone think he would be as bad as he has been at the plate this season? OPS+ 48. I doubt they did. There are many more problems with this team than just he, but he is a good example. That and the fact that their run differential really was “a good indication” of the quality of team that they fielded last year.
This division is far from over. But…it is over. The Angels, though lacking offense, are the best team in this division, and still one of the best in the game, regardless of how I sounded when describing them. The A’s will be good in a few years, I assume. The Rangers should be better too, once the prospects they have turn into Major League ballplayers. The Mariners are in the worst position. They have overpayed, underperforming, aging everyday players. Sell, Sell, Sell, Seattle.
Will someone please show us that they are the best in this division? Three teams are separated by just 1.5 games, and the fourth place team might be better than the second place team.
Philadelphia Phillies: OPS+ 105. ERA+ 112. Isn’t it funny how the Phillies pitching has out performed its hitting/defense? They have only had three above average offensive players this season; Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Pat Burrell. Jimmy Rollins has been average, and hurt a little. Pedro Feliz has been a little below average, but they should have expected that. And everyone else has been pretty bad, outside of Jayson Werth. And a catcher with an OPS+ of 50 (Carlos Ruiz) isn’t helping the cause. His slugging percentage, in a clear, naked eye clear, hitters park, is lower than Julio Lugo’s batting average. The pitching has its weaknesses too, which hopes to have Joe Blanton turn out to be the solution (possibly doubtful, but he can’t be worse than Adam Eaton or Brett Myers have been). To speak of Blanton for a second…He overachieved last season, simply put. Even Keith Law agrees. But he is moving to a weaker league…But he is moving to a hitters park…Who knows what they get out of the struggling Blanton, but he is not a big time acquisition. He just helps a little.
New York Mets: OPS+ 105. ERA+ 101. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mets end up in the postseason. After all, I thought they would do so before the season began. But I would be surprised if they did much once they got there. Because they need a few bats. Beltran, Wright, and Reyes are all playing well, but they really need that corner OF bat if they want to do any damage. And my solution is Barry Bonds. I understand where Bonds detractors are coming from. I understand that Bonds isn’t going to be the most positive influence on the rest of the organization. However, after all Bonds has been through, most justified, and I am sure some of it not, his only asking price is dollar signs. And I could very well see Bonds coming in and trying to stay cool to revamp what the public sees in him as his career winds down. And I am sure, no matter how arrogant Bonds is, that he would like a World Series ring. Now, I do not know how he would perform, but I have a strong feeling that he would still get on base a ton. But if they don’t choose that route, the Mets could find a lesser bat through a trade. Another starter wouldn’t hurt either.
Florida Marlins: OPS+ 109. ERA+ 88. Say what you want about Run Differential, but I wouldn’t be entirely confident in the quality of team that the Marlins actually have. They may be just 1.5 games out, but they aren’t that good of a team. If we want to talk best middle infield, then definitely maybe. But this team isn’t as good as they appear. A pretty good offense, and not so good pitching. The front office should focus more so on the next few years, while the players should continue to play as hard as possible, just because they might as well try to win it all. I don’t see any other way.
Atlanta Braves: OPS+ 107. ERA+ 109. Losing John Smoltz really hurt this team. They are probably a stronger team than their record indicates, but without Smoltz they have another hole. It looks as if they should trade Tex if the right offer is on the table, because if they aren’t going to re-sign him, then they will just get a couple draft picks, which may or may not amount to anything of value. Draft picks are nice, but prospects are better. But they should hang onto until midnight of the trade deadline to see if they get hot…
Washington Nationals: OPS+ 83. ERA+ 97. I remember the first night of the season. Braves and the Nationals, battling it out to see who could stay undefeated. A healthy Nick Johnson. A brand new hi-tech stadium. And the Nationals ”star” player hits a walk off home run to push their record to 1-0. I watched it, so I know it happened. Since then they have been the worst team in baseball. Nick Johnson renewed his spot on the “All DL team.” And Ryan Zimmerman has only played in 50 games. I feel bad for the franchise, I really do. I wanted them to do well this season. That night would have been a magical night had I been a Nationals fan. But they have fallen back into old habits, and those habits seem to be a reality for a few more years, at least. But every team has a solution if they want to be competitive and if they want to compete next year. They sign Ben Sheets, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Erik Bedard. Sure they will spend loads of money, but then they won’t be the laughingstock that they are now. :)
The NL Central has exceeded our expectations. Mostly because of the Cardinals. What they have accomplished is truly incredible. The top two teams have improved themselves by upgrading the front end of the rotation. Onto the synopses…
Chicago Cubs: OPS+ 112. ERA+ 115. It is difficult to argue against the Cubs being the best team in the NL after their recent acquisition of the fragile Rich Harden. But if Harden’s fragility disappears for three months or so, they are in prime position to pounce on the inferior National League. That being said, I don’t feel that they are so far and above a few other teams in the NL that they are locks to appear in the World Series. Ryan Dempster has been a huge surprise this season moving into the rotation. Zambrano is having another good year. And with an average Ted Lilly, and a few other average arms, they should be set. As soon as Soriano returns, then their offense will be set too. Enough with the Brian Roberts talks, Mark Derosa is sufficient enough. But then again the “Friendly Confines” have been pretty friendly to him. So, trading away the rest of the farm to acquire Roberts may not be a bad idea.
St Louis Cardinals: OPS+ 113. ERA+ 100. I do not expect the Cardinals to hang around. Finish with a +.500 winning percentage? Yes. But only by a few games. But then again, in the NL, I guess that would mean they will be hanging around in the Wild Card race. Give credit to everyone involved in this organization though, they are not the laughingstock many of us thought they would be. And Albert Pujols, may or may not be my midseason MVP, it is close, but he is still as good as anyone in the game. But the run differential in St Louis is far from convincing me that they are truly a good team. More an above average than anything.
Milwaukee Brewers: OPS+ 106. ERA+ 106. Grabbing one of the best pitchers in baseball, and combining him with one of the best pitchers in baseball, gives the Brewers arguably the best 1-2 punch…in baseball. Sabathia has really taken off in the past few months and is right back to where he was last season. Keith Law even feels that Sabathia, right now, is pitching better than he ever has. And Ben Sheets’ talent was realized in the All Star game. Not many casual fans think of him as being one of the best pitchers in the game, but he is…when healthy. Healthy has ”Ben” Sheets’ only issue. As we all know, Bill Hall, and Rickie Weeks especially, are not playing up to their talent level. If they do so, we may be able to expect a seven game NLCS between the Cubs and Brewers. And by the way, the Brewers +21 RD is nothing special, but after getting CC, it should improve.
Cincinnati Reds: OPS+ 96. ERA+ 100. Many, myself included, thought the Reds could make a run this season. But at this point they become sellers in my opinion. Even with Edinson Volquez pitching better than anyone could have ever expected, they have a pretty cruddy run differential of -51. They should trade Adam Dunn. And if possible they should trade Griffey. The future is where it’s at in Cincy. The Cueto’s, The Votto’s, The Bruce’s, The Volquez’s, and possibly even The Bailey’s. They are what this team should rely on. Even Harang is only 30. So he potentially has many positive seasons left. This team needs to build for 2009 and beyond. Oh, and possibly find another manager. I know the sabermetric minds dislike Dusty, and the other minds seem to like him, but I don’t think he is a bad manager. Just not necessarily a “Win-Later” manager.
Houston Astros: OPS+ 97. ERA+ 91. If Ed Wade is not the worst GM in baseball, then it is close. There is one pitcher under the age of 30 in his starting rotation, and he is 29. There are three starting position players under the age of 30. This team is no man’s land. Some good players; Berkman, Lee, Oswalt, Tejada somewhat. But they aren’t going to win now. Their run differential isn’t good. They cannot make a move to help them compete this year, and their farm is almost non-existent. So…revamp the system and start over. Well, unless of course they are going to fork over a total of $60 million a year for the next five seasons for the rights to Sabathia, Sheets, and Tex. And that isn’t going to happen.
Pittsburgh Pirates: OPS+ 101. ERA+ 80. Run Differential is -73. They are once again one of the worst teams in baseball. Yet, Jason Bay is back on track. Xavier Nady is having a career year. Nate Mclouth is performing better than expected. But Gorzellany and Snell have been absolutely putrid, pathetic, terrible. Maybe a new pitching coach is required in the Steel city, because these pitchers have digressed at a ridiculous rate…when they are supposed to be getting better.
The Central is top heavy, definitely. And the Cubs and the Brewers are serious contenders this season. But the Cubs are still a step ahead of their division rival. However, CC and Sheets is an almost unhittable combination if one were to cross them in the postseason. That is if Sheets does well his first time there, and if CC can do well this time around.
The NL West has been a pathetic division this season up until the midway point, and a little beyond that. This of course is one of the downsides to the Wild Card. Teams that are par or subpar will have a chance because there are three divsions in each league giving a few more spots to slightly inferior teams than in the past. And in the supposedly weaker league, that is even more stressed because the quality of the teams are even worse, or the majority of them anyway.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OPS+ 92. ERA+ 115. They cannot complain about the 1-2 punch that they have. Although Webb has come down to earth, Haren has been as good as advertised. I saw some of it myself when he dominated the Red Sox at Fenway on a nationally televised game. But then again, Haren isn’t new to me, he is new to them. The offense has been below average, a problem for any team. The fact that their leadoff hitter rarely reaches base could be a small part of it. And I realize that Chris Young has been moved down in the order, but now Stephen Drew is getting on base at only a .302 clip. Something has to change. I think that, maybe unfairly because he is only 20, Justin Upton has the biggest chance to get this offense going. Upton has been average this season, and of course is only 20, but he seems like he has the most potential to take off in the second half of the year. This team may very much need to acquire a bat at the deadline. As for the pitching it has been very good. ERA+ 115. But that was expected. Their run differential is +4 and they are 47-48. They have been merely average.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OPS+ 86. ERA+ 120. Personally, I thought the Dodgers could win this division, and I picked them to do just that. And they still have a very good shot, sitting just one game out. But it is the quality of the team that concerns me, and I am sure their fans even more so. They are below .500. They do have a +10 run differential, but that doesn’t normally translate into much better than an average record anyway. The offense here has been well below average, and the pitching well above. From the looks of things the pitching will not be going anywhere, but what about the hitting? I don’t see many significant internal solutions. What’s funny is that everyone, well the sabermetrics guys anyway, wanted the young guys to start. And they have been around average, not much more can be expected. The vets have been bad though. Pierre and Kent have hit well below average, while Furcal has been hurt, same for Nomar. I agreed with this opinion of starting the youngsters by the way. I don’t see the offense doing too much better in the 2nd half, unless I am overlooking something. I mean really it is going to take Nomar, Kent, and Jones to start hitting. Is that realistic?
San Francisco Giants: OPS+ 89. ERA+ 99. They are far from good, but they are also far from what some expected them to be. A -58 run differential is still pretty bad, but at least they are hanging around (7 games back) if not at least for the fans sake. In most divisions they would be way, way back though, and the fact that they are still somewhat in it is because of the quality of, or lack of, the teams above them. But they have some nice pitching for the future…at least.
Colorado Rockies: OPS+ 95. ERA+ 93. I wrote a blog yesterday about how terrible they have been on the road with their bats sitting seemingly on their shoulders. Julio Lugo about sums up their road numbers. Very disappointing. From World Series to the nicest room in the basement. Luckily 8.5 games isn’t exactly impossible to make up. Unlikely, yes. But not impossible. Losing a solid SS, even though he was struggling, didn’t exactly help the cause. But even with him they would still be below .500 and out of first place. A below average offense and a below average pitching staff is what they have, and that is why they are where they are.
San Diego Padres: OPS+ 96. ERA+ 92. Brian Giles needs to go. And a few other moves need to take place also. Giles has been above average, but maybe a move to the Mets would be smart. The Mets need a corner OF and the Padres shouldn’t expect too much in return for the 37 year old Giles. But the Padres need to go ahead and build for 2010. Maddux needs to go, along with Randy Wolf. But of course the underrated Adrian Gonzalez is having a very good year, the lone star in this lineup.
To sum it up; if either of the top two teams makes a move for an impact bat, then they should be able to take the division. If I am the Diamondbacks, with that 1-2 punch, then I make a move. Because come playoff time they would have an advantage, much more so if they get another player who knows how to hit. The Dodgers on the other hand, may want to hold onto their young players, because they have the money to make a splash in free agency next year. They could wait until the offseason, rid of some of the overpaid vets, and keep their prospects, while signing a big time hitter. Of course, it will be difficult to move a player like Andruw Jones, so I wouldn’t mind if they made a move or a bat either.
From a GM’s perspective, evaluating a Colorado player is truly a rocky and difficult task. All I can say is; be wary of acquring a Rockies’ hitter at the deadline. And be cautious also of what young promising prospects that may be dealt in order to get whoever is chosen.
Humidors or not, the Rockies are a much better offensive team at home, as they have been for many years now. I wrote about this last season, but it is continuing in 2008 also. The Colorado Rockies Home OPS is .825, second to only the Cubs of the 16 NL teams. This OPS translates into the second most runs per game also, behind the Cubs once again. But on the road they are terrible…Again!. They fall in at 15th in Road OPS (.665), ahead of only the Arizona Diamondbacks. And the Rockies are actually dead last in runs per game on the road with a miserable 3.53 runs a game. Basically, the Rockies on the road have the same OPS that Julio Lugo’s has averaged out to be during the first two years of his contract with the Red Sox.
But it gets even more interesting…The pitchers are performing close, in both their home and road numbers, for the second straight season. At home they have given up 5.15 runs/game. But on the road they have given up even more, 5.37. Either way their pitching has been terrible, but that is beside the point right now. There isn’t too much of a difference between the splits.
So what exactly are the humidors doing?
Let me take Matt Holliday and use him as an example, since he will be the most sought after position player. In Matt Holliday’s career at home his line looks like this: .364/.427/.659. That is great. Those numbers are easily worthy of the Hall of Fame. But on the road he has been a completely different hitter. Line: .277/.342/.450. That is solid but far from special. And in the past two years he has still been putting up great numbers in Colorado, but his numbers on the road have increased as well. Yet the splits are still over a difference 150 percentage points of OPS
So I admit, Matt Holliday may be a wise choice, but if I were a GM then I would make sure that I am not sacrificing the future for a player like him. But as a team, they are tremendous at home, and terrible on the road. Do they have some elaborate sign stealing scheme with cameras and satellites involved? I don’t actually buy that. What I actually buy though, is that the thin air still dictates how well the ball travels in Colorado, to some degree anyway. And acquiring Matt Holliday may very well help a team improve themselves in the short term, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be getting an MVP candidate either. After all, scouts said Holliday may have trouble adjusting to the tougher competition in the AL if he were to switch leagues. That is another reason to believe the humidors are not exactly what people may think they are.
Kevin Youkilis is having the best season of his relatively young career. Granted, he is notorious for crusing along like one of the best players in baseball during the first half of a season, only to fall into a slump in the second half. Some attribute it to his intensity level, which simply put, is through the roof. But whatever the cause, there is something slightly different about this years version of the Youkster. His “Greek God of Walks” label isn’t quite as accurate as his has been in the past
Youkilis is, and still has, one of the best eyes of the strike zone in all of baseball. But he hasn’t been seeing quite as many this season as in other years, 3.85 pitches per plate appearance to be exact. His average P/PA last season you ask? 4.27. That is nearly one third of a pitch fewer that Youkilis sees each time he steps into the box 90+ games into 2008. It is plenty sufficient, especially if he is going to bat .300+. The 3.85 comes in 35th among qualified hitters in the AL. Last season Youkilis finished 6th in the AL in this category. And as a matter of fact, Youkilis, during his career in the minors, had a batting average of .300, but an OBP of .433. Now that is where the label that was slapped on him came from. He has of course continued to show why he was deserving of this label throughout his major league career, with a line of .286/.383/.455 (slugging thrown in to make it appear natural).
So why is Youkilis swinging the bat earlier in the count this season? Could it possibly be that he is so aware of his second half swoons that he is going to swing the bat as much as possible during the first half of the year? Then take it easy in the second half and get on base more through the walk? Or is it that he and/or the coaching staff thought that he had more potential being a little more aggressive early in counts? His power numbers are much greater this season than in any other year. A .547 slugging, which is over 100 percentage points better than his career best at any seasons conclusion. But even in the first half of the past two seasons, Youkilis’ only two seasons that he has been a full time employee, the highest that he slugged in a half season has been .502.
This theory of his approach, the one that I thought he might have changed for the first half, is just a theory. The second one makes more sense. But I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he started seeing more pitches in the second half of the season. It is almost like Bill James’ theory that as a player ages they tend to see more pitches and try and work more bases on balls. Except of course Youkilis’ approach could be from one half of the season to the next. Of course, he may average 3.85 pitches per plate appearance in the second half as well. Only time will tell. I have been hitting the sauce pretty hard tonight…I had a cup and a half of Barg’s root beer to go along with my pizza.
(Edit: Nearly half a pitch, not one third)
Ok, maybe using hyperbole there, as much of this may have derived from the “subjective.” But to watch a pitcher with as much talent as Daisuke try and paint the corners on nearly every pitch, is definitely frustrating. There have been many pitchers from the past that come up or over and just don’t turn out to be what their “stuff” indicated they should become. I guess that would be much more frustrating than watching a pitcher perform pretty well, but running up high pitch counts, and racking up more early exits than most “effective” starters do. I am not complaining, as watching Matsuzaka exit with one out in the 6th after walking 5, all while giving up only one or two earned runs, probably isn’t as terrible as watching say…Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera, a supposed hot-head with very good stuff, one whom lights up the radar gun, has been no better than aveerage over his career. As a whole, Cabrera has been below average. So I will take Dice-K over him almost any day of the week.
Yet still, my emotions run wild during a Matsuzaka start. I am at a point where I try not to get TOO caught up in a single game, as it is a very long season (unless of course it is Red Sox-Yankees). But when Daisuke takes the hill, and pitches well one inning, then walks two the next inning…only to escape. Then the following inning strikes out two, then lets a few baserunners on after those two outs…It is frustrating. And I think that some of it is mechanical, but ultimately mental.
Scout? No, I am not. But that does not mean that I cannot see Daisuke deviate from a motion that had been working for five or so innings. Using last night’s game as an example: The first inning was rough. Two quick outs followed by a walk, an infield single, and another walk. Then Daisuke pulls one of his many “miracles” out of a bag that seems to be full of them…a groundout and the inning is over. But something happened, the next five innings Daisuke settled in very nicely, hitting the majority of his spots, and walking only a single batter. Trouble alluded him because he prevented it from doing so. Funny how that works. In the seventh though, Matsuzaka seemed to be doing something slightly different mechanically, and all of a sudden his pitches were all over the place. With a little luck, he escaped trouble once again, but this time he did not avoid getting himself into it. But what was he doing wrong? I am sure that if I were to watch video of it, I could pick something up. But I am no scout, and in a pitchers duel, a gem of a game, I had more important stuff to worry about, to concentrate on. A win, to be exact.
This has to be a problem of concentration. Not repeating the exact same motion, I would assume, is mostly mental. Unless there was an injury preventing one from doing so. I used to pitch in high school, only a few actual game innings on the mound, but I never had to worry about a repeated delivery. I just went out and threw the ball, mixing in my below average circle change, with my below average curveball…and a fastball that wasn’t slow, but wasn’t ever located properly. I didn’t understand the “logistics” of fastball locating at the age of 16, and was without MLB.TV to watch every night (to learn from the pros). Anyway, the point I was making is that I never had to go through any of the issues that a lot of pitchers go through. I never pitched enough to have a coach come tell me to focus because I am straying away from my delivery, nor did I ever establish an exact delivery. But Dice-K has. He knows the ins and outs and every little thing that goes on during his delivery (as do his well educated coaching staff). Yet, time and time again, the ball ends up in the dirt. Time and time again, the ball ends up a little up, rather than outside where Varitek sets up.
But again, I am not complaining. I just want to see Daisuke repeat his mechanics properly, to get the most effectiveness out of his vast repertoire of pitches. After all, I am a fan. And he is one of the best pitchers on the team that I cheer for. The walks, the high pitch counts, they are fixable. Yet, at this point, it is up to him to put an end to them. And it is very possible to do this, Daisuke just needs to focus.
(Note: Overall, very good performance by Dice K last night against the Twins, but he still looked a little shaky mechanically, in two of the seven full innings that he pitched, and a little shaky in the beginning of the 8th too).