Keys to 2013: Kansas City Royals

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Starting Pitching Key: Wade Davis

The Royals can write down what they’ll get from the majority of their starting pitchers. That goes for the good (James Shields), the bad (Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar), and the sometimes good/sometimes not so good (Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana). The season and the decried trade the Royals made with the Rays in which they surrendered Wil Myers and other young players to get Shields and Davis will go a long way in determining their 2013 fate and the job status of GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost.

Davis was a serviceable starter for the Rays in 2010-2011. He was moved to the bullpen in 2012 due to the depth the Rays had in their rotation and now he’s going to start again for the Royals. He has to be more than serviceable. If they can cobble him into a 190-210 inning arm, Davis can be a long-term, inexpensive solution because he’s signed with contract options that make him super cheap through 2017. If he falters, the trade will boil down to getting a top-tier starter in Shields and a swingman in Davis for one of baseball’s best prospects, Myers, and other talented youngsters.

Relief Pitching Key: Greg Holland

Holland takes over as the fulltime closer. He struck out 91 in 67 innings last season and saved 16 games after Jonathan Broxton was traded. He has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve and only surrendered 2 homers last season. If he improves his command, Holland can dominate.

Offensive Key: Eric Hosmer

Hosmer endured a sophomore slump in 2012. He failed to adjust to the way pitchers were approaching him and he must lay off the breaking balls in the dirt. As a young hitter who had it come easy to him as a rookie, there’s a resistance to taking advice from anyone. The next logical progression is taking advice from everyone. Neither is wise.

Hosmer can be an offensive force with power and speed. He doesn’t strike out and if he can be just a bit more selective while maintaining his aggressiveness, he’s an MVP candidate.

Defensive Key: Alcides Escobar

The Royals starting rotation is loaded with contact, groundball pitchers. Shields and Davis were reared in the Rays organization where they’re taught to pitch to contact and rely on defensive positioning and heavy slabs of data. The Royals are a more old-school organization in that they put the shortstop at shortstop, the second baseman at second base, etc.

The shortstop is the key to the infield. Mike Moutstakas has good range at third base which will allow Escobar to cheat a bit more toward the middle. If the Royals don’t catch the ball behind their starters, they’re in for a rough time.

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Trading Wil Myers Would Be “Moore” of the Same For the Royals

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Of course I’m referring to Royals GM Dayton Moore who, in his time as their GM and as an assistant with the Braves, has proven himself to be a shrewd drafter and accumulator of young, minor league talent. He has, however, faltered in signing and trading for established big leaguers. Someone with strengths and weaknesses so clearly defined might not be the best choice to run the entire organization. He’s under contract through 2014 and is going to get the opportunity to see things through for better or worse, so the Royals and their fans need to hope that he doesn’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result.

During his tenure, there’s been little bottom line improvement with the Royals’ definable results—i.e. their record—but they have a farm system that is bursting with talent, particularly on offense. Rather than trade away some of that talent, they need to hang onto it and scour the market for pitchers that would be willing to sign with the Royals in a mutually beneficial deal between themselves and the club.

Considering the stagnation of Luke Hochevar (a non-tender candidate); that last season Bruce Chen was their opening day starter; that Danny Duffy needed Tommy John surgery; and that veteran imports Jonathan Sanchez have failed miserably, it’s understandable that they would use their surplus of bats to try and get a legitimate, cost-controlled young starter who could front their rotation. They’ve improved the rotation relatively cheaply and on a short-term basis with Ervin Santana and by keeping Jeremy Guthrie (who people don’t realize how good he’s been). They do need pitching and while it would help them to acquire a frontline starter like James Shields or a young, inexpensive arm such as Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Bauer, or Jonathon Niese, the Royals would be better served to wait out the falling dominos without doing something drastic like trading Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, or Billy Butler. Instead of a blockbuster deal of youngsters, perhaps signing a veteran such as Dan Haren who’s looking to revitalize his value and get one last big contract, would be preferable.

The Royals have the makings of a big time offense that’s cheap and productive. Weakening it to repeat the risky maneuvers of the past and hoping that they don’t turn into Sanchez is not the way to go. It would yield a headline and more hot stove stories of the Royals preparing to take the next step, but they’ve been there before multiple times in recent years and have wound up in the same place—70 wins or so. It’s a circular history and they’ve failed to make innocent climb into noticeable improvement, respectability, and finally contention. If any club knows first hand the risks of pitchers, it’s the Royals. The last thing they need to do is double-down on the risk and cost themselves a young bat like Myers or Hosmer before they’ve given them a chance to develop in a Royals uniform. There are pitchers like Haren who wouldn’t cost anything other than money. They think they have a comparable young replacement for Myers/Butler in Bubba Starling and you can find a first baseman, but would being patient hinder them?

If it’s an affordable price, the free agency has better options than trading young bats to get a young arm that might or might not make it and is more likely to repeat the process that has put the Royals in this position where they need pitching because the young pitchers they’ve had haven’t lived up to the hype or gotten hurt. Why do it again?

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August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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Claiming any of the following players will be hazardous to one’s payroll.

Let’s have a look at American League players who’ll get through waivers for one reason or another.

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

If Teixeira’s contract were due to expire in the near future, someone would claim him and the Yankees wouldn’t let him go. If he was claimed now, they still wouldn’t let him go, but they’d at least briefly consider it. He’s owed $22.5 million annually through 2016 when he’ll be 36. He’s going nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

Yeah. You claim A-Rod. You’ll have A-Rod at 37 with $104 million coming to him from 2013 through 2017.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

His numbers are down, he’s owed $127 million through 2018 and he’s becoming the great player whose teams always miss the playoffs.

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

Yah. A-Rod has a better chance of being claimed.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

There would undoubtedly be factions in the Red Sox front office that would vote to let him go if he was claimed. Now he’s day-to-day with back spasms which, along with his poor pitching and not-so-charming personality, make him even more toxic with $31.5 million owed to him in 2013-2014. He also has 10 and 5 rights to block any deal but I think he’d love to get out of Boston by any means necessary.

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

No one claimed him in June when the Blue Jays had to get him through waivers to send him to the minors earlier in the season; he’s hit better since he was recalled, but with $7 million guaranteed next season, he won’t be claimed especially since he’s not on the disabled list with a back injury.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

Add the Blue Jays to the Braves as teams that the talented Escobar has aggravated to the point that they want to be rid of him. His contract pays him $10 million in 2013-2014 and he has an option for 2015. He’ll get through and might be traded.

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

His hitting numbers have taken a nosedive and he’s owed $27.5 million through 2015.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s got a limited no-trade clause and presumably the team that claims him will be responsible for his $2.75 million buyout, but someone might claim him and hope that he can stay healthy for the last two months of the season (he’s sidelined with a sore back now) and perhaps provide some DH pop.

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

As a defensive replacement, there’d be a team to take him.

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

He’s getting $23 million annually through 2018. If anyone claimed him, the Twins would pull him back; doubtful anyone will.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

With $14 million owed to him for 2013 and that he’s hit better recently, a team might claim him and the Twins would pull him back. If they trade him, it will be in the winter.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

No one’s claiming him, but if he proves himself healthy by the end of the month, he’ll be traded.

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s a free agent at the end of the year and a contender (or a team that thinks they’re a contender—see the Red Sox of Boston or Blue Jays of Toronto) could use him for the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

He’s owed $6.75 million for 2013. By the time his career is over, Frenchy might’ve played for 12-15 teams. That’s where his career is headed and it’s a major fall from being a Sports Illustrated coverboy and pegged a future megastar.

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s got a contract for $4.5 million for 2012, but eats innings and can be effective. He’ll get through and will be in decent demand via trade.

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

Oswalt refused to pitch a third inning of relief on Sunday even though manager Ron Washington asked him to. He’s been mostly bad and is now causing a problem. For a small-town, “humble” guy, he’s doing a great impression of Terrell Owens. The Rangers will keep him around in case they need him, but no one will claim him.

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

As much as he’s respected, the final year of his contract on 2013 pays him $16 million and he’s been bad this season. If he’s claimed, the Rangers would be willing to let him go. He’s got 10 and 5 rights and won’t waive them.

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

The A’s have plenty of outfielders and Crisp is owed $8 million for 2013.

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

His contract—$42 million for 2013-2014—is toxic.

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Haren has a $15.5 million club option and a $3.5 million buyout; he’s having back problems and has been mediocre all season.

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s been bad, has a $13 million option that won’t be exercised and a $1 million buyout.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

Figgins has $8 million guaranteed next season and has batted under .200 in each of the past two seasons. You claim it, you got it.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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If you read the mainstream sites and clearing houses of “rumors”, you’ll see that at any given time approaching the July 31st deadline there are around 30 different trades with 50+ players that are supposedly being discussed. The problem is the majority of the purveyors of this sludge claim to have “inside information”. But it’s always the same players going to 10 different places, staying put, signing contracts or whatever other fiction they can come up with and it’s done to accumulate webhits and play you for a fool. Most of it is garbage. It’s probably wise to just ignore the “rumors” that pop up since most of them are formulated based on search engine analysis and have little-to-no basis in fact.

Let’s have a logical look at players that are or might be available along with predictions of where they’ll end up or if they won’t be traded at all. The teams listed are sellers, possible sellers or those who are willing or have the need to do something drastic. The National League will be posted at another time.

Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, RHP—He won’t be traded mid-season unless a team gets desperate and offers 2-3 legit prospects to get him. He’s signed through 2014 and the Rays are still in contention. I do believe he’ll eventually be traded, but it won’t be until the winter.

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

Kelly Shoppach, C—He’ll get traded in an “if this, then that” deal meaning if the Red Sox have to trade someone from the current roster to improve the starting rotation, they’ll trade Shoppach simultaneously to fill the created hole.

He’ll end up with the Mets.

Carl Crawford, LF—No one’s taking that contract now. They’ll try to deal him after the season to free money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term and might find a taker if Crawford’s healthy and plays well over the final 2 months. Both Crawford and the Red Sox seem to realize that it would be best if the sides parted. The Red Sox signing him was a mistake; Crawford signing in Boston was a mistake.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Since the media created a ridiculous rumor out thin air that would’ve sent Crawford to the Marlins for Heath Bell and Hanley Ramirez, I’ve got one of my own (only not ridiculous). If they’re going to get rid of Beckett, they’ll have to take a similar contract in return. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014. If the Marlins are desperate to get rid of Bell, how about Bell, Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate for Beckett?

I’m sure Bell and Bobby Valentine would get along about as well as Valentine and Kevin Youkilis. Or Valentine and anyone else. Which is to say not well. At all.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yunel Escobar, SS—Escobar may have irritated his way out of another venue and the Dodgers need a shortstop. For some reason, the Blue Jays fancy themselves as contenders and need pitching.

Kansas City Royals

Jeff Francoeur, OF—He was with the Rangers when they went to the World Series in 2010 and if he was a defensive replacement for the Nelson Cruz in the 2011 series, they would’ve won. Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan won’t forget that.

Bruce Chen, LHP—They’re not going to trade him.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP—His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s had a solid comeback season as a closer. The cross-state Cardinals need bullpen help.

Jose Mijares, LHP—Everyone needs an extra lefty. The Dodgers are ready to buy.

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau, 1B—They haven’t made clear that they’re going to trade him, but if he goes I say—and have said for months—that he goes to the Dodgers.

Josh Willingham, OF—They’re not trading him.

Denard Span, CF—They’re not trading him.

Francisco Liriano, LHP—He’s in heavy demand and can start or relieve. The Yankees have long coveted him and could use him in either role.

Carl Pavano, RHP—He’s back in his office (the disabled list). He won’t be back in time to be dealt at the deadline, but he’ll get through waivers in August and wind up somewhere. The Red Sox will take him for nothing.

Oakland Athletics

Grant Balfour, RHP; Kurt Suzuki, C—The A’s can’t justify dumping salary while they’re hovering around contention. They’re not making the playoffs and are playing over their heads, but they’re playing well and moving anyone for reasons other than to improve the team is not feasible.

Seattle Mariners

Jason Vargas, LHP—Once the bigger names come off the board, Vargas is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter who’s relatively cheap and under team control through 2013. The Braves do lots of yapping about being in on “big” names like Zack Greinke, then wind up trading for a Vargas-type.

Felix Hernandez, RHP—They’re not trading him.

Brandon League, RHP—League is a mediocre reliever, but throws hard and has been unlucky this season. The Giants are always interested in improving their bullpen.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—What happened to this guy? The only thing I can see as possible is if the Angels are so desperate to get rid of Vernon Wells that they pick up the difference in the two contracts and send Wells to Seattle to get Figgins back. He was a very good player for the Angels.

Kevin Millwood, RHP—I’d probably prefer the veteran Millwood to Vargas. He’s been serviceable this season and has post-season experience. The Cardinals need some starting pitching.

Ichiro Suzuki, RF—According to GM Jack Zduriencik, Ichiro (.264/.290/.358) is still a “franchise” player. Jack Z can start cleaning out his office. Someone would take Ichiro, but evidently he’s not available. This is how teams that lose 90+ games for four straight years are built and maintained!

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American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Zack Greinke

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Name: Zack Greinke—Milwaukee Brewers

Tale of the tape: Right-handed pitcher; 28-years-old (29 in October); 6’2”, 200 lbs.

Contract status: $13.5 million in 2012. Free agent after the season.

Would the Brewers trade him?

They’re not going to be able to sign him, but there’s a difference between would they trade him and will they trade him.

There’s an undertone that Greinke is definitely going to be traded because the Brewers are floundering and are unlikely to climb back into contention.

They’re 34-41 and in 4th place in the NL Central. But they’re 7 1/2 games out of first place behind the Reds and 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead.

The Reds are a good team but not so good that the Brewers should forget about a possible comeback in the division. There are two Wild Cards available and throwing in the towel before it’s absolutely necessary is a questionable decision.

If they fade out by the end of July with a double-digit deficit in the division and are 8 or so games out of the Wild Card and—more importantly—have not played well enough to justify holding out, they should trade Greinke.

Greinke is one of the top pitchers in baseball with a feel for pitching that is quite rare. He’s able to accelerate his fastball when he needs to and his control is impeccable with both his fastball and his off-speed stuff. He’s a pure ace in his prime and if he’s available teams would be remiss by not exploring his cost.

What would they want for him?

The new CBA has taken away the draft pick compensation for a team that acquires a pending free agent player at mid-season. Unless a club thinks that the player is the final piece of their puzzle and his acquisition will put them in a position to win the World Series, it may not be worth it to gut the system or even give up a top prospect to get the player.

The Brewers are not only losing Greinke after this season but Shaun Marcum is a free agent as well and Randy Wolf has a $10 million contract option for 2013 and is going to be 36 in August. Wolf’s pitched better than his record, but it won’t make sense to pick up the option if the Brewers are beginning a rebuild.

Their farm system is largely gutted. They need volume at the minor league level and pitching prospects. GM Doug Melvin is experienced and will dangle Greinke out there to maximize his value. They would get a couple of good prospects for Greinke. In retrospect the Brewers didn’t give up much to get Greinke so they’ll be able to recoup what they gave and get a bit more back after having the pitcher for a season-and-a-half.

Which teams would pursue him?

Greinke is a bad fit for either New York team and probably Philadelphia and Boston.

That won’t stop any of those teams from going after him and maybe he’ll surprise those who think he’s not mentally tough enough to handle the big stage.

Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman has said he doesn’t foresee pursuing anything of the high-end quality of Greinke, but the absence of Andy Pettitte and disabled list stint for CC Sabathia—no matter how short-term it supposedly is—has to give them pause for October and will force them to ask about Greinke.

The Orioles will be after him; the Tigers, White Sox, Indians and even the Royals might be involved.

The Royals are labeled as sellers with Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and even Billy Butler being mentioned, but they’re 5 games out of first place in the mediocre AL Central and are 31-25 after their atrocious 3-14 start. Why should they sell?

The Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are in this drama too.

What will happen?

The window for the Brewers was narrow. If they were going to win with this group it had to be in 2011. They lost in the NLCS; Prince Fielder departed as a free agent; they tried to patch it together to replace him and it hasn’t worked.

Now they have to start over again.

Given their injuries and as poorly as they’ve played up to now, I can’t imagine a miraculous comeback for this configuration. Greinke’s going to get traded and my guess is that he winds up with the Braves.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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Boras’s Bad Year

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From the heights of Scott Boras’s crowning achievement in baseball by getting $126 million for Jayson Werth, it’s come to this.

Boras’s entire reputation as the go-to agent for max dollars is hinging on how much he gets for Prince Fielder and Edwin Jackson and for how long.

Werth signed with the Nationals on December 6th, 2010; their offer was so preposterous that Boras didn’t bother to leak it to friendly reporters, nor did he try to surpass it with another potentially interested suitor. He accepted it immediately because it was so insane.

It’s gone poorly for him since then.

At mid-season 2011, Francisco Rodriguez made a high-profile change from Paul Kinzer to Boras; K-Rod had a limited no-trade clause in his contract and before Boras could submit a list of teams to which K-Rod could not be traded, Mets GM Sandy Alderson shipped the reliever to the Brewers where he was forced to be a set-up man; K-Rod also agreed to eliminate his appearance kicker of $17.5 million in exchange for free agency at the end of the season. When the closer’s market dried up and with few options to get a long-term deal, K-Rod accepted the Brewers offer of arbitration; unless they trade him, he’s not going to close for them in 2012 either.

Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira both fired him.

Jose Reyes resisted Boras’s overtures to leave the Greenbergs.

Ryan Madson thought he had an overpriced deal with the Phillies before something—no one seems to know what—happened to sabotage a $44 million contract; the Phillies walked away from Madson and signed Jonathan Papelbon.

Boras’s remaining free agent clients includes Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Rick Ankiel; Ivan Rodriguez and J.D. Drew.

Damon will play in 2012, but he’s not getting a long-term contract; Ramirez is calling around on his own looking for work; Varitek could find a job somewhere, but does he want to put on a non-Red Sox uniform without the “C” on his chest? Ankiel will get a job, but it might be as a fourth outfielder; Pudge will sign somewhere and as a part-timer; Drew sounds willing to play, but he’s doing his “J.D. Drew thing”—if someone pays him and it’s the “right” situation, he’ll sign.

The new collective bargaining agreement affects Boras’s usual draft dance with what amounts to a salary cap on bonuses and a tighter slotting system to discourage heavy payouts. This makes it impossible for Boras to hold clubs hostage with demands for Major League contracts for his drafted clients.

On the positive side, somehow Boras coaxed the Diamondbacks into giving journeyman Willie Bloomquist a 2-year, $3.8 million deal; and Bruce Chen finally has some moderate security with a contract for 2-years and $9 million with the Royals.

Fielder is said to want a 10-year contract and presumably he’s looking for $200+ million; Jackson will want what C.J. Wilson received—nearly $80 million.

Jackson has plenty of options because pitching is so scarce; Fielder doesn’t.

It’s been a bad year.

But Boras has pulled so many tricks out of his evil pouch so many times that it’s unwise to doubt him.

His grip on baseball’s heart could be loosening.

Or he might find a way to tighten it.

The cornered animal is at its most dangerous.

Especially the Boras species.

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Don’t Scoff at Bruce Chen

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With certain pitchers the strike zone plots you see on BrooksBaseball.net indicate a profound lack of control because the points are all over the place.

With others, it’s done by design.

For a pitcher who has only a limited idea of where the ball is going at any particular time (see Bruce Chen‘s new teammate Jonathan Sanchezhere), the map of strikes and balls doesn’t say much of anything in terms of strategy because his strategic implementation is highly dependent on his control that day; but when looking at the map for pitchers who don’t have great stuff and are having a perceived inexplicable success like Chen and Jamie Moyer, there’s a method to the randomness.

Chen’s example of a strike zone map isn’t much different from Sanchez’s.

But they are different because one has an idea of where the ball is going and the other doesn’t.

For years it was asked how Moyer—he of the 82 mph fastball and chugging along until age 47 (and wanting to try to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 at age 49)—was able to get anyone out especially pitching in the homer-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

But Moyer knew how to pitch.

That phrase doesn’t imply that he has an innate knowledge that other pitchers don’t have by itself; it means that he was able to formulate a game plan and execute it; it means that he used every available weapon from psychology to pushing the strike zone in and out to get the hitters to retire themselves.

Here’s an example that a pitcher might use: If Moyer or Chen are pitching to a powerful righty bat like Mark Teixeira, they could start with a fastball inside. If Teixeira swings at the pitch and pulls it foul—a likely scenario given the absence of velocity—the pitcher could do several things to set Teixeira up. He can throw a harder fastball inside to let Teixeira think the pitcher can reach back a bit and increase their fastball’s velocity and make him say to himself, “I can’t wait as long as I thought I could.” Then when they have him believing he might have to be a tiny bit quicker, they can throw a changeup or breaking ball to use the quicker bat to their advantage. Or they could throw a changeup in an unhittable location—either way inside or way outside—to speed up his bat, make him think he has to wait, and then go harder inside.

It’s called pushing the strike zone forward and back, in and out and adhering to a plan; pitchers who know where the ball is going have a better opportunity to execute said plan than one who’s got terrific stuff but no clue as to its location.

Moyer was skillful at using a brushback pitch which, by all logical metrics, shouldn’t work with someone whose fastball was so slow a butterfly could land on it mid-flight.

But he did it with timing, skill and intelligence.

Chen has learned to pitch in a similar way with identical-type stuff as Moyer did.

Like a knuckleballer who lasts and lasts and lasts because of his quirky, gentle pitch of timing and technique, there’s always been a place for a junkballing lefty like Tommy John (who could actually pitch in addition to revolutionizing the game by coming back from an injury that was once a career-ender), Tom Glavine, Moyer and Chen.

Looking at Chen’s journeyman career, that he’s forever been an “is he still around?” guy and that the Royals just signed him to a 2-year, $9 million contract, the initial reaction is to say it’s a reach to bank on him continuing to trick hitters; but it’s not a reach to think he’s going to maintain his effectiveness as he’s installed in a starting rotation and left alone when dissecting how he’s succeeded.

They’ve made pitching into a craft that doesn’t require the stuff of legends to succeed at it.

As long as Chen is healthy and able to pitch, he’ll have a job—and now he knows it will be in one place for the next two years, which is a rarity in his 10 team/13 year sojourn.

But Moyer hopped all over the place too; in fact, he was told to retire by the Cubs and offered a minor league pitching coach job before they dumped him at age 29.

Moyer wanted to keep trying and eventually carved a niche for himself; by age 33 he’d become a durable and consistent workhorse who lasted (so far) into his late-40s.

Chen turned 34 in June.

Sometimes all it takes it hanging around, ignoring doubters and continuing to try.

It pays off for some.

If they’re smart.

And determined.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 First Week Playoff Preview

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It’s been an epic struggle and tumultuous piece of history, but the end is upon us.

It’s time for the first week playoffs.

Thankfully.

We’ve waited so long.

With the panic and celebration still going strong, the red, white and blue bunting decorating ballparks (from opening day, still usable); the Yankees and Red Sox organizations reeling from their absence in the post-season and committing predictable organizational atrocities as retribution; Rafael Soriano having climbed a tree in Central Park and refusing to come down until the media and TV cameras leave (he’s still up there as of this writing); Mike Francesa on a relentless tangent, “Dis will not be acceptable in dis oah-ganization!!”,  I present your one-stop shop for the MLB FIRST….WEEK…..PLAYOFFS!!!!

ALDS

Texas Rangers (5-0) vs Toronto Blue Jays (3-1)

The Blue Jays shocked the world with their first week Wild Card. Rookie manager John Farrell acquitted himself beautifully in taking command through spring training.

“In a first week playoff scenario, it was imperative that we get off to a good start,” Farrell said. “If you get off to a bad start in the first week, well, I think it’s obvious what happens.”

The Rangers have bashed their way through the first week of the season, dominating the Red Sox (for whom pitching coach Curt Young is still missing) and blasting their way into the first week post-season undefeated.

Given the still shaky starting pitching and the way in which first week playoff games are structured, I’ll go against the conventional wisdom and pick the Blue Jays in an upset.

Prediction: Blue Jays in 3.2 innings.

ALDS

Kansas City Royals vs Baltimore Orioles

Buck Showalter has turned the Orioles around in a rapid timeframe worthy of the greatest managers in history. Never before has a team been so consistently terrible and spun their fortunes to the degree of going undefeated in a season.

But the Royals have an equally compelling story.

During the champagne soaked celebration, consensus first week MVP Jeff Francoeur said, “My style and approach have both been validated. Finally. I was lucky to find an organization like the Royals that values and understands what it is I do.”

Royals starter Bruce Chen was unconcerned with a butterfly landing on one of his side-session pitches in mid-flight.

“That happens all the time,” Chen said.

Prediction: Orioles in five pitches.

One Game Playoff—Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Mets

Given the convoluted nature of a playoff cobbled together after such a limited sample, the Mets and Phillies play for the NL East title with the loser having to engage in a series of round-robin contests with the other clubs who will also be saddled with a 3-2 record—the Braves, Cubs and Pirates.

Predictions for the NLDS won’t be available until the conclusion of: Mets-Phillies: We Don’t Like Each Other (Co-promoted by Don King and Michael Vick.)

The Mets hitchhiked back to New York for the playoff game at Citi Filed while still refusing to acknowledge any alterations in club operations due to the Bernie Madoff–Ponzi scheme lawsuit against the Wilpons.

“This builds character and brings the club closer to the people,” GM Sandy Alderson said.

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was displeased with the one-game playoff format: “A fight to the death between Francisco Rodriguez and Brett Myers? Myers doesn’t even play for us anymore!!!”

The home run hitting contest between Mike Pelfrey and Ryan Howard seemed to provide the Phillies with an unfair advantage as well.

Bud Selig had no comment as he rushed to his tailor, “Rumpled Bob’s House of Creased Suits”.

The league fined Rollins for speaking out of turn.

Prediction: Phillies in 17 seconds.

An upcoming post will detail the projections and reactions to teams that suffered the ignominy of a poor first week after volcanic expectations of success—the actions taken by said organizations will be swift and brutal.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll hash out the details.



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