This is the first of a six part report card analyzing each MLBteam’s winter moves to improve. In today’s entry we will review and
rate all the Hot Stove action that took place in the NL East this past
offseason. Who upgraded the most? Which teams got the most bang for
their buck? Will the Mets dominate the division again? Or could their
be a new beast in the East? Let’s take a look.
SP Freddy Garcia, SP Adam Eaton, RP Alfonso Alfonseca, C Rod Barajas, 3B Wes Helms, OF Jayson Werth
Hasta La Vista
SP Randy Wolf, SP Gavin Floyd, RP Aaron Fultz, RP Arthur Rhodes, C Mike Lieberthal, OF Dave Dellucci, OF/1B Jeff Conine
GM Pat Gillick began accelerating the Phillies’ youth movement at the trade deadline last season, when he jettisoned outfielder Bobby Abreu (33-years old) and middle reliever Rheal Cormier (40-years old). The net result of those two deals were 27-year old lefthanded reliever Matt Smith and four young prospects, including the Yankees’ 2005 first-round pick shortstop C.J. Henry. In the winter Gillick continued his youth movement when he allowed catcher Mike Lieberthal (35-years old), utilityman Jeff Conine (40-years old) and lefties Arthur Rhodes (37-years old) and Aaron Fultz (33-years old) to walk. The young duo of Matt Smith and Fabio Castro
will take over as the lefthanded portion of the bullpen. Both proved to
be very effective at the end of 2006 and will cost the Phils a fraction
of what Rhodes, Cormier and Fultz cost. New catcher Rod Barajas is three years younger than Lieberthal, much more durable, and
has a bazooka arm. If Jayson Werth
can avoid the injury bug that has hampered him over the past year and a
half he could provide a nice power bat off the bench while giving the
Phils more range than Conine in the outfield.
The two best acquisitions Gillick made were starting pitchers Freddy Garcia (Photo on Left) and Adam Eaton. The duo gives the Phillies the deepest starting rotation in the East. Garcia should slot in nicely between Brett Myers and Cole Hamels.
The combination of moving over to the the lighter hitting NL, and the
extra motivation of having to pitch for a new contract in 2008 has him
poised for a big season in 2007. Third baseman Wes Helms is a marginal addition who will help plug a position that has been a major problem for the Phils over the last few years.
If there was one area Gillick didnt address enough it was the
bullpen depth. Unless he can revert back to 2004 form, 35-year old Antonio Alfonseca, the sole addition to the bullpen, might be more of a liability than an asset. With closer Tom Gordon nearing the big Four-O and top set-up man Ryan Madson
coming off the worst season of his career, the Phillies bullpen looks
to be their achilles heel. Expect Gillick to continue his pursuit for a
top-end reliever with starting pitcher Jon Lieber acting as the
main bait. If he is unable to swing such a deal, Adam Eaton could be
headed to the pen. Because of a history of arm problems, counting on
Eaton every couple of days does not seem to be an ideal solution.
RP Rafael Soriano, RP Mike Gonzalez, RP Tanyon Sturtze,
1B/OF Craig Wilson, SS/2B Chris Woodward
Hasta La Vista
1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Marcus Giles, SP John Thompson, RP Danys Baez, RP Chris Reitsma, RP Ken Ray, RP Mike Remlinger
Probably the biggest reason the Atlanta Braves 14-year dominance of
the NL East ended last year was their over-reliance on an ineffective
bullpen. The Braves had only three pitchers that totaled over 100
innings last season. The Braves’ pen finished 11th in the NL in bullpen
ERA (4.39), and blew more saves (29) than any other team in the senior
circuit. After toiling with a closer by committee situation for most of
2006- a committee that saw the likes of Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray and Jorge Sosa as the lead firemen- GM John Schuerholz pulled off a deadline deal in July to acquire a reliable stopper. 38-year old Bob Wickman
turned out to be more than reliable, dominating his new league to the
tune of a 1.04 ERA while converting 18 of 19 Save opportunities.
Schuerholz wasted no time in locking Wickman up, signing him to a
one-year extension before the season ended.
the closer situation settled for 2007, Schuerholz turned his attention
to shoring up the rest of his leaky pen. In maybe the best deal by any
team over the winter, he traded inconsistent lefthanded starter Horacio Ramirez to the Mariners for one of the top set-up men in the game, righthander Rafael Soriano. And Schuerholz didn’t stop there. After a month of intense negotiations, he acquired Pirates’ southpaw closer Mike Gonzalez (Photo on Left)
to be his top lefthanded set-up man. In a little over five months
Schuerholz has turned the Braves’ weakest link into the team’s greatest
While the bullpen has been renovated, it came at a cost. The Braves
sacrificed their first baseman and a lot of lefthanded power when they
dealt Adam LaRoche for Gonzalez. In addition, the loss of second baseman Marcus Giles means the Braves will have an entirely new right side of the infield. Free-agent signee Craig Wilson will help fill in for LaRoche at first base as part of a platoon with lefty hitting Scott Thorman (2000 first-round pick). Outfield prospect Kelly Johnson has been converted to second base and will compete with 24-year old switch-hitting Willy Aybar (part of the return from the Wilson Betemit deal with the Dodgers last July), and 23-year-old prospect Martin Prado in place of the now departed Giles.
Another area of concern could be the starting rotation, where the Braves will hope that southpaw Mike Hampton
can contribute 200+ innings after missing the past year and half while
recovering from Tommy John surgery. In fact the entire makeup of the
rotation has some dubious qualities- ace John Smoltz will be 40-years old in May, Tim Hudson will try to bounce back from the worst season of his career (4.86 ERA), Chuck James will be in his first full year as a starter, and Kyle Davies
(6.38 ERA in 151 career IP) could be about to run out of opportunities.
Unlike past years, the Braves do not have any top starting pitching
prospects that are close to major league ready.
LF Moises Alou, 2B/SS Damion Easley, OF Ben Johnson, Util David Newhan, SP Chan Ho Park, SP Aaron Sele, SP Jason Vargas, SP/RP Jorge Sosa, RP Scott Schoenweiss, RP Ambiorix Burgos
Hasta La Vista
LF Cliff Floyd, 2B/SS Chris Woodward, SP Steve Trachsel, SP Brian Bannister,
RP Chad Bradford, RP Royce Ring, RP Darrin Oliver
The best move GM Omar Minaya made in the offseason was resisting temptation by saying NO to Scott Boras’ ridiculous demands for Barry Zito. Unless your name is Johan Santana,
it is rarely wise to give a starting pitcher a contract longer than
five years, let alone seven years. If you look around the league it is
very difficult to find a starter who has pitched more than seven years
in the majors without sustaining at least one serious injury. Zito, who
has never had a serious injury, is now entering his 8th season and has
pitched over 200 innings for six consecutive years. It’s hard to
imagine a curve ball pitcher like Zito, who puts so much stress on his
elbow everytime he twists an Uncle Charlie, avoiding injury over the
next seven years.
The New York media has tossed some pointed criticism at Minaya for
not bringing in a top line starter to help fill out the Mets’ rag-tag
rotation. The criticism is similar to the 2000 offseason when the Mets
resisted Mike Hampton’s absurd contract demands, allowing him to sign
with the Colorado Rockies where he received the largest contract ever
given to a pitcher at the time (8 years/$123-million). We all know how
that turned out. If Minaya has correctly evaluated the odds of Zito
sustaining a major injury or ever pitching to a level that is equal to
the value of his contract (Giants signed him for 7 years/$126-million),
it might just be the best deal he never made.
Minaya also made a more than decent run at Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka
when he bid a reported $37-million for the right to sign him (the
second highest offer), and while he came up short, one shouldn’t blame
him for not topping the Red Sox’ ridiculous $51-million posting bid.
So, instead of overspending in a bad market, Minaya chose to
guarantee a total of less than $2-million for three veterans who will
push top prospects Mike Pelfrey, Phillip Humber and recently acquired Jason Vargas for a rotation spot come spring training.
Of the three vets, Chan Ho Park ($600,000 guaranteed) has the
best shot of making the rotation. Last year Park returned to the NL for
the first time in five years and showed that he might finally be
regaining some of the arm strength he lost because of multiple arm
injuries suffered while with Texas. No longer under the security of a
sweet deal (Texas’ deal with Park is another good example of why one
should be wary of doling out long expensive deals to starting
pitchers), Park has lots of motivation to prove he can still be an
Jorge Sosa will probably never again have a season like he
did in 2005 when he had a 2.55 ERA in 134 IP. But, for $1.25-million
he’s a low cost risk that could eat plenty of innings until Pelfrey,
Humber or Vargas is ready.
While Aaron Sele is a long shot at best, his success in the
first half of 2006 with the Dodgers (2.91 ERA in 65 IP) coupled with
the fact that he costs the Mets nothing unless he makes the team
($1-million non-guaranteed) is a prudent no risk signing by Minaya.
The best move Minaya made to improve his 2007 rotation could be his deadline deal last July for Oliver Perez. Towards the end of last season and in the playoffs Perez showed he still has the
dominating stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2004. If pitching coach Rick Peterson can help minimize Perez’s lapses in command, the Mets’ rotation will be a lot better than most baseball pundits are predicting.
Last year only the Chicago Cubs (.253) had a lower batting average vs lefties than the Mets (.254). Replacing Cliff Floyd with lefty killer Moises Alou (Photo on Left) should help improve this glaring weakness markedly. With the versatile Endy Chavez
on the roster, hopefully the Mets will be able to spot the 40-year old
Alou enough so he avoids the injuries that have plagued him throughout
his career. Even with his health concerns, this is a good sign because
at 1-year/$8.5 million Minaya has limited the mets’ overall liability.
The most questionable moves Minaya made this winter concern the
bullpen and bench. The 2006 postseason exposed the lack of punch the
Mets have on their bench. It’s difficult to consider 38-year old
utilityman Damion Easley an upgrade over Chris Woodward, and trading lefthanded reliever Royce Ring for marginal outfielder Ben Johnson
could come back to bite the Mets. Trading Ring, who has shown a wicked
curve ball that works nicely with his tailing fastball, and replacing
him with free-agent lefty Scott Scoenweiss seemed uneccessary.
Besides the fact that Schoenweiss will cost roughly seven times the
amount of money, Ring has a very good chance of being a much better
Letting side-slinger Chad Bradford walk could also weaken a
bullpen that was the savior of the Mets’ season in 2006. Bradford was
the Mets’ best reliever in the playoffs. Maybe because of the
development of prospect Joe Smith, another side-armer, Minaya
felt giving Bradford a 3-year deal wasn’t necessary, but it seems to be
the opposite logic that he used in replacing Ring with Schoenweiss.
The one positive addition to the Mets’ pen is flamethrower Ambiorix Burgos who was obtained from the Royals for Brian Bannister.
Burgos is still only 22-years old and has shown that he has the arsenal
to one day be an effective closer. If Burgos can establish himself it
would allow the Mets to once again dangle Aaron Heilman on the trade market should they need another starting pitcher during the season.
1B/3B Aaron Boone, CF Alex Sanchez, RP Kevin Gregg,
RP Henry Owens, RP Matt Lindstrom, RP Felix Rodriguez
Hasta la Vista
1B/3B Wes Helms, SP Jason Vargas, SP Brian Moehler,
RP Joe Borowski, RP Chris Resop
When analyzing the Marlins one has to look more at internal moves
than external since they are perennially hamstrung by the lowest budget
in the major leagues. To put that fact into perspective, one must
recognize that the Yankees last year paid Alex Rodriguez almost $10-million more than the entire Marlins’ player payroll (just over $14-million).
If one were to rate the job GM Larry Beinfest has done on
player development and prospect acquisitions, he would get an A+. But,
since we are rating the entire organization the grade is C-. One should
not just blame the economic structure of MLB for the Marlins plight.
This is an organization whose revenue continually bleeds red. Their
inability to strike a new stadium deal or exploit the large latin
population in south florida most likely means their days in the
sunshine state are numbered.
First, we must give Beinfest his props. Last season the Marlins produced the NL Rookie of the Year winner, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and placed five of the top ten players in the NL Rookie of the Year voting: second baseman Dan Uggla, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, and leftfielder Josh Willingham to go along with Ramirez.
While the Marlins have produced a large pool of talent, they still
have some glaring holes. No NL team had less production from their
centerfield position in 2006 than the Marlins. The best they could do
this winter was to sign feather hitting speedster Alex Sanchez
to a minor league deal. Sanchez hasn’t played in the majors since 2005,
largely because of a suspension for steroid use. The Marlins are
working with him on his bunting and hope he can turn into a cheap
version of Juan Pierre.
Beinfest has done his best to fill the gaping holes in the bullpen,
but because of a lack of funds the additions have been marginal. Since
closer Joe Borowski signed with the Indians, the Marlins will try to plug that role with 2004 first-round pick, lefthander Taylor Tankersley, and converted starter Ricky Nolasco. Beinfest was able to obtain two minor league fireballers from the Mets, Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom, but it cost the Marlins their top lefthanded pitching prospect, Jason Vargas.
Both Owens and Lindstrom throw in the high nineties and are expected to
be given a chance to make the major league roster. Owens did have a
very successful season last year as the closer for Double-A Binghamton,
so maybe he’ll turn into a closer option at some point. Veteran Kevin Gregg
was acquired from the Angels to bring some experience to the pen, but
his arm has logged a tremendous amount of innings over the past few
years and his performance is starting to reflect his overuse.
So, while we give Beinfest an A for effort, the Marlins will find it difficult to improve until they get out of South Florida.
SP Jerome Williams, RP Emiliano Fruto, OF Chris Snelling, C Jesus Flores, 1B Dmitri Young, 1B Travis Lee, 2B Ronnie Belliard
Hasta La Vista
OF Alfonso Soriano, OF Jose Guillen, OF Marlon Byrd, 2B Jose Vidro, C Matt Lecroy,
SP Tony Armas Jr., SP Ramon Ortiz, RP Felix Rodriguez, RP Joey Eischen,
Manager Frank Robinson
What does it say about a team’s offseason when the best player they
obtained was a backup catcher through the Rule 5 draft. The two best
things I can say about GM Jim Bowden and the Washington Nationals is that Jesus Flores will be a definite upgrade to Matt Lecroy at backup catcher, and that they’ve finally recognized that they are a bad team.
When you’re a bad team it makes no sense to pay players like Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro
tons of bucks, but it is of the utmost importance to acquire some young
talent when dealing these money bags away. So, the upside is that the
Nationals got a lot younger while shedding a boatload of salary. The
downside is that Bowden was able to get very few prospects in return
for all the high priced talent he had. How the Nationals could come to
a decision to not trade Soriano last year is hard to fathom. Maybe
Bowden was busy reading the The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" when he stated that he thought he had a realistic chance of re-signing Soriano.
The two prospects Bowden did receive were in the Vidro deal— outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto.
While Snelling has fourth outfielder written all over him, the 22-year
old Fruto has shown he has the arsenal to be a very effective reliever
one day. After struggling with his command mightily in his first few
years in the minors, Fruto was able to harness his dominating fastball
at Triple-A in 2006. The results were encouraging. In 45.1 IP for
Tacoma he struck out 55 men while posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
The only other transactions to speak of were the signings of three marginal veterans, first basemen Dmitri Young and Travis Lee along with second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Young and Lee will compete to spell Nick Johnson until he is ready to return from injury. Belliard will compete with Christian Guzman for a lineup spot. If Belliard succeeds it would result in Felipe Lopez moving back to shortstop. They also signed nomadic starting pitcher Jerome Williams.
Once upon a time Williams was a well thought of prospect in the Giants’
system. This will be Williams’ third team in three years. So far the
Giants and Cubs have given up on him, but Williams is still only
25-years old, so the Nationals are hoping the third time around will be
2006 Division Series Awards
NLDS Pitching MVP
Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)
He has been the best pitcher in the NL for the last three years. Carpenter defined the term "Ace" with his performances in Game 1 and Game 4 of the NLDS vs the Padres. For a team considered to have the worst pitching of any of the playoff contenders, Carpenter led a Cardinals’ staff that had a Division Series best 1.50 ERA. In his two games pitched, Carpenter went 2-0 with 2.03 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He allowed 3 ER in 13.3 IP while striking out 12 and walking 4 men.
NLDS Hitting MVP
Carlos Delgado (Mets)
No hit was more important than Carlos Delgado’s lead-off home run to dead center in the bottom of
the 4th inning of Game 1 against Derek Lowe. The Mets were losing 1-0 at the time until Delgado flashed the power that makes the Mets the most dangerous lineup in the NL. In the 6th inning Delgado singled and scored a run to help the Mets tack on two important runs. And then in the 7th inning after the Dodgers had tied it, Delgado changed the momentum of the entire series with a single to right off of Brad Penny to put the Mets back ahead for good. In the four games, Delgado hit .429 (6-14) with 1 HR, 2 RBI and 3 Runs and proved that sometimes good things happen for those who wait (Delgado had gone the longest of any active player, 1711 games, without a playoff appearance until last Tuesday).
Jeff Kent (Dodgers)
La La Palooza went down in flames, but it certainly wasn’t because of Jeff Kent. Kent hit in every game and gave the Dodgers one last shot with his two-run home run to tie Game 3. Overall, Kent was the best hitter in the NLDS with a .615 Avg (8-13).
ALDS Pitching MVP
Kenny Rogers (Tigers)
The Yankees were certainly not welcomed to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. The old man pitched the game of his life in Game 3. No one showed more grit and passion than the oldest pitcher (41 years old) left in the playoffs. Kenny’s determination was the perfect personification of the fire behind an incredibly motivated Tigers’ team. His face throughout the game was also a photographer’s dream. Rogers grimmaced and snorted his way through seven plus innings, and all you had to do to gauge how bad Rogers wanted this one was to read his lips. Everytime Pudge Rodriguez hesitated, even a moment, before throwing the ball back to the mound, Rogers’ roared "Gimme The Ball!". Now the Tigers are roaring their way to the ALCS. Rogers line against the Yanks- 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K’s.
Joel Zumaya (Tigers)
He only pitched two innings, but Zumaya’s entrance in the pivotal Game 2 changed the momentum of the series. Zumaya came into the game in the 7th with the Tigers up by one run and proceeded to dominate the 2006 version of "Murderers’ Row". With one out in the 7th, Zumaya blew Derek Jeter away and got Bobby Abreu to tap out. Then in the 8th inning, hitting a sonic 103 mph on the radar gun, Zumaya extinguished the heart of the Yankees lineup as if he were facing little leaguers. Gary Sheffield actually got his bat on the ball, but Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez might as well have been swinging at air. This intimidating performance was the beginning of the end for the best club money could buy.
ALDS Hitting MVP
Frank Thomas (Athletics)
Carlos Guillen gets an honorable mention for his standout performance,
.571 Avg (8-14), 1 HR and 2 RBI, but Frank Thomas almost singlehandedly
won the most important game of the Athletics/Twins series. When Frank
Thomas took the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Sanatana, deep in the
2nd inning of Game 1, he gave the Athletics a lead they would never
relinquish. His second blast in the ninth off Jesse Crain proved to be
the difference maker in a 3-2 victory that would propel the Athletics
for the rest of the series. Overall, Mr. Thomas hit .500 (5-10) with 2 BB and his two lengthy home runs.
Best Managerial Move
Willie Randolph (Mets)
Willie actually is going to make both the best and worst moves list. In
Game 1 Willie used his bullpen almost flawlessly, exploiting one of
the Mets’ greatest strengths as the Mets held on for a 6-5 victory.
Replacing a very effective John Maine with Pedro Feliciano and Chad
Bradford in the 5th inning, with two men on and one out, showed the
great instincts Willie has and gave the bullpen the confidence it
needed to carry the Mets through the series. Feliciano struck out Kenny
Lofton, and Bradford got the dangerous Nomar Garciaparra to bounce out
Worst Managerial Moves
Willie Randolph (Mets)
Remember, I said Willie used his bullpen ALMOST flawlessly. In the same
game I just commended Randolph for, he made a potentially deadly error.
In the bottom of the 6th of Game 1, with the Mets up 4-1 and the bases
loaded with two outs, Willie let reliever Guillermo Mota hit even
though he had Julio Franco and Ramon Castro on the bench with a lefty
on the mound. You never leave runs on the field, especially when Aaron
Heilman and Roberto Hernandez are still available to pitch. The move
almost cost the Mets as Mota, with the help of Jose Valentin’s throwing
error, let the Dodgers tie the game up in the top of the 7th. Another highly
questionable decision was in Game 3 when with a man on base Willie let
lefty Darren Oliver face hot-hitting and lefty-killer Jeff Kent. Kent
proceeded to smoke one over the left field wall to tie the game up as
the Dodgers briefly took the lead later that inning. With three lefties
and all your righties still available in the bullpen, what was Willie
pitching ace Jake Peavy, on normal rest, in an elimination game is
unforgivable. Bochy has been fantastic pulling the strings most of the
year, but saying he wanted to save Peavy for a Game 5 that will now
never happen is just plain stupid! The Padres will have to go into the
offseason knowing that they lost with their best pitcher sitting on the
As the Mets set off into the gusting winds of the postseason, like any
good sailor trying to stay on course they must continue to hold the
main sail. The main sail for any playoff journey is pitching. And while
Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner might be steering this Mets’ boat, young John Maine could be the the most important sail aboard the ship.
While Pedro and Tommy G will most likely start the first two games
of any playoff series, the game three and four starters could be the
difference in them winning any series. If the season were to end today,
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Steve Trachsel would
almost definitely be the back end of any playoff rotation. So, where
does that leave arguably the Mets most successful starter in the month
of August? It leaves him him holding the main. When the Mets begin
their Fall Classic run, they will most likely have the luxury of having
John Maine added to their already sturdy bullpen. In fact, John Maine
could very easily become Billy Wagner’s main set-up man or, in the least,
a fantastic alternative to Aaron Heilman. Maine will also be
the first man called upon should any of the starters get knocked out
early. And because of the physical fragility of the Mets’ first three
starters, he could very well start a playoff game when all is said and
Many playoff teams never have the starting pitching depth to help their bullpens when October play
begins. The ones that do usually find the added boost to be quite advantagous. Last season Kelvim Escobar moved to the bullpen and was instrumental in the Angels defeating the Yankees in the divisional round, tossing 7 IP while allowing only 1 ER
and picking up a key victory. In the other divisional match-up last
season, El Duque proved how valuable a little extra depth is when he
helped the White Sox win their divisional round series with the Red
Sox by tossing three sterling shutout relief-innings in the clinching
game. In game five of the 2004 ALCS Tim Wakefield personified
the importance of an effective swingman when he shut the Yankees down
for the final three innings of a fourteen inning classic to help the
Red Sox stave off elimination, and allow them to eventually win the
World Series. And let’s not forget Dontrelle Willis’ important contribution (2.2 shutout IP) coming out of the pen to help the Florida Marlins defeat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series.
So, while other NL playoff contenders like the St. Louis Cardinals,
the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Houston Astros,
the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres scuttle to reinforce
their bullpens for that final playoff push, the Mets will have a Maine
man to help keep their ship on course!
Maine’s Fast Facts
Measurements Drafted Age
6’4" 205 lbs. 6th rd. in 2002 25
Minor League Stats MLB Stats 2006 MLB Stats
30-24 3.24 ERA 6-7 4.78 ERA 4-3 3.50 ERA
495 K’s 146 BB 73 K’s 45 BB 48 K’s 18 BB
Repertoire Best Pitch 2006 Highlights
Two Seam Fastball Fastball (92-94 MPH) 26.2 Consecutive Slider (sinking action) Shutout IP
Changeup Avg.vs RH (.186)
You wouldn’t need more than both hands to count how many runners have stolen a base on Ivan Rodriguez this
year. Even at his advanced age, I-Rod continues to be the premier
gunslinger among catchers in the major leagues. His reputation is so
feared that only 29 men have even attempted to steal on him this year
and 19 have returned to the dugout shaking their heads. I-Rod’s 66%
ratio of catching basestealers is by far the best of the best. If you
consider the opposite end of the pole and realize that 93 men have
attempted a swipe on the much maligned arm of Mike Piazza, you can easily see the extreme caution runners take when Rodriguez is behind the plate.
When I-Rod finally retires, the title of quickest trigger in the majors will most likely fall to the Cards’ Yadier Molina. Yadier and his brother Jose Molina
continue to carry the Molina mantle as a basestealer’s nightmare.
Yadier has pegged 21 of 48 would be thieves (44%) while brother Jose
has caught 19 of 41 (46%).
Runners might also want to take extra precaution when facing a few
other backstops with small cannons attached to their shoulders. Ramon Hernandez in Baltimore has thrown out 34 of 79 (43%), Florida’s Miguel Olivio has been anything but sunshine for mad-dashers by catching 27 of 68 (40%) and Yorvilt Torrealba in Colorado has nabbed 21 of 50 (42%) would be stealers.
When are runners going to finally take heed and stop running on Jorge Posada.
Posada might still have difficulty blocking the occasional ball in the
dirt, but he has been one of the best all year at throwing out runners,
34 of 90 (38%). Runners are also becoming aware of the fact that Joe Mauer
is about a lot more than hitting. Mauer has thrown out 17 of 46 for a
nifty 37%. And here’s a word to the wise, even though Texas no longer
is the home of I-Rod, one should still be very careful when setting
their sites on second base. Starting catcher Rod Barajas has nailed 19 of 49 (39%) while back-up Gerald Laird has converted on a sizzling 18 of 33 (55%).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, runners should by all means
continue to take liberties with reckless abandon when facing the likes
of Mike Piazza, 11 for 93 (12%); Benji Molina, 14 for 76 (18%); Michael Barrett, 21 for 106 (20%); and A.J. Pierzynski, 19 for 93 (20%). Even if Piazza has the day off in San Diego, a runners chances are pretty good as back-up Josh Bard
is almost as pitiful, 9 for 55 (16%). Fantasy owners might also want
to make sure their speedsters are in the lineup when facing the Red Sox
or the Nationals (on days Brian Schneider isn’t catching). Boston’s Javier Lopez
has only hit on 5 of 37 (14%) while injured Jason Varitek is just 12
for 52 (23%). The worst of the worst though might be the Nationals
catchers on days Scneider is not behind the plate. Matt Lecroy has thrown out only 1 of 21 (5%) while Robert Fick is 1 for 12 (8%).
As of Aug. 27,2006
Here are the best of the best and the worst of the worst when it comes to throwing out runners in 2006 (Minimum 25 SBA):
CS (Caught Stealing) SBA (Stolen Base Attempts) CS % (Percentage Of Runners Caught Stealing)
Gunslingers CS SBA CS %
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) 19 29 66%
Gerald Laird (Rangers) 18 33 55%
Matt Treanor (Marlins) 15 32 47%
Jose Molina (Angels) 19 41 46%
Yadier Molina (Cardinals) 21 48 44%
Henry Blanco (Cubs) 13 30 43%
Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies) 21 50 42%
Jason Larue (Reds) 13 32 41%
Miguel Olivio (Marlins) 27 68 40%
Rod Barajas (Rangers) 19 49 39%
Jorge Posada (Yankees) 34 90 38%
John Buck (Royals) 16 42 38%
Ronny Paulino (Pirates) 31 83 37%
Joe Mauer (Twins) 17 46 37%
Mike Lieberthal (Phillies) 16 43 37%
Toreadors CS SBA CS %
Mike Piazza (Padres) 11 93 12%
Javier Lopez (Red Sox) 5 37 14%
Josh Bard (Padres) 9 55 16%
Victor Martinez (Indians) 16 94 17%
Benji Molina (Blue Jays) 14 76 18%
Michael Barrett (Cubs) 21 106 20%
A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) 19 93 20%
Sal Fasano (Yankees) 8 40 20%
Doug Mirabelli (Red Sox) 9 42 21%
Chad Moeller (Brewers) 6 28 21%
Paul Lo Duca (Mets) 20 90 22%
Brad Ausmus (Astros) 14 65 22%
Jason Varitek (Red Sox) 12 52 23%
Todd Pratt (Braves) 7 30 23%
Josh Paul (Devil Rays) 10 42 24%
In 1961, during their Ruthian home run chase, Yankee sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were dubbed the M&M Boys. 46 years later we might have to redefine that term to refer to catchers Joe Mauer and Brian McCann.
There’s been a lot of press about the Twins’ Joe Mauer becoming the
first catcher in 64 years and the first AL catcher ever to win the
batting title. But, it’s time to realize that an even more rare feat
could be accomplished this season. If Braves’ catcher Brian McCann can
manage another 170 plate appearances (PA) in the Braves’ final 46
games, the major leagues could experience the first ever instance of
two catchers winning the batting title in the same season.
While Mauer, at .361, currently has a commanding .020 lead in the AL,
McCann at .350 would have a .004 lead in the NL if he had enough plate
appearances to qualify. Presently, McCann is taking off about only one
game a week, so the probability of him qualifying by the end of the
season is pretty good. If McCann were to play in 40 of the Braves’
final 46 games, which would keep with his recent pattern of games
played, he would have to average 4.25 plate appearances per game. If
you consider that McCann has averaged 4.18 plate appearances in his 77
game starts so far, and you add in a few pinch-hitting appearances, his
shot at qualifying is definitely within reach.
If McCann should fail, another NL catcher who is in the running for the batting title is the Cubs’ Michael Barrett.
Like McCann, Barrett is a little short of having the necessary plate
appearances required to qualify, but he is closer than McCann. To date,
Barrett would need 143 more plate appearances. The Cubs have 45 games
remaining, so barring another injury Barrett should have no problem
qualifying. His .330 average would presently rank 4th in the NL.
When you consider the history of catchers winning a batting title,
there aren’t many places to look. Cincinnati has been the benefactor of
this rare feat two of the three times it has been accomplished. And
neither time was the player’s name Johnny Bench. The only two catchers
who have ever won a batting title since 1900 are Bubbles Hargrave and
Ernie Lombardi (Photo to the left). Hargraves was the first, winning in 1926 for the
Cincinnati Reds (.353). Lombardi also won a batting title for the Reds
when he led the NL in 1938 (.342). Lombardi became the last catcher to
top the batting charts in 1942 (a war year when many of the best
hitters were out of the league because they had joined the U.S. armed
services) when he again led the NL, hitting .330 for the Boston Braves.
To further bolster the proclamation that this is truly the year of
the catcher here are a few other backstops batting over .300 in 2006:
Through August 13th
Starters AVG PA
Paul Lo Duca (Mets) .316 402
Victor Martinez (Indians) .315 471
Ronny Paulino (Pirates) .312 341
A.J Pierzynski (White Sox) .308 404
Johnny Estrada (D’Backs) .303 344
Mike Redmond (Twins) .346 136
Gerald Laird (Rangers) .340 158
Chris Coste (Phillies) .340 103
Josh Bard (Padres) .330 207
On The Cusp
Russell Martin (Dodgers) .299 310
Kenji Johjima (Mariners) .297 383
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) .295 411
Mike Piazza (Padres) .291 321
* A player needs 502 PA (Hits, Walks, SF, SH, HBP) to qualify for the batting title.
33 games and counting! Chase Utley will attempt to extend his quest of the impossible dream, breaking Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, tonight against Jeff Weaver and the St. Louis Cardinals. 33 games is quite an accomplishment, but let’s put into perspective just how difficult his task of catching Jolting Joe’s amazing record will be.
In 1984, Ed Purcell, a Nobel Laureate and one of the world’s most reknowned physicists, did a statistical study of the odds of a player breaking Dimaggio’s record. Jay Gould wrote about this study in a letter he sent to Dimaggio in 1985, explaining the basic results of Purcell’s work. In simple terms, Purcell’s conclusion was that a player with a .350 career average who has played at least 10-years (which there have only been three of in the history of baseball—Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Jackson) would have a less than 1% chance of attaining a 50-game hit streak, let alone a 56-game streak.
Still, Utley’s accomplishment is quite extraordinary considering there have only been 20 players who have had hitting streaks as long as or longer than 33 games (21 players if you count Denny Lyons’ 52-game hit streak for the Athletics in 1887, but walks were considered hits then, so his streak in terms of modern baseball’s rules would have only been 21 games).
So, as we rally behind Utley’s great chase of Dimaggio’s record, let’s remember to temper our expectations and recall all the great streaks before that have come up short. But, then again, it’s o’k to dream a little dream, even the impossible dream! That’s what baseball is all about.
Top 5 All-Time Hitting Streaks
1. Joe Dimaggio (Yankees) 56 1941
2. Pete Rose (Reds) 44 1978
3. Wee Willie Keeler (Orioles) 44 1897
4. Bill Dahlen (Colts) 41 1894
5. George Sisler (Browns) 41 1922
While many fans who like to look to the future mark down June 6th every year to see where the next great players will go in the Baseball Amateur Draft, July 2nd has become just as important a date. This is the day when teams are allowed to sign international free-agents. Two of the most interesting free-agents on the list this season were 16-year old catchers, Jesus Montero and Francisco Pena.
Francisco Pena has garnered much of the attention because of his famous baseball father, former MLB catcher Tony Pena, but Jesus Montero could be the top prospect among all the international free-agents. This past weekend both New York teams paid hefty bonuses to ink the talented young backstops.
The Yankees struck first, signing Montero to a reported $2 million contract. After losing out on Montero, the Mets quickly followed the Yankees’ lead by coming to terms with Pena for a reported $750,000.
Montero is considered by many scouts to be the best hitting prospect to come out of Venezuela since Miguel Cabrera. The fact that Tony Pena is the first base coach for the New York Yankees seemed to have no bearing on which of the two catchers the Yankees were targeting. Montero was clearly the favorite of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman. His signing replenishes a Yankee farm system that, since the trading of Dioner Navarro, was devoid of top-talent at the catching position. He will start his Bombers’ career next season playing Rookie Ball for the GCL Yankees.
Montero was also the first choice of the Mets, but Mets’ GM Omar Minaya was ready to pounce on Pena once Montero chose the Yankees. At 6′ 2", Francisco Pena, from the Dominican Republic, is bigger and has more potential pop in his bat than both his father and brother (Tony Pena Jr. the shortstop for the AAA Richmond Braves). Upon his signing, he immediately becomes the Mets’ top-catching prospect.
"The kid is a good defensive catcher, but it is his bat that will take him far in baseball. We could say that he is a combination of Tony Pena’s defense and Mike Piazza’s bat."
Leo Mercedes, Pena’s baseball mentor
"I feel embarrassed to talk about my own son, but I think Francisco has a natural talent for batting, and as a catcher I can say that right now he has a better arm than I had when I was 16."
Tony Pena , father and 5-time all-star catcher
The Mets have not announced where Pena will start his career, but the GCL Mets in Rookie Ball is a good bet.
Carl the Cabbie