Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hank Blalock: Everyday Player?

For some reason, managers seem to think that Hank Blalock is an everyday player. New manager Ron Washington is no different. Blalock has been in a downhill slide the last three seasons and doesn’t look to be heading anywhere productive in 2007.

First, Blalock can’t hit lefties at all. For his career, Blalock has hit .223/.274/.347 vs. lefties with 19 HR and 180 K’s in 796 plate appearances. In 2004, it looked as if Blalock had figured it out, hitting .282/.344/.436 with 5 bombs in 218 plate appearances. However in 2005, Blalock fell to just .196/.228/.356 in 202 plate appearances with 53 K’s and only 7 BB. Then in 2006, Blalock “rebounded” to hit .216/.281/.351 in 178 plate appearances. He did cut his strikeouts in half in 2006 with just 27 versus lefties. In 2007, Blalock does not have enough plate appearances (17) for a proper sample size but in last night’s game versus Cleveland and C.C. Sabathia, Blalock struck out in his first two at bats bailing early and flailing wildly at Sabathia’s off speed pitches. It is safe to say that Blalock wasn’t very comfortable. Finishing the night with four strikeouts, it could have just been a bad night, but watching Blalock face Sabathia, he just looked overmatched.

The perplexing thing is that even if you were considering platooning Blalock at 3B, he doesn’t even really hit right-handers all that well. The last three seasons, Blalock has hit .283/.352/.475 against righties which, at 3B, most teams would like something better than that. However, in 2006, Blalock fell to .284/.342/.434 against righties which are very average numbers, especially by someone who is so routinely hailed as a power hitting third baseman.

Also considering that most of his damage is done at home (.296/.363/.498 the last 3 seasons) and that he is atrocious on the road (.241/.303/.391 the last 3 seasons), Blalock should not be getting regular duty.

Blalock is an average defender at 3B not providing the sort of defense that makes up for any offensive shortcomings that you might have. The Rangers had the opportunity to trade him the last couple of seasons and should have done so. Now that will be much harder to do, as Blalock looks like he will play everyday showing other teams around the league that he has nothing to offer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brewers at a Glance

I’ve been meaning to write about the Brewers for about a week now, but got a little bogged down and have been unable to do so. Through the first three weeks of the season, Milwaukee has taken a modest 2.5 game lead over the Astros in the weak NL Central. In fact, at 12-7, the Brewers are the only team in this division over .500. With only 19 of their 162 games played, it’s too early to draw very many sound conclusions, but some potential flaws and strengths do stick out.

I saw Dave Bush throw last Tuesday night (April 17th) in Cincinnati, and the results weren’t very pretty. Bush maintained good arm action from his fastball to change-up, but appeared to be slowing considerably on his curve. The end result of this (along with an aborted follow-through) was his leaving the breaking pitch up for most of the night. He did flash a sharp curve with good break during Alex Gonzalez’s first inning AB on the 2-1 pitch, but that was more of an anomaly on this evening. Having said that, I don’t want to crucify the guy after seeing just one 5 inning start. During 2006, both his K/9IP and K/BB rates took jumps in the right direction, and they’ve continued on those paths during his first 25 innings of 2007. With Bush, Sheets, and Capuano, the Brewers should at least have a serviceable rotation (especially if Capuano can reign in is HR/9IP rate a little).

Offensively, Milwaukee has been off to a good start, with 6 of their 7 players that have at least 50 ABs slugging over .500. In particular, the Kevin Mench/Geoff Jenkins platoon have been hitting well, posting OPSs of .875 and 1.008, respectively. Although these starts are encouraging, digging a little deeper into their stats give a cause for concern. After reading Marc Normandin’s profiles (registration required) on both Jenkins and Mench, and noting Jenkins’ low walk rate thus far (I’m aware, it’s a small sample size) and the fact that ~63% of Mench’s ABs have come against right handed pitchers, a red flag has to go up. The Brewers have over $10 million total committed to these two this year, which should provide plenty of incentive to use them as efficiently as possible.

The Brewers will likely experience issues with outfield defense as well. Throughout the course of the game in Cincinnati, Bill Hall did not look comfortable in CF. He played a Brandon Phillips double awkwardly and took several false steps on otherwise routine plays. Combine this with the limited range of Jenkins and Mench (especially if they continue to play both at the same time), and you have a suspect outfield. This is evidenced by the fact that, through today, Milwaukee pitching has given up 48 doubles, the most in the NL. Not to exonerate the pitching staff from this stat, but the limited range and inexperience in the outfield certainly doesn’t help. In fairness to Hall, it should be noted that he has played only 23 games in the outfield and final judgment should be withheld until given time to adapt.

Rounding out a high level review of the current NL Central leader, let’s take a quick look at their bullpen. Left handed specialist Brian Shouse looked good against the Reds’ lefty sluggers, allowing only a single to Josh Hamilton before striking out Dunn and Griffey. Throughout his career, Shouse has held lefties to a .219/.278/.344 line, and while his use is definitely limited, the $975k the Brewers are paying him isn’t a bad deal. Additionally, late inning relievers Francisco Cordero and Derrick Turnbow are both strikeout pitchers that will serve Milwaukee well, even if they are misused. Ignore Cordero’s high ERA with Texas in ’06, as he had a BABIP significantly higher than his norm that should regress back towards the mean this season.

Prior to the start of this season, I thought that the Brewers would come away with the NL Central title and, as of right now, I haven’t see anything to sway me away from that opinion. This isn’t so much due to them being particularly good as it is to my perception of them being the least flawed team in a weak division.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Freel Deal

The Cincinnati Reds today signed current CF Ryan Freel to a two-year $7 million dollar deal. Freel taking over for Ken Griffey Jr. in CF while Junior moved to right has been plugging away with the Reds, doing a little bit of everything the last three seasons.

Freel, has played all over the diamond for the Reds, filling in at third, second or in the outfield and has now won a starting job. While the money given to Freel is a nice reward for a guy that has sacrificed his body over the years, diving and playing all out, it is money that could have probably been used somewhere where it is needed more.

The Reds are a team functioning on one of the smaller budgets in baseball standing 20th out of 30 teams in payroll at just under 70 million. Not that this is an obscene amount of money that Freel will be getting compared to what other players of lesser talent got this past offseason.

However, considering that Freel is 31 and an older 31 considering the pounding he puts on his body, this could end up being wasted money that could have been spent on the draft or evaluating players or scouting.

The last three seasons, Freel has put up very respectable numbers, (.278/.370/.380) but those are the apex of Freel's talent. They won't improve any more than that and if the Reds are lucky, they won't fall from that.

With that said, skipper Jerry Narron has said that he will try and play Freel a little bit at third to give Encarnacion and break and to give rookie Josh Hamilton some AB's in CF. Hopefully, this will cut into some of Freel's at bats.

With Freel being a fighter is whole life, you hope this new security won't cause him to relax, because when he does, his effectiveness will falter mightily.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Remember This?

I was watching the Red Sox-Mariners game and the pitching matchup definitely met expectations. I don't really want to delve into that now, though...I'm happy to say that both pitchers have very impressive stuff and leave it at that for the time being. What I did want to mention, though, is the relay throw from Adrian Beltre's double in the top of the 5th. Manny wasn't involved in this in any way, but it still got me thinking back to one of the funniest things that has ever happened on a baseball field.

After searching for a while, I finally found video of it on the "Baseball is Heaven's Gift to the Mortals" blog. The link is about halfway through the article. If you don't know what I'm referencing, you're in for some serious comedy. Enjoy:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rangers Will Benefit from Patience

Before their recent success against the Devil Rays, Rangers fans were already lamenting about the team’s lack of production. Texas scored only 7 runs against the Angels in their opening series, and dropped that total to 6 against the Red Sox later in the week. While you could argue their pitching has been more of an issue, as both Vicente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy are at about ½ of what their normal K/9IP rates are through their first two starts (they’re going to get better, don’t worry), I’d like to take a closer look at this offense.

A couple of days ago, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels was on a local Dallas station (AM 1310, The Ticket) saying that, although they haven’t scored many runs (this was before the Devil Rays games, mind you), he was pleased at the number of pitches that his team had seen. I decided to take a look at the team by team splits this morning, and if I were Daniels, I’d like what I saw too.

As of today, the Rangers have seen 1,223 pitches this season, which is good for 3rd in all of baseball. However, this can be misleading due to different number of games, extra innings, etc. Indexing this to the number of plate appearances (PA) yields 4.03 pitches/PA. The only other team to average more that 4 pitches/PA is the Cleveland Indians (4.08 pitches/PA). Keep in mind that, due to the snow last weekend, the Indians have played about half as many games as Texas.

Of course, both of these are very small sample sizes, but that’s exactly what makes this statistic important. This stat reveals the process over the end result. These 8 games of the 2007 season have told us relatively little about what the Rangers will be, but do shed light on their approach. A good example of this can be found in last night’s Braves-Nats game; specifically 2 of Jeff Francoeur’s ABs (I mentioned these in last night’s post). Francoeur came to the plate twice last night immediately following a walk in cases where pitchers were clearly having control issues and had worked themselves into jams while putting multiple men on base. In these two ABs he went 1 for 2 with a three run homerun. The issue here, though, is that his ABs were over both times after the first pitch. The result was nice, but the process makes me want to throw something through my TV. This is what I mean about sample size: Francoeur isn’t going to SLG 2.000 in these situations, but you can bet that he’ll be hacking and making far more outs than a more efficient mindset would yield. These ABs reveal something about his approach at the plate.

This same thinking carries over to the Rangers. Blalock hasn’t been a very useful player since the 2004 season (except for at home in 2005, but he was even terrible there last year), Young’s reliance on AVG scares me, and watching Sosa swing at a breaking pitch is funny/sad; but they have guys to wear pitchers down and the more you see of a bullpen, the better off you are. Wilkerson particularly catches a lot of criticism but is a pitch siphon at the plate (4.29 pitches/PA career), still gets on base, and can even slug a little if healthy.

The Rangers probably aren’t going to the World Series…no shock there. But they do play in what I think is the second weakest division in baseball (NL Central being the first) and have a decent shot at taking the AL West. Their offense isn't going to lead the league in runs (obviously), but don’t look for them to slide to the 2.17 runs per game they averaged against the Angels and Red Sox either.