Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wacha Latest Rookie to Debut

                                                Michael Wacha, set to debut Thursday

The Cardinals have faced numerous injuries to their pitching staff this season. Chris Carpenter went down right before spring training and his status is uncertain. He has mentioned the possibility of returning later in the season as a reliever. His career was thought to be over a few months ago, but Carpenter has dealt with that possibility before. Jason Motte had to have season ending Tommy John surgery a month ago after missing the first month. Jaime Garcia recently had season ending shoulder surgery. Jake Westbrook is on the disabled list with an ailing elbow and recently sought a second opinion on it. Rookie lefty John Gast went down after 3 big league starts with shoulder tightness. To make things worse, the bullpen struggled early on with poor performance from Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepcynski, Fernando Salas, and Joe Kelly.

Luckily, the Cardinals have the game's best farm system and it's loaded with pitching. Shelby Miller won the fifth spot after Carpenter's injury opened it up. Miller has been dominant so far, going 5-3 with a 2.02 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He is a top contender for NL Rookie of the Year, but it is a crowded field. Gast won two starts before going to the DL. The Cardinals called up another rookie lefty, Tyler Lyons, to take Garcia's spot. Lyons has gone 2-0 and went seven innings with only 1 run allowed in both starts. With Gast's injury, the Cardinals have decided to call up 2012 #1 draft pick Michael Wacha to take his place. Wacha has been a fast riser in the system and is a month away from turning 22.

Yadier Molina said that Wacha was ready for the big leagues late in spring training this year. He was expected to spend most of the year in Triple A, but multiple injuries have opened up an opportunity for him. Wacha was a compensation pick for losing Albert Pujols to the Angels. In Triple A this year, Wacha has went 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 52.2 inning pitched. Wacha is a 6-6 right handed pitcher who went to Texas A & M. The Cardinals also considered Kelly as a possibility, but decided on Wacha after passing over him two other times. Wacha will be the 7th rookie to pitch for St. Louis this year and the fifth to debut. So far, rookies have pitched 29 % of the team's innings, have 33 % of their strikeouts, and have won 14 games.

Carlos Martinez flashed some of his immense potential in his call up to the Cardinals this month. He pitched 7 games out of the bullpen for the big club after starting the season in Double A. Martinez also missed spring training because of a visa problem. The Cardinals sent him down earlier this week in favor of Victor Marte. He was sent down so he can start on a regular basis since the Cardinal envision him as a starter. If the Cardinals need another starter for whatever reason, it's very likely Martinez will be back up. He has electric stuff and was ranked the Cardinals #3 prospect coming into the season. He has a similar build and look as Pedro Martinez.

The Cardinals have also fixed their bullpen problems. Edward Mujica has converted all 17 of his save opportunities after taking over the closer role. Rosenthal has took over the 8th inning role and has excelled after some early hiccups in April. Rosenthal came up late last year, but is still a rookie this year. Randy Choate has been a good lefty specialist so far. Seth Maness has won 4 games in relief since being called up. The only downside of Maness is his 1.50 WHIP. The Cardinals also have called up Michael Blazely, but he has yet to pitch for them yet. Blazely will be the 8th rookie to pitch for the Cardinals when he debuts. Kelly, Boggs, and Salas have been up and down, and hopefully can be straightened out some point in the year.

With Westbrook out, Adam Wainwright is the only seasoned veteran on the staff. He is now the mentor of a very young, very talented staff. In the last two seasons, Kelly, Miller, Gast, Lyons, and now Wacha have debuted and started for St. Louis. Lance Lynn made his debut in 2011 and had his first full year in the big leagues last year. Garcia was a rookie in 2010. Along with Martinez, that's a lot of talented pitchers to come along in a short amount of time. In my lifetime, the Cardinals have never had this many young arms come up at once. The Cardinals will no longer have to resort to relying on guys like Kip Wells, Todd Wellemeyer, Sidney Ponson, and other mediocre journeyman type pitchers to fill out their rotation. They could have a dominant rotation for years to come with plenty of depth.

                            Rookie lefty Tyler Lyons

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

LA Fadeaway

               Hamilton and Greinke's new teams are a combined 36-53 right now

A lot has been made of the Dodgers and Angels big moves the last couple of seasons. Despite big spending by these teams, both have failed to make the postseason since 2009. Magic Johnson's ownership group took over the Dodgers last season and made a splash immeadiately. They locked up Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, traded for Hanley Ramirez, and then made a megadeal with Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. Then in the offseason they signed Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, and spent nearly $150 million to sign Zack Greinke. Arte Moreno's Angels just missed the playoffs last year after giving out big contracts to Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. They acquired Greinke at the trading deadline last year, but lost him to crosstown Dodgers. To compensate, they signed Josh Hamilton to a five year, $100 million contract from the division rival Rangers.

Both teams are off to slow starts this year. Managers Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia are on the hot seat, especially Mattingly. Mattingly's deal runs out at the season's end, and he will have to win to stay on as manager. Magic Johnson has said he expected the Dodgers to contend for a championship this year. Scioscia's deal runs through 2018 and he has a longer leash. Scioscia has had plenty of success with the Angels, making 6 playoff appearances and winning the 2002 World Series. Still, he is under pressure to win with such a high payroll. Moreno has said that Scioscia is safe this season, but Mattingly might not make it that long if the Dodgers don't improve.

Managers often take the blame for poor performance and underachievement, but is it all their fault? Moves like signing Pujols, Hamilton, or Greinke come from ownership, but their is some questionable moves by both teams in other areas. Another reason why these teams aren't living up to expectations could be the egos of some of the star players. Injuries have also played a role in their struggles. The Dodgers had to deal with injuries to Greinke, Ramirez and Chad Billingsley, and the Angels have been without ace Jered Weaver. That been said, both teams have some flaws that are hampering them.

Angels GM Jerry DiPoto deserves some blame for making some poor decisions. He traded away Jean Segura in the Greinke deal, traded Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas, traded Ervin Santana for next to nothing, and signed Joe Blanton, who has been terrible. The bullpen is still shaky and newly signed Ryan Madson has yet to pitch for them. Losing Weaver has really hurt the Angels, they can't wait to get him back. The trio of Pujols, Hamilton, and Mike Trout hasn't lived up to expectations as of right now. Pujols and Hamilton are both off to slow starts this season. Pujols has been hampered by his plantar fasciitis and has played half his games as a DH. Hamilton is off to a even slower start and still has some lingering questions about his mental makeup.

The Dodgers moves haven't paid off, either. The pitching staff hasn't been as strong as it was thought to be. That's none of Clayton Kershaw's fault, though. Kershaw is off to another dominant year and even draws comparisons to Sandy Koufax. Greinke was injured in a brawl with Carlos Quentin and missed some time. Chad Billingsley had to have Tommy John surgery, and Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly have also been hurt. Beckett has been awful this year. Closer Brandon League has a ERA north of 5. On the offensive side, Kemp and Ethier haven't produced like in years past. The left side of the infield hasn't produced, either. Ramirez has been limited to 4 games due to injury.

Can these two teams turn it around? Already a quarter into the season, both teams are a combined 17 games under .500. There is still plenty of talent on these teams despite some weaknesses on both of them. There is still plenty of time for both teams to turn it around and make a run at the postseason. Still, both teams have dug themselves into a hole that is going to be hard to get out of. The Dodgers are in last place in the NL West and the Angels are in fourth in the AL West. The Angels are lucky to have the Astros in their division, otherwise they might be in last as well. I think these two teams were overrated coming into the seasn, and the Giants and Rangers were underrated. A team can throw money around to improve, but that doesn't always buy good team chemistry. Both the Angels and Dodgers seem to lack the killer instict to claw back into games. Maybe that changes later in the year, and I also think some of their star players will improve. Still, there is plenty of concerns for both the Dodgers and Angels.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Best Leadoff Hitters in the Game

                    Jose Reyes Michael Bourn Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays

There are a few different things teams look for in leadoff hitters. The most important thing is getting on base frequently. Teams also look for a hitter than can make the pitcher work. Speed and stolen base ability is also something that is preferred at the top of the lineup. That's not always possible, though. Power isn't something normally associated with a leadoff hitter, but some of them do have some pop in their bat. Today, I'm going to take a look at the best leadoff hitters in the game.

Some of baseball's best hitters have been leadoff hitters. The best ever was Rickey Henderson, who is the all time leader in stolen bases and walks. Henderson also had unusual power for a leadoff hitter. Not all leadoff hitters in the past has amazing speed. Wade Boggs is a prime example of that. Boggs made up for his lack of speed by winning batting titles and getting on base constantly. Tim Raines was overshadowed by Henderson, but was a great leadoff hitter in the 80's and early 90's. Going back further, Lou Brock was the best leadoff hitter the Cardinals ever had. In the past couple of decades, Jeter and Ichiro have been great leadoff hitters.

Last season, rookie phenoms Mike Trout and Bryce Harper both hit out of the leadoff spot. They have been moved down in the order this season. Jeter had a good year at the leadoff spot last year, but is out til after the All Star break and coming off a major injury at a advanced age. Older players like Ichiro Suzuki, Jimmy Rollins, and Juan Pierre are in decline and no longer top leadoff hitters. Nate McLouth has had a resurgence in Baltimore as a leadoff hitter after several unproductive years. Carl Crawford is trying to get his career back on track in LA after two down years in Boston, partly due to injury. Angel Pagan was a sparkplug for the Giants run to the championship last year. In the NL Central, there are some up and comers new to the leadoff spot with the Cardinals Matt Carpenter, Pirates Sterling Marte, and the Brewers Noriochi Aoki. There are also several established leadoff hitters that are having big years this season. I'll rank the best.

Honorable Mention
Geraldo Parra, Diamondbacks
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Sterling Marte, Pirates
Dexter Fowler, Rockies
Austin Jackson, Tigers

5) Michael Bourn, Indians

Bourn is in his first American League season with the Indians, after previously playing with the Braves, Astros, and Phillies. Bourn set career highs in home runs(9) and RBIs(57) last year. He also led the NL in steals from 2009-11. Bourn is a two time Gold Glove winner and a two time All Star. Signing Bourn was a big move by Cleveland and it's paid off so far, they are in first place right now.

4) Ian Kinsler, Rangers

For a leadoff hitter, Kinsler probably has the most power in the league. Since the beginning of 2011, Kinsler has 58 home runs, the most by a leadoff hitter in that span. Kinsler also steals around 20-30 bases a year. He is a patient hitter and off to a good start in 2013.

3) Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

If it wasn't for Ellsbury's outstanding 2011 season, he probably wouldn't rank as high. He was hurt much of 2010 and missed over half of 2012. When healthy, Ellsbury has a mix of speed and power that's hard to beat. He is currently leading the AL with 13 steals, and led the AL in 2008 and 2009. Ellsbury is off to a slow start this year, but has a .293 career average. He probably will never duplicate his 2011 campaign were he hit 32 home runs, drove in 105, hit .321, and led the league in total bases. However, Ellsbury can still be a force at the leadoff spot.

2) Shin-Soo Choo, Reds

Last season, the Reds had dreadful production out of the leadoff spot with Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs. In the offseason, they acquired Choo from the Indians. Right now, Choo is second in the NL with a .456 on base percentage and has hit 9 home runs so far. Choo has good power for a leadoff hitter and also has some speed on the basepaths. Choo is miscast as a center fielder, but the Reds have improved their offense with his addition as a tablesetter.

1) Jose Reyes, Blue Jays

Reyes is hurt right now, but when healthy he is the best. He has a mix of getting on base, stealing bases, and has extra base power. He is a explosive player on offense, and also is a good defender. His injury has hurt the Jays real bad, but their pitching has dissapointed them the most. Reyes led the NL in batting average in 2011, and had a terrific second half with Miami last year. He was off to a good start in Toronto. Reyes has also led the league in steals three separate times and has 415 steals in his career.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cardinals Rotation Dominant So Far


As of today, the Cardinals have the best record in the majors with a 21-12 mark. Even more impressive is that they are a major league best 14-7 on the road. The biggest reason why is their starting rotation. The quintet of Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, and Shelby Miller has been dominant in the first five weeks of the season. The Cardinals lead the majors in starters ERA at 2.28. 5 of the 12 losses by the Cardinals have been the fault of the bullpen. Even that is starting to get worked out with Edward Mujica taking over as closer and a shakeup of the bullpen in the last week.

Each member of the rotation compliment each other with their different styles of pitching. Wainwright has the best curveball in the game and has regained his command this year. Garcia is the rotation's only lefty and is off to a 4-1 start. Lynn is a power pitcher who lost a lot of weight in the offseason, so he shouldn't wear down in the second half this year. Westbrook is a sinkerball pitcher who's specialty is inducing ground balls. Miller takes over for Kyle Lohse and has filthy stuff. Miller is a top Rookie of the Year candidate and is second on the staff in ERA and WHIP. The Cardinals also have plenty of depth if one of their starters went down to injury. They could turn to Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, or Michael Wacha if need be.

Wainwright looks to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery this season. Last year, his command was off, his control wasn't as sharp, and he was hit harder than usual. Waino posted his highest ERA(3.94) in 2012 and suffered a career high 13 losses. He now is resembling the pitcher from 2009-10 who was contending for the Cy Young Award. With Carpenter out, Wainwright is now the unquestioned ace and leader of the staff. The Cardinals also locked Wainwright up to a five year contract going to the end of the 2018 season.

There were some questions about Garcia coming into the season. He had an injury plagued campaign in 2012 and was limited to 20 starts. So far, Garcia has been avoiding the disastrous inning that has hurt him in the past. This might be the season he finally cracks the 200 inning barrier. Lynn also had a up and down season last year. He was terriffic in the first half and made the All Star team. He then wore down in the second half and was temporarily put in the bullpen. Lynn got in better shape in the offseason and shouldn't have the same problem again this season.

Westbrook has been off to a hot start to start the season. He has a staff best 1.62 ERA, which is currently 3rd in the National League. His 1.46 WHIP is a concern, though he has been pitching out of trouble so far this season. Like Lynn, Westbrook has wore down late in the year the past two seasons. He missed the 2012 postseason and only pitched 1 game in relief in the 2011 postseason. However, the one game was very important, and he got the win in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Miller is the Redbird's fifth starter and he looks like a future ace. Miller was the Cardinals first round pick in the 2009 draft and is in his rookie season. He hasn't had a bad start yet in his brief major league career. After struggling in the first half in Triple A last year, Miller made some adjustments and started using more of his off speed pitches. It's worked out quite well for him.

The Cardinals offense is starting to heat up as well. Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Matt Holliday are starting to hit well after slow starts. Like I mentioned earlier, the bullpen is starting to straighten itself out. David Freese is still slumping, but I think he will get straightened out before long. Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina have been off to terrific starts so far, and Matt Carpenter has been impressive with the bat this year. Carpenter leads the NL with 12 doubles and is fourth in runs scored. His defense has been solid, whether if he's at second or third. The only thing Carpenter needs to work on is his baserunning, he's had a few gaffes so far this year.

Last year's closer Jason Motte will be out for the season and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Mitchell Boggs started the season out as closer, but had to be demoted to Triple A because of his struggles. Boggs did a great job as the 8th inning guy last year, and I suspect he will get straightened out and be back up at some point this year. I think Boggs struggle could be in part of him changing his pitching motion this year. Hard throwing Trevor Rosenthal has took over as the 8th inning guy this year, but he will need some help from Fernando Salas, and Joe Kelly, who have been off to rough starts. Rookies Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness could play a bigger role than expected if those two continue to struggle. From the left hand side, Randy Choate has done a good job as a lefty specialist. However, Marc Rzepczynski's struggles have carried over to this year. John Mozeliak didn't sound to impressed with Scrabble this year, and one has to wonder if he's going to make it back to the majors. Still, with Mujica as closer, the bullpen has been much better and hasn't been blowing as many leads.