05 October 2005

Boston's Impending Demise, Cano's Hype, and That Other League, Too

Well, so far, so good for my post season predictions. After one game played in each of the four division series, all four games were won by the team I picked to win the series. Let's review...

Boston @ Chicago: Matt Clement got smacked around (8 runs in 3.1 innings), as I had suggested he might. What I did not anticipate was that A.J. Pierzynski would hit not one but two homers, something he'd done only once in over 2300 regular season games, and that was against the woeful Colorado pitching staff in 2003. "A.J." apparently stands for "Another Jack". I also did not count on All-Star Scott Podsednik blasting a three-run jack of his own, given that he had not hit one since September 30th. Of 2004. I wouldn't count on the White Sox scoring 14 runs in any of their remaining games against Boston, but I would count on them winning the series.

The second game proved much closer, as neither Sox lefty, David Wells nor Mark Buehrle, had his best stuff, but both kept his team in the game. Until the Bostons' defense blew it, that is. Tony Graffanino (which, ironically, turns out to be the Italian translation of "Buckner") allowed a double-play ball to go between his legs, allowed two runners to remain on base, and allowed the game to slip away when White Sox second-sacker and Rookie of the Year Candidate, Tadahito Iguchi, hit a three-run homer to put the Chicagos up, 5-4. Another rookie, Bobby Jenks, came in throwing 97mph gas for two innings (since Thursday is a travel day) for the save.

Boston returns home, down 0-2, with Tim Wakefield slated to stop the bleeding on Friday afternoon against Freddy Garcia. The Red Sox are very close to being eliminated, but then that was true in the 2003 ALDS before they came back to beat Oakland, and it was true last year when they were down 0-3 to the Yankees, and that seemed to turn out OK for them. And while it's much more common for a team to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a 5-game series to win (it's happened 4 times since the inception of the Wild Card in 1995, and Boston's done it twice), it's still not likely.

It should also be noted that the Oakland team they came back to beat in 2003 really beat itself in some ways, making 5 errors in those final three games. Additionally, the Yankees team that lost four straight to the Red Sox in 2004 was very thin on starting pitchers. This 2005 edition of the White Sox, with the 4th fewest errors and the second lowest team ERA in the American League, will not beat itself on either of those fronts, which is good because I hear you can go blind.

San Diego @ St. Louis: Jake Peavy was the Padres' only hope of winning a game in this series, and if they'd decided to bring him back on short rest for Game 4, maybe two. Now they'll be fortunate to get out of the series without completely embarrassing themselves. Peavy was nearly as bad as Clement last night (8 runs in 4.1 innings), though he had a better excuse, sort of. Jake had apparently broken a rib or two in the Padres' postseason clincher celebration last week. It seems to me that a team that was not even assured of having a winning record should not be celebrating at all, much less in so raucous and rambunctious a fashion as to break a bone in someone's torso. When will baseball players learn to point those champagne corks away from other people?

The San Diegos did not realize the severity of the injury until Peavy's ineffective performance, and so he won't pitch again this postseason, and neither will the Padres win a game, I suspect. This seems a fitting end for the Padres, a franchise whose own announcer once described its right-fielder's head hitting the outfield wall and rolling all the way back to the infield. This, too, is a terrible thing for the Padres.

Houston @ Atlanta: Andy Pettitte pitched well in Game One, even though he surrendered a homer to each of the Joneses on the Braves' roster (good thing there's only two of them!). This seems familiar, somehow. Anywho, Andy left the game after seven innings, leading 5-3, and despite some shaky work by the Houston bullpen, the Astros took game one thanks to nine walks and three HBP by Braves pitchers, leading to ten runs scored by Houston, despite the fact that they hit only three doubles and no homers in the game. Thursday night's Smoltz-Clemens matchup should be One for the Ages, and there will probably still be 10,000 empty seats in Atlanta.

New York @ LAnahafornia The Yankees took Game One in LAnaheim, 4-2, behind 5.2 shutout innings from Mike Mussina and mostly strong bullpen work. It's didn't hurt that Vladimir Guerrero got himself caught stealing to end the sixth inning with his team down 4-0, either. Well, it hurt the Angels.

Robinson Cano, (who was named after Jackie Robinson, in case you hadn't picked that up from the fact that the FOX and ESPN announcers mention it at least twice an inning, three times if Cano is actually batting that inning) hit a 3-run double in the 1st to put the team up, 3-0, and because the Yankees won, his limited offensive abilities and shoddy defense were largely overlooked.

I call his defense "shoddy" because, even though he was not charged with an error in Game One, he made at least two plays (or rather, he didn't make them) that a good defensive secondbaseman would not have screwed up. One was a bouncing "single" up the middle, I think by Darin Erstad in the 9th, which hopped right over Cano's glove, but didn't actually touch him, so they ruled it a hit, and Vlad Guerrero scored. The very next play, a hard grounder by catcher Bengie Molina to Jeter (right at him, or he wouldn't have gotten to it), should have been a double play ball. Instead, Cano hesitated for a moment before throwing to first base, almost as though he'd forgotten that they still needed two outs, and so Molina, who runs just slightly faster than most dead people, was safe at first. Again, they called it a "fielder's choice", because technically you can't anticipate the double play, and there was no error scored, but Cano should have made that play.

Because of where I live, and because I'm a cheapskate and won't spring for satellite TV, I harldy ever get to see a Yankee game, and yet it seems that whenever I do watch one, Cano makes an error, or doesn't make a play that a major league second baseman is supposed to make. This can't just be coincidence.

And as for his limited offensive abilities? Let me show you. These are the pitch-by-pitch descriptions of cano's at-bats in Game One:

1st inning, 2 out, 3 on base: Ball, Strike (looking), Strike (foul), Ball, Foul, R Cano doubled to deep left, J Giambi, G Sheffield and H Matsui scored

3rd, 1 out, none on: R Cano fouled out to left

6th, 0 out, none on: R Cano flied out to left

9th, 0 out, none on: Ball, R Cano flied out to left

Do you see a pattern here? This guy goes to his left more often than Howard Dean! Granted, Bartolo Colon has a heck of a fastball, but Cano is a left handed hitter, he know's the heater's coming, and he ought to be able to turn on it once in a while. Instead, he can't do anything with it except bloop it into left field and hope Garret Anderson is playing him too shallow, which is probably what happened in the first inning, as the Angels may have been trying to minimize the damage on a short hopper or a grounder through the infield. Cano saw six pitches in that first at-bat, with the bases loaded, but in three other at-bats with no one on base he saw a total of only four pitches, twice flying out on the first pitch, and the third time, on the first pitch near the strike zone. He was a little more patient in Game Two, seeing 14 pitches in his four at-bats, with a double and an RBI. Perhaps he was just a little over-anxious in his first postseason game.

We can hope, or we can analyze. Since I'm an engineer (and this is my website) I'm choosing Option 2.

Player AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO
C 522 78 34 4 14 62 16 68
A 567 92 28 7 17 73 29 100

See the similarities? Player C is Cano, of Canourse, and Player A is 2003 RoY Angel Berroa, Kansas City Royals shortstop. If you think those numbers look similar, check out these:

Cano .297 .320 .458 7.68 32.63
Angel .287 .338 .451 5.67 19.55

That's almost creepy.

Cano doesn't strike out quite as often as Berroa does, but he doesn't walk nearly as often, which isn't much in the first place. Getting a free pass about once every 8 or 10 games does not bode well for his future. Joe Morgan indicated last night that Joe Torre thinks Cano can hit in the .330-.340 range, but if he doesn't learn to lay off a pitch once in a while, that's not very likely to happen.

Now, the six remaining Royals fans out there are probably thinking "Yeah, but Berroa stole 21 bases that year, too! And he plays good defense, and does other stuff, good, too!" Well, Berroa has only stolen 21 bases in the two seasons since then, and has been caught 13 times, including only 7-for-12 this season, so his speed does not appear to be much of a factor in his offensive "contributions" any more. Since we're trying to project what Cano might look like in a few years, the comparison seems valid.

Furthermore, Berroa may be a flashy defensive player, but even in his rookie season he made 24 errors, and he has made more errors than anyone in the major leagues for the in the last three years combined. Add to this the fact that in the last two years he's combined to "hit" below .270 with little power, little speed and even less patience than he showed as a rookie (he drew only 15 unintentional walks in over 600 at-bats in 2005), and you've got a guy that even the hapless Royals know will not help them to their next winning season.

Cano's an AL Rookie of the Year candidate based on his .297 season batting average and 14 homers, not (of course) on his 17 errors in 131 games. Those 17 errors constituted the third most among all MLB second-sackers in 2005, behind only ex-Yankee Alfonso Soriano and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, both with 21, although Weeks did that in only 96 games. Robinson Cano, it seems to me, is not so dissimilar to Berroa, and I wonder if it might make sense, especially if he wins the Rookie of the Year Award on the merits of those misleading batting average and home run numbers, to trade him and get some value in return before the bottom falls out, whenever that is.

Hopefully not before the Yankees finish sending the LAngels back to LAnahfornia to watch the ALCS on TV.

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