29 July 2010

Kansas City Royals' Gil Meche Done For Year. Of Course.

Baseball news Wednesday morning included the story that Royals starting pitcher Gil Meche will have surgery on his ailing right shoulder and is likely done for the season. This isn't really "news" in the sense of being surprising or unexpected or even noteworthy. Royals pitchers get hurt and miss the rest of the season all the time, it seems. It would be "news" if it turned out that the moon really was made of green cheese or if France was suddenly invaded by, say, Liechtenstein.

But a Royals starter getting hurt is not news. Indeed, in the last decade, the Royals have had only 13 pitchers make 30 or more starts in a season, and have only once had more than two in the same year. In six of the last ten years, they've had only one, and in 2006, they had none at all.

And that doesn't even consider quality, just quantity. Five of those 13 pitcher-seasons resulted in ERAs well over 5.00, and one of the rare seasons in which the Royals could boast two pitchers healthy enough to make every scheduled start, 2005, those pitchers had two of the four worst ERAs in the major leagues. Zach Greinke (5.90), long before he got his act together, and Jose Lima (6.99) long after his fell apart.

This year, astonishingly even without Meche, they're on a pace to have three pitchers with at least 30 starts apiece. But, as in 2005, two of those three - Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies - will be among the worst pitchers in the major leagues.

Bannister is an interesting guy, smart and eloquent and open minded, but for all of his respect for and understanding of sabermetrics, he can't seem to put any of them to good use. He's 29 now, has exactly one season in the majors with any characteristics you could call "good", and sports a 5.82 ERA that currently ranks 104th out of 107 qualified MLB starters. Getting 30 starts out of him is not necessarily a blessing, you know?

Davies is still thought of as "young", because he's 26, even though he's been in the majors for parts of six seasons. When you talk to Royals' fans, they're always telling you how he's just shy of putting all his talent together and really having an impressive season. But at this point, it's time to acknowledge that he's amassed over 630 innings of major league service and has a 5.54 career ERA, which is almost exactly what he's doing this year. Again, 30+ starts of such dubious quality will kill any team's chances, especially one with so little margin for error as the Royals.

But this story was about Meche. The AP story about his surgery included this curious nugget:

"Meche, the first upper-tier free agent the Royals signed, has battled injuries the past two seasons. He has one year left on a five-year, $55 million contract"

I'm not sure where they're getting "upper tier" from. Maybe it's like the old expression "first division", which meant nothing more than that your team finished in the top half of the league. That would be fair, since Meche was certainly better than half the pitchers in baseball at the time. But of course, saying that he was the first "above average" free agent they signed doesn't sound nearly so impressive.

In any case, I don't think that's what the writer intended, as evidenced by the next sentence, referring to the (frankly, ridiculous) contract Meche signed with the Royals in December of 2006. I think the writer means either that Meche actually was one of the best starters in baseball or at least that he was paid like one, which he was. But looking back on that winter, it's hard to say that he was really in the "upper tier" of free agents.

ESPN had him ranked 13th overall in their Free Agent Tracker, but he was just 7th among 15 starting pitchers, decidedly mediocre amongst a pretty weak class. And for that matter, even that ranking seems a little generous in light of some others on the list. Meche had gone 43-36 with a 4.75 ERA in a pitcher's park (adjusted ERA 8% below average) in the previous four seasons with Seattle, including 113 starts and three relief appearances. In one of those four seasons he missed several starts due to some injury or another. In another season he spent about a third of his time at AAA. In none of them did he amass more than 187 innings in the majors.

Even the Elias Sports Bureau, with its flawed and arcane ratings system, did not consider Meche in the "upper tier". He was a Type B Free Agent that year, meaning that he was in the 30th to 50th percentile among starting pitchers in their rankings.

Meanwhile, Jeff Suppan, the consummate LAIM, had gone 57-37 with a 4.01 ERA (109 ERA+), had never made fewer than 31 starts or amassed fewer than 188 innings in any of those same four seasons. ESPN ranked him 27th. He's about three years older, I'll grant you, but for all intents and purposes, was also a notably better pitcher at the time. He ended up with a 4-year, $42 million contract from Milwaukee that was also criticized at the time, and rightly so, but there was little reason at that point to think that Meche would give more value over the next several years than Suppan.

Greg Maddux, much older than both of them at 40, had gone 60-51 with a 4.11 ERA in that span, never making fewer than 33 starts or amassing fewer than 210 innings. He was ranked 26th. Tom Glavine was 20th. Barry Zito, coming off six consecutive years of 34 or 35 starts, 210+ innings and (usually) 15 Wins, including a Cy Young Award, was ranked 15th, two spots lower than Meche(!). Clearly someone at ESPN, probably Keith Law, has some curious ideas about how to do those rankings.

Nevertheless, Meche was paid like an upper tier free agent, his $55,000,000 deal ranking second only to Zito's deal for $126M that winter in total dollars for a starting pitcher, and only Zito and Dice-K got more years. The Meche deal was widely panned at the time, by almost everyone. Meche had some talent, no doubt, but he had a fairly lackluster career to that point, a penchant for injuries, and at 28, was not exactly young anymore, though admittedly neither was he old.

To call his track record "spotty" is to give a bad name to Dalmations. He missed the second half of the Y2K season with a "dead arm", had shoulder surgeries both before and after the 2001 season, and didn't make it back onto a major league pitcher's mound until 2003. When he did, on the merits of simply staying healthy (if not actually good) he won the un-coveted Comeback Player of the year Award.

In 2004 he was still healthy, but even less good, and made only 23 starts in the majors (along with 10 more at AAA). In 2005 he amassed only 143 innings due presumably to various ailments and ineffectiveness. Then in 2006 he (sort of) put things together, tallying a winning record for a team that frequently lost, and setting career highs in innings and strikeouts, all in his walk-year.

That set him up for a big payday, and who better than David Glass and the Royals to provide it? Maybe they were foolish and just got lucky, or maybe General Manager Dayton Moore really knew something that nobody else did. Certainly if the Yankees had any inkling that Gil Meche would be worth 9.4 WAR over the next two seasons, they would gladly have given him $55 million, the second half of the contract be damned. Seriously, that's only nine million more than they paid for the rights to and contract of Kei Igawa, who's been nothing short of a disaster.

What is certain is that by any objective analysis, the Royals had no right to expect much more than what Meche had previously provided: i.e. about 180 innings per year of slightly below average work. What they got instead was, if not spectacular, at least an above average, 210-inning workhorse, for the first two years anyway.

And then the wheels came off.

It's tempting to point to one game - like the complete-game shutout he pitched on June 16th 2009, in which then-manager Trey Hillman left him in to throw a career-high 132 pitches, or the 121-pitch outing he had a couple of weeks later, AFTER he complained of a "dead arm" - but really he was fumbling and stumbling even before that.

He'd allowed more than three runs in a game only 10 times in 34 starts in 2008, but by the end of May 2009, he'd already done it seven times in 11 starts. That included poor outings against the Tigers and Orioles, who would finish 10th and 11th in total runs scored in the 14-team American League, not a good sign at all.

Still, when he threw that 132nd pitch, his record stood at a respectable 4-5 (for a team that was 29-34) with a 3.31 ERA in 84 innings of work. But he pitched in only nine more games last year, amassing an 8.46 ERA in 44 innings, and was done for the season by the end of August. This season he started out on the DL and usually pitched badly when he did, before finally being shut down for the year.

It's worth noting that on the one occasion that he actually pitched well, he was left in for 128 pitches in a losing effort against the Texas Rangers on May 8th. And this, despite the fact that Ned Yost had some relievers available, having only used Kyle Farnsworth the night before, for one inning, and nobody else. So Trey Hillman isn't the only Royals' manager capable to incredible myopia when it comes to pitchers' arms.

Yost is saying all the right things about how the doctors need to "get in there' to see what's really wrong and fix it and that the important thing is having him healthy for 2011. When asked about the surgery, Yost said:

"I imagine it will be some type of cleanup in there with the scope. He still has irritation. It's not getting better. We're probably looking at scoping it somehow and getting him cleaned up and having him ready for next year."

And when asked whether this was the end of Meche's season, Yost said,

"I would imagine so"
Well, it's nice that there are still managers out there with a little imagination, don't you think? What would be even nicer, if you're a Royals' fan, would be if the GM had a little imagination. it would not have taken a ton of the stuff to figure out that they had gotten more than they bargained for out of Meche in the first two years of that contract, that the team was not on the cusp of contention just yet, and that therefore Meche was one of their most marketable commodities.

For example, I am one of the least imaginative people I know, and even I was able to figure this one out:

Now would be a great time to take a chance and trade Meche, who, after two solid years, looks like a consistent, LAIM-plus, but who probably won't be worth the $35 million they still owe him for the next three years. The team should be trading away expensive players who won't likely help them toward a championship, instead of acquiring them. Lots of teams could use a guy like Meche, or what they think Meche will be, and the Royals could probably get a pretty good outfielder in return.

That was written in October of 2008, when the Royals inexplicably traded Leo Nunez, a young, useful, talented and cost-controlled relief pitcher, for Mike Jacobs, an arbitration-eligible DH/1B who hit for occasional power and showed no other discernible skills, unless he makes a mean sandwich or plays jazz guitar or something.

Jacobs predictably hit .238 with 19 homers last year, for which they paid him $3.25 million, and was released after the season. Nunez is currently the Marlins' closer, having saved 50 games with an ERA about 20% better than his leagues over the past year and a half. And has made only $2.4 million combined over that span.

The Royals seem to have a knack for paying extra to lose more. Since 2003, the last time the Royals had a winning record, they've averaged 98 losses per season in every full year, and they're on a 95-loss pace this year, easily the worst total record in the majors in that span. the Pirates have been similarly dismal, but have won 12 more games while losing 15 fewer. The Nationals have won 26 more games and the Orioles have won 27 more, but these four franchises are in a class of their own.

Every other team in the majors has won at least 45% of its games in the last six and a half years. but the Royals have spent $32 million more on salaries than the Nationals have, more than a million dollars for each additional loss. They've spent


more than the Pirates, to win 12 fewer games. That's just staggering. Say what you want about how terrible the Pirates have been, and you could go on for a while, I know you could, but at least they know how bad they are and they haven't overspent for the privilege of finishing last every year.

Only the preposterous largess of Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles keeps the Royals from being the worst team in this regard. Baltimore has spent $57 million more than the Royals, though they have won a handful more games, as I mentioned.

It's not that they shouldn't have traded Nunez, it's just that they shouldn't have traded him for Mike Jacobs. This happens to Kansas City a lot. They trade from their strength (young relievers, Carlos Beltran, etc.) but don't manage to get fair value in return. Or they sign the type of guy a team struggling for last place doesn't need, for too much money (Mark Grudzielanek, Jose Guillen, etc.) and then ask too much for him in trade, settle for too little or keep him and get nothing at all.

And it's not that they shouldn't have signed Gil Meche (well, they shouldn't, but that's beside the point), it's that they shouldn't have looked a gift horse in the mouth by keeping him past his expiration date. And now the one bit of luck they've stumbled upon in the last half a decade had slipped from their grasp.

To their credit, they've gotten something for the hot hands that were Alberto Callaspo and Scott Podsednik, and may yet trade Farnsworth, Guillen, or others, but they really botched this Meche thing, lemme tellya.

It's a fine Meche.

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23 July 2010

Lamentations on the 500 Home Run Club

Joe Posnanski ruminates on the impending 600th home run of Alex Rodriguez, likely to be surrendered this weekend by one of Kansas City's many bad, bad pitchers, or perhaps their one good one. Dave Pinto thinks he's making too big a deal about it:

Baseball goes through cycles. There was a high home run cycle in the 1950s and 1960s. There’s been a high home run cycle in the 1990s and 2000s. I suspect there will be another one in the 2030s and 2040s.

This is not precisely true. Baseball has gone through cycles, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we can expect the same going forward. If you're going to suggest that, you need a better reason than, "Well, it's happened before".

I would posit that the McGwire/Bonds/A-Rod generation is different from the influx of 500-clubbers from 1965-71 in a couple of ways. That generation of players (Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Robinson, Killebrew, Matthews, and Banks) was all born between 1931 and 1936. (Personally, I would add McCovey, born in 1938 to that group too, even though he didn't hit his 500th til 1978).

The current group is bracketed by McGwire (1963) and A-Rod (1975), a much wider range.

Oddly enough, only two players from the Baby Boom generation, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt, made the cut, even though you might expect that the deepening talent pool would have allowed more players with that kind of talent to find their way to the majors. Evidently the efforts by the Powers-That-(ML)Be to restore some balance to the pitchers in the 1960s and 1970's helped the Baby Boom pitchers a great deal more. But I digress.

Anyway, you'll notice that five of those eight players from the 60's and 70's are black, and would therefore not have had the chance to play in the majors 25 years earlier. There was, as we now know, tremendous talent in the Negro Leagues that never got the chance to compile numbers like that, or else Josh Gibson or Oscar Charleston or someone else might have joined the club sooner.

That Mays/Mantle/Aaron generation was the first one in which young, black athletes got the chance to play most or all of their careers in the majors, instead of in the Negro Leagues and/or barnstorming. They had access to better medical care, earned more money, and generally had an easier life that made it possible to stay in shape and play into your 40's. That made for a huge influx of talent, more or less all at once, and that group all happened to hit that milestone about the same time because they'd all been playing about the same length of time, and were around the same age.

Offense did kind of go down after that for a while, or really had been going down for a while, since the early 60's, which depressed the numbers who could join the club (only Schmidt and Reggie in the 1980's). But baseball was sort of wallowing, losing market share to the NBA and especially the NFL, embroiled in cocaine scandals, gambling scandals, collusion scandals, and it appears that MLB wanted to get the fans' focus back on the field.

Somehow, MLB seems to have changed the fabrication of the baseball, or something, because around 1993, BABIP numbers took a sudden and irreversible jump up. It wasn't the dilution of pitching talent thanks to expansion, because it had never happened in an expansion year before, and would not happen again in 1998. It wasn't the ballparks because the new ones didn't all open up that year. It wasn't steroids, at least not yet.

The only theory that seems to make any sense is that they started winding the balls tighter, or making them of a different kind of yarn, or cork, or something. And before you ask, no I don;t have any proof.

Not that it matters anyway. if MLB wants to make the balls differently to make the game more offense-oriented, that their prerogative. I'm OK with it. I wish they'd been honest about it, but I sort of understand why they wouldn't.

The more sinister thing - the thing that had numbed us all to the home run total, as Posnanski says, has been the steroids. Of the ten players who have joined the 500-homer club since 1999, seven of them have some taint of the steroid scandal. And would we really be all that surprised if someone told us that Thome, or The Big Hurt or even Junior was also tainted? Probably not.

So of course people don't care. This generation has sapped all the wonder out of the achievement. With the Mays/Mantle generation of 40 years ago, unless you were an outright bigot, you must have felt that there was something right about these men being allowed to compete on the same field, compile similar - and similarly impressive - numbers. That was how it should have been all along.

But this? McGwire and Sosa and Palmiero and A-Rod and the rest, all on steroids or HGH or some cocktail of the two? That's not how it's supposed to be. We may be impressed still, and we may cheer for the guy on our team, but we've got to ladle in a healthy dose of skepticism with that. We just don't know what to believe anymore. Maybe we never will again.

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16 July 2010

How Much Better Would Cliff Lee Have Made the Yankees?

Anyone care to guess the identities of these two mystery pitchers?

           GS  IP   H/9  H   R  BB  SO  HR   ERA  SO/9  HR/9  BB/9  pit/GS
Player A 8 68 8.5 60 18 3 49 8 2.25 6.5 1.1 0.4 107
Player B 8 53 6.6 32 15 16 44 6 2.55 7.5 1.0 2.7 105

In their last eight starts, dating back to the beginning of June, both pitchers have been very good. Player A has been all but impossible to beat, having completed almost every game he's started, and going fewer than eight innings only once, when he went seven. He almost never walks anyone, generally keeps the ball in the yard, strikes batters out...everything you could want in a pitcher.

Player B, while not such a workhorse, has still been very effective. His team has gone 5-3 in those eight games, with him getting the win in four of those five. He strikes batters out just as often as Player A, and is just slightly more parsimonious when it comes to round-trippers. He's got very good control, too, though not the insanely low walk rate that Player A shows.

It's also worth noting that Player A has faced much stiffer competition than Player B. His eight starts have come against teams averaging 4.58 runs per game, while Player B's opponents have averaged only 3.96 runs per game so far in 2010.

Player A's opponents have included five of the six division winners and another team within two games of its division lead. Player B's opponents have included three of the six teams bringing up the rears of their divisions (two starts against one of the bottom-feeders), plus two teams within the bottom three in run-scoring in their leagues. Only one team with a winning record was in that group.

Player A, as you probably know, is Mariners' ace starter and top prize of this year's trading deadline market, Cliff Lee. He's awesome. No doubt about it. He automatically makes the Texas Rangers better, prohibitive favorites to win the AL West. They gave up a lot of talent to get him, but it should be worth it this year, at least.

But Player B, as you probably don't realize, is Javier Vazquez, who would seem to have been the odd man out if the Yankees had dealt for Lee last week, as was so widely rumored. The Yankees have set a limit on Phil Hughes' innings for 2010 -probably around 175.

Andy Pettitte, being 38 years old - and frankly, never this good before - is not likely to win another 11 games in the second half. I still expect him to pitch reasonably well and to be part of the postseason rotation, but of course you've gotta get there first, and the Rays and Sawx aren't exactly going away.

That leaves Pettitte, CC Sabathia and (come playoff time) two huge question marks in the rotation.

1) A.J. Burnett, who's usually fine as long as his starts aren't aired on national television, and

B) Javier Vazquez, aka "Player B".

Of course Vazquez was atrocious in his first month or so of the season, as I mentioned, but he seems to have gotten back whatever it was that deserted him for the first month of the 2010 season, and has been as good as anybody for the last six weeks or so. Well, anybody but Cliff Lee, I suppose.

But how much better would swapping out Vazquez for Lee really have made the Yankees? At their current rates, over the remainder of the season, Lee could be expected to be pitch about 14 more times, around 119 innings at the rate noted above, and allow about 30 earned runs.

Vazquez projects for only 93 innings and about 26 earned runs. That's four runs difference, but in 26 fewer innings, and those of course would fall to the Yankees' bullpen. That bullpen has thus far allowed 103 runs in 224 innings in 2010, so at that rate they'd be expected to allow about 12 runs in 26 innings. So now Lee is better than Javy and the bullpen by a mere eight runs.

Except that in reality, the Lee will not finish nearly every game for the rest of the season. Indeed, pitching away from the cavernous, offense-depressing SafeCo Field, he would presumably give up a couple of runs once in a while and perhaps occasionally need to come out in (gasp!) the sixth inning.

So let's say that Lee throws 20 more innings than Vazquez over the second half instead of 26, still a generous improvement. In those 20 innings, the bullpen will probably allow about nine runs. Subtract from those the four runs that Vazquez "saved" by not pitching as much, and now Lee is worth a meager five runs more than Vazquez, given these assumptions. Given the aforementioned difference in qualities of their opponents we'll be magnanimous and say that Lee is really worth 10 runs.

Additionally, Lee and vazquez have both had unsustainably low batting averages on balls in play in that span. Lee's was .259, while Javy's was .192(!), and therefore clearly likely to bounce back to more normal ~.300ish levels. S, just for the heck of it, let's account for that differenc ewith an additional 10 runs, giving us 20 total.

Are 20 runs over the second half of the 2010 season worth, say, Jesus Montero, Mark Melancon and David Adams, names that were rumored in the deal the Yankees considered? Are 20 runs even worth a journeyman reliever and a bucket of used baseballs? Well, yes, in a close race.

More to the point, you're probably thinking, "It depends on which runs," and you're right. Lee helps a team win both by the innings he pitches and by those he prevents the bullpen from pitching, both by preventing runs from scoring and by allowing the offense to win without the pressure of having to score eight runs every night.

If the runs he saves are those that make a difference in getting the team into the playoffs, then they're worth just about any trade. If he then makes the difference in getting the team to later tiers of the playoffs and even to winning the World Series, then the trade is really worthwhile.

Do you think the Blue Jays and their fans mind that they traded away Jeff Kent to get David Cone in 1992, given that he pitched well down the stretch that year and helped them win their first-ever World Series? I doubt it. I know that Yankee fans would not ultimately have cared much if Marty Janzen or Mike Gordon or Jason Jarvis had become stars.

Those trading chips got the Yankees to the Promised Land in 1996, and helped cement Cone's place in Yankee history, winning four world championships. Nobody would have lamented the loss of prospects, even ones who blossom in another uniform, if it meant a 28th World Series title.

As it is, since the Rangers gave up a lot of prospects - who may not only eventually thrive, but may do so for a division rival - they'll have a lot of 'splainin to do if they miss the playoffs, or get ousted in the first round. For the Yankees and their fans, at least, they can take some solace in the hope that Lee would not have been such an incredible improvement over the man currently holding that spot in the rotation, Javy Vazquez, if all goes well.


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01 July 2010

Catching up with the BA Top 20...

Given that we're nearly half way through the season - and frankly, I'm a little bored - I thought I would check in on some of my comments and predictions on Baseball America's top 20 prospects list. Let's see how I did with #1 through #10 and then next week I'll look at the rest...

#1. Jason Heyward, about whom I had nothing negative to say, won the Braves' right field job with a stellar spring training and, frankly, no real competition from anyone on the roster. He mashed right out of the gate and was continuing to do so when he injured his thumb, which diminishes his Rookie of the Year chances but not his long-term prospects. His 11 homers, 42 walks and 45 RBI currently lead all qualified MLB rookies, and his .821 OPS is second only to Gaby Sanchez.

#2. Stephen Strasburg: I assume you've heard of him. If it's possible, he's been even better than expected, though for what it's worth, Walter Johnson doesn't think much of him.

After going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 11 minor league (AA and AAA) starts, he was promoted to Washington where they continued, for one game at least, to allow him to face minor league hitters. He beat the lowly Pirates like a Disney villain beats a wayward step-child, fanning 14 in seven innings and generally embarrassing them all night. He then proceeded to tie a record for strikeouts in his first three and first four career games, before his teammates' lousy defense and inexperience cost him a potential win against Atlanta on Monday night. Seems like he's gonna be OK.

#3. Mike Stanton: I've taken a lot of flak over the years for my criticism of Stanton - based mostly on the fact that players who strike out as often as he does in the minors rarely become successful major leaguers - and for a while there it looked like I was going to have to eat my words.

Stanton - whose full name is a much more interesting Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton - came out of the gate swinging, as he always does, and destroyed AA pitching for about two months. His .313/.442/.729 line gave him the Southern League lead in OBP, Slugging and of course OPS, and his batting average was 8th. Good time for a promotion, right?

Well, yes, but probably, given that he was still striking out about once every three and a half at-bats, you would think they'd want him to get some seasoning in AAA first, wouldn't you? See if he can hit Chris Waters' curveball, or Brandon McCarthy's change-up, or Clay Mortensen's slider or Brian Bruney's fastball or Michael Kirkman's assortment of junk before exposing him to (I kid you not...) Roy Halladay, Neftali Feliz, Jeff Niemann, C.J. Wilson, Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and, in case he wasn't already flabbergasted enough, R.A. Dickey, among others. Heck, Kevin Millwood even fanned him twice, and he sucks.

To date, he's hitting only .217 in the majors, having struck out in 30 of his 69 at-bats. Four of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases, including two homers, but he's clearly overmatched for the moment. let him get his feet wet against competition that's not so far over his head, and he may impress you next year.

#4. Jesus Montero, the biggest prospect in the Yankee system, has not hit quite as well as hoped so far this year. He's still hitting doubles and taking walks at a decent rate, but his batting average is down to about .250, perhaps due to bad luck or perhaps to all the work they're doing to develop his awkward catching mechanics.

He's hit .228 with a .665 OPS as a catcher so far this year, but .311 with a .948 OPS as a DH, so maybe he can't get out of his head when he's catching. He's only caught 20% of base stealers so far this year (18 of 90) but then the rest of the Scranton catching corps is even worse (2 for 24), so maybe he's not so bad and his pitchers just need to learn a slide step or something.

In any case, he hit .284/.324/.505 in June, so maybe he's coming around. I saw him hit a double and a triple at Lehigh Valley a couple of weeks ago, both off the wall, and he looks to me at least like the real thing. Look for him to heat up in the second half as he either gets more comfortable behind the plate or abandons catching all together, and look for him in the Bronx this September.

#5. Brian Matusz leads the AL with nine losses, but this belies the fact that he's actually pitched reasonably well for a rookie in his first long exposure to the majors, and this without any seasoning at AAA at all. Five of those nine losses occurred in Quality Starts, which happens a lot to pitchers on a team like the 2010 Orioles. If he can keep from getting dismayed by his teammates' porous defense and limp offense, he should turn out to be a very solid major league pitcher.

#6. Desmond Jennings was expected - by Baseball America and by me - to reach the majors in mid summer, and nothing he's done in the first half of the season has changed my mind. He's currently hitting .301/.376/.439 and is 19-for-20 in stolen bases at AAA Durham, but the Rays were in first place until a couple of weeks ago, and anyway, where would they put him?

Carl Crawford has been great, and Zorilla, while not the beast he was in 2009, and been fine too. BJ Upton is hitting only .226, but he's also the youngest and the best base stealer of the group, so they can't exactly bench him either. Probably they use one of those guys as a DH and then put either Hank Blalock or Willy Aybar on the bench, and DFA the other one. In fact, I fully expect them to come to this conclusion within the next couple of weeks or so. Mark my words.

#7. Buster Posey - I said the following about the young Giants' catcher in early March:

Posey will likely get some more seasoning in AAA, but assuming that he continues to hit the cover off the ball, he should be up in the majors for good by the end of May.

[...] If the Giants fall out of contention, he'll probably get more playing time in the majors, so they can help him develop, but if they can somehow stay within earshot of a playoff berth, look for them to give Molina the bulk of the playing time while Posey wiles away on the bench or in AAA.
And of course the Giants just traded Molina to the Rangers, which may or may not mean that they're bailing on 2010. While I would imagine that they still fancy themselves as contenders this year - they're currently 40-37, 5.5 games out in their own division with more than half the season left to play - it's likely that they also know that 55 of their remaining 85 games come against winning teams or teams with positive run differentials, and that they would have to leap-frog three teams to win their division this year.

If this isn't giving up but actually the first of a few steps in making a real push, Posey should be a help, though they'll need more of it.

While Posey has yet to really "hit" much in the majors, he was hitting .349 in the Pacific Coast League at the time of his promotion, and clearly has nothing left to prove down in the bushes. He isn't likely to bloom into the second coming of Mike Piazza in 2010, but he probably won't embarrass himself either.

#8. Pedro Alvarez. Well, he mashed at AAA, kind of the Giancarlo Cruz-Mike Stanton of the International League, hitting .277/.363/.533, with 13 homers and 68 strikeouts in 66 games. In the two weeks he's spent in the majors, he's hit only a buck-fifty-two and has made two errors at the hot corner, but then Andy LaRoche (.229/.295/.313) seems determined to give his job away, so Alvarez will get a chance to improve.

The Pirates, in dead last and with perhaps the worst offensive team in almost 40 years, have little to lose by giving him a chance to play. Look for him to eventually start to make some more contact and produce some power, though even at his best in the minors, he was striking out a little more than once per game, so don't expect that to change any time soon.

#9. Neftali Feliz leads the AL with 21 Saves as I write this, and he's struck out 37 batters in 34 innings with a 2.62 ERA. I'd say he's adjusted well to the majors. And if they keep him in the bullpen, then the control problems he showed as a starter may be behind him. That's probably asking a bit much, but it's not so outlandish as to be impossible.

#10. Carlos Santana did not seem fazed by his first exposure to AAA pitching. He hit .316/.447/.597 there, averaging an extra base hit in just about every other game and amassing more walks than strikeouts. While there was thought to be no rush - at least by me - to promote him to the majors, those numbers and the dismal performances of Lou Marson and Mike Redmond (a combined .200/.251/.270 with one homer between them) made it necessary to do something.

Enter Senior Evil Ways himself, who has hot .345 with four homers and more walks than strikeouts in his forts two weeks. Santana's not likely to keep hitting like this, but he's a good bet to finish the year with something like a .310 average and 15 or 20 homers, despite spending the first two months in the minors.

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