30 June 2011

Posada's Resurgence, Royals' Rotation, and the Tribe's Return to Earth

We're about halfway through the 2011 baseball season, which seems like a good time to recap some of the more interesting developments in the major leagues this year.  There is, of course, no shortage of such stories to consider, but a few of them that caught my eye are...

Jorge Posada:

Yankees' DH Jorge Posada, after infamously taking himself out of the lineup (he was hitting .165/.272/.349 at the time), has gone on an absolute tear, as I suggested he might.  Since that day off and the media circus that followed it, Posada has hit .330/.398/.516.  More important, perhaps, is that his BABiP skyrocketed from .164 to .375.

He had hit half a dozen homers in the first three weeks of the season, and perhaps fell in love a bit with his longball stroke, to the detriment of the rest of his approach.  He had no doubles to that point in the season and managed only two of them - and no homers - in the next three weeks before Bench-gate.  In any case, he's got eight doubles in the 103 plate appearances since then, plus three homers, so clearly he seems to be hitting with authority again.

Of course, Posada has only hit like this for a full season once in his life, and that was in 2007, at which time he was a spry young hatchling (catchling?) of 35, not a creaky, 39-year old DH.  That required him to hit about 60 points above his career BABiP for the whole year, which just isn't likely to happen again, but Posada should be able to finish this streaky season with somewhat respectable numbers.

The Royals' ...umm..."Pitching" Rotation

The Kansas City Royals announced recently that they would be going to a 6-man starting pitching rotation, at least until the All-Star Break.  Royals Authority makes a decent point in that such an arrangement should theoretically reduce the number of innings on the fragile, young arm of Danny Duffy, the one starting pitching on this team who has the potential a few years from now to be something more than "older".

At first glance, this seemed to me rather like making up for the fact that your only cars are a rusty old Ford Pinto and an AMC Pacer by also buying a Trabant.  Sure, that car's a piece of crap, too, but at least dispersing the load between three cars (or, you know, six) reduces the chances of your bursting into flames when someone rear-ends your Pinto, right?  The distinction, of course, is that someday Duffy might develop into a Camaro, or at least a Camry, while Kyle Davies is likely to always be a Chevette.

Still, this seems like a problem with a more conventional solution to me: Put Davies in the bullpen.  He's been terrible in just about any situation this season - you don't amass a 7.46 ERA by being good once in a while - but for his career he's slightly better in the first couple of innings than he is during the later ones.  Make him a long reliever.  Let him focus on his low 90's fastball and curve and use his change up and slider/cutter only sparingly, and maybe he'll surprise you by being useful.

Lots of sub-mediocre starters have proven to be effective relievers, a list too long to bother naming.  Kyle Davies is 27 years old and has a career adjusted ERA 23% worse than the leagues in which he's pitched.  He's only pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title once and only once finished a season with an ERA that wasn't awful, i.e. with 10% below average.  What exactly do they have to lose?

Pushing this guy out there every six days may save a couple of starts on Duffy's arm, but it also means that the bullpen and/or the bench are that much more shorthanded.  Given that most of the rest of the rotation is pretty terrible too, they're going to need bullpen arms more than they need a 6th starter.  Lets' not forget that the birth of the 5-man rotation was mostly because the Dodgers of the early 1970's actually had five good starters (Claude Osteen, Bill Singer, Don Sutton, Al Downing and Tommy John), not because they couldn't decide which of the five lousy ones was lousy enough to earn a demotion.  The 2011 Royals have no such conundrum: Davies ought to go grab some pine.

Whither the Tribe?

Hey!  Remember those heady days of Early May when the Cleveland Indians looked like they were young, hungry upstarts with surprising talent, running away with the AL Central Division title?  They were 20-8, had a 4.5 game lead on their closest competition - the Royals, heady days indeed - and everyone was talking about how this might be their year to surprise everyone.

Granted, they're still in 1st place two months later, but now tied with the Tigers, they've gone just 22-29 since that hot start, with their offense as the main culprit.  Having scored about 5.4 runs per game in the first month or so of the season, they've averaged just 3.7 runs per contest since then.  They've got some decent pitching talent (Masterson, Carrasco, maybe Tomlin), but until they get Shin Soo Choo back or they get the kinds of performances they anticipated from the likes of Grady Sizemore or Carlos Santana, the Tribe can expect little more than to be overtaken by the Tigers.

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