Thursday, May 29, 2008

Markakis vs. Hart

As I previously posted, I have a running wager this season with a friend regarding the performance of Nick Markakis of the Orioles and Corey Hart of the Brewers. As it is turning out, we could not have picked two more similar players through the first two months. Here are their respective stats as of today:

Nick Markakis: 187 at bats .251/.367/.433 9(hr) 24(rbi) 7(sb) 28(r) 47(h) 7(2b) 0(3B) 33(bb) 43(k)

Corey Hart: 196 at bats .296/.347/.464 6(hr) 27(rbi) 9(sb) 26(r) 58(h) 11(2b) 2(3b) 13(bb) 40(k)

The only significant difference is that Hart has a higher batting average, which Markakis makes up for with walks (leading to a higher OBP). I still feel pretty good about the wager, though. To this point, Markakis and the Orioles have played above their heads (the Orioles are 26-26 right now) and should slow down - in fact they have lost seven of their last ten games. The Brewers, on the other hand, have been unable to get things going. They are currently 26-27 and while they may not be as good as I thought before the season, I still expect them to pick up the pace. I somehow doubt that Prince Fielder will stay on pace to only hit 19 homeruns this season (after hitting 50 last season).

So, I believe that while Markakis' stats are the best you can hope for out of him considering the performance of his team and the players around him, Hart has considerable room for improvement once his team begins to play better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Watched: 5-20-08 Smorgasbord

As I looked through the schedule yesterday I realized that there really wasn't one game that stood out from the others. I wanted to see Cole Hamels pitch, I was curious to see how the Royals and Red Sox would respond to the no-hitter yesterday, the return of Alex Rodriguez might be interesting - so I watched them all simultaneously. It is pretty amazing how much you can catch when you flip between eight or so games at a time. Here is a sampling of my observations on the evening:

Orioles at Yankees - I flipped to this channel just as Derek Jeter was getting hit in the hand by Daniel Cabrera. He was taken out of the game (x-rays show no broken bones) immediately. What was striking was the crowd. The Yankees were already down by nine runs and have been struggling with injuries all season. I think every Yankee fan feared the worst. The crowd wasn't silent, it was just filled with quiet murmuring. I think the fans know that they are on the brink of losing this season.

I missed it later on when the Yankees retaliated and a brawl almost ensued. A-Rod also hit a homerun in his return (I didn't see that either).

Seattle at Detroit - This game was ugly early, with Carlos Silva giving up seven runs in the first four innings. I think there is an interesting comparison between Carlos Silva and Gil Meche. The Mariners had Meche and could have resigned him in 2007 for 5 years and $55M (well, that's what he signed for with the Royals, the Mariners probably could have had him for less), but instead let him go and then signed Silva before this season for 4 years and $48M. They are both 29 years old and both are struggling somewhat this season, but they should provide an interesting side-by-side comparison over the life of their contracts.

In a similar vein, who was the last big money free agent that really performed up to the value of the contract for his team? Alex Rodriguez with Texas (then why would they trade him)? Manny Ramirez with Boston (he was placed on waivers a couple of years ago)? I can think of a lot more big money free agents that have busted since they signed with another team than guys that were successful (here's a fun list: Barry Zito, Gary Matthews, Jr., Jason Schmidt, Carl Pavano, Juan Pierre, Mike Hampton, Andruw Jones - so far, etc.).

Kansas City at Boston - Speaking of Meche, he pitched tonight against Boston and did a fine job. He lasted seven innings and struck out eight, while giving up two runs on five hits. Unfortunately, the Royals offense sputtered again - at least they got a few hits this time, but they only scored one run and Meche gets the loss. This is one of the games that I flipped to for a while, but almost nothing happened while I watched. It happens, but on the other hand...

Chicago at Houston - ...sometimes you just get lucky: I flipped to this game just as Ryan Dempster walked Geoff Blum to load the bases, bringing Hunter Pence to the plate. Pence drilled a pitch the other way over the rightfield wall for a grand slam and the only runs that Houston would need to win. I know I'm not the only one to mention this, but is Hunter Pence the most awkward player in the major leagues? He is tremendously athletic, but he just looks odd doing everything.

Washington at Philadelphia - This is the game that I ended up watching the most. Cole Hamels reminds me a lot of Johan Santana in that his changeup is just a devastating pitch. His fastball is in the low 90's, but it must look like it is 110 after he throws one of his disappearing 81mph changeups. He shut down Washington for seven innings and struck out eleven.

The other thing I couldn't help noticing in this game was Wily Mo Pena. He didn't do anything spectacular in the game (he doubled in four at bats), but he looks like a linebacker. He is listed on as being 6'3" and 268lbs. That might even be a little heavy for a linebacker. But he isn't fat at all (unlike his teammate Dmitri Young, who looks like he just swallowed a wheel from a pitching machine - has him listed at 298lbs and he's every bit of that). In fact, you could probably put Pena at strong side linebacker, Elijah Dukes at middle linebacker (6'2" 241lbs) and Ryan Zimmerman at weak side linebacker (6'3" 228lbs) and you'd have a linebacking corps as big and athletic as the one that plays for the Redskins.

One final thing from this game: what happened to Christian Guzman? The Nationals signed him in 2005 and he was horrifyingly bad, putting up a .219/.260/.314 line. In fact, he had only had one decent (and partial - 118 games played) year in his whole career and that was in 2001 (.302/.337/.477). His career numbers are .265/.303/.382. Last year he played in only 46 games, but played well in those games (.328/.380/.426) and so far this year he has played in 45 games and put up a line of .311/.333/.459. Who is this guy?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Watched: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals - 5/13/08

I attended the Pirates/Cardinals game in St. Louis on Tuesday night and the game had all of the drama, euphoria and heartbreak that make baseball the greatest sport. Both starting pitchers threw extremely well early, with only a Nate McLouth two-run homer in the fourth inning as a blemish on the scorecard.

Phil Dumatrait was cruising until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Troy Glaus came to the plate with two outs and two runners on. Glaus has struggled so far in his tenure with St. Louis, but came through with a blast that just made it over the left-centerfield wall to give St. Louis the lead. Here is what Glaus' follow-through looked like from the seats my friends and I claimed via adverse possession:

[as always, you can click on the picture for a larger view]

The Cardinals lead did not last long, as the wheels started to wobble for Kyle Lohse in the seventh and he gave up another pair of runs. Albert Pujols did his thing in the eighth, though, and tied the game with a bomb to leftfield. The Cardinals had great opportunities to put the game away, with runners on first-and-third after the Pujols homer in the eighth and a bases loaded situation in the ninth, but the game was destined for extra innings. Late in the game I leaned over the Cardinals bullpen and took this picture:

"Ok, whoever wants to blow the game tonight, raise your right leg. Great, go out there and do your thing, Villone."

I'm not even going to go into what happened in the tenth, but suffice it to say that it was ugly. Villone was allowed to pitch the entire inning and gave up four runs on four hits and two walks.

And finally, just because it is one of my favorite things to take pictures of, here is a sequence of Kyle Lohse's pitching motion, which looks pretty clean to me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Watched: Kansas State @ Missouri

I finally got around to making the trip to Columbia to see the Tigers (and especially Aaron Crow). The Tigers have been in a little bit of a slump, dropping their national ranking from #4 to #15. Aaron Crow was on the mound on Friday and they hoped to change their luck.

Aaron looked pretty strong in the first few innings, despite giving up a run in each of the first two. Aside from a double to lead off the game, Kansas State's hits were all ground balls that found their way through the infield. Crow combined an overpowering fastball with a wipeout slider to rack up the strikeouts.

The Mizzou offense was firing on all cylinders early, as well. After two innings the score was 7-2 and Aaron Senne and Jacob Priday had both homered. Priday would add another later, as would Trevor Coleman and Ryan Lollis. Here is a three picture sequence of Priday's second homerun:

The leftfielder never moved [Note: you can click on the pictures for a full-sized view].

Mizzou held on to win 13-10, but the story was Aaron Crow. He seemed to have the ability to 'turn it on' and become dominant when he needed to, but other times he seemed to lose focus. Maybe he was just hurting, though. Crow came out of the game in the sixth inning with an injury. It looked to me like he was grabbing at his lower back. [UPDATE: It has been reported that he had muscle spasms in his back, which as far as I know did not recur during the rest of Missouri's season] I hadn't noticed any deterioration in his stuff, but he had been a little wild in the inning (in which he gave up 3 runs - two earned - and left with men on first and second).

There are some concerns about Crow's mechanics - check out this picture of his delivery where his throwing elbow is above his throwing shoulder:

I believe that is what Chris O'Leary would call an 'inverted W', which is a warning sign (according to Chris). In the link above for Chris O'Leary, he breaks down Crow's delivery and explains why the 'inverted W' is a bad thing. He also talks about a red herring in Crow's delivery: the wrist wrap. O'Leary's conclusion is that the wrist wrap is not a red flag, and that may be, but it is odd looking in person:

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in seeing Crow in person. He has been tabbed as a top five pick in the draft, but he was far too inconsistent to me. His flashes of dominance showed what he is capable of, but I'm not sure that is enough for a top five pick.

As a bonus, here is three picture sequence of Trevor Coleman ripping a pitch into leftfield:

Coleman is a switch hitting catcher who hits for power and average from both sides of the plate. He seemed to handle himself well behind the plate, too, as he threw out a runner trying to steal and did a good job of blocking pitches in the dirt. He is only a Sophmore this year, but I would expect him to get some early draft consideration in 2009.