Player Focus 5.25.06

Phenom Upton Struggling at the Plate
The Arizona Diamondbacks came out of the gates absolutely on fire this season and it was due in large part to the play of Justin Upton. Upton was destroying the ball leading to five home runs and 15 runs batted in. The struggles from his 2007 cup of coffee was seen merely as growing pains, Upton had arrived. Whoops. I think that’s why they say it’s a marathon not a sprint. Upton has been a disaster in May hitting just .224. He has struck out in 45% of his at-bats and has just one home run.

The silver lining to an awful May is that Upton has garnered 17 walks good enough for a .388 on-base percentage. From the available data, it looks like he is simply waiting too long in hopes of getting his pitch. On 3-2 counts, he has 14 walks and 12 strike outs. He is hitting just .042 in that situation as well. When he is first pitch swinging, he is hitting .500 and a strong .474 on 1-0 & 1-1 counts combined. It stands to reason that he needs to once again be aggressive in order to get out of his slump.

Duchscherer Chucks Eight Scoreless, Nets 4th Win
The 2007 season was a lost one for Oakland A’s pitcher Justin Duchscherer. Injuries shut him down after just 16.3 innings work. Prior to that, he was a bullpen ace for the A’s in three straight seasons. From 2004-2006, Duchscherer worked 237.7 innings with a 2.80 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He struck out 7.4 batters per nine with a 3.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. During this past offseason, the A’s decided that Duchscherer would be a bigger asset to them in their rotation.

After all, they had jettisoned their ace (yet again) to Arizona for a cornucopia of pieces and there was a ton of uncertainty after Joe Blanton and oft-injured Rich Harden. Duchscherer threw a 5-inning pearl on April 4th against the Cleveland Indians but then missed the next three weeks before throwing another strong 5 innings against the Seattle Mariners on April 26th.

Duchscherer improved to 4-3 and dropped his WHIP below 1.00 with eight shutout, one-hit innings against the Boston Red Sox tonight. It’s incredible to think that a pitcher with a 2.16 ERA and 0.98 WHIP would be a 4th starter. Of course, that’s merely his position in the rotation—The Duke has clearly been one of the best A’s pitchers. As the season wears on, it’ll be interesting to see how many quality innings the A’s can get out of an arm used to going about 80 innings per season. With six quality starters (Blanton, Harden, Duke, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and Chad Gaudin), the A’s will have the flexibility to ensure they maximize their rotation. If you assumed that Duchscherer was good for 160 innings this season, he’d have 119 left in the tank. Giving him an average of 6 per would leave him with 19 more starts. Now that is hardly scientific. Fact is, that no matter how much I love The Duke (I own him in every league I can), I know that he isn’t likely to reach the 100s in innings due simply to fatigue as opposed to performance. For now, I’ll enjoy the ride.

Votto Blasts 10th; Drives in 4 More
We all know that Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker isn’t particularly bright. He runs arms ragged (usually for no reason) and makes awful personnel decisions. Take for example the fact that rookie phenom Joey Votto started just 20-of-29 games for the Reds in April. After all, you have to get Scott Hatteberg in the lineup. I don’t mean to hate on Hatteberg. He has a tremendous eye with a career .362 on-base percentage and 59 more walks than strikeouts (562 to 503), but 12-home run power out of first base is unacceptable. Votto a hit a quarter of that total in one game earlier this month and with his 10th home run of the season tonight in San Diego, he is establishing himself as a full-time major league ballplayer.

Not only does Votto the typical run-production skills needed at corner infield, but with 40 stolen bases in his past two seasons down in the minors he has shown that he can run a bit if needed. That speed is more likely to show up in 1st-to-3rd movement and hustling out an infield single here and there than it is in the stolen base column. He could threaten double-digit totals, but I’d be surprised to see him match that 20 stolen base average from 2006-2007. Generally, a rookie with a line like Votto’s would be setting himself up for Rookie of the Year contention, but the National League has some stiff competition for that hardware this season and it comes from the same team. Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto and Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome are both bonafide contenders for the award, with Soto the early leader. Award winner or not, Votto has been great thus far and could possibly set a career-high in home runs this season (22 in both 2006 and 2007 with Chattanooga & Louisville, respectively).


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