Around the Diamond – 5.22.09

Let’s go Around the Diamond:

FIRST BASE
Adrian Gonzalez hit his 16th home run, which is excellent for him, but why in the world is he getting ANYTHING to hit right now? He’s the only major league hitter in their lineup right now. OK, maybe Scott Hairston with his .978 OPS and 5 HR & 5 SB in 107 ABs. But seriously, I cannot understand how Gonzalez has avoided the Barry Bonds treatment given how well he is doing, especially on the road. Anyway it’s great news for his fantasy baseball owners as he continues smash the ball. Meanwhile his Padres have won 7 straight and skyrocketed up to 2nd in the NL West.

SECOND BASE
It has been an awful quarter-season for the Cleveland Indians despite Cliff Lee following up his Cy Young season very nicely with a 2.90 ERA so far, Victor Martinez rising from the depths of last season with 7 HR already and Shin-Soo Choo proving his second half from 2008 was legitimate. Asdrubal Cabrera, like Choo, is showing that his .306 batting average & 8 HR performance in the second half of last year was a precursor for things to come. He has taken his .319 average, .380 on-base percentage and seven stolen bases to the leadoff spot in place of the struggling Grady Sizemore. The HR power hasn’t been there yet, but he is on pace for 46 2Bs. Most impressive about his 7 SBs so far is the 100% SB rate after going just 4-for-8 last year.

SHORTSTOP

It’s been a career quarter-season for Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett as he has already set a career high in home runs with 6 and could top his career high of 23 SB by the All-Star Break given how often the Rays run. Did I mention he is also hitting .375, good for 2nd-best in all of baseball? I told you it was the makings of a career year.

THIRD BASE

Mike Fontenot is losing at-bats to the likes of Bobby Scales thanks to a .140 May average in 50 at-bats. He was sharp in limited play last year which pumped up the expectations for him with full time at-bats coming into 2009, but so far he has been a limited power source while offering nothing else. His struggles appear to be a microcosm of the Cubs’ season so far. They are the 10th-best offense in the National League in terms of OPS and only five regulars have enough at-bats to qualify for the Batting Average title. Fontenot is better than a sub-Mendoza .193 batting average, but it will be hard for him to correct the issues from the bench. I wouldn’t cut bait just yet as nearly half of his hits (10 of 23) have gone for extra bases and he has nearly a 100-point split between his average and on-base percentage.

CATCHER
It seems if you have a last name that starts with an “M” and you’re a catcher-you’ve got a shot at being pretty good. It’s not just the 28 Molinas, either. Joe Mauer has been brilliant since his return hitting .429 with 9 HR and 28 RBI in just 77 at-bats. Almost as impressive is the fact that he has more walks than strikeouts. In fact, that is a common trait of some of the elite catchers so far this season. Both Mauer and Yadier Molina have 11 Ks to 15 BBs, Brian McCann has 10 Ks to 12 BBs, but Victor Martinez is back in a big way this year leading the majors in hitting at .384 but also just 17 Ks to his 25 BBs. Even Russell Martin’s ratio is very impressive despite having struck out more than he has walked. He is second to Martinez with 24 BBs and has just 30 Ks. Anything below 1.0 on a K:BB ratio is excellent while being at or near 1.0 is also very good. Once a player nears the 2.0 mark is when trouble ensues.

OUTFIELD

Baltimore’s Adam Jones is making a legitimate push for inclusion in the American League starting outfield for the All-Star game. Unfortunately, there is very little chance that gets voted in. There is always much debate and consternation over the fan voting process. Should it just be the half-season performance or a longer track record of quality performance? Is it fine to vote for whom you want to see regardless of performance (within reason) or are the fans obligated to put in the most “deserving” players? I think despite all of the annual groaning and moaning, the Midsummer Classic always has enough star power and ends being just fine—except when there is a tie. Back to Jones, he is hitting .372 with 9 HRs and 30 RBIs. Though perceived as a speedster, he has just 3 SBs and his career high in any year is 16 in 2006. His improvements give Baltimore an incredible 1-2-3 to with Brian Roberts, Jones and Nick Markakis.

And there is more firepower in the making for the O’s in the form of Nolan Reimold, who hit his 2nd home run tonight. He was hitting .394/.485/.743 with 9 HR, 27 RBI and 6 SB in 109 ABs at AAA-Norfolk. He is now in the midst of a 6-game hitting streak, but he might not stick around with the return of Luke Scott. That said, he most definitely SHOULD stick around for at least a good 150 ABs to see how he can do in the bigs. I think we’re done with the Felix Pie experiment despite just 83 at-bats. He is just 24 years old and has only 343 major league ABs, but he’s shown absolutely nothing thus far. If not Pie, Reimold is surely more deserving of a roster spot than Ty Wigginton or Lou Montanez. Either way, I think he deserves a good 100+ AB sample to show whether or not he’s ready, but I’m afraid he won’t be afforded as much.

Congratulations to Michael Cuddyer for notching baseball’s 112th cycle of the season. OK, so it was only the 4th, but that’s a lot for a season let alone a season not yet through May. It was also the 2nd by a Minnesota Twin. Cuddyer has raised his batting average an astounding 40 points since May 18th thanks to a 12-for-23 tear that his included 4 HR and 12 RBIs. Delmon Young might want to put his house on the market because there just aren’t going to be ABs for him in Minnesota. Carlos Gomez couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag, but he has strong defense while Cuddyer, Denard Span and Jason Kubel are hitting remarkably well this season. Young is still just 23 and I do think he will emerge into a very strong player, but I just don’t know if it happens in Minnesota. Cuddyer is the oldest of the bunch and still just 30 years old and signed through 2010 with an option for ’11. Young, meanwhile, is only signed through the end of this year.

PITCHER
Moving to the mound, but staying in Minnesota, Kevin Slowey continued his resurgence with a third straight strong start. He went 7+ strong giving up 2 while striking out 4 and of course walking nobody. I say of course because he’s walked just four all year. He is now 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 14-to-2 K:BB ratio in his last three starts. His season ERA now sits at 4.23 which is a far cry from the 5.51 it was at when he started this mini run. I’ve been advocating him all season despite the high ERA because of his brilliant control. I just didn’t see any way someone with his skills would continue with such a poor ERA. With a 6-1 record and an ERA no longer residing in the stratosphere, the window to buy low is likely shut entirely. I’d still pay dollar-to-dollar to get him.

Kenshin Kawakami was awful in April thanks in large part to an 8 ER outing that closed the month and boosted his ERA to 7.06. As such, he was being mentioned as a candidate for removal from the rotation to be replaced by phenom Tommy Hanson or surprise minor leaguer, Kris Medlen. Alas he was not replaced and he’s responded with a pretty strong May included the best start of his season on Friday night against the league’s best scoring offense. He shut out the Blue Jays for 8 innings matching Roy Halladay pitch for pitch in a 1-0 battle. Kawakami outlasted the uber-ace yielding just 3 hits while striking out 7 and walking nobody. His ERA is back down to a 4.73 and he has managed an impressive 8.2 K/9.

Kyle Farnsworthless is apparently not too keen on the nickname I’ve given him. In fact, I’ve had to table the moniker for a whole month as Farnsworth hasn’t yielded a run since April 21st. He has gone 12 straight appearances spanning 12 and 2/3rds innings striking out 12 and walking just 2. Now is the part where I mention they have lost 8 of those 12 games and 5 of them were by 4 or more runs. Three of the four wins were by 6+ runs. In the 4th win, they were down 5-1 in the top of the 9th when he pitched and they came back to win it 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th. I’ll get to use my nickname again… just as soon as the Royals foolishly insert him into a high leverage situation. Don’t buy this stretch.

Finally, George Sherrill has taken over as the undisputed closer in Baltimore. Forget for a second that Chris Ray has absolutely sucked, the reason is because Sherrill has been very good. A couple of 2-run outings inflated his ERA in April, but he has allowed just one run in eight May appearances bringing his ERA to 3.06. He has 4 SVs and 9 Ks in that same stretch. He has only allowed 9 base runners, but 5 have been via the walk. Sherrill only walked 2 in April so he can exhibit some control from time to time, but regardless you can’t deny how well he has pitched in May. Whether Erik Bedard continues to pitch with a sub-3.00 ERA or not, it is clear that the Baltimore Orioles got more than a fair return for him when they traded with Seattle. I’ve covered two of the pieces coming back just in this show and another, Chris Tillman, is 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 44 Ks in eight starts spanning 38 innings in AAA-Norfolk. If the O’s were in just about any other division, they would be contenders by 2010, but in that AL East it is tough to know whether they will have enough firepower to overcome that amazingly deep division.

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