Tuesday, February 26, 2008

American League Central Update (Spring Training Edition)

Chicago White Sox

  • The man who affectionately refers to himself "Swish-a-licious", or as Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times describes him as, Mr. Electricity, reported to Tucson with his new team. Swisher, a former Buckeye, had some previous connections with Jim Thome, then with the Cleveland Indians: ''I couldn't believe a big-league player like that was actually talking to someone like me. I was like, 'Oh man, this guy is the greatest guy ever.' So that was a good story for a while. Then after that we ended up hooking back up at a tailgate party at an Ohio State game. Just a great guy, man. A gentle giant and automatic Hall of Famer. Now, I get to be his teammate.''
  • Swish has absolutely mashed the majority of AL Central: In 103 plate appearances against the Twins, Swisher accumulated a .250/.373/.476 batting line with 11 extra base hits (52% xbh%). But he has also compiled a decent career against Cleveland (123 pa, .290/.382/.486, 48% xbh%) and Kansas City (112 pa, .236/.384/.483, 47% xbh%). The only team he has not faired well against is the Detriot Tigers where in 93 plate appearances has hit .211/.344/.355 with 5 extra base hits (31% xbh%). Still trading the majority of your remaining elite prospects for this kind of output is not exactly a good practice, regardless of his prior performance. Plus I can't help put hate his stupid abbreviation slang: "If you want to hit 35 homers or more in this league, you have to go to the 'oppo,' " said Swisher, using his slang for the opposite field. Couple Swisher with AJ Pierzynski and Gaaaaaaawwwd, I'm going to enjoy hating this team.
  • It is probably just the white Minnesotan but I think how Ozzie Guillen describes newly dictator-less Cuban infielder/centerfielder Alexi Ramirez just sounds as if it would cause an uproar if the same words were uttered by Ron Gardenhire: ''[Ramirez] should be doing a commercial already,'' Guillen said Friday, pointing to his new infielder. ''He should have a man with his arm around him, saying, 'Hello, if you send $2 to the number below, you can help feed this kid from Ethiopia.'''
  • Second base candidate Danny Richar is proving that it is not just Twins stuck outside the country and is late to report to spring training. It is a shame for the youngster who hit .230/.289/.406 - an out machine with power - from July 28th on last season in 206 plate appearances. He is up against stiff competition from the jaded Juan Uribe (who was displaced at short by Orlando Cabrera) and Ramirez.

Detroit Tigers

  • Gary Sheffield, in the midst of his feud with former agent Scott Boras, is at least warning of becoming to "complacent" as he speaks from his 2004 New York Yankees experience, a team that acquired Sheff and Alex Rodriguez prior to the beginning of the season and were touted as the early favorites to win the World Series (despite not having a solid starting pitcher in the rotation). You can easily see parallels of the 2004 Yankees squad and the 2007 Tigers team that has brought on Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis but still has a questionable rotation outside of Verlander and Bonderman.
  • ESPN's Jayson Stark penned a column recently bringing that fact to our attention. Maybe I am just grasping at straws as well, but I have previously outlined why I think the hype about the Tigers is grossly overinflated. They certainly are a playoff caliber team, but I don't quite think they are the be-all, end-all.
  • Warning! Feelgoodery ahead: Detroit News' Tom Gage profiled French-Canadian minor league catcher Max St. Pierre who nearly destroyed his career and his life with alcohol.

    "When I drank," St. Pierre said, "it became easier for me to talk to people, to talk to girls. Suddenly, they liked my accent because it sounded funny. They enjoyed it. They thought it was cute. They weren't laughing at me anymore. That's how I started down, going out more, getting in that routine. But I would drink and show up at the field the next day not remembering what I'd learned. I could play defense, but hitting was too involved for me to remember. I was more pumped about getting done with the game and going out. When I had a day off, I'd start drinking in the afternoon and get lit all day." Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth never used it as an excuse, in fact, I believe they would have described booze as a performance-enhancing drug for those two. But yeah, truly inspiring. Don't do drugs kids.

Cleveland Indians

  • This is the epitome of spring training baseball writing: fluff story on first baseman Ryan Garko and outfielder candidate Ben Francisco who played high school ball together in Anaheim. The story culminates in a tale of how the tandem's senior year team managed to blow the state championship after being up 10-0 with two outs to go before the mercy rule took effect. (Former Twins draft pick and current Toronto Blue Jay Brian Wolfe was their pitcher who surrendered several home runs including a grand slam and ultimately lost 18-17.) I would bet that even after last season's playoff elimination to Boston on a grander scale, the high school loss stings more when prodded. Those you never forget.
  • The Tribe has signed Jason Tyner to a minor league deal. Tyner is resigning with the team in which he spent from July 30th to October 15th in 2004 with triple-A Buffalo where he hit .345/.420/.388 in 157 plate appearances and helped created 6.57 runs per game for the Indian affiliate. Without a doubt it was this performance that spurred the Twins to offer a minor league deal to this on-base machine. Cleveland, a team that frequently deploys platoons, most likely has signed Jason Tyner because of his left-handed bat that hit .299/.333/.374 in 259 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2007 with the Twins and hit .325/.363/.380 in 179 pa's in 2006.
  • From the Blind Faith files: Josh Barfield still thinks he has a shot at winning the starting second base position away from second-half sensation Asdrubal Cabrera. Barfield hit a pitiful .243/.270/.324 which was punctuated by his 3.1% walk rate and 20.2% strike out rate in 444 plate appearances. Cabrera, on the other hand, added a spark to a team that was in a dog-race with Detroit for the AL Central. Cabrara, in his 143 plate appearances, hit .283/.354/.421 with a 9.1% walk rate (he drew 3 more walks than Barfield in 258 less plate appearances) and a 15.5% strike out rate. While Cabrera had an extra base hit percentage of 31%, Barfield managed to get extra bases in just 24% of his. In 1,032 innings at second, Barfield made 14 errors (a surprising 6 throwing), a revised zone rating of .784 with 41 balls out of zone. Though Cabrera played a considerable amount less (321 innings), he put up much more confidence inspiring numbers including only 1 error (fielding), a revised zone rating of .850 and nabbed 14 balls out of zone. Both offensively and defensively Cabrera has Barfield shook.
  • Oddly enough, the Barfield acquisition could go down as one of the worst in Mark Shapiro's tenure. He parted with Andrew Brown, a right-handed reliever, and Kevin Kouzmanoff for Barfield. Barfield contributed 0 Win Shares Above Bench while Kouzmanoff provided San Diego with 5. Kouz was putting together a good season at the plate. In 524 plate appearances, Kouzmanoff hit .275/.329/.457 with 18 home runs. Cleveland was convinced that Andy Marte was destined to be at third, but since the trade the Tribe has had to use Casey Blake because Marte has not adapted to major league pitching. On the other hand, Shapiro's acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera could also be construed as one of his best, stealing this prospect away from the Seattle Mariners for Eduardo Perez on June 30th, 2006. Cabrera finished the year off in Buffalo while Perez hit .195/.304/.241 for the Mariners down the home stretch. In 2007, Cabrera was 3 Win Shares Above Bench as Perez finished the second-half of the 2006 season -1 WSAB.

Kansas City Royals

  • Even though I am an advocate of rooting for underdogs, I still can't get psyched up by this year's Royals team. Offensively, I am a demi-fan of Mark Teahen, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon (I secretly covet them in my forthcoming fantasy drafts), but I don't like Jose Guillen or Joe Buck (good start, bad finish). I do like Meche and think that both Bannister and Soria will have very good years, but I think Brett Tomko is silly. I like the direction this team is finally taking. But there is no way I can see the Royals overtaking Cleveland or Detroit (dare I even say the Twins?). Zip-zilch-nada. Write that down. The Stars' Joe Ponanski gives us a take at why they will be the surprise team this year. Tongue in cheeky.
  • In there Ponanski quotes a scout as saying: There’s a surprise story in baseball every year. Look at Colorado last year. Look at Florida when the Marlins won it. Look at the Tigers when they went to the World Series. It happens every year. You need a couple of players to really emerge, and you need the rest of the team to play consistently every game. However, this is all hooey and here's why: the players like to cite the most recent Cinderella teams like Colorado that emerged last year after going 76-86 to claim the wild card team at 90-72. This is typically possible in the arguably weaker National League. Since the Twins and Atlanta Braves went from worst in 1989 (the Yankees finished with a worse record than the Twins but whatever) to first in 1991, all three teams that finished last in their division rebounded the following season came from the National League. In fact, two of the teams came from the NL West (Arizona '98-'99 and San Diego '97-'98). Unfortunately for the Royals a balance of their schedule consists of teams in the AL Central. Is my logic any better than that of the quoted scout? No, but at least I have some evidence to the contrary.
  • Mark Teahen is displaced yet again, this time relinquished to left field per the request (demand?) of new arrival Jose Guillen. Despite a decline in his offensive potancy, Teahen showed that he has a HOSE of an arm, pegging of 17 base-runners, second only to Michael Cuddyer. In 2007, Teahen had the fourth-best revised zone rating in the AL (.871) only behind Bobby Abreu, Alex Rios and Magglio Ordonez. In fewer innings, Teahen was able to reach more balls out of zone (48) then any other right fielder. Guillen, however, had a weaker rzr (.857), made two more errors then Teahen and also had a weaker arm (9 kills) yet the guy with the bigger contract gets to come in and tell people where they are going to play.

Minnesota Twins

  • After La Velle's profile, I think I like Mike Lamb even more. Gardy gives him the nickname "Deputy Dog". His defense will be suspect at third but I am confident that he will have to worry less about range due to Adam Everett and I like his bat. As a career .281/.339/.427 hitter that has had much better seasons the previous two years with Houston. In his limited time, he has proven to get on base (as highlighted by his .366 and .361 obp in 2007 and 2006, respectively) and hit for power (.453 and .471 slugging ). He also finished with high extra base hit rates (30% and 31.6%).
  • Which brings me to Matt Macri. Somebody asked what my feelings towards Matt Macri. My sentiment is that in a perfect world, he would emerge as the platoon partner with Mike Lamb at third. He has shown flashes of the strong, right-handed bat the Twins need when lefties are on the mound. In double-A Tulsa last year, the right-handed hitting Marci finished .299/.350/.504 in 297 plate appearances. This was a significant change from his prior track record. He had not hit that good since his low-A 2004 season when he finish batting .333/.404/.569. In an early article, I attributed this resurgence of offense on his final position stability. He had been rotated to every position on the infield after starting as a shortstop in 2004 and finally landing on third in 2007. One commentor added clarity: "Macri's improvement had a great deal to do with technique. In about November and December, 2006 Macri returned to his former hitting instructor, Mark Wetzel, of Omaha, Nebraska. Wetzel took Macri back to the techniques that he and Macri worked on prior to the start of Macri's sophomore year at Norte Dame which was Macri's break out year and led to his high draft selection by the Rockies. When you look at the stats, Macri's production has improved dramatically each time he has worked with Wetzel. He stayed with Wetzel throughout the 2007 campaign and it showed. The unique thing about this story is that Mark Wetzel is legally blind! See www.blindguyhitting.com" Sure enough, you can see that if the aforementioned coaching is true then it has greatly improved Macri's hitting. Unfortunately, his overall performance in the Arizona Fall League dissipated after his first 46 at-bats where he was hitting .283/.313/.522 with 2 home runs for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. He finished with 101 at-bats but with a much lower .257/.315/.406 and did not hit another home run. He did finish with 11 xbhs (41% xbh%), leading the team with 9 doubles. He has a lot of work ahead of him in spring training if he plans to change minds. The most likely scenario will be for him to start in triple-A and await an injury.