Tuesday, February 24, 2009

AL Central (Spring Training Notes)

Chicago White Sox


  • Without the employment of Joe Crede, the White Sox will be evaluating the play of Josh Fields at the hot corner.  The Sox will have Fields starting in their spring training opener on Wednesday, giving him the early opportunity to impress.  Fields took over third base in 2007 when Crede was sidelined with his first back injury and he emerged as a power threat, hitting a very Crede-like .244/.308/.480 with 23 home runs in 418 plate appearances.  Injuries and the play of Crede and Carlos Quentin kept Fields in the minor leagues until July at which point he was recalled and hit a putrid .156/.229/.188 in 35 plate appearances.  His defense at third has been atrocious which he has been attempting improve by fielding ground balls all off-season indicates that the White Sox will probably start the season with a very weak link on their left-side.  Veteran starter Mark Buehrle echoed the sentiments of having a consistent player at the position, telling Phil Rogers "We'll definitely miss him. The last couple of years, when he wasn't out there, a ground ball would be hit to third base and I'd think, 'That's an out,' and then turn around and see it go into left field. Nothing against the other guys, but Joe gets to balls they don't. He definitely spoils you."
    • Speaking of Crede, Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers says that the addition of Joe Crede immediately gives the Twins the inside edge for the AL Central.  Rogers writes that "the signing of Crede, along with Nick Punto's move from third base to shortstop, should give the Twins the kind of solid infield that once backed Brad Radke, Johan Santana, Kenny Rogers and a young Kyle Lohse."
    • White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on the loss of Joe Crede:  ''It's not pitching. He will make [the Twins'] pitching staff better because their defense will be a lot better. He will create double plays. He knows how to play the game. There is one player who didn't grow up with the Minnesota Twins organization, and he played like a Minnesota Twin. He's that type of player.  They will help him, yes. They got better? If Crede is on the field, they're going to be better. I don't think they'll win the division because of one player. They always had a good club and always will be in the pennant race, and you have to handle it the way we always handle it and see what happens.''
    • AJ Pierzynski chimes in regarding Joe Crede's departure and possibility of playing in the Dome: "I'm not a doctor, but I know when I was there [with the Twins], I know we had a different turf, but we had guys all the time that had healthy backs who were complaining about the field. Joe says he's healthy, so we'll see.''
  • White Sox captain Paulie Konerko has indicated that he would be open to a trade if the team deemed it necessary.  Although the 33-year-old first baseman will be a free agent at the end of the season, the White Sox may want to hold on to him for the duration of the season as Konerko is a very likely candidate to have a rebound season.  Last year, while battling a early season hand-injury, Konerko had his worst season since 2003, hitting .240/.344/.438 with 22 home runs in 514 at-bats.  Konerko's numbers were thwarted by bad luck thanks to a suppressed .247 batting average on balls in play even as he hit line drives 21.5% of the time.  His average on those line drives in play was .583, well below the MLB average of .718.  If he continues to swing like he did in 2008, his numbers should revert back towards his career line of .277/.352/.491.   


Minnesota Twins


  • Boof Bonser's arm ailments have officially sidelined him indefinitely this spring, as he will undergo exploratory surgery on his right shoulder Wednesday.  To me, Bonser was never going to be the late innings guy most wanted him to be.  Sure he had the velocity but several problem areas -- most notably, lacking the ability to get left-handed hitters out and pitching from the stretch -- would limit his success as a reliever.  His loss isn't as detrimental as losing Pat Neshek or Joe Nathan, it does however, create an issue of depth and now opens up a spot in the bullpen to compete over.  Philip Humber, R.A. Dickey, Rule 5 pick-up Jason Jones and Sean Henn all have the opportunity to win the now available position in the 'pen.  Of the four, I'd have to handicap Humber as the favorite, considering he is out of options.  Then again, Gardenhire has been infatuated with knuckleballers as of late and may consider bringing Dickey north.

Cleveland Indians


  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes asked Indians manager Eric Wedge whether star centerfielder Grady Sizemore's sinking batting average was of concern to the team.  After all, Sizemore has seen his BA drop from .290 in 2006 to .277 in 2007 to a career-low of .268 in 2008.  Wedge responded well:  "Batting average, unfortunately for a lot people, it's only been really noted in the last five or 10 years, that it is somewhat of an overrated stat. There are so many other numbers that are more important to a team winning a ballgame -- that's all that matters.  It doesn't worry me."  Batting average has long been categorized as "overrated" by many baseball researchers since the 1930s but has only become accepted in baseball circles in the last several decades.  Though a substantial portion of the media still reports a player's ability based on his BA only, there are plenty other statistics that show true production.  If you were to rank those three season of Sizemore's career based on his BA alone, you would say that 2006 was his best, followed by 2007, trailed by 2008.  Sizemore's OPS for those season (OBP plus SLG) was .907 in 2006, .854 in 2007 and .876 in 2008.  Using a more reliable indicator of performance like OPS and you see that 2008 was actually a better season for Sizemore than his batting average would suggest. 
Kansas City Royals
  • I have felt that the Kansas City Royals might be the team that surprises people in 2009.  According to the 1986 Baseball Abstract, Bill James found that "On the whole, there is an unmistakable advantage to teams that which finished well.  The difference is not enormous, but it is significant."  The Royals went 18-8 in September, finishing off the season the best in baseball and providing optimism to a fan base that had be deprived for quite some time.  If you buy into James's research, one would think that the Royals have the ability to improve in 2009.  Unfortunately, the team seems to make decision after decision that impedes their success.  The latest is the potential move of David DeJesus from the leadoff position to third in the batting order to accommodate for the newly acquired Coco Crisp.  DeJesus has been a lifetime hitter with a .360 career on-base percentage while Crisp has a .331 on-base percentage.  Clearly with DeJesus leading off, it gives the Royals better odds of having a runner on base.  What's more is that when the Royals won 18 of 26, DeJesus batted leadoff in 20 of those games and hit a whopping .388/.443/.565.  Ain't broke, don't fix it. 
Detroit Tigers


  • Jason Beck, MLB.com's Tigers beat writer, noted the anticipation Detroit has for Adam Everett, hoping that his acquisition will shore up the defense that was shoddy in 2008.  Interestingly enough, according to Beck, in efforts to find the best shortstop available, the team consulted John Dewan's Fielding Bible.  Everett was by far the best defensive shortstop in the National League in 2006, his last fully-healthy season, but his injury-shortened 2007 and his painful attempt to perform with the Twins in 2008 makes me question how much the 32-year-old Everett has in his tank.