More Fast Starts

Hideki Matsui

Matsui is still somewhat of a mystery.  A number of pundits - mostly from New York - claim that he's already proved that he's the real deal.  Some are even suggesting that he'll be an MVP candidate or finish in the top 10 in RBI in the AL.  That may be true.  But it's hard to say for sure when 40% of his games so far have come against the Devil Rays.  Oddly enough, he's hit worse against them than he has against superior Minnesota and Toronto pitching staffs.  Still, his record against the good American League pitchers he's faced - Roy Halladay, Cory Lidle, Johan Santana and Kyle Lohse - is 3-for-17 with no walks and no extra-base hits, with two of the hits coming off Santana.

One thing that has been apparent early on is that teams are trying to get him out on the outside of the plate, but without establishing the inner half.  Can he fight off pitches on his hands?  Can he lay off breaking pitches inside?  It will be interesting to find out.  It'll also be interesting to see how he reacts the first time he's hit with a pitch or given chin music.

One other important thing to consider: Japanese power numbers have not translated well to the majors.  In fact, of the hitters who have come to the majors from Japan, all have hit about half as many home runs per season in the majors as they averaged in Japan.  Orestes Destrade averaged 44 homers a season (actually, per 500 at bats) for his career in the Far East, but hit just 20 in his only full season in the majors.  Ichiro Suzuki averaged 16 per year over there, but just 8 over here.  Tsyoshi Shinjo averaged 19 a season; his best year here was 10.  Matsui has averaged 35 a season in Japan so it follows some logic that he won't hit nearly that many here.

The Godzilla euphoria should last about another week, and then his batting average will mysteriously begin to drop.  Why?  Because in one week, the Yankees begin a string of 21 games in which they play the Angels, Mariners and A's 18 times.  All three of those teams have solid pitching staffs that are aggressive on the inside of the plate.  My guess is that he finishes the season around .285 with 18-20 homers and 95 RBI.  Solid numbers, but far shy of the early season hype.

Milton Bradley

Bradley has struggled through his first three seasons in the majors, but is at the point now where things should start to come together for him.  And apparently they are.  He's off to a torrid start, which has a lot of people talking about something other than his name.  The player he was most often compared to in the minor leagues, at least in terms of talent, was Rondell White.  If he can avoid White's injury bug, his peak production should be similar - 25 homers a season, as many as 20 steals.  While it's probably still too early to expect that kind of production this season, 15-18 homers and maybe a dozen steals is not a stretch.

Kevin Millar

This guy gets absolutely no respect, despite putting up respectable numbers every year.  Over that last 3 seasons in Florida, Kevin Millar has been given 1146 at bats, or roughly two seasons worth of at bats if he were playing full time.  If we compact his three seasons into two, we get a player who has hit .298 with 47 doubles, 25 homers, 92 RBI and 78 runs scored per season (573 at bats).  Additionally, he'd walk 58 times, giving him an on base of .369.  What team can't use a guy like that?

He's playing pretty much full time in Boston and it's a better park to hit in than Pro Player in Florida.  He may not reach 550 at bats, but he'll likely produce at the same rate he has the past 3 years and end up with numbers similar to those described above.

Joe Borowski

Borowski looks to be Dusty Baker's early favorite for saves until Antonio Alfonseca returns, but as long as he's pitching as well as he is right now, there's little chance that Baker is going to mess with a sure thing.  Borowski has been lights out so far despite pitching in eight of the Cubs' first 13 games.  And when I say lights out, I mean just 2 hits and no walks in 8 innings pitched with 9 strikeouts.  None of his pitches are overpowering, or even significantly above average.  However, he throws three pitches for strikes and his fastball is good enough - consistently around 92 with movement - to keep hitters honest.

Cubs fans will surely appreciate that this is not a fluke performance.  In 2001 at AAA Iowa, Borowski threw 110 innings, allowing just 87 hits and 26 walks while striking out 131 batters.  Last year was a largely anonymous season in Chicago, despite throwing 95.2 innings, allowing  84 hits, 29 walks while striking out 97.  Numbers like these cry out "I'm a very good closer!"  The same can not be said for Alfonseca's.

Lance Carter

Carter is similar to Borowski in that none of his pitches are exciting by themselves.  In fact, his fastball runs a pedestrian 88-89.  But he throws four pitches for strikes and has no trepidation about throwing any of them in any count.  His numbers haven't been as impressive as Borowski's either, although he has been very successful the last 2 years.  Last year, he split between AAA Durham and Tampa, throwing 152 combined innings (20 in the big leagues) allowing 126 hits (15), 17 walks (5) and striking out 104 batters (14).

I'm not sure that the comparison is totally accurate, but every time I see Carter pitch, I keep thinking Greg McMichael, who was a successful soft-tossing closer for a couple of years in Atlanta and remained a solid major league reliever for a total of about 5 years before the league started keying on his change-up.  Carter looks to be cut from similar cloth.  Because he doesn't throw hard, he may have some trouble with the long ball, but he should post good enough numbers to be a quality closing option all year.