The Latest Discoveries
April 17, 2005

OK, before I get started, has anyone noticed that the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI, looks eerily similar to Underdog's arch-villain Simon bar Sinister?


Weird, huh?  While I'm at it, how about these two:

OK, maybe I'm stretching it a bit - Talented Mr. Roto Matthew Berry only bears a passing resemblance to Mel Brooks.  But this next one is a no-doubter:

Do I need more stubble to make it work? Maybe some highlights?  Major plastic surgery?  Would it matter if I can speak with an Irish accent?

OK, so I'm not very good at finding look-a-likes... but I do know talent when I see it.  So I wanted to spend a little time looking at some hot starts in the American League to get clues as to whether they can continue because they have the talent, or whether now is the time to cut and run because these guys are only acting like the real deals.

Bruce Chen
Chen has always been highly regarded as a pitching talent, but has never really applied himself.  The biggest reason most teams gave up on him - he's been on 8 different major league clubs since 2000 - is that he didn't work at his craft.  That laziness/complacency/lack of focus resulted in a very high home run rate.  Granted, Chen is not a hard thrower so his margin for error isn't great, but he has a more than adequate arsenal of pitches and good control of all of them.  Oriole pitching coach Ray Miller appears to have gotten through to Chen this season as he's allowed only one home run in nearly 30 innings this year (combined spring and regular season).  If he can keep his home run rate in check, he'll be one of the top 10 lefties in the AL. Real

Rodrigo Lopez
Take away his numbers out of the bullpen last year and Rodrigo Lopez was 11-7 with a 3.95 ERA and 1.323 WHIP.  He fought through injuries during the first part of 2003, but in the second half he went 6-6 with a 5.05 ERA and 1.500 WHIP.   Even in his best month in 2003 he was only 2-2 with a 4.14 ERA and 1.405 WHIP.  His career ERA and WHIP in the majors are 4.42 and 1.365.  He has the benefit of a better team behind him this year, but he's not a hard thrower so we're not going to see an extra gear from him like we would see from a Rich Harden or Jeremy Bonderman.  We will see a few extra wins from him than we might otherwise expect, but his ERA and WHIP are going up from where they are now, and probably rather significantly. Actor

Gustavo Chacin
The man who is currently leading the AL in wins is somewhat of a puzzle.  Throughout his minor league career, there really wasn't anything exciting about Chacin.  Although he was generally younger than his competition, his numbers never revealed a pitcher capable of the excellence as he's shown last year and this.  For whatever reason, something clicked in AA last year (his 4th full season at the level) and carried over to his major league debut and into this year.  His strikeout rates are fairly low and his G/F rate isn't particularly notable (tied for 31st in the AL with Bartolo Colon) so there is a smoke and mirrors aspect to his performance so far.  My feeling is that the league will figure him out by June and he struggles to keep his spot in the rotation after.  However, he should still be a serviceable filler because there's always a place on a pitching staff for a pitcher who changes speeds as well as Chacin does. Actor

Dan Haren
Before he was traded to the A's, Haren might have been the second best pitching prospect the Cardinals developed over the last decade. But since Dave Duncan hasn't had a great deal of success developing young starters, it's was probably a blessing that Haren got traded.  His numbers last year in AAA were very good and his debut was equally encouraging.  The only downside of last year's performance was a jump in home run rate, although it still isn't to a point where it's a major concern.  He is posting a strong G/F rate so far this season which is a plus given the left side of the Oakland infield.  His walk numbers are a bit high to this point, but considering the line-ups he's faced so far - Baltimore (#4), Toronto (#3) and Texas (#9) - each of which is in the top 10 in runs scored to date, the walks aren't necessarily an indicator of anything other than careful pitching.  Last year's high strikeout rate in AAA was an aberration, but for his minor league career he's struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.77 per 9 innings).  There really isn't anything to dislike about him other than the fact that he's still new to pitching in the majors.  He handled playoff pressure against the Astros and Red Sox very well so while there are the usual caveats that accompany young pitchers, Haren is probably one of the safer bets.  Real

Pedro Astacio
Astacio is off to an incredible start, having thrown 22 innings and allowing only 4 earned runs (1.64 ERA) and 20 baserunners (0.909 WHIP).  Obviously, a guy coming off surgery who's throwing in the mid-high 80s isn't going to continue at that rate.  However, his arm will regain strength as the season continues so the velocity isn't going to be a problem.  Remember that this guy who pitched for 4 full seasons in Colorado, so he's not going to be intimidated by how well the ball travels in Texas.  Also note that when he was first traded to Colorado, he went 5-1 with a 4.25 ERA so not only can he succeed in a hitter friendly environment, he might do rather well.  Granted, pitching in Colorado finally caught up to him ERA- and WHIP-wise, but he still posted a very respectable number of quality starts there and was among the league leaders in strikeouts from 1998-2000.  He has a good sinking fastball, a solid history of success when he's been healthy and a good supporting cast both on offense and the bullpen.  There's a lot here to like given that he doesn't have a whole lot of wear on his arm the last couple of years.  Real

Brian Roberts
I'm not sure what has gotten into Brian Roberts this spring.  Part of it is luck.  For example, his home run against the Tigers last night traveled 367'.  It went over the 364' sign on the left field wall.  So had the trajectory carried it 5 feet to the right Nook Logan would have had enough room to jump and make the catch, rendering it a long out instead of a home run.  The difference off the bat between the two is not even a millimeter.  A gust of wind could have changed it's course by that much in flight.  The point is that it's way too early to determine if this is a change in ability or the out of proportion result of a small sample size.  There is nothing in his minor league record that indicates that he is capable of hitting more than 7 or 8 homers in a season.  Even his doubles totals were rather low until last year.  But hitting 50 doubles in a major league season, as he did last year, is a real display of power so what we are witnessing this spring may be a translation of doubles power into a few more homers.  Roberts is at an age where we've seen a disproportionate number of power spikes, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say this power display is for real.  No, he won't lead the league in home runs, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit 15 homers this year.  I'm not comfortable going beyond that, but for a guy who's career best previously was 5, that's still a big jump. Real