Fish or Cut Bait

Bruce Chen and Jeremy Giambi
Chen was surprised to find out that the Red Sox had designated him for assignment when they added Byung-Hyun Kim to the roster.  "I was shocked,'' Chen said. "I thought I did what they wanted me to do since I got here. I did all three things they wanted me to do -- start, long relief and face lefties. I thought I was doing OK, but I understand.''  

Thought you were doing OK?  Sorry, kid, but a 5.55 ERA (5.11 with Boston) isn't OK.  Yes, Chen got a tough break having to face the Yankees twice in his only starting opportunities, but for a guy with his talent, he should be doing better than "OK".  And that has been the problem with him.  He posted a minor league ERA of 3.35, WHIP of 1.157 and struck out 629 batters in 570 innings.  In 6 seasons in the majors, his ERA is 4.59, his WHIP is 1.385 and has struck out 400 batters in 453 innings, well below expectations for someone with his resume.  Hopefully, someday soon, he's going to realize that he has to do better than "OK" to stay in the majors.  Maybe he'll even apply himself in order to maximize his talent.  

The same holds true for Jeremy Giambi.  His minor league batting average was .332.  In the majors, it's now .264.  His minor league on base percentage was .442 and slugging was .554.  In the majors: .377 and .435.  He's spent far too long resting on the laurels of being Jason Giambi's brother and/or once being a minor league hitting sensation.  With Shea Hillenbrand out of the playing time equation in Boston, it's time for the younger Giambi to start producing like he's capable or he may find himself like Bruce Chen: unwanted.  

That said, neither player has been helped by the way BoSox manager Grady Little has used them so far.  But that has already been covered in earlier columns.

Johan Santana and Rafael Soriano
These are two players who aren't underachieving.  Both of these guys would arguably be the best starting pitchers on their respective staffs, but because the Twins and Mariners are in first place, they won't get a chance this year to show it.  Why?  Arbitration numbers are considerably higher for starters, especially good ones, than they are for relievers.  So as long as Seattle and Minnesota remain in first place by fairly comfortable margins, there is no need to drive up these guys' future price tag by allowing them to post quality numbers.  

Soriano has nothing to learn in AAA.  He is dominating a hitters league with a 2.82 ERA, 53 Ks in 50 innings, and a WHIP of 0.800.  He's the Billy Madison of the PCL except there's no book learning to do.  If he gets called up, it will likely be as a reliever.  Likewise, Santana is twiddling his thumbs in the the Twins bullpen (2.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, third best K rate in the AL for anyone with at least 30 innings) while their starters post a collective ERA of 4.55.  If you remove Kyle Lohse' (the only  Twins' starter who's pitched well this year) numbers from that, it rises to an unsightly 4.94, which would be 5th worst in the AL.

Maybe these two will get a chance to start on their All-Star careers this year.  Soriano might have a better chance than Santana because the Mariners should eventually be challenged for a playoff spot by the A's and one of the Eastern division teams.  Santana might not be so lucky as the White Sox and Royals are imploding and well on the path towards "rebuilding mode".  Regardless, in the mean time, unless something changes in the races or an injury forces them into service, their organizations will be content to waste their talent.  

Geronimo Gil and Ramon Hernandez
Many are surprised by the success that Gil and Hernandez are enjoying this season, especially in batting average.  They haven't done very well in that category the last couple of years and some would suggest that this year's production is an anomaly.  It's early still, so they may be right, but there is some evidence that they might maintain their current pace.  

Gil posted 4 straight seasons of .280 or better batting average in the minors before becoming Baltimore's regular catcher last year.  Even though those seasons were largely in hitter's leagues, his .258 average by the end of July last year was in line with what he had done previously.  What made 2002 season look so bad was the last two months, when he hit just .185.  The O's maintain he was worn down from the season and there may be a little something to that as he set career highs in at bats and games played last year.  This season, they are playing Brook Fordyce much more and a fresher Gil seems to be the result so far.  The added bonus is that Gil is showing much more discipline at the plate, improving his walk rate while reducing his strikeout rate.  

Hernandez, like Gil, had a much better minor league record than his major league resume.  He had won two minor league batting titles: hitting .364 as a 19-year old in the short-season Arizona League, and then again as a 21-year old in the California League, hitting .361.   Unlike Gil, though, his strikeout and walk rates have not improved over last year and he's being asked to carry more of the load behind the plate than ever.  The A's recently changed batting coaches, but at some point they'll have to give back-up Mark Johnson more at bats if they hope to avoid a Gil-like ending this year.