Youth is Served
August 19, 2006
I forget where I read it but I'd like to echo the sentiment that
perhaps Eric Wedge has outlasted his usefulness as the Cleveland
manager. With few significant injuries to overcome and career
best (so far) years from Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Casey Blake
solid years from his starting staff, for the Indians to be more than 20
games out of first place and 12 games under .500 points to a serious
problem in the manager's office. I've already mentioned in
previous columns how I disagree with his handling of the everyday
players who have struggled, but I'd especially highlight his handling
of the bullpen as a serious weak point in his managerial resume.
After the team traded Bob Wickman, he immediately anointed Fausto
Carmona as his team's closer. It might have made some sense had
Carmona excelled as a reliever in Triple-A, but other than
4 innings back in the New York Penn League four or five years ago,
Carmona had zero experience
in relief until he was moved out of the rotation in Cleveland this
year. Granted, he was excellent in the role for his first 15-20
innings, but is that enough to crown him 'the closer"?
There's enough pressure closing out
games, why add to it by announcing that the rookie with little late
relief experience is now "the
guy who'll finsh our games"? Why not take the pressure off the
guy and say "closer by
committee" yet give him the first shot
so if he does well, great, but if not, no big deal? Let someone
else get the next shot and if you're still sold on Carmona, give him
the subsequent opportunity. As we saw, the result was a guy
who was not ready for that kind of responsibility and has since been
largely worthless out of the pen after his highly publicized
If you are wondering who will be the closer in Cleveland, it's
Tom Mastny. Rafael Betancourt crumbles when there are men
base. With runners on, his career
ERA is 5.88. This year, it's 6.47 with batters hitting .313 with
5 homers against him. Brian Sikorski gives up a home run every
literally... in 24 innings pitched his year he's given up 8
And Jason Davis can't handle the pressure. Put him in a "clutch"
situation and he either can't find the strikezone or finds way too much
of it. Yeah, he throws hard but a lot of guys can hit a straight
mph fastball. His ERA with runners on base is 9.15 with hitters
batting .354. Fernando Cabrera could develop into "the guy"
bad things seem to roll off him pretty quickly and he has a nasty
out-pitch, his splitter, but his mechanics can become a total mess at
times which leads to some overly adventurous
Mastny is the only guy in the pen who doesn't give up a lot of bombs -
he has yet to surrender a home run this year - and has the strikeout
pitch necessary for closing. Plus it'd be really cool to have the
majors' first closer who was born in Indonesia. Of course, Mastny
getting his shot depends on Eric
recognizing his value.
Speaking of closers, the guy in KC is Joe Nelson. Get him if you
need saves. He's got very good control of a 90 mph fastball and a
nice breaking pitch, what he calls a vulcan splitter, where the ball
rests between his middle and ring finger instead of the standard
splitter which is middle and index finger. It breaks more like a
downward slider with roughly the same velocity, but unlike a slider it
doesn't spin. Very tough to pick up. Plus, even from his
first shot at closing, he was fearless challenging hitters with his
fastball and spotting it beautifully. There's a strong temptation
him to Brian Meadows - that was my first impression, too - but after
him again it's clear he's got better stuff. He's much more likely
to hold down the job and do
well in it. A nearer comparison might be Akinori Otsuka.
But back to Cleveland for a sec... for those of you holding out hope
that Andy Marte's bat will start
some life, don't get too giddy over his performance Friday against the
Devil Rays. Apparently, Casey Fossum decided to ignore the
scouting reports - and not just one scouting report... every scouting
report ever done on Marte - and threw him nothing but fastballs.
I take that back. He did throw him a slider in the seventh inning
that nearly went to the backstop. But other than that,
fastballs. Must have been smelt night (see: Rabbit and the King
There's no question Fossum has the stuff to be a top
starter. Good fastball, breaking pitches, he's got it all.
But one has to wonder if a light will ever go on, and if it does, will
it be brighter than a Christmas tree light. If you know a guy can
not hit a breaking pitch, and he's already hit two
fastballs for doubles in his first two at bats, why on earth would you
continue to throw the guy nothing but fastballs? Guys who do that
are often referred to as "minor leaguers" or "future shoe salesmen".
OK, enough of my biliousness... the topic
today is rookies, eh. No hosers here
The rookie pitchers have gotten all the notoriety this year, but
September will be dominated by the rookie hitters. Adrian
Gonzales is carrying the Padres offense since the Break, hitting
.344/.411/.611 over the last month. His 80 total bases since the
All-Star Game ranks fifth among all National Leaguers. And the
power is legit. He was a 19-year old with 55 extra base hits in
the Midwest League, and then followed it up with 52 more in the pitcher
friendly Double-A Eastern League. Last year he hit
18 homers in Triple-A in 328 at bats as a 23-year old. This guy
is a definite keeper.
Mark Teahen is tied for 6th in the majors for total bases after the
Break. Whatever doctoring to his swing that he and his coaches
did when he was sent down to Triple-A earlier this year, they should
write a book about it and sell it for a thousand dollars a copy.
still sell a couple hundred thousand of them. Before getting sent
down he was batting .195/.241/.351. After his return he's hitting
.307 with 13 homers, 15 doubles, 5 triples (.572 slugging) and an on
base around .380. The word is that he was being too patient,
looking for the perfect pitch to hit in each at bat. Buddy Bell
and his coaches got him to start swinging at merely good pitches and
the results speak for themselves.
Brian McCann has become the NL equivalent to Joe Mauer. Actually,
he's in nobody's shadow, hitting .343/.398/.569 with 16 homers to his
credit. He's still a work in progress on defense and calling a
game so he's not quite the complete package Mauer is, and probably
won't ever be. But for fantasy purposes, he's still plenty good.
The Cardinals struggled with production from left field for the first
three months of the season. Someone had the idea of letting the
pitching coach's kid give it a try and Chris Duncan has made the most
of his shot. He's 5th on the team in homers with 11 despite
playing in less than half as many games as the other regulars.
Give him equal time and he'd likely be second on the team behind only
Albert Pujols. Since the Break he's hit 8 homers along with a
.365 average (.436 on base, 1.099 OPS) which makes the Cardinals
signing of Preston Wilson somewhat curious. It's probably as much
sign that Jim Edmonds' health is more of a concern than it is that the
Cards have any doubts
about Duncan's ability.
After a brutal first half, the White Sox' Brian Anderson finally seems
to be getting
comfortable against major league pitching. He's hitting
.291/.340/.453 since the Break. That's not great, but it's a huge
step up from the .192/.280/.324 over the first three
months. And it's much more in line with what he did last year in
OK, I can't finish this without mentioning some pitchers, too.
Quick quiz: Who leads the majors in strikeouts since the All Star
Break? Johan Santana? John Smoltz? no, it's Cole
Hamels with 52. Matt Cain is tied for 5th in Ks with 48.
Ian Snell isn't far behind at 11th with 41. But Hamels is the one
to pay attention to as he has seemingly conquered his control issues,
walking just 8 in his last 39.1 innings. The Phillies have been
on something of a rampage since trading Bobby Abreu, posting a 13-7
record, so if they can continue the good vibrations Hamels will
be pretty studly down the stretch.
After a fairly inauspicious start to his major league career, Chad
Billingsley finally turned in a couple outings that demonstrated his
potential. Most of my
was spot on although I
might have projected a little too much when I suggested he might be
better off in the bullpen. The Dodgers have shown patience with
him, but I guess that's easier to do when he allows more than 2 runs in
an outing just three times in 12 starts. I must admit that I was
like a lot of people and overly focused on his high walk totals.
And it's certainly a concern, but it shouldn't be a dealbreaker.
I was looking over his numbers for clues about his future performance
and found something, although not in the usual place. Six feet,
pounds. When I hear those four words in that sequence I
immediately think of one pitcher: Bartolo Colon. But those are
actually the dimensions of Chad Billingsley. Like Billingsley,
some struggles throwing strikes consistently his first season.
The following season, he had no such trouble although it wasn't until
his second full season that he became a true ace. Billingsley
looks like he'll be taking a similar path.
Jered Weaver threw another gem tonight. Given how pathetic the
Mariner's offense has been in August, that's not at all
surprising. They've been held to 2 runs or less in 9 of their
last 16 games. So Weaver had a pretty easy night coming to him
regardless. But what I don't get is why hitters are still
befuddled by this guy. He shows them what he's throwing before he
delivers it. If you have a high definition TV, you can easily see
his grip on the ball and tell whether he's going to throw a fastball or
a breaking pitch. You can even see it on regular TV if you look
closely. That's true of a good number of pitchers, but what's
different about Weaver is that his backswing on his delivery shows the
hitters this information as well. Most pitchers hide the ball
either behind their head or behind their leg before delivering to the
plate. Weaver's hand is exposed before he starts toward the
plate, so hitters should be able to see the spread of his fingers on
the ball for a quick snapshot of what is coming. In his first two
at bats tonight, it looked like Ben Broussard was keying on that
because he did not swing at a breaking pitch. Of course, he
didn't do much with the fastball when he got it so the point is
moot. But I have to believe that if I can see this, so can the
hitters. He's got Boston the next time out and they are pretty
quick studies when it comes to a pitcher's tells. I'm feeling
bold - I'll predict that Weaver gives up at least 8 hits and 4 earned
runs his next start.