One Sixth Notes
May 4, 2011

Happy Star Wars Day to all... May the 4th be with you.

Anyhow... I scribbled down a few notes, figured I'd share them.  We're one sixth of the way through the 2011 season (hence the title) and this is what I have so far.

Alex Rios has been abysmal through almost the entire month of April, which is disconcerting since he has a history of fast starts.  However, it's not really his fault he's struggling.  Through yesterday his batting average on balls in play (BABIP from here on out) was .178, down from his career rate about 120 points higher.  Despite his apparently low production he's posting the highest walk rate, lowest strikeout rate, lowest home run/flyball ratio since he's been in the majors.  All things point to a bounce-back over the next 5 months and perhaps a career best year.

Ryan Roberts has been a very popular pick-up after his surprising April.  He's always had talent and skill and the D-backs are finding a way to get him playing time, and given the competition at third and second base, it would not be surprising to see him register 500 plus at bats this season.  However, his power display is way off his charts, more than double his career homer/flyball rate.  He's a fine hitter; just don't expect the home runs to continue.

Derrek Lee's slow start is a little disconcerting.  He should be fully recovered from his thumb injury last year, and the fact that his walk and strikeout rates are near his career norms suggest that he's still seeing the ball as well as ever.  And he's making contact and the same kind of contact as well, as his BABIP and GB rates suggest.  However, his home run to flyball ratio is almost a third of what it has been for his career so he might still be feeling some residual weakness in his hand.  Whatever the reason, he's just not hitting the ball as far as he used to.

Andy Laroche was a pet project of mine because his minor league numbers were so good yet he has failed to translate that performance to the major league level.  I thought ith the struggles of Kevin Kouzmanoff and LaRoche's fast start that we might finally be seeing the real LaRoche emerge.  But in fact, this might be the real LaRoche and not in a good way.  The only thing that has changed form his last four years is his BABIP which currently sits at .412.  I wish there was better news on this front.

Likewise, Matt Joyce's exceptional April might be a mirage as well.  His walk rate so far is actually a career worst while his BABIP is .433. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gordon Beckham's BABIP is hovering in the low .100s but his flyball rate is the highest it's been his whole career.  If he can start getting those balls out of the infield, he could be onto something good.  His biggest problem has been fastballs which leads me to believe he's simply thinking too much at the plate.  He was in a similar funk last season and came out of it with a vengeance in the second half.  Hopefully he won't wait as long to grip and rip this year.

Jay Bruce's flyball rate has gone up from last year but the home runs, or at least the rate the ball goes out per flyball, has not.  In fact, it has gone down.  It'll come, but the high batting average he showed in the second half might not.  He's been a little unlucky on balls in play but finishing with an average over .300 as his second half led many to believe is probably wishful thinking.

Rick Ankiel has the best walk rate and by far the lowest strikeout rate of his career.  In addition, he's had bad luck on balls in play and his home run to flyball rate is one fifth his career rate.  If you're looking for a big breakout candidate, Ankiel might be the one to target.

Mike Stanton's walk rate has already improved from last year as has his strikeout rate.  That was his MO in the minors as well: 2-3 months of struggles followed by huge improvements to his command of the strikezone.  He is another hitter to buy low on.  Expect a huge increase in his production as the year progresses.

Ian Desmond's bat is pretty much what was expected but the steals have been a bit of a surprise.  But consider he stole 27 bags in 2007 and 22 across three levels in 2009.  He's always had this kind of speed... well, not 60 stolen bases kind of speed, but 30 is definitely not outside his consistent range. 

I still like Edwin Jackson this year.  I wrote in 2003 about the emergence of Johan Santana and in 2007 about Ubaldo Jimenez.  Jackson is my guy this time.  If you look at his minor league record you'll find an incredible year as a 19-year old in AA, followed by the Dodgers rushing him to become the ace of their staff in LA... followed by years of jerking him back and forth through three levels followed by a few years of wandering the wilderness in the majors as everyone's pet project.  I think he's finally found a home in Chicago under Don Cooper and I'll point to his second half in 2010 as evidence.  He's had just one dominating start this year (but it was a doozy) surrounded by some mediocre to awful starts.  And maybe that's just who he is.  But I believe there's a true ace inside Edwin Jackson and my guess is that Cooper and he unlock it before this season is done.  Currently, his numbers indicate he's been a tad unlucky - his BABIP is 50 points higher than his career average - but his strikeout rate is closer to what it was in the second half last year than his career rate.  I don't have faith that Minnesota, Cleveland or Kansas City have very good offenses, certainly not the latter two as good as they've shown, so I expect Jackson will get some help building his confidence as the season progresses. 

Finally, I think the light has turned on for Brandon Belt.  I had a few concerns coming out of spring training whether or not he could stick in the majors and I think the Giants made the right call sending him down when Cody Ross was eligible to come off the DL.  Since he's already served some major league time I don't think there's advantage to leaving him down in Triple A much longer (at least in terms of his arbitration clock) so I expect he'll be called back as soon as GM Brian Sabean figures out how to fit him in.  Once he's back, he'll hit.  As of last night he was hitting .500 - that's his batting average not his on base or slugging - and his OPS was 1.484.  Sure, Fresno is a good place to hit but it's not pre-humidor Colorado. Belt has figured it out and with Huff , Burrell and Ross struggling, he'll get his promotion soon.