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May 8, 2013
The Lineup Card
10 Things We've Learned So Far
1. B.J. Upton Might Not Be Fixable
2. Ryan Raburn Has Plenty of Streaky Hitting Spells Left
This offseason I knew he would find another team, even if many Tigers fans (my wife included) vehemently believed he was a washed-up, good-for-nothin' ballplayer who should stick to beer leagues. The Indians took a flier on him and, sure enough, not only did he make the team out of spring training, but he had an April to remember and the week of his life, which earned him an AL Player of the Week nod. Last month, he crushed the ball for a .320/.370/.990 line, which featured back-to-back two-home run games, because who needs walks when you got dingers?
All we are waiting for is the other Raburn to show up. Here are his career OPS totals in the last five Mays: .432, .270, .269, .914, .416. I did not make up these numbers. A week into the month, he’s still raking at his April rate, so maybe 2013 is a glorious overcorrection of a dreadful 2012. So there’s more to learn, but this much we know a month into the season: My wife was wrong about something. —Matt Sussman
3. You Can Never Have Enough Pitching
The Dodgers needed nine starters to get through the first month of the season, as injuries befell Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, and Stephen Fife, who all joined the then-still-recovering and now-re-injured Ted Lilly on the disabled list. Mattingly's patchwork rotation, whose ninth member was and still is rookie right-hander Matt Magill, fared reasonably well through Monday's loss to the Diamondbacks, amassing a roughly league-average 4.02 ERA. Magill struggled in his second assignment, lasting only 1 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Giants, but organizations with less pitching depth than the Dodgers brought up from Arizona would have had to reach much further into the well, likely yielding poorer results.
The Dodgers entered Tuesday at 13-18 and last in the National League West, but their scuffling offense has been a more pertinent culprit than the fragile rotation. Had general manager Ned Colletti opted to let other teams dig into his stable, sending Capuano or another starter out the door with Harang, things could look even bleaker than they currently do. The lesson here is that the question, "How many starters will we need during the course of a 162-game campaign?" cannot be answered ex-ante. You don't know until you know. —Daniel Rathman
4. Mariano Rivera Could Have a Historically Good Season
Rivera could lay a serious claim to the best season by a person who was the oldest to appear in a major-league game that year. He’s a perfect 11-for-11 in save chances this year, and in the 12⅓ innings he’s pitched as of this writing, his peripheral stats are all in line with his career norms. His cut fastball is still averaging about 91 mph, showing only modest decline since the 2009 season. In other words, he’s set up to have another Rivera-esque season of 40-plus saves and a sub-2.00 ERA. Even with the arrival of young fireballers like Chapman and Kimbrel, he’s still one of the best at his position—and if Jamie Moyer remains a free agent this year, he could do it as the oldest player in the majors. —Dan Rozenson
5. The Orioles Can Pick It
6. David Ortiz Can Still Hit
Of course, that’s a small sample of plate appearances in which any batter could run into a few. Witness Mike Carp, the only Red Sox hitter with a higher OPS than Ortiz. The thing is, Ortiz isn’t getting bloop hits. He’s driving the ball. Our data says Ortiz has two popups. What’s more, despite the shift he constantly faces, he’s driving the ball to all fields. Here’s his spray chart (from TexasLeaguers.com).
By my count, he has an equal number of hits to right field as to left field. He’s 37 years old, and running is, shall we say, not his strength, so he’s probably not going to hit .400 this season (though he does have a 27-game hitting streak, so I suppose anything is possible). The incredible thing is that Ortiz, in the face of age and injury, has, if anything, improved as a hitter. He still gets on base, he still hits for tons of power, he is doing so at an age most hitters’ careers are spoken of in the past tense, and he is doing it with an injury that would probably slow the rest.
We’ve been waiting for David Ortiz’s career to peter out for years now. If I had a kick in my Achilles for every article I’ve read that mentions David Ortiz’s old player skills, I’d be in physical therapy for decades. Yet, if this year has shown us anything, it’s that David Ortiz has more hitting left in him. Whether his body will let him do that hitting is another matter, but as long as the man can stand at the plate, he’s about as big a threat as there is in baseball. Even now, even with his injury, even at his age. I’m not sure there’s a more impressive story in baseball than that. —Matthew Kory
7. Interleague Play is Even Weirder
From a team's standpoint, we knew this constant interleague could make it hard to work in an isolated DH series or a pitchers-hit series amid a normal run of schedule. We all saw that coming, but the biggest surprise of this constant interleague play has been for the observer just looking at the scoreboard on any given night. It's that double-take at a scoreboard to see a really unfamiliar matchup—Minnesota vs. Washington. Is that a college game? A hockey game? Actually, it couldn't have been hockey—their two conferences didn't play each other this year. And as baseball's leagues act a little more like conferences every year, the latest step is still not sitting right.
By the way, the NL went 4-0 Tuesday night and now leads 19-17. —Zachary Levine
8. Pablo Sandoval’s Never-Ending Quest to Swing at Everything
In fact, to put Sandoval’s current 60.9 percent swing rate (league average is 45.5 percent) into further perspective, there have only been 10 seasons of at least a 60 percent swing rate in the last 10 years. Not shockingly, five of those seasons have come courtesy of the player who good hitters often get compared to when they swing at everything, Vladimir Guerrero. Also not surprising is that two of those seasons have come courtesy of the player who bad hitters often get compared to when they swing at everything, Jeff Franceour. And the three hitters who have each done it once? Delmon Young, A.J. Pierzynski, and Ivan Rodriguez.
While we don’t know if this is a deliberate change in approach for Sandoval, there appears to be some causality between his offensive performance and his swing rate. He has exactly two seasons on the books of a swing rate below 58 percent (2010 and 2012) and in those two years, he had a True Average (TAv) of .260 and .294, respectively. Those are the only two years of his career with a TAv under .300. When he’s been able to keep his swing rate above 58 percent, those True Averages have been .325 and .324 (along with a .301 mark in only 145 at bats in 2008). It’s too early to tell if this trend will hold up over the full season, but he is off to a relatively hot start, hitting .323/.358/.467 through 134 plate appearances. So keep swinging, Panda. —Bret Sayre
9. The Angels Have Poor Roster Construction
The starting pitching was thin behind Jered Weaver when the season started. It has all but collapsed under the weight of him being on the disabled list, as C.J. Wilson hasn’t been able to step up into the No. 1 role, Jason Vargas has been so-so, Joe Blanton has been awful, and the Angels are considering having a speed pitch contest at Disneyland to determine the fifth starter. The bullpen? Yikes. That the Angels thought Ryan Madson was the answer to their closer problem was downright silly. The Halos are 11-21 after losing to the Astros last night. The one thing I’ve learned to this point in the season is that the Angels’ chance of finishing under .500 are a heckuva lot better than winning the World Series. —John Perrotto
10. The Yankees are the Masters of Dumpster Diving
Cashman was only slightly less grabby than his Toronto rival, Alex Anthopoulos, in the bin, but unlike his counterpart, Cashman's scouring has turned up spades. He signed Travis Hafner before spring training to an incentive-laden deal, and Pronk has stayed healthy and delivered a .291/.417/.582 line with six home runs, thanks to a left-handed swing tailored for Yankee Stadium. Lyle Overbay, snagged from a waiver claim just before camp broke, isn't getting on base much, but he has popped five homers and played strong defense at first, earning more playing time now that Kevin Youkilis is also shelved. And perhaps the most widely-panned and joked-about deal of the spring, the one that fit Vernon Wells for pinstripes, isn't looking so hilariously lopsided anymore, as the left fielder is hitting .270/.328/.468 with six round-trippers.
Not all of Cashman's efforts have struck diamonds—Brennan Boesch (.189/.231/.432 with two homers) and Ben Francisco (.133/.257/.233 with one homer), for instance, aren't setting the Bronx ablaze—but neither player costs a significant amount, and the latter will likely be on the way out when Granderson returns. However, for all of the talk about the Yankees' financial resources, Brian Cashman absolutely deserves a tip of the cap for finding a way to turn straw into gold long enough to allow his veteran players to heal. —Stephani Bee