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June 14, 2008
Saturday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Cubs (43-25) at Blue Jays (35-44), 1:07 p.m. ET
Could this newfound patience be attributed to the arrival of Fukudome and his watch-and-wait approach at bat? There are no studies that suggest plate discipline is contagious, but it's hard not to notice that the Cubs were 15th in walks and ninth in OBP a year ago with almost entirely the same personnel.
Sheehan went on to compare this year's Cubs with the 1993 Yankees, who had a similar increase in walks and OBP across the roster coinciding with the arrival of Wade Boggs. Two months after Sheehan's article, the Cubs are still packing the basepaths, as they rank second in the majors in walks (281) and first with a .362 OBP. If Fukudome--who leads the club and ranks 10th in the majors with 44 walks--has indeed rubbed off on his teammates' ability to work the count, then the prime beneficiary has been third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs third baseman's season high in walks entering 2008 was 50, and he sported a sub-.340 career OBP and more than twice as many strikeouts (662) as walks (322). This year, however, Ramirez has already walked 40 times, giving him a career-high and team-leading .420 OBP. Ramirez has never before walked more than he's struck out in a season, but this year he's fanned 39 times, putting him on pace to finish with 99 walks against 96 strikeouts. Combine that surprising discipline with nine homers, 19 doubles, and a .305 average, and Ramirez tops the league-leading Cubs offense in VORP (21.8), EqA (.309), and MLVr (0.287).
Besides Ramirez, several other Cubs are headed towards career highs in walks, most notably Ryan Theriot and Mark DeRosa. Theriot walked once every 12.2 plate appearances in 597 PA last year, but this year is down to once every 8.9 in 286 PA, while DeRosa has bumped his rate from once in 9.9 last year to once in 8.5 in 2008. Even Ronny Cedeno has gotten in on the act; the backup infielder entered the year with 25 walks in 741 PA, but has taken 10 in 109 this season.
Matchup: Dodgers (31-36) at Tigers (30-37), 3:55 p.m. ET, FOX
Bonine draws a nice matchup in his debut, pitching at home against a Los Angeles team that ranks last in the National League in home runs. The Dodgers have not scored in their last 23 innings, and have put up just 3.1 runs per game with a 632 OPS since May 6, the first game they played without shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose back injury has lingered on and on. Will Carroll reports that Furcal won't be back until early July, in the best-case scenario, which means that Dodgers fans will be treated to a good deal more Angel Berroa in the coming weeks after both Chin-Lung Hu and Luis Maza failed in their auditions at the position. Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti picked up Berroa from the Royals last week for Low-A infielder Juan Rivera (at least one Juan Rivera was freed from Los Angeles). Berroa was hitting .291/.323/.519 with 10 homers for Triple-A Omaha at the time of the trade, but Kansas City desperately wanted to get rid of the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year, the lingering symbol of the pre-Dayton Moore regime in Kansas City, so much so that Moore and Royals ownership agreed to pay all of Berroa's salary, plus the $500,000 buyout for his 2009 option.
Matchup: Pirates (33-35) at Orioles (33-33), 7:05 p.m. ET
One of the Pirates who has been particularly deadly with his teammates on the base paths is Xavier Nady, who leads Pittsburgh with 48 RBI, putting him on a pace for 117. Nady has experienced a breakout so far in his age-29 season, and is currently sporting career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging. Call it Littlefield's Revenge, as erstwhile stud lefty Oliver Perez--whom the Pirates' former GM dealt to the Mets for Nady at the deadline in 2006--has proven to be unpalatably flaky this season. Nady has also considerably improved his hitting against right-handers, his long-time bugaboo: since the start of 2007 he has an OPS above 800 against them, as compared with a mark around 700 from 2003-2006. The Pirates will likely look long and hard at any trade offers they receive for their right fielder, since Nady is not likely to keep up his current pace, but is also poised to rack up the counting stats that will make him quite expensive this offseason heading into his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Matchup: Twins (33-35) at Brewers (35-32), 7:05 p.m. ET
While Hall has struggled at both third and second since moving to the infield, Ryan Braun's transition in the other direction has gone much more smoothly. Braun has acquitted himself well so far in left--he has yet to commit an error, has a Range Factor (1.95) that is almost exactly league-average (1.92), and is middle of the pack in Zone Rating. Given Braun's status as a first-time outfielder, as well as his struggles last season with throwing to first from the hot corner, teams have understandably tested Braun on the basepaths. The second-year slugger has responded with five assists, tied for tops in the National League with Pat Burrell and Fred Lewis. Add in that Braun has actually been better than the average left fielder by FRAA Rate, at five runs above average per 100 games, and it's clear that his switch to the outfield has gone about as well as the team could have hoped for.
Matchup: Braves (33-35) at Angels (41-27), 6:05 p.m. PT
The chief contributor to that strong defensive showing has been Yunel Escobar, who leads all National League shortstops with a Range Factor of 4.94, and ranks fourth in the majors with an .858 Zone Rating and .984 Fielding Percentage. Escobar's defense this year has been superb as measured by FRAA, for he has already put up nine runs above average with a Rate of 115. Last season, Escobar was exactly average at shortstop, with a rate of 100 and 0.1 SFR in 53 games, so the 25-year-old Cuban has taken important strides towards becoming a franchise cornerstone in the middle infield.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.