June 19, 2008
Thursday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Dodgers (33-38) at Reds (33-40), 12:35 p.m. ET
The Dodgers have also disappointed this season, as the team has a sub-.500 record due to perhaps the largest imbalance to be found on any team in the National League, with a pitching staff that has allowed the third-fewest runs in the circuit and an offense that ranks 13th in runs. Blake DeWitt has been a great story this year due to both his bat and his glove, but he has stopped hitting along with the rest of the team recently, as his double yesterday was just the third extra-base hit in his last 102 PA. It might be time, therefore, to give Andy LaRoche a chance to start regularly at the hot corner, or at least find a way to rotate LaRoche, DeWitt, and second baseman Jeff Kent in a way that gets LaRoche more playing time. Since being called up from Triple-A Las Vegas on June 10, LaRoche has started just two of the Dodgers' eight games, and gotten just eight plate appearances total. That paucity of playing time is related to the fact that Los Angeles has faced just a pair of lefties in that stretch, but pigeonholing LaRoche into a platoon role is not an optimal usage of the organization's offensive assets--LaRoche is no slouch at all against righties--and could be potentially harmful to the 24-year-old's development. It also ignores the fact that DeWitt has a reverse split this season--a 705 OPS vs. righties and 868 vs. lefties.
Matchup: Padres (31-42) at Yankees (39-33), 1:05 p.m. ET
Both teams' third basemen hit home runs last night in the Yankees' 8-5 win, with Padres' top prospect Chase Headley launching the first of his major league career, and Alex Rodriguez the 532nd, putting him two behind Jimmie Foxx and four behind Mickey Mantle on the all-time homer list. Headley has now slugged .648 and hit 12 home runs between the minors and majors since the start of May, but it remains to be seen how much power he will hit for in the majors, for he profiled as more of a Bill Mueller-type player (to borrow the comparison used by both Baseball Prospectus 2007 and 2008) heading into the season. The PECOTA system is also not high at all on his potential to be an impact bat, for it listed 20 third base prospects with higher long-term Upside scores heading into the season. Nate Silver, however, stated that he would certainly take the over on the youngster's projection.
Matchup: Royals (30-42) at Cardinals (42-31), 1:15 p.m. CT
Kansas City has drawn just one walk in the first two games of the series, despite winning both, and the Royals rank last in the majors with 169 free passes, or one in every 16 plate appearances. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, just one other team has had a walk rate lower than that: the 2002 Tigers. St. Louis, meanwhile, leads the major leagues with 297 walks, but that of course is primarily due to the presence of Albert Pujols, who is currently on the DL. The Cardinals have now averaged less than four runs in the seven games since Pujols has been out, with replacement Chris Duncan collecting just five singles and a walk in 29 plate appearances during that span.
Matchup: Cubs (45-27) at Rays (42-29), 7:10 p.m. ET
Both Tampa Bay and Chicago have built their success this season upon a strong defensive foundation. After finishing dead last in the majors last season in efficiency, the Rays have jumped all the way up to third this year, converting 71.7 percent of balls in play into outs, while the Cubs have maintained their top billing in the National League from 2007, ranking first in the senior circuit again this year (and fourth overall) with a a 71.5 percent conversion rate. The Rays defense has gotten markedly better despite the player they brought in strictly to upgrade the shortstop position, Jason Bartlett, not playing all that well: Bartlett has been three runs below average at shortstop by FRAA, and also carries a slightly sub-par Range Factor (4.28 vs. 4.46 league average). At third base and second base, however, the moves have worked out as the team had hoped. Akinori Iwamura has yet to make an error at second base, and sports an FRAA Rate of 106, while Evan Longoria has been excellent at third base, with just four errors in 61 games and a Rate of 115, making his performance with the glove already worth nearly a win over an average fielder by Clay Davenport's translations (+9 FRAA). In the outfield, B.J. Upton has long since claimed a permanent home, and his seven assists this season lead all major league center fielders. And behind the plate, Dioner Navarro has improved his play substantially; last year he rated six runs below average in 112 games, but this season he has already amassed eight runs above in just 49 games, good for a sparkling rate of 117. Navarro also has yet to make an error this season, after committing 14 last season, and his caught stealing percentage has climbed from 30 to 33 percent as well. This game will showcase two of the best young catchers in the game, for the Cubs' Geovany Soto has been outstanding offensively and defensively, leading to his ranking first amongs Chicago's position players with 3.9 WARP.
Matchup: Indians (33-39) at Rockies (30-42), 6:05 p.m. MST
These two teams have been linked this season by their struggle to find production in the middle infield, particularly at second base. Both squads handed the second base job to young, defensively-oriented players--Asdrubal Cabrera in Cleveland, and Jayson Nix in Colorado--and neither was able to hit enough to stay in the major leagues, let alone hold down the starting job. Cleveland has found a suitable stopgap in veteran Jamey Carroll, who has done a fine job filling in, with an OBP (.378) that is lower than only Grady Sizemore's amongst Indians with 100 or more at-bats. Carroll has been one of just four Indians to post an average EqA (.260) or better this season, along with Sizemore and two young outfielders, Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo. The Rockies, meanwhile, have hit upon a creative solution at the keystone by going with a platoon of the right-handed Jeff Baker and left-handed Ian Stewart. Since he began regularly splitting time with Stewart at the position, Baker has 11 hits in 26 at-bats, with a pair of homers, while Stewart has struggled lately after a strong start to his second year in the majors. Neither player had ever played second base in his professional career before this season, which shows you just how desperate Colorado was to find a solution for its problems at the position. Second base has been a sinkhole for the past decade in Colorado; since Eric Young was traded during the 1998 season, the Rockies have not had a player serve as the primary starter at the position in consecutive seasons.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.