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April 7, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Good Old Days

by Joe Sheehan

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I watched 11 baseball games yesterday. Folks, these are the good old days:

  • During my chat, I got three inquiries as to what was wrong with Johan Santana, which is two more inquiries than hits Santana allowed while I was taking questions. He was fine; the walks were as much a function of pitching around Edwin Encarnacion twice as they were any issues with his command, and the Reds weren't getting good swings at him at all. I picked the lefty to win the NL Cy Young, and nothing happened yesterday for me to change that assessment.

    Of course, the first 17 outs weren't the story for the Mets. The last ten, however, had to be soothing for fans of a team whose bullpen follies cost them post-season berths in 2006 and 2007. Sean Green relieved Santana in the sixth and stranded the tying run at second, getting four outs on 11 pitches. J.J. Putz got through the eighth with relative ease, and Francisco Rodriguez began his march toward 63 saves with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the win. It may not sound like much, but the last time the Mets got three or more shutout innings from their bullpen was September 7, that coming in a loss to the Phillies. Getting outs with a one-run lead and making it off the field with a win was a massive problem for this team after Billy Wagner's season had ended in August. If the Mets just play as well as they did through six innings a year ago, they'll win the NL East, because they will be much better after that.

  • I'm as bearish on Cliff Lee as anyone you'll find, but then again, I would have said that in June of last year as well. Lee will regress to an ERA in the vicinity of 4.00 this year, likely because his walks and BABIP tick back up. He won't be as bad as he was yesterday, when the Rangers lit him up for seven runs in five innings, but I'd be surprised if he picked up even a single Cy vote this season.

    The Rangers are going to do this to a lot of good pitchers, especially lefties. They have as much power as any team in the game, and the top of their lineup will get on base against southpaws. I don't know that they'll hold many teams to just one run-or five runs, for that matter-but they are probably going to lead the AL in runs scored by a good margin.

  • I have two AL-only fantasy teams. They both have Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This is going to end well. Saltalamacchia, who has something to prove from the right side of the plate, had an opposite-field single off of Lee in the second inning, then later turned around and hit a long ball off of Jensen Lewis. Depending on how much time Joe Mauer misses, Saltalamacchia could start the All-Star Game for the American League.

  • Speaking of switch-hitters with power, one of the worst defensive pairings in baseball made their manager look good yesterday. Tony Clark-getting an odd start so that the Diamondbacks could add a lefty to the lineup against Aaron Cook-and Felipe Lopez-the mistake-prone replacement for Orlando Hudson-both homered from both sides of the plate in the Snakes' 9-8 win over the Rockies. I don't know how long Brandon Webb is going to be able to tolerate the infield defense behind him, as only Stephen Drew is competent no matter what the alignment, but yesterday it worked out.

  • CC Sabathia had a bad start yesterday. This is utterly meaningless, except that he now plays in the City that Logic Forgot, so any and all failures to pitch like he did for the Brewers last year are going to be treated as disasters. The line-4 1/3 innings, six runs allowed, five walks-was similar to last year's 5 1/3 IP, 5 ER mess. It all worked out.

    What will be fun is if Sabathia repeats last season's opening sequence: four starts, 18 innings, 13.50 ERA, 14 walks, five home runs, no pitches thrown after the sixth inning. I mean, this happened a year ago, when Sabathia was pitching in Cleveland, and I remember giving away an entire week in April talking about nothing but this. He made a mechanical change at that point, and posted a 1.88 ERA in 235 innings over his last 31 starts. Of course, in New York, that will be a footnote; if Sabathia starts out like he did in 2007, he's going to be labeled a failure faster than you can say "Ed Whitson."

    Popcorn, anyone?

  • I really need to get that "My Guys" piece together before all of them become too obvious. Adam Jones, who I love just slightly less than I do the salt-and-pepper Kettle Chips, had three hits and two walks yesterday, and basically killed the Yankees. He's also two years away from his first Gold Glove in center field. What you saw yesterday from the Orioles, the quality ABs, the big hits, the good defense... that's the reason to think they're on the way back. It's when the back of the rotation shows up that you'll see the problems, but for one day, you could see the return of baseball in Baltimore, and it looked great.

  • Felix Hernandez is really freaking good. If Ichiro comes back healthy and the Mariners do go the distance with this maximum-defense concept, Hernandez could have a ridiculously low ERA this year, I mean approaching 2.00. Hernandez turns 23 tomorrow, and he already has more than three full seasons under his belt, with 40 career wins, and his next strikeout will be the 600th of his career.

    Oh, and he's a free agent after 2011. Eight years, $250 million? It's possible. What's scary is that such a contract would only take him to 34 years old. Felix Hernandez might win 350 games, he might strike out 4,000 men, he might win eight Cy Young Awards. It feels, for all the world, like he's been forgotten, but he's just getting started.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

30 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Bob

Have you tried honey dijon Kettle Chips? Those taste as good as the Birds' victory over the Yankees yesterday.

Apr 07, 2009 16:24 PM
rating: 2
 
Dan W.

Damn - was hoping to be the first to seize on that Kettle Chips comment. The honey dijon ones taste like over-flavored crap to me personally, but I'm still seething about the discontinuation of Cheddar & Beer, which was clearly the best variety. Sigh...

Apr 07, 2009 17:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrickj

ya i just have to say i can't stand the salt & pepper despite the fact that I love every other kind of kettle chips.

Apr 07, 2009 21:06 PM
rating: 0
 
WCE

The New York cheddar chips are dangerously good.

Apr 07, 2009 23:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

The BBQ ones are the chip equivalent of crack.

Apr 08, 2009 06:11 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

The only other ones I've had are the chipotle ones, which are also very good. Most of the varieties don't appeal to me.

Apparently you can order these online. Like my life expectancy wasn't short enough.

Apr 08, 2009 10:58 AM
 
jetson
(660)

Felix's MLB stats bear out no such likelihood to date. It seems the conclusion drawn is the positive corrolary to the one we're not supposed to draw on Sabathia's performance (I of course agree with the latter).

He's over a hit per inning in his career, and both his Ks and BBs are good, not great. If we're going to do statistical analysis, he simply doesn't fit the profile. Though he's fun to watch and I hope you are right.

Apr 07, 2009 16:26 PM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

meant to say over a hit per inning as a full time starter.

Apr 07, 2009 16:27 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Make a list of players in history with a career like Hernandez before the age of 23. It's incredibly short, so it won't take you long. You'll recognize most of the names.

I think Felix fits the future HOF profile about as well as any pitcher under club control right now.

Apr 07, 2009 17:12 PM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

True but most of the ones who put up numbers like Joe is mentioning have approximated them by then (Clemens, Gooden, Pedro) or at a minimum shown spectacular hit prevention. Maddux is an outlier but he's such a different sort that I don't know he's a comparable.

Of course there's always guys like Kevin Brown and Curt Schilling that sort of "find it" at a seemingly random point.

It will be fun to watch and see. I have no doubt he will be elite and maybe a HOFer but I just don't see a basis for thinking he'll put up extreme stats. He profiles more like an Oswalt to me at this point.

Apr 07, 2009 19:39 PM
rating: 0
 
WCE

Roy Oswalt is quietly putting together a HOF career - I don't think that's damning with faint praise. Find something in Roy O's numbers that says he isn't a HOFer if he can stay at this level a few more years.

Apr 07, 2009 23:55 PM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

absolutely - I love Oswalt. But he's never going to threaten a 2.00 ERA (and hasn't). His career stats track eerily similarly to what I perceive would be a logical progression for Felix based on his numbers to date.

Apr 08, 2009 05:54 AM
rating: 0
 
WCE

I see, sorry. I thought comparing Hernandez' path to Roy Oswalt was some sort of minor insult. But no, no 2.00 ERAs - everything else you'd want though.

Apr 08, 2009 12:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Have you actually made such a list? My understanding is that pitchers who throw as many MLB innings as Felix has at this age very, very typically burn out very, very quickly.

Apr 07, 2009 20:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

That's an idiotic comment. He's had a terrible defense behind him for most of his career, so that's necessarily going to inflate his hit numbers.

Use a stat that's defense and outcome dependent, like tRA, and you'll see that Felix is as good as Joe claims he is.

Apr 08, 2009 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Hunter

Right but a lot of that was done when other guys are making college hitters look stupid, or in AA. I'm not sure I'd go with quite the number Joe used, but there is no reason to think he won't be an elite pitcher for a long time.

Apr 07, 2009 17:25 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

A darn good reason to think he won't be an elite pitcher for a long time. Mark Prior. Heading a cast of dozens and dozens of young pitchers who burnt out after heavy early use. See "Nexus: Injury".

Apr 07, 2009 20:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Hoff

Just going to say, for non baseball reasons, no way Hernandez gets that contract. I'm going to wager that in three years the yankees really regret locking into this economies salaries this offseason because the market is going to shed 15-20% off contracts, maybe more.

Apr 07, 2009 17:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

I doubt the market collapses like that. What's more likely is that (1) the market doesn't grow as quickly as it has in the last several seasons, i.e. there's very little inflation and (2) longer contracts become a rarity. Perhaps, then, you are right, if you look at the total value of FA contracts (the total number of millions rather that the millions per year). But I don't think that the value per season for an FA of the Felix caliber will be small.

As a side note, I'm really glad he's finally making over a million a year.

Apr 07, 2009 17:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

If this happens, Baseball will be the least of the world's concerns.

I expect 10% salary inflation to pick up again by 2011 if not this off-season.

Apr 07, 2009 19:14 PM
rating: 0
 
gaborde

that's silly.

Apr 07, 2009 19:18 PM
rating: -1
 
gaborde

oops I meant that in response to the salaries shedding 15-20%.

Apr 07, 2009 19:19 PM
rating: 0
 
akachazz

Joe,

Snobs may look down upon the bullet point column, but I LOVE these articles. Your insight means a lot, and just because you can't stretch one out into a column shouldn't mean we should be deprived of it.

Apr 07, 2009 18:38 PM
rating: 1
 
CrusssDaddy

Hahaha, one start into the season and Joe is already handing out eight(!) Cy Youngs to Felix! Settle down sweetpea, and act like you've done this before...


Apr 07, 2009 19:34 PM
rating: 2
 
JayhawkBill

Perhaps CC Sabathia will be just fine, but his great improvement last year was largely due to the opposition getting easier. MLB pitchers with 100+ IP faced hitters with OPS from .770 (Livan Hernandez) to .707 (Randy Johnson) in 2008. CC Sabathia faced hitters with a mere .736 OPS in the AL and a paltry .710 OPS in the easier NL. Both figures were near easiest in their leagues.

Furthermore, Sabathia's marked improvement in the last 14 of his 18 games with the Indians might have been related to quality of opposition: of those 14 games, three were against weak-hitting NL teams (the Padres, the Reds away from home, and the Dodgers before Manny's arrival), three were against the Royals; and two were against the A's and the anemic first-half Blue Jays. The remaining six games were against stronger teams, and CC Sabathia lost five of them. His win against the Twins was their sixth loss in a row, suggesting that timing might have played a role.

Interestingly, CC Sabathia faced the easiest opposition of any AL pitcher with 100+ IP in 2007, a .738 OPS. In 2006 his opponents' OPS was .767, just six points higher than that of the batters faced by Liriano, who got the AL's easiest hitters (again, minimum 100 IP).

Sabathia is an excellent starting pitcher. Still, he's unproven in the very competitive AL East. Given his advantages with weak competition in the past three seasons, and remembering that his ERA+ was barely over 100 in four of the five seasons before that, and tossing in the possibility of a decline now that his salary is guaranteed for several years, I'm not yet convinced that his Opening Day was "utterly meaningless." It could be meaningless; it could be a harbinger of a CC Sabathia who finds that the 2009 AL East is harder than the other places and times that he's played.

Apr 07, 2009 19:57 PM
rating: 2
 
Rob_in_CT

Of course it's utterly meaningless. It's one start out of ~33.

Nobody expects him to put up a 2 era in the AL East. Nobody with a brain, anyway. I think mid-3s is about right. If you think that's low, ponder whether you really believe Chien-Ming Wang is a better pitcher than CC Sabathia. Wang has consistently put up ERAs in the 3.75-4 range, in the AL East.

Apr 08, 2009 06:17 AM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill

Wang has consistently put up an ERA almost a run better at home and a BABIP allowed fifty points lower at home because they groomed (well, soaked) the infield to work well with his extreme ground ball tendencies.

Wang finished second in Cy Young voting in 2006. He's an excellent pitcher. On the road, he's posted a 4.21 career ERA, largely because the AL East is tough.

I'm not so sure that Sabathia is headed for an ERA in the mid-threes. I know that some other pitchers coming from the NL to the AL East in recent years, particularly Josh Beckett, had some challenges acclimating to their new division. If Wang is a 4.21 ERA pitcher away from a home ballpark groomed for him, and if Beckett posted an ERA over 5.00 his first season in the AL East, maybe Sabathia is in for some more rough outings, even if he hasn't declined at all from his contract year's health and talent.

We'll see. I wish no player ill; I hope that, six months from now, Sabathia is one of many AL East players whose superlative work has made it a season to remember in three (or more) AL East cities.

Apr 08, 2009 09:32 AM
rating: 0
 
bctowns

Joe, you've made several comments about Saltalamacchia having a season where he's going to rake, or potentially start the All Star game for the AL. I have him in a couple of fantasy leagues as well, having missed out on Wieters, and I hope you're right, but his PECOTA forecast leaves me skeptical. I'd love to hear a bit more analysis from you on this. Perhaps a full article?

Apr 07, 2009 20:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Lou Doench

"He was fine; the walks were as much a function of pitching around Edwin Encarnacion twice as they were any issues with his command."

We're gonna see a lot of that here in the Queen City as long as Dusty decides to bat the Lil Dog 6th in front of the Zombie Ramon Hernandez and Gonzo the Great. Betcha the Dustbuster bats him 7th against righthanders...

Meanwhile Brandon Phillips will continue to bat cleanup because... well we didn't need a reason last year. And listen to this bit of lineup laziness. Willy Tavares, Hacking Mass All-Star, had a touch of the flu so he had the night off. The creative platoon of Jerry Hairston/Chris Dickerson took the leadoff spot, which I'm cool with actually. But Tavarez's replacement in CF is 10 year minor league vet coming off the March of his life Darnell Mcdonald. And Dusty bats him SECOND! Against Johann Santana!!! On OPENING DAY!!!
And don't get me started on how our #1 pinch hitter off the bench is 5th starter Micah Owings?

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!
(and the season's only one day old)

Apr 08, 2009 06:23 AM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

I counted 3 balls that fell in front of McDonald that would have been caught by any CF worth his weight in poo. Is the guy positioning himself in cleveland? Either way, he needs to go.

Apr 08, 2009 07:09 AM
rating: 0
 
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