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August 19, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Familiar Faces

by Ben Lindbergh

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Purchased the contract of RHP Jerome Williams from Triple-A Salt Lake. [8/17]
Optioned RHP Trevor Bell to Triple-A Salt Lake. [8/17]
Recalled RHP Trevor Bell from Triple-A Salt Lake. [8/16]
Designated OF-S Reggie Willits for assignment. [8/17]
Recalled LHP Horacio Ramirez from Triple-A Salt Lake. [8/16]
Optioned INF-S Andrew Romine to Triple-A Salt Lake. [8/16]
Placed RHP Garrett Richards on the 15-day disabled list (right adductor strain). [8/16]

The latest additions to the Angels bullpen haven’t seen the majors for some time. Williams was last sighted on a major-league mound in 2007, when he allowed 26 runs in 30 innings and six starts for the Nationals. Between 2006 and 2007, Williams allowed a combined 38 runs in 42 1/3 innings, walking 29 and striking out 20. That meltdown followed a promising first few seasons; Williams posted a 110 ERA+ in 383 frames through his age-23 season despite losing a month and a half to elbow surgery in 2004. He also enjoyed BABIPs of .270 or .271 in each of his first three seasons, which—whether it reflected his actual BABIP ability or not—helped to counteract a so-so strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Williams suffered both shoulder and weight problems in 2007, but he appears to have worked his way back from both issues. Over the last three seasons, he pitched for the A’s and Dodgers organizations, as well as in the independent leagues and Taiwan, before joining the Angels on a minor-league contract in June. In 11 games and 10 starts for Triple-A Sacramento, Williams recorded a 4.0 K:BB ratio, by far his best ever at any level. In his initial outing out of the major-league pen on Wednesday, his fastball averaged 92, well above the high-80s marks it tended to hit when he worked as a starter several years ago. It could be telling to see how much of that gain holds up if the former first-rounder replaces Tyler Chatwood in the rotation on Sunday.

Horacio Ramirez’s comeback isn’t quite as interesting; the lefty spent most of last season on the minor-league DL with an undisclosed injury, and while his ERA out of the pen at Salt Lake this season is a respectable 3.40, he’s struck out only 19 and walked 14 in his 47 2/3 innings. That’s not a formula for success at any level, and early returns in the majors, where he’s scattered 4 2/3 frames across two call-ups, haven’t been pretty: He’s allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out one. Expect more of the same as long as he remains on a major-league mound. Fortunately for the Angels, that shouldn’t be long, since his presence is a response to a temporary roster crunch caused by Garrett Richards’ injury-related early exit on Monday. Richards will be replaced by Joel Pineiro, who hasn’t improved since his demotion to relief.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Placed 1B-L Chris Davis on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to August 15 (right shoulder strain). [8/16]
Recalled LHP Brian Matusz from Triple-A Norfolk. [8/16]

It’s a pity that Davis’ season ended just as he was about to get his first extended shot since 2009. He certainly wasn’t off to an encouraging start in Baltimore—he hit just .225/.244/.325 with one home run in his first 10 games for the team, striking out in 34 percent of his trips to the plate—but whereas he’d been buried with progressively fewer plate appearances in his last two seasons in Texas despite continued minor-league mashing, Baltimore figured to let the newest Bird fly or fall out of the nest for good. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until at least the start of next season to gather more evidence about whether the Quad-A label applies in Davis’ case. Regardless of whether he ever matches his .285/.331/.549 major-league line from 2008 again, he’ll always have the .368/.405/.824 performance he put up in Triple-A this season (standard PCL caveats apply).

If you’re looking for silver linings, it helps that Davis’ departure coincides with another opportunity for redemption. Like so many Oriole arms, Matsuz raised his game in the second half of last season, upping his strikeout rate by a full K per nine and lowering his ERA to the mid-3.00s after a shaky first few months. And like so many Oriole arms, he failed to sustain those gains this year, posting an eight-plus ERA in seven starts marked by dramatically reduced velocity and almost half his 2010 homer total in fewer than a fifth of the innings.

Those starts came after he spent April and May on the shelf with an intercostal strain, so it’s possible that the injury had some lingering effects. Matusz had much better numbers in Norfolk, where he got the gopherball under control. He returned to the majors in the wake of two straight excellent starts, in which he went a combined 16 innings with 14 strikeouts and three walks, but his return on Tuesday against the A’s in Oakland wasn’t quite the success he and the O’s were hoping for—he lasted 6 2/3 innings but allowed six runs. However, he did regain a couple ticks on his fastball, and in time, increased velocity should lead to increased success. He’s been a nonentity amidst another lost season in Baltimore, but Matusz still matters, and the current collection of Orioles will be much less likely to make good if he doesn’t turn things around.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed INF-R Wes Helms to a minor league contract. [8/17]

Helms is moving on up in the NL East, having been cut loose by the last-place Marlins in the midst of his role in Logangate* only to get a call from the second-place Braves. His ouster didn’t provoke quite the same outcry that Morrison’s did, which had less to do with his lack of Twitter clout than it does his .191 batting average, absence of redeeming qualities as a player beyond some token positional versatility, and lengthy track record of being not particularly good at baseball by major-league standards. Typically, few tears are shed for 35-year-old futility infielders.

Then again, if the Marlins were going to cut Helms for poor performance, they could have done so at almost any point of his second tour of duty with the team. In 2006, he accrued 1.5 wins over his standard 100-something games and 250-plus plate appearances, and maybe that’s when the Fish fell in love. Helms never recaptured that kind of magic after the age of 30, but following an interlude with the Phillies, the Marlins stubbornly kept bringing him back, keeping their first on-field impression (and perhaps his clubhouse presence) firmly in mind despite True Averages that never climbed above the .230s, keeping his overall value from climbing above replacement level.

A .209 TAv was too low even for them to endure, and finally the Marlins were forced to admit that Helms wasn’t the man to whom they’d plighted their troth and vowed to tender contracts in good times and in bad. Helms hadn’t started since July 28, so the divorce shouldn’t be too disruptive, as long as Jack McKeon reminds his young Marlins that it wasn’t their fault.

Having witnessed his work for division rivals over the last six seasons, the Braves aren’t under any illusions that they’ve just locked up a pennant. In fact, they already had the Helms experience after selecting him in the 10th round of the 1994 draft, finding it so rewarding that they banished him to the Brewers in exchange for Ray King. Helms’ signing is a reminder that rosters are about to expand; contending teams like Atlanta need filler to spare the likes of Chipper Jones from further strain down the stretch. This could be Helms’ last hurrah, so savor every second.

*When a player rep changes teams, does a power struggle ensue? Does the incumbent start badmouthing his new rival’s representational abilities to solidify his own standing? Does the deposed rep long for his lost power? Does his old team descend into leaderless anarchy until a new player seizes control? Does anyone in the clubhouse care? Will anyone ever be brave enough to give me the necessary access to ask hard-hitting questions like these?

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Optioned 3B-L Pedro Alvarez to Triple-A Indianapolis. [8/16]
Pirates activated OF-R Jose Tabata from the 15-day disabled list. [8/16]

You know your season isn’t going well when your team decides to demote you in favor of an unholy alliance between Brandon Wood/Josh Harrison. That’s the situation in which Pedro Alvarez finds himself after giving back half the WARP he accrued in a promising 395 rookie plate appearances in 2010 during his unsuccessful sophomore season. Alvarez hit .365/.461/.587 in 76 plate appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis after coming back from a quad strain last month, but the Pirates sounded unsure that he’d turned a corner when they promoted him.

With the team still in the thick of the pennant race, it made sense to make sure the recovery was a mirage, but Alvarez has hit .174/.230/.246 in 75 subsequent reps in Pittsburgh. Now that the Pirates have slipped—okay, plummeted—out of the race, they can afford to give Alvarez at least a few weeks to straighten himself out. With Alvarez temporarily out of the picture, Tabata can pick up the slack for the Pirates’ youth movement, but that movement might stall if the team can’t unravel the reasons for the 2008 first-rounder’s plate discipline problems in the majors.  


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

Related Content:  Triple-A,  Garrett Richards,  Quad-a

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