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May 31, 2012

The Lineup Card

10 Things We Learned in May

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Ernesto Frieri is Good
Ernesto Frieri, not Pujols, Wilson, Iannetta, Hawkins, or Not-Mathis, is the clear frontrunner for Best Jerry Dipoto acquisition. Oh, yes, of course, it's only 12 innings of relief work. Hard to declare victory over 10 years of Albert Pujols with just 12 innings of relief work, but they are unfathomable innings of relief work: no runs, no hits, and 25 strikeouts, which is a cool 18.8 Ks per nine. There's a record in there somewhere—I saw it in a tweet—but if Frieri can keep this up, he'll break all sorts of other records. If he does this for 100 innings, he'll be the first pitcher to not allow a hit in his first 100 innings with a team. If he does it for 200 innings, he'll be the first pitcher to not allow a hit in his first 200 innings with a team. And if he does it for just 3,000 innings, he'll pass Nolan Ryan's strikeout record, and he'll lower his career ERA to 0.08. Ernie Frieri: Just a guy on his way to a 0.08 ERA. —Sam Miller

2. Paul Konerko Might Not Be Washed Up After All
In a Lineup Card from back in March, we were asked to pick a player that we thought would decline in 2012. To quote myself: “If there was any visible sign that Konerko was about to regress, I certainly didn’t see it last season, but it’s got to happen, right?” Wrong! Konerko still can’t run and he’s still an immobile (but soft-mitted!) first sacker, but boy can that guy still swing the bat. After OPS+ seasons of 160 and 142 the last two years—his best ever—Konerko has an AL-best 205 figure so far this season. The guy is slower than molasses in January but is hitting .395 because he just hits everything hard, and he’s doing this at age 36. It’s a big topic, but if Konerko can keep this up for another season or two, he might just creep onto the periphery of Hall of Fame discussion. —Bradford Doolittle

3. The Marlins Aren't Horrible
I can't say I jumped off the Marlins' bandwagon in April as so many other pundits did. I wasn't sold on the Marlins from the start, despite their free-spending ways last winter and the addition of Ozzie Guillen as manager. They looked to me like a mishmash of players thrown together to play under a manager who can make any situation combustible. So when the Marlins went 8-14 in April, I chuckled to myself. Not a smug chuckle, mind you, but a chuckle. However, things have changed dramatically in May. The Marlins had a 21-8 record for the month going into Thursday's action and look every bit the contender, especially with Giancarlo Stanton heating up and feeling at home is his home ballpark. I'm still not ready to say the Marlins will make the playoffs, but they also aren't going to be a total disappointment. —John Perrotto

4. Maybe Bobby Valentine Knows What He's Doing After All (Kinda)
When last we left you, the amazing Red Sox were an amazing red-hot mess, and a good portion of that had fallen on the team's new manager, Bobby Valentine. A major league-worst 6.10 bullpen ERA in April hadn't helped, as closer Andrew Bailey's injury nanoseconds before Opening Day threw the pen into chaos. Valentine didn't do much to help, liberally applying doses of Justin Thomas to situations that begged for anything but, while insulting one of his best players to the press. The injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford (not to mention about a hundred other players) all contributed to turning a team full of certainties (as much as these things go) into a mix 'n match mess.

But since the calendar turned to May, Valentine has sorted the pen out. Their 2.19 reliever ERA is third in baseball since May 1, with former sinkholes of suck Vicente Padilla, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller all making positive contributions. Even in the wake of injury, the hitting side has been productive, with Ryan Sweeney (814 OPS and tied for ninth in doubles with 15 despite missing a week with a concussion), Cody Ross (883 OPS), Daniel Nava (.278/.431/.481), and incredibly Scott Podsednik (sure it's a crazy small sample, but who thought Scott Podsednik would ever have an 1.182 OPS ever again in any sample size at any level?) all chipping in.

How much credit the manager deserves for any of the above is debatable. But little things like scrapping Andrew Miller’s windup and moving Rich Hill over to the left side of the rubber can add up. There are also larger things like, oh, for example, the clubhouse not imploding in upon itself, something which after two weeks of the season seemed like a distinct possibility.

Things aren’t perfect. Jon Lester’s strikeouts are MIA, as are Adrian Gonzalez’s homers, and sure, Nick Punto spent a day in the leadoff position [hits self in face with brick]. The specter of Valentine's ridiculous no-win calling out of Kevin Youkilis still lingers as well, but for now at least, it seems that maybe, just maybe, Bobby Valentine knows what he's doing. —Matthew Kory

5. Bryce Harper is Ready
On April 28, the Nationals recalled Bryce Harper, well ahead of the timetable most everyone expected, not only given service time issues but also performance. The 19-year-old phenom wasn't exactly tearing up the International League (.250/.333/.375), and his combined .253/.323/.388 in 229 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A suggested he still had much to learn about upper-level pitching. But with Mike Morse already sidelined, Ryan Zimmerman about to hit the disabled list, and the Nats' offense sputtering along at 3.55 runs per game thanks to zombies like Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa, GM Mike Rizzo was desperate enough to recall the first overall pick in 2010 and hope for the best.

From the moment he arrived, Harper has played like he belonged. In a memorable debut on a Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, he not only pounded a double and a sacrifice fly, but he also made a laser throw from left field that would have nailed Jerry Hairston Jr. at home had he not knocked the ball away. In his eighth major-league game, he showed veteran savvy and a dash of derring-do; after being drilled intentionally by Cole Hamels—part of some misguided "old school" welcome to the big leagues—he went first-to-third on a single to left field, then exacted his revenge by going even older school, scoring on a straight steal of home. Later that game, the Nationals lost Jayson Werth to a broken wrist, virtually ensuring that Harper's stint would be a lengthy one.

The Hamels incident and his hard-nosed play have won over fans predisposed to dislike him based upon the overwhelming hype, but that wouldn't be worth much if Harper didn't hit. Coming into Tuesday's game, he ranked second on the team with a .313 True Average, raking at a .286/.372/.514 clip, with four homers in 121 PA. Over the weekend he homered in back-to-back games to help the Nationals sweep the Braves. Get used to it: Bryce Harper is here to stay. —Jay Jaffe

6. Everyone Loves Streakers—At Least a Little
You have to admit it. At some point, you found streakers amusing. Maybe it was because it made you giggle as a kid, to see a naked guy interrupt a game. Or deep beneath your poor old prurient interests the public display of titillation made you long for a moment of civil disobedience.

Let’s face it: Of all the forms of goofballs running on the field, none are more amusing than the streaker. Jeff Passan’s piece on this Walk-Off Hero, likely won’t win a Pulitzer (though it should), but it is a reminder that in some moments we can be amused by an idiot in the wrong place. The streaker mirrors a political scandal: drunkeness, nudity, holier-than-thou announcers denouncing every move, physical violence and, of course, stupidity.

Not just any stupidity, but a level so low that you’re willing to go to the clink and shell out hundreds of dollars from a wallet, (which, of course, you don’t have on you) just so you can prove that what you were born with really isn’t all that impressive to thousands and—if you time it right—potentially millions of people.

What’s not to love about that? I mean, being a streaker, of course takes ba-- well, it takes a lot of nerve—Mike Ferrin

7. Roger Clemens is Not Bright
This has little to do with his trial on perjury charges or that he may have lied about using PEDs. No, this has to do with a fact: Roger Clemens can’t spell douchebag. That's like Insult Writing 101. I feel the Texas school systems failed him. —Mike Ferrin

8. Albert Pujols Won't Hit Zero Homers; Matt Kemp Won't Hit 70 Homers
The length of the baseball season has a way of humbling anyone who tries to pick out early trends. I know this, having seen some baseball seasons before, but sometimes it’s still easy to ignore the big picture in favor of the evidence in front of my eyes. In April, Matt Kemp hit .417/.490/.893 with 12 homers. He’s 27, which is when a lot of players peak, and he was already the best hitter in baseball at age 26. Clearly he was ascending to some Bonds-ian plane of offensive performance. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols was looking absolutely hopeless in the midst of his first-ever homerless month.

Maybe you’ve missed all of May. If so, allow me to bring you up to speed. Kemp hurt his hamstring and went on the disabled list, from which he recently returned, only to reaggravate the muscle in his second game back. He hit .216/.348/.324 in May. Pujols has hit .321/.391/.679 over his past 14 games. He now has eight home runs. The two players have alternated months in which they went homerless with months in which they wouldn’t stop hitting them, and after all the sturm and drang, they’ll probably be about as good going forward as we thought they would on Opening Day.

Clichés are boring. But that one about never being as good as you look when you’re going good or as bad as you look when you’re going bad? Yeah, that one’s worth remembering. —Ben Lindbergh

9. Melky Cabrera is Finally Figuring it Out
When a Giants player breaks a team record held by Willie Mays, you sit up and take notice. Melky Cabrera did that on Tuesday, when he recorded his 50th May hit, breaking the record long held by the Say Hey Kid. Yes, there’s the matter of the .415 BABIP so far this season, and there’s no way he maintains his current .354 TAv. But coming on the heels of a 2011 in which he put up the best WARP of his career (2.7), it looks like the Melkman may finally be putting it all together at age 27. —Ian Miller

10. Denard Span Will Look Great in Someone Else's Uniform
Here is a general list of things I was worried about coming into this year for the Minnesota Twins: 1) Justin Morneau's health. 2) Joe Mauer's health. 3) Denard Span's health. 4) Organizational depth if Morneau, Mauer, and Span weren't healthy. 5) Bullpen. 6) Starting rotation. Oops.

Anyway, Mauer and Morneau have proven to be relatively healthy and effective, if not quite the dynamos they have been in the past. But Span has been every bit of his old self, shaking off the concussion symptoms that sidelined him for almost all of the second half of 2011. Span's walk rate is up from the previous two seasons, he's played hard and at full speed, and he's hitting .302/.365/.402. He's a good defensive center fielder and a capable leadoff hitter.

And with the Twins assuredly out of contention, they will (or at least should) be looking to move anything that isn't bolted down. Span is 28 years old, under team control for reasonable rates through 2015, and is productive when healthy, so he represents Minnesota's most tradeable asset, and the one most likely to bring back someone of value. The club has Ben Revere available to fill the void Span leaves behind in the short term. So I'm pretty confident that, whatever uniform Denard Span ends up wearing after July 31, he's going to look great in it. Now I wish I had as much confidence in the Twins to get a fair deal back for him. —Michael Bates

6 comments have been left for this article.

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