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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. 
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