Translating the performances of the latest crop of forbidden fruit from Castro-country and two high-profile imports from Japan's major leagues.
In the past month, two Japanese pitchers have been signed by major league teams-Kenshin Kawakami, now with the Braves, and Koji Uehara, signed up by the Orioles. We've also heard of major league interest in some recent Cuban émigrés-Yadel Marti and Yasser Gomez, as well as Dayan Viciedo, who signed with the White Sox in November. Let's focus a translational microscope on each of these players, with an eye towards giving you an idea of what's in store.
Kenshin Kawakami DOB: 6/22/75 (33) Height/Weight: 5-10/200 Bats/Throws:R/R Team: Chunichi Dragons, Central League, NPB
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The NLCS features two evenly-matched clubs, but how the managers line up their rotations could make all the difference.
The Phillies claimed their second NL East title in as many years by embarking on a 13-3 tear to end the season, once again storming past a shell-shocked Mets club. They made short work of the Brewers in the Division Series, and come into the Championship Series with arguably the most potent lineup of any of the four remaining teams along with the top starting pitcher in Cole Hamels.
Will the lefty-mashing Brewers match up well with Philly, or will Phillies firepower and a strong pen make all the difference?
Less than three weeks ago, the Brewers came to Philadelphia holding a four-game lead in the wild-card race and carrying the league's second-best record despite a slump that had seen them lose seven of 10 to open September. By the end of the four-game set, the two teams were tied for the wild card. It was the start of a finishing kick in which the Phillies went 13-3, breezing past the Mets to claim their second division title in a row.
The shape of the blistering-hot performance of the Dodgers shortstop.
Past experience can generate expectations. Certainly, when they signed Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million deal following the 2005 season, the Dodgers believed that the former Braves leadoff batter would provide a significant spark to their offense. He did not disappoint in 2006, finishing 14th in NL MVP voting. Last year, however, a nagging ankle injury suffered in spring training kept him out of action for the first couple of weeks as well as the final weeks of the season; it also hindered his production level during the 138 games in which he played. A player whose modus operandi involves speed playing with an ankle injury is not a good combination.
Similarly, when Joe Torre signed on to manage the team this offseason, he was fresh off of managing a shortstop that happened to be the longtime face of the most prominent franchise in sports. He may have known his new shortstop could produce at an all-star level even, after that rough 2007. Suffice it to say he could not possibly have had any idea Furcal would be this productive.
A new season brings a new batch of PITCHf/x data from which to learn.
"With me, being a hard thrower ... no matter what, they're defending that heater, man. So the more confidence I have to throw that [changeup] in any count, I'm going to throw it. I'm just going to. I don't care anymore. It's going to help me and I realize that." --A.J. Burnett on his pitch selection. PITCHf/x has confidence in his fastball as well.
Who's been really delivering high-leverage set-up work, and what does that mean for the Yankees prospect?
Wednesday's disclosure that the Yankees have decided to shift Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen to start the year didn't exactly qualify as news. Despite off-season denials of such a scenario, several pieces of data pointed to the inevitability of the decision, ranging from Chamberlain's success during last year's stretch run (pre-bug spray, at least), his age (22), his workload capacity based on the Rule of 30 (about 145 innings, based on the time he spent at four stops plus the postseason, though Will Carroll will tell you that only the major league innings count when it comes to parsing injury risk), and the current health status of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Philip Hughes, and Ian Kennedy.
An AL powerhouse against a Rocky Mountain-high Cinderella--who has momentum, and who's got the advantage?
Tonight, the Colorado Rockies will become the fifth franchise in the past 11 years to make its virgin appearance in the World Series, following in the footsteps of the 1997 Marlins, the 2001 Diamondbacks, the 2002 Angels, and the 2005 Astros. The Rockies combine elements from each of those clubs. Like the 1997 Marlins, they are an odd mix of veteran talent and youth, and squeezed into the playoffs as a Wild Card team in a league that featured a great deal of parity. Like the 2001 Diamondbacks, they are an expansion club from the Mountain West that is set to square off at long odds against one of the AL East's superpowers. Like the 2002 Angels, they are a 'small ball' team that has excelled by vacuuming up with their defense when their opponents tried to put the ball into play. And like the 2005 Astros, which at one point were more than 200:1 underdogs to reach the postseason, they saved their best baseball for late in the year.
Forget about the playoff hunt, there are plenty of interesting races at the bottom of the six divisions.
What's all this talk of division champions and Wild Card teams? What is our unrelenting obsession with success in this country? Hell man, there's a whole other world below the surface of the water, too! What of it?
Nate wraps up his series on the perils and payoffs for going above slot in the Rule 4 Draft.
Picking up from where we left off yesterday, let's take a more detailed look at the subset of players selected between 1998 and 2001, which represents 32 names in all. These are players who have already exhausted their arbitration clocks, or are close enough to doing so that we can form some reasonable estimate of their likely return.
A quick overview of what to expect from all 30 ballclubs.
It has already been the year of the milestone in baseball. Trevor Hoffman became the first reliever ever to reach 500 saves. Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run and Frank Thomas belted his 500th. Craig Biggio got to 3,000 hits, and Roger Clemens reached 350 wins. The biggest milestone of all is just around the corner-Barry Bonds has 751 home runs, four away from Hank Aaron's all-time record.
Aside from personal achievements, a number of interesting races are developing in the two leagues and six divisions. Now that the All-Star Game is behind us, here is a division-by-division look at what to expect in the second half of the season:
Is it there, or isn't it? Dan dives into Dice-K's data to find out.
"Hmm. How should I answer that question? I knew this question was coming today. And I was preparing some optional answers for this particular question. Should I say, 'I have that ball?' Or I could say, 'Which particular ball are you referring to?' Or 'Which ball are you calling a gyroball?' Overall, if I have the chance, I will pitch that ball."
--Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, answering a reporter's question during his first press conference after arriving in Fort Myers for spring training.