Presenting the three filthiest pitches from the first week of the season.
If you followed any games last season on MLB.com’s Gameday application, you saw “Nasty Factor,” which assigned a number to each pitch based on its perceived nastiness. If you have followed any games this season on Gameday, you’ve seen “Scout,” which describes the action like this: “Sergio Romo is having trouble locating his four-seam fastball” and so on. We’re about to watch the three best pitches* thrown in the first week of the season, and, frankly, Nasty Factor and Scout can’t do these pitches justice. So enjoy the moving pictures, and then read the expert analysis provided by some MLB.com apps that are still in development.
The new Astros GM is steering the ship away from overvaluing fungible relievers.
Devout “Seinfeld” fans undoubtedly remember the scene when Jerry tells George, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” New Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow heeded that advice on Wednesday when he agreed to trade reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.
The Astros were baseball’s worst team last season, after four years under previous GM Ed Wade, who was fired in November after owner Jim Crane took over the franchise. Wade’s most glaring flaw was an odd propensity for overvaluing relievers, often at the expense of prospects or other parts of his major-league roster. Not surprisingly, Luhnow was determined to immediately change course.
The Cardinals, who simultaneously put a bad situation out of its misery and increased their postseason chances, lead the parade of trade deadline winners.
In over a decade of writing professionally about baseball, I have never stooped so low as to write a “trade deadline winners and losers” piece. Normally, I run from a cliché like the Wehrmacht withdrew from a battle, attacking even as I back away. This is probably why I have never been invited to many parties. Normally, the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline is such a violent anticlimax that there isn’t much to say, making it acceptable to dismiss it as if it were a guest-star on Downton Abbey, issuing no more than a single word, a hostile glance, and a pregnant pause. The 2011 trading deadline was so active it demands a more thorough going-over. Today winners, tomorrow losers, and Wednesday I will be invited to the King’s Charity Ball (but no one will tell me it isn't a costume party).
Winners Atlanta Braves Between injuries and disappointing performances, the Braves were being strangled by their outfield. The unit as a whole has done less hitting than that of any team in the league except the Padres. Center field was a particularly sore point, as it has been for a number of years—in 2008, Braves center fielders ranked eighth in the NL in True Average, then dropped to 13th in 2009, 15th last year and again this year. Bourn isn’t Ty Cobb, but should represent a serious upgrade for the Braves in the center-field line, as he ranks fourth among all NL center fielders in TAv (250 PA and up department). Braves leadoff hitters have also been among the worst in the league, having hit .254/.306/.365 overall. Weird stat alert: In 57 plate appearances at Turner Field, Bourn has never drawn a walk. Having hit only .218/.289/.348 against southpaws to date, the Braves needed a right-handed bat and didn’t get one, but Bourn’s value should hardly be dismissed in light of that. They gave up two solid pitching prospects, a third that should be rated a throw-in, as well as an outfielder that has proved he can’t play in the majors, at least for them. That’s not a bad deal for a part they needed so badly and who also remains under contract. Baltimore Orioles
Unlike some rebuilders who pretended they had no need to sell (hellooooo, Cubs!), the Orioles got something, moving the underrated Koji Uehera and the superannuated Derrek Lee in separate deals. The returns aren’t particularly special. Chris Davis will give the lineup the left-handed power it has been missing all year, but potentially nothing else—he’s arbitration-eligible after the season and has a strike zone wider than a rhino’s buttocks. Tommy Hunter pitches to contact and thus will be undermined by the league’s worst defense. Aaron Baker is a 23-year-old first baseman in High-A ball, which likely means we will never hear his name again. Nevertheless, a roll of the dice is better than standing pat with decayed assets.
Boston Red Sox
Theo Epstein got off to a shaky start, giving up future Generic Second Baseman Yamico Navarro and a Standard Model Reliever for Mike Aviles, which seems like a high price to pay for a 30-year-old defense-second infielder who has hit .222/.261/.395 this year. Given Jed Lowrie’s shoulder injury, Kevin Youkilis’ frequent day-to-dayness, and Marco Scutaro being, well, Marco Scutaro, it’s understandable that they felt they needed more depth, having already been forced to resort to Drew Sutton and an ahead-of-schedule Jose Iglesias. Still, Aviles is a sneeze away from being out of the league altogether, whereas Navarro has some long-term value.
Roy Oswalt wants to be traded, but the Astros aren't under any obligation to deal him.
Over the weekend news broke that Roy Oswalt’s agent, Robert Garber, had gotten in touch with Astros owner Drayton McLane in order to request that the veteran ace be traded to a sunnier situation. Oswalt is in his 10th season with the Astros, having spent his entire major-league career in Houston, but likely realized that his time as an elite hurler is running out and his current employer has no true direction or blueprint for success. It is truly a dreadful situation in Houston: the Astros have a terrible farm system and the valuable pieces on the major-league club realistically needed to be traded two years ago in order to extract a return capable of seriously enhancing their talent level. Now, in order to receive anything of value for players like Oswalt or Lance Berkman, the Astros will have to eat a heftier chunk of the remaining change on their contracts. Consider this to be a rant on the Oswalt situation to be used as the foundation of a brief transactions primer.
The Astros' failure to launch bodes poorly for the shape of their season.
Houston, we have a problem. On Monday, the Astros lost 5-0 to the Cardinals, running their 2010 record to 0-7 and marking the third time in this young season that they've been shut out. To date, the Astros have been outscored 42-13—by an average of 4.1 runs per game—which comes out to a Pythagenpat winning percentage of .114.
While the ALCS went into rain delay mode, there's still news and moves from around the majors.
Jimmy Rollins was reflecting on the previous October and looking ahead to this year's postseason one day early in spring training, when he said something that made it clear the Phillies would not be complacent this season. "What we did last year, winning a World Series, was a great accomplishment and something we can cherish for the rest of our lives," the shortstop said. "You know what, though? The truly great teams are the ones who won more than one World Series. The teams people remember and talk about forever are the ones who did it more than once. That's what I'd like to see us do, and I think everyone else on this team feels the same way."
Minor tweaking by the GM and major baiting by the players in The City of Brotherly Love, plus news and notes from around the major leagues.
Ruben Amaro Jr. is in the minority, and that goes beyond his Latin American heritage. The new Phillies' general manager is one of just three former major league players to currently hold that position in baseball. The others are the White Sox's Ken Williams and the Athletics' Billy Beane.
Dark days looming on the grim Astrocomical calendar.
I suppose if I can write a column on the Rockies when they're six games out of a playoff spot, nine games under .500, and having been outscored by 53 runs, I pretty much have to give equal time to the Astros three days later. The Astros are six games out of a playoff spot and have been outscored by 25 runs, but have a record of 74-66-nearly 10 games better than what the Rockies had when I put them under the microscope. Fair is fair, so here goes…