Star Performer: In the “what have you done for me in the last five minutes” world of Major League Baseball, Hank Blalock‘s lousy April 2002 made some observers wring a few layers of skin off their collective hands. After all, the guy was supposed to dominate the league last year at age 21, or so we were led to believe. Looking back, Blalock’s early struggles and subsequent demotion last season now look like a blessing, if only because it’ll keep this hitting machine from hitting free agency for another year. Blalock has started this season hitting a robust .385, getting on base at a .442 clip while slugging .629–that’s after going 0 for 5 against the Yankees Sunday.
The concern this off-season was that John Hart would trade Blalock in a hasty effort to plug a hole, losing the swap by a wide margin on a talent level. He’d already dealt Travis Hafner (and Aaron Myette) for Einar Diaz and (Ryan Drese) on the notion that the Rangers had plenty of talented, young corner infielders but no viable starting catcher. Never mind that Diaz sported a career line of .259/.309/.357 over 1455 lifetime at-bats through last year while Hafner obliterated minor-league pitching every step of the way. Luckily for Rangers fans, no Blalock for Steve Parris deal went down, and the Rangers got to keep their franchise third baseman…
Blalock’s Bookend: …well, one of them anyway. Texas faces the enviable dilemma of carrying two young, franchise third base prospects on the roster at once with Mark Teixeira also around. Like Blalock, Teixeira has started his career slowly, hitting just .180/.275/.344. So what should the Rangers do with Teixeira? Rafael Palmeiro remains a great hitter even at age 38, so first base is taken until Raffy bolts for free agency after this season. With Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, and Kevin Mench fighting over the two outfield corner spots and DH (there’s no way Everett can play CF at this point in his career), Teixeira’s the odd man out. And we haven’t even brought up the carcass of Ruben Sierra yet.
With so many hands on deck, and the Rangers’ future very much ahead of them with Blalock, Teixeira, A-Rod, Colby Lewis and friends in tow, the best move would be to send Teixeira down for his first-ever taste of Triple-A. This isn’t a team desperate to save money by any means, but every team, no matter how rich, has a budget to meet at some point. Given Teixeira’s early (and admittedly small-sample-sized) struggles and the team’s wealth of other options, there would seem little downside to controlling the service time of a potential superstar and kazillionaire for an extra year. Assuming the team’s finally given up the silly notion of trading or shifting Blalock off of third, getting Teixeira 75-80 games at first base would be a worthy goal, given that’d be the next most sensible place for him. Find a team that’ll deliver strong, young talent at the deadline in exchange for two-and-a-half months of Raffy, then call Teixeira back up for good to take his place. You push Teixeira’s walk year back to 2009 that way, and you stand a good chance of delaying his arbitration-eligible status that way too. Dress it up any way you want for political reasons–“the kid needs more seasoning,” “we want him to learn a new position in a low-pressure environment,” “his cat’s breath smells like cat food,”–just do the right thing for all parties involved. It worked for Blalock, it’ll work for Teixeira too.
- Upcoming Schedule: The Rangers play home-and-home series with Toronto and Cleveland over the next two weeks. The Jays rank third in the league in runs scored, the Indians 13th (tied with Minnesota for 12th with one more game played), presenting a mixed bag for the woeful Texas rotation. The Rangers rank 12th in the AL in ERA, just ahead of those same Indians. Mark your calendar for Sunday, May 11, when Jason Davis (6.67 ERA) is due to square off against Ryan Drese (11.57 ERA)…assuming both guys keep their jobs that long. Take the over and make sure to set out extra pizza and chips–this could take a while.
Injury: The Cardinals knew that J.D. Drew would be on the shelf to start the year, and if Jim Edmonds had run into a wall, or Cal Eldred‘s elbow had fallen apart, few of us would really have been surprised. But Albert Pujols, who played in all but six games in his first two seasons in the bigs, whose second-best PECOTA comparable is Cal Ripken? There’s almost no scenario under which Pujols is injured for any length of time and the Cardinals have a shot at the division.
Tony La Russa recognizes as much, and has Pujols and his sprained elbow back in the lineup even though he’s under strict instructions not to make an overhand throw. It’s a move that deserves some credit: Many managers would shy away from using a player who wasn’t able to perform all of the duties expected of him, neglecting the fact that some are a lot more important than others. Using our PECOTA projections and MLVr–a metric which is designed specifically to evaluate the marginal effect a player has on his team’s runs scoring each game–Pujols betters his likely replacement, Kerry Robinson, by a score of .309 to -.153, or a difference of nearly half a run a game. The opposition would need to have three extra base advances per game in order to beat that figure, and since left fielders don’t handle that many chances, it’s unlikely they’d be able to exploit Pujols’ gimpy elbow that often. It’s not an ideal solution by any means, and if the Cardinals had a better bench, the numbers would run differently, but La Russa is making the best of an unfortunate solution. The wild card, which Will Carroll discussed in yesterday’s Under the Knife, is the possibility that Pujols re-injures himself by playing at less than full strength.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Pujols has hit pretty well in spite of the injury. That’s an underrated skill, and one that separates the Drews of the world from the Larry Dobys and Ellis Burkses.
- Star Performer: Sticking with a theme, Jim Edmonds leads all of baseball with a .438 EqA in spite of an injured calf. OK, so the calf is probably one of the least important muscles involved in a player’s swing–but it sure helps with a player’s foot speed, so how about Edmonds’ defense? Just fine, thank you. Edmonds’ range factor and zone rating are both better than they were in 2002, when they were already very good, and the Cardinals trail only Pittsburgh in NL defensive efficiency.
- Disastrous Performer: You’d expect more poor performances on a team that’s still stuck under .500, but the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by nearly a run per game, a figure that would ordinarily be associated with a 100-win season. Apart from a patchwork bullpen that really misses Jason Isringhausen, most of their regulars have played up to expectations. One exception is Fernando Vina, whose 1-for-10 tally in Sunday’s 20-inning affair drove his batting average to an even .200, a real problem since nearly all of his offensive value rests in his BA. While it’s too early to proclaim that he’s finished, it’s worth noting that Vina is a player that PECOTA was really down on; between his precarious defensive position, small stature, and utter lack of power, it projected a 43% chance of a collapse. If the Cardinals want to keep him in the lineup for his defense, that’s fine, but he needs to be taken out of the top slot in the batting order, and fast.
- Star Performer: We’ve given Kenny Williams a lot of grief since his tenure began in 2000, but he’s done some things right, and his clearest win to date is the acquisition of D’Angelo Jimenez. Jimenez is finally developing the broad offensive skill set that was expected of him prior to his near-fatal auto accident, drawing walks at the top of the order, and hitting for power from the left side. His defense hasn’t sparkled in the early going the way that Jose Valentin‘s and Joe Crede‘s have, but it has improved with regular playing time and a regular position. Jimemez’ OPS has dipped under 1.000 after a mild slump, and will probably slip further, but he appears poised to provide the Sox with similar value to the player he replaced, Ray Durham.
- In the Minors: With a batting average that has hovered around .300 at Triple-A Charlotte, Joe Borchard‘s numbers don’t look bad on the surface, but he hasn’t shown improvement in the areas that the Sox are tracking. Borchard’s still striking out once every four at bats or so, his walk rate has regressed, and he’s already made a couple of errors in center; it all translates to a major league EQA of just .220. With Aaron Rowand really struggling with the big league club, Borchard’s recall seems to be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, but if this is the season that tells us whether Borchard will be an OK solution for a couple of years or a potential star, the early returns aren’t positive.
Idiocy Update: Partly as a response to the latest edition of When Fans Attack, when a drunk named Eric Dybas charged the field after having moved out of his ticketed seat, the White Sox announced last week that they would restrict access to the lower deck to ticket holders who paid for those seats.
Taken on its own merits, the move has its plusses and minuses. At Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, buying a ticket for the upper deck but migrating to the closest unoccupied field level seat has long been regarded less as a privilege than as a right. That said, the Sox derive certain benefits from the practice–some fans who purchase tickets at upper deck prices might not come to the game at all if they had to pay face price for the seat they end up occupying, and a full-ish lower bowl looks better on TV. Moreover, enforcing the rule requires additional security resources, and creates a more ornery experience for fans who are sitting in their rightful places.
In other words, there’s no reason to think the Sox are being insincere about their reasons for the change–on balance, it is likely to cost them a few bucks, and it’s understandable if they want to be proactive about security with an All-Star Game to host this year. The better question is whether the policy will do anything to deter such incidents in the future. You can make accusations of classism if you like, since when sufficiently drunk, the white-collar folks who pay for the premium seats are just as capable of acting like idiots as the blue-collar folks who fill them in their absence. Hell, there’s a credible sociological argument to be made that people who disrespect certain rules–like occupying the seat their ticket entitles them to–are more likely to disrespect others, like not bumrushing the field.
Still, like taking off one’s shoes at the airport, the new policy will mostly be an annoyance, another case of the actions of a deranged few inconveniencing the many. Fortunately, the stakes in this case aren’t quite as high, and when the rest of the season passes without incident, the policy will be as much as relic of the past as Ivan Calderon.