|SAN DIEGO PADRES|
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It’s hard to fathom a mid-market team that plays well into October and whose season can still be classified a disappointment, but the Padres stepped up to the task in 2005.
It wasn’t a disappointment in the dismal, pathetic sense like the Dodgers, nor in the fusspot, perfectionist sense like Steinbrenner. San Diego was an enigmatic, underachieving team that would have finished well under .500 in a different division. And, of course, they lucked into a playoff berth and were fish-slapped back into reality by the St. Louis Cardinals. As with any team drifting around the .500 mark, there was a fairly even balance of ups and downs.
First, three things that went right:
- The bullpen was phenomenal, living up to and exceeding the lofty expectations placed upon them. The troika of Trevor Hoffman, Akinori Otsuka and Scott Linebrink made a name for themselves in 2004, and as a whole performed equally well this year. But then Rudy Seanez actually stayed healthy–well, for five out of six months, at least–and struck out 80 in 60 innings. And in July, when Clay Hensley was promoted to cover for the temporarily disabled Seanez, no one expected him to lead the entire pen in innings (43.2) during the second half, stubbornly refusing to allow a single home run. He finished with the lowest ERA (1.70) on the team and even earned a spot start. Chris Hammond was the most effect southpaw, but it speaks volumes that Otsuka’s 1.544 expected wins over replacement (WXRL; 55th best in baseball) was only fifth best on the Padres.
- Brian Giles led the Majors in walks, posting a career-best BB:K ratio of 119:64. While his dwindling isolated power reached a career low (.182), and his skills have been in decline since a lofty peak in Pittsburgh three years ago, it’s encouraging that his first-rate batting eye has not left him. Giles played a second straight injury-free season–another good sign for a guy who’s almost 35–and he’s still showing some speed: 13 for 18 stealing, and his defensive ratings bounced back after a 2004 dip, which may have been a period of adjustment to Petco Park. The ugly underbelly of this, of course, is what Jason Bay has done for the Pirates since the big trade at almost minimum salary. And now, Giles is arguably the premier free agent outfielder on the market this winter.
- If there were any Jake Peavy doubters after 2004, he put them soundly to rest this summer. Peavy bumped up nearly all of his peripherals this year: H/9, K/9, BB/9, and groundball ratio–pretty much everything except his home run rate. Additionally, the ligament inflammation in his forearm (in 2004) did not recur. He’s quickly gaining a reputation as a warrior, which is good as long as the Padres keep him from pushing himself too far. Bruce Bochy and Kevin Towers shelved Peavy for a couple starts down the stretch to rest his shoulder, which looks good on the surface. But Will Carroll expressed some concern that the fractured rib from the NLDS might have been concealing additional shoulder trouble.
What went wrong:
- Important as he is, Peavy was the least of San Diego’s worries when it came to injuries this year. The team was ravaged. The middle infield duo of Khalil Greene and Mark Loretta each had a huge 2004. Loretta hadn’t hit any homers when he tore a thumb ligament, but his average was still .300; he hit just .266 with three homers after the surgery knocked him out for two months. Greene broke a finger and a toe this year, and cut his walk rate nearly in half, turning in a very disappointing .296 OBP. Ramon Hernandez turned in a pretty good year despite battling a left wrist injury, which seems like it should have affected his swing, and he spent over a month on the DL rehabbing from surgery. Adam Eaton continued to tease Padres fans by his alternating flashes of brilliance and strange injuries. Others who visited the DL: Dave Roberts, Eric Young, Woody Williams, Seanez, Otsuka, Phil Nevin, and Pedro Astacio.
- Sean Burroughs. ‘Nuf said.
- Behind Peavy, the Padres got less love from the rotation than Oliver Twist. Okay, to be fair, a full-strength Eaton would have helped a lot, and Astacio chipped in with a completely fluky 3.07 RA over 10 starts. But Astacio was the only other pitcher after Peavy with a positive SNVA, and the combined 4.97 ERA for all starters not rhyming with Lake Stevie is very poor when you consider the .837 Petco Park factor for runs.
Towers has a lot on his plate this winter, vowing to improve the offense while there’s a very good chance he may lose his lone excellent hitter in Giles. Hernandez, Joe Randa, Mark Sweeney, Hoffman and several others are also facing free agency.
At some point this team has to get younger–they’re the third oldest roster in baseball, according to ESPN–so look for younger players like Tim Stauffer, Hensley, Josh Barfield, Ben Johnson and Paul McAnulty to be integrated into the team’s plans as many of these free agents move on.
|ST. LOUIS CARDINALS|
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The Cardinals entered Wednesday with the best chance to win the World Series. However, while the big club marches toward a second consecutive World Series berth, let’s take a break to look at an often-overlooked part of their organization: the farm system. What follows is a two part look at the Cardinals farm system. The first part will look at players we visited on in BP 2005, followed by those players taken in the 2005 draft.
The gem of the St. Louis farm system is Anthony Reyes, and he did not disappoint this season. He did not maintain his gaudy peripheral statistics from 2004, but they were nonetheless in the solid to spectacular range. As a Memphis Redbird he piled up a K/9 of 9.5. Though he only had a G/F ratio of .60, he had a solid HR/9 score of .91. Reyes did well in his sport start for the big club in August, and figures to compete for a spot in the rotation, and perhaps even slot in if the Cardinals lose Matt Morris via free agency.
Another Cardinal farmhand who had a good season was Cody Haerther. Haerther slugged .500 or better at both of his stops, earning a pre-draft promotion to AA. For the season he amassed a line of .307/.355/.538, which is a pretty good line for a 21-year old. He is currently down in Arizona, playing for the Surprise Scorpions. With Larry Walker likely to retire, and Reggie Sanders and John Mabry set for free agency, a strong AFL showing might put Haerther in the running for a job in the show.
Unfortunately, looking at some of the other Cardinals farmhands written up in BP 2005, we don’t get that same special feeling. Shaun Boyd still can’t hit enough for an outfield corner. Chris Duncan was able to maintain his decent power, but it did not spike, and his OBP dropped from his 2004 peak of .393. Reid Gorecki did not do much with his first shot at AA, hitting .182/.264/.277 at Springfield. In the comment for John Nelson, it was noted that the excellent power he flashed in ’04 was an aberration, and his ’05 stats support that hypothesis. With 30 walks versus 39 strikeouts across two levels, Brendan Ryan improved his plate discipline, and was again near flawless in SB attempts. However, his batting average dropped, and he hit far fewer doubles than he had in the past. Lastly, there is Rick Ankiel, who probably deserves more time before he is seriously evaluated as a hitter (Ankiel also may just retire).
For other returning pitchers, the story is largely the same. Carmen Cali spent the season at AAA Memphis, where he piled up awful hit and K/BB numbers. His 5.40 ERA looks bad enough without adding in the 12 unearned runs he allowed, which gives him a 7.25 RA. Blake Hawksworth once again battled shoulder problems, not debuting until July. Stuart Pomeranz is still very tall and very young, but he didn’t really take to Springfield. In 18 starts spanning 98.2 IP, his H/9 clocked in at an underwhelming 10.03, which was coupled with a 3.65 BB/9 rate. Given that he was promoted in late May, it appears that he will continue to get every opportunity to succeed, but when you have average stuff and your control regresses, that isn’t a great sign. Adam Wainwright managed a September call-up, but his 2005 in Memphis wasn’t terribly special. Still Wainwright is only 23, and playing behind a superior Cardinals defense could help some of his weaker peripherals look a bit better. If nothing else, he is “not needing to vastly overpay for Matt Morris insurance.” Lastly, we have the latest candidate to be Brendan Donnelly. Mark Nussbeck, in the minors since ’96, put up some pretty good peripheral stats this season, including a silly 5.21 K/BB.
In brighter news, the Cardinals draft class got off to a great start. When Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny departed for decidedly less greener pastures, the Cards reaped the benefits. The result was the Cards having six of the first 78 picks in the June draft. Four of the six landed on Baseball America’s end of season prospect lists. Chief among them was OF Colby Rasmus, who was rated the #2 prospect in the Appalaichian League. While Rasmus struck out quite a bit (73 SO’s in 216 AB’s), he did have good OBP and SLG marks, and was successful on 13 of 16 stolen base attempts. 2nd round pick Nick Webber did well enough to warrant a late season promotion. Catcher Bryan Anderson became the highest drafted Cardinals catcher (4th round) since Daric Barton in 2003, and he did not disappoint, displaying a decent batting eye and excellent power. The two Tyler’s, Greene and Herron, were impressive in some areas, but not in all. However, Greene only racked up 85 AB’s, and Herron’s 8.87 K/9 is reason enough for optimism.
Overall, the Cards farm system would look a lot better were Barton (.317/.426/.478, reached AA at 19) still in it. There isn’t a ton of talent, but Reyes and Wainwright are likely to graduate, and this year’s draft haul should signal brighter days ahead. It will be very interesting to see if their free agent machinations allow them to keep building the system’s depth or if they lose draft picks in an off-season shopping spree.