Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How has Brandon Morrow improved so much lately?

Forget for a second that he’s walked a batter almost every two innings this season or that he’s never really had a full-time job as a starting pitcher at the Major League level until this season. Ignore his rough April and focus on what he’s done lately.

In his first ten starts this season, Brandon Morrow went 3-4 with a 6.66 ERA. He had an 11.7 K/9 rate and 5.76 BB/9 during those ten starts, only one of which lasted longer than six innings. As a team, the Toronto Blue Jays were 5-5 in games that Morrow started.

Since a May 31st start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Morrow has been on fire. He has since gone 2-2 with a 1.80 ERA. His K/9 rate has gone down to 7.88 K/9 but what’s amazing is his 2.7 BB/9 number, not to mention the fact that he has only allowed one home run in six starts. But what has changed? What has caused Morrow to transform himself from an average pitcher to an above-average hurler that the Blue Jays can now rely on?

Well, that improved BB/9 rate is a start. Allowing almost 3 less walks per nine innings is certainly a step in the right direction, and shows that he has harnessed some control as we roll into summer.

But there’s more to it than that. Looking at Morrow’s career numbers, he’s never really been a groundball pitcher. He’s typically allowed more fly balls, which has made him somewhat prone to allowing home runs. This season is different. While Morrow began the season allowing more fly balls, we have seen a reversal in his numbers of late.

By looking at the chart at FanGraphs, it is clear that Morrow’s increased groundball rate has something to do with his success. Coincidentally, we see perhaps the sharpest increase of all in his LOB% (runners left on base). In his first 10 games, Morrow was only able to strand more than 70% of runners twice. Prior to his game against Cleveland, Morrow had stranded more than 70% of runners in his last four starts, and more than 75% in his last two.

Despite the fact that Morrow’s strikeout numbers have dropped off slightly, his improved walk rate combined with the new found ability to induce ground balls has helped him much more. Less runners on base means less chances for the other team to score, and more ground balls means more chances for double plays if anybody manages to get on.

Should Morrow continue with these types of performances, it will be clear that the Blue Jays won the trade they made this off-season when they sent Brandon League and Yohermyn Chavez to Seattle to acquire the young right-hander.

Morrow was initially drafted by the Mariners with the 5th overall pick in the 2006 draft. Though he managed to make five starts in 2008 and another ten in 2009, he was primarily used as a reliever during his time in the Majors while even spending time as the closer for Seattle.

Since the trade to the Blue Jays, he has become a full-time starter. With just over 2 years in service time to start the season, Morrow’s rights will be under team control until the end of the 2013 season. One year longer than Brandon League.

Can the Red Sox Win With So Many Injuries?

The Boston Red Sox currently sit in second place in the AL East with a record of 47-31. They are only one game behind the New York Yankees and lead the American League’s wild-card race by two games on their closest rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. With the Red Sox in the thick of the playoff hunt as we near the half-way point of the season, the recent slew of injuries has to have many people worried.

Starter Josh Beckett has been out since May 18th with a lower back strain, and is expected to make a rehab start before the All-Star break and should return sometime in July. However, when he has been healthy this season, he has not performed well. In 8 starts for the 2010 season, Beckett is 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA. His only win came in his second start of the season, an 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals. How walk rate has risen this season from allowing one every 16.1 batters in 2009 to one every 11.2 batters this season. His strikeout rate has fallen from one every 4.4 batters in 2009 to one every 5.3 batters in 2010. Beckett seemed to have lost a bit of velocity of his fastball early in the season, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can regain some of that upon his return and hopefully he will be able to improve his numbers.

Clay Buchholz, one of the Red Sox’ best starters this season, suffered a hamstring injury during his last start against the San Francisco Giants on June 26th but is expected to miss only one start and avoid a trip to the disabled list. This is good news for Sox fans, and Buchholz has the most wins on the team while posting a 10-4 record and is third in the AL with a 2.45 ERA. Fans should expect to see Buchholz back July 6th when the Red Sox face Tampa Bay.

Losing two of your top five starters is never easy to overcome. But the Red Sox have managed to do well, but are now running into problems with their starting lineup. When they faced the Rays on Tuesday night, they did so without five key members.

When Jacoby Ellsbury collided with teammate Adrian Beltre on April 11th, he fractured his ribs and was placed on the disabled list. The speedy outfielder returned on May 22nd to play only three games before returning to the DL with the same injury. Ellsbury later claimed that he returned too soon and that probably worsened his condition. Without Ellsbury in the lineup, the Red Sox have lacked a true stolen base threat. Ellsbury stole 50 bases in 2008 before swiping 70 last season when he set a Red Sox record.

Replacing Ellsbury in left field, at least until June 9th, was Jeremy Hermida. The Red Sox acquired him in an off-season trade with the Marlins and has been a disappointment this season hitting just .217/.268/.384. Like Ellsbury, Hermida fractured his ribs while playing left field.

Since the injury to Hermida, playing time in left field has been split between Bill Hall (.179/.258/.214 in 9 games) and rookie Daniel Nava (.294/.368/.490 in 14 games). Nava clearly has the statistical advantage over Hall, but is it enough for the Red Sox to stick with the rookie instead of looking outside the organization for help?

Ellsbury currently has no clear timetable for his return and Hermida is expected to be out until after the All-Star break, so barring any more injuries, the Red Sox will have to go with an outfield involving Hall, Nava, Darnell McDonald, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew until the others return. Of those five, only Cameron and Drew were expected to be part of the regular starting lineup this season. Though players like Nava and McDonald have been pleasant surprises, with McDonald even outperforming Cameron offensively.

Moving to the infield, Jed Lowrie has been out all season due to mononucleosis, but he would not have had a spot in the starting lineup anyway with guys like Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Beltre ahead of him. Still, it would have been nice for the Red Sox to have Lowrie come off the bench in tight games.

Speaking of Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP suffered a broken foot in a game against the Giants on June 25th and is expected to miss about six weeks. At the time of the injury, Pedroia was having another All-Star calibre season hitting .292/.370/.502 while leading the team with 8 stolen bases and making only 2 errors in the field in 73 games.

In the 3 games that Pedroia has missed, Hall has been the second baseman going 3-for-9, which is a little better than he had done while playing in left field.

Making it to the DL a few days before Pedroia was the lightly-used Mike Lowell. While appearing in only 31 games this year, Lowell has struggled to the tune of a .213/.308/.350 slash line which is well below his numbers from last season and his career average. Being used as primarily a pinch hitter this season, Lowell has only started 10 of the 31 games he’s played in all year leading many people including himself to believe that he no longer has a role on the Red Sox. This has lead to speculation that he would be traded before July 31st, but this latest hip injury has other teams wondering whether he will be able to return to full health before the trading deadline.

With Pedroia, Lowrie and Lowell out, the Red Sox are missing a good core of infielders. But luckily for them, Pedroia is the only starter on the team.

Two days after Pedroia’s injury, catcher Victor Martinez broke the thumb on his catching hand and is now expected to return immediately after the All-Star break. Still, with Martinez out of the lineup, the Red Sox will have to rely on rapidly aging veteran Jason Varitek, a player who has seen his numbers drop consistently over the past 5 seasons.

Essentially, the Red Sox have some great depth in their organization that should help them get through this troubling time. Almost any other team would be crippled with injuries to star players like Pedroia, Ellsbury and Beckett. But the Red Sox have other guys who can fill those holes. The only worry now is what will they do if something happens to the backups or the rest of the team?

J.D. Drew has never played more than 140 games in his time with Boston and has a history of shoulder problems. Beyond Varitek, who do the Red Sox call on for catching help? Can Gustavo Molina be expected to be effective as the team’s starting catcher if both Varitek and Martinez are out? Or would they trade for another catcher?

The next two weeks will be tough for Terry Francona and company as they look to catch the Yankees and build upon their league in the wild-card race. With five more games to go against Tampa Bay and three games against each of Baltimore and Toronto, the Red Sox will play eight games against two of the teams chasing them down in the standings. If they can hold their ground until the All-Star break, they should be in good shape to make a run at the playoffs. If not, we may see another team leading the way.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another Trevor Cahill Article...This One is More Informative

If you play fantasy baseball in any format, I’m sure you’ve run across articles telling you all about Trevor Cahill of the Oakland Athletics. As a sophomore, Cahill has drastically improved his numbers from his rookie year.

As a rookie, Cahill went 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts during the 2009 season. He also walked 72 while striking out 90 in 178.2 innings. In 2010, he is 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 12 starts. Additionally, Cahill has walked only 24 while striking out 52.

According to FanGraphs, Cahill’s fastball averaged about 89.8 MPH in 2009 compared to 90.4 MPH in 2010. He has also been throwing his curveball much more at a rate of 11.9% this season compared to 2.7% in 2009. What’s also interesting is the change in speed. While his fastball seems to have picked up an additional 0.6 MPH on average, his curveball has gone from 79.1 MPH in 2009 to 77.8 MPH in 2010. It’s a small difference, but certainly enough to fool hitters.

His 2009 numbers would have shown a difference of 10.7 MPH between his fastball and curveball, while his 2010 numbers show a 12.6 MPH difference. That’s almost 2 miles per hour. That may not seem like much to the average fan, but the bigger difference between pitches does a much better job in throwing off a hitter’s timing at the plate.

Cahill’s groundball rate has also improved from 47.8% in 2009 to 53.3% in 2010. This has led to a sharp decrease in home runs allowed. In 2009 he allowed one every 28.6 batters he faced. In 2010, Cahill allows a home run every 37.1 batters. Essentially, he allowed about 1 every game last year and one every two out of three games this season.

It is clear that Trevor Cahill has improved his numbers this year. By reading this article, I hope you understand how and why he has managed to improve those numbers. The only thing I would like to know is how did he manage to increase the velocity on his fastball? Is it something he worked on, or should we expect to see that velocity drop as the season goes on?

Possible Write-Ins For All-Star Ballot

With the deadline for All-Star voting quickly approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to list some deserving players who did not make the ballot. These players will have exhibited All-Star calibre numbers, but may require some write-in votes. The only criteria: each player must not have his name on the 2010 MLB All-Star ballot.

Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers
Boesch was essentially an unknown to most people at the start of the season. In fact, a search for him on Google will bring up a page with his minor league stats before his major league stats on Baseball-Reference. Go ahead, try it and see for yourself. Boesch did not make his Major League debut until April 23rd, a game in which he went 2-for-4 against the Texas Rangers. Since then, he has been on a tear. For weeks, Boesch was listed near the top of the AL batting race. He has since trailed off, and is now hitting .338/.389/.621 for the Tigers through 53 games. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Detroit Tigers as their left fielder, and shows no signs of slowing down as his numbers have been fairly consistent throughout the season. With a batting average and slugging percentage this high, Boesch deserves to be in the All-Star game.

Andrés Torres, San Francisco Giants
Torres has been around for a few years. At 32 years of age, he’s no rookie. He played in 75 games for the Giants in 2009 and put up good numbers. But his 2010 has been great. Torres has a slash line of .276/.375/.448 through 66 games while playing all three outfield positions for the Giants and flashing some speed on the basepaths with 13 steals to date. Of his 61 hits this season, only 33 have been singles. His on base percentage and stealing ability may make him a good leadoff hitter, but combine that with his extra base power and it makes him a great #2 guy in the lineup. Torres deserves to be in that All-Star game with the numbers he is putting up this season not simply because of his batting average, but due to his ability to hit for extra bases and ability to move into scoring position after reaching base.

Ángel Pagán, New York Mets
Taking over the everyday job in centre field from the injured Carlos Beltran, Pagán has performed quite well. He has managed a slash line of .302/.363/.443 as the everyday centre fielder for the Mets, but stands to lose his starting job with Beltran’s return coming closer. There’s a great article over at Amazin’ Avenue that states what the Mets should do when Beltran returns, but chances are that Pagán will not get as much playing time as he deserves. His 14 steals this year and the fact that he has made only two errors in the field should dictate that he would be an integral part of the Mets’ lineup, but we’ll have to see what the Mets actually do.

These three guys may not be the best players in baseball, but they are certainly going beyond expectations with their performances this season. The problem with all three is that they were either not on the big league roster to start the season, or they assumed starting roles due to injury and were therefore left off the official MLB All-Star ballots. Many people may not vote for these guys if their names were on the ballots to begin with, but they definitely deserve recognition for their great seasons.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Branyan Heading Back To Seattle

In a questionable move, the Cleveland Indians have sent Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for minor leaguers Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz.

The 26-47 Indians, currently in last place in the AL Central and 14.5 games behind Minnesota, manage to unload the 34-year old Branyan who signed with the team as a free agent this past off-season and has hit a respectable .263/.328/.491 with the Indians. He has a $2-million salary this season with a mutual option for 2011 at $5-million.

The move allows Cleveland to use Matt LaPorta as their everyday first baseman, and gives them two good prospects.

Ezequiel Carrera was hitting .268/.339/.315 for Seattle Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers at the time of the trade while primarily playing centre field.

Juan Diaz was hitting .295/.345/.433 for the High Desert Mavericks of the Single-A California League while playing shortstop.

For the Mariners, this trade does not make much sense. First of all, they are in last place in the AL West and trailing the Texas Rangers by 14 games as I write this. Does GM Jack Zduriencik think his team has a shot at the playoffs with Erik Bedard nearing a return from the DL?

The Chicago White Sox had their winning streak snapped at 11 games today, after they improved from 28-34 to 39-34. So I guess anything is possible. The Mariners currently have a strong starting rotation, but very little offense in their lineup.

Branyan is certainly an upgrade over Casey Kotchman, but why make this trade at this point in the season with your team so far out of the playoff race?

They've gotten by with great pitching so far, but can it carry them all the way?

Through 74 games they have a team ERA of 3.03 which leads the Majors by a wide margin. They are tied with the New York Mets with 10 shutouts as a team. Their pitching staff has struck out more batters than any other team this year and of the 6 guys in their bullpen that have pitched in at least 20 games, the highest ERA is 2.92.

This same team has a team batting average of .245 and on base percentage of .315, better than only four other teams in the Majors. The four guys that have spent the most time patrolling their outfield have a combined slash line of .216/.303/.364. Not a very good offensive output by any means.

The 2010 edition of the San Diego Padres is just downright dominant on the pitching mound. However, this dominance combined with a lack of offence essentially means that the Padres will win most of their games by only a few runs.

As noted in this article by Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union Tribune, Jed Hoyer is fine with winning games by only a few runs. In fact, he has developed a strategy where he tries to make San Diego an appealing destination for free agent pitchers. Having the only manager in the league who is a former pitcher himself in Bud Black certainly helps.

There was much talk in the media this off-season of Adrian Gonzalez being traded with many outlets listing the Red Sox as a prime destination. With the Padres holding onto a 3.5 game lead over the Giants atop the NL West, it would appear as though Gonzalez will not be going anywhere this season.

Another name mentioned in trade rumours as recently as only a few weeks ago, Heath Bell, has saved 21 games for the Padres this year. Despite the fact that the entire Padres bullpen has mowed down the competition this year, Bell is the only experienced closer on the team. This should be a signal that the Padres should not trade Heath Bell this season as doing so may hurt their chances of reaching the post-season. It has been said that closers have a different mentality than other members of the bullpen. Bell clearly has this mentality, and is thriving in his role as closer.

Looking at the Padres lineup, some holes and gaps are clearly visible. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, no other member of the team has an average above .300, and he leads the team with 16 home runs while two others on the team, Will Venable and Scott Hairston, are tied for second on the team with 7.

While their infield could use some offensive help, it is the outfield that is the biggest cause for concern at the moment. While Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable have swiped 13 and 14 bases respectively this year, neither of these guys manage to get on base frequently enough to provide the Padres with consistent offence.

If the Padres are to make a real playoff push this year, they need to acquire another outfielder who can put the ball in play more than the current group. While I also think that the Padres would do well to pick up some speed in the outfield, they would do better to pick up somebody who could be a threat to hit for extra bases every time he comes to the plate. Based on this criteria, let’s take a look at some potential trade targets.

David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals
While some may argue that Scott Podsednik could be a good fit in San Diego, I agree with this idea but think the team would be much better off to go after David DeJesus. First of all, Podsednik has been limited to playing only left field in recent years whereas DeJesus has played all three outfield positions within the past few seasons. Second, while it is clear that Podsednik is much more of a stolen base threat, DeJesus is more of a threat to hit for extra bases as shown in his .326/.394/.479 slash line for this season. While he has only 5 home runs so far this season, he has an amazing 22 doubles. That shows extra base power, and that is clearly something that the light-hitting Padres need. If you go to David DeJesus’ player page on the MLB web site and look at his hitting chart here, you can see that some of the doubles, triples and fly outs that he’s had at Kauffman Stadium this year would have been home runs at Petco Park as it is a shorter distance to centre field and the power alleys are about 18 feet shorter in Petco. I realize there are other factors to account for such as wind and elevation, but this is certainly promising. DeJesus could come over to San Diego and take over any one of the outfield positions, and his $4.7-million salary with a club option for next year would be affordable for the Padres to take on.

Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are now 33-41 and 8.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central. Leading the team in home runs and RBIs is not Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun, but Corey Hart. Primarily a right fielder throughout his career, Hart has managed 18 home runs this year while putting up a slash line of .272/.339/.576. Hart is almost three years younger than DeJesus, and makes only a little more money this season at $4.8-million with another year of arbitration left. Historically, Hart has been more of a stolen base threat than DeJesus, but he has seen a drop in those numbers this year most likely due to his increased power. Hart would most likely play right field with the Padres, moving Venable to either left or centre. Another thing Hart has going for him is his tendency to pull the ball. From looking at his home hit chart for this season, he could potentially have about 5 more home runs or at the very least 5 more base hits off the wall had he been playing at Petco Park instead of 5 fly outs due to the shorter porch in right that Petco has when compared to Miller Park.

Austin Kearns, Cleveland Indians
I’m not as big a fan of Kearns as I am of the other two guys, but you can’t argue with those numbers he’s put up in Cleveland. He’s managed a slash line of .279/.359/.438 in 61 games this year, so he would still be an upgrade over what the Padres currently have. Kearns is not the same extra base threat that the other two are and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, but his $750,000 salary makes him much more affordable. It should also be noted that Kearns has seen a dip in his batting average lately and is hitting only .253 for the month of June, so there are indications that he is now settling back in line with his career numbers and thus may not be as valuable at the trade deadline should the Indians elect to trade him. Though, he could still be an upgrade for many teams such as the Padres.

Of the three guys I have listed, I think Kearns would be the easiest to obtain for the Padres, but I would like to see them go after either DeJesus or Hart. The only question now is: what would those teams want in return?

Is Wilson Ramos Trade Bait?

Much has already been written on Wilson Ramos and the fact that he is blocked from making to the Major League level by 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer. When Mauer went down with an injury earlier in the season, Ramos was called up and instantly took over the everyday catching duties from Drew Butera, so it’s clear that the Twins see him as the second best catcher in the organization.

The problem? He’s young and will easily get more playing time with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. As a result, we see another rookie with a slash line of .186/.222/.279 through 16 games as the backup to Mauer.

Seeing that Ramos will most certainly not make it as a catcher with the Twins with Mauer signed through to the end of the 2018 season, so it is probably in the team’s best interests to trade Ramos. At the moment, two of the most glaring needs for the Twins are starting pitching and somebody to play on the left side of the infield.

Edwin Encarnacion passed through waivers last week when Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos designated him for assignment, and Encarnacion is now swinging the bat and manning the hot corner for the Las Vegas 51s. Encarnacion could have provided more power than Nick Punto gives the Twins, but he has struggled to hit just .200 this season with an OBP below .300.

The aforementioned Punto has a slash line of .255/.333/.333 in 58 games this season with the majority of those games coming as the third baseman. Meanwhile, J.J. Hardy has not fared quite as well as the team’s shortstop. Since being brought to the Twins in an off-season trade with the Brewers, Hardy has hit .217/.265/.333 in 37 games at short. Defensively, Hardy has been great as evidenced by his 1 error this season. But in order to justify his $5.1-million price tag, those offensive numbers need to increase.

Hot prospect Danny Valencia made his Major League debut this season, and through 15 games he is hitting .302/.348/.326. Although he has not provided the power a team may seek from a corner infielder, he’s certainly making contact and getting on base thus providing slightly more offence than Nick Punto was.

As for the Twins’ rotation, it is currently anchored by Carl Pavano and a healthy Francisco Liriano. Scott Baker has done quite well, but lately, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have struggled.

In his past three starts, Slowey is 0-2 with a 12.41 ERA. Although, it should be noted that all three of these starts came against National League teams that he will not have to face again this year.

Blackburn, aside from his brilliant May, has struggled for most of the season. If you take away those 5 starts in May where he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, his numbers do not look very good. In his other 9 starts, Blackburn is 1-5 with a 10.01 ERA. What’s even more troubling is that in those 9 starts, he has walked 17 while striking out only 16. Blackburn has never had more than 98 strikeouts in a season, but whenever a pitcher walks more guys than he strikes out, managers tend to get alarmed.

Unfortunately, the Twins do not really have any suitable replacements at the minor league level. Through 14 games, one of the more experienced pitchers, Glen Perkins, is 1-8 with an 8.10 ERA at Rochester. So it is clear that if the Twins have any hope of contending, they need to look outside of the organization for pitching help.

If the Twins are to trade for pitching help, there is a very good chance that Wilson Ramos will be part of a package leaving the Twins. But who do the Twins target? What other teams are in need of not catching prospects, but young catchers who can play right now? Let’s have a look at two potential trade targets:

Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners
At 31-43, the Mariners are 14 games behind the division-leading Rangers and appear as though they will miss the playoffs this year. This has caused many members of the media to speculate not if Lee will be traded, but when he will be traded and where he will end up. Being a free agent at season’s end, and one who is almost certain to gain Type A status, the Mariners will likely be looking for a package of high-calibre prospects in return. Seeing as how the Mariners do not have any catching prospects who could contribute immediately, Ramos would be a great addition to the team. One could argue that Adam Moore is a good, young catcher who is currently contributing, but he’s about 3 years older than Ramos.

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates
I realize Maholm is signed through 2012, but I still see him as a possible trade target for the Twins. Former catching prospect Jeff Clement is now the starting first baseman for the Pirates, with Ryan Doumit behind the plate. By flipping Maholm to the Twins in a trade for Ramos, the Pirates could make Doumit the everyday first baseman. A position he has made 3 starts at this season. Trading Maholm may not be the best idea for the Pirates at the moment, but they clearly have no shot at the post-season at this point. They have a great young outfield with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata. Garrett Jones is swinging the bat well and could easily play left field or first base. With Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez around as well, it seems that the Pirates just need to fill in the catching position and find a shortstop for the future and they will be set. By trading for Wilson Ramos, they can fill one of those needs. I guess the point of this is not to show how much Paul Maholm could help the Twins, but to show how trading him could help the Pirates fill future needs.

I see Lee and Maholm as the main guys the Twins should target if they are to trade Wilson Ramos. There are a couple other pitchers I could see them targeting as well such as Jeremy Guthrie and Brett Myers, but those teams have no need for catching. The Orioles have Matt Wieters and the Astros have Jason Castro, both currently playing in the Majors. I’ve also ruled out guys like Roy Oswalt and Jake Westbrook due to financial reasons, and the fact that I question whether Oswalt would approve a trade to Minnesota or whether the Indians would trade Westbrook within their division; not to mention the fact that they already have Carlos Santana as their catcher.

As mentioned earlier, the Twins are clearly in need of a third baseman. Danny Valencia has done well so far, but can he keep it up, and can he show more power? To fill the need at third, the Twins could target guys like Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, or Jhonny Peralta. All three guys could provide some power to the lineup with a respectable average. But most importantly, they are all financially affordable and are fully capable of playing multiple infield positions. I don’t see any of these guys being traded for Wilson Ramos, which is why I did not give them their own little blurbs along with Lee and Maholm. But the Twins could likely put something together for these guys.

Over the next month we will see this list of trade candidates change. Teams will hit slumps and lose some ground, while others may begin to tear it up and pull away from the pack. While we may also see some of the players mentioned here be traded to other teams, causing teams to target new players and the media to speculate on other moves. The month of July should be interesting for baseball fans everywhere as they look to see whether their favourite teams look to upgrade or throw in the towel and look to next year.

As for the Twins, their main goal at the moment should be to find another starter for that rotation. When going for a playoff run, it’s always good to have six guys who can take the ball on any given night and give you a chance to win. That way, if one guy gets injured, you still have an effective 5-man rotation that you can use. At the moment, the Twins do not have that 6th guy and with the performances that Nick Blackburn has been giving them lately, it’s now questionable as to whether they have a reliable 5th man anymore.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jays Need Speed

The last time we saw playoff baseball in Canada, the Blue Jays had one of the best lineups in baseball. John Olerud, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar finished 1,2,3 in the American League batting race and the Jays had four guys steal at least 20 bases. Roberto Alomar lead the team with a total of 55 by the end of the season.

This year’s installment of the Blue Jays is quite different. While Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells sit near the top of the American League home run race, the team needs to pick it up in other offensive categories.

As a team, the Jays are hitting .239 going into Saturday’s action. That’s good enough for worst in the American League, and better than only Houston’s .237. They have an AL-worst OBP of .307, meaning they’re not getting guys on base when needed. Yet, they are second to only Boston with a .446 slugging percentage. Finally, the Jays have a Major League-low 25 stolen bases to this point and are on pace for only about 54 steals as a team for the entire season, one below Roberto Alomar’s mark of 55 in 1993. Former Jay Alex Rios, whom the Jays lost to the White Sox through waivers last season, has 20 so far this year.

The Jays’ reliance on the home run to score is not exactly a good thing. If facing a good pitcher who can induce a lot of ground balls like Roy Halladay, their offence becomes almost non-existent.

When the Blue Jays acquired Fred Lewis from the San Francisco Giants in April, they acquired a potential leadoff hitter for themselves. Since joining the Jays, Lewis has managed a slash line of .288/.331/.459. The man who the Jays had leading off to start the season, Jose Bautista, has established himself as a true home run threat now that he leads the AL with 20 home runs to date.

If the Jays have any chance of either winning the division or at least the wild card, they will need to make some changes to their offence. With Edwin Encarnacion being demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas, the door was opened for Jarrett Hoffpauir to come to the Majors. While he has only played in four games so far this year, Hoffpauir has not exactly provided what the Jays really need: speed on the basepaths and the ability to get on.

Essentially, the Blue Jays need to find themselves a better leadoff hitter and move Fred Lewis to the number two hole. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, Lewis has consistently had his batting average around the .280--.290 range for the last few weeks. This shows that he is certainly a reliable hitter. However, that .331 OBP is currently a career low for him, and his 5 stolen bases are far lower than one would like to see from somebody in the leadoff spot. He has 21 doubles as the leadoff hitter with 3 triples. Some may argue that due to this, he does not need to steal as many bases as he puts himself into scoring position right off the bat. For those of you who may subscribe to that point of view, allow me to provide another theory.

The Jays would be best suited to obtain a new leadoff hitter and move Lewis to the #2 spot in the order because with numbers like that, the leadoff guy may not necessarily need to steal a lot of bases. With a guy on deck who can conceivably hit about 40-45 doubles in a season, that could potentially allow a fast runner to score all the way from first base. With Lewis’ .288 average, we know he can be a reliable hitter. Putting somebody else in front of him with speed and who can get on base will allow the Jays a chance of having other ways to score aside from waiting for the next home run.

Now, some of you may be wondering who the Jays should go after at this point. As noted earlier, Encarnacion has been demoted to the minors, allowing the Jays some flexibility with the lineup. To keep Bautista’s power bat in, he could potentially be moved to third base. Adam Lind can remain the DH, with an everyday outfield consisting of Vernon Wells and Fred Lewis plus a newcomer at least until Travis Snider returns.

By looking at the current standings, I can see many potential trade targets for the Blue Jays to go after on teams that will likely not make the playoffs at this point. In no particular order, I would like to present my two favourite options:

Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
Michael Bourn is fast. He managed 61 steals last season and already has 22 this season in 28 attempts. Despite his .257 average, he has an OBP of .334 which is only slightly higher than Fred Lewis’. Bourn has a $2.5-million salary this season and is arbitration eligible for two more years, so the Astros may ask for quite a bit. From looking at the Astros’ farm system, it is clear that they need help. The Blue Jays could provide this in the form of young pitching, either off their current roster or in the form of prospects. Although Bourn currently plays centre field and was a 2009 Gold Glove winner, he has had some Major League experience at all three outfield positions and could possibly make a move to right field with the Blue Jays. Overall, Bourns ability to get on base, move himself into scoring position and great defence are something that the Blue Jays need.

Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
Podsednik seems to have revived his career both this season and last season. He is currently hitting .295/.342/.375 for the Royals with 20 steals in 28 attempts while playing left field. His current salary of $1.65-million is far less than Bourn’s, and Podsednik comes with a $2-million club option for 2011 with a $100,000 buyout. However, it should also be noted that Podsednik can void this option with 525 plate appearances this year and with 312 through 69 games, he appears to be well on his way to reaching that milestone. Defensively, Podsednik is not quite as sharp as Bourn, and he’s also 7 years older. Although, Podsednik managed to help the White Sox win the World Series in 2005 and performed quite well throughout the playoffs that year.

There are likely many other guys the Jays could go after. But I feel as though these two guys would provide the most help to a lineup that is in dire need of baserunners and speed. It’s amazing what having a little speed on the basepaths can do to a pitcher’s mindset.

Realistically, I’m aware that simply acquiring one of these two players may not solve all the problems the Blue Jays have and get them to the post-season for the first time since 1993. There are many other holes that need to be filled as well. However, I feel that it is certainly a step in the right direction. We have not seen somebody with the ability to steal 40-50 bases a year on the Blue Jays since the days of Shannon Stewart. By bringing in Bourn or Podsednik and moving Lewis to the #2 spot in the batting order, I believe that the Blue Jays could make themselves a much more competitive team that could make a trip to the post-season.

Do you agree?