By Andy Harris, WSOE Sports
Well, since we’re roughly at the quarter mark of the 2009 baseball season, I decided to do some sort of a recap, preferably one that is poorly structured and disorganized. But first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the whole Manny being chemically-enhanced Manny thing. I don’t need to go through the whole integrity of the game spiel because you’ve heard that hundreds of times after the various incidents involving McGwire and Clemens and Bonds and Rodriguez and– holy crap, this game has no integrity! Seriously, how can that many good players get busted and– Sorry, I suppose that was unavoidable. Anyways, Manny claims he’s innocent and that he was prescribed HCG (a women’s fertility drug) by his doctor to boost his testosterone levels “for personal reasons.” So if he’s right, he’s impotent. Would that really make you feel any better about him?
Anyways, the general rule of thumb is to give a team until Memorial Day to pass any judgments on them. You guys will have to forgive me for posting this 4 days early. So through the first month and a half, this is what I’ve learned:
The Blue Jays are for real (maybe). Honestly I can’t make up my mind. I could write two separate posts: one arguing they’re a fluke and one arguing that they’ll win the AL East. In fact, I think I will. Maybe it’ll help me make up a mind.
They have the best record in the AL, and have scored the most runs while allowing the fewest. They’re still playing well (winning 7 of their last 10), so it’s not as if they started hot and just cooled off. They were great at the end of last year too, and had the best record in the game over the final two months. Their rotation is anchored by Roy Halladay, and their vets are having bounce-back years while some younger guys are beginning to break out. They have a filthy bullpen and fantastic defense, which is what most legitimate World Series threats are built upon. And it’s late May and they’re still in the lead.
I look at their roster and see a ton of guys overachieving. Rod Barajas’s OPS+ (On-base plus slugging %, where 100 is average) is 114. His career average is 79, and he’s 33, so it shouldn’t be getting better. Aaron Hill is OPSing .947, and I know he just turned the magical 27, but in his only other non-injury plagued seasons he’s OPSed in the .700s. He’s not David Wright. Marco Scutaro has always been an awful hitter but now he’s suddenly a very good one? At age 33? And you’re going to tell me that 29-year-old stopgap starter Scott Richmond is suddenly on par with Josh Beckett? Let’s face it, this roster is due for a lot of regression. Oh, and they’ve only played 8 games against the AL East, and only 5 against the Yankees or Sawx, in which they’re 1-4.
The verdict: I hate to say it, but I can’t shake the feeling the birds are for real. It’s just my gut. I know it goes against the very statistical analysis that I use every week on this column, but every day they seem more and more legitimate. Teams that overachieve generally regress after a month or so, but the Jays are still going strong. Every now and then a mediocre team composed of middling players will explode into the playoffs, led by a bevy of career years that come out of nowhere. Take my beloved 1993 Phillies, for example. That team had no business making the postseason, between dozens of question marks and zero expectations. The Jays seem like that team. Also, their success thus far has been without their two best hitters, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. If those two can start hitting the Jays may be able to easily overcome any regression they’ll face.
Big Papi is pretty much done.
Although he finally snapped his 27,391 at-bat homerless drought, David Ortiz is still rapidly declining. Between his bum wrist and a skill set that doesn’t age well (look up Mo Vaughn) I really don’t have any confidence that he can return to being a threat in the middle of any lineup, let alone the force he was even just 2 years ago. Look at his numbers over the past 4 years:
2006: .287 BA, .413 OBP, .636(!) SLG, 1 Home Run every 10.33 At Bats
2007: .322, .445, .621, 1HR/ 15.69 AB
2008: .264, .369, .505, 1HR/ 19.8 AB
2009: .203, .317, .293, 1HR/138 AB
If that doesn’t spell decline, I don’t know what does. Well, except D-E-C-L-I-N-E.
Zack Greinke has finally fulfilled his potential and joined the ranks of the elite pitchers of the game. I know he’s only made 8 starts, but his numbers are ridiculous. 7-1, .60 ERA(!), .83 WHIP, .189 AVG against, 65 K in 60 IP. His peripherals are just as good. Look, we all know he isn’t THIS good. No one is. He won’t be able to sustain this level of success all season long. But there are maybe 5 pitchers in the game that can carry that level of dominance over 8 starts, and Greinke’s proven he ranks up there right alongside the Santanas, Halladays, and Harens of the sport.
The defending champs are in some serious trouble. Yes, I’m a little worried about my Phillies. If they can’t rectify their starting pitching, there’s almost no way they can hope to defend their crown. They can take solace in the fact that Hamels wasn’t near 100% to begin the year but has straightened things out since. Brett Myers appears to be settling down, and the serviceable J.A. Happ replaces the horrendous Chan Ho Park. But unless Joe Blanton or Jamie Moyer can turn this around (or the Phils can manage to replace them) this staff is rather shallow. A shallow pitching staff won’t win you many playoff series, either.
The Diamondbacks are never going to be a force in the NL. Not this D’Backs club, as it’s currently constructed. For the past few years analysts and executives have been saying that Arizona is a team to watch out for. Anchored by a dominant 1-2 atop their rotation and a lineup filled with prospects with bright futures, many thought that this could be the year ‘zona finally takes the next step. Sadly, they haven’t. It’s been so bad they fired Manager Doug Melvin. It’s tough for a small-market team based on prospects and potential to take the next step when the prospects don’t pan out. Mark Reynolds has tons of power but appears destined to remain a Ryan Howard lite. Chris Young seems unable to ride his dynamic power and speed combo to anything beyond the role of a fourth outfielder. Conor Jackson can hit for average (although apparently not in 2009) but it doesn’t look like he’ll ever develop much power. Chad Tracy is declining at age 30 and resigning Eric Byrnes was an awful decision. I’ll admit, Stephen Drew and Justin Upton still have tons of potential, and Upton’s already showing us glimpses of his future right now. But with Drew and ace Brandon Webb on the shelf, a bad bullpen, a shallow rotation, and a lineup that lacks and teeth, it’s hard to get excited about this team now or for next year.