Blogging About Baseball

162 games, even more blogs. From college to the minors to the pros. It's all here.

Archive for the ‘On The Rise’ Category

Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez robbed of 2009 Gold Glove award.

with one comment

There were very few things that Seattle Mariner centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez couldn’t catch in 2009; so few things that he earned the nickname “Death To Flying Things.”

Gutierrez was the game's best fielder in 2009.A Rawlings Gold Glove award, baseball’s highest accolade for defensive prowess, however, was one of those things Gutierrez just couldn’t snag.

In an announcement made Tuesday, the official 2009 American League Gold Glove outfield consists of the stalwart defensive standards of Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter and first-timer Adam Jones.

Seattle’s Suzuki and Los Angeles’ Hunter both took home the award for their ninth consecutive seasons. Baltimore’s Jones, in just his second full Major League season, earned the Gold Glove despite playing, by all advanced defensive metrics, an average centerfield.

It was an award that Gutierrez, who patrols Jones’ former-centerfield in Seattle’s Safeco Field, should have won.

In 2009, Gutierrez played the best defense of all Major League Baseball players, not just outfielders.

The .985 fielding percentage is not indicative of how amazing Gutierrez was defensively. The almost-antiquated statistic is an effective measure of how well a player performs routine plays, but it doesn’t effectively take into account non-routine plays involving range or arm accuracy or arm strength.

To put the inefficiency of the statistic into perspective, fellow Seattle Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt owned a .968 fielding percentage in 2009. And so did Texas Ranger shortstop Elvis Andrus. Yet, Betancourt is routinely lauded as the “worst defensive shortstop in the history of the world” and Andrus is heralded as anything but.

Ultimate Zone Rating is quickly becoming the standard for measuring defensive efficiency. According to fangraphs.com, the relatively new metric is: “The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs, and error runs combined.”

UZR exposes players’ defensive shortcomings. Yuniesky Betancourt’s negative-23.9 UZR reveals a molasses-like fielder with little range and the inability to make even routine plays. Andrus’ plus-11.7 shows a rookie with above-average range and defensive ability. Betancourt cost his team runs with his lackluster defense; Andrus saved them.

No player possessed a better UZR in 2009 than Franklin Gutierrez. In fact, it wasn’t even close.

Gutierrez saved his team 29.1 combined runs in 2009. Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton was the next closest centerfielder with a positive-11.0 mark. Among all fielders, Tampa’s Evan Longoria was Gutierrez’s closest contemporary, but still fell 10 points short, posting a UZR of plus-18.5.

His positive-29.3 range runs saved was also 10 points higher than the next closest everyday fielder.

Gutierrez’s UZR was the best in a season since the inception of the statistic in 2002.

When one takes into consideration his solid offensive season, Gutierrez was worth almost six wins over the course of the Seattle Mariner’s 2009 season. His estimated worth was $26.4 million, but he made just $455,000 this season. He’s arbitration-eligible this year and seems destined for a significant pay raise.

Gutierrez’s omission in the Gold Glove vote is just the most glaring gaffe betrayed on the award since Texas’ Michael Young won against a much more deserving field of shortstops in 2008.

The Gold Glove vote needs to be re-evaluated. Instead of taking into account just errors, fielding percentage and personal preference (it should be noted that coaches can not vote for players on their own team) new and adjusted statistics like UZR and range runs must be included.

How can “Death To Flying Things” not be a Gold Glove winner?

Brendan Ryan, a.k.a. The Boog

leave a comment »

When the St. Louis Cardinals began Spring Training, they did so with Khalil Greene as their projected starting shortstop. The team acquired Greene in an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres. Whether it was poor scouting or lack of disclosure about his condition, it wasn’t long before Greene went into a slump and then onto the disabled list for social anxiety disorder.

Brendan Ryan stepped in and the Cardinals never looked back.

Ryan was drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round, 215th overall, in 2003. He battled his way through the minors and on June 2, 2007, he made his MLB debut against the Houston Astros. He finished 2007 with a .289 average in 60 games played at 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop. In addition to his versatility, Ryan became known for another skill: pranking.

A rib cage injury sidelined Ryan during Spring Training 2008 and the first month of that season. In 80 games, his average dipped to a paltry .244, but his flexibility in the field was a good fit for Tony LaRussa. His seriousness about the game was the only thing stopping him from being a complete player.

This season, Kyle Loshe and Joel Pinero talked the pitching staff into growing mustaches for team unity. The rest of the team soon joined in. And when everyone started shaving them off, Ryan’s ‘stache was the last one standing. True to form, he started growing it longer towards the end of the season in order to curl up the corners a’la Rollie Fingers.

And this time, his goofy attitude was welcome. He was the starting shortstop. He was making great plays. He was hitting well. He’d found his way.

The 2009 season started with a lot of changes from “The Boog,” a nickname Ryan’s father gave him. He came in more determined and slightly more serious. By June, Ryan was starting every day at shortstop. The position isn’t easy but it’s made even harder when the fans remember seeing one of the greatest of all time there, “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie’s fielding percentage was .978 career. When Smith was 27, the same age Ryan is now, his fielding percentage was .984. Brendan‘s fielding percentage was also .984 but in 105 games. Only Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies (155 games/.990) and Troy Tulowitzki (151 games/.986) of the Rockies were higher than Ryan’s this season. A full season at the position could see Ryan’s number improve.

Ryan’s batting average improved to .294 in 2009. He had 114 hits, 19 doubles, 7 triples, and 3 homeruns, one of which was his first career grand slam. A newfound discipline at the plate made him a valuable hitter for LaRussa. Ryan could be stuck anywhere in the lineup, and he normally was. Dependability with the bat, and speed on the bags, makes him more valuable to a team that uses flexibility and versatility on a daily basis.

Ryan may take the game more seriously but that hasn’t stopped his joking nature. As teammate Jason LaRue said during a pregame interview, “He’s just looking for attention.” The reason for LaRue’s comment? A pair of scissors sneaking into the frame, pretending to cut LaRue’s long locks. The camera panned out enough to show Brendan smiling widely under that ‘stache.

And it didn’t stop him from playing wiffleball with Joe Mather at Busch either.

Or acting in the St. Louis Cardinals “Play like a Cardinal” commercials.

Even LaRussa got into the pranks. After Ryan had been removed, Tony convinced his shortstop that there was a special rule that a player could reenter the game once on the last day of the season. Ryan, never one to miss an opportunity to play, grabbed his batting helmet. It didn’t take long for him to realize he’d been had.

The 2010 Cardinals will be back with a vengeance. Some players will be gone. New ones will be ready to show devoted fans what they can do. And Brendan Ryan will be there at shortstop making great plays, getting on base, and pranking whomever he can when he’s not in the lineup. The Boog will be there in all his glory. Take it or leave it.

Written by LS Murphy. Mrs. Murphy is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and is a consistent contributor to Cardinal’s Mix. She can also be followed on Twitter.

More than an innings-eater: the Pirate’s RHP Ross Ohlendorf.

leave a comment »

For a couple months, this article has been on the back burner, just simmering there, waiting for me to stir it. I’ve never been confident that the subject at hand is plausible, let alone realistic. But with a little more raking, I’ve come to this conclusion: the Pirate’s have a hidden gem, a piece of their futuristic postseason puzzle, in Ross Ohlendorf.

Crazy, I know.

Key to the Pirate's success?The 6’4″ righty went 11-10 with a 3.92 earned run average in 29 starts and 176.2 innings pitched with the Pirates in 2009. He shared the team lead in wins with lefty Zach Duke and also posted the best ERA and WHIP among the rotation’s starters. And while Ohlendorf never blew the ball by batters, he led Pirate’s starters in K/9 with a 5.55 mark.

For a guy who’d never posted an ERA below 6.00 in the three seasons where he reached double digits in innings pitched, that, folks, is what we call a breakout.

Ohlendorf’s road to Pittsburgh was like so many before him. Once a promising prospect in both the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankee’s organizations, Ohlendorf wore out his welcome in both cities, getting pummeled as a Triple-A starter and posting sub-par numbers as a major league reliever. After being dished to the Yanks as part of the Randy Johnson deal, he was dealt to Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady/Demaso Marte transaction during the second half of 2008.

As they say, sometimes all you need is a change of scenery. And the move to thankless baseball purgatory has worked well for the 27-year-old Texan.

Ohlendorf has always had the stuff: a 94-97 mile-per-hour fastball with great sink, a mid-80’s slider with good movement, and a fringe change up. In 2007, he added a splitter to his repertoire. During his time with the Diamondbacks, Ohlendorf worked almost exclusively as a starter. He showed dominating ability, but lacked a true changeup, a malady that severely hindered his success. As a reliever with the Yankees, he became more of a power arm that relied on a bowling ball sinker and splitter. Still, inconsistency and control issues earned him a one-way ticket out of town.

Much of Ohlendorf’s success in 2009 can be attributed to a change in his motion. At the urging of Pirate’s pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who worked with Pedro Martinez during his ridiculous run with the Red Sox in 1999-2000, Ohlendorf started pitching from true overhead after the All-Star break. The move gave him much better control of his changeup and added more sink, at the expense of .5 miles-per-hour of velocity, to his fastball.

And the results don’t lie.

Ohlendorf's 2009 splits.

Ohlendorf was shutdown in mid-September after reaching his innings pitched limit. Next year, he should pitch over 200 innings.

The Pirate’s haven’t had a 15-game winner this decade. And while the Pirate’s staff has shown the ability to groom pitchers into one-year studs (Paul Maholm ’08, Tom Gorzelanny ’07, Ian Snell ’06), they’ve yet to sustain a consistent starting rotation, or even a single, stable starting pitcher.

Could Ross Ohlendorf, castoff of the Diamondbacks and Yankees, be that pitcher?

Magic Wand(y) Rodriguez transforms self into ace.

with one comment

Move over, Roy Oswalt.

Wandy Rodriguez is finally here.

The cheapest ace.The Houston Astros’ diminutive lefty has become the unlikely rock of the team’s pitching staff, providing much-needed consistency in what has been one of the league’s shakiest starting rotations.

For those following Rodriguez’s career, the breakout doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Wandy has been ridiculously good at home for the past four seasons, posting a career 3.63 ERA at Minute Maid Park and a 4.69 ERA while away. In 2008, he evened those statistics out a bit, allowing less than three runs per game at home while holding a respectable 4.34 ERA outside of Houston. The improved consistency was a glimpse at Rodriguez’s ceiling, causing drool inducing visions in team owner’s heads. They signed him to a $2.6 million salary to avoid arbitration.

And they’ve been rewarded. This year, Rodriguez’s home/road splits have evened out even further:

  • 7 wins, 2 losses at home. 5 wins, 5 losses on the road.
  • 72 SO in 83 innings at home. 70 SO in 70 innings on the road.
  • 1.73 ERA, 1.00 WHIP at home. 4.21 ERA, 1.53 WHIP on the road.

Rodriguez ranks fifth in the National League in wins, seventh in earned run average, and 11th in win percentage.

Considering that Roy Oswalt is making over $14 million this year and has won just seven decisions, Rodriguez should be in line for a nice salary boost following the 2009 season.

Tampa Bay’s Bartlett, Zobrist having career years (and no one’s noticing).

with 2 comments

Playing for a small market team baseball team has its advantages. You don’t have to deal with the media and there’s a lot less pressure to perform.

But it also certainly has its disadvantages.

The Tampa Bay Ray’s Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett can attest to that.

Zobrist and Bartlett are having anything but normal years. In fact, they’re having two of the best seasons in Major League Baseball. Zobrist, who until this season acted as a “we’ll call him up when we need him” type player, has already surpassed his career best numbers in every offensive category. In addition, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field, left field, center field, and at shortstop, second base, and third base. Barlett, who is batting an incredible .363 through the first half of the season, broke a Ray’s team record by hitting in 19 straight games. He’s on pace to shatter his average yearly output.

Aside from the occasional touting on MLB Network, the two are getting little recognition. Zobrist, since he’s played at so many positions, is not even listed on the Major League Baseball All-Star ballot. You have to write him in. He is sure to miss the game, unless he’s chosen as a reserve, despite being a top five outfielder. Bartlett isn’t going to escape snubbing either. Despite besting Derek Jeter in nearly every offensive category in less at-bats, he is still over a million votes behind Mr. November.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

The breakouts of Zobrist and Bartlett make the Ray’s front office look like geniuses.

Ben Zobrist has never been looked upon as anything more than a fringe major leaguer. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2004 draft and in the coming years, he was flippantly dismissed as a utility player who was too old for whichever level he played at by Baseball Prospectus. And Baseball America barely gave him mention, but did give him credit for his strike zone discipline. Despite playing well for the Astro’s minor league camps through the 2006 season, Zobrist was shuttled to the Rays as part of the Aubrey Huff-to-Houston deal. He was seen as a throw in, with lefty Mitch Talbot being the gold.

The Rays rushed Zobrist to the majors that same year and he struggled to the tune of a .224 average through 183 at-bats. For the next two years, Zobrist acted as a AAA replacement for any injured starter. He never fared well in the majors, but always seemed to regain his footing once back with Durham in the International League. Unless they needed him, the Rays never pushed Zobrist, instead deciding to let him develop in the minors until the time was opportune. After batting .366 in Durham last season, Zobrist was brought up for good.

His fortunes this year are definitely a surprise. Zobrist has never shown this caliber of game-changing power at any level of the game. His recent surge is most likely being aided by his position in the batting order (behind sluggers Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena) and his previously developed ability to recognize good and bad pitches. He’s taking walks at an incredible rate despite an increased strikeout frequency. Zobrist’s 2009 is echoing his stellar 2007 campaign with the Durham Bulls, where he showed above-average power, but nothing incredible. I can’t picture him keeping up this pace, but I hope he can.

Bartlett’s story is eerily similar to Zobrist’s. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 2001 draft, Bartlett was quickly dealt to the Minnesota Twins.

He played well at every minor league stop, but like Zobrist, he faltered upon each callup. It wasn’t until 2006 that he solidified himself as a starting shortstop with the big club. Bartlett’s calling card has always been the same, no matter which level: hit for average, little power, score some runs, and play good defense.

Bartlett came to Tampa in 2007 as part of the Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza swap with the Twins. Bartlett was thrown into the trade as a shortstop exchange for Brendan Harris. The Twins believed they were letting go of an aging shortstop with ever-decreasing range and in Harris, they saw a younger, better caliber player. In the coming years, this trade is going to go down as one of the most lopsided of the 2000’s.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

While Young has yet to do anything for Minnesota, both Garza and Bartlett have become above average players. Last year, Bartlett was voted the Ray’s team MVP ahead of Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria and slugger Carlos Pena. Yet Bartlett’s numbers from his 2008 campaign don’t stand out; they’re fairly pedestrian.

Bartlett has become invaluable to the Ray’s for his defense. In 2008, the club gave up nearly 300 runs less than they did in 2007. 300 less runs. A change that drastic simply does not happen overnight unless you bring in a stellar defensemen. Bartlett shored up what was once the worst up-the-middle defense in the league and writers took notice.

This year, Bartlett is doing it with the bat. He is third in batting average, behind only the Twin’s Joe Mauer and the Mariner’s Ichiro Suzuki. He’s in the top ten in a half dozen more obscure, yet important, other offensive categories.

Considering that both players were viewed as small, insignificant pieces to major trades, I’d say the Ray’s are getting their money’s worth and then some. Pulling off shrewd, seemingly menial moves like these are why the Rays have become such a power in the American League East.

The return of Rich Hill.

leave a comment »

Rich Hill’s career has been much like his curveball.

It starts off high before dropping off the table.

Hill, a fourth round pick in 2002, rose quickly through the Chicago Cub’s minor league system. In 2004, he led the team’s Daytona club in strikeouts. The next year, he led all of the Cub’s minor league clubs. In 2006, Hill earned himself a spot in the big league rotation, posting respectable stats through 16 starts. The following year, he broke out and went 11-8 with 3.92 ERA and 183 SO through 195 IP.

But something went wrong in 2008.

Hill couldn’t find the strikezone and batters weren’t biting his curveball. He got demoted to AAA Iowa in early May. He then got demoted to Extended Spring Training. It got so bad the Cubs even discussed shutting him down completely.

By the time the Cubs decided it was time to deal Rich Hill, he was a 28-year-old with little trade value. Most saw him as a one-pitch pony and without that one pitch working, Hill was worth nothing.

During the offseason, the Baltimore Orioles stole Rich Hill from the Chicago Cubs. All they lost was a Player To Be Named Later.

Hill needed a change of scenery. During a brief minor league stint in the Oriole’s system, he regained his control and his curveball became an “outpitch” again. Through four major league starts, Hill’s gone 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA and 22 SO in 21.2 innings. Last night he pitched seven innings of 2-hit baseball against the Seattle Mariners. He had one bad start against Toronto, but that’s been his only blemish thus far.

Rich Hill is dealing.

The Oriole’s acquisition of Hill was touted as a good, low risk move during the offseason. Few, however, believed he would ever regain his control and prove to be valuable.

Well for the low, low price of a PTBNL, the Orioles have a very valuable middle of the rotation starter.

Oriole’s Matt Wieters to make MLB debut tonight, history resets.

leave a comment »

It’s been a while since Oriole’s fans have experienced a little thing called hope.

They’ll feel it tonight when their #1 prospect, switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters, debuts against the Detroit Tigers.

Wieters has been hyped as the savior of the Oriole’s franchise since he was drafted as the fifth overall pick in 2007. He has done nothing but deliver on that promise, winning Baseball America‘s Minor League Player of the Year award in his lone professional season. Wieters shows above-average plate discipline (.355 average in 130 games in 2008) and above-average power (27 homers, 91 RBI in 2008). He calls a good game behind the plate and threw out 46 percent of baserunners last season. If you’ve ever been to a minor league game, you’ll know that’s an absolutely ridiculous success rate for a rookie catcher. This year, Wieters spent time with the AAA Norfolk Tides, where he batted .305 with five homers and 30 RBI.

Those are the well-known Wieters’ facts. Here are some lesser-known, though important, facts to know before he makes his season debut:

  • Matt Wieters is only a switch-hitter because the league will not allow him to hit backwards with his hands tied behind his back.
  • Brian Roberts will ride Matt Wieters to victory in next year’s Preakness.
  • Matt Wieters doesn’t take pitches, he shows them mercy.
  • When Matt Wieters is hungry, he snacks on batting donuts.

This is outta hand.

For up-to-the-minute updates on God’s return to Earth, check out Frost King’s Oriole’s blog.