MLB Notes

There isn’t a bigger Tim Lincecum fan than me, and while I’m hardly panicking, his last seven starts have raised some concerns. His fastball velocity has declined during all four years he’s been in the majors, bottoming out at 91.3 mph this season. It’s remained an effective pitch, but with a changeup that averages 84.1 mph – that’s hardly the discrepancy you’d like to see (ideally a 10 mph difference). But Lincecum currently sports a 10.3 K/9 ratio and just fanned 10 batters during his start Wednesday against the Orioles, so his “stuff” really shouldn’t be questioned. His control, however, is an issue. After walking 20 batters over a four start stretch (that spanned over 23.1 innings) in May, Lincecum had given just three free passes over his last two starts before Wednesday, when he not only issued four walks but also tossed three wild pitches. His last three starts have come against the Pirates, A’s and Orioles – offenses that rank 30th, 24th and 29th in run scoring so far this season, so he’s had the benefit of an easy schedule, yet his control remains shaky.  It’s probably nothing, and Lincecum is incredibly tough to hit, especially when it comes to home runs, but this sudden drastic lack of command is a little worrisome and curious.

Funny stuff.

As a fan, I’m going to stick with the Giants here, although I’ll try to make it quick. I still think the Dodgers and especially the Rockies are better teams, but all of a sudden, San Francisco’s lineup isn’t reprehensible. Not that it’s good, but with a strong pitching staff (Santiago Casilla is the best reliever few know about) and a surprisingly good defense (that still ranks No. 1 in UZR), only an average offense is needed. My personal whipping boy, Brian Sabean, deserves some credit for the Aubrey Huff signing, but the most important addition has been Andres Torres (luck), and I find it funnier to point out this: the Giants’ current best setup features Aaron Rowand (due $60 million), Edgar Renteria (due $18.5 million) and Mark DeRosa (due $12 million) all on their bench right now. That’s $90.5 million for those who don’t like math. One more Giants thought, and then I promise I’ll stop; the last player drafted and developed by S.F. to appear in an All-Star game with the club was Matt Williams in 1986.

In “Pulp Fiction,” the unknown item inside the coveted briefcase is actually a baby picture of Stephen Strasburg.

Baseball is undeniably unpredictable (Alex Rios went from being a player whom an MLB team gave away his contract in 2009 to someone who has probably been the most valuable fantasy hitter of all in 2010), but in hindsight, Adrian Beltre’s big year so far shouldn’t be considered surprising (and no, I’m not referring to the contract-year phenomenon) – he’s gone from hitting in one of the five best pitcher’s parks to one of the five most favorable hitter’s parks, not to mention the difference in lineups. Beltre has more home runs and RBI compared to last year in 197 fewer at-bats. Of course, improved health has also been an issue, and his current .337 BA is certainly going to drop, but with just one steal, he should increase his SB totals playing for an aggressive Boston team from here on out (they currently rank last in MLB with just 23 steals in 2010, but the Red Sox finished fifth and seventh among SB leaders over the previous two years entering this season). Moreover, despite all the errors, Beltre has still managed a current 6.0 UZR – so he’s easily been one of the more valuable players in all of baseball this season (.385 wOBA, 2.8 WAR).

When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks under his bed for Stephen Strasburg.

Staying with the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia has been an interesting case so far. After winning the MVP in 2008, he wasn’t even considered last season, despite striking out less, walking far more, stealing the same amount of bases and hitting just two fewer homers in nearly 30 fewer at-bats. Of course, the main difference was a drop in SLG% (by nearly 50 points), but Pedroia finished April with an awesome .302/.343/.573 line this year. And then he got hurt in May (while his K:BB ratio improved significantly to 12:16, a damaged knee prevented him from driving the ball). So while Pedroia played in nearly all of Boston’s games, he has clearly been doing so hurt, which suppressed his production significantly. Since so many fantasy competitors are becoming more and more familiar with advanced stats, maybe the next step in getting an edge is somehow identifying who’s playing hurt. That said, Pedroia may be feeling better (although he’s still getting treatment), as he’s hit in seven straight games (with five multi-hit efforts and steals in his last two games over that span). And while Wednesday marked his first homer since May 14, he does have nine long balls with six steals on the year, so while he’s no doubt been a disappointment with a .270 batting average, Pedroia is on pace to finish with 21 homers and 14 steals, so basically, health will determine whether he’s a bust or an extremely valuable fantasy commodity from here on out.
I love this. NBA superstars are no contest (and they are trying their best, believe me) versus “Ricardo” the busboy when it comes to Pop-a-Shot. Here are the losers: LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant (who’s competitiveness really shows) and also Carmelo Anthony, who might actually be the most mad of all at the outcome, although his nonchalant original attitude is all you need to know about what’s missing from his game.

There’s no question Joe Mauer is tough to evaluate. He went from being one of the better players in baseball to by far the most valuable in 2009, but while he always projected to hit for more power as a big, strong hitter still just 26 years old, what should we really have made of Mauer’s 11 homers in May (and eight long balls in August) from someone who averaged 8.8 homers over his first six seasons in the league? Mauer currently sports a 23:28 K:BB ratio and a .389 OBP while playing strong defense at the most difficult position on the diamond – he’s at least worth strongly considering as the first overall pick in an organizational draft held tomorrow. But in fantasy terms – questions remain. All those walks only help in runs scored, and it’s not like he steals much either. But the biggest question is power – and right now, it looks like last year’s outburst is the anomaly, especially since the new Target Field has suppressed home runs in a big way (of course it’s a small sample size, but so far, it looks like an extreme pitcher’s park). And remember, of Mauer’s 28 homers last season, a whopping 11 were termed “just enough” by, so while he’s no doubt been unlucky this year (4.2% HR/FB), he was due to regress (20.4% FB/HR last year). I love Mauer, but it’s now clear he shouldn’t be considered in the top three rounds in fantasy leagues. That said, this was a pretty sick catch by him.

It has zero to do with sports, but I found this lengthy article quite fascinating.

I entered this year down on Johan Santana, with a plummeting K rate and coming off surgery. However, during my LABR auction that occurred in early March, Chris Liss implored me to go the extra dollar on him that ultimately won. Liss is absolutely one of the best fantasy players I know, and not only that, I saw the logic – this is one of the best pitchers in recent memory who might now be fully healthy with bone chips removed, and at age 31 and pitching in the NL, upside remained. Unfortunately despite Santana’s current 3.13 ERA, my original instinct might prove correct (and Liss wasn’t sitting next to me when I drafted him in WCOF, so while I still blame him, ultimately the responsibility falls on myself). Since joining the Mets, Santana’s ERA has been better than his xFIP by this margin over 2.5 years – 1.36, 1.00 and 1.57. That’s definitely significant, and with a career .286 BABIP and 9.2 HR/FB%, it’s clear Santana needs to be viewed through different colored glasses. Still, this can only go so far, and we are talking about a pitcher with current 5.77 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9 rates (the latter is his worst since 2002); Santana has struck out just one batter in each of his last two outings, totaling only five Ks over his past three starts in total. He’s fanned more than six batters just once all season. Since 2006, his fastball velocity has dropped every season, bottoming out at 89.1 mph this season. However, it’s still not all necessarily doom and gloom. Santana’s heater, changeup and slider all still register as “plus” pitches in 2010, and I’m by no means saying Santana is done being an effective starter (his current tERA is 3.66. His career number there is 3.33), but the trends are more than a little bit discouraging. As crazy as it sounds, Santana’s fastball has averaged just 91.6 mph throughout his career and his current changeup (79.3 mph) leaves an average discrepancy of 9.8 mph, which is pretty good. Not all hope is lost, despite the obvious signs he’s due to crash in a big way.


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