Is Albert Pujols Washed Up?

May 2, 2012

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Prince Albert in a slump

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Albert Pujols wear...

Is Albert Pujols a $240 million mistake?

The big news around baseball so far has been the performance of Albert Pujols. Much was expected after he signed a $240 million contract with the Angels. So far, Pujols has managed exactly zero homers. As a point of references, that’s exactly how many homers I have this year.

I caution those who would write off Albert as a washed-up has been. Players have bad months all the time. Look at the early season struggles of David Ortiz in recent years as an example. It’s also important to realize that Pujols is learning the tendencies of an entire league’s worth of pitchers, whereas the opposing pitchers have a relatively smaller pool of league-crossers to study. Remember how Matt Holliday struggled early in 2009 after being traded to the A’s? Then you probably also remember that his May OPS was 250 points higher than his April OPS that year. No? Don’t remember that? It’s true.

Harper, Trout called up

SEATTLE - AUGUST 30:  Mike Trout #27 of the Lo...

Is Mike Trout better than Bryce Harper?

Over the weekend, top prospects Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels were called up. 19 year old Harper would likely have spend more time in AAA, but injuries gave decimated the Nationals lineup and they needed another bat in the fray. 20 year old Trout was expected to compete for a roster spot in spring training, but was sidelined by illness and really never got his legs under him.

Trout struggled a bit in a call-up last year, but the organization believes that he will be a great player. It’s probably to his benefit that Harper was called up on the same day. Harper is the most hyped hitting prospects in a decade or so, and this should allow Trout to fly under the radar a bit and feel much less pressure that he otherwise would.

Yu and the Rangers

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Pitcher Yu Darvis...

Yu Darvish is living up to the hype.

In the off-season, the Rangers watched the Angels snap up Albert Pujols in free agency – and also saw them nab C.J. Wilson. This was the second straight year they lost a star pitcher to free agency – Cliff Lee bolted to Phillies after the 2010 season. The Rangers didn’t skip a beat, signing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish to a deal. While many people didn’t think it made sense to essentially trade a known quantity (Wilson) for an unknown one (Darvish), I personally think the move was brilliant. Darvish cost them only money – no draft pick compensation. On the other hand, having the Angels sign Wilson gave the Rangers two draft pick – one of them coming at the expense of the Angels.

The move has paid off in spades, at least in April. While Wilson has put up stellar numbers (3-2, 2.70 ERA) Darvish has been even better (4-0, 2.18 ERA) and seems to be improving with each start. After allowing 13 walks in his first 17 2/3 innings, Darvish has allowed just 4 in his last 15 1/3 innings.

The “surprising rise” of the Nationals

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Stephen Strasbur...

Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg

The Nationals spent a good chunk of April in first place in the NL East. Their rise has seeming caught many observers by surprise. I’m really not sure why this is the case, when the Nats have been building toward this for a number of year, with some smart free agent moves and by obtaining excellent talent in the draft. And while the front office is getting a lot of credit for building the team, it’s important to note that the reason why they have the cornerstone pieces – Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman – is because they were consistent losers for a long period of time and were able to stockpile draft top draft picks. It didn’t take any sort of brilliant scouting to figure out that Strasburg and Harper were the guys to pick in the draft – they were the most highly touted pitching and hitting prospects in a generation. It simply required the Nationals to lose more games than anyone else. So while it’s true that the Washington front office has made some good decision, it might be prudent to mute the praise just a bit.

Around baseball

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is off to an otherworldly start, batting .409 with 12 homers and 25 RBI. As a result, the Dodgers are 17-7 and hold a 4 game lead in the NL West. It would seem that the Dodgers, now free from the shadow of Frank McCourt, are positioned for a playoff run. As a fan of the Rockies, I’m operating under the assumption that Kemp is going to cool off at some point, and that the Dodgers will face off their pace at that point.

The Angels are eight games out of first place. I can’t imagine that too many people expected that. It’s still very early in the season, but L.A. can’t afford to have the Rangers stretch out their lead much more.

The Red Sox and Phillies were buried deep in the standings after the first few weeks, but have started to make up some ground recently. The Phillies are now within 2 1/2 games of the Nationals, while the Red Sox are 4 games back in the AL East.

The Devil Rays recently pushed their way into first place, pushing past the … Baltimore Orioles. I have to believe that the 15-9 record of the Orioles is a mirage at this point.

The most competitive division so far has been the AL East, where the Indians, White Sox, and Tigers are effectively tied for the lead. The Indians are percentage points ahead, with a record of 11-10. The division also features the two teams with the worst records in baseball – the Royals and Twins.

Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham

The Cardinals have managed to hang on to first place in the NL Central, even after losing Albert Pujols. The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran as a free agent in the off-season, which allowed them to shift Berkman to Pujols’s old position. Beltran’s numbers have been solid – a .378 on base percentage and 5 homers so far. He’s not likely to match Pujols’s season numbers, but his addition allowed the Cardinals to at least patch the hole.

2008 #1 overall pick Tim Beckam (Devil Rays) has been suspended 50 games for a second violation of baseball’s drug policy.



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What to Watch for in Baseball, 2010

February 23, 2010

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With the baseball season just around the corner (really – it is!), here are some things to watch in 2010.  We’ll likely have a few articles on this topic.  The order for these articles will be the ever-popular “whatever happens to pop in my head today”.

The Nationals

All the hoopla was about the signing of Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals also put a bit of money into the team during free agency.  They didn’t go crazy with the money (15M over 2 years for Jason Marquis being the costliest deal).  Nor did they cost themselves draft picks by signing any Type A free agents.  What they did do is make several low risk moves.  The deal I like best is Chien-Ming Wang signing a 2M deal for 2010.  Wang won’t be healthy enough to pitch until May, following recent surgery.  However, if he can return to the form that saw him go a combined 28-13 over 400+ innings during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, then it’s money well spent.

The gNats also picked up several other guys who could help them.  Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish, Matt Capps in the pen, and Adam Kennedy at 2B are among the guys who could help.  They also have some decent players already in the lineup.  Perhaps this is the year that people realize that Adam Dunn is a fine offensive player who just happen to be weak in the areas that critics like to jump on – strikeouts and batting average.  Seriously, folks, strikeouts just aren’t that big of a deal – and Dunn makes up for his batting average by walking a ton.  Oh, yeah, and he hits lots of homers.  (Let’s not talk about his defense.

Am I suggesting that the Nationals will make the playoffs?  Holy crap – of course not.  But they’ll no longer be the laughingstock of the league.  That honor will fall upon the Pirates some unknown team.

The Rockies

Hey, I’m a Rockies fan,  so of course I think the Rockies are a story to watch.  But, really, they ARE a story to watch this year.  Prior to 2007, the Rockies had made the playoffs exactly once – in 1995.  In the last three seasons, they have made the playoffs twice.  Many fans tend to write them off as a fluke because both seasons were characterized by very slow starts and red-hot second halves.  If the Rockies can put together a strong wire-to-wire season in 2010, more people may look at them as legitimate perennial playoffs contenders.

There are lots of young players to watch with the Rockies.  If Troy Tulowitzki can avoid the disastrously slow that plagued him last year, he may make a run at an MVP award.  Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Stewart should all take another step forward.  Youngster Jhoulys Chacin may also crack the rotation this year.  Starting pitcher Jeff Francis will be returning from injury.

The rise of the Rockies could be aided by the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt.  The McCourts own the Dodgers – and we all saw what happened to the Padres in the aftermath of the divorce of their owners, John and Becky Moores.

The Cardinals

Not only did re-signing Matt Holliday make the Cardinals a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but it also sent a strong message to Albert Pujols that management is truly interested in having a strong team around him (and thus making it more likely that they will be able to re-sign him).  I’ve been impressed with Pujols since seeing him during his brief stint with the Peoria Chiefs (low A).  Making Albert Pujols happy is a good idea.

On the field, Pujols and Holliday are a fearsome combination in the 3-4 spots in the lineup and Carpenter and Wainright similarly strike fear in opposing hitters at the top of the rotation.  I’m struggling to find a scenario that doesn’t have the Cardinals winning the NL Central, barring a major injury.  Sure, the Cubs might be capable of a run, but you know they’ll find some way to mess it up.

The Right and the Lefty

August 18, 2009

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Monday was a national holiday of sorts. It was the signing deadline for most of the players selected in this June’s Major League draft. College seniors (as well as Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, who skipped their senior seasons to play in the independent leagues) were not bound by this deadline, but everyone else was.

My focus on this glorious day was on two pitchers – a righty and a lefty. The righty was top overall pick Stephen Strasburg and the lefty was Tyler Matzek, the #11 overall pick.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg has been the subject of much media attention over the last year or so. He has been an absurdly dominant college pitcher, throwing a fastball clocked as high as 103 mph. Superlatives were hurled at him by the bushel. Was he the best college pitcher ever? Surely the best in a decade? Many scouts deemed him to be the best player they had ever seen. To make things even sweeter, Strasburg’s coach at San Diego State – Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn – had made a concerted effort to avoid heaping abuse on Strasburg by avoiding monstrously high pitch counts in games. Many top college pitchers are overused by coaches eager to pad their own resumes with wins, at the expense of the health of their pitchers.

After the Washington National signed him, they bumped into the sticky subject of money. There were initial indications that Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, was looking for a deal around $50 million! Many thought that it was a slam dunk that he would hold out for $30 million.

There was a strong possibility that the Nationals would not be able to sign Strasburg, and he would re-enter the draft next year. The Nationals would be compensated with the #2 pick in the 2010 draft (an “n+1” formula is used to compensate teams that are unable to sign picks in the first two rounds, so the #1 overall pick in 2009 would yield a #2 in 2010). The Nationals are also likely to hold the #1 pick in next year’s draft by “virtue” of having the worst record this year. However, they would be unable to draft Strasburg a second time without his consent.

So, what happened? Negotiating went deep into the night, and the sides emerged with a deal that will pay Strasburg a reported $15.067 million and keep him under control of the Nationals for four seasons – at which point he will go into the arbitration system. This sounds like a ton of money (and it is) but I score this as a win for the Nationals. If they can lose enough games to land the #1 pick next year, they could add catcher Bryce Harper to the mix, and have a couple of very nice players for the long haul.

For more on Stephen Strasburg, read my fake interview from a few months ago.

Tyler Matzek

Rockies draftee Tyler Matzek garned a bit less attention than Strasburg. The Matzek selection was noteworthy for Rockies Nation, however. The small market Rockies have typically drafted players who were considered to be “signable” (a baseball euphemism for “cheap”) while eschewing players whose upsides were perceived to be higher.

Matzek, however, did not fit this description. Widely considered to be one of the top pitchers in the draft, high schooler Matzek slid down to #11 due to signability concerns (i.e. he wanted a lot of money), where the Rockies picked him. This move was the complete opposite of how the Rockies have historically drafted. Some observers felt that this was a strategic move by the Rockies. The thought was that they really didn’t want to pony up the money to pay a top pick this year, and would prefer to just take the compensatory pick next year.

For his part, Matzek talked a good game, talking about the opportunity to pitch and play first base for the University of Oregon.

Matzek arrived in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday night, which was not a good sign. However, when reports surfaced that Matzek had not attended Monday classes at the University of Oregon, my spirits soared. This was an indication that he might indeed sign with the Rockies.

In the end, Matzek left behind the world of co-eds and spring break for a reported $3.9 million bonus.

If you wonder what my initial response to the draft was, read the draftermath from June.