Tuesday, May 24, 2005

We're Halfway Halfway There

A look at the first 40-ish games of the MLB season

My ballot if the All-Star Game was held today


American League: Jason Varitek. Someone tell this guy that you're supposed to put up career numbers the year before you're due for a new contract. The Red Sox captain is earning his "C" with a .336 average and 9 homers.
National League: Ramon Hernandez edges out Paul LoDuca. Hernandez has the edge in homers, LoDuca in average, so it's a toss up. But it's nice to see Hernandez back to his 2003 form after a rough 2004.

First Base

American League: Mike Sweeney edges Mark Teixeira. Sweeney has a huge edge in average (.327 to .286), and is close in every other category except runs. Of course, if Sweeney didn't play for Kansas City, maybe those numbers would be even. Is it time to start the trade rumors again?
National League: Albert Pujols still can't catch a break. Derrek Lee has stole the show with a .351 average, 12 homers, and 39 RBI (and 8 steals). The experts have known for a while that Lee is a good all-around player, but I don't know if anyone expected this outburst.

Second Base

American League: Brian Roberts. Any doubt? Roberts burst onto the scene early this year, and now is hitting .376 with 11 HR. He had signs of being good, and with the trade of Baltimore's other second baseman, Jerry Hairston, he finally was given a chance to prove it. And my has he proved it so far.
National League: Two guys that you may have cast aside as washed up are ruling the position. Craig Biggio is back to being the Craig Biggio of old. But, Jeff Kent's performace for the Dodgers gets him the nod.

Third Base

American League: Alex Rodriguez. Crap, the tough transition is over. Moving on.
National League: Two more mini-comeback stories here. Many people thought Troy Glaus was done, or at best he would have to become a first baseman or DH. But he's having a fine season in the desert with 12 HR's. Meanwhile, Chipper Jones has returned to third and is flourishing. Jones is hitting .339. It's a toss-up, but I'll go with Glaus. With his health, he won't have as many chances to have any more all-star quality years as Jones will.


American League: Miguel Tejada. Now that he's settled in in Baltimore, he's back to his MVP form, and is outperforming most corner infielders. Tejada is hitting .328 with 11 homers and 40 RBI.
National League: Clint Barmes, but it's closer than you thing. Barmes came out like gangbusters this year, and he hasn't cooled off too much yet. Once above .400, he's now "only" hitting .341 with 7 homers. Barmes edges out brilliant glove man Cesar Izturis has seen his average rise to .346. Izturis definitely has a bright career ahead of him; I'll give Barmes his turn in the spotlight just in case this is the only one he gets.


American League: Johnny Damon, perhaps the most un-fundamentally sound guy in the league, is hitting .362. Ichiro! is hitting .322 with 14 steals. Vlad Guerrero's .303 and 7 homers beats out Gary Sheffield's .315 and 6, just because Vlad is all-around fun to watch.
National League: Miguel Cabrera may not be the best defensive outfielder, but when you're hitting .375 with 9 homers, people will tend to make exceptions for you. Bobby Abreu may have officially taken over Brian Giles' position as most underrated guy in the majors. He's hitting .331 with 12 homers. Finally, here's a guy that will probably surpise you. Brewers center fielder Brady Clark is hitting .332 with 6 homers and 34 runs scored. Yeah, Milton Bradley is having a great year, again hitting for a high average (.323) and showing show pop for the first time (10 HR), but I like underdogs like Clark, especially when they're not prone to hissy-fits.

Designated Hitter

American League: Yeah, it is unfairly an AL-only position on the ballot. A very close race here nonetheless. I'll give this one to another great comeback story, Shea Hillenbrand. Cast off for being too much of a free swinger, Hillenbrand is once again hitting for a very high average - .343 (even without the walks, an average like that still gives you a pretty nice OBP). David Ortiz and his 10 HR and 30 RBI are likely to get quite a few votes. In a close third (in my book, at least) is on-base machine David Dellucci, who has flourished since moving to the leadoff spot earlier this season.

Starting Pitcher

American League: OK, I also know pitchers aren't on the ballot, but I thought I'd throw a few out there. Jon Garland is the talk of the South Side, starting 8-1 with an ERA of 2.57. Roy Halladay has returned to Cy Young form, going 7-2 with a 2.84 ERA. Finally, my Gammonsesque selection is Erik Bedard, a man I considered not mentioning here in case I ever wanted to pick him for my fantasy team. Bedard has started the season 5-1 with an ERA of 2.08.
National League: Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett have been the Marlins' 1-2 punch so far, combining for a record of 14-4. Willis has an invisible 1.55 ERA, which almost make's Beckett's 2.47 seem gaudy. Brett Myers and Jake Peavy are pacing the NL with 71 strikeouts each. Myers has an ERA of 1.88, while Peavy has started the year 4-0.

Relief Pitcher

American League: Baltimore has been very successful this year, and part of that was due to placing BJ Ryan in the closer's role. Ryan has 12 saves and an ERA of 1.50. Meanwhile, the AL's other very successful team has found a surprise closer in Dustin Hermanson, who has 10 saves and an ERA of 0.00. You can't do any better than that. Honorable mention goes to Scot Shields of Anaheim (LA?), who has been the Octavio Dotel to Frankie Rodriguez's Billy Wagner so far. With K-Rod's injury, Shields will be moving his 1.09 ERA into the closer's role.
National League: Danny Kolb! What? No! Of course, Kolb is still near the top when it comes to saves. But this year's all-stars are the very underrated Jason Isringhausen (12 saves, 0.63 ERA), and the surprise out of Washington, Chad Cordero (10 saves, 0.95 ERA). Very honorable mention goes to Brandon Lyon's 13 saves and Derrick Turnbow's 6 save performance in Milwaukee so far.

Indians Review

Catcher Victor Martinez is a notorious slow starter, but I don't know if this year's performance can be considered a "slow start" any more. Martinez is hitting "on the interstate," .191 with two homers. (Or, as it was put the other day, only one more than CC Sabathia.) He's bound to break out of this funk sooner or later.

First baseman Ben Broussard has been quietly solid once again. .270 with 3 homers and 18 RBI doesn't look like much, but it's exactly what we need out of this guy. And, you can't put a number on "clutch."

Second baseman Ron Belliard got off to a bit of a slow start. There was a time when it was either home run or bust. He's since broken out of that, and is now up to .280 with 6 homers, which ties him for the team lead.

A lot has been said about Aaron Boone's .159 average. But, I'll go out on a limb and say his defense has made up for it. Case in point: Last night, the Indians were holding on to a 1-0 lead when then Twins had runners on second and third with two outs. Boone stops a hot grounder and makes the play, saving two runs, and eventually the game, as the final was 2-1 Tribe.

A lot was made of the Indians' loss of their 1-2 hitters or "table setters." One of those table setters was Omar Vizquel. Omar is having a fine year in San Francisco. His replacement, Jhonny Peralta, meanwhile, got off to a slow start. He made errors in each of his first few games, and wasn't hitting worth anything. But he's since settled down. He's no Omar defensively, but he's solid. And he's now hitting .260 with 6 homers, a good sign of the kind of hitter he's going to be.

Like Boone at third, the outfield has been brilliant defensively. Coco Crisp, a converted secondbaseman (explaining his lack of arm strength), can flat out cover a lot of ground in center. Move him to left to make room for Grady Sizemore, and you're not going to see a lot of balls hitting the grass. Casey Blake, who had been asked during the offseason to move to first, then second, then left, then finally right, agreed unselfishly. You can tell right field is new for him, but he definitely has the arm for it, as teams are quickly learning. Crisp was hitting .283 before a thumb injury sidelined him for the coming 3 months. Sizemore is hitting .273 with 18 RBI, showing hints of the solid run producer he's turning into. Plus, you have to love his hustle. Blake has struggled at the plate after the position change, finally getting his average over the Mendoza line this past week. But, his patience at the plate has made him a staple at the top of the lineup.

The Pronk, DH Travis Hafner, got off to a slow start, then predictably got uberhot against the Angels. Hafner is up to .271 with 5 homers and 20 runs scored. His power to center field reminds me a little bit of another lefty farm boy the Indians used to have, but I won't make those comparisons just yet. You do have to love the way this guy hustles his butt off as he chugs around the bases, though.

If you turn to the bench, you'll only see more defense. Jody Gerut is back from injury, replacing Coco in the lineup. In 5 games back, he's hitting .429, and he's always a joy to watch in the field. If you watch the heady Alex Cora play second or short, you wonder why this guy would ever agree to be a backup instead of looking for a place to start. Of course, his .238 average could have something to do with that. Jose Hernandez has played wherever he's been asked to, and played well.

The starters have been up and down this year. I've seen a lot of great starts turn into 2-1 losses thanks to the struggling offense. I've also seen an ugly start or two, but that's expected with a young rotation. CC Sabathia was injured to start the year, but has been decent since he came back, 3-3 with an ERA of 3.48. Plus, did you see that home run? The big guy has a big stride, but otherwise he's got a great power stroke. Jake Westbrook has been up and down this year, but probably better than his 1-7 record and 5.80 suggests. He has had more than a few bad starts (in fact, it seems like half of them have been in the ugly category), but he's also lost his share of 2-1 games. This will happen when your ace (Sabathia) goes down and you have to move up to the #1 spot to face everyone else's ace. New acquisition Kevin Millwood has been another tough luck loser. His ERA is 3.31, pretty good for an AL starter, but his 1-4 record suggests otherwise. Clifford Lee, meanwhile, is back on track, with a record of 5-2 and an ERA of 3.69.

The bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular. It's a complete 180 from last year - they're now tops in the AL in bullpen ERA. Pirate fans are calling the Matt Lawton for Arthur Rhodes deal a steal, but no one in Cleveland is complaining about Rhodes' 0.87 ERA. Closer Bob Wickman, who always makes things "interesting," is one of only two relievers with an ERA over 3, and that high number is mostly due to one bad outing - his first of the year. Four guys have an ERA under 2, including Rhodes and Matt Miller, who actually had to be sent down to AAA to make room for Sabathia - at a time when Miller's ERA was 0. So yeah, it's basically a game of waiting for the hitting to catch up with the pen. But it is nice for Eric Wedge to know that he can his starter out in the 6th when he starts to tire, instead of leaving him in when runs are at an absolute premium for this team.