Monday, July 11, 2011

MLB 2011 Mid-Year Check-In, Part I

Since we're at the symbolic mid-year point for the 2011 MLB season, I might as well give you some thoughts to chew on from my super smart brain.  I'm going to go with the pleasant resultss so far this year today, and tomorrow I'll toss out the big disappointments.  As usual, we'll be covering the entire league as well as your local nine.  In no particular order:

1.  Michael Cuddyer.  I wrote him up glowingly just a week ago, but I'm just stunned by my own turnaround him.  Thanks to his knack for picking up his hitting when the team most needs his bat as well as his willingness to play wherever and whenever he's needed (unlike many others on this sissified team) I've come around on everything I used to hate.  The two things I hated most were his inability to law off the outside slider in the dirt when he had 2 strikes even though he knows it's coming and his media-whore-ishness. 

At this point, however, I've just come to accept that almost everybody has a hole in their swing and that's just his, and I'm beginning to realize his mediawhoreishness is really just attempt to be a team leader.  Seeing how Joe Mauer is an emotionless robot and Justin Morneau usually can no longer remember what day it is or what his name is, Cuddy's tried to become the leader the team needs.  Since he's really just a country bumpkin at heart it doesn't really come off all that well but at least he's trying.  

Hopefully they trade him for a prospect and then resign him at a reduced price next season.   Although I want Kubel back as well.  So I guess they need to trade Delmon Young, whose value is at an all-time low, and Denard Span, who looks like he may never play again.  This team can't even build a roster correctly. 

2.  Jose Bautista.  Let me guess.  You, like everybody else, figured Jose Bautista for a Brady Anderson like fluke last year, whether it was due to steroids or just some weird convergence of craziness or something.  I did, but after his start to this year - leading the majors with 31 homers already - I'm sold.  Maybe I'm really stupid, and obviously it's not out of the questions that he's getting pharmacological help for two years rather than just the one, but I'm now a believer.  Maybe I just want to believe.  I don't know.  It's not like this kind of neither never happens - it's just rare.

3.  Ben Revere.  I have to admit I was never really all that excited for Ben Revere.  All I ever heard was how he was basically the next Juan Pierre, and statistically Pierre isn't all that great.  He gets a lot of hits but makes a lot of outs because he never walks and he's fast with no power.  I wasn't interested.  But now that Revere is here, I get the good stuff.

Yeah, he'd still be better if he walked a bit more often and unless he develops some power he's going to struggle because the outfielders, especially the left-fielders, can play him shallow and take away that slap single to left, but he's fun to watch, no doubt.  Incredible fast, maybe the fastest Twin on the bases I can remember along with Guzman and Gomez, hits well enough, can steal bases, and is the best defensive CFer the team has had since Puckett.  I'm on board.  Whether he can ever develop into a true leadoff type hitter or will be more doomed to be a #9 is yet to be seen, but his downside is an exciting bottom of the order guy with his upside an all-star lead off hitter.  What's not to love?

4.  Adrian Gonzalez.  Remember how Gonzalez put up like sickening good numbers hitting in the grand canyon that is Petco Park while being surrounded in the lineup by guys like Chase Headley and Ryan Klesko and everybody said that he'd kill the league after he signed with Boston?  Well it's happening.  .354 to lead the league with 77 rbi to lead the league and 17 homers (ranks 10th).  If you're curious, a season with a .350 BA, 25 homers, and 120 rbi has only been done three times since 2000 (Pujols, Larry Walker, Magglio Ordonez) and not once since 2007.  Pretty crazy stuff.

5.  Justin Verlander.  Speaking of crazy, Verlander is having an absolute monster year of a career year, which is pretty amazing considering he's already finished in the top-11 in Cy Young voting four times in his six year career.  His ERA of 2.15 is a full run better than his previous career best while his WHIP of 0.87 is 0.3 better than his career high and his 12 wins so far are nearly 2/3rds of the way to his high of 19 (that's right, somehow Verlander has never won 20 in a season).  Looking at the nerd stats he's pitching nearly identically to how he usually does style wise, but the results have been better so we can expect Verlander to come back towards his career averages a bit (which is good for Twins' fans) but he's still a damn good pitcher either way wit the inside track on his first Cy Young win.  I really really wish the Twins could find a way to get somebody like this someday.  Come on, Kyle Gibson.

6.  Jose Reyes.  The Mets aren't very good or anything, but have been slightly better than expected aat around .500 and the biggest reason is that Jose Reyes has been completely and totally ridiculous.  He's currently leading the NL in batting average at .354 which is made even more ridiculous by the fact that he was hitting just .310 on May 22nd but has hit .413 in the 34 games since with multiple hits in 22 of those 34 games.  Basically with a crappy team whose #2 and #3 players are hurt in David Wright and Johan Santana they're in a position to get a huge return if they can find a trade partner for Reyes.  He's a free agent so they need to move him (or sign him I guess since they're a New York team).  Maybe the Twins could get him for a Mauer + Casilla combo.  Do it. 

7.  Paul Konerko.  Sort of lost in all the hub-bub over Jose Bautista transforming from 4th outfielder to most feared hitter in the AL has been Konerko's transformation from washed up old man to 2nd most feared hitter in the AL.  Although I'm sure all Twins' fans have noticed.  From 2004-2006 he was incredible with 3 top-22 MVP years, but then started a skid that looked like it was pretty much the final slide of his career.  In fact, for 3 straight years from 2007-2009 he was pretty average and an average hitting first baseman isn't very good.  But then last year - boom - .312 with 39 homers and he's continued it this year by hitting .319 with 22 HRs to this point.  Actually, know that I think about, Konerko's resurgence should probably be more suspicious than Bautista's transformation, but it just isn't because he's a rare commodity (a non-douchey White Sock) and it's fun to say Konerko Konorked it.   

8.  Scott Baker.  With all the hand-wringing over the Twins', and particularly over the state of the starting pitching, somehow it's been lost that Baker is having a career year.  His ERA at the break is just 3.01, ranking him tenth in the AL, which is a full run better than his career mark.  And, after an uncharacteristic start to the season where he was struggling to find the strike zone he's now got his walk rate down back where it traditionally belongs and is doing it while putting up a career high strikeout rate.  Basically he appears to really be coming into his own and he's doing it by doing things he can control:  strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate (which is down this year).  He's shown too many flashes in the past for me to be straight up excited by this and I have to say there's a big part of me that's just waiting for the regression, but I'm definitely mildly intrigued. 

9.  Michael Pineda.  Credit goes to Snake for drafting this guy for our fantasy team, but he's been an absolute gem.  His 8 wins lead all AL rookie pitchers and he also leads in WHIP at 1.04, ERA at 3.03, and strikeouts at 103.  In short, he's been a complete rookie stud who is the leading candidate to win AL Rookie-of-the-Year and a fabulous compliment to Felix Hernandez, giving Seattle an excellent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.  Unfortunately outside of those two, Justin Smoak, Ichiro, and Dustin Ackley the entire team is worse than the worst Twin.  Yeah, for real.

10.  Pittsburgh Pirates.  Speaking of teams that are usually really bad you have to hand it to the Pirates who, at 47-43, have a decent chance to finish over .500 for the first time in 18 years, and actually sent three players to the All-Star game.  Since they hired Neal Huntington as GM in 2007 they've been very patient and have worked to build their farm system and it's now starting to pay off (not unlike what the Royals are doing).  They've mainly worked through the draft (picking up Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez) that way, but have also done well in trades, nabbing Jose Tabata from the Yankees (in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade that also netted Jeff Karstens), Ronny Cedeno from the Mariners for Jack Wilson, as well as starters James McDonald (from the Dodgers) and Charlie Morton (from the Cubs) for Octavio Dotel and Nate McLouth and they signed all-star Kevin Correia as a free agent and grabbed all-star Joel Hanrahan from the Nats for nothing.  They're definitely building something in Pittsburgh.  Whether they can go any further or if this is it, it's gotta be exciting if you're a Pirate fan.  Assuming those still exist.

No comments: