Sure, plenty of attention has been focused on Alfonso Soriano since he signed with the Cubs. It's possible, though, that he may actually be underhyped. After a 2006 season in which he hit .277 with 46 homers and 41 SBs he could be in line to show a substantial improvement. A 50/50 season while flirting with .300 is not out of the realm of possibility. Two major factors work in Soriano's favor. First is his change of ballpark. This is a not a minor thing. RFK Stadium has a ballpark index of 90 for right handed batters in terms of batting average and 81 for homers Since the Nationals started playing there. What this translates to is 10% more difficulty getting hits and 19% more difficulty hitting homers for right handed batters in the Nation's Capital when compared to the average NL park. The numbers are radically different in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Over the past three years, Wrigley's ballpark indexes for righthanders are 102 for batting average and 119 for homers. Add in a more effective surrounding cast and that explains why Soriano is poised to explode in homers and batting average. What could drive him towards 50 SBs? The new skipper in Chicago, Lou Piniella, has a tendency to use speedsters when he has them. Ichiro! and Carl Crawford got lots of green lights, putting Piniella's teams consistently in the top ranks of the SB attempt counts. Soriano will also likely be sent often and rack up lots of steals.
A word of warning about Barry Zito...He was in the top 5 in batters faced in the AL in 2005 and 2006. In addition, Zito carried similar workloads in back-to-back seasons in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 his ERA jumped by over a run (from 3.30 to 4.48), although he did increase his K total (from 146 to 163).
For comparison's sake, we can look at Johan Santana. The Minnesota ace threw more innings than Zito (233.2 to 221) in the same number of starts (34) but made over 200 fewer pitches than the erstwhile Bay Area free agent (3454 to 3666). Santana made a much more efficient use of his effort. Another positive in Santana's favor in terms of likely durability is that his heavy workloads did not begin until he hit the age of 25, when he faced over 900 batters for the first time in 2004. There is a strong historical correlation between heavy early use and loss of effectiveness and/or health. In Zito's case, he has faced more than 900 major league batters since his sophomore year in the majors in 2001 when he was 23. If you were going to bet on the health of one of those two pitchers, Santana is a clear choice.
Even waiting is not a guarantee where heavy workload is concerned. Roy Halladay was 25 when he got to the majors to stay in 2002 and faced 993 batters. He followed that up by facing 1071 batters in 2003. This was followed by two injury plagued seasons (although it would be hard to blame his broken leg in 2005 on prior overuse). Last year Halladay was able to make 32 starts, only missing the final two due to what appeared to be minor discomfort. Despite logging 220 IP, Halladay is not to be found in the top 20 in AL pitches thrown (he tossed 3050) or batters faced (876). This bodes well for him avoiding major injury woes and that broken leg two years ago may have actually been a blessing in disguise, giving him needed rest.
Speaking of performance trends that track prior season's usage, let's talk about Freddy Garcia. The new Phillie has shown distinct tendencies to post numbers that correlate to how much he was used in the previous year. In every season where he has faced fewer than 900 batters he showed overall improvement the following season. Conversely, whenever he faces over 900 batters his numbers slide the next year. How many batters did Garcia face last year? 917
This is the time of year when you hear a lot about "strength of schedule."Mostly, it is in reference to the NCAA Basketball tournament and how that factor plays into selections for the field of 64 (or 65 or however many it is now). Usually it doesn't matter much in baseball. Over the course of 162 games, that sort of thing evens out. In some cases, though, it rears its head. Takashi Saito is a case in point. Last season, only 20 of Saito's 78- 1/3 innings pitched came against teams that were in the top half of their league in terms of Runs/Plate Appearance. So, in essence Saito compiled an outstanding pitching record against the weaker teams in the majors. The 37-year-old may have a tough time avoiding a sophomore jinx and repeating his 2.07 ERA and 24 saves in 26 opportunities that he got in 2006.
Mark Grudzielanek's injury may give some extra early playing time to Esteban German. German is one of those players who has proven everything he could in the minors but has not gotten an opporunity to play for an extended stretch in the majors. Last season he did manage to post very good numbers (.326 batting average and .422 OBP) in 279 at bats in KC, but Grudzielanek was still the incumbent at 2B. German would likely fill a utility role if Grudzielanek hadn't been injured. Now he's got a month to prove that he deserves a permanent place in the lineup.
Don't do any cartwheels over Bobby Crosby's statement that he is feeling no lingering effects from last season's injuries. He put in a full workload in the spring of 2005 before suffering the stress fracture in his rib cage that started off that season's DL-heavy events. This is not to be confused with the stress fractures that Crosby suffered last year and hampered his availability and effectiveness.
Likewise, assurances from Jeff Weaver that his poor results in his spring debut are just due to normal "tinkering"are not enough to put doubts aside. Since leading the AL in batters faced in 2001 at age 24, Weaver has not put together an effective full season.
Contract dances sometimes mystify and such is the case with the Braves and Jeff Francoeur. Atlanta offered an amount if he would agree to sign voluntarily, but when he didn't, renewed him at a lower amount. Why did they seemingly go out of their way to try and build bad blood with Francoeur? What did they hope to accomplish by going this route? Did they do it just because they can? To "prove a point?"Francoeur gave the predictable "there is no bitterness"quotes, but will it have absolutely no effect on his on field performance or desire to stay with the team when the leverage positions are reversed? Who knows? But I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of action comes back to haunt them in negotiations with draft picks. I can just see Scott Boras pointing to this and telling a Braves' first rounder, "You've got to get as much from them as you can up front because they are going to short you as long as they have the power to do so."If Atlanta was willing to pay Francoeur the higher amount, why didn't they do the magnanimous thing and go ahead and renew him at that amount?
David Dellucci's return to the AL should also increase his fantasy value. He may get more playing time than ever in his career and can help in power and average in deeper leagues.
Derrick Turnbow could see a major rebound from his disastrous second half last season. It was like an alien invaded his body. He had a sudden loss of control, seeing his walk rate climb astronomically, while his strikeout rate plummeted and he started giving up a higher percentage of fly balls, too many of which sailed over the fence. That kind of sudden turnaround indicated either injury, attitude problem or mechanical flaws. In Turnbow's case, it appears to have been mechanical flaws which then started a vicious cycle of loss of confidence that led to an inability to correct the flaws. After the pressure of the season abated, Turnbow was able to work on his delivery. He has lost his closer role, but could regain it if Francisco Cordero repeats his struggles of early 2006.
Here are some press notes from the team beat writers this morning:
Jeff - Cin/2B: According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Reds infielder
Jeff Keppinger suffered a broken right ring finger when he was hit with a
pitch thrown by Pirates pitcher Allan Simpson during the fifth inning of
Sunday's "A" game at McKechnie Field. He is expected to miss four to six
weeks. Simpson faced six batters and threw two wild pitches during the
Upton, B.J. - TB/3B: The St. Petersburg Times reports that "The team-record six errors the Devil Rays made in Sunday's 7-4 loss to Toronto were concerning enough that there will be extra fielding practice this morning. But most glaring was two were on throws from third by B.J. Upton, who had been looking as if he was putting his defensive woes behind him.
Rolen, Scott - StL/3B: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that "Scott Rolen, usually one to ease into his at-bats in spring training, has cranked up his swing in recent games. On Sunday, he cracked a double down the line for his second hit of the game. "He's taking competitive at-bats," La Russa said."
"He got a good sweat going," Righetti said. "He's got to face some hitters pretty soon, though."
There are over
news items similar to the news above posted in the member section by 8
AM EST each morning during the season. If you
are not already a member, take a look at some of what we offer.