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AL Player Spotlight - April 4, 2007

Lou Blasi

Like Curt Schilling before him on Monday, today's start for Josh Beckett allegedly unveils a revamped and revised edition of the pitcher for 2007. Beckett and new pitching coach John Farrell have apparently hit it off and Farrell has convinced Beckett that he will have to be more of a pitcher than a thrower to get to the next level. Yesterday Beckett said that he often considered a "change of speed"to mean throwing it harder and harder. That won't cut it in the AL, especially the AL East and Josh seems to be bent on working in his off speed stuff more and being smarter in his approaches to hitters. He also said that while he didn't hold back on his breaking pitches in games last year he did back off on the side to avoid the blister problems that plagued him earlier in his career. A source close to the team told me that Beckett sometimes threw his breaking stuff on the side with his finger tips wrapped. All of this contributed to command problems with his breaking stuff. That contributed to a jump in walks from 58 in 178.2 IP in 2005 with the Marlins to 74 with the Red Sox in 204 IP last year. Of course the 36 homers he gave up (as opposed to a career high of 16 in 2004) probably caused him to nibble a bit more as well. Josh needs to get hitters off of his fastball and to do that he needs to be effective with his off speed stuff. Expect him to try to feature his breaking stuff more today and going forward. As far as effectiveness, we'll see ... but admitting a problem is the first step in solving it.

Kelvim Escobar probably had better results than he deserved yesterday as he won his first game of the year against the Rangers. Escobar gave up 3 runs, 2 earned in 5.1 IP on just three hits, but he walked 5 (1.50) and gave up a homer. Kelvim obviously struggled with command throwing 55 strikes in 101 pitches, but what helped him was the 9/4 GB/FB split. He's posted 1.23 and 1.30 GB ratios the last two years and that's a key part of his game. He did however get Sammy Sosa with one of his 4 Ks to get out of a bases loaded jam in the 5th. But the real key to Escobar's 2007 is health of course. It remains a mystery why he can't land more wins considering how well he pitches when healthy, given where you probably got him in the draft, Kelvim could pay pretty good dividends if he can repeat his 30 starts from last year.

One of my favorite low-grade breakout candidates for 2007, Boof Bonser had a pretty effective debut against the Orioles on Tuesday. He went 6 innings allowing 2 earned runs on 3 hits and 3 walks (1.00) while fanning 6. Both runs came with two outs in the third inning and one problem he's had to this point has been an inability to close out innings. Still, you can't ask for better from your 4th or 5th slot or as the first reserve among your starters. That's exactly what you are looking for. Boof got 10 of the last 11 he faced but did give up a HR which is his personal pitching demon (18 in 100 IP last year). He posted an 0.95 GB ratio last year and last night his GB/FB split was 5/8. The difference is last year he had a 3.5 K/9 and last night it was 9.0. If you can't punch guys out you better not walk any one (he contains his walks pretty well) and you better get them to hit it on the ground. He's capable of a much better K/9 and if he does see that dramatic improvement this year that will be a big help. If he can keep the ball on the ground a bit more on top of that he enters sleeper territory.

Apparently the roof being closed at Safeco Field has a bigger impact on ball flight than we might have considered in the past. Yuniesky Betancourt, the M's young Cuban SS, watched a well hit fly to left die ignominiously on Opening Day only to later watch as Richie Sexson limped a decisive homerun out with the roof closed. Sexson commented after the game "Thank God the roof was closed."Yesterday both Betancourt and Sexson homered with the roof closed and after the game through an interpreter, Yuniesky confirmed what we all knew, namely that "the ball carries much better when the roof is closed". Not to digress but where is THAT stat in the splits? Pitcher's ERA with the roof open or closed? I'd settle for Park Factors with the roof open or closed (I guess I have my weekend cut out for me now ...). It's something to keep in mind but even in rainy Seattle it's usually a moot point. The roof was closed only 10 times in 81 home dates last year and only in 6 games was the roof closed the entire game.

Today is the first day of the rest of Brandon McCarthy's professional life today as he starts against the Angels in Anaheim. He did make 12 starts in 65 appearances over two years for the White Sox before being traded to the Rangers in December but this year being a starter will be his primary function. He's 4-3 with a 4.12 ERA in those previous 12 starts allowing a respectable .237 OBA as opposed to 3-6, 4.61, .247 as a reliever. He has significant potential as a starter and could eventually top out as a good #2 if all falls well for him. He has punch out capability (159 K in 145.2 IP between AAA and AA in 2004/5) even if he hasn't shown it yet at the MLB level. The caveat here is that he and Arlington are fire and gasoline. He gave up 30 homers in two years over 151 IP with the White Sox and he takes a career 0.82 GB ratio north with him. If he can't restrain his inner gopher it's going to be a bumpy ride. He has potential however and if you have spec room for him on your roster he's not a bad guy to have in your pocket while we wait and see.

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