Miguel Cabrera (1B – Tigers)
Miguel Cabrera continued to build upon his hot start by going 3 for 5 with a HR and 6 RBI on Friday. After a somewhat painfully slow start to last season (10 HR in his first 80 games), it is refreshing to see him get out of the gates quickly this year by mashing 3 HR in his first 5 games. Cabrera has not followed a typical career arc, as from age 21-25 his numbers have been remarkably consistent across the board. The lone trend that has emerged in recent years is that he has become slightly less selective at the plate (EYE of .81, .63, and .44 in last 3 years). A closer look reveals that in his 5 full seasons the percentage of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone has risen (19.7, 23.5, 23.1, 30.2, and 34.2%). While this trend would normally be concerning, Cabrera has offset the percentage of bad pitches he swings at by making contact with these balls more often (56.3, 50.5, 53.2, 55.9, and 62.0%). Overall, Cabrera has not been aversely affected by his more free-swinging approach, as his decline in BA last year can be explained by his BHIP% falling 43 points below his 3-year average. If anything, Cabrera could see an increase in his HR and RBI as he settles for less walks, and puts more balls in play. Cabrera is one of those unique players that do not seem to adhere to the usual sabermetric principles of age factors and plate discipline.
Armando Galarraga (SP – Tigers)
Galarraga turned in an incredibly impressive start on Friday by limiting the highly potent Rangers offense to 1 run in 7 IP, while striking out 8, walking 1, and allowing just 5 hits. Galarraga was widely criticized as being one of the luckiest SP’s in the league last year (.234 BHIP%, and 0.75 strand rate). Additionally, his fairly lame K/BB ratio of 2.06 in ’08 does not inspire much confidence. However, Galarraga also experienced a bit of bad luck with his 13% HR/FB rate. By all indications, the former Rangers cast-off had what could very well amount to a career year in ’08, but his demise this season could turn out to be somewhat exaggerated. This exaggeration is captured in our ’09 projection of a 4.06 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Hopefully owners of Galarraga didn’t draft him based on last season’s numbers, but if you did, now could be an opportune time to ship him off to an owner who is not aware of the folly of small sample sizes.
Nick Swisher (OF – Yankees)
Swisher earned a second consecutive start on Friday, while Xavier Nady slid over to the pine. To add some clarity to the situation, it has been reported that Joe Girardi is going to aim to give Swisher 3 starts per week. Both players have historically comparable numbers (Swisher - .245 / .355 / .454 vs. Nady - .280 / .335 / .458). Nady was given the opening-day nod largely because Swisher suffered through a horribly unlucky season last year (.199 BHIP%). All of Swisher’s indicators (BB%, K%, and LD%) were directly in line with his historical averages, so if given the chance for semi-regular playing time, Swisher should bounce back nicely. Expect Girardi to ride the hot-hand initially, and then eventually settle into a reliable rotation. I am giving the edge to Swisher, mostly due to the fact that he hits from both sides of the plate. I envision Nady becoming more of a left-handed hitting specialist as the season progresses.
Alexei Ramirez (SS/2B – White Sox)
Ramirez went 0 for 3 last night to remain hitless on the season through 13 AB. It has clearly been pointed out that Ramirez was at risk to be figured out by MLB pitching due to his free-swinging ways (3.6 BB% in ’08). Toward the end of last season, pitchers stopped feeding “The Cuban Missile” fastballs that his extremely quick wrists could blast out of the park. This trend has continued to start the year. Although it is very early for this type of pitch data, 40% of the pitches Ramirez has seen this year have been sliders. Major league teams seem to think they have found the chink in his armor, and until he makes an adjustment, he could struggle.
Scott Baker (SP – Twins)
Baker tossed 7 innings of 1 run ball in his single-A rehab start on Friday. He looks poised to return for his start next Wednesday. We’ve told you before that Baker is an extremely under-valued player heading into ’09, and now a brief DL stint has only served to make him more under-valued. Baker is known for his pin-point command (2.19 BB/9 in ‘08), but even more impressively, Baker is also able to produce a good amount of whiffs with his control game (7.36 K/9 in ‘08). The lone risk factor with Baker is that he is a fly-ball pitcher (45.8 FB%), who could see his ERA rise slightly if more of those fly-balls leave the park. Due to his great control, Baker is a sure bet to post a strong WHIP even if his ERA rises slightly.
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