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Ten Questions You Might Ask if You Slept Through the First Half of the Season
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
July 12, 2009
10. Who the Hell is Pablo Sandoval?
Sandoval is the 22-year old starting third baseman for the Giants, though he is supposed to be a C/1B. Last season he made a splashy debut in 41 games, going .345/.357/490. This season, he has been off and running from the starting, improving to .326/.379/.560 with a 145 OPS+, 23 doubles, and 13 homeruns. Strangely, he is a beast at home in spacious AT&T Park, but not so much on the road, which probably indicates his need for continued development more than anything (just ask Justin Upton, 2008). Nevertheless, in the first half of the season, he was the only player to carry his weight offensively for the Giants. It was hard to see this guy coming, but he has been impressive early in his career so far.
9. Dan Haren, Doug Davis, and Max Scherzer are all pitching well, so where are the Diamondbacks?
Despite surprisingly good starts from Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Felipe Lopez, Arizona’s offense has simply died, with Chad Tracy, Eric Byrnes, and Chris Young barely producing a pulse between them. More important, however, is the loss of Brandon Webb. Webb pitched exactly one game, gave up six earned runs in four innings, and may be gone for the year or even longer.
8. A St. Louis Cardinals First Baseman is Chasing Roger Maris?
Speaking of collapsing offenses, it has been a bit of a disastrous year for what looked to be the deepest outfield in baseball in St. Louis. Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, and Colby Rasmus have all been disappointing, but don’t tell Albert Pujols that you need protection in the lineup to hit. As we approach the All-Star Break, he leads the NL in an astonishing number of categories – runs, RBI, homeruns, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, batting runs, runs created, and intentional walks (with only three fewer than he had all of last season). Plus, through 85 games, he has 31 homeruns, which puts him just behind the pace to become the sixth player ever to hit 60 homeruns in a single season.
7. The Major League Leader in Wins is Who?!?!
Between them they have 115 strikeouts in 225 combined innings, and they pitch in two of the most hitter-friendly parks in all of baseball. But don’t tell Jason Marquis and Tim Wakefield that you have to be able to strike guys out if you are going to have success in hitters parks. With a week to go before the break, Wakefield (Boston Red Sox) and Marquis (Colorado Rockies) are tied for the major league lead with 11 wins. For Wakefield, 11 wins is officially more than he had all of last season, and for Marquis 11 wins matches last season’s total and is one fewer than he had in 2007. Frankly, we may be looking at the debut of this era’s Phil Niekro (Wakefield) and Jamie Moyer (Marquis).
6. The New York Mets are in . . . Fourth Place?
It is hard to say what the problem with the Mets has been this season. Well, hard to say if you aren’t a New York area AM talk radio host – these guys have no problem hanging anyone and everyone for what has happened this year. Anything those guys have to say notwithstanding, the Mets’ failures in 2009 have been partially their own doing and partially bad luck. The Mets broke camp with Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy as their corner outfielders, which is appalling – only the Tigers' waiver of Gary Sheffield has saved the team in that respect (currently third on the team in OPS and leads the team in homeruns). And for some reason, David Wright has morphed from a three-hitter into a two-hitter, but the Mets haven’t noticed. But the Mets have been mediocre this year mostly due to bad luck – Jose Reyes has played only 36 games this year, Carlos Delgado only 26, and now Carlos Beltran has been on the DL for most of July.
Guess what, New York shock-jocks – you don’t lose three of your four best players and continue to succeed. It doesn’t happen.
5. Scott Rolen is Alive and Kicking?
After a miserable 2008 season (115 games, 11 homeruns, .262/.349/.431), which came after a miserable 2007 season (112 games, 8 homeruns, .265/.331/.398), Scott Rolen has gotten healthy and is quietly one of the American League’s best hitters in 2009. Currently riding a 25 game hitting streak, Rolen is batting .330 with an .876 OPS (130 OPS+) and 26 doubles. Already one of the all-time greats according to Keith’s rate-stat oriented mind, Rolen may soon break into lofty enough territory to be considered an all-time great in my counting-stat oriented mind as well.
4. The Tampa Bay Rays are in the Wild Card Hunt Thanks to . . . Ben Zobrist?!?!?!
The headline on this one is an over-simplification, as Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Pena are all having good-to-great seasons, but Zobrist has defied logic in 2009, leading the Rays in OPS while setting career highs in ever major offensive category in only half a season to date. A sixth round pick of the Astros in 2004, Zobrist came over with Mitch Talbot in the Aubrey Huff deal. The Rays front office is in serious danger of having a book written about it.
3. The Worst Hitter in All of Baseball is Who?
He is truly one of the great underrated players of all time, and last season he would have been a brilliant trade deadline acquisition, but nobody noticed. Nevertheless, it would be nearly impossible to argue that anything he has done this season is underrated. He currently has 2 homeruns, 23 RBI, and has put up a line of .191/.277/.271/.548. Yes, the .548 is his OPS. He dropped out of the career 3-4-5 club a few years ago when his average dropped below .300, but now he is in danger of dropping his OBP under .400 as well. Brian Giles has fallen off the proverbial cliff, and if he plays much longer, I am going to start saying crazy things like “Brian Giles was the Dale Murphy of the Steroid Era.” And I don’t want to say that. Because that would be crazy.
2. Who is the New Keeper of the Flame?
Roy Halladay is now in his 12th season, but he is only now emerging from the shadows of the Big Four, the collection of great pitchers who dominated baseball’s pitching landscape for the last twenty years. Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux are now gone, while Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are turning their horses towards the sunset. That leaves Roy Halladay and Johan Santana as the two great pitchers of our current era. While Santana suffers in a cloud of New York City dysfunction with the Mets, trade speculations swirls around Halladay. Nevertheless, this season he has once again, if perhaps for the last time with the Blue Jays, proven to be a class act and a uniquely talented pitcher. He is your American League starter.
1. Who is the New Face of Dominance in Baseball?
He was drafted in the first round in 2006, and arrived on the West Coast with much fanfare. He debuted in 2007 and, despite some bumps along the way, showed signs of true brilliance. In 2008, his first full major league season, he led the NL in win percentage, strikeouts, ERA+, hits per nine innings, homeruns per nine innings, and strikeouts per nine innings, and he won the Cy Young Award. In 2009, he has been even better than he was in 2008, and he is your All Star Game starter in the National League. Tim Lincecum is for real, he is here, and he is here to stay. Assuming he stays healthy, the sky truly seems to be the limit for this man.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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