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The Weekly Round-Up
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The Weekly Round-Up
by Asher B. Chancey,
April 22, 2008

For reasons too many to recount, I have decided to let the Weekly Power Rankings die. In their place, I promise far more useful analysis in the brand new Weekly Round-Up, a division-by-division look at Major League Baseball: who’s hot, who’s not, and where the teams are generally trending. I hope this will provide more bang for the buck, which in terms means, I hope the Weekly Round-Up will provide more fodder for conversation, debate, and argument. If not, we’ll try something new.

So, without further ado, I present the first installment of the Weekly Round-Up. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment.

AL West

The Toronto Blue Jays shocked the world this weekend by waiving Frank Thomas, the grumpy veteran who only days before had expressed more-than-a-little dismay at being benched in favor of Matt Stairs. In typical Thomas fashion, the Big Hurt complained loudly and angrily to the press about being benched in what he viewed as a deliberate attempt to prevent his 2009 option, based on obtaining a certain number of plate appearances, from kicking in. (By the way, while it is still fresh, someone should compile all of the topic-appropriate take-offs on Thomas’ nickname. I’ve seen the “Big Pain,” the “Big Angry,” the “Angry Hurt,” and the “Big Baby”). Frank Thomas, in addition to other big name superstars of the 1990s like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, hasn’t exactly received the Craig Biggio/Cal Ripken, Jr. send off as he nears retirement and must wondering why.

The Big Pout
But to fans of the White Sox, A’s, and Blue Jays, the reason is obvious – Biggio and Ripken never acted like insolent children during their time in the majors, and never bailed on devoted fan followings to play for marginally more millions in other cities. Baseball has made Thomas, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, and others like them very wealthy, and collectively these players have shown very little loyalty to their devoted fan-bases. Teams and their fans generally tend to require devotion and adoration from their superstars before they are willing to give it back.

Wanna know why big market teams continue to have an unfair advantage over the small market teams? When small market teams spend money poorly or suffer a slumping superstar, it means bad times are ahead. But when the Boston Red Sox flush millions down the drain on one-year wonder Mike Lowell (now on the disabled list after a positively miserable start to the season), and watch David Ortiz start the season in a 12-for-75 slump, they remain flush with high-priced talent and find themselves atop the American League.

For all the complaining I have done over the years about how the New York Yankees' terrible defense has made life a living hell for the Yankees pitching staff, it is worth noting that the Yankees' best pitcher the last three years has been Chien-Ming Wang, a low-strikeout groundball pitcher, the type of pitcher who would rely heavily on his defense for support.

For once, the Baltimore Orioles front office crew is looking pretty good. With Erik Bedard injured in Seattle and Miguel Tejada aging years by the day in Houston, the Orioles' off-season moves are paying off handsomely. Nick Markakis is an early season nominee for most underrated player in baseball, to say nothing of the re-emergence of Luke Scott, on pace for 80 doubles this season.

There will be those already pointing their “I told you so” fingers in my face regarding the Tampa Bay Rays. All I can say is this: after three weeks, the Rays have a team ERA+ of 102, and a team OPS+ of 101. League average pitching and offense. For the Rays, that is a huge improvement.

AL Central

On Sunday, in a game in which Gary Sheffield did not start for the Detroit Tigers because of a sore shoulder, Carlos Guillen moved to DH, Miguel Cabrera moved to first base, Brandon Inge moved to third base, and Clete Thomas started in centerfield; I have been advocating this defensive alignment since February (with Curtis Granderson in centerfield, obviously). The result? Eight shutout innings from the starter and two relievers, and one earned run given up overall. Hmmmm.

Speaking of Chicago, I can’t believe I am going to say this, but maybe Ozzie Guillen was right last season – maybe the problem really was the players. But let’s play a game called Signs of Trouble. Pick out the fact or facts that indicate bad things to come for the White Sox: Through three weeks, the Sox lead the American League in runs scored per game with 5.44. They are scoring more runs per game on the road than they are at home, and they lead the AL in homeruns with 25. They are also second-to-last in batting average, hitting .242.

'Sup, C.C.?
Good news/Bad news for the Cleveland Indians: C.C. Sabathia and his Cy Young Award have decided to take the 2008 season off. C.C. currently has a 13.50 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 14:14. But the good news is that Fausto Carmona has apparently decided that walking tons of guys and not striking out that many (18 walks, 10 Ks) is a recipe for success (2-1, 1.96 ERA), and Cliff Lee has apparently decided that he just isn’t going to let other teams score any more, having given up one earned run in 22.2 innings this season (1082 ERA+) to go with his 20:2 K/BB ratio. The Indians better hope C.C. recovers before Cliff Lee remembers that he isn’t that guy.

The Minnesota Twins may have compiled the worst offense of the modern era. Only four regulars have OBPs over .300, and Carlos Gomez becomes the latest player about whom it should be said “imagine what he could accomplish if he could get on base” (9/10 stolen bases, 9 runs scored; .262 OBP).

It must be spring time in Kansas City, because the big talents have certainly blossomed. Youngsters Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Brian Bannister, Zack Greinke, and Joakim Soria have all looked excellent, while the time is apparently now for Luke Hochevar. Sadly, the trio of Tony Pena-Joey Gathright-Jose Guillen have entered the winter of their collective discontents, and have been so remarkably bad as to hold the whole team down.

AL West

Ervin Santana is the early front-runner for the “Stepping Up When My Team Needs Me” Award. With Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey out, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had to rely on him, and he has stepped up. Santana has posted a 2.67 ERA and a K/BB ratio well in excess of 3:1. He has even been solid on the road, where he is traditionally horrendous.

With the Oakland Athletics in a supposed rebuilding phase, and with Jack Cust and Travis Buck playing poorly early on, the A’s would seem to be dead on arrival in 2008. But the team is 12-8 after three weeks for one reason – Billy Beane continues to swindle his rivals. The A’s lineup is loaded with players acquired for Dan Haren and Nick Swisher, and the A’s are playing classic Moneyball baseball. For now.

In Seattle, Raul Ibanez is the early front runner for the “Player Most Underrated by Asher” Award. Before my Fantasy Draft this season, I characterized Ibanez as, what was it again? Oh right. “Garbage.” All this Garbage has done this season is produce 5 homeruns, 16 RBI, 12 runs, and a .316/.379/.582 with an 8/8 BB:K ratio.

The re-emergence of Hank Blalock with the Texas Rangers may be to 2008 what Josh Hamilton was to 2007. It is so hard to believe this guy is only 27 – how does a guy go from hot prospect to talented rookie to veteran to pre-maturely fading to comeback all by the age of 27?. So far this year, he has walked more than he has struck out and is currently a 3-4-5er with room to spare. In other news, the Ballpark at Arlington has had exactly the impact on Hamilton and Milton Bradley that we all expected. They both look really impressive. The difference between them is that Bradley’s OPS is over 200 points higher at home, while Hamilton’s is 120 points higher on the road.

NL East

How do you ignore the fact that the Tigers are currently seven games under .500 in last place in their division while the Florida Marlins are four games over .500 and winning the NL East? The best I can figure is that in trading Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins hurt their offense but helped their defense and their pitching. Since the Marlins already have plenty of offense, the team actually improved despite losing Cabrera's bat.

The New York Mets probably expected to receive some competition in the division, but not from the team they currently trail in the standings. Bad news: Ryan Church and Angel Pagan are two of their four best offensive players.

Werther's Original
I am not sure, but I think the Philadelphia Phillies may not be doing the best job in the world of talent evaluation. Four reserves – Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, So Taguchi, and Chris Coste – are currently drastically outperforming the guys who get the majority of the starts at their respective positions – i.e. Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz, Eric Bruntlett, and Carlos Ruiz.

During spring training, Greg said in his Atlanta Braves preview that Matt Diaz "knows how to take a walk." The Baseball Evolution staff was quick to point out Diaz’s low career walk totals, but this is ridiculous: through three weeks, Diaz has yet to take a walk, but has struck out 17 times. Didn’t Greg also say Miguel Tejada looked younger than ever this off-season?

The Tigers officially do not have the worst record in baseball, thanks to the 5-14 Washington Nationals. While Cristian Guzman has been larger than life in 2008 so far - .304/.341/.494 – the rest of the Nationals' lineup has been a rampaging disaster. This team full of retreads has looked like exactly that.

NL Central

The Chicago Cubs are currently playing their home games in the Twilight Zone. Of eight regular position starters, six currently have on-base percentages over .400, and Aramis Ramirez is currently sitting at .393. Oddly, only Alfonso Soriano has struggled at the plate in the early going, but he has sucked enough for everybody.

The play of Albert Pujols has distracted everyone from noticing the strange development in St. Louis. The Cardinals currently have four remarkable outfielders in a regular rotation. Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Skip Schumaker are all off to excellent starts, with only Ankiel not currently posting an average over .300 or an OBP over .400. Brian Barton, who is currently hitting .321 through 28 at-bats, is having trouble getting any playing time at all. Once Kyle Lohse and Braden Looper return to earth, the Cardinals can use this abundance of talent to trade for some pitching.

Bill Hall is currently having an interesting season for the Milwaukee Brewers– his batting average (.211) and on-base percentage (.233) do not add up to a number greater than his slugging percentage (.507). Good job, Bill. I think.

What, me hit?
Speaking of interesting statistical phenomena, Adam Dunn currently has a batting average under .200 (.189) and an on-base percentage over .400 (.413). Humorously, teammate Cincinnati Reds teammate Joey Votto has an identical batting average and on-base percentage, both at .289.

Say what you will about Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady, the good news for the Pittsburgh Pirates is that Jason Bay is showing signs of life. I should say this is the only good news – Pittsburgh’s pitching has been mediocre at best, and their infield is collectively hitting below .200.

The big news in Houston, of course, is Miguel Tejada’s age. But at .310/.351/.535, I wouldn’t be as concerned with his age as I would be the age of Roy Oswalt, allegedly 30 years old but pitching like he is washed up (1-3, 6.65 ERA), and Jose Valverde, who is allegedly 28 but is pitching like he is dead (10.80 ERA).

NL West

The Arizona Diamondbacks get my current vote for the best team in baseball. The team has profuse offensive talent and positively absurd pitching talent. After winning the 2001 World Series with talent developed mostly on other teams, wouldn't it be remarkable to see this team make a run at the Series for the second time in a decade with almost completely homegrown talent?

As exciting as the D’Backs are, the Colorado Rockies are barely getting the pulse going. Troy Tulowitski is suffering through a mighty sophomore slump thus far (guess we’ll put off that Hall of Fame talk for now), while Jayson Nix looks like he needs at least two more seasons of minor league ball. Last year, when the Rockies were making their awesome playoff push, it was easy to forget all the reasons we had not to like this team. Those reasons are not so hard to recall now.

In case baseball fans think the San Diego Padres are bad on offense because of their ballpark, let's dispense with that notion. The Padres currenly rank second to last in the majors with an OPS of .642. Nevertheless, their road OPS is only .654, which would still pretty much be at the bottom of the heap.

After an awful 2007, Rafael Furcal is off to a blazing start, which makes him one of the very few Los Angeles Dodgers performing well on offense in the early going. The pitching looks good enough to keep the Dodgers from dropping too far under .500, but eventually the Dodgers are going to have to do something they haven’t done in over a year – start hitting the ball.

The Great Giant Hope
Somewhere along the way to collectively dismissing the San Francisco Giants out of hand, the baseball public as a whole overlooked one important thing about this team – the Giants have excellent pitching. Okay, maybe excellent is putting it too strong. But it is very good. Well, very good might be an exaggeration, but they are an underrated staff. Alright, let’s be honest – they have Tim Lincecum. Nevertheless, we expected the Giants to be the worst team in baseball, and their pitching is simply too good to let that happen. They’ll be the second worst team.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at