Archive for October, 2009

Speed Bump For Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg is gonna be a bust.  Write it down.

How’s that for some reactionary thinking?

In reality, it is comically early to begin assessing Strasburg’s professional career.  He has made two starts in the Arizona Fall League.  One was reasonably good; the other, not so much.

The latter was Strasburg’s most recent outing, against the Peoria Javelinas.  He worked into the third inning, allowing eight runs on seven hits with four strikeouts.  As noted in the story about the game, he only gave up sixteen earned runs in his entire final season of college.

That’s a pretty terrible point of reference, however, when one considers that all of those runs were scored against college kids, in college games, the last of which took place nearly five months ago.  Those facts clearly illustrate the dual battles that Strasburg is fighting in the earliest stages of his professional career: one, he has to be rusty (pitches have a habit of not doing what you want when you haven’t thrown them in awhile), and two, this is his first experience against professional hitters.

At least Strasburg has the right attitude, though.  In the same story linked above, he said,

“I felt pretty good, but I just wasn’t able to work ahead in the count…I left some pitches up, and I know what I need to fix. Part of getting back into game shape is, you’re going to have some good games and some bad ones. It’s all about learning from it, and I feel I learned a lot from this outing.”

Can you really ask for anything more, especially from a 21-year-old kid?

ESPN’s E:60 to Feature a Bus Leaguer

faiola_thumbnail_largeGenerally speaking, I’m not a big fan of having my heart warmed. That usually means someone is going to toy with my emotions somehow. But I’ll make an exception for Josh Faiola, the Frontier League player who stayed in an old folks’ home this season.

ESPN will tell Faiola’s story on October 27 at 7pm, and they were kind enough to provide us with this dandy sneak preview:

“Assisted Living” Excerpt

I guess the Annie Savoy situation is just a fantasy.

You Mean There’s ANOTHER Man Muscles?

The Minnesota Twins shook up their minor league coaching assignments today, shuffling three managers up the minor league ladder into new positions. Tom Nieto moves from Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester, Jeff Smith moves from Class A-Advanced Fort Myers to New Britain, and Jake Mauer moves from the Gulf Coast League Twins to Fort Myers.

Mauer’s name jumped off the screen when I first saw the story this afternoon, and as I poked around a bit it became clear why: his younger brother, Joe, is good at baseball.  Jake was drafted the same year (2001) as Joe and played with him at his first couple minor league stops, but never got higher than Double-A before suffering a career-ending injury.  He went right into coaching with the Twins, eventually ending up as the manager of the GCL team this season.

The Twins finished 34-21 under Mauer, losing in the first round of the GCL playoffs (I say “first round”; it was actually just one game).

So who knows: Ron Gardenhire is only 52 (well, his birthday is Saturday).  Maybe he gets bored in another couple of years, the Boy Wonder steps in to take his place, and leads the Twins to glory.  I just hope that if that happens, somebody checks on Sooze.  She might not be able to handle the reality of two Mauers in the same dugout.

The Minor Links

With the 2009 season growing smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, I figured I’d highlight  three or four quality items that appeared in my Google Reader in the last few days:

Porter’s Prospect Report posted some thoughts on the the Mesa Solar Sox, an Arizona Fall League team that includes, among others, Red Sox prospects.  The Holy Trinity of Josh Reddick, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ryan Kalish patrolling the Fenway Park outfield together in a few years?  I might be able to deal with that – if the two corners can hit 30+ homeruns a year.

John Sickels closed the book on his 2009 prospects book with a recap on his preseason Top 50 pitchers and Top 50 hitters.

Minor league baseball players have one of the coolest jobs in the world, but get a pretty raw deal financially.  Garrett Broshuis wonders if maybe affiliated team owners should help them out, perhaps by paying housing costs for players in their minor league systems.  He puts the cost at roughly $60,000 for a team of thirty players.  I’d be interested in hearing a response from teams as to the feasibility of Broshuis’s proposal.

The Savior Has Landed

Stephen Strasburg made his minor league debut on Friday night, starting and pitching into the fourth inning for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League.  He allowed two hits, struck out two, walked one, kept the ball on the ground, and was voted the 2010 Rookie of the Year after the game.  (One of those things might not be entirely true.)

Strasburg reached the high 90s with his fastball but “wasn’t missing a lot of bats,” according to a scout contacted by Baseball America.  The formula seemed pretty simple: when he got the ball up in the zone, hitters were able to make decent contact; when he kept it down, he got strikeouts and groundouts.  His secondary pitches, a curve and slider, weren’t super-fantastic, but we have to remember: Strasburg hadn’t seen real live game action since the end of May.  It’s gonna take time to work back into shape.

One more item of interest, courtesy of Baseball America’s scout source:

On a long-term basis, the scout sees Strasburg as “a sort of righthanded Dave Righetti. No doubt he’ll begin his career as a No. 1 starter, but later on I can see him being a power closer.”

I think this is the first I’ve heard anyone suggest that Strasburg might follow the Dennis Eckersley/John Smoltz career plan.

2009 Bus Leagues Independent Awards

Andrew approached me last week with a complaint: in compiling the list of nominees for the Bus Leagues Player of the Year award, I had neglected to include representatives from any of the independent leagues.

You could argue that this was an inexcusable offense for someone with my background; I prefer to imagine that it was my way of protesting the likely death of independent baseball in Nashua (note: it was the first reason).

In the end I figured it was worth it to go through each of the independent leagues that played in 2009 and try to find some of the top performers.  And was I ever glad that I did, because there were some crazy numbers posted around the independents this year.

(A note on the selection process: rather than pester the guys who voted for the affiliated Player and Pitcher of the Year awards, I decided to just make this call on my own, with some input from Andrew.  It just figured to be easier that way.  I also added a Reliever of the Year award as a nod to those who didn’t like the fact that all pitchers were combined for the affiliated award.)

Independent Player of the Year
Joey Metropoulos, Southern Illinois Miners (Frontier League)

joey metropoulosCutting the list of offensive players down to about ten names was easy.  Getting it to six was tough, but doable.  Picking a winner was damn near impossible.  Finally, in a fit of “I just don’t know what to do,” I decided to take drastic measures, reading each player’s name to my wife and grading based on her reaction.  The first few were lukewarm: “eh”, “maybe”, and one flat-out “no”.  Then I got to Joey Metropoulos, who was greeted with such an enthusiastic “YES!” that I was, quite frankly, a little concerned.

So Metropoulos had the benefit of having a great name, one that is strong and lends itself well to a variety of nicknames (the one I’m using right now is “Captain Metropoulos”).  That got things off to a good start.  As luck would have it, he also had a tremendous offensive season, hitting .317 with 31 homeruns, 82 RBI and a 1.061 (.651 SLG/.410 OBP) OPS.  Just for kicks, I figured out what his numbers would have been over the course of a 162 game season (he actually played in 96 games) – how does 52 homeruns and 138 RBI sound?

For Metropoulos’ troubles, he won the Frontier League’s Most Valuable Player award and earned a spot on Baseball America’s postseason All-Independent Leagues First Team.

Honorable Mention
Ernie Banks, River City Rascals (Frontier League): 24 HR, 75 RBI, .353/.668/.437
Nelson Castro, Calgary Vipers (Golden Baseball League): 11 HR, 81 RBI, 33 SB, .410/.647/.460
Jason James, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League): 14 HR, 48 RBI, .374/.571/.455, 40-game hitting streak
Charlton Jimerson, Newark Bears (Atlantic League): 21 HR, 62 RBI, 38 SB, .335/.567/.387
Greg Porter, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 21 HR, 86 RBI, .372/.617/.453

Independent Pitcher of the Year
Kyle Wright, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League)

kyle wrightKyle Wright was, after much deliberation, my first choice for Independent Pitcher of the Year.  Then new information came to light and I decided that he didn’t deserve the award.  Then I thought about it some more and realized that even though my original information was bad, Wright was still pretty good.  So he wins.

From the glazed look on the collected face of our readers, I gather that further explanation is required.  Very well – Wright’s season stat line went as follows: 10-6, 2.24 ERA, 129 strikeouts, and 144 innings in 20 games (all starts).  More digging revealed that he had enjoyed both a lengthy winning streak and a lengthy losing streak this season, so I found some box scores on the Frontier League web site and plotted out his game-by-game numbers.

I went over the numbers three times and arrived at the same result each time: Wright allowed 143 hits, 52 runs, and 41 earned runs in 2009.  His ERA was 2.56.  The problem is that those numbers differ from the ones on his “official” stat line: 140 hits, 50 runs, 41 earned, and a 2.24 ERA.  This discrepancy, which I can’t seem to figure out, significantly tightened the Pitcher of the Year race.  Wright’s closest competition, Ross Stout, was 13-5, 2.94, 138 strikeouts in 143 innings (assuming his dailies are more on the level than Wright’s).  10-6/2.24/129 seemed more impressive than 13-5/2.94/138; the ERA was what really did it for me.  The stat adjustment gave Wright a .32 increase in his ERA, which made me question just how significant the new gap was.

Got all that?

In the end I decided to keep Wright in the top spot, even though his numbers didn’t add up and he lost five decisions in a row to close out the season.  Fact is, he was 10-1 with a 1.74 ERA on August 5 and while he didn’t light the world on fire over the last month, he was good enough at times that his team could have put another victory or two on his resume.  That’s enough to keep him just ahead of the field, in my book.

Honorable Mention
Brian Barr, Texarkana Gunslingers (Continental Baseball League): 9-3, 2.54 ERA, 80 strikeouts, 88.2 innings
Jim Magrane, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 15-4, 2.70 ERA, 134 strikeouts, 183 innings
Dan Reichert, Bridgeport Bluefish (Atlantic League): 14-9, 3.53 ERA, 126 strikeouts, 193 innings, 7 complete games, 3 shutouts, 21 hit batsmen, 10 wild pitches
Ross Stout, Windy City Thunderbolts (Frontier League): 13-5, 2.94 ERA, 138 strikeouts, 143 innings

Independent Reliever of the Year
Rusty Tucker, New Jersey Jackals (Canadian-American Association)

rusty tuckerTucker was the Can-Am League’s Reliever of the Year after a season in which he went 5-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 24 saves, and 56 strikeouts in 41.2 innings.  He was also named the league’s Pitcher of the Week twice.

2009 was Tucker’s third consecutive season with the Jackals, the first in which he didn’t spend some time with an affiliated organization.  This year was almost a disappointment compared to the previous two:

2007: 0-1, 1.48 ERA, 14 saves, 37 strikeouts, 24.1 innings
2008: 3-3, 1.85 ERA, 21 saves, 54 strikeouts, 47.1 innings

That’s 59 saves, 113.1 innings, and 147 strikeouts.  And he’s only still only 29, which means he could still be coming to an organization near you.  Not too shabby.

Honorable Mention
Hunter Davis, Pensacola Pelicans (American Association): 3-1, 1.79 ERA, 22 saves, 40 strikeouts, 40.1 innings
Justin Dowdy, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 0-4, 2.25 ERA, 17 saves, 52 strikeouts, 44 innings
Bret Prinz, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 1-2, 2.04 ERA, 21 saves, 51 strikeouts, 39.2 innings
Kris Regas, Sioux Falls Canaries (American Association)
: 2-0, 1.19 ERA, 15 saves, 25 strikeouts, 22.2 innings

The Greatest Pitching Performance in History

What do you think it would be? I mean, Roger Clemens struck out 20 twice. Kerry Wood struck out 20 and nearly added a no-hitter to the equation. While these performances are admittedly great, there’s someone this decade who blew them out of the water.

Someone went and struck out 25 batters.

Photos of this event are admittedly sketchy, because this happened during a Frontier League baseball game. On June 5th, 2000, a pitcher named Brett Gray went positively nuts upon the bats of the Chillicothe Paints. A complete game three hitter. With 25 strikeouts. (And he struck out 4 in an inning. Twice.)

That was his debut for the London Werewolves in 2000. It got him a contract with the Reds two days later. His career with the Reds, for someone who never actually reached Triple-A? It was pretty good. He ended his run in the Reds organization with a 2.91 ERA working mostly as a reliever.

He ended his in game career in Schaumburg working double duty as a player coach. In 2005 he had his last professional in game action at Alexian Field. But his career did not end there.

Despite pitching with a shoulder injury? Gray helped lead the Canadian National team to the Olympics in 2008. I’ll leave Mop-up sports with the quote. (Left in Canadian English.)

“To go out there and throw four (innings) meant the world to me,” said Gray. “I’m a little banged up with my arm so my (pitches) weren’t all that good, but the defence played awesome and it just felt good to get out there and get another win.”

And that is why at BLB salute Brett Gray. Tough enough to pitch for national pride. Skilled enough to strike out 25 in a single game and get an ERA under 3 in the minors. He’s one of the unsung pitchers of the decade.

And before I forget? Yes, I know the story of Ron Neccai. He did strike out 27 batters in a game. That being said? How many people get the win, 25 strikeouts, and their best man all in one night? I didn’t think so.