Bergmann’s Run

May 27, 2008

Since returning to the Nationals from some much needed R&R down in the minors, Jay Bergmann has been, in a word, great. People will tell you it’s all about the ERs, he hasn’t allowed any in his 19 2/3 IP since coming back. Yeah, that’s nice, but some of it is luck. It’s not like he hasn’t given up any hits in that time (although his WHIP since then is under 1.00), it’s 3 outings, plenty of perfectly bad pitchers muster up 3 great outings in a row. What this is all about, though, is his strikeouts. Bergmann has struck out 22 batters in this time, and it’s not because of wildly inconsistent pitching that may lead some batters to be tentative – he’s only walked 6. It’s from genuine, honest-to-goodness pitching.

The thing about this is, it’s not coming out of nowhere. Last season in the majors he struck out 86 in 115 1/3 IP. But if we split up his games between good starts and bad ones, an interesting picture emerges. He had 11 starts that I am going to consider good: 10 of them are quality starts (6+ IP, 3 or less ER) and one where he only went 4 IP, gave up 1 ER, looked good the whole game, and was pinch hit for (unsuccessfully) in the 5th. Then he had 10 starts that I am counting as “bad” starts, those are all the rest. Here is what his totals look like:

Bergmann is so streaky, that when he is good he becomes the kind of pitcher that could be the Ace of a rotation. Not only his his K/BB ratio over 3/1, he would be on pace to strike out about 200 batters over the course of a season. While in his bad starts, he makes one long for Mike Bacsik. Meanwhile, in the minor leagues he has been more of the good than the bad. His 2005 totals were 74 IP, 29 BB, 76 K with a 2.19 ERA and his 2006 totals were 60 IP, 20 BB, 62 K with a 3.30 ERA. This is someone that has 419 minor league Ks in 472 total innings, he can definitely make hitters swing and miss.

Bergmann is very good when he is pitching well, he is not one of those guys that gives up a whole lot of hits. In his good games last year, he never gave up more than a hit per inning (and only matched 1 for 1 three out of the eleven times) while in his bad games, he never gave up less than a hit per inning. Another interesting thing, to further highlight his streaky-ness was when these games were played. For the bulk of these, he had 4 good starts in a row, one bad, 3 more good, then 5 bad starts, then 3 good ones. This is the definition of streaky.

Now, can you do something like this split analysis with alot of pitchers? Yeah, maybe, but it’s not this pronounced. And these good starts weren’t all against bad teams, neither were the bad starts all good matchups. This year, he’s done well against the Mets, Phillies and Brewers. Last year he had some great starts against those 3 teams as well as Atlanta, while some of his biggest stinkers were against Pittsburgh and Florida.

What I’ll be looking for with Bergmann whenever he goes out now is two things. First, is he making people miss bats? If he is striking people out, it is a very good sign. Then, after a couple of innings, are they getting more than a couple hits off of him? If so, it’s probably too late, they’ve already scored on him.

Thinking about that, I did a quick check to see how he’s done early in games. I checked to see which games teams scored on him early, deciding early would be 2 ER or more in the first 3 IP. This was arbitrary, but i figured if it was 3 ER that was the limit for a QS so it wouldn’t probably end up being one anyway… well whatever, I found that in 8 of his 11 good games he wasn’t touched up early while in 7 of his 10 bad games he was. I’m really not sure if this is significant, much more than his streaky factor, I would guess numbers like these are pretty prevalent among many pitchers, but just some more food for thought on the Bergmann.


Don’t Mess with Dukes

May 21, 2008

The game last night was quite a pitchers duel. Both offenses were shut down by a solid pitching. Bergmann kept pace with a great young starter in Hamels. In fact, Hamels may be the best lefty in the National League at this moment. Sure, I’d probably rather have Johan, but what lefty is pitching better than him right now other than Cliff Lee? Anyway, the thing that really got my attention that game, other than Bergmann pitching his second consecutive 7 inning, 0 ER game, was Elijah Dukes.

With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, down by 1 run, it would have been easy for a 24 year old hitter of his size and strength, mired in a 1 for season slump (.032 AVG, but I’m really not counting right now) to come out swinging for the fences. If he hits a home run, he ties the game and is congratulated. If he strikes out, nobody really says a thing. Instead he gets up there and faces Brad Lidge, the Phillies closer who righties are batting .062 against this season. The guy can throw 100 mph, and has already struck out the 2 players he pitched to that inning. And Dukes sits in there, with patience, and works the count, first to 2-0, to 2-1, 3-1, then full. Patience in that situation, from someone that age, shows a very high baseball IQ. He ended up walking, and I have never seen a player glare at a pitcher that way after a walk, but I loved it. It was as if Dukes was saying “you can’t beat me” even though he’s been beaten down all season.

After he got on, he stole 2B, but it wasn’t a reckless or unintelligent steal. He didn’t take off right away, it was actually the 4th pitch of the AB, and he was fast enough that while Carlos Ruiz hoped up to throw, he thought better of it and just ate the ball. 3 pitches later, Dukes stole 3rd on a walk to a left handed batter and still made it easily. Unfortunately the next batter, Felipe, grounded out on the first pitch (FIRST PITCH!?!? LIDGE JUST WALKED THE LAST 2 GUYS!) but Dukes’ approach was something that really impressed me.

He fits into some of those stereotypes that we think about him, not really knowing the guy. He walked and he looked ANGRY. Angry that Lidge would challenge him. Angry that Lidge dared to pitch him at all. When he was standing on 1B talking to Ryan Howard, he still looked pissed, like someone you really don’t want to mess with. But his intensity didn’t for one second take away from his playing the game. He could have tied it with a HR, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen unless he got the right pitch. So instead, he tried to do it by taking what was given to him, while never letting his intensity wane, or, for that matter, get the best of him.

It’s great to see a player with that kind of passion, a burning desire to do well. It is Dukes’ challenge to keep that fire limited to when he plays the game, and continue what he did last night – play with a burning intensity but never lose site of what he needs to do as a player to help his team win.

Some bats are coming alive

May 19, 2008

Since April 23, the Nationals have gone 13-10, and while not a true hot streak, it is a far cry from the 6-16 they started the season. One of the reasons for this above .500 play is the solidifying rotation, as I talked about last week. But one of the other reasons is that some of the hitters are really starting to hit. First and foremost on that list is Ryan Zimmerman. Since he took a day off on May 4, he has hit .309/.333/.636. He’s hit 5 HRs in those 13 games and has 11 RBI. Still troubling is his lack of walks, he only has 1 since then. But if he is going to hit over .300 and hit with power, I’m not going to complain yet.

Meanwhile, all season Christian Guzman has been able to get on base. In May he did slightly better than he did in April, hitting .304/.324/.464 so far this month. What’s nice to see with this isn’t just the fact that he’s hitting .300 but that’s he’s doing it with power. His OBP is low enough that without power, he may not be that effective. But this .788 OPS, from your SS no less, is nice to see. Meanwhile, Felipe Lopez has made a comeback of sorts. For the first 2 weeks of the season, he was hitting .194/.265/.194, and it looked like the Felipe of ’07 was back. Since then he hasn’t exactly been on a tear, but he has hit .281/.352/.360. That OBP is key, he is the leadoff hitter, he needs to get on base. More power would be great, but if he can keep up what he’s done in that stretch, he’ll be acceptable. With the way Guzman is hitting, if Lopez can get on base, Guzman can drive him in or give Zimmerman a chance to start a big inning with just a single. When all 3 are on, this lineup starts out strong and at the very least can score a few runs.

On the other side of the offense

Elijah Dukes still hasn’t started hitting. He will, eventually, the question is how much. Is he going to hit .250 or .300? Dunno. Is he going to hit with power? He should. Is he going to have patience enough to walk? Yes, he already has in the majors and will continue to do that. Speaking of patience, Austin Kearns continues to baffle me. Since April 23, he’s hit .176/.253/.235, but really you could highlight any stretch of the season so far and come up with similar numbers. He’s still walking, which is good, but not only is he not hitting the ball enough to get actual hits, he has virtually no power when he does. Unlike Nick Johnson, who I’ll talk about more momentarily, is hitting with power even when his average is low. Anyway, Kearns’ numbers are scary, but the scariest one may be his OPS+, which is sitting at a whopping 49. Yikes. He’s a RFer, too, and that OPS+ is based on the whole league, most of whom should be worse hitters than him. Yeah.

Also on the stinky side is Lastings Milledge who started out so hot and has slid to hitting .179/.246/.214. At least he is taking some walks, for such a young hitter, extended slumps can make you forget you are supposed to be selective. So I am expecting Milledge to get out of this sooner or later. Remember, he’s 23, players that age tend to be pretty streaky. Let’s just hope the hot streak starts soon.

Other bats are shutting down

Unfortunately, Nick Johnson tore the tendon in his wrist and is allegedly out 4-6 weeks. In Nick years, that translates to 4-6 months, but hopefully he’ll be back by the all star break. What does this do to the lineup? Well, it would give Aaron Boone the starting role, except that Dmitri Young just came off the DL. So how do they all stack up?

Nick is hitting a whopping .220 right now, and over the last 13 games, which works out to exactly 50 PAs, he’s batting .229. But it’s a very effective .229/.460/.429 for an OPS of .889. If you extend the numbers out a month, they are very similar. Sure, it’s not ideal, but that OPS is still great, and if you look at the OBP instead of the AVG, you realize that Johnson is getting on base almost half the time.

Compare this to Da Meat hook, in his amazing 2007 he hit .320/.378/.491, that’s an OPS of .869. Still very respectable, but it’s not quite what Nick can provide. And assuming Nick gets on track and hits something like .260, you’d assuming his ISO would stay about the same, and his OPS would track above .900. As for Boone, he played very well in his role. Over his last 49 PAs, he’s hit .378/.429/.667 for an OPS of 1.096. Now, I am not sure that he can do this over a sustained amount of time. But if he were to start, and he were to continue playing this way, he seems like someone that would be trade bait for a team midseason.

What ends up happening with Nick on the DL is that as long as Boone is hitting, you have a better replacement than Nick himself. With Dmitri, even if he hits as well as he did in 2007 he’s not quite the hitter that Nick is, but the dropoff is pretty small, so it isn’t something to panic about. Boone and Young both have had spots as the #4 hitter in this lineup, at least giving this team effective hitters in spots 1-4.

No Starters? No Problem

May 15, 2008

What was the one thing going into this season that everyone knew was going to be a problem? The bullpen seemed deep and talented, the bats were allegedly much improved, especially with the new stadium… but that starting staff was lost. Hill was hurtin’ for certain, unknown or forgotten players were heading up their roster, and it looked like Matt Chico was the only one who had a shot at a decent season.

Instead, with just about 20% of the season gone, the starting staff has been one of the best parts of this squad. Let’s start with Wednesday night’s winner, Tim Redding. Redding has done little in the past to show that he can consistently pitch successfully against major league hitting, but that’s what he has done here. One of the TV commentators (probably Don) noticed when the Nats were in Houston that Tim was uncomfortable pitching there, he was a bit intimidated by its hitter friendly fences. Who knows, fixing his delivery to the way it was before Minute Maid Park spooked him is one possibility as to why he’s doing well. Anyway, he has 4 QS in 9 starts. Nothing spectacular, but again, this is more than we expected and not at all bad. Besides, its yet another start on this team with a sub-4.00 ERA. Redding went from 4th on this list in ERA to 2nd after his 6 IP,1 ER performance against the Metropolitans.

Odalis Perez continues to impress me. His numbers from the Mets game weren’t that great. 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings, plus serving up 2 HRs in that park. But he has pitched really well over this season so far and in probably his second worst outing of the year he finally gets a win. Meanwhile, in 9 starts he has 4 Quality Starts and 3 more games where he gave up 3 ERs or less and last 5+ innings. but just didn’t make it to the 6 IP needed for a QS. In other words, 3 more games where he was 1 IP away from a QS. That’s 2 stinkers out of 9, and in one of those stinkers he gets a win.

John Lannan followed up a stinker of his own with a 6 IP,1 ER performance. It’s important to see a 23 year old pitcher recover like that. He did pitch poorly against the Mets, 12 hits in 6 IP and 4 ERs. It would have looked alot better if the Nats had scored 10 again, but for a bad game, it wasn’t terrible. He’s shown, at least at the beginning of the season, that he can compete at this level as a mid-tier starter.

Shawn Hill has come back from his injury and pitched very well so far. His ERA is best among the starters, as you would expect, and even though he’s only had 2 QS, he’s given up more than 3 ERs only once, and that was his first start back from the DL. His K/BB ratio is a little off for him. His ratio was 2.6/1 last year, and I’m confident when he is healthy he’s going to be able to get to 3/1.

This is what the top 4 pitchers look like all hanging out together:

Hill looks like the best of the bunch in terms of ERA and K/BB. Perez is right up there with him on the K/BB, and Lannan has made the most QS although we noted that Perez has been right there a bunch of times. There is no dominant ace right now. Some people speculate Hill can do this, I am more of the impression that while he will always pitch well, he’s not going to dominate to the point of being a #1 pitcher. But that’s ok, you need more than one pitcher to compete.

At the beginning of the season, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that at this point in the season, 4 Nationals starters would have an ERA below 3.80. Sure, they’re not perfect, you’d like to see them last into the 7th inning a little more often, and walk a few less. But having 4 guys who can give you a solid shot at winning every time out is a pretty good deal, too.

Backup backstops

May 13, 2008

Last week, the Nationals put both Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada on the 15-day DL. Two guys that were brought in to hold over the catching position for a season will have combined for 98 plate appearances and Ruthian splits of .191/.265/.225 by the last week in May. In actuality, they should be combining for about 200 plate appearances and splits of, well anything besides what they’ve done.

The good news is, so far Wil Nieves has filled in well. He is known as an excellent defensive catcher, and while he hasn’t thrown out alot of runners yet, he does seem to be holding up his end on the defense. Also, since Nieves has started catching for him, John Lannan has gone 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA. Of course, that may be coincidental, but until proven otherwise, Nieves gets some credit. He has also hit the ball well, right now he’s sitting at .342/.405/.447, which is incredibly unrealistic for him over time. It’s dropping lately, but it’s not the precipitous fall you might expect. If he can maintain a batting average of about .270, and that ISO and walk rate stay the same, he’d be at .270/.337/.384. This wouldn’t be a terrible line for someone of his defensive prowess. Don’t count on it though, he’s had 2 extra base hits all season, that “high” ISO is only due to the fact that one was a HR. Either way, so far so good, hopefully the Nats can ride his hot bat for a little while longer.

The other player that “benefits” from this slate of injuries is Jesus Flores, the catcher of the future. Of course, Estrada and Lo Duca were brought in to keep Flores playing full time down in the minors. Coming up to the majors and playing backup to Nieves won’t help him develop nearly as much as full time duty in AAA. In the minors he has struggled so far hitting .153/.275/.254. But in his few major league appearances (he actually only has 19 PAs) he has looked good, both before and after his 2nd callup this season. He’s hit and he’s had a few doubles, so he will definitely be one to watch over the next month or so. If he can keep up the hitting, I am still not sure he’d stay up in the majors, but if he’s ready he’s ready, might as well try to trade one of the other guys.

The final bit of fallout from sending both catchers down in bringing up Elijah Dukes. Dukes has gotten playing time to spell the other OFs. We have the problem that we were talking about at the beginning of the season – there are 3 corner outfielders (4 counting Mackowiak) but only 2 corner outfield spots.

All of a sudden, Wily Mo Pena has brought his averages up to .302/.380/.349 and over the last 17 games, and the lack of power in those numbers doesn’t scare you because you know it’s there. I mean, he’s the size of the Incredible Hulk. At least the Lou Ferrigno version. Meanwhile, Austin Kearns has hit well enough to not be a joke over the last 10 games (.250/.341/.333) but it’s still with very little power. With that slight recovery and his glove you don’t expect him to sit too much. How is Dukes gonna get the playing time he needs? I’m not really sure. He, along with Lastings, is still the player I am most excited about seeing what he can do this season. Lastings has impressed me so far, but his strong start has faded. Maybe this is a good time to give him a break and try Dukes in center? I really don’t know if Dukes can play center – Lastings has logged 93% of the time there so far this season, with only Willie Harris filling in. But if Dukes could play there it could allow more flexibility and give Lastings some extra days off.

Phil Rizzuto All Stars

May 8, 2008

Earlier, I posted the Rich Garces All Star team, an all big man group. The requirements to make this squad are similar to the Garces team: they have to be current players, they have to fill a specific position, and they have to be decent full time or close to full time guys. Except, for this team, rather than having a gut, the requirements are they have to be small, or at least relatively small for being pro athletes. I was thinking of naming this team after Eddie Gaedel, the 3’7″ who had one ML appearnce and walked, but as fun as this is, I have tremendous respect for these players. Instead, I thought it would be more fitting to name them after a small (5’7″) Hall of Famer, one who was once almost denied admission to a game he was playing in because the guards couldn’t believe he was a player. So, without further ado, the little guys with big hearts – the Phil Rizzuto All Stars.

C – Ivan Rodriguez – 5’9″, 190 – Someone nicknamed Pudge isn’t what you normally think of as a small guy. But as far as backstops go, he is short and, unlike a few years ago, he’s thin. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time, he has 13 gold gloves, is the all time leader in putouts for the position and has close to a 50% rate at throwing out baserunners, something no catcher with significant playing time even approaches over the last 30+ years. The future Hall of Famer can also hit, while his power has faded as his size has over the years (Pudge was once a real home run threat) he still hits better than most catchers. He has career splits of .302/.339/.478, evidence of a free swinger who has hit for average and power over the years.

1B – Mark Loretta – 6’0″, 185 lbs – This is the position hardest to field on this team. It is the quintessential big man position. Not only are range and speed less valued here, the taller a 1B is, the better stretch he can make when receiving a throw from the infielders. It’s also a position that is usually for power hitters, if you’re not large enough to hit for power, you probably aren’t playing first. Exhaustive research revealed nobody considered a 1B under 6’0″. In terms of starters, the closest thing to a small player is Ross Gload, but the day I call him an All Star caliber player is the day I forget what OPS means. Mark Loretta, a career 2B, has 195 games at first, a total of 1200 innings, so for this, he qualifies. His All Star resume includes an actual trip to the ’04 All Star game, his career year where he hit .335/.391/.495 and hit 47 doubles. His career splits of .296/.361/.397 give a good indication of a singles hitter who could always get on base, but usually didn’t hit with much power.

2B – Brian Roberts – 5′ 9″, 175 lbs – There may be a few guys playing second that are a little bigger than BRob, but not by much. And have any of them been the all around player this two time All Star has? In 2005, he hit 11 HRs by May 18th, leading many to believe that the diminutive 2B was on the verge of an historic power season. He only hit 8 more the rest of the year, but he managed to also steal 27 bases and have an OBP of .387. An ideal leadoff hitter, Roberts walks alot, steals alot, and has enough pop to make pitchers think twice about what to pitch him. Career splits of .281/.351/.411 are impressive, but don’t do him justice as his first 3 seasons were poor, he has done much better since 2004, and already has 3 HRs this season.

SS – David Eckstein – 5′ 7″, 177 lbs – A player that has been both overrated and underrated in his career, he started out on the extreme latter end. Despite hitting well in the minors, Anahein was able to claim him off waivers from the Red Sox. At age 26, he finally got his shot in the majors and proceeded to hit .285, steal 29 bases, and finish 4th in the rookie of the year voting. His sophomore season was a nice follow up as he batted leadoff for the World Champion Angels and reached base at a .363 clip. Despite his lack of power, he also managed to hit a grand slam 2 games in a row. Four years later, he was a World Champion again, this time with the Cardinals. He also won the World Series MVP, hit He will always be one of my favorite players to watch in the field because of the way he puts every ounce of his body into a throw to first.

3B – Chone Figgins – 5’8″, 180 lbs – When Desmond DeChone Figgins steps to the plate, the infield gets a little nervous. They know if the ball is hit towards them, they’re gonna have to get rid of it quickly in order to get him out. He’s fast, and while he has been criticized for not having much power, he is still a very valuable asset. His career splits of .294/.356/.398 are pretty indicative of the type of player you’re gonna get – he get alot of hits, walks a good amount, and hits with little power. His speed has led to 154 SBs from the ’05-’07 seasons, while playing pretty much everywhere in the field other than pitcher and catcher. Actually, Chone has logged at least 150 innings at every position other than those two, and first base. I’m guessing if he ever needed to fill in there, he’d probably be able to hold his own.

LF – Shane Victorino – 5’9″, 180 lbs – Shane’s moved over to CF for the Phillies this season since Aaron Rowand left, and maybe that’s where he’ll be for a while. But the other guys on this list have never played LF, so his stints there make him the most qualified. In his two full seasons as a starter, both with the Phillies, he’s hit around .285/.346/.419 showing a little bit of power and a lotta bit of speed. Last season he hit 12 HRs and stole 37 bases while only being caught 4 times. His speed and place of birth have earned him the nickname “The Flyin Hawaiian” and while he is a very different player than the man he replaced – Bobby Abreu – he has given Phillies fans another, albeit less mentioned than his teammates, quality young position player.

CF – Corey Patterson – 5’9′, 170 lbs – Sure Corey Patterson has trouble getting on base. He makes a good example of the bad kind of leadoff hitter – managers are fooled by his speed and don’t notice his career OBP of .297. But Patterson has had some good seasons, and when not looked at as a leadoff guy, his value becomes a little more apparent. He has a good deal of power for someone his size, with a career ISO of .158, and don’t forget, he is fast. He is a legitimate threat to steal 40 bases each season, and throw in the possibility of hitting 20 HRs, or at least something close to it, and you can see why even though he’s not a great leadoff hitter, he can still add value to a lineup if used properly.

RF – Ichiro Suzuki – 5’11”, 172 lbs – Baseball reference lists him at 5’9″, 160 lbs, but whichever site is correct, nobody mistakes him for a big man when he’s out on the field. Now at CF, most of his career has been spent in RF. He was the first Japanese born full time position player in the majors and has been a staple of All Star games (7 appearances and an MVP award) and had an incredible rookie season. He became only the second player in history to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season. 2004 was a major record breaking season for Ichiro – he broke the single season hits record that had been held since 1920, he was the first major leaguer to have 200 hits or more in each of his first 4 seasons, and broke Wee Willie Keeler’s record of most singles in a season, held since 1898. Besides being an incredible hitter, he has also won 7 gold gloves, in no small part due to his incredible arm. Ichiro is also unique, his approach to the plate and almost running swing are instantly recognizable, and he’s the only major leaguer that wears his given name on his uniform.

UTIL – Dustin Pedroia – 5’9″ – 180 – If that is your real weight… Dustin looks a bit smaller than that to many observers, but maybe it’s because he’s always hamming it up next to heavyweights like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Pedroia is your prototypical completely underestimated prospect, he hit well enough in the minors, but then everyone said he wouldn’t be able to hit in the majors. In late 2006, he seemed to prove the analysts right hitting .191/.258/.303. But the next season he exploded going for .317/.380/.442, and while he doesn’t have a home run bat, his 39 doubles last year were enough to give him enough power to be a formidable player. Incidentally, he also was named Rookie of the Year and helped win the World Series in 2007.

SP – Tim Lincecum – 5’11”, 170 lbs – It may not seem tiny, but that’s about as small as starting pitchers get. Besides, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the man nicknamed Seabiscuit by the scouts thanks to his completely undaunted approach to the biggest and toughest hitters, might actually not even weigh 160. In his rookie 2007 season with the Giants, he showed that he is a big part of the future of that franchise, finishing the season with 150 Ks, good enough for 5th place in the NL despite throwing only 146 1/3 innings. This season, he’s 4-1 with 45Ks in 43 1/3 innings. The little guy can make hitters swing and miss, and while this top 10 draft pick may entertain with his delivery, it’s his high 90s two-seam fastball that has helped him earned a different nickname from his SF teammates – The Franchise.

CL – Billy Wagner – 5’10”, 180 lbs – What surprised me most about doing the research for this entry was how BIG most closers are. Wagner aka Billy the Kid aka Canned Heat is actually the only under-6-foot full time closer over the last 2 seasons. Luckily, he deserves to be here not just because of his small frame, but because of his small ERA. A career closer, he’s racked up 365 saves for 3 different teams, is a 5 time All Star, has a career ERA of 2.36 and a career K/BB of about 4/1. He was born a righty but broke his arm several times and taught himself to throw lefty. It seems to have paid off, as he is one of the few pitchers to be part of the 100 mph club. Despite being 7th on the all time saves list, and despite playing for a team in New York, Wagner may be one of the most underrated pitchers of his era, and has dominated batters over his entire career.

Rich Garces All Stars

May 6, 2008

This week, after some conversation with friends, I was inspired to stray from the normal Nats discussion and do something different, naming the Rich Garces All Star Team.

For those of you who don’t know, Rich Garces was a pitcher who spent his early careEl Guapo\'s comeback attempter moving up and down, but settled in with the Boston Red Sox and ended up in their bullpen for 7 seasons. What was notable about him was his ability to get hitters out, and his rotundity. He is listed on his baseball reference page at 250 pounds, but that may be generous. Also notable was his nickname, El Guapo, which was not only the villain in the movie Three Amigos, it means “The Handsome One” in Spanish. Regardless, despite being non-athletic in stature, he was an effective reliever for many seasons, and was very much a fan favorite.

So here, in tribute to him, I list those current players who could give El Guapo a run for his money, even if running isn’t really their strong suit. The rules here are that they have to be current players, and they have to be decent. I’m not plugging someone into a spot just because they’re big. These are plus sized players who can really play, and mock them if you want, they’re making millions as professional athletes. I’ve listed my choice, by position, and given what ESPN has as their height and weight.

C – Ramon Castro – 6’3″, 258 lbs – The Mets have had close to a half a dozen catchers on their roster or DL since October, but none have the size of Ramon Castro. Castro, the first Puerto Rican player ever to be drafted in the first round, has been a good defensive catcher all his career, but last year with the Mets he really shined, hitting .285/.331/.556. His one career SB also came as a member of the Mets, and while a strained hamstring has kept him on the DL so far this season, he is probably going to jump to the number 2 spot on the depth chart once he is healthy.

1B – Prince Fielder – 5’11”, 270lbs – While there are many other than could have been a good choice at this position, I had to go with the man who led the NL in dingers last season. Also, his 50 HRs made him the youngest player ever in MLB history to hit 50 or more. But he’s not just a big guy with pop. He hit .288/.395/.618 last season, and after a slow start this year, he’s been putting over similar numbers over the last 2 weeks. He also is a gifted first baseman who has a range above league average, and moves much better than you would expect for someone heavier than most NFL linebackers. Fielder has decided to become a vegetarian, but not because of his own large size, rather due to his aversion to animal cruelty, and thankfully so far this has yet to affect his size or his power.

2B – Ronnie Belliard – 5’10”, 214 lbs. – As middle infielders are normally a small, spry group, there aren’t too many that are up there in El Guapo territory. Ronnie Belliard, “the Belly”, has played second base with a good bat for 11 seasons in the majors without ever being considered small or spry. In those 11 seasons he’s been a very consistent hitter with an AVG of .273, and has a World Series ring with the Cardinals. While his range may be questioned, his leadership and his ability to inspire his teammates are not – both the Nationals and the Dominican Winter League team the Licey Tigers, on which he is a staple, value him for that above all else.

3B – Miguel Cabrera – 6’4″, 240 lbs – His days at third are clearly numbered, but it’s because of his hefty frame that he will likely move to a more sedentary position, so he definitely belongs on this list. A superstar at 25, if he was anywhere but stranded down in Miami for the last few years he might be one of the most recognizable athletes in the game. What has he done in his 5 seasons? He’s got impressive career splits of .310/.386/.539, is a 4 time all star, 2 time silver slugger, he’s the 3rd youngest player to reach 500 RBIs (behind Ted Williams and Mel Ott) and already has a World Series ring. An interesting fact about Miguel – unlike Brad Nowell of Sublime, he practices Santeria, a New World religion with West African roots, and possibly has a crystal ball.

SS – Jhonny Peralta – 6’1″, 210 lbs – Jhonny isn’t exactly huge for this list, but middle infielders, especially shortstops, are traditionally a tiny bunch. Jhonny is bigger than most at this position, but he’s actually not that big. He also uses his size to his advantage, hitting 24 HRs in 2005 and 21 in 2007. He’s already got 4 this season, and he hasn’t really gotten on pace with his bat yet, so I’m expecting more. His range is pretty decent for the position, putting more svelte shortstops to shame.

LF – Dmitri Young – 6’2, 298 lbs – Ok, I tried, but I couldn’t go through this whole thing without mentioning Dmitri. He’s spent enough time in LF, and while it’s been a while, there is speculation that if Nick Johnson stays healthy all year, Dmitri will get some amount of time out there again. In the field he moves about as well as you’d expect from someone his size. But, after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2006 fraught with all sorts of legal issues, Da Meat Hook came back big time in 2007 hitting .320/.378/.491, better even than his impressive career average of .292/.349/.477, and proving that this big man can still hit. He also parlayed that impressive season into a two year deal with the Nats where the management hopes he can teach the young, sometimes troubled, prospects that when you mature enough to play without having those problems, success comes much easier.

CF – Andruw Jones – 6′1″, 240 lbs – To give you perspective on where he came from, Baseball Reference says he weighs 170 lbs, which was clearly a long time ago. TJ Simers of the LA Times says he weighed in at 248 the other day, and I am not surprised that it has gone up. After all, many people deal with stress by eating. He isn’t hitting well with his new team. But his career has been exceptional so far, a regular since he was 19 years old (the age he hit 2 HRs in his first 2 World Series ABs), Andruw has 7 seasons of 30 or more HRs, and a career total of 369, with splits of .261/.341/.494, all while being considered one of the best fielding CFs playing. Give him some time, and the man Simers called the “tubbo in center” may get back some of his old hitting abilities.

RF – Matt Stairs – 5’9″, 210 lbs – Stairs isn’t the biggest guy on this list, but he’s certainly the most experienced. At 40 years old, the man nicknamed “The Professional Hitter” has basically become a platoon hitter against righties, which he hit .288/.364/.567 against in 2007. He’s already hit 4 HRs against them this season. Still very effective at mashing RH pitchers at age 40 (.325/.360/.513 vs RHP in 2008), he could be in the majors another 5 years. Toronto is Stairs’ 10th major league team, and at 245 HRs, he ranks second all time among Canadian-born players. His lack of speed is well known and his lack of range in the outfield is understood, but his strong throwing arm and his ability to hit keeps him out there.

DH – David Ortiz – 6’4″, 230 lbs – His resemblance to Cookie Monster notwithstanding, Big Papi is a big man with big power, and likely weighs a bit more than the 230 listed. After leaving Minnesota as a platoon player, he emerged in Boston to become one of the most feared hitters in the game. He was probably the hitter a pitcher would least like to pitch to from ’04-’06, and is definitely still high on the list. He hit 208 HRs in his 5 seasons with the Sox, and many of them seemed to be late in close game, as evidenced by being the first player to hit 2 walk off HRs in the same postseason (2004). He holds the Boston record for most HRs in a season (54), has been top 5 in MVP voting 5 times, and has been a key part of turning the Red Sox from lovable losers into something very different.

SP – CC Sabathia – 6’7″, 290 lbs – Big and strong may be a good way to describe CC, as he’s pitched 180 innings or more in all 7 of his major league seasons so far, starting when he was 20 years old. He is coming of a pretty good year, one in which he stuck out 209 while walking only 39, racked up 19 wins, and won the Cy Young. This year, his 8th, started out poorly, but he recovered in 2 of his last 3 starts to throw have the lines: 6 IP, 11 K, 0 ER and then 8 IP, 8 K, 1 ER. If he continues to pitch as he has for the previous 7 years, at only 27 he has the opportunity to sign one of the richest contracts in baseball history this offseasons. Like they say in that Wendy’s commercial – that’s over 100 million junior bacon cheeseburgers!

LOOGY Ray King – 6’1″, 240 lbs – Have it Your Ray. The man who wears a shirt with a Burger King logo (except it says Ray King, and I’m not making that up) in the locker room isn’t afraid to put down a few burgers. Over his career, his righty/lefty splits are in batting average against are .279/.214. Since 2005, righties have hit more like .350 against him, but he is still quite effective against lefties. He has some terrific season against them recently, holding them to averages of .150 in ’04, .244 in ’05, .187 in ’07 and .235 in ’08. The rest of his game isn’t what it used to be. Watching him pitch the other night, I saw a runner steal two consecutive bases on him without him batting an eye. But try to steal a sandwich from him, and you might be in trouble. In actuality, Ray has lost some weight, an offseason diet program had him drop 23 lbs, which is what’s best for his overall health. Unfortunately for him, he was recently optioned to AAA. As effective as he is against lefties, he’ll be back in DC or somewhere in the majors soon enough.

Setup – Jonathan Broxton – 6’4″, 290 lbs – 290 lbs is a nice complement to his 100+ mph fastball, Broxton is a great setup man and is considered next in line for closer with the Dodgers. So far, going into his 3rd full season, he’s struck out 237 hitters in 186 innings while only walking 76. He looks like he can fill the role as adequately as he can fill a seat. Mark Grace once referred to him as “The Biggest Man Alive” and I’m sure watching him bear down on you from the pitchers mound would make that nickname feel pretty accurate. I’m waiting for someone to charge the mound when he’s standing up there.

Closer – Bobby Jenks – 6’3″, 273 lbs – Jenks’ career has been impressive so far, he was called up from AA in July 2005 and became the full time closer for the White Sox in September. It worked out well for him, as he earned 2 saves in the World Series, and was the first rookie to close out the Fall Classic. The last two seasons he has saved 41 and 40 games, respectively, and with his career K/BB ratio of 192/64, it’s likely that hitters are much more intimidated by his fastball than his size. In 2007 he tied the record for most consecutive batters retired at 41, making him perfect in 14 straight appearances. Most importantly, Ozzie Guillen signaled for Jenks to come out of the bullpen by holding BOTH arms out wide, saying he didn’t want the righty or the lefty, he wanted the big guy. Oh yeah, he’s also the Chicago area spokesman for the McGriddle sandwich.

Up Next

Next time, we’ll move on from the big guys to the little ones… in the meantime, let me know if there is somebody I missed here, perhaps a replacement for one of the guys I picked? If you’ve got someone in mind, post a comment.