Eno Sarris

Baseball Daily Dose

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Big Returns for Big Bats

Monday, June 06, 2011

So, technically, Albert Pujols never went anywhere. He's been here all along. But Friday morning he woke up with a .265 batting average and the fewest home runs he'd ever had this late in the season. Then he went crazy, king-style, all over the Cubs and clobbered four home runs in three days, including two game-winners. He went six for eleven in the series. Actually, the last time he went as far into the season without hitting ten home runs, Pujols launched seven home runs in the ten-game stretch starting June third. So he's still Pujols, and is still a virtual lock for 35 home runs a year no matter how many ground balls he's hitting.

Adam Lind has none of the same guarantees, but has been locked in at the plate this year. Most of what he's doing is sustainable, because his plate discipline and batted ball mix look more like his early work in the league and less like last year's soon-to-be-forgotten mess. In his second game back from his back troubles, Lind went four-for-four with two home runs. That's coming back, badumching. His return also means the end to the limited usefulness of Edwin Encarnacion, whose gloves are all made of brick.

Paul Konerko wasn't gone long. In fact, if you blinked, you might have missed his absence… for a surgery. It might have been a minor surgery, but the fact that Konerko had any procedure at all on Friday and then played Sunday is stupefying. That he collected two hits on Sunday even more amazing. The 35-year-old just might be able to keep this going all year if he's that bulletproof.

John Lackey returned to the mound while allowing three runs in 5 2/3 against Oakland. He gave up a solo home run to Kevin Kouzmanoff and only struck out two against a weak lineup, so it wasn't an unqualified success. Even with some recovery and regression, Lackey's best is only okay at this point. His swinging strike rate is in a six-year decline right now.

* Being updated on the the returning stars is all well and good, but the waiver wire seems to produce quality pitching most of all. Let's take a look at some pitching performances by borderline guys.

In the possible buy-low group, Chris Carpenter solidified his credentials. He's been pretty much the same guy he's always been, and some poor batted-ball luck has held him back. He threw nine two-run innings against the Cubs but lost, and the chance to buy him cheap is fading. You might be able to get Anibal Sanchez for cheaper considering his career away numbers. He just allowed five runs at home. But he still struck out five and walked one, and numbers like that play in any park. He's an every-starter still. Brett Anderson continued his poor pitching of late. The Red Sox took him for five runs on nine hits. Two home runs was more worrisome, but Anderson is still getting ground balls and still has excellent control. He makes for a great buy-low. You might want to sell high on Charlie Morton, though it depends on the return. After holding the Phillies to two runs in seven innings, his 2.52 ERA looks nice but he's more of a mid-threes guy at best. He's getting groundballs at a league-leading rate, but his control isn't great and he doesn't get strikeouts usually. Still, a free mid-rotation fantasy starter might be worth more than the players that are offered in return. Mat Latos used to have a velocity problem, but with each start he's finding his old gas. Sunday at home, he only struck out three (against two walks), but he kept Houston to two runs in five innings and averaged almost 93 MPH. His time as a buy-low is disappearing rapidly.

James McDonald couldn't make it past the fourth inning against the Phillies. He's a fly-ball pitcher with bad control right now, so watch his walk totals before picking him up. He walked five on Sunday. Chris Narveson has much better rates across the board and makes for a strong pickup in deeper leagues despite his ugly ERA and WHIP. This despite his four runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Marlins - he walked five and just didn't have his usual control. Ryan Vogelsong struck out seven, walked one, and held the Rockies to one run in eight innings. He has below-average strikeout stuff, and gets walks at a below-average rate, but if he continues to show great control he can be a marginal starter in most leagues on home park alone. His opponent, Jason Hammel, struck out four, walked two and gave up only two hits. He also has below-average strikeout stuff, but he's had great control for three straight years, and combines it with barely above-average ground-ball work. Travis Wood is a fly-ball pitcher - usually he has enough control and strikeout punch to make it work. Sunday, he walked five in 4 2/3 innings, and control like that means he should be on the waiver wire. At least for now. Brian Duensing kept the Royals scoreless for eight innings, but his upside is too muted to really like him for any league depth. He put an end to his 28-game winless streak in his last start, and Sunday, Jo-Jo Reyes continued his two-game win streak. He held the Orioles to three runs in 6 1/3, but his career strikeout, walk and groundball rates are all average or worse. He's just not a great pitcher. Neither is Mitch Talbot, who is getting groundballs but limiting his walks enough to matter. He kept the Rangers to two runs in six innings, but he walked three and still needs to improve there. Dillon Gee kept the Braves scoreless in seven on Saturday, and has been good so far, but doesn't have the raw stuff to to keep up with his current ERA.

* Closers are part of the waiver wire riches. Carlos Marmol, though he's now blown his last two saves, probably won't help make Sean Marshall or Kerry Wood into viable pickups in saves leagues just yet. He gave up a couple of well-placed singles and will be fine. Vicente Padilla, whose manager hinted that he would be the closer on his return, is over his forearm issue. But now his neck hurts. It's the same neck problem that bothered him down the stretch last year, so this is worrisome. He only just lost his role, but Royals manager Ned Yost thinks that Joakim Soria is close to reclaiming the closer's mantle. Yost thinks one more "knockout inning" will get him to make the switch back. Andrew Bailey is still unavailable to pitch on back-to-back days, and blew his first save chance of the season Saturday. Guess Grant Balfour will continue to be useful for a little while. Brandon Lyon will throw rehab innings on Sunday and Tuesday in Triple-A and could be back this week. That's too bad for Melancon owners, but it looks like he should be owned in most saves leagues. Kevin Gregg reversed a mini-trend with a clean inning and a save Saturday. Koji Uehara owners remain quietly (and rightfully) angry. Drew Storen imploded and was removed during a save chance Sunday. Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth and might be next, but he'll get more leash.

* Power and speed will make you forget some flaws. Drew Stubbs strikes out about a third of the time, so he'll never have the nice batting average. He hadn't homered in 23 games or stolen a base in seven. He changed that Sunday, and should show a little more power going forward. Ben Zobrist has a little less speed than Stubbs, but the infielder pairs it with power and may also have trouble with the batting average. On the other hand, his strikeout issues are more muted and a low batting average is not written in stone. After collecting two hits Saturday and Sunday, he has eight hits in his twenty at-bats. Matt Kemp doesn't seem to have any flaws - he hit three home runs on Saturday and Sunday combined and is now hitting .321 - but he still strikes out in a quarter of his at-bats. The batting average going forward might not be as nice. Seattle prospect Greg Halman has power and speed and had three hits in his 2011 debut for the major league team. The problem is that he strikes out in almost two-fifths of his at-bats, which means there's very little chance he makes it work in the major leagues.

* Some players just can't stay out of the trainer's room. Jake Peavy was looking good since his return from the DL, and even through the first three innings against the Tigers Sunday. Then he gave up six runs in the fourth and left the game with a strained groin. He could easily head right back to the DL with this one. Travis Hafner had a shoulder injury forever, and finally seemed better this year. Then he did something to his oblique. Now he's finally feeling better and he hopes to return within the next two weeks. Rafael Furcal has been dealing with the back problems for a while, but then he broke his thumb. Just back from that DL stint, the oft-injured shortstop is right back on the DL with an oblique problem he described as being "bad." Lance Berkman is just getting old and being asked to run around the outfield. His calf and wrist injuries were both related to his play in the outfield. This weekend, he missed two games and got a cortisone shot in that troublesome wrist. Joe Mauer's problems seem catching-related. He will spend a few games at High-A before taking a full progression through his rehab schedule that should take him to June 12th as planned. Justin Morneau first scared us with his concussion all year, then recently told us that a pinched nerve in his neck will bother him all year. This weekend he missed two games with soreness in his wrist. And yet he still has upside. Francisco Liriano's love of the slider might have something to do with his injuries to date, but signs point to his making his start Tuesday. Between those injuries and his terrible command so far this year, he's not a great buy-low. Jason Heyward has a young career full of injuries so far. He hasn't yet started baseball activities and is still a couple weeks away.

National League Quick Hits: Ryan Zimmerman began his rehab Sunday night and should be back within the week … The Marlins are leaning towards placing Hanley Ramirez on the DL today … Matt Garza (elbow) returns Monday against the Reds … Chad Billingsley wasn't great on Sunday (four runs, eight hits in five innings), but he did enough (three strikeouts) to win and is a dependable starter most days … Jimmy Rollins missed Sunday's game after bruising his right kneecap; despite a visible limp, there's no real prognosis yet … The Nationals are still interested in trading for B.J. UptonYovani Gallardo continued his return to brilliance by holding the Marlins to two runs in six innings Saturday (and racking up five strikeouts) … Pablo Sandoval (hamate bone) is due back this week … Mike Morse hit a game-winning grandslam in extra innings Sunday; The former light-hitting middle-infielder is now a corner outfielder that's shown this power for 500 major league at-bats spread over three years ... Jason Bay missed Sunday's game for a mental health break … Kelly Johnson had two hits (one a home run) and looks like a decent pickup on the middle infield … Jason Bourgeois is back and healthy, but where he plays (second or the outfield) is almost more important than how well he plays right now … Pedro Alvarez (quad) should be back sometime this week … Carlos Beltran fouled a ball off his shin and left the game, but X-rays were negative and he's day-to-day … Dexter Fowler has been losing some plate appearances to Eric Young Jr. and is now losing some to slight abdominal discomfort; his team is rumored to be considering demoting him or disabling him … He still has a ton of upside, but Brandon Belt will be out about a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist after being hit there last week … It's not quite Konerko-like, but Jordan Schafer showed how seriously he's taking his current playing time when he bunted a ball off his face and suffered a small sinus fracture in Friday's game, then played again Sunday … Once Chris Volstad stops giving up the home runs, he'll be better but not great - Saturday he held the Brewers to three runs in seven innings … Kyle Lohse allowed four runs in fewer than six innings against the cubs Saturday, but still managed to avoid walking a batter and can maybe manage an ERA in the high threes going forward … Edinson Volquez might be back Tuesday after two starts with a good ERA and a terrible 7/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors … Jordan Lyles gave up four runs in four innings and though he struck out three, his stuff makes his upside muted … Rex Brothers and his dominating strikeout rate have joined the Rockies' bullpen as the team purchased his contract … Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch and has a bruised knee … John Mayberry is back in the minor leagues, which is too bad because he was making a little more contact this year and taking some playing time in that Phillie outfield … Nick Hundley (oblique) hit a home run during his rehab start Saturday and is due back any day.

American League Quick Hits: Evan Longoria sat out Sunday's game with a sore side and will return again Monday … Howie Kendrick was activated Saturday … Clay Buchholz will have his next start pushed back due to some back stiffness but the team says it's precautionary … Josh Hamilton's absence Sunday was a planned day of rest … Dan Haren will make his start Tuesday after a shot back scare … Luke Scott had a cortisone shot in his shoulder Sunday, and missed the game, but he'll be back Monday … C.J. Wilson kept the Indians scoreless in 7 2/3 innings and is showing above-average rates across the board in his peripherals … After striking out seven and walking none, Erik Bedard should not be on your waiver wire even if he gave up three earned over seven against a relatively punchless Rays offense … Jeremy Guthrie gave up six runs in five innings to the Jays; his peripherals suggest he's more like the high-threes ERA guy he was at the end of the game anyway … Derrek Lee was activated, but will miss Friday for his grandfather's funeral … Denard Span (neck) missed the weekend but should be in the lineup Monday … Bobby Abreu went three-for-three with a steal on Saturday and his average is suddenly up to .286 … Mitch Moreland stayed hot with a hit and a homer against the Indians … Mark Trumbo hit a home run Sunday, and stole a base - the hitting home runs thing (and the bad batting average thing) will continue … Derek Holland still has great long-term upside, but for now pitch him mostly away from home; He threw a shutout Saturday in Cleveland … Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured fibula) will begin a rehab assignment Monday … Mark Teahen is back from his oblique problem, and may challenge Brent Morel for time at third base if they can stand his glove there … Maybe Scott Kazmir's career isn't dead yet - he hit 92 on the gun during a start for Triple-A on Friday … Reward for sticking this far into the dot-dots on a Monday piece: Scott Sizemore is taking at-bats at third base and raking in Triple-A; Watch out Kevin KouzmanoffVernon Wells (groin) started his rehab … Mike Trout left his game in Double-A with a patella and quad injury but it's not supposed to be serious … Brett Lawrie was hit by a pitch last week, diagnosed with a sore wrist and place on the 7-day DL retroactively and still might be called up this week … Wil Myers is an interesting outfield prospect, and he's now off the DL and back on the Double-A roster for the Royals … The Athletics designated Andy LaRoche for assigment, and it's possible his .247/.320/.333 batting line this year defines his upside.

Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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