Eno Sarris

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Breaking New Ground

Monday, June 13, 2011

Call it the weekend of firsts even though it wasn't the first weekend of June.

First, Mike Moustakas and Anthony Rizzo didn't take long to hit their first major league home runs. Moustakas, who has been long anticipated in Kansas City, is somehow more raw than the younger Rizzo - at least when it comes to plate discipline. He's paired poor walk rates with good strikeout rates and lots of power, so he's not an easy prospect to project. Moose Tacos has also struggled at new levels, but so far so good with the major leagues, or so says his home run Saturday off of Joel Pineiro. Rizzo is a lefty in the worst park for left-handed power hitters in the league, but obviously he didn't have a problem Saturday when he went yard off of John Lannan. Save those balls, rooks!

Jemile Weeks is closing in on his first week in the bigs. He doesn't quite have the same power as older brother, but he has managed two triples in his first week. Owners needing steals should consider him a deep-league prize if Dee Gordon is gone. If he keeps it up, he might even keep the job once Mark Ellis returns near the end of the month. The next prospect at the position, Dustin Ackley, wasn't in the lineup Sunday night. When asked, though, his Triple-A manager said it was a 'routine' thing. It was his first time out of the lineup all year. Kevin Towers admitted that Paul Goldschmidt and Colin Cowgill will make their debuts sometime this year. A pair of prospects not highly thought of before the season, the two have played too well to ignore this year. Oh and Michael Pineda had his first… stumble. He gave up five earned in 5 1/3 innings to the Tigers, but should be all systems go for the rest of the season.

* Tommy Hanson also had a first! His 14 strikeouts against the Astros on Sunday were a career-high. The only obstacle separating Hanson from the elite starters in the league is his ability to continue his excellent work late into the season. Jordan Zimmermann struck out ten against the Padres, but it wasn't the first time he's reached double digits in strikeouts… this year. The good news is that the only thing that had been missing from the young man's game this year was strikeouts. The future is bright for this young man. Another good, young pitcher is Rubby De La Rosa. He has excellent strikeout stuff with okay control, and struck out six Dodgers Sunday in five three-run innings. It's about raw stuff with him, and he should be fine after leaving the game with a forearm cramp. Philip Humber doesn't have the raw stuff, but after holding Oakland to three earned in seven innings with seven strikeouts, he's on a roll. His excellent control and increased use of the slider under a strong pitching coach say that he can continue to be useful, but his average stuff seems to suggest that regression is on the way anyway. Mike Minor continues to get better every time out. He kept the Astros to two runs in six innings with four strikeouts and makes for a good spot start in the short term.

Old dudes can still get it done. Of course, when I say 'old' I mean baseball old, not old old. 33-year-old Roy Oswalt has lost the swinging strikes so far this year, and is getting lucky on fly balls, but holding the Cubs to three earned in seven innings (with five strikeouts) shows that his always-excellent control and growing ground-ball rate will keep him useful in all leagues. Kevin Correia is on the wrong side of thirty, but seems to have figured something out this year. He's a lesson, in a way. By keeping the ball on the ground and not walking many batters, he's teaching us ignore his dismal strikeout rate. Still, that lack of strikeouts hurts his value. Sunday he gave up four earned to the Mets - and struck out four against no walks in 7 2/3 innings. Really, that's should be considered a typical outing. Freddy Garcia bounced back from his first terrible start of the season with a 6 2/3 inning, one-run, six-strikeout effort against the Indians. He's still a fly-baller without much strikeout punch overall, but he'll make a fine spot-start in the right situation. Javier Vazquez… never mind. He did get his fastball up to 92 MPH, but the results weren't pretty, and he's not getting it done right now.

* Even older dudes on the other side of the ball can can it done. Adam Dunn hit two home runs over the weekend, and should be able to get back on track soon. There is, of course, the DH penalty - which holds that hitters don't hit as well as DHes as they do as position players - but Dunn is still young enough to continue his high-powered ways as soon as he gets used to the AL pitchers. Johnny Damon hit a home run Sunday and is almost batting .280 with power and speed in Tampa Bay after seemingly finding the end of the rope in Detroit. He's a viable bench piece in most leagues. Dan Uggla took Brett Myers deep and he got on base eight times over the weekend. Like Dunn, he can put up poor batting averages like he used to as long as he regains that power at that tough position. Call him a good bet to out-homer Carlos Lee despite Lee's resurgence recently. Lee got two hits on Sunday, but his three-year decline in power is powerful negative evidence. Aramis Ramirez has been doing everything he always has, except hit for power. Sunday he hit his second home run in five games and he could be heating up.

* The hardest thing to do in fantasy baseball might be to spot the true buy-low pitcher. Ubaldo Jimenez has a career track record and has gotten unlucky with baserunners. He's still getting the strikeouts and seems to just be struggling with his control. Except his velocity is down and he's not getting the swinging strikes he used to. Sunday, against a weak Dodgers offense, he walked one, struck out two, and gave up 11 hits and seven runs (two earned). Three home runs in 5 1/3 innings is sign enough that something is wrong, and the risk is high that he's not a great buy-low. Francisco Liriano was probably in the same exact position - except that he still was getting the swinging strikes. Now he has that nine-strikeout, no-walk, one-earned performance against the Rangers on this year's resume, and he looks a lot nicer as a cheap target. Riskier than Jimenez health-wise, the numbers favor Liriano in some ways. Brett Myers had a nice year last year, but we can definitively say he's not a buy-low. He's lost all the swinging strikes and ground balls he showed in his resurgence and allowed four earned in seven innings against a struggling Braves offense. He's not really a strong play in any league. Wade Davis' pitch-to-contact experiment is backfiring. Despite getting the win, he only struck out three Orioles in six innings. He hasn't struck out more than five in any outing this year and has allowed more than three runs in seven straight.

Dan Hudson has been long touted as a buy-low, and Sunday's outing against the Marlins was a great step in the right direction. He struck out seven, walked three, and held Florida to one run. That's two straight excellent starts, but a whole season of great control and strong strikeout ability for "the other" Hudson. Was there ever really a time to buy low on Jon Lester? He's an excellent young pitcher that hit a rough stretch and will be fine. He stuck out eight and walked only one in the romp against the Blue Jays Sunday, and if there's any way to get him any cheaper than ace-prices, go do it. Down a little deeper, Felipe Paulino always could get the swinging strikes, but was such a fly-ball pitcher with poor control that he never made it work. Suddenly, in Kansas City, he's showing good control and is a viable AL-only play. That's the lowest you can buy a guy.

* The doctor will see you now. He'll tell you that he's happy that Ryan Zimmerman had eight hits in sixteen rehab games and will finally return from his abdominal surgery on Tuesday. He'll mention that Bartolo Colon obviously wasn't going to stay healthy all year, so you should have seen the hamstring injury coming. Really, it's ditto for Aaron Harang, who has some right foot injury and will take some time off despite having pitched through the malady recently. This doctor has never heard of bilateral leg weakness, but won't rule out a Thursday return for Joe Mauer either. Though Magglio Ordonez will be back from his ankle injury on Monday, the doctor expects to see him again sometime this season. And as bad as it looked and sounded for Hanley Ramirez, he had three hits in his last rehab game and should be ready to go Tuesday. Without really looking at that shoulder, the doctor won't be able to tell you if Jed Lowrie is fine, but missing Sunday's game with pain isn't a good sing. Like the fact that Jason Bourgeois is getting an MRI on his sprained ankle Monday - they can say it's not a big deal, but the fact of the test means he'll miss some time. And in San Francisco, where they are discussing surgery with Freddy Sanchez after he dislocated his shoulder - that's not good. Don't have to be a doctor to know that. And good luck to Mike Napoli, felled by the dreaded oblique. He might be gone until the break. This doctor also knew that there was something fishy going on with the one-day-and-back wrist surgery Paul Konerko had. Apparently, they just moved a bone fragment in his wrist to a spot where it wouldn't hurt. He admits that it might hurt again at any time. Uh-oh.

* Friend James Quintong reminded me that there is no shame, only saves. So don't feel bad if you pick up Jonathan Broxton, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen Tuesday and could be the Dodgers closer by July. Stranger things have happened, and that bullpen is strange. Lefty Scott Elbert got the save Sunday, but only because a lefty was up. Blake Hawksworth started the inning, but may have only done so because Javy Guerra pitched both Friday and Saturday. And once Vicente Padilla's neck feels better, he might still be the dude. J.P. Howell got the save Sunday in Tampa Bay, but Kyle Farnsworth was just not available because of a stomach problem. Still, it's useful to know who's next in line. Sergio Santos has given up eight earned in his last three appearances, with two losses and a blown save sprinkled in. Matt Thornton owners perked their ears for a second. But also included in those appearances is Santos' successful save Sunday against the Athletics. That his manager continues to throw him out there in save situations is argument enough that he has leash remaining. Jonny Venters has great enough rates and ratios that he deserves to be owned in most leagues. But don't expect him to take the closer's job from Craig Kimbrel, even after some wobbles from the kloser in Atlanta (he spells it with a 'K' right). Kimbrel threw a lot of pitches Saturday, and was therefore not available. It's a tandem. He's not a closer on his own team, and he might be headed to the disabled list with a blister problem, but Kerry Wood has been excellent this year and could close for another team. Takaishi Saito was scratched from his scheduled oblique rehab appearance for upper back tightness. That's the second time this year that he's been scratched from a rehab appearance for an unrelated problem. John Axford is safer with every mishap. Brandon Lyon came back, was given a high-leverage inning (the top of the tenth), and blew the game open. Really, Mark Melancon should keep the closer gig all year, but who knows with the Astros. Kevin Gregg blew a save Saturday and Koji Uehara remains a better pitcher, fundamentally. That bullpen should see change this year.

National League Quick Hits: Continuing to make his argument to stay in New York, Jose Reyes hit a home run and collected two more hits to raise his batting average to .346 on the year … Matt Holliday (quad) is still planning to return Thursday when eligible … Hunter Pence missed most of the weekend with back issues but is still planning on returning Monday … Jayson Werth hit leadoff over the weekend, and all that means is that he'll steal a few more (he stole his ninth Sunday) and get more at-bats … Pablo Sandoval is up now and hasn't played a game at catcher yet, but the idea is out there and it's delicious … Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) threw two scoreless innings in Double-A Sunday, and still managed to walk two guys … Enjoy Shaun Marcum while he's healthy; The Brewer changeup master struck out eight cards in seven three-run innings to get the win … After playing five innings at Triple-A Sunday, Alfonso Soriano is on track to be activated Wednesday … Leo Nunez (back) could be back in action early this week … Tim Stauffer isn't top-shelf young talent, but he threw seven innings of shutout ball against the Nationals, and despite only racking up five strikeouts, he gets the groundballs to be started in most games in mixed leagues … Seth Smith hit a home run and would be an excellent starting outfielder in any league were it not for his platoon splits - as is, he's still useful in most leagues … Orlando Hudson (groin) could begin his rehab by mid-week … He's a second baseman now and still is interesting going forward, but Allen Craig will be out a couple weeks with his right knee contusion … James Loney has the power of a middle infielder at a power-driven position, but he hit a grand slam off of Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday or something … Mat Gamel, who was hitting .303 with power in Triple-A, might come up to be an extra bat during interleague play this week … Chris Capuano does just enough of everything to be relevant; He struck out five and walked two in seven shutout innings against the Pirates and should be considered among spot-starters in most leagues … Brad Hand gave up four earned in five innings at home against Arizona Sunday and isn't really ready for major league success just yet … Jake Westbrook gave up four runs in five innings against the Brewers, and his one walk would have been more impressive if it was paired with any strikeouts at all … Doug Davis gave up ten baserunners in five innings against the Phillies and hasn't been making it far into games to register value even as an innings-eater.

American League Quick Hits: He was incredible last year, but Jose Bautista hit his 21st Sunday and is now ahead of last year's pace … Curtis Granderson went four-for-four on Sunday and should continue having his career year … Asdrubal Cabrera stole two of the five bases against Yankee catcher Russell Martin on Sunday … Kyle Drabek gave up eight runs in four-plus innings against the Red Sox and despite his pedigree, he's not getting the ground balls to be playable in any league right now, despite his manager's insistence that he won't be demoted … Elvis Andrus was removed from Sunday's game for failing to run out a ground ball, but should be fine going forward … Matt Joyce is still missing games against lefties sometimes, as he sat against Brian Matusz … With his ground-ball rate, there's some risk that Justin Smoak won't keep up the power stroke; At least he hit his 12th Sunday … Denard Span (concussion) has shown improvement … Ian Desmond missed Sunday with a mystery upper leg ailment … Jason Kubel (foot) still hurts … Michael Cuddyer hit a home run on Sunday, but his production is really only playable on the (middle) infield if he's eligible there for you … Alex Avila collected two hits Sunday and looks like he'll continue to be a play in all leagues even if the power is a little surprising and the batting average a little luck-driven … Brian Matusz doesn't have a great strikeout rate, and gave up four runs while getting four outs on Sunday against the Rays, but he's still an interesting young lefty … Rick Porcello allowed three runs and nine baserunners in seven innings, but got more ground balls than fly balls and struck out five … Mark Reynolds, who has five home runs in the past week, had x-rays on his forearm, but they were negative … Josh Willingham missed Sunday with a sore Achilles … Derrek Lee will return to the lineup Tuesday … Alberto Callaspo (hamstring) is only day-to-day … Josh Tomlin gave up six runs on 12 hits in Sunday's loss, but there wasn't really much to believe in him other than strong control - he needs a second skill to be trusted in any leagues going forward … Tyler Chatwood gave up five earned to the Royals in fewer than four innings and there's little reason to roster him in any league … Matt Harrison took a line drive off of his left triceps but should make his next start, which is about when the wheels will begin to fall off despite his decent showing against the Twins (one earned, three strikeouts in six innings) … Guillermo Moscoso gave up four earned in 6 1/3 innings against the White Sox but his 11 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings means he's not very useful in even deeper leagues … Brandon Webb (shoulder) will resume his rehab assignment on Tuesday.

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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