Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Notes: Verlander's Woes

Monday, May 26, 2014

Line up the Dodgers’ top four outfielders and have them race: I imagine the order of finish would be Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and then Andre Ethier. However, it’s the first two of those starting in the corners, and now the slowest of the bunch, Ethier, starting in center the last three days because manager Don Mattingly is frustrated with Kemp’s defense.


The odd thing is that Ethier might actually be an upgrade; he seems better in center than he has in right in recent years. But the frustration with Kemp isn’t entirely warranted. He was overrated in center field before his recent spate of injuries, and it’s not surprising that he’s continued to slow down. It’s not his fault. His offense hasn’t been a problem. He doesn’t deserve to be a scapegoat for the Dodgers’ mildly disappointing record.


The obvious answer for the Dodgers is to put Puig in center field and move Kemp to right permanently. The reason not to go that route would be if the Dodgers think top prospect Joc Pederson is actually going to be the long-term choice in center and that it wouldn’t make sense to take the hot-hitting Puig out of his comfort zone for the short term. However, I’m skeptical Pederson is a center fielder anyway, and Puig doesn’t have a comfort zone. He’s Yasiel Puig.


Since the Dodgers aren’t willing to go that route right now, Kemp’s fantasy value is on the decline, at least for the short term. He’s started taking flyballs in left, which could affect Carl Crawford before long. Complicating things is that Kemp has killed righties (.320/.400/.577) while oddly hitting just .157/.173/.216 against lefties this year. He’s not a platoon player anyway, but if the Dodgers aren’t going to use him in center and they aren’t going to use Puig there, then they’re backing themselves into quite a corner.


AL Notes


- Justin Verlander’s return to May 2013 form is a disturbing development. It looks like he’s having the same kind of mechanical problems now that he did then. He’s struck out a total of seven batters while giving up 16 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings in his last three starts. The results were excellent prior to the recent run, though all along his velocity has been down from his typical norm. But his current velocity isn’t at all different from early last year, before he picked it up some. He did the same thing in 2012, though he started from a higher base then. It’s not all about velocity, but there is a significant difference between 92-93 mph and 94-96 mph.


I expect we’ll see Verlander turn it around this year much like he did last season, though hopefully he won’t wait quite so long. While May was his only atrocious month last year, he didn’t excel until September and October. I’d still rate him as a top-10 starter at the moment, though definitely at the bottom of the group.


- Doubling down on the bad choice he made in the first place, White Sox manager Robin Ventura reiterated Sunday that Ronald Belisario is his closer. Even though Belisario allowed one run in his first save chance, two in the second and then three to blow the third.


Obviously, I’m not someone who puts a lot of stock in the closer mentality. I’m not dismissing it entirely; I just think it’s a pretty small percentage of guys that aren’t up to handling the challenge of the ninth inning. Belisario, given everything in his history, was a great bet to be one of them. He makes far more sense in a setup role anyway, given his ability to induce double plays and soak up innings. Reserving him for the ninth to pitch in situations that may go several days without arising is working against his strengths and weakening the bullpen as a whole. Daniel Webb… now there’s a guy you want to pitch the ninth. Sure, he’s been issuing too many walks, but that’s not so bad when you’re always coming in with the bases empty.


Of course, Ventura doesn’t see it my way. Which is why Webb, he of the 18 walks in 26 1/3 innings, has been handed more inherited runners (24) than anyone else in the White Sox pen. Webb is the best bet of anyone in the group to run away with the closer gig, but Ventura is going to make him wait a while longer. I also don’t want to completely ignore Jake Petricka here, since he’s the White Sox’s second most talented reliever and could also factor in. Though, it should be noted, Ventura just might be stubborn enough to bypass both and stick Zach Putnam in the role when Belisario falters again.


- Stephen Drew back to the Red Sox was the best-case scenario for those holding on to him in fantasy leagues. Still, it’s not like he was anything special for fantasy purposes last year (.253, 57 R, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB in 442 AB), and now he’s likely to be pretty rusty and he’ll be hitting low in a lineup that isn’t nearly as good as it was in 2013. He’ll be listed somewhere around 20th among shortstops in next week’s June rankings.


- Let’s talk about Jose Altuve as a sell-high candidate. Even though he’s off to an absolutely fantastic start and he’s played in every game, he’s currently on pace for 81 runs scored and 55 RBI this year. Such is the penalty paid for playing for the Astros. And while he should be expected to maintain a relatively high average and keep stealing bases, it’s not at all likely that he’ll keep going at this rate. He’s a two-category player overachieving in his two categories.


- Getting Nick Hundley from the Padres for lefty specialist Troy Patton was an obvious move and a good one for the Orioles. He’s solid enough defensively to be an upgrade over Steve Clevenger and not a zero offensively, with a career .685 OPS despite playing half of his games in Petco. The hope is still that Matt Wieters (elbow) returns in a month or so, even if the odds are against that happening. If Wieters eventually elects for surgery, then Hundley should finish out the season as Baltimore’s primary catcher. For now, Clevenger might continue to get the majority of starts against righties.


- James Paxton (lat) won’t be returning this week after experiencing some triceps tightness in his last rehab start. He’s set to replace Brandon Maurer in the Seattle rotation, but now the Mariners have to decide whether it’s worth giving Maurer another start before Paxton comes back. They’ve hurt themselves by pitching him instead of Erasmo Ramirez these last few weeks.


- The Twins are about to acknowledge that it was a mistake sending Oswaldo Arcia to Triple-A when his DL stint wrapped up on May 14 by bringing him back Monday. Josh Willingham is also coming off the DL, giving the Twins’ offense a much needed new look. Just look at these May OPSs for Twins hitters:


Chris Herrmann: .232 in 21 AB

Sam Fuld: .343 in 31 AB

Chris Colabello: .366 in 56 AB

Jason Kubel: .507 in 61 AB

Aaron Hicks: .551 in 38 AB


If it was my team, I’d bail on Colabello and Kubel and give regular at-bats to Arcia. The Twins, though, have unsurprisingly decided to keep Kubel and send down Colabello and Herrmann instead, which could leave less playing time for Arcia.


For center field, the Twins really need to stick with Hicks, which they have been doing against right-handers lately. He’s not hitting, but at least he is drawing walks, and he’s a better defender than Fuld and Danny Santana, which is particularly important with guys like Willingham, Kubel and Arcia manning the corners.


- The May 18 outing in which Jim Johnson walked or hit four of the six batters he faced -- harmless as it was in a 13-3 victory -- took him ever further out of the mix for saves in Oakland than he was when he lost his job originally last month. I still think the A’s would be better off with him in the ninth and Sean Doolittle getting the big outs leading up to the frame, but that’s not the way it’s going to work out, not now and maybe not at any point in the rest of the season. Doolittle is throwing as well as any reliever in the game right now, and I’m not sure any manager in the game would have the guys to take him out of the closer’s role just because that’s probably not where he’s most valuable. As a result, Johnson probably isn’t worth holding on to in shallow formats.


- The Angels lineup is about to get even more crowded with Josh Hamilton (thumb) coming off the disabled list this week. I might suggest releasing Raul Ibanez, but it seems that either C.J. Cron or Grant Green will be sent down. There simply aren’t enough at-bats for both. The Angels didn’t start Green against Jason Vargas on Sunday even though he’s 12-for-25 against lefties. As things stand now, Green has a .930 OPS in 46 at-bats, while Cron is at .798 in 51 at-bats. That’d seem to bode better for Green, who also has the advantage of being able to start at five positions to Cron’s one. But with the Angels, it’s always hard to tell. One thing is for sure: Collin Cowgill is going to lose a lot of his playing time with Hamilton back. It’d make sense to have him and Kole Calhoun platoon in right field, with Calhoun facing the righties.


- As for Calhoun, my recommending him this spring hinged on him leading off for the Angels. That he’s not doing that now -- and that he figures to lose some playing time against lefties -- makes him a much less intriguing mixed-league option, at least the for the short term.


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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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