Thursday, April 19, 2012
Ten early concerns to worry about
By David Schoenfield
The season is young, but never too young to raise a few issues we've seen so far. Here are 10:
1. Yu Darvish's control In Japan, Darvish was known not only for his terrific stuff but his ability to throw it with precision. In 2011, he walked just 36 batters in 232 innings. Through three starts with the Rangers he's walked 13 in 17.2 innings. I've watched all three of those starts and there's no denying his ability, with good movement on his fastball and a sharp-breaking curve. The command hasn't been there, however, and I do see some Dice-K syndrome: Nibbling at the corners, not pitching inside, not trusting the quality of his stuff. It's early and I do think he'll be fine in the long run, but there is at least a little reason to doubt he'll be the No. 1 many projected.
2. Adam Wainwright Wainwright has had a tough start this season as he dropped to 0-3, 9.88 after a five-inning outing against the Reds on Thursday. He gave up fourth-inning home runs to Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, giving him five home runs allowed in just 13.2 innings. One positive sign is that he has 14 strikeouts, an indication that the stuff is still there. From the heat map below, we have his curveball location in 2012 on the left versus 2010, when batters hit just .170 against it. He's only thrown it 45 times so far, but it appears the command in that lower quadrant of the strike zone isn't quite there yet.
Adam Wainwright's curveball location in 2012 (left) compared to 2010.
3. Marlins' defense I was worried about Miami's defense before the season and so far that's a legitimate concern, as entering Thursday the Marlins ranked 29th in Defensive Runs Saved at minus-13 runs (only the Rockies ranked worse). The biggest holes so far? Jose Reyes is at minus-6 runs and Hanley Ramirez is at minus-2. Factor in Logan Morrison's plodding defense in left, Emilio Bonifacio's inexperience in center and Giancarlo Stanton's testy knee and this could be a season-long issue.
4. Angels' plate discipline Entering Thursday's games, the Angels ranked 27th in the majors in walk percentage, ahead of just the Pirates, Royals and Phillies. The Angels also ranked second behind in the Phillies in percentage of pitches outside the strike zone they've swung at (33.1 percent). No matter how many home runs you hit, it's difficult to string together some rallies without drawing a few walks. The major culprits: Kendrys Morales (no walks in 42 plate appearances), Peter Bourjos (no walks in 32 PAs) and Vernon Wells (one walk in 47 PAs).
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Disciples of Uecker
I gather that few people know or expect the Brewers' offense to be one of the above average National League scoring units, given the amount of press expended on Ron Roenicke's "small ball" plans. This has to be one of the best media ploys in baseball at the moment -- the Brewers try a few sneaky bunt plays here and there, but mostly smash the cover off of the ball. That's right, your Milwaukee Brewers are one of the best power clubs in the National League, and that's without early season production by Ramirez and Braun.
Capitol Avenue Club
In three starts Jair Jurrjens has a 8.10 ERA, 8.62 FIP, and a 0.89 K/BB rate. There are obviously issues with Jair right now, some of it being command and some if it being the actual stuff he has been throwing. He has not been able to locate pitches with any type of consistency, and his velocity is down across the board -- even further down than it was last year.
5. Tampa Bay's bullpen As bad as Boston's bullpen has been (6.63 ERA), Tampa's has struggled even more with an 8.64 ERA. The Rays pieced together a decent pen a year ago from the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and others. That pen benefited from having to throw the fewest innings in the majors. With Farnsworth on the DL, Fernando Rodney has been getting the save opportunities and he's done the job, but the rest of the pen has been shaky. Of concern: While Boston's relievers have 31 strikeouts and 12 walks, Tampa's have 26 strikeouts against 20 walks.
6. Josh Johnson For all the concern over Tim Lincecum's drop in velocity and unsightly 10.54 ERA, the ace pitcher I'd be most worried about is Johnson. While Lincecum has 16 strikeouts and four walks in 13.2 innings, Johnson doesn't have any positives on his ledger: 16.2 IP, 28 H, 6 BB, 8 SO. Both have been burned by high BABIPs (.444 for Johnson) and Johnson hasn't allowed a home run, but the low strikeout rate is a big concern and his fastball velocity is also. Like Wainwright, Johnson is coming off an injury, but you have to hope the shoulder is OK.
7. Phillies' lineup No surprise here with the absence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but it doesn't help that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have combined for just one home run. Even when Howard and Utley return, the Phillies will need a lot more production from Rollins and Victorino.
8. Scott Rolen The Reds were counting on Rolen to hit cleanup, but Dusty Baker has already moved him out of that spot after his .171 start through 13 games. Considering his long injury history and struggles in 2011, the end of the line may be approaching for the 37-year-old third baseman. The Reds may eventually have to turn to Todd Frazier, but his minor league track record suggests bench player, not starting third baseman on a playoff team.
9. Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham The White Sox have a solid rotation, a solid bullpen and ... well, they'll need offense and they were counting on these two infielders to improve from 2011. But Morel is hitting .103 with 18 strikeouts in 39 at-bats and Beckham is hitting .152 with 12 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. Neither has homered.