SweetSpot: Fernando Tatis
I didn't search for long before finding this season: Rick Wilkins in 1993. A third-year catcher in '93, Wilkins had hit well enough after a promotion from the minors in '92 to win the job for '93. Even the most optimistic of Cubs fans couldn't have expected his season: .303/.376/.561, with 30 home runs in 446 at-bats. The next season, he hit .227 with seven homers; then he fell to .203 with seven homers and the Cubs shipped him out of town. Here's what's interesting: Even though Wilkins was hitting .191, the Cubs acquired Luis Gonzalez in that deal. The same Gonzalez who would eventually find his way to Arizona, where he would hit 57 home runs in 2001.
OK, back to Wilkins, Baseball-Reference WAR rates his '93 season as the best in Cubs history by a catcher. You know, a funny thing happened from 1992 to 1993. Yes, there were two expansion teams. But that alone doesn't explain the jump in offense: Run scoring went from 4.12 per game to 4.60, with the major league batting average increasing from .256 to .265 and the slugging percentage from .377 to .403. Lively ball? Everybody started using steroids at once? Wilkins was part of the offensive explosion.
There's Jack Armstrong, who started the All-Star Game in 1990 in his first full season in the majors but wasn't even in the Reds' playoff rotation by the end of the season, but I'm going with Pete Schourek. The Reds won the NL Central title in 1995 and Schourek was a big reason why, going 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA and finishing second in the Cy Young vote to a guy named Maddux. Two years earlier, Schourek had gone 5-12 with a 5.96 ERA for the Mets. Schourek's season wasn't a complete fluke, as he had a 160/45 strikeout/walk ratio and a .271 average on balls in play that, while low, wasn't ridiculous or anything. He was a good pitcher, at least for that one season. He was never really completely healthy after that (three elbow surgeries) and pitched through 2001, but usually ineffectively.
Bill Hall is still floating around the majors (barely), essentially because he had a great season back in 2006. As Milwaukee's shortstop that year he hit .270 with 35 home runs -- the only shortstops in the past 50 years to hit more home runs in a season are Alex Rodriguez, Rico Petrocelli and Rich Aurilia. It proved to be a fluke season as Hall combined for 29 home runs the next two seasons and drifted into journeyman status, going from Milwaukee to Seattle to Boston to Houston to San Francisco and to Baltimore in 2012 (for seven games).
Here are Oliver Perez's ERAs from 2002 through 2010: 3.50, 5.47, 2.98, 5.85, 6.55, 3.56, 4.22, 6.82, 6.82. One of those is most unlike the others. While Perez had a couple decent seasons with the Mets, his 2004 season with the Pirates stands out like that patch of white on Rasheed Wallace's hair. He went 12-10 with that 2.98 ERA, striking out 239 batters in 196 innings. It was his age-22 season, and the Pirates believed they had a staff ace in the making. Instead, Perez was never able to harness his control in Pittsburgh. He re-emerged in the Mariners' bullpen last year, and since he's still just 31 might have a long career as a lefty reliever.
St. Louis Cardinals
How about Fernando Tatis? In 1999, Tatis hit .298 with 34 home runs, 107 RBIs, 104 runs, and .404 OBP. Not a bad season for a 24-year-old third baseman. That April, he accomplished one of the most amazing feats in major league history, hitting two grand slams in one inning (both off Chan Ho Park). He battled various ailments, spent 2004 and 2005 out of the majors, and while he returned for a couple decent seasons as a utility guy with the Mets in 2009 and 2010, that 1999 season remains his big shining moment.
The Leones got off to a 5-0 start in the 18-game, four-team semifinal round-robin tournament. They have enjoyed plenty of offense from Tatis, Gomez and Dirks, who have combined for 33 RBIs in 16 games while the pitching, anchored by Fernando Rodney, Nelson Figueroa and Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Kris Johnson, have recorded 118 strikeouts in a 16-game span.
The second spot in the finals is up for grabs between the Gigantes, Licey Tigres and Aguilas Cibaenas who are all within one game of each other with only two to play.
The Aguilas have added some firepower to their roster with the activation of Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes while Hector Luna, Miguel Tejada and Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss continue to contribute on offense. For its part, Licey added Angels shortstop Erick Aybar for the final stages of the round robin while the Gigantes continue to count on Erick Almonte, Alexi Casilla and Wilson Betemit to carry them into the finals.
Aragua making a charge in the semis
The Aragua Tigres, led by former major leaguer Edgardo Alfonzo, have won five straight games -- including a two-game sweep of the defending champion Anzoategui Caribes -- to move to within a half-game of the lead in the five-team Venezuelan League semifinal round robin.
The 38-year-old Alfonzo is batting .417 with an on-base percentage of .512 through 10 games in the semifinals and has paired well with Hector Gimenez (who signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox last week) and New York Mets utilityman Luis Hernandez to power the Tigres’ offense.
Meanwhile, the Magallanes Navegantes have kept themselves in contention despite losing the services of Chicago Cubs first baseman Brian LaHair, who was recalled by the Cubs. The Navegantes have won of their last four games and are caught in a fight for survival with the La Guaira Tiburones, who have enjoyed a surprisingly strong performance from imports Brian Sweeney (2-0, 0.71 ERA) and Les Walrond (2-0, 2.60 ERA) as they seek their first Venezuelan League title in 26 years.
However, the Caribes still look strong atop the round-robin standings, as Alexi Amarista, Gustavo Molina and Jose Castillo continue to pound opposing pitchers as they have combined to bat .377 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in their last 11 games.
The Zulia Aguilas have already been eliminated as they began the round robin with a nine-game losing streak.
Obregon, Guasave lead in semifinal series
The defending champion Ciudad Obregon Yaquis took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Mexican Pacific League semifinal series against the Mexicali Aguilas with an eighth-inning home run from minor-league veteran Iker Franco, who has carried the Yaquis in the series.
A one-time touted prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, Franco has combined with import Doug Clark and newly-acquired veteran Karim Garcia to lead the offense to the series lead. The Yaquis have also relied on solid performances from starter Marlon Arias and relievers Mario Mendoza and Luis Ayala to gain an edge over underdog Aguilas.
In the other semifinal, the Guasave Algodoneros hold a 2-1 series lead over the Culiacan Tomateros, but Culiacan, after being down 0-2 in the series, exploded for a 17-4 victory behind three homers by import Cory Aldridge, who became the seventh player to hit three homers in a playoff game in MPL history and the first import to do it since Willie Aikens in 1987. Javier Robles and Humberto Cota equaled the feat in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Aldridge, a free agent since 2010 when he played in five games for the Los Angeles Angels, led the attack which also included a rare home run from shortstop Ramiro Pena and another from outfielder Refugio Cervantes, who has played the last 12 seasons in the Mexican League.
Starter Rodrigo Lopez got the win as the series resumes in Guasave as regular-season ERA champ Francisco Campos takes the mound for Culiacan against Cincinnati Reds prospect James Avery for Guasave.
Mayaguez pounds Caguas in final series opener
The Mayaguez Indios’ bench came alive in the Puerto Rico Baseball League final series opener as last-minute replacements Danny Ortiz and Danny Gonzalez -- starting for the injured Randy Ruiz and Mickey Negron -- combined to go 5-for-8 with four RBIs to give the Indios a 10-1 victory over the Caguas Criollos.
Fresh off a semifinal series win over the Ponce Leones, the Indios took advantage of the rusty Criollos, who by winning the four-team regular season title had a 10-day layoff to await their opponent in the finals. Mayaguez pounded Criollos starter Matt DeSalvo, who lasted only three innings as Jesus Feliciano, Jeffrey Dominguez and Ruben Gotay all contributed to the attack.
Indios starter Bobby Livingston, a Mexican Summer League standout who most recently pitched in the minors in 2010 for the Tampa Bay Rays organization, pitched five scoreless innings yielding only a double to Criollos second baseman Alex Cora.
- Via Batter's Box, a lovely introduction to Alex Anthopolous.
- After reading this, I'm inspired to go to the nearest card shop and relive some fond memories.
- At some point soon, Baseball-Reference.com will add (some) Negro Leagues statistics, derived from research compiled by Scott Simkus and Gary Ashwill. This might be a good time to mention that the National Baseball Hall of Fame has now been keeping their own research under lock and key for three or four years now. Nice job, Hallers! You've been beaten to the publication punch by a couple of guys who did it just for the love of the thing.
- On Opening Day in 1914, the Boston Braves wore swastikas on the caps. Seriously. Thanks to some serious (baseball) detective work, Here's the whole story.
- Yeah, we never tire of complaining about the Hall of Fame. But Jason Whitlock is right: the Football Hall of Fame is a lot worse.
- Well, it's unanimous: the Rangers are going to win the American League West! And the Cardinals are a lock in the NL Central. Anyway, that's what it says here (bonus: finding out CHONE stands for, after the fact).
- Oh, if only the Johnny Damon of this winter could have jumped in a time machine and talked to the Johnny Damon of 2007.
- Dept. of Corrections, Part 1: In this post about the Mets' first-base candidates, I failed to mention Fernando Tatis (I have a lame excuse that I won't bore you with). But Tatis has indeed returned to the Mets, and ideally he'll platoon at first base with the winner of the Murphy/Jacobs Derby. My (provisional) apologies to Omar Minaya.
- Dept. of Corrections, Part 2: In this post about playing the All-Star Game in Cooperstown, I suggested that the Village couldn't handle the crowds. But of course that's preposterous. As Deputy Mayor Jeff Katz graciously reminds me, in 2007 Cooperstown accommodated 80,000 visitors for Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn's induction into the Hall.
The thinking, I guess, is that Murphy's going to wind up at first base and Martinez in left field eventually, so why not bow to the future now?
Well, because that's why they call it the future. It's not clear that Murphy, right now, will hit enough to play first base every day. Sure, you could platoon him at first base and he wouldn't kill you ... but then who's going to play left field? Right: young Fernando Martinez. But it's not clear that Martinez, right now, will hit enough to play regularly in the majors, and at 20 he needs to be playing regularly (or close to that). Fernandez currently sports a .315 on-base percentage in Triple-A, and there's little reason to think he'd do better than that in the National League. Not right now. In two or three years he figures to be one of the game's bright young stars. Right now, though? Probably not.
Here's the thing: Right now, the Mets have a first baseman. Fernando Tatis has backed up Delgado all spring, and he's been fantastic. You thought last season's .297/.369/.484 line was a bit of a mirage? I did. Well, this season it's .358/.417/.566. No, I know that's only 60 plate appearances and he's not really that good, but Tatis' career line is .266/.348/.447, which is better than Murphy or anyone else at hand is likely to do, right now.
Right now, the Mets have one big problem (or two, depending on how you look at it): their corner outfielders are not hitting. Murphy's not doing much in left field, and Ryan Church is doing even less in right field. Both of them bat left-handed. So does one of their backups, Jeremy Reed (who is hitting, but can't be expected to keep hitting). Gary Sheffield bats right-handed, but isn't hitting (and can't be expected to hit, ever).
The Mets need a good right-handed hitter, and they don't seem to have one on hand (unless you think this guy is the answer). I can't help thinking that a good general manager could find someone, just floating around out there, who can mash lefties and play left field or first base adequately. The Mets can survive, right now, without a guy like that. But if right now turns into July and August, people might start asking questions ...