SweetSpot: Rafael Perez
We're back with more divisional position rankings for 2012. You can scream, you can holler, you can protest and call me names. But just because I rated your player lower than you think he deserves doesn't mean I hate your team.
(Here are the NL East and NL West rankings.)
1. Alex Avila, Tigers
2. Joe Mauer, Twins
3. Carlos Santana, Indians
4. Salvador Perez, Royals
5. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
The AL Central might not be baseball's glamor division, but it may have three of the top five catchers in the game if Mauer bounces back from his injury-plagued campaign. Since we're not certain of his health, I'm going to give top billing to Avila, who had the best hitting numbers of any catcher outside of Mike Napoli and plays solid defense. I wouldn't be surprised if Santana explodes; with his power-and-walks combo, all he has to do is raise his average 30 points and he'll be one of the most valuable players in the game. Considering that his average on balls in play was .263, there is a good chance of that happening. Perez hit .331 in 39 games; OK, he won't do that again, but he doesn't turn 22 until May and puts the ball in play. There's no shame in being fifth in this group but that's where I have to place Pierzynski, who keeps rolling along and is now 36th on the all-time list for games caught.
1. Prince Fielder, Tigers
2. Paul Konerko, White Sox
3. Eric Hosmer, Royals
4. Justin Morneau, Twins
5. Matt LaPorta, Indians
In 2009, when Morneau played 135 games, he hit .274 AVG/.363 OBP/.516 SLG. Even if he replicates that line, he may rank only fourth. Konerko has hit a combined .306 with 70 home runs the past two seasons. He's 104 home runs from 500 but turns 36 in March, so he's probably four seasons away; not sure he'll hang on that long, but who knew he'd be this good at this age. If Hosmer improves his walk rate and defense and Konerko declines, Hosmer could climb past him. If it doesn't happen this year, it will happen next. The most similar batter to him at age 21: Eddie Murray.
1. Jason Kipnis, Indians
2. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
3. Johnny Giavotella, Royals
4. Alexi Casilla, Twins
5. Ramon Santiago, Tigers
Well, this isn't exactly a Robinson Cano/Dustin Pedroia/Ben Zobrist debate, is it? Kipnis' bat is a sure thing, as evidenced by his excellent play after his call-up (.272 average and .507 slugging in 36 games). His glove was once a question mark but now appears solid enough that he looks like a future All-Star to me. Can anybody explain what has happened to Beckham? He's second mostly by default; he's gone downhill since his superb rookie season in 2009 but is only 25, so there's hope that he'll find those skills again. Giavotella has some potential with the bat (.338/.390/.481 at Triple-A), which is more than you can say for Casilla and Santiago.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2. Mike Moustakas, Royals
3. Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians
4. Danny Valencia, Twins
5. Brent Morel, White Sox
We'll go with the idea that Cabrera is Detroit's starting third baseman, although I predict he'll end up starting more games at designated hitter. Manager Jim Leyland will end up doing a lot of mixing of his lineups, but for this little exercise we have to choose a starter. Moustakas didn't tear up the league as a rookie and I worry about his ability to hit lefties (.191, homerless in 89 at-bats), but he showed more than fellow rookies Chisenhall and Morel. Valencia doesn't get on base enough and he rated poorly on defense in 2011. I hope he's at least good in the clubhouse. Morel was terrible all season and then exploded for eight of his 10 home runs in September and drew 15 walks after drawing just seven the previous five months. Maybe something clicked.
1. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
2. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
3. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
4. Alcides Escobar, Royals
5. Jamey Carroll, Twins
Peralta had the best 2011 season, but he's a difficult guy to project. He had an .804 OPS in 2008 but dropped to .691 in 2009. He had a .703 OPS in 2010 and then .823 in 2011. I just don't see a repeat season, at the plate or in the field. Cabrera didn't rate well on the defensive metrics, and after a strong start he wore down in the second half. Ramirez has turned into a nice player, with a good glove and some power, and he even draws a few walks now. Escobar is a true magician with the glove. Carroll is actually a useful player who gets on base (.356 career OBP), but he's pushed as an everyday shortstop and he'll be 38. He'll be issued the honorary Nick Punto locker in the Twins' clubhouse.
1. Alex Gordon, Royals
2. Alejandro De Aza, White Sox
3. Ben Revere, Twins
4. Michael Brantley/Shelley Duncan, Indians
5. Ryan Raburn/Don Kelly, Tigers
I'm not sure what to do here. After Gordon, I just get a headache. We'll pretend to believe in De Aza after his impressive stint in the majors (171 plate appearances, .329/.400/.920). He's hit in Triple-A for three seasons now, and while he's not going to post a .400 OBP again, he should be adequate. Revere is one of the fastest players in the majors, but he's all speed and defense; he hopes to grow up to be Brett Gardner, which isn't a bad thing, but he'll have to learn to get on base at a better clip. Brantley doesn't have one outstanding skill so he'll have to hit better than .266 to be anything more than a fourth outfielder; Duncan provides some right-handed pop as a platoon guy. The Tigers have Delmon Young, but I'll slot him at DH. That leaves supposed lefty masher Raburn and utility man Kelly to soak up at-bats; both had an OBP below .300 in 2011, although Raburn has hit better in the past.
1. Austin Jackson, Tigers
2. Denard Span, Twins
3. Grady Sizemore, Indians
4. Lorenzo Cain, Royals
5. Alex Rios, White Sox
I can't rate Sizemore any higher since he's played just 104 games over the past two seasons, and he hasn't had a big year since 2008. Rios was terrible in '09, OK in '10 and worse than terrible in '11. I'm not betting on him.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
2. Brennan Boesch, Tigers
3. Jeff Francoeur, Royals
4. Josh Willingham, Twins
5. Dayan Viciedo, White Sox
Choo would like to forget 2011, but there's no reason he shouldn't bounce back and play like he did in 2009 and 2010, when he was one of the 10 best position players in the AL. I don't expect Francoeur to deliver 71 extra-base hits again, but maybe he'll surprise us. Viciedo is apparently nicknamed "The Tank," which makes me wonder how much ground he can cover. He did improve his walk rate last season in the minors and turns 23 in March, so there's still room for more growth.
1. Billy Butler, Royals
2. Travis Hafner, Indians
3. Ryan Doumit, Twins
4. Delmon Young, Tigers
5. Adam Dunn, White Sox
Has there been a bigger prospect disappointment than Young in the past decade? I mean, yes, there were complete busts like Brandon Wood and Andy Marte, but those guys had obvious holes in their games, while Young was viewed as a sure thing, a consensus No. 1 overall prospect. But his bat has never lived up to its billing. Other than one decent year in Minnesota, he has low OBPs and he clearly lacked range in the outfield. His career WAR on Baseball-Reference is minus-0.2 (1.6 on FanGraphs), meaning he's been worse than replacement level. He's just not that good, Tigers fans.
No. 1 starter
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers
2. John Danks, White Sox
3. Justin Masterson, Indians
4. Luke Hochevar, Royals
5. Carl Pavano, Twins
Masterson was better than Danks in 2011, and I do believe his improvement was real. He absolutely crushes right-handers -- they slugged an anemic .259 off him. Danks had two bad months but has the longer track record of success. Even in his "off year" he had a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate than Masterson. If you want to argue about Hochevar versus Pavano, be my guest.
No. 2 starter
1. Doug Fister, Tigers
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
3. Gavin Floyd, White Sox
4. Francisco Liriano, Twins
5. Jonathan Sanchez, Royals
Yes, sign me up for the Doug Fister bandwagon club. Jimenez's fastball velocity was down a couple miles per hour last season but the positives are that his strikeout and walk rates were identical to 2010; he'll be better. Floyd isn't flashy but he's now made 30-plus starts four years in a row, and he'll become a very rich man when he becomes a free agent after this season. Sanchez won't have the luxury of pitching in San Francisco (and to eight-man NL lineups).
No. 3 starter
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
2. Scott Baker, Twins
3. Philip Humber, White Sox
4. Bruce Chen, Royals
5. Josh Tomlin, Indians
I could be underrating Baker, who was excellent last season, but only once in his career has he made 30 starts in a season. Tomlin's fans will disagree with this ranking, but he's a finesse guy who relies on the best control in baseball (21 walks in 26 starts). He's the kind of guy you root for, but the league seemed to figure him out as the season progressed.
No. 4 starter
1. Felipe Paulino, Royals
2. Rick Porcello, Tigers
3. Jake Peavy, White Sox
4. Derek Lowe, Indians
5. Nick Blackburn, Twins
Scouts still love Porcello's arm and I know he's just 23, but he's made 89 big league starts and shown no signs of getting better. His WHIP has increased each season and his strikeout rate remains one of the lowest in baseball. Paulino has an electric arm -- he averaged 95 mph on his fastball -- and is getting better. How could the Rockies give up on him after just 14 innings? How could the Astros trade him for Clint Barmes? Anyway, kudos to the Royals for buying low on the guy who may turn into their best starter. Peavy can't stay healthy. Lowe has led his league in starts three out of the past four seasons, but I'm not sure that's a good thing anymore. Blackburn is a poor man's Lowe, and I don't mean that in a good way.
No. 5 starter
1. Chris Sale, White Sox
2. Jacob Turner, Tigers
3. Aaron Crow/Danny Duffy, Royals
4. Fausto Carmona/David Huff/Jeanmar Gomez, Indians
5. Brian Duensing/Jason Marquis, Twins
Welcome to the AL Central crapshoot. Turner and Sale have the most upside, but one is a rookie and the other is converting from relief. Crow will also be given a shot at the rotation, but his difficulties against left-handed batters (.311 average allowed) don't bode well for that transition. Even if the artist formerly known as Carmona gets a visa, what do you have? A guy with a 5.01 ERA over the past four seasons. Duensing is another typical Twins pitcher, which means he at least throws strikes. His first full season in the rotation didn't go well, so of course the Twins brought in Marquis, yet another guy who doesn't strike anybody out.
1. Jose Valverde, Tigers
2. Joakim Soria, Royals
3. Matt Thornton, White Sox
4. Chris Perez, Indians
5. Matt Capps, Twins
Four good relievers plus Matt Capps. I do admit I'm a little perplexed by Perez, however. In 2009, he struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings. In 2010, that figure fell to 8.7 but he posted a pretty 1.71 ERA. In 2011, it was all the way down to 5.9, but without much improvement in his control. Perez blew only four saves but he did lose seven games. He survived thanks to a low .240 average on balls in play. He's an extreme fly-ball pitcher but didn't serve up many home runs. Bottom line: I'd be nervous.
1. Indians -- Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Nick Hagadone
2. Royals -- Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Jose Mijares
3. Tigers -- Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Al Alburquerque
4. White Sox -- Jesse Crain, Jason Frasor, Will Ohman, Addison Reed, Dylan Axelrod
5. Twins -- Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop, Lester Oliveros
If you're starting to think I'm not high on the Twins for this season, you would be correct.
4. White Sox
I like the youthful exuberance of the Royals, plus the likelihood of improvement from the young players and the possibility of some midseason reinforcements from the minors. The depth of the bullpen will help bolster a shaky rotation, and this just feels like an organization that is finally starting to believe in itself. The Indians are riding last year's positive results and enter the season knowing they might get better production from Choo and Sizemore and full seasons from Kipnis and Chisenhall. I'm not knocking the Tigers here, but they do lack depth in the pitching staff and the pressure is on them.
The final tally
1. Tigers, 65 points
2. Royals, 55 points
3. Indians, 54 points
4. White Sox, 46 points
5. Twins, 35 points
No surprise here: The Tigers will be heavy favorites to win the division with a lineup that should score a ton of runs. I don't think it's a lock that they'll win -- Verlander, Avila, Peralta and Valverde will all be hard-pressed to repeat their 2011 campaigns, for example. But the Royals and Indians appear to have too many questions in the rotations, the White Sox have serious lineup issues, and the Twins have a beautiful ballpark to play their games in.
Especially if you’re 0-5.
Fausto Carmona is starting for Cleveland. He gave up 10 runs on Opening Day. We don’t see pitchers give up that many runs too often -- only 15 times in 2010 (including four times by Brewers pitchers). If Boston’s offense is to get on track, this may be the pitcher to do it against, although Carmona had a pretty solid 2010 (13-14, 3.77 ERA, 4.11 FIP).
Jon Lester goes for Boston. A popular Cy Young pick, Lester gave up five runs in his first start and didn’t strike out a batter. He had just one start with fewer than four K’s last season, a one-strikeout game when he got knocked out in the second inning.
Let’s follow along with a running diary. How often do you get to write about the presumed best team in baseball when it's off to an 0-5 start?
Top first: Carmona gets two quick ground balls (his specialty) and then strikes out Dustin Pedroia. That gives Pedroia five K’s against zero walks so far, odd since he entered the season with more career walks than strikeouts.
Bottom first: Lester strikes out Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. He needed just 11 pitches. Nice start.
Top second: It’s cold enough -- 38 degrees -- that the pitchers are allowed to breathe on their hands while on the mound, and Carmona is going to his mouth before nearly every pitch. Carmona gets Kevin Youkilis to line out softly on one of his hard sinkers. Can’t be a fun pitch to hit on a chilly day. That’s the big pitch in his arsenal -- a 91 mph darting sinker that he really has no idea where it’s going. He threw it for strikes often enough last season and in 2007, when he had that great playoff start against the Yankees, but couldn’t locate it in 2008 and 2009, when he had a 5.89 ERA.
Top fourth: NESN tries to kill Heidi Watney by making her try the fried-chicken-and-waffle sandwich that is sold at Progressive Field. I know this is shocking, but she reports that it wasn’t very good.
Bottom fourth: Nice diving stop by Adrian Gonzalez to take a hit away from Choo. Let’s just say that Prince Fielder wouldn’t have made that play.
Lester has Carlos Santana 0-2, thought he struck out him out on a 2-2 pitch and then walks him. Santana -- remember, he had knee surgery in August -- tries a surprise steal and almost makes it, but Pedroia makes a nice tag on a short-hop bad throw from Jarrod Saltalamacchia. As they say, that’s a little thing that doesn’t show up in the box score. I liked the play from the standpoint that this Cleveland lineup is going to have trouble scoring today off Lester.
Except Shelley Duncan just walks. Could have been first and second with one out; instead, it’s one on and two outs.
Lester gets out of it but has to run up his pitch count. Now at 71 through four. Carmona has 72. Although they’ve allowed only three hits combined, neither looks as though he'll last past the seventh. You can't watch a baseball game these days without being a slave to pitch counts, and I don’t know whether that makes me feel smarter or sadder.
Top fifth: Jerry Meals rings up Saltalamacchia on an outside pitch. Salty gives a glare. David Ortiz had a few words the previous inning after getting rung up. C’mon, Meals is cold! Or maybe he’s just hungry for a chicken-and-waffle sandwich. Which has me thinking: Do umps eat anything during games? Do they carry a Power bar in their back pocket for a burst of energy in the seventh inning? Considering the average Red Sox game lasts about four hours, it may be wise to do so.
Top sixth: Carl Crawford pokes a long fly to right-center that doesn’t reach the warning track. Tough day for hitters, with the wind blowing in and the cold air. That’s probably a home run in June.
Bottom sixth: Two more strikeouts for Lester, giving him nine. This is the pitcher everyone expected to see this season.
Top seventh: Another 1-2-3 inning for Carmona. Comment from my friend Mike, a Red Sox fan: "Two hits for $160 million? At least we have the eventual bullpen collapse to look forward to."
Bottom seventh: Duncan leads off with a double into the gap. I’d pinch-run here. How many chances are you going to get? Salty makes a diving catch on a foul bunt attempt behind him. Nice play. Jason Varitek couldn’t have made that catch since 2003. Lester gets out of it.
Top eighth: Rafael Perez enters with two on and one out to face the $160 million man. And Crawford grounds out softly to third. But at least he moved the runners up! That's just good baseball. Perez gets ahead 0-2 on Pedroia, then we get: foul ball on slider, foul ball that trickles foul, nice block by Santana on a slider in the dirt, foul tip on another pitch in dirt, ball low, trickler back to the mound, nice job by Perez to gun down Pedroia.
Squeeze! Perfect bunt. Right count, right pitch. (With Bard, you knew a fastball was coming behind in the count.) Love it. Great baseball.
Top ninth: Cleveland’s closer is Chris Perez. Why wouldn’t you leave the lefty Rafael Perez in to face Gonzalez to lead off the inning? No offense to Chris Perez, but he’s not exactly Mariano Rivera or even Jose Mesa in his good Cleveland years. As nice as the squeeze call was, this was a bad decision by Manny Acta.
Take that, Schoenfield! Gonzalez grounds out into the shift, 4 to 3.
Youkilis grounds to shortstop.
Perez works carefully to Ortiz and walks him on five pitches. Darnell McDonald in to run.
Wow ... stunning ending. This may not be Boston’s year. J.D. Drew lines the first pitch off the knee of Perez; it bounces to Everett at third base. McDonald rounds second base too sharply and slips, Everett fires back to Cabrera and McDonald is out on a bang-bang play. McDonald may have gotten his hand on the bag, but Dan Iassogna calls him out. Safe or not, it was bad baserunning.
As Remy says, "Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. This is unbelievable."
And the mighty Red Sox fall to 0-6. I wonder what kind of reception the Fenway faithful will give their heroes in their home opener on Friday.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
(I am not including Chris Perez, who was excellent as a closer last season. He is the closer. Everyone else does … everything else.)
Still, even understanding the attrition rate of young relief pitchers (not to mention the fact that not one of these players looks to be elite), signing Durbin seems, well, kinda pointless.
There is one especially galling issue with Cleveland relievers from 2010, though:
- Lewis: 19 BB in 36.1 IP
Pestano: 5 BB in 5 IP
Smith: 24 BB in 40 IP
Tony Sipp: 39 BB in 63 IP
Overall, Cleveland relievers walked 210 batters in 484 1/3 innings. This is simply too many free passes. And while Herrmann only walked nine hitters in 44 2/3 innings, he gave up six homers, negating much of the value of limiting walks. (Only Sipp with 12 and Hector Ambriz with 10 allowed more for the Tribe in relief.)
Still, a funny thing happened on the way to making a joke about the Cleveland bullpen: The bottom five guys were Aaron Laffey, Jamey Wright, Ambriz, Kerry Wood, and Todd. Laffey is kind of an ersatz starter/swingman: of the other four, Wright was waived, Ambriz blew out his UCL, Wood was traded (and subsequently signed with the Cubs), and Todd will go back to playing Luke on "Modern Family" in all likelihood. (Untrue, but he does look youthful, and he is unlikely to pitch much in the majors in 2011.)
Eveyone else in the bullpen had an ERA under 4.15.
Overall, the Indians sported a 3.83 ERA even with Woods' 8.10 ERA and Ambriz's 1.76 WHIP. In the second half, the bullpen posted an ERA near 2.50.
Still, it's probably nice to have a veteran arm: on the salary list for the Cleveland 40-man roster, two pitchers are listed as making more than $430,000, and one is Rafael Perez at $795,000. (Fausto Carmona is well-paid.) And Durbin did a better job at limiting free passes (27 in 68 2/3 IP) than most Cleveland relievers last season.
If there's a concern with Durbin, it's that he's been worked pretty hard the past three seasons. Now 33, he threw 87 2/3, 69 2/3, and 68 2/3 innings as a pure reliever over that stretch. The last time someone got aired out like that at a similar age before signing with Cleveland, he was Juan Rincon, and we did not care for the experience. On the other hand, Durbin gave up only four homers in 37 2/3 innings in Philadelphia's bandbox, so there's some hope than Rincon II is not forthcoming.
Cleveland's rotation really needs a lot to go right to be even average, and there are reasons to think there will be some extra innings for the bullpen to absorb. Keep in mind, though: this was, in all likelihood, the thinking behind signing Jamey Wright, too.
Steve Buffum writes The B-List, a blog about the Cleveland Indians.
- The problem -- an ineffective bullpen -- may be easy to identify. The solution, not quite as easy.
"I think what's most troubling is that the inconsistency in the bullpen continues to be an issue," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, in the visitors' dugout before Wednesday's game at Fenway Park. "We've got to take a deep look at it and be thorough in how we examine it. We got to examine how we construct it, pick our players, we got to examine our performances, our coaching, everything. We've spent time doing that already, but we need to continue to do it and we need to do it more in depth."
After watching his bullpen blow Tuesday's lead in Toronto, surrendering seven runs in the seventh inning on the way to 10-6 loss, Shapiro joined the team in Boston. Although it was a scheduled trip and not a reaction to his team's play of late, Shapiro announced a series of moves intended to shore up the shaky 'pen.
Left-hander Aaron Laffey, Thursday's scheduled starter, was moved into the bullpen before Wednesday's game against the Red Sox, left-hander Rafael Perez was sent to Triple-A Columbus and left-hander Jeremy Sowers will be recalled from Columbus to start Thursday's game in Boston.
In 13 games this season, spanning 10 2/3 innings, Perez has allowed 18 earned runs -- including 19 hits, one home run, nine walks (two intentional), five strikeouts, a hit batter and a balk -- for a 15.19 ERA.
Shapiro said the goal for Perez in returning to the Minors would to give him "the chance to just catch his breath a little bit and get in some regular work down there."
Looking at Perez's Pitchf/x data, he seems to be throwing as hard as ever. My guess is that he's just going through a little run of bad luck, which perhaps isn't being helped by (now) a small crisis in confidence. If he's healthy, he'll dominate in Columbus and be back with the big club soon.
It's nice to see Sowers getting another shot. The sixth pick in the June draft five years ago, Sowers has little star potential. He just doesn't miss enough bats. But he's only 26 -- well, he turns 26 next week, and in 45 Triple-A starts he's 19-9 with a 2.53 ERA. Aaron Laffey's been good in the minors, too, and he's a few years younger than Sowers. Eventually there will be room for both of them in the rotation, as Anthony Reyes doesn't figure to last a whole lot longer in his current role.