SweetSpot: Tim Salmon

This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:

Underappreciated non-Hall of Famers

March, 18, 2011
Our friend Craig Calcaterra had a very interesting post over on Hardball Times the other day, in which he attempted to identify the greatest living player from each team . His answer for the Angels really caught my eye:
Angels: Another toughie for me. Jim Edmonds, unless you think he had too much time in St. Louis. Tim Salmon? Yikes.

And it’s true that the Angels haven’t really had a great player who has stayed with the team for long enough to really jump out as you as their greatest ever, but Edmonds and Salmon? That seems a stretch. Nolan Ryan? Chuck Finley?

The answer that came to me right away, though, was Jim Fregosi, a shortstop who made six All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and was mentioned on MVP ballots in eight different seasons with the team. Fregosi’s largely been forgotten today, in part because he was done as a full-time player at just 29 and never came particularly close to compiling a Hall of Fame career, and in part because he wasn’t flashy. His .268/.340/.403 Angels line was great for a 1960s shortstop (116 OPS+), but certainly isn’t eye-catching, and he didn’t have the defensive wizardry or speed of a Luis Aparicio. Fregosi was simply a very good player and for a fairly long time.

[+] EnlargeDave Stieb
AP Photo/Tony DejakDave Stieb won 175 games for the Blue Jays during his career.
It happens that that’s one of my favorite subjects: players who may not be Hall of Famers, but who were very good (sometimes great) players who have been unfairly forgotten by fans. This ignores guys who I think are terribly underrated but SHOULD be in the Hall -- Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell -- but those players are talked about often enough in Hall discussions.

So here’s a randomly ordered and by no means exclusive list of players -- all still living and all active at a time when many of us were around to see them -- who, like Fregosi, were very good players who I think should be remembered more than they are:

Dave Stieb: My personal crusade. In my opinion, Stieb was both the greatest player in Blue Jay history and the greatest pitcher of the 1980s -- leading the decade (minimum 1,500 innings) with his 127 ERA+ and his 45.2 WAR -- but he never gets credited as either. Stieb had a legitimate case to win the Cy Young Award three different times, but never finished higher than seventh.

Reggie Smith: One of those guys who did everything pretty well, but nothing exceptionally well. He hit for a high average, but didn’t hit .300; had good patience, but didn’t post .400 OBPs; had good power, but topped 30 homers only twice and 100 RBIs only once (he did post 90-plus three other times); he played pretty good defense, but wasn’t a Gold Glover. That’s pretty much the recipe for an underappreciated player.

Jim Wynn: Much the same story as Smith, but then add in that he was hitting in the Astrodome, which pulled his numbers down across the board. Put him in Enron/Minute Maid over the past decade and he’s a superstar.

Robin Ventura: We haven’t “forgotten” him, but his 1.3 percent showing on the 2010 ballot shows how quickly we’ve forgotten (if we ever really appreciated) how much his on-base ability, power and (especially) defense brought to the table. I wouldn’t have voted for him with so many better third basemen on the outside looking in, but he’s closer than he’s ever been given credit for.

Kevin Appier: He suffers from having his best years with Kansas City (which was better than it is now, but still not great), and from not being Maddux, Unit, Pedro, Clemens, Mussina or Schilling. But he was brilliant from 1990-97 and was robbed of the ‘93 Cy Young.

Keith Hernandez, Will Clark and John Olerud: I consider them as about the same player. All three are underrated because they didn’t do much of the one thing first basemen were expected to do: hit home runs. They did almost everything else very well, though, and you could make Hall cases for each (I think they fall just short).

Shane Mack: Yes, there are much more deserving candidates for this last spot than Mack. Plug in Eric Davis or even Ray Lankford for the same reasons (similar to the reasons Smith and Wynn get overlooked). But as a Twins fan, it pains me to see how quickly Mack has been forgotten even by my fellow fans. He was a key part of the 1991 champs, and you could make a good argument that he was the team’s best player throughout his four-and-a-half seasons with the club.

That’s 10 total names (including Fregosi), but doesn’t purport to be a top 10 (the exercise is much too subjective for that). Let me know in the comments section if you’ve got any great non-Hall players YOU think need to be recognized.

Bill Parker blogs at The Platoon Advantage and rants about Dave Stieb and Shane Mack quite regularly on Twitter.