SweetSpot: Carlos Quentin

Firing Byrnes reflects Padres' expectations

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22

Just like that, the San Diego Padres have canned Josh Byrnes, their general manager for less than three seasons. That’s noteworthy because honchos get handed their heads so infrequently these days. Byrnes is the first GM to be canned since the Houston Astros axed Ed Wade after the 2011 season.

But firing your general manager after less than three full seasons is especially extraordinary in this day and age because of how much gets invested in picking the right guy and then anticipating that he’ll have five or six years to show you something. Usually, the people who own and operate franchises can also afford to take the long view, and want to see what a GM has achieved on the player development side of the slate before you write him off altogether. And considering that the Padres ranked in the top 10 in Keith Law’s farm system rankings, you can’t really blame Byrnes for anything amiss on that front.

Instead, firing a guy inside of three seasons speaks to something else, something more than a fundamental disagreement over goals and means or something similarly antiseptic and corporate. It’s a “Boss” move taken from the pages of George Steinbrenner’s ugly 1980s because you expected big results fast. Or it’s a somewhat embarrassing public admission that you might have hired the wrong guy. Which would be incorrect: Byrnes was promoted from within when the Padres lost GM Jed Hoyer to the Cubs, having hired already Byrnes as assistant GM the year before. They knew who they had.

The question you have to ask yourself is what stakes Byrnes was playing for at the major league level, and what the people he was collecting paychecks from thought he might win. The Padres added nearly $23 million to their payroll this offseason, moving up to an effective tie with the Royals for the 21st-largest payroll in the game -- still in the bottom third, but obviously an expense made with a sense that, even in a division with the Dodgers and Giants in it, that extra wild-card slot might be in reach if a few things broke the Padres’ way. Byrnes spent $15.5 million on Joaquin Benoit -- money you spend on a set-up man if you think you’re going places. The Padres are paying people more money than the Rays or A’s are, but to less point. They're spending more than the Indians and Pirates are shelling out on their paydays, and those two teams both went to the postseason last year.

In the broadest strokes, you can see where Byrnes thought he might have been breaking that cycle of small goals narrowly missed, but that’s because there was usually some plausible amount of upside in many of his moves. Trading for Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and even Andrew Cashner -- despite giving up Anthony Rizzo -- could all be understood at the time as bets that this was a young pitcher who could do better with a change of scenery. Then again, taking young, talented arms from other organizations and setting them loose in the best pitcher’s park in baseball often has a way of working out.

But in his days with the Pad people, Byrnes seemed to reliably lose on his biggest bets. Like banking on the idea that reliably fragile slugger Carlos Quentin was worthy of a four-year, $37 million deal. Or risking $8 million on the proposition that Josh Johnson would be healthy this year. And in the deal that he will perhaps never be allowed to forget in San Diego, two months into his tenure he dealt Mat Latos to the Reds for four guys who won’t add up to any amount of time spent employing Mat Latos -- equally disappointing prospects Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso, reliever Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez. That wasn't a money-driven deal, but a bet that they'd added franchise-level talents. Instead, it wound up becoming a classic blunder to rank with going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line: Overvaluing other people's prospects.

On some level, you can sympathize with Byrnes. He was operating a franchise that hasn’t built up and fielded a real contender since the late ’90s, when they made their last World Series appearance (and got squashed by the Yankees in the most boring Series ever). The back-to-back division titles they eked out in 2005-06 were the product of a weak division, with the Padres making the most out of their limited talent and opportunity -- they played .500 baseball and earned the right to be somebody else’s first-round speed bump. Two short-season squashings later, and skipper Bruce Bochy skipped town to play for real money and real stakes in San Francisco.

For Byrnes’ sake, you can hope he’ll find better fortune elsewhere as well. But having already gotten opportunities with the Diamondbacks and the Padres, he may well join fellow former wunderkind GM Paul DePodesta on the list of smart guys in the game who don’t get another top job soon.

As for the Padres, the question they’ll have to confront is whether or not to double down on the expectations they came into this season with, or whether they’ll want to start from scratch. Having Omar Minaya in the mix in the search for finding a replacement strikes me as telling -- the same man who was a wheeler-dealer with the Expos and Mets might have an opportunity to pull the trigger on some of the same kinds of moves to fulfill those expectations in San Diego.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

The big stories a year ago

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
Four weeks into the 2014 season, we’ve already had plenty to talk about. The Diamondbacks have burst out of the gate as baseball’s worst team. The Braves have had no issue moving on after losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to surgery, taking top billing in the NL East. Albert Pujols joined the 500 home run club and reports of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated. And who had the Brewers jumping out to a sizable lead in the NL Central?

Many of these developments, though, will change or be forgotten altogether as the season marches on. If you’re skeptical, come with me as we examine some of the newsworthy headlines from last April.

Carlos Quentin breaks Zack Greinke’s collarbone in brawl

On April 11, the Dodgers were in San Diego for a night game against the Padres with Zack Greinke on the hill. Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin led off the bottom of the sixth and was hit in the shoulder with a 3-2 fastball. He charged the mound and a bench-clearing brawl ensued. Quentin lowered his shoulder into Greinke, breaking the pitcher’s collarbone.

In the aftermath, Quentin was suspended eight games and received a $3,000 fine, and Greinke needed a one-month stint on the disabled list. There were debates about just how long Quentin should have been suspended, as many felt eight games was not enough despite the length being a record at the time. In fact, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, “He shouldn't play a game until Greinke can pitch.” But ultimately, interest in the debates waned and the issue was forgotten shortly after Greinke’s return.

The obvious comparison this year is the bench-clearing incident between the Brewers and Pirates, when Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole barked at Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez for staring at a fly ball that eventually bounced off of the center-field wall for a triple. Gomez didn’t take kindly to it and went after Cole. The benches emptied and violence ensued. Gomez used his helmet as a weapon while Martin Maldonado punched Travis Snider in the face, leaving a hefty welt. Maldonado and Gomez got five- and three-game suspensions, respectively; the Pirates’ Snider was suspended for two games and Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin for one. Cole was not suspended for his involvement.

As usual, there have been plenty of debates, particularly involving Cole’s lack of a suspension. Additionally, some have argued that Gomez’s emotion is part of the culture in which he was raised, and is ultimately good for the game. In a week, however, the incident will be forgotten and nothing will change, just like last April.

Justin Upton and the Braves-Diamondbacks trade

In January 2013, the Diamondbacks and Braves agreed to a headline trade. The Diamondbacks sent outfielder Justin Upton and infielder Chris Johnson to the Braves for three minor leaguers, pitcher Randall Delgado and jack-of-all-trades Martin Prado. The trade was initially hailed as a slight win for the Braves.

Upton started off his time with his new team on fire. In 112 plate appearances through the end of April, Upton hit 12 home runs with an 1.136 OPS. At the end of April, Johnson was also hitting .369 while Delgado was struggling in Triple-A for the D-backs and Prado had a meager .614 OPS. Some thought the trade could end up worse than it looked, even back in January.

But as players on hot streaks are wont to do, Upton cooled off. The 12 home runs he hit in April were followed by a grand total of four between the start of May and the end of July. He finished the season with 27 home runs, meaning that 44.4 percent of his home runs were hit in April, which encapsulated 17.4 percent of his plate appearances. Johnson wound up being the X factor in the trade, as he finished with a .321 average and matched Upton in WAR at 2.4, according to Baseball Reference. At the end of the season, the trade between the D-backs and Braves wasn’t nearly as much of a win for the Braves as it appeared at the end of April.

This past offseason’s biggest trade involved three teams. The Diamondbacks got Mark Trumbo, cash and two players to be named later; the Angels got Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago; and the White Sox got Adam Eaton. While the Diamondbacks may appear to have lost that trade in the early going -- Trumbo has minus-0.3 WAR despite an NL-leading seven home runs, and is currently on the DL -- a lot can happen in the next five months to change our evaluations.

Matt Harvey joins baseball’s elite, but leaves just as quickly

At the end of July in 2012, the Mets added Matt Harvey to their rotation and were immediately rewarded. He posted a 2.73 ERA over 10 starts, cementing his place in the Mets’ rotation. Harvey was even better over a larger sample size in 2013, and it all began in his first start. The right-hander shut out the Padres over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and held the opposition to two or fewer runs in eight out of his first nine starts.

The Mets shut Harvey down after his 26th start on August 24. He finished with a 2.27 ERA, 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 178 1/3 innings. He led the league in FIP at 2.01 and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting.

In September, it was revealed that Harvey needed Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Harvey had tried his best to avoid surgery, but ultimately went under the knife on October 22. The operation meant that he will miss most or all of the 2014 season, a serious blow to the Mets.

Pitchers, as a group, seemingly are needing Tommy John surgery now more than they ever have. Harvey was later joined by Medlen, Beachy, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker, Jameson Taillon and now Ivan Nova, among others who needed the surgery.

The Red Sox really were baseball’s best

At the end of April 2013, the Red Sox had baseball’s best record at 18-8. It was matched by baseball’s best run differential at plus-38. The Sox had finished 2012 at a disappointing 69-93, but made a lot of personnel changes, including at manager, during the offseason. Still, few had them winning the AL East going into the season. Only four of the ESPN experts polled in March picked the Red Sox to make the postseason, and all four of them pegged the Sox as wild-card winners, not division winners.

The additions of Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Jake Peavy and Koji Uehara proved to be just what the doctor ordered even though only Napoli and Carp came out of the gates hitting. Peavy wasn’t acquired until midseason in a trade with the White Sox, and Uehara didn’t become the closer until late June.

The Red Sox were fearsome enough with their core of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury. But the ebbs and flows of a season sometimes require tinkering, and GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell weren’t afraid to tinker when the situation called for it.

Right now, the Athletics (plus-36) and the Braves (plus-21) have the best run differentials in their respective leagues. Will they still be at the top when the end of the regular season rolls around? Will they make the appropriate adjustments to remain competitive through the dog days of summer? That is, after all, why they play the games.

Perhaps the most famous fight in baseball history took place on a Sunday afternoon in August of 1965, when San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal attacked Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with his bat, upset that Roseboro's return throw to Sandy Koufax after a high-and-tight fastball clipped his ear. The pictures from the attack were shocking, Marichal wielding his weapon, blood pouring from Roseboro's scalp. The Giants and Dodgers were already sworn enemies, of course, since their days battling for NL pennants in New York, and any Marichal-Koufax showdown was a big game with emotions running intense.

The Giants and Dodgers didn't meet again until three weeks later, for a Monday game -- Labor Day -- at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers were in first place, one game ahead of the Reds, two games ahead of the Giants. Don Drysdale would face veteran Warren Spahn. The Dodgers drew a sold-out crowd of 53,581, their second-largest attendance that season, and while the pennant race drama was certainly a factor, no doubt the anticipation about what might happen drew a few extra onlookers.

National League president Warren Giles banned Marichal from making the trip and while papers described the game as "tense" and Dodgers fans apparently littered the field with seat cushions at one point (game accounts didn't exactly explain why), apparently nothing happened except an exciting Giants victory in 12 innings.

The Carlos Quentin-Zack Greinke brawl certainly wasn't on the level of Marichal-Roseboro, and nobody really expected any fireworks to happen on a day the Dodgers and baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson. But ballplayers being ballplayers … well, we weren't exactly sure what would happen on this Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Quentin dropped his appeal and began serving his eight-game suspension, so like Marichal nearly 48 years was persona non grata. Plus, you get the feeling that the Quentin-Greinke feud is more personal, stemming from their days in the AL Central when Quentin played for the White Sox and Greinke for the Royals. Their teammates maybe weren't quite as invested in the whole affair as the Dodgers and Giants may have been back in 1965.

So nothing happened except a ballgame. A good one. I watched to Vince Scully tell Jackie Robinson stories and Padres pitcher Eric Stults belt a three-run homer to center field and Carl Crawford raise his average to .396 and A.J. Ellis make a baserunning blunder in the eighth inning. The Padres won 6-3, the game wasn't tarnished with a senseless knockdown pitches on Jackie Robinson Day and Dodgers fans didn't litter the field with anything but boos and cheers.

Marichal and Roseboro eventually made good after their careers ended, in part because Roseboro believed the incident had hurt Marichal getting elected to the Hall of Fame (he didn't make it until his third year on the ballot). I doubt Monday's quiet affair completely shuts the door on the Quentin-Greinke brawl -- let's see what happens the next time Quentin is in uniform for a Padres-Dodgers game -- but it's also not 1965 anymore. Players may still have an edge of animosity to the other team, but it's not the kind of edge ballplayers held 50 years ago.

Certainly, there are still some ongoing feuds in baseball -- Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina, for example, feeding off the dislike Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa held for each other. But La Russa is gone and Phillips and Molina simply ignore each other now. The White Sox and Tigers had a huge brawl in April 2000 that resulted in 16 players, coaches and managers being suspended, and while there was some ongoing dislike between the two franchises for a spell, that, too, eventually subsided.

That's how the game is these days. Everyone makes too much money to keep unnecessary grudges. Playing the game hard is fine, but you don't have to brawl or throw at somebody's head to play it the right way.

A night that could define the season

April, 13, 2013

Friday was just one of those nights when we give thanks for the existence of the MLB cable package.

Everywhere you turned there was something significant, bizarre, or significant and bizarre going on. Some of these events could define the season, or at the very least will help tell its story.

Let's break them down, starting with the most significant.

Reyes' injury

Is the Toronto Blue Jays' dream season over before it could really get going? The star-studded Jays were already off to an uneven start, and then Jose Reyes had to be carted off the field after an awkward slide while stealing second base in Kansas City. Last season, Mariano Rivera was a casualty of the Kauffman Stadium turf; this year, it's Reyes.

The Jays did manage to win, but losing a major asset will only make their path to the playoffs that much tougher. And as Paul Swydan pointed out earlier this week, they have a brutal first-half schedule.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is saying Reyes will be out at least one month, and it could be as many as three. Ouch.

The Nationals' collapse

On paper, the Washington Nationals are still baseball's best team. But if you want to nitpick, there are these: They have used Tyler Clippard -- one of the game's best relievers -- an alarming amount in recent years Drew Storen might still be dealing with confidence issues after blowing the 2013 NLDS, and every Ryan Zimmerman throw is an adventure.

So what happened on Friday? Clippard entered in the eighth with the Nationals leading 4-1. He wasn't sharp, walking three men and allowing a run without being able to get through the inning. Storen relieved him and got out of the jam, only to surrender two runs in the ninth. (Rafael Soriano was given the night off after working a lot the past few days.)

Storen wasn't hit hard, but one would imagine his confidence is still fragile, and this blown save against the Nats' main division rival won't help. And the tying runs? Those came when Justin Upton hit a slow chopper to Zimmerman with the bases loaded and two outs. Zimmerman fielded it cleanly but made an awkward sidearm throw that went into right field and allowed Ramiro Pena to score from second. Injuries have forced Zimmerman to change his arm angle, and he never looks comfortable when making a throw. The Braves took a 6-4 lead in the 10th on a two-run homer from Pena, and the Nats went quietly in the bottom of the frame.

Again, we're nitpicking on the Nats here, and this is a stacked team. But if you were looking for weaknesses, you could find them on Friday.

The Orioles' bad luck

It's been well documented that the Baltimore Orioles had some good mojo last year; look no further than their 29-9 record in one-run games. Friday's events suggested that their luck has turned.

With the score tied at two with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Vernon Wells hit a deep drive to center field. Adam Jones had a bead on it and was even blowing a bubble (as he's known to do) just as he was about to catch it. Not so fast, my friend. The ball bounced off his glove and three runs scored. It's a drop you never see a player like Jones make. Well, almost never.

Then, in the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles got the first two runners on before Manny Machado hit a soft one-hopper to Robinson Cano at second. And so began the strangest triple play you will ever see. Just watch for yourself.

Quentin's suspension

While all of this weirdness was going on, it was announced that Carlos Quentin would be suspended for eight games for igniting Thursday's brawl with the Dodgers' Zack Greinke. Earlier in the day, word got out that Greinke would miss at least two months with a broken collarbone, and it's easy to wonder if Quentin's suspension should have been heavier considering the severity of Greinke's injury.

I'm inclined to say yes. When you go after someone with the intent to harm, you must be prepared to face the consequences of your damage.

The suggestion that Quentin should have to sit out for as long as Greinke is injured is a bit harsh, but if the precedent for similar instances in which the pitcher was not hurt is eight games, then 15 games would be fair in this instance.

Other weird stuff
  • In Seattle, two Japanese pitchers squared off for just the 10th time in MLB history, with Yu Darvish going against Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • It was snowing when the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins got started at Target Field, with the kind of weather that usually makes it pretty hard to drive the ball. The Mets didn't get the memo, pounding out 16 runs while trouncing the Twins. John Buck hit a grand slam in the second inning and set a Mets record for most RBIs through 10 games with 19.

So yeah, wild night. Thank goodness we live in a world in which we could watch all of it while sitting on one sofa.
Carlos Quentin needs a reality check. Does he really think Zack Greinke was trying to hit him with a 3-2 pitch leading off the sixth inning of a one-run game? Considering the aftermath of Quentin's actions -- Greinke suffered a broken left collarbone in the brawl -- the Padres outfielder should be fined and suspended for at least 15 games.

And I don't disagree all that much with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly: "That's just stupid is what it is. He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch. If he plays before Greinke pitches, something's wrong. He caused the whole thing. Nothing happens if he goes to first base."

Yes, Greinke apparently mouthed something as Quentin walked toward him. Shake it off, Carlos. It's not as though you haven't been hit before. Plus, you'd think a veteran in his eighth year in the majors would have a little more awareness of the game situation.

The two players apparently have a history; this is the third time Greinke has hit Quentin. But this is what Carlos Quentin does: He gets hit by pitches. He led the National League last season with 17 despite playing only 86 games. He led the American League the year before with 23 despite playing only 118 games. It's a skill to stand there and take it and Quentin has honed it to perfection.

Greinke has hit Quentin three times now. Nick Blackburn has hit him four times. Erik Bedard and Jon Lester have hit him three times. Eighteen others have hit him twice. Nobody tried to hit him with a one-run lead in the sixth inning.

One of the improvements baseball has made in the past 15 to 20 years or so is the elimination of the bench-clearing brawl, or at least the near-elimination. If you watched baseball in the '80s and early '90s, they were almost a weekly occurrence. (Davey Johnson's 1986 World Series champion Mets famously had multiple brawls that season.) As much fun as brawls can be for spectators, they aren't a good thing, paramount being the injury risk. Cal Ripken nearly had his consecutive games streak ended because of a brawl. And now the Dodgers will be without Greinke for a period of time. Too much money is invested in players to put them at risk because Quentin can't keep his head on straight.

And, yes, there are times when pitching a little too far inside is necessary; it is, and should remain, part of the game. Throwing at somebody's head is always uncalled for; but so is charging the mound in a situation such as this.

Depending on how long Greinke is out, it's obviously potentially a big blow to the Dodgers' playoff hopes. They do have rotation depth with Chris Capuano (12-12, 3.72 ERA last year) sitting in the pen, but Capuano isn't Greinke and he fell off after a big first half a season ago.

Padres-Dodgers games always have a little extra spice. I suspect the next 15 times they meet will be very interesting.

Offseason report card: Padres

February, 13, 2013
2012 in review
Record: 76-86 (75-87 Pythagorean)
651 runs scored (tied for 10th in National League)
710 runs allowed (11th in NL)

Big Offseason Moves
Acquired Tyson Ross from the A's for Andrew Werner and Andy Parrino. Re-signed free agent Jason Marquis. Signed free agent Freddy Garcia.

OK, it's the Padres. They're not sitting on a pile of money like their rivals to the north. Still, when retread veterans Jason Marquis and Freddy Garcia qualify as your big moves, that's an uninspiring offseason even if your projected payroll will be higher only than the Astros', Marlins' and Pirates'.

The Padres gave starts last season to Kip Wells, Jeff Suppan and Ross Ohlendorf after a slew of injuries wiped out much of their rotation, so adding starting pitching options was the offseason priority -- the only requirements being the pitchers be cheap and have a pulse.

Ross has long been an interesting arm, but he was never able to put it together with the A's (they won 94 games even though Ross went 2-11 with a 6.50 ERA). It's a gamble but didn't cost the Padres much.

Position Players

Here's an interesting fact: The Brewers led the NL in runs scored, but the Padres scored more runs on the road than the Brewers. With the Padres, you have to factor in the difficult hitting environment at Petco Park, especially in the power department. The Padres hit 74 home run on the road, but just 47 at home.

The offense starts with NL RBI leader Chase Headley, who drove in 115 runs -- even more impressive considering the Padres only had mediocre OBP numbers from their 1 and 2 hitters. Headley had that monster second half, of course, hitting .308/.386/.592 with 23 of his 31 home runs. He had a higher road OPS than Miguel Cabrera.

The rest of the lineup shapes up as a middle-of-the-pack offense. Carlos Quentin can hit when he actually plays (86 games last year) and Will Venable and Chris Denorfia make for an excellent platoon in right. Cameron Maybin turns 26 in April but it's probably time give up hope for a breakout season; at this point, it's safe to assume he's .250 with an OBP in the low .300s, but makes up for his mediocre offense with above-average defense in center field.

For the Padres to improve, they'll need more power from first baseman Yonder Alonso, who homered just nine times as a rookie. Petco or not, he'll have to slug higher than .393 or the Padres will be looking for a replacement. Catcher Yasmani Grandal impressed in a 60-game rookie season, but he's been suspended for 50 games for a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Padres ranked 23rd in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-24), with the biggest liabilities being the statuesque Quentin in left field and Logan Forsythe at second. Rookie Jedd Gyorko has a career .319 average in the minors and hit 30 homers in 2012 (24 in Triple-A). A third baseman, the Padres tried him at second and he may have a chance to win the job there at some point.

Overall, the offense is probably a little better than the raw numbers indicate, although I'm dropping the grade a bit since Maybin is really the only plus defender.

Pitching Staff

Where to start? Staff ace Clayton Richard led the NL in hits and home runs allowed and struck out just 107 batters in 218.2 innings. No. 2 Edinson Volquez walked 105 batters. No. 3 Anthony Bass had a 6.35 ERA on the road. Marquis had been let go by the Twins after allowing 33 runs in 34 innings. Anyway ...

OK, so it's a bad rotation, its inadequacies masked somewhat by the Padres' forgiving home park. This isn't the rotation the Padres were hoping for a year ago. Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland both underwent Tommy John surgery. Top prospect Casey Kelly missed three months with a strained elbow ligament, although did return to make six late-season starts for the team. Andrew Cashner, acquired from the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo trade, started in the bullpen before moving to the rotation to help conserve his innings, and made a couple starts before straining a lat. He then cut his thumb in an offseason hunting accident and will begin the season on the disabled list.

No, the future of the Padres doesn't rest on Bass and Marquis, but on those four guys and younger prospects like Max Fried, Matt Wisler and Joe Ross. It's not a good rotation now, but it should be better in 2014.

Heat Map to Watch
What explains Headley's second half in 2012? For one thing, he started destroying fastballs. As you can see from the heat map, there is a lot of red. After hitting .303 with four homers against fastballs in the first half, he hit .392 with 11 homers against fastballs in the second half. From the numbers, it's hard to see exactly what happened. His swing percentage and chase percentage (on pitches outside the zone) were basically the same, so he didn't become more or less aggressive. He did improve his contact rate -- swinging and missing about 4 percent less often -- but that doesn't explain everything. Maybe he just hit the ball harder. Maybe he just got a little lucky. We'll find out in 2013.

Headley HeatmapESPNThe switch-hitting Headley feasted on fastballs in the second half of 2012.
Overall Grade


How many games will the Padres win?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,264)

Some people view the Padres as a sleeper playoff candidate, but I have a hard time seeing it with the current makeup of the rotation. Even if some of the young guys return or suddenly mature, they need a lot of things to go right. The offense could be interesting if Alonso adds some power, Headley does his thing again, Maybin improves and Grandal returns and hits, but, again, that's a lot of ifs.

Factor in that the Diamondbacks have improved, the Dodgers have added Zack Greinke and get full seasons from last year's trade acquisitions, and I'm not sure I see the Padres cracking .500.


Clearing the Bases: Wild, wild Wests

May, 31, 2012
First base: Carlos Gonzalez ripped a trio of home runs against the Astros in Coors Field. There’s no snark or punchline, just simple facts: The dude can rake, Coors is where he plays and the Astros aren’t the joke that people made them out to be in March.

So on a basic level, it looks like CarGo’s back on track to be that MVP candidate he looked like in 2010, when he won a batting title while cranking out 351 total bases (just two less than Matt Kemp had last year). But one odd or interesting thing about CarGo’s splits is that he’s generating longer at-bats but also swinging and missing a little more often. His unintentional walk rate -- the walks he draws himself, as opposed to the freebies he’s handed intentionally -- has slowly inched up year over year as a regular, going from 5.1 percent in 2010 to 7.5 percent in 2011 to 8.5 percent. Predictably enough, his at-bats are averaging more pitches, finally topping the league average this year (3.86 pitches per PA before Wednesday night).

Yet his rate of swinging strikes has also moved up, from a career average of 20 percent of his strikes to 23 percent. What’s that supposed to mean? The interesting thing there is that CarGo’s a fastball hitter, and a guy who offers -- and misses -- on off-speed stuff fairly often. But longer at-bats generally mean more hitter’s counts, and CarGo’s getting into hitter’s counts a little more often (40 percent of the time, versus 36 percent in 2011), and doing more damage in those counts, slugging .746 against .605 last year.

Having fun with numbers aside, what does it mean? I’d take these as symptoms of a still-young hitter coming into his own. CarGo’s just 26 years old, after all. And did I mention the dude can rake?

Second base: The Mariners scored 21 runs. No, wait, that’s not a punchline either, and it was off the Texas Rangers, the best team in the league. Every starter in Seattle’s lineup had a hit, so nobody was left out of the party. Third baseman Kyle Seager had four hits, and he didn’t even come close to having the best day at the office: Justin Smoak ripped a pair of bombs and a double while boosting his RBI season tally from 21 to 27, while Jesus Montero scored and plated four runs and hit a bomb of his own.

All sorts of stupid stuff comes out of this on the pitching side, like Hisashi Iwakuma being awarded a save for pitching the last three innings. Rule 10.20 says you award a save for a three-inning relief appearance for pitching “effectively,” but maybe his three runs allowed in three frames for the Mariners looked so effective compared to Yoshinori Tateyama’s night (two outs, eight runs allowed) that the official scorer was feeling especially generous to see this bloodbath brought to a merciful conclusion. At least Rangers starter Derek Holland can take some solace from the notion that he could only lose this game once.

But the notion of losing or winning this game just once is where the numbers get really silly. The Mariners were scoring just 3.79 runs per game beforehand, and can now point to this one ballgame representing almost 10 percent of their season runs scored tally, almost a third of the way through their season. How silly is that? Well, considering that the Mariners were already seen as doing three games worse than their expected record before this game -- using the Bill James-inspired Pythagenpat projection of team records per their runs scored and allowed, the Mariners were “supposed” to be 25-27 through their first 52, and now, after their big win, they’re supposed to be 27-26, or four games better than their actual 23-30. So by scoring 21 runs in one game, they now look like they’ve been even more “unlucky,” which is ridiculous, but that’s how these things work out.

Third base: Carlos Quentin’s making up for lost time at the plate. In his first three games back from the DL, the new Padre is 7-for-12 with three doubles and three homers, including Wednesday’s two-homer game against the Cubs. If the deadline market in the new two wild-card setup is likely to feature more buyers than sellers, you can bet that a franchise as out of it as the Padres franchise will be able to convert the free agent to be for top talent in July, especially if Quentin keeps thumping like this.

Home plate: The tweet of the night goes to well-monikered @SessileFielder, who noted of the new Brewers backup backstop, Martin Maldonado
Alcides EscobarDavid Richard/US PresswireBird? Plane? Or just Alcides Escobar levitating as he turns a deuce against the Indians?

Over/under: Wins for White Sox

March, 15, 2012
"I think we're going to be a lot better than some people think -- a lot better," Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said Wednesday to CBSSports' Danny Knobler.


Over/under prediction: 77.5 wins for White Sox


Discuss (Total votes: 1,698)

The White Sox won 79 games a year ago, a pretty remarkable achievement considering Adam Dunn hit .159 (lowest ever for a player with 450 plate appearances), Alex Rios had a .265 OBP (one of the 10 lowest figures ever for an outfielder with 500 PAs), Gordon Beckham hit .230 with a .296 OBP, Brent Morel posted a .287 OBP and Juan Pierre played 157 games.

That, my friends, is a lot of bad hitting.

The bad news is all those guys except Pierre are back. The good news is that they can't do any worse. The White Sox lost longtime starter Mark Buehrle and outfielder Carlos Quentin (second on the team in home runs and RBIs in 2011) via free agency. In their spots will be Chris Sale, moving from the bullpen, and prospect Dayan Viciedo. The rotation will count on better seasons from John Danks (4.37 ERA) and Jake Peavy (4.92 in 18 starts) and a repeat performance from 2011 surprise Philip Humber. Gavin Floyd fills out what could be a solid rotation, although one lacking a No. 1-type ace.

The bullpen is minus closer Sergio Santos, traded to the Blue Jays, but the White Sox believe they have depth with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, rookie Addison Reed and Will Ohman.

But it's the offense that will decide the fate of the 2012 White Sox. Do you believe in comebacks? If so, maybe you'll take the over on the betting line of 77.5 wins.

SweetSpot's NL players to see

February, 17, 2012

First the SweetSpot network took on the AL teams. Now they look at the NL. Which players are bloggers most excited to watch this season, and why?

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Upton was finally healthy for an entire season in 2011, and met all the lofty expectations placed on him in the second year of a six-year, $51.25 million contract signed when he was 22. He set career highs in homers (31), RBI (88) and stolen bases (21, caught nine times), while compiling a .289/.369/.529 line. Through their age-23 season, there have been only four others to match Upton’s 91 homers, 62 stolen bases and 119 OPS+: Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr. and Orlando Cepeda. Pretty elite company, and Upton still has time to mature as a player and team leader. I’m looking forward to watching this multifaceted young man do his thing again in 2012. -- Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward
A healthy Heyward has to be the player Braves fans are most excited to see this season. Through injuries, bad habits developed while playing injured and benchings, just about everything that could have gone wrong for such a talent did go wrong last year. Despite all of that, Heyward never hung his head or complained and actually managed to produce slightly above-league-average value in right field. Heyward has reportedly straightened his swing out this offseason and has really worked hard to get his game back on track. If Heyward can get a little more elevation on his swing, while maintaining the other aspects of his rookie performance, Braves fans could once again witness a once-in-a-generation talent leading the team to a successful season. -- Franklin Rabon, Capitol Avenue Club

Chicago Cubs: Travis Wood
In 2010, Wood made his big league debut for the Reds in an outing against the Cubs. He was brought in this offseason as part of the deal that sent Sean Marshall packing. For some, that was a disappointment considering Wood’s ERA last year was 4.84, but if we look beyond that we see that Wood posted a FIP ERA of 4.06, and Bill James projects him for an ERA of 3.75 in 2012. Also factor in that Great American Ballpark is a tough place to pitch; Wood had a 5.30 in the Gap vs. 3.58 on the road. Wrigley is not the hitters’ park we’ve all been told it is, primarily due to the wind blowing in often early in the year. The move from Cincinnati should do a lot toward boosting Wood’s production and confidence. -- Joe Aiello, View From the Bleachers

Cincinnati Reds: Mat Latos
Anticipation is building steadily for Latos' debut in a Cincinnati uniform. At 24 years of age and with a couple of excellent seasons already under his belt, the sky is the limit for him. For Reds fans, there is the hope that the club will have a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation for the first time in a couple of decades. Yes, there is reason for legitimate excitement in the Queen City. -- Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
It’s a debate in my mind between Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Both have tremendous gloves, bats and arms. Tulo trained this offseason with Jason Giambi in Las Vegas, and one could extrapolate some motivation from Dan O'Dowd's offseason acquisitions and trades. (O'Dowd believes the team needs leaders and better clubhouse guys, so what does that say about Tulo who plays the most important position on the field, is signed through 2020 and the face of the franchise?). What will Tulo do this year? I think 30 homers, Gold Glove-level defense and solidifying his place as the best player in baseball is a sure bet. Are the playoffs a sure bet for the Rockies? MVP for Tulo? I can't wait to see! -- Travis Lay, Blake Street Bulletin

Houston Astros: Jordan Lyles
With all of the changes, everyone seems to have forgotten that Lyles was recently the Astros’ top prospect. How quickly a young player that showed real promise last year has become overlooked in Houston. He's only 21 years old and had a number of very promising starts last year, posting a fair 4.41 ERA through July before running out of gas and getting shelled in August and September. He clearly needs to continue to build his stamina and strengthen himself to last the entire season. I'm interested to see how he continues to progress and if we can see him grow into the kind of player that can withstand the rigors of an entire major league season. I don't know how the Astros faithful have forgotten about Lyles so fast, but I think they'll be quickly and pleasantly reminded why he was considered a top prospect. -- Austin Swafford, Austin’s Astros 290 Blog

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kemp and Kershaw
Heaven knows it's hard not to be excited about the return of Juan Uribe or the potential of having Juan Rivera for a full season. But even so, there's a small, small part of me that is intrigued by these fellas named Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. They made a bit of an impression last year, and I can't say I'm not going to be, well ... OK, hanging on their every swing and pitch. But to avoid being too reliant on last year's stars, the new Dodger Roadrunner, Dee Gordon, will also be an exciting player to watch. -- Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

Miami Marlins: Logan Morrison
The player I'm truly most excited to see don a Marlins uniform this season is Logan Morrison. Following a splendid sophomore season in 2011, Morrison enters the new season as one of the game's top outfielders in the National League. With a solid approach and some power, a full season from Morrison could result in at least five additional wins for the Fish -- assuming Morrison can remain healthy. -- David Gershman, Marlins Daily

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke
Last season, the Brewers didn't even get to see their prized acquisition participate in spring training, as Greinke broke a rib playing pickup basketball and missed all of spring and the first month of the season. This season, no basketball for the former Cy Young award winner. He'll be there through spring training and Brewer fans hope to avoid the slow start he suffered through last season. Greinke posted just a 5.63 ERA despite an 80:12 K:BB ratio in May and June last season (mostly thanks to eight home runs) before calming down in the second half. Greinke finished strong, posting a 2.80 ERA thanks to a .233/.293/.373 line allowed in July, August and September. -- Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

New York Mets: David Wright
After a winter of discontent for Mets fans, it’s hard to be excited about anyone in particular. The team is in desperate financial straits, is slashing payroll at record rates, and appears destined to finish in last place. Wright, the one player for whom I reserve excitement, may not even be on the team after July 31. Still, I’m highly anticipating his 2012 performance, because after two disappointing seasons I’m convinced that Wright has too much pride to have a third. For the first time in his career, the Mets are “his” team -- he’s the de facto leader, the man who sets the example for everyone else. Chances are, Wright is determined to have a career year, and will pound opposing pitching with a savage vengeance -- all in the name of leading the Mets to a less-than-90-loss season. -- Joe Janish, Mets Today

Philadelphia Phillies: Antonio Bastardo
It was easy to be impressed by the sustained excellence of Atlanta's Jonny Venters last season, but Bastardo was quietly in the same neighborhood. Bastardo had a monster 2011 in which he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings and held opponents to a .524 OPS. If he can even approach his 2011 performance, Bastardo, along with Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies' army of young guys who throw hard (Mike Stutes, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon and so on), gives the Phillies' bullpen the potential to be one of the best in the National League. -- Michael Baumann, Crashburn Alley

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez
While Andrew McCutchen remains eminently exciting, we have a firm grasp on his star-level capabilities. I’m more excited to see whether Alvarez can rebound from his terrible sophomore season and get back to where his debut left off. The Pirates have a chance at a bright future, but all of their elite prospects are several years away. If there is any hope to be a competitive team in 2012, Alvarez has to give McCutchen and Neil Walker some help offensively. He has barely played a full season of games (169), and there is still time for him to meet the expectations that come as a No. 2 overall pick. Hey, Alex Gordon finally did. -- Paul Sporer, Pitt Plank

St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
Despite losing everyone's perennial favorite player to watch to free agency, the defending champs have several captivating players in 2012. Partly because fans haven't seen him in a year and partly because he throws one of the most entertaining curveballs in the game, Wainwright will be a sight for sore eyes as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. But the player with whom Wainwright will forever be linked in fans' memories, Carlos Beltran, also figures to be a pivotal and exciting addition to the post-Pujols roster. -- Matt Philip, Fungoes

San Diego Padres: Carlos Quentin
The acquisition of Quentin brings energy, excitement and more total bases (210 in 2011 with the White Sox) and home runs (24) than any Padres player had last year. The Padres now employ two hitting coaches -- a model just a few MLB teams use -- as Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell help with the workload hitting instruction requires. Quentin plays hard and he will help change the dynamics in the clubhouse. With the Padres' deep farm system and strong pitching, Quentin just might be the player to add the much needed spark of power in the middle of the order. -- Anna McDonald

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
I think I can speak for Giants fans everywhere when I say the player that I'm most excited to see play this season is Posey, and it's not even close. His injury in 2011 was a black mark on a year that we'd all like to forget. Beyond the numbers, Posey has quickly become the face of the Giants. He's young, energetic, talented and -- for us fans -- we hope healthy. Regardless of what happens, I'll be happy to see him back on the field in 2012. -- Chris Quick, Bay City Ball

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
How could it be anyone but Strasburg? When healthy, the most hyped pitching prospect in over a decade has delivered some fabulous pitching performances, and yet it feels like he is just scratching the surface of what he can do. He's as equally likely to blow guys away for a double-digit K performance as he is to shut a team down and let just two guys reach first over eight innings. He looked so good at the end of last year that the feeling is the only thing that can stop him in 2012 are the limits imposed by his own team to protect his recovering arm. -- Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball
Welcome to a new year for the Baseball Today podcast! Mark Simon and I resumed podcast operations on Tuesday and had a blast talking recent news, Hall of Fame and reminiscing with a special guest!

1. Gar Ryness, also known fondly as the batting stance guy (www.battingstanceguy.com), joined us to discuss his favorite players to impersonate, how he spends his offseason and New Year’s resolutions!

2. By this time next week we’ll know if the Hall of Fame will have pending members like Barry Larkin and Jeff Bagwell, and Mark and I debate the merits of not only some deserving players, but how the Hall decides things.

3. Of course, we’re also keeping up with the latest news! Omar Quintanilla is a New York Met! Yes, the NL East just got far tougher. OK, Carlos Quentin to the San Diego Padres? Why?

4. We’ve got emails! Should former players vote for the Hall of Fame? Are the Giants in danger of losing key rotation pieces? And is the stat total bases calculated correctly? Send more emails to baseballtoday@espnradio.com.

5. Seriously, Omar Quintanilla? OK, we do examine what R.A. Dickey is up to, literally, and talk resolutions and new punter-like stats to follow!

So join us on the first Baseball Today podcast of 2012! It promises to be a great year for baseball, and Baseball Today!

Pads acquire Quentin, but to what end?

December, 31, 2011
With the Carlos Quentin trade, it was fairly clear what one of the teams wanted. The Chicago White Sox were looking to clear salary, even before they got power lefty John Danks nailed down with a multi-year extension. You can add in the motivating factor of wanting to create an opportunity for hefty former third baseman Dayan Viciedo in the outfield -- not unlike their replacing Albert Belle with hefty former third-base prospect Carlos Lee in 1999.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Quentin
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)The Padres hope Carlos Quentin provides some sock in their lineup, but will he be a Padre after the 2012 season?
But for the Padres, things might not seem quite so clear-cut. Adding a player with Quentin’s track record as a power hitter might seem like exactly what they needed after finishing last in the major leagues in power with a .112 isolated power. However, the deal might seem a bit incongruous with some of their other actions this winter. They did just deal their nominal ace, Mat Latos, to the Reds for a package of goodies that, besides wild man Edinson Volquez, was prospect-heavy. That wasn’t a move made to win the NL West right away, but it did provide an already deep Padres organization with blue-chip prospects like Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.

That same organizational depth provided Josh Byrnes with the excess talent to trade for Quentin, but why go get Quentin in particular? He’s only going to be under club control for a single season -- and he's due a raise via arbitration -- before he reaches free agency. So this is a one-year rental, even less control than they have over their other major trade pickup this winter, Rockies closer Huston Street, who at least came over from Colorado already inked to a club option for 2013.

So where's the pattern, or is there one? The Pads’ other big-ticket veterans, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Jason Bartlett, are similarly locked up for 2012 with club options for 2013. Put that collection of veterans together, and that might sound like a club more geared towards trying to win now. After the Diamondacks’ Lazarus act last season, four different teams have made the playoffs from the NL West in the last four years. With Quentin in the middle of the order, you might hope for another Padres run at relevance, like 2010. Using their Pythagorean projected record, they should have been much better last year; with a stronger lineup they might be better equipped to make up ground after they finished 71-91, eight wins below their expected 79 last year.

After Quentin slugged .505 over four seasons for the White Sox, he would certainly appear to have the power to contribute to a contender. However, Quentin is an extreme fly-ball hitter, having just tied for 10th in the majors in 2011 for batted balls hit into the air. And now he’s moving from the Cell and its inviting short porch in left, to the most punishing environment for fly-ball hitters in baseball.

The Padres have been here before with extreme right-handed fly-ball hitters. Can Quentin power a Padres bid any better than Ryan Ludwick did? Ludwick had slugged .507 for the Cardinals over four seasons when he was traded to San Diego at the end of 2010. Upon introduction to Petco Park, Ludwick promptly stopped slugging.

You might hope that Quentin’s poor season in the Cell in 2011 suggested he was overcompensating -- he hit 17 of his 24 homers on the road with a .616 SLG to his .381 clip in Chicago -- but skepticism of what Quentin will do in San Diego is warranted, even with his two-year advantage of relative youth over Ludwick.

Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider Insider projects Quentin to hit .254/.344/.458 in Petco, good for a park-adjusted 123 OPS+. That would have led all Padres outfielders in 2011, but that’s setting the bar low; it would have also ranked third among Pads regulars behind journeyman Jesus Guzman and catcher Nick Hundley. That’s a fairly modest season to project for an All-Star outfielder in his age-29 season, or what’s supposed to be the tail end of a normal career peak.

Keeping that kind of projection in mind, if you can set aside any expectations of a 36-homer season, getting Quentin puts the Padres in a nice position for the time being. They’ve added better power than they had on hand -- or were likely to find on the market -- for prospects they might never really miss. That’s a nice deal for them in the near term, just as it’s nice for Quentin to get a shot to return to his SoCal roots in San Diego.

But if Quentin's a one-year rental, it's hard to see what this does for them in the big picture. If the Pads aren’t knocking around .500 three or four months into the season, Byrnes might just end up dealing Quentin at the deadline. After all, that was Ludwick’s ultimate fate last summer -- after Petco had sapped him of any real value. However, by virtue of the new CBA, free agents-to-be no longer generate picks for the teams acquiring them in-season, diminishing any value they’d get back in a trade. So the Padres might get 2013 draft-pick compensation, but that’s if they keep Quentin all year and then offer him arbitration -- which he might accept, after getting his arbitration-generated raise past $6 million this winter, and after a season in Petco that’s likely to hurt his prospects for better offers on the open market.

Not every trade turns into some spectacular feat of genius, or needs to be. In the end, credit Byrnes with making a worthwhile deal for the time being. Ultimately, it might just give them better power in just this one season, and make them a slightly better team -- for now.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Baltimore Orioles
Zach Britton was supposed to start the year in the minors but injuries to Baltimore's rotation forced his promotion. In five starts he is 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He is a ground ball pitcher (57.3 GB percent) who has already induced five double plays. Britton is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
--Dave McNeill

Boston Red Sox
There's only one word to describe Jed Lowrie's performance thus far -- irreplaceable. After the Red Sox stumbled to their forgettable 2-10 start, Lowrie stepped in to give their offense the spark it so desperately needed. While he won't continue to hit at a .390/.413/.620 clip over the rest of the season, he should still provide solid offensive production whether he's the starting shortstop or the utility infielder. Considering many left him for dead after a string of wrist injuries and a bout with mononucleosis, it's nice to see him proving his doubters wrong.
--Chip Buck, Fire Brand of the AL

New York Yankees
The Yankees were not sure what to expect out of Russell Martin heading into the season. Were his hip/back injuries fully healed, or would he continue his four-year slide from the guy who hit 19 HRs, batted .293/.374/.469 and managed to steal 21 bases as a 24-year-old catcher with the Dodgers to the guy who hit just five home runs with a .248/.347/.332 line in 97 games during 2010? After 19 games, Martin looks back to that 24-year-old form having already hit six home runs with a nifty .290/.364/.594 line. The Yanks could not be more pleased.
--Jason Rosenberg, It's About the Money

Tampa Bay Rays
Sam Fuld has become a Twitter sensation with his diving catches, clutch hits and base-stealing exploits. A throw-in in the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs, Fuld has taken over the leadoff spot and is hitting .315/.380/.472 with 16 runs and 10 steals -- a key reason the team is now 14-11 after its 0-6 start.
--David Schoenfield

Toronto Blue Jays
The added pressure of a big contract extension, a paucity of pitches to hit and the immutable laws of physics haven't stopped Jose Bautista from elevating his production to dizzying heights, as he's hitting .360/.529/.760.
--Drew Fairservice, Ghostrunner on First

Chicago White Sox
It's hard to be pleasantly surprised by a player who would have won the MVP award three years ago if not for a freak injury that prematurely ended his season, but after two tough seasons, Carlos Quentin is hitting .305/.394/.632, with six homers and an MLB-leading 13 doubles, certainly qualifying as the most pleasant surprise on a team that's been largely devoid of pleasantness for the past three weeks or so.
--Bill Parker, The Platoon Advantage

Cleveland Indians
On a team on which nearly everything has gone right, Justin Masterson's performance has been the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise. His stuff and the underlying numbers don't support his current line (5-0, 2.18 ERA), but if he's able to keep the walks and homers down and ground balls up the way he has so far, he'll keep that ERA somewhere in the threes, and will be a rock-solid starter at the top of the rotation of what is suddenly looking like a very exciting young team.
--Bill Parker, The Platoon Advantage

Detroit Tigers
After a strong showing over the final months of 2009, catcher Alex Avila struggled as a rookie in 2010, hitting just .228 with seven home runs in 333 PAs. So far he's showing the hitting tools predicted of him last year, as he's hitting .290/.356/.537 and tied with Miguel Cabrera for the club lead with 16 RBIs.
--David Schoenfield

Kansas City Royals
In what was to be his third "make or break" season, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon has shown there is plenty of life in his bat, getting off to a torrid start, hitting .327/.382/.485. His April included a career-best 19-game hitting streak. On a team that needs production anywhere it can find it, Gordon has emerged as a steady No. 3 hitter ahead of Billy Butler. Finally, they have formed the dangerous offensive tandem Royals fans dreamed about for years.
--Craig Brown, Royals Authority

Minnesota Twins
Trying to find a pleasant surprise on this team is like getting your molars removed without pain medication. We'll go with Jason Kubel, who had a disappointing 2010 after a great showing in '09. He's hitting .333 with a team-leading two home runs. Yes, we said team-leading.
--David Schoenfield

Los Angeles Angels
Dan Haren and Jered Weaver have been brilliant, of course, but you already knew they were great. The real surprise has been Howie Kendrick. He's hitting just .280, but he's already got six homers -- his career high is 10 -- and his walk rate is way up from his career norms, too. If he manages to retain the power and patience and his batting average climbs back toward his career .294, they've got a superstar on their hands.
--Bill Parker, The Platoon Advantage

Oakland A's
After missing all of last season and signing a one-year deal for a million dollars in the offseason, Brandon McCarthy fended off a host of contenders for the fifth starter's spot this spring. McCarthy has pitched 35 1/3 innings in his first five starts, has a 5.75 K/BB ratio and has allowed only one home run. His 3.57 ERA is impressive but his 2.44 FIP speaks to just how good he's been (already 1.1 WAR).
--Dan Hennessey, Baseballin' on a Budget

Seattle Mariners
Many would point to Michael Pineda as the surprise for the Mariners, but in some ways his success was almost expected. Instead, Justin Smoak's start has been the more pleasing one, especially in light of his struggles last year. Now instead of pressing at the plate and looking nervous, Smoak seems calm and is letting everything come to him. He's an important part of the Mariners' future, so it's wonderful to see this type of progress for him.
--Conor Dowley, Pro Ball NW

Texas Rangers
The reliever who was expected to join the Texas rotation this year was Neftali Feliz. Instead, Ron Washington decided to move Alexi Ogando there late in spring training. He's been brilliant, going 3-0 in five starts, with a 2.30 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. His strikeout rate (6.0 per 9) doesn't support the rest of the numbers, so expect some regression to set in.
--David Schoenfield

The Guillen Number: White Sox rely on HRs

April, 27, 2011
Paul Konerko Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireOzzie Guillen may talk about small ball, but his teams have relied on sluggers like Paul Konerko.

Maybe it’s a matter of the kind of player Ozzie Guillen was. With a career line of .264/.287/.338, and just 28 career homers in more than 7,000 plate appearances, he was anything but a bopper. Or maybe it’s because of his characteristic volubility in praise of little ball and stealing bases. After all, this is the manager who heaped elaborate praise on the unlikeliest of trios almost five years ago: Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, and Nick Punto of the Twins, the original-edition "little piranhas."

As a result, you might think of Ozzie as a skipper inclined to live up to the "Ozzieball" rep, scrapping after one run and giving much consideration to "the little things." If you did, you’d be wrong, because this is a classic case of do as I do, not as I say. For all the talk, Ozzie’s ballclubs have almost always been anything but the subtle nibblers he might publicly profess admiration for.

Instead, Ozzie's squads have lived up to an older label associated with Chicago’s South Side: the Hitmen. That name for the 1977 team described a club that hit a then team-record 192 home runs. Playing in a different park now -- and a veritable slugger’s paradise at that -- Ozzie’s squads topped that total in four of his first five seasons as a skipper from 2004-2008.

The contrast between what Ozzie praises and what his lineup actually does is such that Joe Sheehan, my former colleague at Baseball Prospectus, coined a stat term to describe it: the Guillen Number, which is the percentage of a team’s runs scored on home runs. While Ozzie might be complimented for talking about doing the little things, his lineups have reliably relied on the home run.

From 2004-2010, the Sox scored more of their runs via the home run than any other team in baseball -- 43.2 percent, against a major league average of 35.4 percent. Here’s their ranking during Ozzie’s tenure managing the Sox:

The only teams over this time to deliver a higher Guillen Number than the 2008 White Sox were the 2010 Blue Jays and 2005 Rangers. The top 10 list for the Guillen Number is three Sox teams, two Reds teams, and five different one-time entries. The Sox are second in the major leagues over this same stretch when it comes to delivering Earl Weaver Specials -- the three-run home run -- with 173 swatted in seven seasons, a tally that ranks only behind the Yankees’ 195. (For the cruel, the team with the lowest Guillen Number from 2004-2010 was the Royals at 28.6 percent, while the team with the lowest tally of Weaver Specials was the Pirates with 88.)

Now, if you’re a "Sesame Street" fan, you’ve probably noticed from the table that one of these years is not like the others. That’s 2010, the only year the Sox plated less than 40 percent of their runs on homers, a low point in Sox slugging. That was the season after the Sox swapped out sluggers Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye and indulged Ozzie’s oft-stated need for speed by trading for leadoff mediocrity Juan Pierre, while trying to get by with Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones at DH.

This resembled the blueprint for how the Sox won in 2005: Instead of stocking left field with a slugger, the eventual champs put speedster Scott Podsednik in left while getting by with journeyman Carl Everett at DH. Podsednik hit zero homers but led the league in stolen-base attempts, and the Sox got power from the other eight slots in the lineup, including 23 homers from Everett. Fast-forward to 2010, and just as Podzilla had before him, Pierre led the league in stolen-base attempts while hitting one homer. Unfortunately, the Sox did not get power from the rest of lineup, and finished with the lowest team Isolated Power number in the Ozzie era. As a result they scored almost 60 fewer runs than in 2008, and more than 100 fewer than 2006.

Now, this really isn’t anything that should surprise you. The White Sox' home park has been and will continue to be one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball. In the last three years, it ties with Texas’ home field for total offensive environment, with a park factor of 111 for runs (as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions). In homers, it led all of baseball from 2008-2010, indexing at 135 (NuYankee was next, at 134), handily beating out even humidor-humidified Coors Field (124). And for right-handed power, there’s no better place on the planet to be in the majors these days, as the Cell’s short porch in left helps generate a park factor of 145.

Because the fences are where they are and the park plays how it plays, the Sox have tried to go back to what has worked for them by signing Adam Dunn, hoping to replace the power they so casually discarded when they let Thome walk away. With Paul Konerko still going, Carlos Quentin healthy and bopping, and Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, and Alexis Rios capable of delivering more power than most up-the-middle combos, you might expect this lineup to deliver on the 2005 playbook that won the Sox a World Series, delivering plenty of power while indulging Ozzie’s speed fetish with Pierre’s infrequent on-base antics.

Unfortunately, Quentin has been the only Sox regular beyond Konerko doing any damage in the early going, while Dunn -- after missing a week after an appendectomy -- has hit just two homers. Consistent with the team’s Guillen Number clip on Ozzie’s watch from 2004 to today, Dunn plated four of the nine baserunners he’s driven with those two clouts. That’s an important reminder that for the Sox to get back out of the basement they won’t need to change how they score, but how often.

Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Maybe we'll make this a regular Monday feature. I'll spend a few minutes and report back with some of the interesting nuggets that pop out to me.
  • I love looking at a hitter's walk-to-strikeout ratio early on because I think it's indicator on whether a player has had a good approach or is just on a hot streak. Matt Kemp is hitting .474/.545/.719 and has more walks (9) than strikeouts (8). That's a big change from a guy who had a 170/53 SO/BB ratio in 2010. Look, Kemp could go backwards the first week the hits don't start falling and start swinging at pitches out of the zone, but so far the improvement looks real.
  • Who is Jonathan Herrera and why is he hitting .400? Colorado's little second baseman (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) is winning the everyday job from Jose Lopez ... and deserves to. Lopez is a bad major league baseball player. Herrera has 11 walks against only three strikeouts and is 4-for-4 in stolen bases. Lopez played 150 games last year and drew 23 walks. Herrera never walked much in the minors, so I'm not sure if this is a new skill or a two-week fluke.
  • One last note here: Troy Tulowitzki is starting to receive a lot more respect from pitchers. He had a 48/78 BB/SO ratio in 2010, but is already at 14/5 this season. It's no surprise that the Rockies lead the NL in walks so far.
  • American League teams averaged 4.45 runs per game in 2010, the lowest average since 4.32 in 1992. So far, scoring is down again, to 4.33 runs per game. Home runs aren't down that much (and are higher than 1992), but the league average is just .247. The AL hasn't hit that low since a .239 mark in 1972 -- the last season before the designated hitter rule.
  • A lot of people pointed to a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) as a reason Detroit's second-year center fielder Austin Jackson was unlikely to repeat his excellent rookie season (.293/.345/.400). So far they've been proved right, as Jackson continues to whiff at astronomical rates (19 K's in 65 PA's) and is hitting just .175. The Tigers don't really have another good center-field option, as Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn are best suited for left field.
  • Good news for the White Sox: Carlos Quentin is mashing again, with nine doubles and three homers through 15 games. If Quentin can approach his 2008 numbers, when he was an MVP candidate before getting injured early in September, that lineup looks even more dangerous.
  • Have pitchers figured out Brett Gardner? His basic plan last year was "don't swing." He worked that approach for 79 walks and a .383 OBP. This season, he's hitting .140/.213/.209 with four walks and 14 strikeouts. With no power, pitchers may as well throw him strikes.
  • Ryan Franklin and Matt Thornton each have four blown saves already. The single-season record is 14, shared by five pitchers -- Bruce Sutter, Bob Stanley, Gerry Staley, Rollie Fingers and Ron Davis. But those guys did that in a different time, when the closer often came in in the seventh or eighth inning. The most blown saves since 2000 is Ambiorix Burgos of the 2006 Royals. Wow, his numbers that year were pretty astonishing: 16 home runs allowed in 73 innings. Some of those blown saves came as a setup man. Brad Lidge had 11 blown saves in 2009 for the Phillies and Huston Street had 11 for the A's in 2006.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

White Sox collecting outfielders

December, 15, 2009
Improbably enough, the Dodgers have unloaded Juan Pierre. Because, you know, the White Sox didn't already have enough questionable outfielders. Anyway, whatever happens there should be some good fodder for the jokesters. Big League Stew:
    The trade, however, also opens the door for a lot of great nicknames for the South Siders' outfield when it happens to be comprised of Pierre, former Los Angeles teammate Andruw Jones and expensive Blue Jays castoff Alex Rios. "The Discounted", "The Ned Colletti Memorial Outfield" and "Where's Vernon Wells (notes) When You Need Him?" happen to be my early favorites. (Feel free to submit your favorite nicknames below.)

    All three outfielders were previously signed to big money contracts that they didn't live up to, though the White Sox are only responsible for the full weight of Rios' deal. If Rios and fourth musketeer Carlos Quentin don't live up to their potential, there will be a lot of room for ridicule -- particularly from a North Side fanbase that already had its fill of Pierre.

    As for the Dodgers, Colletti was able to turn Pierre's Ramirez-replacement stint last summer into a maneuver that got rid of half a $18 million bench player. The return might not be that great, but it's sadly all about small penny-pinching victories for Colletti these days.

Hey, this could work.

What's more likely is that the White Sox will have one of the ugliest outfields in the American League. Rios is coming off a lousy season, while Pierre has zero power and Jones doesn't look anything like the player who was, just three years ago, heading for the Hall of Fame.

Throw in Carlos Quentin, and Kenny Williams has collected four outfielders who have been good in one of the last two seasons, but not in both. Like I said, this could work ...