Random Thoughts on a Random Pack of Baseball Cards

A piece from the mind of James Boyce

Roy Halladay

I always liked Roy Halladay, mainly because he usually went or tried to go the distance, tossing the complete game. A throwback to a older and lost generation – before there were closers, and 8th inning guys, and 7th inning guys, before quality starts became more of a mark of mediocrity. Anyway, Doc had himself a pretty good career, and looking back at the numbers puts things in perspective. 67 Complete games – the # 1 spot according to Baseball-Reference.com (a great site BTW) of active pitchers (I guess since the upcoming season has not yet started, BRef hasn’t yet recognized his retirement), which ranks tied for 636th (!) all-time. The next active pitcher doesn’t even crack the top 1000. Had to check the active leader list on MLB.com sortable stats to see Livan Hernandez w 50, CC Sabathia w 37, and Bartolo Colon w 35. Just for perspective, of recent HOF pitching nominees, Jack Morris is at 180 w 175, Roger Clemens at 327 w 118, Greg Maddux at 355 w 109, Curt Shilling at 495 w 83, Mike Mussina at 736 w 57, Tom Glavine at 750 w 56. Roy’s 20 Shut Outs rank 244th, again he was the active leader in that department. The next were Chris Carpenter w 15, Tim Hudson w 13, Bartolo Colon, Cliff Lee, and CC Sabathia w 12. Times have changed.

Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels has been a pretty solid pitcher for the Phillies, giving you strong contributions in WHIP, & Ks, along w a solid ERA. Wins have been hard to come by but that is always a fickle category. I’ve always tried to get him on my fantasy teams, as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have overshadowed him a bit in the past. I saw the back and forth on the post below on whether he is undervalued or overvalued, but that is all relative to where you select him. He’s been pretty reliable. That said, I’ve read that he is overcoming some shoulder soreness this spring, and I did come across (on Yahoo Fantasy Sports I think) a “red flag” on Hamels having yielded a whopping 62 doubles last year. That could either translate to more HRs to come or just a product of the weak Phillies OF defense, particular in LF. Having Hamels on my team last year, I do recall that often he would be sailing along and then become undone by a big inning – a couple of doubles and a HR will do that. Here’s hoping things work out for him – except against the Mets of course.

Todd Helton

The answer to many a Jayson Stark trivia question, Helton had a long and solid career. From ’00 to ’04, he was one of the best players in baseball, compiling a 37.4 WAR over 5 years. And then there were the next 9 years, where he compiled 17.9 WAR.

Chris Iannetta

A catcher with some pop, takes a walk – very low batting average but his on-base percentage is about 120 points higher than his average over his career. Contact lenses credited for a hot September last year.

Howie Kendrick

It seems like the Angels have been waiting for Kendrick to reach the upper echelon of 2nd basemen for years, alas, he never seems to get over that threshold. Most fantasy rankings have him coming in around 15th. In reality baseball, that’s pretty solid, in fantasy baseball, not so much, if in a normal 12 team league.

Juan Lagares

Lagares provided a bright spot for the Mets last year with some stellar D in CF. Of his 3.7 WAR, 3.5 was for his defense. His bat is suspect but he is young, and the Mets should give him a chance to see if that can develop. Instead they seem to be committed to two other older but Young(er) players in the form of Eric and Chris.

Chia-Jen Lo

I’ve been a baseball fan for many years, and a Strat-O-Matic and fantasy baseball fan as well. Though I have a couple of favorite teams (go Mets ! go Twins !) that I follow closely, I still know most of the players on all teams. Not the case with Chia-Jen Lo. A 28 year-old import from Taiwan, Chia-Jen threw 16.2 IP for the Astros last year as a rookie, striking out 20 and only walking 2. Pretty impressive K:BB ratio! Maybe he will get some Save and Hold opportunities.

Starling Marte

Marte was one of my fantasy team stars for most of the year until he missed a stretch with an injury late in the season. Doesn’t walk much, but hit well enough on top of the Pirate lineup to help spark them to their first winning season since 1992. 41 SBs, 83 Runs scored and a plus defender in left, Marte, along with reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, and hot OF prospect Gregory Polanco, could give the Bucs a young and formidable outfield for years to come. Shades of Bonds – Van Slyke – Bonilla, or going further back, Stargell – Alou – Clemente.

Joe Mauer

Definitely a lucky pack of baseball cards when you get your favorite player in the pack! The hometown boy who grew up to play for the hometown team even had twins this past year. Mauer is the active leader in Ave at .323 and 3rd in OBP behind Joey Votto and Albert Pujols at .405. Mauer played his first 10 years with the Twins mostly at catcher, winning 3 batting titles (the most by any catcher in baseball history) and an MVP award in that magical 2009 season where he led the league in average, on-base, and slugging. His 44.3 WAR over this time is 8 off the average for a HOF catcher or only 2 behind the average JAWS rating.
This year he moves to 1B. While Mauer doesn’t have 1B power (and I’ve read that Target field seems to suppress left-handed power by about 25%), I am hoping he will have a healthier time of it at first base. Perhaps he will mirror (with a little more pop) fellow Twin Rod Carew who shifted from 2B to 1B in ‘76, and won the MVP in ’77 with a .388 average. Other solid 1B hitters with minimal power (but with better gloves) – Keith Hernandez and Jon Olerud – both are on the borderline HOF chatter – so here’s hoping for many more solid seasons from Joe.

Bonus: Twins and Mets

Both clubs seem to have been a good pipeline of prospects up or on the way – Twin hitters Buxton, Sano, and Rosario, and Met pitchers Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard leading the way. Now injuries to both Sano and Harvey have pushed the division / playoff relevance clock back to 2015.

The 2014 Twins lineup is very mediocre, and there is really no reason to throw Mauer anything close to a strike, especially with anyone on base. On that note, I wish Mauer would swing a little bit more at the 1st pitch strike a la Kirby Puckett as I am sure the scouting reports all say Joe takes a strike or two. The Twins signed Nolasco and Hughes this off-season to bolter the starting pitching. Hughes intrigues me since his splits are all better on the road. The fact the Yankee stadium is a jet stream for left-handed batters and Target Field just the opposite should help a fly-ball pitcher like Hughes out a great deal.

The 2014 Met lineup is slightly better. Free agents Curtis Granderson and Chris Young were signed to bolster the lineup and Bartolo Colon to help with the young pitching staff. Fan favorite David Wright (the Joe Mauer of the Mets) looks to get the Mets back to at least .500. The problem for the Mets, however, is that they have quite a few positions with question marks. From earlier, how to work in Lagares and both C. & E. Young in the mix? Top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud needs to show he can stay healthy, hit, and manage a pitching staff, quite a lot for a young player. Who’s on first – Davis or Duda – lost causes or will one of them be able to break out? And will shortstop Tejada be able to get out of the Met doghouse? Let’s take a page from Davey Johnson’s Mets and move Wright to SS!

Anthony Rizzo

Already a top prospect for 3 different clubs, the Cubs are hoping that Theo Epstein favorite Rizzo will be the face of the franchise after locking him up with a 7 year deal. Rizzo had a very productive 1st two months in 2013, but the next 4 he struggled mightily. Some things to like were the extra-base hits (40 doubles, 23 HRs) and the walks (76). Some things not to like were the .233 average and the extended slumps and struggles as the season went on. He is only 25 so hopefully he gets stronger and improves upon last year.

CC Sabathia

Another pitcher to like for always wanting to take the ball and go the distance, Sabathia takes over the Roy Halladay mantel. CC looks to rebound from an off last year. I’ve read that he has regained his arm slot this spring, and perhaps that’s the fix for a rise of +1.40 in ERA. More interestingly is his 205 wins as CC is often looked at as the only active pitcher within realistic reach of 300. CC has been averaging around 15 ½ wins a year, and at age 33, with 3 years remaining on his current contract plus an option year, assuming 13.5 wins a year, that would bring him to around 260, still 40 wins short and at age 37. Maybe he’ll get another 3-year deal, maybe another 12 wins a year, and it’s going to be close. He needs to stay healthy, pitch well, and stay with the Yankees or another top club. It’s possible. For comparison, Tim Hudson is at 205 at age 39 and trying to come back from a major injury. Bartolo Colon at 189 at age 40. Mark Buehrle at 186 at age 34. AJ Burnett at 147 at age 37. Cliff Lee at 139 at age 36. Justin Verlander at age 31 is at 137 wins and plays for a good club. Another 3 years, 50 Ws, and he’ll still be 20 wins shy of CC (and we need to factor in any Kate Upton distraction). Felix Hernandez is at age 28 and 110 wins playing for a Mariners club that is wins challenged. Clayton Kershaw, 2 years young, is at 77. Madison Bumgarner, 2 years younger still, is at 49. So unless one of these guys is channeling their inner Jamie Moyer, CC looks like he’s the best bet. For comparison to some recent 300 game winners, at the start of their age 33 season, Randy Johnson had 104 wins and pitched to he was 45, and he needed them all to get to 303. Tom Glavine had 173 and pitched to he was 42 to get to 305. Roger Clemens had 182 and pitched to he was 44 to get to 354 (broke 300 at age 40). And Greg Maddux had 202 and pitched to age 45 to get to 355 (broke 300 at age 38).

Luis Valbuena

Valbuena has bounced around a few teams, but seems to have impressed the Cubs with some pop – 12 HRs – and patience – second on the team behind Anthony Rizzo with 53 walks (not too patient a club are these Cubs) – in only 331 ABs, though his average was a middling .218. He was the left-hand half of a platoon at 3B, but prospect Mike Olt will challenge him and Donnie Murphy for the 3B job this spring.

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