MLB Hitters As Pitchers: Imaginary Scouting

  • Wednesday, August 24, 2011 10:13 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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If you’re like me, you probably find it endlessly entertaining when position players are forced to pitch in blowouts or long extra-inning games. Usually it’s a utility-type guy, like Wilson Valdez earlier this year for the Phillies or Skip Schumaker on Tuesday for the Cardinals.

But it’s also fun to think about how other players would do on the mound. For example, there was talk Sunday that the Dodgers’ James Loney -- a big pitching prospect in high school -- might pitch against the Rockies to help a worn-out bullpen. Alas, he didn’t get the chance.

Luckily there exists an alternate dimension that is very much like ours except guys who became big league position players here instead became pitchers there. To provide a glimpse into this strange world, I am providing scouting reports for some of its pitchers with whom you might be familiar.

JEFF FRANCOEUR
Role: Closer
Best Pitch: Four-seam fastball
Biggest Weakness: Lack of secondary pitches
Key Stat: Average velocity of 102.3 mph
The Scout Says: Francoeur on the mound is like a runaway train: He’s full speed ahead in one direction until something derails him. Best pure velocity I’ve ever seen, but his promise every year to develop a breaking ball has never gone anywhere. He throws hard enough to be pretty effective and usually blows guys away early in innings, but when the manager overextends him, he can blow up big time.

COLBY RASMUS
Role: Mid-rotation starter
Best Pitch: Curveball
Biggest Weakness: Awareness
Key Stat: Career average of 4 2/3 innings per start
The Scout Says: This guy is an ace in the making if he can put it all together, and he shows flashes of brilliance. But he also pouts when things go wrong, shakes off more signs than anyone I’ve ever seen and just stares into space when his pitching coach goes out to talk with him. Plus, once the game gets into about the fifth inning, you can see him just lose interest. He actually keeps a Game Boy on the mound next to the rosin bag and will start playing with it while the infield throws the ball around after strikeouts.

JEFF MATHIS
Role: Back-of-the-rotation starter
Best Pitch: N/A
Biggest Weakness: Pitching
Key Stat: Career ERA of 13.26
The Scout Says: As I understand it, Jeff Mathis is pitching in the major leagues because his manager feels he makes the offense better by forcing them to score so the team doesn’t lose by an embarrassing amount of runs. I once saw an umpire eject him following back-to-back-to-back-back home runs, just to move the game along.

RYAN HOWARD
Role: Ace
Best Pitch: Four-seam fastball
Biggest Weakness: Home runs
Key Stat: Career .764 winning percentage
The Scout Says: Howard’s a solid pitcher, but he has only one plus pitch, can struggle badly against right-handed batters and gives up a lot of fly balls. That leads to a lot of homers. Objectively, he’s about an average starting pitcher, who has a good defense behind him and lots of run support. Of course, he went 21-4 last season, which many held up as an example of him “pitching to the score.”

JOSE BAUTISTA
Role: Ace
Best Pitch: Cutter
Biggest Weakness: Fielding
Key Stat: 1.72 ERA past two seasons
The Scout Says: I saw Bautista pitch a few mop-up innings back in 2008 and was so unimpressed I actually just doodled instead of writing a scouting report. Then I saw him as a starter last season and he had revamped his mechanics and added a plus cutter. The guy was a completely different pitcher, which has led to some vague accusations that he’s messing with the ball, but I haven’t seen any actual evidence of it.

JUAN PIERRE
Role: Left-handed relief specialist
Best Pitch: Eephus
Biggest Weakness: Velocity
Key Stat: Career 1.7 K/9
The Scout Says: Sometimes it seems like Pierre literally cannot get the ball from the mound to home plate. During a recent appearance I clocked his pitches between negative-13 and 6 miles per hour, which allowed the catcher and umpire to play a game of chess between offerings.

JACK CUST
Role: Middle reliever
Best Pitch: Splitter
Biggest Weakness: Pitch counts
Key Stat: Career 16.4 K/9, 8.7 BB/9
The Scout Says: Cust is probably the most difficult man in baseball to make contact against because of his hard, diving splitter. But he also falls in love with it too much and throws it even when behind in the count, which leads to a lot of free passes. He is a bit of an albatross for managers because he can only pitch once every three days or so due to averaging 42 pitches per inning.

HUNTER PENCE
Role: Mid-rotation starter
Best Pitch: Screwball
Biggest Weakness: Control
Key Stat: Has led league in wild pitches in every full season of his career.
The Scout Says: Pence has the worst mechanics I’ve ever seen. The result is a lot of walks, but his delivery, which is all elbows and knees coming at the batter, is deceptive and generates lots of swinging strikes. And that screwball is just so fun!

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Choosing MLB's 2011 Division All-Stars

  • Friday, July 8, 2011 10:25 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Imagine this crazy All-Star scenario: a team for each division, creating a six-team tournament. Will it happen? No. Should it happen? Also, no.

But if it did, theoretically, I decided to see what the teams might look like. It was an exercise in curiosity about division strength, and also boredom.

Here is a glimpse at each team, ranked in ascending order of perceived strength. Note: I only picked an abbreviated roster for each squad, because that felt like plenty under the circumstances. Another note: Selections are based on 2011 performance only.

AL Central
Starting lineup: 1. Denard Span - CF, 2. Alex Gordon - LF, 3. Miguel Cabrera - 1B, 4. Paul Konerko - DH, 5. Brennan Boesch - RF, 6. Jhonny Peralta - SS, 7. Alex Avila - C, 8. Wilson Betemit - 3B, 9. Gordon Beckham - 2B
Bench: Asdrubal Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Quentin, Travis Hafner.
Starting pitchers: Justin Verlander, Justin Masterson, Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Phil Humber.
Relievers: Sergio Santos, Glen Perkins, Al Alburquerque.

Comments: It’s going to be super awkward when Beckham walks into the team clubhouse and Miguel Cabrera is all like, “What are you doing here? You have a .291 wOBA as of July 7.” And then Beckham gets all defensive because he wasn’t the one who picked the team, and besides, it’s not his fault the other options at second were Chris Getz and Alexi Casilla. What, does Miguel want to cover the whole right side of the infield by himself? No? That’s what I thought.

AL West
Starting lineup: 1. Howie Kendrick - 2B, 2. Michael Young - DH, 3. Josh Hamilton - LF, 4. Nelson Cruz - RF, 5. Adrian Beltre - 3B, 6. Justin Smoak - 1B, 7. Mike Napoli - C, 8. Peter Bourjos - CF, 9. Elvis Andrus - SS
Bench:Ian Kinsler, Bobby Abreu, Coco Crisp, Erick Aybar
Starting pitchers: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, C.J. Wilson, Michael Pineda.
Relievers: Jordan Walden, Brandon League, Scott Downs.

Comments: This team obviously has the misfortune of drawing from only four organizations. With two of those being the A’s and Mariners, it’s not surprising the offense is a little underwhelming. Luckily, with the Angels not being defending division champs, Mike Scioscia is not this team’s manager, which means he can’t find a way to play Jeff Mathis (even though he’s not on the roster anyways).

NL West
Starting lineup: 1. Carlos Gonzalez - CF, 2. Matt Kemp - LF, 3. Pablo Sandoval - 3B, 4. Troy Tulowitzki - SS, 5. Andre Ethier - DH, 6. Justin Upton - RF, 7. Miguel Montero - C, 8. Todd Helton - 1B, 9. Jamey Carroll - 2B
Bench:Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Cameron Maybin, Chase Headley
Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Daniel Hudson, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner.
Relievers: Heath Bell, Mike Adams, Sergio Romo.

Comments: Frank McCourt is suing this team for using his players without his permission. This has Helton all bent out of shape, but Ethier just looks at him and is like, “Welcome to our world.” Anyways, this lineup has good thump, something the starting pitchers here are confused but excited about. Luckily the clubhouse is stocked with some helpful brochures titled, “Run Support and You: A Guide To Feeling Loved.”

NL Central
Starting lineup: 1. Andrew McCutchen - CF, 2. Rickie Weeks - 2B, 3. Joey Votto - 1B, 4. Matt Holliday - RF, 5. Prince Fielder - DH, 6. Ryan Braun - LF, 7. Aramis Ramirez - 3B, 8. Yadier Molina - C, 9. Starlin Castro - SS
Bench:Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Brandon Phillips, Michael Bourn
Starting pitchers: Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke, Matt Garza.
Relievers: Joel Hanrahan, John Axford, Sean Marshall.

Comments: “Look at all these good players!” Castro says to Ramirez. “They’re on OUR team now!” Ramirez sighs deeply and nods. Memories of the old days flood his head and push a single tear down his weathered cheek. It’s hard to think about but impossible not to. “Live in the moment and enjoy it,” he advises Castro. “People in our situation must savor the good times, fleeting as they are.” Castro looks at his older teammate, sees how the years in Chicago have beaten him down. “Sure, Aramis,” he says. “I got ya.” But he doesn’t truly understand -- not yet.

NL East
Starting lineup: 1. Jose Reyes - SS, 2. Shane Victorino - CF, 3. Gaby Sanchez - 1B, 4. Carlos Beltran - LF, 5. Brian McCann - C, 6. Mike Stanton - RF, 7. Mike Morse - DH, 8. Danny Espinosa - 2B, 9. Placido Polanco - 3B
Bench:Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Daniel Murpy, Martin Prado
Starting pitchers: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jair Jurrjens, Jordan Zimmermann.
Relievers: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Ryan Madson.

Comments: The great thing about an all-star team is getting to imagine what it would be like if a bunch of great players got thrown together and could join forces. Like, imagine a one-two punch at the top of a lineup of Jose Reyes and Shane Victorino. What energy! Or, imagine if you could field a starting rotation with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels AND Cliff Lee! Why, that would be insane!

AL East
Starting lineup: 1. Jacoby Ellsbury - CF, 2. Curtis Granderson - LF, 3. Jose Bautista - RF, 4. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B, 5. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, 6. David Ortiz - DH, 7. Ben Zobrist - 2B, 8. Yunel Escobar - SS, 9. Matt Wieters - C
Bench:Mark Teixeira, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Joyce, Brett Gardner
Starting pitchers: CC Sabathia, David Price, James Shields, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester.
Relievers: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Jonathan Papelbon.

Comments: “Hey Zobrist,” Shields says, “Did you hear the exciting news? ESPN is going to broadcast all of our all-star team’s games! That’s some great exposure!” Zobrist looks down at his shoes, feeling awkward. James is so clearly thrilled, and it would be a shame to bring him down. But it’s just like his grandpa always said: Tell the truth, even if it hurts. He closes his eyes and steels himself for the task ahead. “Yes, I heard,” Zobrist says. “But there’s something you should know. When nobody on the Red Sox or Yankees is either pitching or batting, they are going to cut to a reel of Jeter’s career highlights.”

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2010 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

  • Tuesday, March 23, 2010 10:20 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 97-65, 1st in AL West. Pythagorean record of 92-70.
Key Additions: SP Joel Pineiro, OF/DH Hideki Matsui, RP Fernando Rodney
Key Losses: SP John Lackey, OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Chone Figgins, RP Darren Oliver, OF Gary Matthews Jr.
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 78-84, 4th in AL West. CHONE – 81-81, tied for 2nd. CAIRO – 80.7-81.3, 3rd.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.45 FIP (21st in MLB), 4.54 for starters, 4.27 for relievers
2010 – The Angels should be able to overcome the loss of Lackey. Piniero is unlikely to repeat his 2009 performance but still should be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, and the team should get a boost if Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana provide full, healthy seasons. Brian Fuentes had 48 saves last season, but that doesn't make him a great closer.
Hitting: 2009 – .346 wOBA (3rd in MLB)
2010 – The big question is if Brandon Wood can fill the void left by Figgins, but the Angels also need Howie Kendrick to step up and Kendry Morales to maintain his new-found productivity. The Halos also must hope that the aging offensive core of Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Matsui holds up.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 13.3 (10th in MLB)
2010 – Hunter's defensive prowess is nowhere close to his reputation, and Abreu is a liability in right. Things look brighter in the infield, although losing Figgins hurts.

Reasons to Watch
1. Brandon Wood: It appears that the longtime top prospect will finally get a shot to hold down the everyday third base job this season. Wood, who will turn 25 in April, has struck out a third of the time in his 236 MLB plate appearances thus far, while putting up a line of .192/.222/.313. He does have tremendous power, however, as his slugging percentages of .595 and .557 the last two years in Triple-A indicate. This could be the year Wood puts things together, or it could be the year he takes a step closer to becoming the next Dallas McPherson.
2. Howie Kendrick: Kendrick has been a frustrating player to watch for Angels fans and fantasy owners alike. He has a career minor league line of .360/.403/.569, but in four big league seasons, he's been basically a league-average hitter. Injuries have certainly played a role, as last season's 400 plate appearances were a career-high. But Kendrick also just hasn't performed up to expectations, and it's possible his free-swinging style will prevent him from reaching his potential long-term. At 26, he should be about at his prime, so now is the time for Kendrick to bust out.
3. Joel Pineiro: What Pineiro accomplished last season is hard to overstate. Working with a completely revamped Dave Duncan-instilled approach, Pineiro led the majors in walks per nine innings and ground ball rate, while finishing fifth in home runs per nine innings. This was largely due to a new two-seam fastball, which got a ton of ground balls. 2009 was likely a perfect storm for Pineiro, but as long as he is able to maintain his new approach while detached from Duncan, he should continue to find success.

Paint By Numbers: On the other end of the spectrum from Pineiro, you have Jered Weaver, who finished just behind Ted Lilly for the major league lead in fly ball rate last season, at 50.4 percent. Not surprisingly, Weaver also gave up 26 home runs, but he still notched a solid 4.04 FIP. ... Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis combined to strike out 176 times last season. But at least Napoli hit 20 homers and slugged .492. Mathis hit five long balls and slugged .308. ... To say last season was a breakout year for Kendry Morales would be putting it mildly. From 2006-08, Morales hit 13 home runs in 407 plate appearances. In 2009: 34 in 622.

Blog Jog: Angels catching prospect Hank Conger offers this Spring Training journal entry at Angelswin.com. ... Rob Neyer on Wood's potential starting job. ... Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles looks at the remaining roster questions. ... Orange County Register beat writer Bill Plunkett relays Torii Hunter's reaction to former teammate Joe Mauer's huge contract extension.

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