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Making Sense of Wade Miley

Excluding Brandon Beachy, who will be sidelined for the remainder of the season due to Tommy John surgery, left-hander Wade Miley has the second-best ERA in all of baseball.

The same Wade Miley who compiled a forgettable 5.08 FIP in his 40-inning cup of coffee with the big league club last season. The same Wade Miley who failed to make our Top 15 D-Backs prospects prior to the season. The same Wade Miley who began the season in the bullpen and didn’t make his first start until April 23 against Philadelphia.

And yet, the 25-year-old Louisiana native boasts a 2.19 ERA and 2.88 FIP, including eight innings of one-run baseball against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday evening. His +2.5 WAR is higher than pitchers more traditionally thought of as aces, such as Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez. In his first full season in the big leagues, he is not only a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, but he also possesses an extreme outside chance to walk away with the NL Cy Young, if his stellar performance continues.

That’s really the question, though. Can Wade Miley continue his unexpected dominance?

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Joel Peralta and Foreign Substances

In Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson asked home plate umpire Tim Tschida to examine the glove right-hander Joel Peralta for foreign substances.

Peralta was subsequently ejected for having pine tar on his glove.

This is not new. Baseball has a long history of players skirting around the rulebook in hopes of gaining an edge on their opponent. Whether it is spitting on the baseball, taking performance-enhancing drugs, corking bats, cutting the baseball, or even just (allegedly) having a man in white standing in the outfield bleachers, cheating is as much a tradition in baseball as hot dogs and cracker jacks.

As they say, if ya ain’t cheatin’, ya ain’t tryin’.

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The No-Hitter Hangover?

On the first of June, left-hander Johan Santana labored through 134 pitches and meticulously navigated around five walks to become the first player in New York Mets history to throw a no-hitter.

It was assuredly a special moment for the organization, as well as the entire fan base. The Mets’ manager, Terry Collins, understood the magnitude of the situation. Despite the fact that Santana missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury and had largely been limited in his pitch counts throughout the year to that point, Collins stuck with his 33-year-old veteran in an attempt to rewrite the history books.

To counteract the extra strain put on the shoulder in that no-hitter, Johan Santana received extra rest before his next start. That decision caused the left-hander to develop rust, according to his manager, and Santana was not sharp against the New York Yankees his next start — he surrendered six runs over five innings, including four home runs.

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Seniority Rules In The Draft

When Stanford right-hander Mark Appel began his free-fall from the top spot to the eighth-overall selection due to signability concerns, many pointed to the new draft rules agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement as the culprit.

The new draft rules call for each pick in the first ten rounds to have a monetary value. The draft budget for each team is the combined value of their respective draft picks in the first ten rounds. By now, most following the draft are aware that penalties exist for exceeding the draft budget — first a tax, then the loss of future draft picks. The catch is, though, that any unsigned pick in the first ten rounds costs that team the corresponding budget money allotted to that specific pick, and any bonus greater than $100,000 after the tenth round still counts toward the overall draft budget.

Thus, Mark Appel fell to the number eight slot held by the Pittsburgh Pirates because teams felt the Stanford pitcher would demand too much of their budget, and the worst scenario for any team would be that the two sides failed to come to an agreement. Little would happen to Appel. He would simply return to Stanford for his senior year and return for the 2013 Draft. Though for the major league team, they would not only throw away a first-round pick, but also forfeit a huge portion of their draft budget, which would handcuff their options in remaining rounds.

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The Astros Big Decision

The MLB Draft will commence on Monday evening at 7:00 p.m. eastern time with the Houston Astros kicking off the night with the number one selection.

Scouts and front offices have routinely been quoted as saying this year’s class lacks elite talent, especially within the college ranks. Chicago White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann stated over the weekend that “it’s probably as thin as I’ve seen in a decade.” Despite that, it appears the Houston Astros could dip into the pool of collegiate talent for the number one overall pick.

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Fiers Handcuffs Dodgers in LA

Injuries have run rampant throughout Major League Baseball this season, and one of the teams most decimated by injuries has been the Milwaukee Brewers. The club has six players on the disabled list, including pitchers Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada, which forced the organization to dip into the minor league system for a spot starter on Tuesday evening against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That spot starter was right-hander Michael Fiers.

The 27-year-old Fiers earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the Brewers’ farm system in 2011, compiling a 1.86 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He struck out more than a batter per inning over 126 innings of work and displayed an ability to throw four pitches — fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup — for strikes in any count. He eventually pushed his way into top prospect lists, with our own Marc Hulet ranking him as the 15th-best prospect in the Brewers’ system coming into the season.

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Luke Scott: Living on the Outside

In January, the Tampa Bay Rays signed 33-year-old Luke Scott to a one-year, $5M contract (plus a club option for 2013) to serve as the team’s primary designated hitter.

He struggled last season with the Baltimore Orioles, only hitting .220/.301/.402 and failing to be at least a one-win player for the first time since his rookie season in 2005. The vast majority of his struggles, however, could be explained away by his mid-season shoulder surgery, which he underwent to repair a torn labrum. Finally healthy, the Rays looked to capitalize on an undervalued asset, hoping Scott would regain his previous form and produce somewhere around his career-average wOBA of .358.

This year, after a torrid start that saw him compile a .380 wOBA with eleven extra-base hits in the month of April, things have begun to cool off. He has hit .219/.286/.384 in the month of May, and his current .331 wOBA ranks below average amongst league DHs, who average a .347 wOBA on the year thus far.

Some of his drop off in May can be attributed to a .224 BABIP. In fact, his year-to-date BABIP of .240 is 52-points below his career average. The Tampa Bay Rays should expect that number to climb, especially since his 18.8% line drive rate has been slightly better than his career average. A few more balls in play find the outfield grass, rather than an outfielder’s glove, and his production should no longer be below average for the designated hitter position.

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Unexpected wOBA Leaders: Catchers

When pressed to name the top offensive catchers in the league, names such as Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero, Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, Carlos Santana, and Alex Avila immediately come to mind. That is only natural, as all six of those players were in the top ten amongst catchers for wOBA last season (min. 100 PA). In addition, young, up-and-coming catchers, such as Matt Wieters and Buster Posey, also likely make the list for many people.

This season, however, none of those catchers listed above lead the league in production at the plate. Surprising names have risen to the top of the rankings through the first month and a half of the season. In fact, none of the top four catchers in wOBA this season (min. 100 PA) had a wOBA above .350 in 2011.
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The Dramatic Decline of Domonic Brown

Coming into the 2011 season, Domonic Brown ranked as the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. The Philadelphia Phillies had just watched right fielder Jayson Werth depart for greener pastures in Washington and felt confident that Brown was the long-term answer at the position.

A little more than a year later, we’re all left wondering what went wrong.

At age 23, Brown got his second extended look in the big leagues starting in May of 2011. Though some skill at the plate was evident, he ultimately underwhelmed with a .322 wOBA in 210 plate appearances. The league-average wOBA in right field was .334 in 2011, and the struggles on defense could not justify allowing him to work through his growing pains at the big league level — at least, not for a team with legitimate World Series aspirations.

Philadelphia sent Brown back down to Triple-A in August. The only other big league action he saw last season was a brief call-up in late September once rosters expanded and the Triple-A season had already been completed.

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MLB Drops Alfonzo’s Existing PED Suspension

According to a baseball source, Major League Baseball has dropped the 100-game suspension levied against Eliezer Alfonzo last season due to the same procedural issues that surfaced during the Ryan Braun case over the offseason.

The specific procedural issues were yet again not specifically outlined in this report, but the important aspect to note is that this was not an appeal case that Alfonzo and his team won. This suspension was not brought before an arbitrator. Instead, Major League Baseball re-examined the procedural facts of the sample collection and simply dropped the suspension.

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Ryan Vogelsong and Cause For Concern

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong proved to be one of the feel-good stories of the year in 2011.

The 34-year-old owned an unsightly career 5.86 ERA through 315 major-league innings with the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates coming into the 2011 season. He then seemingly flipped a switch and handcuffed the league with a 2.71 ERA and 3.67 FIP over 179.2 innings for the Giants and became a key part of their starting rotation.

That success has trickled into the 2012 season. Vogelsong tossed 7.1 innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday evening, surrendering only one run on eight scattered hits and one strikeout. That lowered his season ERA to 2.94 and his FIP to 3.51, both of which are better than average in the National League thus far in 2012.

Moving forward, though, this rags-to-riches story has some significant hurdles to overcome.

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Brewers Lose Gonzalez to Injured Knee

The Milwaukee Brewers have not met their lofty expectations thus far in 2012, and a recent spat of injuries could make that an even more arduous task.

Left-hander Chris Narveson was lost to season-ending shoulder surgery a couple of weeks back. First baseman Mat Gamel tore his ACL and is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Center fielder Carlos Gomez just hit the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring injury. Finally, over the weekend against the San Francisco Giants, shortstop Alex Gonzalez landed on the disabled list with what appears to be a very serious leg injury.

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The Decline of Ubaldo Jimenez

Coming off a six-win season in 2010, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez disappointed on the mound last year, splitting time between the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians. His velocity dropped significantly. The dominating stuff that made him a Cy Young candidate seemingly disappeared. He became rather ordinary and frustrating for two separate fan bases. It all resulted in a below-average 4.68 ERA.

Hope for improvement existed for 2012, however. His 3.67 FIP suggested Jimenez pitched much better than his earned run average indicated — largely due to the fact that his BABIP and LOB% were both worse than his career averages — and his 88 FIP- indicated that he ranked better than league average on the mound.

Fast forward to 2012, and we clearly see that the potential improvement for Ubaldo Jimenez simply has not come to fruition. In fact, the 28-year-old continues to deteriorate on the mound. His stuff is declining precipitously, and his peripheral numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

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Who Should Be Closing In Chicago?

The Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics engaged in a marathon 14-inning contest on Wednesday afternoon that featured two blown saves, a game-tying home run from each team’s cleanup hitter, and perhaps even a budding closer controversy in the Windy City.

Left-hander Hector Santiago surprised many when he seized the closer role for the White Sox out of spring training. The 24-year-old had only pitched 5.1 innings about Double-A prior to this season — those innings came in a very brief stint with the big league club last July before getting sent back down to Double-A — but he impressed enough to be named closer this spring after surrendering only one earned run in eleven innings.

Selected by the White Sox in the 30th round of the 2006 Draft, Santiago started his professional career as a reliever, but was transitioned into the starting rotation last season. He has always been able to miss bats. His career strikeout rate in the minors was 9.6 K/9. He throws 93-94 MPH with the fastball from the left side, which is certainly a skill that does not grow on trees, but his newly-developed signature pitch – the screwball – is what has suddenly catapulted him to the big leagues. It’s the pitch that makes him different. It’s the pitch that could help him find success at the highest level.

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Shaun Marcum: Offspeed Artist

Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers orchestrated one of the more controversial trades last winter, sending stud prospect Brett Lawrie to Toronto in return for right-hander Shaun Marcum.

Lots of people spent the off-season lamenting the move, especially since Lawrie exploded onto the big league scene last season with a .293/.373/.580 line in his first 43 games and Marcum imploded during the postseason with an unsightly 14.90 ERA in three playoff starts. That regret has seeped into the regular season. Lawrie has avoided a sophomore slump thus far — despite a significant decrease in power production — and is hitting .281/.311/.386. Brewers fans are left to wonder what could have been, as they watch their $36 million man, Aramis Ramirez, struggle at the plate with a .151/.220/.245 line to begin the season.

While Lawrie would certainly look good in a Brewers uniform for the next six seasons, Marcum’s overall production has largely been overlooked. Despite his postseason struggles, he compiled a 3.54 ERA for the Brew Crew in 2011 and held the starting rotation together last April when Yovani Gallardo struggled and Zack Greinke was on the disabled list. Not only that, but the Brewers wouldn’t have been able to nab Greinke last December without Marcum’s transaction preceding it. Greinke turned down a deal to Washington that would have included a $100 million contract extension because he wanted to play for a winner. Marcum’s acquisition symbolized the chance to win in Milwaukee — or at least a strong desire to win now from the organization — which is why Greinke approved a move to Milwaukee.

Fast forward to this season, and we find Marcum cruising along with a 3.79 ERA. Although that level of production is no longer above average in this new, decreased run environment, the 30-year-old has shown signs that he will continue to churn out quality starts this year and anchor the middle of the Brewers’ starting rotation.

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Baker Undergoes Surprise Tommy John Surgery

Right-hander Scott Baker was set to undergo surgery on his elbow for a cleanup of his flexor pronator tendon earlier this week. Any elbow surgeries can result in complications for a big league pitcher, but considering the alternatives, Baker appeared to be rather lucky in terms of his diagnosis. As he said:

[The team doctor] said this is something that’s not going to repair itself. It’s not going to cure itself. It’s something that needs to be taken care of. Fortunately, he said the (UCL) ligament looked great, so I guess in a way, as bad as this is, the flexor pronator tendon is what needs to be repaired.

However, when the team doctor, Dr. Altchek, opened up the elbow, he determined that the UCL was damaged to the point that it needed repair. The MRI testing done prior to the surgery completely missed the UCL damage. Now, instead of missing only six months of the 2011 season, Scott Baker will not pitch again for approximately 12-18 months.

The good new for Baker is that the success rate for Tommy John surgery is now upward of 85-92 percent. The likelihood of returning to the big leagues in some capacity appears overwhelmingly positive. Most likely, though, his next big league job will not be with the Minnesota Twins. Baker has a $9.25M club option for the 2013 season, but there is almost no conceivable way Terry Ryan and the Twins exercise that option at this point.

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MLB Draft: Top Collegiate Performers

Baseball has now returned for slightly over a week. Early storylines abound — such as Matt Kemp and the Dodgers starting the season 9-1 and the Los Angeles Angels struggling out of the gate — but as the next three or four weeks come to pass, more and more attention will shift to the MLB Draft.

Will the Houston Astros take prep outfielder Byron Buxton number one overall, or will they go the collegiate route and select right-hander Mark Appel? How far will right-hander Lucas Giolito fall after his spring injury? Which player does your favorite team covet in the first round?

All of those questions lack clear answers at this point. However, collegiate games are being played around the country, and the more high-profile players continue to take center stage amongst scouts and baseball fans alike.

Here are how some of the top draft-eligible collegiate players are performing this spring:

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Wieland Gets Call to The Show

Every player processes the news of their first big league call up differently. Some whoop and holler. Some suppress the excitement and act as if they expected it all along.

Right-hander Joe Wieland, however, experienced an outpouring of emotion in the Tucson Padres dugout when he learned of his promotion to the Padres’ big league club. He broke down crying and began hugging all of his teammates that surrounded him.

Wieland is expected to make his first major league start on Saturday evening on the road against a division rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Has Jonathan Broxton Returned To Form?

Many writers scoffed when Ned Yost and the Kansas City Royals handed the closer’s role to right-hander Jonathan Broxton this spring. After all, Broxton is returning from an elbow injury that rendered him ineffective (5.63 FIP) and held him to only 14 appearances last season, while fellow right-hander Greg Holland burst onto the scene in 2011 with an 11.10 K/9 strikeout rate and a minuscule 2.21 FIP.

It only seemed natural that Greg Holland be given the job in the spring. He is arguably the best reliever in the Royals’ bullpen and was utterly dominating throughout all of 2011. The decision to hand the reins to Broxton was largely branded as the epitome of pandering to the baseball cliche of the “closer mentality.” Broxton possessed it because he had accumulated 84 saves over the course of his seven-year career. Holland, on the other hand, only has four career saves, so question marks remain as to whether he has closer mentality.

On Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels, however, Broxton entered the game in a save situation and struck out three consecutive hitters: Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales. While not three of the most dangerous hitters in the league, Broxton alleviated some of the fears concerning his effectiveness that the majority of Royals fans harbored heading into the season.

But, does this mean the Jonathan Broxton has returned?

The early results indicate that Broxton has turned a corner and should produce results closer to the strong 2006-2009 seasons, rather than the lackluster 2010-2011 seasons. The swinging strikes had been on the decline in each of the past two years, but he generated six swings-and-misses on Sunday on only fourteen pitches. While that 42.86% SwStr% is certainly not sustainable throughout the course of the season, it serves as a positive harbinger for subsequent performances as the season wears on.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect to Broxton’s inning of work on Sunday was the rebound in velocity. His once overpowering fastball had decreased in velocity over the past couple of seasons, which ultimately played a significant role in his lessened effectiveness, but pitch f/x registered his average fastball velocity back at 2008-2009 levels.

Year MPH
2008 96.3
2009 97.8
2010 95.3
2011 94.1
Yesterday 97.02

Not only did Broxton throw his fastball significantly harder on Sunday than he has in previous years, but his slider was also ridiculous. The average velocity of his slider against the Los Angeles Angels was 90.04 MPH. The career high average for Broxton’s slider was in 2009, when he averaged 88.6 MPH over the course of the season. More importantly, he threw his slider five times and threw five strikes — three of them of the swinging variety.

One outing is far too little to officially declare Jonathan Broxton healthy and “back” to his elite level of performance. It could simply be a blip on the radar screen. However, his stellar spring performance (1.13 ERA and 12.4 K/9), his increased velocity on both his fastball and slider, and his clean bill of health all suggest that the right-hander is poised for a huge comeback season on the mound for the Royals.

After the season ends, the one-year, $4M contract that Broxton signed could be one of the biggest bargains of the offseason.

Kinsler, Rangers Discussing Extension

The Texas Rangers and second baseman Ian Kinsler have been discussing a possible six-year contract extension for the better part of two months, but Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the negotiations will be heating up prior to Opening Day on Friday.

Rosenthal states that the Rangers are willing to exceed the record $12.4M average annual value given to Dan Uggla in March 2011, but Kinsler and his agent may be holding out to determine what Robinson Cano receives, which will help set Kinsler’s overall market. Of course, Cano will likely not be a free agent until after the 2013 season, so there are no guarantees that the Yankees’ second baseman will set the market until that time. That could persuade Kinsler to simply ride out the remainder of his contract with the Rangers and attempt to secure the most lucrative deal possible in free agency.

Although Kinsler may ultimately have a chance to sign for more money if he waits until he reaches free agency, the 29-year-old second baseman would take a serious risk. He has been injury-prone throughout his big league career. He only averages 128.8 games per year, and last season was the first season he played in more than 144 games in a single season. Waiting another two years before signing an extension opens up the possibility for more injuries and more question marks, which would only cost him money in his next contract.

For that reason, I would argue that it makes the most financial sense for Kinsler to sign a contract extension prior to Opening Day. It is the same argument for younger players signing contract extensions in their arbitration years. Take a hit in terms of total possible dollars in return for financial security and removing the possibility of one injury shattering the dreams of a mega-contract.

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