Sophomores: The AL East

Over the next few days, we’re looking at sophomore, or second-year, players in the Major Leagues. Today’s post is looking at the American League East division. Yesterday, we looked at the American League Central.

New York Yankees

Ian Kennedy came into the Yankees’ system with a reputation of being a pretty good college pitcher, but he was not quite as highly regarded as he had been coming out of high school (in part because he lost a little bit off the fastball). Despite some grumblings that Kennedy had been an overdraft as a first-round draft pick, the right-hander dominated the minor leagues (He has a career 1.96 ERA in the minors). There is a reason, though, that they call it the “Major Leagues” and Kennedy was hit around in 2008. He posted an 8.17 ERA and allowed 50 hits in just 39.2 innings or work. His walk rate, which was 2.8 BB/9 in the minors, jumped to 5.90 BB/9. Kennedy got off to a solid start in 2009 in four games at triple-A but he then underwent surgery for an aneurysm under his right armpit and will be out until after the All-Star break.

Like Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain was a pretty good college pitcher but he had injuries problems and other teams shied away from him. Big mistake. The Yankees took a risk and have one of the top young arms in baseball, although Chamberlain has still had a few injuries throughout his pro career. In 2008, the right-hander spent time in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. He allowed just 87 hits in 100.1 innings, while posting a 2.60 ERA (2.65 FIP). Chamberlain also posted an excellent strikeout rate at 10.58 K/9. In 2009, he has continued to pitch well, although he has not been as dominant. He has a 3.86 ERA (4.68 FIP) with 56 hits allowed in 63.1 innings of work. His walk rate has risen from 3.50 in 2008 to 4.69 BB/9 in 2009. His strikeout rate has decreased to 8.24 K/9. Chamberlain’s average fastball velocity has decreased each of the past three seasons, from 97 to 95 to 92.4 mph, although part of that can be attributed to spending more time in the starting rotation.

Both Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez came out of almost nowhere in 2008 to provide much-needed innings for the Yankees’ bullpen. Veras, now 28, allowed 52 hits in 57.2 innings and had a strikeout rate of 9.83 K/9. However, he was just designated for assignment after posting a 5.96 ERA in 2009 and seeing his strikeout rate drop to 6.31 K/9, while also struggling with his control and gopher ball tendencies. Ramirez, also 28, had a 3.90 ERA in 2008 and posted a 3.90 BB/9 rate, as well as a strikeout rate of 10.25 K/9. In 2009, though, he’s regressed to a 5.19 ERA, and rates of 7.79 BB/9 and 8.31 K/9.

Toronto Blue Jays

As far as first-round picks go, David Purcey has been a huge disappointment. Making his MLB debut at the age of 26, the left-hander posted a 5.54 ERA and allowed 67 hits in 65 innings of work, although he showed some improvements as the year progressed. His rates were 4.02 BB/9 and 8.03 K/9. In 2009, he won an opening-day rotation spot but made just five starts before a demotion to triple-A. In those starts, Purcey allowed a 7.01 ERA, 28 hits in 25.2 innings and posted rates of 6.31 BB/9 and 9.12 K/9.

Southpaw Jesse Carlson was a revelation in 2008 and appeared in 69 games as a rookie. He posted a 2.25 ERA (3.80 FIP) and allowed just 41 hits in 60 innings of work. In 2009, though, Carlson’s ERA has risen to 5.22 (although his FIP is just 3.80) and he’s allowed 31 hits in 29.1 innings. His control is OK (3.15 BB/9 in 2008, 2.76 in 2009) but he hasn’t had the same command of his pitches and his strikeout rate has dropped from 8.25 K/9 in 2008 to 5.83 K/9 this season.

Baltimore Orioles

Radhames Liz has a blistering fastball but he’s just one more hard-throwing pitcher that has no idea how to pitch (Daniel Cabrera, anyone?). Liz, 26, was promoted to the Majors in 2008 by the pitching-poor Orioles and was coming off a good half season in the minors, as well as a very good 2007 season at double-A. Liz allowed 99 hits in 84.1 innings, while also posting a 6.72 ERA. He posted rates of 5.44 BB/9 and 6.08 K/9. So far this year, Liz has a 6.09 ERA in triple-A and has a 67.50 ERA in two relief appearances in the Majors. Velocity is not everything.

Another hard thrower, Dennis Sarfate appeared in 57 games for the Orioles as a rookie in 2008. He allowed just 62 hits in 79.2 innings of work and posted rates of 7.00 BB/9 and 9.72 K/9. Sarfate, 28, appeared in just eight games in 2009 and posted an ERA of 6.39 before going on the disabled list with circulation problems in his finger. Right-hander Jim Johnson was also a major contributor to the 2008 bullpen as a rookie. He posted a 2.23 ERA (3.38 FIP) while allowing 54 hits in 68.2 innings of work. In 2009, Johnson, 25, has continued to have success with a 3.07 ERA (3.83 FIP) and 28 hits allowed in 29.1 innings. His strikeout rate has actually risen from 4.98 K/9 in 2008 to 6.14 K/9 in 2009.

Boston Red Sox

A sinker-slider pitcher, Justin Masterson has bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen for the Red Sox during the past two seasons with good success in both roles. The right-hander induces a lot of groundballs and gets his fair share of strikeouts in the process. He posted a 3.16 ERA (4.69 FIP) while allowing 68 hits in 88.1 innings of work in 2008. In 2009, the 24 year old has a 3.88 ERA (3.68 FIP) with 56 hits allowed in 53.1 innings. Masterson has also seen his BABIP allowed increase from .243 in 2008 to .332 in 2009. His walk rate has decreased from 4.08 in 2008 to 3.04 BB/9 this season.

Clay Buchholz burst upon the scene in 2007 but struggled during his rookie season in 2008 by allowing 93 hits in 76 innings of work. He posted a 6.75 ERA and posted a strikeout rate of 4.86 BB/9. He’s really turned things around in triple-A this season, although there is no opening in the Red Sox Major League rotation. Buchholz has a 1.75 ERA (3.27 FIP) in triple-A with 40 hits allowed in 67 innings. His walk rate is just 2.01 BB/9.

Jed Lowrie did a nice job as an injury replacement in 2008 for the Red Sox. He had a triple-slash line of .258/.339/.400 with two homers in 260 at-bats. His strikeout rate of 26.2 K% was a little high for an infielder with modest pop, but he filled in at three positions and provided solid defense. After just five games in 2009 Lowrie required wrist surgery. He’s currently rehabbing.

It was hard for Jacoby Ellsbury to build off his debut in 2007, but he had a solid – albeit unspectacular – first full season in Majors in 2008. He hit .280/.336/.394 with 50 stolen bases in 61 attempts. Ellsbury’s triple-slash line in 2009 is .306/.351/.383 and he’s stolen 25 bases in 31 attempts. He’s also trimmed his strikeout rate from 14.4 to 8.9 K/9, while maintaining almost the same walk rate at 6.1 BB%. Ellsbury is proving to be a very solid player, but he’s probably not a star.

Tampa Bay Rays

Evan Longoria had a huge 2008 season and won the American League Rookie of the Year award. He produced a triple-slash line of .272/.343/.531 and hit 27 home runs. So far this year, Longoria has been even better with a line of .305/.387/.584 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI. His walk rate has increased from 9.3 in 2008 to 11.4 BB% in 2009. His strikeout rate has stayed almost the same at 26.5 K%. Longoria also plays a solid third base. He should be a mainstay in the Rays lineup for many years to come.

Matt Joyce spent the 2008 season with Detroit and hit .252/.339/.510 with 12 homers in 242 at-bats. Traded to Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson prior to the 2009 season, Joyce, 24, has regressed and has spent most of the season in triple-A. Jackson, though, has had a breakout season for Detroit.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


20 Responses to “Sophomores: The AL East”

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  1. alskor says:

    I seem to recall an absolutely hilarious discussion on here where a bunch of Yankee fans argued that

    a) The Yankee pitching staff was vastly superior to Boston’s; and
    b) The Yankees had better pitching depth.

    The second claim was made on the basis of Aceves, Coke, Giese, Kennedy, Igawa, Hughes and Edwar Ramirez being much better than Penny (who I was told would completely suck), Smoltz (who I was told wouldnt contribute at all), Buchholz, Bowden, Masterson et al.

    Good stuff.

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    • Tom B says:

      and we still believe this to be true. :)

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    • Andy S says:

      Aceves has been fantastic, Giese was good and I don’t know why he was cut, Kennedy has an anyeurism so there’s not much doin’ there, and Coke and Hughes are still developing at a good pace.

      Brad Penny DOES suck, Smoltz HASN’T contributed anything at all yet (due to injury), Buchholz is in the minors, Masterson has been great, but Bowden has been in the minors too.

      Really, the Sox pitching depth and the Yanks’ are comparable. I agree that the claim that anything in the Yankees’ pitching system is VASTLY superior is absurd, but the argument that they have better pitchers period and better pitching depth is arguably true.

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    • RollingWave says:

      it’s no less silly than making claims based on less than half a season worth of games played.

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    • Ian says:

      Um, ok. How do you know what Smoltz, Buchholz, Bowden, Masterson are capable of providing? Last I checked, they havent pitched an inning in the Majors this season bud.

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    • Ian says:

      Besides masterson, i meant,

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  2. Andy S says:

    I don’t quite understand where you’re saying that Jacoby Ellsbury is a solid player. So far he has been strictly underwhelming. The lack of power was expected, and the average is fine, but the OBP sits at just .351. That’s decent, but not great, and when coupled with a complete lack of power, is not “solid” by any means. The SBs are nice, but only help to mask the lack of a solid-slash line – they do not make up for it. His defense is decent but nothing special, and frankly unless he changes his approach at the plate, I see Jacoby as just another Podsednik/Taveras future burnout.

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    • mattymatty says:

      “I see Jacoby as just another Podsednik/Taveras future burnout.”

      You could be right, but for now you’re solidly in the minority.

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      • I still want to barf when I think of every Boston-related celebrity wearing Ellsbury jerseys within a week of his call up. He’s ok. Not Wily Taveras, but not the next Johnny Damon either. Just ok.

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      • Andy S says:

        Ellsbury is a bit better than the two I mentioned; sorry, I couldn’t think of a better example off the top of my head. And I haven’t really looked at his plate discipline numbers more carefully. I intend to later. But I theorize that despite being slightly better, Ellsbury, possessing the same general skillset as the other two, will have a similar career, as he already possesses similar slash lines.

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      • JH says:

        The problem with the Scott Podsednik comp is that Pods couldn’t play center field, and Ellsbury can. That’s a huge, huge difference.

        Ellsbury’s a 2-2.3 WAR player this year without any improvement whatsoever. He could regress down to a 1.5WAR player, or improve to ~2.7 WAR as his upside. That’s pretty much the definition of a solid player.

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      • Andy S says:

        Forget WAR for a second, let’s just look at some other numbers:

        He has an average UZR/150
        He is 13th in wOBA (among CFers), making him around average in that regard.

        So if you mean solid as in average, yeah, I’ll agree, but if you mean solid as in “a player that’s going to help the Red Sox stand out in the AL East,” then no, I don’t buy it.

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      • JH says:

        So you’re defining “solid” as “star?” Weird.

        I define “solid” as league average to slightly better. Ellsbury fits that profile pretty much perfectly. 2 WAR (league average performance) out of a guy receiving a near-league-minimum salary is very valuable.

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      • Andy S says:

        I guess it’s just a difference in interpretation of solid. I don’t see solid as star, but I interpret it as noticeably above average (but below “very good,” if this dichotomy makes sense).

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      • Andy S says:

        And I think “very valuable” is a severe overstatement.

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      • JH says:

        A 2-WAR player on the open market generally commands between $8 and $9 million a year. Ellsbury puts that line up for $400,000. That’s an extra $8 million the Red Sox can go out and spend on more marginal wins.

        That’s very valuable.

        Marc Hulet called Ellsbury solid but unspectacular. That’s 100% correct.

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  3. JH says:

    Matt Joyce hasn’t regressed so much as he hasn’t played. He’s at .306/.401/.506 in AAA and has only had 32 ABs in the majors this year. I’d kill for that kind of regression.

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