What We Learned In Week Ten

Welcome to the only recap of last week that won’t punish you with endless Luis Castillo references. Mets fans have endured enough. Besides the fact that ESPN will beat a single highlight into the ground, what else did we learn last week?

The Rockies have to be a wee bit frustrated

After an undefeated week where they ran their winning streak to 11 games, Colorado has closed the gap in the N.L. West to… 10 1/2 games. They haven’t lost in nearly two weeks and they’re still not even with shouting distance of the Dodgers. Part of that is how bad they were to start the season, but the other part is that the Dodgers just won’t stop playing like the best team in baseball. The Rockies have managed to insert themselves into the Wild Card race with their surge, and they now have the third best run differential in the National League, but they’re still fighting an uphill climb to get into the playoffs.

The Texas Rangers don’t win when they don’t score.

Despite all the talk about the improved run prevention down in Arlington, they still rely on their offense to win them baseball games, and last week, the hitters went into a collective slump. Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, and Ian Kinsler all had wOBAs below .200, and Elvis Andrus and Marlon Byrd weren’t much better. With half their line-up hitting like pitchers and Josh Hamilton on the DL, Texas scored just 14 runs last week. They’re going to have to hit early and often if they want to hold off the Angels for the A.L. West. Too many more weeks like this and they’ll be looking up at Anaheim in the standings.

Philadelphia might want to ramp up their search for a starter.

Ruben Amaro’s not been shy about his desire to add a frontline starter via trade to replace the injured Brett Myers, but the performances of J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo had bought him some time and allowed him to be patient while waiting for the right deal. Not this week. Happ walked 10 guys in two starts, while Bastardo gave up three hits and three walks in just one inning in his only start of the week. They gave up 14 runs in 12 innings between them, for a not-so-nifty 10.50 ERA. Time to burn up the phone lines again, Ruben.

Willy Taveras doesn’t want to get on base.

Okay, that’s probably not true. I’m sure he wants to, but he just can’t figure out how. The Reds center fielder went 0 for 22 last week, and has now gone 32 plate appearances without reaching first base safely. His disastrous slump has dropped his season line to .229/.283/.289, and while he’s playing solid defense in center field, the Reds can’t keep sticking a guy with a .267 wOBA in the line-up regularly. Taveras is going to have to get hot in a hurry if he wants to stay on the field, because even Dusty Baker won’t tolerate 0-for-weeks for too long.

The Angels didn’t want to wait for Howie Kendrick to regress to the mean.

Mike Scioscia had apparently seen enough of Kendrick for now, as the Angels shipped their starting second baseman back to Triple-A and have apparently given the starting job to Maicer Izturis, based on this weekend’s line-up. Kendrick was hitting just .231/.281/.355 when he was demoted, but had anything really changed? His walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power are all right in line with his career numbers. The drop in numbers is entirely due to a .269 batting average on balls in play, which is about 80 points lower than his career mark. Even if he’s not hitting the ball as hard this year (his line drive percentage is down a bit), there’s still no way you’d project him for a .269 BABIP going forward. He was going to find more holes, and given his defense at second base, the Angels should have been willing to wait for his luck to turn.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

31 Responses to “What We Learned In Week Ten”

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  1. Mark R says:

    Here’s how I see it playing out: Kendrick will go down, destroy Triple-A pitching, and be back up in a week or two. Then people will talk about how he was pressing before, but the stint in the minors gave him a needed confidence boost. His batted-ball profile will stay the same while his luck normalizes, and it will look like Salt Lake City did wonders for him.

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  2. Joe R says:

    Angels with another oh-so-awesome roster move.

    Why does this franchise constantly duck the criticism received by others who make dumb moves? Must be nice to be in the AL West and know the only team who can compete financially is in post-Bavasi recovery mode.

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    • Mark R says:

      It’s ridiculous how badly they manage their roster. “We’ve got two middle-infield (well, one 1.5) prospects murdering the ball in Triple-A. Our major league middle infielders haven’t hit worth anything. What to do? Hmm… I know! Let’s send the guy with the best offensive track record down and replace him with somebody who never hits ever!”

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      • Joe R says:

        hahah
        .971 career minor league OPS middle infielder? Send him down, needs fixing.

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      • Christo P. Ney says:

        And a .636 OPS this year, good for second-to-last among second basemen this year, ahead of only Emmanuel Burriss.

        Throw that on top of a .678 OPS in the second half of last year – good for dead last among qualified second basemen – and you have a trend.

        He’ll be fine and called up very soon. It’s not that big a deal. If his pysche is so fragile that he can’t handle a two-week demotion, THAT would be a problem.

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      • Steve B says:

        I think it had more to do with his lack of focus on the field.

        1) over-running 2nd base and getting picked off, how many times?
        2) doubled off 1st after running on a fly ball out with only 1 out, after joking around with 1b Kevin Millar
        3) sliding into 2nd on a hit-and-run base hit after not watching where the ball was going, thus failing to get to 3rd
        4) failing to make a tag at 2nd on a cannon throw from Rivera in LF, he just stood there while the runner slid in and knocked him over
        5) the last straw, joking around with the catcher and ump as he came up to hit as the last out in that 11-1 pasting the Rays gave us. I mean, did he even care we were getting slaughtered?

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re 4-0 since he left, and after being a big Howie fan last year, I now hope he’s traded. Although I doubt he has much value left.

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  3. ecp says:

    The Rockies were so horrible that even an 11 game win streak hasn’t brought them to a .500 record. I don’t think they have quite inserted themselves into the wildcard race just yet.

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    • Joe R says:

      I disagree. While they’re still a way back, they’re still 3 games below their pythag W-L record; they’ve been amazingly unlucky in that regard. I think they’re an 85-90 win team by the end of the season, and in the NL, that could be enough for the WC.

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  4. Christo P. Ney says:

    The numbers are important in evaluating Kendrick. Sure.

    But they’re not the whole story here. His slump was apparently beginning to affect his ability to do basic baseball things. In the span of two weeks prior to his demotion, he had four mind-blowingly stupid baserunning gaffes (two that nearly cost the team the game) and a few fielding issues that don’t show up in the numbers, like inexplicably refusing to put down a tag on an outfield relay play at second that should have down an out late in the game.

    He was starting to look like a headcase.

    They asked him before the season to start seeing more pitches and while it nominally went up, he was still on pace to walk only 30 times this year with 110 Ks. Toss that into the 30 walks in about 1000 ABs blender before this season and it wasn’t…you know…very good.

    His value is as a #2 hitter and he wasn’t doing much to warrant his insertion into that spot.

    He’ll probably be fine but the demotion was right and just at this point.

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    • Mark R says:

      That’s exactly why you don’t try to change players with unique skill sets to conform with a traditional role. Kendrick can hit and has demonstrated that. He just needs ABs and luck with his health. Don’t try to make him into something he’s not, for the love of God!

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    • Joe R says:

      I know a lot of nerds like me love OBP / plate patience / etc, but that’s just not how some guys are programmed.

      I used to be a hacker when I played, I knew I became an absolute feeble hitter when I fell behind in the count.

      Some guys, you just have to deal with the fact that they’d rather swing away than wait for a pitch. Brandon Phillips also comes to mind. Obviously whether or not it’s the best way, it’s probably the way that brought them to the show. Kendrick’s BB rate was only 4.65% in the minors, the Angels knew he was a free swinger that would have luck-based volatility.

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      • Mark R says:

        True that, Joe.

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      • Christo P. Ney says:

        They didn’t ask him to draw 100 walks, just see a few more pitches in the two hole (with a few more walks as an almost-accidental by-product), something that allows the rest of the lineup to be a bit prepared.

        Kendrick’s a free-swinger. Yes. And that’s just super. No problem with that. Got a Howie jersey myself.

        But previously, albeit in a relatively small sample size of about 1000 ABs, he was able to weather mini-slumps (something that happens a bit more with free-swingers). This year has been a different story.

        It started in the second half of last year actually and extended into this season – pitchers got a book on him. Fastball In, Slider Away. And he never adjusted. I’d love to see the stats on Kendrick on sliders out of the strike zone when down in the count starting around July of last year to now, especially in high-leverage situations.

        But that isn’t the original point. Howie’s Howie. But he’s been doing odd baseball things lately, just doing really weird stuff on the basepaths and in the field. The whole thing just screamed a short demotion to gather himself and he’ll be back up awfully soon.

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      • Christo P. Ney says:

        And there’s a bigger picture here.

        Kendrick has to figure it out.

        Figgins is a free agent after this year and his value at third base is a bit low on the free agent market and to the prospect of the Angels re-signing him.

        They need more power from third base desperately.

        But if Kendrick doesn’t figure it out, signing Figgins as a second basemen becomes a somewhat viable option (increasing his value at a less power-demanding position) and they can go get a third basemen on the market, trade, hand it to Wood, blah-blah-blah. In any event, they need a plan that offers more versatility w/r/t power. This praying that all the groundballs find a hole is getting old.

        They’re just so slap-hitty, bad-hitty, baseball-outy.

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      • Joe R says:

        You do make a good point, Chris. It’s pretty embarassing how a team like the Angels seem to put no emphasis on working the count. Small sample size aside, Boston’s 9-1 in the postseason against them since 2004 for a reason. LAA should be on the market to make a deal for Dunn; I take that back, their OF is logjammed enough, thanks Gary Matthews Jr.

        I’m not even an LAA hater, I just think while they have good players, they also do a lot of fundamental stuff wrong.

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    • Steve C says:

      Christo,

      This is fangraphs they have everything you want (except maybe a player search toolbar for FireFox). Kendrick is currently sitting at -2.43 runs per 100 sliders for 2009. In all of 08 that was at -1.2. (All compared to average.)

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  5. Rally says:

    This was a move that had to be made. I’d like to see Sean Rodriguez get some of the playing time since his callup.

    What I’d really like to see though is Brandon Wood playing third and Figgins taking over at 2nd.

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    • CH says:

      +100

      They’ve mismanaged Wood’s career. I’m not an Angels fan and I don’t think Wood will ever hit above .250 in the bigs, but they’ve let Izturis hit 3rd FIVE times this year. Any lineup poor enough to hit Izturis 3rd has no excuse for leaving Wood in the minors.

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  6. NadavT says:

    No comment about how Ben Zobrist took over the WAR lead among batters, with only 198 plate appearances this season? His wOBA is at the level of Joey Votto and Kevin Youkilis, but unlike those guys, his BABIP is a reasonable .325. As ridiculous as it seems for a light-hitting utility player to morph into Albert Pujols at the plate, how much longer does he have to keep it up before his breakout looks sustainable? Or rather, how much regression is he likely to have for the rest of the season? If he’s “just” a .400 wOBA player instead of a .460 wOBA player, that’s still an amazing breakout.

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    • Joe R says:

      and of course he’s not on the All Star ballot.

      Fan voting kicks ass, eh?

      Oh well, if he’s not at the game, it’s bordering on insanity.

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      • judy says:

        Who’s insanity would it be, though, if Zobrist doesn’t make the AST? The guy who’s managing the AL AST, the guy who got to pick which Rays would be on the ballot, or the guy who didn’t make Zobrist one of his starting position players in the first place?

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      • NadavT says:

        Seeing as Joe Maddon is the manager of the AL team this year, I’m pretty sure Zobrist will end up on the roster one way or another.

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  7. Eric says:

    On why some hitters can’t work the count…. There’s a reason — and it’s perfectly valid.

    Scout comes down to the Dominican, sees you play one, maybe two games. He’s looking for the guy who hit the crap out of the ball, who showed him something. He ain’t looking for the guy who worked the count and took a walk to help the team. What are you, as a player, going to do? What kind of habits are you going to develop?

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    • Jason T says:

      That’s why I’ve heard the phrase, ‘You can’t walk off the island’ when commenting about some players from the Caribbean. Of course, a good many Latin players seem to be signed in their teens. There’s no excuse for organizations to continue to allow poor plate discipline.

      My uncle, who was a part-time scout for the M’s some years ago and now runs his own hitting school mentioned to me that minor league coaches aren’t allowed to mess with a prospects swing. Most organizations only allow the roving minor league hitting instuctor to do that. By the time guys get to AA or so, they’re pretty set in their ways. It’s too bad really.

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    • Christo P. Ney says:

      Kendrick’s Latin?

      News to me.

      Are you talking about Kendrick?

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    • Joe R says:

      Moneyball flashback: Remember how Billy Beane referred to Tejada has “hacks-at-everything”, and that it was a tendency of (almost) all Dominican hitters?

      I just think it’s silly to let him keep a bad habit if you won’t let him ride out the inevitable cold streak in the majors. If I ran an MLB organization, I would want loads of instructors AA and lower to try to teach stuff like plate discipline. Then if it doesn’t stick and I have what I have with a guy, so be it. If a guy’s going to be a career .290/.325/.390 type w/ a good glove, it’s obviously not great, but it’s far from useless, too (unless he’s a 1B).

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  8. Christo P. Ney says:

    I get your point, Joe. Players should be allowed to ride out cold streaks in the majors if they have the track record Kendrick has.

    But it was more than just the pretty slashes. He was starting to do strange crap, letting his slump at the plate affect his play in the field and on the basepaths.

    Again, two weeks down and come back up. If his psyche can’t take that, there’s bigger problems afoot.

    His slashy-type numbers since July of last year are around .253/.297/.354 and that’s including July of 2008, his only really good month. That’s at the bottom of the heap among qualified second basemen during that stretch. Yes, wrist injury. The year before it has the hammy. But a serious regression over a significant enough time was starting to emerge.

    Gold Glove might be stretching it as well. He’s fine. League average last year, has definitely showed improvement over the last three years, off to a good start this year but meh.

    I REALLY like Howie. But he has issues.

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