Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Yesterday I heard Peter Pascarelli proclaim that Derrek Lee was "finally" heating up after he hit four homers in three games over the weekend, as the Cubs swept the Indians. The fact is, D-Lee has been hot for six weeks. He had a terrible April, but since May 1 he has been gangbusters, hitting .341 with a 1037 OPS and 10 HR in 35 games. He looks a lot like he did in 2005, when he hit .335 with 46 HR and looked like he was about to become a superstar. Maybe he would've too, if he hadn't broken his wrist in April 2006, an injury which has seemingly sapped his power ever since. Despite his slow start, Lee is on pace for 27 dingers, which would be his most since '05.

Derrek is not the only Lee who has been the victim of misconceptions about his play so far this season. If would be easy to look at Cliff Lee's record (4-6) and assume that the surprise 2008 Cy Young winner has fallen back to earth. But, actually, that's hardly the case. His 2.94 ERA is good for 7th in the American League. If you take away two particularly bad starts at the beginning of the season, the story is even better. Since April 16, Lee's ERA is 2.20, which matches Zack Greinke for the best in baseball over that span. On four occasions he's gone eight innings, allowing two earned runs or less, and still ended up with a loss or a no-decision. On Friday he left the game leading 7-3 after seven innings, but his bullpen yielded four runs in two innings (including one of those D-Lee homers) to cost him a win. Hard to fault him for such performances. He's allowed four earned runs (or more) only once in his last thirteen starts. Lee remains a legit Ace, he's just getting the "Matt Cain treatment" from the Indians offense this season.

Speaking of poor run support, I'd like to draw your attention to Ryan Dempster. Like Lee, he went from barely making the rotation to Cy Young contender in 2008, spurring talk that he might be something of a fluke. And, like both Lees, he had relatively slow start, posting a 5.40 ERA in April. However, since the beginning of May Dempster has a 3.09 ERA in ten starts, but only three victories. The Cubs have scored three runs or less in each of his last four starts. That makes it hard on a pitcher.

My point here is that too often we presume that a cold start spells doom for a season and we stop paying attention to a player's progress, especially if that player is playing for a team that is underachieving. Big Papi's resurgence is getting a lot of play or Sportscenter, but not so for the Lees, Dempster, Brandon Phillips, or the Upton brothers. Don't put too much faith in the impressions of commentators (the other night Indians broadcasters were laying into Lee who was in the midst of a 19-game hitting streak, but applauding Alfonso Soriano, who has a 471 OPS in the last month of games) who seem to suffer from severe amnesia in the weeks just before the All-Star break.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Stream (Week Ten)

[Each Sunday Hippeaux provides suggestions for spot starters for the coming week. The suggestions are based on players available for 2 Legit 2 Not Acquit, in a 10-team, H2H 5 X 5 mixed league hosted by ESPN. If these players are available there, there's a decent chance they're available in your league as well. Keep in mind that the strategy of "streaming," introducing a waiver wire starter every day of the week, is designed to help you in categories like Wins and Strikeouts, but can be disastrous for your ERA and WHIP. It is best used in H2H leagues, where a few bad choices won't haunt you all year long, and should be abandoned in weeks when your top starters make enough appearances to carry the counting categories.]

MON: Josh Outman (OAK) v. Minnesota Twins (Anthony Swarzak)

There are a couple interesting possibilities on this limited schedule start to the new week. Kensin Kawakami (v. PIT) and Randy Johnson (@ FLA) both have fairly favorable matchups, as do both of the young pitchers in this game in Oakland. The Twins definitely sport the stronger lineup, but I'm still going to go with the A's Josh Outman, if for no other reason than he is having one of the most under-appreciated performances of the year. Through nine starts, Outman is 3-0 with a 3.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 42 K in 54 IP. He doesn't get much run support, but pitching at home in the spacious McAffee Stadium he's unlikely to get your week off to a bad start.

TUE: Brad Bergeson (BAL) v. Seattle Mariners (Jason Vargas)

I'm going with another matchup of youngsters. Vargas has actually be pitching better for longer than Bergeson, but Brad has back-to-back strong starts, including seven solid innings against the Mariners in Seattle for his last start. The Orioles feature the much stronger lineup, so I'm going to hope that 23-year-old Bergesen is starting to come into his own. He has a solid minor-league track record, but don't expect a lot of strikeouts. (Note: If you need K's, I'd recommend Jeff Niemann, coming off a shutout with 9 K against Kansas City, but facing tougher competition at home against Jered Weaver and the Angels.)

WED: Gil Meche (KCR) @ Cleveland Indians (Carl Pavano)

The Royals are no good, but Gil Meche is, although he's struggled a bit with his control thusfar in '09, he still has a 4.08 ERA and 2.95 ERA in his last four starts. As bad as the Royals lineup is, the Indians is even worse now that Grady Sizemore, Asdrubel Cabrera, and Travis Hafner are all on the D.L.

THU: Koji Uehara (BAL) v. Seattle Mariners (Ryan Rowland-Smith)

In the battle of two pitchers fresh off the disabled list, I'm going to promote Uehara, who was really hitting his stride before being stalled by a minor injury. Again, I like the match-up. The Mariners are dead last in the majors in scoring and the underrated Orioles are 5th in the majors in scoring at home, a number which could go up as Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold have replaced Gregg Zaun (602 OPS) and Felix Pie (595 OPS).

FRI: Kelvim Escobar (LAA) v. San Diego Padres (Kevin Correia)

I'm going to stick with the theme (largely because there is a lack of quality options) and recommend Escobar's return to the hill in Anaheim. He gets a weak offense in his first start back in over a year. Escobar didn't do great in his last rehab start at AAA, but overall he managed a 2.30 ERA with 13 K and only 3 BB in sixteen innings of minor-league work. The strikeout rate is especially encouraging and he could be a must-add in all leagues by the end of the week.

SAT: Josh Outman (OAK) @ San Francisco Giants (Randy Johson)

I'm going to drive home my point about how good Outman's been by picking him for the second time. Again, he's got a favorable matchup against a weak offense in a pitcher's park, although his opponent, the Big Unit, is likely to make quick work of the A's lefty-lade lineup as well.

SUN: Jeremy Bonderman (DET) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf)

There's not many favorable pairings for Sunday (although that may change in the next six days). As the schedule is currently set, the day is full of Aces: Santana, Carpenter, Peavy, Zambrano, Beckett, Burnett, Billingsley, Buehrle, Lowe, Cain, Johnson, and Cliff Lee. As a result, it is tough to recommend guys like Brian Tallet, J.A. Happ, and Brett Anderson. Brian Bannister, after getting off to a hot start, has had two straight outing allowing seven earned runs or more. Young Jordan Zimmerman has also scuffled and he faces the best offense in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays. Jason Vargas has been superb this season, but I tend to be reluctant to take a guy making his first trip to Coors Field. So...I'm sticking with my them, taking another reclamation project. In Bonderman's case, he will make his first start of the season earlier in the week, so you can ignore this recommendation if things go horribly wrong against the White Sox on Tuesday. But Pittsburgh features a pitcher's park and a mediocre lineup, robbed of its top hitter after last week's trade, so I'll roll the dice.

Swimming Upstream (How did I do last week?)

MON: Joe Blanton (7 IP, W, 3.86/1.00, 7 K)
TUE: Manny Parra (4 IP, L, 22.50/3.25, 5 K)
WED: Randy Johnson (6 IP, W, 0.00/0.67, 2 K)
THU: Gil Meche (6 IP, W, 1.50/1.83, 2 K)
FRI: Doug Davis (6 IP, W, 0.00/1.17, 5 K)
SAT: Anthony Swarzak (DNP)
SUN: Zack Duke (DNP)

Week 9 Totals: 3-1, 29 IP, 4.34 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 21 K

Four out of five ain't bad. Unfortunately, rainouts and rearranging meant I didn't get a chance to make up for Manny Parra's implosion with a couple more quality starts over the weekend, but still ended up with some respectable totals, especially in the wins department. I'll shy away from Parra for awhile, although I still think he has high-end talent. It was nice to see the Unit wrap up #300 without delay, and against his former team (kind of).

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Next Generation (Part Two)

In my last post I made some glowing comments about Justin Upton, all of which I stand by. But one of the things which sets Upton apart from his peers had nothing to do with his talent. He is, by my measure, perhaps the last premier prospect to be called up for good before his was ready. At the beginning of August in 2007, when he was still just 19, Upton was promoted by the Diamondbacks directly from AA after only about a year and a half of minor league service. Upton showed flashes of brilliance from the start, going 7 for his first 17 with five extra-base hits. But he also struck out a lot and was prone to extended slumps. As recently as this April, many speculated that he'd been promoted too soon (see the post "Down on the Upton" from 4/8/09). Arizona jumped the gun because they were in the thick of a pennant race with the Rockies and Dodgers, Carlos Quentin had been something of a bust (647 OPS in 81 games), and they didn't feel comfortable with a platoon of Scott Hairston and Jeff DaVanon down the stretch (understandably).

Few teams have been willing to resort to such measures in recent years. Last season the Rays refused to bring up David Price until the rosters expanded in September, despite the fact they were in the thick of a three-team race with the Red Sox and Yankees. The Brewers, chasing their first postseason appearance in two decades, resisted the temptation to bring up Mat Gamel, even though their third basemen had combined for the worst average in the National League. The Cardinals, still in the thick of the race, refused to turn to Colby Rasmus whe Rick Ankiel got hurt.

In situations like these we have become accustomed to the phrase "reluctant to start the clock," a reference to the fact that as soon as a team puts a premier prospect on their MLB roster, they begin the countdown to arbitration and free agency. The case of Evan Longoria is now infamous. He signed a six-year deal last May, while still in the minor leagues, was promoted the next day and promptly won the Rookie of the Year and carried the Rays to the World Series. He'll earn about as much over the next five seasons as Ryan Howard makes this year, despite being arguably a more valuable commodity, because the Rays were fastidious in protecting themselves from future arbitration hearings.

Many expect similar contracts to be handed out to this year's round of "clock-starters," Matt Wieters and David Price being the most notable among them, both being recalled, predictably, around a third of the way into the season. They will be joined (or already have been) by Mat Gamel, Matt LaPorta, Andrew McCutchen, and Tommy Hanson, all of whom probably deserved to begin the year in a big-league clubhouse. Here are some potential call-ups to watch:

Andrew McCutchen - CF - Pittsburgh Pirates

The bad news is that if your team is the Pirates there is very little motivation for them to bring up a McCutchen, a Steven Pearce, or a Pedro Alvarez, other than provide a little shred of hope for long-suffering fans and, as such, they will probably hold off as long as reasonably possible. McCutchen is making it hard on them at least. He's hitting .395 in his last ten AAA games for Indianapolis, and is showing speed (10 SB) and power (.500 SLG) so far this season. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's left-fielders have combined for a 685 OPS (13th in the NL) and the right-fielders aren't much better (732, 11th).

Kila Ka'aihue - 1B - Kansan City Royals

Another situation to watch is in Kansas City. Mike Jacobs and Billy Butler have been mediocre at 1B and DH. Meanwhile, Kila Ka'aihue appears to be preparing to follow up on his monster 2008 season (.314, 37 HR, 1085 OPS). After a slow start he's built his numbers up quickly (.275, 8 HR, 956 OPS). He's a better defensive option than Jacobs or Butler, as well. The Royals desperately need offense if they are going to stay in the hunt for the AL Central. They are 12th in the AL in scoring.

Tommy Hanson - SP - Atlanta Braves

Tommy Hanson has a 1.49 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP, and 90 K in 66 IP at AAA. That's sufficiently dominant, I would say. The Braves starters have been very solid (3.93 ERA), but Kensin Kawakami and Kris Medlen have to feel the fire on the back of their neck with each start.

Vin Mazarro - SP - Oakland Athletics

The A's can't hit (last in AL in runs) and they haven't pitched very well either (8th in ERA), so they don't have a lot to gain from loading their rotation with young talent. But that seems to be what Billy Beane is doing, anyway. He's already riding 21-year-olds Brett Anderson (2-5, 5.70) and Trevor Cahill (2-5, 4.33). Today he announced that they'll be adding the 22-year-old Mazzaro to the mix. Mazzaro has earned it. He's got a 2.38 ERA in nine starts at AAA. Expect that this is the makings of Oakland's next "Big Three," but it may not happen in 2009.

Other Prospects to Watch: Bud Norris, SP (Astros), Neftali Feliz, SP (Rangers), Fernando Martinez, OF (Mets), Justin Smoak, 1B (Rangers), Sean Rodriguez, 2B (Angels), Adrian Cardenas, 2B (Athletics)

The Next Generation (Part One)

A recent post from ESPN fantasy analyst Eric Karabell applauds Justin Upton's recent prolonged hot streak by saying, "Honestly, in a keeper league he's someone I'd target on a similar level to the top young players in the game, like Matt Wieters and David Price."

One would be tempted to gather from such a sentence construction that Karabell is saying something unusual or insightful, when in fact, this has to be seen as an incredible understatement. For one thing, the phrase "similar to the top young players in the game" is highly misleading. The necessity of declaring "similarity" would suggest that Upton is either older than said players or less likely to be considered "top." Justin Upton, despite the fact that he has nearly two full years more major league experience, is, in fact, two full years younger than either Price or Wieters, born August 25, 1987, whereas Price was born August 26, 1985 and Weiters on May 21 of that year. Both Price and Wieters, of course, elected to play college ball, which may or may not have delayed their development as major-leaguers, thus making them seem younger, when quite the opposite true.

So, the question is, what does Karabell mean by "top." Both Upton and Price were #1 overall draft picks (Wieters was #5) and the arrival of all three was highly anticipated. Each was handed a starting job (or closing job in the case of Price in 2008) upon arrival and all must be feeling the pressure of spectacular expectations. But while Wieters draws comparisions with Joe Mauer and Johnny Bench, and Price with C. C. Sabathia and John Smoltz, Upton has been forced to reconcile himself with a trio of outfielder who also entered the majors in their late teens (or very early twenties) with "five-tool" skills and went on to become arguably three of best to ever play the game: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. Hype doesn't get any bigger than that.

My point is, Upton has flown under the radar recently because he plays in Arizona, because he battled injuries last season, and because he isn't the most recent call-up, but don't be tempted to rate him in any "level of young players" other than one unto himself (witness the 500-foot homerun he hit early in May). Since April 24th, when he ended a prolonged slump with a double off Tim Lincecum, Justin is hitting .373 with 9 HR, 28 RBI, 6 SB, and a 1153 OPS in 35 games. Mind you, at the age of 21. While Wieters ans Price very well may become perennial All-Stars, Justin Upton very well may be the future of game, dominating our perception of the sport the way Mays did in the 50s and 60s, Griffey did in the 90s, and Bonds did for most of this decade.