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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Night Notes: All-Star Break

Hippeaux's Predictions For the Second Half:
  • Ryan Howard will justify his All-Star selection and the inequity of Miguel Cabrera's snubbing will be exacerbated. Miggy's second half in 2008 was pretty explosive (.302, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 951 OPS) and this year he already has a pretty stellar first half to build on (.322, 17 HR, 48 RBI, 923 OPS). He faced tough competition on the A.L. ballot, but let's face it, he deserves to be there as much or more than Carlos Pena and Mark Texeira. Howard's selection prompted widespread accusations of nepotism, which are probably founded, considering it cost guys like Pablo Sandoval and Matt Kemp opportunities, but Charlie Manuel understands that Ryan Howard's game isn't suited to provoke All-Star selections. Every season he invokes the ire of Phillies fans with early season slumps, than reclaims their affections come summertime. These are his career OPS splits by month: 793 in April, 950 in May, 874 in June, 980 in July, 937 in August, and 1150 in September. His post-All-Star Break OPS (1050) is a full 175 points higher than in the first half.
  • Roy Halladay isn't going anywhere. I could be wrong. Some contender may get eager enough to put together a package which the Blue Jays can't pass up. But it will have to include at least two premier prospects, and with the premium placed on youth in recent years, I'm not sure teams are prepared to "mortgage the farm" to that extent. I can't imagine J. P. Riccardi would trade the best pitcher in baseball within his division, considering those are the teams he'll be trying to catch in the coming years, so that rules out three of the most obvious buyers. The Brewers have already made pretty clear that they aren't willing to part with their top prospects, guys like Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel, in an attempt to recreate their Sabathia trade from 2008. So that leaves the Cardinals, White Sox, and two teams out of Los Angeles. I'm not sure any of them have enough good talent (which isn't already essential to their success) to woo the Jays. Honestly, Halladay is almost too valuable. Their may not be any such thing as a fair trade.
  • The Giants will go for it. If Cain's elbow injury is more than just a bruise, this could change. But the Giants rotation is undeniably the best in baseball. The starters are responsible for 38 of the team's 49 wins (despite being near the bottom in run support) and lead MLB in ERA (3.49), K (487), BAA (.236), and CG (8). They're second in WHIP (1.27) to Seattle. Although Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Sandoval give this team a lot to build on, it isn't exactly a group which has time to wait. Randy Johnson, Ben Molina, and Randy Winn are only signed through the end of the season and Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria , and Aaron Rowand aren't exactly on the upside of their career tracks. The Giants have extraordinary pitching depth, with minor leaguers like Ryan Sadowski (recently promoted), Madison Bumgarner, Kevin Pucetes, Henry Sosa, and Tim Alderson looking very near to major-league ready, but other than Buster Posey and Angel Villalone, both of whom are probably still at least a year away, the Giants position player prospects are pretty pathetic. In the last ten year the Giants have only groomed one position player who became a major-league regular (Pedro Feliz). Sandoval is going to be the next and maybe Travis Ishikawa will join him, but guys like Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholz, and Kevin Frandson look like busts. If the Giants want to go for the NL Wild Card this year, they are going to need to acquire a bat. Most of the early rumors have surrounded Matt Holiday and I'd bet Billy Beane would be thrilled to get one of the pitchers mentioned above, with a few well-chosen B-level guys thrown in. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Giants seriously considered Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, Alex Rios, and Freddy Sanchez, among others.
  • The '09 Rays are not the '08 Rockies. Tampa Bay's +76 run differential (3rd in MLB) says a great deal about how good they are, despite being in third place in their division. They begin the second-half with a ten-game road trip against Kansas City, Chicago, and Toronto, against whom they will no doubt be favored, despite the fact that they are only 18-26 on the road so far. A strong start to the second half may be critical if they are going to surpass either the Yanks or the Red Sox (or both). (An interesting note: all three AL East contenders have great home records thusfar and the Yankees have the most home games remaining in the second half, 39 compared to 36 for both Boston and Tampa.) What bodes well for the Rays, in my opinion, is that Scott Kazmir appears to be close to becoming his dominant self again (despite a poor outing on Thursday), David Price recently outdueled Roy Halladay for his best start since being promoted, and James Shields' monthly ERA splits look like this: 3.74, 3.35, 3.15, 3.14. If the rotation (currently a 4.56 ERA) comes around, the Rays become the American League's best team...again.
  • Prince Albert is "crowned" King Pujols. There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Pujols will have to hold off Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Hanley Ramirez, but he's very much positioned to do the near unthinkable. He's ten homers up on Howard (who I guarantee will pass Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds by the end of July), nine RBI up on Fielder, and seventeen points back of Ramirez (who has spent much of the last two weeks nursing an injury). It would appear that average will be the greatest test, but while Pujols .332 is right in line with his career (.335), Ramirez is currently a dozen points above his best full season, 25 over his career, and nursing a hip flexor (see A-Rod, Mike Lowell), and Pujols nearest contention besides him is a rookie, Pablo Sandoval, and a Mets' outfielder, Carlos Beltran, who might be out for much of the rest of the season.
  • Expect a regression to the mean. In other words, just as David Ortiz and Ricky Nolasco were not as "done" as many were prepared to declare them, Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, and Magglio Ordonez are not as bad as they have thusfar demonstrated, nor are Ben Zobrist, Russell Branyan, and Mark Reynolds likely to be as good as they have looked before the break. We all know, track records don't lie. Teamwise, that's probably good news for the Rays, Cubs, and Phillies, maybe not so good for the Marlins, Brewers, and Rangers.

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