Desmond Jennings came into the 2012 season with an immense amount of hype. So far he has failed to live up to expectations. Will that change as we move forward or were expectations out of whack? Starlin Castro has been a terrific option this season, but does he have any room to grow? Who is the best pitcher in baseball? It may not be Justin Verlander or R.A. Rickey. Which five bullpen arms have impressed me to the point that I felt the need to tell you about them? Read on to find out.
The Depressing One
Coming into the season the hype train was overflowing with passengers when it came to Desmond Jennings. The multi-talented outfielder was supposed to push 20 homers, steal at least 30 bases, and be a borderline stud in his first full season in the league. Well as we approach the end of June, not so much.
Dropped to 7th in the batting order Wednesday, with good reason mind you, Jennings hasn't been able to stay healthy, let alone productive, this season. This really shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone. As they say though, people never let facts get in the way of a good story.
Fact – Jennings is supremely talented.
Fact – Jennings has dealt with injuries for years. Therefore it's no surprise that we're approaching the end of June and he has only 51 games on his ledger.
Fact – Prior to last season he had never hit more than 11 homers. He went deep 22 times last year, 12 at Triple-A and 10 in the bigs, but you knew that was a slight mirage, right? Not surprisingly his HR/F rate has regressed, as well as his fly ball rate, and the result is three homers in 192 at-bats. Add that to his work last season and we're at 13 homers in 460 at-bats, a pace that is more reflective of his pace then what he flashed last year, or this year.
Fact – He owns elite speed. There is no disputing that, but still, look at the numbers. In 2010 he stole 39 bags. In 2011 he stole 37 bases. Those are impressive totals, but far from earth shattering marks. He does have 33 thefts in 131 games in the big leagues so he's maintained that minor league pace in the bigs, so at least he's doing something to help out on that front.
Given his demotion in the batting order, and his recent knee woes, it might seem like now is the perfect time to move on. In fact, I'm suggesting the opposite. Given his talent, and the fact that he finally appears to be healthy, he's a solid second half target. Given that his current owner is likely extremely disappointed in his effort to this point of the year you're likely to be able to get him at a discount in a trade. Give it a go.
Am I Truly Elite?
Getting picked off base.
Forgetting how many outs there are.
Appearing to lack anything resembling an elite players focus.
All of that is an apt description of the Cubs' Starlin Castro. If I was the Cubs management I would seriously consider moving Castro in a trade. Even with his talent, he just doesn't appear like the type of player a championship club would want to build around. I'm not taking anything away from his abilities, we'll get to that in a moment actually, but the makeup of this youngster is far from ideal (it's fair to suggest that maybe he will turn things around as he matures, he is just barely 22 years old after all).
As for his exploits on the field, he's been an elite fantasy shortstop this season. Troy Tulowitzki is hurt, Jose Reyes hasn't performed up to expectations, etc. the position isn't exactly rife with superstars. Castro is hitting .301, his total of 92 hits is tied with David Wright for third in the NL, and he's swiped 16 bags. However, as impressive as all of that sounds, let's really dig into Castro and that skill set for a second.
Of course he can produce in the batting average category as he's hit .300, .307 and is currently working on a .301 mark in his third season. There's no dispute that he is a force in this category, and it's not just cause of his big average – it's also because he racks up a ton of at-bats and never walks. As a result he seems like a guy who could have a shot at 200 hits every year if he can stay healthy, and that brings him even more value in the batting average category. However, the downside here is that there really isn't any upside. How is that possible given his age and obviously talents? He lacks plate discipline, and in a big way. Castro walked 29 times as a rookie. He walked 35 times last year. He has walked, get this folks, eight times this year. In his career he's taken first base 72 times on walks. Joey Votto already has 59 walks this season in just 73 games. He's just not patient enough to see that average climb much.
Given Castro's approach at the plate, it's an open question if he will develop in the homer category. One of the keys to many players ability to produce the long ball is their patience in waiting for “their” pitch. If you're constantly swinging at everything you're often slapping the ball around the field instead of driving it. It should also concern you that he's hit 49 percent of his batted balls on the ground in his career and that his fly ball rate is only 30 percent for his career (for some perspective the league averages are about 44 percent on grounders and 37 percent on fly balls). Add his approach and his batter ball tendencies together and you have a guy who might be topped off at 15 homers.
As for his speed, it's clearly impressive enough for him to be a significant base stealing option. However, there are two main issues. (1) As I've hit on, he has a horrible approach at the plate, and the result is a career OBP of .338 which is only about .010 points better than league average. You're not doing yourself any favors if your getting on base at a league average rate (the mark is even more disappointing this year at .318). Due at least partly to this fact, have you noticed that Castro has one theft in his last 24 games (his OBP during that stretch is .295)? (2) He gets caught all the time. In his career he has been successful 48 times while being caught 25 times. Studies show that if you aren't stealing bases at a 67 percent rate you are actually HARMING your teams' chance to score runs. For his career Castro owns a 66 percent career rate.
Given the dearth of elite talent at shortstop, and the fact that he is so young, I'm not going to argue that Castro isn't a special option at shortstop. My whole point here is that while some might predict massive future growth we may be looking at a player who could fail to improve significantly on the production we are witnessing right now.
The Best Pitcher in Baseball?
Some would certainly say Justin Verlander. There would also be votes for guys Clayton Kershaw, R.A. Dickey and maybe even Aroldis Chapman if we were to include relievers. I'm going to make the argument that the best pitcher in baseball resides in San Francisco, and it's not Matt Cain.
Since the start of his career this hurler has gone 18-8, an impressive record.
This hurler has a 10.98 K/9 mark.
His BB/9 is a mere 2.00.
That means his K/BB is 5.50.
Good luck if your a batter cause you have no chance. His career BAA is .185.
Yeah, that means his WHIP is microscopic at 0.88 for his career.
Oh, and this season he has a 0.89 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, a 12.39 K/9, a 4.67 K/BB an a 2.20 GB/FB.
Let me ask you this. How many seasons of 18 victories with an ERA of 2.18 and 242 Ks have occurred in the 21st century? There have been 13 such season. Amongst pitchers who are currently active that number drops to six: Justin Verlander twice, Johan Santana twice and Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw one a piece. If we add in a 5.50 K/BB ratio into the mix there have only been two seasons of 18-2.18-242-5.50 in the 21st century and they both belong to Curt Schilling.
So who is this pitcher I speak of? It's Sergio Romo of course.
Give all of that, I'm totally mystified as to why the Giants don't utilize him more heavily. Sure Javier Lopez is a lefty specialist who can get batters out, but look at Romo's career numbers against lefties and righties:
Does that seem like a guy who can't get all batters out?
Pretty flipping amazing if you ask me.
The Giants have a commodity that they simply aren't using enough, and he just might own the best numbers of any pitcher in the game.
With Ryan Cook looking solid in the 9th inning Grant Balfour doesn't seem close to regaining the closing role he opened up the season with for the Athletics. Still, he's been an impressive performer with a hold in 4-straight outings and six of seven times on the bump. He's also been as dominating as pretty much any arm going since May 20th as he's allowed a total of one run and just six hits over 15 outings while racking up 14 punchouts. He's lowered his season long marks to a 2.68 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
Tim Collins stands 5'7” and pitches for the Royals, so you're forgiven if you haven't been paying much attention. However, you should be. Through 37.1 innings the diminutive slinger has four wins and five holds while he's held opposing batters to a mere .187 batting average. Most impressively though is the fact that he has 51 Ks leading to a 12.29 K/9 mark. Seems like you don't need to be tall in stature to possess filthy stuff.
Ernesto Frieri has been obnoxiously impressive since joining the Angels. Frieri has taken the hill 22 times and tossed 22 scoreless innings. It goes way beyond that though. The guy has allowed --- four hits. F O U R. Oh, and he's also struck out 38 batters leading to a 15.55 K/9 mark. We all know it's going to end soon, but I would have said the same thing two weeks ago and it's still going. Amazing.
Sean Marshall was removed from the closers role in May after he struggled a bit out of the gate. I continued to plead patience with Marshall telling everyone that the guy had elite skills even if his ERA and WHIP weren't reflective of that fact at the moment (in April his ERA was 5.40 and his WHIP 1.44). What has he done since the calendar flipped to May? How about dominate like nobody's business. In 20.2 innings Marshall has struck out 24 batters, walked three and allowed four runs leading to a 1.74 ERA. Oh yeah, his WHIP has also been 1.06. His mixed league value is obviously minimal given his lack of 9th inning work but make no mistake about it – he remains an elite level arm out of the pen.
Joe Nathan has been as dominating as ever in his first year in Texas. Through 32 appearances he has a 1.99 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and has converted 17 of 18 save chances. Toss into the hopper his 11.08 K/9 mark and a total of just three walks in 31.2 innings (0.85 BB/9) and you have as dominating a reliever as the game has produced this season, no if, and's or but's about it.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday, 5-8 PM EDT. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and you can follow his musing at the BaseballGuys' Twitter Page as well.
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