Friday, March 24, 2006

Felix Heredia Was Released Today

The transaction wire is a great place to hang out during Spring Training. A lot of great stories are found there. One of today's cuts was Felix Heredia. Heredia is one of those players that makes the Fan wonder how a player such as Heredia could hang around as long as he has.

2004 was a typical year for Heredia. He pitched in 47 games for the Yankees. A left handed pitcher, it was Heredia's job to take the ball when Joe Torre needed to get a left handed batter out. Giving the ball to Heredia 47 times makes the greatness of Torre's management skills come in to question.

Asking Heredia to perform such a task was like spraying lighter fluid into a fireplace. In those 47 appearances, Heredia pitched 38.1 innings. In those innings, he gave up 44 hits and walked 20 batters and hit two others. That's 66 base runners in 38.1 innings. That doesn't make that lefty/lefty situation make much sense. His ERA was over 6.00 for the year for the second time in his career.

Heredia pitched for nine years and pitching primarily to his supposed-strength (lefty batters), he pitched 458.1 innings and gave up 798 base runners. Ouch. How much do you want to bet that Heredia gets a job somewhere.

Here is a word to the wise to MLB managers: Never hire a pitcher named Heredia. There have been four pitchers with that name in the majors and besides Felix, here are their results:

Gil Heredia (1991 to 2001): Gil had one decent season, but his overall career featured a lifetime 4.46 ERA and 1328 base runners in 954 innings.

Ubaldo Heredia (1987): Pitched in two games for the Expos. Finished with a 5.40 ERA.

Wilson Heredia (1995, 1997): Wilson pitched 31.2 innings for the Rangers and walked 31 batters. Yeesh.

Over the years, there have been other players that cause the Fan to wonder why they played so long. Here are a few that come to mind:

Alfredo Griffin (1976-1993): Alfredo Griffin played for 17 seasons for the Indians, Blue Jays, Athletics, Dodgers and the Blue Jays again. Griffin was a shortstop who finished with a lifetime .249 batting average and a .285 on-base percentage.

In 1984, Griffin batted 429 times for the Blue Jays. He walked four times. Four. His batting average for the year was .241 and his on-base percentage was .248.

Well, lots of shortstops were weak hitters. Eddie Brinkman comes to mind. But fielding made up for it. Griffin had four years with more than 30 errors. Maybe Griffin was a great base runner. Not exactly. In 326 attempts, Griffin was thrown out 134 times.

Horace Clarke (1965-1974): Clarke played nine years--all but one of them with the Yankees. Those Yankee teams of the late 60's and early 70's were brutal and no one summed up who they were more than Horace Clarke.

The thing that makes Clarke's career remarkable is that, despite pathetic hitting for 600 at bats a season, he led off for the Yankees for almost all of his career. How can you have a lead off hitter for half a dozen years with a lifetime on-base percentage of .308 and a batting average of .254? The defining Horace Clarke statistic? He had 4813 lifetime at bats and ended up with 200 extra base hits.

Darren Oliver (1993 - 2004): Oliver pitched for eight different teams in his Major League career--badly. Remarkably, Oliver finished with a winning record, but he ended with a career earned run average of 5.07.

Oliver had four seasons where he finished with an earned run average over 6.00. The year 2000 was a career lowlight. He made 21 starts for the Texas Rangers and ended up with an earned run average of 7.42. For those not in the know, that is 7.42 runs per nine innings.

Despite the fact that Oliver gave up 2247 base runners in 1407 innings in his career, he never lacked a team willing to give him the ball.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Random Thoughts

- The Fan is glad that the Soriano crisis is over. Things could get bumpy in left field for the Nationals slugger, but at least he is playing the game he so obviously loves. He will continue to be one of the Flagrant Fan box score watches.

- The Fan doesn't want to talk about steroids or even think about them. The situation is the kind of story that the thrill-seeking journalists of our era love so much. It's so much more fun to find stories to tear down the high and mighty than it is to build interest in the game they supposedly love.

The key for the Fan is that testing is now in place to stop it and both the owners and the players understand that steroids and hormone injections are bad for the game. What happened before this time happened. It's not dissimilar to the free 70's when free sex and our hippie past led to STD's and drug addiction. We learn and we move on. Let's play ball already.

- The traditionally losing teams that have the best chance to turn it around this year are the Tigers and the Devil Rays. New managers and some interesting talent could turn them around.

- It was sad to see Ricky Bottalico waived two days ago. Bottalico can no longer blow away batters like in the past, but he can still get some people out. Here's hoping that he catches on somewhere.

- Sons of former players are always interesting when they come up to the big leagues. There is more anticipation and curiosity in the arrival. Will Prince Fielder be the bomb that he seems to be? It looks like Jesse Barfield's son, Josh, has a good chance for the starting second base job with the Padres. There are two more box score watches.

- For a catcher to go to the hospital as Jorge Posada did with his broken nose, it must have been pretty bad.

- It looks like Sidney Ponson is going to get one more chance with the Cardinals. Let's hope the pitcher realizes that he's had more chances than most would with his history.

- There aren't too many sadder stories than those of Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. Those two men had so much talent and just could not get past their problems. It hurts inside to think of the road they both traveled.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Three Points for the National League

The Fan is finding it hard to think about baseball after the dreaded Colts signed Adam Vinatieri. Ugh! What were the Patriots thinking? Oh

A couple of days ago, this space created some lists for the American League. Let's take five for the National League.

Five NL players would could have break-out seasons:
1. Nick Johnson - Nationals: Okay. Johnson has been around now for several seasons, but injuries have slowed his progress. Now that he's signed his first big contract, Johnson can relax and know that he is counted on. Already one of the best fielding first basemen in the league, Johnson's lifetime .383 on-base percentage and power potential could make 2006 the year that Johnson becomes a break-out star.

2. Chase Utley - Phillies: Utley played his first full season last year for the Phillies and put up 28 homers and drove in 105 runs. Even more impressive, Utley had 39 doubles and learned to be patient at the plate. In his second full season, Utley should become the next great second baseman.

3. Felipe Lopez - Reds: Another second baseman and shortstop, Lopez had his first 500+ at bat season last year and scored 99 runs while driving in 85 to go along with 23 homers. He batted .291 with a .352 on-base percentage. The Reds picked up Tony Womack, but he isn't the answer. The Reds should play Rich Aurilia at short and Lopez at second and he will become a star.

4. Austin Kearns - Reds: Austin Kearns was the can't miss prospect when he came up a few years ago. His career has taken some twists since then, but with Wily Mo Pena off to the Red Sox, Kearns is going to get his chance to finally grow into his billing. Look for 30+ homers and over one hundred RBI.

5. Chris Young - Padres: Chris Young was one of the Rangers' best pitchers last season. He's never had a full season and yet has a career winning record. Only 27, Young could blossom into the next great pitcher now that he's in the National League and has two less hitters in the lineup to worry about.

Five NL stars would could slip to age this year:
1. Woody Williams - Padres: Williams had his first losing season since 1997 and will be 40 this year. It seems hard to imagine that Williams has anywhere to go but down.

2. Omar Vizquel - Giants: Vizquel seemed human during the WBC and at 38, his long and productive career is headed down. The Giants make the Yankees look young.

3. Jeff Kent - Dodgers: Kent had another very good year last year, but he is 38. The Fan is predicting that Kent will show his age this year.

4. Carlos Delgado - Mets: Between Delgado and the AARP's Julio Franco, the Mets have 37 years of experience at first base. That can't be a positive for the team. Other Mets that are destined to falter eventually: Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez.

5. Craig Biggio - Astros: This could be the last hurrah for Biggio who is now 40 years old. Hard work and pure guts can only carry a body so far. Biggio hit 26 homers last year and hit 40 doubles, but had his lowest on-base percentage since his rookie year (way back in 1988).

Five most important NL players to their team's success:
1. Barry Bonds - Giants
2. Pat Burrell - Phillies
3. Chris Carpenter - Cardinals
4. Lance Berkman - Astros
5. Pedro Martinez - Mets

Five biggest NL question marks:
1. Barry Bonds - How well will he play? How will baseball deal with the issues?
2. Miguel Cabrera - Will he flounder without any stars around him? Will anyone pitch to him?
3. Bobby Cox - Can he pull another rabbit out of the hat...without his pitching coach?
4. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood - Will the Cubs twosome ever have full seasons?
5. Ryan Howard - Can the young bopper do it over a full season?

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Line is Drawn

The "plight" of Alfonso Soriano has been discussed recently in this spot. The line was drawn today when Soriano refused to take his spot in left field. The Nationals are not going to back down and would just as soon send Soriano home to lose his $11 million for his pride. There is no way that Frank Robinson is going to back down either.

Soriano is in a precarious position here. If he gets put on the disqualified list, he won't become a free agent at the end of the year. And if he doesn't play, he doesn't start earning that next big paycheck.

Frankly, Soriano's stance is pathetic and he should go out and play left field. It's not like the Nationals are asking him to clean out a safe house in Iraq. Get real, Alfonso, and grab your glove.
Red Sox Go Against Wisdom

The old saying is that you never have enough pitching. The Red Sox apparently were not comfortable with their offense and overly comfortable with their pitching and traded Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for Wily Mo Pena. The Fan isn't sure about this trade.

The Red Sox gave up their most consistent pitcher last year and will rely on a rotation of: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield and either David Wells or a young Jonathan Papelbon. That makes two starters who will turn 40 this year, and Wells who will turn 63 or something.

Beckett could be ready to grow into the stardom predicted for him for the past five years and Clement may bounce back from what was a real up and down year (and a line drive off his head). Papelbon seems like the real deal after his September call up, but he was their backup plan if Foulke doesn't make it back as the closer.

Arroyo filled up innings and will certainly help the Reds who have been desperate for pitching for years now. Arroyo signed a three year contract at less than market value because he loved it in Boston. Surprise! At least Cincinnati is a great baseball town like Boston.

The Red Sox got a fourth outfielder in Wily Mo, who besides having one of the coolest names in baseball, also has a lifetime average of .347...of striking out. Pena does have tremendous power from the right side, something the Red Sox lack.

The move gives the Red Sox four outfielders and the possibility of Juan Gonzalez somewhere else in the mix. Where will they put them all? Pena goes from a similar outfield situation with the Reds that just seemed to sort itself out for him to get 500 at bats for the first time in his career.

Pena should benefit from playing with David Ortiz and gives the Red Sox some insurance in the unsteady world of Manny Ramirez. But the Fan still can't get past wondering if Schilling has something left, Wakefield can throw knuckleballs forever, Beckett is past the blister days and Clement or Wells have something to offer.

You never have too much pitching...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Major League Elevator

Al Leiter retired the one batter he faced today and then retired from Major League Baseball. In another story, the Red Sox signed Juan Gonzalez to a minor league contract. That's the elevator that is baseball in Spring Training. The elevator goes up and down and sometimes people get out for the last time.

Al Leiter was a pretty good pitcher for a long time. Known just as much for his heart as for his fastball, Leiter won 162 games in his 19 year career against only 132 losses. His lifetime ERA was 3.80, which is very good in the hitting era he pitched in.

Leiter was a late bloomer who wasn't a star until seven years after his career started with the Yankees in 1987. Starting in 1995, Leiter won 133 games in the next ten years with Toronto, Florida and the Mets.

His best year was 1998, his first year with the Mets, when he was 17-6 with a 2.34 ERA. It was no coincidence that his career took off when his strikeout to walk ratio improved dramatically. It is also no coincidence that his career showed signs of being over when his walk count increased while his strikeout count plummeted.

Leiter always rode the edge of the strike zone and his talent and poured his heart into every performance. It was an act of grace that allowed him to end his career today on his own terms with an out. His career was a joy to watch.

On another elevator stop, the Red Sox signed Juan Gonzalez to a minor league contract. If Gonzalez can come anywhere close to the kind of bat he had in his career, this could be an incredible move for the Red Sox.

Despite the enigma that has surrounded his career, Gonzalez has had some of the greatest years in MLB modern history. Gonzalez was Manny Ramirez before there was a Manny Ramirez, and, in fact, replaced Ramirez in Cleveland when Manny signed in Boston.

Juan Gonzalez has had three seasons with 140 RBI or more (144, 157, 140). He had an eleven year run where he hit 392 homers and 1263 RBI. He had a four year run (1996 through 1999) where he hit 173 homers and drove in an incredible 560 runs. He has batted over .300 five times and over .320 twice.

Unfortunately, Juan Gonzalez has had a history of going on the disabled list. But so has Nick Johnson and the Nationals just gave him $25 million for three years. Dare the Fan say this out loud? Perhaps Gonzalez has a bad rap because he is a Hispanic ballplayer? Why else would his injuries be eyed with suspicion when Chuck Finley was a gutty pitcher who kept trying to come back from his injuries?

What is known is that Gonzalez would be threatening some pretty big numbers if he had been able to get 600 at bats a season. In the one season that he did hit that mark, he scored 110 runs, 193 hits, 50 doubles, 45 homers and 157 RBI. Wow! Even with injuries, Gonzalez has 434 career homers and over 1400 RBI. Not too many players have seen that kind of production.

If Gonzalez can come back and give the Red Sox 30 homers and 80 runs batted in, that will be a huge boost for that team. At least one Fan will be rooting for him.