Two weeks… and change

Two weeks into the season, I identified several players who had gotten off to interesting starts and wondered aloud whether they would keep it going. What the heck, now is as good a time as any to check back in on our heroes.

Jose Bautista

On April 17, Bautista led the American League in walks. Thanks to a poor batting average, his OBP was a paltry .350. Three months later, Bautista still leads the league in walks, but his OBP has improved… to .355.

In the meantime, a funny thing happened: Bautista started hitting home runs and hasn’t stopped. As of this writing (July 18), he leads all of MLB with 25 homers. In 24 fewer plate appearances, he’s nearly doubled his output of a year ago. Actually, Bautista’s walk rate and home run rate are pretty far out of whack from his norm:

Year Age  PA   BA  BB% PA/HR OPS+
2006  25 469 .235  9.8 29.31  94
2007  26 614 .254 11.1 40.93  96
2008  27 424 .238  9.4 28.27  91
2009  28 404 .235 13.9 31.08 101
2010  29 380 .233 14.5 15.20 141

At least he’s consistent with that batting average… although when .235ish is the norm, consistency isn’t all that great.

Bautista’s season so far calls to mind that of another Toronto outfielder from 30 years ago. Remember Otto Velez? In 1980, Velez was hitting .290/.389/.548 with 18 homers through July. He hit .214/.297/.327 with two homers the rest of the way and missed all of September thanks to a fractured left cheekbone incurred in a car accident.

Incidentally, Velez’s injury came about as the result of most unusual circumstances and forced Dave Stieb to play left field in the continuation of a suspended game against the Twins. I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to, but I can offer a suggestion for MLB’s next slogan: “Baseball. The closer you look, the weirder it gets.”

Rajai Davis

Davis stole seven bases in his first 14 games and was on pace to meet mentor Rickey Henderson’s prediction of 75-80 steals. The trouble with being “on pace” for anything after less than one-tenth of a season is it doesn’t mean squat.

The interesting aspect (at least to me) of Davis’ early “success” is that it came despite a complete inability on his part to reach base. At the time, he sported a .286 OBP, which made his performance freakish in a Frank Taveras/Omar Moreno kind of way.

Davis now has 28 stolen bases in 78 games. As of this writing, 70 games remain on the A’s schedule. Davis would need to steal 47 bags to reach Henderson’s low-end prediction. That may be difficult. Right now, he’s averaging 35.9 steals per 100 games; if he played in every remaining A’s game, he’d need to average 67.1 steals per 100 games the rest of the way.

The guess here is that Davis will end up somewhere in the 50-60 range. That’s not bad, but it’s hardly cause for excitement.

And the worst part? Davis’ OBP has crept up to .312, so he’s not even one of those Taveras/Moreno type freaks. He’s more like Tom Goodwin, which is… if Moreno is a train wreck, then Goodwin is a fender bender.

Davis is like that. Nobody remembers a fender bender. I had such high hopes.

Jeff Francoeur

I’ve been on a height kick lately. I got to thinking about Warren Newson awhile back, which got me to thinking about other short players.

Our own David Gassko did a study a few years ago showing that size does matter. This may help explain why people trip all over themselves in praise of a guy like Francoeur. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s a terrific athlete, and he looks like he should be a great baseball player. You know, like Cory Snyder or Joe Borchard. (One of these years, when I’m scraping the bottom of the idea barrel, I’ll have to assemble an “All-Star” team of tall guys who weren’t very good.)

Anyway, Francoeur’s main problem is that he can’t hit. Even in 2006, when he knocked 29 homers, his OPS+ was 87. First off, that’s hard to do. Second, unless your name is Tony Batista, you’re probably not going make a living that way.

One of Francoeur’s biggest issues (aside from having a surname that I’ve already spelled three different ways before fixing—yeah, I know; copy-and-paste) is his complete inability to discern balls from strikes. This year, however, he drew as many walks in his first eight games as he did in the first two months of 2009, so there was a glimmer of hope.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

I am happy to report that the glimmer is now gone and order has been restored:

Month  PA BB SO
April  93  9 10
since 240 10 46

Mets fans might not appreciate Francoeur’s performance, but I’ll bet Juan Encarnacion does.

Jose Guillen

Guillen came out of the gates strong, hitting five homers in his first 12 games. Since then, he has hit .260/.326/.407, which is so mediocre as to be unworthy of further comment.

Ryan Raburn

Raburn’s freakishness came in the form of being hit by three pitches in his first 21 plate appearances of the season. He’s been plunked three more times since then but done little else of consequence.

After fashioning a nice little season in 2009, Raburn has hit a disappointing .214/.294/.349 for the Tigers so far this year. I have a theory that Raburn and Jeff Baker are actually the same person. They were born about two months apart, and here’s what happens when you pro-rate their pre-2010 numbers per 162 games:

Player  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Raburn 372 63 101 21  4 15  57 32  96 .270 .329 .461 104
Baker  413 64 112 28  4 15  59 35 111 .270 .326 .455  96

And here’s what they’ve done this year (stats are through July 16 for this one because it works better that way and nobody cares if I fudge numbers to “support” some cockamamie theory):

Player  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Raburn 120 15 25  9  1  2  16  9 33 .208 .287 .350  69
Baker  120 14 28  5  2  3  12  7 34 .233 .279 .383  70

Seriously, how is that not the same guy? Now they just need to get traded for each other… kind of like Albie Pearson and Lenny Green back in the day.

Carlos Silva

Some guys never get the memo informing them that they stink. Apparently Silva is one of them. (Livan Hernandez would be another.)

Silva won his first eight decisions for the Cubs this year, and although he has scuffled a bit since then, his overall numbers are still good. I doubt you’ll find many people who predicted he’d have a 3.45 ERA come mid-July.

And how about the strikeouts? Silva’s K/9 of 6.37 would be pedestrian by most pitchers’ standards, but Silva is not most pitchers. He came into the season at 3.78, which puts him in Bill Walker/Murry Dickson territory. Bill Walker? Murry Dickson? Those guys played decades ago. How about some contemporary pitchers?

Well, there aren’t any. I guess maybe Kirk Rueter. Great control, no power, poor hit prevention. That sounds like Pete Donohue, but again, we’re talking about a guy who threw his last pitch nearly 80 years ago.

Silva is a freak. He’s been terrible and/or injured the past two years. Now he’s pitching great, like he did in 2005. His collapse is imminent, and yet it may not happen for years. You know who else was like that? Omar Olivares.

OK, I’ve just rattled off a bunch of forgettable pitchers. One of them should float your boat. Next question, please.

Vernon Wells

In the original article, I noted that when the Blue Jays signed Wells to that surreal contract, they paid for Willie Stargell and got Brandon Phillips. Then Wells got off to a blistering start and kept on going. Actually, that second part isn’t right. He’s been declining ever since his explosive April:

Month  PA   BA  OBP  SLG
April 101 .337 .396 .717
May   118 .278 .322 .500
June  103 .240 .291 .490
July   48 .159 .208 .250

The other thing about Wells is that he seems to be settling into one of those weird Bret Saberhagen odd/even year patterns:

Year  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
2006 677 .303 .357 .542 129
2007 642 .245 .304 .402  85
2008 466 .300 .343 .496 122
2009 684 .260 .311 .400  88
2010 370 .268 .319 .524 126

Figure he’ll slip in 2011. Of course, it will have nothing to do with this “pattern” and everything to do with the fact that he is hitting above his career norms (.280/.329/.473, 108 OPS+) and will be 32 next year. But someone will mention the odd/even thing… and be serious about it.

Jake Westbrook

Westbrook was interesting because, after missing most of 2008 and all of 2009, his control was a bit off to start the season. The good news is, he’s fixed that:

Month  G   IP WP HBP
April  5 27.2  4   4
since 14 86    2   2

The bad news is, he’s no longer interesting.

Josh Willingham

Willingham is still hitting (.276/.403/.491, 140 OPS+). He ranks third in the National League in walks and fourth in OBP. He’s also on a one-year, $4.6 million contract, which makes him an ideal trade target.

Curious thing about Willingham: He was selected in the 17th round of the 2000 draft. That turned out to be a pretty good round. Not including Paul Maholm, who didn’t sign out of high school, it featured Willingham, Angels catcher Mike Napoli and Rangers right hander Rich Harden.

Compare that with the second round of the same year. The best of the lot were guys like Chad Qualls, Manny Delcarmen, Xavier Nady and Brian Tallet.

I’m cherry picking, of course, but the point is that sometimes you have a lousy second round and a great 17th round. The draft is fickle that way. It really doesn’t care.

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13 years ago

Silva’s “collapse is imminent, and yet it may not happen for years.”
The collapse has already begun to the point, according to Baseball Prospectus, “The Cubs are considering releasing starter Carlos Silva and moving left-handed reliever Sean Marhsall into the rotation.”

13 years ago

It’s a really small sample size, but Carlos Silva’s last 2 starts have not been suitable viewing for all ages. 2.1IP, 13H, 11R, 1HR, 5BB, 2K.  That’s TWO starts!  Basically he gave you no chance and ruined the bullpen for the next two days or more.

I get queezy typing that and I’m not a cub fan.