Free Agent Fits: Where Remaining Free Agents Should End Up

With so many big names finding homes, teams with holes are trying to find the appropriate signing to fill them. There are still plenty of names who make sense for so many teams, but let’s take a look at some great potential landing spots for some of the remaining unsigned players.

Weeks could be a nice, cheap addition for the Tribe Courtesy: USA Today
Weeks could be a nice, cheap addition for the Tribe
Courtesy: USA Today

Rickie Weeks, 2B/OF

Good Fit: Cleveland Indians

Weeks was released last June by the Seattle Mariners after hitting just .167/.263/.250 over 84 plate appearances with the club. He failed to latch-on elsewhere after his release, which shows a lot about his career demise. While Weeks never became the same type of hitter that he was expected to become as the #2 overall pick out of college, he was an All-Star and had several productive seasons. Even after fading over the last several seasons, Weeks has a 162-game average of 28 doubles, 21 home runs, and 17 stolen bases. Now, at 33, Weeks could use his versatility to become a tremendous low-risk gamble for a club like the Indians, who will need to replace the versatility that they lost with Mike Aviles departure. Cleveland has stashed several versatile players over the last few years (Nick Swisher, David Murphy, Carlos Santana), utilizing their roster space in a very effective way. With Jose Ramirez filling the super-utility role, Weeks would be capable of manning the Ryan Raburn role from the last couple of seasons for Terry Francona and Company. Nothing more than a minor league deal, here, but certainly one worth trying out.

Fowler would be an upgrade...if the Brewers want to field a good team
Fowler would be an upgrade…if the Brewers want to field a good team

Dexter Fowler, OF

Good fit: Milwaukee Brewers

Fowler was a tremendous addition for the Chicago Cubs last season, showcasing his ability to get on base (84 walks) and score runs (102) with unique blend of skills. While he isn’t going to be mistaken for Mike Trout with the bat or Kevin Kiermaier with the glove, he can drive the ball, evidenced by 54 extra-base hits, and run (20 stolen bases). He turned down a qualifying offer, which is leading to some lack of interest in the open market, as teams continue to be weary of giving up a draft pick as compensation. With that being said, the Brewers have a protected pick and a possible need for a center fielder. With Domingo Santana currently listed as the club’s starter, it would make sense for Milwaukee to sign Fowler to a deal and look to deal him if they are as miserable as they were last season near the deadline. While Santana is just 23, if the Brewers were to attempt to improve their roster, they would get someone who hasn’t looked overmatched at the position, as the young outfielder has struck out 77 times in 177 at bats (43%  of his at bats). Fowler would become a nice leadoff option, setting the tone for Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy; however, the Brewers would need a lot more help than Fowler to become legitimate contenders.

Matt Joyce, OF

Good Fit: Tampa Bay Rays

Joyce had some solid seasons in Tampa and would be a great bench option for the club, as long as he didn’t need to get everyday at bats. Joyce has no chance against left-handed pitchers, having posted a career .180/.252/.302 triple-slash in 382 career plate appearances; however, his .253/.348/.447 line against right-handed pitching would make his a very nice use of a roster spot for the Rays. Having come off the worst season of his career (.564 OPS), the possibility of getting him for a next-to-nothing gamble price is right up the Rays’ alley, as well. With Desmond Jennings‘ inability to stay healthy and a possible opening at DH, this could be a reasonable reunion.

Brown has punch and could come cheap for the rebuilding Reds
Brown has punch and could come cheap for the rebuilding Reds

Domonic Brown, OF

Good Fit: Cincinnati Reds

With the recent trade of Todd Frazier and the continued rumors surrounding Aroldis Chapman and Brandon Phillips, the Reds are in sell-mode. Due to all of the deals, they have a gluttony of inexperienced outfielders, including Adam Duvall (acquired from San Francisco in the Mike Leake deal), Scott Schebler (acquired in the three-way deal with Los Angeles and Chicago for Frazier), and Rule 5 draftee Jake Cave (selected from the Yankees). While Jesse Winker, one of the club’s top prospects, readies himself in Louisville this season, it wouldn’t be a terrible choice to give the left field job to former Phillies’ top prospect Brown, who, in 2013, was an All-Star, and now, at the tender age of 28, is jobless and in need of a revival. If you look back at the archives for this site, you’ll see quite a bit of love for this young man, and, as a Reds’ homer, he’d be a welcomed addition to this writer’s hometown team. Brown was granted free agency back in October and still hasn’t found a home. I’d be willing to open-up my extra bedroom if the Reds would give him a long look in 2016, struggles from 2015 and all.

Casey Janssen

Good Fit: New York Yankees

The Yankees have been shopping Andrew Miller this offseason and they have a great replacement in the closer role in Dellin Betances; however, the rest of their bullpen is an interesting blend of young nobodies, as the only remaining bullpen arm outside of Betances, if the club was to deal Miller, with viable innings from 2015 would be 25-year-old Chasen Shreve. Enter Janssen, who is two years removed from closing for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a less than stellar season in Washington last season, but he has only walked 2.2 per nine over his career and, at 34, should have enough left to add much-needed depth to the Yankees’ bullpen. He was bought out by the Nationals after earning $3.5 million in 2015, so he could be a nice, cheap option in a down reliever market.

"The Freak" has lost his freakiness, but could be a nice gamble by LA
“The Freak” has lost his freakiness, but could be a nice gamble by LA

Tim Lincecum, RHP

Good Fit: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers were willing to give Brett Anderson $10 million for one-year last winter and Brandon Beachy a few million dollars to rehab with the club, so gambling on Lincecum, despite “The Freak” having a few down seasons, is something that the free-spending Dodgers may be willing to do. This is especially true due to the unknown future of Brandon McCarthy‘s elbow and Hyun Jin Ryu’s shoulder. In addition, the lefty-heavy state of the Dodgers rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Ryu, Alex Wood, and Anderson) could use the right arm of Lincecum, even as a back-end option. At 32, the two-time Cy Young winner’s career isn’t ever going to rebound, but Chavez Ravine could do enough for him to make his numbers look respectable again, and the offense has enough firepower to help him out if he can’t do it himself anymore.

Cespedes with Trout and Pujols would be a very pricey murderers row.
Cespedes with Trout and Pujols would be a very pricey murderers row.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF

Good Fit: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Cespedes is going to cost a lot of money and the Angels could use a couple of arms to stay competitive more than another bat. Still, the Angels could use an upgrade in left over Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, and adding Cespedes to Albert Pujols and Mike Trout has to look pretty sexy on paper for Arte Moreno, who could use something positive after the Josh Hamilton fiasco. It will cost a pretty penny to sign the Cuban outfielder, but it would certainly be a solid addition to an already powerful lineup.

 

2015 Season Previews: San Francisco Giants

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!

San Francisco Giants

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 84-78 (3rd in NL West, 9th in MLB)

Manager: Bruce Bochy (667-629 in eight seasons with San Francisco, 1,618-1,604 in 20 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: C Buster Posey (6.1), LHP Madison Bumgarner (3.5), 1B Brandon Belt (3.3)

Bounce-back Player: RHP Matt Cain

Since the start of the 2013 season, Cain has gone 10-17 with a 4.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 274.2 innings and 45 starts. Over the previous four seasons, Cain had gone 55-35 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 882 innings and 131 starts. The last two seasons, Cain has been on the disabled list four times and he has had two surgeries (bone chips removed from his right elbow and right ankle surgery to remove bone spurs). He was never on the disabled list prior to the 2013 season. Some people may think that the 30-year-old right-hander will be a bust after signing his mega-extension, but Cain has had some bad luck the last two seasons with his health, and he has still shown an ability to keep the opposition off the bases, despite the inflated ERA. Look for Cain to be a solid 1B to Bumgarner’s 1A as he returns to form in 2015.

Susac has the tools to be a big producer...if he gets a shot Courtesy: USA Today
Susac has the tools to be a big producer…if he gets a shot
Courtesy: USA Today

Fantasy Player to Watch: C Andrew Susac

Even with Brandon Belt at first base, it doesn’t seem like a smart investment to have your best player at such a vulnerable position in the midst of a nine-year, $164 million contract. For that reason, and that fact that Belt would be an offensive upgrade in a corner over Gregor Blanco, you should keep an eye on Susac, a second round pick in 2011 out of Oregon State. Susac is a slugger with solid on-base skills, while providing a strong arm and solid, but not elite, defense behind the dish. While he is unlikely to log 400 at-bats in San Francisco, possibly even 200 in 2015, there will come a time when Susac is catching and Posey will be manning first base or another position, and this 25-year-old will be worth rostering.

Offseason Overview: The defending world champions lost their star third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, to the Boston Red Sox via free agency, but they did sign OF Nori Aoki and 3B Casey McGehee…Is that enough? The Giants held tight across the board, and they hope to survive with their very good rotation until Hunter Pence returns from his broken forearm to help the offense score some runs. Why fix what has been working? Sandoval was good but not great, and they’ll benefit from the on-base skills from Aoki at the top of the order. That was a sneak-good signing, and the pitching is still there to be competitive.

The Verdict: Well, it isn’t an even year, so the Giants can be written off as champions, since they’ve won in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Maybe next year, they can continue on with their pattern. The 2015 season will be quite interesting. They’ll hope to get some value out of the two-year, $35 million deal they gave Tim Lincecum after his horrific 2012 and 2013 seasons, and they’ll look for continued dominance by Bumgarner, who had one of the most historical performances in baseball history down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. The Giants continue to coast with what they have, adding aging pieces in areas of need, continuing to watch Posey and Pence carry a very average (or worse) group of hitters. If they were able to add something more than what they did this winter, perhaps they could have been capable of repeating, but they’ll settle into the middle of the NL West with another above .500 record, preparing to pounce on some free agents after the 2015 season.

Pitchers Who Won’t Come Up Short

Maddux1Too small, too fat, too slow, too skinny. These are just a few of the labels that players are given to create an industry-wide opinion as to who will, won’t, can, or can’t achieve success in Major League Baseball. However, when you consider that Chicago Cubs’ scout Duffy Dyer said that Greg Maddux wasn’t “strong enough to be a starter” in his scouting report in 1985, it would become quite easy to question those so-called brilliant minds within baseball’s organizations. We all know now that Maddux would go on to win 355 games in his career, becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame member in the Baseball Writers Association of America’s vote from earlier this month.

After spending some time collecting easily attainable data, it became evident that scouts are still on a warpath when it comes to the ideal body of a major league pitcher, thinking that the strong, 6’4″, 205 to 235 pound frame that came along with Roger Clemens, is the “norm” for all starting pitchers. How soon scouts forget the apparent aid that Clemens was receiving to maintain his large trunk-like legs and tremendous fastball into his 40’s, while assuming that there aren’t pitchers hovering around the 6′, 170 pounds that Maddux took to the mound during his career. Pitchers continue to look more like small forwards and shooting guards in the NBA, possessing enough size to make Spud Webb run in fear, while going eye-to-eye with LeBron James.

But, why does the philosophy of monster starting pitchers continue to be such an industry-wide ideal when you consider the data that is out there and the names who have proven that bigger isn’t always better?

When taking a look at the most valuable starting pitchers in the history of baseball (based on Baseball Reference WAR), you can see, below, that the average height and weight of the top 25 pitchers in baseball history is 72.68 inches (6’0″) and 186.96 pounds.

HOF SP

Comparatively, the top 25 starting pitchers from 2011 through the 2013 season look like this:

11 to 13 SP

Certainly, the philosophies that have big, strong pitchers has driven the average height and weight of starting pitchers from the long-term success, Hall of Fame caliber 6′, 187 pounds to the nearly 6’4″, 218 pound forces who toe the rubber today.

The innings, number of pitches, and dominant strikeout totals are clearly different today, but the dominant, powerful arms weren’t just limited to today, and certainly not to those who stand approximately 76 inches tall. Year round training, supplements (legal and illegal), and the millions made playing baseball allow today’s athlete the opportunity to focus on their bodies and their long-term success and care, but are they truly better off than those who came before them?

fellerBob Feller was 6′, 185 pounds and possessed an impressive fastball, posting a Fifty Foot Equivalent of 107.6 miles per hour, the second fastest fastball ever. Having missed three seasons due to serving in World War II, Feller still accumulated 266 wins and over 2,500 strikeouts while missing his age-23 through age-25 seasons. If you take away the nine starts that Feller had in 1945, upon his return from war, and the three seasons that he missed while fighting, from 1938 through 1951, ten full seasons, Feller posted a 211-118 record, pitched in 403 games, logged 2,896 innings, and tossed 224 complete games for the Cleveland Indians. Feller’s career derailed shortly thereafter, as he never reached 200 innings after his age-32 season (1951), and he retired in 1956 at the age of 37.

One could argue that with today’s monitoring of pitcher workloads, Feller may have held onto his stuff, strikeout rates, and career a bit longer. But another argument is that Feller never would have been in the majors at the age of 17, as he was in 1936, and that he may have been a bullpen arm due to his small stature.

After all, when pitchers have electric stuff, like an Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball, isn’t it presumed that it is quite unlikely that said pitcher’s stuff could hold up over 100 pitches and 200 innings, which is why Aroldis Chapman is pitching in relief still? Chapman, after all, is 6’4″, 205 pounds, nearly the epitome of an ideally built staff ace.

But I digress.

LincecumFor so long, labels have been slapped on pitchers to say that they are bullpen bound, not durable enough to start, or unable to repeat mechanics due to unorthodox deliveries or release points. With Whitey Ford (5’10”, 236 wins, 1974 Hall of Fame) and Pedro Martinez (5’11”, 219 wins, on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot) leading the ranks of “tiny”, dominant arms, there will be others following current shorties like Tim Lincecum (5’11”, two-time Cy Young winner), Craig Kimbrel (5’11”, 138 saves and 341 strikeouts over his last 206.2 innings), Kris Medlen (5’10”, 30-13, 2.96 ERA in 61 starts), and Johnny Cueto (5’11”, 33-16, 2.61 ERA over his last 68 starts and 433.2 innings).

Here are some short future stars to keep an eye on in coming seasons:

 

Royals RHP: Yordano Ventura
Royals RHP: Yordano Ventura

Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 5’11”, 180 pounds

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: 5’9″, 185 pounds

Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 5’11”, 160 pounds (he’s only 17)

Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets: 6’0″, 170 pounds

Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins: 6’0″, 187 pounds

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: 5’10”, 190 pounds

Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners: 6’0″, 255 pounds

C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago Cubs: 6’2″, 155 pounds (already has the too skinny label, but he can blow it by everyone in the minors)

For more information on short starting pitchers and their tall impact on baseball, visit these links:

http://sabr.org/research/does-pitcher-s-height-matter

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20110406&content_id=17470084&c_id=mlb

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/413684-you-must-be-this-tall-to-dominate-mlb-the-12-best-pitchers-ever-u

 

2014 MLB Free Agency: Pitching: What’s Out There For Your Team

Another season has finished and with only ten teams having successful, playoff-bound seasons, it is time for the other 20 teams to look forward to the 2014 season. After 162 games, you probably have a pretty good idea of what your team needs. Below, you’ll find a list of upcoming free agents. Who would you like your team to sign? Comment away!!!

TanakaTop Tier Starting Pitchers

Matt Garza, RHP, 30; Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 30; Josh Johnson, RHP, 30; Scott Kazmir, LHP, 30; Tim Lincecum, RHP, 30; Ricky Nolasco, RHP, 31; Ervin Santana, RHP, 31; Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, 25;

Needless to say, it is a weak, weak market this offseason. The Wild Card is Tanaka, who could be posted by his Japanese club. The youngest of the group, Tanaka has a 1.44 ERA over the last three seasons in 580.1 innings. At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Tanaka is more Yu Darvish (6’5″, 225) than Daisuke Matsuzaka (6′, 180), but he should fall somewhere in between. Garza wasn’t really all that productive after moving to Texas in a mid-season trade, and after battling elbow issues prior to the deal, his market may be very weary in its development. Johnson had an absolute nightmare of a season in Toronto, posting a 6.30 ERA over 16 starts (81.1 IP) before being shut down in late August with a forearm strain. Lincecum has shown some positive signs of his former self, but his fastball velocity continues to decrease and his previous contract (two-year, $40.5 million) seems highly unattainable. The remaining four, Jimenez, Kazmir (who sat in the mid-90’s all season, stayed healthy, and is young enough to produce through an extended contract), Nolasco, and Santana, had the best seasons of those reaching free agency in the coming months, but none of them are elite. On a good team, none of them should be more than a No.3 starter.

JimenezVeteran Starting Pitchers

Bronson Arroyo, RHP, 37; A.J. Burnett, RHP, 37; Bartolo Colon, RHP, 41; Freddy Garcia, RHP, 37; Roy Halladay, RHP, 37; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, 39; Ted Lilly, LHP, 38; Roy Oswalt, RHP, 35; Jake Westbrook, RHP, 36; Barry Zito, LHP, 36;

This group is full of guys who have performed very well at times over the last few years. Burnett has been lights out for Pittsburgh this season (209 K, 3.30 ERA in 191 IP), Dan Haren had a 3.29 ERA over his final 16 games (87.2 IP), Kuroda has a 3.40 ERA over his first six seasons in America, and Arroyo hasn’t missed a start in his career. The rest of the group is kind of all over the place, some battling through various injuries and others battling through inconsistencies that come with aging and the loss of stuff. This group could be pretty affordable due to their age and limitations, but they could be very valuable for whoever signs them, tossing useful innings or providing leadership within a rotation and clubhouse.

Reclamation Projects

Scott Baker, RHP, 32; Gavin Floyd, RHP, 31; Phil Hughes, RHP, 28; Colby Lewis, RHP, 34; Shaun Marcum, RHP, 32; Mike Pelfrey, RHP, 30; Edinson Volquez, RHP, 30; Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, 34;

Several guys here coming off of injuries, while some have just long been ineffective, like Hughes and Pelfrey (who seemed to find a tick on his fastball late in the year). While none of these guys are locks to fill a rotation spot, they could become the 2014 version of what Kazmir provided to the Cleveland Indians. An incentive-laden contract for any of these pitchers is a worthy gamble by an intelligent club.

MujicaClosers

Grant Balfour, RHP, 36; Joaquin Benoit, RHP, 36; Joel Hanrahan, RHP, 32; Edward Mujica, RHP, 30; Fernando Rodney, RHP, 37;

Considering the young, affordable, internal options that have stepped up and become useful in the closer’s role over the last several years like Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen, as well as the highly-paid closers that have bombed (Francisco Cordero, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jose Valverde, for example), maybe the expensive, long-term deals that used to be handed out to closers in free agency could be a thing of the past. Not one of these free agents have maintained a closer’s job for the last three straight years without interruption, and, for that reason, should sign at a relative discount when compared to deals in years past.

ChamberlainUseful Relief Pitchers

Matt Albers, RHP, 31; Joba Chamberlain, RHP, 28; Jesse Crain, RHP, 32; Jason Frasor, RHP, 36; Rich Hill, LHP, 34; J.P. Howell, LHP, 31; Matt Guerrier, RHP, 35; Boone Logan, LHP, 29; Javier Lopez, LHP, 36; Oliver Perez, LHP, 32; Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, 31; Joe Smith, RHP, 30;

More pitchers who are all over the place in production and health, the relief pitcher is probably the most confusing position in all of baseball. Some dominate every year, like Mike Adams, and others, like Rodriguez, have been about as consistent as a politician. A tremendous bullpen typically happens due to gambling and winning on a risk, and being very, very cautious with how much money is given to free agents. None of these guys should receive more than $5 million per season, but it wouldn’t be surprising if some unintelligent front office makes the bold move and sets the market way too high.

What If: ARod Ruined MLB’s 2013 Season?

This.

Alex  RodriguezSure, it’s a home run in a game that may appear meaningless, but every game that Alex Rodriguez plays in 2013 that helps the New York Yankees in any way could destroy the integrity of the entire 2013 Major League Baseball season.

After Rodriguez broke Gehrig’s grand slam record, the Yankees went on to beat the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum 5-1 on Friday night in New York. The Bronx Bombers are now 22-18 (.550) with Alex Rodriguez after going 59-55 (.518) without him, and depending on the results of the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers games tonight, the Yankees could be just 2.5 games out of the Wild Card after tonight.

Of course, the Yankees have had a little help late this season, getting solid production from Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano in the second half, but Rodriguez and his seven home runs, 18 RBI, and 126 wRC+ shouldn’t be ignored, it is certainly more productivity than they were getting from their other third basemen, who combined to post a gross .208/.251/.283 line over 453 at-bats while compiling just 128 total bases in 114 games. Rodriguez has 56 total bases in 40 games and 142 at-bats.

The Yankees have a lot of teams to catch and with two games against the Giants, three against the Rays, and three against the Houston Astros, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could make a last minute push to playoff pay dirt.

But should Alex Rodriguez have been responsible for any of those wins, which he clearly has been, then how can Major League Baseball and Bud Selig sleep at night?

The information that the league apparently has against Rodriguez and the BioGenesis investigation was enough to suspend him through the 2014 season, but after allowing an appeal, which was necessary with the league’s collective bargaining agreement, the league was forced to allow him to play until the appeal could be heard. Considering the resources that are available to the league, contacting and solidifying an arbitrator for a hearing was within reason well before today…hell, the league should have been on the phone and had a hearing set roughly ten minutes after the suspension was handed out on August 5.

After watching Matt Kemp lose out on the NL MVP in 2011 due to another BioGenesis product, Ryan Braun, and all of the hoopla surrounding Braun’s bastardizing of the entire process and system that goes along with testing and collection, MLB can’t afford another player impacting the validity of a 162-game marathon due to their impression on the outcome of 40 to 50 games that they shouldn’t have been a part of to begin with…not when it is a single player, who could have easily just been suspended.

SeligAlex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds have tarnished the record books with their use of performance-enhancing drugs, but the players who don’t have enough personal worth to be successful with their own god-given gifts don’t have to be capable of making it all about them forever. Selig should have manned up weeks ago for the integrity of the game. Alex Rodriguez shouldn’t play another game in 2013 and his suspension should be upheld immediately because you can’t go back in time to fix something that has already happened. Winning 22 games with Alex Rodriguez in the lineup or acknowledging any of the 21 runs that he has scored this season are already examples of opposing teams being wronged by a policy, a policy maker,  and a player that don’t have the testicular fortitude to do what is right for the game that they are there to serve, protect, and love.

Either be consistent by upholding a policy that was put in place to protect the integrity of the game or allow the league to be pushed over by the strongest players union in professional sports. You can’t really have it both ways. If Selig wants to change things, he needs to get Rodriguez off the field immediately.

Lincecum-ing Around?

Lincecum2Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 and was an All-Star four consecutive seasons (2008-2011), but in 2012, it all fell apart. Two things happened in 2012:

1) Lincecum was getting big-time money in the first year of a two-year, $40.5 million contract (he did earn $14 million through arbitration in 2011), and…

2) Lincecum’s fastball dropped from 92.3 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.4 miles per hour in 2012 (FanGraphs)

We could add that a third thing happened, as well: Lincecum was absolutely lit up, as he posted a 5.18 ERA over 186 innings and 33 starts before being relegated to a relief role (where he pitched very well) in the postseason. He had just 13 quality starts in his 33 tries (39 percent) and his home run rate, which had never been higher than 9.9 percent, ballooned all the way up to 14.6 percent.

The first two months (11 starts) were about the same for “The Freak” in 2013, as he posted a 5.12 ERA over 65 innings, with just three quality starts. However, something changed in June.

Since June 1, Lincecum has started 12 games and posted a 3.35 ERA and eight quality starts, including a no-hitter on July 13 against San Diego. If you take away his start against Cincinnati the next time out, when he allowed eight runs in just 3.2 innings, due to Lincecum throwing 148 pitches in his no-hitter, his ERA would have been just 2.54.

Lincecum’s strikeout rate has improved, as he has an 82:22 K:BB in 78 innings over this time, a 9.46 K/9 rate, and after having just one double-digit strikeout game in 2012, he has three this season, all in the month of July. While his strikeout rate, even when he was struggling in 2012, never dropped below 9.00 over 9 innings, it is fair to wonder if Lincecum has learned how to pitch with the stuff that he has now as opposed to trying to overpower the opposition with a weaker fastball.

Lincecum1As recently as July 13, there were reports that Lincecum could have been traded to the Detroit Tigers and converted into a reliever, which may have obliterated his earning power as he hits free agency after the 2013 season. Luckily for him, and the Giants (who are reaping the benefits of his sudden effectiveness thanks to their patience), that trade didn’t happen. Considering Lincecum only has one regular season appearance out of the bullpen (4 IP, 4 BB, 4 K in 2008), that could have been a risky mid-season assumption for success. Clearly, his 2012 postseason (when he made five appearances over 13 innings with a 0.69 ERA and 17:2 K:BB) was a factor in the rumors, but the San Francisco Giants appear to be holding out hope that Lincecum will decline a qualifying offer so that they can get a draft pick for their former ace.

Whatever the background or reasons are for Lincecum’s success recently, it is definitely a positive for him as he heads towards being a free agent. He could very well earn a multi-year deal after looking like a lost cause just a couple of months ago. Stars doing what they do best is good for baseball, and Lincecum was a beloved figure in the Bay Area, with good reason, due to his success (and the team’s success) during his tenure there. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Giants re-sign Lincecum, especially with Matt Cain looking a lot like the 2012 and early-2013 version of Tim Lincecum, outside of a few solid recent starts.

The Surprises of the First 10 Days

It is still early in the baseball season, but with about a week and a half gone since opening night, we’ve seen a near perfect game for Yu Darvish and plentiful RBI for Chris Davis. While Darvish was expected to take another step towards stardom this season, Davis’ production is still quite a surprise to some, though power has always been a part of his game.

10 Days in, what are the biggest surprises of the 2013 season?

GoodThe Good

Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: .458/.519/.542, 2 2B, 2 SB

Crawford isn’t necessarily setting the world on fire, but the fact that he has played in all seven games for the Dodgers is shocking, considering his availability for opening day was in question since he didn’t make his Cactus League debut until March 23. While he has just two extra-base hits out of his 11 total hits, the fact that Crawford is running (though he’s just 2 for 4 on stolen base attempts), and productive in a loaded lineup are reasons enough to begin to wonder if he can return to his glory days of Tampa, rather than the disappointment that he had been in Boston. If Crawford stays productive around Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers will get out of the NL West basement rather quickly.

John Buck, C, New York Mets: .393/.387/.859, 4 HR, 14 RBI

After watching Ike Davis tear apart pitching in the second half, you may have expected him to be the leader of the New York Mets this season; however, it’s the guy who was supposed to just be keeping a roster spot warm for Travis d’Arnaud, the slugging catching prospect that the Mets acquired from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey deal, John Buck. Buck has been mashing to this point, ranking second in the majors in RBI (behind Chris Davis) and tied for second in home runs. With the Miami Marlins around, the Mets should feel comfortable about not finishing last in their division, but Buck has led the Mets patchwork pitching staff, dominated by Matt Harvey‘s emergence as an ace, to a solid start.

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: .458/.500/.750, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI

It’s too bad that Segura exhausted his rookie eligibility last year, otherwise, he’d be leading the pack in the early stages of the season for the title of NL Rookie of the Year. Segura had 151 at-bats last season (166 plate appearances), but he looks like he learned a little after hitting just .258/.315/.325 in 2012. The 23-year-old shortstop has a very interesting tool-set, with solid gap power and speed, which will allow for solid run production in a lineup with a healthy Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun…the only problem is that getting all four of those guys on the field at the same time may be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

Courtesy: NY Daily News
Courtesy: NY Daily News

Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets: 2-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, .093 BAA, 14 IP, 19:4 K:BB

I mentioned Harvey under Buck, but it is worth noting again…he has been nothing short of dominant. He’s allowed just 8 baserunners over two starts, and the strikeouts limit the scoring opportunities, as well. Harvey had a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 70:26 K:BB in 59.1 innings last season. Like Segura, just missing rookie eligibility in 2013, but a dynamic starting pitcher for a team desperate for pitching in the Mets.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs: 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .125 BAA, 13.2 IP, 22:5 K:BB

The former Notre Dame wideout is leading the majors in strikeouts early in the season and appears to be heading towards super-stardom ..which is why I traded him for next to nothing in my dynasty league this offseason. He has a lousy team around him but the 28-year-old has some help on the way, and the Cubs have him under team control through 2015. While he may not win many games, his peripheral statistics could make him look a lot like Felix Hernandez in fantasy formats.

BadThe Bad

Ryan Hanigan, C, Cincinnati Reds: .043/.148/.043, 1 for 23, 2 RBI

The Cincinnati Reds are playing their 9th game of the season and Devin Mesoraco is making his second start of the season. As most people would like to do, you can blame Dusty Baker for his inability to find value in young talent, unless, of course, it is a pitcher whose career he can ruin. Mesoraco is a sinner for going 0 for 4 in his only start, drawing a walk in the Reds 7-6 extra-inning loss to the Washington Nationals. Apparently, he may only start in day games following a night game, which should be great for the 24-year-old’s development. Ryan Hanigan, meanwhile, will continue to get the at-bats, and the Reds have to hope that batting 8th in the order doesn’t allow clubs to assume that there are two easy outs every time through the lineup.

Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 0-4, 12.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP, 18 IP, 19:11 K:BB in 4 starts

Halladay (0-2, 14.73 ERA, 2.45 WHIP) and Hamels (0-2, 10.97 ERA, 1.97 WHIP) have posted ugly numbers to this point. Halladay’s shoulder issues from last season and his drop in velocity, along with Hamels’ shoulder soreness early in his offseason throwing progr am could be to blame for their struggles. Certainly, the Phillies have to be concerned, especially after dealing Vance Worley and Trevor May to Minnesota for Ben Revere, eliminating their ready or near-ready young pitching to replace Shane Victorino, who left for Boston this winter via free agency. Both starting pitchers earn substantial amounts this season (Halladay makes $20 million and Hamels makes $19.5 million), so a turnaround would be necessary for Philadelphia fans to not want to ring the Liberty Bell with Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s skull.

Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants: .091/.130/.136, 2 for 22, 1 R, 1 2B

After Belt hit .293/.362/.423 in the second half of 2012 and .410/.432/.833 this spring, the Giants had to be hoping that they had developed a solid, middle-of-the-order addition to pair with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Things haven’t gone as planned for Belt to this point; however, he has been dealing with some neck issues. The defending champions will hope that he gets that under control, as well as the skills that he showcased over the last couple of months during spring training.

Upton HeywardJason Heyward and B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves: 5 for 53 (.094), 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 19:7 K:BB

Heyward (.083/.267/.208) and Upton (.103/.212/.207) have combined for some pretty useless numbers. The Braves are 7-1 going into Wednesday’s game despite the lack of production from two of their stars. Needless to say, Upton’s pricey contract came with big expectations. We’ll see if his big payday after leaving Tampa isn’t going to take the same trip that Carl Crawford endured in Boston.

Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs: 12.27 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, .444 BAA, 1-1, 1 for 2 in save opportunities

Considering the short leash that the Cubs had on Marmol, you have to wonder if it was even worth giving him a chance to prove himself or build trade value when there was a 70-30 chance that he was going to implode. And…implode he did. Kyuji Fujikawa has already replaced Marmol as the Cubs’ closer, and his 8.10 ERA is solid since he is 2 for 2 in save opportunities. It’s a process, Cubs fans, and you should be used to that by now.

Brett Myers, SP, Cleveland Indians: 0-1, 12.19 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 7 HR allowed, 10.1 IP, 4:2 K:BB

When the Indians signed Myers, they wanted him to be a solid innings eating starting pitcher, allowing them to slide him into the No.3 spot in the rotation behind Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Myers was to provide solid depth due to Masterson and Jimenez lacking in their ability to throw strikes, resulting in high pitch counts and short outings. However, Myers was a risk since he had pitched out of the bullpen for the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox the last two seasons, and while he had transitioned from starter to relief and back to starter before in his career, guaranteeing Myers $7 million to do that again could leave Indians fans scalping themselves every fifth day. Myers has allowed SEVEN home runs in 10.1 innings, or about six every 9 innings. Some batting practice pitchers don’t average that stat. Myers is either hurt or should retire, but there isn’t any in between on those choices, and a neck injury from watching home runs could be to blame.

LincecumTim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: 1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 11 IP, 11:11 K:BB

Well, after finding a groove as a relief pitcher in the playoffs last year, the Giants gave “The Freak” another chance in a starting role this season. He has only allowed a .175 average in his two starts, and if he wasn’t shutting down those that do hit the ball, he’d have an ERA right around Halladay’s. The free passes need to stop if Lincecum is going to re-establish himself as a valuable pitcher, and he needs to do that if he hopes to score a big contract as a free agent this winter.