Monday, April 16, 2012

Snap Judgments on the Early 2012 MLB Season

Even with the NHL Playoffs hitting us right in our sweet spot, and the NBA gearing up for the most arduous playoff schedule of all-time, we here at MAMBINO HQ still have some love for Major League Baseball.

Most teams have played about 12 games so far, and even just 7% into the year, we've got some snap judgments on this young season that are entirely too premature, over-excited and amateur in nature. But like my love life, that's never stopped me before.

How good are the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Better than I thought, but certainly not on a 132-30 pace. Let's throw out the most basic and obvious truth about this incredible 9-2 start LA has had; before this series with the Brewers, they've played the Padres and Pirates 10 times. Those two teams, if my projections are right, will end up being two of the worst four teams in the National League (along with Houston and Pucklius' beloved Mets). Their schedule has been ridiculously easy, and even with a mediocre offense, beating starting pitchers like Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens and Edison Volquez isn't a terribly impressive feat. Lastly, while Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have been absolutely atomic at the 3 and 4 spots, producing 30 RBI in 10 games isn't a sustainable business model.


The offense has been one of the best in the National League, and it's productivity has largely been through the strategy of manager Don Mattingly. Faced with the challenge of creating offense with a entirely marginal crew of hitters, Donnie has created a line-up that best utilizes each guy. With the speedy Dee Gordon leading off, the number 2 hitter Mark Ellis doesn't have to be an extra-base hitting juggernaut, but rather just a contact hitter to move Gordon over. From there, Ethier and Kemp can swing away. With Kemp batting clean-up and either hitting doubles or stealing second, contact guys like James Loney and Juan Rivera simply turn into a Mark Ellis with slightly more pop. As well as Mark Ellis, Kemp and Ethier are playing right now, I wouldn't be surprised if they came back to Earth a bit, but still maintained strong production.

The pitching has been exactly what I projected a couple weeks ago (amongst the league leaders in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched), but with an offense that's producing runs, they go from a very good starting rotation to an excellent one.
I don't expect the Dodgers to keep this up all season, but with series at Milwaukee and Houston, and then Atlanta and Washington at home, it's possible that the Dodgers remain looking like a playoff team...for at least one more month. 

Fantasy Spin
  • Ethier has always been a fast starter, and this season is no different. I'd ride him for now, but trade him at the very first sign of trouble. Dre's been known for gutting out injuries (to everyone's detriment), so his being in a contract year with literally $100 million dollars sitting on the table really isn't going to change anything.
  • I'd buy on Mark Ellis. He's scoring runs because of the massive production of Ethier and Kemp, and as I described, he's in the perfect situation to thrive. Even as a modest .270 hitter, he'll still score a ton of runs. I don't think he's a long term solution at second for any owner, but certainly ride him until Ethier gets hurt.

Josh Willingham, AJ Pierzynski, Corey Hart and Omar FREAKIN' Infante are all top 10 in OPS. First of all, who are these guys, and who keeps this up?

I would say that they're not guys who are going to win you a NLCS, but ever since Cody Ross broke the universe in 2010, I guess I can't ever use that as a qualifier.

Hart and Willingham are known as power hitters, with Willingham's lifetime batting average closer in numbers to Dee Gordon's weight than Prince Fielder's. While Infante and Pierzynski are fine players who can get on base, slugging percentages north of .700 aren't going to be sustained.

I really only see Hart as being able to keep this type of pace, but even with him, it's a stretch. His 6'6" frame and ginormous swing have always signified big time power, but his so-so track record of health has always tempered his physical might. Willingham has a great spot in that Twins line-up, but is a notoriously fast starter and fades down the stretch. Pierzynski and Omar Infante are nice players, but are their ages, they're not going to hit career-best seasons at this point.

Fantasy Spin
  • I'm big on Hart right now, if for no other reason than he just looks like he should always have these type of seasons.
  • I'd only pick up Infante in an NL-only league or the deepst of mixed leagues. His OPS is 1.145 right now, and his career number is .716. Don't be ridiculous.

Did A-Rod go to the same doctor as Kobe? Because it sure doesn't look like it. 
Before the season, I would have bet my fantasy farm on Alex Rodriguez being a fantasy killer on my fantasy team. However, the return after 10 games hasn't been nearly as strong as they've been on the Lakers' Kobe Bryant in his 2011-2012 season.

After going to a doctor in Germany and trying out a new, cutting edge procedure that essentially uses a person's own blood to help heal damaged ligaments, Kobe came back to the NBA in his 16th season looking more spry than he has in his previous 4. At the age of 33, Bryant played reportedly without the same knee pain that had hindered him for the past few seasons, racking up more minutes than anyone else in the league up until a week ago. He was so strongly convinced that this procedure made a difference on his career, that he insisted his friend Rodriguez go to Germany to try it out.

While the benefits are different from patient to patient, A-Rod clearly hasn't been affected the same way Bryant has. With only 3 extra base hits and a .227 batting average, baseball's highest paid player isn't shooting hot out of the box like the Black Mamba did at the beginning of the NBA season. However, A-Rod says his shoulder and knee feel great, and has been looking rather agile around the diamond. There's no debating how great one patient of this surgery has looked this year, so I'd give A-Rod a few more games before I dismissed this completely.

Fantasy Spin
  • If you can't tell, I'm still big on A-Rod for 2012. It might be my crippling and pathetic Laker bias that's blinding me like Terry Francona in a locker room, but I'd buy low on A-Rod right now.
I thought Albert Pujols signed with the Angels? Who is this guy? And why does he hit like Casey Kotchman? 

I'll maintain it because I wrote it months ago - Albert Pujols deserved to get paid the money he got paid. His 10 year run has been arguably the best 10 year stretch for any offensive player EVER. Check it out, numbers don't lie. With the AL's DH rule, Pujols could arguably stay effective for the duration of his deal.

But...Pujols has turned into Poo-Holes. I can smell his stink here in Manhattan from the Bronx where he played this weekend.

Even just 12 games into his Angels tenure, 4 extra base hits and no homers isn't what the Angels planned for. In his at-bats I've seen, Pujols looks confused and uncomfortable up there, playing in parks he's not used to, with teammates he doesn't know against guys he's never hit against. he looks like...a guys that's played in the NL Central for years and now trying to mash against the much tougher American League. I'd feel better if his swings looked better and he wasn't striking out looking, but that all beign said, I think the first few months are going to be lost ones for Sir Albert. I can't expect he'll stay as the Dominican Casey Kotchman all season, but for the time being, slap that name on his back.

Fantasy Spin
  • Of course Pujols is going to start rounding into form, but I think it's going to take a little longer than usual. I'd let this go even a bit longer and buy super-low on Alberto.
Has the luster worn off in Miami ALREADY?

In July 2010, NBA All-Stars Chris Bosh and LeBron James both decided to sign up with Dwyane Wade and play with the Miami Heat. In one of the most ballyhooed (oh yes, "ballyhooed") free agent hauls of all-time, the team on South Beach became one of the hottest properties in the entire league, with all the fanfare and attention to match.

Months later, the luster had worn off. The Heat were in a mini-slump, and the crowds were becoming more and more noticeably fair weather. Fans were showing up late, leaving early, and even when they were there, sitting on their hands rather than just the seats. It got so bad, that the team issued a marketing campaign centered around this message:

Unless "DOLPHINS" is stitched onto the front of a Miami team's jersey, fan excitement is going to be hard to sustain. Despite the shiny new stadium located in Miami city limits (Sun Life Stadium is about an hour away from civilization), Miami sports fans aren't going to be these wild, raucous crowds that fill a building for just any team. It's South Beach. People have a lot of other things to do than to go, sit and watch a baseball game. If the Marlins don't win, and do so in exciting fashion, then no one will care. That's just the nature of the Miami fan.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, are two of the most popular and dynamic mainstream media athletes in American sports today. And THEY couldn't get the Miami crowd to show up properly. What chance do Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez stand? They have got to win, win big, and win with style. The luster HAS worn off, but they can get it back. It won't be easy.

Fantasy Spin
  • The more I see Gaby Sanchez play, the more I think he'll be more of a Casey Kotchman/James Loney type of hitter than any type of power-promse some have projected. Sell now!
  • I'd be wary on Josh Johnson after his first two starts, but I'm buying on the other 4 starters. I don't think anyone's elite, but Carlos Zambrano, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Mark Buerhle are certainly good enough to be owned in most mixed-leagues.

Are the Red Sox in a little bit of trouble, a lot of trouble, or am I just a hater? 
Well, the last one is definitely true, but they're in a lot of trouble.

After a couple games sputtering out the gate, the Red Sox offense is what we all thought - Miguel Cabrera with the munchies. Unstoppable. David Ortiz is slimmer, meaner and more determined than ever to get that next big contract win. Pedroia and Gonzalez are still franchise cornerstone players, and Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles are breaking all expectations.

But Jacoby Ellsbury just dislocated his shoulder, an injury not easily worked around for a center fielder who specializes in suicide dives. His season could be just as lost as his 2010 campaign when he broke several of his ribs. Kevin Youkilis' one-year dip in performance might have been the start of a steep decline. Bobby Valentine is already throwing his players under the bus and might be the disaster we all thought he could be. And we haven't even gotten to the pitching staff yet.

The starting rotation is one of the worst in the majors so far. If Clay Bucholz and Josh Beckett can't turn back into the world beaters they were last year, Jon Lester is going to be the only effective starter on the roster. Daniel Bard and Felix Doubrount have not been pleasant surprises, but rather expected flops. Closer import Andrew Bailey is already on the DL with a thumb injury, and no one knows when he's going to start throwing. Alfredo Aceves got a closer job sprung on him a few days before the season and Mark Melancon has a 49.50 ERA. For real.

It's early in the season, and yes, this is a snap judgment, but the problems with the Red Sox reach so far beyond just a "slow start". They have mis-matched parts to try to fill the gaps; Daniel Bard just isn't a starter in the major leagues. Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves aren't closer material. Bobby Valentine has already shown me he isn't the right man for this job. The injury to their best player (Ellsbury) might have already sunk the season.
This isn't a soft tissue injury, this is completely structural. The Red Sox need Tommy John. They're out for the next 12 to 18 months. Handle it. 

Fantasy Spin
  • If you're not a Sox fan or a Pedroia, Ortiz or Gonzalez owner, no worries brah! The next 6 months of your life are going to be peachy.
  • I'd sell on Ellsbury for whatever you can get. The type of injury he has is going to affect every facet of his game. There's no timetable for him to return. Sweet.
  • I just listend to Jonah Keri's podcast today where he said talked about Bard's high swing-and-miss rate. What I'm looking at was 7 walks on Tuesday. He's not going to be a solution for anyone's fantasy team going forward.

Like MAMBINO's MLB coverage? Check out these other fine, fine, FINE posts:

Burning Questions for the 2012 MLB Season (Part 1)

Burning Questions for the 2012 MLB Season (Part 2)

What We Deserved and More: Magic Johnson Owns the Los Angeles Dodgers

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