Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Appreciating Garret Anderson

This entry really is about Garret Anderson. I'm going to take a little detour at the beginning but I assure all Angels fans that Garret Anderson is the focus of what I am going to write.

Since I started following the Angels in 2002, I have heard numerous complaints and criticisms about the way Anderson plays the game. Most of the criticisms have to do with Anderson's perceived lack of hustle. I have never understood why Angels fans complain about Anderson. GA is a marvelous ballplayer and has been a key part of the Angels successes. But as I began to write about Anderson I could not stop thinking of Amos Otis, one of my all time favorite players. Otis was the center fielder for the Kansas City Royals from 1970 to 1983 and, like Anderson, was criticized by the fans for not playing the game with maximum effort.

During his career with the Royals, many fans and members of the Kansas City media viewed Otis as a player that didn't hustle and didn't seem interested in playing the game. These critics would point to teammates George Brett and Hal McRae as examples of players that "played the game the right way." What AO's detractors didn't or wouldn't realize was that Otis was a different kind of player than both Brett and McRae. While Brett and McRae were grit and guts Otis was smooth and athletic. During his career, Otis was a five time all-star and a three time Gold Glove winner. He led the American League twice in doubles and once in stolen bases.
It wasn't until Otis left the Royals that many of the fans in Kansas City realized how special of a player he was.

The best description of Amos Otis was written by respected author and Royals fan Bill James in his 1984 Baseball Abstract:

"Amos Otis was an intensely private man leading an intensely public life. He disdained showmanship—probably he hated showmanship — of any type and to any extent. He could never quite deal with the fact that his business was putting on a show. This is what is called "moodiness" by the media. Yet there was a rare, deep honesty about him that was the defining characteristic of him both as a man and as a ballplayer. He could not stand to do anything for show. He could not charge into walls (and risk his continued existence as a ballplayer) after balls that he could not catch. He could not rouse the fans (and risk his continued existence as a baserunner) with a stirring drive for a base too far. He never in his career stood at home plate and watched a ball clear the fence. McRae and Brett, they did that sort of thing; Otis would sometimes turn away interview requests with a sardonic comment, 'Talk to Brett and McRae. They're the team leaders.'"

"It went further than that. Amos could not quite walk down the line when he hit a popup (that, too, would be dishonest) but he could not bring himself to run, either. Because it was false, you see? He wouldn't have been running for himself or for the team or for the base; he would have been running for the fans, or for the principle that one always ran."

Sadly, it appears that many Angels fans will not fully appreciate Garret Anderson's abilities and accomplishments until his career is over. For his career, Anderson has 2205 hits and a .297 lifetime batting average. GA is a three time all-star and a two time time Silver Slugger winner. Twice he has lead the American League in doubles. Now in his mid-30s, even though age has taken a toll on Anderson, his .297 average with 16 homeruns and 80 RBIs in 2007 shows that he is still producing and is a valuable part of the Angels lineup. Despite all of his accomplishments, Anderson is still the target of criticism from Angels fans. The criticism directed at Anderson is unfortunate because he is a class act and a solid ballplayer.

Many Angels fans point at Anderson's reluctance to DH as a sign that he is selfish and too proud to give up his position in the outfield. This criticism is without merit. Any fan watching the Angels play in 2007 can see that Anderson is still a good outfielder. Anderson does not dive after balls, crash into walls, or throw himself head first into the stands. But he is a good outfielder that runs down balls in the gap and makes smart throws to the bases. Rarely does Anderson miss a cut off man. As with Amos Otis, fans watch Anderson's style of play in the outfield and incorrectly label it as lazy or use it to say he has lost a step. After watching Anderson for several seasons now, he does seem a lot like Otis. He doesn't make vain attempts for balls that he cannot catch and he doesn't run himself out of position trying to track down a ball that is uncatchable. I am sure there will be times when Anderson's legs will need to rest and placing him in the DH will be the option to keep his bat in the lineup. The one statistic that Angels fans should keep in mind is that in 2007 Garret Anderson hit .319 when playing left field and .208 when slotted in the lineup as the designated hitter. Anderson has always struck me as a proud man and I don't believe he would put himself in a position to embarrass himself or hurt the Angels chances of winning.

Hopefully Angels fans will appreciate GA for what he continues to accomplish and not wait until his career is over to realize how good of player he truly is.

This blog entry is also posted at is the BEST website for Los Angeles Angels news, opinion, and discussion. I encourage all readers of this blog to check it out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Luke Hochevar

One of the questions the Royals are going to have to answer is the role of Luke Hochevar. The Royals will have to decide soon if Hochevar will begin the year with Kansas City or at AAA Omaha. If Hochevar does begin the year in Kansas City, the Royals must determine if it is best for his development to open the season in the bullpen or as part of the starting rotation.

Many Royals fans believe that Hochevar is ready to pitch in the Major Leagues and some fans are hoping that he is part of the starting rotation when the season begins. These fans are basing their opinion on Hochevar's performance during his September 2007 call up and his brief action during the 2008 spring training. The Royals will be making a mistake to decide to keep Hochevar in the Major Leagues based on 12.2 innings in 2007 and 4 innings so far this spring. Hochevar has yet to demonstrate he is capable of being a consistent starting pitcher. Until he has proven this, he should be assigned to AAA Omaha.

Hochevar's performance at AAA Omaha last season can best be described as a mixed bag. Some of his statistical performance was average: 6.83 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 2.10 K/BB 2.10 but his 5.12 ERA and 1.71 HR/9 was poor. He did pitch 12 innings for Kansas City in September and recorded a 2.13 ERA but it is important to note that he did not pitch more than 3.1 innings in any of his Royals appearances and almost never faced the same hitter twice in the same game. Given the small sample size and the nature of the appearances, Hochevar's 2007 Major League numbers are not useful in evaluating whether he is ready to pitch for the Royals in 2008.

I saw Hochevar pitch for the Omaha Royals last July in Salt Lake. Even though he was the winning pitcher I was unimpressed. His box score line was okay, 6 IP, 2 earned runs, 8 hits, 4 strikeouts and 2 walks. Even though his numbers were average, Hochevar was very lucky. The Bees hit line drive after line drive that were either hit directly at an infielder or ran down in the outfield. Salt Lake stole four bases and all of them were the result of Hochevar doing a lousy job holding the runners. The 4th inning of the game raised a big red flag to me. With two outs the runner on second base steals third, arriving at the bag before Hochevar's pitch was in the catcher's mitt. The Omaha pitching coach visits the mound in what I assume was an effort to get Hochevar to do a better job of holding runners. On the next pitch, Hochevar drills the Salt Lake hitter in the middle of the back. I viewed this as immature and bush league. Perhaps Hochevar has grown up since last July, but the Royals need to be completely sure before entrusting him with a Major League job.

I am not convinced that Hochevar will ever be a top of the rotation Major League pitcher. Even if he does fulfill the expectation that goes with being a first round draft choice, 2008 will not be the year. I would rather see guys like Tomko and DeLaRosa eat innings this year and allow Hochevar more time to develop and mature. Hopefully a year from now the Royals and their fans will have an idea of how good of a pitcher Hochevar will be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2008 Kansas City Royals First Baseman

Spring training is a time for baseball fans to be optimistic about their team. Sometimes the optimism can be misplaced, but Royals’ fans have legitimate reasons to be excited about the team. I don’t think any reasonable Royals fan believes Kansas City has a chance to win the AL Central in 2008. Cleveland and Detroit are two of the best teams in Major League Baseball and the Royals are not strong enough to over take either of them. But the Royals are finally starting to put together a core of players that can be the foundation of a contending team. The key question heading into 2008 is will Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman continue to be patient and allow the young players to play through their mistakes as they improve. My fear is they will sacrifice building for the future in an attempt to make a run at a .500 record in 2008. I would love for the Royals to win 80 games in 2008 but not at the expense of continuing to build for 2009 and beyond. The everyday first baseman will be an indication of whether the Royals are going to stay the course in building for the future.

Before discussing the Royals’ best options at first base, I want to emphatically state that Ross Gload should not be the Royals first baseman in 2008. Ross Gload should not even be in the discussion about who will start at first base for the Royals in 2008. By all accounts Gload is a nice guy, good teammate, and popular with the fans. He has been a decent player throughout his career but he has never established himself as anything more than a solid bench player. Ross Gload can be a valuable player to the Royals as their backup first baseman and late inning defensive replacement. But Gload should not be taking away at bats from younger players that have a chance to be a part of a contending team. If Ross Gload gets 400 at bats this season it will mean that Hillman and Moore are more interested in winning a few more games in 2008 and not going all out to build a contending team.

The best choice for the Royals would be to play Billy Butler at first base until he either learns the position or proves he will never be able to master it. Butler is going to be a huge run producer at the plate and one of the priorities for the Royals should be finding a position for him. Maybe Butler will always be a defensive liability and will have an Edgar Martinez type of career. But before deciding that Butler is going to be nothing but a DH the Royals should give him a chance to play in the field and first base is the logical choice.

Ryan Shealy is another option at first base. The Royals should not give up on Shealy and he should be given a chance in 2008. If Butler is going to DH Shealy would be an excellent choice to man first base. I became impressed with Shealy when the Omaha Royals played here in Salt Lake City last summer. In an empty AAA stadium, I watched him work hard in batting practice and pregame fielding drills. His was focused on getting himself back in shape and sharpening his skills to get back to the Major Leagues. I have seen many minor leaguers in the position Shealy was in and not all of them were as committed as he was. A player with this attitude and work ethic has a chance to succeed in the Major Leagues.

Mark Teahen could move to first base to free up an outfield spot for Joey Gathright. The Joey Gathright situation is a topic for another entry but if Gathright continues his torrid spring Teahen moving to first base could be an option. Another option relating to Gathright would be to move Teahen to third base and Alex Gordon first base. Interesting things can happen if Gathright makes the team.

Whether it is Butler, Shealy, Teahen or Gordon, the Royals have solid choices to fill the first base position in 2008 and beyond. I am looking forward to seeing if Butler can handle the position and if Shealy can bounce back from his injury plagued 2007 season. Hopefully the Royals will continue to go forward with young players and not take a step backward with Ross Gload.