Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kendry Morales

The Angels need to find a place for Kendry Morales in their lineup. The Cuban defector has proven all he can in the minor leagues and the time has come for Morales to become a full time Major League player.

At age 18 Morales was a star for the Havana Industriales. In Cuba he played he all over the field, first and third base, right field, and even pitcher. After being suspended from the Cuban national team in 2003 after Cuban officials suspected he was trying defect. After several unsuccessful attempts, Morales finally defected on June 8, 2004. In 2005 Morales signed a six year contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and began his journey to the Major Leagues.

For the past three seasons Morales has spent the majority of his time playing for the Salt Lake Bees.
After watching Morales play during the past three seasons it is my view he is ready to hit in the Major Leagues. He is a switch hitter with a short, compact swing, and excellent bat speed. He drives the ball to all fields and has what scouts like to call "doubles power." His current line of .315/.354/.497 along with 8 homeruns and 37 RBIs is evidence that he is on top of this game at the pate. Defensively he is an average player. Primarily a first baseman, Morales has also played third base and the outfield.

Unfortunately for Morales the Angels do not have a position for him to play. Casey Kotchman has established himself as the Angels long term first baseman and Morales is not good enough defensively to play third base or the outfield in the Major Leagues. But as the Angels continue to struggle to score runs, a solution has to be found to use Morales' hitting talents in the Angels lineup.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fantasy Tip of the Week - Trading for a Pitcher

Earlier this week I received the following trade offer from a fellow NL-only league owner:

"Hey Kevin: Would you be interested in a Zach Duke for Wily Mo Pena deal? Duke is at $1. In the last 16 1/3 innings, he's allowed only 5 runs. His ERA would be even more impressive if the idiot Pirates manager didn't leave him in to start the 8th inning Tuesday night with a 12-1 lead. His reliever gave up two of the baserunners he inherited. This is the best Duke has looked since 2005 when he was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA. I have pitching to deal and am willing to gamble."

I have never had much interest in Zack Duke but because I am desperate for pitching I considered the offer. To evaluate the trade I did not use the statistics my fellow owner included in his offer. Despite the fact ERA is a standard scoring catagory in fantasy leagues, it is not a good way to evaluate a pitcher's performance. Even though Duke has only allowed 5 earned runs in his last 16+ innings of work I quickly discovered he isn't pitching any better now than he has in the last several seasons.

Zack Duke has pitched 20.1 innings in his last three starts. In those three starts he struck out 6 and walked 7. There is no way a starting pitcher that walks more hitters than he strikes out is going to help a fantasy team. Duke's .86 strikeout to walk ratio is well below the National League average of 1.84. Duke's 2.66 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio is more than 4 strikeouts below the National League average of 6.68. It was easy to correctly determine Zack Duke is a very below average National League pitcher. As desperate for pitching as I am, no way am I making a deal for him.

When evaluating a trade for a starting pitcher I rarely look at the pitcher's ERA. Instead I consider the pitcher's strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB), strikeouts and walks per nine innings pitched (K/9, BB/9), and batting average of balls in play (BABIP). I then compare these ratios with league average. If the pitcher is league average or better, I consider making the trade. This is a simple way to determine the quality of a starting pitcher.

If you receive a trade offer for a pitcher with a low or improving ERA dig deeper into the statistics before saying yes. More than any other statistic, a pitcher's ERA is a product of good or bad luck. Failure to take the time to examine how the pitcher is truly performing could result in you being stuck with an ineffective starter that every five days hurts your team.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Welcome Back to Salt Lake DMac

One of the best players in the history of the Salt Lake Bees franchise returned to Franklin Covey Field Tuesday night. 2004 minor league player of the year Dallas McPherson is now in the Florida Marlins organization, playing 3B for the Albuquerque Isotopes. Since AAA returned to Salt Lake in 1994, McPherson is the most complete hitter that has played for the club. He played half a season for the Stingers in 2004 and he put up monster numbers. Critics of McPherson point to his high strikeout rate, but there is no arguing about his ability to crush a baseball. 20 homeruns, .313 average and an OPS of 1.049 in 2004 were impressive numbers but you had to see McPherson play to truly appreciate his ability. He had tremendous bat speed and hit with power to all fields. He was an above average third baseman and an excellent base runner. McPherson was called up to the Angels at the end of the 2004 season. At the time, there was no doubt he was ticketed for a great Major League career with the Angels. Unfortunately, since 2004 injuries have derailed his Major League career.

Since the end of the 2004 season McPherson has had three major surgeries, one on his hip and two on his back. He missed the entire 2007 season recovering from the latest back surgery. All of the reports on McPherson indicated the surgery corrected his back problems and he would be ready to go at the beginning of the 2008 spring training. Despite the positive outlook on McPherson's health, the Angels released him. McPherson signed a free agent contract with the Marlins and is currently putting up very good numbers for their AAA team.

After watching McPherson play this week against the Bees I am convinced he is healthy and ready to be a productive Major League hitter. In the two games against the Bees, DMac is 4-8 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBI. He has made two outstanding plays at 3B and is running the bases without any noticeable problems. For the year McPherson is hitting .302 with 10 homeruns. He is always going to be a high strikeout hitter and so far this season he has K'd 41 times. But he has also walked 19 times and his OBP is a sparkling .414. He has an OPS of 1.049 and is hitting the ball with authority almost every time up.

McPherson has reached the limit of what he can accomplish and prove in the minor leagues. It is time for him to get an opportunity to play every day in the Major Leagues but I don’t see it happening with the Marlins. Jorge Cantu and Mike Jacobs have the corner infield positions locked up. But there are other teams that could use a power hitting corner infielder and, if the Marlins aren't going to give McPherson a chance, I hope they will trade him to a club that will. Dallas McPherson is now ready to fulfill the promise of being a solid Major League power hitter. Hopefully the opportunity comes this season.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Wil Nieves

One of my favorite Salt Lake players currently in the Major Leagues is Washington Nationals catcher Wil Nieves. Nieves was the primary catcher for Salt Lake during the 2003 and 2004 seasons and was typical of many players that have played for the Buzz-Stingers-Bees. A solid player AAA level player but not a Major League prospect. Nieves was never in the Angels catching position plans. He was holding the catching position long enough for Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis, and Bobby Wilson to advance through the Angels system to the upper minor leagues. Nieves was a battler and played with a lot of hustle. He was friendly with the fans and would always take time to sign autographs before the game. He was polite, soft spoken, and he is the only player that I am aware of that used contemporary Christian music for his walk up song. By 2005, Jeff Mathis was ready to assume the AAA catching duties and Nieves was let go.

After leaving the Angels system, Nieves played three years for the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. He did appear in 35 games for Yankees and hit a soft .164. At the end of the 2007 season the Yankees released Nieves and he signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. This move appeared to firmly established Wil Nieves as another minor league journeyman catcher.

Injury problems this season left the Nationals with little choice but to call Nieves to the Major Leagues. So far Nieves has made the most of his opportunity. He as played in 11 games for the Nationals, hitting .379. The crowing moment for Nieves was a walk off homerun he hit against the Chicago Cubs on April 26. Nieves' homerun is one of the things that make being a fan of a minor league team so much fun. It is heart warming to see a good guy like Wil Nieves have a moment of glory in the Major Leagues. Bees fans take a lot of pride that star players David Ortiz, Torii Hunter, Francisco Rodriguez, and John Lackey played for Salt Lake on their way to the Major Leagues. But what is exciting for me is seeing players like Wil Nieves, Nathan Haynes, and Ryan Budde making the most of their opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Congratulations to Wil Nieves for his game winning homerun against the Cubs. Hope you hit a few more Major League homeruns this season.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fantasy Tip of the Week - Chad Tracy

The Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a 20-8 start and leading the NL West by 5 games. What should scare other NL West teams is the D-Backs will get a boost soon when 3B Chad Tracy returns. According to the Arizona Republic, Tracy is set to begin a rehab assignment and is only two weeks away from returning. The emergence of Mark Reynolds at 3B makes Tracy’s role a bit uncertain. But it is important to remember the left-hand hitting Tracy is not yet 28 years old and is signed through the 2009 season. The Diamondbacks aren’t going to bury him on the bench when he activated.Tracy is a solid Major League hitter and will help fantasy owners in homeruns, RBI, and average. Even if Tracy is platooned with the right-hand hitting Reynolds he will be a valuable addition to an NL-only or deep mixed league fantasy team. If the CI position on fantasy team is currently filled with someone like Geoff Blum add Tracy to your roster and be patient. He will be a significant help to your team's offense.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nick Adenhart to the Angels!

Angels top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart is now in the Angels rotation. Injuries to John Lackey and Kelvim Esocbar, along with the continuing struggles of Dustin Moseley, have left the Angels with little choice but to delve into their farm system for a starting pitcher. According to this morning’s Orange County Register, Mike Scioscia is planning on Adenhart making three starts before John Lackey returns around May 14. The Angels are not known for rushing young players to the Major Leagues so it is fair to assume that general manager Tony Reagins and manager Mike Scioscia believe Adenhart is ready for the challenge. I don't claim to know anywhere close to what Reagins and Scioscia know about baseball but I have seen two of Adenhart’s starts this season for the Salt Lake Bees and I am concerned that he is not ready to be a successful pitcher for the Angels.

The Angels have had success bringing young pitchers up from their farm system during the season. In 2002 John Lackey was having his way with hitters in the Pacific Coast League when the Angels promoted him. Weeks later Lackey was the winning pitcher of game 7 of the World Series. In 2007 Jered Weaver was blowing away hitters in AAA when he got the call. He went on to have a successful rookie season. But Adenhart has been different pitcher in AAA than Lackey and Weaver and I don’t see him being able to duplicate their immediate Major League success.

John Lackey and Jered Weaver were 23 years old when they pitched for Salt Lake. Both dominated AAA hitters. There was no nibbling at the corners and trying to get hitters to chase balls out of the strike zone. Their approach was simple. They threw their best pitch for a strike and challenged the hitter to hit it. When Lackey or Weaver was on the mound there was no doubt which player on the field was in control of the game. Lackey and Weaver had immediate success for the Angels because they were mature pitchers who had confidence in their ability to get hitters out.

The 21 year old Adehnart has not demonstrated the same type of maturity, confidence and mound presence as Lackey and Weaver. Even though he has three quality pitches, he doesn’t seem to believe he can get hitters out with any of them. Instead of challenging hitters he tries to be too fine with his pitch location. Never once when Adenhart has been on the mound have I gotten the impression that he was dominating the game. As Adenhart matures I am confident he will become a dominate pitcher but he has a way to go to get there. I am concerned that Major League hitters will take advantage of Adenhart and score a lot of runs against him.

I am not saying Adenhart is not a top prospect. His ceiling is just as high as Lackey or Weaver’s. From everything I have observed he is a hard working, dedicated ball player. But he is not ready for the big leagues. Hopefully I am wrong and Adenhart will step into the Angels rotation and repeat what Lackey and Weaver were able to do. I wish the kid nothing but good luck and I will be rooting for him tonight against the Oakland A’s.

This blog entry is also posted at Angelswin.com, the best Angels baseball site on the 'net.