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Thread: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

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    Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/...=gammons_peter

    Improved Royals could surprise in 2009

    Sunday, March 29, 2009 | Print Entry

    We all know that Kansas City is a small market. Fine. But we also know what it was like before any player made $3 million per year, when in the George Brett era -- from 1975 through 1989 -- the Royals averaged 89 wins a season, the ballpark was a model of civility, and their fan base was loyally rooted in small havens across Missouri and Kansas, from Columbia to Lawrence and dots along I-70, baseball's original road west of the Mississippi.

    By the time of the 1994 strike, the franchise was already struggling to deal with the material realities. And since the strike, the Royals have had only one winning season and have averaged 94 losses. The smudged post-strike history is dotted with a refusal to fund the draft and poor ownership decisions. But now, with GM Dayton Moore apparently supported by the Glass family, there seems to be hope. This team that won 56 games in 2005 and last season won 75 is one of those franchises -- like the Reds and Giants -- that have been designated as this spring's fair-haired risers.

    "We are getting better, I really believe that," says manager Trey Hillman. "We have a ways to go, but there is progress. If we pitch and some of our young players improve the way we think they can, we will be improved. How much? I don't know."

    The American League Central is a fascinating division, running from the $83M payroll of the Indians to the $140M of the Tigers, with the Royals somewhere in the middle at $90M. Moore looked at a team whose .320 on-base percentage was 26th in the majors and whose .389 slugging percentage ranked second-to-last in the American League and acquired Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs for relievers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez, which necessitated signing Kyle Farnsworth.

    Their front three starters -- Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Kyle Davies -- can be very good if Greinke is what one other GM predicted (the 2009 Cy Young Award winner) and Davies is what he was in his last five starts of 2008. If the traditionally frustrating Farnsworth has taken to pitching coach Bob McClure, then along with Ron Mahay, the Royals' 'pen can be adequate in front of Joakim Soria.

    Then it's a matter of the maturation of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Mark Teahen. If all that happens, can they win an additional 10 games to get to 85? It's possible.

    Crisp was frightened by the death valley that is center and right-center field in Fenway Park. Is he a .400 on-base leadoff hitter? No, but he is a career .280 hitter, frees David DeJesus to bat behind him, and makes their outfield defense far better. Mike Aviles hit 20 homers between the minors and majors last season. Jacobs has made defensive strides this spring; now he has to improve on his career .318 on-base percentage to be a force.

    But most important is the development of Gordon, Butler and Teahen. Each has a career OPS in the .750-.755 range, which would be graded as underachieving, especially since Butler's OPS his last two seasons in Omaha was .961.

    "It's a matter of each one of them thinking about staying back and staying in the middle of the field," says hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. "We've really seen progress this spring, progress I believe they can take into the season. Teahen has had a great spring."

    Teahen has also been the focus of a major experiment; he's been playing second base after a career at third and in the outfield. "I still think I'll probably mix and match with [Alberto] Callaspo," says Hillman. "But we've seen some very good instinctive plays from Teahen, plays that encourage us."

    Within the AL Central, the Twins, Indians and White Sox are all likely capable of winning 90 games, but they are all flawed. The Tigers are very hard to read, and it's hard to ask owner Mike Ilitch -- with something like a 40-percent drop in season tickets -- to fund that payroll with some unmoveable contracts in a dreadful economy.

    So if the bullpen holds, they find two starters out of the Brian Bannister/Sidney Ponson/Luke Hochevar/Horacio Ramirez group and Gordon, Butler and Teahen indeed make 50-100 point jumps in OPS, the Royals can contend and bring life back to a Middle American franchise with a proud tradition worth revisiting.

    The Reds can contend in the NL Central. The Cubs still have issues to be determined, but before everyone puts Cincinnati in second place, the Cardinals could triple the number of starts for Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and surprise everyone again. And if the Brewers can straighten out their pitching and if their exceptionally talented everyday players all mesh, then they are going to be very dangerous.

    But while the 2008 Reds were quantifiably one of the game's worst defensive teams, if Alex Gonzalez is healthy and Ramon Hernandez bounces back, they will be much better defensively with only one below-average position (third base). Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez are big-timers with high ceilings, Bronson Arroyo is as tough as it gets, they have five-hole pitching depth with Micah Owings and Homer Bailey. So if Aaron Harang is healthy, the Reds have good starting pitching and a deep bullpen. Can they win 83-86 games? Yes, they can, maybe more if Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips all take off.

    Remember, the Reds are 120 games under .500 over the past eight seasons.

    It's easy to buy the notion that the Giants can contend. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are really good at the top of the rotation, Randy Johnson has changed speeds this spring and thrown in the 90s, and in his last start Barry Zito -- who maintains his delivery is coming back -- threw harder and with a better breaking ball than at any time this spring. Bruce Bochy is trying to fill out the bullpen in front of closer Brian Wilson, who could easily be mistaken for a Metallica roadie.

    But as much as there is hope for Pablo Sandoval at third and Travis Ishikawa at first, there are questions about the defense on the left side of the infield and about how many runs the Giants can score.

    Sure, they are improved, but the thought is that their pitching will allow the Giants to eat up a weak NL West division and win 87-90 games. The problem is, other than the Padres trying to rebuild from ground zero, the rest of the NL West isn't as bad as portrayed. The Dodgers probably have the best positional team in the league, although they have pitching depth issues. The Diamondbacks strike out a ton, but if Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and others improve and if they can line up the rotation and bullpen to the point of adequacy behind Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, the D-backs can be an 85-90 win team.

    And I may be crazy, but the Rockies are nowhere near as bad as some think. They will badly miss Matt Holliday and Jeff Francis, but if they get stability behind Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, if Ian Stewart blossoms, if Todd Helton comes back, this is a dangerous team; they have Dexter Fowler, Ryan Spilborghs, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Murton, Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith for outfielders. That's a lot of talent.

    The Royals, Reds and Giants are the spring improvement stories, all with huge questions, all playing in divisions that are playable. Let's see where Gordon, Bailey and Zito are come August. But for three teams that haven't had much to dream about the past few years, there is hope. That's what spring training is about.

    *****

    Russell Martin likes to talk about Clayton Kershaw 's changeup, which with his 95 mph fastball and sizzling curveball makes Kershaw "a future Cy Young Award winner."

    Everyone likes to talk about Kershaw because he's one of those people that everyone wishes was a cousin or godson. Kershaw turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, and the clubhouse story goes that a veteran asked Kershaw if he'd been out drinking yet.

    "I've had wine at communion," Kershaw replied.

    With Chad Billingsley experiencing some physical problems last week, the Dodgers' rotation of Hiroki Kuroda, Kershaw, Billingsley, Randy Wolf and someone from the Eric Milton/James McDonald group may not only be extremely thin, but forced to put undo pressure on the 21-year-old Kershaw. The coaching staff feels the team is also short one or two set-up men.

    So there is a lot of pressure to sign Pedro Martinez, who threw well in the WBC and would benefit from pitching in the NL West parks. Right now, the Dodgers are balking at Pedro's $5 million asking price, but understand this about Martinez: That stubbornness and hubris are what make him a Hall of Famer. Manny Ramirez has called Martinez, so there may be some way to work it out. Hey, the Dodgers still are a tick below $100M.

    Speaking of Ramirez, Joe Torre said, "When I played, no one worked as hard as Manny does." And Torre played with one of the greatest players (and people), Henry Aaron.

    *****

    Years ago, managers just snubbed their noses at sabermetrics. Now, it's mostly media members and former players who reject such studies. Not managers.

    Washington's Manny Acta will lay an occasional "VORP" on you, and Brewers manager Ken Macha was so intrigued by "The Fielding Bible," compiled by John Dewan and Bill James, that he copied sections and gave them to players. He wanted the players to understand the relationship of bases and outs to runs, and how outfielders cutting balls off and hitting relay men and how baserunners' aggression and hustle add up at the end of the year. So add the Brew Crew to the list of teams using sabermetrics.

    *****

    Josh Fields hit 23 homers in 100 games for the White Sox in 2007, but his 2008 season was a waste because of right knee problems. The former Oklahoma State quarterback finally gave in and had knee surgery. He also underwent LASIK eye surgery, and he claims it has made a significant difference in seeing the ball this spring as he opens the season at third base.

    Brewers third baseman Billy Hall also had LASIK surgery this offseason. He says he couldn't pick up pitches down and away and that his vision was a major factor as his OPS dropped from .898 to .689 and his homers from 35 to 15 in a span of two seasons. "It's unbelievable, but [after the surgery] I can see the ball down and away," says Hall.

    Jason Kendall had the same procedure the previous winter and says, "It saved my career."
    Tim McCarver: Baseball Quotes
    I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the batter, that the only thing I knew about pitching was that it was hard to hit.

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    "Brewers manager Ken Macha was so intrigued by "The Fielding Bible," compiled by John Dewan and Bill James, that he copied sections and gave them to players. He wanted the players to understand the relationship of bases and outs to runs, and how outfielders cutting balls off and hitting relay men and how baserunners' aggression and hustle add up at the end of the year. So add the Brew Crew to the list of teams using sabermetric.

    Excuse me but this is stuff I learned in Little League and at my Daddy's knee. Do these people have anyone in the minor leagues doing their jobs?

    Rem

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    Quote Originally Posted by remdog View Post
    "Brewers manager Ken Macha was so intrigued by "The Fielding Bible," compiled by John Dewan and Bill James, that he copied sections and gave them to players. He wanted the players to understand the relationship of bases and outs to runs, and how outfielders cutting balls off and hitting relay men and how baserunners' aggression and hustle add up at the end of the year. So add the Brew Crew to the list of teams using sabermetric.

    Excuse me but this is stuff I learned in Little League and at my Daddy's knee. Do these people have anyone in the minor leagues doing their jobs?

    Rem
    It's good to see that the Brew Crew are just now finding out about hitting relay and cutoff men in 2009.

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    Quote Originally Posted by paulrichjr View Post
    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/...=gammons_peter

    Brewers third baseman Billy Hall also had LASIK surgery this offseason. He says he couldn't pick up pitches down and away and that his vision was a major factor as his OPS dropped from .898 to .689 and his homers from 35 to 15 in a span of two seasons. "It's unbelievable, but [after the surgery] I can see the ball down and away," says Hall.
    Evidently, the only pitching Billy Hall COULD see, was Reds' pitching. Probably because they threw it down the middle of the plate rather than down and away. :
    Opinions are like belly buttons. Everybody has one, and they don't want someone else's shoved into their face.

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    I had no idea that the KC payroll was $90 million.
    "Iíll kind of have a foot on the back of my own butt. Thatís just how I do things.Ē -- Bryan Price, 10/22/2013

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    Remember, the Reds are 120 games under .500 over the past eight seasons.
    You just had bring that up, didn't you... I keep managing to forget!
    "Iíll kind of have a foot on the back of my own butt. Thatís just how I do things.Ē -- Bryan Price, 10/22/2013

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    Re: Reds, Royals, and Giants all potential contenders for 2009 - Gammons

    Another article mentioning the Reds.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog...e=olney_buster
    The scouts weigh in on camp performances

    Monday, March 30, 2009 | Feedback | Print Entry

    This is the never-ending spring training, almost as long as the artificial spring of 1995, when replacement players were used, and which turned into a scramble after the players' strike was settled. I asked some talent evaluators, over the phone and through e-mail, to offer some observations on spring training of 2009 -- on players, on teams, on trends, whatever came to mind for them. Here is a sampling.

    From an AL talent evaluator:

    "No. 1: It would not surprise me at all if both the AL Central and AL West went for fewer than 88 wins. The parity in the Central has been well-documented, but I just don't see the pitching in the West for anyone to run-away and hide (particularly, if John Lackey joins Ervin Santana as unable to go).

    "No. 2: What precisely was Will Ohman's agent thinking? He has said for a month that he had $1MM+ on the table and just wanted performance bonuses to get to $2.50MM. Now, it is a week before Opening Day and the word out from his tryout for the Dodgers is that he isn't close to ready to go. He should have just given up the ghost for '09 and signed two weeks ago like Beimel.

    "No. 3: You have to feel for the folks who work for the Padres. They have several great baseball people over there, people who have had their decisions handicapped by off-field issues relating to their owner's divorce. It is not going to be easy to watch the unit they are forced to run out there over the next six months."

    From an NL talent evaluator:

    "No. 1: The length of spring this year has affected play. It's only been in the last week, since the WBC ended, that you've actually seen the everyday players start to go hard. This has been good for young players trying to make teams, but for the veteran guys, it's not been a good time to get work in. It's the most non-descript spring training I've ever seen."

    "No. 2: The breakout performances from young players aren't as plentiful. You've got Matt Wieters (for the Orioles), but remember last year, how you had guys like Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto emerge? You're not seeing that kind of thing this year, as much."

    "No. 3: The Marlins' every day lineup is very suspect to me. They've got the best starting rotation in the division, but Hanley Ramirez is now a third baseman playing shortstop. He's getting too big for that team."

    "No. 4: The Reds are going to be much better. They've improved themselves the most."

    From an AL official:

    "No. 1: Detroit looks terrible. The Tigers' pitching is a mess, and their position players are out of position -- Miguel Cabrera is a designated hitter playing first base, and they've got their first baseman (Carlos Guillen) playing in left field."

    "No. 2: Carlos Gomez of the Twins looks like he's gained a lot of weight in the lower half of his body, to me. He's filling out, physically, and at some point, he's going to get bigger in his chest, too. I wonder if he'll be able to run the same way if he keeps getting bigger."

    "No. 3: Wade Davis of the Rays was the most impressive young minor leaguer I saw this spring. He throws 95 mph, and one of the days I saw him, he was unhittable. And right now, all of the Rays' young players look pretty good."

    From a talent evaluator who sees a lot of NL teams:

    "No. 1: The Mets have serious starting pitching depth issues.

    "No. 2: Florida has some exciting young players in Mike Stanton, Cameron Maybin, Logan Morrison, and maybe the most impressive of the bunch is Chris Volstad.

    "No. 3: Why does no one ever point to Tony La Russa being the problem when all these spats with players come up?"

    From an AL talent evaluator:

    "No. 1: Kyle Davies is improved -- I really like his curveball and feel for the game.

    "No. 2: The Royals position players are not as far along as their pitching staff.

    "No. 3: I love the way the White Sox play. Does any other organization have as consistent of an attitude from ownership through the general manager, to the manager and field personnel?"

    From an AL talent evaluator based in Arizona:

    "No. 1: Coming into spring, everyone talked about how long camp was going to be this year, and it has definitely felt long. I've had the sense that a lot of guys (both in and out of uniform) have been ready to head north for a while.

    "No. 2: Injuries seem to have dominated the news more than ever before. It seems like the overriding issue with nearly every team is an injury.

    "No. 3: I've definitely noticed the difference with having a couple of extra teams here in Arizona.This year felt much more spread out in terms of the teams playing.

    "No. 4: This is by far the best weather we've had in the last 10 years. Since February 12, we've had a total of 12 hours of rain, all of it coming overnight."
    Tim McCarver: Baseball Quotes
    I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the batter, that the only thing I knew about pitching was that it was hard to hit.


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