By The Common Man
Every week, Bill and The Common Man are asked to help out our friends at ESPN with a brief comment for the Monday Power Rankings about each of the seven teams that are not represented in the SweetSpot network. We work hard on these, but ultimately only get a sentence or two to get our points across, so we thought it might be worth our time and yours to give you a slightly longer take on the larger overall points we were trying to make. So every week, when we have more to say, we will expand on those thoughts here. Today, The Common Man breaks down the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Pirates.
Colorado Rockies (12-3, #1 in ESPN's Power Rankings): Owners of baseball’s best record, the Rockies are being driven by the amazing Troy Tulowitzki, who already has seven homers this year.
Troy Tulowitzki, already one of the ten best position players in the game, seems to have made a leap this season, and proudly sports a .364/.486/.836 line after 15 games. His homer total leads the Majors, and isn’t just the product of playing in Denver, since 5 of his seven bombs came on the road. He’s also doing an incredible job of controlling the strike zone, walking 14 times against just 5 strikeouts. And after roughly 10% of the 2011 season, he’s clearly out in front of the NL MVP race, and has accrued 1.6 WAR already. If he can stay healthy, Tulowitzki’s 2011 may go down as one of the greatest campaigns by a shortstop in baseball history. Also, he’s an elite defender. So…bonus.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6-8, #27): Daniel Hudson is quietly becoming an excellent pitcher in the desert (4.26 ERA, 23 Ks in 19 innings). That’s good, because each of the other starters has an ERA north of 6.00.
Actually, combined the four other Diamondback starters have an ERA of 6.53 with 39 strikeouts and 26 walks in 60 innings. They’ve also given up 12 homers, or one every five innings. It’s ugly, I tells ya. The good news, I guess, is that some of this futility gets laid at the feet of the Diamondbacks defense, who have the third worst defensive efficiency (the number of balls in play actually converted into outs) in the Majors. Daniel Hudson has been terrific, on the other hand. Don’t let the ERA or the 0-3 record fool you. He’s been striking out guys and keeping the ball in the ballpark. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP is like ERA, but with adjustments made to account for team defense) is a stellar 2.59. And with the Suns missing the playoffs this year, he, Justin Upton, and Miguel Montero are the only things in Phoenix worth watching at the moment.
Florida Marlins (8-6, #10): If they’re going to hang tough in the NL East in 2011, they have to do something about Javier Vazquez, whose fastball velocity (88 MPH) is somehow still falling, and hwo has a 7.43 ERA to go with an 11/6 walk to strikeout ratio in 13 innings. He’s either very hurt, or very toast. And maybe both.
The Marlins have actually been outscored in 2011, which is all pretty much traceable back to Javier Vazquez, who has been tagged in each of his three starts, including giving up seven runs to the Mets in less than three innings in his first game. And it’s not like he’s had to face tough offenses either. After the Mets, he got knocked around by the Astros, and then walked four guys in five innings against the Phillies. Right now, the only word that could adequately describe Javier Vazquez is terrible and he has to be replaced if the Fish are going to compete this year, at least until he gets healthy. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of MLB-ready starters on the farm to choose from who would actually be an improvement, unless they want to try and let Burke Badenhop start again.
Pittsburgh Pirates (7-8, #26): Don’t be worried about Andrew McCutchen, who sported a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .211 going into Sunday’s action, and proceeded to go 3-for-3 with a homer. Of greater concern is James McDonald and his Boeing (7.47) ERA.
What a difference a day makes. Going into Sunday’s game, McCutchen was hitting .204/.328/.367, but after going 3-for-3 with a couple walks and a homer, saw his stats jump to .250/.381/.462. The kid is alright. James McDonald, on the other hand, was expected to follow up his strong 2010 (4-5, 3.52 ERA in 11 Pittsburgh starts) and solidify himself in the Pirates rotation for the next several years. Unfortunately, he’s just not generating the swings-and-misses he did last year, particularly at his changeup. Last year, according to FanGraphs, batters swung at 31% of McDonald’s pitches outside of the zone, and the change was 0.1 runs below average. This year, batters are only swinging at 15% of pitches outside the zone, and the change is already 1.2 runs below average. The upshot is that McDonald isn’t fooling anyone so far this year, and doesn’t have the raw stuff to beat batters with pitches in the strike zone. Unless he figures out how to fix the problem quickly, this could escalate as batters get more exposure to him.
One other player who bears watching is Pedro Alvarez, who The Common Man wrote about here, who has shown no sign of improving his plate discipline (or his fielding) and is hitting .193/.258/.228 with 20 strikeouts in 62 plate appearances. Yeesh.