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The Baseball Notebook


June 2, 2010 12:19 PM

Youk, Tex Or Look To The Midwest?

It was at the office last summer and the conversation revolved around a simple question—Youk or Texieria? As in, was Kevin Youkilis from Boston or Mark Texieria from New York the best first baseman in the American League. I experienced two conflicting emotions. The first was the Red Sox fan in me ready to shout that it was no contest, easily Youk. The second was the native Midwesterner in me, ready to shout at my Eastern-bred colleagues that lo and behold, they do actually play baseball west of the Bronx. The battle for the All-Star nod at the position this year bears me out on both counts. Texieria, runner-up in the MVP voting a year ago, is struggling badly while Youkilis is having another outstanding year in the Hub. But both are trumped by the shining stars in the Midwest, as Justin Morneau and Miguel Cabrera set the pace.

Morneau is having nothing short of a monster season and if we had to vote today, it’d be hard not to give him his second MVP award. He’s on base 48.9% of the time. He’s slugging .687. His team is in first place. This is Pujols-type performance. Cabrera isn’t far behind, at .421 and .658 respectively, as he works in tandem with Magglio Ordonez to keep the offense afloat in a park that’s not kind to hitters. Youkilis ranks ahead of Cabrera in getting on base, but behind both sluggers in power production. It seems to me that the AL first base spot has to rank a very clear 1-2-3 with a definite dropoff before you get to #4.

Which is not to say that the upper middle class is doing poorly. Paul Konerko’s having a fine year on the South Side, as is Billy Butler in Kansas City. They would rank a clear 4-5 respectively, hitting for both average and power. Daric Barton slots in behind them. The Oakland first baseman gets on base, but the power—while good—is not outstanding for this position. One area of credit he can claim is that there’s really no one else in the Oakland lineup that pitchers have to be worried about. If he can nudge the slugging percentage past .500, that caveat could move him up the list.

The AL East has the three big disappointments, with Texieria leading up a group that includes Carlos Pena in Tampa and Lyle Overbay in Toronto. Texieria’s almost certain to pull out of it. The latter two probably will, but I wouldn’t rate it a certainty.

Honorable mention goes to Kendry Morales of the Angels. He wasn’t in position to be the pick at this spot, but with 11 home runs, he was clearly in the group that included Konerko, Butler and Barton and certainly had the talent to move further up in the weeks ahead before his freak injury over the weekend. But he’s gone until at least mid-September.

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Morales provides a good segueway to our team spotlight today as we hone in on LAA. The Angels are 26-28 going into today’s games. The mediocre record only has them 2.5 games behind both Oakland and Texas in the AL West. So there’s plenty of time to fix the problems and the bar they have to reach isn’t high. Let’s see what’s wrong.

It starts with pitching. LAA’s 11th in the league in ERA and it really should be worse. They rank 13th in both allowing runners on base and allowing power. Joe Saunders has been a disappointment, as has Joel Piniero, although the problems of a guy who had success in the National League (in St. Louis) switching over to the AL are predictable now. Steve Kazmir is a disaster, at 3-5 with a 6.34 ERA. Only Ervin Santana and Jeff Weaver have been good, and neither one has been ace material. So you have a rotation that’s getting bad outings a majority of the time and no real stopper.

The bullpen is worse. While Fernando Rodney has made a good transition back to the setup role he used to occupy before a brief stint as Detroit’s closer, the rest of the pen starts fires rather than stops them. Whether it’s Matt Palmer, Kyle Jepsen, Jason Bulger or Scot Shields, it amounts to a problem for Mike Scoscia. And closer Brian Fuentes? Blown one-third of his save opps with an ERA of 4.97.

Offensively, the Halos sit in the middle of the league at seventh in runs scored. Here too though, fate has been kind to them, as they rank lower in both OBP and slugging. The Angels are particularly poor at getting on base, with only Bobby Abreu really effective. The power’s a little better. Even with Morales out, Tori Hunter and Mike Napoli have real pop and the team should get Jeff Mathis back from a wrist injury next week. Mathis had been off to a great start with the bat and Scoscia badly needs him to re-find that form ASAP.

For a franchise that mastered the art of “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in”, the lack of consistent runners on base is disconcerting Hideki Matsui has been a big disappointment. Howie Kendrick really needs to pick it up. Pitching-wise, they can probably bank on Saunders improving, but the bullpen probably needs help from the outside. I admire Mike Scoscia as much as any manager in the game, but he’s got a lot of headaches on his hands. The weakness of the division can still save him, but the overall performance profile suggests they need significant improvement just to stay where they are, and even more to actually win the West for the fourth straight year.

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