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Entries in Mike Carp (4)

Monday
Jan272014

Sizemore Unlikely to Beat Out Bradley Jr. for CF Job in Boston

By now, Grady Sizemore was supposed to be burnishing his Hall of Fame credentials. Sizemore had it all -- power, speed, strike-zone awareness, Grady's Ladies -- and was about as valuable during his age 22 to 25 seasons (24.6 Wins Above Replacement) as Frank Robinson, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. But today, the Indians' erstwhile franchise center fielder is merely a 31-year-old scrapping for a roster spot with the Red Sox following seven surgical procedures that have prevented him from taking the field since September 22, 2011.

What do the defending World Series champions see in Sizemore, whom they signed to a one-year, $750,000 deal that could reach $6 million if he hits performance bonuses? Where could he contribute in 2014? Here are a couple ways that Boston could deploy Sizemore, assuming he makes it through spring training in one piece.

A Jackie Bradley Jr. alternative in center field

This seems to be the angle that's getting the most play in the media. Boston, looking to replace new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury in center, might be reluctant to give an everyday job to Bradley Jr., given the 23-year-old's wretched showing in the majors last season (.189 AVG/.280 OBP/.337 SLG in 107 plate appearances). It's a sexy story ("broken down star beats out hot shot youngster"), but Sizemore likely won't be trotting out to the middle pasture come opening day.

For one thing, Bradley Jr. is still highly promising. The former South Carolina star has a career .297/.404/.471 line in the minors, blending superb plate patience with mid-range power. He's also a gazelle in center field, with MLB.com's Jim Callis dubbing Bradley the best defensive outfield prospect in the game. Sure, he was terrible in limited playing time in 2013, but it's hardly unprecedented for a top young player to flail initially and then go on to have a great career. Dustin Pedroia, for example, had an even worse showing at the plate than Bradley (.191/.258/.303 in 98 plate appearances back in 2006). When he got off to a .182/.308/.236 start in April of 2007, some were ready to cut bait. Sometimes, it takes prospects a few hundred ABs to get acclimated.

Bradley's main issue last year was contact, as he punched out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. He had a particularly difficult time squaring up high pitches (he swung and missed 27.1 percent of the time, compared to the 20.3 percent MLB average). But there's not much reason to think he'll whiff like Pedro Alvarez or Mark Reynolds moving forward -- Bradley struck out a modest 17.4 percent of the time on the farm. Chances are Bradley gets on base, drives pitches into the gaps and tracks down fly balls like a boss in 2014.

We also have no idea whether Sizemore is actually capable of playing center field at this point. Advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating considered him a plus fielder during his halcyon days in Cleveland (+4.3 runs saved compared to an average player per 150 games), but that was before Sizemore had microfracture surgery on both knees. Maybe he can still fly, or maybe he gimps around like Kirk Gibson in the '88 World Series. We won't know until he takes the field.

Jonny Gomes' platoon partner in left field

This scenario looks more plausible, though Daniel Nava is more deserving as a guy who thumps righties (.303/.401/.459 in 2012-13) and isn't coming off a two-year respite. Gomes obliterates left-handed pitching (.277/.387/.494 over the past three seasons) but gets shut down by righties (.205/.314/.382). He also plays defense like a guy who had microfracture surgery yesterday. Sizemore, meanwhile, still managed to inflict some damage versus right-handers while his body betrayed him (.254/.333/.450 from 2009-11). A Sizemore-Gomes platoon could be productive. Of course, a Nava-Gomes platoon is already productive.

Mike Carp also hits righties pretty well (.258/.333/.449 from 2011-13). He could be swapped, though I wouldn't bet on GM Ben Cherington showing that much faith in Sizemore's durability.

Sizemore's role in Boston is about what you'd expect for a guy who hasn't seen live pitching since beer-and-chicken-gate -- he doesn't really have one right now. He could contribute, and he has far more upside than your typical 30-something scrapheap sign. Still, nobody's counting on him to crack the opening day roster, much less usurp a top prospect like Bradley.

Monday
Jun242013

Peter Gammons: Success after Safeco

The day after Dustin Ackley was shipped out to Tacoma, one American League East general manager called the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik to see if Seattle would be willing to move the 25-year old once drafted one slot after Stephen Strasburg. “I still believe in the bat,” said the GM. “I don’t know how we’d use him. Maybe first, second, left, center…But I still believe he’s a .300 hitter who could hit 50 doubles.”

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only Ackley call Zduriencik fielded the first couple of days after the demotion. “I also believe in Dustin Ackley,” said Zduriencik. “He can still be a major part of our rebuilding.” Two weeks later, Tacoma manager John Stearns told his GM, “this guy is a .300 hitter who’s going to hit doubles and steal bases. He’s really good.”

After 24 games in Triple-A, Ackley was hitting .366. He was getting on base at a .467 clip. He was slugging .495. "I feel right again,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I made some changes in my approach before spring training. Maybe that didn’t take. But I’ve been healthy (after the removal of bone spur in each ankle this past winter). It isn’t the move to second base; that was fine. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like myself again.”

Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners)

Safeco is still a pitcher's park

Zduriencik thinks that while they moved some of the fences in, Safeco is still a pitchers’ park, a death sentence for hitters. Adrian Beltre was spooked at Safeco. Jesus Montero has disappeared back to Tacoma. Ditto Justin Smoak. “I’m a great believer in getting hold of someone who has struggled in Seattle but we believe can hit,” says another GM. Which is what the Red Sox did when they took the shot on Mike Carp.

“I got to Fenway, started relaxing, didn’t try to pull the ball and my old stroke came back,” says Carp. “Safeco is death on driving the ball to left-center, which is where I need to stay. Fenway is the opposite.” Ask Fred Lynn, Mo Vaughn, David Ortiz, Wade Boggs

The fact remains that while the Mariners are second to last in the American League in runs scored at home, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 they were last. Dead last.

Now, in a city like Seattle, with some of the most intelligent analysis in the baseball journalism universe, one cannot pawn off the Mariners’ ill-fated history. Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman? Jeff Clement? No need to go further. But they began to worry that Ackley was part of the bad legacy.

Ackley wasn’t just a good hitter at North Carolina, he was a great hitter, hence being the second pick in the 2009 draft after Stephen Strasburg and the signing bonus of more than $8M. He played 90 games for the Mariners in 2011, hit .273 with a .348/.421/.908 slash.

But it didn’t hold. In 2012, bothered by his ankles, he fell to .226/.294/.328/.622. Then he started 2013 a mess, .205/.266/.250. 

On to Tacoma. There they decided to let him play both left and center fields. “He took to both,” says Zduriencik. “He’s played both really well. His throwing has really come back."

In the meantime, Nick Franklin has played second base very well. Shortstop Brad Miller is starting to emerge in Tacoma. Catcher Mike Zunino is in the grooming process in the big leagues. And the off-season acquisitions of Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales have paid off, because they both can hit in Seattle.

“The most important thing is that the Seattle Mariners are returning to being a pitching team,” says Zduriencik. King Felix Hernandez is under contractual lock and key. Hisashi Iwakuma is really good, and his GM says, “believe me, he’s not going anywhere.” While Zduriencik admits he regrets trading Doug Fister, he projects Taijuan (Sky) Walker, Danny Hultzen and Erasmo Ramirez in the Seattle rotation by this time next season.

If that pitching is as good as they believe and Ackley, Franklin, Zunino and others join Kyle Seager in developing in Safeco, the Mariners can get good again, in a hurry. Parity? NFL equality? Fine, if you live in Seattle, you deserve a reason to believe.

Monday
Jun172013

B. Chuck: The Offensive Red Sox Season

With all the talk about the effect that John Farrell's return to the Red Sox would have on the Boston pitching staff, so far it's been highly over-rated.

The Sox are seventh in the league with a team ERA of 3.84. Their starters are fourth in the league with a 3.79 ERA and their bullpen is 11th in the AL with a 3.94 ERA.

The key to the success of the Red Sox this season have been their bats and credit for that certainly needs to go to hitting coach Gregg Colbrunn and his assistant, Victor Rodriguez (and very high marks to GM Ben Cherington who has put together a terrific assortment of "chemists").

Serious Offense

  • The Red Sox lead the majors 363 runs scored.
  • They are tied with the Orioles with 155 doubles, the most in the majors.
  • They are tied with the Rays and Indians with 80 homers, the sixth most in the majors.
  • They are second to the A's, 277 to 273 walks.
  • They are second to the Padres, 61 to 57 steals.
  • They are second to the Cards, 205 to 184 hits with runners in scoring position.
  • They are tied for second in the AL with the A's with bases loaded hits, but lead the majors with 66 bases loaded RBI.
  • The Sox are tied with the Tigers for the league lead with a .285 June batting average.
  • They lead the AL 156 June hits, 13 more than the A's who are in second place.
  • They lead the AL with 23 June homers
  • They lead the AL with 88 RBI, 28 more than the Jays who are second with 60 ribbies.

The Individual Plusses

One of the other keys to the Red Sox offensive success is the variety of players who have been hot at different times throughout the season.

 

  • For example, while the Sox and the Phillies only have four homers each from the number three slot in the batting order, the fewest in baseball, the Sox have Dustin Pedroia who's hitting .319, the best of any #3 in the AL not named Miguel Cabrera.
  • And they have David Ortiz who has driven home 14 runs in June, the most in the AL, despite a .220 batting average.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury, in his walk year, has been running. He's tied with Everth Cabrera for the MLB lead with 31 steals and tied with Mike Trout for the AL lead in triples with six.
  • Mike Napoli has been an RBI machine providing clutch hits, particularly in the early going.
  • Don't forget the great fielding Jose Iglesias who has a 17-game hitting streak, the longest for any rookie this season, and is hitting .438 in 99 PA this season.
  • Daniel Nava is one of the great "who's thats?" of this season, but is deserving of some AL All-Star write-in votes. Nava is hitting .288 on the season and his 44 RBI are third on the team to Ortiz' and Napoli's 49, but 24 of the RBI have come from the 7th inning on and Nava leads the majors in that category. His 38 RBI as an outfielder puts him eight among all MLB outfielders. And, his .378 OBP ranks 10th among all outfielders (he has a .383 OBP overall).
  • Mike Carp has hit eight homers in 105 AB and is slugging .686 to go with his .324 BA.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .271 overall and improving behind the plate and the switch-hitter is hitting .303 as a lefty.

 

So, through an assortment of pieces the Red Sox have put together three strong first months of the season.

But is that enough to get them through the year?

Tomorrow, I look at the minuses of the Boston ball club, starting with the starting pitching.