Monday, March 05, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted, Spring Training Preview Capsules: AL West

(Fourth in a six-part series, teams listed in predicted order of finish.)

Foul tips and other observations:
Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby are the pitcher and position-player version of each other: immensely talented, and immensely unreliable. Imagine what the A's might have accomplished last year if they were healthy . . . Nick Swisher seems poised to justify his off-the-charts cockiness this season. Thirty-five homers isn't out of the question, and he's become the frathouse president that Jason Giambi used to be . . . Billy Beane might be worthy of the "Moneyball" adulation, but I can't help but remember that one of his first acts with the Sox would have been to trade Jason Varitek and try to acquire someone named Mark Johnson to be the starting catcher. I believe that would have fallen under the heading "Unforgivable sins" . . . Mike Piazza won't approach the departed Frank Thomas's numbers at DH, but he'll be productive enough that Beane will look shrewd for bringing him to the Bay Area. Think .290-22-85 . . . I've been a believer in Danny Haren since he shut down the Sox in relief in Game 1 of the '04 World Series. St. Louis might have won a game had Tony La Russa known what he had . . . Eric Chavez hit only .241 last year. I know he was hurt, but that's just shameful. A player of his raw ability should be able hit .250 swinging a ThunderStick blindfolded.

Breakthrough player: Haren. He's the pitcher Harden was supposed to be.

Breakdown player: Crosby, Harden. I'm not betting against this trend.

Completely random Bill James stat: Swisher had the best at-bat per homer ratio (15.9) for AL players under age 26.

Foul tips and other observations:
Wow, throwing $50 million at one-year wonder Gary Matthews Jr. looks really good now, huh? . . . Is there any player who earned more admiration in a short stay with the Red Sox than Orlando Cabrera? Oh, right - Dave Roberts . . . Justin Speier was atop my free-agent wish list for the Sox, but not at the price Anaheim is paying him . . . Garret Anderson was vastly underrated in his heyday, and is vastly overrated now . . . Ervin Santana is far more effective at home than on the road, but if I were the Orioles, I would have agreed to the Angels' terms and dealt Miguel Tejada for Santana and Erick Aybar in a heartbeat. Good health willing, he could win 20 on stuff alone . . . Whaddaya think Bartolo Colon weighs in at these days after a year of inactivity? The over/under is three bills . . . I don't get the Shea Hillenbrand signing. They needed an elite hitter, not another free-swinger who puts up just decent numbers. Plus, he's a dink . . . K-Rod must have some extra-strength elbow ligaments. With the ridiculous torque he puts on that breaking ball, it's a wonder he hasn't yet had to pay a visit to Dr. James Andrews yet . . . I still can't believe Darren Oliver is an effective big-league pitcher. He looked finished with the Sox five years ago.

Breakthrough player: Howie Kendrick (pictured). The second coming of Bill Madlock.

Breakdown player: Vlad Guerrero. He's still among the elite, but his body is gradually betraying him, and he moves in right field like Redd Foxx.

Completely random Bill James stat: The underrated John Lackey had the best Game Score for any starting pitcher in the AL last season, earning a 95 for his complete-game, one-hit, no-walk, 10-strikeout performance against Oakland July 7.

Foul tips and other observations:
The Yankees (1996) and D-Backs (2001) both won the World Series the season after micromanager Buck Showalter was shown the door . . . Could Texas make it 3 for 3? Not likely, but it's tempting to pick them higher in the division . . . There is a nice collection of talent here, and new manager Ron Washington gets rave reviews for his knowledge and people skills . . . He made a nice recovery in the second half with 23 homers, but I'm still curious why Mark Teixeira suffered such a power outage early last season . . . Frank Catalanotto is back with the Rangers after terrorizing the Red Sox the past few seasons while with the Jays. I'd love to see him play for the Sox someday, and Theo did make a pitch to him in the offseason . . . Vincente Padilla has always driven his pitching coaches mad with his stubbornness, and I'm guessing his fat new contract isn't going to make him any more coachable . . . Ian Kinsler (.286-14-55) is going to be an elite fantasy second baseman by season's end, and Gerald Laird isn't a bad sleeper at catcher. He can rake . . . In his ongoing quest to play for every team in North America, Kenny Lofton will be patrolling center field in Arlington. At least until wears out his welcome again . . . Eric Gagne isn't going to stay healthy, is he?

Breakthrough player: Brandon McCarthy. The White Sox eased him into the big leagues in low-leverage relief situations, treated him as an elite pitching prospect should be treated, then just as he was on the verge of locking down a spot in the starting rotation for the next decade. . . he was traded for an unpolished prospect named John Danks? I don't get it. I say McCarthy wins 15 games and Kenny Williams has some 'splaining to do.

Breakdown player: Hank Blalock. Once touted by Gammons as a George Brett clone, he regressed to .266-16-89 last season. What's going wrong here?

Completely random Bill James stat: Michael Young led the AL in batting with runners in scoring position (.412). Bonus stat: Young hit .615 with the bases loaded, second only to Anaheim's Juan Rivera (.667).

Foul tips and other observations:
I'm not saying Bill Bavasi is incompetent, but I'm pretty sure he'd be the guy at your fantasy league draft who kept trying to pick players three rounds after someone else took them . . . I don't get the Rafael Soriano-for-Horacio Ramirez trade, I don't get why he signed October flash Jeff Weaver, and I don't get why he acquired a rapidly aging Jose Vidro to DH . . . Other than that, you're doing a great job, Billy . . . No wonder Ichiro's frustrated. Do you think he'll be playing for the Sox or the Yankees a year from now? . . . Remember when the Red Sox supposedly coveted Jeremy Reed to replace Johnny Damon? In comparison to Reed's wretched 2006 season, suddenly Coco Crisp's first season doesn't look so disappointing . . . This is not hyperbole: Felix Hernandez has the best stuff in baseball, the little lefty in Minnesota included. Better yet, he got off the El Guapo diet in the offseason and dedicated himself to conditioning. He could be a monster this season . . . Nomar's kid brother Michael Garciaparra is on the 40-man roster, listed at second base. He does not appear to have Nomar's ability, or his beak . . . He didn't get much in the way of publicity, but J.J. Putz was brilliant in his first season as a closer, saving 36 games with a 2.30 ERA and whiffing 104 in 78.1 innings.

Breakthrough player: Hernandez. In terms of sheer stuff, he's somewhere between K-Rod and a young Doc Gooden.

Breakdown player: Vidro. The Mariners would be better off bringing back Alvin Davis.

Completely random Bill James stat: Richie Sexson swung and missed at 22.5 percent of the pitches he saw, the highest percentage in the league.