Sorry, We're Closed

Monday, June 06, 2005

Baseball Thoughts

In the humidity of Wrigley Field's press box, a few thoughts emanate from the heathaze...

The Cubs continue to struggle at getting men on base. Tonight Jerry Hairston led off and went 1-for-3. Corey Patterson hit for him in the eighth and grounded out weakly to second. Peter Gammons, in his new column about the importance of on-base percentage to leadoff men (I sure do admire his research) states that the Cubs think that their top outfield prospect, Felix Pie, is an ideal future leadoff man.

I'm not sure what they're imbibing in the Cubs player personnel department, but I'd like some of it. Felix Pie is 20 years old, hits for average, runs very fast, plays center field, and has developing power. And he walks about twice a week.

Does that sound familiar? The Cubs already have a center fielder, Corey Patterson, who hits for average, runs very fast, hits with power, and walks about twice a week. And he made his major-league debut at the tender age of 21, quickly taking over as the Cubs' leadoff man.

Patterson became a major-league regular after just two and a half minor league seasons, and there were some in the Cubs' front office who wanted him in Chicago even earlier than that. But he failed in the leadoff role; despite his great tools, Patterson has never been a productive hitter for the Cubs because he lacks pitch recognition skills and, as a result, has low on-base percentages. He just makes too damn many outs.

Pie, like Patterson, is an impatient hitter who gets fooled by breaking balls. Do the Cubs somehow think that Felix Pie will somehow "learn" the strike zone at the major league level? That's something about one in every 500 guys does. Stu mantra #1: the major leagues are not a tryout camp. Before projecting him as a leadoff hitter, how about making sure that he has on-base ability?

Corey Patterson's career has been destroyed because the Cubs asked him to do something he wasn't ready to do--fill the leadoff role. Such an assignment magnified his weaknesses and negated his strengths. Isn't that a lesson they'd like to learn from?

Toronto used bullpen coach Bruce Walton as its first base coach last night, apparently because manager John Gibbons wanted bench coach Ernie Whitt (who usually covers first) in the dugout for the entire game. It was the first time in my memory that a big-league team had used a former pitcher as a base coach. Help me out if I've forgotten others.

Colorado Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes will undergo left shoulder surgery tomorrow and is lost for at least two months and maybe more. Barmes, in the running for NL Rookie of the Year honors, fractured his collarbone slipping on a stairway Sunday night, landing shoulder-first.

This injury looks, at first glance, like a death knell for the Rockies, but they're already 19-37, so how much worse can they be? The truth is that Barmes just isn't that good--at least not yet. He's done this year what a lot of young players do when they come to Denver: hit like hell in the thin air and struggle just to be average on the road. Barmes is hitting .390 with seven homers and 27 RBI in home games, but just .255 with one homer and seven RBI on the road.

Barmes' injury forces Desi Relaford, a decent veteran utility man, into regular duty. More important, it gives Colorado a chance to see if Luis Gonzalez, a Rule V pick after the 2003 season who played fairly well last year as a rookie, can effectively play second base full-time as Aaron Miles continues to recover from his side strain.

Colorado's franchise is in deep trouble. None of their "young" hitters (Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, Barmes, Miles, Garrett Atkins) are really very good. Hawpe may be the best of them. Center fielder Preston Wilson, and his chronically bad left knee, are on the trading block; the Rockies would like to trade Wilson as soon as possible, but when I saw him play recently at Wrigley Field, Wilson was walking back to the dugout from center field rather than running.

Meanwhile, Todd Helton, the team's only effective hitter, is being walked at an alarming rate and isn't doing much with what few pitches he does get to hit. Helton has said he that wants to stick around and lead the Rockies back into contention, an inspiring pronouncement that probably leaves Colorado General Manager Dan O'Dowd wishing Helton hadn't said anything. (Then again, it may be a strategy to drive up Helton's ransom if teams are interested.)

The Rockies have precious little talent to trade; their surfeit of talent is, surprisingly, in the bullpen. Marcos Carvajal, Brian Fuentes, and Scott Dohmann are valuable commodities, as is closer/starter/designated whipping boy Shawn Chacon. Starter Joe Kennedy might attract some interest if he ever strings two good starts together, but he appears to be following in the footsteps of the former and present Rockies pitchers who enjoy one good season before falling apart.

With a poor offense, not a lot of talent in the high minors, and an environment that is still hell on pitchers (even with the humidor-cooled baseballs now used at Coors Field), it's going to be a long climb back for this team. But they're in Denver. Climbing is what they do out there.

*Oakland's Marco Scutaro played in 134 games last year and walked just 16 times. This season, he's played 53 games and drawn 20 walks. Bobby Crosby's injury could have been a total disaster for the A's, but at least Scutaro has helped kept shortstop from becoming a black hole.

*Jim Bowden thought giving Cristian Guzman a multi-year contract was a great idea.

*How long does Scott Erickson get to prove that he can no longer pitch?

*For a player who is essentially horse$@%#, Neifi Perez is looking awfully good.

*Think the Nationals miss Endy Chavez?

*Who do people still complain about Alex Rodriguez?

*The Padres are 19-8 at home; they play a pitcher's game at Petco. When they go on the road, they have to outslug their mediocre starting pitching, and are 15-15.


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