Friday, March 19, 2010

Aumont Changing Things Up

Phillippe Aumont is adjusting nicely to minor league camp as he had an impressive outing yesterday against the double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Aumont pitched 3 perfect innings while striking out 4 and allowed only 1 flyball out.  Aumont has seemed to recover nicely from his outing in which he went 2/3 of an inning against FSU and allowed 5 runs.

It has been reported that the Phillies are tinkering with his delivery in hopes to improve his control.  The Phillies scouted Aumont when he was in high school and believe that his delivery has significantly changed since then.  The Phillies have sat down with Aumont in recent weeks to show him the difference and see if he can get back to what he was doing in high school, which was throwing at more of a 3/4 angle instead of an over the top motion.  This occurred because the Mariners organization viewed him as a reliever and wanted to utilize his 4-seam fastball over his sinker.  An over the top motion will increase velocity, but will take away from a pitcher's ability to add movement to a pitch, it also increases the chance of injury as it adds pressure on the elbow.

Aumont has an incredible amount of potential as he has 3 pitches (4-seamer, sinker, curveball) that can potentially be viewed as plus pitches.  Aumont also throws a changeup but it is a work in progress at this point.  The issue with Aumont, similar to almost all young pitchers, is whether or not he can control those pitches.  If Aumont can find comfort in his new delivery and control his pitches, the Phillies may have gotten more for Cliff Lee than originally thought.  2010 will be a big year for Aumont's development so it's good news that he's in Reading where they have been known to succeed in developing pitchers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Kyle Kendrick For Real?

Roy Halladay is a 2-time 20 game winner, a Cy Young Award winner, he comes from the best division in baseball, and he was involved in one of the biggest baseball trades in a long time. Yet he seems to be garnering significantly less attention than rotation hopeful Kyle Kendrick. Can this really be possible? Maybe it is because most baseball fans know what they are getting in Halladay and when they get dominating performances out of him it just seems like the norm. Maybe it is because Philadelphia fans have been talking about him for over 3 months and have read all the articles that they can handle. Of course that is impossible. Maybe it is because Halladay is intentionally hiding from the media. Whatever it is, Kyle Kendrick seems to be getting all the attention. This, coming from a pitcher who was not a high round draft pick, who does not have an overpowering fastball, who failed in his short time as a major leaguer, and who spent the majority of last year in the minors.

Kendrick's last 3 seasons have been eventful to say the least. Kendrick was the unheralded hero on the Phillies 2007 squad that ended a 13 year playoff drought. Kendrick was brought up in replacement of Freddy Garcia, who was injured, or just being thrown in a dumpster somewhere, as his era was 5.90 and climbing. Kendrick, at the time, was 22 years old and having a very nice season at AA Reading. The Phillies reached pretty far with Kendrick, as the high minors were very empty and the major league squad was incredibly thin in starting pitching. To say Kendrick performed admirably or exceeded expectations would be a severe understatement. He went 10-4 in 20 starts, and posted a 3.87 era. The Phillies needed every single win that year as they clinched on the very last day of the season. Without Kendrick, the Phillies would not have come close to allowing the Mets to display the biggest collapse in baseball history.

Kendrick went into 2008 with supreme confidence and may have been a little too cocky as it seemed that he was completely unprepared for spring training and the regular season. To make matters worse, the one thing that Kendrick had going for him, his confidence, took a serious hit when the entire Phillies franchise pulled a prank on him. Everyone from Brett Myers to Ruben Amaro Jr., was involved in the prank that told Kendrick that he was traded to Japan for the hot dog eating champion, Koboyashi Iwamura.

Once the regular season started, Kendrick was quickly finding out how tough it was to stick as a major league pitcher. He had such success in 2007 he didn’t find the need to make adjustments as it seemed the league wasn’t familiar enough with him. As with many pitchers, as the league becomes more familiar with a pitcher, the less success that pitcher usually has. When this occurs the pitcher better be able to make adjustments or his time will not last too long. This happened to Kendrick from his very first start in 08 and it only got worse. In 2008 Kendrick’s era sat in the 5.00 range for the majority of the season until he was pulled from the rotation at the end of September. Kendrick finished the season with a 5.49 era and an astounding 1.612 WHIP. The interesting thing was that in Kendrick’s 30 starts, the Phillies had a record of 18-12. That was still not enough to keep Kendrick in the rotation as he just kept on putting up dismal outings when it mattered most. After a full year and a half in the Phillies starting rotation he was left completely off the playoff roster and was forced to watch the World Series run from his couch.

I want to say that this was the low point in Kendrick’s career, but that is not the case. In the upcoming spring, the Phillies setup an open competition for the 5th starter spot with Kendrick, young JA Happ, veteran Chan Ho Park, and top prospect Carlos Carrasco. The Phillies clearly wanted Kendrick to win the job but he pitched so horribly in spring training again that they had no choice but to send him to the minors. The Phillies hoped that this would be a good situation for Kendrick as he wouldn’t have to focus on results but could focus more on developing his other off speed pitches. Kendrick clearly disagreed with the organization and instead viewed it solely as a demotion.

The approach in which Kendrick took was absolutely horrible and it really deterred him from succeeding early on in 2009. Kendrick had a FIP of 3.93 and 4.70 to go along with a WHIP of 1.35 and 1.50 in the first 2 months of the season. Once Kendrick decided to place an emphasis on learning and developing his new pitches, his season really turned around and the organization really took notice. Kendrick posted a FIP of 2.76 and a WHIP of 0.85 in July which is really when he started getting comfortable with his new array of pitches. By season’s end, Kendrick ranked 5th in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, and 10th in innings pitched within the International League. By the time the Phillies were ready for September call ups, Kendrick was first on the list and he proved that he was ready to be back in the majors. When Kendrick was given his opportunity he did not disappoint as he posted a 3.42 ERA in 26 innings. Even though 26 innings is hardly enough time to truly assess a pitcher, it was clear that Kendrick had vastly improved in his one season at Lehigh Valley.

The issue with Kendrick was that he had a good sinker that had very good movement but that was basically it. He did throw a slider as well but it was rudimentary which made the sinker way too predictable for a major league pitcher. Once a pitcher becomes predictable in this league his days become numbered very quickly. This is the main reason that Kendrick was forced down to the minors. In his time in the minors, Kendrick worked on developing a changeup and improving his slider. Based on the innings he pitched in September last year, along with his spring training appearances this year, it is safe to say that Kendrick succeeded at reaching the goal that the organization set for him 2009.

The thing that appears most interesting about Kendrick is that he is throwing a cutter with great movement and control out of nowhere. We all knew that Kendrick had a good sinker and he was confident in his changeup, but before spring training there was absolutely no news about Kendrick adding a cutter to his repertoire. Obviously I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention Roy Halladay. It can’t be a coincidence that Kendrick pulls a cutter out of nowhere the same time that Roy Halladay, who throws probably the second best cutter in baseball, arrives.

It’s no secret that Kendrick has latched on to Halladay and is trying to mimic his pitches, his movement, his location, even his ginger beard. It really is quite funny to see on camera because you can’t find a shot of Roy without Kyle standing right next to him. Kendrick has reportedly been showing up to practice even before Halladay and Manuel, which usually sits at about 5 a.m.  If Kendrick ever had the ability to improve as a pitcher, or athlete, or baseball player, he has clearly taken every step necessary to do it. Few have worked harder in spring training and in the offseason and it really seems to be paying off for him.

Even though they seem like meaningless Grapefruit League outings, Kendrick has been absolutely amazing and has basically been perfect in his 9 innings. Kendrick has not allowed a run this spring, but even more impressive is that he’s issued 0 walks and allowed only 4 hits. The only pitching aspect that Kendrick could improve upon this spring is his strikeout rate. Few pitchers are able to succeed in the majors while striking out less than 5 batters per 9 innings, so Kendrick does need to miss a few more bats. With the way Kendrick's pitches are moving this spring, I really can't see that being an issue.  In the first spring training game against the Yankees I really couldn't believe my eyes watching Kendrick pitch.  He looked as good as Halladay if not better in those 2 short innings.  The cutter, sinker, changeup, all have looked, dare I say "filthy?"  I am really trying to not overrate the 9 innings he's pitched in spring training but it's hard not to like what he could potentially add to our rotation.  All in all, Kendrick has shown great pitch selection, variation, movement, location, and the ability to become a leach to the best pitcher in baseball. Now it is up to the Phillies organization to show that they are able to learn from their mistakes and not screw up like they did last year (Happ/Park).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010 League Predictions

The 2009 offseason was very uneventful in that not many teams got much better or worse. All of the top the teams in both leagues should have similar success in 2010. The NL teams did almost nothing to change the outlay of their roster and the AL was almost as boring with the exception of Seattle and Boston. Without the Lee/Halladay trades, this offseason would have been completely nonexistent due to the horrible collection of free agents. The most impressive offseason easily goes to the Mariners as they acquired Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins while retaining Eric Bedard at a very reasonable price. They are really the only non-playoff team that really put themselves in an opportunity to seriously contend in 2010.

Since there were not many big contracts given out there really were no true losers in the offseason. With that being said, the Mets still appear to be lost. The Mets did acquire Jason Bay who is a quality middle of the order hitter as he provides some much needed power to their lineup, but everyone and their mother agrees that they overpaid. Bay is also known for being a notoriously bad defensive outfielder and putting him in the cavernous outfield of Citi Field will make him look like Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump.

So after it is all said and done, here are my 2010 predictions. Nothing too surprising outside of one or two teams in each league. As I feel it is a bit more relevant I have gone into more depth on the NL East teams. I have also put the team MVPs and their surprise player who are either impact rookies or just players who have significantly larger impact than expected.

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are easily the best team in the National League and anybody that disagrees needs to stop being a pretend baseball fan and go back to watching that communist sport with the sticks and black discs. Amongst National League teams, the Phillies have the best offense, defense, baserunning, and arguably the best pitcher. The Phillies could also sport the best rotation if Hollywood returns to his 2008 form and Happ continues his early success. Of course it would have been amazing if Lee was still on the team but I understand why Amaro did what he did. The additions of Polanco and Contreras are really going to improve the Phillies. 2010 should be a smooth ride barring any serious injuries. The Phillies have no real competition in their division or in the NL so there isn’t much more to analyze so I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the domination early and often.

MVP: Roy Halladay
Surprise: Antonio Bastardo

2. Atlanta Braves

The Braves are the best team in the NL not from Philadelphia and they will be the wildcard this year. 90 wins for this team is attainable. The Braves have almost nobody worth fearing in their offense or pitching staff but at the same time no real weakness exists on this team. A healthy Wagner, Chipper, and Hudson can make this team a legitimate contender. The Braves possess 2 of the best young players in baseball with Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward. If both of those players can consistently display their talents in 2010 the Braves could go further than expected. It’s tough to not be high on a team with as much pitching as them.

MVP: Chipper Jones
Surprise: Jason Heyward

3. Florida Marlins

The Florida Marlins are always the most difficult team in the majors to predict. They are almost never as good or bad as people project them to be. Hanley Ramirez is an absolute monster and is one of the top 5 players in the league and Josh Johnson is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Other than that there are a lot of questions but along with those questions, a lot of potential. The Marlins will be one of streakiest teams this year and will strike fear into their opponents for about 2 months until they drop off at the end of the season.

MVP: Hanley Ramirez
Surprise: Cameron Maybin

4. New York Mets

Oh the New York Metropolitans, what a funny team to have in your division. It really makes great entertainment to see the nonstop hype around this team followed by the nonstop disaster that is their franchise. Their GM and manager clearly do not understand what is going on as they had an embarrassing 2009 season and did almost nothing to improve. Jason Bay was a quality acquisition when you avoid looking at the price that came along with him. I mean seriously, who else was actually negotiating with him that he got almost $70 million. Anyways, as I said, Bay is a decent middle of the order hitter who will provide some power to their lineup. At the same time, the Mets did absolutely nothing to improve their biggest weaknesses which were middle relief and starting pitching. They have an amazing closer and one of the best pitchers in baseball in Johan Santana. With all things taken into account, assuming they stay healthy which is a huge assumption, the Mets should provide a high outage of runs but allow many more. The Mets should finish anywhere between 3rd and 4th within this division and that has more to do with the performance of the Marlins than the Mets.

MVP: Johan Santana
Surprise: Daniel Murphy

5. Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are kind of like that nerdy kid in the neighborhood who is horrible at sports but your still nice and let him play. The Nats are so irrelevant I fought myself on whether or not they were actually worth writing a paragraph on them. So instead I write a paragraph on how pointless of a franchise they are. That is nothing against the Nationals as they played in Montreal and San Juan for a long time. Talk about bad luck. Anyways, they are building a solid foundation in Zimmerman and Strasburg, and Bryce Harper will be joining pretty soon. All in all, the Nats again will be bottom dwellers but Strasburg will be enough for them to actually garner some attention, at least regionally.

MVP: Ryan Zimmerman
Surprise: Nyjer Morgan

NL Central

1. Houston Astros

MVP: Hunter Pence
Surprise: Brett Myers

2. St. Louis Cardinals

MVP: Albert Pujols
Surprise: Colby Rasmus

3. Milwaukee Brewers

MVP: Ryan Braun
Surprise: Rickie Weeks

4. Chicago Cubs

MVP: Derek Lee
Surprise: Carlos Marmol

5. Cincinnati Reds

MVP: Joey Votto
Surprise: Jay Bruce

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

MVP: Garrett Jones
Surprise: Andrew McCutchen

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

MVP: Matt Kemp
Surprise: James Loney

2. Colorado Rockies

MVP: Todd Helton
Surprise: Carlos Gonzalez

3. San Francisco Giants

MVP: Tim Lincecum
Surprise: Madison Bumgarner

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

MVP: Justin Upton
Surprise: Edwin Jackson

5. San Diego Padres

MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
Surprise: Kyle Banks

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

MVP: Jason Bartlett
Surprise: Sean Rodriguez

2. New York Yankees

MVP: Mark Texeira
Surprise: Phil Hughes

3. Boston Red Sox

MVP: Victor Martinez
Surprise: Clay Buchholz

4. Baltimore Orioles

MVP: Nick Markakis
Surprise: Brian Matusz

5. Toronto Blue Jays

MVP: Vernon Wells
Surprise: Travis Snyder

AL Central

1. Minnesota Twins

MVP: Joe Mauer
Surprise: Denard Span

2. Chicago White Sox

MVP: Jake Peavy
Surprise: Gavin Floyd

3. Detroit Tigers

MVP: Miguel Cabrera
Surprise: Max Sherzer

4. Kansas City Royals

MVP: Billy Butler
Surprise: Kila Ka'ai

5. Cleveland Indians

MVP: Shin Soo-Choo
Surprise: Lou Marson (shocker)

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

MVP: Bobby Abreu
Surprise: Howie Kendrick

2. Seattle Mariners

MVP: Cliff Lee
Surprise: Milton Bradley

3. Texas Rangers

MVP: Ian Kinsler
Surprise: Chris Davis

4. Oakland Athletics

MVP: Andrew Bailey
Surprise: Michael Taylor (shocker)

Phillies over the Houston Ed Wades
Braves over Dodgers

Yankees over Angels
Rays over Twins

Phillies over Braves

Rays over Yankees

Yup 08 Repeat. Phils over Rays but in a closer series.