Triple Play: Todd Helton, Justin Morneau, Joe Kelly
In this week’s edition of the Triple Play, we look at a Mile High milestone, a team that is going all-in in its quest for postseason baseball and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. Off we go:
Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies
At age 40, he is no longer a full-time player, and he hasn’t been productive in a few years. But Sunday at Coors Field, the man known in the Rocky Mountain region as the Toddfather became the 96th player to reach the 2,500 hit mark. To obtain his landmark hit, Helton did something he has done countless times before: lacing a fastball the other way for a double. That double moved Helton past Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount into 17th place on the career doubles list with 584. Two more doubles will place him 16th all-time. Helton, who has strongly hinted at retirement several times this season, has slowed down noticeably at the plate the past few years. In his first 10 full seasons, Helton averaged 48 doubles a year (along with 32 HR and 113 RBI); whereas in 2012-13, Helton has hit a total of 30 doubles. One thing has hasn’t changed, though, is his stellar defensive work at first base. Fangraphs lists his Ultimate Zone Rating at 24.9 in his career. Whether he is a Hall of Famer is a debate for another day. One thing that is not up for debate is this: he is the greatest player ever to don the Colorado Rockies uniform, their Tony Gwynn, their Cal Ripken. Number 17 will be the first number officially retired in franchise history.
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s certainly been a tale of two halves this season for the 25-year-old lefty. In the first half of the season, Locke pitched to a 2.15 ERA and 1.128 WHIP and he allowed just six hits per nine innings. He made the All-Star team, although he did not appear in the game. If he were Clayton Kershaw, you would think that sort of performance was sustainable. But look at some of Locke’s other stats in the first half: 47 walks (in 109 innings), 1.55-to-1 K/BB ratio. Combine those two items with Locke’s average fastball speed of 90 mph, and they don’t add up to a dominant starting pitcher. Sure enough, after the All-Star break, Locke started crashing down to Earth. Beginning with his July 26 start against the Marlins, Locke allowed eight hits and six walks. That started a stretch of seven starts in which Locke compiled a 7.02 ERA and opposing batters pummeled him to the tune of a .373 average and .942 OPS. It ended with Locke being optioned to Double-A Altoona. It likely isn’t a long-term demotion, but it is clear that he needed to be removed from the Pirates’ rotation. At this point, he isn’t aiding Pittsburgh’s quest for the postseason; he’s hurting it.
Playing the Name Game
Compared to the July 31 trade deadline, the August 31 deadline was MUCH more interesting. The Pirates, who had been curiously quiet in July, were the exact opposite last week. First, they finally filled their need for a right-handed hitting outfielder by acquiring Marlon Byrd from the Mets. As part of the same deal, they added backup catcher John Buck to replace the injured Michael McKenry. To get both, they parted with 19-year-old shortstop prospect Dilson Herrera and the ever-popular player to be named later. Several baseball analysts pointed out that Herrera was no small price to pay, especially considering the gaping hole that remains at shortstop in Pittsburgh. They followed that up by finally getting Justin Morneau from Minnesota to play first base. The timing couldn’t be better, either, as Morneau’s slumbering bat has sprung back to life. After hitting just eight home runs in the first four months, he blasted nine home runs in August. If he can keep that up in Pittsburgh, the Pirates just became a much more potent offense. Between Byrd, Buck and Morneau, it’s clear that Pittsburgh is going for it this year.
In St. Louis, the Cardinals addressed their bullpen for the second consecutive year. Last year’s acquisition of Edward Mujica worked out brilliantly. Will we say the same thing about John Axford coming over from Milwaukee? Axford was dominant in 2011, but has been a human roller coaster ride since then.
Cleveland and Baltimore both pursued upgrades to their designated hitters. Neither team was willing to meet Minnesota’s steep price for Josh Willingham (despite his awful year), so they found their targets elsewhere. Baltimore picked up Michael Morse from Seattle, while Cleveland obtained Jason Kubel from Arizona.
And it wouldn’t be trade season if the Dodgers didn’t get in on the action. They, somewhat inexplicably, traded for Michael Young. Of course, this brought out all the national baseball writers to blabber on about what a great teammate Young is and how his professionalism will improve the Dodgers. Blah blah blah. Young has been worth exactly 0.0 WAR this season, according to Fangraphs. But, by all means, national media, let’s waste everyone’s time talking about what a great teammate he is. Of course, the way things are going for the Dodgers these days, he’ll probably recapture his 2005 form for the rest of this season.
- Looking back at the deals made before July 31, it seems clear that the Red Sox have gotten the biggest boost from Jake Peavy. In six starts with Boston, Peavy has pitched to a 3.18 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and has allowed only 14 runs in those starts.
- Detroit did well in that Peavy deal as well, getting shortshop Jose Iglesias, who has replaced Jhonny Peralta flawlessly. His defense has been so good, it’s been worth 0.4 WAR in just 28 games with the Tigers. That he is hitting .292/.344/.360 is purely a bonus.
- Alfonso Soriano has found that sometimes you can go home again. Since returning to the Yankees, his original team, he has popped 12 homers, 36 RBI and six steals in 34 games. Those totals aren’t too far off what he did with the Cubs in 93 games.
- As with everything related to the Dodgers these days, the acquisition of Ricky Nolasco has been outstanding. Since switching uniforms, he has gone 6-1, with a 2.20 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and five quality starts.
- Baltimore’s deals for Scott Feldman and Bud Norris have had mixed results. Feldman has gone 4-4, with a 4.18 ERA and a worse WHIP (1.243) than he had with the Cubs (1.143). As you might expect, he’s allowing more hits since switching back to the AL, but his home runs allowed have dropped. Although Norris has won three of four decisions, all other statistics have worsened since the trade from Houston (ERA, WHIP, hits per 9 IP, walks per 9 IP, HR per 9 IP).
- Same with Matt Garza. Since being traded from the Cubs to Rangers, his stats have taken a downward turn, although his strikeouts are up. Suffice it to say that he has not been worth the exorbitant price Texas paid.
- Neither has Alex Rios. Since being acquired to replace Nelson Cruz in right field, Rios has put up a .263/.298/.375 batting line, along with one lone homer and just seven RBI and seven stolen bases in 20 games. Probably not quite what the Rangers had in mind.
- Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. The past week was a week to forget for Wainwright, as he absorbed two poundings at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds, who have been a thorn in his side his entire career. He is 5-9 lifetime against the division rival and the past two starts have been brutal: 18 hits, 15 runs, and four walks in only eight innings. He’s 1-3 in four starts against Cincinnati this season with a 7.77 ERA. For the season, Wainwright is 15-9 with a 3.14 ERA, which the highest it has been since April 7. The walks have lowered his Major-League leading K/BB ratio to 6.81-to-1. His next start comes Friday, at home in another showdown against the division-leading Pirates.
- As Wainwright has struggled, their ace since the All-Star break has been…..Joe Kelly? The same guy who lost the fifth starter battle in spring training to Shelby Miller? Yep. Same guy. Since joining the rotation on July 6, Kelly has spun six quality starts and the Cardinals have won nine of his 10 starts. He’s living too dangerously with the walks (25 in 58 1/3 innings), but he’s keeping the ball in the park and making big pitches when most needed.
- Once again, Cardinals fans are holding their breath regarding the health status of Yadier Molina, who left’s Monday’s drubbing by Cincinnati with wrist soreness. When the All-Star catcher missed time with an injured knee, St. Louis went just 6-9 without him. With the NL Central turning into a fierce three-team fight, they can ill afford to lose him for any significant length of time again.
- The Athletics and Rangers are engaged in another fascinating battle for the NL West. Unlike last year, it seems that Oakland has the upper hand this time. Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss have quietly been sensational the past couple of weeks. The Rangers desperately need a lineup boost. Does eminently likable Lance Berkman have anything left?
- Miguel Cabrera trails Chris Davis by four home runs in his quest to win back-to-back Triple Crowns. They are the only players so far who have more than 40 home runs. Your NL leader in home runs is……(drum roll, please)……Pedro Alvarez (32)?!?
- Meanwhile, with a strong September, Mike Trout could become the first player to be worth 10.0 WAR in consecutive seasons since Barry Bonds over a decade ago.
- Going into Monday’s games, Trout has been worth 9.2 WAR (per Fangraphs), while Cabrera has been 7.6 WAR. Andrew McCutchen has been worth 6.5, Chris Davis 6.4, Matt Harvey 6.1, Clayton Kershaw 5.7.
- To sum up, Trout is having another monster season, but this year, he probably won’t get much in the way of MVP votes because of Cabrera and Davis.
- And because the Angels have been a train wreck this season. It should factor in, but it does.
- The Rockies sent rookie Chad Bettis out Monday to face the Dodgers, who countered with Clayton Kershaw. On paper, this looked a little like trying to drag race a Ferrari with a Pontiac Fiero; however, the Rockies have had some success in the past against Kershaw and did so again Monday, knocking him around for 11 hits and five runs. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Rockies’ bullpen coughed five runs en route to a 10-8 loss.
- It’s really starting to get unfair for the rest of the NL West. Over the past two weeks, Dodgers pitchers Zack Greinke and Ricky Nolasco have combined for five quality starts in five tries (all wins), with 40 strikeouts, five walks, and just 18 hits allowed in 39 2/3 innings.
- Finally, congratulations to the Marlins and Astros on being the first two teams to be officially eliminated from postseason contention. Next up on the list are the White Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Phillies, Mets, Padres, Giants and Blue Jays. It’s been a bad, bad year for baseball in Chicago.
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