Tag Archive | "Better Luck"

The Royals replacements are doing all right (so far)

The hits keep on coming, but it’s not Eric Hosmer hitting into better luck. With left-handed starter Danny Duffy being out for the year due to a ligament tear in his elbow, the Royals suffered another injury to a key player. The Royals already lost closer Joakim Soria for the year to Tommy John surgery. Catcher Salvador Perez won’t be back until the All-Star Break recovering from a knee injury. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain is still recovering from a groin injury he suffered early in the season. Not to mention starter Jonathan Sanchez is on the DL with biceps tendinitis. These players were supposed to be a key part of the 2012 season and help make the Royals competitive. Instead, other players are filling the void.

With the loss of Danny Duffy for the year and Jonathan Sanchez out for a few weeks, pitchers Luis Mendoza and Vin Mazzaro are in the rotation. Mendoza and Mazzaro don’t inspire much confidence from Royals fans. But last Sunday, Mendoza pitched well, filling in for injured Duffy. And Tuesday night Mazzaro was unMazzaro like and pitched well enough against the Texas Rangers to win the game.

Mendoza and Mazzaro know they have a great opportunity to prove they belong with the Royals. But they need to pitch deep into games and keep the runs down if they have any chance to stay in the rotation.

Sometimes closer Jonathan Broxton makes the ninth inning more interesting than it needs to be. But in 15 games, Broxton has eight saves and until last night’s game with Baltimore, he’s held the opposing team scoreless with a 1.32 ERA. Many fans were surprised the Royals got Broxton in the off-season, but with the loss of Soria, it looks like a smart move.

Of course the Royals would prefer to have Salvador Perez behind the plate, but Humberto Quintero and Brayan Pena are holding their own. Interesting stats: before Wednesday’s game with the Baltimore Orioles, Quintero and Pena had the same amount of hits (15), doubles (6), RBI (7) and batting average (.238). Which mean they’re about the same player performance wise and one of them will be the backup catcher when Perez returns.

With Lorenzo Cain out since early April, Jarrod Dyson was plugged in to fill the void. After a forgettable two-game stint which sent him back to Omaha, Dyson was recalled a couple of weeks later and has done well in 18 games with a .304/.383/.362 average with 17 runs, 24 hits and nine walks. However, despite his speed, Dyson only has four stolen bases and was caught stealing twice.

If Dyson continues to play well, he presents the Royals with a dilemma when Cain returns. Do the Royals keep Dyson as the starting center fielder and put Cain on the bench or does Dyson go to the bench or Omaha and Cain becomes the starting center fielder? As long as Dyson plays well and the team is winning, the Royals will cross that bridge when they get there.

Despite all the injuries, the Royals are playing better baseball. And this is with Hosmer still struggling at the plate and Alex Gordon striking out more often and getting less hits and runs. On the positive side, Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar are playing well in the infield. The bullpen is pitching better and starters Bruce Chen and Paulino are pitching well.

It’s hard to forget the 12 game losing streak earlier this season, but fans have to be encouraged by the way the Royals are playing lately, despite all the injuries. Perhaps the team is playing up to their potential. Now the Royals need Eric Hosmer to be Eric Hosmer again.

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Yadier Molina’s Prowess

The Cardinals have plenty of heroes to thank for their late charge into playoff contention. Albert Pujols‘ .388/.463/.626 slash line since August 11th. Jamie Garcia’s dominance since August 25th. And so on. One of the unsung heroes of this season has been Yadier Molina. Molina has had a down year defensively but has made up for it with a career year at the plate.

During Thursday’s game Molina knocked in his 62nd and 63rd runs on the year, the latter setting a new personal best for RBI in a season. Since RBI are more a measure of how well the hitters ahead of you in the order get themselves into scoring position, let’s also look at his OPS+. Molina has posted a 121 OPS+ this season, his best by 21 points, and fourth on the club among those with 450+ PA, behind the usual subjects (Lance Berkman (169), Pujols (156), Matt Holliday (154)). A big part of that has been newfound power – his 13 HR this season is almost double his previous high (7, in 2008).

His batting average is also up, sitting right at .300 going into yesterday. That is a bounce-back from the .263 he posted in 2010, and in line with the two seasons before that (.293 and .300, respectively, for 2009/2008). Sometimes when a player’s batting average ticks up we see a corresponding increase in Batting Average on Balls In Play, indicating the player is having a little better luck than other hitters. Not so with Molina – his BABIP in 2011 is .307. Yes that is the second highest he’s ever posted, but not out of line with his last 5 seasons, where it hovered between .281 and .310.

So what has changed? Well, his ground ball rate is down and his fly ball rate is up as compared to his two previous seasons. He is getting more loft on the ball, meaning he is driving the ball better. Both rates are right where they were in 2007, his previous best season. It appears he has re-discovered what he did well at the plate 4 years ago, with excellent results.

Molina’s year also puts him on the short list of current catchers who can hit. His wRC+ 0f 117 is almost identical to Miguel Montero‘s (119), the cleanup hitter for the pending NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks. His fWAR of 3.7 places him in a virtual dead heat with Carlos Santana of Minnesota (3.7), Brian McCann (3.8), and Matt Weiters of Baltimore (4.0), three guys who came into the league with well-deserved reputations for superior offense.

It’s been a long time since St Louis had a catcher who put up this kind of offensive season. Since 1901, only 6 Cardinals have played 130 games or more at catcher and posted an OPS+ of 110 0r better. Molina is the first to do it since Darrell Porter in 1983. The other 4 names are a who’s who of great Cardinal Catchers: Ted Simmons, who did it six times; Tim McCarver, Bob O’Farrell, and Frank Snyder.

A lineup featuring Berkman, Pujols, and Holliday is imposing enough. Having a threat from behind the plate is a welcome luxury. Yadier Molina is having a fantastic year with the stick. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge it.

Mike Metzger is a life-long Cardinals fan still with his fingers crossed in San Diego. He also blogs about the Padres. Follow him on Twitter.

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