Tag Archive | "Power Numbers"

Early Patience Is Encouraging For Hosmer

The Kansas City Royals are poised to turn a corner in 2013.  Eric Hosmer and his return to form would be a big part of that.

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars - copyright i70baseball

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars – copyright i70baseball

In a dismal sophomore year for Eric Hosmer, there was an encouraging statistic that jumps out.  His power numbers took a big dip but he started to show patience at the plate and was able to increase his walks dramatically.  During his rookie campaign, Hosmer drew 34 walks and increased that number to 56 during the 2012 season.  Early on in Spring Training, he is showing good pitch selection once again.

It is hard to make much of Spring stats.  It is even harder to try to find something substantial about the stats this early.  The one thing that jumped out of the recent box scores to me was Hosmer drawing two walks and then drilling an RBI triple on Tuesday.

The two walks brings his Spring total to three, in eleven plate appearances.  His average is still low and, other than the triple, there are no extra base hits on his early record.  Still, he is driving in runs early, striking out less, and driving a higher on base percentage.  If he can translate that into his game come time for the regular season, the Royals and their fans will be very happy.

Hosmer’s power numbers will increase as his plate selection gets better.  Many fans are frustrated with the under performance from Hosmer last season and rightfully so.  The team is poised with a strong pitching staff to alter their makeup and show a willingness to win this season.  To get there, Hosmer will need to be a big part of it.

Patience will be the key to his season.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals arbitration talk shouldn’t raise concerns

One of the men most responsible for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship is currently locked in a battle with the team to be paid more like the star he is becoming, but this isn’t the type of battle that should raise serious concerns.

DavidFreese

David Freese is one of the most talented young position players the Cardinals have, and he has plenty of potential to grow into another St. Louis baseball superstar. So far, the team has gotten an incredible bargain with Freese, who has made just $1.7 million total in his four-year career and is currently the 16th highest-paid player on the team.

It’s time for Freese to start earning more money. In his four years with the club, Freese has hit .296 and his power numbers have increased exponentially each year. He finished with career highs in hits, homeruns, doubles, runs scored and RBIs in 2012. And don’t forget he has a career .345 postseason batting average and was the MVP of the 2011 National League Championship Series and World Series.

He could fairly easily make a case that he deserves more than the $3.75 million he is asking for this offseason. The Cardinals have countered with a $2.4-million offer. The case will go to arbitration sometime between Monday and Feb. 20 if the two sides can’t strike a deal.

Now, while all of this sounds as though Freese and the Cardinals can’t see eye-to-eye on his worth, this is more of just a typical baseball business deal. Nobody will have their feelings hurt too no matter how the case finally plays out. The Cardinals have already finalized similar deals with relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and Marc Rzepczynski.

Even if the case goes to arbitration and the Cardinals win, Freese will be in line for a big-money contract within the next three years. He won’t be a free agent until 2016. By that point the Cardinals will know whether Freese is going to be a franchise cornerstone at third base or if he will succumb to his substantial injury history that has kept him from playing 100 or more games in all but one season.

However, the Cardinals would still be smart to lock Freese up with a long-term deal as soon as possible because player salaries will only continue to rise throughout Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals made a smart decision early in Albert Pujols’ career to sign him to a 10-year, $110-million contract in 2001, and that deal was considered a bargain by the time it expired at the end of the 2011 season. Pujols’ next contract was worth more than twice that amount when he signed a 10-year, $240-million deal last year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Freese and the Cardinals would both be in better positions if they could work out a long-term deal sometime soon, but right now the organization has other pressing matters. Namely, Adam Wainwright’s contract.
Wainwright is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, and his asking price will likely be astronomical if the Cardinals can’t sign him to a contract before he hits the open market.

The Cardinals did sign catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract last offseason, so they will have a strong core group of position players for the next few years.

And that’s what makes Freese’s contract situation a tad bit irrelevant. The difference of little more than $1 million this year shouldn’t have much of an effect on future negotiations.

Freese will get paid what he is due at some point. How soon the Cardinals will be willing to make that commitment is what will be the most interesting part of this situation.

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The Great Giveaway: Royals Past Attempts to Trade for Pitching Net Nada

Jonathan Sanchez recently gave up five runs before he could record an out. I didn’t think anyone could pitch that poorly.

But the next night, Ryan Verdugo did Sanchez one better (or worse) by surrendering six runs in just 1 2/3 innings.

The most horrifying fact of all is that both pitchers were acquired by trading Melky Cabrera to the Giants. That fact doesn’t need to be belabored, as every Royals fan is well aware of it.

So while Cabrera makes a run at an MVP award, the Royals go once again in search of starting pitching.

Dayton Moore needs no one to tell him that he must move to acquire pitching. He knows it. In fact he’s known it, and has been trying to do just that, for about three years now.

Prior to 2010, Moore made a few questionable moves to acquire position players, even trading away a few promising pitchers. But for the past three years, it’s been all about pitching, and he’s made several attempts to trade position players to get pitchers.

But while the Cabrera-for-Sanchez deal is horrifying in its result, the other attempts by Moore to trade for pitching have been nearly as disappointing. Consider the following other former Royals who were dealt for pitching since 2009:

Wilson Betemit: currently hitting .259 for Baltimore with 10 homers and 32 RBIs.

Betemit was traded for two minor leaguers, one a pitcher – Antonio Cruz, who has pitched a total of 18 games at A ball in the Royals’ organization.

Alberto Callaspo: hit .288 with 6 homers and 46 RBIs last season as the Angels’ starting third baseman. He’s still starting, with a little better power numbers this year.

Callaspo netted the Royals Will Smith and Sean O’Sullivan. The Royals have utilized Smith to save their mangled big league staff, but they gave up on O’Sullivan. They dealt him to Toronto for cash. Perhaps he needed the change of scenery. He’s been great for the Blue Jays’ Triple A club thus far.

David DeJesus: started most of the season for the A’s last year, batting .240 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs. This year he’s started full time for the Cubs.

DeJesus brought in a potential starter in Vin Mazzaro. But Mazzaro has suffered some beatings of historic proportions and isn’t trusted much at the big league level. The trade also brought Justin Marks, an average starter at Double A.

Kila Ka’aihue: has split the season between Oakland and the A’s Triple A club. His big league production has been marginal.

The trade of Ka’aihue netted a 25-year-old minor leaguer named Ethan Hollingsworth. He’s set no worlds on fire to date.

Mike Aviles: batted well at the end of 2011 for the Red Sox and continues to succeed as Boston’s starting shortstop. He’s hitting .263 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs.

Aviles supposedly brought the Royals a utility infielder – Yamaico Navarro. Aviles should have been kept in that role with the Royals. Navarro hasn’t done anything yet. The trade did bring the Royals a pitcher in Kendal Volz, who has been solid at the Single A and Double A levels.

Scott Podsednik: has played little, bouncing around with several teams.

The Royals got pitcher Elisaul Pimentel and catcher Lucas May. The Royals gave up on May, and Pimentel is 23 and still laboring along in the minors

Rick Ankiel: chipping in for the first place Washington Nationals.

Perhaps the only good move was when the Royals got Tim Collins as part of a package deal for Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth.

So Moore can’t be accused of not trying. But for seven big league position players of varying quality, the Royals have gained Tim Collins and some spare parts and minor leaguers. The return has been nothing short of disastrous.

The Royals have tried trading average position players – players who they deemed easily replaceable – and hoped to acquire quality pitchers.

But it appears the exchange rate for a quality pitcher is much higher than expected.

What the Royals have proved is that you must actually trade excellent position players to get passable starters.

They will need to think long and hard about as they attempt to improve their rotation for next year. Do they have the stomach to trade Eric Hosmer, or Wil Myers or some other potential star in hopes of finally acquiring quality starters.

Unfortunately, that may be just what it will take.

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Beltran on pace to do something no other Cardinal or Royal ever has

Power and speed.  Two basic elements that the best of professional athletes posses.

When it comes to baseball, the epitome of power and speed manifest themselves in the players that achieve milestones when they can hit home runs and steal bases in the same season.  The man that can steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs gets recognized as an all-around player.  Over time, a select few have pushed that limit to 40-40.  Matt Kemp has boldly proclaimed that he wants to be 50-50.

Through all of that, however, the two i70 teams have missed out.  Niether the Kansas City Royals nor the St. Louis Cardinals have ever had a player hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.  Oh, some have come close, but they have narrowly missed.

In the early stages of 2012, the Cardinals have a player, a former Royal no less, that is on pace for a 30-30 season.  No one would have predicted a 30-30 season for Carlos Beltran in 2012, but he grabbed the interest of this writer and caused me to dig a little deeper.

There are 38 members of the 30-30 club in Major League Baseball, twelve of which exist in the American League with the balance of 26 in the National League.  Funny enough, if you dig through the numbers, two players achieved the feat on five separate occasions.  The two most prolific of the group?  Father and son, Bobby and Barry Bonds.

To examine the two i70 teams, we have to take a step back and look at players that have finished with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, a feat much more common in baseball though elusive with our favorite clubs.

For as long as the Cardinals have existed, it took quite a while before they found someone that could blend speed and power together.  It was 1967 when future Hall Of Famer Lou Brock would first reach the measurements of balance, clubbing 21 home runs and stealing 52 bases.  Known much more for his speed, it would be the only time his power numbers would be great enough to include him in such a list.

It was the Western Missouri team that would reach our list the next two times as the Cardinals would not find themselves back in this discussion until 1992.  In 1978, however, the Royals Amos Otis would put the boys in blue in the discussion with a 22 home run and 32 stolen base season.

From there we fast forward to the one Royal that many would expect to be on this list, though he will make one appearance.  In 1988, one of the best all around athletes to ever grace the powder blue of the Kansas City Royals, Bo Jackson would hit 25 home runs and 27 stolen bases.  Bo was a fan favorite for many years in Kansas City, and 1988 might have been the reason why for many fans.

The year 1992 would put another Redbird on our 20/20 board, and the most prolific Cardinal to achieve the feat.  Ray Lankford would reach the board, stealing 42 bases and hitting exactly 20 home runs.  Lankford would prove to be impressive at reaching 20/20 and narrowly missing 30/30 throughout his career.  Lankford would reach our chart in 1995 (25HR/24SB), 1996 (21HR/35SB), 1997 (31HR/21SB), and 1998 (31HR/26SB).  His 1998 season, obviously overshadowed by teammate Mark McGwire, would be the closest any Cardinal has ever come to reaching the 30/30 plateau.

The 1995 season would see another first and only for our two teams as Brain Jordan would put together arguably his best campaign as a Cardinal, hitting 22 home runs and stealing 24 bases.  If you are paying close attention as you read this article, you will realize that this impressive season for Jordan matched up with a solid one for Ray Lankford, giving the Cardinals two players in the same season to reach the 20/20 board.  The only time in the history of either club that two players would reach the board for the same team.

It might have been the only time that two players from one team made it, but 1999 would be the first season that a player from each team would achieve the marks we are tracking here today.  Possibly the one name that surprises the most on the Cardinal side of things, Fernando Tatis would hit 34 home runs and steal 21 bases to put himself on this list.  On the other side of the state, the Royals most prolific player would make his first appearance on the list.  Current Cardinal Carlos Beltran would hit 22 home runs and swipe 27 bags in his first of four 20/20 seasons for the Kansas City Royals, making 1999 the only year that a player from Kansas City and a player from St. Louis would make our board.

Beltran would go on to prove that his 1999 season was no fluke, reaching the milestone in 2001 (24HR/34SB), 2002 (29HR/35SB) and 2003 (26HR/41SB).  His 2002 season would be the closest anyone would come while wearing a Royals uniform.  We will revisit Beltran’s numbers in a minute.

The following season in 2004 would see Reggie Sanders, while wearing the Birds On The Bat, join the club hitting 22 home runs and stealing 21 bases.  Sanders is the most recent Cardinal on our list.

Finding the most recent Royal does not require a long journey into the vault.  The player affectionately known as “Frenchy”, Jeff Franceour joins our group just last season.  In 2011, Frenchy barely did well enough to be a part of our discussion, hitting 20 home runs and stealing 22 bases.

In all truth, the Royals had the best opportunity to break the 30/30 barrier with the guy that inspired the discussion in the first place, Carlos Beltran.  You see, Carlos holds a unique distinction in MLB history when talking about the 30/30 club.  He is the only player in the history of the game to have a 30/30 season in a year in which he played in both leagues.  He is one of only two players, Bobby Bonds being the other, to be traded during his 30/30 season.

The 2004 season would see the Royals trade their budding superstar to the Houston Astros in a three team deal that would gain the Royals John Buck and cash from the Astros as well as Mark Teahen and Mike Wood from the Oakland Athletics.  During that season, Beltran would hit 15 home runs and steal 14 bases for the Royals prior to the June 24th trade.  After the trade, Beltran would compile 23 home runs and 28 stolen bases for the Houston Astros.  His combined numbers of 38 home runs and 42 stolen bases not only put him on the 30/30 list, but would put him extremely close to joining the 40/40 list.

This season, Beltran finds himself healthy for the first time in a while and back on top of his game.  On pace to rejoin the 30/30 club and become the first of the i70 players to do so, Beltran will have to continue to remain healthy and play as well as he has in April.

20 Home Run and 20 Stolen Bases, Royals and Cardinals
Player/Year HR SB Player/Year HR SB
Lou Brock/1967 21 52 Amos Otis/1978 22 32
Ray Lankford/1992 20 42 Bo Jackson/1988 25 27
Ray Lankford/1995 25 24 Carlos Beltran/1999 22 27
Brian Jordan/1995 22 24 Carlos Beltran/2001 24 31
Ray Lankford/1996 21 35 Carlos Beltran/2002 29 35
Ray Lankford/1997 31 21 Carlos Beltran/2003 26 41
Ray Lankford/1998 31 26 Jeff Francoeur/2011 20 22
Fernando Tatis/1999 34 21
Reggie Sanders/2004 22 21

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Pitching Coach Duncan Might Be Cardinals’ Biggest Loss Yet

St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan might be the biggest loss to the team this off season.

Before the “humidor era” in Colorado, any hitter who accomplished anything in the mountains was marked with a mental asterisk. For those not familiar with the humidor, it’s a device the Colorado Rockies use to essentially weigh-down baseballs to keep them from riffling through the thin Rocky Mountain air in record amounts. Prior to the humidor, other teams looking to acquire hitters from the Rockies would have to ask themselves: “How will his power numbers translate when he plays all his home games a little closer to sea level?”

A similar question should have been asked by teams looking to acquire pitchers who’ve worked with Cardinals’ pitch coach, Dave Duncan, who’s walking away from the Cardinals to tend to his wife, who’s battling cancer.

Dave Duncan’s mastery of getting the very best out of his pitchers may never be fully comprehended by anyone who hasn’t worked directly with him. There’s really no logical explanation as to how he could turn around countless careers of pitchers dwelling in the pitfalls of mediocrity.

Andy Benes:
Benes’ ERA rose four-consecutive seasons, peaking at 4.76 before joining the Cardinals in 1996, Duncan’s first season in St. Louis. Benes’ ERA dropped to 3.83 in 1996, and his 18-10 record was good enough for him to finish a career-high 3rd place in the Cy Young voting. The following season, Benes’ ERA dropped to 3.10. After his ERA ballooned back up when he signed with Arizona, Benes returned to St. Louis in 2000 and had a career best 2.78 ERA in 2002.

Todd Stottlemyer:
During Stottlemyer’s last nine major league seasons, his ERA was over 4.00 every season he wasn’t working with Duncan. The 3 season he spent in St. Louis, his ERA was below 4.00.

Kent Bottenfield:
In 9 seasons, Bottenfield had 46 wins, 22 of which came during his 2 seasons in St. Louis. Duncan helped mold him into an All-Star in 1999, when he went 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA. That made Bottenfield valuable enough for the Angels to trade St. Louis perennial All-Star, Jim Edmonds in exchange for Bottenfield, who won just 10 more games in his post-Duncan career.

Jeff Weaver:
Jeff Weaver’s post season numbers prior to pitching with Dave Duncan were as follows:

2002 – 6.75 ERA
2003 – 9.00 ERA
2004 – 11.57 ERA

You can probably tell where this is heading… but in 2006 with Dave Duncan by his side, Weaver had an ERA of 2.42 during the Cardinals’ World Series run.

Kyle Lohse:
Lohse’s lowest ERA in his first 6 seasons in the big leagues was 4.18, and he was coming off a 4.62 ERA season in 2007 before being acquired by St. Louis in 2008. That season, his ERA dropped to 3.78, and in 2011, he posted a career best 3.39 ERA to go with his 14-8 record.

Jason Marquis:
Jason Marquis had ERAs of 5.04 and 5.53 in Atlanta before being demoted to the bullpen during the middle of the 2003 season. The next 2 season in St. Louis, Marquis posted a 3.93 ERA and 28 wins.

Chris Carpenter:
This one just might be the biggest shocker on the list, because baseball fans everywhere think of Carp as a fiery competitor, driven to succeed, and a pitcher who relies mostly on natural abilities to dominate opponents. Well, believe it or not, Carpenter spent six seasons in Toronto as a sub-.500 pitcher whose ERA was never lower than 4.09. That’s right, Carp’s career record was 49-50, and his ERA ballooned above 5.00 at times. Enter Dave Duncan, and Carpenter’s ERA has never been higher than 3.46. He has a record of 95-42 with St. Louis, the team is 15-3 in his playoff starts, he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, and he’s finished multiple seasons with an ERA in below 3.00.

Believe it or not, these names are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dave Duncan’s resume. He’s coached 4 different pitchers to Cy Young Awards, and has led the Cardinals to the league’s 3rd best ERA over the past 16 seasons. In those seasons, the Cardinals have been to the playoffs 9 times and have two World Series titles.

Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols will be missed, but one could argue that the departure of Dave Duncan is the biggest blow to the team this offseason.

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What Hurts The Most: History Will Remember Pujols As An Angel

Courtesy of 7th Inning Sketch

It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon when I snapped out of a complete state of denial. Thursday morning, Albert Pujols became a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I had accepted that. But what I also accepted was that this was OK because the player Cardinal Nation so affectionately referred to as “The Mang” was already regressing from the player he once was. Albert isn’t in full-blown decline, but his numbers have been trending down over the past 3 or 4 seasons. In 2008, he hit .357… and each year since his average has declined. In 2011, he hit .299. The same goes for his power numbers: In 2009, he had 47 HRs and 135 RBIs. Those categories each decline over the past 2 seasons, down to 37 HRs and 99 RBIs in 2011. I just knew that paying Pujols more than $200 million dollars would cripple the Cardinals’ payroll and the team’s chances of contending over the course of his contract.

I told myself I didn’t want to see Pujols hit his 500th, 600th, and 700th home runs in Cardinal red if it meant that team wouldn’t be contending. I told myself the McGwire years were overrated, and that winning was much more fun than watching a sub-.500 team with a heavy hitter’s home run quest as the main attraction. My mind says all of these things are still true.

But my heart says I’m wrong.

Something changed as I watched Albert Pujols’ be officially introduced as a member of the Angels organization Saturday. As he gleefully and somewhat nervously buttoned the buttons on his fresh, new home white Angels Jersey and heard him speak about being a member of a new team, I realized something: This was not a temporary breakup from St. Louis… this was a divorce.

It kills me to say this, but barring a career ending injury or early retirement, history will remember Albert Pujols as an Angel. He will spend the next 10 seasons in Anaheim finishing out his Hall of Fame career. During that time, he will more than like hit his 500th, 600th, and 700th home runs. There is a chance he will even break Barry Bonds’ career home run record of 762. To do that, he’d need to average just over 31 home runs per season over the course of his contract. Albert has never hit fewer than 32 in a season thus far. Considering he is one of the fiercest competitors ever, there is a pretty good chance the Angels will win multiple World Series championships with Pujols in the heart of their lineup. I mean think about it. St. Louis is the 6th smallest market in all of major league baseball, and never eclipsed the top 10 in team payroll during his 11 season in Cardinal red. But despite that, Pujols led the Cardinals to 7 playoff appearances, 5 trips to the NLCS, 3 trips to the World Series, and 2 World Championships… so I’m thinkin’ with a team in baseball’s 2nd largest market that’s always in the top 10 in team payroll, Pujols and the Angels are going to have no problem winning at least a couple of championships over the next decade. In other words, he’ll be able to match or exceed many of his accomplishments in St. Louis, and will be hitting historic milestones in Los Angeles along the way.

Now let me ask you this: Do you think of Barry Bonds as a Pirate or a Giant? Do you think of Babe Ruth as a Red Sock or a Yankee? To a lesser degree, is Jim Edmonds going to be remembered as an Angel or a Cardinal? It’s really hard to swallow, but I think Albert is going to be remembered as an Angel.

Greg also writes for KSPR out of Springfield, Missouri. He recently took a look at where the Cardinals and Pujols need to go from here. You can read that article by clicking here.

Los Angeles owner, Arte Moreno offered Albert what’s being referred to as a “personal services” contract for when he retires. It assures him some sort of a job with the Angels organization for the decade following his historic $254 million contract. So for a minimum of 20 years, Pujols will be an ambassador for the Los Angeles Angels. That means in 2026, when he enters the baseball Hall of Fame, he’ll still be an employee of the Angels organization. Would he really enter the hall with the STL emblem on his cap? After 15 years, the Angels will be his new and final baseball family. Like I said, this is a divorce.

On Opening Day in St. Louis, there will always be Budweiser Clydesdales. Until the day they die, there will always be Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Stan “the man” Musial. There will be fathers and grandfathers telling the youngest members of their families about all those great players. There will be stories of clutch-hits, unbelievable comebacks, and World Championships.

But will Albert Pujols be there? Will he take those well-deserved annual victory laps around Busch Stadium? Will he be there to spark our memories… so that the next generation of Cardinals’ fans can hear about the time he saved a season and silenced a city by taking Brad Lidge deep? About the time hit three home runs in a single World Series game? I’m afraid the answer is “no”… and that, more than anything else, is what hurts the most.

Drop by 7th Inning Sketch for more great sports cartoons.

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2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Cookie Rojas

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The first inductee for 2011 was Vince Coleman. Today, we welcome Cookie Rojas.

There might not be a better example of how the game of baseball has changed in the last half century than Octavio Victor “Cuqui” Rojas. Born in Havana, Cuba on March 6, 1939, Rojas was an acrobatic middle infielder that played in the major leagues for 16 season, even though he was a career .263 hitter with an on-base percentage barely over .300. In the game today, every player is expected to contribute offensively and Rojas probably doesn’t make it out of the minor leagues. That would be such a loss for baseball because fans would be deprived of one of the best loved and perhaps smartest players to play the game.

There might not be a more easily recognized player either. If you somehow missed the translucent plastic frames holding those giant lenses, or the effervescent smile that can only come from somebody that loves what they are doing, just wait a few moments. Rojas will be the one diving for a ground ball or leaping high in the air to avoid a base runner while tuning a double play. In the end, he will leave you with a similar smile because you have just become another in a long line of Cookie Rojas fans.

Reds (1962)

Rojas was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, at the age of just 17. His dad had wanted him to be a doctor, but the young infielder had different ideas. He progressed through the Reds minor league system, playing for West Palm Beach (D) in 1956, Wassau (C) in 1957 and Savanah (A) in 1958. Although his power numbers improved and his glove was always solid, his overall batting average dropped at each level.

In 1959, he returned to his home town of Havana, which happened to be the Reds AAA affiliate. His batting average continued to fall, reaching a new low point of .233. With Leo Cardenas and Elio Chacon both hitting better than Rojas, Cookie would return to Havana for the 1960 season, a most unusual one for the franchise. When Fidel Castro nationalized all US-owned businesses in Cuba, the Reds moved the Sugar Kings to Jersey City for the remainder of the season. Rojas continued to struggle at the plate.

With Chacon and Cardenas with the big club, Rojas got more playing time with the Jersey City Jerseys (AAA) in 1961, and he made the best of it. His offensive numbers improved significantly, his batting average jumping to .265. He would also drive in 44 runs. This would turn out to be the story of Rojas career – the more playing time he got, the better his production at the plate.

Rojas make the Reds out of spring training to start the 1962 season, and made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 10. In his first major league at-bat, he would lay down a sacrifice bunt, moving Eddie Kasko over to third base ahead of Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. That would be another trademark of Rojas career – although he didn’t hit with power or any great regularity, he could handle the bat in sacrifice situations. After two months of struggling at the plate, Rojas would finish the season with the Reds new AAA Affiliate, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, but he would be back soon, as a September callup.

With the Reds infield looking set for the foreseeable future, they traded Rojas to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1962 . In return, the Reds got a right handed pitcher named Jim “Bear” Owens. Owens would not last long in Cincinnati. He would be sent down to the minors and Houston would claim him in the Rule 5 draft.

Philadelphia (1963 – 1969)

Philadelphia had two very good middle infielders, Bobby Wine and Tony Taylor, but Rojas found a way to get into games, first backing up Taylor at second base and then occasionally in the outfield. As his hitting improved in 1963, the Phillies found any way they could to get Rojas into games. He would play all eight defensive positions in 1964, and again in 1965. With a batting average finally over .300, Rojas would get an invitation to play in the 1965 All Star Game, as a second baseman. He would also receive some MVP votes, recognition for his improvement and ability to play anywhere he was needed.

What was originally a stunt to keep him in the lineup had become yet another trademark of his major league career – the ultimate utility player. But even that would eventually come to an end as Rojas became the every day second baseman, taking over those duties from Tony Taylor in 1966. He and Bobby Wine would turn into one of the best double play combinations in baseball. Fans would start calling duo the plays of “Wine and Rojas”, referring to the popular song, “The Days of Wine and Roses”.

The one position Rojas had yet to play was pitcher, and that changed in a blowout against the Giants on June 30, 1967. Trailing 12-3, Rojas came into the game in the ninth inning. He gave up a single to Tom Haller. Hal Lanier reached base on an error. Rojas then retired Tito Fuentes, Juan Marichal and Willie Mays to end the inning, stranding both base runners. That would be his only relief appearance, so his career ERA stands at 0.00 and his WHIP is just 1.000.

With a young infield prospect named Denny Doyle turning heads in the Phillies farm system, Rojas would be traded away to make room at the end of the 1969 season. The Cardinals were also ready to shake up their roster, and the two teams agreed on a multi-player deal that would alter baseball history. St. Louis would send Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Curt Flood to Philadelphia for Rojas, Richie Allen and Jerry Johnson. Curt Flood would refuse to report to the Phillies and the Cardinals were forced to send prospects Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to complete the deal. Flood would challenge the reserve clause in 1970, eventually losing, but that would make way for a successful challenge four years later.

St. Louis (1970)

Cardinals fans were excited to see Rojas in a Cardinals uniform after all the years of watching him as a member of the Phillies. With injuries and age starting to catch up to Julian Javier, the happiness over Rojas was tempered by sadness in the realization that Javier’s Cardinals days were coming to an end. Surprisingly, it was Rojas that left first, not Javier. But not before one exciting play.

The date was April 14 and the Montreal Expos were in St. Louis. In a rare rough outing from Bob Gibson, an early 3-0 Cardinals lead had turned into a 4-3 deficit in the top of the seventh inning. Thanks to some outstanding relief pitching and a Jose Cardenal home run in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals tied the game, and it went into extra innings.

In the top of the tenth inning, Sal Campisi gives up a 2 out walk to Mack Jones. Marv Staehle triples Jones home to give Montreal a 5-4 lead. Howie Reed tries to close out the game for the Expos, but the Cardinals had a much different plan. Leron Lee leads off the bottom of the tenth with a single. Joe Hague reaches base when Bob Bailey boots a ground ball. Julian Javier fails to advance the runners, forcing Lee at third base on a fielders choice. Pinch hitter, Jim Campbell singles home Hague to tie the game. Vic Davalillo is intentionally walked to load the bases, setting up the double play at just about any base. Cookie Rojas comes off the bench to pinch hit for Sal Campisi and hits a slow roller to third base. It is too slow to turn a double play and Javier scores easily with the winning run. Leave it to Rojas to deliver a walk off single and the ball never leaves the infield.

That would be the lone highlight of Rojas Cardinals career as he would be traded to Kansas City in early June.

Kansas City (1970 – 1977)

Even though he failed to find a home in St. Louis, Cookie couldn’t have found a better place to launch his second career than with the expansion Kansas City Royals. He immediately took over second base duties, and just as he had done in Philadelphia, raised his batting average back to a respectable level. He would hit .260 for the rest of the 1970 season and .268 for his entire time with the Royals.

Fans immediately fell in love with Rojas and his acrobatic plays at second base. One of them was captured by the Topps baseball card photographer and his 1971 card remains one of my all time favorites. That image says everything you need to know about Cookie Rojas.

1971 would be a very good year for Rojas, hitting .300 for the second time in his career. He would also set a new career high for on-base percentage (.357) and slugging (.406). He would also be rewarded with his second All Star Game invitation, the first of four consecutive in which he would represent the Royals. He also received more than a token nod in the MVP ballots.

Perhaps his greatest moment as a member of the Royals came in the 1972 All Star Game. With the American League trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, Rojas steps up to the plate with Carlton Fisk on first base and two outs. Rojas pulls a Bill Stoneman pitch deep into the Atlanta left field seats for a 2 run homer, giving the American League a 3-2 lead. That home run was also historic in that it was the first AL homer to be hit by a non-American born player. Unfortunately for Rojas, Wilbur Wood could not make the one run lead hold up and the National League would win 5-4 in 10 innings.

Rojas continued to play well for the Royals, but as in Philadelphia, he was about to lose his job to a younger and more talented prospect. This time it would be Frank White, but instead of being traded away, Kansas City was smart and kept Rojas around for the rest of his career, which ended in 1977. That also helped the fans who were slow to embrace White, preferring to see their favorite, Rojas, playing every day. Once again, Rojas versatility came into play, backing up White at second base, occasionally playing third and even, ironically, as a designated hitter.

Rojas playing career ended in 1977, but that was not the end of his baseball career.

The Rest of the Story

For his long and productive major league career, Cookie Rojas has been honored as a member of both the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as in his homeland of Cuba.

Rojas stayed involved with baseball, first as a scout and then as a coach. In 1988, he managed the California Angels, but after failing to reach .500, was replaced with 8 games remaining in the season. Rojas returned to coaching with the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

You can find Cookie Rojas today as the Spanish language broadcaster with Fox Sports Florida, providing color commentary on all Marlins home games. His son, Victor, is also also a broadcaster, first with the Texas Rangers and now with the California Angels.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Albert’s Blast Moves Him Past The Hawk

In the fifth inning of Sunday’s ball game against the Chicago Cubs, Albert Pujols drove a 1-1 pitch from Rodrigo Lopez into the left field seats, connecting for his 439th home run of his 11 year major league career.

APTrot

The blast would move Pujols further into elite company and break a tie with Hall Of Famer Andre Dawson. Pujols now sits alone in 38th place on the all time home run list.

Dawson was most remembered for his years north of the border in Montreal as a member of the Expos. Secondary to that, however, was his career as a Chicago Cub. While Dawson hit 438 home runs in his career, he would post an impressive run against Cardinal pitching over his 21 year career. During that span of time, he would face the St. Louis Cardinals a total of 260 games, with 248 of them coming as a starter. Dawson would post a slash line of .298/.510/.851 while driving 41 home runs, 55 doubles, 17 triples, 153 runs batted in, and 32 stolen bases. In terms of power numbers, Dawson hit against the Cardinals better than every club except the Philadelphia Phillies in his career.

Pujols had fared well against the Chicago Cubs, for that matter. Over the course of his still young career, Pujols has faced the Cubs 170 times, 168 as a starter. His slash line against the north-siders is .302/.617/1.023 with 52 home runs, 34 doubles, and 134 runs batted in. He has indeed hit the Cubs better than any other team in his career.

While Pujols has moved into sole possession of 38th place on the all time list, he finds himself climbing another list that he will have to decide if he wishes to continue to climb. Pujols finds himself in 12th place for most home runs hit by a player for one single team in his career. The list is as follows:

Player Team Home Runs
Mike Schmidt Philadelphis Phillies 548
Mickey Mantle New York Yankees 536
Ted Williams Boston Red Sox 521
Ernie Banks Chicago Cubs 512
Mel Ott New York Giants 511
Lou Gehrig New York Yankees 493
Stan Musial St. Louis Cardinals 475
Willie Stargell Pittsburgh Pirates 475
Carl Yastrzemski Boston Red Sox 452
Jeff Bagwell Houston Astros 449
Chipper Jones Atlanta Braves 448
Albert Pujols St. Louis Cardinals 438

Time will tell if Albert continues to climb that list.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Looking At The Rookies – NL

As we enter the final month and a half of baseball and teams start to divide into the really good and the falling apart. Players are starting to heat up across the league and the cream of the crop is rising to the top.

Daniel Descalso by Erika Lynn

Most fans keep a close eye on the names they know, but it is the names you do not know that start to become important in the stretch run. Not just for the teams that are playoff bound, but those that are looking to their future as well.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the National League that qualify for the Rookie Of The Year award. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

Taking a look at the offensive guys in the National League leads to a few names that may be worth examining. Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Freddie Freeman of the Braves have both clubbed over 15 home runs. Darwin Barney of the Cubs is hitting .288 and has over 100 hits already this season. The Mets Justin Turner can boast 20 doubles to his credit and Dominic Brown of the Phillies has a .393 slugging percentage in limited action. Here’s the top three as I see it:

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
This is becoming a two-horse race but, in my opinion, Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is pulling away from the competition. Freeman may not lead rookies in home runs, but he has put up a respectable 15 dingers to this point in the season. Add in a .296 batting average, .362 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage, 55 runs batted in and 40 walks and you have a first baseman that is among the best in the league, not just one of the best rookies in the league.

The Runner Up
Danny Espinosa has been wrecking pitchers with power numbers that are impressive for a young man playing shortstop for any organization. The Nationals’ shortstop has launched 17 balls out of stadiums this season while tying Freeman for the lead among rookies with 55 runs batted in. Equally impressive is 12 stolen bases, showcasing that he is not a one trick pony and will apply some speed to his career as well. His on base percentage is 86 points higher than his batting average, which would be very impressive if he was not hitting .228 meaning he is reaching base at a .314 clip. His .422 slugging percentage places him second when ranked next to other rookies in the league.

He Deserves A Look
The Nationals have put together quite the young team and anchoring it all down behind the plate is Wilson Ramos. Ramos is putting together enough of an offensive season to get himself some looks in the rookie races. Hitting .248 with a .322 batting average and a .405 slugging percentage while parking 9 balls over the fence and driving in 34 runs can get you some press time as a rookie. Back it up with a fielding percentage of .992 and throwing out 35 percent of would be base stealers and a lot of teams would like to have a guy like that on the roster.

What may be more impressive in the National League is the crop of rookie pitchers that will be vying for a Rookie Of The Year nod this season. The obvious stats will see people talking about New York’s Dillon Gee and Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel due to their dominance in wins and saves. Stat heads will point out Josh Collmenter from Arizona and Brandon Beachy of Atlanta as an under-appreciated players due to the lack of punch in the obvious categories. San Diego’s Cory Luebke may have the same problems on top of playing on a under-performing team that will keep him hidden from most fans’ eyes.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
The Atlanta Braves may be cornering the market on this year’s award, depending on if it goes to an offensive player or a pitcher. It is hard to argue against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. He does not just lead rookies, but leads the National League with 34 saves in 39 chances. His sub 2.00 earned run average has earned him three wins and two losses in the five games that he did not save and has been dominant over his 56 innings pitched. So dominant that he finds himself third in strikeouts by a rookie pitcher with 87, behind pitchers with more than 30 innings more than himself. His 87 strikeouts far outweigh his 22 walks and he has only allowed one ball to leave the yard all season.

The Runner Up
Coming in second to a player of that caliber is not a bad effort and if it was not for the season Kimbrel is putting up, it is possible that Cory Luebke would turn a few more heads in San Diego. A swingman pitcher who has appeared out of the bullpen 29 times and as a starting pitcher eight times, he is putting together a solid season for a team that is falling apart. His earned run average is just over 3.00, has pitched in 88.1 innings, and has struck out 91 hitters on the season. Only 22 walks to his credit and a measly six home runs shows that he can be dominant and stingy with the best of them and lands him second on this list.

He Deserves A Look
The New York Mets have struggled to win, been surrounded by rumors of trading their star shortstop and have faced financial ruin this season. In the middle of all of that stands Dillon Gee. He leads all rookies in innings pitched with 112.1, in games started with 18, and wins with 10. His earned run average is under 4.00 and he has struck out 74 batters to only 46 walks. The frustration with Gee is his hit batters, of which he has 11, and his home runs, he has surrendered 11 of those too.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the National League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The Cardinals have produced more than a few rookies this season, on the mound and at the plate, but it has been one player that has shown that he not only belongs in the big leagues, but also that he is getting better as the season goes on. Daniel Descalso has built his average up to a respectable .262 while getting on base to a .339 average. His power numbers are low but his value to the team, playing multiple positions and putting the ball in play on a regular basis, is mounting and he is becoming a typical Tony LaRussa type player for many seasons to come.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Looking At The Rookies – AL

Royals fans are no strangers to watching rookies this season. Many teams are starting to give young players a chance to prove themselves but there are a few players that have been hanging around all season that are starting to turn heads.

Aaron Crow

As we enter the end of the season and look forward to the playoffs for some teams and towards 2012 for others, it is time that the rookies of this season start getting some recognition and find the spotlight falling on them.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the American League that qualify for the Jackie Robinson Award given to the top rookie in each league. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

The offensive rookies in the American League are a bit more clear cut. The Royals own Eric Hosmer is putting together a solid season with a balanced attack and showing Royals fans that first base is a position they can get behind. Angels fans would tell you that first base is definitely the position of the future for them as well as Mark Trumbo is killing the ball in Anaheim. Toronto, on the other hand, has a catcher that is showing the he can handle the bat as well, and J.P. Arencibia is getting noticed quickly.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
Sorry Royals fans, it is hard to argue with what Mark Trumbo is doing for the Angels. He leads the American League rookies in Games Played and At Bats but there is a reason for that. His .261 batting average and .301 on base percentage leave some room for improvement, but his power numbers are nothing to sneeze at. With 20 doubles, 22 home runs, 63 runs batted in, and a .495 slugging percentage have him well in place to grab the Jackie Robinson Award in the American League this year.

The Runner Up
Royals fans can relax a little bit as Eric Hosmer is not too far behind Trumbo. Hosmer is posting a .282 batting average while knocking 10 home runs and driving in 47 runs batted in. Add in 19 doubles and a total of 93 hits and you can bet that the future has arrived in Kansas City and the future looks bright.

He Deserves A Look
Toronto’s young backstop, J.P. Arencibia may not be hitting for a good average, his is only .216, but what he is hitting is going a long way. He is second to Trumbo for the most home runs by a rookie in the American League with 18 and pairs that with 52 runs batted in. The drop off from there is tremendous, however, as he only posts 13 doubles and 3 triples, leaving him with a .452 slugging percentage. His on base percentage plunges below .300 and he is striking out at an alarming rate. The Blue Jays have a solid power hitter on their hands, they just hope he can learn some patience.

If it seems the offensive rookies are a bit sparse in the American League, the pitching prospects across the league are enough to get any baseball fan excited about the future. The Royals put their share of pitchers into any conversation with Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, and Tim Collins. Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova are both posting double digit wins for the Rays and Yankees, respectively. Jordan Walden, meanwhile, is closing games at a solid pace for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Up north in Seattle, Michael Pineda is racking up the innings, and strikeouts, at a rapid pace.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
Speaking of Michael Pineda, he is running away with this category in 2011. He leads all rookies with 130 innings pitched and 133 strikeouts. He has only walked 43 batters and given up 12 home runs. He is posting a 3.53 earned run average and has won 9 games for a team that is struggling to win games as it is. Pineda is showing some dominance at times and not showing any signs of slowing down, at least until his pitching arm falls off.

The Runner Up
It is Jordan Walden of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that is equally as impressive as Pineda. Walden has posted 25 saves in 32 chances, posted a 3 wins, 3 losses record. Over the course of 45 innings pitched, he has struck out 48 hitters and only walked 18. With only one home run allowed and a 2.80 earned run average, the Angels have a closer they can count on for a long time to come.

He Deserves A Look
Call me old fashioned, but I still like a pitcher that wins games without giving up a ton of runs, even if he is not striking out everyone he faces. For that reason, take a look at the Rays’ pitcher Jeremy Hellickson who has won 10 games over 7 losses while posting a 3.15 earned run average. He is going deep into games with 122.2 innings pitched and has struck out 79 hitters while walking 45. He will not bring home any hardware, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the American League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The honorable mention here goes to a player that is pitching impressively despite not being in a key role, which will keep him out of discussions based on stats. Aaron Crow may be the closer of the future in Kansas City after pitching his way to an earned run average below 2.00 and striking out 49 hitters in 51.1 innings pitched. Crow has allowed five home runs this season. He has scattered 37 hits over his innings of work and taken the mound 43 times. Crow will keep fans excited to see the bullpen doors swing open in Kansas City for many future seasons.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Posted in RoyalsComments (2)

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