MENTIONED THIS BEFORE, BUT IT’S STILL ON ME MIND
When CC Sabathia goes seven innings and strikes out four batters, I worry. Sabathia has a career rate of 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He’s averaging 6.5 strikeouts per nine for the Yankees, which is average for an AL starter this year. Now, none of this matters much if Sabathia can pitch effectively while allowing batters to put more balls in play, and so far he has, in part because (and this is paradoxical given the propensities of Yankee Stadium II) fewer of the fly balls he allows are going over fence walls than they used to. Hand in hand with that is some good breaks on balls in play — coming into this year, batters hit .292 off of Sabathia when they put the ball in play. This year they’re hitting .272.
There are two troublesome aspects to this picture. First, a pitcher’s luck on balls in play can change. Second, when a pitcher’s strikeout range declines, it is sometimes (often) a suggestion that something is wrong — that a crash is coming. Sabathia’s velocity seems to be consistent with previous years, so we’re certainly not seeing any evidence of a physical problem there, but it’s still a difficult thing to accept and with which to be comfortable.
HOLLIDAY (NOT HALLADAY)
Kudos to the A’s for getting a top prospect in Brett “The Walrus” Wallace from the Cardinals for Matt Holliday. Ever since Eric Chavez’s constitution vanished, the A’s have had a lot of filler at third base. With Chavez signed for one more year (plus an exceedingly painful $3 million buyout), the A’s may feel obligated to keep trotting Chavez out once a year to see if he can remain in an upright position for more than a game at a time, but in the long interim between appearances, they can try Wallace. A first-round pick last year, Wallace has hit .306/.390/.466 in the Minors in about one season’s worth of playing time. He hit .293/.346/.423 at Triple-A Memphis this year, which translates to .272/.321/.397 in the Majors — not great numbers, but then the A’s have gotten only .210/.289/.316 from their third basemen this year.
The problem with Wallace as a third baseman is suggested by the “Walrus” nickname. He’s not fat, he’s just shaped strangely for, well, anyone. He looks like two different people glued together, something like an average-sized person on top and Prince Fielder on the bottom. It’s not a sure thing that someone built like Wallace can play a quality third base in the Majors. So far, though, he’s hanging in, and it would be a huge bonus for the A’s if he can stick at the hot corner.
The A’s also picked up pitcher Clay Mortensen and outfielder Shane Peterson, but neither has the possibilities of the Walrus. Peterson hasn’t much power and unless you’re a plus defensive center fielder, that usually means a life sentence as a fourth outfielder. Mortensen is a starter right now, but given that he’s 24 years old and has had three years of mediocre results, one smells a trip to the bullpen in the near future. He too is a former first-round pick.
It seems that Chien-Ming Wang is unlikely to pitch this year. This is sad on one level, and a break for the Yankees on another, because even if he were to pitch again in 2009, it was unlikely that he was going to pitch well, yet the Yankees felt obligated to keep trying. Given the hole in the rotation that Wang’s absence has created when combined with the team’s decision to bolster the bullpen at the expense of the starting rotation (see Phil Hughes and Alfie Aceves), their desperation was understandable, but Wang had reached the point where Sergio Mitre or anyone else would have been a better bet to pitch the team to a win. For the sake of both Wang’s career and the team’s chances in 2009, giving him a pass for the rest of the year is the right thing to do.