Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 15, 2006
BASEBALL: Going Down, Down, Down, Down Part IV
Resuming, with Part 4, my look at young or still-establishing-themselves players whose stock has fallen dramatically in 2006 and/or 2005 - the NL East. (Parts I, II and III here, here and here, respectively)
Victor Diaz: Seems like a lot longer than a year and a half ago people were calling him "mini-Manny" with a straight face, given his power bat, improving patience and - yes - fits of vapor lock in the field. Many Mets fans wanted him to take Mike Cameron's job and were surprised when he lost out to Xavier Nady. By late May, Diaz's stock had fallen so far there was nearly no consideration of bringing him up to sub when Nady went on the DL. The 24-year-old Diaz is batting .223/.334/.275 at AAA Norfolk, and now seems a longshot to have a significant career as an everyday player.
Oliver Perez: Thrown in by the Pirates in the Nady deal, perhaps unwanted by the Mets (who were planning to flip him back to the Padres for Scott Linebrink the day they acquired him), maybe nursing an undisclosed injury and surely suffering a severe loss of command and a drop in velocity, the pitcher who posted a 2.98 ERA with 239 K to only 145 hits allowed in 2004 will now be Rick Peterson's Everest. The early returns are ugly - 12 hits, 9 walks and 3 HR in 6.1 innings in two starts at Norfolk.
For what it's worth, Baseball-Reference.com's 10 most similar pitchers to Perez through age 23 (entering this year), in order:
1. Sandy Koufax
I'm not so sure what the list will look like after 2006.
Heath Bell: Bell's stock has slid only slightly among those who were his fans a year ago based on his fine K/BB ratios and reasonable HR rate, but even with the Mets' habit of demoting him whenever he has a bad outing, Bell has been hit awfully hard at times at the major league level (34 hits in 25.1 IP this season; he's continued to dominate AAA hitters), dimming his prospects for making the immediate leap forward he needs to overcome his doubters in the Mets' front office.
Anderson Hernandez: A legitimate contender for the Mets' starting 2B job before the season, the 23-year-old Hernandez was utterly overmatched at the plate (6-for-41 with no walks or extra base hits) and hasn't been much better back at Norfolk (.252/.301/.291). Hernandez' fine glovework in his brief tenure did have the benefit of making Kaz Matsui all the more unsustainable by comparison, and with the 36-year-old Jose Valentin holding the 2B job for 2006 and Jeff Keppinger traded away, Hernandez should get another crack at the bigs soon. But the doubts about his bat have mounted.
Aaron Heilman: Heilman showed flashes of brilliance as a starter last year, but was perhaps permanently relegated to the bullpen by his brilliance in a setup role - only to suddenly hit a long stretch of inconsistency in that role, too.
Alay Soler: Soler has had a roller-coaster year, winning himself into the Mets' good graces with a strong performance at AA Binghamton after a poor spring, hopping well into the rotation in Flushing, only to suffer a string of bad outings and an injury that have him off the Mets' radar screens.
Ryan Madson: Madson's past as a successful setup man led to hopes that he could transition to a larger role as a starter. As I've noted before, Madson has proven not at all up to starting, but the Phillies keep trying him in that role despite an ERA this year of 6.28 in 17 starts and 2.95 in 12 relief appearances.
Cole Hamels: Hamels was supposed to be an instant star, but a 4.50 ERA says otherwise. Hamels doesn't really belong on this list in terms of his long-term outlook, which if anything is brighter as a result of his staying comparatively healthy, but his short-term expectations have been tempered a bit.
Joe Borchard: Borchard opened the season with the Mariners' CF job tantalizingly within reach, as Jeremy Reed's wrist injury left only Willie Bloomquist as immediate competition. But the perennial prospect Borchard got only 9 at bats before Reed got himself back in the lineup and Borchard was shipped to Florida. Now 27, Borchard has run out of future - his .225 batting average may have dragged his career mark up to .204, but that won't win him more chances. We can now safely say Borhchard will never hold a regular job.
Yusmiero Petit: It's a testimony to the success of Florida's youth movement that there isn't a much longer list of Marlins here. File Petit, like Hamels, under "dial back your expectations for immediate success" rather than "lower your long-term expectations." An 8.68 ERA, 3 HR and 32 hits in 18.2 IP say that Petit, at 21, is no major leaguer yet. (I could have included Mike Pelfrey on the same theory as Hamels and Petit).
Luis Matos: Much like ex-teammates Larry Bigbie and David Newhan, Matos has his moment of glory, batting .303 and slugging .458 at 24 as a fleet-footed center fielder for the O's in 2003, and batting .280 last year. Sent to the Nationals after hitting .207 in 121 at bats this year, Matos is now a bench player in a crowded Washington outfield.
Felipe Lopez: After his breakout year at 25 last season (.291/.486/.352, 97 runs, 23 HR, 15 steals), the onetime Blue Jays phenom looked like a cornerstone of the Reds franchise, but he became expendable in a hurry this year when his power dried up (especially his doubles power) and he got traded down in the standings. A .358 OBP and 31 steals suggest that Lopez still has much to contribute, but comparisons to Miguel Tejada won't be forthcoming soon.
Ryan Church: Church, yet another prospect from the old Montreal system, batted .287/.466/.353 last year at 26. This year, he was sent out to AAA New Orleans batting .215 in mid-May. He's recovered lately to bat .281/.526/.354 since his mid-July recall, so the jury's still out.
John Patterson: With a 3.13 ERA and 185 K in 198.1 IP last year, Patterson finally looked ready to assume the mantle of an ace and put behind him years of injury-plagued inconsistency. Instead, he's been back to the operating table, the rest of his season in doubt after just 8 starts.
Jeff Francouer: Francouer's struggles have been no shock to those of us who doubted his strike zone judgment and lack of big-star minor league pedigree, and his youth (he's still just 22) gives him time to learn and grow back into a serious hitter, and he'll have a steady job for some time to work on it. Perversely, the fact that he's continued to drive in runs (81 so far) may retard his development if he thinks he's still hitting well. A .256/.447/.281 line says otherwise.
Ryan Langerhans: Unlike Francouer, Langerhans, at 26, isn't young enough to regard a .244 average and 6 homers as anything that will lead to a productive career as a corner outfielder. Without a serious improvement, Langerhans will be an endangered species as an everyday player by next May.
Pete Orr: Orr has suffered the vissicitudes of fate as a bat off the bench with less than 200 at bats a year, plunging from .300 to .216 and a .232 OBP.
Kyle Davies: Davies started hot and finished mediocre in 2005 (4.93 ERA), but this season started bad (6.12 ERA) and has ended with surgery.
Horacio Ramirez: As you can see, Atlanta's youth movement has been bumpier than Florida's, although the Braves did get a division flag in 2005 from these guys . . . Ramirez has been another injury case, plus between 2005 and 2006 he's struck out 117 batters in 278.2 IP, a rate (3.78/9 IP) well below the survival rate for major league starters.
Jorge Sosa: This, again, was predictable failure: Sosa regressed badly in 2006 from a 2.55 ERA to 5.46 before being packed off to St. Louis. He's now officially a journeyman at age 29.