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Baseball by the Numbers: Whiff of greatness

You can find more from Michael Salfino at Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

There’s such little data thus far that it’s very dangerous to read too much into the results in the early MLB season.

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Rasmus has a solid power track-record.
(Jeff Roberson/AP)

But you can’t wait until June to recalibrate values. Heck, even June is too early for some. So where should we focus? Transformative seasons are often evidenced quite early by K/BB ratio.

I remember back in April of 2003, many were saying not to believe Estaban Loaiza because he wasn’t going to win 30 games or have a 1.25 ERA or 0.667 WHIP. But those staying on the sidelines missed out on 16 more wins and an ERA of 3.15 or under each of the next four months – plus 41 Ks in 35.2 September/October innings.

So that 35/5 K/BB in April should have been respected. Ditto Derek Lowe(notes) in 2002, when his 23/9 K/BB in April held up all year on the way to 21-8, 2.58, 0.974 WHIP.

Similarly, season-long success has recently been presaged by dramatic increases in hitter BB/K. Carlos Quentin(notes) was 14/15 in April of ’08 (he finished 66/80 after being 18/54 in ’07 in well less than half the ABs). Last year, Ben Zobrist’s(notes) 5/12 in 50 March/April ABs was nothing special, but his 18/13 and 19/22 in May and June sure were. Admittedly, these weren’t dramatically different than his 2008 – 25/37 with 12 homers in 227 ABs. It chafes me to no end that I never saw Zobrist coming in the winter of 2009. The signs were there.

But the definition of an expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. Resolving not to miss out on surprising diamond gems that will surely be found in ’10, let’s look at who is starting the year in K/BB manner well out of character. You can reasonably choose to discount this data, but you must first consider it.

Buy

Daric Barton(notes), 1B, A’s: His isolated slugging is less than .100 and power has always been the issue with him. But if you believe that power follows patience, note he has 10 walks and just two Ks to start the year.

Colby Rasmus(notes), OF, Cardinals: He’s a little post-hype. But he’s playing all year at age 23 and did smack 29 homers as a 20 year old in Double-A.

Mark Teahen(notes), 3B, White Sox: Maybe his nice start in plate discipline (five walks, two Ks) will move him up from the bottom of the White Sox lineup. Teahen will get ABs and has a decent chance at 20/15 in homers/steals.

Jeff Francoeur(notes), OF, Mets: Another sneaky AB play. His K-rate keeps improving and now he’s whiffed just twice against four walks.

Dallas Braden(notes), SP, A’s: His 12 Ks are the product of the one great start (10 whiffs). But he’s only walked two and was about 2/1 in K/BB in ’09. He also throws hard for a lefty and has one of the more effective change-ups with the most speed variance relative to his heater.

Charlie Haeger(notes), P, Dodgers: When you strike out 12 in your first start, you at least go on the Watch List in all formats, even if you’re a knuckleballer. He’s only 26, which means if things break right he’ll be pitching until about 2030.

Jeremy Guthrie(notes), P, Orioles: The first of two dangerous AL East plays (the Red Sox and Yankees are killers). But 11 Ks and two walks gets our attention.

Shaun Marcum(notes), P, Blue Jays: He’s good. But in the wrong division on a team likely not nearly as good as their start indicates. Still, like Guthrie, 11/2 and almost the no-hitter on opening day.

Carl Pavano(notes), P, Twins: I’d have him active in all formats. He was so unlucky last year and is quite dominant – 10/1 in K/BB in ’10 and 147/39 in ’09.

Matt Thorton, P, White Sox: Who cares if he closes? He’s money – 10 Ks already and just one walk.

Sean Marshall(notes), P, Cubs: What’s with these Chicago lefty relievers? He’s 9/0 in K/BB. He’s the leader right now out of the gate to be the year’s most surprisingly valuable reliever.

Sell

David Ortiz(notes), DH, Red Sox: He’s up to 11 Ks already. Chances for a rebound appear dim.

Everth Cabrera(notes), SS, Padres: He has no walks and 11 Ks, so pass despite the speed.

Austin Jackson(notes), OF, Tigers: Another guy with holes in his bat so far. His counting numbers belie that. But I’d be selling high.

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Cut Coghlan loose? Not so fast.
(Nick Laham /Getty Images)

Chris Coghlan(notes), OF, Marlins: Usually, the numbers make the call in this piece, not me. He’s K’ed nine times already against just two walks. But I’m going to have to step in and veto this one. Hold Coghlan, but monitor his Ks.

Kyle Blanks(notes), OF, Padres: I don’t think he’s ready – nine Ks and one walk.

Drew Stubbs(notes), OF, Reds: Very unconventional player. But unconventional guys typically don’t work out due to their lack of convention. I can’t have my table setter on pace to whiff 200 times.

Brandon Wood(notes), 3B, Angels: Not doing anything to make Mike Scioscia love him with seven Ks and just one walk.

Fausto Carmona(notes), P, Indians: I know he’s never going to be a high-K guy, but the point is he’s still a high walk guy – 10 already.

Derek Lowe, P, Braves: Pitching thus far like the NL’s Carmona. Seems to have lost trust in his stuff.

Ben Sheets(notes), P, A’s: Not rosterable now in shallow formats – seven walks and four Ks in two starts.

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