Mostly MLB Notes: James Shields hot start, examining bullpens and prospect talk

Leaving a home park that ranked first, second and seventh when it comes to suppressing runs scored over the past three years respectively (according to Park Factors) and a defense that has the highest UZR over that span as well, I was down on James Shields entering 2013. After all, he was just two years removed from a season in which he posted a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. But I’ve been dead wrong. Shields has been one of the best pitchers in baseball so far in 2013, as he’s currently sporting a 2.52 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with a 48:12 K:BB ratio over 50.0 innings. His average fastball velocity (92.4 mph) is a career high, but it’s been the increased use of his cutter that’s led to the early season success. Shields is not only becoming a better pitcher than I gave him credit for, but his change in environments might have been overblown as well. For one, leaving the AL East for the Central was a plus, and the Royals’ defense currently leads the American League in UZR by a wide margin, and while that’s an extremely small sample when it comes to defensive numbers, it’s also worth pointing out Kauffman Stadium has a HR Park Index for LHB of 81 over the past three years, which is the eighth lowest in MLB. Shields is legit, and while those who criticized the Wil Myers trade (myself included) may very well be right in the long term, the deal certainly looks good for Kansas City right now.

Here are David Ortiz’s OPS marks from 2009-2013, respectively: .794, .899, .953, 1.026 and 1.272. This isn’t exactly a normal trajectory for someone during his age 33-37 seasons, especially considering his body type. After a slow-healing Achilles injury delayed the start of Ortiz’s year, it would have been easy for fantasy owners to be scared away, and it certainly would have made sense if a slow start followed. Instead, Ortiz is batting .426/.458/.815 over his first 54 at-bats, with four homers and 17 RBI. Since 2009, his .420 wOBA ranks second in all of baseball, behind only Miguel Cabrera (who by the way is having an even better season so far this year than his triple-crown winning 2012 campaign). Fenway is a terrific hitter’s park, but it actually suppresses home runs for left-handed batters quite a bit, so Ortiz’s power display over the latter stages of his career has been impressive. His first base eligibility is nice too, as is him batting cleanup in a Boston lineup that has scored the fifth-most runs in MLB this season. Ortiz is obviously going to regress some, but his fantastic start is big news because it suggests he’s healthy.

This is one of the best local TV ads I’ve ever seen. The song remains stuck in my head.

Here’s a seven month old baby water skiing.

Closer Talk: After allowing five earned runs over 74.2 innings last season, Fernando Rodney has already surrendered six over 10.2 innings this year. His job is likely safe for now, but don’t forget he had a collective 4.46 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the previous four seasons before last year’s out-of-nowhere campaign. Rodney has nine walks already in 2013, so Joel Peralta needs to be owned in fantasy leagues…With Andrew Bailey shockingly hurt, and Joel Hanrahan joining him on the DL with forearm tightness, the Red Sox are turning to Junichi Tazawa to close. Koji Uehara would have been a strong option, as his 10.53 K/BB ratio over the past five seasons is easily the best among all pitchers (Sergio Romo is second at 7.37), and his WHIP (0.79) is also the lowest over that span as well. But Boston apparently feels more comfortable leaving him in a setup role, and Tazawa is plenty capable of handling the closer’s role, so he’s obviously a must-own in fantasy leagues…Ernesto Frieri has a 2.03 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 13.1 innings, but that’s accompanied by a 1.35 WHIP thanks to 11 walks. Meanwhile, Ryan Madson is about to start a rehab assignment, and he very easily could overtake the role within the next month…Jose Veras has been given just four save opportunities more than a month into the season, blowing half of them. No one has emerged as a clear viable alternative, and it’s unlikely Houston maintains its current 122-loss pace, and with 14 strikeouts over 12.0 innings, it’s best to remain patient with Veras…John Axford has given up a whopping six homers over 12.2 innings. He’s a long ways away from replacing Jim Henderson at this point…Worse pitchers than Kevin Gregg have posted 25+ save seasons, but I’d still bet on Kyuji Fujikawa finishing with the most saves in Chicago’s pen.

Here’s an interview with Charles Ramsey, the man who helped save the three kidnap victims in Cleveland.

Here’s a woman drinking a beer from her ear hole.

Closer Talk Part Deux: Craig Kimbrel has already allowed more hits with runners on base this year (five) and twice as many doubles (two) than he did all of last season, but it’s hard to complain about someone with a 2.13 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Kimbrel’s 19.2 SwStr% last year was the highest in baseball since Brad Lidge back in 2005 (in 2004, Lidge’s 25.0 SwStr% was the highest ever recorded by far). Regression has hit Kimbrel so far in 2013, as his SwStr% sits at (a still fantastic) 14.5…Brandon League has converted 8-of-9 save opportunities and likely remains entrenched in the closer’s role, in no small part to his contract, but he currently sports a 5:3 K:BB ratio over 12.1 innings. It comes as no surprise Kenley Jansen has easily been the team’s best reliever this season…Jason Grilli is a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities while averaging the highest mph (93.9) on his fastball of his career. Since last season, Grilli’s 37.6 K% ranks third best in all of baseball, behind only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. Pretty remarkable for a 36 year old who entered this season with five career saves…He’s not in the closing mix, but Brad Ziegler has a 9.35 GB/FB ratio since the start of 2012. The next highest is 4.60. Wow.

This water polo handshake didn’t go quite as planned.

Song of the week: Here’s the first single from “The National’s” upcoming new album. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here’s another from their last album.

Closer Talk Part Tres: Edward Mujica has a reputation of giving up too many homers (and even if this were true, I still don’t understand why it’s more of a problem for a closer than a setup guy), but after posting a 34.1 GB% over his first four seasons in the league (2006-2009), he’s recorded a 47.8 GB% since, so he’s a different pitcher now. His career HR/FB% is 11.1, which isn’t too far off league average. Over the last five years, Mujica has a 3.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, so I see no reason why he can’t take the Cardinals’ closer’s job and run away with it (and yes, I too love Trevor Rosenthal). Plus, you can name your fantasy team “The Last of The Mujicans,” which is a bonus…Sergio Romo is on pace to finish the season with 61 saves and 10 wins, but that would also entail 91 appearances, which isn’t exactly ideal for someone who throws so many sliders. Still, only durability concerns should prevent anyone from ranking Romo has a clear top-five fantasy closer right now. Since 2011, he has a 1.66 ERA and 0.72 WHIP with a microscopic 3.6 BB%.

Here’s an unnecessarily censored AT&T commercial.

Speaking of censorship, China is trying to forbid everyone from giggling at penis-shaped building.

Prospect Talk: Jurickson Profar is currently hitting .230/.342/.380 over 100 at bats at Round Rock in the PCL. He’s added two homers and is 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts, but 23 of his 26 starts have come at shortstop. It doesn’t appear he’ll be joining Texas any time soon…Oscar Taveras is batting .302 with three home runs and three steals, as potential fantasy owners continue to wait for injuries to strike in the Cardinals’ outfield…Wil Myers has a .372 OBP but is slugging just .422, as the power has been missing. He’ll also have to deal with an extreme pitcher’s park when he joins the bigs. Still, unlike Taveras, it’s mostly a service time issue with Myers, as he’d likely be an immediate upgrade to a middling Rays’ lineup. He’ll get an opportunity soon enough…Billy Hamilton is off to a horrible start, hitting just .189/.256/.270 over 111 at-bats during his first taste of Triple-A. Of course, he has 17 steals already anyway. Maybe the defensive switch to the outfield has affected his performance at the plate, and Shin-Soo Choo is currently sporting a -27.2 UZR/150, but Hamilton isn’t exactly forcing his way to Cincinnati…With Dylan Bundy receiving a PRP injection and resting for at least six weeks, Kevin Gausman has clearly become Baltimore’s top pitching prospect. His 3.52 ERA in Double-A doesn’t jump off the page, but it comes with a 32:1 K:BB ratio over 35.2 innings. Freddy Garcia is unlikely to be the team’s answer for the No. 5 starter spot, so expect Gausman to get recalled sooner rather than later.

Here’s a 12 year old filming a cop breaking the law (I don’t really care about the minor infraction, but the cop’s attitude toward this kid is a little suspect).

A classic: One of the worst bids in the history of “The Price Is Right.”

Prospect Talk Part Deux: Marcell Ozuna is going to be given an everyday opportunity with Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) sidelined, even hitting fifth in the lineup (albeit baseball’s worst lineup). He’s off to an extremely hot start (.407/.448/.667) and is likely gone in most fantasy leagues by now. Ozuna won’t help in batting average and is still quite raw (the 22 year old has played a total of 10 games above High-A in his minor league career), but he had five homers and two steals over 57 ABs to start the year in the minors, so it’s easy to see some nice potential here…Carlos Martinez isn’t going to be that valuable to fantasy owners in a middle relief role, but he’ll help St. Louis right away. He’s averaged 96.4 mph with his fastball so far for the Cardinals…While a bit under the radar, Allen Webster was rated as a top-50 prospect by Baseball America entering 2013, and he recorded a 2.70 ERA and 0.90 WHIP with 26 strikeouts over 20.0 innings in Triple-A to open this year. He’s taking Felix Doubront’s spot in the Red Sox’s rotation for at least one turn and possibly for good, so Webster is worth a shot in fantasy leagues…Zack Wheeler’s 4.00 ERA and 1.42 WHIP don’t impress, but it can’t be understated just how difficult of an environment he’s pitching in. Moreover, he’s been much better of late, allowing just one run with a 12:2 K:BB ratio over his last two starts (12.2 innings). Wheeler’s control is a work in progress, but he has the stuff to miss major league bats right now. If he remains dominant in his next couple of starts, expect New York to give him a call. As far as stashes go, I personally dropped Jurickson Profar for Wheeler in my home league recently, for what it’s worth.

Police Blotter: Man Called 911 80 Times Seeking “Kool-Aid, Burgers and Weed”…Woman Charged With DUI After Celebrating End of DUI SuspensionPolice Dog Eats Pet Hamster During Raid on Home…Man With No Arms Plans to Fight Seatbelt Ticket.

Quick Hits: From 2008-2011, Nelson Cruz averaged a per-150 game season of this: .283-35-84-111-19. Clearly, he was a star when on the field, but that stretch covered an average of just 97.8 games played. Naturally, the least expected outcome occurred last season, when Cruz stayed healthy (he played in 159 games, which was 35 more than he’s ever played during his career) and yet wasn’t nearly as dominant at the plate, posting a .260/.319/.460 line. Cruz is back to his productive ways at the dish so far in 2013, as he’s on pace to finish with 36 homers and 117 RBI with 10 steals and a .288 batting average. So I guess that means an injury is right around the corner…On April 16, James Loney was hitting .167/.265/.233. His current line is .391/.436/.540. It’s come with just one homer, as his lack of power really limits his fantasy upside, but that’s a pretty crazy turnaround. Maybe he can turn into a useful regular after all…I’m really upset Hyun-Jin Ryu ended up on none of my fantasy teams…The White Sox have somehow scored just six more runs than the Marlins this season. They’ve played three fewer games, but Chicago also has the benefit of the DH and calls one of the league’s best hitter’s parks home, whereas Marlins Park has been anything but. That’s pretty remarkable.

Longread of the week: The Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Dee Gordon has a .390 slugging percentage throughout his minor league career, but he also has a .303 batting average and .357 OBP. Since he turned 21 years old, he’s swiped 174 bases over 370 games. Gordon also now has 59 steals over just 537 at-bats in the big leagues, despite a .302 OBP that should only improve with more experience. He’s an obvious must-add in all fantasy leagues with Hanley Ramirez (hamstring) once again sidelined…Brandon McCarthy currently has a 7.22 ERA and 1.72 WHIP, but he’s also sporting a 4.80 K:BB ratio and is averaging the highest mph on his fastball in his career. I’m not ready to give up on McCarthy, but it would be really discouraging if a banged up Dodgers team lights him up Tuesday night (LA has actually scored the third fewest runs in MLB this year)…Carlos Gomez currently leads the majors in WAR…If Kevin Slowey qualified, his 3.0 BB% would be the lowest in baseball since 2011, including all relievers (minimum 100 innings)…I’m beginning to think there might be something wrong with Roy Halladay…The Tigers outscored the Astros 37-8 during their recent sweep. That will help your run differential in a hurry…The highest K/9 rate for a starter in the history of baseball was set in 2001 by Randy Johnson, when he recorded a 13.41 mark. Yu Darvish currently has a K/9 rate of 14.19. He has nearly as many strikeouts as the Twins starting pitchers have combined.

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