Chin music: The All-Surprise Team

BY foxsports • July 10, 2009


If you follow any sports fanatic, there will be at least one player (per sport) at any given time they like inexplicably more than everyone else does. Senior Baseball Editor Jeff Erickson had a four-year Austin Kearns habit, Football Editor Mike Doria has a blossoming man crush on Bruins forward Milan Lucic that only a romance novelist could fully appreciate. It's all healthy, we don't preside over any fan clubs or send these guys love letters. I think of it more as a beer goggles type effect, but without getting to enjoy a six-pack of your favorite brew.


Anyway, back to my boy. The Scott Hairston trade to Oakland has me in a state of curiosity, since there are rumors/guesses around the blogosphere suggesting that Gallagher might be the player to be named later on his way from the A's to the Padres. He's been on the DL at Triple-A Sacramento since making a start there on June 4, so perhaps it's just a matter of getting healthy and passing a physical that's keeping him from tunneling his way out of Billy Beane's doghouse.


The 23-year-old Gallagher went 1-2 with an 8.16 ERA (two starts) over six appearances in Oakland this season. Apparently, that was more than enough to demote him back to Triple-A, even though he pitched well during the second half of the 2008 season when the A's slotted him into their rotation following his arrival in the Rich Harden deal. Pouring salt in the wound, I traded for Gallagher in the 18-team Staff Keeper League - got him along with Adrian Gonzalez for Justin Verlander and Nelson Cruz. The risk of Cruz seemed to be offset evenly by that of Gallagher, while getting a top-10 first baseman for a top-40 starting pitcher was an even swap in my eyes given my other pitching depth. Both Gonzalez and Verlander have exceeded expectations, while Cruz has been able to hit the ground running with an everyday job and Gallagher has kept one of my seven reserve spots nice and toasty. Delightful.


In honor of the midsummer classic, this week's recommended pickups will be replaced by the All-Surprise team - some of whom may still be available in shallow leagues.


AL STARTERS


Rotation


Zack Greinke, KC
- Cut back walks to microscopic 1.41 BB/9IP and has impressive 6.32 K/BB rate. The result? The Royals have a 10-game winner before the All-Star break. Obviously not available in any leagues, but undoubtedly worthy of a spot here.


Edwin Jackson, DET
- GM Dave Dombrowski has made some questionable moves, but flipping Matt Joyce for Jackson has been a big reason for the Tigers' rebound this season.


Kevin Millwood, TEX
- He's bound for some regression - 4.76 FIP compared to a 3.34 ERA - and a slightly lucky .272 BABIP. Oddly enough, he's been nearly two runs better at home (2.49) than on the road (4.39). Despite all of this, you can't be upset with the first-half return on a player who likely cost a $1 or a very late-round selection on draft day.


Dallas Braden, OAK
- On a better team, he'd have more than six wins. Getting the nod as the A's Opening Day starter, Braden's been able to hold his own despite a modest 5.67 K/9IP rate due in large part to improved command and cut in homers.


Ricky Romero, TOR
- Limited to 12 starts because of an early-season oblique injury, the rookie is 7-3 with a 2.96 ERA and an impressive 66:27 K:BB ratio in 79 innings. Beware of some regression with the likely normalization of his strand rate (.822), but Romero's more likely to float than sink during the second half of the season.


Lineup


C - A.J. Pierzynski, CHW
- Not a guy you always like to give credit to, but he's been great in the first half.


1B - Russell Branyan, SEA
- Has always had ridiculous power, doubt he'll hit .288 over another 250-plus at-bats.


2B - Aaron Hill, TOR
- You could have made a fortune on betting he'd be top five in the AL in homers heading into the break.


3B - Brandon Inge, DET
- Branyanesque in many ways. A career .239 hitter having a career year at age 32? Sell, sell, sell.


SS - Jason Bartlett, TB
- Still hitting .309 since returning from DL, just one homer in his last 68 at-bats, though.


LF - Juan Rivera, LAA
- GM Tony Reagins getting the last laugh after signing him to a surprising three-year, $12.75 million deal in December.


CF - Adam Jones, BAL
- Bedard trade continues to look very good for Orioles ... surprising in that he'll be just 24 in August.


RF - Nelson Cruz, TEX
- The only player I've been more wrong about this season is Gallagher.


UT - Ben Zobrist, TB
- Has hit 16 of his 31 career homers this season ... at age 28.



NL STARTERS


Rotation


Josh Johnson, FLA
- Similar to Greinke in that it's not as though there weren't any expectations for Johnson this season, but he's made a better-than-expected recovery from Tommy John surgery while compiling a 7-2 record and 2.82 ERA atop the Florida rotation.


Ubaldo Jimenez, COL
- Command was Jimenez's downfall prior to this season, but he's made strides by cutting back from 4.67 BB/9IP to 3.69 in 2009. As long as he continues to induce plenty of outs on the ground, he's got the stuff to survive with Coors Field as his home park.


Wandy Rodriguez, HOU
- Even though he's walking more batters than he was last season, Rodriguez has proven that his 2008 wasn't a fluke. His strikeout rate (8.25 K/9IP) and improved G/F ratio (1.25) have put him in a position to become a 14 or 15-game winner by season's end.


Randy Wolf, LAD
- It's an anomaly that Wolf has made 18 starts for the Dodgers this season while only picking up three wins. In fact, I read an article recently that said he leads all of baseball with seven blown bullpen saves following his starts. He needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard, but the strikeout rate is still serviceable (6.81 K/9IP) since his walks are down.


Doug Davis, ARI
- The WHIP (1.402) is bumpy and regression is likely (3.13 ERA, 4.40 FIP), but the left-handed Davis been a bright spot for the Arizona rotation this season that hasn't had the services of co-ace Brandon Webb. The D-Backs will likely trade him before the deadline, so an opportunity to pick up more wins over the final two months of the season is likely. Just be prepared to use his non-2009 history as a better guide for what's to come.


Lineup


C - Yadier Molina, STL
- Outstanding defense will continue to overshadow strides at the plate. Also has chipped in five steals for the Cards.


1B - Todd Helton, COL
- There were plenty of reasons to write him off, but he's provided veteran stability and a load of RBI in the middle of the Colorado lineup.


2B - Clint Barmes, COL
- On-base skills are suspect, but he's hitting for good power (10 homers) and is active enough on the basepaths to be very useful for fantasy owners.


3B - Mark Reynolds, ARI
- Power and speed have many overlooking his shaky average (.262) and propensity to strike out a lot.


SS - Miguel Tejada, HOU
- Count me among those who didn't believe he'd be hitting .330 just four days before the All-Star break. Astros should be able to move him at the deadline if there's a club looking for help at short.


LF - Juan Pierre, LAD
- Average (.329), runs (38) and steals (23). Overall, a monster for the Dodgers while Manny was suspended.


CF - Aaron Rowand, SF
- The Giants paid too much after his big season in Philly, but he's been much better than you might think - .292, 9 HR, 37 RBI.


RF - Colby Rasmus, STL
- At 22, still has plenty of time to continue improving his eye at the plate; 11 homers in his last 169 at-bats suggests 30-homer power down the road.


UT - Pablo Sandoval, SF
- Kung Fu Panda is in a battle for the final spot on the NL All-Star roster. That he's also just 22 makes his .328/.381/.564 line all the more impressive.


COORS 2.0?


Andy Pettitte returned to the Yankees this winter at least in part because he wanted to pitch in the new stadium. In his seven starts on the road, Pettitte's been a very good option - 30:18 K:BB ratio, 2.79 ERA and 1.29 WHIP - but it's been a nightmare for him in the Bronx. Even though the new stadium's played extremely friendly for hitters, the Yankees' four regular starters have maintained the following home/road splits:


Andy Pettitte - 5.72/2.79

CC Sabathia - 4.55/2.98

A.J. Burnett - 3.74/3.94

Joba Chamberlain - 5.36/2.74


Clearly, Burnett's the outlier, as he's actually pitched a little bit better in New York than he has elsewhere, but we're at a point where sitting Pettitte when the schedule doesn't have the Yankees on the road is a must. Chamberlain should receive consideration for that treatment as well, although his K:BB ratio, home-run rate and hits allowed splits don't entirely support such a drastic different in ERA.


Here's a look at the six MLB teams with an ERA a half run or better on the road compared to at home:


Arizona Chase Field - 1.81

Colorado Coors Field - 1.34

N.Y. Yankees Yankee Stadium - 0.70

Cincinnati Great American Ball Park - 0.65

Philadelphia Citizens Bank Ball Park - 0.62

Kansas City Kauffman Stadium - 0.52


Coors Field, Yankee Stadium, Great American Ball Park and Citizens Bank Park are all notoriously hitter-friendly venues, but it's a bit surprising that Chase Field (Arizona) has been so brutal for the D-Backs' pitchers this season and that the Royals' pitching staff has fared better on the road than at Kauffman Stadium.


Home runs have been the biggest culprit in Arizona, which has actually been a close second to Yankee Stadium in the long ball department. Even Max Scherzer, who has very similar 41:15 K:BB and 47:21 K:BB ratios at home compared to the road, is getting torched at Chase Field (5.40 ERA), where he's given up seven homers in just 43 1/3 innings this season. Scherzer's ERA is more than three runs lower on the road (2.15) in his eight starts this season.

Article first appeared 7/9/09


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