It's baseball time - for realsies. We kick off the 2012 baseball season with our first Advance Scout. What lies ahead? Mystery? Danger? Suspense? Romance? Baseball?
On, to the Advance Scout!
Thursday: Ricky Romero v. Justin Masterson
Coming off a strong 2011, Justin Masterson makes his first ever opening day start. The key to Masterson's success in 2011 was figuring out how to pitch to left handed hitters (sort of). Masterson, who is a righty, throws from a relatively low arm slot, and pre-2011 was basically Tanyon Sturtze against portsiders - his career splits (including 2011) are a .605 OPS against righties and a .790 OPS against lefties. In 2011 those numbers were .560/.746. Masterson throws a sinker and a low 90s fastball to go along with a pretty deadly slider, and once or twice a game will mix in a change up. The sinker results in a strong GB/FB ratio of over 2/1, with enough K's to be dangerous. In 5 spring training starts this year Masterson gave up 18 runs in 18 innings, with 2 gopher balls and a 16/5 K/BB. Jose Bautista is 4/8 with a HR and 2 BB career vs. Masterson, Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar are both 2/5 with a walk, Adam Lind is 2/9, Jeff Mathis 3/7, Omar Vizquel 7/20.
Saturday: Brandon Morrow v. Ubaldo Jiminez
After a random off-day (I think that they put these in because of increased inclement weather, but seriously, is there anything more deflating than spending two weeks (or two months) getting ramped up for baseball then to play one game (which most fans can't see because of work) and then have an off-day? But I digress.
In 2010 Ubaldo Jiminez struck out 8.69 batters per nine innings and walked 3.74. In 2010 it was 8.60 and 3.73. Tough to be more consistent than that. But last year his BABIP rose by .043 points to .314, his HR/FB% almost doubled, to 9.3%, and as a result his ERA rose from 2.88 (in Coors!) to 4.68, even though his FIP only shifted from 3.10 to 3.67 (his xFIPs were almost identical). All of this is a long winded way of saying Jiminez was still a pretty good pitcher in 2011. If there was one reason for his supposed struggles in 2011 though it was his fastball, which lost a couple of MPH - falling from 96.1 MPH in 2009 and 2010 (which is basically best in the majors type heat) to 93.5 MPH in 2011, with a corresponding drop in effectiveness. Still, Jiminez retains a good slider and change, as well as a perfunctory curve. Jiminez was also suspended for 5 games for throwing at Troy Tulowitzki in spring training - there's bad blood between the two from their time in Colorado. Of course, Major League Baseball suspensions being what they are (a joke), Jiminez will appeal until he gets to start against the Jays, then take the suspension and get pushed back by a day. Lifetime Jose Bautista is 0/9, Yunel 5/11 with 4 walks, Kelly Johnson 7/27 with 7 walks, and Colby Rasmus 7/17.
Sunday: Joel Carreno v. Derek Lowe
Our rubber match features rookie against veteran, as Joel Carreno makes his first major league start while Derek Lowe makes his 356th. (For what it's worth, Lowe's made several more hundred relief appearances than Carreno as well.) Lowe turns 39 on June 1st but is still chugging away, albeit at a decreased level of efficacy. That's what a good sinker will do for you, fellows (and gals, potentially). The Clevelands picked up Lowe in the off-season by agreeing to give up a throw in and take on $5 million of his $15 million salary; given that Lowe was probably the Braves 7th best pitcher, Atlanta was happy to oblige. Anyway, Lowe still throws his fastball in the high 80s (around 88 last year), and relies heavily on a slider and change up, with the occasional cutter mixed in. The key to his success is his groundball rate, which has hovered around 62% for his career. Its ticked down a bit to the high 50s in the last couple of years, but is still one of the best in baseball. Lifetime EE is 1/9. Kelly Johnson 3/15, Omar Vizquel 12/47.
The Indians tentative opening day lineup is:
CF Mickey Brantley
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
RF Shin-Soo Choo
C Carlos Santana
DH Travis Hafner
LF Shelley Duncan
1B Casey Kotchman
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Jack Hannahan
In his debut season Kipnis hit a strong .272/.333/.507 in 150 PA. He's not an elite prospect but is one of Cleveland's best young position players... Cleveland's best young position player is Carlos Santana, who I am firmly convinced has superstar potential. His defense doesn't measure up to a Matt Wieters say, but in all other regards he blows sliced bread boy out of the water - he walked in almost 15% of his at bats and hit 27 home runs in 2011. This is a 26 year old catcher... Asdrubal Cabrera is locked up for the next three years at $21 million; Cabrera hit 25 home runs last year, pretty great for a shortstop, although his defense gets poor reviews per UZR... Casey Kotchman is the roving king of empty batting averages. He does walk about 8-9% of the time, but doesn't hit for any power...Grady Sizemore is injured, again... Travis Hafner hasn't played more than 120 games since 2007. Still, he's probably good for a wRC+ of about 120 in what time he can play... Shin-Soo Choo had a rough 2011, with a thumb injury and a drunken driving arrest (I'm not making light of this - that's a crappy thing and baseball has been very regressive in dealing with this). He's one of the most exciting players in baseball if he can recover though, a 20-20 threat with a great arm.
Infirmary: Grady Sizemore just got put on the 60-day DL (back). Carlos Carrasco is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. Jeanmar Gomez will be back soon, but after this series, as will David Huff.
Credit: All data from Fangraphs, except for the batter/pitcher career data from Yahoo!
Chart: The Chart!