Friday, January 13, 2012

Never gonna give you up...

Rick Astley really hit it on the head with this one:

That's how I'm feeling about Drew Cumberland.

No...not in a lovey dovey sorta way. Why does that keep coming up?

I mean that I'm not going to give up on the guy. Reports indicate that Cumberland has been cleared to participate in sports after his season-long battle with an inner-ear disorder and post-concussion effects forced him into early retirement, finishing out last season as a coach. 

His retirement was a blow to fans and the organization, as Cumberland was on the fast track to the bigs in an area of need for San Diego.

Now, I've never had an inner-ear disorder, but a good buddy of mine had an inner-ear infection. He explained in gory detail just how god-awful it was. Imagine being drunk...not buzzed...drunk. Fun, right? Except that most of us feel that way for a few hours that night. You wake up with a head-splitting hangover and then move on to feeling fairly good by that next night. Imagine that feeling NEVER GOING AWAY. Stand up. Feel dizzy. Puke. Lay back down. Repeat. Ad infinitum.

I don't imagine he was feeling that terrible. Probably not likely since a summer of that would drive pretty much anyone completely bonkers. All signs point to him having retained his faculties. Still, though, when you start messing with balance issues--body functions most of us take for granted--you've got to start testing the insanity waters and finding them nice and warm.

Coupled with the fact that Cumberland is trying to pursue a dream and attempting to make a living doing something that requires intricate body movements and balance, and he was probably ready to punch a one-way ticket on the Disoriented Express.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to make light of the subject. In fact, just the opposite. Cumberland was quickly becoming one of San Diego's best prospects. He was named to the 2010 All-Star Futures game. In December of that year, he was selected as an Organization All-Star.

Here's his career slash line over four seasons:

.316/.380/.430 (.810 OPS)

In addition to those purty numbers, Cumberland has stolen 62 bases and clubbed 13 3B.

Looking at his advanced stats produces further salivation. His wOBA for 2008-2010 averages out to a .377. His wRC+ over that span was an average of 130, meaning his creating 30% more runs than the average.

His BB% for those years averaged out to a solid 8.3%, but his K% is what's really impressive: 11.3%. Obviously, Cumberland is a prototypical top-of-the-order hitter. Hits for average, gets on base, creates runs, doesn't strike out. Drool ensues.

As far as defense is concerned, Cumberland has come up as a SS, but most scouts (and his numbers agree) feel he projects well as a 2B. His overall range factor is a solid 4.13. Even 2B it is 4.65.

San Diego's system has been praised up and down baseball and looks to be in the top 10..maybe even top 5 this year. The farm system doesn't have the elite status prospects like others, but it's loaded with players who are on track to become major league regulars.

The one area, however, that could use more immediate help is middle infield. Prospects like Beamer Weems, Jonathan Galvez, Jeudy Valdez, and Cory Spangenberg are certainly coming, but not until 2-3 years from now. Cumberland, at the ripe old age of 23, could easily rise to the top of the list and contribute in late 2012 or 2013. 

Never gonna give you up.
Never gonna let you down.
Never gonna run around and desert you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Here we go...

I hate that I'm turning into Eagles fan on draft day.

But that's increasingly what's happening as I see more and more of Josh Byrnes' moves with the San Diego Padres.

The Kotsay signing was puzzling, albeit understandable, as he's meant to alkalize (got that from the Mrs...she's a pharmacist) the clubhouse. Don't see much else in terms of value there.

Acquiring Baker seemed to me to be a good move as some insurance for Hundley as well as providing a LHB.

The trade for Huston Street also seemed to be a move in the right direction as the position needed someone with experience until the youngsters are ready to take the reigns.

Relievers Cory Burns and Ryan Kelly were picked up in trades. Umm...okay.

Then, these guys get invites to big league camp: Matt Palmer, Alex Hinshaw, Dale Thayer, and Jeremy Hermida. Looking for serious diamonds here.

To this point, I really didn't have too much of an opinion of Byrnes. These moves all seemed typical when it comes to filling out the roster.

Then, the Latos trade came down, and my head started to get all itchy. We got a(nother) catcher. A(nother) reliever. A(nother) first baseman. it just me, or will it be tough to win with just catchers, relievers, and first basemen?

Quentin was next, which seemed golden at first, but might end up being average. Coupled with the fact that the word on the tweet is that Quentin is targeted for LF, and that means Blanks has been relegated to homeless hobo status.


So, we wind up with Cashner. Let's face it, he's the only player in the deal for San Diego. GM's must dig triple digits like chicks dig the long ball. Just because he lights up the radar doesn't mean he's a power arm. I know...we have the Pitching Wonder Twins in Black and Balsley. We also have the Petco Cave. It's the perfect storm for a pitcher. But we also get a guy who can't find the zone with his power arm...oh...and he's got shoulder problems to boot. Fantastic.

Then, you really have to look at the Adrian Gonzalez deal a whole lot differently now. Boston now has one of the best players in all of baseball. What did San Diego net from that deal? Rizzo (the heir apparent) is gone, Kelly's stock has fallen, and Fuentes may not have the stick to stick on a big league roster. Hosed is a word that comes to mind.

Now, maybe Rizzo isn't the next Joey Votto, and maybe Cashner becomes a great 8th inning guy and then moves up into a dominant starter. That would help restore my faith in the direction of the club, no doubt. Only time will tell there.

I certainly hope we see those types of results. But from the bleachers, at this point, I can't help but feel the heckling welling up within me. Must. Not. Succumb. YOU SUCK!

(Many apologies for that final word. Inner Eagles Fan was too much to stifle.)


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Player Spotlight

I love Daniel Robertson

Not love in an agape type of way. I don't worship the guy.

Not love in a philos way. I don't know him from Adam. We aren't homies or buddies or anything of the sort.

And I certainly don't love him in an eros type of way. That's just...gross. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

I think it's love in a hyperbole sort of way. It's an exaggerated like or favoring. Roberston is the type of player that any fan can get behind. He reminds me of how I played the game as a kid and in college. He leaves it all on the field, gives it 110%, squeezes out every drop of talent in him, goes all in, is just happy to be there and just hopes he can help the ball club...or any number of other sports colloquialisms.

The one label I'll use to describe him, though, is probably a dubious one: scrappy. This video should give you a good idea of what I'm talking about:

Seriously, though, to be called scrappy is almost a back-handed compliment. As if you're not talented enough to make it on your own. As if you, by some miracle, are playing above your potential. They say a scrappy guy gets the most out of what he's given. But it's more like he's just lucky or had the ball bounce his way. Unfortunately, that's the hidden meaning behind the label.

But what does it mean to be scrappy, in reality? To me, it's a guy who doesn't stop working. A guy who makes every pitch and every play count. A guy who's focused, who hustles, and who isn't afraid to sacrifice himself for the play. A guy who puts his teammates first. The guy who gets to the ballpark before everyone else and who is one of the last to leave. Someone who doesn't take the game or his ability for granted. A nose to the grindstone work ethic that  translates to success on the field.

I believe the guy I'm talking about here is Daniel Robertson. Granted, he's only played four seasons of minor league ball. Granted, I've never seen the guy play, but I have listened to his games and have paid attention to what the announcers say about him, and I think most of what I posted above applies...if not all of it.

Then, there's the career MiLB numbers: .309/.387/.421 (.808 OPS). In four seasons, he's amassed 526H, 94 2B, 20 3B, 90 SB. He set the single season record for hits in the Northwest League in 2008 with 114. In 2010, he led all Padres minor leaguers with 160 hits and 95 runs. Just this past season, Robertson hit for the cycle against Midland. He finished that game with the four hits and six RBI.

He's no defensive slouch, either. In 2008, the led the Northwest League in outfield assists with 12. Over four seasons and 842 chances, he's committed 21 errors while accruing 60 assists.  

Impressive resume, to be sure, but Robertson won't show up on any of the prospect lists. Why? It seems there are two reasons...his size and his age. Robertson stands a mere 5'8" and weighs 175 lbs. He's also 26. In this day and age, a player's frame has to be large, and their age has to be small. I get that...on some levels, but when a guy has talent, who cares? Talent plays.

There's a guy by the name of David Eckstein who made a career out of being scrappy. He also won plenty of awards, including a World Series MVP. It's sad that his name is used as a punchline at times. He deserves more respect than that, and so does Robertson.

Of course, maybe Robertson likes it that way. Maybe he doesn't need the fanfare. Most gamers don't. They let their game take care of itself. I don't know. Like I said, I don't know the guy, but I love him. I'm hoping he'll get his due. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Will I Am

I don't expect Will Venable to become a superstar and San Diego's solution to its offensive woes. I do think, however, that he's capable of much more than: .250/.321/.410 (.731 OPS).

Here are his MiLB numbers: .283/.353/.439 (.792 OPS) . You'll notice that he really isn't terribly far from that production in his time with San Diego. The differential in his slash line: .-33/-.32/-.29. That's pretty darn consistent, if you ask me.

I think that expectations surrounding him have been set high, and I think his style of play contributes to these expectations. He is exciting because he's athletic, so I think people tend to get carried away with what they believe him capable of doing. I've even found myself becoming frustrated at what he's done on the field. I think, however, we need some perspective.

Now, does that mean we shouldn't expect more from Venable? Absolutely not.

When you start looking closely at his numbers, the most obvious shortfall is this:

Venable's career K% (

His K% is considerably higher than the league average, and it's killing his overall numbers. If you look closely at all of his other graphs, you'll notice that he's very much aligned with league averages in most categories. 

So, the next obvious question is, why is that K% so high? If you look even closer at his plate discipline numbers, you'll see two trends that are working against him. In 2011, his O-Swing% (percentage of swings at balls out of the zone) was 36.7%. The league average was 30.6%, a difference of +6.1 points. The other noticeable concern is his Contact% (percentage of times he makes contact when he swings) last season was 75.8%. The league average in that category was 80.7%, a difference of -4.9 points. The conclusion is obvious: he's swinging at more pitches out of the zone and making less contact as a result.

Now, why is this important for Venable in particular? We all know this isn't good for anyone.

This is important for Venable because of this graph:

Venable's career BABIP (

As you can see, Venable's batting average when he puts the ball in play is above average and is very nearly a strength for him on offense. So the point here is that he has to find a way to become more disciplined, but more importantly he has to find a way to get the lumber on the ball. If he can make that work this season, I think you'll see his overall MLB slash line come closer to his MiLB one. Easy, right? If it were that easy, I'd still be playing the game and not writing about it. 

If Venable's bat can improve, he becomes so much more of a threat. The last two seasons, Venable has stolen 29 and 26 bases, respectively. Imagine those totals should he start getting on base more. And we already know about his defense. Last season, his UZR for RF was a very respectable 4.4. League average is typically 0.0. Overall, Venable can be a complete player. Maybe not a superstar, but certainly someone the Padres could depend upon to be a producer every night.

It seems last season was his make-or-break season, and he didn't exactly break out, so with the signing of Chris Denorfia it could be that the organization sees Venable as a platooner at best and a 4th OF at worst. However, there's nothing like success to change a team's perspective.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Miracle!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Yep...I'm writing on Christmas evening. I've found a few precious minutes as the children are nestled, screaming in their beds for more time with toys.

Thanks to MLBTR, I came across this article from Dan Hayes at North County Times. I have to say that I was thrilled to hear San Diego is re-setting their contract talks with Cameron Maybin. Sugar plums are dancing in my heads...okay, enough of that allusion.

Over the last few weeks, new GM Josh Byrnes has come across as pretty much sticking to the company line established by Jed Hoyer and Co.: strengthen the farm system, grow our own talent, and sign those young stars to manageable contracts. Even in an interview this past Thursday on XTRA Sports 1360, Brynes was asked whether he agreed with the model of the Tampa Bay Rays. Matt Moore was mentioned as an example that epitomizes this philosophy. Byrnes seemed to be in agreement. He even went on to suggest that this strategy would be more beneficial if these types of contracts were spread out among multiple players to avoid the "all eggs in one basket" problem.

However, his actions of late have made me question whether this is actually his approach. The trading of Mat Latos was an obvious example. Rather than sign a young, talented player to a team-friendly deal, Latos was sent packing. Granted, lots of prospects were added to our system. In reality, though, they were valued much higher in the Cincinnati organization. A top ten player in the Reds' system is lucky to stay in the top 25 in San Diego's. And the whole Alonso versus Rizzo thing continues to disrupt my digestive system. Byrnes mentioned liking Alonso's major league success. Remember, though, that he's got two years on Rizzo. Give Rizzo the same opportunity and see how he's hitting major league pitching in two years. But that's fodder for a blog of another day, though.

In addition, Byrnes made several decisions in his time at Arizona where he moved key minor league prospects and seemed to prefer more veteran players. The trade of Carlos Quentin and the signing of Eric Byrnes at age 31 are two types of moves that would cripple our club with its fragile, small-market economic condition. Now, my goal is not to break down Brynes as a GM. That's already been done by Geoff Young, someone who's forgotten more about sports writing than I'll ever know.

I guess I need to bring this back to the discussion at hand, then. Engaging (or re-engaging) in talks with Maybin couldn't be a clearer message to the fans at a time when they need it most. I think the direction of the club is being questioned by many, so getting a deal done soon with Maybin would be an important signal to the fanbase that the team is committed to its young talent.

The remainder of the offseason moves will also start to produce a clearer picture of team philosophy. If the season started today, it would look like the goal of the organization is to stockpile bullpen arms. Not exactly a championship-caliber philosophy.

Fortunately, there's still plenty of more shopping days left before Spring Training. It'll be interesting to see where Brynes' starts sending his checks.

Well...gotta run. I think it's time to spike the Egg Nog. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a great week!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time to use live ammo

The Padres have a couple of young players currently on the big league roster that have a timer on countdown. The end of this timer will signify one of two events: #1--complete takeoff...a blastoff, if you will...a launch. #2--explosion, detonation...a destruction or end.

For a young player, this can be a motivating or debilitating factor, depending on the makeup of the player. For this first piece, Kyle Blanks is the player on the clock.

Blanks is a player who has the opportunity and potential to fill a huge void in a desperate area of need for the San Diego Padres: offensive production.

His minor league numbers are impressive: 2013 AB, .305/.392/.513 (.905 OPS).  Here's a former Padre slugger's MiLB numbers for comparison: 2480 AB, .296/.365/.448...yep...Adrian of the game's premiere hitters. The thing is, I could rattle off a handful of other star players with similar or worse minor league numbers.

I guess the real question do we know when a guy's minor league numbers will translate into the big leagues? I suppose if I had the answer to that question, I wouldn't be running a blog where 40 hits in one day is cause for celebration...ha!

To me, Blanks has all that is needed to become a superstar. He's got the build and the athleticism. He can crush the ball and play solid defense. Oh, and he runs well (notice, I didn't say: "...for a big guy."). He has the demeanor and the work ethic to realize all the potential he's been blessed with.

So far, however, the MLB numbers don't bear out: 420 AB, .219/.315/.424 (.739 OPS).

Why? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons; however, one that jumps out is his K%. In 2008, Blanks put up one of his best seasons in AA San Antonio. He hit .325 with 20 HR and 107 RBI in what many consider to be a pitcher-friendly league and stadium. It tends to be the proving ground for Padres minor league hitters. Even more impressive, to go along with the power, Blanks didn't swing and miss all too often. His K rate of 15.9% was a career-best.

Unfortunately, those numbers took a turn for the worse. In 2009, at AAA Portland, that rate jumped to 22.5%. To be followed by 32.0% after a call-up to San Diego. Not much improved in 2010 as Blanks worked his way back from the DL. His rate in Hi-A was 27.3% and then 25.0% in AAA. For the Padres, during that season, Blanks struck out a career-worst 38.3% of the time. That's Mark Reynolds territory (ML worst 42.3% in 2010)...which is fine if you're launching plenty of moonshots as well. Blanks was not.

Finally, 2011 didn't show much improvement, either, as he started out with a respectable 20.4% in AA, jumped to 24.3% in AAA, and then up again to 26.8% as a Padre. Granted, these numbers are not tremendously higher than league average, but the point here is that Blanks is at his best when his K-rate is down. Duh, right?

If it's that simple to identify a problem, why can't it be that simple to fix it? That's the 64,000 dollar question for me.

I'm sure there are a number of issues at play as to why a guy's K rate jumps over time. Better pitching is probably the number one reason. However, AA is typically a place where players make it or break it, and Blanks clearly destroyed it at that level against quality pitching prospects. Maybe it's the pressure of the Show. He knows the eyes are on him and the clock is ticking. Maybe it's the coaching. Are they more hands-off or more hands-on as you move up the levels?

Maybe it's the playing time. Blanks played consistently at three levels from 2006-2008: 308 AB at Ft. Wayne (Lo-A), 465 AB at Lake Elsinore (Hi-A), and 492 AB at San Antonio (AA). His K%'s were, respectively: 22.0%, 18.5%, and 15.9%. So, is the evidence suggesting that he may have been rushed, or does he simply need to be given a full season to showcase what he has?

I'd believe it's the latter. I'd like to see Blanks given the full-time, starting LF position (1B will work, too) from the season's get-go. Run him out there every day and let the results come. The club did this with Headley, and the results are paying off. The same is true with Maybin. Blanks can be that guy. Run him out there without the fear that he'll lose his job and judge from the results.

3...2...1...liftoff! (okay, that was least I didn't say anything about "shooting Blanks"oooh...check that title!)  

Sunday, December 18, 2011, now what?

The rumor mill continues to spin, with the latest word on the street being that the Cubs are in on Anthony Rizzo, et. al. for Matt Garza and possibly others.

If Rizzo isn't involved, I'll be happy with this move. If he's the key piece...ugh. I'd prefer to see Headley and a high pitching prospect in exchange for Garza. 

I really like what Garza brings to the mound: WHIP consistently near 1.25, mid to upper 3 ERA, 200 IP. Those are not to be discarded. He certainly benefited by moving out of the AL East and into the NL as his K/9 of 9.0 was a career high. He also enjoyed a career high of 5.0 WAR. Overall, his numbers are either consistent or improving as he goes. He's certainly a solid #2 or #3 in the rotation.

While those numbers will drift back to his norm, I do see some strong value in Garza, mainly due to the fact that we have several young or surgically-repaired arms we're depending on: Luebke, Stauffer, Richard. Having a Volquez and a Garza would help to solidify that rotation, though it's littered with solid 3's and 4' dominant ace to be found.

Granted...maybe aces aren't needed in Petco National Park. However, it'd still be nice to know that there's at least one win coming nearly every fifth day. And, I know this is a reach, there's playoff baseball to consider. You want that #1 to see as many innings as possible when it counts the most.

I just don't know why the team would place so much emphasis on trading for pitching. We can get strong pitchers to come here through free agency. The rumors I'm not hearing are about obtaining offense. The two prospects in the Latos deal may or may not be that offense, but where is that proven MLB bat that we need so desperately?