MLB Handicapping: How to Handle Bad Early Starts
by Trevor Whenham - 5/24/2012
In baseball a .400 batting average is an almost mythical accomplishment. A .400 win percentage, though, is far less impressive. In fact, in my mind it marks the boundary between a team with troubles and a team that is just plain bad. If a team has played a quarter of a season or more and is below .400 then they probably have some pretty significant issues.
As I write this there are five teams sitting below that line of futility, and they all have played between 43 and 45 games. It’s hard to be optimistic about any of them at this point, but the least we can do is look at each to see if there is any reason for hope — or any reason bettors should be particularly interested.
The Twins are the worst team in the American League, and it’s just not hard to believe that. In fact, it would be a surprise if they weren’t.
After being such a well-run team for so long they have fallen on hard times.
Offensively they are built around the twin pedestals of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Neither guy has recaptured their games after injury issues last year, though. Mauer has been okay, but Morneau is really not right. As things stand now it’s increasingly unlikely that Morneau will get a chance to recapture his game in Minnesota because he’ll be an attractive target at the trade deadline, and it’s hard for the Twins to justify keeping him.
They certainly have no reason for hope this year given their rotation. They have four reasonably regular starters with ERAs of over 8.00. It’s tough to compete when your pitchers bleed runs like that. Scott Diamond has been the only real bright spot on the mound, but with only 10 career starts under his belt it’s tough to believe he can keep it up — especially with the inconsistent run support he has to deal with.
Kansas City Royals
On paper the Royals should be on an upswing. They have a tremendous amount of young talent that they have been able to add through the draft thanks to their almost endless poor play. The time should be ripe for that young talent to come around and start to play to their potential, but it’s a slow and painful process.
Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas are playing reasonably well and carrying their load, but Eric Hosmer has been terrible and has made it hard for the team to find a batting order that can work for them.
More significant than the offense, though, is the mess that they have seen on the mound.
I think it may finally be time to accept that Luke Hochevar isn’t going to reach his potential. Jonathan Sanchez has been disastrous away from the bay. Bruce Chen is fine, but he is far from inspiring. The rest of the rotation has not been firmly established. Felipe Paulino has been the brightest light, but it’s hard to believe he can sustain it, and he has benefited from advantageous opponents to date.
At some point this team may finally be good, but it isn’t going to be this year.
It’s totally incomprehensible that a team with the history, fan support, or revenue base that the Cubs have can be as bad as they are. It’s not like they are particularly underachieving, either — this is just a poorly-built team.
The guys I feel bad for are the pitchers.
Some of their starters are giving it everything they have, but the offense is so bad that they are getting hung out to dry time and again. Ryan Dempster is throwing as well as he ever has, and he would have some impressive numbers on a good team. He has five quality starts in seven outings, his ERA is 2.28, and his 1.06 WHIP is very sharp. On this mess of a team, though, that has converted into a 0-2 record.
Former Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza have both been nearly as sharp, but are just 6-5 thanks to the offense. Only Chris Volstad has consistently disappointed as a starter.
Offensively, things are bleak. Starlin Castro and Brian LaHair have been good, but the depth drops off after them, and they just can’t score runs. They aren’t likely to improve, either.
I’ve never been a Cubs fan, and right now I am thankful for that.
San Diego Padres
Twenty seven, 28, 29, 30 — those are the numbers that define this team. That 27th in on base percentage, 28th in batting average, 29th in runs scored, and 30th and last in the league in slugging percentage. Given that it’s not hard to figure why this team is in trouble.
You can point some fingers — Cameron Maybin and Orlando Hudson need to be much better than they have been, for example — but the fact is that this team just isn’t very good, and there is no reason that they should be more effective on offense than they are.
The pitching isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good enough to steal games.
Despite the endless sunshine of the California coast the days are dark in San Diego right now.
If there is one team on this list that I am reasonably optimistic about it is Colorado. They are not going to be a contender — I don’t expect another late-season charge like they are so fond of. They have a good chance of being better going forward than they have been so far, though.
There are two reasons for that optimism.
First, unlike the teams on this list their offense is competent. They are seventh in the league in runs scored, and sixth in slugging percentage. That seems like a sustainable level of performance for the roster — or at least close.
What has hurt the team so far has been the pitching. There is a decent chance that that can improve, though.
Jhoulys Chacin has been lousy, but can obviously improve. Jeremy Guthrie and Juan Nicasio also have upside, and Jamie Moyer is reliable at his current level. Drew Pomeranz is young and very inexperienced, but his potential is clear.
The pitching doesn’t need to be much better for this team to improve quite a bit.
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