Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spring Training Questions Answered

When Spring Training began, I wrote a post about the issues surrounding the team, and asked ten key questions. Now that they're loading the vans in Viera, we have answers to all them. Time for a review.

1) Where's Soriano going to play?
We didn't know then, but we do know now. He's penciled in left field, even if he's demonstrated no real competence at playing the position adequately defensively. He has previously expressed a desire to play center, but the thought of him misplaying even more line drives isn't a comfortable one. In his fairness, he's complained that he has problem with the slicing of shots down the line, which is slightly less of a problem in center. But center presents its own problems, because the irregular spin on the ball sometimes moves the ball in directions the fielder isn't expecting. And when you throw in how much more ground the CFer has to cover, especially at RFK, it could get ugly, especially for our pitchers who are going to need every advantage we can give them.

At any rate, Frank has said that Soriano won't fill in at second. Damian Jackson was the first name that popped up, but Marlon Anderson has had extensive experience at second, and is probably a better hitter.

2) How's Vidro's health?
It seems surprisingly good. Every account I've read says that he's good to go. What I'm really concerned with though is his conditioning. Is he going to be able to hold up under the daily grind of play? And the other key thing to watch is his range. He has very little lateral range, even before this last batch of knee trouble. As you watch him this year, watch how his first step is frequently backwards at an angle, trying to cut the ball off in the gap. Sometimes it works. Many times, it doesn't.

3) Can Jose Guillen Swing A Bat?
The concern coming into spring was the shoulder. He got a late start as he tried taking it easily, but then came the wrist. Despite an initial diagnosis of surgery and three months of rehab, a second opinion said a week of rest would cure it. That will have to be something to watch as the season goes on. Will he need more rest because of it? Will he let Frank bench him for a game here and there?

Guillen hasn't had many hits this spring, batting just .182, but his few hits have counted, all going for extra bases, resulting in an incredible .636 slugging average. It seems like he's ready!

4) Is Zimmerman Really Ready?
.347 average; .410 on-base; .693 slugging; 7 homers; 15 rbi. Yep. He's ready.

5) Who's In Center?
Here's what I said then: "Watson seems to be the favorite -- or at least the great speedy hope. Frank/Bowden seem concerned that the centerfielder also serve as the leadoff hitter, and Watson's speed makes them salivate. But Watson is a slap-hitter in the Endy Chavez mold. He wraps [sic] singles, but doesn't hit for any power, or walk all that much. His value is tied up solely in his ability to smack singles -- something that's easier to do against Triple-A pitching than versus Pedro Martinez. It seems like he'll be given plenty of rope to hang himself this spring."

I guess the governor granted him clemency.

6) Can Guzman Rebound?
6A) If he does fail, is Royce Clayton (especially at $1 million!) the answer?
It's pretty sad when you think that Guzman's shoulder problem is a loss. Clayton is Guzman without an upside. As of last report, Guzman's doing better, but still isn't good. I really can't see him avoiding surgery which would take him out for the season, most likely. Clayton most certainly isn't the answer, and Jim Bowden didn't do anything to address this position in the offseason. What if Clayton's batting .200 through May? There isn't anyone ready in the farm. Do they play Brendan Harris at short and completely punt the idea of defense? Bowden's going to have to do what he does best: scrap the bottom of the waiver barrel.

7) How's Livan's knee?
It's hard to argue with the 1.80 ERA he's put up. Even more impressively he struck out 13 batters in 20 innings. Livan's K rate has been falling the last few years, which isn't a good sign for the future. I think much of last year's decay was because of his knee and his inability to push off. If he can, and he gets a little life back on his fastball, it's going to be a good year for el caballo.

Still, the WaPo reported that he had a slight limp as he was running to first on a 3-1 putout.

8) Will We Be Saying "Livan and Nasty, Then Pray For Something That Rhymes With Nasty?"
I even wrote that question before Lawrence went down.
Ortiz:    6.08 ERA; 4.9 K/9;  3.4 BB/9;  1.5 HR/9
Astacio: 10.50 ERA; 2.3 K/9; 3.8 BB/9; 0.8 HR/9
Armas: 7.36 ERA; 6.5 K/9; 4.9 BB/9; 0.8 HR/9

Small sample size caveats apply, of course. Still, that's dreck.

If/When Ortiz and Astacio flame out, Jon Rauch is available to step in, as are Billy Traber and Steve Watkins, who were both dominant this spring.

Traber seems like the more intersting player. A former first-round draft pick, Traber put up some decent years in the minors before having to have Tommy John surgery. 2005 was his first year back, and he pitched with mixed results. If he's healed, and he can build on the gains he made this spring, this could be Jim Bowden's finest signing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. (STATS)

Then there's my personal favorite, Ryan Drese. He's still working his way back from his torn labrum, but should be ready in a month or so.

Although things look shaky now, if Jim Bowden doesn't mind shaking things up, there's plenty of depth here for him to squander away.

9) Who winds up in the pen?
If there's a bright side to Luis Ayala's injury, it's that it freed up a roster spot in the pen. And like with the starters, Bill Bray, Jason Bergmann, and some other scrubs make a capable reserve corps in New Orleans.

10) How Important Are The Stats?
Very important if you're Ryan Church!

Here's what I said: Not very. Spring Training stats are dangerously misused. Batters don't come to the plate too much in the thirty or so games they play, and they're not always facing the best pitchers or fielders. Spring training is more about scouting than stats. The team's personnel need to look and see how a hitter is doing. Is he making hard contact, hitting line drives that are being caught? Has he lucked out with a few bloop singles? Unforunately, those are things that aren't really clear from the box scores. We have, at best, an incomplete picture. At worst, a misleading one.

I stand by that. And perhaps there was something to that with Church. While it's frustrating to hear the team rip something as stupid as 'body language' as a reason for his demotion, it's possible that that's a code for something else. This is the kind of thing that, if they had more space, I'd expect the beat writers to cover. As it is, they usually only have enough room for the basic storylines/notebook updates. Alas.

The other advice I gave in last months' posting is especially appropriate considering the crappy quality of play: "Most importantly, don't worry about wins and losses. They never reflect how a team will actually do."

We can only hope so. All I know is that the ledger is wiped clean. And when Brandon Watson steps into the box against Tom Glavine on Monday afternoon, we're back in first place, if only for three hours.


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