June has already been one of the more magical months in recent baseball history, as we have witnessed R.A. Dickey on a hot streak never before seen in a knuckleball pitcher including back to back 1-hitters, a no-hitter from New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana only to be topped two weeks later with a perfect game by San Francisco righty Matt Cain, and the first major league baseball draft under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement – Quite a month!
Amidst all the excitement in recent weeks, several of our readers have sent me some thought-provoking questions and on occasion, I like to take a few of these questions and further analyze them in a segment creatively titled “Dear NatsGM”. In this latest installment, readers have asked me about Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel, the Red Sox trade of Kevin Youkilis, and Nationals 4th round pick Samford University outfielder Brandon Miller.
Freddy via Email -> “Dear NatsGM, what are your impressions of the Nationals 4th round selection, Samford OF Brandon Miller and have you watched him in person?”
I was fortunate enough to watch 4th round pick OF/C Brandon Miller this spring in a televised game against the University of Florida, and I assumed the best way to answer your question was to publish my game notes (cleaned up a bit) about him.
Brandon Miller, #25 is a right-handed hitting and fielding senior right fielder for Samford University – Flashed a cannon for a throwing arm, a real legitimate weapon in right field as he gunned down two runners trying to advance on him, one at 2B and one at 3B, an audible “Holy C%$P” type arm. Miller also flashed some impressive opposite field power flying out to deep right-center field in his 3rd at-bat, and although his swing appeared lengthy in his other plate appearances, he does possess obvious above-average hitting power. A surprisingly athletic player from a thick, powerful frame, he is not particularly fast, a below-average runner at best. His body and tools could profile better as a catcher, something the broadcasters mentioned during the game he has done in the past. Brandon Miller is an interesting senior sign that flashes two big plus tools (power and arm) and if he is able to catch professionally, he could be a nice pick in June’s Draft.
Obviously I found him as an intriguing name a few months ago, and the Nationals have done quite a job in recent seasons developing catchers, especially excellent defensive catchers, so I think if the Nationals are willing to be patient and develop him slowly, Miller is moldable clay that could become an interesting catching prospect in a few seasons and an excellent value signing for $100,000. Thank you for your question.
Steven via Email -> “Dear NatsGM, please explain the emergence of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel… What is he doing differently in 2012 verses 2011 and is this performance sustainable?”
Good question and one I received during Friday night’s game when he was dominating the Nationals lineup to the tune of 1 unearned run, 5 hits and 10 strikeouts against 0 walks over 8 innings. Jason Hammel has been a revelation thus far in 2012 producing a 8-2 record in 14 starts with a 2.61 ERA, allowing 71 hits, 29 walks, and 87 strikeouts in 89.2 innings; these numbers look erroneous compared with his numbers with Colorado in 2011 (170.1 innings pitched, 4.76 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 94 strikeouts) and 2010 (177.2 innings pitched, a 4.81 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP, and 141 strikeouts). For his 7-year career, Jason Hammel owns a 42-47 record with a 4.73 ERA in 821.2 innings pitched.
Why have his numbers improved so dramatically? The first advancement one notices is that Hammel’s average fastball velocity has increased from a career 92.7mph to 93.7mph in 2012 and the speed on his slider has improved from 84.3mph last year to 85.1mph in 2012. In addition, Hammel is throwing his slider more often in 2012, from 17.2% last season (16.4% for his career) to 23.0% thus far this year. The increased velocity and improved slider are the major reasons he has watched his strikeout rate jump from 6.52 batters per 9 innings in his career (including 4.97 in 2011) to 8.73 batters per 9 innings in 2012, and his swinging strike percentage has improved to 10.3% in 2012, up from a career mark of 8.0%.
While we can now see why his results have improved, the question remains, is this level of performance sustainable? His strand rate of 79.0% so far in 2012 is highly unsustainable over the course of a season, as the average for major league pitchers annually falls between 71%-72%, and his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) currently resides at .267, some 40 points below his career mark of .310, so yes, there is some “fools gold” involved in Hammel’s numbers so far and regression should be expected. However, the velocity increase and improvement to his slider provide credible evidence that he has developed as a pitcher and should settle into a career as a quality #4 starting pitcher. Give credit to Baltimore GM Dan Duquette and the Orioles front office for making a nice trade to acquire him last winter.
@NL_Beast via Twitter -> “What are your thoughts on the Kevin Youkilis trade on Sunday? Which side do you favor, the Red Sox or the White Sox?”
Late Sunday afternoon the news broke that the Boston Red Sox finally traded long-time 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox, along with $5.5 million dollars, and in return they received utility infielder Brett Lillibridge and right-handed pitching prospect Zach Stewart. With the emergence of third base prospect Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz well-entrenched at first base and designated hitter, respectfully, Kevin Youkilis found himself on the outside looking in for playing time for the Red Sox. This numbers crunch proved opportunistic for the White Sox, who have struggled to find adequate production from third base for many seasons, and pounced on the opportunity to acquire Youkilis.
Although Kevin Youkilis has struggled mightily thus far in 2012 batting only .233 with 4 home runs, and has earned his reputation as an injury-prone player in recent seasons, when healthy, Youkilis is one of the better corner infielders in baseball, and provides Chicago with a massive upgrade at the hot corner, as Brett Morel has struggled to stay healthy for the White Sox. On a fan level, I am quite curious to watch a motivated, soon-to-be free agent Youkilis slide over to another hitter’s ballpark in another impressive lineup, and see what type of numbers he will post in the final 90 games of this season. The Red Sox had pushed themselves to the point where they needed to trade Youkilis, and the haul they received in return from the White Sox was better than one might anticipate considering the place of weakness they were dealing from.
The Red Sox will immediately place versatile utility player Brent Lillibridge on the active roster and send pitcher Zach Stewart to Triple-A Pawtucket. Lillibridge’s value lies in his ability to play every position on the field and his occasional right-handed power, as he proved with 13 home runs in 186 at-bats last year. However, Lillibridge is little to get excited about, as his .175/.232/.190 batting line for this season, or career .215/.283/.358 numbers show: the real value in this trade is Zach Stewart. Stewart, a 25 year old power right-handed pitcher, has struggled in his limited time in the major leagues, as his 5.92 ERA in 97.1 innings pitched show, but his repertoire and career minor league numbers (3.07 ERA, 314 strikeouts in 375 innings) have made scouts wonder if he will develop into a #4 starting pitcher or a hard-throwing set-up relief pitcher, the latter being far more probable.
Sunday’s trade provides an interesting end to Kevin Youkilis’ career in Boston and considering how desperately Boston needed to trade him, the Red Sox did reasonably well to receive a solid arm with potential and a decent 25th man in return. Nevertheless, I give the edge in the deal to Chicago, as Youkilis represents a potential 2-3 win improvement over the current alternatives on the White Sox roster, conceivably the difference in winning the mediocre AL Central division come September over rivals Cleveland and Detroit.
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