The 2008 Midseason Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2008 major league season.
By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game
Posted June 22, 2008
It’s baseball’s version of Hump Day: The midway point of the season, where we grab a view of what’s taken place so far in the majors and determine who’s hot, not, and unexpectedly good (and bad) thus far.
(Note: All statistics evoked are based on those accumulated at the end of play on June 22, 2008.)
What Jumps Out: All those relievers pitching well, with six sporting an ERA at 3.50 or under. This is a blessed revelation for a bullpen that couldn’t pitch at the end of last year if they’re lives depended on it.
In the Spotlight: Adam Jones was the blue-chip component in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners. The 22-year-old center fielder hasn’t shown too much wow yet—his .260 average isn’t punctuated with a plethora of walks to make him much of an on-base threat—but you sense improvement coming out of his everyday play.
Best of Show: George Sherrill, one of the other guys in the Bedard trade, has stepped in to become an effective if not overpowering closer, giving the Orioles the satisfaction that they got the better of the deal.
Messed of Show:The end has apparently come for Steve Trachsel, who couldn’t make it as a starter (2-5, 8.82 ERA) or a reliever (6.00 ERA in two games), so now he’ll have to make it as an ex-major leaguer.
Boston Red Sox
What Jumps Out: Them Red Sox are Runnin’! A team historically tagged for being power-heavy but lead-footed have three players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo) either already past or on pace for at least 20 steals. The last Red Sox team to claim three 20+ basestealers was 95 years ago.
In the Spotlight: Ellsbury. After last year’s great postseason showing as a rookie, the question became whether he could hold that level up through a whole season. The answer: Absolutely. Ellsbury leads the majors in steals and has been equally tenacious at the plate.
Best of Show: With David Ortiz on the shelf, perhaps someone lit a match under J.D. Drew and told him to finally produce to make up Big Papi’s production, or else. Drew is having his best season in years, hitting .326 with more homers (14) than he hit all of last year (11.
Messed of Show: Ortiz lost the thunder to start the year with a 3-for-43 slump, and now a wrist injury has temporarily stopped him from scratching his way back to normal.
New York Yankees
What Jumps Out: Jason Giambi leads the team in homers and Mike Mussina leads in wins. Apparently, reports of their career demises are premature.
In the Spotlight: Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. The three promising young guns of the Yankee rotation have been mostly firing nothing but blanks when asked to start. Chamberlain is starting to show signs of coming around, but Kennedy and Hughes are a combined 0-7 with a 7.99 ERA.
Best of Show: At 38 years of age, Mariano Rivera continues to shine in the closer role, sporting a sub-1.00 ERA and an opposing batting average of .132.
Messed of Show: Second baseman Robinson Cano, a career .300 hitter, is languishing in the .220’s.
Tampa Bay Rays
What Jumps Out: Eric Hinske, regaining a Rookie of the Year form (Toronto, 2002) he’d lost to the point that he’d been reduced to bench activity in Boston, is leading the team in home runs.
In the Spotlight: Evan Longoria and Troy Percival. Longoria, quickly brought up after a week in the minors, has proved his worth in the majors with 15 doubles and 11 homers in his first 64 games (although the .248 average needs to improve); Percival, who some thought was done in baseball a year or two ago, has been a terrific closer amid a suddenly strong Tampa Bay bullpen.
Best of Show: Although he hasn’t been entirely healthy thus far, starting pitcher Scott Kazmir (6-2, 1.76 ERA) has been dazzling when active.
Messed of Show:Carlos Pena, last year’s Comeback Player of the Year, may be making himself eligible for the honor in 2009 unless he raises his .227 average.
Toronto Blue Jays
What Jumps Out: Roy Halladay’s five complete games, easily the best in the majors; only three other pitchers have as many as two.
Best of Show: Third-year pitcher Shaun Marcum really seems to be coming into his own, and here’s the proof: He leads the AL in WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) and opposing batting average.
Messed of Show: Last year it was Vernon Wells, and this season it’s Alex Rios (three homers, 27 RBIs and a blasé .269 average) who’s exhibiting a pale comparison of his previous year’s self after signing a big contract extension.
Chicago White Sox
What Jumps Out: Mark Buehrle has the highest ERA on the active staff—at 4.28.
In the Spotlight: Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera. Two proven hitters brought in to rev up the offense have been largely sputtering. Cabrera’s numbers have been nothing special, and Swisher has been worse with a .235 average—although his projected 95 walks will raise his presence on base.
Best of Show: Scott Linebrink has regained the form that made him such a tough set-up man in San Diego from 2004-05, posting a 1.55 ERA.
Messed of Show: Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. Two years ago, this duo was dynamic as they chased one pitcher after another off the mound. Times change; they’re both struggling around the .220 mark this season.
What Jumps Out: Victor Martinez, who’s averaged 20 home runs over each of his first four full-time seasons, has none in 54 games so far.
In the Spotlight: C.C. Sabathia. After a lousy start, the free agent-to-be has upped his market value back to where it once belonged with five hard-fought victories, including two shutouts.
Best of Show: Cliff Lee was literally untouchable through mid-May, and although a bit of mortality has set in, he’s still racking up the wins.
Messed of Show: Travis Hafner, just two years removed from having established himself as one of the game’s dominant sluggers, has stepped big-time into career quicksand. A bum shoulder may be responsible for a .217 average and just four homers in 46 games.
What Jumps Out: After so much was made of the Tigers’ potentially prodigious lineup, it’s Marcus Thames—one of the guys slated to sit for most of the year on the bench—who’s leading the team with 14 homers, and in just 126 at-bats.
In the Spotlight: Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera’s held his own with fair numbers by his standards, but the other ex-Marlin, Willis, has been a puzzling disaster—walking 21 batters in just 11 innings. The former 20-game winner is trying to sort things out at Class A Lakeland, Florida.
Best of Show: Rookie pitcher Armando Galarraga has been a saving grace for an otherwise underwhelming rotation, allowing opponents to hit just .184 against him.
Messed of Show: Willis, of course, but since we’ve already beaten him up we’ll also dishonorably mention Gary Sheffield, who’s starting to feel his 39 years with numerous injuries and showing it (.213, three homers in 39 games) on paper.
Kansas City Royals
What Jumps Out: The Royals are near the top ten in the majors in batting average, but are almost last in on-base percentage because they draw fewer walks than any other team.
In the Spotlight: Jose Guillen. A question mark to begin the year because of a looming steroid-related suspension, Guillen won a reprieve when the suspension was nullified—and the Royals couldn’t be any happier, given that he is far and away the team leader in doubles, homers, and RBIs.
Best of Show: There’s Guillen, but there’s also starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who’s starting to feel a positive vibe on the mound with a solid 3.33 ERA.
Messed of Show: Tony Pena Jr., who’s really messed up at the plate; he’s hitting under .200, has an on-base percentage under .200—and is even slugging under .200.
What Jumps Out: Livan Hernandez is the team leader in wins despite a 5.51 ERA and opposing batting average of .349.
In the Spotlight: Carlos Gomez. When the Twins dumped Johan Santana off in New York, this was the guy they hoped would provide the counterbalance. The 22-year old is so far showing that future superstardom is not out of reach, but he needs to draw more walks (season projection: 27) and cut down on the strikeouts (167).
Best of Show: The Twins will always have Joe Nathan (18 saves, 1.52 ERA), who continues to sparkle as one the game’s elite (and certainly underrated) closers.
Messed of Show: Fans were ready to herald the return of Francisco Liriano after he took 2007 off for elbow replacement surgery, but after an 0-3 start with an 11.32 ERA, the team will break back out the bunting and re-welcome him in July after being ushered to the minors for further rehab.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
What Jumps Out: Eric Aybar has two walks in 160 at-bats.
In the Spotlight: Francisco Rodriguez. This is the 26-year old closer’s walk year with his contract up, and he’s making the most of it; his major league-leading 29 saves are on pace to break the all-time season record of 57 held by Bobby Thigpen.
Best of Show: Since opening the year on the disabled list, John Lackey has been outstanding with a 4-1 record and 1.73 ERA in seven starts.
Messed of Show: Speedy Reggie Willits made such a nice impression filling in last year on an injury-depleted roster, but everyone’s healthy now and he’s struggling to find both playing time and a rhythm, batting .164 with just one steal in 30 games.
What Jumps Out: Catcher Kurt Suzuki is the only everyday A hitting over .255.
In the Spotlight: Rich Harden, Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby. Three (would-be) stars who’ve spent more time on the disabled list than on the field have managed to stay relatively healthy—and relatively good. Harden is a crisp 4-0 with a 2.44 ERA, Chavez is hitting near .300 and Bobby Crosby is having his best year since his 2004 rookie campaign.
Best of Show: Justin Duchscherer has been as befuddling to opposing batters as his last name is to kids at the National Spelling Bee. He would be the AL ERA leader (at 2.08) if he just had a few more innings to his credit.
Messed of Show: Last year. Travis Buck was a promising part-time rookie who effectively embodied Billy Beane’s Moneyball spirit. But he’s been choking badly in 2008 (.160 average, .235 on-base percentage) and has bounced back and forth between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento.
What Jumps Out: The record. Few felt that the worst mark in the majors would be reserved for a team many believed would challenge for the top spot in the AL West. Given all the recent stories of internal strife, it’s a safe bet that the Mariners easily field the majors’ worst clubhouse environment as well.
In the Spotlight: Erik Bedard. The projected ace brought in to put the Mariners over the top has done alright, but a 4-4 record and a 3.97 ERA is nothing to write home about.
Best of Show: Felix Hernandez is one of the few Mariners who’s keeping the faith on the field, holding a 2.87 ERA and 6-5 record—not bad for a squad well below .500—with a projected season total of 230-plus innings.
Messed of Show: Just about everybody on this team, from would-be hitters to would-be pitchers. But closer J.J. Putz, so awesome over the past few years, has endured it the worst. When healthy, he’s walked 17 batters in 19 innings; last season, he allowed just 13 passes in 71.2 innings.
What Jumps Out: Josh Hamilton is averaging one RBI per game, meaning he’s on pace for 162 for the year.
In the Spotlight: Hamilton and Milton Bradley. The Rangers knew they were taking their chances with Hamilton, whose career was all but derailed by drug addiction several years back, and Bradley, he of the volcanic temper. So far, the Rangers’ gamble has paid off with a jackpot; both are headed for .300-30-100 years.
Best of Show: Who else? Hamilton and Bradley.
Messed of Show: Two years ago, then-Colorado Rockie pitcher Jason Jennings was impressing everyone with his ability to overcome the mile-high madness of Coors Field. Now he’s in the midst of his second straight season-ending elbow breakdown after an 0-5 record and 8.56 ERA in six starts.
What Jumps Out: It’s late June, and nobody on the Braves’ pitching staff has more than three saves.
In the Spotlight: Tom Glavine. It’s been a rocky return to the place he called home from 1987-2002, with just two wins in 12 starts—and his first two trips to the disabled list in his 22-year career.
Best of Show: Chipper Jones, who seems to be getting better with age and flirting with the .400 mark.
Messed of Show: Utility infield veteran Greg Norton, who may be lucky to have a seat on the bench as opposed to his living room as he closes in on age 36; a .195 batting average in 38 games will certainly have the Braves looking at a younger alternative in the minors.
What Jumps Out: This is clearly an all-or-nothing team. Five players are on pace to hit 25 or more homers—and five are on pace to easily strike out over 100 times.
In the Spotlight: Andrew Miller. Most everyone thought the 23-year-old southpaw would be a pale replacement for Dontrelle Willis after arriving in the mammoth trade that also sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, but look who’s laughing now. Still, Miller is nowhere near ace material yet, but he’s moving in the right direction after a very rough start to the year.
Best of Show: Dan Uggla (on pace for 50 homers) has emerged as the prime power source on the Marlins you don’t want to mess with.
Messed of Show: Mark Hendrickson was made the de facto ace of the Marlins after being given an Opening Day start, but his 5.73 ERA (despite a 7-5 record) has made him de stinko instead.
New York Mets
What Jumps Out: Nothing. Which shows you what a lackluster year it’s been so far for the Mets, struggling to stay above .500.
In the Spotlight: Johan Santana hasn’t set the NL on fire the way he did at times with the Twins, but how much worse would the Mets be right now without his 7-5 record, 3.04 ERA and 91 strikeouts?
Best of Show: Jose Reyes continues to be The Man at the top of the Order, on pace for another triple-double (10-plus doubles, triples and homers), 60 steals and 120 runs while batting near the .300 mark.
Messed of Show: Carlos Delgado keeps slip slidin’ away as he heads into his late 30s. The power is slightly still there, but his average is down to .240 and he doesn’t draw the walks like he used to (a projected 60 this year, compared with the 100-plus he routinely totaled in Toronto).
What Jumps Out: Ryan Howard’s strikeout total. Last year, he fell a single whiff shy of 200; he’s projected to swing and miss right past it to a projected 222 this season.
In the Spotlight: Pedro Feliz. We felt he might add a sleeper spark to an already potent offense after years of sticking out on a relatively lightweight San Francisco lineup. But so far he’s the same old Pedro (.259, eight homers and 34 RBIs in 74 games).
Best of Show: Chase Utley has already equaled his home run total of 2007, and has ensconced himself as a big-time MVP threat.
Messed of Show: Brett Myers’ return to the rotation after a year spent as the Phillies’ closer hasn’t been very auspicious; the fiery team leader leads the team in losses and home runs allowed (23) while holding up the rear in ERA.
What Jumps Out: Nationals Park was predicted to be a boon for a team that languished at pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium, but the Nationals are thus far dead last in the majors in hitting and slugging percentage.
In the Spotlight: The starting rotation. It’s been a mixed bag for a group of starters that began the season badly inexperienced (or in the case of Odalis Perez, just bad), with good results (John Lannan’s 3.36 ERA and undeserving 4-8 record) and awful (Matt Chico, 0-6 with a 6.19 ERA).
Best of Show: Shortstop Cristian Guzman, playing everyday for the first time in three years, is evoking the feisty numbers he put in early in his career at Minnesota. He’s a good bet to be the Nats’ lone All-Star Game representative.
Messed of Show: After a solid year with the Nats in 2007, Austin Kearns looks about as clueless with a bat (.187 average, three homers in 42 games) as Austin Powers might. An elbow injury that placed him on the DL in May might be the culprit.
What Jumps Out: Not one everyday player is batting below .280.
In the Spotlight: Kosuke Fukodome. The Japanese import has lived up to his billing, batting near .300 with a projected 100 runs and 100 walks for the entire season.
Best of Show: Ryan Dempster didn’t quite cut it as a closer for three years at Wrigley, so the Cubs brought him back to the starting rotation where he began his career. And voila; he’s 8-2 with a 2.76 ERA and a major-league best .192 batting average allowed.
Messed of Show: Bob Howry has been one of the game’s more dependable middle relievers over the last five or so years, but his shaky 4.95 ERA is reflected in the fact that opposing hitters are batting well over .300 against him.
What Jumps Out: Aaron Harang is 3-10 despite a not-too-awful 4.33 ERA and projected 200 strikeouts.
In the Spotlight: Dusty Baker. The manager who previously worked first-year magic at San Francisco and Chicago has thus far come up empty in Cincinnati, but at least he’s bucking previous criticism and giving the young ones (Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Edinson Volquez) a chance to play.
Best of Show: The Reds are not at all kicking themselves for handing Josh Hamilton over to the Ranges, and that’s because they got Edinson Volquez—the major league leader in ERA and strikeouts—in return.
Messed of Show: Scott Hatteberg, one of those reliable soldiers you always like to have on your team, got off to an awful start—and once young Joey Votto followed through on his potentially superior value at first base, the writing was on the wall for the 38-year-old Hatteberg, waived by the Reds at the end of May.
What Jumps Out: It’s bombs away on the Astros, who are on pace to allow 233 homers this year.
In the Spotlight: J.R. Towles. The Astros were high on the catcher after a successful late-season call up in 2007, hoping he would apply everyday thunder with the veteran Astro sluggers. Instead he’s back at Round Rock after a roundly rocky start in which he notched just 17 hits in 117 at-bats for a .145 average.
Best of Show: Lance Berkman (.360 average, 23 doubles, 20 homers, 60 RBIs, 66 runs) has the numbers to win the NL MVP, right here, right now.
Messed of Show: See Towles above.
What Jumps Out: The Kingmanesque Russell Branyan, a career off-the-bench slugger, has ten homers and 26 strikeouts in 69 at-bats.
In the Spotlight: Eric Gagne. The Brewers took a chance—and basically lost—on the one-time brilliant closer with a mental funk from ducking Mitchell Report accusations. He’s saved ten games but blown five, has lost two games and his confidence as his ERA grows at 6.98.
Best of Show: The Brewers are keeping their fingers crossed while the oft-injured Ben Sheets finishes the year’s first half fully intact with a sterling 8-1 record and 2.74 ERA.
Messed of Show: Two years ago, Bill Hall developed into the kind of player that Ryan Braun is now. How long ago that seems for Hall, who’s hitting .214 with nine homers, 61 strikeouts and 15 errors in the infield.
What Jumps Out: Five pitchers have walked more batters than they have struck out.
In the Spotlight: Jason Bay. Constantly mentioned in the offseason as trade bait, Bay is following up a disappointing 2007 with a return to his earlier, better form; he’s already almost drawn as many walks this season as he did for all of last year.
Best of Show: Center fielder Nate McLouth (a team-leading 15 homers and 51 RBIs) is emerging as an offensive force worthy of Bay, hitting for power, average and showing more patience (and discipline) at the plate.
Messed of Show: Andy LaRoche (.216, seven homers), a notoriously slow starter, is sticking to the script so far in 2008. The good news for him is that if he continues to stick to it, he’ll bat around .300 for the rest of the season. Good luck.
St. Louis Cardinals
What Jumps Out: Albert Pujols has walked 52 times (a good chunk of them intentional) and struck out only 23 times.
In the Spotlight: Pujols, whose health at the start of the year seemed to be the only thing separating the Cardinals from a disastrous year. Other forces have made the Cardinals a surprise in 2008, but Pujols has certainly contributed—batting .347 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 65 games breaking down in June with an injured calf.
Best of Show: I said in March that if Tony La Russa could get this team above the .500 mark at season’s end, he should be NL Manager of the Year, hands down. So far, LaRussa deserves to collect, forging (along with pitching coach Dave Duncan) yet more overachieving results from previously underwhelming pitchers like Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse and Ryan Franklin.
Messed of Show: Closer Jason Isringhausen saved 11 games but blew six before bowing out of the role. Recent middle relief activity has brought his ERA down—to 6.45.
What Jumps Out: Justin Upton has eight errors. He’s an outfielder.
In the Spotlight: Dan Haren. The former Oakland ace was brought in to strengthen the rotation, and that is exactly what he has done, with a 7-4 record and an ERA comparable to Brandon Webb.
Best of Show: Conor Jackson exploded to start the year, and despite some cooling off remains a top priority for opposing pitchers.
Messed of Show: Eric Byrnes had been the D-Backs’ primary offensive force over the past few years, but with improvement by others, degeneration on his own part (.219 average) and a recent injury, he’s now holding up the rear.
What Jumps Out: Nobody on the roster had more than ten home runs until Garrett Atkins finally notched number ten in their 75th game. Darn that humidor.
In the Spotlight: The pitching staff. Forever a lost cause at Coors Field until forever ended with last year’s magical run, the Rockies’ pitching has come back to Earth at 5,280 feet and is 26th out of 30 teams in ERA.
Best of Show: Clint Barmes has given up deer meet (or carrying it upstairs, at least) and, until injuring his knee, shook off two straight years hitting barely above the Mendoza Line with a .343 mark in 39 games.
Messed of Show: Is Troy Tulowitzki a one-year wonder? Even before he tore a quad muscle in late April, he was nothing like the rookie marvel of 2007, hitting .152 with one homer in 105 at-bats.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What Jumps Out: Off of the middling mundane jumble of individual hitting stats stands Rafael Furcal, who was absolutely terrific—batting .366 with 34 runs, 12 doubles, five homers and eight steals in 32 games—before a bad back put him on the shelf in early May. He has yet to return.
In the Spotlight: Andruw Jones. It’s bad news when your offensive numbers have to be spelled out using standard journalism rules. So here’s what the Dodgers have with Jones: Two homers, seven RBIs. Oh. here’s one number we don’t have to spell: .165. That’s his batting average. This is what the Dodgers are paying $18 million for this season.
Best of Show: Furcal, when he’s healthy, but also the continued excellence of catcher Russell Martin (.310 average, .411 on-base).
Messed of Show:Jones, of course, but let’s also not forget Brad Penny, who’s gone from 16-4 and a 3.03 ERA last year to 5-9, 5.88 and the disabled list this season.
San Diego Padres
What Jumps Out: On a rotation that includes reigning Cy Young Award recipient Jake Peavy, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and Chris Young, it’s reliever Heath Bell who co-leads the team in victories with five.
In the Spotlight: The Padres signed 37-year-old Jim Edmonds hoping to get the Edmonds of old; instead they got an old Edmonds (.178, one homer in 26 games) before giving up on him and shipping him to the Cubs—where now he’s the Edmonds of old, batting over .300 with punch.
Best of Show: Adrian Gonzalez is rising above the cries of those who refuse to play at Petco Park because it’ll ruin their stats; he’s hitting around .300 and on pace for over 40 homers.
Messed of Show: After knocking out 44 doubles and 27 homers with 97 RBIs last year, you’d think Khalil Greene was showing strong evolution in his game. But he’s devolving this year, languishing around .230 with 73 strikeouts.
San Francisco Giants
What Jumps Out: Four everyday players (Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina, Randy Winn and Ray Durham) are batting at or above .300. Not bad for a team nobody thought would hit this year.
In the Spotlight: Rajai Davis and Eugenio Velez. I suggested that the Giants would get a major boost if both of these guys, who should great promise late last year and in spring training, could be good enough to play everyday and be let loose on the bases. So how are they doing? It’s more a question of where are they now. Davis was quickly sent across the bay to Oakland after a sputtering start, and Velez is at Triple-A Fresno to fix a faltering average and sloppy defense.
Best of Show: Tim Lincecum. As advertised, the second-year phenom has settled in as a top major league hurler thanks to an 8-1 record and 2.21 ERA (with 95 strikeouts) in 15 starts.
Messed of Show: The really messed-up Barry Zito. He’d be long gone by now, but because the Giants are on the hook to pay him $126 million, they have no choice but to forge something far better than what Zito’s 2-11 mark and 6.32 have so far given them.
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