Senioritis: Jonathan Sanchez and 15 NL Players Who Would Struggle in the AL
I think we can all agree on one, simple thing: The National League is infinitely superior to its American League counterpart.
The Senior Circuit is real baseball as compared to the Junior Circuit's designated hitter-tainted novelty act.
As for those of you who don't want to see the pitcher hit like he was intended to when the beautiful game was created, who want to see some geriatric version of a once-proud slugger grip-it-and-rip-it until his joints are held together by pine tar and little else, who have given yourselves over to the AL hucksters who invented the DH freak show to sell tickets, who complain when a millionaire professional athlete can't circle the bases without hurting himself...well...
I forgot my point, but I think "zip it" is close enough.
However, even an NL man like myself can admit that the AL has its advantages. Okay, it has one advantage—the Junior Circuit is obviously and demonstrably a stronger offensive league.
Common sense belies any argument to the contrary.
So you can see where I'm heading.
If you're gonna make a list of 15 players who would struggle if they moved from the NL to the AL, a less ambitious man than I might be tempted to grab 15 pitchers and be done with it. Alas, that won't do for this die-hard fan of the diamond.
Nope, I went all out for the readers and found a few position players who wouldn't make the transition so smoothly, either.
Oh yeah, and Jonathan Sanchez is on the list.
Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
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Michael Bourn is an excellent defensive center fielder and a irritating leadoff man, which are both critical elements to success in the National League.
They are, however, secondary concerns in the American League (if not tertiary).
And for good reason.
As stated, it's a more offensive league prowled by bigger boppers and littered with smaller parks—there is little defense against a ball that sails 30 feet over the wall. Additionally, there's little need for a slap-happy Punch and Judy hitter when your Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters are all slugging over .500.
Check the numbers—Bourn has a career slash line of .263/.331/.348 with 50 steals per 162 games while getting caught 11 times.
That means his bread is buttered by getting on base through any means possible and causing disruption on the base paths.
Unfortunately, he doesn't do either well enough at this point to thrive in the homer-happy AL.
Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
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Chris Carpenter is a baseball demigod around St. Louis. So I can already hear the outrage coming from the Show Me State, which is regrettable since I was born within a cab's ride of the Gateway Arch.
But the numbers paint a picture of guy tailored to toss in the Senior Circuit.
For one thing, there is Carp's ugly stint with the Toronto Blue Jays early in his career. In six years from 1997 to 2002, the right-hander put up a 4.83 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and a 1.85 SO/BB.
Compare that to his numbers through seven years with the Cardinals—2.98 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 3.71 SO/BB.
Granted, Carpenter has undoubtedly improved with age and under the watchful eye of pitching coach Dave Duncan. Uh huh, and if you haven't noticed, the AL has gotten considerably stronger since 2002 as well with the resurgence of the Boston Red Sox, the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays and the unmitigated over-indulgence by the New York Yankees forcing everyone to improve just to stay relevant.
Complicating a possible league change is the former Cy Young's strikeout ratio (6.8 per nine innings) —primarily a control and finesse guy, Carp relies more on taking the sting out of bats than missing them.
That's fine when you have a pitcher to soften the impact of any mistakes, but it doesn't bode well against lineups fortified by the DH.
David Eckstein, Free Agent
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So I might be cheating a little with this one, sue me.
David Eckstein hasn't exactly been thriving in the National League recently so you could argue he's already struggling (which is why he is still unemployed). But he'd struggle a whole lot worse if he jumped to the Junior Circuit.
X-Factor finds most of his utility in being a Swiss Army knife in the field and a master at handling the lumber when at the plate. Both can be key elements to a Senior Circuit club since the vagaries of pitching changes and lineup juggling make a versatile, dependable glove all the more valuable.
The designated hitter eliminates many of those strategic concerns.
Furthermore, there is always room on an NL roster for a guy who can get a bunt down in a highly pressurized situation or fight an inside pitch to his off field in order to advance a runner. These are hugely important assets if your team has to claw and scrape to get to four runs a contest.
They make decidedly less impact if you're no stranger to eight or nine runs without breaking a sweat.
If both leagues suffered the DH, Just Enough wouldn't be.
Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
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Jaime Garcia is our second St. Louis Cardinal, another pitcher and another who leans toward the finesse side of things. Those dudes don't tend to do as well in the more unforgiving confines of the American League.
Though his strikeout potential profiles better than that of his rotation mate (Chris Carpenter), his control isn't the same. Free passes are trouble wherever you ply your trade, but they get compounded when (A) there are no easy outs on the offense; and (B) you can't call upon the K at a moment's notice to back yourself out of a mess.
The Junior Circuit matches the former description and Garcia fits the latter.
To be fair, I might be jumping the gun a little since the kid is only 23 and just two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but that caveat cuts both ways. Many of Garcia's metrics steadily declined as the season wore on as NL hitters developed a book on him.
If novelty was one of his primary weapons, he will be without it moving forward and that could be trouble.
If he switched to the AL, it would mean even more of the same.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
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While I'm angering passionate fan bases, I figured I'd make a stop in Philly.
At first blush, Cole Hamels looks totally out of place on this list—he's a World Series MVP, which means he was good enough to shut down the American League's best team at one point. Additionally, though he's not a traditional power pitcher with a max-velocity fastball, he does have arguably the best changeup in the game and that allows him to rack up the whiffs despite the more pedestrian heater. Furthermore, that's an approach that translates to either league.
And southpaws are southpaws, regardless of which league they call home.
However, a closer look reveals a fly in the ace's ointment.
Compare his career numbers against pitchers to those against non-pitchers:
—Pitchers: 270 PA, 0 HR, 123 SO, 17.57 SO/BB and an opponents' slash line of .109/.138/.122
—Non-pitches: 3613 PA, 122 HR, 774 SO, 3.23 SO/BB and an opponents' slash line of .252/.304/.428
Now, it goes without saying that EVERY pitcher has a substantial discrepancy in performance against pitchers and position players. Pitchers can't hit; we know this.
But Hamels feasts on his opposite number with a voracity that's almost unparalleled by the hurlers I examined. So it stands to reason that—though the wheels wouldn't fall off if he dove into the deeper AL waters, complete with its great white DHs—they'd surely start wobbling.
Livan Hernandez, Washington Nationals
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That is not the most flattering angle of Livan Hernandez, but it's there to illustrate a point.
Livan seems to have abandoned any pretense of being a finely tuned professional athlete. He's not the first MLB pitcher to do so and he won't be the last, but it's not an approach that bodes well for the stiffest of challenges in the Show.
And that's if you have a suffocating arsenal of pitches.
On the off chance you haven't caught a Hernandez start recently, allow me to kill the suspense—if Livan ever had such an array of bullets, they were spent loooong ago.
The Washington National gets by on guile, persistence and durability (plus maybe some chewing gum and duct tape). In fact, he's probably a real-life version of the immortal Eddie Harris from Major League, complete with the Crisco and Barbasol.
None of these is a survival skill in the AL.
Unless you have a gnarly knuckleball...
Mat Latos, San Diego Padres
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Ah, where would professional sports be without the uber-talented head cases?
Mat Latos is emerging from the latter cocoon, but he's not out of it yet as evidenced by this infamous (in the Bay Area) incident where he broke announcer Dave Fleming's car window while taunting San Francisco Giant fans. Outside of those maturity issues, the San Diego Padre ace experienced a few massive mound meltdowns in big games down the stretch in 2010.
In other words, the 23-year-old still hasn't completely solved the psychological aspect of the game and when that bugaboo bites him, it can all go south in a big, ugly hurry. That's the sort of mentality that can be crushed by the uncompromising lineups boasted by the AL.
There's a certain type of craftsman from the bump who relies on the opposing pitcher as a safety valve.
Those types can go up like a wicker chair soaked in kerosene when the valve remains closed and the pressure continues to build. Last year's version of Latos looked very much like such a specimen.
Of course, all the raw tools are there for the kid to be a dominating force against any collection of sluggers so consider the Friar's presence on this list a limited engagement.
Derek Lowe, Atlanta Braves
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Derek Lowe introduces us to another variety of player who wouldn't fare well following a hop, skip and a jump to the American League—the aging pitcher.
The former Seattle Mariner, Boston Red Sock, Los Angeles Dodger and current Atlanta Brave can point proudly to what is almost certainly an underrated career. Sadly, much of it is in the rearview mirror—the right-hander will be 38 before the All-Star break in 2011 and has faced almost 10,000 batters over the course of a 14-season career.
Nope, not much tread left on those tires.
Consequently, the fact that Lowe is an extreme ground-ball artist—a skill that endears itself to both leagues—doesn't save him from present scrutiny. Although it's true that fatigue (even career fatigue) can be a good thing for a sinkerballer, that old adage has its limits.
It holds little sway if the rest of Lowe's pitches are ineffective and, at a certain point, the sinker will lose some of its sink.
When that happens, ground balls become line drives...or home runs.
And soon after, the golf course looks entirely more appealing.
With so many heavy hitters in the AL and no shelter to be found in the lee of the opposing pitcher, Derek Lowe might already be swinging a 9-iron if not for the NL.
Nyjer Morgan, Washington Nationals
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The Washington Nationals' Nyjer Morgan has a couple things working against him in a hypothetical jump to the American League.
He'll turn 31 right around midseason so you can't really say he's entering his prime. By normal standards, he's smack dab in the middle of it. Yet his offensive numbers don't scream "Prime!"—577 PA, 17 2B, 7 3B, 0 HR, 34 SB, 17 CS and a slash line of .253/.310/.314 in 2010.
And—like Michael Bourn before him—Morgan doesn't bring any power even in the best of times.
Unlike Bourn, Nyjer can't brag about the same kind of speed or defense and that means he'd have an even harder time scoring a regular job in the Junior Circuit.
Roy Oswalt, Philadelphia Phillies
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Well, I'm already gonna be taking heat from the Fans of Brotherly Love, so let's make it a double.
I'm not the first person to suggest there are physical and stylistic similarities between Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy. They are roughly the same height, roughly the same weight and feature a similar arsenal predicated on a plus fastball. Additionally, they have very close numbers across the board as far as 162-game averages go.
Of course, Peavy is slightly bigger, substantially younger and is the only Cy Young winner of the pair.
That bears mentioning because the former San Diego Padre got annihilated before righting the ship a bit during his first full season (cut short by injury after only 107 IP) with the Chicago White Sox. Logic seems to dictate that Oswalt would experience similar results.
It also bears mentioning that Oswalt is coming off his best year of his sterling career and matches the profile of a successful AL ace given his ability to blow away the best splinters in the game if necessary.
And logic is relatively foreign concept to Major League Baseball.
I still say the Peavy sampling is worrisome.
Brad Penny, Detroit Tigers
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This is cheating of a different kind.
As opposed to the David Eckstein variety, this is cheating because we know Brad Penny will struggle when he moves to the American League. Which makes both his decision and that of the Detroit Tigers all the more perplexing.
Granted, Detroit is not Boston and the AL Central is not the AL East circa 2009.
That's not much consolation considering the horrid train wreck that was his stint in Beantown—a 5.61 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP were only part of the carnage with the Sawx.
The bottom line is that Penny's never been confused with Greg Maddux out there—his mentality isn't his strongest asset. Combine that with the constant pressure exerted by DH-augmented lineups and the results haven't been pretty.
Even after successful stints with San Francisco and St. Louis, there's little reason to expect that to change.
Edgar Renteria, Cincinnati Reds
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Edgar Renteria will forever be remember in the San Francisco Bay Area for his big fly off Cliff Lee in the clinching game of the 2010 World Series.
But only a monumental blast like that could've salvaged his memory in Orange and Black because his two-year tenure with the San Francisco Giants was a debacle from the moment the ink dried on his contract, He was constantly injured and forever working himself back into playing shape—timing wise, not cardiovascularly speaking.
And this is in the National League where things like advancing runners—something Rent-a-Wreck can still do with the best of 'em—has an extra dimension of import.
Chuck in his age (34) and his unfavorable track records with Boston and Detroit, and this one's a slam dunk.
Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres
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Clayton Richard finished the 2010 MLB season having established himself as a nice No. 2 starter for the San Diego Padres. It's tough to identify precisely what it is about the southpaw that gives the opposition fits because he doesn't have overpowering stuff and he doesn't have flawless control.
But there's definitely something there because he manhandled the World Champion San Francisco Giants almost without exception and los Gigantes were not his only victims.
Maybe it's just the sneak to his delivery and the nice blend of options he can attack a batter with, but in any event, he doesn't pass the smell test as far as AL-readiness is concerned. Though the 27-year-old seems to have improved considerably from his brief audition with the Chicago White Sox, chances are that's more the smoke and mirrors of the missing DH/Petco Park than anything else.
And that means Richard would go right back to struggling if plopped back in the American League.
Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco Giants
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Ooh, this one hurts because I'm one of Jonathan Sanchez' biggest fans.
Dirty Dirty has been a revelation at times for the San Francisco Giants, but his alternative inspiration has too often been revulsion for the Orange and Black. The 28-year-old lefty has arguably the filthiest junk on the entire SF staff when he's right, Tim Lincecum included (though that's where the argument lies).
Yet his head frequently limits the availability of said arsenal and that's against a pretty comforting backdrop—the spacious expanses of AT&T Park, the offense-dampening air of the Bay Area and the depleted offenses of the NL West.
This is a talent every Giant fan has seen come unhinged after being rattled by an error or a bad call or some other bit of mundane misfortune. We're talking complete disintegrations that not even a pitcher's spot in the lineup could stop.
Can you imagine what would happen when hitter after hitter kept coming at Sanchez?
Ryan Theriot, St. Louis Cardinals
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Let's close it out with one more Redbird for good measure—quick digression: I'm as surprised as anyone that so many of these guys come from the same teams; that was totally unintentional (I've got four World Series MVPs, too; also accidental).
Ryan Theriot is a new St. Louis Cardinal and he's a former Chicago Cub so maybe this doesn't fall into the Carpenter/Garcia bin, but I still don't imagine his inclusion is winning me many fans in Missouri.
The fact remains that The Riot is like a young David Eckstein without the charmed existence and with a bit more celerity of foot. Like Eckstein, Theriot's most advantageous characteristics are his ability to play multiple infield positions on defense and handle the bat in a situational AB. He's not quite on par with Just Enough (in his prime) in either regard, but he compensates by bringing a bit more speed to the table.
Ironically, Ryan syncs up pretty nicely with Eckstein's highly successful career win the Anaheim Angels (the 2006 World Series MVP finished 11th in the voting for the real thing while with the Halos in 2002).
So why shouldn't the new Cardinal have the same success if he's so similar?
Because Eckstein is the exception that proves the rule that no-power-good-speed-make-the-rest-up-with-grit utility men don't do well in the American League.
And Ryan Theriot is not.