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Rios Gets His Props (So Does Alpheus)

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  • In the midst of a career year -- although one that has noticeably slowed down in the past month or so -- Alexis Rios has found his name in many an article. Yesterday, he was on the front page of the baseball section on espn.com, which featured an article by Sean McAdam entitled "Turning struggles into success." The article discusses the rapid, unexpected turnarounds of five players whose futures were uncertain upon entering the season.

    In another espn.com article, entitled "Rios emerging in relative obscurity," Enrique Rojas attempts to "introduce" Rios to baseball fans outside of Toronto. He points to the fact that Rios is among the league leaders in several offensive categories, though doing so in relative obscurity.

    The question, of course, is whether he can keep it up. On the same day Rios was featured on espn.com, Marc Normandin posted a player profile of Rios. Here's an excerpt:

    In 2005 he certainly seemed to be going down the road to stagnation -- although lets be honest, he was still more useful than Encarnacion -- and from what I saw around the blogosphere no one thought too highly of him outside of Alpheus Chan at Bluebird Banter...

    Now to look a little more in depth at his 2006 numbers. As you can see, his LD% is consistent with his career rates thus far; his HR/F has improved dramatically, and he appears to have cut down on the number of infield flies he hits by a few percentage points. His BABIP seems high, but it is not that far off from his Expected BABIP (LD% + .12) and it is consistent with previous numbers. The most significant difference in Rios' statistics is in his groundball rates. Last year he lowered his GB% a few points, and it most likely gained him a few homeruns. But the drop from 2005 to 2006 is immensely significant; a 15.5% drop in groundballs means a whole lot more flyballs, and if he is continuing to grow as a hitter as he appears to be -- namely, finding his pitch and "whacking it" -- then you can expect a great deal more extra-base hits and power to be on display.

    In the end, I feel his drop in average is a regression to his actual ability. However, his power surge appears to be legitimate and it's in line with his noticeable improvement in power production from 2004 to 2005. At 25 years of age he's likely close to his peak and should not be expected to perform much better than he has this season, which would be fine by most fans of the Blue Jays. With his above average defense and his adequate power production, his on-base deficiencies are not as devastating as they otherwise would be.

  • The Nationals, who are in town to face the Blue Jays for the first time in franchise history, also feature a player who's far surpassed expectations, one Alfonso Guilleard Soriano. Upon arriving in Washington, almost everyone (myself included) pointed to his .639 OPS on the road as evidence that he would falter away from the friendly confines of Arlington. Well, this season he's posted a .985 OPS at home, which has helped silence the critics. With that said, I'm skeptical about whether he can keep it up. In June, he's batted .224/.321/.429 in 98 AB, which seems to be more in line with most people's preseason projections.

    It's likely that his solid play was spawned by the fact that he's in a contract year and looking for a big pay day in the offseason. However, as a corner outfielder his stats aren't nearly as impressive as they'd be for a second baseman. At the moment, he ranks 18th among all outfielders in OPS, only .002 ahead of Raul Ibanez. However, it's highly likely (and somewhat unfortunate) that Soriano will be paid much more handsomely than Ibanez in the coming years.

  • A.J. Burnett was incredible last night. He was consistently throwing in the mid-to-high 90s and his control was impeccable. He kept the ball down the entire game and never threw one errant pitch across the heart of the plate.

    For instance, consider a couple of his pitching charts from last night's game (taken from CBS Sportsline):

    Balls thrown for strikes:

    Balls in play:

    Normally, considering both the score and the fact that Burnett only recently came off the DL, manager John Gibbons would have removed him from the game long before he'd have the opportunity to throw a shutout. However, due to the control he displayed last night, Burnett only threw 92 pitches the entire game, which made it entirely reasonable to allow him to pitch finish what he started and, in turn, rest an overworked bullpen.

  • After a rough outing against the Mets on Sunday, Josh Towers was demoted to AAA, perhaps for the remainder of the season. From Jeff Blair's blog:
    The Toronto Blue Jays ended the agony that is Josh Towers Tuesday when they out-righted the 1-9 right-hander and his $5.2-million (U.S.) two-year contract to Triple-A Syracuse but the major news of the day was the fact that Dustin McGowan appears to be back in the plans at the major league level, possibly before the All-Star Break.

    Ty Taubenheim will take Towers' turn in the rotation Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies but manager John Gibbons said before the first game of a three-game interleague series at the Rogers Centre against the Washington Nationals that "we might dig down to the minors after Saturday for McGowan.

    Now, it's much too early to speculate whether Towers will definitely be in the minors for the remainder of the season. If he pitches well -- which was the case after his first demotion -- he may earn another chance with the Blue Jays. However, at this point it's difficult to have any faith in the man. He's shown glimpses of success, but he's been truly awful overall, quite possibly posting the worst totals of any major league pitcher this season. As of now, he's a reclamation project. He should be considered a sunk cost and if he someday becomes productive, it should be an entirely unexpected occurrence. In other words, the team can ill afford to count on his support and should formulate their plans accordingly. Towers' demotion is a sign that they've decided to follow that exact course of action.