Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Win-Win (Except For The Oppostion)

Rarely do trades work out as well for both teams as the one between the Rangers and the Reds that occurred this past off-season. Texas sent under-performing pitching prospect Edison Volquez to Cincinnati in return for formerly "troubled" but extremely talented outfielder Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton hit very well when on the field (he was injured and played in only 90 games) in 2007, posting a 292 / 368 / 554 line with 19 HR, a 131 OPS+, and a .295 EqA. That was very impressive, especially considering he had played only 15 games (all in A-ball) since 2002. I have to admit that I didn't think his hot hitting would translate to this year, as pitchers started to figure him out. Boy, was I wrong - .327 average (3rd in the AL); .372 OBP (16th); .597 SLG (1st); 13 HR (2nd); 58 RBI (1st, by 10 RBI). He's got a 163 OPS+ and a .329 EqA, and (along with Carlos Quentin) is among the current front runners for the MVP award. He hasn't even been lucky, as his BABIP matches up with his line-drive rate pretty well. Most stories about Hamilton will mention how amazing his return from substance abuse is, but I'd like to say that this level of play is pretty amazing for anybody. By all accounts, Josh has turned things around and seems like a pretty decent guy. He's been one of the best players in all of baseball this year, and I hope he continues his success. To think, any team in baseball could have had him when he was left unprotected by the Rays in the Rule 5 draft. That also goes to show how many great players Tampa Bay have, that they would leave such a potentially elite talent exposed.

What Hamilton has been for the Rangers, Volquez has been for the Reds. After several trips to the majors without being able to duplicate his success in the minors, Edison has been a dominant starter this year. His 1.46 ERA is almost a full run less than the next closest pitcher (Tim Lincecum), which translates to an insane ERA+ of 304. He has 83 K's (again ahead of Lincecum) for a rate of 11 per nine, and has kept the ball in the yard (just 3 HR) with a highly improved groundball rate (54.8% from around 40% before). His sudden imporvement may have come from trusting his change-up more. It is a very good pitch, and he has gone from throwing it 22% of the time to 29% of the time. With the difference in velocity between the change (82 mph) and the fastball (93 mph), with the occasional breaking-ball thrown in, Volquez has been able to keep hitters off-balance and establish himself as a premier starter. A rotation of Aaron Harang, Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and (eventually) Homer Bailey is something to build around in Cincinnati.

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