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Arizona Diamondbacks Waive Goodbye To Russell Branyan

According to Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Diamondbacks have released 1B Russell Branyan. Branyan hit .210/.290/.339 with one HR in 69 plate appearances.

Branyan was made expendable because the Diamondbacks needed to make room for Micah Owings on the 40-man roster. He is only one year removed from hitting 19 HRs in 322 PAs against right-handed pitching, so there will be a team out there that could use someone like Branyan.

Teams that might show an interest in Branyan are:

Cleveland Indians: With Travis Hafner out 2-to-3 weeks, the Indians could use a left-handed bat against righties.

Toronto Blue Jays: Adam Lind is on the DL, so the Blue Jays could look to Branyan. Last night they started Eric Thames at DH.

New York Mets: The Mets reached .500 last night and they could use another 1B and a power hitter off the bench.

Tampa Bay Rays: The legend of Sam Fuld is dying on the vine and the only 1B on the roster is Casey Kotchman.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds’ only lefty off the bench is Fred Lewis. Like the Mets, they could use a power left-handed bat off the bench.

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MLB Draft 2011: Will Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon Be the No. 1 Pick?

Any team with the No. 1 overall draft pick in any sport holds the key to the entire draft. More so this year in baseball because there is no clear-cut first pick. What the Pittsburgh Pirates—the holders of the No. 1 overall pick—decide to do is going to send a trickle-down effect throughout the draft.

Who the Pirates take with the first pick is still being decided according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The two players the Pirates are deciding between are UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole and Rice 3B Anthony Rendon. Both have their pluses and minuses, but neither is considered to be in the same class as previous first-round picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

The minus on Cole is that he is a pitcher. I wrote back when the Washington Nationals were prepared to take Strasburg with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft that the odds were against Strasburg. There’s a more-than-a-sample-size track record of pitchers taken in the top five of a draft who don’t pan out.

The minus on Rendon is that he is injury prone and is a 45-year-old in a teenager’s body. The college junior has already had two ankle injuries and a shoulder injury that limited him earlier in the season.

If it was my pick, I would take Rendon. Position players are always the safer bet and the Pirates organization lacks top hitting prospects throughout their organization. An infield of Rendon at third, Pedro Alvarez at first and Neil Walker at second would look nice for the Pirates in 2013.

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Andre Ethier Hitting Streak: The Los Angeles Dodgers OF Is Up to 30 Games

Los Angeles Dodgers OF Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to 30 games last night with a 3-for-5 performance against the New York Mets. His 30-game hitting streak is the longest since Washington Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman had a 30-game hitting streak in 2009.

Now things are getting interesting. Any hitting streak past 30 becomes fun to follow. We’ll follow Ethier’s streak on a day-by-day basis from here on out.

Next pitcher up for Ethier will be Chris Young. Ethier is 12-for-29 lifetime versus Young with six HRs and two doubles. He also has walked five times against the former Princeton basketball player.

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MLB 2011: Has Jacoby Ellsbury Turned into Willie Mays Hayes or Grady Sizemore?

In his first two years in the Major Leagues, Boston Red Sox OF Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t been a guy who has flashed much power. In 2008 and 2009, Ellsbury hit a combined 17 home runs and had an ISO (isolated power) of .114 each season. To put that in perspective, his .114 ISO over those two seasons was fourth worst in baseball amongst outfielders, and was worse than Aaron Rowand (.148) and Mark Teahen (.142).

However, in 2011, Ellsbury has been “Hulking” up. In his first 20 games of this season, Ellsbury has already four homers and his ISO is a respectable .206. He has shown more pop than ever before and he is hitting more fly balls than ever before.

Going into Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45.8 percent of Ellsbury’s at-bats have ended with a fly ball. That’s exactly an 11 percent increase from last season. And if you take his infield fly-ball percentage of 4.5 percent, then a whopping 52 percent of Ellsbury’s at-bats in 2011 have ended with a ball in the air.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to this recent power serge from Ellsbury. There’s the thought that hitting for more power is good for him, as it means he is becoming more of a complete player with the stick. The second thought is well, shouldn’t a guy with his speed focus on hitting line drives and getting on base?

These schools of thought have morphed into whether or not Ellsbury is becoming the next Grady Sizemore, or the next Willie Mays Hayes?

The Sizemore Argument

My buddy Odie and I always compared Ellsbury to Sizemore. Both are white, left-handed hitting center fielders, who showed tremendous speed at an early age. After two years, the speed was certainly there for the Red Sox outfielder (even more than Sizemore), but the power Sizemore developed wasn’t there for Ellsbury.

Sizemore hit 22 home runs in his first full season in the Major Leagues in 2005. However, it was the next year where Sizemore showed that he has legit power.

His fly-ball percentage increased from 31 percent in 2005 to 46.9 percent in 2006, and his ISO went from .195 to .243. His power surge netted him a .906 OPS and 28 HR for the Cleveland Indians.

What I liked about Sizemore, in the early stages of his career, was that while his power increased, all his peripherals stayed intact. He was striking out about the same as the previous season and a half (23.4 percent in ’06 to 22.6 percent in ’04 and ’05), his OBP increased (.375 in 06 to .335 in ’04 and ’05), and he was hitting just as many line drives (19.8 percent in ’06 to 21.8 percent in ’04 and ’05).

When I saw Sizemore early in his career, I certainly said the power increase is good for him and he is becoming the ultimate player. I am not so sure we can say that about Ellsbury just yet.

Which brings us to…

The Mays Hayes Argument

The center fielder for the Indians before Sizemore, and maybe even before Kenny Lofton, was Willie Mays Hayes. In his first season with the Tribe, Hayes was a punch-and-Judy type hitter. He was the ’90s version of Vince Coleman.

He would bunt for a hit, steal second and then steal third. He was an unstoppable force.

Unfortunately, all of Hayes’ accomplishments were lost when the Internet bubble burst in the early-2000s. However, if memory serves me correctly, Hayes stole around 100 bases in his rookie year and didn’t hit a home run.

Then, in his second season, when Hayes arrived to camp, he added more muscle and started launching homers. While Hayes was hitting the long ball more often, all his peripherals suffered.

I fear that Ellsbury maybe suffering the same fate.

While he is hitting the long ball more often, Ellsbury is striking out a ridiculous 27.9 percent of his at-bats. For a guy who has never K’d more than 14.4 percent of the time in any full season, this is alarming.

Ellsbury also was a guy who used to hit the ball on the ground, bunt for hits and like Hayes, cause havoc on the base paths. Now, he is hitting a career-low 37.5 percent ground-balls (down from almost 50 percent the previous seasons). It’s hard to cause havoc on the bases when you are hitting pop ups to right field.


Based on what I have seen so far, Ellsbury is turning into more of Hayes than Sizemore. He has developed a severe uppercut in his swing and appears to be looking to hit home runs.

That’s not his game. Perhaps he should take some advice from the late, great Lou Brown:


You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @theghostofmlg

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New York Mets: Does Angel Pagan Really Have a Poor Approach At the Plate?

During one of the rare free moments I had at work yesterday, I turned on the Mike Francesa Show on WFAN. I don’t mind Francesa as much as most people. I would say my issue with Francesa would be his failure to adapt to the modern tools that are around to help not only himself, but his audience better understand the game of baseball.

During his opening segment, Francesa talked about the New York Mets and their rather poor lineup. He singled out Angel Pagan and talked about his poor approach at the plate.

I watched about seven of the nine Met games this season and I didn’t remember ever thinking to myself what is Pagan doing up there? To me, someone who has a poor approach at the plate is someone who goes up there and doesn’t take pitches, doesn’t work the count and swings at anything.

I didn’t feel this was the case with Pagan. Then I looked at the numbers and the numbers suggest Pagan’s approach at the plate, if anything, has vastly improved from last season.

Last season, Pagan had a BB Percentage of 7 percent and a K Percentage of 16.8 percent. Going into Monday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies, Pagan has doubled his BB Percentage to 14.3 percent and cut his K Percentage in half to 8.6 percent.

If that is not improving your approach at the plate, I am not sure what is.

Yes, Pagan is hitting .171, but a lot of that can be attributed to bad luck. Pagan’s BABIP is a pedestrian .161. For guy who has a .321 BABIP for his career, that is almost guaranteed to improve.

Pagan has just been unlucky at the start of the 2011 season. Every player in baseball will go through a 35 plate appearance stretch like he is going through right now.

So sorry Mike, his approach is fine.


You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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New York Yankees’ Phil Hughes Continues To Lack Velocity

All spring, the New York Yankees showed no concern over Phil Hughes‘ lack of velocity.

Perhaps the shellacking he received on Friday at the hands of the Boston Red Sox will get their attention.

Hughes was absolutely torched by the Red Sox, giving up seven hits, six runs and two walks in just two innings of work. He only induced one swing-and-miss and, once again, his velocity was suspect.

For the second start in a row, Hughes averaged only 89 mph. If his velocity continues at this pace, it will mark the third year in a row that the velocity on his fastball has taken a dip. In 2009 his fastball was coming in at 93 mph and last year his fastball was averaging 91 mph.

Hughes clearly hasn’t figured out how to compensate for his lack of velocity and you almost have to wonder if it’s in his head.

After the game, Hughes was quoted as saying: “Obviously I know it’s not there and I’m trying to make up for it somehow, and I’m not locating the ball as well as I need to. Just a lot of issues going on right now, but nothing that I can do about it except try to work hard, get back at it and hopefully try to get back on track and figure some things out.”

Whether it’s the weather, a lack of arm strength or the fact that his pitch count last year doubled his 2009 total (1,459 to 3,007), Hughes had better figure things out quick.

In New York, the patience meter doesn’t move slowly.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria Heads To the DL

An already suspect Tampa Bay Rays offense just got even more suspect over the weekend.

It was bad enough that the Baltimore Orioles ran through the Rays like a hot knife through butter during the three-game sweep, but then the Rays lost Evan Longoria for at least 15 days

Longoria was placed on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique.

The injury is expected to sideline Longoria for at least three weeks. The odds are that he’s probably done for the month of April.

So where do the Rays go from here and how do they replace him?

The answer to that question is simple—they can’t.

Sean Rodriguez will move over to third, Ben Zobrist will move over to second and Matt Joyce will move into a full-time role in right.

The Rays offense was looking mediocre even with Longoria in the lineup. Without him, it looks naked. The team are really going to need Manny Ramirez and Ben Zobrist to step up.

Felipe Lopez will replace Longoria on the 40-man roster.

I can’t wait to insert Chris Johnson into my fantasy lineup to replace Longoria. Fantastic.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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Jon Lester and Ubaldo Jimenez: Two Aces, Two Similarly Poor Opening Day Results

If you are a fan of pitching, then the first two days of the baseball season are for you. They are the only two games of the year where you are guaranteed to see each team’s best.

On the second day of the baseball season, we had the opportunity to see two of the game’s best: Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies.

I was expecting big things from these two, but both had similarly disappointing performances on Friday afternoon.

Here are there pitching lines from Friday:

I’ll start with Lester’s performance.

I really wonder if Lester has been hanging around Josh Beckett too much. Every now and then, Beckett goes to the mound and just looks ticked off at the world. He’s surly and looks extra annoyed when the littlest things happen.

That was Lester on Friday, minus the F bombs that Beckett will drop every five minutes.

Lester went to the mound, and from the first pitch of the game, looked annoyed and ticked off at the world. He was probably really ticked off when Ian Kinsler took him deep on the second pitch of the game.

Lester didn’t strike out a batter in his five-plus innings of work, and considering his lack of velocity and zip on his fastball, this isn’t surprising. Lester averaged 93 mph on his fastball in 2010. Against the Rangers, he averaged just 91 mph.

It seemed to me that his game plan was to pitch to contact and try to reserve as many bullets as possible. I guess that might explain why Lester induced only four swings and misses.

Last year, 10.3 of Lester’s strikes were swings and misses. That number dropped to 8.2 on Friday.

Lester has always been a slow starter. Friday’s start was especially slow.

Now on to Jimenez.

I would be more concerned with Jimenez’s performance than Lester’s. Jimenez had nothing, and I mean NOTHING on Friday. According to the PitchFX tool, Jimenez averaged 93 mph on his fastball.

I am not sure what gun they use to compile their data (usually very, very accurate), but I watched a majority of that game and Jimenez was around 88-91 all game. Last year, he averaged 96 mph on his fastball.

That is a massive drop off in velocity. That’s a “something is wrong with my shoulder” drop off.

Like Lester, it seemed like Jimenez was trying to pitch to contact. For his career, Jimenez throws about 60 percent fastballs. On Friday? Only around 30 percent.

That tells me he had zero confidence in his fastball. For a guy who had one of the dominant fastballs in baseball last year (30 wFB on his fastball), that seems puzzling to me.

I am not sure what happened to either of these pitchers on Friday. Baseball has a long season, so maybe they were just trying to pace themselves. But on a day when we were expecting to see aces in Texas and Colorado, neither Lester or Jimenez pitched like one.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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St. Louis Cardinals Lose Matt Holliday For 4-to-6 Weeks

When you see random and out of nowhere reports on a day like today, your first reaction is that it’s a bunch of malarkey. After all, today is April Fools Day, which by far and away is the dumbest of all the gimmick days in a year.

When the highly respected Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that St. Louis Cardinals’ OF Matt Holliday would be out four-to-six weeks following appendectomy surgery, I thought it was a cruel April Fools Day joke.

Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, his report was 100 percent true. Holliday will undergo appendectomy surgery today and will miss the next four-to-six weeks of the season.

I am beginning to think that 2011 won’t be the Cardinals’ season.

This is just as big a blow to the Cardinals as losing Adam Wainwright. Why would any team pitch to Albert Pujols now?

Until Holliday comes back, look for Tony LaRussa to use a combination of John Jay and Allen Craig in left.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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2011 MLB: Is There Really A Closer By Committee for Atlanta Braves?

While Major League Baseball’s Opening Day might be the greatest days ever, it also might be the most overrated. A lot is made of who wins and who loses and a lot is made over game one of 162: John Kruk has already hit the panic button on the Milwaukee Brewers.

However, there are those rare cases when something does happen on Opening Day that sheds some insight into the future. Today’s Opening Day tilt between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals is an example of that.


All spring, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was going to mix and match Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning. It made sense since Venters is a lefty and Kimbrel is a righty.

In the very first game of the season, Gonzalez went the complete opposite of this strategy. It would appear Kimbrel is the man in the ninth for the Braves.

With the Braves leading 2-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals had three right-handed batters coming to the plate. If Gonzalez was really going to mix and match, then Kimbrel should have been the guy in the eighth. Even more so because the Nationals had two lefties scheduled to hit in the ninth.

Instead, Gonzalez went with Venters in the eighth against the righties and Kimbrel in the ninth against the two lefties. Both pitchers did their job to perfection and the Braves went on to win 2-0.

I know it’s only one game, but it clearly appears Gonzalez has scraped the  “Closer by committee” approach and Kimbrel will get the first crack to be the man in the ninth for the Braves.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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