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The All-Star Break Roster Review, Pt. 2: Hitters

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Yes, the pitchers are covered. But how about the batsmen?

Javy Lopez
2004: .316/.370/.503, 23 HR, 86 RBI
Preseason Thought: "At 34, he is no doubt soon to decline."

2005: .278/.316/.481, 7 HR, 22 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Lopez has been on the disabled list since May 25th with a broken bone in his right hand, and while clearly he is a help offensively, how big of one is he, really? He is soon to decline, and it may have been ready to start already. Javy was down across the board in his averages when he got hurt - 40 points in BA, 54 in OBP, 22 in SLG. He was still hitting with some power, but that's about it. Compare him to Fasano. He has Sal beaten by 41 points in average, but only two in OBP and 19 in SLG. Is that really a big difference? Is it really any difference at all? You can debate the defensive merits of both, but catcher defense is something I find is hard to judge. You've got your Yadier Molinas and your Mike Piazzas, but neither Fasano nor Lopez are an extreme case like that. If I had to pick a guy to throw out a runner, I'd take Fasano. Lopez may be a better game-caller, I don't know. He's certainly a lot calmer behind the plate.

Anyway, the point is that Lopez, while a loss to be sure, is probably not going to turn this team around when he recovers. Hand and wrist injuries can be really bothersome for hitters, and it could keep Javy from kicking it back up to his '04 numbers this season. I'm not saying I wouldn't start him over Fasano because the ceiling for both is definitely in Javy's favor, but I wouldn't expect him to be any huge impact-type player. Lopez's return will be welcome, but not as crucial as some believe, I don't think. The fate of the season is not tied to Javy Lopez's presence.

Rafael Palmeiro
2004: .258/.359/.436, 23 HR, 88 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Raffy can still be a pretty good hitter, but he's clearly at the point where he needs a platoon."

2005: .269/.337/.463, 15 HR, 50 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Raffy had a terrible April, a nice May, a not-terrible June because he recovered well toward the end of the month, and July is eight games old so I'm not going to harp on the .222/.273/.556 line, especially because hey, he's still slugging .556. Palmeiro's power has been good to see. I figured 20 homers this year, and after the way he started, I wasn't even sure about that. I was harsh on Palmeiro early in the year, but he came back a little. He's not a terribly good hitter anymore and he still badly needs a platoon partner (.600 OPS against LHP), but he's two hits from 3,000 and I'm glad he'll do it in a Baltimore uniform.

I don't want to go on and on about Palmeiro's 2005 season because it is what it is, and I'm just glad it's not completely awful and a sad attempt to reach 3,000, like McGriff's pathetic drive for 500 homers, but I have been thinking: When Palmeiro goes to the Hall of Fame, what hat does he wear? Usually I genuinely could not care less, but I think this is a worthwhile one to think about. He reached 500 homers with the Rangers, where he played 10 seasons (1989-1993, 1999-2003), and that was also where he became a star player, and where he had most of his best seasons. He's played seven years in Baltimore counting 2005, and will reach the hit milestone here. He was loved and respected with both clubs. I think I would lean toward him going in as a Ranger, but would love to see it be as an Oriole. Raffy is one of the players I'll remember fondly for a long time, and I'm glad he's getting the attention he is in his drive to 3,000, even if it can get overbearing at times and cause TV commentators to overrate his current ability. But then I remember that for too long they weren't really talking about him. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and if anyone argues that they're absolutely stupid, and believe it or not a lot of people have argued it over the years. They did it when he got to 500 homers, but will they now? Can they now? If there's a will, there's a way, I guess, but he's one of the all-time great hitters to ever play major league baseball.

Baltimore tied it in the fourth. Melvin Mora hit a leadoff single, took third on a double by Miguel Tejada and scored on Palmeiro's deep fly to center.

"I wasn't just trying to get hits. I was trying to be productive,'' Palmeiro said. "I'm hitting cleanup.''

Brian Roberts
2004: .273/.344/.376, 4 HR, 53 RBI, 29/41 SB
Preseason Thought: "Do I like Brian Roberts? Hell, I love Brian Roberts. I think he's a good guy and an exciting ballplayer. But I'm not going to delude myself into thinking we've got the replacement for Roberto Alomar finally."

2005: .345/.416/.591, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 18/23 SB
Mid-Season Thoughts: Jaws on the floor from looking at Roberts' first-half numbers can still be forgiven. Seriously, take another look. Compare them to 2004. Say hello to what is probably the AL MVP of the first half, and I say that without bias. If it's not him, it's A-Rod.

Roberts would be a fan favorite even if he had just continued putting up the serviceable numbers from 2003/04. He's a quick little guy and he plays his ass off every day. He's a gamer. He's got a little soul patch now. He doesn't look like a star athlete. But he's become one. Whether he can ride this out the rest of the year or not, Brian Roberts' first half was magical. He twice killed the Yankees dead with home run blasts, he's leading the AL in batting average, his OPS is over 1.000, he hustles, he plays with cotton stuck up his bloody nose at Yankee Stadium - he's the kind of guy I can't imagine isn't a favorite of every Orioles fan on the planet. I didn't want to delude myself, but Roberts really has been the long-awaited replacement for Alomar and then some. Brian Roberts is the man.

Melvin Mora
2004: .340/.419/.562, 27 HR, 104 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Mora is 33 now, no spring chicken. The truth is he probably only has a few years left, and I think it's unlikely he'll match the numbers he put up last season. ... Defensively I think Mora is underrated."

2005: .298/.353/.508, 15 HR, 47 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Melvin had his yearly injury, and let's hope that minor setback is all we get. Mora is not quite the hitter he was last year, in part because his walks are way down, and in part just because - let's be serious - Melvin Mora was outrageously good in 2004. Following that was going to be tough. As it is, he's still a hell of a good player, and I stand by saying he's an underrated third baseman, although I think the idea that he sucks has faded. He's made six errors with a .972 fielding percentage so far, which is about in-line with him once he adjusted to the position last season. He's not Brooks or Clete Boyer or anything, but he's more than adequate at the hot corner.

Melvin has been a bit streaky this year, and I think it goes back to the fact that he's not able to work his walks, which probably has something to do with the fact that he's generally positioned between Roberts and Tejada in the lineup. If Roberts gets on, you don't want to put two on for Tejada, and if he doesn't, you don't want to put one on for Tejada. Mora started the year hitting .238/.304/.381 through ten games, but was up to .316/.371/.516 by the end of April. His numbers got down to .280/.325/.483 on May 13, but then steadily climbed back up over .300/.350/.500, peaking at .313/.365/.533 after the June 10 game at Cincinnati. Where he's at now would be where I expect him to stay, but who knows - Mora's career pattern defies any logic whatsoever, so for all I know he's going to hit .390 in the second half.

Miguel Tejada
2004: .311/.360/.534, 34 HR, 150 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Miguel Tejada makes $12 million a year. This is for a guy who's a pretty fair defensive shortstop (good Range Factor but makes his share of errors), has 40-homer power, drives in the runs to make the salary look good, and can flat-out hit. He's also still in his prime years, and is said to be a good clubhouse guy."

2005: .329/.373/.604, 19 HR, 62 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Tejada is unquestionably this team's leader. Melvin Mora does a lot too, it would seem. Tejada, Mora and Roberts are maybe not all of the offense we have, but they are certainly the core of it and miles ahead of the rest of the team. I'd rather take my chances with those three guys and six total slugs than I would the other six regulars and three average players in place of Tejada, Mora and Roberts. What else do you say about Tejada, really? He's in the middle of having his best season ever, right now with career-highs in all three averages. With A-Rod gone and Nomar dead, Tejada has lapped Jeter in the big shortstop race. Once the forgotten man, he's now the best of the remaining two runners. He's not going to have 150 RBI again, but I'll take what he's doing this season over that gaudy showpiece number any day.

If the Orioles really turn it back around and become a consistent contender again, the day Miguel Tejada signed with this team is one of the key days we should look back to. Roberts is finally the guy that replaces Alomar, but that's just talking production from a second baseman. In every way, Tejada is the heir to Cal Ripken, Jr., and I don't think you could pay an Oriole a higher compliment.

Larry Bigbie
2004: .280/.341/.427, 15 HR, 68 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Bigbie's probably going to do the same as he did last year."

2005: .262/.330/.395, 4 HR, 17 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Bigbie is another guy that got hurt. I really do like Larry Bigbie. I think he's a fine left fielder with 20-homer potential, but that's not saying he's any better than a lot of other guys. Bigbie is entirely unspecial. He won't hurt you, but he's not going to help a lot either. I think I've sensed that Bigs is a bit of a fan favorite, and that's fine by me, because he seems like a good guy, and a left fielder who goes 6'4", 207, just might hit 30 homers one of these years. But it doesn't seem like he will. It seems like he'll always be the Larry Bigbie we saw last year and see now. I am not at all against trading Larry Bigbie to upgrade the rotation.

Luis Matos
2004: .224/.275/.333, 6 HR, 28 RBI
Preseason Thought: "The outfield's success is stuck on Sosa first and Matos a distant second."

2005: .282/.353/.393, 2 HR, 15 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Luis still worries me. He had a great April, then got hurt in May and was out for a month. He came back and watched his numbers fall. He hit a homer on Opening Day and finally added his second on July 3. I've never been a big Matos fan except for his glove, but he can play center field, and the play he made to rob a homer on Saturday was unreal. I hope Luis can keep his offensive numbers steady, because a .350 OBP from Matos is more than I expected. Any power he could add would be a bonus. Oh, and stay healthy. That's a big one with Matos.

Sammy Sosa
2004: .253/.332/.517, 35 HR, 80 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Based on the available most similar by age score, Sosa's closest at 35 was Mickey Mantle. Mantle had by far his worst season at age 36, and retired. Sosa's health is nowhere near what Mick's was at the time, so that's likely irrelevant."

2005: .225/.305/.383, 9 HR, 27 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: I really thought when I said that, that it truly was likely irrelevant. For what it's worth, in 1967, Mickey Mantle hit .245/.391/.434 with 22 homers. He drew 107 walks. The next season, his last, he hit .237/.385/.398 with 18 homers, drawing 106 walks. I think part of what this demonstrates is how vastly superior Mantle was to Sosa, which is no secret or anything, but think about all that Sosa has done in his career, and how Mantle beats him in everything but homers, RBI and slugging percentage (and Mantle still has the higher SLG). Take into account the difference in the eras, and it's obvious that Mantle dwarfs Sosa.

Mantle "fell apart" and was still a productive member of his team, getting on base almost 40 percent of the time, and Mantle fell apart for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he basically played half his career without knees. Sosa's collapse is, if you adjust the eras and the type of hitter they are (not similar in their approaches), pretty similar to Mantle's. He hit .253/.332/.517 last year with 35 homers, and this year he's just in the tank, drowning and flailing about, but he's even kind of stopped flailing. Sosa is starting to look like a man that has no confidence. If you'd been hitting like this for 250 at-bats, you might lose yours too, 583 career homers or not.

You know, Sammy Sosa was run out of Chicago, traded for peanuts that became the everyday center fielder (good luck to Jerry, too). The steroid stuff came up and he had to go sit before Congress. Still, he was welcomed with open arms by the Baltimore fans and media, and has stunk the joint up. They're starting to boo. There is no way in hell that Sosa can be 100% mentally at this point. I don't know if he can even be there 50% mentally with the way his career has gone since the end of the 2004 campaign. A Sosa whose physical skills have deteriorated is one thing, but a Sammy Sosa whose physical skills have deteriorated along with his ability to deal with it mentally spells doom. I don't know that Sammy can get out of this. I hope he does, but this has been downright abysmal, and there haven't even really been glimmers of the old Sammy.

Jay Gibbons
2004: .246/.303/.379, 10 HR, 47 RBI
Preseason Thought: "At best, Gibbons could be expected to hit .270/.330/.490."

2005: .259/.295/.506, 13 HR, 41 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Gibby's attempt at first base early in the season was like Chinese water torture except entirely unlike Chinese water torture. If Chinese water torture were a giant flood of water on your head every few days, then that would be Jay playing first base. He's a better right fielder than he is a first baseman, and that's horrifying. As a hitter, Gibbons should have been traded earlier in the year probably. His SLG is over .500 and allowing his OPS to peek its little head over the .800 mark, but any guy that can't get on at a .300 clip is just not going to cut the mustard. That's a big, flashing red flag. Yes - a flashing flag.

Geronimo Gil
2004: .281/.343/.344, 0 HR, 4 RBI (Baltimore); .259/.327/.371, 6 HR, 34 RBI (Ottawa)
Preseason Thought: "Your average MLB backup if he keeps the job over Sal Fasano."

2005: .202/.216/.451, 4 HR, 14 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: I believe I may have been momentarily insane in regard to Gil in the preseason. Gil is so bad offensively that his cannon arm does nothing to help in a backup role. When Lopez went down, Gil started out platooning with Fasano, but Fasano eventually just took over. With 94 official at-bats, Gil managed to walk twice. Twice. Two times. Gil is useless at the plate, just absolute garbage. At 30 in August, it's probably time to cut bait, because unless Lopez's hand is so bad upon return that he can't catch, Gil serves no purpose.

BJ Surhoff
2004: .309/.365/.420, 8 HR, 50 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Refuses to retire but still gets on base."

2005: .277/.294/.419, 4 HR, 20 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Well, he's not getting on base anymore, and that makes Surhoff pretty damn expendable at 40 years old. He is more or less refusing to take a walk this season, drawing four in total thus far. That's kind of a problem and goes against the idea of the old player's skill set.

David Newhan
2004: .311/.361/.453, 8 HR, 54 RBI
Preseason Thought: "Newhan was a useful hitter last season that got us through a couple of injuries here and there, but at the same time, if you want to put any stock into what a 31-year old utility man hit, then you're a braver fan than I."

2005: .198/.254/.310, 3 HR, 12 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: This guy.

"For them to show this disloyalty to me, it's depressing. I know it's a cutthroat business, but at some point you've got to get a chance to go out there and play and perform and help the team win. I guess I will be doing that in Ottawa."

Indeed you will, David. Hopefully you'll be doing it for one of these magical teams you think wants to acquire you. Disloyalty? Cutthroat business? Giving him a chance to play and perform and help the team win? Your .564 OPS wasn't helping the team win, and you had chances this season, a full month of pretty much everyday play. You don't judge a player by a month, but when he's had a about the equivalent of that in useful major league time over his 31 years, you can make an exception. I will give him this much: He did a pretty good job playing center field in a pinch this season. I understand his frustration, but I am entirely soured on David Newhan otherwise.

Chris Gomez
2004: .282/.337/.346, 3 HR, 37 RBI
Preseason Thought: "He can play every IF position adequately and hits more than enough for a UT IF."

2005: .285/.354/.362, 1 HR, 14 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: What if they had kept Enrique Wilson instead, and Gomez wasn't around to fill in for Mora and Roberts during their injuries? Not that he can replace either of those guys, but he was at least Chris Gomez. Can you imagine if he had been Enrique Wilson?

Sal Fasano
2004: .229/.273/.428, 10 HR, 34 RBI (Columbus)
Preseason Thought: None.

2005: .247/.314/.462, 6 HR, 10 RBI
Mid-Season Thoughts: Let the haters hate, Sal Fasano can be my backup catcher any day. He is not great or even good, but he is vastly superior to Gil and I thank the heavens that Sal Fasano turned up to fill Javy Lopez's vacant spot instead of Gil having to try and carry the load.

Eli Marrero
2004: .320/.374/.520, 10 HR, 40 RBI
Preseason Thought: He was on the Royals.

2005: .238/.298/.571, 3 HR, 9 RBI (Baltimore); .159/.222/.341, 4 HR, 9 RBI (Kansas City)
Mid-Season Thoughts: Marrero was a bust pickup for the Royals, but what's new? He has crushed the ball since coming to Baltimore, though he's still not quite in a groove. Every time we face a lefty, Marrero should be the first baseman. There's no excuse once Palmeiro reaches 3,000 for him to ever see a plate appearance against a southpaw again, unless he's the last guy on the bench with the bases loaded at an NL park down by three with one out remaining in the game.