It’s been a little busy around these parts the last couple of days, so I don’t have time for a full article. Here are a few of my news, notes, and observations.
Can someone please explain the fascination of Aaron Cook? Seriously. I really don’t understand it. I realize he posted a 3-0 record with a sparkling 1.89 ERA in 33-1/3 inning for Pawtucket, but what makes you think he’s going to repeat that level of success in the majors? His unbelievably pedestrian 13/11 K/BB ratio? Yes, I understand. Cook is not a strikeout pitcher. He’s a groundball specialist. Still, his ERA is completely unsustainable with that ratio, as his 3.80 FIP indicates.
Cook’s success has largely been a mirage. He’s been incredibly lucky with balls in play (.232 BABIP), and home runs (0.27 HR/9). Much of that can be attributed to having Jose Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks playing behind him on the left side of the infield. With both players being replaced by Mike Aviles and Kevin Youkilis (once Youk returns from the DL), the likelihood Cook continues his batted ball success is pretty unlikely.
Another issue I have is that Cook is being treated like a savior. Over the previous two seasons with the Rockies, he’s been an oft-injured starter who’s made only 40 starts, hurled only 224-2/3 innings, and provided only 2.6 fWAR in value. In other words, he’s hardly a world beater. Honestly, the best role for him is either as a sixth starter or swingman. If he’s doing anything other than that, the Red Sox are in some trouble.
While I’m just as excited as anyone about this kid, let’s try to temper our expectations a bit. Yes, his .468 wOBA for Pawtucket in 100 plate appearances is absolutely disgusting. Yes, his 2-for-3 performance with a walk, double, and stolen base makes me all warm and tingly inside when I think about his potential. Still, it’s important to remember he’s a 23 year old third baseman with a lot to still learn about plate discipline. Furthermore, we need to recognize the small sample in which he’s done his damage this season.
I’m not saying he’s not a supremely talented individual, but he’s playing far above his true talent level. I’m more interested in seeing how he adjusts to AAA pitching once he goes into a slump. To me, that’s the key. Eventually the International League pitching will adjust to him, and they’ll start exploiting some of his weaknesses. How he adjusts will be key in determining whether or not he can be a quality major league player.
I’m a little irritated with Big Papi. I think he’s found the “Fountain of Youth,” and he’s keeping it all to himself. Really though, how else would you explain his production of the past two seasons? For three straight seasons, he couldn’t hit lefties to save his life. Now, he’s mashing them to the tune of a .569 wOBA. While the 31 plate appearance sample is incredibly small, it’s at least an indication that last season’s success against LHP wasn’t completely a mirage.
Another interesting development is his improved plate discipline. After seeing his strikeout rate top 20% in 2009 (21.4%) and 2010 (23.7%), he cut his rate nearly in half in 2011 (13.7%). In addition, he improved his overall contact rate to 83.3%, a career high, after spending most of his career making contact in the 75-80% range. This is something of a rare occurrence in young players, but it’s incredibly rare for a player in his age-35 season. Naturally, most of us figured he’d regress in 2012. So far, that hasn’t happened. His strikeout rate has dipped a little further to 12.7%, and he’s improved his contact rate to 85.6%.
I fully expect to see some regression in both categories, but it appears Papi’s made some major long-term adjustments at the plate. It wil be interesting to see how much longer he can keep this going.