What We Learned in Week Four

A trio of things gleaned from the last seven days.

The Cubs won’t be releasing Alfonso Soriano any time soon.

A few weeks ago, there was a kind of bizarre series of articles written about whether the Cubs would be willing to eat the remainder of Soriano’s contract, releasing him outright. He was coming off a miserable 2009 season, and didn’t start off 2010 very well, but it still seemed a bit premature to write the guy off after one wasted season, when he had been worth +16.8 wins over the three prior years.

Soriano drove that point home this week, launching four home runs on his way to hitting .400/.500/1.100, leading the league with a .640 wOBA. He’s now at a .448 wOBA on the season, and while that obviously won’t continue, his rest-of-season ZiPS projection has him at .275/.334/.513, a well above average hitter. He might not be worth his contract, but there shouldn’t be a question over whether Soriano can still play baseball.

Cliff Lee’s abdominal strain doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Making his Seattle debut on Friday night, Lee was better than anyone could have expected after missing all of spring training and the first month of the season with an ab strain that helped torpedo earlier seasons in his career. His velocity was up across the board on all of his pitches over last year’s averages, which is not what you’d expect from a guy making his first start off the DL in April.

He pounded the strike zone, throwing first pitch strikes to three out of every four batters he faced. He showed off the big curveball and diving change-up that helped him shut down the Yankees in October, getting swinging strikes with both pitches. In short, he was exactly as good as you remember him being, and showed no ill effects from the lost time. Ab strains are known as injuries that can linger, but if you were concerned about Lee’s health for 2010, his performance on Friday night should have calmed most of those fears.

Clay Hensley has reinvented himself.

You may remember Hensley as a sinkerballing back-end starter, a guy who had some success with San Diego a few years ago by getting hitters to pound his two-seam fastball into the ground. He didn’t throw enough strikes or miss enough bats to make it work long term, however, so now, he’s ended up as a reliever with the Marlins. And he’s decided to throw the old gameplan out the window, with great success.

Last week, Hensley made two appearances out of the pen, facing 19 batters. He struck out 13 of them. He has now struck out 21 of the 55 batters he has faced this year, a whopping 14.92 K/9. His groundball rate has plummeted from 51 percent to 31 percent, as he’s now featuring his curveball and change-up much more frequently. In short, he’s a totally different pitcher than he was a few years ago, and the Marlins look to be the big beneficiary of his overhaul.

He won’t keep striking out 40 percent of the batters he’s faced, of course, but you can’t fluke your way into this kind of performance without there being a drastic underlying change. Hensley has rebooted his career, and his previous performances are almost entirely irrelevant to projecting his future. It will be interesting to see how he performs going forward, and whether the Marlins can replicate this success with other near wash-out pitchers. Whatever they did, it worked.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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14 years ago

For now Dave, the Marlins will have to wait to find out about Hensley. He’s on the bereavement list for the time being after finding out about a death in the family. Still, I too was shocked to see how Hensley was doing this. He recently racked up 7 K in a three-inning relief effort which made me do a double-take. It may be worth digging into further.