Redemption and regression
Paul Konerko and Jeff Weaver, among others, had a lot coming into this season. So, how have they fared?
Before this season began, one of my columns put together what I called the "Put Up, Shut Up" All-Star team -- young major leaguers who had produced for a while but, entering 2004, had seen their reputations take a serious dive. Pat Burrell. Paul Konerko. You get the idea -- players who, at the time, had watched their exclamation points morph into serious question marks.
A half-season later, it seems appropriate to check in on these fellows and see whether they've straightened themselves -- and those punctuation marks -- out. When you do, it becomes very clear that when you have talent, you can't be held down for long ...
First base: Paul Konerko, White Sox
2004 performance: Back to his slugging ways, Konerko was batting .284-24-62 through Tuesday. His 40 walks vs. 56 strikeouts reinforce that this is a pretty smart hitter. Many believe he should have made the AL All-Star team.
Put up or shut up: Put up. Not only is Konerko back in business, but he and Mark Teixeira are probably the AL's hardest-hitting first basemen.
Second base: Luis Rivas, Twins
On the list because: His well-regarded package of tools had still translated to just a .259-8-43 season in 2003, a season in which the Twins considered optioning him to the minor leagues.
2004 performance: Still hovering at .259-5-19, Rivas continues to frustrate the Twins with his bad habits. He has spurts of skill but then starts hitting the ball in the air too much and failing to use his speed. The Twins have started to bench him occasionally as deterrence for this.
Put up or shut up: Shut up. At this point, the best thing about Rivas is that he's still turning only 25 next month. But he ain't the prospect he used to be. Can you say "nontender"?
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
On the list because: After making two All-Star teams in his first 1½ years in the big leagues, Rollins devolved into a .263-hitting out machine who didn't steal very effectively. (His 1,512 outs over his first three years were by far the most in baseball.) The patience of even his biggest fan, manager Larry Bowa, began wearing thin.
2004 performance: Considering his ghastly .183 April, Rollins has bounced back quite well, raising his monthly OPS from .530 to .689 to his .868 June, when he drove in an amazing 20 runs despite batting leadoff. Still slugging a shocking .375 overall, however, Rollins needs to add more punch to his game to be a true offensive asset.
Put up or shut up: Put up. But he'd better keep improving in the second half.
Third base: Adrian Beltre, Dodgers
On the list because: Yeah, he hit between 20 and 23 home runs in three of the last four years, but Beltre was flailing wildly at the plate, reaching base at a putrid .290 rate last season. Classic baseball enigma.
2004 performance: Perhaps encouraged by this being is his free-agent year, Beltre has blossomed into the hitter many expected, batting .326-25-63 and sizzling after the break. His .981 OPS ranks third among third basemen despite his playing half his games in Dodger Stadium.
Put up or shut up: Put up. The question now is how much prospective suitors will pay him for finally breaking out.
Catcher: Michael Barrett, Cubs
On the list because: Somewhat due to a few nagging injuries, Barrett still capped his decline with a .208-10-30 2003 season while losing his starting job to Brian Schneider.
2004 performance: Has rebounded nicely, batting .296-11-45. His .839 OPS is actually second among qualifying NL backstops, making him a relative stealth force for the contending Cubs.
Put up or shut up: Put up. This was not exactly unpredictable -- a good portion of players reach their offensive peak at Barrett's age of 27 -- but Barrett has become the offensive asset many felt he would someday.
Outfield: Pat Burrell, Phillies
2004 performance: Work with Phillies coach Charlie Manuel seems to have done wonders for Burrell. His .267-15-62 numbers might not project to 2002's monster season, but seem in between that and a perhaps more typical 2001 (.258-27-89).
Put up or shut up: Put up. He's still overpaid, given that the Phillies expected him to improve as he hit his late 20s, but they aren't complaining.
Outfield: Adam Dunn, Reds
On the list because: Yeah, he had power. Yeah, he walked a lot. But when you're a 6-foot-6 monster who quickly regresses to a .215 hitter who hits homers but no singles or doubles, you're nowhere near the force you should be.
2004 performance: Dunn's stat line looks very promising, standing at .263-26-57, but he still has been shockingly streaky, posting monthly OPSs of 1.288, .717, 1.052 and .889. He still hasn't figured out how to tap his potential, and Dunn would be the first to admit it.
Put up or shut up: Put up. But there's more there, and people are getting anxious to see it.
Outfield: J.D. Drew, Braves
On the list because: Drew had shown flashes of his five-tool talent over the years, posting .286-27-77 numbers per 500 at-bats. The problem was that persistent injuries, particularly to his legs, made many wonder if he'd ever put in a full season.
2004 performance: Finally healthy for an extended period, Drew has been red hot, batting .314-22-59 with 63 walks. His 1.048 OPS leads all right fielders by 40 points.
Put up or shut up: Put up. Just in time for a Boras bonanza.
Pitcher: Ben Sheets, Brewers
On the list because: Sheets' 11-13 record last year was OK for the dreadful Brewers, but his 4.45 ERA, 17 points over the league average, was very disturbing. It was fair to wonder if the 438 innings he had pitched at 23 and 24 might wind up robbing Sheets of his potential.
2004 performance: Potential attained. Sheets is now 9-6 with a major league-leading 2.28 ERA. Even better, he has such control of his otherworldly curve that he has struck out 141 batters in 130 innings, with just 20 walks.
Put up or shut up: Put up. It's important that Sheets reinforce his status with a strong second half, but he clearly has turned the corner.
Pitcher: Mark Buehrle, White Sox
On the list because: Perhaps the least-deserving member of the Put Up Or Shut Up team, Buehrle had nonetheless seen his ERA go from 3.29 in 2001 to 3.58 to 4.14 last year. Although Chicago's poor defense didn't do him any favors, his hits per nine innings also had shot up from 7.6 to 8.9 to 9.8.
2004 performance: Buehrle's record is 9-3, but thanks mostly to his 7.9 average run support, second-most in baseball. He still is giving up a ton of hits -- a career-high 10.3 per nine innings, leading to a mediocre 4.12 ERA. Coughing up 19 homers hasn't helped.
Put up or shut up: Shut up, but only if you think Buehrle is the ace-quality arm he appeared to be a few years ago. He still is a valuable pitcher.
Pitcher: Freddy Garcia, White Sox
On the list because: After fashioning a 12-14 record with a shocking 4.51 ERA for someone with his stuff in big Safeco Field, Garcia had officially become a disappointment whom no one could get a read on -- except hitters, of course.
2004 performance: Garcia went just 4-7 with the Mariners thanks mostly to terrible run support; his 3.20 ERA said much more about his ability to finally use his fastball and changeup in the proper sequences. Months removed from being a Seattle nontender candidate, Garcia was traded on June 27 to Chicago, where he has gone 3-1, 3.95 and might be the key to the AL Central race.
Put up or shut up: Put up. He even has a new $27 million contract to prove it.
Pitcher: Jeff Weaver, Dodgers
On the list because: No one with his stuff should ever go 7-9, 5.99 and bounce out of a major league rotation, New York pressure or not. Moving to his hometown team and a big ballpark in Los Angeles was supposed to bring his promising future into the present.
2004 performance: No such luck. Weaver stands 7-9, 4.26, and still isn't missing nearly as many bats as his quality pitches should.
Put up or shut up: Shut up. Weaver has the potential to go 4-1, 1.80 in any month, but until he does it a few times, he's more of an innings-eater for the Dodgers than a true asset.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His new book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.
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