Monday, August 3, 2009

First Impressions

They say first impressions mean the world. Thousands of recent college grads base their entire summer on those sweaty first impressions and a few major leaguers now find themselves facing similar tasks. The difference: these guys already got the job.

As Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche, Scott Rolen, Jake Peavey, Cliff Lee, Jarrod Washburn, Nick Johnson, Orlando Cabrera and a host of others join their new ball clubs, they find themselves eager to impress their new coaches, their new teammates and a home crowd of curious fans. Some may find that they are more energized in their new environment, while others will falter. Some of those with new teams may thrive in a new situation and with a new home ballpark, while others will see their output take a dive.

It's always interesting to watch a player debut for a new team. Not only is the uniform new, but the man himself may look like an entirely different ballplayer. See Matt Holliday in his new Cardinal red if you want proof.

Now, this is not always the case, mind you, but in his nine games thus far in St. Louis, Holliday has been nothing short of remarkable. He's batting .606 in those nine games, bringing his season average up to .314 (he batted .286 in 93 games in Oakland-respectable). He's hit three homeruns and drove in 10 runs in St. Louis. In 93 games in Oakland, he drove in 54 runs and hit 11 homeruns, which is nothing to scoff at, of course.

Holliday's example is merely an indication of the energy players may summon when they are traded to a team in the midst of a hotly competitive division race when not two weeks ago they were nothing more than an easy two or three wins for opposing teams.

While it's been clear that Holliday will have a great impact on his Cardinal teammates, it may be a bit too early to judge the impact that some of the other players who moved around these past couple of weeks will have on their new team. They've only just debuted for crying out loud!

Pfft. What did Matt Holliday do for his Cardinal debut? He only had four hits, an RBI and a stolen base all in a game where he had to borrow a glove and other equipment from his new teammates because his own equipment had not yet arrived.

Judging by what I am going to dub the 'Matt Holliday Gold Standard for Debut Games with a New Ballclub', Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche and friends better pick it up.

Going 1 for 5 with an RBI and a run for the almighty Red Sox? Pick it up, Martinez! Two hits in three tries with a run and a base-on-balls for the Braves? Child's play, LaRoche. Going two for three, with two walks, an RBI, a run, a double and taking one for his new Florida teammates by getting hit by a pitch? Was it the nerves, Nick Johnson? And I guess Justin Masterson's two hit, zero earned runs over three innings with four K's performance for the Indians had something to do with sweaty palms or butterflies in his stomach.

Okay, so it looks like some players are pretty enthusiastic about their new clubs. If one were to make an early prediction as to which player will make the biggest difference for his new team, Holliday's presence in St. Louis or Martinez's bat in Boston will probably prove to be most helpful. But Jarrod Washburn turns Detroit's rotation into possibly the best in the American League (Justin Verlander, Washburn, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Armando Galarraga). When your third pitcher is Edwin Jackson (7-5, 2.64 ERA, 109 K's), you're doing something right. Or Nick Johnson's discipline at the plate could prove to be just what the Marlins were missing. I guess Jake Peavey could do some good for his new White Sox teammates if he pitches again this season. And LaRoche or Scott Rolen could prove useful for their new teams as well.

We probably won't know for sure whose impact will be the greatest until late August or September when the playoff picture starts to take shape a bit. One thing's for certain, though: The deals that took place over the past two weeks will have a major impact on the final landscape of the 2009 season as we move closer and closer to October.

Wait, did I not mention Cliff Lee's four-hit, one earned run, six-strikeout complete game Phillies debut from the mound in San Francisco? Or did I not mention his 2 for 4 night from behind the plate with a double and a run scored? Oops. That might just take the cake. Sorry, Holliday.

Written By Danny Hobrock