Grading the Mud Hens

If you asked Chris Shelton to give his Toledo teammates a grade on their performance this season he'd give them a "B". A generous grade given Shelton is the most critical voice in the Mud Hens locker room. The first one to hit the weight room after every game and the last one to leave, Shelton is also the most fault-finding on his own performance.

The anchor of the infield and the clubhouse, Shelton is determined to increase his batting production and help the ‘Hens to a worthier grade.

"Sometimes we're a little inconsistent, we go out and win a bunch of games, and then we have stints where we keep losing," Shelton said.

"I guess every team goes through that, but there are times with us where we will score 15 runs one game and then only two the next day," Shelton said.

Manager Mike Rojas is more lenient when he hands out grades to his players. Despite the inconsistencies, Rojas believes his league-leading team has been playing "A-plus baseball all season."

But, records can be deceiving, and so can Rojas' happy-go-lucky grading curve which is why, with the half-way point of the season in the rear view mirror and the trade deadline looming, it's a premier time to hand out our own report cards.

Infielders: B+

What we've seen: Great batting and good fielding. Second baseman Kevin Hooper, Jack Hannahan are batting .308 and .301 respectively, and have combined for only seven errors. Third baseman Mike Hessman had 27 home runs before being called up to Detroit and Chris Shelton is currently batting a respectable .277 with only eight errors through 107 games.

What we'd like to see: A better batting average than .256 for Hessman and more home runs and less strikeouts (112) for Shelton.

Outfielders: A+

What we've seen: Tremendous plate presence from a crafty veteran and a rising star. Timo Perez and Ryan Rayburn have highlighted the Mud Hens box scores all season. Perez leads all Mud Hens starters with a .319 batting average and only two errors. Rayburn led the team in walks before being promoted to Detroit, and also recorded only two errors.

What we'd like to see: The old Brent Clevlen. His .222 batting average makes him a misfit in a situation where even Eerie promote Andres Torres, (.425 batting average) has temporarily thrived.

Catchers: D+

What we've seen: An obvious weak link in the offensive and defensive chains. Dane Sardinha (.201) and Andrew Graham (.230) are among the worst in batting and together have recorded 90 strikeouts in 117 games.

What we'd like to see: Less steals. Graham has only picked off three base runners on 20 attempts and Sardinha has only caught runners stealing in 33 of 83 attempts. That's 36 runners caught stealing in 106 tries for a paltry 34 percent

Starting pitchers: B+

What we've seen: Brilliant shutout streaks in some games, and the occasional shelling in others. Virgil Vasquez and Ron Chiavacci each had streaks of six wins, and Yorman Bazardo went for eight innings in one win and nine innings for another, but all three have had their struggles.

What we'd like to see: Longer outings for Dennis Tankersley (7-5, 4.18 E.R.A), who rarely lasts more than five innings, and has the least amount of innings pitched among all four year-long starters. Less no decisions for Virgil Vasquez who is 9-3 through 19 starts.

Bullpen: C-

What we've seen: A great season out of the pen for Vic Darensbourg (5-2, 1.85 E.RA.) and a respectable 17 saves for Aquilino Lopez.

What we'd like to see: Better support from the top down, most notably Corey Hamman (1-5, 4.78 E.R.A) and Anastacio Martinez (1-2, 4.50 E.R.A). Both have shown no promise this season.

Coaching: A-

What we've seen: Consistent winning in May through July reminiscent of years past made possible by many late-inning rallies and come-from-behind wins.

What we'd like to see: More efficiency both offensively and defensively from the catchers. Less lopsided losses following lopsided wins and a new batting stance for left fielder Chris Maples, who certainly isn't getting any production from his current awkwardness that has earned him a .203 average.

Overall grade: B+

Where to improve: A few more quality starts for the big four: Vasquez, Bazardo, Tankersley, Chiavacci (38 quality starts in 72 games started) could mean less late game losses and blown saves. The ‘Hens could also use some more production from the bottom of their batting order while Hessman and Rayburn are in Detroit. And if the catchers ever decided to catch a runner stealing or get on base, that wouldn't hurt either.

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