Happy Birthday – Curtis Schmidt!

The leading pitcher of the 1991 and 1992 Kansas Jayhawks, Curtis Schmidt went from a 41st round pick of the Montreal Expos to one of the 24 kids who hailed from Montana to make it to the big leagues.

Curtis Schmidt was born 16 March 1970 in Miles City, Montana, a mostly farming community in the southeastern portion of the state.  After graduation, he attended Howard College in Big Spring, Texas before transferring to the Jayhawks for his junior and senior seasons.  The 6′ 5″ Schmidt immediately earned a ticket into the starting rotation with his heavy 90 MPH fastball that led to frequent strikeouts and even more frequent ground balls.  While at KU, he fashioned a 13 – 10 record with a 2.80 career ERA, earning two All-Big Eight Conference awards.

He was drafted in 1991 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round, but chose to return to college.  Then, after completing his eligibility at Kansas, he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 41st round of the 1992 draft.  Assigned to Jamestown in the NY-PENN League, Schmidt showed promise – he struck out nearly a batter per inning, allowed just a lone homer in over 6o innings of work, and just 42 hits in 63+ innings.  Advanced to West Palm Beach in the Florida State League for the 1993 season, Schmidt continued to show growth but it was his 1994 season with AA Harrisburg where Schmidt went from decent minor leaguer to ” blue chip relief prospect.”  Schmidt went 6 – 2 with a 1.88 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 29 in 71.2 innings of work.  He allowed only 51 hits all year, just four of them clearing fences.

He was called up to the Expos in early 1995, where he would face the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field for his first taste of the major leagues on April 28.  Rey Sanchez bunted on the rookie pitcher, beating out a single to open the fifth inning.  Schmidt, whose fastball usually stayed low, did just that – getting Mark Grace to bounce into a double play.  Then, Sammy Sosa flew out to end the inning.  Unfortunately, not all of Schmidt’s outings were that successful.  Getting a late call in September, Schmidt appeared in 11 games, pitching 10.1 innings, but allowed 15 hits and nine walks, leading to a 6.97 ERA.   Between call ups, Schmidt was undefeated for the AAA Ottawa Lynx in 1995, which became his minor league home for the next two seasons as well.  After starting 1997 slowly, Schmidt moved to the Pirates where he pitched better for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League, but was no longer considered a prospect.  Trying one more time, Schmidt pitched for the independent Somerset Patriots in 1998 before calling it a career.

For me and several of my Jayhawk journalism alums, Curtis Schmidt is a throwback name – a time when Dave Bingham was moving the Jayhawks baseball program forward.  Several of my friends spent springs and summers calling games where Schmidt would mow down hitters in Hoglund-Maupin Stadium, whether as a Jayhawk or a member of the semi-pro Maupintour Travelers.  A year after Schmidt left, the Jayhawks were in the College World Series; Schmidt was part of that growth pattern.  And of the many players we covered from that period, Schmidt was one of the few who made it to the pros.

 

Sources:

Curtis Schmidt Page on Retrosheet.org

Curtis Schmidt Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Pascarelli, Peter “It’s Not The System, just bad management”, The Sporting News, 9/12/1994, Pg. 47.

“The playoff share”, The Sporting News, 9/11/1995, Pg. 12.

“Schmidt Tabbed in 41st Round”, Lawrence Journal-World, 6/4/1992

 

 

Mighty Casey Bio: Abraham Lincoln (Link) Bailey

Born February 12, 1895, this future Chicago Cubs pitcher would be named after the president who shared his birthday.

Abraham Lincoln Bailey was born in Joliet, IL, one of nine Bailey kids, where he learned to play baseball in the sandlots of his city.  He grew tall and thick – listed at 6′ 0″ and about 185 pounds, but the few photos of the day suggested that he carried a few pounds more than that.  Still – he threw the ball hard and it was his fastball that drew the attention of Chicago Cubs scouts who saw him play in the old Joliet City League, or on the semi-professional Joliet Rivals, or on a low level team in Kenosha, WI.

When the Cubs finally agreed to terms with Bailey, though, Bailey had already signed up to join the US Army.  Assigned to the 72nd Field Artillery, Bailey spent part of two years in France during World War I.  A picture of Sgt. Bailey even appeared in The Sporting News, alongside much more famous ballplayers who had joined the war, like Pete Alexander.

Interestingly, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Abraham Lincoln Bailey were destined to become teammates – a pair of presidential names gracing the game.  One, a veteran, savvy pitcher who had a reputation for hitting the bottle and the other was a young pitcher needing to harness his game and likely had a reputation for hitting the bakery.  Bailey was “…inclined to be corpulent” and the few articles that mention Bailey note that he didn’t take the game seriously enough and was battling his weight in spring training.

The nickname that followed Bailey into the history books and reference websites is “Sweetbread” – but I haven’t yet figured out where that came from.  He wasn’t called Abe – when Cubs manager Fred Mitchell called him that, Bailey told him, “The folks back home still call me ‘Linc’ for short.”  Many articles refer to him as Link Bailey, so I’ll go with that.

Link Bailey finally joined the Cubs in the 1919 season where he was the ninth or tenth man on a ten man pitching staff.  Appearing 21 times and getting just five starts, Bailey went 3 – 5 for Chicago with an ERA of 3.15.  He struggled in 1920, though – giving up 55 hits in just 36.2 innings, he finished with a 1 – 2 record and a horrific 7.12 ERA.  Bailey came back in 1921, got himself in pretty good shape, but still struggled in 1921, so the Cubs waived him in May of that season.  The Brooklyn Superbas picked Bailey up on waivers, gave him seven appearances in May and June, and sent him off to New Orleans for some seasoning.

At first, Link Bailey found success in the minors – he won ten of fourteen decisions in the Southern Association.  He stayed in New Orleans for the 1922 season and turned in a 12 – 13 record in 39 outings – the 208 innings he logged that year would be the most he would pitch in professional ball.  However, he was done in New Orleans.  He moved to Beaumont in the Texas League in 1923, going 3 – 2 in seven games and was released.  Bailey returned home to Joliet and made his life there so he could be closer to his family.

Unfortunately, like his baseball career, his life ended too soon.  He developed cancer of the pituitary gland, which affected him for the last years of his life.  Bailey died at the home of his sister on 27 September, 1939.

Sources:

Link Bailey Page on Retrosheet.org

Link Bailey Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
(Majors)
(Minors)

A Picture of Sgt. A. Lincoln Bailey appears in the 3/13/1919 issue of The Sporting News on page 6. “Notables Among the National League’s Brave Hundred”

George S, Robbins. “Chicago Cubs.” The Sporting News, 3/13/1919, Page 6.

“Famous Names”, Chicago Eagle, 8/2/1919, Page 7.

Oscar C. Seichow. “Popular Song Will Fit Fred Mitchell”, The Sporting News, 4/8/1920, Page 1.

Oscar C. Seichow. “Big Change in Evers Comes With Years”, The Sporting News, 3/10/1921, Page 1.

“Dodgers Count Hal Janvrin Real Asset”, The Sporting News, 6/23/1921, Page 3.

“Necrology”, The Sporting News, 10/5/1939, Page 15.

2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

I’m watching Opening Day on ESPN and decided I might as well write while I am getting settled in…  To be fair, with the Florida Marlins having decided to trade away all the talent they had recently acquired, I chose to find a new team to follow closely in 2013 – and that team is the Houston Astros.

Here’s a quick summary of where they are coming from:

Recent Records:
2012: 55 – 107 (Last, NL Central)
2011: 56 – 106 (Last, NL Central)
2010: 76 – 86 (4th, NL Central)
2009: 74 – 88 (5th, NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75 (3rd, NL Central)

This is a team that has hit rock bottom – even that team from five years ago was a bit of a fluke, having given up more runs than they had scored that year.

2012 Summary:
Home:  35 – 46
Away:  20 – 61 (ouch)

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

There is a simple way to look at this.  A team that scores 100 runs more than it allows is likely to win 90 games.  The converse is also true.  At 200 runs, it’s another ten wins – 100 wins or 100 losses.  The Astros allowed 211 runs more than they scored – hence the lousy record.  So – things have to be looking up, right?

Record by Month:
April:  9 – 14
May:   13 – 15
June:  10 – 17
July:   3 – 24
Aug:    5 – 22
Sept:  15 – 15

The Astros started 3 – 1, were reasonably competitive through 45 games, and not altogether awful heading into the last week of June.  Then, Houston lost the last six games of the month and the first six of July.  After breaking that streak, they lost four in a row, then twelve more in a row – 28 of 30 games were lost…  When the month ended, anyone with any trade value was gone.  August wasn’t much better…  What team has ever had a stretch where they won just eight of sixty games?

Feeling Optimistic?

Beginning on September first and covering the last 30 games, the Astros played .500 ball.  Houston edged Cincinnati, toppled Philadelphia, split with Pittsburgh, edged Milwaukee, and split with Chicago.  Only St. Louis proved troublesome, taking five of six.  They did this without scoring a lot of runs – only 102 runs were scored in that period.  What allowed this to happen was that their pitching staff tossed a number of gems down the stretch, including three straight shutouts over Milwaukee and Chicago at the very end of the season.  In eleven of these wins, the Astros threw six shutouts and allowed just one run in five other starts.

Opening Day Lineup:
CF: Jordan Schafer
2B: Jose Altuve
LF: J.D. Martinez
1B: Carlos Lee
RF: Brian Bogusevic
3B: Chris Johnson
C: Jason Castro
SS: Marwin Gonzalez
SP: Wandy Rodriguez

Regulars by Games Played:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee (gone…)
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Jed Lowrie (gone…)
3B: Chris Johnson (gone…)
LF: J.D. Martinez
CF: Justin Maxwell
RF: Brian Bogusevic (gone…)

4OF: Jordan Schafer
C2: Chris Snyder
UT: Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene?

SP: Lucas Harrell
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Jordan Lyles
SP: Wandy Rodriguez (gone…), Dallas Keuchel
SP: J.A. Happ (gone…)
CL: Brett Myers (gone…), Wilton Lopez
RP: Brandon Lyon (gone…)
RP: Wesley Wright
RP: Francisco Rodriguez (gone…)
RP: Rhiner Cruz
RP: Fernando Abad

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

Lost Jason Michaels and Clint Barmes to free agency…  Michaels spent the year as an insurance policy for the Nationals in their AAA Syracuse affiliate, and likely is looking to become a coach.  As for Barmes, he moved to Pittsburgh and hit like someone who is 33 and running out of seasons.

NOV (2011):

Added Carlos Corporan, Travis Buck as free agents; claimed infielder Brian Bixler off of the waiver wire.

DEC (2011):

Traded Marc Melancon to Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.  Melancon had been a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2011, but was miserable in Boston and eventually demoted to AAA.  Weiland had an infection in his throwing shoulder that required surgery and hopefully can return in 2013, but I would be leery of high expectations owing to a general lack of control.  I see him as a spot starter/long reliever type.  Jed Lowrie is a pretty good ballplayer, so the trade was a good one.

Claimed Rhiner Cruz off of waivers.  This was, at best, organizational depth as Cruz had just been promoted to AA Binghamton in an eight year career drifting in the low minors.  Putting Rhiner on the major league roster when he has no idea where the strike zone is (his mid-90s fastball has crazy movement and he can’t control his breaking ball) showed how little major league talent the Astros had.  I mean, Cruz walked 45 batters in 71.2 innings in the minors in 2011.

JAN (2012):

Here, the Astros were looking to find as many players who might be able to do SOMETHING as possible.

Signed, as free agents, Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, Chris Snyder, Jack Cust, and Fernando Martinez (waiver claim).

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

After (and during) spring training, the Astros released Hernandez, Duke and Cust, moved anyone who needed time to the minors, and made one trade…

Acquired LHP Kevin Chapman from the Royals for OF Jason Bourgeois and C Humberto Quintero.  Bourgeois was, like Melancon, a nice surprise in 2011 but is a 30-year-old outfielder with no long-term future.  Quintero is, at best, a backup catcher and the Astros had other options.  Chapman at least represents a future – had 90Ks in 62 innings in 2011, and built on that in 2012.  He still needs work (especially with his control), but at least he has a shot to be a late inning contributor very soon.

JULY:

The Astros, as sellers, moved what they could for prospects:

Carlos Lee (and cash) to the Marlins for 3B Matt Dominquez (good glove, minor bat) and LHP Rob Rasmussen (could be a starter in 2014).

Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski (decent arm, not overmatched at AA, doesn’t miss enough bats), David Rollins, and Carlos Perez (athletic catcher, decent arm, not much offense).

Brett Myers to the White Sox for prospects Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters.

Wandy Rodriquez to Pittsburgh for Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman, and Rudy Owens.

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

If nothing else, that’s a lot of prospects.  If you see the kids producing in 2014 and the Astros making steady improvement, then these deals worked.  Seeing as the team went belly up in July and August of 2012, this did nothing to help the guys who were left behind to play.

By the way, Ben Francisco only hung around for a month.  He was shipped to Tampa for a player to be named later.  (That player was LHP Theron Geith.)  Despite being a pretty good outfielder, Francisco hasn’t been able to keep a regular job and at 31 seems destined to be a fourth outfielder for a few more years.  Geith, however, has a bright future.  In two minor league seasons, Geith has a 2.66 ERA, 83Ks in 84.2 innings, and just 18 walks.  He will be on the roster by 2014, and maybe next September.

Key Injuries:

Jed Lowrie missed time leaving spring training with a bruised thumb.  Kyle Weiland made three starts and went down with what was then termed shoulder bursitis.

Relievers Fernando Abad (intercostal strain) and Rhiner Cruz (ankle sprain) missed time in May.

June brought minor injuries to Travis Buck (Achilles tendinitis), Carlos Lee (strained hamstring) Marwin Gonzalez (bruised heel), Bud Norris (spraineed knee), Wilton Lopez (sprained elbow), and Justin Maxwell (loose bodies in ankle).

Jordan Schafer, Jed Lowrie, and Francisco Cordero spent some time on the DL in August and early September, Cordero wound up missing the rest of the season with a foot injury just six awful outings after his arrival.  He really wasn’t missed, and – as he turns 37 in May – has already been released.

Cordero’s was the only injury of signifigance.  Jed Lowrie missed a lot of games, but with small injuries that kept him out a couple of weeks at a time.

[Writer’s Note:  I had pulled much of this together a while ago when I had decided to become a Houston Astros fan.  The Astros got the Rangers in order in the first, but the Rangers did the same to the Astros – in part thanks to a bad call at second on a stolen base attempt by Jose Altuve.  If the Astros are lousy this year, it could just be that I have jinxed them.]

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

The rotation appears to be Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Brad Peacock, and Erik Bedard.

Lucas Harrell is pretty good.  He gets some strikeouts but he walks a few too many guys.  Bud Norris has better stuff, but has been way more inconsistent, especially on the road.  Even at that, he’s marginally below average with a chance to become really good.  Bud Norris is the type of guy you might consider drafting in your fantasy league this year…

Philip Humber is trying, again, to get his career on track.  Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox, but otherwise was awful.  He CAN pitch, but he can also think his way into oblivion.  If Humber can find his way, the Astros will have found a gem.  The problem is that his track record doesn’t give you a whole lot of reason for hope.

A guy who might, however, is Brad Peacock. The Palm Beach, FL native navigated his way through the minors, getting better every year, until he got a test drive with the Washington Nationals in 2011, where he wasn’t half bad.  Moved to Oakland, he spent 2012 in Sacramento, where he held his own despite being in a league that pounds pitchers.  After a pretty nice spring, he’s going to see if he’s ready for 25 – 30 starts.

Finally, Erik Bedard might be able to help – if he can stay healthy.  Having missed essentially two and half of the last five years, Bedard has been reasonably successful – well, at least until last year when he went 7 – 14 for Pittsburgh.  His walk rate was too high, and his ERA went over 5 (5.01), but there are reasons to think that he can be better than he was last year – starting with the fact that he has always been better than he was last year.

So, just trying to see if the rotation is better, at first glance, the answer is probably no.  Harrell and Norris are the same (though Norris might be slightly better).  I don’t buy that Humber is better than Jordan Lyles was in 2012, and Erik Bedard won’t be as good as a partial season of Wandy Rodriguez.  If one pitcher surprises, it might be Peacock who COULD be as good as J.A. Happ was.  So, let’s go with the team allowing perhaps 30 extra runs here.

Relief Pitchers:

The Astros are going to give the closer job, at least at first, to Jose Veres, who has four career saves.  Veres isn’t awful, but he isn’t a big time closer.  Brett Myers wasn’t awesome last year, so that’s not a big loss.  I was surprised that Wilton Lopez didn’t get a second chance, he pitched well enough, but the Astros went with younger arms – Hector Ambriz, Xavier Cedeno, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Fields, Edgar Gonzalez, and Wesley Wright.

This group will be no better or worse than last year.

Cruz had a 6.05 ERA last year – is that really worthy of a significant role?  Wesley Wright wasn’t half bad for a situational lefty.  Xavier Cedeno was league average and could be better.  Edgar Gonzalez has been around and he’s never been a dependable option.  The guy I like is Hector Ambriz, who fanned 22 in 19 innings in a late call last year.  He could wind up the setup man before all is said and done.

Catchers:

Last year’s catchers were league average in total, but had a few weaknesses, including starter Jason Castro not being too solid against the run.  Chris Snyder is gone, so Carlos Corporan is back as the backup.  He looks like he can throw.  Castro isn’t a bad hitter – he was slightly above average because he showed a little power and a little patience while hitting .257.  Chris Snyder hit .176 and didn’t hit enough to be worth keeping around.  Corporan can hit better than that – maybe .240 with a few homers, so that would be a step forward offensively.  If Castro can be stronger against the run that would help immensely.  This unit should score about 15 more runs than in 2012.

Infielders:

Three-quarters of the infield in use toward the end of the season returns – Brett Wallace at first, Jose Altuve at second, and Matt Dominguez at third.  Jed Lowrie is gone, replaced by Ronnie Cedeno.  Wallace is getting better defensively, Altuve is slightly below average as a glove man, but not problematic, and Dominguez is a solid defensive option – far better than Chris Johnson.   Cedeno may have more experience, but he won’t put up more runs than, say, Marwin Gonzalez.  They are essentially the same guy.  The problem is that neither is a long-term solution, so as we are following this team, look for them to find a better shortstop through the minors.

Carlos Pena was added to back up Wallace at first and be the primary DH – which will last as long as Pena keeps drawing walks and hitting homers.  I fear, however, that he may not hit .220.

As a unit, this team will probably hold the line offensively (Wallace will help offset the loss of Jed Lowrie), but it could be ten runs better defensively.

Outfielders:

This year’s outfield features Chris Carter, the old Oakland As prospect, Justin Maxwell, and Rick Ankiel – a reclamation project of sorts.  J. D. Martinez will be back as a possible fourth or fifth outfielder, sharing the role with Brandon Barnes.

Defensively, Carter can’t be worse than J.D. Martinez was, and he has the potential to put a lot more runs on the board by virtue of his power and patience.  Justin Maxwell is a better fielder and hitter than Jordan Schafer was – it would be nice if he hit, say, .250 rather than .220, though.  Ankiel hasn’t been a good hitter for a few years, but he’s still better than Brian Bogusevic was, and even if he isn’t, J.D. Martinez can hit better.

As a unit, this team could score about 60 more runs and save ten to fifteen in the field.

[As I reach this point in the essay, Justin Maxwell just hit a high drive off the top of the wall in left for a two-run triple, giving the Astros an early lead.  Woohoo!!!]

Down on the Farm:

Most of the guys who did anything at AAA are on the club, and nobody stands out as a prospect.  Moving to the Corpus Christi Red Hawks, the top prospects at AA would include first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who hit .284 with power, 88 walks, and is 21-years-old.  Another option is shortstop Jonathan Villar, a 22-year-old with speed and some hitting skills.  I’m just not sure he can hit in the majors.  A top pitching prospect might be Jason Stoffel, who fanned 57 in 58 innings, walked just 16, in a relief role.  Jarred Cosart made 15 starts at AA and was decent, but not great.  He is ranked highly by scouting organizations.

At A+ Lancaster, right fielder Domingo Santana impressed with power and average, while centerfielder George Springer has all that and speed, too. Both are free swingers.  Coming up in A Lexington is Delino Deshields II – who plays like his dad, but is a few years away (and only 20).  Another guy making marks include shortstop Carlos Correa, a top pick out of Puerto Rico last year.

Best guess on their record?

They aren’t as good as last September.  They aren’t as bad as last August.  I see the team being 75 runs better offensively, and five runs worse defensively, thanks to a slightly worse starting rotation.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed ratio at about 660/800.  Working against that is the move to the offensively charged AL West, which features the Rangers and Angels, a decent Oakland, and an improving Seattle.  The system calls for 66 wins, which seems a tad bit high.  So, I’ll temper that to 64 – 98, hopefully avoiding a third straight year with 100 losses.  If that happens, let’s consider it a a success and watch for some talent to get added to this young team.

As I finish this, I see that the Astros have extended their lead to 4 – 0 in the fifth over Texas.  If they hold on for the win, it would make for a great start to the season.

Volquez Leaves Early and Everybody Strains a Groin

That didn’t last long…  Edinson Volquez makes his return for the Reds and lasts one inning – leaving with numbness in his pinky and ring fingers of his throwing hand.  An evaluation is forthcoming.

When is nothing a news article?  When a Houston Chronicle writer blogs about the Chicago White Sox showing interest in Roy Oswalt – and then White Sox GM Ken Williams denies that rumor publicly.

The New York Yankees topped Cleveland, setting a new errorless string in the process at 18 games.  A team will make an error at a rate of about five errors every eight games – give or take.  Consider it a coin flip – so to have won that coin flip 18 straight times is pretty remarkable.  It’s also contributed to winning because unnecessary runs don’t show up on the scoreboard.

Ichiro tied his own Mariners record by hitting in his 25th straight game.  MLB.com listed the Mariners who cleared 20 games, and it’s pretty much Ichiro – a lot – with an odd Joey Cora or Richie Zisk tossed in for good measure.

The Cleveland Indians are sharing the injury bug as well as any team.  Rafael Betancourt has been placed on the DL with a strained groin (hope it’s his own), making it eight players on the DL right now.  (Victor Martinez was able to play tonight – so they got lucky there…)  Coming back is Tony Sipp.  Sipp was hurt a couple of years ago, but has those dominating strikeout numbers that makes you hope that he’ll bring the good stuff to the majors – like nearly 12Ks per nine in the minors.  He was crazy wild, though, in his first stint, so let’s hope he leaves that wildness back in Columbus (AAA).

Strained groins are the injury of choice.  The Mets placed Angel Pagan, who was called up because of injuries to every other Mets outfielder (kidding, sort of), on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.

I was watching the Marlins game when two Brewers outfielders left with potential injuries – Mike Cameron and Ryan Braun.  I’m guessing both are day-to-day.  By the way, as a Marlins fan, it was nice seeing Jorge Julio blow a lead for someone else this time…

On the Mend?  Houston’s Jose Valverde threw from a mound for the first time since going to the DL with a calf injury.  The fading Astros need Valverde back as soon as possible.  And, Seattle’s Kenji Johjima says his toe injury is way better than originally feared.  Ervin Santana heads to Salt Lake City for a rehab stint and the Angels are two weeks away from a healthy and solid rotation (one prays).

Anibal Sanchez is going to come off the DL and start for the Marlins on Tuesday.  His rehab start in Jupiter went well and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez hopes to get five good innings out of him.

And, Hiroki Kuroda, who hasn’t started since opening day, came off the DL to start for Los Angeles Monday night.  His return was well timed – the guy who replaced him, Eric Stults, just went to the DL himself.  Kuroda pitched well, but his Dodgers failed to win.

Not on the Mend?  The Yankees got some bad news today – both Xavier Nady’s and Jose Molina’s rehab efforts were curtailed with those nasty twinges…  In Molina’s case, he was catching when his injured quad acted up.  For Nady, it was an elbow that balked at throwing.

Justin Duchscherer’s elbow may be ready, but we’ll never know because he’s got a bad back.

Welcome to the show, Steven Jackson – the Pirates’ choice to replace Donald Veal.  Jackson was a 10th round pick of Arizona in 2004 out of Clemson and has hung around AAA for a few years now.  He has decent control, but not a great strikeout pitch.  Sent to the Yankees in the Randy Johnson deal, he started to show progress in 2008, but didn’t get a shot.  Eventually released, the Pirates grabbed him off the waiver wire a few weeks ago and he’s been okay.  Not a prospect, but he MIGHT eat a few innings for Pittsburgh.

If you are interested in reading more about Barry Bonds and how the Feds are going to appeal decisions that would disallow various testimony in the Bonds perjury trial, click here.

After Randy Johnson, Who’s Next to 300 Wins?

With Randy Johnson going for win #300 this week and Jamie Moyer winning #250 tonight, I wondered what the chances were of finding who was next. There aren’t a lot of guys who are close. Mike Mussina would have been next to 300, but he retired at 40 with 270. He would have had a fighting chance, but admittedly, he was running on a lot of guile and luck and three more years of success might have been a lot to ask for.

I’ll do them by age groups.

Over 40: Jamie Moyer would have to win 50 games more to join Johnson and that means pitching until he’s 50. I think he was lucky to get a two year deal and will not make 270, much less 275. John Smoltz has the goods but an arm that is running out of bullets. And, he’s 90 short when he finally makes it back. That’s six years from now when he’ll be 48. Not likely.

Born in 1970 – 1972: Pedro Martinez has 214 and no job, so it’s hard to see that he’ll make it. Besides, he’s not the same guy and his health hasn’t been solid lately. A year younger and still winning is Andy Pettitte, who turns 37 in a few weeks. He keeps threatening to retire, so that doesn’t bode well, but he has 215 wins, so six good years and he’s got a shot. Let’s see what he’s like two years from now and guess again.

Born 1973 – 1976: Derek Lowe has 126, Bartolo Colon has 150. Only Lowe is still going strong, but 170 wins means 10 really good seasons and he doesn’t usually win 17. Kevin Millwood is at 142, turns 35 on Christmas Eve. He’s probably going to make 200 if he stays healthy, but I doubt it.

Tim Hudson and Livan Hernandez are at 146 and 147, but only Hudson seems young at 34. Livan always seemed six years older than he is. Hudson, if he finds a second life, could make a run at 250 but would need a few really successful seasons. Javier Vasquez turns 33 this year, has always been healthy, and has 127 wins. He could make a run at 250, but he could use some help. He’s never won 20, so if he gets there, it’s by attrition.

Born 1977 – 1979: Roy Halliday (131) and Roy Oswalt (129) are 32 this summer. They’ll likely be around 145, hopefully more, by the end of the year. If it’s 150, eight more good years could get them to 270 and then it’s a matter of knowing how healthy either is at 40. My money will be on Halliday.

Barry Zito leads the 31 year olds with 123 wins. If he finds a new life – certainly possible, he could easily make a run at 250. And, if he has a Moyer resurgence, he could get further. I just don’t know if he’ll make it.

The guys who are 30 in 2009 include Mark Buehrle and Johan Santana. Guess who has more wins? If you guessed the Southsider, you’d be right. Buehrle has 122 and at this rate is well on pace for 250 by 40. If this year’s start is indicative of better things to come, he’d have a legitimate shot at 300. Santana is the better pitcher, but only has 109 wins. He’s going to need about five really good years to pass Buehrle and get on track. I like 250 as his end point, but you never know.

Born 1980 – 1984: Sabathia is already at 117 and counting. With the Yankees, he’s going to be a candidate for 20 wins a lot and if he stays healthy he could hit 35 with more than 225 wins. He’s my top pick to make 300 next. Josh Beckett has 89 wins, and should make 200, but won’t get much past it.

Carlos Zambrano turns 28 on 6/1 and already has 100 wins. He’s ahead of Halliday’s pace and is a horse. I like his chances to blow through 250 and if he stays healthy and doesn’t get too fat, he could make a run at 300. Jake Peavy is also 28 this year, but ten wins behind Zambrano. I like his chances at 250, but I’d like them better if he were on good teams.

The big winners of the 1982 birth year are Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman, neither of whom will be active in 2015. Justin Verlander has 50 wins and will be around 60 when the year is done. He could be around 200 at age 36, so 250 is not impossible. He COULD be really good, but I don’t buy it.

The guys who are 24 or 25 include too many guys with just 30 wins – Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and what not. Three really good years, though, and I’ll think about it.

The one really young guy who is off to a good start is the 23 year old Felix Hernandez. He’s blown by 40 wins and should make 55 at the end of the year. Assuming any luck in good health and good teams, he could easily pass 100 wins by 27, which would make him well prepared for a run at 250 or more.

In sum:

SOLID BETS: Sabathia, Halliday, Zambrano
GOOD BETS: Buehrle, Zito, Verlander, Hernandez
LONG SHOTS: Anyone who is 25.
NO SHOTS: Everyone else.

I’d say that ONE of the guys listed here will make 300, and maybe two.

Price is Right; Did Somebody Tell Whisler’s Mother?

David Price earns his first MLB win last night, with 11Ks in just shy of 6 innings work. Matt Wieters tripled for his first MLB hit. Good day for propsects yesterday…

I watched a little of the DET/BAL game yesterday and Joel Zumaya hit 101 on the gun according to pitchfx data from MLB. The TV monitor said 98. I’m glad it’s not me in the batter’s box.

I also watched the STL/SF game and realized that Barry Zito is the new Scott Sanderson, only left handed. He’s 1 – 6 this year, but he was left out there a little too long and he got no help with his batters unable to hit Chris Carpenter. If Zito were on the Cards, he’d probably win 20 games.

Man, I watched a lot of baseball yesterday – and yet was still productive (somewhat). Among the games I flipped by and watched was a DIV II college championship game between Emporia State (KS) and Lynn University (Boca Raton, FL). I didn’t watch much, but still thought it was cool. Andy – Wilson Kilmer and Dave Bingham both came through Emporia State…

Casualties yesterday? Boston outfielder Rocco Baldelli slid to catch a foul ball yesterday, but jammed his left knee into the wall. Baldelli is another guy who can’t catch a break, but is a pretty good ballplayer when healthy.

Cincy’s Joey Votto is now on the DL citing personal reasons. That can’t be good.

Indian Victor Martinez fouled a ball off his left knee and is day-to-day.

The Indians are not confident that Travis Hafner will be back soon. Apparently his shoulder began hurting again during his rehab stint – frustrating to Pronk as well as the Indians management. The Indians owe Hafner more than $50 million through 2012.

Speaking of injured Indians, Grady Sizemore has a sore left elbow, but has been the DH in recent games. If Pronk were to return and Sizemore still couldn’t throw, he’d be a DL candidate.

Speaking of rehab assignments going awry, Oliver Perez has patellar tendonitis and will likely miss more time. His mechanics are apparently more messed up than the economy.

Chad Tracy had his best day this year for Arizona – three hits and a homer, only to injure a leg running out his last hit. He’s on the DL…

Welcome back: Cliff Floyd is back with San Diego. Guess who was sent down? Drew Macias. Matt Joyce, an outfield prospect, is up with Tampa Bay again. This time, it might stick. He’s got power and patience and has gotten better each year. In a half season with Detroit last year, he did okay. He’s NOT Ryan Braun, but he’s pretty good. Brian Schneider returns to the Mets, which combined with the fine play of Omir Santos, is why Ramon Castro became expendable.

Matt Kata returns to Houston in place of the injured Kaz Matsui. You won’t notice the difference either, except that Kata can’t run like Kaz. He’ll be okay, but won’t make any of our rosters… Sergio Romo is back with the Giants.

Hurry back: Travis Buck, Oakland slugger, has a strained oblique.

On the mend: Elijah Dukes gets a rehab stint with Harrisburg.

Finally, Wes Whisler gets the call for the White Sox. He’s not much of a pitcher, but he can hit some. Should be in the NL as a 13th pitcher, pinch hitter type. Micah Owings with less skills…

NOTE: MLB Transaction Wire provided brief notes for posts here.

Adenhart Dies in Accident; Macias Replaces Injured Floyd

Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was one of three people killed in a hit and run accident in the early hours of Thursday morning in Fullerton (CA). The car in which Adenhart was a passenger was hit by an allegedly drunk driver whose minivan ran a red light and smashed into the smaller Mitsubishi. After impact, the Mitsubishi smashed into a tree, while the driver of the minivan ran away from the scene on foot.

Adenhart was just 22, and had pitched six innings of shutout ball that evening. Last year, getting a quick callup in May, Adenhart was the youngest pitcher in the AL, and was named the top Angel prospect by Baseball America.

Drew Macias was the first player activated by Yahoo Sports after opening day… The San Diego Padres added Macias when Cliff Floyd was moved to the disabled list with a strained right shoulder (big surprise, huh?). The 26-year-old Macias is a pretty quick outfielder, but not necessarily a good base stealer. Since being drafted by San Diego in the 35th round out of Chaffey College, Macias has moved up through the minors one step at a time, getting a September cup of coffee each of the last two seasons. His primary skill appears to be his batting eye – he has hit about .280 most seasons in the minors with a good number of walks, but with little power. With three (reasonably) established players in the outfield (and a fourth outfielder in Scott Hairston), don’t expect Macias to see much playing time except as an occasional pinch hitter or pinch runner.

Philadelphia Phillies: Season Forecast 2008

Philadelphia Phillies

2007: 89-73 (1st NL East)

 

A boast, a stretch run, and an infield with three MVP candidates – and there’s your recap of the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies.  In the spring, shortstop Jimmy Rollins proclaimed his team the team to beat, and then backed it up with more than 200 hits, 30 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 homers.  He was probably the third best infielder, with Ryan Howard continuing his impressive power stroke (and setting a league record with 199 strikeouts) from his spot at first base, and second baseman Chase Utley hitting like Ryne Sandberg in his prime.

 

Meanwhile, they got there despite a rather weak pitching staff.  While the Phillies led the National League in runs scored (892), they also had the fifth most runs allowed (821).  Granted, playing in Citizens Bank Park doesn’t hurt – it was worth 71 extra homers, though the park was not allowing as many more runs than in previous seasons.  In home games, the Phillies and their opponents scored just 29 more runs than they did in road games.

 

The rotation was well below average, with only two regulars (Hamels and Hendrick) being above average pitchers.  So, to win as often as the Phillies did, they were doing it by bludgeoning opponents.  Even the bullpen was weak – only two or three guys held their own, led by former starter turned emergency closer in Brett Myers.  When the Phillies got to the playoffs, the weaknesses of the pitching staff kept them from advancing.

 

Looking Back on 2007

 

Did you know the Phillies have finished at least third in the NL East every year since 2001?  In 2000, they were managed to last place by Terry Francona – who has had far more success for a different franchise.

 

The getaway was problematic.  The Phillies got swept by Atlanta in the opening series and continued to lose for two plus weeks.  After an extra-inning loss at Cincinnati, the Phillies were 4-11, their bullpen was responsible for much of the problems, and Charlie Manual was refuting rumors he was polishing his resume in search of future employment.

 

At this point, Brett Myers was moved to the bullpen, as Tom Gordon was not up to the task of being the closer and the rest of the bullpen, including Ryan Madson and others, were failing at various points of the game.  Ryan Howard, off to a slow start, began hitting homers in May, and the Phillies began the climb toward respectability.  It was a slow climb – not reaching .500 until after game 40, and not getting more than two or three games beyond .500 through the All Star break, at which they were 44-44.

 

Finishing off a west coast swing, the Phillies finally got a hot streak, winning nine of ten to reach 56-49, but still well behind the Mets.  Just when life looked good, the west coast teams headed east and took the momentum away.  After Myers blew a game to San Diego, capping a four game losing streak (and six of seven), Philadelphia was still just 66-62 and looking nothing like a playoff team.  On the morning of September 8th, they were still just six games over .500 and the Mets were in charge of the division.

 

At this point, of course, the Braves couldn’t get hot, the Mets started losing games left and right, and the Phillies ran down the Mets from behind.  Winning 16 of 22, the Phillies got just hot enough at the right time, winning the last game over the Nationals as New York got blasted out of the playoffs by the Marlins.

 

Tell me about that offense

 

It started with Jimmy Rollins, who has great totals achieved through a major league record number of at bats (716) and plate appearances (778).  Rollins led the league with 139 runs scored, which is about as many runs as he is credited with creating.  The sheer scope of his numbers won him an MVP award.

 

The award might have gone to Chase Utley, who could have won it except that he missed a month after getting hit by a pitch in the hand.  Utley hits for a higher average, is more selective at the plate, and hits for just as much power as Rollins.  By my projections, he generated about 19 fewer runs than Rollins, but he did it in 30 fewer games and far fewer outs – he’s worth nearly two runs per 27 outs more than Rollins.  And then you have Ryan Howard.  Despite a slow start,  Howard finished with 47 homers, an on base percentage of .392, and had MVP type statistics.

 

The outfield also produced runs.  Aaron Rowand was the fourth player who created at least 100 runs, hitting .309 with power.  Pat Burrell hit 30 homers, had a higher on base percentage than Ryan Howard, and nearly made it five players creating at least 100 runs.  If he wasn’t regularly replaced defensively at the end of games, he might have made it – he finished at 95 (93.4 if you take away the benefits of playing at home…).  Shane Victorino is lightning fast – 37 steals in 41 tries – and even the catcher, Carlos Ruiz, produced runs.  The only weak spot was at third base.

 

The bench also included Jayson Werth (.400 OBA), Greg Dobbs (10 HRs, .272 AVG), and Michael Bourn (18/19 SBs, decent hitter, and Burrell’s defensive replacement).  This was a solid team.

 

Defensively:

 

On the whole, the Phillies were slightly below average in terms of turning balls in play into outs.  A lot of this was Pat Burrell.  However, the Phillies were also bit below average defensively up the middle.

 

Jimmy Rollins has below average range (-4.7), but makes up for it by being good on the double play and not making errors (just 11 in 162 games).  Chase Utley has above average range, is good turning two, and also doesn’t make errors.  As a whole, the Phillies were slightly above average in the percentage of baserunners removed by double plays.  Howard at first is a hitter – Greg Dobbs was a capable defensive replacement, but nobody is taking Howard off the diamond.  Abraham Nunez can’t hit (he only generated about 22 runs in 250 at bats), but he sure can play the field – with a range score of 16.8 (he takes nearly 17 points off the batting average of the batter), and saving some 20 runs for his pitchers with his glove at third base.

 

The outfield is weak.  Victorino has above average range in right and will be asked to play center in 2008.  He also brings a decent arm.  He and Jayson Werth combined to throw out 17 baserunners last season from right field.  Aaron Rowand, for all the notice he gets running into walls, has below average range (-2.5 range, -6 runs) and isn’t going to get any faster.  Burrell is wrestling with Josh Willingham as the worst left fielder in the NL.  His -9.6 range cost his team nearly 27 runs.  If Jayson Werth could hit .270, with his plate discipline, range, and arm, he’d more than replace Burrell.

 

The starters are costing the team some 10-15 runs behind the pitching staff, though the bench was loaded with glove men who helped close the gap.  On the whole, the defense was -2.0 runs, so much of the defensive blame can squarely be placed on the pitchers.

 

Now Pitching…

 

Cole Hamels was brilliant, winning 15 of 20 decisions and with an ERA of 3.39 in a difficult park.  He continued to strike out nearly a batter an inning and cut his walk rate down to just 43 in more than 180 innings of work.  Jamie Moyer was a shade below average – he won 14 games despite an ERA of 5.01.  (I can remember him being a member of the Cubs rotation in 1987 – ouch…)  He isn’t going to get better.  Hamels might be able to pick up 40 more innings, but Moyer is past his prime, though still reasonably effective.

 

After that, you have Kyle Kendrick.  Kendrick’s 20 starts were effective because he walked even fewer guys than Hamels – 25 in 121 innings.  The problem is his strikeout rate – just 49 on the season.  So, even though he looked good, he looked like Allan Anderson – so, unless he starts finding ways to send batters to the bench without putting the ball in play, he’s a candidate to go 4 – 13 or 7 – 17 in a season where he gets no run support (he got 6.35 runs per start in 2007).

 

At least Kendrick held his own.  In 30 starts, Adam Eaton had an ERA of 6.29.  The former Astros prospect had nothing.  He peaked before the all star break – if the season had continued, he would have had the ERA of a Boeing jet.  That’s not going to work.  Sadly, the Phillies couldn’t replace him, so this is going to remain a hole all season.  Part time starters Kyle Lohse, Jon Lieber, J. D. Durbin, and Freddy Garcia (out with injury after ten starts) weren’t much help.

 

In the bullpen, you had Brett Myers who was the ace but still had an ERA of 4.33.  Tom Gordon, also active in the eighties with the Royals, was average at best.  Jose Mesa was given 39 innings (1987, Baltimore).  Ryan Madson was pretty good, Geoff Geary was okay – and after that, the bullpen was generally easy pickings.  By my take, the staff was about 30 runs worse than the average pitching staff.

 

Forecasting 2008:

 

Obviously, Jimmy Rollins thinks these guys can compete.  Let’s see if the numbers support this theory.

 

It would be hard to improve upon the team offensively.  Rowand is gone, signing a free agent deal in San Francisco, and Victorino, while showing a little growth in 2007, will likely generate 20 runs fewer in 2008 than Rowand did in 2007.  It would be hard to believe that Rollins can do better than he was in 2008 – he might decline by 10 to 15 runs just because he’s going to turn 30 and may have peaked last year.  Utley and Howard should maintain current levels (it’s scary to think Howard MIGHT have a big season yet in front of him, but you never know).  At third, the Phillies signed Pedro Feliz from San Francisco, who is probably as good a hitter as Nunez, Dobbs, and Wes Helms combined – and their equal in the field.  If Feliz plays a full season, he’s just going to have their stats if you added them up (20 – 90 – .270).  So, that’s not an improvement or a decline.

 

Pat Burrell isn’t going anywhere – he’ll be the same player regardless.  Jayson Werth is about as good as a full season of Victorino – maybe ten runs better.  The Phillies might miss Michael Bourn, a solid bench player and good fielder who spelled him.  On the whole, I see the offense declining, though, by about 40 runs.

 

The big change to the pitching staff is moving Brett Myers to the rotation and adding Brad Lidge to the closer role.  Even if Lidge is decent, is he better than Myers?  Looks like a wash to me.  Myers as a starter will be better than any of the four ousted starters (Lohse, Garcia, Lieber, Durbin), so that’s worth 20 – 30 runs.  But Adam Eaton is still there.  Assume Hamels is five runs better, which makes up for Moyer possibly being five runs worse.  Kyle Kendrick is probably going to decline unless he strikes guys out – he could be 10 runs or more worse than in 2007 – and worse if he gets a lot of innings and struggles.  In total, that’s an improvement of about 10 – 15 runs, tops.  After that, it’s a lot of question marks covering last year’s question marks.

 

By my take, the Phillies win 85 games this year, which is probably five fewer than the Braves.

 

Down on the Farm:  A quick look at the prospect list…  There were NO prospects in AAA last year – and it’s amazing how many Ottawa Lynx players were in their 30s.  So, don’t expect any immediate impact players here.

 

The best hitter in Reading (AA) was Mike (Get In Here) Constanzo, who hit for power and walked some (27-86-.270, with 75 walks), but he struck out 157 times.  At 24, he’s going to have to hurry to make the big leagues and now Feliz is in his way.  Centerfielder Javon Morgan has speed and discipline as well.  Fabio Castro was wheeled through the system after a solid (but short) run in AA – he’s 23 and likely on the roster in 2008.  He strikes out a lot of guys but occasionally has problems with the strike zone itself.  The guy I thought did well was Matt Maloney, a third round pick from the University of Mississippi in 2005, but he was shipped to the Reds for 11 starts of Kyle Lohse.  They’ll miss him – Maloney fanned 115 in 125 innings, walked only 43 – but could have a hard time making the Reds rotation in 2008.  If the Reds are in contention and need a player, he’ll be trade bait for sure.  I think he can pitch.

 

At Clearwater (A+), I like catcher Louis Marson, even though he’s taken a while to get his career rolling.  He’s just 22, though, has plate discipline and hopefully he can make his way to the Phillies in a couple of years.  Jeremy Slayden has power and some discipline, but is already 25 so time is running out.  Andrew Carpenter (17-6, 3.20) had a good year for the Thrashers, making Long Beach State alumni happy.  Also, Joshua Outman, who has a perfect name for a future closer, was 10-4 with 117 Ks in 117.1 innings.  He was promoted to AA by the end of the season, which means the Central Missouri State alum might be in the majors in 2008 if the bullpen needs help (it does).

Kansas City Royals: 2008 Season Forecast

Kansas City Royals

2007: 69-93 (5th AL Central)

 

Here’s a trivia question for you.  What player led the Royals in homers in 2007?  Whether you know or don’t know the answer to that question, one trip through the statistics identifies the biggest problems facing the Royals in 2008: finding a cleanup hitter and a solid number five hitter.

 

(It was catcher John Buck, with 18.)

 

Usually when discussing the Royals, you would lead with the weak pitching staff – but that’s not the biggest problem anymore.  Kansas City was 9th in the AL in runs allowed, allowing nearly 200 fewer runs than they had in 2006.  They were last in the AL in offense.  Only two NL teams, both playing in brutal parks (San Francisco and Washington) scored fewer runs than the Royals.  One assumes that if the Royals had been in the NL, they would have finished another fifty runs below the 706 runs they scored, thanks to not playing a DH.

 

Only two Royals hit more than ten homers.  The three regular outfielders (Mark Teahan, David DeJesus, and Emil Brown) combined for 20 homers, which would be a low total for one corner outfielder on any other team (most teams, anyway – Cleveland didn’t get homers from the corners, but got them from the infield and centerfield instead).

 

So, if you were the General Manager of this team, you’d look to make some deals, promote hitters in the minors, and draft some bombers for a couple of years to help the young pitchers catch a break.  They have to help that young pitching staff by scoring a few more runs.

 

Looking Back on 2007

 

Kansas City got off to a slow start, to say the least.  After opening at home with Boston and Detroit, the Royals hit the road and lost six in a row and seven of nine.  Before too long, it was the middle of May and the Royals were 11 – 26 on the season.

 

However, at this point, the team actually played pretty well.  They won eight out of ten to get back within nine games of first place.  Just when life looked good, another losing streak knocked the Royals to 21 – 38.  Amazingly, Buddy Bell still had a job managing the club.

 

Having just lost a 1 – 0 game to C.C. Sabathia, Kansas City started to get some good pitching.  Brian Bannister joined the rotation, along with former reliever Zach Greinke.  Gil Meche, added for $55 million at the beginning of the year, showed he could pitch like an ace despite a severe lack of run support.  The Royals got three good starts each trip through the rotation and from D-Day to the All Star Break, they played solidly, winning 17 and losing just 12 games.

 

Through July and August, Kansas City continued to play well, if just slightly below 500.  For the three months from June 6th to September 3rd, these guys – with two holes in the rotation, just a little middle relief, and a surprise closer in Joakim Soria, who was a huge surprise, went 41 – 37.  Unfortunately, trying out a few rookies down the stretch, the good fortune was dispatched and the Royals faded to a 69 – 93 record, losing 18 of 25.

 

Still, the 2007 should have left fans with hope.  And with a new manager, Trey Hillman coming over from Japan after years of coaching in the Yankees organization, Kansas City stands on the brink of becoming a respectable team again.

 

Tell me about that offense

 

There has to be someone out there who can help.

 

Well, the best hitter on the team last year was Mark Teahen.  Playing a pretty solid right field, Teahen hit like a decent fielding second baseman, batting .285, drawing a few walks, stealing a few bases, and while he didn’t hit many homers (7), he did hit 31 doubles and 8 triples.  But if that’s the best guy, that’s a problem.

 

Actually, the best hitter might have been Mike Sweeney, who missed half the season with a bad back.  Again.  Sweeney was allowed to leave and take his bad back with him and he signed with Oakland for 2008.  Mark Grudzielanek hit .302, but missed 30% of the season.  The veteran second baseman will be back.  The good news is that there is some hope on the horizon.

 

Rookie Alex Gordon struggled for four months, but finished strong.  His 15 homers were second on the team, his 60 RBIs missed by two of leading the team (Emil Brown had 62).  He’s no George Brett, but he’s going in the right direction.  Billy Butler is a stocky hitter (listed at 6’1” and 240 lbs.), finishing with 9 HRs and 52 RBIs in just 92 games.  He’s a good enough hitter, though, and was just 21.  At Omaha, he showed power and patience – something the Royals desperately need.  He just might bat cleanup in 2008.

 

The aforementioned Buck led his team in homers, but he’s an average hitter at best.  Sadly, his backup, Jason LaRue, batted .148 (!) and struck out in 38% of his 169 at bats.  Ouch.  One thinks the Royals could find SOMEBODY to back up Buck and hit the Mendoza line.  Mike Piazza is still waiting for a contract – get one in the mail to him right away.  Actually, the Royals picked up Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo, which is a significant step up.

 

David DeJesus didn’t hit too well, but he drew some walks and got hit by 23 pitches to lead the team in on base percentage.  Joey Gathright has no power, but hit .307 with 20 walks in 250 plate appearances.  Having a little speed, he may find a spot in centerfield in 2008.  Gathright came over from Tampa Bay in 2006 and has had four chances in the majors – each time playing a bit better than the last, but never sticking.  It’s time to give him a full season of at bats as he turns 26 this year.  Emil Brown added a little speed to his punchless attack (another one allowed to leave and head to Oakland), and Ross Gload hit okay in 300+ at bats, showing a little power, but little patience.  Tony Pena, a fantastic shortstop in the field, was an out – he hit just .267, drew all of ten walks in 152 games, and was caught stealing more often than he was successful.

 

All told, that’s too many outs.  And, not all of these guys are prospects.    Gload turns 32 just after opening day.  Teahan and Buck are 27, Pena is 26 – so he’s not going to get a whole lot better.  DeJesus is 28.  At least they are getting younger.  Reggie Sanders (yes, he did play here until he got injured) is gone.  Sweeney is gone.  Brown is gone.  The only veteran left is Grudzielanek.

 

Defensively:

 

On the whole, the Royals defense was slightly below average – but there is room for improvement in 2008.

 

At first, expect to see more of Ross Gload.  Ryan Shealy had defensive better stats there, but he can’t hit (.221 with no power) and may not have a job if Billy Butler gets to play first when not playing DH.  While Gload’s range is a bit poor, he makes few errors, which helps.  Grudzielanek was well below average in range (-7.5), but his backup Esteban German was worse (-19.4 in 400 innings – ouch, he was adding nearly 20 points to every batter’s batting average).  Like Gload, the veteran Grudzielanek makes few errors and is good on the double play.  As bad as Grudzielanek and German were at second, however, Tony Pena was as marvelous at short – playing gold glove worthy defense.  His range was solid (6.6), and he was good at turning double plays.  The second basemen probably cost the Royals 24 runs, Pena helped save 20 by himself.  And, Alex Gordon was equally impressive, with a 6.6 score at third, saving the team some 17 more runs.

 

In the outfield, Teahen was the best fielding right fielder in the AL.  No other TEAM had more than 341 putouts in right field – but the Royals had 410 (!), which was better than four teams had in centerfield.  (And, to be fair, it’s not because the Royals were light on lefty pitching – two primary starters and a key reliever were left handed.)  Teahen scored at 9.7, saving his team 27 runs.  Brown was pretty good in left (and as a backup in right), saving his team about 7 runs, though not as good as Gathright was in left (12 runs saved, if you count his time in center).  However, David DeJesus gave all those runs back with below average range in center (-6.7 and 21 runs).

 

Royals pitchers didn’t make many plays, but made fewer errors than any other team’s pitching staff with just six.

 

Looking ahead, the infield will remain steady – with good fielders on the left, and poor fielders on the right.  However, the addition of Jose Guillen might not help the outfield.  Last year, Guillen was slightly below average in right – (-3.2 and 11.4 runs worse than average).  Teahen is moving from right to left – hopefully he remains solid there.  If Gathright is a better defensive player than DeJesus in center, the Royals might break even.  If he’s not quite as good, though, the Royals may end up giving up 10 – 15 extra runs just through their defense.

 

Now Pitching…

 

The Royals rotation has three solid starters.  Gil Meche was fantastic – despite the 9 – 13 record, he saved his team more than 20 runs than the average pitcher.  His control was impressive (62 walks in 216 innings), with a good amount of strikeouts (156).  Behind him, you have Zach Greinke, who moved from the bullpen into the rotation.  In his 122 innings, he fanned 106, and hardly walked anyone (36) – he too saved the Royals some 16 runs.  At the number three spot, you have the rookie Brian Bannister, who kept the ball in the park (and in play).  What concerns you might be his strikeout rate – he fanned just 77 in 165 innings.  If his strikeout rate goes up next year, the Royals will have a solid starter.  If it stays the same or goes down, they have a flash in the pan.  Few pitchers survive without striking guys out – so watch this if you are a Royals fan.

 

After that, however, the Royals need another starter.  Lefty Odallis Perez is shot – 178 hits and 64 strikeouts in just 137-1/3 innings.  Jorge de la Rosa was just as bad (130 innings, 160 hits, 82 strikeouts and 20 homers allowed).  Kyle Davies, acquired from the Braves for Octavio Dotel was 3 – 7 in 11 starts, giving up 10 homers in 50 innings, leading to an ERA of 6.66.  Nobody is giving Scott Elarton another shot, I hope – nine starts, a homer every three innings, and an ERA of 10.5.  That can’t happen again.

 

I’d let Leo Nunez be the fourth starter.  In limited action (13 games, 6 starts), he fanned 37 and walked ten in just shy of 44 innings.  Projecting to what Perez or de la Rosa was allowed to do, that’s a 30 run swing in favor of the Royals.  I see that the Royals are giving last chance contracts to Hideo Nomo and Brett Tomko.  They can’t be worse than Scott Elarton.

 

Where the Royals remain weak, however, is in the bullpen.  While Joakim Soria was awesome (17 saves, 2.48 ERA, and 75Ks in 68 innings), few others were nearly as successful.  Jimmy Gobble, and Joel Peralta must improve, and John Bale needs to step up.  If Bannister, Greinke, and Nunez can soak up more innings, the Royals bullpen won’t be exposed nearly as often.

 

Forecasting 2008:

 

Offensively, the Royals should be better.  Jose Guillen, signed as a free agent from Seattle despite a potential substance abuse suspension (he was named in the Mitchell report, too), is worth 30 – 40 runs more than Emil Brown and/or DeJesus.  Even Gathright, with little or no power, could help score more runs with his speed than DeJesus.  Alex Gordon might improve by 15 runs himself – it’s easy to forecast a season where he hits 20 homers and bats .270.  A full season of Billy Butler at DH is better than what Mike Sweeney was able to produce last year.  Teahen has room for improvement – he could hit for a little more power and add ten runs.  Somebody has to back up Buck and hit better than LaRue.  Ross Gload at first all year is 20 runs better than sharing time with Ryan Shealy.  It is not improbable to think the Royals might score 75 more runs than last year.  The only question marks are Guillen and Gload, who both are starting at the far sides of their careers.  Guillen turns 32 in May, and Gload is 32 as well – with little history of success at this level.

 

The pitching could improve by 25 – 30 runs.  A full season of Greinke as a starter and using Leo Nunez would do that easily.  If a fifth starter is tolerable and the bullpen isn’t overworked – and the defense doesn’t take a step back – we’re talking about a team that scores more runs than it allows.  And if that happens, we’re talking about being better than .500 for 2008.  I don’t remember seeing what the Las Vegas line was for wins, but I’d be playing the over.  This is a good team.

 

What hurts is being in the AL Central.  Detroit and Cleveland are solid clubs.  Chicago and Minnesota are rebuilding, however, and that means the Royals will probably finish third, winning 82 games.  I see them as being surprisingly competitive and on the way to a division title in 2010.  We’ll see if I am right.

 

Odd fact:  Anyone consider this team the Killer Gs?  Grudzielank, Gomez, Guillen, German, Gload, Gobble, Greinke, Gathright, Gordon – that’s 36% of the roster.  Does Gil Meche count?  Gee Whiz.  I dunno – talk to someone in marketing. 

 

Down on the Farm:  A quick look at the prospect list…  Nothing much at AAA Omaha that isn’t already on the team.  The best power hitter was Craig Brazell, who hit 32 homers there (and seven more at Wichita in AA), but is already 28 and not really a prospect.  I can’t believe with the Royals needing power in the lineup they gave a shot to Ross Gload instead of Brazell.  He must be a brick in the field.  Shane Costa is still around, but at 26, he hasn’t impressed anyone enough.

 

The best hitter in AA was Jorge Padilla, but he’ll be 29 in August and didn’t make it to Philadelphia after a long tour in their system.  Luke Hochevar (24) pitched well, with a good K/W ratio and ERA for Wichita, and was tolerable in a short stint at AAA.  He isn’t ready for the bigs, but the first round pick out of Tennessee a couple of years ago should be on the roster by 2009.  Don’t be surprised, however, if he’s the first person chosen to replace Tomko or Nomo and become either a long reliever or fifth starter.

 

Rowdy Hardy and Daniel Cortez look like best bets from last year’s A+ team at Wilmington.  Both showed command and kept the ball in the park.  Cortez fanned 120 in 126 innings last year.  Wilver Perez showed flashes of power and patience at Wilmington, and may be a corner outfielder by the time he gets to the majors in 2011.  I also like future porn star and Blue Rocks (seriously – that’s the Wilmington team name) outfielder Brett Bigler, who drew 74 walks in 109 games at Wilmington.  If he can add a few points to his batting average, he may replace David DeJesus in 2011.  Watch for him in AA – if he hits at Wichita, he could be here sooner.

Atlanta Braves 2008 Season Forecast

Atlanta Braves

2007: 84-78 (3rd NL East)

 

Forget what you might read about the Mets, or how the Phillies are building to repeat.  The Braves, after a short hiatus following a long stretch of division titles, are about to roll out another championship quality team.

 

Bobby Cox’s best skill – and that of John Schuerholz when he ran the front office – was in finding horses and letting them run.  In the past, that meant finding enough hitting to help out solid pitching.  Now, it’s about finding enough pitching to support one of the most potent young offenses in baseball.

 

And, it’s about merging young players with veterans.  Nobody has a better mix than Atlanta.

 

Looking Back on 2007

 

The Braves rocketed out in front with the Mets, winning seven of eight to start.  In time, their record was 24 – 12.  Some of it was beating up on the Nationals and Marlins, and some of it was solid hitting.

 

Then, things just sort of drifted.  Andruw Jones could never find his batting stroke – the only guy in the lineup who wasn’t hitting.  And, despite fine pitching from John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the rest of the pitching was woefully inadequate.  Chuck James was average but didn’t pitch that many innings in 30 starts, and the four other semi-regular starters had ERAs between 5.21 and 7.09.  Mark Redman made five starts and had an era with four digits – never a good sign. 

 

A five game losing streak while playing Boston and Detroit in interleague games dropped the Braves back to .500 on June 24th.  Playing the Marlins, Nationals, and Pittsburgh, the Braves rallied again to get back into the race, but another stretch and a west coast swing left the team at a crossroads, so the Braves traded away a slew of prospects, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira in hopes of battering opponents and getting back into the race.  What they needed was another starter.

 

Well – the hitting kept on coming.  In July, the Braves as a team nearly hit .300.  In August, the average dropped, but they hit 41 homers.  Andruw Jones hit a little bit better, while Chipper Jones continued with one of his finest seasons, and Teixeira joined in the fray with 17 HRs and 56 RBI in just 54 games.  Five guys batted over .300, four others were over .270, and nine guys were in double digits in home runs.  But they couldn’t over come the lack of a third or fourth starting option and fell to the wayside.  The final record shows they were only five games out of the race, but only because the Mets closed with a whimper to make it close for everyone.

 

In summary, the 2007 Atlanta Braves were a decent team – they outscored their opponents 810 to 733.  They just needed to make a few changes to fill a few holes.  They needed one or two extra starting pitchers.  They needed to decide what to do with Andruw Jones.  2008 will test whether or not they made the right moves.

Tell me about that offense

 

A lot of batters were helping put runs on the board.  At the top of the order, you had Kelly Johnson who hit .276 with 52 extra base hits, and 79 walks.  He was worth about 95 runs.  He was followed by Edgar Renteria, whose .332 batting average was among the league leaders.  With a higher batting average was Chipper Jones, with a .337 batting average, and a .604 slugging percentage.  Jones also drew 80 walks, leading to a .429 on base percentage.  These three were backed by Matt Diaz (.338 and some power in 358 at bats), Jeff Francoeur (105 RBI batting behind these guys), and even Yunel Escobar batted .326 in 300+ at bats.  Catcher Brian McCann batted .270 with power.  The weak hitters were Andruw Jones (.228 with less power in an off year) and Scott Thorman, who hit .216 and was replaced by Teixeira.

 

The performance of Escobar made the veteran Renteria expendable, so Edgar was shipped to Detroit for Jair Jurrjens, a pitching prospect who debuted with Detroit and appeared ready for the big leagues after pitching well at AA Erie last season.

 

Andruw Jones was allowed to leave Atlanta for a big Los Angeles Dodgers paycheck, and the Braves replaced him with the roving Mark Kotsay, coming off a season shortened by back injuries.  Kotsay, like Jones, struggled to bat his weight but usually has been a reasonably decent outfielder for his three previous teams.  While there are serious cost savings involved, both moves might have been made to help the pitchers by adding a few younger gloves to the roster.

 

Defensively:

 

Teixeira was remarkable at first base, not only is he a significant upgrade at the plate, but he made nearly three quarters of a play per nine innings more than Thorman.  Kelly Johnson was okay – his range is slightly below average (-3.2 rating, meaning he adds three points to a batters batting average), but he was above average in terms of turning two and not making errors.  That’s the good side.  The left side was significantly below average.

 

Chipper Jones ranked at -5.6, costing his team about ten runs.  He participated in 17 double plays – only three teams started fewer double plays at third than Atlanta (24), and each of those turned 23 from the hot corner.  With the exception of Escobar – who was fantastic – his other backups were even worse.  And Renteria, who won a couple of Gold Gloves five years ago, was worse with a -10 ranking, costing the Braves another 15 runs.  Escobar, who was great at second and third, was better – though below average – at short.  If you watch a Braves broadcast, they rave about his range, so Escobar will be an improvement if he just works out as an average shortstop.

 

In the outfield, Matt Diaz and (new National fourth outfielder) Willie Harris showed above average range.  Diaz and Harris saved the Braves a dozen runs combined – Harris showing good range in center, too.  In right, Jeff Franceour has average range but a decent arm, nailing 19 baserunners.  However, Andruw Jones has been deteriorating in center.  He still glides and makes diving catches, but the glide is a step slower than it used to be.  He’s now slightly below average in range – while Kotsay arrives showing decent range despite a bad back.  If Kotsay holds form for the season, it could save the Braves an additional ten runs.

Looking ahead, tightening up the defense with Teixeira, Escobar, and Kotsay could help remove 25 runs from opposing scoreboards.

 

Now Pitching…

 

An improved defense only helps the pitching staff.  Hudson (-28.5 runs) and Smoltz (-28 runs) were fabulous.  Smoltz probably ranks a bit higher due to his strikeout rates, but Hudson eats innings and keeps people off the bases, too.  Hudson’s lone advantage is his age – he’s eight years younger.  After that, however, you had six guys who were at least ten runs worse than an average pitcher, led by the miserable Mark Redman (-18.79 in just five starts – ugh).

 

Add to the mix Tom Glavine, who has shown signs of decline and was about the league average pitcher last year (still a step up if he has one more year in him).  Add Jurrjens, who hails from The Netherlands (pitched in the 2006 World Baseball Classic for them), and might stay near the league average.  Mike Hampton – who hasn’t pitched since 2005, and missed his first start due to a pectoral muscle pull while warming up, which can’t be good – made the team after a good spring training.  When he last pitched, he was decent but you never know.  With Kyle Davies, it was pretty obvious he was overmatched and Jo Jo Reyes, who was decent at AAA Richmond, didn’t pitch well with the big club.

 

Bob Wickman was replaced at the backend of the pen by Rafael Soriano, who looks like the real deal (70 Ks and only 15 BBs in 72 innings).  Mike Gonzales, brought in from Pittsburgh last year and looking good until he hurt his elbow, may come back this summer to help.  Peter Moylan looks like a good set up man option, and Will Ohman can work out of the pen.  They could use one more arm here – perhaps Royce Ring will step up.

 

Forecasting 2008:

 

I’m going out on a limb and saying that the Braves will win the NL East.  Offensively, I would expect a bit of a decline from Chipper Jones because of his age and the fact that last year he had a great year – almost too good.  However, that decline would be more than made up by having a full season of Mark Teixeira.  Diaz and Escobar were both solid playing about 70% of a full season, so there is reason for optimism if they play a full year.  Escobar has a chance to be a really good shortstop.  Kotsay’s best season isn’t better than Andruw Jones’s best season, but his good seasons are as good as Jones was last year.  If he stays healthy, it’s a wash.  If not, the Braves should not hesitate to put a young speedster like Gregor Blanco out there.  Blanco’s batting average in AAA Richmond wasn’t as good as Escobar’s (.282 compared to .333), but there are things to like – like his speed and his patience at the plate.  You could bat him eighth and not feel too badly about his glove.

 

Pitching will be the challenge.  Smoltz is running out of innings in his career, though he remains a dominant pitcher when he’s on the hill.  Hudson is an ace.  After that, the Braves are relying on Tom Glavine, who first pitched for the Braves when Phil Niekro was on the team.  In 2007 Glavine was solid in April, average in May, and then had an ERA over 5.00 for three of the last four months of the year.  My fear is that he will be below average this year, and not necessarily help the team.  If he stays within 10 runs of average and makes 30 starts, though, that’s still better than what the Braves had last year.  Hampton is fragile and an unknown quantity.  Chuck James showed signs of skill, but he hasn’t been consistent – and he started the season on the DL due to a partial tear in his rotator cuff.  He will miss a few turns before rejoining the team.  That leaves Jurrjens as the lone young prospect.  Jurrjens is 22 and had a fantastic spring – but he made a jump from AA Erie to the Tigers last year and might be a year away from ready.

 

The Braves are taking a lot of chances, but I think at least one or two work out.  An improvement defensively of 20 runs and an improvement from the pitching staff of about 20 runs would make this team extremely difficult to beat.  And with two anchors in the playoffs, they could make a run to the World Series.