2012 Season Forecast: Miami Marlins

2011: 72 – 90, Last NL East
Runs Scored: 625 (11th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 702 (10th, NL)

Season Recap:

In late May, the Marlins were near the top of the NL East.  Josh Johnson seemed to be taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning or later in each start, the offense was starting to show signs of life.  When Scott Cousins derailed Buster Posey in San Franscisco by running the all-star catcher over to score a run, the bad karma hit.  Johnson went down with shoulder soreness and never pitched again.  Hanley Ramirez, having survived a very slow start, separated a shoulder and missed most of three months.  Gaby Sanchez, who hit enough to make the all-star team, stopped hitting – and Logan Morrison tweeted his way into the dog house.  When it was over, one of the best teams in the NL suddenly was in last place.

Starting Pitching:

The rotation of Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vasquez, Anibel Sanchez, and Chris Volstad seemed good enough in April, but once Johnson went down, having two other starters (Nolasco and Volstad) struggle along with anyone who tried to replace Johnson – the Marlins didn’t have a chance.  Brad Hand went 1- 8 in 12 starts because he gave up ten homers and 35 walks in just 60 innings.  Clay Hensley was asked to start and he couldn’t handle that kind of load.  Nolasco was 23 runs worse than an average pitcher, Volstad was 20 runs worse – and they logged more than 370 innings of well below average pitching.

Looking forward, the Marlins have thickened up the staff.  Johnson is back and healthy.  If he makes 30 starts, he could save the team 40 unnecessary runs.  Vasquez was miserable for six weeks, then finished like an ace over the last six weeks.  He will be replaced by former Chicago White Sox horse, Mark Buehrle.  Buehrle was 15 runs better than Vasquez last year – and he becomes the first lefty starter on the Marlins – which will help against the lefty hitting loaded teams in the NL East.  Nolasco needs to bounce back – he’s a durable thrower, but hasn’t been spectacular since 2009.  Sanchez continues to throw well – he could use a little offensive support.  And then you have another former Chicago pitcher to provide additional fireworks – Carlos Zambrano.

Zambrano came to the Marlins in a trade with the Cubs because (a) the Cubs didn’t want him and (b) new manager Ozzie Guillen thinks he can handle the ex-Chicago fireballer.  Zambrano was marginally better than Volstad, but at the end of his contract and pitching for his baseball life, he could be 15 or 20 runs better – and provide a little extra offense.  What you are looking at is a reasonable gain of about 60 runs in the runs allowed column, and possily 70 – 75 fewer runs allowed…

Relief Pitching:

The Marlins spent a small fortune to pick up Heath Bell to be the new closer because Leo Nunez wasn’t cutting it.  And, of course, because Leo Nunez isn’t who we thought he was – his name is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo, and he’s two years older, too.  The pitcher formerly known as Nunez may not be back for a while, and if he does come back it won’t be as a closer.  Bell was just a bit better in terms of runs saved, but he might be better in the clubhouse, where a big personality can keep the rest of the team in check.  The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad – Steve Cishek, Randy Choate, Michael Dunn, Eduard Mujica, Brian Sanches, and Ryan Webb are all decent, but none of them wow you.  Dunn has closer stuff, but needs time.

Another former Padre, Wade LeBlanc, and rookie Tom Koehler are looking to pick up swingman roles on the club.

Catching:

John Buck looked like he was figuring things out as a newcomer to the Marlins and the National League.  His batting average fell, he struggled in the running game (83 of 100 baserunners were succesful stealing), and he needed to learn his own staff.  I like Buck to bounce back some.  Brett Hayes was a bit better against the run and is a dependable backstop.

Infield:

The Marlins will have a slightly new look in 2011.  Gaby Sanchez returns at first, a decent enough fielder (helped statistically by the lack of a left handed starter last year), and a slightly above average hitter.  He’s not shown himself to be a banger, but he makes decent contact, has a bit of power, and a good eye at the plate.  Omar Infante is a solid second baseman and an average hitter.  In 2012, he’ll no longer bat at the top of the lineup, which should help some.  Taking over at short is former Met, Jose Reyes.  Reyes is coming off a career year, but hasn’t dependably played 140 games at his position.  He’s still a step up over having Greg Dobbs regularly in the lineup, so the Marlins could score more runs with Reyes at the top of the order.  And moving to third is former shortstop Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez has something to prove this year – that he can be a team player and a real leader.  Personally, I don’t think he should be in the infield.  He’s never been a good shortstop – Ramirez cost the team 23 runs.  (Reyes is better, but even he is a below average shortstop.)  But he could be a league average third baseman – and make 35 – 50 throwing errors.

If it’s me, I let Bonifacio (just about a league average shortstop) play short, move Reyes to third, and put Hanley in center field or left field.  Even with the new alignment, the Marlins could save 10 runs defensively, but it SHOULD be 20 runs better if Hanley were in the outfield.

Offensively, a healthy Ramirez and Reyes could be worth 100 extra runs themselves to the team.

Outfield:

Giancarlo Stanton returns (nicked up this spring) and seems to want to use his tremendous power to all fields.  You hope that by broadening his approach he doesn’t dilute his strength – which is his strength, but he’s SO strong that if he makes contact, he hits the ball harder than anyone else in baseball.  If he steps up a little bit, he’s going to put 125 runs on the board.  And Logan Morrison can hit better than he did in 2011.  He really isn’t an outfielder, but he has a great approach to hitting and should be worth 100 runs, which is 30 more than last year.  Then you have the void that is centerfield.  Emilio Bonifacio is tolerable there (I’d just rather see him at short).  Chris Coghlan, Aaron Rowand, Bryan Peterson and possibly Austin Kearns will be battling for innings as a defensive replacement for Morrison in late innings and pinch hitting at bats.

Bench:

A bench of Dobbs, Coghlan, Peterson and Rowand give the Marlins plenty of options.  Hayes is a capable backup catcher, and with Bonifacio able to play six positions, you can mix and match to give people time off.

Prospects:

At AAA New Orleans, Matt Dominguez and Ozvaldo Martinez showed they have major league gloves but not yet major league bats.  They are still young – Dominguez will be 22 this year; Martinez 24.  Jose Ceda was unhittable in AAA, but hasn’t turned it into a regular MLB job.

2008 #1 pick Kyle Skipworth made his way to AA Jacksonville, but didn’t impress with the stick – just .207 in nearly 400 at bats.  He’s still got time.  The best hitter was Jim Negrych, but he’ll be 27 this season and has people ahead of him on the depth chart.  Pitcher Jhan Marinez needs to gain command, but fanned 74 in 58 innings.  Undrafted Omar Poveda is figuring things out, finishing 8 – 6 last year, but with a 4.32 ERA.  He needs to find a better strikeout pitch.

Kyle Jensen showed great power while hitting .309 at A+ Jupiter, but he’s a bit of a free swinger.  I saw him – I’d like to think he can make a step forward and challenge Gaby Sanchez in 2014.  2009 First Round pick Chad James struggled a little – 5 – 15, with a 3.80 ERA, but he’s just 20.  Let’s see what he can do in 2012.  Down at A- Greensboro, 2010 #1 pick Christian Yelich showed he is a player with promise by hitting .312 with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases.

2012 Forecast:  

You have a new stadium and management finally spending some money to give the fans checking out the new stadium an exciting product.  The question, of course, is can the Miami Marlins break through what looks to be a competitive NL East.  I think the answer is yes.  The Marlins could easily score 150 runs more than last year with healthy and improving performances from the outfielders as well as a healthy Reyes and rebounding Hanley Ramirez.  If Josh Johnson makes 30 starts and the rotation holds steady, the team will likely allow 75 fewer runs.  That puts the Marlins at about 775 runs scored and 625 runs allowed –  a combination good for 93 wins.  The question is whether or not 93 wins will be enough…  The Phillies, Braves, and even Washington will be in the hunt – so every win will matter.

Advertisements

Opening Day: The Best Day of the Year

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is my favorite day of the year – and this one had plenty of highlights that suggest that 2011 could be as exciting a season as can be imagined.

  • Red catcher Ramon Hernandez hits a three-run, game-winning homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers – an at bat that happened, in part, because Brandon Phillips emulated Chad Ochocinco to avoid a Casey McGehee tag two batters earlier.   (McGehee claimed that Phillips left the baseline, but replays suggest the juke was legit.)
  • Jason Heyward launched a season starting homer for the second straight season.
  • Cameron Maybin, newly acquired centerfielder for the Padres, launched a game-tying two-out homer in the ninth, allowing San Diego to trip up the Cardinals in extra-innings.  Albert Pujols didn’t help the cause, becoming the first player to ground into three double plays on Opening Day.
  • The night ended with a remarkable pitcher’s duel between two young guns.  Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw outdueled San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum to give Don Mattingly his first managerial victory.

If you didn’t enjoy those games, then you just don’t like Baseball

Transaction Wire:

Nearly everything over the last day or two had to do with decisions on whether or not to put some player on the DL for various knicks, pulls, and injuries.  Those getting to miss the fun for at least a week or so include Jason Bay, Brandon Webb (still), J.P. Howell, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Cody Ross, Johan Santana, Aaron Cook, Scott Olsen, Brian Wilson, Clint Barmes, Corey Patterson, Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Homer Bailey, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Dayan Viciedo, Domonic Brown, David Aardsma, Franklin Gutierrez, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, John Baker, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Jason Kendall, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew Bailey.  (There are plenty of others, and if you have a fantasy baseball team, you are aware of many of these guys…

A new DL move, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was listed for today – Rowand has a fractured cheekbone.

Ronny Paulino has a few days left on his steroids suspension, so the Mets placed him on the restricted list.

A couple of days ago, the Phillies had signed Luis Castillo as an insurance policy while Chase Utley allows his troublesome left knee to heal.  That didn’t work out (Castillo is relatively immobile these days and his bat hasn’t been healthy for at least four months now), so the Phillies signed Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard, who turns 36 next Thursday, had an unimpressive season as a utiltiy infielder and pinch hitter for the Dodgers in 2010 (2 – 19 -.216) and a weak spring for the Yankees (.136 in 22 at bats), so this may be his last couple of months in the big leagues unless he can get a few clutch hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeing that shortstop Stephen Drew wasn’t 100% for opening day, signed former Mariner glove man Josh Wilson.  Wilson isn’t a bad guy to have around, but don’t count on him to hit like Drew can.

On the MLB Drama Network

Not sure if you are following the Barry Bonds trial, but we now have a handful of players who all admitted that they used steroids provided by Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer who is sitting in jail for his unwillingness to discuss the number of needles he put in Bond’s belly and butt.  Some of them admitted that they did because of the success Bonds was having since hiring Anderson to build up his physique.  A former personal shopper for Bonds says she saw Anderson give Bonds a shot in his belly button (ouch!), something Bonds told her was “…a little something for the road.”

Not that I am plugging my book (but I am):

Today is the day that Rube Waddell died, the result of a long fight against Tuberculosis, a major killer of men and women 100 years ago.  Waddell died in 1914 while convalescing in a San Antonio nursing home.  At the time of his death, he weighed at least 60 pounds less than his playing weight, 210.

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are…

Ron Perranoski (1936) – Dodger pitcher and pitching coach
Phil Niekro (1939) – greatest knuckleball pitcher ever
Rusty Staub (1944) – Le Grande Orange, and one of my favorite players as a kid
Willie Montanez (1948)
Frank Castillo (1969)
Matt Herges (1970)
Will Rhymes (1983)
John Axford (1983) – who gave up that homer to Ramon Hernandez yesterday (ouch)
Daniel Murphy (1985)

Jimenez Tosses First Rocky No Hitter; Mets top Cards in 20 innings (and lots of old news)

Until last night, no Colorado Rockies pitcher had brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning – but Ubaldo Jimenez not only did that, he finished the job – cruising the last four innings and beating the Atlanta Braves.  Jimenez battled his control for five innings before his pitching coach, Bob Apodaca (a former Met, a team without a no-hitter in nearly 50 seasons) suggested that he pitch from the stretch to keep the ball in the strike zone.   After averaging more than 18 pitches an inning through five, Jimenez needed only 45 to finish the last four innings.  [MLB]

Funny story about that.  My friend, Steve Dubin, has Jimenez on his fantasy team – but was trying to protect an ERA and WHIP lead, so he left his starters on the bench.  So, he didn’t even get the fantasy points for the no-no.  Ouch.

Meanwhile, the Fox Sports team put in some overtime – the game of the week between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals was a scoreless affair through eighteen innings before the Mets finally got a run off of outfielder Joe Mather to open the nineteenth inning.  Mather was the tenth pitcher used by Tony LaRussa – and SECOND position player (Felipe Lopez pitched a scoreless 18th inning).  Meanwhile, the Mets trotted out nine pitchers.  The eighth was closer Francisco Rodriguez – who blew the save opportunity.  Rodriguez admitted he was tired – he had been up and down in the bullpen and threw at least 100 pitches before heading to the mound.  Mather, however, stayed out a second inning and the Mets reached him for a second run in the top of the twentieth inning.  Mike Pelfrey, who was itching for a chance to participate, became the 19th pitcher of the game and earned the save.  [MLB]

Looking ahead to today, the Mets are out of pitchers – a bunch of guys threw at least 2 innings and 30 pitches, so Pelfrey may have to close again today.  Both managers will be hoping the Sunday night game starters, John Maine and Adam Wainwright, go the distance.

From the Training Room…

Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was hit in the earflap of his helmet by a Vincente Padilla fastball, breaking two bones in his cheek.   With Rowand heading to the DL for two weeks, the Giants recalled infielder Matt Downs.

Wondering who Matt Downs is?  Downs was a 36th round draft pick in 2006 out of Alabama, but has made steady progress through the minors by hitting for a decent average, showing some power, and running the bases pretty well.  He even hit .372 in spring training this year…  Looking at his stats at Fresno, I think it transfers to a guy who might hit .250 with a dozen homers, a few walks, and ten or more steals, which on the Giants is an above average hitter…  I don’t know if he’ll stick but he became a better prospect than Kevin Frandsen, who was allowed to go to Boston instead.  Look for Downs to get some playing time – but he may not stay for long.

Royals infielder Chris Getz heads to the DL with an oblique strain that occurred diving into a base.  The Royals considered bringing back struggling infielder Mike Aviles, but brought back Alex Gordon instead.  Gordon, who missed most of last year following hip surgery, and then – feeling fit – broke his thumb diving into a base during a spring training game, may not be in the field right away.  [MLB]

Giants outfielder Mark DeRosa left Saturday’s game with a tweaked hammy.  He’s day-to-day.  [MLB]

Cubs pitcher (and Jayhawk alum) Tom Gorzelanny was drilled by a liner in the left shoulder and left the game for a pinch hitter in the third inning, but he says he won’t miss a start.  After getting drilled, Gorzelanny stayed in and finished his inning – he just didn’t stay in the game after that.  [MLB]

In this case, the injury might be an ego.  Addressing a story on FoxSports that ownership turned down offers from Cal Ripken, Jr. to become more involved with the Orioles operations, owner Peter Angelos said that if Cal wants to be a part of the team, he’d welcome that discussion.  [ESPN]

Angels closer Brian Fuentes is scheduling his minor league rehab in hopes of a mid-week return.  [MLB]

Indians closer (?) Kerry Wood will pitch a simulated game before heading to rehab and may return before May.  Wood is out with a sore back. [MLB]

Jarrod Saltalamacchia hopes to return to Texas, but his next rehab stint will be in AAA.  With soreness in his left shoulder and upper back, the Rangers want to see Salty catch nine innings before he returns next week.  [MLB]

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is on the DL with a strained calf.  The Phillies have been successful, in part, because so few regulars have spent any time on the DL…  (Brad Lidge isn’t a starter, but he’s spent the most time on the DL over the last couple of years.)  [FoxSports]

Pirates ace Ross Ohlendorf heads to the DL with back spasms…  In his place, the Pirates recalled starter Daniel McCutchen.  McCutchen faces the Reds, against whom he has his only MLB victory.  [MLB]

Orioles infielder Miguel Tejada strained a groin (hopefully his own) running the bases and is considered day-to-day.  Tejada, for all it’s worth, hasn’t missed a whole lot of games in his career.  [MLB]

Staying in Baltimore, outfielder Felix Pie strained his left shoulder batting on Thursday and was placed on the 15-day-DL.

Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan returned to the lineup this weekend after missing a couple of games with bruised left ribs sustained while making a game-saving diving catch on the hard warning track last Tuesday.  What he needs to feel better might be a few two-hit games…  [MLB]

Chan Ho Park, Yankee long reliever, headed to the DL with a hamstring strain that occurred while warming up in the bullpen.  If you injure yourself warming up, what does that say about your level of fitness?  [MLB]

Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron returned to the lineup this weekend after passing a kidney stone (must have been SOME kind of a stone!).  [MLB]

Royals outfielder Jose Guillen took time to discuss his leg injuries from 2009 and revealed that he had life-threatening blood clots during the off-season.  [MLB]

Old News…

Giants outfielder Fred Lewis was disappointed with his lack of playing time – so he requested a trade.  San Francisco obliged his request, sending him to Toronto for future considerations.  Fred Lewis himself broke the story on his Facebook page.

Police Blotter…

A New Jersey man was arrested for his obnoxious behavior at a game after similar behavior got his friend removed from the stadium.  Angered by that, Matthew Clemmens then made himself vomit on a man and his 11-year-old daughter.  The man on the receiving end was an off-duty police officer who showed remarkable restraint by not pummeling Clemens (which, admittedly, I would have considered if someone had done that to me or my son).  Seriously – some credit is due the off-duty cop for his restraint.  Clemmens gets charged with a variety of offenses (disorderly behavior, assault, reckless endangerment) and should get to spend time in jail.  He should also be banned from attending any sporting event.  [FoxSports]

Music mogul Jay-Z is suing David Ortiz because Ortiz named his new Dominican nightclub 40/40 – the same name used by Jay-Z in nightclubs he owns…  [FoxSports]

Longest Division Games in the AL?

Boston – New York average 3:39 – well over the league average of about 2:56.  Joe Posnanski did the work – read his article.

From the Transaction Wire…

Twins pitcher Jose Mijares heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Coming up from Rochester is pitcher Alex Burnett – a converted starter that has been nearly unhittable as a reliever since 2009.

The Braves need an extra arm and are extending a short stint to pitcher Jonny Venters.  If you saw his career stats, you’d know he’s a non-prospect.

With Esmerling Vasquez struggling, the Diamondbacks are giving a few innings to Kris Benson…  He’s still around?  Benson pitched for Texas last year and had an ERA of about 8.50 – and hasn’t been below 4.00 since 2000 when he was still in Pittsburgh.  Isn’t Pedro Martinez still available???

Top NL Centerfielders in 2009

Matt Kemp (LAD):  The best centerfielder in baseball for 2009.  Hit close to .300 in Dodger Stadium with power and some patience.  As an outfielder, he’s graceful and fast – which also helps him steal bases.  And, he’s just getting his career started.  (120.9 Runs Created, 15.4 Runs Saved = 136.27 Total Run Production)

Mike Cameron (MIL):  Now with Boston, Cameron had the same type season he’s had for a decade now.   Hits for decent power, draws a few walks, doesn’t run as much as he used to – and still plays a mean centerfield.  Time may be running out, but he’s been very, very good for a long time.  (91.4 Runs Created, 12.7 Runs Saved = 104.12 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (WAS):  I mentioned him with the left fielders because that’s where he played in Pittsburgh, but he was equally impressive defensively in Washington as a centerfielder.  And, as a hitter, he was electrifying as a National.  One hopes he returns and leads the team with about 110 runs scored.  (76.2 Runs Created + 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.1 Total Run Production)

Michael Bourn (HOU):  Got a lot of hits and a few walks helping to a .355 OBP.  Steals a lot of bases (61) but for a burner isn’t the same defensively as Cameron.  Still – a valuable commodity on a team that could use a few more players of his production.  (98.0 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 99.19 Total Run Production)

Nate McLouth (PIT/ATL):  Even hitting 20 homers with a .350+ OBP, it seemed like an offseason for McClouth.  Missed more than a month of games – so if he gets back to 150 games, he’ll move up two or three notches.  (84.4 Runs Created, 0.6 Runs Saved = 85.0 Total Run Production)

Tony Gwynn (SD):  The only centerfielder with 800 or more innings to make 3 plays per nine, JR doesn’t hit like his dad, but he moves like the younger version of his dad.  In San Diego, that helps a lot.  There’s some room to improve here, but without any power, he needs to get his OBP near .400 to be among the great ones.  (57.0 Runs Created, 25.15 Runs Saved = 82.20 Total Run Production)

Kosuke Fukudome (CHC):  Not really a centerfielder, as the Cubs found out.  Gets on base, but really isn’t that good a hitter, and a mild disappointment to the Bleacher Bums.  On the other hand, new centerfielder Marlon Byrd was less productive than Fukudome in 2009.  (75.7 Runs Created, 1.88 Runs Saved = 77.56 Total Run Production)

Shane Victorino (PHI):  Has become an offensive force with midrange power and speed, but looking at the defensive stats, maybe he should go back to right and let Jayson Werth try his hand at center.  Either that, or he just needs to take charge more…  (102.9 Runs Created, -25.6 Runs Saved = 77.31 Total Run Production)

I mentioned Marlon Byrd.  The new Cubs centerfielder would rank here based on 2009 production…

Cody Ross (FLA):  A fan favorite, but isn’t really fast enough to cover center – a heck of a right fielder, though…  Has some power, swings at a lot of stuff – does it all with a smile that every mom would be proud of.  (79.9 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 73.39 Total Run Production)

Carlos Beltran (NYM):  Still ranks highly despite missing 81 games because, well, he’s still an incredible talent.  Was off to perhaps his best start ever before the knees gave out – .325 and maybe 20 homers with a killer OBP and 20 steals.  If he’s healthy, he’s the top player at the position.  A big IF, though…  (68.5 Runs Created, 4.5 Runs Saved = 73.01 Total Run Production)

Andrew McCutchen (PIT):  There’s a lot to love – and one wishes that Pittsburgh could have kept him, Jason Bay, and McClouth in the outfield just to see how many runs they could have produced.  He’s got some learning to do in the outfield, but I liked what I saw in 2009.  Power, Speed, Patience – the three cornerstones of a great player.  (78.2 Runs Created, -13.9 Runs Saved = 64.32 Total Run Production)

Colby Rasmus (STL):  The Cardinals think he’s the real deal and he’s certainly off to a great start.  I don’t think he’s as fast as McCutchen and in a few years, the power will even out.  As such, I think McCutchen will be the greater star.  McCutchen had the better batting average, OBP and slugging numbers – but Rasmus looked a little more polished in the field.  (62.5 Runs Created, 1.4 Runs Saved = 63.91 Total Run Production)

Aaron Rowand (SF):  May have lost a step, and his offensive numbers (as expected) have slipped some since arriving in San Francisco from Philadelphia.  No better than a run-of-the-mill outfielder these days.  (66.2 Runs created, -3.5 Runs Saved = 62.67 Total Run Production)

Angel Pagan (NYM):  Beltran’s usual replacement, hit .306 with some power and a little patience.  Isn’t quite in Beltran’s league as a fielder, but the Mets certainly could have done worse.  He could start for a few other teams.  (63.5 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 58.82 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Played a few hundred innings in center – not too badly.  He’s the third rookie of this group (Fowler, below, would be fourth) and he might not be too bad either…  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Dexter Fowler (COL):  Scrappy hitter, steals a few bases, but otherwise is about a league average offensive performer – not as much range as you would like.  Fowler was nowhere near responsible for the return of Colorado to the playoffs.  (62.0 Runs Created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 52.93 Total Run Production)

Rick Ankiel (STL):  Now plying his trade in Kansas City, the oft-injured Ankiel’s story seems to be heading in the wrong direction, wouldn’t you think?  Batting average fell, power has fallen since being tagged as a steroid user, and his OBP was .287.  Fielded better than other years, but missed a lot of innings…  Lord help the Royals.  (43.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 51.59 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gomez, the Twins centfielder who takes over for Mike Cameron in Milwaukee, would rank here.

Elijah Dukes (WAS):  Got some time here – not horrible, but not really what the Nationals had in mind.  Could still work out as a corner outfielder or fourth outfielder.  (48.8 Runs Created, -1.4 Runs Saved = 47.47 Total Run Production)

Willy Taveras (CIN):  What happened?  Suddenly lost his batting stroke and finished at .240.  Ouch.  Will find a job as a fifth outfielder, pinch hitter, but probably will never be a regular again.  Unless Kansas City calls.  (36.0 Runs Created, 10.8 Runs Saved = 46.78 Total Run Production)

Chris Dickerson (CIN):  Played the fourth outfielder role, but should be the starter in center for 2010.  Gets on base, runs, covers ground in the outfield.  Not quite a leadoff hitter, but not a problem there or in the two spot.  (38.2 Runs Created, 7.8 Runs Saved = 45.98 Total Run Production)

Willie Harris (WAS):  Can play all three outfield positions, gets on base even with a low batting average and has pop in the bat.  Valuable bench guy for any team…  (48.4 Runs Created, -4.3 Runs Saved = 44.11 Total Run Production)

Chris Young (ARI):  This is what happens when a .240 hitter goes into an extended slump – his whole game suffers.  Hits for power on those occasions he makes contact, but was a zero in every other way.  (39.6 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 43.02 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  If he played in center, instead of Fowler, they’d lose nothing defensively and if his bat returns, would get some more offense, too.  I don’t PROMISE that, but I do believe that.  (40.0 Runs Created, 0.0 Runs Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Jordan Schafer (ATL):  Injured after earning a spot in the lineup, spent too long trying to play through a wrist injury and killed his first shot at a regular position…  Now has a fight to get his job back now that McLouth is in town.  Can fly in the outfield – will get a job somewhere.  (16.3 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 24.03 Total Run Production)

Cameron Maybin (FLA):  Another burner in the outfield – has some power but needs to make more contact.  Will be the starter in Florida for 2010, but needs to hit in months that start with something other than S.  (21.7 Runs Created, 2.2 Runs Saved = 23.95 Total Run Production)

2010 Season Forecast: San Francisco Giants

Last Five Years:

2009: 88-74 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 72-90
2007: 71-91
2006: 76-85
2005: 75-87

Runs Scored: 657 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 611 (Tied, 1st in NL)

Season Recap:

After a bit of a slow start (losing 8 of 11), the Giants rebounded behind solid pitching and defense to threaten the top of the division – but never quite reach the top.  The Giants won more than they lost each month until September, but never had that killer month – a twenty win month – that would drive the team past the Dodgers or Rockies.

As noted above, nobody allowed fewer runs than San Francisco (though LA matched them at 611) – so pitching was never a problem.  And, the pitchers were amply supported by a number of solid defensive performances all over the field.  Tim Lincecum was a legitimate ace, Matt Cain matched Lincecum win for win, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, and even Barry Zito seemed to find new life.  Randy Johnson won his 300th game before his arm literally fell off.

The starters were supported by an able bullpen – Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry, and Justin Miller all had solid years in key roles.  Even a late addition, Brad Penny, helped out in six late season starts.

The problem was in scoring runs.  Long and short, you want more players who can generate five runs of offense or more for every 27 outs made than those who cannot.  And yet, here’s your San Francisco Giants lineup:

8.3 Pablo Sandoval
6.8 Andres Torres
6.0 Juan Uribe
4.8 Fred Lewis
4.7 Aaron Rowand
4.5 Eugenio Velez
4.4 Nate Schierholtz
4.4 Bengie Molina
4.4 Travis Ishikawa
4.2 Randy Winn
3.5 Edgar Renteria
3.4 Ryan Garko
3.4 Freddy Sanchez
3.0 Eli Whiteside
2.9 Emmanuel Burriss
2.3 Rich Aurilia

These are just the guys who got at least 100 at bats.

Granted – they didn’t need many runs.  However, if the team could have found 50 to 75 more runs of offense somewhere, the Giants could have run away with this division.

2010 Goals:

As I am reading it, it’s a matter of holding the gains on the defensive side while finding some runs.  It would be nice to have a real bopper in the middle of the lineup – or at least three guys who can keep a rally going.  You have to fill out the bench, replace your shortstop, lock down the bullpen, and find a good fourth starter.

Pitchers:

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the six or seven best pitchers in baseball, creating a one-two punch that nobody else in the National League could beat.  I show them as having saved nearly 70 runs over 240 innings than the average NL pitcher would have allowed.  Barry Zito had a decent year – not a great year, but one that was productive for his team.  Jonathan Sanchez was hit a lot harder than his ERA and record suggest, but there is hope that as someone capable of throwing a big game, he’ll make forward strides.

At issue is replacing Randy Johnson or Brad Penny – and that future ace is Madison Bumgarner.  He’s 20 – he needs to be babied.  I wouldn’t want to give him more than 20 starts (and if I made out the rotation, I’d pitch guys every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME – which gives 4 more starts to the front of the rotation and takes 15 or 16 away from the back end).  But this kid is the top prospect on the team, winning 27 of 33 decisions in two minor league seasons, with a 5:1 K/W ratio, and hardly getting hit at all.  If Bumgarner pans out – and the Giants, I believe, were wise in keeping him – this could be another 10 run swing in the defense’s favor.

In the bullpen, just about everyone in a key role is back and there are enough prospects – Waldis Joaquin and Joe Martinez among them – to keep it in check.

T W L G GS SV INN H HR BB SO ERA SAVED
Tim Lincecum R 15 7 32 32 0 225.33 168 10 68 261 2.48 38.8
Matt Cain R 14 8 33 33 0 217.67 184 22 73 171 2.89 30.6
Barry Zito L 10 13 33 33 0 192.00 179 21 81 154 4.03 0.4
Jonathan Sanchez L 8 12 32 29 0 163.33 135 19 88 177 4.24 -6.5
Randy Johnson L 8 6 22 17 0 96.00 97 19 31 86 4.88 -11.2
Brian Wilson R 5 6 68 0 38 72.33 60 3 27 83 2.74 7.2
Brandon Medders R 5 1 61 0 1 68.67 63 6 32 58 3.01 6.4
Bobby Howry R 2 6 63 0 0 63.67 50 5 23 46 3.39 3.9
Jeremy Affeldt L 2 2 74 0 0 62.33 42 3 31 55 1.73 16.2
Justin Miller R 3 3 44 0 0 56.67 47 7 27 36 3.18 6.9
Merkin Valdez R 2 1 48 0 0 49.33 57 5 28 38 5.66 -10.9
Brad Penny R 4 1 6 6 0 41.67 31 5 9 20 2.59 6.9
Sergio Romo R 5 2 45 0 2 34.00 30 1 11 41 3.97 0.9
Joe Martinez R 3 2 9 5 0 30.00 46 4 12 19 7.5 -14.1
Ryan Sadowski R 2 4 6 6 0 28.33 28 2 17 17 4.45 -2.0
Waldis Joaquin R 0 0 10 0 0 10.67 10 1 7 12 4.22 0.0
Madison Bumgarner L 0 0 4 1 0 10.00 8 2 3 10 1.8 2.9
Dan Runzler L 0 0 11 0 0 8.67 6 1 5 11 1.04 3.3
Osiris Matos R 0 0 5 0 0 6.00 11 2 1 5 9 -4.5
Alex Hinshaw L 0 0 9 0 0 6.00 10 2 7 2 12 -5.6
Patrick Misch L 0 0 4 0 0 3.33 6 0 3 0 10.8 -2.6

Catchers:

Bengie Molina is back – a power source, but a below average hitter because he doesn’t do much when he’s not swinging the bat.  13 walks, no speed, and a fair batting average means he’s no better than an average hitter.  Molina was easy to run on last year, but his backup, Eli Whiteside, was not.  Buster Posey, who looks like a real hitter but will need a little seasoning, could be ready in 2010, but will likely be held back to become the starter in 2011.  Jumping quickly from A+ San Jose to AAA Fresno, Posey still hit .321 with power.  I’d keep him around and would have just let him hit.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Steve Holm SFN R 0 0 0 .286 .286 .444 0.9 4.7
Bengie Molina SFN R 20 80 0 .265 .442 .291 61.7 4.4
Buster Posey SFN R 0 0 0 .118 .118 .118 0.2 0.4
Eli Whiteside SFN R 2 13 0 .228 .339 .269 11.3 3.0

Fielding:

First Last G GS INN PO A DP E PB SBA CS SB%
SFN Bengie Molina 123 120 1042 942 77 5 8 4 85 25 77.3%
SFN Eli Whiteside 47 33 314 286 25 5 2 5 20 13 60.6%
SFN Buster Posey 7 4 40 32 4 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 3 27 21 2 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Steve Holm 4 2 23 14 1 0 0 0 0 2 0.0%
TOTALS 1446 1295 109 10 10 9 107 42 71.8%

Infielders:

Rich Aurilia is gone, after a long and productive career.  In fact, he’s about the only one who left.  Aurilia and Ryan Garko.  You’re going to see Pablo Sandoval, a remarkable hitter and tolerable defender, at third base even though he really should be playing first base.  He won’t though, because the Giants signed 34-year-old Aubrey Huff to play first base.  Huff is a professional hitter, capable of hitting 25 homers and batting at least .275 with some doubles and walks, too.  The problem is – he’s 34 and last year he showed signs of slipping.  Huff batted .241 with just 15 homers – the second time since 2007 that he’s had that few in 500+ at bats.  So, he is also capable of hitting .220 with 12 homers in 345 at bats.  I don’t think that will happen – I think he’ll bounce back some – but if he does, at least the Giants have options.

Juan Uribe is still around – and he can play three positions well and hit for power. Freddy Sanchez will be back soon enough, and he might contribute at the top of the order when he returns.  However, Sanchez is fair to middling in the field and he’s 33, too.  He’s younger than Edgar Renteria, who is 35 and looking like he’s older than that.  Kevin Frandsen is still around but is no longer a prospect.  At this point, the Giants are taking their chances with the two middle infield spots.  I’d just let Uribe take one of them, and either Renteria or Sanchez plays depending on who is healthy…

Batting Data

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Rich Aurilia SFN R 2 16 0 .213 .279 .262 8.7 2.3
Emmanuel Burriss SFN B 0 13 11 .238 .267 .294 17.2 2.9
Mark DeRosa CLE R 13 50 1 .270 .457 .345 47.9 6.2
Mark DeRosa SLN R 10 28 2 .228 .405 .293 29.7 4.2
Matt Downs SFN R 1 2 1 .170 .264 .254 3.6 2.1
Kevin Frandsen SFN R 0 1 0 .140 .180 .204 1.8 1.1
Ryan Garko SFN R 2 12 0 .235 .330 .307 11.4 3.4
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Aubrey Huff BAL L 13 72 0 .253 .405 .324 55.4 4.4
Aubrey Huff DET L 2 13 0 .189 .302 .265 8.4 2.6
Travis Ishikawa SFN L 9 39 2 .261 .387 .331 41.1 4.4
Edgar Renteria SFN R 5 48 7 .250 .328 .310 46.9 3.5
Ryan Rohlinger SFN R 0 4 0 .158 .211 .200 0.8 1.2
Freddy Sanchez SFN R 1 7 0 .284 .324 .298 9.6 3.4
Pablo Sandoval SFN B 25 90 5 .330 .556 .390 122.4 8.3
Juan Uribe SFN R 16 55 3 .289 .495 .333 64.6 6.0
Eugenio Velez SFN B 5 31 11 .267 .400 .310 36.4 4.5

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Travis Ishikawa 3 113 817.33 745 55 83 3 10.9 23.3
SFN Ryan Garko 3 33 230.67 219 14 17 1 20.2 9.1
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 26 207.00 181 10 10 3 -2.4 -3.2
SFN Rich Aurilia 3 22 158.33 125 14 13 0 -19.7 -6.0
SFN John Bowker 3 4 18.67 15 0 0 0 -41.5 -1.5
SFN Jesus Guzman 3 3 14.00 10 0 1 0 -67.6 -1.8
BAL Huff Aubrey 3 93 826.00 822 59 82 4 -2.2 -5.1
CLE Garko Ryan 3 51 407.00 418 36 53 3 9.2 8.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 3 7 41.00 41 1 3 1 -9.6 -1.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 3 3 8.00 6 0 2 0 -96.1 -1.6
SFN Emmanuel Burriss 4 61 494.00 115 131 33 7 3.1 1.6
SFN Juan Uribe 4 38 299.67 59 82 20 1 -8.1 -2.8
SFN Eugenio Velez 4 31 215.67 55 68 8 6 33.1 8.4
SFN Freddy Sanchez 4 25 210.00 44 65 12 3 10.9 2.9
SFN Matt Downs 4 17 143.00 31 42 13 0 -1.3 1.4
SFN Kevin Frandsen 4 14 73.67 21 22 9 1 19.1 3.2
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 4 1 10.00 5 3 1 0 82.0 1.5
SLN Mark DeRosa 4 2 2.00 0 0 0 0 -136.0 -0.5
SFN Pablo Sandoval 5 120 1028.00 70 195 13 11 -1.3 -3.2
SFN Juan Uribe 5 44 323.33 28 67 8 4 9.7 6.7
SFN Rich Aurilia 5 13 65.67 3 11 2 0 -17.5 -1.7
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 5 8 29.00 2 7 0 0 10.9 0.7
CLE DeRosa Mark 5 42 355.00 25 74 12 8 -5.8 -6.1
SLN Mark DeRosa 5 63 519.00 41 99 9 0 -14.6 -13.1
SFN Edgar Renteria 6 123 1071.67 161 299 63 14 -3.7 -6.7
SFN Juan Uribe 6 41 318.67 61 94 20 4 12.3 7.1
SFN Kevin Frandsen 6 7 42.67 4 12 2 1 -15.0 -1.4
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 6 3 13.00 4 5 2 0 56.9 1.6

Outfielders:

Aaron Rowand is still in center, taking a slight step back in range and productivity, but doesn’t have an immediate replacement in site.  Randy Winn, a fantastic defensive right fielder but no longer a productive hitter, is gone and either Mark DeRosa or prospect John Bowker will take that spot.  DeRosa wasn’t fantastic in St. Louis, and he is – like many other new Giants – in his mid-30s (35 when he reports to Spring  Training).  Fred Lewis, like Winn a very good defender but not a plus hitter, may also be pressed to keep his job.  Nate Schierholtz, if he wants a role, needs to step up this year.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
John Bowker SFN L 2 7 1 .194 .373 .250 6.2 3.1
Fred Lewis SFN L 4 20 8 .258 .390 .348 40.7 4.8
Aaron Rowand SFN R 15 64 4 .261 .419 .320 66.2 4.7
Nate Schierholtz SFN L 5 29 3 .267 .400 .308 34.8 4.4
Andres Torres SFN B 6 23 6 .270 .533 .343 28.3 6.8
Randy Winn SFN B 2 51 16 .262 .353 .323 62.7 4.2

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Fred Lewis 7 83 589.67 127 3 1 3 4.8 5.7
SFN Randy Winn 7 54 319.67 72 1 0 0 5.6 4.4
SFN Eugenio Velez 7 42 288.67 49 2 0 2 -7.0 -4.9
SFN Andres Torres 7 33 163.33 33 1 1 0 -0.1 0.5
SFN John Bowker 7 13 84.67 20 1 0 0 11.1 2.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 7 16 130.00 22 1 0 0 -18.4 -5.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 7 2 10.00 5 0 0 0 83.0 2.0
CLE Garko Ryan 7 7 48.00 10 1 0 1 0.0 -0.5
SFN Aaron Rowand 8 137 1127.00 299 5 2 3 -1.7 -3.5
SFN Andres Torres 8 37 152.33 53 1 1 0 21.4 7.2
SFN Randy Winn 8 22 101.33 23 1 1 0 -11.6 -2.1
SFN Eugenio Velez 8 12 65.33 13 0 0 1 -18.0 -2.9
SFN Randy Winn 9 104 770.00 187 3 1 0 6.4 11.7
SFN Nate Schierholtz 9 86 597.67 135 10 2 2 6.2 8.0
SFN Andres Torres 9 5 35.33 7 0 0 0 -7.3 -0.5
SFN John Bowker 9 5 29.00 6 0 0 0 -4.8 -0.3
SFN Eugenio Velez 9 5 14.00 3 0 0 0 -2.7 -0.1
CLE DeRosa Mark 9 9 68.00 16 0 0 0 -4.2 -0.5
CLE Garko Ryan 9 5 28.00 6 0 0 0 -9.5 -0.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 9 1 8.00 2 0 0 0 7.9 0.2

Bench:

If nothing else, the team has a lot of versatility.  Uribe and DeRosa can play all but catcher and centerfield, and with four or five outfield options, there is depth.  Ishikawa can be the defensive replacement at first base.  Whiteside and Posey are as good a backup set of catchers in site.

Prospects:

We mentioned Posey and Bumgarner.  John Bowker hit well in Fresno (most everyone does) – hitting .342 with 21 homers and 74 walks in just 104 games.  It’s probably .275 with 15 homers in San Francisco, but that’s better than Randy Winn these days.  Osiris Matos might be okay as a reliever – he pitched well at Fresno out of the pen.  You know who pitched best there?  36 year old Ramon Ortiz.  Remember him?

Waldis Joaquin pitched great in Connecticut (AA).  He still needs to work on his control.  Brock Bond is the new David Eckstein – slapping his way to a .333 batting average and getting on base while playing a decent second base.  At A+ San Jose, Thomas Neal (.337, 22 – 90) and Roger Kieschnick (.296, 23 – 110) might be hitters, but it’s still early and everyone hits in San Jose.  I like Neal to get a job by 2012.

24-year old Craig Clark went 16 – 2 with great strikeout and walk numbers at San Jose, Clayton Tanner (21) was 12 – 6, and Scott Barnes (21) was 12 – 3 for the same San Jose team.  All three are solid prospects.  The good news is that the AA and A+ teams won their divisions last year – so the youth movement looks good for the Giants.

Outlook:

I’d like to think that the Giants are going to get better – and if they do, it’s because the young guys kick in.  There are just too many old guys on this roster – and all the hired guns are over 32.  This, to me, is a holding year and not a step forward year.  I don’t see how the Giants will score MORE runs or allow FEWER runs.  I see it staying the same.  The Giants will be competitive, but without getting that “last really good year” out of DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, and Rowand, I don’t see them being any better than 86 – 76.

2009 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies
2008: 90-72 (1st NL East, World Series Champions)

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were a very good team that got hot at the right time (September and October) and generally did this because the offense was good, the bench produced, and the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – was flat out impressive.

In the National League, only one team scored more runs (the Chicago Cubs), and only two teams allowed fewer runs (The Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers), which helps to explain why only the Cubs had the better regular season record.  However, the Cubs folded the tent in October while the Phillies were just getting started.  If the Phillies needed to score runs, they could.  If the team needed a solid pitching performance, especially down the stretch, it could get one, and if the bullpen needed to hold a lead, Brad Lidge and company could stop another team cold in its tracks.  It didn’t hurt that down the stretch the Phillies played a lot of games against the weak sisters (Atlanta, Washington, and the folding Mets), but even when faced with a playoff bound Milwaukee in September, the Phillies smoked them in four straight – which should have sounded the alarm that this team was ready for the playoffs.

And they were ready.  They took down the Brewers, they stopped the charging Dodgers, and they blew away a very good Tampa Bay Rays team winning every home game and losing just once on the road in each series.

Looking Back on 2008

As in 2007, the getaway was problematic but not as bad.  For 20 games, Philadelphia would win two and lose two, never falling more than two games under .500, but never getting past it, either.  Then, in game 23, the Phillies got above even and started making progress toward the top of the division.

The reason for this was that half the starting rotation was working, and half the offense was working.  Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer were great, Brett Myers and Adam Eaton were struggling, and Kyle Kendrick was somewhere in the middle.  And, Ryan Howard got off to such a slow start it negated the amazing start of Chase Utley.  Pat Burrell was hitting, but Jimmy Rollins was fighting nagging injuries and not hitting.

In late May, the pieces started coming together.  Over the summer, Charlie Manual and the rest of Phillie management convinced Brett Myers to take a month in the minors to work on a couple of adjustments and see if he couldn’t get things turned around.  Myers, to his credit, did just that and when he came back in August was solid down the stretch.  Then, the Phillies finally gave up on Adam Eaton and traded for Joe Blanton, giving up a couple of minor leaguers.  Blanton, who had struggled some in Oakland, found his stride down the stretch and looked even more confident in the post-season.  So, by the time September rolled around, the rotation featured four solid starters and Kyle Kendrick – who wasn’t pitching well, but still had a winning record.  The Phillies had their best month in September, winning seventeen games while losing just eight.  In October, they were even better.

Tell me about that offense

Believe it or not, as good as the 2008 Phillies line up was, they were almost 100 runs worse than in 2007.

Some of this could have been predicted (and was).  Jimmy Rollins was coming off his best season ever, so to think he would generate 140 runs of offense again would have been extremely optimistic.  Struggling through the year, Rollins still produced, but was 45 runs worse than the previous year.  He missed 35 games, lost 100 points in his slugging percentage, and it showed up on the scoreboard.  His backup, usually Eric Bruntlett, can’t hit like Rollins.  Shane Victorino moved to center to replace Aaron Rowand, who was coming off his career best season.  Victorino was good, but still 25 runs behind what Rowand produced.

Some of the rest was just the give and take of seasons.  Ryan Howard was slow to get rolling and was off slightly from the previous year.  Pedro Feliz looked slow at the plate and was below average in hitting.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz struggled, giving more time to Chris Coste, who hit pretty well.  Chase Utley and Pat Burrell were no better than they had been in 2007 – which is to say they remained potent hitters.

However, top to bottom, this was a solid line up.  You had six above average bats (Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell, Victorino, and Werth), and a couple of slower bats – but it worked.  No team is going to complain about finishing in second in runs scored.  The Phillies could hit.

Defensively:

The Phillies were slightly above average in terms of turning balls in play into outs.  The outfield improved in part because Victorino and Werth were an improvement on Rowand in center, Pat Burrell had a slightly better year than in 2007 defensively (still bad though), and the backups in the outfield (Werth when he played in center, Taguchi when he played in left) caught everything.

Jimmy Rollins has below average range (-4.1, the third straight year between -4 and -5), but makes up for it on the double play and avoiding errors.  Chase Utley has above average range and is also good turning two.  The Phillies were slightly above average in the percentage of baserunners removed by double plays.  Howard appears to be losing his mobility.  The few replacements at first base all had better per inning numbers, but nobody is taking Howard off the diamond.  Pedro Feliz was slightly below average but even his replacement was solid (Dobbs).

The outfield was weak.  Victorino and Werth were, on the whole, average.  The now departed Burrell has wrestled with Josh Willingham for two years to see who was the worst defensive left fielder in the National League.  The backups, So Taguchi and Geoff Jenkins, were both solid defensively.

Behind the plate, Ruiz and Coste are tolerable.  Both were below average against the stolen base and the total number of steals allowed was the fifth most in the league.  Coste makes fewer mistakes, but Ruiz appears to be more mobile in that he had 28 more assists that were not people trying to steal bases than Cost in a similar number of innings.

Now Pitching…

Last year I wrote, “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….  Hamels might be able to pick up 40 more innings…”  I’ll just quote that part, since it was right on the money, and not note that I had predicted Jamie Moyer to decline, when Moyer was equally brilliant in 2008.  Hamels saved his team 30 runs over the average pitcher, Moyer another 20.

Blanton was a slightly above average pitcher after his arrival, and Brett Myers was break even – with his second half being as good as his first half was poor.  So, the top four starters, who all return in 2009, were above average.

After that, you have Kyle Kendrick.  In two seasons, Kendrick has had a winning record – but things are going in the wrong direction.  He doesn’t strike anyone out and he doesn’t walk people.  In 2007, the ball stayed in the park.  In 2008, the ball left the yard.  When a pitcher allows too many hitters to put the ball in play, it’s a bad combination that is bound to backfire.  In 2008 it did.  Adam Eaton is still around, but for the third straight year, he posted an ERA over 5.00.  I would be surprised if Eaton is on the roster in 2008.

The bullpen, however, showed incredible improvement.  Brad Lidge didn’t blow a single save and was absolutely amazing all season long.  And – he wasn’t alone.  Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, and Chad Durbin all were 10 runs allowed better than the average reliever.  Scott Eyre came over from the Cubs and was above average as well.  I mean – every pitcher who played a key role on the team, with the exception of Adam Eaton, was above average.  That’s TEN solid pitchers.

Forecasting 2008:

Conventional wisdom might look at this team and say “wow – look how good they were, this is the team to beat in the NL” – and for the most part conventional wisdom is right.  Unfortunately, there are a few “buts” to consider.

Last year, the team was virtually injury free.  Jimmy Rollins was the only starter to miss any significant time, and he still played in nearly 140 games.  No pitcher went down with a serious injury, except Tom Gordon, who wasn’t needed and was the last active pitcher who played with Frank White.  I’d be hard pressed to believe that the same luck will stay with the Phillies in 2009.  Chase Utley had hip surgery in the offseason and the Phillies are cautiously optimistic that he’ll be back around opening day.  As such, Marcus Giles was given a Non-Roster Invite to spring training – and he hasn’t been good since 2006.

The 2008 Phillies were a veteran team.  Not an old team, but a collection of guys around 29 on offense, and – Moyer not withstanding – generally prime ages for pitchers.  That works in their favor – but they aren’t getting younger either.  Replacing Burrell in left field will be the 37 year-old Raul Ibanez.  Raul’s slightly better in the field than Burrell, and hasn’t missed much time in the last seven years.  But he’s 37 – and guys who are 37 miss games.  They don’t get faster.  Ibanez isn’t likely to be better than Burrell, he’s likely to be worse. 

J.C Romero tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, moving Scott Eyre into a more prominent role, but Romero’s roster spot was claimed by Chan Ho Park.  Park turns 36 in mid-season.  Park won’t be better than Romero, that’s for sure.  And, God help the Phillies if they need him to be a starter – he hasn’t been effective in that role for years.  Outfielder Tai Iguchi is gone; the remaining backup outfielders are Jenkins (34) and Matt Stairs (40).  John Mayberry, Jr., acquired from Texas, hasn’t played in the majors yet and has never hit above .270 in the minors.  And, like a lot of young major leaguers, he strikes out a lot.

Let’s try to do this by runs.  My guess is that Ibanez will be 10 – 15 runs worse than Burrell, Feliz will continue to look older, and Greg Dobbs may not be as consistent.  If it were me, I’d play Dobbs over Feliz, but I don’t think Manual agrees with me.  Anyway – that’s another ten run loss.  Ryan Howard isn’t getting better – just richer.  He could be off five runs from last year.  Utley is a question mark.  I root for the guy, personally, but it could be a 30 – 40 run decline from 2008.  There could be a slight improvement at catcher, Ronnie Paulino was acquired from Pittsburgh as insurance, but he’s not better than either Ruiz or Coste.  There is no position where the Phillies will be BETTER on offense.   More likely, the Phillies will fall from nearly 800 runs to 750 runs offensively.  It could be less than that.

Defensively, the team will likely be flat – depending on how well Utley’s replacement plays.  Giles won’t be better than Utley, though the improvement of not playing Burrell for 1000 innings in the outfield will make up for that in some way.

So that leaves the pitching staff.  Let’s say Hamels remains outstanding, and Blanton and Myers are above average.  It’s equally likely however that whatever benefits Blanton and Myers may add will be negated by a decline by Moyer.  Moyer’s season in 2008 was the lone solid season in the last four – and while he’s one of my favorite pitchers, he’s not going to be better than last year.  I think he could easily be 20 runs worse than last year – which makes Moyer league average.  Moyer’s record will be 10 – 12 if he makes 30 starts again.  He usually does…

If I’m Charlie Manual, I give starts to J.A. Happ.  Happ looks to be an improvement over Kyle Kendrick – he’s been solid in the minors and didn’t disappoint in four starts last year.  That would be his only chance to improve the rotation.  At least Manual has a good sixth option.  Park is not.  Eaton should be released.  A full year of Blanton is an improvement over 13 starts of Blanton and 19 starts by Eaton.

However, so many pitchers were above average in the bullpen, I’d fear for at least one of them (Clay Condrey is my first guess, Park the other) to be league average or worse.  That’s another decline of at least 20 runs.  On the whole, the pitchers are likely to allow 35 more runs than in 2008.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed numbers at 750/700 – a record of about 87 – 75.  87 wins might be enough to make the playoffs, though – and since this team has two straight years of closing strongly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in by a nose.  One pitcher injury, however – especially if it’s Hamels – would cost the team five games in the standings, and 82 wins won’t get it done.

Down on the Farm…

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs look to be shy on players who can help.  The best hitter is probably first baseman Adam Tracy – but he isn’t great and Howard isn’t moving.  Mike Cervanek looks like Enos Cabell – might hit .280 with 10 homers and no walks.  Outfielder Brendan Watson isn’t going to help people if he hits .270 with no power and a bad stolen base percentage.  Their catching prospect, Jason Jaramillo was sent to Pittsburgh for Ronny Paulino.  The best pitcher was J.A. Happ, who should be starting for Philadelphia already.  He just needs a chance to pitch 140 innings and show what he can do and learn how to survive at the top level.

The best hitter in Reading (AA) was catcher Lou Marson, who got to play in one September game and homered for the Phillies that day.  I thought he looked good at Clearwater in 2007, so his continued improvement bodes well for his future.  He’ll be starting here by 2010.   Jason Donald looked good at shortstop, hitting for power and showing plate discipline.  He’s blocked at the big league level, though, unless Utley can’t come back.  Jeremy Slayden can hit some, but he’ll be 27 soon and running out of time.  He’s reaching his peak and hasn’t gotten past AA.  No pitchers in AA were that impressive – nobody with stunning strikeout numbers, a low number of hits per nine, or remarkable control.

At the lower levels, Michael Taylor hit a ton at Lakeland and Clearwater, but few others had successful runs.  Taylor comes from Stanford and is built like a tight end (6’ 6”, 250) but needs to move up a couple of levels quickly.  This was his first solid season in the minors.