Chasing Pete Rose

In honor of Ichiro Suzuki getting his 4000th hit in his professional career – and Pete Rose reminding everyone that those hits in Japan shouldn’t count, I thought I’d see who was chasing Rose by age group and determine if anyone had a chance to catch him.

Before I do, though, let’s remind Rose that Ichiro didn’t start playing in the US until his was 27 and when he got here he was already a dominant hitter (.350, 242 hits).  Had he come to the US when he was younger, he likely would have had at least five additional years of 200 hits or so – which means he might already have 3700 hits in the US and a legitimate shot at having more hits than Rose.

But that’s no matter…

Let’s do this by age as the oldest active hitter right now is Jason Giambi. Giambi leads all 42 year olds in hits with 1968 coming into the season and is a threat to make it to 2000, but not much further.  #2 on this list is Brian Giles, who hasn’t played in forever…

(41)  The leaders at 41 are all in the clubhouse – literally.  Pudge Rodriguez had 2844 hits, followed by Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, and Garret Anderson.  The active leader in this group is Andy Pettitte, with 27.

(40)  Like 42, this is not a prolific hitting group, led by the long-retired Shawn Green at 2003.

(39)  The first age with a challenger – Derek Jeter.  Jeter was making progress until this year, where he has but four hits.  He needed another year of around 200.  At 3308, he needs about 950 hits to catch Rose, which means playing well until he is at least 45.  That’s not likely.  He could finish in the top five, though.  Suzuki is on this list – 2722 as of this week.

(38)  Vlad Guerrero leads people at 38 with 2590, but he is done (sadly).  Bengie Molina is the active leader, assuming he still has a job at the end of the year.

(37)  Alex Rodriguez opened the year with 2901, and then sat most of it out.  He would likely have cleared 3000, and even if he played long enough to fulfill his contract, I don’t see him getting the additional 1300 hits he’s going to need to catch Rose.  He’d have to play until he is 47, which is chemically possible.

Paul Konerko and Torii Hunter are the other active leaders, but neither would be expected to make it to 2500, much less 3000. David Ortiz and Lance Berkman might make it to 2000 – Ortiz could make it by the end of the year with a hot streak, and push toward 2500 before it’s over.

(36)  Michael Young leads the group, with Carlos Beltran behind him.  Young looked like a candidate to make a run for 3000 at one point, but now looks like he might run out of gas without making 2500.  Beltran’s knees may betray him before he makes 2500, too.

(35)  The leader in the clubhouse is Juan Pierre, but it’s going to be tough to make it to 3000 (he has about 800 to go) as a fourth outfielder.  Aramis Ramirez will make a run toward about 2400 before it ends.

(34)  Adrian Beltre will finish 2013 with about 2400 hits.  He looks to be on a good roll, but he’s reached the age at which, well, age matters.  I think he may finish with the same number of hits as George Brett.  Jimmy Rollins has closed in on 2200, but he isn’t going to make it to 3000 without finding the foutain of youth.

(33)  Albert Pujols dominates this age group, but the last two years, including an injury-plagued 2013, have slowed his pace.  He’s less than 700 hits from 3000, which still seams easily within reach, but going deep in the 3000s no longer seems probable.  Matt Holiday passed Mark Teixeira this year, but he still needs about 300 to get to 2000 and will make a run at 3000, but not without staying healthy and productive for at least six more years.

(32)  To have a shot at 4000 hits, someone who is 32 should already be well past 2000 hits.  Alex Rios leads this group and will finish the year with more than 1500 hits.  He’ll make it to 2000, but he won’t make 2500.

(31)  The leader at this age group, Carl Crawford, seemed on his way after, say, 2009.  He has lost his momentum, though, and may be hard pressed to turn what will be about 1800 hits to 3000.  Adrian Gonzalez is on this list – pushing 1500, but hard pressed to make much more than 2500.

(30)  Miguel Cabrera dominates this age group – he will finish 2013 around 2000 hits.  I don’t see him averaging 200 hits a year until he’s 40, but he could average 160 hits a year for that long.  That means he needs to play two or three more years beyond 40 to get to 4000 hits.  Obviously this is conjecture, but Cabrera is the only guy with even a SMALL chance of competing with Pete Rose, but you never know.  I’m rooting for him.

The rest of the 30s, including Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, and David Wright, will push 2500, but not much more.  Reyes may not stay healthy enough to make 2000…

(29)  Leading this group are Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, and Ryan Braun, all between 1300 and 1400 hits.  None of these will make 3000 hits, much less 4000.

(28)  You’d think you might have a bunch of hitters with well over 1200 hits here, but you have one – Ryan Zimmerman.  None of the really good hitters in this age group (Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki) started the year over 1000 – or can stay healthy.

(27)  Billy Butler passed 1000 this year and is rolling past 1100 now.  Adam Jones is making a run at 1000 by the end of the season.  After that, nobody has made any real progress.  Those are the only two making any run at 2000 hits – and will be hard pressed to make 2500.

(26)  The top bat in this group will likely be Andrew McCutchen, who will finish the year north of 800.  Ten years of 170 hits would be 2500, and he’d have some time to make 3000.  Austin Jackson might make 2000, as could Pablo Sandoval, if he becomes a DH.

(25)  Nobody is challenging Justin Upton, who will be short of 800 hits by the end of the season.  I thought he had the best chance to have statistics that looked like Hank Aaron going into 2012, but he hasn’t taken that next step forward.  If he gets going, he could make 3000.  If not, he might not make 2000 and that would be sad.

(24)  The early leader is Elvis Andrus, who will be around 800 at the end of 2013.  That’s where you need to be at this point – pushing that first 1000 at the end of your age 25 season.  His glove will keep him around and he seems to be making marginal progress every year.  He needs to stay at the top of the lineup to get the at bats, but he is best poised for 3000 hits of the younger players.

(23)  Starlin Castro is having an off year in 2013, but will still finish the year around 700 hits.  Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton are on this list – but already a couple of hundred hits off Castro’s pace.  The other young hitters are just getting started.  Castro is the one to watch.  If he can start rattling off hits for the next seven years, he could be well on the way to a big number.

(22)  Heading into this season, there were no players with any active history.  That doesn’t bode bell for someone running far beyond 2000 hits.

(21)  Mike Trout – 209 hits heading into the season, 400 hits at the end of the season.  That’s the kind of start that suggests a big number in the future – we can check in ten years and see what is happening…

(20)  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – both are capable and just getting started.

Albert Pujols vs. Ryan Howard

Since Bobby Cox suggested that Albert Pujols is worth double that of Ryan Howard, I thought I’d see how insane that might be by looking at the numbers.

Both players are winners, having been in a couple of World Series, winning one each and both play in the National League at first base.  Both seem like decent guys – though Pujols probably has a bit more of a “do good” reputation than Howard.  It’s not like Howard isn’t a good guy, but Pujols has a reputation for being near sainthood.

As a hitter, Ryan Howard was devastating in 2006 when he hit 58 homers, drove in 149, and batted .313.  That year, however, Albert Pujols hit .331, had a higher slugging percentage and a slightly higher on base percentage.  And, of course, Pujols was a far better fielder – saving his team about 26.3 runs while Howard cost his team about 15.6.

Since then, Howard actually went into a decline for two years before coming out of it in 2009.  He has, to his credit, become a better fielder – but Pujols is arguably the best first baseman with the glove in the National League.  And, Pujols, despite having an elbow on the verge of needing surgery, continued to hit.  He declined a bit in 2007, but rebounded with two more years that were better than Howard’s first.  Pujols has three years that were more productive than Howard’s best year, and his worst season of the last four would be better than all of Ryan Howard’s seasons save 2006.

Let’s get to the raw numbers:

By my count, Ryan Howard has generated about 519 runs for his team offensively, which is an impressive number – nearly 130 runs a year, which is about 50 more than the average player.  Defensively, I show Howard has saved his team another 5.7 runs.  So – the net is about 525 total runs.

Albert Pujols has generated 645 runs with his bat.  He may not have Howard’s raw home run numbers, but he has a better batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, steals bases from time to time, and strikes out one third as often.  (Howard might be slightly better stealing bases – 10 for 12 in the last four seasons and 8 for 9 in 2009 where Pujols is 32 of 47.  Pujols was 2 for 8 in 2007, but has been better in the other three years, including going 16 for 20 last year.)  Defensively, Pujols has saved his team 141.4 runs – so the net is about 786 runs.  If Howard is 50 runs per year better than the average player, Pujols is about 115 runs better than the average player every year.

If you go by flat contribution, Albert Pujols is 50% more productive than Ryan Howard (196 runs per year to 131) – so give him 37.5 million a year for a few years…  If you grade by distance above the norm, Pujols is twice as valuable as Howard.

Bobby Cox wasn’t exaggerating by too much.

Uecker On DL With Heart Surgery

Longtime Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, whose sense of humor – especially when poking fun at himself – and colorful commentary and story telling has earned him legions of fans across the upper midwest, is scheduled for surgery to replace an aortic valve on Friday.  Uecker has known of the problem for a few months but was hoping to finish the season before needing surgery.  Instead, when the problems worsened quicker than planned, doctors told him not to wait.  [SI]

I used to listen to Uecker on a transistor radio (I know, Kelli – what’s that?), and also on occasion in the Columbia Pipe warehouse in Gurnee on afternoons when Cubs games weren’t on.  In my mind, I can hear him tell stories about Mark Brouhard, the heroes of Harvey’s Wallbangers, and even recall a handful of Lite Beer pitches.  He was the perfect voice for the Major League movies – “He throws a K-Y ball in there for a strike.”

Hurry back!

Do the Nationals Bring Strasburg Up?

Stephen Strasburg tossed five innings of no-hit ball last night – the only player reaching base actually struck out but got to first on a passed ball.  I am ADMITTING my impatience, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the ace of the AA Harrisburg Senators either got the call to join the major league club, or at least got a move to AAA soon.  [ESPN]

Rough Day Yesterday?

Justin Morneau left last night’s game against Detroit early.  According to manager Ron Gardenhire, the Minnesota first baseman felt stiffness in his upper back because, facing Justin Verlander, “…he was swinging and missing a lot…” and it was messing with his back.  [ESPN]

Oakland placed pitcher Brett Anderson on the DL with stiffness in his left forearm and swelling in his elbow.  [SI]

Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz heads to the DL with a strained hamstring.  Cruz tweaked his hammy running the bases on Monday night, and wasn’t very mobile on Tuesday.  Look for David Murphy to get a few more starts… [FoxSports]

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal left the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader with tightness in his hamstring – though Torre wasn’t sure which leg it was.  Details.  [ESPN]

News From Behind the Mask…

Tampa’s Dioner Navarro will be suspended for two games as a result of his bumping an umpire in a game Friday night.  [FoxSports]

Chris Ianetta, once a starter for your Colorado Rockies, heads to AAA to find his batting eye.  [SI]

I can’t remember where I saw this, but I heard that Texas is giving the starting catcher job to Matt Treanor.  Both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were dispatched to AAA, and Max Ramirez will back up Treanor.

Oh Yeah – I forgot…

Brad Lidge also pitched in that AA game featuring Stephen Strasburg.  The erstwhile Phillies closer logged two innings, striking out four, in a rehab stint for Reading.  Lidge feels he’s just about ready to return to the parent club.  [MLB]

So How Much is Albert Pujols Worth?

Seeing that Ryan Howard inked a five year extension worth $125 million with Philadelphia, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested that Albert Pujols is worth TWICE that.  I dunno…  Howard hits about 50 homers a year, has improved at the plate and in the field, and seems committed to the Phillies.  It was an expensive contract, but there aren’t a whole lot of players who produce as many runs as Howard does.  The fact that he strikes out a lot probably gives him more chances to bat with runners on base because pitchers feel like they have a shot at getting him out.  NOBODY wants to face Pujols, though, and by my count he’s been 30 to 70 runs better than any other offensive player for each of the last five years.  If anybody is worth $30 million, it might be Albert.

Transaction Wire:

Boston dispatched infielder Kevin Frandsen (his career pretty much ended when he blew out his achilles a couple of years back), and recalled pitcher Alan Embree.

Washington recalled outfielder Roger Bernadina from AAA Syracuse.  The guy can fly.  Bernadina’s stint should be longer this time – last year he got maybe two games into his major league career when he broke his ankle leaping against the wall.

The Rockies placed two pitchers on the DL yesterday.  Jason Hammel leaves with a strained groin (hopefully his own), while Jorge De La Rosa tore a tendon in his middle finger.

Catcher Jason LaRue returns to the Cardinals after a brief DL stint.

Oakland recalled Steve Tolleson from AAA.  You might remember his dad, Wayne, was an infielder a few years back.    He’s not REALLY a prospect – he actually looks like he has the same skill set as his father, only a little faster.

Happy Birthday!

1902 – Red Lucas
1934 – Jackie Brandt
1935 – Pedro Ramos
1960 – John Cerrutti, Tom Browning
1964 – Barry Larkin
1981 – Shawn Hill

Baseball’s Opening Day Fun!

It’s nice to get back into the swing of writing…  I didn’t get all of the team forecasts done, so I’ll just add as many as I can in April before calling it good.  I DID rate all of the players by position for the first time ever, so I got THAT going for me…

I was able to watch a variety of different games, getting in most of the Phillies – Nationals game, the early innings of the Cubs – Braves slaughter (ouch if you are a Cubs fan like me), two innings of the Diamondbacks opener, and listened to about two innings of the Astros and Giants opener.  That’s a good opening day.

Things that caught my attention:

How about that play by Mark Buehrle on a ball that rocketed off his left shin into foul territory.  Buehrle ran it down and flipped the ball between his legs to first for the out.  [MLB]

I don’t think the Cubs should allow Carlos Zambrano to start on opening day.  He’s just too excitable.  Once a ball fell in that he thought should have been caught in the first inning, the game went out the window.

Jason Heyward became the umpteenth player in MLB history to homer in his first plate appearance – looking very comfortable as a major league outfielder.  [FoxSports]

Albert Pujols and Garrett Jones (who was immediately scooped up by Andy Finch in our fantasy baseball league) homered twice on opening day, which means they are on pace to hit 300 homers in 2010…

Jack Cust was released by the A’s – and isn’t too happy about it.  Cust hits homers and draws walks – but that’s about it.  Still – he produces runs for a team that doesn’t really have a cleanup hitter.  [Fanhouse]

Buster Olney writes that the Yankees are already concerned about the decline in Jorge Posada‘s defense.  But they have no worries about the lack of range displayed by Derek Jeter?  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

1903 Mickey Cochrane
1906 Benny Frey
1908 Ernie Lombardi
1937 Phil Regan
1943 Marty Pattin – I can still remember getting his baseball card as a little kid at a corner store  near by grandparent’s house in Chicago
1951 Bert Blyleven
1971 Lou Merloni

Hurry Back!

Lots of guys starting the year on the DL, including (but not limited to):

Brandon Webb (AZ) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Marc Rzepczynski
(TOR) – 15 day, fractured middle finger on left hand
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) – 15 day, neck strain
Cliff Lee (SEA) – 15 day, abdominal strain
Jose Reyes (NYM) – 15 day, thyroid condition
Jesus Flores (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Daniel Murphy (NYM) – 15 day, sprained knee
Coco Crisp (OAK) – 15 day, fractured pinkie
J.P. Howell (TB) – 15 day, left shoulder strain
Kerry Wood (CLE) – 15 day, right lat strain
Freddy Sanchez (SF) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Ted Lilly (CHC) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Russell Branyan (CLE) – 15 day, herniated disc
Ian Kinsler (TEX) – 15 day, sprained ankle
Tommy Hunter
(TEX) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Gil Meche (KC) – 15 day, bursitis in throwing shoulder
Alex Gordon (KC) – 15 day, broken thumb
Huston Street (COL) – 15 day, shoulder inflammation
Joe Blanton (PHI) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Scott Kazmir (LAA) – 15 day, hamstring strain
Brad Lidge (PHI) – 15 day, recovering from elbow surgery

Hey Pittsburgh fans! Your team is in first place!

Have a great day!

2010 Season Forecast: Houston Astros

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 74 – 88 (5th NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75
2007: 73 – 89
2006: 82 – 80
2005: 89 – 73

For two straight seasons, the Astros have outperformed their stats – which is to say that their record is better than the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed.  In 2008, the Astros were 11 games over .500 despite allowing 31 runs more than they scored.  In 2009, the Astros scored and allowed the same number of runs as Pittsburgh and yet won 12 more games.  That can’t keep happening…

Season Recap:

On the heels of a ridiculously over-successful 2008, some people thought the Astros might remain competitive in 2009.  Instead, long time veterans fell off (Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman), and eventually Cecil Cooper was fired because people didn’t think he knew what he was doing.

The Astros won an extra inning game on April 7th to pull to .500 with a win and a loss.  Houston lost five in a row, and then would trade wins and losses for about a month never getting better than four games under .500 until late June.  As the month turned into July, the Astros played their best baseball, winning 18 of 26 games.  This got their record to 50 – 46 and into the the NL Central race, just two games behind St. Louis and tied with Chicago for second place.

What happened next was that the Astros ran out of mojo.  A slow slide brought them back under .500, and despite sweeping the Phillies in four games the Astros could never get closer than two games under .500.  When the clubhouse, management, and media turned on Cecil Cooper, knowing that season was over anyway, Cooper was let go.  September was spent wondering what could have been, including a nine-game losing streak that knocked Houston into fifth place.

Were they really that good?  Probably not.  The Astros scored five runs more than Pittsburgh (743 – 738) and allowed two more (770 – 768).  Houston was as lucky as Pittsburgh was unlucky – and should really have won about 67 games.

Pitching:

Wandy Rodriquez turned into an ace, winning 14 games, throwing nearly 206 innings, and saving his team about 28.5 runs over what an average starter might have given up.  Roy Oswalt, admittedly having an off season, won just eight games but was still better than league average in his 30 starts.  And that’s where it ends.

Last year, Brian Moehler got 29 starts, allowed nearly six runs per nine, and was bad enough to virtually offset Rodriguez.  Mike Hampton returned to go 7 – 10, and he was 13 runs worse than the average pitcher over 112 innings.  How many of you thought he would make 100 innings?  Felipe Paulino was atrocious – 22 innings worse than average in just shy of 100 innings.  Ouch.  Russ Ortiz got 13 brutal starts.  Yorman Bazardo went 1 – 3 and had an ERA of 7.88.  Only rookie Bud Norris got a few starts and didn’t look lousy.  No team is going to be successful with what amounts to 500 innings of horrific pitching unless the lineup is eight Albert Pujols.

What saved Houston was a remarkable bullpen.  Jose Valverde had just 25 saves (injuries interruped his season), but he also was 12.6 runs better than the average pitcher in his 52 innings.  LaTroy Hawkins had perhaps his best season ever – 63 innings and a 2.13 ERA.  Jeff Fulchino was a stopper in middle relief, and Tim Byrdak allowed only 39 hits in his 61.1 innings.  Sure, the rest of the staff was a mixed bag of arms, but four solid relievers can keep games in hand even when the starters get lifted – and these starters were regularly lifted…

For 2010, the big move was adding former Phillie, Brett Myers, to the rotation.  A one-time starter, Myers can help here just by staying around league average.  Moving Bud Norris into a full time spot (#4) would also help some.  Sadly, Paulino and Moehler get to fight for that fifth spot in the rotation – or get starts that someone else might miss.  Still – this could be a 30 run improvement on the defensive side.

For the bullpen, Jose Valverde is gone, as is Hawkins.  Matt Lindstrom arrives from Florida with a 100 MPH fastball that has little or no movement.  Brandon Lyon was signed to a three-year deal to set up Lindstrom.  I don’t see how this is going to be better – and it could easily be 25 runs WORSE than last year.

Catching:

Ivan Rodriguez was installed as the starter at the beginning of the year and was still solid – makes few mistakes, strong against the run, still reasonably mobile, but isn’t a run producer.  After Pudge was allowed to leave for Texas, Humberto Quintero took over and was exceptional against the run though a bit more mistake prone.

One time prospect J.R. Towles gets one last shot at this job (one assumes that Jason Castro or Koby Clemens will be taking over soon enough) – with Quintero as his backup.  Though Towles didn’t throw anyone out last year (one guy – he threw out one guy), he does have better overall skills.  Overall, this might be five runs better, but I don’t buy it.  Let’s call the overall production a wash.

Infield:

Lance Berkman had his first off sesason after a long run of productive hitting.  He’s still an offensive force, but he missed a month of games with injuries.  Darin Erstad isn’t really good enough to take over here.  If the Astros expect to win, Berkman has to play 150 games and he’s at the age where that gets harder and harder to do.

Kaz Matsui returns – a glove man who really doesn’t do much to keep the offense going.  At this point, the Astros need to keep him because I don’t think Jeff Keppinger is going to do any better.

Miguel Tejada played a surprisingly solid shortstop, and kicked in with 199 hits and 46 doubles.  He’s NOT a top flight hitter, but he’s been as dependable for hits as anyone and remains above average for the league and his position.  He’s gone, though, to be replaced by rookie Tommy Manzella.  Manzella hit .289 at Round Rock last year, but isn’t going to hit as well as Tejada.  He MIGHT be 20 runs better defensively, but he may well hit about .260 with a little power, which will be about 30 runs worse offensively.

Geoff Blum had a rough season, to say the least.  He was below average offensively (.247, 10 homers – 4.2 runs per 27 outs) and he cost his team another 21 runs defensively at third base.  Enter Pedro Feliz, who had a monster season defensively and will be no worse a hitter.

On the whole, I see this group being about 40 runs better defensively, but lose 30 runs offensively.

Outfield:

Offensively, this is a strong unit.  Carlos Lee in left remains a potent power source.  Hunter Pence in right field has power, patience, speed, and provides good defense.  Michael Bourn is a burner who gets on base, steals what he can, and can cover ground in center.

Defensively, Lee needs to be a DH – costing his team about 32 runs in left.  He’s no longer mobile enough to cover any ground and he’s reaching the age where his bat might start to slip.  Jason Michaels returns to play the late innings for Lee.

Prospects:

Looking over AAA Round Rock, other than Tommy Manzello, you have Chris Johnson.  He’s a third baseman taken in the 4th round in 2006 out of Stetson.  Right now, he looks like he’d hit as well as Geoff Blum and if he fields better might be a better option for 2010.  At 25, Johnson has to step up now.  Among pitchers, Bud Norris already got the call in 2009, as did Bazardo and Sam Gervacio, who might get a second chance some time in 2010.  Gervacio showed power and control in AAA (58Ks, 21 Ws in 52.1 innings).

The best pitcher at AA Corpus Christi was Polin Trinidad, who walked just ten batters in 82.2 innings and earned a promotion to AAA mid-season.  He’s still a year away, but I’d rather see him than, say, Brian Moehler.  Drew Locke hit .338 with 20 homers there – but it’s taken a while for the former Dodger draft pick to get his career moving.  He must be a brutal fielder.  Catcher Jason Castro, the 2008 1st round pick, moved up to AA in 2009 and continues to hit for a decent average (.293) and work the count.  He could make the roster in 2010, for sure he’ll be on the Astros in 2011.

Pitchers in Lancaster (A+) got slapped around a lot there, but a few stood out.  Leandro Cespedes, Shane Wolf, and Fernando Abad all had decent control and strikeout numbers and are young enough to contribute a couple of years from now.  I especially liked Abad, who walked only eight in 82.2 innings.  He could be a future closer.  Because hitting is so easy there, you have to take stats with a grain of salt, but catcher Koby Clemens hit .345 with power – probably the best of the lot.

2008 1a pick Jordan Lyles pitched well at Lexington in the SAL – 167Ks just 38 walks in 144.2 innings.  Still a teenager, he’ll be in Lancaster and probably Corpus Christi soon enough.  2007 pick Collin Delome (5th round) has a lot of different skills, but needs to step up his batting average.  He looks like Brady Anderson, only in AA.  Meanwhile, top pick in 2006, Maxwell Sapp has yet to hit above. 241 in the minors and with two other catchers ahead of him, is not on the prospect lists anymore.

Forecast:

I don’t see the Astros being competitive in the NL Central.  I see them struggling to score runs – about 610 runs this season – and despite the improved defense, still giving up about 725 runs.  There are just too many holes to patch, and after two years of very lucky won-loss records, the system says no more than 67 wins and playing the under.

2010 Season Forecast: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Five Years:

2009:  91 – 71 (1st NL Central)
2008:  86 – 76
2007:  78 – 84
2006:  83 – 78
2005: 100 – 62

Runs Scored: 730
Runs Allowed: 640

Season Recap:

With two aces and the world’s greatest offensive force, the Cardinals held their own throughout the 2009 season.  And just when it looked like someone might catch them, the Cards added Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz to bury the rest of the division.

The Cardinals got off to a hot start, winning 17 of the first 24 games.  However, like the Cubs, a couple of ill-timed losing streaks returned the team back to the pack and in fact St. Louis trailed Milwaukee for parts of June.  In fact, all three teams played indifferently for much of the summer until the front office got involved.

Adding Holliday to the offense and giving a few starts to someone other than Todd Wellemeyer helped get a winning stretch going.  From July 27th through the end of the year, the Cardinals played great – going 38 – 23 before losing in the playoffs.

Injuries claimed Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel at times, and LaRussa had to work around a defense that wasn’t functional at many positions.  Skip Schumaker was an outfielder impersonating a second baseman – badly.  He was replaced by Julio Lugo near the end of the season, and the ball wasn’t hit close enough to him either – not that Lugo had been a regular second baseman recently.  Chris Duncan is a poor outfielder – replaced by Matt Holliday who actually played even worse.  Ryan Ludwick played at a below average pace in right and the ball wasn’t hit to his occasional replacements (Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha) either.

Despite this, the pitchers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL – which shows you how good Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were.  And they were simply amazing.  Put this staff in front of the middle 80’s team that featured Ozzie and Willie McGee and company, and they might have allowed only 500 runs all year.

Starting Pitching:

Adam Wainwright pitched 233 innings, fanned 212, and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He saved his team some 43 runs over using a league average starter.  Chris Carpenter was even better.  Returning from elbow surgery, Carpenter nearly tossed 200 innings in just 28 starts, winning 17 and finishing with an ERA of just 2.24.  He saved his squad 48 runs.  The third starter, Joel Pineiro won 15 himself, hardly walking anyone and keeping batted balls on the ground all season.

With 51 wins in the top three spots, the Cardinals countered with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse at the bottom of the rotation; two who were below average pitchers.  Wellemeyer was so bad, he cancelled out half an ace with his 5.89 ERA.

Three starters are back, starting with the aces and adding Kyle Lohse.  Pineiro is gone, replaced by Brad Penny – and my take on it that Penny should be close to as good as Pineiro was.  They have comparable strikeout rates, and if Penny keeps the ball over the plate, should fare well here.  Wellemeyer is also history, but it’s hard to tell who might get that fifth slot.  It could be Mitchell Boggs, who got nine starts and while his ERA was tolerable (4.19), he sure got lucky.  Boggs allowed 71 hits in 58 innings and walked 33 more.  Some time back, I suggested that you could figure how lucky a pitcher was by comparing his actual runs allowed data against his “reverse runs created” data.  Essentially, I was treating his pitching stats like I would an offensive player.  Given the combination of hits and walks that Boggs allowed, he would expect to have allowed 40 runs, not 28, and his ERA would have been about 6.05.

I digress.  The fifth starter could also be non-roster invitee Rich Hill, who is just the type of pitcher that seems to get his career healed by the coaching of Dave Duncan.  Look for Hill to make the roster and possibly make the rotation.

The bullpen returns virtually intact – Ryan Franklin was about the best closer in the National League, but he’s NOT a power guy and I don’t believe that he’s going to be as successful in 2010.  Trever Miller had a great season, but he only pitched 43.2 innings in his 70 games, which means that LaRussa spotted him well.  He and Dennys Reyes will be the designated lefties, while Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson, and Jason Motte pick up the other innings.  Rookie Jess Todd might be a nice set up man for part of the season.

My view of this is that the pitching can’t possibly be this good next year.  Not that Wainwright and Carpenter won’t be good – they could be 25 runs better than the average pitchers, which is very good, but that would be 40 runs off from last year’s production.  Ryan Franklin could be good, but lose five runs from a peak season last year.  Not having to pitch Todd Wellemeyer will help some, however I’d be nervous about the current options.  I see the pitching being off by about 50 runs.

Catching:

Yadier Molina remains the best defensive catcher in baseball and seems to be adding some offensive tools.  His backup is Jason LaRue – who will get to catch four times a month.

Infield:

Albert Pujols is the best offensive player in the game, and the best defensive player at his position.  His quickness means that he plays farther off the bag than most people – which gives him a serious range advantage over just about anybody.

After a year of Skip Schumaker, who stays to provide depth, the Cardinals will be using Felipe Lopez at second base.  This is an immediate 20 run upgrade defensively, and if Lopez continues to hit, a match to the production Schumaker provided (80 runs created, and 5.7 runs per 27 outs – which is solid).

Brendan Ryan was a stopper defensively, but starts the season coming back from wrist surgery.  I’m not sure he’ll be able to replicate last year’s production defensively and it’s hard to come back and hit right away after a hand or wrist injury.  His backup will be Julio Lugo or Tyler Greene.

At third, Mark DeRosa is gone and the Joe Thurston experiment is over.  David Freese will get the job.  Freese is a prospect, albeit a rather old prospect.  You may remember that Freese was acquired from San Diego for Jim Edmonds.  Well, Freese has been solid in the minors – hitting .306 with 26 homers in Memphis in 2008, and then batting .300 with 10 homers in just 200 at bats last season at AAA.  The Ballwin, MO native can hit at this level – he’ll be 27 in April.  I think he’ll hit like Todd Zeile – 18 homers, .270 batting average.  If he can field at all, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards got last year.

Pujols season was better than what he had done the previous couple of years, he could lose twenty runs of offense and STILL be the best hitter in the game.  With the wrist injury, Brendan Ryan will be off, but that will be made up by the play of Freese.  The net result, however, is probably 20 runs fewer offensively and probably ten runs off defensively.

Outfield:

This is going to be a very productive offense featuring Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick.  Ludwick, if healthy, holds his own.  A full season of Holliday will be better than half a season of Chris Duncan.  And Colby Rasmus will hit better than what Rick Ankiel did last year.  Defensively, Rasmus should hold steady, Holliday will be a slight improvement over Duncan, and Ankiel won’t be better.

Backups include Skip Schumaker, Nick Stavinoha and maybe a rookie – Joe MatherShane Robinson?  It could be Allen Craig, who had a solid year at Memphis last year (see Prospects).

This team will score produce about 30 runs more than last year and hold steady defensively.

Bench:

Not a bad bunch, but some holes…  Skip Schumaker will get a lot of innings, Julio Lugo returns, as does Tyler Greene, and then you have Nick Stavinoha, and Jason LaRue.  Which of these guys, other than Schumaker, would you want as a pinch hitter?  It’s a bit weak.

Prospects:

AAA Memphis had a couple of guys who might be interesting.  David Freese will get a shot at the third base job after a year and a half of solid play with the Redbirds.  Allen Craig hit .322 with 26 homers, but he’s not really patient at the plate.  He’s a potential fourth outfielder with the Cardinals though, and could be Ryan Ludwick’s equal in right field.  (.280 – 20 homers)

Jess Todd was the closer in Memphis and was solid – 59 Ks, 13 walks, 24 saves to match his 2.20 ERA.  He’ll be on the Cardinals in 2010.  The best starter was likely P.J. Walters, who was tolerable – decent control, a good strikeout record, but a bit hittable.

The best pitchers at Springfield (AA) weren’t dominating, but had good records and avoided the long ball.  Trey Hearne and Lance Lynn combined for 23 wins and only 7 losses and have interchangeable stats.  Lynn was a 1A draft pick in 2008, so he’s moving up quickly and the Cardinals have high hopes for him.  Infielder Daniel Descalso hit well (.323, .396 OBP) at Springfield but hasn’t been consistent at that level in the minors.

Former first round picks, like Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Carpenter are gone.  Peter Kozma was a top pick in 2007 and struggled to hit .216 in AA – he’s going to run out of chances soon.  Another, 2007 pick David Kopp struggled to a 6.43 ERA at Springfield – he might get one more shot before being cast away.  Much of the 2006 draft is still around and getting close – Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, and Allen Craig are in Memphis but haven’t made it in (or to) the bigs yet.

There are a couple of players in the minors, but as a whole, the Cardinal organization is a little thin right now.

Outlook:

Having gone through the process, I think the Cardinals will be in the mix but might not easily repeat.  I think they’ll score about 740 runs, but allow more than last year – as many as 690 runs.  If that’s the combination, it works out to 87 wins.  With Milwaukee likely getting better and the Cubs in the mix, the NL Central could easily have the most exciting September in baseball.  The Cards MIGHT win the division, and they MIGHT get the wild card.  Or, they MIGHT fall a game or two short.  It’s too close to call.

Top NL Left Fielders in 2009

Ryan Braun (MIL):  A threat to win the triple crown at some point, and now a tolerable fielder (much better in left than at third base), Ryan Braun is one of the five most valuable properties in baseball.  (148.3 Runs Created, 1.84 Runs Saved = 150.09 Total Run Production)

Jason Bay, had he played in the NL, would rank here.  The Mets did okay with this signing…

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  After arriving in STL, he hit like Albert Pujols and fielded like Chris Duncan.  He’s not usually that bad a fielder, so I wouldn’t worry about it.  (126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (PIT/WAS):  In Pittsburgh, Morgan played left and was supurb defensively and acceptable offensively.  Moved to Washington, Morgan played in center and was supurb both ways.  A late start to his career because he started as a hockey player, he’s the type of player that anybody would be happy to have around.  I don’t think he’s going to be a 100 run producer every year, but for the next three or four years, he might just be a top flight ballplayer.  (76.2 Runs Created, 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.08 Total Run Production)

Josh Willingham (WAS):  Forever, Josh Willingham has been among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.  Last year, either (a) his back was feeling WAY better than it had been in recent years or (b) Nationals pitchers allowed an ungodly number of fly balls to left than in previous seasons.  Regardless, Willingham had a solid season with the bat in a tough place to hit and caught more than his share of fly balls.  As someone who liked him when he was with the Marlins, to see Willingham exceed our expectations is fun.  (78.5 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 84.23 Total Run Production)

Raul Ibanez (PHI):  At some point in the early summer, it looked like Ibanez would hit 50 homers.  And then the aches of being mid-to-late 30s kicked in and things changed.  Still, Ibanez was a valuable performer and contributed to the Phillies success.  I DON’T see him as much better than this in 2010, but if he stays in the remarkable shape he’s in, he should be fine.  (96.0 Runs Created, -13.2 Runs Saved = 82.86 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Also a first baseman, Dunn really should be a DH.  One of the most feared hitters, Dunn just gives a ton of runs back defensively such that his overall value suffers.  In the AL, that wouldn’t matter.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Like Dunn, plays a lot of first base but isn’t an embarrassment here.  Not really the offensive weapon you’d like at the position.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 81.44 Total Run Production)

Chase Headley (SD):  Living in San Diego puts a crimp in his stats, but he’s not a horrible hitter.  He’s really an above average hitter, but a slightly below average outfielder.  The net is just okay, though – and on most teams he would be a fourth outfielder.  (86.0 Runs Created, -4.8 Runs Saved = 81.17 Total Run Production)

Chris Coghlan (FLA):  Two incredible months of two hit games, day after day…  Didn’t come up until May, took about a month to figure things out.  He’s miscast as a left fielder – had played the infield pretty much his whole life until called to the big leagues.  The Marlins hope that he’s their leadoff man for the next three to five years – until he’s due for arbitration, that is.  (86.4 Runs Created, -8.4 Runs Saved = 78.02 Total Run Production)

Carlos Lee (HOU):  See Adam Dunn.  Carlos Lee can hit, even though he’s showing signs of aging, but he doesn’t move around very well anymore and needs to be a DH soon.  (108.2 Runs Created, -31.8 Runs Saved = 76.32 Total Run Production)

Manny Ramirez (LAD):  Cheater.  I’m betting he’s been a cheater for a long time now.  Notice how all the cheaters play for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (as well as in Boston, where this was also encouraged)?  People talk about how steroid use will keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame.  Will it keep Tony LaRussa out of the Hall?  It should.  (84.3 Runs Created, -10.7 Runs Saved = 73.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre (LAD):  When he bats over .300 and gets on base, he can be a productive offensive player.  In left field, where he still has far more range than most left fielders, he comes out as a positive.  If the White Sox try him in center, where he doesn’t really have that kind of range, and Pierre hits .280 and doesn’t add a few walks, then he’s a bust.  (65.3 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 66.50 Total Run Production.

Seth Smith (COL):  Showed a balanced set of skills – he didn’t get as many at bats, but the rates were much like Troy Tulowitzki.  And, defensively, he was a step up over Matt Holliday.  If he keeps this up, he’ll be a force in Colorado.  (58.8 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 66.29 Total Run Production)

Fernando Tatis (NYM):  Played all over for the Mets and was surprisingly good defensively.  My personal take on it was that it was (a) another year in the majors where he felt more comfortable, and (b) a bit lucky.  He also hit pretty well, batting .282 with a touch of power.  Had he done this a few years ago, he might not have disappeared.  (53.3 Runs Created, 13.9 Runs Saved = 66.20 Total Run Production)

Matt Diaz (ATL):  His bat returned, but his defensive range slipped.  Still, a very valuable performer for Atlanta and probably should have been a regular for a couple of years now.  (77.5 Runs Created, -14.5 Runs Saved = 63.02 Total Run Production)

Alfonso Soriano (CHC):  A miserable season for one of the highly priced players on the Cubs roster – but probably isn’t going to give any of that money back.  Below average baserunner these days to go along with a fading bat and abysmal OBP.  Holds his own with the leather, but if the Cubs are going to challenge for the crown, this guy has to make a comeback.  I just don’t think, at this point in his career, that a comeback is possible.  Sam Fuld, who got a lot of innings in the outfield, would be a better leadoff hitter with his .400 OBP.   (59.0 Runs Created, 1.5 Runs Saved = 60.50 Total Run Production)

Garrett Anderson (ATL):  Did about what I expected – which was slip a little further and struggle defensively.  While Anderson is still a better hitter than most people who try to play baseball, he’s now merely league average as a regular.  To be honest, he’s a veteran bench player at best these days.  (65.0 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 57.03 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gonzalez (COL):  Fourth outfielder on this roster, but a good one.  Could be a starter on other teams.  (49.0 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 53.75 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Called up mid-season, Parra should have room to grow.  Despite the decent batting average (.290), he’s got a lousy OBP and and marginal power – which left him slightly below average in terms of runs created per 27 outs made.  That being said, a second season might be 10 – 15% better – more comfortable in the outfield and at the plate – and if he’s better, Parra worth playing.  Besides, Parra turns 23 in May and made the jump from AA to the majors – all while hitting .290 – those are the things you look for in a prospect.  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Jeremy Hermida (FLA):  Now in Boston where he can take two strikes and always bat behind in the count there instead.  Hermida is actually mobile, but he’s awkward and uncomfortable diving or playing the wall.  In Florida, where the wall is a mini-monster in left field, this was a problem and it showed up in the way he plays.  Having watched him for a few years now, the issue is one of confidence and aggression.  Someone needs to get it in his head that it’s okay to look for a pitch to drive earlier in the count and give it a rip – and that diving for a ball from time to time won’t hurt him.  Otherwise, he just strikes you as someone who has loads of talent but is too passive to take advantage of it.  Chris Coghlan is a patient hitter, too – but when he sees a pitch he can hit, attacks it.  Hermida doesn’t attack anything.  (55.9 Runs Created, -8.7 Runs Saved = 47.20 Total Run Production)

Fred Lewis (SF):  Drew a few walks, but he doesn’t hit for a high average or hit for much power, hence his low rating here.  (40.7 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 46.38 Total Run Production)

Jonny Gomes (CIN):  Had a really good year with the bat, but really isn’t a fielder.  I was surprised that Cincy didn’t just scoop the guy up and keep him around, though, but the Reds haven’t always been the brightest of franchises for a while now.  (52.9 Runs Created, -8.5 Runs Saved = 44.43 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  Useful fourth or fifth outfielder who got 300+ innings in left.  Seth Smith earned the job for 2010, though.  (40 Runs Created, 0.1 Run Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Laynce Nix (CIN):  The other half of the left field platoon – Gomes and Nix combineed for 35 homers and 97 RBI – which would rank pretty well up this list.  Nix is younger and a bit more mobile, but I’m not sure I’d take him over Gomes.  Nix has had nearly three full seasons and his career batting mark is .236 with no OBP to speak of.  (43.8 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 39.09 Total Run Production)

Wladimir Balentien (SEA/CIN):  Overrated prospect who played pretty well after arriving in Cincinnati.  There’s always hope.  (32.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Gary Sheffield (NYM):  The man can hit.  Can’t run much anymore, but still has a smoking hot bat.  Somebody will likely give him a shot, but he’s running out of teams to infuriate.  What do you make of a guy with 500 career homers, and might still have an outside shot at 3000 hits (he’s at 2689), may get past 1700 RBI this year and 1800 for his career, and has more than 250 stolen bases?  If I were San Diego or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, I’d give him a job and leave him alone.  (47.0 Runs created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 37.95 Total Run Production)

Eugenio Velez (SF):  See Fred Lewis.  Andres Torres is better than both of them…  (36.4 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 36.9 Total Run Production)

Eric Byrnes (ARI):  The body is finally giving out on the old warrior.  Now in Seattle where he’ll be a fun fifth outfielder.  Still plays great defense…  (24.5 Runs Created, 8.3 Runs Saved = 32.85 Total Run Production)

Lastings Millege (PIT):  The National League’s answer to Delmon Young.  Uninspired ballplayer who hasn’t taken that next step forward.  (31.5 Runs Created, -0.8 Runs Saved = 30.7 Total Run Production)

Chris Duncan (STL/BOS AAA):  Didn’t hit enough, can’t cover any ground.  Needs to launch a new career as a DH or else it’s over and over fast.  (32.2 Runs Created, -15.0 Runs Saved = 17.17 Total Run Production)