Greinke Tabbed AL Cy Young Champ; Other News…

He didn’t win 20 games, but that’s because without him, the Royals were 49 – 89…  Even with him, the team didn’t always help Zack Greinke out.  Check out his game log – he should have been undefeated in April and May, but he got saddled with a loss in a game he allowed one run in eight innings – one of seven starts where he allowed two runs or less and didn’t get the win.

However, the voters got it right – the best pitcher in the AL last year, heck the best pitcher in baseball last year, was Zack Greinke.

Finishing second was Felix Hernandez, a worthy contender who had his best professional season, followed by Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his back during the late stages of the season.

Remember when Zack Greinke was a source of frustration for the Royals?

Joe Posnanski did, and his article for SI telling the story of how Greinke dealt with a severe anxiety disorder is pretty darned good.

Hot Stove Notes…

Remember Eric Gagne?  He pitched independent baseball in Canada for 2009 and wants to make a comeback…  As a starter.  [MLB]

Miguel Tejada may be a free agent, but the Astros are open to having him come back – possibly at third base, too.   Meanwhile, rumors that John Smoltz might be in their plans aren’t necessarily true.  [MLB]

Matt Holliday is a coveted free agent, but apparently not coveted (that much, anyway) by the Angels.  [MLB]

Washington wants to upgrade the rotation (and Lord knows they need to) and have expressed an interest in John Lackey.  [MLB]

Philadelphia’s Chan Ho Park said that if he had his choice, he’d rather be a starter.  As someone who watches him pitch, I’d think he would be most successful getting a paycheck as a long reliever.  [MLB]

Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn were short term Tigers, and won’t be resigned by Detroit.  [MLB]

Cubs reliever John Grabow has filed for free agency, but the Cubs want the lefty reliever to stay if possible.  [MLB]

Kip Wells is the only Reds player to file for free agency.  For whatever reason, I seem to see him every spring in Florida and he’s awesome, but once April hits, he’s rather beatable.  (Except by the Marlins…)  Anyway – he might get a minor league contract, but I’d be surprised if we see him beyond 2010.  [MLB]

Randy Johnson filed for free agency, so it’s possible we might see him one more time…  His arm is ready to fall off, having missed half of 2009, but you never know.  I’ll miss the big guy once he decides to retire…  [MLB]

The Yankees declined an option on pitcher Sergio Mitre, who now is eligible for arbitration.  If he gets a job following a season missing time for banned substances and having an ERA approaching seven, that’s plenty…

Happy Birthday!

There are only a couple of players left in the majors older than I am (how sad!), led by Jamie Moyer – a former Cub – who turns 47 today.  Keep going, Mr. Moyer – you’ll never get this chance again!!!

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or rememberances include:  Deacon McGuire (1863), Jack Coombs (1882), Les Mann (1892), Rocky Nelson (1924), Gene Mauch (1925), Roy Sievers (1926), Cal Koonce (1940), Steve Henderson (1952), Luis Pujols (1955), Dante Bichette (1963) – I can still see his shot after hitting a game winning homer on opening day some years back on ESPN, Ron Coomer (1966), Tom Gordon (1967), Gary Sheffield (1968), David Ortiz (1975), C.J. Wilson (1980), Travis Buck (1983).

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Schmidt Returns With Win; Wang Injury Bug Continues

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang’s 2009 disaster season continues…  He was playing catch when he felt soreness in his bicep.  He won’t throw again until Friday, and if I were him, I’d be looking to get in shape for 2010.  [ESPN]

Texas closer Frank Francisco heads to the DL with pneumonia – he’ll be back soon, but he needs his rest and fluids.  C.J. Wilson will close, and Willie Eyre gets the call from AAA.  [ESPN]

Mets starter Fernando Nieve’s injury was pretty severe – he tore a muscle in his quad.  He’s out six weeks.  Welcome back to the bigs, Cory Sullivan, who used to be an outfielder for Colorado.  Sullivan’s stay may be short-lived – the Mets will likely call up a starter (Jon Niese?) to take Nieve’s start in the rotation.  [SI]

Speaking of bad quads, A’s first baseman/DH Jason Giambi’s quad has been problematic, and now he’s on the DL.  Giambi’s been day-to-day for weeks with a variety of quad and hamstring injuries.  [SI]

Cincinatti catcher Ramon Hernandez’s knee now requires surgery – which means an extended DL stint.  Coming up to pick up some innings will be Craig Tatum.  Tatum is hard to read – the Mississippi State grad has some power and tools, but has had periods where he hit .320 (FSL, 2007) and .231 (Southern League – same year).  My take is a low average power guy – .220 with 12 homers in 250 at bats type.  Ryan Hannigan, who has been a nice surprise, will get most of the innings, though.  FYI – Hannigan went to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, the same college that Rube Waddell attended and occasionally coached back in the winter of 1902/1903. [SI]

Welcome back Carlos Quentin – the White Sox slugger has been out two months suffering from plantar fasciitis.   He took over in his old stomping grounds, left field, and cost Brian Anderson a slot on the big league roster.  [SI]

I watched the Phillies and Cubs last night – and I saw two teams heading in different directions.  The Phillies are marching toward the NL East crown after winning their ninth straight, and the Cubs don’t look like they have any direction at all.  And so many of us picked them to win the NL Central, if not challenge for a World Series title.  And now, the Phillies found out Brett Myers may return in August and pitch out of the bullpen.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Jason Schmidt was recalled by the Dodgers and won his first start in over two years.  Andy Finch and I saw him in his last rehab start, and he doesn’t have the great fastball – but he has enough to fool people.  However, he was hit a little even by the Memphis Redbirds, so he’ll need to really be on top of his control to win in the bigs.  I’m rooting for him, but not putting him on my fantasy roster any time soon.

Colorado signed Matt Herges to a minor league deal.  He still has some gas in the tank.  Tommy Hanson returned to the Braves (and looked great), and J.D. Martin joined Washington for a start last night.  Cleveland fans might remember Martin – he was once hailed as a top prospect back in 2002, and was a 2001 first round pick out of high school.  Injuries cut into his development, but he’s never really pitched poorly.  He’s got good control, strikes guys out, and at times has looked dominating.

Hurry Back!  Houston’s Darin Erstad and San Diego’s Edgar Gonzalez were both put on the 15-day DL.  Florida’s Andrew Miller was sent to AAA to find his command.

2009 Season Forecast: Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers
79 – 83 (2nd AL West – 21 Games Back)
Runs Scored: 901 (Tops in AL)
Runs Allowed: 967 (Worst in AL)

2008 Summary:

The most exciting team, and one that is just a few pitchers away from being an immediate contender in the AL West…  Got off to a slow April, but rebounded in May thanks to the Josh Hamilton show (and Ian Kinsler) to get back over .500.  The Rangers actually stayed there through June and July before their season was wrecked by an 11 – 18 August.

And, to be honest, the difference was pitching and defense.  By my reckoning, the pitching was about 83 runs worse than the average team, and the defense was another 67 runs worse than the average team (not counting catchers).  So, if you could get back 150 runs allowed, with this offense, you’re talking about winning 90 games.

Tell Me About That Offense:

No weak spots in the lineup – that’s for sure.

The outfield boasted Josh Hamilton, he of the Home Run Derby power, who played his first full season and blasted 32 homers good for 130 RBI.  Milton Bradley missed 25 percent of the season (what else is new), but put nearly 100 runs on the board, hitting .321 with a .441 OBP and a .563 slugging percentage.  He was so good, the Cubs overlooked everything else to sign him to a $30 million contract.  Rookie David Murphy was decent, too – some power, and a decent bat.  The fourth outfielder, Marlon Byrd, batted .298 with some walks, a little speed, and a little punch – a valuable performance.

In the infield, you had Ian Kinsler, with his 60 extrabase hits and 26 steals, batting .319 before losing last five weeks to an injury.  Michael Young gets credit for his 12 – 82 – .284 line, but to be honest, he doesn’t get on base that much and if he didn’t get to bat in the middle of the lineup, you wouldn’t really notice him.  He’s really just an average hitter.  Hank Blalock missed a lot of time, but hit when he played.  Ramon Vazquez played a lot and contributed with the bat.  Chris Davis hit for power though he struck out a lot – even short timers Joaquin Arias and future stud Nelson Cruz helped.  Cruz batted .330 with serious power in just 115 at bats.

Behind the plate, Gerald Laird and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were a decent hitting tandem.

And the Defense?

Not so good.

Ian Kinsler is a great second baseman, and maybe the first basemen were just told not to go to their right because Kinsler was a gold glove quality player.  He makes 15 plays per 800 balls in play more than the average second sacker, helping save 26 runs.  However, three of the five guys who  played at least 200 innings at first were LOUSY.  Chris Davis, Hank Blalock, and Frank Catalanotto combined to give back nearly 50 runs with their shoddy range.  Throw in five third basemen who all had below average range, and you had serious problems at the corners.  I know Michael Young got the gold glove at SS, but I think they were honoring him by having been a shortstop for a long time.  He’s not that good.  I have him as slightly below league average in terms of range, made up somehwat by good DP/Error numbers.  It would have been more appropriate to give the award to Jason Bartlett.  Besides, if Young was so good, why did he move to third so that the rookie Elvis Andrus could play there in 2009?

Moving to the outfield, not a single guy logged 1000 innings at a position – though Hamilton did combine for it if you add his innings in center and right.  Milton Bradley and Hamilton both played well in right field, but the large and ambling Hamilton played too many innings in center, costing his team nearly 16 runs out there.  The best centerfielder is Marlon Byrd.  David Murphy played okay in right, not quite as well in left – which makes me think that he should have played in right, moved Hamilton to Left, and let Byrd play center all year.  This alone would have saved the club about 40 runs defensively, if not more.  Brandon Boggs is a better outfielder, but not as good a hitter as the others.  Nelson Cruz wasn’t bad out there – so the future will be brighter if Hamilton gets an easier gig.

As a tandem, the catching of Laird and Saltalamacchia was the worst in the AL, being below average in team ERA, winning percentage, stolen base percentage allowed (only two teams allowed more stolen bases than Texas), fielding percentage, and mistakes per game.  Because they were young, they were mobile.  That’s it.

Now Pitching:

Having admitted that the pitchers had no help from three postions (both corner infield and centerfield), and inexperienced catching, the pitching was still awful.

Kevin Millwood gained weight and was hit around a lot.  Vincente Padilla was slightly better than league average – but neither were in ace territory.  The really good pitchers save their teams 20 or 30 runs over 200 innings.  Combined, Padilla and Millwood were one run better than the average pitcher in 58 starts.  Basically two #3 pitchers.  Scott Feldman logged 25 starts and hopefully will find room to improve, but he doesn’t strike anyone out (74 in more than 151 innings).  Kason Gabbard was tolerable, Matt Harrison looks like he might be okay, but also didn’t fan a lot of guys, and Luis Mendoza got 11 starts we wish never happened.  He allowed more than a run each inning – 31 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 63 innings.  He’s the anti-Cy Young award winner…  There were a few guys (Boof Bonser, for example) who had a worse total number, but threw far more innings than Mendoza.

The bullpen was shaky, too.  C.J. Wilson was so erratic (6.02 ERA) that he lost his job to Frank Francisco (good call).  Eddie Guardado, who has been pitching since the Mexican War, was one of only two good relief options.  Jamey Wright, Josh Rupe, Warner Madrigal, and Dustin Nippert were not.

Forecasting 2009:

Actually, the Rangers are probably on the brink of a division crown.  When you can bash the balls like these guys, all you need to do is add a few decent pitchers and reorganize the defense and make a signficant impact.

First – who’s not here.  No Milton Bradley.  He was amazing last year as a hitter, but Nelson Cruz could be just as good.  And we haven’t heard stories (yet) that Cruz has “issues”.  Gerald Laird is gone – the team will live with youngster Taylor Teagarden and Saltalamacchia.

Who is new?  Elvis Andrus, a rookie, will take over at short.  Supposedly, he’s the real deal.  Blalock will get a shot at DH, 1B, and backing up new third baseman, Michael Young.  Andruw Jones signed a league minimum deal – it will be nice he can contribute, but his days of being a superstar are over.

A full season of Kinsler might net 10 extra runs.  Young will produce as much as the third basemen did last year – and the bench is still solid.  I think the improvement of Murphy and addition of Cruz might make up for what happens when Josh Hamilton slips just a little since last year was so much above anything he had shown before.  Chris Davis can bash – I hope he and Blalock field better.

The change in offense, though, is probably negative.  I think that without Laird, without Blalock (as much), and using Andrus at short probably costs the team 50 runs on offense.  Instead of 900 runs, it will be more like 850.

The key is defensive in nature.  Andrus and Young on the left side could be worth 50 or 60 runs in defense.  Davis and Blalock being (a) more comfortable at first and (b) in Blalock’s case, a little healthier, could be 20 runs of improvement.  The outfield would be stable with the moves I suggested – which may or may not happen.  Still – 80 runs of improvement.

Then, you have the pitching.  Rumor has it that Kevin Millwood was challenged by Nolan Ryan to act like the ace he is being paid to be.  Vincente Padilla slowed down after a summer in Texas, maybe he could hang in there.  Brandon McCarthy will be better than Mendoza.  More Francsco and less Wilson will help finish games, and if Wilson puts it back together in the seventh or eighth innings, that’s another ten runs.  More Derek Holland or Matt Harrison might be good for a short term fix.  They really could use another reliever – the injured Joaquin Benoit isn’t coming soon, but if someone were to just have a season like his in 2006, that would help.  Still, I don’t see that though I do see an improvement.  It could be 50 runs better.

So, if the team scores 850 and allows 830, it could be 83 wins.  And, if the Angels crash to earth (as I am predicting), the Rangers would be among the first to bash their way to the forefront.  If they were to get one more ace starter, look out.

Down on the Farm:

Most of the arms who looked any good in AAA Oklahoma City got a shot, including Brandon McCarthy, Kameron Loe, and 21 year old Tommy Hunter (nice control, doesn’t blow people away).  Matt Harrison will be a regular going forward – he was 22 last year.  Players who can hit also have arrived – Nelson Cruz (37 – 99 – .342, and Chris Davis (10 – 31 – .222 in 31 games).  Cruz is the real deal, but Davis has a bit of a hole in his swing.

Elvis Andrus hit .296 for the Frisco Roughriders (AA) at 19.  Julio Borbon, an outfielder with some speed, hit .337, and catcher for 2010, Max Ramirez, hit .354 with serious power.  Chad Tracy is a first baseman with a bat, too.  The best pitcher in AA was probably Derek Holland, who got four starts and looked great.  He got rushed through A, A+ and into AA because he has the goods.  I just hope he isn’t rushed to the majors because he might get swatted around and mess with his confidence.  He can pitch, though.

At A+ Bakersfield, watch out for Kasey Kiker – who looks like he can pitch a little.  Tanner Roark looks like he can pitch some, too.  Roark has control and strikes people out – a good combination.

From what I can tell, the Rangers have some hitting options, and might have a few future arms.  The future is bright.