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)

Top NL Third Basemen in 2009

Ryan Zimmerman (WAS):  The Evan Longoria of the National League – hits for a decent average, has solid power, gets on base, and flashes the leather.  As a hitter, I show Zimmerman as actually creating three more runs than Longoria, but Longoria had the better season defensively.  The best player the Nationals have ever had.  (117.9 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 132.82 Total Run Production)

Casey Blake (LAD):  Had a decent season with the bat and an unbelievable year with the glove.  Kemp, Loney, and Ethier get all the pub, but Casey Blake was second on the team in total production.  I went back and checked – he hadn’t played that well at third defensively before, so I won’t be surprised if he falls back in 2010, but his offensive numbers were in line with previous seasons.  Another guy the Indians couldn’t use…  (91.1 Runs Created, 25.23 Runs Saved = 116.35 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  Kung Fu Panda is a first baseman in waiting, but wow can he hit.  He wasn’t AWFUL at third base, just below average defensively, but you can live with it if he hits .330 with 25 homers.  The new Kirby Puckett.  (122.4 Runs Created, -6.4 Runs Saved = 115.94 Total Run Production)

Mark Reynolds (ARI):  As long as we’re comparing people, Reynolds is an upgrade over Adam Dunn, right?  He strikes out a LOT – but 44 homers and a .351 OBP is really good production.  However just 102 RBI suggests that he’d be even more productive for his teammates if he would just make more contact.  Not a horrible fielder either – slightly better than the Panda.  (104.6 Runs Created, -4.4 Runs Saved = 100.26 Total Run Production)

Andy LaRoche (PIT):  Did you know he had that good a glove?  Just an ordinary hitter – .260 with .400 SLG and a few walks throw in for good – but his defense moved him well up the list.  You can’t sneeze at 34 double plays to just 14 errors.  (69.0 Runs Created, 30.3 Runs Saved = 99.29 Total Run Production)

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  If a third baseman and not a first baseman, Cantu would rank about here.  Maybe a slot or two lower.

Pedro Feliz (PHI):  Had Andy LaRoche’s season with more RBI because of who he bats behind.  Polanco has a better batting average, but I don’t think he’ll match Feliz with the leather.  Feliz’s problem, if he has one, is that he makes too many outs.  You want guys who average at least 5 runs for every 27 outs, and Feliz is consistently around 4.2.  However, there aren’t many guys who save you 20 runs a year with the leather – and he’s been there three of the last four years (only an injury riddled 2008 didn’t add up).  So, you might concede 20 runs of offense for that.  I like Polanco, but Feliz was a big part of the Phillies’ success.  (68.6 Runs Created, 24.5 Runs Saved = 93.15 Total Run Production)

David Wright (NYM):  Not his best effort, but then again I think the park worked against him, and the injuries around him worked against him, and eventually he was dragged down by the entirety of it all.  He still produced runs – he batted .307 and got on base nearly 40% of the time.  However, his home run numbers dashed (the Mets are lowering the left field wall for 2010) and he took his frustration to the field – only 19 double plays against 18 errors.  I like his chances to bounce back some, but he’s never going to be as good as Ryan Zimmerman.  I just hope the Mets appreciate what he does and doesn’t focus on that gap between Wright and the top guys.  (102.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 89.61 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR/CIN):  Add it all up and he ranks about here.  I don’t think he’s a .320 hitter, as he was in Toronto for the first 100 days, but he still has skills.  He is NOT a glove man anymore, and while he’s more dependable than Edwin Encarnacion, he may not be healtier every month.  Still a good player, though.  (84.1 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 78.5 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  If rated as a third baseman would fall about here.  He’s a solid player.

Chipper Jones (ATL):  His OBP is still strong, but the end is nearing for this future Hall of Famer.  Hasn’t really measured up with the glove in years, and his offensive numbers – while still pretty good – are heading in the wrong direction.  (87.7 Runs Created, -18.1 Runs Saved = 69.56 Total Run Production)

Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD):  Only three errors last year – one of the best fielding percentages of all time.  Of course, he doesn’t have much range – so that makes him Ron Cey with longer legs.  He’ll help the A’s, though.  (78.0 Runs Created, -8.9 Runs Saved = 69.05 Total Run Production)

Casey McGehee (MIL):  Had a solid season at the plate (.301 AVG, .499 SLG), taking over for Bill Hall (who didn’t) and was tolerable with the glove.  If he plays 150 games, he might move up two or three slots in the rankings for 2010.  (68.3 Runs Created, -4.1 Runs Saved = 64.27 Total Run Production)

Aramis Ramirez (CHC):  I don’t know if he’ll ever play 120 games again – his body just breaks down constantly now.  Still a formidable offensive force, his glove is merely average these days.  Makes the Cubs better when he’s in there, though.  (58.1 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 57.02 Total Run Production)

Mark DeRosa (CLE/STL):  Struggled upon arriving in STL, but his defense had been off all season.  Reaching the age at which a comeback isn’t in the Cards – but the Cards will be counting on one.  (77.6 Runs Created, -26.8 Runs Saved – 50.80 Total Run Production)

Emilio Bonifacio (FLA):  Really fast.  Had an awesome first week of the season and then reverted to where I thought he’d be – which is not much of a hitter and slightly out of position at third base.  In Florida, though, he’s the new Alfredo Amezaga.  (44.0 Runs Created, -7.7 Runs Saved = 36.22 Total Run Production)

Ian Stewart (COL):  A Garrett Atkins clone.  Hits for some power, his batting average should scare you, and he can’t field the position.  New Rockie Melvin Mora is a significant step up, even at this point in Mora’s career.  (58.1 Runs Created, -23.4 Runs Saved = 34.68 Total Run Production).

Edwin Encarnacion (CIN/TOR):  I don’t know why Toronto would want him.  Indifferent fielder and not a dependable hitter.  Probably one more year of 100 games in his career, and the rest of the time he’ll be a back up or playing in AAA as an insurance policy for somebody.  Maybe he needs to go to Japan.  (39.8 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 32.6 Total Run Production)

Wes Helms (FLA):  Back up third baseman and professional pinch hitter – but ranked nearly as high as Stewart in far less time.  (30.19 Total Run Productiom)

Garrett Atkins (COL):  See Ian Stewart.  (33.4 Runs Created, -7.4 Runs Saved = 25.98 Total Run Production)

Geoff Blum (HOU):  See Ian Stewart – but with less power.  If Houston wants to be serious about fixing the problems on the team, it should start with replacing Blum.  (46.2 Runs Created, -23.6 Runs Saved = 22.62 Total Run Production)

2010 Season Forecast: Milwaukee Brewers

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 80 – 82 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 90 – 72
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 75 – 87
2005: 81 – 81

Runs Scored: 785  (3rd, NL)
Runs Allowed: 818  (15th, NL)

Season Recap:

Generally a .500 team as their hitting kept pace with their poor pitching…  The Brewers got a hot run in May, winning 14 of 17 to make a run to the top of the division, but gradually fell back to .500 by mid August and a bit below it in September.  They lost Rickie Weeks to a wrist injury in May, but found ways to work around it.  J.J. Hardy’s bat got lost in the summer, but the Brewers had a way around that in Alcides Escobar.  The Brewers battered opposing pitchers with above average performers in at least six spots in the lineup on a daily basis.

What they couldn’t get around was their pitching – four starters with ERAs between 5.22 and 6.38.  They tried Mike Burns (a prospect four years ago) and his ERA (5.75) fit right in there.  Carlos Villanueva had a few spot starts and his ERA was 5.34, too.  The bullpen was tolerable – Trevor Hoffman was remarkably solid and Todd Coffey did a great job, but the rest were rather middling.

Defensively, the Brewers had two holes – first base and right field.  That both were REALLY poor suggests that there might be a statistical bias, however Milwaukee had only one lefty starter and he worked just 140 innings.  Granted – the righties on the staff don’t blow you away with fastballs either.  The Brewers third basemen, as a group, were above average – but not MORE above average than Prince Fielder was below average.  And the Brewers left fielder, Ryan Braun, was merely league average while Corey Hart was well below average.  As a team, the Brewers turned fewer balls in play into outs than the average NL team and the middle infielders didn’t help out by turning two often enough either.

2010 Goals:

As I read it, the Brewers need to shore up the starting rotation, see if Alcides Escobar is the real deal, and hope that Corey Hart is more mobile in 2010 than he was last year.  If Prince Fielder could lose 20 pounds, it might help, too.  I’d worry about the long term viability of Trevor Hoffman as a closer – but he was so good last year it’s hard to think that this is the year he falls off the map.  However, Hoffman is 42 now and the end could come at any time.

Pitchers:

In 2009, the Brewers had one pretty good starter in Yovani Gallardo, who went 13 – 12 with a 3.73 ERA.  By my count, he was about ten and half runs better than the average starter in his 185.2 innings.  That makes him a solid #2 guy in any rotation.  And so ends the good news.  Braden Looper cost the team 33 runs (14 – 7, 5.22 ERA), Jeff Suppan cost them 31 more, David Bush 32 in just 114.1 innings, and Manny Parra cost the Brewers 44 runs in his 140 innings.  The four guys (other than Gallardo) were 140 runs worse than the average pitcher – and that has to be fixed.

In the off season, the Brewers added Randy Wolf from LA – he had his best season in 2009, but has been around league average (up and down) since 2006.  He doesn’t have to blow the league away, but if he could give the Brewers 200 innings of league average pitching, he’d immediately save the team 50 runs.  Another signing was Doug Davis – a former Brewer – who has been an above average starter for the last three years.  Again – 180 innings at league average would be worth 35 runs in savings.  If Claudio Vargas can return to the rotation, or if Manny Parra can stop walking guys and getting in unnecessary trouble, there are two other chances (a little less dependable chances) that the team could save 30 more runs.

The bullpen may need help.  I like moving Bush to the bullpen.  If Vargas stays in the pen, that would help.  Trevor Hoffman is getting old, and Todd Coffey exceeded expectations.  I see this group actually taking a step back in 2010 – maybe 20 runs worse than last year.

Catchers:

Out is Jason Kendall, who last year was a tolerable catcher though a bit easy to run on, and a miserable offensive player.  In his place for 2010 is Gregg Zaun, who is nearing 40, George Kotteras, and rookie Angel Colome, who battered pitching at Huntsville in 2008 and was decent, though not great, at Nashville last year.  Baseball America named Colome as the Brewers’ #5 prospect last year.  At best this is a wash.

Infield:

This is a pretty good group.  Prince Fielder is an offensive machine and a defensive liability.  The net, though, is one of the better players in baseball.  Around the horn, Weeks, Escobar, and Casey McGehee were solid and all will contribute with the bat some.  If Escobar lives up to the hype (and he was solid in 2009’s call up), he might add a few runs offensively and remove a few defensively compared to J.J. Hardy.  At worst, he’s a wash.  Waiting in the wings is #2 prospect Mat Gamel, who was drafted five years ago and if he’s going to make a splash, better get on the diving board soon.  Gamel plays third or first – but with Fielder there, would likely push McGehee for his job.

Outfield:

Ryan Braun remains a triple crown threat, and Corey Hart needs to bounce back.  Hart’s season was marred by injuries which may have contributed to his range falling off the map.  He’s got some power, but his batting average has fallen each year since breaking out in 2007.  Mike Cameron, still a productive outfielder and rangy centerfielder, is gone having landed in Boston.  In his place is former Twins and Mets prospect Carlos Gomez.  Gomez can run down flies like Cameron, but has yet to prove himself as an offensive producer.  If Gomez shows improvement and Hart bounces back, this won’t necessarily be an improvement but it won’t be a loss either.  My gut tells me that Gomez won’t ever produce like Cameron did last year, and that the Crew will be looking for a new centerfielder in 2011.

Bench:

Remains strong – Jody Gerut is a dependable fourth or fifth outfielder.  Hernan Iribarren and Craig Counsell are still here and producing.  Prospect Lorenzo Cain will get a look in the outfield.  Heck, if the Brewers get really stuck, they could play Weeks in the outfield if necessary.  Zaun and Kotteras will be good backup catchers.

Prospects:

I like Chris Cody, a pitcher in Huntsville last year, who showed some promise and was promoted to AAA Nashville mid-season.  He’s not ready, but he might have a shot in 2011.  Mike Burns was the best AAA pitcher last year, but didn’t look overly impressive in 2009 with the Brewers and he’s not a prospect…  Chris Smith (2 – 0, 17 saves, 1.27 ERA) could be the closer in waiting.  He fanned 49 and walked just 6, in 42.2 innings.  Brett Lawrie moved up quickly to AA after showing power, discipline, a little speed – and just turned 20.  In a couple of years, check back on the progress of Amaury Rivas and Evan Anundsen, who pitched well for Brevard County (A+) in the Florida State League.  Rivas, at 23, has been working his way up slowly through the minors.  Anundsen was drafted out of high school in 2006 and looks to be turning the corner.  Another interesting guy is Eric Farris, a BURNER out of Loyola Marymount, who is a bit of a slap hitter, but stole 70 bases in 76 tries at Brevard County.  His teammate Caleb Gindl is a decent outfielder with some power and speed and is making his mark.  We’ll see him in 2012 or 2013.

Outlook:

On the whole, I think the Brewers will contend for the NL Central.  I’m guessing they score about 760 runs or thereabouts, but more importantly, cut the runs allowed number to a more respectable 700.  That would work out to 88 wins – and a potential playoff berth.  If the bullpen holds solid and three starting rotation positions show real improvement (and not just two), it could easily be 90 wins or more.

Vin Scully, Voice of the Yankees? Say it Ain’t So!!!

Carlos Delgado is out ten weeks to surgery on his impinged hip – the new injury of the new decade. The Mets can cope as they have a few outfield options and could choose to give one a shot at first base. Fernando Tatis for now. Still – this could be troublesome, costing the team about two to three games in the standings if they can’t find a comparable replacement.

Rickie Weeks went down to a wrist injury, leaving the Brewers with difficult choices in their lineup. He’s having surgery to repair a torn sheath – similar to David Ortiz a while back – and may affect his really quick bat. Weeks is a great fielder and a decent enough hitter who was really putting it together. For now, the Brewers look to platooning and may call up an infielder from the minors. Craig Counsell is probably the best fielder, but Casey McGehee can play some. This is probably worth five wins over the next four plus months in terms of lost productivity.

Eric Chavez’s back is REALLY bad – he said a degenerative disk is so bad that the next pop in his back will require fusing disks and end his career. One day after announcing that, Chavez has reversed that to some degree, saying that he hopes that strengthening and stretching will help, but he’s really just trying to avoid another surgery. Jack Cust has been playing third. As many other writers have reminded Oakland fans, they signed this guy to a six year deal for a LOT of money ($66 Million) and then missed more than two seasons worth of games…

Noah Lowry had problems with numbness in his hand and underwent surgery to fix issues in his forearm. That didn’t work, and now doctors are calling it a misdiagnosis of a circulatory problem and will be removing one of Lowry’s ribs – costing him this season, too. Once a prospect, Lowry’s career is on the brink as well. Others to have had this surgery? Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman.

Josh Hamilton came off the DL, strained his groin, and now is missing a couple of games and hoping not to go on the DL.

David Ortiz took a series off and will play today hoping to get his first homer of the season. Wow. That’s a sentence, huh?

Jason Kendall got his 2000th hit against the Cardinals. MLB.com, in reporting the story, says that his teammates celebrated by putting the honor on the labels of specially marked Bud Light bottles. BUD LIGHT? Not Miller Lite??? Either the reporting is wrong, or somebody should tell whoever put this together that the Brewers play in Milwaukee.

Todd Helton looked like he got his 2000th hit last night, but it was ruled an error. Some are suggesting that the official scorer may reverse that decision (it was a SHOT past a ducking Yunel Escobar). I hope they saved the ball.

Nate Robertson’s back feels better, but he’s not ready to pitch in a rehab start.

Speaking of Tigers, Magglio Ordonez is the second player given time off to attend to a personal matter (Minnesota’s Delmon Young is caring for his extremely ill mom), so Detroit is calling up prospect Wilkin Ramirez. Ramirez is a free swinger who can run some – but there are some odd things in his record. He gets caught stealing more than you would like, and he strikes out as frequently as you get advertisements for credit cards in your mailbox – at least once or twice every day. Ramirez was hitting well in Toledo, though, and earned the shot.

Pat Burrell is on the DL with a neck strain.

Glen Perkins is on the DL with inflammation in his left elbow, as is Oakland’s Dan Giese – though with Giese it’s his right elbow and tied to his ulnar nerve. C’mon, say it with me. He’s got some nerve!

Need saves? David Aardsma is the new closer for Seattle. Until recently, Aardsma’s biggest claim to fame was moving ahead of Henry Aaron for the first spot in your baseball encyclopedia thanks to alphabetical superiority.

The Mets’ Alex Cora injured his thumb sliding into second base and now is on the DL. Cora was playing because Jose Reyes has swelling in his calf (see Jose Valverde) and has called himself “day-to-day” for six days now. (What player on my team isn’t day to day???)

Speaking of day-to-day, Cincy’s Joey Votto has had dizzy spells following a bout with the flu and didn’t make the trip home because he couldn’t fly with the team, so he’s being watched in San Diego.

On the mend? Tom Glavine, Kevin Youkilis, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Hiroki Kuroda. Glavine’s recent simulated game went over well.

Want a crazy story? Read this.  Says here that Vin Scully very nearly became the voice of the Yankees.