2012 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

2011 Record: 102 – 60 (1st in NL East, Best Record in NL)
Runs Scored:  713, (7th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 529, (Best in the NL)

Season Recap:

With three aces firing on all cylinders, the Phillies were hot out of the gate, hot in the summer, and hot all the way into the playoffs, until they ran into a team that got REALLY hot – the Cardinals.  When the season ended, the team looked old and out of it – and their most productive hitter was unable to crawl to first base as Ryan Howard blew out his Achilles tendon.

Starting Pitching:

Nobody brings the aces like the Phillies, with Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels going 1 – 2 – 3.  They had Roy Oswalt in the four slot – and he wasn’t horrible – and when Joe Blanton couldn’t make decent starts, the club turned to Vance Worley, who went 11 – 3.  Even Kyle Kendrick was above average in terms of runs prevented.

In 2012, the big three return, albeit a year older.  Roy Oswalt is gone, so Blanton or Kendrick will get the fifth slot behind Worley.  This still still a talented group.  I’m not 100% convinced that the big three will be as good as last year – Instead of averaging 40 runs saved per starter over 220 innings each, they could still be in the top ten and save just 30 runs per slot.  Worley had a nice record, but it was a tad too good.  Kyle Kendrick is a candidate for a big drop in production.  They will still be the best starting pitchers in captivity – they just might not be as dominant.

Relief Pitching:

Ryan Madson was solid again – he’s never really had a bad year – and for that, he was summarily told to look elsewhere for work.  In his place, the Phillies tossed millions toward former Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  Relative to the league, Madson was a couple of runs better, but essentially this is a wash.  The question is what will the rest of the bullpen look like.  Last year, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and David Herndon were pretty good – and, thankfully, little used.  Danys Baez struggled – the weak link in an otherwise decent bullpen.  Another change?  No more Brad Lidge, who moves to Washington.  Look for someone like Brian Sanches, an NRI pitcher, to get a shot at middle relief.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz was remarkable – arguably the best catcher in the NL other than Yadier Molina – and added a .280+ batting average and +.370 on base percentage.  Back up Brian Schneider struggled, though – batting all of .176.  This will remain a strength so long as Ruiz is on the job.

Infield:

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco all provided decent production.  Even saying that, Ryan Howard fell off to fewer than 100 runs created (33 – 116 – .254, with a .349 OBP and sub .500 slugging).  Chase Utley’s knees are problematic.  Jimmy Rollins was above average at the plate but remains a liability in the field with below average range.  Polanco’s batting is now an issue – his batting average fell to .277 with just 19 extra base hits.  His fielding is fading, though the heavy lefty rotation kept Polanco’s stats in check.  The problem with this foursome is that they are old and fading.  Howard isn’t going to be 100% and there is no date yet for his return.  Utley is seeing a specialist regarding his knee, and both Rollins and Polanco are fighting father time.

To help out, the Phillies brought in former power source Jim Thome, who would be great in a limited role but might have to play a bit more first base than planned.  John Mayberry is likely going to be his platoon partner – Mayberry hits a little like Ryan Howard, but not like the old Howard.  It’s hard to see this group providing as much offense as last year – and if rookie Freddy Galvis can’t hit when playing for Utley, this could be a 50 – 75 run fall off from last year.  Another option might be Ty Wigginton, who can play all infield positions if necessary.  His defense might not be as good as Polanco’s, for example, but he can put more runs on the board these days.

Outfield:

The Phillies have had productive bats in the outfield for years now, and 2012 will be no exception.  Hunter Pence remains in right field – a bit of a liability defensively, but a solid bat that can be found anywhere from third to sixth in this lineup depending on who is playing that day.  He could move to left field to accommodate Domonic Brown, who should get a full-time shot in the outfield now that Raul Ibanez is gone.  Brown has a decent enough arm, youthful range, and room to grow.  Shane Victorino nearly generated 100 runs of offense with his speed and power – 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 17 homers.  He remains the Phillies best leadoff option.

Mayberry remains to play left field or right field, and Laynce Nix is in town as a fifth outfielder – not a bad player to have around.

Bench:

With Wigginton and Mayberry the Phillies have plenty of flexibility, and Brown might be able to give you a few innings in center.  You’d like a little more offense out of Brian Schneider, but the Phillies don’t seem to have another option.  The Non-Roster Invite list in Spring Training is pretty thick with potential bench options (Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, Dave Bush, Brian Sanches, Kevin Frandsen, Pete Orr), but I can’t see them all sticking…

Prospects:

Most of the guys who played at AAA Lehigh Valley (Go Pigs!) are guys who have had enough cups of coffee or playing time to warrant their own Starbucks franchise.  The only real prospects to go through there are Brown and Galvis.  Pitcher Justin De Fratus could help in the bullpen – with Lehigh he went 2 – 3 with a 3.73 ERA, but 56 Ks and 11 BBs in his 41 innings there.

Looking at AA Reading, Matt Rizzotti had a solid year – (24 – 84 -.295) and was able to get a taste of AAA.  He’s a bit old for a prospect, but not as old as Mike Spidale, who hit .326 and reminds you of Juan Pierre.  Since the Phillies have the real Juan Pierre, having Spidale seems redundant.  Another outfielder who can hit appears to be Steve Susdorf, who was a late round pick in 2008 out of Fresno State and when given at bats in AA batted .339 – which is what he always seems to do.  Unlike Spilale, though, he doesn’t seem to have speed and may run out of gas at AAA.  The arms look better – Austin Hyatt made 28 starts and finished 12 – 6 with 171 Ks and 49 BBs in 154.1 innings.  Tyler Cloyd made 17 starts, went 6 – 3, and fanned 99 to just 13 walks in his 106.2 innings.  And Phillippe Aumont passed through AA on the way to AAA and was dominant as a reliever.

A+ Clearwater featured 1B Darin Ruf, a hitter – 43 doubles and 17 homers, batting .308 – and Cesar Hernandez, a 21 year old second baseman with speed and a decent glove.  Catcher Sebastian Valle hit .284 and might make the MLB roster in 2014.  The staff featured Trevor May (208Ks in 151.1 innings) and Julio Rodriguez (168Ks in 156.2 innings, 16 – 7 record) – they are now old enough to drink after games.

2012 Forecast:

Teams that win 100 games don’t often repeat that level of success.  Defensively, this team is going to slide because it’s getting older in the infield and the guys replacing Howard at first won’t be as good as Ryan is – and he’s just league average.  Domonic Brown will help the outfield some, but the catching – even as good as it is – is reaching a point where age is going to catch up.  There isn’t a lot of upside in the batting order – most every one here has peaked, except Domonic Brown who can’t be expected to do WAY more than Ibanez. In truth, this team could lose 50 runs in offense and 30 – 50 runs on defense.  If it’s 30 runs on defense, the team likely wins 95 games, which could be enough to win the division.  If it’s 50 runs on defense, the team wins 92 games, which might not be enough considering the Marlins, Braves, and Nationals are all chomping at the bit.

My fear is that it’s going to be the lower number – the Phillies will be in it and might take a wild card slot, but I think 92 wins will be a good season.

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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)

2010 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

Top NL Second Basemen in 2009

Chase Utley (PHI):  One of the ten most valuable players in all of baseball, Utley hits for a decent average, power, works the count to get on base, steals bases and is among the best fielders at his position.  Not counting first basemen, I have Utley at just a shade more valuable than Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill as the most valuable infielder in the game.  While it pains me to say it, he might be more valuable than Ryne Sandberg in his prime.  Sandberg never had a .400 OBP – that’s for sure.  Part of the reason is because Utley gets hit by a lot of pitches – between 24 and 27 each of the last three years.  He doesn’t walk more often than Sandberg did.  That might be the only advantage…

That being said, Utley has been in a minor (graceful) slide for two seasons now and he’s already 31.  He didn’t establish himself as a major leaguer until 2004 when he was 25 years-old.  His walks total sprung forward a bit last season, compensating for a lower batting average.  I’m NOT predicting doom and gloom here – I’m just saying that he’s not going to be the first second baseman to hit 400 career homers or drive in 1500 runs.  And, even if he slides down to .270 and 20 homers, he’s going to have value.  And only one other guy in the NL is even CLOSE to that kind of productivity.  (119.3 Runs Created, 18.2 Runs Saved = 137.53 Total Run Production)

Brandon Phillips (CIN):  One of the great ones, and lost in a Reds organization that hasn’t put much of a run together for a playoff run.  One hopes this happens before he runs out of gas.  Anybody out there remember that Phillips was traded to the Reds for pitcher Jeff Stevens in 2006?  Jeff Stevens finally made it to the bigs with the Cubs last year and got pounded in 11 appearances.  Who did Cleveland have that was better?  (92.6 Runs Created, 13.5 Runs Saved = 106.15 Total Run Production)

Orlando Hudson (LAD):  Now in Minnesota.  I was reading a Joe Posnanski comment where he, like me, wondered why nobody seems to want this guy.  The Dodgers benched him to play Ronnie Belliard – is that for real?  Gets on base, plays a solid second base.  Anybody should LOVE to have this guy on the roster.  (90.8 Runs Created, 12.3 Runs Saved = 103.10 Total Run Production)

I don’t know where you stand on this, but the Dodgers are taking a step back here in 2010.  Ronnie Belliard hits okay but he doesn’t have Hudson’s dependable glove.  Backing him up will be Jamey Carroll, who isn’t in either guy’s league.  Behind that is Blake DeWitt, who looked like a major leaguer in 2008 but didn’t play like one in 2009 and was shifted back and forth between the majors and AAA as often as anybody last year.  I’m betting DeWitt will have this job by July, or the Dodgers will try to get somebody for the stretch run.

Felipe Lopez (ARI/MIL):  Milwaukee got him to cover for Rickie Weeks when Weeks went down and he played great.  High batting average, a few walks, a little power and league average defender.  In the NL, that makes you a valuable commodity.  As of 2/15, still didn’t have a job – which makes no sense to me…  The Mets or Cardinals would LOVE to have this guy, wouldn’t you think? (98.6 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 94.4 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  Nobody was a regular at this position in 2009 for the Giants, and defensively Uribe wasn’t as strong at second has he had been in the past.  However, if he had a full time job at this position, he would likely rank here.  There’s no way that Emmanuel Burriss is better than Uribe and, to be honest, I think Uribe is one of the most underrated players of the last decade.  Hits for power, decent average, usually a good glove.  (64.6 Runs Created, 10.9 Runs Saved = 75.53 Total Run Production)

Kaz Matsui (HOU):  Starting to show signs of age but still has some value because of his defense.  Doesn’t put runs on the board, though…  The AL is LOADED with good second basemen, but the NL’s top six isn’t in their league…  (56.9 Runs Created, 15.3 Runs Saved = 72.15 Total Run Production)

Dan Uggla (FLA):  The opposite of Matsui – a run producer despite the low batting average.  Last year his range, which had been tolerable the last couple of years, fell off the map and I don’t think he’s going to turn it around and field like Chase Utley any time soon.  My son’s favorite player…  (86.7 Runs Created, -15.3 Runs Saved = 71.39 Total Run Production)

Clint Barmes (COL):  Power doesn’t make up for not getting on base (.298 OBP) but I’m not sure that Colorado has better options.  Had a decent enough year with the glove…  (65.9 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 70.08 Total Run Production)

Martin Prado (ATL):  Hit better than Kelly Johnson, but was a liability with the glove.  Room to improve, though, and if he hits .300 with moderate power as he did last year, the Braves will appreciate the help.  (79.7 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 69.53 Total Run Production)

Freddy Sanchez (PIT/SF):  If he hits .344, as he did in 2006, he has value.  If he hits .270, his lack of walks and doubles power isn’t creating that many runs.  He was a pretty good defensive third baseman, but just about league average at second base.  And he’s hurt.  The Giants don’t need that kind of problem right now.  (63.6 Runs Created, -1.2 Runs Saved = 62.4 Total Run Production)

David Eckstein (SD):  In my mind, he’s the replacement level second baseman – and yet he was the eighth most productive second baseman in the NL last year.  Doesn’t really get on base a lot, doesn’t really hit for a good average, and doesn’t have any power at all.  (63.3 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 59.49 Total Run Production)

Luis Castillo (NYM):  Came back some as a hitter last year, but his range is slipping and it’s time to look for some younger legs.  I’d want him around as a bench guy, don’t get me wrong – he’s still got some playing time left.  He gets on base and can still run the bases.  Two years away from 2000 career hits – and I’d say he’s going to get them and be done…  (71.9 Runs Created, -13.1 Runs Saved = 58.82 Total Run Production)

Skip Schumaker (STL):  Hits like Castillo without the baserunning skills, and – as an outfielder forced to play second base – looked very out of position with the glove.  Despite that, he provided some value for a team that had too many outfielders and no infield depth and can be a #2 hitter and not embarrass the lineup any because he hits doubles and gets on base.  I don’t think he’ll last for long as a starter, but LaRussa may keep him in the majors for another decade.  (79.9 Runs Created, -24.6 Runs Saved = 55.30 Total Run Production)

Jeff Baker (CHC):  His defense was better than Mike Fontenot, and his batting was more productive.  Combined, the two would rank between Lopez and Uribe on the list…  I don’t know if Baker could hit .305 over 500 at bats, but if he fields this well, the Cubs would LOVE it if he hit .270 in the eighth spot in the lineup.  (31.2 Runs Created, 14.2 Runs Saved = 45.38 Total Run Production)

Mike Fontenot (CHC):  Ordinary fielder, less than ordinary hitter.  About to become a utility infielder for the rest of his career.  (41.2 Runs Created, -0.3 Runs Saved = 40.92 Total Run Production)

Kelly Johnson (ATL):  I always thought he was underappreciated.  League average fielder, gets on base.  But, he never got out of Bobby Cox’s dog house and when he stopped getting hits last year, he lost his job to Martin Prado.  Even hitting .224, he was near the league average in terms of runs created per 27 outs because he draws walks and hits for some power.  Now the Arizona second baseman, I think he’s going to bounce back fine.  (39.2 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 38.14 Total Run Production)

Delwyn Young (PIT):  Inherited the job Freddy Sanchez left behind and needs to make some improvements to move far up this list.  Hits about as well as Johnson did, but didn’t field well in limited innings.  I’d like to give him 1000 innings and see what happens.  I just don’t see Young having a long career – he’s already 29 and hasn’t made it yet.  Besides, the Pirates signed Akinori Iwamura for 2010 and unless he’s lost a step following that catastrophic knee injury, he’ll be the starter.  (43.7 Runs Created, -5.7 Runs Saved = 38.00 Total Run Production)

Ronnie Belliard (LAD):  Hot bat after arriving in LA gave him the Dodgers job down the stretch.  He has always been a hitter, but his range is not what you would want for the position and the Dodger pitchers will want Hudson back.  (42.3 Runs Created, -7.3 Runs Saved = 35.00 Total Run Production)

Rickie Weeks (MIL):  Won’t rank this low if he plays a full season.  Not a GREAT leadoff hitter, but he has pop in the bat and holds his own with the glove.  In a full season, he’s probably rank about fifth in the league.  I’m a fan.  (27.8 Runs Created, -0.7 RUns Saved = 27.02 Total Run Production)

Anderson Hernandez (WAS):  Got a chance and played himself out of a job by not hitting or fielding well enough to be a regular.  Adam Kennedy moves to the Nationals after a fine season in Oakland.  (23.8 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 19.56 Total Run Production)

Emmanuel Burriss (SF):  May still get playing time while Sanchez heals.  I don’t know why.  (17.2 Runs Created, 1.6 Runs Saved = 18.87 Total Run Production)

Mighty Casey Awards – Gold Glove Winners in the NL

When ranking defensive players, I have long used a modified system that I once built so that I could assign defensive ratings to players for the board game Superstar Baseball.  The issue at hand was how to rank fielders when (a) fielding stats are affected by things like balls in play, and (b) can you get it to a system that more or less tells you how that player affects the batting average of the hitter.  That’s what a gamer is looking to replicate.

Well – I figured that out.  But what made it valuable to me was when I figured out how to convert plays not made (essentially hits added) into runs using a table of values in Total Baseball.  I don’t know if you remember that encyclopedia, but Pete Palmer had calculated the value of each hit into runs.

Here’s how I do it.

1) Get the number of balls in play for the team.

2) Figure out the number of plays made by a player for every 800 balls in play.  Why 800?  Because for every 1000 at bats, there will likely be about 200 strikeouts or homers – so by using 800, one additional play made by a fielder is essentially removing one point of batting average to a hitter.  Also, let’s face it, a fielder is going to have more chances if his team is loaded with sinker slider guys who get the ball in play, than a big strikeout guy.  So, to get things to a common number of balls in play is a fairer way to evaluate each position.

3) Once I have the number of hits removed (or added) based on that Range/800 factor, compare that number to a run value for hits allowed based on the position.  For outfielders, it’s a combination of singles, doubles, or triples (for center and right fielders).  For corner infielders, it’s singles and doubles.  For middle infielders, it’s all singles.  I have a different system for catchers, and since pitchers don’t play many innings, I tend to look at it from the team perspective – but it works.

4) I make minor modifications for things like double plays, as well as putouts made by outfielders as that shows the groundball/flyball tendency of a staff.  And, for first basemen, I remove infielder assists from his putouts total.

5) Finally, I wind up with two numbers – a “range per 800” value, and a runs saved (or allowed) value.

Here’s the National League Position Gold Gloves and Brick Gloves.  The first number listed is his range per 800 plays above or below average for the position, and the second number is runs saved (or allowed).

Right Field:

7.48  22.42 Jayson Werth (PHI)
6.38  11.67 Randy Winn (SF)

22.27 13.17 Kosuke Fukudome (CHI) ***263 innings

Werth made more plays in RF than Shane Victorino made in CF…  Fukudome played 1/5th the innings that Werth did, but at that pace would have had 395 putouts – which would be solid for a centerfielder…  Does anyone other than me think that Randy Winn is an underrated defensive wizard?

-10.07 -28.14 Brad Hawpe (COL) – third straight year
– 9.66 -22.00 Corey Hart (MIL)

Hawpe hasn’t been close to average since 2006.  In 540 innings, Matt Diaz was brutal in RF with a -14.38 range factor, costing his team 17.56 runs.

Center Field:

12.26  19.26 Tony Gwynn (SD)
4.96  17.77 Matt Kemp (LAD)
6.06  10.80 Willy Taveras (CIN)
14.35  12.62 Nyjer Morgan (WAS)

Morgan was good, but not that good in the few innings he played in Pittsburgh and didn’t have enough innings to qualify, but in WASH he was amazing out there…  However, he was lights out in LF in Pittsburgh, and I might have given him award for the combined effort.

-9.15  -25.58 Shane Victorino (PHI)
-6.45  -13.86 Andrew McCutchen (PIT)

Maybe Victorino deferred to Werth on anything hit to right…  The NET result is slightly below average between the two of them.  McCutcheon is learning the league and will probably get better – but he’s not a natural at this point.

Left Field:

10.25  13.88 Nyjer Morgan (PIT)
4.67   7.53 Seth Smith (COL)

Not many to choose from, really.  Most of the good ones didn’t play many innings here.  One odd note – Fernando Tatis was a ball magnet in the 179 innings he played in left field – which is why I tend to ignore guys until they play 500 or 1000 innings.  Tatis caught 56 flies in just about 20 games in the field, which at that pace works out to 375 putouts in 140 games.  The most anybody had in left field was Ryan Braun, who made 304 plays out there.

-11.39  -32.31 Carlos Lee (HOU)
-12.33  -15.36 Matt Holiday (STL)
-11.09  -13.76 Chris Duncan (STL)

Lee looked bigger and slower when I watched him and the stats bear this out.  And, I pity the poor St. Louis pitchers…

Shortstop:

13.05  23.58 Brendan Ryan (STL)
17.54  23.16 Paul Janish (CIN)
11.97  13.74 Everth Cabrera (SD)

None of these guys played 1000 innings, but they all played 590 or more innings very well.  The best to clear 1000 innings was Chicago’s Ryan Theriot (2.59 range, 8.45 runs saved).

-12.31  -26.07 Jimmy Rollins (PHI)
-13.71  -12.02 Alberto Gonzalez (WAS)
– 2.52  -10.16 Cristian Guzman (WAS)

Didn’t they award the Gold Glove to Rollins?  Did anyone notice that he made hardly any plays out there?  Miguel Tejada had two more putouts and 86 more assists in roughly the same number of innings.  Yunel Escobar played 150+ fewer innings and had 20 more assists.  The only regular to make fewer plays per nine was the immobile Edgar Renteria.  let’s say that there is some bias in the ground ball distribution – if you add Rollins and Utley together, it’s still a negative.  If you add Rollins and Feliz together, it’s still a negative.  Rollins had a lousy year – has been overrated for a few years now, and should stop being considered as a good fielder.

Third Baseman:

10.37  30.30 Andy LaRoche (PIT)
7.56  25.18 Pedro Feliz (PHI)
8.36  25.14 Casey Blake (LAD)

A couple of guys having very good years – I never thought Blake was that good and Feliz was better than ever (cutting off grounders to short?).  Did you know that LaRoche was that good either?  The usual suspects of previous seasons (Zimmerman, Wright) were off.  Zimmerman was still good, but Wright was below average last year.

-13.66  -20.97 Geoff Blum (HOU)
-11.20  -18.78 Ian Stewart (COL)
– 6.07  -18.11 Chipper Jones (ATL)

Not that Colorado is going to miss Garrett Atkins anymore, but Stewart wasn’t that good a fielder.  By the way, if the Marlins are thinking about moving Jorge Cantu back to third, his performance would give me pause (-18.48 / -14.66 runs saved).

Second Baseman:

6.64  18.22 Chase Utley (PHI)
6.17  15.29 Kaz Matsui (HOU)
5.59  13.53 Brandon Phillips (CIN)

Honorable mention to Jeff Baker in just 369 innings for Chicago…

-13.66  -24.76 Skip Schumaker (STL)
– 5.61  -15.30 Dan Uggla (FLA)

The Pirates tried Delwyn Young at second base and it was a bad idea, too.  LaRussa won despite this – and a lot of other holes in the defense.  I watch Dan Uggla a lot, he’s always struck me as a bit stiff but effective.  Makes more good plays than bad, occasionally surprisingly good plays.  This suggests that the stiffness is winning, though.

First Baseman:

16.18  46.78 Albert Pujols (STL)
23.10  39.99 Jorge Cantu (FLA)
11.45  31.05 Adrian Gonzalez (SD)

There is such a gap between the most athletic and least athletic players at this position, so the best and worst fielders are further from the average than anywhere else.  Pujols is ALWAYS at the top of this list.  He plays further off the bag, makes a lot of throws all over the field – a truly amazing first baseman.  Gonzalez is the same thing.  Cantu is the surprise – I watched him and never would have guessed it.  The issue, of course, is that he had three below average fielders at the other spots – so he must have caught a lot of liners and popups to give him a stronger putout total.  While Cantu is reasonably mobile, I didn’t see this coming.

-10.74  -31.01 Prince Fielder (MIL)
– 8.07  -16.69 Derrek Lee (CHI)
-17.34  -23.12 Adam Dunn (WAS)
-27.01  -14.14 Nick Johnson (FLA)

I always thought that Fielder was rather graceful for such a big dude – but that size is now too big.  Derrek Lee is usually on the other list – but he played a very nicked up season – problems with his neck and back – and this affected his range.  Adam Dunn thinks that the only job of a first baseman is to catch throws…

Nick Johnson, however, isn’t usually this bad (he wasn’t very good in Washington, either).  However, the Marlins had essentially the same infield up the middle regardless of the first baseman.  Cantu had nearly as many putouts as innings played (850 innings, 829 putouts, plus 38 assists).  Johnson played 260 innings, made only 192 putouts, but had a few more assists (24).  If you extrapolate his numbers to 850 innings, that’s just 626 putouts – nearly 200 fewer than what Cantu had.  So, you can see why their rankings are so different.

O’s Have New Closer; Dodgers Pay ChiSox to Play Pierre

The Orioles added Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to a two-year deal worth at least $12 million, and up to $16 million with incentives.  Gonzalez, who had lost his closer role to Rafael Soriano and then Billy Wagner in Atlanta, found success as the eighth inning guy for the Braves.  [FoxSports]

I was flipping through a couple of sites that made it seem like this was some kind of an upgrade for the Orioles – and in a small way it is but only by the standards of September.  George Sherrill was solid last year before being shipped to the Dodgers at the trade deadline.  Jim Johnson inherited the role for the rest of the season, and he proved he’s not bad – but he’s not a closer (at least not yet).  Gonzalez, if anyone remembers, struggled as a closer at the beginning of the season.  So, I’d be a little leery of proclaiming this a success.  It fills a void, but only if Gonzalez approximates a closer.  In the AL East, he’ll get a dose of heavy hitters half the season – so to my thinking, this isn’t any type of guarantee.

The Orioles also took a flier on former Rockie third baseman Garrett Atkins.  Atkins got a one year, $4.5 million deal with an option.  I don’t know about you, but I see Atkins as an expensive insurance policy and not an investment.  I’d rather play Ty Wigginton there.  [SI]

The Chicago White Sox acquired outfielder Juan Pierre from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players to be named later.  Pierre, oft-cited as one of the bad investments made in LA (5 years, $45 million for a guy with no power and an average glove despite what appears to be good speed), has a chance to play left or center field every day in Chicago.  The Dodgers are also paying for more than half of Pierre’s remaining two contract years.  Pierre isn’t as good as the departed Scott (Studriffik) Podsednik, and if Carlos Quentin is healthy, the Sox might have to play Pierre in center – and he’s not a centerfielder.  He lacks the range and arm for that position.  [SI]

The Marlins locked up starter Ricky Nolasco for 2010, avoiding arbitration by signing Nolasco to a one year deal worth $3.8 million.  I like it – he’s going to be better than 2009, though probably not as good as 2008.  Nolasco strikes out batters, and after he went to the minors to work through his two strike pitch routine, was solid down the stretch.  [MLB]

The Mets signed a replacement to J.J. Putz – Japanese import Ryota Igarashi.  The 30 year old gets $3 million over two years – far less than was paid Putz.  How appropriate for the Mets that the team with a reputation for choking signed a member of the (Yakult) Swallows.  [SI]

Good News!

Alex Rodriguez’s surgically repaired hip has healed – meaning that the post-season surgery he feared will not be required.  [SI]

What do you think?

SI/KC Star writer Joe Posnanski thinks that Tim Raines is a better outfielder than Roberto Clemente.  Wow – talk about taking on a legend…  I loved Tim Raines as a player, and I think that in the 1980’s, Raines was as good as it got – a regular contender for the MVP award usually given to Mike Schmidt or Kirk Gibson or Dale Murphy.  [SI]

A Committee to Set Up a Committee…

Bud Selig created a committee of owners, GMs, managers, and George Will (no players, no umps) to review on-field things such as speeding up play, the post-season schedule, the DH, instant replay, and who knows what else.  Selig has said “there are no sacred cows” – so it could be fun.  On the other hand, getting anything done will require tinkering with contracts (players and umpire unions, as well as TV/Radio deals) so implementing some things might be harder than working out some of the initial details and rules.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

World Series slugger Chase Utley hits 31 today…  He’s on his way to the Hall of Fame, wouldn’t you think?

Others celebrating with cards, cake and remembrances include: Roy Patterson (1876) – a member of the Hitless Wonders and a stud pitcher in the AA for a few years as a teammate of Rube Waddell in Minneapolis, Cy Falkenberg (1880), Ray Jablonski (1926), Cal Ripken, Sr. (1935), Jerry Adair (1936), Rollie Sheldon (1936), Leo Cardenas (1938),  Bob Ojeda (1957), Marvelle Wynne (1959), Curtis Pride (1968), Alex Cintron (1968), and Josh Barfield (1982).

Philadelphia – Where You Can Always Go Home…

It’s not enough that the Philadelphia 76ers resigned Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia Phillies came to terms with a former infielder, Placido Polanco, a gold-glove winning second baseman for the Tigers.  Polanco will become Philadelphia’s new third baseman, as the Philles allowed Pedro Feliz to enjoy free agency…  [ESPN]

Polanco still makes a lot of contact – but his batting average (career .303) has dropped each year since 2007 when he hit .341 for Detroit.  Last year, Polanco hit .285 with 31 doubles and 10 homers – but only 36 walks, so he has a rather pedestrian OBP (.331).  Still, he’s not appreciably less productive than Feliz (12 homers, 30 doubles, 35 walks, and only a .266 average in a park that would appear to be better for hitting).  Polanco hasn’t played third much in a few years but when he did, Polanco was dependable (68 double plays, only 15 errors) and mobile.

And, he gives the Phillies a little extra versatility.  He can move to second to spell Chase Utley, or let Utley play first to spell Ryan Howard.

Look – Polanco can still play second.  I just spent a night putting together the defensive stats for the AL using my ranking system and it shows that Polanco had as much range as anyone at that position last year, almost a dead heat between Polanco, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Robinson Cano.  (I’ve only done this at a team level so far, so I’ll know a bit more once I break this down for individuals.)  And, he remains dependable and relatively error free.  So, to have spent $18 million for three years (and an option for a fourth year) is probably not so bad.

The other real concern is Polanco’s age.  He’s 34 and while he’s aging gracefully, he’s still aging.  He might look good for a year, but by the third year it might not be so pretty.  On the whole though, two good years make this a good deal for the Phillies – and if they get three good years, $18 million might look like a bargain.

So, with Iverson and Polanco back, who’s next?  Mark Recchi?

Pedroia Can Stay at Second…

The Red Sox signed former Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal.  Wow – now THAT’S taking advantage of one really good year…  Scutaro had never played the way he did in 2009 – .282, with a little power, a .379 OBA before, and seeing as he (like Polanco) turned 34 in October, one wonders if he can do that again.  [SI]

Okay – from a defensive standpoint, Toronto shortstops (mostly Marco) were below average in range.  Oddly, they were better than what Boston put out there last year (Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez).

If you were curious, Boston with a range score of -7.89, had the 13th worst range at the shortstop position, while Scutaro and Toronto were 12th at -4.29, which means that for every 800 balls in play, Boston shortstops were involved in nearly 8 fewer plays than the average shortstop.  Since the average team puts about 4300 balls in play or so, Boston’s shortstops basically allowed about 40 more hits than the average shortstop over the course of the season.  The only team worse than Boston was New York, with their gold glove winning shortstop, Derek Jeter, who were at -8.49.  The best defensive shortstop was, by far, Elvis Andrus.  Texas shortstops scored at 13.28, which means they saved their pitchers about 55 hits over the course of the season – or at least 100 more than the guy who was supposedly the best fielding shortstop in the AL.

Anyway – this means that Boston is inheriting an aging infielder coming off a heel injury that shelved Scutaro for the last two weeks of the season, and coming off his best season as a regular ever, as he moves another year away from his supposed prime, and already has below average range.  Long and short, I’m not a fan of this deal.

Oh, and because Scutaro was a top tier free agent and had been offered arbitration, Toronto receives a first round draft pick from Boston and another sandwich pick in between the first and second rounds.

Other News…

The Braves continue to bolster the bullpen, signing one-time Dodger and Red Sox reliever Takashi  Saito.  Saito gets a one-year, $3.2 million deal with incentives.  Saito, now 40, was a closer in LA and a solid set up man in Boston – now he gives the Braves some flexibility when finishing games (Wagner is a lefty; Saito a righty).  [FoxSports]

Having lost Brian Schneider, the Mets signed two potential backup catchers, Chris Coste and Henry Blanco.  They still have Omir Santos, prospect Joshua Thole, and might still be shopping for a front line starter.  [SI]

The Oakland As acquired Jake Fox and Aaron Miles (and cash) from the Cubs for a few prospects.  I’m not totally sold on Aaron Miles, but Jake Fox is a Hitter (!) and should vastly improve the Oakland offense (though you might not notice it playing in the Colisseum).  Miles is probably looking at his last major league season unless he suddenly gets healthy and produces.  At least he can play a lot of positions and act like a coach to other infielders.

The Cubs get prospects.  Pitcher Jeff Gray is a 28-year-old reliever with okay control, but a little hittable.  He’s at best a long reliever…  Matt Spencer was once a pitcher but now is a bit of a free swinging outfielder.  24 in January, I don’t see how he’s going to be a long term prospect.  He has a little power (19 homers in two levels last year, finishing at AA Midland), but I’d rather have Spencer’s teammate Chris Carter.  He can’t hit the way Fox can hit, that’s for sure.  The third prospect is Ronny Morla, a string bean Domincan fireballer, just twenty, who seems to be finding his way in the low minors.  Morla is the one who gives the Cubs a chance to break even on this deal.  Otherwise, I like what Fox could do for Oakland.

Here’s SI’s take on the best and worst farm systems

Happy Birthday!

My brother, Michael, a pretty good ballplayer as a kid anyway, turns 42 today…  Happy Birthday, Bro!

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett was born on this day back in 1868.  Burkett was the Ty Cobb of his day…  Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Joe Corbett (1875) – brother of boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett and a pretty good pitcher, Shano Collins (1895), Bob Shawkey (1890) – a member of the 1920s Yankees, Harvey Kuenn (1930), Barbaro Garbey (1956), Pat Sheridan (1957), Lee Smith (1957), Tai Iguchi (1974), Kyle Lohse (1978).

As a young kid and adult, I remember Lee Smith pitching for the Cubs.  The first time I got to see a game in Fenway Park, he was then with the Red Sox and I amazed those sitting around me with my understanding of the Smith routine.  By then, he might make eight warm up tosses in the bullpen because he didn’t want to get tired before he dragged his huge carcass to the mound.  He smoked the first two hitters before blowing it – allowing a few hits and the lead runs to score in the top of the eighth or ninth inning.  All I could think about was that I finally got to see Fenway, and when I do, I get to see Lee Smith blow another game.  All that way for something I had seen dozens of times before!!!

That being said, Lee Smith was a great reliever for a long, long time, and probably deserves more consideration for the Hall of Fame.