2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.

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MLB Has Ten Golden Era Hall of Fame Candidates

Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso are among ten players whose careers will be reviewed by a special committee for enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The complete list includes Ken Boyer, Buzzie Bavasi, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Charlie Finley, and Luis Tiant.

Many of this group have been topics of arguments amongst baseball writers and historians – especially Santo and Hodges.  Jim Kaat may get greater consideration with the recent addition of Bert Blyleven to the Hall.

Among the reasons that these guys haven’t already made it:

Career Was Too Short

Santo, Boyer, Oliva, and Reynolds…  Santo and Boyer are pretty similar players – some power, good gloves, about 300 career homers, and only 15 years in the majors.  Reynolds had an even shorter career, but spent the bulk of his time as a member of the Casey Stengel Yankees where he appeared in a number of World Series and even had a season where he threw two no-hitters.  Oliva’s career was cut short by injuries, but for about six years was a deadly hitter.

As a Cub fan, I guess I am supposed to extol Santo’s virtues – and he was a great player for about seven seasons.  Bill James thinks he’s one of the ten best third basemen in baseball history and deserves to go.  Most of me agrees with that sentiment – and yet at the same time, the Cubs never won a division with him, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and (an old) Ernie Banks in the lineup.  Of course, the biggest stars were corner players and not up the middle types – and the Cubs could have used a better lead-off hitter.  I think that if you take Santo, you have to take Boyer.  Boyer had a comparable defensive record, similar RBI totals, won an MVP and made the post-season, unlike Santo.  Santo cleared 300 homers, Boyer just missed.  Santo is marginally better, but not much better.  Neither guy lived long enough.

Allie Reynolds, had he pitched anywhere else but the Yankees, is not even going to get a whiff of the Hall of Fame.  Fewer than 200 career wins – he led the AL in strikeouts twice, but he also had five seasons (of twelve full seasons) where he walked more guys than he struck out.   He has a bunch of years with the Yankees where his career looks like that of Mike Mussina, but not enough of them.

Tony Oliva is a better candidate than all of this group except maybe Santo.  He led the league in batting three times, hits a few more, doubles and runs, too.  He was a six time all-star, winning a gold glove, and appearing in three post seasons, including the 1965 World Series.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he was among the best hitters playing – and he was hitting .310 or higher when the rules were definitely favoring the pitcher.  Like the others, however, he’s missing the long career and big career numbers.  He didn’t make 2000 hits or 300 homers (he would have 2000 hits had he not missed a full season with knee injuries), and he faded into memory as guys like Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were finishing their careers.

Very Good – but was he GREAT?

Jim Kaat pitched for 47 seasons (not really, it just seemed that way), won 20+ a few times, finished with 283 wins.  I’ve always been a fan of his – but I can’t remember any time when he was the best pitcher in baseball.  He was just one of the pretty good ones.  Similar arguments have been made about Sutton and Blyleven – guys who pitched forever but weren’t ever as good as the guys like Gibson, Carlton, Seaver, Marichal, or Jenkins.

Luis Tiant actually had a short period of time (like Oliva) where he truly was GREAT.  Unfortunately, that lasted just a brief period – and Tiant needed three years to figure out where his arm went.  Eventually he came back as a heavier, cagier version of himself, with a deceptive motion and a ton of guile.  He won 20 three times with the Red Sox and, in his worst season in Boston, was the staff ace of that surprising 1975 team.  My heart would totally vote for Tiant, but I’m not sure he did enough.  I do think he did more than Allie Reynolds, and I think he was better than Kaat.

Gil Hodges was a Dodger during their Boys of Summer days and had a decade where he was among the best first basemen in baseball.  He lost a little time at the beginning of his career because of World War II, which may have kept him from making 400 career homers or 2000 hits.  He also was the Mets manager when they won the World Series.  He’s certainly FAMOUS enough for the Hall of Fame but, like Santo, his full career numbers seem to fall a bit short.  He wasn’t a league leader in anything (like Oliva), but he was a member of a great team for a long, long time.  I wouldn’t argue against him – but (as it is with most of these guys) if the sportswriters didn’t vote him in after 15 tries, why are we trying to add him now?

Executives

I’m not old enough to remember Buzzy Bavasi, but I know he was a significant member of Dodger management for a long period of success and made many contributions to the game.  Charley Finley was an interesting story, but I don’t ever think that he ever considered the greater good that comes with his role in baseball.  He is linked to night baseball in the post season and the DH – he is also linked to selling off players he couldn’t afford and holding cities hostage (Kansas City, for example).

LONG OVERDUE:

Minnie Minoso was the Ernie Banks of the AL.  Happy, hustling, popular, and successful.  The reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he lost half of his career to the color line, spending a decade in the Negro Leagues.  Had he been able to play in the majors starting in, say, 1945 rather than 1951, he likely has 3000 hits, a career average over .300, several seasons with 50 stolen bases, 600 career doubles and 200 career triples.  He’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  It’s time he got in.

First Week of Hot Stove Transactions:

The Philadelphia Phillies had the headline deal, signing Jim Thome to pinch hit and play a little first base for 2012 at the relatively low price of about $1.25 million.  However, a few other teams started signing and dealing players…  Here’s a short list:

Washington signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal ($4 million) after Wang returned for eleven decent starts in 2011.  Wang took more than two years to recover from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule.  Early returns show Wang to be in the neighborhood of his old self – keeping the ball down, good control, and not much of a strikeout pitch.  30 good starts in 2012, and Wang will hit the free agent market.

The A’s signed free-agent swingman Edgar Gonzalez, who has pitched for four different organizations in his career.  I don’t think Edgar has ever had a good season in the majors, so unless this is organizational depth or he’s going to coach, I don’t get it.

The Dodgers signed veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to a one-year deal.  He’s a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter type as he nears 34 years old, but he’s not a bad guy to have on the roster.  Rivera had a good run with the Dodgers after a slow start in Toronto, and Rivera would be familiar with the area, having spent much of the last decade with the Angels.

The Diamondbacks resigned backup catcher Henry Blanco and utility infielder John McDonald, who had been acquired late in 2011 from Toronto (with Aaron Hill) for the stretch drive.  McDonald’s deal was for two years.

Toronto reacquired pitcher Trystan Magnuson from Oakland for cash.  Magnuson was a first round pick of the Blue Jays out of Louisville (also played forward on the basketball team) and was sent to Oakland as part of the Rajai Davis deal.  Pitching occasionally for Oakland, the tall (6′ 7″) righthander has a low 90s fastball that can occasionally hit 95 and a sinker.  He’s had one season where he had really good control – that was two years ago in AA, but he looks like a middle reliever with a bit of an upside.

A sad week (no MLB!) made even sadder…

Matty Alou passed away due to complications related to diabetes.  The 72-year-old played in 15 different seasons finishing with a .307 career batting average.  I remember Alou – he was a slap hitting outfielder who would use a heavy bat to knock liners and loopers over the heads of infielders for singles.  In 1966, he slapped his way to a National League leading .342 average, and few years later led the league with 231 hits.  Alou saw action in the 1962 World Series with the Giants and was a late addition to the Oakland A’s when they won their first World Series in 1972.  He is most famous, of course, for being one of the three Alou brothers (Felipe and Jesus) who played together on the Giants and occasionally would occupy the entire outfield.

Then, just days after tossing out the ceremonial opening pitch before game seven of this year’s World Series, longtime Cardinals starter Bob Forsch died of an aneurism at the too young age of 61.  I probably have every Bob Forsch Topps Baseball card – he won 163 of his 168 career wins as a member of the Cards and pitched in three different World Series.  Like Alou, Forsch had family in the game – his brother Ken pitched with the Astros for a number of years.  Forsch threw the only two no-hitters in the original Busch Stadium, and – with Ken – the Forsch brothers are the only brothers to throw no-hitters.  [SI]

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: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 103 – 59 (1st AL East, World Champions)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65
2005:  95 – 67

Runs Scored: 915 (1st, MLB)
Runs Allowed: 753, (5th, AL)

The Yankees were good – don’t get me wrong.  Using the ratio of  runs scored to runs allowed, they would be expected to win 97 games, which is still three more than anyone else – but a little lucky.

Just a little.

If I can digress a little bit, a lot was made about the large number of home runs hit in the new Yankee Stadium.  Yankee batters hit 28 more homers at home than on the road.  The Yankee pitching staff allowed 21 more homers at home than in road games.  The net gain on this is about 70 runs.  (Pete Palmer calculates the value of a homer at 1.44 runs – so that’s how I come to that conclusion.)

Despite this split, the offense as a whole at Yankee Stadium was actually lower than on the road (819 runs in Yankee Stadium, while 839 runs on the road) – and it was their own offense that was probably more responsible for that shortfall.  what this means, of course, is that if you would expect to add 70 runs on the scoreboard but wind up 20 runs short, the REST of the hits must have been removed.

That means that there were a few other factors that had a greater affect on offense – the size of the foul territory, the shape of the outfield walls, the length of the infield grass, whatever – than whatever pushed homers over the right centerfield wall.  For example, the Yankees hit only five triples at home, but 16 on the road – and they hit 25 fewer doubles at home, too.  This suggests that by having a bit shorter wall in the alleys, some balls leave, but the rest are caught and outfielders could shade in and cut off sinking liners and bloop hits.  Singles weren’t going through the infield – which suggests that the grass must have been REALLY thick, especially on that left side where veterans with less range inhabit the infield…

You wouldn’t want to make a TON of conclusions about it, but we’re talking about making up for a lot of missing hits in 2009.  We’ll see how this holds up next year.

Let’s get back to the team review.

Season Recap:

The season started with the admission in spring training that Alex Rodriguez, recovering from off-season hip surgery, had also spent some time in the steroid cocktail lounge.  A-Rod would miss the first month of the season, and take a little while to get back into playing shape.  Still, the Yankees had made a number of significant moves – signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher – to rededicate themselves to the task of winning a championship in the new Yankee Stadium.

For a month or so, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, winning and losing a couple, until a five game losing streak at home against Anaheim, Boston,and Tampa put them two games under .500.  While some wondered if it was because A-Rod was gone, the truth was that the pitchers had a 5.79 ERA in April (See Chien-Ming Wang or Sergio Mitre) and that just couldn’t be overcome by any decent offense.  After losing to Roy Halliday in Toronto on May 12th, Joe Girardi was already feeling the heat of the New York scribes who insisted that he might get fired before the All-Star break if things didn’t get turned around.

What followed the return of A-Rod to the lineup was the entire team feeling complete – and an eight game winning streak put the team on the way.  Sure – the Yankees had a couple of rough stretches, they lost three in a row twice, and were just six games over .500 on June 23.  A-Rod wasn’t yet hitting the way we were used to him hitting.  The middle relief was staggering a little.  Joba Chamberlain was hearing calls he might head back to the bullpen.  Again, however, the noise was just that.

On June 24, the Yankees got things figured out.  Bam!  Seven game winning streak.  Right after the all-star break – Bam! – eight game winning streak.  If the Yankees lost three in a row, look out.  Getting tossed by the White Sox, the Yankees responded with seven wins and twelve wins in thirteen games.  I counted SIX winning streaks of seven games or longer.  And after June, where they batted .253 with a .354 OBP, the team’s batting average was higher every month until the season ended.

The Yankees fought off Anaheim and Minnesota, then blew over a very good Philadelphia team to win the World Series.

Pitching:

The Yankees had a dominant starter in C.C. Sabathia, and then three decent guys in A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain.  The fifth slot, however, wasn’t very good – and was a problem until the Yankees finally turned it over to either Philip Hughes or summer acquisition Chad Gaudin.

Sabathia was amazing – 230 innings of typical good work, saving his team about 26 runs over his time on the mound.  A.J. Burnett won 13 and saved his team 10 runs in 207 innings.  Andy Pettitte, who has done this forever, isn’t a great pitcher anymore – he’s league average – but with this offense, that’s good enough for 14 wins.  If the Yankees could just leave Joba Chamberlain alone, he’d probably be okay.  He was solid until the latter part of the season where he fell off and was about as far below average as Burnett was above it – 11 runs.

The fifth spot was crazy…  Chien-Ming Wang went 1 – 6 with a 9.64 ERA, and will get to figure things out in Washington.  For three years, he was a fine pitcher, but 2009 was ROUGH.  The Yankees tried Sergio Mitre – nine starts and a 6.79 ERA.  After that, the Yankees moved long reliever Philip Hughes in and he was pretty good:  96Ks in 86 innings, good control, and a solid ERA.  I think he has as good a chance of anyone to be groomed for the closer role in a year or two.  Chad Gaudin got six starts and was good enough.

The bullpen starts with the greatest closer of the last 20 years, the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who saved his team 21 runs in his 66.1 innings.  With a 1.76 ERA, you’d never know he was pushing 40.  Hughes was a good compliment, but the rest of the bullpen was up and down.  Alfredo Aceves was tolerable – good control and won ten games in middle relief because the offense could come back from any number of deficits.  David Robertson struck out 63 in 43.2 innings and saved his team a few runs here and there.  Phil Coke didn’t allow too many hits – but the ones he allowed seemed to leave the yard (ten homers in 60 innings).

For 2010, the Yankees added Braves starter (and former Yankee) Javier Vasquez.  You always worry about bringing a flyball guy to new Yankee Stadium, so while I love that the Yankees added a durable innings eater, I don’t think he’s going to be the ACE that he looked like in Atlanta.  I think he’ll look like A.J. Burnett at best – with better control.  ERA around 4.00 – and fans complaining it’s not closer to 3.00.

Additionally, the Yankees probably don’t NEED a regular fifth starter.  They are the one team that could throw Sabathia, Burnett, and Vasquez all the time, Pettitte most of the time, and rotate Chamberlain or Gaudin in there to give people an extra day of rest from time to time.  Seriously – Sabathia could make 40 starts (if not abused in his starts) and MIGHT win 25 or 28 games.

The rotation is going to be about as good as last year – the benefits of Vasquez offsetting whatever loss in productivity comes from Pettitte as he wraps up his career.  The bullpen isn’t going to be better than last year – but it might get used more.  Looking at this, I see a possible five run drop off defensively, but not not more than ten runs off from 2009.

Catching:

A lot is made about how easy it is to run on Jorge Posada. That really wasn’t a problem last year.  Throw in the fact that his teams win, his pitchers are better than league average (two things he probably doesn’t deserve a LOT of credit for, but they are good), and the fact that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes – that’s pretty good.  His backups, Francisco Cervelli and Jose Molina, do a pretty good job, though Molina won’t be here in 2010.  What will make you nervous is Posada’s age, which might affect his offense this year.

Infield:

Mark Teixeira was all that you would want – impressive offensively, stable defensively.  He’s probably the best first baseman in the AL right now, though Kendry Morales is pretty special, too.

Robinson Cano is in the discussion for best second baseman in baseball.  He has a great glove and might win a batting title – all while hitting 20 – 25 homers.

Derek Jeter remains the most productive shortstop in the AL because he can still hit, gets on base a lot, has enough power, and is so good a hitter that it overrides the fact that he’s a miserable glove – that horrible decision to give him a Gold Glove last year not withstanding.

Alex Rodriguez still towers over most third basemen, finishing 30 – 100 again as he has every year since about 1980…  His defense at the position has improved every year, but he’s still not really all that good.

What scares you is the lack of depth here.  Ramiro Pena is a good fielder and hits a little.  Jerry Hairston is gone and nobody else looks like a major leaguer.  Would you trust Juan Miranda with a job?

I’d love to tell you that this group is going to sustain its production in 2010, but I can’t help but think that age is going to creep up on Jeter or AROD, and if one or the other misses a significant amount of time, it would be problematic (although possibly a benefit defensively).  I look for this group to decline by 30 runs offensively in 2010, and for the defense to slip by five or ten runs.

Outfield:

Last year, the Yankees had a productive Johnny Damon, a tolerable but not impressive Melky Cabrera, and the fun Nick Swisher from left to right.  Only Swisher was mildly above average defensively, but all three were quality contributors with the bat.

Cabrera was moved to Atlanta in the Javier Vasquez trade, which means that Brett Gardner will be the full time centerfielder.  I like this – Gardner is better defensively and despite the lack of power is probaby going to produce more runs because he gets on base.  I like him in the #2 spot behind Jeter.

Losing Damon will be tough, but the Yankees acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson for prospect Austin Jackson to play left.  After running productivity numbers for the two, it’s literally a wash – with the Yankees getting younger.  Granderson has actually slipped two straight years after looking like one of the greats in 2007.  I like him as a left fielder, though – and the pitchers will, too.

Swisher returns to right field, will back up Teixeira from time to time.  The fourth outfielder will be Randy Winn, who is not much offensively anymore but remains a good outfielder.  If he has to play a lot, that would be a problem, though.

The net change of this group, however, I think will be positive.  I like them to score about 10 runs more than last year, and save 10 runs defensively.

Bench:

Last year’s DH was Hideki Matsui, who gets to ply his trade as an Angel in 2010.  In his place will be Nick Johnson, who has a fantastic OBP, sneaks a little power in there, and is a threat to get injured.

After that, I don’t see much of a bench.  Just Pena in the infield, and just Winn in the outfield.

Prospects:

AAA Scranton manager Butch Wynagar’s best pitching prospect is probably reliever Mark Melancon, who got a shot with the big club in 2009.  With Scranton, Melancon was 4 – 0 wiht a 2.89 ERA, fanning 54 and walking 11 in 53 innings.  Nobody else impresses me…  The best hitter was Austin Jackson, a speed demon who was traded to Detroit for Granderson.  Jackson hit .300 with nine triples and 24 steals.  Kevin Russo is an infielder with some skills, hitting .326 but without much power and with Cano and Jeter around isn’t going to get a shot without someone going down with an injury.  He’s probably as good as Ramiro Pena, but with better on base skills.  If you haven’t heard of Russo, it’s because he was a 20th round pick in 2006 and has surprised a lot of people working his way up through the ranks.  I think the kid can play, though.

The Trenton Thunder (AA) features the Yankee’s best prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, who hit .317 in AA after being moved up from Tampa (where, in a tough park, he hit .356).  He looks like the new Jorge Posada and will get Posada’s job in 2012 or so.  He’s just 20.  Eduardo Nunez has some hitting skills, but little patience.  He hit .322 in Trenton with nine homers.  It was the first time that the undrafted Dominican shorstop looked like a hitter.

If you are looking for pitching prospects, though, Trenton might have a few.  Michael Dunn fanned 76 in 53.1 innings, earning a trip to Scranton and eventually New York.  Starter Zach McAllister had a 2.23 ERA with good control in 22 starts.  Josh Schmidt has taken a while to get going but had a 1.61 ERA for Trenton last year – he has great K/9 stats and seems very hard to hit.  He’s just getting a bit old for a prospect.

At Tampa, David Phelps – a Notre Dame arm – looks to be making nice progress, and starter Lance Pendleton or D.J. Mitchell might get a chance to move up to Trenton after solid enough seasons in A+ ball.  Each could stand to work on their control, though.  And Austin Romine is a kid with a little power and speed that might work his way up the Yankee ladder in time, but as a catcher might be blocked by Montero.  2008 third round pick David Adams hit .281 with some power and patience – I like his chances to get to the Yankees (or get traded) by 2013.

Forecast:

Barring catastrophic injuries, the Yankees will be good in 2010.  They won’t win 110 games, I don’t think.  Healthy, the Yankees win 93 games and make the playoffs again.  Part of me thinks that it will be more likely 95 wins, but if the system says 93, I’ll go with that.

Best and Worst Pitchers in the AL for 2009; And Other Notes…

Earlier this week, I posted my list of the top pitchers in the NL and explained my methods.  Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.  We’ll get into this in more detail when we hand out defensive awards next week.

Then, I compare what an average pitcher would have done with what that pitcher did – and come up with a “runs saved” or “extra runs allowed” ranking.  Nobody saved his team more runs than did Zack Greinke last year.  Zack Greinke had a really low ERA over more than 220 innings despite pitching in a park that helps hitters a little bit and having a rather poor defense behind him.  As such, his season is the best season I have tracked since I started doing this in 2005.

Top Pitchers (by Runs Saved)

65.61 – Zack Greinke (KC)
47.11 – Roy Halliday (TOR)
33.22 – Jon Lester (BOS)
32.14 – Felix Hernandez (SEA)
27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
26.51 – Cliff Lee (CLE)
25.74 – C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
25.73 – Justin Verlander (DET)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
20.80 – Jered Weaver (LAA)
20.57 – Kevin Millwood (TEX)
20.09 – Josh Beckett (BOS)

21.61 – Jarrod Washburn (SEA) – but -13.29 in DET

In fact, it’s not even close – Greinke had as good a season as we’ve seen by a pitcher in a long, long time.  Imagine if he had done this for 40 starts instead of 33, with a team like Seattle.  He MIGHT have had an ERA around 1.70 and a won-loss record of something like 27 – 4.  From this, you can see that Halliday instead of Cliff Lee will be a slight step up for Philadelphia and would have been a more serious contender for the Cy Young Award (in my book) had not Greinke been more dominating.

Another thing of interest – four relievers were good enough to sneak onto the list of pitcher saving his team more than 20 runs, led by Andrew Bailey.  Let’s use that to show the list of the top relievers in the AL last year.

Top Relievers

27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
18.41 – Matt Guerrier (MIN)
18.09 – Darren O’Day (TEX)
17.04 – Matt Thornton (CHW)
17.04 – Michael Wuertz (OAK)
16.79 – Darren Oliver (LAA)
16.41 – Jose Mijares (MIN)
16.16 – Brandon Lyon (DET)
15.87 – Joakim Soria (KC)

A couple of things – usually the top guys are middle relievers or set up men with great ERAs in 70 innings.  There are a couple here – Thorton, Wuertz, and Oliver for example.  Still – the top four guys were KILLER closers in 2009.

Worst Pitchers

-37.04 – Andy Sonnestine (TB)
-33.26 – Fausto Carmona (CLE)
-24.16 – Chien-Ming Wang (NYY)
-22.81 – Jason Berken (BAL)
-21.45 – Derek Holland (TEX)
-20.71 – Luke Hochevar (KC)
-21.02 – Chris Jakubauskas (SEA)
-20.38 – Jose Contreras (CHW)
-19.59 – Armando Galarraga (DET)
-19.17 – Rich Hill (BAL)
-18.36 – Garrett Olson (SEA)

-23.47 – Scott Kazmir (TB) – but positive 11.34 in LAA

If you had Andy Sonnestine on your fantasy team last year, you didn’t read my Tampa Rays Team Profile that pointed out that many of the Rays pitchers weren’t as good as you thought because the team defense in 2008 was amazingly good.  In 2009, Bartlett was hurt, and Upton struggled, and Aki Iwamura went down, and Carlos Pena looked a little older (and then left to an injury).  Sonnestine may throw strikes, but they sure do get hit a lot.

Hopefully, Fausto Carmona and Chien-Ming Wang can figure things out.  Two years ago, these guys won nearly 40 games combined – and now they are #2 and #3 on the wrong list.

And, if you are scrolling down to the NL List, note that the list contained a bunch of Brewer and Padre pitchers.  In the AL, only Seattle doubled up by having two guys get pounded around – bad pitching was more evenly distributed…

Halliday, Lee in Three Team Trade; Lackey to Bosox

Wow – the potential for a HUGE deal…  All baseball sources are reporting on a potential deal that would send Toronto ace Roy Halliday to the Phillies for prospects, while Cliff Lee would go from Philadelphia to the Seattle Mariners for a couple of prospects – one of which might go to Toronto as well.

In listening to the experts, the talk is that Cliff Lee wants a big deal after the 2010 season when he becomes a free agent – possibly Sabathia money – and the Phillies didn’t want to do that.  Meanwhile, Halliday has expressed an interest in playing in Philadelphia and would accept a “below market” deal (how is a $60 million, three-year extension really below market?) to go there.  Among the names included in the trade are outfielder Michael Taylor, pitcher Kyle Drabek, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud.  These three would head from Philadelphia to Toronto, while the Phillies would receive Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies from Seattle.  In this way, the Phillies still keep young talent while maintaining a top of the rotation anchor.  The Mariners get a two-headed monster at the top of the rotation for 2010 (King Felix and Cliff Lee – wow), and Toronto does a service for its star while loading up on young talent and building for 2012, I guess.

Well that’s a lot of stuff to review.  Once the deal is final, we’ll get you a complete run down of the players involved, some info on the prospects, and all that stuff.  Should be a gas!!!

Not the Only Big Deal…

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox appear to have agreed to terms with pitcher John Lackey – five years and $85 million – pending a physical.  Lackey has been nicked up the last couple of years but appears to be healthy and was a horse for the Angels down the stretch.  He didn’t miss a start for the first six years of his career, which includes 102 wins and a 3.81 career ERA.  (Retrosheet shows that Lackey hasn’t necessarily been real successful in Boston, with a 5.75 ERA and a 2 – 5 record in Fenway, but he’s facing a really good Red Sox team, so it’s all relative.)  You have to like the top end of the Red Sox rotation with Lester, Lackey, and Beckett.  That’s 600 strikeouts if they all make 33 starts.  [SI]

The Sox weren’t done, working through a possible two-year $15 million deal with outfielder Mike Cameron.  I guess Jason Bay isn’t coming back.  Cameron isn’t an awful outfielder, and he’ll occasionally hit one out or take a walk – but we’re talking about a .250 hitting 37 year old guy now who has a lot of mileage on the tires…  It’s a step down in production from Manny to Bay to Cameron.  [SI]

The Angels did make their own move, coming to terms with Hideki Matsui on a one-year, $6 million deal.  Matsui was pretty solid as a DH in New York last year, but I don’t see how this is going to be THAT great a deal for the Angels.  They already have a DH outfielder in Vlad Guerrero and another DH outfielder in Bobby Abreu – and all three are limited in range, up there in years, and not guaranteed to play 120 games.  I guess between the three they have about two full time players.  They certainly have one of the older outfields in baseball.  [SI]

God bless old outfielders.  I’m one.

Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban teen with the triple digit fastball, has a $15 million offer from the Red Sox, according to sources.  We’ll see what comes out of a workout in Houston this week…  [ESPN]

Among the dozen teams angling for Pirates free agent closer Matt Capps?  The Cubs.  But, with so many teams showing interest, Capps and his agent are biding their time.  [ESPN]

Houston signed fourth outfielder Jason Michaels to a one-year, $800K deal.  Seems cheap…  Former Toronto pitcher Gustavo Chacin signed a minor league deal with the Astros…  [SI]

The Rockies signed Chris Iannetta to a multi-year deal to stay and catch in Colorado.  Ianetta gets three years and $8.3 million, with a club option for 2013.  [SI]

Could Colby Lewis be joining a team near you?  The one time Texas prospect has been pitching – and pitching well – in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp.  However, he’s ready to come home and be closer to his family.  [MLB]

Could Chien-Ming Wang become a Met?  I’d give him a minor league deal first, but you never know…  [MLB]

My favorite AAA+ pitcher, R.J. Swindle, signed a minor league deal with Tampa.

The Team Voted Most Likely to Party…

David Freese was arrested under the suspicion of a DUI – the fourth member of the Cardinals in this situation since spring training, 2007.  Freese is a third baseman and a pretty good prospect…  I guess if your chief sponsor is Anheuser-Busch, this is going to happen.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Remember the Hit Dog?  Mo Vaughn, once a feared hitter, turns 42 today.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Jay “Nig” Clarke (1882), Eddie Robinson (1920), Haywood Sullivan (1930), Jim Leyland (1944), Stan Bahnsen (1944), Art Howe (1946), Doug Rau (1948), Mike Proly (1950), Rick Helling (1970) – the Texas union rep when nearly everyone on the Rangers was using steroids, Aaron Miles (1976), and Michael Wuertz (1978).

Afterthoughts…

Ron Santo got a three-year deal to stay on as the radio color commentator for the Chicago Cubs.  I don’t know if you listen to WGN, but he’s certainly a fan of the Cubs and has a good sense of humor.  As for his insight – well, he’s a fan of the Cubs.  I love Sanot, though.  The deal gives him a bit more freedom to deal with his health – as a diabetic, Santo has had both legs amputated and is working through issues with his new legs.  [MLB]

A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.