2010 Top AL First Basemen

Mark Teixeira – NYY (97.7 Runs Created, 31.7 Runs Saved = 129.4 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average never recovered from a miserable .136 April but he continued to show power (69 extra base hits) and kept reaching base.  Additionally, he had one of those years where his defensive stats were outstanding – nobody fluctuates more than Teixeira for some reason, but he’s been in a lot of different stadiums over the last few years.  I’m not sure that I’d take him over Cabrera or even Butler for 2011, but he’s been the new Rafael Palmeiro in terms of hitting consistency.  Will pass 300 homers this year assuming he staus healthy (never less than 30 since 2003) and probably 1000 RBIs, too (seven straight over 100 RBI).  Turns 31 just after Opening Day, so he’s got at least five or six good years left, wouldn’t you think?

Miguel Cabrera – DET (147.0 Runs Created, – 19.9 Runs Saved = 127.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The most feared hitter in the AL right now – power, batting average, decent enough eye.  He’s starting to look thicker like Manny Ramirez, who is the the person Cabrera reminds me of the most.  Per game, Youkilis is more productive, but Cabrera doesn’t miss games.  The Marlins should have kept him and just given him shares of ownership or something.

Paul Konerko – CHI (119.0 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 108.8 Total Runs Productivity)

A fantastic season for the White Sox first baseman.  Konerko hit a ton, doesn’t necessarily help with the glove, and has been rather productive for a number of years now.  It was his sixth 30 homer season, fifth of at least 100 RBI, and third time clearing .300 in batting average.  Turns 35 in March, so don’t be surprised if there’s a drop off this year.  Adam Dunn will give Konerko a break between DH duties and add even more thunder to the middle of the lineup.

Billy Butler – KC (109.3 Runs Created, -1.3 Runs Saved = 108.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Konerko edged Butler by a shade less than a run, but I’d rather have Butler.  He’s worked hard to become a tolerable defensive player, he doesn’t have the top end power of Cabrera but he’s a threat to get 200 hits a year, and he’s capable of hitting 25 homers (or more) at some point – based on his hitting 45 doubles last year and 51 in 2009.  If you are in a keeper fantasy league, go get him.

Kevin Youkilis – BOS (82.8 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 100.6 Total Runs Productivity)

An injury ended his season after just 102 games, but few people actually produce a full productive run per game and Youkilis nearly did just that.  When Mike Lowell was forced to play there more regularly, he looked okay defensively (as you might expect), but he didn’t generate any offense, which contributed to the Red Sox falling off as the season progressed.  Is Kevin Youkilis a potential Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.  Adrian Gonzalez, imported from San Diego, will take over the role, moving Youkilis over to third base.

Michael Cuddyer – MIN (88.9 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 90.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Justin Morneau was hitting like Ted Williams when a concussion ended his season after just 81 games.  Cuddyer took over down the stretch and was very good.  He played the position well enough (he actually saved 4.5 runs as a first baseman but gave a few runs away in the outfield) and hits for power among his other virtues.  Morneau says he’ll be ready for spring training, and the Twins hope he’s at 100% when the season starts.  If not, Cuddyer is a fine alternative.

Ty Wigginton – BAL (72.2 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 87.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Wigginton, who can play all over the infield and outfield, got the lion’s share of innings and was surprisingly effective as a first baseman, if not quite a solid offensive contributor.  His 22 homers and 76 RBIs look okay, but the .248/.415/.316 percentage line as a bit weak for the position.  In the SI baseball preview, Joe Sheehan suggested that Garrett Atkins was a lousy short-term solution for a team that should be focusing on youth.  Atkins hit .214 with 1 homer in 140 at bats – nailing that prediction.

Daric Barton – OAK (92.7 Runs Created, -17.3 Runs Saved = 75.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Oakland says they are happy with Barton, who is a poor man’s Mark Grace.  Barely enough power but gets on base a lot, hits a few doubles.  However, he doesn’t seem to have Grace’s defensive skills.  To his credit, he’s gotten better every year, he’s just 25, and he has room to grow.  If he can find his comfort zone defensively and add a little more offense, he’d get to 100 runs of productivity for sure, which would make him a more valuable commodity.

Carlos Pena – TB (72.6 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 73.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The Cubs payed $10 million for a guy who got 95 hits in 571 plate appearances.  Still has power, still has a great eye, but strikes out a ton and is no longer a defensive force as he ages.  If he hits .240 as a Cub, I’ll take it – but I’ll also be surprised.

Justin Morneau – MIN (81.9 Runs Created, -12.0 Runs Saved = 69.9 Total Runs Productivity)

A concussion suffered when getting kneed in the head while sliding into second base ended his season.  A ferocious hitter, but a brick with the glove.  See Michael Cuddyer, above.

Lyle Overbay – TOR (74.4 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 67.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Showed a little power to make up for his fading batting average, still draws a few walks.  His strikeout rate makes you nervous and he no longer flashes the leather as well as he used to.  He’s outside the top ten at his position, and that means he’s won a job in Pittsburgh.  At least he’s durable, right?  Looking over the Blue Jays roster, does this mean Adam Lind or Travis Snider or Jose Bautista or someone is moving over?  Watch the Jays in Spring Training and see what happens.

Justin Smoak – TEX/SEA (40.6 Runs Created, 17.5 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Should get the Seattle job in 2011, unless Mariners management goes through another round of goofiness.  Didn’t hit very well and needs to show improvement, but he did flash leather in two cities.  Still a kid – worth giving 500 at bats to see what happens.  See Casey Kotchman, below.

Mike Napoli – LAA (73.1 Runs Created, -19.2 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

See Kendry Morales, below.  Played first because he was probably the best option when Morales went down but really isn’t a first baseman.  May get time there in Texas for 2011, but I’d rather see him catch five days and DH twice a week.

Kendry Morales – LAA (35.1 Runs Created, 11.2 Runs Saved = 46.3 Total Runs Productivity)

Mike Napoli played 140 more innings because Morales went down to a freak leg injury celebrating a home run.  Morales was pacing for about 135 runs of total productivity, which would have placed him ahead of Cabrera, when he was sidelined.  Hits for power and average, great range – a fantastic player.  His injury, as much as anything, cost the Angels the AL West.  It forced an out of position player to first and put a bad hitter in the lineup – costing the team about 80 runs over the course of the season.

Casey Kotchman – SEA (43.4 Runs Created, -5.9 Runs Saved = 37.5 Total Runs Productivity)

I’m not sure what Seattle was thinking here – Kotchman hasn’t been consistent as a Mark Grace type, falling off to hitting just .217 last year.  He gets raves for his glove, but hasn’t been consistent there, either.  They should have just committed to Russell Branyan, given him a decent check, and let him come to the park confident in having a job.  If Seattle is serious about contending, they need to find 70 more runs at this position in 2011.  Justin Smoak was imported from Texas for Branyan and has power and a decent eye, seems to be a much better fielder.  A full season of Smoak, especially if he can improve from .218 to .260 and hit 25 homers, would be worth at least 45 more runs.  If Kotchman gets a full season of at bats anymore, I’ll be stunned.

Mitch Moreland – TEX (24.5 Runs Created, -3.3 Runs Saved = 21.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Chris Davis had the job but couldn’t hit .200.  Justin Smoak got a chance, wasn’t horrible, but was sent to Seattle for Russell BranyanJorge Cantu was imported from Florida and didn’t really earn much playing time.  Mitch Moreland took over down the stretch and was pretty good – hit for power, got on base, did the job at first – though he needs to get comfortable there and a full season later he might not be too bad.  He’s low down the list now, but expect him to move up a few notches in 2011.

Matt LaPorta – CLE (42.9 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 17.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Russell Branyan came over from Seattle and was far more productive in his 47 games at first (32.8 total runs) than LaPorta, who played 93 games at first and another seven in left field and butchered it both offensively and defensively.  Of course, Branyan doesn’t have a job and LaPorta is listed at the top of the depth chart heading into Spring Training.  Pity my friends who are Cleveland fans.

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Top AL First Basemen in 2009

Let’s put some of this fun data together and look at the top players by position.  Today, we’ll start with the AL First Basemen.

What I have done is taken the basic runs created data (an older Bill James formula modified to account for the park in which that player played) and my defensive runs saved data and combined them into a Total Run Production number.  The best players will create the most runs offensively and prevent the most runs defensively.

Kendry Morales (LAA) – Now THAT’S an impact season.  You start with the power and average – 34 – 108 – .306.  He didn’t walk a lot, but he added more than 40 doubles, too.  Morales is also a very mobile first baseman – more mobile than Teixeira.  I show him creating about 115 runs of offense and then saving his team about 38 runs defensively.  This isn’t the first time that he’s had impressive defensive stats at first.  In more than 450 innings there in 2006 he was very good and in 121 innings in 2007 he had similar range numbers.  (115.4 Runs Created, 37.8 Runs Saved = 153.20 Total Run Production)

Mark Teixeira (NYY) – It was close, but Morales’ defensive numbers put him over the top.  I’m not suggesting that Teixeira is BAD defensively.  He’s not.  He’s got soft hands and makes many, many impressive plays.  However, in the last four years he’s been all over the map.  Not so good in Texas, decent in a half season in Atlanta.  Then, after a slower start in ATL in 2008, he was very good with the Angels.  He was above average last year with the Yankees.  As a hitter, Tex was worth 20 more runs, but as a fielder, Morales made up for it with about five runs to spare.  I think I’d rather have Tex on my fantasy team, though.  (135.6 Runs Created, 12.7 Runs Saved = 148.32 Total Run Production)

Miguel Cabrera (DET) – An alcohol problem surfaced in 2009 and yet he was still very productive.  Hopefully, a cleaner Cabrera will have a breakout season in 2010.  In 2009, he wasn’t half bad at first base and he remains one of the most productive hitters at any position.  I’d draft him.  (132.7 Runs Created, 0.9 Runs Saved = 133.62 Total Run Production)

Kevin Youkilis (BOS) – A great fielder at two positions, Boston looks to get more time for Youkilis at first base with Adrian Beltre playing the hot corner.  Where the top three guys were all 30 – 100 – .300 types, Youk was 27 – 94 .305 – just a notch below them in power, but just as patient (if not more so) at the plate.  (109.6 Runs Created, 14.9 Runs Saved = 124.45 Total Run Production)

Russell Branyan (SEA) – Finally getting a full season of at bats (well, he was injured at the end of the year), Branyan delivered the goods.  Solid power and patience, but a lower batting average (.251) than the top tier guys.  And, Branyan was surprisingly good at first base, showing well above average range.  Seattle turned a negative to a huge positive in 2009.  That being said, he still didn’t get to 500 plate appearances and he’s 34.  I bet Branyan would like a second shot at his career – but this might have been his best chance and it took forever for someone (Cleveland) to sign him.  People must not think he can repeat what he did last year.  (81.2 Runs Created, 24.4 Runs Saved = 105.66 Total Run Production)

Paul Konerko (CHI) – The really slow start messed with what was really a pretty good season.  Konerko had an average season defensively and a shade more than 90 runs of offense.  The issue, of course, is that he’s running out of prime years, turning 34 in Spring Training…  (92.5 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 99.85 Total Run Production)

Billy Butler (KC) – If you are looking for a sleeper for your fantasy team, you could do worse than drafting this guy…  Butler can hit .300 with some power – which will likely get better as he ages.  He’s still young and his defense, while not great, wasn’t miserably bad.  Personally, I’d rather have Butler than Konerko next year.  (103.1 Runs Created, -10.8 Runs Saved = 92.29 Total Run Production.)

Carlos Pena (TB) – Still has world class power (39 homers despite missing a month), but his batting average tanked to .227.  He’s NOT a .300 hitter, and I don’t think he’s really a .227 hitter.  However, he’s coming off a bad wrist injury and is now 32 (well – he will be in May). His defense is still solid, but it’s not what it once was.  Watch how he does in the spring and steal him if he gets off to a decent start.  (91.3 Runs Created, .7 Runs Saved = 92.02 Total Run Production)

Lyle Overbay (TOR) – His defense, normally awesome, slipped in 2009.  His offense, normally tolerable, slipped in 2009.  Overbay isn’t going to hit 20 homers and unless he’s hitting close to .300 and hitting a bunch of doubles and cutting down grounders and line drives to right field, he’s gaining on losing his job to Adam Lind…  He might bounce back some, but he’s not high on my draft list.  (76.1 Runs Created, -1.8 Runs Saved = 74.31 Total Run Production)

Justin Morneau (MIN) – If healthy, Justin Morneau will likely move back up the list in 2010.  However, with stress fractures in his back last year, his batting tanked in the late summer and he couldn’t move well enough in the field.  He generated 90 runs of offense (most of it before the All-Star break), which is okay, but he gave 20 back with his defense – hence the low rating.  (91.4 Runs Created, -20.51 Runs Saved = 70.92 Total Run Production)

Ryan Garko (CLE) – No longer an Indian, Garko was replaced by Andy Marte after being dealt to San Francisco – and Victor Martinez got several innings here, too.  Garko’s net production among two teams was 64.50 (56.5 Runs Created with 8 Runs Saved).  The job may well get split again this year among Marte and Travis Hafner.  Marte, a long time prospect who turned 26 in the offseason, looked like he hadn’t spent much time there and Victor Martinez looked like a catcher trying to play first base.  To be fair, a full season of Garko wouldn’t be horrible – it might be better than having Lyle Overbay these days.  Roster Update!!! The Indians signed Russell Branyan to a one-year deal as spring training started – so if Branyan is healthy, the Indians could have a solid answer for 2010.

Aubrey Huff (BAL) – Now plying his trade for San Francisco, Huff had an off season to say the least.  Between two teams, Huff’s total production was 58.70 runs (63.8 Runs Created, but -5.1 runs saved).  The new first baseman could be Michael Aubrey, a former Indian prospect who has some skills and the same, albeit displaced, name.  He’s going to field a little better than Huff and he MIGHT hit pretty well, too.  Suffering through injuries in the minor leagues, Baltimore hopes this Aubrey is a late bloomer.  God forbid they have to play Garrett Atkins there.

Chris Davis (TEX) – Shared the role with Hank Blalock, none of which is the answer…  At least Davis has some range and a little power but he sure does strikeout a lot.  If you combine Davis and Blalock, the total production is close to the production of Carlos Pena and his backups…  (47.4 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 57.44 Total Run Production)

Daric Barton (OAK) – Barton took over for Jason Giambi and wasn’t horrible.  He fielded the position well and he gets on base some – though you wish he had a little more power.  He’s 70% of Mark Grace, but he’s 24 and has a little room left to grow…  The A’s could choose to go with Eric Chavez here if they let Kevin Kouzmanoff play third base all season.  Barton also serves as the emergency catcher, having started his career as a catcher out of high school.

Quick Notes… Having done this, the median starting first baseman in the AL produced about 92 runs for his team and the replacement level would have been about 70 runs of production.  The latter seems a little low in that Minnesota’s final number, if you included the time spent at first base by Michael Cuddyer, would have been closer to 85 or 90 runs.  So, more realistically, your first basemen have to generate at least 90 runs of production lest they need to be replaced.  Morales and Teixeira were, in essence, about six wins better than the average first baseman.

2009 AL Gold Glove and Brick Glove Winners

Last week, I gave you the NL Gold Glove and Brick Glove winners and losers…  It’s time to do the same for their brethren in the AL.  As a reminder, here’s how I do it:

1) Look at the number of plays made per every 800 balls in play, because it provides a level playing field and because, in effect, one extra play made is essentially removing one point of batting average from each hitter.

2) Make modifications for things like flyballs and ground balls allowed by pitching staffs.

3) Make modifications to middle infielders based on double plays.

4) Remove infield assists from first basemen’s putout numbers.

5) Convert plays made/not made into runs saved/lost based on values for each hit as determined by Pete Palmer – with hits assigned by position.

6) Determine additional benefits for runs saved based on double plays and errors.

7) Sort.

For the lists below, you’ll see two numbers for each player.  Positive numbers are always better.  The first number tells you how many plays he makes per 800 balls in play more or less than the average guy.  Nelson Cruz made 14 plays every 800 balls in play more than the average right fielder.  That’s a lot.  Derek Jeter’s first number is about -9, which means he makes nine plays less than the average shortstop per 800 balls in play.  The second number tells you how many runs that player saved his team (or cost his team, if the number is negative).  So, the effect of Nelson Cruz making 14 extra catches for ever 800 balls in play (and not make errors, or contribute to double plays) was to save his team about 35 runs over the course of the season.  Again, a negative number is bad – a player’s range or being error prone would cost his team that many runs.

Right Field:

14.0 34.5 Nelson Cruz (TEX)
11.9 17.0 Ryan Sweeney (OAK)

Cruz made a lot of plays – only Suzuki made more, but Ichiro played more than 250 additional innings and had just 24 more putouts.  Like Jayson Werth, Cruz had more putouts than Texas center fielders – something that rarely happens.  Sweeney was solid, but in only 600 innings. Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios were third by my reckoning…  For years, Rios should have been in center and not Vernon Wells.

– 8.4 -28.7 Nick Markakis (BAL)
-10.4 -23.3 Michael Cuddyer (MIN)
-10.2 -17.8 Magglio Ordonez (DET)

Jack Cust just missed this list and he only played 400 atrociously lousy innings…  Markakis gets raves for his arm, but if you don’t get to any flies, you aren’t helping the team.  Ordonez is a regular to the brick glove list and should be a DH.

Center Field:

10.0 20.0 Carlos Gomez (MIN)
7.4 16.4 Adam Jones (BAL)
5.4 14.4 Franklin Gutierrez (SEA)

All the young legs.  Milwaukee will appreciate how good Gomez is defensively (the pitchers will, anyway).  I thought Gutierrez should have moved Sizemore to right in Cleveland and he proved me right.

-5.9 -16.8 Vernon Wells (TOR)
-5.9 -16.5 Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
-7.4 -14.9 Marlon Byrd (TEX)

Vernon Wells has been a slow centerfielder for years – it’s about time to move him to left or right field.  (Just listing his range numbers, 2006: -3.7, 2007: -5.1, 2008: -6.2, costing between 10 and 17 runs to his team each year.)  Ellsbury was lousy despite setting the record for most putouts in a game.  And pity the Cubs if they put Byrd in CF…

Left Field:

5.3 17.8 Jason Bay (BOS)
4.6 15.3 David DeJesus (KC)
4.2 12.5 Carl Crawford (TB)

Bay sure does get a bad reputation for his defense, but he wasn’t a problem last year.  I think Boston will miss him.  Unlike the NL, the AL has a few guys who can really play here and are truly left fielders.

-14.2 -15.3 Adam Lind (TOR)
– 4.7 -12.3 Johnny Damon (NYY)
– 4.6 -10.2 Delmon Young (MIN)

Adam Lind is a DH who is forced into left.  Damon is 36 and is starting to show the effects of old and injured wheels.  And Delmon Young has NEVER been a good fielder.

Shortstop:

14.1 30.8 Elvis Andrus (TEX)
7.6 15.7 Cesar Izturis (BAL)
3.5 11.1 Erick Aybar (LAA)

If anyone in their right mind really looks at this, there is NO WAY that Elvis Andrus should have been denied a gold glove.  Okay – he makes a few too many errors.  But he makes SO MANY plays.  Compared to the worst fielding shortstop in the AL – the guy they gave the gold glove to – Elvis had 55 more putouts and 67 more assists in about 23 fewer innings. 122 additional plays.

-9.2 -14.2 Derek Jeter (NYY)

If you go by guys who played a lot of innings, Alexei Ramirez and Marco Scutaro (or Asdrubal Cabrera) would be second and third. However, I thought I would point out that even though Marco Scutaro is a step up from the 2009 position holders – he’s NOT going to make Boston’s defense airtight.  Scutaro’s range is -5.0/-6.4.  However, Julio Lugo’s 243 innings were brutal (-20.4 range, costing 12.3 runs) and Alex Gonzalez was a step up from abysmal to just bad (-10.9 range, costing them 5.6 runs).  Jason Bartlett’s ankle injury was serious – he went from a gold glover to a problem.

Third Base:

9.3 31.9 Evan Longoria (TB)
14.0 28.6 Adrian Beltre (SEA)
8.6 21.7 Melvin Mora (BAL)

Chone Figgins is above average, but defensively is about twenty runs worse than having Beltre out there.  I stand by what I wrote before – it’s not an improvement to have Figgins in Seattle, though the backups will play less.  Longoria is the real deal.

-16.9 -39.0 Michael Young (TEX)
-17.0 -12.9 Ty Wigginton (BAL)

Michael Young must have been watching Elvis get all the grounders, too.  This just proves that because you once were a decent enough (not great, though) shortstop you can’t just try playing third base and become good at it.  It’s taken YEARS for Alex Rodriguez to go from a lousy third baseman to one who is just a little below average.

Second Base:

7.9 23.3 Placido Polanco (DET)
5.9 18.8 Aaron Hill (TOR)
6.1 16.4 Robinson Cano (NYY)

And Detroit didn’t want Polanco anymore?  He remains very, very good at second base.  Philadelphia hopes he can still play third but I have my doubts that he’ll be GREAT the way he is great here.  Cano has improved every year.  Ian Kinsler just missed this list – he’s regularly awesome.

-11.0 -31.2 Brian Roberts (BAL)
– 6.5 -19.9 Alberto Callaspo (KC)

That Mora and Izturis were solid makes me think that there could be a statistical bias here, but Roberts’ numbers, even with help, are still plain old bad.  By the way – this isn’t news.   He’s been below average three of the last four years.

2006: -4.8 -10.4
2007:   1.2 5.2
2008: -4.3 -12.6
2009: -11.0 -31.2

That’s a pretty big dip, which is part aging and probably part batters hitting in a different direction last year.

First Base:

14.3 37.8 Kendry Morales (LAA)
12.1 24.4 Russell Branyan (SEA)
8.2 15.1 Chris Davis (TEX)

Mark Teixeira, for the first time in a while, just missed making this list. He’s usually in the middle.  I had no idea Morales was that good (or, for that matter, anyone on this list), but I will be watching to see if he remains this good going forward.

-33.5 -28.0 Victor Martinez (CLE)
– 9.6 -20.5 Justin Morneau (MIN)
-14.3 -17.3 Hank Blalock (TEX)

If you count his time in Boston, Martinez cost his teams more than 35 runs – he’s a catcher and can’t really play the position.  Morneau’s injury wasn’t just killing his bat – he was less and less mobile as the year went on.

Who Would You Rather Have: Kevin Gregg or Brad Lidge? (And other news…)

I grew up a Cubs fan. My grandfather, Sverre Kramer, would sit glued in front of the TV (he lived on Sacramento between Addison and Irving Park) and complain when things went awry.  One of my earliest memories of this includes watching a game between the Pirates and Cubs where Roberto Clemente hit a pair of homers against Fergie Jenkins, the last one in the bottom of the ninth stopping what had been a comeback thanks to a Billy Williams homer, to win the game.  Grandpa yelled out, “Oh for the love of Mike…” – which I can still clearly hear nearly 40 years later.  He would occasionally give me a quarter, with which my brother and I would head to a corner candy store (now gone) and I would buy a pack of baseball cards.  A 1970 or 1971 Marty Pattin card is something, for whatever reason, stands out to me.

Anyway – after last night’s crushing at the hands of Washington, I’ve declared the Cubs officially dead for 2009.  We’re getting to see whatever prospects might be left in September anyway – why not start a week early…  I don’t usually recap games, but after Josh Willingham’s second homer, or perhaps Elijah Duke’s grand slam, I can hear Grandpa Kramer again.  “Oh for the love of Mike!”

Someone else who might be dead for 2009?  Brad Lidge, who blew his ninth save last night.  Ryan Madson as a closer?  Could happen sooner than you think.  Maybe the Cubs can offer them Kevin Gregg in a trade.  Okay – enough rambling. Let’s get to the news of the day.

Billy Wagner conceded on a couple of counts, the Red Sox allowed Wagner to test the free agent market for 2010, and agreed to send two players to be named later to the Mets so that Wagner could hop into a pennant race in Boston.  [ESPN]

One of the players the Mets signed to replace Wagner, J.J. Putz is officially out for the season owing to a rehab setback following his elbow surgery.  Putz is joining Johan Santana – who will have bone chips and spurs removed from his elbow.  At this point, the expectation is that Santana will be ready for Spring Training, but there is some chance that the bone spurs will eventually require Santana to have Tommy John surgery in the future.  Santana had this same procedure a few years back (2003) and recovered to win 20 games and a Cy Young award…  [ESPN/SI]

Jake Peavy’s elbow swelled up after being nailed by a liner in the fifth inning of a rehab start, but he still hopes to pitch for the White Sox on Saturday against the Yankees.  [ESPN]

The San Francisco Giants have barely begun to enjoy him and now Freddy Sanchez heads to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Sanchez hopes to be back by September 2.  [ESPN]

Jacoby Ellsbury stole a base last night, his 54th, breaking the Boston Red Sox franchise record set by Tommy Harper back in 1973.

Tampa outfielder Carl Crawford, who is tied with Ellsbury for the stolen base lead, has been out of the lineup with a sore back.  He hopes to return soon, but for now he’s day-to-day.

Speaking of franchise records, Zach Greinke fanned fifteen Indians to set the Kansas City Royals single game strikeout mark last night.  If you knew that Mark Gubicza held the old record, congratulations…  Greinke got the win to improve to 12 – 8.  When he finishes the season at 14 – 11 with a 2.20 ERA, he should be the Cy Young winner in the AL…  [ESPN]

Chris Davis returns to the Rangers for the stretch run – the first baseman with a ton of power and a hole in his swing wide enough for Andruw Jones to run through needs to bring the bat from last fall to Texas this time…  Davis returns because Andruw Jones can’t actually run – he has a strained hamstring.  [SI]

Tampa outfielder Carl Crawford, who is tied with Ellsbury for the stolen base lead, has been out of the lineup with a sore back.  He hopes to return soon, but for now he’s day-to-day.

Staying in Florida, first baseman Nick Johnson tried to play with a strained hammy, and now heads to the DL.  Since joining the Fish, Johnson had an OBA around .500 and was instrumental in their recent hot streak.  He’ll be missed.  [MLB]

For a spot of good news, Aaron Boone will return to the Astros for September.  This is the same Aaron Boone who had valve replacement surgery on his heart in March.  This is awesome stuff…  [ESPN]

Hurry Back! Mike Adams, San Diego reliever, heads to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Adams had pitched really, really well for the Friars.  After a pinch hit walk and barely being able to walk to first base, Colorado sent centerfielder Dexter Fowler to the DL with a bruised knee.

Welcome Back! Livan Hernandez was signed by Washington and will start tonight against the Cubs.  Jeff Suppan returns to Milwaukee after an extended DL stint…

Johnson, Wang Injure Shoulders; Manny Already Tired

Randy Johnson injured his throwing shoulder while batting in Sunday’s game against Houston. With the All-Star break coming, he’ll likely just miss one start and not need to go on the DL, but you never know. [MLB]

Manny Ramirez’s comeback lasted just two days, as he needed to take Sunday off to rest his legs. Eric Milton, who just came off the DL with back soreness, went back on the DL – which makes me wonder if he really was ready or not – so the Dodgers could recall Blake DeWitt.

This really shouldn’t be news, but it gives you an idea of how dedicated Manny is to the Dodgers. He couldn’t keep himself in shape while he was out, and he chose not to use all ten rehab games to get his wheels back. Apparently it’s hard to run back and forth to the outfield from the dugout between innings. [MLB]

2009 continues to haunt Chien-Ming Wang. Sunday, the Yankees placed Wang on the DL with a strained throwing shoulder – the injury suffered Saturday against Toronto. As of last night, the Yankees were evaluating their options for replacing him in the rotation, and it sounded like Phil Hughes won’t be the guy – at least not right away. [ESPN]

The Florida Marlins looking to bolster their bullpen, signed former Angel Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly will replace Chris Leroux, who went on the DL with shoulder inflammation. [ESPN]

Oakland gave up two prospects (Ryan Webb, Craig Italiano), and a player to be named later to acquire Scott Hairston from the Padres. FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal believes that this is a potential sign that Matt Holliday is on the trading block. Hairston is a good fourth outfielder type with some right-handed power. Ryan Webb is barely a prospect who happens to be doing okay in AAA Sacramento right now. He’s never had an ERA under 4.76 until this year. Italiano is better – had a killer year at A Kane County in 2008, and is doing okay at Stockton (A+). At least he has room to grow. To be honest, the A’s didn’t give up much to get Hairston.

If you haven’t seen this year’s All-Star Game rosters, give MLB’s coverage a look-see.

Welcome Back! Josh Hamilton returns Monday (Chris Davis was sent to AAA Oklahoma City to teach his bat to make contact), Phillies reliever Scott Eyre, Angels outfielder Reggie Willits, Yankees reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.

Hurry Back! Padres catcher Henry Blanco has a strained hamstring, earning a DL trip. Jose Lobaton gets the call from AAA Portland to be the backup catcher. The undrafted free agent has bounced around the minors and has been better when given stable work – but still really isn’t a prospect.

2009 Season Forecast: Texas Rangers

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

2008 Summary:

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

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

Tell Me About That Offense:

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

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

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

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

And the Defense?

Not so good.

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

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

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

Now Pitching:

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

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

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

Forecasting 2009:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down on the Farm:

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

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

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

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