2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

I’m watching Opening Day on ESPN and decided I might as well write while I am getting settled in…  To be fair, with the Florida Marlins having decided to trade away all the talent they had recently acquired, I chose to find a new team to follow closely in 2013 – and that team is the Houston Astros.

Here’s a quick summary of where they are coming from:

Recent Records:
2012: 55 – 107 (Last, NL Central)
2011: 56 – 106 (Last, NL Central)
2010: 76 – 86 (4th, NL Central)
2009: 74 – 88 (5th, NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75 (3rd, NL Central)

This is a team that has hit rock bottom – even that team from five years ago was a bit of a fluke, having given up more runs than they had scored that year.

2012 Summary:
Home:  35 – 46
Away:  20 – 61 (ouch)

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

There is a simple way to look at this.  A team that scores 100 runs more than it allows is likely to win 90 games.  The converse is also true.  At 200 runs, it’s another ten wins – 100 wins or 100 losses.  The Astros allowed 211 runs more than they scored – hence the lousy record.  So – things have to be looking up, right?

Record by Month:
April:  9 – 14
May:   13 – 15
June:  10 – 17
July:   3 – 24
Aug:    5 – 22
Sept:  15 – 15

The Astros started 3 – 1, were reasonably competitive through 45 games, and not altogether awful heading into the last week of June.  Then, Houston lost the last six games of the month and the first six of July.  After breaking that streak, they lost four in a row, then twelve more in a row – 28 of 30 games were lost…  When the month ended, anyone with any trade value was gone.  August wasn’t much better…  What team has ever had a stretch where they won just eight of sixty games?

Feeling Optimistic?

Beginning on September first and covering the last 30 games, the Astros played .500 ball.  Houston edged Cincinnati, toppled Philadelphia, split with Pittsburgh, edged Milwaukee, and split with Chicago.  Only St. Louis proved troublesome, taking five of six.  They did this without scoring a lot of runs – only 102 runs were scored in that period.  What allowed this to happen was that their pitching staff tossed a number of gems down the stretch, including three straight shutouts over Milwaukee and Chicago at the very end of the season.  In eleven of these wins, the Astros threw six shutouts and allowed just one run in five other starts.

Opening Day Lineup:
CF: Jordan Schafer
2B: Jose Altuve
LF: J.D. Martinez
1B: Carlos Lee
RF: Brian Bogusevic
3B: Chris Johnson
C: Jason Castro
SS: Marwin Gonzalez
SP: Wandy Rodriguez

Regulars by Games Played:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee (gone…)
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Jed Lowrie (gone…)
3B: Chris Johnson (gone…)
LF: J.D. Martinez
CF: Justin Maxwell
RF: Brian Bogusevic (gone…)

4OF: Jordan Schafer
C2: Chris Snyder
UT: Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene?

SP: Lucas Harrell
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Jordan Lyles
SP: Wandy Rodriguez (gone…), Dallas Keuchel
SP: J.A. Happ (gone…)
CL: Brett Myers (gone…), Wilton Lopez
RP: Brandon Lyon (gone…)
RP: Wesley Wright
RP: Francisco Rodriguez (gone…)
RP: Rhiner Cruz
RP: Fernando Abad

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

Lost Jason Michaels and Clint Barmes to free agency…  Michaels spent the year as an insurance policy for the Nationals in their AAA Syracuse affiliate, and likely is looking to become a coach.  As for Barmes, he moved to Pittsburgh and hit like someone who is 33 and running out of seasons.

NOV (2011):

Added Carlos Corporan, Travis Buck as free agents; claimed infielder Brian Bixler off of the waiver wire.

DEC (2011):

Traded Marc Melancon to Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.  Melancon had been a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2011, but was miserable in Boston and eventually demoted to AAA.  Weiland had an infection in his throwing shoulder that required surgery and hopefully can return in 2013, but I would be leery of high expectations owing to a general lack of control.  I see him as a spot starter/long reliever type.  Jed Lowrie is a pretty good ballplayer, so the trade was a good one.

Claimed Rhiner Cruz off of waivers.  This was, at best, organizational depth as Cruz had just been promoted to AA Binghamton in an eight year career drifting in the low minors.  Putting Rhiner on the major league roster when he has no idea where the strike zone is (his mid-90s fastball has crazy movement and he can’t control his breaking ball) showed how little major league talent the Astros had.  I mean, Cruz walked 45 batters in 71.2 innings in the minors in 2011.

JAN (2012):

Here, the Astros were looking to find as many players who might be able to do SOMETHING as possible.

Signed, as free agents, Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, Chris Snyder, Jack Cust, and Fernando Martinez (waiver claim).

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

After (and during) spring training, the Astros released Hernandez, Duke and Cust, moved anyone who needed time to the minors, and made one trade…

Acquired LHP Kevin Chapman from the Royals for OF Jason Bourgeois and C Humberto Quintero.  Bourgeois was, like Melancon, a nice surprise in 2011 but is a 30-year-old outfielder with no long-term future.  Quintero is, at best, a backup catcher and the Astros had other options.  Chapman at least represents a future – had 90Ks in 62 innings in 2011, and built on that in 2012.  He still needs work (especially with his control), but at least he has a shot to be a late inning contributor very soon.

JULY:

The Astros, as sellers, moved what they could for prospects:

Carlos Lee (and cash) to the Marlins for 3B Matt Dominquez (good glove, minor bat) and LHP Rob Rasmussen (could be a starter in 2014).

Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski (decent arm, not overmatched at AA, doesn’t miss enough bats), David Rollins, and Carlos Perez (athletic catcher, decent arm, not much offense).

Brett Myers to the White Sox for prospects Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters.

Wandy Rodriquez to Pittsburgh for Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman, and Rudy Owens.

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

If nothing else, that’s a lot of prospects.  If you see the kids producing in 2014 and the Astros making steady improvement, then these deals worked.  Seeing as the team went belly up in July and August of 2012, this did nothing to help the guys who were left behind to play.

By the way, Ben Francisco only hung around for a month.  He was shipped to Tampa for a player to be named later.  (That player was LHP Theron Geith.)  Despite being a pretty good outfielder, Francisco hasn’t been able to keep a regular job and at 31 seems destined to be a fourth outfielder for a few more years.  Geith, however, has a bright future.  In two minor league seasons, Geith has a 2.66 ERA, 83Ks in 84.2 innings, and just 18 walks.  He will be on the roster by 2014, and maybe next September.

Key Injuries:

Jed Lowrie missed time leaving spring training with a bruised thumb.  Kyle Weiland made three starts and went down with what was then termed shoulder bursitis.

Relievers Fernando Abad (intercostal strain) and Rhiner Cruz (ankle sprain) missed time in May.

June brought minor injuries to Travis Buck (Achilles tendinitis), Carlos Lee (strained hamstring) Marwin Gonzalez (bruised heel), Bud Norris (spraineed knee), Wilton Lopez (sprained elbow), and Justin Maxwell (loose bodies in ankle).

Jordan Schafer, Jed Lowrie, and Francisco Cordero spent some time on the DL in August and early September, Cordero wound up missing the rest of the season with a foot injury just six awful outings after his arrival.  He really wasn’t missed, and – as he turns 37 in May – has already been released.

Cordero’s was the only injury of signifigance.  Jed Lowrie missed a lot of games, but with small injuries that kept him out a couple of weeks at a time.

[Writer’s Note:  I had pulled much of this together a while ago when I had decided to become a Houston Astros fan.  The Astros got the Rangers in order in the first, but the Rangers did the same to the Astros – in part thanks to a bad call at second on a stolen base attempt by Jose Altuve.  If the Astros are lousy this year, it could just be that I have jinxed them.]

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

The rotation appears to be Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Brad Peacock, and Erik Bedard.

Lucas Harrell is pretty good.  He gets some strikeouts but he walks a few too many guys.  Bud Norris has better stuff, but has been way more inconsistent, especially on the road.  Even at that, he’s marginally below average with a chance to become really good.  Bud Norris is the type of guy you might consider drafting in your fantasy league this year…

Philip Humber is trying, again, to get his career on track.  Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox, but otherwise was awful.  He CAN pitch, but he can also think his way into oblivion.  If Humber can find his way, the Astros will have found a gem.  The problem is that his track record doesn’t give you a whole lot of reason for hope.

A guy who might, however, is Brad Peacock. The Palm Beach, FL native navigated his way through the minors, getting better every year, until he got a test drive with the Washington Nationals in 2011, where he wasn’t half bad.  Moved to Oakland, he spent 2012 in Sacramento, where he held his own despite being in a league that pounds pitchers.  After a pretty nice spring, he’s going to see if he’s ready for 25 – 30 starts.

Finally, Erik Bedard might be able to help – if he can stay healthy.  Having missed essentially two and half of the last five years, Bedard has been reasonably successful – well, at least until last year when he went 7 – 14 for Pittsburgh.  His walk rate was too high, and his ERA went over 5 (5.01), but there are reasons to think that he can be better than he was last year – starting with the fact that he has always been better than he was last year.

So, just trying to see if the rotation is better, at first glance, the answer is probably no.  Harrell and Norris are the same (though Norris might be slightly better).  I don’t buy that Humber is better than Jordan Lyles was in 2012, and Erik Bedard won’t be as good as a partial season of Wandy Rodriguez.  If one pitcher surprises, it might be Peacock who COULD be as good as J.A. Happ was.  So, let’s go with the team allowing perhaps 30 extra runs here.

Relief Pitchers:

The Astros are going to give the closer job, at least at first, to Jose Veres, who has four career saves.  Veres isn’t awful, but he isn’t a big time closer.  Brett Myers wasn’t awesome last year, so that’s not a big loss.  I was surprised that Wilton Lopez didn’t get a second chance, he pitched well enough, but the Astros went with younger arms – Hector Ambriz, Xavier Cedeno, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Fields, Edgar Gonzalez, and Wesley Wright.

This group will be no better or worse than last year.

Cruz had a 6.05 ERA last year – is that really worthy of a significant role?  Wesley Wright wasn’t half bad for a situational lefty.  Xavier Cedeno was league average and could be better.  Edgar Gonzalez has been around and he’s never been a dependable option.  The guy I like is Hector Ambriz, who fanned 22 in 19 innings in a late call last year.  He could wind up the setup man before all is said and done.

Catchers:

Last year’s catchers were league average in total, but had a few weaknesses, including starter Jason Castro not being too solid against the run.  Chris Snyder is gone, so Carlos Corporan is back as the backup.  He looks like he can throw.  Castro isn’t a bad hitter – he was slightly above average because he showed a little power and a little patience while hitting .257.  Chris Snyder hit .176 and didn’t hit enough to be worth keeping around.  Corporan can hit better than that – maybe .240 with a few homers, so that would be a step forward offensively.  If Castro can be stronger against the run that would help immensely.  This unit should score about 15 more runs than in 2012.

Infielders:

Three-quarters of the infield in use toward the end of the season returns – Brett Wallace at first, Jose Altuve at second, and Matt Dominguez at third.  Jed Lowrie is gone, replaced by Ronnie Cedeno.  Wallace is getting better defensively, Altuve is slightly below average as a glove man, but not problematic, and Dominguez is a solid defensive option – far better than Chris Johnson.   Cedeno may have more experience, but he won’t put up more runs than, say, Marwin Gonzalez.  They are essentially the same guy.  The problem is that neither is a long-term solution, so as we are following this team, look for them to find a better shortstop through the minors.

Carlos Pena was added to back up Wallace at first and be the primary DH – which will last as long as Pena keeps drawing walks and hitting homers.  I fear, however, that he may not hit .220.

As a unit, this team will probably hold the line offensively (Wallace will help offset the loss of Jed Lowrie), but it could be ten runs better defensively.

Outfielders:

This year’s outfield features Chris Carter, the old Oakland As prospect, Justin Maxwell, and Rick Ankiel – a reclamation project of sorts.  J. D. Martinez will be back as a possible fourth or fifth outfielder, sharing the role with Brandon Barnes.

Defensively, Carter can’t be worse than J.D. Martinez was, and he has the potential to put a lot more runs on the board by virtue of his power and patience.  Justin Maxwell is a better fielder and hitter than Jordan Schafer was – it would be nice if he hit, say, .250 rather than .220, though.  Ankiel hasn’t been a good hitter for a few years, but he’s still better than Brian Bogusevic was, and even if he isn’t, J.D. Martinez can hit better.

As a unit, this team could score about 60 more runs and save ten to fifteen in the field.

[As I reach this point in the essay, Justin Maxwell just hit a high drive off the top of the wall in left for a two-run triple, giving the Astros an early lead.  Woohoo!!!]

Down on the Farm:

Most of the guys who did anything at AAA are on the club, and nobody stands out as a prospect.  Moving to the Corpus Christi Red Hawks, the top prospects at AA would include first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who hit .284 with power, 88 walks, and is 21-years-old.  Another option is shortstop Jonathan Villar, a 22-year-old with speed and some hitting skills.  I’m just not sure he can hit in the majors.  A top pitching prospect might be Jason Stoffel, who fanned 57 in 58 innings, walked just 16, in a relief role.  Jarred Cosart made 15 starts at AA and was decent, but not great.  He is ranked highly by scouting organizations.

At A+ Lancaster, right fielder Domingo Santana impressed with power and average, while centerfielder George Springer has all that and speed, too. Both are free swingers.  Coming up in A Lexington is Delino Deshields II – who plays like his dad, but is a few years away (and only 20).  Another guy making marks include shortstop Carlos Correa, a top pick out of Puerto Rico last year.

Best guess on their record?

They aren’t as good as last September.  They aren’t as bad as last August.  I see the team being 75 runs better offensively, and five runs worse defensively, thanks to a slightly worse starting rotation.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed ratio at about 660/800.  Working against that is the move to the offensively charged AL West, which features the Rangers and Angels, a decent Oakland, and an improving Seattle.  The system calls for 66 wins, which seems a tad bit high.  So, I’ll temper that to 64 – 98, hopefully avoiding a third straight year with 100 losses.  If that happens, let’s consider it a a success and watch for some talent to get added to this young team.

As I finish this, I see that the Astros have extended their lead to 4 – 0 in the fifth over Texas.  If they hold on for the win, it would make for a great start to the season.

Advertisements

Opening Day: The Best Day of the Year

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is my favorite day of the year – and this one had plenty of highlights that suggest that 2011 could be as exciting a season as can be imagined.

  • Red catcher Ramon Hernandez hits a three-run, game-winning homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers – an at bat that happened, in part, because Brandon Phillips emulated Chad Ochocinco to avoid a Casey McGehee tag two batters earlier.   (McGehee claimed that Phillips left the baseline, but replays suggest the juke was legit.)
  • Jason Heyward launched a season starting homer for the second straight season.
  • Cameron Maybin, newly acquired centerfielder for the Padres, launched a game-tying two-out homer in the ninth, allowing San Diego to trip up the Cardinals in extra-innings.  Albert Pujols didn’t help the cause, becoming the first player to ground into three double plays on Opening Day.
  • The night ended with a remarkable pitcher’s duel between two young guns.  Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw outdueled San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum to give Don Mattingly his first managerial victory.

If you didn’t enjoy those games, then you just don’t like Baseball

Transaction Wire:

Nearly everything over the last day or two had to do with decisions on whether or not to put some player on the DL for various knicks, pulls, and injuries.  Those getting to miss the fun for at least a week or so include Jason Bay, Brandon Webb (still), J.P. Howell, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Cody Ross, Johan Santana, Aaron Cook, Scott Olsen, Brian Wilson, Clint Barmes, Corey Patterson, Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Homer Bailey, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Dayan Viciedo, Domonic Brown, David Aardsma, Franklin Gutierrez, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, John Baker, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Jason Kendall, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew Bailey.  (There are plenty of others, and if you have a fantasy baseball team, you are aware of many of these guys…

A new DL move, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was listed for today – Rowand has a fractured cheekbone.

Ronny Paulino has a few days left on his steroids suspension, so the Mets placed him on the restricted list.

A couple of days ago, the Phillies had signed Luis Castillo as an insurance policy while Chase Utley allows his troublesome left knee to heal.  That didn’t work out (Castillo is relatively immobile these days and his bat hasn’t been healthy for at least four months now), so the Phillies signed Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard, who turns 36 next Thursday, had an unimpressive season as a utiltiy infielder and pinch hitter for the Dodgers in 2010 (2 – 19 -.216) and a weak spring for the Yankees (.136 in 22 at bats), so this may be his last couple of months in the big leagues unless he can get a few clutch hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeing that shortstop Stephen Drew wasn’t 100% for opening day, signed former Mariner glove man Josh Wilson.  Wilson isn’t a bad guy to have around, but don’t count on him to hit like Drew can.

On the MLB Drama Network

Not sure if you are following the Barry Bonds trial, but we now have a handful of players who all admitted that they used steroids provided by Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer who is sitting in jail for his unwillingness to discuss the number of needles he put in Bond’s belly and butt.  Some of them admitted that they did because of the success Bonds was having since hiring Anderson to build up his physique.  A former personal shopper for Bonds says she saw Anderson give Bonds a shot in his belly button (ouch!), something Bonds told her was “…a little something for the road.”

Not that I am plugging my book (but I am):

Today is the day that Rube Waddell died, the result of a long fight against Tuberculosis, a major killer of men and women 100 years ago.  Waddell died in 1914 while convalescing in a San Antonio nursing home.  At the time of his death, he weighed at least 60 pounds less than his playing weight, 210.

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are…

Ron Perranoski (1936) – Dodger pitcher and pitching coach
Phil Niekro (1939) – greatest knuckleball pitcher ever
Rusty Staub (1944) – Le Grande Orange, and one of my favorite players as a kid
Willie Montanez (1948)
Frank Castillo (1969)
Matt Herges (1970)
Will Rhymes (1983)
John Axford (1983) – who gave up that homer to Ramon Hernandez yesterday (ouch)
Daniel Murphy (1985)

Top NL 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)

Yankees Clinch Playoff Spot; Greinke Continues to Amaze

Most of the news centered on those events that earn quick hits as the season closes.

1) The Yankees are in the playoffs – a win over the Angels guarantees at least a Wild Card spot, but unless they really fold for ten days, the truth is that they will likely have the best record in all of baseball and 100 wins when the season is done.

2) Zack Greinke smoked the Red Sox yesterday for win #15.  If he pitched like this for a contender, he’d likely have 20 wins already.  He’s been the best pitcher in the AL all season long.

3) Mark Reynolds topped his single season strikeout record, fanning for the 206th time last night.  You still want him on your fantasy roster, but WOW – that’s a lot of strikeouts.

Other news…

White Sox closer Bobby Jenks pulled his calf muscle during warmups (reinjuring something a few games back in Seattle) and is out for the rest of the season.  Jenks hinted that he might not pitch in Chicago next year, too…  [ESPN]

Aaron Cook will pitch for the Rockies, starting against the Cardinals – and just in time for a playoff run.  Cook will be limited to 70 pitches in Friday’s start.  [FoxSports]

Padre outfielder Edgar Gonzalez partially separated his shoulder diving for a Clint Barmes flyball (turned into an inside-the-park homer), and is day-to-day.  [MLB]

The Braves and catcher Brian McCann got some good news when x-rays showed that McCann’s left hand wasn’t broken.  McCann took a foul tip off the heel of his left hand and was forced to leave Tuesday night’s game.  [MLB]

Welcome Back! Willy Taveras returns to Cincinnati after a short DL stint.

2009 Season Forecast: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
74 – 88 (3rd NL West) 
Scored 747 Allowed 822

Quick Season Summary:

Colorado was coming off the heels of a remarkable stretch run that got the Rockies into the World Series for the first time.  With a young power core and decent pitching, the Rockies hoped to build on a successful 2007.

It didn’t happen.  Instead, injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton meant a slow start.  A 9 – 19 May buried Colorado, and even though they played well in July and August, the good times ended when they gave up on the race in September.

Tell Me About That Offense:

While Coors field still is a haven for hitting – the humidor has helped, but it can’t fix everything – the Rockies actually had several good performers.

Chris Iannetta is a solid hitter with okay power, and his backup, Yorvit Torrealba, is tolerable.

Todd Helton was basically league average, with his back and other injuries cutting into what historically had been solid performances.  Garret Atkins has nice counting numbers, but anywhere else would be league average.  Barmes and Ian Stewart were decent, but Troy Tulowitzki had a tough sophomore season, finishing as a below average hitter.  Fortunately, he hit well after the all-star break.  Until then, he was atrocious.  Backup Omar Quintanilla was even weaker, though.

The outfield featured Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, who both were very good – Holliday will be missed.  What they needed was a centerfielder who could hit.  Willy Taveras isn’t the answer – he had a .310 OBP and 68 stolen bases can’t possibly make up for not being there more often than not.  I like Ryan Spilborghs – a great player, and too good to be a fourth outfielder.  Scott Podsednik hit like a fifth outfielder.

And the Defense:

Bad.  Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were worse.  The average defensive efficiency in the NL was 68.7%.  Colorado only turned 67.6% of the balls in play into outs – basically adding 9 points to every hitter’s batting average.

Iannetta and Torrealba were tolerable behind the plate, scoring as average in things like errors  and mistakes, mobility, and stopping the running game.

Todd Helton remains a fantastic fielder, but Garrett Atkins was atrocious as his backup and is below average at the position he normally plays – third base.  Tulowitzki is a remarkable fielder, his range is exceptional and he’s good at avoiding errors and turning double plays.  Unfortunately, Omar Quintanilla wasn’t very good backing him up – and he was even worse at second base.  In fact, nobody plays second well – whether Barmes (-8.5 range), Jeff Baker (-12.1), or Quintanilla (-22.1).

Matt Holliday is an average fielder in left, Taveras still shows good range in center.  And then there is the worst right fielder in the NL – Brad Hawpe.  Hawepe’s range was graded at – 16.2, adding an unnecessary 47.6 runs to the other team’s scoreboard.  Hawpe made just 1.57 plays per nine innings – the average right fielder is going to be around 2.  So, basically he was allowing a hit every other game that someone else would have gotten.  Based on 2008, he’s a DH waiting to happen.  Podsednik and Spilborghs were decent backups.

Pitching:

When you think that the defense is horrible and the park is killing them, you have to give Colorado pitchers the benefit of the doubt.

Jeff Francis, injured and making just 24 starts, finishing with a 4 – 10 record and a 5.01 ERA, was actually slightly better than league average as a pitcher.  Aaron Cook, who doesn’t strikeout too many guys was solid – 22 runs better than average.  Ubaldo Jimenez, one out shy of 200 innings, was nearly 20 runs better than the average pitcher.  Jorge De La Rosa was league average.  The fifth slot was troublesome – Greg Reynolds, Livan Hernandez, and Mark Redman were a combined 38 runs worse than average.  Most teams would be happy to have four decent slots in the rotation, and Colorado had them.

It’s hard to get a read on the relievers because they pitch in so few innings and half of them are in dire straits.  But, Ryan Speier was actually pretty good (7 runs better than average), Glendon Rusch was decent, Manny Corpas was above average.  Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and closer Brian Fuentes were all great – 12 to 15 runs better than the average NL pitcher.  You just always can’t tell because of where they pitch.

What is Different for 2009?

Injuries stole Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz.  Jason Marquis comes from Chicago where he’ll give them three good months and then management will wonder what happened after July 1.  Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland for Greg Smith and Huston Street.  Brian Fuentes was signed away by the Angels – he’ll be missed.  Manny Corpas or Huston Street will get first dibs on saves.  Dexter Fowler or Seth Smith will play center with Willy Taveras having gone to Cincinnati.  Good for Colorado.

Marquis wasn’t that bad; he and Greg Smith will be league average – if you can tell with that defense.  More innings with Barmes and Tulo would help – especially if Barmes can step up some at second base.  A full season of Helton defensively would be great, too.

Actually, having gone through this, I’d be optimistic for improvement.  A healthy Helton would provide 10 runs of offense, which will help with the change from Holliday to Spilborghs in LF.  Fowler may actually hit better than Taveras – so right now – that’s a net.  If Tulo returns to form and Barmes plays up to speed, that could be 20 extra runs even with Holliday leaving.

And, defensively, we’re talking 20 extra runs removed with Tulo, Helton, and Dexter Fowler in center.  Spilborghs could be better than Holliday – maybe it’s 30 runs better.  And, if Smith or Jason Hammel are close to league average, that could be another 30 runs by not having to put last year’s fifth starters out there.

So, that puts the Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio at 767/772 – pretty much a .500 season.

Down On the Farm…

Everybody hits well in AAA Colorado Springs.  The two that stood out were 25 year old Jayson Nix, a second baseman with a broad spectrum of offensive skills, and Seth Smith – both of whom will be on the Rockies.  All of the pitchers there have scary ERAs – only Greg Reynolds was young (22) and he wasn’t ready for the big show.

AA Tulsa is also tough on pitchers, but Brandon Hynick has some skills and great command.  Chaz Roe is only 21 and showed control, a few Ks, but serves up a few homers.  I like Casey Weathers, who has a great strikeout pitch, but a little less control.  Dexter Fowler hit .335 here, with walks and a few stolen bases.  Matt Miller hit .344 with a little power and some plate discipline.  He might make it, but is running out of years – he’s 25.

The best player in A+ Modesto was likely Michael Paulk – who has Mark Grace numbers, if not his glove at first base.  He’s 24 and could replace Helton in two or three years.  I like Aneury Rodriguez, a 20-year-old with a good ERA and better K/W numbers.  Another 20-year-old, Jhoulys Chacin made 12 starts, walked only 12, and fanned 62 in 66.1 innings after smoking hitters at Ashville (10 – 1, 1.86, 98/30 K/W in 111.1 innings).  He’ll be on the Rockies as soon as it makes sense to use him – perhaps 2011.  Perhaps sooner.