2010 Top AL Left Fielders

Carl Crawford – TB (128.8 Runs Created, 13.1 Runs Saved = 141.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Which player had the better contract season, Crawford or Adrian Beltre?   Maybe it was Jose Bautista…  Did what he always does, only with a few more homers and triples.  Nobody compares them, but Crawford and Johnny Damon are extremely similar players.  Well – the Damon of a few years ago, anyway.

Josh Hamilton – TEX (131.5 Runs Created, 3.7 Runs Saved = 135.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Still played some center, but only because Julio Borbon isn’t that strong a hitter.  Who does he remind you of, as a hitter?  I can’t think of any modern player…  Al Simmons?  Goose Goslin?

Scott Podsednik – KC/LAD (77.6 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 87.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Kind of like Juan Pierre, but with a touch more power and a bit more range.  Led the AL in hitting early on, earning a trip to a contender – that flopped upon his arrival.  Returns to the AL with Toronto in 2011.  Turns 35 in spring training, which should give you pause, but has retained his speed and skill thus far.  Alex Gordon got the spot after Podsednik left and proved he still isn’t a prospect.

Bobby Abreu, if he were a regular left fielder, would rank about here (85.2 Total Runs Productivity).

Juan Pierre – CHI (77.9 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 81.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Still can run (68 stolen bases), still slaps singles but not at the rate he once did.  Unless he hits .310, he’s not that valuable, but he still gets 650 at bats because he has a great work ethic and people think his speed makes up for a complete lack of power and a bunch of ground outs.

Brett Gardner – NYY (73.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 77.1 Total Runs Productivity)

A better leadoff hitter than Derek Jeter, and the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Gets on base, runs like the wind, and covers plenty of ground.  The new Brett Butler.  If he had 650 at bats rather than 450 (not that you can tell Jeter he’s batting ninth), would have created about 100 runs.  One day, he will.

Johnny Damon – DET (79.7 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 76.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Heads to Tampa where he and/or Manny Ramirez will share the field and DH duties.  Not as mobile as he used to be as a myriad of leg injuries are sapping him of his old speed, but he’s still a quality bat.  Damon’s power, never great, is tolerable and he now works the count like a veteran who is losing his ability to catch up to a fastball.  Not sure how many years he has left and wouldn’t be surprised if his career runs out of steam.  29 hits from 2600.

Delmon Young – MIN (97.7 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 72.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Took his batting and fielding to new levels – albeit in different directions.  Hit .298 with power, driving in 112 runs – by far his best season.  Also avoided fly balls at a career worst rate.  Hard to believe he’s really that bad in left, but he just doesn’t get to anything.

Juan Rivera – LAA (57.6 Runs Created, 12.1 Runs Saved = 69.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Decent hitter, average glove (don’t let the runs saved number fool you, it was his best season since 2006 and usually is a shade under league average).  Another guy moving to Toronto where he might explode for a year.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played more in right field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

Austin Kearns – CLE/NY (57.3 Runs Created, 8.8 Runs Saved = 66.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Saved what looked to be a dead career with a strong start as an unplanned outfielder in Cleveland and wound up an insurance extra outfielder for the Yankees.  Showed surprising range in the outfield and contributed by hitting for a little power and getting on base.  He hasn’t been consistently productive, but if he plays like he did in 2010, he’ll have a job for a few more years.  Heck, he probably got two years of contracts out of this season alone.

Ryan Raburn – DET (61.2 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 63.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played a lot of left, but also snuck innings in at second base (not badly), third, first, center, and right.  A decent hitter, too – sowed power and hit .280.  Will get more time in 2011 – might be worth a late look in your fantasy leagues.

Fourteen guys played left field for Oakland, led by Rajai Davis at 320.1 innings – but Davis also split time in center with Coco Crisp, leading the team in innings there, too.  Josh Willingham would appear to have the job in 2011 (62.7 Total Runs Productivity).  Willingham hits, plays hard, is a consumate professional, but with a stiff back is really not a good outfielder.

Trevor Crowe – CLE (49.0 Runs Created, 11.4 Runs Saved = 60.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Has speed, but will probably show little growth as a hitter since he’s already 27 and wasn’t a world beater in the minors, Crowe played more centerfield but was just a few innings from leading the Indians in time spent in left field as well.  At this point, he’s a much better defensive player than Grady Sizemore, but he needs to increase either his on base percentage or slugging percentage to be worth giving 1000 innings in the field.  He’s really a fifth outfielder at best.

Corey Patterson – BAL/OAK (52.7 Runs Created, 7.0 Runs Saved = 59.7 Total Runs Productivity)

An older version of Felix Pie with more power and a greater willingness to steal bases.

David Murphy – TEX (67.4 Runs Created, -7.9 Runs Saved = 59.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Would be the best fourth outfielder in baseball if he were more consistent in the field, but he never gets to play one position for a long period of time.  Valuable player.

Fred Lewis – TOR (60.6 Runs Created, -9.2 Runs Saved = 51.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t get on base enough, runs a little but not a ton.  Didn’t field his position well in 2010 (was slightly below average in 2008, slightly above in 2009).  Fourth outfielder at best.

Bill Hall – BOS (49.5 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Valuable player, logging time at six positions and playing most of them pretty well.  With the current rosters lugging bigger pitching staffs, a guy like Hall is remarkably valuable.

Michael Saunders – SEA (35.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A bit of power and decent range in the outfield made up for a low batting average – strikes out a lot.  Never had a GREAT year in the minors and I’d be hard pressed to believe he’s really a 20 homer guy.  I think he might improve – but that means .240 with 15 homers, which isn’t good enough.

Felix Pie – BAL (35.5 Runs Created, 6.4 Runs Saved = 41.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Mobile fielder, can play all three fields, ordinary hitter with no bonuses for on base percentage.  Once a prospect, now a servicable fourth outfielder.

Milton Bradley – SEA (29.1 Runs Created, 6.1 Runs Saved = 35.2 Total Runs Productivity)

If he’s got ANYTHING left, he’s way over due to show it.  Career may be in final tailspin and with his personal history, it’s not like people are going to bend over to give him an EXTRA chance.

Shelley Duncan – CLE (31.5 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 28.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Got a chance because he has decent power and his dad is Dave Duncan.  Doesn’t do much else, though…  Low batting average, not much of a fielder.

Jeremy Hermida – BOS/OAK (17.4 Runs Created, 5.4 Runs Saved = 22.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Awkwardly effective in the outfield (runs fast, plays the ball well, but hates diving and walls), and a disappointing hitter – won’t be in the majors after next year, probably, unless he can turn himself into Jay Johnstone.  And Hermida’s not that funny.

Daniel Nava – BOS (19.8 Runs Created, -10.4 Runs Saved = 9.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Got the most innings when Jacoby Ellsbury went out with more maladies than a guest star on House.  Not that strong a hitter, for someone who is fast Nava didn’t look comfortable playing in Boston’s oddly shaped left field.

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Uecker On DL With Heart Surgery

Longtime Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, whose sense of humor – especially when poking fun at himself – and colorful commentary and story telling has earned him legions of fans across the upper midwest, is scheduled for surgery to replace an aortic valve on Friday.  Uecker has known of the problem for a few months but was hoping to finish the season before needing surgery.  Instead, when the problems worsened quicker than planned, doctors told him not to wait.  [SI]

I used to listen to Uecker on a transistor radio (I know, Kelli – what’s that?), and also on occasion in the Columbia Pipe warehouse in Gurnee on afternoons when Cubs games weren’t on.  In my mind, I can hear him tell stories about Mark Brouhard, the heroes of Harvey’s Wallbangers, and even recall a handful of Lite Beer pitches.  He was the perfect voice for the Major League movies – “He throws a K-Y ball in there for a strike.”

Hurry back!

Do the Nationals Bring Strasburg Up?

Stephen Strasburg tossed five innings of no-hit ball last night – the only player reaching base actually struck out but got to first on a passed ball.  I am ADMITTING my impatience, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the ace of the AA Harrisburg Senators either got the call to join the major league club, or at least got a move to AAA soon.  [ESPN]

Rough Day Yesterday?

Justin Morneau left last night’s game against Detroit early.  According to manager Ron Gardenhire, the Minnesota first baseman felt stiffness in his upper back because, facing Justin Verlander, “…he was swinging and missing a lot…” and it was messing with his back.  [ESPN]

Oakland placed pitcher Brett Anderson on the DL with stiffness in his left forearm and swelling in his elbow.  [SI]

Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz heads to the DL with a strained hamstring.  Cruz tweaked his hammy running the bases on Monday night, and wasn’t very mobile on Tuesday.  Look for David Murphy to get a few more starts… [FoxSports]

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal left the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader with tightness in his hamstring – though Torre wasn’t sure which leg it was.  Details.  [ESPN]

News From Behind the Mask…

Tampa’s Dioner Navarro will be suspended for two games as a result of his bumping an umpire in a game Friday night.  [FoxSports]

Chris Ianetta, once a starter for your Colorado Rockies, heads to AAA to find his batting eye.  [SI]

I can’t remember where I saw this, but I heard that Texas is giving the starting catcher job to Matt Treanor.  Both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were dispatched to AAA, and Max Ramirez will back up Treanor.

Oh Yeah – I forgot…

Brad Lidge also pitched in that AA game featuring Stephen Strasburg.  The erstwhile Phillies closer logged two innings, striking out four, in a rehab stint for Reading.  Lidge feels he’s just about ready to return to the parent club.  [MLB]

So How Much is Albert Pujols Worth?

Seeing that Ryan Howard inked a five year extension worth $125 million with Philadelphia, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested that Albert Pujols is worth TWICE that.  I dunno…  Howard hits about 50 homers a year, has improved at the plate and in the field, and seems committed to the Phillies.  It was an expensive contract, but there aren’t a whole lot of players who produce as many runs as Howard does.  The fact that he strikes out a lot probably gives him more chances to bat with runners on base because pitchers feel like they have a shot at getting him out.  NOBODY wants to face Pujols, though, and by my count he’s been 30 to 70 runs better than any other offensive player for each of the last five years.  If anybody is worth $30 million, it might be Albert.

Transaction Wire:

Boston dispatched infielder Kevin Frandsen (his career pretty much ended when he blew out his achilles a couple of years back), and recalled pitcher Alan Embree.

Washington recalled outfielder Roger Bernadina from AAA Syracuse.  The guy can fly.  Bernadina’s stint should be longer this time – last year he got maybe two games into his major league career when he broke his ankle leaping against the wall.

The Rockies placed two pitchers on the DL yesterday.  Jason Hammel leaves with a strained groin (hopefully his own), while Jorge De La Rosa tore a tendon in his middle finger.

Catcher Jason LaRue returns to the Cardinals after a brief DL stint.

Oakland recalled Steve Tolleson from AAA.  You might remember his dad, Wayne, was an infielder a few years back.    He’s not REALLY a prospect – he actually looks like he has the same skill set as his father, only a little faster.

Happy Birthday!

1902 – Red Lucas
1934 – Jackie Brandt
1935 – Pedro Ramos
1960 – John Cerrutti, Tom Browning
1964 – Barry Larkin
1981 – Shawn Hill

Top AL Left Fielders in 2009

Jason Bay (BOS):  Now a Met, I think the Red Sox are going to miss this guy.  Had a soft summer, but otherwise was solid.  Gets a bad rap for his defense, but last year I showed him as being 5.3 plays per 800 balls in play better than the average left fielder and worthy of a Gold Glove.  My system says Bay was one of the 20 most valuable position players in baseball.  The Red Sox will move Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury here – and will lose about 30 runs in total productivity from 2009 to 2010.   (109.0 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 126.81 Total Run Production)

Carl Crawford (TB):  Good hitter, good fielder, as daring a baserunner as you can find.  Another top 20 player…   Here’s something to think about.  Is Carl Crawford potentially worthy of the Hall of Fame?  If he can stay healthy, he’d have 2500 career hits and maybe 600 or 700 stolen bases.  We put all sorts of power guys in the Hall, but how about a guy who can scoot, hit, and play solid defense?   (112.9 Runs Created, 12.5 Runs Saved = 125.36 Total Run Production)

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  Left town at the trading deadline – was as productive in two months in St. Louis as he was in four months in Oakland…  126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

We’ll get to Rajai Davis, your A’s current left fielder in few paragraphs…

Adam Lind (TOR):  Miscast as an outfielder, but is such a good hitter he has to play somewhere.  The best hitter at this position – Bay’s power and Crawford’s batting average.  (127.1 Runs Created, -15.3 Runs Saved = 111.78 Total Run Production)

David DeJesus (KC):  A Carl Crawford clone, but a shade less productive – still a valuable player.  Crawford hits .300, DeJesus about .280; Both are decent fielders with speed, but DeJesus isn’t a base stealer.  (80.9 Runs Created, 18.9 Runs Saved = 99.82 Total Run Production)

Denard Span, the Minnesota outfielder, if he were a regular left fielder would rate here.  Jason Kubel, too.  I’d love to see Kubel play left every day and let Jim Thome DH as much as possible.  The Twins would improve so much offensively…

Johnny Damon (NYY):  Now in Detroit, Damon is still a productive hitter as he moves into his late 30s…  His legs are getting in the way of his having solid range anymore and he can’t throw.  Somebody could use him as a DH and part time outfielder.  The new left fielder, Curtis Granderson, was barely two runs more productive than Damon, but since Granderson would be moving to an easier position, he might make up for it with a few more defensive runs.  (102.7 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 90.38 Total Run Production)

Scott Podsednik (CWS):  Now a Royal, played 615 innings here and few hundred more in center…  Slapped a few hits, but doesn’t do much else.  Can steal a few bases.  The Royals hope he’ll be better than what they got for signing Coco Crisp…  (81.5 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved, 86.24 Total Run Production)

Juan Rivera (LAA):  An above average player – hits for power and a decent average, isn’t hurting you in the field too much.  He’s better than Gary Matthews, for sure.  (84.0 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 80.99 Total Run Production)

Rajai Davis (OAK):  He can run, he can field, he can throw a little.  Davis can hit .300, but he has little power.  If David DeJesus is a poor man’s Carl Crawford, Davis is a poor man’s David DeJesus with younger wheels.  Still – he’s an above average performer and with a full season’s at bats, might get 200 hits.  (69.1 Runs Created, 2.4 Runs Saved = 71.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre, if he were to be ranked in the AL based on his Dodger stats, would rank here.  If the White Sox think he’s a centerfielder, they are grossly mistaken.  He’s a combination of Johnny Damon’s defense and Rajai Davis’s offense.

Ryan Rayburn (DET):  The Tigers used three people here for the most part (Rayburn, Carlos Guillen, and Josh Anderson) and Rayburn got the most innings.  Rayburn has some skills – hits for a nice average with power (.291 BA, .533 SLG, .360 OBP) and looks to have wheels in the outfield.  As such, I’d like to see him play more.  A full season of Rayburn at this rate would rank in the top five – assuming he can play at this pace for 150 games.  (50.7 Runs Created, 14.27 Runs Saved = 64.94 Total Run Production.

David Murphy (TEX): The new Juan Encarnacion.  (65.4 Runs Created, -1.1 Run Saved = 64.33 Total Run Production)

Nolan Reimold (BAL):  The rookie played great until getting injured in the late summer.  Reimold didn’t look comfortable as an outfielder but he got his hitting wheels down as the season rolled on…  As with Rayburn, I’d like to see what would happen if he got 500 at bats.  Felix Pie isn’t a bad option here, either.  (61.9 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 56.70 Total Run Production)

Carlos Quentin (CWS):  It was only a half a season, but he was still marginally productive.  I hope he can get back to where he was in 2008 – the Sox need all the help they can get.  (50.9 Runs Created, -3.4 Runs Saved = 47.51 Total Run Production)

Delmon Young (MIN):  Delmon Young has done nothing to suggest he deserves a starting position on any roster.  Borderline power and batting average, poor fielder.  It’s time for the Twins to move on.  And, I would NEVER have made that trade with Tampa to get him and give up Jason Bartlett AND Matt Garza.  (50.1 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved, 39.90 Total Run Production)

Five Unproductive Guys (SEA):  Wladimir Balentien, Bill Hall, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and Endy Chavez all got between 175 and 350 innings here and nobody stands out.  All five guys were great defensively, oddly, but none of them could hit his way out of a paper sack.  Milton Bradley or Eric Byrnes will get the next shot here – and it HAS to be better than what they got last year.  At least Bradley can hit – and Byrnes has a great attitude.  Combined, they’d be a heck of a player.

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.

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

New York Mets
2008: 89-73 (2nd NL East, three games back)
Runs Scored: 799
Runs Allowed: 715

On the heels of an extremely difficult September, the New York Mets added Johan Santana to the rotation and declared the team ready to win the 2008 division crown, if not more.  Unfortunately, while the core hitters performed admirably and Santana was up to the task, the team drifted aimlessly in the spring, fired manager Willie Randolph, got into the race in the summer, and suffered a milder version of the same September let down.  When it was over, the Mets again missed out on a playoff spot by a single game.

Compared to the Phillies, the Mets scored the same number of runs (799), despite playing in a more difficult home park for batters (Mets games away from home produced 52 more runs than games in the now departed Shea Stadium, while Phillies games had more scoring in Citizen’s Bank Park than on the road).  However, the Phillies allowed 35 fewer runs (680 to 715), which accounted for the three games difference in the standings. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was injuries.  The Phillies had limited lost time to regulars, while the Mets lost several players, including closer Billy Wagner down the stretch, second basemen Luis Castillo and Damion Easley, and tried a dozen left and right fielders in part due to injuries to Moises Alou, Ryan Church and others.

Looking Back on 2008

The Mets got off to a decent start, winning ten of sixteen before drifting through May and June.  Two five game losing streaks put a sting to the team, the first in late May began serious calls for Randolph’s exit, a second in early June finished off his tenure.  When the Mets got to Anaheim, Randolph was sent packing – rather unfortunate in terms of timing – and Jerry Manuel was given a chance to manage a sinking ship.

Manuel’s biggest change was that he basically got the team to stop playing with their heads in a cloud.  In July, there was spark; there was hustle; there was teamwork – something that hadn’t existed in the first part of the season.  And, when the bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran caught fire, the Mets got into the race by winning 18 games in both July and August.

At that point, the Mets ran out of gas.  And arms.  John Maine had bone spurs in his right shoulder.  Carlos Beltran crashed into a wall; Wagner’s arm nearly came off – it had bothered him all year.  The bullpen, not necessarily very good, now lost its only dependable pitcher – when he was able to pitch.  Super sub Damion Easley injured his quadriceps muscle, and David Wright’s game seemed injured.  Despite Santana’s fantastic stretch run, the end of Shea Stadium’s life – at the time the third oldest stadium in the National League – came without one more playoff game.

Tell me about that offense

All things considered, the Mets offense was loaded – it just never seemed to have all the wheels moving at the same time.

The infield offense was solid at three positions, with David Wright continuing to pound the ball, Carlos Delgado finding his swing, and Jose Reyes getting 200 hits again.  The three combined to generate nearly 400 runs of offense.  Reyes’s final numbers look a lot like Jimmy Rollins from 2007 – high numbers of doubles, triples and homers, a lot of plate appearances, and a good stolen base total.  David Wright, by my count, was the second best offensive force in the National League behind Albert Pujols, and Reyes was right behind him.  Had Delgado hit the way he did before June 1 the way he did after it, the Mets would have had three of the five best hitters in the NL.  Only Luis Castillo, finally showing the signs of father time taking over his position, was below average.  His backup, Damion Easley was productive but his bat was slowed.  Easley is 39 but plays like he’s 34, Castillo is 34 but is starting to play like he’s 39 – in either case the Mets need a replacement soon.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran was the only true regular and was solid.  The Mets used a dozen left fielders (not one played more than 300 innings there), and some could hit – like Endy Chavez or Moises Alou or David Murphy.  Ryan Church hit for two solid months between concussions suffered in collisions with second basemen.  After the second one, which caused him to miss the better part of six weeks, he didn’t fare well.  One hopes Church gets back to where he was last May.  Fernando Tatis – yes, that Fernando Tatis – came back and hit well until his body broke down in September as well.  So, while the corner outfields were generally shared, there usually were at least two outfielders hitting at a time.

Brian Schneider, whose back started bothering him in September, didn’t hit too well but backup Ramon Castro didn’t fare too badly.  Schneider was there to provide solid defensive catching and any offense he provided was gravy.

Defensively:

Schneider was pretty good behind the plate, making few mistakes and showing some mobility.  He was decent in preventing stolen bases, as only two other teams allowed fewer stolen bases than the Mets.  Castro isn’t great against the runners, but he’s decent enough for a backup catcher who can hit.

The infield was okay.  Wright didn’t have the unreal numbers he had in 2007, but it was still his third straight year with above average range.  Reyes continues to improve; he has a cannon for an arm but he’s slightly below average in terms of range.  Castillo was a bit more mobile than he was in 2007, but it was his third straight year as a below average infielder.  Damion Easley remains a solid second baseman and they nearly shared the role.  Delgado is not very mobile – he’s a former catcher playing first base – but he actually had a pretty decent year there.  Since he arrived in New York, his defensive numbers haven’t been as bad as what most people see when they watch him play.  He’s awkward but it’s working.

The outfield defense was as varied as there were players in left field.  Carlos Beltran is still a solid outfielder, and Endy Chavez – now in Seattle – could cover ground.  Ryan Church played well in right.  David Murphy, added in August, showed he could play and will likely start in leftfield next year, and if he is healthy will represent a significant improvement over playing Fernando Tatis, who looked out of place in left or right field.  Marlon Anderson still runs well enough to cover left in a pinch.

The net result was a defense that was likely 20 runs better than average, reflected by the fact that they turned 69.7 percent of the balls in play into outs – the league average was 68.7 percent.

Now Pitching…

Signed to a long term and expensive New York-eqsue contract, Johan Santana pitched magnificently, though he rarely got the support he needed until July.  He started 7 – 7, but didn’t lose a decision for the rest of the year (nine wins) and after a 5 run, two homer outing in Cincinnati, he went 14 starts without allowing more than three earned runs.  By my count, Santana was 43 runs better than the average starting pitcher.

After that, Mike Pelfrey was decent (13 – 11, 13 runs better than an average pitcher), but both John Maine and Oliver Perez were inconsistent.  Still they were better than Pedro Martinez, who may finally be at the end of the line.  He showed flashes of his old self, but the fastball isn’t as lively, the ball is more hittable, and instead of giving up a homer every other start, Pedro is giving up a homer every time he takes the mound.  As of the end of January he still wasn’t signed – and the Mets need starting pitching.  He may find a home for one more go – and he may not want to get his 100th career loss (he has 99, against 214 wins).

The bullpen, however, had problems.  Remember how good the Phillies ‘pen was?  Five guys who were at least 10 runs better than average?  Nobody was that good here – even Billy Wagner, who was great but pitched just 47 innings.  Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, and Duaner Sanchez were average at best (meaning that they gave up a run every other inning), and Aaron Heilman got worse as the season went on – he was 12 runs worse than average and part-timer Jorge Sosa was even worse in just 20+ innings.  So, the bullpen was no better than average, actually slightly below average, whereas the Phillies bullpen was at least 60 runs better than the average staff.

Forecasting 2008:

Last year, I thought the team might age quickly and struggle to meet .500.  Instead, the veterans and Santana held it together through the summer before landing a scant series behind the Phillies.  This year, the front office tried to rebuild what couldn’t be assembled at the all-star break last year – and that’s a bullpen, so let’s start with the pitching.

Santana is as good as it gets, Pelfrey might be able to provide a little more, but after that – John Maine is league average at best and he’s number three.  That the Mets couldn’t sign a starter in the off season (its January as I write this) and is trying hard to sign the inconsistent Oliver Perez – I’m not ready to proclaim the rotation as being improved.  The Mets did sign Tim Redding, most recently a 30 start pitcher for the Nationals, to a contract.  Redding was 10 – 11 with an ERA higher than the league average.  At best he’s an improvement on what Pedro Martinez did last year – but he hasn’t had a winning season in any year that he pitched more than 50 innings.  In late January, Omar Minaya visited Martinez to see if he might have one more year left, which I don’ t interpret as a good sign.  It might be time to see if Ben Sheets has two reasonably healthy seasons in him.  Freddy Garcia signed a contract – but he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries in a long, long time.  Even in 2006, he was no better than a middle of the rotation guy.  I don’t see the rotation as possibly being any better than last year.  I also don’t see them as being much worse.  Let’s call it a wash.

The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of saves record setter Francisco Rodriquez and J.J Putz, who will likely be the eighth inning guy.  Middle reliever Scott Schoeneweis is gone, while Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano are still here.  At least Aaron Heilman is gone…  Long relief will be manned by a rookie or two.  So, while the starters don’t look to be much better, the relievers might be 20 to 25 runs better than last year.
 
In terms of offense, the infield won’t be any better.  Reyes and Wright are at the age where one or the other might have a monster season, but Carlos Delgado is at the age where he might lose 25% of his production.  On May 25th last season, you might have thought it was already happening.  That leaves Castillo, who is below average offensively and not a guarantee to play 100 games.  His replacement now is Alex Cora, who is a decent backup.  At least he’s younger than the departed Easley.  He isn’t better, though, and Easley might still be a better fielder.  I think they score a few less runs, on the whole, and defensively, they might slip a little – especially on the right side.

The outfield, as a whole, was surprisingly productive considering how many different players played there.  You might see fewer people playing in left field in 2009, but if you added up the offense of the left and right fielders, it wasn’t a hole in the lineup.  Murphy, Beltran and Church make a good outfield when all three are playing.  Defensively, they will be slightly better if Tatis doesn’t play as many innings.  The only fear might be a decline from Beltran who has been less productive over the last two seasons from where he was in 2006.

The catchers are the same lot – only another year older.  There could be a decline of ten runs in production here just because all three catchers on the roster were born in 1976.

So, what you have is a potential gain on the defensive side of perhaps 20 – 25 runs, and what looks like a decline of about 40 runs on the offensive side unless (a) Beltran has one more big year at 32; (b) Delgado retains his swing one more year; and (c) Reyes or Wright turn it up one more notch.  I’ll call it 25 runs on both sides.  The system says 90 wins, which would be enough to win the division, but my gut is admittedly not in step with the system.  What makes me less confident is two bad Septembers and the fact that nobody knows how the new Citi Field (assuming it’s still called Citi Field) will affect the team.  The new stadium could help with attitude and fan support, but it might change the game dynamic in ways that this veteran squad can’t possibly know.

Down on the Farm…

The Mets are leaving New Orleans for Buffalo, and hopefully they will put a younger team there.  There were no position players who are threats to take jobs from the starters.  The best hitter was probably Chris Aguila, and he’s never stuck in the majors.  The best pitcher was Tony Armas, another 30-ish arm who never seems to make a significant contribution to pitching staffs.  Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell made it to AAA after success in AA.  Niese, a southpaw, throws ninety with a big breaking curveball – he had one good start (eight shutout innings against Atlanta) in a September call up.  He looks like a young Barry Zito.  Parnell throws mid to high 90’s – real hard – with a slider, but looks like he needs one more year in AAA.  Either would look good in long relief while learning his trade.

AA Binghamton featured Niese and Parnell as well as Jose Sanchez, who could be a useful long reliever, too.  There were a couple of hitters – some, like Murphy and Nick Evans have seen MLB action, while Mike Carp could be a potential replacement for Delgado in 2010.  He showed growth in terms of his batting average, power, and plate discipline.

At the lower levels, Lucas Duda and Joshua Thole were the best hitters but are far from ready.  Teammate Dylan Owen was 12 – 6 for St. Lucie, with good control and a fair number of strikeouts.