2011 Season Forecast: Minnesota Twins

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  94 – 68 (Winners of the AL Central, losers to the Yankees in the playoffs…  Again.)
2009:  87 – 76
2008:  88 – 75
2007:  79 – 83
2006:  96 – 66

This has been a great run for a well-managed franchise.

Runs Scored: 781 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 671 (3rd in the AL)

With this combination, the Twins would be expected to win 93.2 games – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the outset, the Twins were considered among the favorites to win the division, and having tossed aside the White Sox whenever they needed to, held off Chicago to walk away with the division for the third time and fourth in five seasons.

The Twins came out strong in April, winning 15 of 23.  They held serve in May, but when the Sox got hot in the summer, the Twins had their worst month in June.  This ended in July, however, as the Twins got stronger every month and looked like a potential World Series team until they faced the Yankees in the playoffs.

Among the hardships – Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays and missed the last three months of the season at a time when the first baseman was hitting like Ted Williams.  And, closer Joe Nathan went down after one spring training appearance, missing the season following Tommy John surgery.

The Twins made a few moves to shore up the bullpen after Nathan’s injury, acquiring Matt Capps from Washington in July, and later picking up Brian Fuentes from the Angels in September – in both cases for essentially spare parts.

Starters:

Francisco Liriano put his career back on track in 2010, winning a rotation slot in the spring and then winning 14 games and striking out 201 batters during the season.  This, as much as anything, gave the Twins a needed shot in the arm as the season started.  Carl Pavano had an even better 2010 than 2009, pitching 221 innings, hardly walking anyone at all (just 37) and winning 17 games.  Kevin Slowey went 13 – 6 despite pitching at essentially league average levels, but also doesn’t walk anybody (29 in 155.2 innings).  Same goes for Scott Baker (12 – 9, 43 walks in 170.1 innings) and the less effective Nick Blackburn (40 walks in 161 innings).  Swingman Brian Duensing was a team MVP candidate, making 13 starts amongst his 53 appearances, winning 10 of 13 decisions, and finishing with a 2.62 ERA.  Duensing also has great control.

All this is good – but a long-time reader of Bill James might notice something particularly troubling.  One of his predictors of future success (or decline) is looking at the ratio of strikeouts to wins.  Pavano won 17 with only 117 strikeouts – so he’d be expected to decline to something like 8 – 11.  Blackburn, already well below average with his 5.42 ERA, won 10 and fanned just 68.  He might expect to go 5 – 7.  Kevin Slowey won 13 and fanned just 116.  He’s a candidate to fall to 10 – 10 or something like that. Liriano and Baker are probably good candidates to hold steady, with good strikeout rates.

Perhaps the really high control guys can get away with this more than other pitchers because fewer guys are getting on base.  Still – I’d be a bit nervous about this.  Likely Duensing will get more starts than Blackburn in 2011.

Relievers:

When Joe Nathan went down, Jon Rauch became the first closer.  He was okay – not great, though – so the Twins picked up Matt Capps for the rest of the way – and he was fantastic.  There are other quality relievers around, too.  Jose Mijares is a decent late inning option, as is the returning Pat Neshak, with Alex Burnett picking up long relief.  Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins will battle for the other slots in the pen.  I think, however, that the Twins will miss Rauch, Jesse Crain (3.04 ERA in 71 appearances) and Matt Guerier (3.17 ERA, 74 appearances), and even Ron Mahay (3.44 ERA in 41 appearances).  Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to work a little magic here.

Catching:

Joe Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball, despite having a season that was well below his career breakout season of 2009.  Mauer is fighting bum knees and a sore back and will eventually turn into a first baseman or DH before too long.  For now, Mauer is solid defensively against the run, works well with this staff, and doesn’t make many errors.  Drew Butera is his less than tolerable backup.

Infield:

Morneau’s injury has already been covered – as a hitter, he’s remarkable and as a fielder he has little range.  After sitting out for three months (and much of the early spring), here’s hoping he can get back and play 150 games this year.  If not, the Twins will move Michael Cuddyer back to first base.  Cuddyer is better in terms of range, but can’t hit like Morneau.  Last year, the Twins had the second best second baseman in the AL in Orlando Hudson.  This year, the Twins imported switch hitting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.  Nishioka won the batting title in Japan last year, has gap power and blazing speed.  The new shortstop will likely be Alexi Casilla, who played well in a utilty role last year.  I like Casilla a little, but I’m not certain his defensive skills will make up for his not being as good an offensive player as J.J. Hardy.  At third will be rookie Danny Valencia, who came up and did a nice job replacing the injured and ineffective Brendan Harris.  Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert will replace former utility player Nick Punto, who joins the Cardinals.

Outfield:

Delmon Young had a breakout season offensively, but can’t seem to run down anything in the field when playing in left.  Denard Span has solid defensive skills and occasionally hits like a leadoff hitter.  Last year, not so much, but the Twins survived anyway.  In right, Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will get the bulk of the action.  Both are slightly above average hitters and barely tolerable fielders.  Jason Repko is a pretty good fourth outfield option, and Ben Revere might gallop onto the roster and take the #5 slot.

DH:

The 40-year-old Jim Thome had a remarkably productive season in 2010 and will return for another go in 2011.  When getting a day off, look for Cuddyer or Kubel to take at bats.

Down on the Farm:

My son, Casey, is playing on his first little league team and it’s fashioned after the Rochester Red Wings.  We use their hat; their tee-shirt is our uniform.  I’ll be ordering a hat later today.  But if you are looking at THIS Red Wings team and not ours, you’d be a little concerned.  Most of the guys who can play some and played in Rochester have already arrived.  Danny Valencia is now your regular third baseman, Trevor Plouffe (a low average hitter with some power) got a cup of coffee and may be the utility infielder.  One of the regulars on this team, I was surprised to see, was corner outfielder Jacque Jones.  Yeah – THAT Jacque Jones…  The Red Wings hitters were a little light, and the pitchers – mostly the starters – weren’t very good.  The one arm that impressed me was Anthony (Phi) Slama, who saved 17 games, fanned 74 in 65.1 innings, and allowed just 41 hits.  Oh – since I mentioned that Jacque Jones was still playing, I should note that Mike Maroth logged 11 innings in AAA as well here.

Ben Revere is a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee after hitting .305 in AA New Britain; he’s a burner with no power – and that lack of power also means a lack of triples, even for a guy who stole 36 bases in 94 games.  He’s the new Matty Alou, I guess.  Joe Benson hit 23 homers, can run a little, and is just 23.  The power was a surprise, he had 23 homers in his previous four seasons and 21 games of A+ ball in 2010.  If this is a legitimate change in his skill set, he’ll get to the majors in a couple of years.

The pitcher in this group I really want to see is reliever Billy Bullock – the third round pick from 2008 out of Florida.  In 36.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters.  60!  He walked 24 guys, must be wild as all get out, but WOW that’s an impressive number.  The Twins moved Deolis Guerra up from AA to AAA at the end of 2010 – after a year he went 2 – 10 with a 6.24 ERA.  I don’t get that.  He’s young and must have amazing stuff.

A couple of pitchers catch your eye at A+ Fort Myers.  Bruce Pugh was just 7 – 10, but he struck out 106 in 102.2 innings and allowed just 81 hits.  Reliever Liam Hendriks fits the Minnesota control mode – in 74.2 innings, his K/W ratio was 66/8.  Another reliever there, Bobby Lanigan, was 41/7 in 54.1 innings.  As such, a guy named Shooter Hunt probably won’t make it – walking 84 in 67.1 innings with 19 wild pitches.  He also struck out 79 in 67.1 innings – so he must have an amazing arm.  In 2008, he was a first round draft pick, but he’s still figuring things out.
2011 Forecast:

I see too many reasons for the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and won’t pick them to repeat.  I know the new Target Field gets in the way of people having great offensive seasons and helps the pitchers.  However, I think three of the six starting pitchers will fall back and fall back a lot.  The bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as in 2010.  Nishioka could be a revelation, but Orlando Hudson was really good last year.  If Nishioka is that good, it’s just a wash.  Valencia played well, but is already 26 – so he’s a bit long in the tooth to have a long and successful career.  Mauer is starting to accumulate wear and tear and his knees are already problematic.  Jim Thome turns 41 in August.

The offense is going to fall back some – the question is how much, and depends in large part how much Delmon Young falls back, Mauer or Thome fall back, and how Morneau returns.  I think the Twins will be lucky to score 725 runs, and the pitching staff will probably fall back to about 725 runs.  As such, we’re talking about a .500 season, which will likely be well behind the Sox.

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2010 Top AL Centerfielders

If Josh Hamilton were a centerfielder every day, he’d rank first with 136.2 Total Runs Productivity – well above everyone else on this list.  On the other hand, it would likely be lower because he no longer has the range to play center and, when he does, he gets hurt.

Torii Hunter – LAA (103.9 Runs Created, 5.9 Runs Saved = 109.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Don’t let that Runs Saved number fool you – he was great as a right fielder, but marginally below average in center.  The move to right is the right move, and Hunter remains a formidable offensive weapon.

Austin Jackson – DET (91.7 Runs Created, 4.6 Runs Saved = 96.3 Total Runs Productivity)

A fine rookie season.  Sure – he struck out nearly as often as he got a hit, but he got a lot of those, turning many into doubles and triples.  Has room for improvement, and time to do it.

Alex Rios – CHI (87.6 Runs created, 8.0 Runs Saved = 95.6 Total Runs Productivity)

The change of scenery did him well, and getting to be a regular centerfielder, Rios had a very good season.  As a player, a dead ringer for Adam Jones, only with more experience and a tad more speed.

Vernon Wells – TOR (99.3 Runs Created, -7.4 Runs Saved = 91.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Heading to LA where he won’t be asked to play centerfield very often, which is good because Wells hasn’t been a league average fielder in center since the first George W term.  Rajai Davis gets the job in 2011, and I’m not sure that’s going to be an improvement.

B.J. Upton – TB (90.0 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 91.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Has bat speed and foot speed that anyone would die for, and knows the strike zone.  And yet, he’s a disappointment.  He strikes out a LOT.  Now dogged for dogging it, and yet a very valuable player for the Rays.

Adam Jones – BAL (80.5 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 88.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A good, but not great player – decent average, good power, some speed, above average glove.  Wish he were more patient, or could take it up a notch.  I was listening to a Baseball Prospectus podcast and Kevin Goldstein noted that, with the end of Ken Griffey’s career, we really haven’t had a big time centerfielder for a while – and that remains true.

Denard Span – MIN (78.9 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 82.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Good baserunner, gets on base, but has little to no power.  Above average range in center.  Not a horrible centerfielder, but not making anyone forget Kirby Puckett.

Franklin Gutierrez – SEA (74.4 Runs Created, 1.1 Runs Saved = 75.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Wonder if the struggles of the Mariner season got to Gutierrez?  Fell off offensively and defensively in 2010 to the point he was just a league average player.  He will have better seasons.

Rajai Davis – OAK (74.4 Runs Created,-2.1 Runs Saved = 72.3 Total Runs Productivity)

Speedster, stats hidden by playing in Oakland (not that he’s really Mickey Mantle or something).  Not an awful player, but he’d help more if he could add something else to his skill set.  Your new Blue Jays centerfielder…

Curtis Granderson – NYY (67.3 Runs Created, -5.8 Runs Saved = 61.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Brett Gardner covers more ground, and is a more valuable hitter.  I like Granderson, don’t get me wrong, but they should switch and put Granderson in left.

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.

Coco Crisp – OAK (51.3 Runs Created, 3.7 Runs Saved = 55.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Would be a remarkably valuable player if he could just stay in the lineup.  In 2010, it was injuries to his left pinkie – twice.  Last full season?  2007.

Julio Borbon – TEX (46.5 Runs Created, 1.9 Runs Saved = 48.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Slap hitter, fast – but not a great basestealer or defensive wizard.  I think he can step forward, though, and has to because when Josh Hamilton is forced into centerfield, he finds the DL.

Melky Cabrera, former Yankee and Brave who signed with the Royals in December, 2010, would rank here (45.3 Total Runs Productivity).

Mitch Maier – KC (47.4 Runs Created, -4.4 Runs Saved = 43.0 Total Runs Productivity)

A fourth outfielder masquerading as a regular because in Kansas City, they need warm bodies.  Hits a little, fields some, tries hard.  He won’t get 2500 career at bats, though.  For 2011, the job will fall to either Melky Cabrera or Lorenzo Cain, a raw talent who arrived in the Zack Greinke trade.  Cabrera is a really good fourth outfielder, while Cain might be a shade better than Cabrera these days.

Darnell McDonald – BOS (46.1 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 41.0 Total Runs Productivity)

14 years ago, he was a first round choice of the Orioles and was rushed through the system before he was really ready because he just LOOKED like an athlete.  Spent a decade as a AA/AAA guy before he was finally given a reasoanble opportunity for playing time.  Of course, everyone in Boston’s outfield was injured at the time.  He’s not an awful player, but he’s now 32 and probably wishes things had worked out differently.

Peter Bourjos – LAA (19.0 Runs Created, 12.4 Runs Saved = 31.4 Total Runs Productivity)

The new Devon White.  Some power, tons of speed, swings at everything.  If he can hit anything at all, will become a very valuable commodity.  I think he can hit .250 hitting eighth or ninth in this lineup, which would be just fine.

Mike Cameron – BOS (20.7 Runs Created, 0.4 Runs Saved = 21.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Can still play – retaining a huge chunk of his skills as he approaches 40.  Always liked him, but if it were me, I think I’d rather play Kalish in center.

Ryan Kalish – BOS (21.2 Runs Created, -.2 Runs Saved = 21.0 Total Runs Productivity)

You want to know how deep the Red Sox farm is?  Ryan Kalish is a pretty good player.  Great base runner, sneaky power, decent fielder.  And, he has no place to play on this team.  Still – he’s not far from being a solid fourth outfielder in Boston, and if necessary, wouldn’t be an awful option as a centerfielder for long stretches of time.  Other teams would LOVE to have a Ryan Kalish in their system.  Turns 23 in spring training.

Michael Brantley – CLE (31.4 Runs Created, -15.5 Runs Saved = 15.9 Total Runs Productivity)

In 100 career games now, he’s hit 3 – 33 – .264, with barely tolerable on base percentage skills, and his defensive skills haven’t yet impressed anyone at the major league level.  Too good for AAA, he’s a fifth outfielder hoping to step it up.  Stiil a kid – turns 24 in May – so there is room for growth.

Gregor Blanco – KC (24.9 Runs Created, -11.2 Runs Saved = 13.7 Total Runs Productivity)

A fifth outfielder who got too much playing time.  Can contribute a little with the bat, but hasn’t been a consistently good fielder.

Grady Sizemore – CLE (11.0 Runs Created, -11.2 Runs Saved, = -0.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Hasn’t been the same since the personal photo shoot.  Body has left him, skills haven’t been seen in a couple of years now.  I’m not sure he’ll ever be back.

Top AL Centerfielders in 2009

In case you were curious, Boston’s new outfielder, Mike Cameron, produced more total runs (offensively and defensively combined) than any other AL centerfielder in 2009.  I would never have guessed this had I not run the numbers…  I don’t think that this will hold when he gets to the AL East, but you never know.  He could surprise us by staying young and avoiding curveballs.

Franklin Gutierrez (SEA):  A key player in Seattle’s improvement…  Mid-range power but has room to grow.  Defensively was as good as advertised.  His lone weakness would appear to be his lack of patience at the plate.  Cleveland is going to miss this guy…  (87.0 Runs Created, 14.4 Runs Saved = 101.34 Total Run Production)

Denard Span (MIN):  A valuable leadoff hitter with decent range in the outfield – had a OBP near .400 and stole 23 bases.  You gotta like that kind of production.  Span is one of the biggest reasons that the Twins won the AL Central…  (94.9 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 99.15 Total Run Production)

Ryan Sweeney (OAK):  Can play this position, but is probably destined to play in right…  Would rank here if he was the starter.

Torii Hunter (LAA):  Missed time with injuries, else would have ranked #1.  By my count, this is the first time that he’s been better than average defensively in the last four seasons – and it could have been the time off.  Hunter’s season was very good – average was up, OBP and SLG were up.  However, that makes me think he might be due for a step back.  Doesn’t make me less of a fan – just more of a realist.  (87.4 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 95.07 Total Run Production)

Curtis Granderson (DET):  Heads to the Yankees in a period of decline.  His batting average fell below .250, though he works for walks, hits for power, and steals bases.  Still – he was below average defensively and has slipped each of the last two seasons following his breakout 2007 season.  He’s a gas to watch play – I hope he finds his way back to greatness.  (96.7 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 92.89 Total Run Production)

If you are a Detroit fan, you are probably going to want to know more about your new center fielder, Austin Jackson.  The Yankee prospect hit .300 and stole 24 bases at AAA Scranton last year.  Jackson has little power and if he’s a burner, isn’t stealing 60 bases but occasionally hitting the 30 mark – and he doesn’t get thrown out a lot.  He does, however, strike out a bit.  I like Scott Sizemore more than this guy, but he might be okay.  He’ll likely cover more ground than Granderson did – but I think he’ll be lucky to generate 80 runs of offense in 550 at bats without finding a way to get a few more extra base hits.

Adam Jones (BAL):  A poor man’s Franklin Gutierrez.  Great glove, medium range power, would like a higher batting average and OBP, can run the bases.  (73.4 Runs Created, 16.44 Runs Saved = 89.79 Total Run Production)

Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS):  In a year where he had awful defensive stats, he tied the record for outfield putouts in a game.  Go figure.  Led AL in steals with 70…  Gets to play the Monster in 2010…  Let’s say that Ellsbury will look better defensively and maintain his offensive production as a left fielder.  Last year, Jason Bay was worth more than 130 runs of production.  At BEST, Ellsbury will be worth 100.  That’s a three game difference in the standings.  (102.8 Runs Created, -16.5 Runs Saved = 86.28 Total Run Production)

Scott Podsednik (CWS):  Now in Kansas City – and God Forbid the Sox actually put Juan Pierre here.  Podsednik was pretty much an Ellsbury clone.  Ellsbury’s numbers: .301/.415/.358 – Podsednik’s numbers: .304/.412/.354.  Podsednik stole only 30 bases and got fewer total plate appearances – and plays in a slightly better park for hitters.  Still – not much difference.  Podsednik, however, made up for the offensive production with a solid year defensively.  The Royals should be happy with Studriffic Podsednik – but even with that isn’t more than a one or two year option.  (81.5 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 86.24 Total Run Production)

Grady Sizemore (CLE):  Tried to play the whole season, but eventually his body broke down and he needed surgery on just about every part of his body.  Must have happened after the pictures were taken…  Anyway…  Sizemore bounced back a little with his range and despite the .248 batting average was able to generate offense because he works the count for walks and hits for some power.  He was a poor man’s Curtis Granderson with a long DL trip.  (75.3 Runs Created, 1.9 Runs Saved = 77.22 Total Run Production)

Alex Rios, if he played a full season in center, would probably rank about here.  Cited by some as having one of the worst contracts in baseball, Rios turned one year in his youth into a multi-year mammoth contract.  Forced to play right field because the Blue Jays insisted on playing Vernon Wells in center (wasting 20 runs a year defensively that their pitchers would like back) – Rios would have been a top flight defender with tolerable offense and, as such, would likely rank near the top of this list.  He’s no longer a GREAT centerfielder – he’s probably league average – and there’s a chance that his bat will bounce back.  At this point, however, he’s likely staying in right for the Sox and one hopes he doesn’t struggle to hit .200 as he did after arriving in Chicago.

Marlon Byrd (TEX):  Look at your new center fielder, Chicago.  For the first time ever, Byrd reached out and hit 20 homers.  He might do that in Wrigley Field if the wind blows out – but more likely he’ll be around 12.  He does hit a few doubles though.  His OBP is league average (.334) and that won’t change next year.  And, he’s miscast as a centerfielder.  Granted – this is still better than having to put Kosuke Fukudome out there or even Sam Fuld, but if Marlon Byrd is a championship level player, I don’t see it.  Jim Hendry, stop getting players from Texas.  (85.5 Runs Created, -11.6 Runs Saved = 73.83 Total Run Production)

The new center fielder in Texas will be Julio Borbon, a burner out of the University of Tennessee who has been a consistent .310 hitter in the minors and even hit .312 in his two months with the Rangers.  He can fly – he’s my early pick to lead the AL in stolen bases.  Not sure if he’ll lead off, too. I DON’T expect him to have the defensive impact that Elvis Andrus had, but playing him there where he has a chance to be league average, as opposed to playing Hamilton or Byrd there will still help the team.

Rajai Davis (OAK):  He ranks pretty low here, but give him 1300 innings in center and 600 at bats.  Unless he gets a case of Jerome Walton disease, he’s going to help the cause a lot.  Decent OBP and batting average but no power, covers enough ground.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s given the lead off spot, gets 180 – 200 hits, and scores 110 runs.  (69.1 Runs Created, 2.4 Runs Saved = 71.58 Total Run Production)

B.J. Upton (TB):  Coming out of the World Series, didn’t you think Upton was on the verge of becoming a superstar?  It didn’t happen.  Injuries sapped his power, his batting average, and his range in the outfield.  He’s an electrifying player – but last year wasn’t his thing.  (73.1 Runs Created, -2.2 Runs Saved = 70.92 Total Run Production)

Vernon Wells (TB):  When I listed Alex Rios as having one of the worst contracts in baseball, it’s got NOTHING on the deal that Toronto gave Vernon Wells.  Slipping with the bat, has been a problem with his poor range in center.  The time has come to find a speedster to take over center field for the last remaining team in Canada.  15 – 66 – .260 isn’t going to cut it if you are costing your team more than 15 runs a season with the glove…  And don’t let the total runs created number fool you.  The average hitter generates 5 runs for every 27 outs made.  Wells is around 4.7 (84.6 Runs Created, -16.8 Runs Saved = 67.83 Total Run Production)

Melky Cabrera (NYY):  The job belongs to Granderson or Brett Gardner now.  Your new Atlanta Brave centerfielder was your league average offensive player (13 – 68 – .274) with slightly below average range.  Unless he has a significant step up left in his body, he’s not going to be a championship calibre player.  He’s better than what Kansas City played out there, but that’s not saying very much.  Gardner has better range than Cabrera (6.6 runs saved in fewer innings) – and if he can push his OBP up near .400, might be a better hitter, too.  (71.5 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 65.00 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gomez (MIN):  Now in Minnesota, Gomez was an AMAZING defensive player, but can’t hit a lick.  No average (.229), no power (3 homers, .337 SLG), no walks (.287 OBP), runs a little.  If he hits .260 and gets his OBP closer to .340, the Brewers will get a steal.  As such, they get a #8 hitter who makes all the pitchers look good.  (31.1 Runs Created, 20.0 Runs Saved = 51.02 Total Run Production)

Mitch Maier (KC):  Coco Crisp was mightily disappointing – injured a lot, didn’t hit when he did play, and wasn’t quite league average as a fielder.  Crisp is destined four fourth outfielder status somewhere after this year…  Mitch Maier played the most innings, was pretty good with the leather, and while he didn’t hit much, still produced more than 50 runs.  He’ll be a fourth outfielder in KC and get innings that Podsednik misses.

Josh Hamilton (TEX):  Suffered through a ton of shoulder and stomach and groin injuries – isn’t really a centerfielder to be fair and should be in right field.  Struggled to produce at the pace he did in 2008 – in fact was slightly below average when all was said and done.  Pulling for another comeback as a right fielder.  (45.0 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 41.22 Total Run Production)

NOTES:  Having done this, none of the centerfielders had a breakout season the way the other positions had someone who was in the 130 runs produced level…  It’ll be interesting to see if anyone can take a step up in 2010.  My money is on Denard Span.

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.

Cooper Fired in Houston; Did He Have a Chance?

This is your lot, Cecil Cooper.  Your two best players, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, showed signs of getting older – missing time and underperforming.  Your shortstop is older than people were told and no longer is a force at the plate, and your starting catcher had played in more games than anyone in baseball history – then he was sent packing.  The rotation is patchwork at best, featuring one guy who may hold the record for DL trips (Mike Hampton) and a third starter who barely reaches 80 with his fastball and is only marginally tolerable (Brian Moehler).  Your fifth starter is 2 – 11 (Felipe Paulino – not to be confused with Fausto Carmona, but they have similar stats).  There are a couple of guys who aren’t half bad – Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee – but the bench slots are filled with people who probably can’t hit as well as you, Cecil.  Guys like Darin Erstad.  And Cooper hasn’t played in more than 20 years.

Through August, however, your team has hovered at the fringe of the race – sometimes a little above .500, sometimes a little below.  This isn’t a disappointment – like the Cubs – but probably a pleasant surprise.  I know lots of people who thought that, after spring training, Houston would finish with 100 losses and finish below Pittsburgh.

And now, Cecil Cooper has been fired.  Well, it wasn’t entirely your fault your team has no depth, no prospects, and gave away the catcher who, while he can’t hit, was keeping the pitching staff in games.  I mean, Wandy Rodriguez came into his own this year.  But you can’t take credit for that anymore either.  Reading the articles, the owner and GM felt that a team with a $103 million payroll should be better.  And, some of the players, like Berkman, felt responsible for Cooper’s firing.  And, to read it in Houston, the players no longer respected Cooper – not liking his style, and thinking that he didn’t handle game situations well.  Some writers in Houston think that his firing was inevitable, that he had no chance, but he deserved to be fired.  I think Ed Wade needs to be fired, too – he put this team together.  Cooper held it together, until too many pieces fell apart – and there weren’t players on the farm who could step up and contribute.  I mean, Russ Ortiz as a starter?  He hasn’t been good since 2004.  Maybe Dave Clark, the interim manager, will get a shot.  Not that Dave Clark had any more experience as a MLB manager than Cooper.  Either that, or Willie Randolph can get a shot at redemption.

Whomever gets the job next year is going to be lucky to win 70 games.  Cooper had done that. [ESPN/SI/MLB/Houston Chronicle]

Well – there’s no manager’s union for things like this.  However, when a player is a problem, thank God the MLB Players Association can step in and defend him.  Word is out that the MLBPA will file a grievance on behalf of Milton Bradley.  Guys – this is money well spent.

The Twins won last night, cutting the Tigers’ lead in the AL Central to just 2-1/2 games, but they will likely play a few games without outfielder Denard Span, who was beaned in the head last night.  Span felt soreness and a bit of dizziness, and is day-to-day.

Now, if the Twins catch the Tigers and the season ends in a tie, the challenge might be finding a place to play.  The Vikings hosts Green Bay in a Monday Night game, which is when the Twins would host the Tigers in a one-game playoff.  There may be nothing to worry about, but you never know.  MLB and NFL representatives will have to work out the details.  [ESPN]

Sometimes a slump is fixed based on who you play – and last night Kevin Millwood easily handled Oakland to get a win and lock up his contract for next season.  Of course, Oakland’s cleanup hitter is Kurt Suzuki and Bobby Crosby plays first base – so facing the A’s didn’t hurt…  [MLB]

Giants infielder Freddy Sanchez twisted his knee – the same knee that was bothering him when San Francisco acquired Sanchez from Pittsburgh.  He’s out for now, but may be available by the end of the week.

Hurry Back! Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa (left groin strain) went on the 60-day DL.

Welcome Back! Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson returns from the DL.

Afterthoughts… Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector, has established residency in Andorra, and hopes to sign a contract that will allow him to play for somebody in 2010.  Chapman chose a non-US location so as not to be part of the MLB Draft, which would make him a free agent and available to the highest bidder.  (Boston?  New York? Los Angeles?  I find it hard to believe he’d be a Marlin, but there are tons of former Cubans there…)  Chapman throws 100+, which is why he’s trying to be a free agent.  And, Andorra is kind of a playground for the rich families of Europe – and his agent hopes that Chapman may one day join them…  [ESPN]

Buehrle Retires 45 Straight; Wang and Johnson Done?

The Cub fan in me was supposed to watch their game with Houston last night; instead I watched Mark Buehrle figuring I should watch to see how long he could keep getting batters out.  Buehrle didn’t disappoint – cruising through five innings as if he’d never allow a batter to reach base again.  His streak reached 45 batters when he got the first two out in the sixth inning and suddenly people were wondering if he’d throw a second straight perfect game,  Then, Buehrle he got up 0 – 2 to Alexi Casilla and I was thinking, “grounder to short.”  Instead, Casilla coaxed a walk, followed by Denard Span’s liner into center for a single.  When Scott Podsednik misplayed Joe Mauer’s fly ball into a ground rule double, the magic was over.  (They only give errors when you get a glove or body part on the ball, but never when you slow up or short arm the reach.  It clearly should have been caught.)

Still – 45 straight!  The record of 41 was first set in 1972 by Jim Barr of the Giants, and later tied by Bobby Jenks (Buehrle’s teammate) a couple of years ago.  I was listening to SportsCenter this morning, and the comment about Barr and Jenks was “these guys were relievers…” as if it was easier for a reliever to get that many outs in a row.  As I see it, they got it wrong on both counts.  At that time in his career, Barr was a starter.  He got the last 21 in a row in a complete game shutout of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1972, and then got the first twenty out before allowing a double to Bernie Carbo of the Cardinals in his second complete game shutout six days later…  Barr threw a perfect game in the middle there – but it didn’t count.  Later in his career, with a burned out arm, Barr was a reliever.  As for what Jenks did – working one inning at a time, he didn’t allow a hit for over a month in the 9th inning protecting a lead.  How is that any easier?

Buehrle got roughed up in the seventh and took the loss to Minnesota – which is what happens when you are coming off of perfect games.  Too much magic needed to win two consecutive games when so much is spent on the first game…

On to Other News…

Chien-Ming Wang’s season is over – shoulder surgery is next.  [ESPN]

Randy Johnson’s season, and possibly his career, may be over as he learned he has a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  Johnson laughed that his days of doing an instructional hitting video are over.  The Big Unit hopes to return in September.  [ESPN]

Houston pitchers are running into back problems…  Roy Oswalt left last night’s start against the Cubs in the second inning and will have his strained back looked at.  For Latroy Hawkins, he heads to the DL with shingles in his back.  Yuck.

Oswalt’s injury (and, for that matter, Hawkins’) opens the door for prospect Bud Norris to join the Astros.  Norris has great stats – big strikeout numbers, even in the PCL, and occasionally fights his control.  Baseball America says he’s the #2 prospect in the Astros organization.  If there is a “but…”, it’s his minor league W-L record, which stands at 12 – 25.  You’d like for your top prospects to have winning records – even on bad minor league teams.

Ian Kinsler strained his left hammy running out a grounder and is day-to-day for now.  This is a tough loss for the contending Texas Rangers.

The latest blockbuster trade?  Boston sent Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for outfielder Brian Anderson.  Kotsay used to be a good fielding outfielder, but his back has taken away that mobility.  Anderson’s reputation is that of being a good outfielder, but at 27 he’s never had the stats to back that up and his bat reminds you of someone who might never get out of AA – heck, he had just been sent back to AAA.  Kotsay is a good pinch hitter and can play first a little – so the White Sox would seem to have gotten some value out of the deal.  [SI]

ESPN has a good rundown of current trade rumors, as we await the trade deadline on Friday, as does FanNation.  Or you could read about trade rumors on MLB.com…  [ESPN/SI/MLB]

Welcome Back!  A bunch of guys came off the DL in the last 24 hours…  Houston reliever Doug Brocail, Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (looked rusty last night), Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, Padres catcher Henry Blanco and infielder David Eckstein…

Make it Work!  Andy Marte was called up by Cleveland…  Three years ago, he was a top prospect, but it hasn’t worked in more than 500 MLB at bats – hitting all of .211 with nine hommers.  It’s time for Marte to make his mark in the majors or he’ll be an afterthought before long.

Marlins Need a Closer; Mattingly Backs Manny

2009 hasn’t been easy for Florida closer Matt Lindstrom.  First, he strains his rotator cuff while pitching for the US in the World Baseball Classic.  Then, he struggles in his return to the Marlins.  Now, Lindstrom has been placed on the DL with a sprained elbow.  It hasn’t affected his velocity, which regularly approaches 100 MPH, but Lindstrom says he feels it when he throws a breaking ball.  Early estimates suggest he’ll be out six weeks.

Leo Nunez, if he hadn’t tweaked an ankle in the Yankees series, would be the next in line for saves, but to be honest, it could be a bullpen by committee for now in Florida.

Dave Hyde, who is a good columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, says it’s time for the Marlins to open up the checkbook and get a closer who can help keep the Marlins in the race.

Joining the roster will be Ontario Canada’s Chris Leroux, a decent propsect who got a cup of coffee earlier in the year.  Leroux is a sleeper prospect, a seventh round pick out of Winthrop University, who has had some success at A+ Jupiter and AA Jacksonville.  I think he’s a bit overmatched at this level, though – and won’t be put in the pressure situations.

Reason #2 That the Reds are in Fourth Place

Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez had a second MRI, which showed that inflammation hadn’t yet left his elbow.  This means that any plans the Reds had in getting Volquez on a throwing program will be halted.  Volquez went on the DL with a sore back in May, came back to throw a single inning on June first, and hasn’t pitched since then.  Without Volquez, and without Joey Votto, the Reds slid from a contending position in May to under .500 and fading as June ends.  The Reds have Votto back, and hope to have Volquez back by the end of July.

The Line Still Says “TBA”

C.C. Sabathia says his bullpen session went well and he’s looking forward to pitching on Friday as scheduled.  Meanwhile, the Yankees haven’t formally announced Sabathia as the starter.

Only a Matter of Time

Speaking of the Yankees, GM Brian Cashman flew to New York to see his struggling Yankees, only to see them struggle some more.  Then, in the sixth, Joe Girardi got fired (up) over a bad call, got tossed, and the Yankees erupted for an 8 – 4 win.  The game featured a rare at bat for Mariano Rivera, who flew out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.  Cashman says that Girardi’s job is not in jeopardy.

Yet.

Webb Reviews Options

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Arizona ace Brandon Webb may not pitch in 2009, and now comes word that an MRI suggests that surgery is the next option for his ailing right shoulder.  Webb has tried rest and strengthening to no avail, so is looking for a second opinion before going under the knife.

When Mattingly Hurt His Back, They Removed his Backbone

Don Mattingly told Dan Patrick that he believes Manny Ramirez should still go into the Hall of Fame despite having been caught using PEDs.  Mattingly said, “He’s put up numbers for way too long.”

Of course he did, Don.  He was using.  Way to stick to the company line.

But He Still Leads the AL 3B All-Star Voting…

Evan Longoria continues to fight a sore left hamstring, leaving last night’s win over the Phillies in the seventh inning.  He doesn’t expect to miss any time, but just thought that the tightness required a little ice and rest.

What I’ll be Watching…

I don’t know about you, but I will find a way to watch John Smoltz’s return to baseball.  It’ll be odd to watch him in a Red Sox uniform, and who knows what kind of stuff he’ll have, but I always liked watching him pitch.

Cleveland Looks for Relief

Two trades yesterday, both involving the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians dealt Michael Aubrey, their top pick out of Tulsa in 2003, to Baltimore for a player to be named later.  At various times, Aubrey was a top prospect, but too many injuries later, he’s lost track of what looked like a promising career.  Aubrey makes contact, doesn’t walk too much, has a little power – just not enough to oust Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and others from the first base slot.

The Indians also acquired Jose Veras from the Yankees for cash.  Veras is at best a tolerable middle reliever, but really isn’t destined for heavy lifting even out of the Cleveland pen, which lately has had a habit of making closers look really, really bad.

Welcome back! 

Yankee 3B Cody Ransom, originally asked to replace A-Rod, but instead joined him on the DL.  (Angel Berroa was designated for assignment, and will either be back at AAA or could be signed by another team looking for a utility infielder.)  Also, Twin OF Denard Span.

Hurry back! 

A’s Josh Outman, DL with a sprained elbow.  Yankee Xavier Nady gets a rehab assignment with Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

Afterthoughts…

Kip Wells lost his job in Washington – which means unless he develops a knuckleball, his career may likely be over.  He was designated for assignment.  I wonder if someone will sign him, or if he’ll take a trip to AAA.

I saw a headline that says the Mets called up Reyes from Buffalo, and thought my fantasy roster would need a change – but it was infielder Argenis Reyes, a stop-gap utlily infielder.