2012 Gold Glove Winners – National League

First – a quick recap of how this works…  Many systems look at range factors – meaning the number of plays made by a fielder every nine innings.  I look at the number of plays made for every 800 balls in play.  The reasons for this include the fact that some teams are loaded with high strikeout pitchers, so the fielders get less action on some teams.  I also make modifications for the groundball/flyball tendencies of the teams, and try to take into consideration the number of innings pitched by lefties – as this may affect the number of plays made by the first or third baseman (see Sandoval, Pedro – 3B).

Then, once I know how many plays someone makes, I can then see how many extra (or fewer) plays someone makes, convert those plays into hits (and eventually runs saved).  I can do that for double plays and errors, too.  The player who saves the most runs at his position wins the award.

I make one modification for first baseman – I remove assists made by other infielders so they get more credit for the plays they make on balls fielded by them and not balls fielded by others.

Originally, this method was used to make defensive ratings for a game – so using 800 balls in play also meant that I could calculate how many points in batting average a fielder may add or take away from a hitter.  So, if you see a player with a range of, say, 10.0, that means that the fielder makes ten plays more than the average fielder at his position and effectively reduces the batting average of a hitter by ten points.

I don’t do this for pitchers by position – they play far too few innings, so the award is given to the team.

Catchers are done differently…  They are effectively done at the team level (though we can note who was the primary catcher) and catching teams are scored in seven different ways: Team ERA, Team Winning Percentage, Fielding PCT (not counting Ks), Error Rates, Mistake Rates, Mobililty (assists not tied to stolen bases), and Opposition Base Stealing Rates.  You get one point for being above average, and lose a point for being below average.  It is theoretically possible to get a perfect score of seven, which happens a lot for a certain catcher in St. Louis.

Let’s get on with it…

First Base:

26.1  Ike Davis, NYM  (10.2 Range, 1222.1 innings)
24.5  Gaby Sanchez, MIA+PIT  (15.0 Range, 697.1 innings)
23.3  Adam LaRoche, WAS  (7.8 Range, 1323.1 innings)

I had no idea Ike Davis was this good, but he made a lot of plays, as did Adam LaRoche.  LaRoche has the better reputation.  Last year, Davis was brutal in about 225 innings, which is why you can’t really take any fielder TOO seriously – at least statistically speaking – until you have seen about 2000 innings in the field. This was the second straight time that Sanchez finished second, so last year’s thinking that his 2011 season may have been a fluke isn’t true.  He’s pretty solid.  If only he could find his bat…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-29.8  Allen Craig, STL  (-18.8 Range, 773.2 innings)
-22.8  Anthony Rizzo, CHC  (-16.2 Range, 730.2 innings)
-21.8  Bryan LeHair, CHC  (-22.6 Range, 474.1 innings)

For what it’s worth, the third string first baseman in Chicago, Jeff Baker, also scored poorly.  Some of that is having a REALLY good keystone combination who turn a lot of double plays which would affect their ranking a bit.  I don’t think Rizzo will be this bad next year…  Allen Craig can hit, but he needs a late inning defensive replacement.

Second Base:

25.7  Darwin Barney, CHC  (9.6 Range, 1270.1 innings)
22.2  Dan Uggla, ATL  (8.7 Range, 1348.1 innings)
17.2  Freddy Galvis, PHI  (19.3 Range, 416 innings)

Barney is awesome – you have to watch him and Starlin Castro play together…  That’s an impressive middle infield.  The rest of the team, however, is brutal.  Dan Uggla had an outlier season – he’s usually around league average.   I don’t expect that to happen again.  Freddy Galvis is crazy quick, but he can’t hit enough to hold that position.  Neil Walker of Pittsburgh just missed this list…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-25.3  Rickie Weeks, MIL  (-9.6 Range, 1344.3 innings)
-15.9  Emmanuel Burriss, SF  (-32.4 Range, 269.1 innings)
-15.0  Daniel Murphy, NYM  (-5.5 Range, 1127.2 innings)

Weeks has had leg injuries and they apparently cut into his range…  Hopefully he can bounce back to where he was a couple of years ago.  Burriss didn’t really play a lot, but when he did either (a) the ball never seemed to come his way, or (b) he stands still a lot.  I don’t believe he is really that bad…

Third Base:

25.2  Pablo Sandoval, SF  (15.2 Range, 842 innings)
18.9  Placido Polanco, PHI  (11.3 Range, 664.2 innings)
15.5  Adam Kennedy, LAD  (33.4 Range, 225 innings)
*14.4  Ryan Zimmerman, WAS  (5.5 Range, 1280.1 innings)

There are a couple of teams that had larger amounts of innings thrown by left handers, which skewed the ratings of a couple of players – starting with the top two names on this list.  Throw in the fact that neither player made it to 1000 innings, Ryan Zimmerman would have won my award.  By the way – the ball found Adam Kennedy.  He’s a good fielder, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not really 33 plays per 800 better than average.If had kept that rate for as many inning as, say, Ryan Zimmerman had played you’re talking about 70 or more extra assists, and 25 extra putouts…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-18.9  Hanley Ramirez, MIA+LAD  (-11.0 Range, 860.1 innings)
-15.6  Chris Nelson, COL  (-9.8 Range, 647.1 innings)
-15.1  Greg Dobbs, MIA  (-19.0 Range, 262.1 innings)

The optimists in Florida (and last year I was one) hoped that Ramirez would battle the position to a draw – but that didn’t happen.  And he wasn’t hitting the way he had in the past.  So he had to go.  Somebody had better figure out if he can play center or left.  So Hanley left and the Marlins tried Greg Dobbs, who isn’t very good either (and he’s not as bad as those stats suggest).  Polanco gets his turn in 2013…

Shortstop:

37.4  Brandon Crawford, SF  (19.1 Range, 1101 innings)
31.6  Starlin Castro, CHC  (14.5 Range, 1402.2 innings)
16.4  Andrelton Simmons, ATL  (18.9 Range, 426 innings)

Simmons and Paul Janish played comparable numbers of innings and had comparable range numbers…  Brandon Crawford was a very pleasant surprise for the Giants, proving to be a dependable and able glove man.  Now, some of this was due to the higher numbers of innings pitched by lefties, and some of this is due to his youthful range.  I don’t see him doing this two years in a row, but you never know.  Starlin Castro continues to get better.  It’s sad that such a wonderful combination such as Castro and Barney is stuck on such a horrible team.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.6  Jose Reyes, MIA  (-8.7 Range, 1410.2 innings)
-21.5  Ian Desmond, WAS  (-10.9 Range, 1139.1 innings)
-15.1  Willie Bloomquist, ARZ  (-16.8 Range, 528.1 innings)

I have said for some time now that Reyes and Jimmy Rollins (who was fourth on the bad list…) are overrated and have been consistently overrated for years.  The Marlins would have been better served to have put Hanley in left, put Reyes at third, and put Emilio Bonifacio at short.  Bonifacio has better range and is great on the double play.  Reyes has a flashy arm and a bigger contract.  Ramirez is too bulky and if you watch him play you notice how he doesn’t just let loose with his arm but he kind of guides his throws.  They are not shortstops anymore.

Left Field:

The best left fielders play less than 500 innings.  There’s no way you can give a gold glove to Austin Kearns who just happened to play his 142 innings when a right handed hitter pulled a fly ball his way.  Shane Victorino played left for the Dodgers – he was legitimately good there, saving the Dodgers about 11.5 runs.

Looking at the guys who play left field a LOT, you have:

8.7  Alfonso Soriano, CHC  (2.5 Range, 1183 innings)
5.5  Ryan Braun, MIL  (2.4 Range, 1318 innings)
4.4  Melky “the Cheater” Cabrera  (2.4 Range, 898 innings)

By the way, tons of people get innings at this position – more than any position other than pitcher…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-20.1  J.D. Martinez, HOU  (-10.4 Range, 833 innings)
-18.5  Matt Holiday, STL  (-6.3 Range, 1312.2 innings)
-17.8  Carlos Gonzalez, COL  (-6.4 Range, 1127.2 innings)

J.D. can’t be that bad – or else he took his hitting slump out to the field with him.  Holliday continues to get slower.  Gonzalez should be a much better fielder than this, but few guys look good in Colorado…

Center Field:

16.3  Angel Pagan, SF  (6.0 Range, 1279.1 innings)
14.5  Jon Jay, STL  (6.0 Range, 993.1 innings)
9.3  Kirk Nieuwenhuis  (13.6 Range, 372 innings)

The third best regular was Michael Bourn…  Pagan had his best year – not sure if he can repeat this level, but he is really, really good (and stayed healthy).  Jon Jay had a great season as well…  You know who had a remarkably good season in center?  Bryce Harper.  Harper’s range was the equal of both Pagan and Jay – he just played 700 innings.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.9  Dexter Fowler, COL  (-9.0 Range, 1026 innings)
-13.5  Matt Kemp, LAD  (-7.5 Range, 911 innings)
-13.3  Drew Stubbs, CIN  (-5.2 Range, 1107.1 innings)

You can see the problems that Colorado had with these last three positions – Fowler, Gonzalez, and Chris Nelson.  I’d love to know how much of this is the park – it’s a huge outfield and has more holes than anywhere else.  Matt Kemp’s body defied him in 2012.  We’ll see if he can come back.  Stubbs was sent to Cleveland, so don’t expect him to erase the ghosts of great Indian center fielders gone by…

Right Field:

26.1  Jason Heyward, ATL  (8.9 Range, 1337.2 innings)
15.9  Justin Upton, ARZ  (5.6 Range, 1280.2 innings)
15.1  Jayson Werth, WAS  (10.7 Range, 608.2 innings)

Heyward had a great season and, like Upton, is just entering his prime.  I wonder which one gets to play in left next year.  I’d move Upton there and tell him it’s time to break out and play like Hank Aaron.  Werth has been a great right fielder for years.  By the way, #6 on the list is that kid Harper again…  If he had played a whole year in center or right, he makes one of the two lists and MIGHT have won the award in center field…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-17.2  Andre Ethier, LAD  (-6.6 Range, 1256.1 innings)
-16.7  Carlos Beltran, STL  (-6.9 Range, 1126.2 innings)
-16.2  Hunter Pence, PHI+SF  (-5.5 Range, 1408.2 innings)

Ethier and Kemp didn’t help the pitching staffs, did they?  Beltran’s knees are now problematic, and Hunter Pence occasionally looks awkward out there – but he tries hard.

Catchers:

Yadier Molina, STL
Carlos Ruiz, PHI
A.J. Ellis, LAD

Molina and the Cardinal catchers were above average in every category, capped by throwing out 35 of 73 base runners.  Ruiz and Ellis were above average in six of the seven categories and dead even in the seventh.  Ruiz gets props for working with the great Phillie rotation, while Ellis probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for the Dodgers success last year.  Ellis and Ruiz had comparable stats against base runners, but Ruiz had the better back up in Erik Kratz.  I saw him – big dude, strong arm, looks like a take charge type.

The worst catching was either Chicago or San Diego, both of whom scored at -5.  Both teams had losing records, staffs that couldn’t keep the ball away from hitters, and tended to be mistake prone.  The worst teams against the run were Pittsburgh and Washington…

Pitchers:

Miami
Milwaukee
Los Angeles

The Marlins pitchers made more plays per 800 balls in play and were the only team with significantly more double plays started than errors committed (21 – 8).  The average team was about 12 – 14.  As such, I give the award (if I have to pick a player) to Mark Buehrle.

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2012 Season Forecast: Miami Marlins

2011: 72 – 90, Last NL East
Runs Scored: 625 (11th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 702 (10th, NL)

Season Recap:

In late May, the Marlins were near the top of the NL East.  Josh Johnson seemed to be taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning or later in each start, the offense was starting to show signs of life.  When Scott Cousins derailed Buster Posey in San Franscisco by running the all-star catcher over to score a run, the bad karma hit.  Johnson went down with shoulder soreness and never pitched again.  Hanley Ramirez, having survived a very slow start, separated a shoulder and missed most of three months.  Gaby Sanchez, who hit enough to make the all-star team, stopped hitting – and Logan Morrison tweeted his way into the dog house.  When it was over, one of the best teams in the NL suddenly was in last place.

Starting Pitching:

The rotation of Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vasquez, Anibel Sanchez, and Chris Volstad seemed good enough in April, but once Johnson went down, having two other starters (Nolasco and Volstad) struggle along with anyone who tried to replace Johnson – the Marlins didn’t have a chance.  Brad Hand went 1- 8 in 12 starts because he gave up ten homers and 35 walks in just 60 innings.  Clay Hensley was asked to start and he couldn’t handle that kind of load.  Nolasco was 23 runs worse than an average pitcher, Volstad was 20 runs worse – and they logged more than 370 innings of well below average pitching.

Looking forward, the Marlins have thickened up the staff.  Johnson is back and healthy.  If he makes 30 starts, he could save the team 40 unnecessary runs.  Vasquez was miserable for six weeks, then finished like an ace over the last six weeks.  He will be replaced by former Chicago White Sox horse, Mark Buehrle.  Buehrle was 15 runs better than Vasquez last year – and he becomes the first lefty starter on the Marlins – which will help against the lefty hitting loaded teams in the NL East.  Nolasco needs to bounce back – he’s a durable thrower, but hasn’t been spectacular since 2009.  Sanchez continues to throw well – he could use a little offensive support.  And then you have another former Chicago pitcher to provide additional fireworks – Carlos Zambrano.

Zambrano came to the Marlins in a trade with the Cubs because (a) the Cubs didn’t want him and (b) new manager Ozzie Guillen thinks he can handle the ex-Chicago fireballer.  Zambrano was marginally better than Volstad, but at the end of his contract and pitching for his baseball life, he could be 15 or 20 runs better – and provide a little extra offense.  What you are looking at is a reasonable gain of about 60 runs in the runs allowed column, and possily 70 – 75 fewer runs allowed…

Relief Pitching:

The Marlins spent a small fortune to pick up Heath Bell to be the new closer because Leo Nunez wasn’t cutting it.  And, of course, because Leo Nunez isn’t who we thought he was – his name is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo, and he’s two years older, too.  The pitcher formerly known as Nunez may not be back for a while, and if he does come back it won’t be as a closer.  Bell was just a bit better in terms of runs saved, but he might be better in the clubhouse, where a big personality can keep the rest of the team in check.  The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad – Steve Cishek, Randy Choate, Michael Dunn, Eduard Mujica, Brian Sanches, and Ryan Webb are all decent, but none of them wow you.  Dunn has closer stuff, but needs time.

Another former Padre, Wade LeBlanc, and rookie Tom Koehler are looking to pick up swingman roles on the club.

Catching:

John Buck looked like he was figuring things out as a newcomer to the Marlins and the National League.  His batting average fell, he struggled in the running game (83 of 100 baserunners were succesful stealing), and he needed to learn his own staff.  I like Buck to bounce back some.  Brett Hayes was a bit better against the run and is a dependable backstop.

Infield:

The Marlins will have a slightly new look in 2011.  Gaby Sanchez returns at first, a decent enough fielder (helped statistically by the lack of a left handed starter last year), and a slightly above average hitter.  He’s not shown himself to be a banger, but he makes decent contact, has a bit of power, and a good eye at the plate.  Omar Infante is a solid second baseman and an average hitter.  In 2012, he’ll no longer bat at the top of the lineup, which should help some.  Taking over at short is former Met, Jose Reyes.  Reyes is coming off a career year, but hasn’t dependably played 140 games at his position.  He’s still a step up over having Greg Dobbs regularly in the lineup, so the Marlins could score more runs with Reyes at the top of the order.  And moving to third is former shortstop Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez has something to prove this year – that he can be a team player and a real leader.  Personally, I don’t think he should be in the infield.  He’s never been a good shortstop – Ramirez cost the team 23 runs.  (Reyes is better, but even he is a below average shortstop.)  But he could be a league average third baseman – and make 35 – 50 throwing errors.

If it’s me, I let Bonifacio (just about a league average shortstop) play short, move Reyes to third, and put Hanley in center field or left field.  Even with the new alignment, the Marlins could save 10 runs defensively, but it SHOULD be 20 runs better if Hanley were in the outfield.

Offensively, a healthy Ramirez and Reyes could be worth 100 extra runs themselves to the team.

Outfield:

Giancarlo Stanton returns (nicked up this spring) and seems to want to use his tremendous power to all fields.  You hope that by broadening his approach he doesn’t dilute his strength – which is his strength, but he’s SO strong that if he makes contact, he hits the ball harder than anyone else in baseball.  If he steps up a little bit, he’s going to put 125 runs on the board.  And Logan Morrison can hit better than he did in 2011.  He really isn’t an outfielder, but he has a great approach to hitting and should be worth 100 runs, which is 30 more than last year.  Then you have the void that is centerfield.  Emilio Bonifacio is tolerable there (I’d just rather see him at short).  Chris Coghlan, Aaron Rowand, Bryan Peterson and possibly Austin Kearns will be battling for innings as a defensive replacement for Morrison in late innings and pinch hitting at bats.

Bench:

A bench of Dobbs, Coghlan, Peterson and Rowand give the Marlins plenty of options.  Hayes is a capable backup catcher, and with Bonifacio able to play six positions, you can mix and match to give people time off.

Prospects:

At AAA New Orleans, Matt Dominguez and Ozvaldo Martinez showed they have major league gloves but not yet major league bats.  They are still young – Dominguez will be 22 this year; Martinez 24.  Jose Ceda was unhittable in AAA, but hasn’t turned it into a regular MLB job.

2008 #1 pick Kyle Skipworth made his way to AA Jacksonville, but didn’t impress with the stick – just .207 in nearly 400 at bats.  He’s still got time.  The best hitter was Jim Negrych, but he’ll be 27 this season and has people ahead of him on the depth chart.  Pitcher Jhan Marinez needs to gain command, but fanned 74 in 58 innings.  Undrafted Omar Poveda is figuring things out, finishing 8 – 6 last year, but with a 4.32 ERA.  He needs to find a better strikeout pitch.

Kyle Jensen showed great power while hitting .309 at A+ Jupiter, but he’s a bit of a free swinger.  I saw him – I’d like to think he can make a step forward and challenge Gaby Sanchez in 2014.  2009 First Round pick Chad James struggled a little – 5 – 15, with a 3.80 ERA, but he’s just 20.  Let’s see what he can do in 2012.  Down at A- Greensboro, 2010 #1 pick Christian Yelich showed he is a player with promise by hitting .312 with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases.

2012 Forecast:  

You have a new stadium and management finally spending some money to give the fans checking out the new stadium an exciting product.  The question, of course, is can the Miami Marlins break through what looks to be a competitive NL East.  I think the answer is yes.  The Marlins could easily score 150 runs more than last year with healthy and improving performances from the outfielders as well as a healthy Reyes and rebounding Hanley Ramirez.  If Josh Johnson makes 30 starts and the rotation holds steady, the team will likely allow 75 fewer runs.  That puts the Marlins at about 775 runs scored and 625 runs allowed –  a combination good for 93 wins.  The question is whether or not 93 wins will be enough…  The Phillies, Braves, and even Washington will be in the hunt – so every win will matter.

2010 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 87 – 75 (2nd, NL East)
2008: 84 – 77
2007: 71 – 91
2006: 78 – 84
2005: 83 – 79

Finally people started seeing the Marlins for what they are – a talented team despite the low payroll who, when healthy and getting a modicum of pitching, can hang with anybody.

Runs Scored: 772 (5th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 766 (11th, NL)

Like in 2008, the Marlins edged opponents on the scoreboard but came ahead on the deal in terms of wins and losses.  The reason for this is because the bottom of their pitching is ATROCIOUS, and when they lose they tend to get pounded.

Season Recap:

The Marlins won 11 of 12 to open the season because six games were against the Nationals when the Nationals really stunk up the joint.  I remember sitting in the office talking about this with Jose Gomez – the Marlins were about to play the Pirates and we were talking about how they could be 14 – 1 and heading home.

Instead, they lost a lot – losing 24 of the next 32 games.  This was because only Josh Johnson was winning any starts and Ricky Nolasco, who SHOULD be an ace, needed a trip to the minors to find himself.

When Nolasco returned, that gave the Marlins two decent arms the rest of the way.  Then, Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan started getting two hits every night (or so it seemed) and the Marlins climbed back into the race by the end of August and made a run at a wild card slot before running out of time.

All along, it seemed like the Marlins were just two players away from being as good as anybody in the NL.  They needed one more starter and one more really good reliever.  No – they don’t have ALL the firepower of the Phillies, but with a core of Ramirez, Cantu, Uggla, and Coghlan setting the table, that’s a lot of runs to work with.  The helpers – Cody Ross, both catchers – Ronny Paulino and John Baker, Cameron Maybin, and bench hitters like Wes Helms and Ross Gload – all contribute.

Two more pitchers.

I digress.

Pitchers:

A completely healthy Josh Johnson pitched 209 impressive innings, winning 75% of his decisions and saving his team 33.7 runs.  Ricky Nolasco, as mentioned earlier, found his mojo after a trip to the minors and finished the season by striking out 16 batters and nine in a row in his final start.  If you look at his numbers, you’d never know he had a 5.06 ERA – winning record, solid K/BB numbers, and not hit TOO badly.  He did give up hits in bunches, though, and that was his problem.

After that, Chris Volstad gave up 29 homers in 159 innings, pushing his ERA over 5.00.  Sean West was tolerable but a little green in his 20 starts.  Anibal Sanchez pitched half a season of okay ball – an ERA under 4, but watching him start is excrutiating because he always seems to be pitching his way out of trouble.  Andrew Miller made 14 starts and got worse as the season progressed, eventually hitting the bullpen and then AAA.  Rick VandenHurk made the Netherlands WBC team, and had eleven okay starts.

Looking forward, that’s the problem the Marlins face with the rotation.  Nolasco will be better, but can Sanchez make 30 starts?  Will West improve?  The Marlins made a late acquisition, picking up Nate Robertson from Detroit – and he HAS to be better than Andrew Miller (also, formerly of Detroit).  If Robertson can make 30 reasonably good starts, this is a step up.  I like the potential of improvement here – but they still require a lot of bullpen help.

Let’s look at that bullpen.  The Marlins tried Matt Lindstrom as a closer, but he got hurt during the WBC and his 100 MPH fastball seemed very flat and hittable.  Leo Nunez, a decent 8th inning guy, became the closer and was okay because he doesn’t really have the control needed.  They combined for 41 saves, but a lot of chewed nails.

The Marlins did find their usual surprise and cheap help in the middle relief corps…  Kiko Calero allowed just 36 hits in 60 innings, but 13 were homers (must have all be solo shots), which led to a very surprising 1.95 ERA.  Renyal (1972 Ford) Pinto is a wild lefty who had more good innings than bad ones.  Florida even has a legitimate long reliever in Burke Badenhop – a guy who looks good the first time through the lineup but gets killed in the fourth and fifth innings – so he becomes a reliever who frequently makes multiple inning runs when the team needs it.  Brian Sanches and Dan Meyer were solid most of the season.  Even Brendan Donnelly came over and gave the team 25.1 good innings.  So, there was a lot of depth in the pen – there just wasn’t a shut down closer and a lot of relievers always seemed like they were living on the edge.

Looking ahead, Calero is gone – in his place will be Clay Hensley.  I’m not sure I get it – he has little control and couldn’t keep his ERA under 5.00 in the spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego.  The rest of the pitching staff returns with just those two additions (Hensley, Robertson) and two subtractions (Lindstrom and Calero).  So, while the rotation should be 30 or 40 runs better, the bullpen could give half of that back.

Catchers:

John Baker and Ronny Paulino shared the job in 2009 and will do so again – at least until Brett Hayes is ready for a test drive.  Both hit enough and are natural platoon partners; Paulino was tolerable against the run – but otherwise are rather bland catchers.  Neither is known for handling the staff (and who would take credit for last year’s pitching) or avoiding mistakes.

Infielders:

Defensively, not very good.  Offensively, as good as you might want.

Jorge Cantu was solid at first – but then looked out of practice playing third base when Nick Johnson arrived last year.  Johnson has NO range as a first baseman – so he was allowed to play DH for the Yankees.  Cantu will move to third base to give Gaby Sanchez a shot.  Sanchez hits like Pete O’Brien in a good year, about .280 with mid range power.  I just don’t know that Sanchez will be that much better defensively.  He will be better than Johnson, though.

Dan Uggla rips homers, got on base despite a dip in his batting average, and started to look slow defensively.  A late bloomer, Uggla makes more good plays than bad ones, but a slipping range means that he’s a candidate to be moved if the Marlins start to fall out of the race.

Hanley Ramirez is one of the two best players in the NL right now – the best hitting shortstop (heck, as good as anyone except, perhaps Pujols or Braun) in baseball and a tolerable fielder.  He’s very deliberate as a fielder, as if trying not to make throwing mistakes, but he doesn’t have the acrobatic range of the really good ones.  Hitting .340 with power, though, nobody seems to care.  Except, perhaps, the pitching staff.

Last year, Emilio Bonifacio played a lot of third, but he’s really better suited as a bench player.  Wes Helms is a solid bat off the bench and plays third and first well enough.  Mike Lamb comes over to replace Ross Gload as a veteran lefty bat off the bench.  Gload was impressive last year – so he’ll be a challenge to replace (and will be missed).  Brian Barden also made the club, but I don’t know where he’ll play with this lineup.  Perhaps he’ll be a late inning defensive replacement for any of these guys…

Looking forward, I see the defense slipping another ten runs but the offense holding steady.

Outfield:

Chris Coghlan is a hitter, an amazing collection of line drives – patient at the plate and has good enough speed to sneak 30 steals.  He’s just not much of a left fielder.  Eventually, he’ll have to move – but he’ll bat leadoff until he’s 40.

Cameron Maybin earned the starting nod last year, got off to a slow start with the bat, and needed a trip to AAA to get his swing back.  He’ll get a second shot – and hopefully he’ll stick.  I see him as the new Preston Wilson, and if he ever puts it together, that’ll be just fine.

Cody Ross is a shaved head bundle of energy and smiles – and can play a decent right field and back up Maybin in center.  He has decent power but you wish his batting average was closer to .280 than .250.  You need guys like Ross on the team…  Fan friendly, contributes in many different ways, and compliments the stars on the field.

Brett Carroll and Emilio Bonifacio will provide bench support.  Carroll is actually a pretty good fielder, but doesn’t appear to have MLB hitting skills.

I like this unit to be much better than last year – possibly 30 – 50 runs better offensively and 20 runs better defensively because (a) Maybin is an AMAZING fielder and will be here every day and (b) Coghlan will be more comfortable out there than last year.

Prospects:

The best hitters at AAA are already on the Marlins – Sanchez, Coghlan, and Maybin.  And, there weren’t a lot of pitching prospects in New Orleans to write home about.

Sean West came out of AA Jacksonville, as did Chris Leroux.  West may stick for a while, but Leroux will probably not be a future star.  He has decent enough control, gets a few strikeouts, but at 25 is not really a young prospect.  Jacksonville must be a tough place to hit.  The top average was Bryan Petersen‘s .297, a 4th round pick in 2007 out of Cal-Irvine.  Look for him to get a shot at AAA, and be a fourth outfielder before too long.

The big prospect at AA was Mike Stanton, whose batting average stunk, but has SERIOUS power and is only 20.  He’ll be among the first guys to get a shot at right field if Cody Ross gets hurt.  Logan Morrison is another first base prospect who has Mark Grace-like skills – good OBP and a little power.

A+ Jupiter featured Stanton (for a while) and another teen – Matt Dominguez who will be a future third baseman on this team by 2012.  Looks like a young Mike Lowell right now, but it’s still early.  Check him out in Jacksonville in 2010.  All of the really good Hammerhead pitchers throw strikes, but few better than Elih Villanueva, who walked just 18 in 158 innings, striking out 110.  He’ll be moved up to AA as well.

Forecast:

For two years, the Marlins played better than the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed would have suggested, and that’s a problem.  It means they could be unlucky this year.  On the other hand, there is room for improvement.  The team should allow 40 fewer runs and possibly score 30 more.  Marlins ownership EXPECTS a playoff team, and I see them on the fringe of that – 89 wins.  My HUNCH is that they’ll be over .500, but closer to 84 wins – but the Marlins fan in me hopes my system is right.

Top NL Third Basemen in 2009

Ryan Zimmerman (WAS):  The Evan Longoria of the National League – hits for a decent average, has solid power, gets on base, and flashes the leather.  As a hitter, I show Zimmerman as actually creating three more runs than Longoria, but Longoria had the better season defensively.  The best player the Nationals have ever had.  (117.9 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 132.82 Total Run Production)

Casey Blake (LAD):  Had a decent season with the bat and an unbelievable year with the glove.  Kemp, Loney, and Ethier get all the pub, but Casey Blake was second on the team in total production.  I went back and checked – he hadn’t played that well at third defensively before, so I won’t be surprised if he falls back in 2010, but his offensive numbers were in line with previous seasons.  Another guy the Indians couldn’t use…  (91.1 Runs Created, 25.23 Runs Saved = 116.35 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  Kung Fu Panda is a first baseman in waiting, but wow can he hit.  He wasn’t AWFUL at third base, just below average defensively, but you can live with it if he hits .330 with 25 homers.  The new Kirby Puckett.  (122.4 Runs Created, -6.4 Runs Saved = 115.94 Total Run Production)

Mark Reynolds (ARI):  As long as we’re comparing people, Reynolds is an upgrade over Adam Dunn, right?  He strikes out a LOT – but 44 homers and a .351 OBP is really good production.  However just 102 RBI suggests that he’d be even more productive for his teammates if he would just make more contact.  Not a horrible fielder either – slightly better than the Panda.  (104.6 Runs Created, -4.4 Runs Saved = 100.26 Total Run Production)

Andy LaRoche (PIT):  Did you know he had that good a glove?  Just an ordinary hitter – .260 with .400 SLG and a few walks throw in for good – but his defense moved him well up the list.  You can’t sneeze at 34 double plays to just 14 errors.  (69.0 Runs Created, 30.3 Runs Saved = 99.29 Total Run Production)

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  If a third baseman and not a first baseman, Cantu would rank about here.  Maybe a slot or two lower.

Pedro Feliz (PHI):  Had Andy LaRoche’s season with more RBI because of who he bats behind.  Polanco has a better batting average, but I don’t think he’ll match Feliz with the leather.  Feliz’s problem, if he has one, is that he makes too many outs.  You want guys who average at least 5 runs for every 27 outs, and Feliz is consistently around 4.2.  However, there aren’t many guys who save you 20 runs a year with the leather – and he’s been there three of the last four years (only an injury riddled 2008 didn’t add up).  So, you might concede 20 runs of offense for that.  I like Polanco, but Feliz was a big part of the Phillies’ success.  (68.6 Runs Created, 24.5 Runs Saved = 93.15 Total Run Production)

David Wright (NYM):  Not his best effort, but then again I think the park worked against him, and the injuries around him worked against him, and eventually he was dragged down by the entirety of it all.  He still produced runs – he batted .307 and got on base nearly 40% of the time.  However, his home run numbers dashed (the Mets are lowering the left field wall for 2010) and he took his frustration to the field – only 19 double plays against 18 errors.  I like his chances to bounce back some, but he’s never going to be as good as Ryan Zimmerman.  I just hope the Mets appreciate what he does and doesn’t focus on that gap between Wright and the top guys.  (102.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 89.61 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR/CIN):  Add it all up and he ranks about here.  I don’t think he’s a .320 hitter, as he was in Toronto for the first 100 days, but he still has skills.  He is NOT a glove man anymore, and while he’s more dependable than Edwin Encarnacion, he may not be healtier every month.  Still a good player, though.  (84.1 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 78.5 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  If rated as a third baseman would fall about here.  He’s a solid player.

Chipper Jones (ATL):  His OBP is still strong, but the end is nearing for this future Hall of Famer.  Hasn’t really measured up with the glove in years, and his offensive numbers – while still pretty good – are heading in the wrong direction.  (87.7 Runs Created, -18.1 Runs Saved = 69.56 Total Run Production)

Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD):  Only three errors last year – one of the best fielding percentages of all time.  Of course, he doesn’t have much range – so that makes him Ron Cey with longer legs.  He’ll help the A’s, though.  (78.0 Runs Created, -8.9 Runs Saved = 69.05 Total Run Production)

Casey McGehee (MIL):  Had a solid season at the plate (.301 AVG, .499 SLG), taking over for Bill Hall (who didn’t) and was tolerable with the glove.  If he plays 150 games, he might move up two or three slots in the rankings for 2010.  (68.3 Runs Created, -4.1 Runs Saved = 64.27 Total Run Production)

Aramis Ramirez (CHC):  I don’t know if he’ll ever play 120 games again – his body just breaks down constantly now.  Still a formidable offensive force, his glove is merely average these days.  Makes the Cubs better when he’s in there, though.  (58.1 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 57.02 Total Run Production)

Mark DeRosa (CLE/STL):  Struggled upon arriving in STL, but his defense had been off all season.  Reaching the age at which a comeback isn’t in the Cards – but the Cards will be counting on one.  (77.6 Runs Created, -26.8 Runs Saved – 50.80 Total Run Production)

Emilio Bonifacio (FLA):  Really fast.  Had an awesome first week of the season and then reverted to where I thought he’d be – which is not much of a hitter and slightly out of position at third base.  In Florida, though, he’s the new Alfredo Amezaga.  (44.0 Runs Created, -7.7 Runs Saved = 36.22 Total Run Production)

Ian Stewart (COL):  A Garrett Atkins clone.  Hits for some power, his batting average should scare you, and he can’t field the position.  New Rockie Melvin Mora is a significant step up, even at this point in Mora’s career.  (58.1 Runs Created, -23.4 Runs Saved = 34.68 Total Run Production).

Edwin Encarnacion (CIN/TOR):  I don’t know why Toronto would want him.  Indifferent fielder and not a dependable hitter.  Probably one more year of 100 games in his career, and the rest of the time he’ll be a back up or playing in AAA as an insurance policy for somebody.  Maybe he needs to go to Japan.  (39.8 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 32.6 Total Run Production)

Wes Helms (FLA):  Back up third baseman and professional pinch hitter – but ranked nearly as high as Stewart in far less time.  (30.19 Total Run Productiom)

Garrett Atkins (COL):  See Ian Stewart.  (33.4 Runs Created, -7.4 Runs Saved = 25.98 Total Run Production)

Geoff Blum (HOU):  See Ian Stewart – but with less power.  If Houston wants to be serious about fixing the problems on the team, it should start with replacing Blum.  (46.2 Runs Created, -23.6 Runs Saved = 22.62 Total Run Production)

2009 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins
2008: 84-77 (3rd NL East, 7.5 games back)

At some point, the people who regularly pick the Marlins to finish 71 – 91 are going to finally understand that General Manager Larry Beinfest knows what he’s doing.  Florida has fielded a competitive team every year but one in the last six seasons.  This year, management feels like it has a young staff that rivals the team that won the World Series in 2003 (Burnett, Beckett, Willis, Penny), and returns the core of a batting order that features three players who might all hit 30 homers.  This year, the outfield will be more mobile, the infield will have more experience, and the young arms will have a chance to shine.

Looking Back on 2008

The Marlins were one of the surprise teams in baseball (again), getting off to a solid start in April and May, and finding themselves in first place for a good chunk of the spring.  A weak June, where the hitting slowed and the starting pitching struggled mightily, sent them back to third place.  However, the Marlins wouldn’t fall to the bottom.  Instead, they rifled through July to hang near the top of the division.  After the all-star break, the bats slowed – Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida all tanked – just as the rotation was overhauled.  So, despite replacing Rich VandenHurk, Burke Badenhop, Mark Hendrickson, and Andrew Miller with Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibel Sanchez (to go along with Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen), giving the Marlins a strong rotation and having the best single month ERA, the team struggled to win 11 games.  The bullpen didn’t help either – Kevin Gregg’s balky knee and Reynal Pinto’s return to earth appeared to end Florida’s chances.

Even then, the Marlins wouldn’t die.  In late September, the Marlins won nine in a row and looked like they might suddenly repeat the Rockies Run of 2007 only to lose to Philadelphia and finish in 3rd with 84 wins.  With the strong finish and the improved rotation, the Marlins looked forward to 2009.

Tell me about that offense

If nothing else, the Marlins hit a LOT of homers.  They have one or two guys who can run, they have one or two guys who might hit close to .300, but they have a lot of guys who put the ball in the seats.

The infield offense was a single Jorge Cantu homer away from being the first to have all four starters hit 30 homers.  Hanley Ramirez is an offensive force, a 30/30 man who added 92 walks to his stat sheet, and scored 125 runs.  Dan Uggla had an unbelievable May that was so good (12 homers, .347 average) that it made up for two months of nothing (July, August).  The new Kansas City Royal, Mike Jacobs, hit for power but not much else.  Jorge Cantu looked like the hitter he was for Tampa Bay in 2005 and might be heading into his prime.  No other infield, including Philadelphia’s three MVP candidates, had such a broad impact on the offense.

The outfield, however, struggled to keep up.  Josh Willingham had only one good month.  Jeremy Hermida, coming off a 2007 where it looked like he might live up to his first round draft pick status, lost his way after the all-star break.  Cody Ross was a pleasant surprise and should have played more.  The usual centerfielder was the amazing Alfredo Amezega, who doesn’t do much other than hit a few singles.  The fifth outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, hit like a player who used to hit well.

Behind the plate, Matt Treanor struggled with injuries, Mike Rabelo played indifferently and was sent to AAA.  Part of the team’s success was finding John Baker, who hit .299 and reached base 40% of the time during the last two months of the season.

Defensively:

In 2007, the defense was the weakest part of the Marlins game.  In 2008, they battled it to a draw.

The catching was below average and mistake prone, and neither Baker, Rabelo, or Treanor could stop the running game.  Baker was the worst of the throwers, but his bat makes him the first choice to start in 2009.

The infield was slightly better than average.  Uggla and Ramirez were both slightly better than average in terms of range.  Uggla was especially good making many more good plays than bad, and helping turn two.  Ramirez cut down on his errors and made a few more plays.  If you watched both Jacobs and Cantu, you’d think they weren’t very mobile.  They’re not.  But the statistics show that they weren’t awful.  Cantu was dead even average in terms of range but makes a few too many errors, while Jacobs was just slightly below average at first and not helping in terms of being dependable.  Of the backups, only Andino (at second base) looks like a truly better defender, and since everybody who started hit, the defense provided was gravy.

Amezega is a surprisingly good outfielder; when you see him every day you realize just how skilled a fielder he is.  Cody Ross is mobile enough to play center, and solid in left or right.  Jeremy Hermida is mobile but awkward.  The primary backups, Luis Gonzales and Josh Willingham aren’t mobile, though Willingham gives good effort.  Putting Maybin in center, who looks truly amazing, and moving Ross to right will make what was a reasonably solid outfield even better.

Now Pitching…

The rotation featured only two guys who didn’t miss starts, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, and rotated out weaker starters once Josh Johnson and Anibel Sanchez got healthy and Chris Volstad was ready to go.

Nolasco started getting his curve over for strikes, becoming the staff ace and winning 15 games.  Scott Olsen kept the ball in the park, appeared to mature on the mound, and kept his team in games.  While Nolasco was 22 runs better than the average starter in his 212.1 innings, he gave up a few homers.  What helped was having stunning control (only 42 walks against 186 strikeouts).  Olsen, on the other hand, was just a good number four starter.  He wasn’t special but he was steady.

The rest of the rotation improved when the Marlins switched out Andrew Miller (-22) and Mark Hendrickson (-18), and no longer needed to use Burke Badenhop (-9) when Josh Johnson (+9) Chris Volstad (+14), and Sanchez joined the rotation.  Sanchez was not nearly as solid (-8), but was still a step up over Miller or Hendrickson.

The bullpen was tolerable.  Kevin Gregg was great for four months, and not so good down the stretch, but Matt Lindstrom picked up some of the slack in September.  For three months, Reynal Pinto avoided problems caused by his lack of control until it caught up to him in August and September.  As good as Joe Nelson and Doug Waechter were, they were negated by Ryan Tucker, Taylor Tankersley, and Eulogio De La Cruz, who were scary bad in major league tryouts.

Forecasting 2008:

There is a lot of optimism in Florida, and I would tend to agree.  Let’s start with the pitching.

Josh Johnson is great, but has never made it to 160 innings.  He potentially could be twenty runs better than average.  Realistically, he’ll be five runs better than average for every 50 innings he pitches.  Nolasco was amazing last year – let’s hope he stays equally solid, but he might fall back just a little from last year.  Volstad could be a pretty solid third starter.  If he keeps his quality for 180 innings, he would be solid and likely 15 runs better than average.  It’s the bottom slots featuring Sanchez and Miller that make me nervous.  Miller hasn’t been that good and seems to be off his game until the third inning.  Sanchez was good as a rookie and seems to have mound savvy, but before his injury wasn’t very good and at the end of last year, he wasn’t all that great either.  Either could improve, but I’m not confident both will.  If both pitch 180 innings, they’ll cancel each other out.  Granted, there will be no Hendrickson, which is a huge benefit, and if they only need to get 10 starts out of Badenhop or someone else, that’ll be good.  The optimist says an improvement of 30 runs over last year.

The bullpen will feature some lively young arms.  Lindstrom hits 100 once in a while, but his fastball is flat.  If his slider stays strong, he’ll be okay.  Former Royal Leo Nunez might be okay here, and Kensing might help.  Badenhop should be better as a long relief option – his pitches moved so much he had a hard time finding the strike zone, something that hadn’t been a problem in the minors.  He may start the year in AAA.  Scott Proctor was signed to a one-year deal.  Last year with the Dodgers, Proctor suffered through elbow tendinitis, having his first off season as a professional, but it was after two strong seasons where he appeared in 83 games each year.  Still, Gregg wasn’t bad and a few othes were really good (Joe Nelson, Doug Waechter, and Arthur Rhodes, all of whom are gone).  Just like 2008, though, there will be a few undependable arms, so the net result will likely be no change.  Jose Ceda looks like Lee Smith, but he’s a year away.

Defensively, there is a chance for improvement just by getting Maybin in the lineup and Willingham or Gonzalez off the field.  Also, if Gaby Sanchez plays first instead of Jacobs, the infield could be even more airtight.  The gain could be an additional ten run improvement.

Offensively, the Marlins have a formidable lineup.  Ramirez, Hermida, Cantu, Ross, Uggla, and Baker will hit.  Sanchez looks like a Mark Grace type, but for all the power Jacobs provided, he hit .243 with a low On Base Percentage.  So, it will be a wash at that position.  The potential for Hermida to improve will probably wash out with any decline by another player (Cantu?  Uggla?), and if Maybin is slightlyover matched as a hitter, it’s not going to be a huge loss since Amezega isn’t a run producer anyway.  I’m not as convinced that the bench hitting will be as strong.  The 2008 Marlins had some depth, while the 2009 Marlins look a little thin offensively.  Emilio Bonafacio and Jay Gibbons are around (Gibbons got a Non-Roster Invite to spring training), Wes Helms is still here.  If the Marlins get someone else – perhaps Dallas McPherson – to contribute, it might be okay.  But I think the offense will lose ten runs from last year.

All things considered, though, it’s a team that should win 85 games and be in the hunt for a wild card spot, and that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.  They have been in the hunt more often than not over the last six seasons.  (I see that Peter Gammons finally agrees with my assessment, telling a Baseball Tonight preview show audience that they will be in the hunt into the final week of the season as his long shot pick.  It’s a safe long shot pick.)

Down on the Farm…

The Marlins moved their AAA franchise a bit closer to home, leaving Albuquerque for New Orleans.  That means when a prospect hits .300, he’ll be a legitimate prospect.  In New Mexico, everyone hits about .320 with some power.  The best hitters there were guys who had failed in previous trips, including Brett Carroll, who is not an awful fifth outfielder.  Only Eulogio De La Cruz really pitched well there and earned a trip to the bigs.

The AA Carolina Mudcats provided the real home for prospects, such as Gaby Sanchez (17 – 92 – .314) and Cameron Maybin.  Chris Volstad made the roster after a strong start, but Ryan Tucker (5 – 3, 1.58) and William Glen (9 – 4, 2.01 87Ks in 94 innings) actually fared better.  One of these guys will replace somebody in the rotation if he gets a strong run in AAA.  Chris Mobley fanned 70 in 58 innings as the closer and will eventually make a roster in the future.  This year’s AA franchise will be a bit closer to home, moving to Jacksonville, FL.

Logan Morrison was the top hitter for the High A Jupiter Hammerheads (13 – 74 – .332).  Teen Michael Stanton (39 homers) and Bryan Peterson mashed the ball for the Low A Greensboro Grasshoppers, but so did a lot of guys (and the pitchers were equally mauled).  The best lower level pitcher may be Georgia Southern grad Andrew Battisto, who fanned 101 in 81 innings and walked only 11, winning eight and losing just one for the Grasshoppers.  What made that season especially impressive was a strong ground ball/fly ball ratio – so not only did he strikeout a lot of batters, but the batted balls were kept in the park.