2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

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

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

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

Feeling Optimistic?

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

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

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

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

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

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

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

NOV (2011):

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

DEC (2011):

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

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

JAN (2012):

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

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

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

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

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

JULY:

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

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

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

Key Injuries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relief Pitchers:

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

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

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

Catchers:

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

Infielders:

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

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

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

Outfielders:

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

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

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

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

Down on the Farm:

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

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

Best guess on their record?

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

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

2012 Season Forecast: New York Mets

2011 Record: 77 – 85  (4th, NL East)
Runs Scored: 718  (6th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 742  (13th, NL)

For all the grief given to the stadium regarding how the deep fences kill home run totals, the problem wasn’t with the offense.  Rather, it was the pitching staff…

2011 Season Recap:

Mets ownership’s ties to the Madoff ponzi scheme created the backdrop for a team that started the process of unloading salaries and rebuilding the team.  The Mets weren’t an awful team, really.  They just didn’t have enough arms and the gloves in the field weren’t helping out any.

The Mets had a slow April, but actually had winning months until July and were two games over .500 at the trading deadline.  They were, too, out of it and decided to sell off players, starting with Francisco Rodriguez (who had gotten in hot water over a fight with his potential in-laws) and then moving outfielder Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for prospect Zack WheelerDavid Wright had his first truly off season, and missed two months with a stress fracture in his lower back, which didn’t help either.  Ike Davis sprained an ankle, getting a bone bruise, and missed most of the season.  Anyway – before it was over the pitching left them.  The Mets, who had only allowed ten runs or more in a game four times in the first four months, did so five times in the last two.  Mike Pelfrey looked like he was pitching through an injury,  Dillon Gee ran out of gas,  Jon Niese went on the DL, and both Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy missed three weeks with various injuries.

Starting Pitchers:

In 2011, the Mets featured Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano, and Jonathan Niese.  Once Dickey got out of April, he was the most dependable of the starters and the only one who pitched better than a league average arm (16 runs saved).  Pelfrey gave back 16 runs, Niese (who just got an extenstion) cost them 11, Capuano was -8, and Gee was -6.

Heading into 2012, the Mets have to hope Pelfrey returns to form (he has alternated between decent and poor seasons for the last four years – a poor man’s Bret Saberhagen?) and that Gee and Niese can make steps forward.  One advantage, however, may be the return of Johan Santana, who made his first start  (in nearly 600 days) on opening day.  If Santana can pitch 160 – 180 innings at about 80% of his former self, he’d improve the team by about 25 runs himself.  My fear is that Pelfrey could use a different approach and may not improve – and that leaves a big hole in the rotation.

Relief Pitchers:

Gone are the 2011 closer tandem of Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Isringhausen.  For 2012, the Mets imported the Toronto back end – Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, which should help improve the bullpen.  Another addition, Ramon Ramirez, arrives from San Francisco and will help, too.  The rest are holdovers from last season:  Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, and Miguel Batista – and this group has room to improve.  On the whole, this unit should be 15 to 20 runs better than last year.

Catchers:

Josh Thole is young and has room to improve.  The Mets catchers were not a very good lot – poor against the run, with a losing record, poor ERA, and (in part, thanks to Dickey) a bit mistake prone.  Ronny Paulino, a decent enough catcher, is gone now leaving Mike Nickeas as the #2.  Nickeas can’t hit as well, but his defensive skills may be better.

Infield:

Most of the infield remains intact from last year, with Jose Reyes leaving for Miami for $100+ million and a multi-year contract.  In his stead, Ruben Tejada gets the nod.  Tejada isn’t too bad – a slightly above average hitter, a better glove – but even saying that, it’s a 50 run hit from what Reyes delivered last year.

Daniel Murphy hit .320 and can play everywhere.  He’s earned a shot at being the regular second baseman.  Ike Davis will be back – a full season would help make up for some of the loss of Reyes.  And, a full season of David Wright could also pick up some slack.  Backing them up, Justin Turner is a useful player and Ronny Cedeno brings a glove to the middle infield slots.

Even if Davis and Wright come all the way back, it’d be hard to make up all 50 runs lost by losing Reyes.  I see this unit being down at least 25 runs from 2011.

Outfield:

Rightfielder Lucas Duda showed he has a bat and should be more mobile in the outfield than Beltran at this point.  Angel Pagan, who wasn’t horrible but appeared to struggle down the stretch, is gone – his replacement is former Giant Andres Torres, who is about the same level player but is coming off a down season.  In left you have Jason Bay, who might have a bounce back in him – Lord knows the Mets could use it.  Scott Hairston is a competent backup and Mike Baxter will get a shot as a fifth outfielder.

Prospects:

Many of the players at AAA Buffalo wound up getting a lot of time with the Mets, including Tejada, Nick Evans, and Lucas Duda.  Outfielder Fernando Martinez was lost to Houston in a roster shuffle – he looks like he might have been able to help, the Astros will find out for sure this year.  Pitcher Jenrry Mejia quickly made it to the bigs, but spent most of his 2011 AAA season on the DL.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was noted for his overall approach to the game and will be the first callup for New York if someone gets hurt in the outfield.

AA Binghampton featured a familiar name – Allan Dykstra, who had a line that looked like something off the back of his dad’s baseball card:  19 – 77 – .267, but is more of a free swinger and not much of a threat on the basepaths.  Josh Satin bombarded AA pitching and wound up getting a look at the majors.  Juan Lagares arrived after hitting .338 in A+ ball and continued to hit .370 after arriving.  If he continues to hit over .300 in AA or AAA, the 23-year-old will get a shot to play left field.  The top AA pitcher was Collin McHugh, who went 8 – 2, fanned 100 in 93.1 innings, and allowed just two homers.  Reliever Joshua Stinson moved through AA and got a shot at the big club in 2011 – he will start 2012 in AAA.

A+ Port St. Lucie featured Matt Den Dekker, who hit a well rounded .296 and flashed baserunning prowess and moved up to AA by mid-season.  Wilmer Flores and Pedro Zapata will move up – let’s see if they continue to progress as hitters.  The best arm is 2010 first round pick Matt Harvey, who fanned 92 in 76 innings and finished in AA.  Zack Wheeler, who came over for Beltran, has a live arm and will start 2012 in AA.

2012 Forecast:

Somebody has to finish last in what will certainly be the toughest division in baseball.  With the change in the fences, the team’s offense will LOOK better, but without Reyes and Beltran, the likelihood is that the offense will be a touch worse than last year – maybe 25 – 30 runs worse.  The pitching staff will be better, though, probably 40 runs better (even allowing that they will have a tougher time with the shorter fences at home).

The statistical profile suggests 80 wins – 690 runs scored and about 700 runs allowed.  I’m not sure I buy the system on this one.  You have four really good teams in the division and the Mets will likely be sellers at the trade deadline – even considering that they shed more than $50 million in salary from last year already.  The Mets could certainly win 80 games, but my hunch is that will be closer to 75.

Jimenez Tosses First Rocky No Hitter; Mets top Cards in 20 innings (and lots of old news)

Until last night, no Colorado Rockies pitcher had brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning – but Ubaldo Jimenez not only did that, he finished the job – cruising the last four innings and beating the Atlanta Braves.  Jimenez battled his control for five innings before his pitching coach, Bob Apodaca (a former Met, a team without a no-hitter in nearly 50 seasons) suggested that he pitch from the stretch to keep the ball in the strike zone.   After averaging more than 18 pitches an inning through five, Jimenez needed only 45 to finish the last four innings.  [MLB]

Funny story about that.  My friend, Steve Dubin, has Jimenez on his fantasy team – but was trying to protect an ERA and WHIP lead, so he left his starters on the bench.  So, he didn’t even get the fantasy points for the no-no.  Ouch.

Meanwhile, the Fox Sports team put in some overtime – the game of the week between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals was a scoreless affair through eighteen innings before the Mets finally got a run off of outfielder Joe Mather to open the nineteenth inning.  Mather was the tenth pitcher used by Tony LaRussa – and SECOND position player (Felipe Lopez pitched a scoreless 18th inning).  Meanwhile, the Mets trotted out nine pitchers.  The eighth was closer Francisco Rodriguez – who blew the save opportunity.  Rodriguez admitted he was tired – he had been up and down in the bullpen and threw at least 100 pitches before heading to the mound.  Mather, however, stayed out a second inning and the Mets reached him for a second run in the top of the twentieth inning.  Mike Pelfrey, who was itching for a chance to participate, became the 19th pitcher of the game and earned the save.  [MLB]

Looking ahead to today, the Mets are out of pitchers – a bunch of guys threw at least 2 innings and 30 pitches, so Pelfrey may have to close again today.  Both managers will be hoping the Sunday night game starters, John Maine and Adam Wainwright, go the distance.

From the Training Room…

Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was hit in the earflap of his helmet by a Vincente Padilla fastball, breaking two bones in his cheek.   With Rowand heading to the DL for two weeks, the Giants recalled infielder Matt Downs.

Wondering who Matt Downs is?  Downs was a 36th round draft pick in 2006 out of Alabama, but has made steady progress through the minors by hitting for a decent average, showing some power, and running the bases pretty well.  He even hit .372 in spring training this year…  Looking at his stats at Fresno, I think it transfers to a guy who might hit .250 with a dozen homers, a few walks, and ten or more steals, which on the Giants is an above average hitter…  I don’t know if he’ll stick but he became a better prospect than Kevin Frandsen, who was allowed to go to Boston instead.  Look for Downs to get some playing time – but he may not stay for long.

Royals infielder Chris Getz heads to the DL with an oblique strain that occurred diving into a base.  The Royals considered bringing back struggling infielder Mike Aviles, but brought back Alex Gordon instead.  Gordon, who missed most of last year following hip surgery, and then – feeling fit – broke his thumb diving into a base during a spring training game, may not be in the field right away.  [MLB]

Giants outfielder Mark DeRosa left Saturday’s game with a tweaked hammy.  He’s day-to-day.  [MLB]

Cubs pitcher (and Jayhawk alum) Tom Gorzelanny was drilled by a liner in the left shoulder and left the game for a pinch hitter in the third inning, but he says he won’t miss a start.  After getting drilled, Gorzelanny stayed in and finished his inning – he just didn’t stay in the game after that.  [MLB]

In this case, the injury might be an ego.  Addressing a story on FoxSports that ownership turned down offers from Cal Ripken, Jr. to become more involved with the Orioles operations, owner Peter Angelos said that if Cal wants to be a part of the team, he’d welcome that discussion.  [ESPN]

Angels closer Brian Fuentes is scheduling his minor league rehab in hopes of a mid-week return.  [MLB]

Indians closer (?) Kerry Wood will pitch a simulated game before heading to rehab and may return before May.  Wood is out with a sore back. [MLB]

Jarrod Saltalamacchia hopes to return to Texas, but his next rehab stint will be in AAA.  With soreness in his left shoulder and upper back, the Rangers want to see Salty catch nine innings before he returns next week.  [MLB]

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is on the DL with a strained calf.  The Phillies have been successful, in part, because so few regulars have spent any time on the DL…  (Brad Lidge isn’t a starter, but he’s spent the most time on the DL over the last couple of years.)  [FoxSports]

Pirates ace Ross Ohlendorf heads to the DL with back spasms…  In his place, the Pirates recalled starter Daniel McCutchen.  McCutchen faces the Reds, against whom he has his only MLB victory.  [MLB]

Orioles infielder Miguel Tejada strained a groin (hopefully his own) running the bases and is considered day-to-day.  Tejada, for all it’s worth, hasn’t missed a whole lot of games in his career.  [MLB]

Staying in Baltimore, outfielder Felix Pie strained his left shoulder batting on Thursday and was placed on the 15-day-DL.

Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan returned to the lineup this weekend after missing a couple of games with bruised left ribs sustained while making a game-saving diving catch on the hard warning track last Tuesday.  What he needs to feel better might be a few two-hit games…  [MLB]

Chan Ho Park, Yankee long reliever, headed to the DL with a hamstring strain that occurred while warming up in the bullpen.  If you injure yourself warming up, what does that say about your level of fitness?  [MLB]

Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron returned to the lineup this weekend after passing a kidney stone (must have been SOME kind of a stone!).  [MLB]

Royals outfielder Jose Guillen took time to discuss his leg injuries from 2009 and revealed that he had life-threatening blood clots during the off-season.  [MLB]

Old News…

Giants outfielder Fred Lewis was disappointed with his lack of playing time – so he requested a trade.  San Francisco obliged his request, sending him to Toronto for future considerations.  Fred Lewis himself broke the story on his Facebook page.

Police Blotter…

A New Jersey man was arrested for his obnoxious behavior at a game after similar behavior got his friend removed from the stadium.  Angered by that, Matthew Clemmens then made himself vomit on a man and his 11-year-old daughter.  The man on the receiving end was an off-duty police officer who showed remarkable restraint by not pummeling Clemens (which, admittedly, I would have considered if someone had done that to me or my son).  Seriously – some credit is due the off-duty cop for his restraint.  Clemmens gets charged with a variety of offenses (disorderly behavior, assault, reckless endangerment) and should get to spend time in jail.  He should also be banned from attending any sporting event.  [FoxSports]

Music mogul Jay-Z is suing David Ortiz because Ortiz named his new Dominican nightclub 40/40 – the same name used by Jay-Z in nightclubs he owns…  [FoxSports]

Longest Division Games in the AL?

Boston – New York average 3:39 – well over the league average of about 2:56.  Joe Posnanski did the work – read his article.

From the Transaction Wire…

Twins pitcher Jose Mijares heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Coming up from Rochester is pitcher Alex Burnett – a converted starter that has been nearly unhittable as a reliever since 2009.

The Braves need an extra arm and are extending a short stint to pitcher Jonny Venters.  If you saw his career stats, you’d know he’s a non-prospect.

With Esmerling Vasquez struggling, the Diamondbacks are giving a few innings to Kris Benson…  He’s still around?  Benson pitched for Texas last year and had an ERA of about 8.50 – and hasn’t been below 4.00 since 2000 when he was still in Pittsburgh.  Isn’t Pedro Martinez still available???

Cards Getting Healthier; David Price is Back!

Rick Ankiel made it back to the lineup on Sunday, sending Tyler Green back to AAA Memphis. Colby Rasmus was so good in his callup that Ankiel is going to move to right field for the time being. This coming weekend, Ryan Ludwick returns. This, coupled with the hopes that Chris Carpenter could stay healthy is the type of thing that baseball writers will look at and wonder if this means that the Cards will win the NL Central.

X-Rays show a broken bone in Brandon Phillips’ thumb, but the Reds second sacker hopes that he will not require a DL stint and will be able to play when the swelling goes down. His teammate, Joey Votto, remains day-to-day with dizziness tied to an inner ear infection. Saturday, Votto hit a pair of homers. Yesterday, he sat.

Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta’s hamstring injury is bad enough to require a DL stint. Yorvit Torrealba gets the starts while AAA Catcher Paul Phillips gets the call to the big leagues. Phillips can play a little, but at 32 isn’t really a long-term prospect. You Royals fans may remember Phillips in any of four stints with the parent club between 2004 and 2007.

Yankees reliever Brian Bruney remains sidelined with elbow pain, but tests have shown no damage. He’s day-to-day and slightly nervous. Joba Chamberlain won’t miss his next start after getting drilled with a liner in the first inning of his last start.

Welcome to the majors (again), David Price, who gets the start on Monday for the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Rays had both middle infielders dinged up on Sunday. Jason Bartlett injured his shin and ankle in a collision at second base with Dan Uggla and will sit a day. Akinori Iwamura injured his knee when Chris Coghlan barrelled into him to break up a double play. Aki gets an MRI and possibly a DL stint.

Coghlan’s slide was hard – Aki had stepped to the inside of the bag after taking the throw from pitcher Dan Wheeler, so Coghlan leaned over and into him right as Aki planted his left foot – didn’t look bad and he looked like he felt bad about it right away. What was amazing about the play, however, was that John Baker saw what had happened and never stopped running around third base. Don’t the umps usually call time when this happens? They didn’t, and Jason Bartlett alertly took the ball out of Aki’s hand, threw home, and nailed Baker at the plate for a rather odd 1-4-6-2 DP.

K-Rod’s back feels much better. Could be pitching by mid-week. Apparently, he’s a big fan of the muscle relaxors and pain killers.

A fun play yesterday… Indian Grady Sizemore tripled, but the throw from right field got past third base. So, Sizemore headed home. Reds Left Fielder Johnny Gomes had raced in to back up third (way alert), saved the ball before it got to the dugout, and fired home. Sizemore juked right and dove over the reach of the catcher but was ruled out.

However, the third baseman Adam Rosales was sort of still in the baseline, and because he pulled his leg out of Sizemore’s way (not sure that Sizemore would have hit him either way), the third base umpire ruled that Sizemore was entitled to home because of interference. Dusty Baker argued – but to be honest, the home plate umpire was on the wrong side of the play at the plate anyway – Sizemore had eluded the tag.

So, the right result, the wrong call, and all you get to see is Baker getting angry and Gomes getting nothing for a really alert and smart play. Baker, by the way, looks like he’s lost a little weight.

Anyway – the run tied the score, but the Reds won in extra innings.

One last Reds note – Homer Bailey was awful in his start and was dispatched back to AAA. Granted, it’s tough to stick in the majors when you only get one start, but Bailey has a 7.01 ERA in 18 MLB starts and hitters like him to the tune of a .311 average. Cincy called up catching prospect Wilkin Castillo, a mobile Dominican who might have a chance to stick in the bigs if he gets a chance. He looks like a Miguel Olivo type.

Rehab assignments? Rick VandenHurk (Marlins) off to Jupiter; Chad Bradford (Rays) off to Charlotte.

Marcus Thames is back in AAA for the Tigers, and the Giants chose to call up some catching reinforcements, bringing up Eli Whiteside. He’s a defensive wizard, I guess, because he can’t hit. Off to AAA Fresno? Pat Misch, who was allowing hitters to bat .375 against him. His days as a prospect are likely over.

One Fan’s Agony and Other Baseball Notes…

Tough to be a Marlins fan right now… You start 11 – 1, then fall way below .500, now we’re watching a slew of players get shuttled back and forth between the bigs and either New Orleans or Jacksonville. Last night, errors and a dose of Matt Lindstrom led to a 10 – 3 loss (it was tied at 3 after seven)- and this on the heels of a 15 – 2 loss on Friday night. UGH!

My friend Steve Roberts came up with a great (Berman-esque) nickname for pitcher Reynal Pinto. “72” Watching him pitch, it makes sense – goes along nicely but it’s only a matter of time before something hits him and he explodes. Say it out loud… 72 Pinto.

The Cubs fan in me is struggling with the Cubs latest slide, as they can’t beat (or score on) the Padres. No wonder Piniella wants Hoffpauir in the lineup.

And, the Royals are on the wrong side of a slide facing the amazingly hot St. Louis Cardinals. My three favorite teams are all taking a beating.

How about the Mets? Can’t keep a healthy player in the lineup but they find ways to beat the Red Sox on back to back nights. Yesterday, Omir Santos homered off of Jonathon Papelbon in the 9th to win.

Let’s all give a quick salute to chemistry. A-Roid’s homer in the 9th off of Brad Lidge tied the score, leading to a 9th inning rally for the Yankees over Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi hit his 400th homer last night in Oakland’s loss to Arizona. (And a tough loss – leading 5 – 1 into the eighth, gave up four in 8th and lost in extras when they scored two, but allowed 3 in the 11th.)

I mentioned the Mets – last night Francisco Rodriguez’s back was so sore he couldn’t stand, much less walk. He’ll be out a few days for sure. It’s his first back injury, but apparently it was a doozy.

I mentioned the Royals – Luke Hochevar was sent back to AAA Omaha (bummer) and struggling Mike Aviles was placed on the DL with a strained right forearm. He’s had pain in that forearm since the spring, but the real pain was that .183 batting average. Willie Bloomquist is the new starting SS. Robinson Tejada also went to the DL (Shoulder Tendonitis). Coming back? Pitchers John Bale, Roman Colon, and infielder Tug Hulett.

Bale is returning after having thyroid surgery, while Colon is a reliever who had performed well in Omaha. He’s not a true prospect, already nearing 30 and having struggled in a few ML trips the last three years. He is a fly ball guy who gives up a few long balls… Tug Hulett is Tim’s son (Tim Jr, actually – Tug is a nickname). Tug went to Auburn, was drafted by Texas, went to Seattle, and came to the Royals in the off season. He’s actually an interesting player – very patient, has had good on base percentages, runs the bases well (96 steals, just 29 caught stealing) and has a little pop. It’s getting time for him to make it – got a cup of coffee last year and didn’t disappoint.

I mentioned the Marlins… Henry Owens is getting to rehab with Jupiter. The guy throws hard, but has no shoulder or elbow to carry the load. Good Luck and Hurry back!!!

Orioles starter Koji Uehara left last night’s game with Washington with a hamstring injury. Dave Trembley said he’s praying it’s not serious. It’s not like Baltimore has a lot of options for the rotation and many of their prospects are still a year or two away… They already lost a sold hitter to a thumb injury – Lou Montanez injured his thumb making a diving catch a few weeks ago and now is heading toward surgery, which would kill much of his season.

Cleveland placed Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey (taffy) on the DL. Jeremy Sowers (I said before, no prospect no matter what Baseball America thinks) and Rich Rundles get the call from Columbus.

The Angels put Shane Loux on the DL with shoulder tendonitis and recalled Rafael Rodriguez to log some mop up innings. He’s no prospect.

Rockies catcher Chris Ianetta is struggling with a hamstring injury. Michael Young’s injury was actually an ankle sprain and he’ll miss a few games.

Tom Glavine heads to Gwinnett for a rehab assignment. Good luck, Tommy. Won’t be many more of these to go and we’d like to see you one more time.

Couple of Newcomer Notes…

John Mayberry Jr. hit his first career homer in Yankee Stadium for the Phillies yesterday, a three-run shot. His teammates gave him the silent treatment in the dugout… Minnesota’s Anthony Swarzak, the Davie, FL grad, got the start last night and threw seven solid innings to beat Milwaukee for his first major league win.

Looking ahead to today’s games…

Cole Hamels vs. C.C. Sabathia in Yankee stadium. James Shields vs. Josh Johnson in the final game of the Florida Wars. Hope it don’t rain too hard there… Matt Palmer (5 – 0) faces Chad Billingsley (6 – 1) in LA – that’s a great matchup.

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

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

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

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

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

Looking Back on 2008

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

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

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

Tell me about that offense

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

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

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

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

Defensively:

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

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

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

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

Now Pitching…

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

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

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

Forecasting 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down on the Farm…

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

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

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

2009 Season Forecast: Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
100 – 62 (1st Place – AL West)
Runs Scored: 765
Runs Allowed: 697

2008 Season Summary:

Pretty simple, actually.  The Angels got off to a solid April, going 18 – 10, kept a winning record through May and June, then ran away with the division with a 19 – 6 July.  With a weak division, strong pitching, a closer having a record season, and just enough hitting, the Angels never had a losing month.

You know what’s really odd about the season?  They weren’t that good – rather, they weren’t as good as their record.  Based on the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed, you would expect them to win 90 games – still good, but not 100 wins good.

Four teams allowed fewer runs – one of them was Oakland – and nine teams scored more.  So, they weren’t blowing teams away.  When they got a lead, though, nobody could get past that bullpen – featuring the 62 saves of Francisco Rodriguez.  Heck, in close games Jose Arredondo won 10 and lost 2.  Five starters won 10 or more – that doesn’t happen very often at all.

What they were was a broadly talented team with few superstars having a bit more pitching than everyone else, and the ability to shut down games after the sixth inning.

How About That Offense:

The outfielders weren’t half bad.  Vlad Guerrero missed a little time, but still delivered punch, with 27 homers and a .303 average.  Torii Hunter, added from Minnesota, was just ordinary good – above average power and speed.  Garrett Anderson remains slightly above average offensively even as he ages.  The power numbers are down, but his batting average remains decent.  As always, he just doesn’t do anything else to get on base.  Backups Juan Rivera and Gary Matthews were okay, but actually below average offensive performers.

The infield was also a hair above ordinary.  Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar were a notch below average while Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman were a hair above average.  Until Mark Teixeira arrived, there were no bangers in the infield.  For all the talk about the two months that Manny Ramirez gave Los Angeles, was it that much better than what Tex did?  Teixeira batted .358, slugged .632, and drove in 43 runs in just 54 games.  Backups Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Macier Izturis were tolerable backups.

The combined performance of the catching was impressive – 29 homers, 91 RBI.  Of course, only Mike Napoli was really good.  Jeff Mathis hit .194, but with 42 RBI, so the few hits he had were important.

Tell Me About the Defense:

Defensively, the catching was tolerable – Mathis being the better of the two against the run (Napoli only caught 11 of 52 runners), far more mobile, though slightly more mistake prone.

The infield defense was above average – anchored by two good glovemen at first (Kotchman and Teixeira).  Howie Kendrick is slightly above average (1 play per 800 balls in play) and doesn’t hurt you on the double play or in making errors.  Erick Aybar is a gold glove candidate, while Chone Figgins is the best option at third (though Wood has more range).  Figgins was – 5 in terms of range, but doesn’t make mistakes, and so he doesn’t hurt you too much.

The outfield was average all the way around.  The best fielder is Gary Matthews, but he’s just everyone’s backup.  It’s time to admit that Torii Hunter is no longer the centerfielder he was five years ago – he just looks smooth.  Per 800 balls in play, Hunter is just one play better than average.  Matthews, by the way, was +10 – much better than Hunter, though in just 221 innings.  Garrett Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero were better than expected at this point by being league average.

Now Pitching:

The most complete rotation in the majors.  Ervin Santana was 24 runs better than the average pitcher and gave the Angels 219 innings.  Joe Saunders surprised everyone with 198 innings, won 17 games, and was 20 runs better than average.  John Lackey missed ten starts and still was 13 runs better than average.  Jered Weaver hasn’t blossomed into an ace, but he’s still slightly above average, too.  Only Jon Garland, who still went 14 – 8, was below the bar – 15 runs below average, but over 196.2 innings.  Dustin Mosely and Nick Adenhart picked up the missing 13 starts and weren’t ready yet but showed promise.

The bullpen was amazing, led by Rodriguez and the 14 runs he saved the team.  However, Arredondo was 17 runs to the good (42 hits in 61 innings), Scot Shields remained dependable, and Darren Oliver kicked in 72 solid innings.  Only the mop up guy, Justin Speier, was below average in any way.  Only Philadelphia had more bullpen weapons.

Looking Ahead to 2009:

The front four members of the rotation stay, and the lone weak spot (Garland) was allowed to leave.  Nick Adenhart or Dustin Moseley can be as good as Garland – at least not worse.

The bullpen lost Rodriguez and signed Brian Fuentes from Colorado – who, I am sure, is happy to be here.  I don’t buy that Arredondo can repeat his performance, and Joe Saunders might take a step back.  Darren Oliver won’t be 15 runs better than league average again.  I think it’s probably going to cost the Angels about 25 runs.

Defensively, Matthews is going to be a step up (it would be even better if he played center and moved Hunter to left or right).  Getting Vlad to the DH position and letting Juan Rivera play right isn’t going to be an improvement – so the net change will be balanced out.  And, the infield lost Teixeira to the Yankees – so the infield defense may lose 10 to 15 runs – maybe more – by playing Kendry Morales.

So – instead of allowing 697 runs, it might be more like 735.

Offensively, Matthews isn’t as good as Anderson, who is in Atlanta.  Hunter and Vlad may step a bit back.  The infield loses the big bat of Tex, but Morales will be better than Kotchman.  Still, the net loss will be another 30 runs.  So, the net runs scored will be around 735.

That puts Los Angeles at .500 – 81 and 81, and might not win the division.  My take on it is a disappointing second place.

Down on the Farm:

For the last three seasons, Baseball America has been calling Nick Adenhart one of the top two prospects in the chain.  Adenhart has been okay in AA and AAA, finishing 2008 with a 9 – 13 record in 26 starts, with less than promising command.  In fact, it’s gotten worse with each season in the minors.  I know people hit a ton in the PCL, but 75 walks in 145.1 innings should be a concern.  In his favor is his age – he’s just 22.  In fact, it’s hard to see who the prospect is at Salt Lake City.  Dustin Moseley got starts with the Angels but had a 6.94 ERA there.  Shane Loux was 12 – 6, doesn’t strike a ton of guys out, and is 28.  If Adenhart is a prospect, so is Nick Green, who had comparable numbers, is 23, and went 8 – 8.

Brandon Wood gets shots with the parent club and has real power, but the best hitter will be new first baseman Kendry Morales, who hit .341 at SLC with some power, makes great contact – but could be a little more selective at the plate.  Sean Rodriguez, a second baseman with power and discipline hit .306 with a .645 slugging percentage and a .397 OBP.  He won’t do that in the majors, but he can play.

No hitters at AA impressed me, but 23 year old Kevin Jepsen had a 1.42 ERA for Arkansas – a power pitcher who could work on his control a bit.  Steve Marek fanned 57 in just 46.2 innings and may be a reliever of the future.

Rancho Cucamonga (A+) featured several young arms, of which Sean O’Sullivan and Amalio Diaz stood out.  20 year old Alexander Torres will also get a long look in a couple of years.  He had nice strikeout numbers in ten starts.  Catcher HanK Conger is 20, hit .303 for the Quakes, and might be a long term Angel in 2012.