Best and Worst Pitchers in the AL for 2009; And Other Notes…

Earlier this week, I posted my list of the top pitchers in the NL and explained my methods.  Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.  We’ll get into this in more detail when we hand out defensive awards next week.

Then, I compare what an average pitcher would have done with what that pitcher did – and come up with a “runs saved” or “extra runs allowed” ranking.  Nobody saved his team more runs than did Zack Greinke last year.  Zack Greinke had a really low ERA over more than 220 innings despite pitching in a park that helps hitters a little bit and having a rather poor defense behind him.  As such, his season is the best season I have tracked since I started doing this in 2005.

Top Pitchers (by Runs Saved)

65.61 – Zack Greinke (KC)
47.11 – Roy Halliday (TOR)
33.22 – Jon Lester (BOS)
32.14 – Felix Hernandez (SEA)
27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
26.51 – Cliff Lee (CLE)
25.74 – C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
25.73 – Justin Verlander (DET)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
20.80 – Jered Weaver (LAA)
20.57 – Kevin Millwood (TEX)
20.09 – Josh Beckett (BOS)

21.61 – Jarrod Washburn (SEA) – but -13.29 in DET

In fact, it’s not even close – Greinke had as good a season as we’ve seen by a pitcher in a long, long time.  Imagine if he had done this for 40 starts instead of 33, with a team like Seattle.  He MIGHT have had an ERA around 1.70 and a won-loss record of something like 27 – 4.  From this, you can see that Halliday instead of Cliff Lee will be a slight step up for Philadelphia and would have been a more serious contender for the Cy Young Award (in my book) had not Greinke been more dominating.

Another thing of interest – four relievers were good enough to sneak onto the list of pitcher saving his team more than 20 runs, led by Andrew Bailey.  Let’s use that to show the list of the top relievers in the AL last year.

Top Relievers

27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
18.41 – Matt Guerrier (MIN)
18.09 – Darren O’Day (TEX)
17.04 – Matt Thornton (CHW)
17.04 – Michael Wuertz (OAK)
16.79 – Darren Oliver (LAA)
16.41 – Jose Mijares (MIN)
16.16 – Brandon Lyon (DET)
15.87 – Joakim Soria (KC)

A couple of things – usually the top guys are middle relievers or set up men with great ERAs in 70 innings.  There are a couple here – Thorton, Wuertz, and Oliver for example.  Still – the top four guys were KILLER closers in 2009.

Worst Pitchers

-37.04 – Andy Sonnestine (TB)
-33.26 – Fausto Carmona (CLE)
-24.16 – Chien-Ming Wang (NYY)
-22.81 – Jason Berken (BAL)
-21.45 – Derek Holland (TEX)
-20.71 – Luke Hochevar (KC)
-21.02 – Chris Jakubauskas (SEA)
-20.38 – Jose Contreras (CHW)
-19.59 – Armando Galarraga (DET)
-19.17 – Rich Hill (BAL)
-18.36 – Garrett Olson (SEA)

-23.47 – Scott Kazmir (TB) – but positive 11.34 in LAA

If you had Andy Sonnestine on your fantasy team last year, you didn’t read my Tampa Rays Team Profile that pointed out that many of the Rays pitchers weren’t as good as you thought because the team defense in 2008 was amazingly good.  In 2009, Bartlett was hurt, and Upton struggled, and Aki Iwamura went down, and Carlos Pena looked a little older (and then left to an injury).  Sonnestine may throw strikes, but they sure do get hit a lot.

Hopefully, Fausto Carmona and Chien-Ming Wang can figure things out.  Two years ago, these guys won nearly 40 games combined – and now they are #2 and #3 on the wrong list.

And, if you are scrolling down to the NL List, note that the list contained a bunch of Brewer and Padre pitchers.  In the AL, only Seattle doubled up by having two guys get pounded around – bad pitching was more evenly distributed…

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2009 Season Forecast: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners
61 – 101 (Last, AL West 39 games back)
Runs Scored: 671
Runs Allowed: 811

2008 in Review:

Many, many teams saw the acquisition of Erik Bedard and thought the Mariners would be really, really good – a contender for the AL West crown.  Instead, they had a hard time scoring runs, a harder time preventing them, and even won fewer games than they should have considering that they had the largest gap in runs allowed to runs scored (opponents outscored the Mariners by 140 runs) than anyone in the AL.

In short, they were a team with odd splits, some bad decisions, and the worst record in the American League.

Actually, the Mariners should have been around .500 in April and June, but they underperformed.  An 8 – 20 May put them well out of the race in a hurry, and by the All-Star break, they were working to acquire some warm bodies.

Decisions that didn’t work out?  Erik Bedard was a good acquisition, but he missed more than half the season.  But someone should be held responsible for racing out and giving millions to Miguel Batista (4 – 14, 6.26).  Ouch.  And who’s idea was it to sign Carlos Silva?  (4 – 15, 6.46).  Yes – Silva doesn’t walk anybody, but he’s VERY hittable.  And, some prospects aren’t panning out…  Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement combined to hit about .212 in more than 440 at bats – a lot of outs.  Throw in two or three more off seasons, and you can see where this is headed.

The odd splits?  The Mariners won just one road game in both May and September, and just one home game in June.  Those three splits combined for a 3 – 38 record.  Oh, and lefties couldn’t get left handed hitters out.  In that situation, opponents hit .300, with a .371 on base percentage.

Tell Me About the Offense…

Lousy – and in need of a serious facelift.

The infield featured Richie Sexton, who was released after hitting .218 with 11 homers in half a season.  His replacement, Jeff Clement, hit .227 with only 5 homers.  Bryan LeHair didn’t hit much, either.  Mike Sweeney would have been an improvement if he could stay off the DL – but he can’t.  He’s usually only asked to DH – and his back won’t let him do that much any more.  Jose Lopez was surprisingly productive at second, with 41 doubles and 17 homers.  However Yuniesky Betancourt needed an amazing September to close with production that remains below league average.  At least Adrian Beltre hit well, 25 – 77 – .266, but has never hit anything like that 40+ homer season that got his big contract.  Miguel Cairo played a lot of positions and didn’t help the offense too much.

Ichiro Suzuki continues to slap hits all over the field, generating more than 100 runs of offense by getting on base, but he’s not one of the great offensive dynamos in right field.  He has no power at all, with a .386 slugging percentage.  And his OBA is .363, not .400.  Raul Ibanez is their best hitter – driving in 110 runs without missing a game (you’d never know he was closer to 40 than 30).  He’s in Philadelphia now, and will be very, very difficult to replace.  The third outfielder was a disappointment – Brad Wilkerson, Balentien, Jeremy Reed.  Willie Bloomquist got on base a little, but after that does little to help an offense score runs.

The catchers, led by Kenji Johjima and his power-free .227 batting average didn’t put any runs on the board.  And, the DHs – the retired Jose Vidro – were hopeless.  (Except the rare Mike Sweeney days.)

Defense:

Johjima and Jamie Burke weren’t horrible.  For all the baserunners allowed, few stole second.  Clement didn’t stop anybody from stealing, but his best shot is to find his swing and play first base.  Overall, they score poorly because the team record and ERA were awful, and they don’t score well in terms of mobility (assists per game that aren’t stolen bases).  Maybe teams didn’t need to bunt off of these guys (and they didn’t).

The infield wasn’t too bad, but they had holes.  Sexton is an awful fielder and the infield got better the minute he moved out of town.  Lopez has a bit of range, but is error prone.  Beltre appears to have lost a step, and Betancourt’s range is slightly below average – and his reputation for not hustling isn’t going to help his range.  He makes a lot of errors, too.

The outfield is okay – Suzuki’s range in center was pretty good, but his range in right (despite his speed) was actually below average.  Ibanez is league average – impressive for his age.  Balentien is okay in right, but neither he nor Jeremy Reed are really any good in center.  Bloomquist covers a lot of ground in center, but didn’t get too many innings there.

Now Pitching:

The rotation should have been better.  Felix Hernandez made 30 starts and was solid.  Bedard was okay for 15 starts, but missed the rest of the year with a bum shoulder.  Jarrod Washburn was disappointing and either needs to learn another pitch or accept that he’s fifth starter material.  His record was poor (5 – 14), but some of that was offense, too.  However, Batista was 27.5 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Silva was even worse – 32 runs below average.  Ryan Feierabend would have been in that league, but he only made eight scary starts.  R.A. Dickey looks like a young Miguel Batista, and that’s not going to help any.

The bullpen lost closer J.J. Putz, but Brandon Morrow was solid in his place.  Roy Corcoran had a solid season in middle relief, though his lack of strikeouts makes me think it was a fluke.  Mark Lowe isn’t long for the majors if he pitches like this, but Ryan Rowland-Smith was very good pitching as a starter or reliever.  I’d put him in the rotation.  Sean Green pitched a lot – but won’t be here as he was signed by the Mets.

Forecasting 2009:

We’re talking about a team that has to close the gap between runs scored and allowed by 140 runs to get to .500.  Let’s see what we got.

A full season of Erik Bedard would help, and Rowland-Smith instead of Silva means the potential for 30 or 40 runs of savings.  Clement instead of Sexton could be 10 runs of improvement in the defense.  Franklin Gutierrez is a great outfielder, he might be worth 10 runs, too.  I just don’t see any other defensive option – unless whomever takes over in left field (likely Balentien) is going to that much better than Ibanez.  Besides, with Putz gone, is Brandon Morrow a closer or starter?  Batista could become a closer (I wouldn’t, though he did it a few years ago for Toronto), or you could try Mark Lowe or somebody.  But I don’t know how it’s going to be better than last year’s bullpen – I don’t see the depth.

Offensively, Balentien is no Ibanez – that could be 30 runs less in offense.  Franklin Gutierrez arrives to play the outfield from Cleveland – I like what brings.  He’ll help out some – he’s 15 runs better than Bloomquist and Reed combined, it not more, and plays better in the field.  I know Ken Griffey, Jr. is back – and that’s great for ticket sales, but he’s not an offensive force anymore.  Still, as badly as Jose Vidro was, he’s probably worth 20 runs of improvement.  The one BIG improvement might be giving Russell Branyan, a free agent signing, a shot to play DH.  He might be so happy to have a full-time job, he’d improve the offense 50 or 60 runs by himself by playing first or DH.  Clement or Johjima might do better at the plate – 10 more runs from the catcher’s spot.

Let’s add it up.  Instead of giving up 811 runs, they might get it to 751.  Instead of scoring 671 runs, they might score 735.  That means a record of about 79 – 83, which would still be a pretty solid improvement.  The lineup is better than what they had last year, and the rotation could be better, while the bullpen is a question mark.  I’ll buy 79 wins.

The real question is this:  If they are any good in July, are they going to make a run at winning the division, or sell off Washburn and Lopez and Beltre?  I sure hope not.  One more starter and a legitimate extra hitter might make this team the division winner.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Tacoma has a few players who, on the surface, look like they might help – but remember to discount stats in the PCL…  The best prospect was Jeff Clement, who was hitting .335 with power, but hasn’t yet panned out in the majors.  That means the 23-year-old Wladimir Balentien (.266 with serious power) shouldn’t be expected to hit .280, but more like .220.  Matt Tuiasosopo, son of Manu, may have a future as a third baseman, but he’s not ready yet.  If he raises his numbers from 13 – 73 – .281 to, say, 20 – 90 – .320, I’d say he’s ready.  He’s a kid though – just 23.  Infielder Luis Valbuena might be okay – just 22, gets on base, can run – but not a really high batting average.  If he gets on base, though, he’s a potential upgrade over Betancourt.

In terms of pitchers, the Mariners gave a shot to anyone with good control already (R.A. Dickey, Feierabend, Chris Jakubauskas).  None are legitimate prospects.

AA West Tennessee (the Diamond Jaxx) have one pitcher I like – reliever Shawn Kelley, who has control, power, and a little record of success.  He’s a future bullpen guy.  Catcher Adam Moore hit .319 with some power; if he’s going to take Johjima’s spot, he needs a solid year in AAA in 2009.  Michael Saunders is a young speedy outfielder with a future – could be a centerfielder or left fielder if he picks it up in AAA next year. 

The guys at High Desert (A+) to look for?  I like teenaged infielder Carlos Triunfel, who has a little power and a lot of speed – and a whole lot of upside.  Gregory Halman is 20 and already has signs of being a power hitter.  In Wisconsin, Michael Pineda looks like a potential ace starter (8 – 6, 1.95 – good K/W numbers), and Nathan Adcock is a starter with a live arm – perhaps too live (13 WPs).  2007 first round pick Phillippe Aumont is roaring through the minors with killer stuff.  He’ll be in the bigs by the end of 2010 at this rate.

2009 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles
2008: 68-93 (5th AL East, 28.5 games back)
Runs Scored: 782
Runs Allowed: 869

With the trade of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard to Houston and Seattle respectively for prospects, 2008 represented the first year of a rebuilding plan in the American League’s toughest division.  But these Orioles weren’t half bad.  Sure, they were 22 – 50 inside their division, but actually above .500 against everyone else (46 – 43).  The reason?  The Orioles had a decent offense and a handful of young pitchers finding their way.  It’s a good time to be a Baltimore fan – just don’t expect to make the playoffs until a rotation anchor or two can be found.

Looking Back on 2008

With 782 runs scored, the Orioles finished in the middle of the league in terms of scoring – just a few runs behind the Yankees.  What they lacked was pitching and defense – having allowed 869 runs, which was next to last in the American League.

Baltimore got off to a great start – winning sixteen in April and fighting for the division lead for the first month.  Things slowed in May thanks to a streak against their own division where they lost ten of thirteen, but a solid June followed.  Even though the leaders in the division were starting to pull away, the Orioles were still five games over .500 as late as June 20th.  Heck, if Toronto had a 39 – 34 record at this point in the season, the way they finished, the Blue Jays might have won a playoff spot.

Instead, the Orioles got cold after the all-star break.  Ending a five-game losing streak had them at .500 for the last time on July 11th, and from that point on, Baltimore was a non-factor, losing a few games each month to .500 until September, when playing rookies killed the overall record.  The Orioles went 5 – 20 to close the season, ruining what had been, until then, a reasonably successful summer in Camden Yards.

Tell me about that offense

Behind the plate, the new Cincinnati Red, Ramon Hernandez, held his own.  He provided a little power, and a .250+ batting average, but not much else. Hernandez has actually slipped some from his performance in 2006, which didn’t help, but his backup, Guillermo Quiroz, couldn’t hit .200 in 134 at bats.

The infield was reasonably strong at two spots.  Third baseman Melvin Mora had a decent enough season, driving in 104 runs and batting .285.  Second sacker Brian Roberts is a great leadoff hitter, just missing .300, hitting 51 doubles, adding some triples and homers, a lot of walks, and 40 stolen bases in 50 chances.  Kevin Millar struggled to hit .234, but even that had a few homers and some walks.  For the position, that’s not good enough and he’s likely to move to a bench role with another team in 2009.  Where the Orioles really struggled was finding a consistent option at short.  Of the guys playing at least 200 innings (and nobody played more than 400 innings there), the best hitting option was former White Sox prospect Alex Cintron, who hit .286 but with little power or other helpers.  The rest averaged about .200 as a group, including Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum, and Juan Castro.

The outfield featured rookie Adam Jones, who hit .270, but showed room for power potential, a little speed, but not much else at this stage.  As such, he’s mildly below average as a hitter, but if he could step forward one or two notches, he could help.  Luke Scott came over from Houston and hit well enough, with 23 homers and showing some plate discipline.  However, his occasional platoon partner, Jay Payton, struggled at the plate – so the net result wasn’t exactly positive.  Rightfielder Nick Markakis continued to show growth as a future star, hitting for power (20 – 87 – .306) and getting on base.

If Markakis wasn’t the best hitter on the team, it was Aubrey Huff, who had a career season (32 – 108 – .304.)  Both scored about 7.5 runs per 27 outs, and anchored the offense.  Only Oscar Salazar hit well off the bench, and he didn’t have 100 plate appearances.

Defensively:

Baltimore pitchers worked with a defense that was not quite league average…  The league turned converted 68.6% batted balls in play into outs.  Baltimore finished at .68.5%.

Around the horn, Mora and Millar was just a touch above average, while Brian Roberts was just a touch below league average.  Most of the shortstops had decent defensive stats except Bynum, so while the offense at short was lacking, the defense was not.  However, the team was rather weak in terms of turning double plays in part because there were a lot of flyball pitchers and Roberts was working with a different partner most of the season.

Markakis and Scott were a shade off of league average, while Adam Jones was slightly worse than that.  When Jay Payton played, he couldn’t hit but the ball found his glove.  Luis Montanez, however, played three outfield positions and never seemed to be standing where the ball was hit…  Between them all, the outfield was actually below average and with a fly ball staff, this was a problem.

Hernandez had an awful year throwing out runners – 99 of the 123 people who tried to steal were successful.  Throw in the fact that he was slightly above average in terms of mistakes per game and that the staff’s ERA and winning percentage wasn’t very strong, my system suggests that Hernandez was among the weaker catchers in the AL.

Now Pitching…

Only two pitchers had really strong seasons for Baltimore.  Starter Jeremy Guthrie was about 19 runs better than the average pitcher, going 10 – 12, with good control through a few too many balls left the yard.  It was the second solid season for Guthrie, who is far and away the ace of the staff.  Middle reliever Jim Johnson didn’t allow a homer all season, which kept his ERA down, and despite having ordinary walk and strikeout data was also valuable for the Orioles.

Unfortunately, too many guys were WAY below average here.  Among the rotation starters, Brian Burres (-21 runs), Daniel Cabrera (-14 runs), Radhames Liz (-22 runs), Garrett Olson (-29 runs), and Steve Trachsel (-20 runs in 8 starts) got the Orioles in the hole early all too often.  Chris Waters came up and had 11 middling to below average starts with a 5.01 ERA and was an improvement.

The bullpen had Chad Bradford for a while, and George Sherrill had 33 saves, but they weren’t by any means awesome.  Sherrill’s ERA was 4.73, so he wasn’t setting the AL on fire as the Orioles’ fireman.  Most of the other relievers, including Dennis Sarfate, Lance Cormier, Jamie Walker and others struggled to put up league average numbers.  Compare that to the staffs of Boston, New York, or Tampa (much less Toronto), and you can see where the team needs to improve.

Forecasting 2009:

Ideally, the Orioles would like to see a little more offense, but more importantly, they have to find ways to keep the other team from scoring runs.  To get to .500, you’re talking about cutting more than 100 runs from the runs allowed, which means finding six decent pitchers and improving the outfield defense.

Offensively, the changes start at catcher (Greg Zaun for Ramon Hernandez, with Matt Wieters possibly getting his shot at some point this season), as well as first base (Millar is gone, with Ty Wigginton here).  Cesar Izturis arrives from St. Louis to play short – he’s not a championship quality hitter, but will be an improvement over the crew who played here last year.  It looks like the Orioles will not be trading Brian Roberts (they shouldn’t), which helps, and if Melvin Mora stays productive, the infield will be solid.  Defensively, they are probably 5 to 10 runs better, and offensively they are probably 15 runs better.

The outfield has added Felix Pie and Ryan Freel, but I don’t see how either of them will take Jones, Scott, or Markakis out of the lineup.  However, Pie could be the surprise – and as a defensive replacement, he’ll be solid.  The outfield of Scott, Jones, and Markakis can still produce runs, but more importantly there are a couple of bench performers who can contribute.  Offensively this is probably worth ten runs, and defensively, this could be worth ten runs, too.

Zaun is a better defensive catcher than Hernandez, but he’s been catching since Doug Ault was in Toronto (not really), and his contribution will not last the season.  Of the NRIs, Robby Hammock might play, and he can at least hit the ball some.  Chad Moeller and Guillermo Quiroz are in camp, but neither will be making a big contribution in the near future.  Matt Wieters has a job as soon as he’s ready.

One assumes that Huff should stay productive in his role, but he was so good last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s off by ten runs this season.

There are, oh, 120 pitchers in camp in Ft. Lauderdale hoping to make the Orioles roster in April.  Guthrie is still here, and Rich Hill arrives from Chicago trying to put his career back together.  Hill would be a step up if he brings his best game.  The rest are a bunch of unknowns.  Matt Alberts was better as a reliever, but he could start some and be an improvement of ten runs over somebody.  Brian Bass comes over from Minnesota where, as a reliever, he wasn’t special.  As a starter he was tolerable here in Baltimore.  He might get a shot.  Troy Patton came over with the Tejada deal, he might be ready for a few starts.  George Sherrill needs to up his performance – and someone else needs to help out in the bullpen.

The problem is that they are all unproven rookies or second year guys.  Could they be better?  Sure – but it’s just not something you can predict with any dependability.

As such, I see the runs scored/runs allowed breakdown to be somewhere around 800/850, which translates to about 76 wins.  In this division, that’s a tall order, but there are enough pieces to see a better team in Baltimore.  If one or two pitchers step up in the rotation – a Hill and a Sherrill, for example – suddenly these guys are approaching .500 – and that’s pretty impressive.  When a few more young arms make it to the majors, this team might be ready to compete for a playoff spot.

Down on the Farm…

AAA Norfolk’s best hitter was Oscar Salazar (13 – 85 – .316), who got a cup of coffee with the big league club and played well.  He could have slid into the first base slot, and may well get this job after spending a decade in the minors (he’s 30).  He’s just been blocked everywhere he’s been (Oakland, the Mets, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, and Cleveland), and he wasn’t a good enough middle infielder when he was younger.  However, with the ability to play the whole infield, he’s a good bench option.  Radhames Liz and Jim Miller pitched well enough to earn shots with the parent club last year.

Matt Wieters, the future catcher, hit .365 at AA Bowie in 208 at bats, with 12 homers and 51 RBI.  He can’t be far off…  Lou Montanez and Nolan Reimhold hit for power; Montanez had the higher batting average, but Reimhold has the better plate discipline.  David Hernandez and Chris Tillman led a quartet of Bay Sox pitchers to double-digit victories (the others were Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken, two other potential studs).  Both showed killer K/9 rates and will be in line for rotation spots by 2010 if not sometime this summer.  Julio Manon dominated as the closer – he’s just not a young prospect.  He’s 36 this summer.

Cole McMurray and Pat Egan led the hurlers at Aberdeen (High A), with closer Brandon Cooney (from nearby Florida Atlantic – near me, anyway) showing strong numbers.  Other than Wieters, the Frederick Keys also had first baseman Brandon Snyder (15 – 80 – .315) and pitchers Brandon Erbe and Jake Arrieta, who both had strong strikeout numbers if not solid won-loss records.