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: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

Feliz, Gonzalez Filing for Free Agency (and Catching Up on Old News…)

Taking time away from writing means  I have to catch up – so further down the page, I’ll add a few comments regarding things that happened last week while I was in New York on business and otherwise less available to write…

Top Stories…

Pedro Feliz will be joining the Free Agent market as the Phillies declined his $5.5 million option.  Feliz is barely a league average hitter (12 homers, .266 average) and a tolerable fielder.   Greg Dobbs, a left handed hitter with some skills may well be in line for the job.  Meanwhile,  I checked the minor league rosters, the best option might be Neil Sellers, who is a few years removed from Eastern Kentucky where he was drafted in the late rounds by Houston.  Sellers is 27 and just finished time at AA (again), so he’s not a long term prospect.  [SI]

Despite having more holes at the position than a good chunk of Swiss cheese, the Red Sox declined an option on Alex Gonzalez, worth $6 million.  I’d have passed, too, at that price.  Gonzalez may be back, but for less money.  Better hope Jed Lowrie comes back healthy and surprises with new found production… [ESPN]

Venezuela is reeling over another kidnapping of a baseball related individual.  This time, it’s former Mets pitcher Victor Zambrano’s mother who was taken from his farm.  An amazing and sad story – hopefully will end with all home safely.  Yorvit Torrealba wound up leaving the country after his son and uncle were kidnapped (and returned safely) and now lives in Florida.  [SI]

Taking Sides…

Former KC Star writer and now Sports Illustrated scribe Joe Posnanski agrees with me as regards the excessive resources the Yankees have.  (Since he is the more famous writer, perhaps it’s that I agree with him…)  [SI]

Meanwhile, Peter Gammons feels the need to make sure that Brian Cashman will still leak stories to him, and defends the Yankees for playing by the rules that allows them to do what they do.  [ESPN]

Guessing the Future of Big Name Pitchers…

Buster Olney dishes his thoughts on where the aces are heading – and other things – in one of the great blogs you’ll find online.

I know – Old News, but I missed it at the time…

Scott Proctor, a one time horse for the Dodgers and then signed as a free agent with the Marlins, only to be injured and admit a chemical dependency, signed with the Braves.  Proctor is coming off Tommy John surgery.  The nice person in me wishes him luck.  The Marlins fan hopes the Braves rue the day he was signed.

Seattle claimed Yusmeiro Petit off of waivers.  Petit was 3 – 10 with an ERA near 6.00 for Arizona.  Good luck with that.

Washington claimed another former Diamondback, Doug Slaten, off of waivers.  Slaten might be better than most of what Washington has at AAA, but he hasn’t looked that good with Arizona lately.

The Marlins moved the frustrating Jeremy Hermida to Boston for two young pitchers, Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez.  Hermida is TOO patient at the plate, refusing to swing until he has two strikes on him.  He’s awkward looking in the field, and yet his statistics show him to be reasonably mobile.   That being said, he’s uncomfortable diving or leaping at the wall – so it’s hard to say he’s really any good out there.  STILL – he was a first round pick and looked at some points like he might actually be really good and never turned that corner.  I’ll miss him, I think.  The Sox moved a guy who has looked pretty good at times in Hunter Jones, though Jones probably wishes he had a stronger 2009.  Earlier in the year, I thought he looked really ready for the show and another solid arm on a roster with too many solid arms.  If you are a Marlins fan, trust me – we need arms.  He’ll get seventh inning duty until he gets his feet wet.  The other new Marlin is 20-year-old Jose Alvarez, a string bean Venezuelan with upside but still rather unproven.

It’s hard to grade the trade, but after seeing this for five or six years now (maybe more), you have to trust Larry Beinfest.  He seems to find all sorts of guys that have talent and need opportunities and Florida is nothing else if not a land of opportunity.  I know the Marlins didn’t want to pay $2 or $3 million for Hermida when they have other options (Maybin, Ross, Coughlin, etc.), and Hunter Jones could be a huge help with a good season.  So, I’ll just look forward to seeing Jones in uniform and check out Alvarez when he pitches for Jupiter this summer.

Happy Birthday!

A great list, headed by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson (1935) and manager Dorrel Norman Elvert (Whitey) Herzog (1931).  Others celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances) include: Fred Brickell (1906), a member of the 1930 Phillies (ouch), Jerry Priddy (1919), Bill Bruton (1925), Jim Riggleman (1952), Ted Higuera (1958) – I loved that kid…, Kevin Mmahat (1964), Chad Ogea (1970), Dave Bush (1979), Adam Dunn (1979), Chuck James (1981), and Joel Zumaya (1984).

Afterthoughts…

People are wondering what happened to Sammy Sosa’s face after he had a rather deep cleaning the other day.  The picture certainly is odd.

Dad, Daughter Find 15 Minutes of Fame over a Foul Ball (and other news…)

This is what it’s all about – a family going to the ball game.  Steve Monforto, a long-time Phillies fan, takes his wife and two daughters to the game and for the first time catches a foul ball.  After sharing the moment with those around him, he does the nice thing and gives the ball to his daughter – who promptly throws the ball over the railing and down to the lower deck.  The girl immediately realizes (from the reaction of the fans around her) that throwing the ball may not have been the right thing – but Daddy rescues her by giving her a big hug.

And this morning (Thursday), the family will be on the Today Show.  Click on the link and watch the MLB video (or watch it here, below) – it’s priceless.  The article on MLB is also well written and contains a number of great story lines.  [MLB]

As expected, Jorge Posada and Jesse Carlson were suspended three games for their roles in a bench-clearning incident.  Posada needed three days off anyway… [ESPN]

The Texas Rangers lost a fourth straight game (maybe I should add the Rangers to the “Is it Over” segment below), this by a one-hitter to Oakland (!) – mostly because they don’t have their two most productive hitters in the lineup.  Michael Young may play this weekend against the Angels, but his hamstring is still a problem.  And, Josh Hamilton not only has lower back pain and a strained glute (are they related?) – and is worried he might not play again in 2009.  [ESPN]

This is what happens when  your team goes from playoff contention to losing twelve of thirteen.  Tampa’s Carl Crawford gave a shout out to Pat Burrell, resulting in a bit of a screaming match requiring Joe Maddon to call both to his office to clear the air.  [ESPN]

Yankee starter Andy Pettitte missed his start yesterday to rest a “tired” shoulder.  Pettitte is now scheduled to pitch against Los Angeles next week.  [FoxSports]

In a classy move, the Tigers invited Ernie Harwell back to Comerica Park and to thank him for his more than 40 years of service to the Tigers community.  Harwell used the opportunity to thank those people in Detroit and all of Michigan for sharing their love and concern for him.  Harwell nears 92 years old and has inoperable cancer.  I listened to him on the radio back in the day – and nobody was better at making a ballgame seem like baseball was a large part of a community’s fabric.  An equally classy move – Tigers Manager Jim Leyland called a team meeting to explain to the younger players just how much Harwell meant to baseball in Detroit and beyond.  When Harwell was brought out, both dugouts watched in awe, many players taking pictures to capture the moment.  [ESPN]

Roy Oswalt’s season come to an end as the Astros ace doesn’t want his back and hip pain (now affecting his shoulder, too) to linger into 2010.  So, Oswalt will begin the rest and rehab process now instead.  Oswalt finishes with eight wins on the season – far below his normal levels of success.  Hurry back, Roy – baseball needs more guys like you.  [ESPN]

Another pitcher who may not pitch again in 2009 is Tiger Jarrod Washburn, whose knee injury isn’t healing very quickly.  Washburn says he’s hurting the team by going out there, and doesn’t know why the team would let him pitch. [FoxSports]

Cleveland centerfielder Grady Sizemore’s second surgery, this to repair a sports hernia, was a success.  Here’s to coming back healthy and strong for 2010 as well.

Not Fun Stat Mark Reynolds may have 42 homers and is hitting .272.  On the other hand, for the second straight year he has 200 strikeouts (!), and should break his record of 204 sometime by the end of the week.  Amazing, really.

Is it Over? The White Sox waived Bartolo Colon.  Colon was signed, got hurt, and would disappear during rehab stints.  I think we’ve seen the last of him.

Welcome Back! Randy Johnson was activated by the Giants.  Greg Dobbs (Philles), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Laynce Nix (Reds), Carlos Silva (Mariners), Alfredo (Marriage of) Figaro (Tigers) all came off the DL.

Hurry Back! Billy Sadler (Astros – Shoulder), Justin Miller (Giants – Elbow), Sean White (Mariners – Shoulder) and Mark DeFelice (Brewers – Shoulder) all head to the DL to start the rehab process and get ready for 2010.

Afterthoughts… Tommy Lasorda’s portrait will be hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.  Who doesn’t love the guy, really?  If you don’t love Lasorda, you don’t love baseball.

Your Baseball Weekend Update…

John Smoltz’s career has life after beating San Diego Sunday.  Smoltz threw five shutout innings and fanned nine batters.  Maybe the AL is tougher than the NL – but it certainly helps to face a punchless San Diego team, too.  [MLB/SI]

For the second time in history (according to STATS, Inc, that’s who), Eric Bruntlett ended a game by himself – recording an unassisted triple play to help Brad Lidge avoid another blown save and give Pedro Martinez a win over his former team, the Mets.  The score stood 9 – 7 after a run scoring single by Daniel Murphy.  Murphy and Luis Castillo, who was on second, attempted a double steal when Jeff Francouer launched a Lidge pitch back up the middle where Bruntlett was moving…  Bruntlett caught the liner, stepped on second, and tagged Murphy.  [MLB/SI]

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be more careful next time – he stabbed himself in the left hand with a falling steak knife, requiring a single stitch but keeping him out of the lineup for the next couple of days.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Rockies have come to terms with free agent Jason Giambi, most recently released by the Oakland As.  He’d be a nice bench option, that’s for certain.  [ESPN]

Moving to the Rockies rotation, the pitching staff took a big hit when Aaron Cook hit the DL with a sore shoulder.  Cook had to leave Friday’s start with a strain and an MRI is scheduled for Monday.  If the Rockies have to use Adam Eaton down the stretch, pencil in San Francisco or the Dodgers as the Wild Card team in the NL.   Josh Fogg is the other option (not appreciably better), and Matt Herges got the call from AAA Colorado Springs to join the roster. [FoxSports]

Reds starter Aaron Harang’s season came to an end thanks to emergency appendectomy surgery.  He’ll see restricted activity for about three weeks before he can do anything physical in nature.  According to SI, Harang is the ninth player to head to the DL for Cincinnati, and the seventh to require surgery – which is an amazing number, really.  Fortunately, Scott Rolen came off the DL – but he can’t pitch.  [SI]

Boston may have claimed Billy Wagner off the waiver wire (the Mets haven’t decided whether to allow the claim, work a deal, or pull him back), but apparently the bullpen wouldn’t have done it.  Both Jonathon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen weren’t excited about it when asked by WEEI radio earlier this weekend.  [ESPN]

FoxSports reported that David Eckstein will remain in San Diego next year and signed a contract extension for 2010…  He’s not really a championship level producer anymore, but he’s an extra coach for a young team and Eckstein does have a history of being on winning teams.  [FoxSports]

Here’s a position that won’t get much of an argument… FoxSports Jon Paul Morosi makes his case that Ichiro Suzuki will one day enter the Hall of Fame.   His take on it is mostly “Well, he has more hits than anybody, and Ken Griffey says he’s a Hall of Famer…”  Let’s look at it more subjectively.  Assuming he finishes the season and gets 16 more hits in the last 40 games or so – meaning he won’t get injured or suddenly freeze at the plate – Ichiro will have nine straight seasons of 200 hits, more than 2000 in his career, and his fourth season batting at least .350.  Dusting off a 1986 Bill James Baseball Abstract, his Hall of Fame calculator shows that Ichiro has  collected nearly 200 points of accomplishments that Hall of Fame voters tend to consider when voting for someone – which makes him, well, overqualified (the gray area is from 70 – 130; beyond that is pretty much guaranteed in, unless you are Pete Rose or Barry Bonds).  Then, you add that he was the first Japanese position player and remains one of the most skilled outfielders and hitters – he certainly qualifies as both famous and great.   Ichiro may wind up with more professional hits than Pete Rose when it’s all over – he could have 4500 hits if you count his days in Japan.

Hurry Back! Alfonso Soriano continues to miss games with a sore knee.  Gee – I thought it was his poor batting.  (Sorry – Angry Cub Fan in me typing that one…)  Marlins reliever Brendan Donnelly hits the DL with a calf strain.  I watched the play – I’m not sure what he did, but if he can’t field a grounder without getting hurt, he needs to step aside.  Phillies infielder Greg Dobbs also has a strained calf.  Cardinal starter Kyle Lohse just came off the DL – he heads back with a strained groin (hopefully his own).

Welcome Back! Miguel Cairo was called up by the Phillies to take Dobbs’ spot.  Did you see that Armando Benitez was signed by Houston?  He heads to Round Rock to see if he can still pitch.    Jason Grilli returned to Texas from the DL.  Seattle is giving one more shot to former Marlin Randy Messenger.  I can answer this for you – this Messenger has already been shot.

Pennant Chances:  Now that the season has entered its final quarter, let’s pronounce some races over…

Nobody is catching the Phillies or Cards.  The Yankees would have a significant collapse if they were to lose now, as would the Angels.  Even though it’s closer than before, I have faith in the Dodgers – but give Colorado a 15% chance to win, and San Francisco 10%.  The NL Wild Card is too close to call, but it’s going to be one of the teams from the West.  If someone were to surprise, it’s going to be Atlanta because they suddenly have a healthy pitching staff – but it’s getting late to put up a fight.  I’d give them a 15% chance of pulling it off.  The closest race is Detroit and Chicago in the AL Central, and I am relatively confident it will be Detroit by a nose because Chicago plays too sloppily to win.  Minnesota doesn’t have a fight in them this season thanks to a failing rotation.  The AL Wild Card will be the best race because Texas is good enough to win and Boston is just crazy enough to blow it right now.  I know – I picked Boston to win it all, but the last three weeks have been disastrous and I don’t see how they will get out of it.  I give Tampa a 15% chance of surprising somebody.

2009 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies
2008: 90-72 (1st NL East, World Series Champions)

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were a very good team that got hot at the right time (September and October) and generally did this because the offense was good, the bench produced, and the pitching staff – especially the bullpen – was flat out impressive.

In the National League, only one team scored more runs (the Chicago Cubs), and only two teams allowed fewer runs (The Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers), which helps to explain why only the Cubs had the better regular season record.  However, the Cubs folded the tent in October while the Phillies were just getting started.  If the Phillies needed to score runs, they could.  If the team needed a solid pitching performance, especially down the stretch, it could get one, and if the bullpen needed to hold a lead, Brad Lidge and company could stop another team cold in its tracks.  It didn’t hurt that down the stretch the Phillies played a lot of games against the weak sisters (Atlanta, Washington, and the folding Mets), but even when faced with a playoff bound Milwaukee in September, the Phillies smoked them in four straight – which should have sounded the alarm that this team was ready for the playoffs.

And they were ready.  They took down the Brewers, they stopped the charging Dodgers, and they blew away a very good Tampa Bay Rays team winning every home game and losing just once on the road in each series.

Looking Back on 2008

As in 2007, the getaway was problematic but not as bad.  For 20 games, Philadelphia would win two and lose two, never falling more than two games under .500, but never getting past it, either.  Then, in game 23, the Phillies got above even and started making progress toward the top of the division.

The reason for this was that half the starting rotation was working, and half the offense was working.  Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer were great, Brett Myers and Adam Eaton were struggling, and Kyle Kendrick was somewhere in the middle.  And, Ryan Howard got off to such a slow start it negated the amazing start of Chase Utley.  Pat Burrell was hitting, but Jimmy Rollins was fighting nagging injuries and not hitting.

In late May, the pieces started coming together.  Over the summer, Charlie Manual and the rest of Phillie management convinced Brett Myers to take a month in the minors to work on a couple of adjustments and see if he couldn’t get things turned around.  Myers, to his credit, did just that and when he came back in August was solid down the stretch.  Then, the Phillies finally gave up on Adam Eaton and traded for Joe Blanton, giving up a couple of minor leaguers.  Blanton, who had struggled some in Oakland, found his stride down the stretch and looked even more confident in the post-season.  So, by the time September rolled around, the rotation featured four solid starters and Kyle Kendrick – who wasn’t pitching well, but still had a winning record.  The Phillies had their best month in September, winning seventeen games while losing just eight.  In October, they were even better.

Tell me about that offense

Believe it or not, as good as the 2008 Phillies line up was, they were almost 100 runs worse than in 2007.

Some of this could have been predicted (and was).  Jimmy Rollins was coming off his best season ever, so to think he would generate 140 runs of offense again would have been extremely optimistic.  Struggling through the year, Rollins still produced, but was 45 runs worse than the previous year.  He missed 35 games, lost 100 points in his slugging percentage, and it showed up on the scoreboard.  His backup, usually Eric Bruntlett, can’t hit like Rollins.  Shane Victorino moved to center to replace Aaron Rowand, who was coming off his career best season.  Victorino was good, but still 25 runs behind what Rowand produced.

Some of the rest was just the give and take of seasons.  Ryan Howard was slow to get rolling and was off slightly from the previous year.  Pedro Feliz looked slow at the plate and was below average in hitting.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz struggled, giving more time to Chris Coste, who hit pretty well.  Chase Utley and Pat Burrell were no better than they had been in 2007 – which is to say they remained potent hitters.

However, top to bottom, this was a solid line up.  You had six above average bats (Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell, Victorino, and Werth), and a couple of slower bats – but it worked.  No team is going to complain about finishing in second in runs scored.  The Phillies could hit.

Defensively:

The Phillies were slightly above average in terms of turning balls in play into outs.  The outfield improved in part because Victorino and Werth were an improvement on Rowand in center, Pat Burrell had a slightly better year than in 2007 defensively (still bad though), and the backups in the outfield (Werth when he played in center, Taguchi when he played in left) caught everything.

Jimmy Rollins has below average range (-4.1, the third straight year between -4 and -5), but makes up for it on the double play and avoiding errors.  Chase Utley has above average range and is also good turning two.  The Phillies were slightly above average in the percentage of baserunners removed by double plays.  Howard appears to be losing his mobility.  The few replacements at first base all had better per inning numbers, but nobody is taking Howard off the diamond.  Pedro Feliz was slightly below average but even his replacement was solid (Dobbs).

The outfield was weak.  Victorino and Werth were, on the whole, average.  The now departed Burrell has wrestled with Josh Willingham for two years to see who was the worst defensive left fielder in the National League.  The backups, So Taguchi and Geoff Jenkins, were both solid defensively.

Behind the plate, Ruiz and Coste are tolerable.  Both were below average against the stolen base and the total number of steals allowed was the fifth most in the league.  Coste makes fewer mistakes, but Ruiz appears to be more mobile in that he had 28 more assists that were not people trying to steal bases than Cost in a similar number of innings.

Now Pitching…

Last year I wrote, “Cole Hamels was brilliant, winning 15 of 20 decisions and with an ERA of 3.39 in a difficult park.  He continued to strike out nearly a batter an inning and cut his walk rate down to just 43 in more than 180 innings of work….  Hamels might be able to pick up 40 more innings…”  I’ll just quote that part, since it was right on the money, and not note that I had predicted Jamie Moyer to decline, when Moyer was equally brilliant in 2008.  Hamels saved his team 30 runs over the average pitcher, Moyer another 20.

Blanton was a slightly above average pitcher after his arrival, and Brett Myers was break even – with his second half being as good as his first half was poor.  So, the top four starters, who all return in 2009, were above average.

After that, you have Kyle Kendrick.  In two seasons, Kendrick has had a winning record – but things are going in the wrong direction.  He doesn’t strike anyone out and he doesn’t walk people.  In 2007, the ball stayed in the park.  In 2008, the ball left the yard.  When a pitcher allows too many hitters to put the ball in play, it’s a bad combination that is bound to backfire.  In 2008 it did.  Adam Eaton is still around, but for the third straight year, he posted an ERA over 5.00.  I would be surprised if Eaton is on the roster in 2008.

The bullpen, however, showed incredible improvement.  Brad Lidge didn’t blow a single save and was absolutely amazing all season long.  And – he wasn’t alone.  Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, and Chad Durbin all were 10 runs allowed better than the average reliever.  Scott Eyre came over from the Cubs and was above average as well.  I mean – every pitcher who played a key role on the team, with the exception of Adam Eaton, was above average.  That’s TEN solid pitchers.

Forecasting 2008:

Conventional wisdom might look at this team and say “wow – look how good they were, this is the team to beat in the NL” – and for the most part conventional wisdom is right.  Unfortunately, there are a few “buts” to consider.

Last year, the team was virtually injury free.  Jimmy Rollins was the only starter to miss any significant time, and he still played in nearly 140 games.  No pitcher went down with a serious injury, except Tom Gordon, who wasn’t needed and was the last active pitcher who played with Frank White.  I’d be hard pressed to believe that the same luck will stay with the Phillies in 2009.  Chase Utley had hip surgery in the offseason and the Phillies are cautiously optimistic that he’ll be back around opening day.  As such, Marcus Giles was given a Non-Roster Invite to spring training – and he hasn’t been good since 2006.

The 2008 Phillies were a veteran team.  Not an old team, but a collection of guys around 29 on offense, and – Moyer not withstanding – generally prime ages for pitchers.  That works in their favor – but they aren’t getting younger either.  Replacing Burrell in left field will be the 37 year-old Raul Ibanez.  Raul’s slightly better in the field than Burrell, and hasn’t missed much time in the last seven years.  But he’s 37 – and guys who are 37 miss games.  They don’t get faster.  Ibanez isn’t likely to be better than Burrell, he’s likely to be worse. 

J.C Romero tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, moving Scott Eyre into a more prominent role, but Romero’s roster spot was claimed by Chan Ho Park.  Park turns 36 in mid-season.  Park won’t be better than Romero, that’s for sure.  And, God help the Phillies if they need him to be a starter – he hasn’t been effective in that role for years.  Outfielder Tai Iguchi is gone; the remaining backup outfielders are Jenkins (34) and Matt Stairs (40).  John Mayberry, Jr., acquired from Texas, hasn’t played in the majors yet and has never hit above .270 in the minors.  And, like a lot of young major leaguers, he strikes out a lot.

Let’s try to do this by runs.  My guess is that Ibanez will be 10 – 15 runs worse than Burrell, Feliz will continue to look older, and Greg Dobbs may not be as consistent.  If it were me, I’d play Dobbs over Feliz, but I don’t think Manual agrees with me.  Anyway – that’s another ten run loss.  Ryan Howard isn’t getting better – just richer.  He could be off five runs from last year.  Utley is a question mark.  I root for the guy, personally, but it could be a 30 – 40 run decline from 2008.  There could be a slight improvement at catcher, Ronnie Paulino was acquired from Pittsburgh as insurance, but he’s not better than either Ruiz or Coste.  There is no position where the Phillies will be BETTER on offense.   More likely, the Phillies will fall from nearly 800 runs to 750 runs offensively.  It could be less than that.

Defensively, the team will likely be flat – depending on how well Utley’s replacement plays.  Giles won’t be better than Utley, though the improvement of not playing Burrell for 1000 innings in the outfield will make up for that in some way.

So that leaves the pitching staff.  Let’s say Hamels remains outstanding, and Blanton and Myers are above average.  It’s equally likely however that whatever benefits Blanton and Myers may add will be negated by a decline by Moyer.  Moyer’s season in 2008 was the lone solid season in the last four – and while he’s one of my favorite pitchers, he’s not going to be better than last year.  I think he could easily be 20 runs worse than last year – which makes Moyer league average.  Moyer’s record will be 10 – 12 if he makes 30 starts again.  He usually does…

If I’m Charlie Manual, I give starts to J.A. Happ.  Happ looks to be an improvement over Kyle Kendrick – he’s been solid in the minors and didn’t disappoint in four starts last year.  That would be his only chance to improve the rotation.  At least Manual has a good sixth option.  Park is not.  Eaton should be released.  A full year of Blanton is an improvement over 13 starts of Blanton and 19 starts by Eaton.

However, so many pitchers were above average in the bullpen, I’d fear for at least one of them (Clay Condrey is my first guess, Park the other) to be league average or worse.  That’s another decline of at least 20 runs.  On the whole, the pitchers are likely to allow 35 more runs than in 2008.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed numbers at 750/700 – a record of about 87 – 75.  87 wins might be enough to make the playoffs, though – and since this team has two straight years of closing strongly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in by a nose.  One pitcher injury, however – especially if it’s Hamels – would cost the team five games in the standings, and 82 wins won’t get it done.

Down on the Farm…

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs look to be shy on players who can help.  The best hitter is probably first baseman Adam Tracy – but he isn’t great and Howard isn’t moving.  Mike Cervanek looks like Enos Cabell – might hit .280 with 10 homers and no walks.  Outfielder Brendan Watson isn’t going to help people if he hits .270 with no power and a bad stolen base percentage.  Their catching prospect, Jason Jaramillo was sent to Pittsburgh for Ronny Paulino.  The best pitcher was J.A. Happ, who should be starting for Philadelphia already.  He just needs a chance to pitch 140 innings and show what he can do and learn how to survive at the top level.

The best hitter in Reading (AA) was catcher Lou Marson, who got to play in one September game and homered for the Phillies that day.  I thought he looked good at Clearwater in 2007, so his continued improvement bodes well for his future.  He’ll be starting here by 2010.   Jason Donald looked good at shortstop, hitting for power and showing plate discipline.  He’s blocked at the big league level, though, unless Utley can’t come back.  Jeremy Slayden can hit some, but he’ll be 27 soon and running out of time.  He’s reaching his peak and hasn’t gotten past AA.  No pitchers in AA were that impressive – nobody with stunning strikeout numbers, a low number of hits per nine, or remarkable control.

At the lower levels, Michael Taylor hit a ton at Lakeland and Clearwater, but few others had successful runs.  Taylor comes from Stanford and is built like a tight end (6’ 6”, 250) but needs to move up a couple of levels quickly.  This was his first solid season in the minors.