When is a suspension not a suspension – and injuries by the dozen…

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Washington Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper to “welcome him to the big leagues.”  Major League Baseball decided to give Hamels a five game suspension – which really is a slap on the wrist for a guy who usually only plays once every five days anyway.  [SI]

Bryce Harper will move from left field to right field for the next three months…  Jayson Werth‘s attempt to snare a sinking liner resulted in Werth’s breaking his left wrist.  Surgery means a three month healing and recovery period.  [SI]

In the span of three pitches, the Angels lost two relievers…  Scott Downs left with a bruise in the back of his knee, the victim of a liner back up the middle.  His replacement, Latroy Hawkins took a liner that broke his pinkie finger and could be out between three and six weeks.

Another team dealing with a slew of injuries is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Last week, Mat Gamel tore his ACL chasing a foul pop up.  Centerfielder Carlos Gomez strained a hammy, and now Alex Gonzalez, starting shortsop, heads to the DL with a season ending ACL injury suffered when sliding into second base.  [SI]

Javy Guerra‘s blown save against the Cubs, the third of the season, cost him his closer gig.  Manager Don Mattingly handed the gig to Kenley Jansen.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

  • Justin Morneau, Twins first baseman, is on the DL with an injury to his left wrist.
  • Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
  • The Mets placed infielder Ruben Tejada on the 15 day DL with a strained quad.
  • Aaron Cook heads to the DL with a lacerated knee.  Boston replaced him with pitcher Andrew Miller.
  • Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez heads to the DL with a strained left hamstring.
  • It’s a bad time to be a closer – the Padres placed Huston Street on the DL with a lat strain.

Welcome Back!

  • The Tigers activated Doug Fister from the DL.
  • The Giants welcome back Aubrey Huff from the Dl – anxiety treatments.
  • The Reds activated Miguel Cairo from the DL, which cost Willie Harris a major league gig.
  • The Mets welcomed back reliever D. J. Carrasco.

Good Riddance!

Guillermo Mota heads to the restricted list following a second positive drug test for performance enhancing drugs.  Mota’s agent said that Mota tested positive for Clenbuterol, which he described as having been a trace amount found in a children’s cough medicine, and he plans to appeal the decision.  What are they putting in Vicks 44 these days?  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1896) Tom Zachary – he served up Babe’s 60th homer in 1927.
(1929) Dick Williams – Hall of Fame manager.
(1970) Brook Fordyce – one time Mets prospect
(1982) Conor Jackson
(1984) James Loney

I haven’t been daily in my writings…  Here’s a few birthdays we missed.

May 6

(1940) Bill Hands – great fastball and member of the 1969 Cubs.
(1953) Larry Anderson – former Astros and Phillies pitcher
(1968) Phil Clark – one time Padres slugger Phil Clark
(1990) Jose Altuve – Baseball Prospectus Podcast favorite…

May 5

(1857) Lee Richmond – he threw baseball’s first perfect game.
(1871) Jimmy Bannon (see below)
(1884) Chief Bender – Rube’s teammate on the early 1900 Philadelphia As
(1935) Jose Pagan
(1941) Tommy Helms – Reds infielder traded to Houston for Joe Morgan
(1947) Larry Hisle
(1956) Ron Oester
(1967) Charles Nagy
(1971) Mike Redmond – one of my favorite backup catchers…

Jimmy Bannon

I never got done, which kept me from making a full blown post on the topic…  Jimmy Bannon was one of about ten Bannon brothers who all played baseball between, say, 1890 and 1910.  Jimmy and Tommy made it to the big leagues, at least four others played in the minors, and the others were on some very good semi-pro teams.

Jimmy went to Holy Cross and in 1893 was signed to be the right fielder for the St. Louis Browns where he hit .336.  However, for some reason he fell on the wrong side of owner Chris Von der Ahe.  Forced into being the starting pitcher during a double header, he gave up double-digit runs in four innings and along the way injured his leg.  A few days later, Von der Ahe released him.

Bannon signed with the Boston Braves, where he became the third outfielder alongside the heavenly twins – Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy.  Bannon cleared .300 in back to back seasons, even hitting .350 in 1895.  Though rather popular, he got involved between Duffy and Billy Nash – Duffy wanted Nash’s captaincy.  When Bannon slumped to .251 in 1896, he was released into a life of an eastern seaboard minor leaguer.

Bannon was still a very good player and eventually a player-manager.  When his career was over, he ran hotels and restaurants and even served a couple of years in the New Hampshire state legislature.  In the 1920s and 1930s, he was an active leader in the minors, even selected as president at one point.

I would think his life in baseball was pretty cool – so I’ll try to lock down a better biography later.  I do have one piece of trivia –  Bannon was the first player to hit grand slams in consecutive days in 1894.

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Owners, Union Talk Salary – And It’s Not Pleasant…

The Milwaukee Brewers fear that they may not have enough money to give Prince Fielder in working out a contract extension, and owner Mark Attanasio mentioned that his team didn’t have the resources to retain players that, say, the Yankees have.

Immediately, the Yankees responded – this time President Randy Levine calling out the Brewers, telling ESPN that the Yankees play within the rules, spend resources on the players, and that the Brewers have made hundreds of millions in revenue sharing dollars.  More or less, Levine said, the Brewers and other smaller market clubs should stop their whining…   [ESPN/FanHouse/AP]

Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball Players Association is considering filing a collusion charge against owners suggesting that they have worked together to lower the salaries paid to free agents in the last two seasons.   Agents have even claimed that they would receive the same offers for a player from a number of teams, suggesting that teams were working together to lower salaries.  [SI]

Other Odds and Ends:

After losing 16 – 5 thanks to a lousy start from Carlos Zambrano, I found it rather odd that a headline in MLB’s news section had the Cubs pitchers learning a lot from Greg Maddux…  [MLB]

Hurry Back!

I noted that Huston Street started the season on the DL…  Well, the Rockies closer had his shoulder checked out by Dr. James Andrews and things look okay.  So, Street will start strengthening drills before a throwing program and hopes to return some time in May.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

1873 – John McGraw
1884 – Jake Daubert
1918 – Bobby Doerr
1944 – Bill Stoneman
1969 – Ricky Bones
1973 – Brett Tomko – Doesn’t have a gig yet, but SOMEONE might give him one last shot after six solid starts for Oakland in 2009…
1975 – Ron Belliard
1979 – Adrian Beltre – who faces the Yankees tonight.  I’m betting on two hits and maybe a homer.

Baseball’s Opening Day Fun!

It’s nice to get back into the swing of writing…  I didn’t get all of the team forecasts done, so I’ll just add as many as I can in April before calling it good.  I DID rate all of the players by position for the first time ever, so I got THAT going for me…

I was able to watch a variety of different games, getting in most of the Phillies – Nationals game, the early innings of the Cubs – Braves slaughter (ouch if you are a Cubs fan like me), two innings of the Diamondbacks opener, and listened to about two innings of the Astros and Giants opener.  That’s a good opening day.

Things that caught my attention:

How about that play by Mark Buehrle on a ball that rocketed off his left shin into foul territory.  Buehrle ran it down and flipped the ball between his legs to first for the out.  [MLB]

I don’t think the Cubs should allow Carlos Zambrano to start on opening day.  He’s just too excitable.  Once a ball fell in that he thought should have been caught in the first inning, the game went out the window.

Jason Heyward became the umpteenth player in MLB history to homer in his first plate appearance – looking very comfortable as a major league outfielder.  [FoxSports]

Albert Pujols and Garrett Jones (who was immediately scooped up by Andy Finch in our fantasy baseball league) homered twice on opening day, which means they are on pace to hit 300 homers in 2010…

Jack Cust was released by the A’s – and isn’t too happy about it.  Cust hits homers and draws walks – but that’s about it.  Still – he produces runs for a team that doesn’t really have a cleanup hitter.  [Fanhouse]

Buster Olney writes that the Yankees are already concerned about the decline in Jorge Posada‘s defense.  But they have no worries about the lack of range displayed by Derek Jeter?  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

1903 Mickey Cochrane
1906 Benny Frey
1908 Ernie Lombardi
1937 Phil Regan
1943 Marty Pattin – I can still remember getting his baseball card as a little kid at a corner store  near by grandparent’s house in Chicago
1951 Bert Blyleven
1971 Lou Merloni

Hurry Back!

Lots of guys starting the year on the DL, including (but not limited to):

Brandon Webb (AZ) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Marc Rzepczynski
(TOR) – 15 day, fractured middle finger on left hand
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) – 15 day, neck strain
Cliff Lee (SEA) – 15 day, abdominal strain
Jose Reyes (NYM) – 15 day, thyroid condition
Jesus Flores (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Daniel Murphy (NYM) – 15 day, sprained knee
Coco Crisp (OAK) – 15 day, fractured pinkie
J.P. Howell (TB) – 15 day, left shoulder strain
Kerry Wood (CLE) – 15 day, right lat strain
Freddy Sanchez (SF) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Ted Lilly (CHC) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Russell Branyan (CLE) – 15 day, herniated disc
Ian Kinsler (TEX) – 15 day, sprained ankle
Tommy Hunter
(TEX) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Gil Meche (KC) – 15 day, bursitis in throwing shoulder
Alex Gordon (KC) – 15 day, broken thumb
Huston Street (COL) – 15 day, shoulder inflammation
Joe Blanton (PHI) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Scott Kazmir (LAA) – 15 day, hamstring strain
Brad Lidge (PHI) – 15 day, recovering from elbow surgery

Hey Pittsburgh fans! Your team is in first place!

Have a great day!

NL’s Best and Worst Pitchers in 2009 – Hot Stove News…

Quick news hits first before we take a quick look back at pitchers in 2009…

Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million when filing for arbitration – if he wins, it would be the highest amount paid to an arbitration eligible pitcher.  Of course, Lincecum is a bit of a party animal off the field, but between the lines he’s one of the five best pitchers in the National League.  He’s certainly one of the most valuable commodities – a pretty durable arm (so far) who gets a lot of batters out and wins games.  [ESPN/SI]

There’s a rather long list of players and teams avoiding arbitration or signing deals – you can get the list on SI or MLB – but the ones that caught my attention were (a) Jonathon Papelbon getting $9.35 million from Boston – about two million more than the going rate and (b) Bengie Molina likely returning to the Giants.  The Mets pursued Molina but apparently not hard enough, and are now stuck with playing backup catchers every day for another year (unless you consider Omir Santos a budding starter).  [FoxSports/ESPN]

FUN WITH DATA!

Having purchased my copy of the Lahman database, which is invaluable for doing quick queries so that I can plug data into my spreadsheets very easily, I can finally start doing the type of statistical analysis that I like…  I’ve already assembled the NL data and will be doing the AL data later this week.  And, after having knocked out the NL sheets, we get to have some fun with the lists it generates.  Today, we’ll start with the pitchers.

Top NL Starting Pitchers

The first rating system I have looks at how many runs a pitcher cost or saved his team over the course of the year above or below what the average pitcher allowed.  ERA is a pretty simple way to note this, mind you.  Someone with an ERA of 2.00 is two runs per nine innings better than someone with an ERA of 4.00.  However, it’s easier to have a low ERA when you pitch in San Diego, so I modify the runs allowed (not earned runs, but runs allowed) by removing the park effect.  Then, I also try to isolate the advantage a pitcher has in being on a team with a good defense vs. one with a bad defense.  For example, a pitcher on the Giants gets help from having a very solid defense – Randy Winn and Fred Lewis in the outfield are plus defenders at their position, the infielders were rather good as well.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals staff had behind them an injured Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan or Ryan Ludwick in the outfield not catching as many flies as most teams and were playing an injured (and less mobile) Mark DeRosa at third and, perhaps more importantly, an outfielder at second base all year in Skip Schumaker.  Once I figure out how many runs the seven guys in the field affected the team’s ability to prevent runs, you can make a second modification to a pitcher’s runs allowed numbers and compare it with the league average.

The league average pitcher allowed about 4.53 runs per nine innings.  The total number of runs saved is not just dependent on runs allowed per nine, but the number of innings pitched.  The best pitchers in saving runs will usually be starters.  Sometimes, a reliever can sneak in there, but not very often.  Let’s get to the list.

Best Starters:

In terms of runs saved, the best starting pitchers in the National League were…

48.57 – Chris Carpenter (STL)
43.19 – Adam Wainwright (STL)
40.25 – Danny Haren (ARZ)
38.80 – Tim Lincecum (SF)
38.30 – Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
38.16 – Jair Jurrjens (ATL)
36.39 – Javier Vasquez (ATL)
33.68 – Josh Johnson (FLA)
30.62 – Matt Cain (SF)
28.51 – Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
28.09 – J.A. Happ (PHI)
26.14 – Ted Lilly (CHC)
23.33 – Jason Marquis (COL)
22.81 – Tommy Hanson (ATL)
21.32 – Clayton Kershaw (LA)

No other starters saved at least 20 runs more than an average pitcher would have allowed given the number of innings pitched by that player.  The top two guys were Cardinals – two pitchers who were wonderful despite having several players not necessarily having good years with the glove.  Those pitchers DO benefit from having the best catching in baseball (Yadier Molina) – but Carpenter’s 48+ runs saved over the average pitcher might be the largest number I have seen in the five years I have done this.  Based on this criteria, Carpenter deserved his Cy Young consideration.  Among the surprises on this list was Clayton Kershaw who couldn’t get any support from his team but really did pitch very, very well and I think could be a sleeper ace for 2010.  And, seeing how well Jason Marquis pitched for the first four months of the season, one assumes that Colorado will miss that kind of production.

Top Relievers:

18.13 – Kiko Calero (FLA)
17.86 – Ryan Franklin (STL)
16.29 – LaTroy Hawkins (HOU)
16.23 – Jeremy Affeldt (SF)
15.49 – Trevor Hoffman (MIL)
13.89 – Nick Massett (CIN)
13.42 – Rafael Soriano (ATL)
12.98 – Huston Street (COL)
12.57 – Jose Valverde (HOU)
12.36 – Todd Coffey (MIL)
12.15 – Tyler Clippard (WAS)

As has been the case for many years, the top relievers are frequently NOT closers but middle relievers who have really good seasons in less demanding roles.  Kiko Calero, who has never had a season anywhere NEAR what he did in 2009 is the surprise winner here.  That being said, the top closer was Ryan Franklin, followed closely by Trevor Hoffman.  More than any other list, this group will change a lot from year to year.  Any number close to 10 is a great year for a reliever.

Worst NL Pitchers…

-44.28 – Manny Parra (MIL)
-33.36 – Josh Geer (SD)
-32.70 – Braden Looper (MIL)
-31.70 – David Bush (MIL)
-31.25 – Jeff Suppan (MIL)
-27.36 – Chad Gaudin (SD)
-25.35 – Todd Wellemeyer (STL)
-22.83 – Micah Owings (CIN)
-21.95 – Felipe Paulino (HOU)
-21.90 – Brad Lidge (PHI)
-20.53 – Brian Moehler (HOU)
-20.20 – Walter Silva (SD)

-21.31 – Kevin Hart (PIT) – but positive 6.30 in CHC

These are the starters for teams who felt like they had no other option than to give 150 innings to someone with a 5+ ERA.  Or, in the case of Brad Lidge, a manager who kept feeding his closer the ball despite the fact that he was getting hammered all too often.  Rarely does a reliever make this list.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that four of the five worst pitchers in terms of their relation to the average pitcher were Brewers.  Look – they aren’t the worst pitchers.  There were guys with 8+ ERAs who got just 20 innings and were sent packing to AAA, too.  Or were hurt or something.  But the Brewers were hanging in there with four guys who are no better than long relievers.  Three of them had seen better days (Looper, Suppan, Bush), but wow.  One sees immediately where the Brewers should spend their money.  Go find three guys who can pitch.  If that means giving Ben Sheets a deal, do it.  Finding three guys who can give you a 4.20 ERA in 180 innings would move the Brewers up 10 games in the standings.  Is it that hard to find three of those guys?  I can’t wait to do my team overview for the Brewers…

Phillies Join MLB Final Four; Rest of League News (Finally!)

After broomsticks cleared out the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Twins, the Phillies pulled out a stunning come from behind 9th inning victory to top the Rockies, 5 – 4, and win their best of five series in four games.  The Rockies had rallied for three runs off of Phillies starter Cliff Lee and a couple of relievers in the bottom of the  eighth, but the Phillies answered with three runs of their own, led by Ryan Howard’s two-out double and a flair off the bat of Jayson Werth to beat Rockies closer Huston Street.  Street had been awesome all season, so I hope he doesn’t suffer like Brad Lidge did after he blew a playoff series to St. Louis a few years back…

So who you got?  Yankees or Angels?  Dodgers or Phillies?  Games start Thursday…  I can’t wait.

Hot Stove Already Warming Up…

The Red Sox have tried to lock in Jason Bay to a contract, but Bay admitted that he’s going to test the market unless he gets a “wow” offer in the next two weeks.   At least two others have filed for free agency, pitchers David Davidson (is that redundant?) and Scott Proctor.  [MLB]

If the White Sox are really interested in Bobby Jenks, perhaps they should be less vocal in asking Jenks to lose weight. Jenks is starting to take it personally.  On the other hand, Jenks has become less effective each of the last two seasons – so maybe a treadmill or aerobics class might be a good thing.  [MLB]

Managerial Carousel…

Tony LaRussa isn’t sure what he wants to do in 2010, a season where his pitching coach became disgruntled (they traded Dave Duncan’s son away, for crying out loud), and the team was blasted out of the playoffs with little more than a whimper.  LaRussa, despite his obvious efforts to color his hair, is 65 now and his contract is up at the conclusion of the World Series.  The Cards would keep him, no doubt, but at least it gives some news people things to talk about.  [FoxSports]

The Houston Astros have at least ten people on the list of managerial candidates to replace Cecil Cooper.  Get out your 1980s and 1990s baseball cards…  Dave Clark, Tim Bogar, Randy Ready, Brad Mills, Bob Melvin, Al Pedrique…  Even Manny Acta is on the list (really?).  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back! Tim Wakefield heads to surgery to remove fragments from his back.  Hopefully the knuckleballer can come back for another go…  [MLB]

Is it Over? The Padres waived Cliff Floyd…  (San Diego also waived Shawn Hill and Cha Seung Baek.)  For what it’s worth, MLB referred to Floyd as a DH – but can a NL team really carry a DH?

Happy Birthday! Rube Waddell was born on Friday the 13th, 1876, in Bradford, PA.  For this life story, you’ll have to buy my book…  You know, Wild Bill Donovan’s career paralleled Rube’s career – they had many games against each other, including trips to the bowling alley.  How did I never know that Wild Bill was also born on the exact same day?

Others on the birthday list include:  Pickles Dilhoefer (1893), that Black Sox crook Swede Risberg (1894), Eddie Yost (1926), Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews (1931), Bob Bailey (1942), Randy Moffitt (1948), Dick Pole (1950), Frank LaCorte (1951),  George Frazier (1954), *that’s a lot of former Cubs relievers…, and future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (1967).  Wow – three Hall of Famers on the same day…

Heaven Welcomes… Larry Jansen, a Giants pitcher who won the 1951 playoff game more famous for Bobby Thomson’s homer, died at 89 on Saturday.  Jansen came on in relief of Sal Maglie and got the last two outs (both strikeouts) in the top of the ninth.  That year, Jansen won 23 games – the second time he had won at least 20.  As a rookie in 1947, Jansen went 21 – 5.  He had about a six year run as a top flight pitcher, but his arm left him during the 1952 season when he injured his back and a chiropractor encouraged him to wear a corset for support.  Only, he wasn’t supposed to wear it when he was pitching – and the arm trouble set in when he was compensating by overthrowing.  Jansen said that he was on the road and couldn’t see his own chiropractor and visited someone in New York that had been recommended to him.  His arm never came back, and eventually was released by the Giants in July, 1954.  He got a shot with the Reds in 1956, but he was never really the same.

Jansen actually had been drafted as an amateur in 1940 by the Red Sox but the Sox never signed him – so Jansen started his career with the San Francisco Seals.  The Seals sent him to Salt Lake City in the Pioneer League where he would win 20 games.  Returning to the Seals, he suffered through bouts of pneumonia and when called before the draft board during World War II, he was allowed to stay home and work on the farm and in other war jobs until the war ended.  Returning to play in the PCL, Jansen went 30 – 6 with a 1.57 ERA in 321 innings for the 1946 Seals, and the Giants gobbled him up for $25,000.  Jansen was a few months shy of his 27th birthday when he got his first start with the Giants in 1947.  Among the slices of trivia to which Jansen’s name is attached – he allowed a double to Joe DiMaggio in the Clipper’s final World Series at bat in 1951.  Jansen also pitched five innings of relief in the 1950 all star game, striking out a record tying six batters.

Jansen told a story of how he was closing out the second game of a doubleheader in the ninth inning against the Cardinals and it was getting dark.  He and Wes Westrum, the catcher, were stalling as much as possible – and Stan Musial was the batter.  With two strikes, Westrum strode to the mound and told Larry to act as if was pitching.  Westrum took the ball back behind the plate with him.  Jansen faked his windup and pretended to throw.  Then, Westrum popped the ball in his glove and showed the ball to the ump – who called Musial out on strikes.  Musial was livid – saying the pitch was high and outside…  I looked for this game on Retrosheet – if it happened, it happened on May 2, 1954.  However, Musial had grounded out for the first out of the inning.  The last batter of the game struck out – but it was Rip Repulski.

When Jansen’s career ended, he stayed active in MLB as a pitching coach for the Giants and Cubs, then settled into real estate in his native Oregon.  Jansen and his wife had 10 kids…

Notes:

Attiyeh, Mike. “Larry Jansen, A Forgotten Winner of ’51 Playoff Game,” Baseball Digest.  September 1998.  Pages 64 – 69.

Dexter, Charles. “Pitcher’s Pitcher Larry Jansen,” Baseball Digest, February 1951.  Pages 43 to 48.

McKee, James.  “Larry Jansen Dusts off a few Oldies,” Baseball Digest, June 1969.  Pages 45 – 46.

Bullpen Injuries: Rivera and Street Shut Down; Senator Schilling?

Expect Yankee legend (closer doesn’t seem like enough of a title) Mariano Rivera to miss most of the rest of the week resting a sore groin, injured perhaps three weeks ago.  It’s in his left leg, which isn’t Mariano’s push off leg.  [SI]

Rockies closer Huston Street’s injury appears more serious, with Colorado closing down the Street because of bicep tendinitis.  Street says he’ll be out a week until the swelling and tenderness goes away.  [ESPN]

First, it was Michael Young, now Texas may be with Josh Hamilton (again) as he injured his lower back running the bases.  Hamilton is day-to-day.  [ESPN]

The amazing comeback of Aaron Boone from open heart surgery is complete – he not only played first base for the Astros against the Cubs last night, but one of his plays made ESPN’s top ten plays of the night.  [SI]

A less exciting comeback is that of Troy Glaus, who will likely just get a few pinch hitting appearances down the stretch for the Cards.  [ESPN]

Tension in Florida?  Hanley Ramirez is missing time with a sore hamstring, and his teammates called him out for his lackluster performance over the last few days and not playing while the team is trying to make a run at the wild card.  Among those not happy with Hanley is Dan Uggla, who not only took shots at Ramirez’s toughness, but ripped him for being the only well-paid player on the team.

Curt Schilling as a US Senator? He’s thinking about it – but because he’s not a registered member of the Republican Party in Massachusetts, he’d be running as an independent.  With the death of Ted Kennedy, there’s an open seat.  Why not the Bloody Sox hero?

Transactions… Other than more September call ups, here’s the other stuff…

Welcome back! Andres Torres (SF); David Patton (CHC); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (TEX); Doug  Mientkiewicz (LAD); Bobby Crosby (OAK)

Waiver Signings! Oakland claimed Jon Meloan from Pittsburgh.  Washington claimed Victor Garate from the Dodgers.  Garate must have injury issues, because his statistics show a VERY live arm tempered by frequent control lapses.  I’d let him recover for my minor league program…  Meloan has had a few chances, but really isn’t a prospect.  He’s “organizational depth”.

2009 Season Forecast: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
74 – 88 (3rd NL West) 
Scored 747 Allowed 822

Quick Season Summary:

Colorado was coming off the heels of a remarkable stretch run that got the Rockies into the World Series for the first time.  With a young power core and decent pitching, the Rockies hoped to build on a successful 2007.

It didn’t happen.  Instead, injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton meant a slow start.  A 9 – 19 May buried Colorado, and even though they played well in July and August, the good times ended when they gave up on the race in September.

Tell Me About That Offense:

While Coors field still is a haven for hitting – the humidor has helped, but it can’t fix everything – the Rockies actually had several good performers.

Chris Iannetta is a solid hitter with okay power, and his backup, Yorvit Torrealba, is tolerable.

Todd Helton was basically league average, with his back and other injuries cutting into what historically had been solid performances.  Garret Atkins has nice counting numbers, but anywhere else would be league average.  Barmes and Ian Stewart were decent, but Troy Tulowitzki had a tough sophomore season, finishing as a below average hitter.  Fortunately, he hit well after the all-star break.  Until then, he was atrocious.  Backup Omar Quintanilla was even weaker, though.

The outfield featured Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, who both were very good – Holliday will be missed.  What they needed was a centerfielder who could hit.  Willy Taveras isn’t the answer – he had a .310 OBP and 68 stolen bases can’t possibly make up for not being there more often than not.  I like Ryan Spilborghs – a great player, and too good to be a fourth outfielder.  Scott Podsednik hit like a fifth outfielder.

And the Defense:

Bad.  Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were worse.  The average defensive efficiency in the NL was 68.7%.  Colorado only turned 67.6% of the balls in play into outs – basically adding 9 points to every hitter’s batting average.

Iannetta and Torrealba were tolerable behind the plate, scoring as average in things like errors  and mistakes, mobility, and stopping the running game.

Todd Helton remains a fantastic fielder, but Garrett Atkins was atrocious as his backup and is below average at the position he normally plays – third base.  Tulowitzki is a remarkable fielder, his range is exceptional and he’s good at avoiding errors and turning double plays.  Unfortunately, Omar Quintanilla wasn’t very good backing him up – and he was even worse at second base.  In fact, nobody plays second well – whether Barmes (-8.5 range), Jeff Baker (-12.1), or Quintanilla (-22.1).

Matt Holliday is an average fielder in left, Taveras still shows good range in center.  And then there is the worst right fielder in the NL – Brad Hawpe.  Hawepe’s range was graded at – 16.2, adding an unnecessary 47.6 runs to the other team’s scoreboard.  Hawpe made just 1.57 plays per nine innings – the average right fielder is going to be around 2.  So, basically he was allowing a hit every other game that someone else would have gotten.  Based on 2008, he’s a DH waiting to happen.  Podsednik and Spilborghs were decent backups.

Pitching:

When you think that the defense is horrible and the park is killing them, you have to give Colorado pitchers the benefit of the doubt.

Jeff Francis, injured and making just 24 starts, finishing with a 4 – 10 record and a 5.01 ERA, was actually slightly better than league average as a pitcher.  Aaron Cook, who doesn’t strikeout too many guys was solid – 22 runs better than average.  Ubaldo Jimenez, one out shy of 200 innings, was nearly 20 runs better than the average pitcher.  Jorge De La Rosa was league average.  The fifth slot was troublesome – Greg Reynolds, Livan Hernandez, and Mark Redman were a combined 38 runs worse than average.  Most teams would be happy to have four decent slots in the rotation, and Colorado had them.

It’s hard to get a read on the relievers because they pitch in so few innings and half of them are in dire straits.  But, Ryan Speier was actually pretty good (7 runs better than average), Glendon Rusch was decent, Manny Corpas was above average.  Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and closer Brian Fuentes were all great – 12 to 15 runs better than the average NL pitcher.  You just always can’t tell because of where they pitch.

What is Different for 2009?

Injuries stole Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz.  Jason Marquis comes from Chicago where he’ll give them three good months and then management will wonder what happened after July 1.  Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland for Greg Smith and Huston Street.  Brian Fuentes was signed away by the Angels – he’ll be missed.  Manny Corpas or Huston Street will get first dibs on saves.  Dexter Fowler or Seth Smith will play center with Willy Taveras having gone to Cincinnati.  Good for Colorado.

Marquis wasn’t that bad; he and Greg Smith will be league average – if you can tell with that defense.  More innings with Barmes and Tulo would help – especially if Barmes can step up some at second base.  A full season of Helton defensively would be great, too.

Actually, having gone through this, I’d be optimistic for improvement.  A healthy Helton would provide 10 runs of offense, which will help with the change from Holliday to Spilborghs in LF.  Fowler may actually hit better than Taveras – so right now – that’s a net.  If Tulo returns to form and Barmes plays up to speed, that could be 20 extra runs even with Holliday leaving.

And, defensively, we’re talking 20 extra runs removed with Tulo, Helton, and Dexter Fowler in center.  Spilborghs could be better than Holliday – maybe it’s 30 runs better.  And, if Smith or Jason Hammel are close to league average, that could be another 30 runs by not having to put last year’s fifth starters out there.

So, that puts the Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio at 767/772 – pretty much a .500 season.

Down On the Farm…

Everybody hits well in AAA Colorado Springs.  The two that stood out were 25 year old Jayson Nix, a second baseman with a broad spectrum of offensive skills, and Seth Smith – both of whom will be on the Rockies.  All of the pitchers there have scary ERAs – only Greg Reynolds was young (22) and he wasn’t ready for the big show.

AA Tulsa is also tough on pitchers, but Brandon Hynick has some skills and great command.  Chaz Roe is only 21 and showed control, a few Ks, but serves up a few homers.  I like Casey Weathers, who has a great strikeout pitch, but a little less control.  Dexter Fowler hit .335 here, with walks and a few stolen bases.  Matt Miller hit .344 with a little power and some plate discipline.  He might make it, but is running out of years – he’s 25.

The best player in A+ Modesto was likely Michael Paulk – who has Mark Grace numbers, if not his glove at first base.  He’s 24 and could replace Helton in two or three years.  I like Aneury Rodriguez, a 20-year-old with a good ERA and better K/W numbers.  Another 20-year-old, Jhoulys Chacin made 12 starts, walked only 12, and fanned 62 in 66.1 innings after smoking hitters at Ashville (10 – 1, 1.86, 98/30 K/W in 111.1 innings).  He’ll be on the Rockies as soon as it makes sense to use him – perhaps 2011.  Perhaps sooner.