Of Fathers and Sons and Opening Day

Even with all the opening day baseball games, the coolest story of the day was the unveiling of a statue in Arlington created in memory of Shannon Stone, the firefighter who was at the game with his son when he reached out to catch a souvenir baseball thrown to him by Josh Hamilton, stumbled, and fell 20 feet to his death.  The Rangers had a local artist create a statue of Shannon and his son, Cooper, that was created in Shannon’s memory, but dedicated to all fans – especially the fathers who bring their kids out to the ballgame.  [ESPN and others…  The MLB site had video of the unveiling.]

Opening Day Notes:

The first full slate of opening day games included a number of fine pitching performances.  Johan Santana went five scoreless in his first outing since shoulder surgery, Roy Halliday threw eight scoreless, as did Justin Verlander, in wins, and Johnny Cueto looked like Luis Tiant in dominating the Marlins (the Reds Opener, but the second game for the run-scarce Miami Marlins).  Ryan Dempster and Stephen Strasburg pitched well without getting a decision, and Erik Bedard faced the wrong team in losing, 1 – 0.

One new record was set – the Toronto Blue Jays needed 16 innings before a J.P. Arencibia homer topped the Indians, 7 – 4.

For a complete scoreboard, I’m partial to the MLB.com scoreboard – especially the MLB.com application on the iPad.  Seriously – it’s awesome.

Aches and Pains…

Mets outfielder Andres Torres reinjured his calf on opening day, so he is likely going on the DL and returning to Port St. Lucie to rehab.  [FoxSports]

San Diego placed pitcher Tim Stauffer on the 15-Day DL with a strained right elbow.

The Transaction Wire…

A few teams were making final moves, sending various players to the minors or bringing them up to the bigs.  Those that caught my attention:

The Yankees assigned Jack Cust to their AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Baltimore outrighted one-time prospect Dana Eveland to AAA Norfolk

Happy Birthday!

Players celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane, Hall of Fame catcher
(1908) Ernie Lombardi, Hall of Fame catcher (and schnozz)
(1937) Phil Regan, the Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief…
(1943) Marty Pattin
(1951) Bert Blyleven, Hall of Fame Curveball
(1964) Kenny Williams, outfielder and White Sox GM
(1969) Bret Boone, alleged steroid user
(1971) Lou Merloni, who alleged that the Red Sox trainers taught people safe steroid practices without necessarily encouraging players to use them…

I’ve probably written this before – and if so, I apologize – but Marty Pattin is just one of those guys who makes me think of my grandfather and baseball cards.  My parents both lived in a three-flat home on Sacremento near Addison in Chicago.  Mom lived upstairs, the owners lived on the main floor, and my dad lived downstairs.  After my parents married and moved out, we would regularly go down to that same three-flat to visit my grandparents and invariably I would watch baseball games with my grandfather, Sverre Kramer.  He lived and died with the Cubs, used to yell out “Oh, for the love of Mike…” whenever something bad happened (which was often enough) and one of my first baseball memories is watching a game with him where Roberto Clemente hit two homers to top the Cubs and Fergie Jenkins some 40 years ago.

Anyway, down the street at the end of the block was a corner store.  My brother and I walked down there one day – I was seven years old – and we were given 50 cents to buy something by Grandpa Kramer.  Mike bought candy.  I, of course, bought baseball cards.  Opening the pack, the one player who stood out to me was Marty Pattin.  I can still picture the card and reading the stats on the back.

Anyway, Pattin has kind of hung around in my baseball brain.  A few years before I got to the University of Kansas, Pattin was a coach there – so I would see his name in the media guide.  Pattin comes up in trivia questions from time to time, and no matter what I always end up thinking about that pack of cards.  It wasn’t my first pack of cards – dad used to leave one under my cereal bowl as a kid from time to time – but it might have been the first pack that I chose to buy by myself.  And it’s Marty Pattin’s card that I think about.

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2011 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Last Five Years:

2010: 85 – 77 (4th in AL East)
2009: 75 – 87
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75

Consistently good, not always as competitive in the toughest division to win in baseball.

Runs Scored: 755 (6th in AL, but 4th in the AL East)
Runs Allowed: 728 (9th in AL)

With this combination of run scored and allowed, you’d expect 84 wins, so Toronto was pretty much on the money.

2010 Recap:

Most everyone had them fourth – so no surprises here.  Well, not at a team level anyway…  A LOT of surprises at the player level – but we’ll cover that down below.

After trading wins and losses for a month, the Blue Jays got hot in May and raced toward the top of the division.  Unfortunately, the Jays were equally cold in June and fell back to fourth.  June was their only losing month – from July 7th on, the Jays were 14 over .500, so if they hadn’t gone cold for the 30 days from June 6 to July 6, it’s very likely that the Jays could have sneaked into the playoffs.

What made Toronto competitive on heals of losing the best pitcher in their team’s history, Roy Halliday, was a BUNCH of home runs.  Jose Bautista hit 54, Vernon Wells slammed 31 dingers, John Buck had 20, Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, even Alex Gonzalez had 17 in just 85 games.  Aaron Hill didn’t hit much, but clocked 26 homers.  Adam Lind tallied 23, Lyle Overbay slashed 20, and even the half season of Travis Snider was good for 14.  Toronto hit 257 homers but only allowed 150, a gap that covered for other weaknesses.

During the season, the Jays made a few minor deals, but the one that made a splash was the trade in July that sent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and two minor leaguers to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.

Starters:

As mentioned, Roy Halliday was gone, and the Blue Jays were forced to rely on a bunch of young arms – many of whom were returning from prior shoulder and elbow injuries.  Ricky Romero improved on an impressive 2009 rookie season and made 32 starts, logged 210 innings and win 14 games, pitching like an ace for much of the season.  Shaun Marcum returned to go 13 – 8 and missed by a start of hitting 200 innings.  Brett Cecil, the #1 pick in 2007, raced through the minors and showed moxie – leading the team with 15 wins.  Brandon Morrow, who never seemed to live up to the hype in Seattle, fanned 178 batters in just 146.1 innings, kept hitters off stride, and won 10 decisions.  The fifth starter role was given to Marc Rzepczynski and Dana Eveland, but at the end was given to former Phillie prospect Kyle Drabek, who looks to make the rotation in 2011.

Looking ahead, Shaun Marcum is gone, having been moved to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, a top second base prospect.  That leaves Romero, Cecil, Morrow, and either Rzepczynski, Drabek, Reyes, or Jesse Litsch – another former Jays starter coming back from hip surgery.  Drabek comes with the most hype – the top prospect in the Toronto chain, having gone 14 – 9 for New Hampshire in the Eastern League.  Reyes can pitch some, but more likely will start the year in the bullpen and pick up a start from time to time, which leaves Litsch and Rzepczynski battling for the fifth slot.  I think Drabek can be every bit as good as Marcum was in 2010, and if Litsch or Rzepczynski can make 25 healthy starts, this will be a slight improvement – if only because you won’t have the nine less than stellar starts of Dana Eveland in the mix (or, for that matter, Litsch’s nine less than impressive starts).

Bullpen:

Gone is Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 games last year.  Gregg is NOT a dominant closer – but rather a tolerable one,  He was ably supported by Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and David Purcey.

For 2011, the closer looks to be former Ranger closer Frank Francisco, who can be much better than Gregg but historically is just marginally better.  Other closers are in camp, including Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, as well as Frasor, Janssen, Camp, and Purcey.  This is a very deep staff and should continue to keep Toronto in games.

Catching:

Last year’s duo of John Buck and Jose Molina were impressive defensively – above average in six different categories, and league average in terms of basic mobility.  Buck also hit well – an all-star level performance.

Looking ahead, Toronto will be depending on rookie J.P. Arencibia.  After struggling through a rough 2009 season in Las Vegas, Arencibia pounded PCL pitchers to the tune of 32 – 85 – .301 in 104 games.  That translates to about 20 – 65 – .250, which is not too far from a typical John Buck season.  Molina remains as a capable defensive backup.

Infield:

The changes continue from the infield that started the 2010 season.  Basher Jose Bautista showed to be more consistent at third than Edwin Encarnacion, who will move to first or DH in 2011.  Yunel Escobar can find his groove and hopefully contribute like the hitter he was in 2009, and second baseman Aaron Hill will rebound from his .205 2010 season and hopefully retain his power.  Adam Lind moves to first base, replacing Lyle Overbay.  I’m nervous about this unit.  The left side will be marginally better than 2010 defensively, but the right side will not be.  Lind has yet to produce as many runs as Overbay, and the 85 games Alex Gonzalez played were productive and hard to immediately replace.

John McDonald is still around to back everyone up – as is Encarncion.

Outfield:

Left field will be manned by former Angel Juan Rivera, who replaces Fred Lewis – a fourth outfielder at best.  While an improvement, Rivera is starting to get old and in ten seasons has never played 140 games in a season.  Vernon Wells is gone, replaced by Rajai Davis.  Davis is faster than Wells, but about 25 runs behind him as a hitter.  In right is Travis Snider, who replaces Bautista’s role.  Snider is due to step forward as a hitter, but hasn’t been a strong fielder.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Las Vegas wasn’t loaded with prospects other than Arencibia, who will start on opening day, and Brett Wallace, who was traded to Houston for Anthony Gose – a low level centerfielder with speed to burn, but a problem with contact and little power.  (I’ll be honest, I don’t see the reasoning there unless one thinks Wallace didn’t have a future in Toronto, but I think he’s better than Encarnacion.)

AA New Hampshire had Drabek, but also Zach Stewart, who is a year older but not quite as good.  David Cooper is a first baseman who has stats that look like Lyle Overbay – but at AA.  He might be a year away, but he’s not quite there yet.  Eric Thames has more power and a touch of speed.  He could replace Juan Rivera and you might not lose a step.  Darin Mastroianni is a leadoff type hitter, great speed and good on base percentages.  At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, but he could help somebody for a months if needed.  The guy who is really interesting is Cuban import Adeiny Hechavarria, who looks like Davy Concepcion did when he was 21 years old – great glove, could grow into a hitter (but not yet).  Tristan Magnuson was successful as a reliever in AA, with great control, but Danny Farquhar has better stuff – 79Ks in 76 innings, just 50 hits allowed.  He’s a touch wild.

Alan Farina didn’t look like a prospect after a season of struggle at A+ Dunedin, but he DOMINATED A+ in 2010 and moved up to New Hampshire and kept right on going (74Ks in 55.2 innings).  If he does this in Las Vegas, he may make the roster in September, 2011.  Joel Carreno is a starter with moxie who will start in AA this year after a successful run in 2010 with Dunedin.  Catcher Travis D’Arnaud will get to build on a reasonably successful 2010 season, but it would help if he shows a little more power.

2011 Forecast:

There are things to like.  The outfield defense should be stronger.  The team will be spending less money at a couple of positions, which helped pay for a Jose Bautista contract.  The pitching staff is rather deep, especially in the bullpen.  The only slip defensively is at first base – which means the team will likely stay around 715 runs allowed, if not a few less than that.

The things that make you nervous?  I think the offense has to fall back.  I can see Bautista having a good season, but will it be as good as last year?  Probably not.  You have a drop in offense at first and center and possibly at catcher against potential improvements in left and second.  But there are too many “downs” to make up for the possible “ups” – and I see this as being sixty to eighty runs less than 2010.  As such, I see Toronto falling below .500 to about 77 – 85, which could very well be last in the AL East.  This isn’t a BAD team, just a team in the wrong division and falling back because a couple of guys were over their heads last year.  On the other hand, there are signs that this team is trying to build a new foundation of young players that can get them over the 90 win plateau and finally get back to the playoffs.

2010 – Top AL Catchers

Joe Mauer (MIN) – 99.3 runs created

Mauer wasn’t 100%, but he’s still amazing.  Defensively, he has few peers and offensively he’s a solid #3 hitter.  His power was off – just nine homers – and his batting average fell with the league, but he remained a threat to win the batting title.  Backup Drew Butera was solid, too – cutting down 43% of would be base stealers.  Of course, Butera hits like Sal Butera – which isn’t very good.

Victor Martinez (BOS) – 83.4 runs created

Martinez and Jason Varitek remained solid as a team behind the plate, being way below average against the run (80% success rate and 169 stolen bases allowed) and not necessarily being that mobile – though who really bunts against the Sox, anyway.  Martinez hit well here, batting .302 with 20 homers, and Varitek had surprisingly good power in limited plate appearances.  Martinez is gone now, leaving Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek as top options, which will hurt the Sox offensively in 2011.  Saltalamacchia has never hit that well – and Varitek isn’t going to hit .275 anytime soon.  Let’s hope that Salty has beaten his phobia of throwing back to the pitcher…

Mike Napoli (LAA) 73.1 runs created

Jeff Mathis is supposedly the stronger defensive catcher – but Napoli was actually better against the run and made slightly fewer mistakes.  Mathis is definitely a cleaner catcher – far more mobile, but not a world beater with the bat.  Bobby Wilson got 29 starts and wasn’t awful, didn’t impress me with either his mobility or arm, but he might be able to hit a little.  As a group, they were well below average and partly to blame for not winning the division in 2010.  Offensively, Mike Napoli has power and produces runs, and held down first base when Kendry Morales went down to that freak broken leg.  Mathis hit like Lou Marson (see below) in fewer at bats.  Will Hank Conger win the job in spring training?

John Buck (TOR) – 61.7 runs created

Now a Marlin, John Buck was dependable, decent against the run, didn’t make too many errors, and generally mobile.  The pitching was surprisingly good and Toronto had a winning record.  Defensively, for this position, it was a lot of positives.  Backup Jose Molina was awesome against the run (44% caught stealing), and Buck was pretty good.  Rookie J.P. Arencibia gets the nod for 2011, and he didn’t look so bad either.  By the way, Buck had his best offensive season, too – hitting .281 and slugging 20 homers.  His weakness?  He doesn’t walk at all.

Jorge Posada/Francisco Cervelli (NYY) – 57.9 runs created

Innings split nearly down the middle, Posada is aging (he doesn’t LOOK old, but he’s playing old), but Cervelli isn’t the answer either.  Neither can stop the run, though Cervelli is younger and, therefore, more mobile.  The pitching isn’t happy with the catching either.  As a hitter, Cervelli is learning, and marginally below average, but not awful; he also isn’t seen as the next Yogi Berra either.  Posada did what we would have expected to do – which is lose a little in his batting average, though he still gets on base and hits for some power.  Jesus Montero will have this job as soon as he is ready.

Kurt Suzuki (OAK) – 57.1 runs created

Suzuki remains a decent catcher, though he’s not very good against the run anymore.  Backup Landon Powell is better against the run, but needs to remove some of his mistakes – which will come with time.  As a duo, they weren’t very good – not very mobile, and slightly above average in terms of making mistakes.  Suzuki still hits a little, but it’s a little less and he’s now below average.  He’s still better than Landon Powell.

John Jaso (TB) – 54.2 runs created

Jaso is young and gets on base – much like his Florida Marlins counterpart, John Baker.  In fact, he got on base enough that Joe Maddon let him bat leadoff from time to time.  Dioner Navarro is the best catcher of this group, but his weight is problematic and he isn’t hitting.  Kelly Shoppach doesn’t look like he’ll be in the league very long and should start brushing up on his coaching skills instead.

A.J. Pierzynski (CHISOX) – 52.4 runs created

Pierzynski is starting to get old, but he’s a good kind of old – just good enough against the run, few mistakes, and keeping the pitching staff on point – though he has a good set of pitchers to work with.  His offense fell off to where his power slipped and his OBP is woeful (.301).  Backup Ramon Castro isn’t half bad, and the man can hit (.278/.504/.331).  He could easily be a DH if the Sox wanted, and I’d be tempted to let him play more.

Matt Wieters (BAL) – 51.4 runs created

The Orioles future is now with Matt Wieters assuming the starting role full time.  As a team, Oriole catching rates as slightly above average, with the young Wieters being mobile, and making few errors or passed balls.  The TEAM was below average in terms of the stolen base percentage, but Wieters wasn’t the problem, nabbing 24 of 77 runners.  Craig Tatum was horrible here, allowing 25 of 27 runners to reach the next base.  Offensively, Wieters didn’t amaze as we had been led to believe, but there were a few positives, including 11 homers in 446 at bats.  I think he’s going to be better.  Tatum had a nice batting average (.281), but he didn’t do much with those singles.

Jason Kendall (KC) – 43.6 runs created

You want to know why the Royals are never going to win?  Who was responsible for letting John Buck go to Toronto (where Toronto suddenly had the best overall catching in the league), and replacing him with the ancient, impotent, and immobile Jason Kendall?  Kendall can still throw a little, but the rest of his game is lacking.  Brayan Pena should have been given this job from the outset.  Pena is a better hitter, a better athlete, and has upside.

Alex Avila/Gerald Laird (DET) – 32.3 runs created

Laird is a really good catcher with solid skills, good with pitchers, good against the run, relatively mistake free.  Avila is nearly his equal and played 86 more innings.  Neither hit – but Avila was closer to league average than Laird, who seems to have lost his bat altogether – explaining why Avila got more time behind the plate.  If Avila can step up a bit – maybe .260 and slugging .400 – this would be a positive.  He’ll be a backup, though, as Victor Martinez will take on a load of catching in 2011.

Lou Marson (CLE) – 22.4 runs created

As a team, Indian catchers were average – but the young guys were good in terms of avoiding mistakes and making the throws.  The veteran backup, Mike Redmond, struggled against baserunners (see Craig Tatum, BAL, above).  I’ve always been a Marson fan, but if his bat doesn’t improve soon (.195 with no power), he’ll become the new Paul Bako.  You think the Indians miss Victor Martinez?

Matt Treanor/Bengie Molina (TEX) – 20.5 runs created

A few years ago, it looked like Texas had all the good young catchers.  Saltalamacchia is gone, Taylor Teagarden has been disappointing, Max Ramirez isn’t the answer yet, leaving veteran Matt Treanor as the best of the lot.  It was so bad, the Rangers imported Bengie Molina from the Giants down the stretch, and he wasn’t much better than Treanor – though he was more mobile.  Nobody hit here, so the addition of Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba will help immensely.

Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (SEA) – 14.9 runs created

Josh Bard got 300 innings, too – nobody had more than 515 innings at the position in 2010.  Moore wasn’t very good against the run and he isn’t very mobile.  If he has room to grow, that’s news to me.  Rob Johnson was good against the run and more mobile, but his health record looks like Medicare’s worst nightmare.  Bard can catch, but that’s about it.  As a team, among the worst catching in the league.  Only Bard hit above .200, and he hit .214.  Not good at all…

2010 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Last Five Years:

2009: 75 – 87 (4th AL East)
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75
2005: 80 – 82

Runs Scored: 798 (6th AL)
Runs Allowed: 771 (12th AL)

Having outscored their opponents by 27 runs, the Jays should have won about 84 games.  This isn’t the first time that Toronto has won fewer games than one might expect based on their runs scored and allowed data.  In 2008, they were ten games over .500 with essentially the same ratio of runs as the World Series bound Tampa Rays.  In 2007, the Jays scored one fewer run than they allowed in road games, but lost 47 of 81 games.  And that 2005 club finished under .500 despite outscoring their opponents by 70 runs.  That’s four of five years that Roy Halliday thinks that he should have been on a contending team – only to fall by the wayside.

Who should be held responsible for this?

Season Recap:

Most teams had the Jays landing in fourth place in the prediction category, but most of us figured it would have been more like 85 wins.

The Jays got off to a GREAT start.  It wasn’t long before Toronto, led by Halliday, Scott Richmond, and Ricky Romero, were running off and looking like they would be a force in the AL Beast.  After sweeping the Chicago White Sox on May 18, Toronto hit a SLUMP – all CAPS because they lost nine straight, six to Boston and Baltimore.  Rumors that Halliday was to be traded starting dominating the news – when it wasn’t some member of the rotation going down to injury – and I think the Jays got horribly distracted.

I know this – the team’s OBP every month was about .333 except July, when they must have started swinging at everything.  The OBP in July was .298.  So, even though the pitching staff was still getting the job done (a 3.81 ERA, best of the year), they couldn’t win, and it was July that put them out.

At this point, the Jays lost a lot – killing off the season as July started and finally bottoming out after reaching fifteen below .500 in early September.  Halliday never got traded and, in fact, once the team figured out they had better just enjoy being a team the rest of the way, the team had a winning September when it didn’t matter.

Pitching:

Roy Halliday was marvelous – 17 – 10 with a 2.50 ERA and saving his club 47 runs more than average pitching would have provided.  Ricky Romero finished with 13 wins and was about 8.5 runs better than average in 178 innings.  Scott Richmond lost 11 of his last 15 decisions, costing his team 14.5 runs, and then hit the DL where he’ll likely miss most of 2010.  Brian Tallett got 160 innings and his control got the best of him.  Brett Cecil got 17 starts, had a winning record, but seemed very hittable (5.30 ERA, 17 homers and 116 hits in 93.1 innings).

On the other hand, Marc Rzepczynski proved a potential rotation player with 11 decent enough starts – and hopefully can build on that for 2010.

In the bullpen, a closer could not keep a job.  B.J. Ryan wasn’t worthy – 6.53 ERA – and was shipped out.  Scott Downs hung in there for a while with 9 saves and decent numbers (good control); Jason Frasor was even better and eventually earned the closer role for good.

No worries – for 2010, the pitching staff will look different with Halliday having been shipped to Philadelphia for a boatload of prospects.

First, Shaun Marcum returns from an injury forced exile to take over the front of the rotation.  I like Marcum – he’s a fine pitcher, but he’s no Halliday.  Romero returns, as does Rzepczynski and Tallett, with former Mariner Brandon Morrow joining the rotation to take the ball in the first inning every fifth turn.

Marcum has always been an above average pitcher – but not 40 runs above average.  And Morrow has never been dependable as a starter.  Even Tallett is a converted reliever – which means his arm hasn’t been abused, but he needs to find consistency this year.

The bullpen starts with Frasor, but adds Kevin Gregg from the Cubs.  Scott Downs returns and will help.  Jesse Carlson and Jeremy Accardo round out the top five.  Gregg is inconsistent, too – but he’ll be a nice eighth inning option.  There is more depth here than in, say Baltimore.  I like Baltimore’s rotation better, though.

Looking forward, I see this unit performing about 50 runs worse than the 2009 rotation – mostly because Halliday won’t be there.  That puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen, and the sixth and seventh guys.  And THOSE aren’t the guys you want pitching important innings.

Catching:

Rod Barajas provided solid catching, but couldn’t get his batting average over .230.  Still – he had 19 homers and 71 RBI.  Essentially, the Blue Jays replaced him with the same guy – former Royal John Buck.  Buck can get the same numbers at the plate but probably not behind it; Buck isn’t as good as Barajas against the run.

Infield:

Lyle Overbay didn’t seem as mobile with the glove, and with a falloff at the plate, he was a bit of a problem.  Overbay ISN’T a bad first baseman.  Usually he makes up for his lack of power with fantastic fielding.  If he’s not going to be a gold glove winner, then his bat – still above average – looks pedestrian when compared to others.  His backup, Kevin Millar, didn’t help at the plate or in the field.

Aaron Hill came back from concussion issues to give head injuries to the baseball, hitting 36 homers and another 37 doubles.  Hill was nearly an MVP candidate.

Marco Scutaro was an amazing leadoff hitter, getting on base at a .383 clip and scoring 100 runs.  Backup infielder John McDonald still fields well, but his hitting is pedestrian.

The Jays started with Scott Rolen, who hit .320 (who saw THAT?), but was traded to Cincinnati for Edwin Encarnacion – who didn’t.  Rolen was traded because he was expensive, but at least he was producing.

For 2010, the infield still has Overbay and Hill, but the other side of the infield features Alex Gonzalez, who has little range and a fading bat.  He WON’T generate 100 runs of offense, and he’ll be worse in the field than the below average Scutaro.  Rolen, until the injuries, was know for being dependable – something Encarnacion is not – and he won’t ever hit like Rolen, either.  I can’t see Hill repeating, Overbay may slide some more, and the other two will KILL the Blue Jays offense.  Look for a 80 run decline offensively and a 20 run decline defensively.

Outfield:

Yes – Alex Rios was disappointing when considering his pay and his production.  However, Rios is an above average fielder and hitter.  He’s gone.  Jose Bautista, who was nearly as productive and cheaper, will get the nod in right field.  It’s no better than a wash going forward.

Vernon Wells remains in centerfield.  He’s old, has had below average range for half a decade now, and will have hamstring problems until he’s 100.  He’s no longer capable of 20 homers and doesn’t get on base much.  He also has a contract nobody else wants.

In left, Adam Lind will be a DH (whew!) but Travis Snider needs to step forward.  There’s a lot to like – he has power, but needs to make better contact.  At least he’ll get to more fly balls than Lind.  Randy Ruiz, a slugger, will also get some more at bats after hitting ten homers in 115 at bats last year.  Like Lind, Ruiz is immobile in the field, too.

I don’t think Bautista is a long-term answer and if Wells go down (and he will), they’ll need to get Phillies prospect Michael Taylor to the big leagues.

Prospects:

First, you have the prospects that the Jays got in the Halliday trade.  one, catcher Travis D’Arnaud, will make the club in a couple of years.  Pitcher Kyle Drabek will be allowed to find his feet in AAA before moving up to the bigs later this year.  And Michael Taylor isn’t listed on the 25 man roster, so he’ll get some time to prove his worth before getting the call.

Looking at AAA Las Vegas, you have to remember that to be a prospect, you have to hit about .330 – like Travis Snider.  J.P. Arencibia would be a better power prospect if he hit .336, but he hit .236 instead.  Other than Snider, who should be ready, nobody else is a prospect for the lineup.  For the same reason, pitching prospects never look so good – so you want good control and an ERA under 4.00 and there just aren’t that many who fit that bill.  Dirk Hayhurst might be close – but he starts 2010 on the 60-day DL after surgery on his right shoulder.  Maybe he can come back in 2011.

At AA New Hampshire, Reidier Gonzalez showed control but not enough strikeouts in his 93 innings.  Fabio Castro, a tiny lefty who has seven years with four franchises, looked okay but doesn’t have a strikeout pitch that he can depend on as he moves up and faces AAA hitting.

The best hitter at AA was Brian Dopirak, who hasn’t yet made it to the bigs but is starting to look like he might hit about .270 with some power if he gets there.  Dopirak hit .308 with 19 homers in New Hampshire, then .330 with 8 homers in Las Vegas.  With Overbay around, he won’t get a chance without someone getting hurt.

A+ Dunedin featured Darin Mastroianni, a speedy centerfielder who can steal bases (70 in Dunedin and New Hampshire last year) and finally started to look like a hitter last year.  He needs to keep drawing more walks to look like a Brett Butler type, but he made progress on that last year, too – 76 in 131 games.  Pitcher Bobby Bell had 112 Ks and just 22 walks in 96.1 innings, but the real ace might be reliever Tim Collins, a teenager last year, who had 99 Ks and 29 walks in just 64.2 innings.  That’s CLOSER material, and I’d name him as the most exciting prospect on the farm.

The Lansing Lugnuts featured a few young arms with promise.  Of them, I like Henderson Alvarez, who walked just 19 in 124.1 innings and led his team in Innings, ERA and wins.

Forecast:

Let the rebuilding begin.  We’re talking about a team that is going to lose 100 runs of offense, probably, and another 80 runs defensively.  Toronto will likely lose 95 games and possibly 100, costing Cito Gaston his sanity if not his job.  The system says 65.5 wins, but I’m rounding down in this division.

Top AL Catchers in 2009

Unlike the guys who play between the baselines, determining the value of a catcher defensively is a much harder proposition for me.  I haven’t been able to translate defense into runs the way I have for all the other positions, but I AM able to look at the responsibilities of a catcher and determine what teams are benefiting more from good catching than others.  Here’s how I do it.

There are seven things for which a catcher would get credit as being solid defensively.  If the catchers for a team are above average in a category, they get a point.  If below average, they lose a point.  The top score is seven, the lowest score (obviously) would be -7.  Here are the categories:

W/L Percentage: Score a point for a winning record, take one away for being below .500.

Adjusted ERA: If the team’s staff has a better than league average ERA (4.43), score a point.

Mistakes Per Game: Essentially errors and passed balls are added up.  The norm is about .11 mistakes a game for AL catchers.  Score a point for doing better than that.  Otherwise, take one away.  The only time this is patently unfair is when a team has a knuckleballer – so this works against Boston right now.  But it’s just a single category and I tend to give that team the benefit of the doubt on that category.

Mobililty: Mobility is the total number of assists that aren’t tied to stolen bases and the number of putouts that aren’t strikeouts.  A good catcher blocks the plate and gets outs on throws home, or can race out of the crouch to snare bunts and make plays in the field.  In the AL, the average catcher made .38 plays requiring mobility.  Score a point for beating that number.

Fielding Percentage (not counting strikeouts):  I guess someone had to get credit for the putout when a batter strikes out.  Unfortunately, catching strike three isn’t really “fielding”.  So, I look at the fielding percentage after removing putouts for Ks.  The average catcher has a fielding percentage of about .914 on balls in play or when runners are trying to advance.  Beat it, and score a point.

Assists Per Game: These are assists NOT tied to stolen bases and is used to grade the catcher’s ability to make good throws.  The league average is .23 assists per game.

Stolen Base Percentage: Can a catcher hold the running game in check?  If so, score a point.  The league average is 73.6% – which is awfully high, don’t you think?

The best catcher (well, team of catchers) can score a seven – and it happens from time to time.  As it turns out, there was a seven in the AL in 2009 – and it was your Detroit Tigers led by Gerald Laird.  The Tigers had a winning record, an adjusted ERA of 4.26, cut off the running game, made few errors, few mistakes in total, had great mobility, and had an above average number of assists not tied to stolen bases.

I’ll list the table here to show you where the catchers rank defensively and then discuss the nuts and bolts in the player comments below.

ERA WPct SB% FPct-K MTK/G Mobility Asst/G Rank
AL AVG 4.43 .500 73.6% 0.914 0.11 0.38 0.23 ***
BAL 5.05 .395 78.3% 0.918 0.10 0.50 0.16 -1
BOS 4.20 .586 86.8% 0.925 0.10 0.47 0.20 3
CHA 4.02 .488 75.9% 0.899 0.09 0.18 0.11 -3
CLE 5.50 .401 77.1% 0.948 0.09 0.36 0.21 -3
DET 4.26 .528 63.8% 0.975 0.10 0.43 0.30 7
KCA 4.57 .401 74.5% 0.873 0.17 0.45 0.18 -5
LAA 4.41 .599 76.6% 0.875 0.14 0.41 0.43 1
MIN 4.28 .534 77.0% 0.933 0.12 0.32 0.10 -1
NYA 4.34 .636 70.6% 0.925 0.10 0.37 0.25 5
OAK 4.32 .463 70.8% 0.922 0.08 0.35 0.27 3
SEA 3.98 .525 60.4% 0.935 0.13 0.35 0.27 3
TBA 4.33 .519 76.3% 0.905 0.09 0.37 0.23 0
TEX 4.20 .537 69.7% 0.858 0.15 0.34 0.17 -1
TOR 4.61 .463 65.9% 0.911 0.13 0.41 0.32 -1

Joe Mauer (MIN):  Hands down the best catcher in baseball, wouldn’t you think?  An offensive force who chose to try and take advantage of hitter’s counts and blasted his way to creating 131.6 runs.  Last year, Mauer wasn’t as dominating against the run, but he still did a few good things.  His backups, Mike Redmond and Jose Morales can contribute.  Both can hit a little and catch enough – but had limits.  Redmond struggled against baserunners, who were successful 35 out of 40 times, while Morales had 5 passed balls and 3 errors in just 183 innings.

Victor Martinez (CLE/BOS):  A remarkable hitter who bounced back from an unproductive and injury riddled 2008 to hit 23 homers, drive in 108 runs, and generate 108.8 runs of offense.  His catching skills don’t match his offensive numbers – easy to run on, not exceptionally mobile.  And, when asked to play first base, shows his lack of mobility there.  Still, he’s 30 runs better than any other catcher offensively, you can live with the rest of it most days.

Kurt Suzuki (OAK):  Would you have guessed he was the third most productive offensive catcher?  Mid range power and average, can run some (78.45 Runs Created) and his stats aren’t helped any by playing in Oakland.  Plays a lot of innings.  Not great against the run and his teams haven’t been remarkably successful, but don’t blame this guy.  Oakland’s catchers scored at 3 points, which is five above average counters, and just missing on mobility and the team’s winning percentage.  He’s a great catcher.

Jorge Posada (NYY):  Still a very productive player (74.98 Runs Created).  Good power, good batting average, and patient at the plate.  Defensively, Posada found some of his youth.  His backups, Jose Molina (now in Toronto) and Francisco Cervelli may not hit like Jorge, but they are more than his equal defensively – a nice thing for the Yankees to have.  Overall, the team ranked at +5 – six above average categories and just missed the league average for mobility.  Cervelli was great against the run – gunning down 10 of 23 runners.

A.J. Pierzynski (CWS):  Hit .300 but his power numbers were down a bit.  Contributes with the bat (69.22 Runs Created), but his defense is not helping out.  Not very mobile, makes a few too many mistakes, and the team fell below .500.  The final tally was -3, which means that only the team’s ERA and the total mistakes per game numbers were above average.  Everything else was not.  Ramon Castro was #2 last year, and he isn’t known for his defense either (though he threw well in 2009).

Mike Napoli (LAA):  An impressive hitter – power, patience, hit .272.  His backup, Jeff Mathis, is the glove wizard.  The net is a very productive combination.  Slightly above average catching (+1) and above average hitting.

Miguel Olivo (KCA):  Hits for power, but doesn’t get on base (53.59).  Has a strong throwing arm, but doesn’t always get the ball where he was aiming.  Makes an awful lot of mistakes, and for a guy who looks lean, isn’t very mobile.  Royals catching was well below average (-5) because John Buck couldn’t throw people out and even though he’s less mistake prone, EVERYBODY is less mistake prone than Olivo.  In 2010, both Olivo and Buck will be gone.  Olivo is in Colorado, where if he gets off to a hot start might hit 30 homers and make 15 errors…  Buck is in Toronto.

Jason Kendall, who inherits this job, would rank in this spot offensively and I don’t believe that things are going to improve that much defensively.  You never know.

Matt Wieters (BAL):  In two years, he may be the guy challenging Joe Mauer for the top rung.  For now, he’s got work to do. A good hitter (.288, .412 slugging – 49.04 Runs Created) and not horrible catching (-1 as a team), I like where Baltimore is heading here.  Gregg Zaun is gone, so Chad Moeller can back things up himself.  Moeller didn’t throw anybody out trying to steal, though.  Okay, two people, but that’s it.  Maybe they can sign Paul Bako to teach Wieters a few tricks.

Rod Barajas (TOR):  His batting average tanked to .226, but his power numbers were up (46.99 Runs Created).  I think Toronto would miss Barajas, but Raul Chavez was equally good at shutting down the running game and not horribly error prone.  Chavez is also more mobile these days and offensively they were a wash.  Chavez is cheaper, though…  The 2010 Blue Jays have only one catcher on the 40 man roster, Royals vet John Buck.  After that, it’s non-roster invites like Chavez, Jose Molina and former first round pick J.P. Arencibia.  Arencibia, out of Tennessee, has good power and some skills, but right now looks like he’d have Barajas’ batting numbers.

Before I let this get away, John Buck wasn’t horrible last year.  Defensively, as mentioned, he was stronger than Olivo but everyone focused on Olivo’s homers and so he got to play more.  Buck hits for some power and, per 27 outs, was actually more productive hitting than Olivo because he gets on base more often.  I’m NOT suggesting that Buck is a hidden all star, but rather that if he got 450 at bats and kept his batting average around .240 rather than .220, he would probably help a team more often than not.

Jason Varitek (BOS):  Now Victor Martinez’s job.  Varitek started out okay and just faded to 14 – 51 – .209 (43.3 Runs Created).  His slugging and OBP numbers aren’t very good either.  ‘Tek also allowed 87% of the runners to steal – 108 successes against 16 runners gunned down.  Martinez and George Kottaras weren’t any better (Martinez was worse in Boston, about the same if you combine his days in Cleveland).  Martinez is going to help score runs in Boston, but I think the pitchers might miss Varitek.  The young Varitek anyway…

Gerald Laird (DET):  Didn’t get the lion’s share of the credit for Detroit’s comeback season because as a hitter, he’s not one.  Creating just 41.3 runs with his .225 batting average and .320 slugging percentage, nobody’s putting Laird on their fantasy team if they can help it.  But he was solid as a defensive stopper – above average in all seven categories and only Kenji Johjima was harder to run on.  Laird tossed out more than 40% of all runners.

Kelly Shoppach (CLE):  Did I read that right?  Shoppach was hit 18 times by pitches?  What did he do???  As a hitter, he strikes out WAY too much (39.77 Runs Created).  He’s better defensively than Victor Martinez was, but that’s like saying I’m taller than my seven-year-old.  He was a bit more mistake prone, but better against the run and much more mobile.  Lou Marson, the former Phillies prospect, will get every chance to win the job and I gather he will.  Marson will hit in the 280s with medium power and some patience.  And, he can throw, too.  Oddly enough, in terms of total production, Shoppach was better in Cleveland than Victor Martinez because if you count everything, you have to include Victor’s lack of defense at first base.

Dioner Navarro (TB):  After such a nice 2008, Navarro crashed and burned in 2009.  His batting average fell to .218, his power was gone, and he doesn’t get on base in other ways so that was a big zilch at the end of the lineup (32.63 Runs Created).  His reputation against the running game may have stopped more people than actually stole bases – the numbers show him to be league average and in the seven categories, Tampa scored ZERO – just as many above average categories than below average categories.  The team says they want Navarro to come into camp lighter, so check the Diamond Notes in the spring.

Kenji Johjima (SEA):  Back in Japan – his batting average and playing time fell off (despite being more productive per 27 outs than many of the guys ahead of him – the net was just 29.91 Runs Created).  Defensively, he and Rob Johnson weren’t too bad – just a few too many mistakes and marginal mobility.

Rob Johnson, who – like Grady Sizemore – had surgeries over two-thirds of his body in the offseason, comes into 2010 as the odds-on starter.  And yet Johnson wasn’t all that solid, generating just 25.2 runs while being a slightly above average catcher (compared to Johjima, who was awesome).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (TEX):  He needed to have a big season with Laird gone and Teagarden coming up behind him and it didn’t happen.  Salty wasn’t horrible defensively but Teagarden is better – better against the run and more mobile.  As a hitter, Saltalamacchia didn’t cut it – just 29.3 runs created with an OBP under .300 and the SLG under .375.  If it was .320 and .425, he’d be hard to replace.

As it was, Taylor Teagarden hit worse than Saltalamacchia, generating 19.3 runs in his 200+ plate appearances.  So, Teagarden’s chance may have passed as well – meaning Max Ramirez may wind up the starting catcher.  The only problem with that is that even Ramirez didn’t hit in AAA last year – batting just .234 with a .336 SLG in Oklahoma City.  The Rangers THOUGHT they had the position locked down two years ago, and now Laird is gone and nobody has really stepped forward.  I think Saltalamacchia, because he’s likely the better hitter of the group, will eventually take over for good.

Final Thoughts…  You want to know how valuable Joe Mauer is?  Look at how many catchers generate barely 50 runs of offense and realize that Mauer is 80 to 90 runs better than that.  AND, he’s a great catcher.  He was easily the most valuable player in the AL last year and will deserve whatever monster five or six year deal he can get.