2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

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

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

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

Feeling Optimistic?

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

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

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

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

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

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

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

NOV (2011):

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

DEC (2011):

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

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

JAN (2012):

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

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

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

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

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

JULY:

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

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

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

Key Injuries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relief Pitchers:

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

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

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

Catchers:

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

Infielders:

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

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

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

Outfielders:

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

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

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

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

Down on the Farm:

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

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

Best guess on their record?

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

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

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.

2010 – Top AL Designated Hitters

Chicago White Sox – Shared amongst several players, will be using Adam Dunn in 2011 (109.2 Runs Created).  I’m guessing he’ll do just fine.

Vladimir Guerrero – TEX (98.7 Runs Created)

29 – 115 – .300, but seemed to slow as the season wore on.  Didn’t get resigned, so he’s now getting a shot with Baltimore.  He’ll be okay, but a notch below his 2010 production.

David Ortiz – BOS (98.4 Runs Created)

One day, the slow start will be a slow season.  For now, he remains a very productive hitter.

Hideki Matsui – LAA (86.2 Runs Created)

Still a potent bat, with fair power and a discerning eye at the plate.  Now the DH in Oakland, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  Will be 37 in June, and his stats won’t look as good in Oakland, which may hasten his decline.

Luke Scott – BAL (84.7 Runs Created)

Can play the corner outfield positions (though not well) and first base in a pinch.

Jim Thome – MIN (73,0 Runs Created)

Shared role with Jason Kubel in a platoon role, though after Justin Morneau went down, Kubel played more in the field, too.  Can still tattoo a fastball to the opposite field, and is the complete professional hitter.  Approaching 600 homers with no sign of slowing down.  Of course, the 40s aren’t always friendly to batters.

Travis Hafner – CLE (69.3 Runs Created)

Platooned, which is why his totals are less than the rest – but he’s platooned for a reason.

Johnny Damon or Magglio Ordonez – DET (79.7 and 58.9 Runs Created, respectively)

Damon got most of the licks here in 2010, but Ordonez may get the bulk of them in 2011.

Jack Cust – OAK (62.7 Runs Created)

Hits for power, draws a few walks, swings through a lot of strikes.  Now gets to play full time in Seattle, where he may get more playing time.  I wouldn’t be suprised at 25 – 95 in 2011.

Jose Guillen – KC (53.9 Runs Created)

Guillen shared it with a few others – look for Billy Butler or Kila (Mt.) Ka’aihue to get the bulk of the at bats next year.

The Yankees shared the role amongst a number of players, including Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, and any of their aging stars needing a day or three off while keeping a bat in the lineup.  Thames was very productive, and the other hitters are all pretty good.

The Mariners shared the role amongst a few players, including Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Russell Branyan.  None of that really worked out well, so Jack Cust has been imported for 2011.

The Rays shared the role with a variety of fourth outfielders and extra infielders – sometimes to good effect.  For 2011, Manny Ramirez and/or Johnny Damon (mostly Manny) will get the at bats.  Manny can’t stay healthy, he has an insanity streak, but can still hit really, really well.  We’ll see if he’s got one more good year left in the tank, or if he gets bored.  Or just old.

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!

AL Designated Hitters

Rather than rank them, I’ll just sort by team – especially since some teams didn’t really have a standard DH (Detroit, for example).

Baltimore:  Luke Scott got 89 games, the rest were mixed.  Scott is an above average offensive player with legitimate power and enough patience to help out (55 walks in 128 games).  Scott is not really an outfielder, but he can back people up in right field if required.  (73.3 Runs Created)

Boston:  David Ortiz played 139 games.  We know about his horrible first two months, but he finished strong – 28 homers and 99 RBI.  I don’t think he can rebound to being a .300/.400/.550 guy again, but if he gets off to a quicker start and hits close to .260, he’ll remain valuable.  (81.0 Runs Created)

Chicago:  Jim Thome played 98 games before being traded…  Still a great hitter and the Twins will like him.  Is Carlos Quentin the first choice in 2010?  Thome was productive – more so than Ortiz per 27 outs, but played far fewer games.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Cleveland:  Travis Hafner played 88 games…  He and the Indians are still recovering.  The rest were shared amongst the other teammates.  Hafner may never hit 25 homers again…  (61.6 Runs Created)

Detroit:  Didn’t really have a regular – Marcus Thames got 50 games, Carlos Guillen 33, Aubrey Huff 28 brutally bad games down the stretch.  Magglio Ordonez should have the job because he’s been an immobile object in right for several years now.

Kansas City:  Mike Jacobs got the bulk of the work – 102 games – and it was crushingly unproductive.  49 Runs Created, less than four runs per 27 outs.  There just weren’t a whole lot of better options – the team needs to add DEPTH and add it fast.  (49.0 Runs Created)

Los Angeles:  Vladimir Guerrero stayed healthy enough for 93 games, the rest were split among friends…  Vlad is now in Texas, but  I would be concerned about his health, as his body is breaking down after a rather long and productive career.  Even last year, falling off as a hitter, he was still productive.  Hideki Matsui‘s job now…  (58.7 Runs Created)

Minnesota:  Jason Kubel got half, Joe Mauer used the position for his bat and resting his back…  As a hitter, Kubel was the second most productive of the DH regulars.  (98.1 Runs Created)

New York:  Hideki Matsui‘s primary job – 116 games.  Kubel may have created more runs, but Matsui created more runs per 27 outs (7.0).  Now an Angel, if he can stay healthy he’d still be productive even with losing 10 – 20% of his skills.  (87.0 Runs Created)

Oakland:  Jack Cust got 96 games, Jason Giambi – while in town – got 22 more.  Nomar Garciaparra also got 22 games here.  Cust struck out 36% of the time – a frightening number – and yet had a .359 OBP and created runs.  (78.5 Runs Created)

Seattle:  Ken Griffey‘s last job as a Mariner.  Mike Sweeney was his platoon partner.  They combined for 27 homers and 91 RBI – but the net batting average and OBP was rather pedestrian.

Tampa:  Pat (The Bat) Burrell‘s job 112 times, otherwise Willy Aybar.  Aybar was better…  When Burrell signed, I don’t think 14 – 64 – .221 was what they had in mind.  (48.5 Runs Created)

Texas:  Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock split 100 games, the rest were dished out with Julio Borbon getting 21 shots.  Nobody really helped the cause, which is why Vlad Guerrero was added to the roster.

Toronto:  Adam Lind, a born DH, was here 92 times.  Randy Ruiz got 30, and the rest were shared…  Lind was the best hitter of the bunch – 36 – 108 – .305.  He’ll play outfield from time to time, but in a few years, he’ll be Jim Thome for sure.  Randy Ruiz was just as good in his shot – 10 homers in 115 at bats and batted .313.

2009 AL Gold Glove and Brick Glove Winners

Last week, I gave you the NL Gold Glove and Brick Glove winners and losers…  It’s time to do the same for their brethren in the AL.  As a reminder, here’s how I do it:

1) Look at the number of plays made per every 800 balls in play, because it provides a level playing field and because, in effect, one extra play made is essentially removing one point of batting average from each hitter.

2) Make modifications for things like flyballs and ground balls allowed by pitching staffs.

3) Make modifications to middle infielders based on double plays.

4) Remove infield assists from first basemen’s putout numbers.

5) Convert plays made/not made into runs saved/lost based on values for each hit as determined by Pete Palmer – with hits assigned by position.

6) Determine additional benefits for runs saved based on double plays and errors.

7) Sort.

For the lists below, you’ll see two numbers for each player.  Positive numbers are always better.  The first number tells you how many plays he makes per 800 balls in play more or less than the average guy.  Nelson Cruz made 14 plays every 800 balls in play more than the average right fielder.  That’s a lot.  Derek Jeter’s first number is about -9, which means he makes nine plays less than the average shortstop per 800 balls in play.  The second number tells you how many runs that player saved his team (or cost his team, if the number is negative).  So, the effect of Nelson Cruz making 14 extra catches for ever 800 balls in play (and not make errors, or contribute to double plays) was to save his team about 35 runs over the course of the season.  Again, a negative number is bad – a player’s range or being error prone would cost his team that many runs.

Right Field:

14.0 34.5 Nelson Cruz (TEX)
11.9 17.0 Ryan Sweeney (OAK)

Cruz made a lot of plays – only Suzuki made more, but Ichiro played more than 250 additional innings and had just 24 more putouts.  Like Jayson Werth, Cruz had more putouts than Texas center fielders – something that rarely happens.  Sweeney was solid, but in only 600 innings. Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios were third by my reckoning…  For years, Rios should have been in center and not Vernon Wells.

– 8.4 -28.7 Nick Markakis (BAL)
-10.4 -23.3 Michael Cuddyer (MIN)
-10.2 -17.8 Magglio Ordonez (DET)

Jack Cust just missed this list and he only played 400 atrociously lousy innings…  Markakis gets raves for his arm, but if you don’t get to any flies, you aren’t helping the team.  Ordonez is a regular to the brick glove list and should be a DH.

Center Field:

10.0 20.0 Carlos Gomez (MIN)
7.4 16.4 Adam Jones (BAL)
5.4 14.4 Franklin Gutierrez (SEA)

All the young legs.  Milwaukee will appreciate how good Gomez is defensively (the pitchers will, anyway).  I thought Gutierrez should have moved Sizemore to right in Cleveland and he proved me right.

-5.9 -16.8 Vernon Wells (TOR)
-5.9 -16.5 Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
-7.4 -14.9 Marlon Byrd (TEX)

Vernon Wells has been a slow centerfielder for years – it’s about time to move him to left or right field.  (Just listing his range numbers, 2006: -3.7, 2007: -5.1, 2008: -6.2, costing between 10 and 17 runs to his team each year.)  Ellsbury was lousy despite setting the record for most putouts in a game.  And pity the Cubs if they put Byrd in CF…

Left Field:

5.3 17.8 Jason Bay (BOS)
4.6 15.3 David DeJesus (KC)
4.2 12.5 Carl Crawford (TB)

Bay sure does get a bad reputation for his defense, but he wasn’t a problem last year.  I think Boston will miss him.  Unlike the NL, the AL has a few guys who can really play here and are truly left fielders.

-14.2 -15.3 Adam Lind (TOR)
– 4.7 -12.3 Johnny Damon (NYY)
– 4.6 -10.2 Delmon Young (MIN)

Adam Lind is a DH who is forced into left.  Damon is 36 and is starting to show the effects of old and injured wheels.  And Delmon Young has NEVER been a good fielder.

Shortstop:

14.1 30.8 Elvis Andrus (TEX)
7.6 15.7 Cesar Izturis (BAL)
3.5 11.1 Erick Aybar (LAA)

If anyone in their right mind really looks at this, there is NO WAY that Elvis Andrus should have been denied a gold glove.  Okay – he makes a few too many errors.  But he makes SO MANY plays.  Compared to the worst fielding shortstop in the AL – the guy they gave the gold glove to – Elvis had 55 more putouts and 67 more assists in about 23 fewer innings. 122 additional plays.

-9.2 -14.2 Derek Jeter (NYY)

If you go by guys who played a lot of innings, Alexei Ramirez and Marco Scutaro (or Asdrubal Cabrera) would be second and third. However, I thought I would point out that even though Marco Scutaro is a step up from the 2009 position holders – he’s NOT going to make Boston’s defense airtight.  Scutaro’s range is -5.0/-6.4.  However, Julio Lugo’s 243 innings were brutal (-20.4 range, costing 12.3 runs) and Alex Gonzalez was a step up from abysmal to just bad (-10.9 range, costing them 5.6 runs).  Jason Bartlett’s ankle injury was serious – he went from a gold glover to a problem.

Third Base:

9.3 31.9 Evan Longoria (TB)
14.0 28.6 Adrian Beltre (SEA)
8.6 21.7 Melvin Mora (BAL)

Chone Figgins is above average, but defensively is about twenty runs worse than having Beltre out there.  I stand by what I wrote before – it’s not an improvement to have Figgins in Seattle, though the backups will play less.  Longoria is the real deal.

-16.9 -39.0 Michael Young (TEX)
-17.0 -12.9 Ty Wigginton (BAL)

Michael Young must have been watching Elvis get all the grounders, too.  This just proves that because you once were a decent enough (not great, though) shortstop you can’t just try playing third base and become good at it.  It’s taken YEARS for Alex Rodriguez to go from a lousy third baseman to one who is just a little below average.

Second Base:

7.9 23.3 Placido Polanco (DET)
5.9 18.8 Aaron Hill (TOR)
6.1 16.4 Robinson Cano (NYY)

And Detroit didn’t want Polanco anymore?  He remains very, very good at second base.  Philadelphia hopes he can still play third but I have my doubts that he’ll be GREAT the way he is great here.  Cano has improved every year.  Ian Kinsler just missed this list – he’s regularly awesome.

-11.0 -31.2 Brian Roberts (BAL)
– 6.5 -19.9 Alberto Callaspo (KC)

That Mora and Izturis were solid makes me think that there could be a statistical bias here, but Roberts’ numbers, even with help, are still plain old bad.  By the way – this isn’t news.   He’s been below average three of the last four years.

2006: -4.8 -10.4
2007:   1.2 5.2
2008: -4.3 -12.6
2009: -11.0 -31.2

That’s a pretty big dip, which is part aging and probably part batters hitting in a different direction last year.

First Base:

14.3 37.8 Kendry Morales (LAA)
12.1 24.4 Russell Branyan (SEA)
8.2 15.1 Chris Davis (TEX)

Mark Teixeira, for the first time in a while, just missed making this list. He’s usually in the middle.  I had no idea Morales was that good (or, for that matter, anyone on this list), but I will be watching to see if he remains this good going forward.

-33.5 -28.0 Victor Martinez (CLE)
– 9.6 -20.5 Justin Morneau (MIN)
-14.3 -17.3 Hank Blalock (TEX)

If you count his time in Boston, Martinez cost his teams more than 35 runs – he’s a catcher and can’t really play the position.  Morneau’s injury wasn’t just killing his bat – he was less and less mobile as the year went on.

Dawson Bound for Cooperstown; Hot Stove Returns to Action

Andre Dawson, on his ninth try, was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  Detractors say his on base percentage was too low – but that’s his only flaw.  He hit for power, hit for average, he ran down flies, and had the best arm on a right fielder I have ever seen.  Nobody was tougher; nobody was more universally respected and loved than this guy.  The Cubs fan in me remembers how he begged for a chance to play and earned a contract by winning the MVP in 1987.  [ESPN]

Bert Blyleven just missed (five votes short) and Robbie Alomar was denied a shot at first ballot entry by eight voters.

SI’s Tom Verducci thinks that there is a small and shrinking window for the stars of the last generation – guys like Tim Raines, Jack Morris, and Dale Murphy.  He makes an interesting point…   Jack Morris was a HORSE, Dale Murphy was overrated somewhat, but Tim Raines is undeniably a Hall of Famer.  [SI]

Keith Law, someone I usually find interesting and insightful, really scooped the deep end of the garbage can for this post.  Okay – I agree – Raines was robbed.  I agree, I don’t understand why people vote the way they do – or not vote at all.  But to say that Dawson didn’t deserve to make it and that Jim Rice lowered the standards?  Does he remember how good Jim Rice was for a decade?

Look – I’ve never seen anyone stand up for Jim Rice, but LOWERED the STANDARD?  Usually that’s done by the Veteran’s Committee – not the voters.  Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in baseball, was a solid outfielder in a difficult outfield, and is a credit to the game.  And to compare Andre Dawson to Yuniesky Betancourt is a joke.  Law wrote, “…Andre Dawson, is most notable for the enormous number of outs he made while bulking up his credentials.”  Really?  Most people don’t remember the outs – they remember the grace, class, power, speed, and arm.  They remember how he and Gary Carter gave the Expos credibility; how he mentored Tim Raines – keeping him on the straight and narrow.  He was a LEADER – by example and by action.

Each deserves their spot in the Hall of Fame.

HOT STOVE NEWS!!!

Eric Hinske signed a one-year deal with the Braves.  This is a GREAT signing.  Hinske is getting up there in years, but he hustles, hits for some power, can play four positions – just the kind of guy you want on your team for long summers and the post-season.  And the Braves look like they might be thinking about the post-season in 2010.  Does anyone remember that he was the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year?  [ESPN]

It’s official – Casey Kotchman is a Mariner – and the Red Sox will get utility infielder/outfielder Bill Hall.  This is a pretty good move for both teams, even though I think the Mariners could use a more productive first baseman than Kotchman.  Kotchman has appeared, at times, to be more of a poor man’s Mark Grace, but the more I look at it, Mientkiewicz  is a solid match.  He’s just not enough offense for the position. [MLB]

Oakland returns Jack Cust to the fold for the third time – though this time it was only because the As didn’t offer him a contract and signed him as a free agent a few weeks later.  Cust gets at least $2.65 million for 2010.  The DH/Outfielder remains a solid power threat with a few extra walks, though if he gets 600 plate appearances he might strikeout 200 times.  There are worse problems to have than a guy who hits 30 homers – but Richie Sexton didn’t stay around forever either…  [MLB]

The Royals added more pitching depth, signing Cuban defector Noel Arguelles to a multi-year deal worth $6.9 million.  After taking time off, Arguelles will join the Royals in spring training and figure out what level in the minors he’ll get to show off his stuff.  The kid is big – 6′ – 4″ and 225, athletic, and has a solid reputation in international play.  With Aaron Crow signing after being drafted out of Missouri, the Royals may have two potential aces to join Zach Greinke by 2012.  If they can find an offense, that would be something.  [MLB]

Edgar Gonzalez, older brother of Adrian, and also a member of the Padres is the first of the Gonzalez brothers to leave town…  Edgar is heading west, however, across the International Date Line, to play in Japan.

The Yankees kept Sergio Mitre around – one year, $850K.  Yawn.

A good guy isn’t pitching in 2010 – Scott Eyre decided that it would more fun to spend the summer with his family.  God Bless – see you on ESPN in 2011.

Happy Birthday!

Just a quick list today…  Kitty Bransfield (1875) – outfielder on the great Pirates team at the beginning of the last century, Johnny Mize (1913), Alvin Dark (1922), Dick Schofield (1935), Jim Lefebvre (1942), Tony Conigliaro (1945), Ross Grimsley (1950), Doug Capilla (1952), Allan Anderson (1964), Eric Gagne (1976), Alfonso Soriano (1976), Edwin Encarnacion (1983), and Jon Lester (1984).