Chasing Pete Rose

In honor of Ichiro Suzuki getting his 4000th hit in his professional career – and Pete Rose reminding everyone that those hits in Japan shouldn’t count, I thought I’d see who was chasing Rose by age group and determine if anyone had a chance to catch him.

Before I do, though, let’s remind Rose that Ichiro didn’t start playing in the US until his was 27 and when he got here he was already a dominant hitter (.350, 242 hits).  Had he come to the US when he was younger, he likely would have had at least five additional years of 200 hits or so – which means he might already have 3700 hits in the US and a legitimate shot at having more hits than Rose.

But that’s no matter…

Let’s do this by age as the oldest active hitter right now is Jason Giambi. Giambi leads all 42 year olds in hits with 1968 coming into the season and is a threat to make it to 2000, but not much further.  #2 on this list is Brian Giles, who hasn’t played in forever…

(41)  The leaders at 41 are all in the clubhouse – literally.  Pudge Rodriguez had 2844 hits, followed by Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, and Garret Anderson.  The active leader in this group is Andy Pettitte, with 27.

(40)  Like 42, this is not a prolific hitting group, led by the long-retired Shawn Green at 2003.

(39)  The first age with a challenger – Derek Jeter.  Jeter was making progress until this year, where he has but four hits.  He needed another year of around 200.  At 3308, he needs about 950 hits to catch Rose, which means playing well until he is at least 45.  That’s not likely.  He could finish in the top five, though.  Suzuki is on this list – 2722 as of this week.

(38)  Vlad Guerrero leads people at 38 with 2590, but he is done (sadly).  Bengie Molina is the active leader, assuming he still has a job at the end of the year.

(37)  Alex Rodriguez opened the year with 2901, and then sat most of it out.  He would likely have cleared 3000, and even if he played long enough to fulfill his contract, I don’t see him getting the additional 1300 hits he’s going to need to catch Rose.  He’d have to play until he is 47, which is chemically possible.

Paul Konerko and Torii Hunter are the other active leaders, but neither would be expected to make it to 2500, much less 3000. David Ortiz and Lance Berkman might make it to 2000 – Ortiz could make it by the end of the year with a hot streak, and push toward 2500 before it’s over.

(36)  Michael Young leads the group, with Carlos Beltran behind him.  Young looked like a candidate to make a run for 3000 at one point, but now looks like he might run out of gas without making 2500.  Beltran’s knees may betray him before he makes 2500, too.

(35)  The leader in the clubhouse is Juan Pierre, but it’s going to be tough to make it to 3000 (he has about 800 to go) as a fourth outfielder.  Aramis Ramirez will make a run toward about 2400 before it ends.

(34)  Adrian Beltre will finish 2013 with about 2400 hits.  He looks to be on a good roll, but he’s reached the age at which, well, age matters.  I think he may finish with the same number of hits as George Brett.  Jimmy Rollins has closed in on 2200, but he isn’t going to make it to 3000 without finding the foutain of youth.

(33)  Albert Pujols dominates this age group, but the last two years, including an injury-plagued 2013, have slowed his pace.  He’s less than 700 hits from 3000, which still seams easily within reach, but going deep in the 3000s no longer seems probable.  Matt Holiday passed Mark Teixeira this year, but he still needs about 300 to get to 2000 and will make a run at 3000, but not without staying healthy and productive for at least six more years.

(32)  To have a shot at 4000 hits, someone who is 32 should already be well past 2000 hits.  Alex Rios leads this group and will finish the year with more than 1500 hits.  He’ll make it to 2000, but he won’t make 2500.

(31)  The leader at this age group, Carl Crawford, seemed on his way after, say, 2009.  He has lost his momentum, though, and may be hard pressed to turn what will be about 1800 hits to 3000.  Adrian Gonzalez is on this list – pushing 1500, but hard pressed to make much more than 2500.

(30)  Miguel Cabrera dominates this age group – he will finish 2013 around 2000 hits.  I don’t see him averaging 200 hits a year until he’s 40, but he could average 160 hits a year for that long.  That means he needs to play two or three more years beyond 40 to get to 4000 hits.  Obviously this is conjecture, but Cabrera is the only guy with even a SMALL chance of competing with Pete Rose, but you never know.  I’m rooting for him.

The rest of the 30s, including Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, and David Wright, will push 2500, but not much more.  Reyes may not stay healthy enough to make 2000…

(29)  Leading this group are Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, and Ryan Braun, all between 1300 and 1400 hits.  None of these will make 3000 hits, much less 4000.

(28)  You’d think you might have a bunch of hitters with well over 1200 hits here, but you have one – Ryan Zimmerman.  None of the really good hitters in this age group (Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki) started the year over 1000 – or can stay healthy.

(27)  Billy Butler passed 1000 this year and is rolling past 1100 now.  Adam Jones is making a run at 1000 by the end of the season.  After that, nobody has made any real progress.  Those are the only two making any run at 2000 hits – and will be hard pressed to make 2500.

(26)  The top bat in this group will likely be Andrew McCutchen, who will finish the year north of 800.  Ten years of 170 hits would be 2500, and he’d have some time to make 3000.  Austin Jackson might make 2000, as could Pablo Sandoval, if he becomes a DH.

(25)  Nobody is challenging Justin Upton, who will be short of 800 hits by the end of the season.  I thought he had the best chance to have statistics that looked like Hank Aaron going into 2012, but he hasn’t taken that next step forward.  If he gets going, he could make 3000.  If not, he might not make 2000 and that would be sad.

(24)  The early leader is Elvis Andrus, who will be around 800 at the end of 2013.  That’s where you need to be at this point – pushing that first 1000 at the end of your age 25 season.  His glove will keep him around and he seems to be making marginal progress every year.  He needs to stay at the top of the lineup to get the at bats, but he is best poised for 3000 hits of the younger players.

(23)  Starlin Castro is having an off year in 2013, but will still finish the year around 700 hits.  Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton are on this list – but already a couple of hundred hits off Castro’s pace.  The other young hitters are just getting started.  Castro is the one to watch.  If he can start rattling off hits for the next seven years, he could be well on the way to a big number.

(22)  Heading into this season, there were no players with any active history.  That doesn’t bode bell for someone running far beyond 2000 hits.

(21)  Mike Trout – 209 hits heading into the season, 400 hits at the end of the season.  That’s the kind of start that suggests a big number in the future – we can check in ten years and see what is happening…

(20)  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – both are capable and just getting started.

Advertisements

2012 Gold Glove Winners – National League

First – a quick recap of how this works…  Many systems look at range factors – meaning the number of plays made by a fielder every nine innings.  I look at the number of plays made for every 800 balls in play.  The reasons for this include the fact that some teams are loaded with high strikeout pitchers, so the fielders get less action on some teams.  I also make modifications for the groundball/flyball tendencies of the teams, and try to take into consideration the number of innings pitched by lefties – as this may affect the number of plays made by the first or third baseman (see Sandoval, Pedro – 3B).

Then, once I know how many plays someone makes, I can then see how many extra (or fewer) plays someone makes, convert those plays into hits (and eventually runs saved).  I can do that for double plays and errors, too.  The player who saves the most runs at his position wins the award.

I make one modification for first baseman – I remove assists made by other infielders so they get more credit for the plays they make on balls fielded by them and not balls fielded by others.

Originally, this method was used to make defensive ratings for a game – so using 800 balls in play also meant that I could calculate how many points in batting average a fielder may add or take away from a hitter.  So, if you see a player with a range of, say, 10.0, that means that the fielder makes ten plays more than the average fielder at his position and effectively reduces the batting average of a hitter by ten points.

I don’t do this for pitchers by position – they play far too few innings, so the award is given to the team.

Catchers are done differently…  They are effectively done at the team level (though we can note who was the primary catcher) and catching teams are scored in seven different ways: Team ERA, Team Winning Percentage, Fielding PCT (not counting Ks), Error Rates, Mistake Rates, Mobililty (assists not tied to stolen bases), and Opposition Base Stealing Rates.  You get one point for being above average, and lose a point for being below average.  It is theoretically possible to get a perfect score of seven, which happens a lot for a certain catcher in St. Louis.

Let’s get on with it…

First Base:

26.1  Ike Davis, NYM  (10.2 Range, 1222.1 innings)
24.5  Gaby Sanchez, MIA+PIT  (15.0 Range, 697.1 innings)
23.3  Adam LaRoche, WAS  (7.8 Range, 1323.1 innings)

I had no idea Ike Davis was this good, but he made a lot of plays, as did Adam LaRoche.  LaRoche has the better reputation.  Last year, Davis was brutal in about 225 innings, which is why you can’t really take any fielder TOO seriously – at least statistically speaking – until you have seen about 2000 innings in the field. This was the second straight time that Sanchez finished second, so last year’s thinking that his 2011 season may have been a fluke isn’t true.  He’s pretty solid.  If only he could find his bat…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-29.8  Allen Craig, STL  (-18.8 Range, 773.2 innings)
-22.8  Anthony Rizzo, CHC  (-16.2 Range, 730.2 innings)
-21.8  Bryan LeHair, CHC  (-22.6 Range, 474.1 innings)

For what it’s worth, the third string first baseman in Chicago, Jeff Baker, also scored poorly.  Some of that is having a REALLY good keystone combination who turn a lot of double plays which would affect their ranking a bit.  I don’t think Rizzo will be this bad next year…  Allen Craig can hit, but he needs a late inning defensive replacement.

Second Base:

25.7  Darwin Barney, CHC  (9.6 Range, 1270.1 innings)
22.2  Dan Uggla, ATL  (8.7 Range, 1348.1 innings)
17.2  Freddy Galvis, PHI  (19.3 Range, 416 innings)

Barney is awesome – you have to watch him and Starlin Castro play together…  That’s an impressive middle infield.  The rest of the team, however, is brutal.  Dan Uggla had an outlier season – he’s usually around league average.   I don’t expect that to happen again.  Freddy Galvis is crazy quick, but he can’t hit enough to hold that position.  Neil Walker of Pittsburgh just missed this list…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-25.3  Rickie Weeks, MIL  (-9.6 Range, 1344.3 innings)
-15.9  Emmanuel Burriss, SF  (-32.4 Range, 269.1 innings)
-15.0  Daniel Murphy, NYM  (-5.5 Range, 1127.2 innings)

Weeks has had leg injuries and they apparently cut into his range…  Hopefully he can bounce back to where he was a couple of years ago.  Burriss didn’t really play a lot, but when he did either (a) the ball never seemed to come his way, or (b) he stands still a lot.  I don’t believe he is really that bad…

Third Base:

25.2  Pablo Sandoval, SF  (15.2 Range, 842 innings)
18.9  Placido Polanco, PHI  (11.3 Range, 664.2 innings)
15.5  Adam Kennedy, LAD  (33.4 Range, 225 innings)
*14.4  Ryan Zimmerman, WAS  (5.5 Range, 1280.1 innings)

There are a couple of teams that had larger amounts of innings thrown by left handers, which skewed the ratings of a couple of players – starting with the top two names on this list.  Throw in the fact that neither player made it to 1000 innings, Ryan Zimmerman would have won my award.  By the way – the ball found Adam Kennedy.  He’s a good fielder, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not really 33 plays per 800 better than average.If had kept that rate for as many inning as, say, Ryan Zimmerman had played you’re talking about 70 or more extra assists, and 25 extra putouts…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-18.9  Hanley Ramirez, MIA+LAD  (-11.0 Range, 860.1 innings)
-15.6  Chris Nelson, COL  (-9.8 Range, 647.1 innings)
-15.1  Greg Dobbs, MIA  (-19.0 Range, 262.1 innings)

The optimists in Florida (and last year I was one) hoped that Ramirez would battle the position to a draw – but that didn’t happen.  And he wasn’t hitting the way he had in the past.  So he had to go.  Somebody had better figure out if he can play center or left.  So Hanley left and the Marlins tried Greg Dobbs, who isn’t very good either (and he’s not as bad as those stats suggest).  Polanco gets his turn in 2013…

Shortstop:

37.4  Brandon Crawford, SF  (19.1 Range, 1101 innings)
31.6  Starlin Castro, CHC  (14.5 Range, 1402.2 innings)
16.4  Andrelton Simmons, ATL  (18.9 Range, 426 innings)

Simmons and Paul Janish played comparable numbers of innings and had comparable range numbers…  Brandon Crawford was a very pleasant surprise for the Giants, proving to be a dependable and able glove man.  Now, some of this was due to the higher numbers of innings pitched by lefties, and some of this is due to his youthful range.  I don’t see him doing this two years in a row, but you never know.  Starlin Castro continues to get better.  It’s sad that such a wonderful combination such as Castro and Barney is stuck on such a horrible team.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.6  Jose Reyes, MIA  (-8.7 Range, 1410.2 innings)
-21.5  Ian Desmond, WAS  (-10.9 Range, 1139.1 innings)
-15.1  Willie Bloomquist, ARZ  (-16.8 Range, 528.1 innings)

I have said for some time now that Reyes and Jimmy Rollins (who was fourth on the bad list…) are overrated and have been consistently overrated for years.  The Marlins would have been better served to have put Hanley in left, put Reyes at third, and put Emilio Bonifacio at short.  Bonifacio has better range and is great on the double play.  Reyes has a flashy arm and a bigger contract.  Ramirez is too bulky and if you watch him play you notice how he doesn’t just let loose with his arm but he kind of guides his throws.  They are not shortstops anymore.

Left Field:

The best left fielders play less than 500 innings.  There’s no way you can give a gold glove to Austin Kearns who just happened to play his 142 innings when a right handed hitter pulled a fly ball his way.  Shane Victorino played left for the Dodgers – he was legitimately good there, saving the Dodgers about 11.5 runs.

Looking at the guys who play left field a LOT, you have:

8.7  Alfonso Soriano, CHC  (2.5 Range, 1183 innings)
5.5  Ryan Braun, MIL  (2.4 Range, 1318 innings)
4.4  Melky “the Cheater” Cabrera  (2.4 Range, 898 innings)

By the way, tons of people get innings at this position – more than any position other than pitcher…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-20.1  J.D. Martinez, HOU  (-10.4 Range, 833 innings)
-18.5  Matt Holiday, STL  (-6.3 Range, 1312.2 innings)
-17.8  Carlos Gonzalez, COL  (-6.4 Range, 1127.2 innings)

J.D. can’t be that bad – or else he took his hitting slump out to the field with him.  Holliday continues to get slower.  Gonzalez should be a much better fielder than this, but few guys look good in Colorado…

Center Field:

16.3  Angel Pagan, SF  (6.0 Range, 1279.1 innings)
14.5  Jon Jay, STL  (6.0 Range, 993.1 innings)
9.3  Kirk Nieuwenhuis  (13.6 Range, 372 innings)

The third best regular was Michael Bourn…  Pagan had his best year – not sure if he can repeat this level, but he is really, really good (and stayed healthy).  Jon Jay had a great season as well…  You know who had a remarkably good season in center?  Bryce Harper.  Harper’s range was the equal of both Pagan and Jay – he just played 700 innings.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.9  Dexter Fowler, COL  (-9.0 Range, 1026 innings)
-13.5  Matt Kemp, LAD  (-7.5 Range, 911 innings)
-13.3  Drew Stubbs, CIN  (-5.2 Range, 1107.1 innings)

You can see the problems that Colorado had with these last three positions – Fowler, Gonzalez, and Chris Nelson.  I’d love to know how much of this is the park – it’s a huge outfield and has more holes than anywhere else.  Matt Kemp’s body defied him in 2012.  We’ll see if he can come back.  Stubbs was sent to Cleveland, so don’t expect him to erase the ghosts of great Indian center fielders gone by…

Right Field:

26.1  Jason Heyward, ATL  (8.9 Range, 1337.2 innings)
15.9  Justin Upton, ARZ  (5.6 Range, 1280.2 innings)
15.1  Jayson Werth, WAS  (10.7 Range, 608.2 innings)

Heyward had a great season and, like Upton, is just entering his prime.  I wonder which one gets to play in left next year.  I’d move Upton there and tell him it’s time to break out and play like Hank Aaron.  Werth has been a great right fielder for years.  By the way, #6 on the list is that kid Harper again…  If he had played a whole year in center or right, he makes one of the two lists and MIGHT have won the award in center field…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-17.2  Andre Ethier, LAD  (-6.6 Range, 1256.1 innings)
-16.7  Carlos Beltran, STL  (-6.9 Range, 1126.2 innings)
-16.2  Hunter Pence, PHI+SF  (-5.5 Range, 1408.2 innings)

Ethier and Kemp didn’t help the pitching staffs, did they?  Beltran’s knees are now problematic, and Hunter Pence occasionally looks awkward out there – but he tries hard.

Catchers:

Yadier Molina, STL
Carlos Ruiz, PHI
A.J. Ellis, LAD

Molina and the Cardinal catchers were above average in every category, capped by throwing out 35 of 73 base runners.  Ruiz and Ellis were above average in six of the seven categories and dead even in the seventh.  Ruiz gets props for working with the great Phillie rotation, while Ellis probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for the Dodgers success last year.  Ellis and Ruiz had comparable stats against base runners, but Ruiz had the better back up in Erik Kratz.  I saw him – big dude, strong arm, looks like a take charge type.

The worst catching was either Chicago or San Diego, both of whom scored at -5.  Both teams had losing records, staffs that couldn’t keep the ball away from hitters, and tended to be mistake prone.  The worst teams against the run were Pittsburgh and Washington…

Pitchers:

Miami
Milwaukee
Los Angeles

The Marlins pitchers made more plays per 800 balls in play and were the only team with significantly more double plays started than errors committed (21 – 8).  The average team was about 12 – 14.  As such, I give the award (if I have to pick a player) to Mark Buehrle.

2012 Season Forecast – Atlanta Braves

2011 Record: 89 – 73
Runs Scored: 641 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 605 (3rd in the NL)

The Braves actually played better than can be expected based on the ratio of runs to runs scored (estimated 86 wins).

2011 Season Summary:

Never really a threat to win the division (to my dismay as I predicted them to surprise many to win the east), the Braves were never really bad.  They could win in four spots of the rotation, but they couldn’t generate enough offense to make it easy.  Off seasons by Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla (he needed a 30-game hitting streak to get to .233 on the season), and anyone who played center field offset a bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters that held every lead…  Well, until the last ten days of the season.  Like their old cousins in Boston, the Braves couldn’t get that one or two wins that would have sealed the deal and wound up being kicked out the playoffs by the Cardinals.

Pitching:

The Braves have ample starting pitching.  Tim Hudson won 16 games and was well above average all year long.  Three others made between 22 and 25 starts – all were successful.  Jair Jurrjens, who is constantly on the trading block, was the best of the lot (13 – 6, 2.96 ERA), but Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy were both decent.  Mike Minor took on 15 starts and continues to improve – he’s nearly a league average pitcher now and could be ready for a rotation slot.  Only Derek Lowe struggled – he fell off the map in the second half – and has been dispatched to Cleveland to see if he has anything left.  The Braves even have prospects in Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado if needed.  Looking forward, the rotation could still be solid if not a hair better than last year.  Hudson and Jurrjens might take a slight step backward, but Beachy and Minor could be better and one of the rookies will most certainly be better than Derek Lowe last year.

In the bullpen, three pitchers had absolutely stunning years.  Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 46 games and was 16 runs better than the average pitcher in his 75 innings.  Set up man Jonny Venters was even better – 21.5 runs better than average.  The best of the lot was Eric O’Flaherty, who had a 0.98 ERA in just shy of 74 innings and saved the team nearly 25 full runs.  George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink, and Christian Martinez were also above average pitchers last year.  Looking ahead, it’s hard to see the Braves being BETTER than that – it’s rare to save that many runs over 70+ innings – so I think gravity is going to pull this team back some 25 runs.  O’Flaherty can’t possibly have a sub 1.00 ERA again, for example.  This will still be a good unit, but it can’t be THAT good again.

Catching:

Brian McCann is one of the premier offensive catchers in the game and his defensive skills are pretty good.  His backup Dave Ross remains dependable and adds a little offense.  As a unit, this is one of the three best teams in baseball behind the plate.  At issue is the fact that McCann may be the best offensive player on the team – but his best seasons seem to be two or three years ago.

Infield:

Defensively, an infield of Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones is, at best, not bad but not too good either.  It’s actually better when Martin Prado plays third.  Offensively, they put up runs – and that’s one reason the Braves win games.

Freddie Freeman is going to be one of the better first basemen in the NL – already a fair fielder and an above average hitter, he will be an all-star for many years to come.  Dan Uggla has been a steady, dependable power source and is good on the double play.  Tyler Pastornicky is going to get every shot to take over at short, now that Alex Gonzalez has been allowed to leave.  Gonzalez gave you flashes of power, but his bat isn’t great anymore and his glove is now just pretty good for an old guy.  Pastornicky will have better range, but might not match the offense.  As for Chipper Jones, he’s nursing sore knees and has already said that 2012 will be his last season.  Defensively, he’s been problematic at third for a while but his bat has been good enough.  Now, that’s not going to be the case.  When Jones is gone, Prado or Eric Hinske will get innings.  It sure would be more beneficial if Prado hit closer to .300 than .260 as he did last year.

I think Freeman and Uggla will be slightly better this year, which should make up for the team losing runs at short and third – call it a wash…

Outfield:

I think that the Cubs have a weak outfield in terms of production.  The Braves aren’t much better.

In left, you had Martin Prado – decent glove, middling power, and slightly worse than league average production.  That’s LEAGUE average, not LEFT FIELD average – where you want someone who hits 20+ homers and might drive in 85 or more runs.  Prado went 13 – 57 – .260 with hardly any other benefits (4/12 SBs, 34 walks in 129 games).  If Jose Constanza can hit the way he did in 109 at bats last year, that wouldn’t hurt.  Unfortunately, he’s not a banger either – he’s a burner and could play center for many teams.

In center, nobody hit.  Michael Bourn will be there all year, but he’s never hit .300 and doesn’t hit for power.  Nate McClouth hit .228 with four homers and Jordan Schafer was less productive (and sent to Houston for Bourn).  A full year of Bourn will be better, though, than what the Braves had last year.

In right, you had sophomore Jason Heyward, who fell off the map after such a promising rookie season.  I don’t see him hitting .227 again.  He still shows some patience at the plate and his power remains.

The problem may be a lack of a plan B.  Eric Hinske remains, as does Constanza, but even a returning Matt Diaz doesn’t look to help much if a hole opens up in the outfield.

Bench:

Prado gives the Braves some versatility, as does Hinske.  Diaz can pinch hit and platoon some.  Josh and Jack Wilson are around, but don’t offer much offense (and Jack is getting up there in years) and both are losing defensive skills, too.  Ross is good behind the plate.  It’s a full bench, but maybe not a great one.

Prospects:

The top prospects in AAA mostly made it for cups of coffee last year, including Constanza, Teheran and Pastornicky.  The one who didn’t was undrafted first baseman Mauro Gomez, who might be able to help out.  I don’t have a read on his glove, but he’s a decent power bat – might hit .250 with 20 homers in the big leagues.  He just doesn’t have a place to play here.  Another guy who wouldn’t kill you might be pitcher Todd Redmond, who had decent numbers at AAA Gwinett, going 10 – 8 with 142 Ks and just 47 walks in 169.2 innings.  The problem is that he’s been at AAA for three years now and he’s probably going to have to get a shot somewhere else as he’s not high on the prospect list.

The best hitter in AA isn’t high on the prospect lists either – that’s 26 year old Ernesto Mejia, who has stats like Mauro Gomez and, thus, has nowhere to play.  Some like infielder Mykal Jones, but he’s not going to replace Pastornicky any time soon.  Pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado got shots – they have major league stuff and are just kids.  Another good arm might be Brett Oberholtzer, who is close but needs more strikeouts to move up more quickly.  Reliever Billy Bullock has quite the arm, but lacks in control (65Ks, 34BBs in 49.2 innings).

A+ Rome features catcher Joe Terdoslavich, a power hitter who had 52 doubles to go with 20 homers. A one-time former #1 pick, Cory Rasmus has the stuff, but needs to find the strike zone more frequently – and stay healthier.

2012 Forecast:

I think the offense can be 25 runs better than last year – might even be more than that – because Bourn is here all year and Heyward will be better.  On the other hand, I think that the gravitational pull that will be working against the bullpen will equally offset that 25 run gain.  Throw in the fact that two other teams may well be challenging for the top spot in the NL East, the Braves will be lucky to finish with 85 wins, which might be third or fourth in this division.

Opening Day: The Best Day of the Year

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is my favorite day of the year – and this one had plenty of highlights that suggest that 2011 could be as exciting a season as can be imagined.

  • Red catcher Ramon Hernandez hits a three-run, game-winning homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers – an at bat that happened, in part, because Brandon Phillips emulated Chad Ochocinco to avoid a Casey McGehee tag two batters earlier.   (McGehee claimed that Phillips left the baseline, but replays suggest the juke was legit.)
  • Jason Heyward launched a season starting homer for the second straight season.
  • Cameron Maybin, newly acquired centerfielder for the Padres, launched a game-tying two-out homer in the ninth, allowing San Diego to trip up the Cardinals in extra-innings.  Albert Pujols didn’t help the cause, becoming the first player to ground into three double plays on Opening Day.
  • The night ended with a remarkable pitcher’s duel between two young guns.  Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw outdueled San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum to give Don Mattingly his first managerial victory.

If you didn’t enjoy those games, then you just don’t like Baseball

Transaction Wire:

Nearly everything over the last day or two had to do with decisions on whether or not to put some player on the DL for various knicks, pulls, and injuries.  Those getting to miss the fun for at least a week or so include Jason Bay, Brandon Webb (still), J.P. Howell, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Cody Ross, Johan Santana, Aaron Cook, Scott Olsen, Brian Wilson, Clint Barmes, Corey Patterson, Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Homer Bailey, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Dayan Viciedo, Domonic Brown, David Aardsma, Franklin Gutierrez, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, John Baker, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Jason Kendall, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew Bailey.  (There are plenty of others, and if you have a fantasy baseball team, you are aware of many of these guys…

A new DL move, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was listed for today – Rowand has a fractured cheekbone.

Ronny Paulino has a few days left on his steroids suspension, so the Mets placed him on the restricted list.

A couple of days ago, the Phillies had signed Luis Castillo as an insurance policy while Chase Utley allows his troublesome left knee to heal.  That didn’t work out (Castillo is relatively immobile these days and his bat hasn’t been healthy for at least four months now), so the Phillies signed Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard, who turns 36 next Thursday, had an unimpressive season as a utiltiy infielder and pinch hitter for the Dodgers in 2010 (2 – 19 -.216) and a weak spring for the Yankees (.136 in 22 at bats), so this may be his last couple of months in the big leagues unless he can get a few clutch hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeing that shortstop Stephen Drew wasn’t 100% for opening day, signed former Mariner glove man Josh Wilson.  Wilson isn’t a bad guy to have around, but don’t count on him to hit like Drew can.

On the MLB Drama Network

Not sure if you are following the Barry Bonds trial, but we now have a handful of players who all admitted that they used steroids provided by Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer who is sitting in jail for his unwillingness to discuss the number of needles he put in Bond’s belly and butt.  Some of them admitted that they did because of the success Bonds was having since hiring Anderson to build up his physique.  A former personal shopper for Bonds says she saw Anderson give Bonds a shot in his belly button (ouch!), something Bonds told her was “…a little something for the road.”

Not that I am plugging my book (but I am):

Today is the day that Rube Waddell died, the result of a long fight against Tuberculosis, a major killer of men and women 100 years ago.  Waddell died in 1914 while convalescing in a San Antonio nursing home.  At the time of his death, he weighed at least 60 pounds less than his playing weight, 210.

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are…

Ron Perranoski (1936) – Dodger pitcher and pitching coach
Phil Niekro (1939) – greatest knuckleball pitcher ever
Rusty Staub (1944) – Le Grande Orange, and one of my favorite players as a kid
Willie Montanez (1948)
Frank Castillo (1969)
Matt Herges (1970)
Will Rhymes (1983)
John Axford (1983) – who gave up that homer to Ramon Hernandez yesterday (ouch)
Daniel Murphy (1985)

2010 Season Forecast: Atlanta Braves

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 86 – 76 (3rd NL East)
2008: 72 – 90
2007: 84 – 78
2006: 79 – 83
2005: 90 – 72

Runs Scored: 735 (6th NL)
Runs Allowed: 641 (4th NL)

When a team outscores its opponents by 100 runs, the team can expect to win more than 90 games.  The Braves should have finished about 92 – 70.

Season Recap:

The Braves spent three months figuring things out – playing indifferent baseball and hanging within a few games of .500 through June.

In June, however, the pitching came together.  Javier Vazquez started pitching like an ace, Tommy Hanson joined the rotation and started winning like Brave starters of the previous decade.  Jair Jurrjens acted like a Cy Young candidate, and Derek Lowe ate innings.  After manager Bobby Cox flipped closers, replacing Mike Gonzalez with Rafael Soriano.

When the offense started gelling in July (Matt Diaz replacing Jeff Francouer and Martin Prado replacing Kelly Johnson), the Braves started making ground on the rest of the league.  Falling to 34 – 40, the Braves would win most series down the stretch – and then going on tear in September, winning 16 of 19 games to get into the fringe of the wild card race.  Unfortunately, they faced an equally talented Marlins squad, and lost the last six games – including four straight to Washington and four one-run games in the mix.

Pitching:

Javier Vazquez, new Yankee fourth starter, won 15 and finished with a 2.87 ERA – saving the Braves more than 36 runs.  And with that, he was the SECOND best starter on the staff.  Jair Jurrjens didn’t flash the same K/W numbers, but had a 2.60 ERA and saved the Braves 38 runs over what one might expect from average pitching.

Derek Lowe was a 15 game winner in a slightly off season – his ERA was 4.67, which might have been bad luck with balls in play followed by feeling the pressure of struggling.  Still – Lowe made 34 starts and remains a dependable arm.

Tommy Hanson joined the rotation to make 21 starts, winning 11, and finishing with a sub 3 ERA – and it’s not easy to find teams in recent years to have three pitchers with at least 120 innings and ERAs under 3.00.  (Houston, 2005 – Boston, 2002).  Finally, Kenshin Kawakami made 25 starts and pitched well enough to deserve a better record than 7 – 12.

The good news is that Tim Hudson returned from 2008’s season ending surgery to make seven solid starts and ready himself for a rotation slot in 2010.  The Braves even tested two other options – JoJo Reyes made five forgettable starts (7.00 ERA) while Kris Medlin worked four starts into mostly bullpen work and would be a nice fifth option or reliever.

In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano smoked 102 batters in 75.2 innings, and only allowed 80 baserunners saving 28 games.  Mike Gonzalez accepted his demotion with a vengeance and finished with 90Ks in 74.1 innings – providing the Braves with a devastating one-two punch to close games.  Medlin, Eric O’Flaherty, Jeff Bennett, Peter Moylan, and Manny Acosto also pitched better than average innings – one of the deeper bullpens in the National League.

Looking ahead, Vazquez is gone – but it might not matter.  Tim Hudson is back and looks great (he did in the spring), Jurrjens returns after two straight solid seasons, and Tommy Hanson gets to make 33 starts instead of 21.  Derek Lowe is still around, and the fifth spot could be handled by either Kawakami or Medlin without feeling any loss in skill.  That’s FIVE sold starters with a dependable sixth option.

The bullpen got a makeover when both Soriano and Gonzalez took free agent options in Tampa Bay and Baltimore (respectively).  Still – the Braves have options, signing a newly healthy Billy Wagner and bringing in Takashi Saito from Boston.  These two are old (38 and 40) but have been dependable for years.  Moylan, Medlen, O’Flaherty, and Jesse Chavez are able backups and Jo-Jo Reyes isn’t a lousy 12th arm in the pen.  He’ll be better this year.

Catching:

Brian McCann is the best hitting catcher in the NL right now – power, average, and despite troublesome issues with his eyes gets a few walks from time to time…  His backup, David Ross, isn’t chopped liver either – slugging .508 and getting on base to a .380 clip.  This is the best catching in the NL – offensively anyway.

Infield:

The Braves shifted from Casey Kotchman to Adam LaRoche at the trading deadline and got better production from LaRoche offensively and defensively – despite Kotchman’s reputation.  It certainly helped the Braves finish strongly.  For 2010, the Braves are giving veteran third baseman Troy Glaus a chance.  I’m not sure this will be an improvement, to be honest.  Glaus has had troubles staying healthy and hasn’t been a regular first baseman before, so this would be a question mark going forward.

Kelly Johnson had the job at the beginning of the year, but Martin Prado will carry it forward.  Prado can hit, he’s a tolerable fielder (no different than Johnson), so this should be a benefit in 2010.

Yunel Escobar remains a potent offensively player, and is improving equally as a defensive player.  He’s a good shortstop to own in fantasy leagues for 2010.

Chipper Jones is running out of years – injured more frequently and his batting numbers slopped, though he still has enough patience to help score runs.  Defensively, he’s not much – costing his team nearly 20 runs a year.  It’s time to find a replacement by 2012, wouldn’t you think?

Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad back up this unit – Infante has some skills as a hitter, but wasn’t very mobile defensively in 2009.  Conrad is getting his feet wet, but nears 30.

Outfield:

Garrett Anderson was a free agent signee and test drive who hit a little but couldn’t cover enough ground in left.  He’s gone in 2010, with his replacement, Matt Diaz, likely getting a full time job as a fourth outfielder and left fielder.

Nate McClouth came over from Pittsburgh when rookie Jordan Schafer‘s injuries interrupted his development.  McClouth can hit and isn’t an awful fielder, but he won’t make anyone forget Andruw Jones in his prime.  Melky Cabrera was added and may move McClouth to left and/or picking up defensive innings as required.

With Jeff Francoeur now a Met, the Braves are turning to rookie Jason Heyward, who is rated by many as the top prospect in all of baseball.  He may not have Francoeur’s arm, but he can hit and he has young legs.  It should be a fun season for jersey sales.

Omar Infante can cover the remaining innings in the outfield, and Eric Hinske arrives able to play corner outfield and infield positions as well as pinch hit.

Prospects:

AAA Gwinnett featured a lot of veteran hitters and a few pitching prospects – some of whom aren’t around because they were sent out in trades (Charlie Morton), or because they are on the team (Hanson, Medlin).  Boone Logan and Luis Valdez are good pitchers – might be prospects on other teams.

The best prospect at AA was Jason Heyward – after that it’s slim pickings.  Pitcher Jose Ortegano has control and is just 22.  He might make the bullpen in two years.

A+ Myrtle Beach features reliever Cory Gearrin, who walked just three and fanned 32 in 29.1 innings, earning 17 saves.  Gearrin was still good in 20 outings at AA Mississippi – and appears to have reigned in the wildness that marked his first two years in the minors.

J.J. Hoover, Dimaster Delgado, and Randall Delgado looked solid at A Rome, and are just getting their careers started.  Same with 2008 draft pick Adam Milligan, who showed flashes of power and a sweet bat at three levels. Too bad he’s not a third baseman…

Forecast:

Defensively, the team will probably stay the same.  The rotation is solid and can withstand an injury or two.  The bullpen is deep, but not necessarily capable of stellar performances.  However, the defense should be better in the outfield and middle infield.

Offensively, I’m not so sure, but I don’t see many reasons to think it’s going to be WORSE.  I don’t see how it’s going to be BETTER.  I think the positives and negatives will offset each other and the team will still score runs.  There are a lot of good hitters in their prime, and a couple of veteran bats and a deep bench.

As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team is still 100 runs better than their opponents, and win 90 – 92 games.  And, if the bad luck in decisions that seemed to follow them last year goes away, it could be more.  Will it be enough to beat the Phillies?  I don’t know.  But they should be a playoff contender for sure.  The system calls for 92 – 70, so I’ll go with that.

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!

2009 Season Forecast: Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves
2008: 72-90 (4th NL East, 20 games back)

This was my worst pick last year – picking them to win the division, only to watch the pitching staff get obliterated by injuries, and a couple of players taking steps back in production.  That being said, looking at the 2008 Braves, it’s really confusing to see a team that should have been better finish with a record totally unbefitting its reputation, manager, and its statistics.

Looking Back on 2008

Many people had the Braves to finish at or near the top of the division.  Bobby Cox’s team was fronted by two great starters in John Smoltz and Tim Hudson.  Tom Glavine returned home and Jair Jurrjens looked ready for his first full season in the rotation.  There was a decent power core in Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, some good young hitters in the infield and outfield – this was a very good team.  On paper.

And then the pitching staff was gone.  Smoltz made five starts and left without a functioning elbow.  Tim Hudson made it into August before his elbow went.  Tom Glavine never missed a turn for twenty years – he made just 13 starts.  Mike Hampton’s comeback stalled in spring training, he made only 13 starts.  Chuck James made seven starts.  Lousy starts.

For the first two months, the Braves were more than competitive.  Chipper Jones looked like he might hit .400.  Other hitters supported the cause.  But Smoltz was already gone and Glavine would follow.  Five games over .500 approaching Memorial Day, the Braves slumped in June and July and fell out of the race.  At that point, the Braves decided to become sellers.  Mark Teixeira was given away to the Angels. (For Casey Kotchman?  That’s all you could get?  Shame!)  Mark Kotsay was sent to Boston.  When management gave up on the team, the team gave up on the season, going 9 – 20 in August.

And yet, they still should have done better.  The team scored nearly as many runs as they allowed, 753 to 778, which means that with a little luck, they might have finished 78 – 84 or so.  This was especially problematic on the road, where they were outscored by only four runs, but finished 29 – 52.

Tell me about that offense

The Braves, even without Teixeria now, have a lot of offensive options but will be looking to fill a couple of holes.

The infield is led by third baseman Chipper Jones, who has improved his on base percentage each of the last two years because (a) he’s hitting better than ever, and (b) he’s drawing even more walks than he was in 2006.  As such, he’s now creating nearly 11 runs per 27 outs – one of the best rates in baseball.  At first base, Mark Teixeira produced runs at a decent clip until he was shipped out.  Casey Kotchman arrived and did not – hitting for a low average (.237) with no power (one homer a month).  Few teams can win when the first baseman doesn’t produce runs.  Kelly Johnson is a decent hitting second baseman; he has some power and a good eye.  Last year he hit 39 doubles and 12 homers, which are good numbers from someone who can hit first or second in the lineup.  Yunel Escobar didn’t hit .300, but he hit enough, drew a few walks, and finished with double digit homers.  Three of the four positions are solidly represented at the plate.  Even backup Omar Infante hit pretty well.

Like with the Marlins, the outfield didn’t do its job.  Matt Diaz fell from hitting .330 to .244 with no power and only 3 walks against 32 strikeouts in 135 at bats.  Mark Kotsay was okay but barely above average and his back is no longer dependable for 120 games anymore.  Josh Anderson looked like a better hitter when he arrived in August.  And then you have Jeff Francouer, who had a season he’d probably rather forget.  He’s gone from 29 homers to 19, and last year finished with 11.  His RBI count was down because his batting average fell from .293 to .239.  He didn’t strike out more often; he just couldn’t get good contact on the ball.  Gregor Blanco, Greg Norton, and Brandon Jones are all decent backups, but aren’t championship quality hitters or defenders.

Brian McCann is the best hitting catcher in baseball – high averages, good power (23 homers and 42 doubles), and good plate discipline, earning some walks and not too many strikeouts.

Defensively:

With the glove, you have a veritable mixed bag of talent, but nobody who really stands out.

McCann’s catching isn’t very good.  He makes a few more mistakes (errors, passed balls) than you would like.  Only two teams allowed more stolen bases (SD and WASH) and both of those teams play in caverns where it’s hard to bash your way to runs.  On the other hand, he’s still mobile and contributes a little bit.  With his bat, a few extra stolen bases aren’t going to kill you.

Both Teixeira and Kotchman have great reputations for their glovework, but you wouldn’t have noticed it from their stats where both were actually below average in terms of range (but both were great in not making errors).  Chipper Jones had a decent year – a better ratio of double plays to errors, as well as better range than in 2007.  However, he’s still slightly below average at third.  Of the backups, Martin Prado did the best, and Infante was no better than Jones.  Both Escobar and Johnson have slightly above average range, but make more errors than you would like – the signs of young infielders.

Nobody in the outfield was very good.  Francouer has slightly below average range but a fantastic arm.  Kotsay looked immobile in centerfield (-7.6 range) – in a half season’s worth of innings, he cost the team eleven runs.  Gregor Blanco is supposed to be fast, but you wouldn’t know it by his statistics.  He cost his team another twelve or thirteen runs.  Matt Diaz was their best outfielder and he couldn’t hit.

Despite that, the Braves were about league average overall in terms of turning balls in play into outs, and that was because the infield was pretty good.

Now Pitching…

Hudson and Smoltz were great, but as you remember, were short term pitchers.   Jair Jurrgens, in his first full season, was fantastic finishing with 13 – 10 with a 3.68 ERA in 31 starts.  Jorge Campillo was forced into the rotation and was above average in terms of preventing runs in about 160 innings.  Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine were slightly below league average but didn’t turn in many innings.  In total, the first three slots of the rotation (when you combine them all) were actually pretty good.  The last two slots, though, were really bad.  Chuck James had an ERA over nine in his seven starts.  Charlie Morton was forced into fifteen starts and had an ERA over six.  Jo Jo Reyes got 22 starts that the Braves wish didn’t happen.  Still – all told, the starters were about eighteen runs better than the average rotation, which was a positive.

The problem was the lack of a consistent bullpen.  A couple of options were okay – Jeff Bennett had a solid season.  But for every good option, there was at least one pitcher who negated that benefit.  Manny Acosta had a decent ERA despite having a lousy strikeout to walk ratio.  Blaine Boyer was the opposite – a few too many homers allowed, but good numbers otherwise.  Mike Gonzalez came back in the second half to record 14 saves, but had a high ERA.  Will Ohman and Buddy Carlisle had okay seasons, but Royce Ring pitched only 22 innings in 42 appearances and had an ERA of 8.46.  Like the rotation, there were more positives than negatives, though.

Forecasting 2009:

The 2009 Braves will see a lot of changes.  Gone are both Hudson and Smoltz.  Smoltz signed as a free agent with the Red Sox, who gave him a better guaranteed contract, while Hudson only recently started throwing and is hoping to pitch after the all-star break.  In their places will be Derek Lowe and Javier Vasquez.  Kenshin Kawakami comes over from Japan and will likely be in the rotation behind Jurrgens, who is the number three starter.  That leaves the fifth spot to Campillo, or possibly to rookie Tommy Hanson. 

Lowe has been a dependable starter for a long time; in terms of what he offers the Braves he will essentially replace Hudson.  Vasquez has been logging innings, but he’s mildly above average because he is a fly ball pitcher.  In Atlanta, he might fare a bit better – but he’s still a step down from a full season of Smoltz (not that the Braves got a full season from him).  Kawakami is going to be an improvement over Reyes even if he’s league average, and I am reasonably confident Jurrjens will not suffer a sophomore letdown unless his control gets the best of him.

The bullpen didn’t change over the offseason, with the hopes of a full season of Gonzalez and improvement from some younger relievers in the seventh and eighth innings.  If the Braves get more innings out of their starters than last year, that will be worth ten runs just not having to dip into long relief as often.  The upgrade to the staff is likely worth about twenty or twenty five runs.

Offensively, I’m concerned about the team’s ability to score more runs than last season.  Jones turns 37 this April and while he’s been amazing over the last three years, he hasn’t been healthy.  Casey Kotchman for a full season will be twenty runs worse (or more) than having a full season of Mark Teixeira.  So, the infield may contribute 30 or 40 runs less than last year.  Garrett Anderson has been brought in to play left field – he will be an upgrade over what Matt Diaz and Gregor Blanco provided, but he’s also long in the tooth and may need 40 days off over the course of the season.  And, he’s not an improvement defensively, either.  A full season of Josh Anderson or Blanco in center isn’t going to be that much better than what the Braves got out of Kotsay and others in 2008.  So, the key to the outfield will be a comeback season by Francoeur.  If he comes back to the levels of the previous two years – 100 runs created instead of 60 – and Anderson stays healthy and hits the way he has in the past, this gets the Braves to about the same level as last season.  I like McCann to keep producing for three or four more years.

The optimist says that the team scores about 750 runs and allows about 750 runs – that’s a .500 season.  A pragmatist might wonder about what having most of the staff pitching in the World Baseball Classic means to their rotation in September, and worries that the outfield will remain mildly disappointing, and even weaker defensively.  If you are Javier Vasquez and you see an outfield that doesn’t run down fly balls, you might be one frustrated pitcher.  For that reason, I don’t agree with the optimistic view, and peg the Braves to finish about 78 – 84.

Down on the Farm…

The Braves AAA club in Gwinnett, GA got most of the prospects up to the big leagues.  Josh Anderson hit .314 and stole 42 bases.  He’s not a free swinger, but doesn’t bring a big OBA to the big leagues, so if he makes it as the starting centerfielder, he probably bats seventh or eighth in this lineup.  Charlie Morton pitched well before being called up – in 79 innings, he fanned 72 against only 27 walks and didn’t give up a homer.  I think he’ll be okay as a long reliever while he figures things out at the big league level.  Most of the rest of the AAA roster, you saw at the major league level much of the last few years.

At AA Mississippi, what impresses you most are the pitchers.  Tulsa native Tommy Hanson went 8-4, 3.03 with 114 strikeouts in just 98 innings.  Some compare his slider to Smoltz.  Todd Redmond went 13 – 5, 3.52 with good control.  He has a chance to make the big league roster by the end of 2009 with a good season in AAA next year.  Closer Luis Valdez stepped up with 28 saves and a lot of strikeouts.  His control may be his only weakness.

Jason Heyward was the star of the A Rome Braves, flashing some power, running the bases, and looking like Francoeur’s replacement by 2011.  He’s just 19.  Fredrick Freeman also hit well, showing some power while playing first base there – he’s a month younger than Heyward.  So, if Kotchman is a dud this year, look for Freeman to be a contender for the job in 2010 – especially if Freeman continues to mature in AA.  Edgar Osuna started and relieved in Rome – he looks like he has tools to compete at higher levels.  Look for catcher Tyler Flowers to make it to the big leagues one day.  His batting stats look like a young Mickey Tettleton at A Myrtle Beach.