Mariano Rivera Blows Out Knee During Practice…

Wow…  Not sure where to begin.  The news, of course, is that during batting practice, while shagging fly balls, Mariano Rivera – perhaps the greatest reliever ever – got a cleat stuck in the turf at Kaufmann (Royals) Stadium, twisting his knee and tearing both his ACL and meniscus.  An ACL tear is pretty severe and not something one easily recovers from.  Rivera’s season is over, and many fear that we may have seen the last of Rivera’s days as a pitcher.

I can’t say any more than what any of the national baseball writers and sports reporting icons are already saying.  For about two decades, Rivera has been the most visible and dependable relief pitcher we’ve ever seen.  He’s in practically every post season and usually closing out Yankee victories.  Unlike his teammate, Derek Jeter, Rivera is quiet and serene and you never read about him dating famous models or selling posh apartments.  I guess, like many others, to see him carted off the field after a freak injury just seems unfair to someone who should be allowed to go out closing out another win and getting the endless cheers of 50,000 or more fans who have watched him.

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery so that in 2013, we get at least one more glimpse of his greatness.  Until then, the #42 will not be seen in baseball stadiums except on outfield walls and Jackie Robinson day…

In his stead, either Rafael Soriano or David Robertson will be called upon to close games.  Soriano has experience as a closer, while Robertson has shown improving and devastating stuff.  Both may get chances, I think either one could be successful – but that’s a pretty big microscope…  [MLB]

Hurry Back, Panda!

Giants Pablo Sandoval has a broken left hand and will be out at least four to six weeks.  Kung Fu Panda has been hitting everything the first month of the season – we’ll see how he does when he comes back.  There was no specific incident – Panda’s not sure when he may have broken it.  Last year, he had a broken right hand and missed six weeks…  Aubrey Huff to third?  Not sure I like that option, but the Giants have to figure something out.  Huff is already on the DL with anxiety issues, so Conor Gillaspie was called up from Fresno for the short term.  [ESPN]

Welcome Back!

Returning from the DL?  Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster of the Cubs.  The Cubs need all the help they can get.

Hurry Back!

Headed to the DL?  Jim Thome (PHI) and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) have lower back strains.  Evan Longoria (TB) is out a while with a torn hamstring – ouch – and Miguel Olivo (SEA) heads to the DL with a strained groin – hopefully his own.

I’ve Never Heard of Them Either…

The Padres traded pitcher Ernesto Frieri (no relation to Guy Fieri) to the Angels for Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista.  On the other hand, I’m thinking Guy Fieri has had to deal with a roach or two during his Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins shows…

UPDATED at 2:38 PM!!!  Here’s an article explaining that Frieri is a reliever, and apparently a pretty good one, added to give the Angels some depth in the bullpen.  The other two are lower level prospects who have some work to do before they get a shot at the majors.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Man – the database lists a ton of names I have never heard of…  Time to start doing some research again.  (Except I am REALLY enjoying my guitar lessons!)

1945 – Rene Lachemann
1956 – Ken Oberkfell
1957 – Rick Leach
1971 – Joe Borowski
1974 – Miguel Cairo
1976 – Ben Grieve
1984 – Kevin Slowey

Am I the only guy who thinks of Rick Leach as a quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines?

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2012 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

2011 Record: 102 – 60 (1st in NL East, Best Record in NL)
Runs Scored:  713, (7th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 529, (Best in the NL)

Season Recap:

With three aces firing on all cylinders, the Phillies were hot out of the gate, hot in the summer, and hot all the way into the playoffs, until they ran into a team that got REALLY hot – the Cardinals.  When the season ended, the team looked old and out of it – and their most productive hitter was unable to crawl to first base as Ryan Howard blew out his Achilles tendon.

Starting Pitching:

Nobody brings the aces like the Phillies, with Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels going 1 – 2 – 3.  They had Roy Oswalt in the four slot – and he wasn’t horrible – and when Joe Blanton couldn’t make decent starts, the club turned to Vance Worley, who went 11 – 3.  Even Kyle Kendrick was above average in terms of runs prevented.

In 2012, the big three return, albeit a year older.  Roy Oswalt is gone, so Blanton or Kendrick will get the fifth slot behind Worley.  This still still a talented group.  I’m not 100% convinced that the big three will be as good as last year – Instead of averaging 40 runs saved per starter over 220 innings each, they could still be in the top ten and save just 30 runs per slot.  Worley had a nice record, but it was a tad too good.  Kyle Kendrick is a candidate for a big drop in production.  They will still be the best starting pitchers in captivity – they just might not be as dominant.

Relief Pitching:

Ryan Madson was solid again – he’s never really had a bad year – and for that, he was summarily told to look elsewhere for work.  In his place, the Phillies tossed millions toward former Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  Relative to the league, Madson was a couple of runs better, but essentially this is a wash.  The question is what will the rest of the bullpen look like.  Last year, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and David Herndon were pretty good – and, thankfully, little used.  Danys Baez struggled – the weak link in an otherwise decent bullpen.  Another change?  No more Brad Lidge, who moves to Washington.  Look for someone like Brian Sanches, an NRI pitcher, to get a shot at middle relief.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz was remarkable – arguably the best catcher in the NL other than Yadier Molina – and added a .280+ batting average and +.370 on base percentage.  Back up Brian Schneider struggled, though – batting all of .176.  This will remain a strength so long as Ruiz is on the job.

Infield:

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco all provided decent production.  Even saying that, Ryan Howard fell off to fewer than 100 runs created (33 – 116 – .254, with a .349 OBP and sub .500 slugging).  Chase Utley’s knees are problematic.  Jimmy Rollins was above average at the plate but remains a liability in the field with below average range.  Polanco’s batting is now an issue – his batting average fell to .277 with just 19 extra base hits.  His fielding is fading, though the heavy lefty rotation kept Polanco’s stats in check.  The problem with this foursome is that they are old and fading.  Howard isn’t going to be 100% and there is no date yet for his return.  Utley is seeing a specialist regarding his knee, and both Rollins and Polanco are fighting father time.

To help out, the Phillies brought in former power source Jim Thome, who would be great in a limited role but might have to play a bit more first base than planned.  John Mayberry is likely going to be his platoon partner – Mayberry hits a little like Ryan Howard, but not like the old Howard.  It’s hard to see this group providing as much offense as last year – and if rookie Freddy Galvis can’t hit when playing for Utley, this could be a 50 – 75 run fall off from last year.  Another option might be Ty Wigginton, who can play all infield positions if necessary.  His defense might not be as good as Polanco’s, for example, but he can put more runs on the board these days.

Outfield:

The Phillies have had productive bats in the outfield for years now, and 2012 will be no exception.  Hunter Pence remains in right field – a bit of a liability defensively, but a solid bat that can be found anywhere from third to sixth in this lineup depending on who is playing that day.  He could move to left field to accommodate Domonic Brown, who should get a full-time shot in the outfield now that Raul Ibanez is gone.  Brown has a decent enough arm, youthful range, and room to grow.  Shane Victorino nearly generated 100 runs of offense with his speed and power – 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 17 homers.  He remains the Phillies best leadoff option.

Mayberry remains to play left field or right field, and Laynce Nix is in town as a fifth outfielder – not a bad player to have around.

Bench:

With Wigginton and Mayberry the Phillies have plenty of flexibility, and Brown might be able to give you a few innings in center.  You’d like a little more offense out of Brian Schneider, but the Phillies don’t seem to have another option.  The Non-Roster Invite list in Spring Training is pretty thick with potential bench options (Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, Dave Bush, Brian Sanches, Kevin Frandsen, Pete Orr), but I can’t see them all sticking…

Prospects:

Most of the guys who played at AAA Lehigh Valley (Go Pigs!) are guys who have had enough cups of coffee or playing time to warrant their own Starbucks franchise.  The only real prospects to go through there are Brown and Galvis.  Pitcher Justin De Fratus could help in the bullpen – with Lehigh he went 2 – 3 with a 3.73 ERA, but 56 Ks and 11 BBs in his 41 innings there.

Looking at AA Reading, Matt Rizzotti had a solid year – (24 – 84 -.295) and was able to get a taste of AAA.  He’s a bit old for a prospect, but not as old as Mike Spidale, who hit .326 and reminds you of Juan Pierre.  Since the Phillies have the real Juan Pierre, having Spidale seems redundant.  Another outfielder who can hit appears to be Steve Susdorf, who was a late round pick in 2008 out of Fresno State and when given at bats in AA batted .339 – which is what he always seems to do.  Unlike Spilale, though, he doesn’t seem to have speed and may run out of gas at AAA.  The arms look better – Austin Hyatt made 28 starts and finished 12 – 6 with 171 Ks and 49 BBs in 154.1 innings.  Tyler Cloyd made 17 starts, went 6 – 3, and fanned 99 to just 13 walks in his 106.2 innings.  And Phillippe Aumont passed through AA on the way to AAA and was dominant as a reliever.

A+ Clearwater featured 1B Darin Ruf, a hitter – 43 doubles and 17 homers, batting .308 – and Cesar Hernandez, a 21 year old second baseman with speed and a decent glove.  Catcher Sebastian Valle hit .284 and might make the MLB roster in 2014.  The staff featured Trevor May (208Ks in 151.1 innings) and Julio Rodriguez (168Ks in 156.2 innings, 16 – 7 record) – they are now old enough to drink after games.

2012 Forecast:

Teams that win 100 games don’t often repeat that level of success.  Defensively, this team is going to slide because it’s getting older in the infield and the guys replacing Howard at first won’t be as good as Ryan is – and he’s just league average.  Domonic Brown will help the outfield some, but the catching – even as good as it is – is reaching a point where age is going to catch up.  There isn’t a lot of upside in the batting order – most every one here has peaked, except Domonic Brown who can’t be expected to do WAY more than Ibanez. In truth, this team could lose 50 runs in offense and 30 – 50 runs on defense.  If it’s 30 runs on defense, the team likely wins 95 games, which could be enough to win the division.  If it’s 50 runs on defense, the team wins 92 games, which might not be enough considering the Marlins, Braves, and Nationals are all chomping at the bit.

My fear is that it’s going to be the lower number – the Phillies will be in it and might take a wild card slot, but I think 92 wins will be a good season.

MLB Has Ten Golden Era Hall of Fame Candidates

Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso are among ten players whose careers will be reviewed by a special committee for enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The complete list includes Ken Boyer, Buzzie Bavasi, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Charlie Finley, and Luis Tiant.

Many of this group have been topics of arguments amongst baseball writers and historians – especially Santo and Hodges.  Jim Kaat may get greater consideration with the recent addition of Bert Blyleven to the Hall.

Among the reasons that these guys haven’t already made it:

Career Was Too Short

Santo, Boyer, Oliva, and Reynolds…  Santo and Boyer are pretty similar players – some power, good gloves, about 300 career homers, and only 15 years in the majors.  Reynolds had an even shorter career, but spent the bulk of his time as a member of the Casey Stengel Yankees where he appeared in a number of World Series and even had a season where he threw two no-hitters.  Oliva’s career was cut short by injuries, but for about six years was a deadly hitter.

As a Cub fan, I guess I am supposed to extol Santo’s virtues – and he was a great player for about seven seasons.  Bill James thinks he’s one of the ten best third basemen in baseball history and deserves to go.  Most of me agrees with that sentiment – and yet at the same time, the Cubs never won a division with him, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and (an old) Ernie Banks in the lineup.  Of course, the biggest stars were corner players and not up the middle types – and the Cubs could have used a better lead-off hitter.  I think that if you take Santo, you have to take Boyer.  Boyer had a comparable defensive record, similar RBI totals, won an MVP and made the post-season, unlike Santo.  Santo cleared 300 homers, Boyer just missed.  Santo is marginally better, but not much better.  Neither guy lived long enough.

Allie Reynolds, had he pitched anywhere else but the Yankees, is not even going to get a whiff of the Hall of Fame.  Fewer than 200 career wins – he led the AL in strikeouts twice, but he also had five seasons (of twelve full seasons) where he walked more guys than he struck out.   He has a bunch of years with the Yankees where his career looks like that of Mike Mussina, but not enough of them.

Tony Oliva is a better candidate than all of this group except maybe Santo.  He led the league in batting three times, hits a few more, doubles and runs, too.  He was a six time all-star, winning a gold glove, and appearing in three post seasons, including the 1965 World Series.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he was among the best hitters playing – and he was hitting .310 or higher when the rules were definitely favoring the pitcher.  Like the others, however, he’s missing the long career and big career numbers.  He didn’t make 2000 hits or 300 homers (he would have 2000 hits had he not missed a full season with knee injuries), and he faded into memory as guys like Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were finishing their careers.

Very Good – but was he GREAT?

Jim Kaat pitched for 47 seasons (not really, it just seemed that way), won 20+ a few times, finished with 283 wins.  I’ve always been a fan of his – but I can’t remember any time when he was the best pitcher in baseball.  He was just one of the pretty good ones.  Similar arguments have been made about Sutton and Blyleven – guys who pitched forever but weren’t ever as good as the guys like Gibson, Carlton, Seaver, Marichal, or Jenkins.

Luis Tiant actually had a short period of time (like Oliva) where he truly was GREAT.  Unfortunately, that lasted just a brief period – and Tiant needed three years to figure out where his arm went.  Eventually he came back as a heavier, cagier version of himself, with a deceptive motion and a ton of guile.  He won 20 three times with the Red Sox and, in his worst season in Boston, was the staff ace of that surprising 1975 team.  My heart would totally vote for Tiant, but I’m not sure he did enough.  I do think he did more than Allie Reynolds, and I think he was better than Kaat.

Gil Hodges was a Dodger during their Boys of Summer days and had a decade where he was among the best first basemen in baseball.  He lost a little time at the beginning of his career because of World War II, which may have kept him from making 400 career homers or 2000 hits.  He also was the Mets manager when they won the World Series.  He’s certainly FAMOUS enough for the Hall of Fame but, like Santo, his full career numbers seem to fall a bit short.  He wasn’t a league leader in anything (like Oliva), but he was a member of a great team for a long, long time.  I wouldn’t argue against him – but (as it is with most of these guys) if the sportswriters didn’t vote him in after 15 tries, why are we trying to add him now?

Executives

I’m not old enough to remember Buzzy Bavasi, but I know he was a significant member of Dodger management for a long period of success and made many contributions to the game.  Charley Finley was an interesting story, but I don’t ever think that he ever considered the greater good that comes with his role in baseball.  He is linked to night baseball in the post season and the DH – he is also linked to selling off players he couldn’t afford and holding cities hostage (Kansas City, for example).

LONG OVERDUE:

Minnie Minoso was the Ernie Banks of the AL.  Happy, hustling, popular, and successful.  The reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he lost half of his career to the color line, spending a decade in the Negro Leagues.  Had he been able to play in the majors starting in, say, 1945 rather than 1951, he likely has 3000 hits, a career average over .300, several seasons with 50 stolen bases, 600 career doubles and 200 career triples.  He’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  It’s time he got in.

First Week of Hot Stove Transactions:

The Philadelphia Phillies had the headline deal, signing Jim Thome to pinch hit and play a little first base for 2012 at the relatively low price of about $1.25 million.  However, a few other teams started signing and dealing players…  Here’s a short list:

Washington signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal ($4 million) after Wang returned for eleven decent starts in 2011.  Wang took more than two years to recover from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule.  Early returns show Wang to be in the neighborhood of his old self – keeping the ball down, good control, and not much of a strikeout pitch.  30 good starts in 2012, and Wang will hit the free agent market.

The A’s signed free-agent swingman Edgar Gonzalez, who has pitched for four different organizations in his career.  I don’t think Edgar has ever had a good season in the majors, so unless this is organizational depth or he’s going to coach, I don’t get it.

The Dodgers signed veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to a one-year deal.  He’s a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter type as he nears 34 years old, but he’s not a bad guy to have on the roster.  Rivera had a good run with the Dodgers after a slow start in Toronto, and Rivera would be familiar with the area, having spent much of the last decade with the Angels.

The Diamondbacks resigned backup catcher Henry Blanco and utility infielder John McDonald, who had been acquired late in 2011 from Toronto (with Aaron Hill) for the stretch drive.  McDonald’s deal was for two years.

Toronto reacquired pitcher Trystan Magnuson from Oakland for cash.  Magnuson was a first round pick of the Blue Jays out of Louisville (also played forward on the basketball team) and was sent to Oakland as part of the Rajai Davis deal.  Pitching occasionally for Oakland, the tall (6′ 7″) righthander has a low 90s fastball that can occasionally hit 95 and a sinker.  He’s had one season where he had really good control – that was two years ago in AA, but he looks like a middle reliever with a bit of an upside.

A sad week (no MLB!) made even sadder…

Matty Alou passed away due to complications related to diabetes.  The 72-year-old played in 15 different seasons finishing with a .307 career batting average.  I remember Alou – he was a slap hitting outfielder who would use a heavy bat to knock liners and loopers over the heads of infielders for singles.  In 1966, he slapped his way to a National League leading .342 average, and few years later led the league with 231 hits.  Alou saw action in the 1962 World Series with the Giants and was a late addition to the Oakland A’s when they won their first World Series in 1972.  He is most famous, of course, for being one of the three Alou brothers (Felipe and Jesus) who played together on the Giants and occasionally would occupy the entire outfield.

Then, just days after tossing out the ceremonial opening pitch before game seven of this year’s World Series, longtime Cardinals starter Bob Forsch died of an aneurism at the too young age of 61.  I probably have every Bob Forsch Topps Baseball card – he won 163 of his 168 career wins as a member of the Cards and pitched in three different World Series.  Like Alou, Forsch had family in the game – his brother Ken pitched with the Astros for a number of years.  Forsch threw the only two no-hitters in the original Busch Stadium, and – with Ken – the Forsch brothers are the only brothers to throw no-hitters.  [SI]

2011 Season Forecast: Minnesota Twins

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  94 – 68 (Winners of the AL Central, losers to the Yankees in the playoffs…  Again.)
2009:  87 – 76
2008:  88 – 75
2007:  79 – 83
2006:  96 – 66

This has been a great run for a well-managed franchise.

Runs Scored: 781 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 671 (3rd in the AL)

With this combination, the Twins would be expected to win 93.2 games – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the outset, the Twins were considered among the favorites to win the division, and having tossed aside the White Sox whenever they needed to, held off Chicago to walk away with the division for the third time and fourth in five seasons.

The Twins came out strong in April, winning 15 of 23.  They held serve in May, but when the Sox got hot in the summer, the Twins had their worst month in June.  This ended in July, however, as the Twins got stronger every month and looked like a potential World Series team until they faced the Yankees in the playoffs.

Among the hardships – Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays and missed the last three months of the season at a time when the first baseman was hitting like Ted Williams.  And, closer Joe Nathan went down after one spring training appearance, missing the season following Tommy John surgery.

The Twins made a few moves to shore up the bullpen after Nathan’s injury, acquiring Matt Capps from Washington in July, and later picking up Brian Fuentes from the Angels in September – in both cases for essentially spare parts.

Starters:

Francisco Liriano put his career back on track in 2010, winning a rotation slot in the spring and then winning 14 games and striking out 201 batters during the season.  This, as much as anything, gave the Twins a needed shot in the arm as the season started.  Carl Pavano had an even better 2010 than 2009, pitching 221 innings, hardly walking anyone at all (just 37) and winning 17 games.  Kevin Slowey went 13 – 6 despite pitching at essentially league average levels, but also doesn’t walk anybody (29 in 155.2 innings).  Same goes for Scott Baker (12 – 9, 43 walks in 170.1 innings) and the less effective Nick Blackburn (40 walks in 161 innings).  Swingman Brian Duensing was a team MVP candidate, making 13 starts amongst his 53 appearances, winning 10 of 13 decisions, and finishing with a 2.62 ERA.  Duensing also has great control.

All this is good – but a long-time reader of Bill James might notice something particularly troubling.  One of his predictors of future success (or decline) is looking at the ratio of strikeouts to wins.  Pavano won 17 with only 117 strikeouts – so he’d be expected to decline to something like 8 – 11.  Blackburn, already well below average with his 5.42 ERA, won 10 and fanned just 68.  He might expect to go 5 – 7.  Kevin Slowey won 13 and fanned just 116.  He’s a candidate to fall to 10 – 10 or something like that. Liriano and Baker are probably good candidates to hold steady, with good strikeout rates.

Perhaps the really high control guys can get away with this more than other pitchers because fewer guys are getting on base.  Still – I’d be a bit nervous about this.  Likely Duensing will get more starts than Blackburn in 2011.

Relievers:

When Joe Nathan went down, Jon Rauch became the first closer.  He was okay – not great, though – so the Twins picked up Matt Capps for the rest of the way – and he was fantastic.  There are other quality relievers around, too.  Jose Mijares is a decent late inning option, as is the returning Pat Neshak, with Alex Burnett picking up long relief.  Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins will battle for the other slots in the pen.  I think, however, that the Twins will miss Rauch, Jesse Crain (3.04 ERA in 71 appearances) and Matt Guerier (3.17 ERA, 74 appearances), and even Ron Mahay (3.44 ERA in 41 appearances).  Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to work a little magic here.

Catching:

Joe Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball, despite having a season that was well below his career breakout season of 2009.  Mauer is fighting bum knees and a sore back and will eventually turn into a first baseman or DH before too long.  For now, Mauer is solid defensively against the run, works well with this staff, and doesn’t make many errors.  Drew Butera is his less than tolerable backup.

Infield:

Morneau’s injury has already been covered – as a hitter, he’s remarkable and as a fielder he has little range.  After sitting out for three months (and much of the early spring), here’s hoping he can get back and play 150 games this year.  If not, the Twins will move Michael Cuddyer back to first base.  Cuddyer is better in terms of range, but can’t hit like Morneau.  Last year, the Twins had the second best second baseman in the AL in Orlando Hudson.  This year, the Twins imported switch hitting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.  Nishioka won the batting title in Japan last year, has gap power and blazing speed.  The new shortstop will likely be Alexi Casilla, who played well in a utilty role last year.  I like Casilla a little, but I’m not certain his defensive skills will make up for his not being as good an offensive player as J.J. Hardy.  At third will be rookie Danny Valencia, who came up and did a nice job replacing the injured and ineffective Brendan Harris.  Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert will replace former utility player Nick Punto, who joins the Cardinals.

Outfield:

Delmon Young had a breakout season offensively, but can’t seem to run down anything in the field when playing in left.  Denard Span has solid defensive skills and occasionally hits like a leadoff hitter.  Last year, not so much, but the Twins survived anyway.  In right, Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will get the bulk of the action.  Both are slightly above average hitters and barely tolerable fielders.  Jason Repko is a pretty good fourth outfield option, and Ben Revere might gallop onto the roster and take the #5 slot.

DH:

The 40-year-old Jim Thome had a remarkably productive season in 2010 and will return for another go in 2011.  When getting a day off, look for Cuddyer or Kubel to take at bats.

Down on the Farm:

My son, Casey, is playing on his first little league team and it’s fashioned after the Rochester Red Wings.  We use their hat; their tee-shirt is our uniform.  I’ll be ordering a hat later today.  But if you are looking at THIS Red Wings team and not ours, you’d be a little concerned.  Most of the guys who can play some and played in Rochester have already arrived.  Danny Valencia is now your regular third baseman, Trevor Plouffe (a low average hitter with some power) got a cup of coffee and may be the utility infielder.  One of the regulars on this team, I was surprised to see, was corner outfielder Jacque Jones.  Yeah – THAT Jacque Jones…  The Red Wings hitters were a little light, and the pitchers – mostly the starters – weren’t very good.  The one arm that impressed me was Anthony (Phi) Slama, who saved 17 games, fanned 74 in 65.1 innings, and allowed just 41 hits.  Oh – since I mentioned that Jacque Jones was still playing, I should note that Mike Maroth logged 11 innings in AAA as well here.

Ben Revere is a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee after hitting .305 in AA New Britain; he’s a burner with no power – and that lack of power also means a lack of triples, even for a guy who stole 36 bases in 94 games.  He’s the new Matty Alou, I guess.  Joe Benson hit 23 homers, can run a little, and is just 23.  The power was a surprise, he had 23 homers in his previous four seasons and 21 games of A+ ball in 2010.  If this is a legitimate change in his skill set, he’ll get to the majors in a couple of years.

The pitcher in this group I really want to see is reliever Billy Bullock – the third round pick from 2008 out of Florida.  In 36.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters.  60!  He walked 24 guys, must be wild as all get out, but WOW that’s an impressive number.  The Twins moved Deolis Guerra up from AA to AAA at the end of 2010 – after a year he went 2 – 10 with a 6.24 ERA.  I don’t get that.  He’s young and must have amazing stuff.

A couple of pitchers catch your eye at A+ Fort Myers.  Bruce Pugh was just 7 – 10, but he struck out 106 in 102.2 innings and allowed just 81 hits.  Reliever Liam Hendriks fits the Minnesota control mode – in 74.2 innings, his K/W ratio was 66/8.  Another reliever there, Bobby Lanigan, was 41/7 in 54.1 innings.  As such, a guy named Shooter Hunt probably won’t make it – walking 84 in 67.1 innings with 19 wild pitches.  He also struck out 79 in 67.1 innings – so he must have an amazing arm.  In 2008, he was a first round draft pick, but he’s still figuring things out.
2011 Forecast:

I see too many reasons for the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and won’t pick them to repeat.  I know the new Target Field gets in the way of people having great offensive seasons and helps the pitchers.  However, I think three of the six starting pitchers will fall back and fall back a lot.  The bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as in 2010.  Nishioka could be a revelation, but Orlando Hudson was really good last year.  If Nishioka is that good, it’s just a wash.  Valencia played well, but is already 26 – so he’s a bit long in the tooth to have a long and successful career.  Mauer is starting to accumulate wear and tear and his knees are already problematic.  Jim Thome turns 41 in August.

The offense is going to fall back some – the question is how much, and depends in large part how much Delmon Young falls back, Mauer or Thome fall back, and how Morneau returns.  I think the Twins will be lucky to score 725 runs, and the pitching staff will probably fall back to about 725 runs.  As such, we’re talking about a .500 season, which will likely be well behind the Sox.

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.

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.

Top AL Left Fielders in 2009

Jason Bay (BOS):  Now a Met, I think the Red Sox are going to miss this guy.  Had a soft summer, but otherwise was solid.  Gets a bad rap for his defense, but last year I showed him as being 5.3 plays per 800 balls in play better than the average left fielder and worthy of a Gold Glove.  My system says Bay was one of the 20 most valuable position players in baseball.  The Red Sox will move Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury here – and will lose about 30 runs in total productivity from 2009 to 2010.   (109.0 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 126.81 Total Run Production)

Carl Crawford (TB):  Good hitter, good fielder, as daring a baserunner as you can find.  Another top 20 player…   Here’s something to think about.  Is Carl Crawford potentially worthy of the Hall of Fame?  If he can stay healthy, he’d have 2500 career hits and maybe 600 or 700 stolen bases.  We put all sorts of power guys in the Hall, but how about a guy who can scoot, hit, and play solid defense?   (112.9 Runs Created, 12.5 Runs Saved = 125.36 Total Run Production)

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  Left town at the trading deadline – was as productive in two months in St. Louis as he was in four months in Oakland…  126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

We’ll get to Rajai Davis, your A’s current left fielder in few paragraphs…

Adam Lind (TOR):  Miscast as an outfielder, but is such a good hitter he has to play somewhere.  The best hitter at this position – Bay’s power and Crawford’s batting average.  (127.1 Runs Created, -15.3 Runs Saved = 111.78 Total Run Production)

David DeJesus (KC):  A Carl Crawford clone, but a shade less productive – still a valuable player.  Crawford hits .300, DeJesus about .280; Both are decent fielders with speed, but DeJesus isn’t a base stealer.  (80.9 Runs Created, 18.9 Runs Saved = 99.82 Total Run Production)

Denard Span, the Minnesota outfielder, if he were a regular left fielder would rate here.  Jason Kubel, too.  I’d love to see Kubel play left every day and let Jim Thome DH as much as possible.  The Twins would improve so much offensively…

Johnny Damon (NYY):  Now in Detroit, Damon is still a productive hitter as he moves into his late 30s…  His legs are getting in the way of his having solid range anymore and he can’t throw.  Somebody could use him as a DH and part time outfielder.  The new left fielder, Curtis Granderson, was barely two runs more productive than Damon, but since Granderson would be moving to an easier position, he might make up for it with a few more defensive runs.  (102.7 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 90.38 Total Run Production)

Scott Podsednik (CWS):  Now a Royal, played 615 innings here and few hundred more in center…  Slapped a few hits, but doesn’t do much else.  Can steal a few bases.  The Royals hope he’ll be better than what they got for signing Coco Crisp…  (81.5 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved, 86.24 Total Run Production)

Juan Rivera (LAA):  An above average player – hits for power and a decent average, isn’t hurting you in the field too much.  He’s better than Gary Matthews, for sure.  (84.0 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 80.99 Total Run Production)

Rajai Davis (OAK):  He can run, he can field, he can throw a little.  Davis can hit .300, but he has little power.  If David DeJesus is a poor man’s Carl Crawford, Davis is a poor man’s David DeJesus with younger wheels.  Still – he’s an above average performer and with a full season’s at bats, might get 200 hits.  (69.1 Runs Created, 2.4 Runs Saved = 71.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre, if he were to be ranked in the AL based on his Dodger stats, would rank here.  If the White Sox think he’s a centerfielder, they are grossly mistaken.  He’s a combination of Johnny Damon’s defense and Rajai Davis’s offense.

Ryan Rayburn (DET):  The Tigers used three people here for the most part (Rayburn, Carlos Guillen, and Josh Anderson) and Rayburn got the most innings.  Rayburn has some skills – hits for a nice average with power (.291 BA, .533 SLG, .360 OBP) and looks to have wheels in the outfield.  As such, I’d like to see him play more.  A full season of Rayburn at this rate would rank in the top five – assuming he can play at this pace for 150 games.  (50.7 Runs Created, 14.27 Runs Saved = 64.94 Total Run Production.

David Murphy (TEX): The new Juan Encarnacion.  (65.4 Runs Created, -1.1 Run Saved = 64.33 Total Run Production)

Nolan Reimold (BAL):  The rookie played great until getting injured in the late summer.  Reimold didn’t look comfortable as an outfielder but he got his hitting wheels down as the season rolled on…  As with Rayburn, I’d like to see what would happen if he got 500 at bats.  Felix Pie isn’t a bad option here, either.  (61.9 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 56.70 Total Run Production)

Carlos Quentin (CWS):  It was only a half a season, but he was still marginally productive.  I hope he can get back to where he was in 2008 – the Sox need all the help they can get.  (50.9 Runs Created, -3.4 Runs Saved = 47.51 Total Run Production)

Delmon Young (MIN):  Delmon Young has done nothing to suggest he deserves a starting position on any roster.  Borderline power and batting average, poor fielder.  It’s time for the Twins to move on.  And, I would NEVER have made that trade with Tampa to get him and give up Jason Bartlett AND Matt Garza.  (50.1 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved, 39.90 Total Run Production)

Five Unproductive Guys (SEA):  Wladimir Balentien, Bill Hall, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and Endy Chavez all got between 175 and 350 innings here and nobody stands out.  All five guys were great defensively, oddly, but none of them could hit his way out of a paper sack.  Milton Bradley or Eric Byrnes will get the next shot here – and it HAS to be better than what they got last year.  At least Bradley can hit – and Byrnes has a great attitude.  Combined, they’d be a heck of a player.