2010 Top AL Left Fielders

Carl Crawford – TB (128.8 Runs Created, 13.1 Runs Saved = 141.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Which player had the better contract season, Crawford or Adrian Beltre?   Maybe it was Jose Bautista…  Did what he always does, only with a few more homers and triples.  Nobody compares them, but Crawford and Johnny Damon are extremely similar players.  Well – the Damon of a few years ago, anyway.

Josh Hamilton – TEX (131.5 Runs Created, 3.7 Runs Saved = 135.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Still played some center, but only because Julio Borbon isn’t that strong a hitter.  Who does he remind you of, as a hitter?  I can’t think of any modern player…  Al Simmons?  Goose Goslin?

Scott Podsednik – KC/LAD (77.6 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 87.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Kind of like Juan Pierre, but with a touch more power and a bit more range.  Led the AL in hitting early on, earning a trip to a contender – that flopped upon his arrival.  Returns to the AL with Toronto in 2011.  Turns 35 in spring training, which should give you pause, but has retained his speed and skill thus far.  Alex Gordon got the spot after Podsednik left and proved he still isn’t a prospect.

Bobby Abreu, if he were a regular left fielder, would rank about here (85.2 Total Runs Productivity).

Juan Pierre – CHI (77.9 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 81.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Still can run (68 stolen bases), still slaps singles but not at the rate he once did.  Unless he hits .310, he’s not that valuable, but he still gets 650 at bats because he has a great work ethic and people think his speed makes up for a complete lack of power and a bunch of ground outs.

Brett Gardner – NYY (73.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 77.1 Total Runs Productivity)

A better leadoff hitter than Derek Jeter, and the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Gets on base, runs like the wind, and covers plenty of ground.  The new Brett Butler.  If he had 650 at bats rather than 450 (not that you can tell Jeter he’s batting ninth), would have created about 100 runs.  One day, he will.

Johnny Damon – DET (79.7 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 76.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Heads to Tampa where he and/or Manny Ramirez will share the field and DH duties.  Not as mobile as he used to be as a myriad of leg injuries are sapping him of his old speed, but he’s still a quality bat.  Damon’s power, never great, is tolerable and he now works the count like a veteran who is losing his ability to catch up to a fastball.  Not sure how many years he has left and wouldn’t be surprised if his career runs out of steam.  29 hits from 2600.

Delmon Young – MIN (97.7 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 72.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Took his batting and fielding to new levels – albeit in different directions.  Hit .298 with power, driving in 112 runs – by far his best season.  Also avoided fly balls at a career worst rate.  Hard to believe he’s really that bad in left, but he just doesn’t get to anything.

Juan Rivera – LAA (57.6 Runs Created, 12.1 Runs Saved = 69.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Decent hitter, average glove (don’t let the runs saved number fool you, it was his best season since 2006 and usually is a shade under league average).  Another guy moving to Toronto where he might explode for a year.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played more in right field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

Austin Kearns – CLE/NY (57.3 Runs Created, 8.8 Runs Saved = 66.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Saved what looked to be a dead career with a strong start as an unplanned outfielder in Cleveland and wound up an insurance extra outfielder for the Yankees.  Showed surprising range in the outfield and contributed by hitting for a little power and getting on base.  He hasn’t been consistently productive, but if he plays like he did in 2010, he’ll have a job for a few more years.  Heck, he probably got two years of contracts out of this season alone.

Ryan Raburn – DET (61.2 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 63.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played a lot of left, but also snuck innings in at second base (not badly), third, first, center, and right.  A decent hitter, too – sowed power and hit .280.  Will get more time in 2011 – might be worth a late look in your fantasy leagues.

Fourteen guys played left field for Oakland, led by Rajai Davis at 320.1 innings – but Davis also split time in center with Coco Crisp, leading the team in innings there, too.  Josh Willingham would appear to have the job in 2011 (62.7 Total Runs Productivity).  Willingham hits, plays hard, is a consumate professional, but with a stiff back is really not a good outfielder.

Trevor Crowe – CLE (49.0 Runs Created, 11.4 Runs Saved = 60.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Has speed, but will probably show little growth as a hitter since he’s already 27 and wasn’t a world beater in the minors, Crowe played more centerfield but was just a few innings from leading the Indians in time spent in left field as well.  At this point, he’s a much better defensive player than Grady Sizemore, but he needs to increase either his on base percentage or slugging percentage to be worth giving 1000 innings in the field.  He’s really a fifth outfielder at best.

Corey Patterson – BAL/OAK (52.7 Runs Created, 7.0 Runs Saved = 59.7 Total Runs Productivity)

An older version of Felix Pie with more power and a greater willingness to steal bases.

David Murphy – TEX (67.4 Runs Created, -7.9 Runs Saved = 59.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Would be the best fourth outfielder in baseball if he were more consistent in the field, but he never gets to play one position for a long period of time.  Valuable player.

Fred Lewis – TOR (60.6 Runs Created, -9.2 Runs Saved = 51.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t get on base enough, runs a little but not a ton.  Didn’t field his position well in 2010 (was slightly below average in 2008, slightly above in 2009).  Fourth outfielder at best.

Bill Hall – BOS (49.5 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Valuable player, logging time at six positions and playing most of them pretty well.  With the current rosters lugging bigger pitching staffs, a guy like Hall is remarkably valuable.

Michael Saunders – SEA (35.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A bit of power and decent range in the outfield made up for a low batting average – strikes out a lot.  Never had a GREAT year in the minors and I’d be hard pressed to believe he’s really a 20 homer guy.  I think he might improve – but that means .240 with 15 homers, which isn’t good enough.

Felix Pie – BAL (35.5 Runs Created, 6.4 Runs Saved = 41.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Mobile fielder, can play all three fields, ordinary hitter with no bonuses for on base percentage.  Once a prospect, now a servicable fourth outfielder.

Milton Bradley – SEA (29.1 Runs Created, 6.1 Runs Saved = 35.2 Total Runs Productivity)

If he’s got ANYTHING left, he’s way over due to show it.  Career may be in final tailspin and with his personal history, it’s not like people are going to bend over to give him an EXTRA chance.

Shelley Duncan – CLE (31.5 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 28.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Got a chance because he has decent power and his dad is Dave Duncan.  Doesn’t do much else, though…  Low batting average, not much of a fielder.

Jeremy Hermida – BOS/OAK (17.4 Runs Created, 5.4 Runs Saved = 22.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Awkwardly effective in the outfield (runs fast, plays the ball well, but hates diving and walls), and a disappointing hitter – won’t be in the majors after next year, probably, unless he can turn himself into Jay Johnstone.  And Hermida’s not that funny.

Daniel Nava – BOS (19.8 Runs Created, -10.4 Runs Saved = 9.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Got the most innings when Jacoby Ellsbury went out with more maladies than a guest star on House.  Not that strong a hitter, for someone who is fast Nava didn’t look comfortable playing in Boston’s oddly shaped left field.

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Top NL Left Fielders in 2009

Ryan Braun (MIL):  A threat to win the triple crown at some point, and now a tolerable fielder (much better in left than at third base), Ryan Braun is one of the five most valuable properties in baseball.  (148.3 Runs Created, 1.84 Runs Saved = 150.09 Total Run Production)

Jason Bay, had he played in the NL, would rank here.  The Mets did okay with this signing…

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  After arriving in STL, he hit like Albert Pujols and fielded like Chris Duncan.  He’s not usually that bad a fielder, so I wouldn’t worry about it.  (126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (PIT/WAS):  In Pittsburgh, Morgan played left and was supurb defensively and acceptable offensively.  Moved to Washington, Morgan played in center and was supurb both ways.  A late start to his career because he started as a hockey player, he’s the type of player that anybody would be happy to have around.  I don’t think he’s going to be a 100 run producer every year, but for the next three or four years, he might just be a top flight ballplayer.  (76.2 Runs Created, 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.08 Total Run Production)

Josh Willingham (WAS):  Forever, Josh Willingham has been among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.  Last year, either (a) his back was feeling WAY better than it had been in recent years or (b) Nationals pitchers allowed an ungodly number of fly balls to left than in previous seasons.  Regardless, Willingham had a solid season with the bat in a tough place to hit and caught more than his share of fly balls.  As someone who liked him when he was with the Marlins, to see Willingham exceed our expectations is fun.  (78.5 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 84.23 Total Run Production)

Raul Ibanez (PHI):  At some point in the early summer, it looked like Ibanez would hit 50 homers.  And then the aches of being mid-to-late 30s kicked in and things changed.  Still, Ibanez was a valuable performer and contributed to the Phillies success.  I DON’T see him as much better than this in 2010, but if he stays in the remarkable shape he’s in, he should be fine.  (96.0 Runs Created, -13.2 Runs Saved = 82.86 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Also a first baseman, Dunn really should be a DH.  One of the most feared hitters, Dunn just gives a ton of runs back defensively such that his overall value suffers.  In the AL, that wouldn’t matter.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Like Dunn, plays a lot of first base but isn’t an embarrassment here.  Not really the offensive weapon you’d like at the position.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 81.44 Total Run Production)

Chase Headley (SD):  Living in San Diego puts a crimp in his stats, but he’s not a horrible hitter.  He’s really an above average hitter, but a slightly below average outfielder.  The net is just okay, though – and on most teams he would be a fourth outfielder.  (86.0 Runs Created, -4.8 Runs Saved = 81.17 Total Run Production)

Chris Coghlan (FLA):  Two incredible months of two hit games, day after day…  Didn’t come up until May, took about a month to figure things out.  He’s miscast as a left fielder – had played the infield pretty much his whole life until called to the big leagues.  The Marlins hope that he’s their leadoff man for the next three to five years – until he’s due for arbitration, that is.  (86.4 Runs Created, -8.4 Runs Saved = 78.02 Total Run Production)

Carlos Lee (HOU):  See Adam Dunn.  Carlos Lee can hit, even though he’s showing signs of aging, but he doesn’t move around very well anymore and needs to be a DH soon.  (108.2 Runs Created, -31.8 Runs Saved = 76.32 Total Run Production)

Manny Ramirez (LAD):  Cheater.  I’m betting he’s been a cheater for a long time now.  Notice how all the cheaters play for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (as well as in Boston, where this was also encouraged)?  People talk about how steroid use will keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame.  Will it keep Tony LaRussa out of the Hall?  It should.  (84.3 Runs Created, -10.7 Runs Saved = 73.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre (LAD):  When he bats over .300 and gets on base, he can be a productive offensive player.  In left field, where he still has far more range than most left fielders, he comes out as a positive.  If the White Sox try him in center, where he doesn’t really have that kind of range, and Pierre hits .280 and doesn’t add a few walks, then he’s a bust.  (65.3 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 66.50 Total Run Production.

Seth Smith (COL):  Showed a balanced set of skills – he didn’t get as many at bats, but the rates were much like Troy Tulowitzki.  And, defensively, he was a step up over Matt Holliday.  If he keeps this up, he’ll be a force in Colorado.  (58.8 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 66.29 Total Run Production)

Fernando Tatis (NYM):  Played all over for the Mets and was surprisingly good defensively.  My personal take on it was that it was (a) another year in the majors where he felt more comfortable, and (b) a bit lucky.  He also hit pretty well, batting .282 with a touch of power.  Had he done this a few years ago, he might not have disappeared.  (53.3 Runs Created, 13.9 Runs Saved = 66.20 Total Run Production)

Matt Diaz (ATL):  His bat returned, but his defensive range slipped.  Still, a very valuable performer for Atlanta and probably should have been a regular for a couple of years now.  (77.5 Runs Created, -14.5 Runs Saved = 63.02 Total Run Production)

Alfonso Soriano (CHC):  A miserable season for one of the highly priced players on the Cubs roster – but probably isn’t going to give any of that money back.  Below average baserunner these days to go along with a fading bat and abysmal OBP.  Holds his own with the leather, but if the Cubs are going to challenge for the crown, this guy has to make a comeback.  I just don’t think, at this point in his career, that a comeback is possible.  Sam Fuld, who got a lot of innings in the outfield, would be a better leadoff hitter with his .400 OBP.   (59.0 Runs Created, 1.5 Runs Saved = 60.50 Total Run Production)

Garrett Anderson (ATL):  Did about what I expected – which was slip a little further and struggle defensively.  While Anderson is still a better hitter than most people who try to play baseball, he’s now merely league average as a regular.  To be honest, he’s a veteran bench player at best these days.  (65.0 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 57.03 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gonzalez (COL):  Fourth outfielder on this roster, but a good one.  Could be a starter on other teams.  (49.0 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 53.75 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Called up mid-season, Parra should have room to grow.  Despite the decent batting average (.290), he’s got a lousy OBP and and marginal power – which left him slightly below average in terms of runs created per 27 outs made.  That being said, a second season might be 10 – 15% better – more comfortable in the outfield and at the plate – and if he’s better, Parra worth playing.  Besides, Parra turns 23 in May and made the jump from AA to the majors – all while hitting .290 – those are the things you look for in a prospect.  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Jeremy Hermida (FLA):  Now in Boston where he can take two strikes and always bat behind in the count there instead.  Hermida is actually mobile, but he’s awkward and uncomfortable diving or playing the wall.  In Florida, where the wall is a mini-monster in left field, this was a problem and it showed up in the way he plays.  Having watched him for a few years now, the issue is one of confidence and aggression.  Someone needs to get it in his head that it’s okay to look for a pitch to drive earlier in the count and give it a rip – and that diving for a ball from time to time won’t hurt him.  Otherwise, he just strikes you as someone who has loads of talent but is too passive to take advantage of it.  Chris Coghlan is a patient hitter, too – but when he sees a pitch he can hit, attacks it.  Hermida doesn’t attack anything.  (55.9 Runs Created, -8.7 Runs Saved = 47.20 Total Run Production)

Fred Lewis (SF):  Drew a few walks, but he doesn’t hit for a high average or hit for much power, hence his low rating here.  (40.7 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 46.38 Total Run Production)

Jonny Gomes (CIN):  Had a really good year with the bat, but really isn’t a fielder.  I was surprised that Cincy didn’t just scoop the guy up and keep him around, though, but the Reds haven’t always been the brightest of franchises for a while now.  (52.9 Runs Created, -8.5 Runs Saved = 44.43 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  Useful fourth or fifth outfielder who got 300+ innings in left.  Seth Smith earned the job for 2010, though.  (40 Runs Created, 0.1 Run Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Laynce Nix (CIN):  The other half of the left field platoon – Gomes and Nix combineed for 35 homers and 97 RBI – which would rank pretty well up this list.  Nix is younger and a bit more mobile, but I’m not sure I’d take him over Gomes.  Nix has had nearly three full seasons and his career batting mark is .236 with no OBP to speak of.  (43.8 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 39.09 Total Run Production)

Wladimir Balentien (SEA/CIN):  Overrated prospect who played pretty well after arriving in Cincinnati.  There’s always hope.  (32.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Gary Sheffield (NYM):  The man can hit.  Can’t run much anymore, but still has a smoking hot bat.  Somebody will likely give him a shot, but he’s running out of teams to infuriate.  What do you make of a guy with 500 career homers, and might still have an outside shot at 3000 hits (he’s at 2689), may get past 1700 RBI this year and 1800 for his career, and has more than 250 stolen bases?  If I were San Diego or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, I’d give him a job and leave him alone.  (47.0 Runs created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 37.95 Total Run Production)

Eugenio Velez (SF):  See Fred Lewis.  Andres Torres is better than both of them…  (36.4 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 36.9 Total Run Production)

Eric Byrnes (ARI):  The body is finally giving out on the old warrior.  Now in Seattle where he’ll be a fun fifth outfielder.  Still plays great defense…  (24.5 Runs Created, 8.3 Runs Saved = 32.85 Total Run Production)

Lastings Millege (PIT):  The National League’s answer to Delmon Young.  Uninspired ballplayer who hasn’t taken that next step forward.  (31.5 Runs Created, -0.8 Runs Saved = 30.7 Total Run Production)

Chris Duncan (STL/BOS AAA):  Didn’t hit enough, can’t cover any ground.  Needs to launch a new career as a DH or else it’s over and over fast.  (32.2 Runs Created, -15.0 Runs Saved = 17.17 Total Run Production)

Who Would You Rather Have: Kevin Gregg or Brad Lidge? (And other news…)

I grew up a Cubs fan. My grandfather, Sverre Kramer, would sit glued in front of the TV (he lived on Sacramento between Addison and Irving Park) and complain when things went awry.  One of my earliest memories of this includes watching a game between the Pirates and Cubs where Roberto Clemente hit a pair of homers against Fergie Jenkins, the last one in the bottom of the ninth stopping what had been a comeback thanks to a Billy Williams homer, to win the game.  Grandpa yelled out, “Oh for the love of Mike…” – which I can still clearly hear nearly 40 years later.  He would occasionally give me a quarter, with which my brother and I would head to a corner candy store (now gone) and I would buy a pack of baseball cards.  A 1970 or 1971 Marty Pattin card is something, for whatever reason, stands out to me.

Anyway – after last night’s crushing at the hands of Washington, I’ve declared the Cubs officially dead for 2009.  We’re getting to see whatever prospects might be left in September anyway – why not start a week early…  I don’t usually recap games, but after Josh Willingham’s second homer, or perhaps Elijah Duke’s grand slam, I can hear Grandpa Kramer again.  “Oh for the love of Mike!”

Someone else who might be dead for 2009?  Brad Lidge, who blew his ninth save last night.  Ryan Madson as a closer?  Could happen sooner than you think.  Maybe the Cubs can offer them Kevin Gregg in a trade.  Okay – enough rambling. Let’s get to the news of the day.

Billy Wagner conceded on a couple of counts, the Red Sox allowed Wagner to test the free agent market for 2010, and agreed to send two players to be named later to the Mets so that Wagner could hop into a pennant race in Boston.  [ESPN]

One of the players the Mets signed to replace Wagner, J.J. Putz is officially out for the season owing to a rehab setback following his elbow surgery.  Putz is joining Johan Santana – who will have bone chips and spurs removed from his elbow.  At this point, the expectation is that Santana will be ready for Spring Training, but there is some chance that the bone spurs will eventually require Santana to have Tommy John surgery in the future.  Santana had this same procedure a few years back (2003) and recovered to win 20 games and a Cy Young award…  [ESPN/SI]

Jake Peavy’s elbow swelled up after being nailed by a liner in the fifth inning of a rehab start, but he still hopes to pitch for the White Sox on Saturday against the Yankees.  [ESPN]

The San Francisco Giants have barely begun to enjoy him and now Freddy Sanchez heads to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Sanchez hopes to be back by September 2.  [ESPN]

Jacoby Ellsbury stole a base last night, his 54th, breaking the Boston Red Sox franchise record set by Tommy Harper back in 1973.

Tampa outfielder Carl Crawford, who is tied with Ellsbury for the stolen base lead, has been out of the lineup with a sore back.  He hopes to return soon, but for now he’s day-to-day.

Speaking of franchise records, Zach Greinke fanned fifteen Indians to set the Kansas City Royals single game strikeout mark last night.  If you knew that Mark Gubicza held the old record, congratulations…  Greinke got the win to improve to 12 – 8.  When he finishes the season at 14 – 11 with a 2.20 ERA, he should be the Cy Young winner in the AL…  [ESPN]

Chris Davis returns to the Rangers for the stretch run – the first baseman with a ton of power and a hole in his swing wide enough for Andruw Jones to run through needs to bring the bat from last fall to Texas this time…  Davis returns because Andruw Jones can’t actually run – he has a strained hamstring.  [SI]

Tampa outfielder Carl Crawford, who is tied with Ellsbury for the stolen base lead, has been out of the lineup with a sore back.  He hopes to return soon, but for now he’s day-to-day.

Staying in Florida, first baseman Nick Johnson tried to play with a strained hammy, and now heads to the DL.  Since joining the Fish, Johnson had an OBA around .500 and was instrumental in their recent hot streak.  He’ll be missed.  [MLB]

For a spot of good news, Aaron Boone will return to the Astros for September.  This is the same Aaron Boone who had valve replacement surgery on his heart in March.  This is awesome stuff…  [ESPN]

Hurry Back! Mike Adams, San Diego reliever, heads to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Adams had pitched really, really well for the Friars.  After a pinch hit walk and barely being able to walk to first base, Colorado sent centerfielder Dexter Fowler to the DL with a bruised knee.

Welcome Back! Livan Hernandez was signed by Washington and will start tonight against the Cubs.  Jeff Suppan returns to Milwaukee after an extended DL stint…

Willingham’s Night is Doubly Grand; Hudson Close to Braves Return

For the most part, Mighty Casey Baseball has tended to look at roster issues – injuries, rookies, and transactions – to help someone who is managing his or her fantasy baseball team make good roster decisions or learn a thing or two about players who are on the free agent market.   It analyzes trades, and occasionally gets to tell a longer story or two.   But every now and then something fun happens in a baseball game and you just want to make a note of it…

Yesterday, Josh Willingham became the third National Leaguer (Tony Cloninger, Fernando Tatis) to hit two grand slams in a game.  (Ten have done it in the AL, by the way).  Willingham is a professional hitter, someone all good teams need because he can help the offense and fill in at a few positions on the field, and always gives his best effort.  As a Marlin, he was a crowd favorite and a clutch hitter.  So to see the old Fish hit a pair of slams is pretty cool.  What makes it a geek fest – at least for Tim Kurkjian, anyway – is that on the same night, Tatis himself hit a pinch hit grand slam.  [FoxSports/MLB]

Another of my favorite Marlins, Burke Badenhop, earned a three game suspension for defending Hanley Ramirez.  A few weeks back, Ramirez was beaned a couple of times and felt like his pitchers weren’t backing him up.  This time, when Jeff Weaver plunked Hanley, Badenhop nailed Orlando Hudson in the butt.  In addition to the fine and suspension, Badenhop also received a bunch of high-fives from his teammates.  [FoxSports]

Ten game winner, Kevin Slowey, will require surgery to fix issues with bone chips in his wrist.  Your third place Minnesota Twins are already struggling with a thin rotation, and this isn’t going to help any…  Francisco Liriano (4 – 10, 5.56) – it’s time to step up and be the ace again.  [SI]

Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson threw four innings of shutout baseball at Gwinnett last night, signs that his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery is going well.  [SI]

My friend, Andy Finch, and I have had discussions about Derek Jeter’s defense.  According to my statistical model, which compares fielders based on the number of plays made per 800 balls in play, over the last three years Jeter’s range has been problematic – which agrees with many other systems of ranking fielding.  An article on MLB.com says that Jeter has spent the last two years improving his lateral movement, and it’s showing up in his range factors, so it will be interesting to see if my systems show the same thing when the year is done.  Personally, this is why you root for a Derek Jeter – he’s constantly working to be the best player he can be.

Another late July trade…  The San Francicso Giants acquired Ryan Garko from Cleveland for minor leaguer Scott Barnes.  The Giants need offense and Garko is a mild upgrade over Travis Ishikawa – mid 20 HR power, a decent batting average and some patience.  Worst case, he platoons with Ishikawa and gives the Giants more depth – especially since Rich Aurilia hasn’t been providing any bench punch and now is injured.  The Indians got a great prospect…  Barnes blew through lower levels, striking out more than a batter an inning with solid control (just 28 walks in 98 innings).  He’s two years away from making the Indians rotation and possibly making a splash.  The Indians have a backload of players who can play first base, and this is a good way to rearrange the talent base.  I like it.  [ESPN]

With Hall of Fame weekend over, MLB looked ahead at who might be part of the class of 2010.  When the ballot is distributed, we’ll look at our options then, but this is a good look-see.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Hong-Chih-Kuo returns to the Dodgers bullpen from the 60-day disabled list, costing Blake DeWitt his MLB role.  Tampa welcomed back pitcher Brian Shouse from the DL.  R.J. Swindle is back with Milwaukee – he’s too good for AAA, and hasn’t yet stuck with the parent club.  I’ll keep rooting, though.

Hurry Back!  The Reds sent Micah Owings (tight throwing shoulder) and Chris Dickerson (bruised rotator cuff diving for a ball) to the DL.

So the Nationals Might Fire Manny Acta… Will it Help?

A couple of weeks ago, when the second manager firing of 2009 took place, I wondered how long Manny Acta would keep his job in Washington.  Now, FoxSports is reporting that Acta may be fired and replaced by Jim Riggleman, and Sports Illustrated confirms this rumor.

Here’s what I wrote in their season forecast.  I figured 72 – 90 was an optimistic season based on what should be an improved offense (they are better than eight other teams, right in the middle of the pack), but the lack of solid pitching and a thin collection of young talent in the minors would work against them.  For their pitching to improve, they needed at least one of three things to happen: 25 starts by Shawn Hill; improvement from Scott Olsen, and a significant return to form of Daniel Cabrera.

Cabrera was awful and was released after starting 0 – 5 with 5.85 ERA, led by 16 strikeouts and 35 walks in 40 innings.  Nobody has picked up the one time Baltimore prospect and fireballer – a sign that something is really wrong.

Scott Olsen has been eminently hittable, starting 1 – 4 with an ERA over 7, and is on the DL with shoulder inflammation.

As for Shawn Hill, the Nationals decided to release him right after I did the forecast because he was undependable – management never knew if he’d be healthy enough to pitch.  Signed by San Diego, Hill is back on the DL with soreness in his bicep and elbow.

So much for optimism.  Suddenly National fans long for the return of Tim Redding and Odalis Perez.  At 355 runs allowed, no team is worse at preventing runs than the Nationals.

The starters aren’t the only problem.  The bullpen gave up on Chad Cordero, actually had a night where the whole bullpen was overhauled in April, and those that have stayed haven’t been able to maintain the few leads they have actually had.  With 16 wins and 44 losses, there haven’t been that many leads.

Offensively, four players have contributed.  Ryan Zimmerman is a top flight hitter and defender at third base.  When healthy, shortstop Christian Guzman has held his own at the top of the lineup.  First baseman Nick Johnson (knock on wood) has been healthy and gets on base.  Leftfielder Adam Dunn does what he always does – hit homers and draw walks.  Backstop Jesus Flores has been a decent hitter when healthy – he’s just missed half the season.  Outfielder Elijah Dukes has hit a little, but not enough.  I keep thinking he’s going to get seriously hot, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Then what?  Backup catchers aren’t hitting (few do).  Austin Kearns needs to be released, Anderson Hernandez isn’t a major league hitter at second base, and the bench players haven’t helped at all, except an occasional hit from Josh Willingham.  But, Willingham has nine homers and just twelve RBI (!) – is that possible???

AAA Syracuse offers little hope.  Anyone who pitched well there is already on the big league roster or back, including Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard, and Jason Bergmann.  Stammen is in the rotation, and Bergmann has been disappointing since looking like he might have potential back in 2007.  The best hitter is soon to be 30-year-old Jorge Padilla, a very good AAA hitter, but someone who (for whatever reason) hasn’t ever been given a shot.  Padilla no longer has speed to cover center, though, and he wouldn’t have a job on this roster if Roger Bernadina was healthy.  The Nationals need a burner in centerfield who can start or continue rallies, and Dukes or Padilla would hurt pitchers in the new stadium with their lack of range.  Still, he’s cheaper and better than Kearns and might be happy to be a fourth outfielder on this roster.

AA is empty – Ross Detwiler is on the roster, and nobody else is tearing it up at Harrisburg.

That leaves you with trades, and there are few veterans that are going to fetch anything on the open market.  Few contenders are going to need an injury-prone first baseman, or a slugger who can’t realistically cover left field, or an aging shortstop.  The most tradable commodity is starter John Lannon or rookie Jordan Zimmermann, and if Ryan Zimmerman leaves (a la Nate McLouth), the Nationals could draw fewer fans than the Marlins the rest of the way.

Stephen Strasburg.  I think there are issues with racing guys through the minors – not that there aren’t people who can play in the majors without the benefit of a minor league apprenticeship, but that kids need to experience some success that they can fall back on should they stumble in their first outings in the majors.  So, while I believe that the Nationals may have no choice but to race a Stephen Strasburg to the majors, the fact that they have little or no choice but to do so is problematic.

Look, few teams play .267 ball for a whole season.  So, once Riggleman (or someone) gets Acta’s job, it’s going to be a step forward just to play .400 ball.  Getting Scott Olson back and contributing will do that.  Finding four reasonably dependable relievers would certainly help.  Accepting their fate with Austin Kearns and letting Jorge Padilla show appreciation for a shot at playing in the majors might help.  I’d certainly be willing to give Paul Byrd (still available) or someone a shot at being the fifth starter.  But don’t expect miracles.  The Nationals need six quality players – a second baseman, an outfielder, two starters, two relievers.  Firing Manny Acta doesn’t address that.  Of course, neither does stringing Acta along in the press. 

Really, the team needs a completely new management structure – GM, Manager, Minor League Director, the whole thing.  Riggleman gets them to October.  Who is going to get this team to 2012?

2009 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins
2008: 84-77 (3rd NL East, 7.5 games back)

At some point, the people who regularly pick the Marlins to finish 71 – 91 are going to finally understand that General Manager Larry Beinfest knows what he’s doing.  Florida has fielded a competitive team every year but one in the last six seasons.  This year, management feels like it has a young staff that rivals the team that won the World Series in 2003 (Burnett, Beckett, Willis, Penny), and returns the core of a batting order that features three players who might all hit 30 homers.  This year, the outfield will be more mobile, the infield will have more experience, and the young arms will have a chance to shine.

Looking Back on 2008

The Marlins were one of the surprise teams in baseball (again), getting off to a solid start in April and May, and finding themselves in first place for a good chunk of the spring.  A weak June, where the hitting slowed and the starting pitching struggled mightily, sent them back to third place.  However, the Marlins wouldn’t fall to the bottom.  Instead, they rifled through July to hang near the top of the division.  After the all-star break, the bats slowed – Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida all tanked – just as the rotation was overhauled.  So, despite replacing Rich VandenHurk, Burke Badenhop, Mark Hendrickson, and Andrew Miller with Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibel Sanchez (to go along with Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen), giving the Marlins a strong rotation and having the best single month ERA, the team struggled to win 11 games.  The bullpen didn’t help either – Kevin Gregg’s balky knee and Reynal Pinto’s return to earth appeared to end Florida’s chances.

Even then, the Marlins wouldn’t die.  In late September, the Marlins won nine in a row and looked like they might suddenly repeat the Rockies Run of 2007 only to lose to Philadelphia and finish in 3rd with 84 wins.  With the strong finish and the improved rotation, the Marlins looked forward to 2009.

Tell me about that offense

If nothing else, the Marlins hit a LOT of homers.  They have one or two guys who can run, they have one or two guys who might hit close to .300, but they have a lot of guys who put the ball in the seats.

The infield offense was a single Jorge Cantu homer away from being the first to have all four starters hit 30 homers.  Hanley Ramirez is an offensive force, a 30/30 man who added 92 walks to his stat sheet, and scored 125 runs.  Dan Uggla had an unbelievable May that was so good (12 homers, .347 average) that it made up for two months of nothing (July, August).  The new Kansas City Royal, Mike Jacobs, hit for power but not much else.  Jorge Cantu looked like the hitter he was for Tampa Bay in 2005 and might be heading into his prime.  No other infield, including Philadelphia’s three MVP candidates, had such a broad impact on the offense.

The outfield, however, struggled to keep up.  Josh Willingham had only one good month.  Jeremy Hermida, coming off a 2007 where it looked like he might live up to his first round draft pick status, lost his way after the all-star break.  Cody Ross was a pleasant surprise and should have played more.  The usual centerfielder was the amazing Alfredo Amezega, who doesn’t do much other than hit a few singles.  The fifth outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, hit like a player who used to hit well.

Behind the plate, Matt Treanor struggled with injuries, Mike Rabelo played indifferently and was sent to AAA.  Part of the team’s success was finding John Baker, who hit .299 and reached base 40% of the time during the last two months of the season.

Defensively:

In 2007, the defense was the weakest part of the Marlins game.  In 2008, they battled it to a draw.

The catching was below average and mistake prone, and neither Baker, Rabelo, or Treanor could stop the running game.  Baker was the worst of the throwers, but his bat makes him the first choice to start in 2009.

The infield was slightly better than average.  Uggla and Ramirez were both slightly better than average in terms of range.  Uggla was especially good making many more good plays than bad, and helping turn two.  Ramirez cut down on his errors and made a few more plays.  If you watched both Jacobs and Cantu, you’d think they weren’t very mobile.  They’re not.  But the statistics show that they weren’t awful.  Cantu was dead even average in terms of range but makes a few too many errors, while Jacobs was just slightly below average at first and not helping in terms of being dependable.  Of the backups, only Andino (at second base) looks like a truly better defender, and since everybody who started hit, the defense provided was gravy.

Amezega is a surprisingly good outfielder; when you see him every day you realize just how skilled a fielder he is.  Cody Ross is mobile enough to play center, and solid in left or right.  Jeremy Hermida is mobile but awkward.  The primary backups, Luis Gonzales and Josh Willingham aren’t mobile, though Willingham gives good effort.  Putting Maybin in center, who looks truly amazing, and moving Ross to right will make what was a reasonably solid outfield even better.

Now Pitching…

The rotation featured only two guys who didn’t miss starts, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, and rotated out weaker starters once Josh Johnson and Anibel Sanchez got healthy and Chris Volstad was ready to go.

Nolasco started getting his curve over for strikes, becoming the staff ace and winning 15 games.  Scott Olsen kept the ball in the park, appeared to mature on the mound, and kept his team in games.  While Nolasco was 22 runs better than the average starter in his 212.1 innings, he gave up a few homers.  What helped was having stunning control (only 42 walks against 186 strikeouts).  Olsen, on the other hand, was just a good number four starter.  He wasn’t special but he was steady.

The rest of the rotation improved when the Marlins switched out Andrew Miller (-22) and Mark Hendrickson (-18), and no longer needed to use Burke Badenhop (-9) when Josh Johnson (+9) Chris Volstad (+14), and Sanchez joined the rotation.  Sanchez was not nearly as solid (-8), but was still a step up over Miller or Hendrickson.

The bullpen was tolerable.  Kevin Gregg was great for four months, and not so good down the stretch, but Matt Lindstrom picked up some of the slack in September.  For three months, Reynal Pinto avoided problems caused by his lack of control until it caught up to him in August and September.  As good as Joe Nelson and Doug Waechter were, they were negated by Ryan Tucker, Taylor Tankersley, and Eulogio De La Cruz, who were scary bad in major league tryouts.

Forecasting 2008:

There is a lot of optimism in Florida, and I would tend to agree.  Let’s start with the pitching.

Josh Johnson is great, but has never made it to 160 innings.  He potentially could be twenty runs better than average.  Realistically, he’ll be five runs better than average for every 50 innings he pitches.  Nolasco was amazing last year – let’s hope he stays equally solid, but he might fall back just a little from last year.  Volstad could be a pretty solid third starter.  If he keeps his quality for 180 innings, he would be solid and likely 15 runs better than average.  It’s the bottom slots featuring Sanchez and Miller that make me nervous.  Miller hasn’t been that good and seems to be off his game until the third inning.  Sanchez was good as a rookie and seems to have mound savvy, but before his injury wasn’t very good and at the end of last year, he wasn’t all that great either.  Either could improve, but I’m not confident both will.  If both pitch 180 innings, they’ll cancel each other out.  Granted, there will be no Hendrickson, which is a huge benefit, and if they only need to get 10 starts out of Badenhop or someone else, that’ll be good.  The optimist says an improvement of 30 runs over last year.

The bullpen will feature some lively young arms.  Lindstrom hits 100 once in a while, but his fastball is flat.  If his slider stays strong, he’ll be okay.  Former Royal Leo Nunez might be okay here, and Kensing might help.  Badenhop should be better as a long relief option – his pitches moved so much he had a hard time finding the strike zone, something that hadn’t been a problem in the minors.  He may start the year in AAA.  Scott Proctor was signed to a one-year deal.  Last year with the Dodgers, Proctor suffered through elbow tendinitis, having his first off season as a professional, but it was after two strong seasons where he appeared in 83 games each year.  Still, Gregg wasn’t bad and a few othes were really good (Joe Nelson, Doug Waechter, and Arthur Rhodes, all of whom are gone).  Just like 2008, though, there will be a few undependable arms, so the net result will likely be no change.  Jose Ceda looks like Lee Smith, but he’s a year away.

Defensively, there is a chance for improvement just by getting Maybin in the lineup and Willingham or Gonzalez off the field.  Also, if Gaby Sanchez plays first instead of Jacobs, the infield could be even more airtight.  The gain could be an additional ten run improvement.

Offensively, the Marlins have a formidable lineup.  Ramirez, Hermida, Cantu, Ross, Uggla, and Baker will hit.  Sanchez looks like a Mark Grace type, but for all the power Jacobs provided, he hit .243 with a low On Base Percentage.  So, it will be a wash at that position.  The potential for Hermida to improve will probably wash out with any decline by another player (Cantu?  Uggla?), and if Maybin is slightlyover matched as a hitter, it’s not going to be a huge loss since Amezega isn’t a run producer anyway.  I’m not as convinced that the bench hitting will be as strong.  The 2008 Marlins had some depth, while the 2009 Marlins look a little thin offensively.  Emilio Bonafacio and Jay Gibbons are around (Gibbons got a Non-Roster Invite to spring training), Wes Helms is still here.  If the Marlins get someone else – perhaps Dallas McPherson – to contribute, it might be okay.  But I think the offense will lose ten runs from last year.

All things considered, though, it’s a team that should win 85 games and be in the hunt for a wild card spot, and that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.  They have been in the hunt more often than not over the last six seasons.  (I see that Peter Gammons finally agrees with my assessment, telling a Baseball Tonight preview show audience that they will be in the hunt into the final week of the season as his long shot pick.  It’s a safe long shot pick.)

Down on the Farm…

The Marlins moved their AAA franchise a bit closer to home, leaving Albuquerque for New Orleans.  That means when a prospect hits .300, he’ll be a legitimate prospect.  In New Mexico, everyone hits about .320 with some power.  The best hitters there were guys who had failed in previous trips, including Brett Carroll, who is not an awful fifth outfielder.  Only Eulogio De La Cruz really pitched well there and earned a trip to the bigs.

The AA Carolina Mudcats provided the real home for prospects, such as Gaby Sanchez (17 – 92 – .314) and Cameron Maybin.  Chris Volstad made the roster after a strong start, but Ryan Tucker (5 – 3, 1.58) and William Glen (9 – 4, 2.01 87Ks in 94 innings) actually fared better.  One of these guys will replace somebody in the rotation if he gets a strong run in AAA.  Chris Mobley fanned 70 in 58 innings as the closer and will eventually make a roster in the future.  This year’s AA franchise will be a bit closer to home, moving to Jacksonville, FL.

Logan Morrison was the top hitter for the High A Jupiter Hammerheads (13 – 74 – .332).  Teen Michael Stanton (39 homers) and Bryan Peterson mashed the ball for the Low A Greensboro Grasshoppers, but so did a lot of guys (and the pitchers were equally mauled).  The best lower level pitcher may be Georgia Southern grad Andrew Battisto, who fanned 101 in 81 innings and walked only 11, winning eight and losing just one for the Grasshoppers.  What made that season especially impressive was a strong ground ball/fly ball ratio – so not only did he strikeout a lot of batters, but the batted balls were kept in the park.