Rating the Pitchers: 2012 National League

In rating pitchers, my system looks at the number of runs allowed per nine by each pitcher, then is modified by a couple of things – the park in which he pitches, and the defense of the players behind him.  When I have that, I compare the number of runs he allowed to what the average pitcher might have allowed in the same number of innings to get a positive number of runs saved, or a negative number of runs – essentially how many additional runs that pitcher cost his team. In case you were curious, the average NL pitcher allowed 4.3054 runs per nine…

A pitcher in Colorado had a lot of things going against him.  First, games in Colorado scored about 400 more runs (5 per game for both teams combined) than Rockies road games.  Then, the defense behind him was brutal – costing pitchers an extra 100 runs.  Meanwhile, the pitchers in San Francisco got help from the park, and the team’s fielders (about 45 runs).

Top Starters:

37.91 Kris Medlin, ATL (138.00 innings)
33.34 Johnny Cueto, CIN (217.00)
31.06 Kyle Lohse, STL (211.00)
30.34 Clayton Kershaw, LAD (227.67)
28.98 R.A. Dickey, NYM (233.67)

22.27 Ryan Dempster, CHC (104.00)
21.95 Gio Gonzalez, WAS (199.33)
21.79 Cole Hamels, PHI (215.33)
21.15 Wade Miley, ARZ (194.67)
20.83 Cliff Lee, PHI (211.00)

Honorable Mentions:

Jordan Zimmermann
Yovani Gallardo
Matt Cain
Mat Latos
Zack Greinke

The NL Cy Young award went to Dickey, the uniqueness of his being a knuckleballer making his season seem so improbable – given how baseball loves smoke or power and loathes gimmicks.  Still, the system says that the most effective pitcher was a guy who pitched essentially a half-season (half a season from 15 years ago), which will happen from time to time.  Medlin finished with a 1.57 ERA, gave up fewer than a baserunner per inning and allowed but a homer every 23 innings.  Personally, I would have voted for Dickey and then Johnny Cueto, who didn’t get the same kind of help from his defense or park as Dickey.

Ryan Dempster didn’t pitch nearly as well in Boston as he did in Chicago before he left, and the Phillies decline can partially be traced to losing the performance of an ace (Roy Halliday).  Additional props shall be given to Clayton Kershaw who essentially repeated his Cy Young performance from 2011.

Kyle Lohse can’t get an offer from someone?  People remember too well how he pitched before he got to St. Louis and must think that he can’t carry this to another team…

Top Relievers:

22.41 Craig Kimbrel, ATL (62.67 innings)
21.73 Aroldis Chapman, CIN (71.67)
16.19 Mitchell Boggs, STL (73.33)
14.38 Rafael Betancourt, COL (57.67)
14.37 Wilton Lopez, HOU (66.33)

13.72 Brad Ziegler, ARI (68.67)
13.56 David Hernandez, ARI (68.33)
13.54 Luke Gregerson, SD (71.67)
13.53 Craig Stammen, WAS (88.33)
13.25 Matt Belisle, COL (80.00)

Honorable Mention:

Sergio Romo
Jason Motte
Eric O’Flaherty
Sean Marshall
Jonathan Papelbon

Craig Kimbral was only slightly more effective than Aroldis Chapman, who will likely become a starter.  Both pitchers were crazy good – Kimbrel allowing just 27 hits and 14 walks in 62.2 innings, while striking out 116 batters.  Chapman pitched nine more innings, gave up a few more hits and a few more walks, and struck out a hair fewer per nine.  Those two were well ahead of the next guy (Boggs), and to be honest, there wasn’t much difference between the next several guys.

Rafael Betancourt may be the best setup man in baseball and has been for many, many years now.

Worst Pitchers:

-44.88 Tim Lincecum, SF (186 tortuous innings)
-28.58 Erik Bedard, PIT (125.67)
-26.23 Chris Volstad, CHC (111.33)
-25.96 Jordan Lyles, HOU (141.33)
-24.77 Ross Ohlendorf, SD (48.67)

-22.07 Kevin Correia, PIT (171.00)
-21.56 Barry Zito, SF (184.33)
-20.41 Justin Germano, CHC (64.00)
-20.12 Jair Jurrjens, ATL (48.33)
-19.15 Tommy Hanson, ATL (174.67)

Usually, Tim Lincecum is on the top starter list – and the Giants gave him every chance to get his season on track.  Instead, he finished 10 – 15 and didn’t miss a start.  His K/9 rate was still pretty good, but he walked too many guys and was hurt by the long ball.  Throw in the fact that his defense and park were actually HELPING him, and that 5.18 ERA is even worse, really.

That both San Francisco and Atlanta were able to make it to the post season with TWO starters who were killing them is impressive.  And Pittsburgh was loaded with poor starters and still were competitive for most of the season.

In the case of Jurrjens and Ross Ohlendorf, this was the case of eight or nine brutal starts rather than a full season of below average misery.  Ohlendorf was allowing more than 4.5 runs than the average pitcher every nine innings.

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.

Pirates Trade McLouth to Braves for Prospects (They Hope)

Nate McLouth was probably Pittsburgh’s best player last year – well, close.  Jason Bay was better for four months but was traded to Boston.  Xavier Nady was amazing for nearly four months but was traded to New York.  Ryan Doumit generated a lot of runs, but is limited defensively (and this year is hurt).  McLouth is better than Freddy Sanchez and either Andy or Adam LaRoche.

He’s pretty good, though.  Above average power (26 homers, 46 doubles last year, on pace for more of the same in 2009); good speed (23 steals, just three caught stealing in 2008).  Patient enough at the plate, doesn’t strikeout too much, but he does fan from time to time.

Defensively, however, he’s not THAT good a centerfielder.  I have him has having below average range the last three years in center (-9.2, -4.3, -4.7 – meaning that for every 800 balls in play, McLouth makes that many fewer plays than the average centerfielder, and therefore adds that many points to the batter’s batting average).  In limited innings, he hasn’t been especially mobile in left or right, either.  So, in addition to putting about 117 runs on the board for the Pirates, he also helped put an extra 15 runs on the board for his opponents.  The net, however, is very positive.   Not every player contributes 100 runs to a team’s success.

So, with the Pirates falling to their usual fate – the bottom of the NL Central and a losing record for the umpteenth straight season – management decided to sell off their best remaining asset to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects.  Was this a good idea?

For the Braves – YES!  With Jordan Schafer being sent to AAA by the Braves yesterday to be replaced by Gregor Blanco, and dissatisfied with the production of Jeff Francouer, McLouth will still be a welcome addition to the Braves.  He’s better than anyone who played there in 2008 (Mark Kotsay, Blanco), and far better than anyone who could play there in the Braves system now.  (Blanco, who just got called up to the majors to replace Schafer, was a below average batter and fielder in center.)  And, none of their TOP prospects were involved in the trade – Hanson, Medlin, and others will still be available to Atlanta for growth or trades.

What did the Pirates get in return?

Charlie Morton was the 2nd round pick by Atlanta back in 2002, and has worked his way through the minors.  To his credit, Morton has improved in terms of his control and strikeout rate.  In 2008, he was far ahead of anything he had done in his prior years and earned a trip to the majors where he was miserable – 6.15 ERA, and walking nearly as many as he struck out.  In AAA this year, Morton has been solid for Gwinnett, even better than in 2008, but not as dominant as Tommy Hanson or even Kris Medlin.

Jeff Locke was the Braves’ 2nd round pick in 2006 out of high school.  Unlike Morton, Locke DOMINATED rookie ball, but since then seems to have taken a step back.  He was okay in 2008 at A Rome; good control, but ugly record and a lot of balls in play turned into hits.  And, in 2009 for Myrtle Beach, he looks very ordinary and not very prospect like.  Baseball America may say he’s a top ten prospect in the Braves system, but not based on this year, for sure.  He’s young and has room to grow; yet Locke is NOT going to pitch for Pittsburgh for two or three years.

The last guy might help some, and that’s Gorkys Hernandez, who is a Venezuelan burner.  Just 21 now (22 in September), Gorkys has 50 steals in him, and has hit well this year at AA Mississippi, coming to Atlanta from Detroit in the deal that sent Edgar Renteria to Detroit in 2008.  Now, while his average is higher and he’s still stealing bases, he’s not drawing walks and his strikeout rate at AA is prohibitively high (54 in just 212 at bats).  Baseball America ranked Hernandez as the fourth best prospect in the Braves system.

Still – a poor man’s Grady Sizemore (check out the comparisons – McLouth is 85% of Sizemore, and Sizemore is overrated defensively, too) for a fourth or fifth starter (at best), a struggling kid pitcher, and a Willy Taveras clone doesn’t strike me as a great deal.  Especially when none of the pitchers can help immediately (and one is going in the wrong direction) and you already have a centerfielder-in-waiting in Andrew McCutchen.  Granted, three players thicken up the talent base, but giving away one of the few hitters capable of putting 100 runs on the scoreboard each year seems like a good deal for Atlanta and a disappointing return for Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh needed to turn McLouth into a pitcher capable of winning 15 games.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Look for Andrew McCutchen, hitting well and running like the wind at AAA Indianpolis, to get the call to play center.  For three years, McCutchen has been one of the two highest ranked prospects (per Baseball America) and it’s time to get him on the major league roster.   If you haven’t gotten him for your fantasy team, it’s time to think about picking him up.

Peavy Stays a Padre – Sox Crushed Twice in Loss to Twins, Too.

Was it that big a story? I guess so – but three of the top twenty baseball headlines featured Jake Peavy… Peavy, as you all know, rejected a trade that would have sent the Padre ace to the White Sox for four propsects, and a huge reduction in salary expenses, citing a desire to stay home and in the National League.

So, the White Sox went out and lost to the Twins 20 – 1.  Jose Morales, who caught the game, was sent back to AAA when it was over so the Twins could bring back Delmon Young.

Games to watch? Randy Johnson faces the Mariners in search of win #299. ESPN’s Steve Phillips say watch the long ball in the Phillies – Yankees series this weekend. Buster Olney says that the new Yankee Stadium is on pace for more than 300 (!) homers this year. (Olney’s blog is pretty complete, by the way. He relies on a big staff, I guess. I’m a staff of one.)

Joba Chamberlain’s knee checked out after being hit by a liner last night.  The Yankee starter left the game in the first inning… He may miss a start, but I don’t think he will.

Tony Gwynn, JR. scored the winning run for the Padres against the Giants last night. C’mon – that’s cool. Gwynn arrived in San Diego yesterday after being traded by the Brewers (actually, the Nashville Sounds) for outfielder Jody Gerut.

MLB.com is reporting that Alfonso Soriano may move to second base in the future, according to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. They need a shortstop with range and for Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto to start hitting, and this is what he comes up with?

Edinson Volquez hits the DL with a strained back, and Homer Bailey – a prospect for most of this decade – returns to the Reds. If it’s gonna happen for Homer, it’s got to happen now or he’ll be done as a prospect soon. And it’s not like he was smoking AAA, either. As for Volquez, it’s muscular and not structural, according to Dusty Baker.

Texas starter Vincente Padilla, expected to be an ace this year, hasn’t been healthy – he goes to the DL with a strained shoulder. Coming back from the DL is closer Frank Francisco.

Day-to-day? Jose Reyes (still) with what has been diagnosed as tendonitis in his calf. Chipper Jones has a foot injury (Bunions?). He’s hurt a lot these days. Bobby Abreu sprained a toe and will likely miss the weekend.

On the mend? John Smoltz threw three scoreless last night. Brandon Webb is healing, progressing slowly. Rick Ankiel might be close, but not close enough for a call up.

The Marlins are keeping the transaction fax machine busy. Alfredo Amezega is on the DL with a bruised knee. So, they brought up onetime starter Alejandro De Aza – for a couple of days. He’s back in AAA now. David Davidson was called up, and Andy Gonzalez sent back down. Then, they activated Cristian Martinez from AAA. Martinez gave up a game-winning homer in the eighth inning last night and was immediately dispatched back to AAA.

Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes went on the DL with a strained hamstring, so Tommy Hanson was bypassed for his roommate – Kris Medlen. Medlen was awesome in the minors and may be a long term prospect, but he was swatted around by Colorado yesterday. Medlin throws low 90s with a mean change up and a breaking ball that’s okay. The Braves also placed Omar Infante on the DL with a broken left hand.

Toronto’s Travis Snider will get time to get out of his funk in AAA, as will Brewer Hernan Iribarren. Welcome back to the majors, R.J. Swindle (still rooting for him). Another prospect deemed not ready? Bryan Augenstein. He’ll be back.

Frank Catalanotto signed a minor league deal with the Huntsville Stars. He can still play.