2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

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2010 – Top AL Catchers

Joe Mauer (MIN) – 99.3 runs created

Mauer wasn’t 100%, but he’s still amazing.  Defensively, he has few peers and offensively he’s a solid #3 hitter.  His power was off – just nine homers – and his batting average fell with the league, but he remained a threat to win the batting title.  Backup Drew Butera was solid, too – cutting down 43% of would be base stealers.  Of course, Butera hits like Sal Butera – which isn’t very good.

Victor Martinez (BOS) – 83.4 runs created

Martinez and Jason Varitek remained solid as a team behind the plate, being way below average against the run (80% success rate and 169 stolen bases allowed) and not necessarily being that mobile – though who really bunts against the Sox, anyway.  Martinez hit well here, batting .302 with 20 homers, and Varitek had surprisingly good power in limited plate appearances.  Martinez is gone now, leaving Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek as top options, which will hurt the Sox offensively in 2011.  Saltalamacchia has never hit that well – and Varitek isn’t going to hit .275 anytime soon.  Let’s hope that Salty has beaten his phobia of throwing back to the pitcher…

Mike Napoli (LAA) 73.1 runs created

Jeff Mathis is supposedly the stronger defensive catcher – but Napoli was actually better against the run and made slightly fewer mistakes.  Mathis is definitely a cleaner catcher – far more mobile, but not a world beater with the bat.  Bobby Wilson got 29 starts and wasn’t awful, didn’t impress me with either his mobility or arm, but he might be able to hit a little.  As a group, they were well below average and partly to blame for not winning the division in 2010.  Offensively, Mike Napoli has power and produces runs, and held down first base when Kendry Morales went down to that freak broken leg.  Mathis hit like Lou Marson (see below) in fewer at bats.  Will Hank Conger win the job in spring training?

John Buck (TOR) – 61.7 runs created

Now a Marlin, John Buck was dependable, decent against the run, didn’t make too many errors, and generally mobile.  The pitching was surprisingly good and Toronto had a winning record.  Defensively, for this position, it was a lot of positives.  Backup Jose Molina was awesome against the run (44% caught stealing), and Buck was pretty good.  Rookie J.P. Arencibia gets the nod for 2011, and he didn’t look so bad either.  By the way, Buck had his best offensive season, too – hitting .281 and slugging 20 homers.  His weakness?  He doesn’t walk at all.

Jorge Posada/Francisco Cervelli (NYY) – 57.9 runs created

Innings split nearly down the middle, Posada is aging (he doesn’t LOOK old, but he’s playing old), but Cervelli isn’t the answer either.  Neither can stop the run, though Cervelli is younger and, therefore, more mobile.  The pitching isn’t happy with the catching either.  As a hitter, Cervelli is learning, and marginally below average, but not awful; he also isn’t seen as the next Yogi Berra either.  Posada did what we would have expected to do – which is lose a little in his batting average, though he still gets on base and hits for some power.  Jesus Montero will have this job as soon as he is ready.

Kurt Suzuki (OAK) – 57.1 runs created

Suzuki remains a decent catcher, though he’s not very good against the run anymore.  Backup Landon Powell is better against the run, but needs to remove some of his mistakes – which will come with time.  As a duo, they weren’t very good – not very mobile, and slightly above average in terms of making mistakes.  Suzuki still hits a little, but it’s a little less and he’s now below average.  He’s still better than Landon Powell.

John Jaso (TB) – 54.2 runs created

Jaso is young and gets on base – much like his Florida Marlins counterpart, John Baker.  In fact, he got on base enough that Joe Maddon let him bat leadoff from time to time.  Dioner Navarro is the best catcher of this group, but his weight is problematic and he isn’t hitting.  Kelly Shoppach doesn’t look like he’ll be in the league very long and should start brushing up on his coaching skills instead.

A.J. Pierzynski (CHISOX) – 52.4 runs created

Pierzynski is starting to get old, but he’s a good kind of old – just good enough against the run, few mistakes, and keeping the pitching staff on point – though he has a good set of pitchers to work with.  His offense fell off to where his power slipped and his OBP is woeful (.301).  Backup Ramon Castro isn’t half bad, and the man can hit (.278/.504/.331).  He could easily be a DH if the Sox wanted, and I’d be tempted to let him play more.

Matt Wieters (BAL) – 51.4 runs created

The Orioles future is now with Matt Wieters assuming the starting role full time.  As a team, Oriole catching rates as slightly above average, with the young Wieters being mobile, and making few errors or passed balls.  The TEAM was below average in terms of the stolen base percentage, but Wieters wasn’t the problem, nabbing 24 of 77 runners.  Craig Tatum was horrible here, allowing 25 of 27 runners to reach the next base.  Offensively, Wieters didn’t amaze as we had been led to believe, but there were a few positives, including 11 homers in 446 at bats.  I think he’s going to be better.  Tatum had a nice batting average (.281), but he didn’t do much with those singles.

Jason Kendall (KC) – 43.6 runs created

You want to know why the Royals are never going to win?  Who was responsible for letting John Buck go to Toronto (where Toronto suddenly had the best overall catching in the league), and replacing him with the ancient, impotent, and immobile Jason Kendall?  Kendall can still throw a little, but the rest of his game is lacking.  Brayan Pena should have been given this job from the outset.  Pena is a better hitter, a better athlete, and has upside.

Alex Avila/Gerald Laird (DET) – 32.3 runs created

Laird is a really good catcher with solid skills, good with pitchers, good against the run, relatively mistake free.  Avila is nearly his equal and played 86 more innings.  Neither hit – but Avila was closer to league average than Laird, who seems to have lost his bat altogether – explaining why Avila got more time behind the plate.  If Avila can step up a bit – maybe .260 and slugging .400 – this would be a positive.  He’ll be a backup, though, as Victor Martinez will take on a load of catching in 2011.

Lou Marson (CLE) – 22.4 runs created

As a team, Indian catchers were average – but the young guys were good in terms of avoiding mistakes and making the throws.  The veteran backup, Mike Redmond, struggled against baserunners (see Craig Tatum, BAL, above).  I’ve always been a Marson fan, but if his bat doesn’t improve soon (.195 with no power), he’ll become the new Paul Bako.  You think the Indians miss Victor Martinez?

Matt Treanor/Bengie Molina (TEX) – 20.5 runs created

A few years ago, it looked like Texas had all the good young catchers.  Saltalamacchia is gone, Taylor Teagarden has been disappointing, Max Ramirez isn’t the answer yet, leaving veteran Matt Treanor as the best of the lot.  It was so bad, the Rangers imported Bengie Molina from the Giants down the stretch, and he wasn’t much better than Treanor – though he was more mobile.  Nobody hit here, so the addition of Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba will help immensely.

Adam Moore/Rob Johnson (SEA) – 14.9 runs created

Josh Bard got 300 innings, too – nobody had more than 515 innings at the position in 2010.  Moore wasn’t very good against the run and he isn’t very mobile.  If he has room to grow, that’s news to me.  Rob Johnson was good against the run and more mobile, but his health record looks like Medicare’s worst nightmare.  Bard can catch, but that’s about it.  As a team, among the worst catching in the league.  Only Bard hit above .200, and he hit .214.  Not good at all…

2010 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

Top AL Catchers in 2009

Unlike the guys who play between the baselines, determining the value of a catcher defensively is a much harder proposition for me.  I haven’t been able to translate defense into runs the way I have for all the other positions, but I AM able to look at the responsibilities of a catcher and determine what teams are benefiting more from good catching than others.  Here’s how I do it.

There are seven things for which a catcher would get credit as being solid defensively.  If the catchers for a team are above average in a category, they get a point.  If below average, they lose a point.  The top score is seven, the lowest score (obviously) would be -7.  Here are the categories:

W/L Percentage: Score a point for a winning record, take one away for being below .500.

Adjusted ERA: If the team’s staff has a better than league average ERA (4.43), score a point.

Mistakes Per Game: Essentially errors and passed balls are added up.  The norm is about .11 mistakes a game for AL catchers.  Score a point for doing better than that.  Otherwise, take one away.  The only time this is patently unfair is when a team has a knuckleballer – so this works against Boston right now.  But it’s just a single category and I tend to give that team the benefit of the doubt on that category.

Mobililty: Mobility is the total number of assists that aren’t tied to stolen bases and the number of putouts that aren’t strikeouts.  A good catcher blocks the plate and gets outs on throws home, or can race out of the crouch to snare bunts and make plays in the field.  In the AL, the average catcher made .38 plays requiring mobility.  Score a point for beating that number.

Fielding Percentage (not counting strikeouts):  I guess someone had to get credit for the putout when a batter strikes out.  Unfortunately, catching strike three isn’t really “fielding”.  So, I look at the fielding percentage after removing putouts for Ks.  The average catcher has a fielding percentage of about .914 on balls in play or when runners are trying to advance.  Beat it, and score a point.

Assists Per Game: These are assists NOT tied to stolen bases and is used to grade the catcher’s ability to make good throws.  The league average is .23 assists per game.

Stolen Base Percentage: Can a catcher hold the running game in check?  If so, score a point.  The league average is 73.6% – which is awfully high, don’t you think?

The best catcher (well, team of catchers) can score a seven – and it happens from time to time.  As it turns out, there was a seven in the AL in 2009 – and it was your Detroit Tigers led by Gerald Laird.  The Tigers had a winning record, an adjusted ERA of 4.26, cut off the running game, made few errors, few mistakes in total, had great mobility, and had an above average number of assists not tied to stolen bases.

I’ll list the table here to show you where the catchers rank defensively and then discuss the nuts and bolts in the player comments below.

ERA WPct SB% FPct-K MTK/G Mobility Asst/G Rank
AL AVG 4.43 .500 73.6% 0.914 0.11 0.38 0.23 ***
BAL 5.05 .395 78.3% 0.918 0.10 0.50 0.16 -1
BOS 4.20 .586 86.8% 0.925 0.10 0.47 0.20 3
CHA 4.02 .488 75.9% 0.899 0.09 0.18 0.11 -3
CLE 5.50 .401 77.1% 0.948 0.09 0.36 0.21 -3
DET 4.26 .528 63.8% 0.975 0.10 0.43 0.30 7
KCA 4.57 .401 74.5% 0.873 0.17 0.45 0.18 -5
LAA 4.41 .599 76.6% 0.875 0.14 0.41 0.43 1
MIN 4.28 .534 77.0% 0.933 0.12 0.32 0.10 -1
NYA 4.34 .636 70.6% 0.925 0.10 0.37 0.25 5
OAK 4.32 .463 70.8% 0.922 0.08 0.35 0.27 3
SEA 3.98 .525 60.4% 0.935 0.13 0.35 0.27 3
TBA 4.33 .519 76.3% 0.905 0.09 0.37 0.23 0
TEX 4.20 .537 69.7% 0.858 0.15 0.34 0.17 -1
TOR 4.61 .463 65.9% 0.911 0.13 0.41 0.32 -1

Joe Mauer (MIN):  Hands down the best catcher in baseball, wouldn’t you think?  An offensive force who chose to try and take advantage of hitter’s counts and blasted his way to creating 131.6 runs.  Last year, Mauer wasn’t as dominating against the run, but he still did a few good things.  His backups, Mike Redmond and Jose Morales can contribute.  Both can hit a little and catch enough – but had limits.  Redmond struggled against baserunners, who were successful 35 out of 40 times, while Morales had 5 passed balls and 3 errors in just 183 innings.

Victor Martinez (CLE/BOS):  A remarkable hitter who bounced back from an unproductive and injury riddled 2008 to hit 23 homers, drive in 108 runs, and generate 108.8 runs of offense.  His catching skills don’t match his offensive numbers – easy to run on, not exceptionally mobile.  And, when asked to play first base, shows his lack of mobility there.  Still, he’s 30 runs better than any other catcher offensively, you can live with the rest of it most days.

Kurt Suzuki (OAK):  Would you have guessed he was the third most productive offensive catcher?  Mid range power and average, can run some (78.45 Runs Created) and his stats aren’t helped any by playing in Oakland.  Plays a lot of innings.  Not great against the run and his teams haven’t been remarkably successful, but don’t blame this guy.  Oakland’s catchers scored at 3 points, which is five above average counters, and just missing on mobility and the team’s winning percentage.  He’s a great catcher.

Jorge Posada (NYY):  Still a very productive player (74.98 Runs Created).  Good power, good batting average, and patient at the plate.  Defensively, Posada found some of his youth.  His backups, Jose Molina (now in Toronto) and Francisco Cervelli may not hit like Jorge, but they are more than his equal defensively – a nice thing for the Yankees to have.  Overall, the team ranked at +5 – six above average categories and just missed the league average for mobility.  Cervelli was great against the run – gunning down 10 of 23 runners.

A.J. Pierzynski (CWS):  Hit .300 but his power numbers were down a bit.  Contributes with the bat (69.22 Runs Created), but his defense is not helping out.  Not very mobile, makes a few too many mistakes, and the team fell below .500.  The final tally was -3, which means that only the team’s ERA and the total mistakes per game numbers were above average.  Everything else was not.  Ramon Castro was #2 last year, and he isn’t known for his defense either (though he threw well in 2009).

Mike Napoli (LAA):  An impressive hitter – power, patience, hit .272.  His backup, Jeff Mathis, is the glove wizard.  The net is a very productive combination.  Slightly above average catching (+1) and above average hitting.

Miguel Olivo (KCA):  Hits for power, but doesn’t get on base (53.59).  Has a strong throwing arm, but doesn’t always get the ball where he was aiming.  Makes an awful lot of mistakes, and for a guy who looks lean, isn’t very mobile.  Royals catching was well below average (-5) because John Buck couldn’t throw people out and even though he’s less mistake prone, EVERYBODY is less mistake prone than Olivo.  In 2010, both Olivo and Buck will be gone.  Olivo is in Colorado, where if he gets off to a hot start might hit 30 homers and make 15 errors…  Buck is in Toronto.

Jason Kendall, who inherits this job, would rank in this spot offensively and I don’t believe that things are going to improve that much defensively.  You never know.

Matt Wieters (BAL):  In two years, he may be the guy challenging Joe Mauer for the top rung.  For now, he’s got work to do. A good hitter (.288, .412 slugging – 49.04 Runs Created) and not horrible catching (-1 as a team), I like where Baltimore is heading here.  Gregg Zaun is gone, so Chad Moeller can back things up himself.  Moeller didn’t throw anybody out trying to steal, though.  Okay, two people, but that’s it.  Maybe they can sign Paul Bako to teach Wieters a few tricks.

Rod Barajas (TOR):  His batting average tanked to .226, but his power numbers were up (46.99 Runs Created).  I think Toronto would miss Barajas, but Raul Chavez was equally good at shutting down the running game and not horribly error prone.  Chavez is also more mobile these days and offensively they were a wash.  Chavez is cheaper, though…  The 2010 Blue Jays have only one catcher on the 40 man roster, Royals vet John Buck.  After that, it’s non-roster invites like Chavez, Jose Molina and former first round pick J.P. Arencibia.  Arencibia, out of Tennessee, has good power and some skills, but right now looks like he’d have Barajas’ batting numbers.

Before I let this get away, John Buck wasn’t horrible last year.  Defensively, as mentioned, he was stronger than Olivo but everyone focused on Olivo’s homers and so he got to play more.  Buck hits for some power and, per 27 outs, was actually more productive hitting than Olivo because he gets on base more often.  I’m NOT suggesting that Buck is a hidden all star, but rather that if he got 450 at bats and kept his batting average around .240 rather than .220, he would probably help a team more often than not.

Jason Varitek (BOS):  Now Victor Martinez’s job.  Varitek started out okay and just faded to 14 – 51 – .209 (43.3 Runs Created).  His slugging and OBP numbers aren’t very good either.  ‘Tek also allowed 87% of the runners to steal – 108 successes against 16 runners gunned down.  Martinez and George Kottaras weren’t any better (Martinez was worse in Boston, about the same if you combine his days in Cleveland).  Martinez is going to help score runs in Boston, but I think the pitchers might miss Varitek.  The young Varitek anyway…

Gerald Laird (DET):  Didn’t get the lion’s share of the credit for Detroit’s comeback season because as a hitter, he’s not one.  Creating just 41.3 runs with his .225 batting average and .320 slugging percentage, nobody’s putting Laird on their fantasy team if they can help it.  But he was solid as a defensive stopper – above average in all seven categories and only Kenji Johjima was harder to run on.  Laird tossed out more than 40% of all runners.

Kelly Shoppach (CLE):  Did I read that right?  Shoppach was hit 18 times by pitches?  What did he do???  As a hitter, he strikes out WAY too much (39.77 Runs Created).  He’s better defensively than Victor Martinez was, but that’s like saying I’m taller than my seven-year-old.  He was a bit more mistake prone, but better against the run and much more mobile.  Lou Marson, the former Phillies prospect, will get every chance to win the job and I gather he will.  Marson will hit in the 280s with medium power and some patience.  And, he can throw, too.  Oddly enough, in terms of total production, Shoppach was better in Cleveland than Victor Martinez because if you count everything, you have to include Victor’s lack of defense at first base.

Dioner Navarro (TB):  After such a nice 2008, Navarro crashed and burned in 2009.  His batting average fell to .218, his power was gone, and he doesn’t get on base in other ways so that was a big zilch at the end of the lineup (32.63 Runs Created).  His reputation against the running game may have stopped more people than actually stole bases – the numbers show him to be league average and in the seven categories, Tampa scored ZERO – just as many above average categories than below average categories.  The team says they want Navarro to come into camp lighter, so check the Diamond Notes in the spring.

Kenji Johjima (SEA):  Back in Japan – his batting average and playing time fell off (despite being more productive per 27 outs than many of the guys ahead of him – the net was just 29.91 Runs Created).  Defensively, he and Rob Johnson weren’t too bad – just a few too many mistakes and marginal mobility.

Rob Johnson, who – like Grady Sizemore – had surgeries over two-thirds of his body in the offseason, comes into 2010 as the odds-on starter.  And yet Johnson wasn’t all that solid, generating just 25.2 runs while being a slightly above average catcher (compared to Johjima, who was awesome).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (TEX):  He needed to have a big season with Laird gone and Teagarden coming up behind him and it didn’t happen.  Salty wasn’t horrible defensively but Teagarden is better – better against the run and more mobile.  As a hitter, Saltalamacchia didn’t cut it – just 29.3 runs created with an OBP under .300 and the SLG under .375.  If it was .320 and .425, he’d be hard to replace.

As it was, Taylor Teagarden hit worse than Saltalamacchia, generating 19.3 runs in his 200+ plate appearances.  So, Teagarden’s chance may have passed as well – meaning Max Ramirez may wind up the starting catcher.  The only problem with that is that even Ramirez didn’t hit in AAA last year – batting just .234 with a .336 SLG in Oklahoma City.  The Rangers THOUGHT they had the position locked down two years ago, and now Laird is gone and nobody has really stepped forward.  I think Saltalamacchia, because he’s likely the better hitter of the group, will eventually take over for good.

Final Thoughts…  You want to know how valuable Joe Mauer is?  Look at how many catchers generate barely 50 runs of offense and realize that Mauer is 80 to 90 runs better than that.  AND, he’s a great catcher.  He was easily the most valuable player in the AL last year and will deserve whatever monster five or six year deal he can get.

A Long Weekend of Deals – Catching Up on Hot Stove News…

Kevin Kouzmanoff heads north, going from San Diego to Oakland in a four player deal.  San Diego acquires Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham for the veteran third baseman and minor leaguer Eric Sogard.  Kouzmanoff will get playing time and serves as an insurance policy lest Eric Chavez cannot recover from back problems. [SI]

And, with the chances pretty strong that Jerry Hairston will also sign with the Padres, it makes us long for Edgar Gonzalez, because San Diego would have had two pairs of brothers and the son of former Padre Tony Gwynn.  Nepotism?  [FoxSports]

Adam LaRoche chose to sign with Arizona, getting $6 million and a mutual option for 2011.  From the sounds of it, LaRoche chose Arizona and a one year deal over other places (like San Francisco) that had offered two year deals because (a) he’ll likely have better stats, and (b) if he does have a great season, he’ll have better options for a contract in the next offseason.  Once LaRoche signed his deal, the Diamondbacks designated Eric Byrnes for assignment – despite having one more expensive year left on a three-year deal. [MLB]

The Florida Marlins, possibly pressured by MLB and the MLBPA, signed pitcher Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million deal with other incentives – a slightly better deal than the one given Zack Greinke.  [MLB]

The White Sox signed reliever Bobby Jenks ($7.5 million) and outfielder Carlos Quentin ($3.2 million) to one-year deals.  [MLB]

The Pirates are filling out the bullpen, inking Brendan Donnelly to an incentive-laden deal, as well as D.J. Carrasco (minor league deal), and are chasing Octavio Dotel.  [MLB]

The Indians signed Mike Redmond to a one-year deal.  Redmond is an excellent veteran to back Lou Marson (and my favorite backup catcher, ever).  [MLB]

From the Hot Stove to the Law:

Legal Analyst Michael McCann says that we shouldn’t expect confessions from Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, or Rafael Palmeiro any time soon.  [SI]

Milton Bradley may be through with the Cubs, but not Chicago – as he is being sued by his Chicago-based landlord for rent and other obligations.  [FanHouse]

Jose Offerman punched an umpire in a Dominican Winter League game.  Offerman, who was managing in Licey, has now been permanently banned from the league.  This is Offerman’s second on-field assault.  [SI]

Happy Birthday! On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, those celebrating birthdays include Curt Flood – whose challenge of the reserve clause (he didn’t want to be traded) was kind of the first significant movement toward free agency – as the Boston Tea Party was to the American Revolution.  Flood was born in 1938.

Others celebrating include Bill McGowen (1896), pitcher Carl Morton (1944), Billy Grabarkewitz (1946), Scott McGregor (1954), Mike Lieberthal (1972), and Wandy Rodriguez (1979).

Five “Chronically Uncompetitive Teams” are Among Most Profitable

Over the last couple of weeks, agent Scott Boras and various members of the MLBPA and MLB management have bantered back and forth over how much money various teams have to spend on players.  The Boston Globe asked Red Sox owner (and former Marlins owner) John Henry what he thought – and Henry had a very interesting take on it.

I’m paraphrasing here, you can read his quotes here.  Basically he says that taxing large market teams to help small market teams remain competitive works so long as the money being routed is spent on players and not pocketed by owners.  Long and short, Henry says that at least seven teams have been regularly losing games while pocketing revenue sharing money.  So, revenue sharing has had the unintended consequence of making five owners very profitable despite fielding lousy baseball teams.

Living in Florida, there are a bunch of us who have felt that Marlins ownership (Jeffrey Loria and his family and business partners) have pocketed a large amount of revenue sharing dollars while choosing not to spend money to keep players (Dan Uggla) or acquire one or two guys who might help put the Marlins over the top.  (We need a closer, and you let Billy Wagner sign with Atlanta?).  Now, the Marlins actually HAVE been competitive – a testament to Larry Beinfest, his scouting and player development staffs, and whomever else gets the mileage out of these guys…

Anyway – I happen to buy Henry’s argument.  He says that sports challenges our idea of capitalism and, at least in this case, is rewarding some owners for not making the same efforts as the guys in the bigger markets.  Read the article – it’s certainly a fresh take on revenue sharing.  [Boston Globe / http://www.boston.com]

Let’s Stay With Boston Themed Articles…

Dustin Pedroia is open to the idea of playing shortstop – which would seem like a pretty good idea if the Red Sox have a better option at second base than their current options at short (Jed Lowrie)…  The most immediate prospect is Jeff Natale, a 2005 draft pick out of Trinity College (32nd round) who appears to have a grasp of the strike zone and can hit a little.  He’s a bit old for a prospect (27), though, but he can play some.  The long term prospect is infielder Jose Iglesias, a Cuban import who just finished a tour in the Arizona Fall League and is projected to reach the majors around 2012.  Is Orlando Hudson thinking of playing second in Boston?  Brandon Phillips?  [ESPN]

And, Billy Wagner – who briefly played for Boston in 2009 – signed a one-year $7 million deal with Atlanta, with a vesting option for 2011.  Wagner needs to pass his physical – and if he does, because the Sox offered him arbitration, the Red Sox would receive a compensatory first or second round draft pick from the Braves.  [FoxSports]

Let’s Move Behind the Plate…

The Tampa Rays acquired Kelly Shoppach from the Indians for a player to be named later.  Shoppach hits for power, but his batting average slipped.  That being said, Dioner Navarro’s batting average also dipped last year and the Rays are concerned about Navarro’s eating habits.   For Cleveland, that means one of my favorite prospects, Lou Marson, will get a shot at being the opening day catcher for Cleveland.  [ESPN]

The Phillies signed Brian Schneider, most recently of the Mets, to a two-year $2.75 million deal.  Schneider will be Carlos Ruiz’s caddie…  [ESPN]

If you are interested in which free agents were offered arbitration by their teams, click here.  Those Type A players (skill, and not personality) if signed by someone else would mean that the team losing that player would get compensatory draft picks.  [FoxSports]

Former minor leaguer Dennis “Go-Go” Gilbert channeled his competitive spirit into a solid insurance company and then a baseball player agency.  Now, he’s in the running to buy the Texas Rangers.  [SI]

Melissa Segura tells the story about the myth of Aroldis Chapman – the Cuban defector who can’t legally drink in the US but owns a 100 MPH fast ball.  It’s a good read…  [SI]

Tommy Heinrich, nicknamed “Old Reliable” for his ability to come up with big hits to win big games, passed away at the age of 96.  A regular outfielder on a number of Yankee World Series games, Heinrich was at bat in the 1941 World Series when a third strike got by catcher Mickey Owen that would have ended game four and evened the series at two games.  Instead, Heinrich reached first and the Yankees rallied to beat the Dodgers that day and eventually claimed the title.  Heinrich was believed to be the oldest living Yankee; now that title belongs to pitcher Virgil Trucks (92).  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Reds reliever Pedro Borbon (1946), whose pitching kept him around for the better part of a decade as a member of the Big Red Machine.  His son never could make it happen…

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Mike Kelley (1875), Andre Rodgers (1935), Julio Cruz (1954), Darryl Kile (1968), Mark Kotsay (1975).

Trade Analysis: Indians Send Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to Phillies for Four Prospects

Maybe the Blue Jays were asking too much for Roy Halliday…  Philadelphia, already building a comfortable lead in the NL East and still the reigning World Series Champions, dealt away four prospects for last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee.  Along for the ride is a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ben Francisco.  Cleveland gets four ranked prospects, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald.

Philadelphia Gets:  A starter who as every bit as good as Roy Halliday, but with a lower price tag.  Lee’s salary is about $6 million per year less than Halliday, and he can stay through 2010 because of a club option…  Don’t look at Lee’s record – the Indians haven’t done diddly when Lee is on the hill.  Check out his control and ERA, which are both solid.  Hamels, Lee, Happ, and Moyer (who has been better), with a dose of Joe Blanton makes for a killer rotation down the stretch, and you have two aces at the top for the playoffs.  The Phillies have to be the favorite to make the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies also get a decent outfielder in Francisco – someone who can play left or right field (he looks more comfortable in left, though), hits with power and still retains a little speed.  He’s certainly an upgrade over John Mayberry, Jr. – who may never be as good as Francisco.  And – none of the prospects that Toronto asked for – Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, or outfielder Dominic Brown – were part of the deal.  Happ has been a god send, and Drabek is frequently cited as the best pitching prospect the Phillies have.

Cleveland Gets:  It’s not that Cleveland got NOTHING.  They just didn’t get anyone who might immediately help, the way J.A. Happ could obviously step into the rotation and pitch today (or whatever day he was scheduled to pitch).

Jason Knapp was selected #2 in 2008 out of high school.  He has a tender shoulder right now, which isn’t a positive and may actually hold up the completion of the deal.  As a pitcher, though, Knapp has SERIOUS tools.  He throws high 90s, fanned 111 in 95 innings at Lakewood in the SAL.  When he arrives in 2011, Knapp could be a #2 starter.  Granted, this is early, but this is the kind of prospect you want to see in a trade.  Upside and at least a little proven ability.

Carlos Carrasco is a bit further along – learning a new pitch in AAA.  The good news is he has good control and decent strikeout numbers.  He’s just 22 and yet has had some success in the minors.  Right now, I think he translates out to a #4 starter at best, but he could surprise you.  He may get to make a few starts in September (or sooner) for Cleveland, and prove to be a positive.  The best news is that he has improved his control at each level and that bodes well for him the more he pitches.

Jason Donald is a shortstop who, until this year, had been a decent hitter – mixing a little power with nice patience and a touch of speed.  He suffered a knee injury this year, though, and in AAA has struggled to hit .240.  In time, he might serve as a potential replacement for Jhonny Peralta should he move to third (where Andy Marte has failed to make an impact).  I see Donald as a Rich Aurilia type and could be helpful for a couple of years if he can make one more step up.  Donald might move to second, with Asdrubel Cabrera manning short next year, too.  Either way, it should be a solid infield.

Lou Marson is a catcher with skills – Scott Bradley with more walks.  I thought he might become the Phillies catcher for the next decade.  He’s a good contact hitter, has some patience – and has shown improvement at every level.  And, he’s just 23.  Adding Marson means that Victor Martinez is still (more?) expendable – though you’d like to see someone who can play first base emerge (or, in the case of Travis Hafner, get healthy).

In summary, I like the trade for both teams.  Obviously, Philadelphia could be a solid winner not just for 2009, but 2010, and retains three blue chippers.  If you are a Cleveland fan, though, you have to feel a bit cheated out of what should have been a tiny dynasty over the last three years.  Two aces are gone and a third (Fausto Carmona) fell by the wayside.  The Indians SHOULD have been in the playoffs every year since 2007.  Someone is to blame for that, and I don’t know who.  On the other hand, in the last three days, the Indians have picked up five guys (Jess Todd, in the Mark DeRosa deal) who could be on the major league roster in three years, and four might be on the roster next year.