2011 Season Forecast: Detroit Tigers

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  81 – 81
2009:  86 – 77
2008:  74 – 88
2007:  88 – 74
2006:  95 – 67

Has it been that long since Kenny Rogers was doctoring baseballs in the World Series?

More to the current team – last year the Tigers were 52 – 29 at home, and 29 – 52 on the road, with comparable splits in terms of runs scored/allowed.  The Tigers were +82 in runs at home, and – 74 in runs on the road.

Runs Scored: 751  (8th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 743  (10th in the AL)

You’d think that a team that was below average in offense and defense would have a record slightly below .500, but the Tigers held on for dear life to stay at .500.

Season Recap:

The Tigers were picked by many to compete for the AL Central crown, but most people had them second or third.  After a reasonably good April, the Tigers gave back games in May, won a few more than they lost in June, and then just kind of stayed just off the fringe of the race until August.  By then, they had lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.  The Scott Sizemore experiment was a disaster, which didn’t help, and despite the best efforts of Miguel Cabrera, the offense couldn’t deliver down the stretch.

The Tigers were a team that got on rolls – good and bad.  They would win a bunch of games and make a run to the top.  Five of six off the start, six in a row in early May, eight of nine against Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona (I mean – WOW – Detroit had an easy interleague schedule) to move to 37 – 29.  The fourth streak, in early July, put the Tigers at 48 – 37 one day before the All-Star break.  Unfortunately, the Tigers lost all momentum – losing seven in a row and 20 of 25 to fall out of the race by early August.  Toward the end of the season, Detroit rattled off eight wins in nine games to get to 80 – 75, but lost six in a row and had to win the last game of the season to get to .500.

Starters:

Justin Verlander is a legitimate ace, saving his team 20 runs over league average pitching and winning 67% of his decisions.  Max Scherzer, acquired from Arizona, is a solid #2 starter and was a start away from 200 innings, which he should make in 2011.  Rick Porcello wasn’t as good as hoped, but there are things to build on.  Armando Galarraga, he of the perfect game that wasn’t, was a moderately below average pitcher in part because he, like Porcello, pitches too much to contact and doesn’t miss bats with pitches.  Jeremy Bonderman made a comeback season, but in a painful way – an ERA of 5.53 pitching in a decent pitcher’s park and with a reasonably good defense behind him – he was 32 runs worse than an average starter of his 171 innings.  An extra run a start.  Ouch.  Two others made a few starts, Dontrelle Willis – who is gone – and Andrew Oliver, who should be back in AAA.

Looking ahead, Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello return, to be joined by reliever Phil Coke – a decent middle reliever – and former quality starter, Brad Penny.  I’ve always been a fan of Penny’s (works very fast, throws strikes), but I don’t know if his body can handle the load.  He’s turning into Rick Reuschel, which can’t be good either.  However, he’s a better bet to be successful than Jeremy Bonderman.  The problem may be finding a sixth starter option.

Relievers:

The bullpen is led by closer Jose Valverde, a very good finisher, and imported setup man, Joaquin Benoit – a shut down 8th inning option.  After that, Joel Zumaya is still around (albeit a chance to get injured), and a few others are there to mop up, including Daniel Schlereth (a decent enough lefty with gobs of upside), Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas or Eddie Bonine.

Catching:

Alex Avila earned the job full time, and his backup will be DH Victor Martinez.  Avila has tolerable defensive skills, but needs to step up some with the batting average – which would start with striking out less.

Infield:

Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in baseball, and last year seemed to have beaten whatever demons befell him at the end of 2009.  Of course, he blew that heading to spring training, but he should still be able to hit the ball in 2011.  The Tigers missed Placido Polanco, a solid defensive player who chipped in by hitting around .300.  Last year, Scott Sizemore earned a shot, but gave it away by showing less than acceptable range and hitting .224 and striking out about 28% of the time.  Carlos Guillen played a little at second before his body gave way and Will Rhymes took over.  In the minors, Rhymes was never Sizemore’s equal in terms of being a prospect, but at the majors, Rhymes was a better fielder and hitter. Looking ahead, the same three guys are back – and someone will have to back up Guillen when he breaks down in June or July.  (Look, I like Guillen, but this is what happens when you get old.  If he plays 140 games, the Tigers will benefit greatly, but I don’t know that he can do it.)  Jhonny Peralta returns to play short for the full year – not a solid defender anymore but can still put some runs on the board.  Brandon Inge returns to play third base – fielding well, hitting a few homers, but otherwise being an ordinary player.

Looking at this, the problem is that the front four are (a) on the down side of their career, or (b) trying to age faster than he has to by adding weight and drinking heavily.  This can’t be a good sign if you are a Tigers fan.

Outfield:

Austin Jackson was fantastic last year – a lot of hits, decent defense, and flashes of brilliant speed (10 triples, 27 stolen bases).  He is among the best centerfielders in the AL.  Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is getting long in the tooth, still can hit, but his defense is problematic.  And he can’t DH as much as you’d want because Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH.  In left, either Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch, who are essentially the same player, will get to play.  Raburn is marginally better – higher average, slightly better glove – but you wouldn’t complain (as a pitcher) if your outfield were Raburn, Jackson, and Boesch.

DH:

Did I mention that Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH?  He replaces Johnny Damon, who heads to Tampa because everyone from the east heads to Florida to retire.  Martinez should contribute more than Damon, but not a TON more.  Martinez played in Boston and generated about 83.4 runs of offense, while Damon played in Detroit and generated 79.7 runs.

Down on the Farm:

Alfredo Figaro looked like the best pitching prospect at AAA Toledo, but even with a decent W/L record and K/W data, his ERA was the same as the team average and when he got a cup of coffee with the big club, he was treated rudely by batters.  The best hitters are on the Tigers – Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes.  Not a lot of immediate help here…

Heading to AA Erie, the most interesting person there might be outfielder Brandon Douglas.  He has NO power.  None.  What he has is amazing contact skills and has hit .331 in his several stops in the minors.  I can’t tell how good a fielder he is – he’s bounced around between second and short, which means he’s a second baseman in the bigs.  If he’s ANY good at all, in a year or two he could be the next Placido Polanco.

Another guy who could be interesting is pitcher Adam Wilk.  Wilk made 14 starts in low A ball after coming out of Long Beach State and struck out 67 and walked just seven batters.  He had comparable numbers at A+ Lakeland (100Ks, 19 walks in 24 starts), and then slid into AA for three starts – and all were successful.  He’s not making the Tigers in 2011, but he COULD make the team in 2012 and be a good fourth or third starter.

Last year’s #1 pick Jacob Turner did what you wanted to see in his first year of professional ball, and will likely start 2011 in A+ Lakeland before moving to Erie mid-season.  Second round pick Andrew Oliver is moving quickly through the system and was given a cup of coffee in 2010 with the parent club.

Season Forecast:

I’m not convinced that Detroit will compete.  Inge, Guillen, Peralta, and even Cabrera are candidates to regress from 2010.  That could be 20 runs defensively and 40 runs offensively.  The outfield will stay the same – the gains in center field and possibly left are offset by the potential losses in right field.  Then you get to the pitching staff, and I don’t see how Coke is better than Galarraga and even though Penny is better than Bonderman – how many starts will that be?  10?  20?  30?  The sixth starter option doesn’t appeal to me – so if it’s 10, the pitching won’t be much better in 2011 than it was last year.

Given this, I think the Tigers will score about 720 runs and allow about 760, which is about 77 wins.  It’s not too unreasonable to think it could be worse, especially if Cabrera misses a significant amount of time or plays below the level we are used to seeing.  This team could injure it’s way out and suffer through six months that were as bad as the Tigers were in July and August.  That’s a 70 – 90 team.

Where can you find optimism?  Brad Penny making 30 starts, Rick Porcello getting a bit better, Guillen and Ordonez not only maintaining batting skills but playing 130 games each, and Ryan Raburn bouncing up in his numbers.  If ALL those things happened, the Tigers could win 85 games.  I just think that’s a lot to ask for.

2010 – Top AL Designated Hitters

Chicago White Sox – Shared amongst several players, will be using Adam Dunn in 2011 (109.2 Runs Created).  I’m guessing he’ll do just fine.

Vladimir Guerrero – TEX (98.7 Runs Created)

29 – 115 – .300, but seemed to slow as the season wore on.  Didn’t get resigned, so he’s now getting a shot with Baltimore.  He’ll be okay, but a notch below his 2010 production.

David Ortiz – BOS (98.4 Runs Created)

One day, the slow start will be a slow season.  For now, he remains a very productive hitter.

Hideki Matsui – LAA (86.2 Runs Created)

Still a potent bat, with fair power and a discerning eye at the plate.  Now the DH in Oakland, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  Will be 37 in June, and his stats won’t look as good in Oakland, which may hasten his decline.

Luke Scott – BAL (84.7 Runs Created)

Can play the corner outfield positions (though not well) and first base in a pinch.

Jim Thome – MIN (73,0 Runs Created)

Shared role with Jason Kubel in a platoon role, though after Justin Morneau went down, Kubel played more in the field, too.  Can still tattoo a fastball to the opposite field, and is the complete professional hitter.  Approaching 600 homers with no sign of slowing down.  Of course, the 40s aren’t always friendly to batters.

Travis Hafner – CLE (69.3 Runs Created)

Platooned, which is why his totals are less than the rest – but he’s platooned for a reason.

Johnny Damon or Magglio Ordonez – DET (79.7 and 58.9 Runs Created, respectively)

Damon got most of the licks here in 2010, but Ordonez may get the bulk of them in 2011.

Jack Cust – OAK (62.7 Runs Created)

Hits for power, draws a few walks, swings through a lot of strikes.  Now gets to play full time in Seattle, where he may get more playing time.  I wouldn’t be suprised at 25 – 95 in 2011.

Jose Guillen – KC (53.9 Runs Created)

Guillen shared it with a few others – look for Billy Butler or Kila (Mt.) Ka’aihue to get the bulk of the at bats next year.

The Yankees shared the role amongst a number of players, including Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, and any of their aging stars needing a day or three off while keeping a bat in the lineup.  Thames was very productive, and the other hitters are all pretty good.

The Mariners shared the role amongst a few players, including Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Russell Branyan.  None of that really worked out well, so Jack Cust has been imported for 2011.

The Rays shared the role with a variety of fourth outfielders and extra infielders – sometimes to good effect.  For 2011, Manny Ramirez and/or Johnny Damon (mostly Manny) will get the at bats.  Manny can’t stay healthy, he has an insanity streak, but can still hit really, really well.  We’ll see if he’s got one more good year left in the tank, or if he gets bored.  Or just old.

2010 Top AL Right Fielders

Jose Bautista – TOR (131.3 Runs Created, -7.3 Runs Saved = 124.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Earned a long term contract by having the greatest fluke season in the last 50 years.  An historic improvement over his previous career.  Let’s get to what he can do…  He’s a pretty good infielder and wasn’t very good as a right fielder.  He MIGHT be able to stay around 30 homers for a couple of years.  One fears for him, however, if he gets off to a really slow start in 2011 and it starts to get into his head around June.

Ichiro Suzuki – SEA (115.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 121.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Fell off a little in 2010 and was still a remarkable hit machine.  Still can fly, still can throw, still can slap singles all over the place.  3678 hits in professional baseball means he’s probably three to four years away from Pete Rose – and four to five years away from 3000 hits as a major leaguer, which would likely assure his place in the Hall of Fame, not that he should have a problem racing in there when he’s done.  Can you tell that, at 37, he’s lost a step?  I don’t see it.

Nelson Cruz – TEX (86.8 Runs Created, 25.9 Runs Saved = 112.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Imagine how good Cruz would have been had he played 154 games instead of 108.  Totally capable of a 30 homer, 100 RBI season, batting well over .300, stealing 25 bases, and with eye popping defensive stats.  2010 season projected to 162 games, we’re talking 160 or more runs of value – MVP type numbers.  Scary good.

Nick Swisher – NYY (95.9 Runs Created, 14.5 Runs Saved = 110.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A decent outfielder in a position where he’ll get a lot of fly balls because teams occasionally load up the lineup with guys who try to hit homers over his head.  A decent power hitter who, if he played in Minnesota, might have stats that look like Jason Kubel’s instead.  And yet, even after you adjust for things like that, he comes out looking like a VERY valuable player.  He is.

Torii Hunter will be playing in right field for much of 2011 and had started that process at the end of 2010.  As a right fielder, Hunter would likely be ranked right here (109.8 Total Runs Productivity).

Shin-Soo Choo – CLE (114.9 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 107.7 Total Runs Productivity)

A truly impressive player; 20/20 club, with 90 RBI, .400+ OBP, though his defensive range fell off in 2010.  Deserves a chance to play where people can see how good he really is.  At the age where he could have a truly break-out season, so he might be worth eying in your fantasy draft.

Ben Zobrist – TB (79.9 Runs Created, 14.4 Runs Saved = 94.3 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell way off, as did his power, in 2010 and yet he was STILL very productive because he can run, he drew 92 walks, and can play every position on the field except, perhaps, catcher.  One of my favorite players, in part, because he’s the type of player I wished I could be when I was a little leaguer.

Nick Markakis – BAL (97.9 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 90.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Durable player, below average range but a big arm, seems to be losing power though he hits a lot of doubles (45 in 2010).  Has gone from a number three, four, or five hitter to a number two hitter.  Like Choo, just turned 27, so this could be his big year.

Michael Cuddyer – MIN (88.9 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 90.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The right fielder for the first half of the season, and the first baseman after Morneau went down to an injury.  Actually played slightly better defensively as a first baseman, but wasn’t awful in the outfield either.  Power fell off with the move to the new Target field and, when he turns 32 in March, will have reached the point in his career where he will leave his peak years and head into his decline phase.

Bobby Abreu – LAA (99.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 86.6 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell to .255, but he still created just shy of 100 runs.  A defensive liability, so perhaps it’s time to become a DH.  People see the stolen base numbers and assume he can cover ground in the outfield – until they see him try to cut off a fly ball.  Is Abreu a Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.

Jason Kubel – MIN (73.4 Runs Created, -5.0 Runs Saved = 68.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A poor fielder, who is usually asked to DH, but had to play in the field more after Justin Morneau’s injury.  He did the best he could and remains a productive player.

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

Also played in left 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.

J.D. Drew – BOS (72.1 Runs Created, -7.0 Runs Saved = 65.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Still a productive player, despite a body that has never really been able to take a 150 game schedule, much less 162.  Now 35 and in his decline phase, the Red Sox will need to be looking for his replacement.

I don’t know if you remember how his career started.  When he came out of Florida State, he was the big deal – but he never signed when drafted in 1997 because he and the Phillies couldn’t agree as to the value of such a high draft pick (#2).  After playing a year for free as a member of the St. Paul Saints, he was drafted again by the Cards and immediately became the top prospect in MLB.  In his first cup of coffee, he hit .417 with five homers in 36 at bats.  His rookie season was off, he never stayed healthy, and for a couple of years, he was a nomad.  Only once has he hit .300, or hit 30 homers, or driven in 100 runs (okay, he also hit .323 but in only 109 games and wouldn’t have qualified for a batting title).  And, he never did any of those in the same season.  Considering how he was viewed then, and now looking back after playing in nearly 1500 games, he seems like a disappointment.

Magglio Ordonez – DET (58.9 Runs Created, -0.5 Runs Saved = 58.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Another player in his decline phase – missed half the 2010 season.  Still hits when he’s in the lineup – and that near-league average defensive rating is a half-season accident.  He’s not that good.  Now 37, his career won’t long after he hits his 300th homer (he’s at 289).  I just got done calling Drew a minor bust.  Magglio hit 30 homers four times, cleared 100 RBIs seven times, and his career average is .312.  I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carlos Quentin – CHI (70.3 Runs Created, -13.5 Runs Saved = 56.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Still has prodigious power, is losing his range.  That being said, his 2010 season is exactly the kind of player he is.  He hits about .250 with good power and has a decent idea of the strike zone.  He is more like his 2010 season than his breakout 2008 season.  At 28, he is still young enough to have slightly better seasons, but I wouldn’t be counting on .270 as much as just hoping for it.

David DeJesus – KC (60.4 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

As a hitter, a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Defensively, he plays well in left, but he was moved to right field in 2010.  Injured his thumb, requiring surgery, crashing into the wall at Yankee Stadium.  Will help the Oakland As next year, but is nearing the end of the peak phase of his career (31).  It may take a couple of months to find what little power he has, and isn’t in a park where he can hit homers anyway.

Matt Joyce – TB (42.1 Runs Created, 4.9 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Plays a lot of right field because Ben Zobrist will play everywhere else to give someone a day off.  Has some power, respects the strike zone, and is a solid defensive player.  He could start for a lot of teams and be an immediate improvement.

Ryan Sweeney – OAK (41.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 45.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Chronic knee pain required season ending surgery on his right knee, but his left knee isn’t always 100% either.  A fourth outfielder type on a good team because he hits for a decent average, though with absolutely no power, can play both corner outfield positions well and, if necessary, won’t embarrass you in center – which reminds you of Greg Gross.  Could be a pinch hitter for another decade, or more.

Andruw Jones – CHI (45.0 Runs Created, -5.7 Runs Saved = 39.3 Total Runs Productivity)

An old version of Carlos Quentin.  I thought I would never write that, for sure.

AL Designated Hitters

Rather than rank them, I’ll just sort by team – especially since some teams didn’t really have a standard DH (Detroit, for example).

Baltimore:  Luke Scott got 89 games, the rest were mixed.  Scott is an above average offensive player with legitimate power and enough patience to help out (55 walks in 128 games).  Scott is not really an outfielder, but he can back people up in right field if required.  (73.3 Runs Created)

Boston:  David Ortiz played 139 games.  We know about his horrible first two months, but he finished strong – 28 homers and 99 RBI.  I don’t think he can rebound to being a .300/.400/.550 guy again, but if he gets off to a quicker start and hits close to .260, he’ll remain valuable.  (81.0 Runs Created)

Chicago:  Jim Thome played 98 games before being traded…  Still a great hitter and the Twins will like him.  Is Carlos Quentin the first choice in 2010?  Thome was productive – more so than Ortiz per 27 outs, but played far fewer games.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Cleveland:  Travis Hafner played 88 games…  He and the Indians are still recovering.  The rest were shared amongst the other teammates.  Hafner may never hit 25 homers again…  (61.6 Runs Created)

Detroit:  Didn’t really have a regular – Marcus Thames got 50 games, Carlos Guillen 33, Aubrey Huff 28 brutally bad games down the stretch.  Magglio Ordonez should have the job because he’s been an immobile object in right for several years now.

Kansas City:  Mike Jacobs got the bulk of the work – 102 games – and it was crushingly unproductive.  49 Runs Created, less than four runs per 27 outs.  There just weren’t a whole lot of better options – the team needs to add DEPTH and add it fast.  (49.0 Runs Created)

Los Angeles:  Vladimir Guerrero stayed healthy enough for 93 games, the rest were split among friends…  Vlad is now in Texas, but  I would be concerned about his health, as his body is breaking down after a rather long and productive career.  Even last year, falling off as a hitter, he was still productive.  Hideki Matsui‘s job now…  (58.7 Runs Created)

Minnesota:  Jason Kubel got half, Joe Mauer used the position for his bat and resting his back…  As a hitter, Kubel was the second most productive of the DH regulars.  (98.1 Runs Created)

New York:  Hideki Matsui‘s primary job – 116 games.  Kubel may have created more runs, but Matsui created more runs per 27 outs (7.0).  Now an Angel, if he can stay healthy he’d still be productive even with losing 10 – 20% of his skills.  (87.0 Runs Created)

Oakland:  Jack Cust got 96 games, Jason Giambi – while in town – got 22 more.  Nomar Garciaparra also got 22 games here.  Cust struck out 36% of the time – a frightening number – and yet had a .359 OBP and created runs.  (78.5 Runs Created)

Seattle:  Ken Griffey‘s last job as a Mariner.  Mike Sweeney was his platoon partner.  They combined for 27 homers and 91 RBI – but the net batting average and OBP was rather pedestrian.

Tampa:  Pat (The Bat) Burrell‘s job 112 times, otherwise Willy Aybar.  Aybar was better…  When Burrell signed, I don’t think 14 – 64 – .221 was what they had in mind.  (48.5 Runs Created)

Texas:  Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock split 100 games, the rest were dished out with Julio Borbon getting 21 shots.  Nobody really helped the cause, which is why Vlad Guerrero was added to the roster.

Toronto:  Adam Lind, a born DH, was here 92 times.  Randy Ruiz got 30, and the rest were shared…  Lind was the best hitter of the bunch – 36 – 108 – .305.  He’ll play outfield from time to time, but in a few years, he’ll be Jim Thome for sure.  Randy Ruiz was just as good in his shot – 10 homers in 115 at bats and batted .313.

Top AL Right Fielders

Shin-Soo Choo (CLE):  Wonderful hitter – 20/20 guy with patience, and he happens to play a fine right field.  I admit it – I knew very little about him but he’s the most productive right fielder in the AL.  (128.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 138.49 Total Run Production)

Ichiro Suzuki (SEA):  Slaps 200 or more hits every year, still runs like the wind and has a cannon for an arm.  If you count his days in Japan, Ichiro has a reasonably good chance to have more hits as a professional baseball player than anyone ever.  (123.6 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 126.72 Total Run Production)

Nelson Cruz (TEX):  Remarkably good fielder, amazing power.  Had a year that reminds you a bit of Brook Jacoby because he hit 33 homers with just 76 RBI (Jacoby in 1987 went 32 – 69).  Part of that is because he hit 25 solo homers and his slugging percentage tailed off considerably with runners on base (.577 vs. .447).

So I checked.  The Texas Ranger, as a team, hit 224 homers with 145 occuring with nobody on base and 79 driving home ducks.  75.8 of Cruz’s homers were solo shots.  For everyone else on the team, it was 62.8%.  Anyway – it might be a one-year thing…  Until last year, he had 13 homers with men on base and just 9 solo homers.

The other thing is his fielding numbers, which are stunning.  And then you see that he had nearly as many putouts in nearly 367 fewer innings than Nick Markakis.  It’s legit.  He got to a lot of fly balls.  (80.9 Runs Created, 36.4 Runs Saved = 117.30 Total Run Production)

Bobby Abreu (LAA):  Another year just like the rest, though with a little less power.  Still drives in around 100 runs, still gets 30 stolen bases, still gets on base around 40% of the time, actually looked limber in right field.  At what point do we wonder if Abreu is worthy of the Hall of Fame?  (102.3 Runs Created, 2.5 Runs Saved = 104.87 Total Run Production.)

Jason Kubel (MIN):  Not a horrible outfielder – but a legitimate hitter.  He’s not the regular right fielder, but he can play it in a pinch.  (98.1 Runs Created, -0.3 Runs Saved = 97.80 Total Run Production)

Nick Swisher (NYY):  He may not throw many guys out, but he hits for a little power, gets on base, and can still cover ground.  I know he struggled in the post-season, but Swisher kept the offense moving most of the year and the Yankees should be glad he’s still around.  (94.6 Runs Created, 2.6 Runs Saved = 97.21 Total Run Production)

Ryan Sweeney (OAK):  I need to watch more A’s games to see with my own eyes how good he is.  Fast enough to cover centerfield.  Seems to throw well enough,  Gets on base a little but you’d like to see a little more power.  Still – a productive player if his defense is really this good.  (71.2 Runs Created, 23.9 Runs Saved = 95.18 Total Run Production)

J.D. Drew (BOS):  The new George Brett.  Can’t stay in the lineup for 150 games, but when he plays he hits.  Still has a great eye at the plate, but his back is affecting his range in the field.  I wouldn’t let him cover center anymore, that’s for sure.  (89.9 Runs Created, -2.8 Runs Saved = 87.13 Total Run Production)

Alex Rios (TOR/CWS):  Hit .199 after arriving in Chicago’s south side – and we hoped the change in scenery would help get him back to where he was a year or two ago.  And yet, he’s not really a bad player.  Some power, a lot of doubles, good speed, decent defensively.  He just gets paid a lot for what seems like mediocrity.  (73.9 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 84.00 Total Run Production)

Michael Cuddyer (MIN):  Good power, fair bat and eye, miserable defender.  Based on the stats, maybe Kubel should play in right and Cuddyer become the DH…  (100.7 Runs Created, -22.64 Runs Saved = 78.10 Total Run Production)

Nick Markakis (BAL):  From what I can tell, he’s overrated.  He doesn’t really hit for power – more doubles than homers, not that it’s a problem.  He doesn’t have an exceptionally high batting average.  He doesn’t run very well.  He can throw, but he doesn’t get to many flies.  On the other hand, he turns 27 at the end of this season, so he could be one of those guys who is ready to have his career year.  If not this year, maybe next year.  (101.8 Runs Created, -28.7 Runs Saved = 73.11 Total Run Production)

Jermaine Dye (CWS):  Like Alex Rios, he struggled mightily down the stretch.  I can still remember when the Royals acquired Dye from Atlanta and the fans were upset about losing Michael Tucker.  Um…  Which player still has a major league job?  It’s a season showing signs of decline, but still productive.  (75.4 Runs Created, -3 Runs Saved = 72.41 Total Run Production)

Magglio Ordonez (DET):  He rescued a poor batting average after that lousy start, but he’s still just a miserable outfielder.  If he doesn’t put 100 – 120 runs on the board offensively (and he’s still not half bad), his lack of range just kills you.  Time to move on, wouldn’t you think?  Maybe make him a DH?  (75.3 Runs Created, -17.85 Runs Saved = 57.47 Total Run Production)

Willie Bloomquist (KC):  Played a lot of different positions and that makes him Alfredo Amezega.  He’s better than Jose Guillen, but that’s not much.  (49.1 Runs Created, 3.8 Runs Saved = 52.97 Total Run Production)

Jose Bautista (TOR):  Not really a right fielder, but he got some time here last season.  He’s at least a slightly better than replacement level player.  (50.4 Runs Created, .8 Runs Saved = 51.27 Total Run Production)

Two Gabes (TB):  Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross split time in right field for Tampa and combined 14 – 68 – .235.  Kapler was a slightly better hitter or fielder, but combined weren’t really enough.

Jose Guillen (KC):  Now THAT was a good use of limited money.  Can’t hit, can’t stay healthy, can’t field.  Less production than EITHER Gabe…  (30.9 Runs Created, -14.8 Runs Saved = 16.05 Total Run Production.)

2009 AL Gold Glove and Brick Glove Winners

Last week, I gave you the NL Gold Glove and Brick Glove winners and losers…  It’s time to do the same for their brethren in the AL.  As a reminder, here’s how I do it:

1) Look at the number of plays made per every 800 balls in play, because it provides a level playing field and because, in effect, one extra play made is essentially removing one point of batting average from each hitter.

2) Make modifications for things like flyballs and ground balls allowed by pitching staffs.

3) Make modifications to middle infielders based on double plays.

4) Remove infield assists from first basemen’s putout numbers.

5) Convert plays made/not made into runs saved/lost based on values for each hit as determined by Pete Palmer – with hits assigned by position.

6) Determine additional benefits for runs saved based on double plays and errors.

7) Sort.

For the lists below, you’ll see two numbers for each player.  Positive numbers are always better.  The first number tells you how many plays he makes per 800 balls in play more or less than the average guy.  Nelson Cruz made 14 plays every 800 balls in play more than the average right fielder.  That’s a lot.  Derek Jeter’s first number is about -9, which means he makes nine plays less than the average shortstop per 800 balls in play.  The second number tells you how many runs that player saved his team (or cost his team, if the number is negative).  So, the effect of Nelson Cruz making 14 extra catches for ever 800 balls in play (and not make errors, or contribute to double plays) was to save his team about 35 runs over the course of the season.  Again, a negative number is bad – a player’s range or being error prone would cost his team that many runs.

Right Field:

14.0 34.5 Nelson Cruz (TEX)
11.9 17.0 Ryan Sweeney (OAK)

Cruz made a lot of plays – only Suzuki made more, but Ichiro played more than 250 additional innings and had just 24 more putouts.  Like Jayson Werth, Cruz had more putouts than Texas center fielders – something that rarely happens.  Sweeney was solid, but in only 600 innings. Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios were third by my reckoning…  For years, Rios should have been in center and not Vernon Wells.

– 8.4 -28.7 Nick Markakis (BAL)
-10.4 -23.3 Michael Cuddyer (MIN)
-10.2 -17.8 Magglio Ordonez (DET)

Jack Cust just missed this list and he only played 400 atrociously lousy innings…  Markakis gets raves for his arm, but if you don’t get to any flies, you aren’t helping the team.  Ordonez is a regular to the brick glove list and should be a DH.

Center Field:

10.0 20.0 Carlos Gomez (MIN)
7.4 16.4 Adam Jones (BAL)
5.4 14.4 Franklin Gutierrez (SEA)

All the young legs.  Milwaukee will appreciate how good Gomez is defensively (the pitchers will, anyway).  I thought Gutierrez should have moved Sizemore to right in Cleveland and he proved me right.

-5.9 -16.8 Vernon Wells (TOR)
-5.9 -16.5 Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
-7.4 -14.9 Marlon Byrd (TEX)

Vernon Wells has been a slow centerfielder for years – it’s about time to move him to left or right field.  (Just listing his range numbers, 2006: -3.7, 2007: -5.1, 2008: -6.2, costing between 10 and 17 runs to his team each year.)  Ellsbury was lousy despite setting the record for most putouts in a game.  And pity the Cubs if they put Byrd in CF…

Left Field:

5.3 17.8 Jason Bay (BOS)
4.6 15.3 David DeJesus (KC)
4.2 12.5 Carl Crawford (TB)

Bay sure does get a bad reputation for his defense, but he wasn’t a problem last year.  I think Boston will miss him.  Unlike the NL, the AL has a few guys who can really play here and are truly left fielders.

-14.2 -15.3 Adam Lind (TOR)
– 4.7 -12.3 Johnny Damon (NYY)
– 4.6 -10.2 Delmon Young (MIN)

Adam Lind is a DH who is forced into left.  Damon is 36 and is starting to show the effects of old and injured wheels.  And Delmon Young has NEVER been a good fielder.

Shortstop:

14.1 30.8 Elvis Andrus (TEX)
7.6 15.7 Cesar Izturis (BAL)
3.5 11.1 Erick Aybar (LAA)

If anyone in their right mind really looks at this, there is NO WAY that Elvis Andrus should have been denied a gold glove.  Okay – he makes a few too many errors.  But he makes SO MANY plays.  Compared to the worst fielding shortstop in the AL – the guy they gave the gold glove to – Elvis had 55 more putouts and 67 more assists in about 23 fewer innings. 122 additional plays.

-9.2 -14.2 Derek Jeter (NYY)

If you go by guys who played a lot of innings, Alexei Ramirez and Marco Scutaro (or Asdrubal Cabrera) would be second and third. However, I thought I would point out that even though Marco Scutaro is a step up from the 2009 position holders – he’s NOT going to make Boston’s defense airtight.  Scutaro’s range is -5.0/-6.4.  However, Julio Lugo’s 243 innings were brutal (-20.4 range, costing 12.3 runs) and Alex Gonzalez was a step up from abysmal to just bad (-10.9 range, costing them 5.6 runs).  Jason Bartlett’s ankle injury was serious – he went from a gold glover to a problem.

Third Base:

9.3 31.9 Evan Longoria (TB)
14.0 28.6 Adrian Beltre (SEA)
8.6 21.7 Melvin Mora (BAL)

Chone Figgins is above average, but defensively is about twenty runs worse than having Beltre out there.  I stand by what I wrote before – it’s not an improvement to have Figgins in Seattle, though the backups will play less.  Longoria is the real deal.

-16.9 -39.0 Michael Young (TEX)
-17.0 -12.9 Ty Wigginton (BAL)

Michael Young must have been watching Elvis get all the grounders, too.  This just proves that because you once were a decent enough (not great, though) shortstop you can’t just try playing third base and become good at it.  It’s taken YEARS for Alex Rodriguez to go from a lousy third baseman to one who is just a little below average.

Second Base:

7.9 23.3 Placido Polanco (DET)
5.9 18.8 Aaron Hill (TOR)
6.1 16.4 Robinson Cano (NYY)

And Detroit didn’t want Polanco anymore?  He remains very, very good at second base.  Philadelphia hopes he can still play third but I have my doubts that he’ll be GREAT the way he is great here.  Cano has improved every year.  Ian Kinsler just missed this list – he’s regularly awesome.

-11.0 -31.2 Brian Roberts (BAL)
– 6.5 -19.9 Alberto Callaspo (KC)

That Mora and Izturis were solid makes me think that there could be a statistical bias here, but Roberts’ numbers, even with help, are still plain old bad.  By the way – this isn’t news.   He’s been below average three of the last four years.

2006: -4.8 -10.4
2007:   1.2 5.2
2008: -4.3 -12.6
2009: -11.0 -31.2

That’s a pretty big dip, which is part aging and probably part batters hitting in a different direction last year.

First Base:

14.3 37.8 Kendry Morales (LAA)
12.1 24.4 Russell Branyan (SEA)
8.2 15.1 Chris Davis (TEX)

Mark Teixeira, for the first time in a while, just missed making this list. He’s usually in the middle.  I had no idea Morales was that good (or, for that matter, anyone on this list), but I will be watching to see if he remains this good going forward.

-33.5 -28.0 Victor Martinez (CLE)
– 9.6 -20.5 Justin Morneau (MIN)
-14.3 -17.3 Hank Blalock (TEX)

If you count his time in Boston, Martinez cost his teams more than 35 runs – he’s a catcher and can’t really play the position.  Morneau’s injury wasn’t just killing his bat – he was less and less mobile as the year went on.

Morneau Sidelined; Dice-K is Back! (Not sure if you should be excited, though)

After three to four weeks of lower back pain, a CT scan showed that Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has a small stress fracture in his back.  As such, the former MVP will be shut down for the next three months.  The good news?  Morneau doesn’t need surgery.  The bad news?  Whatever chances the Twins had in catching the Tigers gets a bit slimmer.  That being said, Morneau has been struggling for more than a month – hitting just .220 in August and .077 (just three hits) so far in September.  So, this might actually HELP to get a healthy bat in the lineup.  [ESPN]

Does the Big Unit have a few relief appearances left in him?  Randy Johnson thinks so – even though he is playing with a torn labrum.  [ESPN]

One pitcher who is done?  Orioles rookie Brian Matusz, who is being shut down so as not to tax his arm.  Matusz is in his first professional season, making the run from draft pick, through A and AA, before pitching reasonably well for the Orioles since his call up in early August.  In fact, Matusz was just getting rolling…  After getting knocked around in his second start, he took a couple of losses, but won his last four decisions and looked solid in his last three starts including a win over the Yankees.  [FoxSports]

Is Ryan Braun injured?  The Brewers slugger is getting treatment on his shoulder, and he’s sat out two games and missed a third day (off day) in the last eight days.  The comments in the news suggest that something is wrong – but that Braun would prefer to play.  [MLB]

Get ready for a leaner Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Three months ago, with a weak shoulder and a belly approaching Santa Claus dimensions (where is Terry Forster, anyway?), Matsuzaka left to boos and was sent to Ft. Myers to rebuild the strength in his arm as well as build up his fitness.  Now, Dice-K gets to make a start down the stretch and hopes to contribute the way he did in 2007 when he started game 7 of the ALCS and game 3 of the World Series.  If he has confidence and gets a few guys out, look out – because for two years, he was awfully tough to hit.  [MLB]

How about some Tigers news? Fernando Rodney’s suspension for tossing a ball in angst into the stands was reduced from three to two days.  He’ll be back Wednesday, but Rodney is also $3000 lighter in the wallet.  [ESPN]

Not enough?  Magglio Ordonez is eight plate appearances away from vesting an $18 million option.  Wow.  To his credit, Maggs has hit about .370 in the last six weeks or so, but has little power and just 40 RBI on the season.  Is THAT worth $18 million?  Don’t be surprised if Tigers just release Ordonez instead.  [SI]

Welcome Back! Red outfielder Jay Bruce (broken wrist); Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota (ingrown toenail)

Hurry Back! Cleveland pitcher Joe Smith (sprained knee)