2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.

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Jimenez Tosses First Rocky No Hitter; Mets top Cards in 20 innings (and lots of old news)

Until last night, no Colorado Rockies pitcher had brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning – but Ubaldo Jimenez not only did that, he finished the job – cruising the last four innings and beating the Atlanta Braves.  Jimenez battled his control for five innings before his pitching coach, Bob Apodaca (a former Met, a team without a no-hitter in nearly 50 seasons) suggested that he pitch from the stretch to keep the ball in the strike zone.   After averaging more than 18 pitches an inning through five, Jimenez needed only 45 to finish the last four innings.  [MLB]

Funny story about that.  My friend, Steve Dubin, has Jimenez on his fantasy team – but was trying to protect an ERA and WHIP lead, so he left his starters on the bench.  So, he didn’t even get the fantasy points for the no-no.  Ouch.

Meanwhile, the Fox Sports team put in some overtime – the game of the week between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals was a scoreless affair through eighteen innings before the Mets finally got a run off of outfielder Joe Mather to open the nineteenth inning.  Mather was the tenth pitcher used by Tony LaRussa – and SECOND position player (Felipe Lopez pitched a scoreless 18th inning).  Meanwhile, the Mets trotted out nine pitchers.  The eighth was closer Francisco Rodriguez – who blew the save opportunity.  Rodriguez admitted he was tired – he had been up and down in the bullpen and threw at least 100 pitches before heading to the mound.  Mather, however, stayed out a second inning and the Mets reached him for a second run in the top of the twentieth inning.  Mike Pelfrey, who was itching for a chance to participate, became the 19th pitcher of the game and earned the save.  [MLB]

Looking ahead to today, the Mets are out of pitchers – a bunch of guys threw at least 2 innings and 30 pitches, so Pelfrey may have to close again today.  Both managers will be hoping the Sunday night game starters, John Maine and Adam Wainwright, go the distance.

From the Training Room…

Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was hit in the earflap of his helmet by a Vincente Padilla fastball, breaking two bones in his cheek.   With Rowand heading to the DL for two weeks, the Giants recalled infielder Matt Downs.

Wondering who Matt Downs is?  Downs was a 36th round draft pick in 2006 out of Alabama, but has made steady progress through the minors by hitting for a decent average, showing some power, and running the bases pretty well.  He even hit .372 in spring training this year…  Looking at his stats at Fresno, I think it transfers to a guy who might hit .250 with a dozen homers, a few walks, and ten or more steals, which on the Giants is an above average hitter…  I don’t know if he’ll stick but he became a better prospect than Kevin Frandsen, who was allowed to go to Boston instead.  Look for Downs to get some playing time – but he may not stay for long.

Royals infielder Chris Getz heads to the DL with an oblique strain that occurred diving into a base.  The Royals considered bringing back struggling infielder Mike Aviles, but brought back Alex Gordon instead.  Gordon, who missed most of last year following hip surgery, and then – feeling fit – broke his thumb diving into a base during a spring training game, may not be in the field right away.  [MLB]

Giants outfielder Mark DeRosa left Saturday’s game with a tweaked hammy.  He’s day-to-day.  [MLB]

Cubs pitcher (and Jayhawk alum) Tom Gorzelanny was drilled by a liner in the left shoulder and left the game for a pinch hitter in the third inning, but he says he won’t miss a start.  After getting drilled, Gorzelanny stayed in and finished his inning – he just didn’t stay in the game after that.  [MLB]

In this case, the injury might be an ego.  Addressing a story on FoxSports that ownership turned down offers from Cal Ripken, Jr. to become more involved with the Orioles operations, owner Peter Angelos said that if Cal wants to be a part of the team, he’d welcome that discussion.  [ESPN]

Angels closer Brian Fuentes is scheduling his minor league rehab in hopes of a mid-week return.  [MLB]

Indians closer (?) Kerry Wood will pitch a simulated game before heading to rehab and may return before May.  Wood is out with a sore back. [MLB]

Jarrod Saltalamacchia hopes to return to Texas, but his next rehab stint will be in AAA.  With soreness in his left shoulder and upper back, the Rangers want to see Salty catch nine innings before he returns next week.  [MLB]

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is on the DL with a strained calf.  The Phillies have been successful, in part, because so few regulars have spent any time on the DL…  (Brad Lidge isn’t a starter, but he’s spent the most time on the DL over the last couple of years.)  [FoxSports]

Pirates ace Ross Ohlendorf heads to the DL with back spasms…  In his place, the Pirates recalled starter Daniel McCutchen.  McCutchen faces the Reds, against whom he has his only MLB victory.  [MLB]

Orioles infielder Miguel Tejada strained a groin (hopefully his own) running the bases and is considered day-to-day.  Tejada, for all it’s worth, hasn’t missed a whole lot of games in his career.  [MLB]

Staying in Baltimore, outfielder Felix Pie strained his left shoulder batting on Thursday and was placed on the 15-day-DL.

Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan returned to the lineup this weekend after missing a couple of games with bruised left ribs sustained while making a game-saving diving catch on the hard warning track last Tuesday.  What he needs to feel better might be a few two-hit games…  [MLB]

Chan Ho Park, Yankee long reliever, headed to the DL with a hamstring strain that occurred while warming up in the bullpen.  If you injure yourself warming up, what does that say about your level of fitness?  [MLB]

Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron returned to the lineup this weekend after passing a kidney stone (must have been SOME kind of a stone!).  [MLB]

Royals outfielder Jose Guillen took time to discuss his leg injuries from 2009 and revealed that he had life-threatening blood clots during the off-season.  [MLB]

Old News…

Giants outfielder Fred Lewis was disappointed with his lack of playing time – so he requested a trade.  San Francisco obliged his request, sending him to Toronto for future considerations.  Fred Lewis himself broke the story on his Facebook page.

Police Blotter…

A New Jersey man was arrested for his obnoxious behavior at a game after similar behavior got his friend removed from the stadium.  Angered by that, Matthew Clemmens then made himself vomit on a man and his 11-year-old daughter.  The man on the receiving end was an off-duty police officer who showed remarkable restraint by not pummeling Clemens (which, admittedly, I would have considered if someone had done that to me or my son).  Seriously – some credit is due the off-duty cop for his restraint.  Clemmens gets charged with a variety of offenses (disorderly behavior, assault, reckless endangerment) and should get to spend time in jail.  He should also be banned from attending any sporting event.  [FoxSports]

Music mogul Jay-Z is suing David Ortiz because Ortiz named his new Dominican nightclub 40/40 – the same name used by Jay-Z in nightclubs he owns…  [FoxSports]

Longest Division Games in the AL?

Boston – New York average 3:39 – well over the league average of about 2:56.  Joe Posnanski did the work – read his article.

From the Transaction Wire…

Twins pitcher Jose Mijares heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Coming up from Rochester is pitcher Alex Burnett – a converted starter that has been nearly unhittable as a reliever since 2009.

The Braves need an extra arm and are extending a short stint to pitcher Jonny Venters.  If you saw his career stats, you’d know he’s a non-prospect.

With Esmerling Vasquez struggling, the Diamondbacks are giving a few innings to Kris Benson…  He’s still around?  Benson pitched for Texas last year and had an ERA of about 8.50 – and hasn’t been below 4.00 since 2000 when he was still in Pittsburgh.  Isn’t Pedro Martinez still available???

2010 Season Forecast: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Five Years:

2009:  91 – 71 (1st NL Central)
2008:  86 – 76
2007:  78 – 84
2006:  83 – 78
2005: 100 – 62

Runs Scored: 730
Runs Allowed: 640

Season Recap:

With two aces and the world’s greatest offensive force, the Cardinals held their own throughout the 2009 season.  And just when it looked like someone might catch them, the Cards added Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz to bury the rest of the division.

The Cardinals got off to a hot start, winning 17 of the first 24 games.  However, like the Cubs, a couple of ill-timed losing streaks returned the team back to the pack and in fact St. Louis trailed Milwaukee for parts of June.  In fact, all three teams played indifferently for much of the summer until the front office got involved.

Adding Holliday to the offense and giving a few starts to someone other than Todd Wellemeyer helped get a winning stretch going.  From July 27th through the end of the year, the Cardinals played great – going 38 – 23 before losing in the playoffs.

Injuries claimed Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel at times, and LaRussa had to work around a defense that wasn’t functional at many positions.  Skip Schumaker was an outfielder impersonating a second baseman – badly.  He was replaced by Julio Lugo near the end of the season, and the ball wasn’t hit close enough to him either – not that Lugo had been a regular second baseman recently.  Chris Duncan is a poor outfielder – replaced by Matt Holliday who actually played even worse.  Ryan Ludwick played at a below average pace in right and the ball wasn’t hit to his occasional replacements (Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha) either.

Despite this, the pitchers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL – which shows you how good Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were.  And they were simply amazing.  Put this staff in front of the middle 80’s team that featured Ozzie and Willie McGee and company, and they might have allowed only 500 runs all year.

Starting Pitching:

Adam Wainwright pitched 233 innings, fanned 212, and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He saved his team some 43 runs over using a league average starter.  Chris Carpenter was even better.  Returning from elbow surgery, Carpenter nearly tossed 200 innings in just 28 starts, winning 17 and finishing with an ERA of just 2.24.  He saved his squad 48 runs.  The third starter, Joel Pineiro won 15 himself, hardly walking anyone and keeping batted balls on the ground all season.

With 51 wins in the top three spots, the Cardinals countered with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse at the bottom of the rotation; two who were below average pitchers.  Wellemeyer was so bad, he cancelled out half an ace with his 5.89 ERA.

Three starters are back, starting with the aces and adding Kyle Lohse.  Pineiro is gone, replaced by Brad Penny – and my take on it that Penny should be close to as good as Pineiro was.  They have comparable strikeout rates, and if Penny keeps the ball over the plate, should fare well here.  Wellemeyer is also history, but it’s hard to tell who might get that fifth slot.  It could be Mitchell Boggs, who got nine starts and while his ERA was tolerable (4.19), he sure got lucky.  Boggs allowed 71 hits in 58 innings and walked 33 more.  Some time back, I suggested that you could figure how lucky a pitcher was by comparing his actual runs allowed data against his “reverse runs created” data.  Essentially, I was treating his pitching stats like I would an offensive player.  Given the combination of hits and walks that Boggs allowed, he would expect to have allowed 40 runs, not 28, and his ERA would have been about 6.05.

I digress.  The fifth starter could also be non-roster invitee Rich Hill, who is just the type of pitcher that seems to get his career healed by the coaching of Dave Duncan.  Look for Hill to make the roster and possibly make the rotation.

The bullpen returns virtually intact – Ryan Franklin was about the best closer in the National League, but he’s NOT a power guy and I don’t believe that he’s going to be as successful in 2010.  Trever Miller had a great season, but he only pitched 43.2 innings in his 70 games, which means that LaRussa spotted him well.  He and Dennys Reyes will be the designated lefties, while Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson, and Jason Motte pick up the other innings.  Rookie Jess Todd might be a nice set up man for part of the season.

My view of this is that the pitching can’t possibly be this good next year.  Not that Wainwright and Carpenter won’t be good – they could be 25 runs better than the average pitchers, which is very good, but that would be 40 runs off from last year’s production.  Ryan Franklin could be good, but lose five runs from a peak season last year.  Not having to pitch Todd Wellemeyer will help some, however I’d be nervous about the current options.  I see the pitching being off by about 50 runs.

Catching:

Yadier Molina remains the best defensive catcher in baseball and seems to be adding some offensive tools.  His backup is Jason LaRue – who will get to catch four times a month.

Infield:

Albert Pujols is the best offensive player in the game, and the best defensive player at his position.  His quickness means that he plays farther off the bag than most people – which gives him a serious range advantage over just about anybody.

After a year of Skip Schumaker, who stays to provide depth, the Cardinals will be using Felipe Lopez at second base.  This is an immediate 20 run upgrade defensively, and if Lopez continues to hit, a match to the production Schumaker provided (80 runs created, and 5.7 runs per 27 outs – which is solid).

Brendan Ryan was a stopper defensively, but starts the season coming back from wrist surgery.  I’m not sure he’ll be able to replicate last year’s production defensively and it’s hard to come back and hit right away after a hand or wrist injury.  His backup will be Julio Lugo or Tyler Greene.

At third, Mark DeRosa is gone and the Joe Thurston experiment is over.  David Freese will get the job.  Freese is a prospect, albeit a rather old prospect.  You may remember that Freese was acquired from San Diego for Jim Edmonds.  Well, Freese has been solid in the minors – hitting .306 with 26 homers in Memphis in 2008, and then batting .300 with 10 homers in just 200 at bats last season at AAA.  The Ballwin, MO native can hit at this level – he’ll be 27 in April.  I think he’ll hit like Todd Zeile – 18 homers, .270 batting average.  If he can field at all, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards got last year.

Pujols season was better than what he had done the previous couple of years, he could lose twenty runs of offense and STILL be the best hitter in the game.  With the wrist injury, Brendan Ryan will be off, but that will be made up by the play of Freese.  The net result, however, is probably 20 runs fewer offensively and probably ten runs off defensively.

Outfield:

This is going to be a very productive offense featuring Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick.  Ludwick, if healthy, holds his own.  A full season of Holliday will be better than half a season of Chris Duncan.  And Colby Rasmus will hit better than what Rick Ankiel did last year.  Defensively, Rasmus should hold steady, Holliday will be a slight improvement over Duncan, and Ankiel won’t be better.

Backups include Skip Schumaker, Nick Stavinoha and maybe a rookie – Joe MatherShane Robinson?  It could be Allen Craig, who had a solid year at Memphis last year (see Prospects).

This team will score produce about 30 runs more than last year and hold steady defensively.

Bench:

Not a bad bunch, but some holes…  Skip Schumaker will get a lot of innings, Julio Lugo returns, as does Tyler Greene, and then you have Nick Stavinoha, and Jason LaRue.  Which of these guys, other than Schumaker, would you want as a pinch hitter?  It’s a bit weak.

Prospects:

AAA Memphis had a couple of guys who might be interesting.  David Freese will get a shot at the third base job after a year and a half of solid play with the Redbirds.  Allen Craig hit .322 with 26 homers, but he’s not really patient at the plate.  He’s a potential fourth outfielder with the Cardinals though, and could be Ryan Ludwick’s equal in right field.  (.280 – 20 homers)

Jess Todd was the closer in Memphis and was solid – 59 Ks, 13 walks, 24 saves to match his 2.20 ERA.  He’ll be on the Cardinals in 2010.  The best starter was likely P.J. Walters, who was tolerable – decent control, a good strikeout record, but a bit hittable.

The best pitchers at Springfield (AA) weren’t dominating, but had good records and avoided the long ball.  Trey Hearne and Lance Lynn combined for 23 wins and only 7 losses and have interchangeable stats.  Lynn was a 1A draft pick in 2008, so he’s moving up quickly and the Cardinals have high hopes for him.  Infielder Daniel Descalso hit well (.323, .396 OBP) at Springfield but hasn’t been consistent at that level in the minors.

Former first round picks, like Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Carpenter are gone.  Peter Kozma was a top pick in 2007 and struggled to hit .216 in AA – he’s going to run out of chances soon.  Another, 2007 pick David Kopp struggled to a 6.43 ERA at Springfield – he might get one more shot before being cast away.  Much of the 2006 draft is still around and getting close – Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, and Allen Craig are in Memphis but haven’t made it in (or to) the bigs yet.

There are a couple of players in the minors, but as a whole, the Cardinal organization is a little thin right now.

Outlook:

Having gone through the process, I think the Cardinals will be in the mix but might not easily repeat.  I think they’ll score about 740 runs, but allow more than last year – as many as 690 runs.  If that’s the combination, it works out to 87 wins.  With Milwaukee likely getting better and the Cubs in the mix, the NL Central could easily have the most exciting September in baseball.  The Cards MIGHT win the division, and they MIGHT get the wild card.  Or, they MIGHT fall a game or two short.  It’s too close to call.

Top NL Third Basemen in 2009

Ryan Zimmerman (WAS):  The Evan Longoria of the National League – hits for a decent average, has solid power, gets on base, and flashes the leather.  As a hitter, I show Zimmerman as actually creating three more runs than Longoria, but Longoria had the better season defensively.  The best player the Nationals have ever had.  (117.9 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 132.82 Total Run Production)

Casey Blake (LAD):  Had a decent season with the bat and an unbelievable year with the glove.  Kemp, Loney, and Ethier get all the pub, but Casey Blake was second on the team in total production.  I went back and checked – he hadn’t played that well at third defensively before, so I won’t be surprised if he falls back in 2010, but his offensive numbers were in line with previous seasons.  Another guy the Indians couldn’t use…  (91.1 Runs Created, 25.23 Runs Saved = 116.35 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  Kung Fu Panda is a first baseman in waiting, but wow can he hit.  He wasn’t AWFUL at third base, just below average defensively, but you can live with it if he hits .330 with 25 homers.  The new Kirby Puckett.  (122.4 Runs Created, -6.4 Runs Saved = 115.94 Total Run Production)

Mark Reynolds (ARI):  As long as we’re comparing people, Reynolds is an upgrade over Adam Dunn, right?  He strikes out a LOT – but 44 homers and a .351 OBP is really good production.  However just 102 RBI suggests that he’d be even more productive for his teammates if he would just make more contact.  Not a horrible fielder either – slightly better than the Panda.  (104.6 Runs Created, -4.4 Runs Saved = 100.26 Total Run Production)

Andy LaRoche (PIT):  Did you know he had that good a glove?  Just an ordinary hitter – .260 with .400 SLG and a few walks throw in for good – but his defense moved him well up the list.  You can’t sneeze at 34 double plays to just 14 errors.  (69.0 Runs Created, 30.3 Runs Saved = 99.29 Total Run Production)

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  If a third baseman and not a first baseman, Cantu would rank about here.  Maybe a slot or two lower.

Pedro Feliz (PHI):  Had Andy LaRoche’s season with more RBI because of who he bats behind.  Polanco has a better batting average, but I don’t think he’ll match Feliz with the leather.  Feliz’s problem, if he has one, is that he makes too many outs.  You want guys who average at least 5 runs for every 27 outs, and Feliz is consistently around 4.2.  However, there aren’t many guys who save you 20 runs a year with the leather – and he’s been there three of the last four years (only an injury riddled 2008 didn’t add up).  So, you might concede 20 runs of offense for that.  I like Polanco, but Feliz was a big part of the Phillies’ success.  (68.6 Runs Created, 24.5 Runs Saved = 93.15 Total Run Production)

David Wright (NYM):  Not his best effort, but then again I think the park worked against him, and the injuries around him worked against him, and eventually he was dragged down by the entirety of it all.  He still produced runs – he batted .307 and got on base nearly 40% of the time.  However, his home run numbers dashed (the Mets are lowering the left field wall for 2010) and he took his frustration to the field – only 19 double plays against 18 errors.  I like his chances to bounce back some, but he’s never going to be as good as Ryan Zimmerman.  I just hope the Mets appreciate what he does and doesn’t focus on that gap between Wright and the top guys.  (102.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 89.61 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR/CIN):  Add it all up and he ranks about here.  I don’t think he’s a .320 hitter, as he was in Toronto for the first 100 days, but he still has skills.  He is NOT a glove man anymore, and while he’s more dependable than Edwin Encarnacion, he may not be healtier every month.  Still a good player, though.  (84.1 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 78.5 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  If rated as a third baseman would fall about here.  He’s a solid player.

Chipper Jones (ATL):  His OBP is still strong, but the end is nearing for this future Hall of Famer.  Hasn’t really measured up with the glove in years, and his offensive numbers – while still pretty good – are heading in the wrong direction.  (87.7 Runs Created, -18.1 Runs Saved = 69.56 Total Run Production)

Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD):  Only three errors last year – one of the best fielding percentages of all time.  Of course, he doesn’t have much range – so that makes him Ron Cey with longer legs.  He’ll help the A’s, though.  (78.0 Runs Created, -8.9 Runs Saved = 69.05 Total Run Production)

Casey McGehee (MIL):  Had a solid season at the plate (.301 AVG, .499 SLG), taking over for Bill Hall (who didn’t) and was tolerable with the glove.  If he plays 150 games, he might move up two or three slots in the rankings for 2010.  (68.3 Runs Created, -4.1 Runs Saved = 64.27 Total Run Production)

Aramis Ramirez (CHC):  I don’t know if he’ll ever play 120 games again – his body just breaks down constantly now.  Still a formidable offensive force, his glove is merely average these days.  Makes the Cubs better when he’s in there, though.  (58.1 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 57.02 Total Run Production)

Mark DeRosa (CLE/STL):  Struggled upon arriving in STL, but his defense had been off all season.  Reaching the age at which a comeback isn’t in the Cards – but the Cards will be counting on one.  (77.6 Runs Created, -26.8 Runs Saved – 50.80 Total Run Production)

Emilio Bonifacio (FLA):  Really fast.  Had an awesome first week of the season and then reverted to where I thought he’d be – which is not much of a hitter and slightly out of position at third base.  In Florida, though, he’s the new Alfredo Amezaga.  (44.0 Runs Created, -7.7 Runs Saved = 36.22 Total Run Production)

Ian Stewart (COL):  A Garrett Atkins clone.  Hits for some power, his batting average should scare you, and he can’t field the position.  New Rockie Melvin Mora is a significant step up, even at this point in Mora’s career.  (58.1 Runs Created, -23.4 Runs Saved = 34.68 Total Run Production).

Edwin Encarnacion (CIN/TOR):  I don’t know why Toronto would want him.  Indifferent fielder and not a dependable hitter.  Probably one more year of 100 games in his career, and the rest of the time he’ll be a back up or playing in AAA as an insurance policy for somebody.  Maybe he needs to go to Japan.  (39.8 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 32.6 Total Run Production)

Wes Helms (FLA):  Back up third baseman and professional pinch hitter – but ranked nearly as high as Stewart in far less time.  (30.19 Total Run Productiom)

Garrett Atkins (COL):  See Ian Stewart.  (33.4 Runs Created, -7.4 Runs Saved = 25.98 Total Run Production)

Geoff Blum (HOU):  See Ian Stewart – but with less power.  If Houston wants to be serious about fixing the problems on the team, it should start with replacing Blum.  (46.2 Runs Created, -23.6 Runs Saved = 22.62 Total Run Production)

2010 Season Forecast: San Francisco Giants

Last Five Years:

2009: 88-74 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 72-90
2007: 71-91
2006: 76-85
2005: 75-87

Runs Scored: 657 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 611 (Tied, 1st in NL)

Season Recap:

After a bit of a slow start (losing 8 of 11), the Giants rebounded behind solid pitching and defense to threaten the top of the division – but never quite reach the top.  The Giants won more than they lost each month until September, but never had that killer month – a twenty win month – that would drive the team past the Dodgers or Rockies.

As noted above, nobody allowed fewer runs than San Francisco (though LA matched them at 611) – so pitching was never a problem.  And, the pitchers were amply supported by a number of solid defensive performances all over the field.  Tim Lincecum was a legitimate ace, Matt Cain matched Lincecum win for win, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, and even Barry Zito seemed to find new life.  Randy Johnson won his 300th game before his arm literally fell off.

The starters were supported by an able bullpen – Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry, and Justin Miller all had solid years in key roles.  Even a late addition, Brad Penny, helped out in six late season starts.

The problem was in scoring runs.  Long and short, you want more players who can generate five runs of offense or more for every 27 outs made than those who cannot.  And yet, here’s your San Francisco Giants lineup:

8.3 Pablo Sandoval
6.8 Andres Torres
6.0 Juan Uribe
4.8 Fred Lewis
4.7 Aaron Rowand
4.5 Eugenio Velez
4.4 Nate Schierholtz
4.4 Bengie Molina
4.4 Travis Ishikawa
4.2 Randy Winn
3.5 Edgar Renteria
3.4 Ryan Garko
3.4 Freddy Sanchez
3.0 Eli Whiteside
2.9 Emmanuel Burriss
2.3 Rich Aurilia

These are just the guys who got at least 100 at bats.

Granted – they didn’t need many runs.  However, if the team could have found 50 to 75 more runs of offense somewhere, the Giants could have run away with this division.

2010 Goals:

As I am reading it, it’s a matter of holding the gains on the defensive side while finding some runs.  It would be nice to have a real bopper in the middle of the lineup – or at least three guys who can keep a rally going.  You have to fill out the bench, replace your shortstop, lock down the bullpen, and find a good fourth starter.

Pitchers:

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the six or seven best pitchers in baseball, creating a one-two punch that nobody else in the National League could beat.  I show them as having saved nearly 70 runs over 240 innings than the average NL pitcher would have allowed.  Barry Zito had a decent year – not a great year, but one that was productive for his team.  Jonathan Sanchez was hit a lot harder than his ERA and record suggest, but there is hope that as someone capable of throwing a big game, he’ll make forward strides.

At issue is replacing Randy Johnson or Brad Penny – and that future ace is Madison Bumgarner.  He’s 20 – he needs to be babied.  I wouldn’t want to give him more than 20 starts (and if I made out the rotation, I’d pitch guys every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME – which gives 4 more starts to the front of the rotation and takes 15 or 16 away from the back end).  But this kid is the top prospect on the team, winning 27 of 33 decisions in two minor league seasons, with a 5:1 K/W ratio, and hardly getting hit at all.  If Bumgarner pans out – and the Giants, I believe, were wise in keeping him – this could be another 10 run swing in the defense’s favor.

In the bullpen, just about everyone in a key role is back and there are enough prospects – Waldis Joaquin and Joe Martinez among them – to keep it in check.

T W L G GS SV INN H HR BB SO ERA SAVED
Tim Lincecum R 15 7 32 32 0 225.33 168 10 68 261 2.48 38.8
Matt Cain R 14 8 33 33 0 217.67 184 22 73 171 2.89 30.6
Barry Zito L 10 13 33 33 0 192.00 179 21 81 154 4.03 0.4
Jonathan Sanchez L 8 12 32 29 0 163.33 135 19 88 177 4.24 -6.5
Randy Johnson L 8 6 22 17 0 96.00 97 19 31 86 4.88 -11.2
Brian Wilson R 5 6 68 0 38 72.33 60 3 27 83 2.74 7.2
Brandon Medders R 5 1 61 0 1 68.67 63 6 32 58 3.01 6.4
Bobby Howry R 2 6 63 0 0 63.67 50 5 23 46 3.39 3.9
Jeremy Affeldt L 2 2 74 0 0 62.33 42 3 31 55 1.73 16.2
Justin Miller R 3 3 44 0 0 56.67 47 7 27 36 3.18 6.9
Merkin Valdez R 2 1 48 0 0 49.33 57 5 28 38 5.66 -10.9
Brad Penny R 4 1 6 6 0 41.67 31 5 9 20 2.59 6.9
Sergio Romo R 5 2 45 0 2 34.00 30 1 11 41 3.97 0.9
Joe Martinez R 3 2 9 5 0 30.00 46 4 12 19 7.5 -14.1
Ryan Sadowski R 2 4 6 6 0 28.33 28 2 17 17 4.45 -2.0
Waldis Joaquin R 0 0 10 0 0 10.67 10 1 7 12 4.22 0.0
Madison Bumgarner L 0 0 4 1 0 10.00 8 2 3 10 1.8 2.9
Dan Runzler L 0 0 11 0 0 8.67 6 1 5 11 1.04 3.3
Osiris Matos R 0 0 5 0 0 6.00 11 2 1 5 9 -4.5
Alex Hinshaw L 0 0 9 0 0 6.00 10 2 7 2 12 -5.6
Patrick Misch L 0 0 4 0 0 3.33 6 0 3 0 10.8 -2.6

Catchers:

Bengie Molina is back – a power source, but a below average hitter because he doesn’t do much when he’s not swinging the bat.  13 walks, no speed, and a fair batting average means he’s no better than an average hitter.  Molina was easy to run on last year, but his backup, Eli Whiteside, was not.  Buster Posey, who looks like a real hitter but will need a little seasoning, could be ready in 2010, but will likely be held back to become the starter in 2011.  Jumping quickly from A+ San Jose to AAA Fresno, Posey still hit .321 with power.  I’d keep him around and would have just let him hit.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Steve Holm SFN R 0 0 0 .286 .286 .444 0.9 4.7
Bengie Molina SFN R 20 80 0 .265 .442 .291 61.7 4.4
Buster Posey SFN R 0 0 0 .118 .118 .118 0.2 0.4
Eli Whiteside SFN R 2 13 0 .228 .339 .269 11.3 3.0

Fielding:

First Last G GS INN PO A DP E PB SBA CS SB%
SFN Bengie Molina 123 120 1042 942 77 5 8 4 85 25 77.3%
SFN Eli Whiteside 47 33 314 286 25 5 2 5 20 13 60.6%
SFN Buster Posey 7 4 40 32 4 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 3 27 21 2 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Steve Holm 4 2 23 14 1 0 0 0 0 2 0.0%
TOTALS 1446 1295 109 10 10 9 107 42 71.8%

Infielders:

Rich Aurilia is gone, after a long and productive career.  In fact, he’s about the only one who left.  Aurilia and Ryan Garko.  You’re going to see Pablo Sandoval, a remarkable hitter and tolerable defender, at third base even though he really should be playing first base.  He won’t though, because the Giants signed 34-year-old Aubrey Huff to play first base.  Huff is a professional hitter, capable of hitting 25 homers and batting at least .275 with some doubles and walks, too.  The problem is – he’s 34 and last year he showed signs of slipping.  Huff batted .241 with just 15 homers – the second time since 2007 that he’s had that few in 500+ at bats.  So, he is also capable of hitting .220 with 12 homers in 345 at bats.  I don’t think that will happen – I think he’ll bounce back some – but if he does, at least the Giants have options.

Juan Uribe is still around – and he can play three positions well and hit for power. Freddy Sanchez will be back soon enough, and he might contribute at the top of the order when he returns.  However, Sanchez is fair to middling in the field and he’s 33, too.  He’s younger than Edgar Renteria, who is 35 and looking like he’s older than that.  Kevin Frandsen is still around but is no longer a prospect.  At this point, the Giants are taking their chances with the two middle infield spots.  I’d just let Uribe take one of them, and either Renteria or Sanchez plays depending on who is healthy…

Batting Data

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Rich Aurilia SFN R 2 16 0 .213 .279 .262 8.7 2.3
Emmanuel Burriss SFN B 0 13 11 .238 .267 .294 17.2 2.9
Mark DeRosa CLE R 13 50 1 .270 .457 .345 47.9 6.2
Mark DeRosa SLN R 10 28 2 .228 .405 .293 29.7 4.2
Matt Downs SFN R 1 2 1 .170 .264 .254 3.6 2.1
Kevin Frandsen SFN R 0 1 0 .140 .180 .204 1.8 1.1
Ryan Garko SFN R 2 12 0 .235 .330 .307 11.4 3.4
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Aubrey Huff BAL L 13 72 0 .253 .405 .324 55.4 4.4
Aubrey Huff DET L 2 13 0 .189 .302 .265 8.4 2.6
Travis Ishikawa SFN L 9 39 2 .261 .387 .331 41.1 4.4
Edgar Renteria SFN R 5 48 7 .250 .328 .310 46.9 3.5
Ryan Rohlinger SFN R 0 4 0 .158 .211 .200 0.8 1.2
Freddy Sanchez SFN R 1 7 0 .284 .324 .298 9.6 3.4
Pablo Sandoval SFN B 25 90 5 .330 .556 .390 122.4 8.3
Juan Uribe SFN R 16 55 3 .289 .495 .333 64.6 6.0
Eugenio Velez SFN B 5 31 11 .267 .400 .310 36.4 4.5

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Travis Ishikawa 3 113 817.33 745 55 83 3 10.9 23.3
SFN Ryan Garko 3 33 230.67 219 14 17 1 20.2 9.1
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 26 207.00 181 10 10 3 -2.4 -3.2
SFN Rich Aurilia 3 22 158.33 125 14 13 0 -19.7 -6.0
SFN John Bowker 3 4 18.67 15 0 0 0 -41.5 -1.5
SFN Jesus Guzman 3 3 14.00 10 0 1 0 -67.6 -1.8
BAL Huff Aubrey 3 93 826.00 822 59 82 4 -2.2 -5.1
CLE Garko Ryan 3 51 407.00 418 36 53 3 9.2 8.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 3 7 41.00 41 1 3 1 -9.6 -1.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 3 3 8.00 6 0 2 0 -96.1 -1.6
SFN Emmanuel Burriss 4 61 494.00 115 131 33 7 3.1 1.6
SFN Juan Uribe 4 38 299.67 59 82 20 1 -8.1 -2.8
SFN Eugenio Velez 4 31 215.67 55 68 8 6 33.1 8.4
SFN Freddy Sanchez 4 25 210.00 44 65 12 3 10.9 2.9
SFN Matt Downs 4 17 143.00 31 42 13 0 -1.3 1.4
SFN Kevin Frandsen 4 14 73.67 21 22 9 1 19.1 3.2
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 4 1 10.00 5 3 1 0 82.0 1.5
SLN Mark DeRosa 4 2 2.00 0 0 0 0 -136.0 -0.5
SFN Pablo Sandoval 5 120 1028.00 70 195 13 11 -1.3 -3.2
SFN Juan Uribe 5 44 323.33 28 67 8 4 9.7 6.7
SFN Rich Aurilia 5 13 65.67 3 11 2 0 -17.5 -1.7
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 5 8 29.00 2 7 0 0 10.9 0.7
CLE DeRosa Mark 5 42 355.00 25 74 12 8 -5.8 -6.1
SLN Mark DeRosa 5 63 519.00 41 99 9 0 -14.6 -13.1
SFN Edgar Renteria 6 123 1071.67 161 299 63 14 -3.7 -6.7
SFN Juan Uribe 6 41 318.67 61 94 20 4 12.3 7.1
SFN Kevin Frandsen 6 7 42.67 4 12 2 1 -15.0 -1.4
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 6 3 13.00 4 5 2 0 56.9 1.6

Outfielders:

Aaron Rowand is still in center, taking a slight step back in range and productivity, but doesn’t have an immediate replacement in site.  Randy Winn, a fantastic defensive right fielder but no longer a productive hitter, is gone and either Mark DeRosa or prospect John Bowker will take that spot.  DeRosa wasn’t fantastic in St. Louis, and he is – like many other new Giants – in his mid-30s (35 when he reports to Spring  Training).  Fred Lewis, like Winn a very good defender but not a plus hitter, may also be pressed to keep his job.  Nate Schierholtz, if he wants a role, needs to step up this year.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
John Bowker SFN L 2 7 1 .194 .373 .250 6.2 3.1
Fred Lewis SFN L 4 20 8 .258 .390 .348 40.7 4.8
Aaron Rowand SFN R 15 64 4 .261 .419 .320 66.2 4.7
Nate Schierholtz SFN L 5 29 3 .267 .400 .308 34.8 4.4
Andres Torres SFN B 6 23 6 .270 .533 .343 28.3 6.8
Randy Winn SFN B 2 51 16 .262 .353 .323 62.7 4.2

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Fred Lewis 7 83 589.67 127 3 1 3 4.8 5.7
SFN Randy Winn 7 54 319.67 72 1 0 0 5.6 4.4
SFN Eugenio Velez 7 42 288.67 49 2 0 2 -7.0 -4.9
SFN Andres Torres 7 33 163.33 33 1 1 0 -0.1 0.5
SFN John Bowker 7 13 84.67 20 1 0 0 11.1 2.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 7 16 130.00 22 1 0 0 -18.4 -5.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 7 2 10.00 5 0 0 0 83.0 2.0
CLE Garko Ryan 7 7 48.00 10 1 0 1 0.0 -0.5
SFN Aaron Rowand 8 137 1127.00 299 5 2 3 -1.7 -3.5
SFN Andres Torres 8 37 152.33 53 1 1 0 21.4 7.2
SFN Randy Winn 8 22 101.33 23 1 1 0 -11.6 -2.1
SFN Eugenio Velez 8 12 65.33 13 0 0 1 -18.0 -2.9
SFN Randy Winn 9 104 770.00 187 3 1 0 6.4 11.7
SFN Nate Schierholtz 9 86 597.67 135 10 2 2 6.2 8.0
SFN Andres Torres 9 5 35.33 7 0 0 0 -7.3 -0.5
SFN John Bowker 9 5 29.00 6 0 0 0 -4.8 -0.3
SFN Eugenio Velez 9 5 14.00 3 0 0 0 -2.7 -0.1
CLE DeRosa Mark 9 9 68.00 16 0 0 0 -4.2 -0.5
CLE Garko Ryan 9 5 28.00 6 0 0 0 -9.5 -0.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 9 1 8.00 2 0 0 0 7.9 0.2

Bench:

If nothing else, the team has a lot of versatility.  Uribe and DeRosa can play all but catcher and centerfield, and with four or five outfield options, there is depth.  Ishikawa can be the defensive replacement at first base.  Whiteside and Posey are as good a backup set of catchers in site.

Prospects:

We mentioned Posey and Bumgarner.  John Bowker hit well in Fresno (most everyone does) – hitting .342 with 21 homers and 74 walks in just 104 games.  It’s probably .275 with 15 homers in San Francisco, but that’s better than Randy Winn these days.  Osiris Matos might be okay as a reliever – he pitched well at Fresno out of the pen.  You know who pitched best there?  36 year old Ramon Ortiz.  Remember him?

Waldis Joaquin pitched great in Connecticut (AA).  He still needs to work on his control.  Brock Bond is the new David Eckstein – slapping his way to a .333 batting average and getting on base while playing a decent second base.  At A+ San Jose, Thomas Neal (.337, 22 – 90) and Roger Kieschnick (.296, 23 – 110) might be hitters, but it’s still early and everyone hits in San Jose.  I like Neal to get a job by 2012.

24-year old Craig Clark went 16 – 2 with great strikeout and walk numbers at San Jose, Clayton Tanner (21) was 12 – 6, and Scott Barnes (21) was 12 – 3 for the same San Jose team.  All three are solid prospects.  The good news is that the AA and A+ teams won their divisions last year – so the youth movement looks good for the Giants.

Outlook:

I’d like to think that the Giants are going to get better – and if they do, it’s because the young guys kick in.  There are just too many old guys on this roster – and all the hired guns are over 32.  This, to me, is a holding year and not a step forward year.  I don’t see how the Giants will score MORE runs or allow FEWER runs.  I see it staying the same.  The Giants will be competitive, but without getting that “last really good year” out of DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, and Rowand, I don’t see them being any better than 86 – 76.

NL’s Best and Worst Pitchers in 2009 – Hot Stove News…

Quick news hits first before we take a quick look back at pitchers in 2009…

Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million when filing for arbitration – if he wins, it would be the highest amount paid to an arbitration eligible pitcher.  Of course, Lincecum is a bit of a party animal off the field, but between the lines he’s one of the five best pitchers in the National League.  He’s certainly one of the most valuable commodities – a pretty durable arm (so far) who gets a lot of batters out and wins games.  [ESPN/SI]

There’s a rather long list of players and teams avoiding arbitration or signing deals – you can get the list on SI or MLB – but the ones that caught my attention were (a) Jonathon Papelbon getting $9.35 million from Boston – about two million more than the going rate and (b) Bengie Molina likely returning to the Giants.  The Mets pursued Molina but apparently not hard enough, and are now stuck with playing backup catchers every day for another year (unless you consider Omir Santos a budding starter).  [FoxSports/ESPN]

FUN WITH DATA!

Having purchased my copy of the Lahman database, which is invaluable for doing quick queries so that I can plug data into my spreadsheets very easily, I can finally start doing the type of statistical analysis that I like…  I’ve already assembled the NL data and will be doing the AL data later this week.  And, after having knocked out the NL sheets, we get to have some fun with the lists it generates.  Today, we’ll start with the pitchers.

Top NL Starting Pitchers

The first rating system I have looks at how many runs a pitcher cost or saved his team over the course of the year above or below what the average pitcher allowed.  ERA is a pretty simple way to note this, mind you.  Someone with an ERA of 2.00 is two runs per nine innings better than someone with an ERA of 4.00.  However, it’s easier to have a low ERA when you pitch in San Diego, so I modify the runs allowed (not earned runs, but runs allowed) by removing the park effect.  Then, I also try to isolate the advantage a pitcher has in being on a team with a good defense vs. one with a bad defense.  For example, a pitcher on the Giants gets help from having a very solid defense – Randy Winn and Fred Lewis in the outfield are plus defenders at their position, the infielders were rather good as well.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals staff had behind them an injured Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan or Ryan Ludwick in the outfield not catching as many flies as most teams and were playing an injured (and less mobile) Mark DeRosa at third and, perhaps more importantly, an outfielder at second base all year in Skip Schumaker.  Once I figure out how many runs the seven guys in the field affected the team’s ability to prevent runs, you can make a second modification to a pitcher’s runs allowed numbers and compare it with the league average.

The league average pitcher allowed about 4.53 runs per nine innings.  The total number of runs saved is not just dependent on runs allowed per nine, but the number of innings pitched.  The best pitchers in saving runs will usually be starters.  Sometimes, a reliever can sneak in there, but not very often.  Let’s get to the list.

Best Starters:

In terms of runs saved, the best starting pitchers in the National League were…

48.57 – Chris Carpenter (STL)
43.19 – Adam Wainwright (STL)
40.25 – Danny Haren (ARZ)
38.80 – Tim Lincecum (SF)
38.30 – Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
38.16 – Jair Jurrjens (ATL)
36.39 – Javier Vasquez (ATL)
33.68 – Josh Johnson (FLA)
30.62 – Matt Cain (SF)
28.51 – Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
28.09 – J.A. Happ (PHI)
26.14 – Ted Lilly (CHC)
23.33 – Jason Marquis (COL)
22.81 – Tommy Hanson (ATL)
21.32 – Clayton Kershaw (LA)

No other starters saved at least 20 runs more than an average pitcher would have allowed given the number of innings pitched by that player.  The top two guys were Cardinals – two pitchers who were wonderful despite having several players not necessarily having good years with the glove.  Those pitchers DO benefit from having the best catching in baseball (Yadier Molina) – but Carpenter’s 48+ runs saved over the average pitcher might be the largest number I have seen in the five years I have done this.  Based on this criteria, Carpenter deserved his Cy Young consideration.  Among the surprises on this list was Clayton Kershaw who couldn’t get any support from his team but really did pitch very, very well and I think could be a sleeper ace for 2010.  And, seeing how well Jason Marquis pitched for the first four months of the season, one assumes that Colorado will miss that kind of production.

Top Relievers:

18.13 – Kiko Calero (FLA)
17.86 – Ryan Franklin (STL)
16.29 – LaTroy Hawkins (HOU)
16.23 – Jeremy Affeldt (SF)
15.49 – Trevor Hoffman (MIL)
13.89 – Nick Massett (CIN)
13.42 – Rafael Soriano (ATL)
12.98 – Huston Street (COL)
12.57 – Jose Valverde (HOU)
12.36 – Todd Coffey (MIL)
12.15 – Tyler Clippard (WAS)

As has been the case for many years, the top relievers are frequently NOT closers but middle relievers who have really good seasons in less demanding roles.  Kiko Calero, who has never had a season anywhere NEAR what he did in 2009 is the surprise winner here.  That being said, the top closer was Ryan Franklin, followed closely by Trevor Hoffman.  More than any other list, this group will change a lot from year to year.  Any number close to 10 is a great year for a reliever.

Worst NL Pitchers…

-44.28 – Manny Parra (MIL)
-33.36 – Josh Geer (SD)
-32.70 – Braden Looper (MIL)
-31.70 – David Bush (MIL)
-31.25 – Jeff Suppan (MIL)
-27.36 – Chad Gaudin (SD)
-25.35 – Todd Wellemeyer (STL)
-22.83 – Micah Owings (CIN)
-21.95 – Felipe Paulino (HOU)
-21.90 – Brad Lidge (PHI)
-20.53 – Brian Moehler (HOU)
-20.20 – Walter Silva (SD)

-21.31 – Kevin Hart (PIT) – but positive 6.30 in CHC

These are the starters for teams who felt like they had no other option than to give 150 innings to someone with a 5+ ERA.  Or, in the case of Brad Lidge, a manager who kept feeding his closer the ball despite the fact that he was getting hammered all too often.  Rarely does a reliever make this list.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that four of the five worst pitchers in terms of their relation to the average pitcher were Brewers.  Look – they aren’t the worst pitchers.  There were guys with 8+ ERAs who got just 20 innings and were sent packing to AAA, too.  Or were hurt or something.  But the Brewers were hanging in there with four guys who are no better than long relievers.  Three of them had seen better days (Looper, Suppan, Bush), but wow.  One sees immediately where the Brewers should spend their money.  Go find three guys who can pitch.  If that means giving Ben Sheets a deal, do it.  Finding three guys who can give you a 4.20 ERA in 180 innings would move the Brewers up 10 games in the standings.  Is it that hard to find three of those guys?  I can’t wait to do my team overview for the Brewers…

More on (Moron?) McGwire; Marlins Forced to Spend Money on Players?

From the story that won’t go away, no matter how often Bud Selig declares the era is over…

Steve Trachsel, who served up the 62nd homer hit by Mark McGwire in 1998, says that whole Sosa/McGwire hug was a sham – and irked him at the time, too.  [ESPN]

We weren’t the only ones who knew McGwire was a cheater.  The FBI was in on it.  [ESPN]

Goose Gossage still sounds ornery – but he’s on the money.  McGwire shouldn’t be in the Hall.  [FoxSports]

Joe Posnanski forgives him.  [SI]

Is anything else going on around here?

Aubrey Huff will be a Giant – a great signing if he doesn’t age quickly and lose his reflexes at first base.  He immediately helps the offense, but it might mean more time at third base for Pablo Sandoval and push Mark DeRosa into the outfield.  If nothing else, it gives the Giants some flexibility.  [MLB]

Aroldis Chapman signed a six year deal to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds worth $30.25 million.  Per Walt Jockety, (and I am paraphrasing) sometimes a small market team has to do something bold to build the franchise.  It will be interesting to watch his progress…  [ESPN]

Ryan Church joins the Pirates as a fourth outfielder – one year, $1.5 million plus incentives.  If healthy, Church can help these guys…  [ESPN]

The Cubs would be more interested in Ben Sheets – if he had a smaller price tag.  [MLB]

Let’s stay in Chicago.  Ryne Sandberg, thought by many to be the next manager when Lou Piniella finally hits the road, is the new manager of the Iowa (AAA) Cubs.  [MLB]

And, another member of the 1989 playoff team will be a special roving instructor – the professor, Greg Maddux.  [MLB]

Dan Johnson, former A’s and Rays slugger, is back from Japan, signing a one-year, $500K deal with Tampa.  [MLB]

Does Mark Grudzielanek have one more year left?  The Indians think so – he’s now a backup infielder with a minor league contract and a spring training invite.  [MLB]

Ramon Castro will stay with the White Sox, one year – $800 million, with a club option and buyout.  He’s not a horrible backup catcher and can hit a little.  [MLB]

FINALLY – The Marlins “promise” to spend more money.

For those of us who live in South Florida, we’re constantly harping about the team’s lack of willingness to spend any money on players.  We have one long term deal (Hanley Ramirez) and every year we guess which arbitration eligible players will be cut loose.  Now – we can’t argue with the efforts of Larry Beinfest, who has kept this team competitive since MLB helped the former owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria and friends, buy the Marlins.  But when you see the team getting millions of dollars from MLB (national TV contracts, shared revenues from MLB.com, etc., and the penalty bucks paid by the Yankees for actually spending money on players), we all wondered if Loria was just pocketing money to help contribute ANY money toward that new stadium.  Or just keep it for himself.

Well, now the Major League Players Association released a joint agreement with the Marlins and Major League Baseball where Florida management agreed to ramp up spending en route to the new stadium opening in 2012.  The agreement calls for further reviews of how the Marlins use shared revenue toward player salaries.  The reason?  Apparently the Marlins aren’t using revenue sharing money to “improve the team” – as per the basic agreement that binds all MLB owners.

Jon Paul Morosi agrees with me, saying the litmus test will likely be Dan Uggla – who has been shopped around this offseason – or even Josh Johnson, who wanted a four-year deal but couldn’t get more than a three-year offer from the Marlins.

I think it’s interesting that the union is involved – but there are two things that really should be in play here.  First – in a free market, the owners should be able to do what they want.  However, the second element has to do with shared revenue.  If the assumption is that revenue (including salary cap penalties) are shared to provide small market and small revenue teams have more money to spend on players, then the money should be spent on players.  The Marlins use the money to spend on scouting and minor league development – and, in my opinion, to line the pockets of owners who needed to raise capital to cover some costs tied with building the new stadium (not that they are paying the bulk of the expense).  In fact, if I were Boston or the Mets or the Phillies and I had to forfeit my own money to help put money in the pockets of the owners so they can either (a) buy nicer cars, or (b) get a new stadium, that doesn’t seem like a fair way to spend my money.  And, I wouldn’t be happy about giving that money to the Marlins.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating on Tuesday included:  George “Admiral” Schlei (1878), Tim Hulett (1960) and Mike Marshall (1960) – I remember watching him as a kid in Buffalo Grove, Casey Candaele (1961), and two former Fish hurlers – Dontrelle Willis (1982) and Scott Olsen (1984).

Those celebrating on Wednesday include: Les Cain (1948), Bob Forsch and Mike Tyson (1950), Kevin Mitchell (1962), and Kevin Foster (1969).

Afterthoughts…

Derek Jeter engaged?  Possibly…  Minka Kelly is the lucky girl and the date is allegedly November 5th.  {FoxSports]