2013 Season Forecast – Boston Red Sox

Already out the gate with the best record in baseball for the month of April, let’s see if the start can hold water for an entire season.

Last Five Years:
2012:  69 – 93 (5th, AL East)
2011:  90 – 72 (3rd, Crashed AL East)
2010:  89 – 73 (3rd, AL East)
2009:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)
2008:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)

In general, the trend is working in the wrong direction, but if Bob McGrath were singing “Which One of These Things is Not Like the Other…”, we’d single out the Bobby Valentine era as the odd ball.  The Sox have averaged about 88 wins a season.  Without checking any of the rest of it, to guess that the Sox could bounce back to 75 – 80 wins wouldn’t have been an improbable prediction.

Runs Scored:  734 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed:  806 (13th in the AL – ouch)

Runs in Fenway Park: 842, tops in the AL
Runs on the road: 698, 9th in the AL

So, for 2012, Fenway – always a good hitter’s park, was even more so last season.

Season Recap:

Mixed previews….  Some people thought the Sox would remain competitive, having spent a lot of money to bring in veteran talent.  Many thought the hiring of Bobby Valentine might be an odd way to mix things up following the firing of Terry Francona.  I’ll say…

The team got off to a bland start, but a nice streak of six wins got the team back to .500 as the month of April ended.  Losing nine of ten, the Sox fell out of the race as Bobby Valentine was losing his clubhouse as fast as you can say “Kevin Youkilis wasn’t mentally ready to play.”  To the Sox credit, they battled back to 21 – 21 and a second hot streak got the Sox to 42 – 37 right as July began.

At that point, the Sox fell out of contention. They sputtered through August, first slowly, and then – starting on about 8/19 – they fell off the map.  The Sox would give up ten or more runs in a game every week or more – seven times in the last 38 games.  As August ended, the Sox traded away a bunch of people who were seen as under-producing (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford) and turned it over to the next wave of Sox players.  The Astros played better in September.  The Sox won just 27 of their last 83 games; and went 10 – 31 in the last 41 games.

Transactions:

Some minor moves before the season – resigning Cody Ross and David Ortiz, and trading Marco Scutaro to Colorado for Clayton Mortensen.  I can’t prove it, but maybe the season went south when they signed pitcher Billy Buckner on 2/29.

Actually, the were proving an interest in Chicago.  The traded Michael Bowden to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd.  Ouch – he was released in June.  The signed Mark Prior to a minor league deal.  The picked up former ChiSox outfielder Scott Podsednik when outfielders were hard to find in May.  Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox in June for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart.  I don’t see that working out…  They even sold Justin Germano (to the Cubs) and released Bobby Jenks (former Sox closer) – and in a related moved, signed Andy LaRoche, whose dad was a pitcher for the Cubs…  Look – the Cubs stink, and while the White Sox were pretty good, cast offs aren’t going to help…

Here’s a move I don’t understand.  They traded away Podsednik to Arizona, then signed him when Arizona released Podsednik.

I mentioned the big sell off – the Sox traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and CASH to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, and two guys who arrived in October – Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands.

Starting Pitching:

Jon Lester had an off season, falling from ace to league average pitcher.  Clay Buchholz fell from surprise ace to league average.  Josh Beckett fell from famous pitcher who sometimes looks dominating to a shade below league average (and with a 5 – 11 record, looks worse than he really was).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 1 – 7 with an ERA north of 8.00, Daniel Bard proved he was a reliever in 10 starts, Aaron Cook was given 18 starts to prove he was done (5.65 ERA).  Felix Doubront looked tolerable in 29 starts – I think he can build on that.

Going forward, the Red Sox could make immediate gains if Lester and Buchholz just got back half of what they lost in 2012 – that’s 30 saved runs.  Getting a fourth starter that could be CLOSE to league average to replace Dice-K and Cook could save 30 runs.  Replacing Josh Beckett with Ryan Dempster looks to be a wash – Dempster was awesome in Chicago, but rocked in Texas.  Boston just feels more like his kind of place – I think he can be at least league average in 30 starts, which is still better than 21 Josh Beckett starts and 10 bad Daniel Bard starts…  If Doubront doesn’t fall back and if John Lackey ever gets healthy, who knows.  I like the rotation to be 50 – 60 runs better than last year.

Bullpen:

Losing Andrew Bailey, who was brutal, and having to use Alfredo Aceves as a closer was bad.  I know Aceves got 25 saves, but the two combined to cost the Sox six unnecessary runs.  The rest of the pen was a nice patch work of guys like Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Clayton Mortensen, Vincente Padilla, and Matt Albers.  Sure, they had a few sore thumbs (I’m looking at you, Mark Melancon and Zach Stewart), but every bullpen has one or two.

This year, the Sox signed Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, have Andrew Bailey back, and added Koji Uehara to Tunizawa, Miller, and Mortensen.  This could be a bullpen that is ten runs better than last year.

Catching:

I’m thinking that the Sox missed their captain, the retired Jason Varitek.  Boston gave the job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with Kelly Shoppach (now gone) and Ryan Lavarnway as backups.  People could run on both Salty and Lavarnway (108 stolen, 21 caught), and as a unit, the team was below average in winning percentage, team ERA, and tended to be error prone.  The only category in which Boston catchers were above average was mobility (assists not tied to caught stealing), and that’s not saying a whole lot.

Shoppach was their best defensive catcher, had the best batting rates (5 runs per 27 outs, the only above average offensive player) – so he’s gone.  I know – Saltalamacchia hit 25 homers, but he batted .222 with a sub .300 OBP.  He hit like Jason Varitek did at the end, but with no defensive positives.  Salty is back, but the Sox did bring in David Ross from Atlanta, who is a fine catcher and should get at least 500 innings of work.

Infield:

Adrian Gonzalez was underperforming, maybe, but he was still hitting .300 with 37 doubles and 86 RBI with a month to go.  And, he was saving them 35 runs with his glove in five months – gold glove play.  James Loney can’t hope to replace that – so the Sox let him leave and signed Mike Napoli to play there.  Napoli is an underrated catcher – I’d let him do that from time to time and try to find a better hitter (Daniel Nava?) to play first.  Dustin Pedroia was productive but his range is falling quickly.  Never GREAT before, he cost the team more than 15 runs because he makes nearly nine fewer plays per 870 balls in play than the average second sacker.  Mike Aviles was a below average hitter – first time in a full season he did that – but ordinary at short.   The Sox will try Stephen Drew there in 2013 – and I think he’s going to be a weak fielder and I fear he may not be that great a hitter anymore.  He has the tools to be, but it’s been a while.  If he hits his 150 game norms, he’s not going to be appreciably better than Mike Aviles overall.  A few more runs on the board for both teams…  The one place Boston may improve is at third, where Will Middlebrooks will get full time duty.  Youkilis struggled last season, so if Middlebrooks can match his half season stats across a full season, that will help.  He is NOT in Youkilis’s league as a fielder, but Youk was fading there last year.

As a whole, this group will likely be 50 runs worse defensively, but break even offensively.

Outfield:

A team that had so many injuries, nine guys played in left, eleven guys played in center, and eleven more played in right.  With Crawford gone, the Sox may try Jackie Bradley (he already got sent back) in left, or Daniel Nava.  They need a full (and productive) season from centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury – who is, at best, a league average fielder but CAN be a crazy good hitter.  Cody Ross is gone; Shane Victorino, who is as productive a hitter and a slightly better fielder will play right.  If Nava can step forward and get on base, or at least be a solid platoon with Jonny Gomes, and Ellsbury can get healthy, there is a chance for 40 – 50 extra runs on the board with little change in defensive value.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz should be around for 25 more games than the 90 games he played last year, but at his age, he might decline some.  Nava can play all over, Victorino can spell Ellsbury if needed, and Pedro Ciriaco will be the utility infielder.  Not a bad bunch.

On the Farm!

At Pawtucket, the only prospect from 2012 may have been catcher Ryan Lavernway, who hit .295 and played with the big club.  He’s at least a good backup.  The best pitcher was probably Justin Germano, but he is 29 and now a Cub.  He’s no prospect.

2010 first round pick Bryce Brentz hit .296 at Portland (AA), showing power, and might make the big club this year.  Jackie Bradley didn’t look overmatched in his 61 games there – he was a 2011 first rounder.  Stolmy Pimentel didn’t look as strong as he had previously.  The reliever with promise may be Aaron Kurcz, who fanned 72 in 50 innings, but is wild.  2008 first round pick Joshua Fields is getting there – better control and 59 Ks in his 44 innings.  Unfortunately, he’s an Astro right now…

Look out for 3B Michael Almanzar, who hit .300 with power at A+ Salem.  He and SS Xander Bogaerts, who is just 20, will follow in the shoes of Jackie Bradley one day.  1B Travis Shaw had Adrian Gonzalez numbers there – but I don’t think that’s what he will be when he gets to the majors…  Keith Couch is looking close to being a prospect after going 11 – 9 with good control in 145.2 innings.  The better prospect might be Matt Barnes, the 2011 top pick, who strikes people out and is building a solid minor league resume very quickly.

Forecast:

Well, when I add up the offensive gains and the defensive gains (pitching) and losses (infield gloves), I see the Sox making strides toward .500.  I see them scoring about 65 more runs, and maybe saving five to ten runs over last year.  That puts them around 800 runs scored and allowed – or 81 wins.  I’m not convinced the hot start is going to stay for the year, but it will be a better season for Sox fans than 2012.

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2012 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

2011 Record:  71 – 91 (5th, NL Central)
Runs Scored:  654 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed:  756 (14th, NL)

Only Colorado and Houston allowed more runs…

2011 in Review:

The Cubs started losing early, and pretty much were consistent about it throughout the season.  Starlin Castro kept hitting all year long, but the team was lacking in production from the outfield and the catcher spot.  Carlos Zambrano was extremely frustrated and threatened to retire – but considering his history of blow ups, the Cubs shut him down anyway.  The Cubs really had little truly decent pitching, helped by a defense that had little range and made a lot of errors.  When it was over, Chicago was under new ownership.  That group finally let Jim Hendry go – Hendry was the GM who was responsible for this mess – and replaced him with the Boston Red Sox mastermind, Theo Epstein.  At least the Cubs have THAT going for them.

 

Starting Pitching:

Matt Garza was acquired from Tampa and battled things to a draw.  He finished 10 – 10, his ERA looks good here, but it’s masked somewhat by the 17 unearned runs he allowed.  In terms of runs allowed per nine, he was barely league average.  Ryan Dempster‘s season was particularly troublesome.  His strikeout rate was pretty good, but he walked more than in the past and he gave up too many homers.  Zambrano, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Doug Davis were all at least 10 runs worse than the average pitcher given the number of innings pitched.  Here’s the breakdown:

Runs Saved /Pitcher
1.81    Matt Garza (31 starts)
-10.71  Rodrigo Lopez (16 starts)
-12.45  Carlos Zambrano (24 starts)
-13.24  Randy Wells (24 starts)
-16.82  Doug Davis (9 starts – ouch)
-17.17  Ryan Dempster (34 starts)
-22.88  Casey Coleman (17 starts)

Essentially, the starters gave up 90 runs more than an average pitcher would have done in the same amount of innings.

For 2012, Dempster and Garza are back.  Zambrano was traded to the Marlins for starter Chris Volstad, but that’s not an improvement – Volstad pitched worse than Zambrano last year.  Jeff Samardzija is being moved to the rotation – he was one of the few Cubs pitchers to pitch on the good side of average.  If he can match that for 180 innings instead of 90 innings, that would be a huge improvement over, say, Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.  If Wells can stay healthy and get back, that would help, too.  One can see a 40 run improvement at this spot.

 

Relief Pitchers:

Carlos Marmol has been a closer for a few years now, and he isn’t getting any better.  A closer with an ERA over 4 is a problem – and he’s so wild that he’s allowing nearly six walks every nine innings.  The set up squad was actually pretty good – Samardzija was nearly six runs better than the average pitcher; Sean Marshall was even better – the best pitcher on the staff (14 runs saved).  Kerry Wood was tolerable, but is running out of innings in his arm.  After that, though, you run through some guys who struggled – John Grabow and James Russell.

Looking forward, I’m scared here.  The best pitcher, Sean Marshall, is gone.  Samardzija is in the rotation.  The Cubs could be relying on Coleman to take on a long relief role, or pulling in Rafael Dolis or Chris Carpenter.  I’m worried that this unit could easily be 10 – 15 runs worse than 2011.

 

Catching:

As a unit, Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill were fair against the run and mobile.  On the other hand, they were mistake prone and if they are to get some responsibility for the pitching staff, the team was 20 games under .500 with a lousy overall ERA.

Soto can hit a little, but he’s been inconsistent with his batting average and power.  Soto finished by hitting .228 with 17 homers, which really isn’t good enough – especially in Wrigley Field.  Hill was worse – .194 with sub .300 slugging and on base percentages.

 

Infield:

I made a comment that the team defense wasn’t very good in 2011 – that doesn’t apply to the middle infielders here.  Shortstop Starlin Castro saved the team 18 runs – which breaks down to 24 runs because of his range, but he gives back nearly six runs because of his errors.  Darwin Barney was also mobile and slightly error prone, but the net result was another 14 runs saved.  The play on the corners, though, featured two older guys who no longer have the range to help out.  Carlos Pena was once a fine fielder – not anymore.  He cost the team 19 runs.  Aramis Ramirez was even worse – he cost the Cubs 36 runs.  Granted, the offense here isn’t half bad.  Barney has room to improve – he needs to be more selective at the plate and get his batting average up to the .290 range.  Castro had 207 hits and generated 108 runs of offense, but he makes a lot of outs.  Ramirez had a nice season – 109 runs created, and Pena added 85 more, despite hitting just .225 (he drew 101 walks and hit 28 homers).  That kind of production will be hard to replace.

The Cubs will try Bryan Lahair, the minor league home run champ, at first base.  His fielding isn’t sterling, but his bat can help.  Ian Stewart was acquired from Colorado and he’s going to hit better than the .156 he hit in 2011, but he’s NOT going to be the run producer that Ramirez was.  Castro may still have more growth in him, as will Barney, but this unit could easily be down 50 runs from last year.

 

Outfield:

The Cubs featured an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, who has below average range, Marlon Byrd, who is surprisingly mobile for an older guy – but still below average in terms of range, and, for three months, Kosuke Fukudome.  Fukodome has great range for a right fielder.  Tyler Colvin replaced him, but he fell off the map in terms of his offensive output.

Offensively, Soriano still has power – 26 homers – but he doesn’t run and he still is too much of a free swinger.  Byrd seems to have lost all of his power and he, too, stopped getting on base after getting hit in the face with a pitch in Boston last May.  Colvin hit .150 – ouch!  The Cubs never seemed satisfied with Fukudome, yet he was actually the most productive hitter in the outfield.

Colvin is gone – he’s in Colorado – but Soriano isn’t going anywhere soon, and Byrd needs to get out of center and move to right so that the young legs of Tony Campana can take over in center.  Reed Johnson (he’s still around?) played well – he needed to play more.  The problem is that the Cubs don’t have someone who can help immediately.

 

Prospects:

The AAA Iowa Cubs were devoid of young prospects who can help soon…  The aforementioned Bryan Lahair hit 38 – 109 – .331, but was 28 last year.  The best player to roll through here that was younger might be catcher Wellington Castillo , a 24-year-old who looks no better or worse than Geovany Soto, and Tony Campana, who was here for just 30 games and hit .342 – a burner with little or no power.  Casey Coleman was the best pitcher, but even he had holes – he doesn’t have a big strikeout pitch and he gave up 11 homers in 70 innings.

There may be help in AA, though – the Tennessee Smokies were a top flight minor league team.  Josh Vitters, a former #1 pick (2007) and Rebel Ridling – a great name – hit enough and with some power to suggest that they might get a shot by the end of 2012.  2008 #1 pick Ryan Flaherty hit pretty well, but he’s a shortstop and middle infielders are pretty set in Chicago.  He might get used in a deal soon – him or his fellow middle infielder D.J. LeMahieu…  The pitcher who had results was reliever Jeff Beliveau – who sounds like he should be a hockey player – 57 innings, 69 Ks and just 13 walks.  Kevin Rhoderick has a stunning arm but needs to refine his control.  Jeff Stevens had good numbers here, but he’s already turning 28 soon and has had a cup of coffee…

A+ Daytona finished second in the Florida State League and first baseman Justin Bour led the team in homers and RBIs – hitting 23 homers in the FSL is legit power.  Undrafted Junior Lake continued to play well – is turning 22 and hit over .300 with some power and great speed.  One thing you notice when looking over the pitching staff is a lack of high draft picks – the best pitcher was undrafted Jeff Antiqua, who logged 83.1 innings, fanned 81, and walked just 18.

If there is help on the way, it might be catcher Richard Jones, who hit 24 homers and batted .309 for low A Peoria.  It doesn’t look like it will be #1 pick Hayden Simpson, who fell off to 1 – 6 – 5.32.  The best arm might belong to 11th round pick Eric Jokisch, who went 9 – 3 with a good K/W ratio in 118.2 innings.

 

2012 Forecast:

The Cubs will probably allow 30 fewer runs this year – it can’t really get worse than 2011 – but the offense looks worse.  If the team falls back another 50 runs, which is entirely possible, you’re looking at a 66 – 96 team.  If Stewart doesn’t come back and Soriano falls off, and LeHair doesn’t hit in the majors, the Cubs are looking at 100 losses.  Theo Epstein has a lot of work to do.

Sox Win ‘The Humber Game’, and Plenty of Pitchers Head to the DL

There have only been 21 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball, but the Chicago White Sox have three of them.  Yesterday afternoon, Philip Humber defied his humble resume and blanked the Seattle Mariners, 4 – 0, without allowing a single baserunner.

That last out was something – on a 3 – 2 pitch to Brendan Ryan, Humber threw a slider that Ryan half-swung at.  Ryan felt he checked his swing – but the home plate umpire, Brian Runge, called it a swing immediately.  However – the pitch got away from catcher A.J. Pierzinski, who had to run back toward the backstop to retrieve the ball and fire it to first for the last out.  Ryan, had he chosen to run hard to first, might have beaten the throw, but halfway down the first base line, he chose to argue with the umpire over the swinging strike call.  [ESPN]

When Dallas Braden threw his perfect game, I noted that his resume was rather short prior to pitching his gem.  For Humber, this was his 30th career start, winning his twelfth decision.  He had had five cups of coffee since first racing through the Mets chain in 2006, and only last year had he stayed with a team longer than a few weeks.  Already 29, Humber isn’t a bad pitcher – his career numbers are actually not too bad, he just hasn’t ever stuck.  One assumes he’ll hang around as long as he stays healthy now, though…

The last White Sox perfect game came in 2009 when Mark Buehrle was rescued by a Dewayne Wise miraculous catch in the ninth inning.  The first one, thrown in 1922 by Charles Robertson in his fifth major league outing, I wrote about here.

Well – I checked and there isn’t a “FireBobbyValentine.com” or “FireBobbyV.com” site yet.

It won’t be long, though.  The Sox got off to a 9 – 0 lead against the Yankees yesterday, but the bullpen gave up 15 runs in the last three innings, including back to back seven-spots in the seventh and eighth innings, to blow the game and lose, 15 – 9.

To help remedy the problem of having a lack of productive outfielders, the Red Sox acquired Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd, a mid-30s hustling outfielder with limited range and a failing bat, for former reliever prospect Michael Bowden.  The Red Sox REALLY need to remedy the pitching staff, considering the starters are carrying a 6+ ERA since September 1st, and they lost their closer in Spring Training.  [SI/CNN]

Hurry Back!!!

The Phillies placed Cliff Lee on the 15-Day DL with an oblique strain suffered in the 10th inning of his outing in San Francisco.  The Phillies are using caution, hoping the strain doesn’t become a tear.  Joe Savery, already up and down once this season, returns to take Lee’s spot on the roster.  Kyle Kendrick will likely take Lee’s spot in the rotation.  [ESPN]

Hurry up and acquire Francisco Cordero for your fantasy team!  The Toronto Blue Jays placed closer Sergio Santos on the 15-Day DL with inflammation in his throwing shoulder.  Cordero will get the save opportunities, but lefty Evan Crawford will get the roster spot for the time being.  Crawford has had improving strikeout rates in the minors, but occasionally is a bit wild.  Until he gets that under control, he won’t be used in high leverage situations. [ESPN]

The Yankees, frequently snake bit when acquiring pitchers, are going to start to wonder if that Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero trade was a good idea.  After throwing 15 pitches in a rehab start, Pineda was shut down with soreness in his shoulder and will be given an MRI.  Joe Girardi’s comment? “Not good.”

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster will go on the 15-Day DL with a strained right quadriceps muscle.  Coming back to Chicago will be Randy Wells, who had struggled in his three AAA starts.  The Cubs are already on pace for about 100 losses, they don’t need to lose Dempster for any amount of time.

The Diamondbacks placed starter Daniel Hudson on the 15-Day DL with a right shoulder impingement.  Jonathan Albaledejo will get some time on the roster in his absence.

Also, Royals pitcher Greg Holland heads to the DL wiht a stress reaction in his left rib.  That doesn’t sound fun…  Returning from AAA Omaha is Jeremy Jeffress, a reliever with a reputation for throwing smoke and smoking pot.

Welcome Back!!!

A.J. Burnett returned from his eye injury to pitch the Pirates to a victory yesterday.

Transaction Wire:

The Orioles traded Josh Bell to Arizona for future considerations.

The Tigers recalled pitcher Thad Weber from AAA Toledo and sent down struggling pitcher Daniel Schlereth for a little extra work.

Oakland recalled lefty pitcher Pedro Figueroa from AAA Sacramento, and dispatched Graham Godfrey to AAA.

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1901) Taylor Douthit
(1918) Mickey Vernon – fine first baseman of the 1940s and 1950s.
(1923) Preston Gomez – decent player, managed the Padres and Cubs some time back.
(1955) David Clyde – high school to the majors, and then struggled with life – not just baseball.
(1956) Moose Haas
(1959) Terry (Tito) Francona
(1961) Jimmy Key
(1966) Mickey Morandini
(1988) Dee Gordon

2010 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 83 – 78 (2nd – NL East)
2008: 97 – 74
2007: 85 – 77
2006: 66 – 96
2005: 79 – 83

Runs Scored: 707 (9th – NL)
Runs Allowed: 672 (5th – NL)

For what it’s worth, the Cubs and their opponents scored 732 runs in Wrigley Field and just 647 on the road last year…

Season Recap:

Picked by a ton of people to win the NL Central, the Cubs hung around the race for four months before throwing in the towel down the stretch.

Every time the Cubs would get rolling, they found a losing streak.  Two weeks in, Chicago rolled out to an 8 – 4 record, only to lose four in a row.  Recovering, they won 8 of 12 only to lose a couple more.  Into May, the Cubbies took off – rattling five in a row to get to 21 – 14.  Thinking that this win streak might put them out in front for good, Chicago lost EIGHT straight…

Hanging around .500 for the next several weeks, the Cubs entered the All-Star break at 43 – 42.  Sensing a need to get going, the Cubs rolled out to 57 – 48 and actually sneaked into the top spot for a day in late July.  That’s when the bullpen suddenly lost it.  The Marlins came back to beat former closer Kevin Gregg and the Cubs hit a tailspin that knocked them out of the NL Central race just as St. Louis was adding Holliday, DeRosa, and Lopez for the stretch run.  The Cubs fell back to a game over .500, made a small fuss for the wild card race, and then disappeared.

Injuries hurt the Cubs as much as many other teams – losing Aramis Ramirez, Milton Bradley (injuries to his body as well as his attitude), Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano – but poor performances were equally to blame.  Milton Bradley signed a three-year, $30 million deal and proceeded to hit .257 with middling power.  Soriano’s season was worse – knee injuries and age contributing to a horrific .241 batting average.  And Geovany Soto, such a huge part of the 2008 NL Central Champs, fell off to .218, with just 11 homers.  Throw in the decline of a portly Carlos Zambrano, who failed to win ten games and missed at least six starts, and you can see why the Cubs fell back 13.5 games from 2008.

2010 Goals:

Lessee…  The Cubs need an attitude adjustment.  Bringing Milton Bradley was a BAD idea – no matter how good his upside might have been, there’s no excuse for that deal.  Just as importantly, the big horses need to find the old mojo and get healthy.  Soto and Zambrano need to return to form and it would be nice to get 140 healthy games out of Ramirez and Soriano – both of whom are running out of youth.  Finding a dependable closer would help, too.

Pitchers:

On paper, the Cubs have a fantastic rotation.  Carlos Zambrano should be an innings eater, and if his off-season fitness plan works out (no pun intended), he could return to form.  He pitched okay in the 160 innings he logged in 2009, but he needs to pitch 220 or more.  Ted Lilly will be back, but might miss a few starts early on as he recovers from minor surgery to clean up his elbow.  Ryan Dempster returns, as well as last year’s top newcomer, Randy Wells.  The fifth starter is former Pirate star (and Jayhawk alum) Tom Gorzelanny – who a couple of years ago was the ace of the Pirates staff.  Last year, the Cubs front five (the top four plus Rich Harden) were about 68 runs better than average and threw  852 innings.  That’s going to be hard to BEAT, but is something that the Cubs should be able to hold steady for 2010.

The bullpen wasn’t horrible – as a group about 16 runs better than average – but it lacked a big time stopper.  Kevin Gregg saved 23 games, but was really only decent for three months and scary the rest of the way.  He’s gone…  Carlos Marmol assumed the closer role – nearly impossible to hit stuff but walks a batter an inning which makes him Mitch Williams with a better chance to field grounders.  Angel Guzman and John Grabow return to set the table, and Jeff Samardzija, Justin Berg, Sean Marshall will get long relief or spot starts.  Samardzija is likely the one guy who could surprise as a fifth starter, but I’ll be honest.  I don’t see him as anything special.  Still – he throws hard and has as good a chance as anyone to have a good year facing 200 batters…  The Cubs added Carlos Silva in a trade with Seattle – ridding themselves of one headache (Milton Bradley) while acquiring organizational depth in terms of a guy to toss BP.

So, as a staff, the pitching – already good – will remain good in 2010.

Catchers:

Geovany Soto returns, with his backup Koyie Hill intact.  As a unit, they aren’t horrible – but if there is a room for improvement, it’s here.  If Soto splits the difference between his awesome 2008 numbers and his horrific 2009 numbers, the Cubs could get 20 more runs on the scoreboard.

Infield:

Derrek Lee had a quietly amazing year with the stick – 35 – 111 – .306, generating about 115 runs of offense.  On top of that, Lee also had 36 doubles…  The problems with his neck and back, however, affected his defensive range.  Usually Lee is among the top two or three defenders at his position, but in 2009 he was below average in terms of range.  Going forward, I see a 20 run slip in his offense, but he could at least return to league average defense if his back feels better.  In terms of net production, it’s a wash…

At second base, Jeff Baker arrived from Colorado and had a career half season, batting over .300 and fielding everything in site.  That made up for the poor performance of Mike Fontenot, who appears to still have the job.  I don’t think Baker can do this over 500 at bats, and neither do the Cubs who have Fontenot penciled in as the regular.  Fontenot was below average in both offense and defense – and I don’t see this improving in 2010.  If anything whatever bounce back Fontenot has will be covered by the slide in Jeff Baker’s performance.

At short, Ryan Theriot returns – a decent enough glove man and someone who batted a lot near the top of the order, though – to be fair – he’s really a GREAT number eight hitter.  Andres Blanco returns – a capable infielder.

Finally, you have Aramis Ramirez – as good a hitter as you can find if he’s playing 150 games at third base.  Last year, playing just 82 games, he was as good as expected.  Here’s what makes me nervous – Ramirez turns 32 in June – so he might get back to 140 games, but it could be at a lesser scale.  Chad Tracy is in camp to challenge Bobby Scales for a backup role – else Jeff Baker will be the other option here.  Assuming Ramirez takes up the innings given to others last year, even if Ramirez slips in production by 20 runs, the team will still be better offensively by 10 runs at this position.

As a unit, I see this team declining in offense by ten runs and declining by ten runs defensively.

Outfield:

This is where the Cubs had the biggest failures.  Alfonso Soriano led the group in homers with 20.  Kosuke Fukudome was out of position in center but sensational in right – so to make things better, he needs to stay in right.  But to bring in Marlon Byrd?

Last year, Sam Fuld got a small chance and played well defensively while getting on base at a .400 clip in just 100 at bats or so.  Fuld is NOT going to do that in a full season, but it’s taken the Cubs a long time to get Fuld to the majors after drafting him in the fifth round out of Stanford six years ago.  He’s quick, will bat about .275 to .290, and draw enough walks to be a scary leadoff hitter in front of Lee and Ramirez.  Instead, the Cubs chose to spend money on Marlon Byrd.  Byrd is about four years older, coming off a career year in Texas, and is a liability in centerfield.

If his knees are steady, Soriano could be a pleasant surprise – especially if he agrees to hit sixth and drive in runs rather than pretend to be a leadoff hitter who gets in the way of rallies.  Healthy, he hits .270 with 30 homers.  Another off season, and the Cubs will have an expensive problem for three more years.

Fukudome gets on base and surprises with power.  He’s a good #2 hitter, and his current backup, Xavier Nady – who signed an incentive laden deal on the heels of his multiple shoulder surgeries – would also make for a productive #2 hitter.

Any gains in Soriano’s health and Fukudome’s moving to right full time will be negated by the addition of Marlon Byrd.  This group will likely improve by 20 runs offensively but decline by 20 runs defensively.

Bench:

Kevin Millar will be battling for a pinch hitting role, joining Nady, Baker, Fuld, and Hill in providing one of the deeper and more productive supporting casts in baseball.

Prospects:

If the Cubs have any for 2010, there aren’t many on the 40 man roster – that’s for sure.  This is a veteran club.  On the whole, the prospects are mostly a few years away and only a couple really stand out…

Nobody stood out as a hitter in AAA Iowa (other than Blanco and Fuld), the top pitchers weren’t impressive, though reliever John Gaub had 31.1 solid innings, striking out 40, but walking 16.  Gaub had similar stats (28.2 innings, 40 Ks, 17 walks) in AA.  He’ll get a shot in 2010 – I just don’t know how many innings he’ll get.  Expect Gaub to start in Iowa, though.

Casey Coleman was 14 – 6 with a 3.68 ERA for the AA Tennessee Smokies, but struck out just 84 in 149 innings, so he’s not a long term option.  He is, however, just 21, so if he can find a strikeout pitch, he’ll be on the roster by the end of 2011.  Starlin Castro might be the next big thing, though.  A Dominican shortstop, Castro will turn 20 in spring training, but because the Cubs have options he’ll likely start the year in AA or AAA.  He wasn’t overmatched in 31 AA games last season and had hit .300 or better in rookie ball and in Daytona.  Castro would be my pick as the top prospect in the system.

Daytona had more than just Starlin Castro.  Brandon Guyer hit .347 in half a season in the Florida State League, earning a trip to Tennessee, but he struggled in AA – if he’s going to make it, he has to get it in gear quickly.  Tony Campana is a burner – 55 steals – but it would be nice if he got his OBP a bit higher.  Craig Muschko appeared to turn the corner at Daytona – 19 walks in 103 innings and an improving K rate.  And, Jay Jackson could be the other top prospect – cruising through Daytona with 46 Ks and just 4 walks, moving up to Tennessee where he went 5 – 5 with a decent K rate, and even getting a start at Iowa and winning his only appearance.  A Furman alum, Jackson will make the Cubs in 2010 if for no other reason than to get a cup of coffee in September.  I like him.

2008 #1 draft pick Andrew Cashner made it to Daytona and didn’t disappoint.  Look for him in AA Tennessee, maybe even Iowa for parts of 2010.  Ryan Flaherty, the 1A pick in 2008, will see if he can’t handle more after a 20 homer season at Peoria.  A shortstop with power would look good in Wrigley – but Flaherty is a few years away.  Others in Peoria that may stand out in 2010 will be 2008 draft picks Aaron Shafer and Christopher Carpenter, but the guy with the most stuff might be 2009 Chief Chris Archer, who blew away 119 batters in 109 innings and only allowed 78 hits – with NO homers allowed.

Josh Vitters, the first round pick in 2007, struggled at Daytona after a solid half season in Peoria.  He’ll get a second chance at A+ ball this year – but he’s just 20 and has time to get rolling.  Tyler Colvin, once a first round pick out of Clemson in 2006, got to the majors after shuffling out of the prospect picture.  At 25, he’s running out of time – and as an outfielder, the Cubs seem to like older players…

I should note that the other minor league prospect moving up through the ranks is manager Ryne Sandberg.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  After a year in Peoria, he moved up to Tennessee and will start 2010 as the Iowa manager.  If the Cubs get off to a slow start, he’s being groomed to replace Lou Piniella.

Outlook:

The Cubs certainly have the star power to compete, but the cracks that showed up in 2010 weren’t necessarily filled by young new help.  Instead, the Cubs have essentially the same team with one difference – Marlon Byrd instead of Milton Bradley.

I see the Cubs scoring a few more runs than last year – as many as 740, but allowing a few more, too – 700.  That works out to 85 or 86 wins (85.5, but if you carry out another decimal point, you’d round down).  With an improving Milwaukee and a still very good St. Louis, that’s probably good for third place – and at some point, the end of Lou Piniella’s tenure in Chicago.  With a slow start, he could be gone as early as June 1.

However, the guy responsible for Piniella and the rest of the roster is General Manager Jim Hendry.  With a new ownership group in town, when Lou leaves he’ll have someone to hold open the door – Hendry will likely be shown that same door.

Top NL Centerfielders in 2009

Matt Kemp (LAD):  The best centerfielder in baseball for 2009.  Hit close to .300 in Dodger Stadium with power and some patience.  As an outfielder, he’s graceful and fast – which also helps him steal bases.  And, he’s just getting his career started.  (120.9 Runs Created, 15.4 Runs Saved = 136.27 Total Run Production)

Mike Cameron (MIL):  Now with Boston, Cameron had the same type season he’s had for a decade now.   Hits for decent power, draws a few walks, doesn’t run as much as he used to – and still plays a mean centerfield.  Time may be running out, but he’s been very, very good for a long time.  (91.4 Runs Created, 12.7 Runs Saved = 104.12 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (WAS):  I mentioned him with the left fielders because that’s where he played in Pittsburgh, but he was equally impressive defensively in Washington as a centerfielder.  And, as a hitter, he was electrifying as a National.  One hopes he returns and leads the team with about 110 runs scored.  (76.2 Runs Created + 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.1 Total Run Production)

Michael Bourn (HOU):  Got a lot of hits and a few walks helping to a .355 OBP.  Steals a lot of bases (61) but for a burner isn’t the same defensively as Cameron.  Still – a valuable commodity on a team that could use a few more players of his production.  (98.0 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 99.19 Total Run Production)

Nate McLouth (PIT/ATL):  Even hitting 20 homers with a .350+ OBP, it seemed like an offseason for McClouth.  Missed more than a month of games – so if he gets back to 150 games, he’ll move up two or three notches.  (84.4 Runs Created, 0.6 Runs Saved = 85.0 Total Run Production)

Tony Gwynn (SD):  The only centerfielder with 800 or more innings to make 3 plays per nine, JR doesn’t hit like his dad, but he moves like the younger version of his dad.  In San Diego, that helps a lot.  There’s some room to improve here, but without any power, he needs to get his OBP near .400 to be among the great ones.  (57.0 Runs Created, 25.15 Runs Saved = 82.20 Total Run Production)

Kosuke Fukudome (CHC):  Not really a centerfielder, as the Cubs found out.  Gets on base, but really isn’t that good a hitter, and a mild disappointment to the Bleacher Bums.  On the other hand, new centerfielder Marlon Byrd was less productive than Fukudome in 2009.  (75.7 Runs Created, 1.88 Runs Saved = 77.56 Total Run Production)

Shane Victorino (PHI):  Has become an offensive force with midrange power and speed, but looking at the defensive stats, maybe he should go back to right and let Jayson Werth try his hand at center.  Either that, or he just needs to take charge more…  (102.9 Runs Created, -25.6 Runs Saved = 77.31 Total Run Production)

I mentioned Marlon Byrd.  The new Cubs centerfielder would rank here based on 2009 production…

Cody Ross (FLA):  A fan favorite, but isn’t really fast enough to cover center – a heck of a right fielder, though…  Has some power, swings at a lot of stuff – does it all with a smile that every mom would be proud of.  (79.9 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 73.39 Total Run Production)

Carlos Beltran (NYM):  Still ranks highly despite missing 81 games because, well, he’s still an incredible talent.  Was off to perhaps his best start ever before the knees gave out – .325 and maybe 20 homers with a killer OBP and 20 steals.  If he’s healthy, he’s the top player at the position.  A big IF, though…  (68.5 Runs Created, 4.5 Runs Saved = 73.01 Total Run Production)

Andrew McCutchen (PIT):  There’s a lot to love – and one wishes that Pittsburgh could have kept him, Jason Bay, and McClouth in the outfield just to see how many runs they could have produced.  He’s got some learning to do in the outfield, but I liked what I saw in 2009.  Power, Speed, Patience – the three cornerstones of a great player.  (78.2 Runs Created, -13.9 Runs Saved = 64.32 Total Run Production)

Colby Rasmus (STL):  The Cardinals think he’s the real deal and he’s certainly off to a great start.  I don’t think he’s as fast as McCutchen and in a few years, the power will even out.  As such, I think McCutchen will be the greater star.  McCutchen had the better batting average, OBP and slugging numbers – but Rasmus looked a little more polished in the field.  (62.5 Runs Created, 1.4 Runs Saved = 63.91 Total Run Production)

Aaron Rowand (SF):  May have lost a step, and his offensive numbers (as expected) have slipped some since arriving in San Francisco from Philadelphia.  No better than a run-of-the-mill outfielder these days.  (66.2 Runs created, -3.5 Runs Saved = 62.67 Total Run Production)

Angel Pagan (NYM):  Beltran’s usual replacement, hit .306 with some power and a little patience.  Isn’t quite in Beltran’s league as a fielder, but the Mets certainly could have done worse.  He could start for a few other teams.  (63.5 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 58.82 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Played a few hundred innings in center – not too badly.  He’s the third rookie of this group (Fowler, below, would be fourth) and he might not be too bad either…  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Dexter Fowler (COL):  Scrappy hitter, steals a few bases, but otherwise is about a league average offensive performer – not as much range as you would like.  Fowler was nowhere near responsible for the return of Colorado to the playoffs.  (62.0 Runs Created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 52.93 Total Run Production)

Rick Ankiel (STL):  Now plying his trade in Kansas City, the oft-injured Ankiel’s story seems to be heading in the wrong direction, wouldn’t you think?  Batting average fell, power has fallen since being tagged as a steroid user, and his OBP was .287.  Fielded better than other years, but missed a lot of innings…  Lord help the Royals.  (43.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 51.59 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gomez, the Twins centfielder who takes over for Mike Cameron in Milwaukee, would rank here.

Elijah Dukes (WAS):  Got some time here – not horrible, but not really what the Nationals had in mind.  Could still work out as a corner outfielder or fourth outfielder.  (48.8 Runs Created, -1.4 Runs Saved = 47.47 Total Run Production)

Willy Taveras (CIN):  What happened?  Suddenly lost his batting stroke and finished at .240.  Ouch.  Will find a job as a fifth outfielder, pinch hitter, but probably will never be a regular again.  Unless Kansas City calls.  (36.0 Runs Created, 10.8 Runs Saved = 46.78 Total Run Production)

Chris Dickerson (CIN):  Played the fourth outfielder role, but should be the starter in center for 2010.  Gets on base, runs, covers ground in the outfield.  Not quite a leadoff hitter, but not a problem there or in the two spot.  (38.2 Runs Created, 7.8 Runs Saved = 45.98 Total Run Production)

Willie Harris (WAS):  Can play all three outfield positions, gets on base even with a low batting average and has pop in the bat.  Valuable bench guy for any team…  (48.4 Runs Created, -4.3 Runs Saved = 44.11 Total Run Production)

Chris Young (ARI):  This is what happens when a .240 hitter goes into an extended slump – his whole game suffers.  Hits for power on those occasions he makes contact, but was a zero in every other way.  (39.6 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 43.02 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  If he played in center, instead of Fowler, they’d lose nothing defensively and if his bat returns, would get some more offense, too.  I don’t PROMISE that, but I do believe that.  (40.0 Runs Created, 0.0 Runs Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Jordan Schafer (ATL):  Injured after earning a spot in the lineup, spent too long trying to play through a wrist injury and killed his first shot at a regular position…  Now has a fight to get his job back now that McLouth is in town.  Can fly in the outfield – will get a job somewhere.  (16.3 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 24.03 Total Run Production)

Cameron Maybin (FLA):  Another burner in the outfield – has some power but needs to make more contact.  Will be the starter in Florida for 2010, but needs to hit in months that start with something other than S.  (21.7 Runs Created, 2.2 Runs Saved = 23.95 Total Run Production)

Top AL Centerfielders in 2009

In case you were curious, Boston’s new outfielder, Mike Cameron, produced more total runs (offensively and defensively combined) than any other AL centerfielder in 2009.  I would never have guessed this had I not run the numbers…  I don’t think that this will hold when he gets to the AL East, but you never know.  He could surprise us by staying young and avoiding curveballs.

Franklin Gutierrez (SEA):  A key player in Seattle’s improvement…  Mid-range power but has room to grow.  Defensively was as good as advertised.  His lone weakness would appear to be his lack of patience at the plate.  Cleveland is going to miss this guy…  (87.0 Runs Created, 14.4 Runs Saved = 101.34 Total Run Production)

Denard Span (MIN):  A valuable leadoff hitter with decent range in the outfield – had a OBP near .400 and stole 23 bases.  You gotta like that kind of production.  Span is one of the biggest reasons that the Twins won the AL Central…  (94.9 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 99.15 Total Run Production)

Ryan Sweeney (OAK):  Can play this position, but is probably destined to play in right…  Would rank here if he was the starter.

Torii Hunter (LAA):  Missed time with injuries, else would have ranked #1.  By my count, this is the first time that he’s been better than average defensively in the last four seasons – and it could have been the time off.  Hunter’s season was very good – average was up, OBP and SLG were up.  However, that makes me think he might be due for a step back.  Doesn’t make me less of a fan – just more of a realist.  (87.4 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 95.07 Total Run Production)

Curtis Granderson (DET):  Heads to the Yankees in a period of decline.  His batting average fell below .250, though he works for walks, hits for power, and steals bases.  Still – he was below average defensively and has slipped each of the last two seasons following his breakout 2007 season.  He’s a gas to watch play – I hope he finds his way back to greatness.  (96.7 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 92.89 Total Run Production)

If you are a Detroit fan, you are probably going to want to know more about your new center fielder, Austin Jackson.  The Yankee prospect hit .300 and stole 24 bases at AAA Scranton last year.  Jackson has little power and if he’s a burner, isn’t stealing 60 bases but occasionally hitting the 30 mark – and he doesn’t get thrown out a lot.  He does, however, strike out a bit.  I like Scott Sizemore more than this guy, but he might be okay.  He’ll likely cover more ground than Granderson did – but I think he’ll be lucky to generate 80 runs of offense in 550 at bats without finding a way to get a few more extra base hits.

Adam Jones (BAL):  A poor man’s Franklin Gutierrez.  Great glove, medium range power, would like a higher batting average and OBP, can run the bases.  (73.4 Runs Created, 16.44 Runs Saved = 89.79 Total Run Production)

Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS):  In a year where he had awful defensive stats, he tied the record for outfield putouts in a game.  Go figure.  Led AL in steals with 70…  Gets to play the Monster in 2010…  Let’s say that Ellsbury will look better defensively and maintain his offensive production as a left fielder.  Last year, Jason Bay was worth more than 130 runs of production.  At BEST, Ellsbury will be worth 100.  That’s a three game difference in the standings.  (102.8 Runs Created, -16.5 Runs Saved = 86.28 Total Run Production)

Scott Podsednik (CWS):  Now in Kansas City – and God Forbid the Sox actually put Juan Pierre here.  Podsednik was pretty much an Ellsbury clone.  Ellsbury’s numbers: .301/.415/.358 – Podsednik’s numbers: .304/.412/.354.  Podsednik stole only 30 bases and got fewer total plate appearances – and plays in a slightly better park for hitters.  Still – not much difference.  Podsednik, however, made up for the offensive production with a solid year defensively.  The Royals should be happy with Studriffic Podsednik – but even with that isn’t more than a one or two year option.  (81.5 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 86.24 Total Run Production)

Grady Sizemore (CLE):  Tried to play the whole season, but eventually his body broke down and he needed surgery on just about every part of his body.  Must have happened after the pictures were taken…  Anyway…  Sizemore bounced back a little with his range and despite the .248 batting average was able to generate offense because he works the count for walks and hits for some power.  He was a poor man’s Curtis Granderson with a long DL trip.  (75.3 Runs Created, 1.9 Runs Saved = 77.22 Total Run Production)

Alex Rios, if he played a full season in center, would probably rank about here.  Cited by some as having one of the worst contracts in baseball, Rios turned one year in his youth into a multi-year mammoth contract.  Forced to play right field because the Blue Jays insisted on playing Vernon Wells in center (wasting 20 runs a year defensively that their pitchers would like back) – Rios would have been a top flight defender with tolerable offense and, as such, would likely rank near the top of this list.  He’s no longer a GREAT centerfielder – he’s probably league average – and there’s a chance that his bat will bounce back.  At this point, however, he’s likely staying in right for the Sox and one hopes he doesn’t struggle to hit .200 as he did after arriving in Chicago.

Marlon Byrd (TEX):  Look at your new center fielder, Chicago.  For the first time ever, Byrd reached out and hit 20 homers.  He might do that in Wrigley Field if the wind blows out – but more likely he’ll be around 12.  He does hit a few doubles though.  His OBP is league average (.334) and that won’t change next year.  And, he’s miscast as a centerfielder.  Granted – this is still better than having to put Kosuke Fukudome out there or even Sam Fuld, but if Marlon Byrd is a championship level player, I don’t see it.  Jim Hendry, stop getting players from Texas.  (85.5 Runs Created, -11.6 Runs Saved = 73.83 Total Run Production)

The new center fielder in Texas will be Julio Borbon, a burner out of the University of Tennessee who has been a consistent .310 hitter in the minors and even hit .312 in his two months with the Rangers.  He can fly – he’s my early pick to lead the AL in stolen bases.  Not sure if he’ll lead off, too. I DON’T expect him to have the defensive impact that Elvis Andrus had, but playing him there where he has a chance to be league average, as opposed to playing Hamilton or Byrd there will still help the team.

Rajai Davis (OAK):  He ranks pretty low here, but give him 1300 innings in center and 600 at bats.  Unless he gets a case of Jerome Walton disease, he’s going to help the cause a lot.  Decent OBP and batting average but no power, covers enough ground.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s given the lead off spot, gets 180 – 200 hits, and scores 110 runs.  (69.1 Runs Created, 2.4 Runs Saved = 71.58 Total Run Production)

B.J. Upton (TB):  Coming out of the World Series, didn’t you think Upton was on the verge of becoming a superstar?  It didn’t happen.  Injuries sapped his power, his batting average, and his range in the outfield.  He’s an electrifying player – but last year wasn’t his thing.  (73.1 Runs Created, -2.2 Runs Saved = 70.92 Total Run Production)

Vernon Wells (TB):  When I listed Alex Rios as having one of the worst contracts in baseball, it’s got NOTHING on the deal that Toronto gave Vernon Wells.  Slipping with the bat, has been a problem with his poor range in center.  The time has come to find a speedster to take over center field for the last remaining team in Canada.  15 – 66 – .260 isn’t going to cut it if you are costing your team more than 15 runs a season with the glove…  And don’t let the total runs created number fool you.  The average hitter generates 5 runs for every 27 outs made.  Wells is around 4.7 (84.6 Runs Created, -16.8 Runs Saved = 67.83 Total Run Production)

Melky Cabrera (NYY):  The job belongs to Granderson or Brett Gardner now.  Your new Atlanta Brave centerfielder was your league average offensive player (13 – 68 – .274) with slightly below average range.  Unless he has a significant step up left in his body, he’s not going to be a championship calibre player.  He’s better than what Kansas City played out there, but that’s not saying very much.  Gardner has better range than Cabrera (6.6 runs saved in fewer innings) – and if he can push his OBP up near .400, might be a better hitter, too.  (71.5 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 65.00 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gomez (MIN):  Now in Minnesota, Gomez was an AMAZING defensive player, but can’t hit a lick.  No average (.229), no power (3 homers, .337 SLG), no walks (.287 OBP), runs a little.  If he hits .260 and gets his OBP closer to .340, the Brewers will get a steal.  As such, they get a #8 hitter who makes all the pitchers look good.  (31.1 Runs Created, 20.0 Runs Saved = 51.02 Total Run Production)

Mitch Maier (KC):  Coco Crisp was mightily disappointing – injured a lot, didn’t hit when he did play, and wasn’t quite league average as a fielder.  Crisp is destined four fourth outfielder status somewhere after this year…  Mitch Maier played the most innings, was pretty good with the leather, and while he didn’t hit much, still produced more than 50 runs.  He’ll be a fourth outfielder in KC and get innings that Podsednik misses.

Josh Hamilton (TEX):  Suffered through a ton of shoulder and stomach and groin injuries – isn’t really a centerfielder to be fair and should be in right field.  Struggled to produce at the pace he did in 2008 – in fact was slightly below average when all was said and done.  Pulling for another comeback as a right fielder.  (45.0 Runs Created, -3.8 Runs Saved = 41.22 Total Run Production)

NOTES:  Having done this, none of the centerfielders had a breakout season the way the other positions had someone who was in the 130 runs produced level…  It’ll be interesting to see if anyone can take a step up in 2010.  My money is on Denard Span.

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.