2010 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Last Five Years:

2009: 63 – 98 (5th AL East)
2008: 68 – 93
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 70 – 92
2005: 74 – 88

The Baltimore Orioles have had a worse record each year since winning 78 games in 2004 and haven’t posted a winning season since 1997, when they won 98 games.  What in the name of Earl Weaver is going on here???

Runs Scored: 741 (11th, AL)
Runs Allowed: 876 (Last, AL)

Season Recap:

Another year of rebuilding, another year of trying out prospects, and another year of being battered in road games, where the Orioles were 25 – 56.  Ouch.

Despite this, the Orioles are starting to show signs that they are accumulating the type of talent that will make them competitive – which would be good enough in the AL Central, but not in the AL East.

Just looking at the monthly splits, the team batted pretty well all year but had power surges in May and August.  What really happened was that the team slugged enough to help the pitchers in the beginning of the season, but the  pitching really left them after the all-star break.  The team ERA was a tolerable 4.55 in July when the Orioles were off – winning just 9 of 25 decisions.  Then it went to 5.30 in August as Baltimore lost 20 of 30 games, and finished at 6.22 (!) in September when the team lost 20 of 26 decisions.  Were it not for a four game winning streak in October, the Orioles would have lost 100 games.

So – looking ahead quickly, the Orioles need to figure out how to make up for a 135 run gap between offense and defense that would allow them to get to .500.

Pitching:

Jeremy Guthrie, who would look good on most teams, got to 200 innings in his 33 starts and wasn’t horrible despite his 10 – 17 record.  He’s not a league average pitcher in part because he doesn’t strike out enough batters – just 110 on the season.

The rest of the rotation struggled.  Rich Hill, brought in as sort of a reclamation project, gave the Orioles 13 awful starts (7.80 ERA), David Hernandez was called up for 19 starts that were a bit better, but he was whacked around to a 4 – 10 record.  Koji Uehara started off okay, but went down to a shoulder injury.  Prospect Jason Berken didn’t look ready – 24 starts and a 6.54 ERA.  Adam Eaton was added to the rotation and was predictably awful (2 – 5, 8.56).  Mark Hendrickson was allowed to start 11 times but was better in relief.

However, Brad Bergesen came up and won 7 of 12 decisions, and saved his team 16 runs over 123.1 innings.  Brian Matusz was given 8 starts and was league average, winning five of seven decisions.  Chris Tillman wasn’t awful.

The bullpen had George Sherrill‘s 20 saves and a solid 2.40 ERA, but shipped him to Los Angeles, putting Jim Johnson in the closer position where he was barely tolerable – not necessarily helping down the stretch.  Danys Baez gave the Orioles 72 decent innings.  Brian Bass was asked to work a lot of long relief.

Working against those four were Matt Albers (5.51 ERA), former closer Chris Ray (7.27 ERA) and a few other small time tryouts.

Looking ahead to 2010, the Orioles have to start by finding 400 better innings of pitching.  Kevin Millwood was acquired from Texas – Millwood was solid for five months and if he can keep his ERA under 4.50, would represent a 40 run improvement over 2009.  Guthrie gets the second spot, and Bergesen and Matusz will get more starts.  If they stay healthy and make 30 starts, that’s another 40 runs better.  Chris Tillman is expected to be a prize – and certainly will be better than eight Adam Eaton starts.

So, a realist sees the potential to make up at least 60 runs on last year, and an optimist might see 100 runs of improvement.

The bullpen adds former Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to the closer spot.  Gonzalez CAN be a good closer, and he CAN be a bit inconsistent.  Still, adding the healthy arm to the mix will be a step up.  Former Padre Cla Meredith will also help out, taking on the Baez innings.  Will Ohman comes over from the NL – and I would rather see him than, say, Matt Albers, who is still around and on the active roster as of 4/1.

I don’t see the bullpen being that much better than last year – and certainly nowhere near as deep as the top three teams in the division.

Catching:

Matt Wieters is here – the cover of Sports Illustrated in March – and could EXPLODE on the scene and make the all-star team.  Wieters didn’t disappoint as a rookie, showing a little power and hitting .288.  He represents a step up over Chad Moeller and Greg Zaun, and has far more upside.  The new back up is Craig Tatum.  Wieters does need to improve is caught stealing rate (barely league average) but is more mobile and made fewer mistakes per game than the two veterans in 2009.

Infield:

Last year, Aubrey Huff was merely ordinary and not producing at the rate the Orioles had hoped – just 13 – 72 – .253.  First baseman are supposed to create 100 runs of offense, and Huff was responsible for just 55.  Michael Aubrey and Garrett Atkins are around now.  Aubrey is an oft-injured Indian farm hand who was stuck behind Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez (among others), but could be a surprise performer.  Atkins has been in decline for a few years and when asked to backup Todd Helton at first looked awkward.  I’d rather play Aubrey and keep Atkins on the bench.

Brian Roberts remains a remarkably productive offensive force at the top of the lineup, but his bad back is affecting his already below average range.  The Orioles don’t really have another choice (Robert Andino could field it, but not hit), so they have to hope that Roberts can keep his back loose and mobile.

At short, Cesar Izturis provided a great glove with no bat in the mold of Mark Belanger – hitting .253 with no power and, even worse, drawing just 18 walks in 114 games.  At least he keeps the pitchers happy.

Melvin Mora looked very old last year – only eight homers, and barely generating 50 runs of offense.  In his place, the Orioles are returning former Oriole Miguel Tejada (who is older than Mora) to play third.  Tejada had a solid season at short for Houston last year, but agreed to the move here.  Mora is usually pretty solid defensively, but Tejada could be his match and will certainly provide a bit more offense.

Looking at this pragmatically, and assuming Michael Aubrey gets the first shot at first base, there could be 30 more runs here (35 more at third, 15 more at first, offset by a potential decline at second base).  If Atkins plays, it’s probably only 15 runs better than last year, and that’s offset by Atkins bungling the position defensively, too.

Outfield:

With Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, the Orioles have a pretty productive group here.

Markakis is a dependable source of hits and runs, though his range isn’t enough to make up for his rocket arm.  I do believe, however, that this will be his breakout offensive season.  Jones needs to play 150 games, and if he does, will make a run at 20 – 20, if not 30 – 30.  Pie can field any of the three positions and isn’t a problem with the bat, though he’s not a well rounded hitter.  However, Nolan Reimold showed power and patience and if given 500 at bats, might hit 25 homers.  Fifth outfielder Luke Scott gets to be the DH – a power source from the left side of the plate, though he needs a platoon partner.

Looking ahead, I see no reason that this group can’t find 50 more runs of offense by (a) staying in the lineup, and (b) continuing to show progress.

Bench:

Robert Andino and Garrett Atkins in the infield and Felix Pie in the outfield are joined by super sub Ty Wiggington, who could also be a regular first baseman and help the club.  Luis Montanez gets to be an extra outfielder when needed.

Prospects:

The best guy not already listed above that played at AAA Norfolk might be second baseman Justin Turner.  Turner hit .300 with a .362 OBP and has tolerable speed.  He’s NOT as good as Brian Roberts, but if he is forced to play, I think he will outhit Andino and might surprise you with how good a fielder he is.  He’s certainly better with the glove than Roberts at this stage.  Turner is a Cal State Fullerton grad, and a former Reds draft pick (7th Round, 2006).

The best pitchers in Norfolk were Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who had solid runs and shots with the parent club last year.  Another option is reliever Kam Mickolio.  They all have the tools, they just need to put things together, which isn’t as easy as it looks – especially in the AL East.

A couple of Bowie Baysox (AA) pitchers to look for will be Brandon Erbe (44 hits allowed in 73 innings, but control issues) and Jacob Arrieta (70 Ks in 59 innings across 11 starts).  Give them a year or two and they might round out the Orioles rotation.  Another young reliever, Steven Johnson, might start the year at AAA.  The best hitter going through AA was Brandon Snyder, who pounded pitchers to a .343 batting average with 10 homers in 201 at bats, but appeared a bit overmatched at AAA.  A former catcher (and 2005 #1 pick), Snyder is getting time at first base now and if both Aubrey and Atkins aren’t producing in June, Snyder is just a hot start away from making the roster.

Richie Hebner managed former Wofford College slugger Brandon Waring and the Frederick Keys in 2009.  Waring is a third baseman who hits the ball a LONG way, and seems to be making progress in reducing his strikeout numbers.  Another former Reds prospect, Waring is still a couple of years away and should be ready for a look when Tejada hits 40.  Former FAU grad Robert Widlansky hit .340 for Frederick, but this was the first time he had played this well.

Among the pitchers, Brian Matusz already made it from Frederick to the bigs, and 22-year-old Zach Britton looks ready to try on AA after a year with 131 Ks in 140 innings.  Reliever Pat Egan still showed great control, but may not have enough gas to make it to the bigs.

Forecasting 2010:

You have to like Baltimore’s chances of moving the wins needle back in the right direction.  The potential to shave 60 – 80 runs defensively is there, and if Tejada doesn’t turn out to be 45 at third base, the offense could improve by 75 to 90 runs.  What is working against the Orioles is the top of the division – three teams all worthy of 90 wins.  I think the Orioles are extremely capable of winning more games than they lose – but might not just because they are in the AL East where good isn’t good enough.  So, even though the system says 83 – 79  I think 79 – 83 might be more in line with the final record and I am going to go against what the system says.

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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)

Top AL Third Basemen in 2009

Evan Longoria (TB):  No sophomore slump here, huh?  One of the better offensive performers (33 – 113 – .281), draws a few walks, and is as good a defender at his position as there is in the game.  Other than a couple of first basemen and maybe Joe Mauer, nobody was more valuable in the American League.  (114.0 Runs Scored, 31.91 Runs Saved = 146.76 Total Run Production)

If he was a full time third baseman, Kevin Youkilis would rate next.

Chone Figgins (LAA):  Gets on base, runs the bases well, and had an above average season with the glove – a sign that he’s getting more comfortable over there now that he’s not being used like a super utility player. Seattle will like having him at the front of the line up.  (104.3 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 111.86 Total Run Production.)

If you are an Angels fan, you probably want to know more about Brandon Wood.  Wood has been the power hitting infielder in waiting for what seems like a small eternity.  Wood was a first round draft pick back in 2003, and has had seasons at Rancho Cucamonga and Salt Lake City that would suggest that he’s the next Troy Glaus.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  Now, he’s struggled to hit .190 in the majors because he’s spent a lot of time going back and forth between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.  He’s really only had one month where he got some regular MLB playing time – and that month he hit about .250 with a little power.  And that’s where I think he’ll be.  As a rule of thumb, you can usually look at PCL stats and knock 50 points of the batting average and about 40% of the power off the top.  In three seasons of AAA ball, Wood has hit between .270 and .295 with 25 homer power.  That translates to about 15 homers and a .245 batting average.  I’d like to think, hitting at the bottom of the lineup, he’d be okay.  Wood might do a bit better than that – the way Kendry Morales jumped up and hit like a monster.  A bit better than that is 20 homers and .260 – which is decent enough if he brings a solid glove and improves his strikeout/walk ratio.  Wood turns 25 in March, which is a bit long in the tooth for a prospect.

Alex Rodriguez (NYY):  Missed a month following hip surgery, and then needed some time to get back into playing shape.  After the all-star break, he was dominating at times – including during the playoffs.  Is getting better defensively, but has never been an above average fielder.  Would he still be this good had he not spent years on the juice?  (100.3 Runs Created, -6.50 Runs Saved = 93.76 Total Run Production)

Jhonny Peralta (CLE):  As a hitter, he’s declining but tolerable.  As a fielder, he was surprisingly solid at third base.  I don’t know if he’s a long term solution, but what else do the Indians have?  Besides, I’m ranking him as the fourth most productive third baseman in the AL! Andy Marte is penciled in as a backup here and at first base – and in more than a year’s worth of MLB at bats has struggled to hit .220.  Marte looked good at Columbus in AAA, but so far he has not progressed beyond prospect.  (75.6 Runs Created, 10.6 Runs Saved, 86.19 Total Run Production)

Adrian Beltre (SEA):  Couldn’t stay healthy, and his bat suffered mightily.  He’s now at the age where the chances of him returning to his 2006-2008 form are getting slimmer, but his stats might come back playing in Fenway.  He’s never been a GREAT hitter, but he’s always been above average until last year.  He remains a great fielder, though – and he will help Boston’s pitchers.  (55.5 Runs Created, 28.6 Runs Saved = 84.14 Total Run Production)

Brandon Inge (DET):  His body broke down as the season progressed, but he still played in 161 games.  I’m just not so sure he was helping in, say, September.  A surprising number of homers made up for a lack of batting average.  He remains a pretty good fielder.  (71.9 Runs Created, 9.4 Runs Saved, 81.31 Total Run Production)

Melvin Mora (BAL):  Now in Colorado.  Like Beltre, his bat fell in the tank.  Defensively, he was solid – so he can still help.  He’s not getting any younger, though…  Welcome back, Miguel Tejada, who – if he doesn’t age two more years – should be a step up here.  (51.6 Runs Created, 21.70 Runs Saved, 73.32 Total Run Production)

Adam Kennedy (OAK):  Played all over the infield, but had the most innings here.  He’s really NOT a third baseman and having been signed to play second base for Washington, is returning to his old home…  Kevin Kouzmanoff arrives from San Diego to play for the As, and Eric Chavez could always come back from injuries to play for a month at some point in the season.  Kouz is NOT a step up from what Kennedy did overall – and if we ranked him using the numbers he put up in San Diego, would rank in this exact same spot anyway.

Mike Lowell (BOS):  His hip injuries have become problematic, but he’s more productive than most.  Last year’s fielding numbers were below average and his offensive numbers weren’t great but still above the league norm.  Somebody is going to give him 400 at bats and he’s not going to be a problem.  I still predict that he’ll join the Marlins radio booth in a few years…  (69.7 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 65.51 Total Run Production)

Gordon Beckham (CWS):  Actually, not a bad tally for a rookie and if he were staying at third, I’d like his chances to move into the top five in this group next year.  Instead, the White Sox are moving Beckham to second base and giving his job to Mark Teahen – which isn’t a great idea (I’d rather have kept Beckham at third and signed Orlando Hudson), and it might take a while for the new infield to gel.  Beckham’s OBP and SLG numbers were solid.  I like him.  (60.5 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 64.67 Total Run Production)

Michael Young (TEX):  Newly found power source gave Young perhaps his best offensive season ever.  However, he looked out of position at third after years as a shortstop and his overall production numbers dropped him to eleventh.  Hopefully he can maintain the offense and improve his range in 2010.  (102.8 Runs Created, -39.0 Runs Saved = 63.83 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR):  Had a remarkably productive run for Toronto, hitting .320 with a little power.  He was so good, Toronto sent him to Cincinnati…  Like Lowell, you wonder how many years he has left, but if he can hit like this, he’s got plenty.  Glove is no longer a strong suit.  Edwin Encarnacion may not have this job for long unless he finds some stability and to be honest, this is a step down for Toronto.  (63.2 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 57.61 Total Run Production).

Joe Crede (MIN):  The best of what Minnesota threw out there (Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, Nick Punto), Crede isn’t horrible but he isn’t dependably healthy either.  Minnesota will go in a different direction, but it’s hard to say what that direction will be.  As of this writing, Harris is listed at the top of the depth chart but he is NOT a third baseman.  (38.2 Runs Created, 6.8 Runs Saved = 45.01 Total Run Production)

Mark Teahen (KC):  Alex Gordon will get his old job back, but it’s not like Gordon has been as advertised since arriving with the Royals three years ago.  Teahen struggled mightily in the field for some reason – he’s usually pretty dependable.  Now, he’s a White Sox third baseman, and that may not be a good thing.  We’ll see.  (67.4 Runs Created, -23.9 Runs Saved = 43.53 Total Run Production)

2009 AL Gold Glove and Brick Glove Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Sort.

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

Right Field:

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

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

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

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

Center Field:

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

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

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

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

Left Field:

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

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

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

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

Shortstop:

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

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

-9.2 -14.2 Derek Jeter (NYY)

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

Third Base:

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

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

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

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

Second Base:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Base:

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

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

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

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

Sheets in Bed With A’s; Tejada Returns to O’s – and other Hot Stove News

Ben Sheets, having missed all of 2009 recovering from elbow surgery, has a new home in Oakland – signing a $10 million, one year deal.  Sheets gets to mentor a young staff while rebuilding his own street cred.  It’s a little expensive, but I like this deal.  My guess is that they’ll give him some extra time to recover between starts and he might only get about 160 innings, but those will be good innings.  Welcome Back!  [FoxSports]

Miguel Tejada returns to Baltimore – the passed physical making it official.  Tejada returns four years older than he was two years ago…  And, despite having a pretty good year at short, Tejada moves to third base where he will replace Melvin Mora.  Still a good contact hitter, Tejada’s power has regularly slid since being implicated in the steroids show.  Where once he threatened 30 homers regularly, he might hit 12 now.  Tejada’s deal?  1 year, $6 million.  [ESPN]

Jim Thome stays in the AL Central – but not with the White Sox.  The Minnesota Twins hired the DH to fill out the bench – pinch hitting and occasionally playing first base or DH as required.  The deal?  1 year, $1.5 million and incentives.  The man can still hit.  [ESPN]

Jon Garland stays in southern California, signing a one-year, $5.3 million deal with San Diego.  Garland is a dependable arm, not a world beater, but usually league average.  He MIGHT be a better fantasy choice this year because of his home park, but he might not get many wins…  I like the signing on the whole, though.  [ESPN]

Xavier Nady may wind up a platoon player with the Chicago Cubs.  Nady is coming off of shoulder injuries, but was making progress as a hitter into 2008 when the trouble struck.  [FoxSports]

Other Quick Hits from the MLB Transaction Wire…

The Dodgers signed Brad Ausmus to back up Russell Martin behind the plate.

Texas traded outfielder Greg Golson to the Yankees for minor leaguer Mitch Hilligoss.  Not a prospect in the group…

St. Louis signed pitcher Rich Hill – and if I were to bet on somebody to make a surprise step up into valued producer, it’s Rich Hill.

Happy Birthday…

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:  Bob Emslie (1859), Otis Clymer (1876) a middling but quick outfielder who was a minor league teammate of Rube Waddell, Milt Gaston (1896), Bob Barrett and Bibb Falk (1899), John Lowenstein (1947), Tom Trebelhorn (1948), Phil Plantier (1969), and Gavin Floyd (1983).

2009 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles
2008: 68-93 (5th AL East, 28.5 games back)
Runs Scored: 782
Runs Allowed: 869

With the trade of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard to Houston and Seattle respectively for prospects, 2008 represented the first year of a rebuilding plan in the American League’s toughest division.  But these Orioles weren’t half bad.  Sure, they were 22 – 50 inside their division, but actually above .500 against everyone else (46 – 43).  The reason?  The Orioles had a decent offense and a handful of young pitchers finding their way.  It’s a good time to be a Baltimore fan – just don’t expect to make the playoffs until a rotation anchor or two can be found.

Looking Back on 2008

With 782 runs scored, the Orioles finished in the middle of the league in terms of scoring – just a few runs behind the Yankees.  What they lacked was pitching and defense – having allowed 869 runs, which was next to last in the American League.

Baltimore got off to a great start – winning sixteen in April and fighting for the division lead for the first month.  Things slowed in May thanks to a streak against their own division where they lost ten of thirteen, but a solid June followed.  Even though the leaders in the division were starting to pull away, the Orioles were still five games over .500 as late as June 20th.  Heck, if Toronto had a 39 – 34 record at this point in the season, the way they finished, the Blue Jays might have won a playoff spot.

Instead, the Orioles got cold after the all-star break.  Ending a five-game losing streak had them at .500 for the last time on July 11th, and from that point on, Baltimore was a non-factor, losing a few games each month to .500 until September, when playing rookies killed the overall record.  The Orioles went 5 – 20 to close the season, ruining what had been, until then, a reasonably successful summer in Camden Yards.

Tell me about that offense

Behind the plate, the new Cincinnati Red, Ramon Hernandez, held his own.  He provided a little power, and a .250+ batting average, but not much else. Hernandez has actually slipped some from his performance in 2006, which didn’t help, but his backup, Guillermo Quiroz, couldn’t hit .200 in 134 at bats.

The infield was reasonably strong at two spots.  Third baseman Melvin Mora had a decent enough season, driving in 104 runs and batting .285.  Second sacker Brian Roberts is a great leadoff hitter, just missing .300, hitting 51 doubles, adding some triples and homers, a lot of walks, and 40 stolen bases in 50 chances.  Kevin Millar struggled to hit .234, but even that had a few homers and some walks.  For the position, that’s not good enough and he’s likely to move to a bench role with another team in 2009.  Where the Orioles really struggled was finding a consistent option at short.  Of the guys playing at least 200 innings (and nobody played more than 400 innings there), the best hitting option was former White Sox prospect Alex Cintron, who hit .286 but with little power or other helpers.  The rest averaged about .200 as a group, including Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum, and Juan Castro.

The outfield featured rookie Adam Jones, who hit .270, but showed room for power potential, a little speed, but not much else at this stage.  As such, he’s mildly below average as a hitter, but if he could step forward one or two notches, he could help.  Luke Scott came over from Houston and hit well enough, with 23 homers and showing some plate discipline.  However, his occasional platoon partner, Jay Payton, struggled at the plate – so the net result wasn’t exactly positive.  Rightfielder Nick Markakis continued to show growth as a future star, hitting for power (20 – 87 – .306) and getting on base.

If Markakis wasn’t the best hitter on the team, it was Aubrey Huff, who had a career season (32 – 108 – .304.)  Both scored about 7.5 runs per 27 outs, and anchored the offense.  Only Oscar Salazar hit well off the bench, and he didn’t have 100 plate appearances.

Defensively:

Baltimore pitchers worked with a defense that was not quite league average…  The league turned converted 68.6% batted balls in play into outs.  Baltimore finished at .68.5%.

Around the horn, Mora and Millar was just a touch above average, while Brian Roberts was just a touch below league average.  Most of the shortstops had decent defensive stats except Bynum, so while the offense at short was lacking, the defense was not.  However, the team was rather weak in terms of turning double plays in part because there were a lot of flyball pitchers and Roberts was working with a different partner most of the season.

Markakis and Scott were a shade off of league average, while Adam Jones was slightly worse than that.  When Jay Payton played, he couldn’t hit but the ball found his glove.  Luis Montanez, however, played three outfield positions and never seemed to be standing where the ball was hit…  Between them all, the outfield was actually below average and with a fly ball staff, this was a problem.

Hernandez had an awful year throwing out runners – 99 of the 123 people who tried to steal were successful.  Throw in the fact that he was slightly above average in terms of mistakes per game and that the staff’s ERA and winning percentage wasn’t very strong, my system suggests that Hernandez was among the weaker catchers in the AL.

Now Pitching…

Only two pitchers had really strong seasons for Baltimore.  Starter Jeremy Guthrie was about 19 runs better than the average pitcher, going 10 – 12, with good control through a few too many balls left the yard.  It was the second solid season for Guthrie, who is far and away the ace of the staff.  Middle reliever Jim Johnson didn’t allow a homer all season, which kept his ERA down, and despite having ordinary walk and strikeout data was also valuable for the Orioles.

Unfortunately, too many guys were WAY below average here.  Among the rotation starters, Brian Burres (-21 runs), Daniel Cabrera (-14 runs), Radhames Liz (-22 runs), Garrett Olson (-29 runs), and Steve Trachsel (-20 runs in 8 starts) got the Orioles in the hole early all too often.  Chris Waters came up and had 11 middling to below average starts with a 5.01 ERA and was an improvement.

The bullpen had Chad Bradford for a while, and George Sherrill had 33 saves, but they weren’t by any means awesome.  Sherrill’s ERA was 4.73, so he wasn’t setting the AL on fire as the Orioles’ fireman.  Most of the other relievers, including Dennis Sarfate, Lance Cormier, Jamie Walker and others struggled to put up league average numbers.  Compare that to the staffs of Boston, New York, or Tampa (much less Toronto), and you can see where the team needs to improve.

Forecasting 2009:

Ideally, the Orioles would like to see a little more offense, but more importantly, they have to find ways to keep the other team from scoring runs.  To get to .500, you’re talking about cutting more than 100 runs from the runs allowed, which means finding six decent pitchers and improving the outfield defense.

Offensively, the changes start at catcher (Greg Zaun for Ramon Hernandez, with Matt Wieters possibly getting his shot at some point this season), as well as first base (Millar is gone, with Ty Wigginton here).  Cesar Izturis arrives from St. Louis to play short – he’s not a championship quality hitter, but will be an improvement over the crew who played here last year.  It looks like the Orioles will not be trading Brian Roberts (they shouldn’t), which helps, and if Melvin Mora stays productive, the infield will be solid.  Defensively, they are probably 5 to 10 runs better, and offensively they are probably 15 runs better.

The outfield has added Felix Pie and Ryan Freel, but I don’t see how either of them will take Jones, Scott, or Markakis out of the lineup.  However, Pie could be the surprise – and as a defensive replacement, he’ll be solid.  The outfield of Scott, Jones, and Markakis can still produce runs, but more importantly there are a couple of bench performers who can contribute.  Offensively this is probably worth ten runs, and defensively, this could be worth ten runs, too.

Zaun is a better defensive catcher than Hernandez, but he’s been catching since Doug Ault was in Toronto (not really), and his contribution will not last the season.  Of the NRIs, Robby Hammock might play, and he can at least hit the ball some.  Chad Moeller and Guillermo Quiroz are in camp, but neither will be making a big contribution in the near future.  Matt Wieters has a job as soon as he’s ready.

One assumes that Huff should stay productive in his role, but he was so good last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s off by ten runs this season.

There are, oh, 120 pitchers in camp in Ft. Lauderdale hoping to make the Orioles roster in April.  Guthrie is still here, and Rich Hill arrives from Chicago trying to put his career back together.  Hill would be a step up if he brings his best game.  The rest are a bunch of unknowns.  Matt Alberts was better as a reliever, but he could start some and be an improvement of ten runs over somebody.  Brian Bass comes over from Minnesota where, as a reliever, he wasn’t special.  As a starter he was tolerable here in Baltimore.  He might get a shot.  Troy Patton came over with the Tejada deal, he might be ready for a few starts.  George Sherrill needs to up his performance – and someone else needs to help out in the bullpen.

The problem is that they are all unproven rookies or second year guys.  Could they be better?  Sure – but it’s just not something you can predict with any dependability.

As such, I see the runs scored/runs allowed breakdown to be somewhere around 800/850, which translates to about 76 wins.  In this division, that’s a tall order, but there are enough pieces to see a better team in Baltimore.  If one or two pitchers step up in the rotation – a Hill and a Sherrill, for example – suddenly these guys are approaching .500 – and that’s pretty impressive.  When a few more young arms make it to the majors, this team might be ready to compete for a playoff spot.

Down on the Farm…

AAA Norfolk’s best hitter was Oscar Salazar (13 – 85 – .316), who got a cup of coffee with the big league club and played well.  He could have slid into the first base slot, and may well get this job after spending a decade in the minors (he’s 30).  He’s just been blocked everywhere he’s been (Oakland, the Mets, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, and Cleveland), and he wasn’t a good enough middle infielder when he was younger.  However, with the ability to play the whole infield, he’s a good bench option.  Radhames Liz and Jim Miller pitched well enough to earn shots with the parent club last year.

Matt Wieters, the future catcher, hit .365 at AA Bowie in 208 at bats, with 12 homers and 51 RBI.  He can’t be far off…  Lou Montanez and Nolan Reimhold hit for power; Montanez had the higher batting average, but Reimhold has the better plate discipline.  David Hernandez and Chris Tillman led a quartet of Bay Sox pitchers to double-digit victories (the others were Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken, two other potential studs).  Both showed killer K/9 rates and will be in line for rotation spots by 2010 if not sometime this summer.  Julio Manon dominated as the closer – he’s just not a young prospect.  He’s 36 this summer.

Cole McMurray and Pat Egan led the hurlers at Aberdeen (High A), with closer Brandon Cooney (from nearby Florida Atlantic – near me, anyway) showing strong numbers.  Other than Wieters, the Frederick Keys also had first baseman Brandon Snyder (15 – 80 – .315) and pitchers Brandon Erbe and Jake Arrieta, who both had strong strikeout numbers if not solid won-loss records.