Miguel Cabrera’s 2000th Hit – and other fun stuff…

Headlines:

Charlie Blackmon has the first six hit game in Rockies history since Andres Galarraga went 6 – 6 in 1995. [SI]

It started off a little rocky, but Masahiro Tanaka won his first start with the Yankees, going seven innings and fanning eight.  [MLB]

Josh Beckett isn’t coming back as soon as he had hoped.  While making a rehab start, Beckett left his game in the fifth inning after injuring himself while fielding a bunt.  Beckett is trying to return from thoracic outlet syndrome, but was put on the DL prior to the Dodgers going to Australia. [MLB]

Houston leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler was hospitalized with a stomach virus and likely will not play on Saturday either.  [MLB]

Miguel Cabrera got his 2000th career hit – and it was a homer.  My take on it is that Cabrera, if he stays healthy and productive, could finish with around 3800 career hits before it’s over – the closest anyone may come to Pete Rose for the forseeable future…  [FoxSports]

Jason Kipnis signed a six year extension with the Cleveland Indians, worth $52.5 million, and a seventh year option could extend the deal into 2020.  The Indians have been locking down young talent, having recently signed deals with Michael Brantley and catcher Jan Gomes. [MLB]

They said I had to go to rehab…

Those extending spring training with minor league stints include Cody Ross, Michael Bourn, Matt Harrison, Stephen Pryor, Devin Mesoraco, Mat Latos, Boone Logan, Craig Breslow, Ryan Cook, Gordon Beckham, Jeremy Affeldt, Taijuan Walker, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jonathan Broxton, and Mike Adams.

Welcome Back!

Matt Kemp returned to the Dodgers…

Hurry Back!

White Sox pitcher Nate Jones strained a muscle in his left hip.
Mets outfielder Chris Young has a right quad strain.
A’s SS Jake Elmore has a strained left quad…

That must have been some 4th of July Party…

Daniel Murphy and Brian Duensing return from the paternity list, while Rays LF Sean Rodriguez heads to the paternity list…  Congratulations!!!

Belated Birthday wishes…

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances on 4/4 included:

(1888) Tris Speaker
(1897) Lefty (Ray) Miner
(1916) Mickey Owen
(1924) Gil Hodges
(1941) Eddie Watt
(1942) Jim Fregosi
(1943) Mike Epstein
(1947) Ray Fosse
(1956) Tom Herr
(1975) Scott Rolen
(1987) Cameron Maybin
(1991) Martin Perez

Baseball 365

Arrivals:

(1876) Big Bill Dinneen – good pitcher, good bowler, decent enough umpire…

(1907) Sugar Cain

(1938) Ron Hansen – back when shortstops could field and usually couldn’t hit – and Ron was one of those guys…

(1951) Rennie Stennett – second sacker of those great 1970s Pirates teams.

(1985) Lastings Millege – one assumes he’s no longer a prospect…  He hasn’t had a major league hit since 2011.

Departures:

(1974) Fred Snodgrass

Fred Snodgrass is most famous for his dropping a fly ball in the 10th inning of a game in the 1912 World Series that contributed to the Red Sox coming back and beating the Giants.  What is forgotten about that play is that immediately after the drop, Snodgrass was forced to play shallow with a runner at second.  When Harry Hooper launched a fly to deep right center, Snodgrass ran like the wind to haul it in – and then rifled a throw back toward second that very nearly doubled off that runner.  The Giants missed a shot at getting Tris Speaker out on a foul pop, which gave Speaker a chance to drive in the tying run.

When Snodgrass returned to his native California after his playing days, we would become a banker and major of Oxnard, CA.

Snodgrass is one of about two dozen players who were interviewed for Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times” – and his story is a fascinating read.

Transactions and Events:

(1972) The Mets get Rusty Staub from the Expos for Ken Singlton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen.

(1977) The Yankees acquire Bucky Dent from the White Sox for Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, Bob Polinsky, and cash.

2012 Gold Glove Winners – National League

First – a quick recap of how this works…  Many systems look at range factors – meaning the number of plays made by a fielder every nine innings.  I look at the number of plays made for every 800 balls in play.  The reasons for this include the fact that some teams are loaded with high strikeout pitchers, so the fielders get less action on some teams.  I also make modifications for the groundball/flyball tendencies of the teams, and try to take into consideration the number of innings pitched by lefties – as this may affect the number of plays made by the first or third baseman (see Sandoval, Pedro – 3B).

Then, once I know how many plays someone makes, I can then see how many extra (or fewer) plays someone makes, convert those plays into hits (and eventually runs saved).  I can do that for double plays and errors, too.  The player who saves the most runs at his position wins the award.

I make one modification for first baseman – I remove assists made by other infielders so they get more credit for the plays they make on balls fielded by them and not balls fielded by others.

Originally, this method was used to make defensive ratings for a game – so using 800 balls in play also meant that I could calculate how many points in batting average a fielder may add or take away from a hitter.  So, if you see a player with a range of, say, 10.0, that means that the fielder makes ten plays more than the average fielder at his position and effectively reduces the batting average of a hitter by ten points.

I don’t do this for pitchers by position – they play far too few innings, so the award is given to the team.

Catchers are done differently…  They are effectively done at the team level (though we can note who was the primary catcher) and catching teams are scored in seven different ways: Team ERA, Team Winning Percentage, Fielding PCT (not counting Ks), Error Rates, Mistake Rates, Mobililty (assists not tied to stolen bases), and Opposition Base Stealing Rates.  You get one point for being above average, and lose a point for being below average.  It is theoretically possible to get a perfect score of seven, which happens a lot for a certain catcher in St. Louis.

Let’s get on with it…

First Base:

26.1  Ike Davis, NYM  (10.2 Range, 1222.1 innings)
24.5  Gaby Sanchez, MIA+PIT  (15.0 Range, 697.1 innings)
23.3  Adam LaRoche, WAS  (7.8 Range, 1323.1 innings)

I had no idea Ike Davis was this good, but he made a lot of plays, as did Adam LaRoche.  LaRoche has the better reputation.  Last year, Davis was brutal in about 225 innings, which is why you can’t really take any fielder TOO seriously – at least statistically speaking – until you have seen about 2000 innings in the field. This was the second straight time that Sanchez finished second, so last year’s thinking that his 2011 season may have been a fluke isn’t true.  He’s pretty solid.  If only he could find his bat…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-29.8  Allen Craig, STL  (-18.8 Range, 773.2 innings)
-22.8  Anthony Rizzo, CHC  (-16.2 Range, 730.2 innings)
-21.8  Bryan LeHair, CHC  (-22.6 Range, 474.1 innings)

For what it’s worth, the third string first baseman in Chicago, Jeff Baker, also scored poorly.  Some of that is having a REALLY good keystone combination who turn a lot of double plays which would affect their ranking a bit.  I don’t think Rizzo will be this bad next year…  Allen Craig can hit, but he needs a late inning defensive replacement.

Second Base:

25.7  Darwin Barney, CHC  (9.6 Range, 1270.1 innings)
22.2  Dan Uggla, ATL  (8.7 Range, 1348.1 innings)
17.2  Freddy Galvis, PHI  (19.3 Range, 416 innings)

Barney is awesome – you have to watch him and Starlin Castro play together…  That’s an impressive middle infield.  The rest of the team, however, is brutal.  Dan Uggla had an outlier season – he’s usually around league average.   I don’t expect that to happen again.  Freddy Galvis is crazy quick, but he can’t hit enough to hold that position.  Neil Walker of Pittsburgh just missed this list…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-25.3  Rickie Weeks, MIL  (-9.6 Range, 1344.3 innings)
-15.9  Emmanuel Burriss, SF  (-32.4 Range, 269.1 innings)
-15.0  Daniel Murphy, NYM  (-5.5 Range, 1127.2 innings)

Weeks has had leg injuries and they apparently cut into his range…  Hopefully he can bounce back to where he was a couple of years ago.  Burriss didn’t really play a lot, but when he did either (a) the ball never seemed to come his way, or (b) he stands still a lot.  I don’t believe he is really that bad…

Third Base:

25.2  Pablo Sandoval, SF  (15.2 Range, 842 innings)
18.9  Placido Polanco, PHI  (11.3 Range, 664.2 innings)
15.5  Adam Kennedy, LAD  (33.4 Range, 225 innings)
*14.4  Ryan Zimmerman, WAS  (5.5 Range, 1280.1 innings)

There are a couple of teams that had larger amounts of innings thrown by left handers, which skewed the ratings of a couple of players – starting with the top two names on this list.  Throw in the fact that neither player made it to 1000 innings, Ryan Zimmerman would have won my award.  By the way – the ball found Adam Kennedy.  He’s a good fielder, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not really 33 plays per 800 better than average.If had kept that rate for as many inning as, say, Ryan Zimmerman had played you’re talking about 70 or more extra assists, and 25 extra putouts…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-18.9  Hanley Ramirez, MIA+LAD  (-11.0 Range, 860.1 innings)
-15.6  Chris Nelson, COL  (-9.8 Range, 647.1 innings)
-15.1  Greg Dobbs, MIA  (-19.0 Range, 262.1 innings)

The optimists in Florida (and last year I was one) hoped that Ramirez would battle the position to a draw – but that didn’t happen.  And he wasn’t hitting the way he had in the past.  So he had to go.  Somebody had better figure out if he can play center or left.  So Hanley left and the Marlins tried Greg Dobbs, who isn’t very good either (and he’s not as bad as those stats suggest).  Polanco gets his turn in 2013…

Shortstop:

37.4  Brandon Crawford, SF  (19.1 Range, 1101 innings)
31.6  Starlin Castro, CHC  (14.5 Range, 1402.2 innings)
16.4  Andrelton Simmons, ATL  (18.9 Range, 426 innings)

Simmons and Paul Janish played comparable numbers of innings and had comparable range numbers…  Brandon Crawford was a very pleasant surprise for the Giants, proving to be a dependable and able glove man.  Now, some of this was due to the higher numbers of innings pitched by lefties, and some of this is due to his youthful range.  I don’t see him doing this two years in a row, but you never know.  Starlin Castro continues to get better.  It’s sad that such a wonderful combination such as Castro and Barney is stuck on such a horrible team.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.6  Jose Reyes, MIA  (-8.7 Range, 1410.2 innings)
-21.5  Ian Desmond, WAS  (-10.9 Range, 1139.1 innings)
-15.1  Willie Bloomquist, ARZ  (-16.8 Range, 528.1 innings)

I have said for some time now that Reyes and Jimmy Rollins (who was fourth on the bad list…) are overrated and have been consistently overrated for years.  The Marlins would have been better served to have put Hanley in left, put Reyes at third, and put Emilio Bonifacio at short.  Bonifacio has better range and is great on the double play.  Reyes has a flashy arm and a bigger contract.  Ramirez is too bulky and if you watch him play you notice how he doesn’t just let loose with his arm but he kind of guides his throws.  They are not shortstops anymore.

Left Field:

The best left fielders play less than 500 innings.  There’s no way you can give a gold glove to Austin Kearns who just happened to play his 142 innings when a right handed hitter pulled a fly ball his way.  Shane Victorino played left for the Dodgers – he was legitimately good there, saving the Dodgers about 11.5 runs.

Looking at the guys who play left field a LOT, you have:

8.7  Alfonso Soriano, CHC  (2.5 Range, 1183 innings)
5.5  Ryan Braun, MIL  (2.4 Range, 1318 innings)
4.4  Melky “the Cheater” Cabrera  (2.4 Range, 898 innings)

By the way, tons of people get innings at this position – more than any position other than pitcher…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-20.1  J.D. Martinez, HOU  (-10.4 Range, 833 innings)
-18.5  Matt Holiday, STL  (-6.3 Range, 1312.2 innings)
-17.8  Carlos Gonzalez, COL  (-6.4 Range, 1127.2 innings)

J.D. can’t be that bad – or else he took his hitting slump out to the field with him.  Holliday continues to get slower.  Gonzalez should be a much better fielder than this, but few guys look good in Colorado…

Center Field:

16.3  Angel Pagan, SF  (6.0 Range, 1279.1 innings)
14.5  Jon Jay, STL  (6.0 Range, 993.1 innings)
9.3  Kirk Nieuwenhuis  (13.6 Range, 372 innings)

The third best regular was Michael Bourn…  Pagan had his best year – not sure if he can repeat this level, but he is really, really good (and stayed healthy).  Jon Jay had a great season as well…  You know who had a remarkably good season in center?  Bryce Harper.  Harper’s range was the equal of both Pagan and Jay – he just played 700 innings.

Dishonorable Mentions:

-22.9  Dexter Fowler, COL  (-9.0 Range, 1026 innings)
-13.5  Matt Kemp, LAD  (-7.5 Range, 911 innings)
-13.3  Drew Stubbs, CIN  (-5.2 Range, 1107.1 innings)

You can see the problems that Colorado had with these last three positions – Fowler, Gonzalez, and Chris Nelson.  I’d love to know how much of this is the park – it’s a huge outfield and has more holes than anywhere else.  Matt Kemp’s body defied him in 2012.  We’ll see if he can come back.  Stubbs was sent to Cleveland, so don’t expect him to erase the ghosts of great Indian center fielders gone by…

Right Field:

26.1  Jason Heyward, ATL  (8.9 Range, 1337.2 innings)
15.9  Justin Upton, ARZ  (5.6 Range, 1280.2 innings)
15.1  Jayson Werth, WAS  (10.7 Range, 608.2 innings)

Heyward had a great season and, like Upton, is just entering his prime.  I wonder which one gets to play in left next year.  I’d move Upton there and tell him it’s time to break out and play like Hank Aaron.  Werth has been a great right fielder for years.  By the way, #6 on the list is that kid Harper again…  If he had played a whole year in center or right, he makes one of the two lists and MIGHT have won the award in center field…

Dishonorable Mentions:

-17.2  Andre Ethier, LAD  (-6.6 Range, 1256.1 innings)
-16.7  Carlos Beltran, STL  (-6.9 Range, 1126.2 innings)
-16.2  Hunter Pence, PHI+SF  (-5.5 Range, 1408.2 innings)

Ethier and Kemp didn’t help the pitching staffs, did they?  Beltran’s knees are now problematic, and Hunter Pence occasionally looks awkward out there – but he tries hard.

Catchers:

Yadier Molina, STL
Carlos Ruiz, PHI
A.J. Ellis, LAD

Molina and the Cardinal catchers were above average in every category, capped by throwing out 35 of 73 base runners.  Ruiz and Ellis were above average in six of the seven categories and dead even in the seventh.  Ruiz gets props for working with the great Phillie rotation, while Ellis probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for the Dodgers success last year.  Ellis and Ruiz had comparable stats against base runners, but Ruiz had the better back up in Erik Kratz.  I saw him – big dude, strong arm, looks like a take charge type.

The worst catching was either Chicago or San Diego, both of whom scored at -5.  Both teams had losing records, staffs that couldn’t keep the ball away from hitters, and tended to be mistake prone.  The worst teams against the run were Pittsburgh and Washington…

Pitchers:

Miami
Milwaukee
Los Angeles

The Marlins pitchers made more plays per 800 balls in play and were the only team with significantly more double plays started than errors committed (21 – 8).  The average team was about 12 – 14.  As such, I give the award (if I have to pick a player) to Mark Buehrle.

2012 Season Forecast – Atlanta Braves

2011 Record: 89 – 73
Runs Scored: 641 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 605 (3rd in the NL)

The Braves actually played better than can be expected based on the ratio of runs to runs scored (estimated 86 wins).

2011 Season Summary:

Never really a threat to win the division (to my dismay as I predicted them to surprise many to win the east), the Braves were never really bad.  They could win in four spots of the rotation, but they couldn’t generate enough offense to make it easy.  Off seasons by Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla (he needed a 30-game hitting streak to get to .233 on the season), and anyone who played center field offset a bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters that held every lead…  Well, until the last ten days of the season.  Like their old cousins in Boston, the Braves couldn’t get that one or two wins that would have sealed the deal and wound up being kicked out the playoffs by the Cardinals.

Pitching:

The Braves have ample starting pitching.  Tim Hudson won 16 games and was well above average all year long.  Three others made between 22 and 25 starts – all were successful.  Jair Jurrjens, who is constantly on the trading block, was the best of the lot (13 – 6, 2.96 ERA), but Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy were both decent.  Mike Minor took on 15 starts and continues to improve – he’s nearly a league average pitcher now and could be ready for a rotation slot.  Only Derek Lowe struggled – he fell off the map in the second half – and has been dispatched to Cleveland to see if he has anything left.  The Braves even have prospects in Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado if needed.  Looking forward, the rotation could still be solid if not a hair better than last year.  Hudson and Jurrjens might take a slight step backward, but Beachy and Minor could be better and one of the rookies will most certainly be better than Derek Lowe last year.

In the bullpen, three pitchers had absolutely stunning years.  Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 46 games and was 16 runs better than the average pitcher in his 75 innings.  Set up man Jonny Venters was even better – 21.5 runs better than average.  The best of the lot was Eric O’Flaherty, who had a 0.98 ERA in just shy of 74 innings and saved the team nearly 25 full runs.  George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink, and Christian Martinez were also above average pitchers last year.  Looking ahead, it’s hard to see the Braves being BETTER than that – it’s rare to save that many runs over 70+ innings – so I think gravity is going to pull this team back some 25 runs.  O’Flaherty can’t possibly have a sub 1.00 ERA again, for example.  This will still be a good unit, but it can’t be THAT good again.

Catching:

Brian McCann is one of the premier offensive catchers in the game and his defensive skills are pretty good.  His backup Dave Ross remains dependable and adds a little offense.  As a unit, this is one of the three best teams in baseball behind the plate.  At issue is the fact that McCann may be the best offensive player on the team – but his best seasons seem to be two or three years ago.

Infield:

Defensively, an infield of Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones is, at best, not bad but not too good either.  It’s actually better when Martin Prado plays third.  Offensively, they put up runs – and that’s one reason the Braves win games.

Freddie Freeman is going to be one of the better first basemen in the NL – already a fair fielder and an above average hitter, he will be an all-star for many years to come.  Dan Uggla has been a steady, dependable power source and is good on the double play.  Tyler Pastornicky is going to get every shot to take over at short, now that Alex Gonzalez has been allowed to leave.  Gonzalez gave you flashes of power, but his bat isn’t great anymore and his glove is now just pretty good for an old guy.  Pastornicky will have better range, but might not match the offense.  As for Chipper Jones, he’s nursing sore knees and has already said that 2012 will be his last season.  Defensively, he’s been problematic at third for a while but his bat has been good enough.  Now, that’s not going to be the case.  When Jones is gone, Prado or Eric Hinske will get innings.  It sure would be more beneficial if Prado hit closer to .300 than .260 as he did last year.

I think Freeman and Uggla will be slightly better this year, which should make up for the team losing runs at short and third – call it a wash…

Outfield:

I think that the Cubs have a weak outfield in terms of production.  The Braves aren’t much better.

In left, you had Martin Prado – decent glove, middling power, and slightly worse than league average production.  That’s LEAGUE average, not LEFT FIELD average – where you want someone who hits 20+ homers and might drive in 85 or more runs.  Prado went 13 – 57 – .260 with hardly any other benefits (4/12 SBs, 34 walks in 129 games).  If Jose Constanza can hit the way he did in 109 at bats last year, that wouldn’t hurt.  Unfortunately, he’s not a banger either – he’s a burner and could play center for many teams.

In center, nobody hit.  Michael Bourn will be there all year, but he’s never hit .300 and doesn’t hit for power.  Nate McClouth hit .228 with four homers and Jordan Schafer was less productive (and sent to Houston for Bourn).  A full year of Bourn will be better, though, than what the Braves had last year.

In right, you had sophomore Jason Heyward, who fell off the map after such a promising rookie season.  I don’t see him hitting .227 again.  He still shows some patience at the plate and his power remains.

The problem may be a lack of a plan B.  Eric Hinske remains, as does Constanza, but even a returning Matt Diaz doesn’t look to help much if a hole opens up in the outfield.

Bench:

Prado gives the Braves some versatility, as does Hinske.  Diaz can pinch hit and platoon some.  Josh and Jack Wilson are around, but don’t offer much offense (and Jack is getting up there in years) and both are losing defensive skills, too.  Ross is good behind the plate.  It’s a full bench, but maybe not a great one.

Prospects:

The top prospects in AAA mostly made it for cups of coffee last year, including Constanza, Teheran and Pastornicky.  The one who didn’t was undrafted first baseman Mauro Gomez, who might be able to help out.  I don’t have a read on his glove, but he’s a decent power bat – might hit .250 with 20 homers in the big leagues.  He just doesn’t have a place to play here.  Another guy who wouldn’t kill you might be pitcher Todd Redmond, who had decent numbers at AAA Gwinett, going 10 – 8 with 142 Ks and just 47 walks in 169.2 innings.  The problem is that he’s been at AAA for three years now and he’s probably going to have to get a shot somewhere else as he’s not high on the prospect list.

The best hitter in AA isn’t high on the prospect lists either – that’s 26 year old Ernesto Mejia, who has stats like Mauro Gomez and, thus, has nowhere to play.  Some like infielder Mykal Jones, but he’s not going to replace Pastornicky any time soon.  Pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado got shots – they have major league stuff and are just kids.  Another good arm might be Brett Oberholtzer, who is close but needs more strikeouts to move up more quickly.  Reliever Billy Bullock has quite the arm, but lacks in control (65Ks, 34BBs in 49.2 innings).

A+ Rome features catcher Joe Terdoslavich, a power hitter who had 52 doubles to go with 20 homers. A one-time former #1 pick, Cory Rasmus has the stuff, but needs to find the strike zone more frequently – and stay healthier.

2012 Forecast:

I think the offense can be 25 runs better than last year – might even be more than that – because Bourn is here all year and Heyward will be better.  On the other hand, I think that the gravitational pull that will be working against the bullpen will equally offset that 25 run gain.  Throw in the fact that two other teams may well be challenging for the top spot in the NL East, the Braves will be lucky to finish with 85 wins, which might be third or fourth in this division.

2010 Season Forecast: Houston Astros

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 74 – 88 (5th NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75
2007: 73 – 89
2006: 82 – 80
2005: 89 – 73

For two straight seasons, the Astros have outperformed their stats – which is to say that their record is better than the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed.  In 2008, the Astros were 11 games over .500 despite allowing 31 runs more than they scored.  In 2009, the Astros scored and allowed the same number of runs as Pittsburgh and yet won 12 more games.  That can’t keep happening…

Season Recap:

On the heels of a ridiculously over-successful 2008, some people thought the Astros might remain competitive in 2009.  Instead, long time veterans fell off (Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman), and eventually Cecil Cooper was fired because people didn’t think he knew what he was doing.

The Astros won an extra inning game on April 7th to pull to .500 with a win and a loss.  Houston lost five in a row, and then would trade wins and losses for about a month never getting better than four games under .500 until late June.  As the month turned into July, the Astros played their best baseball, winning 18 of 26 games.  This got their record to 50 – 46 and into the the NL Central race, just two games behind St. Louis and tied with Chicago for second place.

What happened next was that the Astros ran out of mojo.  A slow slide brought them back under .500, and despite sweeping the Phillies in four games the Astros could never get closer than two games under .500.  When the clubhouse, management, and media turned on Cecil Cooper, knowing that season was over anyway, Cooper was let go.  September was spent wondering what could have been, including a nine-game losing streak that knocked Houston into fifth place.

Were they really that good?  Probably not.  The Astros scored five runs more than Pittsburgh (743 – 738) and allowed two more (770 – 768).  Houston was as lucky as Pittsburgh was unlucky – and should really have won about 67 games.

Pitching:

Wandy Rodriquez turned into an ace, winning 14 games, throwing nearly 206 innings, and saving his team about 28.5 runs over what an average starter might have given up.  Roy Oswalt, admittedly having an off season, won just eight games but was still better than league average in his 30 starts.  And that’s where it ends.

Last year, Brian Moehler got 29 starts, allowed nearly six runs per nine, and was bad enough to virtually offset Rodriguez.  Mike Hampton returned to go 7 – 10, and he was 13 runs worse than the average pitcher over 112 innings.  How many of you thought he would make 100 innings?  Felipe Paulino was atrocious – 22 innings worse than average in just shy of 100 innings.  Ouch.  Russ Ortiz got 13 brutal starts.  Yorman Bazardo went 1 – 3 and had an ERA of 7.88.  Only rookie Bud Norris got a few starts and didn’t look lousy.  No team is going to be successful with what amounts to 500 innings of horrific pitching unless the lineup is eight Albert Pujols.

What saved Houston was a remarkable bullpen.  Jose Valverde had just 25 saves (injuries interruped his season), but he also was 12.6 runs better than the average pitcher in his 52 innings.  LaTroy Hawkins had perhaps his best season ever – 63 innings and a 2.13 ERA.  Jeff Fulchino was a stopper in middle relief, and Tim Byrdak allowed only 39 hits in his 61.1 innings.  Sure, the rest of the staff was a mixed bag of arms, but four solid relievers can keep games in hand even when the starters get lifted – and these starters were regularly lifted…

For 2010, the big move was adding former Phillie, Brett Myers, to the rotation.  A one-time starter, Myers can help here just by staying around league average.  Moving Bud Norris into a full time spot (#4) would also help some.  Sadly, Paulino and Moehler get to fight for that fifth spot in the rotation – or get starts that someone else might miss.  Still – this could be a 30 run improvement on the defensive side.

For the bullpen, Jose Valverde is gone, as is Hawkins.  Matt Lindstrom arrives from Florida with a 100 MPH fastball that has little or no movement.  Brandon Lyon was signed to a three-year deal to set up Lindstrom.  I don’t see how this is going to be better – and it could easily be 25 runs WORSE than last year.

Catching:

Ivan Rodriguez was installed as the starter at the beginning of the year and was still solid – makes few mistakes, strong against the run, still reasonably mobile, but isn’t a run producer.  After Pudge was allowed to leave for Texas, Humberto Quintero took over and was exceptional against the run though a bit more mistake prone.

One time prospect J.R. Towles gets one last shot at this job (one assumes that Jason Castro or Koby Clemens will be taking over soon enough) – with Quintero as his backup.  Though Towles didn’t throw anyone out last year (one guy – he threw out one guy), he does have better overall skills.  Overall, this might be five runs better, but I don’t buy it.  Let’s call the overall production a wash.

Infield:

Lance Berkman had his first off sesason after a long run of productive hitting.  He’s still an offensive force, but he missed a month of games with injuries.  Darin Erstad isn’t really good enough to take over here.  If the Astros expect to win, Berkman has to play 150 games and he’s at the age where that gets harder and harder to do.

Kaz Matsui returns – a glove man who really doesn’t do much to keep the offense going.  At this point, the Astros need to keep him because I don’t think Jeff Keppinger is going to do any better.

Miguel Tejada played a surprisingly solid shortstop, and kicked in with 199 hits and 46 doubles.  He’s NOT a top flight hitter, but he’s been as dependable for hits as anyone and remains above average for the league and his position.  He’s gone, though, to be replaced by rookie Tommy Manzella.  Manzella hit .289 at Round Rock last year, but isn’t going to hit as well as Tejada.  He MIGHT be 20 runs better defensively, but he may well hit about .260 with a little power, which will be about 30 runs worse offensively.

Geoff Blum had a rough season, to say the least.  He was below average offensively (.247, 10 homers – 4.2 runs per 27 outs) and he cost his team another 21 runs defensively at third base.  Enter Pedro Feliz, who had a monster season defensively and will be no worse a hitter.

On the whole, I see this group being about 40 runs better defensively, but lose 30 runs offensively.

Outfield:

Offensively, this is a strong unit.  Carlos Lee in left remains a potent power source.  Hunter Pence in right field has power, patience, speed, and provides good defense.  Michael Bourn is a burner who gets on base, steals what he can, and can cover ground in center.

Defensively, Lee needs to be a DH – costing his team about 32 runs in left.  He’s no longer mobile enough to cover any ground and he’s reaching the age where his bat might start to slip.  Jason Michaels returns to play the late innings for Lee.

Prospects:

Looking over AAA Round Rock, other than Tommy Manzello, you have Chris Johnson.  He’s a third baseman taken in the 4th round in 2006 out of Stetson.  Right now, he looks like he’d hit as well as Geoff Blum and if he fields better might be a better option for 2010.  At 25, Johnson has to step up now.  Among pitchers, Bud Norris already got the call in 2009, as did Bazardo and Sam Gervacio, who might get a second chance some time in 2010.  Gervacio showed power and control in AAA (58Ks, 21 Ws in 52.1 innings).

The best pitcher at AA Corpus Christi was Polin Trinidad, who walked just ten batters in 82.2 innings and earned a promotion to AAA mid-season.  He’s still a year away, but I’d rather see him than, say, Brian Moehler.  Drew Locke hit .338 with 20 homers there – but it’s taken a while for the former Dodger draft pick to get his career moving.  He must be a brutal fielder.  Catcher Jason Castro, the 2008 1st round pick, moved up to AA in 2009 and continues to hit for a decent average (.293) and work the count.  He could make the roster in 2010, for sure he’ll be on the Astros in 2011.

Pitchers in Lancaster (A+) got slapped around a lot there, but a few stood out.  Leandro Cespedes, Shane Wolf, and Fernando Abad all had decent control and strikeout numbers and are young enough to contribute a couple of years from now.  I especially liked Abad, who walked only eight in 82.2 innings.  He could be a future closer.  Because hitting is so easy there, you have to take stats with a grain of salt, but catcher Koby Clemens hit .345 with power – probably the best of the lot.

2008 1a pick Jordan Lyles pitched well at Lexington in the SAL – 167Ks just 38 walks in 144.2 innings.  Still a teenager, he’ll be in Lancaster and probably Corpus Christi soon enough.  2007 pick Collin Delome (5th round) has a lot of different skills, but needs to step up his batting average.  He looks like Brady Anderson, only in AA.  Meanwhile, top pick in 2006, Maxwell Sapp has yet to hit above. 241 in the minors and with two other catchers ahead of him, is not on the prospect lists anymore.

Forecast:

I don’t see the Astros being competitive in the NL Central.  I see them struggling to score runs – about 610 runs this season – and despite the improved defense, still giving up about 725 runs.  There are just too many holes to patch, and after two years of very lucky won-loss records, the system says no more than 67 wins and playing the under.

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)

Griffey’s Last Go? NL Gold Gloves and Hot Stove News…

Everybody is happy – the Mariners, Ken Griffey, Jr., fans in Seattle, and me…  Ken Griffey signed a one year deal to return to the Mariners in what could be his final hurrah.  The Kid turns 40 this month (!) and I might have to sneak off to Tampa to give him one last cheer.   Granted, he’s not going to be an impact player on the field, but few have his impact in the clubhouse or the community.  For a while, he was my favorite player in baseball and I am glad to have him around the game. [ESPN]

NL Gold Gloves…

Similar to the AL, there’s one arguably bad choice among the Gold Glove winners in the National League.  Certainly, there will be arguments, but otherwise the list is pretty solid.  Around the outfield, Matt Kemp, Shane Victorino and speedster Michael Bourn came home with trophies.  The infield features Ryan Zimmerman, Jimmy Rollins, Orlando Hudson, and Adrian Gonzalez.  The battery includes two Cards – Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.  [MLB]

That being said, the choice of Rollins is – like Jeter – one of fame and not of numbers.  Rollins has a very low range factor (3.96 chances per nine innings) and the best range of people playing around 100 games or so belonged to Brendan Ryan of St. Louis.  The guy who had surprisingly good stats was Miguel Tejada.  In my opinion, a healthy Troy Tulowitski is the best fielder of the bunch, so my vote would have gone there.

After years of Cactus, is Grapefruit in the Cubs Future?

Naples, Florida is in the running to host spring training for the Chicago Cubs, which would be a HUGE change for the north siders.  I mean, think of all the Chicagoans who retire to Arizona who will feel cheated!!!  Me – a Cubs fan living in Florida – would love it, but my hunch is that the Cubs are using this to get a better deal near their current home in AZ.  [MLB]

Other News…

Victor Zambrano’s mother was returned unharmed…  Apparently federal agents used a commando-styled attack to rescue the woman.  [ESPN]

Jamie McCourt denies having an affair and wants ownership of the Dodgers.  McCourt tried to get her old CEO job back and failed, and recently suggested that as a lady in a man’s world (law and business) she passed up plenty of opportunities for fun as a supportive wife…  [ESPN]

Brad Lidge’s surgery on his throwing elbow is considered a success and while he may miss a week or two of spring training, the hope is that he will close games on Opening Day and beyond for the Phillies.  [MLB]

Arizona’s Brandon Webb threw for the first time since his shoulder surgery.  First footballs, then baseballs from 60 feet.  Webb said he was encouraged by the progress.  [MLB]

Managerial Roller Coaster…

ESPN is reporting that Jim Riggleman will be announced as the new manager of the Washington Nationals.  Riggleman had the Nationals playing better down the stretch during his interim run last season.  [ESPN]

ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski thinks it’s time for Mark McGuire to come clean about his past before he starts his future as hitting instructor for the Cards.  [ESPN]

Matt Williams will join Arizona and become a first base coach.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Jason Varitek would rather take a pay cut and play for Boston than take his chances anywhere else.  So, ‘Tek signed his $3 million option and will return as Victor Martinez’s backup in 2010.  [ESPN]

Utility infielder Wilson Betemit is expected to sign a minor league deal with the Royals.  If so, he’s an insurance policy for the two players the Royals got from the White Sox in last week’s trade, Chris Getz and Josh Fields – oddly, two players Betemit backed up in Chicago…  [MLB]

Hot Stove News…

The Reds might deal Brandon Phillips, Bronson Arroyo, and Aaron Harang in this offseason.  Apparently, they have a cash flow problem…  [FanHouse]

Having locked in billions of dollars of salaries, the Yankees are rumored to be looking at acquiring more high-priced pitching.  Among those in the future could be Roy Halliday and John Lackey.  Seriously, if this happens we might as well cut the Yankees loose and call it good.  [SI]

Meanwhile, don’t rule out Lackey staying in Anaheim.  According to FoxSports, Anaheim will make a serious offer – and failing that, might go after Halliday, too.  [FoxSports]

Apparently, the Tigers are looking to trade Edwin Jackson following his solid season in Detroit.  According to FoxSports, it’s about the Benjamins…  [FoxSports]

Greg Zaun and Jason Schmidt filed for free agency yesterday, preceded by Eric Bruntlett one day earlier.  I wonder who will gladly pay Schmidt to ride the DL?  [MLB]

Former Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is looking to play winter ball so people can see him play this winter prior to his signing a free agent contract.  Delgado missed most of 2009 with a hip injury.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday! For you Field of Dreams fans, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was born on this day in 1877.

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  Carl Mays (1891) – worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion based on his career but likely will never go because his pitch killed Ray Chapman in 1920, Joe Hoerner (1936), Ron Bryant (1947), Bruce Bochte (1950), Cub favorite Jody Davis (1956), Donnie Hill (1960), Greg Gagne (1961), Dave Otto (1964) – who I remember from his days pitching for Elk Grove High School back in Illinois, Slammin’ Sammy Sosa (1968), Homer Bush (1972), Aaron Heilman.  Wow – that’s a lot of former Cubs on this list…

Cooper Fired in Houston; Did He Have a Chance?

This is your lot, Cecil Cooper.  Your two best players, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, showed signs of getting older – missing time and underperforming.  Your shortstop is older than people were told and no longer is a force at the plate, and your starting catcher had played in more games than anyone in baseball history – then he was sent packing.  The rotation is patchwork at best, featuring one guy who may hold the record for DL trips (Mike Hampton) and a third starter who barely reaches 80 with his fastball and is only marginally tolerable (Brian Moehler).  Your fifth starter is 2 – 11 (Felipe Paulino – not to be confused with Fausto Carmona, but they have similar stats).  There are a couple of guys who aren’t half bad – Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee – but the bench slots are filled with people who probably can’t hit as well as you, Cecil.  Guys like Darin Erstad.  And Cooper hasn’t played in more than 20 years.

Through August, however, your team has hovered at the fringe of the race – sometimes a little above .500, sometimes a little below.  This isn’t a disappointment – like the Cubs – but probably a pleasant surprise.  I know lots of people who thought that, after spring training, Houston would finish with 100 losses and finish below Pittsburgh.

And now, Cecil Cooper has been fired.  Well, it wasn’t entirely your fault your team has no depth, no prospects, and gave away the catcher who, while he can’t hit, was keeping the pitching staff in games.  I mean, Wandy Rodriguez came into his own this year.  But you can’t take credit for that anymore either.  Reading the articles, the owner and GM felt that a team with a $103 million payroll should be better.  And, some of the players, like Berkman, felt responsible for Cooper’s firing.  And, to read it in Houston, the players no longer respected Cooper – not liking his style, and thinking that he didn’t handle game situations well.  Some writers in Houston think that his firing was inevitable, that he had no chance, but he deserved to be fired.  I think Ed Wade needs to be fired, too – he put this team together.  Cooper held it together, until too many pieces fell apart – and there weren’t players on the farm who could step up and contribute.  I mean, Russ Ortiz as a starter?  He hasn’t been good since 2004.  Maybe Dave Clark, the interim manager, will get a shot.  Not that Dave Clark had any more experience as a MLB manager than Cooper.  Either that, or Willie Randolph can get a shot at redemption.

Whomever gets the job next year is going to be lucky to win 70 games.  Cooper had done that. [ESPN/SI/MLB/Houston Chronicle]

Well – there’s no manager’s union for things like this.  However, when a player is a problem, thank God the MLB Players Association can step in and defend him.  Word is out that the MLBPA will file a grievance on behalf of Milton Bradley.  Guys – this is money well spent.

The Twins won last night, cutting the Tigers’ lead in the AL Central to just 2-1/2 games, but they will likely play a few games without outfielder Denard Span, who was beaned in the head last night.  Span felt soreness and a bit of dizziness, and is day-to-day.

Now, if the Twins catch the Tigers and the season ends in a tie, the challenge might be finding a place to play.  The Vikings hosts Green Bay in a Monday Night game, which is when the Twins would host the Tigers in a one-game playoff.  There may be nothing to worry about, but you never know.  MLB and NFL representatives will have to work out the details.  [ESPN]

Sometimes a slump is fixed based on who you play – and last night Kevin Millwood easily handled Oakland to get a win and lock up his contract for next season.  Of course, Oakland’s cleanup hitter is Kurt Suzuki and Bobby Crosby plays first base – so facing the A’s didn’t hurt…  [MLB]

Giants infielder Freddy Sanchez twisted his knee – the same knee that was bothering him when San Francisco acquired Sanchez from Pittsburgh.  He’s out for now, but may be available by the end of the week.

Hurry Back! Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa (left groin strain) went on the 60-day DL.

Welcome Back! Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson returns from the DL.

Afterthoughts… Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector, has established residency in Andorra, and hopes to sign a contract that will allow him to play for somebody in 2010.  Chapman chose a non-US location so as not to be part of the MLB Draft, which would make him a free agent and available to the highest bidder.  (Boston?  New York? Los Angeles?  I find it hard to believe he’d be a Marlin, but there are tons of former Cubans there…)  Chapman throws 100+, which is why he’s trying to be a free agent.  And, Andorra is kind of a playground for the rich families of Europe – and his agent hopes that Chapman may one day join them…  [ESPN]