Can you make a competitive team with your pick of the remaining free agents?

I was flipping through the list of remaining free agents (as of 1/16/2012) and tried to field the best team possible with those players still available.  Here’s what you can do…

Catcher:

The best hitting catcher is probably Ramon Castro, who I see as a DH but can catch some.  You have a couple of receivers with good defensive skills but a limited offensive outlook (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek) and a couple of catchers who have recently been regulars (Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino).  If you took Castro and Rodriguez, at least you’d have someone who could work with the pitchers and throw, and you’d have a decent enough backup who could help put a few runs on the board.

First Baseman:

With Prince Fielder still available, you have the centerpiece of an offense – but you still have some competent backups.  Casey Kotchman seems to have found his hitting stroke, and Carlos Pena could help in a platoon role (can’t hit lefties, though).  If you weren’t willing to pony up $20 million per year for Fielder, a platoon of Pena and Derrek Lee might give you depth and a solid platoon.

Second Baseman:

Not a lot to choose from here…  The best player is probably Carlos Guillen, but he’s only going to play 40 games (not to be mean here, but his injury history is becoming problematic).  That leaves you with someone who can, at best, not embarrass you with the glove – Jeff Keppinger, for example – and even play a couple of positions since you may need some flexibility.

Third Baseman:

If you thought the pickings were thin at second, it’s even thinner at third base now.  Casey Blake has had a couple of good years, and Wilson Betemit can swing the bat.  After that, it’s guys who used to be able to play some (Eric Chavez, Alex Cora, Omar Vizquel).

Shortstop:

Three guys who can’t really cover the position anymore – Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Miguel Tejada.  The best overall option is probably Cabrera – or letting him play second and moving Keppinger over to play short.

Outfielders:

There are still a few players here who could contribute, but most of these guys are past prime players and few have the wheels to cover center.  However, Johnny Damon could still play left, Cody Ross can play right or center (though he’s running out of years he’ll be able to cover center).  Kosuke Fukudome is a fantastic right fielder and can still bat leadoff.  Behind that you have a couple of guys who could be good fourth outfielders and pinch hitting types – Jonny Gomes, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre.  If you needed a defensive guy, Joey Gathright is there.  And, if you want to take a real chance, you could go for Yoenis Cespedes.

A lineup as listed below would score some runs, and probably fight the defense to a draw.

Fukudome – RF
Damon – LF
Guillen – 2B
Fielder – 1B
Castro – C
Ross – CF
Blake – 3B
Keppinger – SS
(Pitcher – assuming a National League team)

Starting Pitchers:

A couple recent signings has killed off much of the top remaining pitchers, but you still have a few guys who can win games.  I see a rotation that includes the following as having some potential:

Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Livan Hernandez

And I’d give a sixth spot to Rich Harden – pitch him until something breaks (which it will).  Or, you could take Harden’s stuff and make a closer out of him.  Your emergency arm might be Kevin Millwood – I just don’t know if he has one more year left.  I’d stash him in AAA until Rich Harden breaks down…  The staff is really missing an ace, but you have two guys who can win at the top and three guys who can give you 650 innings at the bottom, which helps the bullpen.

Relievers:

The signing of Ryan Madson takes away the best available closer, but you can do a bullpen by committee and hope someone takes charge.  I see the top six arms as follows:

Michael Gonzalez
Danys Baez
Francisco Cordero
Juan Cruz
Brad Lidge
Arthur Rhodes

Out of that list, you can give Lidge the last inning (if he’s healthy) and mix and match the rest to be reasonably effective.

I haven’t done the math on this, but a team with this roster could possibly make a run at 85 wins.

Winning and Losing Streaks

With the new season off and running, the first thing we look at in the standings is the last “0” on the board.  Texas edged Seattle last night to become the first team to five wins (5 – 0), while Cincinnati joined Baltimore at 4 – 0 last night.  The Reds are the last NL team to remain undefeated as the Mets topped Philadelphia last night.

On the other side, Boston lost to Cleveland (a game I listened to on the ride home) to fall to 0 – 4, their worst start in about 15 years.   The Tampa Rays start a series with the Angels tonight hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss to open the season.  The lone NL team without a win is Houston, who faces the undefeated Reds tonight.

In  other news…

Andrew Cashner impressed Cub fans in his first start of 2011 (his fastball sits in the mid-90s and occasionally tips 98 MPH), then left in the sixth inning with tightness in his shoulder.  He was immediately shipped out for an MRI.  [MLB]

Matt Holliday will definitely avoid the DL, as will Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton who is available as a pinch hitter and expected to start by the weekend.  Stanton is nursing a tight hamstring.  [FoxSports]

FoxSports scribe Ken Rosenthal thinks that Brandon Belt may be the odd man out when Cody Ross returns to the Giants.  Aubrey Huff needs to get out of the outfield, which means first base – which would cost Belt a gig.  I watched the Giants the other night when they were playing the Dodgers.  He has a very professional approach to batting, very patient.  In the late innings of a game, he worked a walk to keep an inning alive.  Miguel Tejada, long time veteran, followed Belt and impatiently ripped at the first pitch, popping up and ending the inning.  [FoxSports/YardBarker]

Transaction Wire

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed former Marlins (and As) lefty Dan Meyer.  Meyer was effective in 2009 as a 7th or 8th inning option, but struggled through a calf injury in 2010.  He throws a low 90s fastball that tends to sink, a hard slider, and a change up that Meyer doesn’t always seem to control very well.  In his career through the minors and few stops in the majors, control has been his problem…  The Pirates could use a little depth, though, so if he fares well in a AAA stint, he may join the bullpen in Pittsburgh at some point this year.

60 Years Ago In The Sporting News

The front page story on April 4, 1951 was a feature about the Red Sox, and how everyone liked to pick the Sox as the team most likely to win the AL Pennant, only to fail.  On page three (and continuing for a couple of pages) there was a nice feature about a young Yankee centerfielder who looked like the obvious successor to Joe Dimaggio, a kid from Commerce, Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

Smokey Joe Williams (1885)
Mickey Cochrane (1903) – Hall of Fame catcher
Ernie Lombardi (1908) – Hall of Fame catcher and Hall of Fame nose
Phil Regan (1937) – The Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief
Marty Pattin (1943) – Pitcher, University of Kansas manager for a long time.  I still remember getting his baseball card from one of those old corner stores near my grandparent’s house in Chicago.
Bert Blyleven (1951) – Like Don Sutton, very good for a long time, but just doesn’t SEEM like a Hall of Famer.
Bret Boone (1969) – Very good second baseman who was named as a steroids user in the Mitchell Report.
Lou Merloni (1971) – Utility infielder who claimed that Boston physical trainers would give lessons in safe steroid use to players, making it seem like the Red Sox management were okay with players using PEDs in the late 1990s…

2011 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Last Five Years:

2010:  66 – 96 (Last in AL East)
2009:  64 – 98
2008:  68 – 93
2007:  69 – 93
2006:  70 – 92

The Orioles haven’t had a winning record since 1997, when the roster included Rafael Palmeiro, Robbie Alomar, Cal Ripken, and Brady Anderson, with Harold Baines and Eric Davis on the bench.  The rotation was Mussina, Erickson, Jimmy Key, and Scott Kamieniecki.  Randy Myers was the closer and Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez, and Arthur Rhodes were in the bullpen.  Oh, and Jeffrey Maier got in the way…

Runs Scored: 613 (13th in the AL, 100 runs better than Seattle, but well below average)
Runs Allowed: 785 (13th in the AL, 60 runs better than the Royals, but well below average)

2010 in Review:

A lot was made out of the hiring of Buck Showalter, and the early results were admittedly stunning.

The Dave Trembley managed Orioles were picked by many to finish last or fourth in the AL and didn’t disappoint.  The young arms didn’t get started, and the bats never came around.  Baltimore started 5 – 18, won just 10 in May, and went 9 – 17 in June.  By then, Trembley had been relieved of his job and Juan Samuel was given the interim job.  Things didn’t get any better, as the Orioles went 8 – 19 in July.  With a record of 32 – 73 (!), having just been swept by the Royals, the Orioles were pacing for just 49 wins – an historically bad total – so Buck Showalter was brought in to add organization and teaching to the Orioles.  The Orioles had a winning record in August and September (and October, 3 – 1).  This 34 – 23 stretch was NOT built, like the White Sox, Minnesota, and Detroit win streaks, by beating up on the lower level teams in the AL or a run of games against the NL Central, but rather against the AL East and other good teams like Texas, Chicago, Anaheim, and Detroit.

The roster moved around mostly because young players were shuttled in and out, but the Orioles had tried bringing in Miguel Tejada, and then sent him packing to San Diego before the trading deadline.  The other minor deal the Orioles did was to trade Will (Suitcase) Ohman to the Marlins for fringe rotation starter Rick Vanden Hurk.

Starters:

Jeremy Guthrie had a pretty solid year – 3.83 ERA, 209.1 innings, doesn’t walk people but served up a few homers.  His strikeout rate is a bit low, which is disconcerting, but not yet problematic.  Behind him was the disappointing import Kevin Millwood.  Millwood went 4 – 16 with a 5.10 ERA, mostly because he gave up 30 homers.  He actually struck out more guys than Guthrie with decent control, but you can’t give up 30 dingers without absorbing losses…  The third starter, Brian Matusz, showed promise finishing 10 – 12 with even better K/9 rates, and a better than league average run rate.  Brad Bergesen made 28 starts and was a young Kevin Millwood – lots of homers, without the good K rate.  The fifth slot was shared by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman.  Arrieta is a prospect but had nearly as many walks as strikeouts, which isn’t very good, and Tillman is a 22-year-old prospect who had very similar numbers to Arrieta – actually finishing with the same number of walks to strikeouts.  Arrieta and Tillman had replaced David Hernandez, who was lousy in the rotation but decent as a reliever.

Looking forward to 2011, the only change is the dismissal of Millwood, and the possible addition of Justin Duchscherer as a fifth starter option.  Duchscherer lost 2009 to surgery on his left elbow, battled depression, and came back in 2010 only to miss most of that season to have surgery on his left hip.  What would help the rotation most would be to keep the ball in the park, and for the middle defense to get stronger…  And, it would be nice to have a true ACE at the top of the rotation, which would slot Guthrie, Matusz, and Bergesen one spot down the chain.

Bullpen:

Alfredo Simon failed as the closer, ceding the job to Koji Uehara.  Uehara is a good late inning option, finishing with 55 Ks and just 5 walks in 43 innings.  Will Ohman was tolerable, Matt Albers wasn’t, and Mike Gonzalez – a good reliever – couldn’t stay healthy.  Mark Hendrickson may have played himself out of baseball, and Jason Berken may have played his way into an eighth inning role.  On the whole, though, the bullpen was lacking an ace as well.  Berken or Uehara could BECOME an ace, but until then, the Orioles brought in Kevin Gregg to be the closer for at least four months…  (He seems to run out of gas in August, and I can’t explain that since he’s a reliever, but he’s got John Franco disease.)  Gregg can be much better than Alfredo Simon, and if Mike Gonzalez can pitch 50 innings, there is hope that the bullpen can be ten to fifteen runs better than in 2010.

Catching:

Matt Wieters is a good young catcher.  I don’t know if he will be the next Joe Mauer, but he can be 80% of Joe Mauer and that’s not half bad.  Defensively, he’s pretty solid with a strong arm.  Offensively, he wasn’t all that great, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he jumped from the 11 – 55 – .249 numbers of 2010 to 17 – 75 – .280 in 2011.  I saw him in the minors and he’s BIG – 6′ 5″ and 225, and there is something about him that is impressive.  Let’s hope he takes that step forward.  Jake Fox and Craig Tatum are backups.  Fox can hit some – but doesn’t have a defensive position (why can’t he just DH?) and Tatum hit singles and catches the ball, but didn’t throw out any base stealers in 2010.  Okay, two.

Infield:

Most of last year’s infield is gone.  Instead of Ty Wiggington playing everywhere (and well) – usually at first base, Brian Roberts at second, Cesar Izturis at short, and Miguel Tejada at third, you have a much different, and potentially stronger offensive lineup.

Look, Tejada played third very well but his offense is slipping (as you would expect), and he was traded to San Diego.  Izturis fell off both offensively and defensively, and Brian Roberts couldn’t stay healthy, forcing Julio Lugo or Robert Andino into more regular roles.  Garrett Atkins was given a shot and, as I mentioned, shouldn’t have been given that shot.  On the whole, though, the infield in 2010 was WEAK.

Looking at 2011, you have Mark Reynolds, the basher who arrives from Arizona with a need to get his batting average back over .230 and cut his strikeouts down to under, say, 200.  STILL, even hitting .198, his power and walks make him an above average hitter and his defense is surprisingly strong.  J.J. Hardy comes over from Minnesota for prospects and immediately upgrades the offense and actually did a better job than Izturis in the field in 2010.  (I like Hardy as a late round fantasy pick – coming off a left wrist injury, his power should return – especially here.)  Izturis remains as a utility infielder along with Robert Andino.  Brian Roberts should be the DH because his body is breaking down and his defense has never been really good.  But, if he played 130 games at second, he might score 100 runs and few guys can do that.  Covering first base is newcomer Derrek Lee.  I’m not a huge fan of this – he’s getting old, his back doesn’t allow him to get to ground balls anymore, and he’s coming off of right thumb surgery – and I’d rather have kept Wigginton.  Luke Scott is his short term backup…  Still, there is a really good chance that the defense will be no worse than last year and the offense could jump up 60 – 80 runs better than last year.

Outfield:

Two positions remain capably covered, with Adam Jones being one of the most productive centerfielders in the AL, and Nick Markakis playing a reliable if not insanely productive right field.  Markakis could have a breakout season, but he sure hits fewer homers than he used to.  It would be nice if he accidentally tagged 25 homers, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  Luke Scott plays left, with Felix Pie getting at bats and logging late defensive innings.  It’s not a horrible platoon, really.  The fifth outfielder, Nolan Reimold, is better than his injury riddled numbers in 2011.

DH:

Luke Scott gets at bats here, as does Jake Fox, but in 2011, the Orioles have added Vlad Guerrero.  Guerrero had a decent first half in 2010, but faded badly down the stretch.  Oddly, the Orioles have a lot of candidates to play here and if they wanted someone on the Rangers, I’d gladly take Michael Young to play second and move Roberts to DH before I’d have given a deal to Guerrero.  Vlad got a one-year deal, though, so hopefully it will pay off.

Down on the Farm:

Most of what can play is already with the big club, leaving the top end of the minors system for Baltimore a bit thin.  The best players on the Norfolk Tides (AAA) were pitchers Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, who are pretty decent prospects, and catcher Brandon Snyder, who doesn’t have a place to play so long as Matt Wieters is still around.

Joel Guzman is still around, hitting 33 homers at AA Bowie.  A few years ago, Guzman was considered a propsect at SS because he was mobile and had power.  He’s still got power, but he’s older and heavier (and taller) and now he’s trying to make it back to the bigs but he might have to do it as a third baseman.  God bless him…  Ryan Adams was taken #2 five years ago, and looked like an almost prospect at Bowie – but mid-range power hitting .298 isn’t going to make it much past a cup of coffee.  Joe Mahoney seems to be making progress, hitting for more power and higher averages as he works through the minors.  He’ll likely start in Bowie, though, and for a first baseman mid-range power isn’t a total asset.

Speaking of first basemen with mid-range power… Tyler Townsend, taken in the third round in 2009, looks like a Gaby Sanchez-type hitter in A+ Frederick.  If he takes a step forward in 2011, look for him to make the squad in late 2013.  Former #2 pick, Mychal Givens is returning from a thumb injury, it will be interesting to see what the shortstop can do if he can just play a full season at  Delmarva or A+ Frederick.

Forecasting 2011:

The Orioles made a lot of bold changes to the roster, most of which will bolster the offense.  I mean, this is a pretty good lineup:  Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Scott, Reynolds, Vlad, Lee, Wieters and Hardy.  This team could easily jump from 613 runs scored to 725 or even 740 runs.  It could also struggle for three months if Vlad and Lee can’t get on track and finish at around 675.  I like the idea, however, that 700 runs is very possible.  The team isn’t GREAT defensively as long as Roberts and Hardy are your double-play combination, but the problem in 2010 was homers allowed more than anything else.

The pitching will hold steady in the rotation, but the bullpen could be marginally better.  Facing Boston, Tampa, New York, and Toronto, it’s hard to look great with your pitching staff.  That being said, I don’t know if the Yankees and Tampa will score more than 800 runs in 2011, and that will help lower the Baltimore defensive numbers.  It’s VERY possible that the AL East may have five teams at or above .500 at some point in the season.  Baltimore isn’t going to win 85 games, but they have a very good shot at 80 wins.  Realistically, I see them as a 79 – 83 team, getting the fans excited about the Orioles future.

I also see them having some big holes to fill in 2012 – first base, second base, closer, and ace – that will require the farm to turn out a future star or the ownership to make a REALLY bold move rather than fetch a bunch of veterans as short gap changes.

2010 Top AL Third Basemen

Evan Longoria – TB (125.6 Runs Created, 31.1 Runs Saved = 156.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Not sure if people thought he was as good as Robinson Cano last year (including me), but once you add up the numbers, he was the most valuable player in the AL last year.  A remarkable ballplayer.

Adrian Beltre – BOS (116.5 Runs Created, 19.0 Runs Saved = 135.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Now THAT’s a contract year season, huh?  He has this kind of ability, and if he did this every year he’d be headed to the Hall of Fame.  Instead, he’s heading to Texas.  Kevin Youkilis, certainly capable of this kind of productivity when healthy, will get the nod in 2011.

Jose Lopez – SEA (60.7 Runs Created, 36.9 Runs Saved = 97.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Handled the move from second to third very nicely, playing with surprisingly good range and avoiding mistakes often made by first timers to the hot corner.  Doesn’t have much power left, and I don’t think he can repeat this performance.  Now, he’s in Colorado, which means that Chone Figgins will return to third base.

Miguel Tejada – BAL (75.8 Runs Created, 21.2 Runs Saved = 97.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Wasn’t really cutting it offensively, but did a great job as a third baseman.  Was sent to San Diego for the stretch drive where he returned to the shortstop position and gave him a little bit of life.  He can still play well enough to help somebody.  Josh Bell didn’t cut it as his back up, and former Snake basher, Mark Reynolds, will get the job in 2010.

Michael Young – TEX (94.0 Runs Created, -10.3 Runs Saved = 83.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Plays every day, hits a bit, and got better defensively in his second year at the position.  Yes – Beltre is a step up from Young, but you don’t want guys like Young to go away.  Could get 150 games backing up both Kinsler and Beltre and playing DH from time to time.

Alex Rodriguez – NYY (85.0 Runs Created, -2.4 = 82.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Superficially, he hit the 30/100 milestones.  Defensively, he’s gotten better the longer he has played third base, but his bat is slipping (age, lack of chemical help) and his health is no longer dependable for 150 games.

Mark Reynolds, your new Oriole 3B, would rank here at 79.7 Total Runs Productivity…

Brandon Inge – DET (67.6 Runs Created, 11.0 Runs Saved = 78.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Can still play the position well, but is – at best – a league average hitter.

At 71.8 Total Runs Productivity, former Indian Jhonny Peralta would rank here.  I just can’t tell if he’s moving back to third base soon.

Kevin Kouzmanoff – OAK (64.0 Runs Created, -1.5 Runs Saved = 62.5 Total Runs Productivity)

A dependable player, but not one you can build a team around.

Alberto Callaspo – KC/LAA (66.4 Runs Created, -7.5 Runs Saved = 58.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Has had better years, but I’m not sure he’s a long term solution for the Angels, who gave up on their other options in 2010.  The Royals gave the job to Wilson Betemit, but he’ll be a bench option before too long.  For the Angels, it’s hard to see who might be the third baseman of the future – so Callaspo better put his career back in gear.

Danny Valencia – MIN (48.8 Runs Created, -1.2 Runs Saved = 47.6 Total Runs Productivity)

The Boca Raton native and Hurricane grad got the call in 2010 and did well enough, helping produce a few runs and battling the position to a draw.  He might show a little more power as he ages, but isn’t going to be a bomber.  I’d call him the new Joe Randa.  Nick Punto and Brendan Harris are both pretty good third baseman (Punto with the glove and Harris, occasionally, with the bat), but Punto will start 2011 on the DL following surgery to repair a sports hernia and Harris is in Baltimore where he may or may not play 100 games.

Edwin Encarnacion – TOR (48.1 Runs Created, -4.5 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Not very consistent, but he really can be a good player.  Bautista, if he played here every day and hit like he did last year would move WAY up the list, and he handled the position defensively better than Edwin did.

Jayson Nix – CLE (35.0 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 36.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Not even sure he’ll start, since MLB.com lists Jason Donald as the prospective starting third baseman (and he didn’t log an inning at third in 2010) – which makes it hard to figure who to draft in a full AL Only fantasy league.  Neither Donald, Nix, or Andy Marte cut it last year after Peralta left.

Wilson Betemit – 53.4 Runs Created, -21.4 Run Saved = 32.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Hit better than he would have expected (13 – 43 – .297 in 84 games), and fielded much worse than expected.  He’s really somewhere in between there and worth having on the team.  However, the Michael Moustakas era will begin in 2011 – and the question is how long will the Royals wait for that to get started?  Opening Day?  June – to push back arbitration eligibility a year?  Moustakas hit 36 homers in AA and AA last year and is just 22.

Mark Teahen – CHI (28.0 Runs Created, -9.9 Runs Saved = 18.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Reason #2 why the White Sox didn’t win the AL Central.  Teahen was brought here from Kansas City to at least give league average production, and he couldn’t stay healthy, he couldn’t hit enough, and his glove wasn’t working either at three positions.  May get another chance, but I’m not sure I’d want to be the guy to give it to him.  Brett Morel may be the man of the future, having earned a shot after three solid years of growth in the minors.  Morel looks like he has a little power and a little speed – and at 24 just after Opening Day, he has room for growth.

Omar Vizquel – CHI (38.8 Runs Created, -27.0 Runs Saved = 11.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Reason #1 why the White Sox didn’t win the AL Central.  Vizquel was pressed into playing more than 500 innings here, after never being a third baseman before.  He’s not the run producer most teams expect at this position, and he looked very much old and out of place.

Brandon Wood – LAA (8.9 Runs Created, -11.4 Runs Saved = -2.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Can we declare his days as a prospect over now?

2010 AL Gold Glove and Dirty Brick Award Winners

My fielding ranking system is a method that looks at the number of plays made per 800 balls in play.  In effect, if someone makes one play more than another person at the same position, he reduces the batting average of the hitter by a point.  The best fielders occasionally make a run at 15 plays per 800 balls in play more than average, the worst can go 15 in the other direction.  Then, I convert those plays made into runs saved (or not saved, if the number is negative) based on the types of hits allowed on balls hit toward that fielder.  I also convert double plays and errors into runs based on Pete Palmer formulas found in the old Total Baseball encyclopedias.

Does it work?  Actually – yes.  It passes the eye ball test (Elvis Andrus, when you watch him, looks like an impressive fielder), and the system is comparable to other methodologies.  I’ve used this for about ten years, when I was first trying to rate fielders to make player cards for the old Superstar Baseball board game.

I try to remove biases for groundball/flyball tendencies, and for lefty/righty balls in play.  If there is one position where I am always concerned, it’s first base because much of that is based on the rest of the infield – so I essentially remove infield assists from the first baseman’s putout total.  Even with that, there is usually a greater range between the best and worst fielders.  However, after doing this for years, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for this has more to do with the fact that the worst fielders are, indeed, the least mobile athletes on the field and if you get someone at first base who is young and still fleet of foot, that person is going to make GOBS more plays than a big lumbering first baseman whose first move is to start heading to first to catch a throw on almost any ball hit to his right.

Mighty Casey generally doesn’t rank pitchers individually, but the best team in this regard was probably Cleveland.  Cleveland pitchers had a positive ratio of double plays to errors (19/13, where the league pitchers participated in 180 DPs and made 181 errors) and also handled about 5 chances more than the average team per 800 balls in play.  The worst was easily Detroit (17 DPs, 18 errors, 6.4 plays below average per 800 balls in play).

I also rank catchers differently, choosing to score them as a team.  There are seven categories for which a team of catchers could be graded:  ERA, Winning Percentage, SB%, Fielding Percentage on plays not including strikeouts, Mistakes per Game (passed balls, errors), Plays Made per Game (or Mobility), Other Assists per Game (not including Caught Stealing).  The catchers get a point for each category in which they are above the league average, and lose a point if below league average.  The highest score, theoretically, is seven and the lowest would be -7.  Nobody was that good, nor that bad.

Catcher:

Toronto had the best rankings, being above average in six categories and dead even on Mobility.  John Buck did the yeoman’s share of the work, but his backup Jose Molina was also exceptional against the run, tossing out 15 of 34 runners.  That being said, I don’t think that John Buck is the best catcher in the AL, it’s Joe Mauer.  But the rankings say that Toronto’s catchers held their own collectively.

Behind Toronto, the White Sox scored at positive four, failing only in mobility categories, and then a tie between Boston, Detroit, and Minnesota at positive three.

The worst catching was a toss up between three teams that all scored at -3: Seattle, Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

First Base:

For the first time in several years, the stats matched the reputation.  Mark Teixeira earns the nod, saving his team nearly 32 runs with his range and ability to avoid errors and turn double plays.  I was surprised at how good Ty Wigginton was, showing even better range, but then again – he’s an infielder moving over to first – and frequently those guys are used to straying as far as possible to get grounders where many first basemen will give up on balls to the right and let the second sacker get them while moving to first base.

I’m not totally certain that Teixeira would have won the award had Kendry Morales not gotten hurt.  Morales, in just 51 games, had a slightly higher range and was on pace to save just as many runs as Big Tex.  Two others who didn’t get 1000 innings at the position also scored well here – Kevin Youkilis and rookie Justin Smoak.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Mark Teixeira    1291.2    10.2    31.7
Ty Wigginton    787    12.5    18.7
Justin Smoak    807.2    10.3    17.5

The Dirty Brick goes to Cleveland’s Matt LaPorta, whose poor range didn’t help a season where his bat wasn’t very strong – negating half of the runs he created offensively.  The other two shouldn’t be a surprise.  Miguel Cabrera is looking less and less lean, and Mike Napoli is a catcher playing first.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Matt LaPorta    791.1    -13.5    -25.0
Miguel Cabrera    1285.1    -5.6    -19.9
Mike Napoli    586.1    -12.7    -19.2

Dishonorable mentions go out to Daric Barton, Justin Morneau (on pace to match LaPorta, but he missed half the season), and Paul Konerko…

Second Base:

Robinson Cano had an amazing year with the bat, and was equally strong with the glove.  His range factor was nearly 11 plays per 800 balls in play more than average, and he made just 3 errors while turning 114 double plays.  As such, he not only saved his team 26 runs just by eliminating hits, but he took more than seven more runs off the board by avoiding errors and helping with the DP – the most at his position by far.  Orlando Hudson provided value for Minnesota, and KC’s Mike Aviles returned and made a positive contribution with the bat and glove, too.  Regular leaders here, Ian Kinsler and Mark Ellis, fell back as both missed about 500 innings at the position due to injuries.  Honorable mention to Sean Rodriguez at Tampa who nearly made the list in just a half season of innings, and to Gordon Beckham who switched over from third and was solid for the White Sox.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Robinson Cano    1393.1    10.9    33.3
Orlando Hudson    1067    7.4    16.3
Mike Aviles    765.2    14.8    15.8

The Dirty Brick goes to a position switch as well – Seattle’s Chone Figgins.  He was a decided bust at second base, making 19 errors and making an adjusted 4.11 plays per nine – 11.9 plays fewer per 800 balls in play than the average second baseman.  Seattle signed him as a third baseman, switched him over to let Jose Lopez play third.  Thankfully, Lopez was fantastic over there – else it would have been a total loss…  Brian Roberts, a regular to the brick list, was abhorrant in a shade under 500 innings, 20 plays worse than the average second sacker per 800 balls in play, and Aaron Hill took his struggles at the plate with him to the field.  Dishonorable mentions to supposed glove man Chris Getz (-7 runs) and rookie Scott Sizemore (-11 runs in must 314 innings).  So much for replacing Placido Polanco…

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Chone Figgins    1417    -11.9    -33.3
Brian Roberts    498.1    -19.5    -17.1
Aaron Hill    1188    -6.1    -14.5

Third Base:

As poorly as Chone Figgins played second base for Seattle, converted third baseman Jose Lopez was a decided success.  His range was superior, and he didn’t disappoint in terms of errors or double plays.  Evan Longoria remained in the 30 runs saved range – a remarkable player, really – and Adrian Beltre continued to field his position remarkably well.  An honorable mention goes to the reluctantly converted Miguel Tejada, who had greater range than even Longoria, but played just 808 innings before being shipped out.  Nick Punto played an out shy of 345 innings there without making an error…

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Jose Lopez    1252.2    13.3    36.9
Evan Longoria    1330.2    8.7    31.1
Adrian Beltre    1342.2    6.6    19.0

The dirty brick goes to a part-timer, Royals infielder Wilson Betemit, who must have had ball repellant on him, making barely 2.2 plays per nine and having a range about 17 plays worse than the average player per 800 balls in play.  Another halftimer, Omar Vizquel got close to 600 unnecessary innings at third base for the White Sox – he’s an ancient shortstop who hadn’t played there for his entire career.  You want to know why the White Sox lost the division – look right here.  Of the regulars, Michael Young was, again, a lousy third baseman – but he did make improvement over last year.  No wonder he volunteered to be a DH.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Wilson Betemit    455.1    -16.9    -18.4
Omar Vizquel    582.1    -19.4    -17.4
Michael Young    1370.1    -3.3    -10.3

Shortstop:

Nobody was more surprised to see this than I, but Alexei Ramirez had a remarkable year at shortstop, showing great range – as good as he ever played.  He was one assist shy of 500 – a great season by any measurement.  Cliff Pennington helped out the young A’s staff by making his share of plays, and Elvis Andrus remained among the best fielders of his time.  Seattle’s Jack and Josh Wilson, if combined, saved Seattle more than 20 runs.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Alexei Ramirez    1376.2    12.8    32.1
Cliff Pennington   1304.2    12.0    26.9
Elvis Andrus    1291.1    10.3    26.0

At least the reigning gold glove winner didn’t finish last, but he did have the worst range amongst the regulars.  This year, Marco Scutaro’s 18 errors and only contributing to 57 double plays made up for making slightly more plays than Derek Jeter, who had just 6 errors and 94 double plays.  The 11 run swing gave the brick to Scutaro, who killed the Red Sox infield.  He’ll need to be replaced soon if the Sox want to be competitive.  Third place went to Jason Bartlett who no longer looks like the slick fielding shortstop he was before all the ankle injuries in 2009.  Thankfully for the Rays, they have other options for 2011.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Marco Scutaro    1166    -13.2    -32.0
Derek Jeter    1303.2    -15.0    -27.4
Jason Bartlett    1104    -8.9    -16.4

Left Field:

A centerfielder playing left who also had his best offensive season heading into free agency, the gold glove goes to the perennially amazing Carl Crawford.  Crawford was the only left fielder to save his team more than 10 runs, but only because the next closest guys played too few innings to save enough runs.  Only three left fielders played 1000 innings there in 2010.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Carl Crawford    1260.1    4.2    13.1
Michael Saunders   647.2    6.3    9.6
Alex Gordon    486.1    7.6    9.0

One of those three was Dirty Brick winner Delmon Young, who abused left field until he cost the Twins 25 runs out there.  At least he found his bat last year…  Fred Lewis played a disinterested left field for Toronto, and Daniel Nava was the Boston representative of the list of bad outfielders who played between 200 and 500 innings in the AL.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Delmon Young    1277.2    -8.5    -25.0
Fred Lewis    726.1    -7.8    -13.2
Daniel Nava    380    -12.9    -10.4

Center Field:

The Angels are rightfully excited about the defensive capabilities of their new centerfielder, Peter Bourjos.  The man can fly – reminding you of a young Gary Pettis.  He can throw, too – ten assists in what amounts to a third of a season in the field.  This allows Los Angeles to move Torii Hunter, who is now a slightly below average centerfielder to right (where he was really good), and makes room for another below average centerfielder, Vernon Wells, to move to left.  As it was, there isn’t a whole lot of difference amongst the starting centerfielders, except for Bourjos, in terms of overall range.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Peter Bourjos    449.2    12.0    12.4
Adam Jones    1298.1    2.9    7.9
Alex Rios    1246.2    2.8    7.1

The Dirty Brick goes to a guy whose body and game are falling apart, and that’s Grady Sizemore.  One hopes he can heal and start to put his career back in the right direction, but it’s probably going to have to be at a different position.  Sadly, his replacement (Brantley) doesn’t look much better, and among those who played at least 1000 innings, Vernon Wells, who was healthier than in recent seasons, is still the worst of the lot (costing his team about 7.5 runs).  Thankfully, he’s done as a centerfielder.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Grady Sizemore    269.2    -17.5    -11.2
Michael Brantley562.2    -6.9    -9.4
Gregor Blanco    347    -11.2    -8.4

Right Field:

For the second year in a row, Nelson Cruz was a remarkable outfielder, though he threw hardly anybody out from right.  I was surprised to see how well Nick Swisher did, but that could be because opponents may allow more lefties to bat in the new Yankee Stadium.  Honorable mention to Ben Zobrist, who has to play everywhere but looked solid enough in right.  I wonder if there isn’t some form of statistical bias in Texas, though, as even Vlad Guerrero showed up as above average in his 118.2 innings there.  Not WAY above average, but slightly.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Nelson Cruz    799.1    15.2    25.9
Nick Swisher    1102    6.1    14.5
Jason Repko    226    16.4    9.3

The Dirty Brick goes to the surprise hammer of the league – Jose Bautista, followed by a bunch of guys who are either ill-suited for the outfield, aging, our out of position (David DeJesus).  The worst right fielder who played at least 1000 innings was Shin-Soo Choo, who barely edged out the immobile Nick Markakis and the aging J.D. Drew, and were all between -7.02 and -7.17 runs in the wrong direction.

Player        Innings    Range    Runs Saved
Jose Bautista    982.2    -6.8    -14.6
Carlos Quentin    897    -5.3    -13.6
Bobby Abreu    805.2    -3.4    -7.9

Look Who is Contending! And, Notes From the Training Room…

I was looking at the standings and there it was…  Pittsburgh is 7 – 5, and with a win last night the Nationals are 7 – 6.  San Diego matches that – good enough for second in the NL West.  Oakland leads the AL West at 9 – 5.

It’s only been two weeks, sure…  Still – nice to see a couple of surprise teams making a little early noise.

One Cheat Passes Another…

Alex Rodriguez hit home run #584, passing Mark McGwire for eighth on the all-time list.  Somewhere, a chemistry teacher feels rewarded for his or her work in the classroom.  Anyway…  Frank Robinson is next, and in a few months, there should be seven players with at least 600 homers in their career.  [FoxSports]

Fond Farewell…

Eric Gagne, for a few years the most feared reliever in baseball, called it a career.  The Dodgers released Gagne after a few poor outings in Spring Training and Gagne told a Montreal website he had lost his desire to play.  Gagne’s elbow, back, and shoulder have all required surgery, and it was fraying in his rotator cuff a couple of years ago that scared off the Red Sox.  Gagne was also mentioned in the Mitchell report for having received HGH from Kirk Radomski.  [SI]

But He Made The Ten Best Dressed List…

Tampa Rays manager Joe Maddon was told by MLB that he can no longer wear his favorite hoodie sweatshirt – one he frequently wears under his jacket to stay warm.  Maddon says he prefers the hoodies to winter coats.

From the Training Room…

Baltimore outfielder Felix Pie will likely miss the next three months recovering from an injury to his left shoulder – he ruptured the latissimus dorsai behind that shoulder.  Fortunately, no surgery is required, but he needs rest and rehab before he can play again.  [MLB]

Meanwhile, other Orioles remain on the mend…  Brian Roberts, already on the DL with abdominal injuries, saw a spinal specialist, Koji Uehara is testing his sore left hamstring, and Miguel Tejada says he’s ready to play after straining a hip adductor muscle.  The guy who may not be on the mend is manager Dave Trembley.  The Orioles are 2 – 11 already and now face New York or Boston for the next dozen games.  [MLB]

The Red Sox can’t buy a win, and now are stuck playing Bill Hall in centerfield with two other outfielders unable to play…  Jacoby Ellsbury collided with Adrian Beltre a week ago and has a severely bruised chest, while Mike Cameron still hasn’t found abdominal relief days after passing a kidney stone.  [MLB/ESPN]

Phillies starter J.A. Happ will miss a turn with a strained elbow.  Is Pedro Martinez still available? [ESPN]

Seattle starter Erik Bedard‘s return from shoulder surgery continues apace with the goal of making the team by Memorial Day.  [MLB]

San Diego starter Chris Young is playing catch, but is still some time away from returning to the Padres.  Young is the new Mike Hampton.  [MLB]

Transaction Wire

The Dodgers sent Russ Ortiz back to AAA (he was actually designated for assignment), and will give a roster spot to Jon Link.  Link was a former Padre and White Sox farmhand who was acquired in the Juan Pierre trade.  A Virginia Commonwealth grad, Link has made steady progress in the minors and looks to have closer stuff – but not quite.  Link has good strikeout numbers but he’s a touch wild, and his ERA hasn’t been around 2.00 – it’s more like 3 to 3.5.  Still – he can take some middle innings and not be too bad.

Arizona placed Conor Jackson on the DL with a right hamstring strain and immediately recalled Esmerling Vasquez – who hadn’t even made it to AAA when he was recalled.

The Mets recalled 1B prospect Ike Davis, the 23-year-old out of Arizona State.  Davis had made progress in the minors and was a stud during spring training.  He looks to have mid-range power, a big swing, and a little patience.  I think he can hit .275 or so in the bigs (but strike out a LOT) – still the Mets might as well give him a shot.  It’s not like Carlos Delgado is coming back any time soon.

Happy Birthday!

1876 – Charlie Hemphill – I think he played with Rube in the California League in 1902
1891 – Dave Bancroft (Hall of Fame shortstop)
1946 – Tommy Hutton – now a Marlins TV commentator and a good one
1950 – Milt Wilcox
1961 – Don Mattingly
1973 – Todd Hollingsworth

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

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

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

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

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

From the Training Room…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old News…

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

Police Blotter…

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

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

Longest Division Games in the AL?

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

From the Transaction Wire…

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

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

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

2010 Season Forecast: 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.

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 Shortstops in 2009

Hanley Ramirez (FLA):  Not great defensively, but an amazingly good hitter and the whole package makes him the best shortstop in baseball.  More patient than ever, has solid power and can still run the bases.  Go look at his minor league stats and tell me if you can see this coming.  I still think Miguel Cabrera is the best player ever to wear the Marlins uniform, but it might be Hanley.  (126.9 Runs Created, -6.24 Runs Saved = 120.63 Total Run Production)

Miguel Tejada (HOU):  Still a remarkably productive hitter despite not drawing any walks.  Hardly misses a game, had a decent year in the field (Blum can’t cut off anything) – now heading back to Baltimore and moving to third base.  (104.1 Runs Created, -2.0 Runs Saved = 102.07 Total Run Production)

There was a time when I was a big Tejada fan.  Now, not so much.  The Astros wanted him to move to third base and had he done that the Astros would have been probably 30 runs better because Keppinger would have been the full time shortstop.  (That being said, Keppinger should have been the full time third baseman.)  He lied about his age.  He was incriminated by Rafael Palmeiro – and if you look at it – I absolutely believe that Tejada was juicing.  He was in Oakland, one of the two centers of PED abuse (the other being Texas, but only because Canseco brought the practice with him from Oakland to Texas).  His power numbers have fallen off the further away from his PED use he’s gotten.  He does what he thinks is right and not what the manager wants.  Nobody has come right out and said it, but there’s no way he’s a role model for anybody.

Troy Tulowitzki (COL):  Even considering he played in Colorado, Tulo’s offense was great – good power, good patience, good baserunning, almost hit .300.  His fielding isn’t what it was a few years ago when he came up, but if he puts 100 runs on the board, nobody will complain.  (106.0 Runs Created, -6.6 Runs Saved = 99.43 Total Run Production)

Yunel Escobar (ATL):  I see a lot of him being a Marlins fan and boy is this guy good.  He’s no Ramirez, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .320 with 20 homers one day.  I hope he’s on my fantasy team when he does it.  I look for that season in 2011, but it could be this year.  92.9 Runs Created, 3.4 Runs Saved = 96.24 Total Run Production)

Rafael Furcal (LAD):  A near healthy season – his batting average isn’t what it once was, and he doesn’t tear up the bases like he used to, and he can’t field the way he once did…  His arm is still a cannon.  He’s pretty much a league average starter now and slightly above average for his position.  (85.7 Runs Created, 3.5 Runs Saved = 89.17 Total Run Production)

Ryan Theriot (CHC):  Doesn’t hit for enough power to move up this list, but still  a fine shortstop.  The Cubs should be glad to have him.  (75.8 Runs Created, 8.5 Runs Saved = 84.27 Total Run Production)

Brendan Ryan (STL):  I liked him a couple of years ago, but he was better than I had thought he’d be in 2009.  Hit enough and played the position supurbly.  Didn’t get enough credit for helping the Cardinals make it to the top of the NL Central.  (58.5 Runs Created, 21.2 Runs Saved = 79.71 Total Run Production)

Everth Cabrera (SD):  Brendan Ryan with a bit more speed.  He’s an old school #2 hitter – would be nice if he could step up with about 15% more offense.  That means finding more ways to get on base because he has little, if any, power.  (59.1 Runs Created, 13.7 Runs Saved = 72.81 Total Run Production)

Stephen Drew (ARI):  Isn’t horrible, but I can’t help but think he’s kind of a disappointment.  Hits for a little power, gets on base some – doesn’t kill you with the glove.  You don’t hear about him because he plays in Arizona and they aren’t all that good right now, but he’s not all that noticeable either.  (68.2 Runs Created, -3.67 Runs Saved = 64.56 Total Run Production)

Jimmy Rollins (PHI):  Phillie fans are going to be surprised at this rating, but despite the power and base stealing, what did he do?  I know – Rollins got the gold glove.  But did ANYBODY look at the stats?  Like Derek Jeter, his reputation was bigger than his range – he had the WORST range of anyone playing 300 innings at the position – except for the ancient Edgar Renteria.  When you adjust for the staff (balls in play, groundball/fly ball) Rollins is dead last.  He also didn’t get on base.  When he’s on – he can explode offensively, but he is NOT a valuable commodity anymore.  Would I rather have Everth Cabrera these days than Jimmy Rollins?  Yes.  Yes, I would.  (88.5 Runs Created, -26.07 Runs Saved = 62.42 Total Run Production)

Cristian Guzman (WAS):  Only his batting average is worth anything.  Range is gone, speed is gone, and he has little power or patience at the plate.  I’d play Ian Desmond.  (63.9 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 53.73 Total Run Production)

J.J. Hardy (MIL):  Gone – now the job belongs to Alcides Escobar.  He’s not horrible, but it would be nice if he could find his bat again.  I promise you he’ll be playing for two or three more years and is NOT the new Dale Sveum.  (47.9 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 51.74 Total Run Production)

Alcides Escobar got his first taste of the big leagues and looked great.  Good range, decent enough bat.  At 500 at bats and 140 games, he’s moving into the top seven and if he’s all that, he’s a big step up from Hardy.

Paul Janish (CIN):  Can’t hit a lick (.211, with little power or patience) but had amazing defensive stats.  The new John McDonald?  (23.7 Runs Created, 24.73 Runs Saved = 48.46 Total Run Production)

Jack Wilson (PIT/SEA):  I know – great glove.  However, he’s gettin older, missing time, and isn’t much of an offensive force.  Tell me again how this helps the Mariners in the long run?  (39.8 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 47.40 Total Run Production)

Edgar Renteria (SF):  Had a better year with the glove than normal, but still below average.  Not much offensively anymore either.  And yet, he has a job in San Francisco.  Reason #3 that the team won’t make the playoffs.  (46.9 Runs Created, -6.7 Runs Saved = 40.29 Total Run Production)

Jeff Keppinger (HOU):  Most of the time, he played third base behind Blum but he can still play short.  If he played full time, he’s at least as good as Guzman and maybe as productive (overall) as Rollins or Drew.   In 2010, he might get more innings there – the MLB depth chart lists rookie Tommy Manzello as the potential starter.  Manzello has little power, isn’t a huge on base guy – but if he can field at all he’s a Jack Wilson clone. (39.4 Runs Created, 0.7 Runs Saved = 40.07 Total Run Production)

Ronny Cedeno (PIT):  No hit, decent glove, utility infield type.  Not going to impact Pittsburgh other than he’s playing because nobody else is ready.  31.0 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Alex Cora (NYM):  Broke BOTH thumbs.  Now THAT’S a bad break.  He’s really not a half-bad player and most teams would love to have him as their shortstop.  (29.2 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 36.78 Total Run Production)

Alex Gonzalez (CIN/BOS):  Age and injuries have sapped his range – he was never that good with the bat.  It was a good run, though.  Orlando Cabrera has the job now and he’s a serious step up over what Cincy threw out there in 2009. (39.9 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 27.6 Total Run Production)

Jose Reyes (NYM):  Obviously a better player than this, but his bum wheels affected his range and he didn’t play into the summer.  If healthy, he’s top six for sure.  (23.6 Runs Created, -6.3 Runs Saved = 17.26 Total Run Production)