January 3 – Happy Birthday, Buzz Arlett!

Arrivals:

1891 – Bill “Rebel” McTigue
1899 – Buzz Arlett

In 1984, the Society for American Baseball Research voted Arlett the greatest minor league ballplayer ever.  Lessee…  He was signed by the Oakland Oaks as a teen pitcher when the team was in spring training and had run out of pitchers during a spring training event – Arlett was only there because his brother was on the Oaks.  He was a very successful pitcher on a not very successful team, but a devastating arm injury forced him to try his luck as an outfielder.  The arm injury also required that he learn to bat left-handed – so he taught himself to do that, too.  He was a mighty hitter, but not much of an outfielder, and for any number of reasons he couldn’t get signed to a major league contract.  That being said, the Pacific Coast League was a really, really good league and paid major league dollars for talent.

After waiting for his shot for more than a dozen years, he finally got a contract as a 32-year-old outfielder with the 1931 Phillies, got hurt, and even though he had hit .313 with some power, was released.  Arlett signed with the Baltimore Orioles and remained a potent hitter there until his career ended in the late 1930s.  His stats remind you of Chipper Jones…

1906 – Gus Suhr
1910 – Stanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray
1922 – Virgil Stallcup
1950 – Bart Johnson
1962 – Darren Daulton
1977 – A.J. Burnett

Departures:

1917 – Rynie Wolters

Reinder Wolters was a pitcher on the NY Mutuals during the first season of the National Association in 1871.  As a pitcher, he led the league in complete games and innings, winning 16 of 32 decisions.  He could hit, too.  Wolters also led the league in RBIs (though they didn’t really count them back then) with 44 thanks to a .370 batting average.  He wasn’t as good in 1872 for Cleveland, and by opening day of 1873, he was pitching his last major league professional game.

1943 – Bid McPhee
1986 – Chico Hernandez – a backup catcher for the Cubs during World War II who died on his 70th birthday.
1991 – Luke Appling, the HOF shortstop
2004 – Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner

Transactions:

1920 – The Yankees, having completed the trade before Christmas, announce the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for the remarkable sum of $125,000.

1925 – Odd trade…  The Browns send three players, cash, and an option on another minor leaguer to the St. Paul Saints for catching prospect Leo Dixon.  It didn’t work out.

1946 – Detroit trades slugging first baseman Rudy York to Boston for infielder Eddie King.  York had one good year with the Sox, but was traded to the White Sox after a slow start the next year and out of baseball in two seasons.  Eddie King was a Freddie Patek type shortstop except he drew walks at a pace that Eddie Yost would appreciate (a walk every six plate appearances in his career).  King hit well enough in 1946, but Detroit didn’t like the .211 batting average in 1947 (even though he drew 100+ walks and scored 96 runs), and by 1950 was done.

2008 – Oakland trades Nick Swisher to the White Sox for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino de los Santos.

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Sox, Rays Fall to 0 – 6; Twins Rookie 2B Out Indefinitely

The Red Sox lost, 1 – 0, to Cleveland yesterday – the winning run scored on a suicide squeeze play in the eighth, and the Red Sox had the tying run on in the ninth, only to have him picked off.  That means Boston hits today’s home opener against the rival New York Yankees at 0 – 6.

For my friend Amy Travis, here’s a link to a FoxSports article by Jon Paul Morosi saying that the Red Sox stink.

My other pick to make the playoffs from the AL East, the Tampa Rays, also lost to the White Sox and – like the Sox – are still winless and 0 – 6.  After the game, veteran outfielder Johnny Damon told the team to stick together.  [FoxSports/MESN/YardBarker]

Houston got it’s first win, finally, by sneaking one past the Reds – who finally lost a game.

OUCH!!!

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, rookie infielder for the Twins and recent Japanese import, stood his ground near second base and took a hard slide from Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher. Because Nish had just planted his foot on a throw (slightly striding toward Swisher instead of hopping over him), the end result was nasty – Swisher accidentally breaking Nishioka’s left leg.  Everyone is on record as saying that, while the slide was hard, it wasn’t dirty and there is plenty of remorse to go around.

Jerry White, a coach for the Twins with some Japanese experience, said that one of the differences between MLB and Japanese baseball is that you rarely, if ever, see a hard slide into a fielder to break up a double play – not that everyone does it here either.  (Unless you were a Royals fan in the Hal McRae era, that is…)  So, Nishioka would not have naturally felt the urgency to avoid the slide.  [MLB]

Coming up from AAA Rochester is Luke Hughes, a seven-year minor league veteran in the Twins chain.  An undrafted free agent in 2002, Hughes can play second or third, has a little pop in his bat, but really is just organizational depth and not a prospect.  Matt Tolbert will likely get the bulk of the starts, though.

Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar will miss a week under the new MLB concussion policy after he was diagnosed with a mild concussion after sliding into third base and banging his head into the knee of Andy LaRoche.  MLB has to clear Escobar to play at the end of the seven day period.  [ESPN]

Phillies closer Brad Lidge’s shoulder problems should leave him not throwing until the all-star break.  Lidge told reporters that his posterior rotator cuff strain requires him to not throw for up to six weeks, after which he can resume a rehabilitation process.

The Next Great Washington National…

Bryce Harper had two hits, including an RBI single in his first at bat, and a stolen base in his first professional game.  The Hagerstown Suns beat the Rome Braves, 3 – 2, in the opening game of the South Atlantic League season.   Apparently, MLB was there to capture a number of the artifacts (bases, balls, jerseys, bats, hot dog wrappers…) for use in auctions later in the season.  [MLB]

Who Knew?

First – which among us knew that Brad Penny was engaged to Dancing With the Stars dancer Karina Smirnoff?  He is – just another reason for him to be among my favorite pitchers in baseball.  Now comes word, straight from Hugh Hefner’s Twitter account, that Smirnoff will appear nude in the May Playboy.  No WONDER Penny is off to such a rough start… [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

John Hiller (1943) – Tigers reliever
Jim (Catfish) Hunter (1946) – I miss that guy – dependable pitcher for a decade…
Carlos Santana (1986) – Indians backstop
Felix Hernandez (1986) – the King of Seattle
Jeremy Hellickson (1987) – Rays rookie starter

2011 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:
2010:  95 – 67
2009: 103 – 59 (World Series Champs)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65

Runs Scored: 859 (Tops in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 693 (5th in the AL)

Based on this, the Yankees could have won the division with 98 wins…

2010 Recap:

Picked by many to repeat as AL East and World Series champs, the Yankees just missed by a game of winning the east, and had their starting rotation held up (or had they acquired Cliff Lee) they might have won the series, too.

The Yankees got off to a hot start, taking 15 of 22 in April, and having winning records every month until September, when they went 12 – 15 and were run down from behind by the Rays.  To be honest, they peaked after a long winning streak at 86 – 50, but actually collapsed to the finish line.  Had they missed the playoffs, it might have been given the same treatment as a Mets September, but for some reason, the Yankees were given a pass for going 9 – 17 down the stretch.

If I were them, I’d be nervous.

During the season, in addition to the run of the mill waiver claims and what not, the Yankees acquired Austin Kearns for spare parts from Cleveland, later picked up Kerry Wood at the trade deadline for two more minor leaguers, and gave up two decent prospects (Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes) to the Astros to pick up Lance Berkman.  Wood played pretty well, Kearns was just a backup, and Lance Berkman acted like he wanted to be somewhere else.

Starters:

The Yankees rotation is led by the remarkable C.C. Sabathia, who provided yet another season as a Cy Young candidate.  Philip Hughes took a big step forward by winning 18 decisions in 29 starts, but as a pitcher was just mildly better than the average starter.  Andy Pettitte heads to retirement following a remarkably good 21 starts, winning 11 of 14 decisions.  However, the #2 starter, A.J. Burnett went 10 – 15 with a 5.26 ERA – 25 runs worse than the average starter over 186.2 innings.  And Javier Vazquez was equally poor, despite the 10 – 10 record, with his 5.32 ERA.  Vazquez suffered as a flyball pitcher in Yankee Stadium, giving up a homer every fifth inning he pitched.  Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova were tolerable when given chances to start – in fact Nova may earn a rotation spot in 2011.

However, the pitching is thin for 2011 in general.  The Yankees twice failed to get Cliff Lee to town (maybe the fans in Yankee Stadium should have been nicer to Lee’s wife).  Vazquez is now a Florida Marlin, Andy Pettitte has retired to Texas, and even Kerry Wood returned home (he’s pitching for the Cubs).  Sabathia returns, as does Burnett (he HAS to be better than last year), and Hughes will get 32 starts to see if he’s still got the magic.  That leaves Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, and former rotation stalwarts Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia – who are years removed from their better days.  I’m not a huge Garcia fan anymore, but he actually was tolerable as a fifth starter for the White Sox last year.  On the other hand, he won 12 games in his 28 starts despite a 4.64 ERA, served up a lot of homers, and only struck out 89 in 157 innings.  Vazquez came with much better credentials and stunk up the joint.  Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre will have to step forward – and Mitre has enough innings under his belt to suggest he’s not the answer.  So that means Nova is likely to get a shot at being the #5 guy.

Bullpen:

Mariano Rivera continues to amaze as nears AARP status – a 1.80 ERA, 33 saves, and just 55 base runners in 60 innings.  Joba Chamberlain didn’t completely own the 7th or 8th inning, but there are still things to like, including a great K/9 rate and improved control.  Boone Logan and Damaso Marte served as solid one-out lefties, and David Robertson was decent in 61.1 innings.  Kerry Wood was impressive in his two months.

Looking ahead, Rivera returns for another go, but Rafael Soriano was imported from Tampa to provide an 8th inning ace and potential replacement closer.  The rest of the pen contains the familiar faces of Robertson, Logan, and Chamberlain, as well as newly added Pedro Feliciano.  Hopefully, these guys are ready for a step up in workload.

Catching:

Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli provided decent enough catching, even if teams ran rampant on Posada when he caught.  Posada can still hit some, so he will be moved to the DH role, which means that Cervelli will cede a few innings to Russell Martin.  Cervelli is a decent backup – no power, some defense, a fair batting average.  Four years ago, Martin was a solid defensive catcher and run producer, that is until Joe Torre ran him into the ground.

Infield:

The Yankees have an interesting mix of current and aging superstars. At third, you have the declining Alex Rodriguez, who is getting more comfortable at third base as his batting statistics fall off from his MVP level (and steroid supported) play.  At short is the captain, Derek Jeter.  When he hits .320, Jeter is the most productive shortstop in the AL despite his defensive flaws (range, really, is his only flaw and it’s really getting problematic – so stop giving him the gold glove when he hasn’t ever deserved one).  Last year, he hit .270 and the team let him know, through an ugly contract negotiation, that they noticed his decline was both offensive and defensive.  At second, you have the remarkably talented Robinson Cano, who is as good a fielder as can be found in the AL and light years ahead of any second sacker when batting, too.  At first, you have Mark Teixeira, who struggled to get out April, but still managed 33 homers, 108 RBI, and got on base at a .368 clip.  That’s a solid off season.  Backing them up is Ramiro Pena, who has little power but some defensive skills – much like Eduardo Nunez, who is the sixth infielder.

I’d like to think that Jeter can bounce back for one more .300 season.  If he does, that bodes well for his chances at 3500 hits and the Yankees continuing to make playoff runs.  Realistically, that’s not going to happen.  Same with Alex Rodriguez, who is barely making 30 homers per year, misses a month of games each year now, and also hit .270 instead of .310.  Playing in Yankee Stadium is also masking some of their decline; if Jeter had hit .255 with 7 homers, would anyone give him a chance of a comeback?  Cano should be able to duplicate his 2010 season, but last year was a significant step forward to superstardom.  And Teixeira will not have another April like last year.  The issue is that all four are generally durable (even A-Rod, with his hip, has never missed 60 games in a season) and now, with all but Cano at least two years into their 30s, the chances of someone missing a significant amount of time is going up.  I can’t help but think that this is the year – and neither Pena nor Nunez can hit enough to make up for that kind of loss.

Outfield:

The trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher return after all three provided solid production in 2010.  Of the three, Gardner has the greatest chance to produce more in 2011.  He could be moved up in the lineup (he should be the leadoff hitter), which would give him more opportunities.  Until then, he’s the best centerfielder playing left field on the team, and he’s the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Granderson found his power stroke near the end of the year, but he’s only marginally better than average because he doesn’t quite hit .250 anymore.  Swisher is coming off a career year in batting and slugging and remains a surprisingly good defensive outfielder.  Austin Kearns and Randy Winn are gone (thankfully), but they have imported aging slugger Andruw Jones to help out here and be the right handed counterpart at DH.  Greg Golson may be the best defensive option as the alliterative fourth outfielder; Golson or Colin Curtis.

DH:

Last year, Marcus Thames was the surprise hit of the team, launching 12 homers in 212 at bats, batting .288, and generating more runs per 27 outs than even Teixeira.  In 2011, look for Jorge Posada, Andruw Jones, and one or more of the others (Rodriguez, Swisher, Granderson, or even Jeter to pick up a few at bats here.

Down On the Farm:

It all starts with Jesus Montero, who is an expanded set of defensive skills away from being the next great Yankee catcher.  In AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Montero hit for more power, was more selective, and – at 20 – is just about ready.  Eduardo Nunez got his first cup of coffee after tying Montero for the team lead in batting, stole 23 bases in 28 attempts, and played a steady shortstop.  At 24, he could step in and help out.  The top pitcher was Ivan Nova, who went 12 – 3 with a 2.86 ERA, showed good control, and was reasonably solid in his Yankee debut.  David Phelps moved up through two levels, going 6 – 0 in 14 starts at AA Trenton, then 4 – 2 in 11 starts at AAA – with great command and a sub 3.00 ERA.

Trenton featured first baseman Brandon Laird, a 23 year old who hit 23 – 90 – .291.  Hector Noesi went 8 – 4 with a 1.09 WHIP and an 86/18 K/BB rate.  Another pitcher making a step up was Adam Warren, who whipped through three levels since his 2009 draft (4th round), and has been impressive with his command and control at all three levels.

Corbin Joseph was a 4th round pick out of Franklin, TN in 2008 and hit .302 in A+ Tampa.  He’s a slight second baseman who seems to be developing a little power as he ages.  Another young prospect is Jose Pirela, a Venezuelan burner who plays shortstop and hit 13 triples for Tampa.  He may be fighting Joseph for a shot at the second base job in three years.  Among the top arms were Pat Venditte (4 – 1, 1.73, 85/14 in 72.2 innings), Dellen Betances – a Brooklyn native who clobbered Tampa opponents (8 – 1, 1.77, 88/19 in 81 innings), and Mexican teen sensation Manny Banuelos, who had 79Ks in 59.2 innings and seems to be ready for a full trip in AA Trenton.

Forecasting 2011:

It’s hard to pick against the Yankees because (a) the outfielders are all in their prime, as is Teixeira, and (b) the veterans they have are all still very productive.

On the other hand, this might be the year things fall off.  The Yankees won’t be getting MORE production in center or right fields.  They won’t be getting MORE production from second base, shortstop, or third base.  They won’t be getting MORE production behind the plate.  The only spots where improvement might be seen is left field – but that would be at the expense of another position.  I think the offense will still be good – but not 859 runs of good.  More like 780 runs – a top five offense rather than a #1 offense.

Then you have the defense, which could slip a little at four or five positions.  I’d swap Granderson and Gardner, which would help, but you never know if the Yankees would do that since Granderson is only 30.  You’d ALMOST want to switch A-ROD and Jeter – but I’m not certain that after the hip surgeries A-ROD can cover short anymore.  In fact, nobody in New York can cover short – which makes a lot of the pitchers look worse than they have to.  At least Jeter is still solid at turning two.

That brings us to the pitchers.  If Sabathia, who came to spring training in WAY better shape than he had been, were to miss any chunk of time, this team could fall off the map.  Hughes is good, but not great, Burnett isn’t dependable and is one slump away from being sent to the Pirates or something.  Your fourth and fifth starters are rookies or retreads.  I think the Yankees will allow a few more runs than in 2010 – maybe 40 more.  That puts the team around 780 runs scored and just 725 allowed, which converts to 87 wins.  And wait until the Steinbrenner boys see THAT number…

2010 Top AL Right Fielders

Jose Bautista – TOR (131.3 Runs Created, -7.3 Runs Saved = 124.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Earned a long term contract by having the greatest fluke season in the last 50 years.  An historic improvement over his previous career.  Let’s get to what he can do…  He’s a pretty good infielder and wasn’t very good as a right fielder.  He MIGHT be able to stay around 30 homers for a couple of years.  One fears for him, however, if he gets off to a really slow start in 2011 and it starts to get into his head around June.

Ichiro Suzuki – SEA (115.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 121.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Fell off a little in 2010 and was still a remarkable hit machine.  Still can fly, still can throw, still can slap singles all over the place.  3678 hits in professional baseball means he’s probably three to four years away from Pete Rose – and four to five years away from 3000 hits as a major leaguer, which would likely assure his place in the Hall of Fame, not that he should have a problem racing in there when he’s done.  Can you tell that, at 37, he’s lost a step?  I don’t see it.

Nelson Cruz – TEX (86.8 Runs Created, 25.9 Runs Saved = 112.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Imagine how good Cruz would have been had he played 154 games instead of 108.  Totally capable of a 30 homer, 100 RBI season, batting well over .300, stealing 25 bases, and with eye popping defensive stats.  2010 season projected to 162 games, we’re talking 160 or more runs of value – MVP type numbers.  Scary good.

Nick Swisher – NYY (95.9 Runs Created, 14.5 Runs Saved = 110.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A decent outfielder in a position where he’ll get a lot of fly balls because teams occasionally load up the lineup with guys who try to hit homers over his head.  A decent power hitter who, if he played in Minnesota, might have stats that look like Jason Kubel’s instead.  And yet, even after you adjust for things like that, he comes out looking like a VERY valuable player.  He is.

Torii Hunter will be playing in right field for much of 2011 and had started that process at the end of 2010.  As a right fielder, Hunter would likely be ranked right here (109.8 Total Runs Productivity).

Shin-Soo Choo – CLE (114.9 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 107.7 Total Runs Productivity)

A truly impressive player; 20/20 club, with 90 RBI, .400+ OBP, though his defensive range fell off in 2010.  Deserves a chance to play where people can see how good he really is.  At the age where he could have a truly break-out season, so he might be worth eying in your fantasy draft.

Ben Zobrist – TB (79.9 Runs Created, 14.4 Runs Saved = 94.3 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell way off, as did his power, in 2010 and yet he was STILL very productive because he can run, he drew 92 walks, and can play every position on the field except, perhaps, catcher.  One of my favorite players, in part, because he’s the type of player I wished I could be when I was a little leaguer.

Nick Markakis – BAL (97.9 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 90.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Durable player, below average range but a big arm, seems to be losing power though he hits a lot of doubles (45 in 2010).  Has gone from a number three, four, or five hitter to a number two hitter.  Like Choo, just turned 27, so this could be his big year.

Michael Cuddyer – MIN (88.9 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 90.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The right fielder for the first half of the season, and the first baseman after Morneau went down to an injury.  Actually played slightly better defensively as a first baseman, but wasn’t awful in the outfield either.  Power fell off with the move to the new Target field and, when he turns 32 in March, will have reached the point in his career where he will leave his peak years and head into his decline phase.

Bobby Abreu – LAA (99.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 86.6 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average fell to .255, but he still created just shy of 100 runs.  A defensive liability, so perhaps it’s time to become a DH.  People see the stolen base numbers and assume he can cover ground in the outfield – until they see him try to cut off a fly ball.  Is Abreu a Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.

Jason Kubel – MIN (73.4 Runs Created, -5.0 Runs Saved = 68.4 Total Runs Productivity)

A poor fielder, who is usually asked to DH, but had to play in the field more after Justin Morneau’s injury.  He did the best he could and remains a productive player.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Also played in left field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

J.D. Drew – BOS (72.1 Runs Created, -7.0 Runs Saved = 65.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Still a productive player, despite a body that has never really been able to take a 150 game schedule, much less 162.  Now 35 and in his decline phase, the Red Sox will need to be looking for his replacement.

I don’t know if you remember how his career started.  When he came out of Florida State, he was the big deal – but he never signed when drafted in 1997 because he and the Phillies couldn’t agree as to the value of such a high draft pick (#2).  After playing a year for free as a member of the St. Paul Saints, he was drafted again by the Cards and immediately became the top prospect in MLB.  In his first cup of coffee, he hit .417 with five homers in 36 at bats.  His rookie season was off, he never stayed healthy, and for a couple of years, he was a nomad.  Only once has he hit .300, or hit 30 homers, or driven in 100 runs (okay, he also hit .323 but in only 109 games and wouldn’t have qualified for a batting title).  And, he never did any of those in the same season.  Considering how he was viewed then, and now looking back after playing in nearly 1500 games, he seems like a disappointment.

Magglio Ordonez – DET (58.9 Runs Created, -0.5 Runs Saved = 58.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Another player in his decline phase – missed half the 2010 season.  Still hits when he’s in the lineup – and that near-league average defensive rating is a half-season accident.  He’s not that good.  Now 37, his career won’t long after he hits his 300th homer (he’s at 289).  I just got done calling Drew a minor bust.  Magglio hit 30 homers four times, cleared 100 RBIs seven times, and his career average is .312.  I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carlos Quentin – CHI (70.3 Runs Created, -13.5 Runs Saved = 56.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Still has prodigious power, is losing his range.  That being said, his 2010 season is exactly the kind of player he is.  He hits about .250 with good power and has a decent idea of the strike zone.  He is more like his 2010 season than his breakout 2008 season.  At 28, he is still young enough to have slightly better seasons, but I wouldn’t be counting on .270 as much as just hoping for it.

David DeJesus – KC (60.4 Runs Created, -7.1 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

As a hitter, a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Defensively, he plays well in left, but he was moved to right field in 2010.  Injured his thumb, requiring surgery, crashing into the wall at Yankee Stadium.  Will help the Oakland As next year, but is nearing the end of the peak phase of his career (31).  It may take a couple of months to find what little power he has, and isn’t in a park where he can hit homers anyway.

Matt Joyce – TB (42.1 Runs Created, 4.9 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Plays a lot of right field because Ben Zobrist will play everywhere else to give someone a day off.  Has some power, respects the strike zone, and is a solid defensive player.  He could start for a lot of teams and be an immediate improvement.

Ryan Sweeney – OAK (41.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 45.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Chronic knee pain required season ending surgery on his right knee, but his left knee isn’t always 100% either.  A fourth outfielder type on a good team because he hits for a decent average, though with absolutely no power, can play both corner outfield positions well and, if necessary, won’t embarrass you in center – which reminds you of Greg Gross.  Could be a pinch hitter for another decade, or more.

Andruw Jones – CHI (45.0 Runs Created, -5.7 Runs Saved = 39.3 Total Runs Productivity)

An old version of Carlos Quentin.  I thought I would never write that, for sure.

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

2010 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 103 – 59 (1st AL East, World Champions)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65
2005:  95 – 67

Runs Scored: 915 (1st, MLB)
Runs Allowed: 753, (5th, AL)

The Yankees were good – don’t get me wrong.  Using the ratio of  runs scored to runs allowed, they would be expected to win 97 games, which is still three more than anyone else – but a little lucky.

Just a little.

If I can digress a little bit, a lot was made about the large number of home runs hit in the new Yankee Stadium.  Yankee batters hit 28 more homers at home than on the road.  The Yankee pitching staff allowed 21 more homers at home than in road games.  The net gain on this is about 70 runs.  (Pete Palmer calculates the value of a homer at 1.44 runs – so that’s how I come to that conclusion.)

Despite this split, the offense as a whole at Yankee Stadium was actually lower than on the road (819 runs in Yankee Stadium, while 839 runs on the road) – and it was their own offense that was probably more responsible for that shortfall.  what this means, of course, is that if you would expect to add 70 runs on the scoreboard but wind up 20 runs short, the REST of the hits must have been removed.

That means that there were a few other factors that had a greater affect on offense – the size of the foul territory, the shape of the outfield walls, the length of the infield grass, whatever – than whatever pushed homers over the right centerfield wall.  For example, the Yankees hit only five triples at home, but 16 on the road – and they hit 25 fewer doubles at home, too.  This suggests that by having a bit shorter wall in the alleys, some balls leave, but the rest are caught and outfielders could shade in and cut off sinking liners and bloop hits.  Singles weren’t going through the infield – which suggests that the grass must have been REALLY thick, especially on that left side where veterans with less range inhabit the infield…

You wouldn’t want to make a TON of conclusions about it, but we’re talking about making up for a lot of missing hits in 2009.  We’ll see how this holds up next year.

Let’s get back to the team review.

Season Recap:

The season started with the admission in spring training that Alex Rodriguez, recovering from off-season hip surgery, had also spent some time in the steroid cocktail lounge.  A-Rod would miss the first month of the season, and take a little while to get back into playing shape.  Still, the Yankees had made a number of significant moves – signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher – to rededicate themselves to the task of winning a championship in the new Yankee Stadium.

For a month or so, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, winning and losing a couple, until a five game losing streak at home against Anaheim, Boston,and Tampa put them two games under .500.  While some wondered if it was because A-Rod was gone, the truth was that the pitchers had a 5.79 ERA in April (See Chien-Ming Wang or Sergio Mitre) and that just couldn’t be overcome by any decent offense.  After losing to Roy Halliday in Toronto on May 12th, Joe Girardi was already feeling the heat of the New York scribes who insisted that he might get fired before the All-Star break if things didn’t get turned around.

What followed the return of A-Rod to the lineup was the entire team feeling complete – and an eight game winning streak put the team on the way.  Sure – the Yankees had a couple of rough stretches, they lost three in a row twice, and were just six games over .500 on June 23.  A-Rod wasn’t yet hitting the way we were used to him hitting.  The middle relief was staggering a little.  Joba Chamberlain was hearing calls he might head back to the bullpen.  Again, however, the noise was just that.

On June 24, the Yankees got things figured out.  Bam!  Seven game winning streak.  Right after the all-star break – Bam! – eight game winning streak.  If the Yankees lost three in a row, look out.  Getting tossed by the White Sox, the Yankees responded with seven wins and twelve wins in thirteen games.  I counted SIX winning streaks of seven games or longer.  And after June, where they batted .253 with a .354 OBP, the team’s batting average was higher every month until the season ended.

The Yankees fought off Anaheim and Minnesota, then blew over a very good Philadelphia team to win the World Series.

Pitching:

The Yankees had a dominant starter in C.C. Sabathia, and then three decent guys in A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain.  The fifth slot, however, wasn’t very good – and was a problem until the Yankees finally turned it over to either Philip Hughes or summer acquisition Chad Gaudin.

Sabathia was amazing – 230 innings of typical good work, saving his team about 26 runs over his time on the mound.  A.J. Burnett won 13 and saved his team 10 runs in 207 innings.  Andy Pettitte, who has done this forever, isn’t a great pitcher anymore – he’s league average – but with this offense, that’s good enough for 14 wins.  If the Yankees could just leave Joba Chamberlain alone, he’d probably be okay.  He was solid until the latter part of the season where he fell off and was about as far below average as Burnett was above it – 11 runs.

The fifth spot was crazy…  Chien-Ming Wang went 1 – 6 with a 9.64 ERA, and will get to figure things out in Washington.  For three years, he was a fine pitcher, but 2009 was ROUGH.  The Yankees tried Sergio Mitre – nine starts and a 6.79 ERA.  After that, the Yankees moved long reliever Philip Hughes in and he was pretty good:  96Ks in 86 innings, good control, and a solid ERA.  I think he has as good a chance of anyone to be groomed for the closer role in a year or two.  Chad Gaudin got six starts and was good enough.

The bullpen starts with the greatest closer of the last 20 years, the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who saved his team 21 runs in his 66.1 innings.  With a 1.76 ERA, you’d never know he was pushing 40.  Hughes was a good compliment, but the rest of the bullpen was up and down.  Alfredo Aceves was tolerable – good control and won ten games in middle relief because the offense could come back from any number of deficits.  David Robertson struck out 63 in 43.2 innings and saved his team a few runs here and there.  Phil Coke didn’t allow too many hits – but the ones he allowed seemed to leave the yard (ten homers in 60 innings).

For 2010, the Yankees added Braves starter (and former Yankee) Javier Vasquez.  You always worry about bringing a flyball guy to new Yankee Stadium, so while I love that the Yankees added a durable innings eater, I don’t think he’s going to be the ACE that he looked like in Atlanta.  I think he’ll look like A.J. Burnett at best – with better control.  ERA around 4.00 – and fans complaining it’s not closer to 3.00.

Additionally, the Yankees probably don’t NEED a regular fifth starter.  They are the one team that could throw Sabathia, Burnett, and Vasquez all the time, Pettitte most of the time, and rotate Chamberlain or Gaudin in there to give people an extra day of rest from time to time.  Seriously – Sabathia could make 40 starts (if not abused in his starts) and MIGHT win 25 or 28 games.

The rotation is going to be about as good as last year – the benefits of Vasquez offsetting whatever loss in productivity comes from Pettitte as he wraps up his career.  The bullpen isn’t going to be better than last year – but it might get used more.  Looking at this, I see a possible five run drop off defensively, but not not more than ten runs off from 2009.

Catching:

A lot is made about how easy it is to run on Jorge Posada. That really wasn’t a problem last year.  Throw in the fact that his teams win, his pitchers are better than league average (two things he probably doesn’t deserve a LOT of credit for, but they are good), and the fact that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes – that’s pretty good.  His backups, Francisco Cervelli and Jose Molina, do a pretty good job, though Molina won’t be here in 2010.  What will make you nervous is Posada’s age, which might affect his offense this year.

Infield:

Mark Teixeira was all that you would want – impressive offensively, stable defensively.  He’s probably the best first baseman in the AL right now, though Kendry Morales is pretty special, too.

Robinson Cano is in the discussion for best second baseman in baseball.  He has a great glove and might win a batting title – all while hitting 20 – 25 homers.

Derek Jeter remains the most productive shortstop in the AL because he can still hit, gets on base a lot, has enough power, and is so good a hitter that it overrides the fact that he’s a miserable glove – that horrible decision to give him a Gold Glove last year not withstanding.

Alex Rodriguez still towers over most third basemen, finishing 30 – 100 again as he has every year since about 1980…  His defense at the position has improved every year, but he’s still not really all that good.

What scares you is the lack of depth here.  Ramiro Pena is a good fielder and hits a little.  Jerry Hairston is gone and nobody else looks like a major leaguer.  Would you trust Juan Miranda with a job?

I’d love to tell you that this group is going to sustain its production in 2010, but I can’t help but think that age is going to creep up on Jeter or AROD, and if one or the other misses a significant amount of time, it would be problematic (although possibly a benefit defensively).  I look for this group to decline by 30 runs offensively in 2010, and for the defense to slip by five or ten runs.

Outfield:

Last year, the Yankees had a productive Johnny Damon, a tolerable but not impressive Melky Cabrera, and the fun Nick Swisher from left to right.  Only Swisher was mildly above average defensively, but all three were quality contributors with the bat.

Cabrera was moved to Atlanta in the Javier Vasquez trade, which means that Brett Gardner will be the full time centerfielder.  I like this – Gardner is better defensively and despite the lack of power is probaby going to produce more runs because he gets on base.  I like him in the #2 spot behind Jeter.

Losing Damon will be tough, but the Yankees acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson for prospect Austin Jackson to play left.  After running productivity numbers for the two, it’s literally a wash – with the Yankees getting younger.  Granderson has actually slipped two straight years after looking like one of the greats in 2007.  I like him as a left fielder, though – and the pitchers will, too.

Swisher returns to right field, will back up Teixeira from time to time.  The fourth outfielder will be Randy Winn, who is not much offensively anymore but remains a good outfielder.  If he has to play a lot, that would be a problem, though.

The net change of this group, however, I think will be positive.  I like them to score about 10 runs more than last year, and save 10 runs defensively.

Bench:

Last year’s DH was Hideki Matsui, who gets to ply his trade as an Angel in 2010.  In his place will be Nick Johnson, who has a fantastic OBP, sneaks a little power in there, and is a threat to get injured.

After that, I don’t see much of a bench.  Just Pena in the infield, and just Winn in the outfield.

Prospects:

AAA Scranton manager Butch Wynagar’s best pitching prospect is probably reliever Mark Melancon, who got a shot with the big club in 2009.  With Scranton, Melancon was 4 – 0 wiht a 2.89 ERA, fanning 54 and walking 11 in 53 innings.  Nobody else impresses me…  The best hitter was Austin Jackson, a speed demon who was traded to Detroit for Granderson.  Jackson hit .300 with nine triples and 24 steals.  Kevin Russo is an infielder with some skills, hitting .326 but without much power and with Cano and Jeter around isn’t going to get a shot without someone going down with an injury.  He’s probably as good as Ramiro Pena, but with better on base skills.  If you haven’t heard of Russo, it’s because he was a 20th round pick in 2006 and has surprised a lot of people working his way up through the ranks.  I think the kid can play, though.

The Trenton Thunder (AA) features the Yankee’s best prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, who hit .317 in AA after being moved up from Tampa (where, in a tough park, he hit .356).  He looks like the new Jorge Posada and will get Posada’s job in 2012 or so.  He’s just 20.  Eduardo Nunez has some hitting skills, but little patience.  He hit .322 in Trenton with nine homers.  It was the first time that the undrafted Dominican shorstop looked like a hitter.

If you are looking for pitching prospects, though, Trenton might have a few.  Michael Dunn fanned 76 in 53.1 innings, earning a trip to Scranton and eventually New York.  Starter Zach McAllister had a 2.23 ERA with good control in 22 starts.  Josh Schmidt has taken a while to get going but had a 1.61 ERA for Trenton last year – he has great K/9 stats and seems very hard to hit.  He’s just getting a bit old for a prospect.

At Tampa, David Phelps – a Notre Dame arm – looks to be making nice progress, and starter Lance Pendleton or D.J. Mitchell might get a chance to move up to Trenton after solid enough seasons in A+ ball.  Each could stand to work on their control, though.  And Austin Romine is a kid with a little power and speed that might work his way up the Yankee ladder in time, but as a catcher might be blocked by Montero.  2008 third round pick David Adams hit .281 with some power and patience – I like his chances to get to the Yankees (or get traded) by 2013.

Forecast:

Barring catastrophic injuries, the Yankees will be good in 2010.  They won’t win 110 games, I don’t think.  Healthy, the Yankees win 93 games and make the playoffs again.  Part of me thinks that it will be more likely 95 wins, but if the system says 93, I’ll go with that.

Top AL Right Fielders

Shin-Soo Choo (CLE):  Wonderful hitter – 20/20 guy with patience, and he happens to play a fine right field.  I admit it – I knew very little about him but he’s the most productive right fielder in the AL.  (128.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 138.49 Total Run Production)

Ichiro Suzuki (SEA):  Slaps 200 or more hits every year, still runs like the wind and has a cannon for an arm.  If you count his days in Japan, Ichiro has a reasonably good chance to have more hits as a professional baseball player than anyone ever.  (123.6 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 126.72 Total Run Production)

Nelson Cruz (TEX):  Remarkably good fielder, amazing power.  Had a year that reminds you a bit of Brook Jacoby because he hit 33 homers with just 76 RBI (Jacoby in 1987 went 32 – 69).  Part of that is because he hit 25 solo homers and his slugging percentage tailed off considerably with runners on base (.577 vs. .447).

So I checked.  The Texas Ranger, as a team, hit 224 homers with 145 occuring with nobody on base and 79 driving home ducks.  75.8 of Cruz’s homers were solo shots.  For everyone else on the team, it was 62.8%.  Anyway – it might be a one-year thing…  Until last year, he had 13 homers with men on base and just 9 solo homers.

The other thing is his fielding numbers, which are stunning.  And then you see that he had nearly as many putouts in nearly 367 fewer innings than Nick Markakis.  It’s legit.  He got to a lot of fly balls.  (80.9 Runs Created, 36.4 Runs Saved = 117.30 Total Run Production)

Bobby Abreu (LAA):  Another year just like the rest, though with a little less power.  Still drives in around 100 runs, still gets 30 stolen bases, still gets on base around 40% of the time, actually looked limber in right field.  At what point do we wonder if Abreu is worthy of the Hall of Fame?  (102.3 Runs Created, 2.5 Runs Saved = 104.87 Total Run Production.)

Jason Kubel (MIN):  Not a horrible outfielder – but a legitimate hitter.  He’s not the regular right fielder, but he can play it in a pinch.  (98.1 Runs Created, -0.3 Runs Saved = 97.80 Total Run Production)

Nick Swisher (NYY):  He may not throw many guys out, but he hits for a little power, gets on base, and can still cover ground.  I know he struggled in the post-season, but Swisher kept the offense moving most of the year and the Yankees should be glad he’s still around.  (94.6 Runs Created, 2.6 Runs Saved = 97.21 Total Run Production)

Ryan Sweeney (OAK):  I need to watch more A’s games to see with my own eyes how good he is.  Fast enough to cover centerfield.  Seems to throw well enough,  Gets on base a little but you’d like to see a little more power.  Still – a productive player if his defense is really this good.  (71.2 Runs Created, 23.9 Runs Saved = 95.18 Total Run Production)

J.D. Drew (BOS):  The new George Brett.  Can’t stay in the lineup for 150 games, but when he plays he hits.  Still has a great eye at the plate, but his back is affecting his range in the field.  I wouldn’t let him cover center anymore, that’s for sure.  (89.9 Runs Created, -2.8 Runs Saved = 87.13 Total Run Production)

Alex Rios (TOR/CWS):  Hit .199 after arriving in Chicago’s south side – and we hoped the change in scenery would help get him back to where he was a year or two ago.  And yet, he’s not really a bad player.  Some power, a lot of doubles, good speed, decent defensively.  He just gets paid a lot for what seems like mediocrity.  (73.9 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 84.00 Total Run Production)

Michael Cuddyer (MIN):  Good power, fair bat and eye, miserable defender.  Based on the stats, maybe Kubel should play in right and Cuddyer become the DH…  (100.7 Runs Created, -22.64 Runs Saved = 78.10 Total Run Production)

Nick Markakis (BAL):  From what I can tell, he’s overrated.  He doesn’t really hit for power – more doubles than homers, not that it’s a problem.  He doesn’t have an exceptionally high batting average.  He doesn’t run very well.  He can throw, but he doesn’t get to many flies.  On the other hand, he turns 27 at the end of this season, so he could be one of those guys who is ready to have his career year.  If not this year, maybe next year.  (101.8 Runs Created, -28.7 Runs Saved = 73.11 Total Run Production)

Jermaine Dye (CWS):  Like Alex Rios, he struggled mightily down the stretch.  I can still remember when the Royals acquired Dye from Atlanta and the fans were upset about losing Michael Tucker.  Um…  Which player still has a major league job?  It’s a season showing signs of decline, but still productive.  (75.4 Runs Created, -3 Runs Saved = 72.41 Total Run Production)

Magglio Ordonez (DET):  He rescued a poor batting average after that lousy start, but he’s still just a miserable outfielder.  If he doesn’t put 100 – 120 runs on the board offensively (and he’s still not half bad), his lack of range just kills you.  Time to move on, wouldn’t you think?  Maybe make him a DH?  (75.3 Runs Created, -17.85 Runs Saved = 57.47 Total Run Production)

Willie Bloomquist (KC):  Played a lot of different positions and that makes him Alfredo Amezega.  He’s better than Jose Guillen, but that’s not much.  (49.1 Runs Created, 3.8 Runs Saved = 52.97 Total Run Production)

Jose Bautista (TOR):  Not really a right fielder, but he got some time here last season.  He’s at least a slightly better than replacement level player.  (50.4 Runs Created, .8 Runs Saved = 51.27 Total Run Production)

Two Gabes (TB):  Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross split time in right field for Tampa and combined 14 – 68 – .235.  Kapler was a slightly better hitter or fielder, but combined weren’t really enough.

Jose Guillen (KC):  Now THAT was a good use of limited money.  Can’t hit, can’t stay healthy, can’t field.  Less production than EITHER Gabe…  (30.9 Runs Created, -14.8 Runs Saved = 16.05 Total Run Production.)