2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

I’m watching Opening Day on ESPN and decided I might as well write while I am getting settled in…  To be fair, with the Florida Marlins having decided to trade away all the talent they had recently acquired, I chose to find a new team to follow closely in 2013 – and that team is the Houston Astros.

Here’s a quick summary of where they are coming from:

Recent Records:
2012: 55 – 107 (Last, NL Central)
2011: 56 – 106 (Last, NL Central)
2010: 76 – 86 (4th, NL Central)
2009: 74 – 88 (5th, NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75 (3rd, NL Central)

This is a team that has hit rock bottom – even that team from five years ago was a bit of a fluke, having given up more runs than they had scored that year.

2012 Summary:
Home:  35 – 46
Away:  20 – 61 (ouch)

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

There is a simple way to look at this.  A team that scores 100 runs more than it allows is likely to win 90 games.  The converse is also true.  At 200 runs, it’s another ten wins – 100 wins or 100 losses.  The Astros allowed 211 runs more than they scored – hence the lousy record.  So – things have to be looking up, right?

Record by Month:
April:  9 – 14
May:   13 – 15
June:  10 – 17
July:   3 – 24
Aug:    5 – 22
Sept:  15 – 15

The Astros started 3 – 1, were reasonably competitive through 45 games, and not altogether awful heading into the last week of June.  Then, Houston lost the last six games of the month and the first six of July.  After breaking that streak, they lost four in a row, then twelve more in a row – 28 of 30 games were lost…  When the month ended, anyone with any trade value was gone.  August wasn’t much better…  What team has ever had a stretch where they won just eight of sixty games?

Feeling Optimistic?

Beginning on September first and covering the last 30 games, the Astros played .500 ball.  Houston edged Cincinnati, toppled Philadelphia, split with Pittsburgh, edged Milwaukee, and split with Chicago.  Only St. Louis proved troublesome, taking five of six.  They did this without scoring a lot of runs – only 102 runs were scored in that period.  What allowed this to happen was that their pitching staff tossed a number of gems down the stretch, including three straight shutouts over Milwaukee and Chicago at the very end of the season.  In eleven of these wins, the Astros threw six shutouts and allowed just one run in five other starts.

Opening Day Lineup:
CF: Jordan Schafer
2B: Jose Altuve
LF: J.D. Martinez
1B: Carlos Lee
RF: Brian Bogusevic
3B: Chris Johnson
C: Jason Castro
SS: Marwin Gonzalez
SP: Wandy Rodriguez

Regulars by Games Played:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee (gone…)
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Jed Lowrie (gone…)
3B: Chris Johnson (gone…)
LF: J.D. Martinez
CF: Justin Maxwell
RF: Brian Bogusevic (gone…)

4OF: Jordan Schafer
C2: Chris Snyder
UT: Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene?

SP: Lucas Harrell
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Jordan Lyles
SP: Wandy Rodriguez (gone…), Dallas Keuchel
SP: J.A. Happ (gone…)
CL: Brett Myers (gone…), Wilton Lopez
RP: Brandon Lyon (gone…)
RP: Wesley Wright
RP: Francisco Rodriguez (gone…)
RP: Rhiner Cruz
RP: Fernando Abad

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

Lost Jason Michaels and Clint Barmes to free agency…  Michaels spent the year as an insurance policy for the Nationals in their AAA Syracuse affiliate, and likely is looking to become a coach.  As for Barmes, he moved to Pittsburgh and hit like someone who is 33 and running out of seasons.

NOV (2011):

Added Carlos Corporan, Travis Buck as free agents; claimed infielder Brian Bixler off of the waiver wire.

DEC (2011):

Traded Marc Melancon to Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.  Melancon had been a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2011, but was miserable in Boston and eventually demoted to AAA.  Weiland had an infection in his throwing shoulder that required surgery and hopefully can return in 2013, but I would be leery of high expectations owing to a general lack of control.  I see him as a spot starter/long reliever type.  Jed Lowrie is a pretty good ballplayer, so the trade was a good one.

Claimed Rhiner Cruz off of waivers.  This was, at best, organizational depth as Cruz had just been promoted to AA Binghamton in an eight year career drifting in the low minors.  Putting Rhiner on the major league roster when he has no idea where the strike zone is (his mid-90s fastball has crazy movement and he can’t control his breaking ball) showed how little major league talent the Astros had.  I mean, Cruz walked 45 batters in 71.2 innings in the minors in 2011.

JAN (2012):

Here, the Astros were looking to find as many players who might be able to do SOMETHING as possible.

Signed, as free agents, Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, Chris Snyder, Jack Cust, and Fernando Martinez (waiver claim).

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

After (and during) spring training, the Astros released Hernandez, Duke and Cust, moved anyone who needed time to the minors, and made one trade…

Acquired LHP Kevin Chapman from the Royals for OF Jason Bourgeois and C Humberto Quintero.  Bourgeois was, like Melancon, a nice surprise in 2011 but is a 30-year-old outfielder with no long-term future.  Quintero is, at best, a backup catcher and the Astros had other options.  Chapman at least represents a future – had 90Ks in 62 innings in 2011, and built on that in 2012.  He still needs work (especially with his control), but at least he has a shot to be a late inning contributor very soon.

JULY:

The Astros, as sellers, moved what they could for prospects:

Carlos Lee (and cash) to the Marlins for 3B Matt Dominquez (good glove, minor bat) and LHP Rob Rasmussen (could be a starter in 2014).

Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski (decent arm, not overmatched at AA, doesn’t miss enough bats), David Rollins, and Carlos Perez (athletic catcher, decent arm, not much offense).

Brett Myers to the White Sox for prospects Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters.

Wandy Rodriquez to Pittsburgh for Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman, and Rudy Owens.

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

If nothing else, that’s a lot of prospects.  If you see the kids producing in 2014 and the Astros making steady improvement, then these deals worked.  Seeing as the team went belly up in July and August of 2012, this did nothing to help the guys who were left behind to play.

By the way, Ben Francisco only hung around for a month.  He was shipped to Tampa for a player to be named later.  (That player was LHP Theron Geith.)  Despite being a pretty good outfielder, Francisco hasn’t been able to keep a regular job and at 31 seems destined to be a fourth outfielder for a few more years.  Geith, however, has a bright future.  In two minor league seasons, Geith has a 2.66 ERA, 83Ks in 84.2 innings, and just 18 walks.  He will be on the roster by 2014, and maybe next September.

Key Injuries:

Jed Lowrie missed time leaving spring training with a bruised thumb.  Kyle Weiland made three starts and went down with what was then termed shoulder bursitis.

Relievers Fernando Abad (intercostal strain) and Rhiner Cruz (ankle sprain) missed time in May.

June brought minor injuries to Travis Buck (Achilles tendinitis), Carlos Lee (strained hamstring) Marwin Gonzalez (bruised heel), Bud Norris (spraineed knee), Wilton Lopez (sprained elbow), and Justin Maxwell (loose bodies in ankle).

Jordan Schafer, Jed Lowrie, and Francisco Cordero spent some time on the DL in August and early September, Cordero wound up missing the rest of the season with a foot injury just six awful outings after his arrival.  He really wasn’t missed, and – as he turns 37 in May – has already been released.

Cordero’s was the only injury of signifigance.  Jed Lowrie missed a lot of games, but with small injuries that kept him out a couple of weeks at a time.

[Writer’s Note:  I had pulled much of this together a while ago when I had decided to become a Houston Astros fan.  The Astros got the Rangers in order in the first, but the Rangers did the same to the Astros – in part thanks to a bad call at second on a stolen base attempt by Jose Altuve.  If the Astros are lousy this year, it could just be that I have jinxed them.]

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

The rotation appears to be Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Brad Peacock, and Erik Bedard.

Lucas Harrell is pretty good.  He gets some strikeouts but he walks a few too many guys.  Bud Norris has better stuff, but has been way more inconsistent, especially on the road.  Even at that, he’s marginally below average with a chance to become really good.  Bud Norris is the type of guy you might consider drafting in your fantasy league this year…

Philip Humber is trying, again, to get his career on track.  Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox, but otherwise was awful.  He CAN pitch, but he can also think his way into oblivion.  If Humber can find his way, the Astros will have found a gem.  The problem is that his track record doesn’t give you a whole lot of reason for hope.

A guy who might, however, is Brad Peacock. The Palm Beach, FL native navigated his way through the minors, getting better every year, until he got a test drive with the Washington Nationals in 2011, where he wasn’t half bad.  Moved to Oakland, he spent 2012 in Sacramento, where he held his own despite being in a league that pounds pitchers.  After a pretty nice spring, he’s going to see if he’s ready for 25 – 30 starts.

Finally, Erik Bedard might be able to help – if he can stay healthy.  Having missed essentially two and half of the last five years, Bedard has been reasonably successful – well, at least until last year when he went 7 – 14 for Pittsburgh.  His walk rate was too high, and his ERA went over 5 (5.01), but there are reasons to think that he can be better than he was last year – starting with the fact that he has always been better than he was last year.

So, just trying to see if the rotation is better, at first glance, the answer is probably no.  Harrell and Norris are the same (though Norris might be slightly better).  I don’t buy that Humber is better than Jordan Lyles was in 2012, and Erik Bedard won’t be as good as a partial season of Wandy Rodriguez.  If one pitcher surprises, it might be Peacock who COULD be as good as J.A. Happ was.  So, let’s go with the team allowing perhaps 30 extra runs here.

Relief Pitchers:

The Astros are going to give the closer job, at least at first, to Jose Veres, who has four career saves.  Veres isn’t awful, but he isn’t a big time closer.  Brett Myers wasn’t awesome last year, so that’s not a big loss.  I was surprised that Wilton Lopez didn’t get a second chance, he pitched well enough, but the Astros went with younger arms – Hector Ambriz, Xavier Cedeno, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Fields, Edgar Gonzalez, and Wesley Wright.

This group will be no better or worse than last year.

Cruz had a 6.05 ERA last year – is that really worthy of a significant role?  Wesley Wright wasn’t half bad for a situational lefty.  Xavier Cedeno was league average and could be better.  Edgar Gonzalez has been around and he’s never been a dependable option.  The guy I like is Hector Ambriz, who fanned 22 in 19 innings in a late call last year.  He could wind up the setup man before all is said and done.

Catchers:

Last year’s catchers were league average in total, but had a few weaknesses, including starter Jason Castro not being too solid against the run.  Chris Snyder is gone, so Carlos Corporan is back as the backup.  He looks like he can throw.  Castro isn’t a bad hitter – he was slightly above average because he showed a little power and a little patience while hitting .257.  Chris Snyder hit .176 and didn’t hit enough to be worth keeping around.  Corporan can hit better than that – maybe .240 with a few homers, so that would be a step forward offensively.  If Castro can be stronger against the run that would help immensely.  This unit should score about 15 more runs than in 2012.

Infielders:

Three-quarters of the infield in use toward the end of the season returns – Brett Wallace at first, Jose Altuve at second, and Matt Dominguez at third.  Jed Lowrie is gone, replaced by Ronnie Cedeno.  Wallace is getting better defensively, Altuve is slightly below average as a glove man, but not problematic, and Dominguez is a solid defensive option – far better than Chris Johnson.   Cedeno may have more experience, but he won’t put up more runs than, say, Marwin Gonzalez.  They are essentially the same guy.  The problem is that neither is a long-term solution, so as we are following this team, look for them to find a better shortstop through the minors.

Carlos Pena was added to back up Wallace at first and be the primary DH – which will last as long as Pena keeps drawing walks and hitting homers.  I fear, however, that he may not hit .220.

As a unit, this team will probably hold the line offensively (Wallace will help offset the loss of Jed Lowrie), but it could be ten runs better defensively.

Outfielders:

This year’s outfield features Chris Carter, the old Oakland As prospect, Justin Maxwell, and Rick Ankiel – a reclamation project of sorts.  J. D. Martinez will be back as a possible fourth or fifth outfielder, sharing the role with Brandon Barnes.

Defensively, Carter can’t be worse than J.D. Martinez was, and he has the potential to put a lot more runs on the board by virtue of his power and patience.  Justin Maxwell is a better fielder and hitter than Jordan Schafer was – it would be nice if he hit, say, .250 rather than .220, though.  Ankiel hasn’t been a good hitter for a few years, but he’s still better than Brian Bogusevic was, and even if he isn’t, J.D. Martinez can hit better.

As a unit, this team could score about 60 more runs and save ten to fifteen in the field.

[As I reach this point in the essay, Justin Maxwell just hit a high drive off the top of the wall in left for a two-run triple, giving the Astros an early lead.  Woohoo!!!]

Down on the Farm:

Most of the guys who did anything at AAA are on the club, and nobody stands out as a prospect.  Moving to the Corpus Christi Red Hawks, the top prospects at AA would include first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who hit .284 with power, 88 walks, and is 21-years-old.  Another option is shortstop Jonathan Villar, a 22-year-old with speed and some hitting skills.  I’m just not sure he can hit in the majors.  A top pitching prospect might be Jason Stoffel, who fanned 57 in 58 innings, walked just 16, in a relief role.  Jarred Cosart made 15 starts at AA and was decent, but not great.  He is ranked highly by scouting organizations.

At A+ Lancaster, right fielder Domingo Santana impressed with power and average, while centerfielder George Springer has all that and speed, too. Both are free swingers.  Coming up in A Lexington is Delino Deshields II – who plays like his dad, but is a few years away (and only 20).  Another guy making marks include shortstop Carlos Correa, a top pick out of Puerto Rico last year.

Best guess on their record?

They aren’t as good as last September.  They aren’t as bad as last August.  I see the team being 75 runs better offensively, and five runs worse defensively, thanks to a slightly worse starting rotation.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed ratio at about 660/800.  Working against that is the move to the offensively charged AL West, which features the Rangers and Angels, a decent Oakland, and an improving Seattle.  The system calls for 66 wins, which seems a tad bit high.  So, I’ll temper that to 64 – 98, hopefully avoiding a third straight year with 100 losses.  If that happens, let’s consider it a a success and watch for some talent to get added to this young team.

As I finish this, I see that the Astros have extended their lead to 4 – 0 in the fifth over Texas.  If they hold on for the win, it would make for a great start to the season.

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Ellsbury Out With Separated Shoulder, and Happy Birthday, Ben Tincup!

The Boston Red Sox placed centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the 15-day DL due to a separated shoulder suffered when he was removed in the front end of a double play against the Rays.  Ellsbury could miss at least six weeks, so if this is YOUR fantasy baseball team, you’ll want to know that Cody Ross will get the bulk of the starts, even though AAA outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (more Lin-sanity???) was called up from Pawtucket.  Lin doesn’t have the minor league resume that screams out START ME! – but you never know.  He makes contact, he can run, and he covers ground in the outfield.  Bobby Valentine, in his “boy am I smart” way explained that Lin might not be here longer than the weekend. [MLB]

The Detroit Tigers activated infielder Brandon Inge, who will likely get a start at second base this weekend.  To make room, Detroit sent infielder Danny Worth to AAA Toledo.  Meanwhile, the Tigers gave an unconditional release to outfielder Clete Thomas, who was promptly picked up by Minnesota.  The signing of Thomas means that outfielder Ben Revere was optioned to AAA.  [MLB, ESPN]

It’s okay, I’ll still follow Revere on Twitter.  He seems like a nice kid.

Hurry Back!

Seattle placed reliever George Sherrill on the 15-Day DL with an elbow strain.  In his place, the Mariners have recalled lefty pitcher Charlie Furbush.

Welcome Back!

Washington outfielder Rick Ankiel came off the DL, which means that Brett Carroll was designated for assignment.

The Transaction Wire…

The Phillies signed free agent infielder Mike Fontenot.

The Angels called up David Carpenter from AAA Salt Lake City.  The Angels are looking for depth in the bullpen and Carpenter might be able to help immediately.  He has remarkable control, a great strikeout rate, and minor league hitters have batted just .207 against him.

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1893) Ben Tincup (See below)
(1927) Don Mueller (See below)
(1931) Kal Segrist (See below)
(1941) Pete Rose, the greatest singles hitter and baseball gambler ever.
(1947) Joe Lahoud – wow, he’s 65?
(1966) David Justice, Braves outfielder now portrayed in the movie Moneyball…
(1966) Greg Maddux, the best pitcher I ever saw…  I loved Clemens and Carlton, don’t get me wrong, but Maddux was an ARTIST.
(1969) Brad Ausmus, longtime catcher
(1970) Steve Avery – which means at least three Braves were celebrating birthdays on the same day each spring in the early 1990s.  At least for a couple of years, anyway…
(1976) Kyle Farnsworth

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a long time, I guess…  This is an odd day in that I have actually written small biographies for two players on this list.  Go figure.

If you want to learn more about Giants outfielder Don Mueller, click here…

If you want to learn more about Yankee Infielder and Texas Tech baseball coach Kal Segrist, click here

Ben Tincup

A baseball lifer, Austin Ben Tincup spent fifty years playing and teaching baseball to thousands of kids all over the country – but not before he became the first Native American from Oklahoma to make it to the big leagues.

In doing the research, I found four different birthdays listed for Ben.  A couple of places, including FindaGrave.com and the Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen biography of Tincup, show his birthday as December 14, 1890.  Baseball-Reference.com has a main player page and a minor league player page for Tincup, too.  Those show April 14, 1893.  His obituary and his grave stone in Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, OK says his birth year is 1894.  (You’d think that the findagrave.com mini-bio would want their data to match the picture, right?)  SABR and Retrosheet.org, as well as the database I use for compiling this data, say 1893.  Let’s go with that one…

Tincup was born on April 14th, we’re pretty sure, to James and Lucinda (Vance) Tincup.  A TSN article listed Ben’s birthplace as Sherman, TX, but other sources say Adair, OK.  (I’m tempted to go with Adair, mostly because the TSN writer probably read that Tincup came from Sherman when he joined the Phillies, but that was his minor league city and not his birthplace.)  Not long out of school, Tincup was signed to pitch for Muskogee in the Oklahoma State League, the first professional team to operate in Muskogee.  By the end of the 1912 season, though, he had been shifted to Sherman in the Texas-Oklahoma League.  He stayed in Sherman for 1913, figured things out, and won his last fourteen starts.

The winning streak got him noticed, and the Philadelphia Phillies brought him out for spring training to see how he’d fare.  Before long, the young Cherokee Indian was making relief appearances in May and June.  In July, he was given his first major league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Tincup pitched a masterful game, winning 1 – 0, and holding the Pirates to just five hits – three of them by Honus Wagner.

Tincup became a bit of a celebrity and the newspapers called him The Millionaire Indian, one of many landowners who got rich when oil was found on a number of large farms in Oklahoma.  Ben countered, however, that the writers missed their mark.  “The stories were only half right,” said Tincup.  “I’m 100 percent Cherokee Indian and I own 500 acres of Oklahoma land.  But I’m the Indian who owns land where they didn’t find oil.”

Among the first Native Americans not nicknamed “Chief”, Tincup won two other games by shutouts: a 1 – 0 blanking of St. Louis and a 2 – 0 win over the Pirates.  However, he mixed in a few rougher outings, including a 13 – 5 loss to Brooklyn and 12 – 3 loss to Boston.  When the year was out, he finished 8 – 10 as the third starter on the roster.

However, the fourth starter was lefty Eppa Rixey, a fine thrower out of the University of Virginia.  Rixey roomed with Tincup for a year while the rookies found their way through the league.  In 1915, Rixey made the step forward, joining Grover Cleveland Alexander and Erskine Meyer and New York Giant import Al Demaree.  The new rotation helped propel the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915.  Tincup was reduced to a marginal reliever, making just ten appearances, and hardly contributing to the 1915 National League championship.  In fact, Tincup was voted just a half-share of the team’s post-season take.

The Phillies chose to dispatch Tincup to the minors for a little more seasoning.  In 1916, Tincup went 16 – 11 for Providence in the International League.  Moved to Little Rock in 1917, Tincup threw a perfect game against Birmingham in the Southern Association.  He kept a ball and the press clippings for years – the ball finally being donated to the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, OK.

St. Louis claimed Tincup for the 1918 season, but the National Association ruled that Tincup still belonged to the Phillies, who called him up for a few outings.  Tincup decided to retire and went off to join other Americans in the US Army who were fighting in Europe during the first World War.

When he came back in 1919, he was declared a free agent.  Bill Neal, who had scouted and signed Tincup for Philadelphia, was now associated with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Neal signed Tincup for more money than he might have made with the Phillies – and Tincup became a minor league lifer.  For the next twelve seasons, Tincup was a regular starter and later a reliever for the Colonels.  He won 20 twice; the first time he went 20 – 14 in 1922, and two years later he won 24 games.  And he could hit, too.  One year, he played left field when he wasn’t pitching and wound up hitting .331 with 16 doubles, 16 triples, and eight homers.  He missed the batting crown by four points.  However, the next season manager Joe McCarthy and Tincup decided pitching was the right thing to do – and Tincup only played the outfield in emergencies.

The 1921 team won the American Association and challenged Baltimore in the Little World Series, a battle between the top minor league teams.  Louisville won, in part, behind the pitching of Tincup.  Tincup outdueled Lefty Grove to put Louisville in charge of the series.

In 1922, Harry Davis, the old Athletics first baseman, was sent to scout the team.  He was looking at two players, Brewers outfielder Al Simmons and Colonels outfielder Earle Combs.  Davis asked Tincup to really bear down on Simmons to see what he could do.

“I brushed Al back with a high, inside pitch.  I had plenty on it, believe me,” said Tincup.  “I wanted to scare Simmons, but he didn’t scare at all.  Instead, he just just dug in and dared me to come back with the same pitch.  I did.  He didn’t move an inch.  The next ball was a dandy curve.  Simmons whacked it over the first baseman’s head for a triple.  I figured he just had beginner’s luck.  The next time he came up he lined a double to left…  Some time later I read that Simmons had been sold to the Athletics for $100,000.  I wasn’t surprised.  When I saw Davis later, I told him that I had helped ‘sell’ Simmons to the A’s the day I pitched to him.  Davis had a smart comeback.  ‘You’re right, Ben.  But I made a mistake.  The day we bought Simmons, we also should have bought Combs.'”

Combs signed with the Yankees – and years later, well after he was done playing, Tincup would join the Yankees, too.

In the winters, Tincup would play ball in Cuba.  The 1925 Marianaos Gray Monks may have been the best team of his generation, featuring players such as Freddy Fitzsimmons, Jess Petty, Otto Krueger, Mike Griffen, Charlie Dressen, Eddie Brown, Mark Koenig, Walter Christensen, Tiny Chaplin, Bill Burwell, and Jim Cooney.  Some of those names we still recognize today – others, we’d probably have to look up.

Toward the end of his Louisville career, Joe McCarthy was with the Cubs – he needed a temporary reliever.  He called for Ben Tincup, who got a couple more appearances in the majors.  Then, he was returned to Louisville.  As he got older, Tincup left the rotation and became a quality reliever.  According to a TSN article:

“Manager Allan Sothoron this spring decided that the veteran redskin could best serve his team in the role of relief chucker, and in this capacity Ben has proved invincible.”  He would finish the season 14 – 3 in relief, and another article claimed that he “…saved approximately 13 games, for which other pitchers received credit.”  Jerome Holtzman hadn’t yet coined the term “Saves.”

1930 was Tincup’s last hurrah.  He had a rough year (7 – 16) in 1929 and was given a pay cut.  After 1930, he wanted a raise and Louisville ownership didn’t agree.  Before long, Tincup was cut and scooped up by Minneapolis.  The next year, Tincup was pitching in Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, but he was pretty much done as a pitcher.

Instead, he was signed as am umpire by the American Association – a job that barely lasted two months.  Per a blurb in TSN:

“Ben Tincup, veteran Indian pitcher formerly with Louisville, has been released as an umpire in the American Association by President Thomas J. Hickey.  Tincup made his debut as an arbiter this season, but there were so many complaints over his decisions on balls and strikes that his release resulted.”

He went back to his farm in Oklahoma for the next three years.

However, guys who knew Tincup needed scouts and coaches – and Tincup was hired by the Cincinnati Reds to manage their farm team in Paducah, a member of the Kitty League.  In his first season, Tincup led Paducah to a first-half crown and a trip to the playoffs.  However, Tincup argued that two pitchers that helped Union City to a second half crown should have been ineligible.  When that protest failed, he began to lose favor with his Paducah owner, B.B. Hook.  Tincup next complained that he had to play night games in Union City, when his team only played day games at home.  That, too, failed.

So, Tincup told his team to play but he was going to stay home to protest the league’s decisions.  After Paducah lost to Larry Irvin (one of two players Tincup felt should not have been eligible to pitch) and Union City in that first game, seven other players decided to side with Tincup.  The series was forfeited to Union City and National Association President W. B. Bramham chose to put Tincup and the seven players on the ineligible list.  That ban lasted about four months, and Tincup was signed to manage a different Reds farm team, this one in Peoria, Illinois.

While there, Tincup traded for a pitcher who had been successful for him in Paducah, Gene “Junior” Thompson.  Thompson was the ace of the Peoria staff and the Reds soon promoted him to the big league team where Junior (he hated that nickname) helped the Reds win the 1940 National League Pennant.  Thompson’s ascent and Tincup’s role in his development earned Tincup the reputation as someone who could mold young pitchers.

Tincup was a proponent of throwing strikes, saying that the biggest problem young pitchers have is not being willing to hit the catcher’s glove.  “They’re so scared somebody is going to get a base hit they throw all around the target but seldom at it,” said Tincup.  “What they don’t realize is that even when you put across a perfect strike with nothing on it, the batter won’t hit it safely more than three times out of ten.  That’s proved in batting practice.”

By 1938, he was taken by Larry McPhail from Cincinnati to Brooklyn to become a roving pitching instructor and coach.  In 1939, young kids would have seen an advertisement for a California baseball camp where young ballplayers could learn from coaches like Leo Durocher, Charlie Dressen, Bill Killefer, and Ben Tincup.  On the other hand, some things from his minor league days didn’t go away as quickly.  Tincup earned a fine in his last days managing Paducah in 1939.  When he tried to step on the field as a coach in 1940, the league told him he had a $10 fine due and Kennesaw Mountain Landis wouldn’t let him on the field unless he paid that fine.  A wire was sent, and Tincup was allowed to coach.

After two more seasons as a coach, Tincup took a short hiatus to join the war effort for World War II – this time helping build boats on the docks of the Ohio River at Jeffersonville.  During that time, he ran into an old friend – Ray Kennedy.  Kennedy was Tincup’s catcher when Tincup tossed that perfect game in 1917 for Little Rock.  Now, Kennedy was the General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Kennedy knew a few people – and by 1946, when the war was over, Tincup was a scout for the Boston Braves.

Tincup’s scouting and coaching career meant he went all over the place for a bunch of different teams.  He left Boston to join the Pirates.  Roy Hamey had brought him into the Pirates organization, and when he left for the Yankees, he took Tincup with him there, and then to the Phillies.  “We had him traveling around the farm clubs and working with the pitchers,” said Hamey.  “He helped fellows like Bob Friend and Vernon Law so much that when I moved over to the Yankees, I talked George Weiss into bringing him to New York.  He did such a good job with the Yanks that I had a tough time getting him for the Phils.  But I told Weiss I needed him worse than the Yankees did, so George turned him over to me.”

During his time with the Phillies, a prized prospect was a young Yaqui Indian out of Arizona named Phil Ortega.  Hamey assigned Tincup to handle the negotiations, figuring that one Native American might be better able to relate to another Native American than the other scouts.  The Dodgers, however, countered with a bigger bonus check.  Buzzie Bavasi wired Hamey when he won.  “How dumb can you get,” Bavasi asked. “Don’t you know Ortega’s and Tincup’s tribes have been at war for 300 years?”

The Yankees got Tincup back when Ralph Houk, who had used Tincup as a pitching coach in the middle 1950s, asked for him to coach his 1961 squad.  Joe Falls wrote about it in the Detroit Free Press:  “The Yankees have signed Ben Tincup, a 73-year-old Cherokee, as their minor league pitching coach…  And this is the team that fired Casey Stengel because he was, at 70, too old.”

If Tincup was 73 in 1961, that would put his birth date at 1888…  Another option…  I don’t think so.

Anyway… Eventually baseball’s tribal elder called it a career and returned to the Tulsa area.  He was inducted into various Halls of Fame in Oklahoma, including those celebrating Native Americans in sports.  In 1980, he was staying at the very hotel in Claremore, the Will Rogers Hotel, where his perfect game baseball would have been on display.  Sometime in the night on July 5, 1980 Tincup was called to pitch on the great ball field in the sky.

Sources:

The Sporting News
“Finishing Second No Small Honor in A.A.” The Sporting News, Oct. 7, 1920, Page 5.
“Colonels Carry On and Never Say Die.” The Sporting News, July 14, 1921, Page 3.
“Didn’t Start A One But Has Won Seven.” The Sporting News, June 19, 1930, Page 4.
Williams, A. W. “Louisville Releases Tincup.” The Sporting News, July 30, 1931, Page 3.
“Ben Tincup New A.A. Umpire.” The Sporting News, January 19, 1933, Page 2.
“Tincup to Pilot Paducah” The Sporting News, March 26, 1936, Page 7.
“Bramham Punishes Paducah ‘Strikers’.” The Sporting News, September 24, 1936. Page 7.
“Long Arm of the Law.” The Sporting News, May 23, 1940, Page 3.
“Tincup Donates No-Hit Ball.” The Sporting News, April 10, 1941, Page 11.
“8-Game Streak Has Almendares Out in Front.” The Sporting News, November 17, 1948, Page 20.
The Sporting News, March 8, 1950, Page 14.
“Old-Time Ben Tincup Back; Gives Advice to Phils’ Kids.” The Sporting News, March 7, 1956, Page 33.
Notes, The Sporting News, January 1, 1961, Page 12.
Obituaries, The Sporting News, August 9, 1980, Page 50.
“Phils Forgot Tribal Wars When They Bid for Ortega.” The Sporting News, June 27, 1964, Page 26.

Obituary:
Claremore (OK) Progress (July 8, 1980)

Baseball Digest:
Bryson, Bill.  “The Indian Glove Call.” Baseball Digest, Feb 1964, Pages 67 – 73.
Levy, Sam.  “Simmons First Steps to Hall.” Baseball Digest, April, 1953, Pages 25 to 27.

Websites:

FindaGrave.com
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org

2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.

2011 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:
2010: 67 – 95
2009: 65 – 97
2008: 75 – 87
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 62 – 100

Last winning season?  2003

Runs Scored: 676 (10th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 845 (Last in AL – and by 60 runs)

With this combination, the Royals would have been expected to win about 63 games.

Season Recap:

Few people picked the Royals to finish higher than fourth, so from a prediction standpoint, the Royals did what people expected.  KC didn’t have a winning month…  They were close, going 13 – 14 in June and actually outscoring their opponents that month.  The bottom was in July, though, when they went 10 – 15 (they had a worse record in September), but got outscored 173 – 94.  The Royals hung around .500 until early May, when they got swept by Texas, lost a couple of more and fell to 11 – 23.  That cost Trey Hillman his job, and gave Ned Yost a shot at managing the Royals.  I mentioned the bad July – included in that month were an 11 – 0 loss to Anaheim, a 15 – 5 loss to the White Sox, a 13 – 1 loss to Toronto, and 10 – 4 loss to the Yankees, and three straight losses of 12 – 6, 19 – 1, and 11 – 2 (Yankees, then two to the Twins).

Among the disappointments was the lackluster season of pitcher Zack Greinke, who fell from Cy Young to a league average pitcher, going 10 – 14.  Gil Meche never got healthy and retired at the end of the season rather than face another year of collecting $11 million for rehab work.  A lot of pitchers had ERAs that were downright scary.  Offensively, there were just too many outs – including the acquisition of catcher Jason Kendall and infielder Chris Getz, and the return of Alex Gordon, who hit .215.  Scott Podsednik played well enough in left, only to get shipped to the Dodgers for the stretch run.  The Royals did get good performances out of Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, and David DeJesus – until DeJesus went down after 91 games to injury.

Starters:

Zack Greinke is gone, having been shipped to Milwaukee with Yuniesky Betancourt for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and minor leaguer Jake Odorizzi.  Brian Bannister is also gone – he wasn’t getting anyone out and when he opted for free agency, the Royals didn’t bite.  Of course, Bannister had an ERA over 6.00…  What is left behind is an unproven group waiting for help from Aaron Crow or John Lamb whenever either shows signs of being ready.

Instead of a rotation of Greinke, Bannister, Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and either Meche or Sean O’Sullivan, the Royals are looking at a rotation of Davies, Hochevar, Chen, Jeff Francis, Vinnie Mazzaro and maybe O’Sullivan.

Hochevar has skills but hasn’t put together a strong and consistent month.  Kyle Davies eats innings, but isn’t a world beater.  Bruce Chen was a pleasant surprise last year, going 12 – 7 with 23 starts and 10 relief appearances.  Jeff Francis is the former Rockies ace coming back from shoulder surgery.  He made 19 starts last year for Colorado with good control and if he can pitch 30 times will be an improvement over Bannister.  Vin Mazzaro might remind you of Hochevar – shows signs of life but needs to make another step forward to help the team.  O’Sullivan was hit around a lot last year and needs some seasoning.

There’s a reasonably good chance for a little improvement if Jeff Francis continues to get a feel for throwing.  He can easily match what Greinke did in 2010, anyway, though there is no chance of anyone having a season like Greike’s in 2009.  Mazzaro will be a step up from Brian Bannister, and if Chen can make 32 starts instead of 23, that’s also a step forward.

Relievers:

Talk about a rag-tag bunch.  At the tail end, you have one of the best closers in the business in Joakim Soria.  However, it’s an odd mix of arms in front of him, including Blake Wood, Robinson Tejada, Jesse Chavez, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland.  Holland and Tejada have the power arms, and of this group Holland looks to be the one guy who might make a significant contribution.

Catching:

Jason Kendall and Brayan Pena return to give the club below average catching.  Unless Pena is given a chance to play as the starter, there is no chance that this will be better than 2010.

Infielders:

The left side of the infield will be different, with Escobar replacing Betancourt and Mike Moustakas likely getting the opening day nod at third.  Moustakas is a highly rated prospect because in the last couple of years, he’s been hitting bombs all over the minor leagues.  Escobar is Betancourt’s equal in the field, but after hitting the bigs and making a big impression in 2009, he fell back to hitting .235 in 2010.  Betancourt wasn’t half bad last year, showing a little power and actually playing better than league average defense.

The left side remains solid with Mike Aviles and Billy Butler manning second base and first base.  Butler is a hitting machine, and Aviles is a quality #2 or #3 hitter in any lineup.

Pedro Feliz is in camp as a potential depth option, having gotten a non-roster invite to spring training.  He could be a starter on opening day if the Royals choose to give Moustakas a few at bats in AAA.

It’s hard to believe that this will be an improvement in 2011, in part because Alberto Callaspo and Wilson Betemit both hit well while playing third base (about 95 runs created) and Escobar wasn’t as good as Betancourt.  However, Moustakas COULD be a league average fielder, which would be a 30 run improvement.  The pitchers will appreciate the help, for sure.

Outfielders:

Last year’s outfield of Podesdnik or Gordon in left, Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco or Rick Ankiel in center, and DeJesus or Mitch Maier or Jose Guillen in right has to be replaced.  Looking at the 40 man roster, an outfield could be made of free agent signee Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeff Francouer.  Again – not a single world beater in the outfield, which is problematic.  Blanco can hit a little, but has been a disappointment in the field, making him a probable fourth outfielder.  Maier has improved some with the bat, but on his best day really should bat ninth.  Jeff Francoeur is long removed from being a middle of the order hitter, and Melky Cabrera might be a solid eighth or seventh hitter.  No really competitive team has NOBODY who is an outfielder and can’t hit in the middle of the lineup.

DH:

Gone is Jose Guillen, so look for Alex Gordon or Jeff Francouer or Kila Ka’aihue to get the at bats.  I like Mt. Ka’aihue, a minor league power hitter who has to prove he can be more than a AAAA player.

Down on the Farm:

The Royals are loaded with prospects.  Mike Moustakas we mentioned earlier…  The 2007 1st round draft pick hit .319 with 15 homers in just 225 AAA at bats, after clobbering AA pitchers to the tune of 21 – 76 – .347 in 66 games.  Kila Ka’aihue hit .319 with 24 dingers in 323 at bats, draws walks, too.  Among the pitchers, Greg Holland and Blake Wood showed success at AAA and both made the Royals for the end of the season and can help in the pen.

In AA Northwest Arkansas, every one hits – the team hit .291 in 2010.  The two that make prospect lists are second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who hit .322 with a .395 OBP, and first baseman Eric Hosmer, who got to AA at 20, hit .313 with 13 homers in 50 games (he had hit .354 in A+ Wilmington).  2009 1st round pick Aaron Crow didn’t pitch as well as hoped, but he made a big jump out of college.  His control got the best of him – 59 walks in just 119.1 innings.  The best stats belonged to Everett Teaford, who went 14 – 3, fanning 113 in just 99 innings, and walking only 32.  Danny Duffy made seven solid starts after a promotion, and reliever Louis Coleman gave up 31 hits in 51.2 innings, while striking out 55 and walking just 14.

John Lamb climbed from Burlington through Wilmington (A+) to AA and is just 20.  Lamb is a lefty with great command and in 42 minor league starts, has 230 strikeouts and just 65 walks.  He could be the lefty version of Bret Saberhagen – and the Royals need this to be true.  Wil Myers is a catcher who, in his first full professional season, finished by hitting .315 at two levels with power and a .429 OBP.

2011 Prediction:

The Royals may climb out of the cellar, but not far.  I think the starting pitching can be 20 – 30 runs better than last year even without Greinke coming  back.  Moving Moustakas in at third base will help defensively – this could be 25 runs or more at his position alone.  Lorenzo Cain and Melky Cabrera give the Royals defensive stability – certainly better in left field and possibly centerfield than what was there in 2010.  And, your fourth outfielder, Maier, can cover ground.  So, look for the Royals to drop the runs allowed from 845 to about 780.  And I don’t think Kendall manages a staff very well.

Offensively, adding Moustakas will be nice, but unless Lorenzo Cain can hit .290 and get on base a lot, there won’t be many runners for Butler and Moustakas to drive in.  That being said, a full season of Mike Aviles would also add a few runs.  But Cain would be hitting like Podsednik, and Francoeur is no different, really, than Jose Guillen.  That means that the offense isn’t likely to climb up that many notches.  Ka’aihue is a wild card.  If he hits .260 with 75 walks and 25 homers as a DH, that would be a lift.  If Moustakas is a rookie of the year candidate, maybe another lift.  Unfortunately, you still have too many outs.  Escobar, Cabrera, and Kendall.  Please let Kendall back up Pena – that could be worth 10 runs.

You have an ace-less staff, old catching, with league average fielding and a well-below average offense.  That gets you about 69 wins, and if you are optimistic, maybe 72 wins.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the Royals have a deep farm system and by 2013 – especially if the pitching steps up – could be competitive.  Hang in there fans, there is help on the way.

2010 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:

2009:  65 –  97 (Tied for last in AL Central)
2008:  75 –  87
2007:  69 –  93
2006:  62 – 100
2005:  56 – 106

Runs Scored: 686 – 13th in the AL
Runs Allowed: 842 – 12th in the AL

The pitching of Cleveland meets the offense of Seattle.

2009 Season in Review:

Trey Hillman was able to ride the success of Zach Greinke only so far – and the lack of production at too many offensive positions combined with some poor starting pitching meant that Greinke’s success meant avoiding 100 losses (again).

Did you know that after beating Seattle 3 – 1 on May 7th, the Royals were 18 – 11 and leading the AL Central?  A losing streak kicked off and by May 25th, the Royals fell under .500 at 22 – 23.  That means that Kansas City went 47 – 86 after that hot start…

Fun stat: Royals cleanup hitters hit .211, slugged .315, and had a .280 OBP.  There are players who slug .600 – but the Royals clean up hitters didn’t ADD UP to that number.  Ouch.

Starting Pitching:

Zack Greinke had the best season for a starter in a LONG time…  Gil Meche isn’t a horrible second starter, despite the big paycheck, though he is showing signs of being more frail than first thought.  Kyle Davies can’t be a long term pitcher unless he learns to strike people out.  And he’s not even as good as another no-K pitcher, Brian Bannister.  Luke Hochevar occasionally shows signs of being a really good AAA starter and will be in the rotation.  Guys like Davies and Bannister need air-tight defenses to be successful but do you see any really good fielders below?  The Royals need to stop trying things like giving chances to Sidney Ponson…

Relief Pitching:

Closer Joakim Soria is the real deal – gets outs, keeps people off the bases.  They had one guy who was surprisingly good (Robinson Tejada) and another who was surprisingly bad (Yasuhiko Yabuta), and a bunch of guys who didn’t matter (Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, John Bale, Roman Colon, Bruce Chen).

Catching:

Replacing Miguel Olivo and John Buck with Jason Kendall, who comes over after signing a two-year deal.  I get that Olivo is rather error prone and Buck isn’t a budding all-star.  But they put 80 runs on the board (combined) and are far, far younger than Jason Kendall, who is better defensively but only puts 50 runs on the board in a season.  And that’s giving Kendall the benefit of the doubt, because if you went by handling the staff, nobody wants the lack of production found in the Milwaukee pitching staff.

Infield:

Billy Butler is a very good hitter who may one day become comfortable playing first base.  Chris Getz comes over to play second base from the White Sox where he proved nothing as a hitter but is about 15 runs better defensively than Alberto Callaspo.  Callaspo can hit, though, so he will likely play somewhere.  You’d love for Mike Aviles to come back – working through back injuries (among other problems), Aviles went from Rookie of the Year to Mario Mendoza and that won’t help managers.  At short, the Royals are trying Yuniesky Betancourt, who isn’t going to help the Royals offensively or defensively.  He’s just sort of there.  Alex Gordon was once projected to be a star isn’t, and Mark Teahen – who can and did play everywhere and contributed a little bit offensively – is now with the White Sox.  Another former Royal?  Mike Jacobs played himself out of a job at first.  Does anyone other than me think that Kila Ka’aihue isn’t given a real chance, rather than spending good money on Mike Jacobs?

Outfield:

Signing Coco Crisp for the 2009 season was a bit of a nightmare, especially watching his salary get spent on the DL and his on-field production falling off.  Mitch Maier got a few innings and plays hard if not productively.  He’s Dave Martinez (some old Cub fans might remember him) at this point, and not quite that good.  David DeJesus is a pretty good outfielder and a pretty good hitter – a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Jose Guillen not only underperformed at the plate but is a liability defensively in right field.  Looking forward, the team paid good money for a fading and ineffective (and now add injury prone) Rick Ankiel, and added White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, who is Juan Pierre with a bit better arm.  Willie Bloomquist returns as a fourth/fifth outfielder.

Down on the Farm:

Kila Ka’aihue could be a prospect – but another year at AAA wasn’t as good.  He’s 25 and wasted in this organization.  Brayan Pena is close to being ready as a catcher, hitting .307 in limited time at Omaha – and he’s also getting old for a prospect (28 in 2010).  The best pitcher, Luke Hochevar, isn’t ready for the big leagues yet but the Royals don’t have better options right now.

The best pitchers at AA Northwest Arkansas are relivers Chris Nicoll (7 – 0, but a bit wild and his ERA was 3.50) or either Greg Holland or Aaron Hartsock.  Former 2nd round pick, Jeff Bianchi, showed signs of putting his career together, hitting .300 at A+ Wilmington and .315 with a little power and speed at AA.  I like David Lough even more – and he’s just 23.  More power, better batting average, fewer years in the system.  He’ll be in the outfield soon enough.

Danny Duffy, a twenty-year-old fire baller, had a solid run at A+ Wilmington, and teen Mike Montgomery will be on the Royals staff by the end of 2010 if not 2011’s Opening Day roster.  Both have control, good K/9 ratios, and winning records.  They’re just too young right now.

Looking Ahead to 2010:

Can this really be a better team in 2010 than 2009?  Does the pitching look better this year?  It’s the same rotation hoping that Greinke is still this good.  If he comes down to earth to where he’s just ordinary good, that’s a loss of 35 runs on the defensive side.  The bullpen isn’t deeper.  The catching has gotten older and Kendall is going to lose his reputation for game management if he has another off year with a staff.

Then you look at the lineup.  They’ve gotten 30 runs worse at catcher.  They could be 20 runs better in the outfield (Podsednik instead of Crisp/Maier in the outfield), but the infield isn’t getting better because if Aviles comes back he’s just being as good as Teahen and Getz isn’t going to hit.  Defensively, this is a poor infield – nobody can field for them.

I have a hard time seeing the Royals as better – and they may be worse.  The staff will likely allow about 875 runs and the offense will be lucky to score 700 runs unless (a) the Royals let Brayan Pena catch and (b) Aviles hits like he did in 2008 and (c) Jose Guillen does SOMETHING.  You never know.  As such, I see the team winning about 63 games.  Another long season in KC – and another three to five year plan will likely have to start in 2011.

2010 Season Forecast: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Five Years:

2009:  91 – 71 (1st NL Central)
2008:  86 – 76
2007:  78 – 84
2006:  83 – 78
2005: 100 – 62

Runs Scored: 730
Runs Allowed: 640

Season Recap:

With two aces and the world’s greatest offensive force, the Cardinals held their own throughout the 2009 season.  And just when it looked like someone might catch them, the Cards added Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz to bury the rest of the division.

The Cardinals got off to a hot start, winning 17 of the first 24 games.  However, like the Cubs, a couple of ill-timed losing streaks returned the team back to the pack and in fact St. Louis trailed Milwaukee for parts of June.  In fact, all three teams played indifferently for much of the summer until the front office got involved.

Adding Holliday to the offense and giving a few starts to someone other than Todd Wellemeyer helped get a winning stretch going.  From July 27th through the end of the year, the Cardinals played great – going 38 – 23 before losing in the playoffs.

Injuries claimed Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel at times, and LaRussa had to work around a defense that wasn’t functional at many positions.  Skip Schumaker was an outfielder impersonating a second baseman – badly.  He was replaced by Julio Lugo near the end of the season, and the ball wasn’t hit close enough to him either – not that Lugo had been a regular second baseman recently.  Chris Duncan is a poor outfielder – replaced by Matt Holliday who actually played even worse.  Ryan Ludwick played at a below average pace in right and the ball wasn’t hit to his occasional replacements (Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha) either.

Despite this, the pitchers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL – which shows you how good Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were.  And they were simply amazing.  Put this staff in front of the middle 80’s team that featured Ozzie and Willie McGee and company, and they might have allowed only 500 runs all year.

Starting Pitching:

Adam Wainwright pitched 233 innings, fanned 212, and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He saved his team some 43 runs over using a league average starter.  Chris Carpenter was even better.  Returning from elbow surgery, Carpenter nearly tossed 200 innings in just 28 starts, winning 17 and finishing with an ERA of just 2.24.  He saved his squad 48 runs.  The third starter, Joel Pineiro won 15 himself, hardly walking anyone and keeping batted balls on the ground all season.

With 51 wins in the top three spots, the Cardinals countered with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse at the bottom of the rotation; two who were below average pitchers.  Wellemeyer was so bad, he cancelled out half an ace with his 5.89 ERA.

Three starters are back, starting with the aces and adding Kyle Lohse.  Pineiro is gone, replaced by Brad Penny – and my take on it that Penny should be close to as good as Pineiro was.  They have comparable strikeout rates, and if Penny keeps the ball over the plate, should fare well here.  Wellemeyer is also history, but it’s hard to tell who might get that fifth slot.  It could be Mitchell Boggs, who got nine starts and while his ERA was tolerable (4.19), he sure got lucky.  Boggs allowed 71 hits in 58 innings and walked 33 more.  Some time back, I suggested that you could figure how lucky a pitcher was by comparing his actual runs allowed data against his “reverse runs created” data.  Essentially, I was treating his pitching stats like I would an offensive player.  Given the combination of hits and walks that Boggs allowed, he would expect to have allowed 40 runs, not 28, and his ERA would have been about 6.05.

I digress.  The fifth starter could also be non-roster invitee Rich Hill, who is just the type of pitcher that seems to get his career healed by the coaching of Dave Duncan.  Look for Hill to make the roster and possibly make the rotation.

The bullpen returns virtually intact – Ryan Franklin was about the best closer in the National League, but he’s NOT a power guy and I don’t believe that he’s going to be as successful in 2010.  Trever Miller had a great season, but he only pitched 43.2 innings in his 70 games, which means that LaRussa spotted him well.  He and Dennys Reyes will be the designated lefties, while Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson, and Jason Motte pick up the other innings.  Rookie Jess Todd might be a nice set up man for part of the season.

My view of this is that the pitching can’t possibly be this good next year.  Not that Wainwright and Carpenter won’t be good – they could be 25 runs better than the average pitchers, which is very good, but that would be 40 runs off from last year’s production.  Ryan Franklin could be good, but lose five runs from a peak season last year.  Not having to pitch Todd Wellemeyer will help some, however I’d be nervous about the current options.  I see the pitching being off by about 50 runs.

Catching:

Yadier Molina remains the best defensive catcher in baseball and seems to be adding some offensive tools.  His backup is Jason LaRue – who will get to catch four times a month.

Infield:

Albert Pujols is the best offensive player in the game, and the best defensive player at his position.  His quickness means that he plays farther off the bag than most people – which gives him a serious range advantage over just about anybody.

After a year of Skip Schumaker, who stays to provide depth, the Cardinals will be using Felipe Lopez at second base.  This is an immediate 20 run upgrade defensively, and if Lopez continues to hit, a match to the production Schumaker provided (80 runs created, and 5.7 runs per 27 outs – which is solid).

Brendan Ryan was a stopper defensively, but starts the season coming back from wrist surgery.  I’m not sure he’ll be able to replicate last year’s production defensively and it’s hard to come back and hit right away after a hand or wrist injury.  His backup will be Julio Lugo or Tyler Greene.

At third, Mark DeRosa is gone and the Joe Thurston experiment is over.  David Freese will get the job.  Freese is a prospect, albeit a rather old prospect.  You may remember that Freese was acquired from San Diego for Jim Edmonds.  Well, Freese has been solid in the minors – hitting .306 with 26 homers in Memphis in 2008, and then batting .300 with 10 homers in just 200 at bats last season at AAA.  The Ballwin, MO native can hit at this level – he’ll be 27 in April.  I think he’ll hit like Todd Zeile – 18 homers, .270 batting average.  If he can field at all, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards got last year.

Pujols season was better than what he had done the previous couple of years, he could lose twenty runs of offense and STILL be the best hitter in the game.  With the wrist injury, Brendan Ryan will be off, but that will be made up by the play of Freese.  The net result, however, is probably 20 runs fewer offensively and probably ten runs off defensively.

Outfield:

This is going to be a very productive offense featuring Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick.  Ludwick, if healthy, holds his own.  A full season of Holliday will be better than half a season of Chris Duncan.  And Colby Rasmus will hit better than what Rick Ankiel did last year.  Defensively, Rasmus should hold steady, Holliday will be a slight improvement over Duncan, and Ankiel won’t be better.

Backups include Skip Schumaker, Nick Stavinoha and maybe a rookie – Joe MatherShane Robinson?  It could be Allen Craig, who had a solid year at Memphis last year (see Prospects).

This team will score produce about 30 runs more than last year and hold steady defensively.

Bench:

Not a bad bunch, but some holes…  Skip Schumaker will get a lot of innings, Julio Lugo returns, as does Tyler Greene, and then you have Nick Stavinoha, and Jason LaRue.  Which of these guys, other than Schumaker, would you want as a pinch hitter?  It’s a bit weak.

Prospects:

AAA Memphis had a couple of guys who might be interesting.  David Freese will get a shot at the third base job after a year and a half of solid play with the Redbirds.  Allen Craig hit .322 with 26 homers, but he’s not really patient at the plate.  He’s a potential fourth outfielder with the Cardinals though, and could be Ryan Ludwick’s equal in right field.  (.280 – 20 homers)

Jess Todd was the closer in Memphis and was solid – 59 Ks, 13 walks, 24 saves to match his 2.20 ERA.  He’ll be on the Cardinals in 2010.  The best starter was likely P.J. Walters, who was tolerable – decent control, a good strikeout record, but a bit hittable.

The best pitchers at Springfield (AA) weren’t dominating, but had good records and avoided the long ball.  Trey Hearne and Lance Lynn combined for 23 wins and only 7 losses and have interchangeable stats.  Lynn was a 1A draft pick in 2008, so he’s moving up quickly and the Cardinals have high hopes for him.  Infielder Daniel Descalso hit well (.323, .396 OBP) at Springfield but hasn’t been consistent at that level in the minors.

Former first round picks, like Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Carpenter are gone.  Peter Kozma was a top pick in 2007 and struggled to hit .216 in AA – he’s going to run out of chances soon.  Another, 2007 pick David Kopp struggled to a 6.43 ERA at Springfield – he might get one more shot before being cast away.  Much of the 2006 draft is still around and getting close – Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, and Allen Craig are in Memphis but haven’t made it in (or to) the bigs yet.

There are a couple of players in the minors, but as a whole, the Cardinal organization is a little thin right now.

Outlook:

Having gone through the process, I think the Cardinals will be in the mix but might not easily repeat.  I think they’ll score about 740 runs, but allow more than last year – as many as 690 runs.  If that’s the combination, it works out to 87 wins.  With Milwaukee likely getting better and the Cubs in the mix, the NL Central could easily have the most exciting September in baseball.  The Cards MIGHT win the division, and they MIGHT get the wild card.  Or, they MIGHT fall a game or two short.  It’s too close to call.

Top NL Centerfielders in 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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