2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

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2010 – Top AL Designated Hitters

Chicago White Sox – Shared amongst several players, will be using Adam Dunn in 2011 (109.2 Runs Created).  I’m guessing he’ll do just fine.

Vladimir Guerrero – TEX (98.7 Runs Created)

29 – 115 – .300, but seemed to slow as the season wore on.  Didn’t get resigned, so he’s now getting a shot with Baltimore.  He’ll be okay, but a notch below his 2010 production.

David Ortiz – BOS (98.4 Runs Created)

One day, the slow start will be a slow season.  For now, he remains a very productive hitter.

Hideki Matsui – LAA (86.2 Runs Created)

Still a potent bat, with fair power and a discerning eye at the plate.  Now the DH in Oakland, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  Will be 37 in June, and his stats won’t look as good in Oakland, which may hasten his decline.

Luke Scott – BAL (84.7 Runs Created)

Can play the corner outfield positions (though not well) and first base in a pinch.

Jim Thome – MIN (73,0 Runs Created)

Shared role with Jason Kubel in a platoon role, though after Justin Morneau went down, Kubel played more in the field, too.  Can still tattoo a fastball to the opposite field, and is the complete professional hitter.  Approaching 600 homers with no sign of slowing down.  Of course, the 40s aren’t always friendly to batters.

Travis Hafner – CLE (69.3 Runs Created)

Platooned, which is why his totals are less than the rest – but he’s platooned for a reason.

Johnny Damon or Magglio Ordonez – DET (79.7 and 58.9 Runs Created, respectively)

Damon got most of the licks here in 2010, but Ordonez may get the bulk of them in 2011.

Jack Cust – OAK (62.7 Runs Created)

Hits for power, draws a few walks, swings through a lot of strikes.  Now gets to play full time in Seattle, where he may get more playing time.  I wouldn’t be suprised at 25 – 95 in 2011.

Jose Guillen – KC (53.9 Runs Created)

Guillen shared it with a few others – look for Billy Butler or Kila (Mt.) Ka’aihue to get the bulk of the at bats next year.

The Yankees shared the role amongst a number of players, including Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, and any of their aging stars needing a day or three off while keeping a bat in the lineup.  Thames was very productive, and the other hitters are all pretty good.

The Mariners shared the role amongst a few players, including Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Russell Branyan.  None of that really worked out well, so Jack Cust has been imported for 2011.

The Rays shared the role with a variety of fourth outfielders and extra infielders – sometimes to good effect.  For 2011, Manny Ramirez and/or Johnny Damon (mostly Manny) will get the at bats.  Manny can’t stay healthy, he has an insanity streak, but can still hit really, really well.  We’ll see if he’s got one more good year left in the tank, or if he gets bored.  Or just old.

2010 Top AL First Basemen

Mark Teixeira – NYY (97.7 Runs Created, 31.7 Runs Saved = 129.4 Total Runs Productivity)

His batting average never recovered from a miserable .136 April but he continued to show power (69 extra base hits) and kept reaching base.  Additionally, he had one of those years where his defensive stats were outstanding – nobody fluctuates more than Teixeira for some reason, but he’s been in a lot of different stadiums over the last few years.  I’m not sure that I’d take him over Cabrera or even Butler for 2011, but he’s been the new Rafael Palmeiro in terms of hitting consistency.  Will pass 300 homers this year assuming he staus healthy (never less than 30 since 2003) and probably 1000 RBIs, too (seven straight over 100 RBI).  Turns 31 just after Opening Day, so he’s got at least five or six good years left, wouldn’t you think?

Miguel Cabrera – DET (147.0 Runs Created, – 19.9 Runs Saved = 127.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The most feared hitter in the AL right now – power, batting average, decent enough eye.  He’s starting to look thicker like Manny Ramirez, who is the the person Cabrera reminds me of the most.  Per game, Youkilis is more productive, but Cabrera doesn’t miss games.  The Marlins should have kept him and just given him shares of ownership or something.

Paul Konerko – CHI (119.0 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 108.8 Total Runs Productivity)

A fantastic season for the White Sox first baseman.  Konerko hit a ton, doesn’t necessarily help with the glove, and has been rather productive for a number of years now.  It was his sixth 30 homer season, fifth of at least 100 RBI, and third time clearing .300 in batting average.  Turns 35 in March, so don’t be surprised if there’s a drop off this year.  Adam Dunn will give Konerko a break between DH duties and add even more thunder to the middle of the lineup.

Billy Butler – KC (109.3 Runs Created, -1.3 Runs Saved = 108.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Konerko edged Butler by a shade less than a run, but I’d rather have Butler.  He’s worked hard to become a tolerable defensive player, he doesn’t have the top end power of Cabrera but he’s a threat to get 200 hits a year, and he’s capable of hitting 25 homers (or more) at some point – based on his hitting 45 doubles last year and 51 in 2009.  If you are in a keeper fantasy league, go get him.

Kevin Youkilis – BOS (82.8 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 100.6 Total Runs Productivity)

An injury ended his season after just 102 games, but few people actually produce a full productive run per game and Youkilis nearly did just that.  When Mike Lowell was forced to play there more regularly, he looked okay defensively (as you might expect), but he didn’t generate any offense, which contributed to the Red Sox falling off as the season progressed.  Is Kevin Youkilis a potential Hall of Famer?  Let the discussion begin.  Adrian Gonzalez, imported from San Diego, will take over the role, moving Youkilis over to third base.

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

Justin Morneau was hitting like Ted Williams when a concussion ended his season after just 81 games.  Cuddyer took over down the stretch and was very good.  He played the position well enough (he actually saved 4.5 runs as a first baseman but gave a few runs away in the outfield) and hits for power among his other virtues.  Morneau says he’ll be ready for spring training, and the Twins hope he’s at 100% when the season starts.  If not, Cuddyer is a fine alternative.

Ty Wigginton – BAL (72.2 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 87.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Wigginton, who can play all over the infield and outfield, got the lion’s share of innings and was surprisingly effective as a first baseman, if not quite a solid offensive contributor.  His 22 homers and 76 RBIs look okay, but the .248/.415/.316 percentage line as a bit weak for the position.  In the SI baseball preview, Joe Sheehan suggested that Garrett Atkins was a lousy short-term solution for a team that should be focusing on youth.  Atkins hit .214 with 1 homer in 140 at bats – nailing that prediction.

Daric Barton – OAK (92.7 Runs Created, -17.3 Runs Saved = 75.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Oakland says they are happy with Barton, who is a poor man’s Mark Grace.  Barely enough power but gets on base a lot, hits a few doubles.  However, he doesn’t seem to have Grace’s defensive skills.  To his credit, he’s gotten better every year, he’s just 25, and he has room to grow.  If he can find his comfort zone defensively and add a little more offense, he’d get to 100 runs of productivity for sure, which would make him a more valuable commodity.

Carlos Pena – TB (72.6 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 73.1 Total Runs Productivity)

The Cubs payed $10 million for a guy who got 95 hits in 571 plate appearances.  Still has power, still has a great eye, but strikes out a ton and is no longer a defensive force as he ages.  If he hits .240 as a Cub, I’ll take it – but I’ll also be surprised.

Justin Morneau – MIN (81.9 Runs Created, -12.0 Runs Saved = 69.9 Total Runs Productivity)

A concussion suffered when getting kneed in the head while sliding into second base ended his season.  A ferocious hitter, but a brick with the glove.  See Michael Cuddyer, above.

Lyle Overbay – TOR (74.4 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 67.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Showed a little power to make up for his fading batting average, still draws a few walks.  His strikeout rate makes you nervous and he no longer flashes the leather as well as he used to.  He’s outside the top ten at his position, and that means he’s won a job in Pittsburgh.  At least he’s durable, right?  Looking over the Blue Jays roster, does this mean Adam Lind or Travis Snider or Jose Bautista or someone is moving over?  Watch the Jays in Spring Training and see what happens.

Justin Smoak – TEX/SEA (40.6 Runs Created, 17.5 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Should get the Seattle job in 2011, unless Mariners management goes through another round of goofiness.  Didn’t hit very well and needs to show improvement, but he did flash leather in two cities.  Still a kid – worth giving 500 at bats to see what happens.  See Casey Kotchman, below.

Mike Napoli – LAA (73.1 Runs Created, -19.2 Runs Saved = 53.3 Total Runs Productivity)

See Kendry Morales, below.  Played first because he was probably the best option when Morales went down but really isn’t a first baseman.  May get time there in Texas for 2011, but I’d rather see him catch five days and DH twice a week.

Kendry Morales – LAA (35.1 Runs Created, 11.2 Runs Saved = 46.3 Total Runs Productivity)

Mike Napoli played 140 more innings because Morales went down to a freak leg injury celebrating a home run.  Morales was pacing for about 135 runs of total productivity, which would have placed him ahead of Cabrera, when he was sidelined.  Hits for power and average, great range – a fantastic player.  His injury, as much as anything, cost the Angels the AL West.  It forced an out of position player to first and put a bad hitter in the lineup – costing the team about 80 runs over the course of the season.

Casey Kotchman – SEA (43.4 Runs Created, -5.9 Runs Saved = 37.5 Total Runs Productivity)

I’m not sure what Seattle was thinking here – Kotchman hasn’t been consistent as a Mark Grace type, falling off to hitting just .217 last year.  He gets raves for his glove, but hasn’t been consistent there, either.  They should have just committed to Russell Branyan, given him a decent check, and let him come to the park confident in having a job.  If Seattle is serious about contending, they need to find 70 more runs at this position in 2011.  Justin Smoak was imported from Texas for Branyan and has power and a decent eye, seems to be a much better fielder.  A full season of Smoak, especially if he can improve from .218 to .260 and hit 25 homers, would be worth at least 45 more runs.  If Kotchman gets a full season of at bats anymore, I’ll be stunned.

Mitch Moreland – TEX (24.5 Runs Created, -3.3 Runs Saved = 21.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Chris Davis had the job but couldn’t hit .200.  Justin Smoak got a chance, wasn’t horrible, but was sent to Seattle for Russell BranyanJorge Cantu was imported from Florida and didn’t really earn much playing time.  Mitch Moreland took over down the stretch and was pretty good – hit for power, got on base, did the job at first – though he needs to get comfortable there and a full season later he might not be too bad.  He’s low down the list now, but expect him to move up a few notches in 2011.

Matt LaPorta – CLE (42.9 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 17.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Russell Branyan came over from Seattle and was far more productive in his 47 games at first (32.8 total runs) than LaPorta, who played 93 games at first and another seven in left field and butchered it both offensively and defensively.  Of course, Branyan doesn’t have a job and LaPorta is listed at the top of the depth chart heading into Spring Training.  Pity my friends who are Cleveland fans.

Volquez Gets PED Suspension; Hoodie is “OKAY!” – MLB

Edinson Volquez, the injured Reds ace, apparently tested positive for PEDs during a spring training test.  He claims that he had taken a fertility drug in the Dominican Republic as he and his wife are trying to start a family.  If that’s the case, don’t you get that approved with the league before you actually take it?

Moreover, why does his suspension start now while Volquez is on the DL, rather than after he would be eligible to play (perhaps, say, late July or August)?  If you get suspended, like Cliff Lee did, for throwing at a player that suspension doesn’t start until you are an active member of the team.  This just encourages people to try something while recovering from a major injury to get better faster (are you reading this, Tiger Woods?).  [SI/MLB]

Others who agree with me?  Joe Lemire of SIJon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.  It may be for different reasons, but we all agree this stinks.

Speaking of Cliff Lee’s Suspension…

It’s not gonna happen.  The MLB, upon appeal, decided that Cliff Lee‘s recovery from injuries to his foot contributed to his lack of control in a spring training game – and not throwing at Chris Snyder‘s head after Lee and Snyder collided at the plate in a previous inning. [ESPN]

From the Training Room…

Darnell McDonald and Josh Reddick have joined the Red Sox outfield as both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron were placed on the DL.  McDonald is a longtime bush leaguer who has about 140 at bats in a couple of previous MLB trips.  He’s organizational depth.  Reddick has occasionally looked like a prospect, once hitting .343 at A+ Lancaster in the California League, but despite his power and occasional bat control, I think he’s no better than a fifth outfielder anyway…  [ESPN]

Ranger second baseman Ian Kinsler is testing his injured ankle in hopes of starting his rehab assignment this month for Texas.  [MLB]

Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran is “making progress” in his knee rehab – but he still cannot run.  Neither can pitcher Ryota Igarashi, who strained a hammy trying to field a bunt against the Cubs last night.  It probably doesn’t affect your fantasy team, though.  [MLB]

MLB Approves Hoodie…

At least Joe Maddon can rest more easily, as can your local Walmart or Target.  [SI]

For my Fellow Cub Fans…

The Cubs are looking at Braden Looper.  Forgive me if I don’t get too excited.  On the other hand, I watched them last night and wasn’t too excited about what I saw either.  [FoxSports]

From the Transaction Wire…

The Dodgers returned Jon Link to AAA Albuquerque, and activated reliever Ronald Belisario.
The Angels placed catcher Jeff Mathis on the 15 day DL and recalled Robb Quinlan.
Houston placed infielder Chris Johnson on the DL with a strained right intercostal muscle, and recalled Lance Berkman.
Cleveland recalled hitter Russell Branyan, costing outfielder Michael Brantley his job.  Brantley heads to AAA Columbus.
Baltimore dispatched struggling pitcher Brad Bergesen to AAA Norfolk and called up Alberto Castillo.

I watched Bergesen get lit up by Seattle.  Castillo is a minor league and independent league veteran, throws lefty, and has had a couple of previous shots with Baltimore and never been too bad.  He’s a platoon guy – but very happy to have made the roster.  Castillo jumped from Cuba in 1994 and is just shy of 35 years old.  Maybe he can stay a little longer this time.

The Red Sox traded Andrew Dobies to the White Sox.  Dobies was a third round pick out of Virginia six years ago who never got out of AA.  He recently converted to a relief role and has been a bit more successful, but we’ll see if he can make it one more step or two forward.

Happy Birthday!

1887 – Joe McCarthy – Hall of Fame manager
1919 – Stan Rojek – “Happy Rabbit”
1937 – Gary Peters
1941 – Dick Green
1947 – Al Bumbry
1962 – Les Lancaster
1963 – Ken Caminiti
1973 – Kevin Brown
1977 – Kip Wells
1981 – Ronny Paulino – Wonder if the Marlins will let him catch tonight?

Baseball’s Opening Day Fun!

It’s nice to get back into the swing of writing…  I didn’t get all of the team forecasts done, so I’ll just add as many as I can in April before calling it good.  I DID rate all of the players by position for the first time ever, so I got THAT going for me…

I was able to watch a variety of different games, getting in most of the Phillies – Nationals game, the early innings of the Cubs – Braves slaughter (ouch if you are a Cubs fan like me), two innings of the Diamondbacks opener, and listened to about two innings of the Astros and Giants opener.  That’s a good opening day.

Things that caught my attention:

How about that play by Mark Buehrle on a ball that rocketed off his left shin into foul territory.  Buehrle ran it down and flipped the ball between his legs to first for the out.  [MLB]

I don’t think the Cubs should allow Carlos Zambrano to start on opening day.  He’s just too excitable.  Once a ball fell in that he thought should have been caught in the first inning, the game went out the window.

Jason Heyward became the umpteenth player in MLB history to homer in his first plate appearance – looking very comfortable as a major league outfielder.  [FoxSports]

Albert Pujols and Garrett Jones (who was immediately scooped up by Andy Finch in our fantasy baseball league) homered twice on opening day, which means they are on pace to hit 300 homers in 2010…

Jack Cust was released by the A’s – and isn’t too happy about it.  Cust hits homers and draws walks – but that’s about it.  Still – he produces runs for a team that doesn’t really have a cleanup hitter.  [Fanhouse]

Buster Olney writes that the Yankees are already concerned about the decline in Jorge Posada‘s defense.  But they have no worries about the lack of range displayed by Derek Jeter?  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

1903 Mickey Cochrane
1906 Benny Frey
1908 Ernie Lombardi
1937 Phil Regan
1943 Marty Pattin – I can still remember getting his baseball card as a little kid at a corner store  near by grandparent’s house in Chicago
1951 Bert Blyleven
1971 Lou Merloni

Hurry Back!

Lots of guys starting the year on the DL, including (but not limited to):

Brandon Webb (AZ) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Marc Rzepczynski
(TOR) – 15 day, fractured middle finger on left hand
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) – 15 day, neck strain
Cliff Lee (SEA) – 15 day, abdominal strain
Jose Reyes (NYM) – 15 day, thyroid condition
Jesus Flores (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) – 60 day, shoulder surgery
Daniel Murphy (NYM) – 15 day, sprained knee
Coco Crisp (OAK) – 15 day, fractured pinkie
J.P. Howell (TB) – 15 day, left shoulder strain
Kerry Wood (CLE) – 15 day, right lat strain
Freddy Sanchez (SF) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Ted Lilly (CHC) – 15 day, recovering from shoulder surgery
Russell Branyan (CLE) – 15 day, herniated disc
Ian Kinsler (TEX) – 15 day, sprained ankle
Tommy Hunter
(TEX) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Gil Meche (KC) – 15 day, bursitis in throwing shoulder
Alex Gordon (KC) – 15 day, broken thumb
Huston Street (COL) – 15 day, shoulder inflammation
Joe Blanton (PHI) – 15 day, left oblique strain
Scott Kazmir (LAA) – 15 day, hamstring strain
Brad Lidge (PHI) – 15 day, recovering from elbow surgery

Hey Pittsburgh fans! Your team is in first place!

Have a great day!

Top AL First Basemen in 2009

Let’s put some of this fun data together and look at the top players by position.  Today, we’ll start with the AL First Basemen.

What I have done is taken the basic runs created data (an older Bill James formula modified to account for the park in which that player played) and my defensive runs saved data and combined them into a Total Run Production number.  The best players will create the most runs offensively and prevent the most runs defensively.

Kendry Morales (LAA) – Now THAT’S an impact season.  You start with the power and average – 34 – 108 – .306.  He didn’t walk a lot, but he added more than 40 doubles, too.  Morales is also a very mobile first baseman – more mobile than Teixeira.  I show him creating about 115 runs of offense and then saving his team about 38 runs defensively.  This isn’t the first time that he’s had impressive defensive stats at first.  In more than 450 innings there in 2006 he was very good and in 121 innings in 2007 he had similar range numbers.  (115.4 Runs Created, 37.8 Runs Saved = 153.20 Total Run Production)

Mark Teixeira (NYY) – It was close, but Morales’ defensive numbers put him over the top.  I’m not suggesting that Teixeira is BAD defensively.  He’s not.  He’s got soft hands and makes many, many impressive plays.  However, in the last four years he’s been all over the map.  Not so good in Texas, decent in a half season in Atlanta.  Then, after a slower start in ATL in 2008, he was very good with the Angels.  He was above average last year with the Yankees.  As a hitter, Tex was worth 20 more runs, but as a fielder, Morales made up for it with about five runs to spare.  I think I’d rather have Tex on my fantasy team, though.  (135.6 Runs Created, 12.7 Runs Saved = 148.32 Total Run Production)

Miguel Cabrera (DET) – An alcohol problem surfaced in 2009 and yet he was still very productive.  Hopefully, a cleaner Cabrera will have a breakout season in 2010.  In 2009, he wasn’t half bad at first base and he remains one of the most productive hitters at any position.  I’d draft him.  (132.7 Runs Created, 0.9 Runs Saved = 133.62 Total Run Production)

Kevin Youkilis (BOS) – A great fielder at two positions, Boston looks to get more time for Youkilis at first base with Adrian Beltre playing the hot corner.  Where the top three guys were all 30 – 100 – .300 types, Youk was 27 – 94 .305 – just a notch below them in power, but just as patient (if not more so) at the plate.  (109.6 Runs Created, 14.9 Runs Saved = 124.45 Total Run Production)

Russell Branyan (SEA) – Finally getting a full season of at bats (well, he was injured at the end of the year), Branyan delivered the goods.  Solid power and patience, but a lower batting average (.251) than the top tier guys.  And, Branyan was surprisingly good at first base, showing well above average range.  Seattle turned a negative to a huge positive in 2009.  That being said, he still didn’t get to 500 plate appearances and he’s 34.  I bet Branyan would like a second shot at his career – but this might have been his best chance and it took forever for someone (Cleveland) to sign him.  People must not think he can repeat what he did last year.  (81.2 Runs Created, 24.4 Runs Saved = 105.66 Total Run Production)

Paul Konerko (CHI) – The really slow start messed with what was really a pretty good season.  Konerko had an average season defensively and a shade more than 90 runs of offense.  The issue, of course, is that he’s running out of prime years, turning 34 in Spring Training…  (92.5 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 99.85 Total Run Production)

Billy Butler (KC) – If you are looking for a sleeper for your fantasy team, you could do worse than drafting this guy…  Butler can hit .300 with some power – which will likely get better as he ages.  He’s still young and his defense, while not great, wasn’t miserably bad.  Personally, I’d rather have Butler than Konerko next year.  (103.1 Runs Created, -10.8 Runs Saved = 92.29 Total Run Production.)

Carlos Pena (TB) – Still has world class power (39 homers despite missing a month), but his batting average tanked to .227.  He’s NOT a .300 hitter, and I don’t think he’s really a .227 hitter.  However, he’s coming off a bad wrist injury and is now 32 (well – he will be in May). His defense is still solid, but it’s not what it once was.  Watch how he does in the spring and steal him if he gets off to a decent start.  (91.3 Runs Created, .7 Runs Saved = 92.02 Total Run Production)

Lyle Overbay (TOR) – His defense, normally awesome, slipped in 2009.  His offense, normally tolerable, slipped in 2009.  Overbay isn’t going to hit 20 homers and unless he’s hitting close to .300 and hitting a bunch of doubles and cutting down grounders and line drives to right field, he’s gaining on losing his job to Adam Lind…  He might bounce back some, but he’s not high on my draft list.  (76.1 Runs Created, -1.8 Runs Saved = 74.31 Total Run Production)

Justin Morneau (MIN) – If healthy, Justin Morneau will likely move back up the list in 2010.  However, with stress fractures in his back last year, his batting tanked in the late summer and he couldn’t move well enough in the field.  He generated 90 runs of offense (most of it before the All-Star break), which is okay, but he gave 20 back with his defense – hence the low rating.  (91.4 Runs Created, -20.51 Runs Saved = 70.92 Total Run Production)

Ryan Garko (CLE) – No longer an Indian, Garko was replaced by Andy Marte after being dealt to San Francisco – and Victor Martinez got several innings here, too.  Garko’s net production among two teams was 64.50 (56.5 Runs Created with 8 Runs Saved).  The job may well get split again this year among Marte and Travis Hafner.  Marte, a long time prospect who turned 26 in the offseason, looked like he hadn’t spent much time there and Victor Martinez looked like a catcher trying to play first base.  To be fair, a full season of Garko wouldn’t be horrible – it might be better than having Lyle Overbay these days.  Roster Update!!! The Indians signed Russell Branyan to a one-year deal as spring training started – so if Branyan is healthy, the Indians could have a solid answer for 2010.

Aubrey Huff (BAL) – Now plying his trade for San Francisco, Huff had an off season to say the least.  Between two teams, Huff’s total production was 58.70 runs (63.8 Runs Created, but -5.1 runs saved).  The new first baseman could be Michael Aubrey, a former Indian prospect who has some skills and the same, albeit displaced, name.  He’s going to field a little better than Huff and he MIGHT hit pretty well, too.  Suffering through injuries in the minor leagues, Baltimore hopes this Aubrey is a late bloomer.  God forbid they have to play Garrett Atkins there.

Chris Davis (TEX) – Shared the role with Hank Blalock, none of which is the answer…  At least Davis has some range and a little power but he sure does strikeout a lot.  If you combine Davis and Blalock, the total production is close to the production of Carlos Pena and his backups…  (47.4 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 57.44 Total Run Production)

Daric Barton (OAK) – Barton took over for Jason Giambi and wasn’t horrible.  He fielded the position well and he gets on base some – though you wish he had a little more power.  He’s 70% of Mark Grace, but he’s 24 and has a little room left to grow…  The A’s could choose to go with Eric Chavez here if they let Kevin Kouzmanoff play third base all season.  Barton also serves as the emergency catcher, having started his career as a catcher out of high school.

Quick Notes… Having done this, the median starting first baseman in the AL produced about 92 runs for his team and the replacement level would have been about 70 runs of production.  The latter seems a little low in that Minnesota’s final number, if you included the time spent at first base by Michael Cuddyer, would have been closer to 85 or 90 runs.  So, more realistically, your first basemen have to generate at least 90 runs of production lest they need to be replaced.  Morales and Teixeira were, in essence, about six wins better than the average first baseman.

2009 AL Gold Glove and Brick Glove Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Sort.

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

Right Field:

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

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

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

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

Center Field:

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

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

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

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

Left Field:

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

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

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

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

Shortstop:

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

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

-9.2 -14.2 Derek Jeter (NYY)

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

Third Base:

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

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

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

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

Second Base:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Base:

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

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

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

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