2010 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Last Five Years:

2009: 63 – 98 (5th AL East)
2008: 68 – 93
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 70 – 92
2005: 74 – 88

The Baltimore Orioles have had a worse record each year since winning 78 games in 2004 and haven’t posted a winning season since 1997, when they won 98 games.  What in the name of Earl Weaver is going on here???

Runs Scored: 741 (11th, AL)
Runs Allowed: 876 (Last, AL)

Season Recap:

Another year of rebuilding, another year of trying out prospects, and another year of being battered in road games, where the Orioles were 25 – 56.  Ouch.

Despite this, the Orioles are starting to show signs that they are accumulating the type of talent that will make them competitive – which would be good enough in the AL Central, but not in the AL East.

Just looking at the monthly splits, the team batted pretty well all year but had power surges in May and August.  What really happened was that the team slugged enough to help the pitchers in the beginning of the season, but the  pitching really left them after the all-star break.  The team ERA was a tolerable 4.55 in July when the Orioles were off – winning just 9 of 25 decisions.  Then it went to 5.30 in August as Baltimore lost 20 of 30 games, and finished at 6.22 (!) in September when the team lost 20 of 26 decisions.  Were it not for a four game winning streak in October, the Orioles would have lost 100 games.

So – looking ahead quickly, the Orioles need to figure out how to make up for a 135 run gap between offense and defense that would allow them to get to .500.

Pitching:

Jeremy Guthrie, who would look good on most teams, got to 200 innings in his 33 starts and wasn’t horrible despite his 10 – 17 record.  He’s not a league average pitcher in part because he doesn’t strike out enough batters – just 110 on the season.

The rest of the rotation struggled.  Rich Hill, brought in as sort of a reclamation project, gave the Orioles 13 awful starts (7.80 ERA), David Hernandez was called up for 19 starts that were a bit better, but he was whacked around to a 4 – 10 record.  Koji Uehara started off okay, but went down to a shoulder injury.  Prospect Jason Berken didn’t look ready – 24 starts and a 6.54 ERA.  Adam Eaton was added to the rotation and was predictably awful (2 – 5, 8.56).  Mark Hendrickson was allowed to start 11 times but was better in relief.

However, Brad Bergesen came up and won 7 of 12 decisions, and saved his team 16 runs over 123.1 innings.  Brian Matusz was given 8 starts and was league average, winning five of seven decisions.  Chris Tillman wasn’t awful.

The bullpen had George Sherrill‘s 20 saves and a solid 2.40 ERA, but shipped him to Los Angeles, putting Jim Johnson in the closer position where he was barely tolerable – not necessarily helping down the stretch.  Danys Baez gave the Orioles 72 decent innings.  Brian Bass was asked to work a lot of long relief.

Working against those four were Matt Albers (5.51 ERA), former closer Chris Ray (7.27 ERA) and a few other small time tryouts.

Looking ahead to 2010, the Orioles have to start by finding 400 better innings of pitching.  Kevin Millwood was acquired from Texas – Millwood was solid for five months and if he can keep his ERA under 4.50, would represent a 40 run improvement over 2009.  Guthrie gets the second spot, and Bergesen and Matusz will get more starts.  If they stay healthy and make 30 starts, that’s another 40 runs better.  Chris Tillman is expected to be a prize – and certainly will be better than eight Adam Eaton starts.

So, a realist sees the potential to make up at least 60 runs on last year, and an optimist might see 100 runs of improvement.

The bullpen adds former Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to the closer spot.  Gonzalez CAN be a good closer, and he CAN be a bit inconsistent.  Still, adding the healthy arm to the mix will be a step up.  Former Padre Cla Meredith will also help out, taking on the Baez innings.  Will Ohman comes over from the NL – and I would rather see him than, say, Matt Albers, who is still around and on the active roster as of 4/1.

I don’t see the bullpen being that much better than last year – and certainly nowhere near as deep as the top three teams in the division.

Catching:

Matt Wieters is here – the cover of Sports Illustrated in March – and could EXPLODE on the scene and make the all-star team.  Wieters didn’t disappoint as a rookie, showing a little power and hitting .288.  He represents a step up over Chad Moeller and Greg Zaun, and has far more upside.  The new back up is Craig Tatum.  Wieters does need to improve is caught stealing rate (barely league average) but is more mobile and made fewer mistakes per game than the two veterans in 2009.

Infield:

Last year, Aubrey Huff was merely ordinary and not producing at the rate the Orioles had hoped – just 13 – 72 – .253.  First baseman are supposed to create 100 runs of offense, and Huff was responsible for just 55.  Michael Aubrey and Garrett Atkins are around now.  Aubrey is an oft-injured Indian farm hand who was stuck behind Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez (among others), but could be a surprise performer.  Atkins has been in decline for a few years and when asked to backup Todd Helton at first looked awkward.  I’d rather play Aubrey and keep Atkins on the bench.

Brian Roberts remains a remarkably productive offensive force at the top of the lineup, but his bad back is affecting his already below average range.  The Orioles don’t really have another choice (Robert Andino could field it, but not hit), so they have to hope that Roberts can keep his back loose and mobile.

At short, Cesar Izturis provided a great glove with no bat in the mold of Mark Belanger – hitting .253 with no power and, even worse, drawing just 18 walks in 114 games.  At least he keeps the pitchers happy.

Melvin Mora looked very old last year – only eight homers, and barely generating 50 runs of offense.  In his place, the Orioles are returning former Oriole Miguel Tejada (who is older than Mora) to play third.  Tejada had a solid season at short for Houston last year, but agreed to the move here.  Mora is usually pretty solid defensively, but Tejada could be his match and will certainly provide a bit more offense.

Looking at this pragmatically, and assuming Michael Aubrey gets the first shot at first base, there could be 30 more runs here (35 more at third, 15 more at first, offset by a potential decline at second base).  If Atkins plays, it’s probably only 15 runs better than last year, and that’s offset by Atkins bungling the position defensively, too.

Outfield:

With Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, the Orioles have a pretty productive group here.

Markakis is a dependable source of hits and runs, though his range isn’t enough to make up for his rocket arm.  I do believe, however, that this will be his breakout offensive season.  Jones needs to play 150 games, and if he does, will make a run at 20 – 20, if not 30 – 30.  Pie can field any of the three positions and isn’t a problem with the bat, though he’s not a well rounded hitter.  However, Nolan Reimold showed power and patience and if given 500 at bats, might hit 25 homers.  Fifth outfielder Luke Scott gets to be the DH – a power source from the left side of the plate, though he needs a platoon partner.

Looking ahead, I see no reason that this group can’t find 50 more runs of offense by (a) staying in the lineup, and (b) continuing to show progress.

Bench:

Robert Andino and Garrett Atkins in the infield and Felix Pie in the outfield are joined by super sub Ty Wiggington, who could also be a regular first baseman and help the club.  Luis Montanez gets to be an extra outfielder when needed.

Prospects:

The best guy not already listed above that played at AAA Norfolk might be second baseman Justin Turner.  Turner hit .300 with a .362 OBP and has tolerable speed.  He’s NOT as good as Brian Roberts, but if he is forced to play, I think he will outhit Andino and might surprise you with how good a fielder he is.  He’s certainly better with the glove than Roberts at this stage.  Turner is a Cal State Fullerton grad, and a former Reds draft pick (7th Round, 2006).

The best pitchers in Norfolk were Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who had solid runs and shots with the parent club last year.  Another option is reliever Kam Mickolio.  They all have the tools, they just need to put things together, which isn’t as easy as it looks – especially in the AL East.

A couple of Bowie Baysox (AA) pitchers to look for will be Brandon Erbe (44 hits allowed in 73 innings, but control issues) and Jacob Arrieta (70 Ks in 59 innings across 11 starts).  Give them a year or two and they might round out the Orioles rotation.  Another young reliever, Steven Johnson, might start the year at AAA.  The best hitter going through AA was Brandon Snyder, who pounded pitchers to a .343 batting average with 10 homers in 201 at bats, but appeared a bit overmatched at AAA.  A former catcher (and 2005 #1 pick), Snyder is getting time at first base now and if both Aubrey and Atkins aren’t producing in June, Snyder is just a hot start away from making the roster.

Richie Hebner managed former Wofford College slugger Brandon Waring and the Frederick Keys in 2009.  Waring is a third baseman who hits the ball a LONG way, and seems to be making progress in reducing his strikeout numbers.  Another former Reds prospect, Waring is still a couple of years away and should be ready for a look when Tejada hits 40.  Former FAU grad Robert Widlansky hit .340 for Frederick, but this was the first time he had played this well.

Among the pitchers, Brian Matusz already made it from Frederick to the bigs, and 22-year-old Zach Britton looks ready to try on AA after a year with 131 Ks in 140 innings.  Reliever Pat Egan still showed great control, but may not have enough gas to make it to the bigs.

Forecasting 2010:

You have to like Baltimore’s chances of moving the wins needle back in the right direction.  The potential to shave 60 – 80 runs defensively is there, and if Tejada doesn’t turn out to be 45 at third base, the offense could improve by 75 to 90 runs.  What is working against the Orioles is the top of the division – three teams all worthy of 90 wins.  I think the Orioles are extremely capable of winning more games than they lose – but might not just because they are in the AL East where good isn’t good enough.  So, even though the system says 83 – 79  I think 79 – 83 might be more in line with the final record and I am going to go against what the system says.

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Top NL First Basemen in 2009

Albert Pujols (STL):  Far and away the best player in baseball, as he has been since he arrived nearly a decade ago.  Nobody approached his offensive production and he remains the best fielding first baseman in the game.  As such, his overall production exceeded 225 runs – a staggering total.  I show Pujols as about 50 runs better than the next most productive player in the game.  The question going forward will not be whether Pujols belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether Pujols is the greatest player God invented.  (178.7 Runs Created, 46.8 Runs Saved = 225.52 Total Run Production)

Adrian Gonzalez (SD):  In most years, this kind of production would lead his league – much less his position.  Instead, he’s just the second most productive player in baseball.  No wonder the Red Sox (and everybody else) wants him.  Dependable and rangy at first base, hits for power and has a solid OBP.  And, he’s doing this in San Diego – the hardest place to put up decent offensive numbers.  It took a while for Gonzalez to reach his fullest potential, but you have to like the total package.  (143.3 Runs Created, 31.05 Runs Saved = 174.38 Total Run Production)

Ryan Howard (PHI):  Had a normal season for him (45 – 151 – .279), but seems to be getting more comfortable defensively.  Howard hit .207 with just 6 homers in 222 at bats – I have no idea why any team would let him face a righty (39 – 108 – .320 in 394 at bats).  By the way, his splits against lefties were WORSE than his career rate (.226 with 53 homers in 935 at bats).  So that’s not a good thing.  (127.6 Runs Created, 11.66 Runs Saved = 139.25 Total Run Production)

Prince Fielder (MIL):  The second most productive hitter in baseball, but his range at first base is now problematic.  In 2006, I showed Fielder as being slightly above average (where Ryan Howard is now).  In 2007 and 2008, he was about ten runs worse than average.  Last year, he was atrocious.  Some of this could have been his pitching staff (Corey Hart had lousy numbers in right field), but giving him 20 runs back still makes him about 10 runs worse than average.  Of course, when you create 150 runs of offense, you can live with the glove.  (157.9 Runs Created, -31.0 Runs Saved = 126.88 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  A third baseman, but probably should play first base instead.   If he played first base regularly, he’d rate here…

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  Had a surprisingly good season defensively – frankly, I’m stunned, but if you look at how few assists the rest of the infielders had and then see how many putouts he had, you realize that Cantu takes charge of the infield and makes the most of his time out there.  Additionally, he’s a reasonably productive hitter – an old school definition RBI guy, gets lots of chances and seems to drive in runs whenever called upon.  He’s NOT that productive a hitter – he’s good, but not that good.  However, if he fields like Derrek Lee used to, it’s a valuable package.  (84.9 Runs Created, 25.3 Runs Saved = 110.24 Total Run Production)

James Loney (LAD):  Looking at his stats, I can’t see a difference between Loney and Cantu.  Medium range power, RBIs when opportunities arise, solid defense.  (90.4 Runs Created, 17.58 Runs Saved = 108.03 Total Run Production)

Adam LaRoche (PIT/BOS/ATL):  Had a reasonably good year with the glove – better than any in recent years (since 2006, for sure).  Coupled with decent power and a fair eye, LaRoche was reasonably productive in 2009.  That he’s suddenly moving around more than a regional sales director makes me think his career will start moving downhill, but for now he’s still worth keeping around.  And, compared to what the Diamondbacks had last year, LaRoche is a significant step forward.  It would help him measurably if he could hit in April.  The Pittsburgh job now lands on Jeff Clement, a former Mariner prospect who hasn’t shown major league hitting ability yet.  (99.8 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 107.5 Total Run Production)

Joey Votto (CIN):  Missed time this summer dealing with ailments both mental and physical, otherwise he would have rated higher.  Votto is a surpremely talented hitter and a tolerable fielder.  Mashed lefties and righties with equal aplomb in 2009 but gets more walks and power against righties.  I’d love to have him on my team – and he’s my pick to have a crazy breakout season.  (112.6 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 107.33 Total Run Production)

Todd Helton (COL):  Still hits well – power stats like Loney but gets on base more often.  His fielding draws raves, but with a stiff back and older wheels, he’s really just a dependable ball catcher who doesn’t have much range anymore.  I wrote about how much Helton has been helped by playing in Colorado, but even at that, he’s been a good player for a lot of years.  When he comes up for the Hall of Fame ballot, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.  (99.9 Runs Created, 0.8 Runs Saved = 100.69 Total Run Production)

Derrek Lee (CHC):  His back and neck must have really been bothering him as his defensive contribution – usually in the top three or four at first base – was actually among the worst fielders at the position in 2009.  His bat returned to form, however, and he’s been a good hitter (occasionally great hitter) for a long time now.  If I were a betting man, however, I’d be picking Lee as one player who might slip in 2010.  At the end of the season, Lee turns 35 – so time and various injuries are going to start working against him.  As a Derrek Lee fan, I don’t want to see this happen – but the Cubs will have to plan for replacing Lee in the next couple of years.  (114.7 Runs Created, -16.7 Runs Saved = 97.98 Total Run Production.)

Lance Berkman (HOU):  Already appears to have lost a step as a fielder and hitter and that decline contributed to Cecil Cooper’s firing.  Even having slipped, Berkman puts runs on the board.  Now 34, Berkman is in a race against father time…  Hey, Astros fans – who has been a greater player over his career:  Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell?  (98.9 Runs Created, -4.9 Runs Saved = 94.07 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Not much of a fielder here or in left field – but I think I’d rather him be at first base.  Offensively, he’s still a force – but he’s a poor man’s Prince Fielder.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved – 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Took over when Carlos Delgado could no longer play; he’s mobile and a fair hitter.  Considering what the rest of the league has above him, Murphy is going to have to step up considerably to help the Mets long term.  I think he can get up to where Cantu or Loney are, but he’ll never be GREAT.  At this point, the Mets would settle for solid.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Travis Ishikawa (SF):  A smooth fielder with middling power, at this position it’s not going to cut it – which is why the Giants acquired Aubrey Huff.  I think Ryan Garko would have been a better option for 2010, but they didn’t ask me…  Ishikawa might hang around for years as a pinch hitter, low cost option for the position.  (41.1 Runs Created, 23.26 Runs Saved = 64.34 Total Run Production)

Casey Kotchman (ATL/BOS):  A glove man who hits like Ishikawa, too.  Has moved around a lot because he doesn’t put many runs on the board.  Now in Seattle, I bet the Mariners fans will miss Russell Branyan by mid July.  (53.0 Runs Created, 5.1 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Run Production)

Nick Johnson (WAS/FLA):  A coveted free agent, but I’m not sure why.  He gets on base, but doesn’t create a TON of runs because he has marginal power.  As a fielder, he’s abysmal.  Here’s an odd stat for you.  Nick Johnson’s defense at first base was so poor that he cost the Marlins more runs with this glove than he actually produced with his bat.

You think I’m kidding?  Let’s look at putouts per inning data.  When Jorge Cantu played first, he had 829 putouts in 850 innings.  When Johnson played first, he had 192 putouts in 260.2 innings.  In the same number of innings, that works out to 626 putouts – or 200 (!) fewer than Cantu had.  Does Johnson catch any pop ups, foul balls or line drives?  Apparently not.  Maybe he’s a ground ball repellent – when in the field, the pitchers only got fly balls to the outfield for outs.  I digress.

He’s a DH/#2 hitter – which I imagine might be his job with the Yankees in 2010.  (78.0 Runs Created, -23.3 Runs Saved = 54.7 Total Run Production)

Chad Tracy (ARI):  Got the most action there, but really only played half a season for the Diamondbacks.  He’s gone – thankfully – and Adam LaRoche will improve the output at this position immediately.  (28.4 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 23.33 Total Run Production)

Is Todd Helton a Hall of Famer?

I was listening to Grant Paulsen on MLB’s Home Plate satellite radio station on the way to the office this morning – and while Grant was rattling off the highlights of the previous night’s games, he threw out there an interesting question.  Is Todd Helton a Hall 0f Fame candidate?

In discussing his merits, perhaps the largest part of the discussion will be how much discounting will we have to do to his statistical accomplishments based on the fact that he spent his career playing in the offensive haven that is Coors Field.  Then I remembered that I had created this spreadsheet to deal with just those sorts of things in a seasonal context and thought I would check it out.

First – here’s what Todd Helton has hit in his prime ten consecutive seasons (1998 to 2007):

Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K SB CS
1998 152 530 78 167 37 1 25 97 .315 53 54 3 3
1999 159 578 114 185 39 5 35 113 .320 68 77 7 6
2000 160 580 138 216 59 2 42 147 .372 103 61 5 3
2001 159 587 132 197 54 2 49 146 .336 98 104 7 5
2002 156 553 107 182 39 4 30 109 .329 99 91 5 1
2003 160 583 135 209 49 5 33 117 .358 111 72 0 4
2004 154 547 115 190 49 2 32 96 .347 127 72 3 0
2005 144 509 92 163 45 2 20 79 .320 106 80 3 0
2006 145 546 94 165 40 5 15 81 .302 91 64 3 2
2007 154 557 86 178 42 2 17 91 .320 116 74 0 1
Totals 1543 5570 1091 1852 453 30 298 1076 .332 972 749 36 25
                           
Seasonal 154 557 109 185 45 3 30 108 .332 97 75 4 3

 

Pretty impressive stuff.

Except, of course, that players playing in Coors field have been hitting at an extreme advantage – even in the last three years where a humidor has reduced the home field offensive advantage.  The table below shows the number of games played at home and on the road, the number of homers hit at home vs. the road, and the number of runs scored at home and on the road.

G/Home G/Road HR/Home HR/Road R/Home R/Road
81 81 212 145 1031 650
81 81 303 157 1198 736
81 81 245 137 1164 701
81 81 268 184 1085 744
81 81 232 145 989 687
81 81 230 168 967 778
81 81 221 179 1028 728
81 81 170 155 898 704
81 81 168 144 869 756
82 81 185 150 874 744

 

Using three things – a Pete Palmer valuation, Bill James’ basic Runs Created formulas, and a quadratic equation, we can take a look at what Helton would have hit without the Coors Field advantage.  First – Pete Palmer once calculated that over the course of history, a home run is actually worth about 1.4 runs.  So, what I do is reduce (or increase) the number of runs scored at home by the number of homers hit at home compared to the road.  The reason for this is because sometimes the increased run production is tied to the ease with which homers are hit at the park, and sometimes it’s something else – hitting backgrounds, foul territory, or proximity to jet streams or wind shear off the ocean.  Then, based on the modified home/road advantage in runs scored, I reduce (or increase) the basic Runs Created by the batter.

Once, I have the change in runs created, I can apply that number to a quadratic equation, which ultimately says, “Given the structure of hits and total bases, what changes would be required to one’s seasonal stats so that instead of creating X number of runs, he now creates Y number of runs?”  I came up with this while trying to create a system to level player stats for a board game.

When those calculations are applied, here’s what Todd Helton’s stats would look like had he played in a league average park:

After Modifications:                      
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K SB CS
1998 152 530 57 145 32 1 18 71 .273 53 54 3 3
1999 159 578 78 158 33 4 20 78 .274 68 77 7 6
2000 160 580 93 181 49 2 25 99 .312 103 61 5 3
2001 159 587 98 173 47 2 35 109 .294 98 104 7 5
2002 156 553 83 162 35 4 21 84 .293 99 91 5 1
2003 160 583 116 196 46 5 26 100 .336 111 72 0 4
2004 154 547 93 169 44 2 26 77 .310 127 72 3 0
2005 144 509 80 151 42 2 18 69 .296 106 80 3 0
2006 145 546 87 159 38 5 13 75 .291 91 64 3 2
2007 154 557 79 171 40 2 15 83 .307 116 74 0 1
Totals 1543 5570 864 1665 407 27 216 845 .299 972 749 36 25
                           
Seasonal 154 557 86 166 41 3 22 85 0.299 97 75 4 3

 

Ultimately, Todd Helton goes from creating about 140 runs per season to about 111.5 runs per season.  Instead of a .330 hitter with 30 homers each season, Helton suddenly looks like Lyle Overbay in 2006.  Okay – to be fair, he’s really Mark Grace with a little more power.  The batting average is about .300 with some power (22 homers).  Helton is still a valuable player – but would you put Mark Grace in the Hall of Fame if he finished with 325 homers in his career?

My take on it is that people are going to have a hard time quantifying that benefit, and will be too busy looking at the gawdy stats on the back of his baseball card.  This means he still has a shot over time at joining the immortals, but ultimately I think he’s falling just a little short.

Vin Scully, Voice of the Yankees? Say it Ain’t So!!!

Carlos Delgado is out ten weeks to surgery on his impinged hip – the new injury of the new decade. The Mets can cope as they have a few outfield options and could choose to give one a shot at first base. Fernando Tatis for now. Still – this could be troublesome, costing the team about two to three games in the standings if they can’t find a comparable replacement.

Rickie Weeks went down to a wrist injury, leaving the Brewers with difficult choices in their lineup. He’s having surgery to repair a torn sheath – similar to David Ortiz a while back – and may affect his really quick bat. Weeks is a great fielder and a decent enough hitter who was really putting it together. For now, the Brewers look to platooning and may call up an infielder from the minors. Craig Counsell is probably the best fielder, but Casey McGehee can play some. This is probably worth five wins over the next four plus months in terms of lost productivity.

Eric Chavez’s back is REALLY bad – he said a degenerative disk is so bad that the next pop in his back will require fusing disks and end his career. One day after announcing that, Chavez has reversed that to some degree, saying that he hopes that strengthening and stretching will help, but he’s really just trying to avoid another surgery. Jack Cust has been playing third. As many other writers have reminded Oakland fans, they signed this guy to a six year deal for a LOT of money ($66 Million) and then missed more than two seasons worth of games…

Noah Lowry had problems with numbness in his hand and underwent surgery to fix issues in his forearm. That didn’t work, and now doctors are calling it a misdiagnosis of a circulatory problem and will be removing one of Lowry’s ribs – costing him this season, too. Once a prospect, Lowry’s career is on the brink as well. Others to have had this surgery? Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman.

Josh Hamilton came off the DL, strained his groin, and now is missing a couple of games and hoping not to go on the DL.

David Ortiz took a series off and will play today hoping to get his first homer of the season. Wow. That’s a sentence, huh?

Jason Kendall got his 2000th hit against the Cardinals. MLB.com, in reporting the story, says that his teammates celebrated by putting the honor on the labels of specially marked Bud Light bottles. BUD LIGHT? Not Miller Lite??? Either the reporting is wrong, or somebody should tell whoever put this together that the Brewers play in Milwaukee.

Todd Helton looked like he got his 2000th hit last night, but it was ruled an error. Some are suggesting that the official scorer may reverse that decision (it was a SHOT past a ducking Yunel Escobar). I hope they saved the ball.

Nate Robertson’s back feels better, but he’s not ready to pitch in a rehab start.

Speaking of Tigers, Magglio Ordonez is the second player given time off to attend to a personal matter (Minnesota’s Delmon Young is caring for his extremely ill mom), so Detroit is calling up prospect Wilkin Ramirez. Ramirez is a free swinger who can run some – but there are some odd things in his record. He gets caught stealing more than you would like, and he strikes out as frequently as you get advertisements for credit cards in your mailbox – at least once or twice every day. Ramirez was hitting well in Toledo, though, and earned the shot.

Pat Burrell is on the DL with a neck strain.

Glen Perkins is on the DL with inflammation in his left elbow, as is Oakland’s Dan Giese – though with Giese it’s his right elbow and tied to his ulnar nerve. C’mon, say it with me. He’s got some nerve!

Need saves? David Aardsma is the new closer for Seattle. Until recently, Aardsma’s biggest claim to fame was moving ahead of Henry Aaron for the first spot in your baseball encyclopedia thanks to alphabetical superiority.

The Mets’ Alex Cora injured his thumb sliding into second base and now is on the DL. Cora was playing because Jose Reyes has swelling in his calf (see Jose Valverde) and has called himself “day-to-day” for six days now. (What player on my team isn’t day to day???)

Speaking of day-to-day, Cincy’s Joey Votto has had dizzy spells following a bout with the flu and didn’t make the trip home because he couldn’t fly with the team, so he’s being watched in San Diego.

On the mend? Tom Glavine, Kevin Youkilis, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Hiroki Kuroda. Glavine’s recent simulated game went over well.

Want a crazy story? Read this.  Says here that Vin Scully very nearly became the voice of the Yankees.

2009 Season Forecast: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
74 – 88 (3rd NL West) 
Scored 747 Allowed 822

Quick Season Summary:

Colorado was coming off the heels of a remarkable stretch run that got the Rockies into the World Series for the first time.  With a young power core and decent pitching, the Rockies hoped to build on a successful 2007.

It didn’t happen.  Instead, injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton meant a slow start.  A 9 – 19 May buried Colorado, and even though they played well in July and August, the good times ended when they gave up on the race in September.

Tell Me About That Offense:

While Coors field still is a haven for hitting – the humidor has helped, but it can’t fix everything – the Rockies actually had several good performers.

Chris Iannetta is a solid hitter with okay power, and his backup, Yorvit Torrealba, is tolerable.

Todd Helton was basically league average, with his back and other injuries cutting into what historically had been solid performances.  Garret Atkins has nice counting numbers, but anywhere else would be league average.  Barmes and Ian Stewart were decent, but Troy Tulowitzki had a tough sophomore season, finishing as a below average hitter.  Fortunately, he hit well after the all-star break.  Until then, he was atrocious.  Backup Omar Quintanilla was even weaker, though.

The outfield featured Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, who both were very good – Holliday will be missed.  What they needed was a centerfielder who could hit.  Willy Taveras isn’t the answer – he had a .310 OBP and 68 stolen bases can’t possibly make up for not being there more often than not.  I like Ryan Spilborghs – a great player, and too good to be a fourth outfielder.  Scott Podsednik hit like a fifth outfielder.

And the Defense:

Bad.  Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were worse.  The average defensive efficiency in the NL was 68.7%.  Colorado only turned 67.6% of the balls in play into outs – basically adding 9 points to every hitter’s batting average.

Iannetta and Torrealba were tolerable behind the plate, scoring as average in things like errors  and mistakes, mobility, and stopping the running game.

Todd Helton remains a fantastic fielder, but Garrett Atkins was atrocious as his backup and is below average at the position he normally plays – third base.  Tulowitzki is a remarkable fielder, his range is exceptional and he’s good at avoiding errors and turning double plays.  Unfortunately, Omar Quintanilla wasn’t very good backing him up – and he was even worse at second base.  In fact, nobody plays second well – whether Barmes (-8.5 range), Jeff Baker (-12.1), or Quintanilla (-22.1).

Matt Holliday is an average fielder in left, Taveras still shows good range in center.  And then there is the worst right fielder in the NL – Brad Hawpe.  Hawepe’s range was graded at – 16.2, adding an unnecessary 47.6 runs to the other team’s scoreboard.  Hawpe made just 1.57 plays per nine innings – the average right fielder is going to be around 2.  So, basically he was allowing a hit every other game that someone else would have gotten.  Based on 2008, he’s a DH waiting to happen.  Podsednik and Spilborghs were decent backups.

Pitching:

When you think that the defense is horrible and the park is killing them, you have to give Colorado pitchers the benefit of the doubt.

Jeff Francis, injured and making just 24 starts, finishing with a 4 – 10 record and a 5.01 ERA, was actually slightly better than league average as a pitcher.  Aaron Cook, who doesn’t strikeout too many guys was solid – 22 runs better than average.  Ubaldo Jimenez, one out shy of 200 innings, was nearly 20 runs better than the average pitcher.  Jorge De La Rosa was league average.  The fifth slot was troublesome – Greg Reynolds, Livan Hernandez, and Mark Redman were a combined 38 runs worse than average.  Most teams would be happy to have four decent slots in the rotation, and Colorado had them.

It’s hard to get a read on the relievers because they pitch in so few innings and half of them are in dire straits.  But, Ryan Speier was actually pretty good (7 runs better than average), Glendon Rusch was decent, Manny Corpas was above average.  Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and closer Brian Fuentes were all great – 12 to 15 runs better than the average NL pitcher.  You just always can’t tell because of where they pitch.

What is Different for 2009?

Injuries stole Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz.  Jason Marquis comes from Chicago where he’ll give them three good months and then management will wonder what happened after July 1.  Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland for Greg Smith and Huston Street.  Brian Fuentes was signed away by the Angels – he’ll be missed.  Manny Corpas or Huston Street will get first dibs on saves.  Dexter Fowler or Seth Smith will play center with Willy Taveras having gone to Cincinnati.  Good for Colorado.

Marquis wasn’t that bad; he and Greg Smith will be league average – if you can tell with that defense.  More innings with Barmes and Tulo would help – especially if Barmes can step up some at second base.  A full season of Helton defensively would be great, too.

Actually, having gone through this, I’d be optimistic for improvement.  A healthy Helton would provide 10 runs of offense, which will help with the change from Holliday to Spilborghs in LF.  Fowler may actually hit better than Taveras – so right now – that’s a net.  If Tulo returns to form and Barmes plays up to speed, that could be 20 extra runs even with Holliday leaving.

And, defensively, we’re talking 20 extra runs removed with Tulo, Helton, and Dexter Fowler in center.  Spilborghs could be better than Holliday – maybe it’s 30 runs better.  And, if Smith or Jason Hammel are close to league average, that could be another 30 runs by not having to put last year’s fifth starters out there.

So, that puts the Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio at 767/772 – pretty much a .500 season.

Down On the Farm…

Everybody hits well in AAA Colorado Springs.  The two that stood out were 25 year old Jayson Nix, a second baseman with a broad spectrum of offensive skills, and Seth Smith – both of whom will be on the Rockies.  All of the pitchers there have scary ERAs – only Greg Reynolds was young (22) and he wasn’t ready for the big show.

AA Tulsa is also tough on pitchers, but Brandon Hynick has some skills and great command.  Chaz Roe is only 21 and showed control, a few Ks, but serves up a few homers.  I like Casey Weathers, who has a great strikeout pitch, but a little less control.  Dexter Fowler hit .335 here, with walks and a few stolen bases.  Matt Miller hit .344 with a little power and some plate discipline.  He might make it, but is running out of years – he’s 25.

The best player in A+ Modesto was likely Michael Paulk – who has Mark Grace numbers, if not his glove at first base.  He’s 24 and could replace Helton in two or three years.  I like Aneury Rodriguez, a 20-year-old with a good ERA and better K/W numbers.  Another 20-year-old, Jhoulys Chacin made 12 starts, walked only 12, and fanned 62 in 66.1 innings after smoking hitters at Ashville (10 – 1, 1.86, 98/30 K/W in 111.1 innings).  He’ll be on the Rockies as soon as it makes sense to use him – perhaps 2011.  Perhaps sooner.