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)

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2010 Season Forecast: San Francisco Giants

Last Five Years:

2009: 88-74 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 72-90
2007: 71-91
2006: 76-85
2005: 75-87

Runs Scored: 657 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 611 (Tied, 1st in NL)

Season Recap:

After a bit of a slow start (losing 8 of 11), the Giants rebounded behind solid pitching and defense to threaten the top of the division – but never quite reach the top.  The Giants won more than they lost each month until September, but never had that killer month – a twenty win month – that would drive the team past the Dodgers or Rockies.

As noted above, nobody allowed fewer runs than San Francisco (though LA matched them at 611) – so pitching was never a problem.  And, the pitchers were amply supported by a number of solid defensive performances all over the field.  Tim Lincecum was a legitimate ace, Matt Cain matched Lincecum win for win, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, and even Barry Zito seemed to find new life.  Randy Johnson won his 300th game before his arm literally fell off.

The starters were supported by an able bullpen – Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry, and Justin Miller all had solid years in key roles.  Even a late addition, Brad Penny, helped out in six late season starts.

The problem was in scoring runs.  Long and short, you want more players who can generate five runs of offense or more for every 27 outs made than those who cannot.  And yet, here’s your San Francisco Giants lineup:

8.3 Pablo Sandoval
6.8 Andres Torres
6.0 Juan Uribe
4.8 Fred Lewis
4.7 Aaron Rowand
4.5 Eugenio Velez
4.4 Nate Schierholtz
4.4 Bengie Molina
4.4 Travis Ishikawa
4.2 Randy Winn
3.5 Edgar Renteria
3.4 Ryan Garko
3.4 Freddy Sanchez
3.0 Eli Whiteside
2.9 Emmanuel Burriss
2.3 Rich Aurilia

These are just the guys who got at least 100 at bats.

Granted – they didn’t need many runs.  However, if the team could have found 50 to 75 more runs of offense somewhere, the Giants could have run away with this division.

2010 Goals:

As I am reading it, it’s a matter of holding the gains on the defensive side while finding some runs.  It would be nice to have a real bopper in the middle of the lineup – or at least three guys who can keep a rally going.  You have to fill out the bench, replace your shortstop, lock down the bullpen, and find a good fourth starter.

Pitchers:

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the six or seven best pitchers in baseball, creating a one-two punch that nobody else in the National League could beat.  I show them as having saved nearly 70 runs over 240 innings than the average NL pitcher would have allowed.  Barry Zito had a decent year – not a great year, but one that was productive for his team.  Jonathan Sanchez was hit a lot harder than his ERA and record suggest, but there is hope that as someone capable of throwing a big game, he’ll make forward strides.

At issue is replacing Randy Johnson or Brad Penny – and that future ace is Madison Bumgarner.  He’s 20 – he needs to be babied.  I wouldn’t want to give him more than 20 starts (and if I made out the rotation, I’d pitch guys every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME – which gives 4 more starts to the front of the rotation and takes 15 or 16 away from the back end).  But this kid is the top prospect on the team, winning 27 of 33 decisions in two minor league seasons, with a 5:1 K/W ratio, and hardly getting hit at all.  If Bumgarner pans out – and the Giants, I believe, were wise in keeping him – this could be another 10 run swing in the defense’s favor.

In the bullpen, just about everyone in a key role is back and there are enough prospects – Waldis Joaquin and Joe Martinez among them – to keep it in check.

T W L G GS SV INN H HR BB SO ERA SAVED
Tim Lincecum R 15 7 32 32 0 225.33 168 10 68 261 2.48 38.8
Matt Cain R 14 8 33 33 0 217.67 184 22 73 171 2.89 30.6
Barry Zito L 10 13 33 33 0 192.00 179 21 81 154 4.03 0.4
Jonathan Sanchez L 8 12 32 29 0 163.33 135 19 88 177 4.24 -6.5
Randy Johnson L 8 6 22 17 0 96.00 97 19 31 86 4.88 -11.2
Brian Wilson R 5 6 68 0 38 72.33 60 3 27 83 2.74 7.2
Brandon Medders R 5 1 61 0 1 68.67 63 6 32 58 3.01 6.4
Bobby Howry R 2 6 63 0 0 63.67 50 5 23 46 3.39 3.9
Jeremy Affeldt L 2 2 74 0 0 62.33 42 3 31 55 1.73 16.2
Justin Miller R 3 3 44 0 0 56.67 47 7 27 36 3.18 6.9
Merkin Valdez R 2 1 48 0 0 49.33 57 5 28 38 5.66 -10.9
Brad Penny R 4 1 6 6 0 41.67 31 5 9 20 2.59 6.9
Sergio Romo R 5 2 45 0 2 34.00 30 1 11 41 3.97 0.9
Joe Martinez R 3 2 9 5 0 30.00 46 4 12 19 7.5 -14.1
Ryan Sadowski R 2 4 6 6 0 28.33 28 2 17 17 4.45 -2.0
Waldis Joaquin R 0 0 10 0 0 10.67 10 1 7 12 4.22 0.0
Madison Bumgarner L 0 0 4 1 0 10.00 8 2 3 10 1.8 2.9
Dan Runzler L 0 0 11 0 0 8.67 6 1 5 11 1.04 3.3
Osiris Matos R 0 0 5 0 0 6.00 11 2 1 5 9 -4.5
Alex Hinshaw L 0 0 9 0 0 6.00 10 2 7 2 12 -5.6
Patrick Misch L 0 0 4 0 0 3.33 6 0 3 0 10.8 -2.6

Catchers:

Bengie Molina is back – a power source, but a below average hitter because he doesn’t do much when he’s not swinging the bat.  13 walks, no speed, and a fair batting average means he’s no better than an average hitter.  Molina was easy to run on last year, but his backup, Eli Whiteside, was not.  Buster Posey, who looks like a real hitter but will need a little seasoning, could be ready in 2010, but will likely be held back to become the starter in 2011.  Jumping quickly from A+ San Jose to AAA Fresno, Posey still hit .321 with power.  I’d keep him around and would have just let him hit.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Steve Holm SFN R 0 0 0 .286 .286 .444 0.9 4.7
Bengie Molina SFN R 20 80 0 .265 .442 .291 61.7 4.4
Buster Posey SFN R 0 0 0 .118 .118 .118 0.2 0.4
Eli Whiteside SFN R 2 13 0 .228 .339 .269 11.3 3.0

Fielding:

First Last G GS INN PO A DP E PB SBA CS SB%
SFN Bengie Molina 123 120 1042 942 77 5 8 4 85 25 77.3%
SFN Eli Whiteside 47 33 314 286 25 5 2 5 20 13 60.6%
SFN Buster Posey 7 4 40 32 4 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 3 27 21 2 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Steve Holm 4 2 23 14 1 0 0 0 0 2 0.0%
TOTALS 1446 1295 109 10 10 9 107 42 71.8%

Infielders:

Rich Aurilia is gone, after a long and productive career.  In fact, he’s about the only one who left.  Aurilia and Ryan Garko.  You’re going to see Pablo Sandoval, a remarkable hitter and tolerable defender, at third base even though he really should be playing first base.  He won’t though, because the Giants signed 34-year-old Aubrey Huff to play first base.  Huff is a professional hitter, capable of hitting 25 homers and batting at least .275 with some doubles and walks, too.  The problem is – he’s 34 and last year he showed signs of slipping.  Huff batted .241 with just 15 homers – the second time since 2007 that he’s had that few in 500+ at bats.  So, he is also capable of hitting .220 with 12 homers in 345 at bats.  I don’t think that will happen – I think he’ll bounce back some – but if he does, at least the Giants have options.

Juan Uribe is still around – and he can play three positions well and hit for power. Freddy Sanchez will be back soon enough, and he might contribute at the top of the order when he returns.  However, Sanchez is fair to middling in the field and he’s 33, too.  He’s younger than Edgar Renteria, who is 35 and looking like he’s older than that.  Kevin Frandsen is still around but is no longer a prospect.  At this point, the Giants are taking their chances with the two middle infield spots.  I’d just let Uribe take one of them, and either Renteria or Sanchez plays depending on who is healthy…

Batting Data

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Rich Aurilia SFN R 2 16 0 .213 .279 .262 8.7 2.3
Emmanuel Burriss SFN B 0 13 11 .238 .267 .294 17.2 2.9
Mark DeRosa CLE R 13 50 1 .270 .457 .345 47.9 6.2
Mark DeRosa SLN R 10 28 2 .228 .405 .293 29.7 4.2
Matt Downs SFN R 1 2 1 .170 .264 .254 3.6 2.1
Kevin Frandsen SFN R 0 1 0 .140 .180 .204 1.8 1.1
Ryan Garko SFN R 2 12 0 .235 .330 .307 11.4 3.4
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Aubrey Huff BAL L 13 72 0 .253 .405 .324 55.4 4.4
Aubrey Huff DET L 2 13 0 .189 .302 .265 8.4 2.6
Travis Ishikawa SFN L 9 39 2 .261 .387 .331 41.1 4.4
Edgar Renteria SFN R 5 48 7 .250 .328 .310 46.9 3.5
Ryan Rohlinger SFN R 0 4 0 .158 .211 .200 0.8 1.2
Freddy Sanchez SFN R 1 7 0 .284 .324 .298 9.6 3.4
Pablo Sandoval SFN B 25 90 5 .330 .556 .390 122.4 8.3
Juan Uribe SFN R 16 55 3 .289 .495 .333 64.6 6.0
Eugenio Velez SFN B 5 31 11 .267 .400 .310 36.4 4.5

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Travis Ishikawa 3 113 817.33 745 55 83 3 10.9 23.3
SFN Ryan Garko 3 33 230.67 219 14 17 1 20.2 9.1
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 26 207.00 181 10 10 3 -2.4 -3.2
SFN Rich Aurilia 3 22 158.33 125 14 13 0 -19.7 -6.0
SFN John Bowker 3 4 18.67 15 0 0 0 -41.5 -1.5
SFN Jesus Guzman 3 3 14.00 10 0 1 0 -67.6 -1.8
BAL Huff Aubrey 3 93 826.00 822 59 82 4 -2.2 -5.1
CLE Garko Ryan 3 51 407.00 418 36 53 3 9.2 8.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 3 7 41.00 41 1 3 1 -9.6 -1.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 3 3 8.00 6 0 2 0 -96.1 -1.6
SFN Emmanuel Burriss 4 61 494.00 115 131 33 7 3.1 1.6
SFN Juan Uribe 4 38 299.67 59 82 20 1 -8.1 -2.8
SFN Eugenio Velez 4 31 215.67 55 68 8 6 33.1 8.4
SFN Freddy Sanchez 4 25 210.00 44 65 12 3 10.9 2.9
SFN Matt Downs 4 17 143.00 31 42 13 0 -1.3 1.4
SFN Kevin Frandsen 4 14 73.67 21 22 9 1 19.1 3.2
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 4 1 10.00 5 3 1 0 82.0 1.5
SLN Mark DeRosa 4 2 2.00 0 0 0 0 -136.0 -0.5
SFN Pablo Sandoval 5 120 1028.00 70 195 13 11 -1.3 -3.2
SFN Juan Uribe 5 44 323.33 28 67 8 4 9.7 6.7
SFN Rich Aurilia 5 13 65.67 3 11 2 0 -17.5 -1.7
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 5 8 29.00 2 7 0 0 10.9 0.7
CLE DeRosa Mark 5 42 355.00 25 74 12 8 -5.8 -6.1
SLN Mark DeRosa 5 63 519.00 41 99 9 0 -14.6 -13.1
SFN Edgar Renteria 6 123 1071.67 161 299 63 14 -3.7 -6.7
SFN Juan Uribe 6 41 318.67 61 94 20 4 12.3 7.1
SFN Kevin Frandsen 6 7 42.67 4 12 2 1 -15.0 -1.4
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 6 3 13.00 4 5 2 0 56.9 1.6

Outfielders:

Aaron Rowand is still in center, taking a slight step back in range and productivity, but doesn’t have an immediate replacement in site.  Randy Winn, a fantastic defensive right fielder but no longer a productive hitter, is gone and either Mark DeRosa or prospect John Bowker will take that spot.  DeRosa wasn’t fantastic in St. Louis, and he is – like many other new Giants – in his mid-30s (35 when he reports to Spring  Training).  Fred Lewis, like Winn a very good defender but not a plus hitter, may also be pressed to keep his job.  Nate Schierholtz, if he wants a role, needs to step up this year.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
John Bowker SFN L 2 7 1 .194 .373 .250 6.2 3.1
Fred Lewis SFN L 4 20 8 .258 .390 .348 40.7 4.8
Aaron Rowand SFN R 15 64 4 .261 .419 .320 66.2 4.7
Nate Schierholtz SFN L 5 29 3 .267 .400 .308 34.8 4.4
Andres Torres SFN B 6 23 6 .270 .533 .343 28.3 6.8
Randy Winn SFN B 2 51 16 .262 .353 .323 62.7 4.2

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Fred Lewis 7 83 589.67 127 3 1 3 4.8 5.7
SFN Randy Winn 7 54 319.67 72 1 0 0 5.6 4.4
SFN Eugenio Velez 7 42 288.67 49 2 0 2 -7.0 -4.9
SFN Andres Torres 7 33 163.33 33 1 1 0 -0.1 0.5
SFN John Bowker 7 13 84.67 20 1 0 0 11.1 2.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 7 16 130.00 22 1 0 0 -18.4 -5.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 7 2 10.00 5 0 0 0 83.0 2.0
CLE Garko Ryan 7 7 48.00 10 1 0 1 0.0 -0.5
SFN Aaron Rowand 8 137 1127.00 299 5 2 3 -1.7 -3.5
SFN Andres Torres 8 37 152.33 53 1 1 0 21.4 7.2
SFN Randy Winn 8 22 101.33 23 1 1 0 -11.6 -2.1
SFN Eugenio Velez 8 12 65.33 13 0 0 1 -18.0 -2.9
SFN Randy Winn 9 104 770.00 187 3 1 0 6.4 11.7
SFN Nate Schierholtz 9 86 597.67 135 10 2 2 6.2 8.0
SFN Andres Torres 9 5 35.33 7 0 0 0 -7.3 -0.5
SFN John Bowker 9 5 29.00 6 0 0 0 -4.8 -0.3
SFN Eugenio Velez 9 5 14.00 3 0 0 0 -2.7 -0.1
CLE DeRosa Mark 9 9 68.00 16 0 0 0 -4.2 -0.5
CLE Garko Ryan 9 5 28.00 6 0 0 0 -9.5 -0.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 9 1 8.00 2 0 0 0 7.9 0.2

Bench:

If nothing else, the team has a lot of versatility.  Uribe and DeRosa can play all but catcher and centerfield, and with four or five outfield options, there is depth.  Ishikawa can be the defensive replacement at first base.  Whiteside and Posey are as good a backup set of catchers in site.

Prospects:

We mentioned Posey and Bumgarner.  John Bowker hit well in Fresno (most everyone does) – hitting .342 with 21 homers and 74 walks in just 104 games.  It’s probably .275 with 15 homers in San Francisco, but that’s better than Randy Winn these days.  Osiris Matos might be okay as a reliever – he pitched well at Fresno out of the pen.  You know who pitched best there?  36 year old Ramon Ortiz.  Remember him?

Waldis Joaquin pitched great in Connecticut (AA).  He still needs to work on his control.  Brock Bond is the new David Eckstein – slapping his way to a .333 batting average and getting on base while playing a decent second base.  At A+ San Jose, Thomas Neal (.337, 22 – 90) and Roger Kieschnick (.296, 23 – 110) might be hitters, but it’s still early and everyone hits in San Jose.  I like Neal to get a job by 2012.

24-year old Craig Clark went 16 – 2 with great strikeout and walk numbers at San Jose, Clayton Tanner (21) was 12 – 6, and Scott Barnes (21) was 12 – 3 for the same San Jose team.  All three are solid prospects.  The good news is that the AA and A+ teams won their divisions last year – so the youth movement looks good for the Giants.

Outlook:

I’d like to think that the Giants are going to get better – and if they do, it’s because the young guys kick in.  There are just too many old guys on this roster – and all the hired guns are over 32.  This, to me, is a holding year and not a step forward year.  I don’t see how the Giants will score MORE runs or allow FEWER runs.  I see it staying the same.  The Giants will be competitive, but without getting that “last really good year” out of DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, and Rowand, I don’t see them being any better than 86 – 76.

Willingham’s Night is Doubly Grand; Hudson Close to Braves Return

For the most part, Mighty Casey Baseball has tended to look at roster issues – injuries, rookies, and transactions – to help someone who is managing his or her fantasy baseball team make good roster decisions or learn a thing or two about players who are on the free agent market.   It analyzes trades, and occasionally gets to tell a longer story or two.   But every now and then something fun happens in a baseball game and you just want to make a note of it…

Yesterday, Josh Willingham became the third National Leaguer (Tony Cloninger, Fernando Tatis) to hit two grand slams in a game.  (Ten have done it in the AL, by the way).  Willingham is a professional hitter, someone all good teams need because he can help the offense and fill in at a few positions on the field, and always gives his best effort.  As a Marlin, he was a crowd favorite and a clutch hitter.  So to see the old Fish hit a pair of slams is pretty cool.  What makes it a geek fest – at least for Tim Kurkjian, anyway – is that on the same night, Tatis himself hit a pinch hit grand slam.  [FoxSports/MLB]

Another of my favorite Marlins, Burke Badenhop, earned a three game suspension for defending Hanley Ramirez.  A few weeks back, Ramirez was beaned a couple of times and felt like his pitchers weren’t backing him up.  This time, when Jeff Weaver plunked Hanley, Badenhop nailed Orlando Hudson in the butt.  In addition to the fine and suspension, Badenhop also received a bunch of high-fives from his teammates.  [FoxSports]

Ten game winner, Kevin Slowey, will require surgery to fix issues with bone chips in his wrist.  Your third place Minnesota Twins are already struggling with a thin rotation, and this isn’t going to help any…  Francisco Liriano (4 – 10, 5.56) – it’s time to step up and be the ace again.  [SI]

Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson threw four innings of shutout baseball at Gwinnett last night, signs that his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery is going well.  [SI]

My friend, Andy Finch, and I have had discussions about Derek Jeter’s defense.  According to my statistical model, which compares fielders based on the number of plays made per 800 balls in play, over the last three years Jeter’s range has been problematic – which agrees with many other systems of ranking fielding.  An article on MLB.com says that Jeter has spent the last two years improving his lateral movement, and it’s showing up in his range factors, so it will be interesting to see if my systems show the same thing when the year is done.  Personally, this is why you root for a Derek Jeter – he’s constantly working to be the best player he can be.

Another late July trade…  The San Francicso Giants acquired Ryan Garko from Cleveland for minor leaguer Scott Barnes.  The Giants need offense and Garko is a mild upgrade over Travis Ishikawa – mid 20 HR power, a decent batting average and some patience.  Worst case, he platoons with Ishikawa and gives the Giants more depth – especially since Rich Aurilia hasn’t been providing any bench punch and now is injured.  The Indians got a great prospect…  Barnes blew through lower levels, striking out more than a batter an inning with solid control (just 28 walks in 98 innings).  He’s two years away from making the Indians rotation and possibly making a splash.  The Indians have a backload of players who can play first base, and this is a good way to rearrange the talent base.  I like it.  [ESPN]

With Hall of Fame weekend over, MLB looked ahead at who might be part of the class of 2010.  When the ballot is distributed, we’ll look at our options then, but this is a good look-see.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Hong-Chih-Kuo returns to the Dodgers bullpen from the 60-day disabled list, costing Blake DeWitt his MLB role.  Tampa welcomed back pitcher Brian Shouse from the DL.  R.J. Swindle is back with Milwaukee – he’s too good for AAA, and hasn’t yet stuck with the parent club.  I’ll keep rooting, though.

Hurry Back!  The Reds sent Micah Owings (tight throwing shoulder) and Chris Dickerson (bruised rotator cuff diving for a ball) to the DL.

Strasburg #1 Pick; Nationals Apply for Bailout Funds

As expected, the Washington Nationals took Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in the draft.  Getting someone with his credentials (195Ks in 105 college innings this year) is certainly exciting and one hopes he is immensely successful for both the team and his career.   I wonder if any Jayhawks will get drafted…  I mean, we need more Jayhawks in the Majors (Tom Gorzellany!).

The draft dominates most baseball coverage, but a few other things happened and are recounted here:

Brad Lidge, erstwhile Phillies closer, goes to the DL with a sprained knee.  I first saw this on a twitter post by Will Carroll, who writes the Under the Knife articles for Baseball Prospectus.  Carroll’s comment suggested that the injury was his pitching and the knee is a convenient DL excuse.  If you have Lidge on your fantasy roster, look for Ryan Madson to get save opportunities.  However, J.C. Romero is also back from his PED suspension and might get a shot or two.  Joining the Phillies is backup catcher Paul Bako.  Really?

Joining Lidge on the DL is another struggling pitcher, Bartolo Colon, who also heads to the DL with a sore knee.  Getting a shot is the White Sox’ 2007 top pick, Aaron Poreda.  Poreda has been solid in his two years and is carrying a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts with AA Birmingham.  Until this year, he showed great control, a lot of strikeouts, few homers allowed, and has been ranked by Baseball America as one of the two best prospects in the ChiSox chain.  He’ll start in the pen, but he COULD be a rotation fixture in the near future.  I’d certainly be interested in giving him a shot.

Toronto’s Jesse Litsch, a 13 game winner last year, has been on the DL with soreness in his elbow since mid-April.  Now, his season is done, as he’s heading to Dr. James Andrews for surgery.  He and Shawn Marcum were solid rookie starters last year, and now both are going to be recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Very sad.

Welcome back Scott Schoeneweis, who was removed from Arizona’s restricted list.  Schoeneweis has been out following the stunning death of his wife several weeks back.  Also returning from the bereavement list is Brewers Mark DiFelice.  Heading to the bereavement list, however, is Giant first baseman Travis Ishikawa.

Nobody signed Kip Wells or Kris Benson off the waiver wire, so both got assigned to AAA.  Meanwhile, Blaine Boyer is with his third major league team this year as sort of a fluke.  Boyer was traded from Atlanta to St. Louis in late April.  A few days ago, Boyer pitched five innings of relief for St. Louis.  St. Louis, needing arms, couldn’t just send Boyer to the minors (he was out of options) so they had to ask waivers and bring up a new pitcher.  Hoping he’d sneak through, it didn’t work – Arizona claimed him.  So, now Boyer is a Diamondback reliever.

J. J. Putz, injured Mets reliever, had surgery to remove bone spurs.  He should be back in a couple of months.  The question is whether or not the wounded Mets can still be in the NL East race then.

Not sure why,  but the Rays signed released reliever Jorge Julio to a minor league deal.  Bad idea.

Colorado traded struggling reliever Jason Grilli to Texas for cash.