Friday, February 24, 2012

Bearish on the Blue Jays in 2012

The Toronto Blue Jays' general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, is on everyone's list of up and coming baseball executives. He's already made some stunning coups like dumping Vernon Wells on the Angels and has piled up draft picks like they were trinkets at a yard sale. And there is optimism that the Blue Jays are on the right track of becoming a force again in the American League. But looking at this year's roster heading into the 2012, the payoff won't come this season.

Which seems strange to type. Every preseason, this space has provided optimistic outlooks for the Blue Jays. Last season's preseason projections that the Blue Jays would finish behind Baltimore were cited here as absurd, and they proved to be so. It was thought here that if there was one more wild card spot, the Blue Jays would be the one to benefit. In the end, if the toughest division in baseball, the Blue Jays won 81 games. They won't win 81 games this season. Are the Blue Jays doing the right things? Yes, it seems. But the fans there will have to wait it out through a season of mediocrity.

Yes, the Blue Jays have one of the best players in baseball in Jose Bautista. Buatista proved the doubters wrong last year and followed up his 54 homer season in 2010 with another 43 in 2011. He again led the American League in slugging and OPS. Look for more of the same in 2012 but unless he gets some help in that line up, his chances will get diminished with each passing month. He was walked intentionally 24 times last season and many of his amazing 108 walks that weren't "intentional" were certainly of that variety though not official. Those diminishing opportunities seemed to get to Bautista last year as the season wore on as his second half was mundane by his standards with a .257/.419/.477 slash line. And those hitting around Bautista haven't really changed any.

Adam Lind will still be hitting behind Bautista and has now endured two sub-par seasons in a row after posting a .932 OPS in 2009. The last two years were 200 points below that. After posting a .370 on-base percentage in 2009, Lind has not even reached .300 in that category for the past two seasons. Lind's precipitous drop in on-base percentage reflects the malaise in that category for the entire team. The Blue Jays as a team had a .312 on-base percentage in 2010 and followed that up with a .317 mark in 2011 despite Bautista drawing over a hundred walks in both seasons. In fact, Bautista accounted for a full 25 percent of his team's walks.

Having a full season of Brett Lawrie will help. Despite playing only 43 games last season, Lawrie still came in third on his team in WAR for position players. But Lawrie's terrific introduction into the majors last season builds some expectations he might not be able to reach. The Blue Jays would be happy if he bats .280 with a .350 on-base percentage over a full season and can slug around .500. Lawrie will help the Blue Jays in 2012, but it won't be enough.

Let's look at the rest of the position players. Yunel Escobar has rebounded nicely after the young shortstop was banished out of Bobby Cox's sight in 2010. He had a very good season last year and was surprisingly second on the team in walks with 61. His season last year certainly put him in the top five among AL shortstops. If he can continue that kind of play, he will give the Blue Jays a dynamic left side of the infield with Lawrie. But the right side of the infield is not nearly as strong with Lind at first and Kelly Johnson at second.

Kelly Johnson has improved his fielding since his Atlanta days but no one knows if Johnson is the .866 OPS guy he was for Arizona in 2010 or the .717 guy he was last year. Most projections split the difference (naturally) and suffice it to say the Blue Jays would be happy with that. Johnson is certainly an improvement over what Aaron Hill gave the Blue Jays his last couple of seasons in Toronto.

Other than Bautista in right, the Blue Jays outfield is a bit of a crap shoot. Who knows what Colby Rasmus will do in 2012. Once one of the most promising young stars in the game, Rasmus suffered a complete breakdown last season. He's a decent fielding center fielder who needs to get back on track at the plate. He will get the full shot as the starting center fielder as Rajai Davis simply can't offer anything close to enough at the plate.

The starting left fielder is Eric Thames who had a decent offensive season last year. His fielding isn't very good, however, and if he stumbles out of the gate, the Blue Jays have a back up plan with Ben Francisco, the former Phillie. It wouldn't be surprising if Francisco eventually took over the position, but he isn't that great either.

The biggest weakness for the Blue Jays for position players is behind the plate. Edwin Encarnacion should be one of the better designated hitters in the league but J.P. Arencibia has not developed as a hitting catcher despite running into a fastball once in a while and putting it over the fence. That would be fine if Arencibia was a good catcher, but, unfortunately, he is not and rated in the brutal category in many of the advanced metrics we now have for catchers. His back up is the newly acquired Jeff Mathis, who finally lost his Mike Scioscia halo after one of the worst offensive performances in recent history last season. Mathis is still fine as a defensive catcher but the Blue Jays should have kept Jose Molina. But until Travis d'Araud is ready (another year?), this is what the Blue Jays have. And it isn't pretty.

The front two guys in the Blue Jays' rotation are great in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. But it gets real iffy after that. Morrow is a stud who suffers some from his home ballpark in Toronto. If he can solve his home woes a little bit, he can put up a monster season. He's that good. Normally, a guy like Romero would cause some concerns about regression after posting a .242 BABIP and a 79 percent strand rate in 2011. But Romero is an extreme ground ball pitcher and that fact explains a bit of the BABIP and shouldn't lead to large concerns. Romero should have another strong season.

After those two, you have Brett Cecil, who had a disastrous 2011 campaign. Most projections see a bit of a bounce back, but still point to mediocrity and not to the fine season he had in 2010. The Blue Jays hope the projections are wrong. Cecil, among other things, needs to keep the ball in the park as he became a gopher machine last season.

But what comes after Cecil? Henderson Alvarez showed great control last season and is also a ground ball pitcher. He's never pitched a full season though and there just is no knowing how he will respond getting the ball every fifth day. The fifth starter is even more of a concern because the leading candidate right now is Dustin McGowen. McGowen is certainly a feel good story with what he's had to overcome, but in a small sample from last season, gave up homers at an alarming rate and walked far too many batters. Carlos Villanueva is another option.

The Blue Jays' bullpen appears solid with Sergio Santos on top followed by Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor. That should be a much better bullpen than last year's fiasco out there.

Baseball Prospectus pegs the Blue Jays at 78 wins for 2012, which is three less than last year. That sounds about right. It would be a surprise if this current team could win more games than that. AA is a very good general manager and John Farrell seems to be a very good manager. But Blue Jays fans will have to wait another year or two before the pieces are in place for this team to contend again. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can we lose the Anaheim already?

Pet peeves usually are a selfish little indulgence we all carry to prove in some small way that we are smarter than other people. Let's face it, we are all just tiny little specks in a grand universe and we need all the help we can get to find some personal relevance. As such, pet peeves are okay. We all have to cope, right? The cool thing is pet peeves come in all shapes and sizes and you can have any interest in the world and still find a pet peeve in there somewhere. You may hate bad grammar or "texting-speak." You may hate dog owners that let their dogs poop anywhere. You may hate anything you like and that's just fine. For this little space in the universe, the pet peeve du jour is the team name of the Angels.

Hey! Pet peeves can be stupid. It's a personal right guaranteed by the Constitution. There is nothing against the Angels as a team. Oh, it got kind of boring that they won the American League West too many years in a row. And perhaps there is some chafing at the "Mike Scioscia is a genius" talk. But otherwise, there is no personal animosity to the team at all. They have a fine owner that has been good for the game of baseball and they are giving the Dodgers a run for their money as the prized franchise in southern California (apologies Padres fans). But their team name is this man's pet peeve.

It's not just that the team name is redundant. Los Angeles means, "The Angels." So basically, the team is The Angels Angels. That's kind of dumb. But anyway, the word(s) in front of the team name has changed a few times. They were the California Angels. They were the Anaheim Angels. Now, they are the Angels Angels. But then they went ahead and tacked on the "of Anaheim" bit at the end. Why did that happen? From Russ Blatt of 85% Sports:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Los Angeles in Spanish means, “The Angels”. Done. However, the team name story deserves more than seven words. The team was formed in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels. In 1965, the team changed its name midseason to the California Angels in order to promote that the Angels were the only American League team in California. In 1997, Disney purchased the team with the condition that the name Anaheim be introduced into the team name and thus became the Anaheim Angels. In 2005, new owner Arte Moreno wanted to reintroduce the name Los Angeles into the team name; however the stadium lease insisted that Anaheim remain as part of the team name. That is how the name, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was invented. As a history note, there was a minor league team named the Los Angeles Angels that played in the Pacific Coast League from 1903 to 1957. There was a team with the same name that played in the California League in 1892, 1893, 1901 and 1902. Okay, they got more than seven words.
And so it is a legal issue. Great. Just great. Can you give it a rest, Anaheim? Does your little suburb need that much publicity to justify your tax rates? Come on now.  How about if you have a town meeting and let the Angels be rid of that hated moniker. Two links in one day, Russ? Royalties?

Why is this a pet peeve? Do you really need an answer? Pet peeves are a personal choice guaranteed by the constitution, remember? Well, okay. The answer is because it is awkward. Team names should roll off the tongue like the Philadelphia Phillies does. Try saying the Angels full name in a sentence. Isn't it awkward? Plus, it's the longest team name in baseball and perhaps in all sports. When you type for an avocation, typing such a long name is a pain in the butt. But as you've probably noticed, you'll never see the full team name in this space. That's a personal rebellion and tough nuggies if you don't like it. Instead, the pet peeve is really kind of self-destructive because an even longer name is used. What is it? For this site, the team's name is, "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in southern California in the southwestern United States of America in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth." Nobody ever said pet peeves were rational.

Just think if every team had to do this? Here is what we would end up with:
  • The Texas Rangers of Arlington
  • The New York Yankees of the Bronx - You can't just say, "Bronx." You have to put the, "The," in there.
  • The New York Mets of Flushing on the site of a former World's Fair - Flushing is kind of a bad name for a team in the toilet, no?
  • The Florida Marlins of Miami. Wait. They already fixed this one.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays of St. Petersburg
  • The Minnesota Twins of two Siamese cities.
  • The Colorado Rockies of Denver.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks of Phoenix.

Think of how awful that would be. Following MLB would be like following Triple A baseball and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. It is a new day for the Angels. They have Albert Pujols (whom they have already ticked off with the "El Hombre" billboards) and C.J. Wilson. Now is the perfect time to start a new journey with a team name that makes sense. Make it happen, Anaheim. This personal rebellion costs this writer a lot of extra characters.

BBA Linkfest - Generally Ready for Spring

Somewhere south and southwest of here, young men are again getting ready to play baseball. Here, we are supposed to get nine inches of snow by the end of the day tomorrow. And so it is difficult to feel optimistic about anything. But have no fear, the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance has spring in the air from dozens of sites around the globe. Whatever your weather (and hopefully, it's better than here), grab another cup of coffee or a hot chocolate and enjoy another round of our weekly links from around the chapter.

Mike Cardano of the X-Log writes about the new rules change that we will all affectionately call, "The Sam Fuld Rule."

"He was robbed!" That's what Dan Kirby of Through the Fence Baseball says in his epic and wonderful look at MVP Award injustices through history.

Sully from Sully Baseball tells us that it is official. Albert Pujols is not a Cardinal anymore. He even linked his newest video. Bonus!

The Replacement Level Baseball Blog continued their terrific series of previews of the 2012 baseball season. This week's entry covers the American League East.

The Platoon Advantage does it all. They have analysis and retrospectives and all the good things a baseball site should have. But when they are at their rakish best, guys like TCM are bashing someone over the head with darn good prose.

If this proud linkmaster played word association with you and said, "Fastball Flakes." You would probably reply, "Bill Lee." Aha! But it's a cereal. Old Time Family Baseball has all the information.

MTD wrote this gem before heading to his annual Mardi Gras celebration. Saw on Twitter last night that he survived the week, which is good news for fans of great baseball writing. Off Base Percentage.

Love, love, love Nitkig's series on better, worse or the same. This linked post covers the Yankees. See how many you agree with after going through each player on Nitkig's Baseball Blog.

Sam Evans has a great piece over at MLB Reports on the Miami Marlins' newest closer, Heath Bell.

Your favorite Fan is going to be shameless right here. The main goal of this links post is to encourage you to go to our member sites. As such, you really should be stopping by MLB Dirt every day. And you might enjoy this piece there. hehe...shameless indeed.

Over at Major League ***Holes, a great post talks about this week being an important week for decisions.

Over at Left Field, that site's author is reliving some of his favorite posts. They are becoming our favorites too.

Matthew Mahaffey of the Pop Fly Boys has no idea how to evaluate Tony LaRussa as a manager. It's a valid point. A manager's role in a team's success is really a confusing issue.

Hot Corner Harbor makes a preemptive strike against future ignorance in Hall of Fame voting. You might be surprised at the player being pushed for consideration.

The Hall of Very Good interviews the nephew of a major league baseball player. You might find that odd, but it's actually a great read. Hop to it!

Golly, Grubby Glove sure is a great baseball site. Here's another terrific post on spring training for managers.

In what is easily the funniest post you'll read this week, Mike Rosenbaum of The Golden Sombrero writes about Brett Wallace's thighs.

The writer of The Baseball Index projects the Philadelphia Phillies' line up and is optimistic.

Thanks to For Baseball Junkies for linking to BBA member, Bill Ivie's link to Gary Carter's last known interview. Listen to this podcast for why the man was such a great person.

In German or not, Dugout 24 has a great guide for parents in choosing a bat for their children.

Diamond Hoggers gives us the ultimate tweet to let us know that Spring Training is here at last.

All the writers at Crum-Bum Beat have given themselves such cool monikers. But there is nothing cool about a new promotional toy offered by the Tampa Bay Rays. Dizzy Valance has the details. Scary!

You really need to go to Cheap.Seats.Please. and read the entire series Matt Whitener has written concerning the best 100 players in baseball history. This is, sadly, the last installment.

Mario Salvini has an inspiration post over at his site, Che Palle!. The post gives us insight on how Wilson Ramos survived his ordeal.

Baseball Unrated has a great post on fantasy baseball catcher rankings. P.S. - Matt Wieters should be higher.

Blaine Blontz of Call to the Pen fame, gives us an update on the expanded playoff system that will be rolled out in 2012.

Stevo-Sama of The Baseball Enthusiast is pumped! Find out why by clicking this link. Hint: It concerns a book he just received.

The Ball Caps Blog has three great posts this week, but we can only pick one for the links page. This one is for you if you've ever wondered how we started this tradition of notable people throwing out the first ball.

For this particular links post, you aren't going to get a direct link to any featured post from Babes Love Baseball. Instead, you'll just get a link to the site in general. Why? Because you need to go there and read all of Sooze's Haiku previews. That's why.

In Ryan Sendek's endless quest to bring you as much fantasy baseball information as you could possibly have led him to tweet Yahoo Sports and he got an answer! Analysis Around the Horn.

Russ Blatt of 85% Sports continues his fun series on how baseball teams got their names. This week's edition features the American League West. And no, he didn't include the Fan's moniker for one of the franchises as the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the southern part of California on the west coast of America in the northern hemisphere on the planet earth."

There you have it, folks. Another week, another great week of posts. May your week, at least, not include any snow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Time Is Up For Pedro Alvarez

How long do you wait for a "can't miss" prospect to reach his potential? How long can a team afford to wait? Such questions will have to be answered by the Pittsburgh Pirates if Pedro Alvarez does not make progress as a player in the major leagues in 2012. Alvarez was one of the most anticipated prospects when he signed in 2008 with the Pirates as the second overall pick in that year's draft. The hype, no doubt, was heightened since Alvarez was a Scott Boras client making major league money right from the get go. After Alvarez showed a little hope in 2010, 2011 has left the promise a bit cold. Well, okay, a lot cold.

A bad hamstring didn't help Pedro Alvarez in 2011. He missed 71 games after injuring his right wheel. The original strain was in May and was re-aggravated in July. The injury could be used as a crutch to rescue some reputation after a 2011 season that saw him plummet to untold depths of poor play. But the facts are that Pedro Alvarez did manage to come to the plate 262 times in 2011 and finished with this donkey of a slash line: .191/.272/.289. That would be bad enough except his fielding was just as brutal.

How bad was the fielding? Alvarez made fourteen errors in just 66 games for a fielding percentage of .935. Otherwise, most fielding systems ranked him just below average in fielding efficiency. Even though his fielding efficiency rated better in 2011 than it did in 2010, there is something to be said for making the play once you get to the ball. Alvarez has now made 31 errors in his 160 major league games.

Despite his terrible and lost season, projection systems can't get past his minor league performances and are still somewhat bullish on the kind of season Alvarez will have in 2012. Bill James (found on Alvarez's Facebook page) has him projected at: .252/.332/.429. That's not great, but certainly better than last year. Baseball Prospectus has him at: .242/.319/.419 with a WARP of 2.0. That's highly bullish considering his WARP on that same site was -0.6 last season. ZiPS has him at: .245/.323/.447.

All of these projections assume that Pedro Alvarez will slightly increase his walk rate from its current major league 9.4 percent to over 10 percent where he was consistently in the minors. All the projections also assume that he will cut down his strikeout rate when both his seasons have seen that rate at over 30 percent. And they all predict he will hit with more power. That one is hard to dispute because his power numbers were decent in 2010. 

The Pirates have Casey McGehee behind Alvarez if the prospect falters again in 2012. But McGehee cratered himself last season with the Brewers. In order for the Pirates to continue to improve like the steps they made last year, the team needs Pedro Alvarez to become the player they thought they drafted. The feeling here is that 2012 will be the make or break year for Alvarez. Alvarez needs to show some progression as a player. The odds certainly don't look good from this office chair.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eric Wedge Has Lost His Mind

There are not too many occasions during a baseball off season when a story makes your jaw drop to the floor. The Pujols signing by the Angels and the Pineda/Montero deal were two such occasions. Now there's a third. Eric Wedge has told the press that Ichiro Suzuki will be moved out of the lead off spot to third in the line up and Chone Figgins will lead off for the Seattle Mariners. What!?

Wedge has hinted all off season that he was toying with the idea of moving Ichiro out of the lead off spot. This site has already posted a long dissertation on the merits of such a move.  The conclusion of that piece was that Ichiro should start the season and lead off, just like he always has. The only other Mariners' player even considered for the lead off spot was Dustin Ackley. Never in the wildest dreams did it ever occur to move Chone Figgins into that spot.

If Ichiro was moved out of the first spot, then second in the order made sense. But third? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. In his career, Suzuki is a .327 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage with men on base and with runners in scoring position, Suzuki is a .333 hitter with a .436 on-base percentage. Pitchers rarely want to pitch to the guy with men on base as he has been intentionally walked 168 times in his career in those two situations. But this isn't the same Ichiro we saw a few years ago. This Ichiro is an older one who struggled last season.

But the real kicker is Chone Figgins leading off. Figgins has a combined on-base percentage of .309 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Sure, Figgins had a healthy on-base percentage in his years with the Angels and even walked 101 times in 2009. But Figgins has fallen off a cliff since 2009. And he's going to be 34 in 2012 so he's not going to somehow relive his prime years.

Okay, let's give Figgins the benefit of doubt. Perhaps he can return to his 70 walks per season average. If he can do that, Wedge is a genius. If Figgins is permanently stuck in the hole he dug last season, Wedge is going to look like an idiot. But hey, nothing is gained without a little risk, right?

There is an old adage that you put your best hitter in the number three hole. The Mariners' best hitter right now is not Ichiro Suzuki. Dustin Ackley is the Mariners' best hitter and Montero may prove to the the second best. Wedge's pronouncement is a shock. Perhaps he's smarter than the rest of us. Time will tell.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Phillies' Strange Love for Kyle Kendrick

Kyle Kendrick is a younger version of Tim Wakefield without the knuckleball. He can start, or he can pitch out of the bullpen. In either case, he rarely misses a bat, induces his fair share of ground balls and has a winning record to show for his five years pitching with the Philadelphia Phillies. But is he worth the $7.5 million the Phillies just decided to pay him for the next couple of years? When the numbers are crunched, it doesn't appear that he is.

The deal works out to $3.75 million a season. If we use WAR as a valuation tool, Kendrick has been worth 2.3 fWAR over his five seasons. Using Fangraphs' method of putting a dollar value on those wins over replacement, Kendrick has been worth $9.7 million over those five seasons or $1.94 million per season. Nearly half of that $9.7 million was earned in his rookie season when his performance was rated at a value of $4.2 million. His valuation for the past four seasons: $0, $1.6, $2.8 and $1.0 (in millions). Even if you average out only the last three years, Kendrick's performance has been worth $1.8 million a season. So how do the Phillies see this differently?

Using wins above replacement as a valuation tool for relief pitchers is problematic. One only needs to look at Mariano Rivera's WAR totals over his career to see what that means. Increasingly, researchers look at WPA (win probability added) as a way to value relief pitchers. So perhaps Kendrick rates highly there? No, he doesn't. Three of his five seasons (including the last two) have shown Kendrick to have a negative WPA and his score over his career is -2.79.

And that's assuming that Kendrick is a relief pitcher. He is not really a relief pitcher. Over his career, 98 of his 127 appearances have been starts. And over the past two seasons, 46 of his 67 appearances have been as a starter. With Roy Oswalt out of the picture, Kendrick and Joe Blanton will fight over the last rotation spot. Blanton will probably get the role by default if he is healthy because he makes a lot of money and has been successful when he has been healthy.

It was mentioned earlier that Kyle Kendrick does not miss many bats. Of all pitchers that have thrown 550 innings or more since 2006, only three have failed to strike out more than 300 batters: Chien-Ming Wang, Paul Byrd and Kyle Kendrick. In the interest of fairness, the oddity of that list is that all three of those pitchers have winning records over that time span including Kendrick.

"But, William," you might argue, "Kyle Kendrick had a 3.22 ERA last season." Why, yes. He did. But what we now know is that ERA is deceptive and based on a lot of factors including luck. Of all of Kyle Kendrick's peripherals, the only one that was really different in 2011 was the lower number of hits he allowed. Last season, Kendrick only gave up 8.8 hits per nine innings compared to the 9.9 he has averaged for his career. His batting average on the ball he has allowed in play (BABIP) had a lot to do with that number as it was only .261 compared to a league average of .297 and his own career average of .284.

Kendrick induces more ground balls than fly balls. His career ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.37. But that has come down over the past two seasons. His ratio in 2010 was 1.16 and in 2011 it was 1.26. But still, he throws more grounders than fly balls and with the Phillies' wonderful infield defense (except at first base), that's a good thing and certainly helped his BABIP. But even so, a .261 BABIP would lead you to believe that some good fortune was involved and can't be sustained.

Even as a ground ball pitcher, Kendrick gives up a lot of home runs. Over the last two seasons, Kendrick has allowed 40 homers in less than 300 innings of work. His career rate of home runs per nine innings is an unhealthy 1.20. You might counter that his home run rate is understandable considering his home ballpark. And indeed, nine of the fourteen homers he allowed last year were given up at home. But there is other slugging besides homers and Kendrick allowed a higher slugging percentage on the road last year than he did at home (.444, .398).

Kendrick had some other screwy splits last season. Against right handed batters, Kendrick struck out five batters for every walk he allowed (5.17). But against left-handed batters, that went down to a 1.17 K/BB ratio. He only walked six right-handed batters in 262 plate appearances. But walked 24 lefty swingers in 216 plate appearances. That seems to indicate that Kendrick isn't very confident against those that swing from the left side.

The conclusion after all this talk is that Kyle Kendrick isn't worth the money that the Phillies have decided to pay him. He's a mediocre starter if that is what his role is and if he is a reliever, he is getting paid close to what second-tier closers make. If Kendrick does not start and pitches mostly out of the bullpen, he would be the third option in the bullpen behind Papelbon and Bastardo and might even be behind Stutes. That's a lot of money for a spot starter/fourth option out of the bullpen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dreaming Stephen Strasburg

The 2012 MLB season is still a pregnancy with a due date six weeks out. Doctors have performed ultrasounds with ZiPS projections and Pecota cards and so us parents have some idea what's coming. But until the actual season's birth, all we can do is dream. As parents, we dream big. While the child is still in the womb, we think about college and whether our child will be artistic or athletic. But there is always fear. Will the child adjust well in this daunting world? Will he or she play well with others and succeed beyond our expectations? All those emotions are similar to dreaming about the 2012 season and Stephen Strasburg.

To carry the idea just a little further, Strasburg has already come out of the womb and taken a few steps. But he keeps going back to the incubator. There was tremendous excitement when he made his debut in 2010 and made the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a bad little league team. He gave us 68 innings that season and then his elbow popped and back to the incubator he went. After less than a year away with ligament reconstructive surgery, Strasburg again popped out of the incubator to make five starts at the end of the 2011 season. We held our collective breath.

Strasburg wasn't "quite" as dominating. His fastball averaged 96 MPH instead of close to 98 like before. He only struck out a batter per inning instead of more than that like before. But over all, it went well and he didn't break, which was the biggest fear. The season came to a close and after a long, cold winter, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Arizona and Florida and attention again focuses on the most prized pitching prospect of our generation.

Stephen Strasburg has pitched all of 92 innings in the major leagues. He's already accumulated 3.7 fWAR in those 92 innings. The numbers in such a small sample size are eye-popping. He has a 2.54 ERA with a 1.87 FIP. He has struck out 11.35 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.86 in those same nine innings. His WHIP is 0.98. His home runs per nine innings sits at 0.46. After returning from the incubator at the end of last season, he pitched 24 innings and walked only two batters and did not give up a homer. 

And yet we still don't know if he will be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. Will he shine for just a brief time or will his brilliance last the test of time? 2012 will give us a lot toward those answers. The current belief is that he will pitch 160 innings or so in 2012. You get the idea that projections systems are holding their cards tightly to their chests. Bill James didn't project him. RotoChamp projects Strasburg to 155 innings while maintaining his current numbers. Baseball Prospectus thinks he'll pitch 168 innings with a 2.53 ERA and a WHIP of 1.07 and a 5.5 WARP. We, as parents, would take that, would we not?

This baseball Fan dreams Stephen Strasburg. The 2012 baseball season will be a lot like pushing him out of the nest and seeing how well he can fly. Strasburg is a once in a lifetime kind of prospect. The anticipation for what he will do in 2012 is least from this basement seat. Come on, baseball season! Hurry up and get here!