Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Scrum in the NL West: Padres

The owner of a southern California baseball team went through a divorce which threw the team into turmoil. Sounds like the Dodgers, right? Well, it's true that happened to the Dodgers. But it also happened to the San Diego Padres. John Moores, the majority owner of the Padres since he purchased the team from Tom Werner, was divorced from his wife in 2008. Those proceedings prompted him to sell the franchise to a group led by Jeff Moorad. The deal meant that Moorad and his group would make incremental payments to Moores until they owned the majority of the team. The transfer of the team has been messy and MLB tabled a vote to confirm the final purchase of the team by the Moorad group. Now Moorad has temporarily withdrawn that purchase request to help get a television deal done with Fox. Though the Padres' situation hasn't been in the news as much as the Dodgers and Mets' situation, this turmoil has affected the product on the field just as dramatically.

Two years ago, the San Diego Padres were the darlings of Major League Baseball. A surprise team from the start, the Padres held the top spot in the National League West until the very last day of the season when the San Francisco Giants killed their dream season and eventually went on to win it all. The Padres won 90 games in 2010. Coming so close to winning the division, did the Padres try to build on their success? If you can call trading their best player to the Red Sox for prospects and a perennial fifth outfielder, not really. The Padres won 71 games in 2011.

After the failed 2011 season, Jed Hoyer, the general manager, left the Padres to join Theo Epstein in Chicago and Josh Byrnes has taken over as the GM. One of the first moves was to trade arguably their best pitcher to the Reds for a top prospect first baseman who will take over for the top prospect first baseman the Padres received from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. The prospect first baseman the Padres received from Boston, Anthony Rizzo, fizzled in San Diego and was traded to Hoyer and the Cubs for Andrew Cashner. Other players are involved in all these deals and only time will tell their ultimate effectiveness. But the gist of the story is that in two successive off seasons, the Padres traded away their best positional player and their best pitcher. 

Gosh, this is going to be a long post. Feel free to bail if you need to. We still have a preview to get to here. But the preamble was necessary to get to where the team is today. If the Fox deal is approved by Bud Selig, a ton of money will be infused into the franchise and that will help moving forward. But for now, the team is assembled on the cheap.

When the Padres had their fun run in 2010, they scored 655 runs and allowed only 581. The offense wasn't great beyond Adrian Gonzalez and they were in the bottom third of the National League in offensive statistics. But that was prolific compared to the 2011 offense which cratered to 593 runs scored, 62 less runs scored than the season before. The team finished next to last in on-base percentage and dead last in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Two of the players the Padres received from the Red Sox, Rizzo and Eric Patterson went on to bat .141 and .180 respectively. Ouch.

Ryan Ludwick led the team in homers and RBIs with 11 and 64. No Padres hit 30 doubles. Cameron Maybin led the team in runs scored with 82. This was a bad, bad offense. The pitching was remarkably similar to 2010. But the offense had to be addressed. Have the Padres done enough? Baseball Prospectus predicts the team will score 631 runs. That isn't as high as 2010 and only 38 more runs than 2011. So the answer has to be no. Since this post is already long, here is a list of the proposed starters for 2012 with some comments after:
  • First base: Yonder Alonso
  • Second base: Orlando Hudson
  • Shortstop: Jason Bartlett
  • Third base: Chase Headley
  • Left field: Carlos Quentin
  • Center Field: Cameron Maybin
  • Right Field: Will Venable
  • Catcher: Nick Hundley
  • Bench: John Baker, Mark Kotsay, Jesus Guzman, Andy Parrino and Chris Denorfia.

Raise your hand if you've never heard of two of the last three bench players (raising hand). Alonso was the big chip in the Mat Latos trade with the Reds. The Padres are convinced he will succeed where Rizzo failed. Some writers after the deal thought Rizzo had more upside than Alonso, but time will tell. Alonso made a major splash with the Reds after his call up last season. He should strike out less than Rizzo. Most projections put him in the .250/.320/.400 range but that seems pessimistic. Alonso should be an improvement.

Nick Hundley is a solid offensive catcher. He is rated poorly in framing pitches but good at blocking pitches in the dirt. Recent rankings of catchers based on new statistics rated him the fourteenth best catcher in baseball in 2011. So he is slightly above average overall.

Orlando Hudson has slipped defensively as he gets older and neither he nor his partner, Jason Bartlett are very good offensively. Chase Headley is better offensively, but rated worse as a fielder than the rest of his infield mates.

Cameron Maybin was just given a major extension and is top notch in the field in center. Maybin is also great on the base paths once he gets on base. He stole 40 bases last season in 48 attempts and is an excellent base runner in other ways too. The jury is still out on how good an offensive player he is though. Despite all the hoopla, his on-base percentage was only .323 last season and most projections list him ten points lower heading into 2012. 

Will Venable is a fine fielding outfielder who has never hit as well as expected. His Achilles heel is hitting against left-handed pitching. So expect him to platoon somewhat with Denorfia again in 2012.

Carlos Quentin was obtained from the White Sox in a December deal. Quentin will take over from Ludwick in left and should be an upgrade offensively. The key will be how he does at Petco as that is what seemed to defeat Ludwick. Ludwick was probably a better fielder than Quentin. A gut reaction is that this isn't much of an upgrade, but we'll have to see how it works out. 

The pitching rotation lost Mat Latos and Aaron Harang but picked up Edinson Volquez (obtained in the Reds deal). The thought here is that Volquez will have better success in Petco and become a quality pitcher again. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility that he could take up most of the Latos slack. The thought here is that Cory Luebke is primed for a breakout season and should be the next great young pitcher. There are also bullish thoughts about Tim Stauffer who seems far better than his stats have shown thus far. Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley round out the rotation somewhat adequately. And perhaps Micah Owings can start a few games and hit a homer or two. One can always dream, right?

Huston Street replaces Heath Bell as closer and that seems a wash. Luke Gregerson is very good and Andrew Cashner can be electric. The bullpen has always been a Padres strength and that should be the case again in 2012.

Baseball Prospectus predicts the Padres will win 79 games and finish just ahead of the Dodgers. That seems optimistic after they won only 71 games in 2011. But consider that the Padres run differential in 2011 shows that the Padres had a Pythagorean won-loss projection of 79 wins a year ago, which sort of puts a black eye on Bud Black's managerial genius theory. If Quentin and Alonso hit and some mild surprise happen from the rest of the offense and if Luebke and Stauffer can be as good as is thought here and Volquez has a good season, then all of those things combined could push the Padres over .500. But all those things must happen to keep the Padres from sinking to last season's depths.

There is hope for the future though. The new television deal with infuse the Padres with more cash and Keith Law rates the Padres' farm system as the best in the big leagues. And perhaps someday, the ownership situation will be resolved and stability will come. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Scrum in the NL West: Dodgers

The third installment of this week's romp through the National League West brings us to Chavez Ravine and the Los Angeles Dodgers. This installment will not talk about the ownership situation though that continuing story does relate to the product the Dodgers will have on the field. Instead, the post will simply stick to the team the Dodgers will be sending into the scrum that is the NL West. The Dodgers may well finish at the bottom of that imagined rugby pile.

The Dodgers won 82 games last year. That is above .500. That is respectable, no? And Baseball Prospectus predicts the team will win 78 games this coming season. That win total, according to BP, will place them only eight games behind the eventual division leader. Even so, according to BP, that would place the Dodgers in last place. That is how close this division is supposed to play out. The thought seemed reasonable until was consulted. And, ugh, the Dodgers depth chart found on that site does not look pretty.

The biggest problem when looking at the Dodgers' depth chart is the offense. BP predicts this offense will be as paltry as the Giants. And as we saw yesterday, that's not a good thing, especially when the Dodgers can't match up with the Giants' pitching staff. Both the offense and the pitching contains one shining star. Clayton Kershaw has developed into an amazing pitcher and Matt Kemp had about as good a season as you can have in baseball last year. Every single projection system consulted for this piece (and there were a lot of them) believe that both stars will not be quite as good in 2012. Let's say they are wrong and pessimistic, and that may well be the truth, these two simply cannot bring the rest of their teammates over the hump.

Last year's Dodger offense accounted for 16 WAR according to and Matt Kemp accounted for 10 of that 16 WAR total. According to that same site, the top three pitchers in WAR were Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly. Kuroda and his 3.7 WAR is gone and replaced by pitchers who shouldn't be quite as good. 

Let's look at the offense. Can any projection be optimistic when according to BP, Clayton Kershaw was the fifth most valuable offensive contributor last season? No, not really and guilt is starting to rise that this preview is turning out so negative. Sincere apologies to you Dodger fans. But the facts are facts and fairness needs to call it as close to reality as possible. When 83 year old, Jimmy Carroll, was the third most valuable offensive chip on the table last season, there is a problem.

The infield is, frankly, pathetic. James Loney is a known entity. He probably had his best overall full season as a Dodger last season and despite being a slick defender at first base, does not produce the kind of offense you would like to see from a first baseman. He is never going to be a big power guy and that would be okay if he was as good a hitter as Mark Grace was. But he isn't. He is league average at getting on base. And that simply doesn't cut it. 

Jimmy Carroll was allowed to walk as a free agent and he will take his Methuselah act to the Twins. His replacement is Mark Ellis who is probably an upgrade. Ellis has been an underrated player during his career as he was hidden away as a member of the Athletic for years. He has a little pop in his bat, is an excellent fielder (or used to be at least). But he is going to be 35 in 2012 and his best days may be behind him. 

Here is a bit of trivia for you. With A.J. Ellis behind the plate, he and Mark Ellis make up twenty percent of the total number of guys with the name Ellis that have ever played Major League Baseball. And no two guys with that last name have ever started in the same line up. More on A.J. Ellis in a minute.

Continuing with the infield, shortstop will be manned by Dee Gordon. Gordon had an excellent season at Albuquerque before coming up to the Dodgers to take over once Rafael Furcal was injured and eventually traded to the Cardinals. And Gordon continued his hot hitting for the Dodgers as he batted .303 and added some excitement with 24 steals in just 31 attempts. 

But the good news for Gordon stops there. He was inadequate in the field as all major systems rated him poorly for his defense and he made ten errors in just 56 games. Plus, Gordon almost never takes a walk. He walked just three percent of the time in 2012 and that was just slightly lower than his minor league averages. Gordon swings at forty percent of pitches outside the strike zone and that is not a good thing. Such a rate is nearly double that of someone who is considered to have good plate discipline.

Gordon perhaps will be better in the field, but projection systems consulted have him batting in the .260 range with an on-base percentage under .300. Let's hope that he performs better than that because those numbers are not good.

Third base will be occupied by Juan Uribe. Uribe followed his 2010 World Series heroics and a pretty good season with the Giants to a three year contract with the Dodgers for a pretty decent chunk of change. But he was awful last season. His final OPS+ was 56. His power went away and he batted just .204 with an on-base percentage of .264. Uribe is still slick with the glove and could perhaps bounce back offensively. It would be a great help to the Dodgers if he could at least hit again for league average.

Let's get back to A.J. Ellis. Ellis will be the starting catcher. He takes over for Rod "The Bod" Barajas. Despite the fact that Ellis will be 31 in the 2012 season, this will only be his fifth season in the big leagues, all as a back up. The Dodgers will lose some power production as Ellis does not hit for power while Barajas hit sixteen homers in just 337 at bats. Ellis has much more plate discipline than Barajas which may translate well over a full season. Barajas rated better defensively, however, so all things considered, the Dodgers lose something going forward with Ellis. 

Ellis is backed up by Matt Treanor. The only good thing you can say about Treanor is that his wife is a very good volleyball player. Otherwise, Treanor has never hit and is not considered a great defensive catcher. Catching is definitely a weakness on this team.

The outfield is in better shape than anything else on the field for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp has become one of the best players in baseball and should have another monster season. He had a better defensive season last year but is still rated below average in that category. Andre Ethier is a very good offensive right-fielder which makes up for his very bad defense out there. Ethier has had some difficulties staying healthy and isn't very happy being a Dodger these days. He may or may not stay on the team all season. Time will tell. But at least he is one of the brighter spots in the Dodgers' line up.

The depth chart says that Juan Rivera is the starting left fielder. Rivera is a decent player but he's better as a role player than starting every day. It would be a great surprise if Jerry Sands doesn't land more playing time either in left or eventually at first. Sands had a mostly positive first experience in the big leagues last season. Sands just seems like a better option than Rivera and the prediction here is that he will be in the starting line up come April.

The Dodgers' pitching rotation is well suited for their vast ballpark. Clayton Kershaw is easily one of the top five pitchers in the National League and he is only 24 years old. That is scary good. The thing that is so impressive about Kershaw is that despite his power arm, young age and left-handedness, he has excellent control and only walked 2.1 batters per nine innings last season. He is a rare treat and is one of those talents that you can't wait to see pitch every fifth day.

He is followed by the somewhat enigmatic, Chad Billingsley. Billingsley's strikeout rate has gone down for three straight seasons and last year, he walked more batters than he has before. He is only 27 himself though and should have a better season in 2012 than he did in 2011. At worst, he is a solid rotation guy and at best, he had vastly underrated seasons in 2009 and 2010.

Ted Lilly is a solid, if unspectacular rotation guy who should get his usual 30+ starts. He has good control but despite pitching half his games in LA, gave up quite a few homers last season. Lilly will keep the Dodgers in most games and finish about league average with his statistics. There is value in that, especially since he throws from the left side.

The hole left by the departed Kuroda will be filled with Aaron Harang who goes from one pitchers' park in San Diego to another in Los Angeles. That makes Harang a smart guy. Harang is yet another unspectacular, league average pitcher who should give the Dodgers 30 starts and keep them in the game in most of them. 

The rotation will be rounded out by Chris Capuano who has resurrected his career after years of injury. If he stays healthy, Capuano still provides solid strikeout rates and his tendency to give up homers should be somewhat mitigated by pitching at Dodger Stadium. He is liked here much more than by most in the baseball analytic society. He should have a solid season if he stays healthy.

The starting rotation as a whole seems solid. Kershaw is spectacular at the top followed by dependable league average types all the way through the rest.

The Dodgers' bullpen is a bit troublesome. Broxton is now gone and the closer is the little known Javy Guerra. Guerra isn't the blow-you-away type of closer but was reasonably successful in his time closing in 2011. He should be solid if not spectacular. He is backed up by the electric arm of Kenley Jansen. Jansen struck out 96 batters in just 53.2 innings of work. There is no way that Mike MacDougal can match his 2.06 ERA last season. No chance. Expect him to revert back to his usual messiness in 2012. Matt Guerrier is solid. Scott Elbert was solid as the designated lefty. But Blake Hawksworth might miss the start of the season with an injury.

The bullpen is rounded out by the usually reliable Todd Coffey and Ramon Troncoso, who was a train wreck last season. Overall, this bullpen walks way too many batters and has only one member that can blow people away. Bullpens are tricky anyway, but this one seems dicey at best.

The Dodgers have a decent bench with either Rivera or Sands, the ever-present Jerry Hairston, Adam Kennedy and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

After spending far too many hours looking at this team, the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers will do well to win 75 games. The final analysis would love to be more optimistic, especially with Don Mattingly at the helm, but the reality is simply too overwhelming. This isn't a good ball club and will need an infusion of new ownership to bring it back to life. They have two superstars, but far too many mediocre spots around the rest of the roster to think otherwise about its prospects this coming season.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

BBA Linkfest - General Elections

While it can be difficult to compete with Super Tuesday, March Madness, Peyton Manning and Bountygate, the writers of the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance held their own with another brilliant week of baseball writing. As we do every Thursday, here is a list of some of their best work this previous week. Pour yourself a cup of tea with just a little milk and a bit of sugar and click some links. You will enjoy the tour.

Jeremy of the Pop Fly Boys thinks that Yadier Molina is now the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. Totally agree.

For easily the most fun post you can visit this month, check out Chris St. John's post on damaging home runs. We all dig the long balls, right? Fun, fun, fun at The Platoon Advantage.

Replacement Level Baseball Blog participated in Graham Womack's All-Time Dream Team project and posted their site's votes. See how many you agree with.

The Sports Banter had some links of their own. Some of the stories were fascinating. Others, sad. Some, baseball and others not.

Sully, never one to mince words, tells us to stop our whining about the new MLB playoff format at his Sully Baseball site.

John Thiede of Through the Fence Baseball is heading to Spring Training. The lucky dog...

Scott Engel writes on the X-Log about a book that we all need to read. Going to have to check that out!

Russ Blatt of 85% Sports doesn't figure the Yankees will have any problem reaching their goal of a $189 million payroll. Very interesting post.

"Brain over Braun" is a brilliant headline and more than enough reason to check out Ryan Sendek's post on Analysis Around the Horn.

It is impossible to categorize and summarize Sooze's post over at Babes Love Baseball. You will just have to go over there and watch it. Yes, watch it.

Daniel of The Ball Caps Blog isn't excited by spring baseball. He still wants the real deal. 

Stevo-Sama has another thrilling episode of a game from the ABL at his The Baseball Enthusiast site.

Baseball Unrated gives us their fantasy rankings for 2012 starting pitchers. Can't quibble with any of it except Sabathia should be higher than Weaver.

Justin Jabs did a live blog on his baseblog site on the day that MLB12: The Show debuted. It's a rollicking romp of fun!

Matt Musico did a thorough and totally satisfying preview of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles. That had to be a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Check it out on Call to the Pen.

Mario Salvini of our Italian affiliate, Che Palle!, gives us another hammer blow to Ty Cobb's image. 

If you are wondering what to expect from Adam Wainwright this season, so it Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please. 

TheNaturalMevs also whets our appetite for MLB12: The Show over at his Diamond Hoggers site. Now if the game lives up to his writing, that would be something.

There isn't too much of a more fun exercise than to predict what will happen in a baseball season. The OCP does just that in the first part of predictions for 2012 over at For Baseball Junkies.

In the same predicting mode, The Baseball Index projects the Miami Marlins' starting line up.

Mike Rosenbaum gives us some draft buzz over at Golden Sombrero and then offers us up the opportunity to make our own picks on the first pitcher drafted. 

Grubby Glove has a wonderful idea. Let's hope the idea catches on and is a great success.

The Hall of Very Good gives us another installment of their "This week in baseball cards" series.

Theo of Hot Corner Harbor had a great post this week pondering contracts and the expanded playoff format.

Left Field has a new beers resolution for 2012. That alone maybe enough reason for you to click this link.

Michael Schwartze of MLB Dirt made some bold predictions for 2012. Some will surprise you! Andrew Martin had a really cool post too about baseball and John Dillinger.

Jonathan Hacohen has a great interview of one of the 2011 MLB Fan Cave members. Very cool read over at MLB Reports.

Nik over at Niktig's Baseball Blog did a very thorough ranking of starting pitchers for 2012. Must read for fantasy players. Check out his other position rankings too.

MTD has his brand of usual offbeat thoughts on A.J. Burnett's bunting skills in his latest over at Off Base Percentage.

And finally, have you ever wondered what the little dot at the top of a baseball cap is called? Old Time Family Baseball has your answer.

Have a great week, everyone and enjoy spring baseball.

The Scrum for the NL West: Giants

The San Francisco Giants won 86 games last season. That is hardly a disaster. But the win total did keep the Giants from returning to the playoffs after the 2010 World Series title. The 86-win total was deceiving. The team actually out-performed their run differential by six games. So, the reality was that the Giants were the equivalent to a 80-win team. And it really was a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde situation. The pitching staff finished second in the National League in ERA, second in strikeouts, and league best in hits and home runs allowed. Meanwhile, the offense finished third from the bottom in batting average and slugging percentage and dead last in on-base percentage. Since the offense was the problem in 2011, this preview for 2012 will start there.

In many ways, the Giants' offense in 2011 was a photographic negative to 2010. After a lackluster offensive start in 2010, Buster Posey came along in the second half for a gigantic boost. Pat Burrell came out of nowhere to hit brilliantly. Aubrey Huff had one of his best seasons as a major league player. In 2011, Posey was great early but was catastrophically injured in May on a play at the plate and was lost the rest of the season. Pat Burrell could not get healthy with a physical problem that caused him to retire before this season started. And Aubrey Huff had the worst season of his career. The Giants scored 127 runs less in 2011 than they did in 2010 and 2010 wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut.

So what will 2012 bring? Baseball Prospectus predicts the Giants will increase their offensive run total to 637. That is somewhat between the 570 the team scored in 2011 and the 697 the team scored in 2010. That, by no means will be a great offensive machine. But with the way this team pitches, the prediction is that the Giants will score enough runs to again finish the season with 86 wins and according to BP, 86 wins will win the division. 

Aubrey Huff has become the lightening rod for discussions concerning this team. In 2010, he was a low-cost addition that paid off handsomely. The season prompted the organization to make the cardinal mistake of overpaying him based on that one brilliant season. It blew up in their face as Huff tanked. What's worse is that in the minds of Giants fans (and many of the rest of us), Huff stands in the way of top prospect, Brandon Belt. Belt, who sports a minor league career OPS over one is loaded with potential. Yet, the Giants seem loathed to simply hand Belt a job and let him fly. Huff, who seems like a really fun guy, catches the fallout. 

Projections predict that Huff will rebound slightly and are mindful that Huff had terrible 2008 and 2009 seasons before his phenomenal 2010. That sounds about right. And since he proved last year that you simply cannot play Huff in the outfield, first base is the only place you can play him. His projected offense would fall way below market value for first basemen. The interesting question for 2012 will be how long the Giants hold off Belt and stick with Huff.

Freddie Sanchez will be back at second base. His 2011 season was derailed by a dislocated shoulder. His terminally low walk rate has always been somewhat mitigated by his batting average and he has little or no power. But he is a slick-fielding second baseman and if he has an career average season at the age of 34--no small guarantee--that would be enough for the Giants to justify his value proposition.

But shortstop is a real problem. The Giants let Juan Uribe walk after his 2010 season and post season heroics and that was the right call. But then they brought in Miguel Tejada who had left his better days back in Baltimore long ago. Predictably, Tejada didn't hit but was better defensively than thought. After the Giants tired of that scenario, they gave the position to Brandon Crawford. Crawford was better defensively but didn't hit at all in his 220 plate appearances. His 66 OPS+ was abysmal. Crawford will be the 2012 shortstop with back up help from Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. Both are better as role players than starters. Crawford was never a great hitter in the minors, but if he can at least hit somewhere close to his minor league days, that would be a big help to the offense.

Over at third, Pablo Sandoval reclaimed his flame as one of the top young talents in the game. Sandoval went MIA in 2010 but was easily the Giants' best offensive performer in 2011. Sandoval's defense also dramatically improved and he should be a solid All Star for the Giants for quite some time.

It's really difficult to understand the Giants' tactics for building their outfield for 2012. First, the team traded slick-fielding Andres Torres to the Mets and received Angel Pagan as a replacement. The Giants feel that Pagan offers more of an offensive upside but that is questionable. While Torres has never been brilliant offensively, his plate discipline was better than Pagan's and the swap really is a one win loss in quality for the Giants.

Then the Giants acquired Melky Cabrera, who had a terrific season for the Royals last season. This deal seems to be repeating the mistake they made with the Huff contract. You take a guy who has a career year and pay him like that is the reality instead of the not too distant past when that wasn't the case. Cabrera is pasting the ball so far this spring, so perhaps this analysis is all wet. Perhaps 2011 is the new reality for Cabrera. We'll just have to see how it works out.

Nate Schierholtz is solid in right. He lacks plate discipline, but his sweet swing still shows some upside offensively.

Buster Posey for a full season should be a huge bonus for the Giants provided he can come back from his horrific injury and regain his status among the game's elite catchers. As 2011 proved, a Giants team without Posey is not a fun thought for anyone.

There really isn't much need to talk about the Giants' pitching. These guys will again be among the league's leaders in performance. The top three of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner can match up with anyone in baseball and Bumgarner may now be the best of the three. Bumgarner's command with his stuff is breathtaking and all he needs is a little more luck for people to understand how good he is. Ryan Vogelsong was a nice surprise last season, but the odds of a repeat are long. Vogelsong is having trouble getting started this spring due to back woes. That doesn't bode well. And with Jonathan Sanchez now gone, the fifth spot will be filled by Barry Zito until the Giants tire of that and give Eric Surkamp the job.

The bullpen should again be top notch as long as closer, Brian Wilson, is healthy. If he is, then all the other pieces are in place and terrific. Again, this team will pitch. The question is if the team can score enough runs to help the pitchers out.

The Diamondbacks still feel like the best team in this division but the Giants should be right there with them. Tim Lincecum must stay healthy. The projection of 86 wins seems reasonable. It is highly questionable that 86 wins will be enough to win the division.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Scrum for the NL West: Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks had such a magical season in 2011 and won 94 games. Despite their success, Baseball Prospectus does not even project the team to win the division in 2012. In fact, BP projects the division to be among the closest and yet nearly the most mediocre division in baseball with only seven games separating the teams from top to bottom. In this, the first segment of a five post series, an attempt will be made to sort out the division. First up, those same Diamondbacks.

Baseball Prospectus most likely based their projection for the Diamondbacks in 2012 on the fact that nearly the same team will return in 2012 and the team beat its Pythagorean won-lost record by six games in 2011. The Pythagorean system as it relates to baseball looks at the amount of runs a team scores and allows and with math that only Jason Wojciechowski would understand, figures out how many games a team should have won provided their run differential. No doubt the formulas involved are longer than that last sentence. At any rate, the Diamondbacks should have only won 88 games last season. BP's projections are similarly based and project to only 83 wins in 2012 and a second place finish (behind the Giants).

Looking at the Diamondbacks' roster, such a pessimistic projection for a division winning club is understandable. They have questions at shortstop, first base, left field and the bottom two spots of their pitching rotation. Plus, you have to remember that this club is only two years removed from winning only 65 games in 2010. Manager, Kirk Gibson, was given much of the credit for the club's turnaround and deservedly so. The question is whether Gibson can consistently coax more wins out of a team than its talent level. Let's take an in-depth look at this team starting with the pitching staff.

The starting rotation begins with two of the best young pitchers in baseball in Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy. This dynamic duo won 37 games between them last season. Kennedy led all starting pitchers in WPA and won 21 games. Hudson won 16 but his overall stats were nearly identical to Kennedy's. Both keep walks to a minimum, are fairly stingy with allowing balls to be hit over the fence and let batters pound the ball into the ground to a very good defensive infield. While a lot of good fortune goes into the won-loss record, serious regression should not occur in the statistics for either pitcher overall.

The Diamondbacks did make one major move in the off season to bolster the rotation and brought in Trevor Cahill from the Oakland Athletics. Cahill is a solid, if unspectacular starting pitcher. He is an extreme ground ball machine and has made thirty or more starts for three years in a row. However, his somewhat unexciting statistics drew great benefit from pitching all his home games in Oakland's house of horror. To say that his splits from home and away are extreme would be an understatement.  His success for the Diamondbacks will largely depend on how many of his ground balls find infielder gloves.

Cahill should be a great improvement on the third starter from a year ago. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Diamondbacks brought Joe Saunders back to be their fourth starter. Nearly the only possible good thing to say about Saunders as a starter is that he'll consistently take the ball every fifth day. He is a durable innings-eater. Plus, he is left-handed. The reality is that he doesn't miss any bats and tends to be homer prone. His ERA of 3.69 of a year ago was more than a run less than his FIP. There is little hope of him being able to replicate that in 2012. 

The fifth starter might be less dicey with Josh Collmenter and his funky over the top delivery. Collmenter became a sensation as a rookie a season ago when his first eleven appearances led to a 3-1 record and an ERA under two. But the league caught up with him in June and he was somewhat mediocre after that fast start. But the nice thing about Collmenter is that he helps his cause by limiting home runs fairly well and is very stingy with giving away free passes. Low walk rates are stressed with success in Arizona and Collmenter was their flag bearer.

If any of the rotation faulters, Trevor Bauer is nearly ready for prime time. The Diamondbacks' preference would be for Bauer to start the season in the minors, but he could prove to be a factor as the season hums along. Wade Miley could prove to be another decent option. Fortunately, the Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga and Zach Duke days won't have to be repeated.

The Diamondbacks have the makings of a terrific bullpen. J.J. Putz was money last season and his last two seasons have proved that if you use him wisely, he shouldn't break down like he did after the Mariners ran him into the ground. Putz has been Rivera-like in avoiding walks and might be the most underrated closer in the game today.

Putz is backed up by the returning solid trio of David Hernandez, Joe Paterson and Brad Ziegler. They have been augmented by what might one of the sleeper off season upgrades of the season when they received Craig Breslow in the Cahill deal. Breslow, if used correctly, is one tough lefty out of the bullpen.

Paul Goldschmidt certainly had a whirlwind season in 2011 as he made the jump from an A+ league in 2010 to Double A in 2011. Late in the season and in desperation, the Diamondbacks turned to the eighth round draft pick who put together three Pujols-like seasons in the minors. Goldschmidt had some huge moments for the Diamondbacks down the stretch. Despite the heroics, he can look over-matched at times and struck out nearly thirty percent of his at bats. The first base job will be his, but it will be interesting to see how he fares over a full season. Projections are fairly bullish for him to have a fine season, but this one falls in the question mark category here. Lyle Overbay is a good guy and will back up Goldschmidt.

Another question mark is at shortstop with Stephen Drew trying to return from a very serious ankle injury. Early indications are that he should be physically ready to go, but the injury is a scary one and the Diamondbacks will have to hold their breath. Drew is an excellent shortstop when healthy though his bat never seemed to develop the way it was thought it would. If Drew can man his position, that will be terrific because otherwise that would lead to more serious playing time for Willie Bloomquist. Bloomquist at best is a utility guy and the Diamondbacks lose a lot at short if he has to play there a lot.

The last question mark is left field. Gerardo Parra had his best season in the majors last year with a career best offensive and defensive season. He won the Gold Glove Award. His reward this year after such a fine season was to possibly lose his starting spot to newcomer Jason Kubel, who was signed as a free agent. Kubel can be an effective slugger but the Diamondbacks will lose a lot of defensive capability to put him in left over Parra. Parra is expected to play all over the outfield as the fourth outfielder and could see significant at bats. But this observer is not a big fan of this move.

Everyone fell in love with Ryan Roberts last season as he became a bit of a cult personality with his tattoos and at times flamboyant play. Roberts is a terrific fielding third baseman with some pop in his bat and good plate discipline. Third base is currently a market inefficiency in baseball and Roberts is a valuable player for this team.

Second base should probably have been put in the question mark category. Aaron Hill will occupy the position and he is a plus defender but a very confusing offensive player. Hill followed a career year in 2009 with the Blue Jays to two years of ridiculously low BABIP scores and troubling statistics. He seemed to find himself at the plate after a trade deadline deal sent him to the Diamondbacks. So his offensive 2012 will be fascinating to watch.

Chris Young has developed into a terrific center fielder but fell off slightly at the plate last season. But he is coming into his peak seasons. His combination of good power, plus base running and the way he can go get the ball in center make him a rare commodity. He has put together two 4.6 fWAR seasons and could be even better. Young is definitely a strength of this team.

And, of course, his outfield partner in right is one of the best young players in the game and Justin Upton is the core of this team. Amazingly, Upton will only be 24 in 2012 and his superstar status will continue to grow year by year. Upton has also become a fine fielder in right after adjusting to the position for a couple of seasons. 

The Diamondbacks also have one of the best catchers in the game right now in Miguel Montero. Montero is in the last year of his contract and will have the extra incentive in this, his walk year. Montero is that rare breed of good offense and good defense. He's everything you'd want in a catcher. But he'd better stay healthy because if he goes down, he is backed up by Henry Blanco. And you don't want to go there full time.

Blanco is part of a pretty weak bench completed by Overbay, Bloomquist, John McDonald and Geoff Blum. This lack of depth is a bit troubling if any of the regulars miss significant time.

The opinion here is that the Diamondbacks could easily win 90 games this coming season in a division where 88 wins could win the division. Despite BP's projection, the projection here is that they are the team to beat in the National League West. We shall see in the next four installments of this series if any of the other four teams in the division will have anything to say about that.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Box Score Watch for 2012

Every once in a while, a baseball writer has to step back from analysis mode and put his fan hat back on and point an over-sized foam finger. With a site called, "The Flagrant Fan," this, of course, is much easier. One of the greatest pleasures of being a baseball fan is looking at box scores. If there was a dollar to be had for every box score pored over in this lifetime, the bank account would be fat and happy. 

Box score watching is perhaps the most consistent joy of being a fan. And every year, there are certain players that carry more interest than others. When faced with a list of box scores to choose from, the order they are read often has to do with team affections, but even more so, it has to do with players that tickle the fancy. Last night, it was imperative to check out Stephen Strasburg's line for his first spring start. That's how it rolls. This post is about nothing scientific. It is about being a fan. What follows is a list of each team and the players on each team that will hold the most interest in box score watching in 2012.

  • Atlanta Braves - Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, Tyler Pastornicky and Tommy Hanson. There is real hope that Jones has one more good year to cap his HOF career. Heyward was one of the most exciting prospects in the game. And then last year he wasn't. This year? We'll see. Pastornicky seems like such a risk that he merits the car accident rubberneck. 
  • Arizona Diamondbacks - Ian Kennedy, Craig Breslow, Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt. You'll notice a lot of ex-Yankees on this list. They are like family and no matter where they go, they are followed. Breslow is Josh Borenstein's fault. Goldschmidt captured the imagination last year and Upton is one of the most exciting players in the game.
  • Baltimore Orioles - J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds and Matt Wieters. Hardy has drawn interest after two teams gave up on what seemed to be a very good player. The Orioles benefit from their stupidity. Reynolds is the car wreck rubberneck ("How many times did he strikeout today?"). Wieters has come a long way. How much better will he be?
  • Boston Red Sox - Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Daniel Bard and Mark Melancon. Melancon: former Yankee. Ellsbury: Is he really that good!? David Ortiz is larger than life. And of course, Bard draws interest because of his arm and converting that arm to the rotation.
  • Chicago Cubs - Alfonso Soriano, Bryan LaHair and Carlos Marmol. Soriano: former Yankee. LaHair is one of those career minor league, finally getting his chance guys you have to root for. Marmol is like no other relief pitcher in baseball. He is the Mitch Williams of this generation.
  • Chicago White Sox - Phil Humber, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn. Humber is the LaHair of pitchers. Former number one pick for the Mets. Cast off and re-found by the White Sox. Sale is like Bard and trying to become a starter. Peavy is the comeback hope we all root for. And Dunn's 2011 season has to provoke interest in how he'll do in 2012.
  • Cincinnati Reds - Joey Votto, Zack Cozart, Mat Latos and Mike Leake. Nobody believed in Leake and darned if he just keeps succeeding anyway. Latos is the big arm on a new team. Cozart is the experiment and Votto is the best player in baseball today.
  • Cleveland Indians - Shelley Duncan, Shin-Soo Choo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson. Duncan is a former Yankee, Choo is a comeback candidate. Ubaldo's name and fastball captures the imagination. And Masterson can be a great pitcher.
  • Colorado Rockies - Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Jeremy Guthrie. Helton is the old pro that brings to mind Don Mattingly. Does he have anything left to offer? Tulowitzki is the best shortstop to come along since Ripkin. How will Guthrie fare away from the Orioles?
  • Detroit Tigers - Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. Verlander of course. Fister was the key to last year's Tiger success. Did anyone know he was this good? How will Prince do in Detroit?
  • Miami Marlins - Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Johnson. Stanton, whatever his name is, is that power hitter to make you drool. Reyes can be the most exciting player in the game. Can Ramirez make it at third and get back his mojo? And of course, JJ is the stud pitcher who can't stay healthy.
  • Houston Astros - Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Altuve and Brian Bogusevic. Just love to say, "Wandy!" It is obligatory to root for short guys like Altuve. And there is no explanation for Bogusevic. Just like the name.
  • Kansas City Royals - Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Bruce Chen. Chen is that blue collar guy who succeeds despite his stuff. Hosmer is the prospect stud and Alex Gordon was Hosmer before there was a Hosmer.
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in southern California on the west coast of America in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth - Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo and Chris Iannetta. Been a fan of Iannetta for a long time. Wilson and Pujols because of their big free agent deals and Trumbo because it's fun to say, "Look at dem ears!"
  • Los Angeles Dodgers - Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Can Kemp top last year? How exciting would that be? Kershaw was amazing in 2011. Can he stay that good? And of course, Don Mattingly, except he doesn't play any more.
  • Milwaukee Brewers - Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Nyjer Morgan and Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy is a lot better than people think. Morgan is crazy and it's fun to see what he will do next and all of the Brewers' pitchers are just as much fun for their hitting as for their pitching.
  • Minnesota Twins - Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Carl Pavano. Pavano for the Yankee angle. Mauer because so few great catchers in history have faced more criticism and Morneau for the comeback hope.
  • New York Mets - Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese and Ike Davis. Davis is again Josh Borenstein's fault. Niese is vastly underrated. And wouldn't it be great if Santana could be an effective pitcher again?
  • New York Yankees - The entire team. That's just the way it is.
  • Oakland Athletics - Yeonis Cespedes, Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon. Colon for the Yankee angle. McCarthy has become a favorite Twitter athlete and nobody knows what Cespedes will do.
  • Philadelphia Phillies - John Mayberry, Roy Halladay, Jim Thome and Jonathan Papelbon. Any son of a former player you also watched becomes interesting. Halladay is simply amazing. Thome will give us one last look at his greatness and it will be interesting to see how Papelbon does.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates - Andrew McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Pedro Alvarez and Erik Bedard. McCutchen is such an exciting player. Karstens is a former Yankee. Alvarez was the next big thing that hasn't been yet and Bedard has worked really hard to overcome big health obstacles.
  • San Diego Padres - Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin. Has Maybin really arrived after all these years? Luebke and Stauffer are two underrated pitching stars and Alonso gets his first real crack at stardom.
  • San Francisco Giants - Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner might be this Fan's favorite young pitcher. Come on, Giants, play Belt already. Really rooting for a big year for Posey.
  • St. Louis Cardinals - Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright. Allen Craig would be on the list if he wasn't hurt. Berkman was the best story of 2011. Can he follow it up? Beltran is the best center fielder of this generation. Does he have anything left? Wainwright is a great, great pitcher. Can he come back from his surgery?
  • Seattle Mariners - Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, Ichiro and Dustin Ackley. Montero? Sigh. Noesi is a former Yankee. Can Ichiro bounce back? Dustin Ackley is the bomb.
  • Tampa Bay Rays - David Price, Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce. Thought Brignac was a great shortstop two years ago. Don't want to admit being wrong. Joyce has one sweet swing and David Price is simply a personal favorite.
  • Texas Rangers - Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Hamilton intrigues and scares at the same time. Rooting for him, Kinsler is one of the best unsung players in the game. Darvish is the great unknown and Holland is a great pitcher waiting to bust out.
  • Toronto Blue Jays - Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus and Brandon Morrow. Morrow is going to bust out one of these years. Did Bautista hit one today? And as for Rasmus, the desire here is for him to prove all the naysayers wrong.
  • Washington Nationals - Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Well, duh about Strasburg. Will Harper get his chance? And really rooting for Werth to have a bounce back season to get rid of some of those who mock his contract.
That's the list. These will be the names looked for before all others in the box scores. Heck, there is no great meaning in this post. It's just a fan being a Fan.

McCutchen Great Deal for Pirates

Andrew McCutchen's contract extension by the Pittsburgh Pirates is welcome news to a beleaguered fan base. Now the young center fielder just needs some help from his teammates. McCutchen is just entering his twenty-fifth year on earth and has become the focal point of the Pirates franchise. In recent years, the Pirates have jettisoned their best young players when they became mildly expensive. This news certainly signals a change in the right direction. And judging by his growth as a player, the team got a steal.

Andrew McCutchen's play in 2011 was valued at $25.5 million according to And we still haven't seen the best of McCutchen by a long shot. He improved his play in center and garnered positive metrics for his defense for the first time in his career. He is only going to get better. McCutchen is also improving his power numbers. His ISO was the highest of his career and included 23 homers, seven more than his previous high. The extra power came at a price as his strikeout rate also increased and his 7.9 percent swing and miss rate was the highest of his career. McCutchen has always had good plate discipline and there is no reason to believe that he can continue to improve his power numbers while getting his strikeout rate back to previous levels.

The problem is that McCutchen needs to get some help from his teammates. Besides McCutchen, only Neil Walker produced a WAR higher than 1.9 (Walker finished with 3.0 WAR). With an exception nod to Walker, McCutchen has been an offensive island in the last three seasons. According to, the Pirates accumulated a grand total of 8.2 WAR last season. This was the fifth lowest in all of baseball ahead of only the Twins, Rockies, Mariners and Athletics. McCutchen accounted for 67 percent of his team's position player value. But this is actually an improvement. In 2010, the Pirates shockingly had a WAR value of -3.9. This was despite McCutchen's 4.0 WAR valuation. 

The extension earns McCutchen a bump in pay in 2012, his last pre-arbitration year, but likely will cost him money and save the Pirates money once he hit his arbitration years starting in 2013. And now, the Pirates have the stability in knowing that McCutchen won't walk away in 2016 when he is eligible for free agency. The first two years of that status are now covered, three years if you include the 2017 option. The deal ensures that McCutchen's peak years will be as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

This is a great day for Pirate fans and a great day for baseball in general. Andrew McCutchen will be the core the Pirates build upon. All the Pirates need right now is to get the young man some help.