Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Kansas City Royals

Do I have to? Do we have to preview this team? I toyed with the idea of just putting a title at the top and then leaving a blank space beneath it :-) In all seriousness though, we're doing all 30 teams and the Royals, at this point in the season, have the same record as everyone else. Plus, I'm sure we want to hear who the up-and-comers are on the Royals because then we'll know who's going to be available in lop-sided trades over the next few years! Zing!!

2009 Record: 65-97, 21.5 GB the Minnesota Twins, Last Place, AL Central

Key Departures:
The Royals pretty much lost their entire starting lineup in the off season and yes that's an overstatement, but they lost quite a few of their more recognizable names. Here's a list (and how they left): Miguel Olivo C (free agent, signed with Rockies), Coco Crisp CF (free agent, signed with Athletics), Mike Jacobs DH (non-tendered, signed minor league contract with Mets), John Buck C (non-tendered, signed with Blue Jays), Mark Teahen 1B/OF (traded to White Sox), Jamey Wright RP (free agent, signed minor league contract with Indians)

Key Additions:
The Royals seem to have a penchant for snatching up the players that the White Sox no longer want. This off-season is a perfect example.

Brian Anderson OF - (free agent from the Red Sox, former White Sox player) It would be interesting to see what this guy could do if he was able to start for an entire season. His batting line so far in the majors has been a brutal .227/.290/.370, but he's never really had a solid gig, save for one year with the White Sox where he had 450+ ABs. With the lack of punch that BA has showed at the plate, it wouldn't be surprising if he was a bench player in KC too.

Rick Ankiel OF - (free agent from the Cardinals) I was trying to find a video of some of Ankiel's wilder pitches back from his pitching days, but I couldn't find any on YouTube. I don't know what to think about this guy, part of me thinks he's done, but the other side says "hey, if he can make the switch from pitcher to outfielder, I can't count this guy out." We'll see, I'm guessing he'll start for the Royals so he should at least get the chance to make an impact.

Jason Kendall C - (free agent from the Brewers) As far as shrewd moves go, I think this one was pretty good. Every team knows what they're getting from Kendall as far as a bat goes, he's not very good and has a long track-record of not being very good. However, with a young and malleable pitching staff, Kendall could have a HUGE impact, especially for a couple of the pitchers who have talent, but have lacked consistency (i.e. Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar).

Other additions include: Chris Getz 2B (trade with the White Sox), Scott Podsednik LF (free agent from White Sox), Josh Fields 3B (trade with the White Sox)

Talent En Route:
At least according to Baseball Propectus, the Royals don't have a single 5-star prospect in their system as of now. The highest ranking of any Royals' prospect on the newly-release Top 100 list by Baseball America is #39. The reality for the Royals is that a lot of their farm talent has been forced to the big-league club far too early leaving them shallow in the minor leagues. All that said, let's take a look at two players who deserve mention.

Mike Montgomery (LHP) - 1st round pick in the 2008 draft, Mike has yet to crack Double-A in two MiL seasons. Last year he pitched in 12 games for Low-A and 9 games for High-A with strong showings at both stops. According to BP Mike's "combination of size, stuff, command, and left-handedness is a truly rare commodity." His fastball is low 90's and it complimented by a power curve and changeup and oh, did I mention he's a lefty and the Royals don't have a single lefty in their current starting rotation? It would be a shame to see this guy rushed along, but I would bet it's not long before we see this guy getting his first shot.

Aaron Crow (RHP) - 1st round pick, 2009 draft - Crow was a holdout from the 2008 draft, opting to play in the Independent League, and was actually drafted three spots lower the following year. As of now, Crow has been assigned to Double-A and is expected to rise through the system quickly. He's 23 years old and has a Randy Johnson-esque frame, featuring a fastball in the mid-90s. It's unclear whether he'll be a starter or reliever, though he was a starter in college with Missouri. I guess I don't see the Royals being desperate for yet another right-handed starter so it may be another year before we see Crow break into the Majors.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
To be honest, the only players on the Royals squad that anyone would be interested in are: Zack Grienke, Gil Meche and Alex Gordon. Grienke is signed through 2012, Meche through 2011 and Gordon is still under the terms of his initial deal meaning that he has 3 more years of arbitration to look forward to. Jose Guillen will be a free agent next year, but with 13 years under his belt, I doubt the sweepstakes will be that vigorous. Surprisingly the Royals were 15th in baseball last year with an $81M payroll. Then I read that they re-upped with their GM, Dayton Moore. Maybe we'll see a change in strategy here, a departure from 25 years of losing baseball, but as with anything involving the Royals, it remains to be seen.

The Future of the Royals:
Oh boy. Ok, check this out. In the last 8 years, the Royals have lost over 100 games 4 times. They have not made a playoff appearance since 1985. They have not finished higher than 3rd in the division in 15 years and that was in the strike-shortened year, so really it's been 20 years. The Royals have had ONE SEASON above .500 in the past 16 years. This team, along with the Pirates and Nationals, has defined mediocrity for the last quarter of a century. To say I have any optimism about this team would be ridiculous. Their management and ownership has shown that they know nothing about how to run a baseball team and their ineptitude is historic. If you don't feel like reading that short article linked there, and who would blame you, it basically says that the Royals just finished one of the worst 10-years stretches we have ever seen a single club have in the history of baseball. If  you want to read things from a Royals fan's perspective, check out this blog.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a Reminder

Baseball is coming.  Won't be too long now...

2010 Year in Preview: NL Central Wrapup

Well, I just completed a writeup of the NL Central 2010 Year in Preview, clicked “Publish” and watched it disappear.  How frustrating.  Of course, no reader cares.  They just want to see the writeup.  I don’t blame you.  Here is a reconstituted, recreated, better-than-ever 2010 Year In Preview: NL Central.

Top Prospect: Aroldis Chapman.  We've covered him in detail time and again, most recently in my 2010 Year In Preview: Cincinnati Reds.  Chapman has already thrown a bullpen in the Reds Spring Training camp, and the video I saw looked exactly the same as the other video I’ve seen of him throwing.  His mechanics are still very raw, but apparently he was hitting 97 mph.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s worth passing along.  Three questions about Aroldis in 2010: 
1.  Where will he start the year? My money is on Double A. I don’t think there’s any chance that he starts higher than that.  He needs time to mature and work on his secondary offerings. 
2. When will Cincinnati call him up?  Since the Reds signed Chapman to a ML deal, I don’t believe there is any financial incentive towards keeping him in the Minors and limit his service time.  Thus, you have to think that the Reds will call him up when he is ready, and there is a need for him on the Major League Roster.  Given what the back end of their rotation looks like, I’m going to wager a very aggressive guess and say July 1st. 
3. What will be the round that some idiot in your fantasy baseball league (over)drafts Chapman this year?  Depends on your league.  If you are in a pitching-heavy keeper league, then you might see Chapman go early.  If you’re in a standard, non-keeper league, then you might not see him drafted at all.  My league is more pitching-heavy, and it is a keeper league, so I’m expecting some idiot, perhaps AK, to draft Chapman in the 15th round.  Really looking forward to it. 

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Projected Standings
It's almost embarassing to reference PECOTA at this point.  Between the time that I write this and the time that you read this, PECOTA will have predicted the Yankees to win the division, changed it to the Red Sox, switched it to the Rays, then back to the Red Sox, then projected a three-way tie between the three.  Get it together, PECOTA!

St. Louis Cardinals - 89-73. 744 RS, 670 RA. .269/.343/.426. 
Chicago Cubs - 80-82. 734 RS, 746 RA. .269/.343/.423.
Cincinnati Reds - 77-85. 713 RS, 753 RA. .259/.334/.421
Houston Astros - 77-85. 712 RS, 755 RA. .269/.332/.418
Milwaukee Brewers - 77-85. 765 RS, 803 RA. .264/.339/.443
Pittsburgh Pirates - 72-90. 693 RS, 800 RA. .259/.330/.411. 

PECOTA likes the Cards to win the division in 2010 by virtue of the second-best offense and the best pitching/defense in the division. I have no problem with that, but if Wainwright or Carpenter get hurt, then their ability to hold down the RA is going to be greatly compromised.  

Interestingly, PECOTA sees the Cards as being the only team with an above-.500 record.  In second place we see the Cubs.  The projection is decidedly mediocre.  Only three games back from the Cubs there is a three-way tie between Cincy, Houston and the Brewers.  PECOTA sees Cincy and Houston as almost identical.  There are obvious similarities between the Reds and the Astros, in that their offenses are weak and are supported by a few standout players, and that their pitching staffs both have consistent veterans and high-upside guys, but I'll take the Reds over the Astros in 2010 any day.  I think the upside is far greater. The Brewers show that there's more than one way to skin a cat, and PECOTA likes them to bash their way to victory in 2010.  Unfortunately, their pitching after Gallardo and Wolf looks to be a decided liability. 

In last place, we see the Pirates.  Poor Pittsburgh.  One day your prince will come. 

As we complete our division previews, I want to look back and see which teams have the best and worst ranked offenses and pitching staffs.  We've completed the NL Central and the AL West. You may notice that some of the RS and RA are different from what I listed in the AL West Preview. This is because PECOTA has adjusted itself from the time I published the Preview.  I will always be using the most recent iteration. 

Best Offense: Texas Rangers, 840 RS. 2nd: Angels, 780. 3rd: Brewers, 765. 

The Rangers are looking to have an absolutely monster offense, going .280/.351/.468.  That's a team OPS of over .800.  I'm not surprised to see the Brewers on this list, but I am very surprised to see the Angels projected to score so many runs.  

Best Pitching/Defense: St. Louis Cardinals, 670 RA. 2nd: Seattle, 713. 3rd: Oakland, 736. 
It's an odd group.  Cardinals' run prevention ability comes primarily from their great pitching, headed by Wainwright and Carpenter.  Seattle's run prevention will come from a great 1-2 pitching punch in Felix and Lee, and also in spectacular defense.  Oakland doesn't have a 1-2 punch like either St. Louis or Seattle, and they don't have good defense either.  But they do have a bevy of above-average pitchers, and this depth may be the key to a good season RA total. 

Worst Offense: Pittsburgh, 693 RS.  2nd: Houston, 712. 3rd: Cincy, 713. 
I'm a little surprised that neither Oakland nor Seattle made this list, but it could be the value of the DH. 

Worst Pitching: LA Angels, 835 RA (wow!). 2nd: Brewers, 800.  3rd: Pirates, 800.  
I am shocked, but happy, to see that the Angels have such an astronomically high RA.  When I did the 2010 Year in Preview, they were projected to allow 775 runs.  I have no idea what caused the increase, but I'll take it! 

In Which AK and (sic) Make Foolhardy, Ridiculous and Sure-To-Be-Wrong Predictions

AK, you have the floor...

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) - With a healthy Wainwright/Carpenter duo coming back and the likes of Holliday and Pujols in the lineup, it's hard to bet against the Cards. If one of them were to get hurt, it would certainly change the outlook, but this is a pretty weak division and the Cardinals should have no problems wrapping this up early.

Chicago Cubs (83-79) - The only reason I am putting the Cubs second is because I didn't know who to choose between the Cubs, Brewers and Astros. The Cubs could contend if Ted Lilly doesn't miss too much time and pitches well upon return, but as it stands, their #1 and #2 is Zambrano and Dempster and that's just not going to cut it. Plus, on the field, this team is starting to look old.

Milwaukee Brewers (81-81) - As I wrote in my analysis of the Brewers, the starting rotation is brutal. You have Gallardo and then 4 back-end starters. The only thing that can save this team is offense and I fear that they will not have enough. In two years I see Fielder gone and Braun demanding a trade...

Houston Astros (80-82) - I could be way off about the Astros, Oswalt is Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez could return to early-2009 form and Brett Myers is in a new place with reason to impress. The offense will be decent and if the pitching follows, the Astros will be better than I am projecting them at.

Cincinnati Reds (76-86) - As (sic) pointed out to me, I've got no love for the Reds. There are too many 'ifs' here for me, if everything goes right they're contenders, but if not, no dice and, thankfully for Reds fans, they'll probably get a new manager out of it.

Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92) - A bunch of moves, all smoke, this team will likely be out of it by the all-star break, if not sooner.

(sic)'s note: I'm willing to wait a year on the Reds breaking out if it means no more Dusty.  

I hate you Dusty. 

My turn: 

St. Louis Cardinals - 86-76
Cincinnati Reds - 80-82
Milwaukee Brewers - 80-82
Chicago Cubs - 78-84
Houston Astros - 75-87
Pittsburgh Pirates - 69-93

True to form, I like the Reds as the 2010 NL Central sleeper.  I don't think they'll have enough to win the Wild Card, unfortunately, but they ought to set themselves up nicely for a run in 2011 when Chapman and Volquez are ready to go full season. I'm slightly more optimistic on the Brewers than PECOTA, simply on the strength of their offense.  Cubs fans, I think this is the year the team falls off a cliff.  It is the worst team in several years, and I think this losing season will usher in three to four years of playoff-less baseball on the North Side.  Sorry.  

My final thought concerns the Cardinals. I like St. Louis to win the war of attrition this year in the NL Central.  It's no surprise, really.  They have the best team, and they should win easily.  The only thing that concerns me is the health of Carpenter and Wainwright.  Since we've been making blind, bold predictions all offseason, I'll go out on a limb and say that one of them will spend significant time on the DL this year, and I think it will be Wainwright. 

Will this be the year that Wainwright is killed on the mound in a horrific pitching mechanics accident?  Probably not, no.  BUT MAYBE. If that doesn't happen, look for him to spend some time on the shelf with shoulder tendinitis.  

That's all for the NL Central.  Be sure to bookmark this so you can come back and taunt us in the comments when the Pirates win it all.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marshall's Mechanics

Back in December, I published a piece called "How not to throw a baseball", which concerned Yankees' prospect Brett Marshall.  Marshall had TJ surgery last year, and I noted that a gif of him throwing in high school displayed awful mechanics.  Chief amongst my concerns was that Marshall didn't have his forearm vertical at footstrike. This means that when a pitcher's lead foot plants, his arm is supposed to be cocked and vertical, pointing up.  If it is "late", and is horizontal or even pointing down (a la BJ Ryan and Yankees RHP David Robertson, sadly), then you place stress on the elbow ligaments and seemingly increase your risk for rupturing those ligaments and needing Tommy John surgery.  For reference, here is the gif again:


Yankees blog NoMaas published an interview with Brett Marshall on Thursday.  Check out this exchange midway through the interview:

GW: Are you planning on changing your mechanics at all due to the injury?
BM: I’ve been working on my mechanics since pitching instructs, since day one basically. I think [my mechanics] hurt me from throwing so much in high school. I played every position there was and never really gave my arm a break. I just had bad mechanics back then. I look at them now and they were not good at all. I’d mainly leave my arm behind and have to catch it up which puts a lot of stress on the elbow.
Emphasis mine.  Marshall is spot-on.  This was exactly my concern, and it is good to see that Marshall will attempt to rectify the problem upon his return.  I'd be interested to know whether this was something that Marshall realized on his own or had explained to him by Yankee staff.  I'm guessing it is the latter, which is encouraging.  Of course, it will remain to be seen if Marshall can recover from TJ, and if his revised mechanics will mean a loss of effectiveness.  One always has to wonder if the risky mechanics a pitcher employs are the reason that the pitcher is able to garner the velocity he needs to be successful, and whether he will still be able to pitch at the same level if he alters them. 

If you have a chance, make sure to check out the interview.  It's an interesting read, especially the parts in which he discusses how the Yankees modified his repetoire. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

I remember a day, some years ago now, when the Brewers were the nemesis of the Twins, and a guy by the name of Dave Nilsson used to give us fits. The Brewers were part of the AL Central for 4 seasons between 1994 and 1997 and even though both teams sucked at the time, the Twins and Brewers had a healthy rivalry going. Then baseball decided to move the Brewers to the National League, a move I'm still convinced was motivated by personal reasons on the part of Bud Selig. In some ways I feel bad for the Brewers, they are often out of it come September, they have never won a World Series and over the last few years, despite a power hitting line-up, they have been unable to compliment that with a good pitching staff. This year...doesn't look much better.

2009 Record: 80-82, 11GB the St. Louis Cardinals, 3rd Place NL Central

Key Departures:
The two big names to leave the Brewers this past off-season were Mike Cameron OF and J.J. Hardy SS, Cameron through free-agency to the Red Sox and Hardy via trade with the Twins. These two losses have the potential to throw off the Brewer lineup somewhat, but defensively their replacements are solid. Cameron's replacement will be Carlos Gomez and Hardy's replacement will be Alcides Escobar (most likely). Gomez has really struggled at the plate since breaking into the Majors and Escobar, despite his status as a 5-star prospect with the Brewers, has only played 38 big league games up to this point.

Key Additions:
Randy Wolf (SP) - free agent from the Dodgers; Wolf had a nice season last year for the Dodgers starting 34 games with a 3.23ERA and 1.10WHIP but at 32, I don't see Wolf being able to repeat that too many more times, if any. In terms of his career, it was the first season in 8 that he pitched over 200 innings and both his ERA and WHIP were significantly under his career averages. He'll definitely be a nice 2-hole starter behind Gallardo, but don't expect big things.

Doug Davis (SP) - free agent from the Diamondbacks; here's what tells you that the Brewers pitching staff is going to struggle this year...Davis is projected to be the Brewers 3rd starter. Don't get me wrong, Davis is not terrible, but he's a 5th starter, not a 3rd. He eats up innings, but aside from Gallardo, the Brewers have 4 pitchers with underwhelming SO/9 numbers and low velocities. With a 1.49+ career WHIP, Davis is a guy who pitches to contact which is going to put a lot of pressure on the defense.

Carlos Gomez (CF) - Personally I thought the Twins gave up on Gomez a little too early. At 23 years old, Gomez has a lot of baseball left to play and given that he was pretty much the cornerstone of the Santana trade, I thought the Twins rid themselves of him before giving him a legitimate shot. That said, Gomez was REALLY struggling at the plate and the Twins had a big need at SS, so the Hardy trade was a good one. Gomez provides great defense and a lot of energy, but if he doesn't improve at the bat, he'll continue to be only marginally useful.

The rest of the Brewers additions are probably 'B' players. They lost Jason Kendall C in the off-season (free agent to the Royals) so they added Gregg Zaun from the Rays and George Kottaras from the Red Sox. The rest of their additions were the following: Joe Inglett UT, Luis Cruz SS, Marco Estrada RP, Jim Edmonds OF, Scott Schoeneweis RP, Chuck Lofgren Rule 5.

Talent En Route:
I talked about Alcides Escobar who looks like he will be the everyday SS for the Brewers this season barring something unforeseen. Escobar hit well in 38 games last year with a triple-slash of .304/.333/.368. There's an obvious lack of power there, which is one of the knocks against Escobar, but he certainly hits well enough to stay in a lineup and his defense is solid. There are two others who deserve mention in the Brewer farm-system.

Brett Lawrie 2B - drafted by the Brewers in the 1st round in 2008, Lawrie has made it as high as Double-A and he's still only 19 years old. Lawrie started out as a Catcher but requested a move to 2B, but according to Baseball Prospectus, his defense is lacking at 2B, so a move to the outfield might be next. Lawrie has a plus bat with some decent power, but the major leagues is probably another 2-3 years away for this kid.

Mat Gamel 3B - Gamel reminds me of Carols Gomez. Gamel came over in the C.C. Sabathia trade and was absolutely mashing in the minors, only to fizzle offensively in his first big league shot. The Brewers tried to trade him this off season but didn't receive any solid offers for him and it's likely Gamel will start this season back at Triple-A. I hope the Brewers hang onto this kid and give him another shot because I like his potential a lot. Dude's only 23 and look at those MiL stats!!

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
The Brewers enter this season with the 17th highest payroll in baseball, which is another way of saying they have the 14th lowest payroll in baseball, which is yet another way of saying they are right in the middle in terms of salary with an $80M payroll. The most interesting player to watch next off season will be Prince Fielder because he will be entering his final year of arbitration and the Brewers, if they aren't competitive this year, might be tempted try to trade Fielder. I tend to think the Brewers will try to hang onto Fielder and build a team around him and Braun, but I've grown up with cheap-ness all my life, so a trade would not surprise me. Aside from Fielder, the Brewers are not set to have any big names come up for free agency over the next two years and to be honest, given that their payroll is hovering around $80M, they are in a good position to spend some money over the next few years.

The Future of the Brewers:
My crystal ball is in the repair shop today so I'm gonna have to take a wild guess about the Brewers. It's really hard to say about the Brewers long-term future. On the one hand, they have two outstanding players who they could build this team around in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. On the other hand, they have so many holes to fill it's hard to see them being able to build quickly around Braun and Fielder without spending a lot of money, something that this management may not be willing to do. Like I mentioned in the Salary Outlook section, this team is set up to be able to spend some money, but they also have to think about the cost of locking up Fielder long-term. This team's real shot was two years ago when they had C.C. Sabathia, but they ultimately didn't have enough pieces to do anything. I imagine they'll continue to tread water in a relatively deep division and unless their management gets bold, they'll have an occasional post-season appearance, but no sustained success.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

So I've been doing a pretty terrible job of posting here as of late, but I'm back. Here goes...

The Cardinals of the past decade are no strangers to winning; they’ve captured the NL Central crown 7 out of the past 10 years (with the Cubs taking the other three), although not always by the most impressive of margins (see: their World Series season of 2006, where they snuck into the playoffs at 83-77 in a pretty weak division, although as a Twins fan, can I really criticize that?). The 2009 squad kept that tradition alive, taking another division crown. Featuring a lineup highlighted by the best hitter in baseball and a solid rotation led by two of last year's top Cy Young contenders, are there enough other pieces in place to continue the run of dominance? My guess is yes in the short term, but more as a result of the rest of the division either getting worse or staying put (any Cubs fans out there?) rather than significant improvement on the part of St. Louis. But hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

2009 Season: 91-71; NL Central division champions, swept in NLDS by Los Angeles

Key Departures:
Joel Pineiro (RHP) – I won’t spend a whole lot of time looking at Pineiro here as we already looked at him as an addition to the Angels’ rotation, but he definitely posted career numbers last season in what was a career season for Cards’ pitchers in general. If Carpenter and Wainwright stay healthy and Pineiro regresses even slightly toward his career averages (which he almost certainly will), they shouldn’t miss him all that much, although he is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

Todd Wellemeyer (RHP) – Wellemeyer got the most starts from the fifth rotation spot last season, posting a 5.31 FIP. Not a huge loss.

Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel (anywhere on the field/3B/OF) – As I’m trying to keep this from rambling on forever, I’ll look at this trio of veterans as a bloc. DeRosa still has some value left with the bat and can play anywhere, but wasn’t a priority for the Cardinals. Along with the loss of Glaus and Ankiel, this is going to leave open spots at 3B and in the outfield.

Key Additions:

Matt Holliday (LF) – So yeah, this isn’t a true addition as Holliday played nearly half a season with the Cards last year, but signing a 7 year, $120 million extension should warrant some discussion here. Having Holliday batting cleanup behind Pujols gives St. Louis perhaps the most fearsome 3-4 combination in the NL, and oddly enough, despite his gaffe in Game 3 of the 2009 NLDS that essentially ended the Cards’ season, he’s not as terrible in the field as you might think, having posted a 6.0 UZR/150 last year. All in all, you can’t fault them for locking up Holliday, and in terms of projected contract value, even if they didn’t get a steal it shouldn’t come back to bite them either.

Brad Penny (RHP) – Signed as a free agent from the Giants for $7 million plus incentives. Although not a horrendous over-payment, this one was a bit of a head-scratcher as Penny was far from stellar with both the Red Sox and the Giants last year. He suffered a bit from a high BABIP and his FIP was decent, in the mid 4’s. He also pitched 173 innings, and with some injury risk in both Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals are certainly hoping Penny eats some innings in the fourth rotation slot.

Rich Hill (LHP) – Hill signed a minor-league deal and will likely compete for the fifth starter position in an otherwise all right-handed rotation. He looked pretty brutal in 13 starts with the Orioles last year as evidenced by his 7.80 ERA (FIP wasn’t quite that bad, but still not good). Can pitching coach Dave Duncan work his magic with Hill? He might be a player to watch in spring training.

Talent En Route:
The Cardinals jettisoned many of their top prospects to get Holliday and DeRosa last year, and there likely aren’t a lot of impact players lurking in the farm system that could be called up in the next few years. However, there are a few players that could see playing time in 2010.

David Freese (3B) – Although only ranked the Cardinals fifth-best prospect by Baseball America, I’ll start with Freese as he has potentially the best chance of starting this season, given the departures of DeRosa and Glaus. Freese had a pretty nice year with the bat last year between Rookie, AA, and AAA, with a .313/.380/.551 line and 12 HR in 64 games, and should provide adequate defense, but I wouldn’t expect him to be a game-changer at the major league level.

Jamie Garcia (LHP) – Garcia should compete with Hill for the fifth starter job. He posted only 38 innings last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and features a sinking fastball that has induced grounders at around a 60% rate during his MiL career (interestingly, the only player in MLB last season with that high of a GB rate was Pineiro).

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
As St. Louis essentially has its core players locked up through 2011 and has no one eligible for free agency (save for Denys Reyes) after this season, the real free-agent question looming is whether or not they'll be able to retain Pujols beyond the 2011 season (assuming they exercise Pujols' no-brainer 2011 option of $16MM). Although not a perfect analogy, I would liken this to the situation the Twins find themselves in with Joe Mauer - neither Minnesota or St. Louis are large market teams, but they're potentially looking at inking one of, if not the biggest, contracts in baseball history with one of the game's premier hitters. Both deals would come at the expense of retaining other expensive players, and for the Cardinals that could be a real concern given that they would, excluding Pujols, already have options of $15MM for Carpenter, $10MM for Wainwright, and $7MM for catcher Yadier Molina, plus Holliday's and Kyle Lohse's contracts at $17MM and $12MM, respectively. ($62MM for only 5 players). Chances are good that they would feel the need to buy out Carpenter's option if they re-sign Pujols, who could command up to $30MM annually. Bottom line is that they will likely find a way to get a Pujols deal done, which means they're going to have to find some cheap, homegrown talent to fill in those other roster spots. Given the current state of their farm system, it's not looking like there's a lot of help there at the moment. Signing Holliday is perhaps a sign that they want to stay competitive long-term, but they are likely going to have to 1) find a way to replenish their stock of prospects and 2) hope that vaunted former prospects such as Colby Rasmus step up to fill the space around the sluggers in the middle of the order.

The Future of the Cardinals:
Like I stated before, while a solid team, the Cardinals' run of division dominance has been partly due to the lack of a consistent challenger. Through the next few years, they will feature one of the stronger top-to-bottom rotations in the NL, but it will be difficult to keep that rotation intact if they sign Pujols to a long-term deal. The tandem of Pujols and Holliday is indeed fearsome, but others have raised the issue that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it has almost become more important to protect your big hitter by constantly having runners on base in front of him, rather than having another slugger behind him. Particularly evident in the playoffs last year, Skip Schumaker and Rasmus weren't really ideal at doing this (Rasmus sported an OBP around .320 in the 2 hole, and as a Twins fan, I am well acquainted with this level of production at that particular lineup spot). They should have a few more years left to contend with a team similar to the one they have now, but their success beyond that will depend on how the front office deals with a pending salary crunch.

Sticking in St. Louis?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Chicago Cubs

Everyone all talks about the Cubs in terms of how many years it's been since the last World Series Championship (going on 102) or how this club is one of more futile in all of sports, but I want to change the tone of the conversation. Can you imagine, I mean think about it, can you imagine the kind of party that is going to take place when the Cubs do finally win it all again? First of all, think of Cubs fans. If you've ever been to Wrigley, which I have several times, the fans are crazy. Cubs games are not baseball games, they are parties where a baseball game happens to be going on. Left Field and Right Field are yelling at each other, beer flows like water (albeit for $7 a cup), and Cubs fans have a good time no matter what. If the Cubs win the World Series, the party will be more epic than Mardi Gras and Carnival combined...I hope I'm living here in Chicago when that happens. Anyway, let's see what their chances are this year.

2009 Record: 83-78, 7.5 GB St. Louis Cardinals, 2nd Place NL Central

Key Departures:
The Cubs lost quite a few starters from last year's squad including:
Milton Bradley RF - (traded to Mariners) I think Bradley might have been the worst person who ever played for the Cubs. For laughs, check out this video.

Jake Fox INF/OF - (traded to A's) I liked Fox's bat, but he was otherwise worthless.

Aaron Miles INF - (traded to A's, who traded him to Reds)

Rich Harden SP - (free agent, signed with Rangers) I guess I'm a little surprised the Cubs didn't try to hang on to Harden. He's a perpetual injury risk, but when he's hot, he's unstoppable.

Aaron Heilman RHP - (traded to Diamondbacks)

Kevin Gregg RHP - (free agent, signed with Blue Jays) all but locks up the closer job for Carlos Marmol. Gregg was pretty terrible anyway, he cost the Cubs several wins last year.

Reed Johnson OF - (free agent, signed with Dodgers) Fan favorite, again, I'm surprised the Cubs didn't do more to hang onto this guy, he's a great clubhouse guy and an all-out player, just seems like the Cubs could have hung onto this guy for pretty cheap.

Key Additions:
Marlon Byrd CF - (free agent from Rangers) Byrd will likely be the every-day CFer for the Cubs. Check this out though, at the bottom of every baseball-reference player page, they list "similarity scores" which is a list of 10 other players who are similar in stats. Who does baseball reference list as most similar to Marlon Byrd? Reed Johnson, that's who. Again, why not just re-sign Johnson??

Carlos Silva SP - (trade with Mariners) I've seen this story during a previous chapter, I'm not sure what the Cubs see in this guy, but he's going to be given a chance to start.

Xavier Nady OF - (free agent from Yankees) Nady will be playing in a somewhat crowded outfield for the Cubs and it's doubtful he will start. I guess a one-year, $3.3M contract is not too much, but it seems on the high side for a guy who has had two Tommy John surgeries and who really can't throw. I guess we'll see, if it works out, Jim Hendry looks like a genius.

Jeff Gray RP - (trade with Athletics) serviceable reliever with some upside, could be a good addition to the bullpen.

Talent En Route:
There are three names you need to know within the Cubs organization, two of whom are considered 5-star prospects by Baseball Prospectus.

Josh Vitters 3B - Drafted in the 1st round by the Cubs in 2007 out of high school, Vitters has performed well at the plate in A-ball and high-A and is projected to start the year at Double-A. At 20 years old, he seems the heir apparent to Aramis Ramirez, and the timing might work out perfectly is Vitters has a good season this year. Vitters has a power bat and a plus arm which makes him an ideal 3B, even if his range leaves a little to be desired.

Starlin Castro 2B - Signed out of the Dominican League in 2006, Castro has done nothing but shine, particularly at the plate, hitting .302/.340/.391 at High-A last year. According to BP, he a little on the slow-side, and his hitting splits would indicate that there's not much power there, but a .340 OBP is something any major league team would take and he could, in the future, be an Alexi Ramirez (White Sox) type player and a good 2-hole hitter.

Hak-Ju Lee SS - Signed out of Korea in 2008; looks like the Cubs may have their future infield waiting in the wings. Lee has only played in Short-Season (Rookie league) ball so far and this upcoming season will likely be his first full-season in the U.S. Last year Lee hit .330 and lead the Northwest League in Rs and SBs last year in 68 games. He's got speed, which suggests he has range, and with that bat, it'd be hard to keep him out of the lineup. It's probably going to be a few years for Lee, but this guy has some major upside, and he's only 19...

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
The Cubs are going to have a lot to do next off-season with the contracts of Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot expiring. In addition, you have to consider that for the next 5 years starting this year, Alfonso Soriano will be making $19M per year. In 2012, Fukudome's contract expires. If I'm the Cubs, I'm might look to get a bit younger and losing Lee and Lilly wouldn't be the worst thing. The Cubbie payroll this year is about $135M which is 3rd in all of baseball. The Cubs just changed ownership this off-season so we'll see if their payroll stays at that level or goes down. The core players of the team (Ramirez, Zambrano, etc) are still locked in for another couple of years so for the short-run the Cubs are in pretty good shape. I imagine they'll continue to tweak things over the next few years with little potential for a big move unless it's in the form of a trade.

The Future of the Cubs:
How can I possibly talk about the future of the Cubs? How do you get past 100+ years of losing? My guess would be this: this Cubs will win the World Series in much the same fashion that the Red Sox and White Sox did, no one was picking them to win it and then, all of a sudden, they were there. As it stands right now, the Cubs are at least set up to contend for a couple of years, and their farm system seems poised to pick up the slack when the time comes. That being said, it's hard to get excited about this team on paper. I'll put their projected lineup and rotation below, you make up your own mind.

Projected Batting Lineup:
SS Theriot
RF Fukudome
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
CF Byrd
LF Soriano
2B Fontenot
C Soto
Project Starting Rotation: (Lilly starts year on DL)

Zambrano (RHP)
Dempster (RHP)
Wells (RHP)
Silva (RHP)
Gorzelanny (LHP)

Dave Cameron said what?

Earlier today, AK hipped me to a piece by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs on ESPN. It's Insider Only, sorry. Cameron is an author for whom I have a lot of respect and admiration. Unfortunately, I found Cameron's hypothesis, supporting proof and conclusion to be unsubstantiated, and I'd like to discuss it here.

Cameron opens his piece by regaling us with the greatness of Clayton Kershaw: a K/9 over 9, a power fastball and deadly breaking ball (Public Enemy Number 1, according to Vin Scully), and a 2009 ERA that was better than Cliff Lee and Johan Santana, and Kershaw isn't even 22 yet. Seemingly because of this fact, his age, Cameron writes:

Unfortunately for Kershaw and Dodgers fans, history suggests that this may be as good as it will ever get for the young lefty. In fact, given the success he has had in the majors at such a young age, he may have already peaked.

So now we have our hypothesis: history suggests that Kershaw may have already peaked, given what we know about other young pitchers. It seems like a reasonable claim, or at least one that should be easy to support or disprove with evidence. Unfortunately, I don't see that from Cameron in his two supporting claims.

1. Pitchers "defy conventional growth curves", often peaking quickly and never recovering the effectiveness of their early age. In support of this claim, he offers this evidence:

A. Flameouts: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Rich Harden: Prior flamed out, as did Wood. Wood returned and has found a role as a closer. Harden has been inconsistent, but is not a flameout.

B. Pitchers who lose velocity: Oliver Perez, Scott Kazmir, Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum.

Let's ignore the fact that Felix and Lincecum were probably in the top 3 of all MLB SPs last year, despite a loss in velocity, and move to his next supporting claim.

2. "In the past 30 years, 11 pitchers have rang up at least 180 strikeouts in a single season when they were 22 or younger" (sic). This is an interesting supporting claim, firmly rooted in evidence, although not necessarily proof of anything. 11 pitchers is, by definition, a small sample size. Sure, there isn't a decent statistical sample size in existence, given that only a handful of pitchers have accomplished what Kershaw has accomplished at his age, but that doesn't necessarily tie Kershaw to those other names.

With a sample size of 11 names, the reason for each flameout could be entirely idiomatic and particular to each individual pitcher. For instance, Wood and Prior are widely regarded to have been overworked. By all accounts, this has not happened with Kershaw. This doesn't prove anything, one way or the other. It does show, though, that when you're dealing with tiny sample sizes anything can come up and skew your results. Dwight Gooden is another name on that list. He had a cocaine problem. Is he necessarily the best comp for Kershaw? No.

Furthermore, for some reason Cameron has decided to restrict his "search" to 1980-2009. Why would he do that? I don't know. I do know that when you open it up to 1901-2009 you get very different results.

Bob Feller, Frank Tanana, Christy Mathewson, Bert Blyleven and Don Drysdale all meet the under 22, over 180K requirement. I think it's safe to say that they didn't all peak at 22, and went on to have successful major league careers.

Now, my counter-argument doesn't prove anything. We still have a sample size problem. But it does show you that Cameron's piece is woefully insufficient and doesn't come close to painting the real picture. Is it interesting? Yes. Is it something to keep in mind if you're a Dodgers fan? Yes. Is it proof? No. The first supporting claim is abundantly weak: he throws out 7 names and expects it to speak for itself. The second supporting claim is slightly more compelling, but fails to have the necessarily statistical relevance to support Cameron's conclusion. When you widen the search, removing the arbitrary boundaries of 1980-2009, you get a slightly different picture. As such, this conclusion is entirely unwarranted:

But the reality of history shows that he's more likely to get worse than to get better, and fans counting on Kershaw to win a Cy Young or two are likely to be disappointed.

This claim, that Kershaw is "more likely" to get worse than better, just isn't supported by the evidence. I like Cameron, and I respect his work, and that's why I'm left scratching my head.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2010 Year In Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds. You are over 125 years old. You are forty years older than the Pittsburgh Steelers. You are eighty years older than the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Saints. You've been around 10 times longer than the Jacksonville Jaguars. You are an old franchise. You've been around the block. You were once the Big Red Machine. You've endured the Marge Schott era, the Black Sox scandal and the scourge that is Dusty Baker. One of the best players of all time donned your uniform, and MLB pretends like he doesn't even exist. In my day, you've meant Ken Griffey Jr, Rob Dibble, Barry Larkin and Luis Sojo. I've never hated you, and that's saying something. Will this year be your year, Cincinnati? Probably not. But you never know, and I think you have greater potential to surprise than a lot of teams realize.

2009 Record: 78-84, 13 GB the overrated St. Louis Cardinals. -50 Run Differential.

Key Departures: Jeremy Affeldt, Paul Bako, Josh Fogg.

Key Additions: Orlando Cabrera ($3M/1), Jose Arredondo, Miguel Cairo and some dude named Aroldis Chapman ($30M/6).

Talent En Route: I'd be remiss not to start with Aroldis Chapman.

You don't need me to rehearse the details on Chapman. He was the international FA signing of the offseason, a raw lefty with the ability to hit 100 mph on the gun. He has talent. No one knows what to expect from him, but BP ranks him a 5-star prospect, and says that he's bound for Double-A Carolina soon. Where he goes from there is anyone's guess. His fastball is a superb pitch; whether he has the secondary pitches necessary to become a frontline starter remains to be seen.

BP ranks Mike Leake, RHP and Todd Frazier, INF, as the Reds 4-Star Prospects. Leake is a polished, undersized righty from Arizona State and was the Reds' first round pick in 2009. He figures to shoot up the organizational ladder this year and will probably begin in High-A or Double-A. Frazier is a solid bat with no defensive home. He has spent time at second and third base, but is blocked by Phillips and Rolen in the bigs. His bat is almost major-league ready, so Goldstein notes that he may spend time the OF this year, "in order to get his bat in the big leagues as soon as possible."

The Reds also have Yonder Alonso due to start the year in Double-A. Alonso was the Reds top-2008 pick, and is friends with Alex Rodriguez, interestingly. He had an injury-filled 2009 campaign, and should develop into a solid 1B bat. The Reds already have a solid 1B bat, so Alonso may become trade bait if he is able to put together a good showing in 2010.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook: The Reds are due to go into the 2010 year with a 75M payroll. They have 40M committed already for 2011. Of that 40M, 34 of it is tied up in 4 players: Rolen (8M), Cordero (12M), Phillips (11M) and Chapman (3.7M). Aaron Harang has a club option of 12.75M in 2011, with a 2M buyout, and Arroyo has an 11M club option in 2011 with a 2M buyout. Additionally, Cueto, Volquez and Votto will become arbitration-eligible for the first time.

Are there any obvious targets for the Reds going into 2011 Free Agency? Honestly, it all depends on how the team performs in 2010.

The Future of the Reds: The Reds are one of the most intriguing teams going into 2010, and I won't be surprised to see them get pre-season hype as a sleeper. Let's break down why:

Rotation: Their rotation has decent depth with Harang, Arroyo, Cueto and Bailey. Harang and Arroyo are going to provide quality innings, and both Cueto and Bailey have decent upside. It's also possible that the Reds could get decent mid-season boosts from either Edinson Volquez, who is recovering from TJ surgery, or Aroldis Chapman, or both. Best case scenario: Harang and Arroyo do what they've always done, Cueto has a bounceback year and pitches to his talent, and one of Volquez, Bailey or Chapman is able to give Cincy decent innings. If that happens, the Reds could have the best rotation in the NL Central, save maybe St. Louis. Realistic? No. But there is tons of upside in Cincy's rotation.

Infield: The signing of Orlando Cabrera to play SS provides them with decent pop in what has been a black hole for Cincinnati. The Reds will also be looking for solid contribution from Rolen, Votto and Phillips. PECOTA loves Votto this year; not so much Rolen. Best case scenario: Rolen stays healthy and combines with Cabrera to provide above-replacement-level offense and decent defense, and Phillips and Votto mash as usual. Realistic? Maybe not so much on Rolen, but there's reason to be optimistic on the other three.

Outfield: The Reds will be looking at an OF of Dickerson, Stubbs and Jay Bruce. I thought the Reds might make a play for Johnny Damon to play LF, but apparently they weren't interested. I'm not sold on Dickerson, and the Reds are betting heavily on Jay Bruce to bounce back in 2010. Best case scenario: Bruce bounces back, Stubbs and Dickerson give tolerable offensive output. Realistic? Maybe. Bruce was the victim of a very low BABIP before getting injured, and he was the best prospect in baseball not long ago.

There are enough pieces in Cincinnati for me to designate them my 2010 sleeper. Of course, virtually everything has to go right - Harang, Arroyo and Cueto must stay healthy, Bailey and Bruce have to take another step forward, Volquez needs to regain 2008 form, and it would be nice if Chapman was ready for the Bigs by September. The Reds might still be a year away, though. If they fall out of contention by the trade deadline, I wonder if they might try to move Cordero, Harang or Arroyo, or even Phillips to make room for Frazier. If they could get another cheap OF bat, or clear salary in preparation for a FA signing, they might be better prepared for 2011.

Cincinnati Reds. Don't sleep on them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 10 MLB Salaries for 2009

I read an article this morning over at that Mark Mulder was retiring and saw that they casually mentioned that he had made $33M over the course of his career. Anyway, I got to thinking, "I wonder what the top 10 MLB baseball salaries were for 2009?" What I found was interesting, the Top 5 are usual suspects, but there are some surprises towards the bottom.

1.) A-Rod - $33M
No big surprise here, despite missing a month of last season, I'd say A-Rod earned his keep propelling the Yankees to their 27th World Championship.

2.) Manny Ramirez - $24M
OVER-RATED. (Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap) OVER-RATED.

3.) Derek Jeter - $21.6M
It will be interesting to see what kind of money Jeter gets when he's a free-agent next year.

4.) Mark Teixeira - $20.6M
All I have to say is, "damn, the Yankee payroll is massive." They have 3 of the top 4 highest paid baseball players. Teixeira deserves this salary, he may walk around like he has a stick up his ass but the dude can play.

5.) Carlos Beltran - $19.2M
Beltran missed 2 1/2 months of last season, now comes news that he had surgery again and will miss the first part of this coming season. When he's healthy, he's good, but lately he's been hurt way too much.

6.) Carlos Lee - $19M
Lee is one of the most underrated players in MLB in my opinion. His 162 game average is 93R, 30HRs, 109RBIs and a .291/.344/.503 triple-slash. If he was playing anywhere other than Houston, he'd be a superstar.

7.) Magglio Ordonez - $19M

Like I said, there are surprises. I know Mags used to be good and was rewarded with a lengthy contract which he is now towards the end of...but $19M for what he is now?? The Tigers have to be kicking themselves.

8.) Johan Santana - $18.9M
It's yet to be seen how elbow surgery will affect Santana, but I'm guessing he's still got plenty left and will be strong again this year. Oh, and worth $18.9M for sure.

9.) Carlos Zambrano - $18.75M
Is there a more over-paid player in MLB? If reports are true that Zambrano has indeed lost some weight, he may be a new man this year, but the old Zambrano is wildly inconsistent and generally a hot-head, and not worth $18M a year.

10.) Barry Zito - $18.5M
Ok, together now, let's all have a hearty laugh at the misfortune of the Giants. To fully appreciate the EPIC FAIL that this is, please go here: Barry Zito

Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

I was reading articles in preparation for writing this and one of them started off by saying, "well, it's been a tough 17 years for the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates." Geez, I'll say. How bad has it been? It's been bad; the Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992. That '92 season was the last time the Pirates made the post-season (obviously) and for 23 out of the last 30 seasons, the Pirates have fielded a below-.500 club. Add to that 3 consecutive NLCS losses in the early '90s and you've got a truly pathetic franchise. Will it turn around this season?

2009 Season: 62-99; 28.5 GB the St. Louis Cardinals; last place, NL Central

Key Departures:
For a team the routinely trades away the talent they develop, often mid-season, the Pirates had a pretty quiet off-season, but managed to lose Matt Capps, their fairly consistent closer who signed as a free-agent with the Nationals. They also lost Jesse Chavez (RHP) and Phil Dumatrait (LHP), neither of whom were very good.

Key Additions:
The Pirates were fairly busy adding players to their roster this off-season, including a couple of bigger names:

Bobby Crosby (INF) - free-agent from A's; Crosby, a former ROY has really not had the type of career, so far, that winning that award might have suggested. With a career .683 OPS, Bobby has struggled to stay in the lineup; add to that some suspect defense and it's no wonder that Crosby was considered "expendable" by the A's. Well see what happens, but I see more of the same from Crosby.

Akinori Iwamura (2B) - trade with the Rays; Even though Iwamura has only played 3 seasons in the League, he's 30 years old which, in some ways, limits his long-term value. The injury bug caught Iwamura last year as well, limiting him to only 69 games. Iwamura is a typical Japanese player, sporting a slap-bat and a good glove. He'll be a regular for Pirates.

Ryan Church (RF) - free-agent from the Braves; Church will be a regular as well, and will do a good job in the field, but at the bat, he's a career .272 hitter with more than twice as many strikeouts as walks. Bleacher Reports projects him as a 5-hole hitter, but staying there will likely depend on his ability to get on base.

Chris Jakubauskas (RHP) - claimed off waivers from the Mariners; I've talked about Jak in my write-up of the Mariners. Bottom-line? NOT IMPRESSIVE.

Talent En Route:
The Pirates are a lot like the Rays, A's and Twins in that they have never had trouble developing talent. Over the last several years, the Pirate farm system has produced players such as: Aramis Ramirez, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, Jason Bay, Sean Casey, Adam/Andy LaRoche, Andrew McCutchen, Nyjer Morgan, Zack Duke, Ian Snell, etc, etc, etc. What do most of those players have in common? Most of them have broken into the majors with the Pirates, done well, and then been traded. That said, it's not surprising that the Pirates have some 5-star talents up and coming.

Andrew McCutchen (CF) - This guy is hard to consider a 'prospect' given that he played in 108 games as a Pirate last year. I think it's clear that this guy has great potential. His line in those game was .286 BA, 12HRs, 54RBI, and 22SB. Add to that some gold-glove defense and you're looking at a solid player.

Pedro Alvarez (3B) - Alvarez was drafted in the 1st round by the Pirates in 2008, being considered by most to be the #1 college player at the time. Between High-A and Double-A ball last year, Alvarez hit .288 with 27 HRs and 95 RBI in 126 games. Given that type of a line and the Pirates propensity to bring up their young talent early, it would not be surprising to see Alvarez in a Pirates uniform by the end of the season.

Jose Tabata (OF) - I would be remiss if I didn't mention Tabata in a discussion of Pirate prospects. Tabata was originally drafted by the Yankees out of Venezuela in the 2004 draft. A few years later, Tabata was traded to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady deal. There have been recent questions about Tabata's true age, but Tabata (at the alleged age of 20) has seemingly turned things around with the Pirates. In 93 games between AA and AAA last year, Tabata hit .293 with 52Rs and 35RBI. With the Pirates additions this off-season, their outfield appears crowded, but a slip-up by Church could provide Tabata with an opportunity.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
To be honest, I'm gonna skip this for the Pirates because frankly, I don't care enough to look into it. The Pirates will, in all likelyhood, be the bottom-feeders of the NL Central again this year.

The Future of the Pirates:
With the Pirates, it all comes down to the front-office. Until management decides that it's time to start hanging on to the players they develop, this team will continue to lose 85-100 games a year. Where the Rays and Marlins have succeeded with the strategy of 'develop and trade', the Pirates have failed miserably. It would not surprise me in the least if this team starts to get mentioned in relocation discussions simply because of their inability to field a competitive team year-in year-out. To that end I leave you with this quote (source).

"I'm a Pirates fan for 51 years. You can't fire an owner. You've got to sell 'em first. But we can always dream." — Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick, during NBC's telecast of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Detroit Red Wings game on Jan. 31, about reports that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux had offered to buy the Pirates from Bob Nutting.

2010 Year in Preview: AL West Wrapup

AK and I have now put together a Year in Preview for the Mariners, the Athletics, the Angels of Anaheim and the Rangers. Feel free to take a look back and edumacute yourself on how these teams are going to look different in 2010. And make sure you bookmark this post, because we're about to make some sure-to-be-wrong predictions about the AL West in 2010, and it'll be fun to come back and mock us in the comments when we've been proven to be idiots. By May.

So we're going to do three things to wrap up the AL West. First, I'm going to name the guy that I consider to be the top prospect in the AL West. Second, I'm going to give you PECOTA's projected standings for the AL West. Finally, AK and I are going to make predictions for the AL West in 2010. Enjoy.

Top Prospect Neftali Feliz. Who else? We peeped this prospect back in April of 09, and he didn't disappoint in 2009. He put up a 3.49 ERA over 77.1 IP as a 21 year old in AAA. His K/9 checked in at 8.7, his WHIP was 1.280 and his K/BB ratio was a respectable 2.50. Upon getting called up to the Show, he posted a 1.74 ERA over 31 IP, striking out 11.3(!) batters per name, walking only 2.3 batters per nine, with a 0.677 WHIP. In short, dude was straight filthy. It'll be interesting to see what role the Rangers use him in in 2010, but I think it's safe to expect a very good year from Mr. Feliz.


Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Projected Standings:

Texas Rangers - 87-75 - 826 RS, 760 RA - .278/.350/.464
LA Angels - 80-82 - 767 RS, 775 RA - .272/.341/.443
Oakland Athletics - 80-82 - 726 RS, 773 RA - .263/.343/.417
Seattle Mariners - 77-85 - 713 RS, 752 RA - .272/.345/.406

This is a different projection than what I expected. For one, it has the Rangers winning the AL West handily, by 7 games. It also has the Rangers as the only team in the AL West with a winning record. But most notably is that it projects the Mariners, even with their defensive improvement and improvement in pitching, to come in last place. While their RA total is the least in the AL West, PECOTA obviously doesn't see a whole lotta runs coming the M's way.

In Which AK and I make fools of ourselves:

My predicted standings for the AL West for 2010:
Seattle Mariners - 86-76
Texas Rangers - 84-78
LA Angels - 79-83
Oakland Athletics - 71-91

I truly expect the Mariners to be a run-preventing machine. Their outfield defense could be historically good, and if Bedard can give them solid production then I think you could see the Mariners make the playoffs. I doubt that the Rangers can pull it off. I'm skeptical of their injury-prone offense, and there is a lot of risk in that pitching staff. I laid out my concerns regarding the Angels in my Year In Preview piece, and I stand by that. I don't see the Angels winning the division, and I'm skeptical about their long-term prospects. Finally, while I love Oakland more than Adam, I think the A's are one-year away from being able to make a Seattle-type leap. But they're a darkhorse, to be sure.

AK's predicted standings for the AL West for 2010:
1.) Texas Rangers - (90-72) - Here's what I envision: Josh Hamilton comes back and has another outstanding year, Guerrero regains his form and has a solid year, and some of the young guns that the Rangers have really hit their stride. I know two things, this team can score runs, and I think their pitching will improve from last year.

2.) Seattle Mariners - (88-74) - With a rotation that features Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard as your 1-2-3, you're going to be in decent shape, especially if Bedard can pitch like his old self (which he certainly has the motivation to do). Seattle's problem will likely be scoring runs, which is going to cause them to lose some games their pitching might have won them. There's no power in the lineup, just a bunch of good-OBP, speedy guys. The defense will be solid though and I see Seattle as a contender.

3.) Los Angeles Angels - (82-80) - Here's my prediction, Kazmir gets hurt, Santana continues to struggle and those two things doom the Angels. Here's the reality, the Angels have been in a mostly weak division for the last several years and, in my opinion, that changed this off-season. While the Mariners and Rangers got better, the Angels lost pieces of the puzzle. I see them struggling.

4.) Oakland Athletics - (75-87) - I did the write on these guys and honestly, I just don't see enough consistent talent there to compete in this division. Their starting rotation will be ok, the bullpen will be good, but scoring runs is going to be the handicap for this team. With the recent news that the Athletics are willing to watch Jack Cust walk away, the lineup appears to lack any power. I think Oakland could be good in a couple years, as their talent develops, but this year they are playing too many youngsters to compete in a division this strong.

The NL Central will be next.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What a ridiculous name. Let's get right to it.

2009 Record: 97-65. Won the AL West, swept Boston in the first round of the ALDS (a glorious moment, to be sure), lost in six to the Yankees in the ALCS (even more glorious).

Key Departures: No one, really. Unless you consider your #1 SP, John Lackey, your starting 3B, Chone Figgins and your cleanup hitter, Vlad Guerrero, to be key. I would. But I'm not running a professional baseball team. The Angels also dealt Gary Matthews Jr, the most expensive 5th OFer in the world, to the Mets and agreed to pay roughly 21M of the remaining 23M left on his contract.

Key Additions: The Angels signed Joel Piniero to a two year deal worth $16M. It remains to be seen if Piniero can excel outside of the tutelage of St. Louis' pitching coach, Dave Duncan. They also signed Hideki Matsui to a 1 year, 6.5M deal. He will mostly DH, but the Angels have apparently promised him that he can spend time at LF. I watched at least 120 Yankees games last year. Matsui could barely run the bases without getting his knees drained. How they plan on using him in the OF, I have no idea. Continuing their pattern of signing overrated closers to expensive deals, the Angels also locked down Fernando Rodney with a 2 year, 11M deal. Because, you know, if you can sign a dude with a 1.42 career WHIP, you MUST DO THAT DEAL.

This seems like a good time to stop and link this, which was awesome. And while I'm at it, I'll embed this, which is also awesome:

As you can see, I am still basking in the World Series glow.

Talent En Route: Well, it appears that Brandon Wood will at long last get a shot at an MLB starting position. Wood will be 25 on Opening Day, and boasts a career .286/.354/.541 tripleslash in seven seasons of Minor League work. He's no late bloomer, though. As a 22 year old, he put up a .272/.338/.497 in AAA; the next year, as a 23 year old, you went for .296/.375/.595, showing a tremendous improvement in both OBP and SLG. Finally, last year, he went for .293/.353/.557. It's clearly time for Wood to get a shot. I would expect a decent regression off the high numbers he put in AAA, but he should hit for power and manage to get on-base at a decent clip.

Other than Wood, the Angels boast no 5-star prospects by Baseball Prospectus' rankings. BP lists their #1 prospect as Mike Trout, an OFer from NJ who slid down in the draft. While watching the draft, I was hoping Trout would fall a few more slots and that the Yankees would be able to pop him, but alas. Trout put up a .360/.418/.506 line as a 19 year old in 39G in Rookie Ball, which is fantastic. He'll begin 2010 in Low-A ball, and he is definitely one to watch.

Hank Conger, C, and Jordan Walden, RHP, are the other two top prospects by BP's reckoning. They are both at least a year off. The Angels are gonna be dancing with the ones that brung 'em in 2010. Or something.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook
The Angels resisted the urge to re-up John Lackey, and let him leave to the Red Sox via free agency. Their team now consists of a mix between veterans signed to short-term, relatively inexpensive deals (Abreu and Matsui), young, inexpensive players that are pre-arb or arbitration-eligible (Mathis, Napoli, Saunders, Weaver, Aybar and Izturis), and veterans signed to more expensive deals (Hunter, Rodney, Santana, Piniero, Kazmir and Fuentes). The Angels are a perpetual tease in free agency. Last year they were linked to Sabathia and Teixeira, but failed to make a competitive offer. This year, they were linked to Lackey, for obvious reasons, but never seemed to come close to making a sustained effort to keep him. LA is a big market, and the Angels don't have any giant contracts like the Yankees or the Red Sox that will constrain them from signing any big FAs. They just don't seem to have any interest in doing so.

Looking ahead to 2011, it is hard to see any good free agent targets for Anaheim. In the OF, Rivera, Hunter and Abreu are all signed through 2011. Wood will be coming off his first season as an MLB regular, and Aybar, Mathis, Napoli, Morales and Kendrick will all still be very cheap. On the pitching side, they will still own the rights to all five of their current top 5 SPs - Kazmir, Weaver, Santana, Saunders and Piniero.

At this point, I can't see the Angels being major players for any of the major FA in the 2011 bumper crop.

The Future of the Angels: Honestly, until I did this preview, I had no idea that the Angels were locked in on as many players as they are. If the Angels don't win the AL West in 2010, what sorts of improvements could they make? Could they deal a MI or CI and attempt to sign a FA? Could they move Saunders or Santana and try to sign someone like Josh Beckett? No clue. I'm bearish on the Angels. I think Seattle, Oakland and Texas have gotten a lot smarter, leaner and stronger, and I think this year will be LA's toughest in recent memory.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top 5 Pitching Staffs in Baseball

This morning, Buster Olney of ESPN came out with his weekly column and started it off by giving us his top 5 pitching staffs in baseball. It's an Insider article, so I'll summarize for you:

1.) Boston: Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Dice-K, Wakefield

2.) Yankees: CC, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez, Hughes

3.) White Sox: Peavy, Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, Garcia (yes, Freddy)

4.) Angles: Weaver, Kazmir, Saunders, Santana, Pineiro

5.) Cardinals: Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, Penny, "someone else"

In my book, Olney is hit and miss, he fancies himself a 'baseball expert' but really he just condenses and summarizes the work of other people....while at the same time being a team-less fan; in other words, he feels like the "fan" in him was suppressed from having to cover baseball as a career and therefore, he does not cheer for any one team.

I have to take issue with this rather flippant discussion of the top 5 rotations in baseball. For one thing, I'd take the Yankees starters over the Red Sox starters any day. CC v Beckett, Burnett v Lester, Vazquez v Lackey, Pettitte v Dice-K, and Hughes/Joba v Wakefield. In his own discussion of his list, he wrote that the Boston rotation will be good, "if Beckett has a season worthy of a contract drive, if Lackey succeeds in making the transition to the American League East, if Matsuzaka can finally get on the same page as the Red Sox staff and if Buchholz continues to improve." That's a lot of 'ifs' there and Dice-K has shown few signs of being able to pitch consistently well in the he used up his savings...

My 2nd issue is this, but before I begin, I issue this disclaimer:


The White Sox have the most potential in the starting 5 and also, arguably, the most talent. Every one of their starters is capable of 10+ wins and all of them have proven they can handle American League hitters. Quick run-down:

Jake Peavy: 3.24 career ERA, 9+ K/9 career, injured most of last year
John Danks: 3.77 ERA 2009, 1.28 WHIP, pitched 200 innings last year, keeps getting better
Gavin Floyd: 4.06 ERA 2009, 1.23 WHIP, pitched 193 innings last year, 7.6 K/9 rate in 2009
Mark Buehrle: 3.84 ERA 2009, 1.25 WHIP, 200+ IP, he's a horse
Freddy Garcia: 4.08 career ERA, definitely the wild card of the bunch, but still a serviceable #5

Now, the Sox are an injury away from that rotation looking a lot worse, but just looking at it, you've got 4 guys who can easily go 200 innings each, all with respectable K rates and relatively low ERA/WHIPs. To me that says consistency, and over the course of a 162 game season, that's critical. It would not surprise me if the White Sox do not lose 5 straight all year.


One last thing Olney, don't ever include a rotation in your "Top 5" list when one of the pitchers is "someone else." Yes, the Cardinals have a good rotation, Wainwright and Carpenter could both have won the Cy Young Award last year, but the back end of that rotation is weak and, well, "someone else" usually isn't that good of a pitcher.

My personal Top 5 pitching rotations would be:

1) White Sox
2) Yankees
3) Boston
4) Mariners (King Felix, Lee, Bedard (if healthy), etc)
5) Phillies (Halladay, Hamels, Happ, Blanton, Moyer?)