Monday, June 28, 2010

Is Jamie Moyer a Hall of Famer?

After attending the Blue Jays- Phillies game with my wife on Friday night, we listened to a local sports talk station on the way home. The Ruben Frank, the host of this particular show on 610 WIP, posed the question: is Jamie Moyer a Hall of Famer? Frank said yes. I say no.

Jamie Moyer has had an exceptional career by any measure. 2010 marks the 24th season that Moyer has appeared in the majors (he spent all of 1992 in the minors), and has racked up over 600 starts and 4000 innings in his time. He has 267 wins, and on Sunday became the all-time record holder for home runs allowed, which really just means he tops a list of fly ball pitchers who lasted a while. But he's not a Hall of Famer.

To me, a Hall of Famer is someone who a) passes the smell test b) displays greatness and dominance over a substantial period and c) is a premier player at their position. By my definition, which is the only one that matters here because this is my blog, a Hall of Fame career is NOT made by one who racks up impressive statistical achievements by playing a long time. Moyer fails on both definitions.

Stacked up against his contemporaries, Moyer ranks only average. He has received Cy Young votes in only three seasons, never finishing better than fourth, and has been named to only one All-Star team. He has allowed over 100 more hits than innings pitched and registers barely over five strikeouts per nine innings. His career ERA is 4.22, and no pitcher with an ERA abover 4.00 has ever been voted into the HoF.

The arguments for Moyer focus mainly on his win total and his uniqueness. While I'm not a devotee of sabermetrics, I do agree with the premise that win totals are overrated for a pitcher, given that there are too many extraneous factors involved. Given some context, Moyer has been on multiple 100-win clubs in Seattle, and has been a part of back-to-back pennant winners in Philadelphia. I think there is value in wins for a pitcher, but there are many other stats that show a pitchers value and ability better, in my opinion. As for the uniqueness of a 47-year old pitcher, that's all well and good, but Eddie Gaedel isn't in the Hall of Fame.

Defenders will point out that Moyer has played in an offensive era, which is true. However, his career ERA+ is only 105. The career ERA+ of Curt Schilling, a contemporary likely to be in a heated HoF debate was 128.

Finally, let's compare Moyer to Bert Blyleven, the current HoF hot-button candidate. Moyer will likely finish close to Blyleven's total career start number, but will trail by several hundred innings, around 50 shutouts, over 200 complete games (200!), well over 1000 strikeouts, an actual ERA figure of about a run and an ERA+ that will lag 118-105. And Blyleven has found it tricky to get into Cooperstown's hallowed Halls.

Even if Moyer were to somehow reach 300 wins, I'm still not convinced he's a Hall of Famer. The old-guard milestones have fallen by the wayside over the last decade, and not just because of steroids. Jim Thome has 570 home runs, has never had even a hint of steroid suspicion surround him, and he's no slam dunk for the Hall.

In the end, whether Moyer's last season comes when he's 47 or 57, he should be quite proud of the career he's put together. It's very, very good. But it's not worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Braves Aren't THAT Good... Are They?

Prior to the 2010 season, no one could have predicted that in late June the Braves would be 14 games over .500 and leading the National League East by 2.5 games over the Mets and a seemingly impossible 5.5 games over Philadelphia. Many expected the Braves to be a contender in 2010, but are they THAT good?

No. They aren't.

At the end of action on May 14th, the Braves were 17-18 and in last place in the NL East, 4.5 games behind Philadelphia. Since then, they have been helped by a few factors that have nothing at all to do with their own team, including...

-The schedule. Between May 14th and June 20th the Braves are 25-10, good for a .714 winning percentage (for reference, the Yankees were 103-59 last year, which is a .635 winning percentage). In that time, the Braves have played 16 games against the Diamondbacks, Pirates, and Royals, against whom they went 12-4. Against major league (ouch) clubs over the same stretch, Atlanta was 13-6, which is good, but not off the charts.


-The Phillies. In not trying to take anything away from Atlanta, one has to acknowledge that the Braves' making up 10 games on the Phillies in five weeks has as much to do with one team playing horrifically as it does one team playing great. Over the same May 14- June 20th time period, the Phils are 14-19, and have struggled mightily to score. The Phils also played 16 games against San Diego, Boston, Minnesota and the Yankees while the Braves were off killing the Royals. Jimmy Rollins, undeniably the engine that makes the Phils go, appeared in exactly five of the 33 games since May 14th.

Looking over the Braves' production in 2010, you have to wonder how they are 42-28. They have two starting pitchers (Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson) who are above average, one guy hitting over .300 (Martin Prado, .339) and one real power threat in Troy Glaus (14 HR, 55 RBI). Most of their everyday lineup is average to middling, and Jason Hayward has come back to earth since a hot start and is completely neutralized by left-handed pitching (.230, three home runs, 25 strikeouts in 74 at-bats). I also think Martin Prado is more Junior Spivey (made his only All-Star team in 2002 at age 27) than Davey Lopes (became a regular at 28 and started in the majors for a decade). Omar Infante and Eric Hinske, the bench players with the most at-bats, are playing way over their heads too (hitting 48 and 55 points higher than their career averages, respectively).

The real strength of Atlanta's team this year has been its bullpen, which boasts some gaudy numbers from the likes of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Jonny Venters. But how long will those numbers hold up from the 38-year Wagner and 40-year old Saito, not to mention that Venters hasn't made his second loop around the league yet.

The Braves can't run away and hide in any race because they're offense and starting pitching aren't good enough. Their most productive offensive players are playing well over their heads right now, and you can't trust any starting pitcher they have not named Hanson or Hudson. They're also relying too heavily on a couple of players (mainly Glaus and Saito) with too checkered an injury history to not expect a breakdown.

I think the Braves are a good team, I really do. I think they'll be in a race for the playoffs, and could make some noise if they get in. But I think that if they do win the NL East, it will have more to do with what the Phillies don't do than what the actually Braves do.

Around the League...

- A.J. Burnett got ripped for the second start in a row on Monday night in Arizona. Burnett has shown yet again that he will always remain what he is, which is a maddening pitcher who is great at times, and horrible at others.

- Ubaldo Jimenez is pretty good. But if you read Baseball Prospectus, he's no better than he's ever been, and is probably getting a little bit lucky. I think he probably is getting a little lucky with how things have been going, but I also think you can make some of your own luck when you throw 99 with hard downward movement.

- Jimmy Rollins is due to be activated from the DL (again) today. Here's hoping he's healthy and effective the rest of the season, as he's only played 11 games thus far in 2010.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Time For Replay Has Arrived

As you've no doubt heard and seen by now, Armando Galarraga threw the 21st perfect game in major league history last night- except that umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that two outs in the ninth inning Jason Donald beat the throw to first base.

To the naked eye, the play looked close, but replays clearly confirmed that Donald was out and the game should have been over.

To their eternal credit, Galaraga and Joyce have both responded with more class and grace than you could ever hope for of two men in their respective positions. Joyce addressed the media after the game, taking full responsibility for his mistake ("It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the ---- out of it," Joyce said), and tearfully apologized to Galarraga in the immediate aftermath. Galarraga didn't make a big scene, didn't scream and yell, didn't rip Joyce after the game, he simply took it all in stride and recorded the final, 28th out of his perfect game. It's hard to imagine a similar outcome would've unfolded if, say, Kevin Brown and Joe West were the parties involved.

As soon as I saw the play unfold I knew the replay debate would be renewed. The truth is now undeniable.

An expanded replay system needs to be in place for use in the major leagues. ASAP.

I'm all for the human element of the game, and with the pace of the game a concern, this needs to be done on a (very) limited basis. What form it would take, I don't know. Maybe each team could get one challenge a game, or one a week, or umpires would have discretion in the ninth inning (similar to the final two minutes of a football game). But in this day and age, the technology is already in place to show what the correct call should be for every play. And if the technology is in place and is not being utilized, all it will do is make the umpires look bad.

The contrast is especially striking for me, as I spent most of Wednesday night watching game three of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and my Philadelphia Flyers. (Just because I love baseball doesn't mean the Phillies are my only squad).

While the NHL is clearly the fourth of four majors on several fronts, it is tops in its use of technology. It's use is limited (only on goals), centralized (in the main NHL office in Toronto) and definitive. Twice during the game there was question as to whether or not a goal was scored by the Flyers. Once, replay showed the puck had completely crossed the goal line, and the Flyers were awarded a goal. The second time, in overtime no less, there was another play that appeared as if the puck crossed the goal line for the Flyers. The replay showed it did not, and no goal was awarded. The Flyers won a few minutes later on a goal with no controversy.

Ultimately, the NHL got both close calls correct, which is the ultimate goal of both officiating and the use of replay as an aid.

If you don't believe me, just ask Jim Joyce.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Philadelphia's Offense


Ok, that's not very insightful. Why does it stink right now? Throughout baseball, and the Delaware Valley in particular, many theories abound regarding the Phils' recent struggles. I really don't think it's that complicated, however. On Opening Day, the Phils lineup was this...

1) Jimmy Rollins- SS
2) Placido Polanco- 3B
3) Chase Utley- 2B
4) Ryan Howard- 1B
5) Jayson Werth- RF
6) Raul Ibanez- LF
7) Shane Victorino- CF
8) Carlos Ruiz- C
9) Pitcher

As of right now, Rollins has played only 12 games, Polanco is out with an elbow issue, and Ruiz is playing but has been struggling mightily at the plate since he left a game with a leg injury at Colorado in early May. What that leaves you with is far too many at-bats for Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro, capable backups, but backups. Added to the mix is the collective disappearance of Utley, Howard and Werth, and you get a collective struggle to sustain offense. Other thoughts at least marginally related include...

- No one is noticing because the team overall is bad, but Ibanez is around .250 now after a dreadful start. 2009's sprint from the gate was the aberration with him, not his normal pattern.

- Jayson Werth looks more and more like Robin than Batman as the struggle moves along. He'll get paid handsomely this offseason, but he's not in the class of Utley and Howard.

- Greg Dobbs looks like his best days may be behind him. His bat is slow and he's not hitting the ball hard or driving it at all.

- Ben Francisco may be a better player when he gets more at-bats. He's been awful as a pinch-hitter, though.

- As good as Juan Castro looked early, expecting him to hit .300 for two months is too much to ask.

However, moving to the bright side...

- The pitching collectively has been really good. Jamie Moyer only looks 40 on the mound these days, not 47.

- Kyle Kendrick has had some solid outings, but has to be more aggresive. He looked a little scared to throw the ball over the plate Friday.

- Joe Blanton has been much better than his stats indicate.

- Brad Lidge has a good looking appearance in Atlanta Monday afternoon.

- The Phils have something in Antonio Bastardo. His fastball has all kinds of life, and his slide has come a long way since his first big league appearance around this time last year. I don't think he'd be much fun to hit off of lefthanded.

- Cole Hamels continues to get better with each outing. His fastball velocity is up, his change up is diving, and he's keeping himself together on the mound, which he didn't do in 2009.

- Roy Halladay is still really, really good. Sometimes he's even perfect.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Back From Two Weeks Off For No Particular Reason

- Roy Oswalt is now evidently on the market, saying that he's willing to move to a contender. What I can't figure out is where he could go. Oswalt holds a full no-trade clause, so he can veto any deal. He's also owed $16 million next year. So where could he go? The Yankees and Red Sox are apparently not interested, which means everyone else has a chance. The Phillies didn't pay Cliff Lee $9 million this year, so with Jayson Werth up after this year and Oswalt making $15 mil this year and $16 mil in '11, you have to think they're out. The Mets have the money, but they stink and I can't imagine Oswalt would ever approve a deal there. Seattle has money, but also stinks, and has to be looking to unload Cliff Lee before too long, so they're out. Tampa can afford half a year of Lee, but they can't afford a year and a half of Oswalt. I don't think Houston wants to trade him in the division, and Atlanta needs sticks more than arms.
Texas? Why not? But to me, the wild cards are Minnesota and Washington. The Twins have new ballpark money and young, tradeable pieces, and Oswalt (paired with Stephen Strasburg?) could be enough to push the Nats into a real race this season or next.

- Wilson Valdez is back with the Phillies, thanks to Jimmy Rollins having to return to the DL with a recurrance of the calf problem that kept him out for close to a month. The Phils did fine without Jimmy once, but it remains to be seen how much longer they can sustain good baseball without its engine.

- Of course, that supposes the team is playing well now. Losing to Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Dice-K and Tim Wakefield in one week at home is not a good thing.

- Read an interesting article in Sports Illustrated about Nolan Ryan's philosophy on developing pitchers and stretching them out. Of course, if pitchers start getting hurt, Ryan will get flogged in the baseball world, and if the Ranger pitchers do well, everyone will copy him.

-The Mets tried hard to give away a game to the Yankees on Sunday night. The Jerry Manuel/ Omar Minaya watch has to stay in effect. Losing a home series to the Phils this week won't help their cause.

- Pat Burrell got DFA'd by the Rays. I'm not sure he catches on anywhere before August 1st.

- Carlos Zambrano has never been the same since that no-hitter in Milwaukee in late 2008.

- Carlos Marmol has a great arm, but he's got no idea at all where the ball is going.

- Lou Piniella must love having Marmol as his closer.

- Not.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wilson Valdez

How bad has Wilson Valdez been for the Phillies in 2010? Well, in 33 at-bats, he has accounted for 38 outs. He is hitting .152, with seven strikeouts, seven total bases, zero walks and five GDPs. His OPS+ is -5. Which brings to mind a phrase I never thought a Phillies fan would utter in 2010... when does Juan Castro get back?

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I've Seen Lateley

- Good for Dallas Braden, hurling the 19th perfect game in Major League history against the Rays on Mother's Day. Now he can be known for something other than yelling at A-Rod to stay off his mound.

- How have the Rays been perfect gamed twice in two seasons? They're too good offensively for that.

- One great sign that Cole Hamels is returning to his 2008 form is that he has been getting a good number of swing and misses at his fastball. The fastball has had good late explosion and ride, not the 'bang me' fastballs he was throwing in 2009.

- We'll find out more about Kyle Kendrick's recent renaissance tonight when he faces the Rockies in Coors Field. Can he succeed in Colorado against a lefty laden lineup including Todd Helton, Ian Stewart, and Carlos Gonzalez? We'll find out.

- Jamie Moyer. Are you serious? The Braves offense stinks, but still. Complete game shutout? At 47?

- Derek Lowe is struggling again after a below-average 2009.

- The more he gets up to hit, the more money Jayson Werth is making for himself. He's probably already in Jason Bay territory, with Matt Holliday in his sights.

- Are you telling me that with all the money they have, the best the Yankees and Red Sox could come up with on Sunday night included Marcus Thames and Darnell McDonald?

- Paging Mr. Werth...

- A.J. Burnett has to be better than that against the Red Sox. It doesn't matter how hard you throw or how much the other team is struggling early in a season, you have to do better than straight fastballs up in the zone to major league hitters. Otherwise, you get torched. Just ask A.J.

- The Mariners fired hitting coach Alan Cockrell and replaced him with Alonzo Powell over the weekend. To borrow a phrase from another sport of prominence in the spring time, you can be the greatest jockey in the world, but you're not going to win anything if you've got a horse that can't run. The Mariner offense is a horse that can't run.

- Is anyone in the AL West any good? I don't buy the Rangers, and I won't until they show that they won't fold down the stretch the way they have each of the last 159 years.

- I can't imagine this is what Bobby Cox had in mind for his farewell tour.

- Olive Perez walked seven in 3.1 bad innings for the Mets Sunday. Welcome home, OPP.

- With a one-run lead in the ninth Sunday, Brian Wilson gave up a leadoff double to Jason Bay. He then blew away David Wright, Ike Davis and Jeff Francoeur in succession to end the game. Just awesome.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mid-Week Edition

- Suddenly the Phillies pitching problems don't look nearly as dire as they did a week ago. Joe Blanton returned on Monday and threw well in a loss to St. Louis, Cole Hamels has had more good outings than bad this year, Kyle Kendrick threw seven shutout innings on Wednesday night, J.C. Romero is rounding back into form, Brad Lidge looked outstanding in his Tuesday outing, and Jose Contreras has been dominant in short relief thus far, reaching 98 on the radar gun with all kinds of movement.

- J.A. Happ and Ryan Madson are still expected to be out for quite awhile, however

- Albert Pujols doesn't look comfortable against Phillies pitching. He's been a little eager, and has even been fooled several times. He almost took a 96 mph fastball from Danys Baez in the chops on Wednesday night too, which can't help anyone feel more comfortable.

- The Cardinals have got something with this David Freese

- Turns out Barry Zito still is a good pitcher. Again, if the Giants ever score, look out.

- The Padres are still in first place in the NL West, but I doubt a team hitting .245 can hold that spot.

- Cliff Lee already is talking about how he'll be a free agent after this season. He's the crown jewel of the free agent market, and he knows it.

- Even free agent jewels can't give up five runs and 10 hits in eight innings and get paid like they envision, however

- Does Tampa ever lose?

- Does Baltimore ever win?

- Can Tampa afford two months of Cliff Lee if the Mariners fall out of the race? It says here they'll do it, whether they can afford it or not.

- Good for Milton Bradley, finally realizing that he needs help with the issues that have followed him from team to team for several years.

- Tough week for baseball, as longtime Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell and Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts passed away within a few days of one another. Two elegant men who were great embassadors for baseball.

- Congrats to Chris Heisey, my friend Phil's old college roommate. Heisey made his major league debut for the Reds on Monday night against the Mets, going 0-5 but making a nice catch in right field. Welcome to the show.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Week We Just Had

- The Mets were feeling pretty good on Friday night, riding an eight-game winning streak and having just beaten the Phillies to extend their NL East lead to a game and a half. Then the Phils unleashed their new toy, Roy Halladay, to the tune of 10-0 on Saturday, and torched Met ace Johan Santana for a nine run fourth inning on Sunday to take the weekend series.

- So far, Santana proclaiming himself the best pitcher in the NL East has been a perfect microcosm for the difference between the teams. The Met talks about it, the Phillie is about it. This weekend Halladay tossed a complete game shutout, while Santana gave up 10 earned in 3.2 innings.

- Santana's fastball isn't good enough to make his change up the devastating pitch it has been for awhile. There just isn't enough seperation in velocity between the two pitches. Also, as Joe Morgan pointed out (hate to point out decent Joe Morgan points) during the telecast Sunday, without a good breaking ball there is no reason for lefthanded hitters to be uncomfortable against him.

- Mike Pelfrey, welcome back to Earth.

- Either Jose Reyes wasn't trying, or he's turned into Alfonso Soriano in the three hole. He's far too aggressive and swinging early in the count too much right now.

- Joe Blanton returns to the mound tonight and it can't come soon enough for the Phillies. Kyle Kendrick just doesn't look like a major league pitcher, Jamie Moyer is giving up too many big innings, and J.A. Happ is still probably down for awhile.

- I can't kill Ryan Madson for breaking his toe kicking a chair in frustration. He knows he hasn't been getting the job done. But, he also knows how important he is to the Phils out of the pen.

- He's had detractors, myself included, but Robinson Cano is turning into a force for the Yankees. It seems like everytime I look up he's hitting another big homer for the Yankees.

- Javier Vasquez still can't handle being a Yankee. Could the Braves actually have gotten the better end of that deal?

- A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Teixiera, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Yuniel Escobar, Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez, Danys Baez, Ben Sheets, Aaron Harang and Edwin Jackson stink. Right now anyway.

- I think Ramirez is hurt, Jones is old, Lee is overweight, and Escobar is lazy.

- How many good young pitchers are out there right now? I can't remember a time with so many exciting young hurlers. Nevermind Tim Lincecum, who's obvious. How bout Wade Davis, Zach Greinke, Ubaldo Jimenez, C.J. Wilson and Ricky Romero, among others. All fun to watch.

- The Red Sox can't let this continue too much further. I don't care how bad things are going, if you're a team with legitimate aspirations (as the Red Sox always are), you can't get swept by the Orioles.

- My take? They're being too kind to David Ortiz, who's been an albatross and an automatic out in a weak lineup. That and Jonathan Papelbon has been too beatable.

- Great move by the Phils signing up Ryan Howard long term. Rob Neyer may not think so, but he had Corey Koskie as a better player in the 2000s than Howard. I digress. I'm more interested to see what happens to the rest of the 1b free agent class of 2011-12. If I'm Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez, I want everyone else to sign but me, thus driving up my value. I think both Fielder and Gonzalez leave their current teams.

- With Tampa, Minnesota and San Diego all leading their divisions, maybe it really isn't all about spending the most money, I really hope all three can keep it up all year, but I think San Diego is a bit of a mirage.

- Tampa and Minnesota are real though. As long as Joe Mauer's heel is not a long-term issue.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Notes

- The Phillies are scuffling at the plate, clearly missing Jimmy Rollins at the top of the order. Shane Victorino is hitting only .213 with a .250 OBP, and Raul Ibanez has struggled mightily, his Saturday night homer not withstanding. Add in Ryan Howard's recent struggles, and it's no wonder that the Phils have scored more than four runs only once in the last week, a stark departure from their normal output.

- Most observers have felt all along that the Phillies are the best team in the National League in 2010, and that only injuries could keep them from a third straight World Series trip. Well, today is April 25th and they've already had Jimmy Rollins, Juan Castro, Jayson Werth, Placido Polanco, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge miss a game or been removed from a game because of an injury.

- Lidge and Blanton both made rehab appearances at AA Reading on Friday, while Romero pitched for the Phils but was quickly removed after not looking right. The bullpen cavalry is on the way, however.

- Baseball Tonight had some alarming statistics to share this afternoon. One was that the Braves are hitting 6-74 (.087) in the leadoff hole. I think at this point I would give the kid a shot in that spot. He doesn't do you anygood hitting fifth if he's got no one to drive in.

- Another great Baseball Tonight stat was that AL third basemen are hitting .248 through Saturday, while their NL counterparts are hitting .290. Chief among the culprits here is the Angels' Brandon Wood, who's hitting a lusty .102 through Saturday. Wood has been a great prospect for what seems like five years, but I don't care how great his glove is, you can't have a .102 hitter at a premium offensive position.

- Wood's NL match is Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs, he of the .134 batting average. Alfonso Soriano may be drawing all the grief, but he's hitting .300. Ramirez looks over-matched on even modest fastballs.

- Brian Matusz has two wins this season. The Orioles have two wins this season. Think about that.

- Let's all keep our pants on about Ike Davis. I'll wait until he's seen half of the league once (nevermind the whole league twice) to make a judgement.

- However, if he is good, what do the Mets do with Daniel Murhpy when he gets back?

- How long until the Pirates trade Garrett Jones for five cents on the dollar? I hope I'm wrong, but I'm betting the 2011 trade deadline.

- Every time I've seen the Angels this year, which is several times now, they've looked like crap.

- If you're wondering why the White Sox have such a bad record with their pitching staff, look at the batting averages of their everyday nine. Look at Andruw Jones, who's had a nice early resurgence, then hide any women and children before sorting through the rest of the muck and mire.

- So the Padres have MLB's first eight-game winning streak in 2010. Who didn't see that one coming? Besides everyone.

- If the Giants can score at all, they'll be tough.

- Joe Nathan Shmoe Nathan. The Twins have the best record in baseball, and Jon Rauch has six saves. Also, Justin Morneau's OBP is over .500. What a great set of players they have, and it's fun to watch them all fit together.

Monday, April 19, 2010

News and Notes

- If Cole Hamels pitches like he did on Sunday against the Marlins, the Phillies have nothing to worry about with their young lefty. Hamels allowed two earned in eight innings plus and took the loss as the Phils offense stayed cold for a second straight day. However, he had good life to his fastball, mixed in his trademark change, and even threw some very good curveballs, freezing Hanley Ramirez for strike three with one of them.

- While the top part of the Phils rotation is rounding into form, the bottom half is getting scary in a hurry. Kyle Kendrick hasn't been able to do anything right since the season started, Jamie Moyer gave up five runs in the first inning on Saturday, and now J.A. Happ may miss some time with a forearm issue. Joe Blanton is making a rehab start at Lakewood soon, and he can't get back soon enough.

- The Mets and Cardinals really did play 20 innings on Saturday, and Tony LaRussa really did pull Matt Holliday from the game when the Cardinals had not scored a run yet. Alber Pujols saw exactly no pitches to hit after that, and the Mets finally won when they were able to push across two runs against Joe Mather. Yes, that Joe Mather. Joe Posnanski does a good job outlining LaRussa's work in his latest column.

- Tom Verducci asks if this is the end for Pat Burrell, Alfonso Soriano and David Ortiz. Yes, yes, and yes. The easiest call for the team is Burrell, as he doesn't have a contract after this year and doesn't have any emotional currency with Tampa, other than beating them in the World Series with Philadelphia. Ortiz looks finished, and Soriano is turning into an unproductive hitting, defensive liability who is owed a lot of money.

- Soriano and Carlos Zambrano are two long term deals the Cubs have completed of recent vintage that don't look great right now.

- Must see TV this week? Jason Heyward taking his hacks against Roy Halladay in Atlanta on Thursday night.

- Only 74 more "Raise up the Jolly Roger" announcements to a .500 season for the Pirates

- The Rays are back. It's early. But they're at least back-ish.

- The Red Sox... well, some of these all-defense, no-hit contracts better start hitting something soon

- Good for Ubaldo Jimenez, no-hitting Atlanta for the Rockies first no-no. The Mets still haven't had one, and next year is their 50th season.

- Nelson Cruz is a legit power threat. Is is possible that Texas is really more Colorado than Colorado? Which is to say, they'll always hit, but never pitch, as was feared about the Rockies for the first 10-12 years of their existence.

- Thanks for coming, Houston and Baltimore. Better luck in 2011.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Settling Into the Season... What Have We Learned?

Everyone has played at home at least once except the Yankees, so now's the time when you start to see how the season is shaking out. Gone are the days of .750 batting averages and an 800 RBI pace. Here's what we've learned (or confirmed) so far...

- Roy Halladay in the National League has been as advertised. Two games, 16 innings, 13 hits, 17 strikeouts, one earned run.

- I'm really trying not to sound like a homer here, but when you play the Phillies your starter better throw seven good innings, or you're going to have a lot of problems. The lineup is too tough on good starters anyway, and they are going to down right abuse middle relievers.

- Ahh, but all is not perfect in Phillie land. Cole Hamels is still scuffling a bit to find his form, and Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins left Monday's home opener with injuries. Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Joe Blanton already started the year on the DL with an assortment of maladies.

- So far so good with Ryan Madson in the closer's spot.

- Jose Contreras still has great stuff. All 17 of his pitches.

- Placido Polanco appears to be a perfect fit in the two spot for the Phils. Shane Victorino has had a rougher go moving to number seven, hitting only .161 in the early-going.

-The Phils offense will be especially tough to stop if Jimmy Rollins keeps the plate discipline he's shown early in the year. And if his MRI scheduled for today has good news.

- Troy Glaus doesn't look great with a bat or a glove in his hand.

- Mike Gonzalez blew two saves by the end of the day Friday. Sheesh.

- Curtis Granderson has hit some long home runs so far, but he still can't hit lefthanded pitching. The Yankees will miss Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui more than most people realize this year.

- Joba Chamberlain's biggest problem is that he's just not that good. We don't need to analyze his psyche as a starter or as a reliever or anything else. He's just not that good. That's it.

- Scott Rolen looks rejuvenated so far. Maybe he's finally healthy.

- Tim Lincecum is just fun to watch pitch.

- Who's that hitting .407 with five home runs in seven games? Albert Pujols. He's a decent player.

- Yawn. In other news, sun to rise in east tomorrow.

- The Dodgers losing two of three to start the season in Pittsburgh can't be a great first step.

- I read predictions, apparently from real humans, that have the Mets winning the NL East. This year. After six games, Gary Matthews is hitting .143, Alex Cora .200 (which is better than Luis Castillo), Rod Barajas .238 and Mike Jacobs .133. Oliver Perez has an ERA north of a touchdown, and Mike Pelfrey has an ERA north of a touchdown WITH the extra point. I know it's only six games, but let me know how those Mets in the playoff predictions are working out for you in September.

- The Astros stink. Their lineup has about three legitimate everyday players in it right now. I know Lance Berkman is out, but it's a brutal run outside of Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. If you're a pitcher and you let Lee or Pence beat you, you're a dope.

- I'm not a fan of umpires injecting themselves in a story, and I'm not a fan of Joe West at all, but he's right about the Red Sox and the Yankees wasting too much time. Tom Verducci is also right that it's not the length, but the pace of the games that is the real problem. I'm all for calling an automatic ball or strike on a player taking too long. I'm also all for an umpire telling Jorge Posada "You won't go out to the mound again if you know what's good for you" and then calling pitches right down the middle balls if he fails to oblige. Come on, seriously, Posada went to the mound eight times in one inning in last year's playoffs? That's time wasting at best, bush league at worst.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Day 2010- Rearview Mirror Edition

Is there anything better on the sports calendar than Opening Day? To me, it's a lot like the first two days of the NCAA College Basketball tournament, where noon onward there are games going the rest of the day and night all across North America. And now, a look at the 2010 edition, with retrospective lenses of course...

- I hardly recognized Jorge Posada on Sunday night, what with him actually behind the plate between pitches.

- Is that a smile we see from Roy Halladay (picture 14)? Amazing what some run support will do for you. I think this guy is going to work just fine.

-Welcome to the big show, Jason Heyward. But let's not get carried away just yet. This slideshow contains some very good players, but also some guys who immediately stunk thereafter. But it was a neat thing to see Heyward go yard in his first AB. The closest thing to this that I've seen was when I sat in the 700 level at the Vet and watched Chase Utley hit a grand slam off of Aaron Cook for his first career hit, April 24, 2003.

- Billy Wagner looked really good in his inning for the Braves. He threw 97 with some hop and mixed in a few dirty sliders.

- Albert Pujols is on pace for 324 home runs, and Placido Polanco for 972 RBI. I love early season projecting.

- Great Opening Day for Halladay, Heyward, Tim Lincecum, Pujols, Polanco

- Carlos Zambrano? Not so much. Not so much for Josh Johnson either.

- Lost in all the good signs for the Braves- Heyward, Wagner, scoring a ton of runs- is the fact that coming off a bad year, Derek Lowe stunk again.

- David Wright can hit the ball out of the Mets' new park after all. Or, he did on Monday.

- If you hate the Yankees, and who doesn't besides Yankee fans, it was really tough watching Johnny Damon drive in the winning run for Detroit and Hideki Matsui drive in the winning run for the Angels. Tell me you don't miss those guys after Nick Johnson spends 45 days on the DL and Brett Gardner and Randy Wynn are hitting a combined .228.

- Developing Story Line- Middle relief stinks... everybody's.

- If you're keeping score at home, that's only 80 more wins for the Pirates to get off the worst schnied in history.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fearless NL East Predictions

Happy Opening Day to everyone out there in blog land. Having completed the positional tour of the NL East, I'll now offer my take on things you can expect to see as the season takes shape. Or things you can expect not to see, depending on your view of my prognosticating ability...

Highest batting average- Hanley Ramirez
Most home runs- Ryan Howard
Most RBI- Howard
Most runs scored- Jimmy Rollins
Most stolen bases- Rollins
Most strikeouts, lefthander- Howard
Most strikeouts, righthander- Dan Uggla
Comeback year- Chipper Jones
Best overall offensive player- Chase Utley (combining average, OBP, HR, RBI, steals, runs scored)
Worst overall offensive player- Willie Harris
Breakout performance- Josh Willingham

Most wins- Roy Halladay
Most saves- Francisco Rodriguez
Most strikeouts- Johan Santana
Lowest ERA- Halladay
Highest ERA- Oliver Perez
Comeback year- Cole Hamels
Breakout performance- Tommy Hanson

Gold Glove winners- Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Zimmerman
Iron Gloves- Ryan Howard, Dan Uggla
Hardest to steal on- Ivan Rodriguez
Easiest to steal on- anyone in a Mets uniform

Newcomer with the biggest impact- Roy Halladay
Loss with the biggest impact- Javier Vasquez
Most important return from injury- Brad Lidge
Rookie with the most impact- Stephen Strasburg
Final year with current team- Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth

Most runs scored- Phillies
Fewest runs scored- Mets
Fewest runs allowed- Braves
Most runs allowed- Nationals
Most home runs- Phillies
Fewest home runs- Mets
Most stolen bases- Phillies
Fewest stolen bases- Nationals
Best defense- Phillies
Worst defense- Marlins
Best bullpen- They will all be adventures

Predicted order of finish
1) Phillies
2) Braves
3) Marlins
4) Mets
5) Nationals

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pitchers in the NL East

As we take to the mound to review pitching staff's in the East, let me explain a bit about what I'm previewing and why. I'll consider a staff as a whole, namely the first four starters and the closer. The reason I won't go further than that is that every team in baseball needs more than five starters over the course of the year, and pretty much everyone's fifth starter stinks. I'll also include each team's closer in the mix, because he is just as important as a starter, if not more so. For the rest of the bullpen, performance is so volatile from one year to the next in middle and short relief that it's often not even worth analyzing. And like starting pitchers, many innings will be throw in relief by guys that are not on the roster. Also like fifth starters, a lot of middle relievers stink. With out further ado...

Atlanta Braves- Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Billy Wagner (closer)

If you ask many pundits who has the best pitching staff in the NL East, the Braves will be a popular answer. I like elements of the Braves' rotation, but I can't say I'm sold on all of it. Derek Lowe will get the Opening Day nod, and as such is the de facto number one. However, his 2009 season was bad, as he allowed the most hits in the National League, posted a 4.67 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5. How he rebounds will go a long way in determining the overall effectiveness of the staff. Jurrjens is coming into his own as a very good Major League pitcher, a solid number two, but probably not an ace. Hanson is the real deal, and whether in title or not, he is the ace of the Braves. His progression, like Lowe's return, will determine a large portion of the Braves' success in '10. Hudson made only seven starts in 2009 in returning from injury, and once again remains a question. He's very good when he's healthy, but he's 34 now and hasn't pitched a full season since 2007. Like Hudson, Billy Wagner made only a few appearances in 2009 after missing a year, and he would have to be considered a question mark too. Having only a modest second pitch, Wagner has made his living on upper upper 90s fastballs, and if the movement and/or velocity isn't there, Wagner could be in trouble. While Wagner is a good gamble, the Braves have effectively added one reliable late inning piece (Wagner), but lost two in Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. The Braves also lost Javier Vasquez for pretty much nothing that will help them now, and the sum of these transactions leaves them weaker in 2010 than they were in 2009.

Bottom Line:
A lot of questions regarding health and effectiveness. Could be best in the division, or could fall apart. Lost too much from 2009 to definitively put them in the top spot in the NL East.

Florida Marlins- Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Leo Nunez (closer)

The Marlins boast perhaps the game's preeminent young power pitcher in Josh Johnson, a 26-year old horse the Marlins wisely have locked up for the long-term. Johnson is a younger Roy Halladay type pitcher, a big, strong, hard throwing guy who looks to go deep in each game and dominate opponents. Nolasco, Sanchez and Volstad are all young power arms who are looking to rebound from injury, ineffectiveness, or both. On any given night any of those three can shut it down, or can implode. Nunez had 26 saves in '09, but also had an ERA of 4.06, and gave up 13 home runs in 68.2 innings. All of which makes Nunez a lot like the rest of the staff.

Bottom Line: The Marlins feature Josh Johnson and a bunch of guys that might be great, and might stink, given any different game.

New York Mets- Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez (closer)

Let's be real and real succinct about this. Santana is one of the best pitcher's in baseball, and the rest of the starting staff stinks. Thanks for coming. K-Rod is a good closer, probably the most reliable in the division, but wasn't all that great in '09. His stuff has been declining each of the past few years, and I'm not saying he's not good, but I am saying he's not worth what his contract calls for.

Bottom Line: Santana needs some help from the other starters. Starters not named Santana and middle relief are terrifying.

Philadelphia Phillies- Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Brad Lidge (closer)

The Phillies, in the aftermath of losing the World Series to the Yankees, in essence traded one year of Cliff Lee for four years of Roy Halladay. Roy Halladay who was dominating in the best offensive division in baseball. Roy Halladay who completed nine games each of the last two years in the American League. Halladay's numbers have the chance to be astronomical in the lighter hitting National League. While Halladay is expected to be great, and Joe Blanton will keep you in every game, questions surround the rest of the staff. Will J.A. Happ be able to maintain his level of success in his second full year in the league? Probably not quite as good, but he'll be good enough for the Phils. Will Cole Hamels rebound from a horrid 2009? Yes. After admitting he did pretty much nothing to get ready for the '09 season, Hamels was invisible this off-season, which is a good thing. By all accounts his velocity and command are far ahead of any point he reached in 2009. And let's not forget, he was the MVP of the NLCS and World Series in 2008. If he regains 2008 form, the Phillies could run away and hide in the division and have quite a setup in playoff series. The biggest question, however, is Lidge. If he's 2008 Lidge, the Phils could win 105 games. If he's 2009 Lidge, he won't keep the closer's job too long. He was almost certainly pitching hurt in '09, and if he comes back healthy and effective, the Phillies might well have the best overall staff in the division.

Bottom Line: Health already an issue with Lidge, Blanton and J.C. Romero starting the season on the DL. How Lidge and Hamels bounce back are keys in lineup after the incomparable Halladay.

Washington Nationals- John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Matt Capps (closer)

Thankfully for the Nationals and their fans, the Nats are unlikely to finish 2010 with the same rotation they begin the season with. Lannan and Marquis are effective big league caliber starters, Stammen and Mock, eh. Capps can be a good closer, but might be more suited to be a setup man on a good team. The real story comes when Chien-Ming Wang comes off the DL. Ok, that will be helpful, but the real real story happens when Stephen Strasburg is recalled to the big club, probably in May or early June. The uber-ace of the future can lend instant credibility to a franchise that sorely needs it.

Bottom Line: How far down the pegs the team is when Strasburg comes up is the only thing to keep an eye on. The team can hit, but their pitching staff is not up to snuff to that of Major League contenders right now.

Pitching Wrap-Up

Best staff- Atlanta or Philadelphia, depending on how the questions shake out
Worst staff- Washington
Best starter- Roy Halladay
Best reliever- Francisco Rodriguez today. Brad Lidge when he's right.
Biggest Rebound- Cole Hamels
Biggest Anticipated Debut- Stephen Strasburg
Best Fastball- Josh Johnson
Best Change Up- Santana
Best Breaking Ball- Lidge
Underrated- Jair Jurrjens
Overrated- Anibal Sanchez
Just Plain Rated- Joe Blanton
Ascending- Hamels, Tommy Hanson, Johnson, Stephen Strasburg
Descending- Derek Lowe, Francisco Rodriguez
Trainwreck- Oliver Perez
Best in Five Years- Johnson

Friday, April 2, 2010

NL East Right Fielders

Rounding out the everyday positions, we move finally to right field...

Atlanta Braves- Jason Heyward

If not for Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward would be the most talked about rookie heading into 2010. The 20-year old rightfielder is thought to be the classic five-tool prospect, with the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, field and throw above the major league norm. 2010 is only the fourth season of professional baseball for Heyward after being selected in the first round by the Braves out of high school in Georgia in June of 2007. Hayward hit .323 with 17 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 99 games at three different minor league levels in '09, and he looks to continue his progression playing full-time for the Braves in '10. As good as he may be today, and might be tomorrow, he will still hit several bumps in the road, particularly as more teams see film on him and see him for a second or third time. That being said, Heyward is expected to be the next great outfielder in the National League, and 2010 could well prove to be his coming out party.

Offense- 3... got to show me something against Roy Halladay and Johan Santana, not just spring training fodder who will be in high A in less than a month
Defense- 4... arm strength and speed don't slump

Florida Marlins- Cody Ross

Like members even of his own team, Ross has found a home with the Marlins after spending the early part of his career as a bit of a baseball vagabond. Ross, the ever so rare right handed hitting left handed thrower, hit .270 with 24 home runs in 2009, his second playing almost every day. He fits in nicely with the scrappy young Marlins, but is a bit too much like other members of the team (Dan Uggla in particular) in his propensity to swing early, swing often, strike out, and not display much speed. Ross is probably better suited to play left field than right, and as such is a below average right fielder.

Offense- 3.5... good average and power numbers, but has no speed and strikes out way too much
Defense- 2... below average

New York Mets- Jeff Francoeur

Perhaps no one in baseball needed a change of scenery more than Jeff Francoeur by the time the 2009 season rolled around. Growing up in Georgia, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated under a title of "The Natural", followed by serious struggles that led him to a .239 hitting 2008 and a trip back to AA. Francoeur responded by hitting 61 points higher with the Mets than he did with the Braves. Whether or not he can sustain the momentum gained playing a full-year in an often anemic Met offense in a large ballpark remains to be seen. Francoeur has always been a very good outfielder, with good range and one of the best outfield throwing arms in the majors.

Offense- 2.5... not convinced he's over his struggles just year... I'd say trending upward though
Defense- 4.5... the only thing that would keep him from leading the league in outfield assists is runners and coaches wary of testing him

Philadelphia Phillies- Jayson Werth

Werth enters 2010 off of a career-year in which he hit .268 with 36 home runs, 99 RBI and stole 20 bases while making his first All-Star game. Werth will be counted upon again to put up numbers like this as the sold right handed power threat in the Phillies' lineup. Werth can drive the ball to all fields, and runs effortlessly with his abnormally long strides. A free agent to be, Werth figures to be motivated throughout the year to put up big numbers and cash in from the Yankees or Red Sox, particularly with the Phillies having to worry about extensions for Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins within the next few years, and phenom Dominic Brown waiting in the wings.

Offense- 4... average is a little low, but worst OBP with Philadelphia was .363 in 08... gets on base, scores runs, drives runs in, and that's the point of the game
Defense- 4... gets to a lot of balls others don't because of his stride, good arm

Washington Nationals- Willie Harris

While the Nats have done a good job of building an everyday roster of very good offensive players, the weakest known quantity lives in right field in the person of Willie Harris (and potentially Wily Taveras). Harris is a journeyman, with his fifth team since 2001 while posting a .246 career average. He walks a good bit, which mitigates his low average, particularly given his speed. A little guy, his versatility has probably kept him in the majors this long and probably will keep him around another few years. However, don't be surprised if Harris is replaced in right field sooner than later.

Offense- 2... gets on base, should try to slap the ball, not hit home runs
Defense- 3... for versatility, as he's appeared at every defensive position except for 1B and catcher

Right Field Round Up

Best Right fielder- Jayson Werth
Best Offensively- Werth
Best Defensively- Jeff Francoeur
Worst Offensively- Willie Harris
Worst Defensively- Cody Ross
Best in Five Years- Jason Heyward

Thursday, April 1, 2010

NL East Centerfielders

In our preview of the NL East we now move to John Fogerty's favorite position, centerfield...

Atlanta Braves- Nate McLouth

McLouth came to the Braves from Pittsburgh mid-year in 2009, and put up almost identical numbers in both stops (.256/9/34 with Pittsburgh, .257/11/36 with the Braves). While the average is constant, the compiler numbers don't look so hot in Atlanta given that McLouth played 39 more games for the Braves. McLouth in a lot of ways is the centerfield version of Matt Diaz. He gets on base, has a little pop and steals some bases for you, but at the end of the day, he's Nate McLouth and is only an average to good major league regular. His nine outfield assists are a good number, but his range is nothing special. Even so, he did bag a Gold Glove in 2008.

Offense- 3... a Major League regular
Defense- 3.5... makes plays

Florida Marlins- Cameron Maybin

While Cameron Maybin was anticipated by some to contend for the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year award, fellow Fish rookie Chris Coghlan took home the honors. However, Maybin was terrible in '09, so much so that he earned himself a trip back to AAA in May, and didn't return until rosters expanded on September 1st. Maybin is only 22 years old (23 on Sunday), and is a classic case of why most players that young shouldn't be rushed to the majors. He struggled terribly before being sent down, hitting only .202 and striking out 31 times in 95 plate appearances. He posted decent numbers after his recall, but one could assume much of this production was compiled against other AAA level players, teams playing out the string, or both. Until he proves he belongs, Maybin will remain a 'toolsy' player who hasn't quite been able to put those tools to good use on a major league diamond.

Offense- 1.5... has to prove he can hit major league pitching, or he'll be back in AAA quickly
Defense- 3... can run and throw, which should lead him to be a decent outfielder

New York Mets- Carlos Beltran

Beltran will spend a considerable portion of time on the disabled list to start 2010, but he is the best centerfielder in the division when he plays. He gets on base and hits for power from both sides of the plate, as well as patrolling centerfield at a very high level. He's a bit like Bobby Abreu, with a lower batting average and more power. Like Jose Reyes, Beltran is gaining a bit of a reputation of a guy who acts like he has rings, but in actuality hasn't ever won anything. He parlayed a nice playoff performance with the Astros in 2004 into riches in Queens, but like the other stars of recent Met teams (Reyes, David Wright), seems unwilling to be THE guy to make the big play in the big situation, preferring instead to comfortably fit in. He's a very good offensive player, but not a great one. He wins Gold Gloves. And misses lots of games.

Offense- 4... high OBP and good power from both sides is no joke
Defense- 4.5... has rightfully earned multiple Gold Gloves

Philadelphia Phillies- Shane Victorino

Victorino is the rambunctious child of the Phillies, the overly-energetic kid that can't sit still, which sometimes gets him in trouble, but other times stirs action where none previously existed. He fears no one and nothing, and has managed to combine his baseball talents with his best tool, speed. Victorino, like Jimmy Rollins, steals bases with an alarming success rate, thanks in large part to Phils first base coach Davey Lopes. Victorino also uses his speed to leg out triples (NL leading 13 in 2009), track down fly balls in center, and generally put pressure on the defense. Like Rollins, a more patient approach may benefit him, but a move in the order from second to seventh may be more suited to Victorino and provide some punch to the lower third of the already dynamic Phillies' offense. Victorino runs down everything in the outfield, and possesses a rightfielder's arm, earning him a Gold Glove each of the last two seasons.

Offense- 3.5...Very similar to Rollins, and the move to seventh should benefit him
Defense- 5... arm strength gives him slight edge over Beltran

Washington Nationals- Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan, like McLouth, left Pittsburgh in mid-season in 2009, and the Nationals are the beneficiaries. Morgan hit .351 and stole 24 bases in 51 games after the move to DC, finishing the season with a .307 average overall in what really was his first full-time season in the bigs. (I thought his performance in Washington had to do with the excitement of being near Alexander Ovechkin, as Morgan, who played major juinor hockey in Alberta, is a big fan of the pucks). Now 29, Morgan fits nicely into the mix for the emerging Nationals offense. A classic singles hitter, Morgan can run, but is getting thrown out too much right now and has to improve that number. Either way, his speed won't slump, and this is something that opposing pitchers have to take into account ahead of the likes of Dunn and Willingham. Morgan is a pretty good outfielder, but not at the level of Beltran and Victorino just yet.

Offense- 3.5... run more, get caught less
Defense- 4... willing, solid, good arm

Centerfield Wrap Up

Best CF- Carlos Beltran... when he plays
Best Offensively- Beltran... when he plays
Best Defensively- Shane Victorino
Just A Guy- Nate McLouth
Most Potential to Bust Out- Nyjer Morgan
Best in Five Years- Victorino

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Left Field in the NL East

Out into the outfield now, with left field...

Atlanta Braves- Matt Diaz

Diaz has found at home in Atlanta after kicking around baseball's netherworld (Kansas City and the still terrible Devil Rays) during the early stages of his career. He won't play every single day, but is good for 12-135 games a year and doesn't kill you. He's a career .310 hitter, he posts decent power numbers, and even stole 12 bases in '09, and apparently has lost a lot of weight and is in great shape coming into 2010. With all of that being said, he's still Matt Diaz, is now 32 years old, and is likely to remain what he is, which is a solid Major Leaguer, but not a star and not close to it.

Offense- 3... mildly above average
Defense- 2.5... absolutely average

Florida Marlins- Chris Coghlan

Coghlan surprised many throughout the baseball world with his performance in 2009, which saw him hit .321 and take home NL Rookie of the Year honors. I honestly don't know what to think of Coghlan. He hit against everyone he played last year, and actually got stronger as the season wore on, hitting .385 in August and .390 in September/October. He hit nine home runs and stole eight bases, neither of which stands out, but I think Coghlan will continue to hit. He posted a .390 OBP for the Fish in '09, and anything near that will work for the presumed leadoff man of the future. He's pretty average in left field, but that's every left fielder, no?

Offense- 4... high average, I'd like to see more power or speed... hits are hits though, especially for a leadoff man
Defense- 2.5... not great, doesn't hurt you

New York Mets- Jason Bay

Has there ever been a more peculiar match of a marquee free agent and a team? When Bay's four year deal with the Mets was announced in December, many baseball people were left scratching their heads. The Mets? In Citi Field? With his injury concerns? Bay is a very good player, and he put up great numbers in 2009, his free agent walk year. However, a right handed power hitter can't be thrilled with the prospect of playing in cavernous Citi Field, and a left fielder with limited range especially can't be thrilled about having to patrol that much real estate, particularly while Carlos Beltran is on the mend. Boston was concerned enough about Bay's long-term injury potential so as to have only tepid interest in retaining him, even with as productive as he was in the Red Sox. I think Bay will be fine in New York, but I'd surprised if he put up numbers befitting a $16.5 million per year player.

Offense- 3.5... he's a 4 in Boston's lineup playing at Fenway, but as a vital cog in an anemic offense in a big park, not so much
Defense- 2... below average range

Philadelphia Phillies- Raul Ibanez

Ibanez enjoyed a successful first season in Philadelphia, posting 34 home runs and 93 RBI along with a career-high .899 OPS, and earning a trip to his first All-Star game. However, his first half was much better than his second half in 2009 (as in, 70 points of average and 10 home runs better in the first half). Was the drop off due to the sports hernia that he had corrected in the offseason? Or was age starting to catch up to the 37 year old? Ibanez did hit over .300 in two of the Phillies' three playoff series, and also landed a crushing home run off of George Sherrill in Game One of the NLCS. However, his under .100 performance with only one home run in 2010's spring training has not allayed many fears about his health, age, or both. One thing Ibanez has proven is that he's much better defensively than many American League experts predicted. However, this could be only a result of watching Pat Burrell and his total lack of range in left for the previous eight seasons. Ibanez catches what he gets to and shows a good arm, which is good enough for a left fielder, particularly if Shane Victorino can help make up ground in left-center.

Offense- 3... I honestly have no idea what to expect this year... could be a 4, could be a 2
Defense- 2... good enough 

Washington Nationals- Josh Willingham

Willingham turned into a solid contributor to the Nats' attack in his first season in Washington in 2009. Willingham slugged 24 home runs and posted a very good OBP of .367. The fact that he only had 61 RBI to show for his 24 home runs suggests that a) the Nats still had too many automatic outs in the lineup and/or b) Adam Dunn cleared the bases before him with a home run or an inning ending strikeout. In any case, even though his numbers weren't necessarily career highs in anything, Willingham looked better in '09, and seems to have finally found a home after being shifted all over the diamond by the Marlins. He's a solid bet to put up another good year of a .260 something average and 25-35 home runs depending on how much he plays. He, and Nats fans, hope that the RBI totals spike a bit with steady lines in his other categories. Repeating the theme for leftfielders, Willingham can catch the balls he gets to, and that's good enough. Generally guys who play other positions are asked to do so because they have an innate athletic ability, however, Willingham hasn't played any other defensive position particularly well, so I think it just means teams want his power stick in the lineup.

Offense- 3.5... gets on base and hits the ball out of the park... righthanded power is hard to come by... might be Jason Bay without the trip to Boston and the contract
Defense- 2... if half of life is showing up, Willingham (and the rest of NL East LF) are just fine

Left Field Wrap Up

Best Leftfielder- Jason Bay
Best Offensively- Bay
Best Defensively- is there REALLY a tallest midget in the circus?
Could Be Great, Might Just Be old- Raul Ibanez
Just a Guy- Matt Diaz
Best in Five Years- Chris Coghlan

Up next, we shift to center...

NL East Shortstops

#6 on the field, often number 1 in your heart...

Atlanta Braves- Yunel Escobar

Escobar's numbers improved modestly in 2009, his second full season as Atlanta's shortstop. He will hit in the high .200s to low .300s, but shows modest power (10-15 home runs) and little speed (12-24 lifetime in stolen base attempts). He's very good defensively, and could concievably win a Gold Glove someday, maybe even this year. Watching him play, his attitude very clearly irks Bobby Cox more than occasionally, and one wonders how good he would be if he spent more time watching video of pitchers and trying to pick up their cues and moves, and less time acting like a clown and getting his hair frosted blond. At 27, it's time for Escobar to step up and become a good player, or remain content to just be another guy.

Offense- 2.5... pretty average all the way around... no secondary numbers, and his average is even mitigated a bit by his propensity to hit into double plays
Defense- 4.5... good range, good arm, makes the plays he's supposed to and can be spectacular

Florida Marlins- Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez might very well be the most talented player in the division, and if he's not the best player, he's on the short list. I'd argue that Ramirez and Chase Utley are the two best players in the division, and their offensive stat lines are remarkably similar. Ramirez won his first batting title in 2009 with a .342 average, and it would surprise no one if that were the first of many batting crowns. Still only 26, Ramirez hits for average and power, can run, and can hit anywhere in the top of the order. As good as his '09 was, I think Hanley actually had a better season in 2008, when he hit for more power, walked more, and led the NL in runs scored. He's only modest in the field, and his ability at short coupled with his size make him an ideal candidate to shift to third base in the future, a la Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez. If you were to start a franchise and could pick any one player to do so, you could do a lot worse than Ramirez.

Offense- 5... batting champs who can drive the ball and run are hard to come by, but this is one
Defense- 2... I think he'd better better at third, but that may not happen until he signs with the Yankees or Red Sox in a few years

New York Mets- Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes, for better or worse, is the face of this era of New York Mets baseball. He was one of the cornerstones that the team intended to build around in the middle of the decade, debuted at 20 in 2003, went to the playoffs in 2006, was a big part of a late-season meltdown in 2007, had an OK 2008 and not much of a 2009 with injuries. A tantalizing combination of leadoff speed and home run capability, Reyes has yet to prove that he really has a clue about what's going on during a game. Each of his last two healthy seasons he has led the league in caught stealing, and he remains difficult to walk, but not as difficult as in his first few seasons. His career .337 on base percentage is not good enough to be an effective leadoff hitter for a team that struggles to score runs. And- fairly or unfairly- he more than any other is the face and name cited by other teams as acting the fool and getting them riled up. Who's clowning around incited a brawl with the Marlins on the next-to-last day of the 2007 season and gave a Marlin team playing for nothing motivation to help complete the Mets' historic collapse? Jose Reyes. What name was scrawled on Shane Victorino's locker plate after he rounded first with his hand in the air after his playoff grand slam against CC Sabathia in the 2008 playoffs? J. Reyes. Reyes has rightfully earned the reputation of a guy who celebrates a bit too much for a 5th inning home run in June, and other teams notice. Until he starts acting like a pro and wins something, instead of just acting like he's won something, the reputation will follow him. Don't let the offense and defense numbers fool you. If there was a 'makeup' category, he'd be in Dan Uggla defense-land, and that detracts from his admittedly strong suits.

Offense- 4... can hit the ball out of the park, and steals tons of bases... also hard to walk and gets thrown out too much on the base paths
Defense- 5... very good all around

Philadelphia Phillies- Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is the anti- Jose Reyes. In many ways, they are similar. Both are leadoff hitting shortstops, both play excellent defense, both can hit the ball out of the park and steal lots of bases. Both like to run their mouths, but the difference is that Rollins backs up what he says, and Reyes disappears in big spots. Rollins said prior to the 2007 season that Philadelphia was the team to beat, and then went out and won the NL MVP award. Rollins said the Phils would win 100 games in 2008, and between the regular season and playoffs they won 103. Rollins is the guy you saw make the diving stab to turn a double play to clinch the division title in 2008, and the guy whose double to the gap with two outs down a run against the Dodgers won Game Four of the 2009 NLCS. The numbers say Rollins and Reyes are similar, but if you watch them both play everyday, you know that they're not. Having said all of that, Rollins has to be better about pitch selection and working counts to be effective for the Phillies. His is a simple formula- when he scores, the Phillies win. Period, end of sentence. Because of this, more doubles on 2-2 counts are preferable to 1-0 pop ups. Rollins, like Reyes, steals a lot of bases, but unlike Reyes, he rarely gets caught, taking 119 out of 136 over the past three years. Rollins' range and arm are exceptional, and he had rightly earned three consecutive Gold Gloves.

Offense- 4... a 3.5 without his base stealing success rate, has to do much better than the .296 OBP he posted in 2009
Defense- 5... as good as anyone in baseball

Washington Nationals- Ian Desmond

This week's announcement that Desmond will be the Nats' everyday shortstop came as little surprise to those who follow the team. Cristian Guzman's range and abilities are a bit limited at this point, and the 24-year old Desmond is thought ready to handle playing every day in the show. In limited duty in 09, Desmond looked to belong, hitting .280 with four home runs in 21 games, while displaying tools that provide all the evidence you need for why the Nats are high on him. However, I have my doubts about his ability at the plate at the big league level. Prior to 2009, Desmond never hit above .264 for a season in the minors, and half of his 50 minor league home runs came at the High A level. He has also struck out two and a half times as often as he's walked, which are not good indicators that he'll make consistent contact or show good pitch selection in the majors. He's still young, and his 2009 season may have been the result of everything clicking into place for him. Time will tell for Desmond, and the Nationals intend to find out over the 162 game long haul.

Offense- 2... You've got to perform better for more than 21 games to prove you can hit big league pitching
Defense- 2... Posted some ghastly fielding percentages in the minors

Shortstop Wrap Up

-Best Shortstop- Jimmy Rollins
-Best Third Baseman Moonlighting at SS- Hanley Ramirez
-Best Offensively- Ramirez
-Best Defensively- Rollins
-Worst Offensively- Ian Desmond
-Worst Defensively- Desmond
-Biggest Question- Can Desmond be a servicable to good shortstop in the bigs?
-Best in Five Years- Ramirez, but probably at third base

Up next, left field...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Third Base

Now on to third base...

Atlanta Braves- Chipper Jones

Much speculation has floated about in the offseason about the possibility that 2010 will be Chipper's final season. That is a scenario that makes sense, with Chipper turning 38 in June and the only manager he's ever played for, Bobby Cox, retiring after this season. Injuries have also started to slow down Jones, as 2009 was the first season he's played more than 140 games since 2003. His power numbers remained relatively constant, but his batting average fell exactly 100 points to .264 after winning the NL batting crown in 2008. Jones has no speed, and has never been a great fielder, which has only been made worse with age. Jones can still be a productive hitter, but he's unlikely to win another batting crown or even come close. If he does play beyond 2010, a move across the diamond to first base (a la Troy Glaus) may be the move that extends his career. Chipper is 74 home runs from 500, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him stick around to try to reach that plateau. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him walk away this year either.

Offense- 4... career .307 hitter still dangerous from both sides of the plate, just not as dangerous as he was
Defense- 2... below average

Florida Marlins- Emilio Bonifacio and Wes Helms

Let's cut to the chase. Neither one can play. Bonifacio is really fast, which is nice except that he never gets on base and has no power, as evidenced by the fact that he had the lowest OPS (.611) in all of baseball in 2009. He makes up for this by being below average in the field. Helms stinks. His one potential tool is power, but he only hit three home runs in 214 at-bats in 2009. He catches and makes plays on balls he gets to, but that's not a whole heck of a lot. However, his cousin is Ed Helms, who plays Andy Bernard on The Office.

Offense- 1.5... no power, and about a .300 on-base percentage between them
Defense- 0.5... uggghhh

New York Mets- David Wright

David Wright is a very nice player, one of the better players in all of baseball. He's a good hitter, and possesses an outstanding glove. He appeared to be the biggest victim of the Mets' move to Citi Field, as he dropped to 10 home runs in 618 trips to the plate, which isn't good for a guy counted upon to provide a big portion of the power for a homer-hungry club. Wright is a very good player, but not a leader, and his talent and stature on his club probably demands more of him. However, he plays every day, hits .300 and plays Gold Glove level defense. Always a threat for the All-Star team, Wright is the best all-around player on the Mets.

Offense- 4... could be a five if his power rebounds... runs better than you think, with 27 steals last year
Defense- 4... probably a bit overrated, but still very good

Philadelphia Phillies- Placido Polanco

Polanco returns to Philadelphia for his second tour of duty after spending parts of four seasons with the Phils after arriving via the Scott Rolen trade. Polanco may be the best in the bigs at situational hitting and handling the bat, and he even won a Gold Glove at second base for the Tigers in 2009. However, the Phillies have a viable second baseman, so Polanco will make the switch to third. A perfect fit in the Phillies lineup, Polanco will hit second and allow the more free-swinging, faster, more powerful Shane Victorino slide to the seven hole and provide some punch in the bottom part of the order. However, the man he replaces, Pedro Feliz, was one of the better, if not the best, defensive third basemen in baseball, with great range and a laser arm. Polanco's range isn't as good, and I have concerns about whether or not he has a third base arm for a full season. He won't drive you nuts at the plate like Feliz, but he won't pick it and throw it or hit for the power that Feliz did either.

Offense- 3.5... perfect fit as the disciplined good cop in the two hole for the Phillies
Defense- 3... catches the ball, but questions about arm persist

Washington Nationals- Ryan Zimmerman

Turning into Scott Rolen about 10 years later, but without the sulking and attitude. Zimmerman had a monster 2009, hitting .292 with 33 home runs and 106 RBI while winning the Gold Glove. Beat that. Still only 25, Zimmerman will continue getting better and will serve as the lynchpin around which the Nats attempt to build. And he's a great piece to build around. His numbers are on an upswing as he continues to figure out who he is as a hitter and a fielder, and there's no reason to believe that he won't be an All-Star at the hot corner for years to come.

Offense- 4... doesn't run and hasn't hit over .300 in a full year, but he's very good with the bat
Defense- 4... makes the routine plays and some of the spectacular ones

Third Base Wrap Up
-Best Third Baseman- David Wright
-Best Offensively- At this stage Wright, Jones and Zimmerman are all really close
-Best Defensively- Ryan Zimmerman
-Worst Offensively- Emilio Bonifacio
-Worst Defensively- Emilio Bonifacio
-Biggest Question- Placido Polanco's arm
-Best in Five Years- Zimmerman

We'll next move from the fifth position to number six, the shortstops...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Second Base in the NL East

Now your NL East second sackers...

Atlanta Braves- Martin Prado

A versatile player for the Braves, Martin Prado appeared at 1B, 2B, 3B and in the outfield for the Braves in 2009. However, with Kelly Johnson having moved on to the Diamondbacks, the Braves' second base job appears to be Prado's in 2010. The 26-year old Venezuelan hit .307 in over 500 at-bats in 2009, however, despite nearly doubling his at-bat total from 2008, his average went down, his RBI total only went up 16, while his home runs went up more than five fold. This suggests a player with warning track power trying a little too hard to hit the ball out of the park. He also didn't have a triple and stole only one base, which suggests he's slow, has no instincts for baserunning, or both. Because of playing all over the diamond his defense was a little questionable, but he's going to have to be better at 2B to remain in the lineup, particularly with Atlanta's pitching staff needing stellar defense in the many close games they play.
Offense- 2.5... hits over .300, but no power and zero speed
Defense- 2.0... has to be better

Florida Marlins- Dan Uggla

First, I'll believe that the Marlins keep Uggla all year when I see it. Now... Dan Uggla is the 21st century, infielding version of Dave Kingman. His numbers look ok, but when you watch him hit, he's very clearly trying to hit every ball into the upper deck. He swings often, swings from the heels, and hits big or misses big. He hit 31 home runs and 90 RBI in 09, but had only 27 doubles. That's right, in the Marlins park, hitting righthanded, with that scoreboard out in leftfield, Uggla had more home runs than doubles. That is absurd. To watch Uggla play is to understand the character Pedro Cerrano from Major League. Like Cerrano, Uggla's bats are afraid of the curveball, and any decent non-hanger is likely to solicit a mighty swing and a miss. His walk totals have increased steadily over his career, but this is likely the result of pitchers being afraid he will hit one out (and therefore nibbling), rather than an improvement in his batting eye. In the field, Uggla is atrocious. I could say more, but that wouldn't be nice. I understand that he hits 30 home runs and drives in 90, but his defense is so bad it doesn't come close to being a good tradeoff over a second baseman who is just average offensively and defensively. Maybe stat heads will scream foul on that, but if you watch Uggla play, you wouldn't argue that point.

Offense- 3... strong power numbers are mitigated by utter lack of interest in anything but long ball
Defense- 0... worthless, at least if the position was unoccupied baseball people wouldn't pull their hair out watching him try to field... badly needs to move to 1B or DH

New York Mets- Luis Castillo

Luis Castillo continues to hurt the Mets beyond just his contributions on the field. It feels like eight offseasons in a row that the Mets have wanted to sign Orlando Hudson, but have been unable to find a taker for a clearly declined Castillo and his ridiculous contract (courtesy of Omar Minaya, of course). The enduring image of Castillo's stay in Flushing is likely to be his dropped pop-up on a ball hit by A-Rod that would have ended the game in a Met win, but instead ended with two Yankees charging home to win for the team in the Bronx. I freely admit watching this play unfold and breaking into uproarious, uncontrollable laughter for the better part of 10 minutes. Aside from this, however, and to Castillo's credit, he played much better in the second half of 2009 than he had for the Mets before that, hitting .321 in the second half after posting a .285 mark in the first half of the season. I don't think that means he's got everything turned around, but I do think it means he still has the potential to be a productive player. Still only 34, it feels like Castillo has been around forever (only 1996 actually), and his .302 average actually would have led the Phillies in 2008 and 2009. However, part of what made Castillo great was his outstanding speed, and having lost a bit of it, he's no longer an All-Star caliber player, just a capable player than can play everyday when he's healthy. However, he's paid for to well to be only that, and his one home run and 20 stolen bases in 09 indicate he doesn't have anything exceptional to offer.

Offense- 3... .300 hitters are .300 hitters... even with diminished speed and no power
Defense- 3... good enough, not as quick as he was

Philadelphia Phillies- Chase Utley

Chase Utley, with the possible exception of Hanley Ramirez, is the best all-around player in the NL East. Already an impressive hitter for average and power and improving defender, Utley added to the repetoire by going 23-23 in stolen base attempts in 2009. What I will say separates Utley from Ramirez and gives him the edge is that Ramirez wants to win, but Utley is a stone-cold killer. His steely glare and expressionless face belie a burning passion to win everything he does at all costs. His short swing hits baseballs unimaginable distances, he calmly trots around the bases chewing gum (and other substances), touches home plate, bumps fists with teammates and strolls back to the Phils dugout with a non-chalant arrogance that shows that he knows and you know that he's the baddest mother going these days. Jimmy Rollins may provide the Phillies' mouthpiece, but it is Utley who provides the will and attitude for a team that doesn't talk about beating you (Mets), doesn't think about how cool it is to beat you (Marlins), it just beats you. Utley has made himself a much better second baseman (not a Gold Glover, as UZR nerds, I mean devotees, will tell you), but he is much better than when he came up. Without a hip injury, or an offseason rehab from a hip injury to worry about as he has the last two seasons, pencil in Utley for .300/30/100. And maybe even a smile or two on the field.

Offense- 5... .300 hitter, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 25 steals all within reach, without the kryptonite of strikeouts and lefthanders that often befall Ryan Howard... if he posts those four marks, he's an MVP candidate
Defense- 4... really good, but I watch every game, therefore I know he's not a GG second sacker... catches and fields better than he throws, but throws better when going to his left than his right

Washington Nationals- Adam Kennedy

If David Eckstein is the Little Engine that Could, Adam Kenneday is the Little Engine that Can Too. A smaller guy with no discernable outstanding tool, Kennedy is a pro's pro that does everything well, but nothing outstanding. He's not a black hole in the lineup, nor in the field. He doesn't make mental mistakes, doesn't get himself out, shows a little pop (7-10 HR) and speed (15-25 SB) and fits in well in a clubhouse. That describes every player the Angels have had over the last decade, and a good face for the Angel way under Mike Scioscia might well be Kennedy's. After spending 2009 in Oakland, Kennedy comes to Washington to stabilize second base and add another degree of professionalism to the Nationals. Kennedy won't make the all-star team, won't be in MVP discussion, and still won't be a household name at the end of the season, but he will make second base one less thing the Nats have to worry about in 2010.

Offense- 3... fully average and competent in pretty much each area
Defense- 3... see above... not a great arm, but it's second base

Second Base Wrap Up
Best First Baseman- Chase Utley
Best Offensive First Baseman- Utley
Best Defensive First Baseman- Utley
Worst Offensive First Baseman- Martin Prado
Worst Defensive First Baseman- Uggla... could be the worst fielder at his position in baseball
Best in Five Years- Probably still Utley

Up Next, Third Base...

Monday, March 8, 2010

NL East First Basemen

Continuing on the tour of the NL East, today we visit First Base...

Atlanta Braves- Troy Glaus

I've always been a fan of Troy Glaus, and in bringing him to Atlanta for the 2010 season, I think the Bravos took the type of low-risk chance that could wind up paying huge dividends for them. A third baseman his whole career, injuries limited Glaus to only 14 games in 2009, but he has played well over 130 games more than he hasn't in his big league career. While the days of 40 home runs and 100 RBI are probably in the past for a myriad of reasons, Glaus' arrival gives the Braves a legitimate offensive threat at first. If he hits .265 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI, I think the Braves would take that. And they should, after drawing dead with the likes of Casey Kotchman in recent years, save for that stretch when they rented Mark Teixeira.
Offense- 3.5- gives power and production from a power spot... not a premier slugger anymore, but still productive
Defense- 3.0- range shouldn't be an issue given his history at 3B, and 1B doesn't have to throw as much as other positions

Florida Marlins- Jorge Cantu

Cantu seems to have finally found a home at first base for the Marlins, after spending the early part of his career playing all over the infield with the Rays and Reds. Still only 28, Cantu posted his second 100-RBI season, reaching the century mark in 149 games in 2009. While his home run number dropped almost in half (29-16) from 2008, his 40 plus double seasons will continue to drive in runs for the young Marlins, particularly with the angularity of the outfield at the Marlins' home stadium, whatever it's called now. Cantu looks like he should be able to run a little, but can't, but he's more than adequate defensively and still finds himself at third every once in awhile for the Marlins. Cantu is a good bet to produce along his average season, which is about .285 with 20 home runs and 90 RBI.
Offense- 3.5- good stick, drives in runs, can be impatient, which is characteristic of most of the Fish
Defense- 2.5- average utility type player... doesn't kill your team, but isn't spectacular either

New York Mets- Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy, still only 25, has lived a few lifetimes in his Mets' career already. He came up as a 23-year old in 2008 to join a cast intent on gagging down the stretch for the second straight season, and he actually hit well, finishing with a .313 average in 131 at bats. Murphy had a decent second season in 2009, leading the Mets with 12 home runs in splitting time between the outfield and first base. But here's the rub. Daniel Murphy can't catch. Murphy made 10 errors in 101 games AS A FIRST BASEMAN, giving him a lower fielding percentage than even (gulp) Ryan Howard. He was even worse in the outfield, throwing up a fielding percentage of only .950. Those fielding percentages just can't happen, and they're only mitigated if you're a major run producer (like Howard) or you have a shutdown pitching staff that doesn't need the defensive help (and come on, what pitcher doesn't throw better in front of a good defense). I can't prove it, obviously, but I think Murphy carries the struggle with the glove to the plate. Hitting is difficult against Major League pitching, but there's a comfort there that you have through every level of baseball: find the release point, pick up the rotation of the ball, locate where it will cross the plate, swing or don't. A natural third baseman, the Mets are so starved for a decent bat (which I think Murphy can be), that they've ruined him defensively by throwing him all over the diamond in unfamiliar spots. And under the bright lights of the big leagues and the harsh glare of New York, that can't be a great combination. The good news/bad news routine is this: good news- Murphy led the Mets in home runs in 2009. Bad news: he hit 12, also known as a good two weeks for half of the Phillies' lineup.
Offense- 2.5... one of the Mets better hitters in '09, but that's not saying a whole lot
Defense- 0.5... terrible... you have to catch the ball at some position to be an effective player for an NL team

Philadelphia Phillies- Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard is the best run-producing lefthanded stick in baseball today. Period, end of story, thanks for coming. The only competiton to the crown in all of baseball plays 1B in St. Louis and 3B in the Bronx, but from the leftside, Howard is it. He is the anchor and RBI machine of the NL's best offensive team. He certainly does have his kryptonite, as pointed out recently by Tom Verducci, but he's reached 45 home runs and 135 RBI each of the last four seasons, missing the 140 threshold only in 2007 when a DL stint left him with a mere 136. No one hits them harder, farther or to the opposite field with the ferocity that Howard does, and when the guys before him have names like Rollins, Polanco and Utley and the guys after him names like Werth, Ibanez and Victorino, you can be sure he will get plenty more RBI chances in 2010. The two biggest knocks on Howard have been his weight and his defense, two items he has attacked head on the last two offseasons, losing a ton of weight and working hard with Phillies infield coach Sam Perlozzo to improve his defense. And this AFTER winning a World Series and getting a big raise. That tells you all you need to know about the player referred to by legendary Phils broadcaster Harry Kalas simply as "The Big Man."
Offense- 5... his numbers don't lie, and as scary as letting Utley or Werth beat you might be, teams would still rather take their chances than giving in to Howard
Defense- 2... still below average, but working hard to make it better... a great player refusing to be 'just good enough' says a lot about his makeup

Washington Nationals- Adam Dunn

Dunn is a lot like Jim Thome, in that he's the type of guy that you can reliably predict each of his plate appearances as one of three outcomes- a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. In fact, for his career, Dunn has come to the plate 5417 times, and homered (316), walked (913) or struck out (1433) in 2662 of those plate appearances, or 49% of the time. While it is surely aggravating to watch someone with those ratios and wonder what could be if he would just put the ball in play more, this attitude also minimizes some of Dunn's true value. While only a .249 career hitter, he reaches base at a .398 clip, and his OPS is a stellar .903. Dunn is what he is, and might be the most predictable first sacker in the division... he hits 40 or so home runs, drives in 100 or so runs, walks a ton and strikes out more. An outfielder for most of his career, Dunn is probably anchored at first for as long as he's in the NL, as a move to the AL would almost certainly render him a DH.
Offense- 4... low average combatted by high secondary numbers and extraordinary run production, mostly for bad teams
Defense- 0.5... he wears a glove... that's about it

First Base Wrap Up

Best First Baseman- Ryan Howard
Best Offensive First Baseman- Howard
Best Defensive First Baseman- Troy Glaus, if I have to pick one
Worst Offensive First Baseman- Daniel Murphy, leave the trouble with the glove out of the batter's box
Worst Defensive First Baseman- Murphy... hey, Adam Dunn can catch
Potential to be the best value- Glaus... if he stays healthy
Best in Five Years- Howard... his production is virtually unprecedented, and he's still young

Up next, Second Base...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

NL East Catching

Ok, I'll admit it... I've been slacking off a bit, and haven't posted since the end of January. What happened in the mean time? Nothing much, aside from a million inches of snow. Approimately.

In any event, Spring Training is in full swing and games are being played, which is far more interesting than potential arbitration cases or a stadium getting a new coporate name.

Between now and the start of the season I want to provide at least a thumbnail for each team, but I want to jump a bit deeper into each aspect of the division I follow most closely, the National League East. I'll rate each player offensively and defensively against others at their position (so a highly rated offensive catcher isn't compared to a highly rated offensive left fielder), with a five being Ted Williams (bat) or Ozzie Smith (glove), and one being Eric Bruntlett (bat) or Dan Uggla (glove). I guess you know what I'll be giving Uggla in the field when I get to second basemen. Oh well. Today I'll start with the division's catchers...

Atlanta Braves- Brian McCann and David Ross (backup)

The Braves boast the best all around catcher in the NL East in Brian McCann, an NL All-Star each of the past four seasons. He is far and away the most productive offensive catcher in the division, and he doesn't kill you defensively, although 12 errors last season are more than you want to see from your catcher. McCann's biggest problem might be that he's too important to the Braves offensively, and therefore has to play too much. Even with that, McCann has showed himself to be very durable, and another season of hitting around .300 while playing 135 games would surprise absolutely no one. Ross is the quintessential journeyman backup catcher, boasting a career batting average of .228, but throwing out 40% of attempted base stealers in his career, which is a good thing in a division where great base stealers live. Ross actually hit .273 with seven home runs and struck out 39 times in 128 at bats in 2009, which suggests that when he played, he was swinging for the fences. McCann turns 26 this year and Ross 33, so a similar performance from last year is anticipated

Offense- McCann- 5, Ross- 1... McCann is probably the best offensive catcher in baseball... Ross isn't
Defense- McCann- 2, Ross- 4... Clean it up back there, Brian... You had 4x as many errors as Carlos Ruiz

Florida Marlins- Josh Baker and Ronny Paulino (backup)

Baker, in his second season in the show, almost doubled his playing time and rewarded Freddy Gonzalez by hitting .271 and providing stability for the Fish behind the plate. The A's fourth round pick in 2002 garnered several mentions in Moneyball, but has turned into a solid pro for the even more cost-conscious Marlins. Baker is a big kid who threw out 20% of attempted base stealers last year, but I think he's better than that at controlling the running game because the Marlins almost always have young pitchers (and power arm Josh Johnson), and young pitchers (and power arms like Josh Johnson) usually stink at holding runners. Baker is a big guy, but if Baker is big, Paulino is fat. He appeared in 80 games in '09, and actually did a good job for a guy that was traded twice in spring training. He threw out 31% of would be base stealers, and didn't embarrass himself at the plate, hitting .272. Paulino is what he is at this point, but I think Baker improves his overall game moderately, but enough to take notice.

Offense- Baker- 2.5 and rising, Paulino- 2.5 and steady... seeing pitchers he knows can only help Baker
Defense- Baker- 2 and rising, Paulino- 2.5 and fat... Baker needs to get better throwing out runners

New York Mets- Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, Omir Santos (backups)

Maybe the Mets carry three catchers. Maybe they don't. The unifying theme for all four of these guys is that they can't play. You can also draw three-way themes of rotund (Barajas, Blanco and Santos) or old (Barajas, Blanco and Coste). Barajas will get the majority of the playing time, and has shown himself to be a below average hitter who will hit 15-20 out of the park. However, I'm skeptical he'll do this in the Mets' cavernous Citi Field. Numbers suggest that he's a decent defensive player, but his refusal to get dirty and take a hit for the Phillies in 2007 in a play at the plate is forever etched in my memory. Having said that, when Barajas doesn't play, the Mets will be drawing absolutely dead in the catcher's spot offensively, although Blanco has a well-earned reputation as a good receiver.

Offense- Barajas- 2, backups- 0.5... Barajas gets a two on power... the rest aren't hitters
Defense- Barajas- 2.5, backups- 3.5... backup score driven completely by Blanco

Philadelphia Phillies- Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider (backup)

Ruiz is a bit of a late-bloomer, having transitioned behind the plate while already in professional ball, and now enters his fourth full season in the bigs. A great handler of pitches in the dirt, Ruiz continues to improve behind the plate and with the bat. He hit .255 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 2009, and in the lineup he's in, he's the perfect eight-hole hitter. Landing Schneider as the backup is a bit of a coup for the Phillies, as he probably could start for several teams, and he always hurts the Phillies offensively. His value is in his glove, and his defense and even his modest hitting ability are significant upgrades over last year's backup, Paul Bako.

Offense- Ruiz- 2.5, Schneider- 1.5... unless it's the playoffs, in which case Ruiz becomes a 4.5
Defense- Ruiz- 3.5, Schneider- 3.5... Not great at throwing out runners, but stop everything near them

Washington Nationals- Ivan Rodriguez and Jesus Flores (backup)

In a step towards respectability after a 103-loss season that saw the Nats dispatch Manager Manny Acta, Washington signed legendary, if not aging, Pudge Rodriguez to backstop their club. It can be argued that Pudge is the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history, but in 2010 he's hardly at his peak. Despite this being his 20th season in the bigs, Pudge is still only 38 years old and comes off a decent 2009 campaign that saw him catch 115 games. The offensive numbers are down and now reside in the range of a normal catcher, but Pudge's arm is still as good as anyone, and he threw out 35% of base stealers last season. I really like Flores' potential, a catcher the Nats snagged from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2007 season. He has shown a bit of promise with both the glove and the stick, and at 25, has much room to grow into an excellent everyday catcher, particularly if he pays attention to anything he can learn from Rodriguez.

Offense- Rodriguez-2, Flores- 3... If it's five years ago or five years from now, both numbers could be much higher
Defense- Rodriguez- 4.5, Flores-3.5... Pudge's only down mark is his age... Flores could benefit greatly from Rodriguez' presence

NL East Catching Wrap Up

Best Catcher- Brian McCann
Best Team Depth- Phillies
Best Offensively- Brian McCann
Best Defensively- Ivan Rodriguez
Worst Offensively- Any one for the Mets not named Barajas
Worst Defensively- Ronny Paulino
Worst Team Depth- Mets
Best At Blocking Balls in the Dirt- Carlos Ruiz
Best Arm- Ivan Rodriguez
Best Fit on His Team- Carlos Ruiz
Best In Five Years- Jesus Flores
Best Backup- Brian Schneider

Up next... First basemen...