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...