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...

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