3/30/09

Team Preview Wrapup

Well, it looks like we bit off a bit more than we could chew with our ambitious team previews. Time constraints got in the way, and we're going to just cut our losses now rather than try to finish the remaining 17 teams in 6 days. But we feel like it'd be irresponsible of us to just leave most of the league completely unpreviewed, so here you go: divisional previews. We'll write a bit about each team that we haven't already previewed, and give a projected record. Plus, in the interest of transparency, we'll tell you where they fit in our list of teams we like, from 1-30, since we're sure you're very interested. Good times!

AL East

Tampa Bay Rays, 98-64. #13

Previewed here

New York Yankees, 94-68. #23

The Yankees did great by them in adding Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira, but we still have concerns about their outfield and third base situations. They have a large group of guys in the grass who can play, but none of them exceptionally well. Johnny Damon (old), Nick Swisher (not so talented), Melky Cabrera (same), Hideki Matsui (too injured to play OF regularly), Xavier Nady (fluky career year), Brett Gardner (young, but maybe promising)...who ya got?! Plus, A-Rod's torn hip labrum is what Chase Utley suffered from last year that sapped his power during the second half. If the surgery doesn't work out so well, and he can't put up his MVP-caliber numbers, there's no great power threat in the lineup. Plus, they're counting on A.J. Burnett to stay healthy. Well, gents, since it's not a contract year, we don't think that's in the cards.

Boston Red Sox, 93-69. #30

We really don't care for the Red Sox, but that's not coloring our judgment here (we swear! Really!). We just have what we think are well-founded concerns. If Jacoby Ellsbury improves his plate discipline, he can be a great leadoff man, and if Jed Lowrie continues to progress, they could be solid from top to near-bottom (since Jason Varitek may be the worst-hitting starting backstop in the majors). Dustin Pedroia is great, but not up to the level of most MVPs, and David Ortiz has got to show that he can recover both mentally and physically from last year's torn tendon sheath. Jason Bay should be solid - though he's no Manny! - but Kevin Youkilis played a little above his head in terms of power; we refer you to the inimitable Hit Tracker to tell you why. They track every home run hit in the majors, and do all sorts of fun stuff to tell you more about them. We can't explain it all here, but if you check out Youkilis' page there, you'll see that his vaunted 13-HR increase was helped by 12 "just enough" bombs. What's just enough? Take it away, Hit Tracker: "[Just enough] means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence." Good luck improving on that, Youk! The pitching staff should be well above average though; we love Beckett and Lester, and Matsuzaka should be solid despite an inevitable regression after he got very lucky with his strand rate last year. Between our hero John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield, they should be able to cover the last two spots, and the bullpen should be solid as well.

Baltimore Orioles, 78-84. #4

Previewed here

Toronto Blue Jays, 74-88. #18

Team Canada can't hit to save their lives. Our goodness, this is a terrible lineup, so much so that we're really glad we don't have to watch their games. Alex Rios is good, but he just can't be the best hitter in your lineup if you're really serious about contending. He might hit 20 jacks, and we suppose Vernon Wells could do the miraculous and drop 20 bombs as well, but beyond them there's not much hope unless rookie bopper Travis Snider can put up some numbers. Whither Frank Thomas, we ask! As for the other side of affairs, well, the pitching was much better last season than it will be this year. Shawn Marcum is out for the year, and Dustin McGowan might be, too. A.J. Burnett, of course, is gone as well, so there go starters 2-4 behind a KCSD favorite, Doc Halladay. Jesse Litsch and Casey Janssen are talented, and can help fill the gap, but they're not going to be up to the levels of their predecessors, and filler like David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Matt Clement, and Bryan Bullington isn't going to get the job done. Overall, there's not a whole lot to like here (besides Doc, of course).

AL Central

Detroit Tigers, 83-79. #3

Previewed here

Cleveland Indians, 82-78. #17

The Indians were remarkably bad with CC Sabathia playing ace, and remarkably good when he left. Ewing Theory! The lineup seemed to really gel in the second half, and with a healthy Victor Martinez swinging for them, they should be even better. Grady Sizemore is excellent, Super(utility)man Mark DeRosa is a great addition, Kelly Shoppach and Shin-Soo Choo showed a lot of promise last year, and Jhonny Peralta is severely underrated. If Travis Hafner somehow returns to form after two abysmal seasons, then they should win the division, but we think he's done. Which is sad, because we were at the game where they renamed the right field mezzanine Pronkville. Anyway, if the pitching is solid, this team should be in good shape. Cliff Lee won't be Cy Young Cliff Lee again, but if Fausto Carmona can be Cy Young Fausto Carmona again, then that's a decent trade. Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Carl Pavano, Aaron Laffey, Jake Westbrook, and Jeremy Sowers should be able to cobble together enough quality appearances among them for the team to be ok from 3-5 in the rotation, and the bullpen looks great, especially if FA signee Kerry Wood can be healthy all year. And since you've already heard all the jokes that follow that statement, we'll just move right along.

Chicago White Sox, 80-82. #6

Previewed here

Kansas City Royals, 78-84. #5

Previewed here

Minnesota Twins, 76-86. #27

The Twins are just not a fun team in our eyes. For the time being, their games are almost unwatchable because they play in a dome..

Time for an aside: we really hate domed stadiums. We see how they can be useful, especially in sports like baseball where you the elements can take a real toll on the game. But they're so...ugly. And watching any sporting event played in a dome is just a pain on the eyes; it's so dark and depressing that, for us, it takes away from the fun of the game. We honestly don't think we could follow a team that played its home games shrouded in darkness. Although actually that sounds kinda cool.

ANYWAY the Twins will be much more likable when they get their new stadium. Probably. But for now, much as we admire Ron Gardenhire's managerial skills, we just don't find anything to like on this team besides Franciscio Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Joe Mauer. That's not to say there's not other good players; while no one is going to print t-shirts about them anytime soon, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey are all capable hurlers, and Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young are exciting young outfielders. But...we just don't see it all coming together for them. Their bullpen is a weak spot, and the lineup upholds the Twin tradition of being utterly punchless, save for Justin Morneau's mildly powerful bat.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels, 84-78. #14

We feel a lot worse about this projection ever since the job title of Los Angeles Angels' Starting Pitcher became dangerous enough to warrant its own show on the Discovery Channel. Former horse John Lackey is going to miss time this year with a forearm strain after a triceps injury shut him down for a while last year. Ervin Santana, just after breaking out, has injured his elbow, and will miss about a month - and more, if the scar tissue doesn't hold up, which we don't think it will. Kelvim Escobar, a very underrated hurler himself, is trying to recover from a torn labrum, though any significant contribution from him this year would be surprising, and Jered Weaver may be on the verge of breaking down, as declining numbers and strange mechanics suggest. But we think the lineup will be good enough to lead them to a title in the weak West; there's enough talent in the outfield for two teams, there's good speed from top to bottom that manager Mike Scioscia knows how to use, and we think catcher Mike Napoli (20 HR in under 80 games last year) is going to break out - assuming he can get healthy. If Kendry Morales can step up and post something resembling respectable numbers from a first baseman, this should be a balanced unit that will head straight to a first-round flameout. They'll be celebrating in the streets over that one, let us tell you.

Oakland Athletics, 82-80. #11

Previewed here

Seattle Mariners, 75-87. #10

We started to preview the Mariners at one point, and then sort of forgot about them. Oops! But it was basically a lot of doom and gloom, and making fun of them for posting 100 losses with a $100 million payroll, and so on and so forth. So be glad you didn't have to struggle through it. Anyway, we're still seeing mostly doom and gloom, but less of it than last year! Think of it as shades of grey instead of utter, soul-consuming blackness. Now isn't that better? The reason we're so hopeful is because we love King Felix and Jose Lopez, the latter somewhat irrationally. And they made some really solid offseason moves, which automatically makes Jack Z.., yeah Jack Z. a better GM than ousted Bald Bill Bavasi. Brandon Morrow has said he's going to close, which makes us less hopeful, since we'd have loved to see him starting, but in J.J. Putz's absence, we suppose the team had to do something. We don't like Erik Bedard, but he's a guy who can really put up some numbers when he's healthy, and we have high hopes for Aussie starter Ryan Rowland-Smith. Russell Branyan should be an upgrade on Richie Sexson, and prospects Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement might could start to show off their pop this year. Also, with the additions of Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to man left and center next to Ichiro, this could be one of the best outfield defenses in the league.

Texas Rangers, 69-93. #7

Previewed here

NL East

Atlanta Braves, 89-73. #1 super fantastic team

We previewed the Braves here but upon further review, we want to amend it to reflect that Jordan Schafer is apparently leading the race for the center field job and also that we have decided, upon further review, that we like the pitching staff a lot more than we used to. Except for Tom Glavine. And also, the Phillies and Mets have more flaws than we first thought; we'll expound on that in a bit.

Philadelphia Phillies, 88-74. #24

The defending World Champions (we're contractually obliged to say that) have an extremely potent lineup but a barely average pitching staff. Cole Hamels is excellent, but his elbow tenderness makes us concerned for his health, and there's not much behind him. That is, unless you're more confident than we are in heater-hurtlin', wife-punchin' Brett Myers and soft-tossin' Jamie Moyer. Brad Lidge is great at the end of games, even if Charlie Manuel refuses to use him for more than an inning...

Aside: That's our biggest gripe with closers. We're not calling them soft because they don't throw 100 innings like the old relievers would, we're just saying that closers are generally a team's best bullpen arm. So why use them only in the 9th inning? Why not get as many innings as possible out of your team's best gun? If Lidge were to throw 70 or 80 innings, something we believe most any professional pitcher can do, the Phils would be much better off. But hey, if they want to keep him under 50 innings? Fine by us.

...and the rest of the bullpen is pretty good, though no bullpen is a sure thing. As for the hitters, Chase Utley is the best second basegentleman in the game when healthy, which he should be this year, and Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino look great in the spots ahead of him. Raul Ibanez should be his solid self for another year, maybe two, though not all three of his ill-advised deal, and Jayson Werth is an excellent lower lineup bat. We think their overall performance hinges on Ryan Howard; if he can up his contact rate and drive a few more balls to the bleachers, then we're talking about another MVP candidacy. If he continues to decline, as his skill set says will happen more rapidly than most, then they could be in trouble unless other guys step up their game. We're guessing Howard has another great year or two in him, but if he stumbles, this team could easily lose ground to the Mets.

New York Mets, 87-75. #29

After another late-season collapse attributable mostly to the atrocious bullpen, the Mets have retooled, adding two of the best bullpen arms in the game in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. The rest of the 'pen still looks mediocre, but, again, who can really tell with relievers? The pitching should be a strong point overall, with the Johan heading up a rotation that also features cross-dressin' John Maine, laundry cart-kickin' Oliver Perez, mouthpiece-wearin' Mike Pelfrey, and tater-servin' (allowed an Eric Milton-esque 34 in '07) Livan Hernandez. The lineup is potent as well, featuring some of the best overall players in the game in Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran. Some people will tell you that Carlos Delgado should also be mentioned as a great slugger; these people are wrong. There's a lot of if's involved for the rest of the hitters, though; Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church are no great shakes in the outfield corners, Luis Castillo was a colossal mistake of a signing, and Brian Schneider isn't particularly talented at hitting baseballs. They're not very deep, either; the reserves consist of names like Bobby Kielty, Fernando Tatis (yeah, he had a good year last year, but he's still toast), Angel Pagan (we loved him in Chicago) and Jeremy Reed. So those folks best stay healthy or it'll be a long year in Citi Field.

Florida Marlins, 80-82. #26

We probably like the Marlins' chances more than most. But we're a sucker for young talent, the "Holy Warriors of Potential" as FreeDarko puts it. And the Marlins, as always, are chock-full of it. Our pick for the best player in baseball, Hanley Ramirez, holds down shortstop; Cameron Maybin is a future star in center; Jeremy Hermida, if healthy, could finally put together a big year, and the rotation is loaded with good young talent. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Andrew Miller and Chris Volstad should be well above average; if they'd held onto Scott Olsen, they'd have one of the best 1-5's in the league. If their thunderous infield (each with 30 HR last year, a first in MLB history) can put up similar numbers despite losing first base banger Mike Jacobs and plugging in Emilio Bonifacio at third, they could be surprise contenders. Of course, catcher John Baker is more or less a black hole at the bat, and their bullpen doesn't have much beyond southpaw Renyel Pinto or the rocket arms of closer Matt Lindstrom and rookie Jose Ceda, but if they can cobble together some effective relief, we'll be scared of these guys.

Washington Nationals, 71-91. #25

The Nationals, too, have some good young talent. No, seriously. Stop laughing. Stop. That's not nice. Adam Dunn, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes make for a seriously talented outfield that should be able to bash with the best of them, and Willie Harris is an excellent defender who can take some ABs when necessary. In the infield, Ryan Zimmerman mans the hot corner, and he's a more than capable middle-of-the-order bat. Cristian Guzman, whom PECOTA loves this year (to the tune of .323/.361/.454...we're shocked, too) stands to his left, Ronnie Belliard will try not to screw up too badly at the keystone, and Nick Johnson can bash if he stays healthy. Which we all know he can't, but hey, hope springs eternal. Especially in spring. Staff ace Scott Olsen isn't really a number 1 guy, but he should put up good numbers, and if southpaw John Lannan can build on last year's success, it's not a bad 1-2 punch the Nats are putting out there. Of course, beyond that they're relying on Daniel Cabrera to find some semblance of control (he probably can't), failed Giants prospect Shairon Martis (whom we still love for throwing a no-no in the in the inaugural WBC for team Nederland), and a mix of Jordan Zimmerman, Collin Balester, Jason Bergmann, and Garrett Mock, so that doesn't bode well. But hey, Stephen Strasburg should be on the way! And if you haven't heard of that gentleman, you need to read this.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs, 93-71. #2

Previewed here

Milwaukee Brewers, 84-78. #16

The Brewers have a pretty good core group of guys. The offense features 3 potential 20-20 guys in Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Mike Cameron, and they're surrounding two of the NL's best sluggers in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, to say nothing of underrated SS J.J. Hardy. If Bill Hall can fix whatever's been ailing him, he could return to 20-dinger form as well, meaning 1-7 are all legitimate power threats. Of course, Jason Kendall is still hangin' around in that 8 spot; we guess the team's just going to have to count on his defensive skill to salvage what long ago became a below average bat. There's not much bench depth though, unless Mat Gamel is ready to show off what people love so much about him(his bat). He's got the name, but Tony Gwynn, Jr. don't exactly got the game to be someone you want to give more than a hundred ABs. You can say the same thing about the rest of the reserves, too, except for the name part. Pitching-wise, the Brew Crew is, of course, weaker since losing CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, to say nothing of closer Francisco Cordero's unexpected retirement. But they're no longer futzing around with Eric Gagne's battered corpse, so that's gotta count for something. Youngster Yovani Gallardo, he of the nasty stuff and torn ACL is the new ace, and we think he's got the gumption to handle it, to say nothing of the heater. Dave Bush - a stathead's dream and nightmare, since he has great K and BB rates, yet always seems to find a way to suck - and Jeff "Kettle of" Suppan fill in the next two spots; nice to see that Suppan's still living large off that one good posteason run. That contract is bizarre; when it was inked, people hated it, then it looked like a good deal in the next year since pitchers like Carlos Silva were getting paid even more, and now it looks like a terrible deal again. At least it's almost over. ANYWAY, lefty Manny Parra slots in to the back end of the rotation, and if he can overcome last year's stretch run fade and control issues, he could be a big surprise. He's probably the second most talented pitcher on this staff. Then you've got Braden Looper, Chris Capuano, Chase "Four straight ding dongs" Wright and and Seth McClung to choose from for the 5 spot; we'd rather just move on...TO THE BULLPEN, where Hell's Bells Hoffman has come to roost as the new closer. He wasn't so good last year, but PETCO was able to swallow up that skyrocketing flyball rate. Miller Field won't be so kind, and neither will Brewer fans! About the only bright spot in this entire 'pen is 25-year-old Carlos Villanueva, who's got great stuff and has tossed over two centuries' worth of innings in spot relief the last two seasons. If you only needed one inning of baseball to get through a year, that is.

Cincinnati Reds, 80-81. #8

Previewed here

St. Louis Cardinals, 78-84. #22

The Cards have this weird habit of looking totally underwhelming, and then doing crazy things to really shock you. You know, like winning the World Series with David Eckstein at short. This year, the lineup looks a bit more talented from top to bottom, mostly because we now know that Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick actually are talented. Wild, we know. Anyway, Ludwick, Ankiel, Pujols, Glaus - and potentially Chris Duncan and Khalil Greene, if they've recovered from a career-threatening neck injury and career-threatening incompetence, respectively - form a pretty potent core, and they even have the best of the Molina brothers to boot (Yadier)! The pitching's a little dicier, though. Adam Wainwright is the ace, and rightfully so, but beyond him it's a lot of question marks and mediocrity. Chris Carpenter was phenomenal when healthy, but, well, he's not really that anymore. He is coming back from what was an unprecedented run of arm injuries (as long as we exclude Dusty Baker's Midas touch from precedent), but whether he can be any good anymore is up for debate. Settle it for us, Chris! After him, well, Kyle Lohse, Joel Piniero, and Todd Wellemeyer ain't exactly striking fear in the hearts of opposing hitters, but they've been competent enough the last few years. By the way, we think we'll always remember this about Joel Piniero: he once had a streak where (at least) 55 right-handed batters went hitless against him. We found this astonishing. We mean...Joel Piniero! Anyway, as for the relievers, Chris Perez is the heat-heavin', control-not-havin' closer of the future, and we don't think there's a whole lot else to like here. But PECOTA does; even guys like Josh Kinney are forecast at a sub-4.00 ERA. So best of luck to them, we guess, even if we don't like 'em all that much. We're all about the underdog stories! Unless it means they win the division.

Pittsburgh Pirates, 65-97. #16

We're not really sure where to rank the Pirates and Astros, but, well, they're not really any good. So let's just start in Pittsburgh, where it's cause for celebration that they might not finish in last place. There's some mild promise in this lineup, as Nate McLouth can be a 20-20 guy, Ryan Doumit is one of the better hitting catchers in the league, and you could do worse than Adam LaRoche in the middle of your lineup. If Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche can deliver on some of their promise, and Nyjer Morgan can hit a little bit to augment his speed, there could be something here. Something small, but something. And in Pittsburgh, something is a lot. Ok, we've lost ourselves, too, so let's just get onto the pitching. There was once a lot of promise between Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, and Zach Duke, but at this point only Snell and Maholm offer any real promise. And Snell was terrible last year. If these guys can fix their myriad issues, then the Pirates could maybe even move into that 70-win plateau. The best thing we can really say about them is that closer Matt Capps is excellent. Unfortunately, there's not going to be a whole lot of leads for him to protect.

Houston Astros, 63-99. #28

In our eyes, the Astros have precisely 5 good players: Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Jose Valverde. Throw 'em in a pot and baby, you got a stew goin'. Or you got a good lineup core, a frontline starter, and a good closer in a pot. Which would be unfortunate. Anyway, beyond that, the Astros got nothin'. Miguel Tejada might have another productive year, and Michael Bourn can steal some bases, but when you're leaning heavily on Kaz Matsui, Geoff Blum, and Ivan Rodriguez, you're not gonna be in great shape. And for that matter, if you have more than one or two of the sort of pitchers that the Astros have, you're gonna be in bad shape. And they have four such hurlers. Should be a fun year, if you like watching teams give up 5 runs a game. Wandy Rodriguez might be good, but he's certainly not a number 2 guy, and the rest...well, take a look: Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton, Jose Capellan, Russ Ortiz, Brandon Backe, Clay Hensley.... alright, we're getting sad. And the relievers are a bunch of castoffs who figure to be whatever the opposite of rock solid is. Water solid?

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers, 89-73. #12

Previewed here

Arizona Diamondbacks, 87-75. #21

The Diamondbacks are also a team that had a lot of promise a few years ago. They had an awe-inspiring collection of prospects, and the kids are now playing full time. They may not be playing up to the 5-star level we might have expected from most, but a core of Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and, most importantly, Justin Upton isn't too shabby. Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero are a solid catching duo, Felipe Lopez should be able to steal some bases and hit for average, Chad Tracy should have another year or two left, and Eric Byrnes will be a good bench bat. But the real strength of this team lies in their rotation. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are, we'd say, two of the five best pitchers in the NL, Max Scherzer has a fantastic arm that'll whiff plenty, and Doug Davis and Jon Garland should be able to eat enough innings to allow the D'Backs to trot out effective pitchers just about every game. There aren't a lot of great arms in the 'pen, but between Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Tom Gordon, Tony Pena, and Scott Schoeneweis, we think they can cobble together plenty of effective late-game innings. Problem is, except for the top end of the rotation, the Dodgers just seem to do everything else a little bit better than this group.

San Francisco Giants, 77-85. #9

Previewed here

San Diego Padres, 71-91. #19

What we like: Brian Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jody Gerut, Chase Headley, Jake Peavy, Heath Bell, and Cla Meredith. What we don't: everything else, especially David Eckstein. In the lineup, you can really see the effect Petco Park has on the hitters. Giles is an OBP machine who would be near-star level if he didn't lose out on so many home runs; Adrian Gonzalez is one of the game's best sluggers, but no one knows it because of (say it agan!) Petco! To wit: his average line at home in the last three years has been .269/.345/.442. Solid, nothing to complain about, but it's not gonna get you any awards. On the road, though? A beastly .304/.367/.560. That's All-Star level performance that can get you MVP consideration in a down year. Kouz and Headley are young guys with lots of talent that hopefully doesn't get snuffed out by San Diego's deep dimensions, and Jody Gerut showed up last year after being out of baseball for a year and hit the lights out. In fact, PECOTA likes him to go .302/.365/.500. Quite a shocking resurgence from a guy we hadn't ever expected to hear from again. But, really, unless all of those guys put in huge years, there's no salvaging the rest of the team. As for the pitching, beyond ace Jake Peavy (a KCSD hero), and tall guy Chris Young, there's not much to get excited about. Unless you really, really love (or hate) Mark Prior and want to see him miraculously come back (or get hurt. Again.). Cha Seung Baek could do something with Petco's dampening effect on his high home run rates, but we're not expecting anything from him, because, well, he's Cha Seung Baek. And unless you're a huge Pads fan, it's just about impossible to get excited about Kevin Correia, Walter Silva, Shawn Hill, or any other members of the motley crew toeing the rubber. The bullpen, however, is a slightly different story; Kevin Towers has shown an uncanny ability to build a bullpen on the cheap, and Heath Bell and Cla Meredith are the two prime examples. Both are excellent relievers that should be great in the late innings, and if the rest of the 'pen holds up, well, at least they should hold on to the few late leads they have.

Colorado Rockies, 69-93. #20

This season, like every other season, we love the Rockies' lineup and are turned off by their pitching staff. We think Ryan Spilborghs is a dark horse candidate to go 20-20, Troy Tulowitzki should be ready to reclaim his spot as one of the game's best 6's, Todd Helton still has a great eye at the plate, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe are excellent, and Chris Iannetta should be one of the finest offensive catchers in the majors. If, between former Ole Miss QB Seth Smith and superstar prospects Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies can find a good third and fourth outfielder, their offense will be in great shape. Clint Barmes sort of sucks, though. Hopefully for the Rockies, they can work Ian Stewart's underrated bat into the mix at second base and in the outfield. So how 'bout those pitchers? Well, sinkerballer Aaron Cook is an excellent fit at Coors Field, and he's their ace. Ubaldo Jimenez's electric arm, which had its coming out party in the Rockies' surprising run to the '07 World Series, follows him, and then...well, and then it falls off a cliff. Jorge de la Rosa? Jason Marquis? Josh Fogg? Even Franklin Morales, who, like Jimenez, was excellent in the '07 stretch run, looks terrible at this point. The Rockies will be lucky if the entire back end of the rotation keeps their ERA under 5.50 or so. The saving grace of the pitching staff is the bullpen, but they face the same issue as the rotation: top-heavy in talent, with no depth. Manuel Corpas could be a lights-out closer, and they have Huston Street as insurance - though no one believes he's going to last the season in Colorado, whether because of injury or trade. And Taylor Buchholz is ready behind them; Buchholz really struggled as a starter, but has proven to be a competent reliever. But when you get to the point of entrusting significant innings to castoffs like Jason Grilli, Randy Flores, and Alan Embree, you're in trouble. And, unfortunately, the Rockies are going to get to that point. Trouble, in this case, is fighting for the right to stay out of last place in a weak division. Our only solution is that they lose the purple. Hey, ditching something superfluous worked for the devil Rays.

So there you have it! A guide to the upcoming season that will probably be as wrong as the rest of them, but damned if we're not really excited to find out just how wrong we are. Baseball's a-comin', y'all. Baseball's a-comin'.

3/21/09

Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays


Last year, the Rays were a fantastic Cinderella story.  They purged the devil from their name, and, coupled with the recent purging of Vince Naimoli from their owner's box, and those two things combined with a remarkable influx of young talent skyrocketed them from league laughingstock to the top of the most stacked division in baseball, and the American League.  The lineup is solid from top to bottom, the rotation is rife with young stars, and the farm system is stocked with top-drawer talent.  They should be a power for years to come.

The lineup should be improved this year, with Pat the Bat joining a healthy Bossman Upton to create a formidable core.  An improved Evan Longoria, a healthy Carl Crawford, another year of development for Dioner Navarro, plus talented slugger Matt Joyce (acquried from Detroit) means this team will score runs.  Plus, Dan Johnson is gone!

As for pitching, the talent level is extremely high.  Kazmir, Garza, Shields, and Sonnanstine are as good a 1-4 as there is in the league, and David Price might be ready to make it an eye-popping group.  Plus, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and more are right behind those guys.  The bullpen got some fluky performances in some spots (we're looking at you, Grant Balfour), but that's the nature of relievers - throwing so few innings means anything can happen.  We just hope they don't trust Troy Percival to close all season again.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA projected record: 95-67, 1st in AL East

KCSD projected record: 98-64, 1st in AL East

Yeah, we're pretty high on these guys.  But they can do it all, and they seem to have improved across the board over the offseason, except in the 'pen.  We don't like that they have to play so many games against the stacked AL East; that and a potentially suspect bullpen are the only things keeping them from the 100-win plateau in our eyes.

Around the Horn

Dioner Navarro: .290/.350/.420, 10 HR.  Navarro has been kicking around the majors since 2004, when he came up as a 20-year old Yankee.  He put together the sort of season people had been expecting from him last year, and we like him to keep improving...because he's only 25.  We were surprised, too.

1B Carlos Pena: .250/.380/.500, 30 HR.  The definition of a late-peak guy, Pena embodies the Rays' meteoric rise to the top.  He emerged from the land of fallen prospects two seasons ago to jack 46 ding dongs, and though he fell off last season, he should have another year or two as a masher left in him.

2B Akinori Iwamura: .260/.340/.375, 6 HR, 10 SB.  Aki regressed in just about every way last year, and we think he'll do so again.

3B Evan Longoria: .275/.350/.500, 25 HR.  Longoria's got to cut down on the K's to become a truly great player, but he's only 23.  We think it's safe to give him some time.

SS Jason Bartlett: .270/.330/.370, 5 HR, 15 SB.  Bartlett somehow won the team MVP award last year, despite not being a terribly useful hitter.  So we assume guys really like him.  And he can handle himself with the leather.  So: Jason Bartlett is a GOOD GUY.

LF Carl Crawford: .300/.350/.430, 15 HR, 50 SB.  Crawford had a pretty bad year last year, but he's still just 27, so we're gonna go ahead and say that it was the injuries that got to him.  We like him to return to form.

CF B.J. Upton: .300/.400/.500, 20 HR, 40 SB.  We're really high on Upton.  He's 24, he's finally settled in at center field, and he's an absolute monster at the plate.  We would pay to watch him play.

RF Gabe Gross: .250/.340/.440, 15 HR.  Gross is useful enough we guess, but we still don't really like him at all. Probably because his name is Gross.  

From the Bump: Starters

LHP Scott Kazmir: 180 IP, 3.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 190 K, 70 BB.  Yeah, we're really high on him, too.  Did you know he's 25, too?  We're so glad the Mets traded him.

RHP James Shields: 200 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 160 K, 45 BB.  Another guy we like a lot, despite the fact that he has a really dumb nickname ("Big Game" James).  We don't like anything about that name at all BUT he's a really good pitcher. So we'll give him a pass. Kinda like if you go to Starbucks and the barista really screws up your order only she's really hot so you don't really care that much.

RHP Matt Garza: 175 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 130 K, 50 BB.  Another great talent.  Dude really got hot after he saw a sports psychologist, and he, too, is 25, so he could be even better than we're expecting.

RHP Andy Sonnanstine: 180 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 120 K, 35 BB.  It's starting to really sink in how amazingly talented this rotation is.  Sonnanstine puts up numbers that would make him an ace on other teams - albeit really, really bad teams - and he's slotted in at 4 here.  And he has freakish control...we also didn't know that.  See, kids, blogging is good for you!

LHP David Price: 120 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 100 K, 40 BB.  Three things about Price: #1, we're Facebook friends with him.  #2, we weren't THAT impressed with his postseason performance.  Seems like he got lucky.  And he always seemed like he was going deep in counts.  Yeah, it's impressive 'cause he was such a young'n, but still.  #3, he may need just a touch more seasoning in AAA before he's ready to be the dominant pitcher he eventually will be.  So we're hedging our bets with his projection - if they rush him up, you can expect higher ERA and WHIP numbers; if he waits, they should be better.  

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer RHP Troy Percival:  50 IP, 5.00 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 35 K, 30 BB, 15 SV.  We really don't know the Rays' bullpen situation that well; Percival was great in the first month, but not very good for the rest of the season - and yet they left him in the role all year.  And he's 40.  And once retired with arm problems.  We're sorta scared of Percival.

Setup man RHP Dan Wheeler: 60 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 50 K, 20 BB, 10 SV.  Again with the uncertainty about the save situation.  Also, again with the fact that Wheeler sorta scares us.  So does Grant Balfour.  And J.P. Howell is tossing in the WBC, which scares us.  This bullpen could really blow up the rest of the team if they can't repeat last year's performance.  On the other hand, they're gonna have to be really bad, because this team can hit and pitch with the best of them.

3/17/09

Team Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers


Another West Coast team!  Boy, if we'd waited until people actually, you know, read this blog before we started doing these silly previews, we'd be losing a lot of audience.  But fortunately for us, that's just not a real problem.  Anyway, the Dodgers!  The Chavez Ravine crew made an impressive run last year after adding one of our favorite sluggers, Manny Ramirez, at the deadline.  In the playoffs, they vaulted past the Cubs into the waiting jaws of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, so we guess in retrospect that might have hurt a little bit.  But they're back and ready to go at it again!

On offense, this was a morose bunch after it lost its sparkplug Rafael Furcal and before it added its best piece in Manny.  But when they're both in the lineup, this is as good a bunch as you'll find anywhere.  They lost former star - and, more recently, former good baseball player - Nomar Garciaparra, as well as second baseman Jeff Kent.  Also, they non-tendered Angel Berroa, which could really come back to hurt them.  We suspect that sentence is a perfect representation of internet sarcasm.  But a full 162 (ok, more like 120) games of Manny and Furcal will be good enough, especially when combined with the oodles of young talent (we're not looking at you, Casey Blake).  

On the mound, Dodgers hurlers fared fairly well.  Youngsters Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw form a great 1-2 for the years to come; the departure of Derek Lowe hurts, but if Hiroki Kuroda stays healthy, the first 3 spots will be set.  It's the rest of the rotation that lacks much in the way of readily available talent; Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt, and Brad Penny are all getting along in years and have lengthy injury histories, but if two of them can stay healty for any significant length of time, this could be a very potent rotation.

Around the Horn

Russell Martin: .290/.380/.440, 15 HR, 15 SB.  Martin's an incredible athlete who has 39 combined steals in the last two years while also posting 1270 ABs.  When not catching, he can be seen stealing time at the hot corner; although he is 26, a power slippage last year should have manager Joe Torre cutting back on the youngster's playing time to keep him fresh.

1B James Loney: .310/.360/.490, 15 HR.  Loney has a solid bat that is just short of excellent at the position that demands the most offense.  If he steps up his D, though, he'll immediately be one of the better all-around players at the position.

2B Orlando Hudson: .290/.360/.390, 9 HR, 10 SB.  The gloveman from Arizona finally landed a team very late in the offseason, pushing Blake DeWitt to a utility role - so, basically, it was a great deal for the Dodgers.  

3B Casey Blake: .260/.320/.420, 15 HR.  We don't really care for Casey.  And we don't really understand why Ned Colletti traded for him.  Or extended him.  Besides the fact that he's an excellent general manager who's also responsible for the mess of injured pitchers collecting hefty paychecks.  And Juan Pierre.  

SS Rafael Furcal: .300/.360/.410, 7 HR, 20 SB.  We think that Furcal's going to get some of his speed back, but it's admittedly a bet with high odds against.  You hate to see core and leg injuries to speed guys, and at, 31, he's really got nowhere to go but down.  Actually, is it too late to go up and change that SB number? 

LF Manny Ramirez: .310/.420/.540, 35 HR.  We've always loved Manny, and even though it didn't happen until he turned 37, we can't wait to see him have a full season bashing NL pitching.

CF Matt Kemp: .310/.370/.510, 25 HR, 25 SB.  We have similar feelings toward the ridiculously-talented Kemp, who we hope (and, albeit with our rose colored glasses firmly on, think) will be a perennial 30-30 guy for as long as those kind of athletes can hold on to their skills.

RF Andre Ethier: .300/.380/.500, 20 HR.  What an outfield.  Just look at those numbers again.  Ethier could significantly outplay our projection; we wouldn't be surprised.  Granted, that has more to do with the fact that we're guessing than the fact that he's really good, but still.

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Chad Billingsley: 200 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 190 K, 80 BB.  Billingsley lost time last year to a freak leg injury, and we've heard that he's a bit chubbier than expected this spring, but we think he'll be better than fine.  As you can clearly see from our numbers.  We like redundancy.  And rambling.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda: 170 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 110 K, 35 BB.  The Japanese import exceeded expectations last year, and if his elbow problems don't crop up again this year, he shoud post solid numbers again.

LHP Clayton Kershaw: 160 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 150 K, 75 BB.  He's 21.  Last year, then, he was 20.  We're 20.  Vin Scully called his curveball "Public Enemy #1."  We're sad.  Love the kid, though.

LHP Randy Wolf: 140 IP, 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 115 K, 55 BB.  Wolf, at 32, has certainly lost a step, but he's still got talent.  He just needs to stay healthy enough to use it.  We'd use the old "copy and paste a preview for similar players trick" for the next guy, but it's overdone. 

RHP Jason Schmidt: 100 IP, 5.50 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 45 BB.  Schmidt had a couple of surprising ace-caliber years in San Francisco, but the last time he was an effective pitcher was 2006.  And he's had more shoulder twinges already this season.  F his life.

3/12/09

Team Preview: Oakland Athletics


Our little West Coast swing continues as we hit Oakland now.  We think we like so many West Coast teams because we never get to see them; we're just sort of sick of the Eastern teams that the media...ESPN...force feeds to us.  Anyway, the A's.  They weren't very good or exciting last year, going 75-86 in a weak AL West.  They scored a meager 4.01 runs per game (27th) but allowed just 4.29 per game, 8th best in MLB.  They took steps to address their mediocre offense, trading for LF Matt Holliday and signing SS Orlando Cabrera, former SS Nomar Garciaparra, and former A Jason Giambi.   Plus, the remains of 3B Eric Chavez are "healthy", and 2B Mark Ellis is ready to man the keystone again, so that should provide a boost.  Assuming either one can even hold a bat or glove without his arms falling off, that is.

Offensively, the upgrades should help a lot - plus backup C Rob Bowen was one of the instructors at a baseball camp we attended, so that's a plus.  They could host the division's second best squad in that regard.  If the pitching stays true to form - hardly a lock, given that their ace, Justin Duchscherer, is struggling with health issues (again), and the rest of the guys that performed for them last year are gone and/or overachievers.  This year, there doesn't appear to be a lot of promise from top to bottom, unless they can capture the same magic they had last year.  However, they do boast a very solid bullpen.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA projected record: 84-78, 2nd in AL West

KCSD projected record: 82-80, 2nd in AL West

We're less confident than PECOTA because we think the pitching is going to be too much of an issue for the retooled offense to fully overcome.  Still a nice improvement overall, though.

Around the Horn

Kurt Suzuki: .275/.340/.400, 10 HR.  The Asian Sensation is not really sensational, but he's also not actually nicknamed that, so it's ok.  Anyway, he's a solid, young backstop with potential for growth.  Nothin wrong with that.

1B Daric Barton: .265/.360/.430, 20 HR.  Barton was a huge disappointment last year, but he's still just 23.  And we tend to think that highly regarded A's prospects are highly regarded for a reason.

2B Mark Ellis: .275/.330/.430, 15 HR, 10 SB.  Last year was basically a lost season for Ellis due to injuries; if he can show that he's fully overcome them, he should be able to rebound.

3B Eric Chavez: .240/.345/.410, 15 HR.  Chavez has had serious, serious injury issues the last few seasons, basically destroying what was a high-potential career.  But his bat isn't useless yet, and if he can stay healthy, something resembling a return to form could be in the offing.

SS Orlando Cabrera: .275/.330/.380, 5 HR, 15 SB.  Cabrera is mostly known for his defense and being a tremendous teammate, by which we mean people in the clubhouse hate him.  He's got a solid contact bat for a shortstop, but no patience or power means a 1-year deal was a good decision.

LF Matt Holliday: .290/.380/.500, 25 HR, 20 SB.  Moving from the homer haven of Coors Field to the homer-depressing McAfee Coliseum can't mean good things for the bald basher.  He should still have a good year, but don't be surprised to see less power.

CF Ryan Sweeney: .280/.340/.400, 10 HR.  Sweeney developed this annoying habit of posting great minor league numbers and then getting called up only to fall flat on his face.  Well, last year, he broke that habit.  Turning 25, don't be surprised to see him improve on last year's solid .286/.350/.383 showing.

RF Travis Buck: .260/.340/.400, 10 HR.  Buck, too, showed promise in the minors, but had trouble adapting to the majors.  Hopefully, turning 26, he can prove that his strong showing in the past wasn't a fluke.

DH Jack Cust: .250/.400/.500, 30 HR.  A classic three true outcome slugger (everything's a walk, strikeout, or bomb), Cust finally got his chance in Oakland a couple years ago after bopping in the minors for several years.  Their patience has paid off, and his bat should only get better as a full-time DH.

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Justin Duchscherer: 140 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 100 K, 40 BB.  Duchscherer was a surprise showing on the ERA leaderboards all season, but that was due in large part to a ridiculously low .238 BABIP.  Expect some regression, and more missed starts from the fragile Duchscherer.

LHP Dana Eveland: 180 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 130 K, 75 BB. Eveland was solid last year, and there's nothing wrong with a lefty who can put up these numbers. You'd just rather they came from a lower slot in the rotation.

RHP Sean Gallagher: 160 IP, 4.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 120 K, 70 BB.  Gallagher was less-than-solid last year, but if he can improve, there's nothing wrong with a guy who can put up these numbers. You'd just rather they came from a lower slot in the rotation.

LHP Josh Outman: 150 IP, 4.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 100 K, 70 BB.  Gonzalez was less-than-solid last year, but if he can improve, there's nothing wrong with a lefty who can put up these numbers. You'd just rather they came from a lower slot in the rotation.

Sensing a trend here?

LHP Gio Gonzalez: 150 IP, 5.20 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 100 K, 75 BB.  Gonzalez was less-than-solid last year, but if he can improve, there's nothing wrong with a lefty who can put up these numbers. You'd just rather they came from a lower slot in the rotation.

Our goodness, this is a vanilla group.  At least Outman has a good name for a pitcher, even if it is something of a misnomer.

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer RHP Joey Devine: 60 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 70 K, 25 BB, 15 SV.  Devine has nasty stuff, and the Braves, quite simply, gave up on him too fast.  Only 25, Devine should be an excellent closer for years to come.

Setup man RHP Brad Ziegler: 60 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 35 K, 20 BB, 10 SV.  Ziegler set a record in his rookie year for the most consecutive innings pitched without allowing an earned run (one of the less catchy records), but he did it on the strength of a low BABIP, so you can expect some regresssion here, too.  But he should still be a solid arm, and can get some saves since he figures to open the season in the closer role.

3/10/09

Team Preview: San Francisco Giants


The Giants are near and dear to our hearts because a player who went to our high school toiled in their minor league system for a few years, we still support Barry Bonds, and think that they are a eye-cathing team - especially with the high black socks.  Good look.  ANYWAY the Giants were offensive dwarves last year, scoring 3.95 runs per game (29th), and allowing a below-average 4.69 runs per game (17th).  This is a team that really could've used Manny Ramirez's bat, not only to bolster an offense that badly needs any help it can get, but also to help their pitchers, who will now have to face Manny 19 times a year.  Alas, GM Brian Sabean has never been one for smart free agent signings (Barry Zito, recently released Dave Roberts, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, Edgardo Alfonzo, Armando Benitez, Moises Alou, Matt Morris, Reggie Sanders, Omar Vizquel...we'll stop piling on).  

So without the Manny boost, what are we looking at for the offensive side of affairs?  A year of development from Pablo Sanchez will help him take a step forward, Edgar Renteria will be an offensive upgrade over Omar Vizquel (though it's possible that we would be, too), Fred Lewis could break out, and Eugenio Velez's legs will be a nice boost.  Unfortunately, there is little-to-no pop in the lineup; Bengie Molina (!) led the team with 16 (!) home runs.  Velez, Lewis, and Randy Winn each stole 20+ bases, however, and Emmanuel Burriss is certainly capable of posting that many as well.  Maybe with their speed they could get something accomplished; they don't stand much of a chance of being anything resembling an average offensive team otherwise.

As for the pitching, it's something that could be a strength.  Tiny Tim Lincecum (probably our favorite pitcher) headlines the group, but RHP Matt Cain and LHPs Randy Johnson and Jonathan Sanchez are no slouches themselves (but Barry Zito is).  LHP Noah Lowry provides some insurance as a long man who can take the occasional start, which he'll probably have to do with the injury prone Sanchez and Johnson in the rotation.  The bullpen has some fairly capable arms as well, though none that will do great things.  Closer Brian Wilson was solid last year, and the additions of RHP Bob Howry and LHP Jeremy Affeldt should help bolster the back end as well, particularly if Howry proves that his terrible '08 was a fluke.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA projected record: 75-87, 4th in NL West.

KCSD projected record: 77-85, 3rd in NL West.

If their offense can manage to be even marginal, and the pitching staff performs up to expectations, they should at least be better than the Rockies and Padres.

Around the Horn

Bengie Molina: .280/.310/.425, 15 HR.  One of the famous Molina troika, Bengie carries a fairly potent stick for a catcher.  He has zero patience, but his well above-average defense (which the whole family is famous for) makes up for any offensive shortcomings.  For the record, we rank our Molinas thusly: Bengie, Yadier, Jose.

1B Travis Ishikawa: .265/.330/.430, 13 HR.  This is just not a powerful enough bat for first base.  Ishikawa plays good defense, but he's going to have to take some steps forward with the bat - a leap he is capable of, as he's flashed power in the minors, and has a large (6'3'') frame to grow into.  

2B Kevin Frandsen: .275/.340/.390, 5 HR.  Frandsen is a decent enough player, but at 27, he doesn't have much growing left to do, so this is probably about as good as you can hope for.  His defense isn't great, but if you have to punt a position, you could do worse than second base.  Also, Eugenio Velez will be logging some time here, so it's worth mentioning that while Velez also possesses a below average bat, his legs are very good.

3B Pablo Sandoval: .290/.330/.450, 15 HR.  Sandoval was very good last year in his rookie campaign, though he demonstrated very little in the way of patience.  He has a bad body which could hurt him as the season wears on, but in terms of pure talent, the 22-year old has some to spare.

SS Edgar Renteria: .285/.340/.415, 10 HR.  Renteria was great for the Braves after coming from the Red Sox; the general consensus seems to be that if he can catch the cross-league magic again, he could do good things.  However, his defense is atrocious, so he'd better pick it up with the stick to justify his contract.

LF Fred Lewis: .280/.360/.440, 10 HR, 20 SB.  Lewis has a nice combination of batting ability and speed, making him a pretty useful player.  You'd like to perhaps have better out of your left fielder, but such is life with the post-Bonds Giants.

CF Aaron Rowand: .270/.330/.415, 12 HR.  Excellent signing! We don't understand why GMs continue to fall for the career year phenomenon. 

RF Randy Winn: .295/.355/.420, 9 HR, 15 SB.  Winn was their top offensive producer last year in terms of VORP, and he's been surprisingly productive during his time in a Giants uniform.  However, he's had problems staying healthy which are only likely to exacerbate themselves in his age-35 season. 

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Tim Lincecum: 230 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 275 K, 80 BB.  Lincecum is a beast.  He could strike out 300 and we wouldn't be surprised.  If we had access to Giants games somehow, we'd absolutely watch him every fifth day.

RHP Matt Cain: 210 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 200 K, 90 BB.  Cain is Lincecum-light.  Hopefully his large workload by the tender age of 24 doesn't come back to bite him.

LHP Randy Johnson: 160 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 140 K, 40 BB.  Johnson could probably pitch until he's 50 and still be effective.  As with any pitcher his age...actually, never mind.  Pitchers don't reach 45 often enough for us to make statements like that.  Yeah, his body could betray him, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him make 30 starts, either.

LHP Jonathan Sanchez: 170 IP, 4.45 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 175 K, 80 BB.  Sanchez is an overpowering lefty who we think will strike out a batter an inning.  He just has to get his control under...control, and stop getting unlucky with a high BABIP.

LHP Barry Zito: 185 IP, 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 110 K, 100 BB. Excellent signing! And he wasn't even coming off of a particularly great season!

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer Brian Wilson: 60 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 65 K, 22 BB, 29 SV.  Wilson has a strikeout arm that doesn't always know how to find the strike zone.  If he's going to be a great closer, he'll need to address that issue - and at 27, we think this might be the year for him to do just that.

Setup man Jeremy Affeldt: 60 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 70 K, 19 BB.  We think Affeldt is very underrated.  He may well be the best reliever on this staff.

3/9/09

Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds


So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.

Time for the original baseballers, the Cincinnati Reds.  The Dusty Baker-managed crew scored 4.35 runs per game, (23rd) and allowed a similarly poor 4.95 runs per game (23rd).  That's consistent sub-mediocrity right there, folks.  The Reds have a few exciting young stars to build around...and not much else.  1B Joey Votto, RF Jay Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, and, if we're being generous, 3B Edwin Encarnacion make for a solid lineup core, and RHPs Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, and Johnny Cueto are an excellent top three pitchers.  After that, it's a big gap down to the next best producers.  At least RHP Micah Owings (Green Wave!) is interesting for his bat, and CF Willy Taveras is a great one-tool guy to replace departed no-tool OF Corey Patterson (notable for being the single worst player in baseball last year...except for Coco Crisp who always holds that honor). 

Departed slugger Adam Dunn leaves a big hole in the lineup, and a somewhat smaller hole in left field; prospect Chris Dickerson, who OPS'd over 1.000 in his 122-AB showing last season is the favorite to get most of the time there.  He will probably some ABs against lefties to former Ray slugger Jonny Gomes, who likes to celebrate winning the division by drinking Bud Light out of Dioner Navarro's cup.  And who doesn't?  Willy Taveras came over from Colorado, where his skill (speed) served him well; the spacious outfield of Mile High demands a good deal of speed from the outfielders.  The bandbox that is Great American Ballpark (beautiful stadium), however, isn't quite so challenging.  Sure, Taveras can still use that speed to steal bases (68 last year), only he's never on base (OBP dropped from a very encouraging .367 in 2007 to .309 last year, more in line with his career .331 mark).  If he can correct that, and Great American gives his power a helping hand, he could be a useful player. C Ramon Hernandez, acquired in a trade for utility guy Ryan Freel and his partner in crime, Farney, will handle the backstop duties for a year or two while the team searches for a more permanent solution. And on the exciting young prospect front, OF Drew Stubbs and 1B Yonder Alonso are both nearly ready; the challenge will be to find spots for them both.  If Stubbs can handle center, he could bump Taveras to the bench, but otherwise left field is going to get very crowded.  Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, and either Joey Votto or Yonder Alonso would be in a competition for ABs there.  We smell trade bait (and it smells delicious)!

As for the pitching, Volquez, Harang, and Cueto will be expected to anchor the rotation, and Francisco Cordero is on hand (at the low cost of 4 years and $48 million!) to close out games.  Cordero's presence on this team kinda confuses us; why spend lots on a closer when you're not a great team?  Anyway, RHP Bronson Arroyo will bring his brand of mediocrity to the four spot, and Micah Owings (Green Wave!) and former prospect Homer Bailey will try to piece together 200 innings in the fifth spot.  The bullpen has some solid arms, too, so the pitching should be better than last year's subpar showing.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA projected record: 77-85, 4th in NL Central

KCSD projected record: 81-81, 3rd in NL Central

We think the Reds can be a good sleeper team this year, and we think that PECOTA overvalues the Cardinals.  This team, with a couple of breaks, could easily find itself in contention for the division title.  Of course, it seems like people are always saying that about the Reds, so take that with a grain of salt, we suppose.

Around the Horn

Ramon Hernandez: .264/.331/.426, 19 HR.  Moving to Great American should help Hernandez's power return to where it was a couple of years ago, and he looks to have the bat to be useful for another season or two.  Catchers don't age well, of course, so we may be seeing the beginning of the end of his career.

1B Joey Votto: .295/.376/.528, 27 HR, 11 SB.  The Canadian slugger is an exciting young bat who's looking to build on a ROY-worthy campaign.  It looks like he's starting to grow into his power potential, so if he can keep up the excellent contact rates he displayed in the minors, we could have a premiere slugger on our hands.

2B Brandon Phillips: .282/.334/.489, 20 HR, 20 SB.  Phillips has finally arrived as a consistent regular.  He isn't living up to all the hype heaped upon him as a prospect, but 20-20 from a second baseman is more than enough for us.  Food for thought: He, along with Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore, was traded from the Expos to the Indians for Bartolo Colon.  An underrated candidate in the pantheon of terrible trades, if you ask us.

3B Edwin Encarnacion: .283/.365/.493, 23 HR.  Encarnacion could be on the verge of a major breakout in his age-26 season.  With any luck, he just might become the best Encarnacion to ever play in the majors! (Sorry, Juan).

SS Jeff Keppinger: .296/.353/.372, 4 HR.  This spot might well go to Alex Gonzalez, but we don't like him very much, and think Keppinger is the better player.  Hopefully shortstop isn't the cursed place it was last year for the Reds; both Keppinger and Gonzalez suffered knee injuries.  Gonzalez is the better defender, Keppinger the better hitter; WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?!

LF Chris Dickerson/Jonny Gomes: .265/.355/.500, 31 HR, 25 SB.  Some great counting stats from these two gentlemen.  If Dickerson and Gomes are used exclusively according to their strengths, this could be an excellent left field.

CF Willy Taveras: .265/.320/.325, 1 HR, 59 SB.  Players like Taveras used to be loved in baseball. We bet they look at old sepia toned photos of similar speedy slap hitters and cry.

RF Jay Bruce: .280/.350/.510, 25 HR, 12 SB.  Bruce capped off a meteoric rise through the Reds' system with a fantastic opening week...and then regressed to rookiedom.  His ending line (.254/.314/.453) was nothing to be ashamed of, especially for a 21-year old, but he has lots of room for improvement.  Expect him to start showing it.

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Aaron Harang: 210 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 200 K, 45 BB.  Harang was the most underrated ace in all of MLB for several years, but he struggled with forearm problems last season and his performance suffered.  We hope he gets back to his old levels of dominance - at 31, there's hope for a rebound - because he's too ugly to get girls if he's not very good.  Chicks dig the long ball - pitchers gotta be real good to impress.

RHP Edinson Volquez: 160 IP, 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 155 K, 80 BB.  Volquez was a revelation last year, but we're expecting some regression this year.  Plus, the jump in innings pitched (up to 196 last year from an aggregate total of about 160 worries us some, coming from such a young arm.  We expect some injury trouble.

RHP Bronson Arroyo: 200 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 155 K, 70 BB.  Arroyo has been unexpectedly soild during his Cincinnati tenure; in fact, he was downright dominant in '06.  The last two years have been a bit of a regression; they looked a lot like what we're projecting him for this year.

RHP Johnny Cueto: 190 IP, 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 170 K, 70 BB.  Like Bruce, Cueto was excellent early in the year, though he did last a couple months before slowing down.  The young, undersized Cueto may have worn down a bit; it'll be interesting to see how Dusty Baker runs him and Volquez.

RHP Homer Bailey: 100 IP, 5.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 75 K, 50 BB.  Bailey was rushed to the majors in '07, and struggled mightily.  Last year was terrible as well; even in the minors, Bailey did little to reassure his believers.  But we still count ourselves in that group; he still has the great stuff that caught peoples' attention, and he's still just 23.  We're not being very optimistic in our projection, but we're hoping for better things.

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer RHP Francisco Cordero: 60 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 67 K, 27 BB, 35 SV.  Cordero still has an electric arm at 34, and we expect him to use it to great effect.  Hopefully for the Reds, he'll be around to use it when the Reds are really good.

Setup man RHP Mike Lincoln: 60 IP, 4.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 45 K, 25 BB.  We're giving Lincoln the nod as the primary setup man since he just signed a new 2 year contract, but as you can see, he's not a dominant force...though neither is anyone else besides Cordero.  The hope for the Reds is that the bullpen can just be competent enough to not blow too many potential wins.

3/7/09

Team Preview: Texas Rangers


So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.

The Rangers clocked in at 79-83 last season, which was somehow enough for second place in the weakest division in baseball, the AL West.  The Rangers are a fun team if you love offense (we do) and hate pitching (we don't, but we can still enjoy watching the Rangers).  They had the most prolific offense in the bigs last year, posting 5.57 runs per game, and the worst pitching staff, sporting a 5.97 runs allowed average.  That's quite a trick if you can manage it, and the Rangers pulled it off in spades.  They only had three pitchers make more than 20 starts; of those, only Vicente Padilla managed a sub-5.00 ERA (4.74).  Their most valuable pitcher in terms of VORP, reliever Frank Francisco, is better known as the guy who threw a bullpen chair at fans a couple years ago, and his 16.7 VORP is pretty bad in itself.  And their pitchers, all 30 (!) of them who logged innings in a Rangers jersey, combined to average a negative VORP.  Their entire staff was less valuable than replacement level players.

Fortunately, they scored enough runs to help compensate for this problem last year; OFs Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, combined with 2B Ian Kinsler and (former) SS Michael Young were a great nucleus to build around.  Surrounded by up-and-comers like 1B Chris "Crash" Davis, OF Nelson Cruz, C's Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez, and SS Elvis Andrus (the last three are former Braves!), this could be a fun lineup for years to come.  Unfortunately, Milton Bradley has departed for the ivy-covered pastures of Wrigley Field, robbing them of arguably the best hitter on the team.  The Rangers hope that Cruz and Marlon Byrd can help fill Bradley's gap in the outfield, though they also signed (former Brave!) OF Andruw Jones as insurance.  Jones, of course, was absolutely horrendous last year, and slightly less horrendous the year before, so we're pretty sure he's done.  But if he can wrangle some ABs and show some of his previous prodiguous power, so much the better for him.

The Rangers also didn't make any moves to address their pitching, though Nolan Ryan's arrival in the front office last year should start to make a difference in this year or the next.  He has changed the organizational philosophy on pitching, hoping to extend their pitchers a little more with improved conditioning programs and an expectation of more innings pitched.  We personally support this movement wholeheartedly; we admit to missing the days when pitchers would routinely go 9.  Anyway, there's a whole lot of problems facing the Texas pitchers beyond not throwing enough innings; with their talent level, they might be better served throwing as little as possible.  There are some promising arms in the system like RHPs Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, and LHP Matt Harrison (former Braves!), but any free agent help is going to need to be complemented by a lot more development of the young hurlers.  Also they have had some significant defensive issues in the last few years; moving Michael Young to third base for the defensively gifted Elvis Andrus (who will platoon with similarly skilled - and much older! - Adam Everett) will help, but it also significantly weakens their hitting at short, third, and DH, where Hank Blalock's washed-up bat will have to play.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA Projected Record: 73-89, 3rd in AL West.

KCSD Projected Record: 69-93, 4th in AL West.

The offense will be weaker thanks to lesser contributions from short, third, and DH, plus losing Milton Bradley will take a big toll.  We think Crash Davis and Nelson Cruz will be good, but their contributions won't be enough to offset this terrible, terrible pitching staff.  It's a lot like the Orioles' situation.

Around the Horn

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .264/.351/.473, 15 HR.  The talented young Salty has long been considered a top prospect, and now is getting a chance to put in a full season of ABs...if he can hold off other top prospect Taylor Teagarden.  And Max Ramirez looms behind them.  The Rangers have really got to trade one of these guys.

1B Chris Davis: .277/.344/.535, 32 HR.  Crash has legit power, and he flashed some good contact skills last season in his 300-AB audition.  If he can build on that in his age-23 season, he could really be something special going forward.

2B Ian Kinsler: .286/.356/.478, 20 HR, 22 SB.  A classic 20-20 man, Kinsler flashed some real power last year while posting near-MVP caliber numbers.  Unfortunately, Kinsler has had trouble staying healthy in the past, which cost him recognition last season.  If he can stay healthy as a 27-year old, and put up power numbers like last season, he can be the anchor of the lineup.

3B Michael Young: .279/.334/.396, 9 HR, 10 SB.  This...is not a useful bat at the hot corner.  Young's steady decline in power the last few seasons were acceptable when he was playing shortstop - albeit poorly - but at third base, you've just got to have someone with more pop in the bat.  Also we'd like to point out that Young's contract extension was just silly when it was signed and will only look worse in years to come.  Until is expires, anyway.

SS Elvis Andrus:  .247/.299/.331, 1 HR, 20 SB.  Bold move installing a 20-year old as a starting big league shortstop.  Kid's good with the glove, but has very little power, and hopefully his bat starts to play a little more as he develops.  

LF David Murphy: .260/.360/.421, 13 HR, 9 SB.  Murphy has a good eye at the plate, and power will come as he develops.  His bat should play now, but he's more of a future investment.

CF Josh Hamilton: .310/.390/.550, 34 HR, 10 SB.  Hamilton faces a challenge, especially from a health standpoint, in moving to center full-time, but we're not about to bet against him.  He's got so much natural baseball talent that we wouldn't doubt anything he chose to do.  And, hey, he's gotta be better than at least a few of their pitchers.  Why not give him some innings??

RF Nelson Cruz: .270/.339/.489, 27 HR.  We just watched Cruz play in the WBC today.  That's not really relevant, but we just like the WBC.  Probably more than most.  Anyway Cruz is a talented kid who's got a very good bat.  Should be an above-average right fielder.

DH Hank Blalock: .279/.340/.475, 12 HR.  Blalock has had serious injury issues the last few years, and his production has suffered accordingly.  But he'll be 28 this year, and has one less rib, so maybe his body will find it easier to lug itself around now.

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Kevin Millwood: 165 IP, 5.15 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 115 K, 52 BB.  God, he's their ace?  We're already getting depressed.

RHP Vicente Padilla: 160 IP, 5.21 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 110 K, 61 BB.  Thankfully, his contract is up after this year.  We're spiraling downward.

RHP Brandon McCarthy: 110 IP, 5.09 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 72 K, 44 BB.  The former White Sox prospect showed up with a newly muscled up body in hopes to stave off the injury bug that's bitten him recently, but he's already got shoulder stiffness.  Spiraling...

LHP Matt Harrison: 125 IP, 6.31 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 62 K, 49 BB.  And look at the former Brave.  We've now hit bottom. Thanks, Rangers.

You know, we don't care about their fifth starter and suspect that you don't, either.  We could throw out any name, with any line of horrible, horrible numbers, and it'd be believeable.  Let's just say that whoever ends up logging innings here will combine for something like a 6.50 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, not very many K's, and lots of walks.  We hope they prove us wrong, but...well...we've hit bottom, remember?

From the Bump: Starters

Closer RHP Frank Francisco: 60 IP, 3.23 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 66 K, 27 BB, 27 SV.  We know someone has to be the best pitcher on a baseball team, but when yours is Frank Francisco, you're probably in trouble.  That said, he's a useful guy who can rack up saves, Ks, and fan-related lawsuits.

Setup man LHP C.J. Wilson: 60 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 54 K, 27 BB.  Wilson was tabbed as the closer last year, but suffered with bone spurs in his elbow before ultimately shutting it down.  '08 was a lost season for Wilson, but we like him to rebound a little bit this year.  Which means that the Rangers will have TWO useful pitchers!  They'll be celebrating in the streets when they read this.

3/6/09

Team Preview: Chicago White Sox


So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.

The White Sox took the AL Central crown last year on the strength of a 1-game playoff, becoming the first team ever to win their last three games against three different teams (Indians, Tigers, Twins).  This was a feat principally accomplished on the strength of MLB's 6th-best offense at 4.98 runs per game, matched with above-average pitching that allowed 4.47 runs per game, 12th in MLB.  Most of their success came from unexpected players; no one saw LF Carlos Quentin, former Diamondbacks prospect, posting an MVP-caliber .287/.394/.571 line, SS/2B Alexei Ramirez was better than people could've reasonably hoped, RF Jermaine Dye was resurgent, and RHP John Danks was a revelation.

GM Ken Williams, as he is wont to do, got busy this offseason and tinkered quite a bit with the division champs.  He shipped RHP Javier Vazquez to the Braves in exchange for prospects at two positions where they really needed minor leauge depth, acquiring middle infielder Brent Lillibridge and C Tyler Flowers.  Disappointing OF/1B Nick Swisher (a name ripe for parody, so we think it really would've been in his best interest NOT to hit .219) was also traded, bringing back utility man Wilson Betemit and relievers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez, both marginal prospects.  It was clear from the beginning of the offseason that SS Orlando Cabrera was on the outs, and he will now ply his trade in Oakland at a bargain rate.  OF Ken Griffey, Jr. also departed after his brief tenure on the south side,  heading back to Seattle where his legend got started.  To compensate for the losses, Williams brought in powerful young Cuban emigre Dayan Viciedo as the third baseman on the future, gave the full-time SS job to powerful young Cuban Alexei Ramirez, and signed Jayson Nix to compete for playing time at second base with Chris Getz and Lillibridge.  OF Dewayne Wise will unwisely (sorry) be the man in center, though speedy slap hitter Jerry Owens and glove man Brian Anderson (just kidding; Ozzie hates him) will be around to steal some ABs.

As for the pitching, the Sox will be counting on contributions from talented young LHPs Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda, as well as not-so-talented-but-still-young RHP Lance Broadway.  Not at all young, and probably not that talented any more RHP Bartolo Colon is back in town; we have a soft spot for him ever since seeing him take a perfect game into the 5th against the...well, some team.  But that effort went the way of the dodo when Joe Crede missed a diving stop on a ball down the line.  Anyway, Colon and Jose Contreras are going to be responsible for a full slate of innings from a rotation spot, so we'll see if that works out.

2009 Forecast

PECOTA projected record: 75-87, last in AL Central

KCSD projected record: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central

The Central's weak overall, though there will be some stiff competition for the top spots.  Whoever does win this division, it's not exactly going to be a case of the cream rising to the top...it's just one subpar team triumphing over other subpar teams.

Around the Horn

A.J. Pierzynski: .270/.310/.396, 10 HR.  Age isn't often kind to catchers, and we don't see it making an exception for Pierzynski.  In his age-32 season, it's not likely for him to improve on last year's showing, and it's a good thing that Tyler Flowers is around to start taking over the mantle.

1B Paul Konerko: .261/.351/.469, 24 HR.  For some reason, between 2006 and 2007, Konerko's average dropped over 50 points.  Last year, he demonstrated a slight recovery in that area, and has posted remarkably similar OBPs despite the large drop off.  His power hasn't really returned, though; this shows that Paulie possesses a good batting eye that should age well, even if his bat isn't.

2B Chris Getz: .260/.314/.356, 4 HR.  We don't have much in the way of good things to say about Getz.  He's organizational filler, but a breakout year in Charlotte has given the team faith that he can produce at the major league level.  We think that's false hope. He's got a pretty useless bat, and is below average in the field.  Should've held on to Cabrera, we think.

3B Josh Fields: .235/.340/.475, 20 HR.  Never a high contact guy, the former Oklahoma State quarterback does possess a strong bat and, presumably, a good arm across the diamond.  Turning 26, he could be a real asset if he can get his Ks down and up the contact rate a bit.

SS Alexei Ramirez: .290/.321/.457, 17 HR, 11 SB.  It astounds us that a guy as skinny as Ramirez can have as much power as he does, but his bat certainly seems legit.  This will be his age-27 season, so we can expect some progress.  We are tempering our expectations a bit because of it being his sophomore year and he came out of Cuba, but he could easily surpass our expectations.

LF Carlos Quentin: .273/.381/.525, 26 HR.  Quentin will be turning 26 this year, but we're still projecting a drop in power due to the broken wrist that ended his season last year.  We're not often scared off by injuries, but when it comes to hitters, we're of the opinion that anything in the arms is bad news.

CF Dewayne Wise: .240/.297/.416, 14 HR, 14 SB.  The sad thing is that we're pretty sure that this projection may be overestimating his skills.  But he really showed some promise in AAA before being called up last year, so maybe there is some skill in the bat that has yet to be tapped. For his sake, we hope so.

RF Jermaine Dye: .280/.350/.517, 28 HR.  Yes, Dye is getting on in years, but his rebound last year from a terrible year in '07 really showed us that he's got something left in his bat.  At 35, we think he can still show it off.

DH Jim Thome: .250/.350/.490, 27 HR.  Thome's REALLY getting on in years; this will be his age-38 season.  We really like big Jim, and for his sake, we hope we're low on our projection; this would be his first healthy season with less than 30 HRs since 2005 and his first sub-.500 slugging percentage since 1993.  One of the most consistent and likable sluggers of our time, we may be seeing his last truly productive season - or just last season, as his contract runs out after this year.  Also expect to see Wilson Betemit and Josh Fields log some time here to help give the pair enough ABs.

From the Bump: Starters

LHP Mark Buerhle: 200 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 120 K, 55 BB.  Buerhle has made his money being a consistent innings eater; he isn't dominant, but the crafty lefty has logged his 200 innings effectively for as long as we can remember.  He sits atop the rotation as much for nostalgia as anything, but that's not to say that he's not a well above-average pitcher.  We think you can expect more of the same until he retires.

LHP John Danks: 180 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 130 K, 50 BB.  The young Danks posted a very impressive campaign last season, having added a devestating cutter to his repertoire.  He demonstrated that he really knows how to use the pitch, and should see continued success with it as he develops.  Look for more great seasons down the road from the youngster - after all, he's gotta stay ahead of his brother, Jordan, also in the system.

RHP Gavin Floyd:  170 IP, 4.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 120 K, 60 BB.  Once a failed (phailed?) Phillie prospect, Floyd brought his devastating curveball to the South Side with great success last season.  He looked like he'd really put it together, posting a sub-4.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 200 innings.  At 26, he seems like a good bet to continue with his success, but we're wary of his spotty health record in previous seasons.

LHP Clayton Richard: 140 IP, 4.98 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 80 K, 40 BB.  Richard scuffled in the early minors, but turned into a monster in AA and AAA.  He was less than impressive in his major league debut, but the lefty should be able to put up numbers closer to his high minors performance because...well, because we trust young prospects much more than we should.

RHPs Jose Contreras/Bartolo Colon: 200 IP, 5.59 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 122 K, 72 BB.  We're putting Contreras and Colon together in this fifth spot because it's about as sure a thing as can be that neither will be healthy all season long, and both will be hurling frames from the back end of the rotation.  This isn't a terrible contribution from your fifth spot, but it is, well, a pretty terrible contribution overall.  Don't expect great things from these cagey vets.  Even thinking that the two of them combined are good for 200 innings is a bit of a reach.

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer Bobby Jenks: 60 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 42 K, 20 BB, 34 SV.  Bad Bobby Jenks has showed some restraint in recent seasons, not dialing up his flamethrowing arm to the 100+ mph velocity it's been capable of in the past.  He's only seen a reduction in his K's since making the switch, but quite frankly, we don't like it one bit.  Entertain us, Bobby!  Throw the hot, stinky cheese!  We'll always rank his K of Jeff Bagwell in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the '05 World Series as one of our all-time favorite ABs - straight 100 MPH fastballs, up and in, daring one of the greatest hitters ever to put a bat on it...and he couldn't.  Those were the days.

Setup man  Octavio Dotel: 55 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 71 K, 32 BB.  The hard-throwing, high-socked Dotel has always been a formidable bullpen arm...when healthy.  Unfortunately, his body has betrayed him as he's pushed past 30, and he's had more breakdowns than healthy campaigns.  If he can stay healthy, and we're assuming that he can, he's a good power arm to stick in front of Jenks.  If the rest of the bullpen can fall in line the way they did in '05, you can expect great things from the South Siders...then again, how often can you coax a 2.04 ERA out of Dustin Hermanson types?  

Bonus coverage: Hermanson was a 1st-round pick.  We love the uncertainty of the baseball draft, and how can't miss prospects do so often...well, miss.  If you can draft well, you've got a lot of great things coming your way (e.g.  the Rays), but most teams can't...and yet they treat their draft picks like gold all of a sudden.  We're not saying there's no value in the draft, because it's a great, cost-effective way to build talent.  But most teams just aren't very good at it, and haven't showed much potential to get better.  So why not take a chance on more proven commodities?  It's nice to trust your scouts, but have some sense.  I know everyone's financially concerned these days, but at some point, it's cheaper to sign free agents than it is to spend the money upgrading your scouting department to the point where they can be a real asset.

3/3/09

Team Preview: Kansas City Royals


So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.

We never had much of an affinity for the Royals beyond admiring their utter futility.  But upon entering into the internet universe, we discovered that the Royals have quite the devoted fanbase, notably our favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, and dermatologist-cum-baseball fan Rany Jazayerli. Their writing really inspired us to become a more intelligent fan, and also to support the cause of bringing the Royals up from the ashes.  Excluding the Braves, we've probably read more about the Royals than any other baseball team in the league.  Which is kind of sad, we suppose...seems like only the true fans should have to partake in the Royals brand of misery.

Anyway, onto real business.  The Royals managed to not finish in last last year, posting a 75-87 record that bested the Tigers by one game.  They weren't particularly good at anything, coming in at 25th in MLB in runs scored per game (4.27) and 22nd in runs allowed per game (4.83).  Their offense, as you could guess, lacked any real stars, though the unexpectedly potent bat of Mike Aviles (.325/.354/.480) provided a big boost.  Jose Guillen was a big disappointment in the first year of a 3/$30 million deal, hitting .264/.300/.438 - borderline unacceptable for any corner outfielder, let alone one with a stone glove and a big contract.  This year, however, he removed an ingrown toenail all by himself, which we have to imagine portends great things.  David DeJesus was his usual consistent (read: boring, yet effective) self, Alex Gordon took a step forward, and Billy Butler shows an enormous amount of promise.  GM Dayton Moore (former Braves front office man!) made some moves this offseason to try to bolster the lineup, bringing in glove man Coco Crisp (public enemy no. 1 here at KCSD; we have a post ready about why he's a discredit to humanity which will be deployed at some point) to man center field, and powerful bald man Mike Jacobs to stand at first base with a glove on his hand.  

These are really just the latest moves in what has been an overall questionable tenure for Moore.  Hailed as a wunderkind coming out of the Braves organization, Moore has been responsible for Crisp and Jacobs - mediocre at best imports, and poor fits for a lineup already lacking in OBP.  He shelled out the big bucks for Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth, neither of which looks like a particularly great decision (though we did, and do, support the Gil Meche signing).  Maybe RHP Kyle Davies finally pans out and gives him another good starter; maybe Mike Aviles keeps up his hitting tear; maybe Coco Crisp returns to 2005 form (doubtful, since he is a deplorable soul).  Regardless, it's been a bit of an unauspicious start for Moore in that he doesn't seem to know what he wants to do. We hope he really sorts things out and can stick to a long-term plan; the Royals faithful deserve as much.

As for the pitching, it's an extraordinarily top-heavy group.  RHPs Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, and Joakim Soria are a playoff caliber nucleus of starts and closer; RHPs Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez have been quality bullpen arms, as has LHP Ron Mahay (to our surprise).  RHP Kyle Davies (a former Braves prospect, as are a surprising amount of Royals pitchers - we'll get to that shortly) posted a good 4.06 ERA, but a low strikeout rate (5.65 per 9) and some slight control issues (3.42 BB per 9; acceptable only for someone who misses more bats than Davies) make that number look slightly fluky.  For the Royals to succeed, they need repeated success from their bullpen - which RHP Juan Cruz should certainly help; he was a great addition - and a big step forward from their young starters, all of whom have potential to do exactly that.

As for the former Braves thing, a perusal of their transaction log reveals a lot of former Tomahawkers.  To wit: Kyle Davies, Ron Mahay, Juan Cruz, Horacio Ramirez, Oscar Villareal, Roman Colon, Kyle Farnsworth, and Tony and Brayan Pena.  This is, in all likelihood, completely coincidental and irrelevant, but it's still kinda neat.  We think.

2009 Forecast 

PECOTA projected record: 76-86, 4th in AL Central

KCSD projected record: 78-84, 4th in AL Central

We think the AL Central is a fairly tough division; at any rate, we think the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox are all demonstrably better, but also that the Royals aren't far off.  It's an optimistic 78 win projection that we're hanging on them.

Around the Horn

John Buck: .231/.303/.393, 15 HR.  Buck's just not a very good hitter, but he is going to be 28, and has demonstrated a small bit of power in the past.  That's not to say we're very optimistic; this is still a veritable black hole for the Royals.

1B Mike Jacobs: .261/.313/.505, 26 HR.  Jacobs is good for exactly one thing: hitting the long ball.  And chicks dig that, so Jacobs is ok by us!  The biggest problem for the Royals is that between Jacobs and Billy Butler, they have two powerful bats and zero capable gloves.  First base is going to be ugly this year.

2B Alberto Callaspo: .287/.367/.391, 3 HR.  Callaspo possesses a valuable skill that is rare in this lineup: a good batting eye.  Of course, he comes with the baggage of being an (alleged) woman beater with something of a drinking problem, but if he can get his life straight, he can get some good PT and put up a good line.  We think.

3B Alex Gordon: .271/.357/.491, 25 HR, 12 SB.  Gordon arrived with as much hype as any other prospect in recent years, and, for the most part, has failed to deliver.  But he was excellent in the second half last season, and while his defense slipped, his bat should compensate in his age-25 season.

SS Mike Aviles: .290/.335/.468, 16 HR.  We like Aviles to continue hitting like he did in his 441 MLB ABs; a very strong recent minor league track record leads us to believe that his bat is legitimate.  Negative reviews of his defense have thusfar proved unsubstantiated; he was well above average last year, and if he can keep that up this year, too, then he'll be one of the better shortstops in the league.

LF David DeJesus: .282/.347/.436, 10 HR, 10 SB.  DeJesus suffered a severe drop in production two seasons ago, but posted the best season of his career as a 28-year old in 2008.  He won't repeat those numbers (.307/.366/.452, 12, 11) but he should come close.

CF Coco Crisp: .275/.340/.401, 7 HR, 16 SB.  We'd like to hope that he fails to crack the Mendoza line, but he seemed to figure things out a little last season after his career had been going steadily downhill since his banner '05.  So we begrudgingly project him to be decent for a CF.  That's as nice as we'll be for Covelli.

RF Jose Guillen: .271/.308/.424, 14 HR.  We've always felt Guillen got a raw deal, but we never had to deal with him in the clubhouse and so always sort of discounted his general attitude.  As such, we want to project him higher, but he kinda went off a cliff last year, and he's going to be 33, so we don't think there's much chance of him rebounding. 

From the Bump: Starters

RHP Gil Meche: 208 IP, 3.79 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 175 K, 68 BB.  As we mentioned, we think Meche was very much a worthy signing, and we think he'll continue to prove it in his age-30 season.  He demonstrated great strikeout potential last year at the cost of increased walks, a trend that we like - an increased ability to miss bats at 29 speaks well to his ability to make adjustments and good stuff.

RHP Zack Greinke: 200 IP, 3.19 ERA, 1.20 ERA, 192 K, 55 BB.  We think Greinke has the talent to be one of the best pitchers in the league, and if it weren't for Meche's millions, he'd be the ace of the team.  The question with him has always been whether he has the mental makeup to put it all together; this is, after all, a man who walked away from baseball for a year because of emotional issues.  We trust and hope that he can; only 25, the future is very, very bright for Greinke.

RHP Brian Bannister: 175 IP, 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 100 K, 68 BB.  Bannister has been a favorite of Joe Posnanski's; his cerebral approach and knowledge of advanced statistical analysis and how to manipulate it is, admittedly, rather fascinating.  He has showed a marvelous ability to adapt his game, seemingly raising K rates at will, or nibbling at spots when necessary.  And yet, his underwhelming stuff simply makes it very difficult to be much better than average.

RHP Kyle Davies: 130 IP, 5.05 ERA, 1.53 ERA, 82 K, 50 BB.  We simply don't think Davies is very good.  He was great for awhile as a rookie with the Braves, but he hasn't showed much promise ever since.  Furthermore, he's always struggled with his health; our 130 IP could easily be too high.

RHP Luke Hochevar: 140 IP, 4.84 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 85 K, 44 BB.  We're a sucker for young talent; the 6'5'' Hochevar is a recent draftee who has plenty of it.  We think he can be pretty good, even though he didn't exactly light the world on fire in his debut season.  If he can take a big step forward, that would be huge for the Royals, who are seriously lacking in starting pitching after their top two guys.

From the Bump: Relievers

Closer Joakim Soria: 68 IP, 1.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 72 K, 19 BB, 38 SV.  The Mexicutioner (good work by Rany Jazayerli getting him nicknamed) was lights out last season, and there's no reason to think he can't continue it this year.  Already one of the preeminent closers in the game, he has overpowering stuff that makes hitters look silly, and, at 25, he's only going to get better.  

Setup man Juan Cruz: 66 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 81 K, 36 BB.  A great strikeout pitcher (averaging more than 1 per inning for his career), Cruz was a fantastic signing to help bolster the back end of the bullpen.  He's the extra power arm that can really bring everything together, especially because his presence means that Kyle Farnsworth won't be seeing as many important innings.  We love Farnsworth, but his deal was a mistake, and his tendency to serve up gopher balls doesn't bode well for late-inning relievers.

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