Minggu, 25 Maret 2012

Prospect Avenue: Part Two

In part 1 we looked at such names as Danny Hultzen, Anthony Rizzo, and Yoenis Cespedes. Now, we'll continue with the top-ten prospects who should contribute in 2012.

10. OF Bryce Harper, Nationals

Age: 19
BA Rank: #1
Draft: 2010 - 1st round, 1st overall

I examined Harper's case as a major-leaguer earlier this year, and while I encourage you to follow the jump, we are all aware of the mammoth talent in Harper. He is the most skilled position player prospect since at least A-Rod, maybe Griffey, and perhaps of all time. He's hit basically everywhere he's been, and, oh yeah, he's 19.

Despite all his talent, I listed Harper at #10 for a couple of reasons. First, he didn't get a big-league spot out of Spring Training. He was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse last week. Additionally, many signs point to him not being ready to face MLB pitching. Most scouts agree that there are holes in his game, and you can tell that when he faced high-level pitching at Double-A in 2011, he was a little behind the rest of the league (.329 OBP). He didn't really hit in limited Spring Training at bats, either. Harper will be given time in center field at Syracuse, and the Nationals, smartly, are playing the long game with him. Despite his upside, I would not expect to see him before June, or maybe July (the new CBA and Super-Two rules may play a role here). As a result, his 2012 production probably won't be off the charts, but as the game's most exciting prospect, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on in this season.

9. SP Drew Pomeranz, Rockies

Age: 23
BA Rank: 30
Draft: 2010 - 1st round, 5th overall

The centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, Pomeranz, a lefty, is exactly what you like to see in a pitching prospect. He has a live, mid-90s fastball and a breaking pitch that has been described as the best in the 2010 draft class. He is supposed to have great control, though he did struggle a bit with his command (3.4 BB/9) in 2011. If he can get back to the command that he displayed at Ole Miss and polish off a third-pitch changeup, he could be a monster as soon as this year. Playing time shouldn't be an issue: he's currently penciled in as the Rockies' third starter, though they probably won't let him go more than 150 innings or so, as his previous high is just 101.

8. SP Jarrod Parker, Athletics

Age: 23
BA Rank: 26
Draft: 2007 - 1st round, 9th overall

Tommy John surgery kept Parker out for 2010, but he picked up where he left off in 2011, striking out 7.7 per 9 and walking 3.8. Supposedly, the life is back in his 95 mph fastball, and his pre-surgery command is supposedly back as well (though he has struggled this spring, walking 13 men in 11 innings). He features a sharp slider and curve, and has added a good changeup. With no real competition, he was expected to compete for a spot, but lack of sharpness had him optioned to minor league camp last week. He'll pitch with Triple-A Sacramento for now, but as soon as he shows he's still the guy worth trading for Trevor Cahill, expect him to start pitching for Oakland.

7. 1B Yonder Alonso, Padres

Age: 25
BA Rank: 33
Draft: 2008 - 1st round, 7th overall

Alonso has long been one of those 'good problems' for the Reds. With no fielding ability, he's practically chained to first base, but the Reds already had the best left-handed hitter on the planet manning first. They 'solved' that problem by sending him to San Diego in the Mat Latos trade, and after they dealt Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs, he'll begin the season as their starting first baseman.

Alonso has always hit. He has a career Minor league OPS of .837, and a Major league OPS of .833. He's supposed to have monster power potential, but he's never really grown into it, even at a relatively advanced age, and PETCO is probably not the best place to find your power stroke. Still, he takes plenty of walks (11% MiL walk rate), and hits enough line drives that he should show plenty of doubles power, if nothing else. And don't get me wrong: he still looks like a 20-homer player with some upside. He's already shown an ability to hit MLB pitching, and I see no reason to think he shouldn't create some real value for the Padres.

6. SP Brad Peacock, Athletics

Age: 24
BA Rank: 36
Draft: 2006 - 41st round

One of the pitchers acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Peacock has gone largely unnoticed by many major publications (unranked by MLB.com's top-100, for instance). He features two plus pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a wicked knucke-curve. This allows him to strike out a ton of batters: over the last two years he's struck out 325 men in 289 innings from High-to-Triple-A. He features two other mediocre pitches, but his real third weapon is his ability to locate the first two: he's walked just 2.9 batters per 9 over the last two years. Peacock is an MLB pitcher at this point (he got a 12-inning cup of coffee last September), but Oakland may play with his service time as he was sent down with Parker last week. Just as with Parker, however, there is no real competition for him in the rotation, so as soon as the A's think he won't qualify for Super-Two status, he'll be with the big league club.

5. C Devin Mesoraco, Reds

Age: 24
BA Rank: 16
Draft: 2007 - 1st round, 15th overall

The Latos trade didn't completely ravage the Reds' system, as the top catching prospect in baseball is about to graduate to their big league club. Mesoraco is set to serve an apprenticeship under Ryan Hanigan in 2012, but if he hits and Hanigan doesn't, he could take his job at some point during the summer. Mesoraco is probably an average defensive catcher, throwing out 26% of baserunners while allowing 10 passed balls in 2011, but it's his bat that makes him such a great prospect. In 120 Triple-A games in 2011, he hit .289/.371/.484 with 15 home runs, after OPSing .964 in 2010. Supposedly, he can still get beat by inside stuff, but raw power and a penchant for walking make him a threat at the plate. He's athletic and hard-working, and baseball people expect him to make the strides to be a big-league catcher, as well. Which is more than we can say about:

4. C Jesus Montero, Mariners

Age: 22
BA Rank: 6

Perhaps the only available prospect the Mariners would have bitten on for Pineda, that swap took place in January. Montero is ridiculously talented with a bat. He makes consistent contact, hits for power, and walks at about an average or better pace. In his minor league career, he's hit .288/.348/.501, hit 15 home runs four times, and posted a .996 OPS in 69 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2011. Montero can hit.

The caveat is his defense. He's a catcher in name only. He's too big (the bad way) to field the position effectively, and while he has a strong arm, he supposedly has poor throwing mechanics and footwork, a virtual waste of the tool. Seattle is committed to trying him at catcher, though it looks like he'll get more DH time and just back up Miguel Olivo.

Montero is going to hit: of that I am sure. The question is, how well? Safeco will impact his offense, but how much? On the upside is Mike Piazza, with a downside like the latest version of Bengie Molina, and Montero likely to land somewhere in the middle.

3. SP Yu Darvish, Rangers

Age: 25
BA Rank: 4

I like Darvish. Like, a lot. His pitching repertoire and skillset really do deserve their own article, so if you're interested in his abilities, you really should check it out. The long and short of it is that he is probably the greatest non-pan-American pitcher to ever live, featuring a vast array of pitches that he commands and moves expertly and throws with serious velocity, touching 100 mph in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

In that article I address his conversion stats, and why I think he should work in the MLB where some other Japanese pitchers have failed. He's been impressive this Spring so far, with 10 strikeouts in 9 innings, with most people very impressed with his fastball. His breaking stuff seems to be a little tough to control so far, with 7 walks, but it remains to see which (if any) of the myriad issues that could be. Smart money is on the Rangers' #2 starter figuring it out and making 33 very good starts in 2012.

2. OF Mike Trout, Angels

Age: 20
BA Rank: 3
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 25th overall

Mike Trout is Superman. While Harper may do everything well, and his hitting makes him the greatest talent in a generation, nobody has been as effectively well-rounded since Mays and Mantle. He hits (.338 lifetime average), he walks (11.5% career walk rate), and he hits for power (.508 career SLG). And he runs. Oh, does he run. He's gone 89/114 (78%) over the last two years in the minors, and nobody caught him in four attempts in the majors last year, not even Matt Wieters. He runs to first a half second faster than any major leaguer, and gets to third in the time it takes an international runner to run 100 meters. As a result, he could probably be one of the best center fielders in baseball right now.

But, we're looking at 2012, and the reality is that Mike Trout probably won't spend all of 2012 in the majors - despite the fact that he is unquestionably at least the second best outfielder in the Angels' organization. He hasn't played much this spring, going hitless in four at bats, due to a shoulder issue. He was cleared to throw Monday and will be DHing with minor league teams probably the rest of Spring Training, with an eye on playing full time in two weeks. After that, he'll probably be confined to Triple-A until the boos keep Jerry DiPoto up at night and he has to bench Vernon Wells or Torii Hunter. Or Bobby Abreu. Coincidently, this may be in mid-June when Trout loses his shot at Super-Two status. Just, you know, out of coincidence. Trout should play 3-4 months at an All-Star level, and that is why he should be the second-most valuable top prospect in 2012.

1. SP Matt Moore, Rays

Age: 23
BA Rank: 2
Draft: 2007 - 8th round

A small-framed lefty, Moore is fantastically talented. He features shockingly easy mid-90s heat, complements it with a wicked curve, and tops it off with a nifty fading change that, despite being his third pitch, is still one of the best changeups in the minors. With excellent command of this repertoire, he's done nothing but strike guys out over a lengthy minor league career (12.7 K/9!), while walking surprisingly few (3.8 BB/9) for someone as stuffsy as him. The Rays typically bring their prospects along slowly, but a 1.92 ERA kept Moore moving through the system in 2011, ending with a cup of coffee in Tampa, where he struck out 15 men in 9.1 innings, and started Game 1 of the ALDS, shutting out the eventual AL Champion Rangers for seven innings.

As far as natural ability go, he's one of the most gifted hurlers in the world. Only time will tell how far he goes, but the sky is the limit. The Rays will give him every opportunity: after signing a huge extension that could keep him in Tampa through 2019, there is no reason to play with his service time, and Moore will start 2012 in the rotation. With 170 combined innings in 2011, he will probably pitch a full season as well. While I wouldn't bet on it, he could go as far as winning the Cy Young Award as a rookie -- and that is why he is the #1 most valuable prospect in 2012.

Sabtu, 24 Maret 2012

Prospect Avenue: Part One

As another part of our Preseason Previews, I will be looking at the 25 prospects who will be looking to make the biggest impact in 2012. By 'prospect', I mean high-ranking players on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects List; players you should be excited about who should also help their teams this season. The premise of this exercise, I believe, is quite straightforward, so without further ado:

25. SP Shelby Miller, Cardinals

Age: 21
BA Rank: 8
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 19th overall

Miller is insanely talented, and the only reason he is this low here is that baseball folks expect the Cards to play the long game with him. With a blistering fastball, a big-time 12-6 hook and a frustrating 2-seamer, Miller can get you out any number of ways, though he prefers the strikeout, ringing up 11 batters per 9 across two levels in 2011. With a projectable body, scouts expect him to be an absolute monster in the future. He made it up to Double-A, last season, and will probably see time both there and at Triple-A Memphis before getting a cup of coffee late in the summer.

24. SP James Paxton, Mariners

Age: 23
BA Rank: 52
Draft: 2010 - 4th round

A 6'-4" lefty out of British Columbia, Paxton is a typical power lefty. He features high-mid-90s heat and a mean slider, and commands both of them expertly. Double-A hitters couldn't do anything with him, as he struck out 51 in 39 innings last season. Paxton impressed this spring, but will likely start in the high minors, looking to crack the Mariners rotation as early as June.

23. 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Age: 21
BA Rank: 42
Draft: 2009 - 2nd round

Arenado isn't much of a fielder, but that's really the only knock against him. He makes excellent contact, has decent plate discipline, and despite being billed as a line-drive hitter, shows good (and improving) power, hitting 20 home runs at High-A Modesto last season. Arenado should be expected to play out the year at Double-A Tulsa, but keep an eye on two things: his production, and his position. If he hits and the Rockies start fiddling with his position, it means one thing: a one way ticket to Denver International is probably in the mail.

22. SP Randall Delgado, Braves

Age: 22
BA Rank: 46

The lanky righty shows a heap of promise, offset with the struggles of an electric young pitcher. His fastball, which can touch 95, shows explosive action, and is enough to miss most bats he's faced so far, boasting a career 9.5 K/9 against minor league competition. He has a solid changeup and 12-6 curveball. He only managed to put away 18 guys in 35 innings during his cup of coffee in 2011, which might speak to both his secondary stuff and his work-in-progress command. All signs point to him being sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to put the final touches on a promising repertoire, but he's currently listed as the Braves' sixth starter, having a great spring and drawing fifth starter conversation -- he's on the very cusp of major league contributions either way.

21. SP Manny Banuelos, Yankees

Age: 21
BA Rank: 29

Brian Cashman appears to have bought into the youth movement in baseball, and the Yankees' farm continues to bear fruit. Banuelos features easy low-90s heat and a nice changeup, but probably needs a third pitch in order to succeed at the major league level -- his curve and slider are fringe-average, at best. He hit a bit of a bump in 2011 and struggled to get high-minors hitters out, posting a 1.550 WHIP across AA and AAA along with a cringe-inducing 1.76 K/BB, but it is important to remember that he was one of the younger players in the high minors last season. Control has always been an issue for him, and he clearly needs more seasoning, but if he can take another step forward in 2012, the Yankees just might be able to find him some innings out of the bullpen down the stretch.

20. SP Danny Hultzen, Mariners

Age: 22
BA Rank: 21
Draft: 2011 - 1st round, 2nd overall

Perhaps the most talented pitcher on this list, Hultzen features easy low-mid-90s heat, ridiculous, pinpoint control, and a secondary repertoire consisting of a cutter, changeup and a promising slider. The big lefty struck out about 1.5 men per inning at Virginia, and made a mess out of opposing hitters in the AFL last season, posting a 1.60 ERA in 6 starts. The Mariners gave him a long look this spring, but are going to wait and let him polish off that breaking pitch before letting him play against the big boys. If he does get the call sometime this summer, AL hitters should be on notice: Hultzen looks every bit the part of Cliff Lee.

19. SP Julio Teheran, Braves

Age: 21
BA Rank: 5

At some point in the mid-1980s, Ted Turner sold his soul to the devil in return for a map to the Fountain of Pitching. I could list the names, but I have just the one life to give. This list features two talented young pitchers eying spots in a loaded young rotation, and it doesn't even include Arodys Vizcaino, who may have had the best pure stuff of the trio, but will miss 2012 after recent Tommy John surgery.

Teheran is being billed as the best Latin pitcher since King Felix, and while those are lofty expectations, Teheran doesn't come to the table empty-handed. Teheran is pretty raw, with most expecting more physical maturation out of him yet. He has an excellent three-pitch mix consisting of a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and a changeup with 'significant' sink. He can get a little sloppy with his location (as evidenced by his 9 home runs allowed this March), but he should miss plenty of bats -- as his career 8.6 K/9 will attest. He wasn't quite as sharp last year in a full season at Triple-A, and after a rough spring he's more or less finished as the fifth starter out of camp. The Braves will send him back to Gwinnett to find the zip he had in the lower minors, with the idea being for him to force their hand sometime this summer.

18. SP Jacob Turner, Tigers

Age: 21
BA Rank: 22
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 9th overall

First things first, Turner's elbow discomfort appears to be nothing more than the annual 'dead arm' that serves to scare fans and bloggers every March. He threw a bullpen session Friday without incident after a brief shutdown, though the hiccup likely cost him any chance he had of taking the fifth starter's spot out of spring training.

Turner is a big, strong right-hander with impressive command of a live, mid-90s heater that he complements with some iffy secondary stuff. He doesn't walk many batters while maintaining a healthy strikeout ratio, even when tested against the higher levels in 2011, posting a combined 3.14 K/BB across AA and AAA. Turner will be starting the season in Triple-A Toledo, but if he pitches well, proves he is healthy, or if the Tigers simply can't get by with Andy Oliver, he should be with the big club in no time.

17. SP Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks

Age: 21
BA Rank: 9
Draft: 2011 - 1st round, 3rd overall

Bauer is an interesting character, employing radical strength and conditioning techniques including insane long toss, tube work, video analysis, and side sessions. This dedication has helped him get the most out of a relatively slight (6'1", 175) frame. Bauer uses ridiculous shoulder strength and a flawless delivery (based on Tim Lincecum's) to throw a low-mid-90s fastball that he can get up to triple-digits if need be, though he keeps his delivery easy, relying on control and movement instead of brute force. He complements this with what he claims to be 700 different pitches, but just to look at him you can count a nasty slider, a nasty changeup, and a nasty cutter, along with a whole mess of other junk.

Bauer got to work quickly in 2011, striking out 43 men in 25 High-A innings, then struck out another 26 in 17 Double-A innings. He probably isn't going to make the team, despite a strong March effort, but if he proves himself at Double-A, there will be no reason to keep him there. Like Straburg, many surmised that Bauer came out of college with major-league polish, so to see him at Chase Field by June is not a real stretch.

16. OF Brett Jackson, Cubs

Age: 23
BA Rank: 32
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 31st overall

The BA rankings are usually flush with pitchers, so any batter among the list is very clearly talented. Jackson is one of not many prospects who manage to blend raw athleticism and skill with on-field production, which got baseball people excited about Jason Heyward a few years ago. He has all the tools offensively: he makes great contact, has excellent plate discipline, and even shows developing power, hitting .274/.379/.490 across the upper levels in 2011. He complements this with pretty good speed, going 64/84 in his minor league career in stolen base attempts, and he has the potential to be an above-average center fielder as well, though right field may be his final home. A total athlete with middle-of-the-order upside, he'll start the season in Triple-A, but Alfonso Soriano is the only thing keeping him there. Expect to see him getting regular MLB at bats by the end of June.

15. SP Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks

Age: 20
BA Rank: 13
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 40th overall

The 6-5 lefty was the chief return in the Haren trade, and it's easy to see why. Scouts are still waiting for him to fill out, but for now he brings the heat around 90, 91, with sink and uses it to set up a nasty curveball and a decent-looking changeup, with control of all three. He has no problem getting professional hitting out, mixing a great K-rate (11.3 in 2011) with a very low walk rate (2.8). The sink on his fastball keeps the ball in the park (career 0.6 HR/9). He looked great in ten Double-A starts in 2011, and has impressed Diamondbacks brass this spring, though he will probably get some more time in at AA or AAA. He's being kept out of the majors by guys like Joe Saunders, so while the D'backs aren't going to rush him, it's not unlikely that he makes an appearance before the All-Star Break.

14. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Age: 22
BA Rank: 47
Draft: 2007 - 6th round

Rizzo is looking like the prize of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, but San Diego will never find out, as they dumped him on the Cubs this winter to make room for Yonder Alonso (smart!). Rizzo has excellent hitter's tools: great bat speed and excellent knowledge of the strikezone. He's not a bad fielder, either, and scouts will tell you he is quite athletic at first base. He absolutely destroyed Triple-A pitching in 2011 (.331/.404/.652) before getting a shot at The Show. He struggled, hampered by a couple of nagging injuries and probably just being 21 years old. The Cubs optioned him to Triple-A on Friday, but that doesn't mean he is far away: his seat is being kept warm by such stalwarts as Bryan LaHair and Jeff Baker. The Cubs will use the first excuse to get him back to the majors, and that may just mean another hot April.

13. SP Mike Montgomery, Royals

Age: 22
BA Rank: 23
Draft: 2008 - 1st round, 36th overall

I hesitated putting Montgomery this high on the list, but compared to others around him, he is very close to the majors. The big lefty brings a heavy, low-90s fastball with decent command, but his secondary stuff needs work. He has a good feel for a changeup, but his curveball is underwhelming, and he can get sloppy with all three. He had shot through the minors until hitting something of a speedbump last season in Triple-A. He walked too many guys (4.1 BB/9), and he had trouble missing bats like he did in the lower levels. He already has 150 IP at Triple-A, and there is nobody at Kansas City that is worth keeping a roster spot from him, so the moment he starts getting outs he should get the call - but it remains to be seen when exactly that will be.

12. C Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox

Age: 24
BA Rank: N/A
Draft: 2008 - 6th round

Lavarnway could probably be one of the better offensive catchers in baseball right now, and is likely the most polished bat in this article, but there is a real caveat in his defense. The Yale grad is praised for his game-calling, but is well below average in all other aspects including movement and throwing. As mentioned, his bat will play - he hit .295/.390/.612 at Triple-A before hitting two home runs in 43 PAs at the major league level in 2011. The Red Sox clearly feel that he needs a little more work, as they signed defensive standout Kelly Shoppach to back up incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 2012, but an injury to either of them or DH David Ortiz should have his bat at Fenway anytime this year.

11. OF Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics

I examined Cespedes' potential back in November, but he didn't sign with the A's until February. Check out that link for a more detailed analysis, but the high points are that he is a ridiculous athlete with insane raw hitter's tools. His bat speed and leverage would make most MLB players envious. There are questions about his defense, with opinions ranging from corner outfielder to plus center fielder, and I also have an issue with his age (26) and his plate discipline (poor). He's too old to improve much. He is listed as the Athletics' starting center fielder, so it looks like despite a poor spring he will be trusted with an MLB job. It should be interesting to see if he can handle MLB pitchers (he's never faced anything close to this level of competition - except in the 2009 WBC when he hit .194) and how he will be affected by the Coliseum. He is a fly ball hitter, so it should impact him, but if he's hitting the ball 450 feet it's affect will be minimized. Color me dubious, but the talent is there and whether or not he sticks should be one of the more interesting stories in baseball this year.

Jumat, 23 Maret 2012

The Sun Also Rises: Top Breakout and Bust Candidates for 2012, Part 1

As part of the season preview series, most articles featured a breakout and bust candidate. Here I would like to examine and expand on these selections, looking at the top-ten breakout candidates. I will not be looking at prospects, since they are obviously going to contribute more than they did in 2011, and also will have their own article later. Without further ado:

Top Breakout Candidates for 2012

10. 1B Paul GoldSchmidt, ARI

Age: 24
Service Time: 177 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4

Goldschmidt is one of those player types I like a lot. He's patient, shows power, and... we'll that's about it. Fortunately, those are really the important bits of offense, and you'll just have to live with the horrific defense. It's the same formula that Adam Dunn employed for years, and he was good for a few wins a year once upon a time.

Goldschmidt just hits. He hit .300 at Rookie. He hit .300 at High-A. He hit .300 at Double-A. Goldschmidt walks. He walked 12.6% of the time as a minor leaguer and 11.3% in the majors last year. Goldschmidt hits for power, with a minor league SLG of .620 and cranking 8 homers in just 48 games last season. There is no need to go into the specifics in this case: he has good discipline, he hits with authority, and he's an awful first baseman. Put the three together, and you get a pretty good player.

9. OF John Mayberry, PHI

Age: 28
Service time: 369 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4

Talent has never been a question for Mayberry, the son of former All-Star, John Mayberry Sr. The 2005 first round draft selection has never been able to put it together as a professional. A solid outfielder, he showed power and discipline in the minors, but was never able to make consistent contact. He was also never really given a chance at the major league level, but that changed in 2011 as he got into 105 games with the Phillies and hit .273/.341/.513, lining him up as the starting left fielder for 2012.

Mayberry displayed several signs that his 2011 success is sustainable: he had a modest babip, of .293. His power numbers, a 15.2 HR/FB%, are quite moderate for a guy with as much power upside as Mayberry. I'm not in the business of claiming that players build on their plate discipline at his age, but he has been improving his walk rate, and for him to replicate a league-average (8.5%) walk rate would not be unfathomable.

Mayberry had a 2.5 WAR in 296 PA last season, and with no real reason to predict his abilities to decline, we might be surprised with what he can do over a full season.

8. OF Alex Presley, PIT

Age: 26
Service Time: 256 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4

Unlike Mayberry, Presley was never supposed to be in a situation to be a real breakout candidate. An 8th-round pick in the 2006 draft, Presley was never a highly-regarded talent, but always showed a penchant for putting the ball in play, and that payed dividends when he took off in 2010, hitting .320 across the two higher levels, then kept hitting last season, belting a .330 average at Triple-A before a June callup. He didn't stop hitting in the NL, putting up a .298/.339/.465 slashline (121 OPS+).

There are reasons not to be a fan of Presley's. He only has moderate plate discipline. He doesn't have much power. He relies on a huge babip: it was .349 in 2011. But, if you look closer, there are reasons to believe his success will carry over: his babip is not flukish: he routinely has babips well above the norm -- he has two minor league seasons of a babip over .350. If you look at his plate discipline numbers, he doesn't chase, he protects the zone very well, and makes loads of contact.

There is room for decline in Presley's production. No matter what a guy's history, it is hard to bet on a .349 babip. Even so, however, he can afford to lose a few points and remain a very effective hitter. Even if he takes a step back, he will be playing in three times as many games as last season, so a WAR of 3 or so is not out of the question.

7. SS Jed Lowrie, HOU

Age: 28
Service Time: 920 PA
FG Fans Predicted WAR: 2.6

Lowrie is the classic breakout candidate: a talented player whose health has never permitted him to cash in on his skills. A first round pick out of the legendary 2005 draft, Lowrie was a top-100 prospect in 2008, hit all through the minors, and made a splash in 2008, driving in 46 runs in half a season for a major-league debut. After years of battling injuries and fighting for playing time in Boston over veterans like Julio Lugo and Marco Scutaro, Lowrie will have a chance to make a name for himself in Houston. Featuring a solid batters' eye, steady glove, and good power for a shortstop, Lowrie is ready to prove himself as a big league player.

Lowrie isn't going to hit .300 or hit 30 home runs or win a Gold Glove, but the beauty of him as a player is his well-roundedness. While his production has long been hampered by shoulder and wrist issues, he has a career slashline of .252/.324/.408 - or just below average. He is about average as a shortstop (depending on how healthy his shoulder is), but won't do much on the basepaths. He has good discipline and solid power in the batters' box. The tools are all there.

He looked like he was finally putting it together in 2010, when he posted an OPS+ of 139 in 88 games before injuries and a bout of mono took him out for the season. The Atros are counting on the 2010 Jed Lowrie (the only really healthy Lowrie we've seen) to reemerge, and there is nothing in the numbers that preclude that from happening -- his peripherals were normal in that season. In short, when healthy, Jed Lowrie is a very good player. If he can stay healthy in 2012, he might be one of the better shortstops East of the Rocky Mountains.

6. SP Rick Porcello, DET

Age: 23
Service Time: 515 IP
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.7

There are several reasons to like Porcello as a breakout candidate, and I can list them just as quickly:
-He's young. He turned 23 in December.
-Detroit works their pitchers hard, and it seems to result in arm strength and durability. I've criticized Detroit for it in the past, and rarely am I going to believe in the health of a guy who started 31 games as a 20-year-old, but I believe in the Tigers' program.
-He's talented. The guy was a first round pick, got rushed to the majors, and got AL hitters out. He has a good fastball/slider combo, the latter of which has really been improving.
-I'm in love with his peripherals. He has shown improvement across the board: inducing chasing, called strikes, swings and misses, you name it.

5. 3B Danny Valencia, MIN

Age: 27
Service Time: 630 PA
FG Fans Projected WAR: 2.8

Valencia was one of the bright spots for the Twins in 2011, which is sad because he had a -1.1 WAR. He hit below average with an 86 OPS+, fielded horrendously with a -18 rtot, and got caught stealing thrice as often as he was successful. Still, there are a couple of reasons to get excited about the 2012 season for him.

First, I think he should develop at least into a league-average hitter. He had a meager .275 babip in 2011, and while he's probably topped out for power at 15 home runs or so, and doesn't take a walk like the Twins would like to see, he does drive the ball pretty well with gap power, and if the babip can stabilize, you're probably looking at a league-average bat with a little bit of upside. It bears mentioning that he is turning 27, the virtues of which many fantasy guys will extoll.

Defensively, he's kind of a mixed bag. He was supposed to be a solid defender, and he was in 2010, but he had a brutal 2011. The other stats treated him a little better (rdrs had him at -13, UZR at -6, and +/- had him at -11), but still very much bad. It is unclear how much of this is statistical variance and how much is him just being a bad 3B. 2012 will go a long way in settling that.

Valencia has some serious strides to make on both sides of the ball, but if his minor league track record means anything, he has some real upside.

4. SP Chris Sale, CHW

Age: 23
Service Time: 94 IP (79 GP)
FG Fans War Prediction: 3.0

Sale has all the talent in the world. After a stellar young career in relief, Sale will be tried in the rotation. The 23-year-old has just two years in pro ball, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and while stretching out relievers is never a sure thing, Sale has solid command and a great repertoire consisting of a high-mid-90s fastball with a lot of life, and a low-80s slider with big break.

What makes me think he can work as a starter, however, is his third pitch, his changeup. He takes about 9-10 mph off of it, and spots it very well. He isn't afraid to use it either, throwing it about 12% of the time in 2011. As a result of this arsenal, he generates a ton of swings and misses, with a career K/9 of 11. He also has pretty good control, and has shown an ability to keep the ball down. Again, it's never a sure thing when a reliever converts to the rotation, but if Sale can pull it off, he could create some huge value. There just might be an absolute ace here.

3. SP Derek Holland, TEX

Age: 25
Service Time: 394 IP
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 3.2

There is a lot to like about Holland, which is why the Rangers locked him up in a five-year deal worth $28 MM recently. He's been solid in the past for Texas, throwing 198 innings for them in 2011 to a 3.95 ERA. Despite his rather average performance, the peripheral statistics view him slightly higher. While he has a career ERA of 4.73, SIERA and xFIP view him as more of a high-3.00s type of pitcher. In Arlington, peripherals are probably the way to go anyways.

Additionally, Holland is at a good age for improvement, coming into his own as an athlete at 25. His velocity has been ticking up (he averaged over 94 mph in 2011), and he has been mixing in an effective cutter. His discipline stats show an encouraging trend, as well. In noticeable steps, he has been increasing chases, called strikes, and swinging strikes. Honestly it is hard to think of a pitcher who has shown more solid, marked improvement than Holland.

2. LF Logan Morrison, MIA

Age: 24
Service Time: 812 PA
FG Fans Predicted WAR: 3.2

Morrison isn't an unknown -- he is one of baseball's most popular characters, and is perhaps best known for his Twitter antics. He also hit 23 home runs last year and walked over 10% of the time.

The main reason to like Morrison as a breakout candidate, besides his age and clear ability, is his .265 babip in 2011. The one thing missing from his offensive repertoire was average. If his babip normalizes and he can hit .270, his plate discipline and power upside should make him a legitimate offensive threat. There are serious concerns about his defense (he is an alarmingly poor defender), but the same could (can?) be said about Manny Ramirez. If LoMo starts raking, he'll create some big time value regardless of what he does in left field.

1. 3B David Freese, STL

Age: 29
Service Time: 667 PA
FG Fans WAR Predictions: 3.9

Freese was all set to become the Cards third baseman in 2010, and he was playing the part, hitting .296/.361/.404 before an ankle injury ended his season in June. After a pair of surgeries he was back for 2011, and wow, was he back. Despite missing about two months after being hit in the hand by a pitch, Freese raked, hitting .297/.350/.441. He even seemed to find a little bit of power, hitting 10 home runs in 97 games.

No real analysis needs to be done here. The guy can clearly hit. His babip might raise some eyebrows, at .365 for his career, but he routinely had babips over .340 as a minor leaguer. There is some room to fall there, but he will produce high babips for a reason: he squares the ball up and hits it very hard: in the last two years he's had line drive rates significantly above league average. He sprays line drives around the park, can take a walk, and is starting to get under the ball a little more. On top of all that, he plays a pretty good third base. All he needs to do is play 150 games. Once that happens, don't be surprised to see him in the discussion as one of the better third basemen in the NL.

Kamis, 15 Maret 2012

Season Previews, Part 32: Complete Offseason Review

As always, this year's offseason was almost as exciting as actual baseball -- or at least it feels that way. There were surprises aplenty: Prince to Detroit, Pujols to Anaheim, and the Marlins signing everybody else. Yu Darvish decided to come to America and ply his trade against the best hitters in the world.

There was a whirlwind of movement off the field, as a half dozen teams had serious management shuffles. In the wake of the worst collapse in the history of baseball, Boston parted ways with beloved manager Terry Francona, and Theo Epstein left for the Cubs, taking San Diego GM Jed Hoyer with him. San Diego and Boston were left to fill those gaps, as Houston, Baltimore, Anaheim all dealt with their own front office situations.

There were sour notes as well. Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP was cited for a failed drug test in December, with off-the-charts testosterone levels. He managed to get off the hook, but there will be a cloud over the rest of his playing life. Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona was found guilty of identity fraud, and while he did manage to shirk his charges in the Dominican Republic, it came to be known that his name is actually Roberto Heredia, and he is 31, not 28. Young Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in his native Venezuela, but returned unharmed.

Yes, the 2011-12 offseason generated its share of headlines, but what we care about, ultimately, is the players, and player movement. What I will do here is examine the best and worst of the offseason. Who made the right calls, who didn't do enough. Without further ado, I give you:

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Complete Offseason Review

Most Improved

Miami Marlins

It would be difficult not to say the Marlins (though they did get some competition here from the Angels). They did lose Javier Vazquez, who had a huge second half, to what appears to be retirement, but they also added Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Heath Bell. The team won just 72 games in 2011, while Hanley Ramirez struggled and Josh Johnson made 9 starts. With a bounce-back year from Hanley, the Marlins become a legitimate offensive threat with Reyes at the top, and a potentially even better Giancarlo 'Don't Call me Mike' Stanton and Logan Morrison in the middle. If Johnson comes back, the rotation is pretty good as well, and while the NL East will make it tough for them to be much better than .500, coming off of a 90-loss season, the Marlins are the most improved team in baseball.

Least Improved

Baltimore Orioles

The O's had a tough start to their offseason (which I detailed here), as they failed to find a suitable GM, and it became apparent that team owner Peter Angelos was more concerned with keeping his friends in charge than hiring an actual good executive.

On the field, however, the team was not much more impressive. New VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette brought on such spare parts as Endy Chavez, Dana Eveland, and Jason Hammel. Can these guys contribute at the MLB level? Yes. Will they make Baltimore a better club? Probably not. With no real MLB additions and no visible youth infusion, the O's shouldn't be expected to do much better than their 69-93 record of 2011.

Best Move

Rangers Sign Yu Darvish

As I detailed here, I am very excited about Darvish. Of course, there are doubts; there always are, but I was impressed with Rangers brass for not being afraid to try again on a Japanese pitcher after the underwhelming Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment. The Rangers won the bidding on Darvish with a $51.7 MM bid, then signed him to a $60 MM contract. I liked the move for a few reasons:

- Darvish fills the biggest real hole that the Rangers had on their roster: their rotation.
- There was no impact to the Rangers' roster. He does not cost them any personnel, not even draft picks, and the money spent on him shouldn't have a significant impact on Rangers spending capability: they drew almost 4 million fans in 2011, and that should not decrease after a second consecutive AL pennant. Additionally, after the 2014 season, the Rangers will start a new TV deal worth something in the neighbourhood of $80 MM per season.
- Darvish is, without question, the greatest non-American/Caribbean pitching talent, ever. If you read the article to which I referred earlier, his accomplishments are unmatched, his stuff some of the best on the planet right now. Additionally, he does not have the history of arm abuse Daisuke had.

Worst Move

Detroit Signs Prince Fielder

Before Prince ever signed with Detroit, both myself and my colleague were expecting a very poor return on investment on Prince. Then, Detroit signed Prince to a $219 MM contract. The deal made headlines, raised Detroit's profile, may have sold tickets, and in all likelihood made the 2012 club a better team -- but it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Tigers do not regret this deal inside of a few years, let alone nine.

Seattle Trades for Jesus Montero

I analyzed this trade here, and I feel very much the same way now: Seattle got fleeced. Montero is either a bad catcher or a DH, and in either case, he becomes simply a bat. A bat that Seattle needed, yes, but how good can he be? Even if he lives up to all the hype, turns into a .300/.400/.500 hitter, is that worth Michael Pineda? We know what Pineda can do, and he looks like a future Cy Young contender. There is a lot that goes into this deal: service time, need fulfillment, but it boils down to trading a player away for a player that isn't as good, and I think Seattle made a mistake here.

Biggest Splash

Los Angeles Angels Sign Albert Pujols

USA Today featured a great article about the Pujols signing coming to pass, but it was certainly a shock to the baseball world when, minutes before the Rule 5 draft at the December Winter Meetings, news broke that the Angels had signed the best player in baseball to a 10-year, $254 MM contract. Challenged only by the Prince signing, that morning was the most resounding moment of the offseason.

Best Offseason Plan

Colorado Rockies

As I wrote in the above article, I really like the Rockies' offseason plan. They didn't make any big splashes, because they didn't need to. They are in a position where patience would be key. With plenty of young stars, the Rockies needed to get healthy and develop, and so GM Dan O'Dowd concentrated on building around his core, adding players like Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, and Ramon Hernandez.

They added youth in Tyler Chatwood. I thought they got a great return on Seth Smith, who should be revealed as an overachiever in spacious Oakland Coliseum (or whatever they're calling it this year). Basically, I thought they improved the most at the smallest cost, making theirs the best offseason overall.

Worst Offseason Plan

San Diego Padres

Jed Hoyer had been running a pretty good rebuilding show in San Diego, but when Theo Epstein left Boston on October, he snatched Hoyer away from the Padres to serve as his GM, leaving owner Jeff Moorad to bring back his former muse with the Diamondbacks, Josh Byrnes. Byrnes had his successes in Arizona, but his tenure was largely dubbed a failure, and he was back at it immediately in San Diego.

Mat Latos, a terrifically overrated flyball pitcher, was traded for a pretty good package from Cincinnati, but the keystone player in the deal, Yonder Alonso, profiles very poorly for PETCO Park. The Padres traded a couple of decent minor league arms for Carlos Quentin, another horrible match for PETCO with only one year remaining on his contract. They took on a closer with $17 MM remaining on his contract, and basically gave top prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs to avoid the headache of finding a home for... Alonso.

In the end it seemed like much ado about nothing. They took on a bunch of payroll and traded away a lot of good young talent, with no real gain to the major league roster. It was hard to see them move in any direction, and when you're coming off of a 91-loss season, that's not really an option.

Best Rebuilding Effort

Kansas City Royals

The reason I didn't pick the Nationals for any of these categories is that while they are becoming a very good ballclub, they are sort of forcing the issue. This is not by any means a bad thing: good for them for being aggressive. However, a youth movement is never a sure thing, and if it fails, it is better to have been patient and spent your money wisely than be saddled with cumbersome contracts going forward, and it is for this reason that the Royals are running one of the better rebuilding efforts around.

Despite graduating top prospects like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in 2011, Kansas City has one of the best farm systems in baseball, and even though they are creeping up on competitiveness, they remained patient this winter, declining to spend any money on big-ticket free agents, and instead locking up young players like Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez. They signed Jonathan Broxton, giving them another asset to deal for young talent at the trade deadline. The Royals are making all the right moves in getting back to competitiveness the right way.

Oakland Athletics

In preparation for a potential relocation, the A's are preparing the next generation of players. They made several big moves to add young talent to their organization, acquiring young flamethrower Jarrod Parker, Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, and possible star catcher Derek Norris with minimal losses. The A's are stuck in a holding pattern right now, waiting for a new park, a new city, and the health of stud lefty Bret Anderson, but the foundations are being laid for Billy Beane's next great team.

Best Competitive Team Staying Competitive

New York Yankees

Every once in a while, the Yankees will shake their head, look around, and say 'maybe we should fix a couple of things.' They did it in more spectacular fashion in the 2008-'09 offseason, but they did it just as effectively this time around. Their only real weakness, in the rotation, was addressed by acquiring perhaps the best pitcher in baseball younger than Clayton Kershaw, Michael Pineda. They also dealt with their biggest headache, dumping AJ Burnett (and half of his salary) on Pittsburgh and even getting a little bit of talent in return, in Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones.

The JP Ricchiardi 'Should Have' Award

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox were one of the great underwhelming teams in baseball last season. A bloated payroll couldn't keep them from being a bad team, and while that will happen, and isn't a damnable offense, they are not making the right moves to fix the situation. The White Sox have a bad farm system, one of the worst in the majors, so sitting still should not be an option right now. They aren't going to compete in 2011, so I'm not sure what Kenny Williams is waiting for. He did move Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, but not for any significant talent. He has only a few real assets on his team, but has shown no inclination to move them. There are two desirable spots in baseball: the top, and the way there. The White Sox are in neither position, and that is concerning.

Rabu, 14 Maret 2012

Season Previews, Part 31: 2012 Full Season Preview

Well, the results are in.  Every team has been previewed, so now it's time to show you how it all works together.  For this, we're going to take a close look at each division, the key points from each team in that division, and what needs to happen for our predictions to be correct.  See, before the standings were adjusted, we had predicted 110 more wins than are actually possible within the league (and that was with Houston at 48 wins).  So as you can probably see, we're an optimistic bunch here at MLBMB (well, except for Houston, because they aren't good at all). Without further ado, let's look ahead to what the 2012 season has in store for us.

AL East

Yankees: 95-67
Red Sox: 94-68 (1 GB)
Rays: 84-78 (11 GB)
Blue Jays: 81-81 (14 GB)
Orioles: 72-90 (23 GB)

Top 5 Key Questions to Ask:

1) How will Michael Pineda perform with the pressure of New York after moving from the pitcher-friendly SAFECO to the pitcher-not-so-friendly Yankee Stadium?
2) Can Daniel Bard be an effective starter after making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation?
3) Will Carl Crawford bounce back after a disastrous 2011 campaign?
4) Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings are both young studs, but how much of an impact can they make in their first full seasons in the majors?
5) Will Baltimore's young pitching find a way to develop like many thought it would, or will the rotation crash and burn much like it did last year?

Team MVPs:

Yankees- Robinson Cano (6.0 WAR)
Red Sox- Adrian Gonzalez (7.0 WAR)
Rays- Evan Longoria (8.2 WAR)
Blue Jays- Brett Lawrie (6.0 WAR)
Orioles- Matt Wieters (5.0 WAR)
AL Central

Tigers: 95-67
Indians: 80-82 (15 GB)
Royals: 79-83 (16 GB)
White Sox: 76-86 (19 GB)
Twins: 74-88 (21 GB)

Top 5 Questions to Ask:

1) Can the Tigers stay healthy enough during the season and acquire another pitcher at the deadline to make them the legitimate World Series candidates many think they will be?
2) If there's a team in the division that could shock the world and challenge the Tigers, is it Kansas City or Cleveland?
3) Will the White Sox finally commit to a full rebuilding effort and continue to move big pieces as the season goes on?
4) If the M&M boys stay healthy, how much will the Twins improve?
5) Will Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jason Kipnis, and the other young potential stars in this division bring the division out of the league cellar in the near future?

Team MVPs:

Tigers- Miguel Cabrera (7.0 WAR)
Indians- Shin-Soo Choo (5.8 WAR)
Royals- Eric Hosmer (5.0 WAR)
White Sox- Jake Peavy (4.0 WAR)
Twins- Joe Mauer (5.0 WAR)

AL West

Angels: 94-68
Rangers: 91-71 (3 GB)
Mariners: 73-89 (21 GB)
Athletics: 70-92 (24 GB)

Top 5 Questions to Ask:

1) Does Pujols bounce back to former Pujolsian levels, or is he officially starting to decline?
2) Can Yu Darvish be a legitimate ace in his first season, or will the Rangers be living with multiple #2/#3 starters?
3) Can Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak develop into the power hitters they are thought to be and give the Mariners a legitimate offense?
4) Who really is better?  Angels or Rangers?
5) What kind of player is Yoenis Cespedes going to be as a power hitter in the Coliseum?

Team MVPs:

Angels- Albert Pujols (7.2 WAR)
Rangers- Ian Kinsler (6.4 WAR)
Mariners- Felix Hernandex (6.0 WAR)
Athletics- Brandon McCarther (3.7 WAR)

AL Wild Card Race

1. Red Sox: 94-68
2. Rangers: 91-71 (3 GB)
3. Rays: 84-78 (10 GB)

The introduction of the new 2 WC system won't do much for the AL as far as our predictions are concerned.  As will be mentioned later the AL has 5 teams that are just well above and beyond the rest of the league, so expect the only close WC race to be between Boston and Texas for that one game of home-field advantage.

NL East

Phillies: 91-71
Nationals: 88-74 (3 GB)
Marlins: 87-75 (4 GB)
Braves: 87-75 (4 GB)
Mets: 71-91 (20 GB)

Top 5 Questions to Ask:

1) Can the Phillies produce enough offense to back up their elite pitching staff?
2) The Mets have a lot of potential that depends on guys coming back and being healthy, but can they get those wins?
3) Does Bryce Harper make the team out of spring training?  If he doesn't, can the Nationals still call themselves a competitor for the 2nd NL Wild Card?
4) How will the Marlins' new ballpark play?  Will it help their dynamic offense, or will it help their pitching staff?
5) Can Jason Heyward bounce back and lead the Braves' offense to be better than expectations?

Team MVPs:

Phillies- Roy Halladay (7.0 WAR)
Nationals- Stephen Strasburg (6.8 WAR)
Marlins- Josh Johnson (6.0 WAR)
Braves- Brian McCann (4.7 WAR)
Mets- David Wright (4.4 WAR)

NL Central

Reds: 90-72
Brewers: 88-74 (2 GB)
Cardinals: 85-77 (5 GB)
Pirates: 72-90 (18 GB)
Cubs: 69-93 (21 GB)
Astros: 44-118 (46 GB)

Top 5 Questions to Ask:

1) Can Aramis Ramirez and Mat Gamel lessen the blow from the loss of Fielder enough to let the Brewers stay in the division race?
2) Do the Reds go out and get another starter to give them a strong enough rotation to compete in the NL Playoffs?
3) Just how bad are the Astros going to be?  With 8 NL teams capable of 90 wins, the Astros are looking like the only truly terrible NL team, so how many losses will they take on?
4) How do the Cardinals deal with the loss of Pujols?  Can Beltran's knees hold up long enough to help him produce the value that Pujols would have provided offensively?
5) Adam Wainwright is coming off of TJS.  Can he come back and be a top 5 pitcher in the league immediately after surgery?

Team MVPs:

Reds- Joey Votto (7.4 WAR)
Brewers- Ryan Braun (6.5 WAR)
Cardinals- Matt Holliday (5.5 WAR)
Pirates- Andrew McCutchen (5.8 WAR)
Cubs- Starlin Castro (3.4 WAR)
Astros- Wandy Rodriguez (3.1 WAR)

NL West

Diamondbacks: 87-75
Giants: 86-76 (1 GB)
Rockies: 81-81 (6 GB)
Padres: 74-88 (13 GB)
Dodgers: 72-90 (15 GB)

Top 5 Questions to Ask:

1) Is there a team that is going to separate itself from the pack and win 90 games in this division?
2) How long is Andre Ethier going to be wearing the Dodger blue?
3) Do the Rockies have enough pitching to go from mediocre to contender?
4) The Padres stacked the offense, but will it emerge this year?
5) The Diamondbacks were a Cinderella team last year, but are they going to be consistent contenders now?

Team MVPs:

Diamondbacks- Justin Upton (6.8 WAR)
Giants- Pablo Sandoval (6.0 WAR)
Rockies- Troy Tulowitzki (6.5 WAR)
Padres- Carlos Quentin (3.6 WAR)
Dodgers- Clayton Kershaw (7.3 WAR)

NL Wild Card Race

1. Nationals: 88-74
2. Brewers: 88-74
3. Marlins: 87-75 (1 GB)
4. Braves: 87-75 (1 GB)
5. Giants: 86-76 (2 GB)
6. Cardinals: 85-77 (3 GB)
7. Rockies: 81-81 (7 GB)

And this is why the 2 WC system is an ingenious idea.  Is it really fair that only one of these teams get into the playoffs?  I think not.  There should be a one-game play in between the Brewers and Nationals, especially if they tie in a race that ends up being this close.  Think about how fantastic this king of race could be.

Wooly's Answers to Each Division's Top Question

1)  How will Michael Pineda perform with the pressure of New York after moving from the pitcher-friendly SAFECO to the pitcher-not-so-friendly Yankee Stadium?
Answer: Word early out of Yankees' camp is that Pineda isn't getting the velocity and life on his fastball that he used to dominate with the pitch last year.  This would have a profound impact on his strikeout totals, which would really make this transition hard.  If Pineda can't miss enough bats, the offenses in the AL East will eat him alive, and the Yankees will find themselves in search of starting pitching at the trade deadline.  I don't think the transition will be favorable for him.

2) Can the Tigers stay healthy enough during the season and acquire another pitcher at the deadline to make them the legitimate World Series candidates many think they will be?

Answer: When looking at the Tigers' top players, they have some of the biggest workhorses in baseball.  Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder play 160+ games like clockwork, and Justin Verlander has smooth mechanics and has led the league in starts two of the past three years.  However, when it comes to acquiring pitching at the deadline, they need to be ready to part with Nick Castellanos and Jacob Turner, which is something they seemed hesitant to do over the off season.

3) Does Pujols bounce back to former Pujolsian levels, or is he officially starting to decline?

Answer: Pujols' monthly splits last year went a little like this: sub-.800 OPS through May and roughly a .980 OPS in the four months after that.  I don't think there's anything wrong with Pujols, and a year of the 4 months he put up at the end of last year puts him back at Pujolsian level.

4) Can the Phillies produce enough offense to back up their elite pitching staff?

Answer: I don't think so.  Without Howard, they will have a very rough time producing runs offensively due to the absence of a big bat from the lineup.  They might have the 4th or 5th best offense in the division, and this is the year that it becomes very possible for them to lose their stance as division champion.

5) Can Aramis Ramirez and Mat Gamel lessen the blow from the loss of Fielder enough to let the Brewers stay in the division race?

Answer: Prince Fielder was a 5.2 WAR player last year, meaning that the duo needs to produce that amount to make it as if Prince never left (and thus get back to a 90 win pythag record).  Aramis Ramirez had a great year last year, but third base could be one of the most improved positions in baseball next year if guys can stay healthy.  I think he can produce 2.5 to 3 wins, so that leaves Mat Gamel with performing as an average first baseman to meet the requirements.  Honestly, I think they fall a win or two short, which is part of the reason the Brewers are predicted at 88 wins.

6) Is there a team that is going to separate itself from the pack and win 90 games in this division (the NL West)?

Answer: I think either the Diamondbacks or Giants could do it, but a lot has to go right for that to happen.  I don't think the D-Backs will have the pitching, and I don't think the Giants will have the offense.  This division really is the division of mediocrity heading into the 2012 season.

2013 Draft Order

1. Astros
2. Cubs
3. Athletics
4. Mets
5. Dodgers
6. Orioles
7. Pirates
8. Mariners
9. Twins
10. Padres
11. White Sox
12. Royals
13. Indians
14. Blue Jays
15. Rockies
16. Rays
17. Cardinals
18. Giants
19. Braves
20. Marlins
21. Diamondbacks
22. Brewers
23. Nationals
24. Reds
25. Rangers
26. Phillies
27. Red Sox
28. Angels
29. Tigers
30. Yankees

The MVP Races

Top 5 AL Team MVPs by WAR:

1. Evan Longoria- 8.2 WAR
2. Albert Pujols- 7.2 WAR
3. Miguel Cabrera- 7.0 WAR
4. Adrian Gonzalez- 7.0 WAR
5. Ian Kinsler- 6.4 WAR

Top 5 NL Team MVPs by WAR:

1. Joey Votto- 7.4 WAR
2. Clayton Kershaw- 7.3 WAR
3. Roy Halladay-7.0 WAR
4. Justin Upton- 6.8 WAR
    Stephen Strasburg- 6.8 WAR

The Playoffs 


East Champion: Yankees (95)
Central Champion: Tigers (95)
West Champion: Angels (94)
1st Wild Card: Red Sox (94)
2nd Wild Card: Rangers (91)


East Champion: Phillies (91)
Central Champion: Reds (90)
West Champion: Diamondbacks (87)
1st Wild Card: Nationals (88)
2nd Wild Card: Brewers (88)

Play-In Games:

Brewers @ Nationals- Nationals (Strasburg vs. Greinke)
Rangers @ Red Sox- Red Sox (Lester vs. Darvish)
Oh what an interesting scenario we are given here.  A one-game winner-take-all play in format for the Wild Card teams.  What we see here is that the pitching matchup really makes a difference.  In a 5-game format, the Brewers and Rangers would probably have more of a chance.  However, with the pitching matchups listed above, it's very hard not to go with the electric arm of Strasburg and the experience of Lester.


Yankees @ Red Sox- Yankees
Angels @ Tigers- Angels

Phillies @ Nationals: Phillies
Diamondbacks @ Reds: Reds
The important thing to remember from the Division Series is that the winner of the one-game playoff gets two consecutive home games to start the series.  The other thing to remember is that each Wild Card team could have to rely on their ace pitcher to pitch the play-in game.  Obviously this strategy will depend on the team's situation and the manger, but we could be looking at two LDS series where Lester and Strasburg each only get to pitch one time (likely a Game 4).  This gives massive advantages to the Yankees and Phillies in these series, even though they have to play on the road in the first two games.

Angels @ Yankees- Yankees


Reds @ Phillies- Reds
These two series are both very hard to predict.  Honestly, we can't even be confident that the Reds will even be in the playoffs (let alone have the pitching to advance to the NLCS).  However, I have less confidence in the Phillies to be able to hold onto their NL East crown, and I think they might wind up out of the playoffs altogether.  

World Series:

Reds @ Yankees- Yankees
This would be a fun World Series to watch.  Honestly, I think the Yankees have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, and they'll have done away with their biggest competition in the ALDS.  The only team from the NL that I think could beat an AL team in the World Series is the Phillies, but I don't think they have the offense to win it all.  I think the Yankees win in 2012.
Final Thoughts
The top teams in the American League have sent a message: if you want to win, you better be able to spend big bucks and develop talent through your farm.  There are five teams that have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the league: Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, and Angels.  If you aren't one of these teams in the AL, then you're going to be looking for nothing short of a miracle to win the World Series.  In the National League, the story is going to revolve around comebacks and replacements.  With the top two free agents (Pujols and Fielder) ditching for the AL, the NL lost 10 wins (or more) of value as a league.  Pitchers such as Josh Johnson, Stephen Strasburg, and Adam Wainwright will be looking to show that they will bounce back from injury to help lead their teams to the playoff chase.  Unlike the American League, the National League is wide open.  Any of as many as 9 teams could emerge as the playoff favorite: Phillies, Nationals, Marlins, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Giants.  Quite frankly, I think this will make the NL Pennant chase much more exciting, but I think it means the AL Playoffs will be a little more fun to watch.  Ultimately, 2012 may not produce as good of a season as 2011, but it will definitely be another great chapter in the long history of this great sport.

Season Previews, Part 28: Texas Rangers

This comes from chimpape:

2011 Record: 96-66
Pythagorean Record: 98-64
Games out of first: N/A

2011 Recap

In 2011, the Texas Rangers were the champions of the American League West division with a 96-66 record. Their 96 wins were good enough for second best in the American League, and best in their division by 10 games over the rival Angels. The Rangers offense was lead by left fielder Josh Hamilton and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who combined to hit 57 home runs and bat .297 despite missing over 30 games each due to injury and wear. The pitching staff was anchored by crafty lefty C.J. Wilson, who assumed the role of staff ace following the departure of current Phillies star Cliff Lee. Wilson shined, leading all Rangers starters in ERA, GS, IP, SO, and WAR.

Overall, it was a good year for the Rangers. The pitching in particular was spectacular compared to other years, especially because of how difficult their park has been to pitchers. The staff posted a combined 118 ERA+, second behind only the New York Yankees. Dave Bush and Scott Feldman split 5 starts, but the starting 5, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando, started the other 157, so their pitching staff proved to be effective and durable. Their bullpen was also effective, led by young closer Neftali Feliz, veteran lefty Darren Oliver, and mid-season acquisition Mike Adams. Offensively, the Rangers were third in OPS+, and second in home runs. Five of their players hit 25 or more home runs, and Michael Young and Mike Napoli led the team in average, hitting 338 and 320 respectively. Ian Kinsler was healthy for the entire season, and Elvis Andrus made some steady improvements on offense.

The Rangers battled through the injuries of their stars all season, yet they fought their way to a division crown, and eventually won the American League pennant after defeating the Rays 3-1 and the Tigers 4-2. Unfortunately, their season ended in heartbreak in one of the most memorable World Series in baseball history. The highlight of the series was game 6, when the Rangers were a single strike away from being named champions on several occasions, only to see the Cardinals claw and fight their way back. Game 7, however, belonged to the Cardinals as the Rangers collapse was complete. This was the second year in a row that the Rangers had won the American League pennant, but failed to bring home the Commissioner's Trophy.

Top Performers by War

1. Ian Kinsler (7.7)
2. C.J. Wilson (5.9)
3. Adrian Beltre (5.7)
4. Mike Napoli (5.7)
5. Elvis Andrus (4.5)

Offseason Overview

The Rangers made a splash in free agency by signing highly coveted Japanese star Yu Darvish. The Rangers posted a bid of $51.7 million, and that was just for the rights to speak to Darvish. Eventually, he signed a 6 year, 60 million dollar deal. However, in doing so, the Rangers had could not afford to keep C.J. Wilson, who eventually signed with the Angels. Darvish is unproven, but his numbers in Japan speaks for themselves. In fact, they are much more impressive than that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was held in very high regard. With a mid 90's fastball, a low 90's breaking fastball, a sharp mid 80's slider, and a slow, loopy curve, Darvish is armed with an impressive arsenal rivaling that of Matsuzaka. The difference, however, is that Darvish appears to have better command of his pitches than Matsuzaka, which was Daisuke's biggest problem. Still, the Rangers are clearly very confident in Darvish's ability, because they let their proven ace C.J. Wilson go in favor of him. The Rangers plan to change more with their pitching, including moving closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation. The signing of Joe Nathan, the former star closer for the Minnesota Twins, allowed the Rangers to move Feliz, considered one of the top starting pitching prospects in the minors in 2010 (9th overall by Baseball America), back into the rotation. The Rangers also removed some headaches in the future by agreeing to contract extensions with Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus which takes care of both players' arbitration eligible years. Despite the loss of C.J. Wilson, the Rangers still helped their rotation by adding Darvish and Feliz, and didn't damage their bullpen by securing it with Nathan. Overall, the offseason was fairly successful for the Rangers.

Notable Additions

SP Yu Darvish
RP Joe Nathan

Notable Losses

SP C.J. Wilson
RP Darren Oliver

Projected Lineup

2B. Ian Kinsler
SS. Elvis Andrus
LF. Josh Hamilton
DH. Michael Young
3B. Adrian Beltre
RF. Nelson Cruz
C. Mike Napoli
1B. Mitch Moreland
CF. Julio Borbon

Another loaded lineup returns to Texas in 2012. Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Mike Napoli all have displayed the ability to hit more than 30 home runs. Throw in Julio Borbon, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus providing game changing speed at the top of the lineup, and the Rangers are going to score a lot of runs. This is easily one of the most balanced lineups in the entire league, as there are no glaring holes in the rotation, and they can score in many different ways. Josh Hamilton will look to regain his 2010 MVP form, but even if he doesn't, the lineup has enough fire power to succeed without him. No one should be expected to see a significant drop in production, maybe with the exception of Michael Young, and perhaps Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland should be expected to improve.

Projected Rotation

RHP Colby Lewis
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Yu Darvish
LHP Matt Harrison
RHP Neftali Feliz

The loss of C.J. Wilson hurts, and now the Rangers are looking to a new ace. Perhaps Yu Darvish, the newest star of the Rangers, can step in immediately and take the reigns and lead the staff. Maybe Derek Holland, the 25 year old south paw, can work on his improvements over the past two years and blossom into a top of the rotation starter. It's possible that the other lefty, Matt Harrison, will continue to develop, and keep his ERA in the low 3's. The guy to watch is Neftali Feliz, the former closer. He has electrifying stuff that allowed him to be one of the most successful closers in the game. If he successfully translates to the rotation, the Rangers will likely have one of the games best young pitchers.

Significant Relievers/Reserve Players

1. RP Joe Nathan
2. RP Mike Adams
3. OF David Murphy

Team Strengths

Offense. There are absolutely no holes in the lineup, and they have the ability to score at all times. There are guys who can run, those who can hit for power, and those who get on base consistently. Even without one or two of their stars in the lineup, their bench is good enough to fill in the holes, and the rest of the lineup is good enough to produce. Nothing, not even injuries, look like they will stop this offense.

Team Weaknesses

Pitching Depth. By default, the pitching depth is the weakness, because the offense, bullpen, defense, and speed are all exceptional. Now that C.J. Wilson is gone, there is no one in the rotation that can be considered reliable every time he goes out on the rubber. There is definitely loads of potential in the rotation, but whether it comes together is still up in the air. However, if the pitchers come through and post solid numbers, this can easily be turned into a strength. 

2012 Outlook

The Angels improved significantly by signing C.J. Wilson away from Texas, and of course, landing the best player on the market, Albert Pujols. Pujols alone could close the 10 game gap with a good season, and losing Wilson hurts, especially since he's with the Angels now. If the Rangers wish to stay at the top of the division, they'll have to keep their rotation healthy, and the rotation needs to pitch consistently, because the offense will carry the load.

Potential Breakout Player

Derek Holland: The Rangers have been very patient with lefty Derek Holland, and it's beginning to pay off. In 2011, Holland pitched 198 innings, with a 3.95 ERA, and 3.6 WAR. His xFIP, tERA, and SIERA are all promising, and have shown improvement over the last three seasons. He greatly improved his fastball last season, and now he'll look to do the same with his breaking pitches. With his talent, he could be a star pitcher, and blossom this season.

Potential Bust

Adrian Beltre: Adrian Beltre will be entering his 15th season as a major league player. At the beginning of the year, Beltre will turn 33, which is getting fairly old for a third baseman. Historically, third basemen have a very hard time staying healthy into their mid 30s, and with the milage that Beltre has, it has to be a concern. Not only that, but Beltre saw a spike in offensive production the last two seasons. Perhaps he's for real, but you still have to take a look at his career slash of 276/329/469 over 8,000 PA and wonder if you can really expect a 300/350/550 season.


Record: 91-71
Finish: 2nd
MVP: Ian Kinsler (6.4)

Final Thoughts

With the additions that the Angels made, and the loss of C.J. Wilson, the Rangers will likely not do as well this season. I expect the Rangers to still finish with an excellent record, and be in a position to fight for a playoff spot.