Posts Tagged ‘A.L. East’

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Yankees Clinch Division and Home-Field Advantage

September 28, 2009
Hopefuly we'll be seeing this a few more times.

Hopefuly we'll be seeing this a few more times.

After missing out on the postseason for the first time since baseball went on strike, the Yankees started anew by clinching the AL East and homefield advantage in the playoffs. On top of that, thanks to the arbitrary all star game rule (AL won, receives home field in the world series), the Yankees have home field for the entire playoffs.

It’s been a foregone conclusion that they’d make the playoffs this season, but it is still an exciting day to be a Yankee fan, if only for the glorious hive of sexually awkward photos that come from the clubhouse.

I also heard some rumblings in the past week about players celebrating clinching playoff berths. Apparently they didn’t have celebrations “back in the day.” On top of this being not true (players were just as big dicks 40 or 50 years ago as they were today), it’s also terrible logic. Or maybe I’m one of those sassy gen-Xers who doesn’t respect his elders and listens to music too loud. Perhaps we should go back to the days when racism was more prevalent, polio was a legitimate concern, TV was in black and white, and leadoff hitters ran the bases with all the discretion of Kanye West on crank.

That’s a pretty stupid thing to even argue about though since anyone who shares that idea is old, fat, or retarded.

Coming tomorrow: Playoff previews! Enjoy these select photos of Yankees in awkward and semi-disturbing poses.

Not pictured: CC's bitches.

Not pictured: CC's bitches.

No, I don't know who that dude on the right is either.

No, I don't know who that dude on the right is either.

You won't see Mariano smile this big again until Jesus returns.

You won't see Mariano smile this big again until Jesus returns.

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A.L. East Shortstops 2009

March 30, 2009

Do you know how when you watch a Die Hard movie and you see John McClain getting the perpetually brutalized, you can’t help but think about how awesome and tough he is for walking around on two broken legs with eight fingers in an effort to defeat his foreign enemies? Well, when Derek Jeter watches that movie he thinks “Yeah, me too.”

Derek Jeter has been a great hitter, and is pretty much a baseball and Yankee icon since the team won the 1996 World Series, and watching a player on your team yough out injuries to try and help the team can be very inspiring. But Jeter’s John McClain imprsonation last season did nothing but drag the Yankees and himself down. His refusal to sit out and rest after hand and wrist injuries, most notably thanks to a Daniel Cabrera fastball to the hand, killed not only his own season but really cost the Yankees as well. Jeter was not himself most of the season, with only 39 total extra base hits all year. For perspective, in each of 2006 and 2007 he accumulated 39 extra base hits on doubles alone. As a result his slugging dropped to the second worst mark of his career, and his OPS was the lowest he has ever had. The batting average was there, and his walk rate was right in line with 2007, so it is probably safe to say that his skills have not eroded, and the lack of power can be attributed to the injuries. In September, Jeter rebounded to slug .474, when he was presumably healthy for the first time in a lone time.

Jeter’s glove work (his lack of range, specifically) has been documented quite well already, and his speed is getting to be marginal, so his contributions have to come from him being an above average hitting shortstop. His range will only get worse, and unfortunately PECOTA sees his bat following last years downward trend to a line of .293/.359/.408 and an EqA of .272. I think Jeter rebounds to 2007’s levels, with an EqA closer to .290, but his diminishing defense will continue to temper his offense, even if he improves.

Regardless of his shortcomings, Jeter will likely remain the cream of the crop as far as A.L. East shortstops go. The Red Sox will open the year with Jed Lowrie as the starting shortstop, perhaps with a twist of Julio Lugo squirted in later in the year. Lowrie is a decent player, is younger and better than Lugo. Unfortunately, that is about as good as it gets for Lowrie, who has little power, little speed, and little range at short. He is a very mediocre hitter, with a peak probably in David Eckstein range. That’s nothing to sneeze at, Eckstein was a quality starter for several years, but the hype I’ve heard for Lowrie has been way too loud. Pecota expects a season of .252/.336/.436 and .269 EqA, and I can’t say I disagree.

Cesar Izturis has a career .299 on base percentage, and the Orioles signed him this off-season to a two year deal. The lack of production that Baltimore got last season at the shortstop position was so absurd that, to quote Baseball prospectus, “Izturis has moved to one of the very few teams for which he will actually represent an offensive upgrade, as the multitude of O’s shortstops combined for a .533 OPS last year.” PECOTA calls for a near repeat of Izturis’ last season with the Cards, .243/.319/.358 and an EqA of .237, coupled with above average defense.

I have already written a few times about the Rays improved defense last year, and Jason Bartlett was one major reason for that. Bartlett is a good (but limited) player to have around: strong glove and above average speed to enhance the mediocre-even-for-a-shortstop bat he has. The forecast from PECOTA is a line of .261/.314/.363 and a .243 EqA. This calls for a drop in all three of his slash stats (they also predict a drop in his plate apearances). Bartlett’s value comes from his defense, so as long as he maintains that the Rays will have no problem trotting him out every day.

The mediocrity keeps on coming with Marco Scutaro, one of the more boringly dependable and unspectacular players in baseball. Scutaro plays any position around the infield, fields them all very well, and has just enough on-base ability to overcome his lack of power of base-stealing. He’s pegged for a season of .256/.332/.366 and .250 EqA. Consistent and safe, if nothing else.

It doesn’t take much to stand out at shortstop in this division; there are no Jose Reyes’ or Hanley Ramirez’ to be found like in the N.L. East (though Hanley was a Boston prospect before being traded for Josh Beckett). Jeter still stands atop this pyramid, but mostly by default.

Next time around, what will probably be a really long article previewing the outfielders. Put on some coffee and break out your bifocals, you’re going to have some reading to do.

(By the way, Happy Birthday to me. Normally, writing is my birthday cake, but now that this is done I’m going to tear into a real cake.)

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A.L. East First Baseman 2009

March 6, 2009

Welcome to the next stop in a trip around the diamond! Earlier this week I went into a comparison of the catchers in the division, examining the PECOTA projections of the top two catchers on each team, weighted by playing time and combined to form a hypothesis on how much production each team can expect out of the position. This time I want to  do the same for the first baseman for each team. This, and the rest of the hitting positions, are a bit different than catcher. They don’t don the tools of ignorance, for one. They also tend to have more stable, every day players. There are always platoons, like what we will probably see in Toronto, but even an “everyday” catcher can not catch every game. That makes the comparison that much easier, though in the case of potential platoons I will of course account for that. Perhaps this will also show that two mediocre players who hit their opposite handed pitcher well can in the end add up to more than a single above average hitter who hits both hands equally.

Let’s start once again with the Red Sox, and their first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Owner of the worst facial hair in the world Youkilis is a far more athletic man than you would expect from someone of his build. He plays an excellent first (as well as a good third), draws a good share of walks and has good power, taking advantage of his home field in Fenway (he slugged 88 points higher at home last season).

Mike Lowell’s age and injury history could always shift Youkilis over to third, where he is still an excellent player, but for the time he is the everyday first baseman in Boston. Next year could bring the arrival of top prospect Lars Anderson, which would also shift Youkilis over, but Lowell is signed for another year after this at $12 million. In the mean time, what does PECOTA expect from Youkilis, coming off of a career year? A regression back to his 2006-2007 levels and a .267/.360/.480 line and .290 EqA. That, coupled with high quality defense, still leaves Youkilis as an above-average first baseman, with a bat most teams would love to have at any corner position. His 2007 OPS+ of 117 would have placed him 15th in the league last year at his position without considering his defense (He actually finished 4th in the league at first base with a 143 OPS+). While a drop is to be expected, his numbers exceeding those projections wouldn’t be extraordinary circumstances, particularly in Fenway.

Next in line is the newest member member of the 100 million dollar club, Mark Teixera. The Yankees were (and always are) linked to every single free agent, particularly all-star worthy players. Ironically though, with the early off-season acquisition of Nick Swisher, the Yankees seemed set at first and were fine letting division rival Boston and playoff nemesis L.A. of A. duke it out for the his services in 2009 and beyond. Two days before Christmas the Yankees announced him as their newest player as he signed an eight year, $180 million contract.

While it may seem exorbitant, from the Yankees stand point he will actually cost $1 million less than Jason Giambi cost last season. Teixeira is not a superstar player, but he is most certainly in the next tier of first baseman below Albert Pujols. Tex plays an excellent first base, gets on base at an above average clip, is very durable (averaging 150 games per year his career, including two years of playing every game) and is a lock for 30 homers. He is only twenty eight, solidly in the midst of his prime, and has the type of swing and on base skills that should carry throughout the duration of his contract, even if the Yankees had to overpay to bring him in.

Now that’s all well and good but how does PECOTA foresee his 2009 season? .285/.383/.527 with an EqA of .308. Essentially, right in line with his career averages, and exactly what the Yankees should expect for the next several years.

What is one thing that the Red Sox and Yankees have in common? Annoying fans. Oh, they also both gave away Carlos Pena (as did the Tigers, Rangers and Athletics). Pena has a valuable skill set, including massive power, a very good eye and a great glove, but often had those overshadowed by what he could not do: hit for average or make consistent contact. So, he made his rounds until he ended up in Tampa, where he broke out in 2007 to the tune of a 46 homer year. His batting average was abnormally high that year, 31 points above his career norm, which skews his line a bit, but even with last year’s regression he proved that he is still a high quality major leaguer, not the journeyman he was playing like earlier in his career.

Pena followed the 46 homers with 31 last year, to go along with a .377 OB%. PECOTA expects him to keep that up, as 2009’s projection is very similar to 2008’s, with a slight drop in OB%. Quoth the BP: .243/.363/.500 and an EqA of .294. A great line for a former scrap heap pickup.

The Blue Jays have been using Lyle Overbay as their everyday first baseman since 2006, when he came over from Milwaukee. Overbay has been a fine player in his career, an average power hitter with a good eye and potential for a lot of doubles each year.

When a right hander is in need of a platoon partner, teams typically don’t wait around to go get one. Since a majority of the pitchers in the world are right handed, anyone who can’t hit them is at a disadvantage more often than not. However, when a lefty has trouble against lefties, the problem is more easily passed over (see Curtis Granderson circa 2007). If they hit righties well enough to keep their line afloat, even while the flail against lefties, than the problem stays hidden. Overbay is one of those everyday players who is in need of a platoon partner. The difference in his line against righties vs. lefties is -.012/-.063/-.057. That is quite a drop for a guy who is to begin with only an average at best offensive first baseman. The Blue Jays finally came around, though, adding another player who last year did not hit his pitching counterparts as well in Kevin Millar.

Millar is still a sub par hitting first baseman with an abysmal glove, but he will be a significant upgrade on Overbay on the days when a lefty is on the mound. In 2008 26% of Major league pitchers were left handed, so to find the combined line for Toronto’s first baseman I am going to weigh the line as if Overbay wil play 74% of the time with Millar taking the remaining 26%. That produces a projection of .250/.330/.407 with an EqA of .264. A pretty weak line, but the platoon will at least squeeze the most out of each player.

Finally, once again, we end up with the Orioles. The Orioles lost Kevin Millar, but upgraded his spot with the addition of Ty Wiggington. Aubrey Huff, primarily DH last year, will probably see more time at first this year. Overall, there will probably be a three way rotation at first base and DH, amongst Huff, Wiggington and Luke Scott. Scott should be used primarily against righties (at DH and LF), Wiggington Primarily agianst lefties, and Huff against both. Huff is much more fun to listen to than to watch in the field, but Wiggington is hardly a gold glover himself. What will probably be seen is Wiggington at first and Huff at DH against lefties, and Huff at first and Scott DHing against righties. Using the stat mentioned above that 26% of major league pitchers are lefties, that would leave Huff playing 74% of the time at first and Wiggington playing the other 24%. Unlike the Blue Jays, the first basemen/DH’s for Baltimore all have the versatility to play in the outfield or third base as well, so that will likely muddle up the percentages, but in any case Huff will be playing every day regardless, so the estimate should not be far off either way. The projected combination of Huff and Wigginton produces, via PECOTA lines, a season of .274/.339/.471 with a .277 EqA. A very respectable line for a solid offensive team.

The Yankees went from the up and down Giambi to the supremely consistent Mark Teixera, and in doing so gave themself the best first baseman in the division, especially once you account for the expected decline of Youkilis, who is still a very good player himself. Pena should repeat last year’s performance; Toronto has a long way to come at the position, and Baltimore, while aging, has a solid offense all around at first base.

Next time: the second basemen!

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A.L. East Catchers 2009

March 4, 2009

As promised several hours ago, here is my breakdown of the positions around the American League East starting with the catchers. Catching isn’t exactly the same as the rest of the every day positions, but don’t fret! I have devised an ingenius way of analysing it to attempt to level it out with the other positions; Typical every day catchers play around 75-80% of the innings behind the plate (unless you work for Joe Torre in which case its more like 85-90% and your “off days” are actually just days at a position other than catcher). Putting together the starter and the primary backup should give you, at least prospectively, a combination covering near 100% of the team’s innings.

Let’s start with Boston, who is currently deploying the fearsome duo of Jason Varitek and Josh Bard (Well, fearsome if you are a fan of the team). Both are switch hitters, and each of them had a horrible season at the plate last year. That creates some mystery as far as who is going to get the majority of the playing time. Before re-signing with the Sox, Varitek’s agent Scott Boras let it be known that his client wanted full time catching duties somewhere. There is zero chance of that,  but a near equal split seems likely. Both players put up a negative VORP last year (which shows just how terrible their bats were, since VORP accounts for position), though Varitek did have a WARP of 1.5 due to his defensive contributions. Bard, on the other hand, was atrocious throwing out runners, nailing 15% of them.

Varitek has the potential to bounce back to a below average catcher, rather than a replacement level one. Since he was an all star last year in a season where the Red Sox may have been better off DHing for the catcher instead of pitcher, if he improves to simply “bad” then he should win MVP. Bard is going to improve simply by virtue of leaving Petco, but even then there is not much hope on either side of the ball for him.

Assuming a 50/50 split (I would guess Varitek will get penciled in for slightly more playing time, but he’s also 37 this season), what will the combination of Varitek and Bard do this season? I’m going to use Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections. Let’s assume 625 plate appearances for them, batting at the bottom of the order and with the possibility of occasional pinch hitters. Weighing each equally, the Red Sox can expect a season of  .242/.325/.390 with a .245 EqA. Of course, there is always the possibility that Varitek regains some of his form from 2007, when he was a legitimate bat. There is also the magical ability of his to catch no-hitters, which can be 100% attributed to Tek and not to the pitcher. In any case, Boston is coming off of a trip to the ALCS and any marginal improvement from the catchers would be a boon.

The Yankees catching situation has significant more upside than the Red Sox, though that does not altogether say much. Jorge Posada has been one of the best hitting catchers in baseball for the better part of a decade, but is coming off shoulder surgery. His backup and the starter for much of last season, Jose Molina, combines one of the worst bats in the majors with one of the arms forged in the mythical womb of Mama Molina, who has birthed three stellar major league defensive catchers. The Yankees may also have a contribution from Francisco Cervelli, though his ceiling is probably a major league backup.

Posada will probably end up seeing a fair amount of time at DH, and at 37 years old physical ailments are inevitable. Excluding his potential time at DH, the best case scenario for New York is that he ends up playing half of the games behind the plate (PECOTA projects him for only 257 PA’s total, so even this may be looking on the sunnyside of things). So, like Boston, we will be assuming a 50/50 timeshare behind the plate for the Yankees. The projected line for this would be .239/.309/.409 with a .243 EqA. Jose Molina’s bat is so inept that it completely negates the huge slugging advantage Posada has over his Boston counterparts. Molina is of course excellent defensively, but for the Yankees to hold any advantage at this position within the division Posada needs to play a significant role, one that physically I don’t think he’ll be up to filling.

Continuing around the division, the Tampa Bay Rays have, like they do at just about every position, a solid young player. Dioner Navarro bounced around as a one time highly regarded Yankees prospect, being traded to the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson deal, then to the Dodgers and finally to the Rays , where he has been since midseason 2006. Navarro struggled in just about every major league stint from 2005-2007, though his defense was and is valuable. Always with a low strikeout rate, Navarro finally made something of his talent for making contact with a .295/.349/.407 line. His BABIP was not excessively high, so while a batting average regression is to be expected, it also should not be expected to crash completely to the levels he was at prior to 2008. Note, though, that Navarro’s offensive value came mostly from his atting average last year, as he does not have a lot of power and his walk rate isn’t particularly high. Either way, he will bring strong defense (he threw out 38% of runners last season) and is only 25 years old, so showing improvement last year does not necessarily indicate a fluke.

Navarro’s backup last season, Shawn Riggans, has some power, makes very low contact, and if your child were strapped to a bomb on second base and someone had to throw a baseball there to disable it, you would choose Michael Barrett before Shawn Riggins. And be warned, if this situation ever arises and your choices really are Shawn Riggins and Michael Barrett, welp. This should be a hollywood blockbuster starring Jean-Claude Van Damme; we can call it Sudden Death II: Extra Innings.

Remember when we were talking about catchers? Me too. Navarro had 470 PA’s last season (and 434 the year before), and Riggins had 152. Navarro’s time accounts for 75% of the catchers PA’s (six plate appearances were as a pinch hitter), so let us assume that this trend will continue and he will start three-fourth’s of the upcoming season’s games. Now, PECOTA has Navarro dropping down to 381 at bats with a 26% attrition rate, which predicts the likelihood of a drastic decrease in playing time, and has Riggins pegged for  246 PA’s. This would be the almost the same total number of plate appearances as last year (only 5 more), but I think Navarro’s age, durability the last two years and defensive talents will keep him in the lineup no matter what so I’m going to stretch PECOTA’s projected line for him out to cover the 75% playing time he had last year, and contract Riggins to cover the remianing 25%. The weighted line would then be .255/.319/.398 and a .250 EqA. PECOTA is pretty down on Navarro, but even if this line holds up (remember, it is a weighted combination of the two catchers) Navarro  will have value on the defensive side.

Well, we’ve already discussed Michael Barrett in the context of saving children strapped to bombs, and concluded that this would be a great movie idea. Now, let’s discuss him as a baseball player, and catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. Rod Barajas is the projected starter after having taken over for the injured and now departed Greg Zaun last season. Michael Barrett and Raul Chavez each were brought in on minor league deals to compete for the backup job. The two combined for a .280 on-base percentage last year; this is good news for Barajas because his .294 on-base clip only looks good in comparison.

This is certainly the worst catching core in the division, as Barajas is no better than backup material, and his backups will be hard pressed to exceed replacement level offense. Barajas and Chavez are at least decent defensive players; Barajas has an above average arm, which along with his middling power are his only assets. With a lack of competition for the job, Barajas should be locked into the starting role, but there is little difference between the three, particularly if Barrett rebounds from injury back to mediocrity. It’s likely that only one of Barrett and Chavez will make the team out of Spring, and that they interchange throughout the year, but I think Barrett’s past season’s of good offense will get him the job over Chavez. Barajas had 57% of the playing time last year, and only took over as starter in Late May after Zaun’s injury. A full year as starter will probably net him closer to 70% of the playing time, and I will allocate the other 30% to Barrett. The weighted line of these two hitters is .246/.307/.399 with an EqA of .245. Surprisingly this is a slight step above the Yankees, and on par with Boston, but there is less potential here and the defense isn’t quite as good. By the end of the season 2007 first round pick J.P. Arencibia could be on his way to the majors, so there is still hope in Toronto as far as this position goes.

For the Orioles, the one position outside of right field where they have an advantage over their division rivals could be catcher. Matt Wieters is pretty much the consensus top prospect in baseball; he is ML ready after tearing up both single and double A last season to the tune of a combined line of a 1.054 OPS with 27 homers in only 437 at bats. He takes walks, he has power, and he plays defense. He has every tool outside of base-stealing, andaside from Russ Martin any stolen bases your catcher gives you are probably more of a fluke than anything.

He is ready for the big leagues now, and will be the catcher on opening day unless they decide to let him simmer for a month or two in triple A (which would delay his arbitration and give them an extra year of control over him). This is a guy who, like Langoria and Braun, will get locked up to a long term deal before he goes to arbitration anyway, so I don’t think the team will wait unless he really tanks in spring training. He has an all star caliber bat at any position, but when you consider he is a catcher he stands out even more.

PECOTA absolutely loves Wieters (essentially declaring him the best catcher in the league for 2009 and one of the best in the league with a projected 59.6 VORP), and the Orioles did themselves a service by signing a solid backup in Greg Zaun. I think Wieters will be starting opening day, and playing a majority of the time in the big leagues. Since he is young and the Orioles are not going anywhere without a starting rotation, I’ll take a conservative approach to his playing time and say he takes 75% of the time behind the plate (around 120 games). He won’t be in Russ Martin territory but starting 130 games at catcher would not surprise me. With his bat he can also DH on off days, so expect to see a lot of him this coming season. The extraordinary expectations of PECOTA probably need to be tempered slightly, but the combined line of Wieters weighed with 25% time from Zaun is .287/.376/.502 (!) with a .299 EqA (!!). And that is the line AFTER factoring in 25% of Zaun’s weak line. Couple that with plus defense and the Orioles are set at catcher for the next decade or more.

I’ll conclude this wordy article by saying that aside from Wieters, there isn’t much to get excited about as far as the catching position goes. Jorge Posada, while aging and unhealthy last season, still has a chance to hit for power with a good on base percentage. The Red Sox and Blue Jays have little to get excited about this season. Tampa should be set, but at best Navarro still is not a star. It is a transitional year for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays at this position, except there is no one immediately ready to take the reigns. The Blue Jays and Yankees may have help in 2010, and the Red Sox have pitching depth which could be used to deal for a young catcher (Teagarden or Saltalamacchia perhaps), but for the time being it is 32 year old plus or 25 and under in the east.

Later this week: A.L. East First Baseman!

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