Archive for March, 2009

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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 Third Basemen 2009

March 25, 2009

Opening day approacheth! And all the while, the timer for my previews ticks down. You have no idea of the kind of pressure I am under over here. So, quick everyone! To the preview-mobile.

Third base in the A.L. East: where hip labrums go to die. Mike Lowell and Alex Rodriguez have each suffered a torn hip labrums in the past 8 months, both in their right hip. The hip is a huge joint, and unlike the shoulder labrum supports the weight of the entire body on it. The sensitvity of these types of injuries is compounded by the fact that both men are right handed hitters, and their push off legs have been compromised.

Lowell appears to be back in business, and A-rod (at least, according to his doctor) should show no ill effects and minimal risk of re-injury once he is ready to go. That will, hopefully, be in early-to-mid May. A-rod’s line from PECOTA is projected at .287/.379/.541, in 624 at bats. This projection was out well before it was known Alex would need an operation. This line, even coming off of injury, does not seem out of reach for A-rod; it is a very slight drop from 2008 (and a massive drop from his incredible 2007). What needs to be adjusted is the time he will miss. Estimating an early May return, lets say he misses 35 games, approximately 140 plate appearances, or about 22% of his projected 624 PA’s. Combining 78% of A-rod’s time with 22% of a replacement level bat (let’s use Jose Castillo, a third baseman with a VORP right near zero last season). Cody Ransom will probably fill the role, and I would expect a mediocre-to-average bat from him (and below average defense) but for the purpose of providing a modest estimate, Lopez’ line of .281/.314/.313 will do. That gives the Yankees an assumed averaged line of .286/.364/.491. and a .300 EqA Overall, the Yankees still sport a well above average third base year, but this is only if A-rod returns on time and is healthy and productive right away.

Lowell checks in with a projected .264/.327/.446 and .267 EqA. He has limited range but he’s at the right position for that, because he still has a superb glove. If I weren’t feeling so spry I would copy and paste those last two sentences and place Scott Rolen‘s name right where Lowell’s is. They’re within a year of age, they’re an injury liability, they’re good defenders and they’re projected for nearly the same OPS and EqA. Rolen’s PECOTA line in this case is .261/.336/.430 with an EqA of .268. Neither player is spectacular, but both are very solid veterans, if still unreliable health-wise.

In the same veign of aging third baseman is Baltimore’s Melvin Mora. Mora is older than either Lowell or Rolen, but he has also averaged 600 at bats over the last three seasons. He had an incredibly torrid second half, which was tempered by his ice cold first half, but finishing the year with 23 homers and an .825 OPS certainly isn’t bad for a 36 year old father of quintuplets. A more even keeled season should be expected, and the PECOTA line of .269/.332/.443 and .268 EqA seems accurate.

Rounding out the division is the player who could, if A-rod proves to be something other than his usual self, be the best third baseman in the division. Evan Longoria has a very good glove, arm, and bat, all at 23 years old. Longoria is only going to improve; his on-base skills are even better than the .343 OB% he put up last year. PECOTA forecasts a season similar to last years, with a slight drop in slugging (which makes sense; his slugging spiked last year from the numbers he had been putting up in the minors). His line of .270/.346/.507 and .289 EqA are all-star worthy, particularly if he keeps up his stellar defensive play. And whether it actually counts for anything or not, Longoria is one of the most confident players in baseball. It doesn’t take something as complex as PECOTA to see that great things are emerging for Longoria.

Next time around: Shortstops!

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Why You Should Care about the World Baseball Classic

March 21, 2009

The semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic begin today, with a game between Venezuela and Korea at 9 PM Eastern. In the second go round for the tournament, the reviews and commentary have been, at best, very mixed. The typical opinion of the games seem to be that they’re sub par baseball, mainly because the United States team is not putting out it’s best roster. Unfortunately for anyone not watching, the games have been filled with wonderful baseball, players who care about what they’re participating in, and even a March Madness style Cinderella story, courtesy of the Netherlands (long live honkbal!).

The U.S. team is obviously devoid of many of their stars, but those who did show up are still some of the best in the world. The roster of team U.S.A. features seventeen former all stars and several players with all star potential in the future (like Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta). Better yet, the roster is filled with people who really want to be there. They’re playing to win, and playing with an edge after what happened in the first baseball classic (Chipper Jones described their elimination by Canada as embarassing). If you don’t think that the United States team cares as much as the other countries, check out what happened to David Wright, who injured his toe in an essentially meaningless game this past week. After fouling a ball off of his big toe, cracking the nail in half, he remained in the game because the team had no other infielders to put out there.

Aside from the supposed lack of passion, that also points to another reason there is such a large amount of hate towards the tournament: injuries. While it is true that injuries can pile up at the games (Wright, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and a few others), there’s no assurance that players won’t be injured anyway. Guys have been known to get hurt in spring training games, too. It is a part of baseball and any physical activity, injuries and accidents occur. Better it be in an all around entertaining tournament for national pride than in an untelevised and meaningless Spring Training workout.

Team U.S.A. faces defending champion Japan Sunday at 8 PM Eastern. The other nations may have more at stake in these tournaments than the United States because this country has already established it’s athletic dominance, but the best players from around the world deserve our attention; the gap has closed, and the games are better than you think.

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Happy Clover McDrinky Day

March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all, the one day of the year when everyone is Irish. A warning to my newfound fellow Irishmen: stay out of the sun.

The Red Sox have made a tradition of wearing green uniforms for St. Patty’s Day, and they did just that yesterday. They generally look pretty cool (for one day, that is) and Boston is of course a traditionally Irish city. Now everyone is jumping on board with that promotion, in an effort to pander green merchandise to people who already own everything team colored.

The Red Sox don’t have much competition with green uniforms, other than the A’s, not exactly a huge rival. That’s one of the reasons it works for them. If they rolled out navy blue pinstripes, you might see a bit of an uproar. That is also about the equivalent of the Lakers rolling out their green merchandise this week.

The Lakers and Celtics have a great tradition from the Bird-Magic era to last season’s finals. The Lakers, coming off a finals in which the Celtics dismantled them, are pretty much pandering Celtics shirts, hats and colors to their own fans. It is one thing for the Raptors to do it, which is pretty unsightly in itself, especially being division rivals. The Raptors are a relatively new team, however, and they don’t have quite the traditional rivalry with Boston.

Alternate uniforms can be a good idea (see the Jets awesome Titan throwbacks). But try not to turn yourself into the bitch of a team that just finished beating up on you last year.

I will continue with my A.L. East preview columns shortly, with another probably rolling out tomorrow afternoon. I was temporarily in dispose due to the failure of my trusty computer. The technological world is dismantling itself, Ted Kaczynski was right!

Enjoy your binge of debauchery, America!

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A.L. East Second Baseman 2009

March 12, 2009

As it turns out, it is a lot of work writing and maintaining a blog. I have been spending many hours slouched with poor posture over my computer, snacking on bulk-purchased leftover Halloween candy, trying to project starting lineups and time-shares. And why do I do it, the love of baseball or the growing need to put my seemingly useless college degree to use (even if it is via a profitless internet site visited by a single-digit number of people each day)? You decide.

Self-loathing aside, second base is a pretty deep position in the east. The discussion must, of course, start with 2008 A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had a supreme season in which he started well and finished even better. The award is debatable, but Pedroia’s production is not. He put up an OPS of .869, hit 54 doubles, and just to top it off stole 20 bases while being caught only once. He also played exceptional defense, rating as the fifth best second baseman in baseball by the Bill James fielding bible plus/minus system. Oh, and he has a sweet commercial as well.

Pedroia bats far better at home, even though he is a well above average hitter for his position on the road. PECOTA sees a slight drop in his numbers, down t just about what his 2007 production was (when he won Rookie of theYear), with a projected line of .294/.358/.451 with an EqA of .283. I think he’ll split the difference of his first two seasons, which quite honestly are not that far apart. And remember, that superb bat is coupled with a very good glove, making Pedroia easily the best second baseman in the A.L.

Talent wise, Pedroia should have a lot more competition for that title from Robinson Cano. Cano is three inches taller, twenty-five pounds heavier, has one of those cliche sweet lefty swings, and is incredibly athletic in the field. All of that makes him probably the most frustrating Yankee to watch on a daily basis.

Cano has two major flaws with his game (or perhaps his on-field personality): he is a free swinger and he is prone to mental lapses. The former is something that he improved from 2006 to 2007, though that improvement stagnated last season. The latter is something that Larry Bowa, former third base coach for the Yankees, was almost personally responsible for preventing. However, Bowa left with Joe Torre after 2007 and coincidence or not, Cano’s defense and offense both suffered.

While his offense, which is predicated on the ability to hit for a high average, is likely to fluctuate throughout his career because of his low walk rate and moderate power, his defensive dropoff is astounding and befuddling. Once again diving into fielding bible, Cano was a +17 in 2007, good for the fifth best rating amongst second baseman. In 2008 Cano dropped to sisxth worst with a -16.

Cano’s terrible season at least capped off on a positive note, as he closed the year with 19 hits in his last 42 at bats, and his overall OPS in the second half was .815. It should also be noted that this is not an instance of a lefty in need of a platoon partner, as he hit far better against left-handers last season, and is even slightly better against lefties for his career. Cano is heading into his fourth season and is still only 26, so a bounceback after two good years should be expected. PECOTA projects him with a line of .289/.328/.446 with a .265 EqA. I think that is underestimating Mr. Cano, and I think that with proper focus (a crapshoot with that) his defense will be above average once again this season.

The Rays turnaround last year was the most talked about story in baseball, and equally famed was the turnaround for their defense. The middle-infield was their biggest upgrade over 2007, as Akinori Iwamura brought his range and glove-work to a new position by moving from third base (with Jason Bartlett coming over to play short). The previous years version of the Rays featured a combination of B.J. Upton, Brendan Harris and  Ty Wiggington, a trio that (at least in Upton and Wiggington’s case) inspires significantly more fear with their bat than their glove.

Iwamura took second, while Upton moved to center, where his speed and range are not countered by his inability to make basic plays on groundballs. Iwamura is only an average (at best) offensive player, even as a second baseman, but his defense gives him value. PECOTA has him at .263/.340/.400 and a .261 EqA in 2009. This is a slight dropoff as Iwamura enters his age 30 season, but if his defense is consistent once again then he shouldn’t have trouble getting his 2010 option picked up, or finding a starting role elsewhere.

Speaking of contracts, Brian Roberts signed a new deal with the Orioles three weeks ago, ensuring for the first time in about two years that the persistent trade rumors, mostly of Roberts going to the Cubs, are dead. Roberts received a four year deal worth $10 million each season, and when you look at what you are getting production wise the deal is a great one. Roberts is also very durable, his only major injury coming late in 2005 on a freak accident, as he collided with former Yankee Bubba Crosby and dislocated his elbow.

Roberts draws a good share of walks, has very good speed, and is capable of double digit homeruns. The forecast from PECOTA for him is  272/.356/.434, to go with a .282 EqA. A very solid season, though perhaps underestimating his on-base abilities which have improved with his age.

The final stop on this tour is in Toronto, where the Blue Jays have one of their better position players stationed. Former first round pick Aaron Hill never played a game at second in the minors, and his debut season in the majors had him primarily at third base. In 2006 he finally settled in at second, where he has played since, and played it well. In 2007 he led all second baseman in plus/minus, and has a career 98.6 fielding percentage there as well. Last year was a lost season due to a concussion he suffered in a collision with David Eckstein (perhaps the first and only time in history that someone else came out on the wrong side of a collision with Eckstein).

Hill has a huge breakout in homerun power in 2007, hitting only three less than he did in his 876 career minor league at bats. As one of the best defenders in the league at his position, Hill has positive value even if mediocre with the bat. A line of .261/.318/.394 with an EqA of .250 is what PECOTA expects (to go with a drop to his career norm in power, with 8 homeruns). If he can put up even an average on base percentage and hit double digit homeruns then Hill is an extremely valuable player under team control throgh (potentially) 2014, though his contract is heavily backloaded with three expensive option years. If Hill’s bat doesn’t recover from post-concussion effects then he can kiss those options goodbye.

These always end up longer than planned, but hopefully it is worth it for anyone reading through them. The most amusing part of this for me, aside from poring through varying statistics and box scores, is getting feedback and comments, so don’t be shy with those.

Next preview: third base!

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A-Rod has Surgery; Out 6-9 Weeks

March 9, 2009

As the title implies, A-Rod had his surgery today. He must have read my complaints from the other day, as the original plan was to rehab the injury.

This is a good compromise for the situation; Alex will only miss the month of April, and when he returns should be full strength. Rehab could not have guaranteed such a return, and the best case scenario would have him missing several weeks anyway. The arthroscopic procedure is only a temporary fix, but it is one that will get him through the season, at which point he can have the more invasive and permanent procedure done. This should also leave him ready to go next season.

For such a major injury, seemingly out of nowhere, it seems like it was handled well (though if his hip has been hurting for quite some time, as was said by the Yankees, then he probably should have had it checked out sooner). A-Rod could be back for Boston’s first series in the New Yankee Stadium the first week of April, and Yankee fans can get back to booing our best player once again.

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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!