Thursday, October 27, 2011

Milwaukee - Montreal Throwdown!

The Milwaukee Brewers are three time reigning NL North division champions, their former divisional whipping boy, the Montreal Expos, bounced them from the playoffs last year and won the World Series, and are putting the hammer down early on the Brew Crew in season 4.  Who is the best?  The folks in Milwaukee would have you believe it is their team, based on past performance and American elitism over their Canadian rivals.  The Expos fans point to the scoreboard and a shiny trophy sitting atop their webpage designating their championship status.  Since neither party is willing to admit that their team is better or worse than the other, The MLB World blog has devised a method to determine who is the best, the 1st Annual MLB Blog Baseball Test of Ultimate Awesomeness.

Challenge #1 - Stadium Experience
The Great Sausage Race--This is a shoo in victory for the Brewers.  They have a sausage race, which really is enough to end the conversation.  But they also have a nice new stadium, better food, a caring fan base, and a sweet logo.  The Expos meanwhile clearly have the cooler city in Montreal, but their stadium is a dump, and the three fans who show up have little or nothing to experience.
Edge: Milwaukee

Challenge #2 - Owners Pocketbooks
--Once again the Brewers easily take this competition, with a 99 million dollar payroll compared to Montreals 20 million spent, nearly an 80 million dollar difference.  This leads other owners around the league to wonder just what is ekoontz doing with all that revenue sharing cash he has been getting, as it certainly isn't going into the payroll.  Unnamed sources around the league say that ekoontz's wife has bought every item from the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog, including the 1 million dollar Dancing Fountain from WET, and the $420,000 International Flower Show, as well as a private magic show from Siegfried and Roy (tigers included) and Criss Angel, Mindfreak.
Edge: Milwaukee (Although the author would like to point out that nothing says rich like a personal fountain)

Challenge #3 - Winning
--The Brewers have more wins in franchise history and three division titles, and a NL pennant.  The Expos have no division titles, less wins, but a World Series championship.  Montreal hired Charlie Sheen to host the World Series afterparty.  Even though he was drunk/passed out/high as a kite one hour into it, that is #winning.
Edge: Montreal

Challenge #4 - Competitions of Strength
worlds strongest man lifting cars--This one proved to be a tight matchup, as four members from each team were selected to participate in classic Worlds Strongest Man style feats of strength.  The Woman Lift went to the Expos, as Manny Martin was able to pulley lift 17 stone worth of ladies, while Steven Newfield of the Brewers was only able to lift 14 stone.  In the Keg Toss, Alex Gomez of the Brewers crushed his competition, leveling the score.  But Cy Oliver and Hal Purcell of the Expos easily won the Semi Truck Pull and the Hercules Hold over their Brewers counterparts.
Edge: Montreal

Challenge #5 - Chess Boxing
Chess playing--This one turned out to be a cakewalk for the Expos Che-Bang Shigetoshi, who used his 3rd Dan blackbelt skills in Taekwondo to make short work of the Brewers Haywood Cannon.  Cannon also had the misfortune of making a critical error in misplaying a pawn breakthrough, allowing Shigetoshi to capitalize with his knight to force an early check, granting the advantage for a brutal punch to the midsection that Cannon couldn't recover from.
Edge: Montreal

Challenge #6 - Reality TV
--The Expos tried an aggressive strategy by putting star pitcher Phillip Priddy on Dancing With the Stars.  But despite the best efforts of his partner, the saucy Russian Karina Smirnoff, he was a leadfoot on the floor, and was eliminated in week two of the competition.  Judge Bruno Tonioli commented that Priddy "looked like a hippo trying to make love to a salamander in knee high boots!"  Although no one was quite able to make sense of that comment, the intention was clear.  As for the Brewers, their duo of Apollo Gibson and Yoo-Nah Wan used their bilingual and cultural abilities to make it to the top three in the Amazing Race before they were finally beat out by a feuding young couple and a pair of oil rig workers.
Edge: Milwaukee

Challenge# 7 - MLB 2K11 Playoff
--The Expos clearly were the favorites heading into this competition, as nearly their entire roster plays video games in the clubhouse while eating fried chicken.  Most of them aren't of drinking age yet though, so Hawaiian Punch was served instead of beer.  The Brewers, while old and lacking good video game hand eye coordination, did have the bonus of Eric Grybowski and his World of Warcraft account, which was levelled up by thirteen paid Chinese men.  In a surprise, the Asian underground connections of Grybowski and the Brewers managed to beat the young turks of the Expos in the 7th game of the video game World Series, bringing ultimate glory to the Brewers.  For their services, the Chinese computer slaves were paid $15 each, a weeks wage for them if they were still living in the countryside.
Edge: Brewers

There you have it!  It was close, but in the end the Brewers came out on top in the 1st Annual MLB Blog Ultimate Test of Baseball Awesomeness!  Congrats to the Brewers, and better luck to the Expos next year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NL South

Atlanta Braves (82-80, 2nd place)
C Claude Lawrence (retired)
After having one of the best pitching staffs in the NL last season, but the one of the worst offenses, Atlanta chose to stand pat in the hope that several players would step it up. Not sure if this is a good strategy or not, but look for a very similar season to last season. With their staff though, if they can squeeze another 50 runs out of their offense, they could be in-line to take back the division crown. With one of the youngest starting lineups in the NL, if Atlanta can get on track, they could be dangerous for many seasons.
Kilgore on this offseason:
Sure...relaxed, spent time with my family....oh, you probably mean from a baseball standpoint. The Braves were quiet during the off season, with no FA signings, only one FA departure. The plan is to continue to develop the young talent built though the draft, international FA signings and a handful of trades. We should contend for the title in one of this World's more competitive divisions. Looking for RF Alex Cheng to take the next step and become one of the league's premier OF threats, for young CF Jhonny Mercedes to step in and play strong defense and get on base enough to capitalize on his speed and baserunning skills, and for 2B Dario York and 3B Kevin McKinley to bounce back from sub-par seasons. Pitching is solid but not spectacular.

Florida Marlins (81-81, 3rd place)
P Phillip Gordon, P Jeff Hudson, SS Nicky Cronin, LF Hector Merced, C Reggie Vickers, Rule 5 2B Erik Swift, Rule 5 LF Brent Wood
SS Vladimir Fernandez, LF Phillip Sheldon, CF Matt Jennings, P Rick Fisher, RF Vic Sanchez, C Eric English, 1B Shawn Bonilla, 2B Enos Bailey, P Mark Kata
Florida had an active offseason, as they added some role players, but lost out on the top FA C in the league. They’ll somehow need to replace the nearly 70 runs scored by English. Their pitching was below average and they did add some good pitchers to help out. The biggest question is whether their pitching is going to be able to stand up to the loss of offense.
mtorabdaddy on this offseason:
One word...disaster. Not only did I lose my starting catcher, I missed out on my top FA target and then I inexplicably signed a type A thus causing me to lose my #1 pick. I should still have a strong staff but I feel my team will struggle to score runs this year without a needed offensive boost.

Houston Astros (68-94, 4th place)

P Guillermo Gil, P Hank Owen, LF Tony Guevara, P Keith Milton, Rule 5 P Terrence Franklin, Rule 5 2B Graham Nickle, Rule 5 1B Wayne Kipnis
C Clete Stark, RF Hipolito Rodriguez, SS Douglas House
1B Khiry Banks, C Max Palacios, 2B Horacio Delgado, P Wilfredo Vizcaino, P Danny Fyhrie, P Daric Telford, C Houston Butler, LF Merv Dorsey
With the 14th ranked pitching staff and 3rd ranked offense in the NL last season, Houston is just a few more pitchers away from really throwing this division into an uproar. Merely reducing the runs allowed by 50 would put them on track to a .500 season.
drichar138 on the offseason:
Last season I felt like my team was just a few free agents away from being a winning team (above .500), so we signed a few mid-tier free agents and felt good about our chances heading into the season and then all hell broke loose. We had major injuries to key players and as it turned out we had our worst season in franchise history. With that in mind, we have shifted our focus for this season. We have lowered payroll in order prepare for our 4 picks in the first 53 spots and are going to bring up some of our youngsters to help boolster the ML team. Moises Gonzalez and Rob Tipton will be called up to the majors after the 20 game mark and will be relied upon to lead the team along with veterans CF Ramirez, RF Martin, RP Woods and SP Titan.

St. Louis Cardinals (85-77, 1st place)
LF Merv Dorsey, P Paul Leius, P Mateo Villanueva, P Hee Sop Nakamura
P Dan Park, LF Antonio Martin, C Chien-Ming Kojima, LF Eric Brown
With the #3 pitching staff and #14 offense, St. Louis defied the odds and won the division last season. They added one of the top offensive players available in FA, while further strengthening their pitching staff. Their offense should improve from last season, which should allow them to maintain their standing on top of the division for the 3rd straight year.
dwboyce on the offseason:
After failing to trade for a closer, I ended up having to pay for Kwon's services one more year and hope he does not deteriorate badly this season. After the signing, I made a trade for more bullpen support. Hopefully the two will shore up the set up and closing duties.

hurricane384’s take:
Once I started looking into this division, it became readily apparent that this is a very competitive division. It truly has a chance to have all 4 teams finish with above .500 records. Unfortunately, they are likely to get just one team into the playoffs on account of how close these teams are to each other. The team to watch is Houston, although I still like St. Louis to win the division.

Monday, October 24, 2011

AL West Preview

Below is the AL West Season 4 Preview. Teams are listed in no particular order.

Seattle Mariners

Season 3 record – 77-85

Pythag Expected – 80-82

Season 4 Payroll - $67.7M

ML Players Acquired: 2B Melvin Rose (trade), 1B Matt Teixeira (trade), DH Bruce Connelly (FA), C Eric English (FA), SS Rigo Mujica (Rule 5).

MiL Players Acquired: DH Larry Browning (trade)

ML Players Lost: 1B Gerald Martin (trade), SP Arthur Bynam (trade), RF Nipsey Greer (FA), C Jered Ross (FA), SS Chase Mackowiak (FA), SS Nicky Cronin (FA).

MiL Players Lost: SP Hipolito Lima (1st Rd Pick, traded), RP Ruben Villalona (comp 1st rd pick, traded), SP Aubrey Pavlik (1st Rd pick, traded), RP Artie Blackburn (trade).

Outlook: Coming off back-to-back 90+ win seasons, Seattle fell off the pace in season 3, posting the franchise’s first losing season. The advanced metrics suggest they performed close to expectations as well. Moving into season 4, ownership decided to shake it up a bit, in what owner jakaitis referred to as a “schizophrenic” offseason.

Last year’s major problems were the offense and bullpen, as Seattle’s rotation did a good job of keeping them in games. Ultimately, the offense couldn’t spark a rally, or the bullpen would give some ground and Seattle wound up as an average squad. As a result, many moves were made in the offseason to address the areas of concern. In comparison to their division rivals, Seattle was easily the most active team this offseason.

In addition to the myriad moves above, Seattle is also going to summon some top hitting prospects to reinforce the offense this year. RF Rich Coco brings an all around talent to the middle of Seattle’s order, DH Frank Terrell will flat out kill the ball when he’s in the lineup (though low DUR is a major concern), and we might even see some of COF Cliff Drew later in the year, bringing a power bat and discerning eye to the show.

On the other side of the ledger, Seattle will continue to rely on a strong rotation. Though they lack a true top-end ace, Seattle can boast several reliable middle of the rotation types – Carter, Osoria, Diaz, and Martinez; the final three of which are in their mid-20’s still. Add to the mix late season call-up Fritz Gray and Seattle certainly has a formidable starting five. While those guys hold down the fort, Seattle continues to work the phones in an attempt to land a true #1. Should those efforts eventually prove fruitful, the rest of the division may want to watch out.

Key Run Producer: Teixeira is the strongest bat in the ML lineup currently, though it is likely that Terrell will post the best production once he gets the call. If he can stay in the lineup even 75% of the time, Seattle’s offense will be markedly improved.

Key Run Preventer: Gray has all the tools to step into the top of this rotation, and a full season of him taking the ball every fifth day should certainly help Seattle’s staff. As previously mentioned, Seattle has an abundance of #2-3 type SP, so they’ll need someone – possibly Gray – to step up and lead the staff.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: Seattle looks improved in all facets, and a return to contention in the division is well within reach. 85-90 wins sounds about right.

Colorado Rockies

Season 3 record – 109-53

Pythag Expected – 98-64

Season 4 Payroll - $81M

ML Players Acquired: RP Rick Coveleski (pending trade as of this writing), RP Eugene Beckham (pending trade).

ML Players Lost: LF Benito Marichal (FA), SS Andrew Forbes (FA).

MiL Players Acquired: none

MiL Players Lost: RF Yovani Rijo (season 3 $20m INT Bonus Baby, traded), LF Max Rios (traded), SP Ralph Torres (traded).

Outlook: Colorado ran away from the rest of the competition in season 3, comfortably winning the division by about a hundred games (approximate). For nearly the entire preseason, they adopted the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, content to avoid any FA or trades until just recently (more on that later).

Colorado did just about everything right in season 3. The offense clicked just like you’d expect for a Rocky Mountain-based team, though the home/road splits were as severe as you’ll ever see - .927 team OPS at home, .705 away. The amazing part of the Colorado season came from their moundsmen. Colorado had multiple Cy Young candidates, which is not a common occurrence in that park. All return for season 4.

Reinforcing that ridiculous pitching staff is some new bullpen arms we alluded to previously. Colorado moved some pretty good pieces to solidify the ‘pen, which was the only real area of concern for this team. Last year’s bullpen featured a lockdown closer, and a lot of uncertainty in every other role. The additions of Coveleski and Beckham should help alleviate some of that uncertainty. Adding a solid back-end of the ‘pen to an already-strong rotation and lineup is scary to the rest of the division, to say the least.

Key Run Producer: Hiplito Iglesias is a beast, pure and simple. He loves hitting a mile high and the fans love him for it. His career triple slash line is an absurd .356/.449/.629. Does he play any defense? Nope. Does he need to with that bat? Nope. He’ll continue to key a potent Rocky attack.

Key Run Preventer: Taking time away from a long-running broadcasting career, SP Hugh Downs was dominant after a mid-season trade last year. If he can duplicate those results again this year, the rest of the Colorado rotation will fall into place nicely behind him.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: If you look at the expected season 3 record, you’d assume some serious regression is in order for Colorado. That said, the season 4 version is arguably stronger than last year, thanks to the improved bullpen. 100 wins is the likely target for this squad, though I’m going to pencil them in for somewhere in the 95-100 range.

Anaheim Angels

Season 3 record – 60-102

Pythag Expected – 66-96

Season 4 Payroll - $72.1M

ML Players Acquired: (COF) Milt Forbes (trade), LF Peter Thurman (Rule 5)

MiL Players Acquired: None

ML Players Lost: None

MiL Players Lost: P Scooter Thomas (trade)

Outlook: Season three saw the Angels continue to decline in the standings. Win totals have dropped from 98 to 80 to 60 last season. At the same time, an ownership change occurred, with new owner mskakunan coming on board. Any time you lose 100+ games, more things went wrong than right. Such was the case for Anaheim in season 3.

The offense struggled mightily during the season, with only Michael Blasingame carrying his weight. Fortunately, he’s young and talented and a good piece to build around. Rule 5 pickup Peter Thurman should contribute (at the very least he should pound lefties), and 3B Phil Perez should return to form after a serious injury. The rest of the offense also struggled, and as a team they posted just a .705 OPS. Likewise, the pitching struggled, with only one pitcher finishing with an ERA under 4 (min 60 IP). Derek Hoffman, in particular, underperformed with an ERA near 5. Given his level of talent, Anaheim should expect some positive regression this season.

For now, Anaheim is firmly focused on the future. As mskakunan put it, “the highlight of this team’s season will likely come on amateur draft day.” Given the relative strength of the three other teams in the division, a dedicated effort to rebuild appears to be the proper path.

Key Run Producer: Blasingame is a star amid a sea of darkness (or something like that). He should continue to produce, though the rest of the lineup will need to help out more this season.

Key Run Preventer: Gerald Lui did a great job out of the pen last season, but the team will need Hoffman to step up to creep back into contention. More innings equals more importance in this category, and Hoffman will be counted on to be the horse in the rotation this year.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: It looks to be another tough year in the magic kingdom (that’s Disneyland, right?). With a focus on the future the next few years could be lean, but needed. That said, 60 wins seems to be below the level of talent here, and approaching - but possibly just missing - 70 wins seems more realistic.

Oakland Athletics

Season 3 record – 86-76

Pythag Expected – 93-69

Season 4 Payroll - $38M

ML Players Acquired: SP George Foster (trade), LF Louis Wise (rule 5), RP Roy Campbell (Rule 5)

MiL Players Acquired: None

ML Players Lost: DH Nate Cunningham (FA), RF Ed Parkinson (FA)

MiL Players Lost: C Juan Rosa (trade), SP Ryan Fasano (trade)

Outlook: Oakland posted a near-identical record in seasons 2 and 3, with the notable difference being a playoff run all the way to the season 3 World Series, attributable mostly to luck. With a young and inexpensive (for now) core, Oakland hopes to build off that success and land another playoff spot. Given the strength of Colorado, and a likely Seattle resurgence, that could prove difficult.

The offense performed reasonably well, considering the drain on offense provided by the home park. Unfortunately most of the key players suffer from either low DUR, low Health, or both. While they remained relatively healthy last season, that may not occur again this year. Oakland does plan to call up former top pick Benj Fox, despite the fact that he’s clearly missing an “I” in his first name. In addition to vowel-deficiency, Benj also suffers from the low DUR/Health as other Oakland position players, but he should help the offense at 2B when he’s in the lineup.

On the pitching side of the ledger, Oakland offers up a similar rotation to Seattle’s: A lot of mid-rotation types, all fairly young, but no true ace at the top. If Oakland can add an ace, they could be truly dangerous. The biggest weakness for this team is the bullpen. Attempts to acquire bullpen help in the offseason proved to be a bit too expensive for management’s taste.

Key Run Producer: Coming off three consecutive strong offensive seasons, C Jake Rhodes is back for more. While low DUR limits him to 120-ish games, he can usually be penciled in for .300/.400/.500 each year. His receiving skills leave a bit to be desired, but this paragraph is about offense, folks.

Key Run Preventer: Oakland is moving Brian O’Malley into the rotation this year, and will need him to provide solid numbers over at least 160-ish innings. He has some stamina concerns, but management is hoping he can cut it as a starter.

Outlook: The WS run last season was nice, but the reality is Oakland was really a mid-80’s win team, and is bringing back a similar roster again this season. The expected win% indicates a slight underperformance and something near 90 wins seems reasonable.

NL North Preview - Part IV

Chicago Josias Gonzalez keeps the Cubs Quietly in Contention

One pitcher in the National League finished the season with 20 wins. Quick, can you name him?

Nope. It’s not L.A.’s Bernie Speier, or Milwaukee’s Willie Diggins or Javier Sanches, or even St. Louis’s Jon Lewis. Instead, Chicago’s Josias Gonzalez quietly put together a huge season after signing as a free agent with the Cubs last year, finishing 20-7 while posting an impressive WHIP of 0.98 despite the presence of some big bats in the NL Central.

Too bad then that the offense took a step back last season or the Cubs might have been able to win a few more games. Instead, the team settled to win – 87 games – or exactly what they did in Season 2. Last year, I said the big red “C” on the uniform stood for “Consistent.” I never imagined I was this right. This coming season however, do the Cubs stand to take a couple steps back to take a step or two forward to their future?

Record: 87-75, third in the NL North

Key Additions:
1. Carlos Henriquez, 21-year-old first baseman expected to be promoted from AAA.

Key Departures:
1. Jose Camacho, 35-year-old third baseman via free agency to Texas
2. Adrian McConnell – 30-year-old utility player via free agency to Texas
3. Bailey King – 27-year-old first baseman via free agency (unsigned)
4. Jason Dougherty – 35-year-old utility player via free agency (unsigned)

On offense, it appears the youth movement has arrived. The Cubs lost their stalwart third baseman,35-year-old Jose Camacho, to the Texas Rangers via free agency. Gone with him are his 61 doubles and 50 home runs over two seasons. The loss of the hot corner hitter is another blow to an offense that slipped to 22nd in AVG, 28th in OBP and tied for 14th in SLG last season, and it looks as though the Cubs were unable to find a suitable replacement over the winter. The Cubs also let first baseman Bailey King walk this winter, to prepare the way for young Carlos Henriquez, the AAA-standout who should boost production at first. Orlando Soriano at 33 is now the oldest position player on the team – by five years. Everyone else including NL MVP David Davis is 28 and younger.

Pitching was a strength for the Cubs last year, although the presence of Josias Gonzalez skewed the numbers a bit. The starting rotation looks to return intact, but of the starting five only 20-game-winner Gonzalez posted a winning record. Despite that, all of them are warhorses: three of the five pitched deep into games, posting 200+ innings over the season and alleviating the stress on the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, Christopher Phillips was moved to the closer last season and responded to the challenge well by putting his best season statistically, finishing with a WHIP of 1.05 and an ERA of 1.66. Collectively, the staff limited opponents to 642 runs, helping the Cubs finish with a positive run differential of +55, and had the 5th best WHIP in the league. The rumored additions of minor leaguers Cookie Alfonzo and Quinton Sherman to the bullpen, with Alfonzo likely to take the shutdown closer role, should improve the club’s numbers slightly.

Goose Howard reputedly will be promoted into the defensive shortstop role this season. Defensively, the Cubs are among the league’s elite, which helps explain the low WHIP on the part of the pitching staff. The club committed 69 errors all last season, good for second in the league and well below the league average of 91. They also had twice as many positive plays than they did negative ones. The losses at the corners should not impact the team’s defense, and the Cubs should continue to play well in the field.

dwb’s take: Did the Cubs catch lightning in a bottle with Gonzalez last year? The 20-game winner may take a step back this season. This and the loss of Camacho at third will cost the club a few games this season. I see them finishing just a hair above .500, with a win total in the low 80’s. But if they start to slide, look for the Cubs to shop a couple pieces like Davis and Gonzalez to continue the rebuild movement, which will mean a win total in the 70’s and a possible spot in the cellar under the new and improved Reds.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NL North Preview - Part III

Cincinnati New arrival Gerald Martin shows why it’s All Smiles in Cincy

Newly acquired first baseman Gerald Martin swats a long ball in batting practice and flashes a grin as the ball clears the wall by a few feet while he says, “Yeah, that’s an out in Seattle.”

Martin is licking his chops: the switch hitting first baseman rarely misses a pitch, and when he connects the porch in Cincinnati is nine feet closer to the plate in left center, and a full fifteen feet closer in right center. Despite the cavernous ballpark in Seattle, Martin still managed to hit 24 home runs last season but that number should exceed 30 this year.

The roster continues to resemble a circus carousel in Cincinnati, with players regularly stepping on and off the ride. The turnover isn’t even limited to the Major League roster: four of Cincinnati’s five first round draft picks in the past three seasons have been traded. This year is no different, and Spring Training will begin with a social mixer for the players so they can get acquainted once more.

Record: 63-99, fourth in the NL North

Key Additions:
1. Gerald Martin – 29-year-old first baseman via trade with Seattle
2. R.J. Manto – 31-year-old starting pitcher via trade with Baltimore
3. Gerald Taylor – 30-year-old utility player via trade with Baltimore
4. Ryan Fasano – 25-year-old starting pitcher via trade with Oakland
5. Eric Dickson – 32-year-old shortstop via free agency from Kansas City
6. Steve Gil – 32-year-old third baseman via free agency from Tampa Bay
7. Rex Howard – 27-year-old starting pitcher via free agency from San Diego
8. Mario Kemp – 31-year-old relief pitcher via free agency from Texas
9. Joe Howe – 36-year-old relief pitcher via free agency from Philadelphia
10. Four players selected in the Rule V draft.

Key Departures:
1. Sawyer Miller – 28-year-old right fielder traded to Baltimore
2. Abdul Sweeney – 27-year-old third baseman traded to San Diego
3. Tony Guevara – 32-year-old left fielder via free agency to Houston
4. Carson Podsednik – 34-year-old shortstop via free agency to New York (NL)
5. George Foster – 25-year-old long reliever traded to Oakland
6. Carson Yearwood – 37-year-old closer left via free agency (unsigned)
7. Shayne Lee – 34-year-old relief pitcher left via free agency (unsigned)

Gerald Martin’s arrival in Cincinnati is a welcome one for an offense that ranked at the bottom of the league in most of the statistical categories. The Reds are hoping that his bat will boost the team slugging percentage, which was rated 31st in the league at .366 – about 50 points below the league average. The Reds also rolled the dice when they signed switch hitting Steve Gil to a five-year, $35 million deal. Gil’s bat is All-Star quality (.303/.366/.505 career) – when he can swing it. After dislocating his should three seasons ago, he spent 75 days on the disabled list last year, much of it nursing that same sore shoulder. If Gil can stay healthy, he’s a bargain. If he doesn’t, he’s a bust. Both players should improve the bottomline: the Reds 590 Runs ranked 31st, their Home Runs ranked 29th, AVG came in tied for 30th in the league, and OBP ranked 30th. The signing of Gil has one more bonus, as it allows the Reds to move Hub Bradley to right field to replace the departed lighter-hitting Sawyer Miller.

If the turnover on offense wasn’t significant enough, the Reds once again made wholesale changes to the pitching staff. After paying a king’s ransom to retain the services of free agent Philip Payton (39 starts, 1.16 WHIP), the Reds added two workhorses to the staff in the form of R.J. Manto and Rex Howard. Southpaw Manto went 13-8 in 35 starts last year while posting a 1.24 WHIP. Howard likewise went 15-13 in 203 innings and is a sinkerball-type pitcher adept at keeping the ball in the yard, a perfect pitcher for this type of park. Joe Howe and Mario Kemp were signed to replace the departing closer Carson Yearwood and reliever Shayne Lee, but the pair doesn’t exactly allow the club to put away the brill cream. The pitching staff was a strength of the team last year, limiting opponents to 698 runs while finishing with a team WHIP that ranked 7th in the league, and the changes made to the staff should show a small improvement on those numbers.

Eric Dickson’s arrival from Kansas City improves the team’s offense while also boosting the club’s defense, as he brings with him 75 positive plays in his career. The team ranked second in the league with 88 positive plays before his arrival. The club also committed 89 errors, just a hair under the league average.

dwb’s take: There are few quick fixes in baseball, and yet Cincinnati shuffles the deck and stands to improve upon their fourth place finish in the division. If Steve Gil can stay healthy and play a complete season, the team could improve their record by as many as ten or more games and will challenge the Chicago Cubs for third place in the division.

NL East Season 4 Preview

After last seasons appallingly bad predictions, FW_Kekionga threw out the old crystal ball and purchased a new one, and here's hoping it is more accurate!  Season 3 saw a surprise run by the NY Mets to take the NL East title, while favorite Pittsburgh got off to a horrible start and finished 2nd in the division despite trading away a fair portion of their superstars in a fire sale.  The Nationals pulled it together enough to win 71 games and take 3rd place, while the unlucky Phillies rode an abysmal start to finish in the cellar.  How will it go down this year?  Read on and find out!

New York Mets (94-68, 1st place in Season 3)

What a difference a closer can make.  Eugene Bush was worth every penny spent on his contract last season, turning in an all star performance and winning the Fireman of the Year Award.  He converted 45/48 saves, and elevated the mostly average NY pitching staff to multiple winning seasons.  The Mets were certainly a surprise to win the division, but by the all star break it was clear they were the class of the NL East.  Marvin Sellers was huge in the lineup, and the Mets made the most of his production.  The question is whether last years success can transfer to this season, and although there are a few questions about the Mets the odds are pretty good it will.

This years edition of the NY Mets brings back all the major players from last season, including ace pitcher Kelvin Beckham, star closer Bush, and lineup anchor Sellers.  IF Davey Candelaria, 1B Deacon Kelly, and 2B Maicer Tavarez will be counted on to support Sellers in the lineup, and will probably provide most of the production for the Mets offense.  After those four there is a pretty significant dropoff in talent, there are some good role players but no other players with complete games at the plate.  In the rotation is where the real questions lie however, as NY will need to replace 35 wins from last season due to the departures of Hee Seop Nakamura, Bo Barrett, and Ralph Hiljus, along with the demotion of 13 game winner Fergie Simon to AAA.  Ultimately it will probably depend on if the bullpen can be as good as last year, as it will be difficult for Bush to replicate what was as good a year as any relief pitcher could have had. 

The Mets minor leagues are in good shape for the upcoming season, with several players who could be contributors after callups, as well as some younger players who are a few seasons away.  The ones who could likely make an impact this season are SP Ron Garcia, SS Fausto Santana, and RF Peter Condry.  Despite having a later pick this season at #26, the Mets organization made a commitment to scouting this offseason and ramped up their college and high school budgets, and are hoping for a deep draft to maximize those investments.

Projected Finish: 86-76, 1st Place

Philadelphia Phillies (67-95, 4th place in Season 3)

The Phillies were young and inexperienced last season, and it showed.  Philly was the least clutch team in both leagues, going 20-35 in one run games, the worst total in both the NL and AL.  They suffered through numerous errors in the field as players like 3B Calvin Colangelo and 2B Thomas Bailey honed their game.  Most of the players on the Phillies roster could have used another season in AAA last year, but due to the sparse and expensive FA market the management was forced to bring them up early as they were the best options available to the franchise.  The pitching last season for Philly was also especially bad, particularly the bullpen and young starters Brian Kim and Willy Shuey. 

This years edition of the Phillies looks pretty similar to last years, as the team was unable to make any signings of note in free agency.  But Philadelphia did open up the pocketbooks to resign #1 SP Edge Gibbons, who was looking to leave for free agency, but had a change of mind after Philly offered him a 10 million dollar signing bonus to keep him.  This was very important as he was clearly their best pitcher and would have been irreplaceable had he left.  The rest of the pitching staff are all a year older and hopefully have better control of their skills, and if anything the law of averages is in their favor and they can't be much worse than last season.  As for the lineup it is looking pretty solid, with Bailey and RF Albert Stevens posting big numbers.  Colangelo's glove has improved dramatically and he should now be an asset instead of a liability at 3rd, and last years #4 draft pick LF Byron Sullivan is ML ready and should be a solid producer as well.  There is a lot to like about the Phillies lineup, the question will be if it can produce enough runs to cover for less than stellar pitching.

The Phillies again have the #4 draft pick this season, and their 2nd round pick is early as well at #53, and as the Phillies have heavily invested in 20/20 scouting, they are dearly hoping to get a #1 SP this year in the draft.  There are some solid players in the Phillies minors despite the fact that most of the team is made up of 26 and younger guys, including C Heathcliff Haney, 1B Alejandro Herrera, and RP Johnny Connelly.  The Phillies also solved their 2B problem in this years Rule 5 Draft with the selection of Crash Slocumb, who came over from the Milwaukee franchise.

Predicted Finish: 76-86, 3rd place

Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82, 2nd place in Season 3)

The Pirates were favorites to win the NL East for a 3rd time in Season 3, but somewhere along the way the season started horribly and by the draft they were offering their stars in a fire sale.  Star pitcher Hugh Downs was traded to Colorado midseason, and the white flag was raised.  Despite this they still had a better season than Washington or Philadelphia and finished in 2nd place.  The offseason saw the Pirates continue their rebuild, again partnering with Colorado in a trade that saw star closer Rick Covaleski go west in exchange for some great young hitters.  The offseason also saw several free agents leave Pittsburgh, leaving the pirates with plenty of picks in this seasons draft at #18, #43, #47, and #49.  The Pirates adjusted their scouting accordingly to maximize those picks. 

This years squad will still feature former MVP Yovani Fuentes anchoring the lineup.  Despite his declining power Fuentes remains the best hitter in the NL, and should again post a .350+ batting average.  With the incoming hitters from Colorado and an already pretty solid lineup to begin with, the Pirates should put up plenty of runs.  The pitching staff is where the questions will be.  The Pirates have two legit top tier starting pitchers in A. J. Sewell and Geoffrey Rivera, and a solid # 3 in Yamid Franco, but after them the pitching starts to look average, and how they will replace the production of Covaleski remains to be seen. 

The Pirates have plenty of young positional talent to draw from to replace their aging vets as they leave, with the possible exception of Fuentes.  Players like 2B Willie Donnelly and RF Chad York are both future ML guys, but they need some pitching prospects if they are to return to the elite status they were at in the first two seasons of MLB.  With their four 1st round picks in season 4, there is the possibility to bring in the pitching depth they need.

Predicted Finish: 78-84 (2nd place)

Washington D.C. Nationals (71-91, 3rd place in Season 3)

The Nationals surprised last season and played better than they were expected to en route to 71 win wins and 3rd place in the East.  But the fact remains that their best hitter from last season, OF Edgar Castillo, is aging and in decline, and outside of IF John Jung, there wasn't much in the lineup to support him.  The pitching was not good either last season, as only RP's Pepper Hayes and Mark Franco posted winning records.  Despite those deficiencies the Nats played well as a team and were competitive all season.

This years Nationals went on a spending spree in the offseason, taking advantage of their protected pick in the draft (#8 overall).  Washington signed SPs Emil Romero, Watty Foster, and Elmer Howard, along with IF Fred Dresden to massively improve their rotation and lineup.  With those improvements the rotation now has three more legit starters than last season, and another piece in the lineup.  While neither portion of the Nationals will be elite, they will certainly be effective enough to maintain last years improvements and bridge the gap to the day when their pitching prospects make the bigs.  The lineup could use a couple of extra bats, and the bullpen is still iffy at best however.

The Nationals have a great pick at #8 this season, and now have the luxury of being able to spend it on either pitching or hitting with the free agent additions this offseason.  Young SPs Raymond Small and Christopher Mays will both be #1 starter quality when they are done developing, and are within a season or two of making their debuts.  If Washington can build enough supporting parts to surround them, they will be a force to be reckoned with in a few seasons, but for this year it will be closer to .500 ball.

Projected Finish: 76-86, 3rd place.

Final Analysis

The East is a division in transition, as New York has seized the early momentum from Washington and Philadelphia in the race to replace Pittsburgh at the top of the standings.  All four teams have bright long term futures as there is a significant amount of under 26 year old talent in the division, with Philly being the youngest team in the NL, and the three other teams all boasting young studs at key positions with minor leaguers on the way.  The East this season projects to be a very closely contested division with all four teams having an average overall rating of either 68 or 69.  It's anybodies game, but New York gets the early edge because of last years performance. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

NL North Preview - Part II

Montreal Catcher Eduardo Ayala proves that Youth is Served

If the World Series Trophy is for sale, the Expos are smiling because they just bought it for the paltry sum of $650,000.

That’s the average current annual salary of a member of the team. Surprisingly, the team in the playoffs with the next lowest average annual salary turned out to be…their World Series opponent, the Oakland Athletics. The A’s by comparison spent a fortune: $1.3 million per player, or exactly twice as much. One only has to wonder what the general managers of the Texas Rangers ($4.5 million per player), the Milwaukee Brewers ($3.8 million per player) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3.2 million per player) had to be feeling watching those two payrolls play for the coveted trophy.

Most of the current Expos are still years from being able to grow a proper playoff beard, let alone hitting free agency, so the team on the field this year will resemble last year’s champions.

Record: 90-72, second in the NL North.

Key Additions: None.

Key Departures: None.

Last season the team strategy was “outscore your opponent.” Offensively, the Expos are well-equipped to do just that. Led by Eduardo Ayala, the division’s other All-Star catcher who batted .321 last year, the Expos finished 7th in the Majors in AVG, 7th in OBP with a mark of .343 and tied for 6th in SLG with a mark of .448. Ayala was also one of four players on the team who drove in more than 100 runs last season. Third baseman Hal Purcell, left fielder Cy Oliver and center fielder Manny Martin swung the lumber at the plate. All that production lead to three members of the team being selected to the All-Star classic: Ayala and Martin were joined by right fielder Julio Guillen.

On the mound, the starting rotation was hardly dominant. Rookie call-up Sawyer Cross managed to find a way to start 33 games last season and finished with a record of 15-10 while posting a 1.29 WHIP. The only other starter with a winning record on the staff was Al Flores, who went an undistinguished 11-7 in 30 starts with an average WHIP of 1.48. Consider that reliever Steve Hines finished second on the club with 12 wins in 148 innings pitched despite not starting a single game. Collectively the staff allowed 819 runs to trot across the plate, so the Expos finished with a run differential of a modest +46. The pitching should show some small improvement this year, as one would expect the Expos to tap their talent-laden minors by turning to AAA-standout Brandon Stargell at some point this season.

“Outscore your opponent” was the mantra on defense as well. The Expos finished tied for 30th by committing 110 errors this season, lead by the left side of the infield. Shortstop Sammy Cruz made 28 errors to lead the club, followed closely by third baseman Hal Purcell’s 19. It is likely Purcell may be replaced by aspiring shortstop Ronnie Robinson sometime into the season, so look for the fielding at least at the hot corner to improve. The team collectively made 44 positive plays while posting 45 negative ones.

dwb’s take: Montreal fields a team that won 90 games last season. With a minor tweak to the pitching staff and the hot corner, look for them to win between 84 and 90 games again this season barring injury to an offensive threat. The team is still a few starting pitchers short of competing for the division crown and has some holes defensively, but the Expos have what it takes offensively to get to the playoffs again where they’ve proven once there, anything can happen.

NL North Preview - Part I

MilwaukeeWhy Alex Gomez’s big bat may help the Brew Crew Bring It Home

After finishing the regular season with a franchise record 110 wins and their third straight division crown, Milwaukee’s playoff record was a surprising 2-3. The Brewers were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by a familiar foe, their division rival Expos.

The quick exit from the playoffs tarnished an otherwise stellar season for Milwaukee, especially catcher Alex Gomez. Gomez established career highs in almost every major offensive category, including Runs (115), Home Runs (52) and RBI (134) while hitting .326. His work at the plate earned him multiple honors in season three, including his third straight All-Star nod, an All-Star MVP, the Home Run Derby champion and a Silver Slugger. A World Series ring is about the only piece of hardware missing from his collection now. The question is, can he and the Brewers bring home the ring in Season 4?

Key Additions: None.

Key Departures:
1. Rich Harper – 36-year-old relief pitcher, 33.1 innings/1.50 whip – to the Texas Rangers.

The good news for the Brewers is that the team returns virtually intact to make another run at the title. Gomez will lead the team offense which finished first in the entire league in OBP (.366), SLG (.465) and Home Runs (257) and tied for second in AVG (.284). First baseman Jim Thomson and second baseman Steven Newfield blasted 40+ long balls as well, while third baseman Luther Becker earned yet another Silver Slugger. Carlos Ordaz hit .307/.407/.557 in his rookie season while chipping in an additional 25 Home Runs, and he should only improve upon those numbers this year. Top to bottom of the lineup, there was no major tinkering with the offense this offseason.

The bad news for opponents is that once again Milwaukee’s starting rotation returns almost virtually intact. The pitching staff lead the Major Leagues in WHIP (1.20) and allowed just 602 runs to cross the plate, finishing with a grossly inflated run differential of +293. While the staff is aging and the window on these playoff run opportunities are closing for some starters like Willie Diggins (age 35) and Jason Drew (age 36), no significant declines can be seen that should negatively impact the club. Set-up man Rich Harper had limited appearances out of the bullpen last year, pitching just 33.1 innings, so the effects on his departure should be minimal.

Defensively the Brewers are a slightly above average team, committing around the league average number of errors (89) while making 69 “great” defensive plays while limiting themselves to 32 “poor” ones. Their team defense will return unscathed.

dwb’s take: Milwaukee’s window of opportunity is still wide open. Gomez is in his prime, and the talent surrounding him on offense is still young. The club finds themselves in familiar territory come October. Expect them to claim their fourth consecutive division title and top 100 wins for the second time in two years.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Top 20 FAs

  1. CF Dave Shuck (NY2; 3yrs/$12.9M)
    Lacks the ideal range for a CF, but can bat lead-off and comes cheaply.
    Grade: A-
  2. CF Danys Martin**UNSIGNED**
  3. SS Steve Gil (CIN; 5yrs/$35.0M)Cincinnati arguably overpaid for this aging slugger, but they get someone who can play solid 3B while hitting pretty well.
    Grade: B-
  4. LHP Phillip Payton (CIN; 2yrs/$15.5M)
     The Reds may have paid a premium to get him off the market quickly.
    Grade: B
  5. LF Merv Dorsey (STL; 5yrs/$60.0M)The Cardinals got the best offensive player in the free agent market this season. Grade: B+
  6. CF Yamid Rios (NO; 2yrs/$7.2M)Really earns his pay by being a good defensive CF. The Jazz got a great deal here.
    Grade: A
  7. RHP Vinny Kwon (STL; 1yr/$4.0M)Getting the best RP on the market, even though he is aging, makes this a great signing for the Cardinals. Grade A-
  8. SS Eric Dickson (CIN; 2yrs/$22.0M)
    The Reds overpaid to sign this SS who struggles offensively but makes up for it defensively.
    Grade: C
  9. LHP Pepe Vazquez**UNSIGNED**
  10. LHP Jeff Hudson (FLA; 2yrs/$3.4M)The #2 reliever on the market struggles with his splits, but comes cheaply which makes this risk worth taking.
    Grade: B
  11. 1B Roosevelt Voyles (NO; 3yrs/$16.9M)While not coming with elite talent, Voyles fills a need and does it reasonably.
    Grade: B
  12. C Eric English (SEA; 4yrs/$23.5M)Plays a good defensive C while also hitting extremely well and being durable.
    Grade: A
  13. RHP Rex Howard (CIN; 5yrs/$50.5M)The Reds overpaid to get Howard who is a good pitcher, but not an ace.
    Grade: C-
  14. 1B Brace Workman**UNSIGNED**
  15. SS Vladimir Dotel (MIN; 4yrs/$20.2M)While he's not going to perform consistently on offense, he can hit for power and contact and play good defense.
    Grade: B+
  16. 2B Fred Dresden (WAS; 5yrs/$36.3M)He squares the ball well, but isn't in the elite category offensively or defensively.
    Grade: C+
  17. RF Ed Parkinson**UNSIGNED**
  18. 3B Jose Camacho (TEX; 3yrs/$15.0M)Will play RF for the Rangers, and will likely put up a slash line of .280/.340/.460.
    Grade: B-
  19. CF Sal Booker**UNSIGNED**
  20. LHP Albert Sosa (SD; 2yrs/$11.0M)A solid starting pitcher should perform pretty well at a reasonable cost.
    Grade: B

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Game 6

Game 6
WP: S. Cross (3-4)

LP: L. Wells (3-1)

SV: J. Kent (1)

Montreal drew first blood in this game 6 battle, marking the first time this series that they scored first. A 3-run homer by K. Hamill put the Expos ahead 3-0 after 1. Shigetoshi added a 4th run in the 2nd with an RBI single. Oakland got on the board behind Everett’s RBI fielder’s choice in the 3rd. Oliver hit a solo shot to lead off Montreal’s half of the 3rd, and then after a pitching change, Martin hit a 2-run shot to RF to provide the Expos with a 7-1 lead after 3. Oakland chips away at the lead with Rhodes hitting a 2-run homer in the 5th, and Root hitting a 2-run home run in the 8th to make the score 7-5. Despite allowing 2 baserunners, Kent was able to slam the door shut to secure the win, and the championship for the Expos.
Montreal wins, 4-2.

Philip Priddy (2-0, 1.20 ERA, 12 H, 11 K, 3 BB)