Archive for March 2010
The Cardinals succeeded in 2009 on the excellent pitching of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Pineiro, along with Albert Pujols carrying an otherwise below-average offense. They added Matt Holiday midway through the season, and he took off upon leaving Oakland and returning to the National League. The Cardinals will look a little different in 2010, particularly in the infield. Albert Pujols is the best hitter, the best player in the game and probably won’t get too much help from his infield mates. David Freese is the presumed third baseman, taking over for the departed Mark DeRosa and the ineffective Joe Thurston. They signed Felipe Lopez to back up every position on the diamond, and I have a feeling he’ll be seeing his name on the lineup card quite a bit. Colby Rasmus begins his second full season in the major leagues and is a prime candidate for a breakout season. The pitching staff has question marks also. Carpenter is always a question mark; when he pitches he’s a stud but he might fall apart at any time. The Cardinals signed Brad Penny for the back of their rotation, and the bullpen has question marks too; counting on Ryan Franklin again might be dangerous, and they traded two young bullpen arms to Cleveland for DeRosa last summer. They are the clear favorites in this division but it wouldn’t surprise me if any of the next three teams caught them in 2010.
Last year Milwaukee lost Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, and it showed. Coupled with a knee injury that took away most of Yovani Gallardo’s season, their starting rotation was among the worst in the league, and the bullpen didn’t provide much relief. The position players performed admirably, well enough to again be considered for a playoff spot, but they gave up too many runs. They shipped shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez, who will take over for Mike Cameron in centerfield. Alcides Escobar will take over full-time for Hardy at shortstop; defensively, all four of these players are very good, but the Brewers will miss the bats of Hardy and Cameron. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are one of the most devastating 3-4 combinations in the league, and I think Milwaukee will score plenty of runs again in 2010. They added Randy Wolf to join Gallardo at the top of the rotation. The back of the rotation is riddled with question marks, and the nicest thing I can say about the bullpen is that it’s experienced. Counting on 38-year old relievers is not a foolproof plan, but it is Milwaukee’s in 2010. If they get some breaks (big year from Casey McGehee, bounceback season from Corey Hart), they could contend for the division title.
The Cincinnati Reds seem like a popular sleeper pick every year, and this year I’m tempted to buy, but I still see too many issues with both the lineup and the pitching staff. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips make up a terrific right-side of the infield, and the left side of Scott Rolen and Orlando Cabrera are still above average (although it would have been better in 2004). They are counting on some kids to man the outfield; Jay Bruce has established himself as a major league hitter, but now needs to establish himself as a major league star to live up to his billing. The rotation will be without Edinson Volquez following his Tommy John surgery, at least through the first half of the season, and will again count on Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to pile up innings. Sometimes dazzling and sometimes bewildered, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey possess the talent to be dominant starters, but have not put all of the pieces together yet. Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman may not make the team out of spring training, but will help at some point during the season, whether in the rotation or the bullpen. There is potential for the Reds to win something like 88 games and steal a playoff berth; however, I think there are still too many questions still for them to be considered serious contenders.
The Cubs came into 2009 having moved DeRosa and obtained Milton Bradley, and along with some changes to the pitching staff, the result was a disaster. By signing Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster to monsterous contracts, GM Jim Henry has really removed all flexibility with respect to the roster. He signed Marlon Byrd to play centerfield, moving Fukudome back to right. The infield didn’t change, and the rotation looks a lot like it did in 2009 (except Carlos Silva is around…not good). The bullpen has been average for the past couple of years, and didn’t really improve. I think the Cubs finish behind the Brewers and Reds because a lot more things can go wrong for these guys than the two younger teams.
Hey Pittsburgh, welcome to 5th place! Thanks to Houston beginning to blow up their roster, the Pirates have a shot to get out of the cellar. They have finished with a losing record 17 straight seasons, since Barry Bonds bolted for San Francisco. They’re still going to be pretty bad, but inching toward 0.500 should be the goal for this group. Their GM, Neal Huntington, understands that when you are losing 95 games a season, you need to deal anything on your roster that doesn’t have long-term value. Unfortunately, he’s collected prospects in terms of quantity, not quality. Many of them will be on the roster in 2010, but not enough will contribute to wins. The outfield of Lastings Milledge, Andrew McCutchen (WOW), and Garrett Jones should be very good again in 2010; it will be interesting to see if Milledge can live up to his top-prospect hype and Jones can repeat his unexpected 2009. The rotation, led by slightly above-average pitchers Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, will probably need to glued together all year, and the bullpen will mostly likely be an unmitigated disaster also; Octavio Dotel is not the answer for a team that will lose 90 games. There is some hope in Pittsburgh, with a lot prospects knocking on the door; if they will actually help, and if ownership is actually committed to winning, are major questions standing in the way of respectability.
The Houston Astros…uh, the outfield is okay. Lance Berkman can hit. This team needs to be torn down to the bare bones, and management is disillusioned into thinking the 25 guys they have can win games; otherwise, why would they spend to bring in Pedro Feliz, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, and Matt Lindstrom? Carlos Lee makes a lot of money and can still hit, but he should be a DH. Michael Bourn surpassed most expectations for him, finally learning to get on base and do damage with his legs (after all, you can’t steal first). Berkman will miss the beginning of the season, and is starting show his age; he’ll turn 34 during the season. Wandy Rodriguez turned in an excellent 2009, getting more ground balls, cutting his walk rate, and allowing fewer home runs while striking out the same number of hitters. The rest of the rotation, not including Roy Oswalt, is below average and the bullpen is too. The Astros haven’t won recently because management has tried to patch the team together in a misguided attempt to make the playoffs; because of this, they aren’t in a position to be good again anytime soon, and it could be a couple of long years for Astro fans.
2010 Projected Standings
The Phillies made one of the offseason’s biggest splashes, trading for former Toronto ace Roy Halladay while moving Cliff Lee in the same deal. They added Placido Polanco to give them some production at the spot formerly occupied by Pedro Feliz, and the remainder of the starting lineup remains in place for the back-to-back National League champs. To do it again, they’ll need better work from their pitching staff, which is uncertain after Halladay and Cole Hamels. The rest of the rotation is made up of J.A. Happ, attempting to prove he can repeat and build on his 2009, Joe Blanton, an innings-eating average pitcher, and either Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick, neither of whom is very good. Danys Baez replaces Chan Ho Park in the bullpen, which is important, because while this may seem strange, Park had pitched pretty well out of the Phillie bullpen. They could also use a rebound year from Brad Lidge, who was lights-out dominant in 2008 and dreadful (because of an injury he (stupidly) tried to play through) in 2009. His true value, if he’s healthy, lies closer to 2008 than 2009. They still have the second best player in the National League, Chase Utley, a point I will randomly insert into posts and hammer home until other people realize it. Seriously, this guy is awesome.
The Braves added Troy Glaus to play first and Melky Cabrera to play left, taking at-bats away from Casey Kotchman and the corpse of Garrett Anderson. They traded Javier Vazquez to get Cabrera, but the rotation will still be pretty good if healthy. They’re counting on Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson to repeat their 2009 performance; if either regresses, the Braves might be in trouble. Behind them, Derek Lowe will be Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson will attempt to show he’s still Tim Hudson, and the Bullet Train, Kenshin Kawakami, is a perfectly serviceable fifth starter. The Braves let go of Mike Gonzalez and traded Rafael Soriano, eliminating the effective two-headed closer they had last year. In their places are Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, both old but still effective. The bullpen shouldn’t be an issue; staying healthy might be. If the Braves can keep all of their best (and frail) players on the field (Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Glaus, Hudson, Wagner), they’ll be in contention for a playoff berth at the end. Yunel Escobar is a really good young shortstop, and Jason Heyward will replace as Matt Wieters as the prospect who can do no wrong. He’ll probably start the season in Triple-A to keep his service time down, but he’ll be up, and contributing, to the Braves by June.
Florida might be good, or they might sell half of their team for prospects. Hanley Ramirez is crazy-good, and still only 26. Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu are productive, and the Fish are giving all of Emilio Bonifacio’s at-bats to someone else (possibly Gaby Sanchez) this year, which will help. The outfield is very young, with Cameron Maybin and Chris Coghlan entering their second years; they also have Cody Ross, who flies under the radar but can hit. The lineup looks mostly like it did in 2009, and so does the pitching staff. Josh Johnson emerged as a legitimate ace, and by the end of the season Ricky Nolasco had re-found his way. They have a lot of arms to fill out the rotation and the bullpen, and will probably try most of them to see what sticks. The Marlins were lucky to win 87 games last year, and they’ll need an equal amount of luck to finish near that total again.
The Mets are a disaster. End. Omar Minaya has traded everyone under 25 who might help, paid too much money to guys who are 35 and can’t help, and should lose his job when the Mets start 30-36. They threw a ton of money at Jason Bay to help them score more runs, not considering the ramifications of having Jason Bay in a big outfield or paying him until he’s 36. The left side of the infield is probably the second-best in the league and in New York City; both Jose Reyes and David Wright are young and look to bounce back from down years. Rod Barajas was added at catcher, but that won’t mean anything in terms of wins and losses. Daniel Murphy takes over full-time at first base, and it remains to be seen if he can hit enough to warrant his spot. Carlos Beltran is going to miss the first part of the season recovering from the knee injury that cost him so much of his 2009. The Mets solution? Take another overpaid, underproducing player (Gary Matthews Jr.) and plug him in. Jeff Franceour is in right field for the full season in 2010, and hopefully, he’ll be a little more patient at the plate (138 walks in 706 career games). The pitching staff doesn’t look much better, with Johan Santana leading the way as he attempts to return to form after an injury ended his 2009 prematurely. Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Fernando Nieve make up the rest of the rotation, and collectively will probably be pretty bad. The bullpen won’t be much better than they were in 2009, and neither will the Mets.
I have no idea why the Nationals do what they do. In the past two seasons, they’ve signed Ivan Rodriguez, Adam Dunn, Adam Kennedy, Jason Marquis, and Matt Capps in free agency and given them all starting gigs. All of that money would be much better spent in the draft and on international players that could actually contribute when this team is ready to be good. The lineup is filled with guys past their primes; most of the veteran pitchers never had a prime. They lost top pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann to Tommy John surgery late in 2009, ending a promising rookie campaign and keeping him out for all of 2010. They do have some players though; Ryan Zimmerman is worth the price of admission, an excellent hitter who might be even better with the glove. Nyjer Morgan was a nice addition last season and is one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. They also drafted (and signed) the Great Hope, Stephen Strasburg, who has looked excellent in his first professional appearances in the Arizona Fall League and spring training. I would bet he’s in the major by June/July, but probably be shut down at the end of August to keep his innings down. All told, the Nationals offense isn’t half-bad, but the pitching staff is going to give up a lot of runs. It’s going to be a long season in Washington, but things are beginning to brighten up.
2010 Projected Standings
|Atlanta||87||75||0.537||4* – WC|
The Angels are a strange team, constantly outperforming their run differential and always doing enough to hold on to the division crown. This year they’ll face another big test, having lost John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladimir Guerrero in free agency. In come Hideki Matsui, Fernando Rodney, and Joel Pineiro to pick up some of the slack. Matsui has had several injury-plagued seasons recently, but has been productive when he’s played; hopefully the Angels won’t let him pick up a glove. Pineiro is another St. Louis Carninal special: a hard-throwing pitcher that they teach to get groundballs. His profile worked in the National League, but I think he might struggle quite a bit in the junior circuit. The rest of the rotation has question marks also, as Ervin Santana attempts to come back from injury and Joe Saunders tries to prove he’s good. They replace Figgins with eternal prospect Brandon Wood, who has struggled mightily in the big leagues but has annihilated minor league pitching. The Angels have some chinks in the armor, but I feel like I say that every year and they keep winning; I won’t be picking against them until they lose.
The Mariners have been doing some things, and an organization that looked to be in dire straits two years ago has turned around fast under the guidance of General Manager Jack Zduriencik. He stole Franklin Gutierrez from Cleveland, stuck him centerfield, and watched him quickly becoming one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game. He got rid of Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Silva, and got some value back for these two black holes. He swiped Jack Wilson from Pittsburgh because of his value with the glove, and moved Jarrod Washburn last August when it was clear the Mariners would need a miracle to win the division; also Washburn had been very lucky to that point, was to be a free agent, and wasn’t a part of the team’s future. It’s trades like that that have to make Mariner fans giddy; Jack Z clearly has a plan and an understanding of his assets. This offseason he stole Cliff Lee for a trio of decent prospects, but nobody who has a decent shot of becoming as good as Cliff Lee. He signed Figgins, an on-base machine and a good defender, and took a flier on Milton Bradley, who he got for free basically by moving Silva. When Bradley’s head is on straight, he hits. I’m not sure that the Mariners were as close last year as their 85-win season suggests, but they got a lot better for 2010 and appear headed in the right direction. Imagine how good they might be if they didn’t move Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, and Adam Jones to the Orioles a couple years ago for Erik Bedard.
The A’s are a team built to win 76 to 81 games; just good enough to hang around, but not good enough to win anything. Their young pitching staff, headlined by Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, had six rookies start 128 games last year, and while Anderson was good enough to hold his own all year, the others showed but brief flashes of what they might be but struggled otherwise. Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer are both really good pitchers, but the A’s shouldn’t be counting on either one past their first starts. The bullpen was pretty good, and the A’s always seem to find someone who can get outs for them in the late innings. Adding Coco Crisp to Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis in the outfield provide a three-centerfielder defense, which will catch everything in Oakland’s spacious outfield but won’t hit for power like a typical outfield might. They’ll still struggle to score runs, despite having added Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base. A’s fans should prepare for a lot of frustrating games that end 2-1.
A lot of the Rangers improvement in run prevention in 2009 came from their improved infield defense. Installing Elvis Andrus at shortstop, moving Michael Young to third and Chris Davis to first, and having a healthy Ian Kinsler gave the Rangers a defense that turned a lot of batted balls into outs. The pitchers in turn threw more strikes, confident that they could get outs, so the home runs that will inevitably happen hurt less. The Rangers added Rich Harden to be their ace, but traded Kevin Millwood, basically swapping talent for reliability. Harden, when he pitches, is a lot better than Millwood, but with Millwood, the Rangers knew they would get 180 innings from him. It’s a true sign that the Rangers think they can win this year. They’ll be counting on their collection of young starters to improve on 2009. Derek Holland, the best of the bunch, had a rough début as he was moved between the bullpen and rotation frequently. Scott Feldman, who went 17-8 with an ERA over 4.00, defied most statistical logic and will need to either improve his strikeout and walk rates or risk a repeat of 2008. The lineup suffered as a result of struggles and injuries to the two best hitters, Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. Nelson Cruz’s coming out party at age 29 was a pleasant surprise, and Elvis Andrus more than held his own at the plate as a 20-year old rookie. The Rangers have more hitters and pitchers coming through the farm system, but for 2010, I don’t see it all coming together in a manner that nets a playoff berth.
Projected 2010 Standings
This division is the anti-AL East. For the past two years, the division winner did so with less than 90 wins. The Twins are the best team on paper, but not by much, and it took a superhuman season from Joe Mauer last year for them to win the AL Central in a one-game playoff. Obviously they’ve lost Joe Nathan, which will hurt, but their bullpen is still very good. They added J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson, and Jim Thome to bolster both the offense and defense. The outfield defense will be pretty bad with Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel in the corners, but they’ll both hit enough to make up for it. The biggest question is the rotation, consisting of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, and either Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing. Pavano and Liriano have checkered pasts with respect to injuries; they, as well as Slowey and Blackburn, also have checkered pasts with respect to effectiveness.
If the Twins falter, and they might, as they have a fairly small margin for error, two teams will be waiting to nab the division title. The Tigers had an interesting offseason, unloading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson in an attempt to both shed payroll and re-stock the farm system; at the same time, they added Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde to win now. The Tigers plan on running two players out on opening day, Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore, who have never had a major league at-bat. They also lost closer Fernando Rodney in free agency, but picked Jackson, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, and Phil Coke in the trades for their two stars. The Tigers are a decent enough team, but I really struggle to like them or understand them. My main issue with the Tigers is this: they have a 130 million dollar payroll for 2010, but couldn’t afford two of their best players because 65 million dollars of that money is going to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. Ouch.
Another candidate to win the Central is the Chicago White Sox, who are in danger of becoming the Detroit Tigers v 2.0. General Manager Kenny Williams added Jake Peavy and Alex Rios last summer basically by agreeing to pay them so their former teams didn’t have to. Rios should be more valuable to the Sox playing centerfield (he couldn’t in Toronto because of his contract nightmare brother, Vernon Wells), making his contract a little more palatable to Chicago. Their big free agent signings this offseason were Juan Pierre, J.J. Putz, Andruw Jones, and Omar Vizquel. The depth chart looks like a team that was a contender in 2005. To really challenge for a playoff berth, they need several things to break correctly for them, namely a bounceback season from Carlos Quentin and Jake Peavy to be the pitcher he was in San Diego. Gordon Beckham looks like the real deal at the plate and will move to second base, making him even more valuable provided he can actually play the position. Mark Buerhle, Peavy, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd make up four-fifths of a slightly above average rotation, but there could be serious issues in the bullpen. Bobby Jenks had a mediocre 2009 and seemingly gets worse every year, they’re depending a lot on J.J. Putz, and Matt Thornton is the only reliever who’s been consistently good for the last few years. They might have the highest ceiling of these three teams, but they also have the most question marks.
The Cleveland Indians are going to win the 2010 World Series. Ok, maybe not, but a guy can hope. Again, the Indians have a few issues around the diamond, but their position players should be pretty good. An outfield of Matt LaPorta, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo will be among the best in the game. The Tribe signed Russell Branyan to a one-year deal to play first base; they’ll be even better in the future if Michael Brantley (who’s a terrific defender) can take over left field and LaPorta can move to first. Asdrubal Cabrera is an above average middle infielder, especially if his defense picks back up to where it was in 2007 and 2008, and Johnny Peralta just won’t go away. The future looks bright at catcher, as Carlos Santana is coming fast, having won MVP awards the past two years in the minor leagues. As many nice things as I said about the position players, I can say just opposite about the pitching staff. The opening day starter, Jake Westbrook, didn’t pitch in 2009. The number two starter, Fausto Carmona, spent two months in extended spring training, because Single A hitters still would have worked him over. Justin Masterson will try to throw a full season as a starter for the first time, and the cloned trio of David Huff, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers will “fight” for the last two spots in the rotation. Infield defense is going to be huge for the Indians in 2010, as Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson are all extreme groundball pitchers. The bullpen looks plenty bad also, but with the this team, you never know about the bullpen until the season starts. The Indians are going to have to score a lot of runs, because they’ll give up plenty.
Lastly, one of my favorite punching bags, the Kansas City Royals. First, the positives: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and David DeJesus are pretty good players who will, in the case of Butler and Gordon at least, get better. Zack Greinke had an unfathomable 2009 and is one of the game’s best pitchers. Joakim Soria is the best closer nobody knows, and the farm system isn’t as barren as it used to be, but it’s two biggest stars are in the big leagues. And that’s about it. This team is a disaster. They employ Jason Kendall, Rick Ankiel, Yuniesky Betancourt, Scott Podsednik, and Jose Guillen as everyday starters – I think I could stop there and everyone would understand. Betancourt, Podsednik, Guillen, and Ankiel refuse to walk, despite the fact that they can’t hit. Jason Kendall has been worthless with a bat in his hands since 2004. This is the worst lineup in the major leagues, and they have five guys playing everyday who are blocking someone in Triple-A, whether they are ready or not, from the major leagues. The pitching staff isn’t too much better; after Greinke, Gil Meche is their best starter, and he’s been inconsistent and, last year, injury-prone after his manager left him out there to die. They are trying to turn Kyle Farnsworth, who’s been good for three seasons out of his eleven season career, into a starter. They do have some interesting bullpen arms, and Brian Bannister is fun to watch try to outsmart the opposing hitters, but this team is many pieces short of being anywhere near contention. In short, GM Dayton Moore is fairly clueless and HEY ROYALS, I KNOW A GUY WHO COULD HELP.
Again, let me know what you think too. Put your predictions in the comments and we’ll check them throughout the season and in October.
2010 Projected Standings
The story for the teams in the American League East during the offseason is that the rich got richer. The Yankees lost aging outfielders Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui in free agency and traded away Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Melky Cabrera. They signed Nick Johnson and received Javier Vazquez and Curtis Granderson in trades. Their rotation will consist of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Vazquez, and either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, most likely. They’ll still boast the best lineup in baseball, but it is an old team aging even more. Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter are all on the wrong side of 35, and replacing the last two would be especially difficult. That said, they are going to score a lot of runs and should walk to October, with either the AL East crown or the Wild Card.
The Red Sox also added several pieces, including John Lackey, who would be the best starter on some teams but will easily be number 3 for Boston. They also added Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre, bolstering the defense while not damaging the offense. They did lose Jason Bay to the Mets, and an outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury, Cameron, and J.D. Drew will strike fear into the hearts of very few, which isn’t to say it won’t be effective. The infield will be solid, and a full season of Victor Martinez will certainly help the Red Sox score more runs. The rotation will have Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, and some combination of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield, and like the Yankees, Boston should have enough to win the AL East or secure the Wild Card.
Tampa Bay will be ready if either of these teams falter. Last year’s Rays were a disaster in the bullpen and had injuries and down seasons to a lot of players. The rotation of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis is young, especially at the back end, but has the resumé to dominate. The Rays will be looking for bounce back seasons from B.J. Upton, Pat Burrell, and Dioner Navarro and will need big seasons again from Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett. They traded for Rafael Soriano, so they’ll have a real closer; their main issue is playing in the same division as the two biggest boys around.
Baltimore is an interesting team; a lot of their prospects are ready to hit the major leagues, but probably not ready to win. That said, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold form a very talented outfield, while the infield, um, leaves something to be desired. Brian Roberts is a good player at second, and Miguel Tejada re-joins the O’s, taking up post at third base. We’ll see Matt Wieters in his first full season of baseball, if he has time away from curing cancer and ending world hunger, and we’ll see at least two of the finer pitching prospects in baseball, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, and maybe a third, Jake Arrieta. The Orioles won’t be in the mix at the end, but they should be fun to watch and will be a team to watch come 2011.
Toronto will be a disaster for the most part in 2010, and half of me wants to end this paragraph right now. Seriously, there’s nothing interesting to say about these guys. At least J.P. Ricciardi got out from underneath the albatross contract of Alex Rios before he left. The outfield can hit, but Adam Lind and Travis Snider couldn’t catch a cold, and Vernon Wells makes about three times his worth. Aaron Hill will look to build on his outstanding 2009, but he’s a guy Toronto should look to trade – no longer that cheap, no longer that young, probably won’t be around when they’re good again. The rotation will feature five kids from a farm system that churns out 89-mph junk throwers, and Toronto will probably give up a lot of runs. Jays fans can take solace in the beginning of the rebuilding process under new GM Alex Anthopoulos, which will start about two years too late. Anthopoulos made the unpopular to move Roy Halladay and begin to re-stock the farm system, and the Blue Jays will lose 90 games instead of 85 because of it.
Let me know what you think too. Put your predictions in the comments and we’ll check them throughout the season and in October.
2010 Projected Standings
|Boston||93||69||0.574||4* – WC|
In the Joe Nathan post, commenter Mac asked how much should a closer actually make. I did a poor job answering his question (read: I ignored it), so today, I’m going to explore not only the value of a closer, but the value of each member of the bullpen.
To fully explain this, I need to present two ideas. This is a good investment, because I’ll talk about these ideas a lot. The first is Pythagorean expectation for baseball teams. Based on a study by Bill James, you can get a general idea about how well a baseball team did by how many runs they score and how many runs they allow. The term “Pythagorean” is used because the formula looks a lot like the Pythagorean Theorem. The formula for a team’s winning percentage is:
Win % = (Runs Scored)^2 / (Runs Scored^2 + Runs Allowed^2)
There have been a lot of studies to see if this formula can be further refined, and based on its relative simplicity, it can. For the purposes of estimating a team’s wins by these two numbers, this basic equation is fairly good. Let’s take an average team. Team A scores 800 runs in a season and allows 800. Based on the formula they should expect to win about 50 percent of their games, or 81. This passes the sniff test; if you score as much as you allow, you probably will win as much as you lose. But it would also work for any exponent, so let’s try a few more.
Let’s try it for team’s at the extremes. Last year’s Boston Red Sox scored 872 runs and allowed 736. By the formula, they should have expected a 0.584 winning percentage, or 94.6 wins. They finished the year with a 95-67 record, good for a 0.586 winning percentage. On the other end of the spectrum, Baltimore scored 741 runs and allowed 876 in 2009. These numbers give a winning percentage of 0.417, good for 67.6 wins. The Orioles actually won 64 games, for a 0.395 winning percentage.
The formula does a pretty good job estimating a team’s winning percentage. Deviations are usually caused by luck; teams winning many 1-run games are fairly lucky, and teams losing lots of 1-run games are usually unlucky. A team’s record in 1-run games one year has almost no bearing on it the next year. Good (or bad) managers and strong (or weak) bullpens can make a difference, but show little difference in this regard.
Back to the average team. Let’s say instead they score 810 runs and allow 800. This equates to a 0.506 winning percentage and almost exactly 82 wins. This means that the extra ten runs equaled almost exactly one win. At 900 runs scored and 800 allowed, the winning percentage is 0.559 and 90.5 wins. At 1,000 runs scored and 800 allowed, the winning percentage is 0.610 and 98.8 wins. At 800 runs scored and 600 runs allowed, the winning percentage is 0.640, for 103.7 wins. So as we get further away from average, ten runs can mean more or less depending on the nature of the team. Either way, it is still a fair approximation for how many wins the runs are worth. Now that we’ve established how many wins every run is worth, I’m going to attempt to determine how many runs a bullpen is worth, and to do that, I need to explain something called the leverage index.
Leverage index (LI) is a measure of how important each situation is in a baseball game depending on the game state (inning, score, outs, and number of players on base). An LI of 1 signifies a neutral situation – of completely average importance to winning and losing. A higher LI shows more important situations, and a lower LI shows the situation as having less of an impact on the result of the game. 60 percent of game situations fall into this lower situation. The entire table can be seen here. It acts as a multiplier for runs allowed; therefore, in situation with an LI of 2, every run allowed really counts as “2 normal runs.” Therefore, better pitchers should pitch in high-leverage situations because they are less likely to give up runs. Nothing I’ve said so far should be too surprising, I’m just putting numbers to it so we can measure it.
An average team throws about 1400 innings per season; I’m going to allot about 900 of them to starting pitchers (5.5 innings per game) and the rest to the bullpen. A replacement level pitcher has an ERA of about 5.00. The following table shows some rough numbers for a typical bullpen; I’ve allotted innings, ERAs, and LI’s based on my best guesses. The final column, RAR, stands for runs above replacement. It evaluates how much better each pitcher is than a replacement-level pitcher. The equation is:
RAR = ( 5.00 – ERA ) * ( IP / 9 ) * LI
The tables below are for demonstration purposes only, and I’ll link to my spreadsheet so you can play with it if you’d like. Here’s the table for a healthy, pretty good bullpen:
|Middle Relief 1||4.00||65||1.0||7|
|Middle Relief 2||4.25||65||0.9||5|
|Middle Relief 3||4.50||65||0.7||3|
|Long Man 1||4.75||55||0.5||1|
|Long Man 2||4.75||50||0.5||1|
As seen, the closer is worth about three wins in a vacuum. However, baseball is not played in vacuums; it’s played on fields. Here’s what happens with the replacement level pitcher taking the closer’s role.
|Middle Relief 1||4.00||65||1.0||7|
|Middle Relief 2||4.25||65||0.9||5|
|Middle Relief 3||4.50||65||0.7||3|
|Long Man 1||4.75||55||0.5||1|
|Long Man 2||4.75||50||0.5||1|
Exactly 33 runs difference. So Joe Nathan, for example, measured against a replacement level closer, is worth 33 runs, or roughly 3 wins. But due to bullpen chaining, the team could do better by replacing the closer with their second best pitcher, and so on:
|Middle Relief 1||4.00||65||1.2||9|
|Middle Relief 2||4.25||65||1.0||5|
|Middle Relief 3||4.50||65||0.9||3|
|Long Man 1||4.75||60||0.7||1|
|Long Man 2||4.75||60||0.5||1|
So the closer might be worth 3 wins, but the team would only lose 2 by re-structuring their bullpen. However, the effect is probably even less significant. More than likely, they’ll try to get someone from outside the organization to take one of the setup roles. Let’s say they find another “Setup 2.” Here’s what it looks like:
|Middle Relief 1||4.00||65||1.0||7|
|Middle Relief 2||4.25||65||0.9||5|
|Middle Relief 3||4.50||60||0.7||2|
|Long Man 1||4.75||60||0.5||1|
|Long Man 2||4.75||55||0.5||1|
And all of a sudden we’re down to roughly 1.5 wins. Based on win values evaluated during free agency, teams have paid between 4 and 4.5 million dollars per win over the last several years. So you could pay your closer 12 or 13 million dollars (as K-Rod, Kerry Wood, and others have gotten in recent years), as his RAR would suggest, or you could pay a bullpen full of 3.50 ERA guys and fare better.
|Middle Relief 1||3.50||65||1.0||11|
|Middle Relief 2||3.50||65||0.9||10|
|Middle Relief 3||3.50||65||0.7||8|
|Long Man 1||3.50||55||0.5||5|
|Long Man 2||3.50||50||0.5||4|
A replacement-level team would win something like 40 games. Since a team needs to win nearly 90 to get to the playoffs, 50 wins above replacement are needed from the rest of the roster. Even with a good bullpen, I’ve shown that a team is looking at 8 or 9 at the most. Bad bullpens would show 3 or 4 at the worst. I think allocating anymore than 20 to 25 percent of the payroll to the bullpen is a bad idea, particularly if one guy is making 60 to 80 percent of that. Obviously paying anything close to market value for wins when you aren’t a playoff-caliber team is foolish, and that money would be better allocated for the draft or international signings. But for a team that needs each win, trying to scrape together every extra win they can find, paying the marginal value for a win might be better allocated in the rotation or the lineup.
Disclaimer: To this point, there’s been a lot of numbers and statistics and guessing about what will happen in 2010. I’m sure there’s a segment of the readership that’s tired of all of the math already. I ask for your patience, because nothing is happening on the field right now. I don’t have access to the teams, am not at spring training to write stories like “Jeremy Sowers gained fifteen pounds of muscle (which would give him fifteen pounds of muscle)”, and don’t care about spring training results. When games that count start being played, I promise there will be a lot more talk about that than this stuff. Thanks.
In 2007, Cliff Lee was so bad in Cleveland that he was demoted to the minor leagues and left off the playoff roster, despite having a 49-28 record and a 4.39 ERA in his first five seasons in Cleveland. In 2008, having won the last spot in the rotation in spring training, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and won the American League Cy Young Award.
Zack Greinke debuted for the Royals as a 20-year-old in 2004, going 8-11 with a 3.97 ERA. He had a rough 2005, and left the team before the 2006 due to depression and social anxiety disorder. When he returned, he pitched mostly in the minors; in 2007, he split time between the Kansas City rotation and bullpen, pitching effectively in both roles. 2008 found Greinke in the rotation for the entire season, and it appeared the ship had been righted. He posted a 3.47 ERA in 32 starts and won 13 games. Obviously talented, Greinke entered 2009 as the ace of the staff (as much for his own talent as for the lack from his teammates) and did he ever deliver. Greinke had a league-leading 2.16 ERA and went 16-8, winning the Cy Young Award.
So what changed for these two? Lee’s case is fairly simple – he cut both his walks and home runs allowed in half while continuing to strike out as many hitters as he had. Lee’s home run rate in 2006 was worse than he’d ever done before, and in 2007 it was comically high. 49 percent of batted balls were flyballs, and of those about 9 percent were leaving the ball park. In 2008, Lee’s flyball rate dropped to 35 percent, and his groundball rate rose 10 percent. He threw the same pitches with roughly the same velocity in the same proportion as he’d done before. He increased his first pitch strike percentage by 4 percent, and that may have helped him generate 8 percent more swings on pitches outside the strike zone. The drop in flyball rate and the drop in walks leads me to believe he changed more about where he threw the ball, not how. It seems that by keeping the ball down in the zone, he generated more groundballs and was able to throw more strikes. Conversely, maybe by throwing more strikes, particularly to being at-bats, he was able to keep the ball down in the zone.
For Greinke, the change was even easier – he stopped allowing home runs. He walked 20 percent fewer batters and saw his strikeout rate rise by the same proportion, but more importantly, he cut his already good home run rate in half, allowing only 0.43 home runs per nine innings. In 2008, Greinke generated 10 percent more groundballs than he had previously in his career; in 2009, the flyball and groundball rates were exactly the same. He’s been relying increasing more on his curveball and less on his fastball, and he did this while throwing 5 percent FEWER strikes than he did in 2008. Hitters swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone against Greinke and were actually more patient with pitches in the strike zone. One thing to note here is that the Royals are a terrible defensive team, but Greinke didn’t seem to suffer from it; if anything, the numbers show that the Royals were a decent defensive club while Greinke was on the bump.
One thing in common between the two pitchers is the increased groundball rates. There have been studies showing that pitchers with higher groundball rates also have lower home run rates per flyball, which flies in the face of the “unwritten book.” The general thought used to be that when groundball pitchers allowed flyballs, they were more likely to be home runs because the pitch was most likely a “mistake.” These studies show that if anything is true, it’s the inverse. Also, neither of these guys show any of the symptoms of being particularly lucky, overall or in clutch situations.
The title of this post is somewhat misleading. I’m not trying to predict Cy Young winners; I’m trying to find some names that we might not expect to win, but who could find themselves in the conversation at the end of the year with a little luck or a small change. It’s easy to say Verlander and Halladay, Felix Hernandez and Lincecum, etc. It’s harder to see someone like Lee or Greinke coming. To try to find these potential Cy Young winners, I searched for a couple things. Guys with absurdly high home run rates, groundball rates trending up, and increasing strikeout-to-walk ratios were the key factors I looked for. I also wanted to make sure there was still room for improvement in these categories; it didn’t hurt if they were a bit unlucky either. The following is a list of a couple guys in each league to keep an eye on; we’ll see how I did in November.
- James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays: Last year Shields saw his strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate all head in the wrong direction. I know that this is the exact opposite of what I just said I was looking for, but these all are out of whack with his 2006-2008 seasons, and I don’t see any reason for these changes. I think he had a season of bad luck and will bounce back in a big way in 2010.
- Matt Garza, Tampa Bay Rays: Garza increased his strikeout rate by two batters per nine innings last year, while increasing his walk and home run rates only slightly. His groundball rate also decreased, and while this might be the result of striking out more hitters, I think it’s a blip, and Garza should be able to build on a strong 2009.
- Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins: A darkhorse candidate, he increased his strikeout rate in 2008 and 2009. He is a flyball pitcher, and his new home park is an unknown, but he’s a guy to watch out for if he can get some more groundballs like Lee or Greinke. He probably isn’t as good as was in 2008 or as bad as he was last year, but he’s someone to watch.
National League (I promise these choices make more sense)
- Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins: Johnson kept his (very good) strikeout almost exactly the same, but cut down on walks and home runs allowed. He’s a groundball pitcher in a pitcher’s park; his defense hurts him, but they’re the same guys scoring him a bunch of runs.
- Ricky Nolasco, Florida Marlins: He’s kept his strikeout rate high, while cutting down on walks and home runs. There’s still some room for him to improve his control, but hopefully it doesn’t take away from his ability to miss bats. He was also horribly unlucky last year (again, possibly attributed to the glorified sieve Florida defense behind him).
- Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers: Gallardo’s numbers are hard to make sense of, given that he missed almost all of the 2008 season after his rookie year. He strikes out a lot of guys and doesn’t give up too many home runs. Again, issuing fewer free passes would be a great next step.
- Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies: He pitches half of his games in a bandbox but has managed to increase his strikeout rate every year to this point. He’s given up just 0.52 home runs per nine innings over the last two seasons, and is an extreme groundball pitcher. Like a broken record, if he could harness the walk rate a little bit, he could vault into the very best in the league.