2010 Preview: Washington Nationals

  • Friday, April 2, 2010 12:49 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 59-103, 5th in NL East. Pythagorean record of 66-96.
Key Additions: 2B Adam Kennedy, C Ivan Rodriguez, SPs Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang, RP Matt Capps, OF Willy Taveras
Key Losses: OF Elijah Dukes, C Josh Bard, RPs Mike MacDougal and Ron Villone
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 74-88, 5th in NL East. CHONE – 74-88, 5th. CAIRO – 73.1-88.9, 5th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.82 FIP (25th in MLB), 4.79 for starters, 4.88 for relievers
2010 – The best news for this staff is that Next Big Thing Stephen Strasburg is coming at some point this season, probably sooner rather than later. Marquis and John Lannan are capable big league starters, but when they're you're top two pitchers, that's a problem. The Nats brought in Capps to try to hold down the closer job
Hitting: 2009 – .326 wOBA (17th in MLB)
2010 – A lineup core of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan isn't too shabby, but the rest of the lineup is uninspiring at best. 24-year-old rookie Ian Desmond will be the team's starting shortstop, and while he has good potential, he doesn't figure to make a Strasburg-esque impact this year.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -26.7 (24th in MLB)
2010 – Morgan and Zimmerman are two of the best defensive players in the majors at any position. Dunn is absolutely brutal in left field and not that much better at first base -- how he's not already in the American League DHing, I have no idea.

Reasons to Watch
1. Stephen Strasburg: This is obvious. Coming out of San Diego State, Strasburg was one of the most highly touted college pitchers ever. The Nationals took him No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft and were able to sign him. Most people view Strasburg as major league-ready right now, and his work in the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training (when he gave up two runs and struck out 12 in nine innings), did nothing to hurt that notion. Nonetheless, he will start the season at Double-A Harrisburg. Strasburg likely will be up in the majors by June, however, and all eyes are going to be on him. There will be tremendous expectations, but it doesn't appear like he's the type of guy who will be bothered by that.
2. Ian Desmond: Washington's young shortstop impressed late last season, when he hit .280/.318/.561 in 89 plate appearances. That performance capped a great year for Desmond, who also put up career-best numbers at the plate in the minors before his call-up. He has a sterling defensive reputation as well, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Desmond struggle some at the plate in 2010. CHONE, for example, sees him posting a .324 wOBA. And if Desmond hits a rough spot, Christian Guzman is still around to steal at-bats. Nationals fans will be hoping Desmond gets off to a good start and gets the chance to adjust to the big leagues over a full season of at-bats.
3. Moving pieces: The Nats have finally started to turn the organization around in the past year or so, drafting promising guys like Strasburg and fellow 2009 first-rounder Drew Storen, while also bringing in some undervalued players like Morgan and Willingham via trade. But the Nats are still a long ways away from building a contending team and need all of the pieces they can get. The question is if GM Mike Rizzo will be willing and able to deal Willingham, Dunn and others this season in an effort to stockpile as many good young players as possible. Sure, the Nats might win fewer games in 2010, but they're going to need the extra wins in 2013 a lot more than they will now.

Paint By Numbers: Dunn is one consistent guy. Last season, Big Donkey hit 38 home runs, breaking a streak of four consecutive seasons in which he hit exactly 40. Still, Dunn has done the following six seasons in a row: come to the plate between 630 and 690 times, hit between 38 and 46 home runs, driven in between 92 and 106 runs, walked between 15.9 and 18.6% of the time, struck out between 30.9 and 34.3% of the time and posted an OBP between .365 and .398. Meanwhile, his total UZR the past two seasons combined is a mind-boggling -64.3. ... Lannan has pulled the trick of vastly out-performing his FIP two straight seasons. In both 2008 and 2009, Lannan managed an ERA in the high 3s, even as his FIP stood between 4.70 and 4.80. Last season, his K/BB ratio was second-worst among qualified pitchers, but he also had the 10th -highest ground ball to fly ball ratio.

Blog Jog: Capitol Punishment's Chris Needham reacts to the news of Desmond winning the starting SS job and looks at his minor league track record. ... Mark Zuckerman has Storen answer some questions posed by his readers. ... The Nats Blog's Sam Farber analyzes Christian Guzman joining Washington's right field platoon, while William Yoder brings the latest installment of the Bryce Harper Watch.

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2010 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

  • Friday, April 2, 2010 10:13 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 75-87, 4th in AL East. Pythagorean record of 84-78.
Key Additions: SS Alex Gonzalez, Cs John Buck and Jose Molina, SP Brendan Morrow, RP Kevin Gregg
Key Losses: SP Roy Halladay, SS Marco Scutaro, RP Brandon League, C Rod Barajas
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 72-90, 5th in AL East. CHONE – 68-94, 5th. CAIRO – 64.3-97.7, 5th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.35 FIP (15th in MLB), 4.42 for starters, 4.21 for relievers
2010 – Halladay leaves a gaping hole in the rotation that isn't going to be filled. Shaun Marcum is solid but also is coming off Tommy John surgery, and with Marc Rzepczynksi now hurt, the rotation's depth took a big blow. The organization features some intriguing arms, but it's hard to see how they're going to keep those AL East lineups contained this season.
Hitting: 2009 – .337 wOBA (8th in MLB)
2010 – The trio of Adam Lind, Travis Snider and Aaron Hill is the best thing this organization has going right now. Vernon Wells has been terrible with the bat two of the past three years, and although he's being paid like a franchise cornerstone, he's obviously not one.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -33.3 (25th in MLB)
2010 – Wells simply doesn't belong in center field anymore, but the Jays don't have anyone else to put there. Edwin Encarnacion has been brutal four straight seasons at third base. At least the middle infield combo of Hill and Gonzalez should be solid.

Reasons to Watch
1. Vernon Wells: Wells is going to make $12.5 million this season, $23 million in 2011 and then $21 million in each of the three seasons after that, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Plus, he has a full no-trade clause. For a team trying to rebuild now like the Blue Jays, that would be a burdensome contract even if Wells was worth the money, which he clearly is not. According to FanGraphs' valuation system, Wells has been worth $10.4 million over the past three seasons combined, and has been worth more than $12 million in a season only once in his career. Not surprisingly, that was in 2006, right before he signed his mega-deal. That deal is already set in stone as an enormous blunder, so it's now a matter of damage control for Wells. If he can find a way to at least return to being an above average hitter, and if the Blue Jays can find a way to move him to a corner outfield spot, it would take a bit of the sting out of the situation.
2. Aaron Hill: 2009 was a breakout season for Hill, as he slugged 36 home runs to more than double his career high. Considering the rest of their lineup, the Jays need Hill to crush the ball again this year, but the various projection systems don't see it happening. CHONE, ZiPS, Marcel and Bill James are all projecting 19 to 21 homers and a slugging percentage in the .450 to .460 range. That would still make Hill a very good offensive second baseman, but with some of the other guys in the lineup being what they are, Toronto needs its top performers to be at their best.
3. Travis Snider: Snider is 22 and has absolutely destroyed minor league pitching (he slugged .663 in about 200 plate appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas last season). The major leagues haven't been so kind to him, however. Last season in 276 MLB plate appearances, Snider went .241/.328/.419 with a strikeout rate above 30%. He probably will always be a big strikeout hitter, but anyone this young, with this type of power and patience at the plate, is likely to develop into a fine hitter. If Snider does that, Toronto will have a great one-two punch in the middle of the order with him and Adam Lind.

Paint By Numbers: Hill, who played in 158 games last season, led the majors with 734 plate appearances, five more than Chone Figgins. ... FanGraphs has a statistic called Win Probability Added (WPA), which measures a team's chances of winning at the start of a play, compared with at the end, then assigns the difference to the hitter and pitcher. Over the course of last season, Wells racked up a total of negative 2.55 WPA, worst in the majors among qualified players. ... According to this FanGraphs post, the Jays have a greater percentage of their payroll going to players no longer with the team than any other organization.

Blog Jog: Bluebird Banter offers up a three-part series that delves into the keys for the Blue Jays' 2010 season. Here are parts one, two and three. ... The Tao of Stieb reacts to the Jays finalizing their rotation, with lefty Dana Eveland getting the No. 5 spot. ... At Drunk Jays Fans, there is some unhappiness with the decision to put Brian Tallet in the rotation. ... Toronto came in at No. 26 in FanGraphs' organizational rankings.

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2010 Preview: Texas Rangers

  • Thursday, April 1, 2010 11:46 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 87-75, 2nd in AL West. Pythagorean record of 85-77.
Key Additions: SPs Rich Harden and Colby Lewis, OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero, IF Andres Blanco, RPs Darren Oliver and Chris Ray, 1B Ryan Garko (as of today)
Key Losses: SP Kevin Millwood, CF Marlon Byrd, C Ivan Rodriguez, OF/DH Andruw Jones, UTIL Hank Blalock, SS Omar Vizquel, RP Eddie Guardado
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 83-79, tied for 1st in AL West. CHONE – 86-76, 1st. CAIRO – 81.4-80.6, 2nd.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.49 FIP (22nd in MLB), 4.71 for starters, 4.05 for relievers
2010 – For a team planning to contend for a playoff spot this season, the Rangers face an awful lot of uncertainty with their starting rotation. Rich Harden has trouble staying healthy, Colby Lewis is just back from Japan and C.J. Wilson hasn't started a game since 2005. The rest of the group, besides Opening Day starter Scott Feldman, is relatively unproven. The flame-throwing Neftali Feliz is one to watch in the bullpen.
Hitting: 2009 – .333 wOBA (10th in MLB)
2010 – The Rangers have a great ball park in which to hit, and some good bats, led by second baseman Ian Kinsler. The biggest questions are if Chris Davis can put things together, Josh Hamilton can stay relatively healthy and if Vlad Guerrero has anything left in the tank.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 32.5 (6th in MLB)
2010 – Elvis Andrus looks like the next great defensive shortstop, and Julio Borbon has the speed to cover a ton of ground in center field. If Hamilton is healthy to go along with Borbon and Nelson Cruz, Texas could have a very strong defensive outfield. It will be interesting to see if Kinsler's career year at second last season is truly indicative of an improved skill level.

Reasons to Watch
1. Colby Lewis: The Rangers drafted Lewis in the first round of the 1999 draft, but he didn't succeed with the Rangers or anyone else in his first go-around in the majors. In 72 games and 34 starts between 2002 and 2007, Lewis posted a 6.71 ERA before heading off to pitch for the Hiroshima Carp. In two seasons there, he picked up two strikeout titles and notched a 2.83 ERA. Now Lewis is back in Texas and figures to get a shot at holding down a rotation spot. It remains to be seen if the strides Lewis seems to have made in Japan stick against the tougher American competition, but if Lewis indeed has salvaged his career, it will be a nice story.
2. Josh Hamilton: Nobody needs another rehashing of Hamilton's history, but suffice it to say, he and his body have been through a lot. And for all his natural ability and renewed dedication to the sport, it's just not clear if that body will hold up for long. It did in 2008, but not last season. A move to left field might relieve some of the burden, and if Hamilton can stay healthy, he clearly can be a force in the Texas lineup.
3. Chris Davis: As someone who drafted Davis in two fantasy leagues last season, I am all too familiar with his rough 2009. Davis showed tremendous promise in a half-season in 2008, but his hack-tastic approach got out of hand in his second go-around. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, Davis' 38.4% strikeout rate was second-highest behind Mark Reynolds, while his 0.16 BB/K ratio was third-worst. The big first baseman clearly possesses a ton of power, but he's going to have to improve his approach at the plate in order to enjoy a successful big league career.

Paint By Numbers: Batters hit .124 against Neftali Feliz in his rookie season and struck out 39 times in 31 innings. Feliz had by far the lowest line drive rate of any pitcher with at least 30 innings, at 4.6%. ... Andrus and Kinsler tied with Detroit's Adam Everett and Placido Polanco for best combined UZR for a SS-2B combo last season. ... Of the Ranger's theoretical top eight starting pitchers, only Scott Feldman and Rich Harden have started 25 major league games in a season since 2003. That group averaged about 16 starts last season and nine the year before.

Blog Jog: Baseball Time in Arlington's Joey Matschulat dives into a deep discussion of the Rangers' injury concerns, while BTIA's Josh Garoon explores the "utility of the utility infielder." ... Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball ponders the options for the Rangers' final bullpen slot. ... Within this piece about the possibility of Texas trading for Mike Lowell, Rob Neyer says the Rangers are his pick to win the AL West this season. ... The Rangers placed fourth in FanGraphs' organizational rankings.

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2010 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

  • Thursday, April 1, 2010 9:54 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 84-78, 3rd in AL East. Pythagorean record of 86-76.
Key Additions: RP Rafael Soriano, C Kelly Shoppach, 1B/3B Hank Blalock
Key Losses: 2B Akinori Iwamura, OF Gabe Gross, C Gregg Zaun, RPs Brian Shouse, Russ Springer and Chad Bradford
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 92-70, 2nd in AL East (Wild Card). CHONE – 88-74, 3rd. CAIRO – 93.1-68.9, 3rd.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.37 FIP (18th in MLB), 4.31 for starters, 4.48 for relievers
2010 – Matt Garza and James Shields should be solid at the top of the rotation, but it's hard to be sure of what the team will get from the talented but inexperienced trio of Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis. Soriano was a good addition to the bullpen, but J.P. Howell starting the year on the DL is a blow.
Hitting: 2009 – .343 wOBA (4th in MLB)
2010 – The Evan Longoria-Carl Crawford-Carlos Pena core is strong. Other than that, the Rays have some guys who probably will come back to Earth a bit (Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett) and some others whom they hope will rebound with the bat (B.J. Upton, Pat Burrell). Sean Rodriguez could be a breakout candidate.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 69.5 (2nd in MLB)
2010 – With guys like Zobrist and Rodriguez, who both can move around the field, the Rays benefit from having great roster flexibility. Plus, with fielders like Longoria, Bartlett, Crawford and Upton, they have a lot of defensive talent.

Reasons to Watch
1. Carl Crawford: Until a couple of years ago when they turned things around on the field and made that incredible run to the World Series, the Rays mostly were known for losing. If there was one positive they were associated with, it was Crawford, by far the best player in franchise history (that's meant as less of a backhanded compliment than it sounds like). Crawford is probably the best defensive left fielder in baseball and a well above average hitter with great speed and a little power. Yet 2009 likely will be his ninth and final season in Tampa Bay. Crawford will be an expensive free agent after this season, and the baseball calculus dictates the Rays go in a younger, cheaper direction (prospect Desmond Jennings). It's been fun watching Crawford bring a little life to The Trop over the past several years; Rays fans will have to enjoy it this season while they still can.
2. Ben Zobrist: For all of the great advances we have made in recent years in our understanding of baseball and our ability to analyze the game and project the future, sometimes events still take us very much by surprise. Case in point: Zobrist's 2009. Sure, Zobrist put up good minor league numbers and managed a solid stint with the big club in 2008. But it's not like people were falling all over themselves to proclaim as a future star a 28-year-old with a little more than 400 career major league plate appearances and no clear position. And yet, Zobrist busted out past anyone's expectations, leading all position players in wins above replacement. But what can he do for an encore? CHONE projects him to post 3.8 WAR in 2010, less than half of his 2009 total. Could Zobrist surprise again?
3. The young pitchers: The Rays play in the same division as baseball's best offense (the Yankees) and another very solid one (the Red Sox). As such, pitching is at a premium. This season, the Rays are counting on some young arms to come through and stabilize the rotation. There's 24-year-old lefty David Price, the first overall pick of the 2007 draft, who shined as a reliever in the 2008 playoffs but struggled last year as a starter. There's the 27-year-old, 6-foot-9 Jeff Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004, who is coming off a solid rookie campaign. And there's 24-year-old Wade Davis, a third-round pick in '04, who has all of 36 1/3 big league innings to his credit. Plus, 23-year-old former fourth-round pick Jeremy Hellickson will begin the year in the minors but figures to get a shot at some point. So who among this group will step us this season alongside Garza and Shields? At least a couple of them will have to if the Rays are going to get back to the playoffs.

Paint By Numbers: At 25 years old entering this season, B.J. Upton is still a young guy, even in baseball terms. The converted shortstop has become an excellent center fielder, and he's got a ton of speed and athleticism. The question is what has happened to his bat. A sky-high BABIP in 2007 probably set expectations for Upton at too high a level, but he also showed power and patience that season. In 2009, he slugged .373, and his 9.1 percent walk rate was significantly lower than his rate the previous two seasons. CHONE projects a solid rebound effort from Upton, back to about his 2008 level. That seems reasonable. ... Jason Bartlett led all qualified hitters with a 26% line drive rate last season while topping his previous career high by about four percentage points. His 14 home runs were five more than he had hit in his first 1,700 major league plate appearances. ... Catcher Dioner Navarro's .258 wOBA last season was the worst of any player with at least 300 plate appearances. Navarro suffered from -- among other things -- a .231 BABIP and a 4.4 percent walk rate.

Blog Jog: At DRaysBay, Tommy Rancel compares Joaquin Benoit and Mike Ekstrom, the two candidates for the team's final bullpen spot, while FreeZorilla discusses his fascination with catcher Nevin Ashley. ... The Professor at Rays Index wonders if Tampa is trying to get Hank Blalock to accept a minor league assignment. ... Michael Emdeyar at Rise of the Rays checks back on some questions he had at the beginning of the offseason.

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2010 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:43 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 91-71, 1st in NL Central. Pythagorean record of 91-71.
Key Additions: IF Felipe Lopez, SPs Brad Penny and Rich Hill
Key Losses: SPs Joel Pineiro, John Smoltz and Todd Wellemeyer, 3B/OF Mark DeRosa, OF Rick Ankiel, IFs Joe Thurston and Khalil Greene
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 87-75, 1st in NL Central. CHONE – 91-71, 1st. CAIRO – 90.6-71.4, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 3.82 FIP (3rd in MLB), 3.61 for starters, 4.30 for relievers
2010 – A lot will depend on Chris Carpenter's ability to remain healthy for most of the season. Penny is unlikely to fully replace Pineiro's production, but you never know what will happen with the Dave Duncan Magic. A bigger concern is the bullpen, which is solid from the left side but shaky from the right, especially if closer Ryan Franklin struggles as he did down the stretch in '09.
Hitting: 2009 – .325 wOBA (19th in MLB)
2010 – When you have the undisputed best hitter in the game, that always helps. But with Matt Holliday remaining in the fold along with Ryan Ludwick and a promising Colby Rasmus, among others, Pujols isn't going to have to do it by himself. The biggest question is if rookie David Freese can hold down the everyday third base job, but Lopez will be there if he can't.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -17.8 (18th in MLB)
2010 – With Rasmus in center field and Brendan Ryan at shortstop, St. Louis has a pair of excellent up-the-middle defenders, and second baseman Skip Schumaker made big strides last season in his move from the outfield. Catcher defense is hard to quantify, but there doesn't seem to be any argument against ranking Yadier Molina among the top few at his position.

Reasons to Watch
1. Albert Pujols: As I discussed a while back, it's amazing to actually look at the stats and see just how much better Pujols has been anyone else over the past nine years. And it's not just the hitting. It's also the fact that he's made himself into a plus defender at his third big league position and the way he runs the bases so aggressively. Crude interpretations of his last name aside, there's not a whole lot anyone (even Cubs fans) can say against him.
2. Chris Carpenter: Carp's tenure in St. Louis has been fantastic, except for the pesky detail of almost two full seasons missed due to injury. Yet having pitched 21 1/3 big league innings since 2006, he came back strong last year, making 28 starts with a 2.78 FIP. The fact is, when he's on the mound, Carpenter is one of the best pitchers around. It's probably not wise to count on him for 30-plus starts in 2010, but Cardinals fans are certainly keeping their fingers crossed. Carp missing significant time would be a big blow to the playoff chances of a team most are picking to repeat at NL Central champs.
3. Yadier Molina: As fun as it is to watch a guy like Pujols come into the league smashing pitches all over the park and never stop, there's also something special about watching a guy make himself into a decent hitter through a lot of hard work. Such is the case with Molina. Strong defensive catchers can play 15 years in the big leagues without being able to hit, and Molina is one of the best behind the plate. Seeing him pick a runner off first base with a perfectly placed throw is a thing of beauty. But Molina clearly wasn't content with being all-glove, no-bat, which he most certainly was earlier in his career (2006 NLCS heroics aside). Starting with that '06 season, Molina's wOBA has climbed from .261 to .311 to .323 to .337 last season, a very solid output for a catcher. Yadi still doesn't hit for much power, but he puts the ball in play a lot and takes a fair number of walks. It's been quite a transformation.

Paint By Numbers: Rasmus posted a solid 12.7% walk rate at Triple-A Memphis in 2008, but shed that patient approach upon arriving in the majors last season, walking at a 6.9 percent clip. That included a stretch from May 26 through July 4 when Rasmus did not draw a single free pass. He did walk twice as much in the second half of the season, however. ... Skip Schumaker was easily the most extreme ground ball hitter in the majors last season, when he led all qualified hitters with a 61 percent ground ball rate and finished last with a 17.5 percent fly ball rate. ... In 2009, his third season as a big league starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright improved his strikeout rate by about two per nine innings, to 8.19. One factor might have been Wainwright's terrific curveball, which he threw significantly more than he had previously as a starter. The pitch was worth 23.3 runs according to FanGraphs' pitch value data, making it the second-best curve in the game last season, behind Wandy Rodriguez's.

Blog Jog: At Viva El Birdos, DanUpBaby discusses which Cardinals might really be in the proverbial "best shape of their lives" this season and looks back at the team's recent history with fifth starters. ... St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold shares a humorous anecdote about pitching coach Dave Duncan on the Bird Land blog. ... Over at Fungoes, Pip wonders if the Cards' right-handed relief pitching should really be a concern. ... The Cardinals come in at No. 10 in FanGraphs' organizational rankings, and Dave Cameron explores the reasons why.

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2010 Preview: Seattle Mariners

  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010 10:14 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 85-77, 3rd in AL West. Pythagorean record of 75-87.
Key Additions: SP Cliff Lee, 2B/3B Chone Figgins, OFs Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes, 1B Casey Kotchman
Key Losses: 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Russell Branyan, OF Endy Chavez, SP Carlos Silva
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 82-80, 3rd in AL West. CHONE – 78-84, 4th. CAIRO – 82.6-79.4, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.39 FIP (20th in MLB), 4.41 for starters, 4.35 for relievers
2010 – Assuming Lee's strained abdominal muscle doesn't turn into a long-term problem, the Mariners have perhaps the best one-two punch in the game, with him and Felix Hernandez. They eventually should get Erik Bedard back as well, but not until at least mid-season, and in the meantime, they are going to have to count on guys like Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith to hold things together.
Hitting: 2009 – .313 wOBA (26th in MLB)
2010 – Ichiro is Ichiro, and with him and Figgins, the M's can count on a potent top of the order. A healthy, happy and productive Milton Bradley would provide some much-needed oomph to a lineup that's a little short on firepower, but just ask the Cubs about the wisdom of relying on that.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 85.5 (1st in MLB)
2010 – The Mariners are sort of the darlings of the advanced fielding metrics revolution, and for good reason. Franklin Gutierrez is the Albert Pujols of defensive center fielders, and again, Ichiro is Ichiro. Seattle also has an elite glove at shortstop with Jack Wilson. The decision to swap Figgins and Jose Lopez between second and third base was an interesting one, but it's hard to question an organization that seems to be ahead of the defensive curve.

Reasons to Watch
1. Ichiro: As Joe Posnanski points out in his blog, the word unique is probably overused when it comes to describing baseball players, who tend to fall into one category or another. But not Ichiro, so I don't think Posnanski is exaggerating when he claims: "I don’t think there has ever been a player in baseball history quite like Ichiro Suzuki." JoePo goes on to point out that counting his time in Japan, Ichiro has more hits entering his age 36 season than anyone else, including Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. And of course, he's done it differently than anyone else, with his infield-single generating run-toward-first-as-you-swing maneuver and his ability to seemingly drop the ball in the exact location the defense has left open. Let's all enjoy watching the guy, because chances are, there will never be another Ichiro.
2. Milton Bradley: Nobody is going to argue about Bradley's talent, and I would not dispute the notion that he got some unfair treatment from fans and even some members of the media last season. Still, when you're changing teams nearly every season, in large part because almost every one of your employers develops some sort of problem with you, chances are it says more about you than it does about other people. And yet Bradley refuses to accept this, seemingly clinging to an everyone's-out-to-get-me mentality. In the end, winning is the best source of chemistry, so how Bradley acts in the clubhouse is not as important as how he plays on the field. But if times get tough in Seattle this season, it's probably just a matter of time before there's another incident.
3. Ken Griffey Jr.: The Mariners might have been thinking more with their hearts than their heads when they brought Griffey back for his 22nd season, but even in this golden age of objective analysis, it's hard to blame them. The guy is a franchise icon, and although he's barely a shadow of his former self, he's still got that sweet swing, and he did manage to hit 19 home runs last season. Griffey, who figures to DH against right-handed pitching, likely will retire after this season, making "winning one for Griff" a big goal for Seattle. As a baseball fan, especially one who got into the game during Griffey's prime, it's hard to think of a nicer story than that.

Paint By Numbers: Franklin Gutierrez's UZR in center field last season was a stunning 29.1, which is more amazing considering he had played a total of 29 big league games at the position before 2009. Individual single-season fielding metrics are not terribly reliable, but a number about 11 points better than anyone else's is impossible to ignore, especially since Gutierrez put up a 21.3 UZR in 97 games in right field in 2008. ... Ichiro racked up 50 infield hits last season, 21 more than second-place Michael Bourn, and only six of those came on bunts. He has averaged about 42 infield hits per season since coming to America. ... Chone Figgins first received significant big league playing time in 2003 and posted a 7.4 percent walk rate. Since then, that rate has increased in every single season, culminating in last year's 13.9 percent and career-high .395 OBP.

Blog Jog: At Lookout Landing, Jeff Sullivan suggests some possible reasons why the Mariners waived free agent signee Ryan Garko, while Matthew discusses the relative merits of extra outfielders Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans. ... Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner looks at the bright side of Seattle's health woes, pointing out that April is as good a time as any to be hurting. And coming off a historically good defensive season, Cameron looks at a reasonable expectation for 2010. ... Meanwhile, Cameron explains Seattle's No. 6 finish in FanGraphs' organizational rankings.

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2010 Preview: San Francisco Giants

  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010 12:04 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 88-74, 3rd in NL West. Pythagorean record of 86-76.
Key Additions: 1B Aubrey Huff, LF Mark DeRosa, SP Todd Wellemeyer
Key Losses: SPs Randy Johnson and Brad Penny, RP Bob Howry, OF Randy Winn, 1B Ryan Garko 2010 Projections: PECOTA – 81-81, 4th in NL West. CHONE – 76-86, 5th. CAIRO – 78.3-83.7, 4th.

Pitching: 2009 – 3.85 FIP (4th in MLB), 3.85 for starters, 3.86 for relievers
2010 – The No. 1 spot in the rotation obviously is taken care of here, and Matt Cain is a solid No. 2. Thankfully for the Giants, it appears Barry Zito might have figured out a way to provide a little bit of value for the remainder of his insane contract.
Hitting: 2009 – .305 wOBA (30th in MLB)
2010 – The Giants, desperate for offense, signed DeRosa and Huff and brought back Freddy Sanchez. These guys probably are upgrades over the players San Francisco otherwise would have penciled in at those positions, but it's also not clear the difference is going to be nearly great enough to pull the team out of its offensive stupor. Nate Schierholtz might be the only player besides Pablo Sandoval in the everyday starting lineup under the age of 32.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 51.2(4th in MLB)
2010 – Replacing Winn with DeRosa in the outfield subtracts defensive prowess, and if Huff takes a lot of innings away from Travis Ishikawa at first, that will hurt the run-stopping as well. The Giants also have a couple of once sterling defenders up the middle in Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria who are starting to show their age with the glove.

Reasons to Watch
1. Pablo Sandoval: Kung Fu Panda has the best nickname around and the talent to back it up. In his first full major league season last year, he hit .330/.387/.556 and finished 16th in MLB in wOBA. It was an impressive display, to say the least. But there is one issue with Sandoval: his weight. The Giants want to improve his fitness, even instituting an "Operation Panda" program this offseason, and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler believes Sandoval needs to get in better shape in order to enjoy a long and successful career.
2. Tim Lincecum: Not only is Lincecum the best pitcher in baseball, with two Cy Youngs to his credit at age 25, but he is also unique due to his unorthodox pitching style and delivery. Of course, those factors also lead people to question if The Freak will stay healthy, especially with more than 450 innings on his arm over the last two years. Injuries are always lurking in the shadows for any pitcher, but it's certainly possible Lincecum has found something that will keep his arm going. That would be bad news for MLB hitters, who have put up a line of .217/.290/.318 against Linecum in his career (in other words, Adam Everett-type production).
3. The catcher situation: Bengie Molina will turn 36 this season and put up a .308 wOBA in 2009. Yet, the Giants chose to bring him back for 2010, when he will most certainly poach at-bats from Buster Posey, the team's first-round draft pick in 2008. Posey just turned 23 and tore the cover off the ball in both Class-A and Triple-A last season. The bat seems ready, and he apparently is strong behind the plate. Despite this, it sounds like Posey either will start the year in the minors or get moved around to different positions. The Giants don't figure to make the playoffs in 2010, no matter who their catcher is, but making Posey their primary backstop would help.

Paint By Numbers: Molina's 2.5 percent walk rate was the lowest of any qualified hitter last season and held his OBP down to .285 despite a .265 batting average. ... In 2009, the Giants as a team drew 29 fewer walks than anyone else and finished last in OBP. Fred Lewis and Andres Torres were the only San Francisco players with at least 100 plate appearances to post a walk rate of better than the league average of 8.9 percent. ... Barry Zito's 4.31 FIP last season was his best since 2005. A big reason why was Zito's strikeout rate of 7.2/9 IP, which was actually slightly better than his mark in 2002, when he won the AL Cy Young Award.

Blog Jog: Grant at McCovey Chronicles analyzes news involving Matt Cain and Nate Schierholtz and also weighs in on the Brian Wilson contract extension. ... Raising Matt Cain's M.C. O'Conner looks at the Giants' chances of scoring some runs this season. ... This shirt featured at El Lefty Malo is kind of awesome.

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2010 Preview: San Diego Padres

  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:10 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 75-87, 4th in NL West. Pythagorean record of 67-95.
Key Additions: SP Jon Garland, C Yorvit Torrealba, PH Matt Stairs, OF Scott Hairston, UTIL Jerry Hairston, Jr.
Key Losses: 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, RF Brian Giles, C Henry Blanco, IF Edgar Gonzalez
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 73-89, 5th in NL West. CHONE – 78-84, 4th. CAIRO – 77.9-84.1, 5th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.30 FIP (12th in MLB), 4.59 for starters, 3.85 for relievers
2010 – The Padres' rotation is unspectacular but should be solid, especially in its home park. Adding Jon Garland and getting a healthy Chris Young back should provide a lot of innings, and San Diego has some intriguing young arms in Mat Latos and Wade LeBlanc, among others.
Hitting: 2009 – .310 wOBA (29th in MLB)
2010 – San Diego has one elite hitter, at least until it eventually trades Adrian Gonzalez. Big Kyle Blanks can mash, and Chase Headley has about an .800 career OPS on the road. Unfortunately for him, he still has to play at Petco Park half the time.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -13.4(14th in MLB)
2010 – It's certainly questionable if Blanks -- at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds -- is really a viable outfielder in the long term, but he's likely there only until the Pads unload Gonzalez, at which point Blanks would move to first base. Headley is much better off at third base, his natural position, now that Kevin Kouzmanoff is in Oakland.

Reasons to Watch
1. Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzalez has become an excellent hitter, even playing half his games at Petco, but the most interesting thing about him this season will be watching where he ends up. Of course, Gonzalez has two years left on his contract at a very affordable rate, so he does not necessarily have to go anywhere. But the Padres don't figure to contend and clearly are rebuilding. Considering how cheap and good Gonzalez is, they likely could get an excellent group of prospects for him to help in that cause. It would be nice to see Gonzalez stay at home and help turn the Pads back around, but that doesn't seem like a likely scenario.
2. Kyle Blanks: Blanks looks like he belongs on the Chargers' defensive line, but that would be a bit of a waste, because he can really hit a baseball. Blanks played 54 games with the big club last season and struck out 37.2% of the time but also hit 10 home runs and slugged .514. In 2007 and 2008 in the minor leagues, he put up slugging percentages of .540 and .514, so the power is real, which is not hard to believe given his frame.
3. Heath Bell: Bell is one of the best examples of how a guy doesn't have to be an established closer to step in and do the job. The Padres needed someone to finish games last season after letting Trevor Hoffman leave, so they turned to Bell, who had two career saves in five seasons. All he did was save 42 games in 48 chances with a 2.42 FIP. Now of course, he might be on the move sometime this season to a team looking for an established closer. If he does get traded, whatever team acquires him will be adding a very entertaining guy.

Paint By Numbers: Of Blanks' 10 home runs last season, five traveled at least 420 feet, according to data on Hit Tracker Online. Perhaps more impressively considering his size, one of Blanks' homers was of the inside-the-park variety. ... Shortstop Everth Cabrera made 23 errors last season, the second-most of any player, even though he played fewer than 900 innings. No other player with that few innings made more than 14 errors. ... If Matt Stairs makes the team this spring and steps on the field for the Padres this season, he will tie a Major League record by appearing with his 12th different team. If Stairs homers for the Pads, it will be the 11th different team he's hit at least one long ball for, tying a record held by Todd Zeile.

Blog Jog: Geoff Young answers five questions about the Padres for The Hardball Times. ... Over at Ducksnorts, Young talks about what he's seen this March. ... Daniel Gettinger of Friars Forecast makes a case for trading Heath Bell. ... Dave Cameron explains why San Diego is No. 27 in FanGraphs' organizational rankings.

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2010 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Monday, March 29, 2010 9:34 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 62-99, 6th in NL Central. Pythagorean record of 67-94.
Key Additions: 2B Akinori Iwamura, SS Bobby Crosby, OF Ryan Church, RPs Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly and Javier Lopez
Key Losses: RPs Jesse Chavez and Matt Capps
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 70-92, 6th in NL Central. CHONE – 74-88, 5th. CAIRO – 73.6-88.4, 5th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.48 FIP (22nd in MLB), 4.42 for starters, 4.61 for relievers
2010 – Paul Maholm is a solid big league pitcher but frankly wouldn't be a No. 1 starter on most teams. Things get increasingly thin after him. Pittsburgh is hoping veterans like Dotel and Donnelly can help stabilize a bullpen that struggled mightily last season.
Hitting: 2009 – .310 wOBA (28th in MLB)
2010 – It looks like the Pirates have something special in center fielder Andrew McCutchen, but there's really nobody in this lineup who is anything close to a lock for a productive 2010. Guys like Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge are going to start running out of chances to show they can hit at the big league level.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 30.1(7th in MLB)
2010 – The Pirates lost a bunch of solid fielders during their in-season purge last year, namely Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Nyjer Morgan. McCutchen has the athletic ability to be a great center fielder, but it's fairly difficult to project how this group will fare in 2010.

Reasons to Watch
1. Bobby Crosby: It seems like an awfully long time ago that Crosby was the AL Rookie of the Year with Oakland and a future star in the making. That was back in 2004. Since then, injuries have kept Crosby to less than 100 games in all but one season, and when he has been in the lineup, he hasn't hit. He's never been much of a contact hitter, and his power seemingly has evaporated. Crosby is now 30 and no longer possesses the high ceiling he once did, but it will be interesting to see what he can do if healthy, including possibly taking the starting shortstop job from Ronny Cedeno.
2. Jeff Clement: Clement also had big-time potential but never even reached Crosby's heights in the Majors. He was Seattle's No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America in 2006, but in 2008, he hit .227/.295/.360 in 224 plate appearances. The Pirates picked him up as part of the Jack Wilson trade and have converted him to first base, where he apparently is the front-runner for the Opening Day job. Clement won't turn 27 until August, and CHONE projects him to hit .264/.342/.460. That would look a lot better behind the plate than at first, but the Pirates need all the solid bats they can accumulate, no matter the position.
3. Garrett Jones: Going into last season, Jones was 28, and his big league experience was limited to 84 ineffective plate appearances for the Twins in 2007. So it's fair to say nobody predicted that Jones would get called up at the beginning of July and proceed to knock the cover off the ball for the rest of the season. The damage: .293/.372/.567 line and 21 home runs in 358 plate appearances. Now the question is if he can keep it up. CHONE projects a tumble, from last season's .396 wOBA to a .346 mark. It will be up to Jones to surprise us again.

Paint By Numbers: Of the 10 players with the most plate appearances for the Bucs in 2009, four were traded during the season. ... Jones' 21 long balls last season is a single-season high among the Pirates' projected starters this year. Of players likely to be a part of the team's active roster to begin the season, only Crosby (22 HR in '04) can top that number. ... Paul Maholm induced 28 double-play grounders last season, tied for second in MLB, thanks to his sinker, which helped him produce a ground ball rate of 52.1 percent. ... Octavio Dotel, now on his eighth team since coming up in 1999, apparently will be Pittsburgh's closer. Dotel is just 19-for-34 in save opportunities since going 36-for-45 in 2004.

Blog Jog: Charlie at Bucs Dugout explains why the team's performance on the field this season should not be relevant to the futures of manager John Russell or (especially) GM Neal Huntington. ... Smitty of Rum Bunter offers 10 reasons why Andrew McCutchen is the face of the franchise. ... Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke takes a look at the pros and cons of the Pirates' new batting order.

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2010 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

  • Monday, March 29, 2010 9:06 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 93-69, 1st in NL East (lost in World Series). Pythagorean record of 92-70.
Key Additions: SP Roy Halladay, 3B Placido Polanco, C Brian Schneider, RPs Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, IB/OF Ross Gload
Key Losses: SPs Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, 3B Pedro Feliz, RPs Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre and Brett Myers, PH Matt Stairs, C Paul Bako
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 90-72, 1st in NL East. CHONE – 87-75, 2nd (Wildcard). CAIRO – 91.7-70.3, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.36 FIP (17th in MLB), 4.46 for starters, 4.17 for relievers
2010 – Halladay is an upgrade over Lee, but not a huge one. Cole Hamels should have a better season than he did in 2009, although J.A. Happ will have a hard time repeating his rookie numbers. Brad Lidge, looking to rebound from an awful season, will begin this year on the DL.
Hitting: 2009 – .340 wOBA (5th in MLB)
2010 – The Phillies have one of the best, most dynamic offenses in the game and will benefit from subtracting Feliz in favor of Polanco. The Yankees might be the only team with a better offensive infield.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 27.9 (8th in MLB)
2010 – Feliz was a solid defensive third baseman, while Polanco hasn't played the position since 2005. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins form a great middle infield, while Jayson Werth is superb in right field.

Reasons to Watch
1. Jamie Moyer: It looks like Moyer is going to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter to begin the season. As Rob Neyer points out, this puts him in basically uncharted territory for a 47-year-old. It's not likely Moyer will be very effective at his age, but then again, the odds were strongly against him being around at all at this point. It's a unique situation and definitely one to follow.
2. Brad Lidge: Lidge, who has undergone surgeries on his knee and elbow, is not going to be ready for the beginning of the season (along with fellow reliever J.C. Romero). The question is how he will pitch one he's back. Philly's closer has been on a roller coaster in recent years, going from a 1.95 ERA and 41-for-41 in saves in 2008 to 7.21 and 31-for-42 last season, when his knee apparently bothered him a lot. Lidge at the top of his game would be a boon for the Phillies' bullpen, but it's far from clear he will get back to that point.
3. Roy Halladay: Doc has enjoyed a long and successful career already, with a Cy Young Award, a pair of 20-win seasons and a 3.43 ERA, among other accomplishments. Yet in all his years in Toronto, the Blue Jays finished better than third in their division once. That was in 2006, when they finished 10 games behind the Yankees and eight behind the Tigers in the wild card race. If things go according to plan though, Halladay will finally get to pitch in the playoffs in 2010, a just reward for a great pitcher.

Paint By Numbers: Chase Utley, with his combination of elite hitting and stellar fielding at a premium position, put up the fourth-highest wins above replacement total in 2009. For good measure, Utley led the majors in HBP, with seven more than anyone else, and stole 23 bases without being caught. Nobody else swiped more than 12 bags while having a perfect percentage. ... Ryan Howard had the second-highest rate of home runs per fly ball even though his 25.4 percent mark was the lowest he has put up in a full season. ... Cole Hamels' ERA jumped from 3.09 to 4.32 last season, but his FIP was 3.72, exactly the same as the year before. His BABIP jumped from .270 to .325, but if it comes back down in 2010 as it should, Hamels should return to something like his 2008 performance.

Blog Jog: Crashburn Alley's Bill Baer previews the Phillies for The Hardball Times. Included is a deeper explanation of why Hamels is due for a rebound. ... At Crashburn Alley, Baer takes Eric Polsky's work with "DVORP" -- Dollar Value Over Replacement Player -- and puts a Phillies spin on it. ... Dash Treyhorn of The Fightins discusses Moyer as the team's fifth starter and what effect that would have on the rest of the pitching staff. ... The Good Phight has an in-depth look at the Phillies' options regarding the contract situations of Ryan Howard and Jason Werth.

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2010 Preview: Oakland Athletics

  • Friday, March 26, 2010 12:16 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 75-87, 4th in AL West. Pythagorean record of 81-81.
Key Additions: SP Ben Sheets, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, CF Coco Crisp, IF/OF Jake Fox, IF Adam Rosales
Key Losses: OF Scott Hairston, IF Nomar Garciaparra and Adam Kennedy
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 83-79, 1st in AL West. CHONE – 81-81, tied 2nd. CAIRO – 77.6-84.4, 4th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.10 FIP (6th in MLB), 4.58 for starters, 3.35 for relievers
2010 – The success of the rotation is going to hinge on whether Ben Sheets can stay healthy and pitch effectively, the latter of which he has not done this spring, for whatever that's worth. Oakland does have some good young arms to pair with Sheets, particularly 22-year-old lefty Brett Anderson. It's unlikely that the A's again will have the best bullpen in baseball by a big margin.
Hitting: 2009 – .321 wOBA (22nd in MLB)
2010 – The A's have some solid hitters but are distinctly lacking in firepower. The only player on last year's team to put up even an .800 OPS was Matt Holliday, who was traded mid-season. Free agent signees Kouzmanoff and Crisp might help, but if the A's show much improvement with the bats, it's likely going to be because young hitters like Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney took steps forward.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 5.2 (12th in MLB)
2010 – Outfield defense figures to be one of Oakland's strongest assets. With Crisp, Sweeney and Rajai Davis, the A's have three guys with good range. For that matter, Barton, Kouzmanoff and second baseman Mark Ellis are solid glove men as well, giving Oakland strong infield defense as well.

Reasons to Watch
1. Ben Sheets: It was interesting watching the A's, of all teams, outbid several other clubs this offseason for Sheets' services. It was probably a risk worth taking for Billy Beane, because Sheets has been an excellent pitcher when healthy. The problem is that since 2005, he's started 22, 17, 24, 31 and 0 games due to injuries. Yet in a division that figures to pit the A's against three solid teams, it's difficult to envision a playoff run that doesn't include something close to 30 effective starts from Sheets.
2. Daric Barton: Barton was a star catching prospect in the St. Louis organization who came to Oakland along with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero in the Mark Mulder trade. Since 2005, he's switched to first base and established himself defensively there, but been unable to swing the bat up to expectations at the big league level. Barton now has about 800 MLB plate appearances with a line of .249/.348/.394, and while he has good plate discipline, it now seems unlikely he's ever going to develop much power. If he can get the batting average and OBP up, he can still put together a solid career, but he's going to have to get it going soon.
3. Brett Anderson: After getting a few good seasons from Haren, Beane moved him along to Arizona, getting Anderson as one of the players in return. The southpaw got a chance to stick in the big league rotation last season at age 21 and wound up starting 30 games with a 3.69 FIP. Anderson, with a strong fastball/slider combo, showed an ability to get strikeouts and ground balls while avoiding walks. He posted a 3.33 K/BB ratio, and his ground ball rate topped 50%, strong indicators of continued success. Anderson didn't get as much attention as some other young pitchers, but his future looks just as bright.

Paint By Numbers: Jack Cust might as well be named Mr. Three True Outcomes, for his ability to turn an amazing percentage of his plate appearances into strikeouts, walks and home runs (aka, the three outcomes not affected by fielders). As FanGraphs' Matt Klaassen found, over the past three seasons, Cust has done of those three things in 54.4% of his plate appearances, by far the most of any player in that span, even Adam Dunn. The A's brought Cust back this season, so if you're not a fan of the defense getting involved in the game, rejoice. ... Mike Wuertz's 2.37 FIP last season was fourth among MLB relievers. Wuertz struck out better than 11.5 batters per nine innings and had nearly a 4.5 K/BB rate, by far the best numbers of his big league career. The key was Wuertz's slider, which was worth more runs than any other relief pitcher's last season.

Blog Jog: Athletics Nation examines the battle for the final couple of Opening Day roster spots. ... The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser provides an update on Ben Sheets' latest Spring Training performance. ... The A's come in at No. 19 in FanGraphs' organizational rankings, and Dave Cameron explains why. ... ESPN.com's Max Info blog (insider only) has the scoop on why Ryan Sweeney bears watching. ... Rob Neyer comments on the ongoing saga of the franchise's potential relocation.

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2010 Preview: New York Yankees

  • Friday, March 26, 2010 10:56 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 103-59, 1st in AL East (won World Series). Pythagorean record of 95-67.
Key Additions: SP Javier Vazquez, CF Curtis Granderson, DH Nick Johnson, OF Randy Winn, RP Chan Ho Park
Key Losses: LF Johnny Damon, DH Hideki Matsui, OF Melky Cabrera, RPs Phil Coke and Brian Bruney, SP Chien-Ming Wang, C Jose Molina
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 90-72, 3rd in AL East. CHONE – 99-63, 1st. CAIRO – 99.4-62.6, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.32 FIP (13th in MLB), 4.31 for starters, 4.33 for relievers
2010 – Adding Vazquez strengthens an already solid rotation, assuming he pitches better than he did during his first go-around in the Big Apple. Phil Hughes beat out Joba Chamberlain for the fifth rotation slot, with Joba presumably adding another power arm to the pen. Mariano Rivera, now 40 years old, is a freak of nature and about as good as ever.
Hitting: 2009 – .366 wOBA (1st in MLB)
2010 – The Yanks were by far the best offensive team in baseball last season, and there's no reason they can't be again with the lineup they can put on the field. When you can play eight above-average hitters every day, the only thing that is going to derail you is an injury bug.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -18.5 (19th in MLB)
2010 – New York should have a strong defensive outfield with the additions of Granderson and Winn. Derek Jeter, who posted his first positive UZR last season since the metric started in 2002, will look to continue his improved defensive play.

Reasons to Watch
1. Phil Hughes: Hughes was just named as the team's No. 5 starter to begin the season, apparently with a revamped changeup in tow. He's been a top prospect for a while now and had a lot of success in the minors but has yet to prove he can be an effective starter at the major league level. Still, Hughes is only entering his age 24 season and has made just 28 MLB starts, having spent most of last season in the bullpen. In other words, it's far too early to judge. Still, Hughes hasn't thrown more than 116 innings in a season since 2006, so it's worth wondering if he'll be able to stay in the rotation full-time even if he's effective.
2. Curtis Granderson: The trade that sent Granderson over from Detroit puts the Yankees' new center fielder in a better lineup and a great park for left-handed hitters. It will be interesting to see if those factors help turn around a career that has been on the decline. Granderson's wOBA has fallen from .395 to .374 to .340 over the past three years, a pretty steep drop, and at 29 it's not inconceivable that his best days are behind him. Part of the problem is that his career OPS against lefties is .614, and it's been below .500 two of the past three years. He also suffered from a low BABIP last season, but that can be partially attributed to him hitting the ball in the air much more than in years past. The question is, will Granderson's downward trend continue, or will the Yankees (and their stadium) provide a boost?
3. Brett Gardner: Gardner is in an odd position. In a lineup of sluggers, he's the little guy who is playing primarily for his glove, rather than his bat. Gardner has only played 150 major league games, and while that's not enough to draw any definitive conclusions, he's put up a 19.9 UZR. And that was done mostly in center, a more difficult position than left, where he'll play this season to accommodate Granderson. What's more, Gardner is not completely inept with the bat. Sure, he has very little power. But he managed a better than awful .724 OPS year and does have a career .389 minor league OBP. That's really not the point, though. The Yanks have so much offensive firepower that they can easily afford to give up some offense for defense, and Gardner fits the bill.

Paint By Numbers: Even with Gardner's three career home runs, New York's projected starting lineup boasts an average of 178 career dingers. ... The last two seasons, at ages 38 and 39, Mariano Rivera has put up his two best K/9 rates since becoming a closer in 1997. A lot of that success is of course based on his devastating cutter, a pitch everyone knows is coming but nobody can hit. Even though Rivera is a reliever, his cutter has racked up more value (55.6 runs) than anybody else's over the past three years, according to FanGraphs' pitch values. ... Last season, Javier Vazquez was third in MLB in FIP, third in K/BB rate, third in WHIP and fifth in opponents' batting average. On the other hand, his previous season with the Yankees was the worst of his career with the exception of his rookie year in Montreal. With New York in 2004, he posted a 4.78 FIP.

Blog Jog: Joe Pawlikowski of River Ave. Blues examines some spray charts in an effort to determine how much Gardner's thumb injury impacted his hitting late last season. Mike Axisa of the same site takes a look at the Yankees' defensive projections. ... The guys at Pinstripe Alley weigh in on the decision to put Hughes in the rotation over Joba. .... Moshe Mandel of The Yankee U wonders if the "Hughes Rules" are coming. ... Was Watching's Steve Lombardi projects the Yankees' Opening Day roster and gives his thoughts.

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2010 Preview: New York Mets

  • Thursday, March 25, 2010 11:57 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 60-92, 4th in NL East. Pythagorean record of 72-90.
Key Additions: LF Jason Bay, OF Gary Matthews Jr., C Rod Barajas, RP Kiko Calero, 1B Mike Jacobs
Key Losses: 1B Carlos Delgado, OFs Gary Sheffield and Jeremy Reed, C Brian Schneider, RP JJ Putz, SP Tim Redding
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 78-84, 4th in NL East. CHONE – 80-82, 3rd. CAIRO – 77.1-84.9, 4th.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.50 FIP (24th in MLB), 4.65 for starters, 4.23 for relievers
2010 – The rotation is counting on Johan Santana (coming off elbow surgery), Mike Pelfrey (5.03 ERA in 2009), John Maine (40 starts total the past two years) and Oliver Perez (14 starts with a 6.82 ERA in 2009). Santana probably will be fine, but it's hard to be so confident about the other guys.
Hitting: 2009 – .321 wOBA (23rd in MLB)
2010 – Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are slated to begin the season on the DL. Once they come back, the Mets should have a solid core of a lineup with Jason Bay and David Wright. Of course, they're also planning to play Jeff Francoeur and David Murphy regularly at right field and first base.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -47.3 (29th in MLB)
2010 – It's worth wondering if Beltran will be missing a step in center field once he returns from knee surgery. Meanwhile, Luis Castillo seems to be slipping with age at second base, leaving the Mets' up-the-middle defense in limbo even if Reyes is fine.

Reasons to Watch
1. The injury situation: The amount of injuries the Mets had to deal with last season boggles the mind. As a result, New York wound up with just four players getting at least 400 plate appearances and one making more than 25 starts. That obviously had a lot to do with their disappointing season, and now the question is if something like it could happen again. The Mets apparently have taken steps to avoid that, but luck certainly plays a role, too. With Reyes and Beltran out to start the year, New York is not off to a good start in that department.
2. David Wright: 2009 was a puzzling season for Wright. Most noticeably, he hit just 10 home runs after smacking at least 26 in four straight seasons. Some of the blame was put on the new Citi Field, which turned out to be justified. In an article in 2010 Hardball Times annual, Greg Rybarczyk uses hit tracker data to show Citi Field cost Wright nine home runs and 35 points of slugging percentage compared with what he would have done at Shea Stadium. On the other hand, Wright hit just five home runs and slugged .458 on the road, so it's not like his power drop was entirely a product of his home park. Apparently, Wright added some muscle in the offseason, to go along with some modifications to Citi Field, so it will be interesting to see if he can revert to form.
3. Jeff Francoeur: One thing about Francoeur that probably appeals to the Mets these days is that he is very durable, having played at least 155 games in four straight seasons. Of course, in only one of those seasons (2007) was Francoeur even a league-average hitter, but the Mets still brought him back for $5 million this year. He did put up pretty good numbers after being brought in from Atlanta mid-season, but the fact is that his BABIP was 62 points higher with New York than Atlanta, meaning it probably had more to do with luck than with changing teams. Francoeur is still Francoeur. He doesn't walk much (or care about OBP) and doesn't hit for a high enough batting average or with enough power to make up for it. But at least he will be able to suit up!

Paint By Numbers: Nobody in the big leagues is capable of keeping their bat on their shoulder like Luis Castillo can. Last season, Castillo had the lowest swing percentage on both pitches in and out of the strike zone. But when he swung, he put the ball in play 93.3 percent of the time, second in MLB. ... Left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano has been a busy guy the past two years. In that span, he has appeared in 174 games, 13 more than anybody else, although he's only pitched 112 2/3 innings in those appearances. ... The low home run total was not the only strange aspect of Wright's 2009 season. He also had the highest BABIP (.394) in MLB by 10 points, supported by the league's second-highest line drive rate. On the other hand, he struck out 26.2 percent of the time after never topping 20 percent in any other season.

Blog Jog: There has been an interesting debate going on between Mets beat writers, fans and bloggers about whether pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia will/should start the season in the major league bullpen or the minor league starting rotation. ... Brian Mangan at Fonzie Forever wonders if Hisanori Takahashi could be this year's Darren Oliver. ... Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing offers this essay in the wake of the latest unfortunate news about Doc Gooden.

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2010 Preview: Minnesota Twins

  • Thursday, March 25, 2010 8:39 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 87-66, 1st in AL Central. Pythagorean record of 86-77.
Key Additions: 2B Orlando Hudson, SS JJ Hardy, DH Jim Thome, RP Clay Condrey
Key Losses: CF Carlos Gomez, SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, C Mike Redmond
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 81-81, 1st in AL Central. CHONE – 85-77, 1st. CAIRO – 83.2-78.8, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.39 FIP (19th in MLB), 4.42 for starters, 4.32 for relievers
2010 – Obviously, losing closer Joe Nathan for the year will hurt, although likely not as much as you would think. The rotation has some solid arms but nothing spectacular, and the Twins will have to hope Carl Pavano's resurgence holds up. A return of the old Francisco Liriano, or even something like him, would be a tremendous boost.
Hitting: 2009 – .338 wOBA (7th in MLB)
2010 – Word has it the Twins have a catcher who can hit the ball a little bit and now might be sticking around for a while. Of course, Joe Mauer has plenty of help with Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Co. If the signings of Hardy and Hudson take at-bats away from Nick Punto, all the better.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -37.3 (28th in MLB)
2010 – Hardy will help defensively, although as good as Hudson still looks at second base, the numbers don't back it up. Delmon Young has put up UZRs of -16.4 two straight seasons, although he supposedly came to camp in better shape this year.

Reasons to Watch
1. Joe Mauer: Without getting too much into whether the Twins signing Mauer to a huge eight-year contract was good for them and/or the game in the long run, the deal certainly puts a lot of pressure on Mauer. Not just pressure to perform, which likely won't bother him, but pressure to stay healthy, which he has less control over. Of course, even during his terrific 2009, he missed the first month of the season. Mauer is one of the best players in the game, and Twins fans are obviously thrilled to have him around for the long term, but it bears watching what sort of effect the contract could have.
2. JJ Hardy: There is no doubt Hardy can pick it at shortstop, as he's averaged nearly 10 UZR over the past three years. The question is with his bat, which took a dive last year and even led to him getting sent down to Triple-A for a while (although the Brewers had an ulterior motive involving Hardy's free agency clock). Yet as recently as 2008, Hardy put up a .355 wOBA, and he's probably due for a bit of a BABIP correction this year. Hardy's glove gives him value even if he hits poorly, but if his bat regains some of its effectiveness, the Twins will have gotten a steal in their offseason trade.
3. The closer situation: The Twins essentially haven't had to worry about the ninth inning the past six years as Nathan established himself as one of baseball's few consistently reliable closers. Now it will interesting to see how manager Ron Gardenhire handles a situation he hasn't had to face for a while. Of course, Minnesota could always end up trading for help. But barring that, or until it happens, will Gardenhire hand the job to one guy (such as Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier) and hope for the best, or go with a matchup-based system? This will be worth following, especially if the Twins start having trouble at the end of games.

Paint By Numbers: It's pretty remarkable that Nick Blackurn managed a 4.03 ERA last season, considering that in 205 2/3 innings, he gave up 240 hits (second in MLB) and had a K/9 rate of 4.29 (second-lowest in MLB). Of course, Blackburn also had the seventh-best walk rate and induced a lot of ground balls. ... Of players with 300 plate appearances last season, Delmon Young had the fourth-lowest walk rate at 2.9% and swung at 59.3% of pitches he saw, which was third-highest. ... Last season, the Twins ranked 29th in wOBA at second base, with the fearsome trio of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla contributing most to a line of .208/.299/.266.

Blog Jog: With Nathan opting for surgery, Aaaron Gleeman brings a heavy dose of rationality to the discussion of how the Twins should fill the void. ... And here is Gleeman's take on the Mauer deal. ... Over the Baggy has a nice in-depth interview with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony. ... Nick Nelson provides a comprehensive preview of the Twins' bullpen (and check out the other positions, too).

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2010 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

  • Wednesday, March 24, 2010 10:03 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 80-82, 3rd in NL Central. Pythagorean record of 78-84.
Key Additions: SPs Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, RP LaTroy Hawkins, OFs Carlos Gomez and Jim Edmonds, C Gregg Zaun
Key Losses: CF Mike Cameron, SS JJ Hardy, IF Felipe Lopez, C Jason Kendall, SP Braden Looper
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 78-84, tied for 3rd in NL Central. CHONE – 81-81, tied for 2nd. CAIRO – 83.8-78.2, tied for 3rd.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.84 FIP (29th in MLB), 5.15 for starters, 4.33 for relievers
2010 – Wolf should provide a big upgrade over Looper, who was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season. Yovani Gallardo leads a staff that should be better than last year, although less so if the Brewers insist on keeping Jeff Suppan in the rotation. At 42, Trevor Hoffman will hit the wall eventually, but I wouldn't feel confident predicting it will be this year.
Hitting: 2009 – .335 wOBA (9th in MLB)
2010 – The Brewers' 1-2 punch of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun is as good as just about any in baseball, but they are surrounded by a bunch of question marks. Among those: Can Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar hit consistently at the big league level? Can Casey McGehee possibly repeat his out-of-nowhere 2009? What the heck happened to Corey Hart?
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 9.9 (11th in MLB)
2010 – In Escobar and Gomez, the Brew Crew should have outstanding up-the-middle defense for years to come, although it's not like they were replacing terrible gloves in Hardy and Cameron. Fielder and Braun rightfully are known for their hitting.

Reasons to Watch
1. Alcides Escobar: There seems to be little doubt among scouts that Escobar will be an elite defender at shortstop, and that talent in itself creates a valuable player. The question is if Escobar will hit enough to go up to that next level. He has two things going for him: contact and speed, which helped him hit .304 in 134 MLB plate appearances last season. But Escobar also has never met a pitch he didn't want to swing at (just 4 walks in those 134 PA), and his career high in homers in the minors was eight. At 23 years old, there's time for improvement, but you have to wonder if Escobar will ever provide much more offensively than an empty batting average. With his defense, that could be enough, but the Brewers surely would love to see more.
2. Rickie Weeks: Escobar's potential double-play partner has tremendous talent but has yet to put it all together at the big league level. Injuries have played a role, including last season, when Weeks was lost for the year in May due to a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. Weeks was slugging .517 at the time, so the Brewers will have to hope the wrist is fully healed and won't stand in the way of him picking up where he left off.
3. Yovani Gallardo: After missing most of 2008 due to knee surgery, Gallardo came back strong in 2009, but there was one troubling statistic he will have to address. In 2007, Gallardo walked about 3 batters per nine innings. Last year, that number jumped to about 4.5, the fourth-highest rate of any qualified pitcher. Gallardo increased his ground ball rate, and he strikes out a ton of batters, but he's going to have to correct the walk issue if he is going to develop into the elite starter he should.

Paint By Numbers: Out of all pitchers with 150 innings last season, Suppan's 5.70 FIP was worse than anyone else's, except teammate Braden Looper. The Brewers let Looper go but kept Suppan, who also had easily the worst K/BB ratio in MLB at 1.08. ... Despite pitching just 114 1/3 innings, David Bush managed to lead the majors in HBP, with 15. It was the fifth straight season Bush had reached double digits in that category. ... Casey McGehee spent six seasons in the minors with the Cubs, never reaching an .800 OPS. Chicago released him after giving him a cup of coffee late in 2008, and Milwaukee picked him up. All McGehee did for the Brewers in '09 was have a career season in the majors, notching an .859 OPS and also setting a personal best with 16 home runs in just 394 plate appearances.

Blog Jog: Nicholas Zettel of Bernie's Crew offers 2010 projections for Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, while Jim Breen thinks fans might be too preoccupied with Carlos Gomez to turn a critical enough gaze on Corey Hart. ... Brew Crew Ball's Kyle Lobner has a comprehensive team roundup on the Brewers' only off day of Spring Training. ... Brewed Sports takes FanGraphs' Marc Hulet's theory on fifth starters and applies it to the Brewers' situation.

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