Archive for March 2010

2010 Divisional Previews & Predictions: AL East

March 10, 2010

Finally, the division that most of you have been waiting for. The AL East. It is the best division of baseball with arguably the three best teams in baseball in this one division. While the Jays are rebuilding and the Orioles have a lot of young talent and probably won’t be very competitive because of it, the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees are all looking for the division crown. So lets finish off the American League pre-season predictions in style by breaking down the AL East.

1. Boston Red Sox
Key Departures: Jason Bay, Justin Masterson, and Takashi Saito
Key Arrivals: Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, John Lackey, and Adrian Beltre

Defense, defense, defense. This is the main reason why I believe the Red Sox will win the AL East. It is basically what separates them from the Yankees. They added Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre who are two great defensive players who posted UZR’s of 10 and 14.3 respectively in 2009. They will play two very important defensive positions and this will allow Ellsbury to move over to LF to field shots off of the monster. From a team that had Jason Bay in LF and posted a team UZR of -16.3 a year ago, that number will surely improve this season and will help them in run prevention. They also countered nicely to the Yankees addition of Javier Vazquez. While I do think John Lackey is often overrated, his addition to the Red Sox gives them the better rotation. Daisuke will be relied on as a 4th starter and allowing Tim Wakefield of Buchholz to fight for the 5th starter spot. I believe that Clay Buchholz is ready to take over the 5th starter spot, which would force Wakefield into the pen which is already very strong. I also have confidence that Adrian Beltre will bounce back off a horrendous 2009 season at the dish. He now goes to a much friendlier environment of right handed hitters. The Yankees did have the most powerful offense in the league and they got 38.4 Wins Above Replacement and a wOBA .366 out of their hitters last year, but the Red Sox were not far behind. They had 27.7 Wins Above Replacement from their batters and a wOBA of .352, which is also very good.

2. New York Yankees
Key Departures: Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera
Key Arrivals: Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez, and Nick Johnson

I am sure that I will take a lot of heat for putting the Yankees in second. The Red Sox probably had a better off-season than the Yankees, but the Yankees had a great one as well. The Yankees reshaped their outfield by shipping Melky Cabrera to Atlanta and getting Curtis Granderson from the Tigers. I think losing Hideki Matsui and getting Nick Johnson could end up being a wash. I am really interested in seeing how Javier Vazquez does in his return to the American League. Many Yankees fans will probably disagree with me but I don’t think that he will have great success returning to a hitters park and facing American League competition. This is one of the reasons why I can’t seem to put the Yankees over the top. Regardless, he is still a very good pitcher and makes their rotation a lot better. I still like the Red Sox rotation more and both bullpens are really, really good. Now, I realize that the Yankees defense has gotten better as well with the addition of Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner will see playing time everyday with the loss of Damon and Cabrera. All in all, I think both of these teams will be separated by a handful of games. It could go either way and I am almost positive that I will get arguments on this.

3. Tampa Bay Rays
Key Departures: Akinori Iwamura
Key Arrivals: Rafael Soriano

Only in the AL East would you see the Tampa Bay Rays finishing third. If they were in any other division in the American League, I would probably have them winning it. How unlucky. The Rays might have the best young stud in this league in Evan Longoria. He is a great defender, as are the Rays. They posted a UZR of 69.5 last season which was good for second in the league. I really feel bad for the Rays because they are a team that is easily likable but they are stuck looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox. They have some promising young starters in David Price and Wade Davis. However, in what might end up being Carlos Pena’s and Carl Crawford’s final year in a Rays uniform, I don’t see them winning the wild card.

4. Baltimore Orioles
Key Departures: None
Key Arrivals: Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada, Kevin Millwood, and Mike Gonzalez

The Orioles quietly had a nice off-season. Kevin Millwood will be a veteran pitcher that they can count on since they already have a very young rotation. I think that the Orioles are at least a couple of years from contending in this division. They have several young guys that will be really, really good like Brian Matusz and Matt Wieters. The bright side for Orioles fans will be watching how Wieters and Matusz progress. The Orioles could get more wins than expected if they can get more production than expected out of Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins. Look at the bright side, Orioles fans, at least I don’t have you all finishing last.

5. Toronto Blue Jays
Key Departures: Roy Halladay, Brandon League, Rod Barajas, Marco Scutaro
Key Arrivals: Kevin Gregg and Brandon Morrow

As you can clearly tell by looking at the Blue Jays off-season arrivals and departures, they are clearly in the rebuilding mode. Halladay was a big loss because he was worth about six or seven wins year in and year out. The Jays will struggle in this division because they don’t really have any starters that they know gives them the advantage in games. This does not combine well with a defense that had a UZR of -33.3 a year ago. If Aaron Hill and Adam Lind do end up being one year wonders, we could be looking at the leagues worst team because both of them provided some unexpected offensive value last season.

Owner’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

ES42’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Jays

Dougbies AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

Disco’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

JeffMac30’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

YC’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

KG3’s AL East Predictions:
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

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Clearing the Bases: New York Yankees

March 3, 2010

The New York Yankees are the most storied franchise in sports history. Yankee Stadium is home to forty pennants, thirty-nine Hall of Famers, twenty-seven World Championships, twenty-two MVP’s, seventeen retired numbers, and five Cy Young’s. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are among the countless number of legends that have donned the pinstripes. Going position by position, the Yankees have an all-time player at each spot. Catcher? Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey. First base? Lou Gehrig. Third base? A-Rod. Shortstop? Derek Jeter? Left field? Rickey Henderson, Charlie Keller. Center field? Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. Right field? Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson. Hmmm…am I missing a position? What’s that- second base? Oh snap.

Despite all those championships, Hall of Famer’s, and MVP’s, the Yankees have no major standout at second base. Sure, Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon are both Hall of Famer’s, but neither player is considered an “all-time” player. Going further, both players got into the Hall of Fame by way of the Veteran’s Committe. It took Lazzeri fifty-one years to finally get inducted and it took Gordon fifty-eight years to be inducted. Lazzeri played for twelve seasons during the live ball era, overshadowed by Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio. Gordon played just seven seasons in pinstripes, losing two seasons to WWII. It’s amazing an organization that was home to so many legends, is so weak at a particular position. Once Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera have their numbers retired, the Yankees will have a retired number at every spot except second base (Billy Martin  is more renown for his managerial career). Actually, scratch that. Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired. Make that one Dodger second baseman with their number retired by the Yankees.

So with that in mind, just who is the best second baseman in Yankees history?

Although second base has lacked superstars, there have been decent (but mainly sub-par) players throughout the years such as Snuffy Stirnweiss, Bobby Richardson, Chuck Knoblach, and Alfonso Soriano. To narrow down the search for the best second baseman in team history, the minimum number of games at second base in Yankee pinstripes to qualify is 1000. Sorry Gil McDougald. That leaves us with three candidates: Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, and Willie Randolph. Let’s get crackin’!

*Right click tables and hit view table to see larger image*

Tony Lazzeri (1926-1937, 1456 games)


Tony “Poosh ‘Em Up” Lazzeri was the first good Yankee second baseman in team history (and one of the first good Italian Yankee players), playing from 1926-1937. Born in 1903 in San Francisco, Lazzeri was twenty-two when he made his Yankees debut. That rookie season he went on to hit .275/.338/.462 with a 117 wRC+ and by 1928 he broke out with a 154 wRC+. He was a key piece of the famed Murderer’s Row, but his legacy loomed in the shadows of Ruth and Gehrig. He won five World Series, was an All-Star in 1933, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991 by the Veteran’s Committee.

Tony "Poosh 'Em Up" Lazzeri

His numbers might have been inflated due to the live ball era, but he was still a right handed batter in Yankee Stadium and still put up numbers quite a bit better than the league average, as indicated by his wRAA/600 PA. For a second baseman, he put up solid power numbers, but his better attribute was getting on base. During his stay with the Yankees, his wOBA never went below .350 and topped the .400 mark three times, with a career high of .437 in 1929. Lazzeri wasn’t the best fielder, but he held his own. He was a solid hitter with a decent glove. He peaked from 1927-1929, putting up WAR’s of 5.8, 4.7, and 7.8 respectively, and he had several solid seasons thereafter. By 1937 he was slowing down, however, and retired with a career Yankee WAR/150 of 4.2. That’s a good number, but is it enough to be considered the best Yankee second baseman of all-time?

Joe Gordon (1938-1946, 1000 games)

Born in 1915 in Los Angeles, Joe “Flash” Gordon took over the second base gig from Lazzeri in 1938. He hit the ground running posting a 4.1 WAR in his rookie season, which turned out to be his lowest single season Yankee WAR until 1946, his last season in the Bronx. His WAR hovered in the 4-6 range, finally peaking in 1942 with an 8.4 WAR. Looking purely at OBP, it may not appear Gordon was as good at getting on base as Lazzeri, but the numbers are somewhat skewed by a low BA. When it comes to drawing a walk, Gordon had a better BB rate and better BB%.  Despite a barely lower wRC+, it surely was due to a horrible campaign in 1946. Not to mention he missed two years because of war obligations. Had he been able to play in 1944 and 1945, his age 29 and 30 season no less, his numbers could have been even better.

Gordon won four World Series in the Bronx, appeared in six All-Star games, and won the AL MVP in 1942. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 via the Veteran’s Committee.

Willie Randolph (1976-1988, 1693 games)

Born in 1954 in South Carolina, the next good Yankee second baseman since Gordon left in 1946 played his first game in pinstripes thirty years later, in 1976. After his playing days, Willie became a bench coach for the Yankees for thirteen seasons, becoming a fan favorite. He also managed the Mets and is currently the Milwaukee Brewers bench coach. He won two World Series with the Yankees as a player and was a five time All-Star during his stay in “The City That Never Sleeps”. He won a Silver Slugger Award and was the team captain from 1986 until 1988.

Willie Randolph

Unlike the other two second basemen discussed so far, Randolph is not a Hall of Famer. However, Randolph is one of the more underrated players in baseball and Yankee history. Many think of him as a coach or the Yankee captain, but in reality he is a borderline Hall of Famer (but falls short in my book). With the Yankees he was not a slugger by any means. His Yankee SLG of .357 is putrid, but even more so when comapred to the SLG of Lazzeri and Gordon. He made up for that with his OBP skills. Randolph was adept at walking and getting on base. His lowest BB% as a Yankee was 10.3%, with his career high being 18.5%(!) in 1980. While he wasn’t an exceptional hitter, he was above average and had several quality seasons at the dish from 1978-1980 and 1985-1987. What he was really good at though, was defense. In thirteen seasons he compiled a Total Zone of 70 and had several seasons where he saved 10+ runs. His three year peak from 1978-1980 is comparable to the best peaks of Lazzeri and Gordon. After that, Randolph continued to be a solid 3-4 WAR for the Bronx Bombers. 1981 and 1982 were down years for Willie, where he posted WAR’s of 2.9 and 2.4 respectively. To be honest, those year’s might have cost him a chance at the Hall of Fame. Had he been able to just put 4+ WAR seasons like he had been doing thus far in New York, his career WAR would have been in the mid-sixties. 1981 and 1982 may have cost him a chance at the Hall, but will it cost him the title of best Yankee second baseman?

After comparing the players head to head, you realize just how close they are to each other. It was tough to separate them, but here is how they rank:

1.) Joe Gordon

2.) Tony Lazzeri

2a.) Willie Randolph

Despite being a Yankee for just seven seasons and meeting the minimum requirement of games played dead on, he did enough to establish himself as the best in team history. Offensively, he was just as good as Lazzeri, if not better. While Lazzeri did have a better wRC+, Gordon had the best wRAA/600 PA of the three players, he was a great defender (much superior to Lazzeri), and his WAR/150 was a full win better than Lazzeri and Randolph. Imagine if he had the chance to play in 1944 and 1945 to pad his stats? If not for WWII, this question might have been settled already.

Joe Gordon, best second baseman in Yankee history

As  for second place, Lazzeri and Randolph were indistinguishable despite being opposites.  Lazzeri was the big hitter with an average glove. Randolph was the big time fielder, who was above average at the dish. Lazzeri has a 4.2 WAR/150. Randolph has a 4.3 WAR/150. In the end though, I give a slight, slight edge to Lazzeri. He was just a plain out better hitter, regardless of era. And despite the fact that Randolph was a much better fielder, Lazzeri was decent enough with the glove to hold off Randolph. Randolph got a lot of his WAR value from TZ, but I don’t trust TZ too much. So in a close contest like this, I will give the benefit of the doubt to the better hitter.

Currently in the Bronx, there is a twenty-seven year old second baseman who has been making a name for himself. His name is Robinson Cano. Although he figures to have a long ways to go before he can challenge Gordon, Lazzeri, and Randolph, how does he stack up right now? And what will he need to do in the future to become a contender for best second baseman in Yankees history?

Robinson Cano (2005-2009, 734 games)

Right away you can tell Robbie’s career stats are the victim of a terrible 2008. As a result, his first five seasons do not compare at all to the first five season’s of Lazzeri, Gordon, and Randolph. RC is going to need a sustained peak to make up ground. There are positive signs though for Cano. He is just twenty-seven and figures to have about five more solid to great seasons in his projected prime. There is no reason to think he can’t improve, as he’s already had two seasons of 5+ WAR in his low and mid twenties. (One small note on that though- his TZ ratings view him as a solid fielder. UZR disagrees big time. For the sake of consistency in comparing to past players, I used TZ). Moreover, longevity can be on his side. Assuming he stays with New York through his option years, he’ll have four more years in pinstripes.

How do I see it? Robbie will need a long, sustained peak in pinstripes. Like all things with Cano though, offensive success will depend on his “luck” with BABIP. Defensively, he’s flashed signs of brilliance so he just needs to bring that talent to the field on an everyday basis. If he can prove himself to be an average fielder with a good bat, Cano will add a couple more 5+ WAR seasons to his belt. In the end, I see Robbie matching Lazzeri. He will never match Gordon’s defense, but Cano can be a good offense, average defense player, much like “Poosh ‘Em Up” Tony. However, he still has a long, long way to go.

Can Robinson Cano become the best second baseman in Yankees history?

If RC ends up a lifelong Yankee though, he will be the best Yankee second baseman in team history. While his rate stats may not compare to Gordon by that point, the longevity factor will have to be taken into account, especially if the stats are still comparable and Cano has several major accomplishments under his belt, such as 3000 career hits.

So there you have it. For a weak position in a franchise of strength and depth, legends and history, Joe Gordon is the best second baseman in team history, followed by Tony Lazzeri and Willie Randolph.

Who do you consider the best second baseman in Yankees history? And where do you see Robbie Cano compared to the second base “Big Three” when his career his over?

Sources:

http://www.fangraphs.com/

http://baseballprojection.com/

http://www.baseball-reference.com/

Diamondbacks lock up Justin Upton

March 3, 2010

Today the D-Backs signed Justin Upton to a six year deal worth $51.25mil. With the deal the D-Backs bought out four arbitration years and two years of free agency. And in doing so, they will save themselves some money.

Buying out arbitration and free agency years of young players is a continuing phase in MLB and for good reason. It means teams can keep talented players under team control for longer and at a good price. Arizona is doing no different with the deal.

The D-Backs will be getting six years of one of the best, young players in baseball for cheap. He’ll average just under $9mil per year over the six years, which is obviously good value. When Upton would have reached arbitration, he surely would have commanded more than $9mil, especially come his last couple seasons of arbitration. Even if Upton makes as much in 2011 and 2012 through the deal as he would have in arbitration, the true savings will be the free agency years, when Upton could have been given a superstar type deal. Upton projects to be a 5+ WAR player as soon as 2010.  So the D-Backs will be saving cash and making sure one of baseballs brightest stars remains in the desert.

Now was also the right time to make the deal. People having been raving about him ever since he became a pro, and in 2009 he put up his first good season. Upton is a prime candidate to break out into a perennial All-Star within the next two seasons. If the D-Backs had waited another season or two to sign him long term, they would have waited too long and he would have commanded a higher annual salary. By inking him to the deal now, they were able to spend less money.

As for Upton, the deal makes sense. He’ll be making over $50mil during his mid twenty’s. How many of you wish that was your salary? Sure it’s a discount for his true value, but he has security now. Moreover, the contract will expire when he is 28. Upton will enter free agency in the prime of his career with the opportunity to make $100mil+.

Six years from now Upton could and most likely will be one of the best players in all of baseball. All-Star appearances, Silver Sluggers, some Golden Gloves, and possibly an MVP award will be in his future. He is the type of player teams dream about having. Well the the D-Backs have him for the next six years at a good price. Upton has financial security and the chance to cash in big again come 2016. Win-win.

2010 Divisional Predictions and Previews: AL Central

March 2, 2010

The AL Central could very well be the weakest division in 2010. The Twins proved that they are the team to beat in 2009. This division probably does not have as many “contenders” as other divisions since the Tigers and Indians are in the rebuilding phase and the Royals are, well, the Royals. However, if the White Sox can get some production out of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy they could make this division interesting.

1. Minnesota Twins

Key Departures: Carlos Gomez and Joe Crede

Key Arrivals: Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, and Jim Thome

The Twins had a quiet off-season but it was a very, very good one. They will be much better this year having Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy up the middle instead of Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto and Orlando Cabrera that they had in 2009. They also add Jim Thome who can contribute his share at the DH spot. I think that they have the best offense in the division and they posted a team wOBA of .338, which was best in the division. They also have a good enough bullpen and rotation to get the job done. They are not a great defensive team by any means, actually they are really bad, but they are solid at the most important positions with Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Denard Span, and Joe Mauer. The Twins could end up being a 90+ win team this year and could end up taking this division fairly easily. Look for them to repeat as division champs.

2. Chicago White Sox

Key Departures: Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Scott Podsednik, and Jose Contreras

Key Arrivals: Juan Pierre, Mark Teahen, and Andruw Jones

Now by looking at these off-season moves alone, you would think that the White Sox could not possibly improve on the disappointing season that they had last year. Well, I am accounting for the contributions that Jake Peavy will provide and I am also relying on Alex Rios having at least a 2-3 win season. I think both of these things are possible and it should make up for what they lost last season if you add their off-season additions as well. I really had a hard time putting the White Sox ahead of the Tigers because even though the Tigers lost some key players, I still don’t think the White Sox are all that much better. The White Sox most glaring weakness is their offense. Despite Rios having a very uncharacteristic year, they had a team wOBA of .325 and their offense provided the second lowest amount of value in the league with a WAR of 11. The Royals were last with their batters posting a WAR of 6.9. Both Dye and Thome provided some major pop in the middle of that lineup and they are lucky that they have the best pitching staff in this division, or else I would not be very confident in putting them in second.

3. Detroit Tigers

Key Departures: Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Placido Polanco, and Fernando Rodney

Key Arrivals: Johnny Damon, Max Scherzer, and Jose Valverde

The Tigers question marks in their rotation and their horrible pen prevent them from overtaking the White Sox in my division predictions. The Tigers bullpen posted an xFIP of 4.80. That is a future indicator of ERA based on last seasons performance. Other than Verlander, Scherzer, and a young Rick Porcello, they don’t really have any consistency in their rotation. The Tigers are clearly going through a rebuilding phase and it will be evident this season. I think they will struggle to get 80 wins this season. Many Tigers fans are disappointed that Granderson is now on the Yankees, as they should be because he provided great defensive play in CF that will now be rookie Austin Jackson’s territory. And in their lineup, I don’t see anyone other than Miguel Cabrera or Johnny Damon that is going to provide any sort of significant value.

4. Kansas City Royals

Key Departures: Miguel Olivo, Mark Teahen, and Coco Crisp

Key Arrivals: Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik

Hold on, wait, what? The Royals? Not in last? Yes. The Royals will finish fourth in the central in 2010. You can rejoice Royals fans. I see this team being able to sniff 75 wins this season. Plus, look what team I have finishing below them by process of elimination. I see Zach Grienke being a dominant pitcher once again. Probably not as dominant as in 2009, but he will still be a top pitcher in the American League. Billy Butler, Rick Ankiel, and Alex Gordon has potential to be a nice 3, 4, 5 in their lineup. At least it will be better than in past seasons. Scott Podsednik is still capable of doing what he does best and also look for Mike Aviles to improve greatly on .205 wOBA and .223 BABIP season. The Royals offense WILL improve this year. And as for their rotation and bullpen, it is no worse than that of the Indians, who don’t seem to have any consistent starter in their rotation at this moment.

5. Cleveland Indians

Key Departures: Ryan Garko and Kelly Shoppach

Key Arrivals: Russell Branyan

Now we are left with the Cleveland Indians. I do expect Grady Sizemore to be one of the better outfielders in the league this upcoming season and Sizemore, Choo, Branyan and Hafner will have to have a really good year in order to make up for their inexperience and horrid rotation and bullpen. I question whether or not Branyan can provide as much offensively as he did last season with the Mariners. They are filled with extremely young players who don’t have much major league experience and are clearly in the rebuilding phase. I have a feeling that their record as helped last year by Cliff Lee, Mark DeRosa, and Victor Martinez being on the team for about half of last season. That probably inflated some of their offensive numbers just a little.

YC’s AL Central Predictions:
1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

Disco’s AL Central Predictions:
1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Royals
5. Indians

JeffMac’s AL Central Predictions:
1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Royals
5. Indians

ES42’s AL Central Predictions:
1. Twins
2. Tigers
3. White Sox
4. Royals
5. Indians

Dougbies AL Central Predictions:
1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals