Archive for March 2011

Chad Billingsley extension

March 30, 2011

This will be a quickie as I have an exam in a tiny bit.

The other day Chad Billingsley signed a 3/$35mil deal with a $14mil option for 2015. Those three guaranteed seasons will be his age 27-29 seasons, and include his last year of arbitration and two years of free agency.

In 2012, Billingsley will earn $9mil. Using the 40/60/80 rule based on his salary for 2011, Billingsley would have made around $11-$12mil in 2012 through arbitration. So that’s a savings of a couple mil already for Los Angeles. Moreover, Billingsley has been quite good the past three full seasons. His fWAR have been 4.4, 3.2, and 4.6 with FIPs under 4 in all three seasons.

His fan projected WAR for 2011 is 4.9. So lets go forward and project a 5 WAR in 2012, 5.5 WAR in 2013, and 5 WAR in 2014. With a $ per WAR of 5, 5.25, and 5.5 in those seasons, that would bring his expected value to $25mil, $28.875mil, and $27.5mil. In those seasons he will be paid $9mil, $11mil, and $12mil. So that’s an expected value of $81.375mil compared to an actual salary of $35mil. WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOOWWOW. Talk about savings. Even if Billingsley “only” posts a 4 WAR each season, his expected value would still be $63mil, $25mil more than what he would earn in reality.

Off my head, I think this is the most team friendly deal signed in some time. I mean, I think the Dodgers are paying less than half of Billingsley’s actual worth! Normally I’d still say it’s a good deal for the player since they are getting financial and long term security, but in this case, I think Billingsley is a fool. Yeah, maybe he wants to stay in LA, but he could have easily gotten more than $50mil.

I mean, Billingsley is GOOD. Despite playing in LA, I don’t think a lot of people realize it. Especially in the MSM since he has only posted 12 wins in three of the past four seasons. But his career FIP, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and WAR is: 3.68, 8.19, 3.89, 0.66, 14.8. Kershaw is the pitcher hyped up in LA, and for good reason, but Billingsley needs to get his respect. He is a strikeout master, who doesn’t give up HR. He also gets his fair share of ground balls. He isn’t the best at avoiding walks, but he isn’t a walk machine and makes up for it by throwing a high volume of K’s and getting ground balls. As a result he does a good job limiting runs- which is the point of his job. He is also just 26, about to turn 27 this season. The man is a star and should get his dues soon.




Divisional Preview: AL West

March 30, 2011

The Rangers were baseball’s surprise team last season, surging past the American Leagues win leaders, Tampa Bay Rays, in the ALDS and then cruising past a heavily favored Yankees team in the ALCS. The Angels also fell from grace in 2010 while the Mariners, 2010s trendy pick, sucked.

1) Texas Rangers (87-75)

I think the Rangers still are a good team and still are up and coming with many young prospects yet to make debuts, but I believe they will take a step back in 2011. The main reason is pitching. First of all, they lost Cliff Lee, who by far was their best starter and helped them tremendously down the stretch and in the post-season. Second, I expect some regression to the mean from CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis. Both are good pitchers, but had especially good years in 2010 and should see some production decline. Moreover, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis are now their #1 and #2 pitchers. Color me unimpressed if those are a team’s top two starters. Beyond that, they plan to give starts to Matt Harrison and Tommy Hunter, neither of whom are good. I am still a big Derek Holland, but it appears Texas still hates him.

However, the bullpen will be nasty once again. Obviously, Neftali Feliz is a freak in the bullpen, but the pen also has Alexi Ogando, Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver, Arthur Rhodes, etc,etc. Yeah, pretty good.

Plus, the lineup is good. They have Josh Hamilton, the reigning MVP, and one of the games more underrated hitters, Nelson Cruz, who I think could have a better offensive season than Hamilton in 2011. Kinsler is another good bat and the defense should be strong with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Julio Borbon. The pitching will keep them from 90 wins, but as a whole this is a good team that should win the division.

Players to watch: Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz

2) Oakland Athletics (85-77)

The As were my sleeper team last year and are my “sleeper” team this season, but I have a tough time calling them a sleeper since everyone is picking them to upset Texas this season. They are this years Mariners. Except I don’t believe they’ll fall apart. For one, the pitching is better. Granted, they don’t have a legit ace like Felix Hernandez, but the whole staff is better. If Brett Anderson stays healthy, I think he’ll emerge as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Other arms include Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Dallas Braden. And between Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Brad Ziegler, and their other relievers, the pen should do their part in holding leads.

Offensively, the As will struggle, but it is an improved offense from last season. They added Hideki Matsui to DH, and despite his age, he is still a legitimate force on offense. However, I wonder how he will be impacted by the Colliseum. Oakland also added David DeJesus, a solid bat who also brings a solid glove to the table. Josh Willingham will also bring much needed area to the Bay. Although he will be a defensive liability in left field, the rest of the defense should be superb between Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Kurt Suzuki, DeJesus, and Coco Crisp. If they have good fortune, much like San Diego last season, the As very well could win the West.

Players to watch: Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Daric Barton

3) Los Angeles Angels (81-81)

I love the Angels pitching staff. I really do. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana might be the best top 3 in the AL. Joel Piniero and anyone besides Scott Kazmir are also good ends to the staff. The pen should be decent with Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs, and Fernando Rodney.

However…the rest of the team is not so good. Vernon Wells could be “alright” but he isn’t a good fielder. Peter Bourjos is a stud fielder, but can’t hit. Callaspo, Aybar, Kendrick, and Trumbo represent a weak infield, especially offensively, in my opinion. When your best hitters are an old Bobby Abreu, Tori Hunter, and Vernon Wells, you’re in trouble. The Angels are in trouble. I have them at .500 because of their starting pitching. But if anyone of their big three gets hurt, lookout for the cellar floor.

Players to watch: Kendrys Morales (IF he returns), Hank Conger

4) Seattle Mariners (72-90)

Ah, now onto the lowly Mariners. Felix=stud. Michael Pineda=promising rookie. Rest of staff=poo poo. That simple. No point in breaking it down further than that, because that’s the end result of what any analysis would be. The bullpen isn’t any good either. Brandon League is a nice arm, but they are going to hope Aaron Laffey and Jamey Wright can hold the few wins they will get.

Offensively they still suck, but should be better than 2010. Ichiro is a rock, Figgins should be better, Cust adds some good OB skills, and Dustin Ackley is a Rookie of the Year candidate. But the team lacks power and the ability to get on base. That will mean few runs. Tough to win without scoring when the pitching isn’t that good. 2011 will be another long season.

Players to watch: Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley

Divisional Preview: AL Central

March 29, 2011

Following a season in which the Minnesota Twins won the division by a comfortable margin the 2011 AL Central should feature a much more competitive race at the top and some exciting young players at the bottom. The Tigers and White Sox spent big in the offseason bringing in power at the DH spot in the form of Adam Dunn and Victor Martinez, but will they be enough to take down the two time defending division champs? As for the remaining teams in the division, fans should be looking past 2011 and into the future. Both the Royals and Indians have young talent at the major league level or on the cusp of making the big club. Without any further discussion here, let’s get to the predictions.

1) Minnesota Twins (91-71)

The two times defending AL Central Champions did not make any big splashes in Free Agency this off season aside from retaining Carl Pavano and Jim Thome, but they brought in Japanese SS, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka does not project as a star at the major league level, however he provides the Twins with depth in the middle of the field and some speed at the bottom or top of the lineup. For a more detailed scouting report of Nishioka check out Patrick Newman of Fangraphs here. Pavano provides the Twins with a serviceable #2 pitcher behind Francisco Liriano who trade rumors have been circling around for most of the off-season. Thome is unlikely to see similar results to 2010 when he posted a .437 wOBA, his best since 2002 but as a bat off the bench, part time DH and insurance policy to Justin Morneau, Thome should provide the Twins with excellent value once again.

The Twins winning the division will come down to a few things. First is the health of Justin Morneau. Returning from the highly publicized concussion last summer, Morneau could provide the Twins with a second MVP caliber bat in the middle of lineup to go along with Joe Mauer. If Morneau can stay healthy and even come near his 2010 production the Twins are the one team in the division that has the opportunity to run away from their competitors. Second is the ascension of Francisco Liriano to elite status in the American League. Following a 6.0 WAR season where he never saw his ERA catch up to his peripherals, Liriano could be in the mix at the end of the season for the AL CY Young award. The Final piece to the puzzle is the rest of the rotation and return to health of Joe Nathan. Can Carl Pavano provide another 200+ quality innings, will Brian Duensing provide 160 innings and push 3 WAR, and what about Kyle Gibson who could force his way into the rotation by mid season. The Twins have depth in the rotation, star power in the lineup and the knack for out producing expectations every year and as a result my pick to win a third straight division crown.

Players to watch: Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

2) Chicago White Sox (88-74)

The always entertaining Chicago White Sox spent big dollars this offseason to add DH Adam Dunn from the Washington Nationals and to retain all-star 1B Paul Konerko. The $56 million spent on Dunn should improve what was a middle of the pack offensive club in 2010. Dunn has posted 38 or more home runs in all of the last seven seasons and never has he had a wOBA below .365 in that time. To go along with Dunn the White Sox have Konerko coming off a career year. Unlikely to repost 39 home runs or a .415 wOBA the White Sox would be pleased with anything close to career norms of .273/.356/.498 from Konerko this season. The biggest question mark in the 2011 White Sox lineup will be at 2B. Which Gordon Beckham should the Sox expect? The one who posted below replacement level numbers in the first 3 months of 2010 or the one who posted wOBA’s of .410 and .388 during the summer months. The answer of course is somewhere in the middle, Beckham has all-star potential at 2B, but likely not in 2011.

The 2011 White Sox season will come down to the rotation though. With a bullpen anchored by Matt Thornton and Chris Sale giving up leads late in games won’t be the teams issue, and scoring runs as discussed won’t be the problem. However with Jake Peavy not ready for opening day and reports from his doctor that 60 pitches might be his maximum at this point the top of the rotation has a really big red flag. Throw in the always inconsistent Edwin Jackson and White Sox fans could be on the edge of their seat all season trying to get through the first six innings. One thing we do know, Mark Buehrle is going to pitch 210 innings have an ERA around 4.00 and give the White Sox 3.5-4.0 WAR. If Gavin Floyd and John Danks could provide similar numbers the White Sox could challenge the Minnesota Twins in 2011, but as of opening day I do not see that happening.

Players to watch: Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale

3) Detroit Tigers (84-78)

Like their AL Central counterpart the Tigers spent big money on a DH this offseason, giving a 4 yr $50 million dollar contract to former Red Sox and Indian Victor Martinez. Although Martinez may see some time at catcher his primary duty will be as protection for AL MVP favorite Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera for all his off the field issues including a much publicized arrest early in Spring Training for DWI is still considered the American League’s best hitter. For the Tigers to be competitive the middle of the lineup Cabrera, Martinez and Maglio Ordonez will have to be excellent. With those three and young CF Austin Jackson at the top of the lineup the Tigers could score in north of 780 runs this season and push for the AL Central title but it seems unlikely at this point with two better teams ahead of them.

There are some very bright spots for the Tigers in the rotation however. Anchored by my pick for AL Cy Young this season, Justin Verlander and up and coming star Max Scherzer the Tigers sport what is the best 1-2 in the AL Central for 2011. Couple these two with Rick Porcello who has shown signs of being a competent to good #3 starter in age 20 and 21 seasons and Detroit Tiger fans have a lot to look forward to in the rotation over the next few years. However the #4 and #5 spots in the Detroit rotation are major question marks. Phil Coke makes the move from the bullpen to the rotation. In his two full years in the bullpen with the Yankees and Tigers, Coke has posted xFIPs of 4.13 and 4.40 of course in limited work where his left handedness could be used to exploit platoon splits. Coke was a starter early in his minor league career and if he can provide the Tigers with anything close to his bullpen numbers in the rotation and 150-160 IP they would be overjoyed. The final spot in the rotation will belong to Brad Penny who has either not been very good or hurt the last few seasons. If Penny has found a time machine and can give the Tigers anything close to what he was pre 2008 then the Tigers may end up with a fairly deep and stable rotation. Too many question marks surround this pitching staff and bullpen and several positions on the field to be overly bullish on the Tigers projections, thus the third place finish.

Players to watch: Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello

4) Cleveland Indians (66-96)

Cleveland barely edges out Kansas City for 4th place in the 2011 AL Central because their current roster construction is just a bit better than the Royals. Indians fans do not have a whole lot to look forward to in 2011 and without a lot if any top end of the rotation starters in the high-minors it may be a few years before the Indians are contenders again. All is not lost in Cleveland though. The Indians have a legitimate star in RF in Shin-Soo Choo who has posted back to back 5.0+ WAR seasons and will likely be the team’s representative on the all-star team. Along with Choo in the OF is Grady Sizemore the once budding super-star is attempting a comeback from major knee surgery and expectations should be kept at a minimum until he shows he is healthy. However the biggest reason to watch an Indians game this season is the young catcher Carlos Santana. Buster Posey got all the hype last season and deservedly so, but the Indians had themselves an offensive machine behind the plate for the 46 games he played before a gruesome knee injury ended Santana’s season. Posting 2 WAR, and a .382 wOBA in only 192 PA, the Indians could be looking at the anchor to their next round of rebuilding. Aside from that the Indians don’t look to have much else, the rotation is lead by Fausto Carmona who teases fans with flashes of brilliance and Justin Masterson whom posted a 3.87 xFIP over 180.0 IP proving some of the doubters wrong in 2010.

Players to watch: Grady Sizemore, Matt Laporta, Carlos Santana

5) Kansas City Royals (62-100)

In an offseason where they traded away their best player in Zack Grienke, and had Gil Meche return over $10 million dollars when he decided to retire, gutting an already weak rotation there is reason to be excited for the first time in years. With a deep farm system (for more information click here and here) the Royals will at some point add to their roster this year at least one if not a handful of high end prospects including Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. However with a current roster that includes a rotation of Luke Hochaver, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen and Vin Mazzaro it is very hard to envision the Royals not losing 100 games in 2011 and if they did not call any of those prospects up this year anywhere from 105-110 losses could be on the table. All is not lost on the current major league roster though. Joakim Soria will continue his dominance in the bullpen, Billy Butler will continue to be a very good hitter, Kila Ka’aihue should hit enough this year before being displaced by Hosmer at some point to build up some trade value during the off season and the Royals can hope that Alex Gordon becomes even a fraction of what they once thought he would be.

Players to watch: Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Any of the Mid-season call ups

Divisional Preview: NL East

March 20, 2011

Not much of a prelude here, the NL East by far is the best division in the National League. The Braves and Phillies are probably the best two teams in the league, and Marlins would be competing for the divisional title in the other two divisions.So lets get to the predictions.

1) Philadelphia Phillies (93-69)

They are the best team in the league, easily in my opinion. Between Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt I just don’t see how they can falter, even if the Braves have a great season. That’s three probable HOF pitchers, still on the top of their game, and another AS-caliber pitcher. They will be contending in just about every single game they play this season. The bullpen may be the team’s weakest point, but it’s not bad enough to be of major concern. Brad Lidge may be Mr. Inconsistent, but Ryan Madson is a good reliever who will make important appearances late in games.

The biggest blow to their title run is the probable loss of Chase Utley. It’s such a shame because Utley has probably been the best player in baseball outside Albert Pujols the past half decade. Yet he never got the MVP hardware he deserved and more than ever it looks like we will never see the 7+ WAR Utley again. Don’t me wrong, the skill is still there, but he has the body of a 70 year old man. I don’t want to say his career is over, because that’s quite dramatic, but it’s on life support in my opinion. Losing Utley is devastating because Polanco and Rollins and Ibanez aren’t young doves anymore, and replacing Jayson Werth with Ben Francisco and a raw Domonic Brown isn’t going to lead to more runs. The offense has been a strong point for the Phillies during their recent power grip on the NL East, but the 2011 version could be their worst offense of the past few seasons.

That said, the Phillies should win the division once again.

Players to watch: Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino

2) Atlanta Braves (90-72)

Although the Phillies appear to be the easy favorites, the Atlanta Braves have a real chance of winning the division. The rotation isn’t as good as the Phillies ungodly rotation, but it’s still one of the best in the NL. Tommy Hanson is a stud, and as long as their healthy, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens make a good 2-4. Moreover, Mike Minor should be a big asset for the Braves at the bottom of the rotation. Last year in nine starts, he had a K rate above 9, a BB rate in the 2s, and an FIP of 3.77. Are those numbers he would have kept up across a full season? Probably not, but the point is the kid is the real deal and I expect big things from him. And despite the loss of Billy Wagner, the bullpen will be a strength once again with Johnny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Scott Linebrink, etc.

Now here is where I make a bold prediction. The Braves offense will be better than the Phillies offense. Brian McCann is a severely underrated catcher, Freddie Freeman is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year, Uggla is one of the best hitting second baseman in baseball, Chipper Jones can still produce with the bat, Martin Prado is an above average bat, and Jayson Heyward is already an MVP candidate in just his sophomore season.The Braves can get on base, they can slug, and they can score runs.

I don’t think they’ll catch Philadelphia, but they sure will give Philly a run for their money.

Players to watch: Jayson Heyward, Mike Minor

3) Florida Marlins (84-76)

The Marlins will be 2011s biggest surprise. In the NL East they are overshadowed by Philadelphia and Atlanta, but they have a winning roster capable of contending and winning in the NL West and NL Central. The staff is led by Josh Johnson, a stud pitcher who should have won the 2010 Cy Young award if he had not hurt his back. After him, the Marlins have a pair of solid pitchers in Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez. Rounding out the rotation are question marks in Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad, but if they work out the Marlins will have a tough rotation. Florida also completed a bullpen overhaul in the off-season and now have several good arms to complement Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, and Burke Badenhop.

The Marlins have a very young offense that has the potential to be scary good in the future, and possibly 2011. They are led by Hanley Ramirez who is already one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball history. Also leading the attack are young players in Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan, and power hitter Mike Stanton. They may not have the firepower to hang with Philly and Atlanta, but make no mistake, Florida is a good team.

Players to watch: Mike Stanton, Josh Johnson

New York Mets (79-83)

Ah, the poor old New York Mets. Between the mistakes of Omar Minaya to the Ponzi Scheme, the Mets have become a giant joke in baseball. But with the hiring of Sandy Alderson, the Mets seem serious about making a return to prominence. Unfortunately for Mets fans, that return won’t be in 2011. First off, the rotation is shit considering Johan Santana will miss most of the season. That means the Mets will have to rely on the likes of Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey, Chris Capuano, Pat Misch, etc. I actually like Jon Niese, but he is not a top of the rotation pitcher. And outside K-Rod, the bullpen isn’t good either.

The lineup is a little bit more potent, but it’s not exactly good. Ike Davis is an up and coming first baseman, and even with “struggles” the past couple years, David Wright is a star player at third. Even Jason Bay could have a good offensive season. But what can they expect from Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan? Was Pagan’s 2010 season a fluke? Can Beltran still play? Will Jose Reyes return to his old self? If not, 2011 could be a long and dreary season in Queens.

Players to watch: Jose Reyes, Ike Davis

5) Washington Nationals (69-93)

The future is bright in DC. 2011- not so much. With Bryce Harper figuring to make his debut in 2012 and with Stephen Strasburg ready to return in 2012, the Nationals could soon be a contender. But for now, they are still a last place ball club.

Without Strasburg, the rotation is not good. Jordan Zimmerman has a future, and Tom Gorzelanny is okay, but they will be giving lots of starts to the likes of Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, and Jason Marquis. On a positive note, the bullpen is good, led by Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Sean Burnett.

The lineup should be more potent than the past with the acquisition of Jayson Werth to team up with Ryan Zimmerman, but as a whole the lineup is nothing special. The Nationals are hoping Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa can emerge as good everyday players, but they may still experience growing pains in 2011.

Players to watch: Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmerman


Divisional Preview: NL Central

March 19, 2011

Last year the turnaround Reds took the division after pulling away from the St. Louis Cardinals in September, the Pirates and Astros took up the rear, and the Cubs stunk as usual. There were a few minor moves in the division, but nothing too drastic to really up the division.

1) Cincinnati Reds (86-76)

Looking to improve upon a 90+ win season and their first playoff appearance in some time, the Reds return just about all their everyday players and the same rotation. Defense should be a strong point with Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce in the outfield, while Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto roam the infield. Joey Votto, the MVP of 2010, should lead the offensive attack, which also features Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce. They  may not be the Big Red Machine, but the Reds should put some runs on the board.

The Reds will turn to a young, talented staff which could be good or bad. Players like Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez have all the potential in the world, but have yet to harness it all. If they can turn it on, the Reds will runaway with the division. If not, they’ll be fighting all year with mediocre pitching. One good thing is the depth. Between Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake fighting for the last couple spots, there won’t be any problems in-season when injuries arise.

Cincinnati is a young team with lots of potential. Whether or not that potential is tapped at once or not can go a long way for the Reds.

Players to watch: Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman

2) Milwaukee Brewers (84-78)

After trading for Zack Greinke, the Brewers have become a sexy pick to win the NL Central. But I would hold my horses. Yes, their rotation has an incredible trio of Zack Greinke, Yovanni Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum. But that’s it. They have no depth. Randy Wolf is okay, but Chris Narveson is currently their fifth option. Besides, Greinke could miss the first month of the season, and in what seems to be a tight race, missing him for a month and replacing him with a scrub could cost the Brewers a few games.

But if the pitching holds up, this team could be dangerous. Despite the presence of Yuniesky Betancourt, the Brewers have a tantalizing lineup. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Case McGehee. That IS a formidable heart of the order. The team will score runs, and if they can limit runs, this team will be good.

Players to watch: Rickie Weeks, Yovanni Gallardo

3) St. Louis Cardinals (82-80)

At first I was intending to pick St. Louis to finish on top, but losing Adam Wainwright is huge. That dropped them to third place in my book. I still think the rotation will be alright with a healthy Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, but losing a Cy Young candidate pitcher hurts.

The reason I still believe St. Louis will put up a good fight is the offense. For one, they still have Albert Pujols. As long as you have Albert Pujols and some okay players, you’re going to contend. Albert Pujols is out of this world good, but you already know that. However, they don’t  have all scrubs surrounding him. The lineup still boasts Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus. Yadier Molina remains one of the best catchers in baseball and I am a big supporter in David Freese, so long as his ankle is healthy. The everyday players will keep them competitive, but in the end, their loss of Wainwright will derail their playoff run.

Players to watch: Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia

4) Chicago Cubs (78-84)

Ah, the poor old Cubs. Over 100 straight years and counting of not winning a championship. 2011 will be no different. While I do think they will lose this season, I think the Cubs will be better than most people realize. They actually have a decent staff with a real good bullpen. They lack a true ace, but between Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, and Randy Wells, the Cubs do have an above average rotation that can eat innings and keep the team in most games. From there, the bullpen has the lights out Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood, and prospect Andrew Cashner. The Cubs could be dominant in close games because of the pen, and if they play in a lot of those close games, they could be 2011’s surprise team.

The reason I don’t think that will be the case if the offense. They are old. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Fukudome. They were once good and still are okay, but to rely on those players for 162 games is not good enough. Starlin Castro can be a star and Soto is a good offensive catcher. But as a whole this is an old, unreliable offense that won’t help win games.

Players to watch: Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol

5) Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)

Yes, yes, the team everybody always picks to finish last, I have coming in FIFTH. AN UPSET, I KNOW!

Look, the pitching is shit. I am a James McDonald believer, but he is a #3 starter, tops. Besides him they have guys like Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln, Scott Olsen, etc. Yeah, it’s not good. The Pirates will be giving up a lot of runs and will be losing a lot of games as a result.

The one redeeming quality in my mind is their young talent on the offensive side of the ball. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Andrew McCutchen. Andrew McCutchen is a stud and one of my big breakout candidates for 2011. He can hit, field, and run. Once the talent around him starts to develop, the Pirates will slowly start to creep back up to .500 baseball. Pedro Alvarez is another breakout candidate. He may never be good with the leather, but he can hit. Once the bat fully comes around, he will be one of the premiere power hits in the NL. To compliment these two in 2011 are Tabata and Walker. Both aren’t great hitters, but they are above average and help Pittsburgh be a middle of the road offensive team in 2011.

Things are still bleak in Pittsburgh, but the sun is starting rise.

Players to watch: Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez

6) Houston Astros (64-98)

The Astros suck. Plain and simple. Their rotation will be okay, maybe. The “stud” pitcher is Bret Myers. Granted, his 2010 was awesome. He also won’t be likely to repeat it. JA Happ and Wandy Rodriguez are okay. But after them? They’ll be giving 60+ starts to the likes of Nelson Figueroa, Bud Norris, and Ryan Rowland-Smith. Ouch. The pen isn’t any better.

The lineup does have Hunter Pence, a nice, young outfielder, and Brett Wallace could potentially emerge as a pretty good hitter at first. Michael Bourn has also been a total 8 WAR player the best couple seasons. That’s all nice and well. But you wanna hear the names of the other starts? Yes? Okay:

Humberto Quintero, Bill Hall, Clint Barmes, Chris Johnson, and one Brian Bogusevic. Yeah. Crap. And Carlos Lee may play first base instead of Brett Wallace.

The Astros are bad and will finish in last place. Yes, even behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Players to watch: Brett Wallace, Hunter Pence

Divisional Previews: NL West

March 17, 2011

Despite being one of the weaker divisions in baseball for the past couple seasons, the 2010 World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, called the NL West home. Moreover, the NL West was one of three divisions that had 2 90+ win teams, and only one team had a win total below 80. What can we expect from the division in 2011?

1) San Francisco Giants (87-75)

In 2010, the Giants strength by far was its pitching and pitching should be its strong point again in 2011. The staff will be led by ace Tim Lincecum, who had himself a “down year” in 2010. With him and Cain, the Giants have a 1-2 punch that could be the best duo in baseball, up there with Philadelphia, and both LA teams. But their rotation doesn’t end there. Their aces are backed up by Jonathon Sanchez, who is an effective starter despite a bad BB rate and Madison Bumgarner. Last year the Giants only got 18 starts from Bumgarner, who was my favorite rookie entering the past season. The dood is really good at limiting the free passes and keeps the ball on the ground. In 18 starts he had a 3.66 FIP and solid 2.0 WAR. With a “rebound” year from Timmy and a full season from Bumgarner, I think the Giants pitching will be even better in 2011.

On offense though…I’m not impressed. While Aubrey Huff was a beast in 2010, I think it’s safe to assume he will regress considerably. He may not put up 2009 numbers, but he won’t be nearly the contributor that he was in 2010. The same goes for the aging Pat Burrell, whose legs won’t be doing any favors for the Giants in the outfield either. A big question mark will be Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres. Whether or not Sandoval can overcome a terrible plate discipline could be the difference in whether SF can field a reasonable offense to score runs for their dominant staff. Moreover, was 2010 a fluke year for Torres? If the answer is yes, SF will be a lot more pedestrian than people might expect. Especially with the ancient Miguel Tejada manning shortstop. The one bright spot, in my estimation, is obviously Buster Posey. Whether or not anyone else on the team will care to hit alongside him remains to be seen. Also, the possible emergence of prospect Brandon Belt could go a long ways for an average offensive team.

Players to watch: Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner.

2) Colorado Rockies (83-79)

I am a big Rockies fan. I am always on their bandwagon. But I don’t think 2011 is their year. The offense should be better than San Francisco’s, with players like Troy Tulowitzski and Carlos Gonzalez. But their offense isn’t as potent as I thought it was. I am a big Seth Smith believer, but the team will be giving PAs to the likes of Jose Lopez, Ian Stewart, and a past his prime Todd Helton. So while the bats are decent, they aren’t good enough to carry a team past any other flaws.

The rotation is led by Ubaldo Jiminez who had a stellar 2010 and after him is Jhoulys Chacin, a pitcher I really like. But after those two, the rotation goes downhill. Jorge De La Rosa is okay, but nothing special. Huston Street is a real good closer, and there are some okay options out of the pen, but as a whole, the pitching isn’t spectacular- it’s okay.

That’s why I think the Rockies will be just an okay team- 83 wins. They have the potential to hit 90+ wins if players like Dexter Fowler breakout, but that’s asking a lot.

Players to watch: Jhoulys Chacin, Seth Smith

3) Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)

It’s been a rough past year or so for LA, from ownership problems to Joe Torre ruining good, young players like Jon Broxton and Russell Martin. So I’ll start with what I like. I believe LA has a pretty darn underrated staff. Clayton Kershaw is already an ace in my book and he should continue to improve and get better as he matures. Chad Billingsley is another underrated arm who has been putting up excellent numbers and WARs for a few seasons now. Ted Lilly continues to be an average pitcher and Hideki Kuroda continues to be underrated as well. He is paid like an AS pitcher, but doesn’t get the hype of an AS pitcher. He continually posts FIPs in the mid 3’s and does everything well that a pitcher has some control over. The Dodgers have the starting pitching of a winning team. The pen should also be a strength with Kuo, Jansen, and Broxton- assuming he is over is arm issues which I of course am contributing to Torre overuse.

Now comes the bad. The defense. Gibbons, Kemp, and Ethier has to be one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball. That’s not a good thing since the outfield is spacious and there is a lot of ground to cover. The defensive isn’t so that bad, but it’s not good either. The offense is another weak aspect. Andre Ethier is a legitimate middle of the order bat and I still believe in Matt Kemp, but outside that, there are a bunch of below average or average hitters. Rod Barajas? Juan Uribe? Jay Gibbons? Yeah, no team that features those three as everyday players will have a winning record.

Players to watch: Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw

4) San Diego Padres (75-87)

Last year the Padres were the team I loved to root against, simply because they were defying the odds. Luck was on their side and it HAD to run out. In September it finally did, and I was baffled it took that long. The Padres didn’t get any better and with some regression to the mean, I think San Diego will return to being a below average team that has trouble scoring, and isn’t that effective at preventing runs.

I love Mat Latos and he should have a good campaign, but who else is on their staff? The corpse of Aaron Harang, Wade LeBlanc and the rest of the rotation are simply not talented enough or good enough to repeat their success from last season. Players like LeBlanc were aided by good fortunes and extremely high LOB%. With a return to the mean, their production will decrease from a season ago. The defense will be a strong suit again which should help the pitching staff, but I have a tough time believing the run prevention will be as good as it was in 2010.

With that said, the offense hasn’t improved. Yes, Orlando Hudson was brought in, and he is a good hitter, but he isn’t a team changing hitter and he’s played in hitter and neutral friendly parks (Arizona, Minnesota) the past few years. Moving to Petco could depress his numbers. Morever, I could make the case Hudson is the team’s best hitter. When Orlando Hudson is your best hitter, you have big problems.

Players to watch: Cameron Maybin, Mat Latos

5) Arizona Diamondbacks (71-91)

After a dreadful 2010 the D-Backs will be…well, still bad in 2011. Justin Upton took a step back in 2010, but I and many others still expect big things from him 2011 and I am expecting a 5+ WAR season. The offense should also get contributions from Chris Young, Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson. The offense is not a weak point, and it’s arguably the second best offense in the division. But Melvin Mora will not be a productive player at third and relying on Juan Miranda at first is a risky play that probably won’t work out.

The bullpen was historically bad last season and while JJ Putz provides a solid arm to close out games, the pen still is weak. The staff is okay, but has little potential outside Dan Hudson. I think his HR tendencies can hurt him in Arizona, but he had a great half season for them in 2011 and I expect improvement. Ian Kennedy is another solid arm, but that’s it. He is just a solid arm, not a future ace. The rest of the rotation is filled with mediocre arms like Joe Saunders. This is a team that doesn’t do anything good, and is pretty weak in several aspects. As a result, the D-Backs should be bringing up the rear once again.

Players to watch: Dan Hudson, Justin Upton