Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day Predictions - American League

Yesterday I posted my NL predictions and here are my AL predictions:

AL East: Red Sox - Boston's lineup is getting older and soon they will need a new thumper in the middle as Manny and Big Papi decline, but I think they've got another big year in them. I also think that Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to have a Cy Young quality year now that he's got a year of American baseball under his belt and should be more comfortable. The Schilling injury won't hurt as bad as some think as Clay Bucholtz will soak up the innings without missing a beat. I'm not sure about Bartolo Colon, but as a #4 or #5, it isn't a bad risk to take (since they have Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield to pick up if Colon falters).

While I like Boston better this year, I think the Yankees are set up better for the future. A-Rod will be the centerpiece for the foreseeable future and Wang, Hughes, Kennedy, and Chamberlain provide long-term solutions for the rotation. A lot of big contracts will be gone after this year or next: Giambi, Abreu, Damon, Pettitte, Matsui, Mussina and while they might resign some (Pettitte and Abreau possibly), the others will create a vacuum that will certainly be filled with other high-dollar players (Mark Teixeira, I'm looking at you). While they aren't ready to retake the division, they should still win the Wild Card this season and come back even stronger for 2009.

AL Central: Detroit - As I wrote in an earlier post, the Tiger's window is open. They've got an amazing lineup, with Granderson at the top, Sheffield, Ordonez and Cabrera in the middle, and Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Renteria, and Polonco as complementary pieces. The rotation is strong with Verlander and Bonderman at the top and Rogers, Willis and Robertson filling out the bottom. The bullpen could be the best in baseball if they could stay healthy, but injuries to Zumaya and Rodney present the biggest internal speedbump to Detroit.

The biggest external speedbump to the Tigers is the Indians. Cleveland is walking a fine line with their team this year - if a couple of things go against them, they could be mediocre quickly. Travis Hafner is on the wrong side of 30 and his production is in decline. Victor Martinez isn't far behind him and you have to wonder if staying at catcher will take a toll on his offensive production. The top of their rotation is great, with Sabathia and Carmona, but Bryd, Lee and Westbrook all fail to inspire.

AL West: Seattle - I predict that the AL West will be the worst division in baseball this season and I have the Mariners winning almost by default. The acquision of Erik Bedard gives them a true Ace at the top of their rotation and Felix Hernandez could develop into an Ace before the end of this season. The rotation is shaky thereafter. The lineup probably doesn't have a legitimate 30 homerun threat, but is solid top to bottom with Ichiro, Lopez, Beltre, Sexson and emerging youngster Wladamir Balentien. They are, at best, the fifth best team in the AL, but that should be enough to win a weakened West.

The Angels would be the team that provides the West with some legitimacy, but injuries have them depleted. John Lackey should come back after missing the first month, but Kelvim Escobar might be done for the season and Scot Shields' future is cloudy. I like Jared Weaver, but I'm not sure he's ready to step up and carry the team while Lackey and Escobar are out. Offensively the club still revolves around Vladimir Guerrero and there isn't a lot of power to be found elsewhere, but I think that Howie Kendrick has a chance to be a quality doubles and average kind of hitter.

MVP: Alex Rodriguez - I wanted to put someone else here, I really did, but every time I thought about another player (Grady Sizemore, Manny Ramirez - who I think will have a great season this year, Miguel Cabrera) I kept asking myself if I really thought that they would have a better season than A-Rod and I could never say yes.

Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka - As with Ben Sheets in the NL, I figure if I'm going to make a bold prediction, I might as well take it all the way. I really think he's got the stuff and makeup to be a top shelf starter in this league. He had a very good year last year and he was still adjusting to the schedule and cultural differences in America.

ROY: Adam Jones - If Evan Longoria had started the season in the majors, I think this would be his. Jones is going to be very good and his two month head start on the counting stats will give him the ROY over Longoria.

Nik Markakis: .274/.355/.482 22hr

Miguel Cabrera: .317/.402/.554 32hr

Erik Bedard: 16-6, 3.26 ERA, 204 K's

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Opening Day Predictions - National League

Technically, opening day was a week ago, when the Red Sox played the A's in Tokyo. The games counted towards the regular season, but it didn't feel much like Opening Day. Even tonight, Atlanta plays Washington, won't seem like Opening Day - that's tomorrow, when the rest of the teams start playing for real.

Every year about this time I make some predictions and I'm usually only right about the obvious stuff. That won't stop me, though - it's just too much fun making the predictions. Here goes:

Division Winners:

NL East: New York - they aren't without their problems, namely that Delgado and Castillo are past their prime and the Church/Pagan/Chavez trio will be filling 2 outfield spots, but the offense can revolve around Wright, Beltran and Reyes and let Delgado and the others be complementary players. Their big upgrade in pitching (switching out Glavine for Santana in the rotation) makes them a lot better, although I am skeptical of Pedro's health at this point in his career. I would expect the Mets to deal for a starter at the trade deadline (although they've only got one big trading chip left: Fernando Martinez).

I'm not a fan of the Phillies - their offense will be exciting with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Burrell - but the back of the rotation with Jaime Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton scares me. The Braves, on the other hand, I do like. With Kelly Johnson setting the table and Jones, Teixeira, McCann and Francouer forming the heart of the linup, they should score some runs. Smoltz and Hudson at the top of the rotation is nice, and I like the pickup of Jurrjens for the middle of the rotation. Unfortunately, the starting 5 is rounded out by Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine, who both might be toast (although Hampton looked good when I saw him in the Spring).

NL Central: Milwaukee - I like this Brewers team a lot. There is no doubt that they will score some runs, with Fielder, Braun, and Hart in the center of the lineup. They are complemented well in almost every spot: Weeks and Hardy are young starts just notch below the other three, Hall has proven that he can play big (see 2006), and Cameron will be his usual solid-if-not-spectacular self. The health of Ben Sheets is always a question, but I am going out on a limb and picking him to get 30 starts and be in the hunt for the Cy Young. Add Yovani Gallardo, the ever-steady Jeff Suppan and the potential of Manny Parra to Sheets and you've got a deep and talented starting staff.

I dislike the Cubs on principal as a Cardinals fan. As an unbiased baseball fan, though, I think this team is poised to make a run. The NL Central, which was the laughingstock of baseball the last two seasons, will be an exciting division to watch, as the Cubs and Brewers will battle for first place all season and the loser will get the Wild Card. The Cubs upgrades over last season (Fukudome and Pie instead of Jaque Jones and Clif Floyd; and a full season of Geovany Soto instead of Barrett/Kendall) will make a huge difference in their offense (as would the potential switch of DeRosa for Brian Roberts, if they can ever finalize the deal with Baltimore). I am a bit worried about the possibility of Marquis and Dempster at the end of their rotation, but they've got some youngsters (including Sean Marshall) to fill in if trouble arises. I also like the end of their bullpen with Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood (converting him to the pen will save his career, in my opinion).

NL West: Los Angeles - I don't trust this team to do the right thing with its young players, but I think they will overcome some poor choices because they have talent across the board (Juan Pierre notwithstanding). Russell Martin is just entering his prime, Ethier, Kemp and Loney are young studs (and LaRoche would be if he'd stay healthy) and Kent and Andruw Jones still have some in the tank. The pitching is deep, too with Penny, Lowe, Billingsly and Kuroda starting and Broxton and Saito in the pen.

If the Dodgers falter, there will be a mad rush to take their place. I love the Diamondbacks young team and Webb/Haren is might be the best duo in the NL. If they aren't the best duo in the NL, then it is probably Peavy/Young with San Diego. The Padres problem is that they will rely too much on Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles to carry their offense. The reigning NL Champions, the Rockies, will also be in the hunt, but I am afraid that their pitching will come up short this season.

Miscellaneous NL Predictions:

MVP: David Wright - He should have won last year and I would expect him to be close to the top of the ballot for years to come. He wins this year as he leads the Mets to the playoffs.

Cy Young: Ben Sheets - The obvious choice would be Santana or Peavy, but I'm sticking with my prediction of this being the year that Sheets stays healthy and puts it all together.

ROY: Geovany Soto - Every fiber of my being wants it to be Colby Rasmus of the Cardinals. If Braun won it last year after coming up in May, why can't Colby this year? Colby and Jay Bruce will probably have better careers, but I'm going with Soto in this one because he will get more at bats to pile up the counting stats and his team will get more attention because they'll be in the pennant race.

Johan Santana: 17-8, 3.23 ERA, 242 K's - A very good year, but not a Cy Young performance.

Dan Haren: 15-10, 3.63 ERA, 194 K's - Haren might be the game's best #2 starter, but don't confuse him for a #1 (luckily the D-Backs already have Brandon Webb).

Kosuke Fukudome: .278/.389/.438 - He will adjust well to the United States and will be even better in 2009.

Corey Hart: .292/.367/.571 and 32 homers - a breakout year, combining with Fielder and Braun to bring the Wallbangers back to Milwaukee.

Tomorrow: the American League

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Training Photo Dump

I finally got around to going through the rest of my pictures from Spring Training. Here are the best of what's left.

The first one has a story - I have a bet going into this season with a friend of mine regarding who will have a better season, my breakout pick, Corey Hart, or Baltimore's Nik Markakis. Since I got to see Baltimore play while I was in Florida, I took a bunch of pictures of Markakis and emailed the following awkward looking one to my friend, offering to let him out of the bet, if he wanted:

The next one has no story, I just think it is a nice looking picture (Chris Duncan singled to rightfield on this pitch):

The next pair of pictures concerns me as a Cardinals fan. I hope that this isn't the extent of the video crew that the club is using for internal purposes.

Here is a closeup of the guy:

Finally, rookie Adam Jones (who the Orioles acquired from Seattle as part of the Erik Bedard trade) had a nice spring and I expect him to be a very good all around ballplayer for years to come. Here is a picture of him just prior to contact.

Friday, March 28, 2008

ERA Leaders and Pitch Types

Using Josh Kalk's Pitch f/x database, I created the following chart of the top 20 leaders in ERA (ERA is certainly not the perfect metric to use to list the top 20 pitchers for a year, but it serves my purposes for this exercise) for 2007:

More than half (12) threw four different kinds of pitches, seven threw three different kinds of pitches, and only Oliver Perez stuck with two pitches. Fourteen of the pitchers threw at least three pitches 10% or more of the time each (Escobar actually threw four pitches more than 10% of the time each). Danny Haren was the only pitcher on the list that threw three different pitches more than 20% each.

Anyway, the point is that variety seems to be a hallmark of success. But we all knew that anyway - guys that only have two pitches usually end up in the bullpen. One thing that I find interesting is that the slider is the breaking ball of choice, instead of the curveball. Eight of the pitchers threw a slider more than 15% of the time, while only five threw curveballs at least 15% of the time. Also, eight threw the curveball less than 5% of the time, while seven threw the slider less than 5% of the time (however, two of those, Haren and Hudson, both throw a cutter, which is listed under 'other' but could be considered a form of a slider). This preference for the slider makes sense from the standpoint that they are easier to control, but it is surprising from the standpoint that the slider might be the most damaging pitch to a pitcher's arm.

Less surprising is the reliance on the changeup. Oliver Perez is the only pitcher that didn't throw any changeups and only four threw less than 5%, while nine threw more than 15%. This makes sense in that the changeup is the pitch that pairs up best with the fastball (which is the overwhelming favorite pitch to throw) and is the easiest on a pitcher's arm.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Detroit Tigers Update

Well, forget what I said in an earlier post about the Tigers window to succeed being two years - they just signed Miguel Cabrera to an 8 year $153.3M contract. I really didn't expect them to sign him long-term for two reasons: 1) Detroit isn't a high revenue team like the Yankees or Red Sox and they already have multiple high dollar contracts; and 2) Cabrera might have gotten the biggest contract in MLB history if he'd waited for free agency.

My guess is that the first of those issues might be explained by the structure of the contract. I would guess that Cabrera's new contract is backloaded quite a bit so that he is still relatively cheap for the next two years. That way, big money guys like Sheffield and Ordonez will drop off the payroll just as Cabrera's big money kicks in.

The second of the issues, I suppose, comes down to whether Cabrera was willing to gamble on his health and effectiveness for the next two years. If he stays healthy and continues his current level of production, I think he would have been looking at A-Rod level money. But $19M in the hand is worth how many in the bush?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Training Recap

I recently got back from a week in Florida for Spring Training. Most of my time was spent in Jupiter, focusing on the Cardinals prospects (check out Future Redbirds for my take on that subject), but several other things caught my eye (and camera lens) as well. Here is is my journal of Spring Training along with pictures.

The first game I saw was the March 13th game between the Cardinals and the Mets, which is when I took the picture of Gammons and David Wright that I posted previously. The Mets top prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez got into the game and looked great. At one point he was facing Cardinals prospect Jason Motte, who basically throws nothing but 98mph heat, and Martinez turned on one and pulled it down the rightfield line into the corner. The bat speed to get around on the pitch was impressive, but Martinez' speed around the bases (he ended up with a triple) might have been more impressive.

The game ended in a tie, but not before Cardinals prospect Colby Rasmus threw out a runner trying at the plate trying to score the go ahead run in the ninth. Here are a couple of pictures of the play at the plate (which would have been better, but the throw was slightly up the line and so Molina blocked my angle at getting really good pictures):

We did not travel to Vero Beach on the 14th to see the Cardinals take on the Dodgers, but we did travel to Port St. Lucie to see the Mets (again) on the 15th. This time we got to see the $200 million dollar man, Johan Santana start. He got beat up a bit as the Cardinals won 10-3, but I did get a couple of nice pictures of his motion:

I also got an action sequence of Angel Pagan stealing second base off of Yadier Molina:

After the Mets, I saw two games against the Braves. The most notable news out of those games was that Mike Hampton performed very well. It has been so long since Hampton was effective in the major leagues that the statline that was quoted on the scoreboard before the game was from '05.

The final game that I attended was against the Baltimore Orioles, in Ft. Lauderdale. The fireworks started early for the Cardinals against Adam Loewen, who is struggling with an arm injury. Albert Pujols started off the scoring with a two run homer in the first inning:

Later, I got a nice action sequence of Pujols scoring just ahead of a throw to the plate:

I am still sifting through the 330 pictures that I took during the trip and I may post a few more if I find any to be worthy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scene from the Grapefruit League

I took this picture of David Wright and Peter Gammons late last week during batting practice before a Mets-Cardinals game in Jupiter, Florida.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pitch f/x

I don't have any analysis to add to this link just yet, but I just want to point out how cool it is. There is so much that can be gleaned from the information there. Just as a quick example of cool information I found within that database, did you know that the average velocity of a fastball leaving Joel Zumaya's hand last year was 97.85 mph? I haven't looked at every single pitcher in the database, but I suspect that is the highest number in the league. What could be even more interesting is the batter cards, which tell you what kinds of pitches were thrown to each batter so you can say things like "Alex Rodriguez saw more sliders than any other hitter in baseball." [Note: I have no idea if that is true or not.]

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Another Kind of Tigers

I was going to go to the Missouri Tigers baseball game this Friday night. I had several reasons for making the trip, most prominently to get some game action practice using my new camera before I head to Florida for Spring Training next week. Unfortunately, the game has been cancelled because of cold weather.

I did do some research in preparation for my trip, though, so here is my quick preview of the 2008 Missouri Tiger baseball team:

Main Attraction

The big gun on this team is clearly Aaron Crow. He is one of the top rated pitchers in the country and is expected to be a top 5 draft pick this June. He was undrafted out of high school and wasn't considered a top prospect until this past offseason, when his fastball gained several mph in the Cape League (he now sits at 94-96 with his fastball). In 2007, as a Sophmore (and before his velocity jumped), he went 9-4 with a 3.59 ERA, with a 6.9 K/9 inning rate and a 2.5 BB/9 inning rate.

Other Stars

The 2007 recruiting class was huge for the Tigers. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year last year was catcher Trevor Coleman (drafted in the 38th round by Cincinnati out of high school) who put up a .282/.429/.506 line with 9 home runs in 170 at bats. Sophmore outfielder Aaron Senne is another solid bat from the class (drafted in the 13th round by the Twins). His line last year was .289/.389/.482 with 7 home runs in 218 at bats. The final big gun out of the 2007 recruiting class is pitcher Kyle Gibson (drafted in the 36th round by the Phillies). Reminiscent of Crow his Sophmore year, Gibson is currently more of a command pitcher than a power pitcher, but he may develop more velocity as he grows into his 6'6" frame. He has already been mentioned by Baseball America as a possible top pick in the 2009 draft.

Senior Jacob Priday is the power source in the middle of the lineup. Last season he hit 13 home runs while putting up a .297/.402/.575 line. Ostensibly an outfielder, the Tigers use him most often at the designated hitter spot (which does not bode well for him defensively at the next level).

Others to Watch

Missouri had another nice recruiting class this year, getting three commits that were drafted by major league clubs. The jewel of the class could be Missouri native (Blue Springs, MO) right handed pitcher Nick Tepesch, who was drafted in the 28th round by the Red Sox. The other two Freshman draftees are also both right handed pitchers: Brad Buehler (43rd round by the Rays) and Tyler Clark (46th round by the Cubs).


Missouri started the year ranked in the top ten nationally and behind Aaron Crow and their underclassman hitters, they have a chance to stay there all year. Missouri is becoming known as a pitching pipeline, with Max Scherzer getting drafted early in the first round two years ago, and now Crow, Gibson, and perhaps Tepesch all lined up for first round selections in successive years.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2008 Breakout Pick

My breakout pick for the 2008 MLB season is Corey Hart. Hart is a 26 year old rightfielder for the Milwaulkee Brewers. Last year he hit .293/.353/.539 over 140 games with 24 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

Hart was drafted out of high school and played his first professional games for the Ogden Raptors in 2000. He repeated the rookie level in 2001 at Ogden and dominated, with a .941 OPS and 11 homers and 14 stolen bases in 67 games. He split time between high A and AA in 2002, hitting 24 home runs combined. He spent a complete year at AA in 2003 and had an .807 OPS.

At 22 years old, Corey debuted in AAA, an made his major league debut the same year. While bouncing between the majors and AAA over the next two years, Corey's OPS' at AAA were .830 and .913. In 2006 Corey spent the majority of the season in the big leagues (his OPS at AAA was .951 for the 26 games he was down).

The Brewers had a bit of a glut of outfielders in 2006, with Carlos Lee, Brady Clark and Geoff Jenkins getting the majority of starts. But Hart managed to get 237 at bats and performed well (.283/.328/.468). Then in the offseason before the 2007 season, the Brewers allowed Carlos Lee and Brady Clark to leave, opening up a full time position for Hart in 2007.

This season, Hart will be back starting in the outfield and will get a prime spot in the lineup, batting in some combination with Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun. I expect him to continue to hit well and to get a lot of opportunities to bat with runners on base. In a perfect world, the Brewers lineup would look like this:

1. Rickie Weeks - 2B - .374 OBP in 2007
2. JJ Hardy - SS - .323 OBP; .423 SLG in 2007
3. Ryan Braun - LF - .370 OBP; .634 SLG in 2007
4. Prince Fielder - 1B - .395 OPBP; .619 SLG in 2007
5. Corey Hart - RF - .353 OBP; .539 SLG in 2007
6. Bill Hall - 3B
7. Mike Cameron - CF
8. Jonny Estrada - C

JJ Hardy is a little low on the OBP for the #2 slot and Corey Hart might actually be better there, but for my fantasy team, I like Hart at the #5 slot so he can get more RBI opportunities.

So Hart is my breakout pick for this year and I expect his line to look like this:

.302/.362/.582 with 32 homeruns and 25 stolen bases.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Window of Opportunity

I have been fascinated by the Detroit Tigers for some time now. It goes back to a period in my life when I lived halfway across the country from where I live now, and I was friends with a group of guys that were (for the most part) fans of American League teams. I decided that I needed an AL team to pull for, but I didn't want to be a bandwagon fan and root for the Yankees or any of the other (at that time) successful teams. So, after carefully researching some of the also-rans, I decided that I would take on the Tigers as my AL team. My reasoning was thus: they weren't very good, but they had a lot of potential to be good in the near future. They had some power bats, a bit of speed, and an emerging young starting rotation. All of the ingredients for success sooner rather than later.

Now, as I set that first paragraph up, the reader (that's you) would probably think that I'm talking about the Detroit Tigers of about 2004 or so. But I am actually talking about the Tigers of 1996. The 1996 Tigers went 53-109, but they had a 27 year old Travis Fryman, a 25 year old Bobby Higginson (145 OPS+), and up-and-comers Tony Clark (27 HR), Damion Easley, Phil Nevin, and Justin Thompson. The future looked bright. The following year they won 79 games behind Thompson (151 ERA+), Clark (128 OPS+), Easley (117 OPS+), Higginson (133 OPS+), Brian Hunter (ok, his OPS+ was a putrid 81, but he stole 74 bases with a success rate of 80%, which is worth mentioning), and ummm... Bob Hamelin (122 OPS+ with 18 HR - who knew?). They also had Frank Catalanato and Juan Encarnacion getting their first time in the majors, so things were looking pretty good.

But it never worked out for those Tigers. They never made a single playoff appearance, taking steps back (or sideways) over the next few years until they bottomed out with 119 losses in 2003.

Those Tigers teams had a nice window of opportunity to make a push for a championship, but failed to make good on the opportunity. The current Tigers are also looking at a window, what I find surprising is how narrow that window just might be.

The 2006 Tigers made it to the World Series mostly on young arms and veteran bats, with a couple of exceptions. The following off season they traded multiple minor leaguers for Gary Sheffield to provide some additional power to their lineup. This off season the Tigers made the boldest move in the league in trading multiple minor leaguers to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and in a smaller trade they sent two minor league pitchers to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria. The main result of these three trades is that the Tigers are a very dangerous team. They should score plenty of runs and they still have a nice pitching staff, centered around Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, although injuries have chipped away at their dominant relief staff.

A second result of these trades is that the Tigers have very little talent left in the minor leagues. The only legitimate prospect left is Rick Porcello, who was drafted out of high school in 2007 and won't be ready for the big leagues for several years. Additionally, the average age of the starting lineup will be almost 32 years old this year, which is generally about the time that players abilities begin to decline. Possibly the biggest time issue facing the Tigers is that their biggest gun, newly acquired Miguel Cabrera (who is only 24) only has two years left on his contract. He will probably want to get paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $20M a year (or more) and someone (the Yankees might have a spot open at 1B for him) will certainly pay that amount.

So, the sad fact that Detroit faces is that they could be right back in the gutter in two years, left with an aging team of former all stars and a enormous hole in their lineup vacated by Cabrera. I love that they were bold and saw an opportunity to put together a championship quality team and went for it. If I were a die hard Tigers fan I would be excited for the next two years. As an impartial observer, I think the next two years are going to be absolutely fascinating to watch for the Tigers. They bet the house on winning the World Series and anything less will be a catastrophic disaster.

Does the World Need Another Blog?

The answer, of course, is no. But one more won't hurt anything. An even better question might be: Does the world need another baseball blog? And again, probably not. And, a question even bether than that could be: Does roarke really need to write for another blog? But the answer is different for that one. I do need to write for another blog. Future Redbirds is a great website and I enjoy participating there. But I watch a lot of baseball during the year and sometimes I want to write about things that just wouldn't fit at Future Redbirds. So, there probably won't be much here about the Cardinals prospects or minor league system, but everything else baseball related will be fair game. For example, my first real post is going to be about my fascination with the Detroit Tigers...