Sunday, March 29, 2009

Working in Baseball Update

To those who have taken an interest in my career in baseball, I wanted to send a brief update as to how things have been progressing in my seasonal position with the Atlanta Braves. March 26th marked my second month of being a trainee with the Braves and I look back on these two months and I just cannot believe how much I have learned about myself and about the industry in this time. During my time at Ithaca College, I prepared and developed my own opinions about sports and spent a great deal of time thinking about the business of baseball and how teams are successful money makers. Since arriving, I have finally realized the importance of ticket sales. Everything does truly return to ticket sales. In a year where the economy is in flux, selling becomes even more of a priority and as a result I have been encouraged just about every day to develop ideas that could sell tickets. So far, I have only come up with ideas, but hopefully by the end of the season I will be able to show that I came up with bonafide ticket sales project either collaboratively or on my own.

The best piece of advice that I have received thus far has been to keep my confidence in check. The last thing that any experienced employees want to hear is an inexperienced employee talking about all the things that they know. There is a lot to be said about being an employee that doesn't know the meaning of the word "no" at this point in one's career. I keep that in the back of my mind every time I walk into the doors of Turner Field.

Finally, I have figured out that this is truly the industry for me. Whether I come home after an incredibly busy day of work or have gone in many hours before I would have been awake on the weekends while at college, I am excited to go to work every day and am satisfied when I return home at night. I find myself staying up later than I should at night thinking about what I need to do or brainstorming ways to make the Atlanta Braves profit more. Truly, the signs of a future workaholic. Fortunately, I am happy and all signs point to me continuing to be happy.

The Atlanta Braves home opener is April 10th versus the Washington Nationals. I can't believe that it is already here -- my first "real" season. To all my friends and family, thank you for your comments and interest about my very young career.

AL West Final Thoughts

1.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2.) Texas Rangers
3.) Oakland A's
4.) Seattle Mariners

The Angels have looked great thus far in Spring Training, but there is reason to believe that they have gotten significantly worse this season after losing Mark Teixeira, which means that the rest of the division catches up after the Angels won the division 2008 by more than 20 games. The Angels remain the favorites because of all around depth, but the Rangers and A's have closed the gap significantly. The Rangers offense is young and improving every day. There is a good chance that this offense could be record setting assuming good health. The A's will have their offensive struggles, but like the Rangers offense, the A's pitching is also young and looking like a staff that is maturing with every start. When the A's and Rangers get together, it'll be fun seeing which gets the upperhand. The Mariners are going to be a little better in 2009, but it may not be until 2011 until that team is a legitimate competitor again assuming that they can improve minor league depth and develop current talent into major league players. They will have a significant say as to which team makes the playoffs.

This is the weakest of the divisions in the AL, but it will be a fun one to follow because three teams should be there come the final week of September.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Texas Rangers Preview

Overview: The Texas Rangers are another intriguing team from the AL West, much like the Oakland A's. As is always the question with the Rangers, will their starting pitching be adequate enough to push them into the playoffs. They have a fantastic looking offense and a bullpen that has FIVE pitchers with closers experience. They have incredible depth on their bench as well. Nobody has been talking about the Rangers, but I really think that this could be a team that is going to surprise a lot of people this year and contend in the AL West all season long.

Starting Pitching: Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Matt Harrison, Brandon McCarthy and Jason Jennings are currently slotted in the Rangers starting rotation. That's not exactly the best news for Rangers fans because that rotation is definitley not getting better. Watching Edinson Volquez dominate the National League hurts too, but the Rangers do have a good amount of young pitchers, so if any of the last three starters in their rotation get hurt or aren't cutting it, they have the flexibility to try a fresh arm. Kason Gabbard, Scott Feldman, Kris Benson, Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza could all start this season for the Rangers. I see no reason to believe that the combined starters ERA is going to be much lower than 5.00 this season. Unless something changes drastically and one of their younger pitchers develops or they acquire a solid arm, the Rangers are going to be let down by their starting pitching once again.

Bullpen: For now at least, this looks to be a position of strength for the Rangers. As mentioned in the overview, the Rangers have five relievers with closer experience. Frank Francisco has been given the job with CJ Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Derrick Turnbow and Joaquin Benoit also having closer experience. At this point, Wilson, Guardado, Turnbow and Benoit are not feared arms, but they are solid enough to give Ron Washington the ability to mix and match with two lefties (Wilson and Guardado) and two righty's (Turnbow and Benoit) to get to Francisco in the late innings. I only worry that they do not have a long man in their bullpen as of right now. Though with the amount of starting pitching that the Rangers have, it wouldn't be too hard to have one of those pitchers throw some decent innings for them. There are health concerns with just about all of these relievers, so the issue could still be in doubt, but for now, I like this bullpen.

Offense: The Rangers offense is going to be one of the best in baseball this season, if not the best. With a Micheal Young shift to third-base, the team improves across the board. With that one shift, the Rangers are able to take Hank Blalock off the field to become the full-time DH and super prospect Elvis Andrus is given the starting shortstop job. That will also improve the defense markedly as Young has never been the best shortstop. Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis fill out the right-side of the infield and each are young players that have come through the Rangers system. Kinsler is a top-5 second baseman and Chris Davis showed that he could rake in limited time last season (295 ab's -- .285, 17, 55). Behind the plate, the Rangers are loaded with talent with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez. Each appear to be offensive minded players with real star potential. The question is which one will get it figured out at the major league level fastest. This is a commodity that will come in very handy around July when frequent trade partner, Boston, is shopping for Jason Varitek's replacement and use their surplus of pitching talent.

In the outfield the Rangers are six deep and are very talented. With MVP candidate Josh Hamilton leading the pack, the Rangers also have David Murphy and Nelson Cruz. Each is a young talent with a good amount of potential. Murphy has showed himself to be a gap hitter with 20 home run potential. He reminds me a lot of former Rangers outfielder Rusty Greer on the late 90's variety of the Rangers. Cruz had an 1.000+ OPS in limited at-bats last season. While that was probably a fluke, there is certainly enough reason to think that he could be the 2009 version of Carlos Quentin or Ryan Ludwick. He has a lot of power potential and put it together last year. Watch both of these guys become steady contributors to a solid lineup. Behind this talented young group, the Rangers have Brandon Boggs, Frank Catalanotto and Andruw Jones. Boggs is in a tough situation, because he is talented enough to get a look somewhere as a starter, but it won't be the Rangers unless there is an injury. He has a ceiling similar to Murphy. Catalanotto is nearing the end of his career, but he certainly has always been able to hit and is a great bat to have off the bench, with the ability to play the corner outfield, first-base or second-base in a pinch. Finally there is Andruw Jones. Three years removed from a 40 homer season and widely being considered one of the games best center fielders, he is now barely part of the Rangers roster. There is little reason to believe that he is going to return to form, but at 32, he could give the Rangers quite a bit in event of an injury.

Overall: The Rangers look to have an offense that will be the toast of Major League Baseball this season. Josh Hamilton could very well be on his way to an MVP award if he puts together a similar season on a winning team. The Rangers will also see development of at least one other stud offensive player whether that is Chris Davis or Nelson Cruz. They also will hope to have a full season of Hank Blalock now that he is a full time DH. This is going to be an offensive juggernaut for years to come, I can't wait to watch this team hit. Pitching is going to be a major struggle yet again for this team, but I do strongly believe that the Rangers are en route to a second-place finish in the AL West, and they will give the Angels all they can handle with 7 of their final 17 games head to head. Every starter for this team is an offensive threat, watch their youth develop closely this season.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seattle Mariners Preview

Overview: The 2008 Seattle Mariners were one of the most disappointing teams in baseball history. Coming off a season in which they won 87 games and with a team payroll at $117 million, this was a team that was supposed to win, yet they finished a terrible 61-101. In the process of this historical failure, the Mariners dropped GM Bill Bavasi after numerous big number free agent signings that will haunt the club for years to come. Now under the leadership of GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu, the Mariners look to turn the page slowly on the mess that is the Seattle Mariners. They brought back Ken Griffey Jr. for marketing purposes, because even if this is Griffey from the late 1990's, this is still not a contender. 2009 will also see the Mariners giving some long looks to prospects Jeff Clement, Mike Karp, Wladimir Balentin and Matt Tuiasosopo. None of whom appear to have big impact potential this season. They do have Felix Herandez and Erik Bedard atop their rotation, which should strike fear into opponents, but after that their pitching is very thin with a collection of well traveled veterans. Things in 2009 will not be as bad for the Mariners, but there is nothing to get excited about with this team besides Ken Griffey Jr. finishing off his hall of fame career in the city where it all began.

Starting Pitching:
The rotation for the Seattle Mariners is led off by an excellent righty-lefty tandem. On their best days, there may be no one better than Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. Each does carry a good amount of baggage with them. Hernandez has been the victim of poor run support throughout his career and does seem to struggle with consistency. Fortunately, he is turning 23 this April and has plenty of learning to come. Bedard was given the opportunity to be an ace last season for the Mariners and really struggled mightily after a fantastic 2007 season with Baltimore, he has never pitched more than 196.1 innings in his career and is a injury concern as well. I expect both pitchers to post better win totals in their 2009 seasons, but it won't be enough to carry the group that follows.

As mentioned earlier, Bavasi was prone to signing veterans to long and big contracts. Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva absolutely fit into that category. Washburn was not horrible last season, though he is no better than a 5th starter and Silva was absolutely terrible. Just a note to show how bad Silva was in 2008, he allowed 213 hits in 153.1 innings pitched. He found far too many bats and there is no reason to expect that he will bounce back in 2009, though the Mariners will give him a chance because of the 4 yr/48M contract that Silva signed prior to last season. There is one glimmer of hope in Brandon Morrow. Morrow showed excellent stuff and closers potential before the Mariners decided to move him to the starting rotation last season. If Morrow can improve his durability as injuries were a concern last season, he would be a valuable 3rd starter. While he is probably best suited for a spot in the bullpen because of injury concern, he is a guy to keep a close eye on.

Bullpen:
Mark Lowe, a guy with a 5.37 ERA in 2008 is slated to close. Miguel Batista is the set-up guy. Tyler Walker will be the next guy in line. All that tells me is yikes, this bullpen is bad. Batista and Walker have closing experience for losing teams and certainly will get looks as closer if Lowe loses his job. David Aardsma, Roy Corcoran and Cesar Jimenez fill out the rest of the bullpen. Again, that is bad news, however I will salvage some hope for the Mariners in that Aardsma has decent stuff and could develop into a solid reliever with the right mentoring. Also, Chad Cordero was signed by the Mariners to an incentive laden deal. This was a wise move and could certainly help the Mariners by the mid-season as he returns from injury. If he gets the ball in the 9th, he would be in a very similar situation to that of his time in Washington, a great reliever in a bad bullpen on a bad team. The situation in the bullpen is not good for the Mariners any way that you look at it. Fortunately, the Mariners can look to manufacture some quality arms this season to prepare them better for the future. Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow could both be quality relievers with the right teacher.

Offense:
Ichiro Suzuki is the only all-star candidate in a lineup that will be very weak. Suzuki, is one of the greatest contact hitters in baseball still, and he may eclipse 2000 hits this season for his MLB career. Suzuki still has great speed and plays a fantastic right field. It really disappointed me that Ichiro did not want to play centerfield for the Mariners last season because he makes that team so much better in centerfield with plus range and arm speed. That job belongs to Franklin Gutierrez this season, acquired from Cleveland. Gutierrez does not project to be a big impact player, but he does play solid defense and might quietly be a .260/20/70 guy if everything works out for him. In left-field the Mariners will start with Wladimir Balentin, but after a .202 batting average in 2008, I don't like his chances to develop into much more than a power bat off the bench beyond this season.

On the infield, the Mariners look a bit better than they do elsewhere. Russell Branyan, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Adrian Beltre compose a defensively challenged but decent offensive infield. Branyan never managed to control his strikeouts enough to be a starter at the Major League level, but will be given the opportunity once more at first-base. He is not a good defensive player and has very poor range. He makes a great power bat off the bench, but will start until Mike Karp is given the job at first. Jeff Clement will also be given looks at first-base and Chris Shelton is hanging around as well. Jose Lopez is another defensively challenged player that could work out best playing first-base. He hit .297 with 17 homers and 89 RBI's, which are great numbers for a second-baseman. The Mariners do have Ronny Cedeno backing him up, who is a defensive whiz without a stick. Adrian Beltre has proven now that his one 50HR season in Los Angeles was a fluke, but he still has above average power for his position and will be an above average player for third-base. He has another large contract and if the Mariners find any takers, he will be gone, but for now he is the second strongest bat on this team, behind Ichiro. Finally, Yuniesky Betancourt is a defensive whiz, following the Cristian Guzman career path. He has played at least 153 games in each of his three full big league seasons, so he will be around. Do not expect much power, but .280 is probably reasonable to expect, but he will not get on base (career OBP is .023 higher than career BA). He is not a long term solution, but he will play until the Mariners can develop or acquire a better option.

Behind the plate, the Mariners have a lot of questions. Another poor move by the previous regime was to re-sign Kenji Johjima through 2011 with their top prospect, Jeff Clement coming up. Johjima was terrible last season and Clement had a slow start to his big league career. This will be an interesting situation to follow because of injuries to Clement and declining production of Johjima. I would like to see Clement get as many opportunities as possible in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Mariners, I see that at first-base, which leaves a gaping hole at catcher because Johjima's bat speed is way down and is likely not coming back.

Ken Griffey Jr. will be the DH for most games. That is where he belongs now with his defense decling, though he will probably get some repetitions in Left-Field from time to time. It is nice to see him back in Seattle, but he will not be an impact DH. This is another weakness for the Mariners, but at least it'll be fun to watch.

Projections: It is pretty easy to see that this is a team that is in disarray. The Mariners have made the right first-steps to rebuilding with hiring Jack Zduriencik. He is known for his ability to build a farm system, which is exactly what the Mariners need. They have plenty of resources and with the right player development plan, this team could contend in 2011 at the earliest. This will be one of the worst teams in baseball again this season and at the bottom of the AL West. If you can bare the rest of the team, keep an eye on Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Brandon Morrow. If they are healthy, they will be a solid 1-3. Jeff Clement could break onto the scene this year as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oakland A's Preview

Overview: The new variety of the Oakland Athletics promises to be a bit more interesting to watch for A's fans than the team that Oakland produced in 2008. Billy Beane had a very agressive start to his offseason, acquiring Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies. Then Beane made some excellent maneuvers to bring in some of the best bargains of the winter. Jason Giambi (1 year, 5.25M w/2010 club option), Orlando Cabrera (1 year, 4M) and Nomar Garciaparra (1 year, 1M) all came in at very reasonable prices and provide the A's with leadership that they needed. It is going to be particularly fun watching to see if Giambi or Garciaparra still have another season left in their bats. Those four moves certainly do change the way that teams will look at the A's, but there are still plenty of holes to fill on this team and plenty of new faces that fans will have to acquaint ourselves with over the summer. One thing is for certain, the 2009 A's are going to be interesting to watch as a potential contender for the balanced AL West crown.



Starting Pitching:

After all-star Justin Duchscherer, the A's have four starting pitchers that are not household names yet, but all talented, young and competitive. With the rich history that the A's have for developing quality arms, it would not surprise me at all to see one or two of this group develop into top end of the rotation starters, with 25 being the oldest . The group currently consists of: Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. On their extended roster, just one starting pitcher is over the age of 30, Justin Duchscherer. Watch out for the A's pitching staff this season because any one of those four could develop into top-two starters. I am going to say that I believe in Dallas Braden to make a big contribution to the team this season. For now, the starting rotation is a weakness because of its overall inexperience, but it could end up a strength. Particularly if Duchscherer stays healthy for the entire season.



Bullpen:

What other team do you know of that has had two relief pitchers with respective ERA's of 1.06 and 0.59 in more than 45innings of work for each pitcher. I can't think of any teams in my time watching baseball where this has happened and the 2008 A's had Joey Devine and Brad Zeigler hoist those gaudy numbers. This is exactly why Huston Street became expendable in the offseason trade for Matt Holliday. Before the A's get to Zeigler and Devine in the late innings, the A's have Jerry Blevins, Russ Springer, Santiago Casilla and Mike Wuertz. Blevins is the only lefty in the bullpen, but he is young and can battle. Springer was brought in this offseason and at 40 he posted a 2.52 ERA in 50.1 innings with the Cardinals last season. He is going to provide the veteran leadership in the bullpen for the rest of the group, who are relatively inexperienced. Casilla and Wuertz round out the bullpen and will be good in the middle relief role. While none of these names are going to be nationally known, I would expect the A's bullpen to be among the best in baseball in 2009. If you look at their numbers from 2008, the highest ERA of the bunch was 3.92 (Casilla). If Zeigler and Devine can continue their dominance at the end of games, this is going to keep the A's close throughout the season.



Offense:

The A's lineup projects to be heavy on the lefties, built around a very powerful righty, Matt Holliday. If all goes according to play the lineup for the A's will look something like this:

Ryan Sweeney, CF (L)
Orlando Cabrera, SS (R)
Jason Giambi, 1B (L)
Matt Holliday, LF (R)
Jack Cust, DH (L)
Eric Chavez, 3B (L)
Kurt Suzuki, C (R)
Mark Ellis, 2B (R)
Travis Buck, RF (L)

That lineup is fairly well distributed, and they should really match up well against average right-handed starters, but could struggle against lefties with around 300 strikeouts coming from Giambi and Cust alone. Ryan Sweeny is not your typical leadoff hitter, but he showed the ability to get on base and make contact. Orlando Cabrera also will make contact, but he is not as good of an OBP guy as the typical Beane product. Bringing Giambi back to Oakland was a great move by my estimation because it gives the A's another legitimate power option and a fan favorite, but he is not the MVP winner from years ago. I also worry about Matt Holliday because he is moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball to one of the least. I do not expect to see him hitting .340 this season, but he is too good at making contact and putting the ball in play to drop far below .300. I do not expect to see his power numbers be much higher than 30 homers, which could make him a good #3 hitter, if it did not put three lefties in a row (Giambi, Cust, Chavez). Jack Cust and Eric Chavez will not hit for a high average. Cust will strike out a ton, but still get on base enough to keep his job. Chavez has been injured too much in the last five seasons to make me think that he will be around for more than 200 at-bats, but if he is, he plays excellent defense and has power. Mark Ellis has been an average second-baseman in his career, with decent power for his position. Last season, his batting average hit a low .233, which makes him one of the weaker second-basemen. I do not expect that Oakland will wait too long on him and a replacement could be coming from within in the form of Bobby Crosby, Nomar Garciaparra or Jack Hannahan. The other two guys in the lineup are still developing. Kurt Suzuki and Travis Buck. Suzuki posted solid contact numbers in 2008 and could become a Bengie Molina-type hitter without 100 pounds in taquito's. I will be interested in watching Suzuki hit in 2009, because it is obvious that he can make solid contact, but if he can add some power to his bat, he would become a top-10 catcher. Buck had a good 2007 debut, hitting .288 in around 250 at-bats, but in 2008 his average dipped to .226. He strikes out a ton for a guy without much power. He also gets on base, which will earn him another shot to make this an everyday job for him. Like Ellis, if that does not happen, there could be a solution from within the organization. Rajai Davis has lightning quick speed and could add a different dynamic to a slow lineup. Chris Denorfia is 28, doesn't have much power, but can get on base and could plug a hole temporarily. Finally Aaron Cunningham is coming from the minors and could be a perfect replacement for Buck come May after some further seasoning at AAA Sacremento.

Projections: This is going to be an average team in an average division. The Angels appear to have the advantage over the other three teams, at least today, but the A's have a ton of upside with a young starting rotation and some mature bats in their lineup this season. The A's have closed the gap, and in what will be a division that could be decided by 5 games or less for the first three spots, I predict the A's to finish 3rd right around .500. There will be issues as to whether or not Billy Beane can keep Matt Holliday under contract or trade him, which will be talked about frequently come July. Watch out for Kurt Suzuki and Dallas Braden to develop this season.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Preview

Overview: The Angels were widely regarded as being the best team in the American League in 2008, yet they were unable to make it past the Boston Red Sox again in a playoff series. The Angels had a tough offseason as well, losing both their best offensive player and closer to the New York teams (Mark Teixeira to the Yankees and Francisco Rodriguez to the Mets). The Angels replaced those two with Bobby Abreu and Brian Fuentes, certainly a downgrade. Also in recent news, Vladimir Guerrero told reporters that he was 34 years old, as opposed to the 33 that he was believed to be. Perhaps that explains his severe decline as he no longer appears to be a major impact hitter at this stage in his career anymore. This does not bode well for the Angels as all of the other three teams in the division made improvements during the offseason. This team is going to live and die by their pitching and ability to play small-ball. A Mike Scoscia team will do all of the right things and play small ball well. They will be in the mix, but their days as the toast of the American League are in the past now.

Starting Pitching: The Angels starting staff features John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley. This is going to be one of the strongest starting staffs in Major League Baseball in 2009 with Lackey leading the charge. John Lackey is a seasoned ace now and can be relied upon to win 15-20 games when healthy. Ervin Santana too has shown that he has ace stuff. He also seems to have put his unusual home/away split issue in the past. He struck out 214 batters last season in 219 innings and I feel as though the best is yet to come with him as he is just 26. Like his brother (Jeff), Jered Weaver looks as though he has leveled off after a good start. He was very average last season and I would not expect much more from him until he can get his velocity back. He will keep the Angels in games, but with an offense that appears a lot less powerful this season, he is not going to be winning 15 games, 10 may be a struggle. Joe Saunders looked great last season after getting off to a hot start and then coming back down to earth. He did finish the season with the most wins on the Angels staff and he is a quality left-handed pitcher. He does not have the stuff that Santana has, or the long-term success of Lackey, but Joe Saunders might just be the best pitcher on this staff by the end of the 2009 season though he will not do it with flash. Finally, Dustin Moseley is the current 5th starter on the Angels, but he probably won't finish that way with Kelvim Escobar coming back from injury by mid-season or sooner. Moseley may not even hold this position if another starter in camp outshines him (Nick Adenhardt). Once Escobar returns to the mound, this staff is really going to be one of the top three in baseball. Injury history is the factor with this rotation. Lackey was out last season, Santana just got injured this season, Escobar has not pitched since 2007. Again, the Angels will live and die by their rotation because if a starter is injured, the next best option would be Dustin Moseley, which is not going to be pretty. When healthy, watch out.

Bullpen:
Having lost a record-setting closer from last season would be a big deal one would think, but the Angels have signed Brian Fuentes and more importantly have Jose Arredondo, who did nothing but impress in his rookie season (1.62 ERA in 61IP). Fuentes may have the closers job now, but Arredondo should already be putting pressure on him. The Angels also bring back Scot Shields and Darren Oliver to be an excellent L-R duo in the middle to late innings. Shields is no longer the dominant force he once was, but he and Oliver are solid relievers. Justin Speier will also bulk up the middle relief corps for the Angels. The rest of the Angel bullpen is going to be unknowns. Kevin Jesper and Jason Bulger are currently holding onto the last two spots, with a combined 42.1 major league innings combined. The Angels will have great middle relief depth. They have a great young arm in Arredando and could stand to pick up another long relief option. The bullpen looks to be a strength again for a Mike Scoscia team.


Offense:
At the end of the 2008 season, the Angels had probably the best lineup in baseball. They could do it all and showed incredible depth. Without Mark Teixeira, the entire complexion of their lineup has changed. The Angels are looking like a collection of aging outfielders and exciting and athletic infielders. They probably will not have anyone eclipse 30 home runs in 2009, though they will have plenty of 20 homer guys. The Angels lineup is set up perfectly with contact and speed in Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick. Figgins has great speed and will get on base and score plenty of runs. Kendrick is a great contact hitter and could very well hit .330 in 2009. What the Angels need to worry about here is how long these two will be healthy. Each have been struck by injuries in the past and it will be crucial for them to stay healthy for the success of this team. After the top two, the Angels have a slew of outfielders that would have been murderer's row in 2002. Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu are slated as being the teams outfield starters. All showed declining numbers in 2008 at the plate with Guerrero and Abreu slowing down in the outfield significantly. These three are no longer top-5 for their position, but they will be able to knock in runs. After those three, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli will provide power from the DH and Catching positions, but that is about it for them. Kendry Morales takes over at first-base for Mark Teixeira. He will be given his first big chance to secure a starting spot, but so far, his MLB career has been lackluster with a career .249 average in 377 at-bats. Morales is a big guy with power potential, and his development could be what makes or breaks this offense. 25-30 homers could lead to big dividends for this lineup. Finally, the shortstop duty will be given to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis. These two pesky hitters are the perfect fit in the 9 spot, each plays very solid defense at short as well. Neither are going to be all-stars, but they won't hurt the Angels.
As far as depth, the Angels are well equipped for success. Gary Matthews Jr. is a 40 Million dollar mistake, but he is certainly a good 4th outfielder and Reggie Willits offers incredible speed off the bench and in the outfield. I would have personally liked to have seen Willits in the outfield this season because he does have great speed and was a top rookie of the year candidate in 2007, before losing his job in 2008 to a healthily paid outfield. He has virtually no power, but would be a great #9 hitter for a team in need of some speed because he gets on base (he belongs in Oakland). The Angels also have a talented backup catcher in Jeff Mathis, who would be ready to take some at-bats if Mike Napoli falls off this season. Robb Quinlan has been a mainstay on the bench in Anaheim for years and will probably get some at-bats this season if things do not go well for Kendry Morales. Former top prospect Brandon Wood is hanging around the Four-A level and it is now or never for him. The Angels have great depth, but that will not help an offense that has slowed significantly between years.
Projections:
I see the Angels being right there again in 2009 for the NL West crown. The problem for the Angels is that their entire divison has improved, so the competition has gotten a lot tighter after seeing the Angels win by 21 games in 2008. This division is going to be a battle, much like the NL West has been for the last few seasons, but because of excellent depth and a solid bullpen, the Angels are in best position to win this division again in 2009 and will win the division finishing with a record that will be around 85-77. Watch out for Kendry Morales on this team, he could be the difference between 80 or 90 wins for this team.

NL East Final Thoughts

Predicted Results:
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets (Wild Card winner)
Philadelphia Phillies
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals

This appears to me to be the strongest division in the National League, by quite a good margin. I pick the Braves to outlast the Mets and Phillies in quite a dog fight because they have depth and will get Tim Hudson back for the stretch. Also given the Mets recent struggles in closing out the season and the Phillies starting pitching, the Braves look like they are going to be consistent all season. Injuries will be a huge factor in who wins this division with three very evenly balanced teams. Last season, the Braves were hit hard with injuries and added nothing but depth and durable veterans this offseason, in doing so, they are in great position to outlast their opponets this season. It will be important to watch the Marlins and Nationals, each of whom have legitimate talent and will be pesky to close out. One final reason why the Braves are going to be the NL East champions in 2009 is that they have the best young talent compared to the Mets and Phillies. They have 2-3 immediate contributors in 1B Jason Heyward, OF Jordan Schafer and RHP Tommy Hanson, not to mention 6-7 major league outfielders and 8 legitimate starting pitching candidates. This is a team prepared to make a run in 2009. Braves win the NL East in 2009.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Washington Nationals Preview

Overview: In their brief history in Washington, the Nationals have never made the playoffs. There is no reason for much of a reason to expect that to change in 2009. On the positive for the Nationals is that Jim Bowden is no longer in charge of that franchise after resigning during the middle of an ugly political issue where Bowden is being investigated for poor signing tactics of Dominican players. Prior to leaving, Bowden stacked the Nationals with slow, poor defensive corner players. The Nationals should be better in 2009 and will absolutely factor into who wins the division, but they should be well out of the race by June. This franchise needs athleticism all over the diamond and a makeover to the pitching staff. They will likely make some trades before the season starts, but even with those trades, the Nationals are in trouble.

Starting Pitching: Garrett Olson, Daniel Cabrera, John Lannan, Shawn Hill and Colin Balester are the five pitchers that are currently slated in the Nationals rotation. Yikes! There is a lot of youth and potential for improvement with this staff, however none of these pitchers would have earned much better than a 3rd or 4th starter spot on any other team. The oldest starter of the bunch is Daniel Cabrera (27), so there certainly is room for development. What is going to frustrate Nationals fans this season is that their starting rotation is going to walk a lot of batters. Scott Olsen and John Lannan have average WHIP totals at 1.31 and 1.34 respectively, but of the other three starters, the lowest WHIP from 2008 was 1.5. The Nationals really need to address this key fundamentals issues and should consider bringing in a historically known control pitcher (Bret Saberhagen?) to help aid this staff because it is going to be a major problem


Bullpen: ESPN has the following six pitchers listed as the current bullpen for the Nationals: Joel Hanrahan, Saul Rivera, Steven Shell, Jason Bergmann, Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard. Believe it or not, this is a talented group of young pitchers. There are no dominant pitchers among this bunch, but each of them has been successful at the Major League Level. Hanrahan is slated to be their closer and he should battle, but I wouldn't expect greatness from him. One player that should be mentioned for this bullpen is lefty, Mike Hinckley. He went 13.2 innings in 2008 without allowing a run. He deserves a spot in this bullpen, even a look at the rotation given his 0.80 WHIP. This bullpen reminds me of the ones that Pittsburgh has put together over the years, lots of young arms that quietly get the job done.



Offense: Here, former GM Jim Bowden has put together a plethora of corner players with tons of power potential, but that is about it. Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young, Wily Mo Pena, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham are currently battling for three positions. Also note that half of those players were formerly Cincinnati Reds products. It didn't work in Cincinnati for Bowden and it doesn't look like it will work in Washington. Once those position battles are set, the rest of the roster appears to be full of exciting young players. Lastings Milledge and Ryan Zimmerman have absolute star potential, though this is probably their last season to be considered rising stars. That leaves Anderson Hernandez and Cristian Guzman starting up the middle with Jesus Flores behind the plate. Hernandez is a former Mets prospect that was highly regarded for his defense, but last year in limited time with the Nationals, he hit well over .300. If that continues, he will absolutely keep a starting job with the Nats displacing an aging Ronnie Belliard. Cristian Guzman came back from the depths below the Mendoza-Line to hit .316 and really was the offensive star for the Nationals in 2008. This defense up the middle is going to provide DC fans with some stunning double plays, but offensively they could go either way. If they hit like they did in 2008, this team could have the potential to hang in longer than expected. Finally, Jesus Flores is slated to be the starter this season for the Nationals after sticking as a rule-5 pick in 2007 and working in 300+ at-bats last year. He is a talented young player. The best case scenario for him in 2009 would be .275, 15, 80, but I do not see that being impossible for him. Either way, this guy will give the Nationals more than Paul Lo Duca and Jonnie Estrada and that's great news for them.

Projections: I predict the Nationals to finish in 5th place in the NL East with the cloud of uncertainty around this organization set from the top down. I look at the Nationals and outside of Adam Dunn and Cristian Guzman, this is a team with a lot of young talent that could turn into a surprise story like the Rays did in 2009. I do not expect this to happen because a lot of good things would have to come together and I do not see the positive encouragement from management on this team as the Rays had in 2009, but the youth and talent is certainly there. I see Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan developing into solid players this season. The parts are there for the Nationals to be a surprise team in 2009 and will certainly be in position to play spoiler. I think that they will be a lot more fun to watch in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Ken Burns' Baseball Documentary

As a baseball fan, I regret to admit that I have not been able to see the Baseball documentary until after my 22nd birth date. I came home this afternoon from work with the Braves to turn on the Ken Burns documentary on baseball. Not that I needed it all that much, but it forced me to see the beauty of the game once again. If you claim to be a baseball fan and have not seen this documentary, you need to immediately. I am on the first DVD courtesy of Netflix, and can't wait to get through the next 9. Here is a sample of some quotes that beautifully articulate the nature of the game.

"I think that there are three things that America will be known for 2000 years from now when they study ancient cultures: The Constitution, Jazz Music and Baseball. Those are the three most beautifully designed things that this culture has done."

"There is no parameter that prohibits you from performing more excellently"

"It's a very peaceful thing, there's grass there's outdoors. It's the wonder of holding your dad's hand and seeing that huge space where men play a little boy's game."

Watch it!

Philadelphia Phillies Preview


Overview: The 2008 World Series Champions will be back to challenge for the NL East crown once again. This offseason, the Phillies added Raul Ibanez, while subtracting Pat Burrell and that was about the only big change that was made so theoretically, they should be in contention again. I am not sold on the Phillies and was not last October either. It came down to the Phillies getting hot at the right time and they took the World Series. With a weaker pitching staff than the other top two teams in their division and an injury concern to their best hitter, Chase Utley, I am very doubtful about the staying power of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Starting Pitching: The Phillies rotation, led by Cole Hamels should be fairly solid. Hamels should be in conversation for the Cy Young award this season, every season for the next several years for that matter. After him however, the Phillies are stretched pretty thin on 4th starters. Brett Myers showed last season that he can still start, but he is not going to be an ace or anything close for that matter. Joe Blanton will boast a 4.50 ERA, Jamie Moyer is 46 and Kyle Kendrick suffered big setbacks in his sophomore season. Based on the fact that the Phillies play 81 home games in a offensive heaven, this is going to be a weakness for them compared to the Mets and Braves who figure to be involved in the race in September.

Bullpen: Brad Lidge became Brad Lidge again last season, not blowing a single regular season save. I don't expect that again, but I do expect him to continue his dominance of the NL now that he has found a comfort zone. He is also the best closer in the NL East (if JJ Putz is indeed setting up Francisco Rodriguez). Getting to Lidge is going to be a bit of a challenge, though Ryan Madson was pitching extremely well last fall. His career has been inconsistent, but he did look locked in at the end of last season. If he has that same look in April/May, this is going to be a solid end of the bullpen, but I am not 100% sure that he will maintain that dominance. JC Romero, Chan Ho Park, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre will also be in the mix for the remaining bullpen spots. This is not a dominant group, but much like the Braves, they can mix and match very well.

Offense: First, I am going to start at first. Ryan Howard is probably baseball's best power hitter. He also falls into the category of a player that I would hate to have on my team because he strikes out far too much and hits for a mediocre average. His 2006 season (.313, 58, 149) was amazing, in the two years since, his batting average has dropped lower each season, with strikeouts ending at 199. Howard has incredible power numbers, but is going to have to do more this season if the Phillies are to make the playoffs. Chase Utley injured his hip last season, playing through the pain to the best season for NL second-basemen. At one point last season, before the injury, he was having an MVP campaign, then his production really hit a wall with the injury. If his hip is in good shape, he will be in an MVP conversation again, but I worry that his hip is going to take some time to heal. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino will be setting up Howard and Utley. Rollins had a down year in 2008 and Victorinio was doing all of the right things for a scrappy outfielder. Rollins will need to rebound in 2009 and Victorino needs to maintain on his 2008 season. After the big four, the Phillies have Raul Ibanez and Jason Werth. Those two project to both come in around .280, 25,90. Ibanez has put up exactly those numbers for several seasons now. The lineup will finish with Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. Neither of whom shine offensively, but will be useful. One issue I have with this lineup is that it is very lefty heavy. If it is a lineup of Rollins-Victorino-Howard-Utley-Ibanez-Werth-Feliz-Ruiz-Pitcher, the lineup goes S-S-L-L-L-R-R-R. That is vicious versus right-handed pitching and could be painful for them against left-handed pitching. Fortunately, only Scott Olsen, John Lannan, Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, Andrew Miller and Tom Glavine are left-handed pitchers in the NL East. The situation is further retarded by having three more left-handed bats on the bench, which may be more impactful. Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins and Greg Dobbs are all lefties and could force opposing managers to change pitchers twice to get the right situation. The bench looks solid with backups Chris Coste, Ronny Paulino and Marcus Giles also in consideration for bench spots. Only Paulino is still young enough to have a potential as a starter. You may remember him from the Pirates hitting .310 in 20o6. He has been accused of having a poor work ethic and was traded this offseason. I have always liked this guy for hitting .310 as a catcher. He may steal some at-bats from Carlos Ruiz if he shows that he can hit for solid contact again.

Projections: 3rd in the NL East. The 2008 Phillies lucked into the playoffs by another Mets falloff and their getting hot at the right time. I was happy and very surprised for the Phillies in 2008 because it shows that getting hot at the right time can be enough to win a World Series. I do not think that the Phillies will be as lucky in 2009 because the Braves have improved so much. It may be a 3-4 game difference between the top three teams in this division as PECOTA projects as well because they are all so very close. I chose the Phillies to be the odd team out this season because their pitching staff depth is not nearly the same as compared to the Mets and Braves. Ryan Howard is the X-Factor here. If Howard has another career year, the Phillies will have enough to get into the playoffs, perhaps even win the division. I don't expect much different from Howard, which is why I maintain 3rd in the East.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New York Mets Preview

Overview: The New York Mets continued their dedication towards making big name additions in the free agent market this offseason by adding Francisco Rodriguez the season after his record breaking number of saves. Within a week, the Mets acquired an even better closer, by my estimation, in JJ Putz. Now the Mets have put together the best back end of the rotation in Major League Baseball, though it is inverted. Everything else will stay the same, which may not be good for the team that has left its fans nothing short of heartbroken. The New York Mets offense is as inconsistent as they come, with the exception of David Wright. There are times when Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran are locked in and are some of the most frightening hitters in all of baseball, but that does not happen often enough, and it hardly ever happens when they click at the same time. This is a team that is full of talent that just does not seem to be able to put it together. They have improved the back end of the bullpen, while harming the front-end. Their depth is fairly decent, but who actually expects Fernando Tatis to hit .300 again? Not me. I think the Mets have a lot to be excited about this season for the 8th and 9th innings, but they lack consistency which will hurt them in September for the third consecutive season.



Starting Pitching: This is a good rotation. Led by one of the best pitchers of the decade, Johan Santana, whom the Mets can expect to have another great season. After that they have John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey. None of whom are aces, but all of whom will keep games close. The fifth spot in the rotation is currently slated as being Lvian Hernandez, though Freddy Garcia and Tim Redding will have a lot to say regarding that fifth spot. Any of those three pitchers would be a valuable veteran arm that will also keep games close. This is a strong rotation that will probably be the best in the division when all is said and done. I do wonder how many innings each will go for. Santana is a lock for 200+ innings, but the others may struggle to get to that plateau, which will expose a major weakness, middle-relief.




Bullpen: The back end of the bullpen is phenomenal. It is without a doubt the most talented setup/closer combination in baseball this season. In signing Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets picked up a proven closer. He did have a record setting 2008 season with 62 saves and a 2.24 ERA. Red flags went up when I saw how his velocity has dropped 6MPH. If he is going to continue to be a dominant closer, he will have to do it in Trevor Hoffman fashion, setting up his curveball effectively. I also noted last year that Rodriguez had many saves that were with a 3 run lead that he made close, yet they were still saves. Fortunately for the Mets, their setup man, JJ Putz is probably a better closer than Rodriguez. In 2007, Putz was the most dominating closer in baseball. He was pretty much as automatic as they come. Assuming his health issues are behind him, Putz could be closing games if Rodriguez struggles. Leading up to these two, there is not much. I did get to see Eddie Kunz pitch in the Cape Cod Baseball League as well as in Binghamton, and this guy has dynamic stuff. His control is where he will struggle, but he has the chance to grow a lot in 2009 with Putz in front of him, a guy who has very similar stuff. After that, the rest of the group consists of Duaner Sanchez, Brian Stokes and Pedro Feliciano. They are all fairly average arms at this point in their careers which could mean headaches for Jerry Manuel, but the most replaceable part in baseball is middle-relief so this is a bit of a weakness right now that could end up being a strength with the right moves throughout the season.


Offense: The outlook for the offense projects to be bright. Though there is some aging talent in Brian Schneider (C), Carlos Delgado (1B), Luis Castillo (2B) that are all likely to continue their respective declines in 2009, there is also a solid infusion of players in the prime of their career and youth. Ryan Church, Daniel Murphy and Carlos Beltran project to be the best outfield in the NL East at least with numbers. Church was on his way to a career year in 2008, before injuries slowed him down and Murphy looks to be a great contact and gap hitter. Carlos Beltran is probably the hitter with the most talent and explosion, yet his career has shown him to be inconsistent when he hits for power. He will still be a very talented player for the Mets, but who knows what kind of season he will have? He is capable of an MVP season, but the Mets may only get the production of a 5 hitter from him. David Wright and Jose Reyes make for quite a talented left side of the infield, each can make plays defensively that will take your breath away. Offensively, Wright is showing himself to be a .300, 30, 100 machine. Reyes is all over the place. he is very prone to erratic performances at the plate, which only harms the Mets because their offense comes and goes with Reyes since he is leading off. Overall, this is a very solid offense when they are all playing to their capability. Unfortunately, that does not happen for an entire season, which is what will harm this team. The bench is looking fairly solid. Ramon Castro, Alex Cora, Marlon Anderson, Jeremy Reed and Fernando Tatis figure to be the main five guys that will be on the Mets bench and each will bring something different to the table. Castro, Cora, Anderson and Tatis are veterans and Reed still has a chance to develop into something more than a defensive replacement and occasional starter. The Mets are strong in their bench.


Projection: 2nd Place in the NL East, 1st in Wildcard. The Mets are going to be there all season, but will be up and down. The back end of their bullpen has improved, but their offense is no different from any of the last several years. They will be inconsistent. Even if they do make it to the playoffs this season as I predict because of the depth in the NL Central and the lack of talent in the NL West, I doubt that they have much of a chance at playing deep into October because of this inconsistency. Watch Daniel Murphy very closely. He could end up as a .300/20/80 guy from nowhere.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Florida Marlins Preview

Overview: The 2009 Florida Marlins are full of players that are going to take 2 months for even the most avid MLB fans to be able to answer the question: who was that? Yet, this continues the Marlins historical trend of being able to take young players and build competitive teams with them. The Marlins also have one of the best players in baseball. Hanley Ramirez blew up last season into being considered the most valuable fantasy player in the game by many including Yahoo! sports. It's really a shame that Ramirez is a Marlin because he would be a superstar in many other markets. Though as their 2008 offseason shows, it will only be another 2 more seasons before he is traded because they cannot (or is it will not?) afford his services after that. The Marlins should field another competitive team, but it will most likely not be enough to keep in touch with the top three NL East teams.

Starting Pitching: This is a staff of guys that are incredibly talented, yet nobody has gotten to know them yet. After Ricky Nolasco (26) and Josh Johnson (25) the Marlins offer Chris Volstad (22), Anibal Sanchez (25) and Andrew Miller (23). Nolasco wound up the 2008 season with 15 wins and Johnson returned from injury strongly with a 7-1 record and sub-4.00 ERA. The top of their rotation could certainly win 30+ games for them if healthy. Volstad pitched very well in his first major-league season last year and could end up being the ace of their staff if he continues to pitch as he did in 2008 (6-4, 2.88ERA). Sanchez has a no-hitter under his belt and is also returning from injury, but he did not fare as well as Johnson. He will be given the opportunity to return to form, though there is always another talented young pitcher ready for Fredi Gonzalez to give a shot. The fifth starter for this rotation is former first-round pick, Andrew Miller. Acquired in the trade for Miguel Cabrera last season, Miller struggled mightily with his control. At 23, there is plenty of time for him to turn into an ace, but he is going to have to harnass his control issues in order to become that ace. Burke Badenhop and Rich Vanden Hurk were both given starting opportunities in 2008 and would be first in line if an injury were to occur or Sanchez/Miller are unable to be effective. 1-3, the Marlins staff is going to keep games close. There will be some dominating performances as well by those top three, though there are no guarantees about the bottom two in the rotation.

Bullpen:
This is going to be where a lot of the "who was that?" comes from during the season. ESPN shows a bullpen of Matt Lindstrom, Leo Nunez, Scott Proctor, Logan Kensing, Jose Ceda and Taylor Tankersley. Lindstrom will be getting the save opportunities now that Kevin Gregg was sent to Chicago, and you can expect him to succeed in that role. Getting to him could be an adventure, though the Marlins have a lot of depth. Not mentioned in their bullpen is Henry Owens, Kiko Calero and Renyel Pinto. Each of whom are quality major league arms. Owens is returning from injury, but has closed games for the Marlins in the past. Calero is older now, but he has been around in the late innings before and Pinto is a lefty with decent stuff. This bullpen lacks a lights-out arm, but the Marlins have 8-9 quality relief arms. This will not be a strength of a weakness for the Marlins.

Offense:
Last season, the Florida Marlins offense was known for power in the infield. They received 29+ homers from each player on their infield, Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu. Mike Jacobs was traded to the Kansas City Royals this offseason for financial reasons, though the other three are back. One player that was harmed because of the success of the others on the infield was Dallas McPherson who hit 40+ homers in AAA Albequerque. Now he has earned the starting spot at third-base, moving Cantu across the diamond to first-base. The power on the infield should be just about the same, time will tell if Cantu can maintain his success and if McPherson can hit above. 220 against Major League pitching. Consistency is also an issue for Dan Uggla, who can be one of the hardest or easiest outs in baseball depending on the week. Their offense will be best classified as being inconsistent because of these guys. The outfield situation looks to be Cody Ross, Cameron Maybin and Jeremy Hermida. Ross has tons of raw power, but his batting average will most likely never eclipse .240. Maybin was another top prospect acquired from Detroit for Miguel Cabrera. Maybin did not explode onto the scene in 2008 as was expected, but he will be in good position to take the lead-off spot in the lineup with Jorge Cantu, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla behind him for protection that should certainly help. Jeremy Hermida has been another inconsistent bat for the Marlins. He is still young as well and could become a 30 home run hitter this season, but he needs to cut down on the strike outs to be a solid hitter. The catching situation falls to John Baker and Mike Rabelo. Baker and Rabelo are high-contact, low-power hitters. Watch Baker who posted very solid (.299, 5, 32) numbers in 2008, with an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. I like Baker's numbers a lot and he could be a fantasy sleeper at a traditionally weak position. The Marlins bench will populated by Rabelo, Wes Helms, Alfredo Amezaga for sure, with the other few spots up for grabs. This will be a weakness for the Marlins as they will not have much to offer in pinch-hitting situations.

Projections: The Florida Marlins are not going to be in conversation for the NL East crown this year, the reason for this is that their offense is just going to be too inconsistent. Injuries are too much of a question with their starting staff, though do not take them lightly 1-3. The Marlins are absolutely going to be a factor in who wins the division, though do not expect them to make a play at the crown. Make yourself familiar with Hanley Ramirez, John Baker and Ricky Nolasco this season.