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April 3, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Middle Third

by Joe Sheehan

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By way of reminder, here is the first installment. I forgot to mention that that the cutoff for "surprise" falls between the Pirates and the Astros, with the Orioles and Blue Jays in a separate category due to the AL East. I can see scenarios where even the Astros, White Sox, and Nationals are all relevant deep into the summer this season, and while I don't expect those things to happen, the nature of the game right now certainly allows for it. Once you get to the Royals at 24th, you're into the pool of teams that can legitimately dream.

Teams are ranked by record, primarily a function of runs scored and runs allowed, which are what I spent the last week calculating. I've made an occasional manual change to account for particularly strong or weak bullpens that can cause a team to diverge from its Pythagorean record, and to make everything balance at 2,430-2,430..

#20: Texas Rangers (78-84, 860 RS, 888 RA). It's very tempting to see the Rangers as a surprise team this year, what with a confluence of young talent on the way and a front office that is turning the team over to its youth. However, while the position players, many of them imports like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Nelson Cruz, will boost the offense, the pitchers are a year behind. The Opening Day rotation isn't very good, and it pitches in front of a defense that leaves something to be desired. As much as I like the lineup, Elvis Andrus isn't ready to hit in the majors, and the ongoing fascination with David Murphy puzzles me. They'll sort these issues out in '09, and be my pick to win the West in 2010. And 2011. And 2012.

#19: St. Louis Cardinals (79-83, 772 RS, 788 RA). The problem with the Skip Schumaker experiment isn't that he might not work out as a second baseman. The problem is that the Cardinals need more glove than he's ever going to realistically provide. The Cards' rotation doesn't miss bats, which makes them reliant on their defense; by shifting an outfielder to second and allowing the adventure that is Chris Duncan to win the left-field job, the Cardinals are pushing their defense past the point of being able to back up the staff. The extra runs they'll get from this alignment won't be worth the cost. In general, the pitching staff was over its head last year, and some improvement from the bullpen won't make up for that. Color me skeptical on a Chris Carpenter comeback.

#18: Milwaukee Brewers (79-83, 756 RS, 761 RA). Last year's team returns down half a starting pitcher, as Yovani Gallardo slides into Ben Sheets' slot and no one replaces CC Sabathia. So why such a big decline? The bullpen, shaky a year ago, looks even worse today, although I do like the idea of Carlos Villanueva throwing 110 innings in relief. The seven-righties-and-Prince plan doesn't seem any better in the lineup today than it has the past two years, and while the defense is better than it was in 2007, it's certainly not good. If I'm off here, it's on the high side.

#17: Colorado Rockies (80-82, 801 RS, 809 RA). And if I'm off here, it's on the low side. The Rockies have done a very good job making decisions this spring, keeping Dexter Fowler around, and going with Franklin Morales and Jorge De La Rosa in the rotation. Full seasons from Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton will help both the offense and defense, as will letting Fowler play his way into the everyday center-field job. The 2007 team had a fantastic defense, which is why it went to the World Series. This one has better balance, and will go as far as the young starting pitchers take it. That's probably .500 in a much tougher division than the '07 team faced.

#16: San Francisco Giants (80-82, 657 RS, 658 RA). By projected VORP, the three best Giants are all pitchers, with Randy Johnson (29.7) beating out Pablo Sandoval (25.0). That's as descriptive a statistic as you'll find for a team, pretty much defining the 2009 Giants, who have a championship-caliber front of the rotation tacked onto a 100-loss roster. Except for Barry Zito, the rotation misses bats, which will be an essential skill in front of an infield defense that could be the worst in the game, even with decent glove man Travis Ishikawa manning first base. As we approach two years since his last at-bat with the team, Barry Bonds would still be the Giants' best hitter, and it's not all that close.

#15: Florida Marlins (81-81, 797 RS, 792 RA). They're still working on things, having traded for Ross Gload and Hayden Penn in the last few days, trying to bolster an unbalanced roster. They don't appear willing to make the obvious move of pushing Dan Uggla to third base or first base so that Emilio Bonifacio can upgrade the defense at second, and until the Marlins do something about their infield defense, they won't prevent runs as well as they should. There is a lot of young pitching talent here, but Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad, and others have to throw extra pitches, usually from the stretch, because the defense doesn't do its job. I'm bullish on the offense because of Jeremy Hermida, who should get back to the approach that made him a great prospect this year. If we see Logan Morrison in July, so much the better.

#14: Cincinnati Reds (82-80, 752 RS, 743 RA). Hey, Joe Sheehan picks the Reds higher than anyone else outside of Ohio. Film at 11. The rotation, with two veteran starters and good young ones, plus Micah Owings and Homer Bailey, sells me. The Reds could have a stable, above-average rotation that allows them to run a staff to compete, rather than just to survive. The problem is that the offense isn't good enough, with OBP issues at five spots at least. The commitment to defense is well-intentioned, and as we've seen in recent seasons, can be a critical part of a surprise team. More likely, however, is that it will make the Reds cosmetically better while leaving them just short of contention.

#13: Minnesota Twins (82-80, 748 RS, 735 RA). It's very difficult to slot them without knowing the status of Joe Mauer, and now Scott Baker is also hurt. With Mauer, they can score enough runs to win the Central. Without him, even if it's only for 40 games, they cannot. They don't have a good place to get him at-bats without catching him; if he has to DH, one of their better hitters has to sit. Perhaps he eventually moves to third base, which is a scar for this team-no, Joe Crede is not a solution-but you can't do that in-season. Remember, also, that they scored a bunch of extra runs last season with a performance with runners in scoring position that is unlikely to be repeated.

#12: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (83-79, 741 RS, 726 RA). Like the Twins, the Angels have so many injuries that it's hard to know where to slot them. As their defense and baserunning has declined-get past the reputation and look at what an aging, slow team this has become-so has their competition, leaving them able to dominate a weak division. That's changing now, just as their pitching staff, the other constant, gets hit by a truck. John Lackey and Ervin Santana have to be back soon and make every start the rest of the way, or 83-79 will be a pipe dream by August.

#11: Cleveland Indians (84-78, 847 RS, 822 RA). Someone has to win the AL Central, and the Indians have the fewest gaping holes. The back of the rotation is likely to be a revolving door all season, and for that matter, the front two in the rotation-Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona-have three good major league seasons between them. They should score a bunch of runs though, as Victor Martinez stays healthy all year, Grady Sizemore finishes second in the MVP voting, Mark DeRosa is an upgrade on the Andy Marte and Jamey Carroll at-bats he replaces, and Shin-Soo Choo peaks. If Kerry Wood stays healthy, he and Rafael Perez combine for a devastating last-six-outs combination.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Defense,  Rotation

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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mikeduin

Interesting that you're so much higher on Colorado, Joe, than PECOTA and Vegas are. Clay's depth charts currently peg the Rockies at 71 wins; the Vegas O/U is 76.5.

Apr 03, 2009 11:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

By my count, that's six (6) Eastern Division teams in the Top 10. I'd complain about East-coast media bias, but I imagine my Braves were among last ones to make it. :-)

Apr 03, 2009 12:02 PM
rating: 0
 
montanabowers
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Angels pitching "hit by a mack truck?" Interesting observation way out there on the east coast.

Apr 03, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: -21
 
Matt Hunter

Look Sheehan is a Marlins homer just like me.

Apr 03, 2009 13:43 PM
rating: -1
 
amacrae

I really don't understand how the holes on the Indians are so much smaller than the holes on The Tigers to warrant a 9 game difference in wins.

You're willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a healthy Indians lineup yet there is no such assumption made as to what a healthy Guillen, Granderson and Ordonez could do for The Tigers. Not to mention the fact that Cabrera's second half points to the possiblity that he may return to "Marlin form" in 2009.

Projections for the pitching staffs are similarly unbalanced. Somehow Lee/Carmona/Pavano/Lewis/Reyes can all either maintain, bounce-back or reach their upside while Verlander/Jackson/Galarraga/Bonderman(Miner)/Porcello cannot.

I'm not trying to say that The Tigers are a great team and The Indians are a bad team. But it seems like one team is getting the entire benefit of the doubt while the other is languishing in last year's numbers.

Apr 03, 2009 15:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Dougie4512

How about defense? Curtis Granderson is fast...but how many balls are Guillen and Ordonez going to get to in that mammoth outfield? What has Edwin Jackson ever done? Why is Brandon Inge playing? How is Gerald Laird going to solve the catching problem? Everett can pick it, but can't swing a lick. Those seem to be more holes than the Indians to me. Also, the Indians AAA replacements are closer to being ready/have more upside than the non-Porcello Tigers.

Apr 03, 2009 18:40 PM
rating: 2
 
husier
(90)

The Tigers have two offensive craters in the starting lineup in Inge and Everett/Santiago, Laird's numbers will shrink in Comerica Park and Guillen is well below average offensively for a left fielder.

This is an old team, with only Cabrera and Granderson cast as legitimately good players in the pre-peak or peak periods of their careers. People were ridiculously projecting 1,000 runs for the Tigers last year ... they may not get to 750 this year, given the current composition of the lineup.

On top of that, the pitching doesn't look nearly as good as it did two years ago.

Looks like a sub-.500 team to me.

Apr 03, 2009 20:48 PM
rating: 1
 
EnderCN

The other two replies mostly covered it but I'll add that the Indians have some quality depth so they can eat an injury or two and still have a viable lineup. Barfield, Garko, Shoppach, LaPorta etc.

The Indians pitching could be a disaster but well the Tigers will be too.

Apr 04, 2009 05:46 AM
rating: 0
 
amacrae

No one is really answering my question, just kinda repeating this "all and nothing" prediction made by Sheehan. I know where the holes are on The Tigers, everyone does. The question of "why are The Indians so much better" really isn't being addressed.

Most of the comments here tout The Indians offense as far superior when compared to The Tigers, but there should be a few caveats that aren't mentioned. Judging by 2008 performances (and 2007 for Hafner and Martinez) The Indians have a better batting order. However, three things aren't going to happen. DeRosa won't OPS .857, Choo won't OPS .946 and Shoppach won't OPS .865. And while a bounce-back season by Martinez is likely, even BP tends to think that Hafner won't be able to repeat his 2007 numbers (let alone 2006). That said the 1-6 spots in The Tiger and Indian lineups are pretty even. The Indians have a clear advantage in the last three spots in the order, but is that really worth 9 wins?

This expectation that Guillen is going to decapitate himself or something in LF is just another "glass half empty" outlook for Detroit. Why would a guy who played a slightly below average 3B and SS be so miserable at an EASIER position? Doesn't make sense. And no, Ordonez isn't a brilliant RF but why is he all of a sudden getting worse than he has in previous seasons? And not for nothing, Choo and Francisco aren't particularly dynamite defensive fielders either.

The depth issue is a good point but I doubt that these projections were made by saying "well, mat gamel coming up will be worth "x" amount of wins." The players currently on the field are at issue.

If there's relative consensus that both teams have question marks in their rotation then what we're talking about is the batting order and the bullpen. If Kerry Wood stays healthy, Zumaya never comes back and Ryan Perry is not just given the closer's job, that's another plus for The Tribe, but it's still a question. It seems to me that the only clear advantage that The Indians have is the last three spots in their batting order. And I ask again, does this really warrant a 9 game difference in wins?

Apr 04, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 1
 
husier
(90)

Let's compare them, position by position:

C ... clearly, advantage Indians
1B ... clearly, advantage Tigers
2B ... Polanco vs. Cabrera ... Polanco has proven more, but I would rather have Cabrera
SS ... clearly, advantage Indians
3B ... clearly, advantage Indians
LF ... Guillen's offense is well below average for the position. Francisco is average. Advantage Indians
CF ... Granderson is a very good player. Sizemore is a borderline superstar. Indians edge.
RF ... Ordonez gets the edge here.
DH ... Thames-Hafner ... neither is great. Call it close to even.

Starting rotation ... Neither is great, although I will take the Indians.

Bullpen ... Indians, clearly.

Cleveland is the better team ... without a doubt. Maybe by even more than nine wins.

Apr 04, 2009 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
amacrae

You "rather having" a particular player does not mean that player is automatically better.

Asdrubal Cabrera is not an advantage over Polanco, least not by their track records. Polanco has hit better and according to BP Polanco will continue to hit better though Cabrera obviously has more upside. This is even at best.

Guillen's bat may be below average for LF but Francisco's is way below average. Guillen also may not stay healthy the entire season but barring injury this is advantage Tigers. The .770 OPS Francisco produced in 2008 is not "average" offense in LF.

So we're back to my initial point. The only overwhelming advantage the Indians have is at SS. Shoppach and DeRosa are obviously better hitters than Inge and Laird but over the course of a season that'll get you about 2 wins. You offset the advantages at C, SS and 3B with The Tigers actually being slightly superior in LF and 2B and The Indians come out with an advantage of about 2 wins.

As far as the pitching is concerned you can "take the Indians" as much as you want but that doesn't change the fact that both rotations have big question marks. Even if you assume that Cliff Lee will automatically be better than Verlander the other 4 spots in the rotation do not present a clear advantage for The Tribe. Again, even at best.

I'll agree that a healthy Kerry Wood is an advantage over Rodney and/or Lyon but I think that gets changed if he gets injured, how effective Zumaya is upon his return and how successful Perry is. I'll concede that The Indians currently have the advantage in the pen but that could quickly change.

So again, my problem isn't that The Indians were picked as superior to The Tigers, but by the margin. I'll buy 4 - 5 games. But 9+ is ridiculous.

Apr 04, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Dougie4512

For me anyway, I think part of it is the idea that there are no black holes in the Indians lineup. Francisco could get better as he ages into his peak (I tend to doubt it, but it's possible) and while below-average for a left fielder, isn't awful. If Cabrera's 2nd half and call-up in '07 is the real guy and not the first 2 months of '08, he'll be fine. The elephant in the room is Hafner...if they move quickly to limit his ABs if he starts slowly (which I doubt because of his salary, and that's what worries me), then the offense will be okay. You have 3 guys for 2 spots right now between Hafner, Garko, and Shoppach but LaPorta could factor into that mix as well. That's a lineup with one stud and no automatic outs...

The Tigers have Laird (a bad offensive fit for that park), Everett (has never hit--and not being asked to), and Inge (certainly not an asset). Guillen is also below average for a LF (why will he age well?). That's 3 lineup black holes and an underperfoming one. That's a lot to overcome. Defensively, they won't improve in the OF, they'll get worse. Guillen and Ordonez don't exactly run well, track balls well, get good jumps, etc. The IF defense will be better.

Pitching has a lot of question marks for both sides. The Indians made a move to solidify their pen with one of the best arms in baseball and have other good relievers in front of Wood. Even if the closer-of-the-month does well for Detroit, what about all of the other non-Zumaya (and maybe Rodney) relievers? Yea, I think 9 wins is about right...so is 4th place in the division.

Apr 05, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
amacrae

I don't necessarily disagree but this perpetuates this "all and nothing" overview of these two teams.

Even here the question marks on The Indians tend to get projected towards upsides while any possible projections on The Tigers aren't mentioned at all and the rest of the team remains stagnant.

Francisco and Cabrera are going to improve? Fine, but why isn't the same benefit of the doubt being given to Verlander, Bonderman or Jackson? Why is the 2nd half call up of Cabrera the real guy and the 2007 Verlander or 2006 Bonderman not? Why is Francisco going to improve and Jackson not? Why is LaPorta an automatic stud while Porcello and Perry get no mention at all? Why is a 2-5 rotation of Carmona/Pavano/Reyes/Lewis so automatically superior to Galarraga/Bonderman/Jackson/Porcello?

It seems like no one has a good answer to any of these questions, it's just easier to plug in last year's performances and say "75 wins."

As a sidenote, at what point during the 2 games that Guillen has played in LF during his entire career did he get such an overwhelmingly accepted opinion that he's an awful outfielder? I could point to his fielding rate of 153 and say "hey, he isn't that bad" but I think we all know that two games isn't nearly enough to come to a conclusion either way.

Apr 05, 2009 17:11 PM
rating: 0
 
EnderCN

I'll take the over on the Brewers. That bullpen is better than last years and the defense isn't any worse than last years. The hitting last year underperformed expectations and Looper can't replace Sabathia but he can replace 1 or 2 wins of Sabathia.

Apr 03, 2009 19:39 PM
rating: 0
 
pctec100

Now that Rasmus has made the Cards roster and will no doubt be taking time from Duncan in the field I'm thinking the Cards defense may not prove to be as bad as predicted.

Apr 04, 2009 08:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BeanoCook

Sheehan clearly mailed in his Brewers prediction. Does he think CC is worth 10 wins? That is insane, we know that the best player in baseball for a full season is only worth about 5-7 wins, CC was worth 3, maybe 4 wins for Milwaukee last year.

Gallardo/Sheets is a wash.

D the same.

Bullpen at least the same, maybe better.

Offense in 2008 underperformed and this year is likely to move up a peg. I see 86 (which is where they were before adding CC) with a chance to add Peavy in July, leaving Milwaukee just about where they were last year, in the thick of the Wild Card race.

Apr 05, 2009 07:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BeanoCook

#18 for Milwaukee make sense if they were an aging Yankees club, which by the way, will fail to clear their Vegas O/U AGAIN!

Apr 05, 2009 07:06 AM
rating: 1
 
BeanoCook

Twins Runs 748
Brewers Runs 756

(granted there is a DH for the AL Twins) LOL!

Brewers 790 RS

Apr 05, 2009 07:08 AM
rating: 0
 
greensox

The Indians at #11 when they have questions at the end of the rotation and really the front of the rotation have 3 good years between them, is just silly.
Here are some facts:
Williams 7
Shapiro 1
and counting

Apr 06, 2009 18:17 PM
rating: -1
 
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