Archive for Organizational Rankings

Shutdowns, Meltdowns and Making the Playoffs

Earlier this season, I brought up my dislike for the Saves statistic. Then, Tom Tango got the ball rolling (here and here) on creating a better way of measuring relief appearance success and, within a couple of days, the statistics Meltdowns and Shutdowns were available here at Fangraphs.

Shutdowns were supposed to mirror the total number of holds and saves in a season. As of yesterday, a total of 3403 number of shutdowns have occurred so far this season compared to a total of 3142 saves and holds. With only about 8% more shutdowns being recorded compared to saves and holds, the logic behind the values seem to be holding up fairly decent.

To see how teams stack up comparably, here is a look at the leaders and laggards in shutdowns across the league:

shutdowns

It seems the cream rises to the top as the top five teams have made the playoffs or are still in contention, while the bottom five teams are not going to make the postseason.

Along with shutdowns, meltdowns were created to measure the relief appearances that significantly hurt a team’s chances of winning. In comparision, here are leaders and laggards in the number of meltdowns:

meltdown

All the teams with the most meltdowns won’t make the playoffs, except maybe Colorado. Three of the five teams with the least number of meltdowns will make the playoffs with the Mets and While Sox being the exceptions.

Finally, the best way to see how the pen has done as a whole is to get the ratio of the number of shutdowns compared to the number of meltdowns. So far this season the league average is 1.73 shutdowns for every meltdown. Again here is a list of the top and bottom teams in the league:

ratio_leaders

No real surprise here with five playoff or likely playoff teams making the top list and five non-playoff teams at the bottom. Besides the top-five teams, here are how the rest of the possible playoff teams rank:

ratio_rest

Having a capable bullpen that keeps its team in games (compiling shutdowns) and doesn’t blowup (meltdowns) isn’t all that a team needs in order to make the playoffs, but all the teams making the playoffs have addressed it nicely during this season.


Organizational Rankings Recap

Three weeks and one mildly controversial ranking later, we’re finished with the 2010 organizational rankings series. You can find links to all the recap posts below. Next week, when we’re not talking about what’s actually happening on the field, I’ll do some posts on the questions raised during the series. But now, it’s your turn. If you want to weigh in with what you think the order should have been, you can fill up the comments thread with your thoughts.

#1 – New York Yankees
#2 – Boston Red Sox
#3 – Tampa Bay Rays
#4 – Texas Rangers
#5 – Minnesota Twins
#6 – Seattle Mariners
#7 – Colorado Rockies
#8 – Atlanta Braves
#9 – Philadelphia Phillies
#10 – St. Louis Cardinals
#11 – Anaheim Angels
#12 – Milwaukee Brewers
#13 – Cleveland Indians
#14 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#15 – New York Mets
#16 – Arizona Diamondbacks
#17 – Baltimore Orioles
#18 – Chicago Cubs
#19 – Oakland Athletics
#20 – Cincinnati Reds
#21 – Detroit Tigers
#22 – Florida Marlins
#23 – San Francisco Giants
#24 – Chicago White Sox
#25 – Pittsburgh Pirates
#26 – Toronto Blue Jays
#27 – San Diego Padres
#28 – Washington Nationals
#29 – Kansas City Royals
#30 – Houston Astros


Organizational Rankings: #1 – New York Yankees

I have a lot of respect for Brian Cashman, and I think he’s tremendously under-appreciated as a GM. Under his watch, the Yankees went from an erratic money pit into a dominant machine, and he’s put processes in place to ensure that the team is permanently good. Everything I said about the Red Sox is also true about the Yankees now. They do everything well.

And, yes, they’re disgustingly rich. They outspent the #2 team in 2009 opening day payroll by $52 million. They outspent the Red Sox by $80 million, or, essentially, they spent as much on their 2009 team as the Boston and Milwaukee combined, and the Brewers have a league-average payroll. It’s just a monstrous advantage, and they take full advantage of it.

This isn’t to say that the Yankees haven’t earned their championships. The Mets have access to the same media market and spend money like drunken sailors, but they don’t win, because they’re not using their resources well. The Yankees are using their resources very well, and there is no reason to disrespect their accomplishments simply because they have access to more capital than every other MLB team.

But there’s a reason I said that the Red Sox were the model franchise for a big market team. The Yankees aren’t, because they don’t fit into that category. They’re a you-can’t-build-a-market-like-this team, and there’s no point for anyone trying to recreate what they’re doing, because it’s impossible. You can’t recreate 100 years of history. You can’t fix your organization’s past and make sure it includes Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. The Yankees have a tie to the roots of the game itself that no other club ever will.

It’s not just the size of the Big Apple that gives the Yankees the advantage they enjoy. It’s their place in the history of the game, and how well they’ve leveraged that into developing a fan base that perpetuates itself constantly. The combination of the market, the nostalgia, and the winning have created a perfect storm, and the result is a franchise that towers over the rest. The Red Sox do everything right, and they still aren’t the Yankees. They can’t be. No one can.

We talk about dominant eras in sports history. The Brian Cashman-era Yankees are going to take their spot someday, because with the way the organization is structured, they’re going to be scary good for the foreseeable future. This is what happens when you spend $200 million really, really well.


Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Yankees

The New York Yankees club is clearly the No. 1 organization in baseball and it has remained a powerhouse for as long as it has because of its ability to sustain itself through in-house player development. The club has done this both by slotting home-grown talent into key roles and by trading prospects for proven veterans.

General manager Brian Cashman does not get the credit that he deserves, partially because he has been overshadowed by the Steinbrenners, and in part due to the fact that he has a large budget to work with. Make no mistake about it, though, he rarely makes a bad move.

Damon Oppenheimer enters his sixth season overseeing the amateur draft. The club has done a respectable job in recent years despite having one of the last selections in the first round. The club picked up some interesting talent in ’09, including outfielder Slade Heathcott, catcher J.R. Murphy, and pitcher Bryan Mitchell. The club’s ’08 effort was a little ugly when the club failed to sign top pick Gerrit Cole and second rounder Scott Bittle. It found some later-round diamonds-in-the-rough to help compensate (Brett Marshall, D.J. Mitchell).

The team also spends a lot of money on the international market. Recent signings include Gary Sanchez, Gian Carlos Arias, Ramon Flores, Jackson Valera, Yeicok Calderon, and Anderson Felix.

The organizaiton has perhaps the best catching depth in baseball, with the likes of Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, and J.R. Murphy. A lot has been made about a possible move from behind the plate for Montero, but he has the bat (and massive power) to play anywhere, while Romine could develop into a Grade-A catching prospect to help fill the gap left behind.

The starting pitching depth in the system is down a bit but the club has spent a lot of money in the free agent market so that’s not a great concern, either. The club does have some talented arms that can help out in the bullpen, including David Robertson, Mark Melancon, and good ol’ Joba Chamberlain. Phil Hughes is a rare youngster that has been able to crack the veteran-laden starting rotation after cutting his teeth in the bullpen in ’09. And don’t forget that he’s still just 23 years old.

The starting lineup does not feature many young players, but left-fielder Brett Gardner is expected to play regularly for the club. He should much-needed speed on the base paths. New center-fielder Curtis Granderson was acquired this past off-season for young players Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Ian Kennedy. All three players have potential but they had greater value to the organization as trading chips. And Granderson could absolutely explode playing in Yankee stadium and with the lineup protection around him.

The main core of the Yankees big league club is getting older, but the team’s ability to compete is not going to disappear any time soon. It has the resources and know-how to ensure that the organization remains a powerhouse for years to come.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Yankees

It turns out even the Yankees have a budget. After years of steady increases in payroll, the Yankees have topped out around $200 million for each of the past five seasons, the most recent of which saw them reclaim a championship. At an estimated $212 million though, the Yankees 2010 payroll looks to be their highest in history trumping 2008 by a couple million.

The Yankees clearly had a successful season last year with 103 wins and a playoff championship. Our varied projection systems do not expect much of a drop off this year. You the readers ended up with 98 wins for the Yankees, four more than any other team in baseball. CHONE pegs New York at 99 wins, six more than any other team. CAIRO agrees with 99 wins and once again, six more than any other team.

What’s there to say about the Yankees current talent? Given the nature of the team, it’s not like there are any big surprises lurking on the roster that people haven’t heard of. It’s hard to find fault with players the like the Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez around the infield, but one issue that might come up for New York is their depth behind the starters. Aside from Cano, none of the starting five are young pups.

Teixeira is probably a good bet to stay healthy, but he’s also the one with the best backup, either Nick Johnson or Nick Swisher. Ramiro Pena, currently the backup 2B, SS and 3B overproduced last season thanks to his .340 BABIP. He isn’t bad as a backup but would be highly exposed if pressed into a starting role due to injury. Francisco Cervelli looks like a fine enough insurance policy on Posada that catching shouldn’t be much of a concern.

The outfield will depend a lot on how Gardner does with a full time role for the first time at the big league level. His bat strikes me as mostly average, but he’s a good fielder that can play in center and that will help overcome the positional hit in left field and should make him a roughly average player overall. Granderson is a nice upgrade over Melky Cabrera and with Randy Winn as a roving backup, the outfield defense should be very good this season.

In the rotation, the Yankees brought in Javier Vazquez for another go-around hoping that it works out better than the first time. even if it doesn’t, Vazquez should provide his steady 200 innings. For the “oh” decade (2000-2009), Vazquez was second only to Livan Hernandez (by 38 IP) for total innings pitched. Joba Chamberlain is out (for now) and Phil Hughes starts the year as the fifth starter.

Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson were all above average last season in relief and should provide the bulk of the relief innings. Whether a Boone Logan or others fills out the back end is entirely negligible. It will be a solidly above average unit provided they do a better job avoiding the Jonathan Albaladejo‘s and Jose Veras‘ of 2009 this time.

Great hitting, improved fielding, improved starting pitching and a decent bullpen. $200 million helps a lot, but the Yankees have assembled a great team with that money.


Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Boston

Boston is an organization that has a lot of money but it is also a very smart organization; it’s run by people that could probably turn a team with a $40-million budget into a World Champion.

Much like the Tampa Bay Rays, whom we looked at yesterday, the organization is led by a young, aggressive general manager: Theo Epstein. Although a lot of the organization’s front office talent has been picked through over the past few years – including Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod – the club still has some very smart men overseeing the club’s future stars. Mike Hazen continues on in his role as director of player development, while the scouting department will have a new leader in 2010 with the loss of McLeod to the San Diego Padres organization.

The club on the field consists mostly of veteran players. Younger, home-grown talent includes outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Jon Lester has developed into a legitimate No. 2 starter in the rotation, and Clay Buchholz also has promise and has been coveted by a number of teams in trade talks. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, another home-grown talent, is no longer a “young player” but his eventual replacement – Daniel Bard – is.

The organization has done a nice job of developing both top tiered amateur talent (Casey Kelly, Derrick Gibson) and lower round selections (Josh Reddick). With money to burn, the club has used its monetary advantage to sign some high-risk, over-slot player such as Ryan Westmoreland, Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, and Anthony Rizzo. Over the past three seasons, the club has handed out more over-slot deals (outside of the first three rounds) than any other team in baseball: 16. Along with the amateur draft, the club is a major player in the international market with the signing of players such as Junichi Tazawa, Stolmy Pimentel, and Jose Iglesias.

The club is not afraid to use its young players as bargaining chips in trades for proven talent, such as catcher Victor Martinez. The organization sent young pitchers Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price to Cleveland. One player that Boston would like to have back is shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was part of the loot sent to Florida for pitcher Josh Beckett in 2005.

This club may technically be a veteran team, but the organization knows how to acquire, develop and utilize young talent to its fullest.


Organizational Rankings: #3 – Tampa Bay

And now, for the American League East.

On future talent, the Rays are the only organization that the Rangers envy, as they boast the same ridiculous depth of position player talent and then add in a better crop of young arms. It’s easy to get lost in the never ending sea of talent in Tampa Bay, as they have stars-in-the-making everywhere you look. And they’re not sitting around waiting for these kids to develop before making a run; this team is really good right now.

They had seven players post +3 WAR or better seasons last year, and that doesn’t include Carlos Pena or B.J. Upton. Evan Longoria is the most valuable commodity in the game, a franchise player being paid like a middle reliever. They are getting so much value from cost controlled players that they could afford to spend 23 percent of the budget on Pat Burrell and Rafael Soriano.

In any other division, they’d be monstrous favorites. But they don’t play in any other division, they play in the AL Beast. So, to make the playoffs, they have to climb over one of the only two teams who rank ahead of them on this series. When your parents told you that life was not always fair, this is what they meant.

But just because the task is a challenge, don’t write off the Rays. They aren’t that far behind the Big Two in terms of true talent, and with two playoff spots up for grabs between the three teams, there is a good chance you’ll be seeing Tampa Bay in October. The simulations run by the guys over at RLYW had the Rays making the playoffs 46 percent of the time.

This is a roster that can win this year, even with the extra hurdle of having to beat out Boston or New York. While they’ll have to make some changes at years end, likely replacing the likes of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, they have another wave of premium young talent coming, and they shouldn’t see too steep of a drop-off. Their payroll limitations will always be a hindrance, but the management staff is adept at finding value.

It’s a good team with a great young core and a top notch front office that is setup well for the present and future. They have a couple of behemoths to topple, yes, but they have have the ability to do so.


Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Tampa Bay

To say the future is bright in Tampa Bay is a bit of an understatement. Youth is front-and-center with the Rays organization; the club has done an enviable job of developing its home-grown talent. Both the scouting and the player development staffs should be given gold medals.

The youth movement actually begins with Andrew Friedman, one of the brightest, young front office men in the game. Although he hasn’t done a ton of wheeling and dealing, Friedman has managed to score interesting prospects such as Sean Rodriguez, Matt Sweeney, Alexander Torres, and Aneury Rodriguez.

Scouting director R.J. Harrison enters his fifth season in the role and has overseen the selecting of players such as David Price, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Moore. Mitch Lukevics, director of minor league operations, is in charge of the prospects once they enter the system; players such as Jennings, Moore and even Jeremy Hellickson are prospects that have been drafted outside the first three rounds and developed into top prospects. Although the club has received favorable drafting slots in recent years, it clearly makes great use of later round picks.

The draft hasn’t always gone smoothly for the organization, though. The club hit a huge speed bump in 2009 when it failed to sign its first two selections in LeVon Washington and Kenny Diekroeger, both interesting selections to begin with. The organization made up for it, to some degree, by nabbing some higher-ceiling (but higher risk) players in later rounds: catcher Luke Bailey, first baseman Jeff Malm, and pitcher Kevin James.

Not known as an international powerhouse, the organization has one Latin player amongst its Top 10 prospects (pitcher Alexander Colome). The club did break into the European market this past off-season by signing Czech left-hander Stepan Havlicek.

On the big league squad, the team boasts some exciting talent, including the enigmatic B.J. Upton, third baseman Longoria, and second baseman Rodriguez. Young position players marching through the minor league system include nearly-ready Jennings, Tim Beckham, and Reid Brignac. The depth isn’t great, but Jennings has the chance to be a special player.

The starting rotation is the backbone of this club. James Shields is the old man of the group at 28, followed by Jeff Niemann, 27, Matt Garza, 26, Wade Davis, 24, and David Price, 24. All five pitchers arguably have the ceilings of at least a No. 2 starter. Looking down into the minor leagues and the club has a ton of pitching depth, including Hellickson, Moore, Colome, Nick Barnese, Kyle Lobstein, and even Jacob McGee, who is making his way back from injury.

This club can compete with the best organizations in the Major Leagues right now, and it should continue to be a powerhouse for years to come.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Tampa Bay

Beginning with the obvious and oft-repeated: The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays have the third best current talent in the American League.* But they are also the third most talented team in their division. This team has far too much talent to get any pity from me, though.

* I’d say “all of baseball,” but one could make an argument for the Phillies (Thanks, Doc!).

Straight up (not considering contracts or age), I’d probably take the 2010 Rays’ position players as a group over just about any other in baseball. They have something of a hole with Pat Burrell (possibly platooning with [shudder] Hank Blalock) at DH, although they could do much worse. Matt Joyce is probably around an average performer in right field, although if he’s platooned with ageless defensive-whiz Gabe Kapler, the Rays could get above-average performance out of the position. Those worried about Kelly Shoppach‘s contact problems forget that even with his worst offensive projection (ZiPS), he’s an above-average catcher. It’s a cliche to say that a team has bench players “that could start for a lot of teams,” but it’s true of Willy Aybar and Sean Rodriguez.

The next “rung” for most teams contains a few above-average players. The Rays, in contrast, have five “above-above average” players here, guys who are around 3.5-4.5 WAR: Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, and Carl Crawford. I know that is inadequate praise, but if I went on about all the individual talents on this team, this post would be 2,000+ words.

That’s it for the position players. Oh, yeah. Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in baseball. No, not just the “best value.” The best third baseman in baseball. Period.

Pitching lets the Rays down. Put away the torches and pitchforks. The bullpen is good enough (despite J.P. Howell‘s injury concerns) with off-season acquisition Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour both being strong options. Many, many teams would love to have James Shields and Matt Garza at the top of their rotations, not to mention Jeff Niemann and (especially) youngsters like David Price and Wade Davis. What I mean by “lets the Rays down” is that when I look at the Rays’ projections next to New York’s and Boston’s, the biggest difference is in the starting pitching. Again, it isn’t that Shields, Garza, et. al. aren’t good. But there is a sizeable gap between, say, Shields and Garza (each project at around four WAR) and guys like CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Javier Vazquez,* and Josh Beckett (each project at around five WAR).

* I actually had a Tampa Bay fan bring up Javy’s 2004 in New York as a reason he won’t be good for the Yankees in 2010. C’mon, Rays fans, I expect that kind of thing from Red Sox and Yankees fans, but not you, too!

I am not claiming that the Rays are “doomed because of their pitching.” They are definite contenders for the wildcard and even the divisional title. It is tough going up against Boston and New York, but the Rays have substantial hope. While the Rays’ rotation may not project to be as dominant as those of their chief rivals, it is younger. This means that there is more variance in the projections, and thus they have a greater chance of might be better than projected (of course, it also means they might be worse). The relative youth of the team as a whole means likely continued improvement and less attrition. While some might think the Rays have to “win now” (2010) because of Crawford and Pena’s expiring contracts, some of their best players are still developing, and much near-ready talent looms in the minors, as well: Jeremy Hellickson, Reid Brignac, and, above all, Desmond Jennings (who might show up sooner rather than later).

The Rays might not be the divisional favorites in 2010, but they are contenders, and they will be in 2011, and… well, that’s for the “Future Talent” post.


Organizational Rankings: #4 – Texas

What do Frank Francisco, Darren Oliver, Colby Lewis, Michael Young, and Vladimir Guerrero have in common, besides being members of the Texas Rangers? They were born in the 1970s. Why is that interesting? Because they are the only five players on the Rangers 40-man roster that you can say that about. The Rangers have five guys in the organization in their thirties. Five.

Name a position, and the Rangers almost certainly have a good player either in his prime or headed towards it. You would start your team with their double play combination before any other organization’s in the game. They have a a couple of all-star slugging outfielders that can drive in runs in bunches. They have a deep stable of starting pitchers, as they can easily pick between eight or nine guys, depending on who is healthy and throwing well. They have a kid throwing 100 in the bullpen.

Oh, and they have perhaps the best farm system in the game, led by a few more premium talents, one of whom could take the team’s first base job later this summer. The talent that the Rangers have to build around is ridiculous in both depth and ability. And they may be ready for prime time as early as this year.

Not only are the Rangers young and talented, but they’re also pretty good. If there’s a favorite in the AL West, it’s probably them, as they’re generally at the top of the pre-season projections, even if only by a game or two. Their commitment to defense has given them the ability to keep opponents from turning games into a slugfest, but they still have enough juice in their bats to put runs on the board themselves. They’re counting on the maturation of several young pitchers, which is always risky, but the talent is there for the Rangers to win the division and make some noise in the playoffs.

While Jon Daniels has taken a bit of flack for several trades gone wrong over since he took over at GM, the positive has far outweighed the negative, and the scouting staff around him have done tremendous work in reloading the system. The Rangers are legitimate contenders in 2010 and have a remarkably strong base to build off of for the future. They’re good now and could be great in a year or two, and that’s why they rank as the fourth healthiest organization in baseball.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Texas

The Rangers are coming off of a 87 win campaign in which they finished 10 games back of the Angels. This year CHONE has them winning between 85-86 wins depending on the method, the FANS have them at 84, and PECOTA has them at 83. Those win levels are good for 1st in the West, but the margin is never more than 5 games, and mostly 0-2 games.

The infield returns all four starters from 2009 and project to be above average on the whole. Michael Young, whose offense rebounded in 2009 to post his highest wOBA (0.385) and WAR (3.8) since 2005, returns to man third base. He is projected to see a decline from that level and likely post something in the high 2s or low 3s. Chris Davis brings his feeble contact rates back to play first base again, and is the one of the few position players that projects to be below average at 1.5 WAR. Ian Kinsler projects to be the star of the group at 4 WAR as he projects to combine average defense with above-average offense. The most interesting, at least personally, member of the infield is Elvis Andrus. Yesterday Dave mentioned that he was one of the largest discrepancies between FAN projections (4.1 WAR) and CHONE (1.6 WAR). I could see that window of potential performances being very realistic, which would put his mean somewhere in the upper 2s.

The outfield of Josh Hamilton in left, Julio Borbon in center and Nelson Cruz in right all project to be in the neighborhood of 3 WAR. All three project to be average to above average with the glove and similarly above average with the bat. At DH they will see if they can squeeze some more life out of Vladimir Guerrero, with David Murphy providing a decent fallback option if Vlad’s knees spontaneously combust. The catching duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden don’t project to be world beaters (1.5 WAR each), but that will get you by at that position.

The starting pitching is a lot like the position players in that none of them project to be stars, but they all project to be pretty solid. The closest to a star quality projection would be Rich Harden who projects to have a FIP in the mid-to-upper 3s. The question with Harden is the same as it always is, health. The de facto “Ace” is Scott Feldman and his cutter. The projection systems weren’t overwhelmed by Feldman’s 18 wins and project him to have a FIP in the 4.50 range. Colby Lewis, back from Japan, is a hard player for the forecasters to handle given his lack of MLB experience combined with a dominant year in Japan, but a FIP in the low 4s seems pretty reasonable. The back of the rotation looks like converted reliever C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison at least for a little while (check out Matt’s piece on C.J.). The wildcard here is Neftali Feliz who is projected to put up a FIP in the mid 3s as a starter, but may spend some time in the pen.

The bullpen looks to be a strength again with closer Frank Francisco, lefty Darren Oliver, and the aforementioned Feliz all having projected FIPs in the mid 3s.

Add all of this up and you have a very solid team with few weaknesses that appears to have solid depth, so it’s no wonder that a lot of the projection systems have them at the top of their division.


Organizational Rankings: #5 – Minnesota

For years, the Twins were an organization that succeeded in spite of their financial resources. They turned to player development to give them a chance to compete with larger payroll teams, and got so good at it that they ended up winning the division in five of the last eight years. Even as their best players got too expensive to retain, the Twins had a strong enough pipeline of talent to keep themselves competitive.

Now, with a new stadium ready to pump money into the organization, we get to see what the Twins can do with a real payroll. They added nearly $30 million in salary for 2010, bumping their expenditures on the current team from $65 million to $95 million, and this doesn’t even include the $184 million extension that they handed to Joe Mauer. The Twins are now a player development machine with money, and that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the AL Central.

The Twins are already the class of this division, even just looking at 2010. They’ve developed enough quality to surround Mauer with homegrown talent, then made some nifty off-season pickups, bringing in Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, and Jim Thome. While their rotation may lack a big name ace, it’s strong at all five spots. Joe Nathan‘s injury is a blow, but relievers are one of the easiest things in baseball to find, and the Twins have some good arms in the bullpen already. In my estimation, the Twins are bigger favorites to win their division this year than any other team in baseball.

There’s no reason to expect a collapse any time soon, either. Essentially the entire core is under 30 years old, and with Mauer locked up for essentially the rest of his career, the team won’t be suffering any major talent losses going forward. They aren’t one of baseball’s farm teams anymore – the Twins can finally keep the players they want to retain, and given the strength of their player development system, they will have a significant amount of young talent to keep around.

The Twins already proved that they can win on a shoestring budget. Based on early returns, they’re not going to frivolously throw away the new found access to cash, and so now Minnesota is a real force to be reckoned with. The rest of the AL Central is playing catch-up, and the Twins have a significant head start.


Organizational Rankings: #6 – Seattle

The presumption is going to be that I put the Mariners at #6 because I’m a biased homer – I am well aware of that. I could spend a few paragraphs explaining how I didn’t compile this by myself and generally attempt to defend myself against the claims of bias, but I’d rather just put those words to use explaining the logic behind the ranking, and then you can think what you will.

Each organization is being graded on different aspects that affect how well the team will play going forward. Since this will undoubtedly be the most controversial ranking of the series, I’ll break down each segment.

Present Talent

The 2010 Mariners are not a great team. It’s pretty easy to look at the roster and find problems – they lack offense, the back end of the rotation is a question mark, the closer has had one good major league season, etc… The upgrades on the roster pushed them into 83-85 win territory in terms of true talent level. Put them in the American League East, and they’d likely be fighting the Orioles for fourth place. In the AL West, however, there are no Yankees or Red Sox, as all four teams are pretty evenly matched. So, while the team is flawed, they also have a pretty decent chance of making the playoffs. There simply aren’t that many teams in baseball that are going into the 2010 season with a roughly one in four chance of playing in October.

This team isn’t just designed to steal a division title and get waxed in the ALDS, either. The team is banking on several high variance players, and they won’t succeed without good years from the likes of Milton Bradley and Erik Bedard. That is certainly a risky proposition, but there’s no denying the upside that comes in a scenario where both stay healthy and perform near their talent levels. Their mean projections are dragged heavily down by the risk (as they should be), but the distribution of expected outcomes is not clumped around the middle – they will likely either boom or bust, and take the team with them whichever way they go. This team is not very likely to win 83 to 85 games. Instead, they’ll probably win 75 or 90. If it doesn’t work, they’ll be sellers at the deadline and go young in the second half. If it does work, though, the other three AL playoff clubs would be staring at having to defeat a team that throws Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Bedard in a playoff series. No one is going to sign up for that assignment.

The combination of a winnable division and a high variance roster gives the Mariners a legitimate chance at winning the World Series this year, even with a roster that has plenty of warts. They’re not the favorites, certainly, but if you ran the 2010 season 1,000 times, the Mariners would end up champions in a non-trivial amount of them. They’d also finish last a bunch of times, which is part of the risk they’ve had to accept. But we cannot ignore the fact that among the 30 MLB clubs, Seattle is more likely to win the title in 2010 than most of their competitors.

Future Talent

The Mariners farm system isn’t among baseball’s best. They have a couple of premium prospects in Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, but they don’t match up with the systems that boast a lot of high ceiling guys. However, there is a reason this section is entitled young talent and not farm system.

Felix is 23. Franklin Gutierrez is 27. Jose Lopez is 26. Adam Moore is 25. Ryan Rowland-Smith is 27. Every single member of the bullpen is under 30. Simply looking at a ranking of their prospects misses the youth already on the team. They’re not overflowing with young talent like Texas or Tampa Bay, but there’s a young core to build around in place, and the guys on the farm who are legitimate prospects are generally close to the majors.

This isn’t a team that has a short window to contend. They’re likely to be even better in 2011 and beyond than they will be in 2010 – the problem for them is that is true of most of the rest of the division as well.

Management

This is where I expect the disagreement lies, as I don’t think anything written above veers much from the common perception about the team. In terms of front office capability, financial commitment from ownership, revenues from the ballpark, and the other minor components of this section, the Mariners graded out very highly. Not just with me, but among everyone I talked to, including the other authors here on the site.

I understand that there’s a large contingency of people who believe that we should not presume intelligence until success has been displayed on the field, and that we should infer that an organization is well run once the fruits of their labor of have been reaped, and those are the people who are going to hate this ranking. I simply have a philosophical disagreement with you on how we should evaluate our expectations for the future. Just as we can separate Jason Heyward from a normal outfield prospect despite the fact that he has accomplished nothing at the big league level, I believe we can also evaluate an organization’s ability to put a winning team on the field before they do so.

The term “process” has become a cliche in referring to front offices, but quite simply, there are few better examples of an organization that is blending traditional scouting with new ways of thinking than the Mariners. The GM is one of the most respected scouts in the game, and his right hand man is an accountant who went out and hired Tom Tango as one of his first orders of business. Teams that have blended both ways of thinking into their decision-making process have been tremendously successful, and this is the path the Mariners have set themselves upon.

The Seattle front office knows how to evaluate talent, and they know how to value talent. Organizations that do both things well, and are given a payroll of $100 million to boot, win a lot of baseball games.

I knew putting the Mariners at #6 would generate a significant amount of backlash and claims of bias. But, in my estimation, when you actually look at their chances of winning in 2010, the group of young talent they can build around going forward, the quality of the decision making in the front office, and their financial resources, this is where they belong. After years of being a joke, the Mariners have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Mariners

The Mariners spent an all time high on player payroll in 2008 and spent it so atrociously that they won only 61 games with it and got a brand new front office. As it turns out, it was probably worth it as they now employ one of the better-run offices in baseball and are heading back into contention far faster than anyone possibly could have imagined. Still, the new regime has to bear some crosses from the past one in terms of reduced financial flexibility. After that peak in 2008, the 2009 Mariners dropped about $20 million in payroll and this year’s team is down a little over another $10 million.

The Mariners went from 61 wins to 85 last year. Will the loss of an additional payroll project to hurt the Mariners this season? According to our notable projection systems, it looks like it will have some impact though perhaps not a great one. FanGraphs readers and CAIRO both have the Mariners at 83 wins for 2010 while CHONE is more pessimistic at just 78 wins.

Run prevention is going to be the name of the game for Seattle this season. Fronted in the rotation by Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee and possibly joined later on by Erik Bedard, the Mariners can boast some seriously good arms. The bullpen is no slouch either with power arms galore and breakout candidate Brandon League, discussed previously on FanGraphs with regards to his added splitter.

Kenji Johjima departs from the catching platoon, replaced by Adam Moore, which should make pretty much no difference. Casey Kotchman at first base will get a chance to get his career back on track and at the least will provide more solid defending than the Mariners have seen there in a long time.

Newly signed Chone Figgins is making the switch back to second base where he’ll be an asset and Jack Wilson mans shortstop from now until he–no, wait, he just got hurt again. Jose Lopez moves from second to third where the Mariners say that his body type plays better but more likely meant his trade value as they await Dustin Ackley.

Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki need no more fanfare, except they do, but I will not take time here to add on. Left field is a sticky situation, along with DH, with several mediocre candidates vying for time in between Milton Bradley suspensions.

The Mariners, as built on paper, are going to contend in what looks to be a slightly watered down AL West division. Given the savvy front office and talent in house, do not be surprised if the Mariners hang around contention for the foreseeable future.


Organizational Rankings: #7 – Colorado

When we talk about player development machines, the Braves and Twins are usually the first two organizations everyone mentions. However, the Rockies have one of the most home grown teams in recent history, and their core of players developed from within look to be ready to put their stamp on the National League.

On days when Seth Smith starts over Carlos Gonzalez, every single position player on the team will be playing for the only organization they’ve ever known. And of course, Gonzalez was acquired for Matt Holliday, who the Rockies developed internally. Dan O’Dowd and his staff should be incredibly proud of the work they’ve done in building this team from the ground up.

Of course, you don’t win a title for having the most players come up through your farm system, but the Rockies are certainly contenders for the big trophy handed out in November. They are a well balanced club that is capable of winning in a lot of ways. They have good hitters, good fielders, and a really good starting rotation. The bullpen is a question, but it’s also the easiest thing to fix. On paper, the Rockies are right there with the Dodgers as co-favorites for the NL West title, and they could make all kinds of noise in October if they earn a playoff berth.

However, for all the things the Rockies have done well, I still question whether they’ll make the right moves to capitalize on their window. Their management does far more good than bad, but some of the bad things are just head scratching. Why is Brad Hawpe still on this team? Why won’t they let Chris Iannetta play more often? Why does Huston Street, frequent visitor of the disabled list, get a three year deal? Why spend $3 million on Jason Giambi and Melvin Mora, but ignore opportunities to bolster the bullpen in a market where relief pitching was cheap?

The Rockies have a real opportunity to throw a parade with the core they have in place. To cash in and win it all, however, they’ll need to maximize their return on investment, and that hasn’t been a strength of the front office. With a few minor tweaks, this could be the best team in the NL – I’m just not sure why those tweaks weren’t made this winter.


Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Colorado

The Colorado Rockies club is one of the most self-sufficient organizations in baseball. With the exception of Carlos Gonzalez in left field, the club projects to feature a starting lineup of players that were all originally signed by the organization. There is also a lot of young talent to be found, including Troy Tulowitzki (25) at shortstop, Ian Stewart (24) at third, Chris Iannetta (26) behind the dish, Dexter Fowler in center field (24) and the aforementioned Gonzalez (24). On the pitching staff, the club boasts the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez (26), Franklin Morales (24), and Manny Corpas (27). All three pitchers are members of the Rockies’ international scouting efforts.

That is an impressive collection of talent… but wait – there’s more to come. Pitchers Christian Friedrich, Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers, Casey Weathers, and Sam Deduno are not far away from helping the big league club. If you like offense, Eric Young Jr., Hector Gomez, and Mike McKenry could all be in the Majors within the next year or two.

The club also had an outstanding ’09 amateur draft, which netted No. 1 pick Tyler Matzek (arguably the best prep arm), college pitcher Rex Brothers, outfielder Tim Wheeler, and third baseman Nolan Arenado. The only negative to the organization’s collection of talent is that it lacks a true can’t-miss, impact bat. The club’s drafting efforts have improved with each of the past three drafts. As mentioned, the club has also had a lot of success with mining the international market despite not shelling out for the perceived top talent.

The organization obviously believes in stability amongst it’s front office. General manager Dan O’Dowd has held his position since late 1999 and the club’s scouting efforts have been overseen by Bill Schmidt since 2000. Marc Gustafson continues to direct the club’s minor league system as senior director of player development. He’s been overseeing the Rockies’ prospects since 2001.

After almost a decade, the organization is still having a lot of success with developing its own talent and there is no reason to expect anything to change in the near future.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Colorado

Any team making its home at Coors Field is going to look superficially like it is all hitting and no pitching. Once the run environment is taken into account, a more nuanced picture of the Colorado Rockies becomes available. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that the Rockies project as a defense-and-pitching team. More accurately, this is a balanced team with two under-appreciated stars, some young players with upside, a number of above-average performers, and useful role players. Taken as a group, the Rockies are one of the most talented teams in the National League.

The Rockies don’t have any one player that projects as an offensive monster once Coors is taken into account. What they do have is a number of players who are good at the plate and in the field. Among the position players, the undoubted star is 25-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. 2008 can’t be ignored, but Tulowitzki still projects as very good hitter, and while his defensive ratings have been up and down, he’s average at worst. Todd Helton is still a useful piece who hits well and is good defensively at first base. Third baseman Ian Stewart is enigmatic, but projects as at least average and is only 25. Clint Barmes is truly awful offensively, but he’s also outstanding enough defensively to be a stopgap second baseman. Chris Iannetta is a good, offensively oriented catcher.

The Rockies also have some talent in the outfield, although it remains to be seen if they’ll be deployed optimally. The best combination of three is probably Carlos Gonzalez in center, with Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs on the corners. While Gonzalez (just 24) hasn’t had a huge impact yet, he profiles as a very good outfield defender with a developing bat who is at least above average now and potential to be much more. The underutilized Smith is a good hitter who is at least average in the field. Spilborghs is older and inferior to Smith, but he’s got enough of a bat and glove to be about average over a full season. Sadly, the Rockies may still go with Gonzalez in left; Dexter Fowler, a fast guy who is a poor hitter and hasn’t impressed in the field, either, in center; and… wait for it… the legendary Brad Hawpe in right. Much virtual ink has been spilled over Hawpe’s dreadful fielding. Suffice it to say that while Hawpe has a good bat, if Adam Dunn (a superior hitter) can’t come close to being a league average player while putting up -30 seasons in the field, Hawpe can’t either. Some sort of arrangement putting Gonzalez in center, Smith in left, and platooning Hawpe and Spilborghs (with judicious use of Fowler) would likely give the Rockies at least one more win in a tight divisional race. Surely it has crossed someone’s mind.

The Rockies have made impressive strides in finding the right pitchers for their home park. Their rotation is both a skilled and deep. Ubaldo Jimenez‘s excellence should be more widely acknowledged; at the moment he’s on the same level with more celebrated pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. Aaron Cook continues to defy the odds with few strikeouts but tons of grounders. Jorge de la Rosa, obtained after the Royals lost patience with him, has managed to get it together and become an above-average starter. Jason Hammel is also close to average, and once Jeff Francis‘s return from injury is figured in, the depth of the rotation is impressive indeed. Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, and Manny Corpas are key parts of a good bullpen.

It would be inaccurate to say that the Rockies have no stars — Tulowitzki and Jimenez certainly qualify. But the Rockies aren’t totally dependent on their production, as they have many other skilled players around the diamond and on the mound, as well as a useful bench. Colorado will probably be in a tight NL West race with the Dodgers during which pretending like Fowler and Hawpe are everyday players isn’t a great idea. Even so, the Rockies are probably the best team in the division at the moment, and Los Angeles is the only serious competitor in 2010.


Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Atlanta

Once a powerhouse in developing young talent – especially pitchers – the organization slipped a bit in the player development game in the early-to-mid-2000s. You can now argue that the organization is back on track, and focusing on quality, rather than quantity – and that it’s diversified its portfolio.

Tommy Hanson, currently in the Braves starting rotation, is just 23 and entering his sophomore season in the big leaguers. The right-hander burst onto the scene in ’09 by posting a 3.50 FIP and allowing just 105 hits in 127.2 innings of work. The club will also feature an early Rookie of the Year favorite in right-fielder Jason Heyward. The prospect put on an epic display this spring and his size, tools, and statistics suggest he could become a massive star in a hurry. I’m tempted to invoke the name of Albert Pujols… but I won’t.

The club has some other young players helping out at the MLB level, too, including second baseman Martin Prado, catcher Brian McCann, shortstop Yunel Escobar, outfielder Melky Cabrera and pitcher Jair Jurrjens. It’s a good, young core to build around. The organization’s Top 10 prospect list also includes promising names like first baseman Freddie Freeman, catcher Christian Bethancourt, and pitchers Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, and Craig Kimbrel.

The club’s mid-2000s stumble was partially due to poor drafting choices with the likes of Macay McBride, Jeff Francoeur, Luis Atilano, Eric Campbell, Joey Devine, and Cody Johnson. Top international prospects like Wilson Betemit and Andy Marte also failed to develop. Pitcher Adam Wainwright was in Cy Young consideration last year, but he did not blossom until entering the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

While employing a win-now attitude, the club has sacrificed a lot of young talent over the past few seasons, including pitcher Neftali Feliz, shortstop Elvis Andrus, as well as catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Tyler Flowers.

There was a small shift in draft philosophy in 2009 as the club took two college players with its only two selections in the first three rounds, including first rounder Mike Minor. Those were the first four-year college selections that the club had made in the first three rounds of the amateur draft in three years – unless you count reliever Joshua Fields in ’07, whom the club failed to sign.

After 10 years, scouting director Roy Clark has been replaced by Tony DeMacio. It will be interesting to see what direction the club takes with the 2010 amateur draft. The organization punted its first-round selection for veteran reliever Billy Wagner, but it has a supplemental first round pick and an extra second rounder for the loss of Mike Gonzalez. Whoever ends up getting selected will be overseen by Kurt Kemp, who enters his third season as director of player development.

It’s actually kind of scary to think about what this club would be capable of in three to five years if it had a lineup including Flowers, McCann, Freeman, Escobar, Andrus, and Heyward, as well as a staff led by Hanson and Feliz. Even without that day dreaming, the organization still has a pretty promising future, especially if it can re-focus its efforts in the amateur market.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves are back: they’re a pretty good team that has enough talent to make the playoffs, but not to go very far. They led the majors in starters’ ERA last year, they have a top-5 farm system and some of the best frontline talent in the majors. They’ve missed the playoffs for four straight years, averaging just 80 wins a season, but this could be the year they finally make it back. (CHONE and the Fangraphs Fans think the Braves will win the division in 2010.) The trouble is, they’re in the same division as the back-to-back NL champs, and they have some of the same weaknesses they’ve always had.

The team has some exceptional young stars: C Brian McCann, SS Yunel Escobar, P Jair Jurrjens, and P Tommy Hanson are all under team control through at least 2013, not to mention rookie super-prospect Jason Heyward. But they’ve been surrounded by below-replacement-level talent in recent years, the sort of aging veterans that 68-year old manager Bobby Cox can’t lay off but GM Frank Wren really ought to know better, like Garret Anderson, Corky Miller, and Chris Woodward. Cox is retiring after 2010, and probably will move into the front office brain trust, as John Schuerholz did after he retired. Wren will finally get to hire his personal manager, but he won’t necessarily have a much freer hand in personnel decisions: Cox and Schuerholz will continue vetting every move.

Wren’s showed some ability to fill the team’s holes through trades, but he still often leaves dead weight on the roster. Throughout his tenure, the team has strangely been strongest up the middle and weakest at the corners, as it likely will remain in 2010, unless the team gets exceptionally lucky with injury risks Troy Glaus and Chipper Jones, and Kaline-like production out of Heyward. As a result, they’re significantly underpowered. No regular in 2009 slugged .500, and there’s a good chance no one will in 2010 either. The team’s power shortage is one of its biggest offensive weaknesses: this team has long had trouble in one-run games, hitting more poorly in later innings and stranding runners on base. The power outage meant that despite being 11th in OBP in 2009, the Braves were 17th in runs: they could get them on, but couldn’t get them in.

Beyond Heyward, OF Jordan Schafer and 1B Freddie Freeman are the only impact position prospects in the high minors; once Heyward graduates, the Braves’ farm strength will be almost entirely in pitching. And as it was at their height, the Braves will be led by a terrific young pitching staff and a more-or-less average offense. (In 2009, the Braves had the 17th-highest OPS in baseball and the lowest starters’ ERA in baseball, exactly as they had in 2000.) That’s a formula that works for them, though it’s also a formula that led to five NLDS losses in six years.

The Phillies are the team to beat, but their payroll is ballooning, and they’ll have much less money to work with if they happen to miss the playoffs. Because of their farm system and young team-controlled stars, the Braves are the team best positioned to pick up the slack. They’re one of the best teams in the National League. But these days that’s almost a backhanded compliment. There’s a reason that the first six teams on the Organizational Rankings are all in the Junior Circuit.


Organizational Rankings: #9 – Philadelphia

Let me get this out of the way and save you the troube: “You ranked the two time defending NL champions ninth, behind teams that haven’t won anything in years – you are a biased moron!”

First, thanks for reading. Second – if it’s not obvious by now, a team’s record in the past means nothing in this series. This is not a backwards-looking reward for best recent performance, in either the regular season or the playoffs. This series is not designed to identify teams who have dominated baseball over the last few years. If it were, the Phillies (and Angels) would rank significantly higher.

That the Phillies rank just ninth here is not any kind of knock on what they have accomplished the last two years. It is simply a reflection of the questions that surround their ability to play at that level going forward. And there are legitimate questions surrounding this team.

Here are the core players on this team are under 27: Cole Hamels. That’s it. Last year’s Phillies team was the second oldest in baseball, barely behind the Astros, and after a series of trades that ripped apart the farm system, they have one impact prospect left (Domonic Brown). This team is straight up old.

They’re good, certainly. They should be the favorites to win the NL East, though the Braves are catching up very quickly. But as the Yankees learned the hard way, the combination of having a lot of high salaried older players without much of a farm system to support them is not the best way to build a team. And that’s exactly the situation the Phillies face going forward.

It can work. There’s enough star power on the roster that they’re a championship team if everyone stays healthy and plays as expected. But they’ve opened themselves up to problems if injuries arise or players age earlier than they’re hoping. They’ve tied themselves to Raul Ibanez for the next two years, but may not be able to afford to keep Jayson Werth beyond 2010.

The rotation after the big three is not good, and they can’t afford to have any of Halladay, Hamels, or Blanton hit the disabled list for a long period of time. Utley and Rollins are backed up by Juan Castro. Ryan Howard‘s replacement, should he get injured, is Ross Gload or Greg Dobbs.

There is a significant lack of depth here, and combined with the age of the players they’re relying on, the Phillies have taken on quite a bit of risk. Risk isn’t inherently bad, but given the amount of vulnerability here, they need to win this year to make it worthwhile, or they could end up looking more like the current Mets team than they would want.