Sophomores: The NL East

Over the last week, we’ve been looking at sophomore players in the Major Leagues. Today’s post is looking at the National League East division, which was fairly barren in terms of rookies in 2008 although the Braves organization had its fair share of newbies.

In the past few days, we have looked at the: AL Central, AL West, AL East and NL Central.

New York Mets

Perhaps buoyed by the mass of ever-present media, fielder Daniel Murphy entered 2009 with quite a bit of hype after just 188 at-bats during the ’08 season. Last year, he hit .313/.397/.473 with rates of 12.1 BB% and 21.4 K%. Murphy hit just two homers (.160 ISO) and did not successfully steal a base in two attempts. Perhaps the biggest negative with the left-handed hitter is his lack of position. Originally an infielder, Murphy’s penchant for errors led to a move to the outfield, where he spent all of 2008 while in the Majors. This season, he’s split his time between left field and first base. His 2009 line of .250/.324/.362 is below average for both positions, as is his ISO at .112.

Atlanta Braves

Martin Prado bounced between the Majors and triple-A during both the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He spent the majority of the 2008 season with Atlanta and had an above-average offensive season for a utility player by hitting .320/.377/.461 with 18 doubles and three steals in 228 at-bats. His rates were also pretty good at 8.4 BB% and 12.7 K%. This season, the infielder is hitting .277/.344/.445 with 11 doubles and no steals in 119 at-bats. Both his plate rates have improved by a percent or two. The downside, much like with Murphy above, is that Prado has been used mostly at a position that traditionally produces power (third base and first base). If he spent more time at second base – or shortstop – he would have greater value to the Braves, assuming he can play at least average defense at those positions.

Desperate for some outfield help in 2008, the Braves organization ran through a number of outfielders with “fourth outfielder” labels hovering over them and not one of the three players has done much to dispute that impending title. Josh Anderson, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Jones have all seen their playing time with the Braves decrease, even though the club still needs outfield depth. In fact, Anderson was traded out of the organization to Detroit earlier this year. Blanco showed the ability to get on base last season but he did it with almost no power. The 25-year-old outfielder hit .251/.366/.309 with 19 extra base hits and 13 steals in 430 at-bats. This season, he’s spent the majority of the year in triple-A. Jones hit .267/.312/.397 with one homer and a single steal in 116 at-bats. His rates of 5.7 BB% and 24.1 K% suggested more work needed to be done. Like Blanco, Jones has spent most of 2009 in triple-A.

Stolen from the Tigers in a trade after the 2007 season, right-hander Jair Jurrjens has been a very good pitcher for the Braves. Jurrjens posted a 3.68 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 2008 with 188 hits allowed in 188.1 innings of work. He also had a walk rate of 3.35 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.64 K/9. His ground-ball rate was 51.2%. This season, Jurrjens has allowed 81 hits in 87.1 innings of work, along with an ERA of 2.89 (3.52 FIP). His rates are very similar, although his ground-ball percentage has dropped to just 39.5%.

Reliever Manny Acosta allowed 48 hits in 53.0 IP but posted disappointing rates of 4.42 BB/9 and 5.26 K/9. He’s pitching in just nine MLB games in 2009 with eight hits allowed in 11.2 innings. He’s also shown similar rates, which is disappointing considering his fastball averages out at 93 mph.

Florida Marlins

Emilio Bonifacio had a very nice first month of the 2009 season, but that has been sandwiched by about six months worth of below-average play. Based on his offensive skill set, the 24-year-old infielder is best suited to play second base, but he’s spent the majority of the 2009 season at third base, where he has hit .241/.288/.292, which is well-below-average for a third base (and even for a second baseman). He’s also stolen just 12 bases in 17 attempts and has a walk rate of 6.5 BB%. Last year, Bonifacio hit .243/.296/.337 with seven steals in 11 attempts. Sadly, he’s not even a stellar defensive player.

John Baker, 28, toiled in the minors for seven seasons before earning his shot in 2008 and he hit .299/.392/.447 with five homers in 197 at-bats. The catcher also showed OK patience at the plate with a walk rate of 13.2 BB%. This season, Baker has struggled to hit for average with a line of .245/.335/.411 and six homers in 163 at-bats. His ground-ball rate is probably a little high at 56.3% for a plodding catcher.

The ground-ball pitcher that is Chris Volstad had a very nice debut season in 2008. The right-hander quieted the critics who said he was not ready by posting a 2.88 ERA (3.82 FIP) with 76 hits in 84.1 innings of work. He posted a walk rate of 3.84 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 5.55 K/9 but allowed just three homers (0.32 HR/9). It’s the missing quality sinker that has hurt Volstad in 2009. He’s given up 88 hits in 89.1 innings, including 14 long balls (1.41 HR/9).

Washington Nationals

Southpaw John Lannan, 24, doesn’t get a lot of love even though he keeps putting up the results – and for a bad team. He had a 3.91 ERA (4.79 FIP) while allowing 172 hits in 182 innings in 2008. The left-hander also had rates of 3.56 BB/9 and 5.79, so he puts the ball in play a lot. In 2009, Lannan has a 3.38 ERA (5.09 FIP) with 82 hits allowed in 85.1 innings. His walk rate is very similar, but the strikeout has dropped to 4.43 BB/9.

Collin Balester, 23, has to be pretty disappointed. The right-hander made 15 starts in 2008 and allowed 92 hits in 80 innings of work. He also posted rates of 3.15 BB/9 and 5.63 K/9. Like Lannan, Balester also struggled with home runs and he allowed 12 homers (1.35 HR/9). This season, he’s made all 14 of his starts in triple-A, where he has a 4.00 ERA.

Steven Shell and Charlie Manning both pitched a good chunk of innings for the club in 2008, but neither player has seen much MLB playing time in 2008. The better of the two pitchers, Shell is a former Angels prospect, posted a 2.16 ERA in exactly 50 innings. He also had a 7.38 K/9 rate. In 2009, though, the right-hander fell apart. He appeared in four games for the Nationals before moving on to the Seattle organization, where he has a 7.90 ERA in 12 games. Manning appeared in 57 games in 2008 with an ERA of 5.17. He has yet to pitch in the Majors in ’09.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies organization did not distribute significant playing time to any rookies in 2008.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


10 Responses to “Sophomores: The NL East”

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  1. tom s. says:

    charlie manning is now in the cardinals organization.

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  2. Jake says:

    “His walk rate is very similar, but the strikeout has dropped to 4.43 BB/9. ”

    Strikeout should be walk rate I presume.

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  3. Will says:

    “…Originally an infielder, Murphy’s penchant for errors led to a move to the outfield, where he spent all of 2008 while in the Majors…”

    Actually, I believe the presence of David Wright at third base led to a move to the outfield (Murphy played 3B in the minors, but clearly the Mets were not going to move Wright, so they moved Murphy.) At least that’s how I remember it…

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  4. Hailmatty says:

    You said Murphy had 188 ABs in ’08, when in fact he had 131. I’m aware of this because if he had had just a few less plate appearances last year, he’d still be considered a rookie this year. And if Manuel hadn’t started jerking him in and out of the lineup in early May, I doubt he would’ve gone into the slump that led him to his current numbers. Just my take.

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  5. Rich says:

    Or he’s in a slump because he’s a young player. I’m sure Manuel “jerked” him around cause he’s awful in the field.

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  6. PhDBrian says:

    John Lannan is in my mind the best Sophmore in the game. Have you seen what he has done over the last month? To bad he faces the Aces of every other team every time he pitches. It is hard to win 20 if you face Santana, CC sabathia, etc every night.

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  7. Garison says:

    “It is hard to win 20 if [John Lannan faces] Santana, CC sabathia, etc every night.”

    It’s hard for the Nationals to win 20 games AS A TEAM.

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  8. Deacon Drake says:

    Steven Shell is now in the M’s organization, getting crushed in AA.

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