Archive for March, 2010

Jeremy Sowers to Triple-A (Punless Version)

Jeremy Sowers passed through waivers untouched. This is unsurprising. In 400 (exactly 400) Major League innings as a starter, Sowers has an xFIP over 5 and a contact rate near 88%. His high-80s velocity is unimpressive, even for a lefty, and only slightly does he initiate groundballs more than fly balls. Truthfully, Sowers’ current state is rather uninteresting. He’s going to Triple-A for a reason, and that reason is because his left arm seethes with mediocrity.

Take a moment to remember back to the good days. Do you remember, for instance, that Sowers’ first season featured 88 innings with an ERA of 3.57? Sure, his xFIP was 4.49, and his ERA was fueled by a low BABIP, but hey, ERA! More than half of Sowers’ starts came in August and September. He fed the hype machine by posting a 3.21 ERA during that stretch. Outside of that late season push, Sowers has a career 5.44 ERA, and his peripherals support it.

One of the reasons for Sowers struggles appears to be his heavy reliance on his fastball. He threw it more than half the time, yet batters swung and missed about 5% of the time. In fact, the only pitch that Sowers threw with any regularity that induced a decent number of whiffs was his slider, at 8.4% empty swings. For comparison’s sake, Nick Blackburn only gets 3.2% whiffs on his fastball, but 10% on his slider, and he’s a groundball heavy pitcher. Something Sowers isn’t.

The whole mess is particularly a headache for the Indians because Sowers was the sixth overall selection in the 2004 draft. Taken around such breadwinners as Mark Rogers, Wade Townsend, and Chris Nelson. Even if one ignores the signability issues associated with Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew, there were some quality players taken a few picks later, though, that would definitely help the Indians in the present day. Of course, it’s easy to say such in retrospect, since even up until the 2006 season, Sowers was ranked as one of the top 100 prospects by Baseball America.

This whole thing reads sort of like a career obituary, which is a little unfair to Sowers. He’s going to Triple-A and being removed from the 40-man roster, not being sold to Japan (although, look at what that’s done for Colby Lewis) or traded for a stick of gum. Maybe he finds a new pitch in Triple-A and rejoins the fray later this year. Or maybe he doesn’t.


Berkman Officially on DL to Start Season

Today the Houston Astros officially put Lance Berkman on the disabled list to start the season with left knee problems. The issues began on March 1st when he felt discomfort and swelling in his knee. The club had an MRI done on the knee and the results came back with a left knee contusion, basically a bruise. During the second week of March, he had fluid drained twice from the knee which kept him from playing. Then he had arthroscopic surgery on March 13 to remove loose particles from his knee which found no other damage in his knee. Yesterday the knee began to swell again after practicing and the team placed him in the DL today. The move was retroactive to March 26 with him available at the earliest on April 10th

So what does this mean?

For Lance, it looks like he may have to take easy, which may be tough for him. He has only missed 51 total days to the DL over the past 5 years. He expects to be on the field, but he will need to make sure he is fine before playing again.

It is hard to try to find the true extent of the injury. He had pain and swelling that surgery didn’t seem to correct. My guess is that he came back too fast from surgery hoping to make the opening day roster (maybe he bought 20 tickets already for friends and family) or the real cause of the injury has not yet been resolved.

I would be impressed if he makes back by April 10th and we could see the extent of this injury be even worse.

For the Astros, this injury was one of the last things they wanted to see happen to their roster this year. Chone projects Lance with a 0.381 wOBA this season while his replacement, Geoff Blum looks to hit a 0.294 wOBA (a level below replacement level for 1B). Berkman by far the best hitter in the Astros lineup and he will definitely be missed.

The Astros aren’t expect to do decent this season (73-89 projected by CHONE) and losing Berkman for any amount of time will just hurt an already disadvantaged team.


7 Thoughts on Garko, Sweeney, Griffey, etc.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Mariners waived Ryan Garko, having been thoroughly unimpressed with his glove and bat this spring, particularly his glove, which is so bad they don’t want to platoon him with Casey Kotchman at first base. Plenty of reaction and analysis is already out there in the blogosphere, here I offer a loose series of (dis)connected thoughts.

1. Given that Garko’s glove is apparently un-platoon-able, and assuming that the Mariners had been willing to use him as their full-time DH, how would that compare to the current plan? CHONE (less optimistic on Garko than ZiPS) projects Garko for a .336 wOBA. ZiPS is more optimistic for both Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. If they platoon at DH (with a 70/30 RHP/LHP distribution), and adjusting for estimated platoon skill, a Griffey/Sweeney platoon projects for a .327 wOBA. Over 150 games (about 630 PA), that’s about a 5 run (about half a win) difference.

2. Using the same inputs as in #1, against RHP, right-handed hitting Garko projects to have a .329 wOBA; against RHP, left-handed hitting Griffey projects for .325.

3. A league-average hitter is a replacement level DH. For the past three seasons, the league-average wOBAs have been .331, .328, and .329, respectively.

4. Sweeney and Griffey are apparently important to the Mariners for their positive effect on chemistry. Last season, Tom Tango used the example of Cliff Floyd to show that the open market values the “intangibles” at $350,000 per season. What does this situation tell us about the 2010 market for intangibles?

According to Cot’s, Garko is guaranteed $550,000 this season, Sweeney $650,000 in the majors, and Griffey $2.35 million (we’ll leave out the various playing time and award incentives for the sake of simplicity). First, let’s eliminate the “replacement salary” of about $400,000 for each player, so we’re left with $150,000 for Garko, $250,000 for Sweeney, and $1.95 million for The Zombie Kid. From #1 and #3 we can infer (generously) that a Sweeney/Griffey DH platoon would be around replacement level. So their “surplus salary” would tell us how much the Mariners are willing to pay for chemistry — $2.2 million. But we need to take account of Garko. Let’s assume he adds nothing to chemistry (or is it alchemy?). Still, we’ve established him as (conservatively) half a win (runs) better than the Sweeney/Griffey DH platoon (and we should really be only eliminating one of Griffey/Sweeney’s replacement salaries, since Garko only takes one roster spot, but this was supposed to be a simple post…). A win on the open market this offseason was going for around $3.5 million, so half a win is $1.75 million. That means that the Mariners are valuing Griffey and Sweeney’s “clubhouse presence” at almost four million dollars this season. The Mariners thus must think that the chemical advantage added by Sweeney and Griffey will add at a bit more than a win for them this season.

Feel free to check my math.

5. If Griffey and Zombie Sweeney are platooning at “chemistry,” does this mean their lockers are on either side of Milton Bradley’s?

6. I wonder what Kenny thinks of all this?

7. Yes, it’s only one decision, so “small sample size” caveats apply, even to front offices. Still, how fitting is it that this decision is announced so close to the Mariners’ organizational ranking being posted?


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: Future Talent – Twins

Over a two week stretch earlier this month, the Twins signed three players to extensions, headlined by Joe Mauer’s eight-year deal. Mauer becomes the face of the franchise and the backstop until he can’t do it anymore — he will likely never play for another organization. Even if he doesn’t hit for all the power he did last season going forward, Mauer is talented enough to grind out five win seasons in his sleep. The team also bought out the arbitration years, and gave themselves a cheap option for the first year of free agency, for Nick Blackburn and Denard Span. This is the rare case where I believe Blackburn (the pitcher) is a surer bet than Span (the hitter), but neither deal is ill advised.

More importantly, paired with previous extensions given to Justin Morneau and Scott Baker, these deals mean the Twins payroll is going up with this move into a new stadium. These five players alone are on the hook for about $55 million in 2013, a number that just about represented Minnesota’s payroll in 2003 and 2008. When factoring in the money they’ll owe to Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and others, the Twins payroll is set to see new highs in this decade. Given the skills this organization has concerning player evaluation, a competitive budget could mean big things going forward.

The current regime of Minnesota homegrown players has been such a treat to watch, as this season they will likely lead the Twins to their ninth winning season in 10 years. But they are getting older, and given the aforementioned extensions, many of them will be playing ball elsewhere in a couple years. Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel will be gone after 2011, and they would probably have to give the team a discount to stay with their original organization. Not far behind them is a group that includes the newly acquired J.J. Hardy, Delmon Young and Joe Nathan. It’s certainly one step forward as far as the budget to retain talent goes, but keeping the sheer quantity of players this organization produces would be impossible.

The good news is that Mike Radcliff is still the scouting director in Minnesota, and as a result, you can bet the Twins have players in their system and will have more coming. If there is someone better in the business, I don’t know about him. And to consistently succeed with such a simple M.O. should almost be frustrating to his peers: draft athletes early, power in the middle, and pitchers with command in between. There’s variations of that in each draft, but this is the premise the Twins are routinely constructed around.

With the early drafted athletes, they have Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere. Hicks is probably a year from his breakout (Fort Myers is utter hell for young hitters), but he is one of the handful of players in the minor leagues I could envision being a #1 overall prospect. Revere is more of a B-prospect for me, and seems a weird fit in an organization that really likes Span. On an extreme side of that predicament is Wilson Ramos, a really solid young catcher that will be stuck as a back-up unless he gets traded away.

The athletes go on to include foreign players that show the reaches this scouting department is ready to go. Max Kepler was given the largest bonus ever for a European player (800K), and while very raw, has a ton of potential. Miguel Sano is the best player the team has ever signed on the international market, and scouts couldn’t be higher. Then there’s Angel Morales, a product of the draft, but a symbol of Radcliff’s fondness for Puerto Rican players.

When the team does veer away from the command-control pitchers, they go after projection. The hope is that 2009 first-rounder Kyle Gibson has both, because his body certainly has room to fill out, but he also has great command of his fastball on his best days. His health will determine how fast he moves, but Gibson was a risk that could really pay off for the Twins. The team also really likes David Bromberg, who also features an intimidating frame but a command-specialist arsenal. He moves up to Double-A this season, and could take over the Twins fifth starter spot as early as mid-2011.

There’s depth, but we don’t have to go into every player today. Just know that the Twins have a scouting philosophy that is tried and true, and a budget on the rise. After all the recent extensions, the next person Bill Smith should be contacting for a new contract is Mike Radcliff, who might just be the man responsible for all the success this organization has had in the last decade.


Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Minnesota

The Twins are in a great position to compete for their division title, and thus the World Series, in 2010. Outside of their injured closer, they return all of the key members of last year’s AL Central-winning squad and also made some good pickups over the off-season. As a result, they have, mostly likely, the best team in the AL Central heading into the 2010 season.

Of course, for the Twins it all starts with their recently locked-up catcher, Joe Mauer — one of the best players in baseball. Mauer plays the most demanding defensive position, from which offensive value is the hardest to find; is projected to have a wOBA above .400; and is not yet 27. Along with Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez he is one of the game’s greatest talents.

The rest of their position players have enough talent to form a competent core around Mauer. Outside of their catcher, the infield was a wasteland after Justin Morneau went down with an injury in 2009. But the Twins made steps to address that major weakness in the 2010 off-season. They brought in Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, which should result in fewer plate appearances from the likes of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Brian Buscher. Also, Morneau comes back from injury, looking to replicate his three-win season of 2007 and 2008.

The outfield will have its defensive liabilities and is, generally, not a strength of the team. But it has enough talent, especially in Denard Span, not to be a liability to the rest of the team.

The rotation — although it does not have a lights-out, number-one guy — is solid one to four and one of the better ones in baseball. Its top four members are united by their strike-throwing ability, as none projects by CHONE to throw more than 2.11 BB/9: Scott Baker is the ace of the staff, quietly posting a top-fifteen K/BB ratio over the past three years; Kevin Slowey, coming back from injury, could be Baker’s equal, if not better; Carl Pavano re-signed with the Twins after an encouraging 2009; and, finally, Nick Blackburn limits walks enough to make his poor strikeout and average walk rate work. After that the Twins will go with Francisco Liriano, who they are guardedly optimistic about after a solid performance in Winter Ball. If he recaptures any of his past glory this could be an amazing rotation top to bottom.

The loss of Joe Nathan for the season no doubt hurts, but the Twins have a number of good relievers to cover the loss. And picking up bullpen guys during the season is easier than getting starting pitchers or position players; if the Twins need to they can trade for a closer (although not one of Nathan’s level).

All in all the Twins have surrounded their superstar with enough talent to make themselves the team to beat in the AL Central.


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: Future Talent – Seattle

Maybe in the perfect world for a Mariners fan, Adam Jones joins Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro in the outfield, Chris Tillman shares the top of the prospect list with Dustin Ackley. Maybe Asdrubal Cabrera is still around. But as much as these fans wish it didn’t, the Bill Bavasi era did happen, and numerous young talents are in other organizations because of it. But, things are getting pretty good in Seattle, and I won’t be the first person to tell you why: Jack Zduriencik and friends.

I’m not going to tell you that Zduriencik is the best General Manager in baseball. That, I think, would be impossible to achieve without years of experience in the position. However, he is undeniably one of the game’s great talent evaluators, and he’s surrounding himself with informed opinions from intelligent people. The foundation is built for future success, both because of the personnel in the front office and the personnel on the field. This begins, like it has with every team in this series, with the stars: in Seattle, that’s Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez.

When Ichiro starts to significantly decline will always be at the heart of the Mariners future, as it’s hard to imagine ownership ever letting him don another uniform. In a perfect world, he has five more seasons with 200 hits and plus defense in him, as his 4-5 WAR contributions are essential to future success. With Felix, the hope is merely that he peaks when the average player does, as he is under team control through his age 28 season. If his 2009 is a level that can be sustained, the Mariners will be able to boast the best pitcher in the game, a distinction that certainly can’t hurt.

Joining Felix in Seattle until October 2014 will be Franklin Gutierrez, signed to an extension in January that promises a placement on Dave Cameron’s Trade Value series. I can’t believe Gutierrez is a +25 fielder, obviously, but if he’s +15 and makes minimal strides with the bat, he can be a 4.5 WAR player. And there’s Chone Figgins, tied down to the same timetable as Felix and Franklin, and seemingly just as unique as the previous three players. The hope is that Figgins understands his value was never as strong as it was last year, when he worked 100 walks. If he’s that patient again, then Figgins tenure in Seattle will go just fine.

This is the Major League core, and while it’s not typical, the players give Jack Z a very nice start for the next five seasons. Adam Moore will probably be there for all of them behind the plate, and you know how I feel about him. Some people took exception to my Moore projection, but I truly believe it was complimentary — Moore’s floor is very high. The pitcher version of this would be Ryan Rowland-Smith, who will have his modest success in Seattle as long as Safeco Field is standing. The bad news in Seattle is that the pitching really thins out after The Hyphen; there’s quite a bit of young relievers around Brandon League, but Zduriencik will have to be creative in building a rotation for the future.

If the pitching must come from outside the organization, the Mariners must keep their offense cheap outside of Ichiro and Figgins. They’ll get some help in this regard in 2011, when Michael Saunders should effectively replace Ken Griffey Jr., and Dustin Ackley should take over for Jose Lopez. The latter is another key to the future, as he must take to second base fairly quickly. While defense and power are still question marks for Ackley, his ability to make solid contact is an unbelievable skill. He’s a leadoff hitter the same as Ichiro and Figgins, which means the Don Wakamatsu will have rooms for lots of creativity in filling out his lineup card. Saunders, meanwhile, should play a good left field in Safeco (surprise, surprise) and will bring a touch of power to a lineup that lacks it.

There’s no doubt that by acquiring Cliff Lee, the Mariners dipped into what was already a shallow farm system. But Jack surely did so with the understanding that his team is going to rebuild this farm system quickly. They started last year, unafraid of the bonus demands of Nick Franklin and Steve Baron after spending big money on Ackley. Tom McNamara and his staff in the scouting department are very good at what they do, and I have total faith this team will be churning out young players in a few years. Until then, Jack Zduriencik must continue to be creative while building around the most unique core in Major League Baseball.


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.


Comparing CHONE and FANS projections

A while ago Tango wrote about the optimistic fan projections and I followed it up with a look at the fans’ playing time projections. I think the fan projections are very interesting and I wanted to look at another aspect before the season started. I wanted to see, broadly, how the fans’ projections compared with a computer-based system, like CHONE.

Here I plotted the FANS WAR projection versus CHONE WAR projection for each hitter with more than 15 fan projections. I use CHONE as the x-axis – not to say that I think it is the “independent” or “correct” variable, but just because one of them had to go on the x-axis. The red line is NOT the best fit line, but rather the y=x line. If the FANS and CHONE projected exactly the same values everything would fall along the line. Dots above the line are players whose FANS projection is higher and those below whose CHONE projection is higher. I added the names of a couple outlying points.

First off, there is a very strong positive relationship between the two projections: generally, players with a good FANS projection also have a good CHONE, and those with a poor projection of one have a poor one of the other. Not surprising, but reassuring to see.

Next, CHONE is more pessimistic than the FANS (or the FANS are optimistic). Most of the points fall above the line (FANS project higher WAR than CHONE). Interestingly, though, the FANS optimism (or CHONE pessimism) increases for better players. For below-average players (zero- to two-win players) there are a points below and above the line. But as you move up or right on the graph, almost all the players are above the line. The equation of best-fit line, FANS = 0.17 + 1.08*CHONE, bears this out. Since the slope is greater than one high-WAR players will have the greatest difference between FAN and CHONE projections. So the FANS optimism, relative to CHONE, is seen most in the best players.

Finally, I highlighted a couple outliers. The FANS really like Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus and Evan Longoria compared to CHONE. The difference in each case is largely driven by a difference in defensive projection: the FANS think Andrus and Longoria will be elite defenders, CHONE thinks they will be just good; and the FANS think Desmond will be an average defensive shortstop, but CHONE thinks he will be quite poor. There were two players that CHONE liked considerably more than the FANS: CHONE likes Yuniesky Betancourt to be merely replacement level, while the FANS think he will be about a game worse; and CHONE sees Melky Cabrera as a three-win player while the FANS see him as a 1.5-win player. Finally I noted Troy Tulowitzki since he is one of the few superstars projected higher by CHONE than FANS. Again the difference is driven by defense. CHONE likes him to be an elite defender, while the FANS just a good defender.


Beckett’s Potential Four-Year Contract

At one point the 2011 free agent pitching class looked like one of the strongest ones in recent history. As recently as January 2009 the class included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, and Brandon Webb. In the middle of that month, though, Greinke signed an extension that would keep him with the Royals through 2012. Then Webb suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for almost all of 2009. In December the Blue Jays traded Halladay to the Phillies, who signed him to a three-year, $60 million extension. That leaves just Lee and Beckett as the elite options, but if Buster Olney’s sources are accurate then Lee might find himself the lone pitching prize of the free agent class.

Reports indicate that Beckett has a four-year offer on the table from the Red Sox and that there “is optimism a deal will be completed in the next week or two.” On the open market Beckett would likely command a contract similar to the five-year, $82.5 million deals both A.J. Burnett and John Lackey signed during the past two off-seasons. Apparently the Red Sox don’t want to offer five years due to concerns with Beckett’s shoulder, and Beckett, understandably, doesn’t want to sign a contract that penalizes him for getting hurt (like Lackey’s contract). Olney speculates that the deal could be worth $65 to $70 million, but because a $65 million deal would pay out the same average annual value as Lackey’s deal I would guess $70 million is more realistic.

During his four years with Boston Beckett has established himself as an elite starter in baseball’s toughest division. He got off to a rough start in 2006, a transition year of sorts, as he saw his home run rate spike and his strikeout rate dip. That led to a 5.01 ERA to go with a 5.12 FIP and plenty of criticism from the Boston media. While Beckett served up homers to the hated Yankees, the player they traded, Hanley Ramirez, was busy winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. Just one year later the critics would eat their words, as Beckett stopped walking so many hitters, raised his strikeout rate back to career norms, cut his home run rate in half, and placed second in the Cy Young voting. Oh, and he allowed four runs over 30 playoff innings en route to a World Series Championship.

Beckett disappointed a bit in 2008, but he still pitched well. His ground ball rate dropped while his home run rate increased, likely because his HR/FB went from 8 percent in 2007 back to his career average, around 10.5 percent, in 2008. He also saw a bit higher BABIP that season. Injuries were something of a problem for him that year. He opened the season on the DL with lower back spasms and then went on the DL again in August with elbow neuritis. He ended the season battling an oblique strain, which apparently affected his playoff performance. A far cry from his masterful 2007 run, Beckett allowed 14 runs in 14.1 innings during the 2008 playoffs.

In 2009 Beckett’s ERA came down a bit, but his FIP jumped from 3.24 to 3.63. His home run rate crept up again, though his 12.8 percent HR/FB ratio probably had a bit to do with that — his xFIP was 3.35. Of a bit further concern was his walk rate, which jumped up to 2.33 after two straight years residing below 1.80. He did avoid injury for most of the year, though, making 32 starts and not missing time until the last few days when he suffered upper back spasms. His playoff run comprised just one start, a 6.2-inning, four run performance that put the Sox in an 0-2 hole. Through it all, though, Beckett has maintained his 94 mph fastball, despite the Red Sox concerns with his shoulder.

Beckett’s right shoulder hasn’t been a problem in nearly a decade. In 2000 a doctor told him that labrum surgery was inevitable, but Dr. James Andrews opined that the surgery could be avoided. He instead rested and rehabbed, and hasn’t had an incident since. An MRI in 2007 confirmed an optimistic outlook, though the Red Sox still appear leery of signing Beckett through his age-35 season. As they see it, apparently, paying him a higher salary for four years makes more sense than signing him to the same deal Burnett and Lackey received.

In keeping up with the AL East arms race, the Red Sox would do well to retain Beckett. He’s pitched admirably atop the rotation for the past three years. His blister problems are behind him, and he’s stayed healthy for most of his Red Sox tenure. He could probably get that five-year deal on the open market this off-season, but he could do worse than four years and $70 million with a perpetual contender.


Santos Makes the Pen

Not long ago, Sergio Santos represented the name of a shortstop prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a pretty well-regarded prospect at that. The D-Backs made him a first round pick in 2002 and by 2004 Baseball America ranked him as the 37th best prospect overall. The offensive aspect of the game was lost on Santos. In more than 3,000 plate appearances, Santos’ career minor league line is .248/.305/.393. As a result, the Chicago White Sox converted him to pitching last season.

In 28 innings across four levels, Santos struck out 30 batters and walked 20. This spring, he’s shown the White Sox enough to break camp with the big league team. It might be the quickest hitter-to-pitcher transition that finds itself to the majors. Tony Pena Jr. converted last season but he’s yet to reach the majors. Casey Kelly is nowhere close. Rick Ankiel appeared in the Majors as a pitcher last in 2004, and then as a hitter in 2007. Adam Loewen, Kevin Cash, and Ben Davis never made it that far.

So, the timetable alone makes this an interesting case. It only helps that Santos evidently has a strong arm. That’s to be expected, since he did play shortstop and most scouting tidbits about him suggest such. CHONE is none too optimistic about his chances of making this work, although, again, we’re talking about 28 innings of work, which means the 6.72 FIP projection is essentially meaningless and shouldn’t be taken with a dosage of salt, no matter the size.

The question I pose is this: What do we project Santos at? Replacement level, or perhaps lower? Presumably the White Sox staff thinks of him as an above replacement level arm, and for all we know, he could be. But the accelerated time table and lack of experience makes me suspect this just isn’t the case and that Chicago might make their roster worse by carrying Santos. Although, that’s an easily fixed problem and not one that will alter their season dramatically.


FanGraphs Audio: Org Reports, Team Blogs, Zingers

Episode Fifiteen
In which the panel zigs when you zag.

Headlines
Mark Shapiro and the Minor Leagues
The Oft-Injured Mets
The Team-Specific Blog, or Ars Blogica
… and other money-making schemes!

Featuring
Dave Cameron, Sworn Enemy
Matthew Carruth, Ace of Database
Bryan Smith, Prospect Maven

Finally, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio on the flip-flop.

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Orioles Pick Hernandez Over Tillman

For most of the spring it appeared that the second component of the Erik Bedard trade would play a prominent role on the Orioles. Baseball America rated Chris Tillman the No. 22 overall prospect this off-season, and he stood a good chance of breaking camp as the team’s No. 5 starter behind Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, and Brad Bergesen. On Tuesday, though, the Orioles announced that David Hernandez, and not Tillman, would be the team’s fifth starter. Tillman will head down to AAA where he can continue honing his craft with an eye at a mid-season call-up.

Both Hernandez and Tillman pitched for the Orioles last year, and they put up similar numbers. Both had ERAs around 5.40 and FIPs north of 6.00 with BABIPs around .300. Hernandez struck out more batters but also walked more and also pitched more innings. That’s not to say that they’ll continue pitching similarly. The hope, of course, is that Tillman turns into a top of the rotation arm, settling in behind Matusz and alongside Bergesen. That might be part of the reason for naming Hernandez the fifth starter. The Orioles can afford to take their time with pitchers they don’t feel are fully developed.

Hernandez, a 16th round pick in 2005, displayed excellent strikeout skills in the minors, striking out more than a batter per inning at every level. His walk rate jumped around, from 4.40 at low-A to 2.91 at advanced-A to 4.53 at AA. Even so, his FIP remained low at all levels, under 4.00. His ERA finally followed at AA in 2008, 2.68 against a 3.43 FIP. He took an even bigger step forward in 2009 at AAA, striking out 12.40 per nine while walking just 2.83, good for a 2.62 FIP and 3.30 ERA. That earned him the call-up.

The Orioles have taken their time developing Hernandez. He pitched just 145 innings in his first two professional seasons, followed by 141 in his fourth. Then again, that might not have been by design. Hernandez averaged under 5.1 innings per start through his first three professional seasons. In 2009 the Orioles upped his innings a bit, to 162.2. Yet he still averaged only 5.1 innings per start. He also averaged almost 19 pitches per inning at the major league level, something he’ll have to improve upon if he’ll factor into the Orioles rotation in the future.

Tillman, a 2006 second round pick by the Mariners, put on a display last season at AAA. In 96.2 innings he posted a 2.70 ERA with a 2.76 FIP to match. He struck out more than a batter per inning while keeping his walks to less than 2.5 per nine. When the Orioles started auditioning young starters at the end of the season he was a natural fit, though again his performance at the major league level didn’t produce great results. He allowed too many home runs, 15 in 65 innings, but he also had a high 15.2 HR/FB ratio. Given his performance throughout the minors, though, Tillman will probably dominate upon his return to AAA. If any of the youngsters behind Millwood and Guthrie struggles, Tillman could be the first replacement.

While the Orioles are not in a position to contend this season, it does not mean that they have to throw all of their best young pitchers into the fire. This is part of the reason they acquired Kevin Millwood. He provides some solidity at the top of the rotation, affording the Orioles as much time as they need to develop the future of their rotation. They’re already using youngsters Matusz and Bergesen, and will likely use Tillman, only 22 years old, at some point this season. Hernandez is a bit older and further along in his development, making him a fair choice as the No. 5 starter. If he fails, Tillman won’t be far behind.


Fish Hook Robertson, Lame Puns Ahoy

Earlier today, the Detroit Tigers traded Nate Robertson to the Florida Marlins for minor leaguer Jay Voss. The move is essentially a body dump for the Tigers, since they’ll be paying for 96% of his 2010 salary. That means, the Marlins are getting Robertson for what equates to a league minimum salary and a future lefty specialist.

Not long ago, Robertson was viewed as an important, irreplaceable part of the Tigers’ future. Injuries have since led to this. The Wichita State alum was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 draft by the Marlins, and later traded to the Tigers prior to the 2003 season for Mark Redman. Redman and the Marlins’ rotation of Method Men combined to lead them to a World Series title. Robertson would have his own high moments years later. How high? Well, he helped the Tigers ascend the ranks and reach a World Series of their own.

Robertson is a southpaw and a 32-year-old one at that. He only started six games for the Tigers last season, but before that had a run of five straight seasons of at least 150 innings which mostly encompasses his career. Such a run of success convinced the Tigers to ink him to an extension worth $21.25M over three years, of which he enters the final season.

Robertson’s career xFIP to date is 4.42, while his regular FIP is 4.74. The 1,000+ inning sample size in a favorable pitching park suggests Robertson’s issues with the long ball might be traced to his struggles with right-handed batters more so than a run of bad luck. Observe his career splits:

Versus lefties: 1,113 TBF, 18.6% SO, 5.3% uBB, 3.34 FIP
Versus righties: 3,491 TBF, 14.5% SO, 8.6% uBB, 5.21 FIP

Odds are Robertson would make a killer reliever against lefties, but the Marlins – excuse me, the Tigers – are paying him to start, so start he will. CHONE projects him at a 4.81 FIP and ZiPS at 4.97. Bump those down a little since he is transitioning to the National League, and maybe, just maybe, he can luck into a 2 win season for the Fish.

As I’ve discussed before though, I fully expect the Marlins to have Robertson lead the league in ERA through July 31st, promptly flip him for something useful, and then watch as he explodes for his new team. There’s magic in them there waters and Robertson has the eyewear to dive right in.


All-Joy Team: The Thrilling Conclusion

As the reader will undoubtedly imagine, Carson Cistulli receives quite a bit of fan mail here at FanGraphs Headquarters. Some of it (i.e. the fan mail) is just your usual, garden variety-type stuff. “Big up yourself,” people write, or “Sweet jokes”: that sort of thing. Some of it, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, is — how do I say this exactly? — is of an intimate nature. This sort of parcel — because that’s how it arrives — frequently contains some variety of lady’s undergarment accompanied by a note that proposes, in no uncertain terms, how the author and I might pass a weekend, and in what ways, exactly, we might contort our respective bodies. I won’t say I dislike these missives, but they do challenge my modesty.

Regardless of these matters, almost all the correspondence I’ve been receiving lately has led to the same question: “When, oh when, can we expect the thrilling conclusion to the All-Joy Team?”

Right now, is my triumphant response. Just below these words.

A note before we begin: owing to the nature the five sacred criteria, the All-Joy Team is by definition, a work in progress. Just as one can neither take the blue from the sky nor put the wind in one’s own pocket, so, too, is it impossible to truly conclude the formation of the All-Joy Team.

UTIF: Zack MacPhee, Arizona State

On a recent edition of the pod, Messrs Allen, Cameron, and Smith each summarily rejected the notion that scrappy wunderkind Zack MacPhee would make even a single All-Star appearance during what I can only imagine will be a long and important Major League career.

In related news, the triumvirate also confessed to “kinda liking the Redcoats” in the American Revolution and also “not really minding the shadowy spectre of Communism.” Probably vegetarian, all of them.

Anyway, through 23 games so far this college season, the sophomore MacPhee is slashing .459/.564/.865 to go along with 9 triples, 4 homers, a BB:K of 18:8, and a stolen base record of 10/10. I believe the word you’re looking for is “Booyakasha!”

UTOF: Peter Bourrrrrrjos, Los Angeles (AL)

On account of my status around here as Semi-Reliable Copyeditor*, I have access to most of the writing you see on the site before it goes live. So one thing I know that most everyone else in the world does not is that, in an early version of Erik Manning’s celebration of Angel farmhand Bourjos, the former appended to the body of that post, “Peter! I heart you real bad! Call me: 555-1234!”

*Which reminds me: in the event that the reader happens upon any usage errors in these electronic pages, he should feel free to — instead of harrassing the author — just email me at ccistulli@yahoo.com.

A couple notes on that. First, having had to call him for pod-related reasons, I can verify that Mr. Manning’s phone number does, indeed, include a 555 exchange. This is mostly to do with the fact that Erik Manning is an imaginary person, merely one of the seven or eight pseudonyms under which Dark Overlord David Appelman conducts his business*. Second, and more relevant to this discussion, is the fact that Bourjos really is a fascinating player. Not only did he improve his plate discipline dramatically from 2008 to 2009, but — more interestingly — he appears to be one of the better glove men in all the minors.

*Nor should you discount the fact that David Appelman is, indeed, the man writing these very words.

According to his Minor League Splits page, Bourjos has been good for somewhere around 20-30 runs per 150 games each of these past three years. This year, CHONE has him projected for 11.1 runs above average in center despite only 421 plate appearances. He appears headed to Triple-A Salt Lake to begin the season.

C: Brayan Pena, Kansas City

If you’re the sort of person who both (a) ponied up $7.95 for the Second Opinion and (b) made it to the piece entitled Fringe Benefits, then you’ll know that there’s some overlap between the All-Joy Team and the players listed in that article. The reason for this is clear: the criteria for that fake team are not so different than the ones for this other, equally fake team.

As for Pena, specifically, there’s reason to believe — given both scouting reports and Matt Klaassen’s heroic efforts — that his defense is suspect, which is why I’d feel uncomfortable making him the starter for the present Team. That said, his plate discipline, rate of contact, and power would likely place him among the league’s better offensive backstops were he given a starting position. On account of he’s playing for the Royals, and on account of how that team has decided to give Jason Kendall the majority of PAs at catcher, this will very likely not be Pena’s year.

SP: Colby Lewis, Texas

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, in certain extreme cases, the only honorable way for two virile men to resolve their differences is by means of a dance battle. That being the case, the reader might very well be seeing Marc “Prospect Maven” Hulet and Carson “America’s Sweetheart” Cistulli involved in an elaborate brand of fisticuffs before too long.

The reason for our dispute? Colby “Big in Japan” Lewis. Hulet contends that Lewis is merely a Quad-A sort whose silly K:BB numbers in the NPB (369:46 in 354.1 IP) is merely the product of inferior competition. I contend that Hulet is full of it. What “it” is, I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t sprinkle it on my morning cereal.

In any case, CHONE calls for Lewis to post a 3.99 ERA across 167 IP this season.

SP: Gio Gonzalez, Oakland
SP: Felipe Paulino, Houston
SP: Freddy Garcia, Chicago (AL)

In case you missed it the first time, I sent a whole bunch of nerdy love letters to both of these guys’ peripheral numbers back in December. Furthermore, I intimated to every liberal American (via their online meeting den) that, were Brian Moehler to win a starting role over Felipe Paulino, I’d commit a very public suicide in protest.

Before you have time even to ask the question, “That thing about suicide he just wrote, is that decidedly sans taste?” allow me to answer immediately: yes and no. Yes, because people have actually committed very public suicides in support of actually meaningful causes. But also, no, because for Houston — a club with little hope for playoff baseball this season — for a club like that not to give a young player an extended look.

Of course, it will give us more reason to make fun of the Houston Astros. But I’m quoting myself when I say that snark isn’t an end in itself; it’s just the mode to which we resort when we are powerless to protest in any other way.

As for Garcia, he generated the highest percentage of whiffs on balls offered at outside the zone. It’d be nice to see him put a season together.

RP: R.J. Swindle, Tampa Bay

Swindle pitched at the Triple-A All-Star game last year, and struck out Colorado farmhand Jorge Padilla on a 55-mph curvepiece. That’s enough for me to hire him for LOOGY work.

Nor am I the only one who thinks so. Steve Slowinsk of D-Rays Bay is on this particular boat, as well:

At the end of the “Cult Classics” piece, I decided that Kelly Shoppach would most likely become my cult hero this season since we’ve been missing a larger-than-life swing ever since Jonny Gomes left. Somehow, though, I had completely forgotten about another player that easily climbs to the top of my “Cult Hero” meter: R.J. Swindle. We’ve discussed Swindle here on DRB before but for those unfamiliar with him, Swindle is a side-armed lefty reliever that hits 84 MPH with his fastball and 55 MPH with his curveball. While the obvious comparison to Casey Fossum (!!) can be made, Swindle is actually good.

Yeah, so it turns out that, anytime he’s pitched at least 17 innings at a particular level, Swindle has posted a FIP below 3.00. All that’s earned him is 11.1 Major League innings. Come on, people! Give both peace and R.J. Swindle a chance.

RP: Mark Lowe, Seattle
RP: Lance Cormier, Tampa Bay
RP: Burke Badenhop, Florida

Just as in real baseball, relievers are a fungible group for All-Joy consideration, too. Translation: these picks could change at the drop of a 59/50-brand baseball cap. So, instead of getting super-attached to my last two relievers, I’m just using these picks as an excuse to celebrate some sweet Pitch f/x work that Jeremy Greenhouse has been doing lately over at Baseball Analysts.

In the event that you haven’t spied with your little eye Greenhouse stuff, you should abso-frigging-lutely get yourself over there, stat. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about it: Greenhouse, piggy-backing on some cool work by Chris Moore at the selfsame site, has been looking recently at the best pitches in baseball per Pitch f/x data. If you’re suspicious, that’s fine. I maybe was, too. But on account of the numbers confirm that All-Joyer Kevin Jepsen is awesome, I became a convert pretty quickly.

The guys I have listed — Lowe, Cormier, and Badenhop — have the most improved pitch, best cutter, and best changepiece, respectively. I’m not sure I’m burning on fire to see them this year, but this definitely raises my curiosity level.

All this brings us to a complete 25-man roster. Behold the joy:

C	Kurt Suzuki
1B	Brian Myrow
2B	Kelly Johnson
3B      Alex Gordon
SS	Ben Zobrist
LF	Chris Heisey
CF	Ryan Sweeney
RF	Daniel Nava
DH      Juan Francisco
B	Adam Rosales
B	Zack MacPhee
B	Peter Bourjjjjjjos	
B	Brayan Pena

SP	Colby Lewis
SP	Gio Gonzalez
SP	Felipe Paulino
SP	Freddy Garcia
SP	Billy Buckner 
Swing	Jason Godin
RP	Brandon League
RP	Kevin Jepsen
RP	R.J. Swindle
RP	Mark Lowe
RP	Lance Cormier
RP	Burke Badenhop

Fan Projection Contest!

In conjunction with Tangotiger and insidethebook.com, we’ll be hosting the results of the Projection Challenge this year, but the great news is that you’ll be able to (optionally) see how your individual fan projections rank against the rest of the field!

If you want to participate, you have one week left to fill out your fan projections with as many players as you want. The cutoff time to enter projections will be Sunday the 4th at 6pm Eastern Time.

We hope to award prizes to the top 10 FAN Projectionists and we’ll have more details on that later.


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.