AL East Position Matchup: Starting Rotations

This ranking is going to be a bit different from my others. Instead of evaluating each teams No. 1- 5 starters individually, I am going to rank each teams starting rotations. Because of this, it is a bit longer than the rest. The Yankees made the biggest splash over the offseason, adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to their rotation, while dumping inconsistent AJ Burnett and his large contract. The Sox took a different approach, hoping to bolster their rotation through some of their best arms in the bullpen last year.

Here’s how the rankings shake out:
For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRFDH

1. Tampa Bay Rays (D. Price, J. Shields, J. Hellickson, W. Davis, M. Moore)
2. New York Yankees (C. Sabathia, M. Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, I. Nova, P. Hughes)
3. Boston Red Sox (J. Beckett, J. Lester, C. Buchholz, D. Bard, A. Aceves/A. Miller)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (R. Romero, B. Morrow, B. Cecil, H. Alvarez, D. McGowan)
5. Baltimore Orioles (Z. Britton, T. Wada, W. Chen, T. Hunter, J. Hammel/ J. Arrieta)

The Rays are the clear choice for the number one rotation in the East, considering they arguably have the top rotation in all of the American League. The Rays rotation is real good, and really, really young. Their starting rotations average age is 25. Leading the way for the Rays is former 1st pick and Vanderbilt standout David Price.  His outstanding college career has quickly become an afterthought to his already outstanding 4 year Major League career. Price immediately became a force against big league hitters, shutting up the Sox in the ALCS in 2008 with a win and a save. Although Price saw a bump up in his ERA (3.49 in 2011 vs 2.72 in 2010), many analysts believe he actually pitched better in his 12-13 campaign last year than his 19-6 2010 season. Despite his bloated ERA, Price increased his K/9 ratio, while also dramatically lowering his walks/9. James Shields is the Rays second pitcher. He had an outstanding year in 2011, with a 2.82 ERA and 1.04 WHIP and 225 K’s. Despite his great year, statistics point to the fact that Shields got a bit lucky and I see him regressing a bit to his career norms with an ERA around 3.9 and WHIP around 1.2, still good numbers for a number 2 pitcher. Rounding out the Rays rotation is Jeremy Hellickson, Rookie of the Year last year, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore. All are great options in the end of the rotation. Hellickson had a sub-3 ERA, but had the lowest BABIP (opponents Batting Average on Balls in Play) by a starter since 1988 (.224). I don’t see him being so lucky this year, but I expect an ERA around 4. Wade Davis is the worst out of the bunch, after seeing his ERA and WHIP rise during each of his three seasons in the bigs. Despite this, he is still only 26 and can be a very valuable fifth pitcher for the Rays. Matt Moore is the most intriguing of the entire rotation. At 22, Moore ranks as the top prospect for 2012. He had a similar impact to Price in his first small stint in the Majors last year. He pitched stellar for the Rays in their only win vs the Rangers in last years ALDS with 7IP, 2H, 2B, 0 ER and 6K’s. The 6-2 lefty has a fastball that tops out around 97 mph, coupled with an incredible curveball. Moore is definitely a prospect to watch throughout the year for the Rays.

Next up is the Yankees. Their starting rotation this year is determined to make sure their team is not only known for its outstanding offense, but solid pitching as well. CC Sabathia is their ace and arguably the best pitcher in the division, with at least 19 wins in each of his three years with the Yanks. CC has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the league in the past five years, reaching at least 230 innings in every year. At 31 years old, CC should have no problem having another great year for the Yanks. Michael Pineda was the Yankees biggest offseason acquisition this year, as he came over in January in a trade for Jesus Montero. Montero was one of the Yankees most coveted prospects, which says a lot of Pineda’s value.  Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in the MLB. He is a 22 year old, 6′ 7″ giant who just throws straight fire. He had the fourth highest average MPH on his fastball in the entire league at age 22. His fastball combined with his filthy slider led to a 9.1 K/9 last year. Although Pineda has displayed brilliance, there are questions to his consistency (he was 8-6 with 3.03 ERA in 1st half of 2011, 1-4 with 5.12 ERA in 2nd half). Also, he has an “inverted W” pitching style, (similar style to Adam Wainwright, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Stephen Strasburg, Joba “the Hut” Chamberlain), which puts an unhealthy amount of stress on your elbow. Basically, what that means is that he’s eventually going to need Tommy John Surgery. They also added Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers, which was a big move because the Sox were very interested in him. Kuroda was as consistent as you could get as a starting pitcher in the last few years. Although his record didn’t reflect his good pitching due to shit run support, he had 3.45 ERA the past four years, including a career best 3.07 ERA last year. Despite this, Kuroda is 36 years old and has pitched on crappy teams, so his ERA could potentially balloon when the pressures on in New York. Rounding up the Yankees rotation is Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Nova had 16 wins last year in his rookie season, with a 3.70 ERA. Nova is a ground ball pitcher, which could hurt him giving the aging Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of his infield, so I project some regression from his stellar rookie year. Hughes is projected to fill out the competition for the last spot in the Yankee rotation. He was once regarded as a top prospect, but has gotten murdered during a few of his stints in the majors. He has displayed greatness both as a starter and out of the bullpen, but needs to limit his mistakes in order to be an effective starter, especially now that he has a slower fastball than years prior.

The Red Sox fill out the third spot in the ranking. Their top three starters all have the potential to be Cy Young candidates. The most frustrating is Clay Buchholz. Clay displayed brilliance in 2007 when he pitched a no-hitter in his second Major League game. Then he battled depression and got rocked in the Majors and looked as if his career had gone sour. Fortunately Clay came back and dominated the big leagues in 2010 with a 2.33 ERA. Clay’s career took another downfall last year when his season was shortened to a back injury. Hopefully he’s fully healed from his injury and can return smoothly this year. Josh Beckett is another frustrating pitcher of the Sox. We all know what happened in the collapse of last year and Beckett was one of the major problems. Beckett is 31 and entering his 7th year with the Sox, but this year he will be without his personal catcher Jason Varitek. How he will do without Tek remains to be answered. He still finished with a solid year last year despite the collapse (13-7 2.89 ERA 1.03WHIP), so let’s hope he comes back with a mean streak with the desire to prove all the doubters wrong. Jon Lester, on the other hand, has been very consistent for the Sox in the past four years, with an ERA below 3.47 and at least 15 wins in each year. I think Lester is the number one candidate to be a leader for the rotation and take last years collapse on his back. He showed he can handle adversity when he battled cancer in 2006 at age 22, so I think he’ll be able to help the Sox put last year behind them. Daniel Bard is expected to fill the fourth spot of the Sox rotation, despite his great success in the Sox bullpen the last few years. He displays a lot of upside, but did not prove himself as a starter in the minors, so it should be interesting to see his development. Bard can always be put back into the bullpen if this doesn’t work out (think the Papelbon experiment in 2007’s spring training). Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller should duke it out for the last spot in the rotation. I’m hoping Miller finally lives up to hype as a former first round pick with the Tigers, considering he is only 26 years old.

The fourth best rotation is the Blue Jays, who aren’t far behind the Sox. Ricky Romero is their ace, who went 15-11 with a sub-3 ERA. Although I expect his ERA to increase a little from last years numbers, Romero is still a great first option in the AL East. Brandon Morrow is the Jays second option. Morrow has always displayed a high K/9 rate and a solid WHIP (1.29 last year), but has continually displayed problems pitching with runners on base, resulting in higher ERA’s. (4.72 last year, 4.37 career). Morrow is a good pitcher, but I think he is better suited for the bullpen. Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan will be average pitchers at best. Cecil got hit hard in April last year and was sent down to Triple-A for a few months, but was too high of a draft pick for the Jays to give up on. McGowan dealt with shoulder surgeries from 2008-2010, and came back last year with control issues. Durability remains a question with him. The Jays last spot is filled with Henderson Alvarez, who thrives on his incredible control (1.13 BB/9). He pitched well in his 10 starts last year and should continue to perform well if he can keep the ball on the ground and maintain his control.

The Orioles remain in the cellar for starting rotation rankings. They don’t deserve much even being said about them. They traded their best pitcher Jeremy Guthrie away to the Rockies in the offseason. On the bright side, they acquired two pitchers from the Japanese league that figure to grab a spot in the rotation. Tsuyoshi Wada had a 1.51 ERA last year, but we all know how well Dice-K’s stills translated to the MLB. Wada is a control pitcher whose pitches top out around the high 80’s. Wei-Yin Chen is a 26 year old lefty that throws harder than Wada and has had a 2.48 ERA over the past four seasons in Japan. I don’t see these two pitchers making a big impact in the offensively stacked AL East. Zach Britton led the Orioles last year with a whopping 11 wins. Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, James Arrieta, and Chris Tillman look like they will all fight for starting rotation spots, but none of these pitchers look like they will have much impact.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRFDH

Advertisements

AL East Position Matchup: Designated Hitter

Today, I will conclude my rankings of all the players in each teams’ starting batting lineups. This will be the easiest ranking for me to do in terms of evaluations, considering it will be solely based from an offensive production standpoint, rather than offense and defensive skills like the other positions. The Red Sox DH position was one of the question marks over the offseason. After David Ortiz’s contract was up at the end of the 2011 season, Big Papi made several remarks about how he’d like to join the Yankees to leave all the drama in Boston. During the offseason, he was constantly working with the Red Sox for a new contract and finally settled on a 1-year contract for $14.58 million to avoid arbitration. I’ll be the first to say the Sox paid too much for the greedy Ortiz here, who wanted $16.5 million, a significant bump up from the $12.5 he received in 2011. Despite paying too much, the Red Sox were basically forced into needing the 36 year old Ortiz in their lineup because they wouldn’t have been able to find anything close to a replacement in the free agent market this year.

Just as a quick update on Spring Training, Varitek is set to retire at 5:30 today and the Sox are getting prepared for their first “game” vs Northeastern at 2:35 in Fort Myers on Saturday. This game will be the first leg of a double header, with Boston College playing the night cap.

Anyways, here are the rankings:
(Once again, for previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRF)

1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
2. Raul Ibanez, Yankees
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
4. Luke Scott, Rays
5. Wilson Betemit, Orioles

Ortiz has surprised many fans in Red Sox Nation that were ready to kick him out of town in 2009. After struggling the two years after the Sox second championship in four years, Big Papi has revitalized his career. He has hit 61 Home Runs with 198 RBI’s in the last two years combined. The biggest turnaround was his .309 AVG last year. It looked like Papi had no idea how to hit against the shift, but last year was a great sign for him. Adrian Gonzalez was said to give Ortiz a lot of confidence in hitting the ball with power to the opposite field, instead of trying to pull it to the right field or finnessing it against the shift, as Ortiz had tried in years prior. I’m predicting another solid year from Papi, but a little bit of dropoff considering his age. I’m thinking a .285/27 HR/ 95 RBI line from Ortiz in possibly his last year in a Red Sox uniform.

Next up is the massive upgrade from the Yankees. Jorge Posada was a great catcher throughout his career for the Yankees, but they were hurting from the DH spot last year. When the Yankees dumped AJ Burnett’s salary a month ago, they were able to sign Raul Ibanez to be their Designated Hitter and backup outfielder. Although Ibanez at 39 years old is nearing the end of his career, he is a very big upgrade from Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees other apparent option for the DH spot. Assuming Ibanez can get his AVG back up to career norms (.270-.280) from last year’s .245 average, he should be able to provide consistent pop (20 HR, 84 RBI last year) in the back end of the Yankees lineup.

Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays is the third ranked DH. Last year, Encarnacion made big strides at the plate, showing much more consistency with a .272 BA (.244 in 2010, .225 in 2009). Edwin will most likely hit around his usual 20 HR, but his main issue since 2007 has been his ability to hit with runners on base. Every year since 2007, he AVG has dropped significantly with runners on base, hovering around the Mendoza line (.200) each year. This has been the main reason for his low RBI totals and he needs to improve this AVG to contribute more to the Blue Jay lineup.

Luke Scott is known by many Sox fans for being an outfielder/DH for the Orioles, but he upgraded this year and switched over to the Rays. Scott had his season cut short last year and underwent shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. If Scott can return successfully to his numbers of 2010 (.284/27/72), he could end up ahead of Encarnacion and Ibanez in these rankings, but I don’t see that happening. That year was a career year for Scott and I see him returning to a .250 BA with around 15 HR and 60-70 RBI’s.

Last in the rankings is Wilson Betemit of the Orioles. Wilson’s now joining his 7th Major League team and is mostly remembered by Red Sox Nation for his forgettable years with the Yanks. Not much needs to be said about Betemit, although he was fairly successful in limited AB’s in the past two years. At 30 years old, Betemit has never had a season with more than 412 AB’s. If he can provide numbers similar to his .297 AVG of 2010 and .285 AVG of 2011, he should be able to get a full time shot for the Orioles this year.

Stay tuned for pitching analysis throughout the next two weeks.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRF

Now that I have concluded all offensive output for the AL East teams, I want to leave the readers with this question:

 

AL East Position Matchup: Right Field

Excluding the Designated Hitter, we are now at the last matchup for position players. Just a quick update on spring training. Everything is going well so far, but Bobby Valentine and Varitek have been the hottest topics of conversation. I discussed my thoughts on Varitek in yesterday’s article: O Captain! My Captain! Varitek set to Retire Thursday. As far as Bobby V goes, it seems like there might be a year long bout between him and Terry. With Terry taking a role at ESPN, he is commenting and criticizing every single move by Bobby. Bobby isn’t cutting himself short in the media circle either though. He has been trying to ignite a fire into the Yankees-Sox rivalry ever since he took the job and I love it. I think the boneheads on our team need someone like Bobby to get them fired up and perform up to their abilities. It should be very interesting to see how the players react to his different coaching style this year.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

Back to the rankings:

1. Jose Bautista,  Blue Jays
2. Matt Joyce, Rays
3. Nick Swisher, Yankees
4. Nick Markakis, Orioles
5. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney, Red Sox

Jose Bautista is the real deal. He answered every question about whether he was a fluke in 2010 when he came back in 2011 with an even stronger campaign. Bautista has been in two consecutive All-Star games, received two consecutive Silver Slugger awards and he was 4th in the MVP vote 2010 and 3rd last year. With 97 HR’s in the last two years, Bautista’s power stroke will not be going anywhere, but I do see his .302 BA from last year dropping back down closer to his career norms. I’m expecting a .275/46/115 line for Bautista this year, which should keep him in the MVP race again this year.

Next up is 27 year old Matt Joyce for the Rays. Although Joyce cannot hit lefthanders at all (.217 BA last year, .196 Career), he responded very well to his first season in which he received regular playing time. The Rays also have the luxury of using Ben Zobrist to fill in for Joyce against lefty’s, so that he doesn’t hurt their lineup. Joyce brings good power to the plate for the Rays (19 HR’s in 462 AB’s), but also displayed solid baserunning skills last year (13 SB’s, 1 CS). He also maintained a good average and had a great OBP. His overall ability gave him the edge over the older Markakis and Swisher.

Nick Swisher got the slight edge over Orioles 28 year old Markakis. Swisher’s output this year is essentially already established. We can expect 25-30 HR’s out of Swisher, coupled with a low batting average (.254 career) and a much higher OBP (.374 last year, .360 career). I’m not expecting much of a difference in Swisher’s production considering he is only 31 and his role with the Yankees doesn’t look like it will be effected. Markakis has been a very durable player for the O’s since he joined their big league squad six seasons ago. Despite this, Markakis had surgery in January on a torn abdomen, which might hinder his ability at the beginning of the season. Markakis looked primed to be the savior of the Orioles franchise after a .300/23 HR/ 112 RBI line with 18 SB in his sophomore season, in which he was just  23 years old. That season turned out to have career bests in steals, home runs, and rbi’s. Markakis is still a solid player, just not the type of player Orioles fans around the country once wished.

Cody Ross Cody Ross #13 of the San Francisco Giants hits a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning against Colby Lewis #48 of the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 30, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.

Last up is the Red Sox rightfielders, Cody Ross against Lefties and the occasional righy, and Ryan Sweeney matching up against mostly Righthanded pitchers. I think Ross will be a great clubhouse guy and provide another guy with some postseason success. Ross is .261 career hitter and his career highs in HR’s and RBI’s were 24 and 90 respectively, with the Marlins in 2009. Ross has the capability to be a full time rightfielder for the Sox if he can rediscover the bat he had in 2009 with the Marlins and in the 2010 postseason with the Giants. Sweeney on the other hand has been atrocious vs lefty’s in his career(.233 career BA, .159 last year), making him at most a platoon player. Although he doesn’t provide much power, he will maintain a good average for the Sox and get on base at a solid rate (.342 career OBP). With Sweeney’s limited production, I see Ross getting the majority of the starts in Rightfield throughout 2012 for the Sox.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

O Captain! My Captain!: Varitek Set to Retire Thursday

On July 31st, 1997, the Boston Red Sox received Derek Lowe and first round pick Jason Varitek from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. After being traded as a minor league prospect, there was no way Varitek could have imagined playing his entire 15 year major league career with one team. Similar to Tim Wakefield, it was assumed by many that V-Tek would walk away after the season ended last year. News has now broken out that Jason is set to announce his retirement Thursday at Fort Myers.

Throughout his long baseball career, Jason was always a winner. He is one of only two players in the history of baseball to play in the World Championship of the Little League Championship, College World Series National Championship, and the World Series in the MLB (Ed Vosberg is the other for those keeping track). His high school also won the State championship for Florida in 1990 and was ranked as the number one team in the nation by USA Today.

I hope your starting to get the “pitcher” (pun intended, horrible, but a pun nonetheless) because it was felt by many Sox fans that V-Tek knew some of the pitchers better than they did themselves. He was never the best hitting catcher, but not the worst either. Despite this, Jason was the perfect battery mate for every Sox pitcher (with the exception of Timmy and his knuckleball) and perfect teammate. He was crucial to both championship teams in 2004 and 2007 and Captain of the Red Sox from 2006 on. He caught a Major League record four no-hitters, which is a true testament of how well he could call a game behind the plate. I hope Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway were able to learn a lot from Jason Varitek in their short time with him. His endless preparation and knowledge of the game was a huge benefit to the Sox pitchers throughout the last 14 years.

My favorite Varitek memory (along with many other Red Sox fans) came on July 24, 2004. In one of those summer games vs the Yanks at Fenway on Fox, A-Rod got pegged by Bronson Arroyo. Naturally, A-Rod started to bitch back at Arroyo, yelling “F*ck you, F*ck you.” There was no way Tek was having any of that and shoved his glove square into A-Rod’s face and starting a bench clearing brawl. The Sox went on to comeback from a 9-4 deficit and beat the Yanks 11-10 in the 9th by scoring three on the “invincible” Mariano Rivera. The game immediately went down as an all time great. That moment seemed to be the turning point of their championship season. The Sox posted the best record in the bigs from that point on and developed a much-needed swagger against the Yanks and Rivera that proved crucial when they were down 3-0 in the ALCS.

It’s going to be tough in the Sox clubhouse this year with all the crap that unfolded during their September collapse. Not having guys like Wakefield and Varitek won’t help, but as I have said before hopefully guys like Salty and Adrian will step up like they said. As I noted in my catcher positional rankings, I hope that the Red Sox can reward Varitek similar to how the Pats treated Kevin Faulk. The only difference would be since Varitek will be officially retired, his role will be a coaching job within the organization, not the player/mentor role Faulk had this past year. Either way, Timmy and V-Tek will be missed greatly, both in the clubhouse and on the TV screen. They are true heroes of Red Sox Nation and they deserved to be honored for their accomplishments.

Which brings me to this poll question, feel free to put in some comments.

 

AL East Position Matchup: Center Field

Today, I will cover the AL East’s strongest position, Centerfield. To the surprise of many Sox fans, Jacoby Ellsbury absolutely broke out last year. The big story throughout the year will be how the Red Sox handle his expiring contract. They avoided arbitration with Jacoby this year by signing him to a one year $8.05 million contract (a big raise from his $2.4 million earned in 2011). I understand that the Red Sox didn’t want to reward him MVP money for the long term after his one year sample of his abilities, but I think they should make moves on a contract early in the season. The bad news for the Red Sox is that Jacoby’s agent is Scott Boras and he’ll be sure to try to squeeze every penny out of any organization for his clients.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLF

Here are the rankings for Centerfielder:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
2. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
3. B.J. Upton, Rays
4. Adam Jones, Orioles
5. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays

Throughout all 2011, Jacoby and Granderson were fighting to be the best centerfielder in their division, but also were fighting to be the league MVP at the same time. Long story short, Jacoby got snubbed for the MVP and placed second, while Granderson came in 4th place after his monster season for the Bronx Bombers. 2012 should be no different. As noted earlier, Ellsbury will be in a contract year and out to prove that last year was no fluke. Granderson wants to prove the same thing, considering he finally lived up to the hype that was pegged onto him after his breakout year in 2007 with the Tigers. Similar to the MVP race, Ellsbury inched ahead of Granderson in the rankings. Jacoby really looks like he figured out his power stroke last year and has speed for days. I think his steal numbers will bump back up to the 50’s, but not near the 70 he swiped in 2009. Jacoby’s speed on the basepaths and in the outfield coupled with his consistent batting average make him a good choice to repeat another big year. I’m predicting .305/18 HR/80 RBI’s out of Ells, with 53 SB’s and 115 runs in his contract year. Granderson on the other hand has pretty much established what he is capable of in his six full years in the majors. I see his 41 hrs as a bit of a hiccup last year. Last year, Granderson hit 16 home runs against lefty’s, while he had only hit 20 against them in his entire career. I still see him getting around 30 HR in Yankee stadium, which is built for swings like Grandersons. Despite this, Granderson has a lower average than Ells and doesn’t swipe as many bags. He gets slotted into the second spot due to this.

Next up is Rays outfielder BJ Upton. As his career really begins to shape, it is starting to look like his brother Justin got the better genes. He was an absolute monster for the D-Backs last year in the NL West. BJ has been exposed for his flaws at the plate throughout his career. He has been known for his streaky hitting and when he’s on a hot streak no pitcher wants to face him (like the 2008 playoffs). He’s a very similar player to Jacoby from a statistical standpoint, except for his much lower batting average (.243 BA last year).

Upton’s edge in the field gave him the third ranking over number four, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. Jones is a very dangerous hitter and getting better each year, but he has yet to master his control of the strike zone (.280 BA with a .319 OBP last year).

Rounding up the rankings in Colby Rasmus of the Blue Jays. Colby had an off year last year after a promising first two seasons in St. Louis. He had a horrible batting year last year, with drops in BA, OBP, HR’s, RBI’s and SB’s. If he can figure out how to correct his batting woes from last year, he can provide some power in the sneaky good Blue Jays offense.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLF

AL East Position Matchup: Left field

On the agenda today is Left field. Left field looked like it was going to be a very weak spot last month when it was announced that Carl Crawford underwent offseason surgery on his wrist. It was recently announced that Crawford has high hopes to be back for Opening Day, which is great news for the Red Sox. Hopefully he can start living up to his contract.

Anyways, back to the rankings:

(Once again for other positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSS)

1. Brett Gardner, Yankees
2. Carl Crawford, Red Sox
3. Desmond Jennings, Rays
4. Nolan Reimold, Orioles
5. Eric Thames, Blue Jays

Brett Gardner was a no brainer in the top spot. If this was said before the season last year, it is almost guaranteed that most of Red Sox Nation would have been up in arms. Gardner has been one of the top defensive outfielders in the past two years (3.2 defensive WAR last year) and he’s a force on the basepaths (at least 47 SB’s in each of the last two years). Gardner came back down to Earth in batting last year from his ridiculous 2010 numbers and saw a drop in his BA (.277 to .259), but he still drew a lot of walks.

Carl Crawford is the true question of this division, and the Red Sox team. After a monster year in 2010, where he had a .307/19/90 line with 47 steals, the Red Sox signed him to a massive contract. Hoping for production close to his 6.1 WAR (wins above replacement) in 2010, they were rewarded with a whopping 0.0 WAR in 2011. Despite this, I can’t stand hearing Sox fans bitch about how bad the guy is. Yes, we overpaid for him, but what big signing haven’t we overpaid for?!? He had a horrible April, along with the rest of the squad, and then as he was starting to get into a groove, he got injured. His wrist was nagging him for a while and his hamstring’s were bothering him all summer. Speed is his forte, and he lost his speed last season, I don’t know what fans expected. I’ve heard how hard of a worker he is and I’m confident he will come back strong this year. It’s great news that he is on pace to come back earlier than initially planned, but I’d rather we make sure we don’t rush this one. Crawford was very consistent for the Rays with the exception of 2008 (marred by injuries) and I am confident he will get his mojo back this year and start to live up to (some) of his money.

Next up is the Tampa Bay Rays leftfielder, Desmond Jennings. Jennings was the main reason that the Rays were able to so willingly part with Crawford (that and the fact that the Sox put way too much money on the table). Jennings came into the big leagues on fire last year hitting .333 throughout July and August, until he finally cooled off in September with a .160 BA. Jennings has been touted as one of the top prospects for the last couple years. He is a great athlete and was voted the most exciting player to watch in the International League in the minors.He is regarded as a top baserunner and defensive player in the minors and I’m really interested in seeing how Jennings does as an everyday guy for the Rays this year.

The fourth spot was the hardest decision to make. Eric Thames was never a big prospect for the Blue Jays organization, but had a good run in his first year in the Majors last year. Nolan Reimold was a highly touted prospect, but is now 28 years old and has yet to make an impact for the Orioles. I’m not sold on Thames considering his struggles against lefties and weak fielding skills. Reimold has yet to pan out in the majors due to injuries and personal problems, but he has been effective in his small samples (13 HR in 267 AB’s last year). He has good speed, which pays off on the basepaths and makes up for his bad instincts in the field. Reimold gets the edge in this matchup due to his greater potential for a full year.

For other positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSS

 

Sox Recieve Chris Carpenter in Return for Theo

Tuck it in Red Sox nation, not this Chris Carpenter.

Today, the Red Sox finally received some compensation for Theo leaving to go to the Cubbies. We received 26 year old righthander Chris Carpenter. Carpenter is a 6’4″ former third round pick that has spent the majority of his time in the minors as a starting pitcher. He had Tommy John surgery his freshman year at Kent State and had another elbow procedure his sophomore year. His medical history scared off a lot of teams on draft day and that is mostly why he dropped to the Cubs in the third round.He has consistently been ranked as one of the top 10-15 prospects in the Cubs farm, but has had control issues that have kept him from reaching the big leagues. Carpenter projects to be better suited out of the bullpen in the major leagues due to his pitching repertoire. He has a mid-upper 90’s fastball that can top out in triple digits. Although there isn’t much movement on his pitch, his height still makes a fastball coming at that speed difficult to handle for batters. Carpenter also has a solid slider, but frequently has trouble controlling it. Unless he can develop better secondary pitches, Carpenter won’t be much more than a 7th or 8th inning guy in the big leagues. In 10 major league appearances last year, Carpenter had a solid ERA (2.79), but allowed nearly 2 baserunners per inning.

I’m looking forward to see how Carpenter can develop in our farm system and hopefully get a shot in the majors this year. The key to him being successful this year is not working on developing a third pitch, but instead ensuring control of his fastball and slider and limit his walks (7 BB in 9.2 innings in the majors last year).I’m just glad to see we got some sort of compensation for Theo leaving as I really think the Sox butchered this one. I think they lost all power when they let Theo go before they had any compensation.

 

AL East Position Matchup: Shortstop

Great news as pitchers and catchers reported for the Sox yesterday.The first workout will be tomorrow and position players will arrive February 24, a day before the teams first full workout. The Red Sox clubhouse is still talking to media about the epic collapse from last year, with Lester and Beckett openly taking blame. Also, guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez have already been vocal about assuming the leadership type of role this team needs.

Let’s get back to the matter at hand, ranking the shortstop’s in the AL East.

Find prior rankings here: C1B2B3B

1. J.J. Hardy, Orioles
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees
3. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
4. Nick Punto/Mike Aviles/ Jose Iglesias, Red Sox
5. Sean Rodriguez/ Reid Brignac, Rays

Derek Jeter is nearing the end of his career and the shortstop position has switched from a division strength during the late 90’s and early 2000’s to now the AL East’s weakest position. It seems like just yesterday Nomar was being called “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” by Sports Illustrated for Kids and featured with his shirt off on the Sports Illustrated cover labeled “A Cut Above.” Whether it was the cover jinx or not, injuries arose for the Beantown legend and the position has become vastly different from the days when Nomar and Jeter would duke it out as potential MVP candidates.

J.J. Hardy, Derek Jeter and Yunel Escobar all display plus gloves in the field, although Jeter is the only to have received a Gold Glove out of the three (he has received five total-his latest in 2010). Despite this, Jeter might now be the worst fielder out of three since his range has begin to diminish with his aging body. J.J. Hardy is ranked first due to his reinvented swing from the past two years. Hardy went from hitting 50 HRS in 2007-2008 combined to 11 in 2009 and 6 in 2010. Hardy was killed by pitchers (specifically lefthanders) in these two years, after Alex Eisenberg of Baseball-Intellect.com revealed some flaws in Hardy’s plate approach. He has spent the 2009-2010 battling through a wrist injury and other minor injuries. Hardy now has spent the end of 2010 and 2011 redefining his plate approach by shortening up his swing and lowering and extended his arms in the beginning of the approach. He has began pulling the pull more often and the results showed last year. In his bounce back year, he had 30 HRS and 80 RBI’s. I expect Hardy to hit around 28-34 HR in the hitter friendly Camden Yards.

Next up is Derek Jeter. In Big Nons story earlier this year, I chimed in the comments section giving my thoughts on Jeter: “Can’t call yourself a true fan of both the Red Sox and baseball unless you admit Derek Jeter is a great ballplayer. The guy hustles on the field and is the ideal team captain. Any time i see someone go full speed into a ball in the stands and dive in there with the fans the way Jeter did years back against the Sox, I’m impressed. “The flip?” One of the best heads up plays I have EVER seen a shortstop make. I mean “c’mon son” to any Sox fan that is not willing to have some respect for him.” Despite his declining skills, he is still a force as the leadoff man in the always impressive Yankee lineup. Due to his consistency in this leadoff spot in getting on base and getting himself in scoring position, he gets the nod for the second spot in these rankings. Yunel Escobar on the Blue Jays is the third ranked shortstop. Escobar has displayed the ability to consistently get on base throughout his four year career, even throughout his off year in 2010 (.366 Career OBP with .289 Career AVG).

All of the first three options display some sort of flaw; Jeter’s career is close to ending as he will turn 38 in June and both Escobar and Hardy have had issues with injuries throughout their careers. Despite this, all are better options than the situation the Red Sox and Rays are in. The Red Sox shortstop position opened up in late January when Marco Scutaro was traded. It will be temporarily fixed with Nick Punto and Mike Aviles. Both players are pretty good fielding shortstops, but have been utility infielders for the majority of their careers. Punto has just about zero power, but will reach base at a decent rate in comparison to other options (.249 career BA, .278 last year, .325 Career OBP-.388 last year). Aviles is a slightly better option offensively in terms of power and AVG, but he has a horrible OBP considering his higher AVG (.288 AVG and .318 OBP throughout his career). The real gem could be Jose Iglesias. He has been one of the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system for a few years now, with a glove that is very major league ready. He is touted as a future perennial Gold Glover. His only issue is batting, and its a big issue. He batted .235 in the minors last year, but he has slowly been improving throughout his short professional career. Due to his incredible fielding skills, he will most likely be forced to try and improve in the big leagues. As I’ve said before, I don’t care how good of a fielder he is, every Red Sox fan wants to see offensive production and there is no way he can last in Boston hitting barely above the Mendoza line.

Tampa Bay is in a very similar situation. Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are both good options fielding wise, but both are worse hitters than Boston’s options, with the exception of Iglesias. Brignac batted .193 last year and Rodriguez batted .223. Unless one of these players figures out their troubles at the plate, Tampa Bay will have the worst situation at shortstop in the AL East.

For other position rankings click here: C1B2B3B

Wakefield Calls It Quits

Forty-five year old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has just announced his retirement. Although many Sox fans saw this coming, it is going to be a weird sight this year without Timmy coming out of the pen or pitching every fifth day in the rotation. Through his 19 year career, he played 17 years with the Red Sox and contributed many great memories during his tenure. He was never the most talented pitcher in the league, but he never complained and helped the squad in every way he could. His rubber arm was crucial during spot starts in the dog days of the summer when other starters were injured or needed a rest. He won 200 games and had 2156 K’s in his long career, and also had 22 saves. Although he will never make it into the Hall of Fame, what he gave to the Red Sox organization in the last 17 years can never be replaced and I hope someday his number hangs with Teddy Ballgame and the others in Fenway Park.

In honor of Timmy, sadly we won’t be seeing this knuckleball anytime soon.

 

AL East Position Matchup: Third Baseman

Today, we are going to move over to the hot corner. Two different ends of the spectrum at third base, with the up-and-coming stars in Evan Longoria and Brett Lawrie and the declining talents of Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis. Also, we have the “Greek God of Walks” in Kevin Youkilis and also the Strikeout King, Mark Reynolds.

For Other AL East Position Rankings: Catcher1st Baseman2nd Baseman

Here are the rankings for third base:

1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
4. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
5. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles

These rankings were tough, especially after Longoria in the first slot. Every single player, Longoria included, has something to be criticized about. Evan Longoria has been one of the top third basemen since his monster rookie season in 2008, where he had a .272 AVG/27 HR/85 RBI line in 122 games. Year after year, we have seen great production out of the young superstar, but he hasn’t had a full year showcasing ALL of his skills. In 2010, he effectively lowered his strikeouts and maintained a good average, but his power was down (only hit 22 HR in 151 games). In 2011, he regained his power stroke hitting 31 HR’s in 133 games, but his average dipped to .244. Despite these issues, Longoria has the talent to maintain his position as the top third baseman in the AL East.

Most Sox fans are probably wondering who Brett Lawrie is, and why the hell is rated above A-Rod and YOUUUK. Brett Lawrie was one the top prospects in the Brewers coveted farm system a few years ago, until he was traded for Shaun Marcum in December 2010. Lawrie was a former catcher, turned second baseman, turned now third baseman. He displays pure athleticism on the field, which has helped him in his transistion between positions in the minors. His bat has never been questioned throughout his short career. Although he was said to be major league ready after camp last year with the Blue Jays, they decided to give him more time to work on his glove at the hot corner in Triple A. Lawrie was called up to the bigs on August 5th and made an immediate impact, hitting 6 home runs in his first month. In 150 major league at bats, Lawrie ended up with a .293 average, .373 OBP, and 9 HR’s. He figures to be a major part of the Blue Jays offense, currently projected to hit in the 6 spot in a dangerous lineup. I was skeptical to give him the two spot in the rankings, but his potential, coupled with the injury problems of A-Rod and Youk gave me the green light on this ranking. I also think this guy has a little bit of Gronk in him. He was said to have attitude issues in Milwaukee and openly has pictures of himself drinking and doing “Edward FortyHands” online. Brett-Lawrie-2His “don’t give a shit” attitude should help him in dealing with some of the increased attention he will get with his elite ability. I don’t see him being as effective as his short major league stint indicates, as most 22 year olds are bound to experience some issues in the first few years in the bigs, but Lawrie will soon become a household name for any AL East fan.

Next up are the walking wounded. With all due respect to Alex Rodriguez (although I don’t believe he deserves much) and Kevin Youkilis, it is quite obvious both are in the “decline” stages of their careers. Due to his incredible past, A-Rod gets the three ranking and seriously contended for second. It was just too hard to justify him above the rising Lawrie. His major league record streak of 13 straight seasons with over 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s ended abruptly last year. He has battled with numerous different injuries in the past four seasons (missed at least 20 games each season and 150 games total). I do see A-Rod making a bit of a comeback, but he has lost a lot of bat speed in the past few years and can’t make pitchers pay for a bad fastball as consistently as he used to.

Kevin Youkilis is more of the same. It seems like every year Sox fans are talking about “If Youk was healthy…” this and that, we’d be such a better team, a more dangerous lineup, etc. At some point, we need to expect him to get injured. Despite his unusual .258 BA last year, he is a great batter and the “Greek God of Walks,” but he is a liability at third base, where he is not nearly as good a fielder there as he is at 1st Base. I love having him in the lineup and he’s just as much the face of the franchise as Dusty, but he has constantly been getting injured in the past few years. I’m expecting a bounce back year for Youk with around a .300 BA, 20-25 HR, 90-100 RBI and of course his .400 OBP. And I, along with every other fan in Red Sox nation, hope that he stays healthy throughout the year and is good to go for a playoff push in September.

Lastly, we have the Strikeout King, Mark Reynolds of Baltimore. In the past four years,  Mark’s home run’s look like this: 28, 44, 32, 37. Along with the good comes the bad, Mark’s strikeout numbers look like this: 204, 223, 211, 196. His average also looks like this: .239, .260, .198, .221. Pretty sure the averages and strikeouts speak for themselves. Yes, Reynold’s is a good power hitter, but as a manager I would never want his mentality of “swing for the fences” every at bat on my team. That being said, Reynold’s always brings fear into opposing pitcher’s and fan’s late in the game due to his big play potential.

It will be very interesting to see how this years young stars at third base end up matching up against the aging (and injured) stars of the AL East.

For Catcher rankings: click here.
For First Basemen rankings: click here.
For Second Basemen rankings: click here.